Q: Talks that I have been listening to use the terms ‘witness’, ‘eternal witness’ and other synonyms. Is pure consciousness or Brahman this ‘Ultimate Witness’? If so, obviously, it can’t witness unless there’s a manifesting medium to do so, correct? But ‘to witness’ implies duality. Also, it is often said that Brahman is transcendent or beyond the body-mind, and something other than the mithyA universe. So that means, again, that it can witness everything.
How do you reconcile the fact that knowledge is in the mind with Brahman being the witness beyond and apart from it? And how does this fit in with non-duality – there can’t be two things?
A: The effective explanation is ‘adhyAropa-apavAda’. The reality is that there is only non-dual Brahman or Consciousness. You begin with the conviction that the world is real, you are your body etc. Advaita gradually disabuses you of such notions by use of prakriyA-s (teaching ‘ploys’) such as analysis of the states of consciousness, cause and effect, real and unreal, seer and seen. Each of these takes you a little further in understanding. But, once the particular example has served its purpose, it is discarded. Analogy and metaphor can only take one so far; they are means to an end. Metaphors to illustrate this are leaving the boat behind once you have crossed the river, and letting go of the pole in pole vaulting before you go over the bar.
So, your understanding begins with falsity, ignorance, body, objects and progresses to an appreciation of pAramArthika reality, the opposite extreme of the ignorance – Self-knowledge spectrum. In between you have ideas such as Ishvara and mAyA, karma and reincarnation. Even further towards the ‘reality’ end of the spectrum, you have the concept of witness-consciousness. It’s just a process of successive sublation of the ideas until you reach the final understanding that there is only Consciousness.
If you are talking about Brahman as the non-dual reality, then there cannot be anything else for it to witness or know. It is satyam, not mithyA, and there cannot be any ‘manifesting media’ or ‘mithyA manifestation’ that is not Brahman.
Only the mithyA mind can ‘know’ things objectively. The best that you could say about Brahman in this regard is that it is ‘Knowledge’. (But again that is a mithyA concept in the mind!)