A friend wrote me and asked how he can get established in the practice of self-inquiry (atma-vichara). I’ve included my reply below, in case it might be helpful to others.

I’ve always loved Ramana Maharshi, but it took me a long time to click with his self-inquiry method. I couldn’t figure out how self-realization was supposed to be attained through further mental elaboration. I didn’t like saying, “Who am I?” then waiting for insight to strike. It felt stupid.

Fortunately, this isn’t what Sri Ramana meant by self-inquiry at all. It’s a common misunderstanding.

His highest teaching was silence. When people had trouble assimilating his silence, he would sometimes remind them there is only Brahman or the Self, whose nature is Being-Consciousness-Bliss.

He also encouraged them to look directly at themselves. You feel like you’re standing in your own way, but if you look for this obstructive object, it disappears. Nothing is there but the true Self, which is absolute awareness, silence, or stillness.

You can take the practice of turning toward (or looking for) ‘I’ to mean either of two things:

(1) Look for the troublesome ego, or (2) look for the true Self.

It’s like asking for directions to John’s neighbor’s house when John lives alone on a rural route. Even if you believe (incorrectly) that there is a house in front of John’s, the directions will still take you to John’s house. Likewise, even if you take ‘I’ to be the ego, the directions will take you straight to the Self.

This practice is also the truest form of surrender. We must surrender all mental activity to know what we actually are. Since we are not an object, but the eternal Self, to know ourselves is simply to be ourselves!

For more information, please see Happiness and the Art of Being by Michael James.

9 thoughts on “Self-Inquiry

  1. Thankyou Jay,..just discovered this space & everything you say resonates such simplicity I am so grateful,regards Alan

  2. Hi Jay,

    I have been following your blogs on quora and this blog is completely new to me . What an insight you have !! I am really grateful to you .

    Though simple , Maharshi’s philosophy is slightly difficult to understand for the beginners.
    But your explanation clears all doubts . Now , I understand what the Maharshi wished to convey.

    Thank you very much . I am ever grateful to you .

  3. Hi Jay – I have also been following you on Quora – I love the way you explain & simplify the subject of the Self – it really resonates with me – are your books wrote in a similar way ?

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words! Radically Condensed Instructions (my first book) is a bit more philosophical. Otherwise, my books are written in a fairly simple way.

  4. Hola Jay, Acabo de Encontrar Este Espacio Y me encanta, gracias por compartirlo. Estoy comenzando a experimentar la simplicidad del Ser y tus palabras son tambien parte de la fuente que alimenta y acompañan esta experiencia. Un fuerte abrazo y mis mejores deseos desde España.

  5. Hello Jay, I just found this space and I love it, thank you for sharing it. I am starting to experience the simplicity of being and your words are also part of the source that feeds and accompanies this experience. A big hug and my best wishes from Spain.

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