Yoga Sutra 7, Chapter 1, The Meaning of Right Knowledge

Author: Randeep Singh / go to all articles on Yoga Concepts

Yoga Sutra 7 text:

” pratyaksa anumana agamah pramanani “

pratyaksa – know something by

perceiving it directly

anumana – deductive knowledge

through the method of inference

agamah – testimony of authority on a subject or an object

pramanani – right and validated means

of knowing anything

In this yoga sutra 7, chapter Samadhipada, Patanjali is discussing the first of the five Modifications of the mind, the right knowledge. He says that what we call the right knowledge can be acquired by three valid means – pramanani – only. Knowledge itself is a modification or something that is not permanent.
Knowledge of what is real, right as we believe it keeps changing under the kind of influence – klishta or aklishta- the mind is in. The kind of influence the mind is at a particular moment is again decided by the karma. The same object can have different realities under different influences of the mind.

Meaning of pratyaksa in this Yoga sutra

The first source of gaining the right knowledge about an object is pratyaksha , or perceiving it directly by one’s own senses. The right knowledge is base on the senses. Knowledge in fact is the understanding of an external object which has not been perceived previously.

Anything about the object that was already known is not knowledge but is just a piece of information. In order to perceive something the Citta – personality complex– has to reach the object through the channel of the senses. The Citta then modifies itself into the nature of the object – becomes like the object – for gathering new knowledge.

In Samkhya the nature of the mind is similar to that of the sense organs, mind in tandem with the nervous system is the actual sense organ, not the physical receptors as visible externally which are known as Jnanendriyas in Samkhya . Its the Brain which is responsible for reading the meaning into the impulses that are being received by the physical senses.

Yoga sutra 7 says that perception cannot take place without the perceiver or the viewer. For perception to be complete both the viewer and the object are equally significant. For the perceiver, the existence of the outside world is limited to his ability to perceive, because as per Samkhya their can be a number of obstacles to correct perception of an object.

If there is no perceiver the world doesn’t exist. As per Samkhya the three gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas – of which all matter is made up off are nothing but feelings. Mind is actually an instrument which gathers the knowledge of the external object and reflects it on the spirit.

Its the spirit which actually perceives not the senses or the mind. There is no interest in the spirit to know the material world. The interest aspect is only in matter which creates the mind and reflects the knowledge of the material object on the spirit for the spirit to become aware of it.

Its only the spirit which has the capacity to perceive and be aware of the reality. In other words the world exists for the spirit to know about it. If there is no one to know then the knowledge has no existence.

The senses begin the process of perception of a specific aspect of the external world ( object or objects) and not a general aspect. This quality of the senses to be able to perceive the external world more specifically and immediately by coming in direct contact with it is known as direct perception.

To know an object the mind changes its composition to match it to the object’s; mind becomes the object. Dreams are nothing but the modifications of the mind in the absence of any immediate direct object, while awake the mind is being modified – and gaining knowledge- in the presence of real objects.

Thus, both the states are not much different as per yoga. The true nature of the spirit is pure awareness and nothing else. This awareness bereft of any reflection in it is pure consciousness. When the mind is pure it doesn’t reflect anything on the spirit, it only reflects the spirit.

Thus, the process of knowing something starts with the Citta – mind is the component of the citta- passes through the senses and reach the object to be known. It changes itself to match the object, this modified Chitta is reflected into the spirit for it to become aware of it.

The new awareness of the external object as reflected in the spirit is known as knowledge. So the Citta presents the knowledge to the spirit, but the Citta can itself get modified thus the knowledge it presents is not the absolute knowledge of the object. Karma plays the part in quality of the modification the Citta will take, karma can distort the knowledge presented to the spirit for reflecting it in awareness.

The purer the citta is the least it will modify. This is what this yoga sutra of Patanjali is about; there is no right knowledge if the Citta has been rendered impure by the karmas.

Meaning of Anumana in this Yoga Sutra

Right knowledge is a relative term, a piece of iron may appear as solid to the naked eye but is in reality porous under a microscope. Patanjali, in this Yoga sutra gives another channel through which one can gain knowledge; by inference or anumana. Inference means knowing something through logical thinking. It is also known as deductive thinking because here we deduce or filter the specific knowledge from a pool of possible knowledge bits created through inference.

This is not direct perception thus has more possibilities of being away from the right knowledge than the one gained through direct perception.

Inference or anumana is a method by which one tries to draw a conclusion from a mix of bits of information by connecting these bits by common factors they display, and eliminating the ones which do not display these common factors.

This process of addition and elimination finally reduces the larger mix to more comprehensible lesser pieces of information connected together with commonalities known as knowledge.

Anumana is not based on absolute understanding or knowledge, because this process of deducting knowledge is based on the ability of the mind – which is prone to modifications under the influence of the karma – to find the commonalities and commonalities between the bits of information that are available, not some empirical instrument.

One arrives at the conclusion that a certain human being will die because He has seen people dying after a certain age. One is just drawing the conclusion from the information previously available to him, which may or may not be a certainty.

Meaning of Agamah in Yoga Sutra 7

Patanjali gives another means from which right knowledge can be gained; the testimony of authority on a certain aspect. In case the method of direct perception – pratyaksa – or inference – anumana – cannot be employed to gain right knowledge the words of someone who has authority on the subject in question are taken as right knowledge on that subject.

Someone who is considered as an expert on something has said something about it. One takes his word as guarantee for the knowledge in question to be right or true. Our vedas are full of this means of gaining the right knowledge. No one questions the authority of the vedas on the subjects which have been elaborated upon in them. The words spoken by the authority figure are taken as to be written in stone.

The knowledge related to the profession of a lawyer is completely based on authority of the law makers. No individual lawyer can ever challenge the authenticity or alter the laws contained in the law book.

The scope of creativity is the least here, knowledge gained by such means is a clear case of blind belief. Patanjali, in this yoga sutra has given the means of gaining the right knowledge which themselves reflect their limitations due to the inherent limitation of the instrument – Citta – of aquiring the same.

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