At some point in our lives, we all ask ourselves: Why am I here? What is my true nature? What is my relationship with the world? To find the answers, we must turn inward and explore the depths of our own being.
This journey is not easy, but it is essential for finding true meaning and purpose in life. What is knowledge? It is not just the accumulation of facts and figures. True knowledge is the understanding of the self and of consciousness. It is the realization that our beliefs and perceptions are often conditioned by our upbringing and experiences.
All cultures and religions offer guidance on the journey of self-inquiry. Buddhism teaches mindfulness as a means of cultivating inner peace and awareness. Taoism emphasizes internal alchemy, a set of practices said to boost longevity and even enable immortality. Confucius urged his students to reform themselves through constant self-reflection.
At some point it is likely that everyone will ask the question – why am I on this planet? What is my true nature? And what is my relationship with the world? That is when we start shifting our gaze from the world of perception outside to a space within. For the answer lies there.
What is knowledge? It is not about learning languages and mathematical formulae and computational algorithms. Knowledge is ultimately the understanding of the true self and the consciousness. For, what we believe is our truth is merely a database of conditioned thinking that drives our mind. As the biologist EO Wilson pointed out, “Until the mind knows its own essential nature, it cannot be sure that anything it knows or experiences is absolutely true rather than simply a reflection of its own limitations.”
All cultures and religions provide guidance to help us go within and generate self inquiry. Judaism holds that the self within—the soul—is far more important than the physical body which houses it. In Christianity, the body is valued since even God had a body when he came in the form of Jesus, but the physical body is what makes us prone to sin, whereas the soul is how we connect with God. In Ancient Greece, The Temple of Apollo in Delphi had two famous maxims inscribed: “Know thyself” (gnothi seauton) and “Nothing in excess” (meden agan).
Buddhism emphasizes mindfulness as a means of cultivating inner peace and maintaining awareness of the illusory nature of individual selfhood. Taoists practice internal alchemy, where certain practices and rituals are said to boost longevity and even enable immortality. Confucius emphasized the importance of focusing on the world within by urging his students to reform themselves through constant self-reflection.
Brahmavidya or the spiritual knowledge in Hinduism reminds us that the atman or the higher self which resides within and binds us all is everlasting, but we get confused with the ego-self which is ephemeral. Recalibrating and sorting the inner world will automatically transform our relationship with the outer world – for the better. Using dhyana or meditation, we can rise above the disturbances of the mind to tap into our true nature which is innately divine.
“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
—The New Testament (Romans 5:3-5), Christian text
“Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it.”
—The Dhammapada, Buddhist text
“Faith is the refusal to let go until you have turned suffering into a blessing.”
—Jonathan Sacks, British Rabbi, and author
“If I do an evil action, I must suffer for it; there is no power in this universe to stop or stay it.”
—Swami Vivekananda, Hindu monk
“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient.”
—The Qur’an (2:155), Muslim text
“The benevolent man reaps the benefit only after overcoming difficulties.”
—The Analects (6:22), Confucian text