How do I know, whether one is “self-realized”, or one is merely mistaken/deluded?
Clearly, we need to look for proof. How does one acquire this proof?
Proof, says ancient wisdom, can be of 3 types –
Direct perception or experience,
Wisdom of someone we trust.
Everything in our life is essentially a truth to us based on one or more of these proof types. Therefore, if wise men of today state that there was a big bang, their knowledge is not available to us through direct perception since none of us can go back in time to witness the bang. Scientists who doubt this therefore use inference and based on sensible assumptions together with use of equations along with other related data, they have inferred that Big Bang has indeed occurred around 13 billion years ago. However, while even young and budding people who are knowledgeable may question this theory, they have a chance to enhance their knowledge and through their own experimentation, they can also infer the theory of the big bang to their satisfaction.
However, there are other illiterate laymen who cannot acquire knowledge of Physics owing to their own inabilities. Such people therefore have no choice but to accept the theory based on the third method of proof, i.e., trust the words of scholars.
There is no alternative left to such people though that it is not a wholly comforting position to be in. However, there must be no doubt that the best proof is the proof of direct perception where we get the truth ourselves – we see the BIG BANG!!! Which is not possible in all the cases.
Coming to your point about consciousness, how does one therefore get proof?
Atma, as it is called in Indian traditions, cannot be seen through eyes or heard through ears, etc. Atma is THAT which SEES, THAT which hears, etc. Indian traditions therefore make a claim - ATMA is something that can be realized through Sadhana. One must note that this is a claim and a few people (whom we call fake people) have made a statement that this is indeed true. One need not believe it is true. Either we are interested or are not interested in this claim. If we are not interested, there is no need to argue with someone who believes this claim. We can move on.
However, if we want to explore this statement, we need to start somewhere and we can read books like Panchadasi or Vivekachudamani (commentary by Sri Ranganathananda is wonderful) who have asserted this view. These books were written by people whom the Indian tradition has acknowledged as wise men. However, those wise men themselves have not written something based on hearsay. They have stated that through a process of intense Sadhana, we can perceive the ATMA ourselves. This Sadhana will however require us to curb the limited mind which is small and ordinary.
This curbing does not mean we become mindless but we actually acquire the features of a Universal Mind. Once again, we can dismiss this as mumbo-jumbo. However, if we want to explore these claims, we must do the SADHANA - maybe we may experience something that will enhance our world view.
A true person of science does not dismiss all claims but systematically goes through the path of exploration and then accepts or rejects based on his or her own experience.
Mere questioning is shallow and may be of no particular value. Chinmayananda actually enrolled into Ashrams to prove that all SWAMIS are bogus but in the end, he became a SWAMI himself. Ancient India gives the example of Valmiki to provide a similar example. There are other examples of a vedic pandit Ravana who became the Adharmic Ravana.
Life, I guess therefore is not wasting time in internet forums where one applies reverse psychology and keeps on arguing. If we have proof, share with others for everyone’s benefit. If we do not have anything to contribute today, we can start Sadhana and see where this takes us. Or if we believe that all of ancient wisdom is bogus, junk it and move on.