Self-Inquiry: The Path to Realizing Your True Nature

Embark on a transformative journey of Self-inquiry to unearth the profound truths of your inherent divine nature.

Table of Contents

Self-Inquiry: The Path to Realizing Your True Nature

The Essence of Self-Inquiry

Recognizing Our Divine Potential

Starting with Wholeness: The Yogic Approach

Finding Inner Balance and Harmony

Self-Inquiry: The Path to Realizing Your True Nature

The three strategies or practices of Kriya Yoga that Patanjali offers as the way to remove obstructions and cultivate superconsciousness are self-discipline, self-inquiry, and self-surrender.

Self-discipline (tapas) is practiced every day through intentionally joyful living, by staying focused on higher purpose and true fulfillment. It’s all the choices we make to live in harmony with the soul, to align our thoughts, speech, and action with the spiritual truth of our being.

Self-inquiry or self-study (svadhyaya) is an investigation of higher realities and inquiry into the nature of consciousness, which includes contemplation and superconscious meditation.

Self-surrender (Ishwara pranidhana) is letting go of the illusional sense of a separate self, releasing the erroneous idea that we are separate from the Source of life and its ongoing support.

Here, let’s explore self-inquiry / self-study.



The Essence of Self-Inquiry

Our essential nature is that which we are — what is inherently true and unchanging about us. With discernment and direct experience of the true Self, we perceive the difference between our physical and mental characteristics and our spiritual nature.

This practice is svadhyaya or self-inquiry / self-study. We observe our body, personality, thoughts, and emotions and notice that they all change over time. The very fact that we can observe these functions gives us insight about our true Self. Who is seeing? What is observing? The Seer, the Witness, is the unchanging essential Self.

A person engaged in self-inquiry, sitting in a lotus position

"An endless fountain of milk is within you: Why are you seeking milk with a pail?"

—Rumi [1]

Often, what we consider our identity, invest in as important, and devote so much time and energy to is not our true Self, but merely its temporary expression in this lifetime. One meditation teacher aptly compared all the time we spend on external things to time spent decorating our hotel room! Living a spiritually conscious life helps us establish the right priorities. To live in the soul is to live in the awareness of our true nature, allowing its radiance to illumine body and mind.

The characteristics of our true nature are pure existence-being, conscious awareness, and joy or bliss. These qualities — sat, chit, and ananda, or existence, consciousness, and bliss — are the reflection of Supreme Consciousness in the soul. The soul is an individualized expression of Ultimate Reality (commonly called God), which is omnipresent (unchanging, immortal being, always and everywhere present); omniscient (supremely conscious, all-knowing); and omnipotent (infinitely creative, all-powerful, and blissful). Just as a drop of ocean water will be found to contain the same basic qualities as the ocean, so do the characteristics of God exist within the soul as our divine potential.

Recognizing Our Divine Potential

We naturally yearn to know and experience the fullness of our being — to realize our divine inheritance. We want to live, not just for a short time, but forever. There is an old saying that the strangest thing about human beings is that everyone dies — it’s a natural occurrence so obviously pervasive in nature — yet no one thinks they will die. Perhaps it’s our self-protective denial mechanism at work, but more likely, it is our innate sense of immortality. In the depths of our being, we know we are not limited to the physical body that is born and dies. We have all had “intimations of immortality” — in the depth of our soul, we know we are birthless, deathless, immortal spiritual beings.

We want knowledge, but not just a little. We want knowledge without limits. We have curious minds and unbounded imagination ready to soar into the unknown and discern its secrets. And we can. Paramahansa Yogananda wrote, “To discover any truth, we have only to turn our consciousness inward to the soul, whose omniscience is one with God.” [2]

We want to avoid pain and suffering, know unconditional happiness, and experience lasting satisfaction. That irrepressible yearning for happiness motivating all that we do is our soul yearning to return to bliss — the pure joy of Self-knowledge.

These three longings of the soul — for infinite life, unbounded wisdom, and pure joy — are the desire to return to its truth, to break free of the bonds of the false self. Human beings naturally long for the freedom and joy we know is ours. We have tasted it and remember its sweetness. Our life journeys, whether feeble or grand, come down to our attempts to recover our divine inheritance. We want to reclaim it.

Starting with Wholeness: The Yogic Approach

The key to fulfilling these three deepest desires is Self-realization. There are many meaningful and important things we yearn to have or experience, such as a healthy, loving intimate relationship; inspiring work; an avenue for expressing our creative talents; and finding a way to implement positive social change. Even though our goals are important, must be addressed, and can be achieved — they are not the best starting point. Why not start with our greatest yearning and realize it?

The way of yoga is to start with wholeness, to begin with Self- knowing.

It’s not recommended that we begin with “wanting” something, no matter how lofty or important it is. We start by working in consciousness; first and foremost, we engage in life from fullness. We begin with sufficiency — recognition that all the necessary potentials are within us to become what we need to be a match for our goal. For example, if we want a healthy, loving, relationship, the first thing we do is free ourselves of the need for love.

Instead, we draw upon our inner fullness to be loving — to be a match for love. Ultimately, we will realize we are already divine Love itself.

A person engaged in self-inquiry, sitting in a lotus position

Establishing abundance first is based on a fundamental metaphysical principle — we attract what we establish in mind and consciousness. Have you ever noticed that when you are in love, love is everywhere? It surrounds you, it lights up your life, and it meets you everywhere you go. Strangers on the street will smile and greet you; a heartwarming connection is palpable, undeniable. You are a love-magnet! The other side of that coin is when we want love so badly, when we need it, a healthy relationship will run from us! When we are miserable and just want someone to love us, when we need affirmation and appreciation — will someone give it to us? No. Not likely. Why not? We have become a love-repellent. People around us seem cold and uncaring; kindness and compassion are nowhere to be found. We might as well be a walking neon sign that declares “I need.” That belief — “I need. I am without.” — will demonstrate itself as sure as night follows day.

We might possibly attract a relationship with that consciousness, but most likely with another person who is also coming from need — not the recipe for a healthy match. Better to become who we are in the fullness of love by unfolding that divine potential within us, then attracting another who also realizes their wholeness. Not someone who is going to be our “better half,” but someone who knows they are already whole. Freed from the limits of neediness, love can truly prosper the relationship. As Joseph Campbell wrote, “If you want the whole thing, the gods will give it to you. But you must be ready for it.”[3]

If we are wise, once we understand that the origin of what we yearn for is within us, we will establish Self-realization as our highest priority. Meaningful thriving unfolds naturally from this awareness. We have an inner doorway into the infinite soul-mine of precious, prospering gems of radiant aliveness, wisdom, and fulfillment. All we need do is enter.

Finding Inner Balance and Harmony

If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place. Primary reality is within; secondary reality without. — Eckhart Tolle [4]

Sometimes we wonder how we can possibly give time to spiritual practice when our days are already full. If we are going to accomplish something in life, we need to put our time and energy into it. Usually, all our time and energy, right? The sages of all traditions, throughout time, have offered a different message: Don’t think so much about secondary things. If you put realization of the Truth at the center of your life, everything else will come to you with grace and ease. One of my favorite verses from the Hebrew scriptures (Isaiah 40:31, KJV) reminds us, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary, and they shall walk, and not faint.” “Finding our within” is taking the time to shift our attention from the periphery of our awareness to the center, where our consciousness expands and we are inspired, energized, renewed, and revitalized.

Daily prayer and meditation help us return to the center, to live the life of the soul. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Silence is a great help to a seeker after truth. In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.”[5] Prayer and meditation is our time to return to our Self. It’s the best way to begin and end the day, but even better — it’s the best way to live throughout the day. Again and again, we can redirect our attention from the noise of thoughts — from considerations of this or that — into our center, the divine Self. It’s as easy as a conscious breath. As you breathe in, withdraw attention from externals and move your awareness into the chapel of your soul. Go in. Sit. Remember. It only takes a moment to reorient our attention. When we do, we open ourselves to the graceful flow of inspiration, strength, insight, and peace. It’s there within us, awaiting our conscious recognition.

By centering Self-inquiry in our daily lives, we not only rediscover our intrinsic divine essence but also align with an inner reservoir of inspiration, strength, and boundless peace.

[1] Rumi, in The Pocket Rumi, ed. Kabir Helminski (2001; repr., Boston: Sham- bhala Publications, 2008), 234.

[2] Paramahansa Yogananda, “Social Arts: Righteousness in the Character, Harmony in the Home, Order in the Nation, Peace in the World, How-to- Live Skills, Part III,” Self-Realization (Fall 2017), 12.

[3] Joseph Campbell, A Joseph Campbell Companion, ed. Diane K. Osbon (New York: HarperCollins: 1991), 25.

[4] Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (No- vato, CA: New World Library, 1999), 82.

[5] Mahatma Gandhi, in Mohan-Mala: A Gandhian Rosary: Being a Thought for Each Day of the Year Gleaned from the Writings and Speeches of Mahatma Gandhi, comp. R. K. Prabhu (Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan Publishing House, 1949, 1977), 34.


Excerpted from the book

the Jewel of Abundance: Finding Prosperity through the Ancient Wisdom of Yoga

Copyright ©2018 by Ellen Grace O’Brian.

Printed with permission from New World Library —

front cover of the Jewel of Abundance book by Ellen Grace O'Brian where she teaches about self-care practices

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