How to Practice to Realize I AM
Practice Self-Enquiry in seated meditation and in daily life (whenever not engaged in activities that require specific or full attention, such as walking, eating, etc). Keep asking “Before birth, Who am I?” or just “Who am I?” (ala Ramana Maharshi -, Ch’an Master Hsu Yun - In Buddhism, many Zen masters advocate the practice of self-enquiry as a koan or hua-tou. In Dzogchen teachings, it is a part (although not the entirety) of the guru yoga method, at least according to what was taught by the Dzogchen teacher Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, and guru yoga is considered the primary Dzogchen practice. Lama Surya Das equates Dzogchen's rushan (separating rigpa from sems) practice with self-inquiry. According to the Dzogchen teacher Arcaya Malcolm, although unfabricated clarity is not the final realization of Dzogchen, it is the initial recognition of rigpa that serves as the basis for Dzogchen practice. In my experience, self enquiry is a potent method to discover unfabricated clarity. In Hinduism, we also have famous luminaries like Ramana Maharshi who advocate self-enquiry as the primary way to self-realization.
While asking Who am I?, do not dwell in conceptual answers but trace the radiance (of thoughts/sounds/sights/etc) back to the formless and luminous source, the Self (See: Chinul -
In Self-Enquiry - while asking Who am I?, everything you observe - the objects of five senses (vision, sounds, sensations, smells, tastes) as well as thoughts, feelings, emotions, mind, body, etc, are seen to be not me, not this, not this (neti-neti). What remains when all objects seen are dissociated is the realization of the Seer, the formless Presence-Awareness, the doubtless pure Being which remains.
“I am aware of my feelings, so I am not my feelings – Who am I? I am aware of my thoughts, so I am not my thoughts – Who am I? Clouds float by in the sky, thoughts float by in the mind, feelings float by in the body – and I am none of those because I can Witness them all.”
  • Ken Wilber, Some Writings on Self-Enquiry and Non-duality by Ken Wilber -
“2. If I am none of these, then who am I?
After negating all of the above-mentioned as ‘not this’, ‘not this’, that Awareness which alone remains - that I am.
3. What is the nature of Awareness?
The nature of Awareness is existence-consciousness-bliss”
  • Ramana Maharshi, partial excerpt from Who Am I? (Nan Yar?) -
Zen master Xu Yun said:
“There are many hua t’ous, such as: ‘All things are returnable to One, to what is (that) One returnable?’ 1 ‘Before you were born, what was your real face?’2 but the hua t’ou: ‘Who is repeating Buddha’s name?’ is widely in use (today).
What is hua t’ou? (lit. word-head). Word is the spoken word and head is that which precedes word. For instance, when one says ‘Amitabha Buddha’, this is a word. Before it is said it is a hua t’ou (or ante-word). That which is called a hua t’ou is the moment before a thought arises. As soon as a thought arises, it becomes a hua wei (lit. word-tail). The moment before a thought arises is called ‘the un-born’. That void which is neither disturbed nor dull, and neither still nor (one-sided) is called ‘the unending’. The unremitting turning of the light inwards on oneself, instant after instant, and exclusive of all other things, is called ‘looking into the hua t’ou’ or ‘taking care of the hua t’ou’.
When one looks into a hua t’ou, the most important thing is to give rise to a doubt. Doubt is the crutch of hua t’ou.3 For instance, when one is asked: ‘Who is repeating Buddha’s name?’ everybody knows that he himself repeats it, but is it repeated by the mouth or by the mind? If the mouth repeats it, why does not it do so when one sleeps? If the mind repeats it, what does the mind look like? As mind is intangible, one is not clear about it. Consequently some slight feeling of doubt arises about ‘WHO’. This doubt should not be coarse; the finer it is, the better. At all times and in all places, this doubt alone should be looked into unremittingly, like an ever-flowing stream, without giving rise to a second thought. If this doubt persists, do not try to shake it; if it ceases to exist, one should gently give rise to it again. Beginners will find the hua t’ou more effective in some still place than amidst disturbance. However, one should not give rise to a discriminating mind; one should remain indifferent to either the effectiveness or ineffectiveness (of the hua t’ou) and one should take no notice of either stillness or disturbance. Thus, one should work at the training with singleness of mind.
(In the hua t’ou): ‘Who is repeating the Buddha’s name?’ emphasis should be laid upon the word ‘Who’, the other words serving only to give a general idea of the whole sentence. For instance (in the questions): ‘Who is wearing this robe and eating rice?’, ‘Who is going to stool and is urinating?’, ‘Who is putting an end to ignorance?’, and ‘Who is able to know and feel?’, as soon as one lays emphasis upon (the word) ‘Who’, while one is walking or standing, sitting or reclining, one will be able to give rise to a doubt without difficulty and without having to use one’s faculty of thought to think and discriminate. Consequently the word ‘Who’ of the hua t’ou is a wonderful technique in Ch’an training. However, one should not repeat the word ‘Who’ or the sentence ‘Who is repeating the Buddha’s name?’ like (adherents of the Pure Land School) who repeat the Buddha’s name. Neither should one set one’s thinking and discriminating mind on searching for him who repeats the Buddha’s name. There are some people who unremittingly repeat the sentence: ‘Who is repeating the Buddha’s name?’; it would be far better merely to repeat Amitabha Buddha’s name (as do followers of the Pure Land School) for this will give greater merits. There are others who indulge in thinking of a lot of things and seek after everything here and there, and call this the rising of a doubt; they do not know that the more they think, the more their false thinking will increase, just like someone who wants to ascend but is really descending. You should know all this.” -
Soh’s e-book has a chapter on Self-Inquiry:
Also read: The Direct Path to Your Real Self - , A Fan in Winter, A Straw Dog - , , ,
The Sixth Ch’an/Zen Patriarch’s Instructions to Hui Ming in the Platform Sutra
Hui Neng said, "Since you have come for the Dharma, you may put aside all conditions. Do not give rise to a single thought and I will teach it to you clearly." After a time, Hui Neng said, "With no thoughts of good and with no thoughts of evil, at just this moment, what is Superior One Hui Ming's original face?" At these words, Hui Ming was greatly enlightened.
Hui Ming asked further, "Apart from the secret speech and secret meanings just spoken, is there yet another secret meaning?"
Hui Neng said, "What has been spoken to you is not secret. If you turn the illumination inward, the secret is with you."
Hui Ming said, "Although Hui Ming was at Huang Mei he had not yet awakened to his original face. Now that he has been favored with this instruction he is like one who drinks water and knows for himself whether it is cold or warm. The cultivator is now Hui Ming's master."
"If you feel that way," said Hui Neng, "then you and I have the same master, Huang Mei. Protect yourself well."
Zen Master Bassui on Finding Your True Nature
“What is the master [within you] who at this very moment is seeing and hearing? If you reply, as most do, that it is Mind or Nature or Buddha or one’s Face before birth or one’s Original Home or Koan or Being or Nothingness or Emptiness or Form-and-Color or the Known or the Unknown or Truth or Delusion, or say something or remain silent, or regard it as Enlightenment or Ignorance, you fall into error at once. What is more, if you are so foolhardy as to doubt the reality of this master, you bind yourself though you use no rope. However much you try to know it through logical reasoning or to name or call it, you are doomed to failure. And even though all of you becomes one mass of questioning as you turn inward and intently search the very core of your being, you will find nothing that can be termed Mind or Essence. Yet should someone call your name, something from within will hear and respond. Find out this instant who it is!
If you push forward with your last ounce of strength at the very point where the path of your thinking has been blocked, and then, completely stymied, leap with hands high in the air into the tremendous abyss of fire confronting you — into the ever-burning flame of your own primordial nature — all ego-consciousness, all delusive feelings and thoughts and perceptions will perish with your ego-root and the true source of your Self-nature will appear. You will feel resurrected, all sickness having completely vanished, and will experience genuine peace and joy.” –Bassui
At work, at rest, never stop trying to realize who it is that hears. Even though your questioning becomes almost unconscious, you won’t find the one who hears, and all your efforts will come to naught.
Yet sounds can be heard, so question yourself to an even profounder level.
At last, every vestige of self-awareness will disappear and you will feel like a cloudless sky. Within yourself you will find no “I,” nor will you discover anyone who hears. This Mind is like the void, and yet it hasn’t a single spot that can be called empty.
This state is OFTEN MISTAKEN FOR Self-realization. (Comments by Soh: mistaking experience for realization, as I explained the difference between experience and realization above)
Cast off what has been realized. Turn back to the subject that realizes, to the root bottom, and resolutely go on.
What is this mind? Who is hearing these sounds? Your physical being doesn’t hear, nor does the void. Then what does?
Keep asking with all your strength, "What is it that hears!?" Only when you have completely exhausted the questioning will the question burst; now you will feel like a man come back from the dead.
This is true Realization.
-- Rinzai Zen master Bassui Tokusho, 1327-87
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