Jewel in The Lotus
Evening Course on Consciousness
Six Monday Evenings starting June 4,
(CPD Points will be awarded)
led by Ireland's leading Jungian Psychologist Jasbinder Garnermann
Book tickets now:
THE TWO BIRDS - EGO AND SELF
In one of the most famous verses of the Upanishads the Rishi Angiras explains the relation of the everyday self to the Atman or the Witness Self:
‘Like two golden birds perched on the selfsame tree,
Intimate friends, the ego and the Self
Dwell in the same body. The former eats
The sweet and sour fruits of the tree of life
While the latter looks on in detachment.’
The verse describes the relationship of the ego to the Self. It is not that the ego and the Self are enemies, they are intimate friends because in reality the ego is not separate from the Self. The lower bird hops about from branch to branch savouring the sweet fruits and spitting out the sour. This is how we live life at the lower, unconscious level. We have no perspective, we are caught in the pleasure-pain duo of opposites, we pursue the pleasant experiences and reject the painful ones. It is only when we get sated with the pleasant and broken by the painful experiences that we jump on to a higher branch, meaning that we are forced to gain more objectivity and perspective. Each time the lower bird harvests the fruits of a particular level, it expands its consciousness to include more Reality. Then its ready for the next hop up.
It is this step-by-step progress which is the hallmark of true spirituality. We cannot make huge leaps and bounds and conquer the heights. Rather the ascent can be painfully slow - not an Icarus-like flight but a slow, foothold by foothold ascent, dealing with our complexes, limitations and areas of unconsciousness earning our wings for the next level.
When we get to the top where the higher bird dwells, we realize something miraculous, which is that all along we were after all the higher bird, the ego only imagined itself to be distinct from the Self, in reality there is only the Self.Then the ego effortlessly dissolves into the Self.
We tend to experience our ego passively, putting up with its fear, dramas and tantrums, not realizing that the ego ‘is a dangerous master, but a useful slave’. Yoga psychology distinguishes three types of ego: Tamasic or immature, Rajasic or over-inflated and Sattvic or mature. Having a weak ego is detrimental to self-realization as it is unable to bring any efforts to fruition. A narcissistic or inflated ego on the other hand, tries to control the world by fair means or foul. Agitated, restless and status hungry, its a perfect prey for predatory consumerism. The goal is to make our ego mature and fit to serve its function as the executive arm of the Self. Good management of our lives, balance of our inner and outer needs, and a healthy faith in ourselves are the rewards of the mature ego.
WALKING THE RAZOR’S EDGE
‘Life is a gymnasium, we have come to do our exercises’
- Swami Vivekananda
We have incarnated into our particular life-circumstances for a reason because only these circumstances can teach us the lessons we need to learn for our soul’s evolution. We have to accept this as our base and starting-point for the ultimate journey of self-realization. In this way, even events that appear negative in our lives can be valued for what they teach us. Our genetic limitations and the limitations of our upbringing are part and parcel of the alchemy of our lives. We can ask questions such as why were we born to our particular parents, in our country, in this body and gender? What are the patterns we see in our personal histories? We might regard these patterns as destiny, but in fact these circumstances will only continue to manifest as long as we need them to. The inner and outer dance in exquisite unison.
These patterns might have persisted over life-times, and will continue to do so unless we engage fully with the transformation that is being demanded of us. We might need to learn to be more courageous, independent, loving, less greedy and selfish. Whatever it might be, the problems we encounter in our lives can be used to gain greater self-awareness and to modify our behaviour. This approach includes but expands the boundaries of self-examination beyond the psychoanalytic exploration of childhood. Yes, we might be replaying old dramas from our mother and father complexes. The psychoanalytic buck stops here but the Vedantic pushes us to go further. Why this particular mother and father? No, not an accident of birth, but the very opposite of an accident: A choice, a perfect fit which alone will do for the lessons this time around, and which consciously lived, will transform fate into destiny.
'Humankind cannot bear very much reality'
- T.S. Eliot
We each see the world through a prism. Our prisms are made up of our emotional and mental constructs which are conditioned by our genetic heritage and upbringing, our childhood experiences, nationality, culture, zeitgeist and ultimately our species. These constructs imprison our consciousness to a very narrow field of existence. Some of these factors are easy to identify but others are unconscious, the secret driving forces behind our personalities. There are also collective prisms, the group illusions where consensus ‘reality’ rules. These are particularly seductive because being part of the herd makes us feel safe and protected.
When we start thinking outside our particular box, we will be astonished at just how narrow our parameters are, and how materialistic our concerns. We discover that our world and others are completely defined by self-interest. These are the false attachments that have to be given up. The Vedic emphasis on non-attachment is often misinterpreted as implying a cold, indifferent attitude to life. But very often, our emotional attachments are based on our own needs, past associations, and a desire for status and approval. These distorted attachments place a heavy burden on the objects of our desires. A good example is our body, on which we place the burden of fulfilling our narcissistic needs with the ‘ideal’ image, contour and weight. We end up hating this poor beast of burden instead of being grateful for its ceaseless labour. If we relinquish these expectations and value the body for itself, we will treat it with more kindness and sensitivity and enjoy the blessing of having a life.
By relinquishing the attachments which are motivated by the agenda of personal gain, we open our hearts to love proper in which we value the other for its intrinsic sake and the sheer marvel of its existence. Naturally our world becomes enriched to such an extent that even ‘ordinary’ events and objects are bathed in the radiance and splendour of the Absolute.
This is what is meant by Moksha or liberation, a positive freedom to enjoy and engage in the fullness of life. The neti, neti is only an intermediate stage to pull us away from the narrowness of ego-attachments, and not the final goal of Self-realization, which is a triumphant celebration of every aspect of the cosmic play in its heady proliferation as well as Oneness of Being.
Accredited by the Sangyan Vedic Studies & Research Centre, Chaturveda Niketan, Hoshiarpur, India
THE SPIRITED HORSE
‘Yoga is the stilling of the thought-waves in the mind’
(Patanjali Yoga Sutras, aphorism 2)
Swami Abhedananda once remarked that asceticism should be as thrilling as riding a spirited horse. What did he mean by this? First of all, he acknowledged that the horse should be spirited. In other words, the tremendous vitality of our instincts is not to be crushed because that would also crush our drives and motivations. The key is not to control but to master, and this is the appropriate relationship between the instincts and the Self. The energy of the instincts is the vehicle which carries our consciousness and they need to be treated with dignity and consideration. That is why in the Indian pantheon it is the animals (the symbols of instincts) which are the steeds of the Gods and Goddesses. Its only when we learn to rein in the impulsive and powerful energy of our instincts or drives that the ride becomes thrilling rather than catastrophic.
The asceticism which is the practice of self-restraint is based on moderation and discernment. This applies to every aspect of our nature - the senses, mind, intellect and ego. Vedic psychology has perfected techniques for integrating consciousness at all the levels of our being. Yama-niyama (ethical restraints and moral observances) is the analysis of the heart and feellings. This gives one the ethical foundation for development, refining our senses, emotions, and thinking. Patanjali’s yoga sutras are a scientific analysis of ego-attachments, the mental and emotional fields and the distortions which muddy the waters of our perceptions.
Pratyahara is the practice of withdrawal of projections from the external world so that our consciousness becomes one-pointed rather than scattered and diffuse. Again, the word detachment has developed a negative connotation, implying a colourless and cold-blooded existence. But if we follow the practice we’ll begin to understand that projections are simply a cruder way to relate to the world because they are coloured by our ego and sense-desires, obsessed with distorting reality to make it a mirror of our conscious and unconscious needs, expectations and terrors.
The practice of Vivek or discernment trains us to discriminate between what is pleasant and what is good, or, as the Gita tells us, between those experiences which start off as nectar but end up as poison, and the ones that start by tasting like poison but turn into nectar.
Vichara is the exercise of observing our thoughts with equanimity, without entanglement, letting the mind wander but observing its restlessness and agitation, with neutrality till we begin to realize that both pleasant and unpleasant thoughts are equally disturbing and we begin to let them both go. In this way we can achieve a quiet and settled mind without battling with it.
In the same way, our emotions too need sensitive handling in order to calm them but without suppression or denial. As Satprem says, we are not trying to perform moral surgery, but to widen and expand our feeling and thinking. We learn to de-condition ourselves from the habit of response, so that we are no longer trapped in knee-jerk reactions from past conditioning and fears, but we clear the heart and mind (untie the knots ) in order to feel and think from the depths of our being. Quite a ride, really!
TURIYA OR THE FOURTH STATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS
‘It fills the whole being with joy, concrete joy like a well-shaped pillar’
It is precisely this hard graft or Tapasya that lifts the veil of maya to give us the experience of the superconscious state or turiya. The superconscious is pure consciousness - Absolute Bliss, Absolute Existence and Absolute Knowledge - Satchitananda. it is a different order of Reality, containing the knowledge of aeons of cosmic existence. Rishis, saints, and mystics have been able to understand the laws of life, the physics, biology and chemistry of the great cycles of creation and dissolution because they had direct access to this knowledge. This is regarded as the highest type of knowledge in the Bhagavad Gita - where one is seen in the many. We do not see particulars or isolated individualities, only the one everywhere.
How do we access this level of consciousness? We access the superconscious by not treating anything ‘outside’ ourselves as an object because in reality everything is a subject just as we are. When we treat anything as an object we deny the selfhood which is its real nature, the sheer marvel of its existence. And therefore we cannot love it, because we think with a commercial attitude of give-and-take. As Swami Krishnananda says, ‘there is no such calculation involved in spiritual life. It is an affirmation of consciousness for its own sake, and that is not for the sake of something else that it may bring’.
A starting point for this expansion of consciousness which will ultimately lead to the experience of the unity of being is to stretch ourselves back to our evolutionary origins and to see how we’ve been shaped by our world. Then we realize that we are not the only inhabitants of the planet, that we haven’t dropped out of the sky but have arrived on the backs of millions of other creatures whose part in our life-experiment we should humbly acknowledge. The human mind-set is not the only one, but is embedded in the substrate of creation.
How does this feel? Our identity is immediately expanded. No longer are we confined and defined by our social and familial ties, but we are now properly a part of Life. Lets try and imagine what life must have been like for those early life forms. What kind of consciousness did we enjoy as mollusks? Would it have been purely a sense-consciousness based on factors like temperature, exchanges of chemical signals with our environment, what sort of sensitivities would we have needed to keep us alive?
If Jurassic Park grabbed your imagination, you could transport yourself back to the Mesozoic Era, 250 million years ago, and realize that ours is not the only time as we fondly imagine. Nor does history stop with the middle ages, or the discovery of agriculture, or of fire, or even the origin of our species. The world does not depend on our perception of it. There are other perceivers too - mammals and birds and fishes - who are as much a centre of their world as we are of ours.
THE INVISIBLE HARVEST
‘It shines in the greatest, shines in the smallest, shines in the secret chamber of the heart’
Every single experience that we have in the phenomenal world goes towards forging our soul, towards making the Self real. No experiences, however mundane they might appear to our glamour-addicted eyes, are a waste if we add consciousness to the mix and treat them as extraordinary opportunities -the baby steps which prepare us for the ultimate goal of becoming participants n Cosmic Reality.
Performing small acts of kindness expands our boundaries of Compassion, being honest in everyday matters aligns us with Truth, little acts of courage make us vibrate with Strength, reining in our greeds and desires and the practice of moderation in our daily routines leads to Self-Mastery. The tenderness we feel towards our children, the deep love we feel for our animals, the romantic yearning of the soul for its other half, all these open our hearts to the experience of the boundless, unconditional love which is the vibration of universal consciousness.
And so all the little loves become the Big Love.