Dṛṣṭi: A New Vision

by Zoë Slatoff
 

“Arjuna, what do you see?” asks Droṇa, the archery instructor in the Mahābhārata. “I see the head of a bird,” Arjuna replies and proceeds to cut off the bird’s head with his arrow. Unlike his brothers and cousins, who had been distracted by the surrounding trees and sky, and were therefore certain to miss their target, Arjuna’s gaze was focused and thus he instantly hit his mark.

We all look, but do we see? How often do we bring concentrated awareness into our everyday viewing? Our eyes are the lens through which we learn about the world and ourselves in connection with the world, the very same tool through which we can discover the connection between the external and internal self. It is this mode of seeing which is described in the Mahābhārata, which has been lost through the imposition of modern objective viewing. Is it possible to re-cultivate a contemplative, focused vision in our lives? What happens to pre-modern ways of seeing in the advent of modernity?

For Partha Chatterjee, the modern nation exists not in Benedict Anderson’s fantasy of “homogenous empty time” but in a “dense and heterogeneous time” (7). In his view this does not imply a coexistence of multiple ages – pre-modern and modern – but instead a dynamic interaction of past and present, resulting in the invention of a new time and space. I would like to suggest that this is precisely what occurs in all encounters between pre-modern ways of seeing and modernity – the traditional viewpoints, rather than being either completely eclipsed or reinstated, are incorporated and transmuted. It is precisely within this newly delimited space that transformation is possible.

Indian culture has traditionally privileged orality in the transmission of its scripture – the Vedas are known as śruti, what is heard, or śabda, the word.  In many settings, sacred texts are still taught orally by a guru, memorized in their entirety before the meaning is learned; the entire universe thought to be contained in the word Oṃ. Perhaps precisely because of the privileging of orality and the ear as a means to knowledge, the eye has traditionally received a role more connected with inner spiritual knowledge, a divine sight. Our eyes are our window to the world, as well as the gateway to our soul. In Sanskrit, there is a distinction between actions with worldly (dṛṣṭārtha, that whose purpose is seen) and transcendent purposes (adṛṣṭārtha, that whose purpose is beyond seeing). In either case, seeing necessarily has its roots in the world and thus is an accessible mode of transformation.

But what has happened to this pre-modern way of seeing within India itself? The connotation of knowing, implicit in the Sanskrit concept of seeing, i.e. darśan, has not translated into the vernacular languages, as far as I know. It seems that in India, too, modern spoken language has embraced a shift away from sight as insight towards sight as merely external vision. What are the implications of this blindness, this diminution of sight?  Is insight only for Brahmins?  Has there been a loss of concentration and contemplation in Indian society as well?

Increasingly, both in India and throughout the world, people are turning to yoga practice as a possible answer to the many ails of modern society – physical, psychological and spiritual. The yoga system of Patañjali, although it has been incorporated into Hindu schools of faith, is truly a śāstra, a philosophical doctrine, and this is why it appeals to so many different people, both secular and of various faiths. In the translation of yoga into the West, and even within India, as evidenced by yoga competitions, the intention is often lost and it becomes merely a physical practice. However, Yoga – if practiced with attentive discernment, and as a means to open our eyes rather than to narrow our vision – has the potential to help us cultivate this new way of seeing, which is based in attention, awareness, understanding and compassion. And this can permeate our lives, as perhaps the best antidote to the modern disease of detached observation, one which has produced only chaos, death, destruction and suffering. This essence which has been subsumed by modernity, by the industrialization of capitalism, “that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction”, in the loss of ritual, is what Walter Benjamin, in discussing artwork, terms the “aura” (221). The greatest danger in this abandonment of tradition is the substitution of politics as the new basis for art (224). Rather than self-realization, the “self-alienation of humanity has reached such a degree that it [mankind] can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order” (242).

In a world full of suffering it is often much easier to choose not to see, to allow ourselves to be constantly over-stimulated, our senses bombarded at all times, never truly paying attention. In response, I would like to propose a new way of seeing the world, what we can call an alternative present, one which privileges dṛṣṭi, one-pointed contemplative gaze, in all of our actions. However, ancient practices cannot be directly transposed into modern life. As East meets West and past meets present, a new mode of existence must be created.

I am particularly interested in the incorporation of dṛṣṭi within modern yoga practice, specifically the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga as taught by Śrī K. Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, South India, of whom I have been a student for many years and whose blessing I have received to transmit this practice. Through an analysis of the different connotations of the word dṛṣṭi, as well as an analysis of the relevant yoga sūtras of Patañjali, I will illustrate that modern yoga practice has embraced the ancient practice of dṛṣṭi in a new way, transforming the goal of yoga from a spiritual liberation and isolation from the world – kaivalya – into a more worldly and altruistic pursuit of benevolence, compassion, joy and indifference (maitri, karuṇa, mudita, upekṣa).

Two Modes of Seeing

Christopher Pinney, in his attempt to create an alternative visual history through the study of popular imagery in “Photos of the Gods”, presents a useful distinction between objective seeing and seeing as insight, within the world of art. He contrasts the hyper-intellectuality and disengagement of Western aesthetic practices, which he calls ‘anaesthetics’, with what he terms “‘corpothetics’”, an aesthetic practice mediated through the body, which engages with both the “powers” and “‘needs’” of the images themselves (8). This difference is between seeing with the eyes – an external, cognitive vision – as opposed to seeing with the body/mind/heart – an internal, yogic concentration. 

The former is an objective, external mode of seeing with which we are all familiar, which we are trained in as children on field trips to museums. According to John Berger in “Ways of Seeing”, “We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves. Our vision is continually active, continually moving, continually holding things in a circle around itself, constituting what is present to us as we are” (9). This vision is the opposite of dṛṣṭi, in which we only look at one thing, attempting to concentrate our sight and to avoid the mistaken identity of seer and seen. In this way seeing transforms into knowing.

The practice of dṛṣṭi is the means to directing the external sense organs inwards, connecting the eyes to the mind.

Etymological Origins of Sanskrit Seeing

According to Pinney, British attempts to introduce the former mode of seeing – an objective detachment – through European history painting and to displace idolatry with art, through the development of art schools, giving instruction in Western techniques, such as single-point perspective, in addition to fostering a rational, analytical mode of vision, gave birth to a form of protest, a reawakening of the senses, embodied in Indian ‘magical realism’. Rather than viewing these two modes of ‘seeing’ as completely distinct entities, Pinney suggests that we view their relationship as more fluid, and it is the exploration of this continuum that constitutes the main theme of his book (21). I would like to suggest that a similar relationship between the two modes of seeing – internal and external – is implicit within the Sanskrit linguistic tradition. 

The word dṛṣṭi is a feminine noun, derived from the root dṛś.  The root dṛś supplies the aorist, perfect, future, absolutive and infinitive conjugations but does not form a complete paradigm; it’s missing elements – the present and imperfect are derived from paś.  According to Madhav Deshpande, the verbal forms dṛś and paś exist in a complementary relation of suppletion, together creating the full paradigm of the verb “to see”.  He proposes the assumption that “the relationship between paś and dṛś was initially like the relationship between ‘look, observe’ (imperfective) and ‘see’ (perfective), the former representing continuous action, the latter completed definite action (42).

Although I concur with Deshpande, I would like to propose an additional distinction, namely that the two different verbal forms connote on the one hand a cognitive external wide-ranging mode of seeing (paś) and on the other, an internal contemplative one-pointed (ekāgrata) vision (dṛś).  The first is exemplified by John Berger in “Ways of Seeing”. His title is misleading for he really only discusses one way – the external mode. I would concur that “seeing comes before words”, as Śrī K. Pattabhi Jois always say, yoga is 99 % practice, 1% theory. However, according to Berger, “the relation between what we see and what we know is never settled” (7), exactly concurrent with Deshpande’s conception of paś as representative of seeing as an uncompleted action. The other mode of seeing is exemplified in yoga practice, in which the dṛṣṭi, although continuously shifting, is in each moment a completed, perfect action and this it what makes it a means to absolute concentration. Although it is beyond the scope of this paper to fully investigate the prevalence of this distinction, it is my premise that although not universal, the differences are exemplified throughout Sanskrit literary history.

The Bhagavad Gītā begins in the field of righteous duty, dharmakṣetre, the place where we all begin, the battlefield of our lives. The story of the Gītā is framed through the “eyes” of Dhṛtarāṣṭra, the king of the Kurus, who ironically, does not experience the battle himself through direct perception, pratyakṣa, but sees it through the lens of his minister, Sañjaya. In response to Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s question “kim akurvata?” – what did they do – referring to the Pāṇḍavas and Kauravas, his nephews and sons, Sañjaya begins with “dṛṣṭvā”, seeing. In this second stanza, it is Duryodhana, the representative of evil, a partial incarnation of the demon Kali, who is seeing the Pāṇḍava army arrayed for battle, causing him to exclaim to Droṇa – “Paśya” – Look! Duryodhana proceeds to describe the magnificent army of the Pāṇḍavas, which he sees arrayed before him. After a round of conch blowing, there is a parallel passage in stanza 20, in which Arjuna, our hero, is also introduced with “dṛṣṭvā”, seeing. Arjuna’s looking, however, often represented by the verb ikṣ, rather than dṛś or paś, leads him to physical and emotional despair. The Bhagavad Gītā is the true story of the battle between internal and external vision, between the truth of insight and the illusion of sensory perception. 

Darśana:  Mutual Seeing

To begin to understand the possible connotations of dṛṣṭi, it is imperative to begin with the deeply rooted cultural practice of darśana, the mutual seeing between a devotee and deity, what Diana Eck calls “the visual perception of the sacred” (3). Darśana is a reciprocal gaze, as opposed to dṛṣṭi, which is one-directional seeing. The word darśana is used not only to connote a mode of seeing, but a system of knowledge as well. The idea of sight has implicit within it connotations of knowing and of “touching” (Eck 9). Lawrence Babb explains that, “underlying this belief is a conception of ‘seeing’ as an extrusive flow-of seeing that brings seer and seen into actual contact. Under the right circumstances devotees are thereby enabled to take into themselves, by means of vision, something of the inner virtue of power of the deity, including the deity’s own power of seeing” (Babb 387). In the case of dṛṣṭi, the practitioner likewise achieves a connection between seer and seen; however, in this case it is important that the yogi maintains an awareness of this distinction, as I will explain later.

One instance where the seer and seen are always held distinct is in the gaze between humans and gods. Since Vedic times, the Gods have been propitiated to gaze beneficently upon their worshippers and the danger of the evil eye warded off at all costs. According to Babb, “A deity’s eyes can be dangerous. This, however, should not surprise us, for the eyes of human beings can be dangerous, too” (392). With the creation of anthropomorphic forms of deities, a practice that still exists today was begun in which the divine images are enlivened by a final “ceremony in which the eyes were ritually opened with a golden needle of with the final stroke of a paintbrush” (Eck 7). Measures are taken to ensure that deities only gaze upon pleasing objects, as “glances, both divine and human, can be harmful, and we must therefore assume that measures are necessary to control eyepower - to ensure that the glances exchanged are benign” (Babb 393). Dṛṣṭi is one method for modern human beings to learn to control their eyesight and thus their thoughts and intentions. 

Another type of darśana is that between student and guru. In Babb’s study of the Radhasoami sect in Agra, “the glance that the guru casts upon the devotee is one of ‘compassion’ or ‘kindness’’”, dayā dṛṣṭi, and “it is apparently because he is looked at in this way that the devotee is able to achieve his goal” (390). The devotee “sees his guru and more; and what he sees is beautiful, remarkable, splendid; it pulls at his inner sight and concentrates his attention. He finds himself on a pilgrimage of insight; he sees, and then learns to see in a new way. But as he sees he is seen, and it seems to be his guru’s glance of benevolence that ultimately enables him to reach his goal” (391). In this case, it is the role of the teacher to provide true vision – a guru will sometimes grant an experience of samādhi to a practitioner in order to facilitate their path towards understanding.

In the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gītā, Kṛṣṇa bestows upon Arjuna a darśana, a vision of the viśvarūpa, the cosmic form.  Arjuna desires to see and thus Kṛṣṇa bestows upon him the power of divine eyesight with which to see the full manifestation of the Lord. The sight is so overwhelming to Arjuna that having seen it, dṛṣṭvā, his mind is disturbed by fear and he asks Kṛṣṇa to return to his prior, unassuming form.  After Kṛṣṇa returns to his worldly form, he explains to Arjuna that to see, draṣṭum, is to know, jñātum, is to enter into, praveṣṭum, the Truth. From this momentary vision, this moment of true seeing, Arjuna, although terrified, is on the path towards true understanding.

The bridge between darśana and dṛṣṭi is made by Lawrence Babb in his study of the practice of raj yoga by the Brahma Kumaris. In his understanding, “The purpose of raj yoga is to develop an awareness of ourselves as bright and powerful souls, which awareness will deliver us from false understanding and prepare us for our careers as deities in the world reborn” (397). Among the Brahma Kumaris, this is achieved through a practice of darśana, in which student and teacher stare at each other to precipitate a transferal of insight to the student, with the aim of awakening the third eye and the ultimate goal of self-realization. Eventually the teacher is no longer needed, “the teacher is finally only a surrogate for the Supreme Soul. What is left then is pure interaction through inner sight, with the Supreme Soul, whose form is a pure point of light-power” (399). And thus darśana transforms into dṛṣṭi. In the modern practice of ashtanga yoga, dṛṣṭi is similarly a means to insight.

Dṛṣṭi as Practice

To return to the Mahābhārata, Arjuna, on the famous battlefield of the Kurus, the field of righteousness, dharma-kṣetre kuru-kṣetre, is instructed in the specific practice of dṛṣṭi by Kṛṣṇa, in the Bhagavad Gītā. In the fifth book - yoga by means of renunciation - Kṛṣṇa explains the practice of fixing the gaze between the brows, in conjunction with regulated breath, as a means to sensory control and spiritual liberation. In the sixth book - yoga by means of meditation - once again, the practice of focusing the gaze, this time towards the tip of the nose, samprekṣya nāsikāgram, is presented as a means to meditation and union with God. This is elaborated in 6.31 - that yogī should be established in oneness, ekatvam āsthitah, which is situated in all beings, sarva-bhūta-sthitam. And this yogī, who understands the self-same identity of all beings, feels the pleasure and pain of all beings. The verb paśyati is used in these last two verses; however, although based in dṛṣṭi, this seeing is continuous and all-encompassing.

When our mind becomes distracted, our eyes wander; when our eyes wander our mind is disturbed. The practice of dṛṣṭi can be the bridge between the external world and our inner selves. Within the practice of ashtanga yoga as taught by Śrī K. Pattabhi Jois, it is the use of nine specific gazing points, i.e. nāsāgrai, the tip of the nose, brūmādhya, the third eye, which teaches us to direct our consciousness to one specific point. These foci, together with ujjāyī prāṇāyāma (a voiced breath through the nose), and āsana (postures, lit. seat), combine to form tṛsthāna, the tri-fold vehicle leading to the accomplishment of yoga, which according to Patañjali’s definition in Yoga Sūtra 1.2 is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind[1]

According to King Bhoja’s commentary on this sūtra, there are five stages of consciousness - agitated, stupefied, distracted, one-pointed and controlled. The first step on the path of yoga is the control of the three guṇas – the qualities of activity, lethargy, and luminosity – whose excessiveness creates the first three stages. When these three stages are dissolved, one attains a state of one-pointed concentration, which can be thought of as an inner dṛṣṭi. However, in order to control the three guṇas, one must practice a more elementary stage of one-pointed concentration, an external dṛṣṭi. According to Jois, “focusing the mind in a single direction is extremely important. Since the mind is very unsteady, it is difficult for it to maintain itself in this way” (20).

Although the eight-fold path, enumerated by Patañjali in Yoga Sūtra II.29 begins with yama and niyama, moral observances, according to Pattabhi Jois, people in modern society are too distracted and disturbed to commence at the beginning with ahiṃsā, non-violence.  Thus we begin to cultivate a sense of stability of the body through āsana, of the nervous system through prāṇāyāma, and of the mind through dṛṣṭi. “To learn how to achieve such concentration, the body first must be purified, and then mental strength developed.  The method for purifying and strengthening the body is called asana”  (22). After the body, breath and mind achieve a certain sense of steadiness and ease, the last four limbs of ashtanga yoga - pratyāhāra, dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi - follow effortlessly. These steps involve an increasing inward concentration and focus, resulting in the outward understanding that all beings share the same nature, which is true seeing. In other words, this practice leads to a state of concentration, which in its higher form is samādhi or kaivalya, a state of absolute oneness and freedom from worldly attachment, a concept I will return to later.

As explained by David Life, a long-term teacher and practitioner of yoga, “The use of drishti in asana serves both as a training technique and as a metaphor for focusing consciousness toward a vision of oneness. Drishti organizes our perceptual apparatus to recognize and overcome the limits of ‘normal’ vision. Our eyes can only see objects in front of us that reflect the visible spectrum of light, but yogis seek to view an inner reality not normally visible. We become aware of how our brains only let us see what we want to see – a projection of our own limited ideas. Often our opinions, prejudices, and habits prevent us from seeing unity. Drishti is a technique for looking for the Divine everywhere—and thus for seeing correctly the world around us.”

However, correct seeing is not easy. In Yoga Sūtra I.30-31, Patañjali warns of the various impediments to yoga practice, which are various afflictions of body and mind. Yoga practice, when used as an escape, as a substitution for Western analytical therapy, or without the proper guidance of a qualified teacher can be dangerous. In my years as a yoga teacher and practitioner I have encountered these distractions in various guises and have seen the possible consequences of incorrect vision and the potential dangers in the attempt to incorporate pre-modern practices without adapting to modern life. To return to Partha Chaterjee’s idea, a new form must be created which is suitable to present times and cultures. The practice of dṛṣṭi, under the guidance of a qualified teacher, can keep us tethered to the earth, providing a means for us to relate both to our innermost selves and to the world around us.

Draṣṭṛ/Dṛśya: the Seer/Seen in the Yoga Sūtra

In the second book of the Yoga Sūtra, Patañjali explains the five kleśas or afflictions, beginning with ignorance or illusion, which is the field for the other four - egoism, attraction, aversion and attachment to life. Patañjali continually returns to the notion of false knowledge based on false perception as the cause of suffering. This is commonly illustrated by the illusion of thinking you see a snake, when truly it is a rope. In sūtra II.6, Patañjali defines egoism as the confusion of dṛg and darśana, here indicative of internal and external powers of sight. He elaborates upon this concept in sūtra II.17, explaining that it is the mistaken identity of draṣṭṛ and dṛśya, seer and seen, which is the root of pain. It is this misunderstanding of ourselves in connection with the world that leads to suffering and wrong action. According to Bhoja, it is impossible to change past or even present suffering; however, future worldly pain can be prevented, as stated by Patañjali in sūtra II.16. In sūtra II.11, Patañjali recommends meditation as the means for relinquishing these disturbances and for cultivating correct vision. Bhoja explains that this meditation has the form of one-pointed concentration. When practiced correctly, dṛṣṭi can provide an understanding of the underlying unity of all beings, without becoming caught in the trap of false identification and attachment. What Bhoja describes as the fruit of yoga - kaivalya - is usually translated as a spiritual isolation. However, oneness does not necessarily imply aloneness. Absolute oneness can connote a sense of the interconnectedness of all beings.

A Path Away From Suffering

In a recent publication of the Vipassana Research Institute in Igatpuri, S. N. Tandon argues that the Yoga Sūtras have been consistently misinterpreted, ignoring the prevalent influence of Buddhism at the time of their composition. In this view, the tenets and practices of Buddhist thought must be taken into account in order to understand the true intention of Patanjali’s aphorisms, as a practice based in compassion and altruism, rather than in spiritual isolation. The Buddhist version of kaivalya is kevala and kevali, referring to the “pure (unmixed) state of liberation” (70). However, unlike the prevalent interpretation of the kaivalya of the Yoga Sūtras as the “attainment of isolation,” in Buddhist thought a kevali is “one who exhibits morality, concentration of mind, liberation, knowledge and mastery of the Dhamma lore of an Arahanta” (70-1). If we bring this definition to our understanding of the Yoga Sūtras, we are led to an aim that allows for a spiritual liberation that does not entail escaping the world, but rather following an altruistic path. 

In Yoga Sūtra 1.33, Patañjali explains that the purification of the mind can occur through external purificatory rites, parikarma - the cultivation of benevolence towards the happy, compassion towards the suffering, joy towards the virtuous and indifference towards the unvirtuous. These four qualities have their equivalents in Buddhist thought in the appamaññā, the boundless states, or the brahmavihāras or sublime abodes, designated in Pali as mettā, karuṇā, muditā and upekkhā (4). This is explained in the 9th chapter of the Visuddhimagga, the Path of Purification as follows:

 

"And one abiding in the Measureless States, i.e. loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, should practice   them like a mother with four sons, namely, a child, an invalid, one in the flush of youth, and one busy with his own affairs; for she wants the child to grow up, wants the invalid to get well, wants the one in the flush of youth to enjoy the long benefits of youth, and is not at all bothered about the one who is busy with his own affairs.” (Patel 1).

Bhoja, for his part, explains that through these practices, the distracted state produced by attachment and aversion, passion and enmity, will be eliminated and the mind will be purified, leading to a state of one-pointed concentration. Both the eight-limbed path of Ashtanga yoga and the Buddhist path begin with practices of morality, followed by the cultivation of proper posture and breath-control, leading to increasing states of contemplation. In viewing the yogic path through the lens of Buddhism, perhaps we can be reminded of a greater intention, one which extends to all beings, whether happy or suffering, virtuous or non-virtuous, one which we can begin in the cultivation of dṛṣṭi, of true sight in all of our actions.

Reflections

A professor of mine has given us the task of writing a paper on one paragraph, rereading and meditating on it, in complete isolation until its meaning becomes clear (or at least clearer). This alternative paradigm for reading seems more in line with the oral tradition of śruti paramparā, in which whole texts are memorized, “seen” in their entirety, before the meaning is even discussed. I fell in love with Sanskrit while in India studying yoga and have spent months at a time on very short passages. I have spent weeks on the first quarter of the first verse of the Bhagavad Gītā - dharma-kṣetre kuru-kṣetre - my teacher in India says there is nothing that is not to be found in these two words. It is ironic to me that in attempting to discover the field of my own dharmic path, I have ended up at Columbia, ostensibly studying Sanskrit, yet reading hundreds of pages of English each week, a pace I find hard to follow. I suppose it's why I prefer to read in another language, because only then are we given the liberty to slow down, the permission to spend a morning on a paragraph. It is something I grapple with every day - how to proceed at such a breakneck speed - and yet still engage with the authors I am reading, and thus with the global community. This tension, which seems a required and mostly unquestioned component of academia, is part of what I have attempted to address in the proposition of dṛṣṭi as a paradigm for seeing the world.

Through the practice of dṛṣṭi our vision becomes clearer. As beautifully expressed by David Life, “When we charge our eyes with yogic vision, we see our true Self. As we gaze at others, we perceive our own form, which is Love itself. We no longer see the suffering of other beings as separate from our own; our heart is filled with compassion for the struggling of all these souls to find happiness. The yogic gaze emerges from an intense desire to achieve the highest goal of unitive consciousness, rather than from egoistic motives that create separation, limitation, judgment, and suffering. Like all yogic practices, dṛṣṭi uses the blessed gifts of a human body and mind as a starting place for connecting to our full potential—the wellspring that is the source of both body and mind. When we clear our vision of the covering of habits, opinions, ideas, and their projections about what is real and what is false, we gaze beyond outer differences toward the absolute Truth.”

Perhaps this Truth is best found gazing into the eyes of someone you love, a connection in which all confusion disappears and your sight becomes clear. When you take a vow of partnership, you are committing to a lifelong practice of dṛṣṭi, to a united vision of the world. In this fountain of love is the potential for a compassionate understanding and focused awareness, which can overflow and permeate every area of life. In Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda, “Love Song of the Dark Lord”, Kṛṣṇa is portrayed as the lover of Rādhā, a union often celebrated as the most exquisite connection, as representative of union with God.  Here, too, sight is privileged –

                                    Her eyes transgressed their bounds—

                                    Straining to reach beyond her ears,

                                    They fell on him with trembling pupils.

                                    When Radha’s eyes met her lover,

                                    Heavy tears of joy

                                    Fell like streaming sweat.  (121)

Whether dṛṣṭi is found in yoga practice, in love, in work, or elsewhere is perhaps unimportant. Patañjali lists many methods for the attainment of samādhi – what is important is not the particular path, but consistent practice. In the modern age in which we are met with distractions at every turn, this commitment is not easy. Particularly as notions of belief are being constantly challenged, it is difficult to maintain devotion, except in the creation of new modes of seeing. Lawrence Babb postulates that, “indigenous and nonindigenous theories [may] converge. That is, it may be that darshan finally and essentially is a way of utilizing the internal deposit of social experience as a way of changing and confirming certain special kinds of self-identity […] The deity would then be a point of focus for an internalized version of Mead’s ‘generalized other,’ and darshan would be a powerful mirror with the potential to transform the viewer” (400). Similarly, dṛṣṭi can be seen as a reflection, a means to see the same Divine Self everywhere and in everyone.

In the age of globalization, perhaps yoga practice can provide a path towards a united sense of identity and purpose. One of the most beautiful aspects of the Ashtanga yoga practice as taught by Śrī K. Pattabhi Jois, is that it is a consistent series of postures, practiced and taught in the same manner throughout the world. The stability of the āsanas allows for a deeper cultivation of dṛṣṭi, of one-pointed concentration and all-seeing meditation. The ashtanga yoga practice is traditionally concluded with the maṅgala mantra, a chant for peace, praying for the welfare of all beings, for wise and steadfast leadership, for eternal goodness and happiness for all the worlds.  This chant reminds us of the intention of our practice, that our external dṛṣṭi is a means to true insight and compassion.

 

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[1] All translations unless otherwise indicated are my own.