Is perception reality?  Can reality be perceived?

I have often said that regardless of whether one’s perception is reality, that perception is reality.  In other words, whether I am in danger or not is irrelevant to me if my perception of the situation tells me that I am in danger.  If I perceive that I am in danger then I will act as if I am in danger whether the danger is real or imagined.  So, I must now ask myself this question:  Is what I just wrote reality or only my perception of it?  I would have to say that it is somewhere between my own perspective and reality and that I have a fair bit of learning to do yet.

Why this shift to Why is there air? style thought and what does it have to do with Yoga?  Answering the latter is easier.  Part of the niyamas is svaadhyaya or the study of oneself through the study of scriptures and other such good books.  Along those lines, I have been reading The Heart of Yoga by T.K.V. Desikachar.  Desikachar is the son of T. Krishnamacharya.  Krishnamacharya died in 1989 at 101 and is known throughout the world for promoting Yoga.  His students went on to found great schools and most hatha yoga programs can be traced back to Krishnamacharya.  Anyway, Desikachar has continued Krishnamacharya’s work and part of that was writing The Heart of Yoga.  Desikachar, being an engineer, takes a very different approach to yogic philosophies.  He states that he won’t discuss God because God is not the same thing to all people and as Yoga should be accessible to all people, he won’t discuss God.  As he explains what Yoga is, he says the following:

We often determine that we have seen a situation correctly and act according to that perception.  In reality, however, we have deceived ourselves, and our actions may thus bring misfortune to ourselves or others.  Just as difficult is the situation in which we doubt our understanding of a situation when it is actually correct, and for that reason we take no action, even though doing so would be beneficial.

This makes me think that we can classify ourselves into three groups or states:  The first doesn’t realize that their perceptions may not be reality.  This group believes that what they know is reality, period.  The second group realizes that what one perceives may or may not be reality.  The danger with the first group is that they act blindly on their perceptions.  The danger with the second group is that while they know that there may be a disconnect between perception and reality, they can’t tell which is which and so may not act at all.  The third group recognizes reality and is able to act upon it with confidence.  The real question then becomes, how do those in the third group know that they really aren’t in the first group?  That is an answer I do not have as I’m still floating somewhere in the second group.

Desikachar gives some hope.  Yoga, he says, centers us and helps us to cut through the veils of misperception and see reality with clear eyes.  The causes of misperception are collectively known as avidya.  He says that by practicing Yoga, we clear our minds and are able to see reality clearly.

Purusa denotes the position from which we can see; it is the power in us that enables us to perceive with accuracy.  The practice of yoga encourages this unhampered seeing to simply happen. [. . .] This true understanding, which results from decreasing avidya, does not usually occur spontaneously.  The body and mind are used to certain patterns of perception, and these tend to change gradually through yoga practice.  . . . people alternately experience waves of clarity and cloudiness when first beginning a yoga practice. [. . .] Recognizing this shift is a way to measure our progress

I do know what he is expressing with waves of clarity and cloudiness.  When I am seeing clearly, it does not matter how insurmountable the task or situation may have seemed for suddenly I realize that taken one step at a time, it’s no big deal.  There is no situation that is so big that I cannot take just one small piece at a time and eventually wear the situation down to nothing.  Hmm, the wind does not carve the mountain in one day.