Inquiry Suits Many People in the West

This is a brilliant example of self-inquiry. How do you respond to Mooji’s outstanding question. Here is my take: from my experience there are 3 discrete layers of experience. One is the story we tell ourselves about what is happening in our life. This is the psychological me. It is deeply conditioned, adapted to life through habit and unconsciousness. The second level is that part of us we could call the observer. Then, if we dig a little deeper, we can realize that we can be aware of even this observer. This entity, it seems to me, is utterly mysterious and unknowable.

What is your understanding?

  1. #1 by Travis on February 23, 2009 - 1:15 am

    My response is: No, the witness cannot witness itself because there is no witness. Looked for, it disappears in the looking. All that is, is this, and the witnessing is part of what is happening. Making it a mystery makes it a separate thing.

  2. #2 by hozho1 on February 23, 2009 - 2:25 pm

    Very well expressed. I don’t think we see it any differently. Perhaps what you are responding is a semantic issue. What cannot be seen or understood can be called a mystery, but if that word feels wrong to you, that is something I can understand.

    More importantly, I really appreciated your participation in a very much hoped for dialogue.

  3. #3 by Travis on February 24, 2009 - 1:57 am

    I think these dialogues are very important. Language, being what it is, is always behind the times in expressing reality. As reality evolves, language catches up. Slowly. These sort of exchanges help that process.

    You are correct, it is a semantics issue. I have no problem with the word mystery. It’s just that, to be able to be able to refer to something which cannot be seen or understood a mystery, there must be something which can be called that.

    It’s not that I believe that the witness cannot be seen or understood. I believe there is no witness at all. No secret kernel of thing which sits at the center. No thing upon which an individual expression called the witness can hang. In my experience it is not a case of “looked for it cannot be seen,” but instead, “it cannot be looked for because it is not.”

    And, as you have said, if this feels wrong to you, that is something which I also can understand.


  4. #4 by hozho1 on February 24, 2009 - 2:21 pm

    Hi Travis,
    You say that there is no internal “watcher” or source of awareness.
    That may be, but I would be concerned about the certainty of that proposition.
    If we were entirely lacking in mirrors, we might never know that we have an eye that sees or nerve endings on our body that feel objects. They might be elements of inference or speculation.
    It is been my experience to support the position of paradox – which is strongly affirmed in the zen tradition. Thus, one neither is nor isn’t. The awakened self neither exists nor is empty of existence, etc.
    I also am fairly secure in the observation that the mind tends to want certainty. It likes solid entities, but life seems far more intangible than that. It is the proverbial razor’s edge between being and not being.
    Thanks so much for your great contributions. I hope you find this as interesting as I do.

  5. #5 by Travis on February 25, 2009 - 12:12 am

    Interestingly I was just having a great conversation about embracing paradox over at

    This reality is a paradox. I see no paradox in that. 😉

    In saying there is no witness, I am absolutely not saying that there is no eye, or nerve system, or flow of information. This very post attests to that fact.

    Genpo Roshi offers a nice visualization about this seeming paradox. In a nutshell: He works with the image of a triangle. The bottom left corner is your relative self. The you that you are in the world. Distinct, separate, identified. The bottom right corner is the absolute you. Empty, formless, nonexistent, eternal. The apex is that you which transcends and includes both of those other aspects. One interesting point is that the feel of moving from the relative you to the absolute you is a move to a higher self, and advancement. Then, proceeding to the apex feels (at first) like you have fallen back into identification, back into a lower state. In a sense you have, but it’s not a fall, it’s a return. In the Zen Ox pictures number 8 is the void of no-mind, then 9 & 10 are transcending that and returning to the market place with open hands.

    The non-dual insight is a collapse of all of that. Language (as you know) gets in the way of expressing it. That is why I can say there is no witness, no self here, while at the same time comporting myself effectively and usefully in the world. Like this post. 😉

    So, just as you are “very secure in your observation”, I am absolutely certain that there is no real “I” here. But, I’m not going to get all up-in-arms about it. 😉

    Yes, these exchanges are quite interesting. Thanks for having them with me!


  6. #6 by Travis on February 26, 2009 - 7:52 am

    Thoughts happen. They have a cause, and an effect. Wind happens. It has a cause and an effect. Cats happen. They have a cause and an effect.

    I am not disputing for a second that awareness is there. I do contend that there is not individual, distinct, witness separate from whatever is happening/arising in this (and every) moment.

    I don’t believe that there is an energetic anything separate from that which occurs. That which occurs is reality unfolding as it is. I find no individual which sits apart from reality and witnesses it, but rather reality witnessing itself.

  7. #7 by hozho1 on February 26, 2009 - 6:56 pm

    Hey Travis,
    I don’t think there is any disagreement between you and me. Here’s how I would put it: What we believe to be “me” or “I” is only conditioning. When we become of one of the zillions of thoughts that course through consciousness, in a split second, there is the attachment of the belief that “this is MY thought”. We take possession of it and when we take possession the “I” or “me” is formed. It’s little different from any other faith based belief. We tend to attach ourselves to a select group of thoughts/feelings/emotions that we have noticed as a recurrent pattern. This is pattern is the me.
    One the other hand, presence, which has seen through ALL personal identification with ANY thought or belief is just that: Presence. For me, it has the feeling of love and amusement. It’s wonderful and I am alive in the moment. It is, for me, the ultimate liberation for I am not a slave to any thought, feeling, belief, or emotion, but I sense them all.

  8. #8 by Travis on February 26, 2009 - 9:18 pm

    I agree that we agree. 😉

    The only subtlety that I have a discomfort with is one which sounds very silly when expressed in language. “We take possession of it and when we take possession the “I” or “me” is formed.” Who takes possession of it. Here’s the silly part, I don’t think there is an “I” at all to take possession of a thought to make an “I.”

    Like I said, silly to say, but as close as I can come. 😀

    Again, thank you for the wonderful exchange.

  9. #9 by Travis on February 27, 2009 - 12:05 am

    Hard to find the best words. In my way of stating it, I would say that the contraction into a smaller self is the original lie of erecting a boundary. This boundary is a lie only. There is no self and other for it to be between, but the lie makes it seem so. This lie, like all other falsehoods cannot be seen, because it does not exist. All that can be seen, all that ever is seen, is the truth of reality, which is not two.

  10. #10 by Travis on February 27, 2009 - 8:53 pm

    I don’t own an SUV, but I do love me a good hamburger. Something I am fond of saying in these situations leaps to mind – “If you learn anything from doing this, you’re doing it wrong.” If what we are after is the already, always self-evident truth of what we are then how can knowing it change anything? Reality is reality, and does not care what form it takes.

    That being said, seeing it makes it a little more difficult to not see it. The harm we may be inflicting by our actions becomes less hidden. We are less able to lie abut it.

    Pain and harm occur. That will not change. Suffering is made from those, that will not change. Perhaps seeing the truth of no boundary we recognize that pain “over there” is pain “over here” too.

    The Dalai Lama eats meat and animal products. He’s Tibetan and his physiology is set up for that diet. When he is hosted, his hosts usually try their level best to keep and ideal Buddhist diet (as they understand it) for him, and he gets sick. When he gets back under the care of his normal staff, he gets served small portions of animal products along with his grains and vegetables and his health recovers.

    Also, I heard a great story yesterday over what happened to be a vegetarian brunch. Suzuki Roshi was once traveling with his dharma heir, Richard Baker. They were traveling through New Mexico and stopped at a road side diner. The only options on the lunch menu were Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Hamburger, which Richard complained about. Richard ordered the grilled cheese, of course. Suzuki Roshi apparently decided that Richard needed to chill out a bit, and ordered the hamburger. When the food came, Suzuki Roshi took a bit of his hamburger, said it was not very good, and switched plates with Richard saying, “You eat it.” Richard was stunned, but could not bring himself to rebuke, or disobey, his teacher, so he ate it. I am sure he learned something, but I know not what. 😉

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