For Nisargadatta, The Witness As A Bridge

In I Am That, Nisargadatta offers us not just any bridge but the most direct bridge from misidentification to Ultimacy. In fact, he couldn’t be any clearer about the role that the witness plays in his teaching:

The person is never the subject [Nisargadatta tells one seeker]. You can see a person, but you are not the person. [Because you can see a person, you are not any person.] You are always the Supreme which appears at a given point in time and space as the witness, a bridge between pure awareness of the Supreme and the manifold consciousness of the person.

I Am That, p. 58.

1. Nisargadatta begins by appealing to a common Vedantic principle: whatever is seeing is not the same as what is seen; the perceiver is not the perceived; the witness not what is witnessed. Because you can see the person, you cannot be the person, or the personality.

2. This opens up the question: “What is this that can see the person and thus is not the person?”The answer is the witness.

3. Note the key word “as” in the quotation above and also here: “You are always the Supreme which appears at a given point in time and space as the witness.” The Supreme, which is what you are, manifests itself as the witness in order that there can be the perception of an object.

4. I need to introduce one more term. I make sense of Nisargadatta’s pointer–“Hold onto the ‘I am’; let go of everything else”–in the following manner: the witness, when it turns back on itself, is “I am.” “I am” is the first manifestation of the Supreme, yet “I am” has yet to shine a light on objects. When it “turns outward” toward objects, then “I am” is regarded as “the witness.”

5. Do you see the path of self-inquiry here? You can’t be whatever you perceive. Then you must be the witness. But you’re not even the witness because once you turn back on yourself, there is only “I am.” But you’re not even “I am.” Through Divine Grace, “I am” is naturally resolved into the Supreme Itself. The pointer–“Abide as ‘I am'”–intends to bring one to what elsewhere Nisargadatta calls the “borderland.” Just stay here quietly and all will naturally, ultimately be resolved back into the Supreme.