Everyone has self-knowledge. Self knowledge is the Self. They are one and the same. Sri Ramana Maharshi says in Talks, no 280:
‘There is no moment when the Self is not nor when the Self is not realised.’
‘Even now you are Self-realised.’
The problem is ignorance, meaning thinking you are the body-mind entity. Both thinking and the body-mind themselves are mere superimpositions.
When this ignorance/superimposition has been removed, then only the Self remains. That is called Self-knowledge or the Self. Sri Ramana says in Talks 462:
‘Being the Self one remains always realised, only be free from thoughts [Tom: ie. superimpositions].’
And in Talks 490:
‘The Self is always realised. But only you do not recognise the fact. The Realisation is now obscured by the present world-idea.[Tom: ie. superimposition of the body-mind-world]’
This Self-knowledge is not knowledge in the mind, which is something that comes and goes, and this Self-Knowledge is not for the body-mind at all.
It is described as being unborn and eternal by the great sages. It cannot be taught, only obstacles (ie. ignorance) is to be removed by turning within. Sri Ramana Maharshi says in Talks 282:
‘The Guru does not bring about Self-Realisation. He simply removes the obstacles to it. The Self is always realised.’
And in Talks 164:
‘Seek within. The Self is always realised.’
And talks 490 this same point above in made again, but the importance of the desire for liberation is also stated by Bhagavan:
‘The Self is always realised. The Realisation is now obscured. When the veil is removed the person feels happy at rediscovering the ever-realised Self. The ever-present Realisation appears to be a new Realisation. Now, what should one do to overcome the present ignorance. Be eager to have the true knowledge. As this eagerness grows the wrong knowledge diminishes in strength until it finally disappears.’
May we be desirous of Self-Realisation, that Realisation which ever-is. May we be blessed by Sri Ramana’s Grace and Presence, that is our very Own Self. May be receive the True Teaching that is created by our own Desire (for Liberation)
Question: Hi Tom, it is often said that the Self is the Witness, meaning that which sees or perceives all objects. In other places it is said the Self is everything. I’m not sure what to make of this. Can you give me some clarity please?
Tom: Hi, yes, this can cause lots of confusion for many. Even many Vedanta teachers do not really understand this point. As ever, Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi points us to the true vedanta, the truly liberating way, in his teachings.
In truth the Self is not a witness at all, but as long as we think we are a body-mind entity, and as long as we see a world outside of or apart from ourself, the Self is indicated or pointed out as being the Subject or the Witness.
When in Self-Enquiry (the path of Knowledge) we turn our attention away from the objects, which means the various gross and suble phenomena that are perceived, and towards the Subject or Self (‘Witness’), eventually the ego-mind which takes itself to be a body-mind entity dissolves or dies and all that is left is the Subject-Witness-Self. This Self can no longer truly be said to be either a Subject (for there are no objects present), nor can it be said to be a Witness, as there is nothing to witness. It is All, it is the Sole Reality, ‘One without a second’, as it is often described as being in the Upanishads.
Q. Why then is the Self said to be a witness at all?
Tom: it is only to point out where to direct your attention towards. That apparent Subject, the I AM is what we truly are and all there truly is. All else is illusion, maya. The problem is that we think that we are the body-mind, which is actually a part of maya. Only through Self-Knowledge can we realise what we truly are, and to that end the Self is pointed out as being a Witness or being the Subject. Why? So we can turn towards it and thereby realise our/the Self.
Q. Why then is the Self said to be everything?
Tom: When we are under the spell of illusion, meaning when we take ourself to be a body-mind entity living in an apparently external world, we can say that everything is the Self, that all comes from the Self, and the Self pervades all. What can be apart from the Self? Nothing! However, at this point, we are still under the spell of illusion or maya or ignorance (all are synonyms). When, through self-enquiry, we discover the Reality, our Self, as it truly is, there is no Maya/ignorance/illusion at all and we realise there never was ever any illusion/ignorance at any point in time ever (actually we also realise there was never any time either, which is simply a part of the illusion). This is the Self. This is self-realisation.
There is actually no realisation of anything in self-realisation, for realisation implies a mind that realises something, and neither the ‘mind’ nor ‘something’ are in the self, both being aspects of Maya (illusion). There is only the Self.
Q. So does the Self pervade everything, all objects?
Tom: Why worry about objects, maya? The ego-mind is always concerned about maya. Discover the Self and find out! You will no longer be interested in maya (ie. there is/will be no maya in realisation). To discover the self, consider all objects to be maya and turn your attention lovingly towards the Subject, the I AM, what you actually are
Renouncing this phenomenal world Which seems to, but does not, exist We gain (the great ones say) the Self, The Awareness shining all unseen.
Sri Ramana Maharshi, Guru Vachaka Kovai, Verse 835
Q. Why in some places does it say objects are not-Self and in other places it says objects are Self?
Tom: Contrary to what many think it is the lower teachings that say all is Self, to convince the seeker that there is only the Self. The higher teachings say that objects are not-Self, ie. maya or illusion, thus encouraging the sincere seeker to turn away from objects towards the Subject, whose true nature is Eternal Love and Bliss. The Eternal and Blissful nature of the Self is seemingly lost due to pre-occupation with the dream-like maya. Therefore the only way out is to attend to the Eternal and discover what you truly are!
Note that in both cases, whether you consider objects to be the Self or non-Self, that is a conceptual position for the mind. And liberation has nothing to do with the mind, the mind itself being ignorance.
Q. Don’t the scriptures state that the mind leads the way to liberation? Isn’t the way to liberation through knowledge, as isn’t knowledge to do with the mind?
Tom: It is true that some scriptures say that through the mind we can reach liberation. That means that it is the mind that hears the teachings (sravana), reflects upon them (manana), and then this naturally leads to meditation upon the Self (Self Enquiry or Nididhyasana) which in turn leads to manonasa (destruction of mind, or destruction of ignorance) which is the same as liberation (Mukti or Moksha), which is also the same as Jnana (knowledge) or Atma Jnana (Self-knowledge).
In Self knowledge, there is only the Self. There is no mental knowledge in Jnana at all, Jnana or Knolwedge just being another name for the Self. See here for more on this:
Q. So in that case does that mean that all we have to do for realisation is to remain as the witness, watching phenomena as they come and go?
Tom: No, that is not correct at all. Whilst remaining as the witness is a lovely teaching in many ways that can be a wonderful practice for some people at some points on their journey, merely remaining a witness is (1) not liberating and (2) is also not possible for most, as the mind keeps on getting drawn back into thoughts of body, mind or world. Merely remaining as the witness to objective phenomena as they come and go is merely attending to maya, as all objective phenomena are maya, and so the ego-illusion and suffering continue. For realisation, we must attend to the Subject-Self, the I Am, until the ego-mind (which is duality) is no more, ie. until self-realisation, ie. until be discover what we truly are.
If you refrain from looking at this Or that or any other object Then by that overpowering look Into absolute Being you become Yourself the boundless space of pure Awareness which alone is Real Being.
Sri Ramana Maharshi, Guru Vachaka Kovai, Verse 647
Question: What is it that discovers the Self?
Tom: There is no entity that discovers the Self. It is only the Self that ‘discovers’ the Self. It is the total absolute removal or total absense of ignorance. It is merely the Self being the Self, One without and second (maya), no more, no less.
The true teaching emphasises the Subject-Self, whereas false teachings* always come back to objects such as the body, the mind, feelings, emotions, the world, the breath, chakras, various experiences, knowledge in the mind, etc, etc.
The word ‘That‘ refers to the Subject, ie. the Self. The word ‘This‘ refers to Objects, ie Maya, as described above
False teachings* emphasise ‘This’ whereas true teachings ultimately point to ‘That’.
‘This’ is Maya or illusion; ‘This’ is duality; ‘This’ is ignorance or ego. ‘That’ is Truth; ‘That’ is reality; ‘That’ is non-duality; ‘That’ is True Knowledge.
Only realisation of ‘That’ is non-duality.
In ‘That’, there is no ‘This’ Meaning in the Subject, or in Non-duality, there are no objects, or duality.
To say all of ‘this’ is one with ‘That’ is a mere conceptual proclamation of the ego-mind that has not yet realised the Self.
This is why Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi states in Guru Vachaka Kovai verse 932:
“The mukta [liberated sage] like the rest of us perceives The world in all its vast variety And yet he sees non-difference in it”, So people say. This is not true.
In Yoga Vasistha it is said:
‘It is only as long as you are not fully enlightened that you experience apparent diversity’
‘What you call the body does not exist in the eyes of the sage’
‘Nothing, not even this body, has ever been created’
Therefore the True Teaching always ultimately recommends the apparent individual to turn away from objects and to turn towards the Subject and thereby discover its true nature as the Subject-Self which is of the nature of non-dual realisation in which the apparent individual no longer exists.
This is the teaching of Guru Ramana Maharshi. This is the teaching of the Upanishads This is the teaching of the Buddha This is the teaching of all liberating Spiritual Teachings
Om Tat Sat
*False teachings are not necessarily ‘bad’ – in fact they are often helpful ‘stepping stones’ for most seekers and so have their place – however these teachings are not directly in themselves liberating.
Because of his meagre income as a school teacher, T. K. Sundaresa Iyer (TKS) could afford to take only a small quantity of sugar candy or puffed rice as an offering to Bhagavan.
One day, he did not have even that much. Sad, he went empty handed and fell at the feet of Bhagavan, “Bhagavan, I am so unhappy. I do not have any money, so I could not bring you any offering.”
Bhagavan smiled and said, “Why, you brought the most important thing. Everything else is unimportant.”
TKS was puzzled.
“You brought yourself!” declared Bhagavan.
The case in point here is that you should never exclude yourself from the spiritual journey. It is very easy to extol the guru and his teachings. In the process, you should never exclude yourself – you are equally important.
As the days passed, he was often filled with doubts. Once, he asked Bhagavan, “What is that one thing Bhagavan, knowing which all doubts are resolved?”
Bhagavan replied, “Know the doubter; if the doubter be held, the doubts will not arise. Recognize for certain that all are jnanis, all are realized beings. Only a few are aware of this fact. Therefore, doubts arise. Doubts must be uprooted. This means, that the doubter must be uprooted. When the doubter ceases to exist, no doubts will rise. Here, the doubter means the mind.”
TKS asked, “What is the method, Bhagavan?”
Bhagavan answered sharply, “Enquire „Who am I?‟ This investigation alone will remove and uproot the doubter mind and thus establish one in the Self, the transcendental state.”
On another occasion, TKS had another doubt. He was a pundit, a traditional man, who had read many scriptures. Thus, the six chakras, the psychic centres, kundalini and so on, fascinated him.
He asked Bhagavan about them and Bhagavan replied,
“The Self alone is to be realized. Kundalini shakti, visions of God, occult powers and their spell binding displays are all in the Self. Those who speak of these and indulge in these have not realized the Self. Self is in the Heart and is the Heart itself. All other forms of manifestations are in the brain. The brain itself gets its power from the Heart. Remaining in the Heart is realizing the Self. Instead of doing that, to be attracted by brain oriented forms of disciplines and methods is a sheer waste of time. Is it not foolish to hold on to so many efforts and so many disciplines that are said to be necessary for eradicating the non-existent ignorance?”
~ Excerpt from Ramana Periya Puranam (The Inner Journey of 75 Old Devotees) compiled by Sri V. Ganesan.
The following is taken from Sadhana Saram, a wonderful text that explains the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi written by Sri Sadhu Om, a direct devotee of Sri Ramana’s:
48. The Manner of the Dawn of Knowledge (Janodaya Vidham)
268. Death happens in a split second. Awakening from sleep happens in a split second. Similarly, the destruction of the delusion of individuality happens in just a split second. True knowledge is not something that can be gained and then lost. If a person feels that true knowledge is coming and going, he is still only in the state of practice (or abhyasa). It cannot be said that such a person has attained true Self-knowledge.
The perfect awakening into the state of Self-knowledge happens in just a split second. That state is not attained gradually over a long period of time. All the sadhanas that are practiced over a period of many years are meant only for attaining blemishless maturity.
Listen to an apt illustration. After people have placed gunpowder in the iron barrel of a temple-cannon, after they have added broken pieces of brick, after they have packed it tight with a ramrod, after they have placed a wick in contact with the powder, and after they have plastered the open end of the barrel with clay, as soon as the charge is ignited it will explode in a split second with a blast that sounds like thunder.
Similarly, after one has learnt the truth about the real Self through hearing and reading, after one has practiced sadhana for a long time, after one has wept and prayed with heart-melting devotion, and after one has thereby attained purity of mind, the knowledge of the reality will instantaneously shine forth in a split second as “I am I”. As soon as the dawn of Self-knowledge thus takes place, due to the clear shining of the reality of this state, which is an empty space devoid of objective knowledge, will be spontaneously realized to be the state of true knowledge, which is our beginningless real nature.