True knowledge and inaccurate knowledge
Here we will explore the first two of the vrittis – pramana and viparyaya. The definitions “right or accurate knowledge” and “wrong or inaccurate knowledge” do not really do justice to the words pramana and viparyaya, but there is no equivalent in English. Patanjali elaborates on these definitions in the Yoga Sutras.
1.7 Pratyaksha anumana agamah pramanani
There are three ways of gaining true knowledge:
by direct perception, by deduction and inference,
and by the words of those awakened ones who have knowledge.
True knowledge, pramana, emanates from purity and stillness, and is one of the uncolored vrittis. It leads to freedom. And according to Patanjali, true knowledge comes in three ways:
The first way is through direct perception – the absolute knowing that comes in an illuminated mind with an awakened faculty of superconsciousness. This may happen spontaneously in anyone, but it can be developed and cultivated through spiritual practice. It is the purest, most unadulterated source of knowledge that we have.
The capacities of the mind are like rays of light; when they are concentrated they illuminate, resulting in direct perception. In most people, however, the faculty of direct perception remains unused, lying dormant, waiting to be switched on. This knowing through higher wisdom and revelation comes very naturally in the state of inner balance, or Samadhi, as a result of meditation.
The capacities of the mind are like rays of light;
when they are concentrated they illuminate,
resulting in direct perception.
In Heartfulness Meditation, this is aided by Pranahuti or Transmission, which brings us to that balanced state. The direct perception of a person with a pure and expanded consciousness is the most infallible source of knowledge and wisdom we have, and is generally attributed to great beings like Buddha, Christ, Krishna and Mohammed. But the possibility is there for all of us to utilize the same capacity of direct perception if we are willing to practice. We can call this capacity inner perception.
The second way to gain true knowledge is through outer perception, what we normally call “observation,” and the related process of experimentation – what we know as the scientific method. This form of pramana is not as pure as direct perception, as it depends on mental processes, but it is still very valid. As explained by Swami Vivekananda, “In acquiring knowledge we make use of generalizations, and generalization is based upon observation. We first observe facts, then generalize, and then draw conclusions or principles.”
How do mental processes interfere? Perfect observation requires the observer to be subtler than what is being observed. Otherwise, the observer may obscure the object under observation. That is why Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle has baffled the scientific world, since what is being deployed to measure the speed or the position of an electron is not as subtle as the electron! The observer must be subtler than the observed. In the field of quantum science, the observer effect is well known. An observer is never a mere presence. Observation is an act, and so an observer acts, interferes, and changes things. The state of observation is often goal-oriented; the observing mind seeks an outcome. In other words, it is often an imposition. The observational mind is rarely passive or disinterested.
Per contra, witnessing is passive. It is neither participatory nor involved. When we are in a very subtle state and we witness things, we do not interfere with them. Humility at its pinnacle creates this neutrality, this subtlety within – a pure non-interfering state where we do not expect or impose anything. To a witness, thoughts are like clouds passing in the sky.
Who is this witness? It is not the mind. The mind is incapable of pure witnessing. The mystery is revealed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita:
The Supreme Purusha in this body
is also called the Witness,
the One who permits,
the One who experiences,
the Great Lord and the Supreme Self.
It is our inner dweller, the soul, who witnesses. Mindconsciousness creates the observer, whereas consciousness of the soul creates the witness. So outer perception is also refined, developed and cultivated through spiritual practice. As our being becomes subtler and subtler we become better scientists! And this second method eventually becomes identical with the first method – inner and outer perception are no longer separate processes. Ram Chandra explains it the following way in his book Sahaj Marg Philosophy:
Sages in India have generally attempted philosophy by first going into the life of practicality. They have opened the secrets of existing things as far as they could do at their level of advancement. … We should always attempt the expression of things when our practice or abhyas is over. This is the key point for the philosopher to note in order to achieve the accuracy of things.
The third way to gain true knowledge is through absorbing the teachings of enlightened beings who themselves have the capacity of direct perception. We are then able to make this knowledge our own by verifying it through our own experience (methods 1 and 2). It saves us time, like passing through a forest on a well-worn path rather than forging our own path. This is why we search for enlightened teachers, read books by them, read the great scriptures of the past and, finally, based on the heart’s signals, we conclude for ourselves.
In fact, all three methods are intertwined and part of a spectrum of perception. We can use the three in a complementary way so as to arrive at our own understanding of right knowledge. The common factor in the success of all three methods is in having a pure field of consciousness, so that we can make the best use of the knowledge given to us.
1.8 Viparyayah mithya jnanam atad rupa pratistham
Wrong knowledge or illusion
is the false understanding
that results from perceiving things
as other than what they really are.
The concept of inaccurate knowledge needs very little explanation; there are so many scientific studies that show that our perception can be distorted by so many things – drugs and alcohol, lack of sleep, stress, fear, anger, prejudice, other strong emotions, and also by addiction to things like food or sex.
What happens, for example, when we are stressed? We go into “fight or flight response” mode. The stress hormones are active, the sympathetic nervous system is primed, and blood shifts to our limbs and to the back part of the brain, in order to heighten our instincts for survival. We are prepared to attack or defend. It is an automatic physiological response. All our energy is directed towards survival, and the mind is not able to be contemplative but in a strongly reactive mode. What will be our perception of another person in that state? We are much more likely to project our own state onto them.
Also, anything that blurs the clarity and purity of the chakras in the region of the heart will lead us towards false knowledge, and may result in consciousness being colored by emotional reactions like guilt, shame, worry, anxiety, fear, fearless arrogance, anger, sensual desire, greed, jealousy, resentment, envy and hatred. When the heart is burdened by the impressions from the past, known as samskaras in Yoga, it is like putting lenses of colored glass in front of a candle flame – when one lens is placed in front of the flame, it clouds the image of the flame to some extent, but as we add more and more lenses of different colors, eventually we don’t see the flame at all. The lenses are a good analogy for the layers of impressions we accumulate through life’s experiences, each one covering more of the light of the atman or soul. In fact, our ability to perceive with clarity is directly proportional to the purity of our field of consciousness.
When the heart is burdened by the impressions
from the past, known as samskaras in Yoga,
it is like putting lenses of colored glass
in front of a candle flame – when one lens is placed
in front of the flame, it clouds the image of the flame to some extent,
but as we add more and more lenses of different colors,
eventually we don’t see the flame at all.
That is why we have the practice of Cleaning in Heartfulness, to remove all these impressions that accumulate in our system from past experiences, and also the ones we are creating in the present. Otherwise we will always perceive ourselves and the world with a colored consciousness, and as a result we remain prey to illusion or viparyaya.
In summary, the comparison of these first two vrittis, pramana and viparyaya, highlights the importance of maintaining a pure field of consciousness. With this comes the clarity and discernment known as Viveka in Yoga. It is the first of the four Sadhanas of Yoga, the Sadhana Chatushtaya. We become capable of receiving knowledge through direct superconscious perception, through unbiased observation, and through the wise teachings of enlightened beings. That is the way of pramana.
In today’s world, most of us are doing just the opposite – we are carrying such a heavy burden of impressions in the subconscious mind that we struggle to follow the way of right knowledge, despite our best efforts, and we easily get confused. There is a distortion of truth and knowledge, and it creates an unstable base. Take the example of a mighty elephant. He is conditioned little by little; first he is tied to a tree with a rope, and each time he is tied he feels helpless and stands in one place. Eventually he becomes so conditioned that he no longer believes in his own ability to act, and this mighty elephant can then be tied to a light plastic chair in the circus, when he could tear the whole tent down if he wished to do so. With this sort of conditioning, we lose the right perspective, unable to witness our own strength.
It is very difficult to be happy, peaceful and make wise decisions when the foundation of perception is shaky. So many of us are frustrated, because no matter how hard we try to do the right thing, often things go wrong.
Our heart becomes our guiding compass,
and we learn to listen to the heart
with ever-increasing confidence and joy.
Then life takes on a different dimension –
psychologically we experience true well-being.
The first step in this journey is to acknowledge our current state, to accept that we need to be centered in stillness, and that our perception is colored by the tendencies or vrittis that we have created in our field of consciousness, leading to viparyaya. When we start to experience the discipline of Yoga, through glimpses of inner stillness, we are able to journey towards our center of being and experience pramana directly. As we further develop this ability, our heart becomes our guiding compass, and we learn to listen to the heart with ever-increasing confidence and joy. Then life takes on a different dimension – psychologically we experience true well-being.
Article by KAMLESH PATEL
December 03, 2019
December 03, 2019
December 03, 2019