Seer and the Seen


(An inquiry into the nature of the) ‘SEER’ and the ‘SEEN’

Translation and notes by Swami Nikhilananda

Sri Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Centre, New York

In the state of deep sleep, when (the thought of) ego disappears and the body also becomes unconscious. The state in which there is the half manifestation of the ego is called the dream state and the full manifestation of the ego is the state of waking. (Verse 10)

[Note: Now is described the world-bound nature of the Atman (soul) as well as its associations with the three states, which are possible only when the ego identifies itself with the body. 

‘Disappears’ : The ego merges itself in the causal ignorance which is characterised by the non-apprehension of empirical objects. This state in which there is no perception of duality is called the state of deep sleep. The ego in this state does not identify itself with the body. The result of past Karma, then, is not noticed. Therefore, we become unconscious of our body in that state.

‘Dream State’ : In the dream state the ego does not perceive any object external to itself. The seer, the objects seen and the act of seeing which constitute dream experiences are only the mental modifications of the ego.

Compare Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, 4-3-10: “There are no real chariots in that state, no horses, no roads but he himself creates chariots, horses and roads. There are no pleasures, joys or delights there, but he creates the pleasures, joys and delights. There are no pools, (water) tanks or rivers there, but he creates the pools, tanks and rivers. For he is the agent.”  

The dream experiences, though they appear during the dream state as outside the body of the seer, are known to be only modifications of the mind from the standpoint of the waking state. Therefore from the waking standpoint the dream state is only a partial manifestation of the ego.

“Full manifestation” : In the waking state the ego experiences the gross external objects by means of its internal organs. The ego and the non-ego which constitute the entire world of experience are both cognised in the waking state. In dream it is the mind alone of the sleeper which appears both as the ego and the non-ego. Therefore the full manifestation of the experience covering both ego and non-ego is seen only in the waking condition]

The inner organ (mind) which in itself is but a modification (vritti) identifying itself with the reflection of Consciousness imagines (various) ideas in the dream. And the same inner organ (identifying itself with the body) imagines objects external to itself in the waking state with respect to the sense-organs. (Verse 11)

[Note: How the experiences of the waking and dream states are but the modification of mind is described here.

“Inner organ” : This comprises mind (manas), mindstuff (chittah), intellect (buddhihi) and egoism (ahamkarah).

“Identify” : It is like identification of the heat (fire) with the (red hot) iron ball.

“Ideas” : The ideas of the ego and the non-ego as well as their mutual relationship.

“Imagines” : We remember our dream experiences in the waking state. The dream experiences which have the same natures as the waking ones are known to be internal only in the waking state. The waking experiences are also mere ideas or thoughts of the perceiving mind.]


The subtle body which is the material cause of the mind and egoism is one and of the nature of insentiency. It moves in the three states and is born and it dies. (Verse 12)


[Note: The real nature of the inner-organ (antahkarana) is thus described.

“Subtle body” : This is the same as the Antahkarana and is called Lingam, because it enables the Jiva or the embodies being to realise Brahman (Supreme Reality). This subtle body has been described in other Vedantic texts as composed of seventeen parts, viz., five organs of perception, five organs of knowledge, five modifications of prana, mind (manas) and intellect (buddhihi).

“One” : The subtle body (lingam) and the inner-organ (Antahkarana) are really one and identical, though from the empirical standpoint they appear as different. Like the water and the wave the Antahkarana (vrittimaan) and the ideas which manifest themselves as powers of knowledge and activity (Jnana shakti and Kriya shakti) which are only modifications (vritti) of the mind, are identical.

“Nature etc.” : It is because the Antahkarana (inner- organ) is the modification of the Avidya which is of the nature of insentiency. It appears as sentient on account of its identification with the reflection of Consciousness.

“Moves etc”. : The identification with the three states as well as birth, death, etc., can be predicated of the ego only and not of Atman or Self who is not associated with these conditions.]


[The following comments relate to Verse 13.

The existence of the material world is a matter of indubitable experience. The question arises, what is its cause? Brahman (the Supreme Reality) which is beyond all causal relations, cannot create it. Therefore the scriptures postulate MAYA as the cause of the appearance of the universe. This MAYA is extremely illusive. It cannot be described either as real or unreal. (See ‘Maya’- Pages column on the left).

The best way to describe MAYA is to explain its two aspects, which is done in the following verse.]


Two powers, undoubtedly, are predicated of MAYA, viz., those of projecting and veiling. The projecting power creates everything from the subtle body to the gross universe.

(Verse 13)


The manifesting of all names and forms in the entity which is Existence-Consciousness-Bliss and which is the same as Brahman, like the foams etc. in the ocean, is known as creation. (Verse 14)


The other power of MAYA conceals the distinction between the perceiver and the perceived objects which are cognised within the body as well as the distinction between Brahman and the phenomenal universe which is perceived outside (one’s own body). This power (shakti) is the cause of the phenomenal universe. (Verse 15)


[Notes: “Manifesting” : This manifestation is due to the projecting power of Maya which is potential in Brahman from the causal standpoint.

“Names” : By which things are designated.

“Forms” : That which is expressed by a name. Both names and forms are mere forms of thought as can be understood by the analysis of names and forms experienced in dream, which are nothing but the modifications of the mind.

“Entity” : Reality is not a void or negation. The appearance of the manifold cannot be based on an Absolute negation. In empirical experience, every appearance has a positive substratum. The illusion of names and forms appears from, and disappears in, Brahman.

“Existence etc.” : These are not positive attributes of Brahman, which cannot be described by word or thought. Words etc. can describe only what is perceived in the perceptual world.

“Like etc.” : This illustration is for the purpose of showing the indescribable nature of creation. Foams, waves, bubbles, etc., are not separate from the ocean, because all these are made of the same stuff as water. Again, they are not identical with the ocean, because we do make a distinction between the ocean and the waves etc. Similarly the manifested manifold is not separate from Brahman, as the Sruti (scriptures) says, because no separate universe can be conceived of, which according to the Sruti, is not of the nature of Existence-Consciousness_Bliss. Again from the Sruti we know Brahman as separate from the world, which we perceive to be gross, solid, extended in time and space, etc. This appearance of the universe as separate from Brahman is due to MAYA.

“Creation” : Vedanta explains the origin of the universe by saying that it the unfolding of Brahman through Its inscrutable power, called Maya. As the rope appears in the form of the snake or as the ocean appears in the form of foams, waves etc., or as the sleeping man appears to be living in a dream world, so also Brahman appears in the form of the world. From the causal standpoint, Brahman is both the material and efficient cause of the world.

“Other power” : It is known as the Avarna-shakti or the veiling power of Maya.(Projecting power is known as Vikshep shakti).

“Perceiver” : The witness (sakshi) which is the cause of the immediate perception of “I”. It considers itself as the enjoyer etc. by identifying itself with the gross and the subtle body. Really speaking, it is the relationless Atman (Self).

“Objects” : It includes everything from the empirical ego to the gross body. The Sakshi is distinct from the perceived objects. But the veiling power of Maya does not enable us to see the distinction and therefore the sakshi appears to have identified itself with the empirical ego, mind, sense-organs, etc.

“Brahman” : Brahman is said to be of the nature of Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. But through the veiling power of Maya It seems to have identified Itself with names and forms and thus appears as objects of enjoyment.


‘Phenomenal” : this is a mere appearance like that of silver in the mother-of-pearl.

“This etc.” : From the highest standpoint there is neither creation not dissolution. Non-dual Brahman alone is and always exists. The appearance of the manifold is due to the veiling power of Maya which conceals the real non-dual nature of Brahman and presents the appearance of the variegated universe. It is just like perceiving dream objects with which the sleeper at that time is in no way connected. From the subjective standpoint a man becomes a world-bound creature on account of the identification of the seer with the mind, sense-organs etc. (object). Ignorance of the distinction between the subject and the object is the cause of one’s sufferings in the world.

Though it is a custom with the Vedantic writers to describe the veiling power (Avarna shakti) as prior to the projecting power (Vikshepa shakti), the author of this treatise (Drg-Drsya-Viveka) makes here a departure. Strictly speaking, the Avarna shakti cannot be said to precede the Vikshepa shakti or vice versa. For, the effects of both are seen simultaneously. One cannot be conceived of without the other.]

From The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 7, Verse 14

The Blessed Lord said:

Verily, this divine illusion of Mine (MAYA), made up of the three qualities of Nature (Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas) is difficult to cross over; those who take refuge in Me alone, cross over this illusion.

From Vivekachudamani

Sri Shankarachaya

Know that it is egoism which, identifying itself with the body, becomes the doer or experiencer, and in conjunction with the Gunas (Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas) assumes the three different states (waking, dream and deep sleep). (Verse 104)

Avidya (Nescience) or Maya, called also the Undifferentiated, is the power of the Lord. She is without beginning, is made up of the three Gunas and is superior to the effects (as their cause). She is to be inferred by one of clear intellect only from the effects She produces. It is She (Maya) who brings forth this whole universe. (Verse 108)

She (Maya) is neither existent nor non-existent nor partaking of both characters; neither same nor different nor both; neither composed of parts nor an indivisible whole nor both. She is most wonderful and cannot be described in words. (Verse 109)

Maya can be destroyed by the realisation of the pure Brahman, the one without a second, just as the mistaken idea of a snake is removed by the discrimination  of the rope (by the realisation of the true identity of the rope). She (Maya) has her Gunas as Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas,names after their respective functions.

(Verse 110)

From Svetasvatara Upanishad

Brahman projects the universe through the power of Its maya. Again, in that universe Brahman (as the Jiva) is entangled through maya.  (Chapter 4,Verse 8)

Know then, that prakriti is maya, and that the Great God is the Lord of maya. The whole universe is filled with objects which are parts of His being.  (Chapter 4, Verse 10)

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