Yoga Sutra - Samādhi Pada 1.3
तदा द्रष्टुः स्वरूपेऽवस्थानम् ॥३॥
tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe-avasthānam ||3||
Then there is abiding in the seer’s own form.
When that is accomplished, the seer abides in its own true nature.
There are various terms in Hindu philosophical thought to refer to the soul according to context or the partiality of different texts and schools, ātman being perhaps the most commonly encountered. The Yoga tradition in general favors puruṣa, but Patañjali here uses (the genitive case of) draṣṭṛ, the seer (from the root dṛś, to see), a term he uses on several occasions throughout the text, and, indeed, along with other cognates of the root dṛś, is used almost as often as puruṣa. By seeing, he does not intend the gross power of sight as manifest through the physical organ of sight but as a metaphor for consciousness itself, which “sees” in the sense of exhibiting awareness.
Having stated in the last sūtra that yoga means the cessation of all thought, Patañjali now immediately reassures his audience. Some might worry that cessation of thought—the elimination of all objects of consciousness—entails the cessation of the subject of consciousness, puruṣa, itself. After all, our only experience of reality is one mediated by the thinking process. Does the elimination of thought entail the elimination of experience and of existence itself? Is it existential suicide? What happens to the puruṣa self, asks Vyāsa, when the mind is void of content, as prescribed in the last sūtra?
Vijñānabhikṣu rhetorically considers three possibilities that might transpire once all the vṛttis, states of mind, have been removed: (1) Does the puruṣa soul remain as pure consciousness that is conscious only of itself? (2) Does it remain unconscious, like a log of wood (becoming conscious only when confronted by a state of mind, as held by the followers of the Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika schools)? Does it cease to exist like a lamp on the destruction of the wick (as held by followers of the materialistic Cārvāka school)? The Yoga school subscribes to the first view. Once freed from its association with the states of the mind, the soul can abide in its own nature, the highest state of pure consciousness, asamprajñāta-samādhi. It is devoid even of knowledge, says Vijñānabhikṣu, since knowledge implies an object of knowledge and thus requires a connection with the states of mind and the external world.
In fact, Vyāsa and the commentators make the point that the soul has always abided in its own nature, even though, when it is absorbed in the outgoing mind and the world of thoughts and sense objects, it appears not to be. The nature of the soul is pure consciousness, just as, says Śaṅkara, the nature of the sun is and has always been to shine. It needs no external instrument to shine, nor does it exert any effort to do so; indeed, it has no alternative but to shine. Similarly, it is the inherent and inescapable nature of puruṣa to be conscious.
To illustrate the nature of the soul as pure consciousness alone, devoid of content, the commentators often refer to the example of a pure transparent crystal used frequently (and variously) in philosophical discourse to illustrate the relationship between consciousness and the mind (or between the mind and its object). When a red flower is placed next to a crystal, the flower’s color is reflected in the crystal, and so the crystal itself appears to be red. The true nature of the crystal, however, is never actually red, nor is it affected or changed by the flower in any way—even while it reflects the flower—nor does it disappear when the flower is removed. Similarly, consciousness reflects or illuminates external objects and internal thoughts, vṛttis, but is not itself affected by them. Puruṣa, although an autonomous entity separable from the citta with its vṛttis placed in its vicinity, is as if colored by them. Since its awareness animates the citta, which is “colored,” it is consequently (and understandably) misidentified with the vṛttis by the citta. But in actuality it is not tainted by them, nor does it disappear upon the disappearance of the objects of consciousness. As a crystal is essentially an autonomous entity separable from the red flower placed in its vicinity and retains its pure transparent nature when separated from the flower, so consciousness is an autonomous entity separable from the citta with its vṛttis placed in its vicinity, and thus retains its pure nature of awareness when detached from the citta through the practice of yoga. The commentaries frequently utilize another example favored by the Vedānta school to illustrate a related point: Mother-of-pearl does not give up its own essential nature simply because someone mistakes it for the actual pearl itself. Likewise, consciousness does not change its nature simply because it may be confounded with the physical body or the changing states of the mind and intelligence.
The Śānti-parvan section of the Mahābhārata abounds in similes illustrating the continued existence of puruṣa when apart from its prākṛtic encapsulation.55 It is like a silkworm that continues to exist after the destruction of the cell made by its threads, a deer that abandons its horn or a snake its slough after shedding it, a bird that goes elsewhere when the tree on which it is perched falls (XII 212.47–49), or a fish and the water that surrounds it (XII 303.17). Elsewhere, the epic compares the direct vision of the soul within the body indicated by this sūtra to the perception of a lamp blazing forth from a pot (XII 187.44), the effulgent sun, a smokeless flame, a streak of lightning in the sky (XII 232.18), or the streak of gold in a stone (XII 198.4).
tadā (ind.) then
draṣṭuḥ (m. gen. sg.) of the seer; from √dṛṣ (see, perceive, understand)
svarūpe (n. loc. sg.) in own form; sva (own, self) + rūpa (form, shape, figure)
avasthānam (n. nom. sg.) abiding, standing, dwelling; ava (off, away) +sthāna, from √sthā (stand, endure, continue)