Eastern and Western way to understanding self

In Western philosophy, the term philosophy is often understood to mean love for knowledge. It is a predominantly intellectual exercise and deals mainly with man’s relationship with the universe around him. Its focus is centered upon the outer world comprising forms of matter and motion, or the world as it is experienced by the five senses.

In contrast, Eastern philosophy does not use the word philosophy. In the hallowed tradition of Vedanta, the term philosophy is replaced by Brahma Vidya. Its focus is centered upon that knowledge that enables one to realise Brahman as the Self that pervades all. In this tradition, self-realisation is the purpose of human life. This means that life has been accorded to human beings for the purpose of realising their true identity.

This constitutes the major difference between the Eastern and Western traditions. In the former, the emphasis is on self-awakening, transcending the ego and the notion of 'I' and 'mine'. It is about engaging the world with a view to transcending it. In the latter, knowledge of the world is sought to understanding man's status to the world he lives in.

Viewed in these terms, the Bhagavad Gita represents the fountainhead of all wisdom. The wisdom contained in it not only helps us expand our minds but it also imparts practical lessons on how we can go about the task of fulfilling the objective of our lives.

In doing so, it helps us balance both our internal lives as well as the actions we ought to pursue in the external world. The idea lies in helping the aspirant develop equanimity of mind, internal tranquility and grasping the fundamental elements of the art, science and craft of performing our actions mindfully, skillfully and selflessly.

As Swami Rama, the Himalayan Master, beautifully expresses it: “The teachings of the Bhagavad Gita help one to understand the distinction between the real Self (consciousness) and the mere self (ego). The mere self is subject to change and destruction; the real Self is not. The aspirant should understand both and should finally establish himself in his essential nature: Atman. Then he can live in the world without being affected by it.”

“In the domain between the real Self and the mere self lies our antahkarana (internal instrument), which plays a most important part in both our internal and external life. If not understood, both goals of life – living in the world and Self Realisation – are defeated. Our psychological life needs profound and deep study if we are to free ourselves from the quagmire of emotionality, egoistical preoccupation and self-delusion and if we are to realise our fullest potentials for the unfoldment of consciousness.”

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