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How to Do Inquiry Practice

inquiry practice

Guided Nondual Meditation by Michael Taft

Streamed on February 25 2022

I’m going to lead you through a guided meditation this evening. And this guided meditation is something we haven’t done in a while, we’ve done it before but we haven’t done it in a while. We’re going to do a lot of investigation, okay? So be prepared to investigate with me this evening. And I ask you a lot of questions and a lot of them are kind of odd. But remember that the way to work with this is to actually not attempt to find the answer to the question in your thoughts or by figuring it out or by, you know, looking for the right answer or by memorizing, you know, looking into your memory; but rather just directly looking at your experience. That’s how we do this, okay? 


So let’s begin by setting our intention, tonight we’re going to meditate – why are you meditating? What is the point? I want you to tune into that now for just a minute. I’ll be quiet while you do that and I will inject myself with some intravenous caffeine from this beautiful PG Tips black tea with some hemp milk. I’m not a big hemp milk fan but that’s what we have in the fridge, so that’s what’s in there. It’s not too bad. 

Good. So that’s why you’re meditating. So remember that, keep that as part of your intentionality, part of the feeling of, you know, gathering your mind around why we’re doing this so that it helps you to be clear. Good. Next let’s work on some resource stuff, right? We want to build resource when we begin meditating. So, first we’re going to do this by tuning into some gratitude. That’s what we’ve been doing for the past few weeks, we’ve been doing some gratitude practice. So I’m going to give you about three minutes to just think about things you’re grateful for and feel grateful for them. It’s really simple. Don’t think about things you’re supposed to be grateful for but don’t care about. Really think about things you actually do feel grateful for and think about them in a way that brings up that feeling of gratitude, and you’ll notice it starts melting your body, armoring. It starts making your heart open a little bit, and that’s good. So we’re going to do that for a couple more minutes and I’ll just be quiet here while we all do that together. 

Okay? Good. That’s our gratitude practice and that’s just a little bit of warm up. Another part of the warm up is again to visualize some resource again. And so what we’re going to do tonight is, I want you to picture a diamond; in whatever way, this is totally free form. You do this in whatever way works for you. I want you to picture a diamond and this diamond is like a spherical diamond with triangular facets, right? It’s essentially a sphere, but it’s faceted and the facets are triangular and this diamond is glowing with a kind of very soft, very friendly, bluish white light. Almost like the moon. Sometimes the moon, the full moon especially, can reflect red or orange a little bit, but sometimes it’s really white blue in a way that is very, very, very pleasant. So a picture of this big, clear diamond sphere with this just slight, very slight blue tint to it; just a little bit of blue. And this is a representation of our own deepest, awake awareness. Our own bodhisattvahood, our Buddhahood, right? We’re just symbolizing it, we’re just picturing it. And, I want you to just feel that this blue diamond, bluish, mainly clear, but just slightly bluish diamond sphere is radiating wisdom to you and you’re feeling the wisdom. It’s radiating love, you feel the love, the tremendous acceptance, right? Love and acceptance, exactly the way you are, it doesn’t need you to change at all. It loves you exactly the way you are. And furthermore, feel the playfulness and the spontaneity that’s present with this vast, clear diamond. 

So I want you to just sit with that for a while, picturing it and feeling these feelings of love and acceptance and joy and wisdom. Feel confident, bold and confident. The Buddhas are never shy, right? They’re willing to change the world and so there’s a kind of confidence that comes from this Buddha-nature and there’s a playfulness of spontaneity. It’s not afraid, so it can play and it can take chances. So really, feel that, feel that energy coming at you now in a very pleasant way. We’re going to do that. We’re going to visualize that and feel those energies for about five more minutes.

Okay? Good. Now from here, from this place, let’s begin simply following the breath. Allowing the breath to simply do what it’s going to do. You don’t have to change the breath in any way and again we’re going to follow the breath in more of an open awareness style meditation. So relax, allow awareness to be vast and spacious like it naturally is. Awareness is already very broad, already vast, already spacious. We don’t have to make it that way, we just tune into that aspect of awareness. And from that place, with the mind very broad, sitting maybe with our eyes open but with a soft gaze. Just a very, very broad awareness, allowing the wave of the breath to simply arise and pass, arise and pass through awareness, without us necessarily having to grab onto it or focus on it. We’re just aware of it. That breath wave arising in awareness and passing away in awareness. I want you to stay with that now in a very gentle and open way.

Remember awareness is just aware naturally, that’s why it’s called awareness. And it’s aware of this breath sensation in the body, the breath feeling the body, the body expanding naturally with the incoming breath and contracting naturally with the outgoing breath. It’s aware of that without any struggle at all. Without any need to like, focus or narrow attention, or anything. It’s just the wide, open sea, the wide, open sky of awareness, noticing the wind of the breath passing through it without any big deal. 

Let yourself unwind, let yourself naturally just let go. Let yourself relax. Remembering that awareness is both vast, it’s spacious, it’s relaxed but it’s also wide awake. It’s very bright and clear, it’s not sleepy, it’s not muddy. So we’re both very relaxed, very open and at ease and at the same time wide awake; very clear, very bright, all without any effort. 

Okay? Good. Now what I’d like you to do is to sink even deeper. Let go even more completely. Just rest as awareness, following the breath, just follow the breath without any effort. Remember awareness is aware so it feels the breath move. Feeling the breath root move and just let everything else drop away. Let it drop away like the chains when you’re leaving prison. Let it drop away, like… completely. Let it drop away utterly. Let it drop away like you’re letting go of the heaviest burden. Just allow yourself to just be simply awareness aware of the breath wave, without any other burdens. 

Okay? Good. Now from this place of just open, vast, spacious, clear, bright awareness I want you to, right now, just look; if thoughts are present, where do thoughts come from? I don’t want you to use your thinking to figure this out. I don’t want you to use your memory, or your understanding of neuroscience, or your ideas about the brain. I don’t want you to try to get the right answer by figuring it out. All of that is a mistake when we’re doing this type of practice. Instead, I want you to just look or listen or feel or whatever. In your own experience, as awareness, where do thoughts come from? Where do they come from? Look. Look now and keep looking. Find where they come from. Where is the origin of thought? Look now. 

If you’re trying to figure it out, stop doing that. If you think you’ve solved it, keep looking. Just keep looking in that place or listening or feeling or whatever. Where are thoughts coming from? Are they..? If you think you found it, look, or investigate is the right word; investigate more clearly, more precisely. Right now, look. Where do thoughts originate? 

Okay? Good. So you’ve been looking directly at where thoughts come from. Hint, what if they don’t come from anywhere, right? You might notice that you’re having a hard time actually noticing where they come from but, but maybe not. Let’s look now at, directly, at where thoughts go to. So if they’re, don’t generate thoughts on purpose, just rest as open, spacious awareness; noticing thoughts arising and passing. But when the thoughts pass, watch the moment of their passing. Where did they pass to? Where do they go away to? Where’s the trash can in your mind, right? Where is that exactly? Look now. Again, don’t figure it out. Look now. In your own experience, investigate. Find the answer for yourself. 

Where are those thoughts going to? Keep looking, don’t just be satisfied. Even if the answer is they don’t seem to be going anywhere, keep watching that nowhere, so to speak, to which they disappear. It’s really, really interesting. 

Okay? Good. Now you may have noticed that it’s very difficult to find a place where thoughts arise from or a place where thoughts go to. Very difficult. We might even say it’s unfindable, right? Now a related question is, where are thoughts while they’re happening? So, imagine they arise and they pass but in between arising and passing –  you’re having a thought, right? There is an experience there, but where is that experience exactly? Don’t settle for the answer ‘in my head’. I want you to really notice directly, where are these thoughts when they’re happening? Where are these thoughts? Look clearly now. 

Excellent, okay. Now, after noticing where thoughts arise from and where they happen and then where they go to. Which, if you’re looking carefully you’ll notice you can’t even find where they’re happening. They are happening but they don’t seem to be happening really anywhere. Then what I want you to look very clearly into, I want you to investigate – to whom are these thoughts happening? Who is the listener of the thoughts? Who is the haver of the thoughts? The immediate answer will be ‘me’ or ‘my brain’, or something. But what does that even mean? I want you to look past that easy answer into your own experience, right now. Not your ideas about experience, like if you just keep saying, “well it’s me and my brain.” I want you to look – who is the haver of this thought? Who is experiencing the thought? Look now, very, very carefully.

Keep looking, actively looking in this restful, open space of awareness that is naturally awake, naturally aware, naturally relaxed. What or who is having these thoughts? To whom are these thoughts arising? What is thinking? Where is it? Can you find a thinker? 

But it’s not just thoughts. There’s sounds coming in, there’s sight if your eyes are open, there’s body sensations. To whom is all this happening? Who is the knower of all these events, who, to whom is everything arising? Look carefully now. What is it that’s aware of everything? If you just say “me” or, “it’s my brain” or, “it’s my body,” those are just words. You gotta look. You gotta feel it, you got to investigate. Sense into it. To what, to whom is all experience arising? Investigate now, clearly. Look in your own experience, don’t accept the easy answers. Look. Look now.

Now, look at who’s doing any meditating. Who or what is doing a meditation right now? Again just thinking ‘me’ or ‘I am’ or ‘my brain’ or ‘my body’; that’s not an answer. You gotta look. Look now. Look clearly, who or what is meditating? Who or what is making an effort? Who or what is trying to see? Try to see. Try to see that. But who is doing it? Look carefully you’ll notice something really, really interesting. Really, really interesting. Look. 

Who or what is meditating now? Look carefully, look deeply. Who’s doing anything? Who’s experiencing anything? Who is thinking anything? Who is feeling anything? Who is listening to this guided meditation? Look now. Look clearly and carefully. 

Good. Now from this place of vast, spacious awareness that is relaxed, that is open, that is at ease, that is awake. I want you to simply begin to radiate out love and joy to the entire universe. I want you to radiate out feelings of peace and kindness towards the people of Ukraine. I want you to radiate out love and understanding and kindness and compassion towards transgender children in the United, in the State in the U.S. of Florida and also Texas and also all over the U.S. I want you to radiate out love and joy and kindness to the whole world. Peace to the whole world. Compassion to the whole world. May everyone feel the joy of awakening, the sweet kindness of compassion, the wisdom of awakening, the clarity and confidence of the Buddha-mind. Radiate this out in all directions now. Feeling the joy, feeling the confidence, feeling the wisdom. Feeling this fully awake Buddha that you really are, blessing the whole world, healing the whole world. Bringing joy and playfulness and spontaneity and clarity to all beings. 

Dharma Talk

Okay? Good. Let’s let go of that now and I want to talk a little bit about this kind of meditation that we’re doing, which is an inquiry style meditation, right? We inquire. So we’re doing inquiry style meditation. I ask you a question, right? Inquiry is done with questions. I ask you a question and you look. 

And, as I mentioned at the beginning of the meditation and many times throughout the meditation, I’ll just repeat it again here – you can’t do these kind of meditations by trying to figure it out. If you find yourself trying to figure it out, stop that, and go back to just investigating, just looking. So the metaphor I always use for this is – it’s like Where’s Waldo. If you have a Where’s Waldo picture and someone says “where’s Waldo?” That’s the inquiry question. You can’t go to your memory, I mean presumably you’ve never seen this one before. You can’t go to your memory to find out where Waldo is. You can’t use some kind of logic or reasoning or whatever to find where Waldo is. You just have to fucking look. And for some reason this, for me, was really hard to understand. Instead I would try to figure it out. I try to get the right answer. And if you bring up what you know is a good answer, theoretically or philosophically, notice that doesn’t help. You have, you have to still do the process of looking and continuing to look. And if you can’t find Waldo you just keep looking and you just keep looking and you just keep looking. And, maybe, at some point you can say, “you know I have looked at every square millimeter of this and there is no Waldo in this picture.” Well, that’s an interesting answer, right? 

But you don’t know that from figuring it out and you don’t know that from your memory. You don’t know that through some logical process of reasoning. You know that by looking, yourself, at your own experience, right now. That’s how you do any kind of inquiry meditation, okay? I want to save you tens or hundreds of thousands or thousands of hours of frustration of doing this wrong. Here’s how you do it right, okay? That’s where you start to really get what these meditations are for and how they work and what they’re about. 

Now in terms of when we’re looking for thought or we’re looking for where they come, or where they go, or where they’re staying, so to speak. Or we even more deeply look at who’s having thoughts, who’s even aware of anything, who’s doing the meditation. You know, if I tell you the answer – I’ll tell you the answer – the answer is you can’t find any. You know, there’s no place thoughts are coming from. There’s not even a place they’re going to. There’s not even a place they’re located when they’re happening, right? There’s no place. There’s no, there’s – thoughts are happening – we all know they’re there, so to speak. It’s an experience. But you can’t find a place, and if it feels like you’re finding a place, look more closely, right? But me telling you that and you remembering that doesn’t really help. You gotta see it for yourself. 

And even more deeply, even more powerfully, even more importantly for really starting to wake up, we take it even a step further and we say – “who’s even thinking?” Find the thinker. “Who’s even experiencing?” Find the experiencer. “Who’s even doing a meditation?” Find that doer. And, of course, what’s the answer? The answer is, you can’t find one. If you think you’ve found one, keep looking. Look right where you think you found it and notice you can’t really find it. Again, that doesn’t mean just like, even though you can’t find a place; thoughts are happening. They’re still happening. And in the same way experience is still happening, you just can’t find an experiencer. Meditation is still happening, you just can’t find a meditator. And if it’s not your experience, if you’re like “no Michael, I found it.” Then I would say, “look more closely – good – and look more closely.” Look really, really closely. 

You will find something very interesting, which is—you can’t locate it. And that’s called unfindability; unfindability, non-locatability. And this unfindability is an aspect of emptiness, right? It’s very important to see this emptiness for yourself, to see it for real and to see it in your own experience over and over and over and over and over again. Eventually it sinks in in a very deep, important way. “Oh. Oh, there’s experience, but there’s no experiencer, there’s thoughts but there is no thinker.” Right? And even the thoughts, even the experiences themselves in another way are different. They’re not objects, they’re not located anywhere. It is very, very interesting when we look at our own experience very deeply here, which is what we do in inquiry meditation. 

Now in other meditations on other Thursday nights you’ve seen me go very deeply into looking for emptiness, right? And that’s called vipashyana, we’re doing vipashyana, we’re looking for the emptiness. This inquiry meditation is just another way of doing something – the same thing – or if it’s not exactly the same thing it’s something quite similar. It’s quite similar. It’s just a different way of going about it. 

And these inquiry meditations are beloved of certain traditions. For example, Advaita Vedanta’s very into inquiry meditations. Some of the inquiry we did tonight is very similar to Tibetan Buddhists schools, like Mahamudra do this type of inquiry and they’re also related to Zen. So lots of traditions do this questioning. And, for some reason some folks feel like that’s hard to do, and if it’s hard to do – great – do emptiness practice, you know, vipashyana. 

But for other people there’s something very kind of oddly satisfying about asking a question and going and looking and just over and over again seeing this very interesting thing, or these very interesting things, right? It starts to percolate up from below, it’s not a top-down thing. If it was a top-down thing it would just be thinking, thinking, thinking. It’s not about thinking, it’s about experience, right? So – “oh it starts to come from the bottom up” – and you just start noticing your relationship to ideas, your relationship to experience, your relationship to meditation. Even, to put it in a funny way, your relationship to yourself starts to change very drastically. 

Okay? So I really like these inquiry meditations. The school that is the most into them is Rinzai Zen, right? Zen from the Rinzai school because there’s an entire gigantic way of working with questions called koan practice, right? So we all know the idea of koans and most of us know at least two koans. There’s one koan we’ve heard of which is, ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping’? But that’s not the real koan, that’s kind of a bad translation. The real koan is ‘what is the sound of one hand’. Here’s – so look at my hand [holds closed fist up to view] – what is the sound of that hand? What is the sound of one hand? Notice that’s an inquiry question and if you try to figure that out it’s meant to shatter your mental machinery. You can’t figure that out. You have to just keep listening. And that, right, direct experience. It’s not something from memory, it’s not something you can figure out. You’ve just got to keep listening. And then something interesting happens. And it’s not just ‘the answer is, there is no sound’. You’ve got, it’s an inquiry question. And it’s really, really interesting.

The other koan that most people have heard of is ‘Joshu’s Dog’, right? So does a dog have Buddha-nature, or not? And the answer is ‘Mu’. Which means, kind of, like, not. But it’s not an answer to the question, in terms of like, an intellectual answer. The answer ‘Mu’ is more like a cosmic, mystical sound or something. And so that’s even  deeper – even though that’s the first koan – it’s a very deep koan because it just introduces you to just a question you can’t answer and you have, and you have to answer it, right? So that’s the, so that’s Renzai Zen. And that’s another form of these inquiry questions. That’s the tradition that probably goes the furthest with the idea of inquiry. 

Zen also, you know the kind of inquiry where we said, “you know, who’s actually aware of anything right now?” That’s in Zen. In many traditions that’s the core inquiry question. That’s the most important inquiry question there is. 

In Advaita Vedanta particularly the Vedanta, as taught by Ramana Maharshi, he says “the only meditation is who am I?” Which is another way of asking that same inquiry question – who is experiencing anything right now? Who is aware? It’s just another way of asking who am I? 

And that’s the core question. That’s the deepest inquiry question. You could just keep asking that question over and over again in your meditation and then looking. But you will never figure it out. You will never arrive at a logical response. Rather, you will actually see who or what is looking – who – you’ll actually see who you are. And that will be a big surprise. Hint – it is not who you think you are.

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