Vichara, Self-Inquiry or Atma-Vichara is reflection and contemplation upon the meaning of Vedantic statements, which leads the individual towards true knowledge, about oneself. It answer the question “who am I” and is a way to seek its answers.
It is inquiry into the inner awareness of ‘I’ or ‘I am’.
How should one perform Vichara ?
As mentioned by Adi Shankaracharya himself in Aparokshanubhuti verse 10-16, how should an individual should perform Vichara.
कोऽहं कथमिदं जातं को वै कर्ताऽस्य विद्यते ।
उपादानं किमस्तीह विचारः सोऽयमीदृशः ॥ 12॥
Who am I ? How is this (world) created ? Who is its creator ? Of what material is this (world) made ? This is the way of that Vichara.
नाहं भूतगणो देहो नाहं चाक्षगणस्तथा ।
एतद्विलक्षणः कश्चिद्विचारः सोऽयमीदृशः ॥ 13॥
I am neither the body, a combination of the (five) elements, nor am I an aggregate of the senses; I am something different from these. This is the way of that Vichara.
अज्ञानप्रभवं सर्वं ज्ञानेन प्रविलीयते ।
सङ्कल्पो विविधः कर्ता विचारः सोऽयमीदृशः ॥ 14॥
Everything is produced by ignorance, and dissolves in the wake of Knowledge. The various thoughts (modifications of mind) must be the creator. Such is this Vichara.
एतयोर्यदुपादानमेकं सूक्ष्मं सदव्ययम् ।
यथैव मृद्घटादीनां विचारः सोऽयमीदृशः ॥ 15॥
Just as the earth is the material cause of the pot, similarly the material cause of ignorance and thought is the Brahman, who is subtle and has unchanging Existence. This is the way of that Vichara.
अहमेकोऽपि सूक्ष्मश्च ज्ञाता साक्षी सदव्ययः ।
तदहं नात्र सन्देहो विचारः सोऽयमीदृशः ॥ 16॥
As I am also the One, the Subtle, the Knower, the Witness, the Ever-Existent, and the Unchanging, so there is no doubt that I am “That” (Brahman). Such is this enquiry.