How do you know you know? A classic question. And more important than most of realize. Here we’ll see how Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Indic tradition in general answers this question.
Watch my video on this topic here.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1.7, we find this explanation: “Things can be correctly perceived by direct sense perception, logic, and/or a trustworthy source.”
How can you judge the veracity of what you know? This list of three valid means of attaining correct information is universally accepted in Indic philosophy, not just by the yoga tradition, much less Patanjali.
The list is ordered from worst to best. Direct sense perception is the most fallible way of perceiving what something is, logic gives better results, and information from an expert, authority, or perfectly reliable witness is best.
Direct sense perception is subject to error. How big is the sun? You look up, and it doesn’t look so big. In an eclipse, we perceive the moon being as big as the sun. The classic case of a mirage, when heat distorts the air and makes it look like water from a distance, is another example. Magic shows are based on our failure to perceive things directly. Movies and photoshopped pictures use other ways to fool our senses.
Logic is more reliable. Every day, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so one can conclude that it will continue to repeat the pattern. Mountains are solid and unmoving, and birds fly. So, we know that a bird will move about but mountains and hills will not. Everybody dies, so I know that I’ll die too.
An expert or authoritative source is the most reliable. We naturally trust the word of doctors and scientists, as well as the testimony of our close family members and friends. Someone experienced and trustworthy can give us solid information we cannot otherwise attain.
This type of evidence is extended to, and especially meant for, the sacred literature in the yoga tradition. Texts such as the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-gita, and the Yoga Sutras are authoritative sources of the highest order. Their content is accepted by teachers in the yoga tradition to be reliable and correct. Millions of practitioners over thousands of years—including myself—have experienced the trustworthiness of these texts.
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