I recently decided that my spiritual life would benefit from the experience of a silent retreat, but being at the mercy of government funding it wasn’t financially viable for me to take myself off to some hut in the Welsh valleys and sit at the foot of an enlightened master (spiritual understanding costs a lot of money, it seems); not only that, but I’m not about to pay some numb hippy for the privilege of sitting on a cushion and talking clap-trap for a week in the hope of discovering what I already know, then having to hitch-hike home in the rain five hundred quid lighter and having run out of Rizlas.
So I decided to conduct my retreat at home, where there is central heating and a kettle, and more importantly, no hippy.
I sent word to my friends and fellow alcoholics that I was not to be molested for forty-eight hours, stocked up on coffee, earl grey and tobacco, turned my phones off, shut down the computer and readied myself for a veritable orgy of self-inquiry.
The point of self-inquiry is this: to uncover our true nature; that part of us which is unchanging and eternal; that part of us which is always here, which has always been here.
I was going to be doing a lot of sitting. A lot of sitting, and not much else.
The first thing that we notice through self-inquiry is that we are not our thoughts. Our thoughts arise within us, they are objects of perception: therefore our thoughts are not who we are. The same thing goes for our feelings and our sensations, which arise and subside, but that which witnesses them is always there.
The same goes for our body. We are aware of our body, we have a body, but we are not our body. Or if you like: my nose is me, but I am not my nose.
And on and on it goes. The Indians call it Neti-Neti, meaning not this – not this. Our personalities, our habits, our beliefs: all of these are objects of perception; thoughts that occur in the mind, and as such cannot be who we are.
Up to this point, I’d been happily discarding all these objects of perception and coming to the conclusion that if I am not the object, I must be the subject: the perceiver.
And then I noticed: I can perceive the perceiver. The perceiver is one more object of perception. The perceiver is the same as the objects of perception. They are two aspects of the same thing.
So who is watching the perceiver?