Drashtar. The Inner Observer

Now that we have accumulated sufficient resource we can come closer to understanding Patanjali’s definition of Yoga as chitta-vritti-nirodha. However, for complete comprehension of this line we should pay attention to the explanation the author gives to his definition in lines 1.3 and 1.4. Especially that it is in these lines that Patanjali introduces another category that is fundamental for esoteric knowledge and that I will so far refer to as the Inner Observer.

योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः ॥२॥ 1.2. yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ तदा द्रष्टुः स्वरूपेऽवस्थानम् ॥३॥ 1.3. tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe’vasthānam वृत्तिसारुप्यमितरत्र ॥४॥ 1.4. vṛtti-sārupyam itaratra I have drawn the line 1.2 to bring back the context, while the lines 1.3. and 1.4 need to be translated. 1.3:

tada – then
drashtuh 1) the one who sees 2) the one who investigates; the judge (Kochergina).
svarupe  1) type, form 2) the point, the essence, 3) character, nature (Kochergina). Yet we will get a more precise meaning of the word if we look into its structure: sva – “own”, “belonging to self”; rupa- “form”, “appearance”, “image”. Thus “svarupa” shall mean the “one’s own form”.
avasthanam – to stay in, abide.

vritti – by convention we so far leave this word without translation.
sarupyam – deriv. from sarupa 1) similar, resembling 3) embodied
itaratra – elsewise, on the other hand

And so the conventional translation of the said lines will be the following:

1.3. Then (in the state of chitta-vritti-nirodha) the Drashtar abides in its own form.
1.4. Elsewise it is identified with vritti.

I have deliberately preserved the word Drashtar without translation since its understanding is important for understanding the whole of yoga as a practice, and giving its literal translation based upon the dictionary without explaining the psycho-technical matter of this term would be an incorrect thing to do. Considering the word etymology – for it derives from the word “to see” – we could translate Drashtar as the “seer” or, following Kochergina, as the “judge”, thus meaning some part of human mind that is busy observing. However translation does not always imply understanding, and since it is here that I see my task, we will turn to some more samples that will illustrate the general meaning of these two lines.

To start with let us remember the frames from a very good film “Anger Management”. There is an interesting moment there when the psychotherapist who rather acted as the patient’s Teacher asks him “Who are you?” The patient replies “Well, I am a PR-manager”.

– I don’t’ want you to tell us what you do, I want you to tell us who you are.

– I am an expert in this and this field…

– Also, not your education, just simple – tell us who you are.

  • I’m a nice easy-going man.
  • You’re describing your personality, and I want to know – who you are?

The question “Who are you?” just seems to be some kind of a joke or a piece of scholasticism. Yet it is not. Obviously, one cannot answer this question [1], but the attempt, the effort one thus makes shall give one much. The person’s attempts to answer this question are continuously associated with his identifying himself with some of the played roles. The most primitive identifications are associated with social roles. The person says “I am a carpenter, I am a wife, I am a mother of two children”. The person identifies himself with this role. This role has a strictly determined set of some functions, emotional states, energies and inner rights. If one identifies himself with a carpenter he understands that he cannot go to the place “where fashion sits”. Or otherwise, if a person identifies himself with a “tough guy” he would not go to some other place.

In scope of sociology there exist the so called “role-playing theories”. The society is treated as a set of roles (Ralf Linton, George Mead, Robert Merton, Talcott Parsons, Erving Goffman). Socialization is accounted through the prism of these theories as a process of teaching how to play these roles. A child has seen some behavior form, “cribbed” it and tried it on his own – it works, so here it is, now he’s got this role. These forms of behavior gradually figure out, they are generalized into some groups and take some more or less finished shape. Generally speaking, a grown up person owns a rather restrained set of roles with strictly determined limits.

Of course the set of role is not determined by social roles and professions only. “I am a pretty good guy”. A good guy is also a role. It means that a person admits for himself a particular number of emotional responses that he considers to be positive.

On the other hand we can say that there are roles that are not so obvious. If we consider them from the position of Berne’s games theory we may single out the forms of behaviour that a person lives with. A person has some set of successions, or moves, and another person also has a set of moves. People are different but they act in completely similar manner. In this case at some level of their consciousness they are identified with some scenario forms, with respective scenario. A scenario role is more complicated than a merely professional identification. This role includes, for instance, the succession of emotional responses, i.e. in scope of one person single-type stimuli will always elicit homogenous responses.

In this case, recalling a well-known movie for children – “Uri, where is his push-button?” – we could say that the man has a plenty of such “push-buttons”, and these buttons work approximately in the same manner. Some emotional pressing upon the “push-button” shall cause a totally stereotyped definite response. The stimulus – the response. The entrance – the exit. The black box system. The question arising in scope of this aspect is – and where are you? If this role can be played by anyone else, and moreover, since the number of scenario games is limited to several dozens and provided that there are seven billion people living on Earth so that one can assume that one and the same scenario is played by several millions of people, then – where are you?

Finally, we may search for some roles associated with one’s attitudes. A person is an active doer, or a passive one, he is the observer or the one who acts. It is interesting to watch people who start to deal with martial arts. The person starts to train, and in reply to the question “what do you do this for?” he replies “if someone attacks me, I will know how to defend myself”. In fact he speaks from the position of a victim for he knows he will be attacked. Having trained for some years he still abides in this victim scenario, but now he is a trained, a prepared victim. This is the example of a more underlying role-playing identification.

Or, for instance, let us take the analogous role-playing identification – “I am doing something or something is happening to me”. If we listen to a person and see how often he uses active or passive voice we might see that as a rule some people mainly use the active voice while some prefer to use the passive one. This has happened to me, I’ve been sold short, I’ve been given, I’ve been taken, I’ve been sent, i.e. the events happen to him, but it is not he who does it all.

One can probably set a kind of hierarchy of these roles, but the basic point here is that all of them are roles… Setting up such hierarchy is a very interesting subject but in actual fact it has nothing to do with the question “Where is me?” The answer to this question may come at the level of inner sense, since the concept of a “soul” is obviously correct yet useless, for we cannot feel the soul, but we can feel some sense of our inner Me. The most interesting thing here is that this sense occurs in situations when the person’s role-playing identity is subject to ultimate elimination. So far as everything is OK the person proceeds to identify himself with his role. Life is obvious, it is determined, and there is no place for Self here. If the social structure is fairly rigid each role will be played by a person almost without second thought. The one who should think is the child within the process of mastering this role. Moreover, changing one’s social roles is not welcome by anyone, including the social environment. In Soviet times when a person wanted to have the second university degree he had to explain long and hard what it was needed for. “You, the gear-wheel, you are already prepared, we have placed you in here, you’re already spinning, and now you want to be a spinning top. This is out of order”. The same happens in other aspects of social life. If you try to behave in the way that is different from that required by your role you will have some problems. None of those from social egregore welcomes your transition from one role into another one. Because any transition of this kind shall on the one hand cause intensive energy draw up by a person from those roles that he plays, and maybe even from people around him, while on the other hand it shall break the unified rhythm. If a gear-wheel refuses to be a gear-wheel and wants to be someone else the whole mechanism will in some place get jammed. That is why the resistance occurs.

But on the other hand the Nature could not have failed to provide for some moment that would help the man to crystallize his Self. Because it is this Self that makes a person of a man. The animal is not a self-aware creature, while the man is. The man feels inside himself this Self that is independent from all the roles he plays. The man tries to break free from these roles, at least he deliberately chooses the role that he wants to have. As a rule, a person starts to feel the sense of his “Self” when one of his roles comes in contradiction with another role, or when “the stage comes to collapse”. For instance, this happens in scope of social environment’ “breakdown” when the roles that used to be adequate are no longer adequate, and so against this discomfort the “Self” may come through. The person used to think he could live like this, but it does not work out. There comes a moment when someone has to take a decision either to cancel the role, or to improve it, or to take a transitional step onto another game level. Who takes the decision? It is in this moment when everything crumbles down that one can feel one’s “Self”. One can no longer conceal this from oneself.

These roles may come to conflict with each other. On the one hand, I am a good fellow, but on the other hand, I need to play a nasty trick. Who is the one that takes decision about which way to go – either to preserve the sense of being a good fellow or to play the nasty trick that comes out of this role? In any case the decision is to be taken, and when the two roles disagree there should come someone else, the third party that shall arbitrate them. This third one stays on some slightly higher level. It is here that crystallization of “Self” is possible. Such crystallization of “self” does not come as a one-time process [2] that they draw in fairy-tales about enlightenment – a Man was sitting underneath the Bodhi tree, achieved enlightenment and then went to live happily ever after. This is all baby talk, since crystallization of one’s “Self” is some local instantaneous state that one can feel. The majority of people will never manage to feel it, being absorbed by their social and emotional roles and viewpoints. Nevertheless sometimes it does occur.

If due to some reasons, for instance, the physical ones – he’s got seriously ill – a person can no longer live as he did before, such circumstances may bring the person to spiritual advance, for there are things that one can ignore, but there are some things that cannot be ignored. As long as the person copes with such ignoring he is trying to stay within the limits of this role.

This problem can be of physical nature, or it can be an emotional one – the emotional tension is so heavy that you can no longer pretend that you are not “nail biting”. You have to admit this and start doing something. In this moment the crystallization of “Self” may happen as well. But after such crystallization has occurred, further maintaining of this state is the task of the person himself. One can follow the path of spiritual advance in the enlarged sense of this word, like students who are “jacking around from one examination period until the next one”.

Another variant, the spiritual apprentice’s way, is the attempt to constantly maintain some inner tension, roughly speaking, about nothing. I call it like this: if the Universe does not cause you any problems, create them yourself, and probably then the Universe would not cause them to you. This state of permanently maintaining some inner burning can be referred to as the conscious Spiritual Practice.

A person is looking for some problems, trying to settle them in some way, even if these problems are not explicitly shaped. It is not yet the “nailbiting” situation, but there is already the desire to preserve the state of crystallized mind.

If we take a look at different ancient esoteric traditions we may see many personalities were speaking about it in this or that way. For instance, let us take the Buddhist concepts about the illusory nature of existence. It is not that Buddha was a strange man when he was saying that the world is an illusion. If he had really believed this way he wouldn‘t have been sitting under the Bodhi tree and telling this to anyone, for this would have had no inner sense, it is self-contradictory. It was in this way that he was showing to people that their “Self” is often identified with some certain roles. The awareness of this fact shall cause frustration, disenchantment, but not in the sense of depression.

By the way, the etymology of the word charms – sorceries, enchanter, spell – implies the guiding spirit. Disenchantment means self-unspelling. For instance, you find yourself in a cool social environment. You are a big boss now. That’s great, you have so many people under your command, you tell them, and they go and do it. When the person has completely identified himself with this role the Universe says “Well, and now, let him be dismissed!” And so? And so the whole world of this person crumbles down, for he used to believe that he is a big boss, he was not aware that he was merely holding the position of a boss, just playing this role, and in fact it has nothing to do with his self. He was given a chance to pull the strings, but it is not him. At any time this role can vanish. If the person has completely dissolved his “Self” in this role, he will vanish together with this role. Why does it often happen that people who vacate some top offices pass away soon, lose themselves in drinking or suffer from different problems? It is because the person has blended into the position. The cooler the role is, the easier it is to blend into it.

The very moment of artificial tension maintenance, of deliberate disenchantment with things happening around us is the earnest of spiritual advance. It is this “Self” thus singled out from the roles you play that is the very substance, the object that develops in scope of spiritual advance process. Because when a person comes to yoga or some esoteric school, if he sits in lotus pose or sings mantras it does not yet mean that he is developing in spiritual aspect.

I have already mentioned the esoteric system of I. Kalinauskas. He has an interesting idea about schools that give shelter: he says that rather often when people start to deal with spiritual advance or come to esoteric school the purpose of why they come is not moving further in spiritual aspect, but it is just because it is a “phat” place with very pleasant people to communicate with. Just a kind of membership club. Or it gives an opportunity to foist off the responsibility, since there is a guy here who knows how one should live, so why straining to do something, if anything happens, I will go and ask. This is also a kind of a game. Or let us take the situation when a person escapes form solving his social problems in the way: all right, I am not able to earn money, but ok, I am still a person with nonmaterial needs. This is a game as well. Kalinauskas has introduced the category of a “refuge”, i.e. a person simply goes there… This may happen not only in respect of esoteric schools but any other as well. The person may go to hobby, to a drink-and-have-fun group and so on. Feels nice, well-scheduled, energy’s been discharged.

There are plenty of such variants proposed by social environment – they are some kind of units that provide for the energy drain. They are an essential component of society since there is a category of people with “young” souls who have much energy but little human experience, and so they share with their energy. They have the flag – and they run forward, they’ve been given music – and so they get high, here comes the beer fest – they drink, and life is already a poem. They have spent their earned money and did manage to uphold the economy. The social medium contains a big deal of such units. The more developed the society is, the more refuges of the kind it has where a person can go to and cease thinking about anything else. Yet this has nothing to do with esoteric path even if a person tries to follow this way in scope of some esoteric school.

The basic point of an esoteric concept is that one shall maintain some inner tension even within the limits of the roles one is proposed, continuously searching for something new and going beyond their limits. In this sense there comes a very interesting phenomenon – the state of spiritual apprenticeship. This state of apprenticeship is not associated with a role. Though some role can be played here as well, when, for instance, an apprentice comes and asks “Oh, master sensei, what shall I do, tell me what is Zen, or what is Yoga?”

What is the core point of spiritual apprenticeship? The state of apprenticeship emerges when a person has his “Self” crystallized. That is why, as a rule, they come to yoga after some problems have occurred and due to these problems one’s “Self” has crystallized.

In this state a person can make a choice: whether he wants to become an open system, or a close one. A common person would strive for some stability and closure. A person who follows the path of spiritual apprenticeship would on the contrary look for some variability and some particular openness. It is the rate of this openness, i.e. the willingness to change and to go beyond the role he’s got into (here I mean not only social, but emotional role as well) that is the spiritual apprenticeship. If speaking in terms of “energy” language, this means having a certain amount of energy on doing this.

We treat this issue using the language that is close to modern philosophy and psychotherapy. In scope of esoteric traditions they used to speak about it in a bit different way. For instance, “when the student is ready, the teacher will come”. It is a simplified version of understanding the issue while a more appropriate way to say it is: when the student is not ready, even if there are a thousand of teachers coming up to him and saying “look here, man, it should be like this”, he would not hear. There is no energy on such understanding since the knowledge a person obtains in scope of esoteric tradition is not the knowledge similar to physics, chemistry or math that does not change the life of a particular person and does not call for psychological reactance, while the spiritual development shall inevitably cause personal modifications and the person may desperately withstand hearing this.

If for instance you learn about existence of scenario forms, you have two options. First, immediately forget about this and never come back to this knowledge. The second one is to start keeping eye on them. And at your third attempt (you will trace the initial two on your neighbours) you will suddenly understand that you turn out to follow the scenario form and what you used to consider as your earnest feelings are nothing but a classic two-move action. Moreover, what you believed to be the only proper form of behavior actually comes as the piece of your scenario that has a strictly determined completion. And once again you come to have two options. The first one is to try to do something with it; the second is to blow your top in respect of the person who has told you about it. Usually it is the second option that people follow, especially in case when a person has told you more than you were energetically prepared to hear.

However, the universe is interested in man’s spiritual advance. External circumstances provide for rather intensive inner friction of the person against himself, they evoke person’s frictions against the environment, and it is on the basis of this friction that the flame of one’s soul shall gradually flare up. This is to answer the question of what is the mechanism of spiritual development.

When we speak about roles there is another kind of phobia that may emerge – the attempt not to be identified with anything. Although this is not possible as well, because out of nothing – nothing will come. In fact, that something emerging inside a person emerges out of the energies that the person interacts with. In order to fall into disenchantment with something one should initially get charmed with it. There is a position that can be referred to as the fear of life. If I don’t do anything I will never make a mistake. In scope of this position the rate of development equals to zero, yet sooner or later someone (with more active attitudes) will start scratching this raw. It will ache. These attitudes come as a variant of pathogen life philosophy. It is subject to rationalization by various religious and pseudo-religious systems – “we don’t care, we have cast care aside, separated ourselves from it, we just contemplate it all happening around us”. This won’t do. The “Self” is crystallized by means of experiencing some life situations, and this experience should be genuine, i.e., one has to get into it, get a bash on the bonce, survive, comprehend and manage to get out of the situation. It is only in this case that you will get out with a new experience and your “Self” will become stronger in respect of this situation. Here when I speak about situations I mean not only social ones, but also the situations of emotional interaction, intellectual situations (and what happens if we look at the world from this point?) and many others.

Let us take a look at different practices employed by various open esoteric systems (though the term “open esoteric system” is absurd), for instance, the practices of meditation. What is the core point of any meditation? It is changing one’s state, i.e. you come into the state that, as a rule, is not typical of you. You experience it with ultimate intensity and then come out of it into your regular state, that is, you’ve been there, you have made this trip, you have become aware of something and have brought something from there. You can take a one-way trip only, i.e. stick to euphoria: you have come into the state, got yourself dissolved in it, saw that it is cool being there – “that’s it’ I will stay here forever”. Things of similar kind may happen under the effect of psychoactive substances.

In scope of transpersonal states people come into contact with spirits, deities, someone else. The trancing shamans, the healers who work with spirits [3]… Being in this state a person can easily lose his “Self”, for he may be reluctant to return. Some people are more rigid, it takes them much effort to get into some other state, while others are more loose, they can easily come into some state (the altered state of consciousness) yet it is more difficult for them to crystallize their mind back.

In fact, spiritual advance implies experiencing various aspects of different roles: emotional, social, those of world outlook. One’s attitudes are also a certain role. The most intensive experiencing of each said role, dissolution within it, and crystallizing back from this dissolved state.

In the Middle Ages there was a science called alchemy that our people by mistake believe to be either quackery or pseudoscience dealing with search of gold. In very deed alchemy was an esoteric system that also described in some way the phases of human spiritual development. Chemical symbols came as a kind of metaphor. When they said that in order to get gold one needs over and over to dissolve mercury in some substance and then crystallize it back it does not mean that they actually planned to get gold in such manner. This means that it is in this way that the human essence, the human “Self” is formed, by passing through various solvents, life situations, by managing to come out of every situation as one true self, having disengaged with this situation. This is towards the question about the role of enchantment and disenchantment in scope of spiritual advance.

There is another interesting point – the point of challenge. When everything is too well – at least there is no strain – people tend to gradually “dissolve” in this well-being. And when there comes a challenge from the outside there will come an idea about what to do next. The question is, is it worth waiting for such external challenge. One can create some challenges for himself, set a super-task, like in Gurdjieff’s system. He used to say that, for instance, if it’s a cold evening, you go home along the cold street and you think about the tea and fireplace that wait for you at home, and you have only two kilometers left, you strain to the limit, and this is an effort. But if you came home and went back without drinking this tea – this is a super-effort. In this case in the first variant the person was playing a completely normal and natural role, he was following the biological program.

A biological program is also a role, it is what we have inside that is not related to the human level. If you look at the extent to which a person is motivated by biological program in scope of communication, for instance, the program of struggle for leadership among men, or the program of struggle for men’s attention among women, a sufficient percentage of the effort will occur to be aimed at following this program. And so here comes the question: where are you? In this case it is the biological program that works, the male is dong his while the female is busy with hers, but where is the man, the person?

That is why it might be reasonable for a person to look for the challenge that is essential for his development on his own, obviously within the limits of his abilities, for its constant presence shall determine a cause for development. Not that it is really needed, but setting such a challenge makes sense because it will entail some other processes.

Thus I will sum up our contemplation.

Crystallization of one’s self out of common roles is the core point of yoga method proposed by Patanjali. Formation of specific component of one’s psyche (the Drashtar, or the Inner Observer) comes as the essential element, the prerequisite and the criterion of a properly performed practice.

[1] There is even a line in YS about such infeasibilityJ.

[2] Let us remember the article about Nirodha and boundedness of practice.

[3] In this case we are interested in empiricism and not interpretation – whether these spirits are “the projection of autonomous unconscious complexes”, “the archetypes of collective unconscious” or ontological objects.