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Who’s watching whom? YSP 1.3

Tada drastuh svarupe-avasthanam

With the attainment of focused mind, the inner being establishes itself in all its reality

Translator: Bernard Bouanchaud

Then the Seer abides in Itself, resting in its own True Nature, which is called Self-realization.

Translator: Swami J

How can we know that we are perceiving reality through the inner being? What makes others recognize this is someone?

What is the role of self-knowing in the yoga state?

Frequent instructions given to beginning meditators goes along the lines of “Follow your breath. Watch it move into the body. Feel it move out. Keep your breath in your mind and as your mind wanders, as it surely will, just gently call it back to breath.” Last week, we dealt with that idea that the mind wanders (citta-vritti). This week, a new concept is being introduced: you can watch it. We have the power to observe the contents of our own minds from an ‘outside’ perspective. Ever wonder what/who is noticing your mind wander away like a little puppy? Who calls it back? It’s something external to the “mind”, that thought generating apparatus that works so magnificently for us.

In this sutra, it’s called by the name of “draşţar” – inner being. Bouanchaud has a lengthy entry on this word. Draşţar comes from the Sanskrit root dŗş – meaning to see, perceive, observe or contemplate. When most people are instructing students on how to balance on one foot, say in tree posture, the usual advice is to have the student pick a stable point in the room and focus attention on that point. That focal point is called a dristi. In that case, it’s the object of the viewing or contemplation, but it’s from the same “idea cloud”. Other authors translate the word as the Seer (usually capitalized), or the Watcher, or the Perceiver. In my Judeo-Christian lexicon, I usually refer to it as Spirit or Soul. In the end, it’s all boiling down to the same idea: we have a mind that we can watch in action and there is a separate entity inside us that is doing the watching. This becomes a crucially important point in meditation. I am NOT my mind. I have a mind that works very well, on most occasions but it’s just like my body. It’s an integral part of me but “I” am not my body and “I” am not my mind. They’re both equipment that I use to navigate myself through this existence but that’s all it is: equipment, subject to all the rules about equipment failure.

The key point here is that the mind is equipment. The body is equipment as well. If I am in a severe car accident later today and the doctors have to amputate part of my leg in the course of treatment, no one will argue that I am a “lesser” person because I lost part of that equipment.

By extension, the same idea of ‘equipment is not self’ applies to the mind. My mother died from Parkinson’s and in the years leading up to her death, she experienced a great number of mind malfunctions. She suffered from intermittent dementia, hallucinations that were both frightening and fantastic. At first, she become completely lost in these hallucinatory worlds but as the experience continued over many months, she became more skilled at hallucinating. She became aware of this mental state and she would comment “Oh, I’m doing it again” and she’d relay the contents of the delusion. She was absolutely clear in her own mind that this was ‘equipment failure’. Who she was never changed. She was still my mother. Sometimes she was my mother with delusions. Other times, she was my mother without delusions. My mother was not her mind, anymore than she was her diseased brain. Her identity transcended both those equipment inventories. In spite of her wild hallucinations, some of which she enjoyed immensely, and others just made her giggle, she was still clear about her own identity. She was a woman with Parkinson’s having a hallucination.

One thing that strikes me now as I look back on it is that it illuminates the idea of the Seer. What was the part of her that understood she was hallucinating and that these very real images were the product of her brain and had no corresponding analogue in reality? It was the Seer. Draşţar. And what the Seer saw was a woman with Parkinson’s having a hallucination. She could witness her Self in the full reality of her situation. It’s one of the reasons why, on most occasions, the hallucinations didn’t terrify her, although they frequently startled her. It would take her a while to discern her circumstances. She had the capacity to distinguish between reality and the products of her mind. The Seer could establish itself in its own reality.

I’ve experienced this myself. As I become more skilled at this practice, I’ve started developing some discernment surrounding thought and emotion. I’m starting to understand that I have thoughts and I have emotions but I am neither my thoughts nor my emotions. I’m starting to see glimpse of myself that exists without reference to roles and the facades of ego. I’m starting to understand myself as I exist beyond roles and identities and mental states.

Referring back to the previous sutra – yoga is the ability to direct the fluctuations of the mind – I see myself more clearly, the more often I gain a state of yoga. That is, when I still the fluctuations of my mind, I can see who I truly am. Very simply, this sutra answers the question: What is the benefit of Yoga? Why do we bother? The benefit of Yoga is that it allows us to see who we really are.

Hopefully, more ideas later this week on the idea of sva-rupe – our own true nature. In the meanwhile, I hope you have a good week.

Thanks for reading and Namaste,


A general note: This blog is about trying to integrate the philosophical teachings of Yoga into my daily life. I’m not an expert on Sanskrit, Yoga or Life in general. My teacher Kathryn Downton provided an important part of my education in these matters but I read voraciously on these topics. I’ll credit her for the parts that I get right and I’ll own the parts I mess up. I try to acknowledge my sources where I can but frankly, I haven’t kept good notes over the years on where I got this stuff. These discussions are one person’s perspective and not an intellectual treatise on the nature of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Please keep in mind that this is exploration and not explanation.


About Kate MacKay

I'm a certified Viniyoga teacher, in Fredericton, NB. I was a 9-1-1 operator and emergency services dispatcher for 22 years. Surprisingly, the two worked well together, or as I liked to put it, from the sublime to the ridiculous -- all in a day's work. I'm currently off work as a result of a stress-induced cardiac condition that's thrown a few crimps in my lifestyle. I'm not actively teaching yoga in the classroom right now and probably won't for several more months. That said, this blog is one of the forms of practice I can do and I thank you for joining me in this exploration of all things yoga.

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