To inquire into something is to open to it, to meet it, and to discover its meaning — or lack of meaning — from the inside of it.
Inquiry is generally recognized to mean investigating, and that definition serves the purpose well. However, in the sense in which I use Inquiry, it is not information that is provided by this investigation, but direct experience. To directly experience anything we first have to leave behind all preconceptions of that thing.
No matter how often we are told about a thing it is only when we experience that thing directly that we truly know it. We know the meaning of heat and pain and fire from the direct experience of coming into contact with fire. We can be taught that it is good to love and holy to show compassion, but those concepts will never have true meaning until they are real — our direct experience. We know a true kiss or surrender to an embrace when we directly experience them. We may practice or imitate kissing and embracing for some time, just as we may practice or imitate love and compassion before we have the direct experience.
In imitation or mimicry we remember what we should do or feel, and then we think ourselves through the act. “Now I press my lips, now I put my arms around…” In directly experiencing there is no thought. While thought processing is extremely important, in many acts of a day — giving or following directions, remembering the time of a meeting, checking a grocery list, studying complicated issues as well as the thousands of other sophisticated ways we think — consciously surrendering to any act or any moment requires the suspension of all thought.
We surrender thought spontaneously in moments of awe or shock. Usually our most prized memories are the moments where we are directly in an experience. Moments of extreme focus and moments of complete open-mindedness are both without thought. In truth, thoughts stop many times within a day, but since our conditioned reference points are located in our thoughts, we generally overlook these moments of pure spaciousness of mind. We “think” ourselves from thought to thought.
To consciously choose to be without thought is the gateway to direct experience. If we are bound to our thinking process for our reference points of reality, we will ask only those questions guaranteed to keep attention on analysis, cause and effect and conceptual evaluation. While recognizing the value and power of thinking we can also recognize the power of actually choosing thought-free, direct experience.
People often fear being without thought as if it were the corollary to ignorance. Understandably, ignorance is feared. There is never a need to deny the harm that ignorance can cause, and use of the term thoughtless usually refers to some action taken without thoughtful consideration. What is overlooked in this corollary is the harm caused by being bound to thoughts. When we are bound to thoughts, our minds are already possessed by what we have been taught, by our latest conclusions, by beliefs of all kinds and by our fear of having no thoughts.
The invitation to inquire into what is present requires that we have no preconception of what that is. Since we have spent most of our lives being taught to accumulate concepts categorizing what we perceive, this invitation is also a challenge. We are ready for this challenge when we recognize that conceptual thinking is limited. We are ready when we want more, and when we realize we aren’t finding more in what we already know. This readiness, coupled with the willingness to explore, allows us to face the fear that naturally arises when we no longer rely on knowledge.
If we don’t rely on the knowledge we have for our experience of the world and ourselves, what is left? When we don’t rely on our naming and defining particular emotions or particular states of mind, what is here?
This blog is adapted from Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, which was published by Penguin Tarcher in 2011. In this life-changing book, Gangaji uses the telling of her own life story to help readers uncover the truth in their own. Publisher’s Weekly said, “This gently flowing but often disarming volume invites readers to examine the narratives that shape them, and is a call to pass beyond personal stories to find a deeper, more universal self.” In April Gangaji will be offering meetings and weekends in Mill Valley and San Diego, CA, Seattle, WA and Portland, OR. She will be holding a Silent Retreat at Fallen Leaf Lake, South Lake Tahoe, CA, beginning May 29. Visit www.gangaji.org for more information about Gangaji and her upcoming events, including the monthly Webcast / Conference Series, With Gangaji, which is currently undergoing an in-depth study of Hidden Treasure.
Gangaji shares a simple message – “This is an invitation to shift your allegiance from the activities of your mind to the eternal presence of your being.” Born in Texas in 1942, Gangaji grew up in Mississippi. After graduating from the University of Mississippi in 1964, she married and had a daughter. In 1972, she moved to San Francisco where she began exploring deeper levels of her being. She took Bodhisattva vows, practiced Zen and Vipassana meditation, helped run a Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Center, and had a career as an acupuncturist in the San Francisco Bay area. Despite her successes, Gangaji continued to experience a deep and persistent longing for fulfillment. She pursued many paths to change her life including relationship, motherhood, political activism, career, and spiritual practice, but even the greatest of her successes ultimately came up short. In the wake of her disillusionment, she made a final prayer for true help. In 1990, the answer to her prayer came unexpectedly, taking her to India and to the meeting that would change everything. There on the banks of the river Ganga, she met Sri H.W.L. Poonja, also known as Papaji, who opened the floodgates of self-recognition. In this meeting, Gangaji’s personal story of suffering ended and the promise of a true life began to flower and unfold. Today, Gangaji travels the world speaking to seekers from all walks of life. A teacher and author, she shares her direct experience of the essential message she received from Papaji and offers it to all who want to discover a true and lasting fulfillment. Through her life and words, she powerfully articulates how it is really possible to discover the truth of who you are and to be true to that discovery. Gangaji’s website www.gangaji.org
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One of the most powerful phrases in human language is “I am here.” It is powerful because it is utterly simple and profoundly true. Anything that is said or thought afterward is just an addition to this basic, unfaltering truth. In fact I and am and here are all pointing to the same essential truth, pointing to that which needs no foundation for its support, because it is the foundational truth.
The world we live in is made of contradictory elements. Night and Day, summer and winter, male and female, earth and sky, sex and spirit, the list is endless. There is a wonderful story in the Hindu tradition, that Brahma, (The source from where everything comes and to where everything returns) was all-alone, and feeling bored in infinite space. He created a divine play of opposite polarities in order to amuse himself. The name used for this divine play, is Leela.