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Experiencing and Non-Experiencing Witness
George: Hi, James, all love to you and Sundari!
It has come to my attention via contemplation that the non-experiencing witness is DEPENDENT on the experiencing witness and not the other way around. Without the experiencing witness, what would the non-experiencing witness have to witness?
James: Oh, George, I am going to have to ask you to return your enlightenment certificate. ☺ The answer to your question: with reference to the non-experiencing witness, the word “witness” is not meant to be taken literally. It is only meaningful with reference to objects in common parlance, but in this case it means self-knowing, self-revealing, self-aware in the absence of objects. It only becomes a witness when maya is operating. Otherwise it witnesses itself. Furthermore, when objects are present it does not cease to be self-witnessing. It just accommodates objects without any change.
George: The term “non-experiencing witness” does bring clarity by directing the student’s attention to that which is ever-present and non-changing. But it still falls within the scope of objectifying awareness, does it not?
James: No. Awareness is never an object. There is only awareness, so there is no objectification. We account for objects with maya, which makes it seem as if there are objects. But the objects are just awareness appearing to be something it isn’t.
George: Is there in fact a true non-experiencing witness or is it really reflected awareness in a sattvic mind?
James: No, there is not a true non-experiencing “witness” as explained above, because there is only awareness. Non-duality means no witness and no witnessed. But the reflected awareness is an “experiencing” witness – meaning the subtle body, which is pure sattva – which makes it possible for non-experiencing awareness to experience itself in the form of objects. The teaching about the two witnesses is only meant to remove the belief that you, awareness, are an experiencing entity. This belief is ignorance. Read the following. It should help to clear up your confusion.
~ Love, James
George: Thank you, James. I’m returning my enlightenment certificate; you will find it in its original sealed wrapping. ☺ For the record, I was joking about the non-experiencing witness being dependent on the experiencing witness. It is a great relief to hear you say the word “witness” in the term “non-experiencing witness” isn’t meant to be taken literally. I found myself on a wild goose chase trying to find the line of demarcation between the experiencing witness and the non-experiencing witness. I was looking for something that doesn’t exist and, failing to find it, I thought I was missing something. I WAS missing something, but it wasn’t the boundary line between pure awareness and localized perceptions; it was the appreciation for the fact that localized perception IS pure awareness because everything is pure awareness. There is a difference between the two but there isn’t a separation between the two: the pot and clay.
Sundari’s article (see below) helped with that insight. Thank you. I feel like a small weight has been lifted off me!
James: Good for you, George. I changed my mind about the enlightenment certificate. You can keep it. Great email! But henceforth be sure to use smileys when you are joking. It was good you didn’t, however, because we got a great satsang out of it.
~ Love, James
Satya, Mithya and Other Words
This is an explanation by Sundari to a person who confused what is real with what is apparently real.
Sundari: Mind is not the knower; awareness is the knower of the mind. You are confusing satya and mithya, the real with the apparently real, or the experiencing witness with the non-experiencing witness, in other words, the seer and the seen, nirguna brahman and saguna brahman, the “opaque” and the “transparent witness.”
When I say that mind is not the knower, I mean that it knows because it perceives. Perception is experience. Perception is one but two in the sense that it is brought about by maya and has two parts: experience and knowledge. There is the raw experience of an object, and simultaneous knowledge of the object. You can’t separate the knowledge from the experience in fact, but you can be unaware of the distinction. The self, satya, knows without perception because, in the absence of maya, there is nothing for it to perceive. It has no senses and mind to gain experience and knowledge without the operation of maya. So in its case it is only a knower, a self-knower.
The opaque witness is the jiva with qualities (mind, seen, mithya) looking at awareness through its conditioning ( vasanas). The transparent witness is pure awareness with no qualities conditioning it. It is the witness of the opaque witness. The opaque witness witnesses sense objects, thoughts and feelings. It is the experiencing witness, the person you think you are.
“The witness really means the light that illumines the seer, seen and the process of seeing.” ~ Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi
Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi: “Witness” is applicable when there is an object to be seen. Then it is duality. The truth lies beyond both. In the mantra sakshi cheta kevalo nirgunascha, the word sakshi (witness) must be understood as sannidhi (presence), without which there could be nothing. See how the sun is necessary for daily activites. He does not however form part of the world actions, yet they cannot take place without the sun. He is the witness of the activities. So it is with the self.
Talking of the “witness” should not lead to the idea that there is a witness and something else apart from him that he is witnessing. The “witness” really means the light that illumines the seer, the seen and the process of seeing. Before, during and after the triads of seer, seen and seeing, the illumination exists. It alone exists always.
In the second paragraph, Ramana says the non-experiencing witness (which he calls the witness) witnesses the seer, seen and the process of seeing. The seer in this statement means the opaque witness, the jiva, the individual. The jiva is the non-experiencing witness plus the subtle body.
Swami Dayananda, in his commentaries on Vivekachudamani: “Atma is already self-evident and it is alupta-drk, a seer that never ceases; it never even winks. It is always a witness. But it is a witness only with reference to whatever is seen. By itself it sees only pure consciousness. This self-evident atma is brahman; that is the teaching.”
When Dayananda speaks of the witness that never winks, he is referring to the transparent witness, the non-experiencing witness. The experiencing jiva witness “blinks,” i.e. its consciousness is conditioned by the gunas which cause it to change. Sometimes it is conscious and sometimes not.
The non-experiencing witness is also known as nirguna brahman, and the experiencing witness is called saguna brahman . Brahman means awareness. Nirguna means without qualities, therefore “transparent.” Saguna means with qualities, therefore “opaque.” Qualities means the three energies/qualities that make up the whole of the manifest world, sattva, rajas and tamas.
This nirguna brahman is the self of everything. It never began nor does it ever cease to exist. It is the all-seeing eye or “I” that sees only itself because there are no objects for it to see. It is self-effulgent, and there is nothing but itself.
One aspect of saguna brahman is sattva, consciousness in the form of a pure, clear, still “vibration” that makes knowledge possible. When the mind comes under the influence of sattva, the experiencing witness seems to be clear, and this clarity, or purity, is what people see as holiness.
When the self is realized to be one’s self, both of these terms are no longer useful because they are dualistic – one implies the other.
It would be more appropriate to say that when maya is operating, the self, which sees only itself, knows the seer and the seen, as Ramana says above. The self-aware self appears as a seer but it never actually is a seer, unless seeing refers to its seeing (knowing) its own self. When ignorance is operating, the jiva thinks that the seer is different from the seen: the subject and object are different. Saguna brahman, the seer, is also known as Isvara, the ruler, because it operates maya (the gunas) and is never deluded by them, i.e. it is pure sattva.
When tamas and rajas arise in saguna brahman, awareness apparently becomes a jiva and is deluded by maya. Sattva seems to be clear and pure – only with reference to the objects appearing in it, which are impure. Isvara is the wielder of maya but is never deluded by maya. Purity and holiness are projected by the jiva when it is under the spell of sattva. As your experience confirms, if you work out the logic, awareness is without parts; being part-less, purity and impurity are dualisms. Yes, they are experienced and continue (because the jiva never leaves maya) even though purity and impurity are not real.
When avidya is removed and your nature is known to be non-dual, duality (maya) is no longer an issue even though it still exists, apparently.
Ask yourself who knows purity and impurity? Who knows the witness? Who is aware that I am witnessing (or not witnessing)? You. Awareness. Who knows all the states of existence, bodies, or koshas? You. Awareness.