Yoga Sutra Study – 4.17

4.17

Taduparaga apeksitvat cittasya vastu jnata ajnatam

“An object remains known or unknown according to the conditioning or expectation of the consciousness.”

In the book “Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”, BKS Iyengar commented that when consciousness reflects on the object without condition, taint, or expectation, its real essence is know. However, cognition and perception are usually involved in the process of obtaining knowledge of the object. As a result, the knowledge of the object is colored. This sutra can be illustrated by a famous Chinese story of Su Dongpo, an ancient Chinese scholar, and Zen Master Fo Yin.

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Su Dongpo and Fo Yin were very good friends, they always debated on philosophy and Buddhism, and Fo Yin always won. One day, Su and Fo Yin were meditating in the monastery. After the meditation, they sat face to face, and Su asked, “What do you see in front of you?”

“An enlightened Buddha!” Fo Yin smiled, “and what do you see?”

“A pile of bull shit!” Su laughed out loudly, feeling happy that he had made fun of Fo Yin and finally defeated him. Hearing this, Fo Yin smiled again.

With a light heart, Su went back home. His younger sister saw him and asked, ”What made you so happy, my dear brother?” Su told the story to his younger sister. The sister commented, “Oh my brother, you lost again.”

“What?” Su could not understand.

“Fo Yin has reached the state of Buddha’s. That is why he saw you as a Buddha.” The sister explained, “On the other hand, you had nothing but bull shit in your mind, as a result, you see everything else as bull shit.”

In daily life, we often look at an object or another person with conditioning, bias, or prejudice, without knowing that the process of cognition is actually the coloring of our own mind, the unenlightened mind. As a result, we may be unable to understand the actual circumstances and gain the complete knowledge, or we produce negative emotions which may make the situation worse. The enlightened ones see the real essence of one another. He sees everything around him is peaceful.

To keep the consciousness uncolored, we can imagine ourselves as a mirror. This mirror reflects our inner world to the outer world. If we see something which gives tension, worries, anxieties or angers, we know that it is due to colored mind inside us. Only when we managed to see peace and tranquilization in all objects, our mind is free, and the object is known.