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Self-Inquiry and Its Practice

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  • Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati
    From the Book: Vedantic Meditation By David Frawley SELF-INQUIRY AND ITS PRACTICE The practice of Self-inquiry, called Atma-vichara in Sanskrit, is the most
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 27 10:59 AM
      From the Book:
      Vedantic Meditation
      By David Frawley


      The practice of Self-inquiry, called Atma-vichara in Sanskrit, is the
      most important meditation practice in the Vedantic tradition. It is
      the main practice of the yoga of knowledge (Jnana Yoga), which itself
      is traditionally regarded as the highest of the yogas because it
      takes us most directly to liberation.

      Self-inquiry is the primary method through which Self-realization--
      the realization of our true nature beyond mind and body--is achieved.
      Self-inquiry is mainly known today through the teachings of Ramana
      Maharshi (1878-1950), who made this approach accessible to the
      general public, offering it to any individual who was capable of
      receiving the teaching. Traditionally, Self-inquiry was reserved
      mainly for monks (Swamis) who had renounced the world. A strong Self-
      inquiry tradition persists in the Swami orders of India today,
      particularly in the south of the country.

      Yet Self-inquiry in some form or another can be helpful to all people
      at all stages of life, as part of everyone's quest for Self-
      realization. We all want to know ourselves and unfold our deeper
      potential in life. This requires understanding ourselves on all
      levels of body, mind and spirit, particularly the deepest level of
      the heart.


      Because the teaching of Self-inquiry is direct and simple, its
      literature is not as extensive as that of other yogic practices. In
      addition, the path of Self-inquiry demands a certain ripeness or
      readiness of mind that may require other practices to develop.

      The process of Self-inquiry is so simple that it can be explained in
      a few words. To practice it you need only trace the root of your
      thoughts back to the I-thought, from which all other thoughts arise.
      This is initiated by the question "Who am I?". By asking, "Who am I?"
      our thought current naturally gets focused on the search for the true
      Self and we forget about all other concerns and worries of the mind.

      All our thoughts are based directly or indirectly on the thought of
      the self. Thoughts such as "Where am I going?" or "What will I do
      tomorrow?" are based directly on the self. Thoughts like "What will
      happen to my family?" or "Who will win the next election?" are based
      indirectly on the thought of the self because they refer ultimately
      to our own concerns.

      Our thoughts consist of two components. The first is a subjective
      factor--I, me or mine. The second is an objective factor--a state,
      condition or object with which the I is involved, particularly the
      activities of our own body and mind. The habit of the mind is to get
      caught in the object portion and never look within to recognize the
      true Self apart from external concerns.

      The result is that the pure I or the I-in-itself is unknown to us.
      What we call ourselves is but a conglomerate of "I am this" or "this
      is mine," in which the subject is confused with an object, quality or
      condition. Self-inquiry consists of discarding the object portion in
      order to discover the pure Subject. This requires withdrawing our
      attention from the objects of sensation, emotion and thought by
      discriminating these from the formless Self or seer that observes

      The truth is that we don't know who we really are. What we call our
      Self is but some thought, emotion or sensation that we are
      temporarily identified with and that is constantly changing. Our
      lives are shrouded in ignorance about our true nature, springing from
      the most basic feelings that we have, especially our bodily identity.
      We are not the body. Rather, the body is a vehicle or vesture in
      which our true Self is obscured. As long as we don't question this
      process of self-identification we must come to sorrow and remain in
      darkness and confusion.

      However, Self-inquiry does not consist of merely repeating the
      question "Who am I?" over and over again in our minds, which is only
      a tiring mental exercise. It means holding to the search for the true
      Self in all that one does. It requires that we have a real and
      fundamental doubt about who we are, through which we can reject all
      outer identifications. It is as if one had amnesia and didn't know
      who one was and had to give full attention to the matter before
      anything else could be done.

      Self-inquiry, moreover, is not merely an intellectual or
      psychological inquiry but an inquiry with one's entire energy and
      attention. It requires a full and one-pointed concentration, not
      interrupted by the intrusion of other thoughts. The thought current
      naturally moves back to the Self to the extent that we do not
      preoccupy our minds with outside stimulation. The problem is that the
      senses present us with so many distractions that it is difficult to
      look within. Self-inquiry means to constantly question and reverse
      this process of extroversion by seeking out the origin of our
      awareness and energy in the heart.

      True Self-inquiry is not just questioning the limitation of our outer
      identity, like our family, political or religious affiliation--
      whether one is a wife, a father, a Christian, a Hindu or an atheist.
      It questions our entire identity as an embodied being. It does not
      stop short with some general identity as a human, cosmic or spiritual
      being but rejects any formation of thought as our true nature. It
      directs us back to the pure "I" that is not identified with any form
      of objectivity, physical or mental.

      The true Self is not only beyond human distinctions, it is beyond all
      divisions of time and space, name and form, birth and death. It is
      beyond all experience because it is the experiencer or observer of
      all. Self-inquiry leads us ultimately to the Absolute in which the
      phenomenal world becomes little more than a mirage of the mind and
      senses. It goes far beyond the discovery of some greater self, or any
      human or creative potential, to what is beyond all limitations. In
      the process we expand our sense of self to include the entire
      universe and all of its multifarious creatures.

      Perhaps the easiest approach to Self-inquiry is what is
      called "discrimination between the seer and the seen." This can be
      outlined in a few easy steps.

      First, one discriminates the seer from the external objects in one's
      environment, which constantly change though the seer remains the
      same. For example, the eye is not blemished by imperfections in the
      objects that it sees.

      Second, one discriminates the seer from the sense organs. There are
      several senses and each varies in acuity, but the seer of the senses
      is constant and not altered by their fluctuations. For example, the
      mind can witness imperfections in the eye, like lack of acuity or
      blurring of vision.

      Third, one discriminates between the seer and mental states. Thoughts
      and feelings continually change but the seer, if we look deeply,
      remains the same. For example, the seer of anger does not cease to be
      when anger itself passes away.

      Fourth, one discriminates between the seer and the ego, between the
      pure-I and the I identified with body, emotion or thought. Then the
      pure Self devoid of external associations can shine forth. For
      example, we can witness our ego states like pride and dejection, just
      as we can observe shifting sensations or emotions.

      Fifth, one abides in the pure Self devoid of objectivity, letting all
      the contents of the mind come and go like waves and bubbles on the

      It is best to do this process by degrees, taking one's time at each
      stage. All is contained in the fifth state of abiding as the seer.
      When we return to the state of the seer, all that we see merges back
      into the light of seeing, revealing its nature as pure consciousness.

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