tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam
Then the ability to understand the object fully and correctly is apparent
Once, long, long ago, I took a class where a yoga teacher shouted at us to BECOME THE TREE as we performed vrksasana, the Tree Pose. The invitation was totally joyless and, in my opinion, lame. This instruction on becoming arboreal was followed by excruciating and VERY specific instructions on alignment that practically included geometric formulas for reaching the "right" tree pose. I left the class dejected. Not only had I failed to become the tree, I had also failed geometry—again. I swore I wasn't going to need it after 9th grade and I was proved wrong.
I, like many other yoga students, mistakenly understood alignment as the goal of the asana practice. That if I could get my rib cage just so over my hip, and if my back foot was finally and consistently at a perfect 45 degree angle to the edge of my mat, well then....
Well then what? The meditation on perfect alignment was not for me, but within this practice of questing I knew there was a seed. Of course there are optimal ways to do a pose so one won't get hurt, but those methods are going to vary (sometimes greatly other times slightly) to suit the individual. As I began to study the Yoga Sutras I realized that sutra 1:3 is talking about mental alignment. I understood this first through the postures and then through the breath and sometimes even through the heart and mind.
Sutra 1.3 is telling us about the result of practicing a single-minded inwardness—nirodaha mentioned in Sutra 1.2. When this quieting of the mind is practiced through alignment with ONE object of concentration, over a period of time, you will begin to more deeply know that object without any misunderstanding or misalignment. You can eventually BECOME THE TREE!!
What is so appealing to me about yoga is its flexiblity. I am deeply sorry for the pun, but it is only too apt. Yoga is not a religion, but a practice. When the words "Seer", or "Spirit" are evoked, it can be confusing. It is very instructive to look at several translations to see what vantage point the writer is taking. Some will strip the Yoga Sutras into a mechanical Sanskrit grammar that has almost no perceivable spiritual content and reads more like a complicated map of the mind. Other translations will insert the word "God" where it isn't. Our perceptions—as scholars, sages, and simpletons are colored by our conditioned responses to reality.
Who is this Seer? Self? Spirit? In yoga the word is translated as purusha—total consciousness—an unchanging and uninvolved witness to all that is happening. But Desikachar, in his totally friendly and loving manner, translates sutra 1.3 as an invitation to place your attention on whatever it is that inspires wonder in you, whatever it is that inspires devotion. He asks you to place your attention on what it is that you wish to understand so deeply that you'll realize there is no separation between you and the object upon which you are concentrating.
This doesn't mean, that if your object of concentration happens to be Lord Jesus you must begin to do some weird method acting trip, dressing in robes, Birkenstocks and laying hands on people. But to take on some of Jesus' qualities, and to receive the message of the Christ without misunderstanding is something of inestimable value. I use a Christian example, but could well have used Lord Vishnu, Ganesha, Ram or Mohammed. Because in yoga the purusha is all of those things, and here's the really outrageous news— you are the purusha too! So I am the tree! I just don't know it yet.
Think of some quality that you really like about yourself and then think about a time when you didn't know you had this quality. How did you discover this positive aspect of yourself?
What does the word "Seer" "spirit" or "inner being" mean to you? Can you see the relationship between practicing the postures and a gaining a deeper understanding of your true self? How?
Have you ever had a moment when you felt that you were "at one" with something or someone. Write down the memory of that experience in the greatest detail you can recall.
(If you have not yet had this feeling, don't worry, you will and you're in for a wonderful surprise!)