How to Practice Vichara or Self Enquiry

Radhika Shah-Grouven is a Teacher of the Samaya Srividya Tradition and the Himalayan Lineage. If you'd like to read more of her essays, go to her website

How to practice Vichara or Self EnquiryYou can do Vichara anytime, anywhere. Close your eyes if possible. And talk to your mind. 
It sounds like a strange idea to talk to oneself, in fact your first reaction might be, "I'm not crazy!" But on second thought you might want to try an exercise that the sages have been talking about for millennia. 

1. Begin by raising fruitful questions:

In the initial stages Vichara or Internal Dialogue helps the practitioner develop a relationship with his own mind. We know so little about ourselves, often not knowing what we want from our life and what makes us happy. So explain to the mind that it is too worldly:

"O Mind, witness the world of objects and observe the impermanence of those objects you long to achieve, to embrace. What difference is there in the objects of dreams and the objects of the waking world? What reason is there for being attached to the unreal things of the world? There are like experiences of the dreaming state. They are constantly changing and you do not really own them. O mind, listen to the sayings of the great sages and teachers. O Mind, follow in the footprints of those who have already trod the path of light and enlightenment. You will soon find that Truth is unchanging and Absolute Reality is That beyond time, space and causation."

(From Mandukya Upanishad: Enlightenment without God, Swami Rama)

Or raise fruitful questions like:

"O Mind, What do you want? What is the purpose of life?"

2. Learning to Listen

Generally the mind, that is engaged in a monologue is lost in its own maze of words, thoughts, fantasies, memories and images. Vichara cannot be and must not become a monologue. It is a dialogue between you and your mind. If you ask a question, just listen. Listening is the key to the exercise. 

"O Mind, I want to be your friend. Will you be honest with me? Will you share all your secrets with me? I am listening."

"O Mind, let all the questions and doubts come forward. Won't you share your secrets with me?"

3. Developing a relationship with your mind

Once we get in touch with our mind, we discover there are so many layers within. The process of self-discovery can in fact lead us astray, for the mind can be your greatest friend or your worst enemy. In this stage we learn to make friends with our mind and establish a relationship. 
Do you speak to your mind as friend, mentor, mother, father, child, teacher? While teaching his friend Arjuna, Krishna is the higher mind, or inner wisdom known as buddhi
Don't order your mind around. Be a friend and cultivate a relationship as you would with your friend. Observe what kind of mind you have. Be patient, not judgemental. Be gentle and loving. Do not get into conflicts, be constructive. Do not create conflicts with your mind. If you do not want to meditate, do not meditate. Instead have a gentle dialogue.

"O Mind, do not condemn yourself. Be gentle and forgive yourself."

"O Mind, is this thought useful, is this thought healthy?"

"O Mind, all that is pleasant is not good, all that which is good is not pleasant. Are these desires good or pleasant?" 

4. Inviting the hidden to come forward

It is best to practice Vichara or Self Enquiry daily before you start with your meditation. Allow the mind to present you with all its doubts, questions and fears. Invite these to come forward so that the mind does not disturb you with these during your meditation. 
The practice of Vichara or Self Enquiry helps the practitioner take a different stance. In this stance or attitude the practitioner "invites" the hidden and unrevealed to come forward. In this manner the practitioner or sadhaka begins to be un-attached to the stream of thoughts that comes forward and is better able to maintain a discriminating attitude.

"O Mind, Whatever thoughts and images you present before me, I will not to be disturbed by them. Come thoughts, come."

5. Attaining Wisdom

Once the hidden comes forward, the seeker begins spontaneously to ask questions. It seems one does not have attempt to practice, the practice takes over and has a life of its own.The seeker is flooded by questions such as, "What is the nature of the mind?" or "What is the nature of the Universe?"

One question emerges from the depths of the mind and heart, a question that cuts through the layers of the mind. The question is "Who am I?" Now the seeker is well on his way to a deeper practice of Vichara, one that has been recommended by the great sage of Arunachala as the one practice that cuts through the maze of the mind. 

The "Who am I?" form of Self Enquiry is a special form of Vichara or Internal Dialogue. To find the answer the seeker uses the ancient Vedantic aphorism "Neti, neti" or "not this, not this". Thus by elimination, he arrives at the answer. 

By nature the mind is contemplative when it is not dragged out by the senses. Deep within it revels in its own nature and contemplates upon and realises the great truths or Mahavakyas of the Upanishads. Yoga has been completely integrated in to the contemplative mind. 

Vichara in the form of a dialogue begins with a dualistic aspect and as it progresses the seeker rests within having realised the epitome of non-dualistic truth. 


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