Now let’s explore the third vritti, vikalpa, which means “imagination” or “fantasy.” Imagination is a very important mental faculty with which we form and create new ideas, images and concepts that cannot always be verified by pramana. It is necessary for creativity, innovation and discovery, but it can also lead us into a spiral of delusion.
1.9: Shabda jnana anupati vastu shunyah vikalpah
Fantasy or imagination is a thought pattern
that has verbal expression and knowledge,
but for which there is no such object or reality in existence.
Vikalpa is not the general term used for all types of imagination. There are four Sanskrit words that can loosely be translated as imagination: vikalpa, kalpana, pratibha and bhavana. Vikalpa is, in a sense, the lowest form of imagination. It describes the apparently random fantasies that continuously surface in the mind like mental static.
Vikalpas are imaginary stories, thoughts and images that play out in our minds, for example, a fantasy that plays out during a daydream in class at school, or seeing a shadow in the dark and fearing it is a ghost. Most of the ongoing chitchat in our minds belongs to the category of vikalpa: “What will happen if I …?” “What if she doesn’t like me?” etc. Such chitchat is composed of all sorts of illusory beliefs and mental constructs. We preempt reality with our fantasies and expectations.
Vikalpa is, in a sense, the lowest form of imagination.
It describes the apparently random fantasies
that continuously surface in the mind like mental static.
There is a wonderful story about vikalpa. One night, a young man decided he wanted to cross the river on the outskirts of town to visit his beloved. There was a storm and the river was dangerous, but he was determined to cross to see her. So he looked around for a boat to carry him and eventually saw a log floating by. He grabbed onto it, and let the log carry him downstream across the river. When he arrived at the home of his beloved, all the lights were off, but he saw a rope hanging down from her balcony. So he climbed the rope and went to her.
She was delighted but surprised to see him, asking, “How were you able to visit me on such a terrible night?” He thanked her: “Because you left the rope hanging for me, I was able to climb up to your balcony.” “But I left no rope hanging,” she said. When they went to the balcony to look, they were shocked to discover it was a snake hanging down.
The next day, after the storm had passed, he returned home. On reaching the river, he discovered that he had held on to a human corpse to cross the river, not a log. Love had blinded him to reality and given him the courage to reach his beloved, no matter what.
Love can give us one perception of reality, but what happens to a lover who falls out of love because of a series of events? Do they still perceive their beloved in the same way? No. We are preconditioned by our own expectations, and when disillusionment sets in everything changes.
Through imagination we can be creative
and embrace other perspectives,
because the mind follows imagination.
It is a very powerful projective capacity of the human mind
that leads to transformation and evolution.
It is the basis of aspiration and vision,
one of the most important aspects of human consciousness.
The other three forms of imagination have a higher, nobler purpose. Kalpana is intentional mental creation. For example, a prayerful suggestion that all people are becoming peace-loving is an example of kalpana. We are creating something through the power of thought, something that does not yet exist in the physical dimension. Kalpana helps us to aspire towards a goal or vision, and reminds us to work to achieve that goal. Pratibha is the spontaneous visionary insight that comes from expanding consciousness into higher realms of superconsciousness, and bhavana is the ability to call something into existence as a result of yogic contemplation and visioning.
In fact, to imagine is one of the distinguishing human qualities, representing new possibilities, allowing us to create a vision for the future. Through imagination we can be creative and embrace other perspectives, because the mind follows imagination. It is a very powerful projective capacity of the human mind that leads to transformation and evolution. It is the basis of aspiration and vision, one of the most important aspects of human consciousness. In its highest form it is visionary and inspiring.
This visionary quality of imagination has been described by philosophers of all cultures for thousands of years, and is encapsulated by Einstein in his statement, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” Yet this sort of imagination is very far from the ordinary imaginary static or noise in our field of consciousness that we know as vikalpa.
So is it the same fundamental aspect of the human being that leads to both magnificent visions and delusional fantasy? What allows us to imagine something that does not exist? The four mental functions of chit, manas, buddhi and ahankar may allow us to think of new concepts, project our existing experience into new dimensions, and use our willpower to bring about change, but these four subtle bodies cannot create something new out of nothing without the atman, the combination of thinking (man) and movement (ath) that is the soul. It is this divine aspect of our being that is able to create. So it is the combination of the subtle bodies and the soul that gives us our faculties of imagination and creativity.
In fact, the concept of imagination raises many questions, including:
Can we create something completely new that has never existed before, or do we ‘catch’ something that already exists in the ether that cannot yet be verified by the senses? Perhaps it exists in higher dimensions already. I will leave you to ponder over these questions about imagination in general, but let’s now turn our attention to the lowest type of imagination, vikalpa. Why do these random imaginary thoughts come into our minds, and where do they come from?
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.
For knowledge is limited,
whereas imagination embraces the entire world,
stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”
Vikalpa is the background fantasy in our field of consciousness. It creates constant noise in the system. It exists because there are accumulated complexities and impurities in our field of consciousness, which are also known as samskaras or impressions. In an attempt to purify consciousness, the mind is always trying to throw them out, and so they surface as thoughts. The more complex the impressions, the more complex the vikalpas. They may bubble up from our subconscious, in the same way that dreams do when we are sleeping.
In fact, the psychotherapist, Carl Jung, developed “active imagination” as a meditation technique so that the contents of the subconscious mind could surface as images, narratives or separate entities. He used this technique to serve as a bridge between the conscious and the unconscious, and worked with dreams as well as imagination and fantasy. Jung’s aim was to bring about harmony and integration from fragmented and dissociated parts of the human mind.
Jung thought that “active imagination,” a way of bringing vikalpa into awareness, springs from the desires and fantasies of the unconscious mind, which ultimately wants to become conscious. He showed that once such fantasies surface, they become weaker and less frequent. This technique was one of several that would define Jung’s distinctive contribution to the practice of psychotherapy. This technique not only has the potential to allow communication between the conscious and unconscious aspects of an individual’s personal psyche, but also between the personal and collective unconscious.
Cleaning removes their root cause in the subconscious,
by directly removing the underlying impressions that have formed.
There is no need to analyze, to understand
or to experience the effects of the impressions.
Anything that colors the purity of the field of consciousness can lead to vikalpa, whether that distortion has come from the subconscious within or from the external environment around. For example, vikalpa may be the result of the atmosphere in a certain place: if you happen to pass through an area of a foreign city where there have been many crimes, you may suddenly be gripped with fear for no apparent reason. You are sensing the thoughts and feelings of the victims of those crimes. Whether the distortion has come from your inner environment or from the external environment, it is because of complexities that the mind wants to throw out in order to purify consciousness.
That is why we have the practice of Cleaning in Heartfulness, to remove all these impressions that have accumulated in our system from past experiences, and also the ones we are creating in the present. Cleaning is a much more direct practice than Jung’s “active imagination,” as it bypasses the need to observe thoughts and emotions that surface into the conscious mind. Cleaning removes their root cause in the subconscious, by directly removing the underlying impressions that have formed. There is no need to analyze, to understand or to experience the effects of the impressions.
They are simply removed, like dirt is removed from the body when taking a bath. With Cleaning, gradually the background noise of vikalpa reduces, until eventually the field of consciousness is clear and pure. Otherwise we will always perceive ourselves and the world through a distorted consciousness, and remain at the mercy of vikalpa.
Until we arrive at a stage of purity of consciousness, how can we make use of these fragmentary fantasies that arise in our thoughts, these vikalpas? As Jung observed, they show us our subconscious desires and tendencies. By simply witnessing them arise and leave, without judgment. It is like looking in an inner mirror, so we become aware of many aspects of our psyche, and we can then see how to refine our personalities and tendencies. This awareness can then be used to refine our character. In Yoga, this is the practice of swadhyaya or self-study, one of the five Niyamas, the second limb of Ashtanga Yoga.
It is easily done by letting the mind drift, witnessing it, and seeing what it thinks and feels. “Mind is not soul or spirit. It is only matter in a finer form, and we own it and can learn to manipulate it through the nerve energies,” in the words of Swami Vivekananda. This is the first step of Pratyahara, the fifth limb of Ashtanga Yoga.
Consider the following:
You sit to meditate first thing in the morning, and your mind is flooded with fantasies of a sensual nature. What can you do? As soon as you become aware of this distraction, stop meditating and clean point B, one of the satellite points of the heart chakra, for 5 minutes, so as to regulate and calm the tendency. You will then be able to meditate without being distracted by sensuality.
You sit with your family after dinner in the evening, enjoying their company, but very soon your imagination starts to run all over the place thinking of ways to get back at a colleague who blamed you for something you didn’t do, leading to his promotion and your sidelining. What can you do? As soon as you become aware of the distraction, meditate on point A, another one of the satellite points of the heart chakra, for 5 minutes, so as to regulate and calm the tendency. Then you will be able to find a productive solution to the problem, accept what has happened, and let go of the resentment.
When consciousness is not pure, our perception remains colored and the faculty of imagination is easily diverted into these complex and unproductive fantasies of vikalpa. In contrast, what happens when we have a pure consciousness, and we are able instead to project a vision for humanity into this purity, without any distortions? Perhaps we visualize everyone at peace, or in osmosis with the Source, or that we are all developing correct thinking and right understanding. How the soul will then shine forth and its faculty of creation and imagination become potentized! We would then be eligible for Samuel Coleridge’s statement that “Imagination is the condition for cognitive participation in a sacramental universe.”
Article by Kamlesh Patel
December 03, 2019
December 03, 2019
December 03, 2019