Patanjali Yoga Sutra I.7 Correct Cognition

This article elaborates upon Sutra I.7 from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This sutra is about Pramana or correct cognition. 

Sutra I.7: Pramana or correct cognition is of three kinds: 

  • Direct perception (is recognizing and knowing a thing to be as it is.) 
  • Inference (is knowing a thing through a thought process, such as, knowing the shape or size of an object such as a house from the shadow it throws.)
  • Testimony (is knowing a thing through an external authority, that is, a teacher who has had direct perception or who has knowledge through correct inference.)

Correct Cognition: cornerstone of systematic meditation

In order to attain that state of Yoga where Individual Consciousness shines forth and unites with Universal Consciousness, it is important to promote correct cognition, that is, recognizing and knowing a thing to be as it is. It is the corner stone of systematic meditation to consistently encourage correct cognition.

A knife: using the example of an object

When you see something and you know what it is immediately it is called direct perception. For instance, when you see a knife and correctly recognize it to be a knife that is direct perception. 

The second is inference. You did not see the knife but you saw a shadow and from its size and shape you inferred that the object is a knife. Incorrect inference is incorrect cognition.

The third form of right cognition is called testimony. Testimony is knowing something through an external authority. An external authority is any person who has the direct perception or knows through correct inference. Let us go back to a knife example. You did not see the knife or its shadow, but someone else cut himself while using the knife. This person who has seen and used this knife says it is very sharp and extremely dangerous. This person has had a direct experience of just how sharp and dangerous this knife is. He is now an authority on the knife and if you trust him, you will be careful or even decide not to handle this dangerous knife. If you do not trust him and dismiss his testimony you may hurt yourself. 

Correct cognition in daily life

A young student may be pressurized by some new acquaintances to try chemical substances, but he firmly refuses because he has recognized that these acquaintances cannot be trusted. This decision may also be a result of inference. He may have seen one of them suffer from a severe reaction after taking the drugs and therefore correctly inferred that this particular substance is dangerous. This decision may have also been influenced by the testimony of a friend who had adverse reaction to these chemical substances and warned him. 

The source of correct cognition and inference is internal, but that of testimony is external. Testimony is the result of correct cognition and inference from someone else. It is important to know if the source of testimony is reliable. For instance, if you have got good holiday tips from a friend before, you would accept his testimony that a particular resort is a good place for the next holiday. The testimony could also be negative, that is, the particular hotel is not good. We rely heavily on testimony when we want to buy products online. Teenagers on the other hand often reject the testimony of their parents, based on their own experiences, choosing instead to follow the whims and fancies of the peer group making mistakes that some regret for the rest of their lives. 

Importance of correct cognition in systematic meditation

A sharp buddhi leads to correct cognition. During meditation you observe all your thoughts, images, emotions and desires and see them for what they are. This is direct perception through buddhi. The knowledge from a sharp buddhi is self-evident; buddhi simply knows what is right and what is wrong in a particular situation. Those who do not practice meditation and do not have direct perception of high states of consciousness must accept the testimony of the scriptures or the teacher. It is important initially to accept the testimony of the scriptures and your teacher, but it is necessary to have direct perception of the state of Yoga, union of Individual Consciousness with Universal Consciousness.