Self-Realisation: What It Is and How It's Different from God-Realisation

As long as humans have existed, the state of Self-realisation has been at the centre of philosophical debate across traditions. The Bhagavad Gita has acted as a guide for many in pursuit of both Self-realisation and God-realisation. The ancient scripture is a conversation between Lord Krishna and His disciple, Arjuna, as they stand on a battlefield. Everything begins as Arjuna is reeling and confused, needing to choose between his attachments and his dharma. Over the course of 18 chapters and 700 verses, their conversation plays out as Krishna guides Arjuna to understand the ultimate reality and his necessary duties.

Despite this conversation happening 5000 years ago, it has held up against the test of time. It’s eternal truths continue to guide us towards realisation – even today. Out of love for us and for the sake of our enlightenment, Krishna was not only talking to Arjuna but to everyone, including those who followed.

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What is the Self in Self-Realisation?

Even when the physical body ages and eventually dies, the soul will stay imperishable, immortal, and eternal. There is no reason for sorrow as the soul, our essence, lives on.

To help Arjuna come to terms with the fact that his perception of reality is flawed and to acquaint him with the idea that he, and therefore us too, are the soul, Krishna starts to create cracks in Arjuna's attachments and identification with his body.

The soul is a spark of the Divine Himself. Each living being carries Him and His Divine qualities inside and there is nothing that could ever change that.

‘Weapons do not cut the Self; fire does not burn It, water does not wet It, and wind does not dry It.’ - Bhagavad Gita, 2.23

The embodied soul might be covered in layers leading us to believe this reality to be true, but Krishna reminds us, just like our body and even our mind and intellect are prone to change, our perception of that reality will also change. It is only in the quietness of one’s being that we can see the true reality and observe the Self or soul, the unchanging and immutable truth.

One person sees the Self as a wonder, likewise another speaks of It as a wonder; still another hears of It as a wonder. But even after hearing of It, no one truly understands It.’ – Bhagavad Gita, 2.29

How do you attain Self-Realisation?

In Chapter 2, verse 29, Krishna describes the soul as something wonderful that no human mind has ever known. Mere human comprehension and words are not enough to capture the greatness and brilliance of the soul. Nevertheless, we can feel and perceive it when we go deep within. Paramahamsa Vishwananda says, ‘there are a few special people in the world who possess such virtue and purity of heart, (…) Because of their faith in God, their reverence for God, just hearing about the wonders of the soul creates a great bhav inside them.

Faith and humility are key to reconnecting with that Divine spark within. Since we need to let go of our prefabricated opinions and ideas in order to receive this Divine knowledge, we need to develop dedication, trust and an unwavering mind instead.

‘When your intellect, well-enlightened by listening to Me and firmly placed, remains unshaken in a concentrated mind, then you will attain the vision of the Self and attain yoga.’ - Bhagavad Gita, 2.53

Over the course of the next three chapters, Krishna teaches karma-yoga and jnana-yoga. Karma-yoga leads you to Self-realisation by renouncing the fruits of action. When you renounce the fruits of action and live in a true state of equanimity, then there is no new karma. All do you do is burn the old until you realise your true Self. Through Jnana-yoga, you attain knowledge of the Self by developing proper knowledge and renouncing action.

While these two paths are incredible tools for Self-realisation, Krishna offers a third alternative. He offers bhakti-yoga which isn’t about attaining the Self. It’s about attaining the source of the Self, the highest state, God-realisation.

‘But more than all the yogīs, he who has faith and worships Me, is deemed by Me to be the highest of all.’ – Bhagavad Gita, 6.47

What is God-realisation?

When we speak of enlightenment we have to distinguish between Self-realisation and God-realisation. The latter would be the ultimate state where the bhakta, the lover of God, is fully absorbed in God-consciousness and has surrendered body, mind, and soul to its fullest. The bhakta knows that there is only  God and all that is exists is a manifestation of His will. 

God-realisation has been described as a state of being where one is in constant union with the Divine. However, such level of consciousness can only be given through grace. Even though a Self-realised person demonstrates certain qualities, only His Grace grants the final goal when the bhakta puts all his trust in Him and surrenders.

‘In Him take refuge in every way of your being and by His Grace you shall come to the supreme peace and eternal status.’ – Bhagavad Gita, 18.62


Lord Krishna holds the bhakta who reciprocates this Love very dear. When one is filled with Love for the Divine one is ready and God will give full understanding to the bhakta which leads him to God Himself. It is, after all, Love that is the essence of everything and which drives the universe.

But how does one go about attaining that grace? How does one become the dearest of the Lord? In His mercy, Krishna also provides the answer that in chapter 18, verses 65-66.

Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, worship Me, bow down before Me and you shall come to Me. I promise you this for certain, for you are dear to Me.’ – 18.65



‘Abandoning all dharmas, surrender to Me alone. I will take care of all your sins; I will liberate you. Have no fear.’ – 18.66

This is God’s promise to us. Throughout the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna shares the many ways a seeker of truth should act in order to attain the highest knowledge, but maybe most beautifully, Krishna discloses that the final and most important element of realisation is Love and devotion. Love and devotion can help one overcome any challenge as the very fabric of life is Love. Without Love and Devotion, knowledge is just knowledge. If that knowledge doesn’t lead one to grow in love and surrender to God, then it is useless. It will all just be theory if we don’t listen closely to His Divine words and go into the quietness of our heart. Soon enough the Divine will reveal Himself.



Learning how to apply the principles of the Bhagavad Gita to your daily life can be challenging. Focusing on living life to the fullest but without attachment, Bhakti Marga teacher, Mayuran Senthilnathan, walks you through the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita and provides practical steps you can take to apply its teachings to your life today.

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