Self-realization, as the word implies, is the process of finding out one's real self as distinct from ones bodily self, called the false ego.
The difference between self-realization and material illusion is to know that the temporary or illusory impositions of material energy in the shape of gross and subtle bodies are superficial coverings of the self. The coverings take place due to ignorance.
Self-realization means to reduce the material activities of the gross and subtle bodies and becoming serious about the activities of the self. The impetus for activities is generated from the self, but such activities become illusory due to ignorance of the real position of the self. By ignorance, self-interest is calculated in terms of material sense gratification, and therefore a whole set of activities is spoiled, life after life. When, however, one meets the real self by spiritual culture, the activities of the self begin.
The Srimad Bhagavatam describes the process of self-realization as follows:
"If the illusory energy subsides and the living entity becomes fully enriched with spiritual knowledge by the grace of the Lord, then he becomes at once enlightened with self-realization and thus becomes situated in his own glory."[SB 1.3.34]
"Whenever a person experiences, by self realization, that both the gross and subtle bodies have nothing to do with the pure self, at that time he can see himself as well as the Lord." [SB 1.3.33]. This means that perfect self-realization is made possible by adoption of godly or spiritual life.
The Srimad Bhagavatam concludes with the following words: "One who is enlightened in self-realization, although living within the material body, sees himself as transcendental to the body, just as one who has arisen from a dream gives up identification with the dream body. A foolish person, however, although not identical with his material body but transcendental to it, thinks himself to be situated in the body, just as one who is dreaming sees himself situated in an imaginary dream body. [SB 11.11.8] [see also: the dream personality]
As long as the spirit soul forgets his real nature, mistakes his reflection in the buddhi [intelligence] and thinks himself to be one with the internal organs [indriyas], the intellect, the false ego and the mind, thus identifying with the products of material nature [prakriti], illusion continues and factual realization can never be attained.
To discriminate therefore between body, mind and soul, or between matter and spirit, is the basic principle of self-realization.
see also: the nature
of the Self
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