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Highlights: Issue #3148, Saturday, April 26, 2008, Editor: Mark
Fed Up with "Who's Asking?"
Q: If I am not the doer, how can "I" do anything to bring about "Realization"? How can "I," a non-existent dream character, do self-inquiry? There is no "I" that can do anything! If I inquire "Who am I?" isn't that coming from the character in the play that is being lived, and if so, isn't that just another part of the story?
Why do "teachers appear" if there are no students? Why are books written, if most Advaita teachers agree one cannot get it from a book?
Those in the Sailor Bob lineage all suggest self-inquiry. Tony Parsons says that makes absolutely no sense, but then what is Tony accomplishing standing in front of a group of dream characters? There is no Advaita, no teachers, no sages, no enlightenment, no anything at all.
The anticipated answer (I am not being cynical) is that there is no Sailor Bob, or Tony Parsons. There is only "this," in which all appears. Therefore, who is asking these questions? Look (who's looking?) into that!
Frustrated. Any suggestions, other than the usual?
A: I know this frustration and I sympathize. I'm not going to give you the stock neo-Advaita "who's asking?" answer, because it's not helpful. I'll try to give you something practical to go on, although there is a paradox at the center of it all, and so at some point, all practicality fails.
I can see that you have made the connection (an important one to make) that, if there is no person, as they all say, then why are "teachers" talking, writing books, and telling you to self-inquire? I'll answer that in a minute.
You are exactly right when you say that there is no one to do any of that. But also notice that "you" are still "doing" all kinds of stuff - reading this right now, for example. The difference is, that to a person who believes they are a separate entity residing in this body, this appears to be an act of someone doing something. To one who knows themselves not to be this body, or a separate entity, the reading is simply happening as part of the unfolding of one life. To take it even further, to one who knows they are not separate, nothing is seen to be happening at all.
So it is to this gray zone - where it still appears to a seeker that there is a doer, even after that seeker has grasped the concept that there is not - that most Advaita teachings are directed. To those who still believe that they are this body, and that they are separate, independent entities, it all appears to happen, and they appear to be the doer. So for teachers to help you, they have to talk to you inside that dream in which you create the "self" character. They are addressing a dream character, knowing full well you are not a real character! But since you think you are real, they will address you as such.
So this is the answer to your question "why all the books, etc.?" There is real practical purpose - in the dream - in pointing to this and carrying on the tradition of the sages of the ancient past. Of course, the pointing points to: get out of the dream entirely! The end of seeking is not finding, the end of seeking is getting out of the dream that includes seeking! But this has to be pointed to in the dream, do you see what I mean? If you weren't mesmerized by the dream, then you would immediately see that you are not a person, and there would be no need to say a word.
So the pointing is ultimately telling you to find your way out of the dream somehow. But the dream is powerful and hypnotic, and tricks need to be employed to see your way out of it. Ideas are offered: examine the sense of self that you identify with and see if there is any substance to it, watch your mental process and see if there is any free will, don't follow your thoughts, etc. This all drives a wedge between your falsely created "self" and the truth of who you are. That wedge widens, and eventually you can't make the connection any longer to this "you" you believed yourself to be.
But without any direction, at first, we are just searching aimlessly for years and years, with all our practices and new age spirituality, trying so hard to "get" something "for me." It's not until we encounter some authentic Zen or Advaita that we begin questioning the very premise that we are basing our whole search on - the premise that there is a "me" to get something. Once this starts being looked at, it's a house of cards and it will fall sooner or later. Once the idea that you are not a separate person is even entertained, the end of the dream is inevitable. It can't support itself. But this all happens on its own time.
Of course there are those who, in their dream, love the story and don't want to let go of it. And so they go to satsang every week for years and feel that they are accomplishing something, growing spiritually, and that's just part of the dream. And they can't help it! It's just what is happening in that particular organism - it's acting the way it's been programmed. So, no, there isn't really anything you can do. And yet, you're doing stuff anyway!
So you are right: there is no Advaita, no teachers, no sages, no enlightenment, no anything at all. But because of the paradoxical nature of this, you have to come to knowing this in a roundabout way - you have to sneak up on it from the rear. Rather than a frontal assault, like bashing yourself over the head until you see that nothing exists, you have to go in and remove the underpinnings until the falseness of the separate self that depends on those underpinnings can't stand up anymore, and crumbles under its own weight.
This is what the pointers - all the repetitive "who's asking the question?" - are all about. The pointers are trying to show you that your "self" only occurs within the dream that you are dreaming, and that what you are looking for cannot be found by a dreamed self. "Who is asking the question?" is pointing to the fact that the self is dreamed.
Expose the "self" as merely a learned belief based on other learned beliefs, and you're out of the dream. That's done by looking at this "self" directly and seeing if it is real. No one can do that for you. You might say no one can do it at all, but you can, as long as you believe you are capable of doing stuff! How will you know when you no longer believe you are capable of doing stuff? When you don't even have to ask that question.
I hope this helps. At least it wasn't the dreaded "anticipated answer!"
- Annette Nibley
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