No Teacher can give you what you already are.
No book, no teacher, no system, howsoever great, can give us what is within us and who we already are. This is the most fundamental point about Self-knowledge.
If you want to learn about cooking, go read a book. If you want to know about Self-knowledge, go within and inquire about who am I?—for self is not found in a book. And yet, it is well-nigh impossible to stumble upon our real self or to get a firm conviction about Self-knowledge on one’s own without studying with a living teacher who has realized his/her true nature.
Why can’t we get Self-knowledge directly, all by ourselves, by our own self-efforts? A short answer is that we really are not what we appear to be or what we take ourselves to be. This is a very hard fact to swallow.
We take ourselves to be a separate, limited entity vying against the rest of the world for our peace, happiness and security. All struggle, and hence all suffering, comes from this fundamental metaphysical error. This is what the Buddha pointed out 2700 years ago—that the separate self is an illusion (anatta). This was his most radical discovery and the kernel of his entire teachings.
What was so radical about the Buddha’s discovery—that a separate self does not exist? Let’s examine our daily life. An impartial observation will dictate that from morning till evening, we try to fiercely protect and/or promote our self-interest. Our entire “selfie” culture and media machine are primed toward reinforcing the need and important of strengthening our separate self.
And even when we are repeatedly hurt and are reminded about this disempowering stance, and its attendant strife, struggle and suffering, we continue serving the imposter ego. Is there a way out of this maze of self-delusion?
Teachers of non-duality have always pointed out that a concerted self-inquiry is required to free us from a sense of separate, limiting “encapsulated ego” and cognize our true nature. The inquiry into ‘Who Am I’ is the direct path to this discovery. When we sincerely conduct this inquiry into our essential nature, we discover that we exist and that we are aware of our existence.
This felt sense of presence-awareness is the master key to Self-knowledge—the understanding that we are not limited, changing entities that we take ourselves to be, but unbounded conscious principle that is the changeless substratum of all that comes and goes. And this understanding is available to all of us right here, right now. How come majority of the humanity seems to be unaware of this hard-to-miss fact?
In their infinite compassion, my teachers have always pointed out to me that Self-knowledge is missed not because it is disguised and complex but because it is so obvious and simple.
When a seeker asked a teacher about how many books he had to read to know himself, the teacher answered with a counter-question: “How many mirrors you need to look into to look at your face?”
The Vedāntic methodology, if there is one, can be stated in 4 simple steps:
- Discriminate between the Self and the non-self.
- You are the Self, right here right now.
- Abide as the Self.
- Know that the non-self is the Self.
The greatness of a teacher or a teaching lies in just “pointing” to us who we are in essence.
The teacher “knows” the way, “goes” the way, and “shows” the way.
The teacher acts as a faithful mirror to show us who we truly are.