“Know Your True Self”, The Pioneer
This article was published in The Pioneer, here.
The lack of awareness of who we truly are and why we have come to this world leads to suffering and misery in life, writes Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati
One cannot possibly be an expert or even properly informed about the majority of subjects in the world. The information available in the world today is too vast, its depth and breadth boundless and unfathomable. However, it needs to be understood that the ignorance of math, science, history or technology may make life slightly inconvenient, but it does not shroud us in darkness. It does not keep the presence of the divine an arm’s length from our hearts. But there’s one ignorance which we cannot afford to have — the ignorance of the true nature of the self.
To me, one of the most beautiful aspects of Hinduism is the belief that at the core of our being we are divine. In contrast to other major religions, it teaches that at the essence of our being there is pure divinity, there is light, there is perfection. It is merely ignorance — the false identification with the body and its urges — which leads us to commit ‘sin’. Of course, the karmic consequences for our actions must be paid, even when we realise that they were committed due to the darkness of ignorance rather than the darkness of evil.
When the spiritual masters of India exhort us to remove the darkness, to light the lamp within, they are referring not to a transformation of inherent darkness into newly created light, but rather to a shedding of that ignorance which shrouds our innate light from our view. As Pujya Swamiji explains, “The sun is always shining outside, but if your windows are covered with two inches of mud it will be dark in your home. The answer is not to go out in search of the sun, to sign up for courses or workshops on invoking the power of the sun, or even to bemoan the darkness. The answer is simply to clean the windows so that the naturally occurring presence of light may flow into your home.”
In the same way, the inner divine light is always there, always shining, always available. It is the core of our being. However, the “windows” of our consciousness have become muddied by our false identifications, our expectations, our grudges, our jealousies. Hence, that light is obscured from our view.
Who AM I?
From the time of the Kurukshetra war, when Lord Krishna urged Arjuna to realise his true self, to realise not only the universal dharma but also his personal dharma as a Kshatriya, the quest for the self is on. When we are not aware of who we really are, we inevitably try — consciously or unconsciously — to become something else. We then live our lives falsely identified with roles, masks and personalities that are not truly us. However, unlike the actor in a drama who remembers to remove his costume and make-up at the end of the day, we have become so internally united with our false self that we have begun to think it is who we are. We have come to believe the mask is our true face, the script is our true life and the costume is our true self.
The problem with this false identification is that these roles are all fleeting. They are based merely on what we have done and achieved today. So, when they get shattered, as falsehood is inevitably shattered and as anything of the flesh is inevitably limited, we lose not merely a title or a job or money or beauty, but we lose the very connection with our self. We have wrapped our sense of self so tightly around these roles that when the curtain falls and the drama ends, we feel that our life is being torn out from within. If I am beautiful, what happens when I age? Then who am I? If I am rich and successful, and if I lose my money or retire from my profession, then who am I?
We also say, “I am angry. I am sad. I am frustrated. I am depressed.” Yet, our scriptures tell us we are none of these things. Our brain may be experiencing emotional patterns of chemical and electric energy that correlate to what psychologists term anger or depression. However, I, the true self, is pure, perfect and untouched by patterns of energy corresponding to emotional states. I am the one who is aware, who is watching, who is witnessing, who is able to name the states of sadness and depression, but not the one who is afflicted by them.
The lack of awareness of who we truly are and why we have come to this world leads to suffering and misery in life. It is also this ignorance of the self’s true nature that leads us to act in ways for which we have to reap the fruits of negative karma. Greed, lust, jealousy, anger and arrogance are products of our blindness toward the true light within and toward the true nature of the self. If I am already full and complete then there is nothing to covet.
The overflowing cup
These days in the new-age ‘spiritual’ circles, there is talk about ‘enlightened abundance’, which refers to the concept of becoming so enlightened that one can manifest piles of money. There are books, films, courses and workshops on manifesting abundance as though if one is simply in touch with the source, that source will provide whatever one asks. However, what the lives and teachings of the true saints and rishis teach us is that the moment one has even a taste of awakening, a taste of divine connection, a taste of being one with the source, one immediately experiences not a genie who will grant three wishes, but rather an overwhelming sense of completeness. Those who are truly enlightened live with the experience that their cup is overflowing. They are one with the creation; thus, there is no need to possess the wealth of the universe. It is already theirs.
When I first came to Rishikesh, Pujya Swamiji held up a pen in front of me and said: “You are not this pen.” I laughed. “Of course, I am not a pen,” I thought. He then said, “There will come a time when I will tell you that you are not that body and you will laugh in the same way you just laughed. A time will come when it will be as ridiculous to assume you are the body as it is ridiculous to assume you are a pen.”
The writer, a graduate from Stanford University with a PhD in psychology, has dedicated her life to service and renunciation.