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Self-realization is an expression used in Western psychology, philosophy, and spirituality; and in Indian religions. In the Western, psychological understanding it may be defined as the "fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one's character or personality."[1] In the (South) Asian understanding, Self-realization is liberating knowledge of the true Self, either as the permanent undying Atman, or as the absence (sunyata) of such a permanent Self.

Western understanding

Merriam Webster's dictionary defines self-realization as:

Fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one's character or personality.[1]

In the Western world "self-realization" has gained great popularity. Influential in this popularity were psycho-analysis, humanistic psychology, the growing acquaintance with Eastern religions, and the growing popularity of Western esotericism.


Though Sigmund Freud was sceptical of religion and esotericism, his theories have had a lasting influence on Western thought and self-understanding. His notion of repressed memories, though based on false assumptions, has become part of mainstream thought.[2]

Freud's ideas were further developed by his students and neo-psycho-analysts. Carl Jung, Erik Erikson, and Winnicott have been especially important in the Western understanding of the self. But other alternatives have also been developed.

Jung developed the notion of individuation, the lifelong process in which the centre of psychological life shifts from the ego to the self.

Erikson described human development throughout the life-span in his theory of psychosocial development.

Winnicott developed the notion of the true self.

Roberto Assagioli developed his approach of Psychosynthesis, an original approach to psychology.

Humanistic psychology

Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, leaders in the Humanistic Psychology movement, developed the concept of self-actualization.

Based on Maslow, the most common meaning given to self-realization is that of psychological growth. It represents the awakening and manifestation of latent potentialities of the human being -for example, ethical, esthetic, and religious experiences and activities.[3]


Maslow defined self-actualization as:

The impulse to convert oneself into what one is capable of being.[4]

Western esotericism

Western esotericism integrates a broad variety of traditions, some of which view self-realization as the ultimate goal of a human being.[who?][citation needed]

Indian religions


For the Hindu religion, self-realization (atma-jnana or Sanskrit, Pali : आत्मबोध [5]) is knowledge of the true self beyond both delusion and identification with material phenomena. It refers to self-identification and not mere ego identification.


In Shaivism, which is the oldest sect of Hinduism, self-realization is the direct knowing of the Self God Parashiva. Self-realization (nirvikalpa samadhi, which means "ecstasy without form or seed," or asamprajñata samādhi) is considered the ultimate spiritual attainment.[6]

Self-realization is considered the gateway to moksha, liberation/freedom from rebirth. This state is attained when the Kundalini force pierces through the Sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head. The realization of Self, Parashiva, considered to be each soul's destiny, is attainable through renunciation, sustained meditation and preventing the germination of future karma (the phrase "frying the seeds of karma" is often used)[7].[8]

Advaita Vedanta

Ātman is the first principle in Advaita Vedanta, along with its concept of Brahman, with Atman being the perceptible personal particular and Brahman the inferred unlimited universal, both synonymous and interchangeable.[9] The soteriological goal, in Advaita, is to gain self-knowledge and complete understanding of the identity of Atman and Brahman. Correct knowledge of Atman and Brahman leads dissolution of all dualistic tendencies and to liberation. Moksha is attained by realizing one's true identity as Ātman, and the identity of Atman and Brahman, the complete understanding of one's real nature as Brahman in this life.[10] This is stated by Shankara as follows:

I am other than name, form and action.
My nature is ever free!
I am Self, the supreme unconditioned Brahman.
I am pure Awareness, always non-dual.

— Adi Shankara, Upadesasahasri 11.7, [10]

Contemporary teachers

As taught by Ramana Maharshi, awareness or consciousness of "I am," plays a key role in achieving self-realization; tracing back to the source of awareness by asking oneself the question "Who am I?", the true-self becomes obvious. Focusing attention on the qualifier "I am" is a powerful means to achieving the end which is being one with the completely unqualified "I," the True Self which is experienced as Silence.[11] Replacing the confused duality of Self and ego with the pristine non-dual experience of Self is the essence of Ramana's teaching.

Paramahansa Yogananda defined Self-realization as "the knowing — in body, mind, and soul — that we are one with the omnipresence of God; that we do not have to pray that it come to us, that we are not merely near it at all times, but that God’s omnipresence is our omnipresence; that we are just as much a part of Him now as we ever will be. All we have to do is improve our knowing."[12]

The method of meditation Sahaja Yoga, created in 1970 by Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, defines self-realization as a connection with your self or the first encounter with reality and it is free of charge.[13]


Since Buddhism denies the existence of a separate self, as explicated in the teachings of anatman and sunyata, self-realization is a contradictio in terminis for Buddhism. Though the tathagatagarbha-teachings seem to teach the existence of a separate self, they point to the inherent possibility of attaining awakening, not to the existence of a separate self. The dharmadhatu-teachings make this even more clear: reality is an undivided whole; awakening is the realization of this whole.


Sikhism propounds the philosophy of Self-realization. This is possible by "aatam-cheennea"[14] or "Aap Pashaanae", purifying the self from the false ego:[15]

'Atam-cheene' is self-analysis, which is gained by peeping into one's self in the light of the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. It is the process of evaluating and analyzing oneself on the touchstone of 'naam simran' which if practised, pierces into the self and washes it from within. The filth of too much of materialism goes, the self gets purified and the mind comes in 'charhdi kala/higher state of mind". This means that the self should be assessed, examined and purified, leading to self-realization and the purification of our mind. Once purified the mind helps in ushering in oneness with the Super Power as the Guru says, "Atam-cheen bhae nirankari" (SGGS:P. 415) which means that one gets attuned to the Formless Lord through self-realization. Indirectly it means that self-realization leads to God-realization.[16]

Guru Nanak says,

Those who realize their self get immersed in the Lord Himself.[17]

Guru Nanak also says,

He who realizes his self, comes to know the essence.[18]


In Jainism self realization means knowing that You are god and its not difficult to realize this truth.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Self-realization". Retrieved 2010-04-12. 
  2. ^ Webster 1996.
  3. ^ "Self-realization and psychological disturbances" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-07-12. 
  4. ^ "Maslow and Self-Realization". Retrieved 2014-12-02. 
  5. ^ "आत्मबोध". 
  6. ^ Sivaya, Subramuniyaswami (1997). Glossary - "Self Realization". USA: Himalayan academy. ISBN 9780945497974. 
  7. ^ Veeraswamy Krishnaraj, The Bhagavad-Gita: Translation and Commentary pp. 31-32
  8. ^ Subramuniyaswami, Sivaya (1997). Dancing with Siva. USA: Himalayan academy. ISBN 9780945497974. 
  9. ^ Deussen, Paul and Geden, A. S. (2010), The Philosophy of the Upanishads, Cosimo Classics, pp. 86-87. ISBN 1-61640-240-7.
  10. ^ a b Comans 2000, p. 183.
  11. ^ "Willingness to be Better: Embracing the Road to No Prescription". Retrieved 2010-04-12. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Kundalini, Vibrations and Self Realization". Retrieved 2010-04-12. 
  14. ^ Sri Guru Granth Sahib, page 375
  15. ^ SGGS: P.1056
  16. ^ Majhail (Dr.) 2010, p. 272.
  17. ^ SGGS: P. 421
  18. ^ SGGS: P. 224
  19. ^

Further reading

  • Majhail (Dr.), Harjinder Singh (2010), Philosophy of 'Chardi Kala' and Higher State of Mind in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Jalandhar: Deepak Publishers, ISBN 81-88852-96-1 
  • McMahan, David L. (2008), The Making of Buddhist Modernism, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-518327-6 
  • Webster, Richard (1996), Why Freud was wrong". Sin, science and psychoanalysis, London: HarperCollinsPublishers 
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