“The world is illusory;
Brahman alone is real;
Brahman is the world.”
Sri Ramana Maharshi
When a child is born, it has no concept of its individuality. It has no need to believe it is unique – because from its own perspective it is all. It believes it is the universe. But then the process of individuation begins. When its separateness becomes apparent it then begins to identify with others. Firstly it will identify with its mother, then the father and other close family members. As it grows the sphere of those with which it identifies expands. That sphere will likely expand to envelop friends, peer group, neighbours, and so on. A truly mature person will continue to expand the sphere of identification until it encompasses all of humankind. Most of us can’t make it that far and our sphere might envelop those of our nationality, those of our religion, those who support our football team etc.
This process of individuation also creates primary dualism, the separation of self from the rest of the universe, the creation of a subject which then stands apart from objects.
A destructive side-effect that occurs early in this individuation process is the creation of ego. As we come to understand that we are not unique, we convince ourselves that if we are not unique, we can at least be special. We then seek out attributes and achievements, real and imagined, to bolster our sense of specialness.
Modern parenting exacerbates the problem. In an attempt to build up the self-esteem of our children we lavish praise on them for small achievements resulting in many of our children having an inflated sense of them selves. This sets them up for inevitable disappointments. But more importantly, believing they are special makes it harder to have empathy with others and build meaningful personal relationships. There is little room for altruism to exist in a world full of egotism.
There is probably some additional explanation needed here. A Romantic view of this process would suggest that the infant starts out in a state of unconscious Heaven (being at one with the Ground of All Being – or Brahman, God, Tao or whatever your take on spirituality calls It.) Then (mirroring the biblical concept of the fall) with growing awareness of its individuality that blissful state falls away and the child moves into the world of egoic alienation, repression and suffering.
But we can never lose that unconscious connection to the Ground of Being because that is what constitutes our very existence.
Let me quote Ken Wilber here, writing in “The Eye of Spirit”.
“…there are only two general stances you can have in relation to the Divine Ground: since all things are one with the Ground, you can either be aware of that oneness, or you can be unaware of that oneness. That is you can be conscious or unconscious of your union with the Divine Ground: those are the only two choices you have.”
[This of course mirrors what the good Dr Phil has been saying for a couple of decades or more, that our only choice is between fear (when we are unaware of the oneness) and love (when we are conscious of the oneness). I will elaborate a little more on this later.]
Einstein also shared a similar belief. He wrote, “A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison.”
So now we can begin to understand the human dilemma. Ego drives us to separation and alienation. It is hard to distinguish cause and effect here. One might just as legitimately say separation creates ego which drives us to alienation.) But as our consciousness grows we wake up to that alienated world in and around us. This alienation leads to suffering, what Hinduism and Buddhism call samsara. In essence this suffering is due to the tension between ego and spirit – ego wants to maintain our separateness and our illusion of specialness, whereas spirit yearns to return to the oneness that it unconsciously knows can be achieved with the merging once again into the Ground of Being.
Ego essentially lives by fear. It encourages us to differentiate ourselves and to compete in the world. Ego seeks to maintain and enhance the illusions of self. It has no concern about others except as how they might be exploited and used to promote the ego.
Spirit yearns for reconciliation with the One that is All. The longing for a reunion with the All or Brahman is what we know as love. Indeed I have defined love elsewhere as “the dissolution of separateness”.
And what might be the end point of such a process? Let’s hear from Ken Wilber again.
“….alternatively the self might continue its growth and development into the genuinely spiritual domains: transcending the separate-self sense, it uncoils in the very divine. The union with the Divine – a union or oneness that had been present but unconscious since the start – now flares forth in consciousness in a brilliant burst of illumination and a shock of the unspeakably ordinary; it realises its Supreme Identity with Spirit itself, announced, perhaps, in nothing more than the cool breeze of a bright spring day, this outrageously obvious affair.”
So in the end, those that I love, I accept are like me in all essential respects because I know we emanate from the One that is All. When “I wish you love,” (as an old song title stated) I wish you spiritual communion with your fellow beings. Such communion has no heed of religion, nationality, race or any other contrived device of separation. It cares not whether you are male or female; it has no concern for what you wear, what you eat or how many times you pray or indeed to what god you owe allegiance or if you acknowledge any god at all. We are all part of humanity and that humanity is but a manifestation of the Ground of Being playing with separateness even though at an underlying level there can be no such thing! Love is our unconscious knowledge of this underlying principle and the resultant desire to come back together in Divine union.
Last week we mourned the passing of the venerable Father Robin.
One of the earliest blog essays I wrote, I titled “Love makes the World Go Round.”
Father Robin in his inimitable style responded “and fear makes the World go pear shaped!”
How true is that!
In the above essay I quoted Ken Wilber who explained what the realisation of Oneness might be like. In a previous blog essay I related the experience of a number of people who had come to that realisation.
First there was a recollection by the famous Alfred, Lord Tennyson nineteenth century poet and poet Laureate.
“A kind of waking trance I have frequently had, quite up from my boyhood, when I have been all alone. This has generally come upon me through repeating my own name three or four times to myself silently, til all at once, as it were out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, the individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade into boundless being; and this is not a confused state, but the clearest of the clearest, the surest of the surest, the weirdest of the weirdest, utterly beyond words, where death was almost laughable impossibility, the loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction, but the only true life.”
It seems an extraordinary thing that a man might experience such a revelation. Let me share with you a little known poem, Vacillation, by William Butler Yeats, the Anglo-Irish poet and dramatist.
My fiftieth year had come and gone
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.
Experiences such as those shared by Tennyson and Yeats are not as unusual as one might think. The Oliver Hardy Research Centre in Oxford recorded hundreds of such accounts. In case you think that such experiences are confined to poets, here is another from an ordinary commuter, quoted by neuroscientist, Guy Claxton, from his book Voices from the Dark Room.
“Vauxhall station on a murky Saturday evening is not the setting one would choose for a revelation of God! The third class compartment was full. I cannot remember any particular thought processes which might have led up to the great moment. For a few seconds only (I suppose) the whole compartment was filled with light. I felt caught up in some tremendous being with a loving, triumphant and shining purpose. In a few moments the glory had departed – all but one curious lingering feeling. I loved everybody in that compartment. It sounds silly now, and indeed I blush to write it, but at that moment I think I would have died for any one of the people in that compartment. I seemed to sense the golden worth in them all.
Because of the ubiquitousness of such experience Cohen and Phipps in their book of the same name called the phenomenon, “The Common Experience”.