An Introduction to Yoga/Lecture II/Chapter 1

An Introduction to Yoga by Annie Wood Besant
Lecture II/Chapter 1: Its Relation to Indian Philosophies

Its Relation to Indian Philosophies

Let me ask you to think for a while on the place of Yoga in its relation to two of the great Hindu schools of philosophical thought, for neither the Westerner nor the non-Sanskrit-knowing Indian can ever really understand the translations of the chief Indian books, now current here and in the West, and the force of all the allusions they make, unless they acquaint themselves in some degree with the outlines of these great schools of philosophy, they being the very foundation on which these books are built up. Take the Bhagavad-Gita. Probably there are many who know that book fairly well, who use it as the book to help in the spiritual life, who are not familiar with most of its precepts. But you must always be more or less in a fog in reading it, unless you realise the fact that it is founded on a particular Indian philosophy and that the meaning of nearly all the technical words in it is practically limited by their meaning in philosophy known as the Samkhya. There are certain phrases belonging rather to the Vedanta, but the great majority are Samkhyan, and it is taken for granted that the people reading or using the book are familiar with the outline of the Samkhyan philosophy. I do not want to take you into details, but I must give you the leading ideas of the philosophy. For if you grasp these, you will not only read your Bhagavad-Gita with much more intelligence than before, but you will be able to use it practically for yogic purposes in a way that, without this knowledge, is almost impossible.

Alike in the Bhagavad-Gita and in the Yoga-sutras of Patanjali the terms are Samkhyan, and historically Yoga is based on the Samkhya, so far as its philosophy is concerned. Samkhya does not concern itself with, the existence of Deity, but only with the becoming of a universe, the order of evolution. Hence it is often called Nir-isvara Samkhya, the Samkhya without God. But so closely is it bound up with the Yoga system, that the latter is called Sesvara Samkhya, with God. For its understanding, therefore, I must outline part of the Samkhya philosophy, that part which deals with the relation of Spirit and matter; note the difference from this of the Vedantic conception of Self and Not-Self, and then find the reconciliation in the Theosophic statement of the facts in nature. The directions which fall from the lips of the Lord of Yoga in the Gita may sometimes seem to you opposed to each other and contradictory, because they sometimes are phrased in the Samkhyan and sometimes in the Vedantic terms, starting from different standpoints, one looking at the world from the standpoint of matter, the other from the standpoint of Spirit. If you are a student of Theosophy, then the knowledge of the facts will enable you to translate the different phrases. That reconciliation and understanding of these apparently contradictory phrases is the object to which I would ask your attention now.

The Samkhyan School starts with the statement that the universe consists of two factors, the first pair of opposites, Spirit and Matter, or more accurately Spirits and Matter. The Spirit is called Purusha—the Man; and each Spirit is an individual. Purusha is a unit, a unit of consciousness; they are all of the same nature, but distinct everlastingly the one from the other. Of these units there are many; countless Purushas are to be found in the world of men. But while they are countless in number they are identical in nature, they are homogeneous. Every Purusha has three characteristics, and these three are alike in all. One characteristic is awareness; it will become cognition. The second of the characteristics is life or prana; it will become activity. The third characteristic is immutability, the essence of eternity; it will become will. Eternity is not, as some mistakenly think, everlasting time. Everlasting time has nothing to do with eternity. Time and eternity are two altogether different things. Eternity is changeless, immutable, simultaneous. No succession in time, albeit everlasting—if such could be—could give eternity. The fact that Purusha has this attribute of immutability tells us that He is eternal; for changelessness is a mark of the eternal.

Such are the three attributes of Purusha, according to the Samkhya. Though these are not the same in nomenclature as the Vedantic Sat, Chit, Ananda, yet they are practically identical. Awareness or cognition is Chit; life or force is Sat; and immutability, the essence of eternity, is Ananda.

Over against these Purushas, homogeneous units, countless in number, stands Prakriti, Matter, the second in the Samkhyan duality. Prakriti is one; Purushas are many. Prakriti is a continuum; Purushas are discontinuous, being innumerable, homogeneous units. Continuity is the mark of Prakriti. Pause for a moment on the name Prakriti. Let us investigate its root meaning. The name indicates its essence. Pra means "forth," and kri is the root "make". Prakriti thus means "forth-making ". Matter is that which enables the essence of Being to become. That which is Being—is-tence, becomes ex-is-tence—outbeing, by Matter, and to describe Matter as "forth-making" is to give its essence in a single word. Only by Prakriti can Spirit, or Purusha, "forth-make" or "manifest" himself. Without the presence of Prakriti, Purusha is helpless, a mere abstraction. Only by the presence of, and in Prakriti, can Purusha make manifest his powers. Prakriti has also three characteristics, the well-known gunas—attributes or qualities. These are rhythm, mobility and inertia. Rhythm enables awareness to become cognition. Mobility enables life to become activity. Inertia enables immutability to become will.

Now the conception as to the relation of Spirit to Matter is a very peculiar one, and confused ideas about it give rise to many misconceptions. If you grasp it, the Bhagavad-Gita becomes illuminated, and all the phrases about action and actor, and the mistake of saying "I act," become easy to understand, as implying technical Samkhyan ideas.

The three qualities of Prakriti, when Prakriti is thought of as away from Purusha, are in equilibrium, motionless, poised the one against the other, counter-balancing and neutralizing each other, so that Matter is called jada, unconscious, "dead". But in the presence of Purusha all is changed. When Purusha is in propinquity to Matter, then there is a change in Matter—not outside, but in it.

Purusha acts on Prakriti by propinquity, says Vyasa. It comes near Prakriti, and Prakriti begins to live. The "coming near" is a figure of speech, an adaptation to our ideas of time and space, for we cannot posit "nearness" of that which is timeless and spaceless—Spirit. By the word propinquity is indicated an influence exerted by Purusha on Prakriti, and this, where material objects are concerned, would be brought about by their propinquity. If a magnet be brought near to a piece of soft iron or an electrified body be brought near to a neutral one, certain changes are wrought in the soft iron or in the neutral body by that bringing near. The propinquity of the magnet makes the soft iron a magnet; the qualities of the magnet are produced in it, it manifests poles, it attracts steel, it attracts or repels the end of an electric needle. In the presence of a postively electrified body the electricity in a neutral body is re-arranged, and the positive retreats while the negative gathers near the electrified body. An internal change has occurred in both cases from the propinquity of another object. So with Purusha and Prakriti. Purusha does nothing, but from Purusha there comes out an influence, as in the case of the magnetic influence. The three gunas, under this influence of Purusha, undergo a marvellous change. I do not know what words to use, in order not to make a mistake in putting it. You cannot say that Prakriti absorbs the influence. You can hardly say that it reflects the Purusha. But the presence of Purusha brings about certain internal changes, causes a difference in the equilibrium of the three gunas in Prakriti. The three gunas were in a state of equilibrium. No guna was manifest. One guna was balanced against another. What happens when Purusha influences Prakriti? The quality of awareness in Purusha is taken up by, or reflected in, the guna called Sattva— rhythm, and it becomes cognition in Prakriti. The quality that we call life in Purusha is taken up by, or reflected, in the guna called Rajas—mobility, and it becomes force, energy, activity, in Prakriti. The quality that we call immutability in Purusha is taken up by, or reflected, in the guna called Tamas—inertia, and shows itself out as will or desire in Prakriti. So that, in that balanced equilibrium of Prakriti, a change has taken place by the mere propinquity of, or presence of, the Purusha. The Purusha has lost nothing, but at the same time a change has taken place in matter. Cognition has appeared in it. Activity, force, has appeared in it. Will or desire has appeared in it. With this change in Prakriti another change occurs. The three attributes of Purusha cannot be separated from each other, nor can the three attributes of Prakriti be separated each from each. Hence rhythm, while appropriating awareness, is under the influence of the whole three-in-one Purusha and cannot but also take up subordinately life and immutability as activity and will. And so with mobility and inertia. In combinations one quality or another may predominate, and we may have combinations which show preponderantly awareness-rhythm, or life- mobility, or immutability-inertia. The combinations in which awareness-rhythm or cognition predominates become "mind in nature," the subject or subjective half of nature. Combinations in which either of the other two predominates become the object or objective half of nature, the " force and matter " of the western scientist.[1]

We have thus nature divided into two, the subject and the object. We have now in nature everything that is wanted for the manifestation of activity, for the production of forms and for the expression of consciousness. We have mind, and we have force and matter. Purusha has nothing more to do, for he has infused all powers into Prakriti and sits apart, contemplating their interplay, himself remaining unchanged. The drama of existence is played out within Matter, and all that Spirit does is to look at it. Purusha is the spectator before whom the drama is played. He is not the actor, but only a spectator. The actor is the subjective part of nature, the mind, which is the reflection of awareness in rhythmic matter. That with which it works—objective nature, is the reflection of the other qualities of Purusha—life and immutability—in the gunas, Rajas and Tamas. Thus we have in nature everything that is wanted for the production of the universe. The Putusha only looks on when the drama is played before him. He is spectator, not actor. This is the predominant note of the Bhagavad-Gita. Nature does everything. The gunas bring about the universe. The man who says: "I act," is mistaken and confused; the gunas act, not he. He is only the spectator and looks on. Most of the Gita teaching is built upon this conception of the Samkhya, and unless that is clear in our minds we can never discriminate the meaning under the phrases of a particular philosophy.

Let us now turn to the Vedantic idea. According to the Vedantic view the Self is one, omnipresent, all-permeating, the one reality. Nothing exists except the Self—that is the starting-point in Vedanta. All permeating, all-controlling, all- inspiring, the Self is everywhere present. As the ether permeates all matter, so does the One Self permeate, restrain, support, vivify all. It is written in the Gita that as the air goes everywhere, so is the Self everywhere in the infinite diversity of objects. As we try to follow the outline of Vedantic thought, as we try to grasp this idea of the one universal Self, who is existence, consciousness, bliss, Sat-Chit-Ananda, we find that we are carried into a loftier region of philosophy than that occupied by the Samkhya. The Self is One. The Self is everywhere conscious, the Self is everywhere existent, the Self is everywhere blissful. There is no division between these qualities of the Self. Everywhere, all-embracing, these qualities are found at every point, in every place. There is no spot on which you can put your finger and say "The Self is not here." Where the Self is—and He is everywhere—there is existence, there is consciousness, and there is bliss. The Self, being consciousness, imagines limitation, division. From that imagination of limitation arises form, diversity, manyness. From that thought of the Self, from that thought of limitation, all diversity of the many is born. Matter is the limitation imposed upon the Self by His own will to limit Himself. "Eko'ham, bahu syam," "I am one; I will to he many"; "let me be many," is the thought of the One; and in that thought, the manifold universe comes into existence. In that limitation, Self-created, He exists, He is conscious, He is happy. In Him arises the thought that He is Self-existence, and behold! all existence becomes possible. Because in Him is the will to manifest, all manifestation at once comes into existence. Because in Him is all bliss, therefore is the law of life the seeking for happiness, the essential characteristic of every sentient creature. The universe appears by the Self-limitation in thought of the Self. The moment the Self ceases to think it, the universe is not, it vanishes as a dream. That is the fundamental idea of the Vedanta. Then it accepts the spirits of the Samkhya— the Purushas; but it says that these spirits are only reflections of the one Self, emanated by the activity of the Self and that they all reproduce Him in miniature, with the limitations which the universal Self has imposed upon them, which are apparently portions of the universe, but are really identical with Him. It is the play of the Supreme Self that makes the limitations, and thus reproduces within limitations the qualities of the Self; the consciousness of the Self, of the Supreme Self; becomes, in the particularised Self, cognition, the power to know; and the existence of the Self becomes activity, the power to manifest; and the bliss of the Self becomes will, the deepest part of all, the longing for happiness, for bliss; the resolve to obtain it is what we call will. And so in the limited, the power to know, and the power to act, and the power to will, these are the reflections in the particular Self of the essential qualities of the universal Self. Otherwise put: that which was universal awareness becomes now cognition in the separated Self; that which in the universal Self was awareness of itself becomes in the limited Self awareness of others; the awareness of the whole becomes the cognition of the individual. So with the existence of the Self: the Self-existence of the universal Self becomes, in the limited Self, activity, preservation of existence. So does the bliss of the universal Self, in the limited expression of the individual Self, become the will that seeks for happiness, the Self-determination of the Self, the seeking for Self-realisation, that deepest essence of human life.

The difference comes with limitation, with the narrowing of the universal qualities into the specific qualities of the limited Self; both are the same in essence, though seeming different in manifestation. We have the power to know, the power to will, and the power to act. These are the three great powers of the Self that show themselves in the separated Self in every diversity of forms, from the minutes" organism to the loftiest Logos.

Then just as in the Samkhya, if the Purusha, the particular Self, should identify himself with the matter in which he is reflected, then there is delusion and bondage, so in the Vedanta, if the Self, eternally free, imagines himself to be bound by matter, identifying himself with his limitations, he is deluded, he is under the domain of Maya; for Maya is the self-identification of the Self with his limitations. The eternally free can never be bound by matter; the eternally pure can never be tainted by matter; the eternally knowing can never be deluded by matter; the eternally Self-determined can never be ruled by matter, save by his own ignorance. His own foolish fancy limits his inherent powers; he is bound, because he imagines himself bound; he is impure, because he imagines himself impure; he is ignorant, because he imagines himself ignorant. With the vanishing of delusion he finds that he is eternally pure, eternally wise.

Here is the great difference between the Samkhya and the Vedanta. According to the Samkhya, Purusha is the spectator and never the actor. According to Vedanta the Self is the only actor, all else is maya: there is no one else who acts but the Self, according to the Vedanta teaching. As says the Upanishad: the Self willed to see, and there were eyes; the Self willed to hear, and there were ears; the Self willed to think, and there was mind. The eyes, the ears, the mind exist, because the Self has willed them into existence. The Self appropriates matter, in order that He may manifest His powers through it. There is the distinction between the Samkhya and the Vedanta: in the Samkhya the propinquity of the Purusha brings out in matter or Prakriti all these characteristics, the Prakriti acts and not the Purusha; in the Vedanta, Self alone exists and Self alone acts; He imagines limitation and matter appears; He appropriates that matter in order that He may manifest His own capacity.

The Samkhya is the view of the universe of the scientist: the Vedanta is the view of the universe of the metaphysician. Haeckel unconsciously expounded the Samkhyan philosophy almost perfectly. So close to the Samkhyan is his exposition, that another idea would make it purely Samkhyan; he has not yet supplied that propinquity of consciousness which the Samkhya postulates in its ultimate duality. He has Force and Matter, he has Mind in Matter, but he has no Purusha. His last book, criticised by Sir Oliver Lodge, is thoroughly intelligible from the Hindu standpoint as an almost accurate representation of Samkhyan philosophy. It is the view of the scientist, indifferent to the "why" of the facts which he records. The Vedanta, as I said, is the view of the metaphysician he seeks the unity in which all diversities are rooted and into which they are resolved.

Now, what light does Theosophy throw on both these systems? Theosophy enables every thinker to reconcile the partial statements which are apparently so contradictory. Theosophy, with the Vedanta, proclaims the universal Self. All that the Vedanta says of the universal Self and the Self- limitation, Theosophy repeats. We call these Self-limited selves Monads, and we say, as the Vedantin says, that these Monads reproduce the nature of the universal Self whose portions they are. And hence you find in them the three qualities which you find in the Supreme. They are units' and these represent the Purushas of the Samkhya; but with a very great difference, for they are not passive watchers, but active agents in the drama of the universe, although, being above the fivefold universe, they are as spectators who pull the strings of the players of the stage. The Monad takes to himself from the universe of matter atoms which show out the qualities corresponding to his three qualities, and in these he thinks, and wills and acts. He takes to himself rhythmic combinations, and shows his quality of cognition. He takes to himself combinations that are mobile; through those he shows out his activity. He takes the combinations that are inert, and shows out his quality of bliss, as the will to be happy. Now notice the difference of phrase and thought. In the Samkhya, Matter changed to reflect the Spirit; in fact, the Spirit appropriates portions of Matter, and through those expresses his own characteristics—an enormous difference. He creates an actor for Self-expression, and this actor is the "spiritual man" of the Theosophical teaching, the spiritual Triad, the Atma-buddhi-manas, to whom we shall return in a moment.

The Monad remains ever beyond the fivefold universe, and in that sense is a spectator. He dwells beyond the five planes of matter. Beyond the Atmic, or Akasic; beyond the Buddhic plane, the plane of Vayu; beyond the mental plane, the plane of Agni; beyond the astral plane, the plane of Varuna; beyond the physical plane, the plane of Kubera. Beyond all these planes the Monad, the Self, stands Self-conscious and Self-determined. He reigns in changeless peace and lives in eternity. But as said above, he appropriates matter. He takes to himself an atom of the Atmic plane, and in that he, as it were, incorporates his will, and that becomes Atma. He appropriates an atom of the Buddhic plane, and reflects in that his aspect of cognition, and that becomes buddhi. He appropriates an atom of the manasic plane and embodies, as it were, his activity in it, and it becomes Manas. Thus we get Atma, plus Buddhi, plus Manas. That triad is the reflection in the fivefold universe of the Monad beyond the fivefold universe. The terms of Theosophy can be easily identified with those of other schools. The Monad of Theosophy is the Jivatma of Indian philosophy, the Purusha of the Samkhya, the particularised Self of the Vedanta. The threefold manifestation, Atma-buddhi-manas, is the result of the Purusha's propinquity to Prakriti, the subject of the Samkhyan philosophy, the Self embodied in the highest sheaths, according to the Vedantic teaching. In the one you have this Self and His sheaths, and in the other the Subject, a reflection in matter of Purusha. Thus you can readily see that you are dealing with the same concepts but they are looked at from different standpoints. We are nearer to the Vedanta than to the Samkhya, but if you know the principles you can put the statements of the two philosophies in their own niches and will not be confused. Learn the principles and you can explain all the theories. That is the value of the Theosophical teaching; it gives you the principles and leaves you to study the philosophies, and you study them with a torch in your hand instead of in the dark.

Now when we understand the nature of the spiritual man, or Triad, what do we find with regard to all the manifestations of consciousness? That they are duads, Spirit-Matter everywhere, on every plane of our fivefold universe. If you are a scientist, you will call it spiritualised Matter; if you are a metaphysician you will call it materialised Spirit. Either phrase is equally true, so long as you remember that both are always present in every manifestation, that what you see is not the play of matter alone, but the play of Spirit-Matter, inseparable through the period of manifestation. Then, when you come, in reading an ancient book, to the statement "mind is material," you will not be confused; you will know that the writer is only speaking on the Samkhyan line, which speaks of Matter everywhere but always implies that the Spirit is looking on, and that this presence makes the work of Matter possible. You will not, when reading the constant statement in Indian philosophies that "mind is material," confuse this with the opposite view of the materialist which says that "mind is the product of matter"—a very different thing. Although the Samkhyan may use materialistic terms, he always posits the vivifying influence of Spirit, while the materialist makes Spirit the product of Matter. Really a gulf divides them, although the language they use may often be the same.


FootnotesEdit

  1. A friend notes that the first is the Suddha Sattva of the Ramanuja School, and the second and third the Prakriti, or spirit-matter, in the lower sense of the same.