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Meditation Is Not Equal to Self-Inquiry
Ricardo: Hi, Sundari, many thanks for your reply. It is inspiring and encouraging to have support when one first encounters Vedanta. I find much clarity in James’ teaching. I had been following a Buddhist path, and the teaching on knowledge versus experience highlighted my growing frustration as I was trying to recreate past experiences and chasing after new ones with meditation practice – I suppose, trying to arrive somewhere. What I was looking for was already right here.
Sundari: You are most welcome, Ricardo, glad to help and always here to be of service. We have many Buddhists who come to Vedanta having been down the same road and reached the same dead end. It is always like that when one chases experience, however exalted or not. Experiences all end and you are left with the same problem of being the doer, thinking there is something you need to gain or do to improve yourself. The simple fact of the matter is that there is nothing you can do, because the doer is the problem. Only knowledge will set you free of doership, never the doer. As you so rightly noted, you, awareness, are there prior to, during and after any experience.
A practice such as meditation is a tool to aid self-inquiry but it does not equal self-inquiry. Unless one has realised that one is not the meditator but the one who knows the meditator, meditation can keep one stuck for years trying to have an experience of the self, which many meditators do have but the problem is the identification with the experiencer/meditator is still there. Unless the knowledge that meditation is designed to impart is fully assimilated – i.e. “I am whole and complete, non-dual awareness,” and not the meditator – the experience ends because it was just that, an experience. This is true of any other spiritual experience, such as samadhis or kundalini awakenings.
In this way the experience of self-realisation does not necessarily lead to freedom, moksa. This is why there are so many frustrated meditators and spiritual experiencers around trying to get the experience back. Even if they succeed they will most likely “lose” the self-realisation once again, because the knowledge that they are that which makes all experience possible, i.e. awareness, escapes them. Meditation is no different from any other activity done to achieve a specific result – unless it is practised with karma yoga.
The knowledge that the meditation points to is that meditation is just another object appearing in you, allowing the reflection of the self to appear in a still mind. However, seeing as no experience can take place without you, awareness, and because as awareness you are actionless, no special experience is required to experience the self. You are always experiencing the self whether you are meditating or not, in samadhi or not, in kundalini awakening or not, etc., etc. You just don’t know this. And no action the doer takes can produce self-knowledge.
Self-inquiry is the application of knowledge. Self-inquiry states that awareness is our true nature and both knowledge and ignorance are objects appearing in you, awareness. Keeping this knowledge in mind and continually contemplating on it is self-inquiry. This is why self-inquiry is different from meditation or other spiritual practices, because the knowledge is maintained by an act of will, whereas in meditation/spiritual practice the knowledge appears during a particular experience.
Therefore self-inquiry is superior to meditation/samadhi, etc. because the doer does not need to maintain a particular state and wait for the knowledge. He or she has the knowledge already and applies it continually. Meditators do not know the value of knowledge whereas inquirers do. That is why the meditators are meditating. Knowledge may arise in meditation/samadhi or any other spiritual experience, or it may not. If it does Vedanta calls it a “leading error.” But even if meditation does lead to knowledge of the “unbroken I-thought” (akandakara vritti) the knowledge does not always stick, as I point out above.
Ricardo: Thanks for the pointers on objectifying awareness. Maybe I run the risk of making it a function of the jiva when it’s really the other way round.
Sundari: Well put and spot on! It takes a while to get that the jiva cannot experience awareness, although it appears to. It would be like saying your reflection in the mirror experiences you. How could it? It is inert. It is always the presence of awareness that makes any experience possible for the jiva. Freedom comes with the realisation that you have only ever been experiencing awareness, because you are awareness, not the jiva. A great sadhana is to press “pause” every time you use the word “I” or “me,” asking yourself, who is speaking here…? It is always the self speaking, either in self-knowledge or self-ignorance, and freedom comes with being able to tell the difference at all times.
Ricardo: I’m going to order James’ book, and I also like the look of the Bhagavad Gita talks, as I read it in my teenage years and I’d love to hear James’ commentary. I’ve started using the search function on the satsang database, and I’ll make that my first port of call. ☺
Sundari: Great, you will not go wrong, whatever you read. I am glad you ordered the book, that is a must. So are the satsangs; they are a goldmine of the highest level Vedanta you will find anywhere.
Ricardo: Thanks again for the encouragement. Best wishes to you and James.
Sundari: A great pleasure. You have a huge resource at your disposal in ShiningWorld. Once you have read James’ book, please feel free to write anytime.
Our best wishes to you too.
~ Om and prem, Sundari