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Fire of Selfhood


 Manu...comes from the root "man", to think, hence a thinker". It is from this Sanskrit word very likely that sprang the Latin "mens", mind, the Egyptian "Menes", the "Master-Mind; the Pythagorean Monas, or conscious "thinking unit", mind also, and even our "Manas" or mind, the fifth principle in man. Hence these shadows are called amanasa, "mindless".
 With the Brahmins the Pitris are very sacred, because they are the Progenitors, or ancestors of men – the first
Manushya on this Earth – and offerings are made to them by the Brahmin when a son is born unto him. They are more honoured and their ritual is more important than the worship of the gods.
 May we not now search for a philosophical meaning in this dual group of progenitors?
 The Pitris being divided into
seven classes, we have here the mystic number again. Nearly all the Puranas agree that three of these are arupa, formless, while four are corporeal; the former being intellectual and spiritual, the latter material and devoid of intellect. Esoterically, it is the Asuras who form the first three classes of Pitris – "born in the body of night" – whereas the other four were produced from the body of twilight.

The Secret Doctrine, ii 91

 The mythical and metaphorical language of the Stanzas of Dzyan portrays the complex evolution of Nature and Man within the sevenfold framework of space, duration and motion. The Secret Doctrine traces a triple scheme of development – spiritual, intellectual and material – spanning seven planes of existence, from the highest, ever overbrooding and uninvolved, to the lowest, grossest and most ephemeral plane. Divine and mundane human nature are alike derived from the essences of each of these seven planes. The vast cycling theatre of human evolution, termed in Gupta Vidya "the earth chain of globes", exists on the four lowest planes of cosmic existence. Of this chain the fourth or grossest globe is the familiar physical earth. Generally, human beings have little or no awareness either of those worlds or of those aspects of themselves which exist on higher and subtler planes of the earth chain. Even less do they know the three formless planes of the septenary cosmos, arupa worlds that lie beyond the entire earth chain and beyond the ken of all beings except the greatest Adepts. Yet there is in every human being a set of latent centres that can be awakened and then attuned to these highest spheres of cosmic existence. These seats or centres, hidden in the subtlest vesture that belongs to the highest states of consciousness, must first be aroused through appropriate modes of concentration and activity. Even though this awakening must take place on a subtle plane – from the standpoint of the physical senses – it nonetheless must take place within a field of substance, because everything in consciousness corresponds to substance. The seven planes of consciousness in the cosmos correspond to seven meta-senses and seven planes of matter. The great mystery of human self-existence is that each human being is directly endowed with this sacred potential by the Agnishwatha Pitris, the solar ancestors who infused the current of Manas in the Third Root Race.

 The master-key to the awakening of the higher centres of consciousness is the conception of selfhood actively entertained by a human being. One's conception of selfhood determines one's concepts of time, causality and energy and thereby the limits of one's potential sphere of action in any given lifetime. It also establishes the relative boundaries of aspiration connected with the ideas of perfection and imperfection. There is between a soul's quality of perfection and the ideational fuel used to light the flame of awareness an intimate and organic indivisible connection in the cosmogony and meta-psychology of Gupta Vidya. Perfection in awareness at any level derives from the burning away of imperfect materials belonging to lower realms. This process of self-purification through the use of mental fire is the central mode of human evolution both over the past eighteen million years and on into the millions upon millions of years that will make up the future of humanity. It is the archetypal process by which extraordinary beings gain the highest levels of perfection possible in the human form. Masters in the application of this Teaching, they become masters of the spheres of existence.

 To understand how this works, one must first see that all perceptions at all times are affected by conceptions, which are in turn determined by past sense-impressions and sensations or by chaotic memories of past sensations and impressions. In a sense, present perceptions are partly an extrapolation from habit and memory, focussed in the form of expectations, wishes and hopes towards an as yet unrealized future. Even if these seem to be satisfied, this is usually through the present activity of fantasy and fancy. These masses of perceptions generate certain broader thought forms which have specific affinities with elements and aspects of the astral body. Once they become lodged there, they may lie latent, available for further karmic expression in future time. They become the elements, hidden or manifest, that are crucial in times of precipitation of karma and also in the transfer of consciousness from one set of karmic variables to another. Thus the possibility of transcending one set of states of awareness and entering into a higher set depends upon changes in the interior mental and psychic environment as well as in external karmic circumstances. These interior circumstances have an objective and substantial existence in the inner constitution of each human being, and have a great deal to do with an individual's ability or inability to govern thought and feeling.

 Owing to the chaotic nature of experience, the conceptions formed within most minds are loose and nebulous. These indefinite reflections of past activity and habit, of memory and sensation, are projected upon the present, dulling perceptions and impressions. One effect of this is a general imprecision in human speech and communication, a persistent inability to convey or grasp ideas. Awkward and painful as the resulting mess of miscommunication may be, it is merely the effect of a more fundamental fragmentation that takes place in the notion of selfhood. Through making the desire principle the primary criterion of all experience, through judging everything in terms of whether it feels pleasant or unpleasant, is good or bad in terms of the personal emotional nature, one shatters the concept of selfhood into a myriad of pieces. One destroys any clear, coherent and stable conception of the self. When this happens – and it is the common condition of many in the world today – people become creatures rather than creators. They become enslaved by the temporal process.

 Sometimes human beings can gain an ephemeral sense of freedom through a desperate kind of ego assertion, a self-destructive forgetting of obligations and an abject immersion in the temporal present. This is not authentic freedom, however, and has nothing to do with the eternal present. It is a state of illusion, a compounding of confusions, and a further fragmentation of the conception of selfhood. Nothing in this sort of nihilistic escapism alters the fact that there is a ceaseless and essential beating of the temporal process upon everything in the astral form. This not only quickens the ageing process but also in time destroys brain cells, making it harder and harder to effect a radical shift in one's life. Hence many souls, throughout an entire lifetime, can hardly make effective and enduring changes in their natures.

 This is true for vast numbers of human beings all over the world. Although living in the Fifth Root Race, they are part of it only in one sense – they are passively coexisting with the opportunities for growth that are available in the Fifth Root Race. But essentially, they are dominated by the fourth principle of the Fourth Round, the principle of kama or desire. This legacy of the Atlantean Fourth Root Race may take a variety of forms, ranging from instinct and relatively harmless indulgence to stronger manifestations of desire and emotion working through and corrupting the feeling nature. There is no specifically human and proper basis of selfhood to be found in the principle of desire. Through desire it is impossible to generate the principles of continuity of consciousness, autonomy of awareness and creativity of choice. Insofar as human beings remain immersed in the diffuse effluvia of the desire principle, they have not really begun to individuate. Were they to interrogate themselves honestly in the court of their own conscience about what exactly they have chosen, they would be at a loss to know how to answer.

 By and large, they have drifted into circumstances or else have exploited choices that are inherent in institutions and arise out of collective karma. Seldom understanding these institutions, much less being able to create or regenerate them, they cannot take credit for any authenticity or originality of choice: they have simply come to play out certain roles in institutional contexts. Even in what is called "personal life", most people's choices are in fact made by their parents or their friends, and do not even reflect any unique or original line of personal preference. In all of this it is difficult to recognize even the simulacrum of an autonomous human being who is a self-determining agent, capable of deep deliberation and of making conscious changes in himself or his environment. Yet, at this point in evolution, it should be the prerogative of every human being to exercise the capacity to abstract from the emotions of the feeling nature, to abstract from the physical and astral forms, to abstract from the runaway and indulgent mind, and thereby to make definitive changes in the inner vestures.

 This broad retardation of the development of the human race, which led one of the Mahatmas to remark that humanity had not changed much in a million years, is truly the result of a misalliance between human beings and the lower Pitris during the Fourth Root Race. As The Secret Doctrine explains, the lunar (or Barhishad) Pitris, which gave to humanity its astro-ethereal and physical vestures, did not endow humanity with the active power of Manasic self-consciousness.

 They would not, simply because they could not, give to man that sacred spark which burns and expands into the flower of human reason and self-consciousness, for they had it not to give. This was left to that class of Devas who became symbolised in Greece under the name of Prometheus, to those who had nought to do with the physical body, yet everything with the purely spiritual man.

Ibid., 95

 By misdirecting the power of self-consciousness to intensify and exaggerate the experience of the kamic principle in relation to form, both physical and astral, the Fourth Root Race damaged and deformed the conception of human self hood that it transmitted to posterity. This is reflected in the general confusion of desire and will, passion and feeling, cerebration and thought, sensation and knowledge. The integrity of the lower kingdoms of Nature, acting through instinct, has been inverted into the automaton-like compulsion of passive human beings self-enslaved by kama manas. This submission of human consciousness to the hosts of sub-human creative agencies in Nature has cut humanity off from the hosts of its higher creators and so from its own higher powers of creativity.

 Each class of Creators endows man with what it has to give: the one builds his external form; the other gives him its essence, which later on becomes the Human Higher Self owing to the personal exertion of the individual; but they could not make men as they were themselves – perfect, because sinless; sinless, because having only the first, pale shadowy outlines of attributes, and these all perfect – from the human standpoint – white, pure and cold as the virgin snow. Where there is no struggle, there is no merit. Humanity, "of the Earth earthy", was not destined to be created by the angels of the first divine Breath: therefore they are said to have refused to do so, and man had to be formed by more material creators, who, in their turn, could give only what they had in their own natures, and no more. Subservient to eternal law, the pure gods could only project out of themselves shadowy men, a little less ethereal and spiritual, less divine and perfect than themselves – shadows still. The first humanity, therefore, was a pale copy of its progenitors; too material, even in its ethereality, to be a hierarchy of gods; too spiritual and pure to be MEN, endowed as it is with every negative (Nirguna) perfection. Perfection, to be fully such, must be born out of imperfection, the incorruptible must grow out of the corruptible, having the latter as its vehicle and basis and contrast.


 Active autonomy and deliberate self-perfection are the hallmarks of authentic human growth. Instead of exemplifying these Manasic characteristics, most human beings are in the condition of those caught in the lowest realm portrayed in Plato's Divided Line. Their consciousness is ensnared by images, punctuated now and again by borrowed opinions taken from the twilight realm of the astral light. To rise above this level, one must first emulate the most individuated human beings below the level of spiritual initiation. One must begin to be a human being in the true sense of the term – a man like Socrates or Gandhi or Thoreau, or like many others – who has, through the quality of his life, added lustre to the definition of being human. Such heroic lives show an intensity irradiated with a deep sense of humour. Next to such exemplars, most people cannot really be said to be truly alive. To recognize this enormous gap, however, does not necessitate falling into despair or guilt, reactions which are themselves only a further extension of the passivity of kama manas. Authentic Manasic human life consists of a considerable amount of sifting, an active cooperation with the life-process.

 The more one sifts experience and oneself, gleaning what is meaningful and real, what is right and good, out of a chaotic mixture of thoughts, emotions, sensations and experiences, the more one is capable of recognizing how this sifting process itself works throughout all life. In effect, one begins to recognize the logic of karma. An individual who begins to do this, instead of merely taking his cues from other human beings, becomes much more solitary than human beings in general. At the same time, however, he grows much more conscious of the cosmic framework within which that solitude is strongly supported. By trying to understand something about universal laws and trends that apply to all humanity, to the course of history, to the karma of the earth or an age, a nation or a race, one can become aware of the sifting process that takes place in Nature on different planes. Through this subtle awareness, one can become involved in checking one's own sifting of oneself periodically against the constant sifting of karma. Thus an individual's life can become a boundless expanse of continuous learning, affording repeated discoveries, all of which occur around the fluctuating and expanding boundaries of the concept of selfhood.

 This steady tropism towards growth in self-consciousness and an expanding sense of selfhood is characteristic of individuals who represent a kind of steadfastness in relation to a centre. They are capable of continual exertion towards perfection because they are deeply centered. Having passed through the fires of suffering and trial, temptation and error, they have emerged from the ashes of their own errors, much stronger and with a much greater sharpening of the centre of their own consciousness. This toughness makes them better able to experience a series of ever-expanding boundaries to selfhood, while at the same time becoming intuitively aware of the vast circle that indefinitely encompasses the upward strivings of all beings. Whether that vast circle is taken to refer to all of humanity or to the earth, or to human beings at any given time, or even ultimately to the cosmos as a whole, it is the sense of that greater circle that gives to each individuating human being a universal basis for individual consciousness. The ability to connect one's individual striving towards perfection with the calm depths of universal selfhood strengthens continuity of consciousness, the power of individual choice and the capacity to stay steadfast within that line of commitment. At the same time, the essential principle of transcendence inherent in the concept of universal selfhood gives flexibility and resilience to the individual, assuring him of a continuous willingness to learn from the process of sifting that continues forever in the world and the self.

 One could find no finer exemplar, in the present century, of this continuous process of sifting than Mahatma Gandhi. From the dawn to the dusk of his incarnation, over a period of sixty years, his letters and speeches, his essays and articles, reveal a continuous stream of reflections that embody a consistency and constancy around a central commitment. Throughout his life, he sharpened his fundamental sense of selfhood through vigilant attention to opportunity, to responsibility and to the initiative that belongs to an individual human being. He also constantly made the subtlest possible rearrangements in the application and expression, the articulation and communication, of seminal conceptions like truth and non-violence. He was testing continually his inward sense of what it is that karma indicates, how it operates, and whether dharma is fulfilled. This painstaking sifting of experience and heroic determination to move forward is characteristic of human beings who have found their centre.

 That inward centre is in Manas, because Manas alone is capable of a universal and impersonal standpoint. Once one's consciousness is anchored in that centre, it is possible to reflect that focus within lower manas through discipline, and so create a reliable conception of one's relationship to the world and a coordinate ability to act with increasing correctness and constant self-correction in the process of activity itself. This can only come about when one is able to draw a firm line between the essential centre within Manas – rarely expressed except in the intimations of the mystical language of sacred texts – and the shifting centre of activity in the personality, which is constantly involved in interaction and manifestation.

 The ability to make the fire of Manas the firm centre of one's engagement in the world of form is the basis of Karma Yoga. Through it one can exemplify individual strength, remaining all the while invulnerable to the buffetings of fate and ordinary circumstance, which arise under karma and stem, it seems, from the outside world. Such a yogin preserves intact a fundamental concept of selfhood. He remains indifferent to pressures from the temporal stream, so inwardly detached that he can use every opportunity available under karma to the fullest. He fills up time as creatively as possible, and so generates a greater continuity of attention on the highest ideals, as well as a greater reliance on higher causality. In his interactions he is shifted away from ephemeral rearrangements of external human circumstances and towards fundamental changes in human consciousness. He is ever aware of the depth and level of awareness of the beings around him. He draws upon the bountiful energy of the Atman, focussed through Buddhi Manas, and is ready for any task of self-conscious cooperation with essential human nature. Individuating human beings centered in Manas will derive far more from life than their kamically obscured peers, be at once much busier and much more relaxed. Through concentration upon essentials, they will be filled with far more energy, yet make the fewest possible demands on their body and physical senses.

 If such an individual were privileged to enter the Path that leads towards enlightenment, then he or she would be able to enjoy access to the exalted ideal of the Dhyani, the Jivanmukta, the Bodhisattva and the Mahatma. Such perfected beings represent in principle a total mastery of fundamental tenets and truths in relation to the logic of manifestation and in reference to spirit, matter and energy. Such beings are ultimately karmaless. They are totally uninvolved in the process of change and becoming. Though in one sense they have bodies – even material bodies at times – and so resemble human beings, it would be more appropriate to regard them as divine. The difference between them and the very finest examples of humanity in history is such an immeasurable difference of degree that it is tantamount to a difference of kind. Such perfected beings are the alpha and omega of human selfhood; they lie beyond all the categories of discursive thought. To approach them in the mind through meditation, however, is to approach them in reality, and every aspirant along the Path is encouraged to meditate upon the galaxy of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, kindling awareness of them into a living power in life.

 To meditate upon the Mahatmas is to bring about a fundamental transformation in one's conception of selfhood. But to do this through meditation involves not merely a withdrawal and abstraction from the world, but also a certain proficiency, if not reasonable mastery, over all one's obligations. One cannot wholeheartedly withdraw from the narrow self if one is thus attempting to run away from one's commitments. Any attempt to default morally only perpetuates the problem of a shrunken conception of selfhood. One needs more than a mere rearrangement of thought forms. One must cross fundamental barriers, philosophic and metaphysical, which lie between the unconditioned and the conditioned. This is because the higher vestures, though they are like formless breaths, are yet composed of intellectual substance. Hence, what is ordinarily understood as moral responsibility must first be perfected in the individual and then transmuted into a meta-ethical stance. The Taoist Sage, the Jivanmukta or the Buddha have no responsibilities in the ordinary sense. They have become so totally united to the One that is beyond all manifestation that they have also mastered a stern sense of universal necessity in relation to every thought, feeling and act. In one sense, they are continuously responsive, yet in another they have no specific responsibility. Even the devoted disciple can hardly begin to imagine the state of consciousness of such a being who has transcended all confining conceptions of self hood and realized the self-existent ground of the highest individuation.

 This difficulty in conceiving of the highest possible selfhood and individuation has direct consequences for one's capacity to act for the sake of one's ideals. When people think of time, they ordinarily think in terms of periodicity and succession. Thus, when they think of causality, they think in terms of conceptual differences between cause and effect, even if they are able to discern chains of causation. The seeming necessity of these conceptual divisions also forces the mind to think of energy in terms of units and rates of flow. Even if one attempts to think of energy in its most metaphysical sense, one assumes that energy must itself have its own approaches and its own discreet momentum. Captive to the illusion of successive time, one imposes units of division upon causality and energy. On the other hand, when one thinks in terms of selfhood at any level, however illusory or fragile, there is some degree of integration involved. That is partly because of the systematic elusiveness of the term "I". The moment, however, one speaks of "I" in terms of one's experience of likes and dislikes, satisfactions and dissatisfactions, connected with the experience of kama in time, one imagines an entity which is fragmented and conceptually subordinate to time. Typically, one conceives of selfhood as a sentient being, who has feelings and emotions, who savours pleasures and dreads pain. Whilst something unitary is implicit in the notion of selfhood, and is existentially carried forth by the ubiquitous nature of the sense of "I", this intuition of unity is blocked at every turn through attachment to temporality and form. This predicament is characteristic not only of all ordinary human thought and language, but also of all human experience, both social and individual. Thus the attempts of individuals to embody the principles of human unity and brotherhood are continually subject to truncation and disappointment.

 Rather than see this as the result of some external fate or cruelty of Nature, much less the result of some original sinfulness in human nature, one must come to recognize that this frustration of human ideals arises from a foreshortened vision of selfhood. Whether put in terms of a restoration of the Golden Age, or of the realization of universal brotherhood or of the establishment of peace and goodwill among men, the ideal of human unity must be reached through diversity. The resolution of the human riddle of the many and the One depends upon the ability to take hold of categories that involve minute and sometimes extremely refined series of complex divisions. These must be given full value in consciousness and mastered, seen in relation to the One. One's concepts of time, causality and energy must be determined from within without by that which is essentially unitary. To attempt the reverse, to seek unity out of differentiated time, causes and effects and quanta of energy on the plane of form, is impossible.

 Under karma each human being is capable of a certain degree of self-determination, from within without, of the concepts of time, causality and energy. This level may be connected with an X-factor, through which a set of ratios is established and a certain field of dynamic equilibrium is maintained. At whatever level, this equilibrium could be thought of as the individual's capacity to assimilate diverse experience through a steady commitment to an ideal. The crucial X-factor determining the individual's capacity to assimilate meaning from experience could be thought of as something like a reality coefficient within the conception of selfhood. Any individual's conception of selfhood is not, therefore, merely unitary to a greater or lesser degree in a logical or conceptual sense. Ontological unity itself works as a kind of meta-cause through one's conception of selfhood, affecting one's experience of time, of causation and of energy.

 The potential presence of the Self or Atman in one's conception of selfhood is the basis for all meditation (dhyana) upon the identity of Brahman and Atman. In Gupta Vidya cosmogony and psychology are coextensive. The seven states of consciousness and planes of matter in the cosmos are inseparable from the seven principles in man. It is through these principles that the self-conscious task of connecting together all the aspects of manifestation must be carried out, not on behalf of any narrow sense of self, but out of a sense of being the Self of all. The process of realizing the One is the same as that of understanding and mastering the operation of the reality principle in the constitution of Man. Through the Manasic fire of self-consciousness, human beings may realize the perfect unity and correspondence of the Self and the All, fusing together Atma Vidya and Brahma Vidya. The very capacity to preserve, purify and perfect the sense of selfhood is the gift of the highest arupa Pitris who endowed humanity with Manas over eighteen million years ago.

 That class of the "Fire Dhyanis", which we identify on undeniable grounds with the Agnishwattas, is called in our school the "Heart" of the Dhyan-Chohanic Body; and it is said to have incarnated in the third race of men and made them perfect. The esoteric Mystagogy speaks of the mysterious relation existing between the hebdomadic essence or substance of this angelic Heart and that of man, whose every physical organ, and psychic, and spiritual function, is a reflection, so to say, a copy on the terrestrial plane of the model or prototype above.

Ibid., 91-92

 To learn to live from above below, seeing all life from the standpoint of primordial and unbroken unity, is to awaken the power of noetic action. One must overcome the fragmentary sense of psychic selfhood through a ceaseless application of the Heart Doctrine, a continual sifting of experience through meditation and self-correction, continually cleaving to an intuition of the divine Presence within. Maintaining a sense of hope and possibility inspired by the paradigm of the Sage, individuals can learn to make a conscious and deliberate change, over a period of time, in their root conception of selfhood and so in their conceptions of time, causality and energy. As they do this, they will withdraw allegiance – and a sense of reality – from an entire class of perceptions and impressions. Then, after a period of transition, they will be able to endow a much higher class of perceptions with reality. This is both difficult and elusive. To change one's sphere of perception is not like changing one's clothes. That is why monasticism has failed over the last several thousand years and is no longer a viable option. Simply changing external circumstances helps in no way to bring about a fundamental breakthrough in thinking. At this point in human civilization, it is necessary to gain a good grasp of the metaphysics that is relevant to making true metanoia possible in human life and consciousness. Then, if one is so blest as to come into a sacred relationship as a disciple to a true Guru, one will be able to take full advantage of it so as to effect a radical and irreversible change in consciousness for the benefit of all beings.

Hermes, November 1984
by Raghavan Iyer

Normal View