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Trick Questions

A test for Smart-Alecs

© Copyright 1995 by Phil Servedio

 A 2004 update to this page, Insighting Questions describes the practice of enquiry from the Buddhist tradition

The "world" as we perceive it is a sea of symbols, images, metaphors and concepts that people accept fundamentally as reality. We do not ordinarily perceive things directly, but interpret the symbols that we perceive via our senses through the filtering mechanism of our our own minds, using pre-conceived ideas from the past. In Western psychology, I believe, this is known as the process of "registration". It is these pre-conceived ideas that this list of questions, in part, is directly addressing, particularly when they apply to spiritual matters.

Symbols, images, etc., are the vehicles by which we understand the world around us and communicate to oneselves and to others. Language, whether spoken in our heads or with our tongues, is basically a transport mechanism of agreed upon symbols and ideas. This same functionality applies in spiritual matters. Even the rare individual who wakes up spontaneously, without some other's help, such as Ramana Maharishi, eventually tries to communicate to others, through language, the nature of reality (though the direct and unspoken communication, via satsang, is a necessary foundation for speech to be effective).

Concepts and notions of spirituality, God, Enlightenment, etc., vary from culture to culture, religion to religion, and person to person. Lawrence Cook tells an amusing story of a teacher of his, who was attending a Buddhist retreat. The teacher gave a specific set of instructions for meditation and people began sitting. After a while, this person went around asking people "what were you doing in meditation?". It turns out that most of the people were doing their own version or thing, and nothing like what the original instruction was. Then he asked the meditation teacher the same question, and he was doing something else also. So if people can't come together on a simple thing like a specifically stated meditation technique, imagine the quagmire of spiritual concepts that abound within even a small group of individuals!

It seems to me in order to have any sort of integrity within a group of practitioners, it is advisable to know if everyone is at least "talking the same language". So I've come up with a number of questions that revolve around central issues, themes and elements of the dharma that many practitioners use in day to day communication. Additionally, these questions are designed to see if there is a clarity of understanding about what exactly is the process of spiritual unfoldment and growth. These questions can be used individually to see to what degree one really understands the fundamentals of non-dual dharma, and also perhaps can be a jumping off point for discussions, challenges and tests within groups.

The following questions fall into the following categories:

    • Open ended questions that have arisen as forms of enquiry
    • Questions about fundamental constructs of our particular teaching dharma
    • Questions about the nature of reality as understood and perceived by practitioners
    • Questions to expose popular and personal spiritual concepts that may or may not be based on real understanding or personal experience
    • Questions about the nature of the spiritual process with which we're involved
    • Questions about the various elements of the Awakened condition, and
    • A few silly questions thrown in.

1. How do you define "Being"? How do you define "Consciousness"?
2. Are Being and Consciousness synonymous? Are they different in some way?
3. What about "Self"? Does Self relate to Consciousness or Being?
4. Does your concept of God relate to your definitions of Being, Self, Consciousness?
5. What's the relationship between consciousness and energy?
6. Exactly where are "you"?
7. What is the sense of "I"?
8. Where do you "end" and other things begin?
9. What is the relation between attention and this sense of "I"?
10. Where is your subjective self?
11. What is a subject? Subjectivity?
12. Does your subjective self have a subject? Does that have a subject? (and so on...)
13. What is an object?
14. When the Big Bang occurred, scientists said that space expanded, and is expanding as the universe grows. In what is this space expanding?
15. Where is space?
16. Where is your attention located?
17. What is attention?
18. Who is being attentive to things?
19. Where do you experience thoughts?
20. Where do thoughts arise from?
21. Is there a center to your being? If yes, Where is it?
22. In what are objects arising?
23. How do you know you have a body?
24. How do you know you have a mind?
25. What is mind? Does it differ from activities of the brain?
26. Where does attention come from?
27. What's the relation between mind and attention?
28. What is the relation between mind and the sense of "I"?
29. How do you know you have a self?
30. Where in the body is the sense of self posited?
31. What is the "nature" of things?
32. What is your most essential structure, "self nature", quality?
33. Who is looking out of your eyes?
34. What would you be if you had no senses, intellect, emotions or ideas of being a self?
35. If none of the above (in #34) arose, would you be Enlightened?
36. What is separation?
37. What is oneness?
38. Are all things one? If so, how?
39. Is there a God? Is there a Dog?
40. Is there a fundamental essence of all things?
41. How do mind and matter relate?
42. Where do you feel separate? How do you feel separate? Do you feel separate?
43. Is there are spiritual heart? If so, where is it located? How does it relate to the sense of "I"?
44. How does the sense of being an "I" stay associated with a body? Does it stay associated?
45. Who is thinking? Who is thinking that one is thinking? Who is thinking that one is thinking that one is thinking? (and so on...)
46. Where are you seeing and hearing things? How are you seeing and hearing things?
47. Where does "feeling" end? With your skin? Further out?
48. Can Being or Consciousness be felt?
49. Can Being or Consciousness be perceived?
50. How do you know anything?
51. Where is your memory?
52. Do things seem separate to you?
53. What is your most fundamental identity?
54. What is "spirit"?
55. What is an "ego"?
56. What is spiritual development?
57. What is the relationship between the spiritual development and ego?
58. What do you you think must occur with "ego" in order for Awakening to occur?
59. What is shakti?
60. Are there different types of shakti?
61. Does shakti have a source, or locus?
62. Where is shakti felt?
63. How does shakti evoke changes and promote spiritual development?
64. How do you define spiritual maturity?
65. What is the relationship between the spiritual process and personal psychology?
66. What is "spiritual transmission"?
67. What is meant by the "rot"?
68. Is the "rot" synonymous with having a difficult time in one's life? Or feeling "rotten"?
69. How does the "rot" play into the spiritual process?
70. Is the "rot" a necessary prerequisite for Awakening?
71. What is the relationship between the "rot" and "ego death"?
72. What is the heart?
73. What is an 'experience"?
74. Where is the personality? What is its source?
75. Which comes first, the body or mind? Which arises from which?
76. What is meditation?
77. What do you think the result of meditation should be?
78. Can meditation occur if one is engaged in normal waking life activities?
79. Can meditation be practiced?
80. Can you meditate on Being or Consciousness?
81. Does the mind have to stop in order to be able to meditate? If so, how do you stop the mind?
82. Do you need to meditate in order to become Awakened?
83. Is there consciousness in inanimate objects?
84. Is consciousness the same as attention? Why or why not? Same as being conscious?
85. How does satsang occur? What are its mechanics?
86. What is discrimination?
87. Is dicrimination purely a mental activity? What is its relation, if any, to feeling shakti?
88. How does discrimination play into the process towards Awakening?
89. How is discrimination different in the spiritual process as opposed to normal adult discirimination?
90. What is compassion? Is is a state of consciousness? An emotional state?
91. How does one become compassionate?
92. Am I asking too many stupid questions?
93. Is Being a spiritual plane of existence or realm?
94. Is what Adi Da calls the "Divine Domain" a spritual plane or realm?
95. Are realms of light or higher awareness synonymous with Transcendental Reality?
96. What is the spritual search and how does it play into the process towards Awakening?
97. Is searching for Enlightenment necessary?
98. What would happen if you gave up seeking for who you truly are?
99. Do you think your own search may be a hindrance to what you're trying to find?
100. Where does love fit into the spiritual process? What is love, anyway?
101. Are there different forms of love?
102. Is there such thing as spiritual or divine love that is different than romantic love?
103. How does compassion relate to "divine love"?
104. Is happiness a result of the unfoldment of the spiritual process?
105. Do you think you'll be stronger and more resiliant or more vulnerable and sensitive if you really progress spiritually?
106. Do you think you'll be omnisicient and know everything if you Awaken?
107. Do you think that because you're on the spiritual path that you're innately protected or blessed?
108. What is the Amrita Nadi? What is a nadi?
109. Does the spiritual process have anything to do with the body? The mind? Emotions?
110. Does the mind have to be gone in order to become Realized? Is mindlessness a prerequisite for Awakening?
111. What exactly is bliss? Is it anything like happiness?

For Real Big Smart-Alecs

112. How do you define Enlightenment?
113. How do you describe the Enlightened condition? Is it a state? State of mind?
114. How is the body affected in Enlightenment?
115. Is Awakening the same as Enlightenment? If so, what was asleep? What wakes up?
116. Is Realization the same as Awakening or Enlightenment?
117. Are all Realizations the same?
118. Is Awakening a "state" of body or mind or consciousness?
119. What is samadhi? Ever had one?
120. How is samadhi different than Realization?
121. Does one lose the sense of "I" in samadhi? In Realization?
122. Is everyone Enlightened and they just don't know it, or are they unenlightened?
123. What is the relation between Awakening and desires?
124. Do you think an Awakened person would be desireless? What would that look like?
125. How would one know that s/he is Awake?
126. How does the personality change with Awakening?
127. How is the sense of identity changed in Awakening?
128. Can emotions and thoughts that are ordinarily associated with a separate identity, such as fear, sorrow, anger, arise when one is Awake? Why or why not?
129. If a person reacts in some way to some event, does that mean the person is not Awake? Why or why not?
130. Does Awakening free you from the implications of being an individual in the world?
131. Does Awakening have more to do with the body, the mind, attention or identity?
132. How is attention affected with Awakening? Does it move?
133. How are perceptions affected with Awakening?
134. If you think you're Awake, then "where" are you?
135. "Who" gets Enlightened?
136. What is the nature of consciousness?
137. How does one see the essential nature of things when Awake?
138. How do you define the spiritual process?
139. How is the heart affected in the spriritual process and in Awakening?
140. What is the function of the heart in the spiritual process and in Awakening?
141. Where is the heart and what is its relationship to Consciousness?
142. How does the relationship to phenomena change with Awakening?
143. What bodily changes, if any, occur with Awakening?
144. What is the effect of the feeling of separation with Awakening?
145. How does "feeling" change, if at all, with Awakening?
146. Does the spiritual process end with Awakening?
147. What is the effect on "ego" with Awakening?
148. What is the relationship between ego, mind and personality?
149. What does "egolessness" mean?
150. What do you think keeps Awakening from happening?
151. How has reactivity to events in your life changed, if any, since Awakening?
152. How do you describe "freedom", particularly relative to Awakening?
153. What is constant since your Awakening?
154. What still changes after your Awakening?
155. What is the relationship of consciousness to the body-mind after Awakening?
156. What are the prerequisites within the spiritual process for the event of Awakening?
157. How does the event of a personal "death of self" play into the spiritual process?
158. Can you describe the death of self or "ego death?
159. How does "ego death" change a person's identity? Would the old identity be snuffed out?
160. What's the relation between "radiance" and consciousness?
161. What's the difference, if any, between energy and "radiance"?
162. What is meant by the term "sacred marriage"? Is this relevant in your case?
163. What is the difference between pain and suffering?
164. How does the Awakened condition release one from suffering?
165. What is the difference between a "background" and "foreground" realization?
166. Did anything move forward in your Awakening? If so, what was it?
167. Does consciousness move? Where is it?
168. What is the relationship between consciousness and time and space?
169. Aren't you bored with all these questions by now?
170. Is Awakening an experience? Is the Awakened condition a constant experience?
171. Does Awakening have anything to do with the rising of the kundalini?
172. Are all Awakenings the exact same realization?
173. Is there a difference between "Self-Realization" and "God-Realization"?
174. What is the most senior spiritual circuit in the body?
175. What is the cause of separation?
176. How does Awakening break or obviate the sense of separation?
177. Is separation an assumption, a state, an energetic, psychic or physical lock of some sort?
178. Where is the source of the sense of separation?
179. How do you know that you're Awake in any particular present moment?
180. What is meant by the "witness"?
181. Is "witness consciousness" equivalent to a "background" realization?
182. Where does the "background" in a background realization exist?
183. Is consciousness in a body? Are bodies in consciousness?
184. What is meant by "transcendental"? Is is different than transendance? Is it a place?
185. Where does one arrive at when one is transcending?
186. Does the object, state, feeling, phenomena that you are transcending disappear when you transcend it?
187. How does Awakening transcend subject-object duality?
188. How does Awakening, and even the spiritual process, affect personal karmas?
189. By the way, what is karma?
190. Do karmas exist after Awakening?
191. What is meant by the notion of "transparency"?
192. Are objects real or are they illusory? Or both? Or neither?
193. So, how well have you done so far? Feeling a little bit uncomfortable 'cause you can't answer all the questions?
194. What does the event of "falling into the heart" mean?
195. Are all things merely Consciousness or are all things structurally different but inherently Consciousness?
196. What is essentially the spiritual process of Awakening?
197. In the term "Outshining" as used by Adi Da, what outshines what?
198. How is this different than burning up in "Divine Light"?
199. How do you know that you've realized your most fundamental nature? How do you know it is not a subtle state?
200. What is the Void? Is it different from Consciousness or Being?
201. Which term better describes the transcendental reality - Consciousness, Being, Self, Truth, God? Why?
202. How does the the psychological process of individuation relate, if at all, to the spiritual process?
203. Can a psychologically immature person become Awakened?
204. Can an animal become Awakened? Mu? Can a rock?
205. If you can't answer all of these questions, does that mean that you're confused or unenlightened?