Note: For the complete lessons,
with additions, see the AYP
Easy Lessons for Ecstatic Living Books.
Lesson 327 The Evolutionary Stages of Mind
Date: May 3, 2009
New Members: 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 the mind.
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 the unreal.
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 witness.
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
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
We might 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 as That, 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 cant 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
isnt 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
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 divine consciousness.
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
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
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 doesnt 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
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 neti!
The enlightened 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.
Note: For detailed discussion on the practical
utilization of self-inquiry, and how to avoid ineffective uses of
self-inquiry, see the
and the Liberation book.
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