This is a follow-up to the episode titled “How to do self-inquiry”. In the previous video, I shared some basic theory and also showed you a practice to help you directly perceive who you are. However, this is a very direct and therefore very advanced technique unsuitable for beginners. It’s very hard to jump from unconsiousness straight to total consciousness, sometimes it’s easier to go step-by-step.
So in this episode I will show you a different approach, an approach that is in fact quite the opposite of what we tried before. Nonetheless, they are both a kind of self-inquiry and they both lead to the same destination: the realization of your Self. But while in the former approach you tried to find out who you are, in this one the goal is to realize who you are not.
The method of self-inquiry was made famous in modern times by Ramana Maharshi, who was a fully enlightened mystic of India. He was teaching a mixture of traditional Advaita Vedanta and his own methods and experiences, which later became known as Neo-Advaita. His wisdom was carried on by Papaji and later by Mooji.
Most of the time, Ramana used a direct method of teaching, meaning that he stayed quiet when he was asked a question by a seeker. If the seeker couldn’t understand his silence, he used words and prescribed the practice of self-inquiry. He told all his disciples: Ask the question of “Who am I” relentlessly until you find the true self.
Many people assume that he himself became enlightened by asking the exact same question. However, this is not true. In fact, he had a breakthrough at the age of 16, when he asked himself quite the opposite. Here is how he described it in his own words:
I just felt “I am going to die” and began thinking what to do about it. Now death has come; what does it mean? What is it that is dying? “This body dies,” and at once dramatized the occurrence of death.
“Well then,” I said to myself, “this body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death of this body am I dead? Is the body I? It is silent and inert but I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of the “I” within me, apart from it. So I am Spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the Spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death. That means that I am a deathless Spirit.”
So, even though he advised others to ask themselves directly who they are, he himself asked himself who he is not. Or more precisely: “What is it that is dying?”. Again, death awareness, my favorite spiritual method, proves to be essential for enlightenment. If you want to have the same experience as Ramana Maharshi, listen to my Defeat Death Meditation, which is a guided meditation based on this same exact question.
However, there’s a catch to this technique. It is not enough to disidentify yourself from your body, because you will probably still remain identified with your mind. You may easily confuse the deathless spirit Ramana mentioned with the fantasy of the immortal ego. This is an idea I explained thoroughly in the episode titled “What is the soul?”.
As I mentioned in the beginning, this is a step-by-step approach, and realizing that you’re not the body is just the first step. In Hindu mysticism, this is known as the neti-neti method which literally means not this, not that. Its goal is to help you recognize that you are not your body, not your mind, not your face, and so on and so forth until all possibilities are exhausted.
The main reason you don’t really know who you are is that you think you already know yourself. The neti-neti method helps you get to a point where you realize that you don’t really know who you are, by showing you who you are not, by revealing all your previous false assumptions. And then it will be much easier to realize your true self, because you already separated the wheat from the chaff.
In my episode about the five bodies in spirituality, I explained that consciousness dwells in five different sheats: the physical body, the energy body, the astral body, the mental body and last but not least the causal body. During self-inquiry it’s this last causal body that we’re after, the manifestation of pure consciousness without form or name.
But to get there, first you have to transcend the four other bodies that are in the way. This means you need to mentally and existentially disidentify yourself from them, recognizing step-by-step that you are not the body, not the energy, not your emotions and not your thoughts. This kind of gradual enlightenment is much more manageable and realistic than trying the direct method.
In this episode, there’s no time to go into the details of how this is done in practice. But this is exactly why I created the Rebirth Academy, my 9 month online course to reach spiritual enlightenment step-by-step based on the neti-neti method. We spend the first month getting rid of the idea that you are the physical body, to a point where you can actually step out of your body and have an out-of-body experience.
We continue with the energy body in the second month, and we go gradually in a similar manner. So, if you want to reach enlightenment, but feel stuck with the direct method of self-inquiry, I invite you to join the Rebirth Academy, and your chance of success will be much higher!
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