Knowledge of Self
The knowledge of God is not so commonly spoken of in India as the knowledge of the true Self. Self-knowledge reveals the knowledge of the real nature of the Absolute and of the Supreme Deity.
That which performs all the functions of the body and mind, is generally known as “I” or ego; but it is only the reflection of the Absolute Brahman, which is the source of all intelligence.
The ego is the image of that divine spark within us which gives it vitality and makes it do all works mental and physical. So when we speak of Self-knowledge, we do not mean simply the knowledge of the lower animal self or ego, but also of the higher Self.
The higher Self is the same as the Absolute which lies at the foundation of the phenomenal universe. The Absolute Substance or Brahman is beyond space and time, consequently it is formless and unchangeable.
When it manifests itself as an individualized, self-conscious entity, it is known as the ego. It also appears as the object of consciousness, then it is called matter; the Absolute Being, however, is neither matter nor is it the same as ego.
It forms the background of our ego, therefore it is our true Self. When we have realized it, we have known God as well as the relation which the phenomenal universe bears to Him; and the best method of becoming conscious of this Absolute Being is through the realization of our true Self, or Atman, as it is called in Sanskrit.
Some people think that self-annihilation is the ideal of the Vedanta Philosophy, but it is not so. The true Self, according to Vedanta, can never be destroyed. If self-annihilation were the ideal, then the Self would be subject to change and destruction; it could not be the same as the Absolute Being.
The Vedanta Philosophy, on the contrary, teaches that the true Self is absolutely indestructible and unchangeable. How is it then possible for anyone to think of its annihilation? Destruction of Self is just as impossible as the destruction of the Absolute; therefore self-annihilation cannot be the highest aim and ideal of life.
Self-knowledge alone helps us to realize the absolute Truth and to attain perfection. It is considered to be the highest wisdom. When Socrates asked the Delphian Oracle “What is the highest knowledge?” the answer came, “Know thy Self.” By the word “self” here is meant not merely the ego, but the true Self.
The same knowledge of the real Self has been glorified in India from the most ancient Vedic period. Vedanta, the rationalistic portion of the Vedas, describes this Self-knowledge as the highest ideal of life.
If you wish to know God, we must first know our true Self; we must ask within ourselves who and what we are in reality, where we have come from, and what becomes of us after death ?
These questions are of vital importance. Ordinary’ people cannot solve such problems their minds are too busy with the affairs of the phenomenal world.
But an earnest seeker after Truth, who is discontented with the knowledge of material objects, wishes to go below the surface of phenomenal appearances and docs not stop until the ultimate goal, the reality which underlies all phenomena, is discovered. His aim is to find the correct solution of these problems by knowing the true nature of his ego as well as of the universe.
He may start with the objective world, but gradually, as he advances step by step and reaches farther and farther in his search after Truth, he comes back in the end to his own Self.
Because the true Self is the center of the universe. The phenomenal world, which consists of the objects of sense-perception, may be compared to a grand circle, the circumference of which lies in the gross material forms and the innermost center of which is Atman, the true Self.
The nature of this true Self, according to Vedanta is infinite. It is neither limited by time nor conditioned by space relations. The Scriptures describe God as the center of the universe, but Vedanta says that Self or Atman is also the center of the universe, and that the true Self is one with Divinity.
The moment that we realize the Divine Self within us, we understand that the realm of the same Atman extends to the sun, moon, stars, and even to the most distant planets, the light from which takes hundreds and thousands of years to reach us.
Wherever there is existence, whether on the physical or mental plane, there is also the manifestation of this Divine Self. That by which we know
the existence of the external world, by which we arc conscious of our bodies, senses and mental powers, is our true Self. It is not far from us, yet it is beyond the reach of mind and intellect. The Self is thus described in the fourth verse of the Isha Upanishad:
“It (the Self) is beyond all vibration and I , motion. It is one, and swifter than mind. The senses never reached it, it transcended them all. Though standing still, it overtakes the mind and senses which are running fast. It is the source of all mental activities, sense-powers and the various forces of nature.”
Modem science tells us that the whole world is the product of matter and material forces. Matter, again, as we have seen in the first chapter, is nothing but a certain state of motion or vibration of some substance, the true nature of which is unknown and unknowable.
Every particle of the universe is in constant motion or vibration. That which we call heat or light, sound or taste, odor, touch or any object of sense perception, is nothing but a state of vibration of the same unknown substance.
Sir William Crookes says: “At thirty-two vibrations per second, is it shown that we have the first beginning of audible sound, and that sound ceases to be audible when it reaches to something less than thirty-three thousand vibrations in a second. The vibrations of heat and light rays are almost inconceivably more rapid. They are expressed in no fewer than fifteen figures, whilst the vibrations within a single second of the recently discovered radium are expressed in more than nine millions of millions of millions.”
The whole world consists in the vibration of atoms, or the most minute particles of material substance, but above and beyond all this vibration there exists the Absolute Reality, the true Self, which is the source of knowledge, intelligence and consciousness. It is through this Self that we know that there is such a thing as vibration.
Here the question rises: Who is it that knows that the world is a mass of vibration? Does vibration know itself? It cannot.
“Motion produces nothing but motion,” this is one of the laws of nature which has been confirmed by modem scientists. Motion cannot produce knowledge.
Knowledge is something which is not the effect of motion or vibration; but it is that which enlightens our minds and makes us see and understand that there is such a thing as motion or vibration. Therefore the Upanishad says: “That which does not vibrate is our true Self.” Search within and see where is that which does not vibrate, but which is the Knower of all vibrations and actions.
“It goes faster than mind.” “We know that mind is the fastest thing in the world; thought travels faster than electricity, or any other current that exists on the physical plane.
Sir William Crookes reasons that “the thought vibrations which issue from the brain may really have their beginning at a point where it becomes no longer possible to estimate the vibrations which are caused by the most subtle forces of physical nature.”
Furthermore, he adds: “If we can any way realize the concept of a force which is capable of creating thousands of trillions of vibrations in a second, and if we add to this idea that the velocity of these vibrations is equalled by their rapidity, we see easily enough that thought may put a girdle about the earth in an infinitesimal fraction of time.”
We can exchange messages by wireless telegraphy between here and England or any other part of the world, but thought transference is quicker than wireless telegraphy. T
he mind of a person who is sitting here can go straight into the sun, or beyond the sun into the infinite space where the ordinary force of electricity will not reach perhaps— even there the mind can run in the shortest interval of time.
Time exists in mind. What is time? Time means succession in thought.
When one thought rises after another, the interval between them is what we call Time, so it is subject to mental activity.
That which is swifter than mind is the true Self. Our real Self can go quicker than thought-current and even where mind cannot reach. It travels everywhere. Self or Atman forms the background of the mind, therefore the Self is quicker and faster than the activity of the mind. Mind can go nowhere without depending upon the Self, the Knower. It remains absolutely inactive when it is separated from the Self.
“The senses never reached it, it transcended them all.” The senses cannot reveal it; sense-powers cannot express the true nature of the Self, because they are limited by time and space, while the Knower of time and space must necessarily be beyond the reach of the senses. When we see the sun, the very sight depends upon self-consciousness; that is, we must be conscious of the fact that we are seeing something, and that consciousness must depend upon our true Self.
The sun will not be seen if our mind and eyes are separated and cut off from Self, the source of knowledge, intelligence and consciousness.
Depending upon that source of consciousness and intelligence, our mind works, our senses perform their functions and the body moves.
Therefore, the Isha Upanishad continues: “It (Self) moves and it “moves not; it is far and likewise near. It is inside and also outside of all this.
” When the body moves, the source of intelligence, or our true Self, appears as moving, but in reality it does not move. Where will it go? It cannot go anywhere.
When we move a jar from one place to another the space within the jar appears to be moving; but does the space move in reality? No. What is it then that moves? We do not know; the form appears to be moving, but the form again is limitation in space. It may be said, “If space does not move, then the form cannot move.” It seems to be like a puzzle, when we try to answer it at every step we meet with insoluble problems.
Self Knowledge by Swami Abhendanada published 1905