Questions regarding the nature of the observer have been arising from readers and in dialogue. For example, a reader asks: “Is the observer the origin of suffering?”
We have to find out within ourselves, not engage in intellectual gymnastics by making pronouncements like, “There is most definitely suffering in the absence of an observer—other’s suffering.”
We are inquiring into suffering per se, and whether it can end within ourselves. To talk about “other’s suffering” is a double separation—removal from our own suffering, and perpetuating the false notion that we are separate individuals (dividuals).
It isn’t possible to sustain the observer without sustaining suffering, and for suffering to continue without sustaining the observer.
Find out the truth of that for yourself. When the observer, which is the entity that judges, evaluates and chooses, completely ceases, the brain is simply observing. There is no illusory ‘I’ that is observing.
Without the observer, the whole brain is choicelessly attending to what is, within and without. Suffering ends, if only temporarily, and there comes “the peace that passes all understanding.”
Therefore meditation, regardless of methods and systems, begins by questioning and observing the observer. That’s because the observer lies at the root of psychological separation. There may be subtle distinctions between the observer, self and ego, but they are distinctions with barely a difference.
The reader then asks, “Does the sense of being a definite observer (distinct from what is observed) define man?”
That’s a very interesting question. The division between the observer and the observed, even within (the illusion that there is an ‘I’ separate from the mental and emotional movement of ‘myself’) seems to be as old as man.
Ending the illusion of the separate observer within oneself through self-knowing, questioning and insight, one is no longer adding to the division and fragmentation of human consciousness.
One still has to deal with many things, such as conflict, sorrow, loneliness, etc. But one cannot go back, intellectually or emotionally, to the deeply mistaken cogito: “I think, therefore I am.”
The reader asks: “If you abandon the observer, do you also abandon memory? If you finally abandon memory with no ability to go back, would you be a functional or useful entity?”
Is this an intellectual and philosophical exercise, or are we actually finding out within ourselves? See what happens when awareness grows quicker than the cognitive trick and infinite regression of the observer.
Awareness grows quicker than thought and its illusory observer when one makes the space and takes the time to passively and choicelessly observe the movement of one’s mind and emotions in the mirror of nature.
We need to make a distinction between psychological memories, which are the source of grudges, hatred, tribalism and nationalism, and functional memory, such as learning a language, reading a map, or driving a car.
The reader’s question arises from fear of what it would mean to lose a sense of separate self and the psychological memories that make up ‘me.’ Having never experienced a state during which the observer ceases its infinite regression, most people fear ‘losing it.’
There’s actually nothing to fear. Even when meditation grows so intense that it temporarily obliterates all memory, the necessary memories return.
Though I’m not sure about retaining this memory, I recall a meditation along the Merced River that became so intense that I couldn’t remember where I was or how I got there. Fear arose, and I asked, ‘am I losing my mind?
Facing the fear, there was the instantaneous realization that one was losing mind-as-thought but gaining Mind as cosmic consciousness. The fear evaporated, and the necessary memories returned.
Driving back to town, I had the same feeling one has when you first learn how to drive, and have to think about each step. That may sound useless and non-functional, but driving skill returned, and the love and ecstasy of being filled one’s heart and remains a beacon.
Recalling that I was meeting some friends for lunch, I entered the large cafeteria. There was just a sea of new faces. I didn’t recognize anyone. Suddenly a friend shouted my name, adding, “what the hell are you doing?” It made for an interesting conversation.
For the first time I understood what Jesus meant when he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”