The Soul In the Poise of Pure Witness of Nature

Sri Aurobindo outlines the various poises that the Soul can take in relation to Nature as expounded by the Gita: “The distinction made in the Gita between the Purusha and the Prakriti gives us the clue to the various attitudes which the soul can adopt towards Nature in its movement towards perfect freedom and rule. The Purusha is, says the Gita, witness, upholder, source of the sanction, knower, lord; enjoyer; Prakriti executes, it is the active principle and must have an operation corresponding to the attitude of the Purusha.”

Sri Aurobindo then systematically begins his review of these various standpoints of the soul with the first, the role of Witness of Nature. “The soul may assume, if it wishes, the poise of the pure witness, sakshi; it may look on at the action of Nature as a thing from which it stands apart; it watches, but does not itself participate.”

This status implies a withdrawal from active involvement with Nature. Since everything in Nature is conditioned by the action of the three Gunas, this status as Witness may be founded on any one of the three Gunas: “This may, therefore, be an attitude of renunciation or at least of non-participation, tamasika, with a resigned and inert endurance of the natural action so long as it lasts, rajasika, with a disgust, aversion and recoil from it, sattvika, with a luminous intelligence of the soul’s separateness and the peace and joy of aloofness and repose; but also it may be attended by an equal and impersonal delight as of a spectator at a show, joyous but unattached and ready to rise up at any moment and as joyfully depart. The attitude of the Witness at its highest is the absolute of unattachment and freedom from affection by the phenomena of cosmic existence.”

This Witness consciousness is not the only, nor even the ultimate standpoint in the relation of Soul to Nature, but it is an important first step in the process of disentangling the Soul from its apparent subjection to Nature.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 17, The Soul and Nature, pp. 413-414