Q: "What do we know when we know? Is the
triad 'the knower, knowing and the known' or
is it 'knowing, knowing and knowing'? Does it
matter whether if everything is ultimately in
Consciousness (the Absolute), the individual's
consciousness is of an external object or indirectly
of that external object via a state of consciousness?"
A: On the status of mind and objects, Shri Atmananda's position is very clear
(as summarized in Atma Darshan, 3.1). An object is never known directly, but always
through mind. Hence, in the triad, 'knower, knowing, known', the mind is always implied in the middle term of the triad. And it makes knowledge of an object indirect,
thus distancing the known object from the self that knows.
This distancing of knower and known is dvaita or duality. The way to advaita is to
reflect back inwards, to that which truly knows within. The outward-going mind is
found to be misleading and inadequate. What it takes for knowledge isn't really
knowledge in itself. Instead, it is a confusion of knowledge with ignorance, which
produces a compromised and misleading appearance of truth mixed up with falsity.
Not satisfied with this outgoing show, of seeming knowledge through the mind, the
pure sattva or higher reason turns back toward the self that knows.
By turning back toward the self, the middle term of the triad is cut out. Knowing ceases to be indirect. It ceases to be out through mind. Instead, it stays within, as the non-dual knowing of true self. There, known and knower are identical. By cutting out the middle term, of dualistic mind, the triad becomes a dyad -- of knower and known, with nothing in between to distance them. The dyad then collapses of its own accord, into a truth of inmost self where no duality is known.
From the standpoint of that final truth, both outside world and inner mind are unreal. The relative reality of outside world depends on inner mind, through which the world is known. Standing always in the mind, the outside world is shown to be an inner artefact, conceived inside the mind.
But then, having thus no outside, the mind has no inside either. The mind turns out to be unreal and self-contradictory. It takes itself as consciousness going out to world. And that same world is never 'out', as mind imagines it to be. Thus consciousness does not in fact go out, and mind is self-deceived. It is an unreal show, a misleading trick of false appearance that its self-deception makes it seem to be.
This position is the same as Shri Shankara's, so far as I can see. In the end, the idealist position is shown to be incorrect. Strict advaita is not idealist, but completely realist. But paradoxically, that non-dual realism is attained by a completion of the mind's idealistic dualism. Where the knower is completely separated from the known -- so that their confusion is eradicated utterly -- there advaita is attained.
Having gone out to seeming world through self-deceiving mind, the only way of getting back to truth is to return through mind, so clarifying mind's mistake that it dissolves into that truth where self is always found at one with all reality.
In relation to the present discussion about the witness and the mind, three notes are appended below from Shri Nitya Tripta's 'Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda'.
1st July 1954
49. What is witness knowledge?
Witness knowledge is pure Consciousness. But mentation knowledge always appears in the form of subject-object relationship. When you stand as witness, you are in your real nature.
Mentation appears in the light of the witness. The light in the mentation knowledge is itself the witness. There is no mentation in the witness.
The state of the witness is the same as that of deep sleep and Consciousness pure.
8th March 1955
13. Is not the witness only one?
No. It is neither one nor many, but beyond both. When you say that it is only one, you stand in the mental realm as an expanded ego and unconsciously refer to the many.
29th March 1956
17. What is the significance of the three states?
1. The waking state represents diversity in all its nakedness. 'Realistic' (or materialistic) philosophy is based upon the apparent reality of this state.
2. The dream state (mental state) shows that it is all the manyness of the one. The idealistic philosophers base their philosophy upon the relatively greater reality of the mind, as compared with sense objects.
3. The deep sleep state: Truth alone is absolute non-duality. Vedantins depend upon the experience of deep sleep to expound ultimate Truth, the real nature of Man.