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What Is Inquiry?
Bill: Dear Mr. Swartz, I just finished reading How to Attain Enlightenment. I won’t pretend to have even begun to digest all it contains. But it excited me greatly.
I first discovered Vedanta in my teens through the writings of Alan Watts. It immediately “felt” right to me. I was struck by how often you use the phrase “self-evident.” It was always self-evident to me that consciousness was primary, not a mere epiphenomenon. It was also not difficult for me to have experiences that I would call epiphanies. I sometimes think my childhood was spent in such a state near constantly! But it was also true that in itself that did not lead to any useful improvement in my existence.
So I was struck by what seems to be the central point of your book or at least one that you return to over and over, that epiphanies are useless unless they lead to or are accompanied by self-inquiry, informed by scripture. That is the element that has always been missing for me.
I was hoping for more instruction as to how to go about self-inquiry. You discuss it in general terms, but anything resembling a “method” is left very vague. So I am somewhat at a loss how to proceed.
Can you point me in the right direction?
James: Hi, Bill. Here is an email to a person on this topic. He was having trouble with a sense of impatience that arose when he was communicating his self-knowledge to other people. If you need further explanation, please write back.
“The basic technique is to discriminate your intellect from your self, awareness. The impatience you feel when you come in contact with people who do not ‘get it’ (or any other emotional state) shows that you are not discriminating in your daily life because you are identified with a particular idea. If when the thought that others SHOULD understand what you are saying arises you are practicing discrimination, you will recognize it as ‘not-self’ and dismiss it without making karma out of it. The karma in this case is the agitation that you feel when others don’t ‘get it.’ This way the know-it-all tendency, the belief that you are ‘right,’ will be burned out.
“Discrimination is a moment-to-moment practice – assuming you have a suitable lifestyle – and can keep your attention on the self, not on what is happening in your mind and the world around you.
“So far your understanding is intellectual. You are identified with the intellect, not the self. Now it is time to separate the self from the intellect.”
Self-inquiry is not asking the “Who am I?” question, except indirectly. It is questioning the platform from which your thoughts (and the emotions that flow from them) arise. You do this by comparing them to self-knowledge.
Discrimination is the practice of self-knowledge. The self is free of all thoughts and feelings, so when a particularly troubling thought arises, it is an opportunity to turn your attention away from the thought to the awareness illumining the thought. When you do this the thought either dissolves or shrinks to manageable proportions. In this way you work on removing those thoughts that obstruct your appreciation of yourself as awareness. As you progress, more obstructions arise. At the same time you will notice a subtle lightness and contentment. Eventually, you will remove the last obstructing thought and rest in awareness as awareness.