What is inquiry, really? This is a good question. And like most really good questions, it is very basic. Authentic inquiry is allowing yourself to care, to take on the weightless burden of caring. Everyone knows what it’s like to inquire out of intellectual interest—asking for the sake of asking or because you think you should. This is not caring. When you care about something, it gets inside of you. It gets inside the shell that keeps you from being affected or bothered, the shell that keeps anything really new from happening.
So in the beginning, to deeply inquire about anything, you have to care about it. You have to care enough to allow it to get inside that shell. What do you really care about? What pulls you into here and now, this minute? What is the most important thing to you? For real inquiry, it is important to be asking about something you sincerely care about. The question needs to be personal, not about a spiritual teaching or something that’s outside of your experience. It needs to be something that’s coming from the inside.
When you care, you care from the inside. Many people impose ideas from the outside upon themselves, but this isn’t inquiry. When you really care, you enter a love affair with what you care about. Sometimes it draws you into bliss, sometimes into confusion. You don’t know what to do. You don’t know where you are going. You feel a bit out of control. You’re letting this caring get under your skin. To find out that you care like this is the most important thing; otherwise you can spend your whole life caring about what someone else says you should care about.
Like many people, you may be afraid to find out how much you care because that caring could just steal you away. What is the one thing that will matter the most at the end of your life? Without it, you would say: “That’s what it was all about and I missed it.” If you had the best job, lots of money, the perfect lover, or whatever your ideal is, and suddenly your life was over, what would still be left undone? That’s what it’s all about.
When you find that kind of caring, inquiry has some power behind it. You also find your own inner integrity. You find something inside that’s stable. There’s a place inside you that is willing to be a little crazy—crazy enough to take inquiry seriously and hold nothing sacred. Holding nothing sacred means that nothing is assumed to be true and all of your assumptions are fair game. The more spiritual they are, the more they are fair game. Ultimately it is your most sacred and unquestioned assumptions about yourself, others, and life that are most important to question.
Many people find their spirituality taking them outward. They think they are going inward because they have heard the spiritual teaching, “Inquire and look within.” Meanwhile, they are out in the stars somewhere looking for someone else’s experience, looking for the right experience, or looking for the experience they believe they are supposed to have. This is spirituality going entirely in the wrong direction. Inquiry is a means of taking you back to yourself, back to your experience.
When inquiry is authentic, it brings you into the experience of here and now, bringing you to the full depth of it, pulling you into it. The question pulls you back into the mystery of your experience. “What am I?” takes you right back into the mystery. If your mind is honest, it knows it doesn’t have the answer. You ask, “What am I?” and instantly, there is silence. Your mind doesn’t know. And when it doesn’t know, there is an experience right here, right now, that is alive. You bump into nothingness inside—that no-thing, that absolute nothingness which your mind can’t know.
The answer does not come in the form of a description or phrase; it is a direct experience. And this experience, your livingness, always transcends any words or intellectual answer. In fact, the truth of your being is eternally transcending itself. As soon as it projects itself out as something, even as a profound insight, it has already transcended it. So eventually the inquiry wears itself out. You wear yourself out. You wear your ego self out. You wear your spiritual self out. You wear it all out. You’ve inquired yourself out of this whole thing, and you’re disappearing faster than you can put yourself together.
As Nisargadatta Maharaj said so brilliantly and beautifully, “The ultimate understanding is that there is no ultimate understanding.” When it’s in the head, it’s an impressive piece of understanding; when it’s in the heart, as the Buddha said, it’s extinguished. You find a living experience of being, empty of content, empty of you. This is where spiritual awakening begins. This is the living answer of authentic inquiry.