Who is Seeing the Tree?

Who is seeing the tree? For that matter – who is listening to the music? Who is tasting the ice cream? Who is smelling the fragrance of the rose? Who is feeling the coolness of the air? We have these types of experiences all through the day. It does seem that there is an Observer within us who is the witness to all these experiences. This Observer is the seer of the tree, listener of the music, taster of the ice cream, smeller of the rose and the feeler of the cold air.

1. Did you notice this Observer is a complex entity and it plays so many different roles.

  • When it is seeing the tree, it is the seer of the tree.
  • When it is listening to music, it is the listener of the music.
  • When it is tasting the ice cream, it is the taster of the ice cream.
  • When it is smelling the rose, it is the smeller of the rose.
  • When it is feeling the coolness of the air, it is feeler of the cold air.

This list can go on. Wow! what a multifaced and varied entity is this Observer. There is one Observer within us, who is playing all different roles of a seer, listener, taster, smeller, or feeler and many more such roles. This Observer is indeed a very dynamic entity, at the drop of a hat it keeps changing its role all through the day. For one moment it is a seer of a tree, the next moment it could be a listener of the music, then back to the seer of the car ahead, then the smeller of perfume of a passerby. With every change of experience, the Observer plays a different role. The profile of the Observer keeps changing so rapidly all through the day. It is simply amazing. It is impossible to know how many times the Observer’s role changes all through the day.   

From this discussion it does seem that the Observer is a very powerful and dynamic entity. It is worthwhile contemplating on this amazing entity which is within each one of us.

2. So who is this Observer? The most likely answer is that ‘I am’ this observer. After all I am seeing the tree, or I am listening to the music, or I am tasting the ice cream. This is what we experience every moment. There is no way we can deny this feeling. All our lives, we’ve been very sure that we are the Observer of all these experiences. The next question is who is ‘I am’? The most likely answer is that ‘I am’ is the ego. We all have a feeling of ‘I am’ – ego is another name to this feeling of ‘I am’.  We are sure that this ego is the observer of all the experiences.

If ego is the observer of all the experiences, it makes you wonder where ego gets the power to become an observer. To become a seer, listener, taster, smeller, and feeler of all the experiences. Are these powers inherent in the Ego or is it dependent on something external to itself?

3. There is also the possibility that the Observer and the Ego are two separate entities. The Observer is a powerful and dynamic entity which is the witness to all the experiences. The Ego is nothing but our personality profile and the storehouse of all the pending karmas awaiting results. All our desires, all our plus and minus personality traits make up the ego. From this understanding it does indicate that the role of being an observer or witness of experiences is not one of the functions of the ego. Unfortunately, the idea that ego or ‘I am’ is the observer is deep rooted and separating the ‘I am’ – the ego and Observer is not that easy. Much more clarity and understanding on this topic is required.

4. If you properly understand the teachings of Vedanta, you will appreciate that the Observer is a part of Awareness (your Real Self), while the ego is just another thought wave, like any object vritti (waveform) in your mind. This thought wave of ‘I am’ masquerades as the Real Self. This is where the fallacy is. The Ego thinks it is the Real Self and latches on to the Observer. To put it more directly, you can also say that the Ego hijacks the Observer to give the impression that it is the Observer. This is so far from the truth.

The focus of this essay is to explain the differences between the Observer and Ego. This will explain who is really seeing the tree and the role of Ego in this process.

Observer and Awareness

The Observer is an integral part of Awareness. If you are aware of an object, there must be an Observer who is aware of the object. If there is no Observer, there can be no awareness, as there will no one to witness the object. Therefore, the Observer is a key ingredient of Awareness.

Besides Observer, the Observed (objects) and Intelligence are the other two components which make up Awareness. As we have discussed in many essays, Awareness is made up of an Observer, the Observed, and Intelligence, and it has three different powers of Awareness.

  • Awareness = Observer + Observed + Intelligence
  • Power of Awareness = Power of Knower + Power of Known + Power of Knowing

Whenever you are aware of anything, there must be present the Observer, the Observed, and Intelligence, with all the three attendant powers. If any one of them is missing, there will be no Awareness.

Understanding the Power of the Knower– In my book ‘Science Meets Vedanta’ we have discussed the three powers of Awareness in many different places. Over here we will once again briefly discuss the Power of Knower, which is the power behind the Observer.

The Power of Knower allows the Observer to become the seer, listener, smeller, feeler, and taster. The Power of Knower manipulates Awareness so that Awareness becomes an Observer. For example, there is a tree out there. How does one witness the tree? This is a basic and fundamental question. The ability to see the tree or any other external object is lying within Awareness. This power of Seeing is part of Awareness. The Power of Knower taps into this power so that Awareness becomes an Observer for that moment. The next moment you are listening to music. Now the Power of Knower taps into the power of listening which is within Awareness to make Awareness the listener of the music. In the same way, Awareness becomes a  witness – the Observer of all types of experiences.

We must thank this Power of Awareness, which gives us the ability to witness the world out there.   

Ego and Observer

The Real Self is Awareness and Awareness is the Real Self. Our inner core is SatChitAnanda. Sat is our Real Self and Chit (Awareness) and Ananda (Bliss) is the nature of our Real Self. Unfortunately, we have forgotten our Real Self. The moment we forget our Real Self, a veil of Ignorance covers SatChitAnanda. By covering the identity of the Real Self, Ignorance creates a new entity – the Ego. This Ego masquerades as the Real Self, but it is nothing but a thought wave or vritti in the mind. It may be difficult to believe that our ego is just a thought wave. Yes, Ego is only a thought wave. It, however, thinks and behaves like it is the Real Self.

We have seen that the Observer and the Power of Knower is part and parcel of Awareness. So, you can see the difference. The Observer is part of Awareness, and the Ego is made up of Ignorance. They are two separate entities. It should be clear that the Ego is not the Observer. We witness everything around us because of the Observer within Awareness and not because of our Ego. Do we feel this way? The answer is No. We always feel we are the Observer; the Ego is the Observer. This is very deep rooted within us – we cannot think otherwise. How to understand this – if we are not the Observer, why do we feel we (ego) is the Observer?

As just mentioned, the Ego masquerades as the Real Self, it thinks it is the Real Self. It literally captures and takes over the role of the Observer. It does look like the Observer does not fight back; it cedes this take over voluntarily. Maybe this is how it has been designed by nature. For this reason, it does appear that the Ego is the Observer, but technically the Observer is part of Awareness and Ego is a separate entity.

The Role of Ego: So, what is the role of the Ego? We have an unlimited number of experiences in the mind. The ego interacts with these experiences on a continuous basis. In fact, it can be said that the ego cannot sit still. Whenever there is an experience, the ego must react in some fashion. How does the ego react to an experience? It either likes the experience (raga) or it dislikes the experience (dvesha). It either is attracted to or repelled by an experience. This raga (like)/dvesha (dislike) is the natural response of the ego towards any experience. It is important to note that the ego does not sit still, it must react to any experience.

The ego adds raga/dvesha to any experience. By doing so the ego has modified the experience. Because it adds this raga/dvesha to an experience, you canunderstand that ownership of that experience now belongs to the Ego. This modified experience now has two components – the basic experience and the modified part of raga/dvesha. The modified part is added by the ego, and it belongs to the ego.

This is where the Doctrine of Karma comes into play. Since the ego has modified the experience, it must get some results. A simple rule – every action must have a result. Since the ego has modified the experience, the ego must get a result. According to the Doctrine of Karma, if the modification of the experience is positive, the result for the ego is good (punya karma). If the modification is negative, the ego will suffer a bad result (papa karma). Let us discuss some examples so that this point becomes clear.

  • People think that when we talk it is karma. This is incorrect. Talking is natural and is a standard feature which comes with the body. The human body is meant to talk. However, it is only when you talk negatively or positively about anyone that you have done a bad or good karma.
  • Walking is a natural action. There is no karma when you walk. However, while walking you see an insect and with purpose you squash it with your foot. The intentional squashing of the insect is karma. However, if without your knowing an insect comes under your foot, this is not karma because the ego is not involved.
  • If you have ears, you are going to listen to things. For example, if you listen indifferently to all the chattering around you in the airport lounge, that is not karma; it is natural. However, if you get irritated by all the noise around you, that is karma.
  • Watching the physical world outside is natural. If you are standing in front of a few people, you cannot say you do not want to see them. Seeing is natural, you have no power to stop this. However, if you make a judgment—what a horrible shirt someone is wearing, or how nice this person is looking—these judgment calls are karmas.

As a conclusion we can say that the Observer, which is part of Awareness, is the witness to all the experiences. In contrast we feel the ego is the witness to the experiences. We may feel this way, but the ego has no powers or capacity to become the Observer. However, it interlinks closely with the Observer to give an incorrect impression that it is the witness. Also, the ego takes ownership of the experience by modifying the experience by adding raga (like)/dvesha (dislike).

12 thoughts on “Who is Seeing the Tree?”

  1. Can I say our mind has the potential to act as both Sat and a false observer (ego). It depends on whether we’re lost in our thoughts and identities (ego) or observing them with detachment (Sat).

  2. Observer is not ego. Observer is part of Awareness. Awareness must have Observer, Observed (objects) and Intelligence.
    Sat is the REAL SELF. Ego is created when the REAL SELF is covered with Ignorance. As long we have ignorance, we are dealing with the false self or ego. REAL SELF remains hidden only. .

    1. I guess, if there is no Awareness, there will be no universe. There will be nothing. To have something, Awareness is a pre-requisite. Awareness is required. This Awareness is the substratum of everything in the universe.

      1. But why did Brahman not stay in the unmanifest state? I would like to know how Vedanta answers that question.

        1. I think Brahamana is always in unmanifest state. It is me through my ego I.e mind which manifest. When we say Aham brahmasmi, we have to differentiate between true Brahamana and false I.e ego created Brahamana. Meaning it is Maya which makes me self as real Brahaman.

        2. Brahman is beginningless – it has always been present. In the same way Ignorance covering Brahman is also beginningless. You cannot have knowledge first and then Ignorance sets in. Once you have knowledge of 2 + 2 = 4, you cannot have Ignorance of this knowledge after that. Since we have Ignorance of Brahman, it must be there from the the beginning. You cannot have knowledge of Brahman first and then Ignorance sets in. This is impossible. Therefore Ignorance has always been covering Brahman. However there can be an end date to this Ignorance – the day we are self-realized.

          This Ignorance is the source for the manifested universe.

    1. Satya kya hai ..ek onkar…jo pehle bi sach tha , aj bi satya hai aur kal bi satya rehega ….our ego is not the same in dream state ( Raja Janak becomes a beggar in dream state ), whereas in deep sleep ego (mind ) is absent then it is only our consciousness which reports nothing in deep sleep..deep sleep is a Blissful state so when we wake up we can feel the bliss of dreamless state .

      Consciousness purposefully forgets its true nature and THINKS it is the ego because of formation of desire ( movement in static brahman) …we all are already mukt in reality but we THINK we are limited. Our Journey is become zero ( remembering our true state ) and touch the infinity (core of ur existence ) .

      I am a big fan of Jayant Sir and always love to read his emails , it is because of presence of few great gurus like Jayant Sir and their blessings in the form of books.. ..I could understand complex fundas of life .

      1. Thank you Manish. You are very kind in your praise. I am blessed to learn so much from all our Gurus and rishis.

  3. So Brahman is beginingless as is Ignorance. Is Maya same as Ignorance and therefore beginingless?

    I thought Maya is cyclical and it emanates and dissolves into Brahman.

    Thanks for your responses. I am just trying to understand and have been wanting to ask these questions for a long time.

    1. Maya means so many things to different people. My understanding is that Maya Shakti is the creative power of Ishwara. It is not the creative power of Ignorance. However the cause of Ishwara and Maya Shakti is Ignorance. If there was NO ignorance there will be no Ishwara, there will be Brahman only. Maya Shakti is not the cause for the cyclical nature.

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