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The Essence of Atmavichara

8. 7. 2007

Jiri Vacek

Atmavichara, enquiry for our true Self, is work with our consciousness and its attention but not with our mind. Its aim is to pull away attention of our consciousness from everything that can be observed i.e. the whole world and its beings, our body with its feelings, states and activities and our mind with all of its emotions, thoughts and ideas. If we back off our consciousness from absorbance in anything observable, if we withdraw it totally out of everything, then what is left is just pure consciousness, we ourselves. This way we attain direct realization that we are nothing observable but the consciousness that is aware of everything and observes it.

To be aware of anything or to observe I must exist as an observing consciousness. Behind consciousness of diversity of things and their names there is "I", the observing consciousness. I am aware of them, I observe them. All the objects are changing, I - consciousness - am/is without any change. If I don’t perceive them they cease to exist but I, consciousness, stay. Therefore I am unchanging but existing consciousness. Consciousness is my existence, my being, and not the body or mind and its states and activities.

My "I" or better "I am" consciousness is the observer and what is more it is also self-conscious consciousness. I am aware that I am the consciousness because I am aware of my Self, my true conscious existence, my self-conscious being.

This "I am" consciousness is my real life but not the life in body and mind. I must learn to live consciously in consciousness, through, with and as It. Life in the world must be prevailed by life in consciousness.

And that is exactly what is happening during Self enquiry, enquiry for our true Self by means of directing our attention. We constantly withdraw our attention from objects we are aware of and turn it to ourselves, to the consciousness that is aware of all the objects. Thus we take away from those objects the power of existence we usually bestow to them with our consciousness. During this method of constant effort, which grounds in conscious and watchful controlling of our attention when we withdraw our attention from everything we can observe, all the observable objects are being weakened in their existence and power they have on us. This is the way how to dissolve ego directly because ego is created just by the power of our own consciousness which identifies itself with body and mind unknowingly. When we withdraw consciousness from our mind and body we take away from the objects not only the consciousness we bestowed to them but also its power. This happens through realizing ourselves in consciousness that observes everything and so we realize we are not identical with them but something different. Then by turning our attention on the pure consciousness "I am" or "I exist" through our consciousness we realize ourselves as "It".

That means that the classical question "Who am I?" or "What is my true nature, my true self?" is not meant to be solved with and in mind. This would be useless effort because "I" isn´t in mind but above or behind it. The question has just one aim: to force us to turn our attention on what we really are, the pure consciousness "I am".

This way, through turning attention to us, to our nature, we actually start and maintain the process of realization our "I-ness" in progress. At first we realize with our consciousness and not just with our mind what we are not and at the end we realize what we really are, the pure consciousness. Let´s emphasize that this process is gradual and not one-shot and this process must be carefully and consciously maintained by atmavichara as described above. If we interrupt this process and don´t withdraw our attention from everything observable to our true self, the consciousness itself, our progress to realization and liberation will not even stop but logically invert then. Then our attention again flows to our mind, body and the world. These objects gain the higher level of "reality" and power over us the more power of our consciousness we bestow to them. Ego is not being dissolved any more but strengthened again.

The consciousness of our true "Self", the state of its realization is then weakened, because it isn´t supplied with attention of consciousness itself.

Theoretically it is possible to attain realization at once but that only in case that we are able to withdraw our attention from the perceived objects totally and turn it completely to our "I-consciousness". But most devotees and disciples aren’t able to do that immediately for following reasons:

  • long-times-grown habit to pay attention to observable things only but not to our consciousness that observes them doesn’t allow to a disciple even to understand what he is asked to do much less to actually do that
  • tie of consciousness onto body and mind causes that everything they experience the consciousness experiences too as if we were identical with body and mind. This tie also constantly draws attention of consciousness to our body and mind and thus binds it with them
  • vasanas, tendencies of mind as real forces with given quantity and direction thanks to lack of attention and awareness literally draw the attention of our consciousness to them, absorb it and bear it in their direction, i.e. to the world and body.


Realization is thus possible only when we meet these requirements:

  • Constant and unbroken practice of atmavichara as mentioned above. Let´s highlight its essence again. It lies in permanent withdrawing of attention of our consciousness from everything observable and turn it to "It" that is aware of everything and especially of itself.
  • Dissolving all tendencies and vasanas that are hostile to realization. This is done by correctly practiced atmavichara and by controlling mind from the position of its observer with the help of viveka, ability to discriminate. Both must be practiced simultaneously and continuously. The first or the latter alone isn’t sufficient.


Just to claim that we are already "It" can’t bring us to realization if we both don’t practice atmavichara and don’t control our mind too. Realization isn’t a state of mind but of the self-aware consciousness. The only value of a right instruction is that it helps us concentrate on ourselves in our search. When we understand such an instruction right we will not look for anything out of us, anything that isn’t here and that must be created but we concentrate with our consciousness on "That" that we already are, knowing that we don’t realize it now just due to wrongly directed attention and influence of harmful vasanas. However if we don’t get the instruction right and understand it as if our ego were "I", we are lost for the path of Self-enquiry until we realize our mistake. The second part of the instruction, that we already are "It" so there is nothing we should strive for, is always wrong and completely destructive for our spiritual progress.

It is just the opposite. We must try as much as possible to be able to realize ourselves as pure consciousness by means of atmavichara. At the same time we have to dissolve continuously and permanently all tendencies of our mind that work as obstacles to our self-realization.

Without these two parts of the path that cannot be skipped no one has ever realized the "Self" and never will. He who teaches anything different just diverts those who believe him from the direct path. He is not a leader but a tempter.