What Is “Self Realization”?
What does one really want? It may seem like an object at times: a partner, a material thing or state ("wealth"), a substance, an activity (beyond simple living that is – the psychological wanting arises)... but we want that object of desire, of longing, because we believe, we feel it will bring us happiness, peace, freedom. Right?
So it isn't the object itself, but the feeling and state we imagine it will bring. That's the real, inner motivation, if we are honest with ourselves.
Why not go straight for it? Why go through an object of consciousness if one can go direct?
What we are really longing for is Freedom itself: freedom from suffering. Liberation, period. That is, that true peace and happiness and love that is simply Being, simplicity itself, with no opposite: the non-dual "state" that is not a passing state. At some deep level we know that, have glimpsed it or felt it. It calls us (whether we ignore it or not, allow ourselves to be distracted or not).
The inquiry into Reality is in the service of that, as well as playful curiosity, fun, neutrality, enjoyment, love. It cannot be too goal-oriented (end-gaining) or it tends to cancel the freedom, since it is then in the service of the ego: the sense of a separate, lacking entity called "me" who needs and wants, is incomplete and seeking. A paradox? Yes, but not an insurmountable conflict, because all the pointers and practices can indeed help open, of ready willing and honest, to proceed "up the path" so to speak, to Freedom.
Having then more glimpses of Freedom, one wants more, and begins to feel more confident that it's there, is real. One begins to tame the beast that keeps one willing and wanting to go the other direction, towards the illusion that the objects were where the real prize is. The "beast" being the mind and habits, the naughty child, the untrained animal that was trained by it's upbringing and needs re-training or un-training.
The central “problem” or issue, so to speak, as identified in many wisdom traditions, is that of "identification". What is identification?
One identifies with the body or mind instead of with what one really is: let’s call what we truly are “Consciousness” (we cannot really name it, since it can be "known" in the same sense as seemingly outward, objective things are known).
Who, or what is it that identifies? It is not a person, it is consciousness itself that identifies. This is a common mistake: to think "I have fallen into identification, into ignorance". Who is the "I" that has fallen? Presuming there is a person, a separate entity that has done this, is the only ignorance. So stop it! There was never such an entity in existence in the first place!
This is why it is termed “Self-realization”. The self realizes itself. Self realizes its own nature – that it is not body or mind, but universal consciousness*. Another way to say it: Awareness becomes aware of itself being aware. (A mouthful, but simple in essence. It is an experience).
This is why it is said that, strictly speaking, people do not become enlightened. Rather, it is more accurate to say that enlightenment itSelf un-people’s itSelf.
By “knowing” in “knowing oneself”, it is not knowing in the usual sense, since consciousness is not a function, but rather the reality of being. That is, that which is knowing cannot know or see itself.
“It is true that only an object of perception can be directly contemplated. The “I” is always the perceiver and never an object of perception.
As it is not an object of perception, direct contemplation of the “I” is out of the question. None the less, because it is experienced as one’s Being, it is possible to contemplate it indirectly.”
– Atmananda Krishna Menon, Atma Darshan, p.6
*Universal “so to speak” because it is not universal in the sense not of all the material universe or cosmos, as the mind conceives the situation (per our learning), but universal as in the totality, which cannot be conceived, since that which is conceiving is part of the totality.
On the So-called Self-Reflective Ability (of the human species)
Some make a big deal out of this, thinking we are important. But evolution does not lead to consciousness. Consciousness does not happen or arise in evolution. Rather evolution happens within the totality of consciousness which itself does not evolve. That is, no evolution as a whole: obviously, there is no thing to compare it to, no second reality, so it is meaningless to say that it changes or evolves; and as a corollary, since consciousness has no parts, the only evolution locally is of what we term “mind”: evolution in the (network, web) thought of local cultures, always amenable to updates and change and being wiped out in a second of course. There is nothing permanent in this realm (world and mind, time and space).
This is an important distinction. You have to turn it around and see correctly the situation, otherwise you will spend an eternity “figuring it out”.
We are the Unborn, truly. Or, more correctly “I” am the Unborn.
What is meant by the word "knowledge"?
(Note: Some in the world on non-duality call this distinction as that between "phenomenal" and "noumenal" knowledge, but I do ot like that, since it is a potentially confusing appropriation of terms for those familiar with their use by Immanuel Kant, who used them in a different sense of the "in-itself"... a whole other issue... )
Just as one cannot see one’s own eye except in a mirror or camera — which therefore is only an outer image and not the eye itself that is seeing — the Self is the unseen seer, the seeing itself, and thus cannot be seen, cannot be thought, cannot be an object of thinking or seeing (thinking, sensing or perceiving).
And thus (among seekers it becomes a matter of confusion) we need to be careful of how we use the word “knowledge”: as object-ive or non-object-ive, relative or absolute, and not conflate the two in our minds.
(see also: The infinite Heart)