What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

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What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby m0rl0ck » Sun May 30, 2010 8:38 am

I put this in dharma free for all because if a discussion actually gets going around this (which i frankly doubt, but hey, no hope is entirely vain, at least not till its tried) its liable to push the edges of orthodoxy.

So here is the question: What is the relationship of The Witness (as in the sense of observing consciousness behind normal mental busy-ness) to Enlightenment?

Is identification with the witness as prime reference point enlightenment itself?
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby retrofuturist » Sun May 30, 2010 9:52 am

Greetings,

I would recommend drilling down into precisely what this so called "Witness" is.

In the Pali Suttas there is this... http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

SN 12.2: Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta wrote:And what is name-&-form? Feeling, perception, intention, contact, & attention: This is called name.

I suspect you'll find this so called "Witness" amidst name and consciousness.

Seeing the constituent components of "The Witness" will help you see that these constituent phenomenon are empty, impermanent and not-self.

Is identification with the witness as prime reference point enlightenment itself?

I would have thought de-identification of the witness would be enlightenment itself.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby m0rl0ck » Sun May 30, 2010 11:07 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

I would recommend drilling down into precisely what this so called "Witness" is.

In the Pali Suttas there is this... http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

SN 12.2: Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta wrote:And what is name-&-form? Feeling, perception, intention, contact, & attention: This is called name.

I suspect you'll find this so called "Witness" amidst name and consciousness.


Maybe. Or it could be that "The Witness" is what is able to take name and consciousness as objects so that they can be deconstructed.

retrofuturist wrote:I would have thought de-identification of the witness would be enlightenment itself.



That could very well be, subject and object would be slippery concepts at that point i would think.
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby retrofuturist » Sun May 30, 2010 11:10 am

Greetings m0rl0ck,

I'm just mindful of encouraging you not to create some kind of Self through the process of reification.

The Buddha taught that all phenomena are impermanent, not-self and (with the exception of nibbana) are suffering/dukkha.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby m0rl0ck » Sun May 30, 2010 11:30 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings m0rl0ck,

I'm just mindful of encouraging you not to create some kind of Self through the process of reification.



Thank you. I appreciate that :) I have a practice method that encourages inquiry and deconstruction, so im not that worried about inadvertently making such a mistake. I understand that perspective is different from identity.

BTW, next time i see god would you like me to say hello? :lol:
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby Astus » Sun May 30, 2010 2:16 pm

I think the "witness experience" is quite common among meditation practitioners. In certain Hindu teachings (advaita vedanta, sankhya, yoga) this is the true self beyond everything else. In Buddhism this should be understood as one of the basic concepts of self (the experiencer; the other one is the doer). The independent witness, well, that is a concept of the atman.

In terms of practice, it is possible to separate objects from the subject. "I'm watching the thoughts." Then should come the turning of attention from thoughts to the watcher. Is there really something/someone watching? No. There is no witness, no self, anatma. Are there thoughts? Yes. Is there a thinker? No.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
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Does marvelous nature and spirit
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(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby Anders » Sun May 30, 2010 2:52 pm

Although 'witnessing' isn't explicitly taught in Buddhism like it is in vedanta, I think it is somewhat similar to the kind of meditation you find in the shurangama sutra, of turning one's attention to the nature of hearing/seeing, etc. as opposed the objects of hearing, seeing and such.

If you look at what Huineng says:

What is 'thoughtlessness'? 'Thoughtlessness' is to see and to know all Dharmas (things) with a mind free from attachment. When in use it pervades everywhere, and yet it sticks nowhere. What we have to do is to purify our mind so that the six vijnanas (aspects of consciousness), in passing through the six gates (sense organs) will neither be defiled by nor attached to the six sense-objects. When our mind works freely without any hindrance, and is at liberty to 'come' or to 'go', we attain Samadhi of Prajna, or liberation. Such a state is called the function of 'thoughtlessness'. But to refrain from thinking of anything, so that all thoughts are suppressed, is to be Dharma-ridden, and this is an erroneous view.

it shares a fair few characteristics with the witnessing state as a practise.

That said, it's still meditation 'with mind' so to speak, and hence a conditioned practise. Buddhist practice (disclaimer: mahayana perspective) culminates in emptiness, which is entirely non-local and doesn't apprehend any kind of knower, witness or agent. It is beyond mind in this sense.

I do think discovering and resting in the 'witnessing' part of the mind (which is basically just consciousness) is a quite useful state of practise though. When stabilised, It really does loosen up a lot of the strong habitual tendencies to identify with the grosser objects of experience and movements of the mind; while aviding a lot of the pitfalls of acceptance and rejection. You still have to go beyond this to clarify the question of consciousness however.
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby m0rl0ck » Sun May 30, 2010 3:07 pm

Anders Honore wrote:Although 'witnessing' isn't explicitly taught in Buddhism like it is in vedanta, I think it is somewhat similar to the kind of meditation you find in the shurangama sutra, of turning one's attention to the nature of hearing/seeing, etc. as opposed the objects of hearing, seeing and such.

If you look at what Huineng says:

What is 'thoughtlessness'? 'Thoughtlessness' is to see and to know all Dharmas (things) with a mind free from attachment. When in use it pervades everywhere, and yet it sticks nowhere. What we have to do is to purify our mind so that the six vijnanas (aspects of consciousness), in passing through the six gates (sense organs) will neither be defiled by nor attached to the six sense-objects. When our mind works freely without any hindrance, and is at liberty to 'come' or to 'go', we attain Samadhi of Prajna, or liberation. Such a state is called the function of 'thoughtlessness'. But to refrain from thinking of anything, so that all thoughts are suppressed, is to be Dharma-ridden, and this is an erroneous view.

it shares a fair few characteristics with the witnessing state as a practise.

That said, it's still meditation 'with mind' so to speak, and hence a conditioned practise. Buddhist practice (disclaimer: mahayana perspective) culminates in emptiness, which is entirely non-local and doesn't apprehend any kind of knower, witness or agent. It is beyond mind in this sense.

I do think discovering and resting in the 'witnessing' part of the mind (which is basically just consciousness) is a quite useful state of practise though. When stabilised, It really does loosen up a lot of the strong habitual tendencies to identify with the grosser objects of experience and movements of the mind; while aviding a lot of the pitfalls of acceptance and rejection. You still have to go beyond this to clarify the question of consciousness however.



Good stuff :bow:
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby Luke » Sun May 30, 2010 8:43 pm

Hi Morlock,

I'll take a stab at the question using your terminology.

I think that a key component to enlightenment is the "witness" observing and inferring that it does not exist (the realization of emptiness).

We begin the path by affirming our own nature and end the path by denying it.

Perhaps the "witness" is the illusory tool we use on our path to enlightenment, sort of like a car in a video game.
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby Indrajala » Sun May 30, 2010 10:54 pm

Astus wrote:In terms of practice, it is possible to separate objects from the subject. "I'm watching the thoughts." Then should come the turning of attention from thoughts to the watcher. Is there really something/someone watching? No. There is no witness, no self, anatma. Are there thoughts? Yes. Is there a thinker? No.


Are you proposing that there can be karma ( action ) without a kartṛ ( agent )?
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby Astus » Mon May 31, 2010 12:03 am

Huseng,

I wasn't making a philosophical but a practical observation. Nevertheless, if you think it's appropriate here to bring that up, there it is:

in the ultimate sense all the truths should be understood as void because of the absence of (i) any experiencer, (ii) any doer, (iii) anyone who is extinguished, and (iv) any goer. Hence this is said:

'For there is suffering, but none who suffers;
Doing exists although there is no doer;
Extinction is but no extinguished person;
Although there is a path, there is no goer'.

(Vsm. XVI. 90.)

Also:

That which is an agent
Does not perform an existent action.
Nor does that which is not an agent
Perform some nonexistent action.

(MMK 8.1)

But the next chapted of the MMK deals better with the "Witness" idea, examining the concept of a perceiver behind things perceived.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby Indrajala » Mon May 31, 2010 7:58 am

Astus wrote:Huseng,

I wasn't making a philosophical but a practical observation. Nevertheless, if you think it's appropriate here to bring that up, there it is:

in the ultimate sense all the truths should be understood as void because of the absence of (i) any experiencer, (ii) any doer, (iii) anyone who is extinguished, and (iv) any goer. Hence this is said:

'For there is suffering, but none who suffers;
Doing exists although there is no doer;
Extinction is but no extinguished person;
Although there is a path, there is no goer'.

(Vsm. XVI. 90.)

Also:

That which is an agent
Does not perform an existent action.
Nor does that which is not an agent
Perform some nonexistent action.

(MMK 8.1)

But the next chapted of the MMK deals better with the "Witness" idea, examining the concept of a perceiver behind things perceived.



That's going into emptiness and the ultimate truth. Ultimately there is no action to speak of either, so we also have no basis for which an agent could exist.

However, in the realm of cause and effect, or conventional truth, there are agents of actions. If there were not agents of actions, we would fall into determinism where sentient beings would have no control over their actions and vimukti or liberation would be a matter of random chance.



You said:

In terms of practice, it is possible to separate objects from the subject. "I'm watching the thoughts." Then should come the turning of attention from thoughts to the watcher. Is there really something/someone watching? No. There is no witness, no self, anatma. Are there thoughts? Yes. Is there a thinker? No.


There must be, conventionally speaking at least, a kartṛ (agent) for karma (action). This kartṛ need not be atman. Just as sentient beings are so described we can also say a kartṛ is dependently originated ergo anātman and empty of any self-existence or svabhava.

There may not be an absolute self, but there is a person or agent that is neither apart from the aggregates nor is any or all of the aggregates. Ignorance or avidyā leads to the appearance of an illusory agent, which while illusory still commands causal efficacy. A person is illusory, yet it still does arise from the perspective of an ignorant being.

It is thus that the Treatise on Buddha Nature states the following (my translation below):

《佛性論》卷2〈2 三性品〉:「分別性實相者。人法增益及損減。由解此性故。此執不生。是分別相人法者。是分別所作。若依真諦觀。此人法為有名增益執。若依俗諦觀。此人法是無名損減執。若通達此分別性。則增益減損二執不生。」(CBETA, T31, no. 1610, p. 794, c17-22)


"Parikalpita-svabhāva or the discriminating nature's true quality (tattvasya-lakṣaṇam) is the reification (samāropa) and elimination (apavāda) of person and phenomenon. Having comprehended this nature, these attachments thus do not arise. This discrimination characteristic, person and phenomenon are created by discrimination. If we rely on the view of the ultimate truth (paramârtha-satya), the person and phenomenon are [seen as provisionally] existent and [this is] called the attachment of reification (samāropa). If we rely on the conventional truth (saṃvṛti-satya), the person and phenomenon are [seen as] non-existent and [this is] called the attachment of elimination (apavāda). If we completely understand this discriminating nature, then the two attachments of reification and elimination do not arise."

In short, as long as one has not comprehended parikalpita-svabhāva, the appearance of a person or agent, whether it be of a reified type or posited as non-existent, will occur. Basically, if one completely realizes parikalpita-svabhāva or the discriminating nature, there is neither phenomenon nor person.

To reiterate, you said:
Are there thoughts? Yes. Is there a thinker? No.


There are both thoughts and thinkers to the ignorant being. However, if realization occurs, there is neither thought nor thinker.
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby Astus » Mon May 31, 2010 2:06 pm

"There may not be an absolute self, but there is a person or agent that is neither apart from the aggregates nor is any or all of the aggregates."

Through understanding the work of the aggregates it is easy to see why there is no agent but only the causally determined work of the aggregates. The concepts of being, person, agent is from not understanding the aggregates. The dependent functioning of the dharmas is very much like a machine. Agent and action is nothing but a causal situation, like clouds blown by the wind. The wind has no will of its own but also determined by other factors. Mental dharmas are determined by other dharmas. Thus there is no thinker behind mental dharmas. Then, if we care to go on with the analysis - which is a bit superfluous - even dharmas are conceptually made up things.

Determinism is the idea that there is a person being controlled by other factors. Since there is no such thing as a person, how could it be determined by others? Same mistake when someone thinks there is a self disappearing in nirvana.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby Indrajala » Mon May 31, 2010 2:32 pm

Astus wrote:
Through understanding the work of the aggregates it is easy to see why there is no agent but only the causally determined work of the aggregates. The concepts of being, person, agent is from not understanding the aggregates.


If you assert that there is karma or action without an agent you're proposing a fallacious argument.

As I said before, a relative agent, which is dependently originated ergo empty, explains the will that sentient beings possess. For example, the will to liberation.

The dependent functioning of the dharmas is very much like a machine. Agent and action is nothing but a causal situation, like clouds blown by the wind. The wind has no will of its own but also determined by other factors.


From this perspective enlightenment is a completely random process. Just as when the wind just happens to blow the clouds south, a being just happens to fall off the wheel of cyclic existence. The Buddha just happened to become enlightened under the bodhi tree and by chance decided to teach the dharma.

By your line of reasoning, whether I become enlightened or not is decided by chance, so why bother trying?


Determinism is the idea that there is a person being controlled by other factors. Since there is no such thing as a person, how could it be determined by others? Same mistake when someone thinks there is a self disappearing in nirvana.



The definition of determinism that I had in mind was something like this:

a theory or doctrine that acts of the will, occurrences in nature, or social or psychological phenomena are causally determined by preceding events or natural laws <explained behavior by the combination of an environmental and a genetic determinism>

Again, what you propose would mean that liberation from samsara is entirely a matter of random chance and that our whole decision making process is likewise just random causation beyond our control. Why bother trying to become enlightened? If it is in the cards, so to speak, it will happen on its own.
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby Astus » Mon May 31, 2010 5:18 pm

Huseng,

OK, I think I see the point of misunderstanding. On an illusory level there is a person deciding things, I didn't mean to question that. Same chapter in the MMK (8.12) says, describing how agent and action exists:

"Agent depends upon action.
Action depends on the agent as well.
Apart from dependent arising
One cannot see any cause for their existence."


This conception of a self serves as the doer of a deed, so there is karma and samsara and its source is ignorance. What happens on the level of dharmas, however, is pure causality, or in other words, dependent origination. This is the difference between parikalpita and paratantra. Sounds like determinism from the view of self but not from no-self.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby catmoon » Tue Jun 01, 2010 12:42 am

This idea of a witness is interesting. On the one hand, the concept neatly slices away many of the functions of the mind from the self.

On the other hand, it's awfully close to an inherently existent ''I". The witness cannot be shown to exist. It's inferred from our beliefs about subject, object and observation, and that makes it an imputation of sorts.
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby m0rl0ck » Tue Jun 01, 2010 2:55 am

catmoon wrote:On the other hand, it's awfully close to an inherently existent ''I". The witness cannot be shown to exist. It's inferred from our beliefs about subject, object and observation, and that makes it an imputation of sorts.


Yes it is close to an atta. :) In the sutta that retro linked to above it says that :

"And what is dependent co-arising? From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications. From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness. From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form. From name-&-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media.


You'll notice that consciousness is the 3rd link in the chain and after comes all the "objects". If the list is hierarchical and chronological (whatever that may mean since it seems to me that time itself would be in object category) consciousness couldnt take itself as an object. If ignorance, fabrication and consciousness arent hierarchical, then consciousness could look both ways and see its own compounded nature. If it could look both ways, that brings up other problems with the model tho, how could consciousness look at ignorance and fabrication before it itself had arisen? On the other hand, if time itself is just another object, what could be seen at the consciousness link in the chain wouldnt be limited.
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby Huifeng » Tue Jun 01, 2010 5:19 am

Regards the "witness" in Chan, look in particular for the symbolism of the "moon", which shines on the flowing water.
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby catmoon » Tue Jun 01, 2010 5:50 am

I don't think D.O. would prohibit awareness of consciousness, because the first six steps are cycling constantly at high speed. I you miss on the current pass you can always catch it the next cycle a split second later. At worst, one would experience a small time lag between a "consciousness event" and becoming aware of that event.

Mind you, many hold that D.O. is a cycle occuring across several lifetimes, but that seems to imply that we create mind objects only once in several lifetimes, which I just can't see being workable.
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Re: What is the relationship of "The Witness" to Enlightenment?

Postby m0rl0ck » Tue Jun 01, 2010 6:08 am

Huifeng wrote:Regards the "witness" in Chan, look in particular for the symbolism of the "moon", which shines on the flowing water.


And that is the context from which im coming. Thank you.

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