In yoga philosophy there is the idea of the purusa. It is the source of consciousness and energy that gives us life. A corpse, for example, has no purusa. Purusa is also considered the unchanging perceiver within us and different from the mind. While the mind can be very changing or clouded, the purusa remains constant and perceives clearly. It could be thought of as the unchanging self, the true self or the soul. Even though the purusa is different from the mind, the two are inseparable in function. The mind is an instrument of perception and purusa is the perceiver.
According to Patanjali confusion (avidya) and suffering happen when we think purusa and the mind are one in the same. This leads us to rely too heavily on the mind, and the fact is that our instrument the mind doesn’t always function optimally. There are four main obstacles that prevent the mind from working optimally and lead to unclear perception. However asminta, the ego, is one I find particularly interesting to look at especially in relation to purusa and identity.
Who do we think we are anyway? I am blond, I am American, I am a yoga teacher etc. This is how most of us speak, think and therefore identify ourselves. These “I am” statements are all expressions of avidaya, the ego, rather than purusa. Everybody gets caught up in suffering stemming from this egotistical sense of self. I am ugly, I’m not rich enough, I’m not smart enough etc. So what should we do reduce asmita and find more clarity? It only takes a small tweaking of perspective and language to feel a profound difference about all of these ego identity related issues. What if we only ever said, I am purusa, and then explained our lives by using language like I have blond hair, I come form America, I teach yoga. It’s a subtle semantical change, but when we realize that all of the little things we’re so quick to identify with can and do change, and begin to identify with the positive essence within us that won’t change, that essence and all of its creative power shines through.
One of my favourite quotes give us good reason to work with our ego, thoughts and l language.
“Watch your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Watch your words, for your words become your actions. Watch your actions, for your actions become your habits. Watch your habits, for your habits become your destiny.”