Monday, January 28, 2008

Self-enquiry As a Yoga of Love: Cutting Through Spiritless Materialism

One thing I want to keep repeating, as often as is necessary, is that self-enquiry is not an intellectual or analytic process. It isn't even a form of discrimination at heart, though it is supported by discrimination. Primarily, it is what can only be called love, devotion, surrender - the heart. Discrimination is only useful in coming to this understanding. Discrimination teaches us that everything else is inherently meaningless, except for this core love of Self. All meaning comes from the Self, and is attached to the forms the Self takes by the mind that presumes itself to be the only real actor in all of this, but is in reality merely the still and actionless Self of love.

My experience of practicing self-enquiry is that it awakens this love spontaneously, without adding any particular intention for it to do that. As Ramana always said, there is no jnana without bhakta. What is most striking about love awakened by self-enquiry is that it is not attached to any particular object. The general practice of bhakta is to direct one's attention to an object, a God, a Guru, a symbol or archetype of some kind, and practice devotion to that object. I'm not saying this is wrong to do at all, mind you. I think it's a wonderful thing to practice. It's just that self-enquiry is different in that when love awakens through self-enquiry there is no object it is associated with. One can, of course, quickly associate it with an object. The Guru is the most common such object. So people around Ramana, for example, naturally associated the devotion awakened by self-enquiry with him as Guru, and practiced a devotional life in relation to him. This isn't wrong either, and is in fact also very wonderful. It's important to remember, however, that even Ramana always reminded his devotees that their real devotion was to the Self, and that he, Ramana, was only an outward symbol of the Self, the purpose of which was to help direct their attention back upon themselves, on the Self in the heart, and to use him for that purpose if need be, and not for any other purpose.

What self-enquiry shows us about love is that it does not arise in relation to objects, but that it arises spontaneously from the heart, because it is merely the heart's own nature. The problem with devotional religion in general is that it tends to see the purpose of this love arising from the heart as some imperative to direct itself to some “other”, to enter into loving relations with these others, and to fulfill some kind of loving destiny with them. All kinds of strange myths develop as a result, myths of Gods and Gurus and plans for the universe. But in reality all such ideas are merely the mind's imposition on this free love arising in the heart. Love itself has no purpose or direction. It is merely the Presence and Nature of the Self, the heart, our very being. What is realization but the recognition that this is so, and the cessation of all attempts to exploit or direct this love in relation to objects?

This doesn't mean we can't discuss the yoga of this love, that we can't discuss how it arises and moves into life. As mentioned in my last post, there's a whole cosmology of forms by which we appear here, and the practice of self-enquiry doesn't ignore these forms or their structure. In fact, if we aren't aware of that structure to some basic degree we can easily be deluded by our own mind and makes assumptions and associations that simply aren't true, that are the result of unconsciously presuming these forms and structures within our own minds to be inherently meaningful, rather than merely composed of mind-created meanings. And then our love becomes bound and destined, rather than free. So this merely amounts to understanding the structure of our suffering, and releasing that structure from the limitations we have placed upon it.

In my last post I discussed some of the structural relationships between the physical body and brain, and the pranic and astral bodies. I mentioned in particular that one of the chief developmental processes in becoming associated with a physical body is establishing a fully functional “interface” between the astral and the physical, particularly at the level of the brain and nervous system. If this is not done, we become frustrated and dysfunctional, to the degree that this interface is incomplete or damaged. I'd suggest that much of what we suffer from in the physical realm while alive is the result of our inability to properly develop and grow this synaptic interface with the astral self. Most of what we “do” in this life is really little more than this, not any achievements themselves. Because our attention tends towards objects, we do indeed develop these capacities in relation to objects, particularly physical ones, and this is good, because that is the very nature of the process. It is only that the way we tend to go about this actually reinforces object relations, and leads to clinging and attachment that actually interferes with the process, thus creating a long struggle with our own double-binds. The dilemma becomes one of relating to the physical with love, and yet avoiding the pitfalls of attachment in the process. I think we all know how hard that is.

Self-enquiry helps us go beyond these pitfalls by showing us that love is not about any object, even physical ones near and dear to us. It recognizes that the source of love is in the Self, not merely in the relationship between astral and physical. It teaches us how to love without being bound. More specifically, it allows the individual to develop these relationships in a way that undoes the pitfalls and limitations that develop if we seek through these means for some specific result.

I mentioned that one of the benefits of meditation is that it allows the astral and physical to grow and develop this “interface”. Primarily it does this not by any directed effort, but by the relaxation of the stress and struggle that interfere with this natural process. The surrendered and relaxed state of meditation allows this growth to occur naturally and in a healthy manner, rather than in an aberrated and object directed manner. Even if the form of meditation is object-directed in some fashion, as in devotional meditation, this can still occur if it results in a general relaxation of the brain and nervous system. However, tense and tightly focused forms of meditation may have a negative and aberating effect. By constricting the tissues of the brain, and of the pranic body, and of our astral energy itself, the ability of these to form strong and healthy bonds is disrupted and even perverted. This occurs when meditation becomes obsessive and overly object-oriented, or even when it becomes obsessed with pranic and astral energy as an object in and of itself. By turning these into objects of meditation, our energy becomes more disturbed, and is unable to form a healthy bonding with the physical body, resulting in ill-health and mental and emotional disturbance. There's much in the literature of kundalini yoga and other such approaches which demonstrates this danger.

Self-equiry, on the other hand, because it is not directed towards any object at all, is one of the most effective forms of meditation for the purpose of creating a strong and healthy interface between the physical, pranic, and the astral, as well as what is beyond the astral. When self-enquiry awakens the love of the Self, this centers us in the primal yoga by which the body does indeed grow to health in all these dimensions. The love that is the Self arises as a yogic force that has great nurturing power in the physical, pranic, and astral bodies, and helps unify them – not just in some abstract philosophical manner, but in a wholly direct and effective manner. In fact, it reaches beyond the astral into the discriminative body, the “bliss body” of deep sleep, the Witness consciousness, and the Source at the root of the Witness.

And this is where self-enquiry shows its real strength. It establishes a linkage all the way through our entire manifest self all the way to the Self that is our very Nature and Source. I liken it to an arrow that shoots straight from the Self, the heart, passing through all the “I”s of the deeper personality all the way to the physical self of the body-mind we feel ourselves to be. In each bodily sheath, this “I” is the mechanism of love and blissful attention, if self-enquiry is kept constant and alive. The enquiry into the “I” is a most effective means for opening the doors, so to speak, of the body-mind, such that we bring into life the clear and free being of the Self as love. This love of the Self creates and nurtures a healthy and open-hearted linkage between all these aspects of the body-mind, allowing them to grow and form the kind of functional relationship between all their parts and dimensions that is the hallmark of a happy life. And this “arrow” is ourself, our attention, our consciousness, our own being. There is no transmission of energy from the Self to us, no Grace falling down upon us from the sky, there is instead our own attention moving from its depth to its surface, and manifesting as freedom in the midst of the display of light and life that is our own Self.

In the practice of self-enquiry, this always manifests as an intensification of the sense of self, at every level, and the noticing of self as the prime experience at every level. The physical self is not diminished by this practice, instead it is merely opened to the pranic and astral. Attention does not become fixated in the pranic or astral in the process, instead it becomes opened up, and the natural relationship between these is allowed to grow and manifest in these bodies. The astral is not made an end, but another plane of the self's identity. Likewise, the astral itself is opened to the deeper identity of the discriminating self, and this is opened to the even deeper “bliss self” of the anandamayakosha sheath, and this opens to the Witness consciousness, which opens to the Heart itself. In self-enquiry, all these sheaths are effectively opened, such that the love-bliss of the Self moves through them, like an arrow, precisely to here. As this love moves through the sheaths of the body, it helps realign them to the naturally open and healthy relationship they ought to have, rather than the aberated and disturbed relationship they tend to fall into in ignorance. The light of the Self does not merely illuminate our awareness, it also heals and grows our bodies as they are intended to be, resulting in a overall bodily ease and harmony that is often called “sattva” in the traditions. Sattva means balance, harmony, and health, but at the deeper level, it is synonymous with enlightenment itself, because this is what enlightenment really amounts to, the full opening of the body-mind on all levels to the love-bliss of the Self.

This is how identification with the body is itself transcended. It is of course said in Ramana's teaching and many others in the Advaitic tradition that transcending identification with the body is what enlightenment is all about. And this is true. Likewise, it is said by Ramana that self-enquiry is the means by which identification with the body is transcended. This is also true. What tends to be left out of the public conservation about these matters, however, is how this yoga actually occurs. It is often left unsaid, and attention is focused instead on attention itself, and how important it is to focus attention on the Self, on the “I” thought. And this is all true too. But the process whereby self-enquiry actually matures is not very well described. At least that is my limited observation. I'm trying to point here to an integral part of that process, whereby self-enquiry actually functionally liberates the body-mind from identification at every level, through this yoga of awakened love of the Self that opens the doors and windows of the body-mind to see the world and the body from the perspective of the Self, through every facet of “I”, like an arrow shot through each “I” in a row, linking them all up in a single cord of energy-attention-love, and growing them, freeing them from their delusions and aberated connections, until there is simply a pure sattvic harmony all through every experiential dimension of the body.

One can see the evidence of this is the bodily disposition of people like Ramana. One can see it in the eyes of such people, even in photographs of them. There is no outward sign of perfection in them, only a completely relaxed and harmonious disposition of sattvas that makes them open channels of the Self. This is why they are as valued and treasured. Not because they are inherently different from you and I, but precisely because they are no longer being anyone but themselves, are no longer struggling with themselves, and have simply surrendered to themselves, to the point where their own Self has opened all the bodies of their being, from the depth to the surface, without obstruction. When we talk about “ego”, that is all it really means – the kinks and obstructions of energy and attention that makes us experience ourselves as something other than the Self. The sense of “I” that we call ourselves is merely that – a kink in the Self, that can be removed by allowing the love of the Self to permeate every place in the body-mind where our “I” is known. This restores us to our true “I”, and this is of course done by directing examining the “I” at every level we are aware of ourselves as “I”, which is really all of them, if we will stop limiting ourselves to the materialistic interpretation of experience.

And that is the real problem with materialism. It does not let us be ourselves, as we really are, but is constantly interpreting experience in a manner that diminishes our greater sense of self on any level but the physical. And this view actually aberates and disturbs us, because it prevents us from allowing the natural, healthy relationship to the pranic, the astral, and beyond, to develop as it ought to. Instead, it constantly diverts attention to its lowest and most material common denominator. This does not allow us to become healthy human beings, even at the level of the material world, because the material world requires a good and strong relationship with the pranic and the astral to become healthy and stable. Cut off from these, it gravitates towards all kinds of unhealthy paths, from exploitation of the physical to excessive control of the physical to religious dogmatism and fanaticism to mentalized idealisms to cutthroat competition and even open warfare. The general desperation of human beings is the result of an inability to feel the pranic and astral roots of our own being in any meaningful way, as well as what is beyond and deeper than even these. Self-enquiry, and all genuinely helpful spiritual paths, are aimed at awakening and opening ourselves to our own roots, grounding us in reality rather than in the abstracted fantasy of materialism.

I hope this helps explain my basic views on these matters. In the next few days I hope to respond to some of Tom Veitch's comments in an ongoing thread we've been opening up between our sites. I'd also like to write something about evolution, particularly in relation to the debates about creationism, intelligent design, and various spiritual approaches to the matter, including Ken Wilber's writings on evolution. It should be interesting. Also, I'll be tossing out one more Cosmic Vision as fodder for discussion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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.
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.