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National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

Indian Council of Philosophical Research


Centre for Studies in Civilizations

National Consultation Seminar


Yoga and Consciousness

Keynote Address


Professor Kireet Joshi


18th March 2002


National Museum, New Delhi

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

Hon’ble Minister of Human Resource Development, Professor Murli Manohar Joshiji, Professor Chattopadhyayaji, Professor Bhuvaneshwariji, Professor Pradhan, Revered Swamijis and Swaminijis, Distinguished Philosophers, Psychologists, Scientists and Experts and Friends:


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 of this National Seminar, the rationale of which at the present stage of human civilisation lies in the fact that 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 bio-engineering, 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.

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

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.

Just to take a random example, we have a short anecdote described by Swami Vivekananda, an anecdote which had come within his own experience. He said:

I once heard of a man who, if any one went to him with questions in his mind, would answer them immediately; and I was also informed that he foretold events. I was curious and went to see him with a few friends. We each had something in our minds to ask, and, to avoid mistakes, we wrote down our questions and put them in our pockets. As soon as the man saw one of us, he repeated our questions and gave the answers to them. Then he wrote something on paper, which he folded up, asked me to sign on the back, and said, `Don’t look at it; put it in your pocket and keep it there till I ask for it again.’ And so on to each one of us. He next told us about some events that would happen to us in the future. Then he said, `Now, think of a word or a sentence, from any language you like.’ I thought of a long sentence in Sanskrit, a language of which he was entirely ignorant. `Now, take out the paper from your pocket,’ he said. The Sanskrit sentence was

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

written there! He had written it an hour before with the remark, `In confirmation of what I have written, this man will think of this sentence.’ It was correct. Another of us who had been given a similar paper which he had signed and placed in his pocket, was also asked to think of a sentence. He thought of a sentence in Arabic, which it was still less possible for the man to know; it was some passage from the Koran. And my friend found this written down on the paper.

Another of us was a physician. He thought of a sentence from a German medical book. It was written on his paper. [1]

Again to take another random example which has been narrated by Sri Aurobindo:

I remember when I first began to see inwardly (and outwardly also with the open eye), a scientific friend of mine began to talk of after-images – “these are only after-images!” I asked him whether after-images remained before the eye for two minutes at a time – he said, “no”, to his knowledge only for a few seconds; I also asked whether one could get after-images of things not around one or even not existing upon this earth, since they had other shapes, another character, other hues, contours and a very different dynamism, life-movements and values – he could not reply in the affirmative.[2]

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. (Eaao~sya Eaao~ma ,caxauYa:caxau:, vaacaao h vaacama , manasaao mana:.). 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

[1] Swami Vivekananda, The Powers of the Mind, pp. 10-11.

[2] Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Vol. 2, Centenary Edition, p. 90  

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

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. (एकात्मप्रत्ययसारं प्रपञ्चोपशमं शान्तं शिवमद्वैत। चतुर्थे 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.

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

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 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

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

the right knowledge of its object and consequently to deliver to the individual and collectivity the alchemy of liberation and fulfilment.

While undertaking this journey, three important conditions need to be underlined. Firstly, it should be acknowledged that belief by itself is not evidence of reality. Truths, supra-physical or physical, must be founded not on mental belief alone but on experience, -- but in each case experience must be appropriate to the order of truths into which we enter; their validity and significance must be scrutinised, but according to their own law and by consciousness which can enter into them and according to the law of the relevant domain or by a consciousness which can be only of truths of that order; so alone can one be sure of the steps and can one enlarge firmly the sphere of knowledge.

Secondly, we should underline the fact that even though subjective experience can easily be deceptive, error is not the prerogative only of the inner subjective or of the subliminal parts of our being. For error is also appendage of the physical mind and its objective methods and standards too; liability to error cannot be a reason for shutting out a large and important domain of experience; it is a reason rather for scrutinising it and finding out in it its own true standards and its characteristic appropriate and valid means of verification.

Thirdly, it must be pointed out that it is the subjective consciousness that has constructed the standards and criteria of objective knowledge; in doing so the great quality that has played the essential role is the sincerity and honesty of subjective consciousness as also development of various testing grounds and criteria; these can be employed once again when the fields of subjective experience are investigated, and yogic records indicate that yoga has the capacity to deal with the possible pitfalls and impurities of consciousness which are obstructive of the discoveries of the objects of yogic knowledge.


In any case, the project that is being undertaken and in promotion of which we have assembled here 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

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

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.

In this task, we need to have wide consultations with those who have studied yoga and particularly those who have practised yoga. In India, philosophy has been an instrument of yogic realisation, and hence every system of Indian philosophy (except the philosophy of Lokayata) has a system of yoga. Consultation with philosophers is thus indispensable in this task. Finally, since yoga has been pursued and practised as a practical psychology, psychologists will also have to play their due role. And since yoga has been practised as a scientific exploration of consciousness, and since in the contemporary world physical sciences themselves are drawing nearer to the theme of consciousness, it will be indispensable to have consultation with scientists belonging to various branches and disciplines of knowledge.

Mere consultation is not enough. We have to articulate and expound all the relevant aspects of yoga authentically, clearly and scrupulously. We need to have the active collaboration of philosophers, scientists, psychologists and experts who can write and who can expound with scrupulous accuracy. And we shall also need a good deal of research work that can uncover unknown facts and systems and enrich our knowledge pertaining to this difficult domain.

The time has come when India’s great treasure of knowledge of yoga needs to be presented to the world, because the world needs it, and India has the responsibility to answer this need as competently as possible.

It is a matter of gratification that the Government of India have themselves suggested that the project of consciousness and yoga should be undertaken and the inaugural address of the Hon’ble Minister for Human Resource Development at this Seminar is a sure testimony of the full support of the Government of India. It is also gratifying that we have in Professor D.P. Chattopadhyaya a great leader who can shoulder the responsibility of this project, which is extremely difficult and yet which is at the same time most essential, if it is realised that the world cannot move forward without a radical human transformation and that yoga is the most potent instrument of that transformation, which is based upon authentic and verifiable knowledge, and which has been constantly

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

developing and stimulating research in new fields and processes of yogic knowledge.

We need to underline that yoga is not a closed book; it is not a body of revelations made once for all. It has no dogmatism; and even the Vedas and Upanishads marked, not a culmination, but a great beginning of the yogic endeavour. They are themselves records of developing experiences and enlargements of knowledge and power. They been themselves an original great synthesis, based upon loftiest discoveries, and yet they opened further gates of fresh discoveries. In the words of the Vedic poet:

ब्रह्माणस्त्वा शतक्रत उद्वंशमिव येमिरे ।
यत्सानोः सानुमारुहद्भूर्यस्पष्ट कत्र्वम्।

                                                                             Rig Veda, 1.10.1-2

The leaders of the Word climb thee like a ladder, O hundred-powered. As one climbs from peak to peak, there is made clear the much that has still to be done.

I am sure that the present Seminar will indicate the readiness of all who have assembled here to collaborate and to take this project towards its difficult journey and fulfilment.

National Consultation Seminar on Yoga and Consciousness

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