Sutra 2.21: tad-artha eva drishyasya atma
The Seer is the sole reason for the existence of that which is seen. Translation by Kofi Busia
The self [i.e., essence] of the Seen [i.e., Nature] is only for the sake of that [Seer, or transcendental Self]. Translation by Georg Feuerstein
Whenever I don’t care for a translation of a sutra –when what I read closes my mind down rather than opens it up– I reach for a different translation, most often Georg Feuerstein’s because, as he puts it, “[his] translation is rather literal in order to convey the technical nature of Patanjali’s work. All too often the popular renderings fail to do justice to the subtleties of his thought and the complexities of higher Yoga practice.” The academic nature of Feuerstein’s translation and commentary helps me remember not to get wound up by translations that lend to the teachings a personal bent that doesn’t inspire my own practice.
Naturally, any translation includes individual perspective, but some, as Feuerstein says, more so than others. I assume the authors, in most cases, intend this perspective to come through the translation and help students use the sutras for their individual practice. Indeed, you’ve seen me alternate back and forth amongst translations, because those different perspectives help me grasp the sutras as a whole text rather than separate aphorisms. It also helps me see and remember that not every sutra needs to be (nor will be) absorbed by every person on first (or second or third or twentieth) reading. Depending on what speaks to you, what connects you to your center, many of the sutras may seem redundant or to present conflicting information, and then the translation and interpretation you chose to work through becomes even more important.
For me, we’re up against one of those conflicting ones. As Busia translates sutra 2.21, the Seer is the sole reason for the existence of that which is seen, it strikes me, today, as lacking testability. I take away from this line the suggestion that the world has a purpose and it’s to give us something to do until we become aware of our infinite nature.
Yeah, I’m not so sure about that. In fact, I do not believe that there is a “purpose” to our/universal existence. To believe in something, I like to be able to experience the thing for myself and this I don’t imagine I can. In my frustration, I checked in with my teacher about sutra 2.21. There was lots of smiling and nodding. You know the kind –it says “you don’t know it yet, but you’ll get there one day.” The kind that says understanding this sutra is a matter of time and practice –which is a form of belief is it not? Time and practice I will give it, believing should then come on its own.
But let’s get back to how Feuerstein’s translation and commentary set me at ease here. The self [i.e., essence] of the Seen [i.e., Nature] is only for the sake of that [Seer, or transcendental Self]. Hmm, maybe it’s his use of [i.e., ~ ] which says to me, “remember, we can only parse and interpret: we bring our ideas of the world into this work as it can bring a deeper understanding to us.” Maybe it’s his commentary, in which he writes, “This aphorism reiterates the point made above (2.18) that Nature serves the purposes of the Self. The realm of Nature can be used either to indulge in experiences or to catapult oneself beyond all conditional states of existence into Self-realization.” Yoga is a choice. Understanding the sutras is a choice. Believing the universe to be constructed of Seer/Seen is a choice… until it’s not.
Another of my teachers is fond of saying, “I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, I can’t go back.” What she means is that her perspective is bigger than it used to be –and while we can all continuously expand our understanding of the universe, narrowing it back down is near impossible. But what if we drink the water before adding the flavored coloring and think the water is Kool-Aid? What if we stop learning/exploring/questioning and think all we know is all there is to know? That can narrow down our perspective in a way we don’t even realize. So, sure, drink the Kool-Aid, don’t go back, but by all means, don’t stop!
Find new Kool-Aid and keep on yogaing.
Hari om tat sat!
Experience your true self and bring it into every moment of your living!
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a classical text on yoga–a guidebook of sorts.
Each week, 216 teacher Esther Palmer dives into one of the sutras and we let it take us where it takes us.