Defining the Self
God and the Self are one: Consciousness. “He through whom man sees, tastes, smells, hears, feels, and enjoys, is the omniscient Lord” (Katha Upanishad 2:1:3a). All the doors of perception function through the Divine Presence, not just the Divine Power. Our consciousness is the Consciousness of God, the finite drawn from the Infinite, as the wave draws its existence from the ocean. It is a grave error to decry the experience of our senses as either illusory or somehow degrading. It is our response to sensory experience that is often illusory or degrading, but we are at every moment living in and by God.
But God is not just the Power by which “we live, and move, and have our being” (Act 17:28). “He, verily, is the immortal Self. Knowing him, one knows all things” (Katha Upanishad 2:1:3b). He is the all-embracing Consciousness within our consciousness and within all things. If we come to know–enter into the being of–that Infinite One we shall know with His knowing, and therefore know all things. As Saint Paul said: “Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (I Corinthians 13:12). This is the inmost meaning of Saint John’s statement: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (I John 3:2).
“He through whom man experiences the sleeping or waking states is the all-pervading Self. Knowing him, one grieves no more” (Katha Upanishad 2:1:4). All states of consciousness are directly rooted in the Self, individual and universal. When through yoga this is truly known, all grief ceases, for the yogi identifies with his all-perceiving Self.
He transcends fear as well, for “He who knows that the individual soul, enjoyer of the fruits of action, is the Self–ever present within, lord of time, past and future–casts out all fear. For this Self is the immortal Self” (Katha Upanishad 2:1:5). What an incredible statement! We are thinking that we are poor, mortal beings swept along by forces alien to us and totally beyond our control, when all the time we are the masters of past and future. All our fear comes from our unawareness of this glorious fact. By turning inward and discovering the truth of ourself we will pass beyond fear. The message of the upanishads is inseparably bound up with the necessity for sadhana if it is not to be no more than dead words on a dead page.
“He who sees the First-Born–born of the mind of Brahma, born before the creation of waters–and sees him inhabiting the lotus of the heart, living among physical elements, sees Brahman indeed. For this First-Born is the immortal Self” (Katha Upanishad 2:1:6). The only way to “see true” is to see The True.
When we turn within, to the core of our being, there we will not only find the individual Self, the jiva or atman, but we will find its origin, the Supreme Self, the Paramatman, the eternal Brahman. This is the true vision of God–that in which the two are seen to be One, although their distinction is eternal. The word “born” is misleading, for the Self is never born. There does come a time when it becomes manifest in relative creation, but it existed before that “birth.” It is not even right to say that God is our origin, for the Self is co-eternal with God. As Krishna told Arjuna: “There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be” (Bhagavad Gita 2:12).
This term First-Born is most interesting, for in the Bible we find it applied to Jesus four times by Saint Paul. What is missed by Bible students is the truth that Jesus is the First-Born because he realized the Self, the First-Born in all sentient beings. And all those who know the Self are also First-Born. The colossal error of official Christianity after becoming a state religion in the fourth century was attributing the truth about all beings to Jesus alone. They began wrangling about the nature of Jesus, missing the fact that the truth about Jesus is the truth about us all. They wrestled with the question of divinity/humanity in the nature of Jesus, when the real question was the finite/infinite nature of Jesus’ true Self as Spirit–and ours as well. In Jesus we do not see something unique, but the perfected nature of us all revealed. What he–and the great masters of all ages–is now, we shall be in the future. (And are right now potentially.) “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is”–and as we shall be (I John 3:2).
The all-embracing Self
It is no news to us that God not only is within all things but in an ineffable way is all things. But there is a further fact: We, too, embrace all the levels of being on the finite level, just as does God on the infinite level. So the upanishad further says: “That being who is the power of all powers, and is born as such, who embodies himself in the elements and in them exists, and who has entered the lotus of the heart, is the immortal Self” (Katha Upanishad 2:1:7). Again, this refers to both the finite and the Infinite spirits.
Therefore we see that in the vision of the upanishadic sages we are not abstract spirits with no connection whatever with the energies of prakriti. Rather, as with God, those energies are our own inherent energies that in time are to be revealed as consciousness and assimilated into our Self–from which they have never really been separate. Everything is consciousness, so in the final sense there is no matter or energy at all. Yet, at this moment we find ourselves in the seemingly manifold condition that is necessary for our evolution and ultimate freedom.
We not only mistake our own nature, we mistake the nature of God as well. We are ourselves “the power of all powers,” having willingly embodied ourselves in subtle and gross matter while still living essentially in “the lotus of the heart.” How then can we consider ourselves the servants or slaves of any being–including God? There is no “work of God” in this world for us to do–only our work, the ascension to perfect freedom. There is a theism that is bondage and a theism that is freedom. We must distinguish between the two.
Because it fits better with the foregoing, let us skip a verse and read: “That in which the sun rises and in which it sets, that which is the source of all the powers of nature and of the senses, that which nothing can transcend–that is the immortal Self” (Katha Upanishad 2:1:9)
The Self and the Supreme Self are both the Chidakasha, the Sky or Ether of Consciousness in which the sun of manifested life rises and sets. The waking, dreaming, and deep sleep states take place within the consciousness that is the Self. The experience of birth and death likewise take place within the Self.
The Self is, like the Supreme Self, the source of the energies that manifest as the various levels of the subtle and gross bodies which we are presently evolving until they manifest as the spirit-Self. Nothing is ever destroyed, but is resolved back into its origin, the spirit. This is the great and awesome assertion of the upanishads.
Nothing is beyond or higher than the Self–not even God, for God and the Self are essentially one, as are the ocean and the waves. As long as we dream of separation, so long will we continue to come and go, suffering the pain and fear of continual change. But when we awaken into Unity, all sorrow and fear cease forever.
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: The Power of Enlightenment