Sakshi: The Unchanging Inner Witness

Atma alone is the one real and eternal substratum of all – the essence and absolute knowledge – the Kshetragna. It is called in the Esoteric philosophy “the One Witness” . . .” (H. P. Blavatsky, “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 570)

One point made numerous times in Theosophical literature is the important fact that change cannot see change.

Only the permanent, the unchanging, the REAL, can perceive any type of change that goes on in any degree of manifestation.

So when we sit to meditate, we may first see the external world around us, which is characterised by changes.

Then going inward we encounter the internal energies of our physical and, in fact, astral body; they too are in constant alteration and transformation.

Going deeper within, we encounter our desires and passions, which are continually in flux.

Then our thoughts, whether emotional or intellectual; our thoughts are constantly in motion, coming and going.

So then we’re faced with the question: “What is it that is witnessing, observing, perceiving, seeing, all this?”

Whatever it is, we soon recognise that it does not change, it is not in a state of change or transience or flux. If it were, how would we ever be able to perceive and observe and realise any of these changes that occur on the various levels of our being?

It doesn’t take hours, let alone years, of meditation, to confidently realise that within us, at the deepest innermost level, is a changeless Spectator, whose very nature is calm, tranquil, unmoving, unswayed, peace . . . silence . . . CONSCIOUSNESS itself.

Robert Crosbie, in his article titled “What Reincarnates?” writes:

“That in us which is itself unchanging is the only real. Nothing is real that changes. It is only the real that perceives change. Change cannot see change. Only that which is constant perceives change; only the permanent can perceive impermanence. However dimly we may perceive it, there is that in us which is eternal and changeless.

“This unchanging, constant, and immortal something in us is not absent from any particle or any being whatever. There is only one Life in the world to which we, as well as all other beings, pertain. We all proceeded from the same one Source – not many – and we are proceeding on the same path to the same great goal. The ancients said that the Divine Self is in all beings, but in all it does not shine forth. The real is within, and may be realized by any human being in himself. Everyone needs that realization that he may shine forth and express the God within, which all beings but partially express.”

In Sanskrit, the unchanging witness or perceiver or observer or spectator of all changes is called Sakshi. This is not a “name” but simply the Sanskrit and most ancient equivalent word for the several English words just listed.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, we read (in William Q. Judge’s rendition, made particularly for Westerners unfamiliar with Hindu terms and ideas) “The modifications of the mind are always known to the presiding spirit, because it is not subject to modification.” (Book IV, aphorism 17) WQJ comments, “Hence, through all the changes to which the mind and soul are subject, the spiritual soul, Ishwara, remains unmoved, “the witness and spectator.”

In his “Notes on The Bhagavad Gita” (p. 23-24) WQJ has also written on this important theme:

“The substratum, or support, for the whole Cosmos, is the presiding spirit, and all the various changes in life, whether of a material nature or solely in mental states, are cognizable because the presiding spirit within is not modifiable. Were it otherwise, then we would have no memory, for with each passing event, we, becoming merged in it, could not remember anything, that is, we would see no changes. There must therefore be something eternally persisting, which is the witness and perceiver of every passing change, itself unchangeable. All objects, and all states of what western philosophers call Mind, are modifications, for in order to be seen or known by us, there must be some change, either partial or total, from a precedent state. The perceiver of these changes is the inner man . . .

“This leads us to the conviction that there must be a universal presiding spirit, the producer as well as the spectator, of all this collection of animate and inanimate things. . . . the immortal part of each man — the Krishna who talks to Arjuna . . . being in essence unmodified, it has the capacity to perceive all the changes going on around the body.

“This Self must be recognized as being within, pondered over, and as much as possible understood, if we are to gain any true knowledge.”

Robert Crosbie wrote the later chapters in “Notes on The Bhagavad Gita” and there we read:

“The meditation spoken of as necessary to the highest attainment is sometimes called “a lifetime’s meditation”; it means that the immortality of man has first to be assumed, and then rigidly adhered to as the basis for every thought and action, for it is only in this way that a realization of immortality can be obtained by embodied beings. As it is from the Spirit in Man that all law and power proceeds, each human being creates his own limitations on every plane of being; he can transcend those limitations only by reverting to and maintaining his immortality, as the observer and experiencer of all the passing changes, himself unchanged and unchanging.” (p. 148-149)

“We know that we are not our bodies, for they constantly change, while we remain the same identity through all the changes. We are not our “minds,” for we change them whenever we find occasion to do so; if we were our minds we could not change them, and further, it is apparent that “change” cannot see “change;” only that which is permanent can see change. That permanency is the Real, the immortal Man, or, as the “Voice of the Silence” states it, “the Man that was, that is, and will be, for whom the hour shall never strike.” Each is the Self, the Perceiver; non-being, yet the cause and sustainer of being; as the Gita states it in this chapter, “thou art the Knower and that which is to be known; “thou art the final supreme receptacle of this universe” – the garnerer of all experience when this universe is dissolved. At the end of the Great Cycle, which includes all minor cycles, all beings return to the primordial state, plus the experience gained. The next great stream of evolution will proceed on the basis of the acquired knowledge of all beings concerned.” (p. 175-176)

It should not be thought that awareness and experience of the witness is only found in Hinduism or Buddhism. Truth is universal, the motto of the modern Theosophical Movement being “There is no Religion higher than Truth.” Throughout the ages, people of all countries, cultures, religions, or no religion, beliefs or no belief, have acquired some awareness and experience of that which lies at the heart of all.

The Theosophical classic “Light on The Path” (p. 3-4) tells the aspirant to esoteric development and serious mystical unfoldment:

“For within you is the light of the world – the only light that can be shed upon the Path. If you are unable to perceive it within you, it is useless to look for it elsewhere. It is beyond you; because when you reach it you have lost yourself. It is unattainable, because it forever recedes. You will enter the light, but you will never touch the flame.”

Robert Crosbie has commented:

“Perfection” is an ever-receding goal; “we can always approach the light, but we can never touch the flame”, because IT is our very Self, the Perceiver and Knower. . . .The Absolute is a name for the One Reality, the Infinite, Unchanging basis of All. All the rest is “Maya” – that is, the ever-changing modes, expressions, degrees of intelligence and their forms, ever approaching the Light, but never touching the Flame; for the Real in each being is the Flame itself. . . . The ancient saying is that we can always approach the light, but we can never touch the flame, for that Flame is our Self – the Self of All.” (“Answers To Questions on The Ocean of Theosophy” p. 14, 41, 125)

“And we may consider this: change cannot see change. Only that which is permanent can see change. So there is that in us which is permanent, which is Real, which is of the highest, which is a ray from and one with the Supreme, the universal Principle or Power, the creator, the sustainer, the regenerator of all that was, is, or ever shall be. We have to realize That – each one for himself – first by recognizing that IT IS, omnipresent, eternal, boundless and immutable; second, by divesting ourselves of those things we thought It to be: that It is this body, this mind, these circumstances. All these are changing things, things seen; but that which is the Real, the Supreme, our very Self and the Self of all things, is not subject to change; It is changeless; It cannot be seen, for It is the Perceiver.” (“The Recognition of Law” article)

However, it is one thing to just become theoretically aware that such a pure unchanging witness exists at the core of our being and it is another to obtain some experiential awareness of it whilst actually stilling and watching the mind.

It is still quite another thing to reach to a point where one experiences one’s individual consciousness fully merging into that pure universal consciousness to the extent that it is felt we have become it for at least a brief moment. As wonderful, beautiful, and awe-inspiring as the latter sounds, it is still far from being the highest possible development in esoteric meditation, although it is often presented as the goal in popular and exoteric meditation systems.

Modern science is researching the phenomenon, in order to try to explain it from the physiological, material perspective. Bernard J. Baars of the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California, USA, speculates: “Conscious experience is believed to involve widespread cortico-thalamic oscillations in the 4–12 Hz range, modulated by higher frequency waveforms up to 200 Hz (Baars et al., 2013). Silent consciousness may therefore correspond to increased theta-alpha power, spreading in cortex with minimal higher “content” frequencies, as has been reported during contemplative techniques.”

It can be interesting and useful to understand the “brain side” of meditation but it’s important to always remember that the brain itself is only the recipient of the impressions of our spiritual nature, which is meta-physical, and which maintains consciousness regardless of whether the body and brain are alive or dead . . . for that part of us, the only enduring part, IS Pure Consciousness Itself.


This article may have raised more questions about various things. Please make use of the site search function (the magnifying glass symbol at the top of the page) and visit the Articles page to see the complete list of over 300 articles covering all aspects of Theosophy and the Theosophical Movement.

~ ~