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).
Q. How can we inquire into our true self, if the one inquiring (mind) is not actually the self?
A: You are not the mind – it is an instrument if you like. You are the Consciousness that ‘reflects’ in the mind.
Q: By saying that the mind is an instrument, are you suggesting that the mind can refer to our true self (pure consciousness) during contemplation?
A: I am not clear what you are asking here. By ‘mind is an instrument’, I mean that who-you-really-are is not the mind; you are using the mind to interact with the world. (Indeed the ‘mind enlivened by Consciousness’ effectively ‘creates’ the world by separating out forms and giving them names.) The mind is itself inert and cannot do anything without Consciousness (your ‘true self’).
Q: If thought has some form of awareness, as demonstrated by introspection, and its ability to refer to contents of the mind, would it be out of the realm of possibility to assume that it is the one responsible for direct experience of mental objects? How can we be certain that awareness is an independent entity when it is something that seems to also be possessed by thought in some instances?
Q1. Many advaita teachings suggest that on the absolute level of reality, there are no objects, no people, no selves, and many times, people will say that, ‘from awareness’ point of view, there is just awareness’… However, in my experience it seems that awareness has the ability to know finite objects because ‘I’ (awareness) am the observer of thoughts, feelings, and sensations (all finite objects). So how can we say that from awareness’ point of view there are no objects, when awareness is aware of finite things? To piggyback off of this, is there some way to differentiate between the witnessing position and the absolute viewpoint? because I think this is where I am really getting mixed up.
Q2. Why does it seem that awareness can know something finite when it is infinite? I’ve heard from certain advaita teachers that consciousness takes the form of the mind in order to know finite objects, but this confuses me because that would imply that awareness becomes the mind, but is also simultaneously aware of the mind. It seems a little far fetched in my opinion, but maybe I’m just not understanding it completely.
A: I never use the term ‘awareness’ for precisely this sort of reason. It is a term used by Nisargadatta and his disciples and causes much confusion. I only use it in the context of X being ‘aware of’ Y, in duality.
The non-dual reality in Advaita is called Brahman, strictly speaking. Being non-dual, it has no ‘attributes’ If it had the attribute X, this would mean that it could not be ‘not-X’, which would then negate the fact that Brahman is said to be unlimited or infinite (anantam). You might find the 3-part post beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/satyam-gyanam-anantam-brahma/ useful.
Following an extended, off-line discussion, I have added a new sub-section to Volume 1 of my next book, ‘Confusions in Advaita Vedanta’ and I am posting this below. I am currently in the process of editing the proof copy of the book and it will be published by Indica Books in Varanasi, hopefully in 2022. Details will, of course, be provided as soon as it is available. It will be printed in hardback and paperback but unfortunately not in electronic format.
As Sureshvara puts it in his Naiṣkarmya Siddhi (1.73):
“And tell me what possible cause could there be for action on the part of one who is established in the Absolute and has become everything, both individually and collectively, not seeing anything as other than himself.” (Ref. 7)
Q: How can I be sure that the true nature of Brahman is happiness? Also, can Brahman’s nature be happiness if happiness has objective qualities, and Brahman doesn’t?
A: Brahman cannot be described. If it had a property, it would have to ‘not have’ the opposite property. And Brahman is non-dual – there is nothing other than Brahman. All ‘adjectives’ apparently used to describe Brahman are not in fact adjectives in the usual sense. They are ‘pointers’ to help you to understand Brahman intuitively.
Q: Oftentimes in my inquiry, phrases will pop up that say, ‘I am not thought,’ ‘I am not that which I am aware of,’ ‘I am the awareful witness,’; however, aren’t these phrases simply just contained, and being said by thoughts themself, thus invalidating their truthfulness? – thought is not awareness, thought is thought.
Q: How can we be sure that Brahman is transcendent of the level of appearance? How can we rule out the possibility that it is imperceptible due to the limitations of our mind? Could Brahman be similar to that of a higher dimensional being that is non accessible to human minds, but able to be perceived on higher levels of reality? And wouldn’t this then invalidate claims of it being infinite and eternal, given that these are constructs built on the idea that Brahman is non-phenomenal?
Also, how can we make the connection between ishvara (creator), and sakshi (awareful witness)? Are they both referring to the same being? I am confused.
Q: Knowledge, which is in or of the mind or intellect, must ultimately be given up. So really, is it knowledge or just ‘pointers’ to the truth of things? Like the pole vaulter letting go of the pole to get over the bar, the mind must be given up or let go of, which includes the knowledge. So really, knowledge isn’t the key or final secret. Simply abiding as Consciousness (what we really are), is the real point of all of this.
And, witnessing seems to be of two ‘kinds’: . Subject-object witnessing the normal person does all day . The non-experiencing witness, which is the pure Consciousness that sees all within itself. I.e. like the analogy of the movie screen and movie.
Really, it can be summed up by the fact that knowledge is not the key but only a pointer to ‘what really is’, which is the non-experiencing Witness.
Q: In his book of talks called ‘The New Freedom’, Rajneesh (Osho) has stated that awakening disturbs the body and brain so much that a majority of people leave the body. Those who survive may suffer some severe physical deformity or inability to speak etc.
In the Gospel of Ramakrishna, Mahendranath Gupta relates how the Paramahamsa suffered on awakening. One of the changes that occurred was an enormous release of energy in the body which was unbearable. Adyashanti also states that the disturbance of the nervous system takes years to settle down. In ‘The Mystique of Enlightenment’, U. G. Krishnamurti has described at length the many drastic changes that took place in his body on account of awakening. In ‘Nothing is Everything’, a book on talks given by Nisargadatta Maharaj, the Sage is quoted as saying: “This body is on fire. Self-knowledge has a strange quality. Sometimes it is unbearable”.
What I want you to throw some light on, if possible, is the following:
Does awakening lead to drastic physical changes? Are they the same for all individuals or do these changes vary from person to person? Should one be deterred from attempting self-realization?
Steven Norquist, who claims to have awakened, told his audience in a 2010 talk available on the internet, that they should not seek awakening but should be ‘spiritual’. One of the reasons he mentioned was the bodily changes I have referred to.
I would also be obliged if you could suggest some literature on the subject, if it exists.
Q: I have just read your book ‘How to meet yourself’. I am not sure if I understand what you mean when you say that “Consciousness is happiness” and that “I am happiness”. Since everything is an appearance within consciousness, wouldn’t happiness be just that? Why would we equate consciousness to happiness?
A: Before answering the question, it would be useful to note the difference between Consciousness and consciousness. Consciousness with as capital ‘C’ is used throughout in all of these answers to refer to Brahman, the non-dual reality. The mind is conscious because Consciousness is reflected by the mind. The body and mind are both inert in themselves. It is important not to confuse these terms.
The actual paragraph is:
“Fourthly, it would not be meaningful to talk about Consciousness being happy or unhappy. Being complete and without limitations of any sort, it is more appropriate to say that Consciousness is happiness. This, then, is an aspect of my true nature. Since I am Consciousness, there is nothing that I need, nothing to be achieved, nowhere to which I have to get. I am already perfect and complete – I am happiness”.
Q: Talks that I have been listening to use the terms ‘witness’, ‘eternal witness’ and other synonyms. Is pure consciousness or Brahman this ‘Ultimate Witness’? If so, obviously, it can’t witness unless there’s a manifesting medium to do so, correct? But ‘to witness’ implies duality. Also, it is often said that Brahman is transcendent or beyond the body-mind, and something other than the mithyA universe. So that means, again, that it can witness everything.
How do you reconcile the fact that knowledge is in the mind with Brahman being the witness beyond and apart from it? And how does this fit in with non-duality – there can’t be two things?
A: The effective explanation is ‘adhyAropa-apavAda’. The reality is that there is only non-dual Brahman or Consciousness. You begin with the conviction that the world is real, you are your body etc. Advaita gradually disabuses you of such notions by use of prakriyA-s (teaching ‘ploys’) such as analysis of the states of consciousness, cause and effect, real and unreal, seer and seen. Each of these takes you a little further in understanding. But, once the particular example has served its purpose, it is discarded. Analogy and metaphor can only take one so far; they are means to an end. Metaphors to illustrate this are leaving the boat behind once you have crossed the river, and letting go of the pole in pole vaulting before you go over the bar.