Yoga Sutras 1.8

I.K. Taimni's Yoga Sutra 1.8

Sutra 1.8 concerns false conceptions that do not conform to the reality of what they are supposed to represent.  Taimni cites mirages as a common example but emphasizes that Viparyaya are not nearly so exceptional as “mirage” may suggest:

Wherever there is lack of correspondence between our conception of a thing and the thing itself we have really an instance of Viparyaya.

On the one hand, there isn’t much to say about Viparyaya, as the language of the translation is quite straightforward.  However, there is an aspect of Viparyaya I want to explore in relation to Pramana.  Taimni states:

But it should be remembered that in Viparyaya we are not concerned with the correctness or definiteness of our mental impressions but only with the correspondence between the object and the mental image formed in our mind. In partial darkness our impression of an object may be blurred but if it corresponds with the object it is not a case of Viparyaya.

There is something here that I want to tease out.  Between Pramana and Viparyaya there is a distinction asserted between partial-perception/correspondence and dissimilarity.  If I am looking into the sun and I am largely blinded, but I see a silhouette in the shape of a person, and in fact there is a so-shaped person in front of me, then my perception is Pramana.  If, however, it is really a cactus, then I am in Viparyaya.  At least to a certain degree.  I am wrong about the nature of the silhouette, but not about the fact that there is something in front of me.  If the sunlight interacted with my eyes in such a way as to create the illusion of a silhouette when in fact there was nothing but open range in front of me, then I would be in a deeper sort of Viparyaya.

That’s interesting to me.   What is essential about the difference between these two scenarios.  This, I think, is an important aspect of Sutras 1.7 and 1.8.  Iow, what is the difference between “right and wrong” knowledge?  In truth, this is a very subtle thing.  Can you sense the subtlety?  Essentially, the difference comes down to our orientation towards our perception.  We can see something “darkly” and be in either pramana or viparyaya, depending on our own belief concerning what we perceive.

If, when seeing a silhouette, we believe there is actually a black, 2 dimensional object in front of us, then we are in viparyaya.  If, rather, we believe that, because of the lighting and the nature of eyes and whatever,  there is something in front of us that is creating the black, 2-dimensional shape, then we are in pramana.  If that something is a person and we think it is a person that we are “deeper” in Pramana.  Since there seems to be degrees of Pramana and Viparyaya, one could legitimately wonder what are the extremes?  Condition your experimental thoughts with the notion that all of what we are describing is Vrtti, modifications of the mind.

Again, we can perceive something incompletely but still be oriented towards that perception correctly.  It is a fact that all perception is a cartoonish re-presentation of reality.  Getting to the point: if we believe our perception is accurate in every detail, we are plainly wrong.  But characterizing the opposite end of the spectrum is more difficult.  What can we believe about our perception that is wholly true?  That it is wholly false is, I think, false (Viparyaya), for there are correspondences.  In fact, it is just as accurate to say that every perception is wholly true.  We are having that perception.  It is real.  The stick that looks bent when half is under water does truly look bent.  There is a perception of a bent stick.  That is wholly true and the perception is, at heart, existing and real.

Many years ago I had an insight.  There is the philosophical tradition, historically sourced with the Indian concept of Maya & Plato’s allegory of the Cave, in which one imagines that they are a brain in a vat whose perceptions (about absolutely everything) are being manipulated by a scientist, or whatever (Descartes version involved an evil demon).  In this manner, everything they see is false.  According to Descartes, the only thing such a being could be certain of is that “I am thinking, therefore I am” (Cogito Ergo Sum).  The Matrix played with a similar notion.  I would always hear people say that the experiences of a such a being were “fake” or “not real” (philosophers are typically more careful with words, I’m talking about laypeople).  And this is what drew my contrary insight.  Those experiences aren’t “fake” at all.  The thinking, perceiving being is really having them.  What is (potentially) fake, what would be Viparyaya, is an orientation of the thinking, perceiving being towards those thoughts and perceptions that asserts that the perceptions correspond to “what is really happening”.

But even a statement like that is riddled with subtlety.  Because the perception is really happening.  What is it that isn’t happening?  If I am having the experience of walking in the desert on a sunny day, but in reality I am a brain in a vat being “fed” that experience, then there are a few considerations:

  • I am really having that experience (how could I not be having an experience with the qualities of the experience I am having?  The question is almost nonsensical in light of the nature of the meaning of the word “experience” [Kant’s analytic judgement a priori].)
  • The experience corresponds with something outside itself
    • It does not correspond with its content, which is a solar body and the surface of a planetary body and the presence of an atmosphere and a biosphere and my physical body, et cetera.
    • It does correspond with whatever “logic” goes into creating those experiences.  Perhaps, speaking contemporaneously, the scene corresponds to compiled software logic represented as bits in some sort of computer.

This highlights a fact (again): all experience corresponds absolutely with reality.  All experience is absolutely true.  What can or can not correspond with reality, what can or can not be “true”,  is our beliefs about our experiences.  Specifically, our beliefs about how our experiences correspond with reality.  Even our beliefs are experienced, and so, at one level, are true and explicable, while, at another level can be false.

It becomes interesting to ask, what sort of beliefs can actually correspond with reality?  Things are what they are.  On one level, everything that is, is.  Absurd statements exist.  What about them doesn’t?  Their “referent”.  What are referents?  What is determinism?  What is free will?  What is “correspondence” between “belief” and “reality”?

I don’t think I have answers for these questions.  But maybe I do?  Belief seems to be the mother of all “Viparyaya”.  What is “belief”?  What are we really justified in believing?  What are degrees of belief?  No doubt Descartes believed all sorts of things beyond “I am thinking, therefore I am”.  In fact, his whole project was to push back against the skeptics who said nothing could be believed.  Yet he’s most famous for seemingly asserting that only one thing can be truly believed.  The foundational belief, if you will.  Can something more be built on this belief?

With Heidegger, perhaps we have realized an important question.  I am going to quote from his “Introduction To Metaphysics” one of my favorite passages of all time.  However, my favorite translation is the Yale University Press version by Ralph Manheim which is out of print (not available with Amazon’s “Look Inside”) and my version is packed up since I just moved (I’ll update all this later when I get the book outta the box).  My favorite translation being unavailable, I am going to quote the one translation I can get a hold of (Amazon look inside) but with a substitution.  I’ll demarcate the substitution with brackets and (to avoid interrupting the flow) I will put what this new translation offers in its place afterwards:

[Why is there something rather than nothing?]  That is the question.  Presumably it is no arbitrary question.  “[Why is there something rather than nothing?]”–This is obviously the first of all questions.  Of course, it is not the first question in the chronological sense.  Individuals as well as peoples ask many questions in the course of their historical passage through time.  They explore, investigate , and test many sorts of things before they run into the question “[Why is there something rather than nothing?]”  Many never run into this question at all, if running into the question means not only hearing and reading the interrogative sentence as uttered, but asking the question, that is, taking a stand on it, posing it, compelling oneself into the state of this questioning.

And yet, we are each touched once, maybe even now and then, by the concealed power of this question, without properly grasping what is happening to us.  In great despair, for example, when all weight tends to dwindle away from things and the sense of things grows dark, the question looms.  Perhaps it strikes only once, like the muffled tolling of a bell that resounds into Dasein [beingness, existence, being there] and gradually fades away.  The question is there in heartfelt joy, for then all things are transformed and surround us as if for the first time, as if it were easier to grasp that they were not, rather than that they are, and are as they are.  The question is there in a spell of boredom, when we are equally distant from despair and joy, but when the stubborn ordinariness of beings lays open a wasteland in which it makes no difference to us whether beings are or are not — and then, in a distinctive form, the question resonates once again: [Why is there something rather than nothing?]

The Gregory Fried translation above substitutes [Why are there beings at all instead of nothing] for [Why is there something rather than nothing].  Both have their weight, I just prefer the one I do.


  • Pramana – Accurate Knowledge
  • Viparyaya – Inaccurate Knowledge
  • Vrtti – Modifications of mind

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