Monday, 15 February 2016

So What Is Self Inquiry?

You want the most direct path to the truth?  
No? Sorry, wrong blog.  
Yes...? It is, but it could be just a little uncomfortable, at first.

Just for a moment suppose that everything you think about yourself is inaccurate. 

If you note that it’s not about what you think, but what you think about yourself, then it’s not so strange as it sounds at first. Even so we are so used to accepting or just not questioning that everything we think about ourselves is accurate… until, that is, someone, or events, or circumstances show that what we had previously accepted to be true irrefutably just ain’t so. 

How we react at just such moments is an indication of our actual interest in going further into self inquiry. Because honestly it’s very tempting either to deny it, to ourself, to anyone, shove it to one side; or go on to the next paradigm and take that to be irrefutably so until there is another paradigm shift and the thing has to be reviewed, reluctantly, again, because we know change will come. In any case here we are waiting for the unexpected to happen and, when it comes, impelled from a passive state into a reaction and handling it as best we can.

What is the mind qualified for?

We’re talking about the most fundamental question in life: Who am I? One that we are trying to answer in some way every day of our life. But, maybe without ever consciously asking the question directly. And to be clear, we are not talking about all our acquired knowledge of the world or the skills we acquire to deal with it. All of that, the whole compass of it, is exactly what the mind is supposed to be used for, as an instrument, as a tool toward a chosen purpose. 

What the mind is not qualified for

It’s like a computer, where skills and knowledge are the software which is installed or downloaded in order to run a program, or achieve a particular end or aim. And that knowledge and those skills go on evolving irrespective of any deeper existential question. But the mind as we know it, that instrument of knowledge and skill, is not sufficient in itself to understand the motivating force that drives our aims and desires. Can a computer understand its own motivations and actions, the why of it all? So outside all of that there still remains the fundamental question, what is that purpose?

Sorting out the difference

And this is where we get into trouble because, without really looking into it or without really understanding what’s at stake, the mind will begin to speculate where it has no real jurisdiction. Well, speculation is one thing, but we tend to believe what the mind tells us… until we don’t. And that’s the point where we came in. 

Isn’t it true that we are all looking for the source of our own happiness? If I think that happiness is acquiring and profligating large sums of money, then if I put my knowledge and skills into action to achieve that, then I will be happy. The same is true of artistic ability in pursuit of fame, or just the pursuit of fame itself; or sexual conquest; or more honourable pursuits like a career or family; or even the celebration of suffering as a means to an ulterior motive; and so on. But remember it’s the mind that is telling us what makes us happy, and so, drives us into action.

Now life, as they say, is brief, but it takes long enough to live. And during that time having achieved or partially achieved any aim or goal in the pursuit of happiness, we may come gradually to discover - through someone or events or circumstances - that something we had always accepted to be so is shown irrefutably to be just not like that; that happiness no longer lies where we thought it did. So we reassess, and now, I used to be like that but now I’m into this… and another attempt to find irrefutable happiness.

So returning to the original premise, if we accept that though the mind is highly qualified in dealing with knowledge and skill, it is not qualified to answer the questions that lie behind the motivating force in life. Is it then so strange to say, Hey wait a moment, suppose in that one specialised field - who am I, what am I here for, with what purpose, what is really my unqualified aim? - just suppose for a moment that everything I’ve ever thought about in that way could be wrong, or inaccurate, or not-thought-through, or wait a minute, I never thought about it before anyway, or… fergedit! But before you do say, forget it, check this out from a previous post which slots right in here so no apologies for including it again:

A salutary tale

A team of road builders set off to build a road between two places in the forest. They were an elite group and each of the men brought a particular skill which was respected by the others. Their morale was high and there was a tightly knit sense of comradeship. The clearing of the forest was under way and the road was begun. They worked hard and obstacles were overcome through good leadership and teamwork. 

There was one among the men a young chap who didn’t seem to quite fit in. He didn’t join in the heavy social evenings when the day’s work was done. He always seemed to be thinking differently from the others and they didn’t understand him. The other men were friendly enough but as he continued holding himself aloof they began to look on him with less affection and soon were implying in their tone of voice things about his usefulness because he didn’t actually seem to be doing very much.

One day when the project was well under way the young fellow shinned up the tallest tree on the highest ground. When he came down he looked satisfied. There was a meeting of the managers and foremen going on when he got back and he boldly interrupted it, 'Wrong forest,' he said, 'we’re in the wrong forest, the road's in the wrong forest' 

There was a strange stillness for a moment and then everyone started going on just as if they hadn’t seen or heard the young fellow. He couldn’t understand it. Wasn’t this the single most important piece of information for the whole project? Finally he got to talk to one of the men who was a bit more friendly. 'What’s happening? You know we’re building the road in the wrong forest?' 'Yes,' the other man replied, 'but it's a really good road.' So they went on building the road just as before.

So what is self inquiry?

So what is self inquiry? It means wanting to get some kind of perspective on the whole life, so you can come out of it at the other end and say yes, I pursued what I knew I was searching for, as accurately as I could, and to the best of my ability. This is not some unfashionable moral tweet, but a way of accurately aligning the ability with the vision. Not building a really good road in the wrong forest.

It really gets under way practically when you become pro-active in looking into the mind’s presumptions as deeply and as accurately as possible - you want to find the inaccuracies and be glad of it when you find them, instead of just waiting for events or the turmoil of life to compel confrontation with uncomfortable truths - which they do sooner or later. It means celebrating (in some small unembarrassing personal way of course) when something reveals that something in your own philosophy is inaccurate and you can throw it out and move on up to a higher understanding without hesitation or looking back. 

We all have a philosophy, even though we may not call it that. And we may not recognise it very well (even if we do think we got one) because, whaddya know, it keeps on changing, according to mind, according to circumstance, and according to convenience. So, really, no philosophy? And the measure of an accurate philosophy? What is true, what holds good, in any circumstance. This is where self enquiry begins. Because everything that follows after is predicated on that one thing - what remains accurate in any circumstance. So the question I ask myself is, How can you know that you know this, that you are not what you think you are, and not want to do something about it. Build a really good road... but in the right forest.

And in the end…

The illusory power of the mind is fascinating. In meditation just try questioning the validity of any thought you like. Hold it up to the light and acknowledge it, observe it. It’s real enough, yes, but how real? Really real? Will it be there in the same way tomorrow, a week, a year, twenty years? Does that change the way you observe it? Check anything you really believed in when you were younger and see if it's still the same. Can the temporary nature of any thought define who I am? Among so many other thoughts? Really? Question who is having these thoughts. So where then does the identity lie? Thoughts, impressions and memories are in you but they do not ultimately define who you are.