Always Awakening: The Continuing Playful Exploration of
Self-Inquiry & Life
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
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 huge.
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 desire
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 the Heart.
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
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 tantric one.
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 important.
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 here.
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
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
Introspection/meditation while fulfilling desire 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
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 of it.
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 being.
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 useful.
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
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 to maintain.
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
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.