It is a misconception to think that the process of Self-inquiry “leads” the seeker to the “Self.” It is not a positive process of movement like travel – starting from a station ‘A’ and arriving at the destination ‘B,’ keeping me, myself and my luggage intact safe and secure. One cannot look for novel experiences enroute like on a train journey nor does one hope to devour the scenic beauty along the path. Nor “I,” the inquirer, will find the Self at the end to shake hands or get a hug.
Self-inquiry is actually a process of becoming totally naked. Yes, Absolutely naked – not even retaining the modest covering that we dearly call as our body. It’s a negative process, a process of being disembodied. One has to lose not only whatever one thinks that s/he possesses (the entire bundle that can be put under ‘mine’ including objects, people, relationships etc.), but also whatever s/he thinks s/he is (all that defines what a ‘me’ is).
The two keywords that play a role in the process of Self-inquiry are:
i) Discrimination; and
The seeker first has to learn to discriminate between that which is changeable and that which does not change at all. This is, relatively speaking, a very easy process in the initial stages. Everything that we observe, see, learn, experience or come across in life in general ‘changes.’ Somethings may change from moment to moment – like the cells in our body or thoughts or our experiences. Somethings may take several years or even eons of time – like the mountains and stars. The ability to discern between what changes and what remains ‘eternally’ unchanging is “Discrimination.”
The first rule is that which changes cannot be the Truth. Once we identify each of such changeable entity, we should end our attachment or any type of relationship or identity with it. This second step is “Detachment.”
Continuing this 2-step process of Discrimination and Detachment, we find ourselves slowly getting detached from our own body, mind, accumulated knowledge and memory, intellect, and everything that we thought what we were. When nothing else is left to be stripped, the stripping process too ends – much like a fire gets extinguished when no more fuel is left to be burnt.
Mentally one may surmise that ‘nothing’ or ‘no-thing’ will remain at the end. But those who actually do this process find that an inexplicable, inexpressible, indescribable and immutable “Residuum” remains. It is not ‘nothingness.’ That Residuum is the Self. That is the unchanging Truth.
A spark of That Truth shines and illuminates each of our minds. We mistakenly take ourselves to be and identify ourselves with the ‘combo’ of tiny mind plus the illumination from the Residuum associated with the mind. But the scriptures tell us that we are not the finite changeable body or mind along with the glitter of the illumination, but the unlimited unbounded “Residuum” Itself. It is the Pure and Pristine Consciousness, the Knowing principle, left after every bit of what I used to take myself to be when I was a seeker has fallen.
To identify with and abide as That Infinite Residuum is Self-realization.