The University of Being
Svadhyaya is the study of one’s self. Sva means “one’s own,” or “self,” and adhyaya means “lesson,” or “entering into.” Together, they literally form the word “self-study,” though it is often interpreted to mean the “study of sacred scriptures” because such scriptures teach about the self and how to transcend it.
Sometimes, it is also understood as a “recitation of mantras.” However, our focus here is on the study of our self. It’s not about reading scriptures or chanting mantras, but about launching a probe into our inner world—into “I.”
But who is “I”?
Who or what is the self?
We Are Not The Children of Dead Matter
The value of your stock portfolio has been on the rise for many years or decades by now. It’s gotten steady returns each year, and thus you keep reinvesting the dividends. However, sooner or later, once you decide to withdraw or cash out, you will be in for a surprise. What is this portfolio I’m talking about? Which companies’ stocks are in it?
Well, first of all, we have to understand that your investment portfolio manager goes by the name of “ego.” His main investments are on the idea of
being a separate self-governing entity, and on beliefs, assumptions, creeds, and spiritual doctrines obtained from gurus and books. Do you really want to stay with this investment strategy? Are you sure that your retirement plan is in good hands? How should you proceed from now on? Let’s start with the primary investment, which is the core belief:
“I am the body.” Is this true?
When you hurt some part of your body, you say, “My [insert body part here] hurts.” I.e., “My head hurts,” “My knee aches,” “My teeth are
killing me.” Sometimes, you can also say, “I [the body] am in pain.” Are you your body? Does “I” = body?
You can say “I” when talking about the body, such as “I am tall,” but you can also talk about the body as “it,” such as “My body’s temperature is really
high.” What do we, as human beings, even mean when we say “I am the body”? If we have hair and then shave it off, did something happen to us? Do we still feel “I am the body”? Yes? Ok, then we are not the “hair” right? What about our limbs? What if someone has to have their arm amputated? Di something happen to that person? Yes, they lost an arm, but does that person still feel “I am the body”? Yes? Ok, so then we are not the arm either, or any other limbs for that matter.
Are we the heart? If our heart stops beating, the body dies, right? So, whenever we feel “I am the body,” are we talking about the heart? What about the lungs? Ok, so there are some critical parts without which our body just cannot continue living
Do we think that we are the heart, the brain, or the lungs whenever we feel “I am the body”? Nobody would say so. So what are we really conveying with the belief “I am the body”? Perhaps it feels like we are “something” that lives “inside” the physical body? What is the “physical body” anyway? With the exception of our head, we can see the whole body with our eyes, which are themselves part of it. We can only see our head through a reflection. Perhaps we can see our nose, eyebrows, lips, or cheekbones, but no one ever saw their forehead or eyes without looking at a reflection.
We can also use our hands, feet, arms, and legs, which themselves are part of the physical body as well, to touch it. We use the tactile sense for that, which provides us with physical sensations of the skin, teeth, hair, and so on. Additionally, we also utilize the proprioceptive sense to know where our limbs are in space.
So, what we know about the physical body through our direct experience, so far, is that it is something that we partially see (that we can touch with
some parts of the body itself) that seems to be separated from everything else, which we can call “what-is-not our body.” There are also lots of things
that the physical body can do, such as inhaling or exhaling air, ingesting or excreting matter, etc. Ok, what else? Science says that our bodies are composed of about 55-65% water. Do we feel like a “water body”? I guess not. We’re trying to decipher what the feeling “I am the body” means, rather than scientifically understanding what the body is composed of or its mechanisms.
What else is the feeling “I am the body” composed of? Inner sensations? Yes. Whatever we feel inside (feelings, emotions, etc.), these are only sensations that we perceive. Some sensations can be quite powerful, like the sensation of being localized inside the body, and even more prevalent, the sensation that our awareness is emanating from the inside of our head, as if the head were the headquarters of our experience of being a body.
Are thoughts considered part of the “I am the body” experience? If so, where are they? In the head? If someone were to open your skull, would they
find your thoughts in there? Ok, so this is just another layer of sensation, the sensation of thoughts being localized inside our head.
On the other hand, if thoughts are not considered part of the “I am the body” experience because they are not the “body” itself, then we are not our thoughts, right? They just pop up and disappear, although sometimes they seem to drop an anchor in the sea of our mind and linger a little longer. What we said for thoughts can apply to feelings and emotions in a similar fashion. Sometimes they may be felt in our head, sometimes in our solar plexus, sometimes in the heart area, etc. Would anyone find emotions or feelings there? No, they are just perceived sensations. So what really is our body? Perceptions and sensations?
What is this “something” that seems to live inside the physical body? It’s something that is aware of perceptions, sensations, and thoughts. This “something” that is aware of all of that is not these things, but rather, it is that which is aware of them. If we are more than just a bundle of cells structured into blood, flesh, and bones; if we are more than just a collection of beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and emotions; if we are more than just perceptions and sensations, then we have to find out what we are. What is this “something”? Does it live inside the body? Does it die like the body, or is it even born? Where does this “something” come from? Is it a byproduct of the brain, like materialistic science seems to suggest? Is this “something”—which we can call consciousness or awareness—in the brain, which in turn is in the head, in the body, and in the world? Believing that consciousness is a by-product of the brain is a perplexing act of logic that refutes the existence of consciousness itself. The predominant worldview assumes that the Big Bang brought about matter, which eventually evolved into the world, the body, and the brain, out of which consciousness then emerged. But can you ever confirm this? You first need consciousness to confirm or verify anything at all—which makes consciousness the primary substrate of all things.
Can you understand this critical point? Take away consciousness—and you take away everything. Are there any thoughts or ideas about the Big Bang
or anything at all when there seems to be no consciousness, like when you are in deep dreamless sleep or passed out? No, there aren’t. It is only when you wake up (when you seem to regain consciousness) that such thoughts, ideas, or observations can arise. This means that they are all preceded by consciousness.
The idea or concept of the Big Bang arises in consciousness. The existence of anything requires consciousness of that very thing to validate its relative existence. Could we ever know about the existence of anything without consciousness? All experience or knowing comes from consciousness. Nothing can ever be known or experienced without consciousness; thus everything that is known arises in consciousness. This is what you have to find out for yourself. Unraveling this mystery of our “Self” will unveil the mystery of consciousness and God. That’s why you’ve enrolled in this spiritual journey—to find out that you are not and have never been a child of dead matter.
Finding Out the “Me” That You Are
Most human beings have spent their entire lives scarcely surviving. They seem to be fine, living life with a mask that changes depending on the
circumstances and with whom they are interacting. But is it all a façade? Typically, there is a turmoil inside people. They do their best to hide it
from others and especially from themselves. Deep down, despite the subtle lies, regardless of how perfectly they try to hide it from themselves or others, they just know it. But has anyone ever stopped to wonder what it is like to be themselves?
What is it like to be you? What does it feel like living within that body? Try to be aware of what it is like to be you. This is not an easy answer. It
is perfectly okay if you don’t know the answer. You may take a few minutes, hours, or even days to do this. There’s no hurry. What I want from this
inquiry is for you to understand that the life you’ve been living so far is probably not up to your highest potential. Despite what one might think, 99.99% of humanity is not winning in the game of life. No, not even those who have achieved tremendous success and prestige, material wealth, or even acquired a massive amount of knowledge Such a game of life always ends up in death. We, on the other hand, are not interested in “winning” at life or avoiding death. Rather, we are interested in realizing what is beyond both—what is unborn, and thus deathless.
What is it like to be you?
Did it seem impossible to know what is it like to be you?
Did that inquiry bring up a spaciousness, a feeling of emptiness, a sense of tranquility, a void of nothingness, or a warm and joyful tactile sensation
centered around the heart? There are various possible experiences that may occur when attempting to answer this question, but with any of them, we should remain with these experiences and investigate deeper into the experiencer itself. Or conversely, this inquiry may have brought up painful bodily sensations, uncomfortable feelings, or uneasy experiences, typically associated with the practitioner’s personal story or deep-rooted psychological issues. Moreover, most people, when asked such a question, will automatically answer with different characteristics, traits, or personality-related attributes, as if those were what constitutes who they are. But we know that’s not correct. If you could not grasp the “What is it like to be you?” question from the previous chapter, then you simply need a higher degree of awareness. You can achieve that through spiritual practice.
You will experience different layers of “You”; it all depends on what you consider yourself to be. Your experience of “What is it like to be you?” will vary according to one of these following “You’s”: The “You” you think you are (body and personality). You believe that you are the body-mind, and you identify with everything that appears in your consciousness, from thoughts to emotions. How to graduate from this level of “You”? If you are able to observe qualities such as likes, dislikes, habits, patterns of behavior, personality traits, etc., then you can’t be any of those.
You may say, “I am sad” whenever thoughts and emotions of sadness arise in you. But are you really sad, or are you just identifying with the thoughts,
emotions, and sensations that you label as “sadness”? Are those thoughts and emotions appearing in the space of consciousness? Don’t you perceive them? You observe them emerge and vanish, don’t you? That means you stand apart from them. You perceive those thoughts and emotions of sadness. Mindfulness and witnessing allow you to truly realize this, but you need a strong foundation of spiritual practice to really use these tools with sharp efficacy. The “You” that controls all of your decisions, actions, speech, and all types of unconscious behaviors and patterns (the identity below the conscious mind).
You believe you are your core identity, which ranges from the conscious mind to more unconscious aspects. You believe you are in control. How to graduate from this level of “You”? After consciously realizing the previous state (i.e., you are not that which you can perceive), you need to infuse that insight into all of your being, permeating it into the parts of your subconscious mind where habits, subtle desires, traumas, etc., reside. You have to infuse the light of discernment into the core of your identity, so that you truly realize that you are neither your identity nor your personal story. It’s not enough to know that you are not what you perceive (what appears and disappears before your “I”), but also that you are not what seems to constitute your “I,” the perceiver, either. All of its deep-rooted facets must be purified. Advanced spiritual practice enables one to do this the best. Find whatever is untrue in your experience and let go of it. Once it is seen to be false, you cannot continue believing that it is you, and hence it becomes easy and natural to simply drop it. You are not trying to force or get to know that special “True Self” or anything like that; you just want to let go of what you realize is untrue by shedding the illusory false-ness right out of yourself! You are peeling off the “ego-onion.”
The “I-ego,” the root false you
Here you reach the final knot, which is typically called Chit-JadaGranthi . This is the knot that binds consciousness to the body. This knot represents the root belief of being an individual entity, and it is severed once you realize your true light of pure awareness. In other words, once you dissolve the wrong identification with the body-mind as being “I,” this knot is destroyed.
Basically, after realizing through direct experience (and infusing it as deeply as possible into the kernel of your identity through the subconscious) that you are neither a particular object, nor another, and so on, until there are no objects left for your consciousness to identify with, then you (as consciousness) remain objectless and pure (without “I”). After removing everything, what remains is What Is. Staying as That is the way. This work is best done within the realm of Self-Inquiry, Self-Awareness, Parvastha, or similar “nondual practices.” That’s how you graduate into the final level.
“Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.”Leo Tolstoy
Pure Consciousness—that which is aware—the real You.
The Truth. You are the unbounded and deathless consciousness. That’s “You,” but obviously not “You” as a person /identity/personality/mind/ ego. Rather, it’s “You” as an impersonal infinite consciousness, transcending all known and unknown dichotomies of life. By going through each layer of “You” conditioning, you begin to gain insights into your life, personality, behavior, thinking patterns, mind, and eventually, consciousness itself. At the bottom of the rabbit hole you will discover and realize your true Self. This is the real and pragmatic use of Svadhyaya, the study of being
God is not a Celebrity
Surrendering ourselves to God is vital to the process of the perfection of Yoga. All of the Yamas and Niyamas (and the rest of limbs that comprise Maharishi Patanjali’s system ) must be directed and surrendered toward God. Most people in the world worship celebrities. Celebrity comes from the Latin celibritatem, which is related to “celebration,” “populous.” When fans meet their idol, they have hysterical reactions. They put their idol up on a pedestal, and when they meet him/her, they go into a trance-like state of submission and a “melting-worship-devotion.” If those fans were able to spend an entire day with their idol, they’d be in a state of surrender-devotion, their eyes filled with joy and fascination. This is similar to what used to happen in the ancient days when simple peons met royalty. I once happened to see a famous “TV star” visit the ashram of a very known eastern guru, and he was mesmerized by how people treated that guru as a god. “You are a god to these people!” or “You are like royalty!” were some of the utterances that the TV star said in disbelief. He couldn’t believe how so many people could devote, surrender, and worship a guru like that.
What the TV star didn’t recognize, however, is that this was exactly how people back in western society treated him and other “celebrities.” They are treated like gods or royalty. People treat celebrities like that because they envision famous people as having what they think they want: wealth, success, social status, power, etc. They want some of that as well.
Why was this TV star so shocked to see other people treating their guru as a god? These disciples treat their guru like that because they envision their guru as having what they think they want: spiritual wealth, happiness, peace, wisdom, etc. These disciples are not looking for material wealth, but rather spiritual wealth; and they measure success as having realized their inherent unity with God, with the pure boundless happiness that they are. They were actually doing the exact same behaviors as people in western societies; it’s just that the type of wealth and success that they are looking for is different, and thus the meaning of “celebrity” there is also different. Lack of discernment can be a pretty big blind spot, one that this TV star obviously possessed. I also see people treating God as the ultimate celebrity. But God doesn’t want to be treated like a celebrity. God doesn’t need your rituals or offerings.
God doesn’t want to be placed up on a pedestal; God doesn’t need or lack anything. But God should be celebrated nonetheless—with your total
devotion, worship, and surrender. These three are not different—they all mean that you, as an apparent individual awareness, should devote, worship, and surrender to your own awareness. After all, before any idea or thought of God arises, “I” has to be there—consciousness has to be there. Finding out what this consciousness is will ultimately lead you to the realization of the infinite consciousness that God is—and that you are. This is the ultimate surrender of self (individual consciousness) to God (infinite consciousness).