Author Topic: No Inner, No Outer - Transcending the mind through the Power of Inquiry:  (Read 2201 times)

Subramanian.R

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(This article is by an 'Ashram Devotee', appearing Jan.- Mar. 2008 issue of Mountain Path):

One day at the Asramam noon time lunch we overheard a lady referring to Bhagavan saying, 'In
Forty Verses', Ramana tells us we should abide in the formless, but how do we actually go about
doing that?'  (This devotee was likely paraphrasing Verse 8 of Ulladu Narpadu.) Two of us inadvertently listening in chuckled to ourselves and pondered the imponderability of this statement.  What was
Bhagavan talking about?  And what could any of us say to this lady? Neither we nor she had any
idea what abiding in the formless would look like in practical terms. 

Bhagavan made statements like these with such casual certitude that one instinctively senses the truth
in them.  And yet, how extraordinary they are. To abide in the formless - What can that mean?  How can
one even begin to understand, much less implement, such a notion?

I took myself to task, perceiving there was something important here.  What could dwelling in formlessness
ever be?  For that matter, what is formlessness?  I bemoaned my ignorance and spoke to myself in this vein:
'All these years at Bhagavan's feet and I have yet to understand even basic, oft repeated pronouncements,
not to mention putting them into practice.  - how disheartening?     

In the days that followed, I took this phrase in the Old Hall and searched for the clues in Talks, Who am I?
Forty Verses and other of Bhagavan's works.  Almost immediately my search yielded fruit in the following
line from Self Inquiry:  The distinction between inner and outer is only with reference to the body; in
truth, there is neither inner nor outer.  (Vichara Sangraham of Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi # 8)     

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.

Subramanian.R

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This statement struck me forcibly.  What could it mean?  What would it to take see directly the truth
of it?  If there is neither inner or outer, then where is this text before me appearing?  if there is neither
inside nor outside, then where am I?  And where is this world that appear before my eyes?

No doubt the chief obstacle to understanding Bhagavan's teaching is this root illusion of an 'I' in here
and a world out there.  If this be so, then by what insight can one ever hope to see through it?  If
the incomprehensibility of the phrase 'abiding in the formless' is based on a core misconception we have
about ourselves -- as belonging to a body -- then by what lever can one wrest oneself from such notions?
If the mind is incurably attached to form - 'external' forms that appear as sky, trees, buildings, other people,
and one's own body such as attachments once for all?

Of course, Bhagavan gives us a clear and unequivocal answer  -  by the POWER OF INQUIRY.  ( Who am I?).
In fact, all attachments and delusion,  He tells us, can be brought to an end by the sharp, penetrating wedge
of Vichara.  He puts it this way: 'To inquire 'Who am I?' is the only remedy for all the ills of the world.'
By virtue of its capacity to 'sift Reality  from unreality'....'the inquiry 'Who I am?' is the principal means
for the removal of all misery and the attainment of the supreme bliss.'  And 'so long as.. duality lasts,
inquiry must be continued.  (Talks. $ 532, 298, 454. Self Inquiry $ 12)

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.           

Subramanian.R

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But how is one to put inquiry into practice?  How is one to make it come alive on a day to day basis?
How does one avoid making it just another technique?  These are the questions that will occupy us
presently.

The following is not definitive but merely an introduction for those who, like the author, want to learn
to practice self inquiry.  In the absence of Bhagavan's physical teaching presence, we who are struggling
to get a handle on inquiry find ourselves searching for clues as to how to proceed. What follows is a look
at Bhagavan's works and other inquiry traditions to see what advice they offer us in taking up the practice
of Vichara.

The First Steps:

After Bhagavan's Maha Nirvana, devotees found themselves without the benefit of Bhagavan's physical
presence and some may have imagined the making genuine use of Vichara would no longer be possible.
Compelled to seek Bhagavan's intervention through His silent presence in the context of devotion, those
of us practicing Vichara will want to regularly pray for Bhagavan's grace.  This is a worthwhile first step.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.     

Subramanian.R

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The next step is, in an attitude of humility, to grant ourselves permission to attempt Vichara.  Acknowledging
our lack of preparedness and taking sober inventory of our limited abilities, we respectfully concede the sheer
utterly impassable, perhaps even impossible, terrain inquiry poses us with.  But in spite of the slender odds,
we accept on faith that Sri Ramana would not have exhorted us to Vichara if it were not possible for us
to practice it.  We recall his admonitions and trust that it was also us he was speaking to when he said:
'Atma Vichara is the way.'  (Talks No. 430)

So these first steps consist in acknowledging Bhagavan's personal invitation to take up this urgent of
Sadhanas. But His is not merely an offer:  Bhagavan compels each one of us to it:  'Until you realize
that sense of pure being, you should pursue inquiry.  (Talks no,. 596)

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.     
     

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The Importance of Questioning in Other Traditions:

So now let us appreciate that, for Bhagavan, inquiry is not merely an asset in spiritual life, it is the
primordial first spiritual discipline, the very basis for making headway in the work of becoming disciples.
Bhagavan is not alone in emphasizing Vichara's primacy among disciplines: since ancient times teachers
in other traditions have drummed into their disciples the necessity of inquiry, compelling them to take it
up with all vigor and intensity.  In Tang dynasty China, for example, Ch'an masters advised monks to question
with the urgency of discovering one's head was on fire; Vichara, (in the Ch'an tradition, inquiry is not referred
to as 'vichara'  but variously as 'koan practice', 'working with the question', critical phrase, key phrase', 'turning word', etc.,), they said, should be taken up with the gravity of heart, that one might have if both one's parents had suddenly just died.  In Japan, the great 12th century Zen master Dogen emphasized the
urgency of inquiry by regularly reminding his monks the harsh existential reality by regularly reminding his
monks of the harsh existential reality we all face;  the certainty of our death and the uncertainty of the time of
our death.  (12th century. Korean Son Master Chinul).

The ancient voices anticipate Bhagavan's own words:  'The essential point is ...inquiry into the Self.'  'In order
to give up the sense of doership, one must seek to find out who the doer is.  Inquire within and the sense of
doership will vanish. Vichara is the method.  (Talks $ 596 and $ 429).

We will do well to reflect on Bhagavan's words and the precious opportunity His method affords us.  We will
want to be wary of taking Vichara for granted, imagining that the option to practice it will be there indefinitely.
To wait for some imagined future moment when we are better prepared or to lose precious time in lesser
spiritual endeavors is tragic and foolish.  The fact is, Bhagavan says, 'there are no other adequate means.'
(Who am I? $ 12)  Never speaking arbitrarily, what Bhagavan says has power because what He says is true.
If Vichara is the only means, then how can we reasonably put it off any longer!  Let us take these words
to heart and allow them to serve as our initiation into actual practice.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.             
               

Subramanian.R

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Internal Readying:

Now we will want to consider the following question: are we prepared to undergo the kind of changes
that questioning will bring about in us?

It is a forgone conclusion that probing with Who am I? and other phrase questions will alter our lives.
A vast psychic broom, Vichara sweeps away the mental, psychological, and emotional dust that clogs
and befouls us.  While most of us long for such cleansing, dream of riding ourselves of the mind's interminable,  freneitc chatter, we will want to be conscious and intentional about unleashing Vichara's diamond sharp potency;  we will want to acknowledge in advance the possibility of losing heart when the
uncertainty and doubt that inquiry engenders upset long cherished views and opinions.

In short, Vichara presents us with a genuine possibility for change.  So internal readying means committing
ourselves to growth;  it means taking responsibility for the occasional unease that recurring states of
uncertainty and bewilderment arouse in us;  it is summoning our courage in the face of Vichara's awesome
capacity to reshape us.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.   
         

Subramanian.R

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Asking the Question:

Having made the determination and set our mind to it, now we can approach actual questioning. But
where do we begin?

At the root, Bhagavan tells us, inquiry has no mechanics. It simply entails asking the question. Though
uncomplicated, questioning is not easy.  In the beginning we may have to rely on sheer will power in virtue
of the mind's brick wall resistance and the frustration that comes with repeated failure.  The key word here
is perseverance; the mind thwarts us at every turn, continually finding ways to fortify its defenses and deflect
the quandaries generated by questioning. By its nature, the mind resists doubt; hence Vichara's efficacy
resides precisely in the uncertainty it activates. When the mind insists on concrete 'answers', continually
re-asserting itself with its insights and analyses, the requisite anti dote, Bhagavan tells us, is simply to
recognize their futility and resume questioning by asking, 'To whom has this thought arisen?'  As thoughts arise, even if insightful or convincingly worded, Bhagavan urges that they simply 'be destroyed then and
there in the very place of their origin through inquiry.'  And the same applies to other activities: So long as
you think, 'I am walking, 'I am writing' inquire who does it.' (Quotes from Who am I, # 11,15, and Talks # 596.)

Why such rigor, one might ask?  Because Vichara's virtue does not lie in generating solutions-- inferring or
deducing facts  -- but in leaving the false behind.  (Talks $ 251) What is left behind?  A Zen proverb says:
all we have to lose are our chains, i.e. the mind's labels, concepts and positions

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                 

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Cultivating Vibrant Questioning:

Now thus far we have discussed the necessity of Vichara and some preliminary steps for practicing it.
But the next step is crucial because, once taken, all the headache that burdened starting practice vanishes
and we find ourselves not only not at odds with the questioning but drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
This pivotal step hinges on one thing;  making our questioning potent, vital and alive, making it intriguing
and compelling. 

At first, questioning may feel unnatural, out of place.  It is like landing up at a funeral function of someone
unknown to you:  you don't share the family's grief.  But hearing their loud wails, by and by, tinges of
sadness well up within you and before you know it, you are fighting back tears as their grief becomes your
own.  Likewise, the perplexity of Vichara is at first unknown to you, but as you follow the train of questioning,
the mystery that underlies it begins to rise up on its own and capture your heart;  what was at first mechanical  becomes spontaneous and self activating.  Now you are questioning not because you want to
deepen your sadhana or to learn to practice Vichara but because you want to know.  Crossing this threshold,
tradition tells us, is essential of any viable inquiry practice.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.             
« Last Edit: March 12, 2016, 10:00:16 AM by Subramanian.R »

Subramanian.R

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So how can one makes this critical step?  One tip given by adepts is landing on a question that grips one's
interest, a question that one finds captivating. To do this, we might go on a search, consult the scriptures,
pursue 'Talks' or Bhagavan's other works, and look for an ineffable word or phrase, whose meaning is unclear,that strikes us as  important, but baffles us, while simultaneously beckoning us to the seemingly
impossible task of plunging into depths.

'Who am I?' is a time honored question, reliably stimulating perplexity in its user. 'I' is the ultimate
mystery.  Its secret power is owing in part to the fact that all our lives we have regularly used the word,
without having any real idea what it refers to.  However, some who have made sincere attempts at 'Who am I?' feel stonewalled by their past 'failures'.  For such persons, jump starting questioning may involve seeking fresh formulations.

A classical variant from the Korean and Japanese koan tradition is - ' What is It?'  Immediately,
one can see that this question  is simply 'Who am I?' in different words.  'It' is nothing other than the Self.
But 'what is' this Self?  Paraphrasing Bhagavan, we could say that the Self is simply Pure Awareness.  (See
also Verses 22 and 40 of Ulladu Narpadu Supplement). But what is this Pure Awareness?  If we say 'It is
the vast formless field of subjectivity in which all things appear', then we can ask: What is this field of
subjectivity in which all things appear?', then we can ask: What is this field in which all things appear?

Here we have a beautiful entry into Vichara.  Now we simply meditate upon it in a thoroughgoing manner
and, at every available opportunity, activate it and relish in its ineffability.  We avoid despairing that ordinary
'answers' are not forthcoming; rather we simply inundate ourselves with Vichara's probing action and allow
ourselves to be engulfed in uncertainty, making a truce for the first time with not knowing.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                   

Subramanian.R

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Vichara's Double Bind:

Now let us go a little further, into what may look to some like the realm of the absurd.  Indeed, Vichara is
a strange world.

After only a little probing in this vibrant way we come to see that our house is not in order: this 'I' we have
been speaking of all our lives is not what we took it to be.  When we look closely and honestly, we see
that we have no idea who are what we are.  An increasing desperation compels us to follow the questioning
further, to seek with ever renewed vigor that which eludes us.  But here is the thing: the further we pursue it,
the more ground we seem to forfeit. As inquiry chews up old assumptions, our quandary becomes more and more precipitous and we find ourselves straddling two worlds.  This is what ancient Ch'an masters called
'balancing atop a hundred foot pole.'.  (In ancient Chinese and Japanese texts, Vichara is likened to a mosquito boring into an iron bull  or climbing a mile high wall.  These and other similar phrases emphasizing
Vichara's dead lock effect on the mind are sprinkled throughout the literature.)

One is neither able to go forward nor backward. The predicament is unsettling and engenders further uncertainty within us.  While this is aimed for in inquiry, at such moments we would be happy simply to forget
the whole thing and go back to doing whatever we were doing before we started.  But that may not be possible.  As former identification begin to dissipate, efforts at filling the gap prove futile in the face of inquiry's
laser-like power. At a loss, we find ourselves bewildered by the not knowingness that questioning faces us with. While this is true, something very unexpected happens now;  an accompanying peacefulness emerges
within us. As the mind begins to let go a little, old patterns  begin to give way and the mind accustoms itself
to a new way working.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva. 
                 

Subramanian.R

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Ordinary ways of knowing become refined and we get a growing sense that knowledge does not consist in
'content' but is rather rooted in 'function'.  It is not static or formulaic but dynamic and organic; it is not a
thing but a process.  As questioning continues to loosen the reifying tendencies of the mind, making it supple,
pliant and receptive, the vast potential of the mind's authentic functioning  -- a formless awareness beyond
fixed notions and labels -- is made available to us.

Once in Vichara-land,  we become saturated with questioning:  'What is the inside and outside of clear empty
space?  'What is the sound of a single hand?'   'Where do seeing and hearing come from?'

Each of these classic queries (From Masters Keizan Jokin, Hakuin Zenji and Yuvan Wu, respectively)
points to It.  Even a simple phrase question like 'What is the Self? abounds with the double  bind:
the Self cannot be imaged, it is not a 'thing', has no form, shape or color.  If we say it is vast formlessness,then the question follows:  'What is this formlessness?'  Automatically the mind is thrown
into doubt, turned back on itself.  In its effort to formulate a picture, it becomes further confused and frustrated.   And so much the better:  THIS IS VICHARA'S CENTRIFUGAL, TRANSFORMATIVE ACTION
AT WORK WITHIN US.

Contd.,

Arunachala Siva.         

Subramanian.R

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Inner, Outer, Formlessness and Form:

Thus far we have described the mechanism of Vichara.  But how does all this relate to our starting point,
'formlessness and abiding in it'?  What can formlessness teach us about inquiry?

Actually the direction is clear.  Inquiry is the road to formlessness.  In fact, 'is inquiry itself' formlessness,
the counter-force that dissolves all forms in the mind.  But if it dissolves all forms in the mind, then all forms
are dissolved because in reality, Bhagavan tells us, forms arise nowhere else.

And so, we might ask, is there really such a thing as form?  Could it be that, while having the appearance   
of form, at root, all forms are actually formless?  Could this be what Bhagavan meant when He referred
to the 'dream like' nature of the world?

If 'all that appears outside are in reality inside'

(Self Inquiry $ 8), then all forms are mental and have no
enduring substance.  This seems clear enough but now we are confronted with the following Vichara
conundrum:  If 'all that appears outside is really inside',  then where and what is this thing we call 'inside'?
If within and without have no boundary separating them, then -- right now - where is this written page   
appearing?  If all that appears outside is actually inside, then 'outsideness' must also be inside.  If this
be so, then how can we even talk about an 'inside'?  ('All mountains and rivers, grasses, trees, and forest
grove, all phenomena in creation, and all things tainted and pure, appear from within It' (Master Heze from
Chinul.) See also Who am I? $ 16,  'The whole world, the individual soul and God are appearances in It'.)           


Fundamentally, there can only be THIS.  But what is THIS?  And to whom does It appear?

Bhagavan's Pure Light of Awareness:

Now questioning in this way starts to sound like inquiry. But we are still at the level of theory.
What would spontaneous questioning on a more personal level look like?  What might be deeply
engaged questioning be like?

Suppose you are sitting at the Sri Chrkra Puja in the Asramam just before final arti. Suppose you
are sitting opposite the icon of Dakshinamurti in the Mother's Shrine, say, at the garland making station.
Echoing at a distance you can hear the ceremony's concluding litany of prayers:  ya devi sarva bhutesu
santirupena samsthita namastasyai, namastasyai, namastasyai, namo namah... You might look up and
see Dakshinamurti gazing down at you only a few meters away.  You might stretch your hand and lighly
the iron grill in front of you noticing how solid it feels, noticing how solid your own hand feels, and how
tangible your surroundings are.  You might ask yourself:  What are these impressions appearing?
Where is this feeling of solidity taking place?  Where are the sensations of the grill and the hand arising?

In the spirit of inquiry, you might probe more closely.  After a time, you might find that your questioning
begins to be in earnest;  doubt arises within you and wily-nilly a sense of not knowing the nature of source
of what you are experiencing grips you.  in time, you are no longer self conscious about your probing;
you are just probing. As your investigation intensifies, you might be startled by the feeling that all sensations
-- the multiple sights and sounds around you -- are actually only impressions on the 'screen' of you own mind.
You might be further caught off guard when, spontaneously inquiring into the nature of this 'screen', you
have the bizarre suspicion that the 'screen' and the 'viewer' are not two separate things.  What if the viewer,
you ask, were not a person or thing but the container of things, giving them their form?  What if 'things' were
the necessary backdrop against which It comes to know Itself, the 'two' are but a single Reality?
(Even the walls, tiles, and pebbles expound the true teaching'.  Cha'n Proverb).

As you notice seer and seen meld into just seeing,  ('The whole universe is but a pointer' - Famous
saying of Chinese Master Hsuan-tse.). you might wonder what just seeing is and where It takes place.
Absorbed in doubt, you study more closely.  The question is not obvious anymore, but rather, implicit,
diffuse and silent, and you find yourself astonished, though at ease.  Periodic questions and key phrases
arise, punctuating and refreshing your wordless wonderment. (When there is proper and persistent inquiry,
the 'I-thought' also ceases and there is the wordless illumination of the form 'I-I' which is Pure Consciousness.
(SE).   Bhagavan's apt words echo in your mind:  'Before knowing the far-off God, let me know the more
immediate and intimate 'I'.  (Talks $ 154).  You then recognize that all your questions till now have a root
been one question -- and a mere preparation of for -- the very same question He had urged you to all along.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                                     
   

Subramanian.R

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True Vichara:

'Who am I?', you discover, is the pre-eminent question, the starting point and ending point.  It is abiding
in the formless by virtue of not allowing the mind a place to abide.  It is the shining ground of awareness
whose light penetrates and illumines all dualities and discriminations.  If you ask by what route you can free
yourself of the mind's current turmoil, Bhagavan is emphatic:  Vichara is the ultimate route.  (Talks $ 251)

True Vichara does not consist in asking an endless variety of questions but in asking only one question,
even a one word question,  like 'what?' or 'who?'; even a no word question :  It is the silent perplexity that
undergirds questioning that is essential.  This is true Vichara.  Ideally you would keep it, whatever the formulation, for long months, or even years!

Conclusion:

Taking the path of Vichara does not mean waiting until we have renounced:  eliminating thoughts in the mind
is the greatest renunciation. It does it mean waiting until our minds are pure: we come to Vichara as we are,
trusting in its vast potential to steadily scour and eventually do away with whatever demon or defilement may
lurk within.  It does not mean waiting for until we have extra time in the meditation hall or get caught up in our domestic and professional duties:  that time may never come.  If obligations to family, friends and career
seem to preclude setting our minds on inquiry, let us remind ourselves how preoccupied our minds any way,
all the time, with idle chatter and aimless mental static.  It is not time to win back a share of time spent on
mental fretting, chronic anxiety and perpetual worry, and put forward doing the practice Sri Bhagavan
Ramana gave us?

If our determination is strong, we can question right in the midst of ordinary daily activities  - while  brushing
our teeth, while taking a bath, while getting dressed, while sitting down for a meal, or while at work.
All these instances provide opportunities to turn the mundane into the sublime and bring our attention to
questioning.

Truly, Bhagavan tells us,  Vichara is the royal road. Even if, as beginners,  we don't know where that road 
will lead, it does not matter,  the Master stands at its head, beckoning us, 'This way!  This way!'

What more could we ask for?  He is showing the way out. 

Now it is up to us.

concluded.

Arunachala  Siva.