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You would be wrong, M. Descartes: YSP 2.6

2.6 drig darshana shaktyoh ekatmata iva asmita

Bouanchaud: Individual ego consciousness of “I” sees mental and physical activity as the source of consciousness.

Desikachar: False identity results when we regard mental activity as the very source of perception.

Swami J: The coloring (klesha) of I-ness or egoism (asmita), which arises from the ignorance, occurs due to the mistake of taking the intellect (buddhi, which knows, decides, judges, and discriminates) to itself be pure consciousness (purusha/drig).

Cognito ergo sum – I think, therefore, I am. Those are the famous words of 16th century French philosopher Rene Descartes. Although arguable, people have gone to hell with the joke, this famous philosophical statement has frequently been pointed to as the ‘ground zero’ of the mind-body split that dominates contemporary Western thought. Personally, I think laying all of it at the feet of Descartes is a bit much, but he did manage to nicely sum up what has become a dominant meme in my culture, namely that I am my mind. My body, on those few and infrequent occasions when I think of it, is for the purpose of carting my mind around. And I, my consciousness, my own true self, am a product of my intellect. I am, to put it simply, a brain on a stick.

Why this heartfelt identification with my mental activity? I suppose because being totally identified with my body would be just plain silly. If I was in a traffic accident and had my leg amputated, I wouldn’t be less myself than I was before the accident. When I had my gallbladder removed, it didn’t make me less of a person. Clearly, my Self is not my body.

By default, my source of “I” has to be my mind. Personally, I fell for this one for years. I was pretty proud of my ever-analysing, ever-thinking, ever-planning, judging, knowing, discriminating mind. Brain on a stick. How much I identified with it became very apparent over the last year. Between the heart condition and the drugs they use to treat it, I’m simply not as smart as I used to be. Details confuse me. I have difficulties remembering things that I’ve just read. I really have to work much harder at my school work because I don’t retain ideas or concepts like I used to. Forget about details – I’ve just thrown in the towel on that one. I really feel the decline in my cognitive function and it frustrates me. As I tell my husband frequently, it’s hard when you can remember what is was like to be smart.

So, if my brain and mind capacity has lessened markedly in the past year, does that make me less of a person than I was previously?

Put that way, it sounds downright silly. I’m still Kate – a slightly more dimwitted one than the previous version – but I’m still me. To me, it stands to reason that my Self, who I am, my identity, is neither my body nor my mind because I can lose parts of each and still be me. Now this is a point where the Buddhist traditions and the yoga tradition part ways. The Buddhist tradition argues that there is nothing else – anatman. The yoga tradition has maintained that underneath mind and personality, there is an essential universal Self – atman but that’s a discussion for a later day.

But here’s the point of this sutra – referring back to the previous arguments that the root cause, the field in which all the kleshas grow, is avidya – ignorance. Part of that general ignorance discussed in the last section was the mistake I’ve made for years – letting my ego confuse my physical actions and my mental actions with sense of consciousness. And now that I’m more involved in yoga practices, this is starting to make sense to me.

When I’m meditating, I frequently use breath anchored meditation techniques, and my mind likes to wander. I’m all “Breathe in, Breathe out, breath in, did I remember to take the garbage out, do I need to make a bank transfer, when is the oil change due on the car…. “. At some point in this soliloquy of mundane household management, something notices that I’m not “Breathe in, breathe out…” anymore. I’m way to hell and gone in some other direction, at which time, the something else calls my wandering mind back on task, namely paying attention to my breathing.

The question is: What is “Something Else”? I’ve read elsewhere in the Sutras about the Seer, the Observer, or the Watcher. My only guess is that is the “Something Else” who is paying attention when my mind wanders off. Atman, perhaps? I don’t know but it’s my ambition to find out.

Thanks for reading and Namaste,



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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