Sunday, 2 April 2017

Self Inquiry; Going Back the Way We Came

The practice of Self-Inquiry or Atma Vichara as it is known in the ancient Sanskrit texts of Advaita Vedanta stems from the time of the Rishis in India.

It was brought into the modern era principally by one of its greatest exponents; Sri Ramana Maharshi; the peerless Sage of Arunachala.

In answer to various people’s questions on Self-Inquiry, the Maharshi often would say; 'go back the way you came.' Some would take his words as being something of a brush off, but in actuality, he was giving a profound teaching and heart advice by way of these few simple words.

To go back the way we came means to turn the mind towards its 'source;' towards our true nature from which this world and everything in it has arisen. 

"I AM THAT I AM (Exodus) implies that the
proof of Existence is Existence itself."

Adapted from Ramana Maharshi's Truth Revealed

1. What is Self-Inquiry?

Self-Inquiry takes the energy of the mind, which is normally dispersed and attentive mostly to external happenings and drives it back towards the source from which it arises.

We imagine that ‘mind’ is a coherent entity because we perceive it's activity as one consistent stream and yet the opposite is actually true. This can be discovered upon careful examination. The mind is neither coherent nor consistent and the thoughts which arise are fundamentally unstable and fleeting. In the ideal scheme of things 'mind' should be our 'tool,' and at our beck and call. Unfortunately, however, the opposite is most often the case. This is due to the fact of our non-recognition of our true nature.

It is as simple as that.

2. Why is Self-Inquiry important for us?

The short answer to this is that we could not exist if it were not for the 'Self,' and by this, we do not refer to the 'little self,' the personality that we think we are, but the 'greater, absolute and selfless self.'

If we had no sense of 'I am' we could not exist at all. This is a profound and key hint.

Therefore, we are pointing to something utterly fundamental. Something beyond religion, gender, race and even form, time and space.

All of us, who live and move in this world have a vested interest in understanding our ‘true nature.’ If we cannot exist apart from our ‘awareness’ then is it not crucial that we know this truth through the direct recognition of our experience of it?

There can be no question that all of us are experiencing the 'self' all of the time. However, our recognition and acknowledgement of this fact is lacking. This is the sole difference between a realised being and an ordinary one. If we believe ourselves to be separate individual entities then we become a plaything of the 'mind.' Once we recognise what exists changelessly, beyond the mind, then the mind becomes our 'tool.'

Recognition of our true nature enables us to go beyond the mind altogether.
 However, we can use the mind as a springboard to bring us to the threshold of 'recognition.' This is the purpose of Self Inquiry.

3. How do we practice Self Inquiry?

Association with an authentic Guru who can point out the ‘truth’ of our inmost being can greatly assist in our recognition of it. In fact, this is a crucial factor. However, if we are not connected with a Guru at this time, Self Inquiry is the royal highway by which we may bring ourselves to the threshold of recognition. Through Atma Vichara, which requires our focused, sincere and concerted investigation we can come to understand and appreciate our true nature. 

Self Inquiry requires that we follow a process of investigation such as; ‘am I the body? Where am I in the body? Am I the mind? Where am I in the mind? What is the mind? And so on… After a while, one begins to understand that we are none of these things. We need to follow this process diligently and with focus, right through until we arrive at the sense of ‘I am,’ and on until we reach the original ‘I thought.’

We can pick away at everything we know and perceive through a process of negation. We are not this, not that. By harnessing the energy of the mind and shinning it back upon itself through self-investigation one is confronted with some facts which are uncomfortable for the 'little self.' If we begin to understand that 'I am not this, I am not that,' in due course, we come to know that we are not who we had previously assumed ourselves to be.

At this point, we are squarely confronted with the mystery of our existence.

'Who am I?' is a question that can lead us to the place where the mind is no longer useful or able to function. It can lead us to the very portal of awareness which is completely beyond the mind.

Normally we think ourselves to be this, that and the other thing; somebodies father, somebodies son, or wife or child or husband. Self Inquiry blows apart our assumed perception of who and what we think we are. It places us squarely at the threshold of the vast expanse, the absolute self which is infinite, timeless and changeless.

4. What can we expect from this practice?

What do we gain from practising Self Inquiry…?

Nothing whatsoever for the ‘little self.’

There is nothing in it for ‘us.’

Self Inquiry leads inexorably to the dissolution of the mistaken notion of the ‘little self.' It unravels the 'ego.' Chipping away at it until there is nothing left.

Mind undone…

What appears in its place is the certainty, the ineffable peace and happiness which naturally arise from recognising one’s true and immortal nature.

Go back the way you came; beckons us to dive deeply into the perennial source from which we emerged.

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