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

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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