What Is the Self?

By George A. Boyd © 2019

Q: When I read Paramahansa Yogananda, he refers to Self Realization, which he describes as conscious God Realization. When I think of my human Self, it doesn’t seem very god-like. What is this Self of which Yogananda speaks? How is it different than my human Self?

A: The Self, as we describe it, is the core of personal identity: the integrating center of the entire personality that operates through the Metaconscious, Subconscious, and Conscious mind. There are, however, a variety of conceptions of what the Self might be:

  1. The “Self Object” – In Object Relations theory, you purportedly incorporate a summary idea that ties together the many different roles you play in life. This image changes as you have new experiences and add new roles in your life. For example, this “Self Object” changes when you graduate from school, when you become employed, when you get married, and when you become a parent. This concept of the Self appears to point to what we call the ego in its developmental aspect, the way your idea of who you are changes throughout your life—as you gain new skills, complete academic and vocational degrees and certificates, accrue more work experience, or achieve personal milestones.
  2. The Conscious Self – In the Upanishads, they speak of a mysterious essence: “The self is seated behind the two eyes… the size of a thumb… it is self-effulgent light… it is consciousness itself… and thou art that consciousness.” In this context, it appears that this scripture is describing what we call the attentional principle, which dwells at the pituitary center of the system of chakras of the Subconscious mind. This essence plays a key role in spiritual development and ministry—we train you how to unite with this essence in the Raja Yoga portion of our intermediate meditation courses.
  3. The Human Self – this is the core of the personality, which directs the entire personality through volition. Dr. Roberto Assagioli referred to this essence as “the Centered Self.” In Theosophy, it is referred to as “the Human Soul.” In Humanistic Psychology, they call it the “essential person.” [This is the way that we use the term, Self, in the Mudrashram® teachings.]
  4. The Glorified Self – When the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in the inner altar of the Moon Soul or Christ Child, you may be temporarily caught up into union with this nucleus of identity, and you experience this holy and loving essence as your genuine Self—your ego and Human Self, in this perspective, appear to be split off from God’s Purpose and Plan, and remain in the outer darkness of sin.
  5. The Integral Self – In Carl Jung’s later writings, he referred to the Self, which integrates the four quadrants of the mind. In this viewpoint, he appears to describe the Self in a way that describes the Soul and its four poles—which integrates the faculties of intuition, thinking, emotions, and sensations in a central figure in the mind. This central figure resembles the core of a mandala.
  6. The Divinized Self (Avatar) – In this conception, the human Self becomes fused with the Divine, and the individual in whom this occurs incarnates the Divine in their human life. Bhagavan Krishna, Lord Jesus Christ, and Avatar Meher Baba have been cited as examples of this supernal fusion in which God dwells among humanity.
  7. The Supreme Self – In many Yogi Preceptor traditions, particularly the Advaita and Vedanta schools of Jnana Yoga, they regard the union of cosmic consciousness and Brahman—in the seventh chakra of the Cosmic Man or Cosmic Woman—as bringing about Realization of the only real Self. Brahman in this view is the only Reality, the only True Self, and the entire Creation is an Illusion (Maya)—to the “realized Yogi,” only God is real. This is the standpoint that Yogananda takes, when he speaks of “Self Realization.”

When people use the word, “Self,” it is important for you to discern in what context they are using this term. Otherwise, it is easy to conflate one view with another.

We teach you how to navigate and explore each of the major vehicles of consciousness of the Conscious, Subconscious, and Metaconscious mind up to the Self at the core of your personality in our introductory course, the Introduction to Meditation program. In our intermediate courses, the in-person Mudrashram® Master Course in Meditation and the by-mail and online Accelerated Meditation Program, we teach eight “centering techniques” that enable you to unite your attention with the Human Self.