Popularly attributed to Socrates, Know Thyself! has gripped the attention of the greatest seers, Sages and thinkers of all ages. It is the essential experience welling up from the heart of yearning souls belonging to every country of the world and giving expression to it, the terminologies, the words and the language may differ but the essence in its contents is the same.
The command of Vedanta is: Atma-Naam-Vidi: Know The Self. In fact, this experiential dictum is at the back of all Eastern religions. Though it is true that the basis of this dictum is too fundamental to be classified under any philosophy or thinker or age. That is, knowing the knower is the aim of all spiritual strivings, in all ages and of all religions. Not to know the knower and yet to know all else is termed total ignorance, hence very great importance is given to knowing oneself. Know Thyself is the same as know who you are, or asking, “Who am I?” or seeking, “Whence am I?”
This ancient quest is the ground and fundamental teaching of Bhagvan Sri Ramana Maharshi. “Simple being is the Self,” said Maharshi. This being is consciousness. The very living principle of each one of us, is this consciousness. Any form of awareness is embedded only in this vast expanse of consciousness. The triple principle dominating man’s activities is called “Triputi” comprising the knower, the object known, and the act of knowing, occurs only in consciousness.
Experiences are classified into At, Avata, Turiya and the waking, the dreaming and the deep sleep states. Which also take place only in consciousness. Likewise the pair of opposites like right and wrong, good and bad, day and night or concepts like being and non-being get exposed only in the back drop of consciousness. Thus consciousness is the ground or secret on which they play. While one is aware constantly and gets involved deeply in this drama, the basis substratum on which the play takes place is totally forgotten, by whom? To turn ones attention from the details or activities to the source of activity is called introspection. This turning inward is the beginning of spiritual effort called sadhana. Taking a right turn about, turn from total consciousness is the positive key to open the gates to know oneself. Becoming conscious or aware of something else brings in the triple, triputi, abhakta, turiya. But pure consciousness is pure awareness per se. It is the basis for all motion, while remaining motionless, unaffected by any movement. Perhaps an analogy will help us understand consciousness as our basis.
Electricity flows through a wire. It is invisible and intangible. When the electric bulb is connected to the wire, the lamp gets lit up. The color of the glass of the bulb determines the color of the light. When flowing through a fan the current makes the fan rotate. Connected to a pump it lifts water. The current flowing in all these cases is one and the same, but its effects are different. Similarly when the pure light of consciousness passes through different physical, emotional, mental and ego vestitures, it looks as though it is limiting itself by taking the color and texture of that particular vestiture. Since the bulb, fan and pump are visible to the eye and not the electricity, the utility aspects engages ones intention, the root or the cause, the electricity being ignored. Likewise man’s activities ensnare him and make him forget his very nature as consciousness. When consciousness is confined to an individual or the body, it gets clouded by the manifestation. This descent results in the ego, the non-self mistaking itself, for the Self. Conversely ego fluctuating through the physical, emotional and mental fields, has the power to cloud or veil pure consciousness. Ego has no existence apart from the Self. Like the gold ornament has no existence apart from the gold. But the Self exists always. Ego is only a shadow of the Self. It catches hold of the body and through it projects itself as the Self thus ego thrives in the world as conscious perceiver and enjoyer of the world. It hops from one form to another, since no form is permanent. Such impermanent movement is called the cycle of birth and death. This limitation is technically termed samsarra. Freedom from such bondage is called Moksha, release back into total consciousness.
Absolute release into pure consciousness is the ultimate goal of human life, the release from the ego. How to affect it — through introspection, deep inquiry, atma-vichara, self-inquiry, release from the bonds of ego is gained. This is the process of, “Who Am I?” inquiry. The technique to know oneself. The bondage is the ego. The bondage is for the ego. Consciousness, conditioning or identifying itself into a body is this ego.
The ego exists say the scriptures due to non-inquiry, Avi-Chara. This Avi-Chara is sustained and strengthened by ignorance. Consciousness is pure attention alone. When the attention is held unmoved there is no place for ego or non-attention. To hold the attention on itself, to dissolve or transform non-attention into total attention, total consciousness, the quest, “Who Am I?” is the vital process. To turn ones attention on oneself is the essence of true knowledge. Such self attention is the key to open the mystery gates of the immeasurable treasure, knowing the knower. The knower-known there is none else, nothing else to be known. To remain as pure consciousness is the secret in meaning of “Know Thyself.”
Bhagvan Ramana put it all in a sutra aforism. He summarized the whole process into four pregnant words. Dihum, Nahum, Kohum, Sohum.
Dihum – Body symbolizing all objective and subjective perceptions.
Nahum – I am not.
Kohum – Who am I?
Sohum – I am consciousness.
Rid of all vestiges, vehicles, maps abeyance’s and camouflages, pure consciousness alone will shine, if the inquiry, “Who Am I?” is relentlessly pursued within. Such atma-vichara releases one from the bondage. Release from bondage and drawing of wisdom are simultaneous, as the coming of light and ending of darkness are simultaneous. In this grand journey within, the guru’s grace is absolutely essential. For one who is ready to plunge within, the guru’s grace is totally assured.
This grace is felt by one dedicating himself to the pursuit of self-inquiry to a deepening peace, welling up in him, independent of life’s circumstances.
~This article is from a 1990 issue of the mountain path from Ramana Ashram.
Excellence Reporter 2022
Categories: Wisdom of Life
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