Correct practice of self-inquiry is so important that I feel a need to articulate its myriad ways, because successful methods are subtle indeed. One can practice unsuccessful self-inquiry for a long time because you have no idea of what you are looking for. Therefore, I will explain the various methods hoping that one way or another will connect with those truly interested in practice.
Some people are able to feel a sense of I Am almost immediately upon introspection and others not. One is by nature, naturally introspective or not. To do self-inquiry, one either has the talent or learns it by practice. The same holds true for psychotherapy. Those who are able to look within and "see" internal, imaginal objects and emotions will do well in talk therapy, while those who lack this skill, will not. However, one can learn this skill through repeated efforts to "look within" the imaginal spaces of the body and mind.
The problem is, a lot of people do not experience an ‘I Am’ feeling or sensation and therefore have nothing to work with. They look “inside themselves” and find only darkness, or they find a myriad of phenomena, such as inner light displays, thoughts, images, memories, body sensations, arising energies, etc., and don’t have a clue as to which is the ‘I Am’ phenomena to be concentrated on. They are lost in a forest of sensations and perceptions and have no sense of I or ‘I Am’.
If you look at the diagram representing Consciousness earlier in this book, you see Consciousness represented as having four levels. This is only a metaphor because are not levels in a spatial sense, but here are levels in terms of what can be experienced in the totality of one’s inner spiritual mansion. It is not even a matter of increasing subtlety, so much as you will find that towards which your attention is directed. If you want to find the I Am, you will. The same holds true for finding the Witness, the looker or the Absolute. And, if you have made up your mind after reading Neo-Advaitin books, you will not find either an I-Am or the Absolute; you will only find the top level of Consciousness, the body/world level and will not go deeper.
The Neo-Advaitins urge you to look within and tell you no matter how much you search inside you will not find a me, or an I-entity. Once you realize that they say, you will understand a myriad of things, such as that the totality of existence is oneness; there is no inner and outer division of Consciousness, and the body and other objects in Consciousness are of the same character as Consciousness itself: dreamstuff.
On the other hand, Nisargadatta, Siddharameshwar, and I direct you to look within for the I-feeling, the I-sense, and when found, just rest in it and love the sensation, and this will take you inevitably to the Self.
Why the vast difference in experience and understanding of these two “schools” of thought, the Neo-Advaitins and the more classical Advaitins, such as Nisargadatta and Ramana Maharshi?
There are three differences: The Neo-Advaitins do not “believe” in deeper or more subtle levels of Consciousness as do the classical Advaitins, and Western Depth psychology; they appear less capable of introspection or inner work, being more on the surface of Consciousness; and their “inner” work appears restricted to a sense of inner-seeing, their seeking is essentially visual as opposed to tactile, kinesthetic, or feeling.
On the other hand, Nisargadatta, and those who find the I Am sense or feeling easily, are far more kinesthetic. These people have an ability to feel emotions and inner energies, Kundalini, Chi and Prana, which are entirely invisible to the Neo-Advaitins. These people are on fire so to speak, easily moved by emotions, love, devotion, empathy for another, and they have easy access to a world of phenomena that are forever invisible to the Neo-Advaitins unless grace descends on them and they have an opening to the I Am and Self, or if they tire of the emptiness of their superficial realization and decide to renew their efforts to explore the inner world.
Let us assume you are not a Neo-Advaitin, or are a reformed one and you decide to go deeper. The Neos have discovered that there is no inner object we can call an I or a me when looking within, and take this discovery as the end of the search. There is just Consciousness with no distinctions of inner or outer, objective or subjective. Everything is a flat “suchness” or “knowingness.” They will not be convinced otherwise, because that is both their understanding and their experience.
Assuming you are better able to introspect than the Neos means you have a better access to emotions, inner images, internal body sensations, and the inner energies such as Kundalini. This is the level Siddharameshwar calls the Subtle Body; it is an antechamber to the Self. The deepest level of Consciousness, Turiya, or the Self, can be experienced in this Subtle Body level as the “feeling” or sensation of I Am, usually first felt as an energy field near the physical heart, such that when found and abided in, develops into a sense of presence, a kind of energy field that surrounds the body and reaches out into the environment.
Following the I Am feeling will take you inevitably to the Self, just by resting your attention in that sensation, abiding there, and deliberately lavishing affection on the I Am. Love the I Am, for it is your own true Self leaking through to this less subtle, or more physical level of your existence. Abiding in the I Am is the direct road to Self-Realization which will culminate in an explosive realization of the Self within you as the Other, but also your own self as a phenomenon, as opposed to your own Self as witness, or the Absolute.
This is a most important distinction: there is a difference between the I Am feeling and Self, and the looker, the final Witness, the Absolute which is entirely beyond Consciousness. It is entirely beyond existence. It is entirely beyond the I Am. It is “like” an invisible, intangible, unmanifest entity looking from outside of Consciousness to the inner play of Consciousness, interested in the play, but basically not touched by it.
On the other hand, the Self is the deepest or most subtle level of Consciousness whose character is the ability to know. Its other characteristic is pure love. This love/knowingness, combined with the void nature of the causal body which provides the container for all experience at the Subtle Body and physical body levels. When the Self emerges and presents itself to itself, through you, who is also the Self, and the mind, and the physical body, and the Absolute, it is experienced as divine energy, divine love, explosive Shakti and Kundalini energies, and a sense of overwhelming grace, of being held by a divine presence which appears as “Other,” God, but is also oneself.
At this point, after one has first experienced or realized the Self, one is ready to pursue the final step: finding the looker or Witness, or Absolute.
Nisargadatta is quite clear in his direction: follow the I Am sense; abide there; love the I Am sense and it will release you, meaning you have left the identification with Consciousness behind, and now identify with the looker, the Absolute.
This is a state of feeling like you are utterly yourself with nothing to do, nowhere to go; utterly complete and at rest. You are now a watcher, everything comes to you and you either welcome it or are indifferent to it. Nisargadatta compares it to always being underneath a shading tree on a hot day. There is no impetus to move or do anything except rest in yourself as Witness.
The Absolute is also called the noumenal (of the philosophy Immanuel Kant), or the Unmanifest you, or the Unborn you. Untouched by Consciousness, it cannot be killed, cut, burned, or bound by anything in the world or sentience. Sentience, knowingness, is entirely of the Nature of Consciousness. The Absolute, the Witness, is the principle that knows both knowingness and unknowing, or the final Void of nothingness.
However, at some point you realize that this Consciousness, which appears as a guest to you as the Absolute, is as much you as are you as the witness. You have the luxury of identify with all of “it,” from your position as the Absolute, and also the Self, and also the various voids, to the most superficial level of your human existence. It is all you! You are everything or nothing. You are free to identify with everything in or out of existence, or a small part of existence, like a jealous rage. You are both beyond everything, but also totally human, feeling the full range of human emotions, desires, and understandings, but also an entity that is now capable of exploring levels of your humanhood that you were not strong enough or subtle enough to explore before.
You can now explore all the parts of you that were denied and repressed from infancy to becoming an adult. Now you can own everything in you that was buried or repressed by family and society. Here, you hitherto spiritual freedom of identification now becomes a power to free yourself and others from the conventions and restrictions of society, which are really repressions of your irrepressible human spirit.
At this point you can become an “Avadhut,” a wild man or woman that to the unawakened, appear to be madmen or women, out of control, unconventional, unpredictable, a virtual tiger shredding the bounds of family and society. At this point you pass beyond the need for the respect and love that drive most people and become totally your irrepressible self, acting from the heart, not the mind or from convention, and the heart is not a lilly; it is a terror!
It acts only to free others in ways others don’t understand. You begin to incur the wrath of society and the conventional. You become an outcast, deemed dangerous by those who cannot see deeply who you are or what you are doing.
In a future book I will explore all the inner phenomena that one may experience by going within, including the looker, the Self, and all sorts buried treasures as well as repressed ugliness, hurt, rage and humiliation, that once seen and owned, become pure power. You’ll find all the energies and bliss that you could ever want to experience, that will enliven and entertain you. You will find joy and completion beyond anything you have ever dreamed of, but likewise, you will find unimaginable levels of pain, loss, loathing, humiliation and brokenness that has been repressed but now has to be own and integrated.