Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:20: The Seer, the experiencer, is pure consciousness. It appears to take on the changing colors of the mind. In reality, it is unchangeable.
Defining the Sutra:
When you watch TV, and a new show comes on, did the TV change? No. It is still the same flat screen. The images being fed into the TV changed. The Seer, Atman or pure consciousness is like the TV. Even though it appears to be changing, it isn’t. It stays the same.
Modern Day Application
“Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”- Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:2
When we stop the fluctuations of the mind, we can see what is beyond them. When the sea is turbulent, you cannot see below the surface of the water. It is only when it is calm and clean, that you can see into the water. Yoga purifies and calms the body and mind so that we can see the Atman/pure consciousness.
Our 5 senses are constantly being stimulated and our focus going outward. To realize Pure consciousness, we have to focus inward. To do this, Ashtanga uses the Tristhana method which consists of asana, breathing and gazing points. These three together take away the distractions that keep us from looking inward. In my own practice, if I don’t focus on my breath or the gaze, I will go on autopilot. I will start thinking about something that happened earlier, and by the time I come back to consciousness, I am halfway through standing series. Even if I venture out and take a class of another style, because I know the names of asanas, I can completely zone out. There is a part of my brain listening for the teacher to call the next pose and another part that is thinking about breakfast.
It is impossible for me to keep my breath even, look at the tip of my nose, do Kukkutasana and think about breakfast at the same time. When I do the Tristana, my story has to drop. When the story drops, there is only the quiet focus of the practice. There is peace. I can then take this peace with me off my mat. If I loose the peace, I now have a technique for getting it back. The technique is to clear the mind with one pointed focus aka being present. In the stages of Samadhi, the object of focus becomes more and more subtle allowing us to get to a point where we can see something as subtle as the Atman and maybe become one with pure consciousness.
Why It is Important?
Some scholars say that the first and second books of the Yoga Sutras are for two different students. The first book of the Yoga Sutras, Samadhi Pada, is the path of contemplation. Patanjali speaks of the Seer in Samadhi Pada, however, not all practitioners are drawn to that path. Book 2, Sadhana Pada, is for those who need a methodology to help them stay focused. Patanjali wants to make sure that we don’t forget why we are doing our Sadhana, practice, so he reiterates it again here by talking about the Seer.