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What Is Self-Inquiry?
Seeker: Dear James, you may recall, this year I was in your workshop in Tiruvannamalai. Quite often I became quite lost in your teaching; nevertheless, at this moment Vedanta is the main focus of my life.
I now spend as much time as possible studying Vedanta. My biggest issue I have is how to implement the teaching in my daily life. Can you describe a workable practice for me how to do enquiry? You mentioned you practiced it 24/7. Well, how did you do that, what suggestion do you have for me to practise enquiry?
Last year I met a Roman Catholic priest who suggested that my only practice should be to maintain the thought “I am God.” Last year during my pilgrimage walking to Santiago de Compostela I followed his suggestion. The amazing thing that happened to me is that most things around me became creations of God, interrupted by intermittent thoughts – what I called “snowflakes” – when my eyes would catch something special, e.g. a beautiful bird, a special tree, etc. I think that the thought “I am God” was beneficial for me. However, I was not able to stay focused, the “snowflakes” continued to happen in my practice.
Next week I will again start my pilgrimage, to walk to Santiago de Compostela, a solitary walk of some 1,000 kilometres, taking me some three months or so. I would be grateful to have any suggestion as to how exactly I could do the enquiry – 24/7 – during this pilgrimage.
James: Thinking the thought “I am God” is a good practice but what does it mean to say, “I am God”? In your case it produced the feeling that “most” things around you were God. This is the fourth stage of devotion – seeing particular manifestations of the world as God. It is a desirable practice. I have copied in below a teaching that explains the stages of devotion. The “I am God” thought means that you are whole and complete consciousness, that nothing is missing as far as you are concerned. It means “I am free of everything that appears in my consciousness.” I was thinking about how to answer you because I think you want some technique that you can practice. But self-inquiry is not a mindless technique.It is the conscious application of the “I am whole and complete, actionless, ever-present awareness” thought to the desires and fears, attachments, etc. that arise in the mind at any moment. As I was thinking about what to say, an email came in that answers your question. Here it is:
Because of your workshop I am being ever more diligent and constant with inquiry and I am shocked at what a jungle of thoughts and feelings I have been living with all my life.
Here is how I do it: I understand that I am free, but my ego… which is an object to me… does not agree. It says, “No, you are not free. If you are free, what is this messy jungle of thoughts and feelings that proclaim your attachment to your body and mind, your husband and your circumstances?”
So I inquire, I dig deeper. I ask myself if it is true. I pick up my machete and hack my way through the jungle of apparent thoughts until (or I use Vedanta texts, like your book Essence of Enlightenment or one of your commentaries on a scripture) until I see where I am attached and why I am attached. I see that I am attached because I believe my ego rather than the scripture. The teachings make sense. They show me why I can’t be Sandy, a needy person. There is clear logic. My ego has no logic. It just believes that I need all these things to be happy.
So I inquire more. I ask why I choose to believe my ego and not the scripture. I know I have a choice because I am free. I can choose to go with the teachings or I can choose to go with that small needy voice of my ego, that ignorant voice. So I assert my freedom. I tell my ego that I don’t accept its idea. I tell it that its thoughts are ignorance, that they are not real.
And then there is clarity. It lasts anywhere from a few moments to days. And then that small ignorant ego catches me again and I find myself all caught up in its negative thoughts. At first when this happened I got depressed, but then I realized that it was the ego, not me, that was depressed. So now I apply the knowledge “I am free. I am whole. I need nothing.” And the mind becomes clear again. So I do this all the time.
When the mind is clear I just enjoy myself. Everything is good. The world glows with consciousness. I feel love. And when the ego comes up and subtly attaches me to some unhealthy thought, I assert the truth again… and again… and again. It is amazing how my life has changed in the last few years. It doesn’t seem so different from day to day, but when I compare what it was in the old days to what it is now, there is no comparison. It is all due to inquiry. It really works. And it is due to you too because your books and videos make it very clear what it means to say I am God, I am everything that is. Thank you!!! I will do inquiry until the day when that fearful voice is completely gone, until I don’t want anything from the world. It is so good! I love Vedanta. Thank you again.
So this is a good explanation of self-inquiry. I am sorry I didn’t write you right away, but I am very busy. I hope you have internet on your pilgrimage so you can read this and make use of it.
~ Much love, James
Here is the teaching on the five stages of devotion:
The Five Stages of Devotion
Love makes the world go around. Our efforts to attain objects are based on the desire to please the self. We want to please ourselves because we love ourselves. Because reality is non-dual, knowledge and love are one, but there is a persistent and uninformed notion in the spiritual world that knowledge has nothing to do with love. However, just as time and space are two different ways to measure the distance of one object from another, knowledge and love are just two interconnected ways of measuring one’s distance from one’s self.This summary of chapter on devotion in the Bhagavad Gita unfolds the five stages of love that culminate in liberation.
Stage 1: Praying for Stuff – Sakama Bhakti
Karma yoga is love. It converts a worldly life into a spiritual life. I practice it because I love a quiet mind. I love a quiet mind because discrimination – which is tantamount to freedom – only works when the mind is reasonably clear. Discrimination reveals the ever-free love that I am. Freedom is unconditional self-love.
It is a struggle to take my angers and disappointments as a gift from God because my devotion is selfish; I want only want worldly things. Like a child, the devotee begs and whines, “I need a new X.” Or if he or she is business-minded, “I will chant your holy name one thousand times if you see to it that my son passes his English exam.” This kind of devotion is not sophisticated or particularly noble, but it’s okay because it reveals a rudimentary desire to relate to God and it builds self-esteem. We have to start somewhere But devotion for God’s stuff does not remove anxiety and depression. At least there is a rudimentary understanding that God – the field of existence – is responsible for delivering objects and an attempt to accept God’s will. The way out of this stage is to pray for the well-being of others.
In this stage, if the person is seeking God – whatever that means to him – he may mechanically repeat his favorite name of God without understanding who he is talking to. Or, because he is tamasic and prone to fantasy, he may believe that one circumambulation of the holy mountain Arunchala on full moon night or one million repetitions of a special mantra is sufficient for moksa. This kind of devotion is often encouraged in the Puranas.In fact it is touted as the highest form of devotion in the last verse of Chapter XII just to encourage beginners.
Stage 2: Breeding Ground for Saints – Nishkama Bhakti
In this stage desire for worldly things is not allowed, only prayer for the courage and strength to take both positive and negative results as a gift from Isvara, i.e. the law of karma.The devotee is not aiming for a particular experience. There is desire but the desire is for peace of mind. This stage purifies likes and dislikes because one goes with what Isvara, one’s situation demands, not what one wants. The devotee stops treating God as a problem-solver, takes his karma like a man and stops blaming God for his bad karma.
Obviously, from the non-dual perspective any service given is the self giving service to itself, but in the second stage, the extroverted devotee is trying to purify selfishness, so he asks God to help others, not himself. This stage breeds saints. Serving the world is as good as serving God because the world is God. It is not an easy stage, because the devotee is praying for the strength to resist worldly desires. In the first stage you may have realized that desiring objects isn’t healthy but you are still attached to them. At the same time you know that to see God your heart must be pure. Devotees in this stage staff monasteries, churches and temples and do a rudimentary form of karma yoga without understanding the nuances of its logic. Since the karma they do accrues to the accounts of others, they don’t accumulate vasanas – except the vasana for service, which can bind like any other vasana. Most large spiritual and religious organizations are built on the backs of this kind of devotee. They believe that when all their karmas are burned up by action, enlightenment will ensue. On the kitchen wall of a very wealthy ashram I observed this sign: “One hour of dishwashing burns one lifetime of karma!” They do not understand that action won’t burn ignorance and that moksa is burning the doer in the fire of self-knowledge.
Stage 3: My Personal Deity – Istha Devata Abyasa
Inner Work – Meditation
The karma yoga stages convert an extroverted mind into an introverted mind. In the meditation phase there is a gradual reduction of worldly physical activity and increase of mental activity. Because one’s thoughts are now going to a symbol of the self and symbols invoke their referents and the self is unconditional love (parama prema), the devotee experiences love without reference to objects and events. In this stage the devotee bonds with Isvara and nourishes his relationship with Isvara. He no longer depends on relationships for love – family and friends – but draws on Isvara for emotional support. This stage removes fear.
The goal of spiritual life is to see God, the self, in everything, but non-dual vision – which amounts to non-dual love – requires a very subtle mind. At this stage the devotee’s mind is not expansive enough to gain that vision, so he or she worships a specific symbol of God that stands for the total, an ishta devata.
It is okay to do this because every object is actually non-separate from the total, although it seems to be. Chapter X presents a list of particularly exceptional, beautiful and awesome manifestations of God which are easy to worship: the sun, the Himalayas, great saints, magnificent animals, the brilliance in a brilliant mind, preternatural human beauty, etc.One need only recognize the objects that elevate one’s mind, the night sky, for instance, and contemplate them diligently. As the name for this type of worship implies, devotion is related to one’s personal taste, so likes and dislikes are still operating. Mental and physical actions and their results are dedicated to one’s personal deity – Jesus, Mother Mary, Krishna, Shiva, angels, etc.
Stage 4: Worship of Everything – Visvat Swarupa
Removing Likes and Dislikes
This, the penultimate stage, further expands and purifies the mind. It removes likes and dislikes: jealousy, hatred, possessiveness, etc. There is still duality – relationship – in this stage but the “person” to whom one relates is the conscious being that is everything.
Seeing the divinity in particular objects that excite one’s love for God is well and good, but seeing the divine in all objects is the goal. In this stage the devotee must drill down into every object appearing in his consciousness until he can see consciousness – his own innermost self – shining there. Chapter XI of the Gita presents the self in its creative aspect as a cosmic universal person, someone that is both wonderful and terrifying, the idea being that the devotee should love the ugly, angry, fearful parts of himself or herself and accept the evil in the world as an inevitable consequence of self-ignorance. The holy parts of one’s self are easy to love, but the dark parts are less so. As long as differences exist in the devotee’s mind, love is conditional.
Emotional Impact, the “Vision” of the Total
The purpose of this vision is to instill a sense of reverence and love for everything because everything is nothing but the self of the devotee. Seeing objects in this way removes one’s likes and dislikes. The vision of everything as one’s self gives rise to wonderment in the devotee; how can a thing and its opposite be just one thing, my self? It also generates fear in the devotee because it involves the acceptance of the inevitable losses – the death of love objects: the body and one’s family – that are part and parcel of the fabric of life. It is complete when the devotee overcomes his fears and happily accepts the inevitable demise of all objects, particularly one’s body and loved ones.
At this stage the devotee sees every action as worship of the Lord and does not care about the results of actions, because his sole purpose it to arrive at Stage 5.
Stage 5: The Fruit of Devotion – Non-Duality
Jnana Yoga Is Non-Dual Love
In this stage the devotee realizes that Isvara and jiva enjoy the same identity, which destroys the relationship between the individual and the world. You are me and I am you. Everything is me. I am love.
Enlightened devotees are free from mental and emotional events created by desire. They have no desire for objects, because they are full. They can fulfill the desires of others because they are non-binding. They are here to serve. They are emotionally tolerant and do not disapprove of those who do not conform their values. They are free of possessiveness because they understand that everything belongs to Isvara. They are completely secure because they know there is no security in objects. They are not fooled by maya’s beauty, variety and novelty. They are free from arrogance, pride, superiority and competitiveness. They get along with everyone and everyone gets along with them because they have fragrant, compassionate personalities. Everything they do contributes to life.