Experience: Table of Contents
|Part 1||Part 2||Part 3||Part 4||Part 5||Part 6||Part 7||Part 8||Part 9|
What’s The Point?
So what is the point of the ghastly picture we have painted about our experience? First let’s review and summarize that picture.
The general picture can be stated briefly and succinctly: our experience consists in chasing after mirages, then we die.
How do we know something is a mirage and not real? A mirage disappears when inspected beyond its superficial appearance. We find nothing there at all. Similarly, for all our struggles, striving, desires, and efforts to get what we want, we just die. The whole thing evaporates like a mirage.
For those who can appreciate things beyond the physical: whether there is life after death doesn’t matter per se. Even if something in us—a soul or whatever—survives physical death, for most souls, they just keep chasing mirages, but now in the inner realms. The impact our departed soul has on the physical world becomes nil, in spite of everything we were and everything we did when alive. The world goes on without us and sooner or later we are completely forgotten.
Just look at Alexander the Great’s empire. Or recall the names and deeds, the glories of all those extremely important Roman Emperors on whose whim whole societies rose and fell. Let’s converse of fond memories of our favorite rulers of the Umayyad Caliphate. Tell me your fond reminiscences of the Achaemenid Empire.
Oh wait… …you can’t.
So, while it seems today that there are great men and women whose legacy will last forever, time will eventually consign even them to oblivion, just like all those other extremely important people in history, you know; the ones we can’t remember or never heard of.
Why do we chase after mirages? Because we feel a sense of incompleteness that we perceive as desires of all stripes, and we strive our whole life to fill those holes. Why the sense of incompleteness? Well, I’ve offered the abstractions of Eenie-Weenies, potential infinities, and Maya.
Whether these ideas are accurate reflections of experience or not also does not matter. When stripped of all the abstractions, it’s really not very difficult to understand. We chase after mirages, pretty much to no end, because, in the end, we just die and, sooner or later, the sands of time erase us from the face of eternity.
So we come back to the question: what’s the point of all this? Here we are, after all. Why are we in this condition? What can you do with this picture of experience? What good is it? Can it serve a productive end?
The short answer is: yes.
If we take any other approach to our experience, particularly those that are optimistic (like God created it, or there is evolution and progress, or we must sacrifice for the children, etc. etc. ad nauseam), there are two consequences:
- We are lying to ourselves because life pretty much does suck for all the reasons stated above.
- By painting some kind of rosy picture of things, we keep our selves confined to this crappy condition by construing it to be something that it is not. Or said slightly different: truth does not come to the deluded.
The short of it is: you only screw yourself by lying to or deluding yourself about the condition in which you find yourself.
It comes back to the conclusion of Part 4: when we see through the mirages of our experience, whether mirages on the surface of the mind, or those underneath it, it should trigger off a new desire: to make it stop.
When our condition is understood, the only sane response is to want to make this whole nightmare disappear, to get off this insane merry-go-round of mirage chasing, to be rid of this condition once and for all.
This then leads us to ask: what else is there? What else can there be?
That is the main reason for staring right into the heart of the darkness of our experience, to stare at the incomprehensible insanity of it all. Because then we stimulate in ourselves the desire to go beyond this condition. We begin to wonder if there is a way off this insane merry-go-round. We begin to wonder if it is possible to be in a state where there are no mirages.
It is only then we are ready for yoga. The first aphorism of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is:
To a Western person, this short sentence just says “now yoga will be discussed”. But to one who really understands the overall situation of our experience, a whole dissertation can be written on just this first aphorism. Here is a 48 minute talk on just this first aphorism. The previous parts of this essay are a commentary on just this first aphorism of the Yoga Sutras.
Unlike the Western use of language where a sentence is what it is at face value, an aphorism in a sutra structure is like a seed, a genetic code, and it can be unwound and unfolded into the most complex of thoughts. Each aphorism is like a formula that contains layer after layer of meaning.
The Hindus figured out how to do this many thousands of years ago when books were rare, people were generally illiterate, information was orally transmitted, and means were required to convey a lot of information succinctly. We Westerns have no appreciation of the sutra method. Go study the commentaries of the Yoga Sutras and see this method in action. It is impressive.
I will now unwind just a small bit of meaning in the phrase “Atha Yoganusasanam”.
This phrase does not just mean “now yoga will be discussed”. It also means something to the effect:
“You have come to me seeking yoga. This implies you have now experienced life sufficiently to understand the necessity to study yoga. You have seen through life’s illusions, allures, sorrows, and limitations, and are now ready to take the next step. Your soul has matured so that you are no longer entranced by the mirages and enchantments of life and Maya. You are world-weary and done playing on the merry-go-round of the Maya. You sense there is something greater. Listen to me then, for I am now to elaborate on those things that are beyond the illusions and sorrows and mirages of your existence. I will now speak of how to resolve this seemingly unsolvable condition in which you find yourself.”
Something along these lines is what the phrase “Atha Yoganusasanam” really means. It means you are ready to learn yoga.
The Light At The End Of The Tunnel
The second sutra then tells what you will learn. It is very famous. It is the text-book definition of yoga: yogah chitta vritti nirodhah.
Again, a whole dissertation could be written on the meaning of this short phrase. Many such have indeed been written by some of the greatest minds of Humanity and also by lesser minds too, like me.
This essay, Experience, is also a dissertation on the nature of the vrittis, the patterns found in the mind. We have described these as the mirages of incompleteness, as potential infinities that make up the patterns of nature perceived by the physical brain and by consciousness at all of its deeper levels. The infinity of mirages of ever-ascending greatness are the vrittis. Taken as a whole, Hindus call this pattern: Prakriti or Shakti.
At this point, we could enter into a dissertation on the methods of yoga, but we will not do that here. For the interested Reader, I have written a summary of the overall methods of yoga, and a summary of the more advanced methods. These summaries are meant as introductory texts. For those who care to learn more, an almost unlimited supply of additional material, spanning many thousands of years, is available if one just looks for it.
Where we wish to go now is to wrap up Experience with a discussion of three aspects of our experience that lead directly to the methods of yoga. These thoughts fall somewhere between aphorisms 1 and 2 of the Yoga Sutras. By this I mean that, once we start to see through the mirages of relative existence and begin to question if there is anything beyond this condition (as implied by aphorism 1), then we need to find “anchors” or “hooks” in our present experience that serve as seeds that naturally lead us into the yogic practices, called abhyasa, that are implied by aphorism 2.
The three aspects of our present condition that naturally bridge us into yoga are:
- The capacity for vairagya
- That we naturally and spontaneously move between different states of consciousness
The critical, dispassionate, philosophical analyses that allow one to begin to see through the mirages and allurements of this life are a “hook” into the methods of yoga.
Such thinking will not cease if you begin practicing yoga, but will grow into understand that dwarfs your present comprehension. Such critical thinking is the basis of vairagya, dispassion; the attitude required to be successful at yoga. Yoga, ultimately, is wholly impersonal. Dispassionate insight is gained by using the intellect in ways unknown to Western methods.
The so-called “objectivity” of modern science is but a pale and feeble reflection of the dispassionate impersonality of vairagya. Modern science is not objective in any deep sense because it is blind to the role of the Self, the mind, and the senses when seeking to understand the nature of the world, as I discussed in What Is Science? However, the ideal of objectivity in science gives us an initial seed idea to begin to understand the meaning of vairagya.
Experience has been an exercise in vairagya, by attempting a dispassionate dissection of our condition. It doesn’t even matter if there are mistakes in what has been said throughout. What is important is my honest intent to find the truth. If the desire to find the truth is sincere, my mistakes will be corrected with time. What is important is the sincere attempt to be critical, thoughtful, truthful, and intellectual. Together these serve as the foundation of vairagya.
Vairagya is critical from the beginning to the end of yoga. It dispels the mirages of life at the beginning, lets us see that invitations from celestial beings are something to worry about in the middle, and allows the final jump at the end (this last one symbolized by the Temptation of Christ).
The External is Not Eternal
We discussed drisimatrah in Part 7. The fact that we are conscious and self-aware is the basis of all yogic practices. Like vairagya, it is there from the beginning to the end of yoga, and continues beyond.
Krishnananda’s statement “The External is Not Eternal” provides the central insight for understanding how drisimatrah can extricate us from the illusory state in which we find ourselves.
What does it mean to extricate ourselves from the condition of incompleteness and relativity? Where do we go?
The answer to these questions is given in the 3rd aphorism of the Yoga Sutras:
This aphorism describes the end result of yoga, the final outcome. Yoga means “the joining” and the joining is here specified: The Seer joins with itself. We can state this alternatively in terms we have used throughout:
- Drisimatrah quits projecting its being seemingly outside of itself. When this process of projecting ends, drisimatrah dissolves back into itself.
- Absolute infinity quits trying to twist itself into relative potential infinities. The potential infinities evaporate and absolute infinity is calm in itself.
- We no longer experience the emptiness of desire for worldly things. We find our Self to be whole and complete and there is no longer a need for attachment to worldly objects.
What all these describe is the state that is alternative to the merry-go-round of relative being. They describe where one “goes”, so to speak, after escaping from the looney bin of becoming. They are three different ways to say the same thing; four if you include Patanjali’s way of saying it. What they all say is that consciousness dissolves back into itself and becomes free from the vrittis and samskaras that put consciousness, drisimatrah, into the state of relative becoming and incompleteness.
Tangent for a Summary
At this point I must pause and marvel at the structure of only the first 3 out of 196 of the aphorisms of The Yoga Sutras. In just 3 sentences, an immense amount of information is condensed into the most perfect of logical structures:
“You are now ready to learn yoga”
“Yoga is the removing of the patterns from consciousness”
“When this is accomplished, consciousness will be alone within itself”
It is a marvel of language.
It is unfortunate that post-modern deconstruction of language has developed along the hostile lines it has. It seems if one wished to focus on studying language, then a deep study of the Sutra method would serve well the future intellectual development of Humanity. The sutra method has obviously been productive for the Hindus, but it needs to be widely disseminated to all of Humanity.
Ok, back to the regularly scheduled program…
Paranga Cetana and Pratyak Cetana
By studying aphorism 3, we can begin to appreciate more deeply Krishnananda’s statement, “The External is Not Eternal”. The idea is that the condition of drashtuh svarupe avasthanam, consciousness absorbed in itself, is the condition of pure internality. There is no “external”, no “object” in this condition. If we perceive anything as external to our self, then we know we are in the realm of the relative. But how can we not perceive something as external to ourselves?
There is a crucial set of ideas in yoga that explain what this means and also provide the bridge between our “normal” relative state and the methods and goal of yoga. I discussed these ideas here and here and now expand on the importance of these concepts.
The key concepts are paranga cetana and pratyak cetana. Paranga cetana is consciousness directed outwardly. Pratyak cetana is consciousness directed back on itself.
Paranga and pratyak cetana are the most important concepts I have ever learned. The realization that consciousness can be either outward-directed or inward-directed explains more than any other concepts I know. These ideas are not intellectual abstractions, but like drisimatrah, refer to something we constantly experience.
Recall Taimni’s diagram from The Science of Yoga:
In this diagram, ‘o’ is the center of consciousness, the thing Alan Watts discusses in Part 2. This is the center from which our subjective awareness, our sense of being, drisimatrah, projects forth. On the left and right (labeled “samprajnata samadhi”), the arrows go from “o” to “P”. In this diagram, “P” stands for “pratyaya”, which is the technical term in yoga for “object of meditation”. However, “P” can generally stand for “perception”, the perception of anything whatsoever that is external to the perceiving self. When the arrow goes from the center of consciousness towards anything, this is the condition of paranga cetana.
Everything discussed in Experience refers to the condition of paranga cetana. It is the only condition of consciousness most people know, even those who have experienced altered states of consciousness. The concept applies to people trapped in the surface mind as well as to people who have experienced the inner realms under the surface mind. The common feature of the surface mind and the realms underneath is that they all appear to be outside of the perceiving consciousness. They all are states of paranga cetana.
If something appears to be outside of the perceiving consciousness, whether that something is the physical world, the worlds of mind, or deeper “spiritual” worlds, it is still a condition of paranga cetana.
Paranga cetana is the condition of the Relative, of incomplete infinities, of unfulfilled promises, of mirages. Paranga cetana is the condition where drisimatrah projects its being onto objects seemingly outside itself, generating the tension and discomfort we experience as desire, want, and longing.
Then The Seer Abides In Itself
Now, if even the perception of the inner realms below the surface of the mind is paranga cetana, then what is pratyak cetana? Notice in the diagram, there is only one side “o” and the arrows point at “o”. What does this mean?
As I indicated above, it means, that, in some sense, consciousness projects back into or onto itself, or dissolves back into itself. This seems abstract as an intellectual matter. But it is something we experience every time we transition from being awake to going to sleep. The transformation of our physically-aware consciousness to any other state of consciousness involves the process Taimni depicts above. It is thus his diagram explains the mechanism of how consciousness moves amongst its many states.
When we pass through the center of consciousness, it seems instantaneous. It seems to take no time to transition from one state of consciousness to another. This is because consciousness dissolves into itself, and consciousness is eternal and transcends time. We are, for that instant, pure drisimatrah and everything that seems to exist evaporates in that instant. Time is replaced by eternity. Space is replaced by absolute infinity.
I know the previous paragraph sounds kooky. But this is exactly how it is described in the Yoga Sutras. I have written about this here and will not repeat myself. The short of it is: consciousness slips between the moments of time and thereby moves out of time and into eternity. This is aphorism 4.33 for any Readers who wish to follow up on the issue.
The seemingly momentary transition of pratyak cetana, when “The Seer Abides In Itself” seems devoid of any content at all, leading one to think it is a state absent of drisimatrah. But it is the exact opposite. It is pure being within itself.
The fact that pratyak cetana exists is why the Eastern approach will not just result in another empty promise. Pratyak cetana is the escape hatch off the Merry-go-round we call experience.
Of course, the natural and spontaneous momentary experience we have of pratyak cetana when we fall asleep is but a seed experience. It is built naturally into the body but must be cultivated to fuller expression. The whole study and practice of yoga is the study and practice of expanding this momentary experience to encompass all of our being, which is all being, which is The Absolute.
As people, as real human beings, we are seemingly trapped in the infinite echoes and mirages of relative existence. This is the condition of outwardly directed consciousness, of paranga cetana. We have reviewed its constitution. We call it “infinity” and imagine it contains everything within it. But it is all illusion. It is but appearances of things that promise to be but never are.
The whole phantasmagoria of becoming proves to us that there is something above, behind, and beyond it. Again, a mirror cannot show a reflection unless it reflects something. By analogy, the seeming of our relative becoming—the state of our experience as unending incompleteness—is like a mirror image. There must be something reflecting in the mirror. There is: Drisimatrah, our very consciousness itself. It sees itself reflected in the patterns of relative, transient fluxes of becoming and misconstrues its own nature.
Yoga shows the escape hatch; how drisimatrah can ever so slowly, step by step, layer by layer, dissociate itself from its reflections. As this process continues, drisimatrah recedes back into itself free of the reflections. The Seer Abides in its own Nature.
To summarize: that all of this is not fantasy is seen in two basic facts of our experience.
First, we are. Within our “Is-ness” we are aware, and we are aware that we are aware. That is the signature of drisimatrah, of truth, of absolute infinity.
Second is the fact of pratyak cetana. Even those trapped in the surface mind still shift amongst waking, dreams and dreamlessness. For those who have had the curtain pulled back, they know there are other states of consciousness, which are also mirages of relative existence. In either case, the second signature is there—pratyak cetana—the ability of consciousness to be within itself.
Drisimatrah is obvious. You only need to imagine your self-awareness free of all distractions, vrittis, desires, and movements to imagine drisimatrah.
Pratyak cetana appears as oblivion to those who have not yet learned to see that the ever-becoming and mirages of outwardly directed consciousness, of paranga cetana, is the true oblivion.
The Absolute Truth of pratyak cetana appears as but nothingness to those who have not learned to see its eternal, unspeakable brilliance, its infinite splendor.
“…when any of them is liberated…the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows…”
– Plato Book VII, The Republic
 An abrupt and instantaneous transition is called a “bifurcation” in modern dynamics. The transition from waking to sleep is accompanied by graded changes in neurotransmitters and regional brain activation patterns. However, at specific thresholds of these, the net result is an abrupt bifurcation in the global brain state, correlating with the transition in the state of consciousness. Bifurcations occur instantly with respect to control parameters. In some way, which I have yet to explore, the abrupt physical transition must be related to the ancient yogic insight conveyed in aphorism 4.33 of the Yoga Sutras. In short, what I am saying in the text does not contradict our current scientific understanding of the brain-mind system.