Yoga Sutra - Sādhana Pada 2.20
द्रष्टा दृशिमात्रः शुद्धोऽपि प्रत्ययानुपश्यः ॥२०॥
draṣṭā dṛśi-mātraḥ śuddhaḥ api-pratyaya-anupaśyaḥ ||20||
The seer only sees; though pure, it appears intentional.
The seer is merely the power of seeing; [however,] although pure, he witnesses the images of the mind.
The seen—the guṇas of prakṛti and their effects—has been discussed in the above sūtras, and now Patañjali turns his attention to the seer, draṣṭṛ. The seer is the puruṣa, 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 prakṛti arises from his awareness of buddhi.
He is not the same as buddhi, because buddhi has external things (cows, pots, etc.) as its object of attention and is therefore always changing, while puruṣa is unchanging and has only buddhi as the object of its attention. Moreover, buddhi exists solely for the sake of puruṣa, while puruṣa exists for its own sake only. Finally, buddhi is inert, unconscious, and composed of the three guṇas, whereas puruṣa is the active spectator, the source of consciousness, and beyond the three guṇas. On the other hand, puruṣa is not totally distinct from buddhi in practice because, even though puruṣa is pure and self-contained in essence, by witnessing the transformations of buddhi in the form of thoughts and cognitions, pratyayas, etc., it appears as if those thoughts pertain to puruṣa itself, that they are puruṣa rather than the flickerings of an external and inert but subtle substance. Puruṣa sees its reflection in the mirror of buddhi, say the commentators, and the mind mistakes this reflection in the mirror, which is distorted due to the transformations of the guṇas, to be the real self. Puruṣa does not change or transform; buddhi does.
Therefore, it is said, says Vyāsa, that although puruṣa is the experiencer and does not change or pursue the objects of the senses, it appears to do so by its identification with the transformations of buddhi, which does change and does pursue the objects of the senses. Indeed, it is only when buddhi takes the form of the objects of the senses, the pratyayas, noted here (see I.10), that these objects become known to puruṣa via the medium of buddhi. And it is only puruṣa who can inherently know, says Vijñānabhikṣu; buddhi does not know, that is to say, is not conscious of the objects of the senses that it is processing and that it exhibits to puruṣa. One might analogize that the software of a computer is not conscious of the material that it is processing and that it exhibits on its screen. As the computer needs a witness to know the data, so does buddhi.
Thus, as a result of being identified with buddhi, puruṣa appears to assume the qualities of buddhi. The consciousness of puruṣa, although not in reality changing, witnesses or follows as a spectator the transformations of buddhi and therefore rests on (is aware of) each object that comes into the sphere of the ever-changing buddhi. Whatever buddhi is transformed into is colored by consciousness, says Vācaspati Miśra, as a result of their contact. Although the moon is not transformed into water, he continues, it appears to be so due to its reflection in water. This Vedāntic analogy works well: Water in a lake or an ocean is transformed or agitated by waves, ripples, foam, etc. When the moon shines upon this disturbed surface, its reflection also becomes rippled and agitated due to the disturbed surface of the water. Ignorance is mistaking the disrupted reflection to be the true moon. Due to ignorance, puruṣa is misidentified with the disturbed reflection of buddhi, which is taken to be the real self. Like an echo, says Vijñānabhikṣu, a sound that emanates from a source and then bounces off an object to return back to that source in somewhat distorted fashion, the consciousness of puruṣa bounces back from buddhi in the form of a distorted reflection, and thus puruṣa becomes aware of the disturbed buddhi along with its bhāva, or quality, of ignorance. The Sāṅkhya Kārikās speaks of buddhi as having eight bhāvas (virtue, knowledge, nonattachment, potency, and their opposites, including ignorance) (XXIII). Buddhi thus becomes aware of ignorance even though the ignorance is not in puruṣa—which, by definition, is pure awareness—but rather in buddhi.
Not only does puruṣa appear changed due to this symbiosis, but inert buddhi appears to be conscious due to being energized by consciousness, continues Vijñānabhikṣu, just as sunlight falling on the sea makes the sea appear to be luminous like the sun. (Verse XX of the Saṅkhya Kārikās states that that which is unconscious appears as if conscious.) Therefore, puruṣa is witnessing not only its own reflection but one that appears to be energized, or animate, and this further enhances the tendency of misidentification.
This misidentification of puruṣa with buddhi transformed or agitated by the three guṇas, the objects of this world, is the cause of bondage. Its freedom, says Vijñānabhikṣu, cannot come about through the conventional means of knowledge—the senses, mind, intelligence, etc.—since its nature is essentially different from these. It can come about only through its own nature. Its own nature is pure knowledge, that is, exclusive awareness of its own self, rather than of the objects of prakṛti.
Hariharānanda adds to this that the existence of puruṣa is evidenced by the fact that the sense of I is constant at all times. One may say, “I know something,” where the thing one knows pertains to whatever is being presented at any point in time by buddhi and is always changing, but the I who knows remains constant. Likewise even with the notion “I know myself”: The myself that is known also pertains to ever-changing buddhi—one may think of oneself in many different ways throughout the various stages of one’s life—but the I is always constant. As soon as this I begins to know something—anything—then the misidentification of buddhi with puruṣa, the erroneous notion that puruṣa is buddhi, has occurred, since all knowable things are the products of prakṛti. All knowledge thus requires the presence of the overseer, puruṣa, and of something seen, an object in prakṛti.
This misidentification of the seer and the seen, continues Hariharānanda, is the product of ahaṅkāra, the ego. As a result of this misidentification, the distinction between puruṣa and buddhi is not perceived in ordinary consciousness. Buddhi resembles puruṣa to some extent, and vice versa. Inanimate buddhi appears to be animate because it is energized by the consciousness of the animate puruṣa, and the unchanging puruṣa appears to be ever-changing and mutable because its consciousness pervades the ever-changing and mutable buddhi; hence Vyāsa’s statement that they are neither the same nor different.