The Seer and the Self

Aphorism 1.3

Tadà Draùñuþ Svaråpe Avasthànam

tadà = then; draùñuþ = the Seer (Self); 
svaråpe = in His own nature; avasthànam = abides

There are times when a curious sense of detachment is felt. This feeling is almost like being out of your body, of looking at yourself from outside, of being aware of your actions without actually being involved in them. It is a curious feeling and is, for most of us, unconscious. We recognize that it comes, but it is not possible to say what causes it. 

This is the manifestation, however brief, of this sutrawhich Georg Feuerstein translates as : “Then the Seer abides in Itself”. 

The Seer here literally means “The One that Sees” and is a referral to the Seer of Samkhya philosophy where the atman or spirit is different from the body, residing in it but not destroyed or affected by its aging or destruction. In a perfect yogic state, the Seer understands perfectly the difference between him and the instrument, i.e. the body which he resides in. The body has a mind and senses by which the Seer interacts with the outside world, but are temporary. The mind and the senses reflect the world for the Seer, but it is only when they are still that an accurate image is formed. 

How do we interpret this today? Is it possible to experience and produce this feeling of clear difference between Seer and Body – an almost out-of-body experience? Long sessions of physical exercise – yogic asanas being among them – often produce this sensation – a sensation of supreme well-being and health, and at the same time that curiously detached feeling. Any athlete or sportsman will testify to this. 

So physical exercise will temporarily at least tire the body, or refresh it so that every muscle and nerve can be felt anew, and it is paradoxically then that this realization – of being separate from the body – is generated. The problem, or the practical limit of this, is that this feeling of well-being subsides soon after the exercise is over. The athlete, sportsman, or even yogi, is driven to greater and greater efforts to duplicate the feeling, and for a time succeeds. The problem is that the body has its limits, even though these limits are very high for professional sportsmen. 

The point being that it is not possible to acquire and maintain a state of detachment by physical efforts alone. Both body and mind have to be trained, at a high state of development, else moment of realization will be infrequent and unpredictable.

Aphorism 1.4

vçtti sàråpyamitaratra 

vçtti = mental activity, mental modifications; 
sàråpyam = identification; itaratra = otherwise, elsewhere, at other times

This is translated by Feuerstein as “At other times, there is conformity of the Self with the fluctuations”. 

Which simply means that we tend to identify ourselves with our body, and our perception of self as generated by society. Just as an example, we think of aging as when our body grows old and wrinkles, hair turns white or starts to fall out, eyesight and hearing start to falter, etc. Or we are influenced by the society in which we live in which assigns to us labels of ‘smart’, ‘stupid’, ‘beautiful’, ‘ugly’, ‘slow’, ‘clumsy’, ‘graceful’…

To accept and to live by these standards is characterized as “conformity of the Self with the fluctuations”, and most of us would accept that we do this at one level or another. It does not seem possible to do away with this altogether without accepting the life of a complete hermit, who retires from society. 

The challenge is to practice Yoga and still live in society. This would be reflected in the Hinayana and Mahayana schools of Buddhism, the first of which preached salvation for the self alone, and the second which denounced this as fundamentally selfish, and espoused delaying your self-liberation and working for the people around you, to give back and pass on some of your good fortune.


More by :  Ashish Nangia

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