The Fourfold Process Of Discovering Who I Am

In the midst of an especially lucid exposition of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’s teachings, Timothy Conway writes:

The Maharaj’s quintessential spiritual way for any visitors and disciples ripe enough to fathom was awakening to this Universal Consciousness and even beyond that unto the Absolute Awareness or Open Divine Reality. The specific method was a radical disidentification from the dream of “me and my world” via intensely meditative self-inquiry (atma-vicara) and supreme Wisdom-Knowledge (vijñana or jñana). “I know only Atma-yoga, which is ‘Self-Knowledge,’ and nothing else…. My process is Atma-yoga, which means abidance in the Self.” (The Nectar of Immortality, pp. 22, 25)

Operationally, this is the classic threefold practice of hearing the Truth of our Absolute Nature, pondering/contemplating this Truth, and meditating deeply on this Truth (sravanamanana and nididhyasana) until we are fully, unshakeably established in this conviction that we are not the body-mind-soul ego personality or individual, no, our real nature or identity is the supra-personal or trans-egoic Reality-Awareness. This threefold practice of hearing-pondering-meditating is identified as the classic way of awakening in the ancient Upanishads (e.g., Brhadaranyaka iv.5.6, Paingala, iii.2) and later scriptures, and in the works of Sankara (c.700 CE) and other advaita (nondual) sages. The eminent Mahayana Buddhist forefather Nagarjuna (c.110-200) likewise had advocated this triple method of hearing-pondering-meditating (sruti-cinta-bhavana) on the Truth of Sunyata-Absolute Openness-Emptiness.

Maharaj often emphasized the need for deeply hearing, pondering and meditating upon—and firmly stabilizing in—his teaching about the “I Am” consciousness and the Absolute Awareness beyond. But he frequently summarized for his listeners this classic triple method in an even pithier formulation of the way: “Just be what you hear”—i.e., be the truth of Awareness, the Source-Reality denoted by these words of wisdom.

This is a wonderful method.

First, you hear the teaching in the mode of pure listening. No doubts. No questions. No agenda. Just deep, very deep pure listening.

Second, later on you ponder or contemplate the teaching. Maybe you X clearly but Y not so clearly. And how does X fit together with Y? What are the implications of the teaching? What makes sense now and what still doesn’t make sense? This second step brings you to intellectual understanding.

Pure listening makes possible the curiosity that can lead to intellectual understanding. The key, though, is the third step.

Third, then, one must meditate on the teaching–here on “I Am-ness.” As it’s said in Zen, “Inquire [through meditation] deeply into the Dharma Principle.” Meditation is precisely what “opens the spiritual eye” (in Zen speak) or what makes possible intuitive understanding or gnosis.

But this is not all. Self-realization, or enlightenment, generates the need for the fourth step, which is establishing oneself in the Truth. This is the, perhaps, lifelong process of stabilizing in What One Is.

A brief concluding remark: what’s astonishingly clear about this fourfold method is that it shows a gap in Zen (which relies upon dhyana without insisting on the need for first cultivating intellectual understanding) as well as, and more obviously so, a gap in all forms of intellectual understanding. Meditation, Nisargadatta urged in multiple texts, is vitally necessary to complete the circle, as it were.