|Vedanta Spiritual Library|
Unit - 04
Lesson - 0402: Introduction to Self-knowledge
By Raja Subramaniyan
We have seen that the unique differentiating factor between human beings and other living beings is the presence of self-awareness. Our capability to know ourselves is naturally present in us and this factor makes us superior to other living beings.
However, this self-awareness is not complete. We are aware that we exist but do not know who we are. In other words, we do not have self-knowledge. We need to spend time and effort to learn who we really are.
Self-knowledge is different from studying our psychology or personality. Self-knowledge is the knowledge about consciousness. Consciousness is not an entity about which we can study. We are the consciousness. Gaining this knowledge is self-knowledge.
The right knowledge does not come naturally. It comes only through systematic learning of the teachings in the Gita under the guidance of a teacher.
Without knowing who we are, we are attached to something or someone, leading to sorrow and delusion. It is like a psychiatrist breaking down after listening to the problems of his patients. We are taking non-existing problems as our problem since we do not know who we are.
Lord Krishna is teaching us that our real identity is not the body/ mind complex and introduces us to our real nature, the Atman.
Teaching 3: You are eternal. (You exist all the time.)
From this teaching, we understand the following:
1. I am not the body. (Since body does not exist all the time)
2. I am the Atman. (Only then, it can be said that 'I exist all the time'. It is wrong to say 'I have an Atman').
3. Since I am the Atman, I am not attached to anything or anyone.
This is the basic difference between the ultimate solution and the temporary solution. Temporary solution attempts to change the situation while ultimate solution changes the perception.
Example: If there is problem in the car engine, we have two solutions. We can repair the car or sell the car. By selling the car, we actually disown the relationship between the car and self.
Similarly, by mentally disassociating ourselves from the objects of our attachment, we can avoid all suffering. It is not like self-hypnosis where we do auto suggestion and negate the fact that we are the body. It is just the opposite. We need to dehypnotize ourselves from our current hypnotic state of thinking that we are this body/mind complex.
We are aware that we are not the car but we have a car. However, we are not equally clear about our body. It is also a vehicle. We are using our body to interact with the world. Without knowing this truth, we are under the constant spell of ignorance (or hypnosis) thinking that we are the body and therefore, we fear death. We need to dehypnotize ourselves so that we know that death is similar to selling an old car and buying a new one. It is an occasion to rejoice.
Example: A man was thinking that he was a mouse and he was quite afraid of cats. A psychiatrist treated him and cured him completely. After a while, when he was trying to avoid a cat, the psychiatrist enquired, 'who are you?', he replied, 'I know that I am not a mouse. However, I am not sure if the cat knows that.'
Similarly, we are wrongly convinced about the fact that we are the body/mind complex and do not know that we are the Atman.
We need to dehypnotize ourselves with the guidance given in the Gita. Like psychiatric treatment, it may be a long drawn effort, but we need to go through the treatment cooperating with the psychiatrist (Lord Krishna in our case)
If we are not the body/mind complex then who owns our car? We cannot answer, "The car belongs to the Atman". Merely calling ourselves Atman does not change anything. We are just beginning the dehypnotizing treatment. We have a long way to go before we could answer this question.
The man, who was thinking that he was a mouse for two years, cannot be cured in one sitting. We are thinking that we are the body/mind complex from the age 2 or 3 and therefore, we cannot be cured by just listening to a statement that we are the Atman. We need to commence our journey of learning with the detailed description of Atman as given in the verses 12 to 25.
An overview of the Gita
1. All human beings want to live joyfully all the time without any suffering.
2. Self-knowledge is the means to reach that destination.
3. We need to prepare our mind so that we can understand who we really are.
Therefore, the first step is to prepare our mind through work. Then we gain self-knowledge. At this stage, we will learn that we are not the body/mind complex and we are the Atman. Since Atman does not have any connection to the universe, I am not attached to anyone or anything in the world. Since I am free from attachment, I do not have any sorrow. Life is joyful.
Gita helps us to end all our suffering by correcting our attitude based on self-knowledge.
This is similar to:
1. We are hungry and want to satisfy our hunger.
2. Eating is the means to reach our goal. This will take comparatively less time and it is an enjoyable process.
3. We need to cook the food prior to eating, which will take some time and effort. It may or may not be an enjoyable experience depending on our attitude.
Gita explains that we suffer (hunger) and we need self-knowledge (food) to solve the problem. It will also detail the various practices (cooking) to prepare ourselves to receive the knowledge (eating).
The starting point for all human beings is self-awareness, meaning that they are aware that they exist as an independent entity. The concluding point is to know who that independent entity is. Unlike animals, we use the word 'I' but we do not know the correct meaning of this word. Since the process of preparation (cooking) is difficult and time consuming, we need to have a proper attitude towards it so that it can also be an enjoyable experience.
People assumed that sun, moon and other planets are revolving around the earth, based on their experience. Experiences do not lead to knowledge all the time. Even when some one (Copernicus) proposes that earth is not the center of the universe after detailed observation and calculation, people did not believe it.
Similarly, when Lord Krishna says, 'you are not whom you think you are', people do not trust him. First, we must listen to Copernicus completely and reflect on the facts presented. We can then make a conclusion as to whether the truth revealed by him is acceptable to us logically, although our experience contradicts the knowledge.
Today, we are aware that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around, although our experience still suggests that the sun revolves around earth. Similarly, if we systematically study and reflect on the teachings of Lord Krishna, after we complete all the lessons, we will understand that the meaning of the word 'I' is not what we always thought it to be.
Teaching 4: You are the Atman
Chapter 2: Wisdom is the solution [Verse: 12]
2.12 Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.