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The Difference Between Self-Knowledge and Object-Knowledge
Sandra: Thank you so much for your help with the satya-mithya teaching. Please, can you explain the difference between Self-knowledge and object-knowledge?
Sundari: To have the thought that denies consciousness means that you must be conscious. Thoughts come and go, but consciousness is always present, observing the thoughts coming and going, which are objects known to it. If you know something, it cannot be you.
There is a simple question you could ask yourself, which is, how do I know what I know or don’t know? That is, who is it that knows the one with doubts? How can consciousness be a product of inert material existence? It’s just not logical.
If you examine the logic, therefore you must see that before contacting any object, I, consciousness, and the object are (apparently) separate, but once in contact, I say, “I am experiencing my wife,” for instance. Consciousness is called consciousness when it is not in contact with an object. In contact with objects, it is called “experience.” Experience is another name for consciousness. Experience is a relational status of consciousness. When a sound comes, I say I am experiencing sound. If discrete experiences are just experience itself appearing in many guises, separating myself from experience leaves me alone as I am. Standing in myself alone is called “liberation” (moksa). Separating myself from experience is called “discrimination” (viveka).
When you know who you are, Self-knowledge does not mean that you are constantly thinking “I am Self-realized.” In fact it does not mean you have any particular thoughts at all. The thought “I am Self-realized” is just a thought, just as the thought “I am ignorant” is just a thought. When you know who you are, you simply know you are the Self; you don’t have to think about it at all. You are Self-knowledge.
What do you know when you are Self-realized? Ask yourself: Are you Self-realized? Are you ignorant? Isn’t that another thought? How would you answer these questions? Is your answer going to be the answer? Can the answer be found in the right thought? Maybe we need the right thoughts to be free of the binding, or “wrong,” thoughts. Then the “right thoughts” are just part of this amazing Creation. And then no thought is a wrong thought, as long as it is non-binding.
Self-knowledge does not rely on anything; it is not a function of thinking or memory and cannot be removed by anything, because it is who you are. You cannot forget who are once you know. Do you need to think about what your name is when you wake up in the morning? I imagine not, unless the brain is impaired for some reason.
There is nothing more powerful than Self-knowledge. Here’s why.
1. Self-knowledge is the one and only knowledge that is always true; it is always good because it depends on the nature of the Self, consciousness, which is always present and unchanging. In fact it is the only thing that is always present and unchanging. It is true in all three phases of time – past, present and future – and all three states of being: awake, dreaming and deep sleep. This is fact, not fiction, and true regardless of what you believe or say.
2. Self-knowledge is different from knowledge of objects, which is object-based, not subject-based. You cannot be an object for yourself. You are the knower, the subject, so you cannot turn around and become the object. Why? Because objects are not aware, so by becoming an object, you stop being the subject. In other words, if you were to become an object, you would stop knowing, stop being aware. That is why Self-knowledge is not the regular kind of knowing, which is fallible and subject to doubt, and why Self-knowledge does not mean entertaining any different notions about yourself. In fact it is more like being free of ALL notions about yourself with the full recognition that while those notions may continue, none of them are binding. They are like a non-binding contract that exists only for momentary convenience but does not limit or even define your action in thought, word or deed.
In fact Self-knowledge dissolves the power behind the conceptual definition of yourself, the objective knowledge about yourself, and sets you free. The freedom Vedanta talks about is the freedom from the prison walls of attachment to the notions of yourself as the limited ego-entity. The walls of the prison are made of nothing more substantial than limited notions – thoughts – of who you are. There in fact is no wall preventing you from leaving the prison of samsara, the illusion of duality. It is only your imagination that makes the walls. They are elusive, temporary and without any power in and of themselves, no matter how “real” they seem. One spiritual teacher compared it to a game of hopscotch. Imagine you are playing with other children. Imagine they decide to go home while you are still standing on your square made of chalk marks drawn on the sidewalk. Imagine feeling like you cannot leave your square, because it’s not your turn, because the rules of the game forbid you to just leave. What is keeping you stuck and blocking your freedom then?
The Self is not available for objectification. Since it is without qualities (nirguna), and only qualities can be known as objects, the Self is not available to objective knowledge. You can have indirect knowledge of the Self by hearing about it and seeing it as a “something,” which is what you have. But would you then know yourself as a subject? If you were born and lived all your life at the North Pole, you would have never seen a tree. But you could have heard about it and have an indirect knowledge about a tree. Your knowledge would be relative, temporary and subject to correction. But the moment you face a tree and recognized it, you would no longer have doubts about it nor would you need any further explanations. You would then have direct knowledge and “know” a tree (aparoksha jnana).
Self-knowledge is not something that requires mental activity, and for that reason some people misunderstand, thinking that they must stop thinking to become “enlightened.” Many paths teach this, Buddhism particularly. But you cannot get rid of the mind or stop thinking, nor is there any need to do so. The mind and thinking are not the problem. Identification with the mind and thoughts is the only problem.
Self-knowledge is not dependent on recirculating the thought “I am Self-realized.” Once that cognition takes place, the deed is done. Once a person is pregnant, do they need to keep thinking, “I am pregnant”? No, obviously. So while the initial modification of the mind does take place (vritti jnana) and is needed (that is why we do need to be qualified for knowledge), it does not need to be willfully maintained any longer. Pure consciousness (svarupa jnana) is not opposed to ignorance, because it is unaffected by it. As I told you previously, the mind must be qualified to hear the teachings or they will not stick. Therefore the preparation of the mind, which is made of thoughts, is required. The qualifications are eligibility requirements that reveal to us the areas that need improvement or development. But once Self-realization is firm, Self-knowledge itself no longer requires thought.
3. No other knowledge can negate Self-knowledge, whereas object knowledge – which is based on experience, feelings, beliefs and opinions – is always changing and eminently negatable and debatable. Self-knowledge is not based on knowledge gained through personal experience or opinion, although it may confirm both, depending on your level of maturity as an inquirer.
Our subjective interpretation of experience or any object is not knowledge unless it stands independent of our experience, feelings, beliefs, opinions. Knowledge of objects (subtle and gross) is not knowledge unless it is true to the object. If it is “my” knowledge, then it is my interpretation of an object (pratibasika), which is not necessarily knowledge. Ignorance (or my point of view) causes me to see or experience objects in a certain way because of “my” conditioning. People believe that ignorance is knowledge because they believe that what they experience is knowledge. It may be knowledge, but it may not be.
The difference between SELF-knowledge and knowledge of objects is important because they are not the same. Self-knowledge is not an object to obtain, because it is WHO YOU ARE. How can you gain something you have always had? You cannot become more conscious, only less ignorant. Self-knowledge “lifts the veil” by removing the ignorance covering the mind, making it incapable of knowing its true nature. Only when Self-knowledge is firm, and you live it naturally and spontaneously as the Self, can you be called “wise” in the real sense of that word. Only then do you know the difference between ignorance and knowledge. Until then, be sceptical because everything you think you know is subjective and at best, ignorance mixed with knowledge. At worst, it is just plain ignorance.
~ Om, Sundari