Self-realization is a term used in Western psychology, philosophy, and spirituality; and in Indian religions. In the Western understanding, it is the "fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one's character or personality" (see also self-actualization).[1] In the Indian understanding, self-realization is liberating knowledge of the true self, either as the permanent undying Purusha or witness-consciousness, which is atman (essence), 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.[citation needed]


Though Sigmund Freud was skeptical 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 assumptions that some later thinkers have questioned, has become part of mainstream thought.[2] Freud's ideas were further developed by his students and neo-psychoanalysts. Carl Jung, Erik Erikson, Karen Horney and Donald Winnicott have been especially important in the Western understanding of the self, though alternative theories have also been developed by others. Jung developed the notion of individuation, the lifelong process in which the center of psychological life shifts from the ego to the self. Erikson described human development throughout one's lifespan in his theory of psychosocial development. Winnicott developed the notion of the true self, while Horney had two views of our self: the "real self" and the "ideal self". Gerda Boyesen, the founder of biodynamic psychology, developed her salutogenic view on the primary personality and the secondary personality. Roberto Assagioli developed his approach of psychosynthesis, an original approach to psychology. Assagioli's original approach is one that is dynamic and continuous, rather than one that can be reached at a "final destination" or completed.[3]

Indian religious perspectives


Jain philosophy is one of the oldest world philosophies that separates body (matter) from the soul (consciousness) completely.[4] Individual conscience and individual consciousness are central in the Jain philosophy. Self-realization is one of the major pre-requisites to attain ultimate enlightenment and liberation (moksha). Self-realization means peeling away fabricated layers of one's own personality to understand the true self and hence the true nature of reality. In Jainism, karma is portrayed as invisible particles of subtle matter that adhere to a living organism or Jiva. These particles come together to form a film of negativity and darkness around the soul that obscures the true consciousness, making the Jiva lose touch with its original essence as a soul. These karmic particles tend to attract similar particles which cause the inflow of auspicious and inauspicious karmic matter into the soul (Āsrava). This leads the organism to fall into the bondage of lust, worldly pleasures, ego, hatred, jealousy, anger, etc. Thus self-realization paves the way to simply reverse this process and help the seeker to decipher absolute truth on their own. Jainism firmly rejects the belief of a creator, and that one being is solely responsible for his thoughts, actions, and their consequences.[5][6][7]


In Hinduism, self-realization (atma-jnana or atmabodha [8]) is knowledge of witness-consciousness, the true self which is separate from delusion and identification with mental and material phenomena.


In Shaivism, 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.[9]

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)[10][11]

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.[12] 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.[13] 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, [13]


Main article: Enlightenment in Buddhism

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.[citation needed]


Main article: Sikh philosophy

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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]

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

See also


This article has an unclear citation style. The references used may be made clearer with a different or consistent style of citation and footnoting. (December 2023) (Learn how and when to remove this message)


  1. ^ a b "Self-realization". Retrieved 12 April 2010.
  2. ^ Webster 1996.
  3. ^ Keller, Michael (2020), "Psychosynthesis (Assagioli)", Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion, Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 1904–1907, doi:10.1007/978-3-030-24348-7_9015, ISBN 978-3-030-24347-0, S2CID 241213103, retrieved 21 January 2021
  4. ^ "dravya – Jainism". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  5. ^ Flügel, Peter (February 2006). Studies in Jaina History and Culture: Disputes and Dialogues. Routledge. ISBN 9781134235520.
  6. ^ "Is Self-realisation Possible in Present Times?".
  7. ^ Jainism and Jain Architecture. 9 January 2018. ISBN 9781387503421.
  8. ^ "आत्मबोध".
  9. ^ Sivaya, Subramuniyaswami (1997). Glossary - "Self Realization". USA: Himalayan academy. ISBN 9780945497974.
  10. ^ Veeraswamy Krishnaraj, The Bhagavad-Gita: Translation and Commentary pp. 31-32
  11. ^ Subramuniyaswami, Sivaya (1997). Dancing with Siva. USA: Himalayan academy. ISBN 9780945497974.
  12. ^ Deussen, Paul and Geden, A. S. (2010), The Philosophy of the Upanishads, Cosimo Classics, pp. 86-87. ISBN 1-61640-240-7.
  13. ^ a b Comans 2000, p. 183.
  14. ^ Sri Guru Granth Sahib, page 375
  15. ^ SGGS: P.1056
  16. ^ Majhail 2010, p. 272.
  17. ^ SGGS: P. 421
  18. ^ SGGS: P. 224

Works cited

This section lacks ISBNs for the books listed. Please help add the ISBNs or run the citation bot. (December 2023)
  • Comans, Michael (2000), The Method of Early Advaita Vedānta: A Study of Gauḍapāda, Śaṅkara, Sureśvara, and Padmapāda, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
  • Majhail, Harjinder Singh (2010), Philosophy of 'Chardi Kala' and Higher State of Mind in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Jalandhar: Deepak Publishers, ISBN 978-81-88852-96-3.
  • Webster, Richard (1996), Why Freud was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis, London: HarperCollinsPublishers.

Further reading

  • McMahan, David L. (2008), The Making of Buddhist Modernism, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-518327-6.