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Is the Self a Perceiver?
Ted: Dear James, I am seeking clarification concerning the perceiver.
I have always experienced and understood the self to be the witness of all that is and is not, that which is “beyond” all that is and is not, and yet is at once identical with all that is and is not, that in which all that is and is not appears and appears not to appear, that on which all that is and is not depends but which, due to its purely subjective nature, does not depend on anything.
James: The “I” that “experiences” and understands the self is the ego, or the jiva, the reflected self. In the apparent reality the self can be experienced and known in a quiet mind by the jiva, but in reality it is the other way around, as it is the self that experiences the ego, jiva, or reflected self. Consciousness is the uncaused cause, and “you” the jiva, are the effect. The self has no problem with “you” because “it” “knows” all exists within it, the self. It is the knower of the witness, that which illuminates the witness, and there is nothing “beyond” it. The Sanskrit term for the jiva is “pratibimba,” or the self as it appears reflected in the subtle body. There is only awareness/consciousness, and everything else is only apparently real and has a dependent existence on consciousness.
Having said that, this paragraph is correct knowledge. Your use of the word “beyond” indicates to me that you know that everything is non-dual awareness. The meaning of the worlds “purely subjective nature” is correct, but the words themselves are misleading because the self is neither subjective or objective. It is the knower of both.
Ted: Recently I have been encountering the teaching that the self is not the perceiver/experiencer/knower/witness, but rather the light, or consciousness, that illumines all perceptions and experiences.
Ram: This is correct.
Ted: I understand this with regard to the perceiver that is equated with the individual perceptual entity (i.e. jiva), but I know there is another perceiver that is more universal and non-local in nature. So I am wondering if my understanding of the teaching is correct.
James: Your understanding is partially correct. There is only one knower of all that is – and that is consciousness/awareness, self. There are not two “perceivers,” as this is a non-dual reality. Consciousness/awareness, your true nature, is the substrate of everything and everything exists in it. Understanding this is the essence of non-duality, but “perceiver” is a bad word for the self because it implies duality. “Witness” is better, although it too implies something to be witnessed. What kind of witness is it? The best example is the sun. It is unaware that it is illumining the earth. It just follows its nature and shines. It shines as well on the emptiness of space as it does on the objects that appear in it. It doesn’t experience. It knows because it shines.
Ted: Is the perceiver/experiencer/knower/witness referred to in this teaching that sense of an individual, or egoic entity (i.e. jiva), that is associated with by the self when it erroneously identifies with the three bodies?
Ted: Or is this teaching meant to negate even that impersonal sense of being/existence/presence that I refer to as “the universal, non-verbal I Am,” that in which all exists and yet which remains “beyond” all existence (i.e. all manifested phenomena both gross and subtle, and even that which appears as nothing, the causal realm)?
James: Yes. Both “personal” and “impersonal” are concepts. The self is the knower of the personal and the impersonal.
Ted: Nisargadatta Maharaj talked of “Truth being prior to Consciousness” and emphasized that even consciousness (i.e. what I referred to earlier as the universal, non-verbal I Am) had to be transcended. While I can understand this idea, however, such a concept seems essentially nihilistic to me. It somehow doesn’t compute, so to speak. How could eternal and immutable awareness/beingness ever cease to be?
James: There is nothing prior to consciousness, consciousness is the substrate of everything and prior to everything. Vedanta is based on irrefutable “logic,” i.e. meaning everything flows from one principle, the eternal non-dual self – which in turn means that it cannot be negated. Vedanta cannot be refuted, because the self cannot be negated. Using this logic, you can negate everything except you, awareness/consciousness. Even science is coming close to making this official with their new theories such as the Planck scale and superstring theory. The statement by Nisargadatta is either a mistranslation or what he really meant is that consciousness is prior to the reflected self, i.e. everything from the causal body down.
Ted: On the one hand, I do understand that from the self’s perspective even “consciousness,” since it can be referred to linguistically, could be considered just another concept. On the other hand, this notion seems akin to what you have referred to as the yogic notion that the mind has to be somehow killed, never to think a thought again, which strikes me as rather absurd.
James: It does not think, all thinking happens in it – as the mind (there is only one mind) exists in it, although the mind and the self do not have the same order of reality. So how could the mind be “killed”? Consciousness exists prior to the mind, so whatever is happening in the mind does not and cannot affect or negate consciousness. “Killing” the mind is one of the many erroneous enlightenment myths.
The words that give it all away are “prior to” and “beyond.” The words need to be explained. Do they imply that you have to get to the absolute in some way, experience it in some way? Or do they mean that you, awareness, are the Absolute?
Ted: It seems to me that, were awareness negated, there would remain not a trace of awareness to know itself or abide in its (not that it is an “it”) true nature, and hence no realization.
James: This is correct. It is the only thing you cannot negate. It is yourself. The implied idea in this statement is that you are not consciousness, or the absolute, that they are objects. Both just indicate your nature.
Ted: My understanding is that as awareness I am eternally aware of myself as whole and complete, limitless, actionless awareness. I know that the three bodies appear within me, but I am forever “beyond” and untouched by them.
James: This is correct. Yes, as you mention in the next statement, it is important to understand that awareness needs no instruments (body/mind/intellect) to know itself. It is self-luminous.
Ted: In this sense there remains, or perhaps more aptly put, eternally exists, an “I” that is aware of itself as all, yet beyond all. This “I,” however, is not an “I” in the egoic sense (i.e. jiva), but rather a universal consciousness that is in this context only referred to as “I” because there exists no other, no object, that is other than itself. My understanding is that this “I” is what Ramana Maharshi referred to as the “II” and is the atman that the Vedic sages equated with brahman.
James: There is only one “I,” and it is you. It appears to be personal when viewed through the three bodies and impersonal when viewed from Isvara’s perspective. He was referring to this “I” along with its reflection in the subtle body. This is why he uses two “I”s, the first being the “true I” and the second being the apparent “I” that comes into being when maya, ignorance, operates.
Ted: Is this correct understanding? Thank you again for your guidance.
James: Yes, Ted, it is very good. Once one gets out of the yogic idea, the experiential idea, and hears Vedanta, the path is smooth sailing.