Man is an intricate multi-dimensional being. He lives life at the level of the senses, mind, intelligence ; and the self (jivatman). The self, the individual or the embodied soul, is that faculty of a being which is aware of everything including his own body, mind and the intelligence. To know the self, not only at theoretical but also at experiential level is self-realisation. It addresses the fundamental question of human existence – what man is, who is he. That is why self-realisation, wisdom of one’s true nature, is said to be the highest branch of human knowledge.
By philosophical contemplation, one may visualise the concept of the self, but cannot experience the self itself. Intellectual knowledge of the self can be transformed into an inward experience only by spiritual practices. Bhagavad Gita has blessed the mankind not only with the theoretical knowledge of the soul but has also detailed the yogic practices through which one can himself experience that knowledge. Through these practices one can realise the self i. e. understand his essential nature.
It is very difficult to conclusively prove or disprove the existence of the self. It cannot be known by the ordinary means of enquiry. Only spiritual experience i. e. direct knowledge of the self can satisfy one’s quest in this regard. Knowledge of the self is not something which has to be acquired. It is always present but remains veiled by avidya or ignorance. Deluded by ignorance one confuses the non-self (prakriti) with the self (purusha) ; and thus attributes permanence to the phenomenal world. When the curtain of ignorance is lifted through appropriate yogic practices, the light of the spiritual knowledge dawns ; and the wisdom of the soul is revealed.
God’s sparkle dwells in the soul. It radiates alike in every being. One can adore this shine i. e. gain the spiritual knowledge only when his heart is purged of evil and his mind is cleansed of all distractions. A pure mind gets empty of thought and obtains inward calmness. Such a serene mind is most receptive to the wisdom of the soul and the knowledge of the indwelling supreme. As a result, the self is established in unity with the Supreme Self (Pramatman). One, then, realises that despite varied names and forms, the ultimate reality is one and one alone.
When one gains spiritual wisdom, he understands that his real nature (the self) is the pure, self-existent and self-luminous principle of consciousness ; which is distinct from his mind-body complex. The self is the seer and knower of everything. It is the subject which is aware of all the objects including his own thoughts, emotions and rationality. The self is the essence of one’s being which transcends life and death.
When the wisdom of the soul dawns, one realises that the self is changeless. It is the unvarying background of all experiences. Factors of ego, on the other hand, are always in flux. They change from moment to moment. It is the egoistic existence which experiences human emotions and worldly turmoil ; and the self is only an impartial witness. Thus, the limitations that relate to the body do not belong to the self in him. When the intelligence is lit up by the consciousness of the self, and the light of the intelligence is reflected in the mind ; the sense of a separate and finite ego with its fears and hopes disappears and the vision of infinite and immortal self is revealed. Man, the subject (the self) gains mastery over man, the object (the ego).
When one takes refuge in Ishvara, the Supreme Lord, and seeks enlightenment earnestly, God himself navigates the soul on the path of self-realisation. God the goal becomes God the guide. The image of the Supreme in man – which is nothing else but eternal truth, unlimited awareness and infinite bliss – gets revealed ; and the soul lives in the Divine. For a realised person God is not a mere perception or a belief, but a fact of experience. For him, the Divine is a vivid reality with whom he is in definite proximity. Such a realised person becomes one with the blessedness of the Supreme.
The one who has realised the self is freed from the bondage of material nature. Spiritually, he is a free man. But spiritual freedom does not mean isolation of the immortal soul from the mortal human nature. It rather implies complete transformation of the man from outward wandering to an inner restfulness. Such a liberated being, even while rejoicing in his distinctiveness, always remains aware of the indivisibility of the divine consciousness. The senses, mind, intelligence and the self of such a freed soul work in consonance with each other. As a result, he obtains intensity of energy, illumination of knowledge and the excitement of joy. For him, human life is not a shackle but an instrument of spiritual perfection. Whatever condition of life he is placed in, his communion with the Divine remains unending.
To conclude, when one realises his true nature, he experiences the Divine seated within his heart. He becomes one with whole stream of life. Even while working in the phenomenal world with full vigour, he relishes a constant inner bliss.