This is a follow up to my previous blogs Purpose of Life and The Atman. I have mentioned the words Brahman and Atman(which is our real self) ubiquitously but I haven't yet taken about its "nature" in detail. In Advaita Vedanta, we follow a process of 'self-enquiry' — we enquire into the true nature of our self. The method taken up is: "Whatever I(the mind) am aware of — I(the real self) am not". Whatever I(the mind) is aware of is an object not awareness itself. That which we are aware of is an object of awareness, not awareness itself. By this process we eliminate from the false notion of our self all objects. We have identified our real self with objects, things which are not our real self such as our body (all sorts of comforts, beautiful appearance, etc) and our mind (thoughts, emotions, desires, etc). Advaita vedanta tells us that we are not these, we are pure eternal consciousness Brahman.
How do we truly appreciate our true self? By the following way: The real nature of our self is pure eternal awareness and anything which our mind is aware of is NOT the real self — it is merely an object to the real self.
Now one interesting question which you might wonder is: Well after enlightenment, I come to "know" the real nature of the self, so the self becomes an object and hence a paradox? The answer to this is simple yet very important. The answer is that: The self can never be known as an object to our mind. The criteria that the whatever you know as an object is not the self remains true. It cannot be known in the usual sense of worldly knowledge — as an object deployed through our five senses(namely smell, sight, touch, sound and taste) , our mind(thoughts, ideas, emotions, love, anger, fear, memories, desires etc. This also includes subtle things like breath, intelligence , subconscious processes, etc) and beyond all this there is this blankness — the blankness we experience in deep sleep or deep meditation, but this is also an object(you can read more about this here). Our tendency is to objectify our real self, well because that's what we have been doing all along. But the self is not an object of awareness, it is awareness itself.
So is enlightenment impossible? Will we never be able to "know" our real self? The answer is an emphatic NO. It is more than "known". In every act of knowledge it is known. Every experience, every action is illumined by the self. As an analogy: When you look at a book, you only see the book and not the light coming out of the book and entering our eyes. When you hear a song you do not perceive the sound waves entering our ear. But one key point which is not captured in these analogies is that Awareness is present in every object, but not as an object. It is present as an illuminer of that object. (of course the light and sound waves are themselves objects) Brahman(Atman/real self/awareness/consciousness/whatever you want to call it) is self-revealed in every object, but we fail to recognise that. What happens in enlightenment is that your realise this illuminuous nature of consciousness. You must realise that this is completely different to anything in this world. It can not be "created" by anything. A bunch of objects (body, mind, brain, cells, neurons or whatever) can never become the subject, the experiencer of all objects — the real self. Once you realise this, in every action whatever it maybe, the self is revealed. Rich or poor, young or old, healthy or sick you are that ONE eternal everlasting consciousness.