Friday, April 20, 2007

Self-enquiry: an active investigation, not a passive witnessing

A conversation between David Godman and John David:

jd: Is he [Sri Ramana Maharshi] on the record as saying that it [self-enquiry] is the quickest and most direct way?

DG: Yes. He mentioned this on many occasions, but it was not his style to force it on people. He wanted devotees to come to it when they were ready for it.

jd: So even though he accepted whatever practices people were involved in, he was quite clear the quickest and most direct tool would be self-enquiry?

DG: Yes, and he also said that you had to stick with it right up to the moment of realization.

For Bhagavan, it wasn't a technique that you practiced for an hour a day, sitting cross-legged on the floor. It is something you should do every waking moment, in combination with whatever actions the body is doing.

He said that beginners could start by doing it sitting, with closed eyes, but for everyone else, he expected it to be done during ordinary daily activities.

jd: With regard to the actual technique, would you say that it is to be aware, from moment to moment, what is going on in the mind?

DG: No, it's nothing to do with being aware of the contents of the mind. It's a very specific method that aims to find out where the individual sense of 'I' arises. Self-enquiry is an active investigation, not a passive witnessing.

For example, you may be thinking about what you had for breakfast, or you may be looking at a tree in the garden. In self-enquiry, you don't simply maintain an awareness of these thoughts, you put your attention on the thinker who has the thought, the perceiver who has the perception. There is an 'I' who thinks, an 'I' who perceives, and this 'I' is also a thought. Bhagavan's advice was to focus on this inner sense of 'I' in order to find out what it really is. In self-enquiry you are trying to find out where this 'I' feeling arises, to go back to that place and stay there. It is not simply watching, it's a kind of active scrutiny in which one is trying to find out how the sense of being an individual person comes into being.

You can investigate the nature of this 'I' by formally asking yourself, 'Who am I?' or 'Where does this ''I'' come from?' Alternatively, you can try to maintain a continuous awareness of this inner feeling of 'I'. Either approach would count as self-enquiry. You should not suggest answers to the question, such as 'I am consciousness' because any answer you give yourself is conceptual rather than experiential. The only correct answer is a direct experience of the Self.

jd: It's very clear what you just said, but almost impossible to accomplish. It sounds simple, but I know from my own experience that it's very hard.

DG: It needs practice and commitment. You have to keep at it and not give up. The practice slowly changes the habits of the mind. By doing this practice regularly and continuously, you remove your focus from superficial streams of thoughts and relocate it at the place where thought itself begins to manifest. In that latter place you begin to experience the peace and stillness of the Self, and that gives you the incentive to continue.

for the rest of this interview, see

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