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Self-realization is an expression used in psychology, spirituality, and Eastern religions. It is defined as the "fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one's character or personality."[1]

In one overview, Mortimer Adler defines self-realization as freedom from external coercion, including cultural expectations, political and economic freedom, and the freedom from worldly attachments and desires etc. Paramahansa Yogananda defined Self-realization as "the knowing — in body, mind, and soul — that we are one with the omnipresence of God; that we do not have to pray that it come to us, that we are not merely near it at all times, but that God’s omnipresence is our omnipresence; that we are just as much a part of Him now as we ever will be. All we have to do is improve our knowing."[2]

Eastern understanding


For the Hindu religion, self-realization (atma-jnana) is knowledge of the true self beyond both delusion and identification with material phenomena. It refers to self-identification and not ego identification.

Advaita Vedanta

The branch of Advaita Vedanta is the one that has particularly developed this concept.[3] According to Vedanta, God as Sat-Chit-Ananda is perfect existence, consciousness, bliss. Whereas the manifest universe which is a play of shakti or energy is temporal, the immutable principle or reality is beyond time. God is not exactly a being - in order for there to be being, there has to be non-being - and, it is said, that such dualism within the differentiated reality does not exist in that state. It cannot be described, quantified, reasoned, or explained all of which exist on a differentiated basis only directly experienced as itself. Shakti or energy, as an abstraction, is eternal but its manifestations are continually changing. Therefore, in Hinduism, God is represented in both male and female form. The male as sat-chit-anand is immutable; the female shakti is temporal. While being omnipresent and immanent in reality, sat-chit-anand is formless. Shakti is manifested but, also, exists in an unexpressed form inside of sat-chit-anand. Therefore, even if the Universe ceases to exist at one point, it will eventually be reborn because Shakti in an immaterial form is also eternal. What motivates the action is described more poetically as a dance or a play.

Life begins with consciousness. What makes an ant different from a rock is some sense of itself. Rather than existing purely causally, it has some degree of freedom, but the grosser awareness is more causally bound. In its pure form as sat-chit-anada, consciousness is said to be completely independent of causality. And therefore true freedom can only be realized in that state. Until then, the mind is bound to causal existence to greater and lesser extents. An awareness of self is present in grosser and subtler forms. Animals or even a microbe will have some form of awareness. However, in mankind, the ability to reason allows this base awareness to be refined into higher existential contemplation.

Vedanta describes the mind as being composed of sheaths or veils going from a gross awareness of self to a subtler awareness. Love - what we call love - is a very complex emotion described by as a feeling of empathy or compassion. The identification of one's self with others.

According to Vedanta, selfless love is actually an attribute of the self-realized. The mind shorn of its grossness is perfectly pure and, just like water poured from a jug into a pond mingles in an undifferentiated manner, so ultimately in nirvikalpa samadhi or enlightenment, there is a type of universal identification. This identification is not merely a delusion but actually a state of simultaneous experience. Yogis have described having a spherically expanding universal vision and a state of indescribable rapture. Scripture gives the metaphor of a voluminous lake overflowing with pure water. Paramahansa Yogananda, in his book Autobiography of a Yogi, describes this experience as realization of ever new joy. Self-realization is not easy to achieve and requires spiritual practice, sometimes over multiple life times.

One of the biggest reasons for this difficulty is that the thirst of the soul for material existence is not sated. Though realization is by far the greatest prize and the culmination of achievement, it is elusive. Prarabdha karma, the force of accumulated metaphysical causality, the impulses whose imprints or samskaras are in the mind where the subtle most human desires are the yearnings of the soul. Ramakrishna said that God himself has become all these forms. It is not his will that the play should come to an end. That's why self-realization is not easily achieved. Saint Jnaneshwar said that the play existed for the sport of God. It was all his forms and manifestations.

The yearnings or desires cause the soul to seek out new manifestations. At death, though the gross body and senses die, the causality of those desires does not die. It seeks out a new corporeal existence. If the motive force is good, then the bound soul will go to any number of heavens; if the motive force is bad, it will go into any number of hells. The place where it goes is precisely motivated by its own nature. Hell is a place where there is suffering and ignorance. Heaven is where there is pleasure or sensory enjoyment.

Neither residence in that heaven or hell, for the bound soul, is permanent. The soul (atman), while working off its previous karma, continually acquires new karma. Like a metal hammered with new impressions, in the course of a life, the actions we reinforce shape the quality of the mind and the subtlest part of the mind is the soul. Therefore, it is conceivable that if someone continually acquired bad karma by reinforcing bad actions they would remain in hell for a very long time. However, the soul can always be redeemed because there is the power of free will or independence from causality that originates from God himself.

Good and evil is equivalent to knowledge and ignorance. Knowledge is good. Ignorance is evil. Ignorance leads to suffering and bondage. Knowledge to happiness and liberation. The highest heaven is said to be self-realization because that state is eternal, evernew, pure, perfect, and rapturous. Therefore, it is considered to be better than any sensual heaven, such as those in the realms of the gods.

Self-realization is said[who?] to be achieved through 4 types of spiritual practices.

  • Karma yoga - without attachment to the fruit of action, acting by offering the fruit of the action to God. In other words, the practice of wholesome actions, actions that are complete, that fulfill all aspects of the present moment, leaving one in a state of fulfillment, i.e. free from desire, until the next impulse arises. The aim of Karma yoga is to surrender the personal view of ahankara ("I am the doer") and to move towards a more universal appreciation of action as service (meeting the need without any claim).
  • Raja yoga - psychic control or one pointed meditation that first focuses thought onto one point and then stops thought leaving only the underlying awareness.
  • Bhakti yoga - the development of love for God and other beings.
  • Jnana yoga - reasoning the mind from gross most to subtle most state culminating in samadhi. This type of Jnana or knowledge is not exactly like book learning. Rather Jnana is discovering one's self and uncovering its mysteries through direct inner contemplation. Ultimately knowledge of relative phenomena dissolves and only the original Life-Force or God remains.

Ramana Maharshi

As taught by Ramana Maharshi, awareness or consciousness of "I am," plays a key role in achieving self-realization; tracing back to the source of awareness by asking oneself the question "Who am I?", the true self becomes obvious. Focussing attention on the qualified "I am" is a powerful means to achieving the end which is being one with the completely unqualified "I," the True Self which is experienced as Silence.[4] Replacing the confused duality of Self and ego with the pristine non-dual experience of Self is the essence of Ramana's teaching.

True happiness is the manifested Self. It only seems like a result because it is not felt or known permanently before the ego is removed. As explained by Ramana Maharshi,

Happiness is inherent in man and is not due to external causes. One must realize himself in order to experience his unalloyed happiness. All spiritual scriptures are meant to make man retrace his steps to his original source.

Where are you now? Are you in the world or is the world within you? You must admit that the world is not perceived in your sleep although you cannot deny your existence then. The world appears when you wake up. So where is it? Clearly, the world is your thought. Thoughts are your projections. The "I" is first created and then the world. The world is created by the "I" which in its turn rises up from the self. The riddle of the creation of the world is thus solved if you solve the creation of "I". So I say, find yourself.

Sahaja Yoga

The method of meditation Sahaja Yoga, created in 1970 by Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, defines self-realization as a connection with your self or the first encounter with reality.[5]

Devotional Advaita

Devotional Advaita reflects the Self-Realization teachings of Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta, and Robert Adams regarding complete realization of Self as the immanent Atman and the Noumenal Brahman through devotional self-inquiry. Self-Realization and Other Awakenings—Muzika ISBN 978-0-9847767-3-3[6] and [7]


Since Buddhism denies the existence of a separate self, as explicated in the teachings of anatman and sunyata, self-realization is a contradictio in terminis for Buddhism. Though the tathagatagarbha-teachings seem to teach the existence of a separate self, they point to the inherent possibility of attaining awakening, not to the existence of a separate self. The dharmadhatu-teachings make this even more clear: reality is an undivided whole; awakening is the realization of this whole.


Sikhism propounds the philosophy of Self-realization. This is possible by "aatam-cheennea"[8] or "Aap Pashaanae", purifying the self from the false ego:[9]

'Atam-cheene' is self analysis, which is gained by peeping into one's self in the light of the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. It is the process of evaluating and analyzing oneself on the touchstone of 'naam simran' which if practiced, pierces into the self and washes it from within. The filth of too much of materialism goes, the self gets purified and the mind comes in 'charhdi kala/higher state of mind". This means that the self should be assessed, examined and purified, leading to self-realization and the purification of our mind. Once purified the mind helps in ushering in oneness with the Super Power as the Guru says, "Atam-cheen bhae nirankari" (SGGS:P. 415) which means that one gets attuned to the Formless Lord through self-realization. Indirectly it means that self-realization leads to God-realization.[10]

Guru Nanak says,

Those who realize their self get immersed into the Lord Himself.[11]

Guru Nanak also says,

He who realizes his self, comes to know the essence.[12]

Western understanding

Merriam Webster's dictionary defines self-realization as:

Fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one's character or personality.[1]

In the western world "self-realization" has gained great popularity. Influential in this popularity were psycho-analysis, humanistic psychology, the growing acquaintance with eastern religions, and the growing popularity of western esotericism.


Though Sigmund Freud was skeptical of religion and esotericism, his theories have had a lasting influence on western thought and self-understanding. His notion of repressed memories, though based on false assumptions, has become part of western mainstream thinking.[13]

Freud's ideas were further developed by his students and neo-psycho-analysts. Especially Carl Jung, Erik Erikson and Winnicott have been important in the western understanding of the self. But also other alternatives have been developed.

Jung developed the notion of individuation, the lifelong process in which the center of psychological life shifts from the ego to the self.

Erikson described human development throughout the life-span in his theory of psychosocial development.

Winnicott developed the notion of the true self.

Roberto Assagioli developed his approach of Psychosynthesis, an original approach to psychology.

Humanistic psychology

Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, leaders in the Humanistic Psychology movement, developed the concept of self-actualization.

Based on Maslow, the most common meaning given to self-realization is that of psychological growth. It represents the awakening and manifestation of latent potentialities of the human being -for example, ethical, esthetic, and religious experiences and activities.[14]


Maslow defined self-actualization as:

The impulse to convert oneself into what one is capable of being.[15]

Eastern religions

While the western knowledge of eastern spirituality is still growing, the understanding of these traditions is biased by western concepts.[16]

Aajit K. Das, in the International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, compared and contrasted Maslow and Rogers' concept of self-actualization with the concept of self-realization in Vedandic Hinduism and the two major schools of Buddhism, Theravada and Mahayana. The author concluded in this paper that the two concepts complement each other.[17]

According to Om Swami, Self-realization is not an instantaneous act. We may have an aha moment but it is mindfulness that allows us to navigate the world with the utmost awareness of our verbal, mental, and physical actions. It is one thing to grasp that we are not just the body, but it is another thing altogether not to react when someone hurts us. We may recognize that anger destroys our peace of mind, but to remain calm, no matter how strong the provocation - that is real realization.[18]

Western esotericism

Western esotericism integrates a broad variety of traditions. It views self-realization as the ultimate goal of a human being, attaining permanent happiness and complete independence and freedom from all worldly bondage. In this view, true happiness is the result of self-realization.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Self-realization". Retrieved 12 April 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Self Realization vrs. Soul Realization". Retrieved 12 April 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Willingness to be Better: Embracing the Road to No Prescription". Retrieved 12 April 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Kundalini, Vibrations and Self Realization". Retrieved 12 April 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, page 375
  9. SGGS: P.1056
  10. Majhail (Dr.) 2010, p. 272.
  11. SGGS: P. 421
  12. SGGS: P. 224
  13. Webster 1996.
  14. "Self-realization and psychological disturbances" (PDF). Retrieved 12 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Maslow and Self-Realization". Retrieved 2 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. MacMahan 2008.
  17. "Beyond self-actualization". Retrieved 12 April 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. If Truth Be Told: A Monk's Memoir, Harper Collins<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Majhail (Dr.), Harjinder Singh (2010), Philosophy of 'Chardi Kala' and Higher State of Mind in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Jalandhar: Deepak Publishers, ISBN 81-88852-96-1<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • McMahan, David L. (2008), The Making of Buddhist Modernism, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-518327-6<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Webster, Richard (1996), Why Freud was wrong". Sin, science and psychoanalysis, London: HarperCollinsPublishers<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>