In my last post in the Practice Profiles series, I gave an brief overview of self-enquiry. Self-enquiry, in my view, is one of the most effective technologies of awakening available. Why is self-enquiry so effective? As Ramana Maharshi states, “By repeatedly practicing thus, the power of the mind to abide in its source increases.”

Now, if increasing the power of the mind to abide in its source is your aim, self-enquiry is not your only option. There is another practice that I find to be nearly, if not equally as effective as self-enquiry, and that is tracing back the radiance.

The phrase tracing back the radiance was used by the Korean Zen master, Chinul. In this practice, one learns to clarify the natural radiant quality of their awareness in the present moment, and than traces that radiance back to its source. This kind of practice is done especially well when this radiance is pointed out by a skilled teacher, in which the practice is referred to as being given pointing-out instructions. But it can be done on one’s own as well, so long as they know what to do.

In the quoted section below, from Tracing Back the Radiance, Chinul gives pointing-out instructions to a student:

Chinul: There are many points at which to enter the noumenon. I will indicate one approach which will allow you to return to the source.

Do you hear the sound of that crow cawing and that magpie calling?

Student: Yes.

Chinul: Trace them back and listen to your hearing-nature. Do you hear any sounds?

Student: At that place, sound and discrimination do not obtain.

Chinul: Marvelous! Marvelous! This is Avalokitesvara’s method for entering the noumenon. Let me ask you again. You said that sounds and discrimination do not obtain at that place. But since they do not obtain, isn’t the hearing-nature just empty space at such a time?

Student: Originally it is not empty. It is always bright and never obscured.

Chinul: What is this essence which is not empty?

Student: Words cannot describe it.

The use of sound to clarify the radiant nature of experience is one of the most effective, and it’s really quite simple. Sit quietly, preferably outdoors. Don’t make any special effort to listen to whatever sounds arise. Just sit there. Sounds will come. When they do, notice how hearing is effortless. You don’t have to try to hear. Even if you try not to hear, hearing occurs. Recognize that radiant knowing nature present in hearing and not-hearing. Stay with it when the sound vanishes. Recognize it, relax into it, and follow it home.

To re-cap… when practicing self-enquiry, one clarifies the sense of “I am” until it collapses into the source. When tracing back the radiance, one clarifies not the sense of “I am”, but rather the natural radiant quality – or intrinsic luminosity – of awareness, and traces it back to the source. In both cases, the separate-self sense may collapse. But since this site advocates freestyle awakening, which ever practice works better for you is the one you should do.