Being The Witness Purifies The Bodymind

While re-reading Nisargadatta’s “modern spiritual classic” I Am That, I was pleasantly surprised to find him making two sorts of claims about taking one’s stand as the witness. You can find both claims in one marvelous sentence: “The idea ‘I am the witness only’ will purify the body and the mind and open the eye of wisdom” (p. 70).

Quite clearly, being the witness knowingly will “open the eye of wisdom” in the sense that the witness will naturally revert, in the absence of all experiences (objects), to the sense of “I am.” And this “I am” will revert quite naturally to the Absolute. So much is clear enough, especially in the late teaching of Nisargadatta (see, e.g., The Ultimate Medicine).

Yet more curious–and wonderful–for our purposes is the first claim he makes about how this stand “will purify the body and the mind,” thereby making the bodymind (I infer) sattvic.

And so, we have (at least) three “ways” to purify or cleanse. In the first place, one can identify samskaras–or ego tendencies–and see them off. (For more, e.g., here.)

In the second place, one can engage in body (or energy) work of the kind offered by yoga in the Kashmir tradition as the latter was unfolded by Jean Klein. I lead a 9-minute guided meditation that follows this line in this Instagram reel:

And in the third place, one can knowingly and consistently take one’s stand as the witness and in the open space of one’s witnessingly aware presence simply welcome whatever experience is arising just now. In this sense, one intuitively understands the spirit of Whitman’s line: “I am large; I contain [without being contained by] multitudes.” And one realizes the truth of the opening stanza of the excellent Chan poem Faith in Mind:

The Supreme Way is not difficult
If only you do not pick and choose.
Neither love nor hate,
And you will clearly understand.
Be off by a hair,
And you are as far from it as heaven from earth.
If you want the Way to appear,
Be neither for nor against.
For and against opposing each other
This is the mind’s disease.
Without recognizing the mysterious principle
It is useless to practice quietude.

Trans. Master Sheng-Yen