The Witness and the Illusion – Osho

How may one enter into that supreme truth, how may one know that supreme mystery which is so near and yet remains unknown; which is forever with us and yet is lost? How may we reach it, how has anyone ever reached it? In these sutras is the explanation of that science, the process of that path.

Let us first understand a few things about illusion. Illusion means to see as it is not. Truth means to see as it is. Whatsoever we see is illusion, because we involve ourselves in our seeing; our experience does not remain objective, it becomes subjective. Whatsoever is out there, it does not reach us as it is. Our mind distorts it, embellishes it, ornaments it, prunes it – making it bigger or smaller and changing it into many, many forms.

The biggest change and the deepest illusion is that we associate ourselves with everything, which in fact we are not associated with at all. As soon as we are associated the reality is lost and the dream projection starts appearing true. For example, we call a thing ‘mine’ – ‘my house’… the house which was there when we were not and which will still be there when we will be no more. Something that can be before I am, and will continue after I am not, which does not disappear with my disappearance – how can it be ‘mine’? If I die this moment my house does not collapse or disappear, in fact it will not even know that I have died – then what kind of association can there be between myself and that house? What is the relationship? Tomorrow someone else will live in that same house and call it ‘mine’. Yesterday somebody else was living in it and he was calling it ‘mine’. Who knows how many people have stuck their ‘I’ on that house, and have passed away? But that ‘I’ never sticks onto the house, and that house does not belong to anybody; the house belongs to itself.

In this world everything belongs to its own self. If we can understand this properly, we shall be able to shatter the illusions easily.

There is a piece of land. You call it ‘my field’, or ‘my garden’. If not today, tomorrow there will be claims advanced about the moon – America will say it is ’ours’, Russia will say it is ’ours’. Until yesterday the moon did not belong to anybody; it simply was. It simply belonged to itself. But now someone or other will claim the moon and sooner or later there will be struggles and confrontations. Up to now the sun belonged to itself, but tomorrow the sun may also be claimed.

Wherever man puts his feet he labels it with his ‘I’. Nature does not accept his labels, but other human beings have to, otherwise there will be confrontation. Others have to accept the labels because they want to put their own labels on things. So the house becomes somebody’s and the piece of land becomes somebody else’s. Why are we so impatiently eager to stick this label of ‘I’ somewhere? The eagerness is because the more places and things on which we stick this label, or make our signatures, the bigger the circle of ‘mine’ grows and the bigger the ‘I’ is developed within us.

‘I’ is as big as the number of things that carry its label. If someone says that he has one acre of land, how can his ‘I’ be as big as that of another person who says, “I have one thousand acres of land”?

With the expansion of the ‘mine’, the ‘I’ feels as if it is growing bigger. If the expanse of ‘mine’ decreases, the ‘I’ also shrinks. So every brick of ‘I’ is made up of ‘mine’. Thus the more ways I can say ‘mine’, the higher rises the palace of ‘I’. Hence our whole life we remain in only one race – how many things we can stick our labels on and say, “It is mine.” In so doing, while we continue to label things, one day we die and wherever we had put our labels, someone else begins to stick his labels on the things we had called ‘mine’.

Things belong to themselves, not to any person. They can be used, but there can be no ownership. Ownership is an illusion, and while we are using them we should have a sense of gratitude because we are using something that does not belong to us. But when we say ‘mine’, all sense of gratitude disappears and a new world of ‘mine’ is created. That includes money, position, prestige, education and everything. For these things it may be okay, but what is more surprising is that things which have nothing to do with ‘I’ also get included. We say: my religion, my god, my deity, my temple – with whom ‘I’ can have no relationship whatsoever. And if it can, then there is no possibility of freeing oneself from the world. If religion can also be mine and thine, if God can also be mine and thine, then there is no hope; where shall we then find a way out of ‘mine’? If God also falls within its jurisdiction, then there remains no space left anywhere for the ‘I’ to go away to. But we put the label of ‘mine’ on temples and mosques and on God as well.

Wherever man goes he reaches there with his ‘mine’. Try to understand the implications: ‘I’ actually becomes bigger through ‘mine’, but the greater the expanse of ‘mine’, the greater the unhappiness. The increase in ‘I’ is the increase of unhappiness, because ‘I’ is a wound. And the greater the ‘I’, the bigger the area vulnerable to hurt, so that more hurt can be inflicted upon it. It is like someone having a large physical wound which tends to get hurt every now and then; any move the person makes and it gets hurt. The wound is big, its area large, and any little touch becomes a hurt. The bigger the ‘I’, the bigger the hurt and the greater the pain.

With the expansion of ‘mine’, the ‘I’ expands. As the ‘I’ grows, the pain also grows. On one hand one feels that happiness is on the increase, on the other hand the unhappiness also goes on increasing. The more we increase this happiness, the more unhappiness goes on increasing – and between the two an illusion is carried on. Where there is no possibility of saying ‘mine’, there too we go on saying ‘mine’ falsely, un-meaningfully. This hand you call ‘mine’, this body you call ‘mine’, are also not yours. When you were not, even then the bones, the skin, the blood of this hand existed somewhere; and they will exist even after you. The bones in your body, they have been bones in so many other earlier bodies. The blood in your body has flowed in the body of some animal yesterday and in some tree the day before. Who knows how long, how many billions and trillions of years, the journey has been? Even when you won’t be, not a single particle of your body will be annihilated. It will all exist. It will flow in some other bodies.

Understand it this way: the breath you took in just now, a moment ago it was inside the person sitting next to you. A moment ago he was calling it “my breath,” and a moment later it does not belong to him anymore, it has become somebody else’s.

Life does not accept anybody’s claim over it and goes on flowing each moment. But we go on claiming. This illusion of claim, this is man’s deepest illusion.

So whenever a person says ‘mine’, he is falling in ignorance. This sutra is to break this very illusion. Not only the land is not mine, the house is not mine, the money is not mine; even the body is not mine. Your body is made up from the atoms of your parents. Those atoms existed before you were, and they are coming to you after a long journey. Before your parents, they were in the bodies of their parents. These atoms have had a long journey of millions of years; now they constitute your body. That body too is a field, a land in which you are rooted, but you are not it. You are not the body, you are separate from it.

This sutra says a man is not only not the body, it goes even deeper and says man is not even the mind, because mind is also an accumulation.

Do you have a single thought which may be yours, which you can say is yours? There are none. Some have come from tradition, some from scriptures, some from hearing someone, some from your reading – they have come from one or the other external sources. If you search for the birth chart of your every single thought, if you look at the journey of every single thought, you will find you don’t have a single thought of your own, they are all borrowed; they have come to you from somewhere.

No thought is ever original, all thoughts are borrowed. But we claim even a thought to be ‘mine’.

Remember, even a breath cannot be called ‘mine’; thought is a much more subtle matter. Going deeper and deeper into this analysis, where does one come to? Where have the Upanishads come to? Where does Buddha come to? Where does Mahavira come to? Continuing this analysis, using the negation: “I am not this, I am not this”; when in the end nothing remains to be negated, when nothing remains about which I can even think whether it is mine or not, that which remains even then…. When there is nothing left to cut, when all relations are broken and none remains that can still be broken, that which remains even then is what the Upanishads have called sakshi, the witness.

There is a big world around me – it is not mine. Shrinking I come closer – this body is not mine. Descending deeper into it – the mind is not mine. Then who is there whom I can call ‘I’? Or is there nothing in me which I can call ‘I’? Am I, or am I not? Cutting away ‘mine’ in its entirety, what purest thing remains within? Only one thing remains which is not discarded; there is no way it can be discarded.

In the West there was a philosopher named Descartes – a deep thinker. He decided not to accept anything until he found the truth which cannot be doubted, so he began to reflect. He labored hard and he felt everything was doubtful. One may say “God is,” but a doubt can be raised about it. God may or may not be, but a doubt can always be created. “There is heaven,” “There is liberation” – it can all be doubted. Descartes said, “I will believe only in a thing which cannot be doubted, not something that can be proved, or argued in favor of, no. Something that cannot be doubted, something which is inevitable, indubitable… only then I will accept it.”

He searched and searched. However he too stopped at one point. He denied God, heaven, hell, and everything else, but he got stuck at one point – “Am I or not?” Descartes said, “This cannot be doubted, because even if I say ‘I am not,’ then too I am needed to be able to say this.” It is like a person who is in the house and who answers the caller, “I have gone out,” or “Right now I am not in the house. Come back in a little while and then I may meet you because by then I will be back home.” His very telling this will be the proof of his being at home. So the fact of my being is indubitable. This much is clear, that I am. Though what I am is not so clear. Am I a body, or a mind, or what? – This is not so clear.

This is what the Upanishads are in search of. One after another everything is eliminated, just as one would remove layer after layer of an onion. If you go on peeling an onion, finally nothing will be left of it in your hand. An onion is nothing but layers upon layers of skin – clothing over clothing – and there is nothing to be found if you go on undressing it. It is as if someone may have made a cloth-doll and we remove the cloths one by one. The first layer removed, the second layer is revealed; the second layer removed, the third layer is revealed; and so on, until all layers of cloths have finally been removed – and there remains no doll any more, just a nothingness in your hand.

So the biggest search of man is to find out if he too is nothing but an accumulation of many, many layers that we can go on peeling off and in the end there is nothing in our hand. If we go on denying and saying, “I am not the body,” “I am not the mind,” “I am not this,” “I am not that,” it may turn out to be the story of the onion and in the end nothing may remain of which one may say that “This is me.”

But the Upanishads say that even if it is so, yet it is necessary to know the truth; even if it is true that there is nothing within, yet it is worth knowing it, because the outcome of knowing the truth is very significant. But on searching deeply, however, it is found in the end that no, man is not just an accumulation of clothing, man is not just layers upon layers upon layers, there is something within the layers which is different. But we only come to know of that when by removing all the layers we arrive within ourselves. That element which remains in the end is called by the Upanishads sakshi, the witness.

This word sakshi is very beautiful and very valuable. The whole philosophy, genius and wisdom of the East is implied in this small word. The East has contributed no other more important word than sakshi, the witness, to the world. What does sakshi mean? Sakshi means the seer, the witness. Who is this who is experiencing that “I am not the body?” Who is this who is experiencing that “I am not the mind?” Who is this who goes on denying that “I am not this, I am not this?” There is an element of seeing, of watching, of the watcher within us which sees, which observes everything. This seer is the sakshi, the witness. What is seen is the world. The one who is seeing is who I am, and what is being seen is the world. Adhyas, the illusion, means that the one who is seeing misunderstands himself to be all that is seen. This is the illusion.

There is a diamond in my hand: I am seeing it. If I start saying that I am the diamond that is an illusion. This illusion has to be broken and one has to come, finally, to that pure element which is always the seer and is never the seen. This is a little difficult. The one who is the seer can never be seen, because by whom will it be seen? You can see everything in the world except yourself. How will you see yourself? – Because two will be needed for seeing, one who sees and the other who is seen. We can grab everything with a pair of tongs except the tongs themselves. That effort will fail. We may find it puzzling that when the tongs grab everything, why can they not grab themselves?

We see everything, but we are not able to see ourselves. And we will never be able to. Whatsoever you can see, know well that that is not you. Thus take one thing to be certain, that whatsoever you are able to see is not you. If you are able to see God, then one thing has become certain, that you are not God. If you have seen light within you, one thing is conclusive, that you are not light. If you have an experience of bliss within you, one thing is determined, that you are not bliss. Whatsoever has been experienced, you are not that. You are that which experiences.

So whatsoever becomes your experience, you are beyond it. Therefore it will be useful to understand one difficult point here, that spirituality is not an experience. Everything in the world is an experience, but not spirituality. Spirituality is reaching towards that which experiences all, but which itself never becomes an experience. It always remains the experiencer, the witness, the seer.

I see you: you are on one side; I am on the other side. You are there, the one who is being seen; I am here, the one who is seeing. These are two entities. There is no way of dividing oneself into two so that one part sees and the other part is seen. Even if it was possible to divide, then the part that would be seeing is myself, the part that would be seen would not be myself. The matter is finished.

This is the whole process or methodology of the Upanishads: neti, neti – neither this nor that.

Whatsoever can be seen, say that you are not that. Whatsoever can be experienced, say that you are not that. You can go on stepping backwards, until nothing remains that can be denied or eliminated. A moment comes when all scenes are lost. A moment comes when all experiences are dropped – all!

Remember, all! The experience of sex is of course dropped; the experiences of meditation are also dropped. The experiences of the world, of love and hate are dropped; the experiences of bliss and enlightenment are also dropped. Only the pure seer remains. Nothing is there to be seen; only emptiness remains all around. Only the watcher remains and the empty sky all around. In the middle stands the seer, the watcher, who sees nothing because everything has been denied and eliminated that could be seen. Now he experiences nothing. He has removed all experiences from his way. Now he remains alone, the one who was experiencing.

When there is no experience, there is no seeing; there is nothing seen and there is no object to be seen, and the witness alone remains. It becomes very difficult to express in language what really happens because we have no other word except ‘experience’ in our language, therefore we call it ‘self-experience’ or ‘self-realization’. The word experience is not right. We say “experience of consciousness” or “experience of the Brahma, the absolute,” but none of these expressions are right, because the word experience belongs to that same world which we have eliminated. The word experience does have a meaning in the world of duality, where there was ‘the other’ too. Here it has no meaning at all. Here only the experiencer remains, the witness remains.

The search for this witness is spirituality.

Remember: the search for God is not spirituality. In the ancient yoga sutras God is not discussed, not even mentioned. There was no need. Later, even when the sutras mentioned God, they called God a means in the journey of spirituality and not a goal. It is said God is useful in the spiritual practice, in the spiritual search, hence it is good to accept it, but it is only a means, a device, that’s all.

Buddha and Mahavira also denied God. They invented new devices. This device is not needed, they said. If God is nothing but a device, then other devices will serve the purpose as well.
But both Buddha and Mahavira cannot deny sakshi, the witness. They can deny God, they can deny everything else, but when it comes to sakshi, it is religion. If there is no mention of the witness, understand it well that the whole thing has nothing to do with religion. Everything else is secondary. Everything else may be useful, may not be useful, there can be differences of opinion about everything else, but not regarding the witness.

Therefore, if some day in this world a science of religion is created, there will be no mention of God, soul or Brahma. These are all local matters – some religions believe in them, some do not – but the sakshi will certainly be mentioned because it is not a local issue.

There can be no religion without the witness. So the witness alone is the scientific basis for all religious experiences – of all religious search and journeying. And it is on this and around this sakshi that all the Upanishads revolve. All principles and all indicators are for pointing out the witness.

Let us try to understand this a little further. It is not difficult to understand the meaning of the word witness, but it is a complex thing in actual practice.

Our mind is like an arrow, sharpened on one end. You may have seen an arrow: it cannot be shot from both its ends; an arrow will only go in one direction. It can’t travel in opposite directions simultaneously; it will go only towards its target in one direction.

So, when the arrow is on the bow and then it is shot, there are two aspects to be considered – when it leaves the bow on which it was set it begins to move away from it; and it begins to come closer towards the target, where it was not earlier. One state was that the arrow was on the bow, and far away on a tree was sitting a bird. The arrow was still on the bow and had not yet pierced the bird. Then the arrow left the bow, started moving away from it and coming closer to the bird. And then comes the state when the arrow has pierced the bird; the bow remains vacant and the arrow is in the chest of the bird.

This is what we are doing with our awareness the whole time. Whenever the arrow of our awareness leaves us, the bow within becomes vacant and the arrow, on reaching the object, is attached to it. A face looked beautiful to you; the arrow of your awareness is released. Now that arrow is not within you, the awareness is not within you. The awareness raced away and attached itself to the beautiful face.

There is a diamond lying on the road; the arrow is released from the bow. Now the awareness is not within you, now the awareness moves and, reaching the diamond, pierces its heart. Now your awareness is with the diamond and no longer within you. Now the awareness is somewhere else. So all the arrows of your awareness have reached out and pierced somewhere else – and somewhere else, and somewhere else. You have no awareness within you any more, it is always going out. An arrow can only go in one direction but awareness can be bi-directional – and when that happens, the witness is experienced. The arrow of awareness can go in both directions; it can be two-edged.

When your awareness is drawn somewhere, if you can manage only this much, then one day the witness will happen within you. When your attention is drawn outside – say a beautiful young woman passed by or a beautiful young man passed by, your awareness was caught there and now you have completely forgotten yourself, the awareness is no longer within. Now you are not conscious, now you have become unconscious because your consciousness has traveled to someone else, now your consciousness has become the shadow of that person or object – now you are no longer conscious.

Now, if you can do this one thing: you saw someone beautiful; your awareness was drawn there. If in that same moment you can be aware of the bow within from where this arrow has been shot, if you can simultaneously see them both – the source from where the awareness is shooting forth and the object where awareness is going to – if they can both come into your attention simultaneously, then you will experience for the first time what is meant by the witness. From where the awareness is arising, from where the awareness is shooting away – that source has to be found.

We see a tree – we see its branches, its foliage, its leaves and flowers, its fruits, but we are not able to see the roots. The roots are hidden in the darkness underneath. But the tree is taking its nourishment from the roots. Your awareness expands and travels all around, a big tree of the world is created, but the source from where the awareness emanates, that oceanic consciousness remains unnoticed. What is needed is that the roots are also seen at the same time; both the roots and the tree are seen simultaneously.

Understand it this way: when I am speaking, your awareness is on my words. Make this a double pointed arrow… it can become so right now, this very moment. When I am speaking, do not only listen to what I am saying, also remain aware simultaneously that you are listening. The speaker is someone else, he is speaking; I am the listener, I am listening. If even for a moment, now, here, you can manage both things simultaneously – listening as well as remembering the listener, this remembrance within that, “I am listening” – then there is no need to repeat the words. If you repeat the words, “I am listening,” you will not be able to listen at the same time; you will miss what I said. There is no need to form the words inside, “I am listening, I am listening.” If you did that, you would be deaf for that period of time to what I was saying. In that moment when you heard your own voice saying, “I am listening,” you wouldn’t hear what I was saying.

It is a simultaneous experience of listening to what I am saying and also being aware that you are listening. The feeling, the realization, the experience that you are the listener is the second aspect.

Achieving awareness of the second aspect is difficult. If you can manage it, becoming aware of the third aspect is very easy.

The third aspect is this: if the speaker is A, the listener is B, then who is the one that is experiencing them both, the speaker as well as the listener? That one is the third, and this third point is the witness. You cannot go beyond this third. This third one is the last point. And these are the three points of the triangle of life: the two are the object and the subject, and the third point is the witness of these two, the experiencer of these two, the seer of these two.

-Osho

From Finger Pointing to the Moon, Chapter Three

Finger Pointing to the Moon

Copyright© OSHO International Foundation

You can read the entire book at the Osho Library.

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