For this seminal article of mine, I would like to acknowledge my indebtedness to two people. One is my wife Shikha, my most trenchant critic, and with whom I face the toughest questions in relationships; never conceding authority to me in spiritual matters, though ready to participate in all the stuff I do. The other is my friend Greg Goode, a writer – who has written books on non-dual paths. He showed me that there is no one path or truth that can be privileged as the highest; either, by integrating all the paths in one model or, by choosing one over the others. This insight changed the whole direction of self inquiry in my life. I ended all paths
It’s interesting isn’t it? A text disturbing you? Does it ever happen to you? Well, it has happened to me all along my journey in self inquiry till now. After so many years, the disturbance is not so energetic but very, very subtle. But even then it is pronounced enough to enagage my attention and my curiosity. Disturbance is the gold mine for a philosopher-inquirer.
In popular culture disturbance is held as something negative, something with a bitter after-taste, something that has to be avoided. And it is this dividing of our life’s experiences into unpleasant(disturbance) and pleasant that we face conflict, because we are confronted with a choice. Not only do we face conflict, much more significantly, this ingrained attitude of ours to push away disturbance (unpleasantness) from our lives without examination, leads to slowing down of our learning. In popular culture, you may have come across this idiom – “what resists – persists”
Please read my words carefully. I am not “advocating” embracing of unpleasantness, since, as I have said in all my previous articles, I do not consider my task to advocate or prescribe anything but just merely inquire; to elevate unconscious processes into the level of conscious examination. There are times when I do make a definitive statement. It’s difficult to avoid this, as I am still learning 🙂
Talking about my texts; how can they disturb you? I am not giving you any bad news. I am not pointing any gun of morality at you, castigating you for being a lowly creature. I am not your boss, with whom you must comply with; otherwise you will lose your job. I am not a dictator enforcing a system of philosophy with which you have to choicelessly abide. I am also not making assertions. Well, is my last statement true? Hmm, maybe not entirely. Well, I will leave it to you, the reader to find any assertions in my text 🙂 As, I said, I am still learning and I don’t ever see an end to learning and by learning I am not talking about knowledge merely; I am talking about learning about myself.
But why am I being obsessed by the way you should read me? Honestly, that was the starting point; but for me this whole act of reading a text and deriving meanings out of it has become a treasure trove of wisdom; a fascinating inquiry into how we as humans construct and perceive reality. Let’s just try it out with you. How would you respond to the following titles for this article
- Option 1 – When Writing Disturbs You
- Option 2 – When My writing Disturbs You
- Option 3 – If My Writing Disturbs You
- Option 4 – If and When My Text Disturbs You
- Option 5 – If and When My Text Disturbs You?
- Option 6 – If and When My Text Disturbs You? Self Inquiry
I haven’t concocted these options from imagination. This is exactly the sequence in which I thought. See the subtle inflections in your mind as you read through all these topics. Paricularly note Option 4 and Option 5. See what the addition of a mere question mark does?
As a writer, I have only my text to communicate to you. And this situation, actually has proved to be a magnifying glass for me because I have taken up the project of freedom through inquiry. A writer with any other motive is actually not inquiring along with the reader. His intent is to sell something to you – his experience, entertainment, a viewpoint, a system of philosophy, enlightenment or his own talent in using words. No problems ! That’s his business. And my business is to keep my magnifying glass of self inquiry sharp and clear, without accumulating any dust. That’s the reason I am not into writing books and promoting sales.
So if I have only the text to communicate to you and if I am using this as a means of self inquiry, not only does the text become all important for me but much deeper than that, I start seeing the power of words, not the power of words to only convey but also to misconvey. And then I go deeper than that into myself and ask, “What is it that I want to convey and how can it get misconveyed? And then I go deeper into this and ask, “Why do I want to convey and what is my problem if it gets misconveyed?” And then also, “Can I ever prevent my words from getting misconveyed?”
All these questions may seem as hairsplitting to some or most. Okay! So what should I be doing? What is it that you are expecting out of me? What is the business deal that you have set up with me as a reader? Am I the person who knows something more than you, and you want to learn that “something” from me? But I have already told you that I am just inquiring and I am helping you inquire? Did I promise you any reward at the end? Hmm ! Perhaps ! Perhaps freedom. Are you reading me to “get” freedom? In order to get something you must know that thing already isn’t it? For example you would not go about getting a white crow. So, if you want freedom you already must have got some concept of “freedom” pre-existing in your mind. Is this the deal you are setting up with me? To get your precconceived freedom from me? In which case you may never read me.
Are you having a preconception, an already existing idea of freedom in your mind that you are wanting to achieve – a state of enlightenment?
In case you have a preconception of “freedom” in your mind, then are you going to ever get free, because the preconception of freedom, the idea of freedom was already known to you? You will find only that with which you began with, in the first place. So what you will get at end as freedom, was your own idea of freedom. Is this freedom?
Have you ever thought how you choose your Guru? For example – I really don’t know if he says that he knows the way to give you freedom – but since I commonly come across many of my friends talk about Sadguru nowadays – let’s pick him up. I am also talking about freedom, and Sadguru also talks about freedom. Now, how do you decide between the two of us? Well, in many ways, I make matters much easier for you to take the choice. I don’t say I have realized; and all that I have is one small website with not even a dozen articles on self inquiry. I don’t have a beard and a traditional name and I don’t have a single follower : and never, ever want to.
Hey, but wait ! How did I make your choice of Guru easier. You said you wanted freedom: but none of the things I mentioned – the beard, the asharm, the massive following: are about freedom.
Oh! Ok! Probably I am making your choice easier by saying that I don’t have any form of self realization but Sadguru probably says he has had some realization and he has many methods to teach what he “got”. And here I am sitting alone in a room, probably just wasting ink, obsessing about mundane things like text, reading, writing, identity – empty philosophical words, just a lot of talk – no action, no method, no grand words.
Ya, this seems to be a pretty fine choice to take. But then how do you know what realization has he got? I mean what is the nature of his realization? Is it some capacity to talk on esoteric subjects? Is it his confidence in answering tricky questions posed by his audience? Is it his behaviour? Is it his capacity to perform meditation? Is it his capacity to give you methods of yoga? Is it that he has performed some miracles which you can’t?
Well, you can say it is none of these. I just choose him because he says he is enlightened or has some form of enlightenment and I go to him for that. Fine, great, accepted ! Would you go to him if he was a villager living in a hut, farming his fields and did not have a single disciple? Well, let’s say you would even do that. You would go to a person who says he is enlightened, lives in a hut, does farming, and choose him as your guru. Would you?!!
Ok ! Let’s grant even that ! Let’s say you would go to any person who claims that he has got enlightened and make him your guru. If you make him your guru on this basis, would we call it self inquiry? Where is the inquiry? You have started with a belief, belief in what? Belief in the mere words of the person, or as a writer I would say, the “text” of the person. What text?
So, damn, we come to the text again ! only if you have come so far and not just rejected reading me midway. What is the text you are beginning with – ” I am enlightened”. Well, this text is not enough for a relationship between both of you isn’t it? What will you do just knowing that someone is enlightened? So we need a further text, “I am enlightened and I shall teach you?” Hmm, that sounds like a crisp deal ain’t it?
Does the matter end here for me as an inquirer? No? What are you going to teach me? Is it going to be a series of methods, actions, yogas, chants? But then, these are all actions. Where is the inquiry? I am again back to believing isn’t it? If I am acting without questioning, then I am just believing. I believe that the enlightened person knows more; and I do not. Or, if I am not a believer, what would I do? I would leave him; or I would ask? Ask what? I would ask, why should I do all these things? He/She would probably say that you are not qualified right now to ask all this. Just have faith on me, I have realized, I know the way and I will show it to you in time.
Does this solve the question for those of us who are still tenaciously hanging to the word “self inquiry”? No, it doesn’t. I am still back into the process of believing. The process, the relationship that has been set up is that of teacher – student. The one who knows and then one who does not know. So what the hell do I do now? Well, I give my last and final push. Our inquirer says, “Sir I do not just want to believe you, I want to understand why you are telling me to do what you are asking me to do. I would like to see the logic behind it, understand it.” Well, if he decides you are an arrogant fool for asking such questions, then he just condemns you as someone unfit for the enlightenment project. No self inquiry here, if you have faith in me you stay, or else leave.
Hmm. Let’s say our Enlightened person is a very smart guy. He is going to test your shraddha (faith) you have in him. He is not going to give in easily, so he will come out with the master card. “Look son/daughter, these matters are beyond mind, beyond the grasp of intellect, beyond your senses, beyond your level of consciousness. All this cannot be talked about, it is to be felt, experienced, in meditation, in samdhi, in chanting……..you have to do a lot of practice. You have to quieten your mind. Right now your mind is chattering, it is disturbed. How can I explain to such a disturbed and chattering mind?”
Woof! Now this is sure to take the breath away from the most trenchant of our “self inquirer”. Absolutely infallible logic. But jussss……st wait ! Isn’t this again about believing? What I have been provided with is logical, but what is the logic saying? Isn’t it saying the same thing: you are not capable at this stage to understand, “You must beleive me”. Oh God ! What the heck can we do now? Persist in asking for understanding rather than believing? Great heavens, with what absurd foolishness, with what arrogance, with what conviction, our self inquirer has put all this aside? Well just by staying with the text. Text?!!! What text? Text of those words “self inquiry”. Those words mean just that – an inquiry into the self. There is nothing about faith or belief that figures in the text. And I am actually interested in the meaning of this text. Just two words – self inquiry. Is it possible to do what is meant by the text, these two words – self inquiry. An inquiry into my self. The text does not talk about believing, having faith etc. For that we have a different text isn’t – what would it be – Believe in the Guru, have Faith in the Guru. Believe in God, have Faith in God.
Well, if that is your text – Belief in Guru, Belief in God, Belief in Materialism, Belief in Capitalism, Belief in Spirituality, Belief in Government, Belief in Science, Belief in Systems………….. fine. I am not at all giving any value judgements here. I am just alerting you to the right text. I am just correcting your grammar, the way an English teacher would. You would not call the word belief as inquiry. Not that there is a ring of halo that I am putting around the word inquiry. There is perfect freedom for you to follow Belief. There is perfect freedom for you to say that your Belief is a self inquiry even after you have read this article. That is your freedom and choice. I would however persist with my actual text – self inquiry and you may strike a different path from here.
Great ! So this text – self inquiry is proving out to be too, too difficult. But then, in the situation of extreme rarity, let’s say our self inquirer comes across someone who buys your deal. Let’s say he comes across someone who says that I shall teach you self inquiry. Oh God! ecstacy for our inquirer. It seems there is someone who is reading the same text as he is. Wonderful ! Let’s begin.
Student – Please teach me how to inquire into myself
Teacher – Ok. Son, your self is actually blah..blah…blah!
Student – But sir, this is what you see. I can’t see that as my self.
Teacher – You can’t because you are covered with ignorance
Student – Sure sir, I have a lot of ignorance otherwise I would not come to you. I would like to learn from you how to uncover this ignorance from you. I would like to inquire into my ignorance. I would like to ask you questions about what you are calling as the true self.
Teacher – Sure son. Go ahead ! I shall answer all your questions as long as you are willing to stay on with me. Remember the truth is very difficult. Most want to cling to their ignorance.
Student – Sir, I will ask you questions till I don’t find truth. Like Nachiketa, I will go to Yama (God of Death) if I have to
Teacher – Very good son ! That is the spirit ! Ask your question
Student – Sir, you talk about Self but the Buddhists don’t talk about any Self. There is no-self and no-Self for them.
Teacher – What? What nonsense? What have you been doing with those nastiks, the atheists, the non-believers of Veda? They are all wrong? There are all the arguments in the Brahmasutras which establish how the word of the Vedas are true.
Student – Sir, I am really sorry. But not only Buddhists but also in Vedanta, there are three schools. One says that there is God and there is individual soul, and both can never become one, whereas you say that they are both one. There is another school in Vedanta which says that there is God and the individual soul, and though different, the individual is still part of God. These schools never say what you say – That individual soul and God are one; that there is only one – One Self, one Brahman – one without the other
Teacher – All these schools are not wrong, they just have a limited view of reality. Only our school, the Advaita school has the highest reality. Even the Buddhists are actually talking about Advaita, only in a different way.
Student – But sir, the other two schools of Vedanta have also come from the same texts – the Upanishads. They quote the same sayings from the Upanishads as you do but they translate those same sayings differently. And then there are other Hindu schools – Yoga, Tantra. On top of it, there is another school called Jainism which is different from Buddhist and Hindu Philosophy. They talk about souls but no God. And sir, I haven’t studied Christianity but they talk about Jesus Christ being the highest God. And all these religious schools have their sub schools and their sub sub schools.
Teacher – Listen son, you decide whom you have to go to. I can tell you that there is Self. All the others are partially true. What I teach, is the highest.
Student – In that case I have to believe in one school. Where is the inquiry in all this Sir?
Teacher – Inquiry is into what is self (false self) and what is Self. I am not asking you to believe me.
Student – But sir even to begin this inquiry in any school, I have to first start with the belief of that school? Because everyone is claiming a different final reality, I don’t know which one is true. All have their logic, their argument and their methods of inquiry. And all of them seem fine to me logically. The way the Madhyamika Buddhists show that there is no-self and no-Self, seems absolutely as logical as how Advaita shows there to be a Self.
Teacher – Sorry son, you seem to have read a lot of intellectual stuff and your mind is confused
Student – Sir, it is true that I am confused. I am just sticking with the text “self-inquiry”, but I find that even when every school talks about self-inquiry, each had already decided their own end. Some have no-self as end, some have Self as end, some have Vaikuntha as the end, some have Siddhaloka as the end. So when the end is already decided, where is the self inquiry? It is just an inquiry into what has already been predetermined.
Teacher – ??? Namaste
Student – ??? Namaste
Hah ! Now what is our self inquirer going to do? Whom is he/she going to turn to for help?
Zaaaaapppp! A thundering realization takes place in our self inquirer. Damn it ! Why didn’t he see it all along? It was there all along. Why didn’t he see the text. Text? What text? Which text? The text man…….the text – self inquiry. What? What does it say? Well it says self- inquiry. Yah I can see that ! Well then do that. Do what? Inquire into your self, your everyday self, the way it acts, the way it thinks, the way it talks, why it does something, why it does not do something, why it sees some way, why it does not see some way. Watch it in relationships, find out what it is doing, why it is respecting someone, not respecting someone….loving someone, hating someone. Find out why it comes in conflict? Find out why it gets happy, why it gets disturbed? Why it get’s hurt?
But who is going to help me see myself? Why, what help do you need to see yourself? I am conditioned, I have lenses. Well, then learn about your conditioning. How? Who will teach me about my conditioning? There you go again. We have been through the whole thing isn’t it? You have to be your own teacher. A teacher teaches what he “knows”. A true teacher will never, ever tell – “I know, and I will teach you what I know”, because then you are out of self-inquiry. You are into believing and following. Well, if that is what you want to do, do it.
But then you are writing about self inquiry. Aren’t you teaching? What am I teaching? Whatever you have written? What have I written? I have only negated all the known processes of what could be called self inquiry. I have only tried to understand what is self inquiry. I have not “taught” you self inquiry. Oh! This is all so intellectual. It may seem so, to you, when I write it and put it on paper. But from where did all this writing come? Can you write this? Isn’t the text related to the writer? Look I am not claiming anything here? I am not saying it is not intellectual or intellectual. I am only saying I am deeply interested in self inquiry.
But then I have to read what you have written to negate all that is not self inquiry. Yes ! that is true. But then I have not “taught” you any “thing”. I have only negated what is not self inquiry. I have only said that you have to find out about your self through relationships. It is for you to see the truth or falsity of what I am saying. I am not asking you to believe a thing of what I say. You don’t have to form a relationship with me as a student, and I, as a teacher who knows something which I teach. In case you wish to have dialogue on what I write, we can.
Then why do you write? Because I am inquiring into myself. I am inquiring into my self by relating to you, the reader, through the text. How? You are only writing? Well, it is subtle. I have already gone into this a little bit in the beginning of the article. When I decide to write, I begin with an intent to convey something to you – the Reader. And then I have to ask questions to myself like why am I writing to you, what am I writing to you? In this way I am related to you and in this relationship I learn.
What about the reader? Well, the same goes for the reader but in a less subtler form. I have discussed all that goes in the reader’s mind in my article The Play of Identities between the Reader and Writer: And the Rise of Self Knowledge Ya ! I have read this. But it is still not clear how I can learn in relationship with you through the text. Well, I have given some hints in that article and have been developing it further in this article. I shall continue with my exploration in further articles. And you learn from every one and everything in life. I am just one of the factors !
Relationship through the text is not only in writing, it also happens in actual human relationships. The relationships amongst humans is also happening through words…I mean words are one of the most powerful means of communication in humans. So here also one is rleating through a text. But I am not emhasizing the word “text” for learning as much as the word relationship.
A self inquirer has no choice but to learn about one self through relationships. And there are myriad kinds of relationships we have….with things, people, ideas, texts !
If or When My Text Disturbs You, it is an opportunity for your to learn about your self. It is a means of self inquiry into what is disturbing you. As a matter of fact, anything that disturbs you is an opprtunity for self inquiry.
This is only a beginning, and shall always remain so, because there is no end to self inquiry !