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Witnessing is not aloofness; to witness is to come close
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
26 min
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Questioner (Q): What is the relationship between witnessing, the observer, and the observed? How does witnessing relate to J Krishnamurti’s statement “Observer is the observed”?

Acharya Prashant (AP): What is observation? What is the observed one? Who is the observer? Who is the observer?

Q: The mind (someone from the audience answers).

AP: The mind, right? Is it not something of obvious consideration that as we all sit here, we look at this color (pointing to the deep brown color in the background) in a very similar way? The proof is that all of us will give it the same name. Hardly anyone here will call this ‘yellow’. And is it a coincidence that all of these (pointing to the entire audience) are human beings and all of these, call this (pointing to the background) by the same name? Is this just a mere coincidence? Or is this why we call this (pointing to the background) as ‘Deep Brown’? Because we all are essentially the same mind, because we all are human beings? This is what is meant by “The observer is the observed”. You look at a particular thing, as you look at it, as you call it only because you are the way you are. Because we all are human beings, hence, this (pointing to the background) is deep brown. Because our mind has a certain configuration, hence, this (pointing to the background) appears the way it does.

You, the observer, are intricately linked to that which you are seeing, observing. An alien sitting here may not even perceive this wall as a 2-dimensional thing. You do not even know – How many dimensions exist in the space of the alien? Even when you say ‘alien’, you perceive a very different shape albeit necessarily in 3D. Do you see this? Can you perceive an alien in four dimensions? That is, what is meant by “Observer is the observed”. Even if you perceive an alien, you may perceive him to have a tail; you may perceive him to have five eyes, including eyes in the arms; you may perceive him to have just one arm; you may perceive him to have a horn on the head, an additional one. But can you perceive the alien as a four-dimensional entity? Can you? Try, try even imagining an alien in four dimensions, try. So, that is what, observation, even imagination is dependent on the one who is observing or imagining. If you are imagining, your imagination has to be a 3D imagination.

You can reduce it to two dimensions or one dimension, but you cannot take it beyond the third dimension. This is what the Scriptures call as “The world being a projection of the mind”. They (Scriptures) say “This world is not at all outside of you. This world is exactly what you are. This world is your own projection. You dream up the world.”—They go to this extent of saying. “The world is your own dream. The dream keeps changing. When you're sleeping, the dream has one kind. When you wake up, then the dream has another kind.” In fact, they give you different names depending on the state of your consciousness, but they insist that the dream continues. When you wake up, this is one dream; when you're sleeping, that is another dream; when you are sleeping without dreams, even that is another dream. That only means that you must not take this as an objective reality. No object has any reality independent of the subject. So, this is about the observer and the observed; theoretically.

How does it play out in our lives? Let us see that. To know anything really, you must not believe that you already know it. If you are too afraid of something, you will not be able to observe it without embarrassment or hesitation, without feeling awkward or afraid. Till the point, it is a principle, a theory, some kind of a truism that the observer is the observed. But now, begins our personal story. This is less of an adage and more of our personal agony. We are unable to observe properly. We are unable to observe properly because to observe properly, you must be free to observe. We are not free to observe.

To observe anything, there must not be either attachment to that thing or fear of that thing. If you are attached to something, you will be restricted against knowing anything that goes against your attachment.

If I am attached to something about you that I have dreamt up, then I will not allow myself to observe anything that goes against my dream.

Because if the dream goes then the attachment too goes. Similarly, if I am insecure, I cannot come close to you to observe. I will stay away and keep imagining; I will not come in contact with the fact. Yes? So, total observation does not happen in our case. It does not happen in our case.

Witnessing is total observation. What is total observation? Total observation is a situation in which you feel free to go close to the observed entity. Our personal story is that there is the observer, there is the observed and there is a distance between them; that distance is called fear, expectations, apprehension, attachment, and the rest of our misery. Yes? That is what separates the observer from the observed.

How do we practically look at it? We are unable to look at anything without a sense of the self. You look at a car passing by you on the road and very subliminally, a feeling of deprivation arises. You may not even be conscious of that feeling; sometimes, you are. When that feeling turns into explicit jealousy, then you are. We are not able to observe anything without expectations or fear or without all the opinions and the worldview coming in between. So, there is the 'observer,' there is the 'observed' and in between there is an ocean of misery that prevents us from coming in touch with the observed entity. So, there remains this separation. This separation is a very fundamental duality. The observer remains, the observed remains and the two remain separate because in between there is bhavsāgara , there is the mirage of the world – All the hope that the world offers. Are you getting it?

If these two could come together, then these two will not remain separate, will not remain at all, they will dissolve. That dissolved state is the state of witnessing; where you are observing so freely, so freely that you have become one with the observed entity; where you are participating with such immersion that you don't have to be divided, so that you are not always checking “Whether I am doing the right thing?” There is the world available for observation and then there is you, but you are never integrated with the world.

Have you found this? Even when you are at a party, you are unable to be totally immersed in the party because you're not sure. You are not totally sure whether it is right to party, and you are not totally sure where you should draw the line. You do not know how many pegs should you take – “Is it all right to get drunk in front of guests? Is it? I don't know. I don't know!” So, either you don't take the next one, or even if you take, you take it with guilt. The singer just sang a lovely song and you do not know what to do. You do not know whether to just get up and start clapping like a child – “Is it proper? I don't know. Even if I clap, should I not clap the decency? Am I really free to go and hug the singer? I don't know.” Between the observed world and between you, the observer, there remains an unbridgeable distance. You never feel, therefore, fulfilled.

Witnessing does not mean creating a third entity. Witnessing just means that the observer is so healthy that he has removed this dualistic separation and has come in close contact with the observed, and that is witnessing. The witness does not exist, and that is great news. That is great news because what exists for us is just pain. So, witnessing is beautiful because “Witnessing is the non-existence of suffering”. The separation between the observed and the observer is human suffering. In witnessing, this separation goes away. It is an absence; it is a ‘going away’. The separation has gone away. That is why ‘A witness’ is ‘A nobody’. The observer is somebody.

Who is the observer? The one who cannot go close to the observed one. Who is the observer? Who does not really know the observed one. Once I had said that – “The worldly man is the one who lives in the world, is born in the world, eats in the world, and dies in the world, without ever understanding the world.” That is the situation of the observer. He is busy observing; he takes it as his responsibility to observe and he is never really able to observe. Observation does not only mean seeing from a distance. And even literally, the word ‘observation’ means ‘keeping’, ‘keeping’, ‘keeping close to something’. You say, you observe a fast. Are you getting it? Observation in that sense means participation; being into it, being drenched in it. That does not happen with us. We never allow ourselves to get so fully wet that we may dissolve. Wetness brings with it the risk of dissolution, so we remain dry. Wet things may dissolve, gone. Man is a clay pot, and clay can dissolve. So, there is a risk, better remain dry.

Witnessing means this separation is gone; that whole sea is available; and I am in it, not outside it. So many people have said “Witnessing means staying away and watching the proceeding”. You are already staying away. Now, how far and how further do you want to go? You are saying as if you are a participant; I want to ask you – Which of us is really a participant? To participate, you need guts; to participate, you need faith. Are we able to participate? To participate means the ability to have the right response to a situation. Do we have that? So, participation in our case is not happening. But gurus and teachers have been telling us that we are too much of a participant and we should reduce participation; I am asking – Where is the participation? You are asking to reduce something which is insufficient in the first place. What do you mean by reduction of participation? Show me the participation.

When you are with your wife, are you really a participant? To be a participant means having an original response. You are at best, a machine, and that too a very hesitant machine. A machine that does not know how to go beyond its conditioning. Are you participating? She smiles, do you know the right response? Can you participate? You only know what to do mechanically; you only know what you have done so far all these 20 years, you repeat that. Where is the participation? You need participation, not more aloofness. Witnessing is not aloofness; witnessing is coming close. When you come close, the distance between these two (the observer and the observed) is gone. The observer and the observed are actually both false. Both are false as long as they are two. Both are false as long as there is a distance between them.

And if there is honesty in the observation, that is the method. Honesty in observation dissolves both the observed and the observer. The world will no more remain the same, and you will no more remain the same. The world appears as it does, only because of the distance between you and the world. Go close to the man on the road and the man will no more be the same. And if you can go close to him, you too will no more be the same. Only the distance keeps the illusion alive. Have you not seen this? Is it not a thing of your own experience? The moment you get close to something, the thing changes. The moment you get close to that thing, you too change. The separation is gone; both the observed and the observer are gone, finished. Now, there is a very new quality about them. You can call that quality as ‘love’, or you can call that as ‘witnessing’. And this is so beautiful, because traditionally we have taken love to be closeness, and witnessing to be distance. No, not at all.

Witnessing is love; witnessing is intimacy.

And you don't need to witness, you only need to be honest in your observation, that itself is witnessing. Know rightly; know clearly. Have faith, participating will not harm you. Don't be dumbed down by morality. And don't be too clever; don't try to imagine that participation will enhance something in you. Participate, as one does on the dance floor. One goes there not to earn money or respect; one goes there because one is expressing one's joy. One is not even earning joy, just expressing it. Yes?

And don't do this every moment, every time you are keeping an eye on yourself. Witnessing is not about becoming your own chaukīdār (watchman); that is rubbish. And so many people try the “The night-watchman”, or “The day-watchman” as well. All the time they are trying to see what is happening; you will just be tired down and soon you will be fed up. Who likes doing all this, keeping an eye on oneself?

Instead of keeping an eye on yourself, just be fearless.

Tell yourself you don't need to keep an eye on yourself, “I have so much faith in me that I can allow myself to go unregulated. I do not need to be my own conscience keeper. I don't need to be my own policeman. I don't need to be my own watchman. I need no self-control over myself. I do not need to keep wondering – ‘Oh, what did you do? What was that about?’” This is not witnessing; this is a military rule. You have appointed some kind of a big boss to keep an eye on you. You like this, really, in the name of witnessing? This is not witnessing. And that big boss, by the way, is just your own mental projection. That big boss is not God; that big boss is not your soul. He has been appointed by you; he is your own mind. This is not witnessing at all.

The phrase “Watch yourself” has to be taken very carefully. “Watch yourself” does not mean that you will think about what you are doing. “Watch yourself” just means that – Purity is your nature; whenever there would be an impurity in your thoughts or actions, you would anyway suffer. And that suffering will show in the form of disturbances on the mental radar. Watch those disturbances. And when they come, then don't promote them. It is, for example, not your nature to be afraid; whenever you will be afraid, something will quiver inside. When that quivering comes, then don't promote it. That’s all is meant by “Watching yourself”. That which is Real, that which is Real can never be watched. Only the trembling can be watched. How will you watch silence? But there are people who come and say;

“You know, I've watched myself become very silent.”

“Hello, who was exactly watching the silence?”

“You know, when I sit in this position, after some time I disappear.”

“Ok, so, you disappear. And who watches the disappearance? And if you have disappeared, who remains to watch? And whosoever it is who remains to watch, that mysterious fellow, what does he watch if you have disappeared?”(an audience member chuckles)

But such things circulate a lot.

Your own mind is your best friend. Whenever you would be entering in rubbish, it would respond with trepidation.

There would be vibrations. It (mind) would not like it. Don't name those vibrations; sometimes, those vibrations have beautiful names. You call them as ‘excitement’, ‘anticipation’, ‘hope’. No, vibrations are vibrations; don't name them. And when they come, you must know that you are not liking it. Accept it; that is honesty. To accept what you are really not liking, that is honesty.

Q: I could now see a relation between the two discourses today. In the first part, there seemed to be a contradiction which made me feel restless, but now I feel the contradiction going away. In the second part, I understood that actually, the observer and the observed are separate due to fear, pain, and a lot of emotions. But these emotions are nothing but thoughts (coming from the mind). So, in effect, there is the observer (mind) observing the observed and the separation. Though, I find something confusing. The same mind that observes is being asked to merge, while the cause of separation is the mind itself. So, we're telling the culprit in a way to deal with itself.

AP: No, that is not confusing. In fact, in the first question that we took up in Hindi, we have already dealt with this in detail. Fear is not thought; fear is the inability of the thought to cope with that which it has been burdened with. If you are doing 3 plus 2 equals 5, there is no reason for fear to be present in this, though this might require the application of thought, especially, if it is a detailed problem in front of you. Fear comes when you burden thought with that which fear is unable to reach. Fear comes when you start thinking about that which thought cannot conceive of. Fear means – “I will lose something”. Fear means “An opportunity to gain something will go waste”. These are the two statements of fear – “Oh, I will be diminished” or that “The opportunity to be magnified is being lost”.

Now, thought has no business going into the province of diminishing or amplification because that which You are, is not subject to any reduction or amplification. It is not so simplistic; that we start saying that “Thought is fear”. Yes, fear is a thought but all thought is not fear. Are you getting it? Fear is surely a thought. But to say that thought is fear is to say that thought necessarily needs to be corrupted. No, not really. If thought necessarily needs to be corrupted, then mankind is doomed.

Q: Then, joy is also a thought.

AP: Joy is freedom from thought. Pleasure is thought. Joy is when you have this relief that you don't have to think to be alright; that you are unconditionally all right; that is joy.

Q: But who is that, who's saying all this? This is the mind?

AP: This is the mind who is talking, yes.

Q: Mind is talking to itself.

AP: Yes, the mind is talking to itself.

Q: How does that become comprehensible?

AP: How do you do it day in and day out? Why do you want to ‘comprehend’ it? You are already doing it. Why are you not seeing that which is anyway happening all the time? Are you not in a state of perpetual internal dialog to yourself?

Q: That's the cause of the pain.

AP: How do you know that? No, not really. That noise is there because you are talking to yourself about things that cannot be the topic of discussion. You're talking to yourself not about wearing a blue shirt; you are talking to yourself about 'avoiding the blues of life'. Now, there will be a headache. You have picked up a totally unfit topic. And that is why the inner discussion, which is actually a monologue, but let's call it a dialogue, that is why the inner dialogue perpetuates because it has picked up a never-ending topic. The topic is God and God cannot end, so, your misery does not end.

Q: This question comes to me – How do you make choices at the right time?

AP: By seeing that the choices that you have made so far have not quite been the way they ought to have been. Have you not already made choices? Is this today, the moment the first occasion when you will make choices?

Q: No, I'm saying in the future date.

AP: How do you go to the future without knowing where you stand right now?

Q: We make choices all the time.

AP: We make choices all the time and the choices that you have made so far, they determine the choices in the future. Don't they?

Q: Some of the choices cause pain.

AP: Please see the whole process of making choices, first of all. The choices that you have made so far; are not those choices themselves expressing in the form of this question? Is this question itself not a reflection of those choices you have made in the past? That which you are, is it not a sum total of the so-called choices?

Q: Absolutely.

AP: Yes. So, that which you are, is asking this question.

Q: Yes.

AP: So, this question itself is the choices you have made so far.

Q: Absolutely.

AP: Yes, you see that. So, this question then cannot lead to better choices in the future. What can lead to that so-called “Better future” then? Only by seeing the process of making choices as it is existing right now. “How do I make choices?” Don't ask “How will I make choices in the future?” Ask “How do I make choices today? How have I been always making choices? What is this conditioned machinery?”

Q: How do I make a choice today?

AP: You see that. How did you choose to ask this question? That is a thing of live observation; it is not a theoretical question. How did you choose to ask this question?

Q: Because I want to find an answer, so I make this choice. So, basically, I make the choice to gain something.

AP: Yes. And if you are making a choice to gain something, you have already assumed that…?

Q: The choice is going to give me something.

AP: I am not thirsty; will I pick up this to drink?

Q: No.

AP: If I'm asking for a solution, what am I assuming?

Q: There is a solution.

AP: When I'm asking for a solution...

Q: There is a problem.

AP: Yes, how do you know? It came to you, and without the application of the mind, it was accepted that there is a problem. And from this fundamental assumption, all the choices are being born including the choice to ask this question, including the choice to be desirous of having a problem-free future. How do you know you have a problem? Without all the knowledge that you let in, would you still perceive a problem? I'm talking of problem of the existential nature

A problem like having a hole in the heart, that kind of a problem. Would you still feel?

Q: The problem is that we feel incomplete. That's why we are seeking a solution.

AP: From where did that come, that incompleteness?

Q: I think it comes from the mind itself.

AP: From where did the mind come? That which you call as mind, is it anything apart from the contents of the mind? From where did you gain the contents of the mind?

Q: Experiences.

AP: Right. Why did you let those experiences mean that which they do presently? An experience is nothing beyond the value and the meaning that you give to it. Right now, I'm speaking, are all the people experiencing the same thing?

Q: No.

AP: So, an experience depends totally on the meaning, the value you attached to it. Why did you allow the experiences to mean that you have a problem?

Q: Must have caused some kind of pain or some kind of drama; that's why we thought “It’s a problem”.

AP: How did you come to know that pain is a problem?

Q: Just the way when we feel happy, we feel that this is something good.

AP: No, go closer, go closer. How do you know that whatever happened, was the way you made it out to be?

Q: No, I didn’t understand this.

AP: The child gets seventy percent marks; how does he come to know that this is a problem?

Q: Because other people have thought, he will get better marks.

AP: Is that necessary to perceive that it is a problem?

Q: That's how the mind works.

AP: Really? Had the child not been forced, pressurized, conditioned, would he still have taken the seventy percent marks to be a problem?

Q: No, this is conditioning. This is what I am saying. Experiences and the conditioning.

AP: The conditioning, right? So, that is how the mind has been built up; and that is how our choices have been made.

Q: Absolutely.

AP: Right? Now, must that happen even now?

Q: No.

AP: Can it stop?

Q: I want to stop it; that’s why…

AP: No, can it stop? Because if you will want, then that wanting will be a result of the choices. So, the want will not work. But can it stop really?

Q: I don’t know.

AP: That’s nice, that's nice, probably it can stop. Choices have no life, no energy of their own. And that's such a great relief because they are dependent on the illusioned mind to feed them. The moment the illusion is gone, the energy of choices is also gone.

Q: My essence here is that, when we say that this mind is talking all this thing and we're telling this mind itself is an illusion and it is based on a conditioning, then which part of the mind is talking to which part? Illusion talking to illusion?

AP: Whenever there are parts of the mind, they are all conditioned parts, and no conditioned part can give clarity to the other conditioned part. If you will listen to the mind, the conditioned mind, it will just tell you that there is nothing more to the mind except its parts; and this is the very faithlessness of the mind. It is like the tree telling itself that there is nothing more to it except what appears. There are only twigs, leaves, fruits, flowers. The Mind has parts; and what is it that is not a part of the mind but the very foundation of the mind? That cannot be deceived. All the parts can be foolish; they can be conditioned and corrupted. And if from those parts your choices come, those choices will also be divided, improper, corrupted. But is there not more to the mind than just its parts?

Q: There is. That's what I feel, and that's where…

AP: No, you cannot feel it. Because if you will feel, it would just be another partial feeling. So, you cannot feel That; you have to 'just not know That'. And that is called surrender. Now, you will not need to put misplaced confidence in your own choices because whatever you call as your choice, is a choice of some part of the mind.

Q: It is called faith?

AP: Yes. Now, you can keep your own choices away and let things happen. So, you can ask a question without having a reason, without being partial. And such questions often do come; they are often incomprehensible; but indeed, very beautiful. They are often not even in the shape of questions.

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