Self-Inquiry and “Who Am I?” – Quotes and Resources

WhoAmI_KN_202003_S_cropped

This is a companion article to [KendoNotes_Awareness] on “awareness.”  It is a compilation of quotes and resources on an approach to awakening, heijoushin (平常心), enlightenment or self-realization referred to as Self-Inquiry (or Self-Enquiry).  The approach is based on a continual re-direction of our attention from an object of our attention (e.g. sights, sounds, body sensations, emotions or thoughts) back to that which is paying attention to the object.  Who is seeing?  Who is hearing?  Who is experiencing this sensation or emotion?  Who is thinking these thoughts?  And in case the answer is ‘I’ am experiencing that, then this can be followed up with the inquiry:  Who am I? or Who is this I? [Endless_Self-Inquiry] [Sharpe_Self-Inquiry].  It has also been described as the re-direction of our awareness or attention back on to itself:  “Being aware of being aware[Spira_BeingAware].

Self-inquiry  is the constant attention to the inner awareness of “I” or “I am” recommended by Ramana Maharshi as the most efficient and direct way of discovering the unreality of the “I”-thought. [Wiki_Self-Inquiry]

In my experiences with Self-Inquiry, it seems to lead to a sense that the “I” is a construction of thoughts, beliefs and programs.  Akin to how a “car” is a construction of many parts and components.  This re-direction of attention, for me, seems to lead to a sense of spaciousness, awareness, nothingness and calmness in which the objects of attention may arise and be experienced.  To a place where thoughts can be experienced, witnessed and seen – as if conscious, present and awake rather than unconscious, lost in thought and asleep.  And with this, there seems to be:

Less judgment of others, oneself or the thoughts and more acceptance of others, oneself and the thoughts.  Less tension, anxiety, worry or fear from the clinging on to of thoughts.  More awareness, capacity and availability to the thoughts, sights, sounds, sensations, the person in front of “me” or the environment.

In the context of kendo, this approach seems to be a way to realize the mirror in our hearts (as described by master swordsmen and renowned kendo teachers [KendoNotes_Mirror]) and a way to cut away our attachments and sources of shikai (the four sicknesses in kendo) as conveyed by the metaphor of the Blown Feather Sword [KendoNotes BlownFeatherSword].  I experience glimpses of a deep awareness of an “opponent” which seems to facilitate really seeing the other [KendoNotes_”O” Sensei].  As if there were only the “other” and no sense of “self”.  Which may perhaps be the ” no self” and “no enemy” state described by Yamaoka Tesshu [KendoNotes_Mirror].

More generally, Self-Inquiry may be helpful for those seeking calmness, peace and relief from setbacks and suffering.  I came across this while searching for ways for such relief – a topic addressed in the section “On Handling Suffering” in [KendoNotes_Suffering].  When “I” apply this approach, the thoughts seem to lose their stickiness, heaviness and influence.  And a sense of letting go, lightness and liberation arises.

The quotes are organized by teachers as follows:

  • Nirmala
  • Michael James
  • Sri Sadhu Om on Ramana Maharshi
  • Michael Langford
  • Walt Walker
  • Jon Bernie
  • Mike McVey
  • Rupert Spira
  • Janice Sharpe
  • David Godman on Ramana Maharshi’s Teachings
  • Robert Adams
  • Annamalai Swami
  • Ramana Maharshi
  • T.M.P. Mahadevan from the Introduction in [Maharshi_WhoAmI]
  • Others

Resources consist of those cited in the References section and the following:

May we all re-discover who we really are!

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” – David Foster Wallace

Note:  These quotes were moved here from [KendoNotes_Awareness] to highlight this approach to awareness.


Nirmala

  • From [Endless_Self-Inquiry]
    • In self-inquiry, we simply ask, Who am I? or What am I? or a variation on that, Who is having this experience?
    • When you look to see who is having this experience, you don’t find anyone. There’s nothing there.  The Experiencer can’t be experienced, just as the eye can’t see itself
      • You don’t find any thing, nothing you can touch or see or hear.
    • Another way to ask the self enquiry question is with your whole Heart. You ask it with everything you’ve got, as if your life depended on it. … When you ask it with your whole Heart and you don’t find an answer, you just stay there, not knowing. You just let yourself not know. There’s nothing but that space, and you just stay present to that space, to that sense of there being nothing behind your eyes, nothing behind your thoughts, nothing behind your feelings.
  • From [Endless_Self-InquiryPractice]
    • [S]elf-inquiry … is a turning of attention and curiosity inwards towards yourself and towards the truth of your nature.
      • It is a practice of redirecting attention away from outward objects, events, and experiences and towards the experiences within your body and being… Eventually this inward focus can lead to an experience of your ultimate true nature…
    • The practice can be quite simple. You begin by asking, “Who am I?” or “What am I?” or “What is here right now?”
      • You can also use any other question that directs your attention to your sense of “me” or to your direct experience of your existence and/or experience in this moment.
      • If your attention is flowing to an outer sensation or experience, then you can ask, “To whom is this sensation or experience happening?”

Michael James [James_About]

  • Sri Sadhu Om clearly explained that ‘self-enquiry’ is simply the practice of self-attention, that is, the practice of turning our attention or power of knowing away from all thoughts and objects, towards our fundamental consciousness of our own being, which we always experience as ‘I am’.

Sri Sadhu Om on Ramana Maharshi [Sadhu_RamanaPart1]

  • “Always keeping the mind (the attention) fixed In Self (in the feeling ‘I’) alone is called Self enquiry’… Remaining firmly in Self-abidance, without giving even the least room to the rising of any thought other than the thought of Self (that is, without giving even the least attention to any second or third person, but only to Self), is surrendering oneself to God. – Ramana Maharashi, PDF  p. 158
  • The enquiry ‘Who am I ?’ (the path of knowledge or jnana marga) and self-surrender (the path of love or bhakti marga) are the two great royal paths found out by Bhagavan Sri Ramana from His own experience. PDF p. 159

Michael Langford

  • [Langford_Awareness]
    • I tried this practice:  Awareness watching awareness while ignoring thought.
      • … to turn the attention that normally goes out to the world around 180 degrees and to look inward.  However, it also means to ignore thought.
      • If I noticed that some thought had started, I just ignored the thought, and brought the attention back to awareness watching awareness. Awareness paying attention to awareness, to the exclusion of all else.
    • The results were instant!  From the very first moment one tries this practice, one is abiding as awareness! There is no waiting! It is so easy.
    • I do not mean to imply that from the beginning the ego is dead. It might take years of continuous practice before the ego is dead, and thought and the world are gone forever, never to reappear.
      • However, from the moment one tries this simple, easy to understand practice, one is abiding as awareness!
    • I read the book “The Path of Sri Ramana, Part 1” by Sri Sadhu Om cover to cover. … Throughout the book, Sri Sadhu Om focuses on Self-attention, instead of Self-inquiry.  He points this out hundreds of times throughout the book, and this is the main point being made throughout the book.  Self-inquiry is really just a way of inducing Self-attention, and only Self-attention is the true practice.

Walt Walker

For a nice overview of Self-Inquiry and “Who am I?”, I’d recommend reading Walt Walker’s three-part series [Walker_Self-Inquiry].

  • From [Walker_Self-Inquiry].
    • As we experience this truth, the notion of ‘I’ literally dissolves. We can see this. We can sense it. Feel it. It’s an actual, livable experience.  …. Something infinite, and eternal.
    • It’s something you can realize for yourself. It is available to you as a direct, experiential knowing.
    • Don’t take my word for it. See for yourself.

Jon Bernie

  • From [Bernie_Seeking] who briefly overviews the stages of development.
    • Usually at the beginning of so-called spiritual practice, people have to maintain a kind of vigilance, a kind of diligence. … to develop concentration and mindfulness.  … to stay with awareness (0:25)
      • Because the natural tendency is to pull away into separation, into projection, into mental worlds,…, into compulsive behavior.  So, the natural tendency is to be unconscious.  And it takes effort to be conscious. … a tremendous amount…
    • And once one discovers awareness, same thing, it often takes a certain kind of diligence to maintain a kind of awareness you might say.
    • But then there comes a point in which there is a shift. … And at at that point, awareness is effortless.  It’s sort of the default setting. (1:25)
      • And what takes effort is to be reactive, identified and struggling with what is.  (1:44)

Mike McVey

I found reading [McVey_Self-InquiryMechanics] very illuminating and helpful.  Here’s some quotes from the article:

  • Self-Inquiry is the only type of meditation that is directed inwards rather than outwards.
    • Anything that is perceived in consciousness is, in Self-Inquiry, considered an object.
    • Self-Inquiry stops this outward flow of attention entirely and turns it back towards the very source from which it rises.

Rupert Spira

  • Give your attention to the experience of seeing rather than to the object seen and you will find yourself everywhere.
  • I am that which is aware of my experience.  That with which all objective experience is known.  But which itself cannot be known as an object.
  • From [Spira_BeingAware]:
    • Being aware is the only element of experience that never changes.  That never appears or disappears.  Everything else we have ever experienced has vanished.  at the 4:52 min mark
    • Every thought, every feeling, every sensation every perception … are vanishing all the time. … But the experience of being aware … remains constant, unchanging.  at 5:11
    • Normally, we are so fascinated by what we are aware of … our thoughts, …, our feelings, …, state of the body or the perceptions of the world,.. that the simple experience of being aware is overlooked.  at 9:02
    • Instead of directing your attention to what you are aware of, direct your attention towards the experience of being aware.  14:21 mins.
    • We cannot direct our attention towards it (awareness).  We can only direct our attention away from it.  In fact it is not the directing of our attention but rather the relaxing our attention. 18:41
    • Instead of trying to direct your attention towards the experience of being aware or awareness itself. … That your attention relaxes or sinks backwards into its source.  19:24
    • It is not a directing of the attention but rather a resting of the attention. 20:43
    • So just let your attention fall backwards, sink backwards, into its source.  Allow it to rest in its source … Just the simple feeling of being or being aware. 21:13.

Janice Sharpe [Sharpe_Self-Inquiry]

  • With self-inquiry, you’re not clearing thought, but your focus is elsewhere. So even if thoughts come and go, your focus is inward so you’re not paying attention to them.
    • It’s like being at a very busy restaurant, and you hear the din of all the conversations around you, but you don’t pay attention to them; you stay focused on the people in your conversation.
  • There is a complete surrendering of your conditioning to be open in each moment to newness.
  • Self-inquiry is not what is commonly described as meditation, because it does not imply sitting in a lotus position and working on the mind to be quiet. Instead, it is an inquiry into one’s own sense of self, attempting to know yourself, and to realize that the psychological self is a construct that only exists as a collection of thoughts.
  • To begin, many people start sitting somewhere quiet and practice asking the question “Who am I?” and learning how to let the thoughts go by. In my experience,  I did this every time I thought of it, no matter what I was doing — eating, driving, meditating, walking to appointments. Every waking moment that I thought of it, I did it.
  • In my own life I have observed that the outcome of doing this is that I have no attachment, other than a passing one, to the identity of who I am. So in terms of practicality of life, living in this world, there is still a concern in the moment for health or safety, but there is not a worry, per se. I can’t hold a worry for long.

David Godman on Ramana Maharshi’s Teachings

  • From [Godman_Self-Enquiry]:
    • He (Ramana Maharshi) said that this subject ‘I’ that you never look at, is in fact a fiction.  … 
      • It arises from an idea that ‘I am a person.  I have a mind.’ ‘I live inside a particular body.’ ‘I do things, I remember things.’ 
      • He said that idea is absolutely wrong.  And he said it’s what causes you suffering.  It’s what makes you have wrong ideas about yourself, about the world.
    • And he said that this sense of personal identity, which he called the ‘I’ thought, needs to be challenged. … repeatedly, regularly, on a moment to moment basis.
      • You’re actually looking at the entity within you which thinks your thoughts and which perceives your perceptions.
    • What I would suggest to people they do, is to look at themselves and be continuously aware what it is inside yourself that thinks your thoughts when you have a thought.
    • This is the other analogy which Bhagavan (Maharshi) used to use a lot. 
      • He said that in a big wedding feast there are two parties.  There is the bride’s party and bridegroom’s party.
      • And it’s quite possible for somebody to be there pretend to be an important person, and one person will think he’s with the bride’s party.  The other person will think he’s with the bridegroom’s party. 
      • And he can get away with(out) causing trouble so long as nobody takes the trouble to pin him down and say, “Who exactly are you?”  “Which party do you belong to?”
    • So, he (Maharshi) is saying that the ‘I’, …, causes you endless trouble because you never take the trouble to check up on it, see what it is, and see where it comes from.
      • He said if you isolate it, watch it, hold on to it, and let it be distracted by anything whatsoever, it can’t exist any longer.

Robert Adams [Adams_Works]

  • p. 21
    • When thoughts come to you, you simply ask yourself, “To whom do these thoughts come?  From whence cometh these thoughts,” follow the thoughts to their source.  Find out the source of your thoughts. You will find that the source of your thoughts is I.  Follow the I-thread to its source by asking, “Who am I?” or “What is the source of I?
    • Where did this I come from?”  You will realize that the pronoun I, is the first word that was ever spoken and everything else is attached to I. Every other word. Every other thought, every other feeling, every other emotion, they’re all attached to the I.  I feel happy.  I feel sad. I feel sick.  I feel well.  I feel poor, I feel rich.  Everything is attached to I.  If the I becomes dis-solved, so does everything else and you become free.
    • Find out for whom there is an I and you will discover something amazing. You will discover that I never existed. There never was an I. You will discover that you never existed. There’s no such thing as you. You will discover that you are the imperishable Self. That you are never born and you can never die. You will discover that you’re omnipresence, omniscient, omnipotent. That there are no others. There is no world. There is no universe. There is no God. There is only the Self.  All this is the Self. All that you behold is the Self and “I-am” is that. This will give you a feeling of freedom, of bliss, of happiness. You will not lose your awareness.
  • p. 124
    • I get a few phone calls from different people all over the world. … How do I solve my problems and how do I become self-realized? And that’s a funny question to me. It’s like a person standing in the middle of the ocean, asking for water. Self-realization is your very nature.
    • You are already that, but because we are attached to maya, we are earthbound. We use discrimination and we believe everything we see is real.  Because of this, because we believe the body is real, the mind is real, it becomes like the clouds hiding the sun. You do not say there is no sun, you wait for the clouds to dissipate and the sun shines again in all its glory and splendor.

Annamalai Swami

  • From [Annamalai_Interview]
    • 32:04 One who has not realized his true Self thinks that the body is the Self.  The one who has realized his true Self has found that all is himself.
      • Complete.  All.  No samsara, no maya, no ego.  Nothing is there.  All is the Self.
  • From [Annamalai_Instructions]
    • Bhagavan [Sri Ramana Maharshi] has said: ‘When thoughts arise stop them from developing by enquiring, “To whom is this thought coming?” as soon as the thought appears. What does it matter if many thoughts keep coming up? Enquire into their origin or find out who has the thoughts and sooner or later the flow of thoughts will stop.’
    • When Bhagavan spoke like this he sometimes used the analogy of a besieged fort.
      • If one systematically closes off all the entrances to such a fort and then picks off the occupants one by one as they try to come out, sooner or later the fort will be empty.  Bhagavan said that we should apply these same tactics to the mind.
        • When you have sealed off the mind in this way, challenge each emerging thought as it appears by asking, ‘Where have you come from?’ or ‘Who is the person who is having this thought?’
        • If you can do this continuously, with full attention, new thoughts will appear momentarily and then disappear.
        • If you can maintain the siege for long enough, a time will come when no more thoughts arise; or if they do, they will only be fleeting, undistracting images on the periphery of consciousness.
        • In that thought-free state you will begin to experience yourself as consciousness, not as mind or body.
      • However, if you relax your vigilance even for a few seconds and allow new thoughts to escape and develop unchallenged, the siege will be lifted and the mind will regain some or all of its former strength.
      • In a real fort the occupants need a continuous supply of food and water to hold out during a siege. When the supplies run out, the occupants must surrender or die.
        • In the fort of the mind the occupants, which are thoughts, need a thinker to pay attention to them and indulge in them.
          • If the thinker withholds his attention from rising thoughts or challenges them before they have a chance to develop, the thoughts will all die of starvation.
          • You challenge them by repeatedly asking yourself ‘Who am I? Who is the person who is having these thoughts?’
        • If the challenge is to be effective you must make it before the rising thought has had a chance to develop into a stream of thoughts.
    • Mind is only a collection of thoughts and the thinker who thinks them.
      • The thinker is the ‘I’-thought, the primal thought which rises from the Self before all others, which identifies with all other thoughts and says, ‘I am this body’.
      • When you have eradicated all thoughts except for the thinker himself by ceaseless enquiry or by refusing to give them any attention, the ‘I’-thought sinks into the Heart and surrenders, leaving behind it only an awareness of consciousness.
      • This surrender will only take place when the ‘I’-thought has ceased to identify with rising thoughts.
  • [Annamalai_FinalTalks]
    • p. 6 Question: One can have a temporary experience of the Self, the underlying reality, but then it goes away. Can you offer any guidance on how to stabilise in that state?
      • So, going back to your question, the Self does not need to stabilise itself. It is full and complete in itself.  The mind can be stabilised or destabilised, but not the Self.

Ramana Maharshi

  • From an eight-page booklet [Maharshi_WhoAmI]:
    • Q10 How will the mind become quiescent?
      • By the inquiry ‘Who am I?’.  The thought ‘who am I?’ will destroy all other thoughts, and like the stick used for stirring the burning pyre, it will itself in the end get destroyed.  Then, there will arise Self-realization.
    • Q11. What is the means for constantly holding on to the thought ‘Who am I?’
      • When other thoughts arise, one should not pursue them, but should inquire: ‘To whom do they arise?’
      • It does not matter how many thoughts arise. As each thought arises, one should inquire with diligence, “To whom has this thought arisen?”.
      • The answer that would emerge would be “To me”. Thereupon if one inquires “Who am I?”, the mind will go back to its source; and the thought that arose will become quiescent.
      • With repeated practice in this manner, the mind will develop the skill to stay in its source.
      • When the mind that is subtle goes out through the brain and the sense-organs, the gross names and forms appear;  when it stays in the heart, the names and forms disappear.
      • Not letting the mind go out, but retaining it in the Heart is what is called “inwardness” (antar-mukha). Letting the mind go out of the Heart is known as “externalisation” (bahir-mukha). Thus, when the mind stays in the Heart, the ‘I’ which is the source of all thoughts will go, and the Self which ever exists will shine.
  • From [Muruganar_Garland]
    • Saying #418 The only true and full awareness is awareness of awareness.  Till awareness is awareness of itself, it knows no peace at all. PDF p. 79 (Thanks to Michael Langford for pointing to this on p. 2 of [Langford_Awareness])

T.M.P. Mahadevan from the Introduction in [Maharshi_WhoAmI]

  • As one enquires ‘Who am I?’, other thoughts will arise;  but as these arise, one should not yield to them by following them, on the contrary, one should ask ‘To whom do they arise?’
    • In order to do this, one has to be extremely vigilant. Through constant enquiry one should make the mind stay in its source, without allowing it to wander away and get lost in the mazes of thought created by itself.
    • All other disciplines such as breath-control and meditation on the forms of God should be regarded as auxiliary practices. They are useful in so far as they help the mind to become quiescent and one-pointed.
  • For the mind that has gained skill in concentration, Self-enquiry becomes comparatively easy.
    • It is by ceaseless enquiry that the thoughts are destroyed and the Self realized – the plenary Reality in which there is not even the ‘I’ thought, the experience which is referred to as “Silence.”

Others

  • (T)he I which we take us to be, doesn’t exist and it’s just a thought. – Sachin Gadkar from [Quora_Self-Enquiry_Exp]
  • Young, KendoNotes
    • Can you see who is seeing?  Can you hear who is hearing?   Can you experience who is experiencing? 
    • Can you direct your attention to who is paying attention?

References

[Adams_Works] Robert Adams Satsangs:  The Collected Works eBook version, Edited by Ed Muzika, 2012 (PDF, 2,355 pages).

[Annamalai_FinalTalks] Annamalai Swami Final Talks, edited by David Godman, 2nd ed, 2002.

[Annamalai_Instructions] Annamalai Swami, “Instructions for Self-Enquiry,” Realization.org.

[Annamalai_Interview] Annamalai Swami entrevistado por Madhukar Thompson SUBTITLES (57:23 mins).

[Bernie_Seeking] Jon Bernie, “The End of Seeking – awareness becoming aware of itself | nondual teacher Jon Bernie, YouTube.com, Sept 1, 2010 (3:54 mins).

[Endless_Self-Inquiry] Nirmala, “Self Inquiry or Self Enquiry:  Who am I?” Endless-Satsang.com.

[Endless_Self-InquiryPractice] Nirmala, “The Practice and Purpose of Self Inquiry”, EndlessSatsang.com.

[Godman_Self-Enquiry] David Godman, “Talks on Sri Ramana Maharshi: Narrated by David Godman – Self-Enquiry,” (Sept 12, 2015 (42:07 mins).

[James_About] Michael James, The About page of “Happiness of Being – Ramana Maharshi,” HappinessOfBeing.com.

[KendoNotes_Awareness] Young, “Awareness and Who am I?” KendoNotes.com, April 14, 2019.

[KendoNotes_BlownFeatherSword] “The Blown Feather Sword (吹毛剣) – To Cut Away Our Attachments and Shikai,” KendoNotes.com, Nov 5, 2018.

[KendoNotes_Mirror] “The Mirror in the Heart of Master Swordsman (and Jedi Masters),” KendoNotes.com, April 16, 2019,

[KendoNotes_”O” Sensei] Young, “Really Seeing the Opponent and Opportunities to Strike, – Part 1: “O” Sensei,” KendoNotes.com, Mar 3, 2019.

[KendoNotes_Suffering] “Setbacks and the Pain of Suffering – Quotes and Resources,” KendoNotes.com, March 18, 2019.

[Langford_Awareness] Michael Langford, “Awareness Watching Awareness,” SearchingWithin.org, 2001 (PDF, 7 pages).

[Levine] Stephen Levine, Who Dies? – An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying, Anchor Books, 1982.

[Maharj_Pointers] Ramesh S. Balsekar, “Pointers from Nisargadatta Maharj,” 1982 (PDF, 145 pages).

[Maharshi_Teachings] Ramana Maharshi, The Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharashi, Century Paperback, 1962.

[Maharshi_WhoAmI] Ramana Maharshi, Who am I? (PDF, 8 pages)

[McVey_Self-InquiryMechanics] Mike McVey, “On the Mechanics of Self-Inquiry Meditation,” DiscoveringNonDuality.com, Jan. 8, 2020.

[Muruganar_Garland]  Muruganar, The Garland of Guru’s Sayings (a collection of Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi’s Teachings presented by Muruganar in 1254 Tamil verses) PDF, 269 pages.

[Quora_Self-Enquiry_Exp] “What is your experience with self-enquiry?” Quora.

[Reddit_Self-Inquiry2Days] “Two whole days of self inquiry made me experience non-duality,” Reddit.

[Sadhu_RamanaPart1] Sadhu Om, The Path of Sri Ramana – Part One, 6th ed.,” 2005 (PDF, 233 pages).

[Sharpe_Self-Inquiry] Vic Shayne and Janice Shayne’s Nov 14, 2018 response to “How do I do “I am” self-enquiry meditation?”, Quora.

[Spira_BeingAware] Rupert Spira, “Meditation:  Being Aware of Being Aware is the Highest Meditation,” June 19, 2015 (43:05 mins).

[Walker_Self-Inquiry] Walt Walker, “Who Am I? Self-Inquiry, Part 1” (a Three Part Series), DiscoveringNonduality.com, Feb 5, 2019.

[Wiki_Self-Inquiry] Wikipedia on Self-enquiry (Ramana Maharshi).

Keywords: Heijoshin, Suffering

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