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the impulsive and the witnessing self

wa jaa'at kullu nafsim ma 'aha saa 'iqunw-wa shahida

and every soul shall come with a driver and a witness.
- The Quran 50:21

The concept of 'witnessing self' is found in the psycho-spiritual framework of many major spiritual path / faith traditions. By the term 'witnessing self' a certain reality is described which talks about the essential component of the self which functions as a witness to the self itself.

In one of the mystic verses of the Quran (50:21) we are presented with the concept that all human psyche or every human self is spoken of being present with two components, a driver or impulsive component and the witness component. In Quranic language "nafs" is an enigmatic term that has multi-layered meanings such as self, ego, soul or spirit. Even though Muslim mystics have gone in details to use the term in many levels of its meaning, essentially it points to the reality of self.

In the particular verse the context is drawn about the Day of Final Awakening when every nafs or soul will come with a driver and a witness. But to People of Reality or the Sufis, the Day of Final Awakening is also the moment of death of the body of every self. Its worth mentioning the hadith:

'This life is but a dream like state of a sleeping man.
Only in death his real realities awaken.'
- Saying of the Last Messenger, holy benediction upon him

Again on a deeper level every moment can also be Qiyamah or Moment of Awakening. The one who lives in the Reality of Presence of God, for him or her every moment is a moment of awakening. In that state every moment one takes into account one's doing and one's being. Its said, "Take account of yourself before you are taken account of." The ever present NOW ceaselessly contains the seed of possibility of that real awakening.

For ordinary people like you and me, for people of lesser consciousness the part of witnessing is often not active to the extent of its potential. If we are to look out into the world we will see the rampant condition of people with overflowing impulsive or driving self with very little activation of the witnessing self. In present world people all over mostly are running in all directions like zombies without having the slightest consideration for what they are doing, where they are going, what is it all about. It is the impulsive self that is responsible for making mental condition miserable, for worry, tension, greed and all negative karma whereas the witnessing self give rise to true inner peace and calmness within. The more we activate the witnessing self, become conscious of it, the more we become awakened. And the fundamental of activating the witnessing self is to watch over, is to witness one's own self like one see oneself in the mirror. Witnessing rising and falling thoughts, passing emotions and states (haal).

Ash Shaheed (The Omniscient Witness) is the Divine Name Sufis use in remembrance practice to activate the witnessing part of our self. "Ya Allah, Ya Shaheed" can be repeated silently or loudly as part of this practice.

I can, of mine own self, do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the Will of the Father Which hath sent me.

If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. There is Another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which He witnesseth of me is true. And the Father Himself, Which hath sent me, Hath borne Witness of me.
- Jesus Christ, holy benediction upon him: John, 5

wa Allahu aala kulli shay-in Shaheed

and Allah is the Omniscient Witness over all.
- The Quran 85:9

The self is a complex and core subject in many forms of spirituality. Two types of self are commonly considered - the self that is the ego, also called the learned, superficial self of mind and body, an egoic creation, and the self which is sometimes called the "true self", the "I" (or "I AM"), the "Atman" (as in Hinduism), the "Observing Self", or the "Witness".

Ken Wilber describes the Witnessing (or Observing) Self in the following terms:

"This observing Self is usually called the Self with a capital S, or the Witness, or pure Presence, or pure Awareness, or Consciousness as such, and this Self as transparent Witness is a direct ray of the living Divine. The ultimate "I AM" is Christ (Consciousness), is Buddha, is Emptiness itself: such is the startling testimony of the world's great mystics and sages."

He adds that the Self is not an Emergent, but an aspect present from the start as the basic form of awareness, but which becomes increasingly obvious and self aware "as growth and transcendence matures." As Depth increases, consciousness shines forth more noticeably, until:

"shed[ding] its lesser identification with both the body and the mind ... in each case from matter to body to mind to Spirit... consciousness or the observing Self sheds an exclusive identity with a lesser and shallower dimension, and opens up to deeper and higher and wider occasions, until it opens up to its own ultimate ground in Spirit itself. And the stages of transpersonal growth and development are basically the stages of following this Observing Self to its ultimate abode, which is pure Spirit or pure Emptiness, the ground, path and fruition of the entire display."

Buddha after he was enlightened, was walking down a path and he was completely glowing. He was shining. He was effulgent. A man came up to him and was so taken by the light, he asked, “Are you a celestial being, or a god”? He answered, “No”. And then he said, “Well, then you must be a magician”. “No”.
“Are you a man”? “No”.
“What are you”?
“I am awake. I am pure light.

Gargya then asked: ‘Master, when a man’s body sleeps, who is it within that sleeps, and who is awake, and who is dreaming? Who then experiences happiness, and with whom are all the sense organs united?’
- Prashna Upanishad 4:1

Truly in that there is a reminder for one
who has a heart
or he who listens attentively
and is a witness.
- The Quran, 50:37


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Technology of the Heart: the impulsive and the witnessing self
the impulsive and the witnessing self
Technology of the Heart
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