The Yogic View of Consciousness 25: The Dive


YVC 25 cover 01We continue to discuss yoga from a first person perspective. Here we link pratiprasava, the dive through consciousness, to altered states of consciousness.

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


Cracks in the Veneer
The popular image of yoga as exercise, health, fitness, and postures is a strange thing. It does not reflect yoga so much as it reflects modern Western society’s inability to perceive what yoga is. It’s like the social analog of a psychological defense mechanism; a repression of the truth, a projection of the collective mentality. It is the old adage that we see only what we are capable of seeing.

The modern West is secular and knows only the physical. Therefore it has no choice but to, on average, interpret yoga in these terms. The qualifier “on average” is important. I am not making wholesale generalizations here. There is much written about yoga that is valuable and realistic in the West. However, on average, and in popular culture in particular, yoga is portrayed mostly in physical terms.

Real yoga is completely far out compared to the popular image of yoga. Of course, the ideas we’ve covered already are far out relative to the secular mainstream. We’ve discussed the Samkhya philosophy, bolstered by some later innovations from the Vishnu and Shiva traditions. These ideas do not eclipse Western thought in general. But we’ve had to go down some strange roads to find places where the ancient Indian ideas mesh with things in our Western heritage.

We’ve invoked weird stuff like Kant’s transcendental noumena, Berkeley’s mind of God, Leibniz’ monads, Cantors kooky transfinite numbers, Nicholas of Cusa’s learned ignorance. We did this following Taimni’s suggestion to look for templates and patterns of organization that can provide our intellects something to grab onto. We’ve been forced to go this route because most of the insights of Samkhya stem from experiences that do not come from the physical world of our sensory experience.

Yoga leads us beyond the sensory world of our physical experience. This is a major consequence of the combined effect of yama and niyama. Yama loosens the grip of physical experience on our minds. Niyama fires us up to find out if there is anything more. These two processes work together to crack the veneer of the surface mind.

Then the door cracks open, and it becomes possible to slip under the surface. What is found there was called the Intermediate Zone by Sri Aurobindo. These are the vast realms of consciousness that are not physical, but underlie our physical experience. We’ve been discussing them all along. Patanjali called them visesa, avisesa, linga, and alinga, the four states of the gunas. Patanjali doesn’t just tell us their names, he tells us how to go to the worlds buried under our surface minds.

He tells us how in aphorism 4.1:

aphorism 4.1

Cutting and pasting translations from the Yoga Sutra Study website:

“Supernormal Powers Come With Birth Or Are Attained Through Herbs, Incantations, Austerities Or Concentration”. [HA]

“The Siddhis are the result of birth, drugs, Mantras austerities or Samadhi.” [IT]

“Siddhis are born of practices performed in previous births, or by herbs, mantra repetition, asceticism, or by samadhi. [VH], [BM], [SS]

“The psychic powers may be obtained either by birth, or by means of drugs, or by the power of words, or by the practice of austerities, or by concentration.” [SP]

“The Siddhis (powers) are attained by birth, chemical means, power of words, mortification or concentration.” [SV]

Patanjali’s explains this in the context of the siddhis, the supposed “superpowers” gained from advanced yoga practice. The siddhis encompass more than just going below the surface mind. But going below the surface mind is a prerequisite for gaining siddhis. In modern terms, this all falls under the heading “altered states of consciousness”. Therefore, now is the time to bring this topic into the discussion.

More or Less
I previously discussed the siddhis in Chapter 3 of What is Science? and now elaborate further here. The first important point to note is siddhis can be induced by all the methods listed in aphorism 4.1. However, samadhi is the superior method. The other methods have serious limits.

Siddhis from birth (e.g. those one is born with) or drugs are highly limited in what they achieve. If one has siddhis from birth, there is the possibility to continue to refine them by further training and practice. Drugs, on the other hand, provide fixed windows into the psychic realms. Each drug is like a pre-built window that forces and fixes the scope of one’s experiences. Tapas (austerities) and mantras, like drugs, provide only limited windows. All three—drugs, tapas and mantras—can be likened to specific computer programs that carry out very limited functions.

In contrast, learning samadhi is like a general purpose computer. You can run any program on a general purpose computer. Similarly, once the skill of samadhi is learned, it can be applied in a general way to invoke a large range of possible altered states of consciousness. This is not to trivialize or downplay the need for proper training and practice. Learning a specific siddhi through the application of samadhi is no trivial task. One can spend years refining and perfecting a single siddhi learned through samadhi.

But it cannot be stressed strong enough: the purpose of samadhi is not to learn siddhis. As has been repeatedly stressed, the goal of samadhi is to use it as a tool to find Kaivalya, not to develop siddhis.

However, if siddhis become open to one who can do samadhi, why would one not want to develop siddhis? Let’s look further into the issue.

The Siddhis
The siddhis are described in book 3 of the Yoga Sutras and include things that Western people generally do not believe in like clairvoyance, astral projection, and other seemingly strange things. Patanjali, for example, explains that one can “see into” the past and future (3.16), learn one’s past lives (3.18), read other’s minds (3.19), turn invisible (3.21), gain the strength of an elephant (aphorism 3.24), see atoms (3.25), and even seemingly do astronomy: e.g. learn the true nature of the sun (3.26), moon (3.27), and pole star (3.28). This is only a fraction of the siddhis he describes.

Let’s pretend this is true for a second.   If true, these seem like useful skills. Why would one not want to learn how to do these things?

Let’s now not pretend the siddhis are true and be skeptical. The description of the siddhis is one of the biggest curiosities of the Yoga Sutras. In our modern era of science and technology, the siddhis sound like fantasy from a Brothers Grimm fairy tale or Marvel Comics. They are so fantastic and unbelievable that one wonders if Patanjali put them in there as a hook to lure gullible people into yoga.

The Yoga Sutras sends a mixed message about the siddhis.   Overtly, they are warned against, even if covertly Patanjali may appeal to some people’s desires for knowledge and/or power. In Experience I discussed aphorism 3.52 (this is listed as 3.51 at the Yoga Sutra Study web site for those of you interested to look there). This aphorism is quite obviously a warning against the exercise of the siddhis:

3-52Let’s use Swami Satchidananda’s translation:

“The Yogi should neither accept nor smile with pride at the admiration of even the celestial beings, as there is the possibility of his getting caught again in the undesirable.”

Through the advanced application of samadhi a yogi can gain tremendous power; enough to cause the “gods” to turn their heads and take notice of an otherwise pip-squeak human. Patanjali warns that when this happens, to just ignore it. This is the application of vairagya, dispassion, during the dive through the cave of consciousness. The implication here is that the siddhis in general are just an amped-up version of viksepa, distraction. Hanging out with super-physical celestial beings is certainly a distraction from the main goal of yoga to achieve Kaivalya.

All of this is jokingly fantastic to the average Western mind. One might be tempted to think it would be pretty cool to hang with divine beings. I mean, people freak out over movie stars so why not go hang with the devas and devatas?

I answered this in What is Science? (Chapter 10) and will repeat a bit of it here:

“…the very nature of yoga precludes the use of siddhis in the worlds of the gunas. Instead, yoga goes for the “big money”. Yoga seeks nothing less than infinity.   The goal of yoga is to experience the actual infinity that is consciousness per se. There is no comparison between the experience of the actual infinity of consciousness and any relative experience.”

There are a lot of reasons why infinity is preferable to the finite. One of my favorite Hindu stories revolves around this issue.  This is the story of Narada and Vishnu.  It tells what happens when the pip-squeak yogi gets enamored by having been taken notice of by the gods, Vishnu in this case.   I read this in a book by Heinrich Zimmer. Here is a short Youtube video of the tale:

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the Reader to think about how this story implies that the infinite is preferable to the finite. To keep the present discussion moving along, let’s ask: What are we do make of the siddhis, of this most fantastic aspect of the Yoga Sutras?

It’s Real, It’s Real, It’s Real
Please recall what I said about those wonderful pictures of Vishnu sweating universes: they are quite literal. It’s the same for everything we’ve discussed in our Yogic View of Consciousness. The picture we have looked at over and over of the projector and cave, etc. this is what scientists call a model. It is meant to depict or symbolize a literal reality. Let’s summarize this picture from a first person viewpoint.

Once the cracks appear in the surface mind, the first thing to spill onto the surface mind are the mostly-hidden memories that Baars and Freud discussed. They are no longer hidden. They are now illuminated by the light of consciousness. If we practice yama and niyma, they come out gradually and in a managable way.  If you do the other methods Patanjali lists above, you stand a chance of opening a flood gate and they may come out all at once and inundate you.  Either way, we metaphorically find ourselves swimming in them. When this happens, yama and niyama take on a greater meaning than their initial role in questioning surface consciousness. Yama and niyama become the tools to navigate our personal memory network.

Learning to manage what is immediately beneath the surface leads to the necessity to go deeper. It becomes clear that the realm of mind described by Baars and Freud is being caused by something else. Seeking to find these deeper causes propels the dive into the deeper layers of consciousness. We come face to face with the Collective Unconscious. Jung was quite right to look to our dreams because this is where we find ourselves. We discover dreams are a strange blending of the personal and the collective. The elimination of the personal, vritti nirodhah, becomes necessary so that we may experience the collective, untainted by our own colors.

Once in the collective realm of the dream world, everything becomes very strange, very abstract. The intellectual mind of our waking consciousness has no idea. Materialism, physicalism, and realism are brushed aside like child’s toys. Idealism becomes quite real. Idealism becomes realism. The stuff of reality is the mind. But whose mind?

Please recall I previously pointed out that we generally assume that there is someone who has a memory. Likewise, we always assume there is someone who has a mind. But whose mind is it? Is it my mind or your mind? We begin to suspect it is just Mind. Minds. Minds within minds within minds. Functioning in ways that are beyond words and imagination, both figuratively and literally.  That stuff Berkeley had an intuition of, it becomes quite real.

The word “ineffable” comes into play now. But it is not ineffable in the sense the Absolute is. The inner realms are ineffable because we lack a common vocabulary and common frame of reference. Weird old books like the Yoga Sutras provide us with a vocabulary and frame of reference.

Frames of Reference
Trying to describe what is in the mind of someone doing Patanjali’s yoga is an ambitious task that borders on the stupid. It is rare to find commentaries that attempt to describe the inner realities. Once again Taimni explains for us:

“When we say that the realities of the spiritual worlds are beyond the realm of the intellect what we mean is that the intellect cannot have a direct perception of those realities which is possible only when the intellect is transcended and consciousness can know the realities by becoming one with them—knowing by fusing, as we say.”

Most commentaries on the Yoga Sutras are mute on first-person experiences because what occurs is so far beyond ordinary people’s experience that the descriptions would be meaningless. There is no common frame of reference.

Please allow me to suggest a frame of reference. Let’s recall the following two quotes.

The first, from van der Leeuw, was used back in Chapter 1.

“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…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…

“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… 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. We seem to be on the surface of a sphere having all within ourselves and yet to be at each point of it simultaneously.”

The second, from Allan Watts, was used in Experience:

“There seems to be something phony about every attempt to define myself, to be totally honest. The trouble is that I can’t see the back, much less the inside, of my head. I can’t be honest because I don’t fully know what I am. Consciousness peers out from a center which it cannot see—and that is the root of the matter.”

Van der Leeuw describes what happens when one knows how to perform samadhi. Watts describes what happens when one does not know how to do samadhi. Both represent bare naked consciousness, but Watts represents naked consciousness in the state of paranga cetana. Van der Leeuw describes the bare naked essence of pratyak cetana.

Once again these terms: paranga cetana and pratyak cetana. The most important distinction you will ever learn. Consciousness outwardly directed and consciousness inwardly directed.

Paranga cetana gets you only so far. One can take this back to Hume, who woke Kant from his slumber and blah, blah, blah. Hume said in so, so many words what Watts said in a few sentences. When consciousness is in its outwardly directed state, the bottom level it can get to is precisely as Watts described it. It comes to a state where it peers from a center it cannot see. Consciousness cannot see its source.  Kant ran with this, called it the “transcendental” and, because he was incapable of making the jump, assumed the jump was impossible. Good thing he was wrong.

Anybody can get to where Allan Watts described. Patanjali tells us how above: chants, drugs, austerities. Allan Watts got there by ingesting a psychedelic substance, a “mind-manifesting” substance, LSD. The mind manifests: it seems as if it is outside of you the same way the world seems to be outside of you. Paranga cetana. You literally see the gears and wheels of the mind spin and frolic. The next chapter will be dedicated to fleshing in what one sees in this state.

Nonetheless, in spite of all the fireworks, there is the obvious question: who is watching all this? One distinctly senses the little peephole in the center from which you stare out at all of this. Some inaccessible place, illuminating the kaleidoscope of the mind.

It is a state of almost perfect tragedy. Paranga cetana. Outwardly directed consciousness. One is poised at the gate of the Absolute. Powerless to turn around and enter it.  The prisoner remains chained and immobile, even though he sees that the shadows are only shadows.

In contrast, there is the example of van der Leeuw. He learned how to control the “turning inward” process that Patanjali called “asamprajnata samadhi”. It is this ability that allows the final transition to “turn around” and “pierce through that center”.

This is our frame of reference. It is like reading the last page of a book first. It is the end of the process. How do we go from here to there?

Let’s go to Chapter 26 and get started on the inner dive.

2 thoughts on “The Yogic View of Consciousness 25: The Dive

  1. Hi Peter

    Thanks so much! That means a lot coming from you, Sir! I plan on collecting YVC as a print on demand book.

    Hopefully, the next post will flesh in the idea you quoted more fully.

    Best wishes!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s