Commentaries on yoga

Self inquiry, the witness and non-duality

by Tristan Dorling

Q.
   I’ve almost finished Yogani’s Self Inquiry book and so many questions have arisen. The first one is about the meaning of the term “self-inquiry”: Is the meaning of self inquiry auto-questioning or questioning the universal Self, or both?
   I understand now the difference between relational and non-relational Self-Inquiry and the role of the witness but these two words bother me: relational or non-relational to what precisely?
   Do you believe that Western psychology is a form of non-relational Self-Inquiry?
   I do not understand the concepts of duality and non-duality Yogani refers to, could you please try to explain that to me?

A.

   Self-inquiry does not necessarily mean “auto-questioning”. It is a process that can happen automatically, but sometimes it does not and is something that is done deliberately. It is really questioning into the nature of the “Self”, which means who we are, beyond our ideas about who we are.  

Light on the mountains

Relational self-inquiry means relational to inner silence. If inner silence is not present then the inquiry is not relational to that (non-relational) and will be simply thoughts about thoughts, which can go on forever. With relational self-inquiry (with the witness present), thoughts about the self arise and then dissolve into the silence. So there is a transcendence (and liberation) that takes place.

There is a stage where self-inquiry crosses over from being non-relational, to becoming relational, with ideas dissolving in the witness and liberation beginning. This is the point at which people became “ripe”. 

   Yes, for the most part, Western psychology is a form of non-relational self-inquiry. This is because there is usually no attempt made to cultivate inner silence first, before beginning to examine the inner workings of the mind. That is why people generally don’t become enlightened through practicing Western psychology. If modern psychology was relational (based in the witness), there would be hundreds of thousands of enlightened beings all over the Western world by now. Unfortunately, there are not. Not yet, at least.

   The terms “duality” and “non-duality” are quite hard to understand in yoga. Imagine if someone is looking at a tree. There is the person who is looking, the process of looking (light entering the eye, recognition etc.) and the tree. So there are three separate things. But the person can also be aware of all of those things. They can be aware of the tree, or the process of seeing, and of the person who is seeing the tree. So all of those things exist, simultaneously, in their awareness. As long as the person believes that they are looking at a tree, this is a state of duality. When they see that the tree, the process of “seeing” and the person who is looking at the tree, all exist within their awareness, and they are not separate from that, this is non-duality. 

   It means that ultimately, we have no “inside” and no “outside”. It means that there is nowhere that we can point to and say: “This is where I end, and the universe begins”. This is discussed in lesson 11. It is also discussed in some detail in lesson 350.

   If non-duality seems a bit daunting, don’t worry. Relational self-inquiry is the first step and is about the rise of the witness and how that changes the way we see ourselves and the world. Non-duality is going beyond the witness, so could be something to save for a bit further down the line? In practice, we don’t have to worry about any of it. As the mind comes to stillness repeatedly with daily meditation, we are automatically taken into relational self-inquiry and from there into non-duality. So all we have to do is meditate. But it is nice to have an understanding of the process that is happening, otherwise it can seem quite disorientating at times!

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