Friday, January 11, 2008

The Sensual Approach to Self-Enquiry

Kang, our most active commentator, makes a number of worthy points in response to my last post.

He makes much of various traditional distinctions between maya and Brahman, and points out, fairly enough, that I am still stuck in maya. Yes, indeed. Of course, that should be fairly obvious to anyone. If I weren't stuck in maya, I doubt I'd be blogging. Is there a more perfect description of maya than blogging? A solitary voice in an electronic virtual world trying to understand what's going on? I can't think of one. Anyway, let's not pretend I'm up to something profound here. I'm just asking myself some questions, and seeing what comes of it. Brahman will let me know if I'm onto Him, I'm sure.

He brings up a more interesting point here:
“I don't know about this "turning attention upon itself." I'm inclined to say that phrase has no actual meaning. If attention becomes the object of attention, what has occurred? Can attention be its own object? What does attention look like?”

This gets to the crux of what self-enquiry is about. I'm not much interested in the philosophical debates over these matters anymore. Been there, done that, got as much from it as I think I care to, and now I'm interested in talking about these matters in the first person. When I talk about attention, I'm not talking about an abstraction, I'm talking about the very real and obvious phenomena of noticing that we are aware of one another, of ourselves, of these bodies, of these hands and eyes and feet, of the whole gamut of sensual experience, including the sensuality of thought, of emotion, of observing ourselves in this moment from head to foot, and everything in between. What are we observing that is not attention? That's just as good a question.

So then, what does it mean to “turn attention upon itself”? Well, I think it's kind of obvious. Instead of simply noticing objects and studying those objects, notice the process of attention itself, of how the mind creates a psychic reality of objects, of thoughts, that has a genuine sensual reality to it. Notice the phenomena of attention. Be aware of awareness. This isn't too hard to do. It may seem like something of a contradiction in linguistic terms, but in down home sensual experience, it's about the most obvious thing we experience.

The first thing we experience is this sensual feeling of being aware, of being a field of awareness that contains and contemplates objects of various kinds. Now, instead of focusing on objects, why not just feel and be aware of ourselves as this awareness? Is that really so hard to do? I don't think so. And this is what self-enquiry is about to me. In essence, it's nothing more complicated than this simple decision to turn attention back upon itself, to notice oneself in the midst of things, to be self-aware, in other words. I don't mean self-conscious in the nerdy sense of things, but in the most basic sensual sense of things. Awareness is primordial sensuality. It is a feeling capacity, whose very nature is sensual feeling. What if that feeling capacity doesn't go outward through the senses? Does it lose its sensuality? Not in my experience. It gains a purity in its sensuality, an ease and a pleasurableness that is not defined by any objects of the senses. It is sensuality turned upon itself. It is thought turned upon itself as well. It is intelligence itself, not the insights or meanings that we acquire through intelligence. It is the conscious principle seen as itself, rather than in constant subordination to objects. Let consciousness be itself, rather than constantly turned towards an object, and it naturally knows itself. We are naturally aware of ourselves as attention, as awareness. This gets lost when we become obsessed with objects, but it is restored when we begin to let objects fall away, and allow attention to rest in self-awareness.

Now, one of the things I'd like to do with this blog over time is take a look at the literature on this subject. There's a lot in Ramana and many traditional sources that touch on this approach. There's a great many good instructions I've come across, and that undoubtedly others can help point out, which can help clarify this whole business. But I'm not primarily interested in the literature itself, or gaining more intellectual understanding of these things. I simply want to use such literature to help clarify this simple and direct inspection of awareness itself, by turning attention back upon its source.

Yes, what happens then? Can attention be its own object? I don't think that's the result. When attention is turned back on itself, it has no object. It is only awareness itself, without an object. Yet, can such awareness be unaware of itself? Hardly? Awareness knowing itself is jnana, knowledge of the Self. It isn't at the end of some program, it's in the beginning of this process of being aware of our own awareness in the most direct and sensual way. We need to be aware of the full spectrum of awareness, the sensual, feeling, all-encompassing sphere of attention itself as it actually functions in mind and body and world, without trying to make it into anything other than itself, but letting it pervade the room, the body, the mind, as freedom, free attention, free feeling, the very Self.

At least, that's what I'm trying to explore. We'll see if it produces anything worthwhile.


kangdom said...

Definitely not a Wilberite here in Boulder. ;-) Fascinating list of locations watching the blog.

Kris Kangle said...

But no, I don't say you are personally stuck in maya. I meant that the point of view of some things being said was still in maya. If I meant that "you" are stuck in maya, that's just the kind of thing maya would say, isn't it.

An editor charged by Brahman with maintaining the purity of what is written would pick those things out, that's all.

If you think you're stuck in maya, that's just the suggestion of maya to your own mind, isn't it? Therefore you become motivated to engage disciplines to become free of it. Perhaps maya has reasons for hitching you to a plow to aerate the turf. ;-)