The Yogic View of Consciousness: Introduction

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This is the Introduction to the book The Yogic View of Consciousness, by Donald J. DeGracia, Ph.D.

 

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

 

Introducing the Introduction
Over the centuries, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali have served as a kind of crystal ball that people look into and project their hopes, dreams, and metaphysics of reality. This is not to say that the Yoga Sutras contains no objective content. It teaches how to do yoga after all, and is grounded in an ancient Indian philosophy called Samkhya.

But the objective content is elusive from our modern secular standpoint. The further in time the Yoga Sutras has extended from its origins, the more porous and diffuse its meaning has become. Nowadays, one can read almost anything into the Yoga Sutras. It can’t be helped. One can reach only as high as one’s arm extends. Similarly, one can comprehend only to the extent one’s mind can stretch.

What is this book about?
The Yogic View of Consciousness began as an idea for a book that was to be entitled “Atom” based on the premise that the Greek word “atom” was related to the Indian word “atman”. Both are indivisible things that are thought to describe the basic “stuff” out of which the world is made. An atom, which today is called a “quantum”, is the materialist’s basic unit of the world. An atman is a quantum of consciousness, and is the basic unit of the world to a Hindu. I thought they might be related and suggest a metaphysics whereby the world was constructed of units of consciousness. However, I spoke with an expert in Greek and Indian languages, Nicholas Kazanas, and he assured me that the words are etymologically unrelated. Therefore, the title “Atom” got trashed. But the idea that the world is made of units of consciousness did not, and what was to be “Atom” is now the book you hold called The Yogic View of Consciousness.

The book began as a blog post (which is now Chapter 1) that was to provide a go-to reference for an email discussion group on consciousness studies in which I participate. Once the first chapter was written, it occurred to me to summarize the ideas in the form of the model described in Chapter 2, captured by the simple graphic below. This in turn led to Chapter 3, which discusses the implications of this model against other views of consciousness. This is where I had intended to stop writing. Therefore, the first three chapters are almost stand-alone. They can be taken as a broad overview and summary of the remainder of the book.

 

f2

Figure 1: The meaning of this book.

However, once I had the model shown in Figure 1, I decided, what the heck, why not fill in more detail? Hence the remainder of the book steps through and describes each part of this picture. The flow of the book is as follows:

 

Chapters 1 – 3: Summary of the yogic view of consciousness and its implications.

Chapters 4 – 7: Describe various views of the Absolute, depicted by the projector (“the world”) in the image above.

Chapter 8: A segue chapter from the Absolute to the Relative brings mathematics into the discussion.

Chapters 9 – 18: An extended discussion of the bindu, which is the link between the Absolute and the Relative. The subtext here, which eventually becomes explicit, is the ancient question of the One and the Many.

Chapters 19 – 22: Describes the “cave of consciousness”, a reference to Plato’s allegory of the cave, which is a way to understand the mind in its totality.   The main focus is on memory, what yoga calls samskaras.

Chapters 23 – 32: Translating the model into first-person experience. Yoga, like basketball, is a real activity people do. We may theorize all we wish about yoga and basketball. However, yoga and basketball only come to life when we do them.

 

The Yoga Sutras
On one level, the Yogic View of Consciousness is another commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras… sort of. Technically perhaps it is not a commentary because I do not discuss each aphorism, nor do I attempt to explain things in the order Patanjali did in the Yoga Sutras. The book is a commentary insofar as the Yoga Sutras are the basis and genesis of the model in Figure 1, which is meant to encapsulate the theory of mind embodied in the Yoga Sutras.

What are the Yoga Sutras? They are a collection of 196 aphorisms that teach yoga. They are considered by most to be the first and last word on what is called Raja or Ashtanga yoga. However, the Yoga Sutras are extraordinarily cryptic and abstract not only in their meaning but in their origins as well.

Brief History of the Yoga Sutras
The history of India is spotty for a number of reasons. Ancient Indians did not try to record their history, as did, say, the ancient Greeks (hello! Herodotus). Further, when British imperialism enslaved India, several European scholars developed rather Eurocentric ideas about Indian history (Max Müller is perhaps the best known name in this regard). Many of these ideas have been brought into question by a number of recent discoveries, not the least being the discovery of Harappan civilization that peaked circa 2500 BC and has roots going back perhaps to 6000 BC. There is thus legitimate and substantial uncertainty establishing dates, times, and places for events in Indian history.

This does not mean nothing is known about Indian history. There is a lot known. The Brahmanical and Buddhist traditions date back at least 2500 years. During this time an immense literature of religio-philosophical thought was produced. This includes the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, and Tantras, as well as large literatures surrounding the various forms of Buddhism. But because of the historical uncertainties, all of this floats in a historical vacuum, decontextualized, as it were, from the grounding in everyday life that knowledge of history provides.

The short of it is: we don’t know when the Yoga Sutras were collected in their present form. We don’t even know if Patanjali was a historical person. The details of the origins of the Yoga Sutras are uncertain. Nor is it clear if and how they were altered over the centuries. What we do know is that the extremely rich backdrop of Brahmanical and Buddhist thought provides the context of the Yoga Sutras and it is to be seen as part of these greater cultural movements. The methods in the Yoga Sutras are given in the context of a branch of Indian philosophy called Samkhya, attributed to the sage Kapila. This book focuses much on unfolding the meaning of Samkhya concepts like gunas, Prakriti, and so forth.

In this regard, I am guided and inspired by the following passage from Heinrich Zimmer’s Philosophies of India:

“We of the Occident are about to arrive at a crossroads that was reached by the thinkers of India some seven hundred years before Christ. This is the real reason why we become both vexed and stimulated, uneasy yet interested, when confronted with the concepts and images of Oriental wisdom. This crossing is one to which the people of all civilizations come in the typical course of the development of their capacity and requirement for religious experience, and India’s teachings force us to realize what its problems are. But we cannot take over the Indian solutions. We must enter the new period our own way and solve its questions for ourselves, because though truth, the radiance of reality, is universally one and the same, it is mirrored variously according to the mediums in which it is reflected.”

I take the position in this work that the West still does not fully appreciate the meaning of the concepts, and associated experiences, expounded in the Yoga Sutras. Even if we did understand in every aspect the secular history of the Yoga Sutras and related materials, we are still faced with the task of deciphering their meaning.

Commentaries on the Yoga Sutras
The Yoga Sutras are terse and cryptic. The sutra style is like the genetic code. Both can be thought of as extreme forms of information compression that, when decompressed, reveal the information in its fullness. In the case of the genetic code, this reveals an organism. For the Yoga Sutras, the decompression method used over the centuries is a variety of commentaries that explain the meaning of each aphorism and how they are sutured together to unfold the logic and methods of yoga.

An excellent introduction to Yoga Sutras commentaries by Edwin Bryant is found at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The present work relies heavily on one particular commentary of the Yoga Sutras published in 1961 by I.K. Taimni called The Science of Yoga. Why this particular commentary is made clear below.

Academia and Yoga
When one looks presently at the intellectual landscape of academia, our hallowed (or hated, depending on one’s outlook) universities, one sees an obvious dichotomy.

On one hand, you have the sciences (physics, math, biology, cognitive sciences, etc.), where the practitioners are extremely specialized in very narrow fields of inquiry. Their extremely narrow focus causes their thinking to contain huge blind spots and holes. This, however, does not stop them from making pronouncements on topics they know little about, such as philosophy and religion. Perhaps the central feature that characterizes how they think is that they naively accept their ideas at face value. That is to say, these people actually believe the stuff they say amongst themselves. They are so ignorant of the history of thought in the world that they actually believe in “objectivity”, and they have, mostly unconsciously, made it their religion. This way of thinking has sunk to some real absurdities, giving rise to social phenomena like “global warming” (that was “global cooling” and is now morphing into “climate change”), or hostile attitudes between evolution and religion, and so on. Later in the book I will discuss scientism, the attempt to make scientific ideas into something akin to religion, which is a consequence of the intellectual naivety of the last generations of scientists. Elsewhere, I coined the term “philosophical pygmies” to characterize these people, and I will continue to refer to them as such throughout the present work.

On the other hand, you have non-scientific Humanities (i.e. history, philosophy, linguistics, religious studies, humanities, social sciences, etc.) where the practitioner’s take what I will call a “meta stance”, meaning that they seek to stand outside of or above (“meta”) what they are studying. This type of academic tends to be constantly skeptical, take positions that are always tentative, and never comes to any definite conclusions. This approach is laudable for exercising a necessary intellectual caution. On the other hand, if we are too cautious, we never accomplish anything. Studying their thinking reminds me of sliding around on an oily surface, or listening to a politician speak. These are the people who have given us “social relativity”, “multiculturalism”, “post-modernism” and similar viewpoints that have garnered so much love and affection amongst the population as a whole.

Portrayed in this fashion, the dichotomy is clearly a caricature. But it is meant to capture a serious phenomenon recognized decades ago by C.P. Snow in what he called the “two cultures”. By this he meant the divorce of the sciences from the humanities. Over the decades, the differences between the “two cultures” has amplified in toxic ways I won’t go into here.

It is the non-scientific group, the Humanities, who have monopolized the academic study of Indian thought. This is certainly not an intentional conspiracy to keep Indian ideas out of the sciences. Except in very rare instances, the science-side has simply seen no relevance in the Indian ideas for our scientific understanding of the world.

I.K. Taimni
This is where Taimni comes in. He was not a traditional academic with respect to Indic studies. One is hard-pressed to find reference to his work in the academic yoga literature. Taimni was a chemistry professor in India circa the mid-20th century. He was also a theosophist. He wrote several translations and interpretations of important Hindu works including the Yoga Sutras, the Shiva Sutras and the Pratyabhijna Hridayam, the latter two works being part of the tradition of Kashmiri Shaivism.

Taimni did something fairly unique in the literature of the Yoga Sutras. He put a scientific slant on interpreting them. He often used examples of known physical processes as a way to explain the meaning of a given aphorism, or concept behind an aphorism, or method described in the Yoga Sutras.

What this book is about, in large measure, is continuing what Taimni started. I take many of his ideas and expand on them. I discuss how current scientific understanding does or does not gel with what is discussed in the Yoga Sutras.

Why? What’s the point? Isn’t our modern science good enough as it is? Why does it need help from something as esoteric as a (possibly) 2000 year old yoga text?

Straddling Both Sides
Well, the book spends a lot of time answering this question. The reason for describing the “two cultures” above is to provide a framework for understanding the approach I use here. On one hand, like a scientist, I take the yogic ideas at face value and believe they provide a serious and objective description of reality. Just as we take, say, Einstein’s General Relativity as a description of reality.   On the other hand, I am also using the “meta stance” of the humanities, mainly to point out the limitations of our present scientific picture and exactly why it needs help from something like the Yoga Sutras. I flit in and out of the two mind-sets drawing on their strengths while pointing out the weakness of both.

With regard to the science side it occurs to me to say the following: Science grew out of philosophy but science has not outgrown the need for philosophy.   However, because of the split of the “two cultures”, scientists are generally disdainful of philosophy. They are arrogant and proud, but their arrogance and pride simply masks their naivety and ignorance. They are ignorant of social and psychological realities that play them like chumps. It has really gotten out of hand. One manifestation of this is how the sciences are turning in on themselves in a hostile manner, as for example, in the debates about the relevance of String Theory, or again, in the “climate change” arena. Science as it has been known in the West is in a state of degeneration, in large measure because it has rejected its humanistic roots and turned into something resembling religion more than classical science. It rejected philosophical thought and is now paying the price for doing so.

On the other hand, the slippery, non-scientific Humanities endlessly go round and round in mental circles and thus go nowhere. By being divorced from the hardcore technical material that makes up the sciences, they have become unanchored from the modern world. Their stance contains not a small trace of alienation from the modern world precisely because they don’t understand how the world works as discovered by our modern sciences. They are forced into the “modern classroom” but have no idea how transistors, the Internet, or LCD screens work, let alone how science itself works. They have no idea how relevant their ideas are for controversies in math and physics, if they even know of such controversies. Some amongst this species of academic sees through the social order, and sometimes even their own minds, but they are powerless to act. The Humanities have become dissociated and disenfranchised from the heart of the action, and their bitterness at this fact is more or less obvious in everything they do.

Finally, on whichever side of the divide one falls, there is one factor that makes either side ill-equipped to deal with larger issues.   Academics, as real living people, have their own agendas that supersede what is being studied. I won’t dwell on the pressures placed on academics, other than to say I am subject to them myself so know them first-hand. The Humanists at least formally recognize these factors in all their post-modern blather that, for all its faults, is smart enough to recognize that we live in a society. But in spite of being aware of it, they are still forced to conform to it. On the other hand, the scientists are like rats in a cage, which they sense only in the most indirect of fashions because they are not intellectually equipped to even formulate their place in the social order. This expresses itself in the increasingly mediocre (and in many cases, outright wrong) output in all fields of science.

So here I criticize both sides and also draw on the best of what both sides have to offer. I focus this through the Yoga Sutras because it talks about phenomenon of relevance to the intellectual content of both sides.

Thus, perhaps the main use to which the Yoga Sutras is put in this work is to look into it as a crystal ball for answers to help re-unify an intellectual world that is currently in a state of schizophrenia. There is more going on than just this, but the remainder is apparent reading the text. Here in the introduction, I point out the “two cultures” problem because it flows as a subtext through the entire book.

Tone and Style
Given my critique of both sides of the two-culture divide, it is simply silly to conform to the limitations each side has placed in communicating their particular brands of information. There is a goofy affectation and pretense of appearing sophisticated and intellectual in academic communication. There is none of that here. When discussing the Yoga Sutras the intellect gets put in its rightful place as a mere tool, no more no less. We don’t glorify hammers and saws so why should we glorify the intellect? The intellect has limits and these are brought to the fore in the present work. So, while this work is intellectual, it is also brash, sarcastic, humorous, humble, or whatever else is needed to convey meaning effectively. What I try to achieve is to be as straight forward as possible, even if it might offend the sensibilities of those who place style over substance. My response to that is: oh just grow up.

Business Stuff
Like some of my previous eBooks, The Yogic View of Consciousness was born as a series of posts on my blog PlaneTalk (https://dondeg.wordpress.com/) which have been collected as this book and is being released for free into the internet wilds.

The digital PDF is intended to be the main version. It has live links to a variety of supplemental information, and the Reader is encouraged to take advantage of these to get additional information. In the Age of the Internet, the conveyance of information is different. In ancient times (before 1998) we had to use citations. Now, the internet allows the live linking of information in ways impossible in the past. Thus, not only do I link to other web pages, but to entire books, to videos on YouTube, and even to songs whose lyrics add additional overtones to whatever I might be discussing.

There are also print-on-demand versions available for people who like to hold real physical books when reading. These cost a nominal fee for the service of converting the PDF to a book. For those who choose to get a physical book, the internet links are obviously unavailable. Nonetheless, the book has been designed to be stand-alone enough that one can read the text without the links and still fully get the intended meaning.

There are five “official” versions of the Yogic View of Consciousness being released:

[1] PDF file. This is the main version intended for wider distribution.

[2] The series of blog posts on PlaneTalk. You are currently reading this. Use the table of contents above to navigate.

[3] Lulu.com standard quality (SQ) version. $39.99. Lulu “standard format” color printing option is substantially cheaper than the high-quality color printing. This is a really nice version. It’s nice to hold and the color images come out surprisingly well.

[4] EPUB version. $8.99. For tablets, Kindles, etc.

[5] Lulu.com high quality (HQ) version. $149.99. This is an expensive, high quality print option. The pictures are gorgeous though. Compared to my ~100 page books at $39.99, the pricing is proportional and reflects the fact that Yogic View of Consciousness is almost 400 pages.

 

Please go to http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/dondeg if you wish to purchase any of my books, which are available on your left to download as free PDFs.

Finally, as with all my publicly-available writings, I encourage you, the Reader, to get in touch and voice your thoughts and opinions about what I have written. As I like to say, fight, flatter, agree, or disagree as you wish. Again, this is the Age of Internet. We no longer need to sit by as passive absorbers of information, but can participate in two-way communication with media creators. Therefore, I encourage Readers to contact me by email, or post comments on PlaneTalk. Each chapter has its own comment section on my blog where you can post your thoughts. The comments that have accumulated since posting the Yogic View of Consciousness provide an interesting on-going discussion that supplements the text, and you are invited to join in.

Yoga has become an integral part of the Western way of life. The assimilation is by no means complete. I hope my small contribution can add something to the ongoing assimilation of yoga into Western culture, to the ongoing rediscovery of the depth of ancient thought, and to the ongoing fusion of Eastern and Western cultures.

 

Don DeGracia
Detroit, MI
Oct. 2015

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