What is Self Realization?
What is self realization?
A Brief Discussion by James Swartz
The words self realization and enlightenment are often used synonymously in spiritual literature to refer to the liberation of an individual from the sense of limitation brought about by identification with conditioned beliefs, opinions, fears, desires, and habits. Because there are two major enlightenment traditions, Sanatana Dharma and Buddhism, and since there are many enlightenment schools within each tradition—and liberated individuals are free to formulate liberation in ways that are natural to them—it would be virtually impossible to arrive at a definition of either term that everyone could agree on. However, if you consider enlightenment from the perspective of the eternal quest of individuals for freedom irrespective of their tradition, or indeed, if their enlightenment came about outside one of the established traditions, two stages are observable, one of which could be appropriately called self realization and the other enlightenment.
Because both self realization and enlightenment are rare phenomena, it is important to understand how they relate to our normal state of consciousness which could be called ‘endarkenment.’ Endarkenment is the belief that the self is limited, inadequate and incomplete and that freedom from limitation involves the pursuit of desired objects and the avoidance of feared objects in the world. At a certain point, the individual comes to realize that no matter how much experience he or she can garner, the experienced objects and activities do not result in a state of permanent liberation. This is usually an unpleasant realization and often results in profound disillusionment. It is frequently referred to as the dark night of the soul in religious literature or ‘hitting bottom’ in popular culture.
Most react to this crisis by sinking into distracting habits, ingesting mind numbing substances and/or pursuing frivolous entertainments. But for unknown reasons, a few are blessed with a variety of peculiar and invariably confusing religious or spiritual experiences that lead to the idea of self realization or enlightenment.
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