We close out the discussion of memory networks considering the yogic notion of samskaras. Then we compare and contrast Western psychoanalysis and yoga. The history of yoga is thrown in to help illuminate things. This to set the stage to revisit pratiprasava from the first-person viewpoint.
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|
Networks of memories, networks in brain tissue, Freud, Jung, DNA: what does any of this have to do with yoga? In short: everything. We discussed pratiprasava, the dissolving of the effect into its cause, as the key process carried out by the yoga methods. What is the effect that is resolved into its cause? The memories. All of them. In yoga, these are called samskaras.
To get to where we are going, let’s start by recapping Patanjali’s yoga procedures. Yoga is chitta vritti nirodhah. Yoga is the silencing of the modifications of the mind (the vrittis). Why? So the seer can rest in its true nature (svarupa). How is this accomplished? Here is the algorithm described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:
2. Master the eight steps that culminate in the ability to perform samadhi. The eight steps are: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.
3. Samadhi is then used to silence the mind. The process of silencing the mind is pratiprasava, the recession of the effects into the causes.
4. Successfully silencing the mind leads to a state of pure blankness (recall van der Leeuw: “we reach the Void within, the state in which nothing more seems to be…”). This state is the prerequisite to attempt dharma mega samadhi (put into context here).
5. Master dharma mega samadhi to recede through the bindu into Kaivalya.
The purpose of everything we have discussed to this point is to understand step 3 in the algorithm above. Step 3 is the meat-and-potatoes, the substance, of yoga. Step 2 refers to learning the necessary techniques. None of the eights techniques are ends in themselves. They are techniques whose sole purpose is to learn samadhi. Even samadhi is not an end in itself. It too is a technique that is to be used to carry out the main purpose of yoga, which is to silence the mind.
What does it mean to silence the mind? It does not mean making our surface consciousness blank. It means putting the samskaras in an inactive state.
Samskaras are the informational patterns taken by the gunas inside the Cave of Consciousness. In the broadest possible sense, samskaras are “unconscious” memory patterns. They are patterns of movement (gunas) that encode information (memory). Samadhi is the method and pratiprasava is the process used to decode these patterns from their unconscious, encoded, state into the light of consciousness. Bringing the patterns into the light of consciousness provides for the opportunity to dissolve the patterns.
They are transformed by buddhi, understanding. In this context, buddhi is called viveka, discrimination:
Here are a plethora of translations from the Yoga Sutra Study web site:
“Clear And Distinct (Unimpaired) Discriminative Knowledge Is The Means Of Liberation.” [Hariharananda Aranya]
“The uninterrupted practice of the awareness of the Real is the means of dispersion (of Avidya).” [I. K. Taimni]
“Uninterrupted discriminative discernment is the method for its removal.” [Vyasa Houston, Barbara Miller, Swami Satchidananda]
“Ignorance is destroyed by awakening to knowledge of the Atman, until no trace of illusion remains.” [Swami Prabhavananda]
“The means of destruction of ignorance is unbroken practice of discrimination.” [Swami Vivekananda]
Or in the terms I used above: the light of consciousness has the power to disperse the samskaras.
Using the classic metaphor of the lake, the samskaras generate the currents and eddies under the surface. The currents and eddies in turn generate the patterns on the surface. Waves do not cause themselves to appear on the surface of a lake. There is always some external reason causing the waves to appear: the wind, underwater currents, etc. It is the same with the mind. Things do not appear on the screen of consciousness willy-nilly. The factors that cause us to be aware of anything on our surface consciousness are collectively called “samskaras” in yoga.
As we discussed in the previous chapter, our conscious experiences are encodings of unconscious processes. These processes form networks of relationships at the various levels: social, psychological, biological, etc. All of these flow patterns must be discovered, and then silenced, to stop the waves from forming on the screen. Chitta vritti nirodhah is impossible unless the patterns under the surface can be dissipated. The main purpose for learning samadhi is to descend into the Cave of Consciousness, discover the samskaras there, and dissipate them by the light of consciousness.
It seems daunting because there are many layers and types of memories. A “trick” used in yoga is to go one level deeper, see how the memories of the previous level are specific examples of some general thing, and then silence the general thing, thereby silencing the specific examples all at once. This is why there is emphasis on the idea of pratiprasava, of resolving the effects into the cause. If the cause can be found, all the effects are accounted for in one fell swoop. This is the origin of the idea in yogic cosmology that the four phases of the gunas go from the specific at the surface of things and become progressively more general as one descends in the Cave of Consciousness.
We now come to what I consider the big question of this book: How does all this work in practice? In this chapter we discuss prerequisites that will help us understand the answer to this question. In the next chapter we try to give a literal sense of what it must be like to make the dive into the Cave of Consciousness.
One will note that we are now on Chapter 22 and the word “karma” has not served any function at all in my presentation to this point. I have introduced and explained many Samkhya words which are of central importance to understanding Patanjali’s yoga. Karma has not been one of them. We are finally now at the place where I can briefly explain the meaning of karma in the yogic context.
This reason for this digression is that karma is one of the only Hindu words widely used in the West. People talk about having good and bad karma, and use the word “karma” somewhat synonymously with the word “fate”. One has an unexpected bout of good fortune and it is considered “good” karma, for example. Using the word karma in this fashion is not what karma really means in a Hindu context.
Karma means “action” (i.e. see here). As such, it is an effect. The cause of any action is the associated samskara. The samskara is a memory pattern that causes one to act in a specific way. The action is the karma. The memory pattern causes the action. Therefore, one does not have “good” or “bad” karma. One has a variety of samskaras, all of which cause you to act in a variety of ways, and the way you act is your karma.
There are endless trivial example one can think of. You like chocolate cake. There is a memory (samskara) of enjoying eating chocolate cake. One then seeks to repeat the action of eating chocolate cake. It is one’s karma to eat chocolate cake. The true meaning of the word is nowhere near as dramatic as the Western misinterpretation of the word.
Even though this is a trivial example, it allows me to illustrate what I said above about how yoga finds the general pattern. In this example, the chocolate cake is secondary and not the important feature causing the karma of eating cake. It is the memory of enjoyment that causes the action. The underlying general pattern is:
X causes a pleasurable experience, therefore, repeat X.
X is the memory, the samskara. X could be anything: chocolate cake, a nice car or house, having a family, sex, having power, being taken seriously, getting revenge on your enemies. You get the drill. The samskara is the association of pleasure with action X. It sets up a positive feedback loop: one enjoys X, remembers this enjoyment, and then seeks to repeat it. The memory, samskara, of X causes the action, the karma, of X.
So, it’s the samskaras that are important in all this. Karma is only a symptom of the memory that stimulates the action. Karma is a diagnostic marker of the underlying samskara.
In their study of what is hidden under surface consciousness, yogis have discovered five general categories similar to the above example. In fact, the above example—pleasure—is one of the categories. All memories can be reduced to one of the five general categories, analogous to how the above example reduces a myriad of possible memories to the memory of having the pleasurable experience of X. The five categories taken together are called the kleshas. They are the roots of all the other samskaras. Sarasvati Buhrman provided a concise write-up of the kleshas. I will summarize them here in my own words.
The word “kleshas” means “affliction”, as in having a disease, as in being afflicted with a disease. In this instance, the “disease” is being locked up in the Cave of Consciousness, of having the light of consciousness cut off from its source. Let’s define exactly what the five kleshas are.
The first thing to realize is that the five kleshas form a chain of cause and effect. The first kleshas is the most general and the second derives from the first. The 3rd derives from the 2nd, and so on. It’s easiest to just define each kleshas, then it is obvious how they are related:
Avidya – Avidya means “ignorance.” But it is not ignorance in the sense of a lack of knowledge that can be remedied by learning some piece of information. In terms I have used in this book, avidya refers to the constriction of consciousness into an individual mind, what I called ahamkara way back in Chapter 2. Avidya is a state, or condition, whereby the universal becomes constricted into the individual, something we have discussed at length. My book Experience is a meditation on avidya.
Asmita – The consequence of the constricting of consciousness is the formation of “I”: the sense of being an individual distinct from other individuals. This is often translated as “ego”. But asmita is a very general thing, not the specific personality that, for example, Freud referred to as the “ego”, and which we framed as the “personal memory network”. Asmita is more generic than anything Jung discussed, let alone Freud. It applies to any seemingly individual thing from an atom, to a planet, to a rock, to a human being, to a galaxy, to an individual Brahma, no matter how many heads that Brahma has.
Raga – This is pleasure, an example of which was given above. In the sense used in yoga, it means “attraction”, in the broadest possible sense. Thus, for us humans, raga may link us to chocolate cake. For an atom of sodium, it may be the giving up of one’s electron to chlorine. For Andromeda galaxy, it is the irresistible pull towards our own Milky Way galaxy. Attraction, attachment: raga.
Dvesha – This is what happens when attachments go unfulfilled. There is pain. That is how we humans experience it. It’s mental anxiety, impatience, and so on; it manifests in many forms in our minds. However, the most general term might be “tension”. There is tension during the pursuit of pleasure, of raga. There is a temporary release of the tension of dvesha at the moment of raga. But since everything changes, the moment of raga passes, and dvesha returns. Dvesha is the natural state of things in Manifestation. All of Manifestation is in a state of tension, wound up, anticipating pleasure. Pleasure comes and goes, then dvesha, tension, returns.
Abhinivesha –Abhinivesha is translated as the fear of death. It is the consequence of the actions of raga and dvesha on asmita. The “I” becomes attached to the pleasures. Pain is the inversion of pleasure. Both attraction and repulsion are modes of interaction, are ways things can be bound together. The difference is only qualitative; both are states of being bound. The “I” becomes bound to the pleasures and pains. For us humans, being “bound” to pleasures and pains means we identify our “I-ness” with them. Then a whole complex comes into play where loss of the pleasures and pains is equated with loss of “I”. The net result is a huge tension called abhinivesha, which is the fear of death, or the desire for life and experiences. Another way to say it that makes it more relevant to yoga is that abhinivesha is the opposite of nirvana, extinction.
The Kleshas are described in aphorisms 2.3 through 2.9 of book II of the Yoga Sutras for those who might want to inspect the originals (see multiple translations here). I show only aphorism 2.9 here because it is interesting how Patanjali describes abhinivesha (again, from Taimni):
2.9. Abhinivesa is the strong desire for life which dominates even the learned (or the wise).
It is worth considering Taimni’s commentary:
“First, that this strong attachment to life which is universal is well established even in the learned. One may expect ordinary people to feel this attachment but a wise man at least who knows all about the realities of life may be expected to sit lightly on life. But as a matter of fact, this is not so. The philosopher who is well versed in all the philosophies of the world and knows intellectually all the deeper problems of life is as much attached to life as the ordinary person who is ignorant about these things. The reason why Patanjali has pointed out this fact definitely lies perhaps in his intention to bring to the notice of the would-be Yogi that mere knowledge of the intellect (Vidusah here really means the learned and not the wise) is in itself inadequate for freeing a man from this attachment to life. Unless and until the tree of Klesas is destroyed, root and branch, by a systematic course of Yogic discipline the attachment to life in smaller or greater degree will continue in spite of all the philosophies we may know or preach. The would-be Yogi, therefore, places no reliance on such theoretical knowledge. He treads the path of Yoga which alone can bring freedom from the Klesas.”
That pretty much speaks for itself.
What is worth mentioning in this context is that most Western conceptions begin at the will to survive. They consider this the bottom level of motivation. There is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Darwinian evolution doesn’t really need a comment in this regard. Even Baars’ model of goals in the mind bottoms out at “survival” (see the middle panel of Figure 1 in Chapter 20).
As we see, “survival” is the most superficial level of the kleshas. It is the end of the chain of cause and effect. Avidya, the constriction of consciousness, is the bottom level in the yogic cosmology. This is a big difference that needs to be explicitly pointed out.
In yoga, the kleshas are the root of the memory network. If we go with the 36 tattvas of Kashmiri Shaivism, the kleshas come into play just below the maya tattva, since it is maya tattva that causes the constriction of consciousness in the first place, as we have discussed prior. Therefore, under the personal memory network, under Jung’s Collective Unconscious, reside the kleshas. From abhinivesha emerges Jung’s Collective Unconscious, from which emerges the Freudian personal unconscious, which we have framed in more modern terms with Baars’ memory networks.
Let’s explore further how the yogic ideas compare to our Western ideas.
Comparing Yoga and Psychoanalysis
I have not pretended to be erudite about Leibniz, Freud, and Jung. Too much is written by these gentlemen, and too much written about them, and I am a specialist of none of them. I imagine it must be similar when considering the psychoanalytical aspects of Patanjali’s yoga. Someone somewhere must have written about it because the connection is too obvious. I however have not come across such writings so I apologize up front for omitting any previous efforts of which I am unaware. The one author I have read along these lines is James Hillman who, intelligently and sympathetically in my estimation, points out the parallels between Jung and Kundalini yoga. This section is kind of along the lines of a Hillman, but not exactly.
My main point is this. Freud sought to use the unconscious as a medical tool. The psychoanalytical approach involves the therapist and patient. Just referring to one of the involved parties as “patient” sets the tone to medical. But it also has a shamanistic quality. The analyst (shaman) is armed with tools and techniques to guide the patient (seeker of knowledge) through the unconscious mind, and help tease out problems and issues, with the aim of “healing” the patient.
However, in yoga, the person is expected to do this for his or her self. That is my point.
This is a big contrast between how the idea of unconscious evolved and was employed in the Western and yogic traditions. The analyst/patient relationship mirrored a shamanic type relationship between the spirit guide and the knowledge seeker. In Patanjali’s yoga, there is a guru, but the guru is not a healer or physician. The guru/chela is more like a mentor/mentee relationship. The guru is trying to reproduce his or her skill set in the novice. The guru is a teacher in the normal sense of the term. The chela is an apprentice. It is a very different relationship than the psychoanalytical one of doctor and patient.
The domains overlap insofar as the guru is trying to teach the chela to navigate inside the mind. Thus, there is some overlap in the skills and techniques the guru may employ with the chela and what the analyst may employ on the patient. But the motivations, expectations, and end results are wholly and completely different.
The would-be yogi must experience the Cave of Consciousness for his or herself. One can be shown the door, but one must take the journey alone.
The Social Dimension
Which leads us to consider the social dimension underlying these differences. Freud had a relatively confined view of the end goal: to allow someone to be a healthy productive member of society. This is generally what medicine tries to achieve. Freud tried to make the mind analogous to the organs of our body. If everything is running smoothly and harmoniously (organs in the case of ordinary physicians, the mind in the case of psychoanalysts), this is considered “health” and, well…mission accomplished.
Jung saw all of this in broader terms. Jung recognized what I elsewhere called “the ungraspable” factor in life. Here I have referred to it as the “self-transcendent urge” (hat tip to Hegel). There is something that completely supersedes all our social conventions, mores, and norms. It plays through us, through our lives, and it must be given its due in a healthy, constructive fashion. Jung recognized that if this ungraspable essence isn’t given its due, it will come out anyway, possibly in violent and unhealthy ways. The healthy and constructive integration of the ungraspable, transcendental factor was his process of individuation. This is what Jung fostered and sought to achieve in his therapeutic methods. It is certainly a step up over Freud since it accounts for more of the human condition, leading to truly creative human beings instead of simple social automatons.
When we hold both of these approaches up against yoga, however, we see how limited both are. Yoga is “storming heaven”. No bars held, no quarter asked, none given. I made the comment that yoga is philosophical skepticism taken to its logical extreme. This is such an important idea that if the Reader truly understands this characterization of yoga, then I have been successful in saying what I am trying to say in this book.
Returning to the main point: in the 20th century Western tradition, the unconscious was framed as a medical thing, and there was a gulf between the “expert” and the “patient”. In yoga, no such thing exists. The guru is literally just a teacher. Reading the guru/chela relationship any deeper than this is, in my opinion, emotional sentimentalism. This is fine if one has such feelings, but they are expendable to the main issues at hand. In the end, vairagya is impersonal beyond anything the typical Western person can appreciate.
And that is the point: the yogi must learn to, first, discover, second, to stare down, and third, to defeat all of these things on his own. It is truly the embodiment of a warrior spirit.
This leads us to briefly consider the origins of yoga. It is, after all, an historical phenomena. It must have evolved in some specific social context, under myriads of social influences. Discussing this helps us increase the contrast between the Western approaches like Freud and Jung, and the teachings of yoga I am trying to convey.
Brief History of Yoga
Where did yoga come from? Short answer: no one knows for sure. Some of the key concepts of Indian yoga have the oldest records in Chinese literature that refers to Chinese practices. It is inferred that these made their way to India and were “Indianized”. However, there were also independent factors in ancient India that seem like plausible paths to the yogic traditions.
To outline these, this section is based on the book The Origins of Yoga and Tantra Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century by Geoffrey Samuel. Samuel attempt, with suitable intellectual conservatism, to reconstruct the rise of yoga in ancient India. Here is his summary from the end of the book. Read it and I’ll elaborate afterwards:
“What we are dealing with in the Indic material has itself undergone radical transformations over the long historical period considered in this book. In the first half of the first millennium BCE we can perhaps see traces of two rather different kinds of system of initiatory knowledge, that of the Vedic priests and the vratyas on the one hand, and that of the proto- śramaṇa cults of the Central Gangetic region on the other. These traditions undoubtedly interacted in all kinds of ways in many regions and places in what was an, at least partly, shared milieu of ascetic practice, but it seems worth exploring, as I have done in this book, the possibility that their origins were distinct, and tied up with different cultural contexts. The Vedic system was for the most part a system of hereditary ritual knowledge passed down in Brahmin families, but there are also suggestions, in the vratya material, of a period of collective initiation for young men as a whole, based around ritual and military activity in the forest away from the settled community. If I am right in suggesting that the origins of the śramaṇa cults might be found in early initiatory cults in and beyond the Central Gangetic region, with resemblances to the West African initiatory cults that played a significant role in the growth of wider social and political networks in that region in recent centuries, or perhaps to the early phases of the initiatory cults of the Hellenistic world, we can glimpse here the historical origins of these two different patterns and of their different emphases and approaches.”
He sees the origins of the yogic social framework (as against the methods and knowledge that constitute yoga) as the convergence of two cultures. The first is the Vedic peoples of Afghanistan and Northern India. This is a nomadic horse culture that values strong young men for their ability to fight in war. The culture is highly ritualistic as testified by the ancient Vedic texts. The second culture he places in the central Ganges plain and characterizes it as an urban and agrarian culture. Here the valued social type is the “wisdom-king” as typified by Rama in the Ramayana. The values of this culture revolve around reproduction, as opposed to conquest in the Vedic culture.
The vratya were from the Vedic culture and were young men who banded together to raid neighboring tribes. It might be analogous to joining the army out of high school for a few years. The point was that this group, by their nature was isolated from society for a functional purpose. Samuel’s general idea is that, over the centuries and due to cultural diffusion, the vratya ideal fused with the śramaṇa cults of the Central Ganges. The śramaṇa traditions were the forerunners of Buddhism and Jainism. These too were socially isolated, taking on functions of dealing with things that were necessary to society but undesirable, like disease and death rituals. Further, influencing both the vratya and śramaṇa groups was the general philosophical and cosmological milieu of the Vedic (Brahminic) and Buddhist traditions providing the intellectual backdrop (what he calls the “shared milieu of ascetic practice”).
Samuel speculates that, over time, the vratya and śramaṇa traditions fused to give rise to groups that were socially isolated yet contributed to society in useful ways by dealing with death and disease, and in general, by exercising magical powers over the elements that were of general use to society.
Then, somehow, by about 200 AD, you had things like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras representing the mature form of variants of this type of social organization (This is said with the qualification that there is no certainty in dating either the Yoga Sutras or Patanjali. Based on a variety of lines of evidence, none of which is particularly secure, a date of the mid 200s AD seems not unreasonable, but is hardly undisputable). We could call these social forms “anti-social” in the sense they are appendages on the main body of society, accepted by the main body, but aloof from it at the same time. Aloof in philosophy and world-outlook, and aloof in practical matters of everyday life, in spite of intersections with the main societies. Even though not part of the mainstream of the culture, they were accepted, thrived, and played essential roles in the overall cultural framework.
Of course, he and his realm of scholarship could be completely wrong. It is history after all, and we must remember that history is reconstruction, not fact. However, Samuel strikes me as a sensitive historian, plugged into the relevant intellectual communities, and constructing what, at the moment, are not unreasonable interpretations of what sketchy historical evidence exists at present.
To wrap this up, Samuel makes the plausible case that yoga as a social form arose out of a combination of two prior traditions, one of which was (broadly speaking) military in nature, and both of which were isolated from the larger society. This comes back to our concern about the difference between yoga and the psychoanalytic approach.
Psychoanalysis has its roots in Hippocrates conception of the physician as the one who helps fellow human beings who are suffering. Yoga has its roots in a culture where the magician must stand alone on his own laurels and fight, whether it is to appropriate the goods of the neighboring tribe, or to ward of the spirits of death and disease in his community. Over time, the goal of yoga became that of storming heaven, of appropriating the Absolute.
Therefore, where the yogi goes, he goes alone.
This is a very different mind-set from that of the physician in the West.
Having set up the general background and context of the yogic adventure, we now approach the climax of this book. In the next chapter I’ll attempt to recreate the descent into the Cave of Consciousness.
See you in Chapter 23.