History of Yoga - Project Document
The mystery of consciousness and full revelation of its nature and power by a methodical and disciplined process of human effort that we call yoga is a fascinating subject. Its study promises not only conducive to the individual upliftment and summum bonum but to the development of a precious aid which, it appears, is indispensable for the next steps of upward advancement of humanity and human culture.
The question of the origin of consciousness has begun to occupy the front-ranking leaders of contemporary science. Quantum physics, brain research and bioengineering, each in its own way, is confronted with the presence of consciousness in the very operations of what seems to be purely material or unconscious. The tide of new data makes it impossible to ignore the drive of set purpose and guidance of tendency which appears to be blind but where the pressure is unmistakable in the eventual or immediate coming to the target sought. This drive is seen increasingly in the operations in the animal, in the plant, in inanimate things. It seems now no more than an outworn paradox to affirm the emergence of human consciousness, intelligence and mastery out of an unintelligent, blindly driving unconsciousness in which no form or substance of them previously existed.
We see, for example, in the animal, operations of a perfect purposefulness and an exact, indeed, a scientific knowledge which are quite beyond the capacities of the animal mentality and which man himself can only acquire by long culture and education and even then uses with a much less sure rapidity.
It has been said, in regard to the realm of the inanimate, that the different groupings and varying number of infinitesimals can produce or serve as the constituent occasion for the appearance of large atomic infinitesimals of different natures, qualities, powers; but we have no account of how these different dispositions can come to constitute the differentiae in the constituted outcomes or results.
Attempts are being made to show that a play of electrons, of atoms and their molecules, of cells, glands, chemical secretions and physiological processes manages by their activity on the nerves and brain of a Kalidasa or a Shakespeare or a Plato or a Shankara to be the dynamic occasion for the production of a Shakuntalam or a Hamlet or a Republic or a Vivekachudamani; but here the divergence or the determinants and the determinations become so wide that we are no longer able to follow the process, much less understand or utilise.
Consciousness emerging from a fundamental Inconscient and a Mind of order and reason manifesting as a brilliant final consequence of a world created by inconscient Chance can be pronounced as something quite possible; but we are entitled to ask the question whether chance is a category of explanation or a philosophical or neutral exposition of the denial of any principle of explanation; but in either case, it can not rule out a possibility of a better hypothesis of explanation or a philosophical theory of explanation.
It is at this stage that both scientifically and philosophically we are justified in studying the phenomena of consciousness not merely in their rudimentary stages but also at their advanced points of manifestation. For it is quite possible that just as in the case of a steam engine, piston is not the cause of the steam but it is the steam that causes the movement of the piston, even so it is not the unconscious that produces the conscious but just the reverse of it. In that case, the best way is to examine those phenomena of consciousness which can be called crucial and even extraordinary, and which carry with them their significance and motivation of exploration.
That there are phenomena such as telepathy and telekinesis is being established by new-born forms of scientific research, the methods of which are still imperfect or crude or defective. In the yogic literature, we have numerous descriptions of these phenomena arrived at by yogic methods of exploration, which begin with the yogic quietude of the mind and unobstructed observation of psychological determinants of consciousness. In fact, when we look at the universe, not with the eyes of familiarity, but with the yogic eyes that are fresh and filled with wonder, even ordinary sensations are felt to be mysterious and we begin to ask, as in the Kenopanishad, by what impelled does the sense grasp its object, and what exactly is the Sight and Hearing and Speech and Mind and whether there is Sight of Sight, Hearing of Hearing, Speech of Speech, and Mind of Mind. (श्रोत्रस्य श्रोत्रं मनसो मनो यद्वाचो ह वाचं स उ प्राणस्य प्राणश्चक्षुषश्चक्षुः ।). Manas, say the Indian philosophers, is the sixth sense, but it can even be said that it is the only sense and that the others, vision, hearing, touch, smell, taste, are merely specialisations of the sense-mind. For, as in the case of experiments in hypnosis and cognate psychological phenomena, it is possible for the mind to take the direct cognisance of the object of sense without the aid of the sense-organs. According to the yogic psychology, it is possible, once we have entered through any of the senses into relation with an external object, so to apply the Manas as to become aware of the contents of the object, for example, to receive or to perceive the thoughts and feelings of others without an aid from their utterance, gesture, action or facial expressions and even in contradiction of these always partial and often misleading data. Evidences have been shown that subtle senses are true witnesses to physical facts beyond the range of the corporal organs.
One of the mysteries of consciousness is that consciousness can be extended, that consciousness can be creative and that consciousness has power of self-limitation, and it can maintain various poises simultaneously so that there can be phenomena of exclusive concentration, multiple concentration and even integral concentration. Moreover, along with the extension of consciousness there comes about inner enlargement from the individual into the cosmic existence. It is also found in yoga that the real witness in the world is not merely individual embodied mind but a cosmic consciousness embracing the universe and appearing as an immanent intelligence in all its works. And it may be added that the possibility of cosmic consciousness in humanity is coming slowly to be admitted in modern Psychology, although in the psychology of the East it has always been recognised as a reality and the aim of our subjective progress.
We have in the Veda and the Upanishads and in numberless records of the Indian tradition of yogic knowledge, detailed descriptions of cosmic consciousness and even of what is called in the Mandukya Upanishad, the fourth state or turiya or transcendental state of consciousness, other than the states of waking, dream and sleep. Mandukya Upanishad, significantly, defines that transcendental as one whose essentiality is awareness of the Self in its single existence, in Whom all phenomena dissolve, Who is Calm, Who is Good, Who is the One, than Whom there is no other, and Who is the object of knowledge. (एकात्मप्रात्ययसारं प्रापञ्च¨पशमं शान्तं शिवमद्वैतं चतुथ्रं मन्यन्ते स आत्मा स विज्ञेयः। (Mandukaya Upanishad, 7).
This phrase, object of Knowledge, is very important. It is not an object of belief, accessible to religious dogma or faith, but an object of cognition, which is a power of Consciousness. The experiences of cosmic consciousness and transcendental consciousness and relationship of the individual with these states of consciousness have been the central themes of Yoga in Indian culture, and it seems that at the present juncture of humanity, the study of consciousness can best be aided and perfected by the study of Yoga.
Yoga may be defined as a methodised effort towards self-perfection by the expression of the potentialities latent in the being as a result of which the human individual can arrive at a union with the universal and transcendental being or That which is even indescribable by any terms of limitation. Yoga is thus practical psychology that studies utmost capacities and powers of consciousness and applies that study to the attainment of higher and higher states of perfection. In doing so, it leads to the awakening to the inner reality of our being, to a spirit, self, soul which is other than our mind, life and body; it nourishes an inner aspiration to know, to feel, to enter into contact with the greater Reality beyond and pervading the universe which inhabits also our own being; and it leads to establishment of our communion with the Reality and union with It; finally, it effects a conversion and transformation of our whole being into a new becoming or new being, a new self, a new nature, including the nature of the mind, life and body.
In the light of yoga, consciousness is not synonymous with mentality but indicates a self-aware force of existence of which mentality is a middle term; below mentality it sinks into vital and material movements which are for us subconscient; above, it rises into the supramental which is for us the superconscient. Consciousness, as studied, examined and verified by yoga, is one and the same thing organising itself differently in different states, and what we call Mind and Matter are rather different grades of the same energy, different organisation of one conscious Force of Existence.
The entire field of yoga and yogic psychology and the data of consciousness that we can gain through yoga is generally looked upon with much scepticism and disbelief. This scepticism is not entirely unfounded. For the vast field of evidence and experience of yoga, if seized by untrained mind lends itself to the most perilous distortions and misleading imagination. In the past, real nucleus of truth of this field got encrusted with such an accretion of perverting superstition and irrationalising dogmas that any advances in true knowledge was rendered impossible. For the faculties that transcend the senses are greatly exposed to a mixed functioning in which they are in danger of illuminating confusion rather than clarifying truth. It is, therefore, necessary that advancing Knowledge should base itself on a clear, pure and disciplined intellect. It is necessary, too, that it should correct its errors by a return to the restrains of a sensible fact. But still, the important point is that the human mind can be properly trained and disciplined; it can be purified and made fit for concentration so as to enter into a journey of exploration, and this journey can be made to yield the right knowledge of its object and consequently to deliver to the individual and collectivity the alchemy of liberation and fulfilment.
In any case, the project that is being undertaken has a more modest programme. Our object in the project is to understand the history of the great disciplined effort that we have called in India the effort of yoga. Our aim is to collect and compile systematically and scrupulously the important data which pertain to this great domain of knowledge and power. We have to bring together in a systematic manner the important and useful data that have accumulated over millennia in our country; we may have to classify them under suitable categories of classification; we have to bring out the conditions that have been laid down in order to ensure utmost purity and sincerity of the conquest, the criteria that have been developed and employed in the tasks of testing and verification; our aim will be to compare different systems of yoga which have been developed in the long course of Indian history; we have also to examine the claims and counter-claims of the efficacy and integrality of various systems; our aim will also be to study those systems of yoga which have attempted at a synthesis and considered question of a new synthesis that may be necessary at the present juncture of India’s history of yoga.