However, there are human beings no better than animals. In fact, human brutes are worse than beasts. The practice of such devilry as duplicity, hypocrisy, treachery, conspiracy, and tyranny that so often marks man’s dealings with man is unknown to the animal world. The quadrupeds are incapable of such wickedness and meanness. Indeed the poet has every reason to lament: “What man has made of man.” Nevertheless, in judging man we should take as our examples the true types of humanity and not the degenerate groups of individuals, just as an apple tree is to be judged not by the unripe, rotten, or worm-eaten fruits that the tree may bear but by those that are well developed and typical. There have been among men such spiritual giants as Krishna, Zoroaster, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Christ; philosophers like Kapila, Vyasa, Socrates, Plato, Plotinus, Kant, Schopenhauer; poets like Valmiki, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Kalidas, Shakespeare, Goethe, Wordsworth; artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt; scientists like Archimedes, Aryabhatta, Galileo, Newton, Einstein; monarchs like Emperor Asoka, Harun Al Rasid, Alfred the Great, Akbar, seers and saints like Sukadeva, sankaracharya, saint Francis of Assissi, Meister Eckhart, Saint Rabia, Mirabai, and so forth – to mention just a few of the world’s greatest personages known and unknown to history.
The crowning glory of human life is self-knowledge. Man can know himself as he really is. The body does not constitute his real self, nor the mind, nor the combination of the body and the mind. His real self, the very basis of his ego, is a self-intelligent principle. It is the knower of the body as well as of the mind. The mind cannot be self-intelligent, because the mind is known. There is something beyond that watches the mind. The mind falls into the category of the object. It should not be identified with the subject, the knower. Intelligence is the essence of the knower, and not of the known. The self-intelligent entity behind the mind, which watches all physical and mental events, is the only invariable factor in the human personality. It coordinates all physical and mental processes. It maintains the identity of man despite the incessant changefulness of the body and the mind. Unchanging, it witnesses all changes. Had it changed, it could not be the witness, per se. We would have to posit another entity as the witness of this change. The witness cannot participate in the change it witnesses. The witness must be aloof from what is witnessed. The real witness, the ultimate knower, must therefore be changeless.
So the self of man is immutable. Being pure intelligence, it is self-evident. No one doubts his own existence. To him it is axiomatic truth. “that he is” is an established fact for him. He may doubt or deny the existence of everything else, even of God, but not his own. Even in denying himself he has to affirm himself. Nothing can be affirmed or denied without presupposing the self-intelligent knower. The self must be the first thing real. The existence or nonexistence of everything else rests on the reality of the self. It is therefore self-existent. It existed before this body originated, it will continue to exist even after the body drops and disintegrates.
The self is eternal. Anything that changes is a compound, that is, made up of parts. As the self is changeless, it cannot be composite; it must be simple and formless. Contrary to matter, it is self-shining, self-existent, immutable, free, pure, and blissful. It is the spiritual basis of the phenomenal existence. The body cannot hold it, nor can the mind. It must be one with the Supreme Being.
Such is the self of man. But through mysterious ignorance he gets identified with the body and the mind and ascribes to himself all that belong to them. Thus the unconditioned spirit becomes subject to all physical and mental conditions. As soon as man can realize his distinctness from the psychophysical adjuncts and his oneness with the Supreme Being, he becomes free from all bondages. The attainment of this Freedom is the highest goal of life. One can attain it even while living in the body. It is the ignorance of the true nature of the self which is the primary cause of bondage, and not the body nor the mind.
from Introduction to the Book THE GOAL AND THE WAY by Swami Satprakashananda, 1974