II.20 द्रष्टा दृशिमात्रःशुद्धोऽपि प्रत्ययानुपश्यः

draṣṭā dṛśi-mātraḥ śuddho ‘pi pratyayānupaśyaḥ
draṣṭā dṛśi-mātraḥ śuddhaḥ api pratyaya-anupaśyaḥ

“The seer is seeing alone–pure, although seeing by means of thoughts.”

In discussing sūtras II.17-27, Chip Hartranft emphasizes the importance of not mistaking concept for direct knowing: “Words deceive, persuading us that they are the very thing they merely symbolize and ensnaring us in our own conditioning.” (Chip Hartranft, The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 28)

Yoga practice is meant to give us direct experience, quite apart from concepts or words. And yet our perceptions are molded by language, our keenest insights affected by the patterns of our experience.

In sūtra II.17, Patañjali has said the practitioner must come unstuck in her thinking; she must separate the apparatus of seeing from what is seen. Here, in II.20, he posits a kind of seeing that is pure— dṛśi-mātraḥ, “seeing alone.” There is, in us, a principle of seeing, a quality of attention, that transcends the apparatus that we see with. It transcends language and concept. It is the awareness that a mother brings to her child, a gardener to her plants, a musician to overtones of vibration.

In yoga, we train ourselves to come closer to this pure seeing, this witness, even if, as we do, we are humbled by the limits of our abilities.

We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal One. And this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are the shining parts, is the soul.   –Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his essay “The Over-Soul”


“Pure awareness, on the other hand, does not correspond in any way to the categories or behaviors of nature. It never changes, nor can it be regarded as manifest or unmanifest. It is witnessing alone, devoid of content.” —Chip Hartranft, The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 27.

“The Seer is nothing but the power of seeing which, although pure, appears to see through the mind. … A filament gives pure light but appears to be red because of the red glass that surrounds it. Likewise we are all the same light; but we do not look alike, act alike or think alike because of the nature of our bodies and minds. If the mind accumulates some ideas of law, we become lawyers; some knowledge of medicine, we become doctors. If we have no ideas, we are called fools. So, although the original substance is the same, we appear to be different. Through Yogic thinking we can see the entire humanity as our own. We can embrace all without any exceptions.” — Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.20

“Intellect, thought, feelings, they are changing principles, they are in the orbit of matter, but Intelligence, Awareness, Love, Compassion do not change. Whether they are the constituents of puruṣa, I don’t know. I don’t know whether to call [it] puruṣa or not to call [it] puruṣa, but there definitely seems to be an all-permeating, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent energy of Intelligence incorporated in everything and therefore incorporated also in us.” –Vimala Thakar, Glimpses of Raja Yoga, p. 68

• In what circumstances have you experienced Presence or Pure Awareness?
• Have you come to know your own moods, predispositions, assumptions, better from yoga?
• Prashant Iyengar has taught to “surrender the intellect of the head to the intelligence of the heart.” What does this mean to you?
• Do you see the light of awareness in others?


masculine noun, 1st case singular

the seer (from dṛś, “to see”)


 feminine noun in compound

seeing (from dṛś, “to see”)


masculine adjective, 1st case singular



masculine adjective, 1st case singular

pure (from śudh, “to purify”)





neuter noun in compound

thought, movement of citta toward an object (prati-, “towards,” + i, “to go”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular
seeing, witnessing (from anu-, “after,” + paś, “to see”)

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