Yoga Philosophy Discussions March 31 and April 2, 2015: Sutra 2.20

This week we will look at Sutra 2.20 from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Here are some translations and commentary:

The seer is pure consciousness. He witnesses nature without being reliant on it. This sutra moves on from nature to soul, the Supreme Seer, the absolute knower. It is the pure essence of consciousness beyond words. Though the soul is pure, it tends to see through its agent, the intelligence (buddhi) and being carried away by the influence of nature, it loses its identity. (Iyengar)

The seer is merely the power of seeing; [however,] although pure, he witnesses the images of the mind. The seen — the gunas of prakrti (nature) and their effects — has been discussed in the previous sutras, and now Patanjali turns his attention to the seer. The seer is the purusha, the soul or innermost conscious self. He is the pure undiluted power of consciousness — pure because untouched by any attribute, qualification, object or predicate. He is neither the same as, nor, at least when embodied, totally different from buddhi, intelligence, insofar as his knowledge of prakrti arises from his awareness of buddhi. (Bryant)

The Seer is nothing but the power of seeing which, although pure, appears to see through the mind. The mind has no consciousness of its own. Its awareness is borrowed from the Seer. This can be compared to the sun’s reflection in a mirror. The sun represents the Self; the mirror corresponds to the mind. The entire globe of the sun, though immeasurable in relation to a mirror, can be reflected in it. However, we cannot properly say that the sun is contained in the mirror. The sun is not limited nor its nature altered by being reflected. It remains untouched and pure. (Carrera)

Pure awareness is just seeing itself; although pure, it usually appears to operate through the perceiving mind. Pure awareness does not correspond in any way to the categories or behaviors of nature. It never changes, nor can it be regarded as manifest or unmanifest. It is witnessing alone, devoid of content. (Hartranft)

Purusha is immutable. While worldly consciousness in the form of the buddhi is constantly changing — “I see the cow; now I don’t see the cow, I see the vase; now I don’t see the vase” — the purusha is the unchanging awareness of these modifications. There must be something that knows that “I see the cow,” and this could be said as, “I know that I see the cow, and now I know that I don’t see the cow, but see the vase instead.” This type of “knowing” is called pure and immutable. (Baba Hari Dass)