A few years ago I came across this inspiring, eye-opening Ted talk by this amazing kid, Jacob Barnett.
What Jacob is saying is fundamentally important. We seem to spend more time learning than thinking. We spend way more time reading, listening and watching stuff of other people. Thinking is a skill that needs to be cultivated and trained. Critical thinking is a fundamental tool of Yoga practice.
Sūtra 1.7 | pratyakṣa anumāna āgamāḥ pramānāni
Yoga Sūtra 1.7 says that there are 3 ways to get right knowledge (pramāna): direct perception (pratyakṣa), logical inference (anumāna) and testimony (āgamā). Right knowledge here is essentially discernment. Right knowledge scrapes the “shiny stuff” off the objects and shows them for what they are. It helps the Yogi to avoid attachments and aversions and leads him to ever deepening renunciation.
Ability to think critically underlies all three of these tools. Samprajñāta Yoga, which is the central theme of Yoga Sutrās, is meditative analysis. That is, it is a technique to understand the particulars of an object, without the influence of past conditioning and biases. “Understanding” then liberates the Yogi.
Logical reasoning has its limits. Our “taking things to logical conclusion” goes only so far as our unconscious biases, conditioning and fears allow. Here is where meditation is useful to the Yogi.
While relying on other’s testimony has obvious pitfalls, we just do not have enough time in this life time to think through and reinvent everything. With an acute awareness of the fallacy of appeal to authority and with the help of our own critical reasoning, we can still take advantage of teachings of learned sages.