The first chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is about enlightenment - Samadhi Pada.


Samadhi (समाधि, Samādhi) = Enlightenment
Pada (पाद, Pāda) = ChapterThe first chapter of the Yoga Sutra by Patanjali


Sentence 3

tada drashtuh svarupe-'vasthanam ||3||

तदा द्रष्टुः स्वरूपेऽवस्थानम् ॥३॥

tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe-'vasthānam ॥3॥

For finding our true self (drashtu) entails insight into our own nature. ||3||

tadā = (adv.) then
draṣṭuḥ = (g. sg. m./abl. sg. m.) the true self
sva = (icc.) their own
rūpa = (loc. sg. n./acc. du. n./nom. du. n.) form
svarūpe = (loc. sg. n. from svarūpa) in (its) own form; true essence; true being; true nature
avasthānam = (nom. sg. n./acc. sg. n. from avasthāna) residence; quiet place; place of business; place to stay; rest in; recognize.

Drashtu: the immutable

In contrast to chitta, which is constantly changing, we have within us an immutable core element known as drashtu, which literally means the “seeing principle.” Discovering drashtu, our true self, is the goal of yoga. But of course we also see ourselves through the veil of ever mutable chitta. Only if our chitta finds peace can we perceive the world around us and our own self without distortion.

The seeing principle and the concept of the seer

Patañjali discusses the seeing principle and the concept of the seer in the very first sentence of his Sūtrāni. Understanding the difference between these two constructs is of supreme importance for yoga.

Draṣṭu literally means “the seer,” but can also be understood as meaning our true nature. Citta on the other hand is occasionally translated as “the seeing principle.” Each of our perceptions (draṣṭu) is filtered through the veil of citta.

If, for example, you’re wearing glasses with a spot on them this spot will be omnipresent for you. Just as we need glasses to see, we need citta to perceive draṣṭu. Just as the spot on our glasses disturbs our sight, a vr̥tti in our citta interferes with our perception of draṣṭu.

For yogis, citta is responsible not only for our visual stimuli but also for all human perception. As human beings, we can receive and respond to numerous types of stimuli. We hear, smell, touch, taste, feel believe – and do much more besides. Thus citta occurs in the human oneness comprising the physical body, energy, thoughts and feelings.

Vr̥tti is the Sanskrit word for wave, based on which Patañjali paints us a picture of a sea, whose water in this metaphor is citta and whose bottom is draṣṭu. The only way to see the bottom of the sea is through the water, each of whose waves distorts our view. When the ocean is very rough its bottom is completely obscured from sight. Only when citta is completely clear can we see to the bottom of our being, since self knowledge is the ultimate goal of yoga.

There are various manifestations of vr̥tti for a host of perceptual modalities.

For me, the most appropriate translation of vr̥tti is “misconception,” since it is the most common manifestation of vr̥tti. When you have a misconception, you pass judgement on a person or situation without the benefit of direct experience.
I used to swim once a week in a pool that was two degrees cooler than the water I normally swam in. I loathed this pool. Even putting my big toe into the water set off spasms of shivering that didn’t stop the whole time I was in the water. When I got out of the pool, I felt like I’d been swimming in the Antarctic. But one day while I was swimming in this pool, I noticed that the guys who were training with me had no problems with the water temperature. In fact, a friend of mine who’d been training for a particular event had spent several hours daily in this pool. And so I came to the realization that the sensation of unpleasant cold that I was experiencing in this pool was a matter over which I had control. And as soon I realized this, this sensation completely disappeared, and I knew that my having felt freezing cold in this pool was the result of my own misconception. Having rid myself of this misconception, my take on the water temperature in this pool changed instantaneously.

We all have the tendency to jump to conclusions instead of taking the time to see what’s really going on. For example, a person wearing soiled clothes with a bottle of beer in their hand will invariably be perceived as a homeless alcoholic. And if such a person approaches us, we give them a wide berth to avoid talking to them or having contact with them. But it is also possible that we’ve misinterpreted the situation. Perhaps the person was simply going to throw the beer bottle away, and the soiled clothes were work clothes. And so in such a situation, our misconception – a vr̥tti – prevents us from learning the truth.

We encounter a very similar situation in Plato’s cave analogy. Here, we human beings are described as metaphorically sitting in a cave with our back to the entrance. The result: our perceptions are limited to the shadows we see on the cave walls. We take these shadows to be reality without it ever occurring to us to turn around and look at the objects that are casting these shadows. For yogis as well, such direct perception is impossible due to the fact that vr̥tti distorts everything. In short, what we take to be reality is only a rough approximation of reality, like shadows on a cave wall or the seabottom when the ocean is rough.

I try to approach every situation in as unprejudiced a state as possible. Doing this has totally changed my life. The only way to experience something is to experience it.

The main point of yoga is to experience ourselves, our true nature. In other words, in yoga you become the object of your own perceptions – although this process is subject to the same distortions as when you contemplate an external object. Practicing yoga eliminates the misconceptions or distortions (vr̥tti) engendered by our perceptions (citta) and ultimately provides us with a clear view of our own nature (draṣṭu).

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