from The Theosophist July 1984

True Identity

Hugh Shearman

With their dedication to the service of brotherhood, members of the Theosophical Society have given much sympathetic attention to the many problems of humankind and have looked for various solutions to those problems. Some have involved themselves in political or social movements. Others have, perhaps, discovered the subtle truth of the saying - not necessarily a wholly cynical one - that there is no problem until you start trying to solve it.

There is a need from time to time to look again, so far as we are capable, for the source of the human problem. Traditional Theosophy, as a body of teachings and interpretations - what Annie Besant called "secondary theosophy" to distinguish it from the primary theosophy of inner experience - has more to propose about the human problem than we usually take into consideration.

Humanity, to the Theosophist, is not just people. It is a condition or experience through which all experience passes. As A. P. Sinnett somewhere expressed it, everything has been, is, or will be Man. Perhaps not every being has to go into the experience as intensely as we human do on this planet. Indeed, we are told that we chose to go through the experience in a particularly exacting way. But for all there seems to be this succession of involution and evolution; there is forthgoing and return, the path of pursuit and the path of renunciation. Spirit has to be deeply materialized and then matter is spiritualized.

This has been described many times and has often been presented schematically. It is, perhaps, too often thought of as something rather abstract and so is not used to clarify our own immediate human problem.

The starting point for understanding must be where we stand now. It is all too easy to turn away from this crucial time and place by contemplating such interests as past lives and future lives and following various other informative pursuits which tend to lead away from the question of what we now are.

Briefly, what is proposed to us is that our consciousness be given an anchorage and a contact in material existence. Round that contact there must be created an identity which can, in the end, "turn again home", discovering its true source and wholly surrendering itself to that source . The mystical and occult literature of many cultures and traditions expresses this in many idioms and by means of many symbols; but we ourselves have to find out if that is what life is really like, if consciousness in us is really experiencing anything like that.

The establishing of our human identity begins with the creation of a physical nucleus, a physical animal, a human baby. From that beginning we quickly go on to establish a psychological identity. We develop a vastly complex system of values, classifying everything according to whether it seems to favour our identity or to threaten it.

As we grow up, this complex of values, of approvals and disapprovals, is extended in all directions so that we see everything in terms of these values which we project onto all we encounter.

The psychological self also conscripts into the service of this process what we call our mind. Mind has a remarkable ability for making connections. This shows that it has a universal quality; for , since it can connect anything with anything else, it must somehow be capable of connecting everything into one. But that is not how we use it. We leave it fixated to the task of creating a vast web of connections, all of which are linked to the assertion of a central personal identity, a "me".

Most of us can see this process going on in other people. We are aware of their prejudices, preferences and presuppositions and of attitudes of which they themselves are hardly conscious. We probably see this happening a little in ourselves. We can recognize it when it puts us into a state of conflict by causing us to do something which, with another part of ourselves, we wish we had not done. But we possibly recoil from the idea that this same drive to assert and defend our personal identity enters also into many of the actions which we should prefer to classify as unselfish, impersonal or high-minded. Yet even a virtuous and commendable action can, in a subtle way, become an assertion of superiority of adjustment, a claim to a stronger identity than somebody else's.

We are probably nice people, and we condemn the more brutal and squalid manifestations of human selfishness. Yet why must we condemn? Even in this, are we not subtly separating ourselves from the rest of life in order to lay claim to a superior and, certainly, a separate identity? It is not that we have no duty to protect others and , indeed, ourselves from brutality and to help those who are brutal to behave differently; but what is the real source of our reaction and of the "righteous indignation " that we so often display?

Like hunger and sex, the urge to assert a distinctive identity pervades human society. We can easily see how it enters into every relationship and association that we form. We try to canalize that urge into more refined manifestations, pushing back the subtle impurity and unhappiness which it brings into every relationship.

In the end, there come moments of deep disillusionment and terrible honesty; for the task which the pursuit of identity has had to perform in us is nearing its completion. Salvation comes as consciousness in us turns in another direction altogether. No cult or process imaginable to the human mind can provide the impact which will cause the mind to stop making connections and will liberate consciousness in us to discover that true identity is intrinsic and does not require to be asserted or based on contrast, relatedness or competitive separateness.

The beginning of this creative disillusionment and disentanglement from the whole system of past motivation is the first step on that Path that is referred to in so many terms and by so many symbolisms. Probably we spend a long time getting fully into our stride upon it. There are no compromises that can last. In Light on the Path it is said that "not until the whole personality of the man is dissolved and melted - not until it is held by the divine fragment which has created it, as a mere subject for grave experiment and experience - not until the whole nature has yielded and become subject unto its higher Self, can the bloom open".

Looking once more at the tragic human problem of the modern world, if becomes clear that the great source of corruption and oppression is the subordination of mind to this drive to assert a personal identity; and all reforms which do not modify that drive and channel it into less destructive courses in individual lives, are destined to disappointment. We cannot at all keep ourselves separate from the state of the human world; indeed, we are effective in helping the world, not by our compulsive espousal of some policy or panacea, but by the extent to which the world's problem is being dissipated in our own lives.

The temptation that good people face today is that of trying to liberate themselves and others by surrendering to the very motives which create bondage. In that very area where our consciousness to become decentralized and the mind find its true unfixated state like "a becalmed and boundless ocean", we are tempted to try to build up a centre and use it as a focal point for a web of connections and as a base from which the mind can calculate what ought to be done, especially what other people ought to do.

But if we can live in such a way that there is a constant recognition and withdrawal and abandonment of those values that we have projected onto the world, and so can become increasingly able to see humanity and the world as they actually are, then a true identity (which is also the identity of the whole) asserts itself, and we shall know what to do.

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