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Three Questions

From Beyond Relativity: Transcending the Split Between Knower & Known

What are you able to see by introspection? For the person seeking self-knowledge, the distinction between subject and object, between viewer and view, is critical. And the view needs to include what we generally consider interior territory. But when we observe the mind, we often find ourselves going round and round in whirlpool-like circles. So the question arises of whether there is a certain progression of focus that may help. I think there is and that it can be represented by a series of questions that the introspector can ask himself.

questionmark graphic Question 1: Are you the thinker?

Are you able to watch thoughts? If not, an "effortless" meditation (see the December 2005 TAT Forum for a description by Mike Conners) or vipassana technique may be useful. The key to observing thoughts may be a certain inner relaxation that gives us a degree of freedom from being identified with them. I use the term "thought" in a broad sense to include the ever-changing series of images flickering on the screen of awareness, including mentation and feelings as well as what we generally suppose to be the outside world – all of the "inputs" and "outputs" impinging on our awareness.

I realize I may be skipping blithely over something that's a stumbling block for many of us, which is watching feelings with the same detachment as we're able to summon for watching thoughts. For the emotional seeker, identification with feelings is the seeming life-blood of existence. ("I might as well be dead as have no feelings." It's not a question of having no feelings but of not being identified with them, of realizing that they are objects of our consciousness.) For the intellectual seeker, feelings are irrational and therefore somewhat of an embarrassment – the latter aspect being a clue to their unacknowledged importance in our self-belief.

If you are able to watch thoughts (including feelings), where do they come from? Are you selecting what thoughts to have? Do you create your thoughts by premeditated choice? Or do thoughts happen to you, coming into consciousness – including dream consciousness – without your making them? Are you the thinker, or are you experiencing thought? If you're not sure, keep looking until you are.

questionmark graphic Question 2: Are you the decision-maker?

Once you see the truth about the first question, then it's time to take the next step inward. This involves an expansion of the view to include mental processes such as decision-making. Just as you don't know where the switch is to allow the objective observation of thoughts, you don't know how to switch your focus to get behind the decision-making process. These inward steps occur by seeming accident but are propelled by effort. By considering the results of decisions and wondering about why they came out the way they did, and by keeping alert to the inner conflicts that occupy a good part of our interior scenery, watching the ongoing arguments without trying to interfere in the process, an accident will occur sooner or later and you'll see the decision-making process itself from an anterior point of observation.

As with the first question, look until you see clearly what your role is in the decision-making process. Are you the decision-maker, determining which inner conflicts will arise at what times, orchestrating the courtroom procedure as judge and jury? Are you then the "doer" who carries out the decisions that you, in your role of judge and jury, have made? Or are you the awareness that is observing the inner argument, the decision-making, and the resulting doing?

questionmark graphic Question 3: What is observing?

The path to self-knowledge has two broad avenues, one being the route of bhakti or devotion and the other the path of jnana or self-inquiry.

The devotee hopes to lose himself in the object of his worship, while the self-inquirer hopes to find himself through wisdom. The process of questioning the self by observation probably appeals more to the latter than the former. True knowledge or wisdom comes through knowing what you're not, but the two categories of mentality approach this in different ways.

The self-inquirer knows that to find the self, he has to distinguish self from not-self. Faulty identification with the not-self is what prevents true self-knowing. The self, the subject, is the observer. Everything that comes into the view is an object of observation – and therefore not-self.

We can, through Douglas Harding's experiments for example, glimpse what we're looking out from. And of course what we're looking out from is the us that's aware, isn't it. But then the contradiction arises between the conviction that what we're looking out from is Awareness and the conviction that I'm a separate something observing (i.e., aware of) Awareness. Do we own awareness, each of us grasping his own separate "mind," scared to death that death will destroy that prize possession?

There is only one Awareness. God, the Source, the Real Self – whatever you want to call it – is the eye that sees itself. To know the Self is not a perceptual or a conceptual knowing but, as Franklin Merrell-Wolff stated, a knowing by identity. We recognize our Self when the false identities drop off. That is where the paths of losing the self and finding the self meet.

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