Vedantic Practice Vichara or Self Enquiry

Dialogue between Master and seeker

Vedantic Practice Vichara or Self Enquiry is explained.

While much has been said and written about the sublime philosophy of Vedanta, little attention is given to the practices emerging out of this lofty philosophy. In fact, for most of us Vedanta remains an intellectual study. 

Vedantic Practice Vichara and its different variations

One of the finest practices to emerge from Vedanta is the practice known as Vichara. Vichara literally means to think, to contemplate, to analyse or to introspect. Vichara has been translated as Self Enquiry; it is also known as Internal Dialogue or Contemplation. 

A dialogue between the student and the teacher is called "upanishad". Spiritual traditions of the world are full of such dialogues: between Arjun and Krishna, between Rama and Vasistha, between the sages of the Upanishads and devout seekers, between Jesus and the Apostles. 

You can also enter into such a dialogue with your own inner self and gain access to the secrets of your mind and That which lies beyond.  Vichara is also called Internal Dialogue because it is a dialogue between the observer and the internal aspects of the mind which is being observed.

Due to the nature of this practice it is extremely subtle and difficult to define and it goes under various other names and has many variations. Vedantic texts also refer to it as Shravana, Manana and Nididhyasana. It has been called Pratipaksha Bhavana in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. 

A specific form and most well known form of Vichara is "Who am I?" or Neti, Neti. 

One of the most subtle form of Vichara is contemplation on the Mahavakyas or Great Truths. 

The Benefits of Vichara or Self Enquiry

  • We develop our buddhi or inner wisdom which then guides us and leads us in every aspect of life. Daily practice of Vichara or Internal Dialogue strenghten the faculty of decisiveness and sharpens the buddhi, our higher mind. 
  • While meditation is a method to train oneself on all levels, Vichara or Internal Dialogue helps to build a definite philosophy of life; it is the foundation on which the meditation practice is built. 
  • Vichara or Internal Dialogue also replaces meditation when the practitioner or sadhaka is tired. 
  • Vichara is healthy for resolving conflicts that arise when the seeker remains stuck in his old habits patterns and the mind keeps travelling back to old grooves of unhealthy thoughts. 
  • Vichara helps to integrate Yoga in to our daily lives. Such a great sage is said to "walk in Brahman"; the subtle most meaning of "Brahmacharya". Vichara or Self Enquiry is a preliminary exercise that will eventually become so an essential part of your life that the inner wisdom within is awakened and it will guide and lead you in every aspect of your life. 
  • Vichara brings us in touch with the various internal aspects of the mind called Antahkarana, sometimes called the four functions of the mind. These are Manas (the lower mind), Buddhi (the higher mind or Wisdom), Ahamkara (the I- sense) and Chitta (the mind stuff or memory). 

Importance of Vichara

This example from the Yoga Vasistha illustrates the importance of Vichara or Self Enquiry. When Prahlad the great devotee of the Lord, was granted a boon, he very cleverly asked, "Lord grant me that boon which you consider to be limitless and infinite." 

The importance of Vichara or Self Enquiry is evident when one reads the answer: The Lord said, "Prahlad, may you be endowed with the spirit of Enquiry till you rest in the infinite Brahman."

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Vichara in the Yoga Vasishtha

The Yoga Vasishtha, one of the foremost Vedantic text is profusely illustrated with examples of Vichara. This text recommends Self Enquiry as the highest and most direct path to Self Realization. Below is a dialogue spoken by the sage King Janaka. It is with the aid of this internal dialogue that the Sage King rests in his Self.

"O mind, This worldly life is not conducive to your true happiness. Hence, reach the state of equanimity. It is in such equanimity that you will experience peace, bliss and the truth. 

Whenever you create perverse thinking in yourself out of wantonness, it is then that this world-illusion begins to expand and spread out. It is when you entertain desire for pleasure that this world illusion sprouts countless branches. It is thought that gives rise to this network of world appearance. Hence abandon this whim and fancy and attain to equanimity. 

Weigh in the balance of your wisdom, the sense pleasures on one side and the bliss of peace on the other. Whatever you determine to be the truth, seek that. 

Give up all hopes and expectations, and freed from the wish to seek or to abandon roam about freely. Let this world appearance be real or unreal, let it arise or set: but, do it let its merits and demerits disturb your equanimity."

Vichara in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

In Sutra II.33 "Vitarka-badhane pratipaksha-bhavanam", Patanjali explains while referring to the Yamas and Niyamas, "when the mind is disturbed by improper thoughts constant pondering over  the opposites is the remedy."

In his commentary to this sutra the sage Vyasa elaborates on the "opposite thought". Contrary to the belief that the opposite of hate is love or that the opposite of dishonesty is righteousness, Vyasa explains that the opposite thought is one that illuminates the seeker and destroys his ignorance or avidya. Thus the opposite of all improper or unhealthy thoughts is the same: Everything is transient and impermanent.