How to practice Atma Vichara (Self-inquiry)

“Atma Vichara” is a Sanskrit term that translates to “Self-Inquiry” in English. It is a profound practice in the spiritual tradition of Sanata Dharma, or Hinduism. 

Atma Vichara involves turning one’s attention inward to investigate and understand the nature of the Self or consciousness. The practice aims to lead individuals to the realization of their true, unchanging essence beyond the ego, mind, and body. The fundamental question in Atma Vichara is often

“Who am I?”

Here is a simplified overview of the process of Atma Vichara:

  1. Self-Questioning: The practitioner begins by asking the question “Who am I?” or “Who hears my thoughts?” or a similar inquiry, directing their attention inward. This question is not meant to be answered intellectually but rather to direct attention to the source of consciousness. Another deep question that can be asked when practicing Self-inquiry is “Who remembers my dreams?” 
  1. Observation and Awareness: The individual then observes thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they arise. Instead of getting entangled in the content of these experiences, the focus is on the awareness that perceives them.
  1. Discrimination between the Real and Unreal: Through self-inquiry, the practitioner seeks to discriminate between the changing aspects of the mind, body, and emotions (considered unreal or impermanent) and the unchanging, witnessing consciousness (considered real or permanent).
  1. Letting Go of Identification: As the inquiry deepens, there is a gradual detachment from identifying with transient thoughts, emotions, and the ego. The aim is to recognize that the True Self is distinct from these changing phenomena.
  1. Realization of the True Self: With consistent practice, the seeker may experience moments of profound realization where they recognize their essential nature as pure consciousness, beyond the limitations of the individual ego.

Atma Vichara is an incredibly contemplative and introspective practice. It is primarily associated with the teachings of Ramana Maharshi, a spiritual avatar and renowned sage who emphasized the direct path of Self-inquiry. As with any spiritual practice, individual experiences with Atma Vichara can vary. Some practitioners may undergo profound shifts in consciousness, while others may find it to be a gradual and ongoing process of Self-discovery. In some instances, it can be helpful to undertake such practices under the guidance of a qualified teacher, especially for those new to these contemplative practices.

Written by: Rana Hallak

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