Know thyself

But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever. –Psalm 41:12

Dear Members and Friends of the SF Swedenborgian Church,

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and often wrote about the importance of and wisdom in knowing oneself. But knowing oneself by oneself may sound kind of like nonsense because many of us are convinced that we know ourselves better than anyone else. Yet, all ancient sages seem to agree that the key to obtain wisdom — which in turn is the key to happiness and tranquility — is knowing oneself. In other words, knowing oneself by oneself is actually a very hard task to accomplish!

Searching for and finding the true self begins with a huge challenge: by the time one is capable and willing, one is already saddled with a kind of self-image that is either imposed by environment, other people, or both. A conventional belief is that one’s self-identity is forged from what one thinks and believes about him or herself, or what others think about them, or a combination of both. However, there is a big gap between true identity and supposed identity which often causes personal dissatisfaction and unfulfillment in one’s life. The interesting and sad fact is that many of us work very hard to live a life that we think should be fulfilling for our supposed identity instead of searching for and finding what would actually be satisfying for our true identity.

How do we find our true identity? One classical way suggested by both Socrates and Buddha is to empty one’s self to the point of true honesty: the self knows nothing, therefore this self has no power to govern one’s life. The true identity of oneself can only arise after the supposed identity has become obsolete. Another way suggested by the Bible is to empty oneself fully before God, one’s Creator, and acknowledge and embrace the truth that one is made in the image and likeness of Creator. As one’s arrogance, stubbornness, and self-righteousness is emptied out, one’s mind is filled with love, peace, and justice from Creator. Then, one may declare before God: You have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee