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What is Self Realization?

In Western psychology, philosophy, and spirituality, the term “self-realization” is used. In Indian religions, it is also used. People in the Western world see it as the “fulfilment by one’s self of the possibilities of one’s character or personality” (see also self-actualization). Atman (essence) and sunyata (absence) are two types of self-realization in the Indian sense. Atman is the permanent, undying witness-consciousness that is atman (essence), and sunyata is the absence of this permanent Self.

Self-Realization refers to the fulfillment of an individual’s potential in terms of their character and personality. It is an expression used in Western psychology, spirituality, and philosophy. It is also a commonly used term in Indian religions. In the context of western understanding, this term is often understood beside the concept of self-actualization.

In the Indian understanding of the word, Self-Realization symbolizes the existence of liberating knowledge about one’s true self. This knowledge is either a permanent undying witness-consciousness, which is also known as atman (essence), or it is the absence of such a permanent idea of self.

This fulfillment is typical of the possibilities of one’s personality or character. In recent times, Self-Realization has gained tremendous popularity in the western world. Other popular concepts that were influential in the popular discourse were - the growing acquaintance with Eastern religions, psycho-analysis, and the ever-increasing popularity of Western esotericism and humanistic psychology.


Even though there was a certain skepticism in Sigmund Freud’s philosophies of religion and esotericism, his theories are known to have a lasting influence on notions of self-understanding and western thought. Although his stipulation of repressed memories was based on false assumptions, his ideologies have become a part of mainstream thought. His ideas were further developed by some of his students and some modern psychoanalysts such as Carl Jung, Erik Erikson, and Donald Winnicott.

Carl Jung worked towards developing the notion of individuation, a lifelong process through which the center of psychological life shifts from the essential ego to the self. Erikson postulated human development throughout one’s lifespan through his theory of psychosocial development. Winnicott helped in the evolution of the notion of the true self. Roberto Assagioli grew his approach to psychosynthesis to be dynamic, ever-changing, and continuous. He stipulated that this process cannot reach a ‘final destination’ or be completed.

Western esotericism

Western esotericism combines a broad spectrum of traditions, in some of which, the view of Self-Realization is referred to as the ultimate goal of a human being’s existence.

Indian religions


The philosophy of Jainism is one of the oldest of the world’s philosophies. It argues for separating the body (matter) from the soul (consciousness) in all its essence. The two primary notions of the Jain philosophy are Individual conscience and individual consciousness. In order for an individual to achieve ultimate enlightenment and liberation (moksha), one has to attain Self-Realization as a significant prerequisite. This process of Self-Realization hints at peeling away all the fake and fabricated layers of one’s personality so that one can understand their true self and the true nature of reality.

In the philosophy of Jainism, the concept of karma is elaborated as invisible particles of subtle matter. This concept adheres to a living being or Jiva. These particles act with each other to form a film of negativity and darkness around the soul that hides away an individual’s true consciousness. This makes the Jiva lose touch with their authentic essence as a soul.

The karmic particles, as mentioned above, are meant to attract similar particles that support the flow of both auspicious and inauspicious karmic matter into the soul. This process leads the organism to fall into the trap of worldly pleasures, lust, ego, jealousy, hatred, anger, et cetera.

Self-Realization as a concept only reverses this phenomenon. Self-Realization helps the seeker to understand the absolute truth on their own. Jainism disapproves of the belief of a creator. It disagrees with the preposition that one being is solely responsible for their thoughts, actions, and consequences.


In the philosophy of Hinduism, Self-Realization or Atma Bodh refers to the knowledge of witness consciousness. It denotes the notion that an individual’s true self is distinct from delusion and the identification of mental and material phenomenons.


According to Shaivism, Self-Realization is an act of understanding the Self-God Parashiva. Self-Realization means ecstasy without form or seed, which is considered the ultimate goal in spirituality. The concept of Self-Realization is regarded as the gateway to Moksha. Moksha is the concept of liberation and freedom from rebirth. This state of liberation is attained when the kundalini forces pass through the Sahasrara Chakra present at the crown head. The realization of the self is considered every soul’s destiny, achieved through a rigorous practice of renunciation, sustained meditation, and stooping the germination of future karma.

Advaita Vedanta

The first principle of Advaita Vedanta is Atman, or the soul, which exists along with the concept of Brahman. Here, Atman is understood as the perceptible personal particular, and Brahman is the inferred unlimited and universal entity. Theoretically, the spiritual goal is to understand the identity of Atman and Brahman and self-knowledge. In a scenario when an individual gains thorough knowledge of Atman and Brahman, they are led to a dissolution of all dualistic tendencies and liberation. This is also how one attains moksha.

Moksha is achieved by realizing the complete comprehension of one’s true nature as Brahman in this life, which is stated by Shankara as follows —

I am other than all names, forms, and actions. My nature is ever free! I am Self, the supreme unconditioned Brahman. I am pure Awareness, always non-dual. — Adi Shankara, Upadesasahasri 11.7.


Buddhism and its philosophy have been known to deny the existence of a separate self. Thus, Self-Realization is a contradiction in the understanding of Buddhism. Even though there has been a mention of an individual self in the tathagatagarbha-teachings, this teaching is directed more toward the inherent possibility of attaining awakening, not to the existence of a separate self. The dharmadhatu-teachings point to a clearer understanding that reality is an undivided whole, and the awakening of an individual is the realization of this whole.


Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism and the first of the ten Sikh Gurus says, “Those who realize themselves get immersed in the Lord Himself. He who realizes himself comes to know the essence.”

Sikhism propounds the philosophy of Self-Realization. This philosophy is possible by the concept of ‘atma-cheyenne’ or ‘Aap Pashaanae’, which refers to self-analysis gained by looking into oneself. According to the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, this process evaluates and analyzes oneself. If practiced genuinely, it can pierce into an individual’s identity and wash it from within to purify their mind.

Once purified, the mind supports oneness with the Super Power as the Guru says, ‘Atam-cheen bhae nirankari,’ which denotes that an individual can get attuned to the Formless Lord through Self-Realization. In simpler words, it means that God-realization is a consequence of Self-Realization.

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