In stripping away the flowery language, the sugar coating so to speak, the author is aware that he is presenting Self Enquiry as the challenging Practice it is designed to be, directly, "in the raw". But then this will take you to an important question: Who or what is being challenged? What is it within you that creates this resistance, doubt and fear? This is your first opportunity to go to the source, to step back from this anxiety and concern and see it for what it is: the many-layered mind with all its attachments continuing its game-playing in an effort to remain in control. In being prepared to swallow what seems to be a bitter pill you are taken directly to what matters: the path to Truth.
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About the Author
Michael Vincent lives in Bridgwater, Somerset with his daughter Jennifer, where he pursues a combined programme of creative activity and meditation taught to others through retreats and Satsang.
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Self Enquiry: On Being You
A Journey Into Truth
By Michael Vincent
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2015 Michael Vincent
All rights reserved.
You came into your body with nothing: without your name, your mind, your ego, your personality and without any material thing. It is assured you will leave your body with nothing. What is the nature of this "I" before these things were attached to it?
"Nan Yar – Who Am I?"
I suspect since humankind first developed an awareness of a spiritual dimension to existence Self Enquiry in some form has been practised. Indeed Self Enquiry is an ancient Practice embraced by the major religions and one which has inspired many figures in world history: politicians, spiritual leaders, composers, artists, writers, philosophers and scientists. Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why do I exist? "Who Am I?"
In the mind-centred West this simple but radical Practice has become enmeshed in verbiage, notably over the last 100 years into the 21st century. Weighty, complex texts have been written, retreat centres established and many pilgrimages made to sacred places across the globe in the search for answers to these questions, to discover the nature of Truth, whatever that may be. This is often to the detriment of Self Enquiry and its message resulting in confusion and uncertainty for the seeker, the pilgrim, the ordinary man and woman who, in becoming aware that something exists beyond the physical world, is seeking the nature of Truth.
In doing this, in stripping away the flowery language and sweet sugar coating so to speak, I am aware that I am presenting Self Enquiry as the challenging Practice it is designed to be, directly, "in the raw". But then this will take you to an important question: who, or what, is being challenged? What is it within you that creates this resistance, doubt, fear, this seeming mountain that is now before you as you confront full-on the issues presented to you as you proceed with the Practice? This is your first opportunity to go to the source, to step back from this anxiety and concern and see it for what it is: the many-layered mind with all its attachments continuing its gameplaying in its effort to remain in control. In being prepared to swallow what seems to be a bitter pill you are taken directly to what matters: the path to Truth.
My first book on Self Enquiry, completed in 2010 during my stay at Sri Ramana's Ashram in Arunachala, India, sought to clarify the nature of Self Enquiry, to free it from spiritual jargon and flowery language and make this important Practice accessible to those who are ready for it. Since that time I have continued to lead Satsang and Retreats focusing on Self Enquiry and have worked to clarify for myself just how this Practice can be "taught" to others and made even clearer and more accessible for everyone. This book, in growing from the first, addresses these questions and seeks to further clarify a Practice that is, essentially, so very simple and so very profound.
The first thing to understand is this: Self Enquiry is not an intellectual exercise presenting you with a "problem" for your mind to sort out so it can give you an answer. In becoming that its purpose, to take you beyond mind into stillness, is defeated. The mind's ability to find such an answer is beyond its capability anyway. The Practice is grounded on experience not intellectual analysis, and its application centres on your personal experience as life is lived in your physical body. I have long understood this to be the case. My life since childhood has given me ample opportunity to test this, to experience for myself how it works as I apply the Practice to the challenges I have faced, and continue to.
So let us be clear from the beginning. Books and texts may serve a purpose as signposts, pointers and maps for you the seeker on a personal journey; or they may be of no use to you whatsoever. Let us be clear on this too: reading these texts and attending retreats are not required "qualifications" in preparing you to proceed with the Practice. Such texts are potentially useful maps; the gurus and teachers you may meet on your journey are simply guides and helping hands. When no longer needed by the seeker, when the journey is known and understood, both teachers and texts are set aside, lovingly and with thanks. The Truth, whatever that might be, is for you to find as you focus inwards learning from the lessons of life as it is lived, the true purpose of Self Enquiry.
It is with this understanding that this present volume is written. It consists of a series of reflections and observations made during periods of personal meditation and my work with those who have participated in Satsang. In essence these pages are a description of the journey we share together, in Truth. Some are answers to questions asked during Satsang, others are reflections on observations made during personal periods of meditation written with the intention, humbly, that they may be of service to others. The journey we share can be seen as a number of steps taken by the traveller at whatever pace and speed is required. There is no hurry, no pressure, no agenda other than to reach journey's end whenever and wherever that may be.
It is a journey that will sometimes be hard going as you relinquish the accumulated layers and baggage, the stuff that has created the false identities in which you have believed for so long. This is the fog that obscures the path on which you walk already. As your journey continues you come to understand that this accumulated garbage is mind-created illusion. The only place it exists is in your mind. The travelling will become easier for you as each layer you relinquish, each bit of baggage you set down, each cloud that shifts makes the next step lighter giving you more energy to proceed.
If it helps you there are ways you can visualise your journey. With each step you take imagine yourself throwing off another layer of unwanted clothing; you can see yourself on a train, and instead of carrying your baggage on your back set it down or, better still, throw it out the window! Visualise the fog lifting, the clouds clearing and with dawning awareness the sun rising and shining. Remember too that setting out on your journey without total commitment is like getting on the train and insisting you carry your baggage or getting off the train before reaching your destination. Enter fully into the Practice with total openness, with no expectations of the outcome and with the intention of getting to your destination however long it may take and no matter how challenging the journey may be.
Finally I would like to make this important observation. Self Enquiry has the potential to help you confront and resolve all personal issues no matter how painful, deeply-ingrained and long-term they may be. Held in your mind these are the obstacles obscuring your path to understanding the nature of True Self. Self Enquiry cannot change your past or delete things you wished never happened to you, but it will change your perception of these often painful experiences. I became aware of this profound lesson with my beloved wife Kaisa as we shared her understanding that unresolved and long-held emotional issues were the root cause of her cancer. These issues centred around her childhood as a refugee in Finland after her family's eviction by the Russians from their Karelian homeland. All members of the family, including my beloved wife, carried throughout their lives a deeply-held conviction that they were social outcasts unloved and unwelcome in their own country. Kaisa acknowledged it was too late for her to resolve this issue within herself. Her cancer had progressed beyond the point of healing. But it was not too late for me. This understanding was such a great gift carrying a powerful message for me and one I wish to share with you.
Unresolved issues like this fester away over time, becoming anger, rage and resentment burning within you. It comes as no surprise, on reflection, that such deep-held emotions carried over so many years are a fertile seedbed for cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
Self Enquiry cannot alter or eradicate your past but it will provide you with the tools and the ability to change your perception of it, to rid yourself of this baggage carried within your mind for so long, bringing peace and healing into your life. In freeing yourself from this deep-seated accumulated garbage it will no longer be an obstacle on your path to Self Realisation. In this process Self Enquiry goes deeper in healing your pain than any pill from any bottle. Drugs may bring you temporary relief but once their effect has worn off the pain is likely to return. Self Enquiry, in going to the source, the very root of your suffering, brings about a permanent change in your perception and understanding of your pain, its cause and its resolution. The simple fact is a bucketful of painkillers will not end a pain the source and cause of which remains unresolved. The peace that Self Enquiry brings into your life and the healing which follows will ease such pain with the potential to end it, permanently.
What is Truth? The answer is for you to discover for yourself.
* * *
Included within the text are reproductions of my paintings of our precious Mother Earth which, in sustaining all that lives, so often clarifies and illuminates issues and problems for us. I remember as a child reading John Clare's wonderful words:
Where the flowers are, God is and I am free ...
As questions arise and observations are made whilst you read this book I invite you to go for a walk by the sea, into a wood, contemplate the beauty of a single flower whilst listening to birdsong, feeling the sun on your face or the wind on your skin. Greater clarity, understanding, calmness and peace simply arise from within you, naturally. The paintings in this book are my records of such times spent in nature, close to the Earth, resolving within myself the issues that will arise for you as you read these pages and use the Practice in your everyday life.
* * *
The realisation of True Self, of being who you are, is a personal journey, one you will make alone assisted here and there by a helping hand, a signpost, a guiding light. It is the main act, that which matters. It is a journey we all make at some time in our existence, often when confronted with a crisis or at the point of leaving our bodies. But a journey we will make only when we are ready; and you will know when this is so. The time will come when all that has been learned, from whatever source, will be set aside as you travel inwards in your search for Truth.
Self Enquiry is often described as the direct path to this Truth, the Truth for you to find as you look within in silence and without effort. Self Enquiry is self-sufficiency. You have within you all you require to proceed with the Practice and you are already fully qualified. Trusting that this is so and setting aside all mind-created resistance and doubt is the key that opens the door that is itself an illusion.
This map, this guide, is presented to you with heartfelt love. It is essentially a workbook, a "meditation tool" for you to employ as and when you need and for as long as it is of use to you. The only qualification you require is to be open, expecting nothing whilst being ready for anything that arises. I invite you to commit fully to the journey and when you have finished with the map please pass it to a friend.
Belief is transitory. Truth is constant.
It is for you to find as you look within, effortlessly, asking:
"Nan Yar: Who Am I?"
The beauty of the moon is lost on one whose eyes are closed.CHAPTER 2
Historical Perspective: There is nothing new in this ...
Mahatma Gandhi once said, "I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills." The same could be said of Self Enquiry. There is nothing new in what I have to say about this Practice, simply, I humbly suggest, the way in which I intend to say it; and I have nothing to sell you that you do not already possess. This will become clearer as you read this book and the texts recommended to you which are at the heart of Self Enquiry and show the impact this ancient Practice has had throughout history. I will stress, however, that you do not need to read or "understand" these sometimes complex and over-wordy texts in order to qualify to proceed with the Practice. Such reading can be deeply rewarding but is not required; it can give the assurance, should doubt arise, that you are on the right path.
There are many texts from different cultures dating back many centuries up to the present day. In deciding where to begin I have selected a few key texts and teachings which I consider most relevant to the Practice of Self Enquiry.
For a description of the nature of "The Sovereign Soul", the True Self which Self Enquiry seeks to clarify, I will begin with Bhagavad-Gita, "The Song Celestial", described as the prevailing Brahmanic belief of the Hindu religion and written, possibly, around 2000 years ago. It is a key document in Self Enquiry and one I often refer to, sometimes on a daily basis. Throughout its pages this beautiful poem carries a wide-sweeping description of "The undying Spirit", one who is free of desire, ambition, is self-sufficient, honourable and lovingly gives to all without expecting reward. Remaining "True to the farther Truth" he "cannot be stirred or shook by the gravest grief", his thoughts are controlled and his passions set aside. These qualities are echoed in the Holy Qur'an which honours patience, firmness and self-control underlining the importance of righteous deeds and compassion.
Self Enquiry embraces Advaita, non-duality and unity. All are one with God and all that lives, often referred to as "Oneness". There is no separation: them and us, enlightened-unenlightened, worthy-unworthy etc. Such categorisation creates division and isolation often resulting in conflict. Jesus Christ makes this clear throughout His teaching:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
You are in God and God is in you. There is no separation. This sentiment is echoed by the Sufi Poet Mansur Hallaj when he asked his creator: "Who are you?" to be told "You!" and in Krishna's words in the Gita: "I am alike for all! I know not hate, I know not favour ... They are in me, and I am in them." If you wish to see God look in the mirror or into the eyes of another living being.
For Bhagavad-Gita one living in Truth loves all that lives treating friend and foe equally, showing love for all; Jesus Christ welcomed all into His fold whilst Allah is ... "full of bounty to all the worlds". The Tao Te Ching, first written down in the 1st century BC, expresses a similar sentiment in these words:
... see your community in other communities, Think of countries as part of your being, And treasure the world as the round centre of everything.
Love is the undercurrent that flows through these texts, the fundamental quality that unites us all whilst healing all Earth's ills, acknowledged in the Holy Qur'an in the words of Allah when
... He joined your hearts in love ...
Taking this a little further we find that love and compassion go hand-in-hand with forgiveness throughout these teachings, clearly expressed in Jesus Christ's last words:
Then said Jesus, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
These beautiful words point to a quality that is fundamental to one who is Self Realised, an understanding that all actions driven by strong emotions and feelings may lead to an unintended result which, on reflection later when passions have cooled, create regret and a search for forgiveness. Jesus understood that those doing this to Him were deluded and driven by the strong emotions and passions of the crowd. Such actions were not innate defining qualities of those mislead individuals who were behaving with such cruelty.
* * *
In Buddhism the Three Jewels are cornerstones of Buddhist belief and tell us to do no evil, to cultivate good and to purify our minds. In teaching the Middle Path the importance of moderation in achieving wisdom is underlined. Extremes in any form are to be avoided: of behaviour, ritual, eating and sleeping. Alongside this understanding the Buddhist Scripture "Digha Nikaya" speaks of the all-pervading power of love:
Put away all hindrances, let your mind full of love pervade one quarter of the world, and so too the second quarter, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around and everywhere, altogether continue to pervade with love-filled thought, abounding, sublime, beyond measure, free from hatred and ill-will.
Excerpted from Self Enquiry: On Being You by Michael Vincent. Copyright © 2015 Michael Vincent. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Introduction 1
2 Historical Perspective: There is nothing new in this… 9
3 The place of personal experience in Self Enquiry 16
4 The Practice: "Nan Yar: Who Am I?" 22
5 Step 1: I am not that… 27
6 Step 2: Limitation is of the mind 32
7 Step 3: Unlearning the learned 41
8 Step 4: Relinquish Desire 47
9 Step 5: Feeling and Emotion 51
10 Step 6: Conscience, action and behaviour 56
11 Step 7: Be in your body but not of it 62
12 Step 8: Earth Matters 67
13 Step 9: On Unity 74
14 Step 10: Be free 79
15 Step 11:I Am This… 84
Recommended Reading 90
About the Author 95
Previous Books 98