Most of the scriptures in the world speak of ‘knowing yourself’. This has a great value in psychology too. Similarly, in management, efforts are made to know oneself through tools like SWOT analysis, Johari window, etc. The truth is if you don’t manage yourself how are you going to manage the world? Therefore, self-knowledge becomes a very important component of life. But the way spiritual texts talk about self-knowledge differs from psychology and management.
Generally, self-knowledge is from the standpoint of our mind and body - our intelligence, our priorities, our talents, our strengths to be built upon, our weaknesses to be overcome. These are all important and inter-related areas. Without this work, one cannot really become spiritual. Spiritual growth is built on the foundation of psychological growth and well being. Therefore, at the relative level, you know yourself through your motivations, desires, priorities, trigger points, blind areas etc. Once these are taken care of, to an optimum level, only then can you really go into the spiritual dimension.
The spiritual dimension is not knowing oneself at just the level of the body and mind. It is at the level of the ‘I’, that is aware of my body. The ‘I’ aware of my mind, my emotions, my thinking, my knowledge etc. This ‘I’ is taken for granted. Since we don't know the nature of this ‘I’, the one that witnesses everything, we make a lot of self-judgments on ourselves, based on what we know about the mind and body to free ourselves from this judgment. To know the ‘I’ that really is is what the highest spirituality is.
Systems like Zen and Taoism and Buddhism pay a lot of attention to this. In our Indian context, we have a revealed knowledge called Vedanta with an elaborate system of teaching only to know oneself. Therefore, what I would call self-knowledge will have two fundamental dimensions. The first is meant for becoming more self-aware and complete as a person. And the second for knowing what you really are. This is what real spirituality is about.
(The writer is the founder of Aarsha Vidya Foundation. You can write to him @firstname.lastname@example.org)