A question posed in a comment on the previous post ties in rather well with what I had intended as the subject of this one which was to be a consideration of the Master's statement to "forget the personal self and merge with the universal self". (Note: I put direct quotations from the Masters in bold so as to draw attention to them more easily). The question asked for clarification on the remark that the mind is part of the outer self, and I think it takes us right to the heart of the matter. What is our real self?
First though, let's define our terms. When I say mind in this instance I mean the thinking self, the part of us that we know as 'me' which is the part described in the statement above as the personal self. When we talk of my mind or your mind, that's what we mean. It's true that some teachings do use the word mind to mean consciousness in its most fundamental sense as in Universal Mind but thinking and consciousness per se are different things from a spiritual perspective which is why I am sticking here with the everyday definition of mind as thought.
But let's not quibble over words. The question is, if mind is part of our outer self, what is our real self? In this blog, as in the book, I am going to try to keep things simple and without undue references to esoteric philosophies, Eastern metaphysics or occult terminology. Not because I have anything against such things (on the contrary, I like them) nor because I think I can do better than them but because I don't want to lapse into theory. I want to be as practical as possible. The Masters always stressed the virtues of simplicity and warned against the human tendency (tendency of the mind?) to get caught up in highfalutin spiritual fancies. I want to avoid that here.
So who or, better put, what are we? Are we the body and nothing else? A materialist would say we are and contend that the mind is nothing more than the workings of the brain. It's hard to prove this wrong using the mind itself as the weapon of choice but it is utterly mistaken, and I would guess that most people reading a blog of this nature would go along with that. The brain is formed by the mind, not vice versa, and is simply the latter’s vessel on the physical plane. Indeed, the Masters implied as much when they said that “the body is a frame”. The immaterial precedes the material, which derives from it as its expression in the world of form, and this can, in fact, be easily verified but only through mystical experience and intuition, using that word to mean spiritual insight or direct perception rather than in its more prosaic sense of a feeling or hunch. Mind cannot know truth. We cannot know ourselves by using a faculty that exists on a lower level than the level of our true existence.
If we are not just the body, are we then the mind? The mind is clearly an important part of the totality of our being but is it at the centre? Is it what we truly are? If not then it must be part of our outer self. Perhaps we are back to definitions again but one thing that is surely obvious about the mind is that it only functions in time. Thinking is a temporal pursuit. It is also an activity, mental not physical but an activity all the same, and right there we have the answer to our question. Thinking takes place in time and it involves doing not being. But being, essential being, must be beyond both time and activity for these belong to the world of becoming. What we call spirit, which is the reality behind mind, transcends the phenomenal world of time and change, and that is the world in which the mind operates.
So we can say that mind is a builder and interpreter of perception but it is not the perceiver. It is not the eternal Witness. We can further add that I need mind to write this essay and you need mind to read it, and even understand it, but mind cannot realise the truth of which it speaks except intellectually.
The Witness is the universal self. The Masters were adept at delivering an apparently simple statement which could bear repeated reflection. When they told me to "forget the personal self and merge with the universal self", they were encapsulating the essence of spirituality. Furthermore they were specifying what a human being actually is. We are not the personal self, although that is certainly what we experience ourselves to be most of the time. We are not the isolated, separate individuals we think we are. We are the universal self.
This is not a denial of individuality. I remember going to a Buddhist meditation centre in my early days of spiritual enquiry and being told by a monk there that there was no such thing as the individual, that the sense of individuality was just an illusion we needed to see through. “What’s the point of treading the spiritual path then?” I wondered. But either I failed to understand or he failed to differentiate between the absolute and the relative. In absolute terms there are no separate selves and there is only pure consciousness. That is the truth which remains when all lesser truths have dropped away. But we are created beings and, as such, we do have individuality which is not an illusion even if it is not the ultimate truth either. God is love and it is God’s good pleasure to multiply Himself which He does through us. The Masters manifested the universal self in themselves but they manifested it individually. They had realised the universal self as their primary nature and the source of who and what they were, and when we are told to "forget the personal self and merge with the universal self" we are enjoined to do the same thing. So what stops us? It is our identification with the mind. The personal self as the limited, separate self exists only as a creation of the mind. When we cease to identify with the mind then it is gone. But our individual nature remains and must do or there would be nothing to merge with the universal self. This what is meant by Christ being both God and man.
How to merge with the universal self is something we must leave for another time.