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TECHNIQUE OF SELF-INQUIRY

Because the teaching of Self-inquiry is direct and simple, its literature is not as extensive as
that of other yogic practices. In addition, the path of Self-inquiry demands a certain
ripeness or readiness of mind that may require other practices to develop.
The process of Self-inquiry is so simple that it can be explained in a few words. To practice it
you need only trace the root of your thoughts 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.
All our thoughts are based directly or indirectly on the thought of the self. Thoughts such as
"Where am I going?" or "What will I do tomorrow?" are based directly on the self. Thoughts
like "What will happen to my family?" or "Who will win the next election?" are based
indirectly on the thought of the self because they refer ultimately to our own concerns.
Our thoughts consist of two components. The first is a subjective factor--I, me or mine. The
second is an objective factor--a state, condition or object with which the I is involved,
particularly the activities of our own body and mind. The habit of the mind is to get caught
in the object portion and never look within to recognize the true Self apart from external
concerns.
The result is that the pure I or the I-in-itself is unknown to us. What we call ourselves is but
a conglomerate of "I am this" or "this is mine," in which the subject is confused with an
object, quality or condition. Self-inquiry consists of discarding the object portion in order to
discover the pure Subject. 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.
The truth is that we don't know who we really are. What we call our Self is but some
thought, emotion or sensation that we are temporarily identified with and that is constantly
changing. Our lives are shrouded in ignorance about our true nature, springing from the
most basic feelings that we have, especially our bodily identity. We are not the body. Rather,
the body is a vehicle or vesture in which our true Self is obscured. As long as we don't
question this process of self-identification we must come to sorrow and remain in darkness
and confusion.
However, Self-inquiry does not consist of merely repeating the question "Who am I?" over
and over again in our minds, which is only a tiring mental exercise. It means holding to the
search for the true Self in all that one does. It requires that we have a real and fundamental
doubt about who we are, through which we can reject all outer identifications. 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.

Self-inquiry, moreover, is not merely an intellectual or psychological inquiry but an inquiry


with one's entire energy and attention. It requires a full and one-pointed concentration, not
interrupted by the intrusion of other thoughts. The thought current naturally moves back to
the Self to the extent that we do not preoccupy our minds with outside stimulation. The
problem is that the senses present us with so many distractions that it is difficult to look
within. Self-inquiry means to constantly question and reverse this process of extroversion
by seeking out the origin of our awareness and energy in the heart.
True Self-inquiry is not just questioning the limitation of our outer identity, like our family,
political or religious affiliation--whether one is a wife, a father, a Christian, a Hindu or an
atheist. It questions our entire identity as an embodied being. It does not stop short with
some general identity as a human, cosmic or spiritual being but rejects any formation of
thought as our true nature. It directs us back to the pure "I" that is not identified with any
form of objectivity, physical or mental.
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 senses. It goes far
beyond the discovery of some greater self, or any human or creative potential, to what is
beyond all limitations. In the process we expand our sense of self to include the entire
universe and all of its multifarious creatures.