We say we see something. Someone says they witnessed. Who is it that is actually seeing? Are they the eyes? The eyes are like windows. The windows do not see outside. They are just an opening through which the person from the room sees.
In the Vivekachoodamani of Sri Adi Sankaracharya, the same thought is expressed to refer to the I that is seeing everything through the five sense organs. The essence of the sound of the word I, is life.
That life, manifesting as consciousness, is the direct witness to whatever that is happening in the world. It is the Self that sees this body directly in a first-hand experience. Sakshi means someone that sees a thing directly without any contortions.
I am the witness of myself during the day. We see the world around us. We see the physical body and its various conditions in place. We feel the different emotions we go through. We are aware of the thoughts we think.
Even during the semi-sleep state of dreams, we are aware of the persons, personalities and places we see in the dream as different from us. However, it is not experienced fully in the state of deep sleep. When someone watches a person in deep sleep, it seems that the individual doesn’t know anything, but the life within exists just in the same way as it did during the day, continuing to be aware.
The awareness here though is that there is nothing to be aware. In the morning on waking, we say, "I did not know a thing", or "I slept very well". These two statements are born out of a certain knowing of what happened at night—the presence of ignorance and the feeling of joy and bliss.
So if we are now aware that there is nothing else except the life that is experiencing it, the master says that whatever we experience as, “I see in front of me, this is happening, this person is saying this to me,” etc. are not real, just like how they are unreal in a dream.
So what needs to be done here? This knowledge is so sacred that it gives us an understanding of the impermanence and shallowness of everything we see. If we know that something we thought was a precious jewel was just a fake piece of glitter, will we continue to hold on to it and keep the object in the altar of worship?
No, it will immediately go back to the ground or to the trash can. In the same way, our understanding of people, objects and situations in this world are not real and hence its rightful place is in the waste bin. It is at our own risk if we entertain them, pamper them, seek them and worship them.
Our energy will get depleted as we are pouring it into something that cannot sustain it and something that will break and show its true colour soon.
However, the Vedas and particularly the Upanishads tell us that the consciousness, which is aware of everything unreal, is unborn; it is eternal. This is not something we can see, know or feel, and understand by ourselves. It is only the scriptures and masters who have the wealth of inner experience who will be able to point that out.