YSP 1.3: Tada drastuh svarupe-avasthanam
Then pure awareness can abide in its very nature.
Chip Hartranft, translator
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
As You Like It II:7
Who are you?
When I’m confronted with that question, I have many answers. I’m a woman, a wife, mother, a Canadian, a yoga student, a yoga teacher, a 9-1-1 operator, a cardiac patient, a cyclist, a diabetic, a liberal, a knitter, an Anglophone, a person who is perpetually confused, a cynic and a believer.
Who are you?
Now answer that question without any references to roles or nationality, or gender, or social status. Shakespeare would have understood Patanjali. “One man in his time plays many parts” is a keen observation of what it means to be human but Patanjali encourages us to explore what lies under all the roles and identities.
In the last column I took a look at the word “drastuh” in this sutra. It’s alternatively translated as the Seer, the Witness, the inner being. In this translation, it’s “pure awareness’. Regardless of the label, it refers to the idea that there resides within us a force, an entity, an awareness, that is not subject to change. “instead, it is immaterial, unchanging, incorruptible seeing itself and merely observes nature operating before it. By “seeing itself”, Patanjali doesn’t mean just the awareness that underlies our sense of vision but instead the omnipresent knowing before which all five sense and also the mind present themselves. Pure awareness is the knower of all sights, sounds, smells, tastes, contacts and thoughts yet is not of them” (Hartranft, 2003, 3).
The key point here is that there is something here that is not subject to change. It’s not the body because bodies change. When I was born, I weighed under 5 lbs. At 47, I’m nowhere near that weight class. I change my mind about things 8 times before breakfast. Certainly, there is no function of my mind that can be described as unchangeable. Emotionally, I am the poster girl for “Don’t like my mood; wait five minutes.” In recent months, with the discovery of my cardiac condition, even the most basic roles I used to identify myself have been called into question.
So, if I’m not my body, my mind, my emotions or my social roles, who am I?
And this is where the other key concept of this sutra comes into play – svarupe. The word sva means self; rupe means form and together, this word means ‘in its true shape, in its true form’.
So what happens if we do follow the prescription of Sutra 1.2 and still the fluctuations of the mind? According to yoga, the payoff is that we see our own true self. This is the self that is unchanging and unchangeable. This is the self that exists beyond body parameters. Loose a limb, age, whatever – this self does not change. This is the self that is beyond identities. You can lose your job, be dispossessed of your country, marry, divorce, reproduce – this is the self that never changes.
So again, who am I?
From the perspective of yoga, I am a spiritual being, animated by matter and the fundamental centre of my being is this entity of pure awareness, pure consciousness. In my Judeo-Christian language, I call this soul. Other traditions have other names for it. Buddhism refers to it as our ‘Buddha Nature”. Mother Theresa, when she was asked how she could bear to look after the diseased and the dying replied “Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.” Everyone has that little spark of the Divine inside.
This idea that inside us, each of us, is this element of holiness, something that is sacred and to be revered and respected, is a central belief of yoga and it frequently shows up in Western yoga classes. Classes often start or finish with all folding their hands in a prayer like gesture in front of the heart and bows slightly while repeating the word “Namaste“. Namaste literally means “I bow to you” but in this case, the “you” and the “I” doesn’t refer to our bodies. It refers to that little spark of Divine that is the centre of each of us. It means “I honour the Divine with you”.
Thanks for reading and Namaste,