In this article we will look at Self Inquiry and its benefits. Many experts regards this as the most powerful spiritual meditation technique because it can transform your perspective of your self and reveal to you your true nature.
Instructions for Self Inquiry Meditation
- Sit with good posture. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Roll your shoulders back then let them open outwards a bit, which will open the space in your chest. Tuck your chin down to elongate your neck.
- Spend a short time doing mindful breathing so you relax.
- Once you feel calm, ask the question, “What am I?” (I prefer this question to Who am I? because Who immediately suggests that you are a person, which carries with it ideas of what a person should be. On the other hand, What am I? is a much more open question that permits you to be anything).
- Hold the question calmly in your mind. Do not grapple with the question or seek answers. Just let the question rest in your mind. Do not spoon-feed yourself answers either. Zen Dzogchen author Stephan Bodian says, “Eventually, the question “What am I?” reveals the answer, not as a thought or a particular experience but as a vibrant, timeless presence”.
- Focus on where your thoughts come from. Where is the question “What am I?” rising from? Seek the origin of the question by gazing inward.
- Continuing to think, “What am I?” Focus on the I. What is the I? Where does it arise from? Seek the very depth of that I.
- Continue to focus inwards as the question permeates your mind.
- Eventually you will realise that the centre of the I, the point from which the question arises, is complete emptiness. And this is you.
- When you find the emptiness, meditate on it for ten minutes. This is said to liberate you from pressures of the material world.
- Note that an alternative method with similar benefits is Neti Neti meditation.
Self enquiry can help with overcoming our delusional sense of self and achieving oneness.
Indeed Ramana Maharshi [Indian Hindu sage and jivanmukta] says that it is the single most effective way of overcoming the ego to achieve oneness.
Consider. When someone asks you, “Who are you?” what do you say? You probably describe yourself by telling them about your job, your family situation, and perhaps some of the core elements of your personality. But these factual things are not the real you.
Anyone who has ever felt a moment of true enlightenment, or what in Zen is called “Kensho” (“seeing the true nature”), will tell you that we are pure energy.
But it can be hard to see ourselves that way because the mind is lured to matter-of-fact things, like your job and your family status.
Self inquiry moves us past those delusions. We see the true nature of ourselves. We achieve oneness.
2) Overcome duality to see your true self
To truly see our innermost selves and to overcome duality, we need to silence our regular thoughts and perceptions.
We can do this in several ways. For instance, we can use koans, which are riddle-like questions that Zen monks use to see the true nature of things. One such koan is, “Show me your original face before your mother and father were born.”
When we ask questions like these, we challenge our usual mode of thinking.
Another such question is “Who (or What) am I?”
These obscurations are called Kleshas by Buddhists and Vasanas or samskaras by Hindus and yogis.
Self-inquiry involves using a Klesha. Specifically, we ask “Who (or “What”) am I”?
The purpose of the klesha What am I? is to guide us past our ego-induced delusion of ourselves and to perceive our true reality: that we are empty and timeless energy.
3) Overcome mental delusions to reduce stress
Once we see our true nature, we are set free of the pressures and strains that come from our delusional perception of ourselves.
If you think about the stresses and pressures you face, you will realise that most of them are created by your perception of yourself.
For instance, let’s say that you think “I must work overtime this week because I’m a hard worker”.
Here, your idea that you’re a hard worker forces you to overwork in order to substantiate your belief of yourself: that you’re a hard worker.
Many times, this belief will not aid you. Just consider how many people have succumbed to illness because they worked too hard and faced too much stress.
Then you have those people who believe they are victims.
Now trust me I understand that there are legitimate reasons why some people might consider themselves victims. Unfortunately, it’s not helpful. Research shows that people with victim mentality are more likely to enter relationships with abusive people. This is just one example of why you might want to change your sense of identity, which is precisely what self inquiry lets you do.
4) Overcoming negative beliefs
We live life in accordance with the person we believe we are. Hence why negative beliefs can be a serious issue.
Thankfully, with the meditation script above, we overcome our sense of identity. We see the true pureness of ourselves, beyond our thoughts and misconceptions.
5) Overcome the “self” to find liberation
Our sense of self-identity often confines us.
Ask yourself: How do negative beliefs about yourself affect your reality? If you meditate on this question, you might be surprised by the answer.
Self-inquiry meditation frees us from the trappings of our own delusions. But that’s just the beginning. Because if you consider the impact that your delusional perception has on your life, you will see that the benefits are potentially limitless.
For instance, if you believe you are an overweight person, self inquiry will stop that belief from affecting you so that you can successfully lose weight. Or if you believe you are a lazy person (and thereby act lazily in order to substantiate that belief), this meditation will get you past that idea of being lazy so you can be productive.
It’s impossible to give an exact list of the benefits of self inquiry, because they depend entirely on the individual and their perception of themselves. There is some research by Stanford that suggests positive effects on physical health. But overall, the research is limited.
But I’m sure you’ll agree: It is powerful.
Giving Is Caring
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison