Cultivating the Witness Consciousness (Non-Duality)

Cultivating the witness consciousness is hard but most liberating at the same time. It is the higher-order knowledge that comes from effortless witnessing (non-doing) rather than effort-based learning.

One day while in meditation, I went into a deep state of silence. This silence was not of the sense organs but the mind. And then, I questioned myself, “if I am experiencing the silence, who is the one that knows this experience.”

I know it sounds confusing. And to be honest, it is. But beyond this confusion is liberation and the essence of who we are. This question has plagued the human mind since the beginning of humanity. Who are we, or more accurately, what are we?

Non-duality is a difficult subject. Most people dismiss it because it brings to light some uncomfortable concepts and is easy to misunderstand. I was initially hesitant to write about it, but I decided to do it.

Most of you will not reach the end of this article. Some of you will give it up midway. Some will end up scratching heads in confusion. Some others will dismiss it as vague, abstract, or philosophical. Yet, there will be a handful who will wake up to a new mind.

I’m not asking you to believe or unbelieve anything. What you do with this information is your prerogative. Accept it! Dismiss it! It’s your choice. If you decide to continue, keep an open mind.

Let’s Begin!

If I ask you who you are? You can tell me the things that describe you, Like your name, occupation, age, physical attributes, hobbies, etc., But all of that is just an accumulation. It does not tell me “what you are.”

For that matter, we know nothing about the nature of existence. We can easily describe an object based on how it appears to our senses, but in reality, we don’t know anything about it. What appears to the senses is just a composite.

What is the Witness Consciousness?

This will be hard because I’m trying to define the undefinable, the unity behind the multiplicity, the absolute, the source, the infinite field of awareness or consciousness, the one that cannot be known

If it cannot be known, how do we know that it exists or why bother learning about it in the first place? The answer is surprisingly simple, through direct experiences, like the physical sensations, thoughts, memories, feelings, emotions, and more.

The problem is that it cannot be objectively verified. Any attempt to understand it logically will fail because “we are it.” Only when you sit in deep silence, you experience an awareness that reveals the witness consciousness. You are not the awareness, but the one who is aware of the awareness.

You see, this knowledge is of a different kind. The best English words I can come up with are realization and awakening. However, this realization, knowledge or call it whatever you want, does not come through the experience of the senses, but by transcending the ego and the mind.

Awakening to the witness is a spiritual need. Just like we have physical and psychological needs, there is a subconscious drive or spiritual need – The need to realize the higher self

People trapped in materialistic aspects of life consciously choose to ignore the spiritual self. But since that tendency is present within them, it keeps them restless. They deliberately suppress their spiritual need and soothe themselves by acquiring material possessions. 

The problem with this approach is that it gives only temporary happiness, usually the result of brain chemistry. We mistakingly believe this happiness to be the ultimate goal. Over time, we become slaves of our physiology.

When we are the witness, It’s a feeling of immense liberation, and there is no dependency on any external object to attain abiding peace and bliss. It’s ceaseless watching or allowing of all that arises without offering any resistence.

The witness is not realized through the mechanism of thinking. It is a special kind of “knowing” independent of thought or time. It’s instantaneous. It’s ever-present and eternal. It’s the final constant.

We experience awareness in three states, the waking state, the dream state, and the deep sleep. Witness consciousness pervades all three states. 

Like the waking state, we experience the awareness in the dream state. We experience thoughts, feelings, and emotions. The only difference is that the experience is not as immersive as in the waking state. 

That said, you can train yourself to experience lucid dreams that are marked by a higher level of awareness. While lucid dreaming, you are aware that you are dreaming and can steer the dream in any direction. You don’t feel scared of the nightmares because you understand that it is not real.

Similarly, when you learn to cultivate the witness, you let go of the fear and judgment. You realize that this life is a dream of the higher mind or the infinite and that you are not the limited mind that you believe yourself to be.

The awareness continues even in deep sleep, except that there is nothing to be aware of since the senses and the mind are inactive.

You are the witness consciousness, and your consciousness creates the objects of experience. This idea is a bit hard to grasp initially. Tell me, have you ever experienced anything outside of your consciousness? Your consciousness is the unity behind the multiplicity you perceive.

Whatever knowledge you have acquired through senses, reasoning, deduction, inference, intuition lies within your consciousness. In fact, you manifest the entire cosmos within your consciousness. 

Please don’t take my word for it. Verify it with your own experience. Try to experience something outside of your consciousness. Go deep within your mind and try to see the subtle processes. Observe your thoughts, feelings, emotions, or whatever arises within the mind, and try to find the source. Where do they originate?

Cultivating the witness helps us to fulfill our spiritual seeking. It does not answer the questions but dissolves them completely. It enables us to understand our true nature and live in the present. It helps us to cultivate unconditional and unlimited love and bliss.

The witness does not isolate us from life but unifies the entire existence. It is what Lao Tzu calls the “Dao.” It is what the Hindus call the “Sakshi,” “Atman,” or “Brahman,” or what the Christians call the “spiritual heart.”

How to Cultivate The Witness Consciousness?

The witness is formless, infinite, and does not have qualities or attributes. Any attempt to describe it is a reductionist approach. As I mentioned above, it has to be known through subjective realization.

A question naturally arises here, if the witness is without attributes, how does it act? Witnessing is an act, an effect. Isn’t it? That means it’s doing something, so there must be a cause.

There is no doing or effort in the case of witness consciousness; there’s just “being.” To understand this, you must know the difference between awareness and consciousness.

Think of consciousness as a field of aliveness that pervades the entire fabric of space-time and causation. When you think of the farthest planets, galaxies, or black holes, they all manifest within your consciousness.

Consider hypothetically, if you had the ability, how much time would it take for you to reach Jupiter? According to scientists, somewhere around 600+ days. How much time does it take to imagine yourself on the surface of Jupiter visually?

Think about it. All the objects of your experience (gross and subtle) manifest in your consciousness. Consciousness is an all-encompassing field, so there’s no form associated with it.

Awareness is the narrowing of the field of consciousness, which creates the sense of ‘I’, which is perceived as the ego and the mind. Now you’re aware of your thoughts, feelings, emotions, sounds, sights, and many other things. The ‘I’ exists as the finite conscious entity that believes itself to be separate from others.

While the witness is constant (for the lack of a better word), the awareness fluctuates. When we’re low in awareness, we operate in the unconscious mode, which eventually becomes the default.

Our monkey mind keeps racing, and we keep jumping from one thought to another, which in turn, gives rise to psychosomatic ailments. We get strongly identified with the mind. We start differentiating experiences in terms of good-bad, moral-immoral, pleasant-sad, and right and wrong.

When events happen according to our perceived ideas and beliefs, we, as the ego or the mind, feel happy, and when they don’t, we get angry. When the awareness starts increasing, we begin to see the fundamental reality behind all phenomena.

There is no action or effort involved in the witness because it is the final cause. It is where the object becomes the subject. The observer becomes observed. The effect becomes the cause. There is a complete unification of all into one fundamental reality.

That is why in the beginning, I said that the witness cannot be known. Any attempt to define or describe it reduces it to a thought form or an object. Thought by nature is dual; therefore, trying to explain nonduality with dualistic tools like thoughts and languages is impossible.

Anything that can be known requires experience. Experience requires an act like watching, hearing, thinking, feeling, etc. It requires a subject that experiences an object, for e.g. when you “see” your thought, your mind becomes the seer (the subject), thought becomes the seen (the object), and the “seeing” is the experience. Hence, it is dual. There cannot be an experience without the subject and the object.

But isn’t witnessing also an act? No. It is simply the awareness or “being”. It is the continuity or a common factor that exists in all three states of consciousness: waking, dream, and deep sleep.

Awareness does not require effort, so there is no action involved. Seeing with your eyes or hearing with your ears requires effort because the awareness has to create focus. There is effort involved in thinking because you have to focus, but there is no effort in “being,” which is our natural state.

Honestly, “you” cannot cultivate the witness, “the witnessing happens.” The best you can “do”, so to speak, is to observe the mind. It is not that the witness arises when the mind quiets down. The witness is always present; what obscures it is the mind. When the mind becomes still, the witness is revealed.

In other words, the illusion of the separate self disappears and the ego is dissolved realizing that none of what it did was its own doing. Everything happened and happening is the only reality. There’s no individual doer and the witness is impersonal.

You will fail miserably if you try (putting effort) to understand the witness as a concept. Reducing the infinite to finite and clinging on to it as an idea or philosophy will create confusion. And it is dangerous because once you get identified with the idea, you will start defending it. If you proclaim yourself as a non-dualist or Vedanta scholar, you’re not that.

That is why I’m putting so much emphasis on non-effort or non-doing. The moment you put effort, you’re not that. The effort is useful when you want to become an artist or an athlete, but it won’t lead you to self-realization.

Your mind convinces you to put effort because it believes that witness is a destination or a goal, achieving which you will become something you are not right now.

There is no destination or goal. There’s nothing to achieve or cultivate. I know I’m contradicting the title of this article, but I’m bound by language limitations.

The sun shows up when the dark clouds move. The sun is always there, but the clouds obstruct the light, and that’s why we can’t see it. Similarly, the clouds of doubts, worry, restlessness, and emotional turmoil, block the natural source of happiness that our real nature.

Meditation helps calm down the mind, but it is not a personal “doing.” You can only calm the mind when you drop the effort. When you go deep in meditation, the individual or the “you” disappears. A meditative mind is “no mind.”

It is not a state, but simply the presence – a transition from “state” to “stateless” The silence manifests in awareness and the individual dissolves in the infinite ocean of unconditional love.

If you’re interested in learning about meditation, check out The Ultimate Meditation Guide.

Does The Idea of Witness Consciousness Breed Passivity or Escapism?

If you treat it as a concept or idea, it definitely can, but when you make a spiritual inquiry into the nature of “self,” the “being” is revealed. The problem is that most people have a superficial understanding of this subject. It requires going deep within ourselves to understand the nature of our being.

It does not breed passivity or escapism. It liberates you from your tyrannical mind. It makes you the master. It enables you to create unwavering focus without being troubled by your thinking, feelings, or emotions. In every sense, you become empowered to use your thinking to achieve your life goals.

When you become the witness, you exist with unconditional love and joy. You overcome fears and venture into the unknown, something a majority of people are scared to do. Whatever you do, you do it effortlessly, which is when you get real satisfaction. In fact, it is just the opposite of laziness or apathy.

It is not that witnessing makes us emotionally numb. It makes us aware by increasing the presence. Awareness does not make us passive; it makes us active joyfully. We perform actions that arise from the heart without worrying about the outcome. We become the non-judgmental witness of actions.

It is what the Chinese philosophy of Daoism calls Wu-Wei, the “non-doing” or the effortless effort. When the witnessing happens, the form dissolves, the resistance disappears, and the doer becomes the doing.

Final Thoughts

I’m not against the idea of using effort to achieve worldly goals. Material life is as significant as spiritual life. Cultivating the witness should not be a goal.

Being the witness creates love and harmony through which the creative potential unleashes. When the witness reveals, the noise disappears, and the actions become effortless.

“Wanting to reform the world without discovering one’s true self is like trying to cover the world with leather to avoid the pain of walking on stones and thorns. It is much simpler to wear shoes.”

Ramana Maharshi