Q.503 Seer-seen discrimination

Q. How can we inquire into our true self, if the one inquiring (mind) is not actually the self?

A: You are not the mind – it is an instrument if you like. You are the Consciousness that ‘reflects’ in the mind.

Q: By saying that the mind is an instrument, are you suggesting that the mind can refer to our true self (pure consciousness) during contemplation?

A: I am not clear what you are asking here. By ‘mind is an instrument’, I mean that who-you-really-are is not the mind; you are using the mind to interact with the world. (Indeed the ‘mind enlivened by Consciousness’ effectively ‘creates’ the world by separating out forms and giving them names.) The mind is itself inert and cannot do anything without Consciousness (your ‘true self’).

Q: If thought has some form of awareness, as demonstrated by introspection, and its ability to refer to contents of the mind, would it be out of the realm of possibility to assume that it is the one responsible for direct experience of mental objects? How can we be certain that awareness is an independent entity when it is something that seems to also be possessed by thought in some instances?

A: The fact that ‘Who-You-Really-Are’ is aware OF thoughts means that WYRA is NOT the thoughts. WYRA is also aware of the absence of thoughts. Thought does not have “some sort of awareness”. Thoughts are inert, though subtle objects. You are aware of them, not the other way round!

In fact (although you may find this harder to accept), think about the deep sleep state. In this, the mind and senses are resolved; i.e. there are no operative senses to be aware of the outside world or the body and there is no operative mind to be aware of thoughts. When you wake up, you may say that you ‘infer’ that you have been in deep sleep by looking at the clock and seeing that time has passed since you were last aware. If you did not dream either, you say that you ‘must have been’ in deep sleep.

But in fact you KNOW that you were in deep-sleep. WYRA – which is Consciousness – was still perfectly present in the deep sleep state. You will say that you did not know anything whilst in the deep sleep state. But this is NOT an inference. If I ask you if you are sure that you did not know anything, there is no doubt about your answer – you are sure. How could you be sure if WYRA was not present and conscious?

Q: To me, it seems like thought has awareness because of its ability to refer back to other thoughts, perceptions, and emotions taking place in the mind, as demonstrated by introspection. Doesn’t introspection imply a sort of awareness possessed by thoughts? And if this does imply awareness, then why couldn’t we say that thoughts are effortlessly aware of all mental objects, including thought itself? after all, thought refers to these objects all the time…

You say: “But this is NOT an inference. If I ask you if you are sure that you did not know anything, there is no doubt about your answer – you are sure. How could you be sure if WYRA was not present and conscious?”

Yes, while there is no doubt in my answer, isn’t it thought that is responsible for memory? Can I have a memory of something if thought was not present during it (not rhetorical)? Is it possible for me to have a memory of deep sleep if thought wasn’t present during it?

Hopefully you can provide me some guidance because I feel like I am stuck in my mind!

A: I’m having a little difficulty appreciating your stance on this. To my mind, a thought is pretty much like a table, just much more subtle. It is still some ‘thing’ that you are aware of.

And (presumably) you wouldn’t consider the possibility that a table could be ‘aware’? Consciousness, or who-you-really-are, is the irreducible subject that is (potentially) aware of every ’thing’ else but which can never be an ‘object’. When a thought ‘refers to’ another thought, it is still WYRA who is referencing one thought from another – both thoughts are still your objects.

‘Introspection’ is just stirring around all these thoughts and drawing conclusions, inferences etc. Memory is effectively a ‘recording’ (more or less accurate) of past events, actual or imagined thoughts etc.

The memory may be in the form of images, smells, sounds and so on but these are all still ‘objects’ of your awareness. Your ‘memory’ of deep sleep is a remembrance of the absence of any of those things.

Q: Thank you, you cleared up a lot of confusion!

Just one more thing: How can we be sure that the seer is necessarily different from the seen? It’s often said that the seer must be different from the seen, but why?

A: You have to be careful here. Because you are speaking about seer and seen, I assume you are talking about the world-appearance – ‘empirical reality’. In which case, ‘you’ are ‘here’ and the ‘seen object’ is ‘there’. How can they be the same? The seen object was not ‘there’ before you saw it and it will no longer be ‘there’ after you have gone away. Yet ‘you’ are here all the time. How can they be the same? And so on. The general rule is that if ‘you’ are aware of ‘it’, then you cannot BE it.

Of course, if you are talking about ‘absolute reality’, then since there is only Consciousness, there are not two things to be different. There are no separate seer and seen.

Hope this is now clear. If the ideas are alien to you then you should be reading a general book about Advaita such as my ‘Book of One’ 2nd edition.

1 thought on “Q.503 Seer-seen discrimination

  1. For the sake of remaining focussed, I shorten and rephrase the questions as below.
    Q1 How can the mind inquire about the self if it is not the true self?
    Q2 As thought is possessed of awareness and is responsible for the experience of mental objects and introspection, how can awareness be regarded as an independent entity?
    Q 3 It seems that we are not conscious during deep sleep (as there is total blankness). If so, how do we say that we have slept? Is it from memory or by inference?
    Q4 What is the proof that the ‘seer’ is different from the ‘seen’?

    In order to reply to the questions, it is necessary to be clear about the positions of consciousness (call it awareness, if someone wants) and mind and ego(self) according to Advaita. The mind is a subtle body made up of five inert elements (PanchbhutAs) in their nascent forms. Though the mind is inert, our experience is that it behaves like a conscious entity having a sense of self. It means that the mind borrows the consciousness from an outside (independent) source, Original Consciousness (OC). As the OC is responsible for producing the sense of self in the mind, OC is denoted by Self to distinguish it from the self or ego. OC is the real ‘I’. Furthermore, it is as though the OC is reflected in the mind, i.e., there is Reflected Consciousness (RC) in the mind. The mind plus RC is the self (ego). We have now the OC (Self), the RC, and the self (ego). According to Advaita, (Original) Consciousness is our real nature; mind and body are the instruments for carrying out transactions in the physical world. Since the minds are different for different persons, RCs are different for different persons.

    Q1 How can the mind inquire about the self if it is not the true self?
    Answer: The ego is different from the Self. It is the ego that does the inquiry about the Self. Advaita teaching prescribes different methods to undertake the inquiry, namely, Drk-Drysa-Viveka (Seer-Seen discrimination), the negation of PanchakoshA (five sheaths), and analysis of the three states of experience: waking, dream, and deep sleep (dreamless sleep). The inquiry enables the ego to gain the knowledge that (i) there is the entity Original Consciousness different from the mind and body (ii) OC is the real ‘I’ (iii) OC is changeless (iv) the body, mind (and ego) borrow existence from OC, they are subject to change, and are mithya. The ego makes a ‘sacrifice’ in the sense that though it does the inquiry, it finally accepts that it is mithya. Is it not the ‘glory’ of ego?
    Q2 As thought is possessed of awareness and is responsible for the experience of mental objects and introspection, how can awareness be regarded as an independent entity?
    Answer: A thought arising in the inert mind is inert in its own right but becomes conscious in the presence of RC. It is akin to the phenomenon of a mirror reflecting the sun rays and the reflected sun rays lighting up a room that is otherwise dark. RC and inert thought are different but due to closeness appear one like a fireball even though the ball and heat are different. It is also clear that OC (Self, real ’I’) is different from inert thought and even conscious thought.
    Q3 It seems that we are without consciousness during deep sleep (as there is total blankness). If so, how do we say that we have slept? Is it from memory or by inference?
    Answer: When we get up from deep sleep, we are able to instantly claim that we have slept. We do not have to look at the clock to infer about our sleep. The claim is based on our memory. Memory requires experience and experience requires consciousness. It, therefore, proves the presence of consciousness during sleep. It is not blankness of consciousness; it is the consciousness of blankness.
    Q4 What is the proof that the ‘seer’ is different from the ‘seen’?
    Answer: When the eyes see an object, say, a tree, it is clear that the eyes are different from the tree. Similarly, when the ears hear any sound, the ears are different from the sound. The eyes and the ears are ‘seer’, the tree and the sound are ‘seen’. ‘Seer-Seen’ (subject-object) distinction is an axiom.

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