Vichara is a Sanskrit word having the sense of investigating, examining, and analysing11 min read

Vichaha is a Sanskrit word having the sense of investigating, examining, and analysing. Literally it means to go in various directions, and it retains this sense of trying all possibilities.

The work of vichara begins with the faculty of clear thinking (buddhi), not with the lower mind of personal feelings, called chitta.

Chitta does not try to discover truth, but only to establish what will suit the interests of the ego. In a debate, chitta will try only to win: buddhi, which is pure, tries to discover the truth. Chitta will never admit, “I am wrong”, because that would injure self-esteem.

Texts and even clear facts are twisted, and if necessary flatly denied, in order to maintain its own posture. “That is not the way I see it: why should I follow what they say?” Chitta will never perform acts of service, however beneficial, if they have been suggested by someone else. “Why should I do what they say?” Nearly everyone suffers from this in one form or another; a big part of yoga training is trying to rise from chitta to pure buddhi. While the holy teaching is bent to serve personal interests, that is chitta; when the personal interests begin to bow to the holy truth, that is buddhi.

Buddhi can face facts: this is what ought to be done, this is what is clearly true, this is what the text plainly states. The Gita says about discussions, that when the only aim is to discover truth, it is a manifestation of the Lord in that discussion.

But we have to remember that though vichara begins with thinking, it does not end there. The search has to be pushed beyond mere words: vichara is not cleverly manipulating words and concepts. In fact cleverness is often a barrier to progress: the mind shrinks back from what is coming to light, and takes refuge in thickets of words. In the end, sincerity and courage are just as necessary as intellect.

“The Self cannot be realized by the weak-willed”, says the Upanishad, quoted with approval by the modern sage Shri Dada, teacher of Dr. Shastri himself.

A classical field of vichara is the dozen or so Great Sayings of the Upanishads: brief sentences, one of which is taken as a sort of spring-board for a leap into the infinite.

A famous Saying is: That Thou Art (tat tvam asi). The meaning of the words is analysed carefully, and then the meaning of the sentence. When this has been done properly, thinking comes to a kind of upright wall.

Take a main point of the analysis presented by Shankara in Chapter 18 of his Thousand Teachings classic. With this Great Sentence, the vichara is applied only to the meaning of the word “Thou”, namely the yogic aspirant (verse 180). Reasoning shows that the subject must be different from the object. For instance, the idea “I suffer pain” is an object; the subject is Self, apart from this object. The Self apart is ascertained by excluding from the meaning of the word “I”, the notion “experiencer of pain”. (verse 181)

When this point is reached, the thinking finds itself before a blank wall. Logic may exclude the notion “experiencer of pain” from the notion “I”, but it has no effect on experience, which goes on as before. When in pain, it is difficult even to remember the steps of the logical reasoning: something about subject and object, wasn’t it? … Oh – h – h!

In the face of this situation, there is a tendency to pursue the vichara no further. It seems somehow embarrassing. Can it be that the holy text is talking nonsense? Better perhaps to spend some years in looking for possible parallels in Buddhism, which officially has no Self. Or perhaps take the whole thing as somehow symbolic, and not meant literally. Or else, frankly to turn to minor matters, such as cleaning the temple or ashrama. In this way the inquiry is distracted, and in fact broken off. There is a tacit understanding not to pursue the matter. Such a decision may seem more comfortable (at least, as long as outer circumstances hold up reasonably well), but it brings a sort of insincerity into holy study.

What then is to be done? We are presented with a theoretical position, that Self is not the body, is not a sufferer, is not limited in any way. But this does not affect the present experience of being the body, in suffering, and limited in innumerable ways. However much we think, it seems that it cannot make any difference.

Shankara gives certain hints that it is not just a question of thinking. He says that pain is not experienced when the mind becomes motionless (verse 168). This same phrase is used in the Gita 11.53 to describe the samadhi of the yogi. Furthermore, he says, one dreams that one is hurt, but on waking one finds one has not been hurt. Then again, parents who see their child hurt can come to feel that hurt in themselves, though in fact they are not themselves hurt. In this way we see in life that it is possible for pain to be wrongly felt, so to speak. These are indeed examples closer to life, but they do not resolve the absolute clash between the theoretical statement “Self has no suffering” and present experience. That is done only by meditation.

The idea of meditation has classically an implication of continued repetition, and this is so in almost all cases. But Shankara quotes (v.100) the case of the incarnation Rama who was under a temporary illusion, and freed from it by the mere declaration of Brahma: “You are God”. He concentrates on that: no other effort is spoken of.

The realization is almost instantaneous. But this was a case where it had already existed, but was momentarily clouded by a harsh necessity in his role of King. Normally it takes a good time, as both the Gita and Patanjali declare.

The reasoning of vichara is summed up finally in a Great Saying, and the meditation process is simply to reduce the shouting of the children of chitta in the mind, as Swami Rama Tirtha describes it. The constant uproar of desires, fears, griefs, and illusions has to die down, so that the Great Saying becomes the single point of attention.

Then the hidden essence of the Saying blossoms out, as a clear and direct experience.

Unless the mind is made one-pointed, there will be constant interruptions and contradictions from the chitta part of it.

Suppose the reasoning is being reflected on: “I am not the body. To think I am the body is a breach of logic. It is stupidity, it is folly. I am pure consciousness.”

Now chitta interrupts: “But here we are, sitting on this chair in this room. No question of that.”

Again reflection is taken up: “The scriptures assure me I am not the body. I am consciousnessbliss.” Chitta replies: “You are the body, and we both know it.”

Once more the scripture is recalled: “I have no pain, no sorrow, no pleasure attachment, no birth, no death, no mind.”

And chitta replies: “If you have no mind, what are you thinking all this with?”

After a certain amount of this, people may give up. In verse 219, Shankara quotes an Upanishad to illustrate how to distinguish clearly the true Self from body and mind: externally renouncing action, internally undisturbed by desire, withdrawing into himself, indifferent to opposites, and attaining one-pointedness by separating himself from the movements of the senses and the mind. This is a description of the state of samadhi of a yogi. It is a picture of meditation. Most people never actually think undistractedly; they think while reading, or in little intervals between appointments or amusements. So the thoughts are a turmoil, or else repetitive circling; they never progress, and never get deeper. In meditation, however, there is one thought of a resolute nature, and the needle-point of the meditation goes deeper and deeper into it.

Even so, it may be asked, how will this one-pointedness bring actual realization? It cannot create something which actual experience denies. The answer is, that when the onepointed state is repeated again and again, it will, so to say, burst into an actual realization. The object of a true meditation blazes out in its own true nature, which is the true nature of the meditator also.

We have an account of this process of realization through vichara taken to its consummation; reflection on a sentence is intensified till it becomes continuous meditation, and that meditation matures and finally bursts into samadhi. Now the movements of chitta cannot arise; the mind becomes motionless and “the children of chitta die”.

We see in this account how the reasoning is taken deeper and deeper till it becomes meditation, and finally even meditation is transcended. The passage comes from the Epilogue of the essay called Worship (Upasana), by Swami Rama Tirtha, a fellow-disciple of Dr. Shastri. The essay was translated by Dr. Shastri, and included in his book about Rama Tirtha called Scientist and Mahatma.


How should one perform the non-dualistic worship of cogitation and contemplation (manana and nididhyasana)? Select out of the Shastra (scripture) the sentences which influence your heart most, which impress you most. Sit in a solitary spot and go through them in the way prescribed below.

Let us take the Five Stanzas on the Self by Shri Shankara:

I am neither the body nor the senses nor the mind,
Neither the intellect nor egoity nor the vital airs nor the thinking principle,
Neither land, nor home, nor women nor wealth. I am Shiva. I am Shiva.
I am massed Consciousness, I am Bliss.

The fourth line is to be repeated over and over again, filling the mind with the ideas given below. See that the mind is thoroughly relaxed. Mature the feeling in which there is not a shadow of doubt even in dream: “I am not the body. I cannot allow the illusion of the body-idea to be associated with myself. To imagine the body-consciousness to be associated with Atman (Self) is a breach of logic. It is stupidity, it is folly”.

I am Shiva. I am Shiva.
I am massed Bliss and Consciousness.

“Undoubtedly this is the final word of the Veda and of Vedanta. When the Veda and the true Shastra teach me that I am separate from the body, then for me to conceive of myself as the body is atheism. Why should I commit such an offence?”

I am Shiva. I am Shiva.
I am massed Consciousness-Bliss.

(The account gives two other examples of reasoning leading into I-am-Shiva meditation)

I am Shiva. I am Shiva.
I am massed Consciousness-Bliss.

The mother gives a ripe mango to her little child. The child takes hold of the fruit, brings it close to his mouth and begins to suck it. In the course of sucking, the fruit bursts, the sweet juice is spread on the hands, mouth, and clothes. Now the child forgets his dress, his mother, his hands and his mouth. In the same way the compassionate Mother Shruti (scripture) gives the ripe fruit in the form of a Great Sentence. Repeat it with your whole heart in solitude. It will burst, and you will have supreme bliss, samadhi.

(Later in the essay, Swami Rama teaches walking meditation. “A great means to Self-realization is to sing OM whilst walking, endowing it with the meaning of the Great

Sentence: “I am Brahman”. To sing it, to recite it, to put it on your breath, is a great help to Self-realization.”

He concludes with many examples to show that the bliss, wisdom and power, which first show themselves clearly in meditation, continue to manifest outside the meditation state. He cites a hymn from the Rig Veda (about 1200 BC), revealed through the mouth of a woman who was a perfect knower of God. She was walking about on the earth singing, realizing her self-identity with the supreme Self, feeling “I am the whole world, I am the one substratum of all.” Early Western Sanskritists noted striking parallels between this and the short Wisdom-hymn in Proverbs 8, some 1,000 years later.)

I am walking about as (the gods) Rudra and as Vasu. I am the sun and as Vishva Deva I roam about.
I am Brahman. I become Mitra and Varuna.
I bear in me Indra, Agni and the two Ashwini Kumara. On me is superimposed the whole universe as silver on mother-of-pearl.
I bear (the herbs) Soma and also Kusha and Bhag. I am the source from which flows the juice of Soma. I give satisfaction to the Devas.
I am the sovereign of the whole universe. I give wealth to the worshippers,
I give the reward of worship to them.
I am first among the performers of sacrifice, I am endowed with all good qualities,
I abide in the phenomenal world,
I enter all beings as the individual souls, I am invoked by the Devas.
Whatever grain is eaten, is eaten by me, Whatever sees and breathes, does so by me, Whatever is heard or said, it is by me.
Those who do not know me as abiding in all, as the inner controller,
They perish in the world for want of knowledge of me.
O Lightning! I proclaim Brahman who is achieved by faith and endeavour.

© Trevor Leggett