Self Inquiry - tips

erez's picture

Average: 4.7 (80 votes)

The following contains 4 valuable recommendations to share with those who embark on the remarkable path of Sri Ramana Maharshi's Self Inquiry (also written "Self Enquiry", in Sanskrit: "Atma Vichara"). Those who are not familiar with the Self Inquiry technique can learn about it here.

Do it softly, effortlessly, let the I-thought reveal itself, don't push, no effort, peacefully. Effort happens to only do the opposite: it obscures the "I feeling" from your observation with mental noise.

The "I-thought" is just a name trying to depict this feeling of I that has always accompanied you. It can also be called I-feeling, I-sense. Use whatever label you feel at ease with. It's simply an intimate feeling of I. As you have the mental image representing someone else when you are thinking of him/her, referencing him/her, or being with him/her, you have the same type of mental image within your mind that represents yourself. At the beginning, you might wonder "what the hell do they talk about?" but when you spot it for the first time, and you will, I promise you, wow, you will immediately recognize it as something that has always and constantly been with you intimately in your stream of consciousness, always, hidden there at the bottom of everything. It has presence, it has energy, it has a footmark, it has a "smell", once you spot it consciously, you will find it very easy to track it again, you passed the hard stage of self inquiry.

At some point, when the "I-thought" is clearly perceived as an object apart of you, the one who senses it, ask yourself softly, calmly, silently: who is the "I" who watches this "I-thought" object? Do not try to analyze or rationally answer the question, just follow the pointer in the feeling that is instantly invoked by the question to feel the new "subject", the new "I" who perceives the previous "I" as an object. Do not hurry to make this move, you will feel when it is time to make the shift. Do it with time over and over again but please, do it softly...

Each time you observe an "I thought" you break your identification with this "I", you disconnect from this "I" as being part of you. This is the magic of observing (as you cannot observe yourself - if you observe something then it is not you...). Therefore, doing over and over the process in (3) you peal from yourself, from stage to stage, more "I" shadows, from gross "I"s to more subtle "I"s. At some point, after doing the back shifts to the observing "I" over and over as explained in (3), you will find yourself spontaneously abiding in some tranquil center, a reduced observing subject, a minimized "I" in which you could cease observing and just be, just abide in the subject, in the "I Am", not caring or being annoyed by any mental object including any "I thoughts". As a matter of fact, you will notice at this point that no "I thought", no feeling of "I" as an object is presently sensed. You have reached the point of abiding in the self. Just be there. Do not force it or try to articulate how to make it permanent. Just be there. After some time, the mind will take over again, this is natural, do not be frustrated. Return to the practice of (3) over and over. And again, do it softly with no stress or expectations. With practice, you will find it much easier to abide in this state of "I Am" and for longer periods, sometimes directly without even passing through the back shifts of "I"s as described in (3).

Remember: no effort, no expectations, no hurry...

Tania's picture

excellent recommendations

Thanks for the advices!

Tania | Fri, 08/03/2007 - 22:02
ram gupta's picture


Hi I M Ram From India Nice To See U

Chat Id -

ram gupta | Mon, 06/28/2010 - 14:48
kalgo's picture

Can't find this i-thought

I am trying but I can't find this sense of I. Any suggestions?

kalgo | Sat, 12/29/2007 - 18:43
erez's picture

Search for the one who is trying

Search for the one who is trying

erez | Thu, 01/17/2008 - 09:27
RandomStu's picture


You can try this. Strongly and sincerely ask yourself, "What am I?" Then fearlessly examine whatever appears. Don't be concerned about whether it conforms to what you expect or hope or want it to be. Just perceive whatever arises with a questioning mind.


RandomStu | Sun, 09/13/2009 - 01:58
neo's picture


So many thanks! Couldn't be said better! Great help!

neo | Thu, 03/27/2008 - 01:47
erez's picture

Added a forth tip

To make it complete, I added to the post a 4th tip that connects the self inquiry with the abiding in the self, in the "I Am" which is the ultimate stage of self inquiry.

There are so many pitfalls regrading the relation between the two and so I hope this 4th tip will clear the misconceptions.

erez | Mon, 04/21/2008 - 00:51
santthosh kumaar's picture


hi erez,

It is excellent way you have expressed. But after reaching a level in self -inquiry the present format prescribed in the book becomes inadequate. one cannot expect something to happen on its own without effort.

When one inquires Who am 'I'?
if one becomes aware that I am not the body, the inquiry ends there. There is no question of saying I am not the mind I am not the sense, I am not this 'I' am not that etc. Since without the body the 'I' itself does not exist. Thus there is no 'I' to practice self inquiry.

One cannot call that state as Buddhas emptiness because there is something prevails to say it is emptiness as Goudapada declares.

We all are fortunate that Maharishi Ramana has given key to open the golden gate to open the non dual reality. But still the seekers can reach up to golden gate. But he is unable to open the golden gate.

From there seeker is on his own and he has to do his own home work. You will find many clues in many of the books but one has to do lots of research and home work on it to know what the truth is all about.

I request you to go deeper in research and find the obstacles and fatter, and know why the inquiry is not yielding results even after many years of practice.

It is unfortunate the people with conservative out look will not want to accept for deeper research. But it is for the each seeker to go on his own and reach the core from where the duality erupts.


santthosh kumaar | Fri, 07/04/2008 - 11:57
erez's picture

You are talking about a different self inquiry

The self inquiry referenced in this post is Ramana Maharshi's. From reading your comment, I suspect that you are referring to the Hinduism's self inquiry which is intellectual and deals with negation of what I am not, etc.

David Godman talks about this confusion in his book about Ramana.

You write: "one cannot expect something to happen on its own without effort". An important part of the system is to not expect anything to happen - in general, this is a very powerful spiritual approach on its own. And about effort - at some point effort is only an hindrance. These two, expectation and effort only strengthen the mind and damage the self inquiry practice. When these two are abandoned, which actually means abandoning the desire for control, you find yourself flowing with the stream with trust and your self inquiry becomes more effective.

With love.

erez | Fri, 07/04/2008 - 18:31
Phroggy's picture

Not the body? So what?

The realization that you aere not the body does not end the self inquiry. Are you the thoughts, the feelings, the mind, the thinker of the thoughts, consciousness? All of these (as well as whatever other objects of identity arise) can be answered in the negative, but one must at least think to ask, and be willing to ask. The sense of 'me' is not so easilly dispensed with by noticing you are not your big toe.

Erez has supplied some excellent tips.


Phroggy | Fri, 08/01/2008 - 00:23
sangeeta's picture


Hi Santthosh,

Practice of home work is the only way. All the enlightened sages and Gurus have emphasized on the point that this is a gradual and long process. It is a matter of patience and faith. Experinceing and talking about it, are two different things. When enlightened, all may look simple. As of now its a difficult task to open the golden gate.

sangeeta | Tue, 08/05/2008 - 08:16
sangeeta's picture


Hi Erez,

I totally agree, no effort, no expectations and most importantly no hurry. Also required is to have faith. It gets frustrating many times as time passing by.

sangeeta | Tue, 08/05/2008 - 07:59
coeleste's picture

faith and timepassing

not faith, but knowledge.wisdom tells you: IT´S OK
timepassing.yes it passes.since time is an illusion,don´t come"quicker" then.

coeleste | Fri, 03/13/2009 - 12:01
silencio's picture

Faith is essential

Knowledge is hearsay, it is defendant on some authority, on the inputs from the senses or on logic. So is wisdom. You can not be sure of anything and therefore you need to consciously decide to put your faith on some direction.

silencio | Sat, 05/09/2009 - 11:50
Phroggy's picture


Ultimately, there is a certainty beyond mind's uncertainty. Mostly, it is a realization of what is not so. It requires nothing more than the willingness to see, so it is helpful to cultivate that willingness.

Phroggy | Sat, 05/09/2009 - 20:22
abra's picture

nothing is certain

Exactly the opposite: there is uncertainty about mind's certainty. You can be certain of nothing unless you cheat yourself.

The only way out is not to care about certainty or uncertainty. Just accept this existential situation. Just be, and play with the ideas about reality remembering that they are only ideas and the hell with everything.

abra | Sat, 06/13/2009 - 10:30
Omkaradatta's picture

Nothing is certain...

Yes, that's *certainly* true ;-).

"The certainty of knowing nothing is an impenetrable wall of knowledge" -- Phroggy (via Email)

Omkaradatta | Sat, 06/13/2009 - 21:01
Phroggy's picture


Yes, the certainty beyond mind's uncertainty, to which I referred, is the uncertainty about mind's certainty to which you refer. The mind imagines opposites, but are you certain?

In an attempt to skip over the word soup, mind must doubt, but beyond mind is a clarity. This clarity is about nothing; a clarity about what is not so. What is not so is all that mind holds to be true. The significance of the clarity that nothing is true is that it leaves no anchor for the mind.

You cannot choose to "not care", you can only see that there is nothing to care about.

Phroggy | Sun, 06/14/2009 - 05:58
Maa Lina's picture

Book download

Thank you for this post. For them interested more in self inquiry, there is a book to read and free download from the link below.

Maa Lina | Sun, 01/25/2009 - 09:05
silencio's picture

you have it here

Why go far when you have it under your hands here?

This ebook is available at Ramana Maharshi's guru profile here together with some other good articles: see the attachements at the bottom of

silencio | Sat, 05/09/2009 - 11:47
abra's picture

"I thoughts" and vision

Excellent article and very helpful.

I have noticed that there are certain strong "I thoughts" that are associated with our seeing which is the most dominant of the senses in the case of a human.

Watch your "I though" when you wear sunglasses and then take them off, watch your I thought when you look at a distant object and then switch your sight to a near object.

Anybody else noticed this phenomenon?

abra | Sat, 06/13/2009 - 10:35
suzi's picture

What you see from there is not what you see from here

Just before you start a Self Enquiry session, try to move your center to the Heart (see instructions in 4 errors we tend to commit when we try to move from the mind to the heart by the same author).

As the old proverb says: What you see from there is not what you see from here.

suzi | Wed, 07/01/2009 - 05:52
kalgo's picture

Seeing yourself in others

While doing self inquiry I recently notice my "I feeling"s in objects. I look at a tree and then see an "I Thought" in the tree. It happens with almost any object, especially with ones I'm familiar with, like furniture at home, cloths etc. Each with a different flavor of an "I Thought" on mine. It's hard to explain and very strange. It seems like a spirit of me projected on the object, not just an association or a projection but something very alive. When it happens the perception of the object is very clear and vivid like never before or after and it feels there is some communication.

It does not happen to me with other human beings or at least I'm not capable of being concentrated enough to perceive the sense of "I" when staring at someone.

Has it happened to anyone?

kalgo | Sat, 07/18/2009 - 04:16
Omkaradatta's picture

Reverse it

"Seeing others in oneself" may be a truer seeing. Where else would they be located? One is not in contact with any other... the words are read and interpreted 'here', by the reader, so 'other' is within.

Seeing this clearly, one is never alone; otherwise, "self and other" persists... then one is alone, separate always from the other, which is projected to be 'somewhere out there'.

Nisargadatta: "In your world you are truly alone, enclosed in your ever-changing dream, which you take for life."

Omkaradatta | Sat, 07/18/2009 - 05:18
shira's picture


kalgo, what you have happened to discover is super super important and advanced.

You are witnessing a very fundamental mechanism which is usually not uncovered to the practitioner of self enquiry. You most certainly happen to have some occult abilities that you may have not been aware of (or have you?) that enable this side effect to your practice.

It is very important that you keep on with the practice. Do not impose any theories or reverse anything. Stick to the practice as it is and do not play with it, just continue to be aware to the senses of "I" linked to the objects observed by you. More things to be unfolded very soon.

shira | Sat, 07/18/2009 - 08:58
Omkaradatta's picture

You're talking

You're talking to kalgo about the future. I'm talking about the here and now, as always. We're in two different dimensions -- yours happens to be imaginary.

But that's OK... imagine away. Some prefer to live in a pretend world of the mind, in which "others" apart from them do things in a "time" apart from both of them, to "get somewhere" in a time even further away. Not only this is theory, it's imaginary theory.

Omkaradatta | Sat, 07/18/2009 - 13:37
shira's picture


You are acting in a very irresponsible manner that may cause people severe damage. By your response, it appears that you have no experience with this technique or similar yogic practices and are not familiar with the great dangers they may involve when not done under close guidance and when such particular things that she mentions occur.

I respect the theories about reality I assume you believe in and I share most of them in my own belief but as well as you do not dare to jump off the roof of your house based on these very theories, you should exercise the same caution and even greater one when it is the case of others.

shira | Sat, 07/18/2009 - 14:29
Omkaradatta's picture


> You are acting in a very irresponsible
> manner that may cause people severe damage.

Don't be silly; people are independent, and can decide for themselves what advices to follow, and what not to. Folks are much more intelligent than one thinks. This is another mistaken perspective of "I" -- thinking it's there with the other, to guide and direct them. Even it can't guide itself! It's just a thought arising.

P.S. neither of us mentioned yogic techniques at all in prior messages, and both of us know it. Something else in what was said is bringing up fear (in shira, not in kalgo).

Omkaradatta | Sat, 07/18/2009 - 17:25
Phroggy's picture


Yes, it's all so dramatic and our words to others are so powerful and the mature ones must guide the immature ones with care lest they be harmed. Hehe.

Truth is, everybody is asleep in their own fantasy, whether it's fantasies of 'I thoughts' in trees or fantasies of being able to impact others with our words. People speak and hear only what supports their dellusions of self and distort and reject the rest.

Phroggy | Sat, 07/18/2009 - 17:51
Omkaradatta's picture

In trees?

'I thoughts' in trees? That's a new one ;-). Did the "I" stay up there when monkeys evolved into humans and came down, or sumthin? ;-).

Omkaradatta | Sat, 07/18/2009 - 18:06
Phroggy's picture


Actually, my impression of what that 'I thought' is, is just the attachment to the 'me matrix' being more clearly seen, though i don't know. IOW, there's an 'I thought' associated with everything, but of course it's a mental 'me' rather than a Self recognition.

Phroggy | Sun, 07/19/2009 - 19:27
Omkaradatta's picture

The "I" thought

The "I" thought, like all other thoughts, is arising spontaneously, now, as it happens to. Nobody is in control; nobody decides whether to think of "me" or not. Thoughts just arise out of nowhere.

What is involved is investment in 'me' and 'my issues', investment in the fabricated self-image. When this investment is divested, the 'I' thought naturally ceases to arise so often. One doesn't see clearly that it's just another thought, until it *is* just another thought.

P.S. we can see clearly that thinking about 'you' all the time is just the same as thinking about 'me' all the time... when everything (particularly problems) is related to 'other', the whole world looks like 'other', and we have division, two-ness. The 'you' is simply the other half of 'me'.

Omkaradatta | Mon, 07/20/2009 - 01:15
kalgo's picture


shira - tnx. please see my message in the private messages.

kalgo | Sat, 07/18/2009 - 15:34
angel76's picture


As Ramana noted, for each perceived object an instance of a perceiving "I" (subject) is arising. It is not the same "I" that perceive all the objects and we tend to think.

If someone is very sensitive, like you, he can see the linkage in the time of observation.

This is wonderful, I agree with the suggestions of shira.

angel76 | Sat, 08/08/2009 - 10:37
jewen's picture

thank u.

thank u for your advices.

jewen | Mon, 09/21/2009 - 17:52
salim's picture


I second in retrospective. Helped me a lot in this sacred divine method.

salim | Mon, 09/21/2009 - 21:35
rookie21's picture

Good post.

This is an excellent post, perhaps the best technical description of SE.

My experience is that conciousness/awareness is like a torch that has to focus on something, be it an itching sensation on your leg, a thought or a sound.

Therefore 'awareness of awareness' is not possible as awareness cannot watch itself. If it does, then it is watching something else.

How then is SE to be practiced? From the Maharishi's talks, it is clear that He talks of a subjective feeling of 'I' that arises, which He calls the 'I' thought, which is illusory.

The I feeling/thought actually arises and subsides. So then who is the watcher of this? Pure Consciousness/Brahman/God.

Abide as That. Keep getting back to That. Perhaps thats what Nisargadatta Maharaj meant when he said 'I am'.

rookie21 | Sat, 11/07/2009 - 16:23
dora's picture

I agree.

I agree.

dora | Tue, 07/06/2010 - 10:54
carolineb43's picture

adyashanti on self inquiry

Hello all,
i find Adyashanty's teachings on self inquiry and non duaity really clear, simple and practical.I think he is a wonderful teacher.Here you will 2 video of his basic teachings, hope it is helpful for you!!!thank you Caroline

carolineb43 | Fri, 12/10/2010 - 20:45
nalabonga's picture

I saw these videos. I find

I saw these videos. I find them somehow not completely adequate in terms of the specifics of the self enquiry system. it is a very simple method and yet very prone to misinterpretations.

The best and to the point explanation about self enquiry i encountered till now is this post and also the explanations of Cesar, the enlightened teacher that gives satsangs in tiruvannamalai.

nalabonga | Sun, 03/06/2011 - 14:02
mih999's picture

How to do?

I ask myself Who am I? I then feel a sensation in the centre of the chest. I remain aware of this sensation. Is this correct self enquiry?

mih999 | Tue, 03/15/2011 - 07:42
johnd's picture

Observe this sensation in

Observe this sensation in the center of the chest until it disappears (clearly you are not a sensation :-) or/and at some point ask gently "Who is it that watches this sensation?"

The correctness of the Self Enquiry is to be diligent and always when there is an object (a sensation, a feeling of "I" etc.) that comes as "me" as a result of asking the question, to remember that you, the subject, the center, clearly cannot be a perceived object (but of course, that which perceives that object).

And also it is important to remember that the question is not supposed to be answered with words. The question is only a pointer... A pointer to go in in chase of the perceiving subject, instead of the usual chase after the perceived objects...

johnd | Tue, 03/15/2011 - 08:04
Shantideva's picture

Even more direct method

These directions most certainly point to where we need to look but there is an even simpler, more direct and more accessible way.

The English philosopher-sage Douglas Harding devoted his adult life to showing people how we can see directly into our own nothingness. For him, as for many, vision was the predominant sensory pathway to realization.

Anyone interested should visit the website and enjoy the "experiments" offered by Douglas and others.

Once you "get it" you realize that you are no mere mortal but rather Capacity for everything and everyone. This is none other than the Atman-Brahman or, to Buddhists, the living Void.

Shantideva | Tue, 05/31/2011 - 22:39
santana's picture


I don't think Douglas's method is more direct at all. It's nice but nothing beyond. It lacks the simplicity of self enquiry and above all, it involves an analytic process (which is a capacity of the... mind) and as such is limited in its ability to transform.

Based on extensive experience, I suggest everyone to stick to self enquiry, to have the patience, to understand that the same way the mind has developed for years, the un-minding cannot be instant. Just be dedicated and follow self enquiry - it does wonders.

santana | Wed, 08/10/2011 - 06:33
Shantideva's picture

No problem

With all due respect, you didn't get it. Not everyone does.

What benefits has your extensive experience of self enquiry brought you?

Shantideva | Wed, 08/10/2011 - 17:27
santana's picture

Trying to go beyond mind without strengthening the mind

I think I got it very well, I was into it for quite a long time a few years ago. This is not only my conclusion but of many I met on the path since but if it serves you than it is great by all means.

Self Enquiry (The Ramana's self enquiry) brought me (and friends) to a stage to which no other method (including Vipassana, many meditation techniques and others) did - it is very hard to describe that in words, one has to do it to really realize it but I will try to summarize it in saying that the closest description is that it brought me to a "me" which is a dimensionless point nowhere, to complete dis-identification with the body and later the mind, a magnificent state I never really dreamt of being in, a reduced center and first time beyond the mind, a sense of being. Only in retrospective I realized how genius was Ramana Maharshi in devising such a well-crafted yet simple technique that is capable of using zero mental and intellectual resources and thus not strengthening the mind while trying to go beyond it.

santana | Wed, 08/10/2011 - 21:52
Shantideva's picture

Transcending the Mind

That is good, Santana! Unstructured self-enquiry works for you. The place you speak of is our true Home.

In the language of Zen Buddhism the path taught by the incomparable Ramana Maharshi is called Shikan Taza - "Just Sitting." It is, just as you say, a way of directing attention without effort to the "I-thought" so as to transcend the mind.

Douglas Harding's Headless Way resembles a slightly different Zen practice, Koan Zazen, which crowds the mind into a corner, so to speak, from which it can only escape by giving up and jumping out the window.

Clearly this way doesn't work for everyone. I got it quickly, possibly because it was Douglas himself who showed it to me, and perhaps because I had practiced Koan Zazen for a considerable time.

Shantideva | Thu, 08/11/2011 - 06:23
alon's picture

Shikantaza and so

Hey Shantideva - isn't shikantaza is being a subject without objects, a practice in which the meditator is just is without attention/focus/observing objects (both inner and outer)? I remember that Aziz used to put emphasis on that.

You gave me the drive to look into this Douglass's technique, is there somewhere on the net a good text about this technique that you can recommend?

alon | Fri, 08/12/2011 - 05:49
nishad's picture


the picture given above as itself is a great really works if you try to observe yourself from behind your head like given in the picture...

nishad | Fri, 03/02/2012 - 11:56
erez's picture

Indeed, it may have a

Indeed, it may have a similar effect to the one described in but it has nothing to do with Ramana's Self Inquiry and actually if intermixed with Self Enquir, it may spoil the effect of Self Enquiry which necessitates full concentration on the I Thought.

The locations of the eyes in the above diagram were not meant to depict the physical locations of the many "I"s and the one outside the head was just to convey the message of an ultimate observer that is not identified with the body or any part of it. The original purpose of the above diagram was just to illustrate the mechanics of the Self Enquiry technique.

erez | Fri, 03/02/2012 - 12:28
nishad's picture


you are doesn't have anything to do with the self enquiry. But looking like in the picture gives you instant tranquil and also gives the overall picture ,like sakshi(in sanskrit)
Ultimately all roads lead to the same place..

nishad | Fri, 03/02/2012 - 14:48
erez's picture

With that I totally agree!

With that I totally agree! :-)

erez | Fri, 03/02/2012 - 16:09