What is Self Inquiry?

erez's picture

Average: 4.5 (13 votes)

Recently, quite a lot of people who read my blog post Self Inquiry - tips and were not familiar with Ramana Maharshi's Self Inquiry (also written "Self Enquiry", in Sanskrit: "Atma Vichara") got curious and asked me to explain what it is and how to do it.

Well, I think the best way to describe this wonderful technique is to quote from the book "Living By the Words of Bhagavan" written by the great Advaita writer David Godman. I haven't encountered yet a better and simple depiction of the technique:

It was Sri Ramana's basic thesis that the individual self is nothing more than a thought or an idea. He said that this thought, which he called 'I'-thought, originates from a place called the Heart-centre, which he located on the right side of the chest in the human body. From there the 'I'-thought rises up to the brain and identifies itself with the body: 'I am this body.' It then creates the illusion that there is a mind or an individual self which inhabits the body and which controls all its thoughts and actions. The 'I'-thought accomplishes this by identifying itself with all the thoughts and perceptions that go on in the body. For example, 'I' (that is the 'I'-thought) am doing this, 'I' am thinking this, 'I' am feeling happy, etc. Thus, the idea that one is an individual person is generated and sustained by the 'I'-thought and by its habit of constantly attaching itself to all the thoughts that arise.

Sri Ramana maintained that one could reverse this process by depriving the 'I'-thought of all the thoughts and perceptions that it normally identifies with. Sri Ramana taught that this 'I'-thought is actually an unreal entity, and that it only appears to exist when it identifies itself with other thoughts. He said that if one can break the connection between the 'I'-thought and the thoughts it identifies with, then the 'I'-thought itself will subside and finally disappear. Sri Ramana suggested that this could be done by holding onto the 'I'-thought, that is, the inner feeling of 'I' or 'I am' and excluding all other thoughts. As an aid to keeping one's attention on this inner feeling of 'I', he recommended that one should constantly question oneself 'Who am I?' or 'Where does this "I" come from?' He said that if one can keep one's attention on this inner feeling of 'I', and if one can exclude all other thoughts, then the 'I'-thought will start to subside into the Heart-centre.

This, according to Sri Ramana, is as much as the devotee can do by himself. When the devotee has freed his mind of all thoughts except the 'I'-thought, the power of the Self pulls the 'I'-thought back into the Heart-centre and eventually destroys it so completely that it never rises again. This is the moment of Self-realization. When this happens, the mind and the indvidual self (both of which Sri Ramama equated with the 'I'-thought) are destroyed forever. Only the Atman or the Self then remains.

-- "Living By the Words of Bhagavan" by David Godman

Now, after understanding what Self Inquiry and I-thought are, you can start practicing this simple yet powerful technique and read Self Inquiry - tips that discusses tips and common pitfalls concerned with the practice.

slenten's picture

Wonderful! Thank you!

The sensitivity required to activate the heart center and find the sweet, true self is hard won and easily lost. It is very fragile and often trammeled by the energy of the I. Too often, emotional states cloud it and the mind refuses its sublime light. Truly, we are lost when not in harmony with its lovely song.

slenten | Thu, 10/02/2008 - 07:41
archana.anchal's picture

Its been really great to

Its been really great to receive the beautiful insight...
Best Regards

archana.anchal | Fri, 03/13/2009 - 13:11
Mastercvvyoga's picture

In 1898 one incident

In 1898 one incident occured. While sleeping on the terrace of the house, Sri Ramana felt that he was dying. Terrible fear and pain encircled him. He tried to come out of the pangs of death. By that time, his hand and legs were cool and deadly, eyes closed, breathe subsided. A faint memory was there, hismind alone was in condition. He began to contemplate, "This is death - yes, my body dies, it will be consumed to flames, Yet, I remain without 'I' and my body!
Am 'I' different from the body of mine?
'I' am permanent. My body is temporary. My body is different from 'I'.
Then what is 'I'? Death cannot touch or consume the 'I'.
Sri Ramana, thus started analysing 'I' and the 'Self'. That was his first Self realization. The fear of death immediately disappeared.


Mastercvvyoga | Thu, 08/20/2009 - 05:49
RandomStu's picture

Simple Self-Inquiry

Simply and sincerely bring up the question, "What am I?" If an answer appears, throw it away (it's just thinking), and return to the question. A name for this practice is "self-inquiry."


RandomStu | Fri, 08/28/2009 - 19:01
Sudhakar Majety's picture

Bhagavan's literature

I respectfully present one of the early books written about the process of self enquiry by a disciple of Bhagavan Ramana maharshi in this context. Mouni Sadhu, a Pollish gentleman had spent a few months at Bhagavan's feet in his ( bhagavan's) last days in physical form. Mouni Sadhu gave a detailed account of his experiences while he was in the ashram during 1949. It is a great work of a seeker who had a sincere interest in finding the truth and who took the effort to implement what was suggested by bhagavan. It is a great inspiration for me as I could identify with many of his struggles and tribulations in the process of trying to reach the truth and I am sure everyone who is interested in self enquiry can relate and gain from his experiences and rest assured that this is the easiest path to reach truth as lovingly shown to us by Bhagavan.

Sudhakar Majety | Wed, 01/06/2010 - 06:07
Elijah_NatureBoy's picture

That Isn't Self Inquiry!

To inquire of one's self is to determine just who and what one is.

The easiest way to do that is to look at every personality you see in other man and locate it in yourself and pull it into your consciousness to the point of almost doing it. Then you will know the mind set of the personality, be it killer, lover, teacher, student or whatever. You then realize you are all of them. Once you find no new personality you don't recognize in yourself you have completed the self inquiry.

Your next objective is to integrate them into your parent personality so it cannot become your controller leaving you in control of them yourself. However, none of that is accomplishable until one has gone through the metamorphosis or, as Christians call it, have been born again. Man in mass are not allowed to do that until time to ascent to the next plane.
Have you questioned your beliefs? Reason the different concepts until all pros and cons are integrated into the 64,800 degrees of your vision.
--Elijah "NatureBoy"--

Elijah_NatureBoy | Wed, 04/07/2010 - 02:07