Q. 497 Knowledge and Understanding

Q: Knowledge, which is in or of the mind or intellect, must ultimately be given up. So really, is it knowledge or just ‘pointers’ to the truth of things? Like the pole vaulter letting go of the pole to get over the bar, the mind must be given up or let go of, which includes the knowledge. So really, knowledge isn’t the key or final secret. Simply abiding as Consciousness (what we really are), is the real point of all of this. 

And, witnessing seems to be of two ‘kinds’:
. Subject-object witnessing the normal person does all day
. The non-experiencing witness, which is the pure Consciousness that sees all within itself. I.e. like the analogy of the movie screen and movie. 

Really, it can be summed up by the fact that knowledge is not the key but only a pointer to ‘what really is’, which is the non-experiencing Witness. 

A: Not sure what you are thinking here. What do you mean by ‘knowledge has to be given up’? Who would give it up?

Ignorance is in the mind. Knowledge is in the mind. Enlightenment is in the mind. Who-you-really-are is already free and unlimited. So you-as-the-mind want to gain knowledge – you don’t want to give it up! But whether you call it knowledge or pointers is up to you really. You cannot ‘know’ Brahman in any definitive sense. Shankara’s long commentary on satyam j~nAnam anantam brahma in Taittiriya Upanishad is the best description of this conundrum.

You never ‘let go of’ the mind (until the body-mind dies). Whilst still in vyavahAra, you need the mind! Whilst you are still in the body, Self-knowledge is the key. What do you mean by ‘simply abiding as Consciousness’? Sitting in a cave in samAdhi? Life carries on. Your body-mind carries on until death and you are obliged to function in all of the ways that you have previously functioned. The difference is that you do so in knowledge of how things really are, i.e. there is only Brahman; the rest is just appearance/manifestation of Brahman.

I wouldn’t get bogged down in the concept of witness. It is really just referring to the ‘standing back’ from everything and realizing it is all just a play. It is not something that you need to try consciously to be doing all the time. It is a useful concept in the teaching that brings you to the final understanding. But, from an absolute perspective, there obviously cannot be a ‘witness’ when there is nothing else to witness!

Q: On the one hand, I see exactly what you say about knowledge, in the mind being the key and the everything, but on the other hand, I see knowledge actually needing to be dropped entirely, as it belongs to the false. What we really are is Consciousness, and Consciousness is before or prior to the mind and senses, and does not need the mind and senses at all to exist and be what it already is!

The Kena Upanishad says this very thing. The instrument of the mind is only necessary to think and claim what I already am. But there’s no need to think or claim anything since I Am Consciousness!

Consciousness is the eye of the eye, mind of the mind, etc., which enables all of that to function, but itself (which is what we are) needs nothing. And WE ARE THAT. So knowledge is completely unnecessary.

Also, the mind, and its knowledge, can only know ABOUT, and therefore, not actually BE it. To know it is to be it. Or else we’re just making ourselves into an object that we talk about.

And lastly, ‘witnessing’ is talked about as being what Consciousness does, if there’s an object to witness. It’s a natural or in-built thing of Consciousness (not something It ‘does’ by effort).

Wrapping up with two last points…
Just being what I am as Consciousness needs no knowledge, and everything else is simply an appearance IN me.  This just seems how it really is as a living reality right now, instead of walking around with knowledge in the mind, which is also an appearance in me. So ‘being’ Consciousness is the key!

40 verses by Ramana Maharshi seems to also say this… (just a side note)

A: It depends upon where you are ‘taking your stand’. If you are speaking from the pAramArthika perspective, then of course you ARE knowledge-existence. You cannot ‘know’ anything; you are everything. There is nothing else.

But you cannot avoid the fact that your mind is firmly in vyavahAra. You began in ignorance of the nature of reality; now you have knowledge of how things really are. This is subject-object type knowledge. The knowledge is in the mind. Upon death of the body-mind, you do indeed drop the knowledge, because the mind goes too. But whilst still alive, there is the need for a mind to guide the functioning of the body if nothing else! And it needs knowledge in order to do that.

Yes, it is Consciousness that ‘enables’ the mind. This is a vyAvahArika statement. The mind is mithyA. You already are Consciousness. But (to begin with), you think that you ARE the body-mind. So you need to replace that (Self-)ignorance in the mind with knowledge. Also, everything is Brahman, including the mind and its knowledge (or ignorance).

All of this is really just rephrasing your quotation from Kena U. The knowledge is necessary whilst you still have ignorance. Even after gaining the knowledge, you cannot ignore the habitual thoughts-actions of the mind. These are the obstacles to enjoying the fruit of that knowledge (see series of posts on pratibandha-s). nididhyAsana is needed continually to reinforce the knowledge before you can claim jIvanmukti.

You are Brahman, whether you know it or not. Knowing it doesn’t change the fact; what it changes is how you, the jIva, are affected by the appearance.

I have written quite a long section on the topic of Witness for my next book (‘Confusion’). It is not the easiest of subjects to understand but neither is it one to get hung up about. It is just another prakriyA, that may help you to reach an understanding. Obviously Consciousness does not ‘see’ anything – there is nothing else to see! It does not ‘do’ anything – it a neither a doer nor an enjoyer. So, given that the intellect can recognize that ‘I am not the body’ and ‘I am not the discursive mind’, what is it that can recognize that ‘I am not the intellect’? Logically, it cannot be the intellect! Here are several paragraphs from the book which may help:

“‘Witness’ is an unfortunate term. Vidyaranya, in his pa~nchadashI, uses the metaphor of a lamp in a theatre. The lamp illuminates the empty stage before the performance begins, the actors and audience throughout the play, and is still illuminating the theatre after everyone has left. It enables all of this to take place yet is totally unaffected by any of it. Similarly, the non-dual Self ‘illuminates’ as it were the ego, mind and body, all of the objects of the world and the actions therein but is totally unaffected. Even when all of these are absent in deep sleep, it is ‘self-illuminating’. It is that which enables the entire ‘performance’ but is unaffected by any of it. It is not a ‘witness’ in the sense of someone who is able to report what happened after an incident.”


“When I say ‘I am a saMsArI’, the ‘I’ refers to ahaMkAra. When I say ‘I am liberated’, the ‘I’ should strictly speaking refer to sAkShI chaitanya. But sAkShI chaitanya is non-dual; when I talk about it, it is using a pAramArthika concept in a vyAvahArika discussion. Accordingly, I cannot sensibly speak about sAkShin witnessing ‘something’, because, in the context of sAkShin, there is nothing else. It is the person that is speaking, and Self-knowledge is in the mind of that person. The sAkShin neither thinks nor speaks. And I can never ‘experience’ the witness – because I am the witness. If I could experience it, it would be something that comes and goes. I have to use the intellect to recognize that I am the witness – always, even in deep sleep.

“What might initially seem to be a silly analogy (courtesy of Swami Paramarthananda) is to note that, when I say that ‘I am happy’, it is the mouth that is speaking but I do not mean that the mouth is happy. Similarly, when I acknowledge that ‘I am the witness’, it is the intellect that is enabling me to do this but I do not mean that it is the intellect that is the witness.”

Q: it seems that the real key and ‘secret’ to all of this, comes full circle right back to the fact and knowledge of NON-DUALITY!  The knowledge that there is ONLY BRAHMAN!! Period, period, period.

Everything else, including witnessing and ‘abiding as Consciousness’, etc. is ALL provisional and a waste in the end. All of that is the separate self, in the mithyA world, trying to do something or other. And there actually isn’t a self!

A: You mean there isn’t a self separate from Brahman!

Have you been reading all of the posts on ‘world does not disappear on enlightenment’ etc.? It is also important to accept this.

Q: Yes, I understand that; I meant the separate self we think we are in ignorance….

But this is my whole point about all of this knowledge. It should not be this difficult!!! It’s almost silly… we are what we are and that’s it. We don’t need all of this perfect and accurate language in the mind ABOUT what we are, and constantly have to go over it and get it exactly right or else we aren’t free or correct or whatever.  We are what we are before even a single thought. This just feels heavy and frustrating not ‘getting it right’!

This can’t be the way to freedom. I’ve actually been more frustrated and bogged down by all of this knowledge and trying to get it right and trying to always remember it.

A: If you KNOW it, and accept it, you DON’T need any of the scriptures and logic and arguments. Getting it ‘right’ doesn’t enter into it. Language can never get it right, anyway! It is only a means of leading the mind to the brink. If you have already ‘jumped’, forget all of it – it is of no use at all.

Just re-reading my last comment, I will revise the last statement. Going over the teaching and ‘getting it right’ if you like is of some value. It is called nididhyAsana and it serves to help get rid of all of the bad habits accumulated by the mind so that you can enjoy j~nAna phalam in this life. Swami Paramarthananda gives the example of having a tap not working in your kitchen. You get used to this after a while and change your routine to work round it – say filling a bucket from another source and getting your water from it when in the kitchen. Then, eventually, a plumber comes and fixes the tap. For a while afterwards, you carry on using the bucket, forgetting that the tap is now working. Similarly, after gaining enlightenment, there is a tendency to carry on as if you are a doer-enjoyer. You have to keep reminding yourself that you are the limitless Brahman in order to break the habit.