“Just as a candle cannot exist with a flame, man cannot live without a spiritual life”. —Lord Buddha
WHAT IS SELF
Lord Buddha said, “You can conquer armies, but the greatest conquest of all is the conquest over yourself.” What did he mean? Why do we have to conquer our self? We live in a world that is all about aggrandizing the self, that does everything to exalt the self, how is it harming us? What is the self?
According to spiritual traditions, there are two manifestations of self- a material form and an immaterial one. The material form occupies the body and governs our concerns on earth in the mundane world. It is controlled by the personality and the physical – rational and logical- side of the mind.
The immaterial self is otherworldly. It is considered the energy that occupies the material form. It is controlled by the spirit, conscience, and the intuitive side of the mind and it governs our concerns about evolving spiritually and with returning to the Source, or going ‘home.’
As the spiritual self is entirely non-physical, we cannot ‘scientifically’ prove our existence as a being of consciousness and ‘no thing’ else. But we can prove it to ourselves by becoming ‘aware’ that we are the being within the form.
Some people in the scientific world may refer to this ethereal consciousness as the ‘ghost’ in the body/machine, since there seems to be something, albeit immaterial, that animates the body. But what is it? What brings the body- the machine- to life? What enlivens the body and keeps it alive? In the spiritual traditions, this is considered the spirit of man.
In most spiritual traditions, that ‘ghost’ is understood to be the soul or spirit, the invisible, intangible aspect of Self, internally situated in the brain. It is the spirit consciousness, but it’s not the brain itself. It is said to reside in an area close to the pituitary gland.
Realization of the spirit is helped by meditation and contemplation. In a state of spirit consciousness you remain aware that you don’t have a spirit; you ‘are’ the spirit! You are not the body; you are the animator of the body.
The self of the body/mind sees you in terms of the body you occupy, your ideas, your values, your dreams and your desires, all of which are happening in the material world.
But the spirit self feels lost and out of sorts, because it has no such ideas and desires and, as such, does not feel that it belongs in this material and artificial world; it belongs in nature and outside of this world, a world of desire and greed.
The material self- or ego- feels outside of nature and others. Indeed, it finds a sense of identity precisely because of its sense of uniqueness and individuality. It defines itself by its personal values, attitudes and beliefs and distinguishes itself as separate from all others by its ‘this-worldly’ ties and identifications.
But the spirit self does not feel separate from or outside of anything; it feels or longs to be connected to nature and a higher source. When the self of the body is in control, the spirit self feels lost; it wants to go home, to its homeland, and the source of its existence. It seeks oneness.
Body consciousness is a state in which you believe [your ego believes] you are just a body with a personality, and that personality is determined and defined by one’s beliefs, values and attitudes and the image one has of himself based on those beliefs, values and attitudes. This is the basis of ego.
According to the spiritual traditions this is an illusion, because it’s a belief, not real. Anything that is not permanent cannot be real and since beliefs are by nature impermanent, they are not real, but illusory, perpetrated by ego.
We are much more than a body, a mind, and an ego- which defines its existence by its beliefs; we are part of, equal to, and one with the universal Spirit- the Tao. But if and when we all share this single illusion, that the body, the mind and the ego are real, it results in the resulting modes of behavior:
- We become obsessed with all things material. Possession and ownership become the key words in daily life. This drives us to collectively co-create a world of continuous consumption and accumulation.
- This creates almost continuous conflict, extreme suffering and tremendous competition and inequality. It makes us live by material values alone.
- “I am just this body” is a belief that kills our ability to interact in ways that are truthful, virtuous and loving.
- It ensures that we will act mostly in self-serving ways, with selfish intentions, in order to survive and thrive at the physical level.
Some examples of the beliefs “I am just a body” are, “You have to be strong to survive”; “God takes care of those who take care of themselves”; “ You have to be rich, beautiful and powerful to be happy”; ‘You have to look out for number one.”
What is ego? Ego can be loosely defined as the attachment to and identification with an image/idea/concept/belief. Whenever we identify with something, like a personality, a value, an attitude, or an image of a permanent self, we are creating ego. Ego is the illusory sense of self that we create within our consciousness. It distorts the energy of consciousness.
What is conscience? Conscience is an in-built capacity that allows humans to sense, feel, and know the accurate thing to do or to avoid doing. It is a manifestation of spirit and is an inner guide that all humans have, or should have. It is referred to as the innate knowing of the good, our soul/essence, or our inner nature- and the way of the Tao.
Conscience turns up in almost all spiritual traditions. It is generally recognized to be that aspect of our ‘consciousness’ [spirit] that is our source of goodness, our virtuous intentions, and our inner compass. It keeps us on the straight and accurate path, known as ‘being true to you.’
This is not truth in an objective, narrow and absolutist sense, but it is a ‘truth’ in a subjective sense, where we are living our life moment- by- moment from an accurate awareness of our self as spirit, not form, or body. When guided by our conscience, we are aligned with our truth, which really means our ‘true nature’, our ‘trueness,’ or innate nature.
When this happens, we are open, loving and joyful, unattached to nothing and nobody, and therefore our decision-making is free from the emotions of fear, anger and sadness. These emotions arise from the ego and its attachments, which in turn makes it harder to hear our conscience and follow its voice.
We use the word ‘conscience’ mostly in reference to right and wrong. When we listen to our conscience, we are said to be doing the ‘right thing,’ while the wrong thing is seen as an action or decision against our conscience. We often refer to someone who lives their life with great honesty and integrity as a person with ‘good conscience.
Our trueness- or our true nature, the nature of goodness- is natural and associated with peace, love and joy. It manifests morally in the form of conscience. It’s function is to influence us by ‘keeping us honest’, which is does by letting us know when we have created thought and action that is out of alignment with our ‘trueness’, and out of alignment with our true nature, which is loving and good.
The ‘goodness’ that is often referred to as conscience –or the innate nature of man- has no opposite. There are only ‘degrees of alignment or misalignment with the inherent ‘trueness’ of our inherent- and true- nature.
In reality, the true self- spirit- is ‘prior to’ any and all mental images, therefore prior to the ‘ideas’ of good and bad, and therefore prior to judgments of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. The true self- spirit- has no image and is not an idea, either; it is beyond the duality of all concepts. It is truth, the only truth.
World of Spirit
In the world of the spirit there is no right and wrong. This is hard to understand because we have been so deeply conditioned to ‘believe’ in right and wrong, since we have been told what is good and bad virtually since birth.
But the ideas of right and wrong are functions of ‘duality’ and ‘artificiality’ [man-made definitions], which is a condition of the outer material world. A spirit, however, is prior to this duality and artificiality; there are no opposites in spirit. And spirit is what we are.
Our True Self
Our spirit consciousness is our innate awareness of what is true, which in the context of the self, is, BEING OUR TRUE SELF. This does not refer to truth in an absolute or philosophical sense, but true in the sense of being natural, one with our spiritual nature, which is peaceful, loving and joyful; and sincere in our words, our intentions and our deeds. It is achieved in a state of oneness when word and deed are one.
Unfortunately, because we are under the influence of the ego and its way of interpreting its own version of reality, in terms of right and wrong and good and bad, we get in the habit of ignoring and even suppressing the voice of conscience coming from our spirit.
What is Spirit?
From a purely spiritual perspective, it is the eternal, unchanging, true state of the energy of the self. It is the ‘still core’ of our being that is untouched by and unattached to anything; it manifests on earth as soul and in the form of pure joy, love, and peace.
As soon as we use our energy in such a way that contradicts or disturbs the pure energy of the spirit, it sends out a subtle message, which ordinarily gets us to reflect on our thoughts and actions. We then either listen to that message and let it guide us back into alignment with our true nature, or we ignore and suppress it.
When we go against our ‘spiritual’ nature, when we do not listen to, or when we ignore the silent voice of conscience and the subtle feeling that this action we are doing goes against the grain of our truth- our true nature- our true vibration, then we get a signal and we feel a moment of discomfort.
There is no opposite to this ‘spirituality and trueness’, this true vibration at our core, only degrees of misalignment, only shades of emotional irrationality that cloud our judgment and our ability to be aware of where the compass of our conscience is pointing us.
Distortions of the Emotions
The signals of our conscience are distorted by our emotions. When we are feeling emotional, it is harder to hear and be guided by our conscience, by the true vibration of our spirit. In this case, we often ignore the signals coming from our conscience in favor of experiencing some pleasurable emotion. For example, when we seek excitement, believing it to be happiness, it sabotages our ability to see clearly in terms of our motivations and intentions.
From within our spirit, our conscience will draw our attention to our desire and our selfishness indicating that they are out of harmony or alignment with our true nature, our spirit, which is loving and selfless, and signal for us to desist from such behavior.
If we continue looking inward and listen further to the voice coming from within, we may even realize something more significant, which is that we are confusing excitement with happiness. In reality, excitement is just another form of sensorial stimulation
How Conscience is ignored
We ignore our conscience because we are distracted by our emotions and desires. When we ignore our conscience, we act against our innate awareness of what would be the truest action, the accurate and right action.
For example, there are usually three reasons why people have desire and want to possess something; three beliefs from their egos that ‘distract’ them from acting contrary to their conscience and their true nature:
- They believe that if they can have the object they desire, it will in some way complete them;
- They believe that when they get the object they desire, it will make them happy;
- They believe they can possess the object.
All of these beliefs are not true in the universe of the Spirit. Spiritual truths- or just truths- are:
- We are already complete and that completeness can never be lost, but we may temporarily lose our ‘awareness’ of it;
- No material object can give us authentic happiness, only a temporary stimulation, because authentic happiness truly comes from inside out;
- It’s impossible to possess anything, because everything is free.
Unfortunately, we live in an age filled with the belief that acquiring things brings completeness, happiness and fulfillment and are given to us as truths at a young age. Hence our confusion when we do get what we want and we still fell incomplete, still feel unhappy, and live in fear of losing [what we mistakenly believe] we now possess.
So, in truth, when we do something inappropriate, it’s not BAD or WRONG, as opposed to GOOD and RIGHT. It’s just that we have lost our spiritual compass, our awareness of our truth [our true nature] and we are therefore acting out of harmony and out of alignment with our truth –our true nature.
At this time, the spirit ‘speaks to us’ to remind us that we are acting out of harmony with our true nature, not because society- or our parents- says so, but because we are denying and suppressing the truth of our spiritual reality, that we are by nature virtuous and because of our innate nature, we are ALREADY complete, loving and joyful.
Our spirits are signaling to us that we have fallen under the ILLUSION that we are incomplete, unhappy, and unfulfilled. But we ignore and suppress this message, from the heart of our being, especially if others definition of happiness is artificial and materialistic.
The Spirit and a Light Bulb
A room is illuminated by a light bulb. The room also has a light sensor. If the light of the bulb fluctuates and dims below a certain intensity/brightness, the sensor will go automatically go off.
In a similar fashion, if something like a belief or a desire obscures our light or darkens and distorts our light to compromise our true [radiant] nature, which is peaceful, joyful and loving, our spirit will set off a signal, usually in the form of a feeling, like uneasiness. It is letting us know that we are thinking and acting out of harmony and out of alignment with our trueness.
The curtains and veils of beliefs, the distractions of desires, the attachment to images and memories in our minds, all serve to dim the true brightness- and true nature- of the light of our spirits. They veil our true spirit and our conscience- they are NEGATIVE.
But when we are in the state of our true brightness, the radiance of our spirit, when nothing is blocking, distorting or distracting the radiance of our spirits, there is not anything, or any thought, that is out of harmony and out of alignment with that state. We are one and the same! There is only one way of being, which is the way of light, and the way of virtue- and that is the POSITIVE way.
Being the way of light, the way of virtue, is considered the Way, and the Way of Entering the Tao. But few are of the light, on the way of virtue, entering the Tao, simply because most are controlled by the ego and the illusions it fosters. In this condition, the light of spirit is not only dimmed but for all intents and purposes extinguished.
If we hope to be of the light, the way of spirit and virtue, then we must discover our true self. But before doing that we must first understand the mind and what we are not; only then can we enter the Tao and begin the long journey home- only after conquering the ego.
End Part One