Who or What is Witnessing?

Hi Ted,


Thank you for the kind words regarding the poem. Things have been going well, but I seem to have been derailed by a thought. So I’ll try and explain, I know I am not the apparent individual. Ultimately, there is only awareness (I have stopped saying I am awareness, and saying there is only awareness as I get caught up in personalizing awareness).


Ted: I understand your reason for not saying, “I am awareness,” as for now it is helping you break your identification with the apparent person. But actually “I am awareness” is the most accurate statement you can make regarding your true identity. Eventually, you are going to want to take a stand in that identity. Claim it. For, since there is only awareness, Charles is awareness too. In fact, Charles is just a name attached to a particular projected “design” appearing within awareness and made of awareness. It is similar to calling a gold ring a ring instead of simply referring to it as gold. What ultimately matters is not what you call yourself, but what you understand to be the true nature of whatever name you use.


Charles: So now when there is witnessing who/what is witnessing/experiencing?


Ted: You.


Okay, I’m being a little coy. Your question is legitimate.


The witnessing/experiencing as we think of it (i.e. from the apparent individual’s point of view) is the result of the conjunction of awareness and the upadhi (i.e., conditioning agent) of the mind-body-sense complex. Since awareness alone is, it cannot witness anything, for there exists no object other than itself, which is not an object, to witness. Since the mind-body-sense complex is nothing but inert gross and subtle matter, it cannot witness anything. But due to the magic of maya, when these two factors come together, so to speak, the mechanism of the mind-body-sense complex manufactures the phenomenon that the apparent individual  “knows” as the experience of objects.


Ultimately, of course, it is awareness knowing itself in the form of objects through the object of the mind-body-sense mechanism. For awareness is the only sentient “entity” or factor capable of knowing.


The reason we say awareness is not a “knower” is because the function or phenomenon of thinking is not an essential aspect of its being. In other words, thinking is not necessary for awareness to be. In order for thinking to be happening, awareness must be present, enlivening the mind-body-sense mechanism and illumining the thoughts. But the absence of thought does not indicate the absence of awareness. Awareness always is, whether thinking is occurring or not. Moreover, awareness itself doesn’t think. It is only maya that makes the “substanceless substance” of awareness appear to be images, ideas, entities, and events. Pure awareness itself doesn’t see, sense, know, or experience these phenomena. The experience of these phenomena is the product of the mind-body-sense mechanism.


So, we might say that awareness itself is not the knower, but does “know” through the mechanism of the mind.


The point is very subtle, and really the bottom line is that it is all awareness no matter what the name, form, and function might be. So awareness is the knower and at the same time is not the knower. The explanation depends on what perspective from which you are analyzing the circumstance. This is how it is with Vedanta. Since awareness is limitless, all explanations are provisional. Ultimately, truth is not an “either-or” proposition, but a “both-and” realization.


Charles: As all things are in awareness but awareness isn’t actually observing, it is the light in which the observed and observing takes place, including the apparent individual.


I seem to have gotten myself in a bit of a mess, not sure if it’s more “mind vomit!”


Ted: Well, as I mentioned, the doubt is legitimate. But with regard to the removal of existential suffering, which is the essential point and intended end of Vedantic self-inquiry, the issue is not that important.

Whether you are the “knower” or simply the “light” that makes knowing possible, what is important is that you, awareness, are free of whatever you “see.” Everything is you, but nothing can affect you. Objects come and go, but you are always good.


Charles: Thanks again,




Ted: As ever, my pleasure.


All the best to you,