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The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 67: Consciousness is Being

Draṣṭā dṛśimātraḥ śuddhaḥ api pratyayānupaśyaḥ (II.20): The pure seer or experiencer is consciousness, absolutely uncontaminated by features that are extraneous; yet, this pure seer principle seems to get associated with the faculties of perception. This is the meaning of this sutra. The drasta, or the pure experiencer – the seer of all things – is a principle of consciousness whose existence is very strange when compared to the existence of anything else in the perceptible world. While everything in the world is made up of certain things, consciousness is not made up of anything. It is what it is. It is not constituted of anything other than what it is, while everything in the world is made up of things which are components and are dissimilar in character. For instance, the atoms which constitute a physical object do not have the characteristics of the object. The colour, the shape and the sensory reaction which the object evokes cannot be found in the atoms which are the basic essences of the object. Every physical object, and everything that is sensible in any manner whatsoever, is an effect of permutations and combinations of forces or essences which are different in nature from the object itself as it is visible, tangible, etc.

Not so is consciousness. Consciousness is not constituted of atoms or forces. It is not anything that one can imagine in the mind, it is not anything that one has seen with the eyes, and it is not anything that the senses can comprehend in any manner whatsoever. It is not an object that sets up reactions. It is not capable of coming in contact with anything, and it cannot be set in relation to anything other than its own self. It is impossible to say anything about it, because it defies all definitions. It has no characteristics; it has no features; it has no length, breadth and height; it has no weight. It has no qualities that can distinguish it from other things and, therefore, it is logically indefinable, sensorily ungraspable, mentally unthinkable, and intellectually un-understandable – such is the pure seer. Apart from these peculiarities of the principle of the seer which is consciousness, it has another strange characteristic: it is not capable of partiteness or division. It cannot be divided into parts and it cannot be mathematically calculated, because that which has no parts cannot be subject to arithmetical calculation.

Hence, logic and mathematics fail in respect of the assessment of the nature of that which is consciousness. It is not divisible, and it is not of the nature of indivisibility that we see in atoms and electrons. Electrons also are supposed to be indivisible, but this is not the kind of indivisibility that we are speaking of when we refer to the nature of consciousness. While the electron is indivisible, it is only an arithmetical indivisibility, not a metaphysical one, because the definition of indivisibility is the incapacity to relate itself to any other similar object. There are many electrons – which means to say, they are divisible bodies. There is a connection of one with the other. One can be related to the other, one can be defined in terms of the other, and one fixes the velocity, the path and the position of the other in respect of the arrangement among themselves that is necessary for the formation of an atom or an object.

The indivisibility of consciousness is of a different character. Here, indivisibility means identity with infinity. Finitude of any kind is the characteristic of divisible objects. That which is finite is also divisible, and that which is not divisible is not finite. So, the indivisible principle of consciousness is also trans-finite in every respect, and the characteristic of finitude is, again, the location in space and in time. It amounts to saying that consciousness is not in space, and is not in time. If it is not in space, naturally it should transcend space; therefore, it should be vaster than space. If it is not in time, it should be in the past and present and future. All these things follow from the position that consciousness is not spatial and not temporal. It is as vast as space – even vaster than space – and timeless, durationless, and not conditioned by the limitations of the divisions of time known as past, present and future. Inasmuch as space is a content of consciousness, and even the vastness of space is that which is known by consciousness as an object, it follows that the principle that knows this vastness of space should be as vast as space itself.

Consciousness is vast like space. And, that which can connect the past, present and future in a series of successions should also have the capacity to transcend these relationships of past, present and future; so, it is timeless. It is spaceless and timeless – which means to say, it is infinite and eternal. That which is spaceless is infinite; that which is timeless is eternal. Such is the characteristic of the pure seer. And, we are also seers. We can see things. The definition of the seer given in this sutra implies certain unthought-of characteristics present even in individual perceivers, and we come to a very startling conclusion that we are something quite different from what we appear to be – even to our own selves.

The principle of awareness that is in us is something different from what it appears to be in its association with this body. Due to the connection of consciousness with this body, it appears to be a means of contacting external objects and becoming aware of them conditionally in space and in time. But a careful analysis of the nature of consciousness, as we are trying to do now, will reveal that it cannot be connected to the body like that. It cannot be limited to the location of the body, and it cannot be subjected to the activities of the senses in respect of objects, because all this conditioning would amount to saying that it is limited, finite, spatial and temporal – which, on the very face of it, cannot be the nature of consciousness.

This consciousness, which is of this transcendental character, appears to be associated in a strange manner which individuals cannot know. Philosophy stops here. Inasmuch as philosophy is logical conclusion, it fails and gives way to a new type of knowledge – we may call it intuition – when it comes to a question of the ascertaining of the nature of the very precondition of all thought and the presupposition of logical thinking. The axioms of logic are themselves limitations of logic; therefore, they become the halting point of all analytic thought and investigative analysis, giving way to an insight which surpasses all that the human mind can comprehend.

This impossibility of knowing the nature of consciousness arises on account of our trying to define consciousness in terms of the body and its relations. We have always a prejudgement in respect of what we are; and in terms of this judgement that we have formed about ourselves, we try to define things – even consciousness itself – not knowing the fact that it is at the very background of even the attempt at thinking. A great thinker said, “I think, therefore I am – cogito ergo sum,” but this is to put the cart before the horse. We do not think because thoughts are the cause of our being. Rather, our being is the cause of thought. Our existence is prior to the very process of thinking. “I think, therefore I am,” is not the way of putting it. Instead we should say, “I am, and therefore I think.” If we are not, how can we think?

The thinking is a subsequent arrangement which comes into manifestation in respect of external relations, but there is a prior being which is the reason for and the condition for the processes of thought in respect of objects. The association of consciousness with the mind, as we have studied earlier, is the reason behind our defining consciousness as a means of knowledge, as if it is an adjunct to the process of knowledge and only auxiliary to an ulterior purpose, which is the contact of senses with objects – which again we define as real knowledge.

Our definition of knowledge in this world is such that it amounts to nothing more than a comprehension of the characteristics of an external object by means of the senses. But we are not able to discover that the very activity of the senses is due to the operation of the mind inside; and, the function of the mind itself is due to the presence of a consciousness which is different from the mind. We have to distinguish between mind, or mentation, and consciousness. While the mind is a process, consciousness is not a process. The mind is conditioned by the gunassattva, rajas and tamas. It is constituted of these gunas and has, therefore, mutations. It undergoes transformations, and it has a meaning only in respect of objects that it knows. But, consciousness has a meaning of its own. It has a status of its own. It has an intrinsic value and worth not dependent upon anything else that it knows or does not know. External conditions do not affect consciousness, because it is consciousness that gives meaning to every external condition.

Such is the nature of the pure seer. Drisimatrah:knowing without an object, existing without space, living without time-awareness – all these are involved in consciousness. We cannot imagine how one can live without time, because to live is to be in time. But here, there is a type of existence which is not limited by the existence of space or of time, and it can be independent of every value that we associate with life and knowledge in this world. We cannot understand what is drisimatrah, or pure consciousness. Many philosophical schools have come a cropper due to their inability to comprehend what pure consciousness can be, independent of objects, because consciousness is always supposed to be something which has a relation to that which it knows – consciousness having content. Minus content, what is consciousness? It looks featureless. But it does not mean that drisimatrah, or the pure consciousness condition, is a featureless transparency bifurcated from the content.

The consciousness that we are speaking of is not a mere transparency without any content inside. It is more solid than the heaviest of objects; it is inclusive of all contents that we can think of. Inasmuch as it has already been accepted that consciousness, by its nature, should be indivisible and, therefore, spaceless and timeless, infinite and eternal, it should follow that it should include within itself all the contents of experience, also. The objects that we call the contents must be inclusive. They should not be exclusive. They should not be lying outside the purview of consciousness because, if there can be objects outside, it will be finite; they will condition its being.

The difficulty in defining consciousness independent of all externality is removed by a further extension of its definition in terms of an inclusion of all contents in the consciousness itself, so that consciousness is ‘being'. It is not merely abstract consciousness minus being, because that which is not – that which is divested of being – is non-being. If we attribute being to objects, and consciousness is to be regarded only as a process of knowing, it would be divested of the being of things, and consciousness would be non-being; it would be non-existent. But that cannot be, because being is what gives value to anything. Minus being, nothing can be. Therefore, the being of a thing cannot be divested of consciousness; and vice versa, consciousness cannot be divested of being. Existence is consciousness, and consciousness is existence. They cannot be separated. They are not two things; they are only two words – two defining features of one and the same indivisible being.

It is consciousness which is being; it is being that is aware of itself. They are not two different things. It is not a process of consciousness which is trying to have a relationship with its content outside; nor is it a consciousness which is divested of content. It is solid content, and not content in the sense of something being contained in something, as water is in a vessel. It is not content in that sense. It is not a content in the sense of something being inside something, or supported by something. It is an identity of ‘being'. Even the word ‘identity' is something that can fall short of the real definition, because it is not the unity of one with the other. It is an appreciation and appraisal of the impossibility of division of characters in that particular thing that we call being-consciousness.

Such is the meaning of this word ‘drisimatrah'. The word ‘seer' is used here, which does not mean seeing with the eyes, or looking with the organs of sense. It is not looking at things, but it is Self-awareness. Now, this drisimatrah, or pure awareness of the seer, is not the self-awareness of the asmita condition which was regarded as a kind of obstacle or a development of avidya, an effect of avidya. The Self-awareness that is referred to here as the nature of the seer is not asmita, because asmita was defined as an awareness that arises on account of the identification of consciousness with the mind. But here, we are defining it as something independent of mental processes.

Thus, drisimatrah means not even the self-awareness of asmita; rather, it is the awareness that is behind even asmita, because what we call asmita is a mixture of two qualities: the awareness aspect, as well the conditioned body-mind complex aspect. That aspect of limitation to body and mind is what distinguishes asmita from pure consciousness. The latter is not conditioned by body-mind. It is not a sense of ‘I am-ness' as distinguished from others' being, but it is the awareness of totality of being, if we would like to call it that. All definitions fail because even the word ‘totality' would imply a bringing together of particulars, which is not the nature of Reality. It is something transcending these in quality.

Drasta drisimatrah: The seer is ‘pure seeing'. That is the meaning. The seer is made up of ‘pure seeing', and what we call the seen, or the object, is only a later development that has arisen on account of certain difficulties. This development is due to the presence of a peculiar medium through which the consciousness expresses itself. We have known it as the citta, or the mind. Due to that, the seer becomes pratyayanupasyah – ‘looks on' at the objects of sense, sees the world outside, and experiences contact with things, as it were, merely because of the presence of the mind.

The drisya or the object of perception – that which is experienced through the senses – has a meaning and a significance only in respect of this consciousness that experiences objects. The meaning of an object is in the consciousness; it is not in itself. This is a new thing that we are told in the next sutra: tadarthaḥ eva dṛśyasya ātmā (II.21). The object serves a purpose, and the essence of the object is the capacity to serve this purpose. The purpose is the purpose of the Self, which is the seer; and what is the purpose? Bhogāpavargārtham (II.18). It is already mentioned in the earlier sutra that the drisya, or the object, exists for the bhoga and the apavarga of the seer. The phenomenal experience as well as the ultimate freedom of the seer is the purpose of the existence of an object of consciousness, and that is the meaning of the sutra: tadarthaḥ eva dṛśyasya ātmā (II.21). Atma is Selfhood. The very Selfhood of the object is for the purpose of the experience and freedom of the consciousness which is the onlooker or the seer of the object.

But, we cannot usually appreciate this position because we seem to be controlled by the objects. If the objects exist for our purpose, how is it that we are running after objects? It appears from this sutra that the objects subserve the subject. They are existent for the purpose of the self. They are servants, as it were, of the self; they have significance only in relation to the self, and, therefore, they are adjectival rather than substantive. But, that is not what is happening. The self is running after the objects as if the objects are the self and the self is the adjective. That which is the substantive has taken the position of the adjective. The very urge of consciousness to move towards objects would imply that it is subservient to the purpose of the object, which is the reverse of what the sutra is saying.

This has happened due to habitual attachment from many births, and also subjection of consciousness to the processes of the mind – the mind being made up of the samskaras and vasanas, the desires that have been left unfulfilled. The velocity of the mind in respect of the objects is due to the similarity of structure, as we have said, between the senses and the objects. The gunas of prakriti, existing both in the object as well as in the senses, become the cause for the movement of the senses towards the objects, and it is impossible to prevent the movement of the senses towards the objects as long as it is accepted that both are made up of the same gunassattva, rajas and tamas. And so, when there is an identification of consciousness with the senses, it looks as if, together with the senses, there is a movement of consciousness towards the objects. While it is natural for the senses to gain union with the objects outside on account of similarity of structure, it is unnatural for consciousness to follow the senses and appear subservient to the existence of an object.

The world seems to control us, subject us to its laws, and immerse us in a craving for things, so that it is impossible to believe that the subject – the awareness within, or the consciousness – is superior to objects. The superiority has been undermined by the impetuousness of the senses. They have been completely adulterated. The turbidity that has been caused by the activity of the senses has prevented the lustrous manifestation of consciousness within, even as the brilliancy of the sun that is seen reflected in water can be completely made to look otherwise by shaking the water, especially when it is muddy.

The pure nature of consciousness is not an object of direct experience on account of the turbidity of the mind due to the preponderance of tamasic qualities, and also the shaking of the mind due to the rajas in it. There is dirt due to tamas, and also shaking due to rajas. Both these put together make it impossible for consciousness to reflect itself purely in the mind, and it has become what the mind itself is – turbid and shaking.

Thus it is that there is agony and a restlessness that is attributed to pure consciousness itself, while in fact it is drisimatrah, pure awareness, inclusive of the contents of its awareness. Hence it should be unbelievable that there should be a necessity for it to run after objects. On the other hand, as the sutra puts it, the objects should run after it – because they subserve this existence of the seer. The knowledge that the objects subserve the seer and that, therefore, there is a need to reverse the process of thinking is the condition of yoga that is pondered over in this sutra.