II.21 तदर्थ एव दृश्यस्यात्मा

tad-artha eva dṛśyasyātmā
tad-arthaḥ eva dṛśyasya ātmā

“The aim of this [pure seeing] is indeed the true nature of the seen.”

Arthaḥ is “purpose, aim, end.” Tad, “that,” links back to sūtra II.20 and refers to draṣṭṛ, the seer. What is the purpose of the seer, this faculty of pure seeing (dṛśi-matraḥ)? It is to connect to essence.

Dṛśyasya ātma means the “the essence of the seen.” (Dṛśyasya is the possessive form of dṛśyam and  ātmā is the first case of ātman.) Ātman is the word used in the Bhagavad Gītā to explore ultimate identity, the principle of life; it is often synonymous with Brahman. Here, it is essence, self, character, true nature.

This sūtra is structured as a simple subject equivalence. The essence is the aim. The aim is the essence. The seer aims at the seen, and the essence of the seen is for the seer. Life explodes from beingness, vitality emerges from the source. Is the material world for the seer or the seer for the material world? They are for each other.

In many religious traditions, there is imagery of being sought, pursued, welcomed, enticed by the divine. That encounter is often fearsome. It shakes us up, removes our small conclusions, sweeps away the old and brings the new. What was familiar now feels strange. As Rilke says in this beautiful passage from The Book of Hours:

Be modest now, like a thing
Ripened until it is real.

Can we be willing, in practice, to go to our essence, to be honest within ourselves, open to new perceptions and possibilities, to go out into our heart “as onto a vast plain”?

The Book of Hours, II.1
You are not surprised at the force of the storm—
you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.

The weeks stood still in summer.
The trees’ blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit:
now it becomes a riddle again
and you again a stranger.

Summer was like your house: you knew
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.

The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.

Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.

–Rainer Maria Rilke, translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows


“To see the actual is to be rooted out from the ground of one’s conclusions, which obviously threatens the very security and continuity of the mind. The mind is therefore afraid of seeing the actual. Out of this fear it throws a screen of continuity over the impact of life. Life is new from moment to moment, and so one can never become familiar with it. Therefore life is for ever unknown. The mind of man through its screen of continuity attempts to put the unfamiliar into the framework of the familiar. One can deal with the familiar in terms of the past, and this is always the approach of the mind.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, The Art of Integration, commentary on II.21

“There is no one who does not desire to eradicate misery and to attain happiness, nor anyone who does not strive to this end. Nor are metaphysicians, who investigate active and passive states of the mind, so few. But they are rare indeed who know that the search for Ultimate Truth has to be made within oneself and not in others, and that happiness and misery are of one’s own creation. Few are those who inquire after the truth about Self; fewer still are the Self-realized.” — Ramamurti S. Mishra, M.D., The Textbook of Yoga Psychology, commentary on II.21

• What is your purpose? On a given day? At a given hour? Has it changed over the years?
• What is the process of “going within” for you? What does that challenge feel like? Has it brought you more compassion for yourself?
• How do you respond to change?
• Have you come to understand your own limits better?





masculine noun, 1st case singular

aim, object, purpose



indeed, truly


neuter noun, 6th case singular, “of”

a visible object, the visible world, what is seen (from dṛś, “to see”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

identity, true nature, self

3 thoughts on “II.21 तदर्थ एव दृश्यस्यात्मा

  1. For me, this Summer that’s ending has been a difficult one. I’d learned well to avoid leaving my body in extreme heat spaces, so didn’t get whacked by a week or two of MS heat fatigue, but there were other kinds I’d been living with all Summer that weren’t so different, asking me to sleep much too much.

    “Now you must go out into your heart
    as onto a vast plain. Now
    the immense loneliness begins”

    When multiple parts of the body seem not to work so well, that can lead to loneliness. For me, I think, it barely began, the loneliness. It is interesting that my experience of “inside my home” has become all too crowded. My body’s weakness has partly excused me from addressing it, but not from being distressed by it.

    During Summer, while the body pushed me elsewhere, I recovered a dear friend from my first two years of college. We’d lost touch of one another, and never did write, and Cornelia makes the second person important in my life that I’ve recovered in the same year or two, and this makes me so gladdened!

    Corny, how I’d always called Cornelia, lives in South Carolina, near to a mountain. Got to worry in writing her, is she okay?, do they (she’s married) have life preservers (answer: there’s a turtle maybe big enough), how near are they to river water? Plenty of laughter about all of this…

    My loneliness is hardly always unpleasant. It is massively great of course, immense, as Rilke delicately coined it. There is much to climb, even without elevation. There is always in this climbing plenty of air to breathe, using muscles maybe not as often exercised. What is slowly uncovered opens doors to for example feeling just happy to be seeing people I’ve not seen all Summer, taking in their eye smiles that paint all of their faces, taking in in short sentences what has been this last season. And then we work, listening to the voice of our special special teacher.

  2. Marc, thank you for sharing the difficulty, the “climb,” of living with chronic illness and describing how interiority is not simple, one-sided. There is crowding yet there is air to breathe. The going out that is possible in the cooler weather is in many ways restoring as well, isn’t it? Much love to you.

    • Hi Julia! This week I returned to Genny class after Summer break which for me felt so awfully long. Without being in the least bit surprising, it was wonderful!! How nice it felt to again see all these people, Genny’s students, many of whom I’ve grown to be quite fond of. Though as I walked to her studio, and sitting on the subway before, I was strongly concerned that my usual late afternoon horrible fatigue would show its face and send me home. That didn’t happen, thanks, I’m certain to being surrounded by so many healing people, and to take the steps to follow my wise teacher, and helper!

      Looking within is never ever in my mind simple. Rilke knew that. That’s part of what makes his work so beautiful. As I’d maybe suggested before, of course it’s true that crowding also pushes in air to breathe.

      When I got home from class yesterday, I had supper, then got ready for another serving of Rachel Maddow.

      Yes, you’re right that the cooling outside temp is such a relief! Much of *my* love to you as well Julia.

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