Disclaimer: This is advanced article for Vedanta students only.
First of all “Self-Knowledge” is NOT mokṣa (Freedom, Enlightenment, Liberation).
It is the means to mokṣa.
It is a “knowledge-thought” that is created/assimilated in the Subtle Body… by the teachings of Vedānta.
The content of this thought is “I AM brahman” (aham brahmāsmi).
It destroys the ignorance that is the cause for saṃsāra (believing or feeling “I am LIMITED”).
Therefore, let's return to original question…
Who gains this Self-Knowledge (aham brahmāsmi)?
Is it Original Consciousness (OC; which is brahman), the Subtle Body (where experience is known), or Reflected Consciousness (RC).
Self-Knowledge is knowledge that arises in the Subtle body.
The Subtle body on its own is inert, so it cannot gain any knowledge.
OC is changeless and unconnected to the Subtle body, so it also cannot gain any knowledge.
So it must be gained by RC.
All knowledge is gained by RC — the consciousness that is ‘reflected' in the Subtle body or Causal body.
It is RC that has ignorance and saṃsāra, and it is RC that gains Self-Knowledge and mokṣa.
Got that? If not, attend the classrooms. Else next important part won't make sense…
Self-Knowledge is the knowledge “I am brahman”.
RC is not brahman. It is the reflection of brahman/consciousness in the causal body.
Just as my reflection in a mirror is not me, the reflection of brahman is not brahman.
Therefore, if RC has the thought “I am brahman”, this is not knowledge but a mistake.
A Jiva consists of three components:
- Original Consciousness (OC),
- the causal body as the reflecting medium,
- and reflected consciousness (RC).
Of these three, OC is identical with Brahman, the RC and the causal body are not.
Since causal body and the reflection it contains (RC) are mithyā, they can be negated, leaving only OC as the reality of the Jiva.
Therefore, it is possible for RC to have the knowledge “I am brahman” if the meaning of ‘I' is OC alone.
A Jiva includes RC and causal body as well as OC.
Therefore meaning of ‘I' for the Jiva includes all three.
How can RC and causal body be arbitrarily negated if they are intrinsic to the Jiva?
When the causal body or subtle body is ‘enlivened' by OC, it gains an identity or sense of self.
This enlivened subtle body is the RC (cid-ābhāsa), also known as the ahaṅkāra (ego).
Being inert, the subtle body cannot have a sense of self.
A sense of self requires a conscious principle.
However, once enlivened, the (ignorant) subtle body concludes that its ‘borrowed' sense of self is intrinsic to it.
It has the notion “I am an individual”, even though its ‘I'-ness, its true identity, is limitless OC.
The notion “I am an individual” is saṃsāra, and mokṣa is by Self-Knowledge — the understanding that ‘I' is (am) truly limitless.
Since it is the enlivened subtle body or RC that has the notion “I am an individual”, it alone needs to understand that ‘I' is (am) truly limitless.
Such an understanding is true because the ‘I'-ness or sense of self that was wrongly attributed to the limited subtle body is actually limitless OC alone.
Thus when upaniṣad reveals “tat tvam asi”, the word ‘tvam' (‘you') is addressing the RC.
However when the (enlightened) RC understands “I am brahman”, the word ‘I' means OC.
In this way, the entire phenomenon of saṃsāra and mokṣa, ignorance and knowledge, occurs within the subtle body.
It is for RC alone. Brahman has nothing to do with any of it. Brahman simply is.
1) Excerpts from Vichara Sagara – A Nineteenth Century Vedanta Text
2) Friends Who Like NonDual Vedanta Wisdom