By Suma Varughese
The vedantic meditation of self-inquiry is one of the definitive ways of discovering the true nature of the self. Here is a step-by-step replay of how it works and how you can practise it, paraphrased from the book vedantic meditation by david frawley.
In the begining of his book Vedantic Meditation, David Frawley gives a masterful explanation of the Vedantic philosophy and its correlation to Buddhism. He says: �Vedanta is a simple philosophy. It says that our true Self, what it calls the atman, is God. �I am God� (aham brahmasmi) is the supreme truth. The same consciousness that resides at the core of our being pervades the entire universe. To know ourselves is to know all and to become one with all. Vedanta is a philosophy of Self-realisation, and its practice is a way of Self-realisation through yoga and meditation.�
He makes a distinction between the Creator (Ishwar) and the Absolute (Brahman). In Advaita Vedanta, he says, the highest reality is not the Creator but the Absolute, the ground of being in which the Creator too has His existence. The nature of the Absolute, which is the essence of who we are, is sat-chit-ananda.
Vedanta�s concept of the Self is what chiefly distinguishes it from Buddhism, which maintains that enlightenment is the natural state of the mind once the defilements of conditioning are eliminated. While Buddhism considers the ultimate state of being as the Void (shoonyata), Vedanta affirms that the Self pervades even the Void and witnesses it.���
To arrive at this lofty stage, Vedanta proposes the practice of inquiry into one�s nature or mind as the principle method, but it also recognises the importance of other practices particularly that of devotion or bhakti, which awakens the heart and inspires us to achieve union with the Absolute. Raja yoga, karma, the practice of affirmation and japa are all considered necessary practices to support the mind in the arduous task of turning it into itself.���
There is no one method of meditation associated exclusively with Vedanta. However, a few practices have been traditionally associated with it. One such is the three-fold practice: Shravana: hearing the teaching with a receptive mind; manana: deep thinking about it; nididhyasana: meditating on it constantly. Each of these is a potent tool and requires complete dedication to enlightenment, which alone will persuade the aspirant to immerse herself into it so deeply. Says Frawley: �Such meditation is a repeated practice of self-examination and self-remembrance throughout the day as one�s primary mental state.�
�Meditation on the oneness of all is another important Vedantic approach,� he says. �For it sees pure unity or oneness as the supreme principle in existence.�
Another way is to meditate on suffering and remove its cause, which is the habit of looking for happiness in the shifting, corporeal world. Ignorance of our true Self is the cause of all misery, according to Vedanta.
However, Frawley picks on Self-Inquiry or atman vichara, as the principal meditative approach in Vedanta. Self-inquiry, popularised by the Advaitic guru Ramana Maharshi, is simple in its explanation though challenging enough to practice. Writes Frawley: �To practise it you need only trace the root of your thought back to the I-thought, from which all other thoughts arise. This is initiated by the question �Who am I?� By asking, �Who am I?� our thought current naturally gets focused on the search for the true Self and we forget about all other concerns and worries of the mind.�
The logic to this approach is that all our thoughts, directly or indirectly, can be traced back to the I-thought. Even issues like who the is the new prime Minister or what is the nation�s new economic policy to the latest blockbuster from Bollywood will be rooted in our own concerns and interests.
Our thoughts on any issue have two components. One is the subjective factor, the I-me-mine. Another is the objective factor, which is the activity or event that concerns the I. Because the latter component dominates the thinking, such as in this question: �What shall I have for lunch?� which triggers off the envisioning of a whole array of delectables, we never really come to grips with the I-factor.
Self-Inquiry therefore discards the objective and focuses purely on the subjective. In doing so, it learns to distinguish the real Self from the various identities and activities with which we shroud it. Writes Frawley: �This requires withdrawing our attention from the objects of sensation, emotion and thought by discriminating these from the formless Self or seer that observes them.
�For Self-Inquiry to work, we must have a real and fundamental doubt of who we are, through which we can reject all outer identifications. He says: �It is as if one had amnesia and didn�t know who one was and had to give full attention to the matter before anything else could be done.�
When we vigilantly focus the mind on the Self, we move the mind away from the external hold of the senses to the inner space. True Self-Inquiry systematically travels through all the identities from nationality, religion and regional origin to profession, relationship roles, finally to what we most assume is ourselves, body, mind, emotions and thoughts. It is when it is able to eliminate all thoughts that it will succeed in uncovering the subtle and elusive Self at the core of our being.
Writes Frawley: �The true Self is not only beyond human distinctions, it is beyond all divisions of time and space, name and form, birth and death. It is beyond all experience because it is the experiencer or observer of all. Self-Inquiry leads us ultimately to the Absolute in which the phenomenal world becomes little more than a mirage of the mind and the senses.�
Frawley offers a process called �discrimination between the seer and the seen� as an easy way to practise this method:
����������� First, one discriminates the seer from the external objects in one�s environment, which constantly change though the seer remains the same. For example, the eye is not blemished by imperfections in the objects that it sees.
������������ Second, one discriminates the seer from the sense organs. There are several senses and each varies in acuity, but the seer of the senses is constant and not altered by their fluctuations. For example, the mind can witness imperfections in the eye, like lack of acuity or blurring of vision.
����������� Third, one discriminates between the seer and mental states. Thoughts and feelings continually change but the seer, if we look deeply, remains the same. For example, the seer of anger does not cease to be when anger itself passes away.
����������� Fourth, one discriminates between the seer and the ego, between the pure-I and the I identified with body, emotion or thought. Then the pure Self devoid of external associations can shine forth. For example, we can witness our ego states like pride and dejection, just as we can observe shifting sensations or emotions.
����������� Fifth, one abides in the pure Self devoid of objectivity, letting all the contents of the mind come and go like waves and bubbles on the sea.
Frawley suggests that we pursue the process by degrees, taking time with each stage. The fifth state of abiding as the seer is the ultimate stage, when all that we see merges back into the light of seeing, revealing its nature as pure consciousness.
Self-Inquiry is a mental activity but it is an activity that uses the mind to penetrate to the zone that lies beyond it, by tracing the root of all thoughts, which lie in the I-thought. Says Frawley: �It is reversing the thought current to return to the ocean of thought-free awareness, in which the mind�s activity naturally comes to an end.�
While it can be done at all times and places, Frawley suggests that it is best practised while alone or with nature.
It is advisable to restrict social activities while undergoing this practice for that causes the mind to externalise. Satsang, however, or interaction with fellow seekers, can powerfully magnetise us towards higher thoughts and aspirations.
While practising Self-Inquiry in the midst of action, he suggests we keep the thought �Who is the doer?� in mind in order to attain detachment from action and obtain the spirit of nishkaama karma.
Frawley admits that Self-Inquiry may be difficult to sustain over a large period of time. It is also difficult to gauge one�s progress, though the level of peace, equanimity and detachment are good pointers. However, it is quite possible to also attain false states of samadhi in which traces of the ego still remain. For these reasons he suggests finding a true teacher who can assess the aspirant�s level and lead him step by step towards the high and lofty goal of enlightenment.
Says he: �The best judge of a good teacher is the peace that one feels in his or her presence. It is not their personal charisma or how high one feels around them, which can be factors of illusion.
If the question, �Who am I?� gets monotonous over time, he suggests we ask related questions like �What is fear?� Or �What are we really seeking in life?� J. Krishnamurti popularised this form of Self-Inquiry, though the danger here is that it can also go off-centre into psychological inquiry or other purely mental processes.
Because of its difficult as well as lofty purpose, Frawley suggests that we see it not as a route to instant enlightenment but as a lifelong practice. He writes: �One should first aim at a regular practice�for example, half an hour morning and evening after other yogic practices to prepare the mind�and continue this for some time before judging the success of one�s endeavours.�
He concludes: �The world is the great maya or illusion of the Lord (Bhagavan) that requires not only our own selfless effort but Divine grace in order to cross. Yet attempting this is the real purpose of our birth and the real goal of all our life-times.�
Vedantic Meditation is published by Full Circle in India
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