The witnessing mind

By Neera Kashyap

December 2010

By practising Sakshi Bhava or witness consciousness, we can distance ourselves from our chameleon-like mental tendencies

“There are two birds, two sweet friends, who dwell on the self-same tree. One eats the fruits of the tree, and the other looks on in silence.”

This verse from the Mundaka Upanishad sums up the secret of abiding happiness, in our lives. We enjoy the fullness of life, yet simultaneously witness this participation silently. This seems essential, when we consider the next verse of this Upanishad, in which the imagery is further developed. The active bird is overcome by sadness at her unceasing and unwise partaking of life. However, when she beholds on the same tree the eternal power and glory of the other bird, the witnessing spirit, she is freed from sorrow. For she sees that between herself and the other bird, there is a fundamental identity.

The watcher

Based on the philosophy of the Upanishads, Advaita Vedanta teaches us that if we could witness our thoughts and emotions, we would discover that what is witnessed is not our essential nature, but an ever-changing flux of our mind’s desires and tendencies. By practising sakshi bhava or witness consciousness, we can distance ourselves from our chameleon-like mental tendencies. By using the anchor of the sakshi, we observe our world, but simultaneously also absorb the detachment, power and impartiality of our anchor, the witnessing mind. Anchored, we observe. Anchored, we inquire into the origins of our thoughts and emotions, and the problems that arise from them. Anchored, we see them rise, take form, and ultimately merge into the witness. The thoughts, emotions, and problems are transformed, by their mergence in the silence and peace of the witness. Anchored, we plunge from the witness mind, to the eternal witness within ourselves – the Atman, or Self, identical with Brahman or absolute consciousness, which is the substratum of the universe and beyond it. This is the zenith – self-realisation followed by liberation.

There is logic to the use of the sakshi bhava to return to the eternal sakshi, as the goal of witnessing and the process of witnessing is the same. From Advaita Vedanta, we learn that the world is a dream or thought-wave in Brahman. Brahman first witnesses his own dream. Since he is ever-existent, and beyond action and change, he neither transforms himself into the world, nor creates it. Instead, to manifest his dream, Brahman sinks into his own divine
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Comments [ 2 ]


Once I realise I am truly a soul, all that I witness in life just flows and I (the soul) is free and unentangled from the world. Thus I am always in equilibrium, established in oneself, continuously live in the present .

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L Jayaram Haravu

Dear Sir I was very happy to see your article on Sakshi Bhava and the beautiful picture representing the two birds which represent the higher and lower selves of all beings. I have just finished writing my book of short stories and poems titled, ‘Eavesdropping’ as mentioned in my Preface to the book, "have come from the Mind eavesdropping on the mind, conditioned by experiences, past and present." I like your image of the two birds very much. I have a request. Is it possible for you to make a similar drawing, suitable for a cover page for a 6 x 9 inch book. I am prepared to pay you for this and also acknowledge you contribution in my book. Alternatively, will you permit me to use the image suitably for use in my book's cover page with suitable acknowledgement and payment to you. I would greatly appreciate your reply. L J Haravu

Life Positive

Thanks for the compliment. We shall get back to you soon.

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