There are countless number of books, methods techniques to guide an individual to understand one’s self either through self reflection, meditation or yoga. I am sceptical about everything mentioned above. what does it really mean to know one’s self ? who is the knower and what is to be known ? Is it ever possible to know one’s self? What does the word “know” mean anyway. I want you, reading this now, to put aside all the conclusions, preconceived ideas one may have regarding this matter and inquire about this together with the me.
The word “Know” means to recognize. we know the streets in our neighbourhood because we recognize the streets out of our memory and then say yes I know this particular street. Therefore knowledge is always of the past. Before the very first contact between the street and you, the street was still unknown to you and only later when you go to the same place again the very recognition enables you to say I know this place.
Now let’s do a thought experiment, assume you moved to a new country and lived there for 15 years never coming home once and for some reason after all this time you finally come home. How much of the neighbourhood could you still recognize or say I know this. You just cannot recognize everything for a very simple reason that there is going to be a inevitable change since the brain had an image of the neighbourhood in the past and the new neighbourhood after 15 years.
As we have gone very carefully into the word “to know” and the nature of knowledge. Let’s now ask the question what is the “self” by keeping it simple and sticking with the facts, instead of making abstractions and concepts out of it like the soul or atman.
The feeling of “me” is the very essence of the Self. My ambition, my ideals, my beliefs, my greed and all of this is constructed around “me”. Now I would even go further and say the “me” is a construction of mind and a bundle of memories and not the self. Let’s take a simple example and assume you are a devout christian and when I ask you, are you a christian ? or are you a German ? you say with great assertion “I am either christian” or “I am a German”. Now assume you have an head injury and lost all your memory of the past. When I ask the same questions, you don’t “know” anymore.
Another problem arises when one approaches self knowledge with the help of introspection. In the process of introspection and self reflection, the present “me” takes up a role of the observer and looks at the old “me” as an object of observation, at least it seems that way. But this is a fallacious statement because as we have seen above the present “me” is in reality never the present “me” or separate from the old “me” rather a mere extension of the old “me”along with the past experiences, prejudices, ideologies all put together as the new “me”. So in introspection although it might seem there is an analyzer and the analyzed the reality is that the very analyzer is the analyzed. Therefore introspection leads to self deception and illusion of some new “me” separate from the old “me” is now looking at itself objectively and learning more about it self and therefore there is self knowledge. This is not self knowledge rather self deceit. Imagine there is a river flowing and you are in the middle of this flow of the river or flow of thoughts how can you observe the flow of the stream while you are part of the stream itself, you are at the very centre of it. This is the “me” looking at itself. Only when you are not in the middle of the flow but on the bank of the river, you see the flow objectively.
The notion of self knowledge the way it is presented can be misleading because there is a preconceived goal, a method , a book or a practice which will then aid in the achievement of this goal.But we have carefully inquired about this the whole time, there is no method, means, or a system to know oneself. All of the above are self deceptive. Which means a 20 min meditation session everyday and going back to being violent or reading a book about the power of self knowledge and accepting it as an intellectual idea and continuing living life the same way, following a guru or a pattern to “achieve” something are all futile attempts.
But rather self knowledge is a constant movement in time and not a result which is to be “achieved”. Not something with an end or a state at which one arrives, it’s not static rather dynamic therefore not something which can be held onto, but something where tremendous amount of awareness is required to observe the flow objectively and give complete attention to the experiences one makes, to the thoughts arising in this stream or flow but all the time walking along the river bank and along the flow but not part of the flow and not lost in it. This tremendous awareness and complete attention to the experiences one makes, to the thoughts one has, to our actions and our relationship towards others will act as a mirror and reveal our “self”.