द्रष्टृदृश्ययोः संयोगो हेयहेतुः॥१७॥
draShTRu= (of) Seer; dRushyoH=(and) Seen; saMyogaH=union, association; heya=that which is to be avoided; hetuH=cause;
"The cause of that which is to be avoided is the union of the Seer and the Seen."
To uproot anything, we must get down to the root cause and eliminate that cause. In the case of suffering, Patanjali states in this sutra that the root cause is the union between Purusha and Prakriti. It has already been mentioned that Avidya gives rise to Asmita which is the tendency of pure consciousness (Purusha) to identify itself with its vehicles (Prakriti). This problem is linked to the origin of the universe wherein the consciousness got entangled with elements of Prakriti. This problem cannot be understood or analyzed by our limited intellect. It can and will be solved only through the transcendent knowledge that can be gained through enlightenment. The key concept to remember is that the yoking of Purusha with Prakriti has taken place giving rise to bondage. Now we need to reach the state of liberation before fully eliminating all bondage, thus eradicating all suffering.
"Uniting the Seer or the subject with the Seen or the object is the cause of that which has to be avoided"
The seer is Purusha who is the reflector of buddhi (the pure I-sense). The objects that are experienced by the buddhi are the knowable. The buddhi and the knowable, due to their proximity to Purusha, become an attribute of Purusha. Buddhi becoming the object of experience is revealed as the Purusha itself. This beginningless alliance between Purusha and the object of awareness (Prakriti represented by buddhi) is the cause of suffering which is avoidable.
Due to proximity, Purusha is the seer or the knower of the objects. The union or contact between two entities could be spatial (in space), temporal (in time) or beyond time and space. In the case of the union between Purusha and buddhi, it cannot be in space or time. Union in space is between two physical objects; union in time happens when two activities take place at the same time. The union between Purusha and buddhi is beginningless and is thus beyond time. Primal Prakriti which is a composite of sattva, rajas and tamas is also beyond time. The contact between the two is a peculiar union which cannot be distinguished by the senses. The union seems to occur only due to the I-sense (ahamkara) and can only be the result of ignorance since in reality these two are separate. The contact arises from the action of Rajas in the buddhi. It is through the action of Rajas that the ego appears as the seer. This contact is perpetuated by the samskara of the idea of this contact which is based on wrong cognition and ignorance. As this ignorance has no beginning, it is not correct to say that Purusha and Prakriti were separate at one point and suddenly the union took place. Liberation from sorrow can only happen as a result of knowledge.
The object or the knowable remains unmanifest unless seen by the observer. But it goes on mutating due to its inherent nature. As it is seen by the seer, it becomes the seer’s object and is thus dependent on the seer.
"The conjunction between the seer and that which is seen is the cause [of suffering] to be avoided"
Purusha the seer cognizes through buddhi (intellect). Buddhi is the first interface between awareness of Purusha and Prakriti. The "seen" refers to objects which present themselves to the buddhi. These objects, acting like a magnet, attract the awareness of Purusha because of proximity. Purusha appears like a master and the seen becomes like a property of Purusha. These objects tend to take on the nature of Purusha. This association between the two which has no beginning is the cause of suffering which needs to be avoided.
Suffering can be remedied if we know the cause. If we want to avoid a thorn piercing the foot, we either don’t put the foot on the thorn or wear adequate shoes. Similarly to remove suffering we need to remove Purusha from its association with Prakriti.
The natural state of Prakriti is sattva. However, when Rajas disturbs sattva, suffering ensues. However, this suffering is not for the Purusha which is changeless but it is for the buddhi. Since buddhi is pervaded by Purusha, the mind tends to assign the state of the buddhi to the Purusha. When buddhi is sattvic, the Purusha seems to be happy. When rajas and tamas dominate, it appears that Purusha is suffering. Conjunction between Purusha and Prakriti has existed eternally. Mind is the product of karma and klesha and they are known to be beginningless. However, this conjunction is not without an end. Through knowledge, this union between the Purusha and Prakriti can be terminated.
During the Study Group meetings, we spent more than one session discussing this sutra. This sutra and several of the subsequent sutras constitute the essence of the Samkhya philosophy. These sutras clearly tell us that Samkhya and Yoga are essentially dualistic philosophies where Purusha and Prakriti are projected as two independent entities. This brings me to a discussion that I have had on some of the discussion boards about the meaning of the word "yoga". Most people are aware that ‘yoga’ is derived from the root word ‘yuj’. The most commonly given meaning of ‘yuj’ is to join, unite or yoke etc. In that sense, most people tend to say that yoga is the ‘union of body, mind and soul’, without really understanding its true meaning. What we need to understand is that another meaning of ‘yuj’ (as per dhatupatha which is the source book of all root words in Sanskrit) is ‘samadhau’ (in samadhi) or ‘to concentrate the mind’. Vyasa, in his commentary on the sutra 1.1 (atha yoganushasanam), clearly states that this is the meaning that is applicable in the context of the yoga sutras.
In light of the sutra 2.17 which we are discussing here, it is clear that, in fact, the union between Purusha (soul) and Prakriti (mind-body complex) is indeed the cause of suffering and the cycle of birth and re-birth. It is only through un-uniting the two, that is, understanding the separation between Purusha (the seer) and Prakriti (the seen) that one can attain liberation.
In Bhagavad Gita also there is a shloka (13.21) which is very similar in meaning to the current sutra:
पुरुषः प्रकृतिस्थॊ हि भुङ्क्तॆ प्रकृतिजान्गुणान् ।
कारणं गुणसङ्गॊஉस्य सदसद्यॊनिजन्मसु ॥ 21 ॥
puruṣaḥ prakṛtistho hi bhuṅkte prakṛtijān guṇān
kāraṇaṃ guṇasaṅgosya sadasadyonijanmasu 13.21
"Since the soul is seated in Nature, therefore it experiences the qualities born of Nature. Contact with the qualities is the cause of its births in good and evil wombs." Translation by Sw. Gambhirananda