Who Is The Experiencer?
by Eckhart Tolle
From his book, A New Earth, Page 241.
What you see and hear, taste, touch, and smell are, of course, sense objects. They are what you experience. But who is the subject, the experiencer?
If you now say, for example, "Well, of course, I, Jane Smith, senior accountant, forty-five years old, divorced, mother of two, American, am the subject, the experiencer," you are mistaken. Jane Smith and whatever else becomes identified with the mental concept of Jane Smith are all objects of experience, not the experiencing subject.
Every experience has three possible ingredients: sense perceptions, thoughts or mental images, and emotions. Jane Smith, senior accountant, forty-five years old, mother of two, divorced, American -- these are all thoughts and therefore part of what you experience the moment you have these thoughts. They and whatever else you can say and think about yourself are objects, not the subject. They are experience, not the experiencer.
You can add a thousand more definitions (thoughts) of who you are and by doing so will certainly increase the complexity of the experience of yourself (as well as your psychiatrist's income) but, in this way, you will not end up with the subject, the experiencer who is prior to all experience but without whom there would be no experience.
So who is the experiencer? You are. And who are you? Consciousness. And what is Consciousness? This question cannot be answered. The moment you answer it, you have falsified it, made it into another object.
Consciousness, the traditional word for which is Spirit, cannot be known in the normal sense of the word, and seeking it is futile. All knowing is within the realm of duality -- subject and object, the knower and the known. The subject, the I, the knower without which nothing could be known, perceived, thought, or felt, must remain forever unknowable.
This is because the I has no form. Only forms can be known, and yet without the formless dimension, the world of form could not be. It is the luminous space in which the world arises and subsides.
That space is the life that I Am. It is timeless. I Am timeless, eternal. What happens in that space is relative and temporary: pleasure and pain, gain and loss, birth and death.
The greatest impediment to the discovery of inner space, the greatest impediment to finding the experiencer, is to become so enthralled by the experience that you lose yourself in it. It means consciousness is lost in its own dream. You get taken in by every thought, every emotion, and every experience to such a degree that you are in fact in a dreamlike state. This has been the normal state of humanity for thousands of years.
Although you cannot know consciousness, you can become conscious of it as yourself. You can sense it directly in any situation, no matter where you are. You can sense it here and now as your very Presence, the inner space in which the words on this page are perceived and become thoughts. It is the underlying I Am.
The words you are reading and thinking are the foreground, and the I Am is the substratum, the underlying background to every experience, thought, feeling.
You can see and hear Eckhart talking on: Enlightenment in this YouTube Clip.