Motives and Assumptions

Radha Burnier – India

Those who are really serious about treading the spiritual path must sow the seed of unselfishness at the beginning of the journey itself and foster it with great care and courage. In the well-known twelfth chapter of the Bhagavadgitā, the way to the Supreme is said to lie in restraining and subduing the senses, ‘regarding everything equally, and being intent upon the welfare of all’. This teaching links regarding everything equally with devotion to the good of all. That devotion implies unselfishness, self-abnegation and self-forgetfulness.

Members of the Theosophical Society, idealists, philanthropists and service-minded people in general may believe that their relationships are based on the principle of equality. Intellectually they might be completely convinced of the need to treat all people with respect. But actually, deep in the subconscious mind of all people, except the enlightened sages, lies concealed the assumption of inequality.

Hence it may be wise to go deeper and question whether we really experience a sense of equality with all people irrespective of differences in achievement, character and understanding. Because we subscribe to universal brotherhood or perform acts of service with a sense of justice, do we take it for granted that we experience equality, even as illumined sages do? At the superficial level, a fair number of people may be unselfish and universally minded, but at the subconscious level it is much more difficult to liberate oneself from psychological impediments on the spiritual path, because we have inherited from the past certain strong notions which were useful at one time but stand in the way at the human stage.

Inequality is built into certain levels of manifestation, because the course of evolution continually brings about differentiation. The primordial principle of unity becomes more and more veiled. Sameness is relentlessly reduced while individuality is developed. Therefore the more evolved creatures like dogs, elephants and primates display highly individual characteristics.

But unfortunately differentiation becomes the ground for belief in separateness in the human mind. This is mayā. This is the basis for the subconscious feeling of inequality stamped into the brain-mind, until the human being begins to reflect deeply. Then he realizes that the experience of separateness is delusion; so is the associated inequality that appeared so real to him.

The tiger and the lion are characterized by the strength they possess, while the deer and the lamb typify gentleness. They cannot be the same, nor can other creatures, since they have their own particular qualities. In the pre-human stage, survival depended on noticing these differences, on knowing which creature is stronger or cleverer, on being aware of the nature of the varied dangers posed by the environment. Because this fact is deeply ingrained at the unconscious or deep subconscious level in the brains human beings have inherited, the feeling of inequality is persistent.

Mentally, good people may see that there is a precious quality within every living being. This perception is sensed as a feeling for the sanctity of life. Even then, hidden from immediate observation, the illusion of inequality continues to act like a poison in our consciousness, preventing the mind from being simple and clear, free of judgements and evaluation of what is better or worse. A true sense of equality is experienced only by those who are completely free of any tendency to react or judge.

In fact, differences do not indicate superiority or inferiority. Is there a real basis for imagining that gold is better than clay? It is the human mind, which has acquired through ages the habit of assessment that imagines gold is better than clay. On consideration, we can easily see that gold is better only for certain purposes, while clay is superior in other ways. So can we put a stop to reaction in the form of judgements, which lead to classifying and measuring everything using a scale made up of personal likes and dislikes?

All motivations have their origin in the ego-sense, just as the assumption of inequality grows strong in the mind as it becomes increasingly aware of distinctions. A well-meaning spiritual aspirant can, through patient observation and a process of negation, free himself from the many desires and aims of the ego-centre, the ’self’. By consistently using the faculty of viveka, it becomes clear that many of our wants and pursuits are of no consequence at all.

An innate desire for happiness makes people pursue material possessions, or importance, power, fame and other ephemeral satisfactions. Through a long period of repeated disappointments and suffering the truth dawns upon a person’s mind that none of these things ensures happiness or anything of essential value like security or peace. The so-called struggle for life, which causes ill health, frustration and many other problems, is the by-product of illusory aims followed by disillusionment; viveka alone overcomes the selfish aspirations of the ignorant mind.

But we need to note that even when worldly pursuit of pleasure, possessions or power is abandoned, there still remains the ego-sense, the feeling that ‘I exist’ surrounded by innumerable ‘not-I’s, which is like a great weight that one carries with oneself. The ego-sense grows as individuality develops, and all motivations, both good and bad, are expressions of I-ness. It is easy at a certain stage of one’s evolutionary journey to be generous, but the generosity is often blemished, because the mind is conscious of its own virtue. How can we liberate ourselves from the basic stance, which appears in many disguises: ‘I am the doer; I have achieved such and such for the benefit of others; I am the knower and I am confident that my knowledge will serve others.’ Behind such feeling of being this, that or the other, there lurk motivations generated by the self.

Freedom is a state in which there is no conditioning (including hidden assumptions or vāsanās*) and no motivation projected by the ‘I’ consciousness. Compassion and love are not motivations, but the divine nature manifesting itself.

* Vāsanā is another term for samskāra, ‘latent tendency, predisposition’.

(from “On the Watch-Tower”, The Theosophist, February 2006)