Self-inquiry: the Personal and the Impersonal

Self-inquiry: the Personal and the Impersonal

What follows is an excerpt from Part I: Personal Inquiry in Swami Shankarananda’s book “Self-inquiry: Using your awareness to unblock your life. His method of Self-inquiry bridges the gap between the inner and outer worlds. Swamiji teaches that when our lives are blocked or confusing we can investigate, recognise and uplift the tension and stress that shows up in four chakras. If practiced with the intention to become free of negative emotion, there will be a return to peace and harmony. 

All paths end in inquiry. Why not pursue inquiry from the beginning?
Sri Ramana Maharshi

Real inquiry marries the head and heart. Thought, which has been wandering in its own bloodless world, feeding on itself, is connected to feeling. And like two wires touched together, a spark of energy occurs. Inquiry is also the conjunction of the personal and impersonal. The ancient yogic paths emphasised the impersonal. They insisted that this world does not exist and you are not a separate person.

IMG_1965
Swamiji speaking at a program.

In Indian culture, you are expected to fit into your particular role in life, your caste, your stage of life. You are to do your duty and any deviation is tantamount to insanity. The single social option to the non-conformist is the possibility of renouncing the world and heading off to the Himalayas to be a wandering monk.

In the West, on the contrary, we hear everywhere the cry, ‘What about me?’ We are obsessed with our individuality and our individual expression. The West is totally focused on the person. In India, the yoga is impersonal, connected to the highest truth, caring little for the person. One must maintain an appropriate silence about personal problems and simply do sadhana and one’s duty.

Yoga says that within each person, in the subtle body, are seven yogic centres, seven chakras, which have to do with different aspects of life. The three lower chakras govern the physical life; the heart chakra is the locus of emotional life; the fifth chakra, in the throat,has to do with communication; the third eye, the sixth chakra, is the place of intellect and higher wisdom. Here we have insights and visions but we are still within the personal realm. When you go beyond the sixth chakra to the seventh, at the crown of the head, you contact a different aspect of yourself. It is transpersonal; the dimension of the impersonal Self.

Western psychology was traditionally unaware of this dimension. In the past 30 years, however, a ‘transpersonal psychology’ has developed, acknowledging that divine, impersonal aspect. Jung knew of it but Freud did not. It exists within all of us, represented by the seventh chakra. What should we make of this knowledge of a higher reality? The first impulse is to try to override the person with the impersonal. A noble goal, but significantly difficult to attain. I tried to achieve it: I threw myself on the altar of impersonality again and again. Each time, the person returned. That the higher power does exist is beyond doubt, but the mystical play between the personal and impersonal has to be discovered.

My Guru seemed to me to be a man who was in cosmic awareness. He was always connected to the Self, and never unconnected. Yet, he was also very much a person. He wasn’t like some of the mind-borne ‘holy men’: ‘Hello my son, at last you have come . . .’ He wasn’t like that at all. He was completely vibrant and immediate and totally himself—to an alarming degree, in fact. He was a unique combination of the personal and the impersonal. He was a force of nature, all right. Like a stone rolling down a hill, and loving it.

Self-inquiry connects the personal with the impersonal. It respects the person. It doesn’t try to kill the person, but it also acknowledges the transpersonal. It seeks connectedness so that the person flowers within the impersonal and discovers the impersonal within. A life without the impersonal is dry and empty. You want the universe to flow towards your personal advantage, but, alas, the universe is indifferent. What chance does the poor little person have? The whole universe is arranged to frustrate or be indifferent to your desires. There is no joy in being merely a person.

You are so blinded by what is personal,
that you do not see the 
universal.
The blindness will not end by itself—
it must be 
undone skillfully and deliberately.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Sometimes we feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. It might be a political movement, or even a crowd cheering for a team at a football game. It is a rewarding and liberating feeling. Our individuality dissolves in the group, and, at the same time, participates actively. But when the event is over or we leave the group for some reason, we feel a kind of loss—we’ve returned to the merely personal. Such an experience is only temporary, but it is a taste of something real and intrinsic to our true Self. We are actually part of something greater, and when we live in harmony with it, our stress and fear fade away.

Through the process of inquiry, we recognise the dynamism running through us. We become liberated from doubt and concern when we no longer try to hold the universe at bay, but surrender to it, and welcome it. Our actions become effective and powerful, because they are aligned with this great impersonal process. And we have the delightful experience of playing our part in a larger drama.

Self-inquiry seeks to unblock all areas of life: health, career, relationship and spirituality.

Some more thoughts on Self-inquiry:

  • Blocks are tensions in our inner world.
  • Desire and fear create blocks.
  • There is one subject and many objects.
  • First force initiates, second force resists, third force enables.
  • Second force as blocked inner feeling is the main focus of inquiry.
  • Right method increases third force.
  • Self-inquiry harmonises our thinking, feeling and doing.
  • Wisdom power is where thought and feeling merge.
  • Everything undergoes five processes: creation, sustainment, dissolution, concealment and grace.
  • Concealment is the universal principle of separation.
  • Grace is the universal principle of oneness.
  • Our encounters in life are marked by emotion.
  • Our negative reactions are stored inside and may reappear later.
  • A yogi burns negative reactions to sameness with Consciousness.
  • Truth has a feeling of harmony and peace.
  • Self-inquiry is the main instrument in the wisdom path, yet it includes devotion.
  • Shiva Process Self-inquiry focuses on the higher Self.
  • Emotions are starting points for inquiry.

I Love God

I Love God

The heart of Mira is entangled in the beauty of her Guru’s feet; 
Nothing else causes her delight! 
He made her happy in the drama of the world; 
His knowledge dried up the Ocean of being and becoming. 
Mira says: My whole world is Shri Krishna; 
Now that my gaze is turned inward, I see it clearly.

Mirabai

When I was around eight a friend that I often played with on the weekends asked me if I believed in God, and I told her that I didn’t know because I wasn’t sure what God was. She told me that God was love and that He loved everyone. Her conviction awoke a curiosity in me.

I asked her where He lived and she said that He was in heaven and pointed to the above sky. I looked up trying to imagine where exactly in the sky God lived and what he looked like. As young as I was it seemed unlikely that he lived up there, but on the other hand it was likely there was a place where he did live. She said that God was also in her church and that if I wanted to meet Him I could come to church with her and her family but that I had to ask my parents.

God
Is God in the sky I wondered?

One Sunday morning I crept into my parents’ bedroom and woke my mother. I asked her if I could go to church with my friend and she groggily mumbled yes.

There was a subtle current of anticipation as I thought about meeting God. When we arrived at the church all the children were ushered into a classroom very much like a school room. My friend told me that children were not allowed to hear the sermon by the minister.

We sat at children’s desks while a young woman talked to us about Jesus, sinners, evil and saving lost souls. I could not grasp how children could be sinful or evil. I felt myself recoil as my mind drifted away from her voice. I fantasised a God that was different from her version, different from the ordinary. When I thought about how God might be for me, I imagined Him to be bright and loving, but mostly magical.

When I got home I asked my mother what religion we were and she told me that we were Presbyterian. I asked her why we did not go to church. She said that she did not go to church when she was a child either.

‘Your grandmother was an Orange woman and hated Catholics’.

I was not sure what this meant, but I realised I was not going to get an understanding about God from my parents. I thought they knew less about God than my young friend and so I put aside my questions. When I went to play with my friend the next time her mother came to the door and told me she could not play with me again. I only saw her from a distance and I felt sad for her.

999848_10151876604559703_227231407_n
Everything is Consciousness according to Kashmir Shaivism. This too is God.

From then on I would occasionally wonder about God’s existence. I asked my girlfriends if they went to church but none of them did, nor did their parents. I wondered why some families believed in God and some did not. And then one of them told me that people who did not believe in God were called ‘atheists’ and people who did not know whether God existed or not were called ‘agnostics’. I put myself in the category of agnostic because I was aware that some part of me wanted to believe that God existed.

The first time I felt God was the first time I met Baba Muktananda. In his company I had my first meditation experience, a profound and deep knowing of the Self. In hindsight I realised that I had had a God experience. As I meditated over the years, love for God grew in me, as did love of mankind, love for the Guru and love of Self.

The other night in the Mother’s day Satsang Guruji was teaching from Anandamayi Ma. As he was speaking I felt myself sinking into meditation. Then I vaguely heard him say my name. He was calling on me because I was supposed to lead the meditation by reading from Mirabai’s poems.

‘Oh my God,’ I said as I returned to consciousness, ‘I was so deep’. I was aware all eyes were on me but was unselfconscious because I was still in meditation. If the person sitting behind me hadn’t poked me I would not have come out of it. Forty-five minutes had passed and I had missed Guruji’s whole talk.

9606920446_aa8a06069e_m
Meditation is a gift from God.

It is difficult to describe the state I had been in. Yes, it was nirvikalpa samadhi, but deeper than I had ever felt. Yes, it was like deep sleep, but somehow deeper and darker and more peaceful. I didn’t know that was even possible. Yes, it was like a death experience, but comforting and warm, safe and indescribably delicious. It was the deepest state of samadhi I had ever experienced. It was total absorption in the depth of my being.

God had embraced me, held me, rocked me, loved me, healed me, and He then threw me back to the world with a deeper connection to myself. I knew that it was nirvikalpa samadhi but it was extraordinary samadhi.

I was wondering where my consciousness had gone. I found a Wikipedia article on nirvikalpa samadhi as described in Raja Yoga:

Nirvikalpa samadhi, on the other hand, absorption without self-consciousness, is a mergence of the mental activity in the Self, to such a degree, or in such a way, that the distinction of knower, act of knowing, and object known becomes dissolved — as waves vanish in water, and as foam vanishes into the sea.

This probably comes closest to what I experienced. Then another definition by Swami Shivananda:

All the seeds or impressions are burnt by the fire of knowledge. All thought forms which bring on rebirth are totally freed up.

All mental modifications that arise from the mind-lake come under restraint. The five afflictions: ignorance, egoism, love, hatred and clinging to life are destroyed and the bonds of Karma are annihilated.

It gives deliverance from the wheel of births and deaths.

I was free from all thoughts and afflictions but I am not sure about ‘deliverance from rebirth’. Nor is that an issue for me; I am not averse to rebirth. An astrologer told me some years ago that my chart indicated that I had made a vow to come back.

I would not know how to achieve that deep state again. It was not by any effort I made in the moment that caused it. It was God’s grace. As the experience fades the memory lingers in my mind as a possibility, a potential that is within me. A part of me is still connected to that space, like an anchor that holds a ship steady in the rocky ocean. I am left in awe of that small miracle that brought me the magic of such deep meditation and peace.

Books By Swamiji

Happy For No Good Reason

Happy-198x300

A best selling guide to meditation, this book explores the practice and philosophy of meditation including traditional techniques of mantra (the repetition of the phrase) and witness-consciousness (watching the thoughts). You will see how to apply these teachings in every day situations, by developing a moment to moment awareness of the love, joy and peace that unfolds from the center of your being.

The book comes with a CD that, after you read the first two chapters, will have you meditating for the first time within 30 minutes.

 

Buy online at Ashram Bookstore

Consciousness Is Everything

Conciousness-200x300Consciousness is the most intimate experience of life, the essence of life itself. Among the many spiritual traditions born and developed in India, one ancient philosophy–Kashmir Shaivism–has explored it completely. Until now, Kashmir Shaivism was an esoteric filed accessible only to a few scholars and other specialists.

Here, for the first time, Swami Shankarananda, a Self-realised spiritual master, presents the wisdom of this powerful tradition in a form that will delight and inspire all spiritual seekers. He explores the teachings in rich detail, elucidating ideas and meditative practices while drawing upon a vast canvas of many great beings, wisdom traditions and personal experience. This is a book that will transform you.

Consciousness Is Everything is a book that will transform you. It is a resource and guide towards investigating and deepening your experience of your own Consciousness.

Buy online at Ashram Bookstore

Self-inquiry: Using your Awareness to unblock your life.

Self-Inquiry-200x300

In this groundbreaking book, meditation master Swami Shankarananda adapts the ancient path of Self-inquiry to contemporary life.

The Shiva Process method of Self-inquiry engages your awareness to effectively remove blocks and enliven the Shakti in the areas of career, relationship, health and spirituality. Building on the teachings of Kashmir Shaivism and Sri Ramana Maharshi, Swamiji provides the tools to reveal  your true nature.

The accompanying CD guides you step by step though a series of inquiries to help you connect with your inner wisdom. You will be transformed and empowered in every aspect of your life.

Buy online at Ashram Bookstore

I Can’t Hear You I Have A Carrot In My Ear

Carrot-200x300

Swamiji responds to questions from seekers about life, spiritual practice and philosophy. It is a guidebook to the inner experience, offering insights and techniques to dissolve ignorance and live with energy and awareness.

Topics include: the Self and Consciousness, meditation, Self-inquiry, mantra, the Guru, Kundalini, Shakti, the mind, relationships, work and career, money, communicating with truth and compassion.

 

Buy online at Ashram Bookstore.

The Fountain of Grace

The swish of the broom lingers on the edge of my mind as I sit to meditate with Bhagawan. I look up and the temple sweeper, an elderly Indian woman, slightly bent from ageing, casually dusts the carpets in the early morning. One hand is on the broom and one is resting comfortably on her back. I imagine the silent prayers to Bhagawan she speaks as she does her work. Thousands and thousands pairs of feet have walked through this temple seeking Guru’s grace. I am fortunate to be one of them.

Everything is impermanent said the Buddha. There is nothing in the outer world that remains stable, or lasts forever. But here, in Ganeshpuri, the Shakti is the same. Shiva is the same. Bhagawan is the same; Muktananda is the same. That Consciousness never changes. This temple is a refuge, a well from which devotees can sip the deepest waters.

Mandagni Mountain stands as a custodian of the Tansa valley and the village. Mandagni seems ancient. As Kailas is to Shiva, as Arunachala is to Ramana Maharshi, Mandagni is to Guruji. During his years with Baba he saluted its majesty every day.

The valley is mysterious. Legend says that sages did fire ceremonies here and that the Pandava princes stayed here when they were in exile. And even with the smoke from the brick factories, the stench of human excrement, the physical tapasya, the heat and dust it is the most magical place I have ever visited. Discomfort disappears in the presence of Bhagawan whose aura of purity and Shakti sanctifies the valley. The Shakti and peace of the mountain is apparent.

TansaRiver
Tansa River and Valley

A few years ago I was inspired to climb Mandagni when a local swami told me there was a cave two thirds of the way up where Bhagawan meditated. Once a volcano, its cliffs are lava covered and the heat from its former eruptions fuel the hot springs.

Baba once said that celibate cobras with jewels in their foreheads lived there, as well as leopards, meditating yogis and other wild creatures. I saw none of that but the cave is there and it is a cozy nook for meditation. Someone has put a small statue of Bhagawan and built a yagna pit. I could imagine Bhagawan and other yogis meditating there.

One morning Guruji said, ‘we are fortunate to be here in the fountain of grace. For those whose hearts are open to the Guru will experience the love and Shakti of my Guru and my Paramaguru. I am blessed, we are blessed; devotees of the Guru are blessed.’

‘Also,’ he said, ‘any day you can sit under Mandagni Mountain is a good day.’

 

Prayer to Shree Gurudev

muktananda-01
Baba Muktananda with Bhagawan Nityananda

By Swami Muktananda

This is my prayer to Sri Gurudev!
May everyone’s life be a paradise.

May the trivial feeling of ‘I and mine’ disappear,
and may the knowledge of Chiti arise in our hearts.

May all beings worship you with love and equanimity,
and may the movement of our breath ever repeat So’ham.

Bless me, that I may worship you with the awareness of you as the Self of all.

May I abandon distinctions of race, religion, and language,
and keep my mind in purity.

May I behold you, Gurunath, in the great and small,
the suffering and poor, the noble and foolish.

Give me simplicity of mind, a humble spirit, and a generous heart.

May I bestow true knowledge.

Grant me this boon, Gurudev, O Self of all!
May I always meditate on you in the temple of my heart

May I always love the all-pervasive light.
May I always be devoted to you, O Guru.

Let my awareness be steadfast in knowledge, yoga, and meditation.

May I ever be a worshiper of Siddha Vidya;
may my mind merge with Chitshakti.

May I always behold in you Rama, Krishna, Shiva, and Shakti.

May I live in Ganeshpuri, where your Siddha Yoga dwells.

Set me free from distinctions of country, language, sect, and race,
and give me equality of vision.

May everyone attain simplicity, truth, courage, valour, discretion and radiance.

May the world be a garden of joy for all,
complete with the wishing tree and the wishing cow.

May Siddha students become masters of their senses
and take delight in Kriya Yoga.

O Gurunath! May I always see you within the temple of the human heart
and feel fulfilled.

Let me fulfill my duties so long as there is life in this body,
and let me remember you constantly.

Let my life be full of my own labor, Gurunath.

May I meditate on you always.

O Gurudev! Grant me this at least: may I always be united with you.

May I behold you always and everywhere, from east to west, from north to south.

You are Parashiva, invisible and pure; you are the very form of Satchidananda.

The universe is in you; you are in the universe;
there is no differentiation in you; you are unsurpassed, unique.

Muktananda Says: Sri Gurunath! May the Siddha Science come to full flower. May our meditation be dynamic. May we find repose in the Blue Pearl.

May I always wander joyfully in the world, and may you abide forever in my heart.

Muktananda says:
O Gurunath! May our lives be the play of universal Consciousness!

Consciousness Is Everything

34246_412904862163_4720446_nConsciousness Is Everything:
The Yoga of Kashmir Shaivism 

Swami Shankarananda
Shaktipat Press
ISBN 0 9750995

By focusing on the revelation of supreme Consciousness
He unveils the inner Self. Thus great Shiva unfolds
His prodigious game of bondage and liberation.
Abhinavagupta, Paramarthasara, Verse 33

‘Swami Shankarananda has succeeded in making Kashmir’s Shaiva Yoga come alive in these pages, and I consider this work the best introduction to that tradition thus far.’ Georg Feuerstein

Two main spiritual philosophies flow from Hinduism. One is grounded in the Vedas and the other in the Tantras. The Vedic school was and perhaps still is, patriarchal, elitist and available only to educated Brahmin boys and men, while Tantra is a path for householders, which includes women and people of all castes. The Vedas encourage renunciation and retreat from the world, while Tantra engages with the world and uses daily life as food for spiritual transformation.

The heart of the Tantras is expressed in Kashmir Shaivism, a philosophy brought to the West by two gurus, Swami Muktananda of Ganeshpuri, India, and Lakshman Joo of Kashmir.

Vedanta and Shaivism clash in their basic premise. Vedanta considers the world to be maya, delusion and only ‘Brahman [the Absolute] is real’ while Shaivism contends that, ´Everything is Consciousness’. These two radically opposing points of view resolve only when a seeker attains knowledge of the Self.

There are few Shaivite texts that, unless you are a scholar, offer Westerners a way into its esoteric and mysterious teachings. However, Swami Shankarananda has managed to write a lucid and approachable book that outlines the beauty and power of this dynamic teaching. He uses anecdotes from his own meditation, his profound wisdom and wealth of teaching experience to explain the enigmatic aphorisms. The contemplations Swamiji has outlined in this book guide the meditator to a practical understanding of Shaivism. He writes:

Kashmir Shaivism is a philosophy of salvation—not just an intellectual system. It provides methods, a system practice, designed to attain moksha, liberation from the material world and Self-realisation. And so, it discusses sadhana: meditation techniques and understandings that are useful today.

Kashmir Shaivism is full of the light and wonder of spirituality. It is compassionate, intelligent, wise and powerful. These teachings spontaneously uplift and transform the mind, guiding it toward one of the highest possible understandings of life and the inner Self.

Buy online now.

 

Baba’s Vows

02r

Baba gave these aphorisms at an unexpected Satsang in South Fallsburg just before he left for India in 1981. At the end of his talk he asked us to repeat them aloud.

As destiny would have it they now seem like his last instructions on how to remember and stay in touch with the Shakti and the Guru.

 

 

siddham sharanam gacchaami

I take refuge in a Siddha.

sangham sharanam gacchaami

I take refuge in the community of Siddhas.

svaatmanam sharanam gacchaami

I take refuge in my own Self. I surrender myself to my own Self.

svaatmachintanam na jahaami

I will not give up the contemplation of my Self.

siddhamcharanam na tyajaami

I will not abandon the discipline of the Siddhas.

svamantram na vismaraami

I will not forget my own mantra.

bhaavam satatam bhajaami

I will always maintain the awareness of the unity
of Brahman and the Self.

sarvam shivamayam pashyaami

I will see everything as Shiva. I will never think that anybody or anything is different from Shiva.

In every situation, we either burn through karma or we transcend it.