I’ve been talking a lot about Ramana Maharshi’s self-inquiry lately. I’d like to walk you through a series of questions, trying to help direct you to the ‘I am’ state, the fundamental state, self-realization, whatever you wish to call it. To do so, I have to ask you to leave everything for now. This requires no tools or special techniques. You do not have to close your eyes, or do breathing exercises, or listen to special meditative music, or anything like that. What we will be going for is not an idea, so this is not a state of thought. This state reveals itself when there is peace and detachment.
First, empty yourself of everything, even the concept of emptiness. Empty yourself of every idea, every perception, every experience, every concept, every emotion, every imagination, all that you’ve ever learned or thought, and leave it all behind. Do not come into this with any belief systems because those will only hinder you from finding this. There’s no religion here. No science. No set way that things work. Keep emptying yourself, and emptying yourself, until you finally come to something which you cannot empty yourself of. Pure awareness. The spaceless space. The I am. This is something that is immovable, ever-present, incapable of being touched. I’m asking you to remain in this place while I ask you a series of questions about it. Each of these questions are a form of self-inquiry, and I will answer each in turn.
Now that you’ve emptied yourself, now that you’re perceiving that which remains, is it an object? Can it be photographed or captured in some way?
No. This state is aware of objects. It is that which witnesses the objects. It is also both the object, and not the object, at the same time. It cannot be captured or represented by anything other than itself. No symbols, no mathematics, no image. It simply is, and if you self-inquire, and keep asking yourself, “Who am I?” this state is there, and has always been there.
Was it created?
No. It exists outside of time. Time flows on it, like pictures change on a computer screen. This screen, this spaceless space is unchanging. It’s always been there and always will.
Does it belong to some people and not to others? Does it belong to anybody at all?
Every idea, concept, imagination, or perception of anything “other” can be perceived from this state. One may have a concept of self, and relative to this self-concept ideas about “others” may be perceived. For example, one may identify with their body, and then ideas about others and the external world arises. But these are things perceived on the unchanging spaceless canvas of awareness. This only happens if we self-identify with a particular experience or idea; only then others will arise relative to this. But assuming we have such a self-concept, this state we’re discussing now belongs to all and is in all. It’s in you and it’s also in all the others. It’s not exclusive to anyone or anything. Everything that does arise arises within it and on it, including others and every idea about anything other than self. But when you’re in this spaceless state, there are no others, so this question makes no sense.
Can it become sick? Or depressed?
No. It is unchanging. Certain pictures being projected onto the spaceless canvas of this awareness may be accompanied by an emotion of depression, or there may be a “movie” playing of a body experiencing sickness, but if one perceives this canvas, they can dissociate from the movie and experience inner peace. Without any movie playing on the spaceless canvas of awareness, the background experience is unchanging and unalterable peace. Sickness and depression are temporary illusions being played on this screen of awareness. If this awareness realizes that thoughts and emotions are experiences which flow through its spaceless space, and one does not attach or self-identify with these experiences flowing through it, then one silences the mind and depression no longer exists, though physical pain of the body is still experienced.
Did it come from somewhere? Can it leave?
Space, along with any concepts of “elsewhere” arise on this spaceless canvas of awareness. It cannot go anywhere. It is prior to space and time. Space and time are things experienced on this unchanging screen.
Can it belong to any religion or any institution?
All religions and institutions are ideas, concepts, imaginations, and perceptions which are experienced from this state of awareness. This is beyond religion. Any experience or idea of God or gods happens on this screen of awareness. This state is beyond an external God and all ideas of your-self. This is beyond faith, or a need for faith. This is not something that one has to believe in. It is immediately experienced and is beyond doubt. In that sense it’s more real than anything experienced.
Does it have any expectations?
Expectation is a belief that something in particular will happen. All beliefs are experienced on this canvas, this spaceless space. They float in and out of this space and one can self-identify with them, or not. But this state is beyond any belief or belief system.
Does it judge anyone? Does it accept or reject anything or anyone?
All value systems are objects experienced on the spaceless space of awareness. If one self-identifies with a particular value system, then a set of accompanying ideas and other actions flow out of it. This is the source of judgement, such as opinions, moral evaluations, ideas of who deserves what and for what reasons, and other things like this. However, the spaceless canvas of awareness is beyond value systems, though it allows one to self-identify and experience the consequences of any particular value system. Accepting and rejecting result from self-identifying with a value system. Looking at it all from “above”, from the fundamental state of awareness, it is possible to accept or reject anything. It’s your choice. The keyword is “your”. This “your” comes from the self-identification with the value system. You believed and consented to the value system, and from that acceptance flowed an experience of it. The spaceless space of awareness does not judge anyone or anything.
Can it be manipulated?
The spaceless space, the divine screen, cannot ever be manipulated. It is unchanging. What can be manipulated is what displays on the screen of conscious awareness. This is done through self-identification. Once one self-identifies with something being displayed, they enter the world of consenting, believing, and pursing certain experiences as opposed to others. When you believe that some experience is “you”, and some other experience is “other”, you now have the task of fully fleshing out this identify. You enter the project of adding to this false identity, or taking away from it. You’re always dissatisfied with this limitation and the thought of, “Is this all there is?” periodically enters your mind. That is the true Self calling you back “home” beyond limitation, beyond boundaries. One is always everything being seen on the screen of awareness; manipulation is only of the veil of ignorance of oneself. The true Self cannot change, which is what we all are. What changes is the dream world we project by veiling ourselves in temporary ignorance.
How old is it? Can it end?
It is beyond time. Time manifests on this spaceless space of awareness. All objects manifest within awareness, and if there is some continuity and order to what’s manifesting, you could meaningfully speak of time. Death is an abrupt change in what’s being displayed on the spaceless screen of awareness due to a removal of a limitation or set of limitations you formerly agreed to experience, or temporarily self-identified with. However, the screen of awareness is eternal and there is no death or end to it. The only thing that can die are illusions. And speaking of the illusions, they never “die” either, and are always available as eternal possibilities which you can experience at any time.
Does it know inside or outside?
If one self-identifies with a particular experience, such as “I am this body”, then ideas of inside and outside come out of that. The experience of the body, along with any ideas of inside, outside, or anything else, happen on the spaceless canvas of awareness. One can be aware of an inside and outside, if one wants to. Or there can be experiences flowing on the screen where there is no self-concept at all. This awareness can have a limited, veiled experience without any ego. For example, one could be a bodiless, spherical viewpoint flying over a beautiful landscape, aware of the surroundings, but not thinking anything, or exclusively “being” anything that is experienced. Sort of like enjoying a beautiful screensaver or something. In fact, if one chooses, this human life can become this, if one no longer identifies with the body, emotions, or thoughts. If one changes their perspective awareness, they’ll watch this life unfold on its own. Choices will happen on their own, like everything went on auto-pilot. All stress goes away. Life is left to whatever forces set it all into motion.
How far away from you is it? Can you reach it?
Space arises on this canvas of awareness, but the awareness itself has no distance from you. You are it and it is you. How would you reach for it? You’d have to create a body for yourself, self-identify with it, and then create another object within your awareness, self-identify with it as well, and then reach for it with this body. For example, you could see a tunnel of light, enter it, and then experience some sort of merging, followed by a positive emotional experience and a voice saying, “Now we are one!” That’s a nice experience, but it’s all an illusory movie happening within awareness. You’re never apart from the spaceless space. You don’t have to be “saved” from anything other than your-self (the amalgamation of illusions you’ve identified with). Intense spiritual practices, prayer, and devotion may help you quell your own mind, and remove wrong self-identifications, waking you up from the dream you’ve gotten yourself into, but it doesn’t change who and what you are fundamentally.
If it has no form, if it is not an object, how are you perceiving it?
The real mystery to all of this is that this state isn’t an object, nor is it an idea, nor is it an emotion, yet through self-inquiry your conscious attention will eventually arrive at it. This true Self, which you are, is Itself Self-Aware. It can perceive Itself. It knows Itself and has always known Itself. Then when you direct your attention toward it, you’ll think, “What is this and where have you been this whole time?” And it’s like, “I am”. That’s when streams of tears roll down your face. The thought then arises, “Oh my. I’ve found God within myself!” Then you enquire further and realize, oh wait, this is me, the real me. I’ve always been this, and always will be this, and I never was any of the things I thought I was!” More tears roll down your face followed by total peace. The false illusory self dissolves, and you become this spaceless canvas of awareness. You are now at one with everything, atonement, which means “at-one-ment”, the moment where all becomes one. Sin is the belief that you were other than what you are, believing in “other” when all is one. One must atone, or “at-one” for one’s sins.
What gave you the power to know that it is uncreated?
It’s directly perceived. Directly known. To even assume it was ever created makes no sense. Time is flowing on the spaceless space of this awareness.
So now you’ve discovered this “Self”. Of what value is such a discovery? And to whom?
Value systems are thoughts which one self-identifies with. What this will mean to you depends on that value system. This is beyond any conception of value, which would simply be an experience happening on this spaceless canvas of awareness. The same goes to whoever one believes they are. It can mean the world, it can mean nothing, it can be something one thinks about all the time, or something one never cares to think about at all. To me, it meant everything. It was all I ever wanted to know, and now that I know it, nothing else seems to matter, so much so that I dissolved completely within it and wanted nothing more to do with illusions of being ‘Jason’. For the first time, I’m satisfied with something that I’ve found. Everything I’ve searched for before, I found it all lacking, but this is exactly what I was after. How many other things in this world can you say that about? I never want to let it go. It’s the single most important event of my life, and I’d never give it up for anything or anyone. I’d sell all I have for this realization. Give up all worldly pleasures. But one has to receive to call from within, I suppose. If that’s not there, this will all just sound bizarre, possibly pointless. This realization will not give you special powers or unique insights into anything. There’s no big cash prize waiting for you. It’s something one has to search for for its own sake, and looking back over my life since my late teens, it’s all I’ve ever searched for or cared about. Now all I want to do is just remain in this state of awareness.