True Inquiry, Part 2

“You are awareness. Awareness is another name for you. Since you are awareness there is no need to attain or cultivate it. All that you have to do is to give up being aware of other things — that is, of the not-self. If one gives up being aware of them then pure awareness alone remains . . .”

~Sri Ramana Maharshi

 For something to be “true” in the absolute sense, it must be true both now and always, independent of any transient conditions. Just so, there is no moment when the Truth cannot be true. Indeed, only the Truth is true, or Real. The Truth is Reality, and all else is imagination, illusion, impermanence.

Likewise, our “True Nature” or primordial state must be always and already real and ever-present, rather than something to be acquired through the strategic manipulation of methods, schemes, and circumstances, arbitrary fortune, gradual purification, or even beneficent Grace.

Only by a process of incorrect, or mistaken, identification do we assume a false as our actual nature and condition, giving birth to and sustaining the complex and stressful story of “me and mine”. This fundamental error in recognition is most commonly expressed as the belief and conviction “I am the body-mind-self”. It is as if the sky were to mistake itself as a passing cloud, and subject to its destiny.

By inquiring into our true nature and condition, we may see through any such identification with the false, and what then is revealed is not something new, but simply that which has always been the case: the Truth, the Real. The tacit assumption that there was an individual and concrete “I” who was operative in the field of experience is recognized as an error of judgment and appreciation — a case of mistaken identity.

The contemporary Dzogchen teacher Anam Thubten wrote this about True Inquiry: “Nirvana, or whatever you want to call it, means the complete deconstruction of all of our rigid mental patterns and habits as well as the deconstruction of all of our limiting beliefs. This deconstruction creates a space for true inquiry. When we open our hearts and our minds completely, we are in a place where we can experience something new, a new truth, a new reality, a miracle that we haven’t experienced in the past. We can see things differently and they present new, expanded opportunities, new horizons. Therefore an open mind is required. This is true not only in relationship to the truth but in relationship to everyday life as well.”

Some designate the direct recognition of the emptiness of the I-concept as “Realization”, but such terms are mere expedient concepts and do not ultimately exist in the Truth, or Reality. Strictly speaking, this recognition cannot even be called “Realization”, since that would imply the making real of what was not heretofore real. Furthermore, it would also infer that such a state can be attained through some sort of manipulation of energies and attitudes.

If it can be acquired, however, then it cannot be our True Nature, since in order to be True it must have been True originally and always, and not dependent on changing causes and conditions. Nor can it be called “Self-Realization”, since again, strictly speaking, even “Self” (not to mention “self”) is ultimately recognized via True Inquiry as a fantasy of interpretation on perception, empty of any inherent and substantial Person or person. What is, simply is. The tongue goes silent.

The direct recognition of our Original Nature and Identity (“our face before our parents were born”) is the purpose of True Inquiry, though again, it is not a technique to be employed in the accomplishment of some change of state, transcendental ascension, or mystical elevation. I have briefly introduced the subject of True Inquiry here, and so the aim of this essay will be to elaborate a bit further on the topic, in hopes of clarifying its actual practice and application.

When thoughts arise, the ego-mind automatically claims ownership of them, creating the sense that “I think”, “I know”, “I desire”, “I am the doer”. In reality, this ego-mind is itself nothing but a thought, the “I” or root-thought, which cannot exist independently from the phenomena with which it is identified. It strings together all other thoughts, emotions, memory associations, and perceptions to create the illusion of a separate person, an enduring entity in the form of the body-mind-self. It is precisely this mis-identification which serves as the source of all complications, and so True Inquiry consists of seeing through and letting go of this mental fabrication first and foremost by undermining its energy at the root.

Confusing the issue, most spiritual practices, traditional meditations, and various exoteric as well as esoteric methods are actually based on the presumption of the reality of the person — the seeker — who is undertaking these strategies (usually based on motives spawned from hope and fear). Such a presumption merely results in the reinforcement, confirmation, and validation of the “I”-thought, or ego-mind.

Such strategies may produce a variety of fascinating or blissful experiences, which nevertheless remain tethered to the sense of self. They can even serve to inflate that false identity-sense with the fictional narrative of a “someone” making progress, rising to a heavenly level of consciousness or triumphant personal illumination. Moreover, whatever original insight may have actually occurred invariably gets subsequently buried under an avalanche of conceptual fabrications and conditioned fantasies of interpretation.

Many would-be gurus and aspirants get entangled in various dreamy, idealistic scenarios stemming from the primal mis-perception of the archetypal heroic seeker traversing the spiritual path to “Enlightenment”, when in reality they are only digging themselves deeper into storyland. In any case, such practices cannot culminate in true Recognition because the “I”-thought is not penetrated.

In Buddhism, for example, Shamatha alone, or calm abiding, may produce some peaceful feelings and a quiet mind, but unless it is married to Vipashyana (insight into the illusion of independent selfhood), it will not amount to True Recognition. Such Recognition is also called the Unity of Samadhi (one-pointed concentration) and Prajna (Wisdom).

In its application, True Inquiry begins by bringing relaxed and effortless attention to the essential nature of mind itself. As Tulku Pema Rigtsal suggests: “Do not pay any attention to thoughts or to whatever arises in the mind, but instead examine where the thought or the image comes from, where it abides, and where it goes. If we do this for long enough, we will discover that all thought forms are empty and that there is nothing substantial in the mind. Keep the mind in its own place, unmodified and without distraction, at ease in its state of clear naked emptiness. Do not attempt to stop the mind and do not follow it.”

In order to “kick-start” this focus, the question “Who am I?” is sometimes employed, not as a mental riddle or mantra, but as an expedient prompt to turn attention back on itself, to the source of mind itself — where the “I”-thought first arises. It is essentially a matter of being aware of being aware — the heart essence of primordial consciousness.

As Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche notes: “A powerful way to unveil the primordial ground of being is to ask yourself, “Who am I?” […] The ground of awareness is the essence and source of your being. When you ask yourself ‘Where is my mind? Who am I? What is mind?, who is doing the asking?’ You are looking within, and you are discovering the state of clear and open emptiness. This is rigpa, the mind’s nature.”

It should be clear then, that True Inquiry does not represent some form of intellectual puzzle-solving, or attempt to grasp the mind essence through resort to the mind. Nor is it a strategic effort to change one’s state, but actually quite the opposite. It entails the surrendering of all fascinations and fixations which obscure the recognition and appreciation of the natural state – the Mind of Clear Light.

If this relaxed but focused attention is distracted by other thoughts, one can simply return the mind to rest in its natural state, naked radiant awareness itself, free from the discursiveness of the intellect. When the clarified attention is concentrated on this heart essence of awake awareness to the point that transient or provisional identifications cease to arise, then the ego-mind will be unable to fixate on phenomena/objects, particularly if that subjective attention is pursued to its end.

As the great Adept Dudjom Rinpoche suggested: “Take your stand on the ultimate practice of the heart essence — samsara and nirvana are the display of awareness. Without distraction, without meditation, in a state of natural relaxation, constantly remain in the pure, all-penetrating nakedness of ultimate reality.”

Likewise, Sri Nisargadatta echoed that suggestion when he said: “Abandon every attempt. Just be. Let go of every support. Don’t strive, don’t struggle. Hold on to the blind sense of being, brushing off all else. This is enough.”

One common misconception about True Inquiry is that it involves some kind of conceptual exercise entailing the rejection of all thought objects and perceptions as “not-self”. In traditional Advaita Vedanta practices, for example, this method is called “Neti Neti” (not this, not this), which is a process or form of analytical deconstruction.

Again, the problem here is that the ego-mind is still sustained by this intellectual approach, since the very “I”-thought which would eliminate or refute all other forms of identification as “not-I” cannot eliminate itself. In fact, the Truth can never be grasped by the discursive mind, either through affirmation, negation, or any strategy of subtle analysis and conventional inquiry, but only in its dissolution does the Real emerge from the silent background in the space between thoughts and shine as the transparent awake awareness of the Natural State.

The great Zen Patriarch Bodhidharma noted: “If you use your mind to study reality, you won’t understand either your mind or reality. If you study reality without using your mind, you’ll understand both.”

Likewise, when asked, “It is said that [Truth] is beyond the mind and yet the realization is with the mind. The mind cannot think it. It cannot be thought of by the mind and the mind alone can realize it. How are these contradictions to be reconciled?”

Ramana Maharshi responded: “[Reality] is realized with mind devoid of thoughts and turned inward. Then the mind sees its own source and becomes that.”

When the perception of all objects, both physical and mental, cease via the correct application of True Inquiry, the individual “I”-thought will be unable to hold its dominant position. Starved by lack of attention and confirmation, it will eventually become obsolete, falling back into its source and disappearing there. In its place True Recognition will shine forth, and once seen, the Truth cannot be unseen.

As the Dzochen Adept Jigme Lingpa wrote: “The location of the truth of the Great Perfection is the unfabricated mind of the present moment, this naked radiant awareness itself, not a hair of which has been forced into relaxation. Maintaining this at all times, just through not forgetting it even in the states of eating, sleeping, walking, and sitting, is called meditation. . . Just by not forgetting the nature of one’s own awareness — the kind that is not a tangled mindfulness that gets more tangled in order to be mindful — at some point the unelaborated ultimate truth, transcending terms and examples, will appear.”

Ultimately, and even now, only Awareness pertains, the same aware spaciousness that has always been the case, except that we have temporarily been beguiled by the energetic illusions of the self-sense, imagining that “I”-thought to be who and what we are. In fact, what we truly are is that which is aware right now. It is not at the end of a long journey, or waiting for us at some mountain top. It is closer than our own heartbeat, and we cannot be other than it.

The great female Adept Ayo Khandro proclaimed: “Whatever arises in the mind, the awareness of that, the presence of that state of whatever arises is itself rigpa (the innermost, essential nature of mind). This is not a concept but it’s a direct experience, that kind of presence or awareness. It’s beyond any concept. One continues to remain beyond concept and one continuously finds oneself in this knowingness or presence.”

Once the obscuring impediments and distractions have been seen through and released to some extent, the practice, if it can be labeled as such, is simply to not fall back to sleep. For most, because we have been so habituated to a pretense of identification with this or that fictional narrative, the full embodiment of such revolutionary Recognition will usually require a period of integration in terms of bringing life-level behaviors and relationships into alignment, but once our true nature has been recognized, it cannot be forgotten again.

In any case, there is no place to tarry along the way, since the truth of our Spirit is infinite expansion, even beyond any human comprehension. As Dogen Zenji noted, just as there is no beginning to enlightenment, so too there is no end to practice.


“The only true and full Awareness is Awareness of Awareness. Until Awareness is Awareness of itself, it knows no peace at all. Is it not because you are yourself Awareness, that you now perceive this universe? If you observe Awareness steadily, this Awareness as Teacher, will reveal the Truth.”

~Sri Ramana Maharshi

See also:

About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: Verses and ramblings on life as it is: Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: Verses on the Play of Consciousness: Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: Poems of the Mountain Hermit: Love Poems from The Book of Yes: Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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13 Responses to True Inquiry, Part 2

  1. marcel says:

    Thank you, Brother

  2. Mark says:

    Trying to understand, and relatively new to perceiving and trying to orient myself as awareness, I am uncertain as to how to relate this essay to others that introduce the relationship between a “me” and the spiritual beings that become apparent in the ‘life between lives.’ The latter seems to preserve a ‘me’ relating to a world in a dualistic manner. Is this what you mean by advising (in another essay’s comment section) that traditional Advaita Vedanta’s vision of nonduality not be used as a ‘spiritual bypass’ around dualism? I can know that this floor exists in Awareness, in me as Awareness, but I still need to walk across it and avoid the table. I can believe or know that other worlds and life between lives exist in duality, but in their case do I need to really care or be concerned with them unless (or until) I encounter them? This is not to sound skeptical, your work is wonderful. You’re just way ahead of me.

    • Bob OHearn says:

      Hi Mark! You might review my essay that delves into this matter a bit more thoroughly. Perhaps it will clarify the issues you bring up:

      In any case, the best approach is just to attend to the life in which we find ourselves, eliminating the poisons of greed, envy, hatred, and ignorance wherever they appear within us, and so develop a genuine integrity and compassionate attitude. In the process, we might also take time to inquire into our true nature, since view and conduct go together.


      • Mark says:

        Dharma comes first, indeed. Thank you for the link. It addresses my question on several levels. So much to assimilate, filling my days. Each of your essays integrates with the others. Thank you so much!

      • Bob OHearn says:

        I am glad to be able to shed some light on your inquiry, Mark. We all serve each other on the way.


  3. Bob OHearn says:

    “The two biggest prongs [of spiritual practice] are number one, to abide and number two, to inquire deeply. To abide simply means to let everything be as it already is. For most individuals it is extremely challenging in the beginning to simply let everything be as it is. In order to do that, we cannot hold on to any preference for our experience to be any particular way. Most spiritual people are doing anything but that. They are trying to make their experience be a very specific way. So they end up with a sort of spiritual slavery. Abiding is simply letting everything be as it is. Paradoxically, when we let everything be as it is, even if our experience is very uncomfortable, the first thing that starts to come into our experience is a great peace and calm. When this peace and calm comes into our experience, there is a sense of not being so hemmed in by our experience. There is an experience of more vastness.
    It’s from that place of true abidance that we can begin to inquire. Abidance without inquiry usually doesn’t produce much, except a good feeling. But when abidance is coupled with true and authentic inquiry . . . what I mean by inquiry is curiosity, a real curiosity about the true nature of one’s self, or who am I, or what is life? When those two are coupled, then inquiry adds a very dynamic quality that simple abidance doesn’t necessarily have in and of itself. It’s the dynamism of simple abidance coupled with a passionate inquiry into the true nature of one’s self or reality that provides the ground for awakening to most likely occur.”


  4. Bob OHearn says:

    There is such a way, open to all, on every level, in every walk of life. Everybody is aware of himself. The deepening and broadening of self-awareness is the royal way. Call it mindfulness, or witnessing, or just attention — it is for all. None is unripe for it and none can fail. But, of course, your must not be merely alert. Your mindfulness must include the mind also. Witnessing is primarily awareness of consciousness and its movements.

    ~Nisargadatta Maharaj

  5. Bob OHearn says:

    “This is really the key point here, the thinking of dualistic mind arises or takes place as the expression of unrecognized awareness. Once you recognize this basic awareness, the display of thoughts loses all power and simply dissolves into the expanse of buddha nature. This is the basic reason to recognize mind essence.”
    ~ Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

    Tsoknyi Rinpoche writes:

    “In Dzogchen practice, the most important thing is the recognition of inner space, or emptiness. If you can practice this, then whatever phenomena of samsara arise are dissolved into wisdom mind.

    For this to happen, your recognition of mind nature has to be unwavering. If you can achieve this, then anything that arises in your mindstream—any emotions, thoughts, likes, dislikes, perceptions of good and bad, and so on—is naturally released without effort.”

  6. Bob OHearn says:

    “Although hundreds or thousands of explanations are given,
    There is only one thing to be understood –
    Know the one thing that liberates everything –
    Awareness itself, your true nature.”

    ~Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche

  7. Bob OHearn says:

    “Now, the training in the flawless meditation state means sustaining the essence, and it is taught that you should remain in these three manners: fresh, artless and unbound; all of which have to do with not concentrating too tightly, being natural, free and relaxed. Dakpo Tashi Namgyal provides us with several analogies on how to be like this.

    The first is to “elevate your experience and remain wide open like the sky.” Elevate means expand in all directions, let your experience open up, just as space is utterly open and unconfined. Space is not constricted or limited in any way, and when we sustain the meditation state, we should allow our state of mind to be very open, free and expansive, like the sky.

    Next, he uses the analogy of the earth, “expand your mindfulness and remain pervasive like the earth.” Here, pervasive means constancy in all situations, being continually mindful. It is, however, extremely important that this mindful presence should not be forced or rigid; we should allow it to spread out through our lives like the vast plains of the earth stretch in all directions. Though wide open with a feeling of expansiveness and vastness, one must still be grounded, therefore the third example is “steady your attention and remain unshakable like a mountain.”

    The next two analogies concern how to avoid the shortcomings that can occur during our meditation training. The first is avoiding the feeling of dullness. Having achieved steadiness and a sense of being unperturbed one must be careful not to become absent-minded or oblivious; therefore, “brighten your awareness and remain shining like a flame.” You should be utterly present with an empty cognizance.

    The next analogy deals with avoiding agitation, involvement in thought activity, especially the kind that goes unnoticed, the undercurrent of thoughts. You should not let the bright awareness diffuse into various thought patterns but rather, “clear your thought-free wakefulness and remain lucid like a crystal”, like a totally flawless, clear crystal.

    Next, “Unobscured like a cloudless sky, remain in a lucid and intangible openness” concerns the quality of emptiness in the experience. Like a cloudless sky has a sense of being vividly awake, wide-open and empty, a state in which there is no thing to pinpoint. In other words, instead of clinging to, or fixating on, something called original mind or such, let it have the ungraspable, unidentifiable quality of open emptiness.

    The next analogy refers to non-distraction: “Unmoving like the ocean free of waves, remain in complete ease, undistracted by thought.” This means to be like a vast ocean, totally unruffled, undisturbed by the movement of waves.

    The last analogy of the meditation state is “Unchanging and brilliant like a flame undisturbed by the wind, remain utterly clear and bright.” Otherwise, the state may sometimes be clear and sometimes unclear, sometimes steady and other times unsteady. In its identity, our essence is empty and cognizant; it neither brightens nor dims, but has the steadiness of a flame undisturbed by the wind.”

    ~”Crystal Clear”, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

  8. Bob OHearn says:

    “Uncontrived naturalness is not something that one does, even though it sounds like you do remain in naturalness, and you avoid fabricating. Actually, it is the opposite of doing. One does not do anything. By repeatedly letting be in the state of uncontrived naturalness, it becomes automatic. Don’t think that there is a long moment between two thoughts that you need to somehow nail down and own. That would not be automatic; it would be fabricated. Rather than improving upon the recognition of your own nature, simply remain completely at ease. It is a matter of self-existing wakefulness getting used to itself. Do not try to keep the state of naturalness. The state will be self-kept as the natural outcome of your growing familiarity with it. Do not fall into distraction. Short moments, repeated many times… Because of our very strong habit to always do something, the moment of non-doing doesn’t usually last long. In other words, there is no real stability. We quickly create doubts through conceptual thoughts, wondering, ‘Is this it?’ or ‘Maybe not?’ Our recognition almost immediately slips away. That is just how it is, and there is not much that we can do about that initially. That is why we practice recognizing for short moments, repeated many times. If we do not repeat the recognition of mind essence, we never grow used to it. “Short moments” ensures that it is the real, authentic naturalness. For a beginner, recognition of the authentic state does not last longer than a short moment. ‘Many times’ means that we need to grow more and more familiar with this state… To be relaxed and let go in the moment of recognizing — that is the most important thing. Then, when the recognition slips away, we can simply repeat it again. In the beginning, approach the natural state by settling the mind; otherwise our strong negative habits of involvement in thinking this and that keeps the attention very busy, and a multitude of thoughts arise. The starting point is therefore letting go, relaxing, and settling completely. Among the thoughts that arise, remain, and disappear, one tries to keep the quality of relaxing and remaining. That requires effort, and thus is not the effortless natural state. Still it is helpful because when the mind becomes more quiet and settled, it’s easier to recognize what it is that feels quiet, what it is that keeps still. When your mind, your attention, is not so busy, it becomes easier to see that it is not an entity.”

    ~ Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

  9. Bob OHearn says:

    The nature of mind has to be recognized by the nature of mind. It is not ‘you’ recognizing your nature of mind; it is your nature of mind recognizing your nature of mind. It is so easy therefore it is so difficult. It is there all the time. Our mind recognizes our nature of mind all the time. We are never separate. But somehow, as it is said in the mahamudra prayer, “self awareness, under the power of ignorance, is confused into a ‘self'”. So because of ignorance, the nature of mind that we recognize every moment, every moment we mistake it as ‘I’.

    ~ Tai Situ Rinpoche

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