I was first introduced to self inquiry meditation during my first listening to Lama Surya Das's audiobook Natural Perfection on cassette tape in the early 2000's. Having gotten rid of all my tapes long ago it was such a surprise when this audiobook accidentally made its way back into my life via Audible.com. With a smile I acknowledged the elegant way in which the universe always gives me what I need when I need it most. I took the hint and set about the work of practicing in this beautiful tradition of Dzogchen Buddhist meditation once again.
Rushen, which means subtle discernment, is a practice to help the meditator break out of his or her conditioned responses to the world through a process of self inquiry. One of the most difficult aspects of mediation is the relentless chatter of the mind as you try to become quiet. After getting to a place of relative calm focus you suddenly remember that you need to pick up almond milk for tomorrow's breakfast smoothie and then you start to think about washing the blender and remembering how annoyed your husband got last time you made your smoothie at 6:30am and so on and so fourth until it's 5 minutes later and you have totally wandered off track.
Lama Surya Das teaches that the trick is not to try to empty the mind in meditation, rather to develop a level of detachment from the projections of the mind where you can become an observer to all those thoughts, sensations, memories, and plans without getting caught up in them. In Self Inquiry meditation these seaming distractions actually become the tools for self inquiry. For example as you start to notice your mind drift to the awareness that your foot is itching painfully you ask "who or what is experiencing this pain?" A rather indignant answer may come like "I am experiencing this pain." Then another question can be posed to probe deeper. "Who am I?" With each new answer ask another question.
After a while in this practice you may come to realize, as I did with a great shock, that nothing is really as it seams. The narrative of your existence is a composite of culture, upbringing, and human bias. These things, like a filtered sunglasses, distort your perception preventing you from experiencing absolute reality what is called in the Dzogchen tradition The Innate Great Perfection.
I have experienced it twice. Both times it was just a flash and then I was drawn back into thoughts pertaining to the this and that-ing of life. I can't explain to you in words what it was like to have a glimpse of the world without the overlay of all my assumptions because as I type this I am operating from within that distorted view. I did however completely identify with the quote by Indian poet Kabir that Lama Suraya Das included in Natural Perfection.
Kabir sang, "I glimpsed it for 15 seconds, it made me a servant for life."