Atma Vichara - Instructions for the practice of Self-enquiry 

All one needs to know, to begin, practice and end, is contained below.

A South Indian Sage advised, "Pursue the enquiry “Who am I?” relentlessly! Seek out the root of your personality! Find out wherefrom the I-thought arises! Turn the mind within. With practice, the current of thoughts will slow down and an unerring intuition will be felt. Yield to that intuition, let your thinking stop, and it will pull you to the goal.

Vichara is often confused with meditation. Meditation however requires subject and object whereas vichara eliminates the obsession with object completely.

Ramana Maharshi said, "Dhyana [meditation] is concentration on an object. It fulfils the purpose of keeping away diverse thoughts and fixing the mind on a single thought, which must also disappear before Realisation. But Realisation is nothing new to be acquired. It is already there, but obstructed by a screen of thoughts. All our attempts are directed for lifting this screen and then Realisation is revealed.

If a true seeker is advised to meditate, many may go away satisfied with the advice. But someone among them may turn round and ask, “Who am I to meditate on an object?” Such a one must be told to find the Self. That is the finality. That is Vichara." (Talk 390)

"Do not spread out the mind inquiring, 'Who may you be?' and 'Who is he?' Turn it inward questing, steadily, keenly, 'Who am I?'" (from Ramana Mandiram, Sri Ramanasramam, Tiruvannamalai - for ordering details and information on other publications see the official website)

atma-vichara (self inquiry) should not be considered as a mere yogic exercise to be done at certain times of the day and then forgotten until the next session, although that is certainly a valid way of introducing the mind to enquiry [but don't get lost in the introduction - how long does it take to shake hands?] Nor is vichara a hobby, it is a way of life. The vichara method focusses on the meditator (the thinker) from the very outset. It is radical.

When, through Self Enquiry, brought about by intense practice, thoughts subside, there stands revealed an unbroken, eternal awareness, 'I'-'I'. It is not a watched awareness. Who is the subject that can claim such dualistic nonsense! The snake in the rope will never see the rope. 'I'-'I' is both herald and death knoll.

"In the course of tracing ourselves back to our source, when all thoughts have vanished, there arises a throb from the Hridaya on the right, manifesting as 'Aham' 'Aham' 'I'-'I'. This is the sign that Pure Consciousness is beginning to reveal itself. But that is not the end in itself. Watch wherefrom this sphurana (throbbing) arises and wait attentively and continually for the revelation of the Self. Then comes the awareness, oneness of existence." (from a reply, approved by Bhagavan, which was sent to an English devotee; recorded in 'Moments Remembered' by V. Ganesan)

"Thoughts must cease and reason disappear for 'I'-'I' to rise up and be felt. Feeling is the prime factor and not reason." (Talk: 24)

"That which is does not even say 'I am'. For, does any doubt rise that 'I am not'. " (from Talk: 197)


When other thoughts arise, one should not pursue them, but should inquire: ‘To whom do they arise?’ It does not matter how many thoughts arise. As each thought arises, one should inquire with diligence, “To whom has this thought arisen?”. The answer that would emerge would be “To me”. Thereupon if one inquires “Who am I?”, the mind will go back to its source; and the thought that arose will become quiescent. With repeated practice in this manner, the mind will develop the skill to stay in its source. (from "Who am I?" - available as a PDF download at the link given above)

Maharshi makes it very clear that there is no advanced method only maturation of the vichara. Vichara is the direct method."There is nothing more to be known than what you find in books. No secret technique. It is all an open secret, in this system." (Day by Day, 8-10-46)