Contents for The Yogic View of Consciousness:
|Intro||Ch 1||Ch 2||Ch 3||Ch 4||Ch 5||Ch 6||Ch7||Ch 8|
|Ch 9||Ch 10||Ch 11||Ch 12||Ch 13||Ch 14||Ch 15||Ch 16||Ch 17|
|Ch 18||Ch 19||Ch 20||Ch 21||Ch 22||Ch 23||Ch 24||Ch 25||Ch 26|
|Ch 27||Ch 28||Ch 29||Ch 30||Ch 31||Ch 32||Ch 33|
I want to make this as straight-forward as possible to follow. I will do so by presenting a series of diagrams, with accompanying concise comments, and minimal elaboration. We begin with van der Leeuw’s ideas and then present Taimni’s ideas. Then I will wrap up with a general summary.
Here is an overview so you know where we are going.
According to van der Leeuw, our awareness of the external nature of the world is literally an illusion. This does not deny that the world exists. The seemingly external world is real, but it occurs, or is located in the “center of consciousness.” However, our perceptions are somehow projected to create the illusion that the world is external and we are embedded in it.
Taimni explains this projection process as akin to how a mirror projects a virtual image. He introduces two important ideas. Paranga cetana is consciousness directed towards the projected image. Pratyak cetana is consciousness directed towards the center of consciousness.
These ideas are laid out below. In Part 2, I will elaborate on these ideas and try to present them in the most modern terms I am capable. But for now, let’s just learn the main ideas first.
The World Image: Trapped in Consciousness
In Conquest of Illusion, van der Leeuw explains that our conscious awareness is a type of projection. To do so, he walks the Reader through a series of images starting from our common sense view of consciousness.
One must first overcome the illusion fostered by TV, movies, abstract thinking in general, etc. that we, in any sense, have a 3rd person view of things. As individual people we always have a 1st person view of the world, where we are at the center, and the entire world surrounds us. The following picture is meant to depict the world as we each see it:
What Figure 1 cannot do is depict what is behind our consciousness of the external world: our emotions, thoughts, memories, will, and self. The Reader will have to imagine those in the above picture.
Now we turn to drawings van der Leeuw used in Conquest of Illusion. Figure 2 depicts primitive sense realism, in which we assume that things as they appear in our consciousness are identical with the thing as they exist outside of our consciousness. Our consciousness is akin to a camera and records direct replicas of what is outside of us.
Next, van der Leeuw expresses the scientific view by including the brain as a middle-man between things outside us and our awareness of things outside us. This view recognizes that stimuli convey to the senses information about the external world which enters the brain, and via some black-box process (symbolized by the question mark in his picture) causes consciousness of the external world. We could add thalamocortical loops, gamma oscillations, and quantum processes to his picture, but the question mark would still remain.
Thus, Figure 3 goes beyond primitive sense realism because the brain is recognized to play a constructive role in generating the contents in consciousness. However, to use van der Leeuw’s terms, we still do not know where the “blue of the sky” or the “green of the grass” enters into consciousness.
However, van der Leeuw now questions that status of eyes, nerves, and brains:
“.. we must somewhat revise our conception of the process of sense-perception. In it the object outside was supposed to be unknown, but the vibration which it sent out, the eye reached by that vibration and the nerve and brain affected in consequence, were all accepted as known and familiar quantities and never doubted as objective realities existing there, exactly as we perceive them. It was this ready assumption of the physical body as an independent reality existing without, which caused the gap between the last change in the brain and the image arising in our consciousness. This gap disappears when we realize that our physical body too, as we know it in its shape and colours, with all its qualities, is also an image produced in our consciousness by an unknown reality. Thus the situation becomes that shown in Plate III, where tree, vibration, eye, retina, optic nerve, brain and physical body in general, are one and all shown as images arising in the world of our consciousness.”
Thus van der Leeuw comes to Plato’s Allegory of The Cave. We are trapped in the Cave of our consciousness: Everything of which we are aware—literally everything—occurs only inside of consciousness. This too is Kant’s view of things. We only know what is in our consciousness. What is outside of consciousness, outside of the mind, Kant called the “transcendental” because it transcends our ability to directly access it. In this view, we are forever trapped inside of our minds.
The Centre of Consciousness
van der Leeuw next introduces the idea of the center of consciousness. This idea is not unique to van der Leeuw but is understood in yoga, where this center is called a laya center or a bindu.
The idea here is rather abstract. What is outside of consciousness is not found to be outside of the body where we seem to perceive it, but instead is found at the very center of consciousness itself.
The following diagram is meant to convey the relationship between the outer surface of our consciousness and the unknowable (“transcendental”) external reality that exists outside of consciousness but projects itself into consciousness via this laya center.
Van der Leeuw explains this figure:
“The relation of the real world to our consciousness and the image produced in it, is again shown in Plate V (Figure 5)…. In it we see how the things in themselves, as they exist in the world of the Real [“world of the Real” van der Leeuw’s term for “transcendental”, or just the plain old external world as it exists in itself –Don], act on our center of consciousness and, through it, are projected as images in the world of consciousness, thus forming our world-image. It is clear how, through our consciousness, all things are as it were turned inside out; instead of being aware that they act on us from within we gaze upon the image we have produced and wonder how it influences us from without. It has become our fatal habit thus to look outwards upon the images produced in our consciousness and to forget entirely that they are projected there by the action upon our consciousness of things in the world of the Real. Thus, we are only aware of our own world, and, like the prisoners in Plato’s cave, we are so used to gaze upon the back wall of our cave and see the shadows moving there, that we forget and even deny the possibility of turning round and knowing the reality which casts the shadows.”
A Quick Summary
Van der Leeuw begins with the view that the real world is “out there”, outside of our bodies. He then points out that everything we are aware of is inside of our mind. Everything: the external world, including the body, senses, brain and so on. This gets us to Plato and Kant, where we are trapped inside our consciousness. We cannot know what the “real world” is because we can only know what is in our minds.
Then he brings in the yoga idea that our consciousness is not completely closed, but that it has a “hole” in it; a center of consciousness, bindu, or laya center. The world projects itself into consciousness through this “hole” INSIDE of consciousness.
It is a very strange and abstract idea. The only place one really finds the idea in Western thought is in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Something must project to make the shadows. In Plato’s Allegory, a fire burning at the opening of the cave projects light into the cave to generate the shadows. According to yoga, the projection occurs from the laya center, which would be the opening of the Cave in Plato’s Allegory. But how does this work?
Outward Directed and Inward Directed Consciousness
How could such a process of projection occur? Taimni is the only author I have come across who directly discussed this issue. To understand what van der Leeuw described, we now quote extensively from Taimni’s The Science of Yoga. He begins by introducing the ideas of outward and inward-directed consciousness. [Note: All the bolding throughout is mine].
“The … ordinary mind is…constantly and completely turned outwards. It is used to taking interest only in the objects of the outer world and this habit has become so strong that any effort to reverse the direction of consciousness and to make the mind withdraw from the periphery to the centre is accompanied by a mental struggle…”
“… These two tendencies which make the mind inward-turned or outward-turned correspond to Pratyak and Paranga Cetana (Figure 6)… This condition of the mind in which it is turned outwards and is subject to distractions is also called Viksepa. It is the normal condition in the case of the ordinary man and is taken as a matter of course by him because he grows up with it…But there is a mystery underlying this natural tendency of the mind to remain outward-turned….”
“If we are to understand this mystery let us first consider the formation of a virtual image by a mirror. We all know that if an object is placed in front of a plain mirror an exact image of it is seen in the mirror and the image appears to be on the other side of the mirror at the same distance as the object is in front of it. The formation of such an image can be illustrated by the following diagram.”
“A is the object and A’ is its image formed by the mirror MN. It will be seen that all the rays coming from the object and striking the mirror are reflected in such a manner that if the reflected rays are produced backwards they would meet at the point A’ where the image of the object is seen. It is because the reflected rays all seem to come from the point A’ that the virtual image of the object is seen at that point. It is easy to see that this virtual image is a pure illusion produced by the peculiar reflection of light rays. But the important point to note in this phenomenon is that an object can be seen at a place where there exists nothing at all corresponding to it.”
“In a similar manner the familiar world of forms, colours, sounds etc. which we see outside us and in which we live our life is formed by a mysterious process of mental projection. The vibrations which are conveyed through the sense-organs to our brain produce through the instrumentality of the mind an image in our consciousness, but the mind projects this image outwards and it is this projection which produces the impression of a real world outside us.”
“As a matter of fact, this impression of the familiar solid and tangible world outside us is a pure illusion. The world-image we see is a virtual image in the sense that the objects we see outside us are not there at all. Their appearance there is based on the external world of atoms and molecules and their vibrations which stimulate the sense-organs as well as on the inner world of Reality which is the ultimate basis of the mental image. The mind brings about the interaction of spirit and matter and in addition projects the result of this interaction outside as a virtual image as shown in the following diagram:”
“It is this projection outwards by the lower mind of what is really within which constitutes the fundamental nature of Viksepa and which lies at the basis of this outward-turned condition of the mind.”
“The fact that the world image which we see outside us is an illusion does not necessarily mean the denial of the physical world.”
Taimni not only gives us insight into van der Leeuw’s idea about the center of consciousness, but introduces the ideas of paranga and pratyak cetana, which makes van der Leeuw’s ideas intelligible. I note that Figure 8 is Taimni’s conception of what van der Leeuw shows in Figure 5.
According to common sense, it seems like the world interacts with the body and conveys information into the mind and consciousness via the senses and brain. Under this view, we are compelled to determine where in this chain consciousness enters the picture. Kant showed it is an impossible task to do so. Anyone attempting to explain consciousness in such terms simply does not understand the importance of what Kant did. Not accounting for Kant should automatically disqualify anyone from playing the game of “guess what the mind and/or consciousness is”.
The yogic view of consciousness is the exact opposite of the common sense view. The world you perceive directly in your consciousness is the outer-most part of the inside of your consciousness. It is the end point of a chain of events that begin DEEP INSIDE of your mind.
The chain of events begins in the unconscious depths underneath your conscious mind. Way, way, way at the very bottom of your consciousness is a “hole”, the bindu. Something projects up into this hole, like light coming through a crack. Whatever this something is, it projects up from the depths of the unconscious mind, is filtered through the subconscious mind, and finally generates the conscious mind.
In this fashion, your conscious mind is like a screen on to which a movie is projected. The “hole”, the bindu or center of consciousness is like the aperture of a projector, and whatever it is that is projected is like the movie reel.
You can imagine your immediate awareness as the inside surface of a balloon. The world you seem to perceive outside of your body is actually a projection of a “movie” on to this inside surface. The world that seems to be outside of your body actually exists on the other side of the hole at the center of your consciousness.
That is to say, the very center of your being is where the external world is located.
It is not outside of you. It is deep, deep, deep inside of you, inside your mind.
That is the yogic view of consciousness.
The yogic view is not beset with Kant’s problem. In the yogic view, there is no “transcendental” because the entirety of the external world is inside of you, access to which is hidden at the very bottom of your consciousness.
Final Thoughts for Now
What is the implication of the yogic view of consciousness? We will get into this in later parts of this book. For now, let us end with van der Leeuw’s profound description of the implications of the yogic view of consciousness:
“Let us then do what so few ever do in our hurried civilization—be alone and be silent. We should relax all effort, and renounce all sensation coming to us from without, still our emotions and our thoughts and sink back into the depth of our own consciousness, like a diver sinking deep into the cool dark waters.”
“When thus we sink back into the depth of our own consciousness we come to a state in which nothing seems to be any more, in which we ourselves seem to have lost name and form and all characteristics. We come to the great Void.”
“When we reach the Void within, the state in which nothing more seems to be, it would appear as if we were surrounded on all sides by a blank wall and as if it were impossible to proceed any further. Then comes the moment when we must break the habit of ages and, like the prisoner in the cave, dare to turn our faces the other way and find the way out of the cave, find reality, freedom.”
“We have to move in a dimension we did not know before; the prisoner in the cave never realized that there was such a thing as a world behind him and we can well imagine how, when first he strives towards freedom and ceases to contemplate his shadow-play on the back wall of his cave, nothing seems to remain to him and he too finds himself in the great Void.”
“The first part of our journey towards reality is the surrendering of our world-image and the turning inwards until we reach the center of consciousness, the second is to pierce through that center and find the reality which, acting on that center produces the world-image in the cave of our consciousness.
“The experience of going through the center of consciousness and emerging, as it were, on the other side is very much one of turning inside out. In our ordinary consciousness we are turned outwards towards the world-image which we externalized around us. In going through our consciousness the entire process is reversed, we experience an inversion, or conversion, in which that which was without becomes within. In fact, when we succeed in going through our center of consciousness and emerge on the other side, we do not so much realize a new world around us as a new world within us.”
“We seem to be on the surface of a sphere having all within ourselves and yet to be at each point of it simultaneously.”
Go to Part 2