Self knowledge (Part I)

N Balasubramanian

Your own Self-Realisation is the greatest service you can render the world.

-- Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi    

What is self? The core of a thing in the absence of which or cessation of which the thing itself is not existent. For e.g. Sweetness is the core of sugar. Sugar cannot continue to be called sugar if its core property ‘sweetness’ is absent. Core of a Being is the ‘life principle’. If this is gone or absent in a being, it is no more a being or not to be called a being. Therefore, life principle i.e Existence-Consciousness is the SELF of all beings. Life principle (i.e. Self) is eternal. It is not Life principle if it should be subject to cessation or life-lessness. Eternity implies that Self’s nature is un-changing, un-caused, un-bounded, un-tainted and independent. Nature is that which never ceases to persist as long as that one is persisting. Self i.e. Existence-Consciousness cannot be denied because that would amount to saying “I do not exist” which is absurd. Self i.e. Pure Consciousness is imperishable because if you say it is perishable, then that awareness of perishability is the consciousness which is referred here as Self.

Self and Non-Self, subject and object, Perceiver and the Perceived, Knower & the Known, cannot be the same. Body, sense organs, Prana, mind & intellect; the five elements making up the world of objects; the Cosmos, the Planets, the stars, the Sun, Moon, the Oceans, the Mountains, the Beings and Non-Beings - these are all objects known or perceived or knowable. Objects of knowledge cannot be Self. Hence all these are called non-self. Self is eternal and Non-self is transitory by nature.

Thoughts, desires, actions and experiences are in the causal plane ie are in the reflected consciousness of mind and intellect. All these are modifications of mind, adventitious only and therefore not your nature. However, because of ignorance of our inmost Self, mistaking the non-self body, mind and intellect, as the Self, we identify with non-self. Deluded because of lack of knowledge of real Self and its reflection on mind, intellect and senses, we assume Body-mind-intellect to be the self, which it is not.           

This veiling of the real Self by non-self is called the phenomena of superimposition (eg. Snake on rope; ghost on post; silver on nacre etc.). Moon light is reflected light of Sunlight and yet how ignorantly it is perceived as light emanating from Moon. Ignorance of reality is the cause for delusion. Delusion is caused by superimposition. Superimposition can be defined as “appearance of one thing as something else”. This may be due to memory presenting a past experience of like nature or it may be due to failing perception translating mistakenly one thing for the other or a mistaken identity.  That is how rope appears as snake; post appears as ghost and nacre appears as silver etc.  It is superimposition of the body when we say “I am fat; I am lean; I am fair etc”; It is superimposition of the attributes of mind when we say “I am angry, I like you, etc” It is superimposition of the attributes of sense organs when we say “I am blind, I am dumb, etc…” Thus non-self body-mind-intellect and its attributes are superimposed on real Self. In reality, therefore, agent-ship, enjoyer-ship etc… belong to the body-mind-intellect though mistakenly attributed to Self.  Real Self has no agent-ship or enjoyer-ship or any other appellations.

Though not directly perceivable by sense organs or directly knowable by mind and intellect, Self” is the “I” referred by all people. Nobody has any doubt about this. Self cannot be disproved. Who am I? What does this “I” represent? Can I mean the Mind or the Body or the intellect or the senses? This is the subject matter of self introspection & inquiry i.e. Atma Vichar. It is our common experience to hear people declare “I used to be very angry when I was young but now I have mellowed down by experience”. “I used to be very emotional some years back and strongly react, but now I have matured”. "Nowadays I forget a lot”. How can these judgments about mind possible without a knower who witnessed these changes in the mind? When one declares “I am fat; I am tall etc mind is the perceiver. So also all the world of things is perceived by mind and intellect. The Knower of the knowing Mind is the “Self” within. Self cannot be senses because then it would mean we have five Selves, which is an absurd proposition.  Therefore, “I” do not denote Body, sense organs, mind or intellect. Therefore, Self, i.e. Pure Consciousness within is what “I” denotes, though because of ignorance of this “I” knowledge we mistake it for the mind.

We all experience three states of existence, namely, waking, sleep and dream states. “I” is experienced in all the three states.  In waking state we say “I” did this, “I” did that, etc.  After a sound sleep, on waking up, we say “I” slept well, “I” had a sound sleep, “I” had a dream etc. We normally identify this “I” with body-mind-intellect. This is ignorance and false because when all faculties are not operational during sleep and dream states, there is still an observer, a witness, because of which we experienced and felt ”I slept well”, "I had a dream last night” and so on. This Knower, this Sakshi of all states of our existence is the Self within, also called “atma”, “pure consciousness". We should identify with Self within and not with body-mind-intellect. Ignorance of real Self within is the root cause of bondage and dual perception.

N Balasubramanian is an old time honours graduate in economics and has vast experience and expertise in human relations and resources development. A devotee of Sage of Kanchi - Maha Swamigal, N Balasubramanian is living a quiet and meditative life based upon the Guru's teachings. An avid reader of philosophy in his younger years, he wholly devotes his energies presently, in discovering insights and practical wisdom from ancient Indian scriptures. Based upon his understanding of Acharya's discourses and writings on spirituality, N. Balasubramanian shares these thoughts on to just provoke your thoughts and kindle your interest in spirituality and philosophy.

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