Self investigation

Know thyself

Everyone wants to be happy and we are all seeking happiness. The problem is that we are looking for everlasting happiness outside of ourselves from the external world and hoping that one day after striving and finally achieving our goals, we will attain happiness. As life goes on we face many disappointments and even after achieving the things we wanted, how long do they keep us satisfied or happy? Religions, philosophies and spiritual scriptures are telling us that there is Truth, Liberation to be found, a truth that will quench our thirst once and for all and set us free.

This promise gives us hope and makes us curious enough to start on some kind of a spiritual path. Today we have countless possibilities to choose from. Search from the internet and the list of various spiritual paths and teachings are countless.Most, if not all other spiritual practices, require a dualistic approach, to have a certain practice and a practitioner to pursuit the practice. This is where self-investigation differs significantly from other spiritual practices.

‘Know thyself’, the famous words written at the Apollo Temple area in Delphi, Greece challenge us. What does it mean to “know our self”? Normally we acknowledge quite well the outside appearance, that is our body and our inmost thoughts and feelings and maybe we know something about our nature, habits and background. Memory provides a convincing story of “me and my life”.Is this “knowing our self”? Probably not like it was meant in those classical words mentioned.

So, how to know our self? Self-investigation shows a direct way of taking in account only the subject, the “I”, to whom we refer to constantly when mentioning our self. No-one can deny one’s own existence, we all say “I am”. So, let us go deeper into this quest and take our first step onto this path of knowing who or what this “I” actually is.


What is self investigation?

(The practice of ātma-vicāra — ‘self-enquiry’ quotation is taken from Michael James homepage:

A Sanskrit term that was often used, both by Sri Ramana (Maharshi) and by other more ancient sages such as Sri Adi Sankara, to describe this empirical practice of self-investigation or self-attentiveness is ātma-vicāra (or ‘atma-vichara’, as it is often less precisely transcribed), which is generally translated in English as ‘self-enquiry’ or ‘self-inquiry’. However, rather than ‘enquiry’, the word vicāra can be more accurately translated as ‘investigation’, ‘examination’ or ‘scrutiny’. Therefore, the term ātma-vicāra really means ‘self-investigation’, ‘self-examination’ or ‘self-scrutiny’, and denotes the simple practice of closely examining, inspecting or scrutinising our fundamental and essential consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’, with a keen and concentrated power of attention.

Sri Ramana Maharshi also referred to this empirical practice of self-investigation, self-examination, self-inspection, self-scrutiny, self-attention or self-attentiveness as the vicāra ‘who am I?’ However, when he described it thus, he did not mean that it is a process of questioning ourself ‘who am I?’ either verbally or mentally. What he intended us to understand by this term is that this practice is a keenly attentive examination or scrutiny of our basic consciousness of our own being, which we always experience as ‘I am’, in order to discover the true nature of this ‘I’, our essential being or ‘am’-ness.

That is, though (among its range of meanings) vicāra does mean ‘enquiry’, in the context of Sri Ramana’s teachings it means enquiry in the sense of empirical (experiential) investigation rather than in the sense of mere verbal questioning. It is not just mentally asking oneself the question ‘who (or what) am I?’ but is actually investigating what ‘I’ am —scrutinising oneself in order to experience oneself as one actually is. In other words, it is not literally questioning oneself ‘who am I?’ but is figuratively doing so: investigating experientially what this ‘I’ actually is.

Happiness is our true nature

‘Since all sentient beings want to be always happy without what is called misery, since for everyone the greatest love is only for oneself, and since happiness alone is the cause for love, to obtain that happiness, which is one’s own nature, which one experiences daily in deep sleep, which is devoid of mind, oneself knowing oneself is necessary.

For that,  jñāna-vicāra (awareness-investigation) called who am I alone is the principal means.’

(Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, from the introduction to ‘Nan Yar?, Who am I?’) 

Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi

Self investigation differs from other methods in that all other methods maintain a subject-object relationship. In self investigation, there is only the subject, the “I,” whose origin or source is under investigation. 

When thoughts arise, one should ask, “Whose thought is this?” The answer is “The thought is mine”. 

As you turn your attention more towards the “I” the “I” will gradually abide back to its source.

All thoughts are based on the “I” idea, all other thoughts associated with it. When I say, “I see a tree”, the “tree” is the object and the “I” the subject.

The purpose is to follow the “I” thought and see from where it arises.

When the “I” rises, the world appears, when it returns to its original source, the world disappears.

The purpose and goal of self investigation is to state that you are not your thoughts, and no definition can express what the real “I” is.

With constant practice, thoughts diminish, or no longer create identification with who you are.

Self investigation can be practiced all the time, in all life’s situations. 


Bhagavan teaches that bhakti is the mother of jnana. 

Without love we cannot practice self-investigation successfully and surrender is impossible without the knowledge who we really are. Self-investigation and surrender are the two sides of the same coin. Both are needed in this practice.

Surrendering to God or Self is the other effective way to annihilate the ego or the sense of being an individual person.



Nan Yar?

In 1901, a young man was sitting on the holy mountain Arunachala in South India, when a scholar, Sivaprakasam Pillai, came to him with burning questions about the nature of Truth.

As he was not speaking at that time, the answers were given in silence, written in the sand. The young man was to become the renowned saint Sri Ramana Maharshi.

Twenty years after the initial interview, in the early days of the Ramana Ashram, he himself edited his answers given that day, which became the first ashram publication setting out his essential teachings. 

Upadesa Undiyar

Upadesa Undiyar is a thirty-verse philosophical poem composed by Ramana Maharshi in 1927. The original was in Tamil, but Bhagavan later wrote other versions in Telugu, Sanskrit and Malayalam. 

Sadhu Om and Michael James made a word-for-word translation of the Tamil text in the 1980s and added a long introduction and a commentary on each verse. 

This work (Upadesa Undiyar of Bhagavan Sri Ramana) was published by Sri Ramana Kshetra but it has been out of print for many years. Since it is not likely to be published again in the near future, I sought and received Michael’s permission to post the whole work on this site. 

Ulladu Narpadu

“So that we may be saved, [graciously] reveal to us the nature of reality and the means to attain [or experience]it.”

This is the prayer that Sri Muruganar made to Bhagavan Sri Ramana when requesting him to compose Ulladu Narpadu, and these are the words with which he beginsthe first verse of his payiram or preface to this great work.

In answer to this prayer Sri Bhagavan composed Ulladu Narpadu, and in accordance with it he thereby revealed to us not only the nature of reality but also the means by which we can attain direct experience of it.