2.20 The Seer is pure. It is only the power of seeing that witnesses the activities of the body-mind-emotions without being affected by them.
The first sutra in this chapter defined yogic action (kriya yoga) and the second sutra stated that yogic action is effective for neutralizing afflictions and for moving towards integration. Subsequently, Patañjali elaborated on the various types of afflictions and their influences and long-term effects. Then, in 2.17, Patañjali states that the cause of suffering is to confuse awareness for the experiences that you participate in. Awareness is what enables you to participate in those experiences and to notice what happens both internally and externally. In this sutra the concept of the “Seer” is introduced. The “Seer” or “Witness” is awareness, the power of seeing, or the knowing that enables you to witness the changing phenomena in nature. Another word used for it is consciousness, that which enables you to be conscious.
Awareness is just the power of seeing. A way of thinking about this concept is by thinking about the operating system of a computer or smart phone. The operating system is the essential software that manages the memory, processes and resources of the computer. Although the operating system may be installed in a computer, without a source of power providing electricity, the operating system cannot control the computer. Similarly, the computer may be plugged in to an energy source, but without an operating system, the computer would not be able to start any programs. Awareness or consciousness is your operating system. The electricity running through your organism is the vital energy of life, also called prana in yoga. When it is working well, the operating system can run any program, including showing videos and photographs, displaying text or playing sound files. However, the operating system is not influenced by the content of the files that it is manipulating. Consciousness is similarly unaffected by the constant changes of life, yet consciousness underlies every one of your states, actions and experiences. One option to recognize this Seer is to cultivate your ability to notice space in every place that you inhabit. Instead of seeing only the objects in a room as many of us tend to do, you can choose to attend also to the space around everything. You can notice space as the foundation where everything you perceive exists. You may also notice silence as the background of every noise and sound that you can hear. Notice the silence that marks the end of one word and the beginning of the next. As you notice movement, notice also the stillness in which the movement takes place. Attending to space, silence and stillness is one way of developing a sensitivity to perceive what is so obvious that is routinely ignored. This sensitivity helps you orient towards the awareness or consciousness pervading all of existence. You can also relax deeply, letting go of all that you do not need, including your internal commentary so that you can pay attention to the natural rhythm of your breath. Focus on feeling as clearly as possible the slight pause between each inhalation and each exhalation. What do you notice when you witness that pause?
Space, stillness and silence are the background of all activity, the bedrock of consciousness, where all change, movement and sound take place. Without space, stillness and silence, there would be no way of knowing that something is, that it is moving or that it is making a sound. What happens when you choose to immerse fully in the pause, the silence and stillness?
As usual, one more way of exploring the meaning of this sutra is by chanting it.
You can choose to chant it in its traditional form with some of the words coming together:
2.20 draṣṭā dṛśimātraḥ śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyaḥ
द्रष्टा दृशिमात्रः शुद्धोऽपि प्रत्ययानुपश्यः ॥२०॥
Another option is to chant each word in the sutra individually:
If you prefer, you may listen to the podcast: