Yoga Philosphy: Illusion and perception - Yoga Sutra 1.8
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is an ancient theoretical script outlining Yogic philosophy, dating back to around the second century BC. Whilst there is evidence of Yogic philosophy originating much earlier than Pantanjali's account of 196 sutras, it has become the primary text that Yogis turn to.
Yoga sutra 1.8: "Viparyayah mithya jnanam atad rupa pratistham"
“Error is incorrect knowledge based on misperception of reality” (Bernard Bouanchaud.)
“Misperception arises when you accept the unreal as real” (http://atma.mobi)
"Incorrect knowledge or illusion is false knowledge formed by perceiving a thing as being other than what it really is" (swamij.com)
Consider an optical illusion where the visual cortex perceives the same image as two (or more) different objects depending on who looks at it and when. The visual input through the eyes is the same for everyone but how the brain interprets the information varies from person to person. An optical illusion demonstrates perceptual variation where only the visual cortex of the brain is involved with processing information. If we then consider all of the other forms of stimulation that the brain is bombarded with daily, it is easy to understand how misinterpretation can occur with much more complex information being received. Our perception of what is happening around us is mostly determined by our previous experiences, our cultural conditioning and our beliefs and values that have been long ingrained into our psyche.
Misperception can reap havoc in our relationships. Many situations that we are involved in and interpret based on the information at that time mislead our assessment. Those we associate with do not always share everything that is happening for them and their behaviour towards us is not always a reflection of how they value or perceive us. In fact it is almost always about them, rarely about you.
If we can so readily mispercieve others we can also mispercieve ourselves or "accept the unreal as real." In the most severe circumstance we can experience mistaken identity or an identity crisis, more commonly experienced by adolescents. The beliefs we have about ourselves and the limits we place upon ourselves are sometimes ingrained from well established, long standing thinking patterns. They may have been correct and necessary at the time they were established but as we change over time, it is important to review our self-perception.
Yoga and meditation can enable us to view the fluctuations of the mind, body and emotions from a distance so that we can gain perspective. As we slowly create distance between ourselves and our internal environment we start to tap into a higher state of consciousness - awareness. Taking time to be still and observe where we are at brings us closer to our true identity and we can decide which thoughts we buy into and which ones we let go of. The brain fires around 50, 000 - 70, 000 thoughts per day so we cannot possibly be aware of them all and it would be exhausting to try. We can however, approach it from the other end and seek to observe what there is to observe and be with awareness; be present.
And just like her you can get to the wonderland Where the ocean is crystal clear, where your heart is free of fear. It’s gonna take a lot of courage, it’s gonna take a lack of pride. It’s gonna take a jump off a cliff with a prayer on your lips and a wide open mind. (Radha Bornstein, Never Never Land, my emphasis)