Introspection and Witnessing
By Swami Rama
The laws of the internal journey are entirely different. They comprise the science of yoga. You want to be an interior researcher; you want to know something valuable. To be an interior researcher you first need to understand the four states of consciousness: the waking state, the dreaming state, the state of deep sleep, and the state beyond. Once you understand the first three states, then you definitely understand that there is something beyond.
After practicing  disciplined action and speech, and studying their marvelous effects, one should learn to understand and practice mental discipline. Slowly he begins  discrimi¬nat¬ing between helpful thoughts and those unhelpful thoughts that consume more human energy than anything else. This introspective (inspecting within) method leads one to the next step:  witnessing. Here one learns to witness all that happens, both in the external and internal worlds, without becoming involved in it. While one is still learning, he must be patient and not become disappointed if at times he fails to remain a witness but instead becomes emotionally caught up in what is taking place.
In pursuing such a self-training program, one should make a commitment to himself for the sake of his growth that he will practice regularly and faithfully no matter what. This is not the same as following a commandment or a blind injunction. After understanding the importance of the discipline of mind, speech, and action and after practicing that discipline regularly for some time, one experiences certain extraordinary phenomena that are based on those realities that cannot be understood by the conscious mind.
You have the capacity and strength to expand your conscious mind with the help of a method that is called “interior research,” the internal journey. You have to be a master if you really want to enjoy life here—the master of your own mind. Your mind is yours; know your mind.
The reason you do not have the capacity to inspect within is that you are swayed by your thoughts and identify yourself with your thought patterns. The wisdom to decide what is useful in the mind is not there, so you are controlled by your thought patterns. Inspect within to see what is good and what is not good for your practice. If you do not have determination first, do not inspect your thoughts, because otherwise your thoughts will control you. Then you will see how easily you are distracted. Your mind will create many fantasies and images, one after another.
The mind should be untroubled and free. It should not be occupied by worldly worries and emotional problems. So yoga science includes several methods for controlling such problems. The first is to assume an attitude of detachment. One should gently close the eyes, withdraw the senses from the external world, and say to oneself, “Who am I? I am not the body, senses, mind, emotions and impulses. I am the all-pervading atman. How can these emotions and impulses disturb me? I am completely detached.”
Another method of calming the mind consists of trying to be a mere witness to one’s mental activity, observing silently the thought waves arising in the mind. One should not associate with the passing thoughts; one should merely watch them flit by. No attempt should be made to use the faculties of discrimination or will, and there should be no struggle for control of the emotions and impulses, but one should note carefully the degree and duration of conflicts of attention. Repeated effort will bear fruit. The initial attempts may be very frustrating; only patience and perseverance will lead to success. However, if the conflicts are insurmountable the practice should be halted and continued at a more suitable time, for there should be no sense of effort involved in any method of concentration. Effort leads to tension, and tension upsets the nervous system and results in serious discomfort.
The state of meditation needs to be expanded in the waking state. You are facing yourself in that waking state, and your thought patterns are coming. You have stored them in the unconscious, and when you relax your conscious mind, they come forward. Learn to allow them to let go, and then develop introspection. The next step is to learn to witness your thoughts. Your thoughts are people. They are not mere thoughts; they are people within you. You are a world in yourself. You are a universe, and all your thoughts are people. Just as people are born and die, so too, thoughts are born and die.
There are thoughts that create great grooves or imprints in your mind, and those thoughts are called samskaras. You can eliminate those thoughts if you have the power, and if you know how to eliminate them. You can be free from your samskaras. You can obtain freedom from your samskaras, from the impressions that you have stored in the unconscious mind. You have the power to do that. The mind has a habit of going into the grooves of past experiences. When you create a new groove, the mind stops flowing into the past grooves and starts flowing in the new grooves that you have consciously created. These new grooves lead you to silence. Your aim in meditation is to go into that silence from where wisdom flows, that fountain of life and light, that flows with all its majesty.
It is essential that we learn to control the thinking process. By gaining control over the thinking process we can gain control over the impressions stored in the mind and eventually over our entire karma. Through introspection, inspection within, one can discover the nature and origin of his thought. Mental functioning and internal motivations always precede external actions. Through introspection we can learn to understand and see clearly our habits and their origins. Through introspection we can change our habits and thus change our character and personality. In order to change habits we must be aware of our present condition and our goals. The goal is simply to be perfect.
As we grow through introspection our conscience makes us more aware of our perfections and imperfections, and we gain greater control over our mind. Through introspection, through observation of what effect your habits, thoughts and actions have upon you, you can learn to distinguish between what is advisable and beneficial and what is harmful or dangerous for you. You can learn what is your real nature and what is not your real nature. We can use discrimination and introspection in looking into the stream of symbols, ideas, images and fantasies in the mind. We see right away that these images are not independent; these symbols have certain inner meanings for us. We color them ourselves, and we cannot trust them without analyzing them. So there is right knowledge and there is wrong knowledge. Yoga science never asks us to follow anything blindly but rather to discriminate and to analyze. Learning to discriminate between useful and harmful knowledge is an important facet in the process of introspection.
When a meditator learns not to identify himself with his thinking process and his train of thoughts, he becomes aware of his essential nature and starts witnessing things differently without any identification. The meditator is not disturbed by the actions and attitudes of others. This state requires that we learn the different functions of the mind.
Meditation is not sitting and fidgeting, daydreaming, worrying, or fantasizing. It means watching, calmly observing the mind itself. Calm observation makes the mind itself calmer. The calmness of the mind creates power to go deeper and deeper into the beds of samskaras, into all the latent memories and impressions that daily provoke our habits and personalities. However, by calmly and very quietly going to the samskaras and observing them they are burnt away; they bubble to the surface and dissipate. This is the process of purification. It is a very powerful practice, and an essential one. Meditation is the exact method of becoming aware of who you are. It is the fundamental training for knowing your inner world.
In the river of life all our actions, thoughts, and sensations are like pebbles which settle on the bed of the river, and we soon lose conscious awareness of them. These pebbles or sensations thrown into the river create very tiny bubbles in the depths of the river which come up and burst at the surface. All of our samskaras reside in the latent bed of memory. When we start studying life with the help of contemplation and meditation, these hidden samskaras come up to the surface as if seeking to be expressed in the external world. If we become fixated on these bubbles of thoughts which arise in the river of our life we will be unable to achieve liberation. To study action and even thought can provide some personal consolation; but it is not the way of liberation and enlightenment, although it is always helpful to understand one’s actions and thoughts. Without focusing on the subtle traces of our mind stuff, that is, on the samskaras in their latent form rather than on their manifestation at the surface, enlightenment is not possible.
When a student starts meditating and calming down the conscious mind, he experiences the bubbles of his thoughts rising to the surface; but he is not aware that all these bubbles actually originate in the bed of the river of his mind where disturbing pebbles are constantly settling. He often resists these disturbances and can become disgusted with himself on account of them. If the student is patient and determined he will cease to struggle with these thoughts and will start to study them. This study needs careful attention so that the rising thoughts do not adversely affect the student. This is possible if he practices witnessing the thoughts by not identifying himself with the quality, image, idea, fantasy and fancy which appear before him and which can entice him.
It is natural for all the hidden tendencies of our unconscious mind to come to the surface, and it is also natural for a student to be disturbed by them. Yet if the student remains aware of his goal, which lies beyond the unconscious mind, then he will learn to study these thought forms without discomfort. Past samskaras do create problems and disturbances for the student of meditation, but sincere effort, determination and one-pointedness can help him maintain awareness of his goal. Constant and exclusive study of the thinking process at the conscious level is not a sound way to follow the path of meditation. It is self-study of the unconscious mind stuff which is important. Many strange thoughts rise to the surface during our thinking process and it is not possible for anyone to analyze and get rid of them at the conscious level, for these bubbles form deep in the unconscious mind.
Often people seek to analyze the karma in their relationship with the people with whom they live, but that is only one aspect of understanding karma and the fruits that are received from that karma. Karma is a law of our own making. There are two ways of gaining freedom from the bondage of karma. One is to renounce karma; the other is to do karma skillfully and selflessly. It is not practical or possible for the ordinary man to renounce all of his duties, eliminate his desires and surrender his motivations; but the practical way of gaining freedom is to do one’s own karma skillfully and selflessly so that karma no longer remains a bondage.
The first stage of meditation is to clear the mind. We all know that we think but do not know why or what are the root causes of our thoughts. It is essential to observe the thinking process and witness the contents of the mind. To establish ourselves in our own basic nature we need to know how to cleanse the mind. We constantly identify with the content of the mind and with our memories. Things which trouble us inwardly are hidden from others, but we see them and allow ourselves to be disturbed constantly by them. Through meditation we gain control over these disturbances and learn to observe and witness them. Then slowly problems fade from our mental processes.
There is a bed of memory in the mind where we store the seeds of our impressions or samskaras. Without this bed the river of mind cannot flow. From this bed arise many of the memories and impressions which trouble and disturb us.  In meditation we learn first to calm down the conscious mind  so that these impressions may be allowed to rise and  pass through our mind without troubling us. Then  we learn to deal with the deeper memories of the unconscious mind with which we normally have no contact.
In our educational system we learn only to train the conscious mind, but in meditation we deal with the whole mind. When the conscious mind has been calmed we learn to integrate all the parts of the mind and to bring them to a single point of concen¬tra¬tion. This is known as making the mind one-pointed.
The conscious mind is used in the waking state. We do not have total control over the conscious mind. By mental and silent repetition of the mantra and in engaging in internal dialogues which help us to analyze our inner selves, we may slowly develop sankalpa, i.e., unconscious determination or resolve. Sankalpa helps us slowly to gain control over the conscious mind, to calm it down and eventually to bring the other parts of the mind and the other states of consciousness within our awareness.
To achieve tranquility one practices meditation. We slowly learn not to be disturbed when the mind interferes during meditation. We must learn simply to observe the disturbing thoughts and let them pass. For this we need patience and we need to inspect our thinking process. We must recall that what is going on in our minds is produced by us. We should inspect it and always recognize it as our own product. Each person’s thinking is his own creation. It will not help to project our thoughts onto others and to blame them for the things which trouble us. Brooding does not help. We should let the bubbles which arise from the depths of the pool of the mind vanish slowly. Do not fight with your thoughts for this will only interfere with your meditation even more. Simply observe things and watch them as a calm witness. Meditate; do not fight with your thoughts.
We begin by learning to inspect and analyze our own minds. First we find that we do indeed have minds because we think. We come to realize that we are not the same as our thinking process and our minds. Through analysis, through introspection we learn to discriminate between the thinker and the thinking process. The first step to control and liberation is self-observation.
When you observe yourself you find that there is a mental “train” which is constantly running through your mind. This train contains symbols, ideas, imaginings, fantasies and fancies. We tend to identify with these things, to feel that they are part of us and yet to know that in some basic way they are of a different order of reality. We know that there is something in us, an identity which is distinct and separate from all of our mental objects. It is that self which must be pursued deeper and deeper, separating it from all other experiences.
Anything that comes into our mind belongs to one of the categories of objects in the mental train. We need only to observe them. Even though it is not clear where the train comes from or where it will go, simply observe it and let it pass. Never suppress or struggle with your feelings. Never hold back your desires or try to argue. Simply analyze them, inspect them, let them all pass. Never identify with them.
Of course this analysis should be done mentally. It is not necessary to express your feelings and desires openly or in acts. Simply analyze, observe and witness them during self-examination. When new symbols arise in the mind, observe them and persist in remem¬ber¬ing your mantra. If the train lingers on and refuses to go away, simply watch it. Stand there and watch the train.
This process of purifying, cleansing and emptying the mind is absolutely essential for successful meditation. We must not seek too quickly and impatiently to achieve higher states and higher experiences before we have managed to empty the mind from disturbing thought and to calm it. In a monastery novices do not begin with meditation. First students are taught to purify their minds. Modern man is too impatient and wants to master the art of meditation immediately.
If we cannot learn to go beyond the thinking process, examine it. Slowly become aware of the separation between you and your thoughts. Thoughts will appear and disappear, but always learn to be a witness. Good and bad thoughts will cease to have meaning when we stop identifying with them. We will see that these are merely mental objects for us to observe and witness. We will find that that which is already realized and which never changes is the Self, and that which changes, grows and decays is non-Self. As meditation progresses we will separate these two and identify more strongly with the Self and less with the non-Self.
Many people assume that meditation means not thinking. But if you stop your mind from thinking, you will hallucinate, and your mind will lose consciousness. Meditation does not mean losing touch with yourself or denying your thinking process. When you are fighting with your thinking process you are not meditating. Fighting deepens negative thought patterns. Learn instead to let go of the thinking process; learn to gradually strengthen the witnessing faculty of your mind. In this way, you can understand and examine thought patterns with the help of introspection, strengthening those thoughts that are inspiring, helpful, and positive.
You are the architect of your life. Never forget that. By systematic practice, in three months’ time you will be able to calm down your breath. Gradually, you will be able to have perfect serenity on your conscious level, and then you will find that infinite library called the unconscious mind slowly coming back to your conscious level. Then you can go beyond these levels to the very center of consciousness.
When you turn within, you understand that it is the mind that creates a barrier between you and the Reality. Many people who study meditation think that they should try to stop the mind from thinking, but this never happens. Many students think, “Oh, what a bad thought is coming. My method of meditation must not be good.” The thought is not bad, but they become very caught up in it, and they allow those thought patterns to influence their body language. This does not allow them to be steady.
The mind goes through fluctuations at a very high speed, and when you try to study the mind, you don’t know how to handle it because no one has helped you train the mind. What can help you train the mind? Nothing external can help you. The yogis pray, “O Lord, let this external world not trouble me, so that I can go within.” When you remove the obstacle you have been creating, then you are enlightened. Enlightenment is not something that you gain. You are already enlightened, but you do not realize it because you are constantly identifying yourself with the outer sheaths and with the objects of the world.
You have to understand the levels within yourself. To understand your uncon¬scious mind, you have to be alert and observant and work with yourself gradually. Do not be harsh to yourself: the mind is like a river and you cannot stop its thinking. Mind is like a river, and if you try to create a kind of dam or reservoir in it for some time, and become like a beaver, trying to stop the flow of the river, eventually there will be a great disaster. Therefore, do not try to stop or suppress your thinking. That’s a bad way to try to understand or control your mind.
Learn to introspect, which means “inspection within.” To do this, sit down and observe what you are thinking. You actually already know; you really know all your weaknesses, and actually you are busy hiding them, so if you go to a therapist, what can he or she do? The therapist cannot help you because you are hiding from yourself. Depending too much on either a therapist or a teacher is not a good thing. They exist to help you become healthy, happy, and self-reliant. If you are not becoming self-reliant, healthy, and happy, then leave your guru or your therapist. Either he is not helping you or you are not following the advice.
If you want to change your personality and are following a true path, and you commit a mistake, you will receive help because of your quest of truth and righteousness. Your inner world is larger and more powerful than the world you see around you: there is something great inside you. Someone is witnessing your actions, speech, and mind, and that observer is actually you, the finest part of your Self.
You can burn your samskaras. To burn your samskaras, you sit in deep meditation, build your determination, and tell your mind and your samskaras, “At this time my mind is only for meditation. I have to meditate and learn to go beyond this mire of delusion and confusion created by my mind.” Then, you allow all the impressions to come forward and you don’t get involved with them. That method is called “inspection within,” or introspec¬tion, and slowly you learn to become a witness. Another method is to burn your samskaras inside that fire of knowledge and to offer all those samskaras to the Light, to that great fire within, and then burn them.
Do not allow yourself to suppress your thoughts. Instead, let the thoughts come before you and become a sort of observer. Start observing your own mind. Do not try to escape; do not be afraid of your thinking. If anything comes into your mind, and if you do not accept it within the mind, then it is not yours. Even your realization that a thought does not belong to you involves the thought of someone else. What is that thought that is your own thought? No thought is really yours. Try to consider a single thought that is purely yours. In all of your thoughts, there is either someone else involved or there is an image from outside.
The way to work with your intruding thoughts is to let each thought come, whether it is good or bad. Simply decide that whatever comes, you will not be disturbed. Realize that this thought, whatever it is, cannot disturb your whole life. What happens to most people is that any thought that comes into their mind disturbs their whole being. Then another thought comes, and that also disturbs them, and this happens continuously. Then they become weak and spineless because of such thoughts. They become afraid because some particular thought is coming into their mind. The difference between you and an accomplished swami is that you take things into your heart, but a wise person doesn’t take negative things into his heart. Decide that whatever negative thought occurs, or whatever others say, you will not accept it blindly. Decide that you will observe the thought or suggestion and let it come.
The meditator really becomes an internal explorer and investigator, who is study¬ing the internal reactions and processes of his or her own mind, on both the conscious and unconscious levels. The meditator is an interior researcher, and what is brought out is creative intelligence that can be used in the external world. Meditation helps you to fully know and understand all the capacities of the mind—memory, concentration, emotion, reasoning, and intuition. Those who meditate begin to understand how to coordinate, balance, and enhance all these capacities, using them to their fullest potential. Then they go beyond the usual states of mind and consciousness through the practice of meditation.
With the help of meditation, the conscious mind can be trained to form a new habit. The personality can be transformed when one learns to let go of the habitual thoughts arising in the conscious mind. Then, the next step is to learn to witness the thoughts going on in your mental train, practicing and learning to remain undisturbed, unaffected, and uninvolved.
Even when the conscious mind has become seemingly calm, a single impression that arises from the unconscious can suddenly distort the mind, exactly the way that a pebble’s splash can disturb the smooth surface of a lake. Human emotion is an immense power which must be guided. In this endeavor, students need to learn patience with themselves. To fear and try to escape from examining one’s own thought processes is a serious mistake for a student to make. You should examine all your fears, and then you will find they are imaginary and irrational. From this point, you then begin the process of contemplation with analysis. Gradually, you will acquire the power to inspect your own thinking process, while remaining undisturbed. Such a mind attains clarity and is then prepared to attain samadhi. There are many levels of samadhi, which is a state of deep, absorbed meditation.
During meditation, one remains fully awake and conscious, but during dreaming, one is not conscious, and the unconscious impressions appear whether one desires them to do so or not. In the dreaming state, one has no control, but in meditation one has perfect control. When it is said that one can remain fully conscious while dreaming, it means that one can remain in meditation and recall all the unfulfilled desires that are expressed during that time. One can then analyze and resolve them. The mind is trained to maintain a single focal point of meditation voluntarily. This gives the aspirant an opportunity to judge, analyze, and decide the usefulness of the impressions coming from the unconscious that create dreaming reality.
During meditation, the meditator can experience all that which is experienced during the dreaming state. He is fully conscious though he is not utilizing his senses and not contacting external objects. When the conscious state is expanded, dream analysis becomes clear, and the ideas and symbols that are experienced during that state are easily understood. If one has clear introspection, the harmful and injurious dreams that strain and distract the mind and its energy can be analyzed and resolved. A time comes when meditation stirs the unconscious mind and brings forward impressions from its hidden recesses. It quickens the method of analyzing, understanding, and surveying the whole dreaming state.
Thoughts, ideas, feelings, and desires do flow from the unconscious mind, but they do not have any power to disturb the meditator because his mind is concentrated. Those impressions are like other thoughts that pass through the mind, but they do not create disturbance for the meditator. But the dreamer may be disturbed by his dreams because they are not under his conscious control. Dreams alone are not the subject for analysis but the entire dreaming reality should be understood thoroughly.
The aspect of mind that is involved in the dreaming state can be brought under control through meditation. The conscious mind and its field can be expanded, and such an expansion is helpful for the aspirant in fathoming higher levels. In this method of meditation, any fantasy or superficial experience is discarded as it comes to the surface of the meditator’s mind from the hidden levels of the unconscious. Therefore, an experience of any type is considered to be invalid until the mind is completely purified and mental dissipations are brought under conscious control. When meditation deepens, the unconscious part of the mind and the sleeping state are also gradually brought under control.
If the unconscious mind is not at rest, and if there is constant turmoil, then the mind is unbalanced. When the conscious mind is agitated by the incoming flow (from the unconscious) of unfulfilled desires, thoughts, and feelings, the senses are not able to perceive as they should. If the conscious mind is free from conflicts, then it coordinates with the senses, and the data that are collected through sense perception are accurate. If one knows how to deal with disturbing thoughts, desires, and feelings, then the conscious mind can direct the senses, and behavior becomes normal.
When one is relaxed and finds quiet time in stillness, the conscious mind is rested and relaxed. The conscious mind, being a part of the unconscious, or being one with the unconscious, then starts receiving impressions from the unconscious mind, which is all-knowing and which stores, remembers, reminds, and is the bed of memory for all physical and mental activities.
The mind is conditioned by time, space, and causation; it is not trained to be here and now. People do not actually realize what here and now means—either the mind goes to the old grooves of habit or it imagines the future. This method of meditation does not allow the mind to recall past memories and experiences or to imagine the future but is directed in an orderly way so that it maintains nowness. During that time, the best knowledge that one already has in the inner library of the unconscious comes forward. This knowledge is finer and more subtle and can be depended upon more than the knowledge gained through the cultivation of the conscious mind, which functions during the waking state.
With the help of the meditation technique, the student experiences the finer dimen¬sions of energy and thus gains self-confidence and inner strength. Any kind of dependency is discarded. Just as a boat is needed to cross the river, so a competent teacher is needed at a preliminary stage. When the river is crossed, the boat remains at the bank. Then the student goes ahead and does not use his teacher as a crutch.
Students are constantly reminded and instructed by their preceptors that there is only one goal of life, and that is the Ultimate Truth, which is known by attaining the fourth state. The fourth state is a fully conscious state, but that consciousness does not depend on sense perception and is not polluted by a flood of dreams. It is not at all an unconscious state but is a state of full awareness that gives the human being an ability to see things as they are within and without. Expansion of the conscious mind is experienced, and the reality experienced in the dreaming state and the waking state becomes clearer.
The observer and the observed create a dualistic reality, while the aspirant’s aim is to realize the Absolute Truth. Here meditation ends, and the higher step of contemplation helps one to realize that one’s real self is the Self of all. One also realizes that the realities experienced during waking, dreaming, and sleeping are only apparent realities, and the self-existent reality of turiya alone is the one all-pervading reality. Meditation is still a dualistic concept, but the highest state of contemplation is monistic. It leads to Self-realization, while the concept of meditation leads to samadhi, and samadhi and Self-realization are two different states.
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