The most important thing in life, according to the sages, is to know yourself as distinct from the objects around you. They declare that here lies all divinity, power, love, peace and the satisfaction of all desires.
Knowledge of yourself as pure consciousness is absolutely paramount to all other knowledge.
You are you – the silent, still, witness that is untouched by objects and adjectives. You are not what you own, you are not your body, you are not your emotions, you are not your thoughts, you are not the image reflected in the mirror.
You are impossible to describe, but you can know yourself by being yourself. Getting to know yourself is another matter beyond the scope of this post. But one very important principle on the path of self-discovery is dis-identification.
This means discriminating away the things that you make an identity from. For example, when I was at high school there was a guy whose whole life revolved around his car. A friend of mine joked that when someone asked this guy how his life was going he’d say, “yeah, it’s in the shop getting news mags put on.”
As silly as that may sound, most of us identify with inanimate objects and subconsciously make an identity out of them. Suffering is nothing more that attaching your identity to temporary objects – like thoughts, moods, health, clothes, money, status, culture.
You may say, “I am 6’1” tall. I am an independent voter. I am happy. I have four children. I walk. I talk. I grow old. I was great in the past. I have a bright future. I care about other people. I know what I am talking about.”
In a day-to-day sense it is valid to talk like this. But when you look at it really closely you will see that these definitions of yourself cause suffering by creating limitations and boundaries.
The truth is you don’t walk – the body walks. You don’t talk – the mouth talks. You don’t think – thoughts arise on their own. You have no future or past – these belong to the body and personality. None of these things have any affect on you. If life was like a cinema, you are like the white screen which remains unaffected by the images, stories and dramas that play out on the screen.
What you say has nothing to do with you – so there is no cause for pride in saying clever things or shame in saying stupid things.
If life is going well, or not, this has nothing to do with you. You are eternally free from whatever situation is occurring before you.
Your past and future are no reflection on you. You have committed no crimes or errors or meritorious deeds. You are not important or special or unimportant or insignificant. You are simply you.
Death and sickness occur to the body and not you. You are the stainless, eternal self.
This is not a theory or a belief, but must be clearly discerned. Freedom is the absolute knowledge/experience that you are distinct from everything. It is not a thought process, rather a direct realisation.
It is also a secret, because the unspeakable cannot be spoken. Talk of your true nature is best kept out of daily affairs.
However, if you do make an identity out of these objects and circumstances then you will suffer endlessly. You will be concerned about what others think of you and you will go to great lengths to appear intelligent, beautiful, pleasing, successful. You will fear sickness and death and you will pretend that you don’t fear them. You will worry about what you say, how you look and your social status. Your possessions will possess you. Your clothes will define you. Time will destroy everything you have.
In Adi Shankara’s text Nirvana Shatakam he says:
I am not the mind, intellect, thought or ego
Nor the five senses, or the five elements,
Nor the Pranas, or the five sheaths, or the five organs of action.
I have no duty or purpose, no desire, nor freedom,
no virtue, nor vice, pleasure nor pain,
nor sacred word, pilgrimage, Veda or sacrifice,
nor fear, nor death, nor caste distinction,
no father, no mother, no friend or relation,
no master or disciple, etc.
I am indeed that eternal knowing and bliss, Shiva, love and pure consciousness.