Monday, February 02, 2009

Identity and Being

Consider the following excerpt from the discourse of a major spiritual teacher:
Your problem has come because of your identification with your limited body. Anyone with a little sense can know, this body is something that you picked up from this planet and it is just a recycle. Whatever you think is mine is just coming in and going out all the time. You cannot hold on to it. Not just at the final moment when you die; every day, you cannot hold on to this body. If you knew this, not in a sense of intellectually knowing it, if you were aware of this, then naturally you would not be identified with it. Once you are not identified with your body, then the next thing that is left is your thought process. It is very easy to see that it is always on recycle.

If you can identify with these recycles, why can't you identify with the planet itself? Why can't you identify with the whole cosmos because everything is recycle? Life is on recycle all the time. It is an ongoing process. If it becomes experiential for you that this is all just a recycle - the life energy that you think is 'me', the body that you think is 'me', the mind that you think is 'me', are all on a recycle process, so what will you identify with?

Either you simply sit here without any identity, or you get identified with everything. Either you become a zero or you become infinite. Everything in between is a big lie. This is the maya of duality. ...
I exist at various levels, but fundamentally I am what I think myself to be (the "ego"), and what I feel myself to be (the "being" or the "soul"). And then, there is the indubitable fact of I existing as the flesh and blood body.

My "being" is my feelings and emotions and is typically felt to be around the heart region. Because of this, the heart-region has traditionally been considered the seat of the soul. Modulation of the heart function, and the amount of blood pumped and the consequent heighened states have been an important factor in our survival in an violent world. Chemicals and hormones viscerally affect us before they affect us cognitively. Many of these chemicals and hormones (e.g. adrenaline) exist in mammals and human infants.

On the other hand, The "ego" starts forming around the second year after birth, assisted no doubt by the growth in brain size and formation of memory and neural connections.

In an adult the "ego" is comprised of a sense of oneself as an individual, and a sense of oneself as having principles, affiliations and goals beyond oneself (the super-ego, in Freudian terms).

For example, for an "average" Indian male, the identity exists with me as a man, as a member of my family (a son, a nephew, a husband, a father), as a friend or a lover, as a member of a particular caste and sect, as a member of a particular religion, as a resident of a particular region, as a person with a certain socioeconomic status, as a person with a specific skill-set and a specific educational background, as an Indian, as a resident of a developing and poor country, as one belonging to South Asia or Asia, and so on.

All these are facts (after all the body is that of a male, and is holding an Indian passport, and is born in a family which follows a particular set of religious rituals, etc.) but the formation of identity invests oneself in these facts, and in the conditioning of that particular facet (e.g. "a man should not do dishes", "an Indian has a great heritage of spirituality") and forms passionate attachments to being the way the identity has been shaped, and to defend the identity from denigration, insult and break-up. Coupled with this, one wants to be a "good man", a "good Indian", a "loyal family member", a "dependable friend", a "god-fearing, devoted, moral member of one's religion", etc.

It is obvious that these identifications lead to sorrow, separatism and violence. As a man evolves, he gives up the facile identifications (after ascertaining their silliness). But more often than not, he picks up other identifications, since the urge to identify/belong remains.

Spirituality addresses this problem by considering the ego formed after birth as an illusion to be destroyed. Separation due to identification is what causes "me" to suffer and to make others suffer, and that is a very large component of distress in the human condition. But spirituality has no real solution for obliterating the instinctual patterns of human behavior. It classifies instincts as good and bad (Love versus hate, Compassion versus intolerance, Gratitude versus corruption) and pursues the good instincts and tries to sublimate the bad ones. However, since the "id" (the pleasure center, the limbic system, the affective "being", our emotions and feelings, our soul) is not sought to be demolished, what results through spiritual pursuits is a feeling of oneness and bliss, and not a whittling away of our core passions. The affective being remains intact, and there are more than a few instances of the most hallowed spiritual teachers suffering overwhelming pangs of love and compassion and gratitude as well as those of sorrow, anger, intolerance.

When push comes to shove, it is the instincts, the so-called id drives, the deep emotions, the intuitions and gut-feelings which rule the body and which lead to harrowing sorrow and horrendous malice. But because spirituality stops short of investigating them, the human condition continues unabated.

Practicing spiritualists can be very confused, impatient, irritable and malicious when questioned about their world-view and beliefs. This should provide a hint that there is something fundamentally wrong with a oneness which leaves one's basic instincts intact.

There are various ways of demolishing the ego and the sense of identity, and each spiritual teacher has his own recipe. The excerpt at the beginning is generic new-age spirituality: either one ceases to identify (and becomes the pure Being) or one identifies with the whole (and becomes identified with the whole, and again becomes the pure Being).

It is only to be expected that in the spiritual teaching above, one is being asked to give up what one "thinks" oneself to be (the Identity). What is left unsaid is that one also needs to do something about what one "feels" oneself to be (the Soul). But then it will no longer be a spiritual teaching, it will be something that no spiritual teacher has thought of trying, or saying.

That had to be tried, lived and said by a man who remains almost unheard, since he has merely put up his writings and communications on a website, and is making no efforts to propagate his findings, unlike the media-savvy Gurus all around us.
1. There are three ways of experiencing the world of people, things and events: 1. sensate (senses); 2. cerebral (thoughts); 3. affective (feelings). The feelings include both the affectionate and desirable emotions/passions (those that are loving and trusting) and hostile and invidious emotions/passions (those that are hateful and fearful).

2. All sentient beings are born with instinctual passions like fear and aggression and nurture and desire genetically bestowed by blind nature which give rise to a rudimentary animal ‘self’ – which is ‘being’ itself – that human beings with their ability to think and reflect upon their mortality have transformed into a ‘me’ as soul (a ‘feeler’ in the heart) and an ‘I’ as ego (a ‘thinker’ in the head).

3. Thus there are three I’s altogether but only one is actual (sensate) and not an identity; I am this flesh and blood body being apperceptively aware. The primary cause of all the wars and murders and rapes and tortures and domestic violence and child abuse and suicides and so on is the instinctual passions which give rise to malice and sorrow and the antidotally generated pacifiers of love and compassion which, if sublimated and transcended, give rise to Love Agapé and Divine Compassion. This ‘Tried and True’ solution to all the ills of humankind lies within the ‘Human Condition’ and, as it has had 3,000 to 5,000 years to demonstrate its efficacy, can be discarded as being the ‘Tried and Failed’.


7. When ‘I’ as ego and ‘me’ as soul psychologically and psychically self-immolate – which is the end of ‘being’ itself – then the answer to the ‘Mystery Of Life’ becomes evident as an on-going existential experiencing; I am this physical universe experiencing itself as a reflective, sensate human being; as me, the universe is intelligent (there is no anthropomorphic ‘Intelligence’ that is creating or running existence).

(The first excerpt is from the column "The Speaking Tree" in The Times of India dated February 2 2009, and is by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev).

(The second excerpt is from The Actual Freedom website, from an article titled A Précis of Actual Freedom written by Richard, last name unknown)


Ravi S Ghosh said...

You seem to be pretty much determined to denude this guy, jaggi vasudev. Unfortunately, whatever we rational people do, those who are stuck in these cults just do not want to listen anything other than what their masters tell. One of my childhood friend and indeed the closest person is in this guy's trap. He asked me to join Inner Engineering program, but I was not affected.

It would be great if you could analyze the reasons why we in general need gurus, religious leaders, etc.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Ravi,

You might find the following article interesting:

It is a little long (3 pages) but very interesting.

Sandy G said...

Hi Harman,
You may like the book 'happiness hypothesis' by Jhonathan Haidt. He too distinguishes between the rational ego that one can control (or tame via spirituality as you claim in original post) and the emotional/habitual part that is tough to reign in. He reuses the analogy of the rider and the elephant equating the rider with the conscious part and elephant with the unconscious part; so the central idea is that you need to direct the elephant appropriately, but cannot overpower it by brute force (willpower etc) alone. It is a nice book and I highly recommend it.