Always Awakening: The Continuing Playful Exploration of
Self-Inquiry & Life
This essay is to
become part of a book, a good friend has challenged me to post it as it is,
which I am doing here. This is just a start, hopefully it is helpful for
some folks as it is so far. The folks I'm addressing here in this essay are
not primarily those in the second birth, but rather those who have been
exposed to and perhaps had an awakening in, teachings that emphasize the
identification with The Conscious Principle as a means to non-dual
So this is
basically an essay about Consciousness, not the second birth or Onlyness.
Though I feel that it needs to be said explicitly that we all could benefit
from further exploration of the Conscious Principle in itself, even without
reference to Onlyness.
Awakening for the Rest of us
The spiritual path before awakening is often about trying
to become something you are not. After awakening, the path does not add to
what one is, but rather increases the capacity to see through what distracts
you from what you already are. That was true even before awakening, but
after awakening you know it in a way you never imagined before. Ultimately
the very concept of awakening is transcended.
Non-Duality is here to stay
All around us today there doesn't seem to be anywhere you
can go without bumping into someone who has awakened to Unconditioned
Awareness. Whether you call it The Self, Buddha Nature, The Conscious
Principal, Consciousness itself, The nature of Mind, Naked Awareness,
Witness Consciousness, Bare Attention, Clarity, or the Basic State, people
are awakening to it and as it all over the place.
Google the word "awakening" and take a look. Gangaji,
Adyashanti and Mooji are just the tip of the Ice burg. Eckhart Tolle has
rocked the world with Oprah. Jim Carey is on Youtube claiming his awakening
(and very credibly I might add).This isn't a secret anymore, it's entering
(gasp) the mainstream.
Practice can't awaken you, but it can be an obstacle
Folks are taking the direct route. The direct route is to
explore your own interior experience and isolate the dimension of Self which
is simply aware of everything and entirely unchanging. This is called
self-inquiry or pointing out instructions. It is not the gradual approach of
working your way to enlightenment.
Doing hatha yoga, pranayama, prayer, mantra, japa,
kirtan, puja, kundalini yoga, prostrations, sitting meditation, samatha,
vipassana, visualization and every other practice are fine, but practice in
itself can distract you from the direct experience of the Self. Effort that
requires you to create a goal for something that doesn't exist now furthers
the duality and separation that it seeks to solve.
If any of these practices brought you to the point where
you are ready to directly examine awareness now, then they have done their
job, and there is no need to continue with them. The same goes for the
practice of self-inquiry once you have found that you are unfindable
consciousness. When you awaken, it's time to forget self-inquiry as a
technique to get you something and leave it behind too, because it can't add
a thing to who you are. There is nothing to do except to keep vigilant.
Simply abide as Consciousness, nothing else. And that's the rub.
The Fine Print about Awakening
You see, there is a bit of fine print in the contract of
awakening as Consciousness. It's not that anyone has been hiding it, or has
been secretive about it. It's throughout the Buddhist sutras, it's there in
the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. It's clearly stated in Ashtavakra,
Avadhuta and Ribhu Gitas. And lest anyone suspect that these institutional
scriptures are all too attached to some gradual notion of indirect paths, it
was also clearly stated by Sri Ramana Maharshi and HWL Poonja (Papaji).
What is this open secret? Just this: Hope and fear must
not be followed. Grasping and aversion must not distract you. The sanskrit
word for this is "vasana". Vasanas are the habitual tendencies that govern
our attention. You can't ride two horses at once, if you are following the
desire for anything at all you are then (by definition) not abiding as
Consciousness. That's it. Pretty simple and obvious isn't it? And pretty
It's for this reason that when folks are lucky enough to
have a great non-dual teacher and they wake-up (and I'm assuming a genuine
awakening here) they are still not in the same place (realization wise) as
Buddha or Sri Ramana Maharshi. Well, not exactly anyway. Of course
Buddha-nature is Buddha nature, and we are all Buddhas when we are abiding
as that basic state, but is your lack of following desire total?
One phrase that comes to mind about this is "A chosen few
in any generation". Another one is "They can be counted on the fingers of
one hand". That sounds just about right to me.
Awakened but not Ramana
Now I realize that there are plenty of folks out there
who insist that if you are not one of those few great souls who have no
vasanas, no hopes or fears, no governing sentimentalities or preferences
then you simply are not awakened at all. While I can appreciate the
integrity of someone holding that view, I really can't agree with that. I
personally don't define things that way. There certainly can be an awakening
with the seeds of desire uncooked, and awakened folks can become distracted.
This seems to be the main difference between an awakening and a Supreme
Enlightenment such as Sahaja Stithi or Samyak Sambodhi, in which very very
few are present in any given time on earth. That's my sense.
To be clear: awakening to Consciousness itself is a
recognition that is not a passing experience, it's a direct and continuous
knowing. It is not simply an intellectual understanding. It has effects in
how you experience yourself that are lasting in relation to identity. There
is a clear seeing that thought and feeling are temporary constructs arising
in consciousness which is YOU, you may identify with thoughts and feelings,
but they are an appearance in you, and you can (so to speak) come around to
that again and again even after awakening.
I can remember back in 1996 basically confessing to
Papaji that my own awakening as consciousness seemed to last for periods and
then fade, much like a drug experience. At that point I was Krishna having
experiences of being Consciousness and those experiences came and went.
Later, something flipped and it was bloody obvious that I
was Consciousness having experiences of being Krishna and those experiences
of being Krishna came and went. That shift in perspective was fundamentally
different. The fact that desires and identification with thoughts could
happen doesn't preclude it from being called an awakening.
While this seeing is a profound shift and rightly called
awakening, it still isn't the same as being free of following desire to the
point that attention simply and always rests as unconditioned awareness. If
the effort to rest as consciousness isn't second nature, then there's still
Now here's the tricky part: whenever you abide as THAT,
there is in that moment, no "you". So in that moment you know you are done
and there is nothing else to do and no one to do it. The very idea that
there is anyone who could even be enlightened is not present. Yet the
capacity to abide as That and be vigilant must be present, and the seeds of
desire must roast until gone, otherwise the sense of the separate "I"
returns in identification. So as long as you abide, there really is nothing
to do because desire is inactive, but if you stir desire before the seeds
are totally burnt, desire will pull you into itself. And this is what
happens to all but a few... so it needs an effort of vigilance.
The truth is that if you desire anything but freedom then
vigilance is as much an austerity, a tapas, a discipline, a yoga, an effort
and a practice as anything else, whatever you choose to call it. But it's
not a practice to find anything that you haven't already found, so in that
sense there's no seeking in vigilance or abiding. And in fact the relaxation
and bliss of the Self is a powerful attractive magnet that is a natural
pleasure. So there's no effort in resting as awareness, yet the pull to
leave that rest is strong for all but a few because of pending desires. So
there is effort in vigilance, unless your ONLY desire is for freedom itself,
then it is effortless. Denial will not help us here, honesty with ourselves
is of paramount importance because simply wishing that we only desire
freedom won't work, nor can this be done as an act of will.
Effort or No-Effort?
Papaji himself did Hercules-like practice, probably doing
millions of japa recitations earlier in his life. However, when he was
teaching he emphasized that abiding as that Consciousness, there is nothing
to do, no practice and no effort.
Ramana Maharshi awoke without any practice, early in his
life he did spontaneous self inquiry one time and that was it. Yet when he
was teaching he emphasized effort (especially self-inquiry) until vasanas
were totally burnt and the limited I-self (ego) was dissolved completely in
Simply abiding as this Consciousness in this moment
distracted by no thoughts (or desire) is all that is needed. This abiding in
itself is the means to burning the seeds of desire that might distract one
from this very Consciousness. So the goal is the path or the path is the
goal. In other words, just abiding as Consciousness burns the seeds of
desire and when the seeds are burned you naturally abide as Consciousness.
This is the core of it. And for some folks it is enough. In principle,
ideally, it is enough for all of us.
But in practice it often seems that it may only be
sufficient for those with desires that are not tightly held, otherwise it's
asking for more than is likely. It needs the capacity to simply rest as
unmoving awareness continuously until every desire is burnt. There are
simply not many people in that position, with that level of capacity.
Many folks have become convoluted in denying their real
situation. They are awake, they know their buddha nature, they help people,
but of course they are not always abiding as That, because there is still
some attachment to their preferences or desires. Without getting into guru
gossip, we can simply look at ourselves (if we are awakened) to realize that
one can be awake without being fully free of suffering, because the
potential to follow desires is still there, waiting.
It's not like it used to be
Times have changed. In the past (and even today ) the
most common assumption was that unless you can abide as Consciousness
itself, then doing any Self-inquiry, or receiving any pointing-out
instructions was premature. Without having done a lot of work with desires
and vasanas, it was considered too soon to even look there. First you should
do ethics, then you proceed to concentration practice, then merge with the
concentration object, and so on. Only after years of practice will you have
a fit instrument with which to do self-inquiry... The highest teachings were
reserved for those who were prepared and did the preliminaries. That
approach is the safest and is absolutely valid, but today many people are
generally impatient. Many are not willing to go through the whole process
without knowing if it's worth it.
For better or worse, for the last 70 years or so there
have been teachers willing to do what is expedient and expose those of us
who are less that perfect yogis to these teachings right away. There have
always been teachers who have done this, but they were certainly fewer than
they are today.
The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no
preferences, but what about the rest of us?
For most of us the paradox of needing to be free enough
from desire to rest as awareness in order to cook the seeds of desire
demands another look. It needs another way to deal with desire and effort, a
So I'm going to contradict myself here. Just resting as
Awareness is great when it's happening, but for most of us, even those who
are awakened as Consciousness , there is still desire. And yes, resting as
awareness even for short moments over time does become more and more
continuous, but for most of us, desire is still waiting in the wings and not
necessarily being dealt with at all. Therefore effort of a sort is still
I'd like to suggest that when we are pulled into a sense
of limitation that is motivated by desire we cannot help but find that we
must make efforts, it's not even a choice really. As long as we have vasanas
we will not be able to rest as awareness without effort. So you will find
yourself having to make efforts when re-identification with a small notion
of yourself happens. These efforts are not a return to a hyper-masculine
superimposing of a seeking-based formula of practice. You're not using a
mental strategy to fix yourself. It's not a new program to follow.
Proceeding from an assumption that there is anything wrong with us that
needs to be fixed is exactly what not to do. That kind of return to seeking
is a form of suffering itself and is not what I'm referring to here.
This kind of effort is not based in seeking; it is simply
a clarifying of our relationship to desire so that it becomes obvious. We
are embracing our life as it unfolds and feeling the effects of our actions.
We are quite naturally unraveling patterns of grasping and avoidance that
occupy attention. We are doing this in a way that is not based on an
assumption that anything (including our vasanas or desires) is really an
obstacle or problem. Even vasanas do not prove that we are not awakened.
Energy and attention is becoming freed from patterns by acknowledging and
embracing what appears, even or especially in duality. In other words we
consciously embrace desire even as we do self-inquiry.
Yes, that's right, I'm suggesting we go the other
direction and consciously identify with our bodies, feelings and thoughts.
By both consciously identifying through merging attention with our limited
selves (illusions and all) AND consciously dis-identifying with our limited
selves through continuous discriminative awareness (forms of self inquiry)
we work both ends of the paradox.
Tantra: Embracing Desire
There are two (or maybe three) aspects to unraveling
desire and enhancing our capacity to simply rest that I'd like to explore
The ideal for all yogis is to be one pointed in their
search for the real. To be sure that is the one desire that must be fanned,
as Papaji once said "pour benzine on it". But what of those of us who are
not "ideal yogis". Now that so many of us "unqualified folks" have
discovered our nature as consciousness and have awakened, we are neither
exactly asleep nor exactly Ramana. So what to do?
Something that the Non-dual Master Sri Nisargadatta
Maharaj once said (in "I Am That", Chapter 26) sums up my sense of it...
Maharaj: "Weak desire can be removed by introspection and
meditation, but strong, deep-rooted ones must be fulfilled and their fruits,
sweet or bitter, tasted."
Seems to me that a both/and path is probably the most
useful approach to desire that we awakened non-monk folks can have. This is
a typically tantric approach, and one that is more or less the way the
Waking Down teachings recommend we approach the path (or non-path),
regardless of our current capacity.
Down: Fulfilling desire and and tasting it's fruits both
sweet and bitter
So the question is, what is "weak desire", and what is
"strong deep-rooted desire"? My own sense is that this is not something
static. In particular, strong desires can become weak desires over time, if
they are being fulfilled and we are bringing discrimination to our lives.
What I mean is that if we bring enough attention to how
we actually feel in the midst of fulfilling our desires we spend more time
fulfilling the deepest ones and wasting less time pursuing desires that no
longer seem worth it.
Introspection-meditation increases discrimination and
fulfilling desires frees up energy and attention that was caught up in
fighting with ourselves, denial is expensive.
So how do you tell the difference between your current
"weak desires" and strong ones right now? Not with your mind , that's for
sure. The mind often functions as a form of denial. The mind doesn't get to
decide for you how to rank your desires. The way to find out what is
strongly held is to "let go" and then notice what's sticking around after
that. Let go of whatever you can... let go of everything... and then notice
what is holding on to you. This takes a real honesty. Whatever is still
there are your strongest desires and what is left should be wholeheartedly
embraced and lived.
By living our lives and embracing our desires we learn
from the outcomes, and desire naturally lessens, if we pay attention. This
happens through both enjoying the fruits of desire and noticing that they
don't actually last. We naturally become more content with what is, but this
cannot be prematurely cut-off or we fool ourselves.
All the reading and wishful thinking in the world doesn't
prove what desire can and can't give you the way that experience does.
Leaning into desire with discrimination frees energy and attention. My own
sense is that this happens in a way that serves awakening and decreases
suffering at a decent pace when you do introspection/meditation along side
The reason for this is because there needs to be a level
of discriminating awareness when fulfilling desires in order for us to have
enough perspective to see when something is and isn't serving us.
Introspection meditation continues to clarify who we are, leaning into
desires frees them from distracting us.
Tantra: Embracing Discriminating Awareness
It's important that you don't do this form of
self-inquiry as a practice to get somewhere, or accomplishing something in
particular. It can be simply an exploration without a clear goal. It can
clear up misconceptions without you even knowing particularly what they are.
Self inquiry can be like dental flossing. It can loosen and remove stuff you
had no idea you were carrying around. In order to do it this way it needs a
kind of playful curiosity. By noticing the way that you presently identify
yourself and exploring what it is like to identify differently, you allow
yourself to experience yourself as different aspects of the spectrum of
There are forms of inquiry that explore who we are in any
number of other ways. Basically I'm speaking of examining the nature of
identity and what you think you are.
For instance, the self-inquiry of " who am I?" leads
naturally to the foundational realization of non-identification with what
arises (neti-neti). Through this non-identification attention (by default)
effortlessly merges with unfindable intrinsic Consciousness itself. In that
moment there is a "dropping the mind" and no use of thought. That is of
course the ultimate use of self-inquiry. Dropping into Consciousness itself
is the outcome of this form of self-inquiry most often spoken of by Ramana
Maharshi, and it is a key way for many people to dis-identify with the body
, emotions and mind.
I'd also like to suggest that introspection can be
applied in other ways that are useful for identifying differently. We are
unconsciously identified with certain limited aspect of being, what happens
when we playfully experiment with consciously doing this in small doses? A
loosening of the whole structure. For those of us with vasanas, this is
For instance, I would suggest using the three following
explorations when you have time in the future, do them with as much care as
you do "who am I?":
1) Very consciously locate the feeling-sensations of "the
body". Consciously allow attention to merge with those feelings and become
them, consciously identify as completely as possible. As the
feeling-sensation of being the body, where exactly does your sense of
yourself begin and end? Of course the sensations will change, so doing this
at different times will uncover a different direct experience.
2) Very consciously locate the feeling-sensations of
"your emotion of this moment". Consciously allow attention to merge with
those feelings and become them, consciously identify as completely as
possible. As this emotion, where exactly does your sense of yourself begin
and end? Of course emotions will change, so doing this at different times
will uncover a different direct experience.
3) Very consciously locate the feeling-presence of "the
passing thought of this moment". This can be tricky and it may take some
time watching thoughts before you get a sense of the "weight" or presence a
thought. Consciously allow attention to merge with the presence of any
thought and enter it becoming the presence of the thought, consciously
identify with and try to "hold" the thought as long as you can. Of course
the thoughts and their presence will change, so doing this at different
times will uncover a different direct experience.
By doing doing this kind of exploration (as well as "who
am I?") on a regular basis our sense of being simply confined to one limited
aspect of ourselves continues to be undermined and loosened. So many of our
hopes and fears that are based in a permanent limited sense of ourselves
become undermined the more we do this. By consciously identifying and
consciously dis-identifying, discrimination increases and we are not
attached to any particular point of view, even a dis-identified one.
Spiritual or Worldly?
By doing self-inquiry and consciously fulfilling desires
we can find that resting as awareness becomes more and more natural and easy
I would like to suggest that these are two pieces of one
life. We do introspection and embrace desire even as we begin to recognize
that we've already always been resting as awareness. You recognize that the
body and even desires are never in the way. You recognize that the body and
desires (the little "I") are the local manifestation of intrinsic Awareness
and are not separate or different from it.
More from Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj :
Q: Why then should we pay tribute
to spiritual people and speak slightingly of worldly people? All are
spiritual people, in a way.
Maharaj: On the human scale of
values deliberate effort is considered praiseworthy. In reality both the
spiritual people and worldly people follow their own nature, according to
circumstances and opportunities. The spiritual person's life is governed by
a single desire - to find the Truth; the worldly person serves many masters.
But the worldly person becomes a spiritual person and the spiritual person
may get a rounding up in a bout of worldliness. The final result is the
same. (chapter 26 "I Am That" alternate translation)
From my perspective those of us who are awake (but not
done) are both spiritual people and worldly people at the same time and
should embrace the fact. So both paths, that of inspection/mediation and
fulfilling of desires is our actual path.
ęKrishna Gauci 2011