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The Evolutionary Stages of Mind
May 3, 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
As we have discussed in the previous lesson, there are many styles of
self-inquiry, embodying a variety of systems of practice. Each may emphasize
a particular angle, with its own philosophy, terminology and mental
The styles can
vary widely, from prescribing complete conscious engagement in the minutest
details of the identification of awareness with objects of perception
(sometimes called mindfulness), to letting go of life altogether,
including all seeking. Whatever the teaching may be, it will always reflect
the experience of the particular teacher who is transmitting the knowledge.
There will be a bias, and the teaching may or may not resonate with all
students who come to study that approach. It is up to the student to find a
teaching that does resonate.
All self-inquiry teachings have one thing in common they seek to
dissolve the identification of awareness with objects of perception,
including all thoughts, feelings and objects of the world. The goal of
self-inquiry is to eliminate the bondage of "me and mine," as fabricated by
We all come at
different stages of readiness to undertake this unwinding of the ego, as it
has been called. In truth, it will not make any sense at all to most of us,
until we have tasted the peace of inner silence within us. Then we know
there is something more to us than the many props we have used to create our
identity in the world the identity
that we all
know will end as the body decays and dies. As soon as we have glimpsed the
eternal within ourselves, it is a whole new ball game. There is something
more than the limited and ever-grasping ego. To know it we must make a
journey that encompasses heart, mind and body. Nothing less will do.
Times are changing. Now it is time for spiritual teachings to serve the
people, instead of the other way around. And in order to do so, the
teachings must be open, flexible, and, most importantly, effective. To be
effective, such teachings must be capable of addressing every student at
every level of readiness. If the student has the desire to grow and is
willing to make a commitment of time and some discipline, then the teaching
must be able to deliver viable means, or it will be in need of some
improvement. This is okay. If teachings are flexible, they will serve the
people where they are, and evolve as the people evolve.
Self-inquiry is a particularly tricky one for application for different
levels of students. In the case of AYP, we begin with daily deep meditation,
which will cultivate inner silence. Additional methods of yoga are be added
as appropriate. A foundational knowledge of self-inquiry is also necessary.
First, it is good to know that in our essential nature we are unbounded
pure bliss consciousness, and that all we are doing in practices is
unfolding what we already are in our daily life. It is also good to know
that this will lead to many practical benefits. So, it is a worthwhile
endeavor to be on the path.
Next, it is also good to know that there
is a natural progression in our spiritual unfoldment which occurs over time,
usually over a long time, except in the rare cases of people who are born
near enlightenment. In spite of what we may have heard, enlightenment is not
an overnight event for most people. There is no getting around this, because
each of us must go through a process of inner purification and opening, and
it takes time, even with the best of teachings. Along the way, there are
grades and stages, and the journey never ends, even for those who are very
advanced. Perhaps especially for them, because they become much more aware
of the wider need for rising inner silence in the community, world and
beyond, and find themselves on the front line of that great endeavor. We all
help as we can, and the enlightened can help so much more. The more we can
do, the more we will be called to do.
For the individual, there is a
progression of integrated practices that is mapped out in a step-by-step way
throughout these lessons for cultivating the necessary purification and
opening. For self-inquiry, there is a progression also. Not that it is
required for everyone to go through a progression of self-inquiry methods.
One may not even use structured self-inquiry methods at all, and still be
going through the process of self-inquiry based on the natural emergence of
inner silence and the increasingly clear perceptions of Self (witness)
in relation to the objects of experience.
Regardless of structured self-inquiry methods, or the lack of them, some
recognizable stages of mind will evolve, and it can save time and some
confusion to be aware of these, particularly for those who have a tendency
to try and run to the end before covering the beginning or the middle. The
beginning and the middle can be just as fulfilling as the end if we are
reasonably well in touch with where we are on our path. It does not have to
be so mysterious. With some basic knowledge, we will do much better, and not
be so much exposed to the hazards of taking blind leaps led by our
over-eager mind (more on the "pitfalls of the mind" in an upcoming lesson).
Assuming one is engaged in daily deep meditation, here are five stages
of mind that self-inquiry may play itself upon as we move along in our
Pre-Witnessing Information and intellectual assessments
about truth provide inspiration, and a tendency to build mental castles
in the air, ideas reacting with ideas, which is non-relational
self-inquiry. So we do what is necessary to cultivate the witness.
Witnessing Perceiving the world, our thoughts and
feelings as objects separate from Self.
It is the beginning of relational self-inquiry, chosen or not.
Discrimination The reversal of identification by logical
choices based on direct perception rooted in stillness. This is more
advanced relational self-inquiry which is able to discern the real from
Dispassion Rise of the condition of no judgment and no
attachment. The process of self-inquiry becoming automatic to the point
of all objects and self-inquiry itself being constantly dissolved in the
Unity The merging of subject and object: "I am That.
You are That. All this is That."
Ongoing outpouring divine love and service to others as universal Self.
While progress on the road to enlightenment may be erratic,
difficult or non-existent when engaged in self-inquiry as a stand-alone
approach, it is quite a different story when self-inquiry is used in concert
with a path based on an integration of tried and true yoga methods.
The cultivation of inner silence (the witness) in deep meditation assures
that our perception will be expanding from within over time, and this
provides for an increasingly fertile field for the process of self-inquiry
to occur. So too, does our experience in daily samyama practice cultivate
our ability to release in stillness and live more from the level of our
abiding inner silence.
As purification and
opening proceed within us, our self-inquiry methods will change and refine
over time, as we migrate from pre-witnessing to witnessing, discrimination,
dispassion and unity.
The steady emergence of inner silence and our ability to release our
intentions and perceptions within it are the dynamics behind the progression
of self-inquiry from non-relational to relational, until the experiencer and
the experience have merged to become One,
self-sufficient, active in the world, and free of the bondage of
identification and suffering.
How meaningful is self-inquiry of the absolute (non-duality) kind
when we are still in the pre-witnessing stage of mind? This is when all
things are still considered primarily on the level of thinking and logic. In
this state, what does it mean to us when we hear, "All this you see here in
the world is illusion, and you are the reality behind it."
have some inspiration, a desire may be kindled to know more, to be more.
Hopefully. But the more we think about it, the more layers we will create
around that essential desire to know the truth. How many times will we have
to repeat the question "Who am I?" before we will have a glimmer of
who and what we really are? And how many books will we have to read? This is
why we call pre-witnessing the stage of inspiration
and building castles in the air. Not much more than this can happen
until we move to the next stage. With suitable inspiration, we will be
compelled to take action beyond pounding the idea against the infinite with
our tiny brain! The mind can only run in circles for so long before we
realize that we must add something else to the mix.
Once we are
inspired to uncover the truth, it is important to take action, intelligent
action. Self-inquiry purists will say, "Take no action. Do nothing. Just
be!" Well, we can attempt to do that for a very long time in pre-witnessing
mode. No doubt we can develop some witness quality by working on just being.
But there is a much faster way.
If we commit to take action using all the tools that are available to
us, we can travel very quickly along the road of realizing what we already
are our inner most Self. With
deep meditation and a full battery of supporting practices we will move
surely into the witnessing stage.
As mentioned before, the witnessing stage is a whole new ball game. It
should be pointed out that there is witnessing and there is witnessing.
There is a continuum of development as witnessing emerges. It begins as a
passive inner condition perceived as a separation from the events going on
around us, often first noticed during the occurrence of dynamic events.
Everyone has had the experience of time
standing still when a dynamic
event occurred, like a car crash, explosion or other sudden change in our
physical environment. When the witness begins to emerge, ordinary events are
gradually experienced more in this way also. As witnessing continues to
advance, our body, thoughts and feelings become objects of perception that
are separate from our sense of self, our witness. This is an important
Before the witness has developed to the point where our
thoughts and feelings become objects of perception, self-inquiry will be
mostly non-relational, meaning not fully connected with who we are pure
consciousness. The dawn of the witness sets the stage for real self-inquiry,
and an ongoing change in our life experience, for this is when the process
can move beyond ideas to the direct experience. And the direct experience is beyond all
experience. In the initial witness condition, we are experiencing, but we
are not the experience. We are beyond it, seeing from the point of view of
separate pure awareness.
There are a few more steps beyond the
emergence of the witness that we must go through. It is not enough to be
strongly established in inner silence, seeing the changing world as separate
from ourselves. We must do something with it to move it forward. Evolution
compels us to do so. With a little nudging, it happens naturally enough.
This is where self-inquiry can have its greatest impact on our over all path
to enlightenment, because we are able to make conscious choices based in our
stillness. We see our thoughts, feelings and perceptions of the world for
what they are, without being entirely identified with them. We are then able
to engage in a way that is liberating rather than binding, both for
ourselves and for others.
Other yoga practices are an aid to this process, such as samyama, spinal
breathing pranayama, and additional practices that cultivate ecstatic
conductivity (kundalini awakening) in the body. As we become more
established in both inner silence and ecstatic conductivity, we experience
refinements in perception and the movement of dynamic stillness into our
thought processes. These developments support steadily increasing
effectiveness in relational self-inquiry.
When we think of discrimination, the
normal interpretation is that we are choosing between this or that thing
choosing between this or that idea. Non-relational self-inquiry is like
that, choosing between things, ideas, and ways we imagine we would like for
life to be. This kind of discrimination is circular, goes nowhere fast, and
may go nowhere for a long time. Even choosing not to think is a gigantic
task when undertaken non-relationally, without the witness present to
support our endeavor.
With the rising presence of the witness, the entire dynamic of self-inquiry
changes. Then we are choosing between that which is object (things, ideas,
emotions) and that which is subject (witness,Self). And that kind of
choosing is not a doing at all. It is a letting go. A surrender, even while
we are being active in the world.
We all know what we want. We want to know the truth. We want to be
happy. We want to be free. Since childhood we have been told that the truth
will set us free from the burdens of this life. So we want That.
As the witness becomes more and more abiding and quietly observing every
thought and feeling, we come to know ourselves asThat, unshaken and
independent of all of our experiences, including our own thoughts then we
are finally in the position to make choices that will unwind the habitual
identification with experiences and the dream we have been in up until now.
It is a new perspective from which we can clearly see what is real and
what is not. At the same time, it is both as profound and as simple as
directly perceiving what is eternal and what is not. And we can discriminate
accordingly, making logical choices that are grounded in stillness,
unwinding the lingering habit of the mind to identify itself with the
objects of experience, both outside and inside us.
In the language of
advaita (non-duality), it is called neti
neti, which means not this
and not this. When the witness is sufficiently present for relational
self-inquiry to occur in the form of discrimination, then neti neti becomes
a reality. We directly perceive what is true and what is not, and we can
easily choose. Before then, neti neti will be an exercise of the intellect,
and can be as ineffective and exhausting as any other non-relational
self-inquiry. We will know the witness is dawning in earnest when
discrimination becomes easier. It is a telltale sign.
A certain excitement comes with the realization that we have arrived at
the point of being able to choose with certainty that which is real over
that which is not. There can even be an enthusiasm to the exclusion of all
else, and we have to guard against throwing out the practices that have
brought us to this point. There can be a tendency to plant our flag on the
notion that we are That, and fixate on the idea that all we have to do
from then on is hang onto That.
If this happens, it can be slipping into non-relational self-inquiry
again. It can happen to advanced practitioners. Much better we should
continue with the practices that brought us to this point and strengthen the
presence of the witness beyond all tendencies we might have to imagine that
we have attained anything. Even the most advanced practitioners must guard
against falling into non-relational self-inquiry.
Certainly we can
take giant leaps toward realization when our ability has risen to clearly
discriminate between objects (external and internal) and the subject (the
witness our Self). It is
prime time for self-inquiry. But it will not be the only thing going on,
assuming we have been wise and continue with our daily routine of yoga
practices. All methods combined will assure our rapid forward progress.
Self-inquiry is useful, but it cannot be trusted to operate alone.
Certainly not at the discrimination stage, or at any prior stage.
There will come a time when discrimination begins to give way to
something else. It is the letting go of the need to make choices anymore.
The subject (witness) becomes so well established that choices no longer
need to be made. We just are, and we can allow everything in our field of
awareness to just be, even as we are interacting normally in every day
living. We call this the dispassion stage. It is the stage of being
completely unruffled by anything that happens inside or outside us.
The condition of dispassion is one of the
primary goals of self-inquiry. Those who are very enthusiastic and dedicated
to self-inquiry are very passionate about developing dispassion. This is
non-relational self-inquiry, of course. We all have to begin somewhere. We
can't begin at the end, though we may certainly be passionate about the
ideal we have chosen, and that serves a purpose. It is our bhakti (devotion
to our chosen ideal).
Dispassion is not a doing at all, and is beyond self-inquiry itself. It
isn't even a letting go, for it is beyond choice. Dispassion is a state of
being. It is the subject (the witness, our sense of Self)
developed through an integration of practices to the point where all the
objects of experience are taken in stride, without identification. This
applies to events, relationships, and all that is going on in the body,
heart and mind.
Is dispassion a state of indifference, a state of
uncaring? Does it mean we do not act or react in the world? It does not mean
that. It is just the opposite. Much of spiritual development is paradoxical,
with less becoming much more.
The gradual emergence of dispassion means we are becoming more free to
act for the good of all. Inner silence will move to
do this through us more and more, the further we travel along the path. It
is the paradox of enlightenment. The more we have gone beyond, the more
engaged we will become for the benefit of others. This is the nature of
We really have to give credit where credit is
due. Deep meditation (if we are doing it) is the primary cultivator of
dispassion, because dispassion is an advanced stage of the witness. A
stand-alone path of self-inquiry can lead to dispassion also, but it is
rare. To succeed, self-inquiry must ascend to the level of meditation, the
transcendence of all objects of attention. If self-inquiry is done like this
over time, then the witness will dawn and, in more time, there will be
dispassion. It is a difficult path, because it lacks a structured and
efficient routine of practice. The concept of practice itself
may be lacking. Self-inquiry of the stand-alone variety will be about
constantly remembering to release all objects of perception, including all
thoughts, feelings and perceptions of external objects. When self-inquiry
becomes a deeply ingrained habit, then that will be a kind of ongoing
meditation. How an approach like this will fit into daily life is another
question, since it requires ongoing self-inquiry to be incorporated into
every nook and cranny of our daily life. This may not be practical for
someone with a family and career. There can be direct conflicts,
particularly before the witness has dawned.
On the other hand, if deep meditation and other sitting practices are undertaken
in a structured twice-daily routine, and life is lived normally, the witness
will be coming up naturally as a support to family and career, and also as a
support to undertake self-inquiry in a way that does not disrupt the normal
flow of life. Deep meditation provides the witness, and self-inquiry
provides the perspective in a way that is not replacing everyday life and
activities, but enhancing them.
Dispassion is at home in the
marketplace, as well as in the remote retreat. It is all the same. The
combination of daily deep meditation and gradually emerging self-inquiry
provides flexibility for living, and is a much faster path as well.
No one knows what the true nature of existence is
outside the realm of time and space. Yet, oddly enough, we can experience it
directly. The reason we say "We cannot know" is because the reality we are
all able to experience through deep meditation and self-inquiry is outside
the field of knowing. It is That,
and thousands of volumes have been written attempting to describe That.
In the end, the best we can do is say, "I am That."
Then we can carry on with the many descriptions of That pure
bliss consciousness, void, Tao, God, Allah It doesn't really matter what we
call it. That is
as good a word as any, and we are That.
All that exists is That.
If it sounds a little impersonal, it is not intended to be. For That is
the source of all love, compassion, goodness, creativity and happiness in
the world. That illuminates
us with these divine qualities, and is the source of all good deeds.
There is a misunderstanding that has been perpetuated by some teachers
the premise that becoming That is
the only thing of importance and nothing here on earth matters at all. In
fact, according to this premise, nothing here on earth exists. In a
philosophical sense this may be true. We learned it in high school quantum
physics, yes? Yet, when taken on the level of intellect, it is one of the
biggest traps for getting stuck in non-relational self-inquiry.
There is the idea that it matters not one bit what becomes of this earth
or the multitude of life that is on it. There is a distinction between one
who is truly enlightened and one who has created a division between
themselves and the rest of the world through non-relational self-inquiry,
enforced by a rigid intellectual view. With clear relational self-inquiry
based in stillness, we can reject this out of hand. Neti
one will be he or she who remains engaged for the benefit of all as That.
Advancement on the path to enlightenment brings with it the perception that
we can only be free when all are free, for we are One with
all who are suffering.
The image of the lone sage on the mountaintop, indifferent to the travails
of the world, is fiction. If a sage is not engaged in some way for the
benefit of others, their condition will be in question. True enlightenment
is the spontaneous outpouring of divine love, which is working constantly to
uplift everyone. The sage becomes a willing and wide open channel for That, which
does nothing even while doing everything.
So, while yoga and self-inquiry are often viewed as a going beyond,
never to return, it is not so. We can never leave what is here and now, for
it is what we are in our own Self.
The journey of yoga, and of self-inquiry, is a journey beyond all that is,
ending in a return and full engagement for the betterment of humankind a
journey from here to here.
This is the highest knowledge, and its highest manifestation in this world.
"I am That. You are That. All this is That."
It is an unending outpouring of divine love, whose fundamental nature
and ultimate fruition is life everywhere residing in the Oneness of
unity. It has always been That and
will always be That. The
witness and self-inquiry lead to direct realization of That.
The guru is in you.
detailed discussion on the practical
utilization of self-inquiry, and how to avoid ineffective uses of
self-inquiry, see the
and the Liberation book,
and AYP Plus.