by Swami Krishnananda
I have been discussing detachment in the observation of an object, and with this detachment true yogic concentration commences. In an observation or a perception, many factors—mental and sensory—are involved. Perception is not a simple process, but we generally take it for granted. In a similar way, psychologists will tell us that even to stand on two legs, hundreds of muscles have to work in unison. It is a surprise for us to know that so much activity needs to take place in the body to be able to stand on two legs. Everything is very complicated. All processes are interconnected, though they all look simple when everything goes as it should. Likewise, the perception of an object involves many factors. First of all, the object has to exist in order that the perception may be possible, as we cannot perceive a non-existing something. The object has to exist in space, and another condition which is implied by this one is that the object also has to exist in time. Not merely this, the object has to be related to something else in order that we may observe it or define it. Every perception is a definition of an object. We demarcate it from others and qualify it with agents by a dissociation of that object from everything else that is not that object. When we behold a cow, we can say that it is a cow merely because there are things other than the cow. If the whole world were filled only with cows, we could not know what a cow is. Every perception involves a segregation of the particular object from other characteristics.
There is an analytical process of dissociation of the perceptible object from other objects, and an apprehension which subsequently follows as to the location of the object as a definite something stationed in a particular form in space and in time. Then there is what we call a determinate perception of an object. We decide that such and such a thing is in front of us. These are logical processes taking place simultaneously in our minds. All these events occur so quickly that they appear to be instantaneous, but they all happen one after another and not at the same time. The quickness is such that we take it for a single instantaneous action of the mind. The object has to exist in space and time, and it has to be related to other things outside itself. Unrelated objects are not seen, and they cannot be conceived by the mind.
This relationship with the object in perception is twofold. The object has to be related to other objects, positively as well as negatively. It is positively related when we want deliberately to associate certain other characteristics with the object, and negatively when we do not want to associate the object with certain other attributes. In a judgement of a perception we immediately associate and dissociate characteristics with the object. We do not want the object to be associated with characteristics which we believe are not it. We also do not wish to dissociate the object from certain characteristics which we think are it.
This is the double mental process in perception taking place in every kind of perception or observation. The existent object is in space and time, and it is related externally to other objects and is also related to us as the perceiver or observer. This is a twofold relation: a relation to other objects positively and negatively, as well as a relation to us as the observer and perceiver immediately concerned with it. These are the initial factors involved in perception. But there are certain other things also involved, namely, that the senses have to operate in the perception of an object. There would be no perception of the object without the functioning of the senses. Our senses have to operate specifically in relation to that particular perceived object. It is therefore not merely the operation of the senses that is necessary, but the operation of the senses in respect of that object. This is another factor involved in perception: senses working in connection with the object in front of us. Even this is not an exhaustive definition of perception. There are many other factors. The senses have to work, but the mind also has to function. If the mind is elsewhere, the senses may be looking, but they will see nothing. Open eyes may not behold even a nearby object if the mind is elsewhere, so the mind also has to operate.
All this is important, but there is something more that is important. Our consciousness must be sane and in a condition of wholeness in its relation to the mind. There should not be an aberration of consciousness. An insane person cannot see things properly, because his brain is out of order, and the consciousness is out of whack. An insane person’s consciousness does not move along the proper channels necessary to see things in a healthy way. Consciousness should be healthily associated with the mental process, and it should not be out of whack. The mental process has to be connected with the sense organs; the senses have to be in relation to the object; the object has to be in space and time and also related to us and the other objects logically in its positive and negative character, and the object should be a real something and not a phantasmagoria. So many things are involved in the mere objective perception of anything.
Now, can we take each item step by step, stage by stage in its isolation, and not jumble them up together? A mind with an understanding of the whole process will not be satisfied with crude levels of analysis. A discerning mind knows every process and every bit of the continuum of perception. In the yoga meditation prescribed in the Sutras of Patanjali, we have to analyse these processes of perception one after another. These are the meditations of Patanjali, I should say. I do not want to use any Sanskrit term of Patanjali lest we become confused, therefore I am using only English equivalents in proper modern terms. The object is the concern in concentration and meditation—we know it very well. We are not concerned with anything else other than the chosen object.
I want to investigate at this point how to observe the object. Can we take the observational process in its actual form, rather than in a confused context? The teacher Patanjali tells us that in ordinary perception we mix up so many factors, and then we see the object in front of us in a distorted way. We have to cultivate the habit of seeing an object in a detached or dispassionate manner at the outset. “Do not emotionally get ourselves involved in the object,” is the first instruction, because emotional perceptions are not right perceptions. A mother cannot see her child properly, an enemy cannot see his opponent properly, and a businessman cannot see money properly, because they are emotionally connected with the objects which are their concern.
They evaluate things from their own point of view. ‘From their own point of view’—this is very important phrase to remember. Our own point of view should not be active in a dispassionate perception. Our point of view should be from the point of view of the object itself, and that is called ‘dispassionate perception’. This is of course difficult enough to understand and practise because no one knows what it is to observe in this manner, but the habit has to be cultivated slowly by a placement of ourselves in the circumstance of the object of our concentration. Can we detach the object from our emotions? That is the first step in detachment. Can we cease to love or hate? This would be the beginning of our yogic concentration on the object.
The object may have some relation to us, of course, but can we think of it as having no relation to us? A man in the street has no relation to us, but when we see our friend, we see someone with a relation to us. There is a difference between seeing a passenger unconnected with us in a railway compartment, and seeing our own friend sitting beside us in the same compartment. We see the unrelated person and also the related person at the same time, but we know the difference between the two kinds of perception. The one is detached; another is attached. To detach the object from the pervading emotions is the first step in this stage of yoga. The mind pervades the object through the various functions it performs, and the crudest and the most difficult of them is the emotional aspect.
Emotion does not necessarily mean running to the object in excitement. Generally we understand by emotion a kind of upheaval of affection and hatred, but emotion does not necessarily mean that. It is an attitude, and any attitude is an emotion. It need not be an upheaval or a mood of our feelings. It may be a very calm, sober and fixed attitude, but yet it is emotional. The upheaval of affection or hatred is only a very fortified development of it. We are not really talking about that, as we know very well that it should not be there when we try to relate wisely with an object of perception. That there should not be even an attitude is something difficult to understand. The attitude is also an emotional one. Attitude is what is called ‘evaluation’. Judgement, criticism, etc. are the different terms employed for defining the attitude that we have towards an object.
What is our attitude towards the object? Can we behold an object without an attitude towards it? This is detached observation. “It is like this, it is like that,” is our judgement of the object. This judgement itself is an attitude. Our judgement of an object is not right, and it cannot be right at any time. That is why it is said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged”, as our judgement is likely to be wrong. Just as we make judgements, so too are we likely to be judged to our own detriment by the other things in the world. That is why it is said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” There is no such thing as a correct judgement, ultimately speaking. All judgements are false, because they are one-sided. All judgements are from the point of view of the human mind, human sensations and human attitude which need not correspond to the whole state of perfection. All judgements are defective, so we shouldn’t say, “‘I make a correct judgement of things.” Practically, from the point of view of utility and pragmatism, the judgements may look all right as an empirical judgement, or an empirical veracity or as finally true. But universal validity is something quite different from the empirical validity of things. Factual perception and judgement need not necessarily be universally valid. That which is not universally valid cannot be called right perception.
We are interested here in the ultimate factuality of things and not merely the empirical utility of things. We should not mix up utility and workability with universality. To repeat, in judging an object we develop a personal attitude towards it. Our way of understanding the object is the cause of our judgement of it. Remember that our understanding of it is at the background, but is the understanding correct? Can we say that our way of understanding is the only way of understanding the object? Can there not be other viewpoints also? Patanjali has described these two kinds of judgements in his theory of the kleshas. He calls these kleshas or erroneous judgements ‘afflictions of the mind’. They are afflictions because they are errors. They are wrong ideations which will bias our knowledge of things and will bind us to suffering of various kinds. Evaluational errors and factual errors are the two kinds of kleshas or afflictions about which Patanjali speaks. The evaluational errors are easily detectable, but the factual errors are difficult to judge and understand.
As educated persons we may be in a position to understand that our love or hatred for an object may not be justified. Though we may be inclined to love or hate, our conscience will tell us, “It is not all right, and I am not justified in loving it or hating it.” This loving or hating is an evaluational error of the object. Any cultured person will be in a position to understand that love and hatred are not ultimately justifiable. To say, “A cow is in front of me,” is not an evaluational judgement, because I don’t love it or hate it. I am simply making a general statement that a cow is in front of me. But according to yoga psychology, even this is an incorrect statement. We think it is a cow, but we do not know what is actually in front of us. One may wonder why it would be contended that there is no cow present before us, when everybody agrees that it is a cow. However, everybody’s judgement need not be the correct judgement—everybody could be wrong.
This is something more difficult to understand, and here we are in the arduous process of yogic concentration. The yoga psychology of Patanjali tells us that our judgement that it is a cow is itself not correct, let alone our saying, “This is my cow, and that is somebody else’s cow.” That is something worse. The judgement that there is a cow in front of us is not correct, and this is what we call a ‘painless affliction’, while calling it ‘my cow’ is a painful affliction. “My cow, somebody else’s cow”; if we make such statements, we are in a state of painful affliction, but when we say, “There is a cow,” we are in a state of painless affliction. It is painless, but it is nevertheless an affliction, as it is not correct.
I need not go into the details of the painful affliction, because in light of our yogic inquiry we are all in a position to understand that it is not correct. We can discern why we should not call a cow ‘ours’ or ‘somebody else’s. These are crude ways of thinking. ‘Mine-ness’ and ‘I-ness’ are not good, as we have been told many times, so I need not go into the details of this. However, we cannot understand why it should be wrong to say that this is a cow that is in front of us. Here it is that we begin Patanjali’s way of concentrating on an object. He says that even the factual judgement of the presence of an object in front is not correct, universally speaking, though it may be all right from a particular person’s viewpoint. As I have said, the universal is something different from the particular, but we may wonder what the difference is. The particular is connected with a particular definitive character, while the universal is connected with all particulars. We can understand what the difference is. While the universal is at once related to all the existent particulars in the whole cosmos, the particular taken in its isolation and segregated-ness is not connected with other particulars. A single particular need not necessarily concern itself with other particulars. This is called ‘selfishness’ in ordinary modern language. When the particular asserts itself to the exclusion of the value of other particulars, we call it a selfish way of assessment of values. This is generally what happens in every valued judgement.
But the universal cannot be selfish, because it is at once connected with all the particulars simultaneously. Now I will bring our minds back to what I said earlier. Our definition of an object like a cow is possible because we see a shape and colour in front of us, and then we give a name to it. Colours have taken a shape to which we give a particular name—in this case a ‘cow’. If the colour and the shape are not there, we will not give it that name, and we will not say that a cow is there. We should also not rely too much on our sense of touch to identify the object. Our sense of touch is not in any better position than our sense of perception. Let us keep this subject a little apart for a consideration a little later. For the time being it is enough to understand that if the form had not taken a shape and if there were no colours present, we would not have called it a ‘cow’. To us, a cow is nothing but a form which has taken a shape. Horns, legs, etc. are names that we give to a form that we see, which is nothing but a colour that we perceive. This is how we have to go a little deeper into the perception of an object. The cow, for all practical purposes of judgement, is not a substantial something. It is only a reaction of colour upon the eyes and a shape that seems to be associated with that grouping of forms to which we have given a name. The reason behind the shaping of the form is its location in space. If space were not there, the cow also would not be seen.
It has to also be associated with time, of course. The object has to be in the present, so that it may be perceived. It has to also be in space. Space, time, colour and the relationship of this colour with other colours by a positive and a negative association and dissociation are responsible for our judgement of the existence of an object like a cow. Can we know what a cow is, minus the associations and its spatio-temporal existence? This is where the first stage of meditation commences according to Patanjali. To associate something with relationships, with name and form, and with ideas is the usual way of perception. To conceive the object as it could be in itself—without any such associations with other particulars, without association with a colour or a shape and without association with our idea about it—is to contemplate it as it is in itself. The cow, as the object of perception, though it may not be related to us emotionally, is related to us perceptionally.
This is the distinction between the evaluational and the factual judgement, as I have said already. We are not concerned with the emotional relationship of the mind with the object now. We are concerned with a more difficult affair, namely, the perceptional attitude itself, which is called the ‘painless klesha’ or affliction. It is an affliction because the mind is unnecessarily worrying itself about a situation that has arisen by identifying the situation with a substantial something. This series of relationships is perceived as a substantial object.