Personal Growth - Enter the witness
by Sanjiv Ranjan
Since you have been bitten by that black snake of self-opinion –
thinking foolishly that ‘I am the doer,’
now drink the nectar in the fact that
‘I am not the doer.”
and now be happy.
Burn down the forest of ignorance
with the fire of understanding.
Know ‘I am the one pure awareness,’
With such ashes now be happy,
free from distress.
Many have attained enlightenment through the witnessing-consciousness, including the Buddha, and in the process, found joy which is eternal.
It is a state where you transcend the thinker and the interpreter within you, and develop the ability to watch all internal and external phenomena as transient, and separate from the `Self`.
It is the ability to watch your thoughts, emotions and sensations, as though they are clouds floating in the sky, without getting attached to them, or granting them any significance.
When you detach from what is happening around you, you become an observer, you become the witness, and you function through the faculty of pure awareness.
When you observe, you become powerful, because you align with the force which created the universe by witnessing it into manifestation. Witnessing is a function of supreme intelligence.
Witnessing is a faculty, just like vision, like hearing, like the ability to feel something when it touches your skin. The framework of this faculty is gifted to you at birth, but to develop it further, you have to learn to drop analysis.
When you drop analysis, you simply watch, listen and feel. And it is only then that you can enter into the expanded state of being, known as awareness.
Awareness takes you into a state of heightened sensitivity, and through this state of heightened sensitivity, an explosion occurs within you.
When the explosion occurs, it lifts you high. You attain the peak of consciousness, and the moment you touch the peak of consciousness, your sense of separateness with existence dissolves.
A simmering love affair with life
Your consciousness cannot be contained within you now, such is its depth. Its force rushes out into existence, touches the farthest realms of the universe, and returns to your body-mind, enriched with the principles of unity. This is where your love affair with life begins, and the feeling of unity becomes the backdrop against which you live.
Awareness and witnessing are the fundamental pillars of Zen Buddhism, where every action, whether it is chopping wood, or tending to a garden, becomes extraordinary, by virtue of it becoming a window to that which is infinite.
When you have touched the Infinite, every act of yours originates from its luminous creative void, as opposed to the ceaseless mental chatter, or the endless worries within your mind.
Words emerge from a silence beyond, action emerges from stillness, and love becomes an expression of eternal oneness.
Through awareness and witnessing, you get a glimpse of what lies beyond, and sorrow is transformed into wonder for the magnificent mind-expanding process that life is.
And ultimately, it is the witnessing consciousness which is the hallmark of human ‘be-ing,’ which differentiates us from animals.
It is the essence of the grandeur of the human endeavour, a constant companion on the path which takes man closer to being God.
‘Witnessing’ is what makes us human
“Man is a transitional being; he is not final. As it did not begin with him, neither does it end with him. He is not its evident crown, not its highest issue, not the last clear sum of nature. Nature has not brought out in man her highest possibilities; she has not reached in him the supreme heights of consciousness and being; as there was before him the infrahuman, the insect and animal, so there shall be after him the superhuman, the superman.” – Sri Aurobindo
We are human, because we can rise above instinct, and function from a higher intelligence, known as intellect. We are human, because we can observe, we can witness, because we are conscious, and because we have an awareness of ourselves as being different, from the world we occupy. And that is our greatest benediction, as well as our deepest curse.
It is a blessing, because through this awareness of being separate from that which we observe, we can move into a realisation of the ‘Self.’ It is a curse, because this sense of separateness also gives birth to the ego. But nature has been kindest to ‘human be-ing,’ for she gifted to you a very subtle energy, which can transform the separateness felt by the ego, into the principles of oneness which integrate the universe, and take you into a deepest realisation of your ‘Self.’
And this subtle energy is the energy of laughter, the spirit of humour, which innervates the innermost chambers of the brain, and in a sudden moment, when you are ripe, when you are ready to explode, it takes you higher within you, and you hit the God Spot, hidden in your brain.
Laugh your way to enlightenment
There is a small story, which reveals to us the more spiritual dimensions of laughter.
It is said that one day, towards the end of his life, the Buddha accompanied his disciples to a lotus pond. He reached into the pond, and pulled out a lotus, and held it out silently, displaying its roots, the dripping water and mud.
The moment he did this, his disciples began interpreting the action, its symbolic meaning, by trying to understand how the flower fitted into his teachings.
And while all of them were busy in this extremely intellectual activity, one of the disciples laughed. His name was Mahakashyap. The Buddha smiled and said, “What cannot be said, I have given to Mahakashyap.”
In the moment when Mahakashyap laughed, a door opened within his mind, and he entered into enlightenment. Mahakashyap became the Buddha’s successor from that moment onwards.
This anecdote is part of the Flower Sutra, an element of Mahayana Buddhism, which later on transformed into Zen, and the Art of Wordless Teaching.
Even as it reveals to us the utter wordlessness of the phenomenon which is enlightenment, it also gives us very vital clues regarding the more spiritual aspects of laughter, and the phenomenon which is our human-ness.
Enlightenment is simply a peak in the experience of being human, and it is inextricably linked to laughter.
Laughter is spiritual
At least once in your life, you must have used the phrase: ‘And I dissolved into hapless peals of laughter.’
I believe that language has a soul. Studying language, studying the origin of sentences and words, always leads to deeper truths, because language evolves out of life. It evolves out of the collective consciousness, and consciousness, whether individual or collective, always reveals something of the Absolute.
The key word in understanding the spiritual legacy of laughter is the word ‘dissolve.’
When you move into hapless, uncontrollable laughter, when laughter is total and unbridled, you surrender to the moment, you dissolve. You cease to exist, because you forget yourselves for a moment, and become a part of something larger, which surrounds you.
The ‘I’, the ego, dissolves, the veil lifts, for a few moments the curse does not exist, and you are free to witness benediction. You are on the threshold of enlightenment, and all you need is a slight push, a small draft of air blowing in the right direction, and you will enter.
By virtue of your dissolution into the elixir which is life, your body renews itself, your mind moves into treble with vigour, and your heart becomes metaphorically larger, because you visited the City of Joy. Your compassion too, becomes deeper, because for a few moments you moved out of your own confines, you stood outside your ‘self’ and from there witnessed something profound, something divine.
When laughter bubbles up from within you, you have communed with the God within you. You have experienced the joy of togetherness, and known Him, through light-hearted camaraderie.
You drop the awe, you drop all fear, you drop all guilt, you drop all doubts, you drop everything which can be dropped, and you align in friendship with the universe.
Dissolving the ego in laughter Laughter makes you feel innocent and innocence makes you kinder to yourself, as you let go of judgment and all incriminating inner dialogues. It makes you feel as though you never knew sin.
You may have noticed that people who laugh a lot, have kinder faces. They are more forgiving and less condemning, and they live from a genuine fellow-feeling.
Your witnessing consciousness quotient
There is a simple process through which you can find out for yourself, how close you are to living from the witnessing consciousness. Just answer the questions below, and add up your score, to see for yourself.
The questionnaire is built on a scale from 1-10, 10 being the maximum points.
How often do you find yourself dissolving into halpless peals of laughter?
1. Occasionally, every few days – 1 point
2. At least once during the day – 2 points
3. Most of the time – 7 points
In your own opinion, are you someone who
1. Takes people and events very seriously – 1 point
2. Generally believes in giving people and situations, ‘the benefit of doubt’ – 3 points
3. Understands the futility of trying to interpret anything which is happening around you – 5 points
4. Is a keen observer of people and events, and to whom observation brings joy – 7 points Are you someone whose most used faculty is
1. Logic – you arrive at decisions through analysis and interpretation – 2 points
2. Empathy – your decisions are driven by your emotions – 3 points
3. Intuition – your decisions are mostly driven by your gut feelings – 5 points
Most of the time
1. You worry – 1 point
2. You feel looked after by a Higher Force – 5 points
Forgiving is difficult
1. You tend to hold on to hurt – 1 point
2. Relatively easy – you can let go with slight effort on your part – 3 points
3. Natural – you find it difficult to hold on to something hurtful – 5 points
If you were to define life, which definition would resonate to you most
1. Life is difficult – 1 point
2. Life is challenging – 3 points
3. Life is an adventure – 4 points
4. Life is incredibly funny – 5 points
If you were to define God, then which definition would resonate with you most
1. God does punish – 1 point
2. God is kind – 2 points
3. God is a dearly loved friend – 5 points
If you were to define love, then which definition would resonate with you most
1. Love is an illusion – 0 points
2. Love brings pain – 1 point
3. Love is joy – 7 points
4. Love is an endless mystery – 2 points.
Now add up your scores and see for yourself how close or how far away you are from the witnessing consciousness. The higher your score, the closer you are.
Unveiling the human dilemma
The deepest tragedy in ‘human be-ing’ occurs when moments of unbridled laughter are few, and far apart.
As you move forward in time, and years are added to your experience of life, you lose the ability to move into hapless laughter.
The Budhha's flower: The secret of transcendence Why does this happen?
What are its implications?
What do you lose in the process?
How can the loss be redeemed?
Most of you have memories of childhood. Most of you know that children laugh a lot. And their laughter is mostly spontaneous, unbridled and full of joy. Children laugh with their whole body, they clap their hands in mirth, and even their eyes seem to be laughing along with them.
Along with the ability to move into laughter easily, children are highly observant entities. They live, learn and explore their environment, through observation. The key word is ‘observation.’ And within the phenomenon which is observation, lies the alchemy of the mind, lies laughter which redeems. Laughter and the faculty of observation are close buddies.
If you have ever known somebody who evokes spontaneous laughter in you, you will not have failed to notice how much they observe, how intelligent their responses are, and the high degree of present moment awareness they have.
Even the art of mimicry requires very accurate observation. You have to move out of yourself, and merge, meld, become one with the other, so that you can absorb the other’s essence. You have to forget yourself. Only then can mimicry be real.
That is why the ability to observe becomes a very essential ingredient of joy, and when the observation begins to move into totality, when it becomes a moment to moment phenomenon, laughter bubbles up from the depth of your being, and flows into your experience of life. That is when you enter the true depth of the human experience, and leave behind whatever is animal within you.
Observation versus interpretation
Let us now explore observation, in greater depth, and return to the more practical aspects of the witnessing-consciousness.
Observation is a faculty of the witnessing-consciousness, and the witnessing consciousness does not rely on ‘interpretation’ at all.
Observation becomes the faculty of a mind which has moved beyond childhood, which did acquire the faculty of interpretation through education, but moved beyond it, due to a deeper understanding of how futile it is to interpret. A witnessing consciousness observes, but it is a little different from observation in childhood. A child is ‘unconsciously’ observant.
It is his nature to be like that. He does not know any other way of being. And then slowly, through observation of the adults around him, he learns to interpret. And interpretation burdens his mind. With time his ability to observe is taken over completely by interpretation, and laughter loses its hold on his psyche. Therefore interpretation is an acquired trait.
The more you interpret, the more serious you become, and ‘seriousness’ is always associated with pain, with loss, with impending danger. Apart from imprisoning you in a constant, unconscious, feeling of impending danger, interpretation is also a very futile exercise. It is a complete waste of vital resources. It is akin to counting the grains of sand in fistful of earth.
Interpretation consumes vital energy produced within your mind. It does not allow you to collect the energy being constantly produced within you, by the life force, which animates your brain.
Every action of yours produces power and energy. One breath produces one watt of energy, taking a single step, produces 70. And interpretation consumes it all.
It is like water being poured continuously into the sand, and there is none left, to quench your thirst.
One of the biggest reasons why interpretation drains you is that it keeps you trapped in an illusion, and illusions do not let you experience that which is profound, which is real, which is liberating.
Let me share with you the futility of interpretation, through a real-life example.
A few years back I was conducting a teaching workshop. One of the participants lost an expensive cell phone during the lunch break. We all assumed it had been stolen.
In an attempt to nab the culprit, she interrogated an office peon.
Upon being asked whether he had seen the phone or taken it, he evaded eye contact by looking down and shaking his head to say no. The fact that he could not maintain eye contact with the lady whose phone was missing, led her to assume that he was the thief.
But I happened to know the peon. I knew the cultural background he belonged to. I knew that he always lowered his eyes when he spoke to anyone he respected, because in his native village it was considered audacious to look into the eyes of someone superior to you, especially if it was a woman. He had lowered his eyes as a mark of respect, and not as evasion.
In fact, the adage, never trust a man who does not look you into the eye, is very British, and of no value in a country like ours.
The Americans absorbed this line of thought from the British, and made it a part of their culture. And this adage was a very big part of the reason why Native American children, going to federal schools, felt traumatised. The teachers at school constantly pressurised them to look into their eyes while they spoke, whereas in their culture it was considered to be a mark of disrespect.
Coming back to the incident of the stolen cell phone, ultimately the real culprit was discovered. It was a young boy who served food in the canteen. Finding the phone unattended during lunch time, he had helped himself to it.
The police nabbed him and the phone was retrieved, but not before considerable pain was caused to the innocent peon, and what had caused it was a faulty premise, the interpretation that he was guilty because he had lowered his eyes.
Interpretation prevents bliss
Interpretation is a faculty fraught with misery and illusions. In life, one can really never know. And so the best way to navigate your way through life is to live through observation alone, through the witnessing- consciousness, which is different from that of a child, in the fact that it has arrived at witnessing through an understanding of the futility of wasting mental energy on interpretation. But this is easier said than done.
Our minds have become addicted to interpretation. We are constantly thinking about what everything which happens to us means. We are constantly trapped in a never-ending inner dialogue, about this means that, and that means this, and so on and so forth.
In the process we create around us an illusory world of thoughts, which wall us away from reality. And then we cling to whatever illusions find their way into our mind, with a pernicious tenacity.
The Vedas propound that even what you see with your physical eyes may not be true, may not be real.
One of the most forthright examples of it is when you look up at the sky on a clear starry night. You may ‘see’ a star which actually does not exist. It died long ago. But you can see it because its light has taken a million years to touch your eyes.
Or you look at one dark space in the sky, and think that there is nothing there, even though there may be a star shining bright, which you cannot see, because its light has not yet travelled all the way to the Earth.
And this seeing, and not-seeing, is the illusion of interpretation, that just because you are seeing something, it exists, or just because you cannot see something, it does not exist.
The only way to move out of the energy of interpreting, and its constant draining effect on your mind, is to move into the liberating depths of the witnessing-consciousness.
When a witnessing consciousness looks at the sky, it just looks. It sees the sky as it is, without drawing any conclusions. How can the mind come to any conclusions about something as vast as the sky? How can you gaze at infinity and confine it within the narrow framework of logic?
You can only know the sky through an intense communion, and communion belongs to the kingdom of your soul, which is as immortal, as infinite, as that which you behold.
When you look at the sky without trying to understand anything, when your eyes, your heart, your mind, and everything which is whole within you, move into its emptiness, the illusory wall which you have built through logic, drops. And in that moment, the sky actually moves into you, becomes a part of who you are, and from that day onwards, you begin to align with your infinite Self.
Something profound will take place within you, and in one such profound moment, you will understand the cosmic joke. And like Mahakashyap, you will laugh. Laughter will bubble up from within you. The more you witness life, the more you observe, the greater will be the laughter you will experience. Life will come alive and become a stand-up comedian, whose only function is to entertain you. To give you joy.
The more you align with the witnessing consciousness, the more powerful you will become. The greater will be the alchemy within your mind. You will look at lead and a mere glance will turn the lead into gold. Such will be the energy of your gaze.
Stabilising in the witnessing consciousness
Most people think that witnessing is a function of the mind. This is not the whole truth. Witnessing is a function of something within you, which resides beyond the mind. It is the energy within you, which can watch your thoughts, and you all have experienced those rare moments where you entered into reflection, when you detached from the thoughts that you were thinking, and touched a deeper reality. Witnessing is a faculty which needs to be trained.
There are two ways in which you can hone this very powerful, alchemical skill you were born with.
The first is through elimination and the second is through inclusion and focus.
The elimination route exercise
Each time you find yourself interpreting something which is happening around you, each time you find yourself thinking about the meaning of something someone has said, or done, or an event which happened or did not happen, take long deep breaths and to steer your mind away from interpretation, say – Who knows?
And when you say, ‘who knows’, try and evoke a very genuine feeling of wonder, at the vastness of the process which is life, at the infinite possibilities, which surround you in every moment. This feeling of wonder will go a long way in initiating you into the magical world of the witnessing-consciousness.
The Inclusion and Focus Route Exercise
The second way to train your mind to move into the witnessing consciousness is through your body, by focussing on your breath.
Throughout the day, make it a way of life, to keep your focus on your breath.
The only thing you can do with your breath is watch it.
The more you watch your breath, the more your mind learns to witness.
The more your mind learns to witness, the more aligned it gets with the mystical forces which maintain the integrity of the universe.
The last laugh
Last but not the least, consciously feel love for laughter.
Know that laughter is a core human attribute. Laughter is what differentiates you from animals.
When you see a group of people laughing, pause, reflect, and bless them that may their laughter take them into communion with the eternal.
An exercise which will liberate
Take a piece of paper and enlist the things that are bringing you tremendous pain right now.
Now look at the list, and as you look, take a deep breath.
Pause, reflect, and allow yourself to smile as you look, a really genuine smile, just for yourself, for one moment smile, because you are divine, and because life breathes inside you.
When you do this, you will witness the changing currents within your mind. You will sense the alchemy. You will sense something greater than you, stirring within you.
If you do this exercise sincerely, you will get a glimpse of what lies beyond your current situation, beyond whatever brought you to experiencing pain.
In that moment you will find your freedom. You will learn magic. And a miracle will flood your life.
The purpose of awareness is to help you to live with joy. To be happy is to fulfil the divine decree, for happiness is what the universe willed for you in the beginning of time. That is why Ashtavakra says –
Be the one with pure awareness, the witness, and be happy.
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Subject: Profound in such simple words - 4 December 2013
I found the article profound- the note on laughter, wondering what else is possible instead of interpreting things & remaining as the witness.The language is simple and easy to understand, which makes it easy to remember.
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