Inquiry Comes First

For the past fifteen years or so, I have been teaching almost exclusively TSK, along with a few of Rinpoche’s more recent books, especially Dimensions of Mind. In the past six years or so, this has included working with the approach I have developed called Full Presence Mindfulness.

The main teaching (and practice) that I have learned to cultivate and share with students is the importance of inquiry at the deepest level. When we fail to question the basic framework within which we are operating—when we do not even recognize that we could call it into question—we cut off our ability to appreciate, enjoy, understand, and accept. We are held hostage by the feelings we are feeling, the thoughts we are having, and the view of reality we have put in place and enact. That is the point I try to communicate to students, no matter what the content.

There are many kinds of inquiry. The inquiry that Rinpoche urges us to activate does not depend on the self as the one who conducts the inquiry, because the whole structure of ‘the self as the one who’ is part of what is open for inquiry. A passage in Love of Knowledge (306) puts it this way:

“Inquiry can . . . proceed from an intention that has nothing to do with the ‘needs’ and ‘concerns’ of ‘the one who questions’. The questions ‘we’ ask can arise out of wonder and the love of knowledge. When this is so, inquiry engages not only our needs and concerns, but the whole of our being. We relate to what is being questioned in a way that allows a ‘knowledge between’ to arise. Questions become inspiring, evoking a subtle and refined intelligence that unfolds, deepens, and expands through a momentum all its own.”

This kind of questioning requires a kind of steady vigilance, but it is also inherently enjoyable. As we question, we become deeply interested in our experience, and we find that we engage our experience without judgment, but full of curiosity. What matters is the questioning—the answers, if the come, arise on their own. I think here of what Rainer Maria Rilke wrote to an aspiring poet:

“I wish to ask of you, as best I can: be patient with all that remains unresolved in your heart. Do your best to love the questions themselves—closed off rooms or a new book written in a foreign language. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given to you, since you cannot live them. And that is the point: to live everything. For now, live the questions. Perhaps, without noticing, you will one distant day live your way into the answer.”