Wrong Knowledge (Viparyaya)
Wrong knowledge is information based on false perception. The example that is often given in Asian philosophy is that while walking we can suddenly think we see a snake and because of it we experience a moment of terror until we realize that what we are seeing is just a coiled rope.
We all experience this kind of misperception. This phenomenon is related to how sensations are interpreted and translated by the psyche. This example is very simple, and one might say it is superficial, but it serves to illustrate a problem that we have all of the time, twenty-four hours a day. The problem is that we do not know how to correctly perceive. We assume that the way our mind translates information is always accurate. However, the fact is that it is never accurate. Materialistic science is proving that now.
The physicists who are studying phenomena in nature are now proving that our perceptions lie. Those scientists and doctors who study the brain, consciousness, the senses, quantum mechanics and many other topics are proving that all of us are the most insatiable liars; we lie to ourselves. We do not see what is actually in front us: instead, we only see how our mind interprets it.
One person sees a dog and reacts with friendliness. Another person sees the same dog and reacts with disgust. Neither sees the dog for what it is. Each one only sees the response of their psychological filters.
Innumerable experiments have proven that none of us see reality. Tests have been given to rooms of hundreds of people, where all view the same video, and none see the actual content of the video. In one famous example, people are told to watch a video of a group of people tossing a ball. Everyone can watch that and see the ball being passed, but none see what else is happening in the video. (I wont spoil it for you in case you also get a chance to experience the test). Nevertheless, the fact remains —proven, repeatedly — that we only see through our psychological filters. We do not really perceive objectively, or even clearly.
Yet, humanity just does not get it. Religions and mystical traditions have been saying this for thousands of years. Now the scientists are saying it too, and we still do not believe it. We cannot imagine how our perception could possibly be wrong. But, the fact is that we do not see things accurately.
False perception does not refer only to mistaken perceptions of the eyes. It refers to how you, as a psyche, perceive all things. The type of mistaken perception that is the most significant cause of suffering is entirely in your mind. It is the perception of how you think and feel.
As an example, consider two best friends having a conversation where both people misunderstand what is being said, and this causes each one of them to generate negative feelings towards the other. Then suddenly, the friendship is in doubt. Do not we all experience that all the time? Yet, still we do not recognize that the problem is not with the spouse or the friend. The problem is in our mind.
We constantly reflect on “that thing that was said” and our mind extrapolates and starts adding to it. We invent scenes. We imagine conversations. We create events, occurrences, statements. None of it is real! We think, “he said this and I know he also meant this and this and this.” So we start adding lots of interpretations and additional meanings. Where does all of that come from? Who is interjecting the additional information into that event? Is it based on facts? No. Never. It is all projections of the mind. It is all modifications and “false perceptions whose real form is not seen.” We are not seeing the soul or the heart of the mind of the other person. We are only seeing the projections of our own mind, and yet we believe those projections are real. We do not know where they came from or what they are about. We do not question their reality. But they are not real! The problem is that we are doing this all of the time, with everything.
What about what others have told us? Depending on who said it, we may assume everything that said is absolutely true. Yet, how do we know? Do we ever really consider how reliable the information is?
Society, education, media, books, television, etc all feed us huge quantities of information that we accept as reliable knowledge. Yet, when we consider this in light of yoga, we have to admit that most of what we have been told is really wrong knowledge, because it is based on beliefs, theories, assumptions, sales pitches, political slants, outright lies, sectarian conflicts, resentments, etc.
Even science, assumed to be so objective and reliable, reverses itself weekly! Last week, it stated definitely and without any doubt that “this is this way,” then a week later, “Actually, it is this way.” Scientists have been doing this for decades, and still do it without any loss of self-confidence! Really, it is astonishing to watch the scientists and doctors — how self-assured they are — and then see them reverse themselves shortly after, as if they never said things were the opposite. Of course, we see politicians and priests doing the same thing, and all of them as supposed to be leading society!
We cannot blame them, however, because they suffer exactly the same condition that we do. All of us suffer the condition of believing that what we think and feel is based on facts, and that what we perceive is really the full extent of what can be perceived. Sadly, that is dead wrong. We do not perceive even a tiny of fraction of what can be perceived. By awakening consciousness, we start to perceive more.
In synthesis, wrong knowledge is a painful modification, and it is the type of modification that we experience for most of our lives.
Right Knowledge (Pramana)
Right knowledge is direct perception, something that we have seen for ourselves and can confirm.
Chief among this type of perception is right knowledge of divinity, direct experience of God. Since most of us have not had that experience, we do not have right knowledge of divinity; we have wrong knowledge; we have false perceptions; we have fantasies. We think, “God must be like this or God may be like that or I do not believe in God or God is not real.” All of that is wrong knowledge. Our beliefs and theories may be beautiful, but none of them is based on experience.
Right knowledge is direct perception. Nevertheless, right knowledge, called pramana in Sanskrit, is a modification of mind. Some people may question how this could be.
Someone who is self-realized does not have modifications of mind, vritis. His mind is liberated. He does not need right knowledge (pramana), because he is that. To say a liberated person needs pramana (right knowledge) is the same as saying that a flame needs to know that is a flame. It does not. It already is a flame, it does not need to think that it is a flame. There is a difference between having a thought or a mental idea of something and knowing one is that. That is the distinction. When you truly are something, the thought is irrelevant, unnecessary.
Right knowledge, pramana, is a modification of mind. It is a way of thought; it is a way of interpreting information. It may be accurate, but it is still an interpretation. It is not the thing itself, but it is based on a direct perception, or an inference, or a testimony. We know for ourselves that it is true. Most students have none of that about spirituality. This is an important thing to realize.
Do not lie to yourself. If you do not have right knowledge, if you do not have direct perception, admit it. Do not try to convince yourselves or others that you do, because you will condemn yourself to never acquire it. Be honest. If you have never been out of your body, if you have never talked face to face with your own Innermost, your Divine Mother, or an angel, or a guru-deva, good! Admit it, then work to have it, because you can. But do not lie to yourself or others. We need direct perception, but if we lie to ourselves with a false perception, then we will never have the real one.
Direct knowledge is what we ourselves have clearly perceived. Nevertheless, that does not mean that what we perceived is reality. All of us dream, and we can clearly recall what we saw, but that does not mean what we saw was real. Similarly, we can clearly observe our thoughts and feelings, but that does not make them real, reliable, or objective.
Inference is a way of knowing something is true because you have sufficient facts to support that knowledge. A simple, materialistic example would be, if you see smoke, you know there is a fire. In the same way, if you observe a negative emotion or a bad mood in yourself, you know that is not from God. That is from an ego, a defect. When you see that you are stressed or tense, that is not divinity producing that feeling. That is a conflict in your psyche between a desire and reality. That is all that stress is. You want something that you do not have. Conflict causes stress physically, emotionally, and mentally. When you recognize the desire and you deal with the desire and you disempower the desire then the stress goes away. it is really simple. That’s inference: knowing something by the evidence that surrounds it.
Testimony is knowing something by a reputable source.
So, again taking this from the spiritual point of view, what do we consider to be a reputable source? It is someone or something that does have right knowledge or is an awakened master or a perfectly developed being. In this tradition, we are very strict on this point. We are exceptionally strict, because we value the soul of every person. We consider valid testimony to be the teachings of the greatest masters: Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Moses, Abraham, Quetzalcoatl, Padmasambhava, Milarepa, the Dalai Lamas and all the types of teachers who are at the very pinnacle of development. Their teachings are what we consider valid testimony — teachers who fully exemplify what the teachings are guiding us to become. Thus, we are wary of those who are halfway, because they do not know everything, and easily make mistakes. We are very strict on that point.
There are many popular books, videos, theories, and teachings about spirituality. We are not interested in what is popular, modern, cutting edge. We are interested in the welfare of your very soul. Can you afford to take a risk on the teachings of someone who might be mistaken? In my opinion, we cannot. In my opinion, suffering is such a tremendous reality, and the potential for mistakes is so strong, that you have to be extraordinarily strict with yourself about what teachings you ingest, and believe, and follow, and act on. How can you gamble immortality, the chance to be liberated from suffering, on what is popular on the internet or in the bookstore? To me, that seems utterly ridiculous, foolish, and quite dangerous. Just because someone is skilled at selling books or making internet videos does not mean they know how to liberate you from suffering. Someone may be very charismatic, but that does not mean they are an awakened master who can help you as Krishna helps Arjuna.
Someone may have the best intentions in the world, but be completely wrong about what they teach others. That is why when it comes to our spiritual lives, we rely on Jesus, Buddha, Moses, and other very high masters. That is what we consider valid testimony.
We need to analyze all of these things in ourselves on a daily basis. That is why we point them out.
The next three modifications are vikalpa, nidra, and smriti. These are Sanskrit words.
“Fantasy follows mere words that have no basis in reality.
“Sleep is a modification of mind based on abhava.
“Memory is not allowing impressions to escape.” – Yoga Sutras
The scripture says that “fantasy follows mere words that have no basis in reality.” This characterizes a huge percentage of the contents of our mind. An enormous majority of what is in our mind is absolute fantasy, and based on nothing. This includes all the TV shows and movies and celebrities and politics and all the things that we ingest from media. All of that is utter fantasy. I know we take it very seriously. We think that movies are very important, and celebrities and TV shows and sports are very important, but it is all lies, based on nothing. It has absolutely no importance in relation with the soul. It is a type of witchcraft, if you will, a type of black magic. It is a hypnotic influence. We watch these actors, movies, stories, and celebrities, and all they are doing is lying. They project themselves to be something that they are not. What is worse, we believe it and we imitate it. Have you noticed that when you watch something that really interests you, you start to imitate the actor, maybe in the way you stand, the way you talk, the way you dress, the words you use, or the way you look around? You think, “Maybe I am looking like that guy now.” We all do that. It is a consequence of being hypnotized. We watch that band that is so cool and we start dressing like them, acting like them, thinking like them, and their music runs through our heads all the time. That is a form of hypnosis. That is fantasy.
We follow a particular fashion or a particular culture or a particular political movement or any type of theory or doctrine that wants us to affirm that we are a certain way, we are “born again,” or we are “the chosen ones.” All of that is fantasy, because not one atom of it can be confirmed by direct perception, not a single particle. It is all just words, beliefs, nothing. That is fantasy.
You can see that our culture is completely and utterly hypnotized by fantasy, because when we point it out, people get angry. They say, “that’s my band, that’s my political party, my religion, my show, my style. How dare you contradict that?” We think it is something sacred, but we do not realize that it is utterly and completely meaningless, like an image in a mirror. There is nothing there. But that is the nature of our culture now. It is wrong knowledge.