The yoga sutras are a lot of fun to read – especially the super-natural ones. I try not to take them too literally, as you never know what might have been warped in translation, or perhaps included merely to inspire yogis to go the extra mile in their practices.
Occasionally, I come across articles in the science literature that reveal how truly weird and wild the human brain can be – and it strikes me – that maybe the ancient yogis were more in tune with the human mind than we “modern science” folks give them credit for. Here’s a weird and wild sutra:
III.55 – tarakam sarvavisayam sarvathavisayam akramam ca iti vivekajam jnanam – The essential characteristic of the yogi’s exalted knowledge is that he grasps instantly, clearly and wholly, the aims of all objects without going into the sequence of time of change.
How can we know things instantly? and without respect to time (ie. never having had prior experience)?
Admittedly, Patanjali may be referring to things that take place in emotional, subconscious or cosmic realms that I’m not familiar with, so I won’t quibble with the text. Besides, it sounds like an AWESOME state of mind to attain, and well worth the effort – even if we concede it is knowingly unobtainable. But is it unobtainable?
Might there be states of mind that make it seem obtainable? Here’s a fascinating science article that appeared in Science Magazine this past week. Paradoxical False Memory for Objects After Brain Damage [doi: 10.1126/science.1194780] describing the effects of damage in the perirhinal cortex (in rats) that led the animals to demonstrate a peculiar form of false memory – wherein the animals treated never-before seen objects as being familiar. Hmmm. An altered form of brain activity where unfamiliar and novel things seem very familiar. Sounds sort of like “instantaneous knowing without respect to time” to me.
Given the tremendous similarity in brain circuits and memory systems across all mammals, I wonder if humans (perhaps in deep meditative states or with various forms of hallucinogenic or damaged states) could experience this? Sutra III.55 seems strange, but not, perhaps unobtainable.