By Andre Haralyi, M.A., C-IAYT

In the Western world “Self-realization” is understood as the fulfillment of one’s own potential. As Erich Fromm said “Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is.” This concept has gained great popularity over the years specially among those interested in psycho-analysis, humanistic psychology and Western esotericism which view self-realization as the ultimate goal of a human being.

In the East, according to all spiritual traditions of India including Yoga, “Self-realization”  is primarily associated with two very similar concepts: 

I. Liberation (moksha): which is explained as an intra-psychic event related with the dissolution of the ordinary mind whereby one is able to transcend all duality. This happens when one abides in one’s true form (svarūpa) and realizes who he or she truly is; the Self (Ātman). One who attains this state is able to remove the veil of illusion (māyā)​*​ formed  by our ego-driven mode, unconscious conditioning, habit patterns, and psychological blockages, which prevent one to see reality as it truly is.

II. Separation (mukti): better understood as the separation from spiritual ignorance (avidyā). Thus, “Self-realization” here is explained as the transcendence of the ego personality and the recovery of one’s true identity as the part of the “Absolute”​†​.

The pursuit of Self-realization is considered the most noble and meaningful undertake of which any individual is capable of. Self-realization is nothing short than an extraordinary event. It is not a mere mental or intellectual process, but rather it is a radical shift of consciousness which involves a profound transformation beyond the ordinary body-mind.

Self-realization also results in:

I. The attainment of enlightenment (Super-consciousness) or the understanding of the true nature of reality.

II. The conquest of absolute freedom, in action, speech and thought.

III. The emancipation from distress/suffering (duḥkha).

  1. ​*​
    The term illusion here does not refer to something that do not exist. Rather, it connotes a misconception about reality itself that happens when one looks but is not able to see clearly.
  2. ​†​
    The existence of an ultimate transcendental Reality known as “Brahman” or the Absolute, is a wide spread concept among all the Eastern philosophies. Although different traditions propose different conceptions and offer different speculations about its nature, all agree that the Absolute is identical to the very essence of the human being, the Self (Ātman).

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