Was mantra meditation the real self-remembering that Gurdjieff had discovered in secret schools? There is strong evidence that it was not. Unlike mantra meditation, the method of self-remembering that is described below, atma vichara or self-abidence, is very simple, completely effortless and can become continuous throughout all activities.
After Dr Roles had been taught a method of mantra meditation by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, he wrote in a paper entitled The Misunderstanding about Self-remembering: “I recognised the exact method of which Mr O. had given me the echo!”. So why was he so convinced that this was the real self-remembering? A clue appears later in that paper when he describes how, through this method, he was able to reach a state of pure consciousness, ‘Real I’, also known as ‘consciousness without objects’ or in Sanskrit, nirvikalpa samadhi. He goes on to postulate that if one could stay rooted in that pure consciousness or ‘Real I’, and from there, look out at the external world, then this would be self-remembering. But there was no further explanation of this in later papers.
But in fact there is a simpler method than this; one that appears to have far greater similarities with Ouspensky’s description of self-remembering than does mantra meditation. It was being taught by two sages in India, Ramana Maharshi and Atmananda Krishnamenon in the years preceding and immediately following Ouspensky’s death. But it appears that neither Ouspensky nor Dr Roles had come across these teachers or their method. Ramana Maharshi was well-known in the West through several prominent Western devotees, including Paul Brunton and Robert Adams. Atmananda Krishnamenon was much less well-known, although Joseph Campbell, the renowned mythologist and commentator on comparative religion, met him on a tour of India, and gave a detailed description of this meeting. However, neither Ramana Maharshi nor Atmananda Krishnamenon visited London where Ouspensky and Dr Roles had focused their search.
The method that these two sages taught is known as atma vichara. This is usually translated as self-enquiry, and indeed it starts with an enquiry into the essential nature of ourself. But its deeper meaning is self-abidence. It dates back to ancient times, and was previously taught only at a later stage in a progressive path to self-realisation after the aspirant had undertaken many years of practices to purify the body and mind. It was Ramana Maharshi and Atmananda Krishnamenon who recognised that this purification stage is not an essential prerequisite for the practice of atma vichara. Instead, they led their students to the reality of their true nature, the real self, by the quickest route possible for each individual. Atmananda Krishnamenon called this approach ‘the Direct Path‘.
In Ouspensky’s System, self-remembering is seen as a higher state of consciousness, a state of mind beyond the waking state. However, through self-enquiry, we come to see that what we truly are is not a state of mind, but the constant element of all experience, in other words that which knows all experience. Self-remembering is simply the recognition of this. It becomes apparent that there are no ‘higher states of consciousness’; consciousness, our real self, is unchanging, undivided, eternal and unbounded. Rupert Spira, a former student of Dr Roles, and now a leading exponent and teacher of the Direct Path, describes self-remembering like this:
The Russian philosopher P. D. Ouspensky referred to the apparent process through which awareness recognises its own eternal, infinite nature as ‘self-remembering’, by which he meant not the memory of something in the past that was once known and has since been forgotten, but rather the recognition or knowing again of something that is present and familiar, but seemingly overlooked or forgotten due to the clamour of experience.
Meditation is, as such, the remembering of our self: the pristine, luminous, inherently peaceful and unconditionally fulfilled experience of being aware that we always and already are, which runs ever-present throughout all experience, seemingly but never really obscured by thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions.
Ouspensky took a similar view. He said: “To remember oneself means the same thing as to be aware of oneself — ‘I am’.”
This video from Rupert Spira describes the method of self-remembering, and how to practise it: What is Meant by ‘Self Remembering’?