Thursday, December 20, 2007

Self-examination in the First Person

One of the difficulties I have writing this blog is that I am so accustomed to responding to others, it is hard to simply think for myself, and write about what I really care about. My long experience in Adidam required me to think along certain lines, and to constantly respond to both Adi Da and his whole community of chattering practitioners in a manner that constantly compromised my own integrity in both thought and action . The Daism Forum helped break me from the spell of Da, and allowed me to think for myself, but I became bound instead to a constant dialog with people who were not pursuing the same goals or interests or outlook. As a consequence, I could seldom speak as freely as I wished, and pursue the lines of enquiry that genuinely interested me, at least in my writings there. I may have seemed at times to be highly outspoken and opinionated, but my writings were constantly circumscribed by the particulars of the dialog, and who I was speaking with, and responding to. I seldom initiated a dialog there, but in general only responded to others. This left a gap in my participation there that I think has had consequences, just as being in Adidam had consequences.

The consequence in both cases has been an inhibition of the development of my own thinking and feeling. Of course, I haven't limited myself to the forums, and have pursued all kinds of ideas and spiritual practices of my own. But I haven't written about them, and since writing seems an important part of my self-development, that omission seems important. Even more importantly, my addiction to those dialogs seems to indicate an emptiness in myself that I have been trying to fill, using a source and method that can't possibly be fruitful or fulfilling. Conversation with others is of course important, but I think it is secondary, and unfortunately I think I have made it primary, simply by default, whereas what I have neglected as a consequence is the conversation with myself that really is fruitful and fulfilling.

So I resist writing on this blog, I think, not so much because of the personal exposure it brings, but because it requires a commitment to self-examination, and self-development, that is not bounded by others. I have very much enjoyed the forums I've participated in, but I think I've allowed myself to be limited by them as well, in part because the constant give and take helps distract me from myself, from the hard work of self-examination and facing up to oneself that can only be accomplished by myself, in relation to myself, in cracking the nut of self. That kind of distraction has not really served me well, I now think, and it is time to make a few course corrections.

So this blog, if I do it right, will reflect what I care about, and think about, and feel, and not necessarily what any readers out there will care about. I may be entirely wrong about so much that I present here it won't even be funny, but I think I need to pursue my own wrongs as much as my own rights. It's not that I don't welcome feedback as such either. Already there's been quite a few good comments. I could respond to them, but I just don't know that I want to allow this blog to become driven by the dialogs I might enter into with readers and others who respond to what I say. I don't want to be limited by having to explain myself to others in a manner that I think “works” for them, or makes sense to them, or allows for a dialog to proceed in some sensible manner. I may not proceed in any sensible manner, or at least not sensible to anyone other than myself, and maybe not even to myself.

Nor do I really want to be limited by any outside authorities. I will probably be examining various scriptures, Gurus, and various spiritual writings. I've even thought of doing regular book reviews. But I don't want to be defined by such things. One question that intrigues me is, “what is Brahman?”. If I had begun a thread on the Wilber Forum about this, we'd get quite a few opinions, and scriptural citations, and a long list of the various traditional arguments that have been pursued historically about this question, and then a lot of bickering and backfighting that could be both amusing and productive in a certain way, I'm not trying to knock it. People have lots of interesting things to say about the subject, I'm sure. Yes, fine and well, but I don't really care about that. I want to know what Brahman is - directly, in my own experience, my own consciousness, my own being and life. That's what counts to me. The rest is secondary. Now, it doesn't mean that secondary issues aren't relevant or important. I think they are. But they are secondary, not primary, and I don't want to become distracted by secondary issues to the detriment of what is primary.

When I ask myself what is Brahman, I don't look to scriptures, I look to my own experiential being and life and consciousness and awareness. What here is Brahman? When I say “I am Brahman”, why does that resonate and become meaningful to me? Because it does, and I'd like to pursue that matter further. What some scripture might say about that could be helpful, but it's only helpful if it provokes the direct finding of Brahman, the knowing of Brahman, and if it doesn't, then who cares? It might help someone else, to be sure, but if it doesn't help me, it's not very consequential to me. Many things which help me may be of no consequence to others, and I expect that few readers will care about my pursuit of these things. Except, perhaps, to the degree that I'm pursuing them at all, which may be interesting in its own odd way. I don't know if this blog will really be directly meaningful to anyone, unless, to some degree, it simply inspires people to make their own enquiry, and pursue their own truths, in their own way.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Enquiring about Self-Enquiry

I almost decided this was all a mistake and that I should delete this blog. Then I just realized I was being a chicken. So what if this comes off as really, really stupid?

So, what's the important thing here? The practice of self-enquiry. I'm not entirely sure how to write about it. All I know is that it feels right and good and stabilizing.

I started practicing self-enquiry in a very loose way a couple or three of years ago. When I was still in Adidam, or at least thought I was still in Adidam, I had gone through a real crisis about what the hell I was practicing. The whole form of Guru-devotion I had been involved with there fell apart, and the whole notion of meditating on something or someone “else” no longer made sense. I found myself falling back on myself, on my own sense of self. This was in part due to a way I had begun to approach the whole practice of “inspecting the self-contraction” as Da refers to it. I had come to the conclusion that the way to do this was just to feel the sense of “self” itself, feel into it, and through it. The more I did this, the more interesting it became, and the less interesting the rest of Adidam became. So as I left Adidam altogether, I didn't really have a practice at all, so I just felt this sense of “self”, and something about that seemed grounding and centering. I wondered if this was me just reinforcing my ego, a bit no-no in Adidam and certain spiritual minds sets, including my own, but I was in a taboo-breaking mood in any case, and thought it was a good idea to see where this went.

One thing I started to do back then, before I even began anything else, was “praying” to my own Self for help. I didn't even quite know how to conceive of this, I didn't even know what my own Self was, but I just felt that there was something far deeper to me than I understood, and if I couldn't pray to a Guru anymore, couldn't pray to Adi Da anymore, at least I could pray to my deeper Self for help. So once in a while I would just address a prayer to my Self, in whatever way I could, asking for help. And it seemed to come to me somehow, first in the form of various teachings and scriptures, but also in the form of self-enquiry itself. It just took me a while to figure out what was going on. I'm a very slow learner, if you haven't noticed by now.

I began to read Ramana Maharshi again, after many decades of barely glancing at his dharma, apart from its occasional appearance in Adi Da's own teachings. I was deeply impressed and so much of it began to seem natural to me, which was odd because while I had always loved Ramana, I had never felt much moved by his teachings, especially self-enquiry. I had tried Adi Da's various forms of self-enquiry over the years, but never fully connected with that either. Although I recall a very strong dream I had maybe ten years before this, in which I suddenly realized with deep conviction that I would never mature spiritually until I completely committed myself to the practice of enquiry. However, even after that dream I couldn't really do that, at least with Da's forms of self-enquiry, but the memory of this conviction remained with me.

I only very occasionally practiced enquiry, even after reading Ramana's teaching. I didn't quite understand what it meant in practical terms, and didn't know how to engage it. I began to read other Advaitic teachers, including Nisargadatta, Papaji, Annamalai, etc. I also perused A Course In Miracles and its non-dual teachings. These were helpful, but also confusing. Eventually, I decided to write to David Godman, who had written or edited quite a few books on these people, asking for help in trying to understand self-enquiry. We probably exchanged about 30 emails, and he recommended quite a few good books on the subject, particularly his own Guru Sri Lakshmana's book that David had written and edited, and two books by Sadhu Om (another disciple of Ramana). The essential summary of all these was that the practice of self-enquiry boils down to feeling the feeling of “self”, of “I”, of ego, and simply observing this feeling, and simply observing everything from the position of this self-feeling. I began to see that in the most basic sense this was what I had already been moved to do, but didn't quite consciously understand, and didn't know how to engage. In some sense, understanding this was itself liberating, but it was also a bit threatening, and scary.

I tried practicing this fairly intensively for several months. It felt good, but also difficult, and I had quite a few stumbles along the way. One thing I noticed was how intensively this practice aroused a devotional response in me. One thing that had spontaneously begun to occur in me while leaving Adidam and first beginning the rudimentary practice of self-enquiry without really knowing what I was doing is that I would sometimes begin to spontaneously start saying to myself “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you” for no particular reason. This would happen while I was working, or just sitting around, and I never really had much of an explanation for it. I wasn't sure who I was saying this to, or if I was really saying it to anyone at all. I never actually “tried” to practice this in any way, but I would just start saying it, and with real feelings of love, and it seemed to purify my mind and action somehow, so I didn't really try to figure it out.

I could feel that this whole practice of self-enquiry was very purifying, and yet it was also rather unsettling. At a certain point I simply got confused and uncertain about it all, and I found myself getting complicated and unclear as to what to do. At the same time, all kinds of unsettling things were continuing to happen in my life, and practicing self-enquiry began to seem both a little too difficult to maintain, and secondary to so much else. However, I did manage to keep it going, and over time my life got quite a lot simpler and less distracting. At this point, I don't have many distractions other than ones I generate in my own mind. So it seems like a good time to finally get serious and committed to the process, and see how deep I can go with it.

I really do enjoy self-enquiry at this point. There's a great feeling of freedom that comes with it, and just plain enjoyment. The feeling of self is simply so grounding and life-giving that it attracts me more and more into the practice for its own sake, rather than any sense of “getting somewhere” spiritually. And the question of “who” I am is so much more wide-open and liberating than I had imagined possible. Combining it with the mantra of “I am Brahman” seems quite natural and inspiring.

I'd like to write more about self-enquiry, I'm just not sure how to do it. I suppose in the weeks ahead something will come to me.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Poonja Swami

Here's an interesting recent experience:

Last week, on my 50th birthday, the "formal" beginning of this whole hermitage phase of my life, I woke up at about 5:00 AM from a very odd dream. In the dream, I was waiting for a table at a fancy seafood restaurant. Out in the lobby, there were aquariums filled with strange fish that were on the menu. My name was called to be seated at a table, but the hostess explained that before I could be seated, I had to disclose my religion. I told her that I didn't have a religion, but I did have a Guru. She asked me the name of my Guru, and I blurted out “Poonja Swami” before I could even think further. For a moment I felt some sense of guilt or uncertainty, that perhaps I should have said Ramana or Saradamma, but it seemed telling that my immediate response was Poonja Swami. I was asked to write his name on a slate, and I did, but I misspelled it as “Pooja Swami”.

On awakening, I felt into this dream, and something about it felt right to me. I have no real clue about my whole relationship to Gurus, and what any of that ultimately means. But there's some solid reason to feel a strong connection to Papaji. For one thing, he's the only one of these neo-Advaitin guys that I ever actually met in the flesh, back in 1974 in Saanen Switzerland when I was there to see J. Krishnamurti's talks for the summer. I was just 16, and I had no idea who Papaji was at the time. He was just this very impressive looking Indian dude hanging out in the tent where Krishnamurti gave his talks. They had a book stall in the back of the tent, and after Krishnamurti's talks I would linger there and look at the books. I noticed Papaji hanging there also, looking at the books. Something about him struck me as incredibly mature. He seemed to carry himself with such confidence and ease, without self-consciousness or ego, just a mature human being, and I thought to myself, damn, that's what it is to be a man. I wanted to sidle up to him and strike up a conversation, but I felt a bit nervous about this. I did stand next to him, and noticed that he was looking at the books in the Ramana Maharshi section, and I wanted to point out the “Talks with Ramana Maharshi” book to him and recommend it, but something stopped me. I just wasn't sure if I should impose myself on him. So I didn't. Regrets? Perhaps! Of course, it would have been rather hilarious to recommend Ramana's books to one of Ramana's primary disciples, but that's another story. In any case, I went home to my room in a local farmhouse, and began studying the same book of Talks, and while reading Ramana something extraordinary happened. I began to watch my mind speed up, as if it were a tape recorder playing at high speed, accelerating faster and faster, all my thought whipping around in a frenzy, and then suddenly the whole tape slid down the back of my head, through my neck, and into the right side of my heart. Suddenly my mind was empty, and a tremendous feeling of peace pervaded me, and the whole world. I stopped reading and simply sat in this peace, and it persisted for days on end. My mind slowly came back, but it was easy to simply sit without mind, to walk without mind, and to simply feel this pervasive peace in the midst of everything. Over the next few days I went on walks in the Swiss countryside, and on a couple of occasions I came across Poonja Swami and some of his friends walking also. I didn't say anything, and I didn't even connect the experience to him. But I realized that I had seen him several times before around town, in the tent, and even on leaving the train station on arriving in Saanen weeks before.

I didn't connect all of this to Poonja Swami until a couple of years ago when I read David Godman's autobiography of Poonja Swami, Nothing Ever Happened, in which he mentions that Poonja Swami actually went to Saanen and attended J. Krishnamurti's talks in 1974, the same year I was there. I then realized who the Indian fellow was in the tent, and the experience I had afterwards began to make sense, since Papaji was well known for traveling around the world and spontaneously giving experiences of the Self to people in the course of his travels, often without any formal meeting at all, just while walking around. So I figure I was one of those people. I was having all kinds of unusual spiritual experiences that summer, and though I didn't connect them to Papaji, it's interesting that I kept bumping into him there.

Since leaving Adi Da several years ago, I have often wondered if I would ever have another Guru again. The only living Guru who I feel at all attracted to is Muthra Sri Saradamma, who lives in India and keeps a very private life. I've hoped to travel to India someday to see her, but for now that's not realistic. Ramana of course is a possibility, but I never actually met him in the flesh, and somehow that seems important to me. I did have an extraordinary spiritual “meeting” with him when I was 15, and have felt connected to him ever since, but it's always felt that he was pointing me to others, not to himself. And I don't know if it matters that Poonja Swami is no longer alive in the flesh himself. But this in some respects doesn't matter. My own situation is what it is. What interests me most is Poonja Swami's teachings, and I suppose this dreams suggests to me that I should pay special attention to these.

It happened that for a couple of days prior to this dream I had been reading some of Papaji's teachings for the first time in a few months. I thought this is what probably triggered the dream. I found a couple of talks online which were quite inspiring, such as this one. An excert from this talk stuck out in my mind:
When you exert effort or practice sadhana you will camouflage and cover the truth. You will have to remove this covering because it is you who put it there. This covering will be removed through your effort. And when all efforts are done away with - when all attempts, all intents and intentions, all ideas and notions are rejected - at that time ask yourself, "Who am I?" You will certainly find the answer.

This is how freedom is already attained: You are already free. If you can hear this once from a teacher you are free. If you cannot hear this, then practice. If you can listen to a teacher who is not a liar, who is speaking the truth, and if you are honestly longing for freedom then listen once and you are free.

If you are not honest and if the teacher is not authentic it will not work. You will have to take up a practice if something is false somewhere. What is that practice? At all times, walking, sleeping, dreaming, on waking, while standing, sitting, lying, go on chanting the mantra. I can recommend mantras also, as a second best. If you can repeat this mantra from now till your last breath I guarantee you will not appear again in a next birth; you will not fall into any womb. What is the mantra? "I AM FREE!" Take up this practice if you do not believe me.

If you can listen, if you long for freedom, and you feel that I am honest when I tell you that you are free, then accept it! Hear this only once and you are free.

If you do not accept what I am saying then I will give you a practice as a second best. You will have to continue practicing on every breath - every breath of the waking state, of the dream state, of the sleeping state up to the last breath.
This seemed to apply to me. I've of course practiced self-enquiry, but I haven't immediately awakened from the practice. No doubt few do. I seem to be one of those people who needs to continue doubting, or at least needs to slowly remove his doubts. My general stupidity and slowness in all these matters will undoubtedly become a theme in this blog, so it's best to just lay it out there. In any case, this recommendation form Poonja Swami certainly made some sense, and I wondered if this might be a good thing for me to practice.

The next day, I read this from another online talk by Poonja Swami:

The practice nearest to truth for those few who want to realize absolute Brahman is meditation only on attribute-less Brahman itself, without any object of concentration. When people start to mediate they do something, they hold some image in the mind or some word. That may be useful, but it is even better to think of attribute-less Brahman, to always keep aware of the attribute-less Brahman during meditation, knowing that, “I am Brahman.” without focusing on any object of the past, present, or future.

This is the nearest practice. If you want to do any practice, to meditate on attribute-less Brahman, immaculate Brahman, which is none other than your own Atman - your own fundamental nature. If you are not able to realize the truth instantly you can continue this practice for a while. Slowly you will see that the meditator and the meditated upon vanish. Neither attribute-less Brahman nor meditation upon attribute-less Brahman has anything to do with a meditator or something meditated upon.

So this constant exercise is advised, constant sadhana on attribute-less Brahman, thinking, “I am Brahman.” If you want to think something, why think, “I am the body?” The body does not last. Why think, “I am this.” or “I am that?” If you want to have a thought at all and you cannot live without thinking, then have this supreme thought: “I am Brahman.” This is the exercise which is nearest to your goal of Brahman itself. The meditator and the meditated upon will vanish. This is the goal that we started meditation for. No other sadhana or exercise is as near as this for one who wants to be free of this samsara, from this going again and again from death to birth and birth to death. This is how to break the cycle. There is only one way and this is this way. This can continue always wherever you are.
Being one of those lame fellows who doesn't “get it” the first time, who needs some kind of practice, this felt appealing. I have not been very big on the recitation of the Mahavakyas, the “Great truths” practice, but something about it seemed right and good and natural now. So I wondered if this too was worth practicing.

When I woke from this restaurant dream I couldn't help thinking about Poonja Swami and these teachings of his, and after a while something seemed to click. I of course thought about Self-enquiry, and how it relates to these other “mantras”. It seemed that there's a complimentary relationship between them, that Self-enquiry is not really different from them in its basic emphasis on feeling into the sense of self, of “I”, and what is beyond the “I”. So I began to practice Self-enquiry, and then practice these matras, saying “I am Brahman” and “I am free”. Or using a more English translation, saying “I am Infinite Consciousness” or “I am the Supreme Being”, or even the Sanskrit 'Aham Brahmasmi”. All this seemed fine. After a little while, it seemed as if there were a natural progression of sort here, that I could begin by asking “Who am I?”, then after a pause (short or long) say the invocation “I am Brahman” (or one of its correlates), and then say, “I am free”. This seemed to have a very positive effect altogether, bringing a deeper sense of peace and freedom and relaxation.

So I've been trying to practice in this format since then:

1)Who am I?

2)I am Brahman

3)I am free

I don't feel any need to be strict about the order. I still feel that enquiry is primary, and of course Self-enquiry doesn't require the verbal question “Who am I?”. It merely requires a feeling investigation of the self-sense, the feeling of “I”, of identity. When this feeling of identity becomes strong and prominent, it then feels appropriate to say “I am Brahman,” and “I am free”. And sometimes I just practice the Mahavakya “I am Brahman”. For now it is all just experimental in any case, but it feels already like a good experiment.

What Comes Around Goes Around

I notice it's been over a year since I last posted here. That may change now.

I think I just needed to clear my system. I've been doing the usual forum posting over at Lightmind, but let's be honest, it's just habit keeping me going there, and probably a bad habit at that. Now that Tom is shutting things down over there, I've been forced to face up to this, and think about what I want to do. One possibility is to just stop messing around on the internet entirely. Or, get involved with the new Ning sites that are opening up. I wonder, however, if it's just time for me to stop playing the back and forth games I get into on forums. I don't think it does me much good anymore, and my life is going through changes that make most of that kind of dialog obsolete. So the question is, what suits me now?

I turned 50 last week, and it's clear to me that my life is moving in a different direction. I've always kept in mind the fact that my life has reflected, at least in a general sense, the Vedic stages of life, which is composed of four distinct phases of spiritual practice: Brahmacharya, Householder, Hermitage, and Sanyas, each reputedly lasting 25 years. My first 25 years of life were clearly a Brahmacharya phase. I became strongly interested in spirituality when I was 13, and oriented myself towards that kind of disciplined life all the way through my youth. At 25, I met my wife, settled down, had a family, earned a living, and lived my spiritual practice in a householder setting. I've been aware for years that my householder life is coming to an end, and that means I would soon begin the "Hermitage" phase of life.

And low and behold, that's been happening quite spontaneously. Events have led me to live in a forest setting in Humboldt County, living on a rural property in the redwoods, ten acres nicely fenced and private, with few neighbors, all the seclusion I need, and yet all the basic amenities of an ordinary life. My kids have gone off to college, and though they still visit regularly, my wife and I are very much on our own now. I still work of course, but I do so at home, keeping my own schedule, and I have a great deal of freedom to do as I like. What I find I like, is to simply settle into a form of spiritual practice that is natural and sattvic.

So what I've been thinking of doing is simply keeping a blog that describes my spiritual practice in this "hermitage" context, and my thoughts about spirituality altogether, and whatever else seems relevant. For several years I have been experienting with Self-enquiry, and studying it, and trying to put it into practice, and I think it would be interesting to put my experiment with it into this blog, especially now that it feels like I can settle into this practice in a more dedicated and undistracted way. Some people might find that interesting, and might offer some helpful hints as well. But I don't think I want to get into the kinds of debating exchanges that I've had on the forums out there. I'm not interested in promoting anything, or arguing anything. I think I've had my fill of that, and I don't think I want to perpetuate those inclinations any more. They've served their usefullness, and now it's time to move on.

So I think I will experiment with this blog again, and see if I can turn it into something that is useful for me. I doubt it will be very interesting to many other people, unless they have a strong interest in Self-enquiry and related practices and considerations. I plan to be immensely boring to everyone else. Don't say you weren't warned. Of course, I don't think anyone is reading this blog anyway. Blogger reports that I get about 4 hits a day, and that's probably just accidental surfers.

So let the wild rumpus begin! Okay, maybe not so wild, and not much of a rumpus. Just a quiet place to talk about the practice of self-enquiry.