Realization of the Self

Realization of the Self

A seeker after Self-knowledge, having performed all the duties of his life, discovered that the performance of duty could not bring peace to his mind.

He had worshipped all the Devas or bright spirits, and had served the gods, but he had not received the knowledge of his real Self. Nor had he found satisfaction, although he had spent most of his time in devotion to the Supreme.

indraThus learning that happiness, peace and knowledge cannot be obtained from sense-objects or from earthly relations, and realizing the ephemeral character of the phenomenal world, he could no longer remain content with the pleasures of a worldly life, so he renounced all his attachment to earthly things.

He also gave up all studies, because he had discovered that the reading of the Scriptures could not give Self-know ledge or absolute happiness; for books and Scriptures simply remind us of the higher truths, but they cannot bring the highest Truth within the reach of our soul.

Those who think that spiritual realization will come from the study of the Scriptures and sacred books are mistaken. The Scriptures describe certain spiritual truths, such as the existence of God, Divine Love, salvation, but by squeezing the pages of the book no one can gain the realization of these truths any more than one can get a drop of water by squeezing the pages of the almanac, in which the annual rainfall is mentioned.

Before we can comprehend the spirit of any Scriptural text we shall have to realize the truth described in it. This seeker after Self-knowledge, therefore, abandoned all studies, and went to a spiritual teacher who had known the Self. He approached him like a humble pupil, longing to acquire Self-knowledge.

He had no other desire; he did not care to go to heaven or to enjoy celestial pleasures; his sole aim and deal in life was to know the true nature of the Self. Nothing else could please him or make him happy; his heart was longing for that nectar of wisdom which flows in the soul of a knower of the Atman.

hand-of-fatima-blue-vThough he had come to understand that the physical  body was not all in all, that the mind, the director of the senses, was not the unchangeable Reality, but was subject to constant change,

yet his thirst for knowledge was unquenched.

Now he was eager to search after that unchangeable and absolute Truth, which is the Soul of our souls and the Ruler of all. Having bowed his head with deep reverence at the feet of the great spiritual teacher, the pupil asked:

“Revered Sir, who is it that governs the mind, and by what power is the mind directed to perform its functions? What force guides the Prana and the sense-powers? Why is it that we are so active, what is the cause of our activity ? Who is this speaker of words? Who is the seer of sights? Who is the hearer of sounds? What power controls the organs of sight, hearing, and the other senses?”

With this inquiry begins the Kena Upani-shad, which had been handed down through memory for generations before the art of writing was known in India. It shows how old and sublime are the teachings of Vedanta.

Think of the antiquity and the deep meaning of these questions! We know that our mind is constantly active; new thoughts and ideas are rising and going down. Mind wanders from here to there; sometimes it is in England, or in India, sometimes it runs to the sun, moon, stars or other planets; hence the seeker after Self-knowledge asked:

"Who is the director of this constant activity of the mind?" The master answered: "That which is the hearer of hearing, the thinker of thoughts, the speaker of words, the mover of all activities of the sense-organs, the seer of sights."

Let us understand the meaning of “That which is the hearer of hearing.” First of all we must inquire, What is meant by hearing? Hearing signifies that power by which we perceive the existence of what we call sound, or in other words, that organic activity which illumines the vibration of sound; so the hearer of hearing refers to the illuminator of the power of hearing, without which no sound can be heard.

The spirit of the master’s reply was, The director of the mind is that which illuminates the powers of hearing, seeing, thinking, and of speech, as well as the knower of all the activities of our sense-organs.

Beings of light we usually don't see but are all around us
Beings of light we usually don’t see but are all around us.This image is part of my Light and Shadow Collection.

The power of seeing, again, means that organic function by which the object of sight is illuminated or made known to us. The organ of sight, however, has not the power to produce consciousness or intelligence.

The power of seeing exists so long as there is Self-consciousness behind it. The organs of vision, as the eye, the retina, the optic nerve, the brain cells, together with all their activities, do not produce the consciousness of color or the object of vision.

In a dead person all these organs may be in a perfect condition, but the perception of sight or the sensation of color will not be felt by the body. The body itself has not the power to see or perceive any external object.

Thus by analyzing our perceptions we can understand that the activities of the sense-organs are unconscious by nature. The conscious Self which illumines the organic functions is the seer of sights, the hearer of sounds, and the knower of all sensations. It is also the thinker of thoughts within us.

That intelligent Self, which is the source of consciousness and knowledge, must be known as the director of the mind and senses. When we have realized the cause of self-consciousness, we have understood the power which directs the mind.

According to Vedanta, mind is “finer matter in vibration.” The vibration of the mind substance produces perceptions and sensations, and reveals things which cannot be revealed by vibrations of grosser matter.

The functions of the mind are nothing but the vibrations of the finer particles of the etherial substance called in Sanskrit Saltwa. But the vibration of this substance does not produce intelligence or consciousness. It is insentient by nature.

The mind substance appears as intelligent when it is in close contact with the conscious Self or Atman, just as a piece of iron, having absorbed the heat of a furnace, appears as red-hot and is able to bum. The conscious Self may be compared to a magnet which attracts the iron of the mind substance.

When a piece of iron, being attracted by a magnet, moves, that motion is not natural with the iron, but is caused by its proximity and close contact with the magnet. As the very presence of the magnet produces activity in the iron, so the very presence of the Self (Atman) creates the activity of the mind substance; but the Self is not confined within the limits of the mind substance, because the true Self is beyond all relations of space and time.

The master continued:

” Knowing this Self, the wise, being freed from this world, become immortal.”abel

Those who have known that source of intelligence, the true Self, attain to immortality, but those who have not known it remain attached to the material body and senses, and are therefore subject to birth and death.

This is one of the results of Self-knowledge—knowing our true Self we become immortal. Although the  true nature of the soul, according to Vedanta, is immortal, and immortality is our birthright, still we do not attain it until we have become conscious of our immortal Self. So long as we think that we are mortal we have fear of death.

When the consciousness of the immortal Self is gained all fear vanishes.

Fear of death rises from ignorance, which makes us forget our immortal nature and identify ourselves with the material body,

which is subject to death. Thus, becoming one with the mortal body, we begin to fear death and suffer from anxiety and misery,

How can we expect to be free from fear of death when we have identified our Self with the body, which will surely die? This fear, however, ceases to trouble him who has realized that the body is like a shell, a house, or a receptacle of the soul, which is deathless by nature.

The soul manufactures the physical body in order to fulfill certain desires and purposes of life. He who has known this truth has risen above all fear. Therefore, it is said: "Those who have obtained the knowledge of the real Self are called the wise, and after the death of the body they transcend the realm of birth and death. This is the greatest object to be achieved in this world of relativity.

We have come here to fulfill a certain purpose. At present we may think that the highest purpose of earthly life is to gain material prosperity, success in business, fulfillment of ambition and sense desires; but the time is sure to come when we shall realize that all these are momentary, that the real

purpose of life is much higher and more permanent. It is very difficult to understand the true purpose of life. Few people in this world have found a perfect standard by which they can measure correctly whether or not they have fulfilled that purpose. Each one of us will have to find out what is the highest ideal of life. It is the attainment of Self-knowledge.

Self-knowledge brings to the soul absolute freedom.

It is by Self-knowledge that we can obtain everything we desire. In this world there is nothing higher than the knowledge of the true Self.

alonaThe knowledge which we now possess is imperfect, it is only a partial expression of the all-knowing nature of the Divine Self. That imperfection is due to the limitations or imperfect conditions of the Buddhi or intellect which reflects the Divine wisdom. But when the limitations are removed and the intellect is purified true and perfect wisdom begins to shine within. If the mirror be covered with mud, it will not


have the power to reflect the light of the sun; so when the mirror of the intellect or Buddhi is covered with the mud of worldliness, it does not reflect the light of wisdom which emanates from Atman the Divine Sun.

In order to learn this truth and the method by which our intellect and heart may be purified we need the help of a Guru or spiritual master. Knowledge is one, not many. The same knowledge which we now possess will be the highest knowledge when it will reveal our immortal Self. Therefore, the wise men who know the true Self, attain to immortality even during this lifetime.

The pupil desired to see that Self, which is the director of the mind and the seer of the sight, and by knowing which one becomes immortal. The master said:

“The power of seeing cannot reveal the Self.” The disciple thought: “If the eye cannot reveal the Self its nature may be described.” To this the teacher replied: “Words fail to describe it; the mind cannot reach it.

We cannot know it by mind, intellect or understanding how can anyone teach it?" The Self is the* thinker of thoughts. Mind can only think when directed by the Self who is beyond all thoughts. The very act of thinking presupposes self-consciousness, and all thoughts are only possible through self-consciousness; therefore, that which is above and beyond all thoughts cannot be revealed by the mind or intellect.

cheWhen the mind cannot think of it how is it possible for the eye to see the true Self? The power of sight can reveal that which is in relation to our eyesight. The true Self can never be brought within the reach of sense-perceptions. The master continued: “It is far from the known and also it is above the unknown. Thus we have heard from the ancient sages who taught us this.” From ancient times the great seers of Truth have declared that the real Self is neither known nor knowable, and yet it is neither unknown nor unknowable. Ordinarily we say, “We know a thing,” “the knowledge of this book,” etc. In this sense the Atman can never be known or made an object of knowledge.

Let us understand this clearly. When we speak of knowing a thing we mean relative knowledge by intellect; and we convey the same idea when we say “we do not know a thing.”

Again, intellect can reveal those things which are related to the senses or are subject to sense-perception. It is more or less dependent upon sense-powers; consequently its sphere is very limited, for the senses can reach only within a small circle. For instance, we hear sound through our ears.

The sound is audible within a certain degree of vibration; if the vibration of air be above or below that scale we cannot hear; although there may be a tremendous noise, still our ears are deaf to it. The same may be said of the eye; the range of sight is equally narrow.

Now we can see how very limited that intellect must be which depends upon these powers of perception. Therefore, that intellectulal knowledge, which is related to sense-perceptions, is secondary knowledge; it cannot reveal the Self; hence it is said that the “Self is far from tho known,” Furthermore, when we say “we do not know this thing” we mean that we are conscious of our ignorance, we have the knowledge of the fact that we do not understand it or know it by intellect.

This ignorance is nothing but the lack of the intellectual apprehension of the thing, which we have called secondary knowledge. It is, however, revealed to us by another knowledge which does not depend upon intellect or upon sense-perception.

That apperception by which we know that we do not know this thing proceeds from the Self. Therefore, the Self is neither known nor unknown, but beyond relative knowledge and ignorance. “We have heard it from our great masters which passed away before us.”

true-loveAlthough this Upanishad of the Sama Veda is very old, still the teacher here refers to the authority of other seers of Truth who
preceded him and from whom Self-knowledge had been handed down through generations. The master said: “That which cannot be expressed by speech, but which is the speaker and director of speech, that alone known as the highest Self (the Brahman); not that which people worship here.

” Every attribute that we give to God is not His attribute in reality.”

We call Him good, but He is not merely good; ‘strictly speaking, He is beyond good and evil. We project our idea of good, mentally separate it from evil, and increasing its dimension, attribute it to the Infinite Being and call Him good.

At the same time we forget that that which is good demands something better, and that better again requires something which is best. This shows how foolish we are when we seem to be contented after calling Him good.

God is in reality beyond our conception of good, which is relative and limited.

In this manner it can be shown that every attribute which we can think of, nay, every word which we can utter is finitein its meaning and idea. Yet if we go a little deeper we shall find that no thought can exist and no word can be uttered unless there be the self-conscious thinker and speaker behind. This self-consciousness is caused by the light of intelligence which proceeds from the Self. Therefore, the Self is the absolute Truth inexpressible by speech. It is the illuminator of speech, but it can never be illumined by words.

Is Self (Atman) the same thing which is worshipped by all the great devotees and worshippers of God?

Is it some Personal God dwelling outside of us and directing our minds and senses by will and command? Is Self the same Being who is called by different names, as Father in heaven, or Allah, whom we worship with prayers and offerings?

Is the Atman the same as an angel or bright spirit ? What is it? Reading the mental question of his pupil the master said: “Not that which people worship here.”

The worshipper of a Personal God with a name and form is not the worshipper of the absolute Truth, because he worships the phenomenal God.


Name and form being both phenomenal, our conception of the Divinity with a name and form is phenomenal and anthropomorphic, or in other words, we create an ideal God by projecting our ideas, give Him attributes according to our conception and then worship Him by offering Him our prayers.

Prayers are nothing but words; we send these words to the Personal God in order to obtain certain results, but He, to whom we pray with words, is not the director of speech. That Self which is in us and makes us speak and pray is different from that which we worship with prayers

. The Personal God with a form and a name is not the highest. This may seem strange to us, but we cannot deny it. God with a name and form, who can be described by words and thought of by our minds, is not the Absolute. There is a saying, “When God is known He is no longer God, He is our imagination.”

The Absolute Divinity is different from that which is worshipped


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Self Knowledge by  Swami Abhendanada  published 1905

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