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Knowing Yourself

by Swami Rama

The aim of life is Self-realization. The saying, “Know thyself,” was written on the temple of the oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece. This is where East and West meet. Both East and West agree on this goal, though they might hold different ways of attaining it.

The one important part of life is ignored by the educational systems at home, in society, and in the colleges and universities: “Know thyself.” You need to understand yourself on all levels. You don’t need much external information; you already have true knowledge within. You need to learn how to apply the knowledge that you have.

All the practices, therapies, remedies, and all the exercises whatsoever, are not really meant for the body or the soul. The soul is perfect; it doesn’t need any exercise or meditation. The soul needs no improvement. If you meditate, there will be no change in the Spirit. You need to meditate and you need help, not for the soul, but for your mind. As the great Upanishads say, “The mind is the instrument that can become either a means of liberation or a means of bondage.” Thus, you should understand the nature of your mind. It’s easy to say that, but it’s not so easy to actually know it. When you want to study the mind, how do you actually do it? You don’t have any external device or instrument to use to study the mind, so you have to train one of the aspects of your mind to study the totality of the mind. You have to train a part of the mind, so that all the functions of the mind can be studied through the use of that one part.

The First Real Step Of Development

The first real step of development in life is to know yourself, not to talk about knowing God. This is a journey within; you are trying to explore who you are, so that you can function well in your life, understand your habit patterns, and learn to live happily in the world. To learn that, you need to study your own self of three levels: action, speech, and mind.

Studying the sayings of the great sages does inspire and support a student. But studying one’s own thoughts, emotions, deeds, and actions is the real study. We intellectually know many things, yet our ignorance is not dispelled. By self-study we experience directly that which dispels the darkness of ignorance. Only when one has carefully learned the study of his own internal states will the true knowledge of the Self begin to dawn.

The human endeavor and purpose is not actually to attain God. You already have God; God is omnipresent. What you don’t have, what you have not attained, is yourself. So your endeavor should really be to attain yourself. When you truly know yourself, when you realize yourself, then you will understand that you have also realized God. That which you call God today, you will understand fully when you know yourself on the deepest level. Do not disturb your practice of religion, but also learn to know yourself on all levels.

You do not become or attain God, and even if you could become God, you’d be sorry, because if that happened, you would no longer be understood by anybody. Strive instead for one goal, and that is to understand your Self; know how to know the Self. If you do not know yourself and you are trying to know God, it is not possible to do so. Don’t hanker after God; know about yourself first. You are fully equipped to know yourself; you have all the means and tools to do so. You are not searching for something outside yourself that is difficult to find. You are searching for someone who is already within you, so it is actually easy to find. The day that you see the Source face to face, you have accomplished your work as a human being—that is your human endeavor.

The External World

The external world is like a wheel. The spokes are like the various faculties of mind. Reality is your center hub, but to know that inner cause of all your movements, you first have to know the nature of these faculties of mind which make you move. There are three aspects of yourself to understand: that which moves, that through which it moves, and that which is the cause of movement. You have to clearly understand these three aspects to fully understand yourself. The nature of the hub within cannot be imagined with the mind, because your mind is conditioned by time, space, and causation. Your human effort is to know your entire Self, all three aspects—the self that moves, the subtler self that motivates us to move, and the subtler Self that is the cause of movement. This is why you should distinguish between the mere self and the real Self.

You have to know yourself by first understanding your internal states; you cannot know the center hub unless you know the wheel. This wheel of the mind rotates because of its spokes, and these spokes rotate because of the hub. If you want to know the hub of your own nature, it’s a very simple principle to understand. These spokes are the four functions of mind, and inside, at the deepest level, there is the hub. These functions operate and these spokes rotate because of the hub, the Center of Consciousness. All power comes from the Center. The world only inspires or motivates the mind. Everyone should learn to understand their own mind. Whenever you perform any action, ask your buddhi to tell you whether it is right or wrong.

My Advice

I know this will disappoint you, but it is the truth: no one outside you can give you salvation. Don’t trust or depend on anyone to do that…. the truth is, we have to enlighten ourselves. You have to light your own lamp; nobody else will give you salvation. The simple method to enlightenment is to first know yourself. Learn to work with yourself; don’t give up in that. Give up on anything else, but don’t give up that goal.

When you understand the functions of the mind, you can establish inner coordination. But if you are not coordinated, you stumble, and inner stumbling creates a serious conflict for human beings. Inner conflict is the mother of all problems, because if there is conflict within, there will always be conflict without. How to be free from conflicts within and without is the only question in life. On the inner path, you will always get help from the center of truth, for the quest of truth is always helpful. We are all children of truth and immortality and eternity. But before you can understand and realize this, you must learn to analyze yourself. It is your mind and personality which prevent you from experiencing that finest level of yourself—the Center of Consciousness within.

Slowly you should prepare yourself for the advanced level of teaching. Knowledge will come of itself, but all knowledge really comes from within. It is already within you. The world outside only gives you facts to relate to that particular knowledge that is already within you. Never forget that the source of knowledge is within you. Learn to depend only on inner knowledge.

This is a system of commitment, not commandment. You are committing to yourself, to your path, and to the goal that you will know yourself. This is your commit¬ment; it is not a commandment from outside you, that you must know yourself. If you don’t want to know yourself or don’t care to know yourself, then no one can force you. But as you grow you will come to a point where you will want to know your deeper Self, and then you become committed to the idea that you will know yourself in this lifetime. You want to know yourself on all levels.

Learn to know yourself; you have sufficient time to accomplish that. Don’t use the excuse that you don’t have enough time. You may say you not attained anything. Are you sure that you have been doing meditation? Did you sit and sleep or dream or think? Maybe you have been thinking about many things in the name of meditation. Maybe you have sat for years in meditation but did not really meditate, and then have complained that nothing has happened to you. Do not give your mind space to wander when you meditate, but go step by step in the process.

Examine yourself sincerely and ask yourself if you want to meditate, to explore, to know yourself, and to choose your habits. Presently you are a stranger to yourself. How can you live in the world and tolerate such agony? Many traditions say to the student, “Know thyself,” as the first step. To know yourself, there are only three schools or methods: prayer, meditation, and contemplation. In the process of meditation there is expansion in the waking state. You are facing yourself in that waking state, and your thought patterns are coming. You have stored them in the unconscious, and when you relax your conscious mind, the thoughts come forward. Learn to allow your thought patterns to let go, and then develop introspection.

The Waking State

The waking state is actually only a small part of the mind. The waking state can be expanded. It can become a means for us. Any state of mind—waking, dreaming, or sleeping—can be used as a means to attain the goal. The waking state can be expanded, but even if you do not want to expand it, then you should still learn how to make your mind one-pointed through meditation on a focal point. This requires only a small part of the totality of the mind to bring your waking state into balance. However, the yogis say to expand your consciousness during the waking state. When you expand yourself, what will happen? Through expansion of the waking state you can attain turiya, the fourth state, beyond waking, dreaming, and sleep.

If anyone wants to be a student of the interior world, of the path of light, if he wants to do inner research, he will have to understand this point: one must have a purified, free, and one-pointed mind to know and examine the interior Self. For conducting research within, one should be truthful, sincere, and free from prejudices. Research should not be shaded by social and cultural norms or religious fanaticism. It requires a totally independent and unbiased mind. In doing research within, we have to completely forget our prejudices from the past, and we have to remain true to ourselves; otherwise our research will be incomplete.

Train The Mind

Also, we must start training the mind to be inward. We must train the mind to go inside to our personal world, so that we can understand those needs, motivations, desires, those strong powers within us that move us to do something in the external world. We want to know their nature. We want to know why we act and feel the way we do. We ourselves have created our miseries, and if we want to understand this truthfully, we will have to turn the mind inward. The mind must be trained to go inward and examine itself because it is not accustomed to practicing a technique of inwardness.

One can discover a great deal about the inner life by studying body language. So when we start turning within, we do not have to ignore the external world, nor do we have to make any radical change in our external life. We simply have to be ourselves and create a strong desire to know ourselves from within. That desire is the first requirement. If one doesn’t understand the importance of spirituality and meditation, then he should not waste his time and energy with it. If one is not convinced that meditation is a technique that is helpful, if one is not prepared, then he should not apply that technique. So first, to research the inner world, one needs a burning desire to know his inner potentials and states.

The yogis say that you can analyze the whole universe and know everything about it by understanding yourself and your mind. You want to know about the universe, and to know about it, you will have to know the miniature universe that is yourself. You are becoming a scientist, and you want to know about the universe, yourself, your relationship with the universe, and all the mysteries of the universe. You want to learn everything, but to do this you need to understand yourself and your mind first.

On this path, you yourself are a laboratory for research. Your internal states contain many instruments for research. Your internal states contain many instruments within you; you have to learn to use those instruments to understand the Consciousness that flows from its Center, which is already within you. Nothing external is going to help you in your quest.

The meditator really becomes an internal explorer and investigator, who is studying the internal reactions and processes of the mind, on both the conscious and unconscious levels. The meditator is an interior researcher, and what is brought out is creative intelligence that can be used in the external world. Meditation helps you to fully know and understand all the capacities of the mind—memory, concentration, emotion, reasoning, and intuition. Those who meditate begin to understand how to coordinate, balance, and enhance all these capabilities, using them to their fullest potential. Then they go beyond the usual states of mind and consciousness.

Many people think the mind can be controlled. That is not a useful idea. Like the monkey, the mind can never actually be controlled; it can only be directed. If you want to try to control your mind, you will regret the results. Forget the word “control” and learn to direct your mind and energy on all levels.

There have been many scholarly commentaries on the Yoga Sutras but all the commentaries miss something very practical. Such commentaries can only satisfy the intellect, but do not actually help you beyond that: “yogash chitta vritti nirodah”—yoga is the control of the “modifications” of the mind. Nirodah means control; there is no other English word for it. Control does not mean suppression, but channeling or regulating. You use this word “control” everyday, without knowing why you are using it, resulting in confusion. The mind can be understood in many ways, but even if you know exactly what the mind is, you still don’t have control over your mind. Mere knowledge will not give you control over your mind. Control means knowing the way in which to direct your mind. Control does not mean preventing the mind from functioning, but being aware of the mind and having a choice about the way it is directed.

That which separates you from your real Self—the whole and real—is your ego. You may wonder how you can cut down that ego or may try to tear it down or forget it, but that is not possible. Instead, you have to learn to polish or train your ego. When the ego becomes aware of the Reality, it is trained, and then the ego is useful. If the ego does not remain aware of the Reality, then the ego becomes unhelpful; it is then harmful or an obstacle. The mind is a great tool that you can learn to use when you know about the various faculties of mind. As long as there are conflicts in your mind, it means that you have not resolved certain things. Such conflict creates misery and then you experience the misery. You can resolve your conflicts yourself. No one else is going to resolve them for you.

You first need to be de-hypnotized, to understand free thinking. Free thinking will come when you fully understand all the faculties of mind and the modifications of your mind, when you understand each part of the whole wheel of the mind separately….I know I am telling you something that is hard to understand, but I have to, because otherwise you will not make any progress on the path.

The Purpose Of Fear

The purpose of fear is to lead you to question and understand why you have that fear in the first place. As you examine your fears, you will learn that all your fears are somehow false and based on misunderstandings. There is no truth or reality to your fears. Many fears remain buried within you, and you never really examine them, so you remain at their mercy. In fact, you are afraid to examine your fears, but you should learn to examine each fear, one by one, and to encounter them and then be free of their control. This process is very important. To fear and try to escape from examining one’s thought process is a serious mistake for a student to make.

All your fears should be examined so that you can remain fearless as long as you live. There is no charm in a life full of fear. You should not accept this fearful sort of living. Fearless living is possible when you have understood the way to do your actions in the external world and when you have learned about your internal states.

All your actions leave some impression in your unconscious mind, and those impressions then become your Samarkand and control your life. To make progress, your Samarkand need to be purified. You can do that in meditation if you ask all the impressions in your mind to come forward, so that you can examine and burn them. You can consciously bring forward all the latent, buried impressions during meditation, telling your mind that you are ready to face them, and if you have built that kind of determination and willpower, you can allow those Samarkand to be burnt mentally. They are all mental impressions, there is nothing solid or material there. All these past impressions can be burnt, and then you can be free from them. The goal is to expand the conscious aspect of mind so that there is no unconscious.

If you want to understand intuition and the path to inner wisdom, you must first understand the avenues through which you receive knowledge. This includes the processes of perception and conception, instinct, as well as intuition. Deep within you, within the recesses of your being, lies the library of intuition, but you do not know how to reach it, and you don’t have access to its wealth. We are all rich, deep within. Great people receive a small fountain from that knowledge, and that’s why they become great. The knowledge of the mind, the senses, and instinctual knowledge do not help in this. All those kinds of knowledge, all those resources, are important and we need them and can use them, but the highest of all knowledge is intuition.

Intuition does not require any evidence at all; it does not need to ask if something is right. When you have intuition, you don’t have to ask about it, because you know it’s right. That knowledge helps you see things and know things as they are, and then you no longer see things incompletely and partially.

The Inner World

All things happen in the inner world long before they happen outside. If you concentrate and watch silently, you can know what is going to happen to you in the future, but usually your mind remains busy in the material world. Everything happens in the subtle world long before it takes place externally. If you know how to, you can take precautions.

When your mind becomes aware that the Spirit is everywhere, then the mind surrenders. The mind learns that although it thought it knew all things, Spirit is everywhere and the mind is nothing. Mind learns that all the power it has is due only to the Spirit, the Source of life, the Source of Consciousness. Then the mind surrenders. That is the meaning of true surrender; such self-surrender is the highest of all yoga. Your mind surrenders when you reach such a height that the mind doesn’t function any longer. Mind is still there, but as it becomes aware of the Reality, its ego vanishes. When you fully understand the functions of mind, you will know how to work with yourself.

We need to inspect our thinking process. We must recall that what is going on in our minds is produced by us. We should inspect it and always recognize it as our own product. Each person’s thinking is his own creation. We begin by learning to inspect and analyze our own minds. First we find that we do indeed have minds because we think. We come to realize that we are not the same as our thinking process and our minds. Through analysis, through introspection we learn to discriminate between the thinker and the thinking process. The first step to control and liberation is self-observation.

One can easily understand that the center of consciousness, Atman, is overlaid by many coverings. The aspirant should apply the exact scientific methods taught by the ancient scriptures and teachers to attain an understanding of each covering. These methods enable the student to comprehend both the mere self—body, breath, senses, and all the dimensions of mind—and to help him go to the source of consciousness. Before one reaches the fountainhead of life and light from which consciousness flows spontaneously, he has to understand the various realities that exist. He can then conceive of the idea that the human beings have many subtle bodies within the physical body.


In the path of sadhana no effort is in vain; all sincere efforts bear their fruits in the unconscious mind according to the inevitable law of karma. Even a little sadhana practiced with sincere effort leaves deep imprints in the unconscious mind. Those impressions help and guide the sadhaka whenever he goes off the path. The conscious part of the mind is but a small part of the whole. It is helpful in communicating with the external world but has very little use on the inward journey. If the conscious part of the mind is trained not to create further barriers, then sadhana is useful.

Yoga sadhana alone has explored all the unknown levels of life and is thus useful for knowing the levels of the unconscious and for training the totality of the mind. Sadhana alone is the way of knowing, understanding, and analyzing the internal states and one’s relationship to the external world. While treading the path of the inner world, the sadhaka comes in touch with those potentialities that guide him unconsciously, or sometimes through dreams, and at other times consciously. Fearlessness thus increases, and self-reliance is strengthened. He is fully protected by the finer forces that exist, although he is not aware of them because of his extroverted nature. No danger can ever befall the sincere sadhaka in his exploration of the inner realms. The sadhaka is completely protected if he is fully dedicated to the goal of Self-realization.

Attention is the first step on the ladder to develop one-pointedness of mind. One must pay wholehearted attention to all of the things he does from morning until evening. If one forms the habit of attending fully to whatever he is doing, the mind will become trained, and eventually concentration will become effortless. Thousands of thoughts remain awaiting to be entertained. The purpose of sadhana is to attend to those thoughts in a systematic manner so that they do not create unrest in the inner world.

You need to examine honestly what is in your mind. Be honest with yourself. Do not meditate if you are being hypocritical and are just sitting and punishing yourself. There should be only one desire, the desire for meditation, the desire to go deep inside. At first, you will fail to achieve it, but that does not matter; you should not give up.

Start to work with yourself: when you work with yourself, do not waste energy observing what others are doing. Appreciate what they are doing, and do not condemn or criticize what they are not doing. Otherwise, you spend your whole life in celebrating or in mourning. What is important is that you constantly work with yourself, no matter who you are. The thought, “I am going to enlighten myself,” should not make you egotistical. You should not isolate yourself; this thought should make you more creative, because withdrawing yourself from the world is not your real motive; it is not life’s purpose. Your life’s purpose is to live in the world and yet remain above it.

Above all else, remember this one thing: it is easy to meet that Infinity within.



Tags: Yoga