Posted by: Harsha • Mar 5th, 2002
My name is Richard. I am a seeker, practicing Self-inquiry. I am taught by two Sages, Nome and Russ. They have been teaching Self-inquiry in the San Francisco Bay area for more than 25 years, at SAT (The Society of Abidance in Truth) in Santa Cruz. The focus of their teaching is very much on Self-inquiry as taught by Ramana Maharshi. They both came to Self-Realization through Self-inquiry.
Several years ago I finally understood that the way to deepen my spiritually was through my own self-effort. I also finally understood that this meant developing a regular daily meditation practice, and then when in meditation, to focus on Self-inquiry as best I can. I had the significant advantage of two teachers that teach Self-inquiry from their own experience and practice.
Self-inquiry is different from other forms of meditation. Typically mediation is focused on one thing. One-pointed concentration is what is called for. Self-inquiry though specifically is not focused on any thing. It is non-objective. The focus is on the seeker’s own identity, own sense of being, own consciousness. This meditation is at times active, tracing down and eliminating misidentifications, and at times quiet, sitting in the silence of being. The basic meditation is inquiry, using the question, popularized by Ramana Maharshi, “Who am I?” If thoughts interrupt the meditation, turn inward again by asking, “For whom is this thought?”
A basic teaching of Advaita Vedanta, as found in the Upanishads, and in the teachings of Ramana Maharshi and of Adi Sankara can be expressed as follows:
The world is not real,
Brahman (the Self) alone is Real.
The world is nothing else but Brahman (the Self).
The purpose of this kind of spiritual practice then is to experience this reality for your self. Actually the goal is to experience this reality as your Self. I have been taught that Self-Realization comes not through any activity, but from knowledge, and not just conceptual knowledge, but knowledge of who we really are. This is called Self-Knowledge.
I started daily meditation about three years ago, after reading and thinking and listening to the teaching for many years. I found a way to approach my daily routine that put meditation in a regular place. This was important. Meditation has to have a regular and important part of your life. I have the best energy when I first arise, and for me it seems that my body likes a morning routine. So for me to insert meditation into this routine meant that I was making it one of my basic “habits.” Each morning, after I take care of the morning body basics, I meditate. If I can, I also will meditate at lunch and at the end of the day, before dinner. These are all times when my body has good alertness. This alertness is necessary.
When I started meditation my concentration was pretty low, and my mind restless. I would start a typical meditation by breath watching. Just watching breath, my mind would start to quiet. When my mind would quiet, I would start the inquiry, “Who am I?” As thoughts would arise, I would ask, “For whom are these thoughts?” and then, “Who am I?” Both of these inquiries return the attention to the inquiry. Sometimes during meditation my mind would actually get quiet!
After doing this meditation for some months, I found that I was able to come pretty regularly to a place where my mind was quiet. And with this quiet came a sense of inner peace.
As I observed more closely during meditation, I started to see at a deeper level how it was still the quiet mind and me. While this meditation was good, there still is more depth available, since the duality of “me and the quiet” remained. I also noticed that I was looking for some kind of sensory experience, and I understood from my teachers that whatever Self-Realization was, it is NOT a sensory experience. So I had to find a way to deepen my practice.
I listened (again and again) to my teachers in satsang. One thing that I heard them say was that the Self was what was left after everything else has been eliminated. The Self always is, just as it is, and if that is not our experience, it is just obscured by our own holding to the world, body, senses, mind and ego. They had talked about a “neti, neti” approach (“not this, not this”) to remove the misidentification. I had tried this, but to no apparent result. I asked again in satsang about this, and was told that this negation had to be done until it was one’s experience. I saw that I had just been doing it mentally, so I started this more complete negation practice that is described in this article.
This meditation really has two parts. One part is the inquiry, “Who am I?” The other is, “Is this who I am?” (which starts the negation). I have noticed that when working on a particular misidentification with the approach it is like I am “hitting” the misidentification from two sides (of the formless).
When I meditate in this fashion, the meditation often goes like this: I start with inquiry, “Who am I?” or “I know I exist. What is this existence?” As I sink into meditation I may notice a body sensation (or some other sensation or idea where I notice that there is a sense of “reality”). I look at this sensation. It feels like “My body.” I open to the experience, then after a while I ask, “But is this who I am?” I sit with this question and look inside. I notice after a while that this body sensation is objective. It is something known. But who is it for? I sit with this for a while, then notice that the body sensation is for the mind. But who knows the mind? I stay with this inquiry. Then if thoughts arise I will ask. “For whom are these thoughts?” and “Who am I?”
One thing that seems important is not to rush it. I let each part of the meditation move through my experience and awareness. Also, I have found that I may need to return to an experience or thought a number of times, until I can see where the misidentification really is. I have come back to my breath many times, and will do so again I am sure. Where is the ego-idea in this? How do I hold this sensation or experience or thought as my identity? Is that who I am? Is it just an object of the senses or the mind? It is seen in the mind. All of it is just an object of mind. Who knows this “mind object?” Who knows this mind? Who am I?
I have found that the mediation often naturally takes me to the “Witness” state. I stand as witnessing consciousness. My focus has moved from apparently external objects to a much more internal view.
When the meditation reaches depth, the meditator can reach a place of awareness that cannot be objectified. You will find something that cannot be put outside of your being as an object! This is Who We Are. After I have meditated to that depth, when I then take up the “Who am I?” inquiry, the sense of Self is much clearer, much closer.
With this meditation I have had some deep spiritual experiences. As one example, one day while driving on the freeway to a consulting meeting, I was meditating (obviously not with closed eyes) in this fashion. When the meditation moved to “Who sees the mind?” something happened. It is hard to describe. It was like the mind just turned off. It was not the place of the “quiet mind.” I am familiar with that state, and this was different. Ramana talks about consciousness in deep sleep, when the mind is not active. That is just what the experience seemed like to me. I pulled off the freeway and just sat in the experience. After a while, I started the engine and drove to the meeting, bright eyed and peaceful.
When I talk to my teachers about such experiences, and that the experiences come and go, the teachers point out that some misidentification remains (like “I am the body” or such), and talk about approaches to practice that can be used to remove the misidentification.
For those of us who notice the restless mind and ego misidentifications, and notice ideas or sense objects in meditation (or in daily life) that divert our attention from the Self, it is useful to see what is behind each, to see the misidentification involved; and to see that the Self illumines each of these, and that the reality is from the Self, not from the object of mind. That is exactly the intent of this meditation: to return your sense of being to the Self that you are, by removing your identification with that which you are not.
For more information about the place and teachers from whom I have been learning Self-inquiry, please contact The Society of Abidance in Truth (SAT). You may want to click to www.SATRamana.org and look at the SAT web site. SAT Teaching events include weekly satsangs, meditation retreats, audio and video tapes, and books that are translations of precious Advaita Vedanta Teachings otherwise unavailable in English. SAT is located in Santa Cruz, CA, USA.