Regarding a recent post of mine, you find as a Christian that a “strange inward tension” results when you try to adopt a “specifically Hindu term” like Witness, and you worry that it’s “somehow wrong for a Christian to accept anything other than the moral teachings of other religions”. You acknowledge that the idea of the Witness, like the Buddhist idea of Bare Attention, is not without its seeming analogies within Christianity: Eckhart’s intellectus, for example, or the Hesychast nous. You’re nonetheless concerned to make sure these terms all refer to the same “organ of contemplation”.
But is it really necessary to sort this out in a terminological way? Isn’t it enough to see—because we do “see”, do we not?—that there is something within us which allows us to stand back from ourselves? It’s a very subtle and fleeting something to be sure (much too fleeting, in fact!) and altogether impossible to pin down, for of course it’s always the one doing the seeing, even when we (vainly) try to whirl round and catch it in the act. Be that as it may, it seems to me there can be no doubt that it’s there, behind the curtain as it were. Don’t you agree?
I’m not sure what we stand to gain by naming it, however, or by determining whether traditional term A can be equated with traditional term B: Is Buddhist attention different from or the same as the noesis which permits us to open a conscious space between prosvoli (provocation) and pararripismos (disturbance) during a given bout with peirasmos (tempation), to put the matter in technical Hesychast jargon? Forgive me if I’ve misunderstood the import of your question, but I find that concerns of this order are simply distractions, just one more case of the mind wandering off as it so often does into another conceptual quandary, when what we need is to just be aware, to see what’s going on inside us right now, right here.
My instinct—and mind you, it’s only an instinct: proof would require a sobornost of adepts drawn from a representative sample of different religious traditions!—is that the traditional vocabularies, while all referring in some way to this capacity to “see” or “attend”, may be pointing to the operations of this capacity at different levels or depths, or to its varying degrees of effectiveness. I can step back from my body and see its movements and postures and states, but stepping back in order to see my thoughts and emotions brings me to a different, subtler, more inward place. Moreover, each of these “steppings back”, whether from the body on the one hand or from the thoughts and emotions on the other, are but two points along a line extending to yet greater heights (or depths) of vision and knowledge.
If I were forced to assign a given term, or set of terms, to the last—or rather, metaphysically, the first—point on this line, I think “Witness” (the term I used in my post) is as good as any, and I frankly can’t imagine that when Eckhart said “the eye with which I see God is the eye with which God sees me” he meant anything else. But again I ask: Is making sure these terms are synonyms really so important? What practical difference does it make what I call the acme of Self-seeing, or for that matter what I call any of the other points on the line? The truly important point is to realize that I needn’t be bound, as I too often am, to these bodily postures, these emotional habits, these recurring thoughts. I can, if only briefly, see them from a distance, however small that distance may be at the moment.
Do you think looking at things this way might help to resolve the tension you speak of?