It is natural for us, starting from the standpoint of the individual human being and our mental view of things, to try to acquire “self-knowledge” through a process that essentially involves focusing on the details of the thoughts, emotions, feelings, and physical sensations that we experience, and trying to understand the motive springs of our actions and reactions from that starting point.
Sri Aurobindo points out that this involvement with the changes of the Gunas or “qualities” of the lower Nature do not represent true self-knowledge in any real sense. The transitory and mutable “self” with which we identify initially in our life in the world is not our true self, and thus, knowledge of that “self” does not represent “self-knowledge”.
“The Soul and Nature are only two aspects of the eternal Brahman, an apparent duality which founds the operations of his universal existence. The Soul is without origin and eternal, Nature too is without origin and eternal; but the modes of Nature and the lower forms she assumes to our conscious experience have an origin in the transactions of these two entities.” The processes and forms in Nature are constantly undergoing changes through the interplay of the Gunas, the “modes of Nature”. “Constantly they change and the soul and Nature seem to change with them, but in themselves these two powers are eternal and always the same. Nature creates and acts, the Soul enjoys her creation and action; but in this inferior form of her action she turns this enjoyment into the obscure and petty figures of pain and pleasure.”
This is however, not the entire story: “Seated in this body is her and our Divinity, the supreme Self, Paramatman, the supreme Soul, the mighty Lord of Nature, who watches her action, sanctions her operations, upholds all she does, commands her manifold creation, enjoys with his universal delight this play of her figures of his own being. That is the self-knowledge to which we have to accustom our mentality before we can truly know ourselves as an eternal portion of the Eternal.”
Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 13, The Field and Its Knower, pp. 403-404