This article can be read separately, but it is intended to be an appendix to the previous one, The Role of the Citizen in a Spiritual Society, and it would be helpful if all readers are familiar with the material there.
The ultimate purpose of meditation and yoga is perceived in the East to be a means of achieving freedom from rebirth, thus an end to cycles of reincarnation. The material world is perceived as maya, illusion, something to escape from. In Buddhism life is suffering, and in Hinduism the material world is called lila, translated approximately as divine play. The last word is for me unfortunate in that it suggests something not serious, a game. I sometimes wonder whether it would be better understood as something along the lines of a creative artist, or an inventive scientist. However, this is not the case, at least not according to one train of thought:
“Brahman is full of all perfections. And to say that Brahman has some purpose in creating the world will mean that it wants to attain through the process of creation something which it has not. And that is impossible. Hence, there can be no purpose of Brahman in creating the world. The world is a mere spontaneous creation of Brahman. It is a Lila, or sport, of Brahman” (1).
This reinforces the idea that the material world is on the whole pointless, and therefore something which one might as well try to escape from. This is fair enough, if it is actually clear that this is the purpose of one’s current incarnation – one would have to be a very advanced soul!
I suggest that this is unlikely to be true for most Westerners. Carl Jung, one of my intellectual heroes, while respecting Eastern traditions, thought they were inappropriate for Westerners (2), and offered an alternative spiritual path called the individuation process, the goal of which is a connection with the Self, the God-image in man, thus establishing a relationship with Eastern Perennial Philosophy thinking. So, even though I have great respect for much of the Eastern traditions, I humbly submit that the author, Ram Shanker Misra, has got this wrong – his words take the form of a logical argument, and logic is possibly not the best tool when dealing with the divine.
I offer an alternative scenario along these lines. Brahman, the ultimate ground of being, is indeed full of all perfections. However, it generates a hierarchy of downward levels, and each lower level loses something of the immediately higher one, and therefore becomes more imperfect. As the theosophist C. W. Leadbeater says: “We must think of that Divine Consciousness as creating for Its use these worlds of various types of matter, and then voluntarily veiling Itself within that matter, and thereby greatly limiting Itself. By taking upon Itself a garment of the matter of even the highest of these worlds, It has clearly already imposed upon Itself a certain limitation; and, equally clearly, each additional garment assumed, as It involves Itself more and more deeply in matter, must increase the limitation” (3).
This is very similar to the scientific understanding of the hologram. Serena Roney-Dougal puts it like this: “In a hologram the whole picture is contained in every little bit. That is, if you cut a hologram in two you will get two whole pictures. Some of the fine detail will have been lost but the picture is all there in both bits. Whichever bit of the original you cut off you get the whole picture, but the less of the whole you have the less detail you get” (4).
Karl Pribram developed a holographic model of the brain from a similar understanding, and spiritual traditions apply the same idea to the descent of spirit into matter. Leadbeater again: “Each descent from plane to plane means much more than a mere veiling of the Spirit; it means also an actual diminution in the amount of Spirit expressed”. “By the time we have reached the personality with which we have to deal in the physical world, the fractionisation has been carried so far that the part we are able to see bears no appreciable proportion to the reality of which it is nevertheless the only possible representation for us” (5).
The lowest level, the material world, is therefore the least perfect and, as Hinduism says, the least real (despite what materialists think). However, in Western spiritual traditions (and, for what it’s worth, from my own personal experience) there is a downward impulse from the world of spirit to gradually transform the lower levels (using human consciousness as its tool). Forgive the pun, but the material world matters to the higher levels; there is purpose and it is our spiritual duty to cooperate, to try to bring it about. Appropriate terminology might therefore be cosmic alchemy, or bringing the Kingdom of God down to Earth.
This leads me on to what I think is the best representation of the role of the citizen in a spiritual society, the symbol from sacred geometry known as the Star of David. It is now best known because of its association with the state of Israel, and some religious literature about it now interprets it in the light of Judaism. However, it seems to have originated in Sumeria and Babylon, in which case these Jewish elements would be later additions.
We see two intersecting triangles, which interpenetrate each other. Each triangle is unbroken, so that, if we started from two separate triangles, then the Star could not be created, thus its appearance is a mystery. One triangle has its base downwards, pointing upward, and the other has its base above, pointing downwards. This seems to me to be a perfect symbol of a human being, the lower triangle representing our three lower aspects – body, feelings, mind – rising upward, thus seeking what is above, and the higher triangle, which has its base above and points downwards, refers to three aspects of our higher nature. There is one central area, also the largest, which participates in both triangles, which I take to be the ego consciousness.
The author who comes closest to this interpretation is Sir George Trevelyan (whom I have quoted frequently in my recent “superorganism” articles), who says: “Our symbol will always be the Star of David, the pyramid of material embodiment, opening up to the reversed cone of light, this upper form descending to embrace and suffuse the lower. This, the Star of the Living Christ, speaks to us of the marriage of levity and gravity and pictures the true nature of Man, the human being, the HU MAN (the Egyptian word HU means the Shining One) united with the Life Eternal… The human body represents the perfect point of balance between levity and gravity as these two forces meet on the surface of the Earth. Thus this body is truly the divine temple into which the unperishable spiritual being may descend into the grave of earth” (6).
Also relevant is a mantra used in Psychosynthesis, the Transpersonal Psychology system of Roberto Assagioli: “I have a body, but I am not my body. I have feelings, but I am not my feelings. I have a mind, but I am not my mind. I am a centre of pure consciousness, and of will”. This appears to be a perfect understanding of the lower triangle, and the ego.
These are the three aspects of which we are aware. It is harder to be precise about the higher triangle, because it refers to aspects of ourselves of which we are normally unaware. Spiritual traditions have similar ideas, which differ in detail, about the higher levels of the human being, so although I feel clear that the upper triangle does represent our higher nature penetrating downwards, it is not easy to find the right terminology.
Leadbeater has an understanding very close to mine; he describes the descent through various levels, culminating in the physical human being. He calls the mental plane the beginning of the world as we perceive it, and then identifies two lower planes, the astral and the physical, saying that “the further descent to the physical leaves us with the three which are familiar to us”. He calls the highest level, the one that does not descend below the spiritual level, the Monad. The next is the intuitional or divine wisdom in man, and the third “adopts a form to which as yet no name has been attached in our literature. It then moves forward or downward one more stage, and clothes itself in the matter of the higher mental world, and then we call it the intellect in man” (7).
A slightly different understanding comes from the late Raynor Johnson, great authority on spiritual matters (the subject of one of my previous articles, if interested click here), who says that humans have at least six levels, and that “the soul has acquired and uses a hierarchy of five bodies, or vehicles, or instruments, to serve its purposes” (thus adding up to the six of the two triangles). He then provides two diagrams. In the first the six bodies are called physical, etheric, astral, mental, causal, and spirit/soul. Here the first four are deemed the lower aspects, called the world of maya, and the ego is placed at the level of the mental. It would seem that this does not fit with the two triangles idea. However, in the second diagram he calls the lower three the personality, and the other three the Higher Self, which is consistent with the two triangles of the Star of David (8). The main difference is that he places the mental body (the mind?) in the higher triangle, although it has to be said that he has a more elaborate conception of this level than most peoples’ understanding of the mind (9).
I have no way of knowing which of these accounts is closer to the truth. All I have is my intuitive understanding of the Star of David as depicting the true meaning of what it is to be human, and it feels right to me to understand the mental as part of the lower triangle – after all, we all agree that we have a mind. It does not really matter – we should not get bogged down in obscure details; it would be better to spend our time on our personal search for truth. The important point to note is that the world of spirit is pressing downwards, trying to transform human consciousness, and thereby the material world. The role of the citizen, at least for the time being, is therefore to cooperate with this process, not to seek to escape the world.
(1) Ram Shanker Misra, in The Integral Advaitism of Sri Aurobindo, quoted at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lila_(Hinduism)
(2) See Yoga and the West in Psychology and the East, Princeton University Press, 1978
(3) The Monad, The Theosophical Publishing House, 1947, p2
(4) Where Science and Magic Meet, Green Magic, 2010 p81
(5) as (3), p8, p9
(6) lecture, Gateway to the Infinite, transcribed in The Spirit of Science, editor David Lorimer, Floris Books, 1998, pp306-307
(7) as (3), p7
(8) I am not suggesting that he is contradicting himself, merely pointing out that this is something that is difficult to be precise about – his thinking may be more subtle than mine.
(9) The Spiritual Path, Hodder & Stoughton, 1972, p13-14, p18 for the mental body.