What is it that sees (hears, feels, thinks)?

When we say memory, aren’t we talking about all human memory, all human thought. It is not just about my day to day experience. When we say insight we are talking about an insight into human nature, with the nature of the fundamental human, not just the clues and ideas I get through practice and ability.

Yes, we are saying the same thing.

This particular ‘flavor’ of insight that arises from a mind that is not driven by the egoic I, could we talk about it?

We are used to thinking of an insight as a lightning-fast flash of Aha! But perhaps that image of insight limits us, diminishes and distorts the ‘insighting’ process. Perhaps a less limiting approach might be to think of insight as understanding something deeply, down to its (and our) bones, where this understanding can happen in a flash or gradually, over time.

What say you?

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What is it that sees? It is the question we began with. That which thinks and feels is a temporary entity; and thoughts and feelings are intimately tied to this entity, to oneself. The self can only translate what it sees back into a realm of thoughts and feelings which then generate beliefs, opinions, theories and wonderful philosophical ideas about the meaning of existence. And there is no other entity who can perceive the truth without this process of translation. So the truth is not tied to anything.

You tell me that the self is incapable of perception. You say that this is a fundamental truth. Now what is it that sees this truth? Can insight itself do all the work from beginning to end without any interference from a separate observer? The observer is free to look at and listen to what you are now saying. But the moment it thinks or feels about it, it has lost that freedom. The observer looks; but it is insight that sees, which has nothing at all to do with the observer, with me who is looking. When I am just looking at and listening to what you are saying to me, there is no observer present. The observer enters the moment I react from thought or feeling, saying, ‘Oh what rot!’ or, ‘Yes, that sounds OK, tell me more.’ One reaction is to shut you off; the other reaction is to seek further explanation. Neither of these reactions is insight.

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In this sense, insight is not an Aha! singularity, rather intelligence itself, which can manifest as a gradual or instantaneous understanding.


The observer may say, ‘Aha! I see.’ That’s perfectly natural; it’s a proper response. Can the observer remain at that point and go no further into it? Then there is no separation between the observer and what he sees. There is only an observation of the truth. And while he is remaining at that point without going any further into the explanation of it, the justification of it, the comparison of it with what he already knows, the observer is undergoing a radical change.

The observer observes. That which might go further into an observation is the thinker. I realize these terms are conceptual constructs that reflect ‘how things really work’ as a symbol on a map reflects the territory it is pointing to, but for the sake of understanding it might be useful to keep them distinct.

So the question becomes “Can the thinker not grab what the observer observes and start spinning stories around it?” Or: Can the thinker relax instead of trying to hog the show?

Is it the observer or the thinker or any of this speculation? Isn’t it the overwhelming nature, the beauty, the natural wholeness of effortless living? Not as a concept, or an experience, but actually?

Which means there was never an observation of the truth; there was no insight. Insight means illumination of the whole field. For example, insight into greed is insight into the whole nature of the self. One fragment of thought contains the whole story of thought. Having seen the whole picture there is nothing more to be added. So the thinker is absent; whereas even a relaxed thinker is still very much present.

The observer is finding out what it means to disappear into the truth of an observation, into the heart of an insight.

To bring things back to the original question:

What is it that sees?

Observer, awareness, whatever name we might use … what IS it? To say: “It is that which sees” gets us nowhere. (Which might be exactly where we are?)

There is no ‘it’, no entity that sees; there is only the seeing. The observer wanting to possess the skill or the facility of seeing will call it awareness. But the observer is already aware; and now he is trying to develop different layers of awareness. I am already well aware that I am greedy, selfish, violent; the desire to move beyond that into a deeper or more rarefied form of awareness is what will keep these problems going. Or being hurt one tries to find a way of not being hurt; so there is never direct contact with the flame of hurt.

So let’s approach all this from another angle. What is there to be seen? Is there some deeper truth about myself more important that those things which are already quite apparent on the surface? Is there something special to learn about myself that I don’t already know and live with on a daily basis? I doubt it. All the time we are trying to get at a deeper and more essential part of ourselves, we are keeping alive all the shallow, shabby elements of our nature. My greed doesn’t disappear by seeking its opposite; on the contrary, the very search for something better is a movement of greed.

This gives me pause, Paul.

To say there is seeing without an object being seen doesn’t make sense. “Seeing” by definition requires a seen object. If you are in a completely lightless room and have your eyes wide open, are you seeing?

Likewise to say there is an object being seen without a subject doing the seeing doesn’t compute. A tree is seen … by what? Something that sees.

It seems to me that seer/seen/seeing is a package deal, you can’t have one without the others.


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In seeing, there is neither seer nor seen.

I shall show you here,

There is something we don’t know. We observe it. To a third person it looks like, Viswa,Paul and Nobody are seeing a tree. But for us, we don’t know what really is seen. Neither we know what sees that is our ‘self’(seer) nor we know it is awareness

So, there is only learning happens in seeing. Nothing more than that. No subject and object

We have already said that insight into the self cannot exist without the fact of the self. But we also said that the self is incapable of perception. I am greedy - let’s stick to this one simple thing. My greed is a fact; and it is fairly easy to see. Can I look at the fact without wanting to change it? I can’t. If you do it you will see what happens. In looking at greed there is always a desire to move away from it. The observation of the fact of greed is irresistibly tied up with the desire for a better image of myself. So can I see the exact moment that this movement away begins, the formation of the image? At that moment there is no longer greed separate from the observer of the greed. So the entire movement away has stopped. Then there is no greed, no observer, no desire, no image, no resistance - no movement at all.

So what is it that sees greed? That’s fairly simple. It isn’t the observer; it isn’t awareness; it isn’t some superior fragment of consciousness. It is greed itself that sees its own nature. This is a tremendous discovery.

Thank you for the explanation, Viswa.

In the example we do not know what is being seen, and we do not know what is doing the seeing. This makes sense to me.

But it doesn’t mean that there is no seer or seen, it means that the seer and seen are unknown.

Have I understood you correctly?

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Yes, unknown. If we believe, this is subject and this is object, then we stop learning - right?

You lost me. How can a feeling or emotion or thought see its own nature? It makes no sense to me. I could go into the how/why … but I’m sure you can see how a statement like “Anger sees its own nature” is problematic.

My take: Anger is seen by awareness, and intelligence sees its nature. Could it be we’re saying the same thing but with different words?

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But you are precisely that: feeling, emotion and thought. There is nothing else to you.

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Yes! And, if I understand you correctly, you are saying that if the seer and seen are unknown, they can’t be said to truly exist, at least not in the way we normally consider things to exist?

I am a tad envious that you believe this so solidly, that you ‘know’ it to be true. Not because I think you are necessarily right, but because it simplifies the challenge of understanding what is is to be human.

I don’t know if it’s true or false. Hence this thread: “What is it that sees?”

It might be there is no seer/seen but just seeing, as Paul suggests. Or it might be that the seer/seen is unknowable, as Viswa suggests. Or it might be intelligence that sees (whatever ‘intelligence’ is). Or something else entirely. Or nothing.

How might we find out?

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