The Self gives the consciousness by which we are able to experience our existence in all stages of life like youth, middle age and old age and in all states like deep sleep, dream and waking. Though the Consciousness reveals itself at all times, the individual Jiva is not able to realize it because in between the pure Consciousness (sentient) and the body (insentient), the mind projects the false notion of ‘I am the body’. It is due to this mix up of Chit (Consciousness) with the inert body (jada), the individual loses his identity. Though Self shines as “I – I” forever, the false notion of ‘I’ or the ego continues to delude the individual. As he grows, the concept of ‘I am the body’ also grows and becomes a deep conviction; with the result he forgets his innate, real and essential nature (Swarupa). It is to rescue the individual from the delusion, “I am the body” or ‘I am the mind” and elevate him to the realization of Atman, Maharshi has advised the ideal way, the path of Self-enquiry (Vichara Marga).
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).
Actually, the individual who is caught in the delusion of ‘I am the body’ is a split personality, if I may say so. He has two selves; one that is real and ever existing is the Atman and the other one which is unreal and ever changing is the false notion of ‘I’ or ego. While the Self which is expressed as ‘I AM’ is ever free and independent, the false ‘I’ is related to the body with various attachments and bondage. The Self-enquiry which Bhagavan advocated aims at eliminating all delusions and realizing the real ‘I’ which is our innate and natural state.
The Self-enquiry consists of asking the question “who am I?” . When this question is pursued vigorously, sincerely and repeatedly, it becomes an easier Sadhana (Adi Sulabam) because we are only removing all false notions and being ourselves. Self enquiry is not to know anything new and in fact, the attempt is not to know anything other than our own Self.
We question ourselves: “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 a mere medium. 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.”, If I am not the body, then the question arises: “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 out-going tendency. “Am I the mind?” the question should continue.
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.
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.