To arrive at " Self knowledge" is to arrive at God-realization. God-realization is different from all other states of consciousness because they are experienced through the medium of the individual mind, whereas God-consciousness is not dependent upon the individual mind. A medium is necessary for knowing anything other than one's self: for knowing one's self no medium is necessary. In fact, the association of consciousness with the mind is a hindrance to the attainment of realization. As the seat of the ego the individual mind is conscious of being isolated. From it arises the limited individuality, which at once feeds and is fed by the illusion of duality, time and change. To know the self as it is, consciousness has to be freed from the limitation of the individual mind. In other words, the individual mind has to disappear while consciousness is retained.
Throughout the life history of the soul its consciousness grows 'with the individual mind and the workings of consciousness proceed against its background. Consciousness comes to be firmly embedded in the individual mind. So when the mind is in abeyance consciousness also disappears. The interdependence of the individual mind and consciousness is illustrated by the tendency to become unconscious when there is any effort to stop mental activity through meditation.
The explanation of sleep
The phenomenon of sleep is not essentially different from the lull of consciousness experienced during meditation, though it is different in origin. As the individual mind is continuously confronted by the world of duality it is involved in conflict, and when wearied by its struggle it wants to lose its identity as a separate entity. It then recedes from the world of its own creation and experiences a cessation of consciousness.
The quiescence of mental activity in sleep entails the submerging of consciousness, but this cessation of conscious functioning is temporary because the impressions that are stored in the mind cause it to return to renewed activity, and after some time the psychic stimuli are responsible for reviving conscious functioning. So sleep is followed by wakefulness and wakefulness by sleep, according to the law of alternating activity and rest; but so long as the latent impressions in the mind are not undone there is no annihilation of the individual mind or emancipation of consciousness. In sleep the mind temporarily forgets its identity, but does not lose its individual existence. And when the person awakens from sleep he finds himself subject to his existing limitations. There is resurrection of consciousness, but it remains mind-ridden.
The obstacle of the ego
The limited mind is the soil in which the ego is rooted; and the ego perpetuates ignorance through the many illusions in which it is caught. The ego prevents the manifestation of infinite knowledge already latent in the soul, and is the most formidable obstacle in the attainment of God. A Persian poem says, "It is extremely difficult to pierce through the veil of ignorance; for there is a rock on fire". As the flame of fire cannot rise very high if a rock is placed upon it, a desire to know one's own true nature cannot lead to the truth as long as the burden of the ego lies upon consciousness. Success in finding oneself is rendered impossible by the ego, which persists throughout the journey of the soul. Though more and more detached as the soul advances on the Path, it remains until the last stage of the seventh plane.
The ego is the centre of human activity, and the attempts of the ego to secure its own extinction may be compared with the attempt of a man to stand on his own shoulders. Just as the eye cannot see itself, the ego is unable to end its own existence. All that it does to bring about self-annihilation only adds to its existence, for it flourishes on the very efforts directed against itself. Thus it is unable to vanish through its own activity, though it succeeds in transforming its nature. The vanishing of the ego is conditioned by the melting away of the limited mind which is its seat.
The meaning of God-realization is the emancipation of consciousness from the limitations of the mind. When the individual mind is dissolved, the related universe vanishes, and consciousness is no longer tied to it. Consciousness then becomes unclouded and is illumined by the Infinite Reality. While immersed in the bliss of realization the soul is oblivious of objects in the universe and in this respect it is as it were in sound sleep. But there are many important differences between God-realization and sleep. During sleep, the illusion of the universe vanishes since consciousness is in abeyance; but there is no conscious experience of God since this requires the dissolution of the ego and the turning of full consciousness towards the Ultimate Reality. Occasionally when the continuity of deep sleep is interrupted, the soul may have the experience of retaining consciousness without being conscious of anything in particular. There is consciousness, but not of the universe. It is consciousness of nothing. Such experiences anticipate God-realization in which consciousness is freed from the illusion of the universe and manifests the infinite knowledge hidden by the ego.