April 14 and 16, 2015 — Sutras 2.23-2.26 — Discussion of “Viveka” (Discriminative Discernment)

This week we will look at Sutras 2.23 – 2.26 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It is helpful to look at all of these sutras together, but we will spend most of our time on Sutra 2.26 and the concept of “viveka” or uninterrupted discriminative discernment. Here are some translations/ commentary:

The conjunction of the seer with the seen is for the seer to discover his own true nature (2.23). Lack of spiritual understanding (avidya, or “ignorance”) is the cause of the false identification of the seer with the seen (Sutra 2.24). The destruction of ignorance through right knowledge breaks the link binding the seer to the seen, bringing one to emancipation (Sutra 2.25). The ceaseless flow of discriminative knowledge in thought, word, and deed (viveka) destroys ignorance, the source of pain. (Sutra 2.26). Unfluctutating sound judgment with uninterrupted awareness is the essence of true knowledge, the sole means to eradicate ignorance and free the seer from the seen. It should always be kept in the highest state of awareness and attentiveness known as “vivekakhyati,” the crown of wisdom. (Iyengar)

Worldly experience means perceiving the seen, and liberation means perceiving the real nature of the seer. Ignorance is the cause of the conjunction between the seer and the seen, and true knowledge dispels ignorance and is therefore the cause of liberation. When false knowledge (ignorance) becomes like a burnt seed that is incapable of sprouting, or…when the sattva (clarity or luminosity) of the intelligence has been cleansed of the dirt of rajas (action, activity), then cognition attains a state of utmost clarity. At this point, the pure flow of discriminative discernment can proceed unchecked. (Bryant)

It is by virtue of the apparent indivisibility of awareness and the phenomenal world that the latter seems to possess the former’s powers. Not seeing things as they are is the cause of this phenomenon. With realization, the appearance of indivisibility vanishes, revealing that awareness is free and untouched by phenomena. The apparent indivisibility of seeing and the seen can be eradicated by cultivating uninterrupted discrimination between awareness and what it regards. The cultivation of viveka requires both effortful practice in the form of yoking attention to the distinction between consciousness and awareness, and nonreaction to achieve profound stillness by letting go of having to react to any of the contents of consciousness such as sensation, thought or feeling. Only in the total absence of internal and external body mind movement can the presence of pure awareness be discerned. (Hartranft)

Discriminative discernment is an innate faculty. In day to day life, we know it as the ability to discern the unique characteristics of an object or the distinctions between two or more objects. Ordinarily, our discriminative capacity is occupied with a constant stream of pertinent and non pertinent thoughts: perceptions of objects, events, wishes, and people that flow into consciousness. But to pierce through ignorance, to perceive the Self as our True Identity, viveka requires a high order of clear, steady focus and the absence of selfish attachment. The more one-pointed our minds become, the more refined, subtle, and compete our ability to “see” becomes. As we continue with meditation, prayer, non attachment and study, we will be developing viveka. Viveka (uninterrupted discriminative discernment) is the shifting of awareness from the object of perception itself (Purusha). Ultimately, it is pure consciousness knowing itself as distinct from any object or experience (Carrera).