Verse 8: A Line in the Sand

I am reflecting on this journal entry for verse 8 while studying verse 41. Looking back at verse 8 from verse 41 (where things are getting pretty wild!) feels like I’ve been on a long journey. In retrospect, it seems that verse 8 draws a line in the sands of Knowing. From here on out most of the attention is going to be placed on this line. This line signifies where sensory experience stops. I will never be able to have a direct sensory experience of what lies beyond this line.

Thinking about what can be known brings to mind people who continue to hold onto a belief that the Earth is flat. From my vantage point, they seem to be a small minority. But it isn’t the flatness-of-the-Earth arguments that interest me. What piques my interest are two subtle assumptions that the flat and round Earthers seem to share. Both of these assumptions dance around this line in the sands of knowing.

The first commonality is a belief in sensory empiricism. A flat-earther may argue he has not experienced with his own senses the roundness of the earth and therefore cannot accept it is round. A round-Earther may respond that given the complexity of our world it is not valid to expect every human being to have direct experience and understanding of every phenomenon: does a flat-earther using a smartphone to record a video about the shape of the earth understand all the workings of the phone? The two camps seem to share an unspoken belief that sensory empiricism is a complete and exclusive method of knowing. The flat-Earther holds this as an individual belief. The round-Earther holds this as a collective belief. Verse 8 brings this shared assumption into light and into question. It says that there are subtle yet-existing things that I and we can never know through direct sensory experience. This is not a quantitative assertion: no amount of microscopic or telescopic magnification will overcome this obstacle or reveal the subtleness that lies beyond it. It is a qualitative assertion: there are things that are too subtle to be perceived by the mind and senses.

Flat-Earthers were once (not too long ago!) a majority. Flat-Earth was state-of-the-art knowledge. With the benefit of hindsight and current state-of-the-art knowledge, the current majority can look back at that older state-of-the-art knowledge and recognize its frailty. However, what the new majority (and state-of-the-art knowledge) does not seem to appreciate is that time will most likely treat it in the same way it treated the old majority and knowledge. Odds are that most of what you hold to be firmly true will not last! This is the second commonality (which follows naturally from the first): both the old and the new majority believed they have figured IT out and that THEIR understanding WILL last. This is a shared delusion.

Verse 8 stands as a warning sign: beware of lurking delusions! As I approach the line in the sands of knowing the potential for delusion increases. I must therefore approach it with humility and curiosity. There are ways to reach into it. Samkhya does actually call upon a refined form of empiricism founded on right cognition (and free of wrong cognition).

“I know something and I am presented with something different.
How I react or choose not to react is Asmitā.
The wrong response brings Duḥkha.
The right response Viveka.
One is a hasty assessment and one is wanting to find out more.
One is ‘assuming I know I proceed’,
the other is ‘wishing to know I proceed’.”

TKV Desikachar – commentary on Yoga Sutra verse 2.6

The line in the sand will get thicker and become a strip. The edges of the strip will get elaborated and then become fuzzy. If I approach it correctly, the clear and sharp line will morph into infinite space – a subtle reality upon which rests the perceived reality I experience with my mind and senses.

Wishing to know I proceed!

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