The subject today is ‘self-realisation’. It is a very loaded word that is often misunderstood. In this context, I will bring the Upanishads into the picture since they are among the most important and authoritative teachings concerning the knowledge of the self. All the great teachers, from the beginning of time, and this includes the written record in the Vedas, have talked about self-realisation.
Man, know thyself!
Socrates said: “Know thyself”. The Upanishads also say the same. So do all great spiritual teachings. Among the sufis, there is a saying attributed to Prophet Mohammed: Man arafa nafsahu faqad arafa rabbahu. This means, he who knoweth his self, knoweth his lord. We are also familiar with the vedantic teachings, which use the word self-realisation instead of God-realisation.
To know the self is to know ‘that’. Whatever you call ‘that’–be it God or brahman or paramatma or even shunya. To know oneself is the most important thing. In the inquiry into spiritual matters, to find the truth, we have to first know the one who is searching for the truth and that is indeed one’s self.
In this self-enquiry, it is important to take stock of one’s self–one’s capacities, weaknesses, strengths, talents and also one’s darker side. Common sense says it is not possible to understand or embark upon any enterprise before making such a self-assessment. So, when one wants to know oneself, one should start with the understanding of what one is at the moment.
The vedantic teaching is all about finding out for oneself what one is. When I say, “I am going to find out who am I.”–who is the one who is going to find this out, what is the content of that which is going to find out?
Unfortunately, there has been a completely misunderstood view of ‘self-realisation’. When we say ‘self-realisation’, it is made to appear as if we should imagine or say, ‘I am not this body, I am not this mind, I am the atman, I am that which is beyond, I am the blissful Paramatman’. Just a minute, these are all ideas: I am not the body, I am that; I am this, I am the blissful self; I am a cloud floating in the sky. These are all just words–mere empty words. Words, which we have read about, or heard about.
But what is the actual fact behind ‘Who I am?’
Look, I am not arguing that I am the ‘supreme blissful’ being. I am not arguing whether this is right or wrong. I am only saying that whether I say it or you say it, or you and I say it, the layman says it–it is merely second-hand knowledge. We have only heard somebody say it or we have read it somewhere or it is just our imagination. We are just projecting or super-imposing our imagination on the actuality. And, what is the actuality?
What is the true self of ours? Our mind’s content. It is the content of our mind at this moment.