Is there a method of knowledge that allows us to separate what appears to us objective from our subjective experience? To what extent can we rely on subjective experience? Is it possible to achieve a state of awareness that allows us to separate truth from fantasy in the subjective realm?
In his famous lectures on Raja Yoga, Swami Vivekananda describes at length the methods of Yoga enunciated by Patanjali to obtain certainty about one’s inner experience. The steps outlined bring the seeker to a state of consciousness where the seeds of each thought, motivation and action can be observed and recognised. The process leads to the experience of Prana in its various forms and states. The first levels of awareness naturally are of the working of Prana in the physical body, but later, one becomes aware of what Swami Vivekananda calls the “psychic Prana”, which opens up the operation of subtle energies, vital, mental and beyond to our understanding.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “How then do we become aware of its existence? By that purification of our mind and body and that subtilisation of our means of sensation and knowledge which become possible through Yoga. We become capable of analysis other than the resolution of forms into their gross physical elements and are able to distinguish the operations of the pure mental principle from those of the material and both of these from the vital or dynamic which forms a link between them and supports them both. We are then able to distinguish the movements of the Pranic currents not only in the physical body which is all that we are normally aware of, but in that subtle frame of our being which Yoga detects underlying and sustaining the physical. This is ordinarily done by Pranayama, the government and control of the respiration. By Pranayama the Hathayogin is able to control, suspend and transcend the ordinary fixed operation of the Pranic energy which is all that Nature needs for the normal functioning of the body and of the physical life and mind, and he becomes aware of the channels in which that energy distributes itself in all its workings and is therefore able to do things with his body which seem miraculous to the ignorant, just as the physical scientist by his knowledge of the workings of material forces is able to do things with them which would seem to us magic if their law and process were not divulged. For all the workings of life in the physical form are governed by the Prana and not only those which are normal and constant and those which, being always potential, can be easily brought forward and set in action, but those which are of a more remote potentiality and seem to our average experience difficult or impossible.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 156-160