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“I Am Enlightened” Is Just a Thought
What Do You Know When You Have Self-Knowledge (Atma Jnana)?
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. The thought, “I am self-realized” is just a thought, just as, “I am ignorant,” is only a thought.
Self-knowledge is different from objective knowledge, the knowledge of objects, because 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.
That is why self-knowledge is not ordinary knowing – knowing which is fallible and subject to doubt. It is also why self-knowledge does not entail entertaining various and sundry notions about yourself. In fact it is freedom from notions about yourself with the full recognition that, while such notions may continue, they no longer limit you. They are like a non-binding contract that exists only for momentary convenience but does not limit or define your thoughts, words or deeds.
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 notions about yourself. The walls are nothing more than limited notions of who you are. There are no bars preventing you from leaving the prison of samsara, because they are only imaginary. They are elusive, temporary and without 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. They decide to go home while you are still standing on your square made of chalk marks drawn on the sidewalk. You feel like you cannot leave your square because it’s not your turn and the rules of the game forbid you to 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 for objective knowledge. You can have indirect knowledge of the self by hearing about it and seeing it as a “something.” 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 hearing about it gives you temporary, relative and indirect knowledge that is subject to correction. But the moment you face a tree and recognize it you no longer have doubts about it nor would you need further explanations. You would then “know” a tree directly (aparoksha jnana). Likewise, when Vedanta reveals your self, you do not need further explanations.
Self-knowledge is not something that requires mental activity, and for that reason some people mistakenly think they must stop thinking to get it. Self-knowledge is not dependent on recirculating the thought, “I am self-realized.” Once the cognition takes place, the deed is done. Once you are pregnant, do you need to keep thinking, “I am pregnant”? So while the initial modification of the mind does take place (vritti jnana) and is needed, it does not need to be willfully maintained.
Pure awareness (svarupa jnana) is not opposed to ignorance, so vritti janana is required. And the preparation of the mind, which is made of thoughts, is also required because knowledge takes place in the mind. There are also eligibility requirements that reveal the areas that need improvement so the knowledge sticks. But self-knowledge itself no longer requires thought once the thought, “I am awareness,” has been understood in all its ramifications.
So what do you know when you are self-realized? How would you answer that question? Are you ignorant? Isn’t that another thought? Is your answer going to be the answer? Can the answer be found in the right thought? We need the right thoughts in order to be freed of the binding thoughts. Then the right thoughts are just part of this amazing creation. And then no thought is a wrong thought – including the thought, “I am not awareness,” as long as it does not bind you to action.
~ Paul Bahdur