Verse 5 gives a first taste of the intellectual rigor that is present throughout the text. I
thought hoped it was a local phenomenon, a peak in the intensity of the text, but though the intellectual intensity varies, it does not relent. Sometimes, after intellectual wrestling with a verse, I feel a need to take a step back and allow it to sink in and ask: what does it really mean? how does it apply to me in my life?
However, before zooming in on verse 5, I feel this is a good place to acknowledge the intimate relationship beween Samkhya and Yoga. It feels to me like Samkhya, in trying to focus on a bigger picture, is providing in some verses “brief headlines” which summarize and point to other knowledge domains. In this case, the brief mention (see below) of “direct perception by the senses” is in fact a pointer to an entire science of mind which is Yoga. So if you, like me, feel in exploring this verse that there must be more to this, you are right, there is 🙂
The verse makes a simple claim that there are three paths to right cognition: what I perceive directly with my own senses (I see the sun rising), what I can infer (from the color of the light outside my window I can infer it is sunny) and what I learn from a trusted source (my neighbor, who is indigenous to this place, looked to the sky and said that today would be a clear sunny day). That is it. Nothing else. Period. What does this imply?
I feel that direct sensing requires both internal and external presenc. Internally, I need to be clear and present in order to be available to perceive what is right in front of me. If I am nervous, agitated, or distracted I need to first settle down. Otherwise, the past and the future spin my mind around and I am simply unable to be present. I can miss things that are right in front of me and imagine things that are not there. If I am dull, slow and heavy I need to first freshen up. Otherwise, everything seems murky and confusing.
Then there needs to be an external presence. If I am sitting in a car rushing down the highway, the view flashes past me in a blur and I cannot relate to the places I pass through. I will not know the city like an elder who sits on the park bench every morning observing motorists like me flashing through the town. I will not know a forest like a hunter whose family has been hunting there for generations. I need to spend time with other people and places if I really want to know them. I need to spend time with my own breath in order to get to know myself (what is internal and what is external in THAT relationship?).
A feeling of presence is what I experience when these internal and external qualities converge. To what extent is presence available to you in your life? Can you discern, in your life, between the times and places where you are absent or present? When you feel absent are you able to tend to yourself and to become present once again? Or do the demands of life overtake you?
Inference is something we all do all the time. If you got up this morning and filled a cup of water from the tap you were inferring that since water came out of the tap yesterday (and many days before) it will also come out today. We infer consciously and unconsciously. For a decade my water came from a pump I installed in a well. After a dozen or so mornings (over a few years) when water did not flow from my tap, that unconscious inference became a modified (and more anxious) conscious inference. I stopped inferring that water would flow and came to infer that water will likely flow but also may not flow (in which case I could infer that some unplanned work was awaiting me).
Inference is as vulnerable as it is inevitable. First, it feeds on and relies on direct sensing. All the vulnerabilities of direct sensing feed into inference. If I wrongly perceive what is in front of me I am probably also making wrong inferences: garbage in, garbage out. Then, on top of that, inference is vulnerable to incorrect thinking.
The text uses a “fire on the hill” example: if I see smoke on the hill I can infer there is a fire on the hill (without seeing that fire directly) because I’ve seen smoke rising from a fire in the hearth. Then, in my actual rural life, I learned to make fires that don’t smoke. I made it with my own hands and perceived with my own eyes that indeed there was no smoke. So I thought to myself: did I just disprove a fundamental Samkhya argument? This became a cherished Samkhya lesson for me. The inference made in the Samkhya example is that where there is smoke there is fire. It does NOT infer that where there is fire there is smoke! My thinking was wrong. I was inferring incorrectly.
I find that paying close attention to how I think and infer is difficult and demanding. I was used to perceiving the lifting of a physical object as effort. I was less likely to appreciate quiet reflection as effort. When I lived a typical, modern, busy life, I prided myself on moving along quickly and getting things done. I did not prioritize slowing down and allowing for the more intimate form of thinking I now experience in stillness. Do you have space for quiet, reflective, intimate thinking?
And, finally, trusted teachings from a trusted source. I am guessing that In the original cultural context of Samkhya, this likely speaks to an intimate and (traditionally) long (decades?) student-teacher relationship. In such a relationship a teacher can share the right teachings at the right time in the right way. With that in mind, where do you get your information today? How trustworthy are your sources? Do your sources know of you? Do they care about you and your well-being? Do they relate information to you as it relates to you and as you can relate to it?
These can be demanding questions. If I do not have the capacity to engage with them in a meaningful way where does that leave me? Samkhya offers a brutally honest answer: wrong cognition. This means that potentially a lot of what I think I know is not reliable and possibly (probably?) incorrect. There is probably much more that I don’t know than I may care to admit. Where does that leave me? Where does that leave you? Where does that leave us?
In asking these questions for this journal entry, a surprising answer emerged: Intimacy! This verse feels to me like a summons to intimacy. Come back to my breath. Come back to my senses as they encounter the physical world I inhabit. Come back to my day-to-day relationships. Give more time to my direct sensory experience and less time to a mind wandering off in distant imagined places. Take time to notice how I notice. Take time to tend to myself when I notice that my noticing is not as good as I would like it to be. Find teachers. Become a teacher to others. Replace superficial, rapid, efficient, and triggering experiences with slow, meandering intimacy.
Close your eyes, inhale deeply and exhale softly and slowly. There. Intimacy!