Witnessing is the technique for centering. We discussed centering. A man can live in two ways: he can live from his periphery or he can live from his center. The periphery belongs to the ego and the center belongs to the being. If you live from the ego, you are always related with the other. The periphery is related with the other.
Whatsoever you do is not an action, it is always a reaction. You do it in response to something done to you. From the periphery there is no action – everything is a reaction; nothing comes from your center. In a way, you are just a slave of the circumstances. You are not doing anything; rather, you are being forced to do. From the center the situation changes diametrically: from the center you begin to act. For the first time you begin to exist not as a relatum but in your own right.
Buddha is passing a village. Some people are very angry, very much against his teachings. They abuse him, they insult him. The Buddha listens silently and then he says, “If you are finished then allow me to move. I am to reach to the other village and they will be waiting for me. If something is still remaining in your mind, then when I am passing back by this route you can finish it.”
They say, “We have abused you, insulted you. Are you not going to answer?”
Buddha says, “I never react now. What you do is up to you – I never react now. You cannot force me to do something. You can abuse me; that is up to you. I am not a slave. I have become a free man. I act from my center, not from my periphery, and your abuse can touch only the periphery, not my center. My center remains untouched.”
You are so much touched, not because your center is touched, but only because you have no center. You are just the periphery, identified with the periphery. The periphery is bound to be touched by everything – everything that happens. It is just your boundary, so whatsoever happens is bound to touch it.
And you don’t have any center. The moment you have a center then you have a distance from yourself, you have a distance from your periphery. Someone can abuse the periphery, but not you.
You can remain aloof, detached. There is a distance between you and yourself. Between you as your periphery and you as the center there is a distance, and that distance cannot be broken by anyone else – because no one can penetrate to the center. The outside world can touch you only as the periphery.
So Buddha says, “Now I am centered. Ten years before it would have been different. If you had abused me, then I would have reacted – but now I only act.”
Understand clearly the distinction between reaction and action. You love someone because someone loves you. Buddha also loves you – not because you love him; that is irrelevant. Whether you love him or hate him is irrelevant. He loves you because it is an act, not a reaction. The act comes from you, and the reaction is forced upon you. Centering means now you have begun to act.
Another point to be remembered: when you act, the act is always total. When you react, it can never be total. It is always partial, fragmentary, because when I act from my periphery – that is, when I react – it cannot be total because I am not involved in it really. Only my periphery is involved, so it cannot be total.
So if you love from your periphery, your love can never be total – it is always partial. And that means much, because if love is partial then the remaining space will be filled by hate. If your kindness is partial, the remaining space will be filled by cruelty. If your goodness is partial, then who will fill the remaining space? If your God is partial, then you will need a Devil to fill the remaining space.
That means a partial act is bound to be contradictory, in conflict with itself. Modern psychology says you both love and you hate simultaneously. Amphibian is your mind – contradictory. To the same object you are related with love and with hate. And if love and hate are both there, then there is going to be a confusion – and a poisonous confusion. Your kindness is mixed with cruelty. And your charity is theft, and your prayer becomes a violence. And even if you try to be a saint, on the periphery, your sainthood is bound to be tinged with sin. On the periphery, everything is going to be self-contradictory.
Only when you act from the center is your act total. And when that act is total, it has a beauty of its own. When the act is total, it is moment-to-moment. When the act is total, you don’t carry the memory – you need not! When the act is partial, it is a suspended thing. You eat something: if the eating is partial, then when the actual eating is finished you will continue eating in the mind. It will remain suspended. Only a total thing can have an end and can have a beginning. A partial thing is just a continuous series with no beginning and with no end. You are in your home. and you have carried your shop and market with you. You are in your shop, and you have carried your house and household affairs. You are never; you can never be, at any single moment totally in it. Much is being carried continuously. This is the heaviness, the tense heaviness on the mind, on the heart.
A total act has a beginning and an end. It is atomic; it is not a series. It is there, and then it is not there. You are completely free from it to move into the unknown. Otherwise one goes on in grooves, the mind becomes just groovy. You go on moving in the same circular way, in a vicious circle. You go on continuously in it.
Because the past is never finished, it comes into the present: it goes on and penetrates into the future. So, really, a partial mind. a peripheral mind, carries its past, and the past is a big thing. Even if you don’t consider past lives, even then the past is a big thing. Fifty years’ experiences, beautiful and ugly, but unfinished, everything unfinished – so you go on carrying a fifty-year-long past which is dead.
This dead past will fall upon a single moment of the present. It is bound to kill it. So you cannot live, it is impossible. With this past on you, upon you, you cannot live. Every single moment is so fresh and so delicate, this whole dead weight will kill it. It is killing! Your past goes on killing your present, and when the present is dead it becomes a part. When it is alive, it is not part of you. When it becomes dead, when it has been killed by your dead past, then it becomes yours, then it is part of you. This is the situation.
The moment you begin to act from the center, every act is total, atomic. It is there and then it is not there. You are completely free from it. Then you can move with no burden, unburdened. And only then can you live in the new moment that is always there – by coming to it fresh.
But you can come to it fresh only when there is no past to be carried. And you will have to carry the past if it is unfinished. The mind has a tendency to finish everything. If it is unfinished, then it has to be carried. If something has remained unfinished during the day, then you will dream about it in the night – because the mind has a tendency to finish everything. The moment it is finished, the mind is unburdened from it. Unless it is finished the mind is bound to come to it again and again.
Whatsoever you are doing – your love, your sex, your friendship – everything is unfinished. And you cannot make it total if you remain on the periphery. So how to be centered in oneself? How to attain this centering so that you are not on the periphery? Witnessing is the technique.
This word “witnessing” is a most significant word. There are hundreds of techniques to achieve centering, but witnessing is bound to be a part, a basic part, in every technique. Whatsoever the technique may be, witnessing will be the essential part in it. So it will be better to call it “the technique of all techniques”. It is not simply a technique. The process of witnessing is the essential part of all the techniques.
One can talk about witnessing as a pure technique also. For example, J. Krishnamurti: he is talking about witnessing as a pure technique. But that talk is just like talking about the spirit without the body. You cannot feel it, you cannot see it. Everywhere the spirit is embodied; you can feel the spirit through the body. Of course, the spirit is not the body, but you can feel it through the body.
Every technique is just a body, and witnessing is the soul. You can talk about witnessing independent of any body, any matter; then it becomes abstract, totally abstract. So Krishnamurti has been talking continuously for half a century, but whatsoever he is saying is so pure, unembodied, that one thinks that one is understanding, but that understanding remains just a concept.
In this world nothing exists as pure spirit. Everything exists embodied. So witnessing is the spirit of all spiritual techniques, and all the techniques are bodies, different bodies. So first we must understand what witnessing is, and then we can understand witnessing through some bodies, some techniques.
We know thinking, and one has to start from thinking to know what witnessing means because one has to start from what one knows. We know thinking. Thinking means judgment: you see something and you judge. You see a flower and you say it is beautiful or not beautiful. You hear a song and you appreciate it or you don’t appreciate it. You appreciate something or you condemn something.
Thinking is judgment. The moment you think, you have begun to judge. Thinking is evaluation.
You cannot think without evaluation. How can you think about a flower without evaluating it? The moment you start thinking you will say it is beautiful or not beautiful. You will have to use some category because thinking is categorizing. The moment you have categorized a thing – labeled it, named it – you have thought about it. Thinking is impossible if you are not going to judge. If you are not going to judge, then you can just remain aware – but you cannot think.
A flower is here, and I say to you, “See it, but don’t think. Look at the flower, but don’t think.” So what can you do? If thinking is not allowed, what can you do? You can only witness; you can only be aware. You can only be conscious of the flower. You can face the fact. The flower is here – now you can encounter it. If thinking is not allowed you cannot say, “It is beautiful. It is not beautiful. I know about it,” or, “It is strange – I have never seen it.” You cannot say anything. Words cannot be used because every word has a value in it. Every word is a judgment.
Language is burdened with judgment; language can never be impartial. The moment you use a word, you have judged. So you cannot use language, you cannot verbalize. If I say, “This is a flower– look at it, but don’t think!” then verbalization is not allowed. So what can you do? You can only be a witness. If you are there without thinking, just facing something, it is witnessing. Then witnessing means a passive awareness. Remember – passive. Thinking is active. You are doing something. Whatsoever you are seeing, you are doing something with it. You are not just passive, you are not like a mirror – you are doing something. And the moment you do something, you have changed the thing.
I see a flower and I say, “It is beautiful!” I have changed it. Now I have imposed something on the flower. Now, whatsoever the flower is, to me it is a flower plus my feeling of its being beautiful. Now the flower is far away. In between the flower and me is my sense of judgment, my evaluation of its being beautiful. Now the flower is not the same to me. The quality has changed. I have come into it. Now my judgment has penetrated into the fact. Now it is more like a fiction and less like a fact.
This feeling that the flower is beautiful doesn’t belong to the flower, it belongs to me. I have entered the fact. Now the fact is not virgin. I have corrupted it. Now my mind has become part of it. Really, to say that my mind has become part of it means: my past has become part, because when I say, “This flower is beautiful,” it means I have judged it through my past knowledge. How can you say that this flower is beautiful? Your experiences of the past, your conceptions of the past, that something like this is beautiful – you have judged it according to your past.
Mind means your past, your memories. The past has come upon the present. You have destroyed a virgin fact; now it is distorted. Now there is no flower. The flower as a reality in itself is no more there. It is corrupted by you, destroyed by you. Your past has come in between. You have interpreted. This is thinking. Thinking means bringing the past to a present fact. That’s why thinking can never lead you to the Truth – because Truth is virgin and has to be faced in its total virginity. The moment you bring your past in you are destroying it. Then it is an interpretation, not a realization of the fact. You have disrupted it. The purity is lost.
Thinking means bringing your past to the present. Witnessing means no past, just the present; no bringing in of the past. Witnessing is passive. You are not doing anything – you are! Simply, you are there. Only you are present. The flower is present, you are present – then there is a relationship of witnessing. When the flower is present and your whole past is present, not you, then it is a relationship of thinking.
So start from thinking. What is thinking? It is the bringing of the mind into the present. You have missed the present then you have missed it totally! The moment past penetrates into the present, you have missed it. When you say, “This flower is beautiful,” really, it has become the past. When you say, “This flower is beautiful,” it is a past experience. You have known, you have judged. When the flower is there and you are there, even to say that this flower is beautiful is not possible. You cannot assert any judgment in the present. Any judgment, any assertion, belongs to the past. If I say, “I love you,” it has become a thing that is past. If I say, “This flower is beautiful.” I have felt, I have judged – it has become past.
Witnessing is always present, never the past. Thinking is always the past. Thinking is dead, witnessing is alive. So the next distinction: first, thinking is active – doing something; witnessing is passive – non-doing, just being. Thinking is always the past, the dead which has gone away, which is no more; witnessing is always the present – that which is. So if you go on thinking, you can never know what witnessing is.
To stop, end thinking, becomes a start in witnessing. Cessation of thinking is witnessing. So what to do? – Because thinking is a long habit with us. It has become just a robot like, mechanical thing. It is not that you think; it is not your decision now. It is a mechanical habit – you cannot do anything else. The moment a flower is there, the thinking has started. We have no non-verbal experiences; only small children have. Non-verbal experience is really experience. Verbalization is escaping from the experience.
When I say, “The flower is beautiful,” the flower has vanished from me. Now it is my mind, not the flower I am concerned with. Now it is the image of the flower in my mind, not the flower itself. Now the flower itself is a picture in the mind, a thought in the mind, and now I can compare with my past experiences and judge. But the flower is no more there. When you verbalize, you are closed to experience.
When you are non-verbally aware, you are open, vulnerable. Witnessing means a constant opening to experience, no closing. What to do? This mechanical habit of so-called thinking has to be broken somewhere. So whatsoever you are doing, try to do it non-verbally. It is difficult, arduous, and in the beginning it seems absolutely impossible, but it is not. It is not impossible – it is difficult. You are walking on the street: walk non-verbally, just walk, even if just for a few seconds, and you will have a glimpse of a different world – a non-verbal world, the real world, not the world of the mind man has created in himself.
You are eating: eat non-verbally. Someone asked Bokuju – Bokuju was a great Zen Master – “What’s your sadhana?”
So Bokuju said, “My sadhana is very simple: when I am hungry, I eat; when I am sleepy, I sleep –and this is all.”
The man was just bewildered. He said, “What are you saying? I also eat and I also sleep, and everyone is doing the same. So what is in that that you call it sadhana?”
Bokuju said, “When you are eating you are doing many things, not only eating. And when you are sleeping, you are doing everything else except sleeping. But when I eat, I simply eat; when I sleep, I simply sleep. Every act is total!”
Every act becomes total if you are non-verbal. So try to eat without any verbalization in the mind, with no thinking in the mind. Just eat, and then eating becomes meditation – because if you are nonverbal you will become a witness. If you are verbal you will become a thinker. If you are non-verbal you cannot do anything about it, you cannot help it – you will be a witness, automatically. So try to do anything non-verbally: walk, eat, take a bath or just sit silently. Then just sit – then be a “sitting”! Don’t think. Then even just sitting can become meditation, just walking can become meditation.
Someone else was asking Bokuju, “Give me some technique of meditation.”
Bokuju said, “I can give you a technique, but you will not be able to meditate – because you can not practice a technique with a verbalizing mind.”
Your fingers can move on a rosary, and you can go on thinking. If your fingers just move on the rosary with no thinking, it becomes a meditation. Then, really, no technique is needed. The whole life is a technique. So Bokuju said, “It would be better if you be with me and watch me. Don’t ask for a method. Just watch me – and you will come to know.”
The poor fellow watched for seven days. He began to be more confused. After seven days he said, “When I came, I was less confused. Now I am more confused. I have watched you for seven days continuously – what is there to be watched?”
Bokuju said, “Then you have not watched. When I walk, have you seen? – I simply walk. When you bring tea in the morning for me, have you watched? – I simply take the tea and drink it: just drinking There is NO Bokuju – just drinking. No Bokuju – just drinking of the tea. Have you watched? If you have watched, then you must have felt that Bokuju is no more.”
This is a very subtle point – because if the thinker is there, then there is ego; then you are a Bokuju or somebody else. But if only action is there with no verbalization, no thinking, there is no ego. So Bokuju says, “Have you really watched? Then there was no Bokuju – just drinking of the tea, walking in the garden, digging a hole in the earth.”
Buddha, because of this, has said, “There is no soul” – because you have not watched, you go on continuously thinking that you have a soul. You are not! If you are a witness, then you are not. The “I” forms itself through thoughts. So one thing more: accumulated thoughts, piled-up memories, create the feeling of ego – that you are.
Try this experiment: cut your whole past away from you – no memory. You don’t know who your parents are; you don’t know to whom you belong – to which country, to which religion, to which race. You don’t know where you were educated, whether you were educated or not. Just cut the whole past – and remember who you are. You cannot remember who you are. You are, obviously. You are, but who are you? In this moment, you cannot feel an “I”. The ego is just accumulated past. The ego is your thought condensed, crystallized.
So Bokuju says, “If you have watched me, I was not. There was drinking of the tea, but no drinker. Walking was there in the garden, but no walker. Action was there, but no actor.”
In witnessing, there is no sense of I; in thinking there is. So if the so-called thinkers are so deeply rooted in their egos. It is not just a coincidence; artists, thinkers, philosophers, literary persons if they are so egoistic, it is not just a coincidence. The more thoughts you have, the greater the ego you have. In witnessing there is no ego, but this comes only if you can transcend language. Language is the barrier. Language is needed to communicate with others; it is not needed to communicate with oneself. It is a useful instrument – rather, the most useful instrument. Man could create a society, a world, only because of language – but because of language, man has forgotten himself.
Language is our world. If for a single moment man forgets his language, then what remains? Culture, society, Hinduism, Christianity, communism – what remains? Nothing remains. If only language is taken out of existence, the whole humanity with its culture, civilization, science, religion, philosophy, disappears.
Language is a communication with others; it is the only communication. It is useful, but it is dangerous – and whenever some instrument is useful, it is in the same proportion dangerous also. The danger is this: that the more mind moves into language the farther away it goes from the center: So one needs a subtle balance and a subtle mastery to be capable of moving into language, and also to be capable of leaving language, of going out of language, of moving out of language.
Witnessing means moving out of language, verbalization, mind. Witnessing means a state of no-mind, no-thinking. So try it! It is a long effort, and nothing is predictable – but try, and the effort will give you some moments when suddenly language disappears. And then a new dimension opens. You become aware of a different world – the world of simultaneity, the world of here and now, the world of no-mind, the world of reality.
Language must evaporate. So try to do ordinary acts, bodily movements, without language. Buddha used this technique to watch the breath. He would say to his bhikkhus, “Go on watching your breath. Don’t do anything: just watch the breath coming in, the breath going out, the breath coming in, the breath going out.” It is not to be said like this – it is to be felt. Mm? The breath coming in, with no words. Feel the breath coming in, move with the breath, let your consciousness go deep with the breath. Then let it move out. Go on moving with your breath. Be alert!
Buddha is reported to have said, “Don’t miss even a single breath. If a single breath is missed physiologically, you will be dead; and if a single breath is missed in awareness, you will be missing the center, you will be dead inside.” So Buddha said, “Breath is essential for the life of the body, and awareness of the breath is essential for the life of the inner center.”
Breathe, be aware. And if you are trying to be aware of your breathing, you cannot think, because the mind cannot do two things simultaneously – thinking and witnessing. The very phenomenon of witnessing is absolutely, diametrically opposite to thinking, so you cannot do both. Just as you cannot be both alive and dead, as you cannot be both asleep and awake, you cannot be both thinking and witnessing. Witness anything, and thinking will stop. Thinking comes in, and witnessing disappears. Witnessing is a passive awareness with no action inside. Awareness itself is not an action. […]
If you become dead to your past, totally dead, then you can only witness. What else can you do? Witnessing means becoming dead to your past, memory, thought, everything. Then in the present moment, what can you do? You can only witness. No judgment is possible. Judgment is possible only against past experiences. No evaluation is possible; evaluation is possible only against past evaluations. No thinking is possible; thinking is possible only if the past is there, brought into the present. So what can you do? You can witness.
In the old Sanskrit literature, the Teacher is defined as the death acharya mrityuh. The Teacher is defined as death! In the Katha Upanishad, Nachiketa is sent to Yama, the god of death, to be taught. And when Yama, the death god, offers many, many allurements to Nachiketa – “Take this, take the kingdom, take so much wealth, so many horses, so many elephants, this and this,” a long list of things – Nachiketa says, “I have come to learn what death is, because unless I know what death is I cannot know what life is.”
So a Teacher was known in the old days as a person who can become a death to the disciple – who can give death, who can help you to die so that you can be reborn.
Nicodemus asked Jesus, “How can I attain to the Kingdom of God?”
Jesus said, “Unless you die first, nothing can be attained. Unless you are reborn, nothing can be attained.”
And this being reborn is not an event, it is a continuous process. One has to be reborn every moment. It is not that you are reborn once and then it is okay and finished. Life is a continuous birth, and death is also continuous. You have to die once because you have not lived at all. If you live, then you will have to die every moment. Die every moment to the past whatsoever it has been, a heaven or a hell. Whatsoever – die to it, and be fresh and young and reborn into the moment. Witness now! You can only witness now if you are fresh.
From The Ultimate Alchemy, Vol. 1, Discourse #15
Copyright© OSHO International Foundation
Here you can listen to the discourse excerpt Witnessing: The Base of All Techniques.