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Advanced Yoga Practices
Main Lessons
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Note: For the Original Internet Lessons with additions, see the AYP Easy Lessons Books. For the Expanded and Interactive Internet Lessons, AYP Online Books, Audiobooks and more, see AYP Plus.

Lesson 325 - Relational and Non-Relational Self-Inquiry  (Audio)

AYP Plus Additions:
325.1 - Cultivating Relational Self-Inquiry in Everyday Living
  (Audio)

From: Yogani
Date: April 27, 2009

New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the web archive, as previous lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why This Discussion?"


In its purest form, self-inquiry takes the position that nothing exists. There is only unconditioned awareness,
 with everything in time and space being a projection from That, all of life being an illusion like a movie being projected on the screen of our awareness. Our perception of material reality is caused by our identification with what is perceived. As discussed in previous lessons, the witness is awareness independent of all the objects we perceive. Yet, the witness does coexist with objects, as anyone who engages in daily deep meditation for a while knows. We can describe this relationship, even though it is beyond all descriptions. It is a riddle. As we will see, getting behind the riddle is the key to effective self-inquiry.

The coexistence of the witness with objects is not generally accepted by those engaged in the most uncompromising forms of self-inquiry, even as they engage with objects and walk about doing daily activities ranging from the mundane to the complex. Their assertion is that there are no objects. In uncompromising approaches to self-inquiry, we are instructed to let life go and reside in That which is behind the illusion. We are told, "Be the blank screen behind the movie."

It is all well and good. It is the truth. We are That and all objects are projections of That. However, this kind of thinking will only be thinking if there is no abiding witness present while such concepts are being entertained. And therein lies the problem, a flaw in the impeccable logic of pure uncompromising self-inquiry.

The premise is that if one engages in this kind of logic for long enough, then eventually the letting go that results will lead to realization, and the cognition of That which is beyond the play occurring in time and space, which is presumed to have no reality whatsoever. This "realization" can be instant. So it is said.

There is an inconsistency in this approach. Not for everyone, but for a large percentage of the population. The problem is that for those who are yet to cultivate abiding inner silence (the witness) this kind of self-inquiry will be largely intellectual. That which is being sought in letting go is a thought object in the mind also. So it is thoughts about thoughts. The mind playing with the mind. It can go on for a very long time. Talk about an illusion! 

This kind of self-inquiry can lead to much trouble in life an attitude of meaninglessness and a loss of motivation to engage in living. The very act of affirming non-duality (unmanifest Oneness) and the non-existence of duality (Oneness plus diversity) can lead to a sense of hopelessness if one is not experiencing at least a smidgen of the thing itself, the witness, the screen behind the movie of life. 

It is like asking a bird who is yet to grow wings to jump off the top of a building. The bird with fully developed and functioning wings will keep saying to the one with undeveloped wings, "Come on, you can do it. Just jump. Don't worry about the wings." 

Does this make any sense? The wings have to come first. Then we can fly. It is time to face up to the fact that one size of self-inquiry does not fit all. Cookbook self-inquiry in the form of mental algorithms and formula thinking does not work for everyone. 

Rather, self-inquiry is a continuum that is tied to the level of inner silence we are experiencing as a known presence within us. It is the witness. That is the real thing. That is the blank screen behind the movie of life. When we engage in self-inquiry from that position, then we will have a relationship between consciousness (our witness) and the idea. Then there can be an intimate cognition in silence of the reality conveyed by the idea. This is knowledge. 

On the other hand, if we are identified largely with our thoughts, and perceive these to be our self, then the idea of our thoughts will be interacting with the idea of our self two ideas interacting with each other. Castles in the air. In this case there is no intimate relationship between consciousness and the idea. It is all happening in the mind. 

It is important to distinguish between these two situations, and how a natural shift will occur as we, as the witness, move into true relationship with our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the surroundings, leading to direct cognition of who and what we are. If we develop clarity about what the maneuvering of our mind is and what our true presence is, then we will find ourselves going beyond the identification of ourselves with all objects, including our thoughts. We will be going beyond the mental processes of self-inquiry as well, which is the only true self-inquiry. Abiding inner silence (the witness) is That which dissolves thinking immediately with the first question, and it is That which inhabits all answers with stillness. Of course, this is made possible by cultivating the witness in daily deep meditation.

In order to better gage where we are, it can be helpful to designate parameters to describe where we may be in our efforts to engage in self-inquiry. Such designations would not be necessary if all who entered into self-inquiry were coming from the same place the point of view of the inner witness. However, this is not the case, so making some distinctions can be helpful. 

The truth is that much of the self-inquiry that goes on these days isnon-relational (meaning, not in the presence of the witness not progressive) and often counter-productive to spiritual progress because it adds layers of mental baggage without much cultivation of our native awareness. Ironically, effective practices like deep meditation, which do cultivate the witness, may be shunned in favor of such a rigid approach, which does not cultivate a relationship between the objects of perception and the witness. So much of self-inquiry today is like this, and many find themselves beating their heads against a wall. It isn't necessary!

On the other hand, for the few who have had abiding inner silence since an early age, there will be a relationship between ideas, perceptions and unconditioned awareness. Self-inquiry in this case is relational. These are the "spontaneously awakened" souls who dazzle us with their insight, and who are often idolized and imitated. There is an air of exclusivity about them, which can unintentionally lead to a have and have not mentality. Being in the club can become more important than getting enlightened. We have all seen it happen, haven't we? 

Enlightenment is not an exclusive condition reserved for the few, and the rest of us are not doomed to imitate the instruction to "Just be." No. With the addition of deep meditation and other practices that promote the cultivation of the witness, and much more, self-inquiry will become relational (in stillness) and the direct cognition of life as a dance of endless joy in emptiness will be there for everyone.

By relational self-inquiry, we mean a progressive and intimate relationship between ideas and our abiding inner silence. When our thoughts are naturally witnessed as objects, something happens. A joining occurs, and the idea dissolves along with its meaning in stillness. Then we know the truth of it. The same is true of the perception of our feelings and external objects in the world. As the witness arises, all of our perceptions become relational and spiritually progressive in daily living. 

For example, if we ask the question, "Who am I?" and let go into our stillness, the answer will be there, not as an idea, but as part of us in presence. We will know who we are beyond identification with the surroundings, our body, thoughts and feelings. If we have been cultivating inner silence in daily deep meditation, the answer will be there to an increasing degree over time, until eventually all that we have known to be other will be dancing on our field of awareness like waves on the unmoving depths of the ocean. This is relational self-inquiry, and it is not at odds with ordinary life. It fulfills ordinary life.

On the other hand, if we go about mentally chanting, "Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?!" pounding the idea away without any significant stillness or presence of the witness, without any letting go, then this will be non-relational self-inquiry. It can lead to a lot of frustration, and real headaches. Much better to get behind all that by developing our inner quality of stillness, which we can then let go into easily when engaged in self-inquiry. 

In our daily activities and relationships, we may be inclined to inquire about the nature of the experiences and interactions we encounter. If someone becomes angry with us, and we find ourselves responding in kind, we may inquire, "Is my rising anger based in truth?" and then let it go into stillness. If we are abiding in the witness, the answer will be there. We will know that our negative reactions are rooted in our identification with the body-mind, which we have falsely regarded as our self. As we become identified with the anger of another, we may be inclined to mirror that. But is that the truth? Can't we just as easily mirror the anger of another with a loving reply? What have we got to lose but the anger itself? The abiding witness gives us the ability to make that choice, where before the witness we could only react to negative energy in kind. The witness puts us in the position of having a choice, and when we have that choice, we have the option to take the high road. This is the difference between living in non-duality versus duality. It is the difference between relational and non-relational self-inquiry. 

So much of life operates on knee-jerks, on habits and dramatic stories that have been deeply ingrained in us for a long time. We draw our conclusions about every situation in life based on these habits. It is like we are the hero in our drama and everyone else is the potential enemy. It doesn't have to be that way. As we begin to see the world and ourselves from the perspective of our own inner silence, we will also see that we can change our reactions to things. We will be compelled to do so, because the truth rising within us does not mesh with the untrue habits we have been unintentionally expressing in so many ways. We will feel some discomfort as our awareness grows. So we begin to make different choices in how we perceive our life and act in the world, based on what we are actually feeling. Ultimately, this is what unfolds our liberation. This evolving relationship with our feelings is an important part of relational self-inquiry. 

If we project this divine process with the mind, there will be strain. As soon as we do that, we will find ourselves slipping into non-relational self-inquiry, building more mental structures in ways we may not even recognize. Relationship is letting go. It is allowing our natural purification and opening to occur. Non-relationship is projecting and hanging on to the results, including hanging on to letting go!

It is the difference between theory and practice. Theory is thinking about doing, and practice is the doing itself. In this case, the doing is a non-doing. So much of self-inquiry out there is only about theory, about philosophy. Real self-inquiry is about practice, about the thing itself, which is engaging as the witness, and letting go.

Why should we bother with all this relational and non-relational mumbo-jumbo? It is suggested not to bother with it much. We don't want to be adding too much mental baggage. Just be aware that self-inquiry is not about doing, projecting or obtaining anything. It is about going beyond the machinations of the mind with simple inquiries and automatic answers that rise in stillness. It is about allowing the witness to witness what is happening within and around us. Very simple. 

If there is mental strain, we will know there is something non-relational going on, and we can self-pace our practice for progress with comfort. If there are strong emotions coming up, we will know we are challenging the gap between relational and non-relational living. We will cross over that gap. When we do, we will enter the promised land where everything we do is relational in stillness. It is life expressing as stillness in action.

Next time, let's look at some styles of self-inquiry, and how we can bridge the gap.

The guru is in you.

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Note: For detailed discussion on the practical utilization of self-inquiry, and how to avoid ineffective uses of self-inquiry, see the Self-Inquiry book and the Liberation book, and AYP Plus.

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