© Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust

The Self as Witness
13 October 1954


This talk is based upon Sri Aurobindo's Bases of Yoga, Chapter 1, "Calm - Peace - Equality".

Sweet Mother, what does "the reduction of the mental being to the position of a witness" mean?

Have you never felt this? As though you were a little behind or above things, and were looking at them taking place but were not doing anything yourself? Witness means an observer, someone who looks on and does not act himself. So, when the mind is very quiet, one can withdraw a little in this way from circumstances and look at things as though he were a witness, a spectator, and not participating in the action himself. This gives you a great detachment, a great quietude, and also a very precise sense of the value of things, because it cuts the attachment to action. When you know how to do this with yourself, when you can withdraw and watch yourself acting, you learn many things about yourself. When you are all mixed up and take part in the action, you do not observe yourself acting, you don't know what you are like. But when you draw back and look at yourself, you can perceive many imperfections which you wouldn't have seen otherwise.


What does "the experience of the silent Self" mean?

Everyone has in himself a being which he calls the "Self", and which is completely silent and immobile. So, if one becomes conscious of this being in himself, one has the experience of the silent Self. It is an immobile and silent being which is within, which is like an aspect of the true being and also an aspect of the witness we were just speaking about. It is this silent being which, when it turns to things and looks at them, becomes the witness. But it can turn inwards, not look on, be in its silent contemplation. It depends on which side one turns to. It is a solid point in the being, in which the light of truth shines.

If one feels that there is a calm in the atmosphere and everywhere, does this mean that the calm is within oneself?

Eh? Yes. The first thing that comes is that... for example, if one has a certain experience of a particular kind--as one may have an experience of peace, an experience of calm, one may also have an experience of perfect benevolence, an experience of understanding or of compassion--the thing, the experience is as though the consciousness were possessed by one of these movements; and so there occurs this thing which seems strange afterwards, but which for the moment is altogether natural--one feels everywhere, in everyone, in the whole atmosphere, all around himself and, if the consciousness is vast enough, in the entire earth, exactly the same peace or the same compassion or the same benevolence. And so one can say in all sincerity, with a completely living experience: "The universe is perfect benevolence."

If you come out of it, naturally this does not apply any longer. But while you are in the experience, it is altogether true--at that time. And then, if you push this, these experiences, farther (and this is exactly what happens to people who try to identify themselves consciously with the Divine), when you attain this identification and have the consciousness of the Divine in you, instantly you feel that the Divine is everything and everywhere, in all things, that there is nothing but the Divine. And people who have had this experience have said this, they have said, "But there is only the Divine, all is Divine, the Divine alone exists." Yet, when one comes out of the experience, if he continues to say it, he almost tells a lie, in the sense that this no longer corresponds at all to the state of consciousness he is in.

When one is in an ordinary external consciousness, everything is not at all divine, far from it. So those who come and tell you that in this external consciousness all is divine, are humbugs! But when they are in the experience and live the Divine, when they have become the Divine, then for them everything is divine. They perceive nothing but the Divine, and they may say, "All is divine", because they perceive only the Divine. But as soon as they come out of this experience, they can no longer say it.

But one may say anything. One may say, "All is peace, all is equanimity, all is compassion, all is comprehension, all is light."

Each time one sincerely has an experience and is entirely absorbed in the experience, all that he sees becomes identical with him, because in fact it is everywhere and when one becomes conscious of it in himself, he becomes conscious of it in everything. It is true.

But it is not solely true, all the rest is also there. And the opposite is also true: when you enter a state of hatred and have the experience of hatred, the whole world for you is full of hatred; at that time almost nothing else exists but hatred.

The more your experience becomes absorbing for you, the more does all the rest become identical.

Then, Mother, is there not any true reality, does all depend on oneself?

No, it is just the opposite!

One becomes conscious of the reality only when one becomes conscious of it in oneself. All this is true. Indeed, it is true: you cannot say that it exists unless you experience it yourself. When you do not experience it, if you say, "It is like this", well... You can say, "There was a time when it was like this for me"; then that's right. But if you say, "It is like this", at a time when you don't feel it, it is quite simply a mental statement.

But everything is there! Everything is there... all the things which you can experience and infinitely more which you cannot, because a being is not absolutely complete in himself. If he were complete in himself, he could have the experience of the whole, without any exception. And in fact, potentially it is like that. Only, each one develops according to his own line. It comes to saying this: that one is conscious of the universe only to the extent to which the universe is in his consciousness. For you the universe stops at your consciousness, no matter what others may say. Everything that you read, for example, all the descriptions you are given, all the sentences you hear, you can understand only as far as they correspond to something in your consciousness; and if they are not in your consciousness, you do not understand them, and consequently they do not exist for you. But this does not mean that they do not exist outside you.