The Yogic View of Consciousness 24: The Only Way Out Is In

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YVC 23 cvr-08Here we consider why someone turns to yoga in the first place, and why yama and niyama are so important to yogic practice.

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

 

 

[Note: Special thanks to John and Thomas Maguire at Pentamental for this chapter’s title]

In and Out
In the last chapter we looked again at aphorism 2.5: all is constant change and therefore pain, suffering, anxiety are the net result. Or as I said there: since everything changes, there is nothing in our first-person experience to provide an anchor on which to grab.

But there is something kind of like an anchor. It is the distinction between paranga cetana and pratyak cetana. When this distinction is truly understood, it becomes the closest thing to an anchor in life that one can have when our consciousness is all twisted and distorted by the ever-changing gunas. Hence my constant raving about Taimni’s diagram from The Science of Yoga as one of the most important images you will ever see:

This diagram illustrates the heart of the technology invented in ancient India to tame the human condition. It is the outward directing of consciousness, paranga cetana, which is the very problem itself.   This is the condition of being aware of only the vrittis of our first-person awareness: thoughts, feelings, perceptions of our bodies and the world, having all our little goals, our priorities, our likes and dislikes. This is the kleshas we discussed previously.

We don’t need to say “all is suffering” like Buddha did. We can take a less extreme view and recognize that pleasure is but the momentary assuaging of the constant tensions and pressures that fill our mind. Today we don’t call it “pain” we call it “the rat race”.   The kleshas, at this moment in history, have taken on a kinder, gentler face. But this makes them all the more insidious for hiding their true nature.

The only way out is in. This is pratyak cetana: turning the flow of consciousness from outward to inward. This is the technology of yoga. It is not designed to solve physical problems in the physical world. It is the means to go beneath surface consciousness, to navigate and conquer what is discovered there, all for the end-goal of freeing ourselves from this condition.

But okay, life has its ups and downs. But isn’t all this a little extreme? Well, let’s think it through.

Viksepa and the Worldly People
Please recall way back in Chapter 1 where Taimni used the word viksepa. This is a very important word in yoga. It means “being distracted”. Specifically, it means being preoccupied with all the vrittis bouncing around and reverberating in consciousness. Viksepa is the condition of those who do not practice yoga. This condition is a state of constant tension, of constantly being wound up, of constantly chasing after the promises of pleasure that the mind presents.

Yoga is the processes of progressively eliminating all the sources of viksepa, of distraction, and thus relaxing the mind. People who are caught up in vikshepa believe they are happy. They are the worldly people and they are the ones that keep the wheel of life, death, and rebirth spinning.

This is a fundamental idea, so I will elaborate a bit. Two angles I’ll consider are: (1) what it means to be worldly, and (2) psychoanalysis…again.

The Worldly People
Being “worldly” specifically means paranga cetana, of having consciousness outwardly directed, of knowing only the screen, the surface, of the mind. One may think of a worldly person as someone who likes to own fancy cars or a big house, or someone who wishes to acquire fame or power. These are not wrong, but just limited views. There is more to it than just these kind of things. Anyone who identifies with any aspect or feature of manifestation is “worldly”.   Other examples include doing good deeds for others, being intellectual, or even being religious and hoping to go to heaven. All of these are states of viksepa, distraction, because in each case, the person is focused on the screen of consciousness and bases their goals from what is playing out on the screen.

That is the main generalization: if the person is driven by something experienced in the state of paranga cetana, then they are “worldly”. This way of thinking about it has the advantage of being applicable to all the realms of manifestation and not just apply to physical experience. My book Experience discussed the Intermediate Zone and its false allures and half-truths. M. Alan Kazlev has his excellent sites about the Intermediate Zone and the Intermediate Zone Gurus. These are people caught up in the half-truths of the inner realms of manifestation. These too are “worldly people” when it is understood what paranga cetana means. In Chapter 11, I said that, to a yogi, even the heavens and the gods are just patterns of gunas. As such, they are just distractions, viksepa.

Please recall aphorism 2.9.  Let’s use Hariharananda Aranya’s translation for a change of pace:

“As In The Ignorant So In The Learned The Firmly Established Inborn Fear Of Annihilation Is The Affliction Called Abhinivesa.”

Even the “learned” still fear death. One who is learned in the ways of the world is certainly not practicing yoga. Let’s repeat what Taimni said about this:

“…mere knowledge of the intellect…is in itself inadequate for freeing a man from this attachment to life…The would-be Yogi, therefore, places no reliance on such theoretical knowledge.”

Just to be clear. When he says “mere knowledge of the intellect”, he does not mean just knowing what the intellect is. He means all intellectual knowledge about the world; the knowledge possessed by the intellect about every conceivable topic in the world. Again, let’s repeat what Krishnananda said about this type of knowledge:

“The condition of our being is the knowledge that is really worthwhile, and any other knowledge is an external growth which can be washed away by a bath with soap; therefore, it will not help us…”

Vrittis and Consciousness
What this all comes down to is this. The very first thing someone embarked on yoga must learn is to drop all distinctions and recognize there is only one thing going on here: vrittis in the mind. It is all just the reverberation of vrittis, waves, patterns, in our mind.

Yes, there are various levels, or types, of vrittis. Some we call “perceptions”, others we call “thoughts”, others we call “emotions”, some we call “imagination”, yet others we call “dreams”, and others we call “inspirations”. There are infinite ways to slice, dice, and categorize the pie of the mind. All of them are half right, and therefore are also half wrong. When all is said and done, there are only vrittis in consciousness.

I can make an analogy. A piece of iron seems very different from a pile of dirt, and both are very different from my hair or tooth brush. But in the end, all these things are made of atoms. Then, you look at the periodic table of elements, and see there are 118 (give or take) different atoms. But when you look close enough, you see they too are all the same thing: a very tiny hard core of a quark soup surrounded by a large “cloud” of electrons.

When we look at the world around us we see an incredible diversity of stuff. The diversity is just surface appearances, and underneath, it’s all the same thing.

Same or different? How about variations on a theme.

Same or different? How about variations on a theme.

The idea of vrittis is analogous: we inspect our mind in our first-person awareness and see perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and so on, and they seem to be very different types of mental stuff. But they are not, they are all just vrittis: changes. They are the various ways the mind turns, moves, and vibrates.

Yama and Niyama
This is where yama and niyama come in.

In What Is Science? I said that yama and niyama are to yoga what reading, writing, and arithmetic are to book learning (Part 6 for the citation checkers out there). I will say the exact same thing here: Yama and niyama are to yoga what reading, writing, and arithmetic are too book learning. You can’t do yoga without the basics of yama and niyama. They are literally the floor board on which everything is based. Like anything else in life, if you build on shaky grounds, then your efforts are pretty much guaranteed to collapse. If you build on a solid foundation, then you have a much better chance for success. Yama and niyama are the solid foundation on which yoga practice is built.

Patanjali provides lists of what constitutes yama and niyama. I won’t repeat them here. They are easy enough to find.

I will now say something that will be controversial to people who know yoga. If you practice these lists without understanding why, then you are just spinning your wheels. Please allow me to explain by discussing what yama and niyama accomplish in general.

The short of it is this: yama is the turning away from things of this world, of getting rid of our worldly tendencies. The niyamas are the things you do to replace worldly tendencies. In other words: yama is the dissociation from the vrittis. Niyama is trying to find out what else there is.

If you look at the list of the yamas, they all have to do with treading lightly in the world, with eliminating your attractions and repulsions to things of this world. They deal with how to deal with raga (pleasure) and dvesha (pain).

The list of the niyamas have to do with developing vairagya, dispassion. The niyamas tackle the big problem at the root of it all: avidya. What begins to replace our worldly desires and aspirations? It begins simple but takes on as many forms as there are different people.

The common element is that one begins to realize that things are not what they seem. One begins to question and wonder about why the world doesn’t seem quite right, and what that might mean. This is what “skepticism” means in philosophy. One quits taking things at face value. van der Leeuw brilliantly expressed the sentiment:

“Unawakened man knows only facts, no mysteries, to him things are their own explanation; the world is there and what else is there to know? Such is the animal outlook; to the bovine mind pastures may be good or bad, but they need no explanation. Thus unawakened man is content with the facts of existence–his environment, his food, his work, his family and friends are so many facts surrounding him, pleasant or unpleasant, but never in need of explanation. To speak to him of mystery hidden in his life and his world would not convey any meaning.”

It Snowballs Out of Control
This is a big deal. It is what separates armchair intellectuals and mere posers from someone in whom a true awakening is occurring. I referred earlier to how the self-transcending impulse that Jung (and many others) recognized plays through our lives. Ultimately, this impulse is the Rhythm of Creation van der Leeuw talked about. It is the impulse of the Absolute pulling us back to that state. It is present in everyone.

But it operates like a snowball going down a hill. It starts out slow, and only slowly picks up speed. But as it rolls, it grows and accelerates. Eventually it hits a threshold and becomes a landslide.

Thus is the gradation amongst people. In some, the ball has barely begun rolling. These are the worldliest people. They are the bovine minds that look at pastures as only good or bad. They are “content with the facts of existence”. As the ball gains momentum, people awaken to various degrees. It may manifest in a myriad of ways. People who make great achievements in the arts, religion, science or philosophy, great humanitarians, these are the various ways the impulse can surface as its builds up inside the cave of consciousness and begins to spill over onto the screen.

Eventually though, the rolling snowball turns into a landslide. When this happens, that is when one can rightfully said to have entered the path of yoga. The effect however, is not what one might expect. The effect is perhaps best described by the term “world-weary”. When this impulse takes control of the screen of consciousness, a person begins to find the world and its various delights dissatisfying, empty, vacuous. The word “maya” becomes very meaningful to such a person. The energy of the impulse cannot find satisfaction in mere worldly activities, no matter how seemingly noble and great. The mystery of which van der Leeuw speaks above becomes all-consuming. Everything becomes a manifestation of this mystery.

Again, it takes on myriad forms; each person encounters this in a different way. One size does not fit all. But one way or another, the path of yoga comes to such a person. Buddha had a story, Jesus had a story, and Mohammed had his story. They were all different. Each person’s story is meant for that person. My and your stories will not be their stories (although we can gain insight studying each of their stories). We each will find the path of yoga in our own way and in our own time. In this regard, it helps to accept Hindu views. It will not all happen in one life time. We will recycle on the wheel of Maya many, many, many times before we get to the point where we can clearly say we are on the path of yoga.

So, if we want to put ourselves in the mind of a yogi, we have to transcend whatever we think we are and we think the world is. Neither are what they appear. I said that yoga was philosophical skepticism taken to its extreme limit, and this is how it begins.

Mystery
Everything that was familiar becomes alien. Nothing makes sense anymore. One even becomes alien to one’s self. I will quote Weyl again because his statement takes on a deeper meaning in the present context:

“On the one hand, I am a real individual man; born by a mother and destined to die, carrying out real physical and psychical acts, one among many…On the other hand, I am “vision” open to reason, a self-penetrating light, immanent sense-giving consciousness…”

The man, born by a mother, destined to die”… Who is this person? From whence and to whither? For what purpose? You yourself become part of the mystery.

Then there is “vision”—being—a self-penetrating light. I am. That much seems certain. Even Descartes got this far.

Had Descartes clearly demarcated the light of consciousness from all the stuff going on in the light, he would have hit on the essence of yama and niyama. But he didn’t get this far. He thought God would not deceive us. Descartes, for whatever reason, couldn’t get to the maya insight and, as they say, the rest is history.

However, Weyl saw the mystery. Yoga codifies all this. The world no longer matters per se because it is a big ball of mystery. This is the essence of yama. This insight loosens the hold the world has on your mind. How can one anchor themselves to a mystery? It’s like trying to grab the wind and hold on tight. Yama: sand slipping between your fingers.

What is this mystery, how do you solve it? This is niyama, this is where one’s attention and concerns turn. This is what becomes important.

This is the floorboard, the solid foundation of yoga. This is the beginnings of vairagya, detachment. This is viveka, discrimination. This is the state of mind of the person who is ready for yoga. Again, van der Leeuw says it better than I ever could:

“It is everywhere around us, this wonder of life, nothing now is common or familiar, everything throbs with a mysterious life which is there for us to explore. The sacred enthusiasm of the investigator claims us, we desire to know as a starving man desires food, we cannot live unless we know; we will know if it must cost our lives.”

We will know if it must cost us our lives.

Help! I Need Somebody!
Which leads to our final topic. Let’s again consider this picture:

yoga vs psychoanalysisWho do you think better understands the mystery? The guy pointing you to the door of self-discovery or the guy sitting next to the couch taking notes? Who are these people and why are they telling you anything? Who are you and why are you consulting them?

Obviously, a person is dissatisfied with something to go either route. But in the case of the couch-guy, what advice will you get? Will you be told you are an eternal soul with a role to play in Eternity? I think not. As mentioned last time, the Freudian psychoanalytical approach wants to make your mind function in a “healthy” and “harmonious” fashion.

But what is harmony when everything is constantly shifting and sliding on itself? I already pointed out that the harmony of the spheres isn’t even there. Thank you, Poincare. Bodies age. Things decay. Change. What is “harmony”? It is, as van der Leeuw so clearly indicates, all but a series of relative conditions, each only meaning anything in relationship to all others.

And most insidious of all, the myth of “mental health” of mental “harmony” is an insidious deception that only breeds dependence. The goal hiding behind the Freudian impulse, behind the impulse of Hippocrates that lies behind even that, in the end, it is all about fostering dependence. Instead of “teach a man to fish”, it is feeding hungry people fish.

Sorry, but the world is not heathy and harmonious. You WILL die. That is a fact. Having an anxiety of death is not a psychological defect. It is an intuition of the kleshas. It is a constant reminder of the impulse that drives the Rhythm of Creation. It is a constant reminder that the Absolute, not you, is in control.

You are SUPPOSED to realize these things. This is yama. All psychoanalysis does is bandage over the symptoms and fill your mind with pabulum. Meanwhile, the analyst bills your insurance company and goes off on his worldly ways. In short, you’ve been pwned.

Here’s another angle to consider. That guy pointing you to the door. That is a social type that has been on the face of the Earth for thousands of years. Sure, it’s not perfect. Like everything else in life, there are cheaters and idiots and fake gurus out there. But that just reinforces the underlying dissatisfaction that drove you to this kind of stuff in the first place. Buyer beware and live and learn. Most important, not all gurus are cranks. There are many, many legitimate and sincere people at all levels on the path who are pointing to that door for no other reason than that they too know that the only way out is in.

What about the psychoanalyst? He had his heyday for a few decades. Then changing trends and fashions replaced him. Nowadays there is no couch and no one sitting there taking notes. Instead, it’s someone writing you a prescription for a pill that will numb your mind. Numb your fear of death. Numb all your problems.

I explained a little about the history of yoga in the previous chapter. We saw that yoga evolved in a setting where it was okay to act outside of the mainstream of society. We saw that there is even some reason to think that the historical roots of yoga were a warrior culture that helps us understand the “storming heaven” mentality found in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

There is nothing wrong with the Western ideal of helping people who are suffering. However, when you consider it from this angle, Buddha and Patanjali also help you deal with suffering, but in a very different way. The Eastern approach is telling you to get up off your ass and do something about it, and its giving you a prescription—yoga—of what to do. The Western approach has degenerated into forms of dependency.

Even Jesus was on Buddha and Patanjali’s side: “Teach a man to fish…”

Wrap Up
We’ve now covered yama and niyama. The only reason you go the yoga route is because there is a dissatisfaction in you. It is vague, nebulous, unformed. It expresses itself in all kinds of way: addictions to things and stuff, people, power, sex. It drives you to great achievements in the arts and sciences. You become the top of your field, or you don’t. You go through all this, and in the end, you are not happy. The impulse doesn’t stop. There is something driving us all from within. At some point one finds the path of the Jesuses, Buddhas, and Mohammeds of the world, and we discover that they felt the same thing.

This is yama and niyama. Yama: the world is an elusive ghost of hopes and dreams. Niyama: there has to be something better. Then one way or another, the door to the Cave opens. Then the real journey begins.

Let’s end watching a video I previously posted that says all this in a way that I like very much:

We get fed up being whacked left, right, and center

And the truth is the man maturing in his eyes

See you in Chapter 25 when we begin our descent under the surface.

5 thoughts on “The Yogic View of Consciousness 24: The Only Way Out Is In

    • Hi Debra

      Great to hear from you! Thanks for stopping by and thank you for adding that thought. I originally had a section at the end of this post on the idea you state, but I decided to remove it. The idea is too important to be an afterthought to what I’m saying here. The end of YVC will focus on the changed outlook one finds, which is exactly what you say. The Hindu idea is sat-chit-ananda. I mostly only have talked about sat (being) and chit (mind). Why do they include ananda, which means bliss, as a fundamental feature of consciousness?

      Again, so great to hear from you, Debra!

      Best!

      Don

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