Day 13 – Bearing Witness

Chapter 13 – The Field & The Knower
Yoga Teacher – Derek Beres

I had to delay publishing this post for half a day because I needed to sleep on it. To me, this is the most interesting and thought provoking chapter found within the Gita. Many layers of deep connection between the real, the perceived, mind and body, God consciousness and witness consciousness are all explored here. They are explored and ultimately explained however, the mystery of how our lives do the dance with the unknown is still present.

This question still remains – what is consciousness? Is consciousness something that is found between our ears as a result of our extraordinary brains? Or is consciousness something that God has given us that allows us to experience (to a degree) what is happening around us in space and time? Science will conclude that the separation between matter and energy is very little, if not at all, so if the intangible makes up the tangible then how and why do we even need to separate them?

That answer comes when we explore the nature of our thoughts and their role in the material world. In the Gita – it’s called the field and the knower. Or the elements found within prakiriti and the purshua. However, in the Gita the mind itself is also defined as part of the field along with “the five areas of perception, the five elements, the five sense organs and the five organs of action…”(Verse 5). This is difficult because the mind to me is not a physical “thing” it is vague and mysterious therefore calling it part of the “field” takes a little getting used to. If you do look at the mind as just a plane of existence where stuff is happening and thoughts are occurring then it starts to make sense.

The knower of the field is defined as the Self or which may be very simply called the witness. Depending on where your relationship with spirituality lies all of this will bring up a very unique conflict that is at the heart of all the great philosophers who have tried to make sense of consciousness and it’s relationship to the personal experience.

Someone very dear to me proposed a different model on the same thing called “the eight-circuit model of consciousness” that is divided into four lower circuits (the larval) and four higher circuits (stellar). The higher circuits are what allows mythical and enlightened states to take place but are thought of as being new to human evolution and not accessible to all humans. The difference here with Leary vs. The Gita is that he proposed that the eight circuits are all functions of the human nervous system and thus found within the mind itself, not really allowing too much room for a cosmic infusion that exists outside of ourselves (aka God).

I do believe that we do have to take into account the soul yet somewhere between the two philosophies lies the truth.

Witness consciousness will imply that when we are detached from our egos, meaning we are only using the healthy ego as a vehicle for perception, we can see that things are just happening all around us and sometimes to us but are not us. Ram Dass talks about this endlessly. He says, for example, that when you are angry simply sit back and forget all of it and meditate. Look at the thought which is making you angry and detach yourself from the person or thing you are angry at. Soon the thought itself will become isolated as just a thought and then you can realize “hey. i’m angry. isn’t that far out?” The point is that the anger itself is not your souls natural state of being and is merely your ego creating thoughts to distance yourself from the universal truth. In the Gita it is said “…is called the witness, approver, supporter, enjoyer, the supreme Lord, the highest Self.” (Verse 22)

No matter your view of all of this it is a fun game to play when doing yoga. Try playing witness to your asana practice. Keep detaching over and over again until you’re just resting in the place of the self watching the body doing this movement. It just is. You’re moving and breathing. That’s it. It doesn’t feel good or bad, you’re just doing it.

It’s useful when pain arrises, when you are tired or when the teacher is annoying you as was my case during yesterdays practice. The thought did come up “ohhh. he’s annoying. i don’t like this class.” Certainly I don’t have to go back to his class but for that 90 minutes I can just move my body anyway and reap the benefits of the practice.