Many spiritual teachings tell us to look within. This is an antidote-type teaching, meaning it is there to correct a wrong view. If you are looking outwardly for lasting fulfilment in worldly or material things (objects outside of oneself), a teaching that says ‘look within’ can counteract the outgoing tendency.
So briefly, why does looking outwardly for lasting fulfilment not work? Because the world will never give rise to lasting satisfaction as everything is the world is changing. Whatever you can gain or obtain can also be taken away from you or lost. Even while you have it you may be anxious about losing it, such is the nature of the world and the objects that seemingly lie within it. Hence the instruction to look within for the deepest treasure:
“Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” Luke 17:21, King James version (italics added by me)
The verse from the so-called Gospel of Luke tells us the kingdom of heaven is within us (so-called as the original gospels were not named – the names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John came much later). Or does it?
“nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Luke, 17:21, English Standard Version (italics added by me)
Most newer translations use the phrase ‘in your midst’ or something similar rather than ‘within you’. You see, the teaching ‘look within’ really just means ‘don’t look outside of yourself’. In truth, reality is not to be found either inside or outside. It is everywhere always. I like how it is said in the (non-canonical) Gospel of St Thomas:
“Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you.” Gospel of St Thomas, saying 3
So by all means look within. Like the world outside, the world within it also never satisfies. The world within is just as vast and changeable as the world outside. In fact in many ways it is even more fleeting.
So by all means look within, look deeply: you will see that there’s nothing of any substance within. By this I mean that there is nothing that can be held or grasped, nothing that is constant, and more specifically there is no centre or ego or decision maker. Decisions occur but the decision-maker, the entity that we take ourselves to be, is imagined or superimposed. This is the central teaching. See that the imagined entity that we take ourselves to be, the invisible puppeteer inside the head, does not exist and never has existed.
It is not that you have to get rid of the ego – no, it is just seeing that there never was an ego. All there ever was was the illusion of an ego. Just like with the illusion of a snake in the rope, you do not have to magically change the snake into a rope. Instead you just have to see things for what they are: there is no snake, there never was a snake. There is no person, no doer, no decision-maker.
It is not that you have to get rid of the ego – no, it is just seeing that there never was an ego.
Another illustration is 10 birds in the sky in a circular configuration. In reality there is no circle there, only 10 birds, but due to their configuration, which is time-limited, we connect the dots (birds) and imagine a circle to be there.
With the realisation of no-self, it is also seen that there is no ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ at all. This duality is seen through. Only a series of happenings remains, one unitary movement as it were. What was called ‘inside’ still occurs, as does what was called ‘outside’, but the dividing line is seen to be artificial and arbitrary. But it is all just what is happening. Happening without doing. This happening cannot (and need not) be named.
With the realisation of no-self, it is also seen that there is no ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ at all. This duality is seen through.
So by all means look within, but know that this practice itself is within the world of illusion. Only the imagined ego can look within.
When it is seen there is no ego, then attention is seen to shift around by itself, sometimes expanding, sometimes contracting, sometimes focused inwards, sometime focused outwards; but none of it is being controlled by ‘you’. It is all happening spontaneously to no-one.