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Who do you believe? : YSP 1.7

I’m on retreat this week (Oct 11 – 16), so this is a ‘scheduled’ post. If you’re reading this, it worked. – Kate

1.7    pratyaksha anumana agamah pramanani

Bouanchaud: Understanding arises from sensory perception, inference and faithful testimony.

Desikachar: Comprehension is based on direct observation of the object, inference and reference to reliable authorities.

The speed at which an object in free-fall accelerates towards the centre of the Earth is roughly 9.8 meters per second squared (g=9.8 m/s2). I have never determined the validity of this statement for myself. Sometime around 1978, my high school physics teacher, Mr. Holland, told me that was the value to use and I’ve done so ever since. Not once in the intervening thirty years have I confirmed this value experimentally. I just use it because I have no reason to believe that Mr. Holland lied about this. In other words, I accept his testimony on face value because he was a reliable authority on the matter and I have no knowledge of anything that would conflict with his testimony.

I’ve learned a lot of things through the testimony of others. I make decisions all the time on information that I know only from the testimony of others. For example, I’ve never been to Scotland. I have no direct perceptual knowledge that it exists, although I’ve heard about it from others. In fact, I was so sure of its actual physical existence than two years ago, I let my 12 year old child board a plane to go visit it for three weeks. And she reports back to me that Scotland does exist. Her testimony confirms the previous testimony. I guess it’s safe for me to continue acting as if Scotland is a real entity.

Now I realize that these are pretty silly examples but I think it’s germane to highlight just how much of our knowledge is NOT based on our personal perceptual experience. Certainly the sheer volume of books I devour in any given year is an indication of how important the testimony of others is developing my understanding of the world around me.

Testimony tends to have a bit of a bad rap. In any kind of science argument, it’s usually dismissed by one’s opponent as an “appeal to authority” which more or less cuts to the quick on this matter. This aphorism isn’t referring to just any old ‘word on the street’. The translators refer to ‘reliable authorities’ and ‘faithful testimony’. In other words, it comes from sources we can trust.

Again, we’re back to the issue of discernment. Yoga doesn’t ask us to believe out of blind faith. It allows us to develop a relationship with the tradition in order to question and explore. There’s a lot in yoga philosophy that I frankly don’t get. It’s beyond my capacity to understand or even imagine. It’s okay because the parts I have experienced and understood line up with my observations of real life. It matches my experience. For me, Patanjali has become a reliable authority on the matters of yoga. I’m willing to extend the benefit of doubt into the areas where my experiences run out. I may not be sold on all the more esoteric claims of yoga but I’m willing to remain neutral on the subject until further investigation sheds new light on the matters.

In the meanwhile, I’ll give Patanjali the same respect I gave to Mr Holland. I’ll take him at his word until proven otherwise.

That pretty much raps up this week’s discussion on the Yoga Sutras. As always, comments are welcomed and appreciated.

Thanks for reading and Namaste,


A general note: I write this blog to help me 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. These discussions are my perspective and not an intellectual treatise on the nature of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This is exploration and not explanation.


About Kate MacKay

I'm a certified Viniyoga teacher, in Fredericton, NB. I was a 9-1-1 operator and emergency services dispatcher for 22 years. Surprisingly, the two worked well together, or as I liked to put it, from the sublime to the ridiculous -- all in a day's work. I'm currently off work as a result of a stress-induced cardiac condition that's thrown a few crimps in my lifestyle. I'm not actively teaching yoga in the classroom right now and probably won't for several more months. That said, this blog is one of the forms of practice I can do and I thank you for joining me in this exploration of all things yoga.

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