Who Is the Detached Observer?

Hi Ted:

Forgive me if I’m being dense here, but I’m still not completely clear. I’ve been running these questions through my head while trying to find specific descriptions in books, and watching Ram’s videos. It’s probably easier to start from scratch rather than refer to what you have written to me about so far, at least it will keep it simple for me. I think I’m pretty much asking the same questions over and over again, but this time I think I’ve clarified my thinking enough to construct some specific and to-the-point questions. Here they are…

1. Who/what is the entity that is capable of inquiring into and perceiving the apparently real instruments of “my” subtle body during waking consciousness; the detached observer if you will?

 

Ted: Awareness. You.

 

Steven: While observing during quiet thinking, contemplating or meditating, “I” can focus “my” attention (an action done by “me”)…

 

Ted: Yes, by the apparent individual referred to as Steven, the doer, ego, subtle body.

 

Steven:  …and deliberately scan across the components of the subtle and gross bodies, experiencing feelings, thoughts, thinking, the senses, doing, etc., with the detached recognition that I am NOT these things, i.e., realizing that I/the observer must be subtler than these things. “I” cannot “go further back” to see this “I”, so I am assuming that this IS what/who I am in this situation. Is this an accurate observation?

 

Ted: Yes, you are the awareness in which these phenomena arise or appear. The buck stops “at” you. But it’s not only “in this situation.” You are eternal—which doesn’t mean that you last a long time, but that you are altogether “beyond” time; you are the awareness in which the subtle object (i.e., concept) of time exists—and all-pervasive. Thus, you are always and ever the witness of any and all objects, experiences, and situations.

Steven: 2. Your last note told me that Steven the meditator is just another object in awareness.

 

Ted: Yes, the apparent person who is performing the action of meditating is known to you, awareness. Anything perceivable, conceivable, or experienceable in any way whatsoever is an object, including the relative subject-knower-seer-doer-meditator-witness that you identify as Steven. You are the “absolute” subject, the non-objectifiable knower, the unseen seer, the pure awareness that is incapable of executing action due to its all-pervasiveness (which leaves it no “arena” in which to act and no background against which change or motion—the hallmarks of action—could be delineated) and perfect fullness (which renders it entirely desireless and, thus, without motivation to act).

 

Steven: This probably means that this detached observer is also just an object.

 

Ted: No, the detached observer is you, awareness. Actually, “detached” is not the proper word with which to describe pure, witnessing awareness because it suggests that you, awareness, have somehow—through some action?—become detached when the reality is that you were never attached to anything other than yourself—for, truly speaking, there is nothing other than yourself (i.e., awareness)—in the first place.

 

That comment was probably something of a “mind bender” given that we’ve just been discussing the fact that you are none of the objects appearing within the scope of your being. What needs to be understood in this regard is that though reality is essentially non-dual and awareness is the only “thing” that exists, Vedanta initially discriminates between the real and the apparent, the self and the “not self,” the seer and the seen, etc., in order to break the seeker’s identification with objects, which are only “designs” arising within and made of awareness in the same way that waves are only “designs” or forms arising within and made of water. Once you understand that you, awareness, are not any or even the collective of all objects in the sense that no object itself or even the entire arSteven of objects that comprise the manifest universe can comprehensively define or describe you, then you can recognize the underlying truth that all objects are actually nothing other than you.

 

This is the point at which you understand why Krishna, speaking as pure awareness, tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita that while all objects are in him, he is not in any objects. In other words, all objects are nothing other than pure awareness, but pure awareness cannot be defined by any object and is ever free of all objects in the sense that whether objects appear or do not appear within the scope of awareness, awareness “itself” always is.

 

This is also the reason why the mind or intellect is necessary in order for the apparent person to gain self-knowledge, but awareness doesn’t need a mind in order to know itself. Awareness is aware of itself simply by virtue of being itself. In this sense, we might say that the nature of awareness is more along the lines of what we might think of as pure existence. Awareness is not awareness of something. Awareness is like the “light” in which all objects appear and by means of which all relative or “focused” awareness (i.e., awareness directed at an object by an apparent person) takes place.

 

Steven: But what is the nature of this object?

 

Ted: In light of my previous comment, the “detached observer” or unattached witnessing awareness is not an object.

 

Steven: Is it a component of the subtle body? Is there a specific name for this detached observing attention-focusing entity?

 

Ted: If you are talking about observing from the perspective of the apparent person, then the subtle body, the antahkarana or “inner instrument,” is the observer. That is, the subtle body is the instrument through which the observing takes place in a relative sense. The awareness informing the instrument of the subtle body and which makes witnessing/observing possible is you, pure awareness.

 

The “attention-focusing entity” is referred to as vishwa, which means “the one who knows the objects constituting the surrounding or outer world,” in its association with the gross body and the vyavaharika satyam (i.e., the transactional reality available to all apparent entities) during the waking state. It is referred to as taijasa, which means “the shining one,” in its association with the subtle body and the pratibhasika satyam (i.e., the apparent person’s subjective interpretation of the transactional reality along with his or her thoughts, emotions, memories, and fantasies, which are available only to the particular apparent person in whose mind they are arising) during the dream state, which includes what we might call the dream aspect of the waking state (i.e., all the thoughts and emotions arising in one’s mind).

 

Steven: Or is it actually just a part of the subtle body complex: The “intellect”? The “mind”? If so how am I able to seemingly detachedly observe calculating/thinking/feeling etc.? Is it possible this entity is separate from the instruments of the subtle body, i.e., the intellect/mind/ego?

 

Ted: As explained in the previous comment, the observer is you, witnessing awareness. The relative observation of objects is taking place by means of the instrument of the subtle body or mind. The intellect, which is reflected awareness appearing in the form of a component or function of the subtle body, is the knowing instrument. You, who are of the nature of pure awareness, are the illumining factor that lends sentiency to the subtle body (i.e., enlivens it or causes it to function) and is the “light” in which objects appear, become identifiable, or are known to exist.

 

Again, understand that the awareness that you are is not “focused” or directed toward objects. You (i.e., pure, limitless, self-luminous awareness) are simply the “field” of “light” in which all objects appear.

Steven: 3. If just another object, am “I” the detached observer, or thinker, meditator, etc. not simply floundering around as an unconscious phantom “entity”, a thing that takes on different roles in the scheme of things, no more real/important than a thought or an itch from a mosquito bite? Is this a phantom known as Steven writing this note to Ted?

 

Ted: Yes. Apparently. The action happens when the instrument of action is illumined and enlivened by awareness.

 

Steven: I understand that the subtle body is not conscious.

 

Ted: Correct. The subtle body is composed of subtle elements, which are no more conscious than gross elements. The subtle body is only lent sentiency when illumined by awareness.

 

This circumstance can be likened to an iron ball that is heated in a blacksmith’s brazier in order to make it malleable. Though the iron glows red, it is not itself on fire. It glows because the atoms of the ball are vibrating at an extremely high frequency due to their exposure to heat. Similarly, the gross body (i.e. the iron) and the subtle body (i.e., the red glow) are only seemingly alive (i.e., burning) due to their being illumined by awareness (i.e., the fire/heat to which the iron ball has been exposed).

 

Steven: Is this also the case for this phantom entity if it exists?

 

Ted: The phantom entity is basically the subtle body. We could say the phantom entity or apparent person referred to as Steven is a composite of three bodies—gross, subtle, and causal—but in technical terms Vedanta defines the apparent person in terms of the subtle body because the causal body is the wholly unmanifest cause out of which the apparent person arises and the gross body is actually nothing more than a conglomeration of the five gross elements, which in the absence of the subtle body cannot be said to be a person as such. The subtle body, therefore, is the essential constituent or defining aspect of the apparent individual person.

Steven: 4. What is actually being focused unless it is awareness?

 

Ted: Awareness is, as you say, what is being focused.

 

Steven: Is it simply reflected awareness being focused?

 

Ted: Reflected awareness is the mind, the instrument through which awareness is focused within the seemingly dualistic context of the apparent reality. In contrast to the brain, the mind itself is not a physical object, but is simply reflected awareness that takes the form of the objects on which it alights, so to speak, in the form of attention.

 

Steven: If so, who/what is focusing it?

 

Ted: The apparent person, the relative subject, is “using” the instrument of the mind to focus awareness and, thus, observe or know objects.

 

In this regard, the apparent person is an object projected by maya, ignorance, which serves as a vehicle for the instrument of the mind to know “other” projected objects. Such is the structure of the dream of the manifestation or apparent reality projected by means of maya.

 

Maya is the creative power inherent in awareness that causes awareness to apparently forget its true nature and appear as something it is not (i.e. the manifest universe in both its subtle and gross aspects). Ironically, if limitless awareness did not have the power to apparently delude itself it would not be limitless.

 

Thus, the knower, the instrument of knowing, and the known are all reflected awareness. And the “light” of being in which these three apparent constituents and the process of relative knowing occurs is pure awareness—you.

chart? I think Ram has described it as simply showing that awareness is shining on the subtle body.

 

Ted: Om indicates awareness. The awareness illumining the mind-body-sense complex that constitutes the apparent individual person is the same awareness that illumines the entire cosmos and, as mentioned, exists wholly independent of or “prior to” the manifest apparent reality. In Sanskrit, pure awareness in its absolute or universal aspect is referred to as Brahman. And that same awareness in its association with the apparent individual is referred to as atma.

 

Self-knowledge is the understanding that Brahman and atma are one. This is the meaning of the mahavakya, the great statement, “That Thou Art” or “You are that,” which constitutes the entire message of Vedanta in a nutshell. Just as the same space both fills and surrounds all the houses in the neighborhood, so the same limitless awareness informs and transcends all beings in the universe. In other words, despite your appearance as an individual person, your true nature is limitless awareness.
Steven: Thanks for your patience, Ted. I’ll get there.

Warmest Regards,

Steven

 

All the best,

 

Ted