Waves Are Only Water: On The Dissolution Of The Subtle Duality Between Witnessing And Arisings

A Subtle Duality

On the Direct Path, there can–and Greg Goode notes this both in his Standing as Awareness and in his Direct Path: A User’s Guide–be the understanding that (1) there is Witnessing Awareness, which is none other than the background of all experience, as well as (2) arisings (touching, tasting, seeing, hearing, smelling, sensing, desiring, thinking, feeling, etc.). And, for a time, it can seem as if arisings are arising to Witnessing Awareness as well as in the space of Witnessing Awareness.

At which point, the question naturally arises, “How is this subtle duality dissolved?”

In Atmananda Tattwa Samhita (1991), we find a most elegant reply. For analytical purposes, I divide Atmananda’s reply into three cases.

Waves And Water

In all cases, what is clear is that waves–feelings, for instance–are only water (namely, the right Absolute).

Case 1: Waves Arise No More

For the jnani, waves, as apparently separate arisings, arise no more.


[W]aves may subside entirely, entirely subside: water, water, water, water…. (p. 172)


[W]hen you transcend mind in that manner, leaving body and mind as parts of the world in which you live and move, well, there you come to the ultimate Reality there; and then there is absolutely no wave—there is only water and water and water alone.  (p. 173)

Case 2: Waves Arise Yet Immediately Subside

For the jnani, waves arise, as apparently separate arisings, arise but immediately subside.

Though Atmananda does not discuss this case explicitly, it’s important to add it for the purposes of being comprehensive. True, the matter of “immediate” (Case 2) and “gradual” (Case 3) presupposes the existence of time, and the jnani is beyond space and time. Still, we must understand that the teaching is offered to the disciple who, “on the Way,” doesn’t yet grasp all of this and therefore is still using the mind to comprehend what is ultimately beyond the mind.

Case 3: Waves Arise And Gradually Subside

For the jnani, waves, as apparently separate arisings, arise and gradually subside, but never is there the mistake of taking the waves to be anything but water.

The sense-organ operates, but the Truth ever prevails:

[E]ven though you see waves, of course there is something telling you from behind that it is water. (p. 172)

You have grasped the essence of the distinction between asat (unreal) and sat (Real):

Still you use your sense-organs and mind. All right. If you are using your sense-organs and mind, or, in other words, if you are still using the eye-organ—well, the waves are there. Of course, they may appear as waves, the water may appear as waves, but you see, you feel there is a something behind telling you that, even though it appears as waves, it is water. The wave, the wave part is unreal. The wave part is unreal. The reality or the substance of it is nothing but water. (pp. 173-4)

You are established as the water, and thus you abide in the water part:

Or, even if the waves do not subside, it is the water part that you direct attention to, and the waves are as good as dead or subsided. (pp. 172-3)

In All Three Cases…

In all three cases, there is no need to do anything to the apparent waves:

[W]hen that Knowledge is deep-rooted within you, there is absolutely no necessity for you to make the waves subside. (p. 174)

Daoists would heartily agree.