What Is Self-Realization?

The word “self-realization” is especially challenging to define, since what it refers to must be experienced to be understood, and yet the fullness of what is revealed is beyond intellectual understanding. Nevertheless, with a bit of good fortune, we may taste the nectar of self-realization by taking a little journey together.

5604657238_ac5445c38e_o (Flickr user aloha75)

Many Eastern wisdom traditions hold that reality, a.k.a. the world, is experienced as a projection of forms from a source that is beyond the forms projected, much like a movie appears on a screen thanks to a very bright light at the back of the theater. In the 20th-century analogy, the projector beams moving images onto a two-dimensional screen; and though the images are flat, people easily identify themselves with the activity happening in front of them. In the second decade of the 21st century, we are beginning to see holographic projections, in which the images produced are three-dimensional. Once this technology has been perfected, humans will have created a powerful tool for understanding “Maya” – the world of illusions, or divine display – by losing themselves in three dimensions.

According to these wisdom traditions, most of humanity is lost in Maya, misidentified with the activities that seem to be happening in the world of name and form. When we wake up from this state of misidentification, we realize that what we thought was reality is much more like a dream, and that our true identity is not contained in the forms (people, places, things, ideas, and subtle energies) that dance on the screen we call the world. Rather, our real self abides in a seemingly deeper consciousness and awareness that creates the divine display through a kind of multisensory projection, complete with sights and sounds, smells and tastes, and tactile sensations. The discovery of a transcendent reality has the potential side-effect of seeming to split “Heaven” (the transcendent reality) and “Earth” (ordinary or mundane reality). However, if we keep going, with further awakening we realize that this Consciousness-Awareness creates the world of the senses out of itself, and so there is actually no separation between the “projector” and the forms projected. Thus there is no split between Heaven and Earth; and there never could have been in truth, only in (mis)perception.

This third stage of awakening, after the initial awakening from total identification with form and the subsequent discovery of a transcendent reality, resolves age-old questions such as “Who/what am I?”, “Where did we come from?”, and “Where will I go when I die?”, as well as the free will vs. determinism debate.

Q: Who/what am I?
A: Consciousness-Awareness.

Q: Where did we come from?
A: Consciousness-Awareness.

Q: Where will I go when I die?
A: Consciousness-Awareness, except that in truth you have always been that and so there is nowhere to go.

As for free will, the trouble begins to stir when we get the useful idea, often from a spiritual teacher, that life is like a movie projected onto a screen… This can initiate the process of awakening, especially if we begin to look around and notice the large and small ways in which our lives are pre-scripted or otherwise out of our hands. Once we start to believe that we are like film characters, we may latch onto the idea that we are trapped in a narrow band of film called “My Life,” or that we are like puppets with no free will at all.

This situation is so unsatisfactory that we are compelled by something deep within ourselves toward further awakening. We may notice the ways in which our lives are not pre-scripted; and certainly there is the sense of making choices in daily lives. Once the misidentification with projected forms has been loosened, and there is a sense of spaciousness around “My Life,” we may start to experience ourselves as spectators in the “movie theater,” witnessing the puppets on the screen… parts of ourselves that seem to have no free will. At this stage, we may be tempted to conclude that we are exercising free will because we have learned, from repeated experience, that we can both allow ourselves to identify with our own characters as well as choose to stop doing so.

The paradox arises when we compare conclusions from different stages of awakening, all of which are based on premises that are, at best, only partially true. The ideas of puppets and spectators/witnesses, of determinism and free will, and the resulting confusion, are once again helpful since the unsatisfactoriness of the situation compels us toward the third stage of awakening. At this point we may realize that we are the movie screenwriters, the directors and producers, the actors, the scenery, the world-screen, and the mechanism of projection, all of which are none other than Consciousness-Awareness.

When the insight that all is Consciousness-Awareness, and that, necessarily, your true self is THAT, deepens from being an intellectual understanding to a lived experience of total oneness with every form and total beyondness in your absolute transcendence, that is what may be labeled Self-realization.


And yet… the most curious thing we’ve discovered at Sourcing The Way may be that there is awakening beyond even THIS. A year ago we found that meditative stillness is not so much a destination as a gateway to realms of beingness beyond personal consciousness. This year we have glimpsed that enlightenment is not so much a destination, however exalted it may seem, as a gateway to realms of Consciousness-Awareness never before described in human language. It seems these realms are now ready to speak, ready to flower through Humanity, ready to express untold miracles in a new type of language that is shimmering just over the horizon of the farthest oceans ever explored. We set sail today.

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