Eternal Message of the Gita
Seer and the Seen
Siddheswarananda (1897-1957) was a monk of the Ramakrishna
Order, and for twenty years until his death, the spiritual
head of the Centre Vedantique Ramakrichna at Gretz, France.
This commentary of the learned Swami on the various themes
of the Gita was orginally published in French in the Bulletin
of the Centre Vedantique during 1955-57. This article is the
fifth instalment of a series of about a dozen articles, each
independent in itself. English translation and editing was
done by Mr. Andre van den Brink.
that I am the Knower of the field (kshetrajna) in all the
fields (kshetras), О Bharata. The knowledge of kshetra and
of kshetrajna is what I call true wisdom. (Gita, 13.2)
it is important to distinguish that which changes, the 'seen',
from that which doesn't change, the 'seer', it is even more
important, following the analysis to its end, to understand
that this 'seer' is the ultimate Reality. For it is not the
analysis of the 'seen', of the many different objects appearing
in our field of enquiry, that can give us the wisdom we are
aspiring for. The Gita teaches us that the only true
knowledge consists in knowing both the 'seen' and the 'seer'
at the same time.
notion of a 'seen' implies the corresponding notion of a 'seer'.
One cannot think of either term without necessarily having
the other in mind. Now pure knowledge (vijnana) is
not applicable to an object that could be opposed to a subject:
It is non-dual, and for this reason Sri Krishna declares that
He is the only true 'seer' of all objects perceived, meaning
that His vision is without any sense of multiplicity. This
is no longer the vision familiar to us, the vision proper
to the creature, necessitating the existence of an object
seen. In the vision of the 'seer' such a relation does not
exist, because it does not admit of any multiplicity. Therefore,
we say that it is 'without object'.
created being considers the vision to be 'his' and, by thus
differentiating himself from the 'seen' of which he himself
nevertheless never ceases to be a part, he creates multiplicity,
so to speak: his vision is a vision of multiplicity. Ignorance
(ajnana), therefore, consists in appropriating the
vision to oneself. In order to remove this ignorance Sri Krishna
reveals that the Lord is the true 'seer'. It is enough to
realize this truth so that the error may disappear once and
for all. 'After numerous births the man who is full of wisdom
comes to Me, knowing that all is Vasudeva, the Lord. Such
a sage is rare to find.' says Sri Krishna (Gita, 7.19).
kshetrajna, the Knower of the field who is present
in all the kshetras or fields, is without any conditioning
(upadhi). Thus he cannot be said to be existent or
non-existent, sat or asat (cf. Gita,
13.12), nor can he ever become an object of perception. In
fact, one of the criteria of absolute reality is that It cannot
be contradicted by anything. Now in all objects that are perceived
the upadhis or conditionings change, and when a change
is effected, the subsequent state is a contradiction of the
previous state. Of course both states cannot exist simultaneously:
The clay that serves to manufacture a jar cannot at the same
time be used to make a jug. The two forms are mutually exclusive.
When, in speaking of the nature of an object, we say that
'it exists' or that 'it doesn't exist'; the 'it' we are referring
to is not an object of observation. We say, 'it exists', 'it
is blue', 'it is big', but That whom we are attributing these
qualities to is, in truth, intangible. We only perceive aspects
the 'seer' never changes. The consciousness of Being, this
immediate certitude which I had as a child, and which I have
even now as a man, this consciousness of Being remains independent
of any change. Who, then, is conscious of the modifications?
'That' cannot be an object of knowledge. Even when the ego-consciousness
disappears, as in deep sleep or in swoon, the consciousness
of Being does not disappear: It is a direct intuition which
does not enter into the categories of existence or non-existence.
We cannot hold it before us and say: 'This is the consciousness
of Being.' It is the light of the 'seer' which permits us
to know all the objects of perception.
our ignorance, however, we identify ourselves with the 'seen'.
The Gita denounces our mistake as follows: 'All actions
are only accomplished by the gunas, the qualities of
Nature, prakriti. He who is deceived by egotism thinks,
"It is me who acts".' (Gita, 3.27) This initial
error is developed in us as soon as we come into contact with
the world and interpret this contact as 'ours'. In this way
the 'I' arrogates all sensory and mental processes to itself.
This error will be exposed by a serious analysis of the nature
of an experience that we may have had, and of which I will
give an example: I am in the Bay of Mont St. Michel and, one
evening, I am walking along the immense beach, admiring the
sun which is setting in the sea. At some distance the Mont
St. Michel rises up before me, and my attention is successively
going to the sound of the waves coming to die down at my feet,
to the beauty of the sky, and to the mist gathering around
the spire of the abbey. I'm afraid to venture on the quicksands,
and I am experiencing a thousand other sensations. Of this
'seen' I am the 'seer'... until the moment when I wake up:
Everything that I had thought to be real was only a dream!
lesson can we draw from this experience? To the ego of the
waking state it is clear that all beings and objects of the
dream were unreal. However much the ego of the dream - the
sailor that I then was - looked upon itself as the 'seer',
in reality it was part of the 'seen' in the same quality as
all the objects perceived and all the sensations experienced.
The 'seen' and the 'seer' of the dream state are both simultaneously
the 'seen' to the 'seer' of the waking state. Can we apply
this conclusion to the objects and sensations of the waking
state as well? The Mandukya Karika (II, 4) assures
us that, by the very fact that these objects and sensations
are perceived in the sensate world, they are unreal. And,
in fact, if the ego of the waking state would examine without
bias what its nature would be, it would realize that its various
states, its various aspects, belong to the 'seen'. It would
realize its unity with the whole of beings and objects perceived.
this respect the dream experience is significant: On waking
up the dream appears as a non-dual whole. In the series of
objects of consciousness - the sound of the waves, the sky
and the Mont St. Michel - the consciousness was not centred
in me, the sailor, for nature and me formed but one integral
whole. To think that I, the sailor, was looking at the Mont
St. Michel, would be as inaccurate, as absurd, as to think
that the Mont St. Michel was looking at the sailor! Nature,
prakriti, is one undivided whole. It is through ignorance,
ajnana, that the consciousness is being claimed for
oneself, thereby opposing oneself to the 'unconscious' objects.
In fact, on waking up the 'I' of the dream appears to have
had no more consistency than the objects which it believed
to know. So with what right and with what logic would you
attribute consciousness to this 'I'? As to the consciousness
itself, neither the dream nor the waking state altered it;
it does not become unreal on waking up, it only changes its
expression. If the consiousness of Existence in the dream
would prove to be unreal, then how could it reappear in the
waking state? The consciousness of Being is Existence which
never becomes non-existent.
consciousness 'impregnates' the dream, so to speak, in its
totality, without any partiality in favour of the 'I' who
is in no way its home. The same applies to the waking state
where it is observed that the 'I', in fact, doesn't have any
stability. The 'I' is nama-rupa, 'name' and 'form';
it belongs to the things that can be known. The 'seer' is
not the mind; his vision is without beginning and without
end, and does not belong to that element of the 'seen' which
we call 'the ego'. This imperishable 'seer' is the Eternal,
the kshetrajna (the Knower of the field) mentioned
in the verse that we are studying. In this verse the approach
is epistemological: What is true knowledge? We expect from
this knowledge that it will solve all contradictions, in particular
the primordial contradiction in which the 'I' is opposed to
the 'non-I'. For it is not enough to have the intuition that
this duality is false: We need to know how to remove it. 'Ignorance,'
Shankara writes in his commentary on verse 13.2, 'comes from
inertia (tamas) which carries us towards that which
is contrary to the truth, raises doubt in us, and results
in the non-perception of the truth.' It is the work of the
intelligence, of the spirit of enquiry, which is to be used
to put an end to the false attachments, to doubts, and to
the non-perception of the truth. Through this search the active
forces are brought into play in their greatest purity, resulting
in the awakening of the higher reason or buddhi. The
Gita teaches that, with the awakening of the buddhi,
man obtains the Knowledge (jnana) which is a direct
perception (pratyakshavagamam). Nothing can contradict
this Knowledge, 'the most eminent of sciences, the most profound
of mysteries, the supreme purification.' (9.2)
the course of this investigation the buddhi has discovered
that the ego is the source of all conflict. By claiming an
absolute reality for itself, the ego appropriates the activity
of the consciousness to itself. At once the many different
representations of the world which the ego believes to perceive,
come into existence - many, too, the different contradictions
that follow. The power of ignorance (avidya) is such
that it makes us believe that the ego is different from the
objects known, that it is not an entity belonging to the 'seen'.
This same ignorance causes us to transfer the properties of
the 'seer' to the 'seen' and vice versa, so that the 'seer'
who is eternal, is identified with the ego, and is believed
to be perishable, while the qualities proper to the 'seer',
such as permanence, are accorded to the object.
mutual transference creates the conflict that is the source
of suffering. Compare Shankara's commentary on verse 18.50
of the Gita: '... The Self is extremely pure, extremely clear
and extremely subtle. But it is possible for the buddhi,
being as pure, as clear and as subtle as the Self,
to identify itself with that aspect of the Self which manifests
itself as consciousness. The mind (manas) identifies
itself with the buddhi, the sense organs identify themselves
with the mind, and the physical body identifies itself with
the sense organs. Thus is explained the common, frequent error
which consists in considering the physical body to be the
long as man is possessed by his zest for life and for experience
(by what Hubert Benoit calls 'the convergent aspect of life'),
he will ignore the 'dance of Kali', the divergent aspect,
identifying himself completely with the ego of the waking
state. Thus he is unable to have access to the vision of the
Real. However, a great discriminatory faculty is needed in
order to see life as it is, without the least trace of emotion.
If we really want to distinguish the 'seer' from the 'seen',
we shall have to accept a total discipline, and not a discipline
that is developed progressively - a total discipline, because
it is not aimed at certain things in particular, but at our
very way of looking at things. Here we are concerned with
nothing less than a transcendence of the states, with a synoptic
view of the reality. There are thinkers who may be found to
try, while staying within the limits of the waking state,-
to go beyond prakriti (Nature) with the help of thought:
Such undertaking will always be doomed to failure, because
thought, too, is prakriti.
to the discipline to be followed, it is summarized in the
verses 24 and 25 of chapter VI: 'One should abandon without
reservation all desires born from imagination and, with the
senses under control, acquire little by little tranquillity
by means of the reason, checked by the will. Let the mind
remain in the Self and no longer think of anything else.'
The state of samadhi (total awareness) is attained,
when the attention has become without object and the consciousness
consciousness which is not divided into subject and object,
is intemporal; it is the metaphysical intuition. Even if we
say that the operations of the consciousness contain asti
(Existence), bhati (Luminosity), priya (Love),
nama (name) and rupa (form), nothing would be
more wrong than to see them as different entities. The Reality
is not a totalisation of concepts and perceptions, but a Totality.
The majority of seekers, however, cannot do without such distinctions
in order to proceed towards the truth. Vedanta proposes that
they distinguish a substratum, Brahman, which remains eternally,
and superimposed upon this substratum an apparent, changing
reality, Maya, made up of nama-rupa, 'name'
the attention is detached from nama-rupa, as described
in the Drig Drishya Viveka, the 'seer' (drig)
has as its 'seen' (drishya) the whole of the three
states: He is the 'seer' of the many different states of Being
(avasthatmya sakshin). As to the mind, that factor
of division, it will then lose its preponderance and prestige.
In the realization of this 'fourth' state (turiya)
the 'seer' who is non-dual, and the 'seen' which is equally
non-dual, are found to be no different from each other in
any way: Both terms indicate the same Reality. 'Whose realization?',
one may ask. No answer will satisfy the one who is asking
this question. Remaining attached to one state in particular
(i.e. the waking state), he is incapable of seeing the whole
of manifestation as being non-dual (advaita). To know
the kshetra (the field) and the kshetrajna (the
Knower of the field) at the same time - this is what constitutes
true jnana, supreme Knowledge.
this realization is accessible to our buddhi, it is
beyond the organs of perception and the processes of the mind
(Gita, 6.21). But man is trapped in the workings of
his mind: Plunged into ignorance, he can only accept the teaching
of verse 13.2 through an act of faith, i.e. faith in the sacred
scriptures. The Mandukya Kurika explains how the conclusions
of Revelation are also those which philosophical enquiry is
leading us to. For this reason it would not be justified to
depreciate Revelation and faith, which hold a legitimate place
in spiritual discipline. The teaching given by Sri Krishna
in verse 13.2 is eminently metaphysical. At the same time
His words constitute a Revelation: He identifies the 'seer'
with Himself, who is the Lord.
that we have made it our objective to obtain the highest knowledge,
we find that we are prevented from doing so by our psychological
automatisms. That is why we have to accomplish, indefatigably,
the inner work which our intellectual intuition calls forth
and encourages. At the same time this inner work is bound
to end in an impasse. The words spoken by Sri Ramakrishna
in this context are most significant: 'When will I be free?
- When the 'I' ceases to be.' Now, then, it is not just through
an analysis of the mental processes that this 'I' will go.
On the contrary, the more it is studied, the more it asserts
itself. It is only through a rigorous enquiry that we shall
be able to grasp our experiences as an integral whole, and
not as a combination of different fragments. The metaphysical
intuition is an 'infused' knowledge which comes with the letting
go of the ego, when everything has been renounced. (Gita,
this letting go only one vision remains: that of the Lord,
that of the kshetrajna who is behind all the kshetras,
including our ego. The power of ignorance (avidya)
is employed to direct our attention to 'name' and 'form' (nama-rupa)
which are constantly changing, and the reality then seems
to be divided into innumerable 'seens'. To the sage, however,
there is no such multiplicity in the 'seen', and his vision
is not attended by mental tension. If the ordinary vision
may be compared to a circle, the centre of which is fixed,
while its circumference represents the infinity of objects
perceived, the vision of the sage, on the other hand, does
not have a centre. Or rather, its centre is everywhere and
its circumference nowhere, according to the expression of
Pascal which was frequently quoted by Swami Vivekananda.
this perspective the apparent conflict between the 'seen'
and the 'seer' is solved. The kshetrajna is the metaphysical
Reality, the akshara, the Lord. Remaining in each 'seen',
the 'seer', 'That which does not perish, when all has perished,'
is the infinite possibility of 'seens'. Shankara says that
'our experience of the world is a continuous perception of