Mastery over the mind — What is self-realization?

The expression, self-realization is widely used and it refers to the fulfillment by oneself of all the possibilities of existence. This definition of self-realization is broad, and it includes the term existence which we cannot relate to other than through the body and the mind which we know is limited in many respects. Besides this, possibilities for the human potential can be infinite. Every human experience is a purely subjective one. For something as comprehensive as self-realization, there is no known current method to objectify and quantify one’s potential. From this perspective, everyone is equally capable of fully realizing the human potential.

Since an objective exploration into the topic of self-realization may not be possible at least in this day and age, it may be worth exploring it subjectively from the context of our inner psychology. We are enslaved by habitual mental patterns that keep our awareness focused on worry, discontentment, misery, and many such common human afflictions. One of the functions of the mind is in keeping our perception trained on specific individual habit lanes. We persist with many of these habits lifelong. The longer we continue, the deeper are the grooves of conditioning.

Can we leave the grooves of conditioning and reach inward freedom? It is a question we ought to be asking of ourselves well before we attempt to enter the vastness of untapped human potential. When our attention is on habit and conditioning, we cannot pay attention elsewhere. It takes a great deal of effort to keep our focus away from patterns and conditioning. When we are inwardly free, happiness and contentment are natural byproducts. We will not need to work towards them. Working towards something involves effort. The effort is sustained by an identity which will ultimately seek a reward for efforts put in. We expend much of our energy in everyday concerns such as enhancing personal security in the form of wealth, food, familial and societal relationships. Failure to achieve objectives results in fear and this fear, in turn, makes us put in a significantly greater effort. More the effort, higher is the reward we expect. This cycle builds upon itself, and soon life becomes backward-looking and not forward-looking. We end up looking back to see what we have achieved and what is left to accomplish. The cycle of failure and achievement keeps the mind in a closed loop.

In this respect, self-realization becomes another goal to be achieved. There is a high expectation of the ‘self’ we seek to realize. That self is expected to bring us unending joy and freedom from all our miseries. When self-realization becomes a goal, there is an unspoken acceptance of an ideal self to be achieved and a less than perfect person to be left behind. This division happens in the mind. When one says, “I have attained self-realization”, we can infer that awareness merely is moving from one corner of the mind in which there is identification with the less than ideal self to another part of the mind in which the image of a perfect self resides.

Unless there is a division of a single primordial cell, a fully grown human body is not possible. Similarly, for the mind to exist, there must be division. Every thought is a contributor to this division once we identify with it. When there is no division in the mind, the notion of the ideal self or any self for that matter will disappear. The concept of no-self is like a black hole. Even hypothetically, we cannot travel to the other side of a black hole, as all matter ends in it. When there is no self, everything of the “I” disappears. It cannot be recreated in the original form once destroyed. The conditioning which is integral to the building blocks that support the “I” would have also disappeared. The mind cannot fathom such an experience, and no amount of thinking or imagination can give us such an experience. The very act of thinking implies identity. The thinker is separate from the subject of thought.

We seek to realize an ideal self because there is a deep-seated dissatisfaction with the experience of the mind in its current state. The mind is a distinct identity we carry. It is very personal, it does not leave our side, and we cannot wipe it away. The mind carries thoughts, ideas, perceptions and it expands through the process of imagination. One of the main products of the mind is desire, and through passion, it divides and grows. Along with thought, desire is an agent of division within the mind. Hence desire is not the ideal instrument to use in an attempt to unify the mind.

Desire cannot exist without individual identity. Desire happens to be one of the main ways through which the mind propagates itself. Desires strengthen the mind and the mind, in turn, props up our desires. Every desire links us to the expectation of happiness and the desire for self-realization is no different. It is a wish for absolute bliss. Nobody desires penury, sorrow or hardship. It is quite the opposite. When there is the fruition of desire in the form of happiness, the mind needs the identity of the “I” to enjoy it. Passion is one aspect of the mind and identity is another aspect. When we fulfill a desire, the experience of happiness is enjoyed by the identity created by the mind.

Once the experience of enjoyment connected to any desire begins to fade, the identity or “I” associated with the desire does not fade even though the enjoyment and the desire may have receded. In experience after experience, this pattern repeats. There is the peaking of enjoyment followed by a fall. We would like for a stable the state of enjoyment that does not diminish. In our day to day experience, the fruition of common desires leads to shortlived enjoyment. The term self-realization has become a catch-all phrase to suggest a perpetual state of ecstatic joy. It is a higher ideal, but the approach cannot be through a desire for it. We cannot become that. By becoming, we are attempting to transfer our current identity to that state we call self-realization. We may be ready to give up everything that we consider as ours, but there is a hesitation when it comes to giving up the identity or “I”.

This analogy may be useful in understanding the state of non-self. When we say non-self, it does not mean death, but the expanded awareness that does not have a localized identity with a particular body and a mind. Water may be compared to the awareness that is free. This awareness is held in the mind which we can compare to a jug. Thoughts are like as little cups into which we pour our awareness. When we withdraw awareness from thought, it does not retain the “shape” of a particular idea just as water, when poured back from a cup into a jug, does not keep the shape of the container.

Our body is also like a jug that holds, for a temporary period, the flowing waters of existence. When we give up all traces of identity, life manifests as pure and free awareness. Pure awareness is a universal quality, and no one can claim ownership over it. This awareness has no fixed home, it does not change even if locked up in identity and is the same in all beings. The realization of that awareness comes when the mind loses its function as a divisor and multiplier. Self-realization isn’t an identity that we pursue through a desire for it. It is a never-ending journey of dropping identity and desire.

Originally published at on October 14, 2018.

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