Few young persons came to see Bhagavan with an introduction letter from Ramakrishna Mission. One of them asked Bhagavan: “Which is the proper path for us to follow?” Bhagavan replied: “When you speak of a path, first find out where are you now and where do you want to go? Once these are known, then we can talk of the path. Know first where you are and what you are. In fact, there is nothing to be reached. You are always as you really are.” Many questions of such nature were posed to Bhagavan and invariably, the answer from Bhagavan came like: “find out who the questioner is or who the doubter is”. So, before embarking upon a spiritual mission, what the Sadhaka should first find out is “Who Am I?” Bhagavan has prescribed the ideal path; the path of Self-Enquiry to find the answer.
Among the various paths advised, the path of Self-enquiry (Atma Vichara) is the ideal one because it is the direct method by which one seeks to find his real nature, his unconditioned and unlimited state, (Nitya Sidha Chitha Swarupa). It means turning the attention away from external objects and directing it within. It means identifying those elements which do not constitute the “I”, eliminating them one by one by means of questioning and ultimately realizing his natural state which is pure and perfect and purged of all adjuncts (upadis).The question arises whether the individual can attain such a state? It is not a state which is attainable by some effort because it is his natural state and he is already in the state. All that he has to do is to realize it just as one who searches for his spectacle realizes that he is already wearing it.
Though Self shines as “I – I” forever, the false notion of ‘I’ or the ego deludes the individual into believing “I am the body”. “Am I the body?” The body is not aware of itself as ‘I’. It is inert, insentient and ever-changing. That which appears during waking state and disappears during deep sleep cannot be real. Body is only an instrument, an object of perception and not to be confused with Consciousness. After his experiment with death, Bhagavan explained his experience thus: “Even if the body is dead, burnt and turned into ashes, I will not become extinct because I am not the body.” In sleep, one is not aware of the existence of the body. The body awareness comes only when he wakes up. If he can be in his natural state, beyond the concepts of body and mind during the sleep, it should be possible to reach that state in the waking state too.
If I am not the body, then the question arises: “Who Am I?” “Am I the mind?” As Bhagavan said, mind is a bundle of thoughts. It is the mind which creates the notion of duality. It is always restless because of its tendency to make contact with external objects. Doing japa, dhyana and meditation are some of the ways to keep the mind away from thoughts. When the trunk of the elephant is restless, the mahout places a stick on its side and signals it to remain steady (1). Similarly, if the mind is kept engaged in japa or dhyana or meditation, it will remain still. However, these methods help to restrain the mind only for a while, like a break applied on a vehicle. Once the meditation is over, the thoughts resume their journey. Therefore, Vichara Marga is the ideal way by which one comes out of the domain of mind and realizes his true nature, the ever-existing reality shining as the Self.
Initially, the mind would repulse the very idea of Vichara because Vichara is a direct pointer to its existence. So long, one goes along with the mind and its thoughts, it suits the mind, but the moment the focus is turned from thoughts to the mind itself, the mind loses its very base. Vichara Marga is like a searchlight. It should be pursued with as much eagerness as one searches a valuable item lost in the water by holding his breath (Neeril Vizhuntha Porul Kana Vendi Muzhukuthal Pol….. Ulladu Narpadu Verse 28). As the process of enquiry continues, the mind that functioned through intellect and senses would now function through the divine heart on the right side of the chest. The seat of the mind is heart. The mind lights up when it functions through the heart. We see objects in the night with the light provided by the moon which is the reflected light of the sun, but when the sun dawns, the reflected light of the moon is not necessary. Bhagavan said that it is similar in the case of mind and heart. Just as the moon shines by the reflected light of the sun, the mind shines by the reflected light from the Self. The mind is useful because of the reflection from the heart. When the mind is turned inward, the source of the light, it rests in heart and the Self shines forth like the brilliant light of the sun. (2)
Vichara Marga is a continuous process. Every activity provides an opportunity for Self-enquiry. “Who is being appreciated”? “Who is being insulted?” “Not I”. Who is feeling sorrow?” “Not “I“. As he negates those elements which do not constitute his identity by saying ‘not this’ ‘not this’, he finds a deep spell of silence prevailing, the ‘I-thought’ disappearing‘ and something else from the inner depth taking hold of him. He realizes that the ‘I’ is held as ‘I’ alone to the exclusion of all thoughts. He realizes that what pulsates in his heart, the spiritual center, is the Self shining as “I-I” (Aham Aham).
The parting message which Maharshi gave to Mr. Paul Brunton, “A Search to Secret India”, is worth mentioning: “Pursue the enquiry ‘Who am I?” relentlessly. Try to find out where the ‘I-thought’ begins and go to its source. Keep turning your attention within. One day the wheel of thought will slow down”. In his brilliant works, ‘Moments Remembered”, Sri Ganesan says: “For practicing Atma Vichara, every day is auspicious and every moment is good. It can be done any time; anywhere without others noticing that you are doing it. All other Sadhanas require external objects and congenial environment but for Atma Vichara nothing external to oneself is required. All that is required is to turn the mind within. Atma Vichara being a purely internal movement, one does not distract others who are around; whereas in Sadhanas like puja, others do notice you. In Self-enquiry, only perseverance and one-pointed attention are essential. (3)