Skip to main content

How Do We Know Anything?

| Nirmala | Awakening

How Do We Know Anything?

Published on
18 October 2008

Self-realization is knowing who you really are. How do we know something? Is it enough to be told? Or is there something more that must happen for us to truly know something? And do we even need to be told who we already are? It would seem the easiest thing in the world to know yourself. After all you are right here. What could interfere with knowing this most intimate reality, your own self?

And yet from the very start we were not told who we really are, and instead were told something erroneous. We were told that who we really are is the body, mind, and personality. Not only were we told this explicitly, we were also reminded of it constantly by assumptions and implicit references to our body and mind as who we are. On top of that, we were reinforced for acting from our ego and personality. We were taught that good boys and girls do not do what comes naturally, but rather what their parents want them to do. And so we formed a false identity to make our parents happy. This was a necessary thing to do to get along and survive, and in the process we developed a lot of awareness and capacity to control ourselves and our own actions.

However, there comes a time when it is no longer necessary to control our actions in this way. It turns out that our true nature is actually quite loving and wise and careful. Even when our true nature acts spontaneously and a bit wildly, it is doing so in the context of its own great wisdom and perspective. So as we mature, our ego becomes a limitation and a distortion of our inherent wisdom and ability...

In the meantime, we have forgotten who we really are, so we come back to this question of knowing. How do you remember something you have forgotten? How can we recover a sense of the love and joy that is our innermost nature? While it helps to be told something, is that enough? For most of us, it takes something more than just being told. To really know something, it takes direct experience of it. If simply being told points us to the experience, then we can begin to know it.

Often it is not enough to simply be told something to then experience it. It also requires a willingness to deeply sense and explore your direct experience. We must follow the words to our actual sense of existing, and then explore the mystery of the capacity to hear, think, feel, see, touch, ponder, and be aware that is present right now. The good news is that since what we are exploring is our own self, there is never any searching required. It is always right here wherever we are.

There is no formula as to how much direct experience of our true nature is needed to realize an aspect of it or even the whole truth of our being. So, we can only keep exploring, questioning, letting ourselves be pointed back to ourselves, and touching listening, sensing all that we can of the mystery of our own awareness and the pure empty space at its core. Ultimately, we are never done. The truth of our nature is limitless and eternal and always new. We are here to realize our true self, and it turns out that will only take forever. But what a way to spend eternity! Our being is an ever fresh, ever new dance between emptiness and form.

So while experience is necessary to realize our true nature, experience itself never contains our true nature. The point of every spiritual experience is to make that experience irrelevant. Experience is like the envelope that our true nature is delivered in: it is totally necessary until you open it, and then it is useless. The point of experience is simply to develop the knowing of our true nature to the point that it doesn't matter anymore what we experience. Once we trust the source of our experience and know it as our own self, it no longer matters what we are experiencing. We can just go ahead and enjoy and explore our experience and our nature for its own sake, not to gain anything and especially not to gain our self. We are already here. There is nowhere to go or nothing to get. What a rich possibility it is to know that, and then simply enjoy its ever new expression.