12/03/2015 3:22 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Self-Investigation: The Real Way To Know, Grow And Lead

A Hindu devotee prays on the banks of the River Ganges in Allahabad, India, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. Allahabad, on the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswathi, is one of Hinduism's important centers. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A Hindu devotee prays on the banks of the River Ganges in Allahabad, India, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. Allahabad, on the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswathi, is one of Hinduism's important centers. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

When do we truly know? When does knowledge spring forth, attended with creative energies and imagination at their unhindered and undiluted best? The first and foremost hurdle that besets the free flow of knowledge is the egoic self that claims to know and doesn't let us go through genuine self-investigation. A classic method of genuine self-investigation is that of Socrates. He made his audience pass through a specific process of self-investigation, known today as the Socratic Method. It allowed no half or misconceptions to remain in a true knowledge-seeker. His classic injunction, "Know Thyself", and his stance of "knowing that one doesn't know" are a profound testimony to his approach in nullifying the egoic self in the process of achieving real knowledge.

The pursuit of self-exploration and self-investigation find even greater validation in the profound spiritual approach of the Bhagavad Gita, where the supreme teacher denies Arjuna's claim to know his real self and situation. Here the teacher denies not only the disciple's claim to know but his whole egoic self that has its moorings in the mutable and the ephemeral. He is led to undergo a process of self knowledge and self-realisation which imparts a firm footing to his whole apparatus of knowledge and action.

Self-investigation takes us to the roots of the ignorance which clouds our vision and hinders true seeing. If we could truly see where our actions would ultimately lead us, it would clearly be to our ultimate good, as Socrates tells us. If it were so the gap between the intelligent and the good would be bridged. Socratic self-investigation proceeds mostly on ethical lines to ensure just and intelligent conduct of affairs of individual and collective life.

But the Gita would have us take a dip into the metaphysical depths of our consciousness. With the main hero of a great war caught in uncertainty and indecision, the master would have him see clearly through the roots of his ignorance. The ignorance that bars our clear vision has its roots in our desires, our likes and dislikes. These weave the fabric of delusion, leading to inaction or a wrong response especially in critical situations demanding a clear, right and urgent course of action from us. To be more precise and to masterfully manage the mess of sense-perceptions and their deeper impact, the Gita would have us stand witness to our material nature which consists of three modes of energy or qualities (guna) -- 'Satwa', which stands for light, knowledge, goodness; 'rajas' for passion, desire, longing and 'tamas' for darkness, ignorance, inertia.-- and to see through their play in our lives. As long as we stay lost in their flow, we remain victims to their play. As we learn to stay aside and apart we can be pure witnesses to their flow and play in our lives and gradually master nature in us. Thus the Gita truly empowers us as it initiates us into the essential knowledge and mastery over the play of nature in us. It beautifully brings out the heart of the matter as it describes the ordinary human condition where the "purush" (the observing consciousness) remains involved in the flow of "prakriti" or the material nature and experiences the qualities born of it (Bhagavad Gita, XIII/21). But this observing consciousness can rise to become the "observing witness, source of the consent, upholder of the work of nature as well as its enjoyer" and can go on to become one with the Supreme Self (XIII/22). Thus to get past all confusion and uncertainties, all delusion and dilemmas and to master-navigate the course of our lives through the sea of crises, the Gita would have us go through a paradigm shift, from involvement into the play of nature to a state of pure observation of it and then to its masterful use.

An even more striking example of self-investigation and the denial of the claiming egoic self is found in the Kenopanishad which lays down clearly that in the pursuit of reality one who claims to know is the one who knows pretty little. This Upanishad has us embark on the path to true knowledge right at the outset with a profound investigation into the origin of the mind, the vital force and our very instrumentation of knowing. It would have us contemplate not with the mind but over the mind, not just flow with thoughts but meditate over the frame of mind from where our thoughts and thinking flow. It would have us not just go with our routine perceptions but meditate over the processes of perception to which our minds and senses are conditioned

Assimilating these lessons is essential for us to lead our life energies into novel channels of creation and development. With knowledge, creativity and excellence taking the centrestage in our services and products, in our performance and productivity, in our vision in planning and development and our efficiency at execution these are profound lessons that have the potential to help us rise to true leadership.