The Three Phases of Self-inquiry

Hi Ted,


I was wondering: how do I know when shravana is complete and I could move onto manana and the same with manana to nididhyasana? Also, can you recommend anything to read that really examines those three properly and easily?


Thanks, and best wishes to you





Hi, Henry.


Shravana, manana, and nididhyasana are not three discrete stages of self-inquiry that take place in succession, but rather three facets of the process.


Initially, one has to hear the teachings, so in that sense we say that shravana comes first. Shravana essentially encompasses the whole process of self-inquiry, however, for one keeps dwelling upon the teachings—and, thus, hearing them—until one stands with unshakeable conviction in their veracity. The word shravana literally means hearing, but shravana involves more than simply exposing oneself to the words. It is an active process in which one lays aside all the knowledge one has previously accumulated from various other traditions and teachers and devotes one’s unbiased attention to the teachings as they are presented by a teacher who is able to competently wield the means of knowledge as preserved by the Vedanta sampradaya, the teaching tradition, which uses a specific methodology that has proven over the millennia to be the most effective means of revealing the limitless conscious existence that is one’s essential self. Vedanta does not ask the student to blindly believe anything it says, but it does require that the student provisionally set aside his prior knowledge in order to be able to hear and understand the teachings as they are being presented in light of the tried and true tradition of the sampradaya.


Once the student has a solid understanding of the basic teachings, then he is encouraged to examine his previously held beliefs in light of what he has heard. Though that might sound like a biased way of approaching the analysis, it is the only logical way to proceed, for if the teachings to which the student had previously been exposed had actually granted him moksha, ultimate inner freedom, then he wouldn’t still be seeking. Because the beliefs that one has brought to the study of Vedanta have either been deeply conditioned into his psyche or have been hard won through previous spiritual practice, they can be formidable foes that don’t succumb easily to the sword of discrimination that Vedanta wields. Hence, a period of questioning ensues during which the student is encouraged to bring up every doubt and confusion that he has to the teacher in order to have it resolved, for only when every doubt and confusion is finally laid to rest will the student be able to stand with unshakeable conviction in the truth of the teachings. As long as even the slightest doubt lingers, the whole house of wisdom is on shaky ground and is essentially nothing more than yet another set of beliefs.


It would seem that once all doubts and confusions have been laid to rest and the student is thoroughly convinced of the truth of the teachings, having not only understood them intellectually, but also verified them in terms of the logic revealed by an analysis of his own experience, the student should thereafter abide in the inner freedom that is his true nature. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. In order to de-condition the mind of all its erroneous beliefs, the student needs to continuously contemplate the teachings and apply them to each and every situation, encounter, and experience of his life. At this point, the student no longer harbors any doubts about the truth of the teachings, but the old habitual tendencies of mind and body continue to kick in when faced with certain stimuli. Thus, one must be very vigilant in observing one’s thought patterns and the emotional reactions and physical actions to which they give rise, and to an ever-increasing extent one must curb those that don’t correlate with the truth of one’s being and through continual contemplation of the defects of object-oriented happiness, which is essentially the fact that no limited object or experience can provide limitless and lasting fulfillment, one must weaken and eventually neutralize the binding vasanas (i.e., compelling likes and dislikes) that have heretofore driven one’s thoughts, words, and deeds. Through such a diligent “practice of knowledge,” one eventually abides in the unassailable inner freedom that is one’s true nature.


James discusses these facets in his books and they are also discussed in the article titled, “The Predicament of Ignorance and the Process of Self-Inquiry” that is available in the Intro Articles section of my website ( ). They are also clearly laid out in the article titled, “The Process of Knowing” that is available within the Teachings section of the Discover Vedanta website (


All the best,