Sunday, January 29, 2006

Self-Enquiry as Faith

I've been too busy to post all week. Will try to make up for it today.

One thing I want to start getting into, and spend a fair amount of time on, is the practice of Advaitic non-dualism. Specifically, the practice of Ramana's Self-enquiry and all the supports for it recommended by Ramana and his lineage devotees, as well as others like Nisargadatta who teach very similarly.

One of the more interesting things going on with me has been a month-long email correspondence with a long-time resident of Ramanashram on the subject of Self-enquiry and its practice. The fellow has been extremely patient and helpful with me, and yet also firmly one-pointed on Ramana's actual instructions on Self-enquiry. I, on the other hand, have tried to introduce interpretations of Self-enquiry based on my own readings and beginner's practice of it that appear not to be what Ramana actually taught. My friend has been slowly wearing me down, and yet I continue to stubbornly hold onto a number of notions that seem true to me, regardless of what others say. This does not make me right and him wrong, or vice-versa, but it does mean that I have to understand all this more deeply than I do.

One of the primary points of contention is whether Self-enquiry involves an active inspection of the conditional self in any way at all, from the practice of niddidyasana's "not this, not this", to a simple noticing and rejection of the illusions of conditional selfhood. My friend insists, and after examining the evidence I'd have to agree with him, that Ramana's description of Self-enquiry does not admit any such forms of practice as being actual Self-enquiry. However, my fallback position has been that while true Self-enquiry may not involve any attention to the conditional self, or any process of inspecting the conditional self, the beginner who is taking on the practice of Self-enquiry will and even needs to make such inspections as a matter of course - except of course in the cases of individuals who have incredible clarity and single-mindedness, such that they realize with great speed and effectiveness - people like Ramana himself and Lakshmana Swami. For most everyone else, even Ramana recommended supplemental practices and approaches that were not so pure.

The central point my friend keeps bringing up is that Self-enquiry is purely a matter of attention to consciousness itself, that it has nothing to do with attention to objects at all, that any practice that puts attention on objects of any kind, whether they be thoughts or objective experience, the body-mind itself, or any process of thinking and observing, simply reinforces thought, mind, and objects. So to examine any object, any aspect of the conditional self, and say to oneself, no, this isn't true, this isn't real, this isn't me, this isn't consciousness, itself reinforces the mind and the very illusions it wishes to be free of. This is a radical position on the subject of Self-enquiry, and while it appears to be true, it also perhaps accounts for why so few people, even at Ramanashram, actually practice Self-enquiry. To actually practice Self-enquiry in this manner seems virtually impossible for beginners such as myself, and yet when I say this to my friend he insists that I am wrong, that it is possible, and that it is only my mind which tells me it can't be done, and that I shouldn't listen to my mind. In a discussion of the necessity of the Guru he brought up a wonderful quote from the Guru Vachaka Kovai:

An external Guru is needed because the desire-filled,infatuated mind rushes out lithout listening with love to the truth unceasingly proclaimed in the Heart by the self, being-consciousness

The point here is that the purpose of the external Guru is to help steer the devotee's atention back to this voice that is constantly speaking the truth in the Heart of the devotee, but which we do not listen to because our minds are distracted with the world of objects and thoughts. This internal voice of the Heart does not speak the mind's language and can only be "heard" in silence. Self-enquiry, acccording to Ramana, is the direct path of attending to the Guru's true teaching in silence, rather than attending to the mind's thoughts and objects, which constantly steer one away from this teaching in silence. Self-enquiry destroys the mind and its thoughts, and all its objects, not by putting any attention on them at all, but by not giving them attention, and instead by putting attention on its source, on consciousness itself, on awareness, by simply being the witness. When this is done, the power of the Self destroys the mind naturally, without any effort on the devotee's part. So Self-enquiry is not a method of the mind, but from the beginning moves beyond the realm of mind. As my friend says

No answer you give yourself is the correct answer, and any answer you supply yourself just keeps the mind busy.

So far so good. But in practice, mind is not so easy to transcend. It does seem to require a "dirty" approach of attention to objects and mind, to some extent at least, in order to grasp that they are not the point, even that they don't lead anywhere except to more mind. Simply accepting these truths as true is itself merely a form of mind, and doesn't actually produce any greater depth of understanding. So there seems to me to be a need for something like this, described by Nisargadatta

M: Before you can accept God, you must accept yourself, which is even more frightening. The first steps in self-acceptance are not at all pleasant, for what one sees is not a happy sight. One needs all the courage to go further. What helps is silence. Look at yourself in total silence, do not describe yourself. Look at the being you believe you are and remember - you are not what you see. 'This I am not - what am I?' is the movement of self-enquiry. There are no other means to liberation, all means delay. Resolutely reject what you are not, till the real Self emerges in its glorious nothingness, its 'not-a-thing-ness.'

Here Nisargadatta seems to be describing an approach to Self-enquiry which acknowledges the need for a basic inspection of the conditional self. It's not that he's trying to turn Self-enquiry into that, but he's using this approach as a means of strengthening and deepening the practice of Self-enquiry, by alternating it with an inspection of the conditional self. In other words, he's actually recommending alternating practices. First, one inspects the conditional self in silence, seeing that this is not who we really are. Second, one practices direct Self-enquiry, in the manner similar to Ramana, without attention to the conditional Self. Then wash and repeat as needed. The whole point of first inspecting the conditional self is to set it aside as an illusion, so that one can practice Self-enquiry in its true form. It seems to me, therefore, that something like this is simply a natural part of how the beginner approaches the pure practice of Self-enquiry. In theory it may not require attention to objects, and Self-enquiry itself never actually involves this, but it does seem to be helpful to make this simple inspection/rejection of the illusion of the conditional self that most of us simply assume ourselves to be

There is another dimension to this, which is faith. Even Nisargadatta often said that in his case the most important element of his practice was simply faith in his Guru. When he met his Guru, his Guru told him that he was the Supreme Self, and he said that this was the driving force behind his own practice. In the beginning, he practiced a meditation on the "I am" which resembles the pure form of Self-enquiry, but soon all he did was meditate on his Guru's assertion that he, Nisargadatta, was the Supreme Self. He had such faith in his Guru's words that simply abiding in that bare proclamation led him into realization. This also seems to me to be an essential element in the practice of Self-enquiry. That even if it may seem impossible, or too pure to practice, the simple assertion of the Guru's instruction on the actual practice of it can be sufficient to overcome all the obstacles of the mind, After all, what Self-enquiry is directed towards is not the mind's answers, but the voice of the Guru given in silence, in the heart, pointing to itself, and not towards anything else. So Self-enquiry is the same as listening to the Guru's core instruction on Self-Realization: you are that. Rejecting that core instruction and thinking of oneself as the conditional self who must work out his problems and karmas and get his mind free leads to endless circular traps of mind and life. So Self-enquiry is always directed back at the core truth which transcends the mind and its circular illusion-reinforcing nature. It is incredibly simple, and yet comprehensive. It is a gesture of faith, at its core.

3 comments:

bob said...

A thoughtful exploration, Conrad, and I do appreciate your investigation of this matter!

One other quote from Sri Niz resonates here:


"Use your mind. Remember. Observe. You are not
different from others. Most of their experiences are valid
for you too. Think clearly and deeply, go into the entire
structure of your desires and their ramifications. They
are a most important part of your mental and emotional
make-up and powerfully affect your actions. Remember,
you cannot abandon what you do not know. To go
beyond yourself, you must know yourself."


LoveAlways

friend said...

Thanks for sharing this inquiry with us BY. I am surprised by what others understand sometimes but it sure is interesting to hear about it. I would never have thought of inspecting and then rejecting the conditional self, for instance. One thing I can see though is rejecting what attention can tend to settle on in its inattention, which is often an objective sensation in the body or an image in the mind, as a way of trying to grasp this ungraspable, and always only present reality of conscious being. In other words our attempts pay atention to consciousness can crystallize into something conditional which should be rejected if, of course, we notice what we've done.

Also on the notion of meditating on oneself as 'that', I think we should remember that neither of those (I or that) are something that are 'known', which would be an attribute of mind. The question still remains one of who? and what? is this reality of conscious being? - in other words, staying with the reality but never accepting any assumption of knowing it or imposing a knowing on the present reality. I don't know if that jives with anything you've been noticing or discussing but, briefly, that's what comes up for me. Thanks again for sharing it all. I enjoy your samyama.

Matthew said...

Hi BY,

I agree with both you and your friend. I see no real point for contention. My experience is that on the one hand Self-enquiry does not involve any active inspection of the conditional self in any way, shape or form. On the other hand, and at the same time, here in the West, dealing with western psyches, that inspection is definitely needed. It just isn't Self-enquiry.

.....So when you say:
"However, my fallback position has been that while true Self-enquiry may not involve any attention to the conditional self, or any process of inspecting the conditional self, the beginner who is taking on the practice of Self-enquiry will and even needs to make such inspections as a matter of course"

,,,,,I agree completely, and I make a distinction between that much needed inspection and
Self-enquiry.


.....On the topic of purity of practice you said:

"For most everyone else, even Ramana recommended supplemental practices and approaches that were not so pure."

.......In my not so humble opinion the purest approach is doing what is needed, and what actually works now, not what some ideal may be.


"The central point my friend keeps bringing up is that Self-enquiry is purely a matter of attention to consciousness itself,"

.......I disagree with your friend here, and would say that Self-enquiry is purely a matter of attention on the process of Self-enquiry, the on going, ever deepeing process of attempting to answer (wordlessly/nonconceptually) the question "Who Am I?" or useable variations on that theme as Ramana was neither the first nor last to reccomend it.


So to examine any object, any aspect of the conditional self, and say to oneself, no, this isn't true, this isn't real, this isn't me, this isn't consciousness, itself reinforces the mind and the very illusions it wishes to be free of.

.........My understanding of Self-enquiry is that it does not involve the negation of anything. The question is asked "Who Am I?" and whatever answer,
or no answer as the case may be, that arises is not negated, I would say it may even be accepted. But not as a final answer. "Who Am I ?" is the ongoing question, with no judgement as to that various "answers" that may arise in relation to that.


The point here is that the purpose of the external Guru is to help steer the devotee's atention back to this voice that is constantly speaking the truth in the Heart of the devotee, but which we do not listen to because our minds are distracted with the world of objects and thoughts.

.....So far so good.

This internal voice of the Heart does not speak the mind's language and can only be "heard" in silence. Self-enquiry, acccording to Ramana, is the direct path of attending to the Guru's true teaching in silence, rather than attending to the mind's thoughts and objects, which constantly steer one away from this teaching in silence.

....ok.

Self-enquiry destroys the mind and its thoughts, and all its objects, not by putting any attention on them at all, but by not giving them attention, and instead by putting attention on its source, on consciousness itself, on awareness, by simply being the witness.

..........If you could put attention on that source, on consciousness itself, you would, but you can't and that is the process of Self-enquiry, to discover that source, so that attention can rest there. I'm not so sure that the mind and all it's thoughts and objects gets destroyed in the process either.


When this is done, the power of the Self destroys the mind naturally, without any effort on the devotee's part. So Self-enquiry is not a method of the mind, but from the beginning moves beyond the realm of mind. As my friend says

No answer you give yourself is the correct answer, and any answer you supply yourself just keeps the mind busy.

.....Sure, which is why any "answer" that arises in the process of Self-enquiry is acknowledged (for what it is) but not taken as any kind of final answer.

So far so good. But in practice, mind is not so easy to transcend. It does seem to require a "dirty" approach of attention to objects and mind, to some extent at least, in order to grasp that they are not the point, even that they don't lead anywhere except to more mind.

.........This "dirty", "impure" thing you got going on
has got to go. :-)


Simply accepting these truths as true is itself merely a form of mind, and doesn't actually produce any greater depth of understanding. So there seems to me to be a need for something like this, described by Nisargadatta

M: Before you can accept God, you must accept yourself, which is even more frightening. The first steps in self-acceptance are not at all pleasant, for what one sees is not a happy sight. One needs all the courage to go further. What helps is silence. Look at yourself in total silence, do not describe yourself. Look at the being you believe you are and remember - you are not what you see. 'This I am not - what am I?' is the movement of self-enquiry. There are no other means to liberation, all means delay. Resolutely reject what you are not, till the real Self emerges in its glorious nothingness, its 'not-a-thing-ness.'

Here Nisargadatta seems to be describing an approach to Self-enquiry which acknowledges the need for a basic inspection of the conditional self.

........I think ol' Niz was a tad more practical than Ramana. Maybe R, was just a narrow fundamentalist
advaitin. Just kidding.

It's not that he's trying to turn Self-enquiry into that, but he's using this approach as a means of strengthening and deepening the practice of Self-enquiry, by alternating it with an inspection of the conditional self. In other words, he's actually recommending alternating practices. First, one inspects the conditional self in silence, seeing that this is not who we really are. Second, one practices direct Self-enquiry, in the manner similar to Ramana, without attention to the conditional Self. Then wash and repeat as needed.


...Exackerly.

The whole point of first inspecting the conditional self is to set it aside as an illusion, so that one can practice Self-enquiry in its true form.

........I'm not sure if that is a completely valid conclusion. Setting it aside as illusion is a little to flip for me. It's as real as anything else. This notion of "Self-enquiry in it's true form", seems to be self defeating to me. (No pun intended). The begining stages of enquiry ARE the true form, for the begining stages. Capiche?

It seems to me, therefore, that something like this is simply a natural part of how the beginner approaches the pure practice of Self-enquiry.

....There's that damn "pure practice" nonsense again.
"Out damn spot!"


In theory it may not require attention to objects, and Self-enquiry itself never actually involves this, but it does seem to be helpful to make this simple inspection/rejection of the illusion of the conditional self that most of us simply assume ourselves to be.

.........I slight disagreement here as I would call it
inspection/acceptance, as I do not relate to the concept of illusion. It's ALL real to me.

There is another dimension to this, which is faith. Even Nisargadatta often said that in his case the most important element of his practice was simply faith in his Guru. When he met his Guru, his Guru told him that he was the Supreme Self, and he said that this was the driving force behind his own practice. In the beginning, he practiced a meditation on the "I am" which resembles the pure form of Self-enquiry, but soon all he did was meditate on his Guru's assertion that he, Nisargadatta, was the Supreme Self. He had such faith in his Guru's words that simply abiding in that bare proclamation led him into realization. This also seems to me to be an essential element in the practice of Self-enquiry. That even if it may seem impossible, or too pure to practice, the simple assertion of the Guru's instruction on the actual practice of it can be sufficient to overcome all the obstacles of the mind, After all, what Self-enquiry is directed towards is not the mind's answers, but the voice of the Guru given in silence, in the heart, pointing to itself, and not towards anything else. So Self-enquiry is the same as listening to the Guru's core instruction on Self-Realization: you are that. Rejecting that core instruction and thinking of oneself as the conditional self who must work out his problems and karmas and get his mind free leads to endless circular traps of mind and life. So Self-enquiry is always directed back at the core truth which transcends the mind and its circular illusion-reinforcing nature. It is incredibly simple, and yet comprehensive. It is a gesture of faith, at its core.

.....Yes.