Atma Vichara means obtaining Self-Knowledge. It is one of many Sanskrit terms that refer to exploring the nature of who we are. These ancient teachings and philosophies come from the classic scriptures of India named ¨The vadas¨.
While reading about these teachings and diving deeper into this subject, we begin to notice almost every word, such as Neo Vedanta, Advaita, Non-duality, Jnana Yoga, Self-Inquiry, and many more, are commonly interchanged between each other.
Due to the mixture of terminology, it is understandable to find oneself confused when taking this task. Therefore, it´s wise to avoid attaching our identity to any of these words, for all of them are pointers. We will keep this analysis as simple as possible.
This suggestion of simplifying is critical. There’s no need to ¨label ourself as ¨or have the urge to become a ¨professional Atma Vichara practitioner¨. This way of thinking will only lead us to an egoistic trap and a failed practice.
By understanding this, we will save ourselves from years (if not decades) of huffing and puffing in a realm of misleading concepts. We do not want to end right where you started, preaching without knowing, lacking genuine lived experience, and failing to understand what Atma Vichara truly is.
We want to avoid developing a HUGE EGO (the good old phony holly).
Therefore, please consider taking this trip with an openness to language. Use these terms and pointers WITHOUT BEING ATTACHED to any of them.
Doing this, you will see THROUGH EXPERIENCE, not through concepts, opinions, or theories, that the self-realization of the ¨practice¨ of Atma Vichara will take a life on its own, merging within your personal living experience. Thus, becoming an effortless aspect of life, emerging through realizing the nature of who you are, Self-knowledge.
Allan W. Anderson, PhD. Prof. Emeritus from San Diego State University, once gave an introduction for a documentary about the subject in question; his closing statement was both bold and powerful.
¨….join me, as we learn about the only journey worth taking,…. the journey of self-discovery. ¨
However, understanding that statement can only be truthful and possible for those who can ¨GRASP¨ it conceptually as ever-present knowledge. It is possible and available right here and now; the openness of mind and honesty of character are all that is needed.
Practicing Atma Vichara and many other methods can help us and guide us through the exploration of the ¨SELF¨.
Understanding Atma Vichara (the nuts and bolts of it!)
It is not necessary to learn every single detail about every aspect of the history of Atma Vichara.
However, to fully understand and truly practice Atma Vichara, we must first have a clear definition of what all this means WITHOUT getting ¨lost in translation¨ or being confused by the gymnastics of its terminology.
Keep in mind that our approach will not be a traditionalist one. There’s no need for years and years of practice to understand Atma Vichara. That’s is our emphasis on this article.
We are taking a modern style approach using a DIRECT PATH for understanding and experiencing the teachings of Atma Vichara today, here and now.
So, let´s take a closer look at this term while we try to keep this short and sweet:
Atma is a Hindu Sanskrit word that means SELF, your spiritual aspect, commonly known in religion as the soul or the breath of God.
Vichara is also a Hindu Sanskrit word; it means OBTAINING KNOWLEDGE, deliberation through the ability to discriminate/differentiate between truth and the false.
Atma Vichara = Obtaining Self Knowledge
Although Atma Vichara is resent across various teachings, it has its origin from The Vedas. This text constitutes the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism.
The Yogic tradition has also adopted Atma Vichara as part of the path to self-realization. YOGA is a ¨Vedic science,” it´s part of The Vedas, but not a pioneer of these methods. The Vedas are the source of yogic teaching.
YOGA & ATMA VICHARA
In Yogic Tradition, ATMA VICHARA is one of the many Yoga available (Yoga means union of all there is, mind-body and ¨soul¨). Atma Vichara in Yoga involves the analysis or inquiry into the self via practices that lead the absorption of the mind to its root.
THE VEDAS & ATMA VICHARA
In The Vedas teachings, Atma Vichara is the essential practice in Advaita Vedanta (a Vedic philosophy that indicates that life, existence, and everything between is only ONE, not two, only the absolute SELF.)
ADVAITA VEDANTA & ATMA VICHARA
Advaita Vedanta is a school of Hindu philosophy; it´s considered one of the most classic and traditional systems of spiritual realization in Hindu tradition.
Advaita: Non-Dual or NOT-TWO (A = not, dvaita = two)
Vedanta: This is a philosophy taught by the Vedas, the most ancient scriptures of India.
Not two, but ONE!
Its essential teaching is that our real nature, our SOURCE, the true essence of who we are, is divine. Pointing out that the underlying reality, the matrix of all there is, IS divine; therefore, it exists in every ¨thing¨ and every being. All religions are, hence a search for self-knowledge, a search for the divine source within.
Advaita Vedanta = There´s only ONE truth, one source, not two.
Conclusion on understanding Atma Vichara
As we can see, this is a world of concepts and labels where the deeper we go, the more complicated it becomes. One can spend years studying terminology and philosophies; this is not our purpose here; our intention and goal are to bring about the experience of Atma Vichara.
Because no matter how much you compare notes and study the subject, Atma Vichara means THE SAME across the board; it merely is the phenomenon of Obtaining Self Knowledge.
Before practicing Atma Vichara
When taking any journey of exploration, it is crucial to agree on a ¨destination¨ per se. This agreement will help us walk in the same direction and keep us on track.
Throughout all articles on this website, we intend to reach an understanding through EXPERIENCE rather than belief. We want to reach KNOWLEDGE INSTEAD OF TRUST.
Why is this?
Because TRUST and believing require faith, honoring something you don´t know for sure, while KNOWING is simply undeniable knowledge of truth where the evidence of measurement is your own experience.
Although experience is not scientifically a tool or proof for evidence, it actually is IF all subjects would return the same result of experience. Self-awareness and consciousness fall into this category.
If we were to gather one hundred random people as subjects of our experiment and asked them to answer a simple question:
Are you aware?
Every single one of them would answer ¨yes¨
Why is this? Because being aware is the single aspect of ourselves that we know for sure. We don’t need to ask anybody to confirm it; it is our most intimate ever-present reality.
No one in science can explain consciousness, no one can agree on a definition, and at the same time, no one can deny its existence. The root of this ¨problem¨ is that Consciousness is not a concept.
Any reasonable person with a healthy intellect and an honest character in place can quickly agree that consciousness is all there is, and all we have is a constant ever-present ¨thing¨, an uninterrupted agent during all experience.
For example, a person can learn all there is to ABOUT the experience of drinking water, how it feels, how it looks, the temperature, what it does to the body, the joy of ending thirst, how it tastes, how it feels an looks when cold and when hot.
However, if this information comes only from books, instead of the experience of drinking water, they will never know the real experience.
They can only believe it but will not know it. Drinking water brings knowledge to this experience. There´s no need to believe any data or research; you´ll simply KNOW what it is like to drink water.
So, let us begin this journey of Self-knowledge using Atma Vichara as an anchor and as a pointer.
How can I start practicing Atma Vichara?
Atma Vichara means Obtaining Self Knowledge, that is it. For this reason, our practice will focus only on this. We will leave unnecessary terms and all complexity behind and focus on easy-to-follow exercises to experience Atma Vichara.
Below are several practices that will guide you on a direct path to experiencing Atma Vichara right here and now, not in ten years, right now.
Try them all and see which one ¨speaks¨ to you, we´re all wired differently, so we tend to be compatible with specific styles, language, methods, etc. So, make sure to explore all and stick to the one(s) that you notice work best for you.
Practice#1 – The Self Inquiry Of The Thinker (Meditation)
This technique will bring attention to the origin of thinking, the root, where the purpose is to find the owner, the creator of thought. If we take a look at every ¨thing¨ around us, it is easy to realize and to deduct and pinpoint the origin and creation of that thing, in particular, meaning that we can conclude how that ¨thing¨ came to be.
Let us use an orange as an example; we know that it came from the grocery store; the grocery store purchased the orange from a farm, the farm picked the orange from a tree, and the tree came from a seed.
We could even go further by researching and finding out how ovules that are fertilized by pollen become seeds and so on. But for this exercise, let’s say that we conclude that the orange came from a seed. That´s it, easy to understand.
It´s a simple example, but we can do the same with everything, some things would need more time to research, some might be simple to deduct, while others will be more complicated. Still, every ¨thing¨ has an objective beginning of creation. All material and immaterial things can be traced back to their origin.
Let’s now use a water bottle for the same exercise; it came from the store you bought it from; the store purchased it from a distribution center from a manufacturing company.
The manufacturing company has its filtered water systems. They also have plastics molding machines to create the bottle. They have an automated process to fill them with their water and seal them securely, ready for sale and distribution.
We could push even further and look into the production of the bottles, where the resin came from, the caps, labels, ink, etc., but again, for this exercise, in this example, we can conclude that our bottle of water came from a manufacturing company.
So, now that we´ve established the intention and process of this exercise, lets put it into practice for Atma Vichara, which means in this particular method, to open the door for obtaining Self Knowledge through self-inquiry of the thinker (To find out the root of thought)
Find the time of day and space where you can sit down comfortably without being interrupted for 10-15 minutes…
Now that you have the time and space, take a moment to notice the simple fact that every single thought that ¨you¨ have, by definition of origin, should have a creator, an owner, the ¨captain of the ship¨, a being, someone or something that is giving life to thoughts. After all, these thoughts have to be produced by or coming from somewhere.
Think of your favorite color and close your eyes. Repeat the name of your color in your head, not aloud; think it. Use your breath as a guide, think the name of your color when inhaling, and keep silent while exhaling. Slowly, do not rush it. Do this until you feel relaxed.
Place your attention more into the silence rather than the name of the color you are thinking; however, let the name of your color keep repeating itself on its own. You will notice that the name of your color appears effortlessly, almost automatically. Remain relaxed and witness this phenomenon.
Try finding where the ¨thinker¨ of the thought of your color is. Where is the person forming and creating this thought? Pay attention to the moment before the thought appears, then try finding out who is responsible for creating this thought form. Repeat this step again and again until this inquiry is resolved.
Do not move to step 6 until this one has been completed both in experience and understanding.
Spoiler alert!: You will notice that no ¨person¨ or no one is creating this thought. ¨Thinking¨ just happens; thought appears without personal authorship.
Although there´s no one creating thought, the silent space from where thought arises is full of intelligence and potential.
Once you realize that thoughts, in general, are just arising on their own, keep repeating the name of your color, keeping your attention to the field where they emerged from, which is the same field of silence while exhaling.
Notice that this field has not disappeared during this whole exercise and does not disappear ever; it´s always present; it only seems to get clouded by the appearance of thoughts.
When you´re able to follow this exercise, which in essence is simply the noticing of the arising of thought from a field of emptiness, you will realize that this silent field of full potentiality is who you are, this is the self, this is self-knowledge.
You´ve just begun to practice Atma Vichara
This realization’s effect on an individual will vary from person to person; most people notice a mental impact, a few a physical one as well.
The most common is the feeling of overwhelming joy without reason; this is a normal feeling when practicing exercises that make the mind temporarily stop or drop.
Also, in many cases, the experience is one of contentious happiness as well without reason, meaning you are experiencing the natural state of the SELF.
Practice#2 – Visualization
The technique of visualization is a powerful one. It helps you shift your understanding of the nature of things by merely imagining situations and different scenarios as a metaphor.
Understanding is one of the tools we can use to clear false beliefs from our minds, this way leaving and freeing space from our ¨hard drive¨, allowing to welcome truth and clearness by choice instead of programming.
When we look at things from a new perspective, a new understanding arises in us, we see the false as false, we let it go, and while doing this, again and again, it’s as we’re taking the trash out.
Think of it as if you’re digging a hole in the ground attempting to find water; the process here is to throw the dirt away; we do this because dirt is NOT what we want, so dirt is the FALSE.
This dirt represents a lie; you don’t have to think about water, describe it, argue about it, or anything specific; you have to throw away what is NOT water, meaning all the dirt and rocks. If you keep doing this, what is left at the end is water.
That is the power of understanding. Since Atma Vichara is obtaining knowledge of the SELF and the SELF cannot be described then, we must throw away all that is DESCRIBABLE and false, all the dirt, all that is NOT the self.
Not this, not that, not this, not that, on and on, and ALL there is left is the indescribable SELF.
So, let’s use visualization to change our understanding of what is false and what is not, what is temporary and what is ever-present. By doing this, you will see and experience that what is left is Atma Vichara.
Clouds in the sky.
Imagine sitting relaxed at a beach, at a park, out your window, or wherever you prefer. Imagine that you look up at a beautiful blue, bright clear sky; you also see some clouds floating around.
The Sky represents the Self, the clouds your thoughts. See yourself as this untouchable clear Sky, where clouds pass through from time to time; some clouds might be white and small, some may look pink like cotton candy, and others might arrive aggressively gray and bulk.
Some clouds might bring rain or snow, while others paint the sunny Sky with stream stripes as if decorating the landscape.
Notice that regardless of the weather, heat, cold, rain, snow, the Sky remained and remains untouched. The Sky is the space where all this has and will unfold. You are the same as this Sky; you are the self, untouched by thoughts, negative thoughts, aggressive, positive, pleasant thoughts, etc.
These are just clouds floating by, visiting this marvelous Sky; this is the SELF, the one presence that cannot be harmed. Knowing this space is Atma Vichara.
Leaves on a river.
Picture yourself sitting next to a river, the calming and soothing sound produced by the wind over the slow, peaceful stream of water; the water is crystal clear and fresh, so pure and clean that even some rocks on the bottom are visible.
You then place your attention to the surface and notice an uninterrupted shine and aliveness to it, a feeling of eternal beauty. Suddenly some leaves fall from nearby trees, some are old, and some are new, but regardless of their color, texture, or aliveness, you witness how they float and how they’re slowly taken away by the stream of the river.
You also notice some leaves cannot float; they lack the quality, strength, and ability to stay on the surface, so the power of the river consumes them down, gradually but surely disappearing.
The river represents the Self, the leaves your thoughts. See yourself as that beautifully majestic, clear, and pure river, unshakable and unaffected by the leaves. You, like the river, are the PLATFORM where thoughts express themselves.
They´re like visitors passing by; these thoughts have themselves NO POWER over you, they need YOU to express themselves to give them your stream of presence, your clarity, your force, and strength to APPEAR ALIVE, but they are not!
These thoughts are dead memories, dying ideas; all are just temporary imagination; they have no power over you. You are like this river; you are this SELF, pure consciousness. Knowing this is Atma Vichara.
The Train Station.
Let´s use as a metaphor one of the world’s largest stations, Grand Central Terminal, based in New York City. It has two underground levels and dozens of trains transporting people on more than 20 tracks on the lower and 40 plus on the upper levels. Around 800,000 people pass through it daily.
Imagine the activity, the mix of interactions, and situations happening daily. Quite a picture, right? And however chaotic this might seem, that´s the normal state and collective experience on this Train station.
The same happens in our heads. Scientists estimate that the average person thinks between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts a day. That means in the next hour, you will be thinking about 3,000 thoughts! Frightfully stunning, right?
The reason you don’t notice it´s because you’ve done it all your life; it has become your natural state of being, same as the train station.
Do you want another weird fact about your mind? Well, more than 80% of those thoughts are repetitive.
These thoughts are simply the story and narrative you tell yourself every single day, ideas of your identity, who you think you are, who you want to be, who you were, your needs, your philosophies, what you think about this, what you think about that, your goals, your fears, on and on.
All this is similar to the Train Station, where most activity, people, and operating trains are also the same, just repetitive interaction.
In this example, the train station represents the Self and the people and trains your thoughts. Be like the train station and not the people and trains coming and going, be the SELF, the witness that sees your thoughts come and go.
The same way the train station ALLOWS this activity, you as the SELF can allow thoughts to visit and depart. Being like this Train Station is living Atma Vichara.
Waves on the ocean.
Think of an Ocean and notice how waves come and go. Some waves are big, some medium, and some small. All are arising in different shapes and forms. See how all of them are temporary. They all come from one unique source, the Ocean.
This Ocean is unaffected by any of these waves; these waves are, in essence, the Ocean itself. Many of these waves come to a quick end, crashing aggressively on rocks, other waves meet a gentler and peaceful end, gradually shrinking in size and melting on the shore´s feet.
Likewise, the waves represent your thoughts, the Ocean, your true SELF. The same way the Ocean is indifferent to its surface and the waves, see YOUR awareness and consciousness as the root and commanding presence that enables the waves to exist and manifest themselves on its surface.
Watch the nature of all your thoughts and feelings, how they raise, and how they fall and cease in existence. Many will rise and appear fast, prominent, majestic, scary, powerful, etc. Others will emerge beautiful as expressions of love and art. A few will fade quickly, almost unnoticed.
Let them do what they must; you are the Ocean itself, although the surface might have movement, activity, and commotion, YOU as the Ocean are peacefully still, your depth is untouched and unmovable. Knowing yourself as the Ocean is knowing what Atma Vichara is.
If you’re interested in more exercises and practices, please check our ¨TRY IT¨ page by clicking here!
Conclusion on Practicing Atma Vichara
As mentioned before, the goal for the above methods and techniques is to bring about easy-to-follow practices to take yourself to the direct experience of Atma Vichara. These are not conventional methods.
Both exercises, one having a meditative nature and the second a metaphorical one, can be adapted to an easy-to-follow, step-by-step daily practice. Regardless of your preference, the objective is the same, to allow yourself to experience the true essence of Atma Vichara right here and now.
Try these 5 Minute Meditation Exercises inspired by methods & teaching from Nisargadatta Maharaj, Ramana Maharshi, Adyashanti, Ram Dass, Neem Karoli Baba, and many other truthful and honest teachers.