In the witness prakriya, a sadhaka approaches the 'sat' or 'existence' aspect of the self. Body, sense and mind are seen as changing appearances, illuminated by a changeless witness that stays always present, standing unaffected at the inmost centre of experience. That is the real self, beneath its fitful and changing appearances in personality. Standing back in it, as the witness, all objects seen are taken back into its unmixed consciousness. There, they are utterly dissolved, together with their witnessing, in non-duality.
Instead of this drawing back, there is a further prakriya which goes forward, into
confrontation with apparent objects. This further prakriya investigates how anyone
can know what objects truly are. It proceeds through the 'cit' or 'consciousness' aspect
of self, to determine what is 'sat' or 'existence' in the world.
First, as in the witness prakriya, all gross experiences of outside objects are reduced
to the more subtle experiences of our conceiving minds. We think of objects in
a world that's outside consciousness, but this is just imagination in our minds. In actual
fact, no one ever can experience any object outside consciousness.
In anyone's experience, consciousness is always there, together with each object that appears. Each object is experienced as a perception or a thought or a feeling, in the presence of consciousness. Each objects shows that knowing presence, whatever else may be shown besides.
But then, what else does an object show, as it appears? When an object is perceived, it shows perception. When it is thought about, what it shows is thought. When it is felt, what's shown is feeling. Our minds imagine that their perceptions, thoughts and feelings somehow go outside of consciousness, to an external world. But this never happens, actually.
No perception, thought or feeling can actually leave consciousness and go outside. When any such appearance goes out of consciousness, the appearance disappears immediately. Each perception, thought and feeling always stays in consciousness until it disappears. It never does show anything outside, as actually experienced.
So what is shown is always consciousness, and only that. Nothing else is ever shown, in anyone's experience. Consciousness has no outside. Though we imagine that outside things come into it and therefore make it different from what it was before, this is never true, in fact. Consciousness is never influenced or changed, in any way that makes a real difference to it.
When anything appears, it seems that something has been added on to consciousness, so as to make a difference. But again, this difference is false imagination in the mind. In actual fact, the difference is unreal. What appears is nothing else but consciousness; and therefore nothing has, in truth, been added on.
When an appearance disappears, it seems that something has been taken away from consciousness, and this again appears to make a difference. But again, the difference is unreal. Since the appearance did not actually add anything, it disappearance cannot then in truth take anything away.
In short, whatever object may appear, what it shows is only consciousness, as its sole reality. And that reality is always the same, always unchanged - as it is shown by all objects that anyone perceives or thinks about or feels. That consciousness is always present, throughout experience, as the complete reality of all physical and mental objects that appear in the entire universe.
Our minds and bodies make a changing show, of partial objects that appear perceived or thought about or felt. But, throughout this made-up show of partial things, consciousness knows all existence as itself. In that complete existence, each object is contained.
Shri Atmananda had a special way of pointing out how that existence gets misunderstood. Habitually, we think of existence as something that belongs to objects. For example, having seen a chair and touched it and sat in it, a person may say: 'This chair exists.'
At first, there seems nothing wrong in such a statement. But it does have a problem. It puts the chair first, and thus it speaks of existence as something that the chair possesses. It says in effect: 'The chair has existence.' What then is this existence that belongs to the chair? It is something that appears only in some part of space and time. Elsewhere, outside this particular location, the chair's existence disappears.
Thus it turns out that the chair's existence is no more than a partial appearance of some further and truer existence that is more complete. When we think that a chair has existence, we are not speaking with full truth. To speak more truly, it would be more accurate to say: 'Existence has the chair.'
For existence to be fully true, all objects that appear (physical or mental) must belong to it. They must all be its appearances. That is existence in itself, known truly as identical with consciousness, to which all objects point.
How does this prakriya relate to traditional approaches? An illustration is given by
Shri Atmananda, in one of his tape-recorded talks (the talk called 'Sahaja', in the
book Atmananda Tattwa Samhita). Here, Shri Atmananda recounts an incident that
occurred towards the end of his sadhana period, which included a yogic training in
some traditional samadhis. In particular, he had come to practice a jnyana-oriented
samadhi - obtained by repetitively thinking, with increased intensity, that he was neither
body nor senses nor mind, but only pure consciousness.
One day, while he was thus proceeding towards samadhi, a disturbance came in
from a horse-drawn cart, which was going by on the roadside. As the irritating noise
came in, it made him think that he should move somewhere else, to get away from the
distraction. But then, it suddenly occurred to him that even the irritation was a means,
a means of pointing to that same consciousness in which he wished to be established.
As Shri Atmananda goes on to say, once it is realized that every object points to
consciousness, then nothing can be a disturbance that distracts from truth. All seeming
obstacles are thus converted into aids that help to realize what's true. Accordingly,
this prakriya leads on to the 'sahaja' or the 'natural' state, of establishment in
Religious and yogic exercises have long been used as a personal and cosmic preparation, purifying personal motives and expanding cosmic views, in order to prepare for an eventual enquiry into impartial truth. In the end, that enquiry must leave behind all personal development and the entire cosmos that is seen through body and through mind.
Like Ramana Maharshi, Shri Atmananda laid emphasis upon the enquiry itself. In particular, he taught prakriyas that do not need the use of religious worship or of yogic meditation. And he encouraged many of his disciples to focus on these prakriyas, to the exclusion of both religious and yogic exercise. He told these disciples that this would be their most direct way to truth. This was not said as a concession to westerners. It was said for everyone, Indians and westerners and others alike, in the changed circumstances of the modern world.
Unfortunately, there is a prevalent misconception that religious worship and meditative exercise are essential, to put the theory of advaita into practice. And this misconception is not Indian, in particular. It is even more prevalent in the west, as old religious ways and meditations are returning back into fashion, after a long period of repression and neglect.
But as both Ramana Maharshi and Shri Atmananda said very clearly, the direct practice of advaita isn't character development through worship or through meditative exercise. The direct practice is enquiry. What then takes the enquiry from theoretical imagining and postulation into actual practice?
That doesn't happen just by following religious or yogic prescriptions. Instead, the enquiry gets practical when it turns genuinely back -- when it is one's own beliefs and assumptions that are genuinely in question. It's only by unseating one's own prejudiced and preconceived beliefs that questioning can come to clearer truth. That unseating puts the theory into practical effect. And it depends on love for truth, to give up cherished falsities on which the ego takes its self-conflicting and deluded stand.
There is nothing new about such genuine enquiry. It always has been there, refreshed with every generation. And it continues there today, refreshed in current circumstance. But it does need to be distinguished from the personal preparations that lead up to it, but which must be left behind. It's only for the special purpose of this distinction that Shri Atmananda spoke of religious and yogic practices as 'traditional'. He wasn't saying that tradition and enquiry are fundamentally opposed. Far from it, he regarded enquiry as the essential and indispensable basis of tradition -- while religious and yogic practices are dispensable preparations at the changing surface, along with merely theoretical ideas.
In particular, the story he recounted was one of being disturbed while withdrawing into samadhi, and suddenly realizing that the very purpose of the samadhi would be better served by facing the disturbance. He was telling his disciples that yes, he had practised this kind of withdrawal, but he had found it quite unnecessary. Instead of using the statement 'I am pure consciousness' to enforce a withdrawal into a nirvikalpa or mindless state, he had found that he could do better by directly understanding what the statement means. Its meaning is directly shown by every object that appears, including all the objects from which the mind withdraws in samadhi.
By investigating ordinary experience, it is far more practical to see that each object points to consciousness, so that there is no need to withdraw from it. But the practice now is not a formal exercise of getting thrown into a special state. Instead it is a questioning enquiry that faces things for what they are and asks exactly what they show, beneath all seeming make-belief that isn't tested properly.
Ramana Maharshi's last instruction was: "Put the Teaching into Practice."
The instruction is quite simple and few would disagree with what it says. But since the very practice is enquiry, it does throw up a practical question: of what exactly 'practice' means. It's rather differently interpreted, not just in theory but very much in practice, by different sadhakas.
say "No perception, thought or feeling can actually leave consciousness and go outside. When any such appearance goes out of consciousness, the appearance disappears immediately." Surely
all you are doing is saying what the words
mean? To 'perceive' something means to be conscious
of a percept; to 'think' something means to
be conscious of a thought; to 'feel' something
means to be conscious of a feeling.
I.e. it is part of the
definition of these words that they are associated
with consciousness. If a thought 'goes out
of consciousness' then the appearance does
indeed disappear but is this not simply that
it is no longer a thought, by definition, if
we are not conscious of it? So all that this
shows is that (according to dictionary definition)
there are no percepts, thoughts or feelings
outside of consciousness. And "Nothing else is ever shown, in anyone's experience" because
no one sees anything without being conscious.
Back where we started.
A: The attempt is to say only
what the words mean, and to come back to where
we started. The drift of the argument is simply
this. Though we imagine that a world outside
is perceived and thought about and felt, this
never actually happens. All perceptions, thoughts
and feelings always stay in consciousness,
and so they cannot really show anything outside.
As you say, from the very meaning of the words
we use, it is quite clear that "Nothing
else [but consciousness] is ever shown..."
So, whatever our minds may imagine, we are always back in consciousness, from where we started imagining. This imagination makes us think that we have gone somewhere else and seen something else, and that we come back and bring things in. But none of this ever happens, actually. We are always back were we started, and even the starting is false imagination. There never is any going anywhere, nor coming back again.
The amazing thing is that this is so obvious, in the meaning of the words, as you point out. The very meaning of the words we use completely contradicts the descriptions that we make of a physical and mental world. And yet, when this is pointed out, the first reaction is to dismiss it, as too obvious and too trivial.
Yes indeed, the contradiction is obvious; and if one does not seriously consider its consequences and the questions that it raises, then it stays trivial. It is then just a curiosity of language, a theoretical anomaly, of no genuine importance. Then of course one needs mystical and religious experiences, to make one take it seriously.
But, according to the advaita tradition, if this contradiction is properly considered -- following its questions through to their final end -- then that questioning alone is enough, to find whatever there is to be found, to realize plain truth beyond all compromise. Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
also had some problem with the question of
existence. You said: "'The chair has existence.' What then is this existence that belongs to the chair? It is something that appears only in some part of space and time. Elsewhere, outside this particular location, the chair's existence disappears." Again, is this not in fact what the word means? Part of the definition for the verb 'to exist' given by my on-line OED is this: "to be found, especially in a particular place or situation".
Also, isn't 'existence' an attribute in it's
normal usage? I might say that my coffee has
blackness but I wouldn't go on to suggest that
blackness belongs to the coffee.
I'm afraid that I did
not follow the last parts at all. Why "To speak more truly, it would be more accurate to say: 'Existence has the chair.'"?
What do you mean by talking about 'existence
being fully true'?
Again, I am happy with the conclusion (in theory at least!) - that nothing can be a disturbance because all points to the truth - it's just that I don't quite see how this follows from what has gone before.
A: The attempt is only to examine what the word 'exist' means. And neither dictionary definitions nor normal usage are beyond question. The dictionary definition suggests that there are two meanings -- one that to exist is to be found in general, and the other that it is to be found in a particular place or situation. The dictionary favours the particular existence, but an advaita enquiry is not to be settled by some words in a book. Only by a strictly logical examination of direct experience, without our habitual compromises of accepting partial truths that have some misleading and confusing falsity mixed in.
The word 'existence' most definitely describes something that stands, and stands in its own right. It implies a common and independent reality, seen through different appearances. It's the appearances that come and go, as what exists is seen from changing points of view. What exists remains, independent of how it is seen. When something called 'existence' is found to appear and disappear, then that contradicts the meaning of the word. It means that the word 'existence' is being used for something that doesn't really exist.
Take the so-called 'existence' of a particular chair. Since it appears at some place and time, but disappears at others, it does not in truth exist. We speak of it loosely as existing because it is common to some different views that we see when looking at that part of space and time from different locations. Each view is partial. It shows something about the chair, but not everything. But the chair in turn is a partial view of something bigger which contains it. If we think of the whole house in which the chair is contained, then the chair is a partial appearance that we get of the whole existence of the house. This is a partial appearance that we see by looking at the (space-time) location of the chair.
The same consideration would in turn apply to the house. In the end, the word 'existence' can't be used with full accuracy, unless it applies to 'all there is'. It can only properly apply to a complete existence in which all seeming objects are contained. Only that complete existence can be fully true, without the taint of any compromise with falsity.
When that complete existence is identified as consciousness, then every object points to it. Every object shows the knowing presence of pure consciousness, and it thus helps a sadhaka to see what's truly there. It's only in the seeming world that one object may distract attention from another. And only then is the distracting object a disturbance that gets in the way of perceiving other things.
But when impartial truth is sought, there can be no real disturbance. Anything that seems to disturb is only announcing its reality, which is pure consciousness. The greater the disturbance seems, the louder it announces that impartial truth. When that is understood, all seeming obstacles are realized as helpful means to find what's true, and to become established there.
It is, admittedly, a funny sort of paradox, seen from the world's confusions.
Shri Atmananda made a delicate distinction between the witness and the real self called 'kutastha' or 'atma'. The witness is not consciousness itself or atma itself. Instead, the witness is a last staging post on the way to realizing self.
The truth of self is found by clarifying ego's confusion, which falsely mixes up the knowing self with known acts of personality. To clear the confusion, the self that knows must be discerned completely from anything that's known as a differentiated object or a changing act. Through a clear and impartial discernment, there must be a full completion of this duality between the knowing subject and its known objects or acts, so that no trace remains of any mixing up between the two.
As the duality becomes complete, the witness stand is reached. Viewed from ego in the world, a last remaining trace of confused duality remains, in the idea of the witness. There still remains a witnessing of changing activities that show up in the mind. And, despite all intellectual arguments to the contrary, the witnessing still looks a little like one of those changing activities, as it illuminates appearances and records what it has lit.
However, when the witness concept has been fully followed through, to where it points, it is no longer an idea, but an actual stand. And then, immediately the stand is actually reached, the idea of the witness gets dissolved, without a trace of duality remaining there. Accordingly, the witness is a completion of duality that straightaway gives itself up, to non-duality.
When fully understood, the 'witness' concept thus dissolves itself, of its own accord, in that non-dual truth of 'self' which is also called by other names like 'consciousness' and 'kutastha'.
Literally, 'kutastha' of course means 'standing at the topmost peak'
('kuta' meaning 'topmost peak' and 'stha' meaning 'standing'). So I would make the following interpretation of the Gita, 15.16 and a couple of subsequent stanzas:
Here, in this world, there are two principles of life: one changing, while the other stays unchanged. All beings that have come to be are changing. The changeless is called 'kuta-stha' · -- found 'standing at the topmost peak'. (15.16)
As I transcend all change and even that which does not change, I'm often called the 'highest principle', both in the Vedas and the world. (15.18)
Whoever knows me unconfused, just as that highest principle, joins into me, entirely, with heart and mind completely merged. (15.19)
In the first stanza (15.16), the name 'kuta-stha' is associated with the changeless witness, thus indicating that it is the highest standpoint of experience in the world. The next stanza (15.18) suggests an 'I' that is even higher, beyond the world entirely. And the last stanza (15.18) tells of a complete dissolution into that final truth of self, simply by knowing unconfused.
According to Shri Atmananda, that unconfused knowing is attained immediately the witness stand is actually reached. There, dissolution in the real self is immediate and spontaneous, requiring no further thought or effort. In other words, on reaching the topmost height of the witness standpoint, it immediately dissolves its seeming separation as a distinct peak or point, as it merges itself into non-duality.
So yes, there does seem to be a slight difference of terminology between the Bhagavad Gita and advaitins like Shri Atmananda, in the use of the term 'kuta-stha'. But the difference is very slight, having to do with the delicate distinction between witness and self. Advaitins like Shri Atmananda tend to use 'kuta-stha' as it occurs in the Ashtavakra Samhita, 1.13:
kUTastham bodham advaitam AtmAnam paribhAvaya AbhAso 'ham bhramam muktvA bhAvam bAhyam ath' Antaram
Release yourself from the delusion: 'I am this apparent person who has somehow come to be -- perceived outside or felt within.'
Thus, recognize yourself as that true individuality which stands above all seeming else as unconditioned consciousness, unclouded by duality.
Here 'kuta-stha' is clearly not just the witness, but consciousness itself or non-dual self, which is the one true individuality.