Ava: If I don’t know the self, how can I become established in its point of view?
Vishnu: By being taught scripture. It tells you about the nature of self (which is just your true nature), it tells you the self’s ‘point of view’ (which is really just your true point of view) and then shows you how to think from that point of view until you directly realize that it’s already your own point of view (and always has been).
The scripture tells you that you, the self, are the limitless, non-dual, ever-present, eternal, unchanging ‘witness’ of everything. You lack nothing and aren’t affected by anything. In other words, you are completely okay at all times and in all circumstances.
Taking into account what the scripture says about your true nature, examine your fears and desires. If you lacking nothing, are your unnecessary desires warranted? If you are unchanging is there any reason to hang on to unreasonable fears? This is one way to take the ‘point of view’ of the self.
Another way is to remember the scripture’s assertion that you are the unchanging, ever-present reality in which all objects appear, objects being any aspect of external experience (people, places, things) or internal experience (thoughts, emotions, memories). Since you are that in which the objects appear, like a movie screen in which images appear, you cannot be the objects that appear in you, the same way that a movie screen is never the images projected onto it.
Since you are unchanging, you cannot be an ever-changing object. Since you are ever-present, you cannot be a transient object. Applying this logic to your everyday experience on a moment-to-moment basis is another way of taking the ‘point of view’ of the self. It is called the discrimination (viveka) between the self (atma) and the ‘not-self’ (anatma), or atma anatma viveka. It is continuously distinguishing oneself—unchanging ‘witnessing’ consciousness—from objects.
Ava: How can I be in the self when I’m surrounded by friends, family, work etc. and not just when I’m by myself?
Vishnu: It just takes practice. It’s like learning to ride a bike. First you have to have a strong desire. Otherwise you won’t have the will to get back on the bike when you fall off. Then you simply get on the bike, fall off, get back on and fall off again and again until you develop the ability remain perfectly balanced and ride. After a while, it becomes so second nature to ride the bike that it doesn’t require as much effort. You may even be able to take your hands off of the handlebars!
With Vedanta, you also need a strong desire, specifically the unyielding desire (mumukshutva) for liberation (moksha). Without this, it’s difficult to muster up the effort required to bring the mind back to the point of view of the self when it gets distracted. You simply have to try, get distracted, try and get distracted again and again until the mind remains firmly established in the point of view of the self.
Although thinking from this point of view starts to become second nature, unlike the bike example, don’t be tempted to take your hands off the handlebars of inquiry, so to speak. Self-ignorance is persistent and tricky so if you stop paying attention to it before it’s fully rooted out, it will come right back.
Finally, looking at your initial question from the point of view of the self, ask yourself this: If I am already the self, how you can I ever not be in the self?
Ava: This isn’t coming naturally for me. It takes effort and concentration which hard to do when I’m busy non-stop and don’t have time to reflect on it.
V: Again, it takes no effort to be in the self because you are the self. It is the most natural thing there is. The hard part is to see that this is true. When it’s not clear that you already are the self, a lot of effort is required to conduct dedicated self-inquiry, and no, this does not come naturally. It just takes hard work, plain and simple.
Still, it helps to take an objective look at your life and find out if there are people or activities that are needlessly taking up your time (and thus distracting you from inquiry). You might be surprised. Keep only what is essential, get rid of the rest. Whatever is essential, do with a positive attitude. And do it for it’s own sake, not getting overly concerned with the result.
Ava: Can people really get self-knowledge when they don’t have a peaceful environment to do self-inquiry?
V: Absolutely, assuming you are properly qualified—meaning mentally prepared—because self-inquiry is meant to go on at all times and in all situations. It is equally important in times of quiet contemplation as it is in times of stress. In the scriptures there are many examples of enlightened people who had families and busy lives.
So, in no uncertain terms, let me repeat that moksha is possible for any qualified person irrespective of their life circumstances.
And not to put too fine a point on it, saying “I’m too busy for self-inquiry” only means, “I’m not serious about self-inquiry.” Why? Because people always make time for what is most important to them.