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Practices for Moving Beyond the
Witness Stage (Audio)
AYP Plus Additions:
The Witness in Relation to Self-Inquiry (Audio)
August 5, 2009
New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the archive, as previous
lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why
Now we are going to take a closer look at the
witness, how it functions, and at specific means that can help us continue
to move beyond its inherent duality. In Lesson
333, we talked about dissolving the witness in unity, a broad discussion
covering experiences, inquiry, samyama, and active surrender in daily
living. In this lesson, we will expand the discussion, and delve more into
self-inquiry practices to support further progress. In the next lesson, we
will offer a modification to our core samyama practice that adds the element
of self-inquiry, so
we will be adding some new angles in practice to help chip away at the
habitual log-jam of awareness self-identified with the objects of
perception, particularly the body/mind. This log-jam is the so-called personal
ego. Our goal is not to destroy our sense of self or the mind, but to
expand them both to eternal infinite expression. The only things we will be
leaving behind will be our limited awareness of life, hang-ups, suffering
and unhappiness. All the rest of who we are will survive intact, and be
vastly illuminated in the process.
Observer, Process of
Observation, and Object
First, let's take a look at the structure of things the witness and its
relationship to our sense of self, the mechanics of perception, and the
objects of perception. It is this relationship that we seek to enliven in a
way that enables us to move beyond the limitations of time and space, and
the suffering that is inherent in the human
condition, even while remaining fully human and engaged in life for the
betterment and happiness of all.
Since the beginning of the AYP
lessons, from the time when we first provided instructions for deep
meditation (see Lesson
13), we have used various phrases to describe what we are cultivating
with our practice abiding inner silence, stillness, pure bliss
consciousness, sat-chit-ananda, the witness, etc. All of these add up to the
same thing an increasing sense of calmness, steadiness and peace coming up
behind our sensory perceptions, thoughts and feelings. At some point we
notice that, while everything within and around us is moving, something
fundamental within us is not moving. We have called it "the witness." So
steady is this silent awareness, that we also have recognized it as being at
the root of our sense of self. Even so, we have still been in duality with
the witness, meaning we are "in here" as the immovable witness, and at the
same time involved in everything that is "out there" in motion, including
our thoughts, feelings and sensory perceptions, all of which are external to
the witness. While we know ourselves to be separate, we have also known
ourselves to be in the world of our body/mind and everything else. So our
sense of self, our "I-sense," is divided into "me" unmoving in here, and
"me" still engaged in everything out there. It is a condition of duality.
This sense of duality actually becomes amplified when we first notice our
witness quality, because we sense ourselves alone and separate from the
events occurring within and around us. This amplified sense of duality in
early witness stage is normal and only temporary, as we shall see.
The duality we experience in everyday life is found in the dynamic of
the observer (subject), the process of observation (perception), and object
of observation. It is "me" and the other two. Before the witness
(pre-witnessing stage of mind see Lesson
327), the observer was considered to be the body/mind, as in, "I am the
body/mind observing these objects." In this situation, the subject ("I") is
identified as the object. It is the object (body/mind) masquerading as
subject and viewing other objects an object-to-object duality.
This is the stickiness of
awareness, self-identifying itself with an object, the body/mind,
creating a false sense of self, what we call ego. Awareness is so
sticky that we may even consider our possessions to be extensions of our
self my house, my car, my money, my family, my nation, etc. The consequences
of this kind of self-identification are well known. Just read todays news
headlines. Surely we can do better.
With the witness coming up, all of this object-identification begins to
recede, enough so that while we may still feel we are the body/mind, we also
know that we are beyond it in abiding inner silence. It is still duality,
but a more liberated kind of duality, and this begins to be noticed in our
perceptions and actions. It is our true self (witness) seeing objects
instead of a
false self (ego) seeing objects. A big step forward. As we experience the
abiding witness, it is duality in transition. Taking it to the point where
our sense of self is able to release entirely from identification with the
body/mind and other objects of perception is the next step. It is a step
that can take some time of gradual uncoupling of the self-identification
(stickiness) of awareness. The more gradual the uncoupling, the more stable
and lasting the result will be. Some have claimed the uncoupling to happen
suddenly, with or without measures taken beforehand to stimulate it.
Sudden transformations of self-identification are possible. They are
often accompanied by physical and psychological trials, and repeated
setbacks. Rome was not built in a day, but one way or another it will be
built! In the AYP approach, with all the practices we have available to us,
we have been cultivating the witness directly in deep meditation, and begun
moving stillness with samyama and basic forms of self-inquiry. With all of
this, our sense of self has been slowly receding from the objects of
perception, including the body/mind.
During this gradual receding of self-identification with objects, the
relationship of observer, process of observation, and object of observation
remains intact. It does not change. What
changes is our sense of self, our I-sense. It
moves out slowly from the objects of perception into our emerging unbounded
awareness. As it does, the initial duality between the witness and the
objects of perception becomes gradually less dual and more non-dual. This
means that the two gradually become One.
At the same time, our sense of self expands to become increasingly
universal, not tied to any particular object, but found to be underlying all
objects of perception. Not self-identified with objects, but underlying them
in a way that we no longer see ourselves as being in the world, but instead,
the world being in us. At that time we are justified in replacing the small
"s" with a big "S." We
have gone from being a small identified self, to being the big universal Self.
This is not philosophical. It is experiential. It is not a concept. It is a
condition that we find ourselves in 24
hours per day.
shift occurs over time, it can be said that we are moving beyond the
witness, because we are no longer observing objects as being outside
ourselves. Even as everything is still moving, we do not see it moving, and
this is the condition of no objects subject only. What we see is stillness
moving, only One, a
paradox for sure, a different experience than the two of
observer and observed, though the mechanics of perception are still
operating as before within this rising unified non-dual experience. What has
changed is our sense of self in relation to all of that. What we see, no
matter what we are looking at, is only Self.
The duality of observer, process of observation, and object of observation
is still functioning, but it has become transparent to us, much the way the
detailed functioning of many aspects of nature are already transparent to
us, including the multitude of activities occurring automatically within our
physical body. We see the whole body and not the millions of activities that
are occurring within it. Like that, as we become consciously the whole of
infinite awareness, we may barely notice the many events that are occurring
within our Self, including
the body/mind. We engage and we are involved, but our sense of Self is
beyond the details, which are constantly radiating divine love coming from
our omnipresent center, our Self.
We are That.
But we are not to be completely transformed to
this condition of freedom and divine radiance in a single day, or even a
single year. It is a process, a journey, first to the witness stage, and
then moving steadily beyond the witness stage into Oneness.
Along the way the temporal world as we have known it dissolves in the
blazing light of Being,
even while we have gone nowhere, and not even changed our daily routine of
activities. It is a journey
from here to here, as we discussed in Lesson
Techniques of Jnana Yoga Advaita (Non-Duality)
Assuming we are up for
it, having a burning desire to be liberated from the suffering of
self-identified awareness, let's see what can be done to move this natural
progression along. Indeed, many have been clamoring for more as the witness
has been rising in everyone, particularly those who have been engaged in
daily practices over the years. The methods we are looking at here are
called Jnana, which means
the yoga of knowledge. It is the same as Advaita-Vedanta,
which is the knowledge of the non-dual
nature of life.
logical approach has been to attack the problem with the mind, which in many
cases turns out to be like appointing the bandit to be the policeman. Not
that there is anything wrong with the mind. But if we are still
self-identified with the mind, even with some presence of the witness,
solutions will be hard to come by unless an understanding is developed, and
means applied that enable us to slip through the snares of the intellect. In
other words, this is not an intellectual challenge. Pure intellectuals are
certainly the worst-equipped for self-inquiry. Rather, it is a journey of
the witness in relation to everything else, necessarily with the application
of specific mental techniques in some cases. It is much the way deep
meditation and spinal breathing pranayama involve the use of specific mental
techniques that enable us to transcend the mind and its objects, cultivating
the core qualities of enlightenment stillness and ecstasy. Now we want to
expand these core qualities onward through the stages of discrimination,
dispassion and unity. In this way, we can go beyond the witness stage. We
have taken important steps in adding structured daily samyama practice (see
Lessons 150 and 299).
This cultivates in us the habit of releasing intentions and inquiries in
stillness, making everything we do more fluid in expressing the divine flow.
Once we have developed the habit of samyama, we find ourselves in an
excellent position to travel the road of self-inquiry.
In previous lessons,
we discussed several classes of self-inquiry, and how they relate to the
evolving stages of mind. We
can further expand on them and categorize them in this way:
- Jnana-Natural - Through sitting practices, the rise of the witness and
dissolving of self-identification with objects via unstructured (natural)
self-inquiry in daily activity.
- Jnana-Releasing - Systematic methods utilizing inquiry and
discrimination for the release of undesirable thoughts and feelings: "I
choose to release that which is untrue."
- Jnana-Affirming - Affirmation of our nature as eternal Self/God through
our chosen ideal: "I am That."
- Jnana-Negating - Discrimination using negation of all objects of
perception, including all thoughts and feelings, for Self-realization:
"Not this, not this" (neti neti).
- Jnana-Transcending - Inquiring our "I-sense" and releasing into its
source for Self-realization:
"Who am I?"
There may be significant overlap between these in any given
system of practice, or in the preferences of the practitioners. In
considering these categories of self-inquiry, the thing to take note of is
where we are on our path right now, and how that resonates with the variety
of inquiry methods available. The goal is not to jump immediately to the
method furthest down the list, but to find one that resonates with our
current condition. By "resonates," we mean it improves our sense of
wellbeing (however we perceive that), without making a mess of it. For many
who are coming to self-inquiry with serious intentions for the first time,
the method will be jnana-natural leading
which are concerned with practical self-inquiry addressing our immediate
issues in everyday living. That is where it begins for most of us, yes?
With a daily routine of effective yoga practices,
we will find abiding inner silence coming up, and an increasing fluidity of
our thoughts, feelings and actions flowing out from stillness on the wings
of rising ecstatic conductivity and radiance. What to think about all this
as it is happening? We will obviously be thinking something about it as we
go about our daily life. In time, we come to realize that our sense of self
is shifting naturally from the objects of perception to this inner silence
that has arisen underneath all of our life experiences, including our inner
processes of perception, thinking and feeling. It is quite easy to go with
that shift in our I-sense, and this is what we can call the advent of
natural advaita natural non-duality. It is also natural jnana yoga, which is
the same thing.
that all the limbs of yoga are connected, so it is not out of the ordinary
for progress in one area of yoga to stimulate progress in other areas of
yoga. The more areas of yoga we are engaged in, the more synergies will be
arising, and the more rapid our progress. The wisdom inherent within us (our
inner guru) knows this, so as we find natural advaita arising, we will be
inclined to inquire. It can be an intuitive kind of inquiring occurring as
we go about our daily business something as simple as, "Who is it having
this experience?" and release. It can take many forms, limited only by our
imagination. The underlying
feature in all true self-inquiry
is that it is released in stillness. This
ability is what we have been developing in samyama all along. With daily
deep meditation and samyama, relational self-inquiry (in stillness) is
inevitable. The rise of the witness and our ability to release our
intentions in it is the foundation of effective self-inquiry.
the way, we may be inspired to add more structured forms of self-inquiry.
How we go about it will depend on our personal inclinations. Even if we do
not have strong bhakti for a far-reaching ideal of non-duality, styles of
self-inquiry that deal with the issues we encounter in daily life are very
effective and will lead us forward. It is an easy place to start, and brings
practical benefits in the here and now: in our relationships, in our
work, and in theincreasingly
illuminated way that we
see the world in general. With the witness, we begin to see our thoughts and
feelings as objects,
and in doing so we find ourselves with the option to release or transform
inner patterns to support our best interests. In time, this will have
far-reaching implications. All of this comes up naturally through through
daily yoga practices.
With abiding inner silence (the witness) coming up,
our thoughts and feelings begin to be perceived as the objects that they
are. Before that, we may have identified with these perceptions as our self,
taking our thoughts and feelings more seriously than was for our own good.
The first step on the road to traveling beyond duality (subject and object)
in witness stage is a deepening of our understanding of thoughts/feelings
being not our Self. With
daily deep meditation, this will begin as a natural realization. If we
choose to take a more active role, we can engage in more structured
practical inquiry into our everyday thoughts and feelings, releasing and/or
transforming them to improve the quality of our life. At the same time, this
kind of everyday inquiry will, over time, move us gradually toward the
non-dual condition of unity.
Lester Levensons "Release Technique" (also known as "the Sedona
Method"), and Byron Katies "The Work," are practical self-inquiry approaches
of this type, and have been shown to be effective over the years. No doubt
there are others. Systems of this kind are a good starting
point for practitioners
undertake a basic form of
structured self-inquiry. That is assuming abiding inner silence (the
witness) is being cultivated.
The jnana-releasing style of
self-inquiry involves inquiring into and making conscious choices about our
thoughts and feelings, regarding them as objects. An inquiry can be about
the truth of a particular thought or feeling we are having, how it is
affecting the quality of our life, and how our situation and state of mind
would change without continuing our identification with it. Very often what
we discover when inquiring about our thoughts/feelings is that they are
mirrors of our own obstructions. What we think is coming from outside is
inevitably coming from inside, an interpretation being made by our
identified awareness trying to protect itself. With this recognition in
relation to any particular thought/feeling, the energy of the
thought/feeling automatically begins to discharge. We then may choose to
release the thought/feeling altogether. There are a variety of ways to
release and transform thoughts and feelings. It always involves choosing in
stillness, and this cultivates our sense of self beyond the body/mind. It is
suggested to review the teachings of Levenson and Katie, and others in this
field, for particular methods.
For spiritual purposes, no system of self-inquiry is recommended to be
undertaken as stand-alone. As a minimum, daily deep meditation is
recommended in order to cultivate the necessary abiding inner silence. Jnana-releasing
techniques can be undertaken prior to the emergence of the abiding witness
without causing undo strain. More direct forms of jnana (affirming, negating
and transcending), as discussed below, are not recommended to be approached
before there is at least a beginning sense of abiding inner silence. We'd
like to avoid putting excessive non-relational effort into methods of
self-inquiry that look beyond the course of our ordinary daily activities.
Non-relational self-inquiry can cause disruption in ones sense of wellbeing
and reduce the desire to pursue a spiritual path (see
Lesson 325). With prudent self-pacing of self-inquiry in relation to our
rising inner silence (witness), such difficulties can be avoided, and the
results with self-inquiry can be positive at every step along the path.
If we have been delving into natural self-inquiry
for a while, or have been doing a structured form of jnana-releasing style
of self-inquiry, at some point we will be looking to do more than processing
the thoughts and feelings associated with ordinary everyday living. We may
find ourselves looking beyond our health, our relationships, our work, our
bank account and possessions, and so on. Not that these things will not
matter anymore. It is only that they will be taken care of in stride, and
our perspective will begin to transcend them to the more fundamental
question of who we are in relation to the world from a perspective that
emanates from beyond our body/mind and worldly concerns. This is caused by
the continued shift of our sense of self beyond the objects of perception.
At this point, we may become convinced that who we are is beyond all
observed objects and phenomena. It is a revelation we can feel, and it may
be interpreted by the intellect as, "I am That. You
are That. All
this is That." It is an ancient
revelation, dating back many centuries to the Upanishads and Brahma Sutras,
and we continue to verify the profound truth of it today.
But that is only the intellect picking up on a feeling. It is the
feeling of an expanding sense of self. This is not an expanding ego, though
it can turn in that direction if the mind grabs on and attempts to own that
feeling without sufficient ability to release it in stillness. Ego is the
child of mind, while the Self is
eternal bliss consciousness. Ego holds on for dear life in time and space,
while the Self holds
on to nothing and is beyond time and space.
What the mind affirms for itself is of little importance, and can become
an obstruction on the path if pressed excessively at the wrong time. True
affirmation is not an act of the intellect. It is an act of releasing
intentions of the intellect in stillness. Intellect seeks more intellect.
Affirmation seeks the Self,
which is beyond intellect. So an affirmation is picking up an intention and
letting it go. Once released, the intention is absorbed in stillness, where
it moves in stillness as ecstatic divine flow.
The Self affirms
nothing, even though it is everything. It is not for the mind to say. It is
for the mind to surrender its impulse. Near the end of the journey, the mind
can proclaim, "I am That!"
But the words themselves are not That.
Only when it is released in stillness can an affirmation be an aid. It can
be done with any aspect of ones chosen ideal "I
am God," "I am Shiva," "I am Jesus," etc. These are all synonymous with Self when
released in stillness. Anything is.
This is the habit of samyama, and, as is always the case, its outcome
will be according to divine flow, not necessarily our surface mental
intention. The outcome of an affirmation is unfathomable. That is okay. We
will get used to it. This is the way of active surrender to the divine. This
is the way of the Self. It
is life in eternal love and happiness.
Depending on our nature, we may feel inclined to
take a different tact in self-inquiry. An ancient method involves negation,
which is the systematic denial of the ego and the world as we have known it.
This is the step-by-step destruction of the self-identification of awareness
with all objects, including the body, thoughts, feelings, and the mind
itself. The premise is that awareness is eternal and that everything else is
unreal, has no substance, and is to be negated. This is the mental process
of inquiring on everything with the conclusion, "Not this, not this" (neti
When we say
that awareness is eternal, we do not mean that the idea of awareness is
eternal, or that even the experience of awareness is eternal, for both of
these are in the realm of thought and relative experience. Eternal means
never born, never dies, never known. In jnana-negating, we become the Self by
discarding everything else, just the way the emptiness of a hole is revealed
by removing all the dirt in the place where the hole is. It is like finding
a beautiful statue by chipping away all the marble that is not the statue.
This is the process of neti
neti. It was championed by
none other than Adi Shankara many centuries ago, and most recently revived
in the public awareness largely by Nisargadatta Maharaj in the 20th century.
There is significant risk in this approach, as it is easy to get into
trouble with it if undertaken as non-relational self-inquiry (not released
in stillness). As mentioned in previous lessons, negation in self-inquiry is
not a negation of life. If we are removing the dirt, it is presumed we will
find the hole of the luminous Self, if we
have abiding inner silence (the witness) to begin with. In that case, it may
be logical and natural to drop (let go of) objects, thoughts and feelings,
regarding them as unreal. However, if we don't have the witness
pre-cultivated, what we may find with neti neti instead is a sense of
hopelessness, fear and despair, because our sense of self will not be found
in stillness yet. In that case, neti neti is not only the annihilation of
our ego and the world as non-self, it is also the annihilation of our sense
of self altogether! In short, the witness is not easily cultivated by neti
neti alone. However, the
witness can be uncovered and
enlivened by neti neti if
it has already been cultivated in deep meditation.
To complicate matters, some teachers strongly encourage the practice of
negation early on the path, which can be psychologically (and even
physically) destructive to the wellbeing of the practitioner. When such an
approach is backed with the energy of a spiritual teacher, there can be a
high price to pay. Much better to start slow and advance gradually. Again,
Rome was not built in a day.
As is the case with all practices offered in AYP, self-pacing is
recommended as necessary to maintain progress with comfort. It does not help
anyone if serious overloads and dislocations occur that may take weeks or
months to recover from. Of all the methods of self-inquiry, negation carries
the greatest risk when overdoingoccurs, as it can
negatively impact every aspect of our life by greatly diminishing our will
to engage, which is not a
characteristic of rising enlightenment. It is spiritual practice run amuck.
So, with those cautions duly noted, the jnana-negating path of neti neti
self-inquiry may still be attractive to some. If the negation is loving and
joyful, you will know there is the resonance of inner silence for you there,
and it can work marvelously. On the other hand, if negation is approached as
a mechanical war-like process of logic, without sincere bhakti, it will not
work. This is true for all forms of self-inquiry. The body/mind, ego and
world are not the enemy. If we treat them as such, we will pay the price.
Ramana Maharshi, one of the greatest sages of the 20th century,
offered a unique approach to self-inquiry that does not deal with the
objects of perception at all. His enlightenment occurred outside the
mainstream of traditional jnana and advaita in India, outside the guru
system altogether. His
approach is innovative, effective and safe. It is perhaps the most direct
approach to self-realization, if it is undertaken relationally, with the
witness pre-cultivated in deep meditation, and with the habit of releasing
intentions in stillness established (samyama).
The method is a direct
inquiry into who or what the I-sense is. The famous question, "Who am I?" is
at the heart of this style of self-inquiry. But first we must notice the
I-sense. So before we ask "Who am I?" we ask "To whom is this experience
right now occurring?" The answer is obvious: It is occurring to "I." Then we
ask, "Who am I?" and let it go.
This is a process that bypasses objects of perception, because we are
first asking who is experiencing them ("I"), and then inquire as to who or
what is "I." Because this approach immediately goes beyond the
subject-object relationship, we call this approach jnana-transcending.
If we look at this technique within the structure of the dynamic of
observer, process of observation, and object observed, we will see that we
are beginning with noticing a perception and inquiring back to the observer
straight away. If our sense of self is out in the body/mind, we are still
being directed back through perception to the observer. This can be easily
seen with the simple inquiry, "By whom is this body/mind being perceived?"
The answer By "I." Then, "Who am I?"
Some may prefer to ask, "What am
I?" It doesn't matter. The key to this method is identifying and inquiring
on the I-sense, or the I-thought, and releasing the inquiry in stillness. It
always comes back to that.
The question, "Who am I?" is not to be
deliberately answered in the mind. It is to be released in stillness. This
is not a process of intellect. This is simple samyama that can occur to us
as we go about our daily business. It should not interfere with our
motivation to be active in life. If it does, we may be overdoing it, and
self-pacing will be in order. More likely there will be a rising enthusiasm
in life, coming from the effulgent Self we
are revealing every time we release the inquiry, "Who am I?" in stillness.
It should be emphasized that this is not a mechanical process. Asking
the question "Who am I?" a thousand times without release in stillness will
pale in its effect to doing it just once relationally (in stillness) with
sincerity. Ask yourself now, what is the feeling of that question mark in
"Who am I?" Do you really want to know who you are? If you do, and have
abiding inner silence, this approach to self-inquiry can work wonders.
Love of the Self
Whatever our approach to self-inquiry may be,
the character of the witness will steadily evolve from a flat separate
awareness to a luminous flowing aliveness that we will see expressing
through the nervous system and everywhere. We have called it a divine
outpouring and stillness in action. Whatever we call it, we come to realize
that this is not only who we are and the Self of
all, but also that it is unbounded love flowing for us, through us, and for
impossible not to fall completely and totally in love with this Self.
We may call it God, or by any name that resonates with our perception of the
divine. It is Self. It is
God. It is the object of our bhakti, and has been the essence of our chosen
ideal since the beginning. The bhakti we have experienced has always been an
expression of That. We
have never been alone. And now It comes
before us in fullness, expressing through the vehicle of our nervous system.
The experiential recognition of this is a milestone in dissolving the
limited self in the eternally joyous Self.
We have been that in seed form all along, and by our dedication and effort,
we can move beyond the witness stage and realize That in
We will continue the discussion of jnana yoga/advaita-vedanta
in relation to the full scope of yoga practices, with the aim of suggesting
additional practical tools that can aid us in moving forward from wherever
we happen to be on our path.
The guru is in you.
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Note: For detailed discussion on the practical
fundamentals of self-inquiry, and its relationship to the rise of non-dual
unity, see the
and the Liberation book
and AYP Plus.