A “realization” is that which takes us closer to God. It can be progress from tamo-guna to rajo-guna, rajo-guna to sattva-guna, or sattva-guna to transcendence. It can include a better understanding of various qualities. It can be something that allows us to reconcile seemingly contradictory claims. It may be a new way to improve our spiritual practice. Anything progressive is a realization. But every thought popping into our mind is not a realization because it may not be progressive.
There is a Cartesian Demon in our minds, created by our previous habits. That Cartesian Demon constantly deludes us. We cannot proclaim, as Descartes did, that such a demon doesn’t exist because a loving God would not allow its existence. Thus, all thoughts created by our minds are not trustworthy. We have to check if thoughts are the works of a Cartesian Demon. In this post, I will discuss how thoughts are created from the chitta, and why they are not always realizations. There are theoretical and practical ways to analyze if they are truly realizations.
Table of Contents
Yoga Sutra Statements
Patanjali Yoga Sutra 1.2 states yogaścittavṛttinirodhaḥ which means “by yoga, the cessation of the modifications of the chitta.” Sutra 1.5 states vṛttayaḥ pañcatayyaḥ kliṣṭā akliṣṭāḥ which means “the modifications of the chitta are five-fold; they are painful and pain-less.” These five modifications are described in Sutra 1.6 as pramāṇaviparyayavikalpanidrāsmṛtayaḥ which means “Correct knowledge, incorrect knowledge, doubt, deep sleep, and memory (are the five modifications of the chitta).”
The same statement occurs in many places in Vedic texts, including Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 3.26.30. Thereby, all our experiences are springing out of the chitta. Even when we see an apple, the experience is springing out of the chitta because the apple is also a chitta which interacts with our chitta to produce an experience. The cause is very deep and hidden. The effects are very shallow and visible. The cause is our and the apple’s chitta. The effects are varied kinds of sensations, thoughts, and judgments.
Perception is a Projection
When we interact with the world, the most common understanding of perception is that the perception goes bottom-up from sensation to thought to judgment to memory. However, in Vedic philosophy, the perception goes top-down from a repository of impressions called chitta to judgment, thought, and sensation. Since judgment comes prior to thought, therefore, everyone prejudges everything based on a subtle interaction at the level of chitta. Thought is always an afterthought after that judgment.
Judgments are of three kinds—truth, right, and good. They are respectively produced by the intellect, the moral sense, and the ego. Something is called “truth” based on our axioms about truth, sometimes called our “belief system”. Something is called “right” based on our axioms of right, sometimes called our “value system”. Something is called “good” based on our axioms of good, sometimes called our “selfish interest”. Everyone carries a belief system, a value system, and a selfish interest. But each person has defined their belief system, value system, and selfish interest differently. When the chitta interacts with another chitta, the judgment of truth, right, and good is produced before thought and perception.
Conviction is in-built into every thought because judgment comes before thought. Based on this, we can state the meanings of correct knowledge, incorrect knowledge, and doubt above. Correct knowledge is not necessarily the truth. It is just something we consider to be true. We can extend correctness to right and good. Right action and a good result are not necessarily right and good. They are just something we consider to be right and good. Incorrect knowledge, similarly, is not necessarily a falsehood. It is just something we consider to be false. Wrong actions and bad results are not necessarily wrong and bad. They are just what we consider wrong and bad. Doubt is not necessarily a factual or objective uncertainty. It is just our state which considers something doubtful because it partially aligns with what we consider true, right, and good, and remains partially misaligned with our beliefs, values, and interests.
Since thought is produced after judgment, in every thought there is a seed of judgment—whether it is true, right, or good—based on which we know something to be true, right, and good even before we think it and sense it. Thus, different thoughts and sensations are called correct knowledge, incorrect knowledge, and doubtful knowledge. If our chitta is not aligned with the truth, right, and good, then it will produce thoughts and sensations that are convincing to us, due to our perverted system of beliefs, values, and interests. Conviction exists even in bad, wrong, and false thoughts. That conviction precedes thought and sensation so the conviction is also a prejudgment. This is why we can say that all judgment, thought, and sensation is a projection out of the chitta. It is not necessarily true, right, or good.
The Role of Memory and Sleep
Sleep is the default state of the chitta in which impressions lie unmanifest. In each such impression, there are various latent sensations, thoughts, and judgments. These include the time, place, and context in which that impression was created. They include whether we considered them to be true, right, and good, or false, wrong, and bad, or some combination of these. They also include—to varying levels of accuracy—the five perceptions of the knowledge senses and the five perceptions of the action senses. For example, an impression can say: “I saw a big tree last year while driving toward that destination; I had with me my friends in the car; we were talking about the global economic situation at that time”.
An impression is not a simple thing. It is a full representation of sensations, thoughts, judgments, feelings, intentions, activities, and context. Each of these things is latent in the others such that the recall of one of these can trigger the memory recollection of all of them. For instance, when we feel sad, then past memories of sadness, along with the time, place, context, sensation, thought, and judgment present as previous impressions are automatically recalled. This is the principle of Bhedābheda: There are many distinct things but they are inseparable because they are both inside and outside each other. From the feeling, we can go to thought, then to sensation, then to time and place, then to judgment, or any of the myriad possibilities in any order because everything is inside the feeling and yet outside it.
Thus, the static unmanifest repository of the chitta is called sleep. But when something latent from it is triggered, then it is called memory. The difference between memory and the previous three states called correct knowing, incorrect knowing, and doubtful knowing is that memory recall has no external trigger but the previous states have an external trigger. Of course, when a sensation, thought, and judgment have been triggered by an external trigger, then memory may also be recollected because that sensation, thought, and judgment is a latent property of our chitta, interlinked with our personal impressions. So, when an external trigger excites a latent impression, it also triggers the previously associated impressions.
The Method of Knowledge
Since everything springs out of the chitta, hence, the only method of knowledge is the purification of the chitta of its false beliefs, immoral values, and selfish interests. Until the chitta is fully purified, thoughts and sensations arising from the chitta may have the full force of conviction even though they are false, wrong, and bad. They will be called “correct knowledge” because they align with our current belief system, moral values, and selfish interests, and by that alignment, we will think they are correct. As the chitta is purified, many things previously called “correct knowledge” will become “incorrect knowledge”. As some of the “correct” becomes “incorrect” a new category called “doubtful knowledge” will become prominent. If the chitta is not purified, then there will be no doubts about “correct knowledge”.
Modern science has no grasp of the correct method of knowledge. They think that sense perception and mental speculation are the methods to know the truth because they don’t know that sense perception and mental speculation are produced from a contaminated chitta.
Some years ago, at a round-table conference of Nobel laureates, an interviewer asked the prize winners: How do you come up with new ideas? The response was: We don’t know anything about that. Ideas appear in our minds seemingly out of nowhere. Based on our existing belief system, value system, and selfish interest, the full force of conviction can exist in these freely popping thoughts. Due to conviction, a person may try to expand thoughts into a scientific theory, and then the theory into the sensations of experiments. If the experiment works, then conviction increases. But it may remain constant despite contrary evidence. For instance, Einstein was asked about experiments testing relativity theory: “What would have happened if experiments had not confirmed your theory?” He responded: “So much the worse for experiments”. This is a symptom of innate conviction in one’s ideas regardless of external confirmation or disconfirmation.
If people weren’t innately convinced about their ideas, they would give them up after the first disconfirmation. But they don’t. Unless one’s belief system, value system, and selfish interests change, the conviction doesn’t change. This is why bad scientific theories do not die quickly. They have been born from a belief system, value system, and selfish interest. Until those things change, the theory will not die.
Thus the method of science has two serious problems—(a) it cannot explain how new theories are formed, and (b) it cannot explain why false, bad, and wrong theories do not die easily. Both are related to the chitta. If the chitta is understood, then both are answered. Without the working of the chitta, neither question is answered and an illusion of the “scientific method” that operates by reason and observation prevails when the fact is that both reason and observation are themselves the products of a belief system, value system, and selfish interest. What pops out due to some beliefs, values, and interests is not necessarily true, right, and good. It has just popped out of the chitta.
The Emergence of Powerful Ideas
In rare cases, an idea popping out of the chitta is so strong that it impacts multiple domains of thought. For instance, a radical form of individualism led to the Protestant Reformation in which priestly authority was rejected, and each person was deemed capable of forming personal covenants with God. The idea of individual contracts was then extended to society (marriage is a contract), economics (employment is a contract), and politics (government is a contract), because the most sacred of all things—religion—was an individual contract with God. A covenant historically was a promise between two businessmen in Babylonia to do something for each other based on an expected return.
Some contracts required collective agreement—e.g., the laws of society. This idea of collective contracts was then extended to “natural laws”. The natural world was said to comprise independent objects (such as particles and waves) bound together by contracts. The basic principle of a contract is that we maximize the taking and minimize the giving. The minimization of giving for some taking was elevated to a natural principle called the Least Action Principle, where “action” is what we have to give to get something in return. Every scientific law, therefore, had to be some version of a least action principle where the “action” (what is given to get something) had to be minimized. The point at which this minimization breaks down (because the other party is not ready to give without getting more) was defined as the “law”.
Thus, covenants, contracts, and laws are identical concepts. Moral law and natural law are also based on the same principle of minimization. Only the participating parties involved in agreeing to these covenants, contracts, and laws (both moral and natural) are different. Thus, social norms, personal promises, economic commitments, political rules, religious covenants, and scientific formulae became freely negotiated and terminated contracts based on a single consideration: We must minimize the giving and maximize the taking. Nature was following the same law as humans and God because even in religion, the soul would minimize the giving to God and maximize the taking from God.
The minimized giving in religion was having faith in Jesus and the maximized taking was receiving eternal life in heaven. Why God would agree to such a unilateral arrangement was explained away by saying that God is most benevolent so He doesn’t mind being exploited. Out of His love for us, He sacrifices His son, for the sins of the sinners, and having faith in that sacrifice sends a person to heaven. Previously, men had to develop a good character, not do sins, or at least repent for sins. After the Reformation, they just needed to believe in Jesus.
Thus, radical self-serving contracts revolutionized social, economic, political, personal, religious, and scientific thinking. To understand modernity, we have to examine the chitta because without it we cannot understand how social, economic, political, personal, religious, and scientific thinking is rooted in a common belief about the freedom of the individual to make and break self-serving contracts. This idea is not true, right, or good. It is just a byproduct of the chitta. Consensus is achieved through the collective contracts of numerous chitta.
The Causal Effects of Time
When the right time arrives, false, bad, and wrong scientific theories pop out of the chitta and they gain great popularity either because time triggers similar ideas in other chitta or the newly triggered ideas find great acceptance with the chitta contaminated by the same beliefs, values, and interests. Our conviction in scientific, social, economic, political, or religious theories and realizations is the result of alignment between the popped-out thought and the beliefs, values, and interests as a result of time manifesting the same idea in many minds.
Time creates popularity when it gathers people with the same chitta together. When the appropriate time arrives, people with similar chitta are born in the same country, society, or religion. Due to the effect of time, connections between them are created. Thus, they gather together to form powerful institutions or organizations. If similar types of chitta come together as the effect of time, previously obscure and feeble claims become popular and strong. This is not an indication of the truth, right, and good. It is simply the causal effect of time.
Therefore, the Vedic system never judges anything by popularity because it knows that popularity is created and destroyed by time. Bad ideas are occasionally as popular as good ideas at other times. Consensus is thus not one of the pramāna (forms of proof or evidence). Only that which is rationally proven to be true, right, and good, and capable of explaining that which is observed by the senses, is evidence.
Time gathers and separates people just like leaves floating in a river are collected into whorls. Any popular system is an attractive whorl created by time. But this attraction to a whorl and the aggregation of many leaves, are not themselves the truth, right, and good.
Methods of Testing Realizations
Everyone gets many “realizations” as an effect of time. Just because a thought pops out of the chitta automatically doesn’t mean it is a useful realization. Thoughts are always popping in every mind. All these ideas have to be evaluated by checking of they are true, right, and good.
Thoughts produced by a contaminated chitta don’t make a person more capable of solving problems, don’t increase endurance against difficulties, don’t increase detachment, don’t increase the quantity or quality of our work, and don’t increase the attraction to spiritual practice. And yet, we are often convinced about them. That conviction is the result of how the thought is produced from the chitta, not due to the thought being true, right, and good. Everyone is convinced about the ideas popping in their minds because of how thoughts are created.
Hence, popping thoughts must be analyzed. They can be analyzed theoretically through the philosophy of truth, right, and good. They can also be analyzed practically by checking their effects on our ability to solve difficult problems, endurance against difficulties, detachment from the fruits of labor, the quality and quantity of work, and attraction to spiritual practice. This analysis is also a path of gradual purification. When certain types of popping thoughts are rejected, then they progressively cease over time. That is purification.