Let us continue our exploration of the Self with a few short case studies drawn from Sacred Texts, beginning with an examination of this truly profound quote from the Bhagavad Gita:

"He should raise the self by the Self; let him not suffer the Self to be lowered; for Self is the friend of self, and, in like manner, self is its own enemy. Self is the friend of the man who is self-conquered; so self like a foe hath enmity to him who is not self-conquered. The Self of the man who is self-subdued and free from desire and anger is intent on the Supreme Self in heat and cold, in pain and pleasure, in honor and ignominy."

Any comments, questions or general thoughts are very much welcome!

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So right off the opening we have here a (lower) 'self' and a (higher) 'Self', but my initial question is this: who then is the "he"/"him" that is dealing with both the Self and the self in this quote?


I have not read the Bhagavad Gita, yet, just tidbits people would share with me. But after reading this quote, I can relate in my limited view from own experiences. The one thing I truly feared more than anything growing up was myself. My own thoughts, my own judgements, our own worst critic. I was and am capable of destroying myself easily, and it worked also the other way. The one thing that could raise me up from peril, the one thing that had my back in the middle of nowhere far from home, the one thing that could always make me laugh was myself. These feelings, emotions and actions were just what was going on around me, and in my thoughts as I watched. But not really to me in a sense. So to answer your initial question I would say "he/him" would be the 'Watcher', from my view.


Thanks Sharisse. This is one reason I see the "self" as such an important idea to discuss - it can be a very metaphysical subject, but it is also in the most intimate details of our lives! I think one of the reasons the Gita is so loved is that one can read it and instantly feel a connection with the ideas because we can relate our everyday experience to them. In terms of the 'selves' here, I can certainly observe this relationship (between selves) within myself, and yes, it certainly does seem as though there is a watcher in that equation.

Can we see (within ourselves) this 'self', 'Self' and the 'him/her' as but aspects of One Self, like different bits of That Self being activated here and there?


Hmmn, I'm still working on this personally. I definitely view it as aspects of the One Self, however the activating part is what I'm working on, per se, so I can know and see for sure. Because even though it is one, with multitudes of character :), in the here and there when needed, I really have to stop one of those characters, and think/realize what the true self really wants to say or do, and sometimes those characters just jump right in before my true self even has a chance :) and not until reflection do I see my error. So yes I can see it this way of being activated here and there, I just need to figure out the right way for me to do it.


...so I can know and see for sure...

Good plan! We definitely want to find out for ourselves and know truth experientially. :)

I really have to stop one of those characters, and think/realize what the true self really wants to say or do...

I think this is wonderful. The use of the word 'characters' seems right on. Really fits with what Gerry says below and with the idea HPB talks about in the Key to Theosophy about the Self playing many roles like an actor on a stage.

My dual question is: how can we go about stopping these 'characters' and how does one recognize what comes from one's Self and what comes from one's self?


For discriminating between Self and self for one's own behavior, the Gita offers many descriptions of the gunas (qualities of nature) so that we can compare our intent/actions and try to raise them. I've heard the gunas called "ways of acting."

Brief guna summary:

sattva or sattwa  [goodness, peace, tranquility, harmony, discerning, selfless, lucid, golden, … ] — The quality of tranquility, purity, virtue, illumination, balance and wisdom.

rajas [dynamic, active, passionate, selfish, egoistic, … ] — The principle of activity and restlessness in nature.

tamas [ignorant, passive, indifferent, floundering, idle, deluded, … ] — The principle of dullness or inertia in nature.

Overall, I guess most religions have practices to align the personal will with that of the Higher Self (the Quakers sit and wait for messages via the Holy Spirit, etc.). Unrelated to religion, I know of people who journal using techniques that help them see themselves more objectively, as they learn to tap the source of inner being and then see it on the page in review.   The more we stay in the zone with the higher and not dwell in negative behaviors, the easier it should be.  

I like how the Voice of the Silence talks about gates/halls of spiritual passage.  I also very early found the Buddhist 10 ox-hearding pictures which talks about the path of a disciple, and how to discern the mind (the ox) and discipline it until it disappears! 


Thanks Di. This is very helpful. Paying attention to the qualities of our thoughts and actions and motives does indeed seem to be a wonderful way to better distinguish between the higher and lower within ourselves, and the gunas provide us with the context within which to do this.

I agree entirely when you say:

"The more we stay in the zone with the higher and not dwell in negative behaviors, the easier it should be."

If I have this right, this is the Ox-herding pictures (or one example of them):


I also love this image, of the same type:



Good questions!

I'm still trying to figure out how to stop them, they do seem to have a mind of their own :) However, while trying, one example I have just realized to help with stopping them is when someone constantly comes at you, in anger or even just constant negativity towards you, the first character wants to jump right in on the defense side, and that sets the motion for Karma, and that's the self. When holding back any defense action, even if you have to avoid them for a day to think, meditate and see a new way to diffuse the situation, when the answer was there all along, give them a time off from who they are and ask what is really going on and listening, that's the Self. As they could have so much going on personally, that you were just the punching bag, so to speak, and they really didn't want to be like that, but they felt maybe their own family didn't care and just needed to talk to get out their own issues. Sometimes it's just how they are feeling about their own self. Just one way I was able to stop the self and recognize the Self. 



Great Sharisse. This is so very practical.

And indeed, the avoidance of being defensive or of striking back (in any way) seems to be central to 'walking the path'. If little by little we practice this, then I think we do gradually become more in touch with the Self.


Well this raises the question "who am I?" in a whole new light.  From this we discover there are various levels of the self within and without.  Self-consciousness is in large part a dialog with oneself so to speak.  Even conversations we have with other people could be considered conversations with Oneself if you stretch the boundaries a bit. It is different parts of oneself communicating.   Seeking wholeness perhaps.

One idea I picked up recently was that the silent Spectator within is capable of thinking and ideating on its own disengaged from lower manas.  Lower manas can disengage from kama as well. This process is accomplished through individual effort in meditation.  The philosopher in the best sense, in the Platonic sense, is consciously dying every moment, so to speak because he or  she is disengaging identity and reality from what is not real and what is manifest.  From this you get the idea of supreme detachment that characterizes the Sage.   The Sage is in the world, but not of the world as the saying goes.


One idea I picked up recently was that the silent Spectator within is capable of thinking and ideating on its own disengaged from lower manas.

So would we look at this as the "Spectator" being a watcher of our plane but an actor on its?

Do you see the Spectator as synonymous with Self in the above quote? Or perhaps synonymous with Supreme Self in the above quote?


The idea of the Spectator is tricky.  I do not think it means that it does not have the power to initiate action.  It can act on its own plane.  In meditation we can set the personal nature aside if we will it so.  This would, theoretically, free up the higher nature to ideate and ruminate unencumbered.  I believe that to the lower man caught up in the world the concept of the Soul or higher nature feels like a silent presence or Spectator or Watcher.We do not understand the language of our higher nature, we have made ourselves foreign to it. Organized religion has done much damage in blocking human beings from their internal powers. And what we deem internal and external is part of the problem. But there is no such distinction.

In actuality It is speaking to us constantly through the auspices of our karma in our lives, through the patterns of nature around us and through the wisdom we discover coming from the mouths of our brothers and sisters at any age or stage of life.  I believe it is sort of a constant whispering.  Question is, are we listening?

"The light from the ONE MASTER, the one unfading golden light of Spirit, shoots it effulgent beams on the Disciple from the very first. Its rays thread through the thick, dark clouds of Matter."

"All is impermanent in man except the pure bright essence of Alaya.  Man is its crystal ray; a beam of light immaculate within, a form of clay material upon the lower surface.  That beam is they life-guide and thy true Self, the Watcher and the silent Thinker, the victim of thy lower self."

The Voice of the Silence

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Permalink Reply by Sharisse on January 3, 2013 at 9:27pm

I am ever-changing! :)

This gave me much thought today Gerry, I have stretched those boundaries. Mirroring and/or reflections from conversations with people happen all the time, whether good or not so good. If not careful one’s anger could become your own. Or just the same one’s happiness could become yours as well and can work both ways whether you are the mirror or receiving the reflections. When receiving those reflections, I see them as little awakenings within yourself, if you can view it as such, and not so much seeking wholeness by other people, but becoming more aware of your own wholeness within. As others cannot make you whole in my limited view, however you are right, not everyone could view it that way and probably feel others would make them whole, yet definitely impermanent.

Is it also safe to think, putting the disengaging from the lower manas aside, that everyone is dying at every moment whether consciously, subconsciously or resistant so new growth could occur or a rebirth, per se?

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on January 4, 2013 at 10:51am

The real Self is not ever-changing, it is the vestures or the outer self, the one in the world, that is ever changing.  The fact that we are the same individual at all the various stages of life, childhood, adulthood, old age, happy, grief-stricken etc. is evidence of this. The discipline is to be less and less identified with the outer and more identified with the inner side of our nature.  This takes a lot of time, we are told, and a lot of meditation and a lot of mental discipline. (Dalai Lama has a lot to say on this score.)  If we do these things gradually we gain the sense that life is like a play (read Shakespeare on this point


an important play, but a play none the less.  And we play roles but we are not those roles but actors who can play many roles when needed.  The object is to play the role well but not get caught up in it so that we lose the big picture.

The philosopher is one who works constantly at what you might call dying to the self.  In other words the philosopher keeps in the forefront of his or her consciousness, I am not this body, I am not my emotions, I am not the roles I play etc.  There is always something grander that stands behind these things that is more real, more permanent.  Theosophy invites us to stretch for That.

Permalink Reply by Sharisse on January 4, 2013 at 7:56pm

Thanks Gerry! This helps me see how much my soul really is of the Earth, and the ignorance I have. I should have said that my thoughts are ever-changing, and not the Self, because they have consistently changed so much and learning that my old beliefs are just that and not truths or really knowing. The ignorance in my thoughts, they seem to be ruled by emotions. This really helped, I’m trying to learn and experiment with this and it really is a challenge for me. Deciphering that personality or ego from the Self is really challenging. It seems I can do it sometimes, and sometimes that character jumps in.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 3, 2013 at 4:21pm

What exactly does it mean to "raise the self" or to "lower the Self"? Is it a matter of shifting identification, or experiencing different aspects of ourselves, or is something actually raised or lowered?

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on January 3, 2013 at 11:00pm

This is an excellent question.  The metaphor of raising and lowering is useful but can be thought of in another way too I believe.  Theosophy teaches we are a soul, not that we have one. The Soul, the Spectator the Higher Self, whatever we call it is what endures from life to life and gains experience.  The self in the world perishes at death and is no more. Personal history, likes and dislikes, personal preference and various habits and patterns are what characterize the personal or lower self.  It is neither good or bad per se. It is better chararacterized as a pure or impure transmitter of the energies of the higher part of our nature.  For the vast majority of humanity the personal consciousness stands in the way blocking the higher. This is where we are at in evolution. Some say we are behind schedule in this regard but by and large this is a natural step in human evolution.  So this is a long winded way of saying that you could use the metaphor of purification and pollution to characterize the relationship between higher and lower.  The higher is what is real and the spiritual quest is to release the powers of the higher from the shackles of the lower. Hence this is why theosophy insists on altruism and why the Gita sanctifies selflessness.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 7, 2013 at 5:19pm

Theosophy teaches we are a soul, not that we have one.

I feel this is such an important and central concept to understand. When I fist started considering that idea it really changed the way I looked at 'myself'.

It is better chararacterized as a pure or impure transmitter of the energies of the higher part of our nature.

I like this characterization. Keeps us from falling into the 'good-evil' problem that takes over so many 'churches'/'religions'.

...you could use the metaphor of purification and pollution to characterize the relationship between higher and lower.

In Ocean of Theosophy Judge relates this well, I think, when he says:

"Nature never does her work in a hasty or undue fashion, but, by the sure method of mixture, precipitation, and separation, brings about the greatest perfection." (see Ch. 15)

So all comes from the SELF, 'precipitates', 'separates', then remixes, each time purifying the lowest 'elements' of itself. (?)

There's an idea in theosophy that cycles are like the threads of a screw - with the passing of each complete cycle one arrives at a slightly higher state or plane. A complimentary idea is that our 'purpose' in manifestation is to raise up all the matter of our system to a higher state or plane. How might we view the journey of the Self in light of these ideas? What does it mean to 'rise to another state or plane' for the Self?

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 7, 2013 at 3:09pm


Coming back to the verses from the Bhagavad Gita,  much depends on how this verse in the Bhagavad Gita is translated. One common sense answer is that Krishna is speaking to the empirical self i.e., the person who finds him/her self in the midst of life's trials and challenges and asks what is the meaning of all this and what is the best course of action? So, It could be as simple as Krishna telling Arjuna 'you are your own worst enemy, likewise you are your own best friend. Only you can tread the path. Depending on your actions, your own mind and your own efforts will be either your friends or your enemies.' In the 3rd Fundamental Proposition this comes under the heading of 'self induced efforts and self devised efforts.' (SD I 17) Below are a number of translations:

6.5 Let a man be lifted by his own self; let him not lower himself; for he himself is his friend, and he himself is his enemy.
6.5 To him who has conquered himself by himself, his own self is a friend, but to him who has not conquered himself, his own self is hostile, like an external enemy. (Trans. Swami Nikhilananda)

6.5 May one lift oneself by oneself, may one not destroy oneself. For, the self alone is one's benefactor (and) the self alone is one's enemy.
6.6 For that (self) who has mastered oneself by oneself, the self alone is a friend of oneself. Whereas, for the self who has not mastered oneself, the self alone would remain in the status of an enemy. (trans. Swami Dayanand Saraswati)

6.5 One should save oneself by oneself; one should not lower oneself. For oneself is verily one's own friend; oneself is verily one's own enemy.' 
6.6 Of him, by whom has been conquered his very self by the self, his self is the friend of his self. But, for one who has not conquered his self, his self itself acts inimically, like an enemy. (trans: Swami Gambhirananda on Sanakaracharya commentary.)

6.5 He should raise himself up through the self (mind) and never debase himself; for verily mind alone is his friend, and mind alone is his enemy.
6.6 The mind is a friend to him who has controlled it by himself, but for one who has not mastered his mind, (this) very mind becomes hostile like a foe. (trans: M.R.Yardi)

This last one is a translation of Jnaneshwari's commentary on the B.G.  in which Jnaneshwari states:

"When a person renounces his ego through reflection he becomes the existent Brahman and attains the supreme good. But he who regards the decked body as the Self becomes his own enemy."

Surely Atma, the Higher Self is neither the friend nor the enemy of any personal self, for as a universal principle it can have no relationship to the finite and personal. We become our own helpmate or enemy through the karma we create through our own actions. For the person who has conquered him/her self (i.e. the lower nature) then the higher Self comes into the picture, as shown in the next verse:

6.7 He who has conquered himself and is serene in mind is constantly absorbed in the Supreme Self, alike in heat and cold, pleasure and pain, and honour and dishonour. (Trans, Swami Nikhilananda)

Permalink Reply by David Reigle on January 8, 2013 at 8:49pm

As this post by Peter shows, giving various translations of these verses, they can be understood in more than one way. In this particular case, the original Sanskrit does not clarify for us what is intended. In verses 6.5 and 6.6 there is only one word for self used: ātman. Sanskrit does not have capital letters. So the distinction made between self and Self in some translations is how the verses are interpreted by the translator. This distinction is not in the Sanskrit. The difference is simply not spelled out for us. We are left to understand the verses in the way that makes the most sense to us.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 8, 2013 at 9:17pm

Thanks David. And thanks Peter for the wonderful response above. I meant to post this earlier today but will do it now. This is the original sanskrit of this verse.

uddhared ātmanātmānaṃ nātmānam avasādayet |
ātmaiva hy ātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ ||6-5||

bandhur ātmātmanas tasya yenātmaivātmanā jitaḥ |
anātmanas tu śatrutve vartetātmaiva śatruvat ||6-6||
Permalink Reply by David Reigle on January 9, 2013 at 9:58am

Thanks, Jon, for the Sanskrit verses. So, breaking these verses into their individual words, we have:

uddharet (optative verb) - one should raise up.
ātmanā (instrumental case) - by the self.
ātmānam (accusative case) - the self.
na - not.
ātmānam (accusative case) - the self. 
avasādayet (optative verb, causative) - one should cause to sink down.

Literally: One should raise up the self by the self; one should not cause the self to sink down.

ātmā (nominative case) - the self.
eva (strong emphatic) - verily, only, (that) alone, (that) itself, the very (thing).
hi - for, because.
ātmano = ātmanaḥ (genitive case) - of the self.
bandhuḥ (nominative case) - relative, friend.
ātmā (nominative case) - the self.
eva (strong emphatic) - verily, only, (that) alone, (that) itself, the very (thing).
ripuḥ (nominative case) - enemy.
ātmanaḥ (genitive case) - of the self.

Literally: For the self itself is the friend of the self; the self itself is the enemy of the self.

bandhuḥ (nominative case) - relative, friend.
ātmā (nominative case) - the self.
ātmanas (genitive case) - of the self.
tasya (demonstrative pronoun, genitive case) - of that, of him, for him.
yena (relative pronoun, instrumental case) - by which, by whom.
ātmā (nominative case) - the self.
eva (strong emphatic) - verily, only, (that) alone, (that) itself, the very (thing).
ātmanā (instrumental case) - by the self.
jitaḥ (past passive participle) - is conquered.

Literally: The self is the friend of the self for him by whom the self itself is conquered by the self.

anātmanas (genitive case) - literally, of the non-self; but here understood with implied jita, "is conquered," in a possessive compound: for him whose self is not conquered, or for him by whom the self is not conquered.
tu - but.
śatrutve (locative case) - literally, in enemy-ness; in hostility.
varteta (optative verb) - would become, would function, would act.
ātmā (nominative case) - the self.
eva (strong emphatic) - verily, only, (that) alone, (that) itself, the very (thing). 
śatruvat (indeclinable) - like an enemy.

Literally: But for him by whom the self is not conquered, the self itself would function in hostility, like an enemy.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 9, 2013 at 10:33am

This is wonderful David! Thank you, as always, for your insight into the language!

An idea presents itself to me while reading this: that we are essentially one Self, but that through manifestation that Self gives rise to both 'higher' aspects and 'lower' aspects, such that it becomes either its own friend or foe in the duty of raising ourselves through 'spiritual evolution'. It does seem to me that it is left to our intuitions to understand the various uses of the term 'atma' in the contexts of the verses, but it is curious to me that it is the sole term used.

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 9, 2013 at 3:30pm

Thank you, David.  Would you be good enough to do the same for the next verse:  6:7  I understand the meaning can be different also by where the term param is placed in this verse. Some translators associating it with samahitah, other's like Sankara joining it to atman. But I'll leave that to you to explain, for not being a sanskrit scholar,  I can only say 'thus have I heard.'!

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Permalink Reply by David Reigle on January 10, 2013 at 1:57pm

jitātmanaḥ praśāntasya paramātmā samāhitaḥ |
śītoṣṇasukhaduḥkheṣu tathā mānāpamānayoḥ || 6.7 ||

jita-ātmanaḥ (genitive case) - of him by whom the self is conquered. This is a possessive (bahuvrīhi) compound; i.e., it is an adjective to something else, which is why "him by whom" must be supplied.
praśāntasya (genitive case) - of (him who is) tranquil, peaceful.
parama-ātmā (nominative case) - the highest self.
samāhitaḥ (past passive participle) - collected, composed, balanced, concentrated, established in samādhi (the word samāhita is the participle form of the noun samādhi).

śīta-uṣṇa-sukha-duḥkheṣu (locative case) - in cold, heat, happiness, and suffering. 
tathā - so, also.
māna-apamānayoḥ (locative case) - in respect and disrespect.

Literally: The highest self of him by whom the self is conquered, (of him who is) tranquil, is collected in cold, heat, happiness, and suffering, and also in respect and disrespect. 

As Peter noted, the term paramātmā can either be the compound, parama-ātmā, "the highest self," or it can be two individual words: the indeclinable param, "to the utmost," and the noun ātmā, the "self." In the latter case, the param would function as an adverb to the participle samāhita. Shripad Krishna Belvalkar, taking it this way, translates "his self abides in perfect repose." That is, he takes param as "perfect," and samāhita as "abides in repose." Thus, he translates the whole verse as:

"Of one who has conquered his self and has attained tranquillity, his self abides in perfect repose in the presence of cold-heat, pleasure-pain [and other dualities], as also in the matter of honour and dishonour."

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 11, 2013 at 6:59am

David, thank you for your translation and comments on BG 6:7.  That's very helpful.  

May I draw on your expertise for a further question. Should we see a distinction in meaning between Atman and Atma or is this just a loose use of the same term in English translations?  In HPB's works she sometimes uses the term "the Atman" when discussing its universal aspect; she sometimes uses the term "Atma" when specifically discussing the individual principles.  However,  there is no consistency in this usage as far as I can see.  I see a similar mixed use of "Atman" and "Atma" in non theosophical texts.  Any thoughts?

Permalink Reply by David Reigle on January 11, 2013 at 11:57am

Peter, there is no distinction in meaning between atman and atma. The use of either is merely the preference of the (English language) writer, and both are correct. The spelling atman (ātman) is the undeclined form of the word (the form found in the dictionary), while the spelling atma (ātmā) is the form declined in the nominative case (the form when used as the subject of a sentence). We do not have these different forms for English words.

In actual use, a Sanskrit word must always be declined. So you do not see the form ātman in use in Sanskrit texts. (You theoretically could, since ātman is also the vocative declension, "O self!".) The reason you have to know what the undeclined form is, is so that you know what endings are used when declining it. Thus, ātmā (subject), ātmānam (object), ātmanā (by the self), ātmane (for the self), ātmanas (from the self, or of the self), ātmani (in the self), etc.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 11, 2013 at 1:14pm

Thank you David. I've wondered about this for some time as well.

I can see a little sanskrit training would do us all good. :)

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 12, 2013 at 1:48am

Thanks, David.  After our recent look at verses in the Gita, it's good to have that confirmed. Your explanation of declensions reminds me of learning Latin in school.  If only they had taught sanskrit instead.

Permalink Reply by Peter on January 9, 2013 at 3:24pm

Nicholas - I was going to ask that same thing.  Verses 160 - 162 of the Dhammapada could be seen as expressing an identical meaning to verses 6:5 - 6:6 of the Gita. 

Oneself, indeed, is one's own protector.  What other protector could there be? With self control one gains a protector hard to attain.  [160]

By oneself alone is evil done.  Born of oneself, produced by oneself, it grinds down those devoid of wisdom, as a diamond grinds down a gem. [161]

They who cover themselves with their own corrupt conduct, like a creeper covers a tree, do to themselves what an enemy wishes for them.  [162]

(trans, Gil Fronsdal in Shambhala edition, 2006)

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on January 9, 2013 at 4:07pm

This is wonderful Nicholas and Peter. I believe we glimpse a central teaching here that really goes to the heart of individual responsibility. If we can see ourself as the sole cause of either our suffering or our bliss, it seems we can begin to take upon ourselves the responsibility needed to walk the path.

Reminds me of a verse from the Voice of the Silence:

Thou canst not travel on the Path before thou hast become that Path itself.

Permalink Reply by Di Kaylor on January 9, 2013 at 4:32pm

Just want to thank you all...this is really good ...

Permalink Reply by David Reigle on January 10, 2013 at 8:15pm

There is an interesting fact in support of the Dhammapada parallel pointed out by Nicholas and Peter. If there is anyone who we would expect to distinguish the higher self from the lower self in verses 6.5 and 6.6 of the Bhagavad-gita, it is the great Advaita Vedanta teacher Sankaracarya. But he does not do so in his commentary on these verses. Rather, he pretty much explains these verses like what is said in the Dhammapada verses. It is not until verse 6.7 that he brings in the higher self.