Sunday, January 25, 2009

'Know Thyself'

The ancient Greek aphorism "Know thyself" was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi according to the Greek travelogue writer Pausanias. The aphorism has been attributed to a number of ancient Greek sages including Socrates. "Know thyself" was also the motto carved in stone on the entrance of the school founded by another Greek Philosopher Plato. 'Thyself', is not meant in reference to the egotist, but the ego within self, the “I AM” consciousness.
- Sourced from the internet

Much before the Greeks, the great sages of India who inscribed the Vedas and the Upanishads wrote;
asato ma sadgamaya
tamaso ma jyotirgamaya
mrtyorma amrtam gamaya

Lead me from the asat to the sat.
Lead me from darkness to light.
Lead me from death to immortality.
(Brhadaranyaka Upanishad — I.iii.28)
The essence of each of these three mantras is the same: "O, Guru, help me free myself from my sundry misunderstandings regarding myself, the universe and God and bless me with true knowledge." The universe and its things are in a constant state of change. The seasons similarly are ever-shifting. Scientifically, we can easily understand that our bodies (and the cells within them) come into existence, are born and then go through periods of growth, sustenance, deterioration and death. On the level of emotions, we move back and forth between happiness, sorrow and anger. Even our intellectual convictions rarely stay fixed for very long. So, according to Vedanta, we cannot call this world ultimately real. It is not ultimately true. Ultimately, it does not exist. It seems real etc. but it is not. Such a thing is called asat.
When the Vedas refer to darkness and light, they mean ignorance and knowledge, respectfully. This is so because ignorance, like darkness, obscures true understanding. And in the same way that the only remedy for darkness is light, the only remedy for ignorance is knowledge. The knowledge spoken of here is again the knowledge of one’s true nature.
Again death to immortality should not be taken as a prayer to live endless years in heaven or on earth. It is a prayer to the Guru for assistance in realizing the truth that "I was never born, nor can ever die, as I am not the body, mind and intellect, but the eternal, blissful consciousness that serves as the substratum of all creation."It is important to remember that, with all these mantras, the leading is not a physical leading. The Atma is not something far away that we have to make a pilgrimage to, nor is it something we need to transform ourselves into. Atma means "self." We don’t need to transform our self into our self. Nor do we need to travel to it. We are it. The journey is a journey of knowledge. It is journey from what we misunderstand to be our self to what truly is our self. What the mantras really means is "Lead me to the understanding that I am not the limited body, mind and intellect, but am, was and always will be that eternal, absolute, blissful consciousness that serves as their substratum."
- once again downloaded from the internet

In the line of the great sages, about 2600 years ago Gautama Buddha said, “By self is evil done, by self is one defiled, by self is no evil done, by self is one purified, both defilement and purity depend on oneself, no one is purified by another”

Greek Philosophy Socrates (469 - 399 B.C.) said as he looked forward from his last hour, “Wars, factions, and fighting, have no other origin than this same body and its lusts. ... We must set the soul free from it; we must behold things as they are. And having thus got rid of the foolishness of the body, we shall be pure and hold converse with the pure, and shall in our own selves have complete knowledge of the incorruptible which is, I take it, no other than the very truth”.

To know oneself begins with the realization that everything worth knowing in this world begins and ends inside the framework of one’s body. Everything that we see, feel, understand and experience in this outer world has got its genesis inside the body and in the mind. Whether it is material, emotional, intellectual, or whether it is relationships, achievements, academics, spiritual, or whether it is the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the common factor is that the seed germinates inside us and we find that the tree grow outside. We are the creators of our own destiny. We alone are responsible for all the good and bad in our own life.

However it is very difficult to realize this as a fact. Benjamin Franklin wrote "There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one's self."

We don’t easily accept responsibility for the wrongs and sadness in our lives. Our mind creates the ego, the “me and mine” character, with varied color shades of personality, who easily falls prey to the external factor responsibility syndrome for each suffering experienced and who cultivates the “I almighty” image for each happy moment. The ego craves for the happy times and generates aversion for the sad moments. Such reaction towards happiness and sadness, both leads to further unhappiness.

Acceptance of our self’s as we are, is the truth which sets us free. There is a purpose behind everything in our life and we have created that purpose. The moment we stop resisting the reality of our life and the moment we accept responsibility for the reality of our life, we gain wisdom. This wisdom helps to desist from creating further causes for pain, helps to throw out the ego and also helps to create an attitude to go through the effects of past causes without really suffering.

Every individual is different because the causes are different, the intensity of the causes is different, and the reaction to the good and bad times is different. To know oneself is to understand these realities. To know oneself is to understand the purpose of our life which is to be happy and to be at peace. Wisdom is to acknowledge that when we do not create causes for sadness, we are bound to become happy. Wisdom means that when we are indifferently to the good and the bad in our life by accepting them as they are, we escape from becoming their prey and their toy. We gain control over our mind. We become free.

Vippassana shows the way. Try it.