I Need a Sample Self-Inquiry Dialogue


Q:
I have finished reading James Swartz’ How To Attain Enlightenment for the second time, underlining copiously for my third read through.

One thing that was missing and I would find very useful would be to have, written out, a dialogue between oneself on the issue of awareness. For instance, a thought or feeling comes up. The next line would be what you tell yourself. Then another thought, emotion, construct, etc. comes up followed by the next line of self-inquiry, etc. etc. This would be a full page, just to give the flavor of where all this goes in real time.

Self-inquiry is mentioned over and over in the book (see pp. 243-244) where just the conscious thought of awareness is needed to progress, but what does that literally mean? It would be great to have an example, not as a chiseled in stone tablet but just to get an idea how it is done.

A: I've been thinking a lot about this question you asked. I guess James doesn't give us a template conversation because, #1, your self-inquiry is really unique to you, to your vasanas, and #2, this conversation would comprise the whole entire teaching! Every tool that you have learned in Vedanta will be thrown at every thought, over and over again, until the whole business is neutralized by the knowledge that you are prior to all of it. Do you see what I'm saying? It wouldn't be practically possible.

I will attempt below to give you some kind of sample dialogue, but it will necessarily be really incomplete. Vedanta is a process of going around and around with the same tools, knocking down the ignorance again and again, and each time you come around, jiva is a little bit less substantial, and who you are as awareness becomes a little bit more evident. It's a slow build.

It took me forever to do this, but it doesn't have to take forever. James talks about how stubborn he is, and how he just decided once he came to this teaching that he was going to go all in and finish the job, which he did in two years. He had faith in it. Not so for me. I was highly doubtful and had to go off at least twice to chase Christianity some more, hoping there was some "God" above me that I could merge with, only to keep hitting the same dead end and returning to Vedanta. I did this kind of thing dozens of times with different diversions – once taking the whole "embodiment" movement to heart and spending a couple of years barking up that tree. I always returned to James and Vedanta, because this is what works. This is the teaching that makes it possible for human beings to become liberated. I don't know of anything else that does this.

Byron Katie has a worksheet – I'm sure you are aware of her Work. You take each thought and explore whether that thought is true or not. It's good in that it gives you a template, but it breaks down because it never ultimately reveals your true nature as awareness, which Vedanta does.

In a way, self-inquiry is the simplest thing possible, with only one response to every thought: I am awareness. You know? I mean, there's no other answer. So the complicated part is the
jiva's complex composition of parts which all fit together so cleverly that the appearance of a person and world is really convincing. So it's looking at all of those things in the light of the logic of Vedanta, over and over again, that make up our inquiry.

Just as a partial list from memory of some of the tools James gives us in the books and series:

The joy is not in the object; I am not a doer; time and space are thoughts that appear in me; nothing in the realm of experience ever changes me; I am prior to the waker, the dreamer, and the deep sleeper; everything in the world is constantly changing, but I don't change; there is only the subject (me) and objects; consciousness is all there is;
Ishvara is totally in charge of the field, jiva's life is unfolding according to Ishvara's program; nothing in the world needs to be fixed; I alone am real; analysis of the five sheaths; life is a zero-sum game....Oh, and my favorite, How do you know that thought?

There are more, I'm sure I'm forgetting some good ones. But I guess my point is, when any thought arises (or feeling, or construct), any of these tools can be thrown at it, and it may just be what happens to pop into your head. Or you could write a list of tools and customize it with what works best for you, to remind yourself of your true nature as awareness and give you some structure to follow. So okay:

Thought: I'm not feeling happy today. I need to do something to get happier.

Me: How do I know that thought?

Thought: That thought appears in awareness, which is always present, and is not changed by the thought.

Me: Is awareness unhappy?

Thought: No, awareness is just here, witnessing the thought.

Me: Am I fine right now? Am I okay?

Thought: Yes, I can see that there is an "unhappiness" thought appearing, but it is appearing in me, awareness, and I am neither happy nor sad. I am just am, clear, being, unchanged, always present. Happy and sad pass through me, and I am untouched.

Me: Alrighty then.

OR

Thought: What is with this enlightenment thing? Why am I not there yet? I need to get a teacher or really buckle down with this somehow. I am so sick of not being free. I can't take it anymore.

Me: How is this known? This appears as a thought in me, awareness. It is witnessed, and I am unchanged. In a few moments that thought will be gone, leaving no trace, and another thought will appear, and none of the thoughts will have done anything at all. It comes in, it agitates me, but then later a very nice thought will come and the agitation will be only a memory. And even the memory of agitation is just a thought, popping up now and then gone forever, replaced by a new thought that comes without your control.

Thought: Yeah, but....

Me: No yeah buts. "Yeah, but" is just a way to hold on to the idea that you are a person, in a world, that you have control over your circumstances, and that you are in charge of making liberation happen for yourself. None of that is true. You are already free, as what you are, awareness. But you cling to the doer, because you have a stubborn idea that there is still something for you in the world, something of value.

Thought: But the world must be the place where liberation is gained, isn't it? Don't I have to do that, work towards that?

Me: Ishvara is in charge of all that. But keep looking at the ways that you are still enamored with the world, the search, the idea that you can fix the circumstances to be better circumstances for the person. There is no "better" for a person without a "worse" for a person following close behind.

Thought: This doesn't get better?

Me: I am here, aware of better and worse, and not changed by those thoughts.

Etc.

It's worth pointing out that of course "me" and "thought" are the same, but the dialogue is between me speaking as awareness and me speaking as the person. As you can see, it quickly becomes the whole teaching, each point revisited over and over again until the knowledge really takes hold.

Keep reading, keep listening to and watching James’ classes, and keep analyzing your every experience in the light of the logic of this teaching. I want to encourage you to take heart, because Vedanta really does work.