• 20 Jul, 2024

Reflections on the Self

Reflections on the Self

Self-contemplation and understanding: the way of atma-vichara. What or who am I? Where does this query lead? Is there a reality behind the outer form and personality. A Vedantic investigation.


The Sorrowless State, anamayam padam, is the inner state of one who has understood and has come to rest in that understanding, sthita-prajna. This is not the understanding of something particular or specific—it is understanding itself, like perception. It’s there. Perfect and steady, a constant background. Our ancients called this prajna: the state of knowing, of wisdom, of steady insight into the very heart of beings and things. No question arises in this state, there is no need to explain or justify. There is no judgment, no reaction. Just a calm inner knowing, a wordless comprehension.

The quest begins with the self, the fundamental query of the intelligent mind: what or who am I? This is called atma-vichara, literally, self-contemplation or self-enquiry—an investigation into the nature of the self. This investigation is as exacting as any scientific one, except that it is directed inward, into one’s own consciousness, and not outward. And as any intelligent scientific investigation, it is an open-ended attempt, without agenda or goal. The point is not to reach a conclusion. The quest for the self is subtle and vast, and there can be no conclusions. The point is to arrive at understanding, wisdom. And understanding is a beautiful thing. One understands that there are no conclusions about self and life, and that is a beautiful thing to come to. Understanding, or prajna, is the finest flowering of thought and mind. It has nothing to do with seeking knowledge.

Knowledge is all outside, made up of facts and figures, ideas and theories, but prajna arises from within, flowers within. You cannot come to prajna without coming to yourself. Knowledge is available in books, in teachings and teachers, but prajna flowers into being when you sink deeper into yourself and begin to find those spaces of deep inner awareness where you are most completely and integrally yourself.

This is worth all the effort. Of what use would be a human life if we were not to come to ourselves at the end of it all? I am the beginning, and I am the end—the end of all quest, all exploration, all knowledge, what our ancient seers called vedanta , the end or consummation of all knowledge in the knower. When the knower is known, all is known.

If it is not myself that I seek in all my knowings, then what really do I seek? All the knowledge of the universe will not bring me closer to myself. And myself is all I have. When I understand this very simple truth, all my distractions fall from me and I am free to explore, seek and find. And if not, then I spend my life seeking things outside of myself, in the world of people, things and experiences. Many of us are seekers of the outside world, seekers of experiences, relationships, objects; the outside world is very real, it shapes the inner, makes us what we are. Yet, when we close our eyes to sleep, drift into that inner space made of dreams and void, we lose all of the outside world—there is nothing anymore, no possessions, no relations, no things to occupy ourselves with. But we don’t understand this. To us, sleep is routine, we must sleep, as we must eat. But sleep is the precursor of dying. As we sleep, so shall we die. If we carry nothing of our outside world into sleep, we will carry nothing of it into dying. We sleep alone, we die alone.

Where is the world in our sleep? Where is the wife or husband, child or friend? Where is the sky or earth, where the objects of desire? When we understand this, when we see this clearly, we are freed from the great spell of the outside world, and we understand that we can possess nothing and none. All desire for the world outside, and of the thousand and one things of the world outside, is futile, like a child’s toys. What then is real? Is there something that we can carry into our sleep, and thus, into our dying?

Remember too that we carry our dreams into our sleep only superficially, as we shall into our dying. Dreams are merely our REM peregrinations, they don’t last too long, even if years seem to pass in our dream world. The dreams fade, so do those subtle images and impressions of our waking hours; and then it is a plunge into our unknown and unconscious depths where there is neither world nor self, neither body nor mind. Our great seers and teachers of old used to call this state of deep sleep a state of samadhi. They say that if one could become conscious, even once, of this samadhi, one would return no more to this illusory outside world of things and people, of thoughts and dreams.

But bear in mind, at this point, that an illusory outside world does not mean that everything is unreal, like a dream or a magician’s trick. It isn’t that at all. There is a reality of world and self, but veiled by a thousand layers of distractions and non-realities, shadows and untruths. Veil upon veil that must be patiently and painstakingly removed. This is the work, the labor, of finding oneself, finding the truth of being and the truth of things. Truth does not come easy, it cannot be found in books, sacred or otherwise; it cannot be found in words or teachings; for it is hidden in the core of being, a dimensionless point of infinite density, the very heart of creation, and it has to be dug up, pulled out into the light of consciousness. Then, and then alone, shall we know, and come to understand.


Adi Varuni is the author of Somewhere among the Stars published by BluOne Ink

Image: Sanjive Sharma 


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