What is Self Realization?
Self realization is the goal of religion and spirituality. We are beset by two worlds - the external and internal. The scriptures say three - jagrat, swapna and susupti - or awake, dream and deep sleep. There is a fourth state called Turiya that transcends all. That state is the state of pure consciousness that alone exists.
The individual ego and other states disappear when this state is reached. We become free of fear and anxieties, our pain and suffering, and of the constant struggle to survive when we reach and realize this. We become everything, infinite and without the sense of space and time.
How do we reach that state? The first step is intent or the intention to reach that state. That intent comes only when we undergo wants and tremendous suffering and seek a way out of the quagmire called life. This is why Sages say that suffering is but the blessing of the Self.
The second is seeking. You start by approaching people who are on the path, or by reading books. The third step is when you approach a knowledgeable Guru and serve him, listen to him, and sincerely request him for initiation into the path. That initiation can be a touch, a look, a Mantra or an elaborate ritual.
The Guru then teaches you about the Sadhana Chatustaya, or the four modes of preparation. They are Viveka, Vairagya, Shat Sampat (the six noble virtues), and the Sadhana Traya or the three stages of practice. You then sincerely and to the extent possible immerse yourself in the sadhana while doing and performing your secular duties.
The path is not easy and the progress not easily evident. Divine Mother Sarada Devi had said, "Sadhana is like sleeping in a train. You seem to do nothing or achieve nothing, but the train is moving and you will ultimately reach your destination." Why is sadhana so difficult? We are not products of one single birth. We have travelled through innumerable births and have collected many tendencies and karma. They are always standing like a wall before us. When you start your spiritual life the base of the Kundalini where these past tendencies and karma is stored is stirred. They then become active as they have to dissipate themselves.
You have to burn out your past karma by experiencing the bad and good that comes out of it but without getting attached or experiencing revulsion. Thus difficulties surge after you begin your practice. You do stupid things and repent. You stumble and fall and you rise again. Swami Vivekananda says, "It is not a problem if you stumble, just remember you have to rise and walk again."
The other obstacle is that the owner of the visible world, or the Devi, call her Mother Kali or whatsoever, always wants her children to be in the world and play. She therefore becomes displeased if anyone wishes to escape the cycle of birth and death. So you have to fall at her feet and beg her mercy.
The deliverer Lord Siva is a strange creature. He is a completely disinterested witness. He does not like to become the Guru. He appears least bothered about your fate as from his exalted viewpoint everything is perfect and the way it should be. So you have to fall at his feet too without expecting anything in return.
In the process you develop all; devotion, knowledge and active sadhana called Raja Yoga. You have to persist. In North India there is a saying popular among practitioners, "Guru ke dwar mein kutte ke mafiq pade raho". Surrender at the door of the Guru like a pet dog. That is the best attitude. Continue following the instructions to the best of your ability without undue expectations.
In India we always say, "Everything happens in due course and when the time comes." The world is a programmed entity. You have to wait till the programme leads you to the goal. When that happens something from within you will rise and automatically pull you in. Till that time be in the world but never allow the world to be in you.
The difficulties on the path are many. The world seems very real and the only thing worth striving for. It seems to need all of our attention or else our world falls apart. If you sit in meditation some thought or the other makes you restless. Maya or the illusion makes you think you are on a fruitless and directionless endeavor. All the thoughts you generally don't think about crop up when you try to concentrate or pay attention to spiritual matters. Our senses are all outgoing and it is a stupendous task to delve within.
There are also obstacles as you progress. Sounds or visions may assure you but they also inflate your ego. They are subtle obstacles. As long as there is a "you" or an element of separation, the job is incomplete. Towards the end the Sadhaka derives great joy and pleasure from meditation. That too is an obstacle. "I am meditating", "I am a Sadhaka"; these are often unsurmountable obstacles.
The easiest thing is often just to think about your chosen deity. Be like one in love who constantly thinks about his or her beloved even while doing worldly duties. Many perform the play of constantly talking within with ones deity. They strike up relationships. They think of God as their father, mother, or child. They mentally offer their services in those relationships.
Engage yourself in reading appropriate books but don't get lost in them. Practice is what is important. Do Japa of the mantra given by your Guru. Do it mentally. You will soon observe the mantra automatically being recited by your mind. Go to bed chanting the mantra internally and upon awakening you will wake with the mantra.
Maintaining physical and mental purity is important. Give up exciting food. Do not watch things that disturb you. Be in good company or be a loner. Learn the principles of naturopathy, ayurveda, and homeopathy to guide you on the path. Stay away from suppressive medication. Do not allow anything into your body that will affect your body integrity and purity. Once you get a foothold on health just maintain it without worrying about your body. It is a powerful form of maya.
You are not the body, you are not the mind. You are the ever pure, ever free Atman. You are everything and everywhere. You are all that exists. Do not crave for anything. Why crave if you are that?
Relationships can trouble. You may be married with children. Do you leave them and run away? No. Live with them but know within that all relationships are temporary. Sri Ramakrishna used to provide the example of the house maid. She serves all like her own but knows that she does not belong there.
There will be periods of extreme frustration. All progress will seem to stop. Religious life is like that. There are ups and downs. When you are going down feel that you are preparing to enter a huge wave, and that is what happens.
This life is not without worries. It will extract its toll. Swami Bhuteshanandaji, the President of Ramakrishna Math used to say, God is priceless. Whatever you suffer in the way cannot match him. No suffering is too great on the path. The achievement is the ultimate goal. Therefore do not complain. When you realize the Self everything will be erased.
Devotees are actually well looked after. It is said that God personally takes care of all his or her needs. Yogakshyamam Bahamyam; He carries the load of the devotee. But it may not appear so to the person. The trick is to constantly remember his promise. Once you set on the path, you are his own. Think of the wandering monks without any possession, monks who do not touch money, think how they are looked after and your own worries will cease.
MahaSambhuti Chakradhar had told a young man before me, "You are under the care of your parents, tomorrow you may marry and be looked after by your family. But I can be yours only if you leave everything and follow me." That promise is universal and for everyone who complies.
You may suffer tremendous losses. All that you have accumulated with great effort may slip away. Relationships can break. But it is only the Lord who is destroying your attachments with the world and pulling you towards himself. Those losses can be very disconcerting. Sri Ramakrishna had once tried to collect some water from the Ganges River to offer prayers to his ancestors, but the water seeped through his fingers. He was heartbroken but knew that in his exalted state he could not collect anything.
"Spirituality is not a plaything," MahaSambhuti Chakradhar had told us. Great suffering will come. There will be waves and waves of suffering. When the powers come even the body will be destroyed." Here he is talking about the graduation from mortal coil to spiritual beings who are ever engaged in working to maintain creation. The job requires superhuman qualities. It is a stepping stone to higher states but the path is again through the physical world.
Spirituality is the ultimate destruction of everything that we hold dear. We have to lose the concept of "Me and mine". It is not easy, but that is what is needed. Only those who can bear to lose everything will succeed.
Do not become involved in the world. Stay here like a temporary guest. The moment you cling to something and forgetting the dream nature of the world, start participating in it, you open the door to suffering and forget your true nature. You will start wailing and crying like a child. Sri Ramakrishna said, "Massage yourself with the oil of discretion, dispassion and knowledge so that you remain like a slippery eel and never get entangled with the world."
You are the screen on which the film of the illusory world is playing. Your own mind is the projector. Whatever is projected in the screen; fire, rains, floods, earthquakes, war, life, death - nothing affects the screen. It remains untouched. You are that.
Be a witness to whatever happens. Know that you are beyond death and indestructible and the world you know to be real is a dream phase that your mind is conjuring up. It has no basis. Your essence or the Self is the only reality and it is always there with you. The truth is you are already a realized soul but you do not know it.
"Whether you know it or not, you are Rama."
But do not confuse the witness state with the Self. The Self is beyond that. It can only be experienced. It can never be described. It is beyond the senses and mind. It is concept less. It is an absolute blank and yet the seed of everything. It is motion less but full of energy. It is thoughtless but full of wisdom. It is action less but only it acts. It is full of opposites and yet is not. This is Shiva nature. The Absolute.
Continue till you get there rejecting everything on the way. Once there you will realize that it is 'here and now, existing in the present moment'. You never moved. You were always that, the veil of maya prevented you from seeing and experiencing it.
The truth is there is nothing. There is no past, no future. Nothing is happening. Nobody exists. No action is performed. Nothing is lost and nothing generated. Nothing was created, nothing destroyed. This is the ultimate Vedantic truth.
Self realization is easy when you understand the subtleties. Once you understand that, imitate that state. Believe that you are already a realized soul. Slowly this state will stick to you. You will automatically start progressing towards your goal. But never express this outside, your ego will trap you and throw you down. Spiritual efforts must always be a secret. The churning takes place in isolation and silence.
Never get depressed. The very fact that you are thinking and striving denotes you have been chosen. Once you have resolved in your mind the action has started. You have purchased a ticket and boarded the train. It will take you to your destination.