Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Seer and Seen

I was recently reading some articles on Richard Freeman’s website when I came across this statement:

“As it appears normally, consciousness is always conscious of something. Consciousness then appears as the thing of which it is conscious. What is unconscious then appears as conscious.”

I had to stop at the second sentence repeatedly. First of all, because I did not understand the jump he was making between the two sentences, but then, once I understood what he was trying to say, my mind still refused to read further…

These two sentences represent the crux of the yogic view of a-vidya and maya.

Avidya means not seeing correctly - not understanding, not knowing. Maya is the condition found in human beings whereby the vrittis are experienced as "real", and knowledge of the Purusa is absent.

Yoga philosophy is not like western philosophy. The end of yoga philosophy is not understanding in the usual sense of the word. The end of yoga philosophy is experience - an experience which transcends rationality, which is beyond mind.

Yoga philosophy is integrated with meditation. The statements of yoga are to be pondered on and their meanings realized, not through logic but through absorption and inner experience.

What was Richard saying with these two sentences?

The first is a statement about Purusa being conscious, but always conscious of something. Under normal circumstances, there is always a content to consciousness. Even in sleep there is the content of tamas.

The second sentence concerns the thing we are aware of. In becoming conscious of something, we are no longer aware of consciousness itself, we become aware of the object of consciousness and our thoughts and feelings about it - that object now somehow appears to illuminate the mind - it becomes the locus of awareness.

But this content, this "something" of which we are aware, is not within Purusa, it does not change Purusa, Purusa does not take its form.  This content is in the mind. It is the mind which mutates with changing content. According to yoga, Purusa is just looking at the mind and it’s contents like a witness.

The stream of vrittis is illuminated on the screen of the mind before the inner eye just like a movie. Just as when we watch a movie we forget ourselves and become identified with the plot and the characters, in the same way we identify with the projections on the internal screen of the mind.

Patanjali describes the experience of samadhi as one in which the Purusa is "established in its true form" and otherwise (our normal experience), as Purusa "appearing to take the form of our experiences".

This identification is the result of Maya. The Purusa has to "look" through three screens - rajas, tamas and sattva. In Samadhi, only sattva is present, therefore clarity of cognition and true Self-identification can be experienced. But when Purusa appears to "take the form of our experiences," the distortions created by rajas and tamas and the myriad thoughts and actions we have experienced, Purusa cannot see straight - the mind is distorted and therefore produces confusing and obscure perceptions.

Not only do we not see objects clearly (as the result of the taints of rajas and tamas in the mind), we also do not see or understand ourselves clearly. The mind is the organ of cognition which serves the Purusa - it has the capacity to look outwards as well as inwards. Because it is tainted, neither external perceptions nor perceptions of Self or identity are accurate.

In not finding the true object for the idea "Self", we feel compelled to find identification elsewhere and through this identification arises what we know as ego. Through this identification we come to feel that our very sensations, thoughts and feelings are themselves conscious, that they belong to our identity or constitute our identity.


Richard says that as consciousness appears normally, it is always an awareness of something. But there is a special state in which there is no content to consciousness except consciousness itself - this is the state of Asamprajnata Samadhi.

In fact, Purusa never has content in the way we usually think of it. And yet all our experience is had by virtue of Purusa. Perhaps we can say that Purusa contains all but in undifferentiated form? And maybe that is why Purusa is bliss - if it contains all, it lacks nothing and therefore is the epitome of complete satisfaction.

Our obsession with the form and name of objects and experiences prevents us from accessing this innate and foundational happiness which is the result of a deep relaxation and purification of the mind. Our minds are always busy, analyzing, debating or maybe heavy - plugged into a video game, food etc..

… and hence we experience the suffering of ignorance - not knowing who we are - the knot of ego wrapped around our pleasures and pains.

In presenting this yogic koan, Richard offers the opportunity to stop and ponder deeply on its meaning. Through understanding its meaning may be derived the further opportunity to experience some deeper and more subtle truth on the level of experience.

Consciousness is always conscious of something - when we are contemplating that thing, it fills the mind and our mental impression or vritti appears to be “self-luminous”. The vritti appears to be imbued with consciousness itself.

But how could that be possible? Since it is I who am witnessing the vritti with my consciousness? As an object of our attention somehow it seems as if our own innate consciousness has jumped across the gap between subject and object. Now consciousness appears to be in the vritti and we are looking at it.

A vrittis colors the experience of Purusa in the same way a red flower would color a transparent crystal when placed in proximity. The crystal itself is not affected by the presence or absence of an object which can reflect in it.

In experiencing the red flower coloring the crystal of the Purusa, we think that Purusa is red, we think that redness is its characteristic - redness becomes its defining quality - since crystal is transparent.

In fact, as we know, experience constantly mutates, and so we experience Purusa being colored by many changing vrittis - no wonder he is so hard to see.

But if you stop for a moment, or better still, for a long moment and ponder on the fact that the content of consciousness is something you are observing - and then, once you have clearly recognized that, if you look at whichever vritti is currently present, as an object, as something you are looking at, then for a moment, you are the Seer established in its own essential nature.

This is nothing other than meditation - except in meditation we deliberately choose a vritti as our object of attention and we attempt to maintain focus for as long as possible.

In this way the perspective of seer and seen is established. When attention is focused on one vritti it is understood that I and the vritti are distinct. The longer this state is maintained, the firmer will become this conviction and experience.

Krishnamacharya: "Yoga is an awareness, a type of knowing.  Yoga will end in awareness. Yoga is arresting the fluctuations of the mind as said in the Yoga  Sutras (of Patanjali): citta vritti nirodha.  When the mind is without any movement, maybe for a quarter of an hour, or even quarter of a minute, you will realize that yoga is of the nature of infinite awareness, infinite knowing.  There is no other object there."