Two weeks back, we discussed the notion of observing the mind in action.
Who or what, exactly, is doing this observing? You? Which you? The you that is also being observed? Or the often-illusive part of you many of us call the spirit?
Sutra 4.20 implies the latter:
Sutra 4.20: Nor can it be said that the mind is simultaneously both the perceiver and the perceived, the observer and the observed. For, then there would not be rational comprehension. Translation by Swami Venkatesanada
Thus, your mind does not do the perceiving of your thoughts… because the mind is thinking the thoughts. Which means another entity can perceive your mind just as your mind perceives the world outside of you.
Let’s indeed call that entity “spirit”: the self that perceives the mind. Your spirit is also known in yoga as your “true” Self or link to purusha or atman (universal spirit). This universal spirit cannot be observed by the mind, but rather connected to through Self (jive atman) often through meditation (samadhi, yoga). The mind, on the other hand, can cloud the pathway of spirit with its “colorings.” More often than not, the voice in our head is mind, not spirit.
(Of course, since the spirit cannot be perceived, we cannot gather any external evidence to prove the spirit is even a thing, so all of this is philosophical and hypothetical.)
And now we’ve soused ourselves in an ontological pickle. Can we extract a useful morsel from sutra 4.20?
How about a lesson in being present? This comes from a student in our Monday night 216 Yoga Lab class: “If you are absorbed in the present moment –what you are observing or doing– you cannot also be aware of yourself being in the present moment.” That is, being present means being fully engaged such that there is not space for self-reflection. You cannot be absorbed in reading a book and also thinking about reading the book.
Indeed, the yoga position is that if our mind were required to be both the perceiver and the perceived, both aware of self and aware of anything “external” to the self, this would be impossible. (See Edwin Bryant for a clear, historically grounded exposition.) You cannot put your focus in two places at once. Multitasking is an illusion, people!
And yet, part of the practice of yoga is a process of learning to experience self awareness while being engaged in life. What we seek is not to split the mind, but to realize our eternal Self, our spirit, our jiva atman, as part of our living existence. Spirit remains Self-aware, purusha-aware, while our mind engages in life (prakriti aware?).
Sutra 4.21: If it is assumed that there are two minds – the observer and the observed – this would result in logical absurdity (since both are based on the same intelligence, who designates the distinction?) and also confusion of memory or universal schizophrenia, which is not found to be the case. Translation by Swami Venkatesanada
Rather than sacking the mind with two jobs, yoga helps us own these two “selves” as it were, rather than two minds within one self. Mind-self and spirit-Self each has an important voice in your existence (both manifested and eternal), and each retains the ability to distinguish which is which. It’s not always easy; very often, we hear only mind and listen to it in place of spirit. As amazing as our minds are, mind, with all its trappings, makes a paltry substitute for spirit.
Have you ever made a decision based on a “gut” feeling instead of a pros and cons list? Possibly that was the intelligence of spirit. And a decision made logically from comparing pros and cons would come from mental intelligence.
Sometimes you need to think things through. Sometimes you need to clear the mind and listen to your inner self, the one for which you don’t need a list. You just need to give it space to speak.
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.