Atma Vichara

Atma Vichara is the practice I have been engaged in for the last three years.  I have found it simultaneously the most profound of practices and the most deceptively simple.  I feel that my experience with this simple method has given me something worth speaking about, worth sharing. I would like to share it with any and all who are interested.

The Wikipedia entry on Atma Vichara begins as follows:

Self-enquiry (also spelled self-inquiry) (Sanskrit ātma-vicāra) is a practice designed to rapidly bring about Self-realizationSelf awareness, spiritual liberation or enlightenment, and is most commonly associated with its most famous modern advocate, Sri Ramana Maharshi. While Sri Ramana said that Self-realisation could be brought about — as it was for him — merely by giving up the idea that there is an individual self which functions through the body and the mind, few could readily do so. When asked for the most effective practice to facilitate Self-awareness, he commonly recommended forms of self-enquiry, along with recommending Satsang, (literally association with Sat or Being), in the form of mental contact with a realized Guru, or more properly the One Guru “within”.

In my personal experience that definition is fine as far as it goes, but it also make a fundamental error.  The translation of Atma Vichara as “self inquiry” is not quite correct and not adequate to communicating the heart of the practice, IMHO.

Atma is part of the sanskrit word Atman and refers to the sense of “I”, self, or raw being.

Vichara is a sanskrit word that can be translated as, “to regard.”

So, Atma Vichara could be taken as, regarding (in the sense of actively observing) the raw sense of being.

To me this is a better description of the practice than self inquiry which carries the connotation to question, or figure out, or come to understand.  All of those miss the point of Atma Vichara since what is being sought is not something to layer upon the self such as a new definition or conceptual framework, but rather what the sense of being is regardless of definition or framework.  This is the you that is you regardless of context, circumstance, or condition.

What you are, you already are. There is no questioning that.  Looking for a brief moment there is the practice in a nutshell.  Repeatedly doing this over time unwinds and dissolves the assumptions and conceptual understandings we normally take ourselves to be.  What is also quickly seen by engaging in this practice, is that the sense of being, the youness of you, never actually changes.  Once the practice of Atma Vichara becomes a habitual one you can see this in action moment-to-moment, and day to day, as you look and see that the you that you feel as you is now, and has always been, the same.

So, this is the practice of Atma Vichara.  Look at what you are. Not what you are doing, what you remember, what you think or feel.  Just that simple, ever-present feeling of you.  That is the target.  Taste that every time you think to do so, again and again, until that becomes a habit, and even until it is eventually forgotten.  This labor will bear fruit. It will, with time, dissolve any false ideas about what you truly are that you may be carrying at this time. All the concepts you have been given by all the well meaning people you have met in this life will be seen clearly as just that, concepts, and not you.

Please feel free to leave comments here with questions, or email me at travis(dot)eneix(at)gmail(dot)com.  You can also find me on twitter, and facebook. I am available to help as a coach in this practice, and would enjoy doing so since in my experience the best way to reinforce our own understanding of a practice is to spread it.

Deep bows to you as you walk your unique path.

9 Responses to Atma Vichara

  1. Pingback: Travis Eneix - Exploring the truth of what it means to be.

  2. gingerbeard says:

    spot-on, Travis.

  3. Hey Travis cam you outline a practice for a beginner? (not to meditation, but to this practice)

    • Travis says:

      Hello Janette,

      I sure can. In a nutshell: The supposition is that the unnecessary suffering in life caused by holding life at bay as a collection of ‘other things’. This creates the classic lie of the separate self that most practices seek to address. The origins of this lie, and it’s maintenance, or beside the point in this practice. The idea is that a lie cannot stand being exposed to the truth. In such an exposure, the lie must dissolve. So, the action to take is to point attention directly at you. Not your history, nor context, nor story. Nothing “outside.” Just right in to you. That touch, or flash of conscious contact with the truth of you will dissolve the lie about you.

      This touch will produce no experiences, since you are not an experience. You are where experiences occur. The brain, being built to track, categorize, and label things will almost immediately be pulled away to those things, probably taking your attention with it. That’s not important. What is important is the exposure.

      I hope that’s clear. You might want to check my other site that more specifically looks at this action,

      What I did as a beginner was to incorporate little pauses to point my attention directly at me throughout the day. I used some of my normal habits of the day as reminders to take a look. For example, whenever I opened a door I would take look shortly thereafter. Opening doors became a reminder to take a look. You don’t want the full list of habits I stitched this one on to. I can get pretty obsessive. 😉 Not everyone will need that kind of constant looking. It worked for me though.


  4. Anthony Kaye says:

    Good blog. I have practiced meditation for 28 years and specifically Self Inquiry 22 years. I have a comment…I explain it like this “Ogres are like onions.” Lol, we live life and as we do we develop layers…not from without, but from within, through our expectations beliefs and constructs because of our experiences in the phenomenal existence…and Atma-Vichara helps us to constantly peel back those layers to reveal what’s within…oneness, nothingness, everythingness. We can attain enstasy, but we are still exist in the temporal and the phenomenonal, practice (once we discover it) never ceases (regardless of the plane of existence we exist on).

    • Travis says:

      Thanks for the comment, Anthony.

      That is a good description of self-inquiry, and I find a similar approach to be useful as well. It’s not quite what I am suggesting here, but it is a good practice. I find my meditation practice a good adjunct to the type of practice you are outlining.

  5. Alec says:

    I have practiced this for a long time. Just being focussed on my inner awareness. Being conscious as opposed to being lost in thoughts. However I am still not a happy person. I can still be mean and lacking in compassion.

  6. al medina says:

    The self which we are all “looking for” cannot be found through mental inquiry. One is stopped due to limitations of the mind, no matter how acute or intelligent the mind may be. The true Self is beyond all levels of the mind thus the mind cannot realize or merge with the true Self. The medium of travel must be questioned if the Self remains buried in the vacillations and oscillations of mental flux and outer activity. Brief periods of tranquility and light may be experienced but they are soon to be snuffed out by the vacillating mind which generates tens of thousands of spurious thoughts per day.

    • Travis says:


      It seems like you did not read this post very well. I mentioned how the word “inquiry” did not quite fit, and why. This is not a mental game. It’s an attention game. I disagree that the medium of travel must be questioned. That is just another side track. I think pursuing such a task can produce useful effects, but they are beside the point. What needs looking at is the one for whom the medium functions.

      I have no interest in periods of tranquility, brief or otherwise, in this context. Don’t try to find faults that you bring with yourself.

      I suggest you read the post again, and then let me know what you think. Thanks.

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