A long time ago,
There was only one mind
Which became bored by being alone so long.
So it decided to split into two,
But since the two knew they were originally one,
Playing together was not much fun –
As if playing both sides of a chess game,
So the two minds agreed to forget where they came from;
They pretended not to know each other.
As time passed they also forgot about their agreement.
They forgot they were actually one and the same.
This is the condition of our existence.
We forget that we are originally from one mind.
In William Wordsworth’s poem The World is Too Much with Us the poet laments that growing materialism (the poem was written at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution) was distracting Mankind unduly from the world of Nature.
My own failing is that the vicissitudes of the material world distract me from my essential spirituality. As you will have no doubt noticed, I feel the tragedies and disappointments of the material world whether it be in response to the latest terrorist abomination or to the deeply troubling issue of indigenous disadvantage. Such stimuli stir me to want to irrationally go out and change the world “for the better”.
Yet I know, however unlikely it might appear to most, the highest wisdom lies in detachment.
In the words of Chuang Tzu, the Taoist Sage and Chinese philosopher, “The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror; it grasps nothing; it refuses nothing, it receives but does not keep.”*
Or as that insightful interpreter of Eastern wisdom, Alan Watts wrote:
Detachment means to have neither regrets for the past nor fears for the future; to let life take its course without attempting to interfere with its movement and change, neither trying to prolong the stay of things pleasant or to hasten the departure of things unpleasant.
Does this mean that we should just sit passively by and let the world take its course in some fatalistic way? Well no, it doesn’t. We still need to engage with the material world as best we may but we shouldn’t allow our sense of well-being to be captured by it. When we have done what we can do we should be satisfied and move on. Those inevitable frustrations that the imperfect material world impose on us should not bring us to despair because we know that being of “One Mind” these are but inconsequential things.
I rather liked the way the Jesuit philosopher, Anthony De Mello put it.
My business is to do my thing, to dance my dance. If you profit from it, fine; if you don’t, too bad! As the Arabs say, “The nature of rain is the same, but it makes thorns grow in the marshes and flowers in the gardens,”
In past essays I have introduced you to the notion of “The Witness”. But let me refresh your memory.
One way of approaching the Witness is to use an exercise developed by philosopher and writer, Ken Wilber based on the work of the Indian sage, Sri Ramana Maharshi. He recommends that you should begin by reciting the following to yourself, trying to realize as vividly as possible the import of each statement.
I have a body, but I am not my body. I can see and feel my body, and what can be seen and felt is not the true Seer. My body may be tired or excited, sick or healthy, heavy or light, but that has nothing to do with my inward I. I have a body, but I am not my body.
I have desires, but I am not my desires. I can know my desires, and what can be known is not the true Knower. Desires come and go, floating through my awareness, but they do not affect my inward I. I have desires but I am not desires.
I have emotions, but I am not my emotions. I can feel and sense my emotions, and what can be felt and sensed is not the true Feeler. Emotions pass through me but they do not affect my inward I. I have emotions but I am not emotions.
I have thoughts, but I am not my thoughts. I can know and intuit my thoughts, and what can be known is not the true Knower. Thoughts come to me and thoughts leave me, but they do not affect my inward I. I have thoughts but I am not my thoughts.
This “inward I”, what Wilber refers to as the transpersonal self, is what Eastern sages have traditionally termed the Witness. It is that which gives us the capacity to observe our own minds. Sitting above both mind and body, it is indeed the metaphysical component of Mankind.
Now the observing Witness is not altogether passive. It appears to be the agency with which we choose how to view the world.
In our little book The Myth of Nine to Five the good Dr Phil and I quoted Einstein.
The physicist and thinker, Albert Einstein, once said: ‘Everyone has two choices. We’re either full of love … or full of fear’. Now obviously he was not talking about the number and variety of possible decisions that people are able to make as they react to their world, for these are virtually without limit. Rather he was referring to the nature of a deeper choice that all human beings are uniquely required to make in relation to their sense of ‘self’ as it interacts with other ‘selves’ within their social environment. This suggests that human beings, in contrast to lower forms of animal life, have a real choice.
However, this choice is not made at the ‘animal’ or cognitive level of conscious decision making, rather it is made at the deeper ‘watcher’ or ‘spiritual’ level which is unique to human beings.
Such a choice would appear to entail a shift in the focus of identification of the human spirit. When the ‘watcher’ looks out through the windows of mind and body, all that it perceives itself to be is this mind and this body.
Thus the ‘watcher’, which has no capacity to directly see itself, is naturally inclined to associate itself with what it
can perceive; the mind and the body of its host. This is the natural starting point of all self-conscious life.
Because the ‘watcher’ has this natural identification with a vulnerable and transient mind and body (known as the ‘self’), the primary motive driving the mind’s decision making processes is that of ‘self-preserving’ fear. The fear has many and varied faces, but one aim — preserving all that with which the ‘watcher’ identifies. This is a natural reaction when the ‘watcher’ perceives its fundamental existence is inexorably tied to the ‘self’ with which it identifies.
As the boundaries of the ‘self’ expand, however, to take into account the lives of others, the motive may eventually move from fear to love. We will see that this expansion of the boundaries of awareness and identification may ultimately include a realisation of the existence of the ‘watcher’ itself. A realisation, albeit,
based upon inference and an act of ‘faith’, rather than by direct observation.
When the individual comes to the realisation that self-consciousness implies another level of existence — a metaphysical level — which brings them into union with all others, (being all part of One Mind) a fundamental shift in core motive is enabled: the shift from fear to love.
Love is the dissolution of the separateness of mankind. When we see the world through the eyes of love, we know that our deepest well-being is enhanced by furthering the well-being of all humanity.
Fear is the selfish motivation beneath the competitive attempt to preserve the ultimately unpreservable! When we see the world through the eyes of fear, we compromise, and indeed sometimes sacrifice, humanity to the illusion of ‘self’ interest’ — short lived at best.
The paradigm shift we are talking about is a shift away from a fearful identification with the vulnerable and ephemeral life of the known ‘self’ and towards a loving identification with the common spirit of humanity — the metaphysical dimension of human life that makes possible the uniquely human phenomena of self-consciousness.
[In this passage we used the terminology of “The Watcher” as equivalent to the more common terminology in Eastern wisdom of “The Witness”.]
As human beings we face an incessant struggle between the ego and the Witness. The ego is always trying to prove how special we are. The ego highlights our differentiators to support its cause. It is the expert at identity politics. It tries to convince us that our nationality, our politics, our religion, our gender and so on, really define who we are and it asserts fervently that the differentiators that we most identify with are indeed wonderful, and mark us out as special human beings.
In contrast the Witness intuits that we all indeed share One Mind and therefore are not special at all.
It is the ego that makes us vulnerable in our specialness. This is the source of our fear.
On the other hand it is the inscrutable Witness that is able, for some of us at least, to realise we come from One Mind and as a result we share a commonality. As I have said in the past, it is this dissolution of separateness that manifests as love.
I started this essay with a little parable emphasising our Oneness.
Let me finish with another I wrote trying to make the same point.
A Dream of Brahman
In the beginning there was Brahman. In the end, which might have been perceived differently but was essentially still the same, there was Brahman too. And all there was, is and ever will be is Brahman.
Brahman thought, “Here I am – everything, all-encompassing, all-pervasive, with no end and nothing unknown. I am indeed the One. How easily it might have been otherwise. How would it be, what might I feel, if I was a mere part of this universe, rather than the Universe.”
Being All was a heavy burden. In a moment when he was imagining what it might be like to put aside his Oneness, he dreamed the universe. In this great creative act he projected something outside himself. All at once the stars, the constellations and all the bodies of the firmament came to be. This was an outcome of nothing more than the blink of Brahman’s eye – instantaneous, and a marvellous thought experiment.
And out of his omnipotence, this thought created sentience. It evolved, apparently finally, but in actuality instantaneously, into humanity. In his dream Brahman forgot that he was Brahman and identified with these separate bits of his consciousness in order to know what it was like to be separate. And of course, the human beings not being aware that they were all in their essence Brahman, believed that they were all separate and thus somehow special. Thus ego was born. And now, as a result, all these little bits of Brahman were competing with each other to assert their superiority.
As he slept, the fragments of himself that he had set free were up to all sorts of mischief. They invented racism, tribalism, nationalism, religious intolerance and all forms of competition where individuals tried to assert their specialness and their primacy.
They found all sorts of ways to accentuate those discrepancies that seemed to make them different from their fellows. And from this arose misery and war and all manner of dissatisfaction and suffering.
One such being, carrying a shard of the consciousness emanating from Brahman, sat on the rocks by the sea, trying to understand. The crashing of the waves on the rocks caused the spray to fly up and spread over the adjoining rocks. The spray condensed into droplets that slowly ran back to the sea.
He looked out on the ocean which extended all the way to the horizon, which from his vantage point, seemed infinite. Yet much of the ocean was unknown to him. He could only see the surface where the waves formed and surged. What depths lay beneath he could not tell.
The droplets of water seemed to be liberated and free but, inexorably, under the influence of gravity they ran back to the ocean.
In some very direct way, each droplet was always part of the ocean. It came from the ocean, was temporarily separated and then returned.
If it were conscious, the thinker wondered, would the drop believe it was a separate entity? If its tumultuous birth had obliterated its memory of the past, so that it did not know where it came from, it would believe it led a separate, independent existence.
It was evident to the observer that each droplet emanated from the ocean and would inevitably return to the ocean. In this way its notion of separation was largely an illusion.
Then he wondered, what about himself? He also had the perception of separation and independence. Would it appear different from a vantage point where his whole existence could be observed in relation to all other beings? What if the consciousness that seemed to pervade him, and which seemed present in other human beings was but a spark of the eternal consciousness? What if his conscious existence as a separate entity was merely an illusion in the same manner as it appeared to the water droplet?
He knew at once that he was also Brahman.
Brahman had awoken from his dream and in that instant his thought experiment was complete and the universe disappeared. There is only One and it is All and every manifestation of matter, and time, and separateness is but an illusion emanating from the playfulness of Brahman.
*Chuang Tzu is famous for this particular story. Once upon a time, Chuang Tzu dreamed that he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting about happily enjoying himself. He didn’t know that he was Tzu. Suddenly he awoke and was palpably Tzu. But then he couldn’t discern whether he was Tzu who had dreamed of being a butterfly, or a butterfly who was dreaming that he was Tzu.