Shakshibhava (Witnessing Consciousness)
I think we need to revise a little of what we have done. We were studying this chapter "The Triple Transformation" and we were nearing the end of the first part of this chapter where we spoke of the emergence of the psychic being and how the psychic being can transform the outer nature. We have said that the psychic being is like an exiled king, whose kingdom is then being ruled by the ministers who are not even prepared to recognise the king and who do not even refer to the king for any advice or any counsel. So these ministers are three – the body, life and mind – and they go on acting in their own light according to their own propensities, and even among themselves they quarrel and there is a great disharmony among them. And then we have said that one of the best ways by which the psychic being can come into the front is to give an experience of this reality in the outer nature; if the outer nature of the body, life and mind can come in contact with this reality then the psychic being can rush out. And then we were considering the processes by which this can be achieved. Now there is one way which is very often prescribed and to which we have not much referred but to which we now can refer and that is the process by which we make a distinction between the outer nature and the status of the being. It is a very important distinction: the movement of nature and the status of being. Actually if you see any activity in the world anywhere you will find that in order to make activity more and more powerful, you require a greater and greater stable base. The greater is the base which is stable, the more powerful is the activity. This is the relationship between stability and movement. Now normally in our experience we are very much in the midst of activity of various kinds. The activities may be very powerful, may be very slow; activities which may be very interesting, activities which may not be so interesting, even in dull moments there is some kind of activity going on. So we are normally in the midst of activity and usually we are absorbed in the activity so that we do not have the time to look at the stable base. That is why an important process is being suggested throughout our history of Indian system of yoga and that is to withdraw from activity and to look for the stable base. In technical terms this is called the process of: withdrawing from prakriti and entering into Purusha. Purusha consciousness is the experience of stability, and prakriti consciousness is the experience of movement. So we are told that there is a distinction between prakriti and Purusha. We are told that the minimum thing to be done is to develop a state of witness consciousness. In Sanskrit it is called saksbibhava. Become a saksbin, be a witness to the activities that are going on.
This process of developing the sense of witness is in the beginning quite difficult because of our tendency to become engaged in activity. So it is normally suggested that at least there are three moments when it should be easier to be a witness to your activity. First is at the beginning of an activity. Before you start an activity there may be some pause. It is a favourable moment when you can withdraw from activity and realise that you are the witness to the activity which you are going to perform. The second is when you finish an activity because then also it is easy to have this witness consciousness; you can say, well, I was doing this activity, I have done it and now I can take account of it, I can watch it from outside as it were. These two are easier but there is a third moment and that is in the midst of activity, at the middle point of activity. For example, now you are engaged in listening, it is an activity, it is in the midst of activity. Now at this moment to be aware that you are listening is a very good exercise, that you are not only engaged in listening but you are also witnessing that you are witnessing that you are listening. So, this sense of witnessing of witnessing of witnessing of witnessing of witnessing can go on deeper and deeper and deeper, and when this increases, then a point comes when even while doing any activity this witness consciousness is present throughout so that the entirety of our being is not lost in the activity, we are not absorbed in the activity. Now psychologically it is true that sometimes when you are absorbed in the activity, our activity becomes very proficient for eg. while acting. When an actor forgets that he is acting and becomes completely engaged in the activity of acting, and he forgets to witness that he is acting, his acting is most powerful. He becomes one with his activity and that gives a very powerful proficiency. The moment he becomes aware that he is acting, his acting begins to flounder.
So it is true that this witnessing consciousness may effect the effectivity of action. But that is true only for the time being. As you develop this witnessing consciousness more and more, you can have a double consciousness and by witnessing you can actually modulate your activity even much more powerfully, then what you can do by becoming completely identified with activity. One who is very aware that he is acting, throughout his acting, can be a much better actor than one who forgets that he is acting. So that is another state, another capacity that one develops. Although in the beginning there is a kind of deficiency which one experiences, that is, when you begin to try to be a witness-self. Gradually you find that the greater the continuity of witness consciousness, the greater is your force of activity, so that you are not swallowed up by your activity and whenever you need something more you can always draw from your witness consciousness that what you need in your activity. So one should not be worried if in the beginning the effectivity of action is slightly reduced. It is by continuing to do it and gathering more and more power of witnessing that this capacity is generated and actually increased.