Baba always had me witness, watch. I, however, always wanted to be part of the action. And the truth is I was; my acting took the form of witnessing. As a child I always preferred to participate, as in camp where I always wanted to be the camper, never the counselor who stood around and watched. As a dancer I hated teaching dance because the teacher did not get to dance. Teaching Tai Chi was a joy because I was both participant and witness with the student. As a spiritual teacher, I model and practice along with the student. I am a witness, and I participate. As the teacher, Rohini the small self practices by dissolving, and thereby allowing the Self, the Witness, to be in charge.
Baba used to say that happiness is our birthright. He did not say it is our small self’s birthright. Our small self’s birthright is to live out the effects of past causes.
If you believe that who you are is your small self, you have no choice, no agency. The small self has no real agency. Absolutely, it has no power to do anything. Relatively, it deludes itself into having agency, but behind the curtain is the Doer. So when we live unconsciously, lost in the small self, we have no agency. We are puppets who are unaware of the puppeteer and believe they are in charge. The truth is, the puppet has no soul, and without the puppeteer the puppet cannot function. The puppet lives out the causes and effects, while the puppeteer enjoys the play.
The small self is a construct of the mind. The mind witnesses the world and also witnesses itself. The mind appears as both subject and object at different times. When it is the subject, it witnesses outside itself. When it is the object, it is witnessed by itself. The mind cannot be simultaneously both subject and object. At one minute it appears as subject, and the next as object. The dissociative small self thinks it is the Witness; it is merely the small self looking down on itself. The small self is not self-illuminative.
The Real Self witnesses all and enlivens all simultaneously; it is always Subject with no object. It is Self-illuminative. The Real Self is the enlivener, witness, and empathizer for the whole manifested world.
As Witness, the Real Self is the witness of the waking, dream and deep sleep states. It resides in the turīya state, the fourth state, the state beyond the other three. The Witness is always awake, even when consciousness is in the dream or deep sleep states. When the individual is asleep and not aware of the waking state, on all levels the Witness is present and in bliss.
The Witness’s true nature is Love. The Witness is the one who is happy; that is our birthright. That is what Baba was talking about.
So if we have returned to the bliss of the Witness, our small self is fully informed by the one that Knows, the one that enlivens. We are no longer merely the puppet; we are also the puppeteer. The Witness is not aloof. The best participant in the world play is the one who is the Witness on all levels, and therefore the participant on all levels.
But being aware that the puppeteer, the True Self, has the real agency is not the same as returning to the Self. It is important here to distinguish between being enlightened and being Self-realized. We can be enlightened but not Self-realized. Enlightenment is the experience of re-cognizing the Self as something altogether different from the small self; being Self-realized is living as the Self, with no illusion of separateness. Enlightenment is an important stage on the way, but should not be confused with the goal.
People who confuse enlightenment with Self-realization are prone to delude themselves about their agency in a particular way. Those who have deluded themselves into believing they are only good believe that their agency only accomplishes good. When something bad happens, they take no responsibility, because their intentions are always “good”.
Another way people delude themselves about enlightenment is to conflate blankness with a still mind, and therefore with Self-realization. Blankness is not the Self; blankness is tamas (inertia). Pure consciousness free of individuality is the Self. The Self is beyond even sattva (brightness and calm).
As we get closer to Self-realization, closer to the Witness, we are finally empathetic with ourselves. We first practice empathy with others and then with ourselves. When we empathize with others, we feel what they feel though we are not attached to that feeling; we are not run by that feeling, it is not us. We know it is other. We are fine within ourselves and yet able to feel for others. As we grow toward the Self, we are conscious of being both the participant and the Witness. When we reach Self-realization, we are Bliss Itself, and yet we also feel what the small self feels without any attachment to the small self’s experience. We are the Self, and we empathize with our small self. This is what it means to be the Witness and the participant at once.
The Witness and the participant are, in the Absolute sense, One. This is what Baba meant when he said, “God forgets his own true nature and looks for God. God worships God. God meditates on God, and God is trying to find God. It is God who questions and God who answers.”