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Self-Inquiry and the Limbs of
May 15, 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
Self-inquiry is found in all systems of spiritual development. Wherever
there is discrimination on the spiritual path, there will be self-inquiry.
Whether it is relational self-inquiry or not is another matter, and that is
the key question. Is the witness present when we are inquiring?
systems of spiritual development are philosophical by nature (mainly in the
mind) and teachers may subscribe to self-inquiry as a stand-alone practice
in order to adhere to the strict tenets of the philosophy. The philosophical
system of Vedanta is
one of these, and its strong stance on the non-dual (advaita) nature of
existence, and the non-existence of the world, may leave the practitioner
with little choice but to declare the truth of non-duality, whether it is
being experienced or not, or just walk away muttering.
"the end of the Veda" (the end of knowledge). It relies on Indian scriptures
such as the Upanishads and Brahma
Sutras to make its case for
the non-duality of existence. The case is philosophically sound, if not
easily realized outright by the average student. Vedanta also relies on the Bhagavad
Gita to support its assertion
that existence is non-dual in its nature, and therefore the world will be
known to be unreal even when we are fully engaged in worldly activities.
Interestingly, the system and philosophy of spiritual development known as Yoga finds
validation in these same ancient scriptures, even though yoga is often
regarded as a dual rather
Yoga also subscribes to and has its origin in the Yoga
Sutras of Patanjali, which prescribe a range of practices designed to
bring about the very condition of non-duality (Oneness) held by
vedanta as the ultimate truth.
The remaining systems of Indian philosophy and spiritual development are
about equally split with regard to being considered dual or non-dual in
their approach. There are six systems in all, give or take, depending on who
is doing the counting. All of these systems recognize the unified nature of
existence, just as high school quantum physics does nowadays.
raises a question: If all of the systems recognize the non-dual nature of
existence, then which one is the right one in its approach?
answer is, it depends what you are looking for. What is not often suggested
is that all of the systems, and their methods, can be applied together for
maximum effect. If the boundaries between them are dissolved, then the best
of all worlds can be realized Oneness. This will not be easy for those
with a sectarian streak, which is a paradox for those who may consider
themselves to be staunch non-dualists. How can anything be
separate with that point of view? Crossing boundaries will be necessary for
sectarians before they will know the truth, for the truth lives in all.
Yoga does not suffer from such conflicts, and happily embraces all
philosophies and systems of spiritual practice that lead to the best
results. At least the most effective yoga systems do.
Patanjali was so complete in laying out his famous Eight
Limbs of Yoga that yoga
philosophy is able to accommodate many angles of approach for cultivating
the process of human spiritual transformation. He may not have intended it
that way, but his all-inclusive model, reflecting the full range of
capabilities for spiritual transformation found in the human nervous system,
has turned out to be compatible with multiple strategies and systems. The
eight limbs form a good checklist for considering the completeness of any
system of spiritual practice.
Patanjalis eight limbs of yoga include:
Yama (restraints non-violence,
truthfulness, non-stealing, preservation and cultivation of sexual
energy, and non-covetousness)
Niyama (observances purity,
contentment, spiritual intensity, study of spiritual knowledge and Self,
and active surrender to the divine)
and physical maneuvers)
of the senses)
attention on an object)
systematic dissolving of the object)
in pure consciousness)
see Lesson 149.
There is an additional category of practice called Samyama,
which integrates the last three limbs of yoga together dharana, dhyana and
samadhi. The mechanics of samyama are closely related to the performance of
relational self-inquiry, picking up an intention/inquiry, and letting go in
stillness. Meditation cultivates the abiding witness, and samyama enlivens
the witness in a way that promotes the effectiveness of self-inquiry.
Self-inquiry is included in the Niyamas (observances) in the form of study
of spiritual knowledge and Self (called
Jnana Yoga), and is also woven throughout all of the eight limbs in the form
of discrimination, where particular modes of practice are favored over
the many kinds of experience that can arise. Taken together as a systematic
integration, the methods of yoga bring realization of the same truth of
non-dual Oneness that
is expounded in advaita-vedanta. It is accomplished by promoting a gradual
process of purification and opening within the human nervous system, leading
to its highest expressions of abiding inner silence, ecstatic bliss, and the
unity of outpouring divine love. So, all that has been written about
non-duality, regardless of system or approach, becomes the direct experience
of the practitioner. That is where the rubber meets the road, after all.
Regardless of its convincing logic,
a multi-pronged cause and
effect approach like yoga might make a devout non-dualist cringe. But, as
has been discussed in previous lessons, if real (relational) self-inquiry is
going to be happening, cultivation of the abiding inner witness via deep
meditation, as a minimum, will be a prudent course. In the language of the
eight limbs of yoga, the witness in daily activity is abiding samadhi (pure
consciousness). There are many names for it. We will know the witness when
we see it, and are it. A rose is still a rose by any other name. It is the
essential constituent of self-inquiry and enlightenment. No abiding witness,
no relational self-inquiry. No relational self-inquiry,
no stable experience of non-duality/unity. Before
then, we may be dipping in and out of non-duality, but it will only be the
real thing when the witness has become stable to the point of never being
overwhelmed by the mind. This is the importance of meditation, even
foradvanced practitioners of self-inquiry. And especially for those adhering
to advaita-vedanta and having difficulty stabilizing self-realization. It is
a common issue these days, with so many droppingtheir
toes into the
There is also an energetic component of non-duality/unity,
as odd as that may seem. For those who have entered into the non-duality
experience, even just a little, there is found to be a great dynamic
occurring. Stillness is constantly moving, shimmering, shining, and
animating the actions of all in creation, and it becomes particularly
noticeable once one is able to release into the
unity condition. If there
has been insufficient groundwork, the energy awakening can be dramatic and
unsettling, and must be addressed by appropriate means before the non-dual
condition can be stabilized. This is the energetic (kundalini) side of the
equation, and it too has a relationship to self-inquiry. We will look at it
more closely in an upcoming lesson. The energy dynamic enables inner
stillness to express as unending ecstatic bliss and outpouring divine love,
even as we find the essence of our self to be unwavering and located in
unity everywhere we look.
But before we reach such a liberated point of view, it is possible to be
drifting into the battle of ideas, doctrine and dogma, though it doesn't
have to be that way if the key levers of human spiritual transformation are
put to good use. Then the battle lines in
the mind will evaporate
Just as there
are those with a rigid view of advaita-vedanta (is this non-duality?), there
are those within
yoga who subscribe to a singular practice, or other narrow approaches to the
exclusion of all the rest of yoga. It is the flights of fancy we discussed
in Lesson 308.
It is easy to get stuck in a mode of little progress when taking a
narrow view in yoga, advaita-vedanta, or any approach to spiritual
realization. These are self-limiting views, entrenched in the mind field,
which is duality, no matter how
"non-dual" the argument
may be philosophically. As long as we give it a name, it is in the field of
It takes a
flexible integration of methods to penetrate the veil of ideas, emotions and
perceived materiality in front of us, to permanently realize the eternal
luminous reality underlying it all, which is our true Self.
Just as a broad view of the systems of Indian philosophy can be beneficial,
so too will a broad application of the methods of yoga be more likely to
bring results than a narrow view. This includes self-inquiry in both the
execution of the practical techniques of yoga, and in the ongoing inquiry
into who we are and what we are doing here. We are That which
is beyond the mind and all the identified (enmeshed) perceptions of our
awareness. When we are able to let go into our abiding inner silence, we
will know what it is. Our awareness is That.
This is consistent with the proclamation of advaita-vedanta the direct
realization of the non-dual nature of existence. With an ongoing desire
(bhakti) to drop our imaginary boundaries both in perceptions and in
practices, and a willingness to utilize the full range of yoga tools that
are available to aid in this, then we will be on our way. It is only be a
matter of determining what methods to apply, and in which order. It will be
largely a matter of personal preference, and a logical application of causes
and effects to find out what works best for us.
The guru is in you.
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Note: For detailed discussion on the practical
utilization of self-inquiry, see the
Self-Inquiry book. For detailed instructions on building a
balanced daily practice routine with self-pacing, see the
Eight Limbs of Yoga book and the Liberation
book. Also see AYP Plus.