Self is knowledge. According to Sage Ramana, Self is beyond jñāna and ajñāna. Self is only Self and cannot be explained or described. That is why, Upaniṣad-s negate everything to elucidate Self by saying ‘neti, neti’ (not this, not this). What remains after everything is negated, that is Self. This means that Self is inexplicable, devoid of any shape or form. Jñāna and ajñāna are about objects, which are considered as non-self. Then what is Self? It is pure consciousness. However, making inquiries about the Self is known as the higher knowledge or spiritual knowledge as opposed mundane knowledge. Only this knowledge is needed for Liberation. What is spiritual knowledge? We have realised the unreal, the material world. We have to go past this realization – realising the material word as the real. If this innate ignorance is removed, then we attain jñāna says Sage Ramana.
Self is already within us and we are ignorant of Its Blissful existence within us. Self was there within us, is within us and will continue to exist till our body falls. Whatever the practice we do is only remove the innate spiritual ignorance. What is innate spiritual ignorance? It is wrongly or ignorantly identifying Self with our body and mind. The Self exists in us all the time and searching for Self elsewhere is like inquiring way to our house by remaining in our house itself.
Ramana said, “The pure Being is the reality. Others are mere associations. The pure Being cannot be otherwise than consciousness. Otherwise, you cannot say that you exist. Therefore, consciousness is the reality. When that consciousness is associated with upādhi-s (that which is put in the place of another thing, a substitute, substitution, said to be applied to certain forms or properties considered as disguise of the Self) you speak of self-consciousness, super-consciousness, unconsciousness, sub-consciousness or even tree consciousness etc. The faltering common factor in all of them is consciousness.
“You natural state is always there. Your meditation, etc. come only temporarily. Reality being yourself, there is nothing for you to realize. All that is required is that you should give up regarding the unreal as real, which is what all are doing. The object of all meditation, dhyāna or japa is only that, to give up all thoughts regarding ‘not Self’ to give up many thoughts and to keep the one thought.
“Nirvāṇa is perfection. In that state there is neither subject nor object. There is nothing to see, nothing to feel, nothing to know. Seeing and knowledge are the functions of the mind. In nirvāṇa there is nothing but the blissful pure consciousness “I am”. “I” (the Self) and “This” (the material world) appear together now. But This is contained in the I; they are not separate. This has to merge into and become one with “I” that remains over is the true “I”. The true jñāna is not something that is attained. . It exists as one’s own svarūpa (one's own form or shape)”
Self is not separate apart from our own Self; our egoless state, which is difficult to attain. Even the greatest sages and saints have fallen down from their highest states because of ego. Self is not an object of thought; Self really exists as the Self within. Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (I.iv.10) explains this. “This self was indeed Self in the beginning. He knew that he was Self. After knowing this, he became all (omnipresent). Gods (titular gods) who realized this became all. And to this day whoever in the same manner knows the Self as Self (Brahman) becomes this (universe).”
Taittirīya Upaniṣad (I.vii) explains this in different way. “The Self is beyond the reach of sense organs. It is independent and without attributes. When a person rests fearlessly in the Self, he is not afraid of anything. A person may be learned, but if he still thinks he is separate from the Self, this Self itself becomes a source of terror for him.”
Kaṭha Upaniṣad (II.1.2) explains why we are not able to realize the Self. “Self is within us, yet we do not see It, as our organs are always outgoing. The Self is the chief of body-mind combine and is within us hidden subtly. By default, our organs go to the material world. The only way to reach the Self within in is to turn the organs from the material world to look within. It is a tough task like changing the course of the river and turn it towards its origin. Though it is hard, still this can be done with practice (sādhana). Those who succeed in this attempt are freed from transmigration (Liberation).”
Sometimes, we look upon god as a person and give him or her a personal identity to such gods. We give personal god (Iṣṭa Deavta) a shape and form. Such mistaken identities are based on our ego. Self can be realized only in egoless state and in pure mind. Ego mind is aware of itself as conscious and intellect.
Self cannot be just explained. It has to be experienced. First, Spiritual ignorance is to be shed and next we have to have an egoless state. Even the first one is possible, getting into egoless state is extremely difficult. Ego plays spoil sport in realizing the Self.
Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad Gītā (X. 57 onwards) “Mentally resigning all your duties to Me in the form of even-mindedness, be solely devoted to Me and constantly give your mind to Me. If out of your ego, you are not listening to me, you are lost. The Self abides in the heart of all creatures causing them to revolve according to their karma. Take shelter in Him alone with all your being. By His mere Grace you shall attain eternal supreme peace. Give your mind to Me and be devoted to Me, you will come to Me alone. I truly promise you.”
For truly realizing the Self, we need nothing, except to purify our mind and purge our ego. We need to explore within, instead of searching the Self outside. What is there outside is within us and vice-versa. Pure dedication and perseverance are the only factors that are needed to realize the Self.
There are three types of jñāni-s - yogi, saint and sage. Some of the Scriptures explain their discrimination. Yogis are considered as the least and it is said that they have not transcended spiritual ignorance. There are difference of opinions among yogis themselves. Saints are considered as better than yogis, but they also contradict themselves. Sages are considered as the best as no two sages will have different opinions. They will never contradict each other.
Between a yogi and a saint, a saint is far superior and can be followed too. Between two saints, their opinions will always differ depending upon their spiritual evolution. Saints are moody in nature and often found with ego. Sages do not have ego, though some of the texts say that ancient sages too had too much of ego. But in general, they are devoid of ego. It is always better to follow the teachings of sages. But such sages are extremely rare to find today. Shedding ego is the most crucial point in Self-realization. Ego is the worst enemy in Self-realization.