KNOW THYSELF: The Five Fundamentals

What does “Know Thyself” Mean?

What Can I Know With Absolute Certainty?

Descartes and “The Evil Genius”

The Five Fundamentals

5. Thoughts, Mind and Ego

5.1 Where Do Thoughts Come From?

5.2 What Is The Mind

5.3 What Is The EGO

5.4 Meditation: Breathing, Observing Thoughts, the Mind and the Ego

The Five Fundamentals

by James Khan

This page is about answering the question: Who am I?

Delphi: Know Thyself

Delphi: Know Thyself

These five fundamentals to knowing your self are five truths that will guide you towards knowing who you really are and to the essence of the Self and of Reality.

Before we can genuinely investigate philosophical or spiritual matters, we need to be clear on these five fundamentals.

Without understanding these fundamentals we would be lost, lost in the world, we wouldn’t be able to see the “wood for the trees”.

The Yogic path is described as the path of Self-Realization, the Yogi strives to know who he is. Yoga means union. Union with what, union with who?

The ancient Socratic and other Mystery Schools had plaques at the entrances that said ‘KNOW THYSELF‘, and these words were inscribed in golden letters at the lintel of the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The origin of the term comes from older Egyptian and Indian civilisations.


What does Know Thyself Mean?

Socrates: Know Thyself

Socrates: Know Thyself


Do you know who you are?

Sure I know who I am, I’m Jane Bloggs, daughter of Adam Bloggs, from Blog land, mother of Junior Blog, graduate of Oxford, Dancer“, or something similar.

But these are all or transient phases, transient states or transient labels, one of many that could be “stuck” on you or removed over time. None of those descriptions actually say anything about who you are underneath the many masks and labels.

Your name, for example is just a vocal pattern made by a simple apparatus that can make just two types of sound: consonants and vowels.

A name inherently has nothing to do with you, just a noise chosen by your parents and you can change it if you want to to a different sounding noise.

The same applies for all the other labels – your job, your education, your relationships. Other things like your parents, your race, your country can’t be changed, but they still don’t describe with any accuracy who you are.

How would it benefit a man if he gains the world, but loses himself?

Who are you underneath the masks, underneath the changing identities and labels?

Who are you at the core?

This is the question that we are addressing in these five fundamentals.

It is a question that YOU need to investigate and answer in complete honesty with your own self.

The answer to the question needs to be arrived at by you because only YOU can know yourself.

I have investigative this extensively and could simply write the answer, but my words will sound alien, they will not mean anything to you, you won’t understand what I’m saying. You will only know when you personally experience the “truth” for yourself.

I can, however, guide you in finding the answer by explaining some fundamentals or basic truths that I feel are essential to knowing oneself.

If you can follow and understand these five fundamentals, you will be well on the way to knowing yourself by yourself.

Firstly we need to understand our sensory limitations to knowing and ask the right questions.


What Can I Know With Absolute Certainty?

Descartes and “The Evil Genius”

The French philosopher Descartes asked a basic question, which can be phrased as:



What if all my senses were lying to me, what if all this is a very lucid dream?

Descartes considered the possibility that an evil genius could be planting all sensory experience in my mind to fool me.

To answer this question, he reasoned that:

I think, therefore I am

“Let him [the evil genius] deceive me as much as he will, he can never cause me to be nothing so long as I shall be thinking something”

Descartes was on the right track, he asked the right question.

But Descartes came up with the WRONG answer because he identified with thinking.

Descartes was not acquainted with eastern thoughts and eastern philosophies.

If he had been, he would have realized that it is not necessary to think to be.

I am when I think, and I am when I don’t think.

Thinking is not the same as, nor is it necessary for Being.

Let us then proceed from Descartes question and see what we know with absolute certainty as true or correct. Let us assume that our five senses and beliefs can not be trusted.

What we see, feel, hear, smell and taste, our thoughts, beliefs and philosophies can not be relied upon for they are all subject to manipulation by an “evil genius”, as Descartes phrased it.

As you read, focus on your breath, make it a little longer.


The Five Fundamentals

1. Consciousness: Breathing, Observing and Perceiving

At this point you are a conscious observer. This is certain. You may be awake or dreaming, but you are conscious or aware and observing, otherwise you would not be reading this.

What is consciousness?

What are you conscious off?

When did you become independently conscious?

When you were born, the most significant action that you performed was your first breath.

That first exhalation and inhalation brought you to life as an individual person, this action brought oxygen to your lungs and arteries and your blood and circulatory system started to function. Prior to that your body was a foetus, a part of the body of the mother, who was doing the breathing for you.

At this moment you are alive in this “world” because you are breathing. If you stop breathing you’ll be dead in under 3 minutes.

Yogi in Meditation: The Path of Self Realization

Yogi in Meditation: The Path of Self Realization

This is an absolute certainty. Stop breathing and you’ll soon see for your self what is really keeping you alive.

If you observe your self without holding on to any knowledge of anything that you have learned, the thing that you know is true for certain. is that you are a conscious observer: you are breathing, observing and perceiving. What you are perceiving (the world around you) may not even exist, and as we will later explain actually does not exist.

Whatever we have learned about the “world” around us from the five senses or from cognitive or logical mental thought processes may or may not be true – it is a secondary to tertiary experience, some conclusion that we have arrived at.

Whatever we understand or can ever understand of the “world” around us may or may not be true – it might all be a vivid dream.

It could all be a vivid dream. How can you say with absolute certainty that it’s not a dream?

You can not be absolutely certain about anything except that you are breathing and perceiving. That is you are conscious while you are breathing.

As breathing and perceiving is the only certainty we know, and we know for certain that we are alive, attention to our breath should be our primary concern as it keeps us alive. It keeps one focused on what is “true”, rather then getting getting lost or trapped in what one is perceiving.

Focus on the breath, keeps you from getting lost in the dream.

This is why the Yogis, the Buddhists, the Taoists and others focused so much attention on breathing.


2. Energy and Empty Space

From the perspective of the Yogis and the Taoists, you are not breathing air but a substance, the primal energy that creates the fabric of the (illusory) universe.

They called this energy Chi or Prana.

Remember this and keep breathing.

The second fundamental is that: Everything is Energy and Empty Space.

Naturally or Inherently energy has no substance, nothing that can be seen. A place where there is nothing, no substance, we call empty space. So you could say that inherently all energy is empty space.

Empty space gives visibility to energy, energy in essence is just empty space!

You could say that empty gives birth to what we perceive as energy. This perceived “energy” is a fleeting phenomena: we can feel it, perceive it, run our bodies, cars and other things with it, but when we try to isolate it, we find that there is nothing there – we just find empty space.

We see permanent looking, solid things around us, things like the earth, sky, sticks and stones, chairs and desks and bodies. But when we examine them closely, we find they are all made of atoms consisting of nothing but empty space. It is an established scientific fact that 99.99% of the space in an atom is just empty space.

The remaining 0.01% of the space of all atoms is made up of the atomic particles (neutrons, protons, electrons). These atomic particles in turn are made of sub-atomic particles, that are made of photons or quantum.

Photons are like light, they have energy or you can say photons are energy but have no substance, no mass at that level.

,In other words photons are empty space.

Basic physics/science states that:

Energy can take two forms:

  1. Wave like Invisible form
  2. Particle like Visible form.


The inherent or natural state of all energy is as a wave like form, which is an invisible form.

The Particle or observed state only exits because of an observer, that is because of consciousness.

Taking this further, leads us to the realization that:

  • Consciousness (1st Fundamental) “creates” the visible, particle like state of energy
  • The “particle” like state of energy is the world around us
  • Consciousness creates our world, our universe.


To recap:

We can not see energy in its natural, inherent state because it is invisible. We only “see” energy because of how you are looking at it, that is, energy takes “shape” (i.e. behaves like a solid particle) because of an observer, that is because you are looking at it.

Quantum physicists have demonstrated as a scientific fact that the visible, particle nature of light, energy and all things is only so because of an observer (consciousness).

  • The particle (visible, object form) only exists because of a conscious observer.
  • Everything is energy, energy is inherently invisible, un-perceivable.
  • Everything (energy) only takes solid form because of consciousness, because we are looking at it.


This means that the chair that you’re sitting on is not there as you perceive it – underneath, it is just energy, everything around you is just energy. Your head, brain, blood, the air, the earth, the sun – it’s all just energy, which you can not see in its true form.

Unobserved the particle (and this means everything from sunlight, electricity, earth, your body and the sun) does not exist.

In other words, we (being conscious) have manufactured the world that we are perceiving by the fact that we are observing/perceiving it. In the same way that we “manufacture” a dream simply by dreaming it.

So, breathing and observing “things” that we have “manufactured” or projected are the first two truths that we know for certain.

We know for certain that we are breathing and observing a “world” made of energy that without our collective observation would not be there.


This are basic, fundamental truth. They are true in all cases, true in all situations.

It is true where ever you are, dreaming or awake, on earth or anywhere else, whether the place you are in is “real” or “imaginary”.

Supposing you could drift into a dream world, or slip into a Magical world like Harry Potter does, or slip into a looking glass wonderland like Alice does, or go on “trips” like the hippies did, or visit the worlds of the Shaman.

Where ever you are you would still be breathing and observing things that don’t exist.


3. The Body is the Palace of Divinity

The first two truths are that we are conscious, breathing and observing a world that only exists because we we are observing it.

The third fundamental concerns the nature of the body or “bodily substance” and the relation of the Self (consciousness) to the Body.


Returning to the question: Who am I?

Are you your body?

How can you be, when we have just seen in the first fundamental that all objects (including bodies) only exist because of an observer?

If you are still attached to the conditioning or thinking that you are your body, then exactly which bit of the body are you?

Are you the brain, are you the genitals, the heart, the eyes?

If, for example, you identify with the brain, then which bit of the brain are you – which brain cell are you?

If I then took that brain cell away, would you still be?


Of course, YOU are not your brain cells, not your body, not your mind, not your thoughts and not your emotions.

In connection with this, in most spiritual traditions one is taught to ignore the body, observe fasting, celibacy and other denials of the body so that one can reach to God. In contrast, Tantric and Taoist traditions focus on the body, the energy and the sensations. By these means the body is used as a way to the Tao.


The mind occupies you, your body houses you

We will explore the nature of the mind shortly, for now just remember that the mind occupies you. It occupies you with thoughts, worries, fears or what have you.

The body, in contrast, acts as a refuge; a place to be where you can be free, that is free of the mind.

The body was described by the Tibetan Tantric Hermit Milarepa as “The Palace of Divinity“. The bodily substance is by a magical mechanism unknown or un-knowable to the mind, a gateway to YOU (a gateway to consciousness).

It is the place, or rather the Palace or Temple, where the Self (consciousness) resides.

The bodily substance not only houses the Self, it is the only way to the Self, that is the only way to YOU. You will not be able to find or know your Self without the body.

The “bodily substance” is required for consciousness and to “know thyself”

The Buddha explained this when he said that the space or distance of the universe is infinite, but there is a furlong of space in which all the secrets can be known. That furlong of space is the body.

The Yogi’s and Taoists stated that the Self (who you actually are, and this we are trying to understand or know) can not be described by words or by logic, but symbols (in particular Water) can be used to point to it, like a finger.

This page explores this: Water and The Tao: Why Water Is So Much Like God

Remember this:

  • The body and the breath act as a refuge from the “tyranny” of the mind.
  • You have thoughts but you are not your thoughts.
  • You are housed in a body, but you are not your body.
  • You have feelings and emotions, but you are not your feelings, emotions or anything that can labelled.

4. Seeing and the Seer

Breathing and Observing an unreal or illusory world via the body are the first three fundamentals.

The fourth fundamental is about understanding the difference between what is seen, the mechanism of seeing and who sees.

There is a difference between the perceiver and what is perceived; the seer and the objects that he sees.

The fourth fundamental is that: The seer is not what he sees

The perceiver is not what he perceives. The seer can not be what he sees. Knowing this truth can take you to where you are – that is to “Know Thyself”.

You can say that the seer IS, what he sees IS NOT.

As the Sufi Kabir said:

Joh Disah, Woh Heh Nehih, Joh Heh, Woh Kaha Nah Jahai

“What is seen, is not there, what IS can not be said”.

“Disah Begher Jahnana Nehi” –

“[but] Without seeing, there is no Knowing”


We know that everything is energy and all energy in it’s natural state is invisible. It follows that everything visible must be a temporary state of energy, or an illusion.

Only the invisible is real because it is independent of an observer.

What we ‘see’ as an object, as something visible must be an illusion, a holographic projection or Maya – just like a dream.

As Sufi Kabir says, the illusion, the world around us has a purpose. The objects and the mechanism of seeing are necessary for knowing the seer, that is to help you to know thyself.

  • The seer is not what he sees
  • What he sees is not there
  • The purpose of what he is seeing is that it can lead to knowing: to knowing thyself or to Self-Realization.

Seeing can lead you to “know thyself” – so long as you stay clear of the illusions, stay clear of identifying with anything in the “dream”, that is you don’t identify with something that does not exist, you don’t believe that you are something that you are not.


5. Thoughts, Mind and Ego

Breathing and observing a world that does not exist via a body are the fist three fundamentals.

The fourth fundamental explains what we are NOT. The conscious observer, the seer, is not what he sees.

In a dream, everything seen, observed, felt, thought is unreal (it’s just a dream), yet the dreamer, who “sees” or “has” the dream is “real”. The dream is not real, but the dreamer is.

The fifth and final fundamental is about understanding the true nature and origin of Thoughts, the Mind and the Ego.

a) Thoughts just come and go like waves in sea.

b) The sub-conscious Mind manufactures or projects all that you see by getting you to invest in thought. The conscious mind decodes what has been projected.

c) The Ego is the false self.

5.1 Thoughts: Where Do Thoughts Come From?

You probably think that you create “thoughts” by using YOUR mind.

Are you sure about this, sure that the thoughts occupying you now, controlling you, telling you what to do are YOUR thoughts, that you are CREATING?

If this is indeed true, then why don’t you stop creating thoughts for a minute, and be free of them? Can you do this for just one minute?

In any case, how can you possibly create something when it’s a universal law of Physics that energy can not be created or destroyed?

What is compelling you to “manufacture” thoughts.

Do you think that even though you are compelled to manufacture thoughts, you still are manufacturing them?

If that’s the case, then why don’t you then “create/manufacture” thoughts that will make you a billionaire like Bill Gates, or a genius like Einstein? The basic difference between people, say self made billionaires and others, is the thoughts that they are occupied by.

You may argue that this unique, mysterious “thought manufacturing ability” is related to another mysterious thing called IQ (Intelligence Quotient).

However, if you examine the lives of people carefully you’ll likely find 1000’s of people with far bigger IQ’s then Bill Gates for example. So how comes they all aren’t all rich like Bill Gates? Why did they not “think” or “manufacture” the same thoughts as Bill to make them Billionaires?

At this moment you may be aware of yourself “thinking” something.

Consider these questions:

1. Where did that thought come from?

2. What exactly is the process or mechanism of thinking?

3. What precisely do you DO when YOU think?

4. Supposing you could talk to a flower, and the flower asked you to teach it how to think, how would you go about it?

5. Where do you think from?

The brain you say?

6. Again, which bit of the brain do you think from? the front, the middle, the back, the top or the bottom of the brain?

7. Specifically which cell do you think from, if you think from the brain?

My view is that thoughts just come and go from the collective unconsciousness, they just come and go like waves in the sea just come and go. Just like all the other things in this illusory world, they have nothing to do with you, they are not “manufactured” by you. The just come to you and you give then life by attaching to them or giving them attention or focus.

We do not think from anywhere in the brain, because the brain is just a piece of meat, and at the sub-atomic level just an illusion, like everything else in the Matrix or Maya.

Thoughts are just “things” that only exist when your awareness focuses on them and gives them “life”. If you didn’t focus on them, they would not exist.

Is there a thought that exists when you are not thinking it?


5.2 What Is The Mind

What exactly then is the mind?

Where could the mind be located?

Can you control your mind?

Can you switch it off?

If not, then are you sure that your mind is yours?

My view is that he mind is an instrument, a tool, that includes the brain and the five sense mechanism of the individual, but it is not limited to them or by them. In other words, there is a collective mind that goes beyond the individual “mind”.

This tool, the Mind, does the following significant things:

1. The mind partitions infinite reality into illusory discrete little bits that another part of it can label. Much like a computer with its operating system and software.

2. The mind creates the concept of Time by means of these bits – it takes ‘time’ to ‘move’ from one bit to another.

3. The Sub-conscious part of the mind projects all that we see as a holographic reality.

4. It is the mind that sees, hears, smells, feels, tastes – but not the perception or the knowing of what is seen.

5. The Conscious mind interprets what we see – unaware that the sub-conscious part of it is projecting it.



1. All the objects that you can see externally (external objects) or perceive internally (like thoughts, emotions) and the mechanism of seeing/perceiving those objects (five senses, internal thoughts, logic, emotions) are all different aspects of the mind.

2. Object are projected by the mind, and then decoded by another aspect of the mind. The sub-conscious mind projects and the conscious mind decodes and interprets what it itself has projected.

3. All objects, all things are like holographic projections, without any substance, without an inherent existence – illusions – they don’t exist.

4. However, the seer is not an illusion. The seer is, what is seen is not.


5.3  What Is The EGO

Ego is described as the false self.

The Ego is built by mixing the Self (which we have not labeled) with an illusory thing that the mind manufactures, and gets the Self to identify with – objects, thoughts, ideas, ideals, concepts, emotions or what have you.

The mind does this by getting YOU (and we’ve discussed who you are above, without saying it exactly) to invest in or identify with an illusion that it creates.

Today EGO is prevalent where ever you go – me, me, me, ME, ME.

I think this, I think that I, I WANT THIS, I WANT THAT, I, I, I. Numero uno,

Western culture in particular is designed to build and build this EGO, like a hot air balloon, which eventually bursts!

Burst it must because the EGO no mater how large it becomes, is not based on any substance.


5.4 Meditation: Breathing, Observing Thoughts, the Mind and the Ego

Meditation for me is the process of freeing oneself from the occupying entity – that is freeing oneself from the mind by observing it in action.

It is also an opportunity to focus on the five fundamentals.

The Yogis, Buddhists, Tibetan Lamas, Sufis and others realized that controlling the mind, the thoughts and the ego was essential if one is to know oneself, the truth and hence live a happy life.

They realized that you can’t just switch the mind off or just drop the ego! There is no button, no “off” switch that comes with the mind or brain as people like to see it.

They discovered, however, that the Mind and the Ego can be brought under a degree of control by:

  1. Focusing the attention on the breath
  2. By observing and not attaching to thoughts, emotions or objects
  3. Placing full attention on the present moment or the task at hand


This is the basic techniques of meditation that the yogis and enlightened easterners mastered and taught.

They realized that only by these means could the knower know himself.

This is why you see Buddhist monks and Taoists place so much attention to breathing and in performing small actions like taking a single step.

Breath a little deeper then and focus on your breath, exhale completely, let it all go, and let all illusions go.

You will then be well on the way to knowing yourself.

If you can drop the mind, what will be left?


Summary of the Five Fundamentals to Knowing Thyself

  • 1. Consciousness, Breathing and Perceiving
  • 2. Energy and Empty Space
  • 3.The Body and the Palace of Divinity
  • 4. What is Seen, the mechanism of Seeing and the Seer
  • 5. Thoughts, Mind and Ego
  • 5.I Where Do Thoughts Come From?
  • 5.2 What Is The Mind
  • 5.3 What Is The EGO
  • 5.4 Meditation: Breathing, Observing Thoughts, the Mind and Ego