from The Theosophist Feb 1994
The Mind and Beyond
In the literature of modern theosophy there are certain basic statements about the "mind" which are often quoted but rarely given full consideration. One of these is in The Voice of the Silence, where we are told that the mind is the "slayer of the Real". In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali we are told that yoga is the stilling of the changes in chitta, which is pretty much the same as what, colloquially, we call the mind. In the talks and writings of Krishnamurti there are many quite dismissive references to mind and thought. The same view of mind is expressed in much general mystical literature. Evelyn Underhill, in one of her books on mysticism, referred to what she called the "corrosive " influence of thought.
The response of the world in which most of us live is not at all friendly towards this sort of statement. It is widely accepted that most of the good and useful things in our lives are the product of thought, the product of the workings of the mind. Indeed mind is rather generally regarded, not as the slayer of the real, but as the very means by which the real is discovered.
In the ordinary material affairs of life, such as crossing the street, preparing a meal or writing an encyclopaedia, we certainly exercise thought. This is the sort of thought that is described as Cartesian, after Descartes who defined is self-discovery by saying, " I think ; therefore I am". This Cartesian thought is dualistic. It presupposes that there is "I" and "not I". Bhagavan Das, in his book The Science of Peace, described the infant's discovery of its selfhood as being in the form of an assertion that, "I am not the not-I". He even caused this learned infant to translate the idea into Latin and say, Ego non-ego non sum.
This is how most of us, most of the time, view our world. We think of it as a relationship between myself and everything else. But if we look further into this there are some difficult questions to answer. What or where is the exact frontier or interface between "I" and "not-I", between subject and object, observer and observe, myself and all the other people and things? And, still more disturbingly, who am "I"? Is the "I" that we talk about not itself merely a product of thought rather than an independent producer of thought?
The Cartesian way of thinking is the basis of our logic and our science. It is essential for the daily conduct of our lives. It is dualistic and comparative in its approach, knowing things by contrast with something else or by opposition to something else . It has enabled us to achieve the remarkable structures and inventions that makes up our human civilization, and it enables us to make our way through this world of disparate objects and people. It is accompanied by memory which enables us to give some continuity and consistency to what we think and do. But is there nothing more?
The advantage of Cartesian thinking are obvious; but it also has great disadvantages. The fact that the identity of "I " is made to depend on perpetual contrast with something else ensures that the assertion of our identity involves us in unremitting conflict. If the whole structure of our thinking requires the existence of "I", and the existence of "I" depends on the ability to think all the time about something or somebody else, there is instability and dependence. The individual , in his anxiety for his identity, ha to maintain a critical relationship with his perpetually changing environment and so keep the pot of existence restlessly boiling and bubbling.
Theosophy is an assertion that all life is fundamentally one, not a perpetual duality. In The Secret Doctrine Madame Blavatsky said that the philosophy closest to the doctrine she was propounding was Vedantic advaitism. Advaitism may be defined as non two-ism. It cannot assert the One, because to do that you would have to stand apart from the One and make a statement about It, which would at once be an assertion of duality. All we can do is say that there is no ultimate duality or twoness.
One of our greatest difficulties in understanding this is the fact that our language has been formed by many generations of people who lived all their lives in terms of dualistic Cartesian thinking. Everything we say is said within a Cartesian framework of reference and assumptions. It is very difficult to persuade most people that this is so. The Cartesian way of thinking is so much part of our lives that it is very hard to stand apart form it.
Because our thinking is itself essentially Cartesian, we cannot think ourselves out of Cartesian thinking. Yet there are gradations of perception. We may remember Martin Buber's classic meditative work I and Thou, which presents a thinking out of the implications of what is conveyed in a well-known passage in the Bhagavadgita about seeing the self in the not-self and the not-self in the self.
Those who stand in a tradition of unitive as opposed to dualistic thinking and who see serious limitations in the Cartesian way of thought are not rejecting it or claiming that it is wrong or undesirable for the separate objects and organisms. We should indeed be lost without it. What the real mystics and yogis claim or imply is that there is a further quality of consciousness which completely outpasses the Cartesian processes. Patanjali refers to this in asserting a perception in which the knower, knowledge and the known are discovered to be one.
Where Cartesian thinking most obviously fails us is when we try to apply it to motivation and evaluation. It enables us to master techniques but does not adequately guide us as to what we are using them for. The mind that exercises that thinking is polarized by its own separate self-image, about whose protection and perpetuation it is avidly concerned.
It is this dominance of a self-image that imprisons us in all sorts of situations. Lately, for example, there has been a controversy in the medical profession about homeopathy. Some have shown by the most scrupulous testing that homeopathy produces useful curative effects. Others, however, have claimed that homeopathy must be rejected because it cannot be shown how the good results could be caused by it. Because they cannot be verified within the structure of a Cartesian framework of reference , these apparent results must be illusory or in some way unacceptable.
One might wonder why the good results cannot be accepted anyway, whether they have a logically Cartesian explanation or not. Probably the real cause of their rejection is a psychological one. Since Cartesian thinking necessarily takes a self-image as its starting point, any doubt thrown on this process of thinking is felt as a threat to the self-image and so to the very existence of the thinker!
It will be remembered that one of the earliest published statements of the Theosophical Society's purpose said that it was opposed to "all forms of dogmatic theology". But many theosophical "teaching" have, for those who have propounded or accepted them, a quality of unreality which arises from the fact that they remain for the most part only images in the mind, fragments of "dogmatic theology", closely associated with a personal self-image and hence inextricably identified with the psychological conflicts of that image. This is not to say that they are not basically true or that they do not relate to reality.
The writer is old enough to have lived through the historic period of maximum tension caused by the impact of Krishnamurti upon members of the Theosophical Society. As Krishnamurti used to say, there could be no reconciliation. Unitive thinking and dualistic thinking cannot be reconciled on the same plane, particularly when dualistic thinking has to assert the permanence of that self-image which Krishnamurti called "this I" , this ignorance, this "myself".
In many theosophical books there are diagrams of the "principles" which constitute the invisible anatomy of human nature, set out in a scale above one another. In these diagrams, the mind, the logical Cartesian part of human nature, comes quite low down. If consciousness in us is to be liberated and we are to become able to use our minds instead of being used by them and by the images of which they are made up, it is necessary for consciousness to become awake deeper "inside". There has to be that "awareness" to which Krishnamurti so often referred, an awakened perception that is free of duality and choice, free of approval and disapproval and of comparative thinking between present and past.
There can be no advantage or achievement for the self-image in this liberation, and there is no technique or "quick fix" in it. Awareness involves a looking in the face of hundreds of thousands of years of conditioned thinking, and Krishnamurti described it as "strenuous".
Krishnamurti often referred to the destructive nature of "love", for love in his sense of the word is not the sort of narrowly personal affection which is always somewhat exploitive. Love belongs, without frontiers, to the whole. When the self-image crumbles, there is necessarily a destruction of old values and a breaking-up of accumulated memory structures and conditionings. Perhaps this is what lies behind the idea of Siva as the Destroyer.
If The Voice of the Silence begins with a warning that the mind is the slayer of the Real, it offers later a picture of the liberated consciousness whose "mind like a becalmed and boundless ocean spreadeth out in shoreless space". Such a mind is itself a manifestation of the Real and no longer Its slayer.
Dr. Shearman a veteran Theosophist and author, is a member of
the TS's General Council.
More by Hugh Shearman