Beyond the Ego-Awareness to True Individuality

The ego is only a surface formulation of conscious awareness. Sri Aurobindo points out that “Behind it there is a consciousness, a Purusha, who is not determined or limited by his individualisation or by this synthesis but on the contrary determines, supports and yet exceeds it. That which he selects from in order to construct this synthesis, is his total experience of world-being. Therefore our individualisation exists by virtue of the world-being, but also by virtue of a consciousness which uses the world-being for experience of its possibilities of individuality. These two powers, Person and his world-material, are both necessary for our present experience of individuality.” He continues “We have then to recognize these two terms of our existence, a world-being and an individualising consciousness which is the cause of all our self-experience and world-experience.”

The experience of the Purusha exceeds the limitations of the ego-self and embraces the entire world-being. This does not deny the truth of the individualising experience of the Purusha, but puts it into context. “He still individualises and it is still he who exists but the mind no longer thinks of a limited temporary individualisation as all ourselves but only as a wave of becoming thrown up from the sea of its being or else as a form or centre of universality.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 3, The Eternal and the Individual, pp. 368-369

The Individual Self, the Ego and the World-Being

If we continue to explore the issue of the ego in the framework of the larger biological or ecological unity, we perceive that in fact, not only can we not exist without other human beings, but we are actually part of a much large eco-sphere or bio-sphere that provides a “symbiotic” balance for life to exist. The more we look at the delicate and precise balance of ecological chemistry and biology, the more clear it becomes that the “being” is in fact the “world-being”, as Sri Aurobindo calls it, and that the ego is to some great degree an illusion, particularly if it upholdds for itself the fiction of being separate, isolated and self-existent without reference to the entire eco-sphere.

It is interesting to note that whenever humans try to assert their “independence” from a sense of “ego-self”, we wind up creating enormous imbalances and destroying species and potentially even the basis for existence of life as we know it on this planet! Global warming, toxic pollution, wanton habitat destruction are having enormous unforeseen consequences which eventually begin to challenge the very potential for life on the planet. This is a good example of the ego asserting to itself independence when in fact, such independence does not and has never existed.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “But in the end we have to see that our individualisation is only a superficial formation, a practical selection and limited conscious synthesis for the temporary utility of life in a particular body, or else it is a constantly changing and developing synthesis pursued through successive lives in successive bodies.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 3, The Eternal and the Individual, pp. 367-368

The Individual Self and the Ego: Discussion

There are some interesting phenomena of life and beings on the planet which shed light on this discussion of the ultimate truth and reality of the ego versus some kind of individual Self which is different and other than the separated and fragmented ego-self with which most of us are fully identified. Sri Aurobindo spends some considerable time reviewing these questions and we shall be taking them up here for the next few days while we try to sort out some conclusions at the end.

Scientists researching a grove of aspen trees were astonished to find out that they were all actually one being, connected in the root system, while throwing up individual forms of trees above the surface. What affected one tree, affected them all, since they were in fact “one” life form.

Similarly other researchers found a fungus (mushroom) colony that turned out to be all one gigantic mushroom being, of which the individual mushrooms were a part, and while we could identify individual mushrooms and would attribute individuality to them, they were in fact nevertheless still one being. What happened to one, happened to all.

Further research on coral reefs are revealing the intimate and integral unity of the entire reef as one entity as well.

Each of these examples lead us eventually to the consideration that potentially all the individual manifestations we call individual human beings, the ego-selves of humanity if you will, are all actually part of one much larger “being” of humanity that all are affected by whatever happens to any one. While our normal habit of thought will make it difficult to conceive of our existence in this sense, we certainly must all acknowledge that mankind could not continue as a viable species without a community of humans, and that we rely on each other in order to even exist or have any persistence through time; and further it can be seen that humans together in groups tend to respond as a group with waves of emotions overwhelming the awareness of the individuals making up the group, which explains things like mob reaction, or even the similar response and atmosphere created in a concert or theatre performance.

There is obviously much to consider in terms of determining the correct ultimate viewpoint as to the role of the individual and the reality or non-reality of the ego-sense. This discussion will continue.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 3, The Eternal and the Individual, pp. 368-370

The Individual Self and the Ego: The Issue

Another issue that arises during the spiritual quest is the determination of “who am I”. The great sage of Arunachala, Ramana Maharshi, used this as the basis of an entire spiritual discipline and realisation. The question of the “individualisation” that we experience eventually has to be taken up, examined and understood.

For most of us, when this question arises, we immediately reflect on the personality that we experience in the mind, life and body we call our own with what has been called the “ego-sense”. We are attached to and identify with this ego, and this leads us to the question of what happens to this ego after death? Is there something that is real and which transcends specific lifetimes? Does it carry awareness of a specific ego-personality with it, or is it something else that moves between lifetimes; and if there is such a mechanism, how does it work.

The ego has an inherent fear of death primarily because of this question of its dissolution. Human beings instinctively know that the ego is transitory and cannot possibly move from life to life having fixed relationships with the friends, family and associates that it has in this lifetime. Some respond by simply denying any reality for some “entity” that persists beyond death and they treat this lifetime as the one and only lifetime and conceive of death as a “big sleep”, or a “dissolution” or in some cases as a wait for some event when this ego-self will be raised up and reconstituted with its friends and family in an afterlife.

The ancient Greeks conceived of an underworld where the individual ego-self went while carrying with it the awareness of the life and relationships it had in the physical world.

The Katha Upanishad focuses on these issues when Nachiketas, the human being sacrificed to Death, has a dialogue with the Lord of Death to find out the secret…but that is a subject for a future discussion.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 3, The Eternal and the Individual, pp. 367-368

The Role of Logical Reasoning in the Search for Knowledge

While it is clear that the mind of reason is not the appropriate instrument to realize and grasp the Truth of the Infinite, it is also clear that as human beings we basically start with this instrument and have to find out how to appropriately employ it, and in what manner we need to move beyond it at the appropriate time.

Sri Aurobindo maps out this issue as follows: “Logical reasoning is useful and indispensable in its own field in order to give the mind a certain clearness, precision and subtlety in dealing with its own ideas and word-symbols, so that our perception of the truths which we arrive at by observation and experience or which physically, psychologically or spiritually we have seen, may be as little as possible obscured by the confusions of our average human intelligence, its proneness to take appearance for fact, its haste to be misled by partial truth, its exaggerated conclusions, its intellectual and emotional partialities, its incompetent bunglings in that linking of truth to truth by which alone we can arrive at a complete knowledge.”

In fact, a difficulty that dogs our steps along almost the entire path of human development and our search for knowledge is that we have the capability to mislead ourselves as Sri Aurobindo has so clearly pointed out, in so many different ways.

It is also clear that the logical reason has been employed not so much as a “seeker of light” as a weapon to defeat opposing ideas or philosophies, creeds or religions. It has come under the control of the vital being in man that wants to control, dominate and direct; and in such a circumstance, it has been subverted from its true purpose and capabilities to become a soldier in a ‘war of ideas.’

Sri Aurobindo points out further that the logical intellect is in fact not truly a power capable of achieving knowledge, and that it “is much more efficiently a guardian against error than a discoverer of truth…” As long as we focus on distinctions, differences, and separation, rather than the comprehending and comprehensive unity, this must be the case. At some point, as we travel along this path, we need to recognize the nature of the opposition and difficulty thrown up by our logical mind, and find the way to move beyond it to the experience of the unity between the individual and the universe.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 3, The Eternal and the Individual, pp. 366-367

The Foundation of a Divine Life in Material Nature

As we begin the next chapter, Sri Aurobindo takes a moment to provide a brief recap of the ground we have covered thus far, and show us the foundational understanding that the examination has provided, as the basis for the detailed process yet lying before us. His summary is just about as concise as anyone can make it:

“There is then a fundamental truth of existence, an Omnipresent Reality, omnipresent above the cosmic manifestation and in it and immanent in each individual. There is also a dynamic power of this Omnipresence, a creative or self-manifesting action of its infinite Consciousness-Force. There is as a phase or movement of the self-manifestation a descent into an apparent material inconscience, an awakening of the individual out of the Inconscience and an evolution of his being into the spiritual and supramental consciousness and power of the Reality, into his own universal and transcendent Self and source of existence. It is on this foundation that we have to base our conception of a truth in our terrestrial being and the possibility of a divine Life in material Nature.”

Further issues to be resolved are the question of the origin of the Ignorance and the nature and process of Knowledge that can and does occur as the evolution of Consciousness out of the material Inconscience occurs. But another difficulty continues to our logical intellect and that is a reconciliation of the role of the individual. Does the individual have any status of Eternity? Is there something or someone who survives death and can achieve liberation and exist on the other side of that liberation?

Inasmuch as we all start out with the experience of the individual personality or ego, and we have a natural attachment to this formulation, it becomes essential that we address the issue at some point, and Sri Aurobindo has chosen to do so in this next chapter titled “The Eternal and the Individual”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 3, The Eternal and the Individual, pg. 365

Three States of Time Consciousness

While humans are generally tied to an experience of Time that is involved in the flow of time from moment to moment and it sees the past receding, the future events coming towards it. The present is like the blink of an eye and cannot be nailed down specifically as it is always the future, becoming the past.

The Eternal Being, however, has 3 states of consciousness of Time, of which the above is the 3rd, or mobile status. The first is that of the timeless Eternal, outside, or above the flow of Time and not involved in the flow of time. The second is a state of consciousness which can both hold the awareness of the Timeless state while seeing the entire panorama of past, present and future in one complete view simultaneously. In fact, the vedic sages had a term for this awareness, trikaladrishti, or seeing of the 3 times.

Sri Aurobindo further describes the 3 standpoints that Consciousness can take, either separately or simultaneously: “For it can see the whole Time development from outside or from above the movement; it can take a stable position within the movement and see the before and the after in a fixed, determined or destined succession; or it can take instead a mobile position in the movement, itself move with it from moment to moment and see all that has happened receding back into the past and all that has to happen coming towards it from the future; or else it may concentrate on the moment it occupies and see nothing but what is in that moment and immediately around or behind it.”

Sri Aurobindo points out “This seeing of Time is not at all part of our normal awareness of events as they happen, though our view of the past, because it is already known and can be regarded in the whole, may put on something of this character; but we know that this consciousness exists because it is possible in an exceptional state to enter into it and see things from the viewpoint of this simultaneity of Time-vision.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 2, Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara–Maya, Prakriti, Shakti, pp. 362-363