I’m on retreat this week (Oct 11 – 16), so this is a ‘scheduled’ post. If you’re reading this, it worked. – Kate
YSP 1.7: Pratyaksha anumana agamah pramanani
Understanding arises from sensory perception, inference and faithful testimony.
Tr: Bernard Bouanchaud
(Facts of) right knowledge (are based on) direct cognition, inference or testimony.
Science is nothing but perception.
The previous aphorism lists off five kinds of mental activities and this aphorism serves to expand upon the details of that passage. This is the teachings on “correct “understanding” or “right knowledge”.
How do I know something is true, factual, correct, to be trusted? Yoga says there are three ways we come to understand things: sensory perception, inference and direct testimony. Let’s take them one at a time.
Sensory perception would seem to be rather straight forward. Our five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch) provide us with information about the world around us. I look out the window and I see light and I see trees. This is an excellent indication to me that there are trees on my street and that it is daylight hours. After all, seeing is believing… well, not so fast. We’re all familiar with optical illusions, drawings in which the designer has exploited a flaw in our perceptual capacities in order for us to “see” what isn’t actually there. In other words, this is a source of information but not to be accepted without discernment.
I can also sense things inside myself as well. I have high blood pressure. It’s a condition that’s responded well to treatment but even in spite of my best efforts, it sometimes gets out of hand. I can tell because I can feel it in my teeth. Hint for you all: if you can feel a throbbing in your teeth, you should have your blood pressure checked by a professional. I can also feel things in my digestive system, the movements of digested food. I can sometimes hear my own heartbeat when I’m very still and there are no distracting sounds. You can also blindfold me and turn me around a few times and I’ll more or less know which way I’m facing before the blindfold comes off. Like most humans, I walk more or less upright, more or less in a straight line, because my brain is capable of determining where all its body parts are in space.
Some people, and I am not amongst them, have very finely tuned capacity to ‘see’ inside their bodies and they exhibit extraordinary control over the functions of the body. These are the people when asked how they’re feeling this morning, reply that their second chakra is slightly out of alignment. Krishnamacharya was recorded on several occasions, by credible witnesses, to have stopped his heart beat and then restarted it. These are talents that I can’t even imagine.
And for the most part, I’m not helped here much by standard Western science. For a lot of reasons, direct, exterior sensory perception is really the only ‘valid’ input that we’re comfortable with. As a society, we’re not overly keen on all this touchy, feely, inner wisdom stuff. And truth be told, I’m right there with them. Maybe it’s the 20 plus years in policing at work but I’m always suspicious of these moments of “intuition”. It’s not I think the other person is lying about it (although, conceivably that could be the case). It’s more that I doubt it even when I experience it, so I find it hard to take your word for it. That said, I have lots of instances where I can’t explain the results and I’m left with a final conclusion of “I haven’t got a foggy clue what happened or why”. Let’s just say I accept it in principle but am unsure about the bona fides of the application.
In one of my earlier columns, I said that yoga as a life-system was both experimental and experiential. This aphorism is one of the places where that is emphasized. Unlike other schools of Indian thought, which maintained everything is an illusion, yoga respects the power of perception. Provided that we exercise discernment, the products of perception are reliable and valid. The senses are the means by which consciousness is informed. The mind may be just “equipment” for Consciousness, but it is necessary and reliable equipment.
i can trust my senses. They are faithful servants and the more rigorously i train myself to use them properly, the better they serve. I train them by being present in the moment. I strengthen my sight perception, and my hearing perception, and my other sensory perceptions by fully attending to the moment. The other day I was out for a walk with a friend’s dog. I could have spent that hour having imaginary conversations with the people who live in my head. I could have spent it wallowing in some undigested morsel of my biography. Instead, I used the time to train my senses by utilizing them. I listened to the sound of my foot strike rolling across crushed rock. I saw the little tiny puffball mushrooms on the left side of the trail. I heard the birds and the crickets calling to each other. I felt the warmth of the sun and noticed the coolness of the breeze when it arose.
Police officers, and others who rely on their senses, aren’t born with the gifts of observation. They develop them. Like a weight lifter develops strong muscles through practice, I can sharpen my perception by attending to it mindfully. Since perception, whether internal or external, is the means by which Consciousness interacts with the world, I think it’s beneficial to me to spend some time honing this gifts of my mind-body complex. I’m one of these people who very easily can live entirely in my head. This aphorism is just another reminder of why I need to stay present in the “real world” a little more consciously.
The second means of knowing is inference and I think I’ll leave that for another column this week.
Thanks for reading and Namaste,
A general note: This blog is my attempt to integrate the philosophical teachings of Yoga into my daily life. I’m not an expert on Sanskrit, Yoga or Life in general. My teacher Kathryn Downton provided an important part of my education in these matters but I read voraciously on these topics. I’ll credit her for the parts that I get right and I’ll own the parts I mess up. I try to acknowledge my sources where I can but frankly, I haven’t kept good notes over the years on where I got this stuff. These discussions are one person’s perspective and not an intellectual treatise on the nature of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This is exploration and not explanation.