In Search of the Self
The Greek philosophers said, in essence: worship the gods if you must, but your first duty is to find out who and what you are yourself.
This timeless enigma leads us to ask questions such as: Who am I, why am I here, where am I going, and what is the reason for my existence?
We try to understand the nature of our self through our intellect and reasoning, because our sense of self is lodged in our mind. But this sense of who we are constantly changes. Our thoughts, moods, desires and images pass through our minds like a never–ending movie, according to our changing circumstances. All that these changes succeed in doing is to raise more questions than we can ever find the answers to.
If we turn to the Masters for these answers, they tell us that this mind-driven physical self on which we put so much emphasis is an illusion, and that we will never be able to find the answers to our questions through reason and logic. All spiritual Masters tell us that we have an inner self – our deeper consciousness or soul, which is beyond the mind, reason and logic. Sant Mat teaches us that we must first become aware of this inner self before we can have any real awareness of God.
Hazur Maharaj Ji explains this quite simply, by saying that when the soul gets released from the clutches of the mind and is able to travel further, this is self–realization. When it goes back to its origin, the Father, this is God-realization. So, unless there is self-realization first, how can there be God–realization?
This of course leads to another round of questions, such as: What is this other self, how do we recognize it, and how do we get in touch with it? More importantly, if there is another self within us, why are we not aware of it, and what is its substance?
The Great Master gives us the answer to these questions. He says:
On reaching Par Brahm, all the material, astral and causal coverings of mind and matter that envelop the soul are removed. Then the soul is pure spirit. This is self-realization. Here there is no form, no cover, no shape, no youth nor old age – only the soul, shining in its pure radiance, a drop of existence, knowledge and bliss, capable of comprehending the great ocean, its Creator. Now the drop tries to reach and mingle with its ocean.
The Masters tell us to change the direction of our search. Instead of looking outward, we must look inward. But the only concept we have of an inner being or self is the one that has been created by our mind. And as we have seen, this mental creation is not our true self.
In a discussion with the spiritual master Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, a disciple referring to his physical self, said: “I am what I know myself to be.” And the master answered him saying:
You cannot possibly say that you are what you think yourself to be! Your ideas about yourself change from day to day and from moment to moment. Your self-image is the most changeable thing you have. It is utterly vulnerable, it is even at the mercy of a passerby; the loss of a job, an insult, and your image of yourself, which you call your person, changes deeply.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, I am That, Part 1
To know what you are, you must know what you are not. And to know what you are not, you must watch yourself carefully. Your personal image of self is based on such factors as: where and when you were born, who your parents are, where you live, what work you do and so on.
We need to separate ourselves from the images we have of ourselves, created by our karmic situation. False ideas of who and what we are make us slaves to the ego. The aim of Sant Mat is to help us each to know who and what we really are – in other words, to let us realize the true self within, and to let go of the mental image we have of ourselves.
What an exceptional gift the Masters give us with initiation on to their path to God. Initially, at our level of consciousness, we really cannot appreciate the enormity of this gift. This gift is all about consciousness, because the path the Masters travel to God is a journey through consciousness.
In mysticism, consciousness is essentially the same as the soul. God is described as an ocean of consciousness, and the individual as a drop of that ocean of consciousness. Soul, consciousness and Shabd – these are different words for the same essence. In a question and answer session with Maharaj Charan Singh, a disciple asked him, “Is the real form of the disciple the same as the real form of the Master?” And Maharaj Ji replied, by asking and answering his own questions:
What is the real form of the Master? Shabd. And what is the real form of the disciple? Soul. … And what is the difference between the soul and Shabd? It is the level of consciousness.
So the difference between us and the Master is also the level of consciousness. Our spiritual journey takes us from the restricted consciousness of this level, through the higher realms of creation, until we reach the supreme Lord himself.
The Great Master tells us that the Lord is the great storehouse of consciousness, the embodiment of reason and the treasure house of intelligence. He is the repository of love and compassion. He is the whole, Great Master says, and we are parts of him (Philosophy of the Masters, Volume IV).
When we are in darkness, how do we grow into an awareness that we are already part of the Lord, the great storehouse of consciousness? This will be possible only by opening the window at the third eye so that we can become flooded with the light and sound of the Shabd.This is the promise of Sant Mat: to teach us how to open the window, the inner eye, so that our being may be flooded with the light and sound of the Shabd, the Lord. The Master’s promise is that he will guide each one of his disciples along this path of ever-expanding consciousness to the inner realization of the self.
We know that this journey through consciousness is undertaken in meditation. Although it may not be so easy to do the spiritual practice, it is worth our while to try, for it will show us the reality behind the illusions of the creation. Realization of the self lies behind the veil of the mind, and it is only when the mind has been made motionless that we can be aware of what lies behind the veil.
Stilling the mind is a tough and daunting task. For aeons the mind and the senses have danced their way through the pleasures of creation, enthralled by everything it has to offer. As a result, it is as if the body and ego are fences that keep us confined within the field of illusion, forced to interpret whatever comes our way with our limited and constricted consciousness. Instead of wisely choosing to return to the Master and the Lord, we have chosen to make a pilgrimage in the opposite direction and to worship at the shrine of materialism. The creation rather than the Creator has captured our love and attention. Somehow we have to turn that around.
We know about the Master’s promise to us, but what about our promise to him? Our first concern should be to open our inner eye, which we can only do if we adhere to the four principles of Sant Mat: a vegetarian diet, abstinence from alcohol and drugs, and leading a moral life are the foundations on which our meditation is built. If we short-change any of them, how can we expect our meditation to be successful? Our responsibility is to live the teachings. In Die to Live Maharaj Ji says that meditation is not just closing yourself in a room for a couple of hours. You have to give it a practical shape in your daily routine.
The Great Master tells us that man is the greatest book, and the reason we came to this planet is to study that book. Self-study is essential to fulfil the purpose of human life, and our search for knowledge of the self must be undertaken within − through meditation. He says:
You will understand the value of this path as you go within and rise. It is acquired by effort, by love and faith. It cannot be had by asking nor by paying dollars. Its price is selfless, pure love. It is within you. It is for you. It will come to you when you are fit to receive it, therefore, make yourself fit for the reception.
In Mysticism, the Spiritual Path we’re told that there are three stages in developing our inner spiritual realization. The first is simply talking of mystic knowledge without having attained any inner enlightenment. This is easy and pleasant because everyone likes to talk like a mystic. However, mere talking is of little benefit. The second is doing the mystic practices with zeal and earnestness. It is actually doing the mystic practice that brings transcendent knowledge and bliss. The third and final stage is living in the higher spiritual levels of consciousness.
This stage is only reached after one has so thoroughly mastered the second stage that one has made a home in the subtle spiritual realms. Mystics of this highest stage live in the upper regions of spiritual consciousness and come into the body only when they have to deal with people of this world.
The Great Master says that the Master is not only a body:
He is the power that guides and helps us at every stage and in every region, during our inward, spiritual journey. When we are in the physical body, he instructs us through his physical form and, as we proceed further, he assumes the form of each region – all the way up to Sach Khand.
So, to reach the level of a spiritual Master we have to stop talking about the path and do the mystic practice, as instructed by the Master.
Enough has been written and enough has been said. Now what is wanted is silence and work. Speaking distracts and scatters your attention. Silence collects thoughts. It draws your attention inward and strengthens the spirit. Now set yourself earnestly to practice. Practice makes a man perfect. Be as perfect as your Creator.
Maharaj Jagat Singh, The Science of the Soul