There is an eternal silent entity within us all. And that is what you call the “silent witness” or the “Knower.”

The scriptures talk about that as the eternal witness. That is the light in you, or the Self in you, or the Atman. It doesn’t talk or do anything—it just is. And that is what you call “God.” It is due to our own limitations that we say, “God did this, God did that, blessed me, or punished me.” God never blesses or punishes. God just is. Still, we tend to say, “God created the world, God sustains the world, and God dissolves it again.” So what is true? Does God do something or not? Both are right. There are different levels of understanding. If you can understand the absolute condition the Paramatma, the Supreme Self, it does nothing. It is.

That’s what we find in the Bible also. We see a picture of a loving God, an all-merciful God. But when Moses went into the mountains wanting to see God or listen to God, God seemed to have spoken to him. And Moses questioned, “Who is that talking to me?” And God didn’t answer that by saying, “I am the one who is talking to you.” Instead, what did God say? Just, “I am.” God didn’t even say, “I am the one who is talking to you.” No. Simply, the reply was, “I am.” That means God is. That’s it. God is. It is there. Not doing anything. But we make God do things. It is our limited understanding that makes God into a person who does things. Because we seem to think that if God doesn’t do anything then God seems to be of no use to us. So, God has to come down to our level of understanding and start doing things. But that creates a lot of problems also.

Because when you come down to the level of doing things then there is a time for undoing also. Then you begin to live in a dualistic awareness. And that’s how we see and understand God in the dualistic world in which we live.   So, we have to accept it that way. Because many people cannot understand that God just is. It is too difficult a philosophy for most people. We cannot understand it in our level. Only when we raise to a certain level then we can experience the highest level of truth.

Until we are able to transcend the duality, there will good, bad, negative, positive, should do, should not do. All those things come along with duality. You will always have two sides of the coin. The great Acharya Shankara explains duality as being comprised of two different truths. One truth is “paramarthika sat.” “Sat” means truth and “paramarthika” is the absolute, the Supreme or the Divine. It is that truth where there is no doing—It is. It exists and that is all. But another truth is “lautica sat.” Lautica means the truth that is connected with the world where we live. So as long as we live in the world, we have to accept that the absolute truth will not even be of very much use for us.

We have to start from where we are, from the ground level. Then we can say we are “well-grounded.” At the level of living and functioning well in the world, we have certain responsibilities. There are certain things we should do and not do. That is why there are certain laws in any society, and there are even universal laws, like those we find in the Bible or in Yoga. These are prescribed codes of morals, ethics, and behavior that address us where we are on this worldly level. These prescriptions come under this category of duality. So all our scriptures, all our advice from the world’s religions are on the worldly level.

When you are ready to experience the higher level of truth, all these practices are of no use to us, or they just drop away. To give a simple example, a fruit, as long as it is raw, has to stick to the tree. That is how it grows. And then once it has grown enough, matured enough, ripened, what happens? It drops. At that time the fruit doesn’t need the tree anymore. It has ripened enough. Likewise, we are all fruits. Still small ones, half ripe, semi, three-quarters ripe. Nobody living in this world can ever say, “I am fully ripe.” Because if you are fully ripe you will be out of the tree. That’s what the Bhagavad Gita calls, the “aswata,” the upturned tree. Roots up, branches down, and we are all trees. There is one chapter fully dedicated to that idea in the Bhagavad Gita.

When we are in this level like quarter, half, three-quarters, the three-quarters ripe can help the half-ripe. That’s where the guru-disciple relationship comes in.   Maybe one is a little more ripe and the other one is still semi, or halfway.   The one who is more ripened can tell the less-ripened one how to stick around and get ripened: “Don’t jump out of the tree fast. Nobody will eat you until you are fully ripe.” That’s where the questions, answers, doubts all come. All the scriptures, even the Upanishads are the product of answering the doubts of the spiritual seeker. The students ask some questions and the answers are given. Even the great masters, teachers, gurus, never went out to teach asking for a platform, saying: “Come and listen to me.” No. They were there and when the semi‑ripe ones came and asked them questions they were able to suggest something. They would say, “This is what I did. If you like you can also try.” They say these things and then leave it to you. They don’t force you.

The Guru or teacher will give the students the various Yoga practices to do to cultivate the awareness of the eternal witness within. Jnana Yoga is particularly geared to developing this awareness. It is the path of wisdom. By study, self-analysis and awareness, the practitioner ceases to identify with the body and mind and realizes the higher level of truth which is the eternal witness or the Knower. Through this approach, the student delves deep into analysis of, and meditation on the question, “Who am I?” By such questioning one comes to understand that they are completely different from the body and from the mind, from its feelings and its actions. If you feel angry, you can ask yourself, “Where is the anger?” At least it is not in the body though it may express itself in the body later. The feeling is in the mind where it is expressed as mental agitation. How do you know that you are angry? If you know, then you are not angry. The one who knows isn’t the angry one. The mind is angry. The Witness or Knower isn’t angry.

If you can say, “I know I am disturbed,” there’s no disturbance in your knowing that you are disturbed. The direct analysis approach of Jnana Yoga is very subtle. If your very knowing is disturbed you can never know that you are disturbed.   You knew that you were happy. Now you know that you are unhappy. This knowing is called awareness or consciousness. The Knower or the Witness remains permanent and unchanging. The mental or physical fluctuations bring change. In this example you are saying, “I am happy,” or “I am unhappy.” What remains constant? The condition of happy or sad. What is unchanging? The “I am.”

The true person, the true you is constantly the same because there is no change in that knowing. You knew you were a child. Now you know that you are an adult, and you know you are going to be an old man or an old woman. The knowledge of childhood, adulthood, and old age is the same. You are not really isolated or separated. You are only temporarily identifying yourself as the body. If I ask you what you are doing, you can say, “I’m sitting down.” But you are not sitting. Your body is seated. When you say, “I fell down,” who is this “I?” Certainly not the real I. The differences of the body make your mind feel different, and you mistakenly identify yourself as the body.

This process of self-analysis in which you cultivate this awareness, this witnessing of the fluctuations of the mind, can solve all your problems. You are not your body. You are not your mind because you are the one observing the body and the mind. Whatever it is that is bothering you, you can sit back and ask yourself, “What did I do? What was my thinking process?” When you analyze in this way you will see that your happiness does not come from outside of you. Your mind and body continue to go through changes, just like the weather outside changes. That is natural because the body and mind are part of the nature and they are supposed to go through changes. Everything changes in this world. But who we really are, our peaceful nature, is never affected by these things.

It is only when we forget our true nature and identify with the body or the mind that the clouds come and block our view of the sun—the true Self. The sun is always shining whether the clouds are there or not. The mind may pass through some of these cloudy periods but, as the Knower, you can enjoy the show. Enjoy the mind and its play. There’s nothing wrong with going through changes. Sometimes we feel happy, sometimes we feel sad. No need to worry about that. Just let it go and enjoy the show. You can do that when you know who you are.

In the absolute sense, the real is that which is always permanent. The unreal is that which changes. Using water to represent that essence, you can say the waves, spray, bubbles, and ice are all unreal; only the water itself is real. That doesn’t mean you should fight with somebody who insists it is only a wave. Of course it is while it has that form, but you should have the larger vision. Maybe the other person can only see the level of names and forms and not the larger picture.

Name and form are superficial differences. Over and above name and form is absolute existence, consciousness, and bliss. Everything has these five aspects: existence, knowledge, joy, name, and form. Look at this page of paper, for example. Its essence is pulp. It is now expressing itself as paper, which was cut into a form to be printed on so you can enjoy it. The whole world is just name and form. Name and form are just for fun, like playing hide and seek for enjoyment. But if you forget that and get caught up in the names and forms, you will suffer from that ignorance.

A chess board is made out of wood, as are all the pieces which are cut into different shapes to play the game. Call them pawns, kings, queens, castles, knights, or bishops and give them different names and forms to play the game—they are all cut from the same stock. We, too, are all chips of the same block.

There is a constant flow of the Cosmic energy, or Universal Consciousness, that we call God. It flows multivariously and in so doing forms different waves or bubbles. Some of those forms or bubbles are we. Just as waves form when the wind blows over the ocean, or ice forms when the temperature changes, we, too, are formed as little bubbles. We are all here now, but we don’t know when we will break out of these little individual forms. A bubble in the ocean wave may last a few seconds while we have a life span of seventy to a hundred years.

We are all different shapes of the same matter. Through Yoga you can experience this yourself; don’t just read about it and nod. When you personally realize it, you yourself will have become this basic truth. You can do so while you’re a separate or individual bubble, but later you won’t think of yourself as an individual. You will have become absorbed in the Whole. If you want to know God a hundred percent, become That. If a drop wants to know the depth of the ocean, it should become the ocean. Slowly the joy at certain levels of your meditation will dissolve into something universal. Then when you come back to your individual self, what can you say? There are no words to express it.

Everybody is an actor. The world is the biggest stage. If we learn to act our parts well, we can really enjoy the show. There’s a Higher Power or Cosmic Consciousness that is directing the show. The Cosmic Consciousness just separates itself into many plays and players and then dissolves back again. Play your part without forgetting your identity. If you know the true identity of others too, you’ll have fun. Don’t think that spiritual life is so hard. It should all be fun.

So, do your Yoga practices well. Watch your mind. Watch your breath. Become an observer, which is the key to Jnana Yoga. Don’t worry about particular techniques. Just sit back and observe the breath, mind, and thoughts. Just see what’s happening within you. Become a witness, which is a wonderful form of meditation. Be still and watch what is happening in your mind and in your body. Maybe you have been repeating a mantra or focusing on one object for a time. You may then relax and sit calmly and watch the mind; observe the peaceful vibrations that come. Listen to the silence completely. Observe your own brain. See how peaceful you are. The mind seems to be totally at rest. You might think the mind is almost asleep, yet you are still conscious of the whole thing. The body is resting. The breath has very much slowed. The mind is almost sleeping but you are aware of everything.

Ask yourself, “Who is aware of them? What is this awareness? Who knows all these things? That is You, the Knower. You are totally different from your body, from your mind. You are the witness—what you call the Self, the pure Self—the witness of the body and mind. If you could maintain this witnessing constantly, still knowing you are the witness all the time, you would reach Self-awareness or

Self-realization. Keep up this awareness, even in your day-to-day activities. When you are eating, when you are walking, and especially when you are distressed, you can still witness. You will constantly enjoy supreme peace. Through this practice you become the master of your own body and mind. You’ll walk through life like an undisturbed sage.

Sometimes a dream is so intense the physical body gets into it. You take the corner of the pillow and start biting it. The only way to stop you from eating the pillow is to wake you up. Someone must alert you, shake you. A similar thing is happening in our lives. Some are in a deep sleep and don’t know what they are doing. Most are just dreaming that there is darkness and their eyes are closed. Some people are daydreamers. All people dream and forget their true nature. In their dreams they think so many things are real. They forget their true nature and identify instead with so many other things.

Find out who you are. Once you know who you are, you will be the best instrument to bring peace and harmony to all. Ultimately you will find that you are not somebody who is going up and down, tossed by the waves of life. Rather you will find out that you are a permanent entity, an image of God. You will do things very well and everything will want to come to you, to be used by you. Because everyone and everything will know that you are a neutral, well-balanced person. Neutrality or equanimity is the center of God, the center of nature. From there, according to the need, you respond this way or that way without losing your center.

When the Cosmic Consciousness sees that you have realized who you are and that you are a pure instrument, it will make use of you more and more. It will work through you and you will realize that God is within. Having that realization, you will see God everywhere in everything. You will see that the entire creation is a manifestation of God. You will learn to love all humanity, nature, plants, all of creation. You service to God will be service to humanity, service to all the world. You won’t have to do anything in particular. Just by being your Self you will be loving and serving God and humanity.

The purpose of all your Yoga practice is to help you to realize that you are the Self. The Self never undergoes any change. It is always pure and calm. It just is—right here and now. It doesn’t need to become anything. At that point of realization there is no ego. That is when the soul realizes itself. Then you will understand that all the false identifications were just the play of maya or illusion. Maya is something that is not there but appears to be so. that is also another name for “ego.”

Why is there maya or illusion? Why did God create this material world and throw us into all this illusion and this game? The only one who can fully answer this question is the one who made everything. When you see God, you can ask and get your answer. Just find out as soon as possible where God is so you can get the question answered soon!

– Swami Satchidananda

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