H. The first thing to say is that I do not understand the question as regards ‘the witness’*, and so immediately agree with your opening statement, save to add that the invoking of a witness seems to connote a subject – a witnessing entity – which itself is nothing but a mental creation, a concept, and we remain within the problem of imagining an ‘experiencer’ of experience, a ‘thinker’ of thoughts, etc., albeit no longer the homunculus within, the internalised self-entity. The ‘witness’ idea seems merely to externalise the very same problem.
*[“Witness is just an epithet, and can be used interchangeably with other epithets, such as ‘pure consciousness’, ‘supreme intelligence’, ‘Atman’, etc.]
That said, and if it is acceptable to you, I would like to avoid references to specific Classical Advaita terms in this response. The reasons are twofold: Firstly, I am not a scholar of Vedanta, and as I said, my training was in Orthodox Buddhism. Secondly, in my opinion there is always the risk of leaning too much on concepts that are not within our own sphere of experience and hence are alien as regards to any intimate knowing. I used to attend the Buddhist Society at Oxford University, and recognised for myself over time how easily students became over-weaned on technical terms and descriptions at the expense of direct experience. I shall therefore respond guided mainly by my own lights, for what it is worth.
So, going back now to the matter of externalising the problem we seek to resolve, then in your [opening statement you rather imply the existence of a subject apprehending an object (of knowledge) when you refer to the ‘Knower behind the (“individual”) knower.’ This is not your intent, which is quite clear, though the phraseology does perhaps connote some kind of overseeing Knower as an apprehending subject or quasi-subject. In plain terms, I might think of what you point to as a whole, being a combination of the ‘known’, wherein that is always a mental creation, or psychical endogram, together with the blank slate of awareness upon which this knowledge is inscribed, so to speak. This conception, albeit that it is just that, avoids the connotation of any higher-level apprehending subject, or supranatural entity-state of otherness. If there is any supranatural entity-state then it cannot be apprehended and actualised in nature, and so clearly no (wo)man can speak meaningfully about it.
We are on the same wavelength, in fact, though as you go on to say, there is only one Observer (again, an awkward term for me, for the same prior reason), and one Light (which I prefer). Theodor Stcherbatsky (Professor Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a great Buddhologist) put this rather well thusly: “And at last, ascending to the ultimate plane of every philosophy, we discover that the difference between Sensibility and Understanding is again dialectical. They are essentially the negation of each the other; they mutually sublate one another and become merged in a Final Monism.”
Your interlocutor seems predisposed to regard Stcherbatsky’s ‘Final Monism’ and your ‘One Light’ as a ‘state’, if I understand them correctly. That I would consider erroneous insofar as a ‘state’ connotes a temporary condition. Any unicity, or Final Monism (you are an Advaitan scholar so let us instead say ‘Not Two-ism’), cannot admit of any ontologically discrete ‘state’ outside of it either temporally or spatially, obviously. Your interlocutor declares that this state “is mentioned as a state to demarcate its separation of other changing states.” They therefore seem to be proposing a non-dualism in which apparent separations of mind-states are their own distinct ontological categories. I think we would both agree that this is incorrect.
They seem also disposed to regarding any actualised non-duality as necessarily a state of mindlessness: “Turiya or Samadhi is a mind-less state. That means when mind annihilates, consciousness remains as it is.” Notwithstanding that Turiya has a clear parallel to what I call ‘objectless awareness’, I cannot buy that at all, not least of all because ‘consciousness’, by Western definition, means ‘with knowledge’, and knowledge requires an active mind apprehending phenomena, even if the sole phenomenon apprehended is a one-pointed mental concentration i.e. a state of mind, not a ‘mind-less state’. [This is one of the problems of juggling with translations from vastly different cultures and times – we end up in a confusion of terms.] In fairness, your interlocutor actually means something other than they are saying, I know, and in that sense I agree with their hidden meaning. Still, I certainly do not agree with their central idea that actualised non-duality requires either an objectless awareness or your interlocutors ‘annihilated mind’. The play of subjectivity and objectivity continues, yet both are seen as mind-constructs within an awareness that knows itself as itself, rather than as an image of itself, which would merely be another object of consciousness. That is how I would choose to put it for what it is worth.
Continuing: Your interlocutor again appears insistent that any actualised non-duality necessarily requires an extant objectless awareness, or perhaps yet more erroneously, what they call ‘Samadhi’ – a psychical state of absorption in one-pointedness of mind – yes? My own firm view is that this is not at all correct, and that whilst such past apprehending radically alters the insight level of the (only apparent) subject’s mind, and so inclines it to a helpful abandonment of identifying with any and all mentation, it does not condition any actualised non-duality in some later temporal event. You are of the same opinion it appears, as was the historical Buddha, who clearly stated that his realisation was not conditioned, and moreover that the Final Monism/Not Two-ism is not subject to conditions. It already is and always was; it is not a ‘state’ arising or emergent due to the confluence of events, phenomena, insights, states of mind or mind-less states, nor conditions of any kind.