“Self” is the most misunderstood label there is, from the dictionary word to the “spiritual” connection.
A seeker will be confused depending on their level of consciousness, for “self” is the very beginning of “spirituality” but at the same time, the very end. It is Alpha and Omega.
Most “think” they know what “self” is. It is “me.” That is kindergarten a priori “knowledge” however, it is readily accepted without further observation.
There is the “self” of “Google”: “a person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action.”
There is the “self” of Krishnamurti:
“ …the idea, the memory, the conclusion, the experience, the various forms of namable and unnamable intentions, the conscious endeavor to be or not to be, the accumulated memory of the unconscious, the racial, the group, the individual, the clan, and the whole of it all, whether it is projected outwardly in action, or projected spiritually as virtue; the striving after all this is the self.”
There is the “Self” of Ramana Maharshi : “That state which transcends speech and thought is mouna. That which is, is mouna. How can mouna be explained in words? Sages say that the state in which the thought”I” (the ego) does not rise even in the least, alone is Self (swarupa) which is silence (mouna). That silent Self alone is God; Self alone is the jiva (individual soul). Self alone is this ancient world. All other kinds of knowledge are only petty and trivial knowledge; the experience of silence alone is the real and perfect knowledge. Know that the many objective differences are not real but are mere superimpositions on Self, which is the form of true knowledge.”
And then, there is the “real self” of Osho: “The Real Self is dangerous: dangerous to the established church, dangerous to the state, dangerous to the crowd, dangerous to tradition, because once a man knows his real self, he becomes an individual.”
And then there is Lao Tzu: “Knowing others is wisdom. Knowing the self is enlightenment.”
And …there is “Nosce te Ipsum” (Know thyself).
An individual will be seeking to “save and continue” his perception of “self” through the belief in “heaven,” the “soul” (Atma or Atman, which is also known as the “real self” by some or Swaroop, etc.) after this lifetime is over, while others believe that everything is over at death time.
Lost in theories, beliefs and what not, we are unable to OBSERVE.
In my experience, when we want to find out something related with “spirituality”, there is no sense in following words. It doesn’t matter how “enlightened” they may be. There are many interferences in between: The level of consciousness of the one describing and the one listening (even “Death” depends on the level of consciousness of a person); the word used to describe a personal experience is a barrier for intellectual understanding; there is interpretation of the word, then there is translation (if it comes from another language) and finally, there is the emotional attachment to that word: “atman /atma/soul” is an example. It has a positive connotation which for many means “self or real-self.”
Confusion is the mother of all religions.
Look at “yourself.” Do you perceive thoughts (the little guy/gal talking to you in your “head”?) Do you perceive his fears, dreams, hopes, desires, activity, patterns, memories? That is typically known as “self.” That is also known as “I.” That is what many are concerned in “saving” for the “afterlife.”
Look at a wall. Hold your breath. Stop breathing for a few seconds. Notice how “your” thoughts will stop. Just notice. Keep focused on that wall.
There is an “observer” and there is the “object” observed (wall).
When the “observer” disappears as well as the “object” although the eyes are looking at a wall, that IS. We could name that infinitesimal experience as “Me without baggage” or “naked me.” “Bagagge” is all the stuff that we perceive when we observe the content of the mind.
Some will describe the experience above as “when the observer and the object merge in each other”, or “when the observer and object are one”. Same experience different words.
That “IS” will be called with many names: “real self”, “swaroop”, “atma”, “atman”, “God”, “Brahman”, that state of “mouna” (according to Ramana Mahrshi- above) which cannot be explained in words, is where “silence” resides.
However a glimpse is not the “state of being” of a self-realized individual. An attempt to float in the Ocean, is not swimming. However, the EXPERIENCE will allow us to “observe” that which we call personality, self, etc. which Krishnamurti points out, and OBSERVE the difference “without using the mind.” Just look.
“Meditation” has been used to experience that which IS. However, a meditation related only with the mind by trying to stop thoughts, still the mind, etc. will not allow us to experience what is beyond the mind (no-mind). Thus, Contemplation.
Looking at a wall in a relaxed way, without any aim whatsoever is contemplation. We could feel our breathing, our heart, we can open our inner senses for what IS to arrive. That could be experienced by some as bouts of bliss. The “inner smile.” We could observe that “thoughts” become an interference, that is why the artifice of stoping to breathe was used. How can we contemplate if thoughts are bothersome then? The power of your feelings shall be used. Feel from you heart and your gut as we breathe in and out. That will overcome our “habit” of “thinking” or “daydreaming.”
When words arrive in our heads, the mind has entered. The show is over.
If you never learned a language to speak, how would you relate with that which we typically call “self”? How the “little guy/gal” in your head could communicate with you?
Experience that. There is more to “self” than what is described here, but this is just a “finger pointing to the moon.” It is not the moon.
Nosce te Ipsum. There is no other “knowledge” more fascinating in Life.