“If you would like to bring some clarity to your often confused and confusing notions about self-enquiry, you will do well to study Michael James' magnificent work "Happiness and the Art of Being" subtitled 'A layman's introduction to the philosophy and practice of the spiritual teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana.' Michael James is a deep and profound student of Ramana's teaching, and was a close collaborator with Sadhu Om. You can learn more about him by checking him and his book out on the net. His book stays very close to Ramana's own words, but also draws on the insights of Muruganar and Sadhu Om. James' own contribution is his crystal clear writing style and deep understanding of these teachings, practices, and their implications. The book "Happiness and the Art of Being" is available from amazon, or free on the web as a pdf file.I guess I should make it a little more clear what I'm doing on this blog, and what I'm not doing. First, I'm not trying to present any orthodoxy of Ramana's teachings, or Advaita, etc., not as a rule at least. I may do that from time to time, it's on my list so to speak, but really, there are way, way better sources on the subject out there than me. I'm familiar with the “Happiness of Being” website the commentator referred to, as well as all kinds of great sources such as various books by Ramana, Sadhu Om, Lakshmana, and David Godman's website (which, by the way, has the ebook posting of Guru Vachaka Kovai). I've gone through a fairly rigorous samyama on self-enquiry, though I'm sure not as much or as deeply as many readers here. However, I think it needs to be said that book knowledge is at best a beginning, at times a guide, and is no substitute for the actual practice of self-enquiry, which is much “messier” than the book descriptions lead one to think.
If you are sincere about delving into the practice of self-enquiry, you will find this work invaluable. If, on the other hand, you merely wish to ruminate about these things and post your own idiosyncratic take on them, feel free to ignore this advice. Best regards to you and best wishes for your study and practice.”
One issue that has struck me from the beginning of my interest in self-enquiry is how few people actually practice it, and how few who actually practice it become enlightened. It's obviously a fairly advanced practice, and I'm fairly obviously not an advanced spiritual soul, and so I've had some reservations about the practice. The descriptions of self-enquiry by Muruganar, Ramana, Lakshmana, Sadhu Om, and others who have taken it all the way are beautiful and inspiring. On the other hand, there's a certain unreachable quality to their descriptions which makes the practice seem beyond the reach of all but the most mature souls. This, of course, is contrary to Ramana's own teachings on the subject. Ramana claims that self-enquiry is also the best practice for beginners, for those who are anything but advanced souls. In a series of emails with David Godman last year about self-enquiry I argued this point, and he emphatically confirmed that this was Ramana's view, to the point where I had to concede it to him. The question that remains for me is, what is the actual practice of self-enquiry like for beginners, and how is it made effective?
That's what this blog is supposed to be about. In part, of course, it just represents my own ruminations about various related spiritual topics, but the question remains, how does the rest of spirituality relate to self-enquiry, not just in theory, but in practice? Spirituality is complex, the human spiritual organism is complex, and the practice of self-enquiry has to address all of it in practice or it's just not meaningful. My sense for why self-enquiry is so unpopular, even among followers of Ramana, is that people simply don't know how to take it up as beginners, and so instead they take up all kinds of simpler practices, such as bhakti. David Godman remarked in an interview a few years ago that someone interested in self-enquiry stood at the door of the meditation hall at Ramanashram asking for help on self-enquiry, and found that not a single person was actually practicing it there.
So please, pardon me for being a neophyte at this, but I think there's a serious disconnect out there between the theory of self-enquiry and its beginning practice. My own postings clearly reflect this. I do “sorta” know what self-enquiry is, intellectually. I do “sorta” know how to practice it. But the gulf between me and the full and clear understanding of a Ramana or a Muruganar on the subject is immense. And yet, I can't start from Ramana's position, I have to start from where I am, and move as best I can towards their position. And yes, I know that means I am assuming unenlightenment on my part, and that this is a self-fulfilling assessment. But assuming enlightenment doesn't seem to be working for anyone I know of either. There's obviously a real process that has to be engaged that grows us in the practice of self-enquiry, and that brings even the most lowly beginners through a process of enlightenment that may take many lifetimes, perhaps, but is real and true in the moment it is engaged.
And that is what I would like to be doing – simply engaging in a process that is real and true, even though I'm clearly a very raw beginner, not an advanced or mature being by any means. The process of self-enquiry seems very difficult even for advanced practitioners, so I think it's going to be even more so for beginners like me. If I seem confused and confusing, yes, it's because I am. But I don't think I'm going to become less confused merely by intellectual study of the subject. It certainly helps from time to time, but really, at some point one has to put down the books and engage the practice, and make a fool of oneself. I don't think the actual practice of self-enquiry is flattering to anyone. I don't think it's very clear to anyone who hasn't actually realized it. If it were clear, these people would be enlightened themselves. That they are not suggests that the process is more profoundly confusing than the literature suggests, and that focusing on the literature too much can become a crutch which gives one an intellectual sense of clarity which lacks the depth necessary to actually make self-enquiry effective in practice.
And I think that is why so many people abandon self-enquiry. I have certainly done that a number of times, only to be drawn back into it. Most people, it seems, even ardent followers of Ramana, just give it up after a few fruitless tries. There is very little guidance for such people out there, and it's very easy to imagine that the confusion which arises when we begin to practice self-enquiry means that we are doing something wrong. Unfortunately, we probably are, but that is also simply to be expected when engaging in something as profoundly central to our being as self-enquiry.
I don't think it's necessary to say this, because I think it's rather obvious, but in case some people are wondering I am most definitely not trying to develop a spiritual “teaching” about self-enquiry. I have zero qualifications for that. There's a ton of people far better qualified than I for that job, and as I say, lots of literature on the subject. I'm just trying to engage a beginner's consideration of the actual practice of self-enquiry, and how it relates to this messy business of mind and life and spirit. I appreciate any feedback I can get, as long as it's constructive feedback, and not merely trying to play suppression games.
Now, as for the issue of my “idiosyncratic take”, yes, it most definitely is. But I think everyone's take on self-enquiry is idiosyncratic – except for those who have realized the Self. The problem with the literature and public discussion of self-enquiry (what little there is) is that everyone seems to be striving to eliminate the idiosyncratic, and give only the purest and most refined descriptions of self-enquiry. I think that creates an imbalance. I think we need more idiosyncratic views and accounts of self-enquiry, not less of them. I for one would really appreciate hearing how other people practice self-enquiry, what their views are, and their experiences, without trying to make a perfect cookie-cutter of it that corresponds to the pure descriptions of Ramana and Muruganar and Sadhi Om. I would find it more inspiring to hear such things. Others might disagree. In my case, it's the only option I have, since I can't really write about the pure teachings except intellectually. As I've said, I've been there, done that, and it's just not useful to me anymore.
I'm quite aware that what I'm doing here is of very dubious value, and who knows, I may not do it for much longer. I originally began posting here simply because I thought it would help me maintain some attention on self-enquiry, which is useful in and of itself. But I won't pretend that my practice is anything profound. I do what I can, and I'm open to any help anyone can offer. You don't have to be a spiritual teacher, just an ordinary bloke like me who is traveling this same difficult path.
Thanks again to everyone out there for your support.