The Awakened Witness

The Awakened Witness

by Rich Davis

“You dwell in ‘me’ in a state of equilibrium as pure witness consciousness, without form and without the divisions of time and space.” (Vasistha’s Yoga)

The deep, soul shaking, realization that we are asleep, that we live in a dream is the first step towards awakening the witness buried deep inside. Our connection with reality is tenuous, brief, and usually not recognized as different from the rest of our dream. Since we think the dream is real, how would we possibly recognize actual reality?

Through the ages the enlightened masters; Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, Lao Tzu taught about an awakened state achieved through the practice of meditation. Jesus said, “Be in the world, but not of it.” Buddha told us to “walk through the river, but don’t let the water touch your feet.”

All real knowing comes from personal experience. Take nothing on faith. Experiment for one day. Be aware of the body. Focus attention on the inner world. Observe! How long can this inner awareness be maintained? How long does it take to become aware of not being aware? This little experiment will give a glimpse of the amount of time spent asleep, a glimmer that may provide a reason to explore the practice of meditation, the process of coming awake. To understand meditation it’s helpful to explore the way the mind works.

The mind operates in four basic ways: Ordinary Thinking, Contemplation, Concentration and Meditation.

Ordinary thinking is how the mind works most often. The mind is allowed to move anywhere, in all directions without control, through association. The associations are not logical nor time specific. For example, you may see a bicycle rider, and think that would be fun, then remember a time when you fell off your bike when you were 7 years old, and think of how much your knee hurt, and then think of the doctor who treated you and so on.

In ordinary thinking the mind travels anywhere, it is completely out of control. Many people turn to meditation just to turn down the volume of noise inside their heads.

Contemplation is directed thinking as when you’re performing a task. The mind is working specifically moving in one direction with the ultimate goal of arriving somewhere else, i.e. completed task. In contemplation the mind moves in a specific direction for a brief time then returns to ordinary thinking.

Concentration is when the mind is focused. In this state, the mind is not allowed to move anywhere except the intended destination. As most of us know this state can only be maintained for short periods of time before the mind returns to its normal mode of operation.

Meditation is the condition of no-mind. It’s not that the mind is silent because the nature of the mind is to have thoughts. The mind without thoughts would be like the ocean without waves. In meditation the mind is not allowed. This is our natural state. The master is awake, he watches.

Wakefulness is the way to life.
The fool sleeps as if he were already dead,
But the master is awake and he lives forever.
He watches. He is clear.
-from the Dhammapada of Gautama the Buddha

Misconceptions about meditation abound. We envision a monk, sitting in an uncomfortable posture on an isolated mountaintop, a smile on his face to disguise the pain from his position, chanting some strange mantra, while supposedly in deep meditation. This is a misnomer, for just as science and technology transform our outer lives, meditation is science and technology that transforms our inner lives. It is not a religion, nor does it have religious significance. Meditation is the art of watching; it starts with awakening the watcher; it ends in witness consciousness.

Watching happens in small steps. Watch the body. If walking, watch the body walking, notice how the feet touch the ground; hear the inner messages sent by the body as it navigates here and there. Just watch. Don’t try to change anything, the watcher is passive. Just watch. Thoughts come and the watcher goes away; when awareness returns, don’t judge, just return to watching.

Becoming aware of not being aware is the challenge in the beginning. Knowledge of sleep comes upon awakening. Ha, I was sleep – the last time I remember being awake was yesterday. Just start watching again, no judgment, just watch. Meditation is watching.

Watch the emotions as they dance across the screen of awareness. Notice how often they change for no apparent reason. Become aware of the feelings underlying the emotions. Don’t try to change anything, the watcher is passive, just watch. Notice that when thoughts come the watcher disappears. Watch the thoughts in the mind. Become aware that you’re separate from your thoughts.

The mind is a great tool but rediscovering the ‘off’ switch allows the master to regain control. Just watching will start the process but learning a meditation technique will accelerate it. Most of us do not sit, isolated, on a mountain somewhere. We have families, jobs, all sorts of activities consume our days and nights, it’s important to have a technique that’s user friendly, that’s portable, and that allows us to practice wherever we are.

The breath provides a wonderful vehicle for the practice of meditation.

“If you can do something with the breath, you will suddenly turn to the present. If you can do something with the breath, you will attain the source of life. If you can do something with the breath, you can transcend time and space, If you can do something with the breath, you will be in the world and beyond it.”

The breath is a bridge between the body and the mind. Breathing happens in present time, so when watching the breath, the mind is not present. The mind doesn’t exist in present time so it is back and forth between attention to the breath, and thoughts (sleep). Gently bring the attention back to the breath and watch. This technique has been used throughout the ages to quiet the mind and exercise the watcher.

Osho says “First, become aware of the breath coming in. Watch it. Forget everything; just watch breath coming in – the very passage. When the breath touches your nostrils, feel it there. Then let the breath move in. Move with the breath fully conscious. When you are going down, down, down with the breath, do not miss the breath. Do not go ahead; do not follow behind. Just go with it. Remember this: do not go ahead; do not follow it like a shadow. Be simultaneous with it.”

Such a simple technique, but try it. Simple it may be, easy it is not. When watching, there are no thoughts, the mind is switched off. Thoughts come – watching the breath is forgotten, when awareness returns, resume watching. Remember this is practice. With practice the watcher grows stronger and at some point the witness comes. Watching can be practiced; the Witness comes when it is ready.

This technique can be practiced anywhere, on a train or a plane, during a lunch break. It can be plugged into your life at any point when you have time. Eventually you may find yourself doing it while in activity, at work, or talking with someone, just watching the breath. The watcher is awake; the witness will come.

Witness consciousness first manifests as the watcher. The act of watching creates space. The mind and the thoughts in the mind are on the periphery. They come from the past and they obscure the present moment. Everything is interpreted based on the past so only reaction is possible. As the watcher becomes stronger action becomes possible for the first time. Action is only possible from the center which is grounded in the present moment.

Osho says “Understand clearly the distinction between reaction and action. You love someone because someone loves you. Buddha also loves you, not because you love him; that is irrelevant. Whether you love him or hate him is irrelevant—he loves you because it is an act, not a reaction. The act comes from you, and the reaction is forced upon you. Centering means that now you have begun to act.”

There is a purity to action. Action is always 100%, while reaction is never total. When you react there are always second thoughts and doubts. Action comes from the center, it is, it is done, no thoughts, no doubts.
A Buddha, a Jesus, a Krishna resides in witness consciousness all the time. No reaction, only action. The awakened witness is a state of enlightenment to which conscious beings aspire; a state where all action is total.

Meditation is the path to the awakened witness.

(The Book of Secrets contains a comprehensive guide to this and other meditation techniques described in the Vigyan Bhairav and can be found at

Rich Davis is a meditation teacher living in the San Francisco Bay area. He has been teaching meditation for 10 and practicing for 20 years.

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