Here are some articles by Ken Wilber, which differentiates and clarifies the Witness (a.k.a. Thusness’s Stage 1, the I AM) with Non-Duality (a.k.a Thusness’s Stage 4):
There are many things that I can doubt, but I cannot doubt my own consciousness in this moment. My consciousness IS, and even if I tried to doubt it, it would be my consciousness doubting. I can imagine that my senses are being presented with a fake reality – say, a completely virtual reality or digital reality, which looks real but is merely a series of extremely realist images. But even then, I cannot doubt the consciousness that is doing the watching…
The very undeniability of my present awareness, the undeniability of my consciousness, immediately delivers to me a certainty of existence in this moment, a certainty of Being in the now-ness of this moment. I cannot doubt consciousness and Being in this moment, for it is the ground of all knowing, all seeing, all existing…
Who am I? Ask that question over and over again, deeply. Who am I? What is it in me that is conscious of everything?
If you think that you know Spirit, or if you think you don’t, Spirit is actually that which is thinking both of those thoughts. So you can doubt the objects of consciousness, but you can never believably doubt the doubter, never really doubt the Witness of the entire display. Therefore, rest in the Witness, whether it is thinking that it knows God or not, and that witnessing, that undeniable immediacy of now-consciousness, is itself God, Spirit, Buddha-mind. The certainty lies in the pure self-felt Consciousness to which objects appear, not in the objects themselves. You will never, never, never see God, because God is the Seer, not any finite, mortal, bounded object that can be seen…
This pure I AM state is not hard to achieve but impossible to escape, because it is ever present and can never really be doubted. You can never run from Spirit, because Spirit is the Runner. To put it very bluntly, Spirit is not hard to find but impossible to avoid: it is that which is looking at this page right now. Can’t you feel That One? Why on earth do you keep looking for God when God is actually the Looker?
Simply ask, Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?
I am aware of my feelings, so I am not my feelings – Who am I? I am aware of my thoughts, so I am not my thoughts – Who am I? Clouds float by in the sky, thoughts float by in the mind, feelings float by in the body – and I am none of those because I can Witness them all.
Moreover, I can doubt that clouds exist, I can doubt that feelings exist, I can doubt that objects of thought exist – but I cannot doubt that the Witness exists in this moment, because the Witness would still be there to witness the doubt.
I am not objects in nature, not feelings in the body, not thoughts in the mind, for I can Witness them all. I am that Witness – a vast, spacious, empty, clear, pure, transparent Openness that impartially notices all that arises, as a mirror spontaneously reflects all its objects…
You can already feel some of this Great Liberation in that, as you rest in the ease of witnessing this moment, you already feel that you are free from the suffocating constriction of mere objects, mere feelings, mere thoughts – they all come and go, but you are that vast, free, empty, open Witness of them all, untouched by their torments and tortures.
This is actually the profound discovery of… the pure divine Self, the formless Witness, causal nothingness, the vast Emptiness in which the entire world arises, stays a bit, and passes. And you are That. You are not the body, not the ego, not nature, not thoughts, not this, not that – you are a vast Emptiness, Freedom, Release, and Liberation.
With this discovery… you are halfway home. You have disidentified from any and all finite objects; you rest as infinite Consciousness. You are free, open, empty, clear, radiant, released, liberated, exalted, drenched in a blissful emptiness that exists prior to space, prior to time, prior to tears and terror, prior to pain and mortality and suffering and death. You have found the great Unborn, the vast Abyss, the unqualifiable Ground of all that is, and all that was, and all that ever shall be.
But why is that only halfway home? Because as you rest in the infinite ease of consciousness, spontaneously aware of all that is arising, there will soon enough come the great catastrophe of Freedom and Fullness: the Witness itself will disappear entirely, and instead of witnessing the sky, you are the sky; instead of touching the earth, you are the earth; instead of hearing the thunder, you are the thunder. You and the entire Kosmos because One Taste – you can drink the Pacific Ocean in a single gulp, hold Mt. Everest in the palm of your hand; supernovas swirl in your heart and the solar system replaces your head…
You are One Taste, the empty mirror that is one with any and all objects that arise in its embrace, a mindlessly vast translucent expanse: infinite, eternal, radiant beyond release. And you… are… That…
So the primary Cartesian dualism – which is simply the dualism between… in here and out there, subject and object, the empty Witness and all things witnessed – is finally undone and overcome in nondual One Taste. Once you actually and fully contact the Witness, then – and only then – can it be transcended into radical Nonduality, and halfway home becomes fully home, here in the ever-present wonder of what is…
And so how do you know that you have finally and really overcome the Cartesian dualism? Very simple: if you really overcome the Cartesian dualism, then you no longer feel that you are on this side of your face looking at the world out there. There is only the world, and you are all of that; you actually feel that you are one with everything that is arising moment to moment. You are not merely on this side of your face looking out there. “In here” and “out there” have become One Taste with a shuddering obviousness and certainty so profound it feels like a five-ton rock just dropped on your head. It is, shall we say, a feeling hard to miss.
At that point, which is actually your ever-present condition, there is no exclusive identity with this particular organism, no constriction of consciousness to the head, a constriction that makes it seem that “you” are in the head looking at the rest of the world out there; there is no binding of attention to the personal bodymind: instead, consciousness is one with all that is arising – a vast, open, transparent, radiant, infinitely Free and infinitely Full expanse that embraces the entire Kosmos, so that every single subject and every single object are erotically united in the Great Embrace of One Taste. You disappear from merely being behind your eyes, and you become the All, you directly and actually feel that your basic identity is everything that is arising moment to moment (just as previously you felt that your identity was with this finite, partial, separate, mortal coil of flesh you call a body). Inside and outside have become One Taste. I tell you, it can happen just like that!
(Source: Boomeritis, Sidebar E: “The Genius Descartes Gets a Postmodern Drubbing: Integral Historiography in a Postmodern Age”. More to be found in The Simple Feeling of Being, a collection of Ken Wilber’s inspirational, mystical and instructional passages drawn from his publications, based on his experiences.)
The Nondual Level
“In the previous level, you are so absorbed in the unmanifest dimensions that you might not even notice the manifest world. You are discovering Emptiness, and so you ignore Form. But at the ultimate or nondual level, you integrate the two. You see that Emptiness appears or manifests itself as Form, and that Form has as its essence Emptiness. In more concrete terms, what you all is all things that arise. All manifestation arises, moment by moment, as a play of Emptiness. If the causal was like a radiant moonlit night, this is like a radiant autumn day.
What appear as hard or solid objects “out there” are really transparent and translucent manifestations of your own Being or Isness. They are not obstacles to God, only expressions of God. They are therefore empty in the sense of not being an obstruction or impediment. They are a free expression of the Divine. As the Mahamudra tradition succinctly puts it, “ All is Mind. Mind is Empty. Empty is freely-manifesting. Freely manifesting is self-liberating.
The freedom that you found at the causal level- the freedom of Fullness and Emptiness- that freedom is found to extend to all things, even to this “fallen” world of sin or samsara. Therefore, all things become self-liberated. And this is extraordinary freedom, or absence of restriction, or total release- this clear bright autumn day- this is what you actually experience at this point. But then “experience” is the wrong word all together. This realization is actually of the nonexperiential nature of Spirit. Experiences come and go. They all have a beginning in time, and an end in time. Even subtle experiences come and go. They are all wonderful, glorious, extraordinary. And they come and they go.
But this nondual “state” is not itself another experience. It is simply the opening or clearing in which all experiences arise and fall. It is the bright autumn sky through which the clouds come and go- it is not itself another cloud, another experience, another object, another manifestation. This realization is actually of the utter fruitlessness of experiences, the utter futility of trying to experience release or liberation. All experiences lose their taste entirely- these passing clouds.
You are not the one who experiences liberation; you are the clearing, the opening, the emptiness, in which any experience comes and goes, like reflections on the mirror. And you are the mirror, the mirror mind, and not any experienced reflection. But you are not apart from the reflections, standing back and watching. You are everything that is arising moment to moment. You can swallow the whole cosmos in one gulp, it is so small, and you can taste the sky without moving an inch.
That is why in Zen, it is said that you cannot enter the Great Samadhi: it is actually the opening or clearing that is ever present, and in which all experience- and all manifestation- arises moment to moment. It seems like you “enter” this state, except that once there, you realize that there never was a time this state was not fully present and fully recognized- “ the gateless gate.” And so you deeply understand that you never entered this state; nor did the Buddhas, past or future, ever enter this state.
In Dzogchen, this is the recognition of mind’s true nature. All things, in all worlds, are self-liberated as they arise. All things are like sunlight on the water of a pond. It all shimmers. It is all empty. It is all light. It is all full, and it is all fulfilled. And the world goes on it ordinary way, and nobody notices at all.
Wilber, K. (1999). Stages of Spirituality. Collected Works, vol.4, pg.361-362.
From “A Brief History of Everything (Second Edition)”, Ken Wilber:
Q: So this casual unmanifest – is that the absolute end point? Is this the end of time, the end of evolution, the end of history? The final Omega point?
KW: Well, many traditions take this state of cessation to be the ultimate state, the final end point of all development and evolution, yes. And this end state is equated with full Enlightenment, ultimate release, pure nirvana.
But this is not the “final story,” according to the Nondual traditions. Because at some point, as you inquire into the Witness, and rest in the Witness, the sense of being a Witness “in here” completely vanishes itself, and the Witness turns out to be everything that is witnessed. The causal gives way to the Nondual, and formless mysticism gives way to nondual mysticism. “Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form.”
Technically, you have dis-identified with even the Witness, and then integrated it with all manifestation – in other words, the second and third phases of fulcrum-9, which leads to fulcrum-10, which is not really a separate fulcrum or level, but the reality or Suchness of all levels, all states, all conditions.
And this is the second and most profound meaning of Emptiness – it is not a discrete state, but the reality of all states, the Suchness of all states. You have moved from the causal to the Nondual.
Q: Emptiness has two meanings?
KW: Yes, which can be very confusing. On one hand, as we just saw, it is a discrete, identifiable state of awareness – namely, unmanifest absorption or cessation (nirvikalpa Samadhi, ayn, jnana Samadhi, nirodh, classical nirvana). This is the causal state, a discrete state.
The second meaning is that Emptiness is not merely a particular state among other states, but rather the reality or suchness or condition of all states. Not a particular state apart from other states, but the reality or condition of all states, high or low, sacred or profane, ordinary or extraordinary. Recall that on figure 9-1 we had Spirit as both the highest level (“causal”) and the ever-present Ground of all levels (“nondual”).
Q: We already discussed the discrete state; now the Nondual.
KW: Yes, the “experience” of this nondual Suchness is similar to the nature unity experience we earlier discussed, except now this unity is experienced not just with gross Form out there, but also with all of the subtle Form in here. In Buddhist terms, this is not just the Nirmanakaya – gross or nature mysticism and not just the Sambhogakaya – subtle or deity mysticism; and not just the Dharmakaya – causal or formless mysticism. It is the Svabhavikakaya – the integration of all three of them. It is beyond nature mysticism, beyond deity mysticism, and beyond formless mysticism – it is the reality or the Suchness of each, and thus integrates each in its embrace. It embraces the entire spectrum of consciousness – transcends all, includes all.
Q: Again, rather technical. Perhaps there’s a more direct way to talk about Nondual mysticism?
Kw: Across the board, the sense of being any sort of Seer or Witness or Self vanishes altogether. You don’t look at the sky, you are the sky. You can taste the sky. It’s not out there. As Zen would say, you can drink the Pacific Ocean in a single gulp, you can swallow the Kosmos whole – precisely because awareness is no longer split into a seeing subject in here and a seen object out there. There is just pure seeing. Consciousness and its display are not-two.
Everything continues to arise moment to moment – the entire Kosmos continues to arise moment to moment – but there is nobody watching the display, there is just the display, a spontaneous and luminous gesture of great perfection. The pure Emptiness of the Witness turns out to be one with every Form that is witnessed, and that is one of the basic meanings of “nonduality.”
Q: Again, could you be even more specific?
Kw: Well, you might begin by getting into the state of Witness – that is, you simply rest in pure observing awareness – you are not any object that can be seen – not nature, not body, not thoughts – just rest in that pure witnessing awareness. And you can get a certain “sensation” of that witnessing awareness – a sensation of freedom, of release, of great expanse.
While you are resting in that state, and “sensing” this Witness as a great expanse, if you then look at, say, a mountain, you might begin to notice that the sensation of the Witness and the sensation of the mountain are the same sensation. When you “feel” your pure Self and you “feel” the mountain, they are absolutely the same feeling.
In other words, the real world is not given to you twice – one out there, one in here. That “twiceness” is exactly the meaning of “duality.” Rather, the real world is given to you once, immediately – it is one feeling, it has one taste, it is utterly full in that one taste, it is not severed into seer and seen, subject and object, fragment and fragment. It is a singular, of which the plural is unknown. You can taste the mountain; it is the same taste as your Self; it is not out there being reflected in here – that duality is not present in the immediateness of real experience. Real experience, before you slice it up, does not contain that duality – real experience, reality itself, is “non-dual.” You are still you, and the mountain is still the mountain, but you and the mountain are two sides of one and the same experience, which is the one and only reality at that point.
If you relax into present experience in that fashion, the separate-self sense will uncoil; you will stop standing back from life; you will not have experience, you will suddenly become all experience; you will not be “in here” looking “out there” – in here and out there are one, so you are no longer trapped “in here.”
And so suddenly, you are not in the bodymind. Suddenly, the bodymind has dropped. Suddenly, the wind doesn’t blow on you, it blows through you, within you. You are not looking at the mountain, you are the mountain–the mountain is closer to you than your own skin. You are that, and there is no you – just this entire luminous display spontaneously arising moment to moment. The separate self is nowhere to be found.
The entire sensation of “weight” drops altogether, because you are not in the Kosmos, the Kosmos is in you, and you are purest Emptiness. The entire universe is a transparent shimmering of the Divine, of primordial Purity. But the Divine is not someplace else, it is just all of this shimmering. It is self-seen. It has One Taste. It is nowhere else.
Q: Subject and object are nondual?
KW: You know the Zen koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Usually, of course, we need two hands to clap – and that is the structure of typical experience. We have a sense of ourselves as a subject in here, and the world as an object out there. We have these “two hands” of experience, the subject and the object. And typical experience is a smashing of these two hands together to make a commotion, a sound. The object out there smashes into me as a subject, and I have an experience – the two hands clap together and experience emerges.
And so the typical structure of experience is like a punch in the face. The ordinary self is the battered self – it is utterly battered by the universe “out there.” The ordinary self is a series of bruises, of scars, the results of these two hands of experience smashing together. This bruising is called “dukkha,” suffering. As Krishnamurti used to say, in that gap between the subject and the object lies the entire misery of humankind.
But with the nondual state, suddenly there are not two hands. Suddenly, the subject and the object are one hand. Suddenly, there is nothing outside of you to smash into you, bruise you, torment you.
Suddenly, you do not have an experience, you are every experience that arises, and so you are instantly released into all space: you and the entire Kosmos are one hand, one experience, one display, one gesture of great perfection. There is nothing outside of you that you can want, or desire, or seek, or grasp – your soul expands to the corners of the universe and embraces all with infinite delight. You are utterly Full, utterly Saturated, so full and saturated that the boundaries to the Kosmos completely explode and leave you without date or duration, time or location, awash in an ocean of infinite care. You are released into the All, as the All – you are the self-seen radiant Kosmos, you are the universe of One Taste, and the taste is utterly infinite.
So what is the sound of that one hand clapping? What is the taste of that One Taste? When there is nothing outside of you that can hit you, hurt you, push you, pull you – what is the sound of that one hand clapping?
See the sunlight on the mountains? Feel the cool breeze? What is not utterly obvious? Who is not already enlightened? As a Zen Master put it, “When I heard the sound of the bell ringing, there was no I, and no bell, just the ringing.” There is no twiceness, no twoness, in immediate experience! No inside and no outside, no subject and no object–just immediate awareness itself, the sound of one hand clapping.
So you are not in here, on this side of a transparent window, looking at the Kosmos out there. The transparent window has shattered, your bodymind drops, you are free of that confinement forever, you are no longer ‘behind your face’ looking at the Kosmos – you simply are the Kosmos. You are
all that. Which is precisely why you can swallow the Kosmos and span the centuries, and nothing moves at all. The sound of this one hand clapping is the sound the Big Bang made. It is the sound of supernovas exploding in space. It is the sound of the robin singing. It is the sound of the waterfall on a crystal-clear day. It is the sound of the entire manifest universe – and you are that sound.
Which is why your Original Face is not in here. It is the sheerest Emptiness or transparency of this shimmering display. If the Kosmos is arising, you are that. If nothing arises, you are that. In either case, you are that. In either case, you are not in here. The window has shattered. The gap between subject and object is gone. There is no twiceness, no twoness, to be found anywhere – the world is never given to you twice, but always only once – and you are that. You are that One Taste.
This state is not something you can bring about. This nondual state, this state of One Taste, is the very nature of every experience before you slice it up. This One Taste is not some experience you bring about through effort; rather it is the actual condition of all experiencebefore you do anything to it. This uncontrived state is prior to effort, prior to grasping, prior to avoiding. It is the real world before you do anything to it, including the effort to ‘see it nondually.’
So you don’t have to do something special to awareness or to experience in order to make it nondual. It starts out nondual, its very nature is nondual – prior to any grasping, any effort, any contrivance. If effort arises, fine; if effort doesn’t arise, fine; in either case there is only the immediacy of One Taste, prior to effort and non-effort alike.
So this is definitely not a state that is hard to get into, but rather one that is impossible to avoid. It has always been so. There has never been a moment when you did not experience One Taste – it is the only reality in all of reality. In a million billion years, there has never been a single second that you weren’t aware of this Taste; there has never been a single second where it wasn’t directly in your Original Face like a blast of arctic air.
Of course, we have often lied to ourselves about this, we have often been untruthful about this, the universe of One Taste, the primordial sound of one hand clapping, our own Original Face. And the nondual traditions aim, not to bring about this state, because that is impossible, but simply to point it out to you so that you can no longer ignore it, no longer lie to yourself about who you really are.