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Namah Journal

Yogic insights into human psychology

Encountering Reality

Dr. Alok Pandey


It is important to answer a few fundamental questions before we can live life meaningfully; among them a question of capital importance is as to the nature of Reality that underlies creation. Is it a mechanical inconscient energy or a conscious Force? Whatever it be, this Reality must be also within us since it is the origin and the source of all things. Is there a way to contact and confirm this Reality? These are the questions that have vexed mankind. Among the answers sought to these questions, the most promising seems to be coming through yoga. It is not just a philosophy or a belief-system but a real-time process of engaging and discovering Reality.

An understanding of Reality is important, especially for us as human beings, since this is the cause of many misunderstandings, frictions, quarrels and other misgivings. We humans have the unique distinction of living in different worlds even though we may inhabit the same physical space! In fact we live not in one world but many, by often shifting from one part of the day to the other. And while we live and breathe that world’s air we are affected by its atmosphere. We are trapped as it were in bubbles of inner Space that co-exist as parallel universes. In itself this would not be so much of a problem except that we would simply continue to remain shut in the prison-house of our ignorance. Animals live very much like that, happy in their ignorance with no need to change either themselves or others.

But we as human beings have not just a belief that our perception is the best but unfortunately the only one as well. We believe our own understanding of the world as true while all others as either untrue or inferior to our own. What we fail to see is that ‘Reality’ at its bottom is subjective. This is not to say that there is nothing and all is simply an illusion. That is an equally absurd proposition. What it means is that there is ‘Something’ but we all perceive it differently, a little limited by our senses, a little distorted by our mind’s conditioning, a little changed by our emotions, a little cabined and cramped by the action of our ego that builds frames where there is only a limitless vast extension of the One Infinite. Those who have gone beyond the frame of the ego and limitations of our experience and knowing born out of the limitation and distortion of the senses and the mind, have called it an infinite Existence-Consciousness-Bliss.

Limited existence

This is understandable since in a limited sense all of us are that. We are a limited existence — at least that is how we experience ourselves — limited by our ego-sense that draws boundaries around the limitless expanse of the ocean taking each giant wave as the entire sea. We are also a limited consciousness that is aware of few elements and unaware of others, having power over a few aspects while helpless over others. We also experience a limited bliss if we may use the word, in our contacts with the world-forces. Being limited by our ego-self and its preferences, it changes into a dual perception of pleasure and pain, suffering and joy. As long as we live trapped in this limitation suffering is bound to accompany us. This is so because deep within us a kinship dwells, a faint memory of our lost infinity. There is something within us, a portion of Truth or Light that knows that our real truth is not a limited formation of the moment, not a momentary ever-changing personality, not a temporary body built as a scaffolding for our dealings with the world around, whose impacts it must share and suffer. All these things change. Even our ego-self is more of an unconscious habit that sticks to us by the action of memory woven around the outer experiences of a single life.

But there are within us other memories that await their hour for discovery. Once awakened, we discover that we have taken many bodies and many births. We, not this momentary ‘me’ but another ’I’, have died and been born in a number of bodies, assumed many names, lived in many climes, practised different religions in different ages, gone through atheism and revolt as much as the life of a conformist, followed different customs and cultures, spoken different languages and loved those whom we may today consider our enemies or hated those whom we fondly call our friends in this life. We have lived the life of the savage and the beast, hunted and been preyed upon, lived the life of an emperor and roamed this earth in rags. These things still exist in us as a lingering past, a shadow that follows us through many lives. This past that lives within us as states of consciousness and packets of information refusing to die is what is called in the parlance of yoga as the subconscious. It is at once individual and collective since our lives are interlinked with everything else. Each Age of mankind lurks in some layer of our concealed nature in its essence and can at any time erupt seeking resolution, redemption or revenge.

But if this were all and nothing more then there would hardly be any hope for the race. But the fact is that despite this backward pull and its eruptions from time to time in our individual and collective life, humanity advances as a whole. This is so because there is also within us as a seed awaiting its hour, the script of the Future, the scroll of a higher Destiny. It is however difficult for us to reclaim all these memories and layers that lie submerged within us as riches under an ocean or snow-clad ranges. Just as our vision can see only a small range of phenomena even of what meets the eye, just as our ears can hear only a limited range of frequencies even if it is turned towards the source of sound, and so on with other senses as well, so too our mind cannot perceive or even comprehend the total Reality that is always there before us, within us, in fact everywhere around us. Therefore the mind cuts into bits and pieces even whatever little it perceives. This makes it manageable for our limited finite minds lest it gets lost in the vast ocean of infinity. Our ego-self then chooses to dwell now in one of these bits or the other, in fact, in different pieces at different times. The mistake however is that identified with a small little piece in an immense Reality beyond our comprehension; looking out at a small little patch of sky out of the window of sense that can sense but not observe in one stretch the boundlessness of Space; or focusing on one small event out of countless things happening in different slices of Time we believe it to be the whole! We deal with others and the world as if what we have seen, heard (often from others), thought and felt is the ultimate Truth without any scope of further correction. Of course what we perceive right now is our starting point; it is the first data to begin our exploration but it is never adequate to draw any definitive conclusions. Yes, we have to sometimes act upon our limited perception or, to use an expression from the Upanissads, an ignorant perception, in the absence of any other; yet we must keep striving towards an enlargement of our knowledge.


This enlargement cannot take place by a collection of more data, by a flooding of information from many sources since as human beings not only I but others too are equally limited and hampered in their knowing for the same reasons cited above. Adding up data and multiplying information does not bring clarity but only increases our confusion. Sometimes it ends up strengthening our ignorant perception thereby creating a prison of illusions which yet we mistake as the home of truth! At other times it only reinforces a false view of things, even gives us an illusion of knowledge or worse still fills us with arrogance of ‘knowledge’ where there is nothing but ignorant perceptions multiplied by the power of ‘n’ in the field of our sight. But just as a lie repeated many times does not become a truth so too an ignorant perception, repeated often and confirmed by others is not an indication that we are closer to Truth.

What we have to do instead is to augment our field of vision and the capacity to know through a progressive widening and deepening and heightening of our ‘individual consciousness’ as well as augment our senses and awaken those still latent within us so as to increase our capacity to observe and know. Our mind itself needs to stretch beyond its present limitations imposed by the analytic reason which cannot go beyond slicing the One Reality and then trying to piece it together to recreate Oneness. It is an impossibility even if our present sense organisation and mental development could observe all the forces that act upon us and within creation because Reality is not a fixed finite mechanical object or ‘thing’ but an Infinity that can always spring a surprise upon us. Besides as yogic experience confirms IT is Self-Conscious and, being the Origin and Source of all things, also All-Conscious. But precisely because IT is the Source, IT dwells in all things including us.

Yoga and religion

This is the secret that yoga teaches us, that there are ways and means to discover and identify with this Source, call it by whatever name. It is then and then only that our illusion of an ego-constructed reality and nightmare of a life that we presently lead ends. It may be noted that yoga must be distinguished from religion. It is possible that the origin of some religions may have been some partial glimpse of the Reality by the founder. But soon enough it degrades into a belief-system (much as ideologies including those that do not believe in God do). This belief system becomes yet another comfort-zone for the ego since it ‘explains’ the conflicting data that the world often provides so as to provoke and stimulate our ego-self to enlarge and go deeper. But religion (as well as non-religious ideologies) will not allow us to do so. They provide for us a ready-made cocoon of explanations and an understanding that is not born of our own experience. By doing so it often takes away the innate urge in mankind to know more and grow through this quest for knowledge. It is like the scientific trap wherein we read books and articles and accept it blindly, ‘trusting’ the researchers’ intent and ability while religions trust in their priests. We do not question the premises, let alone the massive money game that stands behind a lot of research that goes on in the name of science. Thus all of us build our own little comfort-zones as ‘homes of knowledge’ and feel ourselves blessed that we know more than others!

But knowledge starts with the awareness of our ignorance. And it does not need much speculation. A straight look at ourselves and life is enough to puncture the bubble and if do not yet do so, life experiences will do it for us through a painful confrontation with that which does not conform to our little window-glimpse. With all our knowledge of scriptures and science we cannot predict, let alone fully control, what is going to be our share of life the next moment. Yet we take it for granted, indeed we live as if by faith. Were we to try and make sure about the future before we step out then we will end up at the same spot just as some persons get paralysed in decision-making since they want to be doubly sure of what may be the result. The plain truth is that we do not know and cannot know with absolute certainty (as things stand now).

This uncertainty can indeed be a starting-point for our search. We see how physics enlarged itself by trying to make the predictability of physical events as close to perfection as possible. Of course in the process it has reached the door of uncertainty embedded in the atomic structure itself. But what it has discovered is something no less wonderful. It is this that the truth of the next moment is not necessarily something fixed and already pre-determined but something that we at least partially shape. It is true in the physical as well as the psychological sphere. Soothsayers and astrologers fool us into believing that the future is something rigidly fixed and unchangeable.

Physicians too sometimes act like soothsayers when it comes to prognostications. It is however much better to be humbler and wiser and admit that what we are dealing with right now is not ‘truth’ but a ‘statistical probability’. And this can work both ways. The die-hard optimist can pin his hope on the rarest of the rare possibility (which still is there) while the born pessimist will die of fright and anxiety before his death or suffer a thousand times before the chapter of his life closes with an uncertain pause. We still do not know what exactly happens after death. The body’s fate, yes but what happens to the consciousness, the sense of ‘I’, the information that is stored in the cells and nerves and brain and everywhere else? We do not know. Death may be the end of this body but not necessarily the end of our ‘Self-awareness’. We may just be changing modes of experiencing creation, moving in other domains than the physical earth, encountering other truths than what we do here.

The teachings of yoga

Yoga instead is not a belief-system though it starts with certain premises based on the experience of those who have gone before us, much as scientists working in a certain field have made their discoveries that become our starting-point. It gives us means and processes, tools and techniques, methods and instruments to engage with, enter into contact with and, eventually become identified with this ‘Reality’ that we carry within us and around us all the time. Of course once we have made this discovery ourselves then it becomes so simple. We discover, for instance, that IT was all the time there / here right before our eyes but we knew IT not. It is what we always carry, nay what we secretly and in reality are but we were just unaware of IT since our attention was never turned towards IT. Yoga teaches us first to turn our attention towards this now secret Reality which is the truth of our being and of the world. It does so by the process of an inward concentration. In other words we reverse the process by which we lose contact with IT. Ordinarily we live trapped in the sense, turned outwards and our mind keeps playing with outer events which are nothing but surface waves, now emerging, now vanishing, out of the Immensity of THAT. We mark the waves but know not the source of their origin and power, we can see the ocean surface but not the depths that lie concealed within our nature and its incessant activity. The first thing needed is to go within and this is not possible as long as our surface consciousness remains restless and tied to superficial appearances and apparent phenomena.

Dr. Alok Pandey, an editor of NAMAH and a member of SAIIIHR, is a doctor practising at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

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