What is self realization? Why self-realization? Why liberation? Why spirituality?
Since the very first moment of this so-called creation if everyone is struggling and seemingly making any kind of effort then the objective is only one : Eternal Happiness.
Every individual has to suffer, get sorrowful and miserable having got caught in the ferocious trap of this world. There is nobody who is permanently at peace with himself and the surrounding things. Everybody has his own worries and apprehensions of the future which don’t allow him to remain in any joy permanently. Also, all the happiness born out of enjoyment in this world seems to be temporary and frivolous in nature. Just like the other material in the world, bodies and minds of individuals are constantly undergoing changes which do not allow anybody to get truly settled and enjoy something permanently.
All this game is happening on account of bondage. Yes, individuals are in bondage. Whether a king or a beggar, a human or an animal, everyone seems to be in some kind of bondage which makes him sorrowful and miserable time and again. And there seems to be no respite. What is even more interesting is that most of us don’t even think in terms of a permanent solution to this ‘problem of sorrow’. Most are contented with just temporary solutions offered by the world, only to get miserable again.
Possibility of freedom
So what about the most basic objective of all the struggle, the eternal happiness? Is it really possible to break free from the sorrows forever? Is it possible to end this game of repeating miseries and traumas?
Yes it is possible to end the sorrows totally and permanently. That is the goal of spirituality. This is possible by realizing the unity of our real self with the eternal formless existence. It is the ignorance which makes us get caught in the bondage and consequently makes us suffer.
So what is this ignorance? How to dispel it?
In spirituality the term ignorance is used to indicate our ‘ignorance of our real self’. We take ourselves as individuals but do we ever bother to verify our concept of our own self?
Let’s suppose there is an individual whose name is John. While in a waking state he thinks about himself that ‘I am this individual John’. Every day, he goes to sleep thinking that ‘I am this individual John’. But as soon as he goes in deep sleep, he stops taking himself as ‘John’. So in deep sleep he is not conscious of his waking state identity and personality of ‘John’. But although in deep sleep the personality and identity are left aside, still one more concept is there in his brain that is even more basic than his assumed personality and identity of waking state. That concept is the concept of his individuality!! The concept in his brain that ‘I am an individual’!
It is this concept of individuality that puts us in the bondage and makes us suffer time and again. Therefore to be eternally happy and free of sorrows, it is essential to get rid of this concept of an individual self. This concept of individual self is called as ‘ignorance’ in spirituality.
Interestingly enough, this ignorance or the concept of individuality is only a concept and not any material. Hence it cannot be dispelled by any material exercise. It can only be dispelled by a correct understanding of our true self. This correct understanding is not a material either. However, its effect is opposite to the effect of ignorance. Therefore the correct understanding is able to dispel the ignorance, the ignorance being misunderstanding about the real self. Hence self-realization is possible only through the correct understanding of our real self.
Spiritual practice or no practice?
So what about the spiritual streams which involve practices like rituals?
Ritual is basically a material exercise which is performed by assuming duality between an individual, God and the material world. Rituals are often concerning a religion whose objective is to attain heaven. After the death, the subtle body of an individual travels to heaven on account of meritorious deeds performed by him via rituals during his lifetime. However, the sense of individuality remains with him even in heaven. Also, after the effect of meritorious deeds are over, he has to come back to the earthly life and the game of sufferings continues. So the effect of rituals is not really opposite to that of ignorance. Hence rituals can not dispel the ignorance, the ignorance being an idea of individuality of self.
Self-realization or liberation is not about attaining heaven or heavenly life.
So if not rituals then can the philosophical knowledge dispel the ignorance?
Types of Knowledge
Knowledge is of three types :
1. Knowledge through sensory perception.
2. Intellectual knowledge.
When we perceive the external world through our senses, it gives us an immediate understanding about the objects and the affairs of the world around us. It is called as knowledge through direct sensory perception. This type of knowledge can not dispel the ignorance because in this kind of knowledge, the idea of individual self remains intact and thereby the duality of the world also gets assumed to be true.
The knowledge which gets restricted at an intellectual level can not dispel the ignorance either, because the idea of individual self can not be overcome just by conceptual appreciation of some theory or philosophy.
In these two types of knowledge, the basic difference between subject and object remains intact. Subject is the one who perceives or who thinks. Object is the one which gets perceived or thought of.
In sensory perceptions, the subject keeps taking himself as an ‘individual with senses’ and rest of the objects of the world as different from him. In intellectual knowledge also the subject keeps this notion intact that he is a thinker and the theory is the object of his thinking.
In the third type of knowledge, the duality between the subject and object vanishes altogether. What remains is the deep realization of our unity with the formless existence.
This formless existence is the most fundamental truth, which is present even before the occurrence of speech, thoughts and actions. It is present during the speech, thoughts and actions and it remains present even after the speech, thoughts and actions are over.
Realizing this eternal formless existence as our true self is the self-realization.
In self-realization, the idea that ‘I am an individual who is seeking the true self’ is not there as the subject has realized that the object of his search, the true self, is actually himself, who is non-dual conscious existence.
With this realization the sense of individuality as well as the sense of reality in the world both disappear. Hence the effects of the objects and the effects of the affairs of the world stop causing suffering for the ‘I’, as the individual ‘I’ is not there anymore.
The individual ‘I’ is different from the physical individual himself. The ‘I’ is just a concept of the brain. Therefore even after realization of the true self the physical body will function just as before, only change being that the concept of an individual ‘I’ is not there anymore.
Is it an experience?
So if speech, thoughts and actions can not enter this realm of true self then is the self-realization any special kind of experience?
No. In experience too, duality gets assumed between the subject of experience and the object of experience. So self-realization is not any special kind of experience either.
What then is this self-realization?
All we can say is that this realization of the true self, the formless existence, is an ‘as it is recognition’ of our own presence without any preconceived notions or ideas about our own self. These preconceived notions like ‘I am an individual’, ‘I am so and so’, ‘I have these relationships’ etc., are nothing but the mental overlays formed due to the ignorance.
How to get this self-realization?
Well, when we think from the highest standpoint, any attempt made on the part of an individual will only drag him further away from the realization as it might reinforce his idea that he is an individual who is seeking the realization. Also, looking from the highest standpoint, there is nothing that an individual can do on his own as every action and every attempt of an individual is strictly guided by his destiny karmas which have got momentum since the birth of that individual.
Dropping the idea of individuality is not an attempt involving any internal or external activity. When someone gets to listen about the real self, by some chance, then a certain spark withing him makes him understand more and more about the real self. The more he listens the more his doubts vanish about the real self. This understanding itself drives and controls the whole process of realization. Finally a time comes when the brain of that individual is left with no doubt about the real self. That time the understanding is said to be complete.
Realization and Final Emancipation
Once someone realizes the formless existence as his true self, he tends to lose meaning and purpose in the objective world. On account of loss of purpose, he does not get reincarnated again as an individual in any form. This is called as final emancipation.
Realization and Destiny
There are three types of Karmas :
Stock karmas (‘Sanchita’) : These are the whole stock of karmas from previous births of an individual. These get stored on the subtle body.
Destiny karmas (‘Prarabdha’) : These destiny karmas are a small and activated portion of the stock karmas. An individual gets born in a certain form due to these activated karmas only. These karmas have already got momentum, and that momentum remains till theses destiny karmas have got worked out fully.
Incurring karmas : These are the new karmas which an individual keeps on adding to the stock karmas, on account of his ignorance.
In case of an ignorant person, new portions of karmas keep getting activated after he has worked out one destiny in one life. Due to the newly activated karmas, he again has to take birth as an individual to work out the new destiny.
But in case of a self-realized being, the new destiny does not get activated as he has already realized his true nature and thereby lost all the purpose in the objective world. Hence he does not get reincarnated as an individual. In fact he has lost the sense of individuality on account of his realization.
All the spiritual scriptures like Ashtavakra Gita and Upanishads say this loud and clear that the eternal formless existence is the ultimate truth, and that is our real self, we are that. The main means to self-realization is listening about our unity with the non-dual existence. If someone can not comprehend this fact in the first listening itself, then for him the auxiliary methods like contemplation and meditation have been prescribed in the scriptures.
(Photo via Visual Hunt)