Tim Boyd USA & India
I would like to consider some questions about the spiritual life, and life in general. One of the things that characterizes the life and direction of anyone who takes on a genuine spiritual practice, is that it necessarily puts one in touch with big questions. The smaller things never do go away, but somehow it seems that the larger ones include the smaller details of life. The kind of big issues that we keep coming back to again and again, are those such as the injunction of the Oracle at Delphi: “Know Thyself.”
In our theosophical approach we think in terms of self-knowledge, self-transformation, or self-awareness, but in some sense it all comes back to the seminal question of “Who am I?” In part, the reintroduction of Theosophy was to provide deeper avenues to explore these kinds of questions.
In The Maha Chohan's Letter we find that the two debilitating states of mind that had come to characterize human consciousness were aptly described. In one case, it was “brutal materialism”, and the force that was in the vanguard of rooting that approach in the minds of humanity was science, or more correctly, scientism. The other condition of human thinking that Theosophy was intended to address was what was described as “degrading superstition”, or the rein over the minds of humanity of a dead-letter religiosity. These are the two trends that Theosophy has had to address.
Generally, we all have a clear sense of who we are; from moment to moment we require it just to operate. When anybody is asked the question, “Who are you?” our response generally begins with pointing to the most familiar component of self – the body. Even at this most fundamental level we know, at least intellectually, that there is no such thing as an individual self, a unit of consciousness that could be called “me”. The human body, by virtue of its physical composition, is a group effort, a collective project that takes place on many different levels.
Just at the level of pure biology, we know we are composed of trillions of cells, each with its own individual consciousness. They form into larger organs within the body, with a more expanded consciousness, and on and on. At a certain point, these different wholes of consciousness become imbued with the soul, or the spiritual dimension, and then we have a “complete package”, an “I”, but it is a collective process.
H.P. Blavatsky (HPB), in The Secret Doctrine makes more explicit the nature of the cooperative basis of who we are. She describes the human being as a threefold endeavor. She says that we are composed of three different evolutionary streams: spiritual, intellectual, and physical. The way she describes them is that each of these is composed of, directed, and guided by the highest Dhyanis, or spiritual intelligences, each of these streams with different laws and different directions. But somehow, where these three streams meet, the cooperative endeavor of these three evolutions is what becomes humanity, and the human being. On a profound level, we are not a unit, but more of the nature of a project.
What do we know about the spiritual dimension of our being? When we think in terms of our constitution: spirit, soul, and mind (atma, buddhi, manas), and so on. But what do we know about that spiritual component? HPB describes the atma as no principle at all in the human constitution. It is a universal presence which irradiates the human being, but it is not a participant.
Often when we talk about spiritual things, we use the analogy of Light. Although it probably does not coincide with what we normally think, light, by its very nature, is invisible. For example, if someone is in space, even though it seems dark, light is continually shining everywhere. Interplanetary space is filled with light, but we do not become aware of the light until there is some object upon which it can strike, something that can reflect it. Until this happens, we cannot perceive it even though it is all around us.
Theosophical teachings speak about the vehicle (upadhi) for atma. The vehicle for spirit is of a nature that permits the capacity to perceive the light of spirit shining upon it. In our parlance we talk about buddhi. We can only become aware of the ever-invisible and ever-present spirit as it interacts with those principles that are capable of reflecting its presence. In reality we know nothing of spirit. What we do know are its reflections.
The physical realm is where we feel we have our strongest foothold because, for the past 400 or so years, we have had a very developed science that has focused exclusively on the realm of physical reality. Because of this we would expect that we would have our strongest understanding of the nature of the physical evolutionary stream. It should not surprise us that our understanding of even this most intensely studied aspect of reality is exceedingly limited.
I ask you to explore for yourselves what contemporary science today tells us about a concept that has become fundamental to scientific understanding. It is arrived at because, in observing the way the universe behaves, from a scientific perspective it seems that the universe is in a state of continuous expansion. This cannot be explained by the energy and matter of which we are aware. So scientists have posited something they are now calling “dark energy/dark matter” – dark because they cannot fully find it but, according to their calculations, it has to be there, otherwise the universe would not behave in the way that it does. They have yet to find its nature or to identify its qualities, but it behaves as matter, also as energy, and it is somehow invisible.
In the scientists’ calculations, in order for our universe to behave as it does, this “dark energy/dark matter” would constitute ninety-five percent of the makeup of the universe. So what we think of as the physical realm, what we explore so deeply and believe that we understand so thoroughly, is at most five percent of the physical realm! These are not the musings of a theosophist, these are the statements of the most advanced people in contemporary science. So in terms of our physical and spiritual dimensions there is little that we know. We find ourselves chiefly centered in this linking ground between matter and spirit, the intellectual, or manasic, evolutionary stream.
What do we do with all this? One of the things that this condition of multiple streams engenders is that the coming together and constant intermingling of these various evolutions and their intelligences is what makes the human being the complex being that he/she is. We find this expressed in various ways. St. Paul expressed it very well. His simple statement reflecting the complexity of the human constitution was: “The things I would do, I do not do; the things I would not do, that I do.” This complexity of voices, of intelligences, and the shifting ground where we find our consciousness centered, is constantly affecting our behaviors.
There are things that we know quite well would advance the unfoldment of a deeper dimension of our being, but in our day-to-day life we behave in the opposite manner. The things that we know we should not do, foods we should not eat, the habits of mind we should not cultivate, the behaviors of unkindness that somehow sweep across us, those are the things we do. This is not only the experience of St Paul. This complexity is what we have to constantly address. The way we are advised to address it is to "know thyself', to move ever-more-deeply into a knowledge of what these components are, so that we can intelligently participate in their expression or non-expression.
There are many different ways to describe the mind according to different traditions. The “pristine mind” is a wonderful term that comes out of Dzogchen (Tibetan) Buddhism. In the Stanzas of Dzyan there is this statement that as the human project was being assembled, various components spoke and said: “I will give him feelings”, and “I will give him the soul.” And when it came to the aspect of the mind, it was ”a mind described as a mind to embrace the Universe.” That component is the seed that is planted in the consciousness of every human being. By virtue of it being planted in the greater whole within which we participate, which is called humanity, all of its units partake of it.
“The mind to embrace the Universe” is a Divine Seed that is for us to unfold. As with any seed, it is a very specific thing. In the case of vegetation a seed is an embryonic form of a plant, covered by a shell as a protective sheath. When the conditions are proper that seed will grow. All of the complete pattern for the end state that it will eventually reach, the phases through which it will pass, are fully present in the seed itself. What determines whether those stages occur is completely a matter of whether the conditions are provided for them. A human being begins as two reproductive cells joining to become a new cell which divides, comes out into the world as a functioning unit, an infant of a certain weight, goes through life, grows, passes through phases, matures, stands upright, and it all begins with the seed. As with any seed, it is affected by the conditions that are provided.
In the deserts of the world there are areas where it may not rain for a number of years; it is just that dry. The desert seems lifeless, barren, without hope of ever expressing the life force. When after several years the rain comes and soaks the ground, we find that within days the seemingly lifeless desert is in full bloom with flowers. The seeds that were lying dormant, spring to life when the conditions for that life to appear are provided. In our life as spiritual practitioners sometimes we would like to feel that in our study and meditation it is somehow possible to know the Life itself, to know Spirit directly, but perhaps that is not yet within the capacity of our to current unfoldment. So what is our role in that case? It is very much like that of any gardener.
A wise gardener will not claim that she can explain the life force contained within a seed. What she can explain and has come to know deeply through extended practice and study. are the conditions of the soil required for the seed to express itself: the necessary amount of moisture, how to adjust the composition of the soil, and what is needed to protect the newly appearing seedling. All of this so that the seed can have the fullest possibility to express the hidden potentials that lie within it – that, the gardener, cannot explain.
Similarly, our role is to provide conditions which necessarily will produce a result. If the seed is present, and the conditions are provided, the life appears. Through a lesser knowledge, the appearance of a greater life is enabled. Perhaps part of the role for us is to remove some of our own arrogance – the idea that we must know, that we must control something which lies beyond our potential to understand, but not beyond our potential to participate in.
Genuine spiritual practice speaks about how we go about this participation. We talk about study, meditation, and the catalyst of service. These are ideas with which we are familiar. Our current consideration is intended to point our attention in the direction of this too often forgotten seed, and to allow ourselves to revisit how we approach it. There is a certain tenderness, gentleness, required in trying to usher in a new life. Our role is not to use the will, the expression of the spirit, to control or command, but to allow – to create the conditions for its own flowering. It is a process demanding both skill and wisdom, and an ever-deepening awareness of “Who am I.”
[This article was previously published in the March 2018 issue of The Theosophist, Vol. 139 N0. 6]