03 December 2010

December 2 Satsang:

The self-inquiry method.

This talk is going to be about method.

The path of Jnana Marga is all about practice. Sometimes I use the term meditation, but I really mean various forms of self inquiry, which is a sub category of the legion of forms that introspection can take. It would be impossible for me to cover all of this material in a dozen talks, because the number of internal objects are countless, and the number of introspective paths are also endless.

Therefore, I always recommend reading several books, including the path of Shri Ramana part one, by Sadhu Om, chapters 7 and 8, hunting the I, downloadable from the itisnotreal website, steps to hunting the I, by Rajiv, and most importantly, the Nisargadatta Gita by Pradeep Apte, available from Lulu.com either as a download or as a soft cover book.

I know many of you want to write me endlessly about your internal states and whether they are the correct states are not, or whether you are going astray. Let me say this once and for all, the journey you are about to undertake is likely to take many years of self-examination and introspection. You have been lost in the illusion for decades and it can take decades to escape the illusion.

You will experience hundreds and thousands of different states, internal objects and other kinds of experiences, including kundalini awakenings, periods where nothing happens, various forms of emptiness and voids, various forms that the sense of presence, or beingness can take, including identification with the body, and bodyless identifications, thoughts, including the I am thought, possibly psychic powers, flooding love, periods where you intensely believe you fully understand everything, and all other kinds of delusional states.

You are exploring, for some of you, a new world. For some of you it will be filled with sound and fury, and others it'll be sort of bland and weak. It is totally based on who you are, and from where you are starting.

Now, while there are general similarities of experiences between multiple people on the same or similar paths, most of these experiences are not worth mentioning, they are not signs that something significant is happening, nor are they worth interpreting. Don’t be a glutton for new experiences or wonder what they mean. Such is merely the mind’s interference which slows down and stops any progress.

Many people are naturally introspective. That is, they can turn their attention from being outward, to inward.  That is, in the imagination, to look inside the body and mind. When they look inside, they see many things. Some may see lights. Some may see images. Other see colors. Others find the void, some find a dark void, other a self-illumined void. Others can move their attention easily around inside their body from toe to the top of the head. For these people, self-inquiry will be relatively easy. But also be aware that you are not really looking with one’s physical eyes into that inner space. That inner space is purely a mental creation, but since EVERYTHING is a mental creation, the experience is still valuable as a learning arena.

I want you to note that the major duality overcome with this approach, is the destruction of the inside the body versus outside the body dichotomy. With awakening, one is primarily aware of a continuum of consciousness that destroys the inner versus outer distinction and you identify with the oneness of consciousness as opposed to identifying with the body.

Others look inside and see nothing. They can't turn their attention towards the internal imaginal space. This is because they haven't practiced, or because thinking and analysis are too dominant in their personality. People that think too much often have a hard time introspecting, because the thinking is always about externals, and thinking creates the externals.

Ramana had one technique of self-inquiry which is always recommended for people who think too much, or who were not able to introspect. He requested they ask themselves the question, "Who am I?" That is, whenever a situation came up, such as taking a shower, or walking the dog, one would stop the chattering mind, turn the attention around, and ask, "Who am I?," Or something more appropriate to the situation at hand, such as, "Who is taking a shower?," or, "Who is feeling the water touching my body?" That is, whatever the situation, you stop a moment, and ask who is involved? Who is feeling the sensations?

This is the most basic form of self inquiry. The word "who" puts the mind in a reflexive state, and the word "I" denotes an entity, and also the division between inner and outer, subject and object, and I and thou. That is, the word "I" sets up a duality that we call life, with an amness, that lives inside of the body, while the external world is on the other side of the skin. One then learns how to follow that I-thought direction of attention inwards, into the inner darkness which gradually over the weeks, months or years becomes a bright, self-illumined emptiness, or void, which becomes an infinite internal space which joins with the infinite external space, and becomes the one continuum that contains everything.

However, the key word more than any other for Nisargadatta, would be "am." The "Am-ness," is what Nisargadatta also calls "beingness,” and others call "a sense of presence, or existence." It is looking into this sense of presence, or beingness, that is the major part of Nisargadatta’s method as set forward in the Nisargadatta Gita.

Even following the Gita’s method, one finds great complexities. Because as one looks within that sense of presence, one also finds an all pervading emptiness, or lack of presence, or void, which is actually coextensive with the sense of presence.

That is the primary Void state is like a total vacuum, existence without any sense of presence, a complete emptiness, a completely in-human existence, with no thought, no I am, no God, completely without warmth. This is one of the fundamental states that one encounters, and after the original fear of the state goes, becomes the greatest, all-encompassing silence, with complete rest and peace.

On the other hand, the sense of presence, or beingness, lies over this fundamental void state at every point. They pervade each other. The sense of presence is our humanity, our love, our creation, our existence, our creativity. This is our humanness. This is the ultimate state of love that the bhaktis seek, yet this is also the state that disappears upon awakening. Then although there is left is a vast emptiness, a vast silence, a vast peace that pervades everything.

Therefore, you can see that there are two kinds oneness. There is the oneness of the all pervading sense of presence, with warmth and light. And there is the oneness of the Great Void, the ultimate silence, a great peace, totally inhuman, and beyond humanhood, love and warmth. This cool vacuum is self illumined space, and an infinite continuum of light.
And ultimately, neither are you who observe these phenomena.

These are some of the experiences you may have if you continue your practice assiduously, with persistence and dedication.

Another variant of self-inquiry, is to look for the ‘I thought’ itself.

We use the word "I" all day long. But what is the form of that term "I?" That is, does the word "I" have a form itself? Does the word "I" actually point to an internal entity known as Ed, Alan, or Nathan, or Andrea, or Joanne? That is, is there an entity or witness inside our imaginary space contained within our bodies, that the I-word points to? And does that I thought itself have a form? What is the relationship between the I thought, and the concept we have of ourselves?

In this exercise we turn our attention inwards, hopefully having already opened our internal imaginal space,  exposing its vastness, and we look both for the I thought, and the entity that the I thought would be pointing towards which we take as "me."

As you can see, self-inquiry can become quite complex due to the complexity of the inner imaginal space, and the various experiences we have there, including the sense of the void, the sense of presence, the sense of duality of inner and outer, becoming witnesses of thoughts, searching for where the I thought arises or passes away in an attempt to find "me," and then to find the sense of me.

Ramana wrote a short book on this practice, called "Who am I?" Robert talks about this simplified method all the time in many Satsang transcripts.

When we become more sophisticated, instead of actively searching within, such as for the source from where the I thought arises and sets, or actively probing around inside to discover things, we read about other variants of the self-inquiry method such as found in the Nisargadatta Gita, or the path of Shri Ramana, part one. Here, the active form of probing self inquiry, becomes replaced by the concept of just abiding in or resting in one’s self.

This is a game changer. Rather than be an active pursuer of knowledge, one quiets down and settles into one's sense of presence, usually of the sense of am-ness. One becomes quiet and passively watching. I hate to use the term watching, because it still sounds like an activity. In fact, it is doing nothing and just being consciously aware of that sense of beingness inside.

If you read autobiography of a jnani, Rajiv became quite fond of just relaxing into the background container of consciousness. One just rests in oneself, usually seen as a dark background one sinks into. However, by this time one is also aware of the void, the great self illumined space that contains everything, but lacks a sense of presence, and is cold and is utter peace. On the other hand, the sense of presence is filled with warmth and love, and one constantly bounces back and forth between these two kinds of awareness, presence and Void.

I have to make a disclaimer here. Not everyone has these experiences, nor should they have these experiences. These are common experiences too many who've attained liberation. These are not liberation itself, but experiences in the foothills of awakening. Yet others have a radical kind of awakening that has nothing to do with these kinds of experiences, and I don't want to burden your mind with too many concepts as as to what you will see, because you will be looking for them, and your mind will create these experiences, even creating false voids, and false senses of presence.

The mind is your enemy in this whole process. The mind has an amazing ability to become so self involved, ved with concepts and words, as to absolutely prevent any spiritual experience. The mind all too often rules us with its constant chattering, thinking, comparing, checking, speculating and general screwing around. The mind is absolutely the wrong instrument to use to go beyond the world, because the mind is what creates the world. Therefore the more you use the mind, the less you can escape from the world. Introspection is looking within, and at first is active, as is the mind, in the inner search, but then that search should slow down and become a beingness or resting-ness, or abidance in one's deepest levels of experience.

A lot depends on one's personality also. If one lacks self-confidence, one will always use the mind like a blind person with a white and red cane, constantly tapping out the path ahead of him to see what pitfalls or objects are in the way. The mind of the insecure person is constantly checking his own experience and comparing that with the experience of others found in books, talking to people in Satsang, or asking the teacher whether this is an appropriate or correct experience or not.

Let me be very clear. What you experience in self-inquiry, is your experience. Don't interpret it. Don't ask if it is a correct or incorrect experience. Don't check it against books. Don't check it against other people's experience. Don't speculate as to what it means. Don't interpret what each experience means. All that you are doing by this thinking is immeasurably slowing down the process of internal spiritual evolution by constantly stopping and checking that experience against what books have to offer, or the teacher has to offer.

You have to have the attitude of being a brave pioneer, willing to sacrifice your life, literally, for the truth, and in this case, that is the truth of your own beingness and life. You're not trying to re-create Ramana’s enlightenment, or Robert’s, or mine. Instead, you're trying to find your own truth, your own enlightenment, your own awakening which may have nothing in common with other peoples awakening. That is, you are unique. You are a mystery. But when you read books, when you speculate as to what your experience means, or compare your experience to others, you are putting on other people's clothes, and not wearing your own.

This is very important. Must learn to be brave in the face of possibly terrifying internal experiences. Nothing inside can hurt you, but you don't know that. You may believe you're going mad, you may believe that your emotions are out-of-control, you may believe all kinds of things, the important thing is to just keep going. The more you can rest in yourself, in that sense of presence, the easier everything becomes, the quieter everything becomes, and the happier you become.

I didn't know this when I practiced. When I practiced, I followed the books’ instructions, which was to totally abandon myself into the practice of "who am I?" I had many, many dreaded kundalini experiences, many visions, much dwelling in the void, much confusion, and yet a steadfast, straight courage to continue on, on my own. Unfortunately, I went to Mount Baldy, and the Zen master there sent me on a new Zen course of answering hundreds of koans, which is a Zen way of passing on traditional knowledge, rather than fresh knowledge of the self. It took me 18 years to get back on course again. Therefore I urge you that once you start self inquiry, you persist until you burn out, or until you succeed in awakening. In a previous Satsang I told you even if you don't go all the way, the consolation prize is becoming a saint because of the experience of refined senses of presence, and the increasing absence of the self.

One thing you will never find looking within is the so-called ego. There is no such thing, no such observable entity. It is a concept only. Sometimes the ego is defined as just a thought. Sometimes it is defined as the I thought. But nowhere will you find a human subject or soul.

In fact though, one does have a personality, which is a very complex thing that determines who you are as a human being and how you interreact with others in the environment. Some are bold. Some are meek. Some are extroverts. Some are introverts. Some are thinkers, while others are feelers. Some are educated, some are not educated. Some have good parents and some bad. Some have rich environments, and some poor environments.
All of these help determine who you are as a human being, which is mostly what people mean by the word "ego." You can never find an entity such as this ego. The whole developmental process is extremely complex and there are many internal objects and centers which are best examined in psychoanalysis to find the full measure of your personality or "ego." The introspection process of psychotherapy is very different from the introspection process of self-inquiry. You can’t “heal” emotional problems with self-inquiry. Self-inquiry by-passes ego deficits and emotional pain altogether.

This is the great mistake of the neo-advaitins. Some of them believe that because they look inside and can't find an entity, they are free, immortal, existing forever, unbound consciousness. However, the kind of introspection used in self-inquiry, is not the same sort of introspection as found in psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. In psychotherapy or psychoanalysis we investigate emotions, memories, our behaviors and dreams. In self-inquiry we investigate different kinds of structures, such as the sense of presence or existence, and the void. Therefore, the neo-Advaitins have a very simplistic understanding of consciousness, the self, the ego and I, because they have used the wrong method of self exploration, and using the wrong method and finding no ego, the assume they are beyond human-hood in a huge illogical jump to a conclusion that doesn't follow from their experience.

By now, some of you may be totally overwhelmed by the perceived complexity of the process of self inquiry. And yes, the inner world is nearly infinite in terms of the experiences it offers, especially if one has a complex mind that is constantly creating states, false images and false experiences, and is constantly checking one's experience every minute.

However, we have Pradeep Apte to thank for writing the Nisargadatta Gita, which is an exquisite meditation manual that focuses on maintaining one's focus on one's internal sense of presence, the sense of beingness, as opposed to asking the “who am I” question. It focuses on constantly feeling and looking at an abiding in the sense of presence—beingness. 

That's it. Just watch that sense of beingness. It will constantly change. It has many forms. Just stay with it. The I-thought, and I concept are contained in it. One just has to watch the sense of beingness, and everything will be gradually revealed. The more intently you devote yourself to the method, the more quickly one will have results. This one method can take you all of the way. However you have to realize that this is only one of many methods of self-inquiry.

All methods of self-inquiry though have one element in common, you turn your attention around and instead of looking outward into the world, you look inwards towards your inner, imaginal self and explore all the nooks and crannies of that inner subjective experience, eventually finding your ground of being, the subject around which everything, everything, everything rotates. Both inner and outer experience rotate around the non-changing center of your awareness, which is not the sense of me, which is not I, which is not presence, and is not the void. That ground state, that fundamental state, is the subject, is you, and is you who observes presence, the void, and the external world.

Now, if instead of looking for the I-thought, or the sense of presence, we “feel” the sense of I, that I feeling will point towards the subject, the core I experience. However, it is very hard to hold onto the I sense. It changes constantly until one is very subtle and focused in concentration.

It is to this fundamental self that all states of beingness an experiences, come and go. The waking state comes and goes to you, and you are not touched by anything in the waking state. It is one kind of dream, a cloud of consciousness that comes to you but does not touch you.

The same with dreams. Dreams are like clouds of a different kind of consciousness that comes to you, but do not touch you. The same with deep sleep. Deep sleep has a heavy darkness comes in, floats over you and envelops you, and then leaves a few hours later. Deep sleep state is experienced by you. You become aware increasingly of this core or ground experience, resting deeper and deeper in yourself, until you watch all states come and go, and finally accept that unchanging core as the real you.

The void is not you. The presence is not you. The mind is not you. The body is not you. The lights and illumined consciousness are not you either. You are that it is in the center to which all of these things are observed, but none of which touch you. This is your true being, not the sense of presence or absence, void, or not void. Rather, the real you is that to which all of these experiences come, and is beyond life-and-death, existence and nonexistence. Some refer to this fundamental state as That, or the witness, or the absolute, but the names don't matter. The real matter is to be able to locate and rest in this fundamental state, the stateless state beyond states.

As you can see, this is not an endeavor that most people wrap up over weekend. People came to Ramana and to Robert for many, many years without gaining acquisition of that fundamental state and apprehending it as one's true being. This self inquiry is generally long journey, but it does not have to be. Some people acquire it in a fairly short period of time. Others like me, are crude and stupid, and it took forever. Unfortunately, for me,  because it took me so long, I learned so much about the process and can pass that on to you.


  1. Dear sir Edji!!
    Thank you so much. You make things clear in a Non-complicated way. You don't need to reply to my email. You already answer it here in satsang. Sir, there is one request from me. I wanted to join the satsang, but they closed the registration. Now, I do not want to jump ahead, but is it possible that they can put me on a waiting list and if someone wants to be dropped, they can add me? Sharjeel

  2. Extremely grateful for these transcriptions.
    Thank you all

    Ricky van den Ende

  3. Thank Ediji for selflessly sharing this wonderful talk!

  4. Thank you one more time Ed for all this teaching .
    You said :"Unfortunately, for me, because it took me so long, I learned so much about the process and can pass that on to you."

    But why "unfortunatly" ?
    Because of waste of time ?
    Does it matter ?

    Maybe it's a way to tell us not to be lazy ;)
    And this would be beautiful .
    But I can't figure out that "You" could have some regrets ....

    Peace , and that little cat on the picture is so lovely ;)

  5. Ed, this has been an amazing summary. One of the best I´ve read and, between all you´ve written, the most valuable for me, since that "sense of beingness lying over a void" is a perfect descripition of my present state.

    It´s quite mindblowing that we´re not even that void...

    Thank you,


  6. Dear Edji,

    I have followed your blog somewhat.
    I have a simple direct question a question that is hardly ever asked in these circles and I do so hope you can give me a real answer.

    All this but why is my question. Why so much energy to find out that you are no-self, that you don't exist.
    Please give thought to my question it's very profound.
    If one goes through all this and gets awaken after years or even months what does that get you over a person who never even thought about anything spiritual and dies?
    Death is the great equalizer. When the "person" dies everything is equal is it not. The mind goes, the body goes everything goes because it's a illusion to begin with. I hope my question is clear enough. According to advaita the journey is to realize who you are, but this happens with something beyond the mind understanding you say so how does this something even know what it is with no mind to bring it back to the person that is living now but when this body/mind dies tell me what the difference is, what do you get if you can die before you die. It seems like all you get is the big picture a little sooner than most so what?

    Thank you much no one to date has answered this question to my sanctification.

    To me it seems like a lot of effort into finding out who you are which is going to come anyhow when you die. If one says no that's not right you will be caught up in the mind again and keep going around the endless wheel of incarnations then tell me what you get if you complete whatever that means.

    The question stays as a simple why?
    I do not need to hear from ton's of people that all have their own ideas just you Edji please but others are certain welcome but want the answer from you

  7. Randy, your question is not profound at all. It is asked by someone who does not have a profound need to understand for themselves the ultimate truths--now.

    If you had this drive, you would not ask this question or formulate it the way you have.

    I do not usually speak to the simply curious, as they are a million miles from awakening, and tend to ask questions real seekers do not, and the answers to which, help no one.

    I am sorry, but my energy and time are limited. If you want to wait until the end of your life and hope something of the ultimate is revealed to you, that is your fate.

  8. With respect Edji you have deflective my question. I believe it's very profound. I am serious. I know far more than you may think and I am not trying to create a problem.
    I practiced kryia yoga for 8 years.
    I have spent time in India, I saw and sat with Nisargadatta in the 70's.I will not continue to tell you all that I have been involved with but I will say I am quite disappointed in your answer. Edji it would be a help if you look at my question from a deeper place. You are the absolute, I am the absolute, there is only one so what is the big deal here? This is something I never understood and still don't. Edji plain and simple everything is a illusion except the absolute and that is you , me or whoever. So again I beg of you to please answer the question. When the body of Edji falls away what is left that is different from the body of Randy falling away? How can anything be different because all has left except the essence I do not see where this question is not profound.
    Does someone who is not really a someone get something that a someone that knows does not since it's not real to begin with?
    thank you

  9. Do you even know what Ramana and Robert meant when they said the world is not real? They did not say it wasn't there, only that it was not as it appears. What makes you think that death reveals the truth of the illusion, or even that the Absolute exists?

    Have you attained definite awareness of the Absolute in your own experience? If not, it is just an idea to you.

    And, to those who want to find the absolute, I should just stop saying anything because, at the end of their lives, if they are the absolute, they will continue, and if not, they won't?

    You, like others, get hung up on the concept not real without investigating what that means, or what the absolute is.

  10. Until a person understands that the world is illusion and they don't exist the way they think they do, why on earth should they stop trying to understand?

    Do you even know what Ramana and Robert meant when they said the world is not real? They did not say it wasn't there, only that it was not as it appears. Are you aware of your absolute nature? Are most persons who read this blog? They come to this blog because they are driven to understand their true natures.

    Have you attained definite awareness of the Absolute in your own experience? If not, it is just an idea to you.

    And, to those who want to find the absolute, I should just stop saying anything because, at the end of their lives, if they are the absolute, they will continue, and if not, they won't?

    You, like others, get hung up on the concept not real without investigating what that means, or what the absolute is.

    I talk to those who want to know their true natures, and don't wish to spend time on those who feel practice and self-inquiry are not necessary.

  11. Wonderful post. I am sorry Ed, but I cannot agree on the part where You say that emotions do not heal in self-inquiry. This is not a case for me... Bathing in 'I AM' heals ones mind whether one wants it or not.
    Even Maharaj said once
    "...My advice to you is very simple – just remember yourself, ‘I am’, it is enough to heal your mind and take you beyond, just have some trust. I don’t mislead you. Why should I?...."

    But I guess different person - different experience.

  12. Fair enough Edji but you see no one can ever answer my question. The reason it's not possible as it has to do with what they are referring to it's that simple. Since the truth of what the absolute is has to be realized beyond the mind then there is never going to be a way for you or any teacher to explain it because you will need the mind to do this. Another way to look at this is to ask the question can anyone experience anything beyond the mind and know it and bring it back to the mind to tell about it. If they can what is it that allows a experience to be even seen when you are outside the mind. I have learned the hard way that the mind is vast and will play it tricks. I doubt that there is anything that tells the experience that you are still in the mind and still in illusion or tells you that you have now got it. One can never be sure of anything as it all could be mind playing it games on you.

    Good luck with this copyright stuff people act very strange when money gets involved.

  13. Ed.
    My heart is full of gratitude.
    Thank you.