'Freedays' are the 'gather our thoughts' days; Q&As; a general review of the week so far…
It has again been fourteen days. How has your questioning exercise been going? Weeded out all the 'duplicates'? Have you found it interesting to externalise the questions/doubts which have been triggered with the exercise? It is a bit like the floodgate analogy for many people. We can think we have but one question… then…
Others will find even this very private exercise a challenge. There can be a reluctance based on a number of things, but mostly, when dealing with a study of something which might be very foreign (in every sense of the meaning) it can simply be fear of feeling 'dumb'. Remember, there is no such thing as 'dumb' in spiritual terms. There is only ignorance and that is not a negative thing if you have decided to sit and listen/read to rid yourself of that avidya. If you have not yet undertaken this exercise, start now. It is actually a very affirmative tool.
When acharya-ji, Swami Advayananda, felt that far too few of 15th batch were asking any questions, never mind pertinent ones, he pointed out the following;
There are people who ask questions and there are people who don't. Majority fall into latter category.
Of the people who ask questions, they are asking in one of two ways;
- Because they genuinely do not understand, and/or are eager to clarify a point, in which case the question will usually be short and relate directly to subject, demonstrating presence of mind and keen attention; or -
- Because they want to demonstrate their existing knowledge. This too can take two forms
- To curry favour with the guru they are simply rephrasing what has already been said, wishing to appear that they have thought it through…
- To give their pre-existing and fixed view and, to do so, couch the question more like a counter-argument and usually at some length. These are the questioners who are into intellectual one-up-man-ship.
Of the people who don't ask questions there are also sub-categories;
- Those who have knowledge, who have the capability to comprehend, but lack the self-esteem to put forward their doubts and questions. They may be so bound up in their anxiety/fear that they actually block themselves from formulating arguments and will require repetition of concepts to ensure they are fully grasped
- Those who don't have knowledge or lack the ability to comprehend during the class; this can be from fear or total lack of presence, but it is one which stops the student from focusing and thus all salient info is missed or misconstrued. Their mind is not available
- Those who have The Knowledge and for whom all the learning is familiar and affirmative. They genuinely have no doubts, no fears; they are fully attentive in class/whilst reading and the concepts are grasped at 'first contact'.
The latter is quite a rare animal.
Having thus goaded the group, it was pointed out that questions were not to be asked in class. Unlike the Western system of hands up and 'please sir! Please miss!', in gurukula, it is listen attentively - shravanam - then return to your room and go over the teaching again with deep thought, noting all the queries at back of the notebook. Give thought to the questions based on the existing understanding then sleep on it. If the question remained unresolved from one's own mananam (contemplation), then it was written down on a separate page and handed to acharya-ji at end of next session. He would either call us to rooms, or return the page with the response. Invariably in under ten words!
his comprehension of our condition. There is nothing which has not been asked before… but it may not have been asked by you, or responded to in a way which may satisfy.
Getting back to the immediate exercise… read through all your questions again. This time, a certain amount of assessment is to be done in terms of what and how the questions are formed. Start with the pared down lists, then move to the page with the 'weeds'… quite often, in the duplicates we can see how our voice grows more adamant, more needy, more sceptical and so on. We repeat questions because we are not getting the answer we want to hear as opposed to the answers we need to hear.
This is your first clue as to how a proper question must be formulated. If one is asking questions to affirm one's existing position or to bolster self-esteem, it is a poorly formed question and there will only ever be more questions arising, with no resolution.
Spend the next fortnight comparing questions. See where the 'weeds' fit into your questioning pattern. Whether you have one category or several categories (eg; family, work, finance, saadhana….), now group together all related questions - the 'power' ones plus the 'weeds' - and see whether there is one clear question which would get to the kernel of what is really being asked. Again, spend no more than 15 minutes per day on this. Do not over-think it. Write the newly formed, compact questions on a fresh page, in categories if you wish… but on this round what you may discover is a contraction of those. As you build objectivity and clarity of your own questions, the themes will narrow down again.
Please enjoy this exercise. Have fun with it - serious fun, but fun nonetheless.