The Purpose of Self Inquiry
Self inquiry is understanding the nature of suffering within oneself, and the ending of it, without resorting to any belief. It seeks to understand what is world, mind, body, thought, action, experience, and death. While most people do not find the need for this, some people do: at some point in their life. Depending upon the intensity of this need, self inquiry becomes the, one and only, important thing in the world. For the one who wishes to pierce through all the veils of life, the purpose of Self Inquiry is the attainment of Moksha/ liberation from all suffering, through the path of non-dual Self Realization of Advaita Vedanta.
Moksha/Self Realization – is attaining Direct Knowledge of one’s true nature to be Eternal Self/Brahman/Witness. Moksha is not a temporary experience of bliss. In fact it is not an experience at all. It is beyond all experiences. It is a Special/Intuitive Knowledge of one’s essential self being unborn and undying Brahman. All miseries in our life is based on our mistaken identification of one’s self with the mortal mind-body-intellect. Taking oneself to be the limited mind-body-intellect, we suffer due to desires and fears born out of this mistaken identity. Through the path of Self Inquiry/Jnana Yoga of Advaita Vedanta, one sheds ignorance of this false identity of a mortal self, one has donned; ultimately realizing that one has actually never been this changing, perishing, suffering mortal being but Pure, Unborn, Undying, Eternal Self.
In traditional Advaita, if one is a householder, a seeker first enters into the preparatory path of Karma Yoga, lead the householder’s life, and after attaining sufficient mental purity, he becomes qualified to enter the path of liberation called self-inquiry/ Jnana Yoga in his later years. If a seeker directly wishes to enter Jnana Yoga, he/she has to renounce the world and take sannyasa in most cases. Technically it is called vividisha sannyasa in Vedanta.
However, my path has been unique because neither did I renounce the world, nor did I enter Karma Yoga. Instead, I entered Jnana Yoga directly through the unique teachings of J Krishnamurti. In my mind, this is a phenomenal and novel contribution of J Krishnamurti to the world of spirituality. I left his teachings at the penultimate stage to enter Advaita. Why I did so, is a topic for a very advanced practitioner of Jnana Yoga (and a topic for one of my future articles). Suffice it is to say here that a seeker can realize the potential of his teachings to enter Jnana Yoga of Advaita directly, while being a householder and, without entering the traditional teachings of Karma Yoga, which rely on the concept of God. (Later the concept of God is negated in Jnana Yoga). With Krishnamurti, one can enter deconstructive Jnana Yoga, right from the word go! This is a novel approach but one has to see for oneself if one can take this path as it requires extreme dedication and intellect. For most, it is advised that they go through the preparatory path of Karma Yoga before coming to Jnana Yoga.
Having said this, there are many points of divergence and contention, along with innumerable similarities, between Jnana Yoga of Advaita and Krishnamurti’s teachings. So it is unwise to conflate both the teachings and assume that they are saying one and the same thing. The biggest difference is that Krishnamurti was a dualist, while Advaita is a non-dual teaching and therefore the highest truth.
Thus I use Krishnamurti’s teachings for the first two phases of teaching self inquiry, i.e Psychological Inquiries and Meditative Inquiries and I teach Advaitic Inquiry in the final stage. Though one can start reading Advaita from the second stage itself.
Does One Need a Teacher for Self Inquiry?
Theoretically speaking, if one has the prerequisites in terms of unending zeal for self inquiry, and enormous dedication to make it the only important thing in one’s life, one does not need a teacher in person. The books and writings should do. I did not have any appointed teacher throughout my own journey : till the end. I did have a number of philosophical dialogues with some teachers after my final insight in order to discuss certain very subtle issues. But I can say that my whole journey was almost without a teacher : just the books and the teachings. But this is extremely rare.
For the majority of people, I have seen that they benefit, rather, require active support and guidance of a teacher: though it is extremely difficult to find a true teacher. I have written an article on Self inquiry and issues related to teachers to help seekers find a true teacher. The rule of thumb is that if you are very serious in your self inquiry, the teacher shall appear at the right time. It may not be one single individual, and it may not be a teacher who hands the final truth to you. I had several people whom I encountered in my journey, who taught me a step or two in the direction of the final destination. They all came to answer, it seems to me in retrospect, those questions I was holding most intensely at that time. So one definitely needs to have a lot of dialogues with like-minded people in one’s jouney of self inquiry, apart from one’s personal readings.
The Beginning of Self Inquiry
Self-inquiry begins when one has an inexplicable and inextinguishable desire to gain freedom from all suffering. Vedanta shows that human life has four main aims : Dharma (Duties), Artha (Wealth), Kama (Pleasure) and Moksha (Freedom/Enlightenment). The first three aims are actions that result in impermanent results. Being impermanent and transitory in nature, we are unwittingly tied to this ‘wheel of activity/samsara‘: both in this life, as well as in the next, through the cycle of karma/action, death and rebirth.
Once an individual comes to understand vaguely the futility of the first three aims of Dharma, Artha, Kama, and begins questioning them, to find if there is something beyond this mechanical process of desire and suffering, we call life, the fourth aim of Moksha appears on the horizon. Self inquiry, thus, kicks in when one is discontented with all the goods that life has to offer. If the self inquiry is really genuine, one shall leave no stone unturned to find THAT which is beyond all the teeming discontent of life.
Stages in Self Inquiry
Basically my journey of self inquiry was divided into three phases, therefore the reader finds my writings divided under three headings of self inquiry in this website. These inquiries are arranged in an hierarchical order as –
- Psychological Inquiries – Understanding self and world
- Meditative Inquiries – Understanding Mind
- Advaitic Inquiries – Understanding Eternal Self
Common to all these inquiries are the three processes of Jnana Yoga/Knowledge Yoga, called. These processes remain the same but they became deeper as self inquiry progresses.
- Sravana/Reading of Scriptures/spiritual literature
- Manana/Reflecting on them so that no doubts remain
- Nidhidhyasana/Contemplating on the truths ascertained through reflection
1.) Psycho-philosophical Inquiry (Lasted twenty years for me) – This stage is about psychological preparation of mind: freeing itself from all worldly engagements of Dharma (Duties), Artha (Wealth), Kama (Pleasure) and orienting it towards Moksha (Enlightenment). For this stage I was primarily benefitted by the psychological teachings of J Krishnamurti and Ken Wilber.
These teachings, inquiries are quite demanding, unsettling and penetrating. They are meant to question the ego and free it from all it’s commitments and attachments to all worldly projects, going deeper into the mind, ultimately leading to questioning the very nature of thought. In my case, it took me about twenty years to get completely finished with all the psychological bindings to the world.
The basic purpose of all psycho-philosophical inquiries is to understand that the root reason for all conflicts one faces in the world is due to the gap between ‘what is’ and ‘what should be’. Our society conditions us since childhood to the path of psychological becoming. One is trained to become rich, famous, powerful, knowledgeable or erudite. This constant becoming is fuelled by the gap one perceives between ‘what one is’ and ‘what one should be’ as conditioned by society. Once one understands that all these aims of life, not only create conflict of constant becoming, but grant only temporary happiness, one shifts his journey from becoming to being: from the socially conditioned compulsion of becoming to the silence of understanding being.
Coming to this realization is the basis of further and deeper self inquiry. Till one is involved in any of the social organizations or institutions, either materialistically, socially, ethically or spiritually, one is a soul torn apart or perpetually trying to manage the conflicting demands of work, society and relationships. The energy of such a mind is divided and dissipated.
All these psycho-philosophical inquiries result in steering our minds and senses away from their perpetual engagement in the outer world of becoming, and fixing them on the ultimate aim of Moksha/Liberation. This steering away from the phenomenal world by mind and senses is respectively called sama/withdrawal of mind and dama/withdrawal of senses in Advaita. The final one pointed focus that the mind and body develop in their withdrawal from the multifaceted demands of the world to get fixed on the singular aim of self inquiry is called samadhana
2.) Meditative Inquiry – Many people associate meditation with some form of control or practice delimited by time and space. However, the kind of meditative inquiry I did was based on Krishnamurti’s teachings of “Choiceless Awareness of What Is“. With samadhana/one-pointed focus in self inquiry achieved; what happens automatically is, instead of using our mind as an instrument for acquiring objects and experiences, meditative inquiry trains awareness to the activities of the mind itself. The mind turns back to look at itself, instead of looking out at objects.
Thus meditative inquiry is basically the process of learning about the mind, while it is acting in it’s the daily life of work and relationships, without making any choice – “Choiceless Awareness of What Is”. Initially, when one’s mind is still active in the world, choiceless awareness implies facing all the dualities of life – pleasure and pain, praise and insult, good and bad, right and wrong, happiness and sorrow – without modifying or escaping any of them. This phase is called titiksha/ endurance of opposites in Advaita.
Titiksha neutralizes all likes and dislikes thereby silencing most of the movements of the mind. With this, one develops vairagya/dispassion towards most actions of outer life to gain wealth, success, and pleasure or fulfill social duties. Inquiry becomes the only theme in one’s life, even physically. This stage is a deeper stage of mind developing upariti/ total attention on thought which is free from outer objects. The moment mind enters the zone of thought which is free from all outer objects, it has come to the deepest form of inquiry – Philosophical Inquiry/Advaitic Inquiry. Here the higher mind or buddhi/starts playing the predominant role.
3.) Advaitic Inquiry – Once the mind has become psychologically mature – or in the words of Advaita school – an adhikari(qualified seeker), it becomes fit for an intense philosophical inquiry into the nature of truth and non-duality. At this stage come in the teachings of Advaita Vedanta – a traditional Indian school of Non-Duality.
Advaita is a non-dual school based on Vedanta. Its central teaching is: the root of all suffering is the ignorance we have about the ultimate nature of our reality. Relying on the revealed knowledge of Srutis/scriptures called Upanishads, it shows that due to metaphysical Ignorance/Maya, we take ourselves to be this limited mind/body/intellect. But with the help of the teachings in the scriptures, along with a qualified teacher who knows the traditional way of teaching, a seeker is systematically led to the Knowledge that he is not actually the limited mind/body/intellect which takes birth, dies, subject to suffering and endless cycles of birth and rebirth.Inactuality, reveals, Advaita, we are Self/Witness/Brahman/Sat-Chit-Ananda or Eternal Existence–Consciousness-Bliss. We are actually immortal, unborn, and undying.
The traditional method of teaching Advaita starts by accepting the falsities that are superimposed on a seekers mind; then gradually, one by one, peeling these layers through a process of negation, till all layers of falsity superimposed on one’s true nature are discriminated, the seeker gains direct Knowledge of his true nature as Self/Brahman/Witness. The main tool used for this operation, as noted earlier, is the seeker’s higher mind or intellect (called Buddhi in Advaita). Thus this path requires a very sharp intellect. Only through such a sharp Buddhi/intellect, does one posses the Viveka/discriminatory power to isolate Self from all false layers of identification. A mind that has passed all the previous stages I have outlined is at last engaged in the subtlest contemplation/Nidhidhyasana to discriminate between Awareness and all the objects that appear to Awareness. The most subtle object to be discriminated is the thinker-doer-experiencer, which we take ourselves to be.
As one continues in this contemplation/Nidhidhyasana, at some point – a thought, called the Akhandakara Vritti flashes in the mind. At that very instant, Self/Awareness/Witness/Brahman, on which the thinker-doer-experiencer had been superimposed like a film on a screen, is revealed, and one’s identity shifts from being the mortal thinker-doer-experiencer to being eternal Self/Awareness/Witness/Brahman. I have written about this in greater detail in my article – Self inquiry and insight into one’s true nature/Self in Advaita
A Note on the Path of Advaita Jnana Yoga Followed by Me
I followed the path of “traditional Advaita”. I have written a brief account of my journey, in the About Us section of this website. Though one may find a number of people, gurus, teachers, swamis, etc. talk about Advaita or Advaita like concepts, absolutely very few talk about the highest form of Advaita, which is the Advaita of Gaudapada and Shankaracharya called Asparsha Yoga/Jnana Yoga.
Over many years, the original teachings of Gaudapada and Shankaracharya got lost by modifications in subsequent schools following Shankaracharya. Also, much of traditional Advaita got lost in the teachings of another school called Yoga. Most spiritual seekers, even the quite advanced ones, do not know the difference between Yoga schools and Advaita. Yoga is a school of strict duality. Even though Yoga concepts are found in many Vedanta literature, the highest truth envisioned by Advaita is Non-Duality. So, in Yoga schools one talks of experiential enlightenment in the form of samadhis, which is not the highest truth of Non-Duality taught in Advaita. Experience is a duality between a subject and an object, while Direct Knowledge has no duality. I know that I exist. This is direct knowledge. In direct knowledge, knowledge and experience are the same: my knowing that I exist is the same as my experience of my existence. As I have already discussed at length in my previous paragraphs, the path of Advaita is the path of Knowledge, which requires very strong intellect and subtle capacities of discrimination. This path of Knowledge, called Jnana Yoga/Asparsha Yoga, in it’s purest form is taught only by a few teachers today. Rest all mix it up with Raja Yoga and talk of liberation in terms of some experience or samadhi or some transformation of mind/body.
My writings on Advaita, therefore, retain the original teachings of Gaudapada and Shankaracharya. This is a very important point to be borne by any seeker.