The sources of right knowledge are direct perception, inference, and authoritative testimony.
How can we understand things more clearly and make better decisions? Patanjali outlines the three reliable means for gaining information about Life and about The Self. They are:
DIRECT PERCEPTION: Or, experience is the best teacher. But beware of the dreaded “mental modifications”, for when they kick in and the ego gets involved, experience can be colored by biases, desires, aversions, fear. And the way we remember experience is impacted by the mind’s tendency to add or subtract information. What I take away from this idea is how important it is to have a clear, calm mind in order to perceive events or experiences in the most accurate way.
By the way, I was able to convince the editor I mention in my discussion of The Fourth Yoga Sutra, to let me write the piece on local yoga studios. Perhaps I was able to harness some of the teachings of the Sutras so that I could remain calm, and present a reasonable outline for the piece that she liked. All-in-all a better course of action than pitching a fit or sulking.
INFERENCE. Inference relies on previously obtained knowledge. The biggest challenge to making accurate inferences? The mind’s impulse to jump to conclusions. What might influence us to make false conclusions? 1) A loss of focus in the act of perception 2) the impatience to experience something we believe will bring us pleasure 3) the anxiety to avoid something we believe will bring us pain.
What leads to better inferences, how can we draw more reasonable and logical conclusions? Accurate recollection which is enhanced by having a clear mind unhampered by bias or attachment. Accurate assessments that void jumping to conclusions out of anxiety or fear or some other stressor.
AUTHORITATIVE TESTIMONY. Going to the source. For Patanjali this meant consulting scripture or enlightened individuals. And, importantly I think, he notes that this sort of testimony should be verifiable by our own experience. At the end of the day, our own experience and judgement matter.
I am struck by how modern, how practical the Yoga Sutras are. Patanjali acknowledges that it is no easy task to gain clarity, to make better decisions. But, if we are up for the challenge, here is a way to start.
Illustration: Tamara Adams Art