The Psychology of Yoga

Written by kalabin. Posted in Articles

Taking into account this thin metaphysical moment, we understand why human consciousness is limited in cognizing Superior Reality and Spiritual Super-consciousness (Purusha) is unlimited. The mirror of the human psychic world (buddhi) cannot radiate the spiritual light of superior consciousness; it only reflects it. That is why, the purpose of a person is to achieve the crystal purity of one’s own personal consciousness, so that it didn’t absorb and distort the light of truth. In fact, this is what Yoga practice is directed to.

Can a human receive all-knowledge? Patandjali and Vyasa answer this question positively. But again: they answer this question not relative to the personal human consciousness but relative to Super-consciousness of Spirit which can be manifested, for some time, through the human psychic sphere (buddhi). In the third chapter of his treatise, Patandjali points that the knowledge of the difference between the personal consciousness or material phenomena and Purusha (Super-consciousness or Spiritual Nature) gives the absolute supremacy over all the forms of existence and the ability of all-knowledge.

Vyasa comments the question relating to all-knowledge as follows: it is “a single-moment, generated by recognizing and intuitive knowledge of huns” which are the essence of things. This knowledge cannot be expressed in words and flashes in the depth of the human psychic world as the light of intuitive inspiration. Such statements are possibly understandable to the people of science. As a rule, the solving of a difficult scientific problem is happening outside the sphere of logics in the psychic intuitive space. And only some time later, the contents of intuition is realized in the forms of rational notions, terms, formulas and logical schemes.

While describing the intuitive type of knowledge, Patandjali uses for it such definitions as ‘illuminating’, ‘all-embracing’, ‘all-time’, ‘momentary’ and explains nothing. Vyasa does it: ‘Illuminating’ means that such knowledge appears due to intuitive inspiration without any outer directions. ‘All-embracing’ shows that there is nothing in the world that is outside its limits. ‘All-time’ means that such knowledge embraces the past, present and future. ‘Momentary’ means ‘catching everything that exists at one moment’.

Let’s consider the question: what is the concept of verity in Yoga, in other words, what is understood under the real knowledge and ignorance (false knowledge)? The general way of philosophic reasoning of Patandjali and Vyasa lets us suppose that they adhere to the classical concept of verity (sometimes called that of Aristotle’s). Its idea is the following: verity is the correspondence of the subjective contents of human consciousness (i.e. mental creation) to its real object (i.e. the object of cognizing). The object is objective. Knowledge is subjective. It can be real for one person (if it corresponds to its object) and false for another person (if there is no full, adequate correspondence).

Defining ‘ignorance’, Patandjali points out: “’ignorance’ is false knowledge based on the non-own form of a real object”. In other words, it is non-correspondence of knowledge (the contents of consciousness) to the real object of cognizing. The knowledge is real, as it is said above, when the contents of human consciousness corresponds to the real object of cognition, i.e. it is similar to it.

Pay attention that the terms ‘ignorance (avidya)” and ‘non-real (false) knowledge” in Yoga sometimes relate to quite different phenomena. Patandjali writes: Ignorance is the comprehension of the eternal, pure happiness, atman in the non-eternal, non-pure suffering, non-atman. In other words, it is an attempt to seek the eternal reasons and the essence of things in their non-constant consequences and changeable secondary phenomena. Vyasa supposes: Ignorance is the print of the unconscious impression stipulated by false knowledge. Moreover, it is another type of vision (comprehension) opposed to knowledge.

So, false knowledge is the reason of ignorance. False knowledge is the result of a certain cognition act (acts). But ignorance is the consequence of false knowledge in general. It can be said that ignorance is the constant state of consciousness of a certain person who hasn’t achieved yet the clear understanding of the most important spiritual verities. Such a state is not overcome momentarily, by one real act of cognition. Overcoming the ignorance is achieved by long, intensive, regular spiritual efforts.

In the philosophic system of sankhya, it is accepted to consider three sources (abilities) of human cognition. They are an authoritative oral or written evidence, perception and conclusion. Sankhya-Yoga (Patandjali’s Yoga) follows this concept as a whole, but brings some corrections.

“The authoritative evidence” supposes the ready knowledge told by Teacher to his pupil and taken by him on trust. At first sight, it makes us assess such a type of cognition as religious when the main part is given to the belief to the superior Authority (God) or His representatives (prophets). However, it is not so simple in Yoga. In its essence, Yoga knowledge is based on not belief, rather on one’s own spiritual (mystical) experience, i.e. on certain empiric facts (received through practice). A Yogi-pupil does not have to believe eternally in the autonomy of consciousness from one’s body. At first he has only to believe in such statements of his guru (teacher) in order to check it with time and be convinced with his own experience.

What is ‘perception’? In the traditional understanding, it is cognition with the help of physiological sense organs. But the thinkers of Yoga tradition understand perception wider. For example, Patandjali supposes that the knowledge of Spirit gives birth to paranormal abilities of perception which greatly exceed the physical senses of hearing, touching, sight, taste and smell. It is delicate perception based on the action of some delicate analogues of senses, as it is explained from the positions of Yoga.

‘Conclusion’ is nothing but rational cognition with the help of reason. The reason organ – manas – lets carry out the intellectual-logical operations and come to conclusions. They are based on the laws of logics.

The Yoga philosophy admits that cognition with the help of an authoritative evidence, perception and conclusion is not always reliable. The superior true knowledge is only achieved by Yoga practice which discovers a special intuitive type of cognition that is able to penetrate into the essence of things and comprehend them as they are.

Neither Patandjali, nor Vyasa mark out the intuitive cognition as a separate, independent type or source of cognition. However, they definitely give preference to it as compared with the other abilities of human cognition. According to Vyasa, ‘intuitive inspiration’ is the initial form of knowledge generated by spiritual recognition.

“It is similar to the dawn light which precedes the sunrise”. Such an inspiration discovers a yogi the way to all-knowledge as the irrational ability of consciousness. It must be understood as the spiritual intuition, inspiration or intuitive enlightenment, in other words, mystical experience known not only in Yoga. We’ll consider it in more detail.

One of the ways of cognition of the surrounding reality by a person and the Primary Source of everything is the super-sensitive cognition, or mystical experience, or the direct knowledge derived from the depth of oneself. This kind of cognition is especially spread in Yoga and other mystical trends of traditional religions and religious-philosophical tendencies.

The word ‘mystics’ (and its derivatives) are used in literature in several different meanings (which leads to confusion):

1) to define senses of uniting or fusion with the Fundamental Principle of the world and any being in general (God, Absolute, etc.);

2) to define various esoteric rituals (mysteries);

3) to define various forms of occultism having sometimes a clearly expressed para-scientific character – magic, astrology, divination, etc.

It is clear that all these phenomena can have different nature which makes the word ‘mystics’ mislead and prevent understanding. If we take into account that in everyday life various stories about “evil spirits, zombies, vampires and werewolves” also relate to the ‘mystical’ sphere, the situation becomes oppressive.

Besides, due to the specific Western perception of such problems as belief and knowledge, belief and reason, the word ‘mystics’ is strongly associated with irrationalism, which at once creates the reaction of rejection or prejudice in the modern scientific and philosophic audience while addressing the problems of mystical experience.

Incidentally, in other cultures this contraposition of ‘mystical’ and rational phenomena is unknown, and ‘mystics’ of the corresponding traditions in no way deny intellect (or more precisely discursive thinking)as the highest instance within its competence. Moreover, ‘mystics’ often create quite rational (in the wide sense of the word) philosophic systems on the base of understanding (that is rationalization) of their ‘mystical’ experience.

First of all, this refers to the Indo-Buddha cultural tradition which not only included the psycho-technical practice for achieving the changed states, but also considered the mystical experience in its thinnest forms as their superior values; and the groups of people who were engaged in psycho-technical practice of changing consciousness and had the high social status made a major contribution to the development of the whole strata of civilization they belonged to.

Further, under ‘mystical’ we will understand only the first level of the word meanings considered above, namely, special feelings usually described by people as consciousness widening or uniting with the fundamental principle. It deals with the feelings outside the everyday experience and directly relating to metaphysics and its subject. Lower, we will consider just such mystical experience, but we will change the word ‘mystical’ to ‘trans-personal’, that is being outside the limits of individuality and everyday experience.

It is important to note that information about the peak states of consciousness, which is given to us by mystics of all periods and nations, is greatly important for our understanding the principles of functioning and even essence itself of mind consciousness. For Western mentality, it is typical to draw the subject-object relation into two sides of some abyss from one side of which some subject either contemplates the object or affects it. It is such a human image as an independent subject being opposed to Nature (as its object) and possessing it that lies in the basis of modern ecological crisis in developed countries.

However, it is quite evident that a human is not such an independent subject; he himself is included into Nature and is its organic part; and only the existence of self-consciousness creates the illusion of the subject’s self-sufficiency and his opposition to Nature-object.

By the way, it also means the possibility to solve the problem of the relation between a part and a whole from Yoga positions: on the one hand, the subject is included into the object (a human is a part of the Universe); on the other hand, the object is included into the subject as his part through his perception and self-consciousness as the world experienced (“I don’t care, the Universe is within me”, Alexander Block). Thus, the whole appears to be the complex system of mutual reflection of the objective and subjective sides of experience.

If we originate from the notion about the universality of pure experience, where there is no place for the opposition of a subject and an object, we can consider a subject as some self-conscious focus of this experience, some ‘funnel’ on its mirror-like water surface, or as the self-consciousness of pure experience. In this case, we not so much live in the outer world as experience it; it becomes the objective aspect of pure experience, whereas a human becomes its subjective aspect, and the real whole itself metaphysically comes beyond the limits of subject-object relations.

The citation from one of the late Upanishadas, namely, “Maytri Upanishada” (late 1.000th B.C.), describes practically all the main parameters of both the trans-personal experience and the psycho-technical practice, i.e. the methods of getting this experience:

“…For it is said so: He who is in the fire, who is in the heart and who is in the sun – this is the a single whole. He who knows it is being united with the single whole.”

Here is the rule of achieving that Unity: keeping the breath, ceasing the feelings activity, thinking, concentration, contemplating investigation and full merging – this is called Yoga. When the enlightened thanks to Yoga sees the golden Creator, Purusha, the source of Brahman, while being liberated from the good and evil, he unites everything in the superior unbreakable origin. For it is said: ‘Like beasts and birds don’t look for the refuge near a flaming mountain, sins don’t look for the refuge at the connoisseur of Brahman’.

It is also said in another place: Really, when the Enlightened keeps his mind from outer things and his breath contains the objects of perception, let him be free from notions. Because the living being, called the breath, originated here not from the breath, let the breath include itself into the breath called turya”. (Maytri Upanishada)

Let’s shortly analyse the extract above. Firstly, it contains interesting theoretical ideas. According to it, the really-existing (Atman) is outside the subject-object distinction without revealing itself either in the subject or the object, for it is the true essence both of the heart (i.e. consciousness) and the fire and the sun. In another Upanishada it is said more expressively: “One and the same Atman (real Ego) is in me and in that sun.”

Secondly, the text includes the laconic description of the psycho-technical procedure leading the practice yogi to mystical or trans-personal experience of realizing that universal Ego. This is uppermost the drawing feelings away from the objects of feelings, ceasing the representative function of consciousness (ceasing the formation of notions) which is achieved by the concentration of consciousness and control over the breath (the purposes and methods known not only in Yoga, but also in the mystical traditions of all the times and nations from Daoists in China to Hesychasts in the Bizantine Empire).

The usage of these methods gradually discovers one by one the strata of psychics from the consciousness layer to the unconsciousness one uncovering then for self-consciousness the deepest level, the above-individual level, which is considered by the author of Upanishada as Atman, i.e. Ego of every living being and the essence of every phenomenon in general. In other words, if we consider the whole totality of experience as a pyramid, its base is the everyday experience with the ‘subject-object’ opposition, and its vertex is what Upanishadas call Atman, in which the subject and object finally meet in one point.

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