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Andrew Hodges
Category: Yoga

Atma Vichari – A Journey of Inquiry To The Self.

Vichara  ‘to inquire’, Atma ‘Self’

Patanjali says: “Yoga’s purpose is ultimately to strip away mind’s fluctuations to allow us to become One – to be unified.

It has sometimes been said that: “Yoga looks Death in the face”; Death meaning letting go of the body when our time comes and the ‘mini-deaths’ of personal change when the ego realises it has to release yet another outmoded version of itself.

The Atma Vichara process of inquiry into Self (“Who am I?”) is based upon the Sankhya philosophical model :

Senses – Mind - Intellect – Ego - Self

The Journey of exploration is from the ‘gross’ to the ‘subtle’ – as if from ‘extravert’ (outwardlooking) to ‘introvert’ (inward-looking).  

To enable awareness of the ‘subtle’ requires the quietening down of sensory input.  We close our eyes (80% of information comes in via the Visual sense). We use Auditory resources (Sound) as a means of accessing subtle information. We dampen ‘mind-chatter’ to become aware of more subtle aspects of ‘heard thought’. Techniques such as Japa (mental repetition) and Chanting quieten the mind to open us up to greater subtleties.

Reduced sensory input leads us towards ‘Mind’ which in the Teachings of Sankhya is:

Thinking – Feeling – ‘Chit’ (Our personal history, our hidden agendas, our original ‘Legacy’, past experiences, unconscious beliefs, samskaras).

‘Chit’ is ALL that helps us understand and ‘see’ the world. It orders our reality. But it is an illusion. Our ‘reality’ is based on how we have learned to ‘see’ the world. We ‘see’ and ‘interpret’ the world

through the filters we have had created for us during childhood and we have continued to use in adulthood. For example, the notion of the ‘separate self’; our sense of isolation is an illusion. We ultimately create our own ‘reality’ based on ‘the burden of the past’. With the lens of history we therefore create our future. If you believe in re-incarnation then our current reality of ‘suffering’ is maintained through our patterns and habits bot only in this lifetime but also in all future lives until we can find a way of breaking this ‘cause-and-effect’ cycle; the Karmic cycle. However this point of realisation can come by the gradual creation of clarity as we still the Mind’s fluctuations and we arrive at the place of the Intellect known in sanscrit as “Buddhi”.

Intellect is often connected with thought but in Yoga this not the case. It is better described as Discrimination or Discernment.  Our Awareness develops to a stage of Awakening. We wake up to the Intellect which has a Reflective Quality about it.

It has been described as the ‘Lamp at the Door’. The lamp, in this case, shines in both directions. In one direction it introduces a clarity and a light to the processes of our senses and our Mind. We find the ability to clearly discern the processes of how we have created our habits and our suffering. We can see the causes. In the other direction Intellect shines on Ego and offers a sense of Big Self. So the Light of Intellect shines at the Door of the Individual and the Universal.

The Intellect (not as thought) operates in meditation – the capacity to discern uncouples our deepening Awareness from the gross content of the Mind. The products of discernment are the answers which arise from Vichara (or inquiry). Also we develop our sense of intuition from the process of Intellect (in the way Intellect is currently defined).

Next we come to Ego.

Ego – a very difficult word to understand – many different definitions. Ego can be wild! Ego can be difficult! Ego can be tentative and frightened. The ego cannot be controlled. Who is the I who can control the Ego? Which part of you splits off to take control? You can’t control the Ego. It is a misunderstanding that you can somehow work on the Ego to rein it in. It’s like pulling yourself up with your own boot laces or a dog chasing it’s own tale. It’s utterly futile.

Ego is the sense of the “I” of the individual. Egos can be weak or strong. We have a weak ego when we experience a feeling of lack of self-worth. Weak egos might appear to sometimes appear to create timidity or an apparent weakness in character. A weak ego also produces the compensatory behaviours of over-inflation, plumping up and arrogance. Both extremes are a function of the same weak egos. Someone who is arrogant or big-headed is still operating from a state of a weak ego. So a strong ego is not the opposite of a weak ego. To move forwards with spiritual development, with the Atma Vichari process paradoxically it becomes quite necessary to strengthen the Ego not to weaken it. This may seem counter-intuitive but when the Ego feels a sense of its own strength and value it can permit itself to ‘move out of the way of your journey’. It no longer feels vulnerable and as such it can release its control. Only a strong Ego can effectively ‘die’.

In sanskrit it is known as Aunkai (the eye maker) – the ability to ‘see’ in the way you see. Ego is therefore not a fixed entity it is in fact a process. In a sense it is like the waves and their relationship to the ocean. The waves ‘are’ in one sense present but in another merely an energy form within the whole process of the ocean. Ego is a creation of Mind’s fluctuations. Ego transforms as Mind is brought into discipline. Ego itself cannot be controlled – it’s like standing in the sea and trying to stop the waves crashing on the sure.

Ego is best worked with by strengthening it, by encouraging it to expand not controlled or negated. You can’t diminish it; it will only defend itself in some way. See what happens if you try to ridicule a weak ego. Someone who undervalues themselves will only weaken still further but it doesn’t help them grow. The arrogant ego, at one level will hit back and attack, but at another will be in pain. A healthy expanded ego is paradoxically less and less egotistical and becomes strong enough to die.

In so doing, it reveals the Self.

Self is not little individual self but Atman or perusha the version of you that is the universal energy. Self in this case is impersonal, pure consciousness. Self is infinite without limitations. From this standpoint the whole Samkya model is a continuum or spectrum from the senses through to the big S Self moving from the specific to the abstract but all connected. But the level of Self there is no language to adequately describe except those words of the mystic “thundering silence” and other terminology.

Through identity with Self Karma is dispelled. We become identified with the Source which is:

Beyond Time – Beyond Death – Beyond Causation - Boundless

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