‘How do we know what we know? This is a question that has plagued thinkers throughout history in a variety of different cultures and philosophical traditions. In classical Indian thought questions about the nature, means and source of knowledge- the discipline known as epistemology to modem philosophers, is summed up in the Sanskrit notion of pramana. Pramana is defined ….. as a ‘source’ or ‘means’ (karana) of valid apprehension or valid knowledge. One cannot expect to possess valid knowledge (prama) without first having some means or way of apprehending it. The means for such knowledge is known as pramana’.King, R. (1999),’ Indian Philosophy’, Georgetown University Press, Washington DC p 128
Throughout the ages Yogic practice has recognized that perception becomes clouded and distorted by events and memories along with fears and desires. As the elephant parable highlights, the evidence provided by the senses may indicate one thing but how will we test this knowing? A practice based system provides the best avenue for clear perception. Practice is a way to experience directly and to cleanse the lenses through which we perceive. Practice clears the mind of illusions and delusions by bringing it into direct contact with what is happening in the here and now – into experiential knowledge. Practice brings us into the present.
Yogic practice studies cause and effect- actions and outcomes. The way desires and results so often differ. It is a study of the effects of our actions upon our consciousness and the way the residue from our actions propels us to further action. This in turn causes us pain and suffering in our lives. What we want and what we get are most often worlds apart.
In the Yoga sutras Patanjali both details what he knows about the process of human development and learning and explains the practices involved in coming to this understanding. Practice based knowledge has certainty and accuracy. Patanjali’s work is therefore not a set of theories, as theories relate to ideas or conceptions that have not been confirmed. Patanjali is sharing his knowledge from experience and explaining his practices so that others can also undertake them and find out the truth of what he is saying. In this sense, the sutras contain details, proven by practice, about the way people learn and evolve.
We apply Patanjali’s Yoga Practices, and in this process of doing so we rely on the accuracy of his findings – knowledge he has accumulated about human evolution. From this we mold our methods and approaches to practice and to teaching. For example, we know that people have different inclinations – either more devotional or intellectual; that people are more or less intense in their commitment to conscious living; that people are either held in desire of external outcomes from their practice or committed to spiritual evolution; and that we as humans are, at times, blind to ourselves and deluded about our capacity to be clear of mind and present in the moment. We become entangled in fanciful ideas or project unrealistic outcomes.
Watch a 20 minute presentation on experiential knowledge – The Source of knowing