‘Realising the Self’ means, self-realisation or mukti, moksha or kaivalya according to the yogasutras; that state of realising that one is actually the ever-free self which was never bound in the first place, never bound at all.
Self-realisation, kaivalya or moksha means not free from something; but realising that one is always free but has been laboring under the illusion that one is not.
It is ultimate freedom; the freedom from which one never falls back to non-freedom or bondage.
There is a beautiful story that Ramakrishna Paramhamsa used to relate about a lion cub that fell in the company of goats. Once, a pride of lions attacked a herd of goats near the village bordering the forest. In the melee that followed, they ran helter-skelter, one of the little lion cubs was lost and found itself deserted among the goats when the lions had left.
The goats being such wonderful animals, brought up this little cub like their own child, it drank the milk of the mother goat and grew up among the herd for a long, long time until it grew almost into a full-fledged lion, bleating and eating grass and drinking goats’ milk and not attacking or hurting other animals or hunting for its food.
Then one day, the lion again found him and took him back. He wouldn’t go with them. He said, I am with these goats. I belong to them until the father lion picked him up and told him to look into the pond and look at the reflection of your face, ‘you are a lion, my dear boy, you are not a goat, you are one of us’ and then the lion realised that it was one.
It roared and joined the pride which means it’s merely a symbolic story , a parable to illustrate that freedom is actually discovering one’s true identity or true self or realising that one’s true self has always been free, has never been a goat, has never been bound, has always been a free lion.
What role does a Guru play in attaining freedom?
Guru is necessary as a pointer to the path. Which means, the guide, the teacher, or the friend who has crossed to the other side, who has learnt to swim and cross the ocean of samsara.
Such a teacher who is our true friend, teaches you how to swim so that you can cross the ocean. He can’t give you the ocean because the ocean doesn’t belong only to him. It belongs to you too. Freedom belongs to you as well as to him as well as to all of us. So no one can give it to us because it is already ours.
It’s not anybody else’s but then we don’t realise it because we haven’t learnt how to go into it. How to survive, how to swim in this ocean? So the Guru teaches you how to reach, how to swim, how to enjoy, how to discover this ocean which is you, not only yourself, not only you not only yours but the ocean is you. But you don’t know it.
You think you are this little pool of stagnant water that stands on the way with no movement whatsoever. The Guru says “Look my dear fellow you are a lion, you are not a goat. You are not this little pond of stagnant dirty water that stands there, you are the ocean. So don’t live under the illusion that you are limited, you are the unlimited”.
To point that out is the job or the part of the Guru. Beyond that, the person has to discover for herself or for himself. You can be taught to swim but you have to swim yourself. You can be taught to go this way but you have to walk the path.