The father of Self-Inquiry
Heraclitus is by far my most favourite philosopher. None that I know of, has made the following connection about him. I have the privilege to be born in the country where Philosophy was born. Therefore, I am her brother but also her child, considering myself a philosopher, amongst other things that are equally secondary to What I Am.
Why Heraclitus? Where should is start? He writes in a style of a Zen master, before Zen was born. He talks about the Logos, before Christ was born. He talked about the “Ever-living Fire” out of which everything is created, long before the Shivaites of Kashmir and the Shaktas.
When he has been asked, “how do you know all the things you say”, he replied “I investigated to find my Self”. He suggested Self-Inquiry, long before Ramana Marashi did. Do I need to say more to explain why he is my favourite?
Self-Inquiry in different schools
Self-Inquiry or “Atma Vichara” dates back to ancient Sanskrit texts. It has been greatly popularized by Ramana Maharshi, one of the most recognized modern Enlightened Masters. Using this method, one looks for “Atman or “the Self”, by “investigating about it”.
In Rinzai Zen School the same method is applied. Practitioners meditate of fragments of Reality, called Koans. A very famous Koan is the Koan “Who am I?”.
In defence of Advaita Vedanta
Jnana yoga is not about intellectual masturbation. Jnana yoga is about describing in an articulate manner, the current spiritual experience one has. It is a live process that needs the participation of the whole being, including “the heart”, and after the Self is found, then the intellect comes into play, trying to describe the indescribable and communicate It as properly as possible.
Unfortunately, there are some occasions of teachers and practitioners that take the intellectual communications of Enlightened Vedantins and apply them to pre-Enlightened people. Perhaps you have heard to the expression “you are already Enlightened”, “no practice is needed”, “you cannot get where you are already” etc. All these are true, from the point of view of the Absolute. Unless one is identified with the Absolute, i.e. being in Samadhi, Turiya, Gnosis, Satori etc, then talking and “walking” like this is complete nonsense.
Any intellectualization prior to that is not just counterproductive, it is detrimental, adding more veils of illusion, instead of removing them. Many “neo-advaitans” commit this fallacy and if one is serious about Enlightenment, one should avoid it.
Now, intellectualizations after finding the felt sense of Self, thinking and talking as the Self is a very potent way of teaching and transmission. This is the traditional Advaita Vedata way that crashes ignorance.
How to do Self-Inquiry
There are some good instructions for the method and also gross ways to do it wrong. Self-Inquiry is not about a dry intellectual process about finding something abstract. It is about learning to find the felt sense of the Self. It is like carefully turning the tuning needle of the radio, moving it from station to station. With great care one starts to listening to the proper radio station, is oddly enough is not a radio station like the other, but is a station playing the signal of the one who is listening to the station. That’s were Awareness becomes Aware of Itself and one meet the Self, as the Self. It is a fine-tuning process, but not for the sake of finetuning something. It is about finding something that you never payed attention before. When you find that you stop the fine tuning and you recognize you self as That, as the Self.
The missing ingredient
If one tries to do Self-Inquiry this way, it can take very long. It is very difficult to investigate for something that you have never perceived before. You don’t know how it looks. You don’t know how it smells. Also, you cannot really look for it, no matter how good you are, unless you are looking for the looker. Unless you turn attention back to its source, Self-Inquiry is going to fail.
The missing ingredient is the Enlightened Guru, the person you completed the process and can lead others through it. The Guru transmits the radio station that the seeker is looking for, so it is perceivable more easily. The Guru can direct the seeker’s hand on the radio needle, giving him precise directions. A little left, a little right, until everything collapse into the Void.
Doing Self-Inquiry without a guru, is a very difficult quest.
Charles Berner and the First Enlightenment Intensive
Charles Berner was a great investigator of the human mind. Looking for ways to improve the human potential, he noticed that people who “knew who they were”, were making faster psychological developmental progress.
He therefore investigated the Rinzai Zen School and the use of Koans, as means to Enlightenment. After combining the traditional Zen sitting “Seshin”, with western psychological methods of communication, he made the Enlightenment Intesive, a very potent construct for helping people having Enlightenment experiences in a short time.
Later in his life, Berner, became a devotee of the Great Mother and passed his life teaching about Kundalini, giving Shaktipat, and practising what is called Natural Yoga.
Zivorad Slavinski and the Gnostic Intensive
A pioneer and a proper Master himself, he brought the Intensive to Yugoslavia. After years of strict abidance to the format and rules that Berner has set, he found ways to improve the method and make it faster, so more people were having Direct Experiences of Truth. A Direct Experience of Truth or Gnosis, is the equivalent of Samadhi and Satori. It is not uncommon that people who participated in the Intensives to reach the “Stable State” where one no longer gets out of the Unity experience.
Also, a 1on1 method was created, which is even faster than the already fast 5-hour group Intensive. For this reason, there are not many group intensives around, because people mostly use the 1on1 version. Of course, this is a shame because a group Intensive is a very beautiful occasion.
There are various depths of the Enlightenment experience. (To be more precise, I have to declare that Enlightenment is a non-experience but it is interpreted as such from the mind).
It is true that once one gets to the Stable State, the experience deepens. In order for this to be facilitated, there are also “advanced intensives” where people meditate on other Koans, like “what am I?”, “what is God?”, “what is Life”, “what is another?”. By having Direct Experiences and being Stable on those Koans, one ends up in great depths of Enlightenment.
The culmination of all these is the Natural State, where none of these make sense any more, but this is another topic.
Self – Inquiry and Kundalini
If Self-Inquiry is done right, it releases the Kundalini. What can be potentially different than methods who invest practice in the gradual ascension of the Kundalini is the with Self-Inquiry the Kundalini can skip some chakras, therefore not piercing and opening them and go straight to ajna chakra and then sahasrara. This can give one an Enlightenment experience which is a bit on the empty side. Meaning that the Realization is that of a Void nature. The same happens with Zen practices and other ways of Enlightenment. In this point I would like to make clear that this is not set in stone, meaning that this doesn’t happen all the time. It depends on various factors but mainly on the subtle anatomy of the practitioner and the work that has been done, until that moment. If one reaches Self-Realization skipping all or some chakras below ajna, one can then start a practice with the goal of piercing all of them with Kundalini. The more chakras are included and pierced the fuller and more vibrant this Void becomes. With proper practice and guidance, it is very easy for a Self-Realized person to pierce all chakras, because there is very little resistance in the process. So the upside of this process is that this can happen much faster than prior to Self-Realization. The downside is that one might not care about it or not knowing about it, staying in an “empty” Realization for longer, not wanting t do anything about it. Especially if the heart chakra is not pierced one can be without love and care and live “isolated” in the Void.
All the above-mentioned ways, properly taken to the end, should lead to the same result. There is no deeply Enlightened Jnani is not full of Love and no deeply Enlightened Bhakta who is full of Wisdom.