There is no such thing as “the Witness”. There is only awareness. There is seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling. There is no seer, no hearer, no feeler, no taster, and no smeller. At best, you might say there is witnessing, but there is no witness.
Saying you are the witness is a subtle way for the ego to sneak in through the back door. The ego says, “I am the witness of my thoughts, feelings, experiences, etc.” This is true…for the ego. What you really are is “awareness-ing”…in which there is thinking, feeling, experiencing, etc. There is no noun. To use a noun – as in ‘I am a witness’ – is a way to have an object to identify with. In reality, you are the witnessing itself without a who/witness.
Witness versus witnessing is also important in that a witness is seen as objective…separate…removed. So this is another way to separate and is dualistic. It can be used as a way to escape. A witness stands apart. There is no getting away in distance or escaping what you are aware of.
There is also a ceasing to claim personal ownership of what is within witnessing. It is not my thought…there is just thought arising. It is not my feeling…there is just feeling arising.
The witness can potentially remain personal…a witness can be a person. Witnessing is impersonal…it just occurs. We have no choice but to be aware while conscious. Now if we try to claim ownership of witnessing…we say we are the witness. What I am saying is ownership can not be claimed…this can not be personalized. There is just witnessing…no witness.
The idea of a “witness” is often equated to the Self. However, the Self is all there is. The Self is a term used to point at nonduality. The Self is a term used to point at what we really are. However, the Self is not something to be identified with. Conceptions about the Self will always fall short of what the Self actually is; and we can only identify with conceptions. Identification and conceptions are both creations of the mind. The mind and thoughts in general are only recollections of the past or imaginations (future, day dreams, etc.). The mind and thought is never about now…and the Self is only now (past and future are only of the mind). The mind can’t touch the Self.
The trap and pitfall of using the term/pointer “Self” is that people want to objectify it and/or identify with it. The term “Self” sounds (and to many…feels) so much like “self” (i.e. myself/me) that it is something personal…an identity. But the term “Self” is used to point to that which there is no “me”. I will say it again…there is no “me”. You can not be self-seeking within the Self, because that self does not exist.
To say there is no “me” is exactly the same as what the Buddha pointed to when he used the term anatman (no-self). Of course, many Buddhists will say Hinduism and Advaita Vedanta is wrong because they teach there is a Self. However, Buddhism is pointing to the lack of a permanent personal self. From what I have studied, Advaita Vedanta doesn’t teach about a permanent personal self either. The Self is not personal. The issue that is causing the argument between the two is mostly semantics and lack of understanding. The Self is just a pointer and it’s main trap is looking for a permanent personal self – a “me” which won’t die (which Buddhism warns against).
This is why the term “Witness” is potentially misleading, because it allows for a “me”. There is no “me”…there never was a “me”. “Me” and all personalization happens in the mind. Of course, there is no mind either. Mind is just a pointer to thoughts. Thoughts arise…and when we claim thoughts – they have to come from somewhere and are owned by something…we call it mind.
When thought ceases, there is no mind. When thought ceases, there is no witness. When thought ceases, there is no “me”.