The Self

The Buddha said self-affirmation is the cause of all sorrow. This urge to protect and defend the separated self as if it can stand alone and apart from the whole of life and the rest of the world is where we find our suffering.

Robert: Welcome to Inner Sight. Today’s topic is the self and although it may seem easy to talk about self, I think it’s one of the most challenging topics to explore. I like a thought that is on the Delphic Oracle, and it’s as follows, “Man, know thyself, and thou shalt know the universe.” That’s quite an interesting thought about self, and I also like this one too, “The key to the mystery of God is found in every human being and is present in every human heart. When one knows his own soul, he has taken the first step to knowledge of God,” and that’s from Alice Bailey. Who is “I”? 

Sarah: Interesting question. I think the Delphic Oracle was expressing in different words the concept that “as above, so below”; what is found on the highest levels of existence replicates itself on the lowest. So, as Alice Bailey said, “the key to the mystery of God is present within the human being.” The Bible implied this because it said that “God made man in his own image,” and it said that “in him we live and move and have our being.” So, all of these recognitions point to the same thing, that the key to this mystery is within the human being. But it’s not easy to identify it. There’s a word from psychology that might help to define the “I.” It’s referred to as the ego and the ego is the object of self-consciousness, the capacity to be self-aware, which, although some people might argue with me, is not found in animals, although I did have a cat that was very self-aware. But I suppose in the really correct sense of the term, they don’t have that awareness of themselves. The ego is the soul, but too often people think of the ego as inflated self-importance. That’s egocentricity, the sense that the ego is the centre of the universe. That’s when things get out of hand. But the sense of being a self is actually divine in potential. 

Dale: I like to think of the soul, that inner self, that inner divine spark that is inherent in each one of us, in terms of light, as a point of light. Essentially, that’s what it is. That to me is quite meaningful and as I understand it from the writings of Alice Bailey, the soul is really an intense vortex of energy existing on the inner planes of consciousness, and that is essentially what we are in our inner self, a point of light. This has come up in nuclear physics now, they have seen the atom as a particle or as a wave form. I think this is very close to the thought in a mantram that we have in our work, called the Mantram of the Disciple. The first three lines read, “I am a point of light within a greater Light. I am a strand of loving energy within the stream of Love divine. I am a point of sacrificial Fire focused within the fiery Will of God.” Now here we have a point and a wave form, in a sense a strand of energy. Nuclear physics seems to be getting very close to what the Ageless Wisdom teachings already have said about the soul as being a point of light. 

Robert: Do we understand then that the self and the soul are synonymous? 

Sarah: Well, I don’t know. I think that there are different levels to identity and the self is the soul, but the self is also the personality. It’s interesting to consider the origin of the word personality. It comes from persona, which is a Latin term which originally meant the mask that an actor in ancient plays put on to play a particular role. The persona was the mask you are, and you can remember in Greek tragedies and comedies, the mask was either smiling in a comedy or frowning in a tragedy. This is the personality. It’s a garment that the soul dons to live on Earth and the mistake is thinking that we are only that personality, that role. It’s really something through which the soul can accomplish its purpose, but it’s not by any means the whole expression of the being. We are playing a part in our personality, but we mistake that personality for being the sumtotal of our expression. 

Robert: There are so many levels of self. Why is it so difficult for some of us to “know thyself” as the Oracle says? 

Sarah: I think it’s because people focus more on what they are doing rather than what they are. They’re focusing on their actions or their roles. They define themselves in terms of what they are in relationship to others; I am a wife, mother, homemaker, educator, executive, nurse, electrician and so on. Or they might define themselves in terms of the group to which they belong, whatever that group is: I am Greek, African American, gay or whatever. These are all roles, but they don’t get to the essence of the real self and that’s one of the reasons people have such a hard time getting to the inner essence. But I also think there’s probably a divine purpose in making that inner reality so hidden and so buried, because if that is our connection to our divine source, we do rightly have to search for it. We have to look deeply within to find that divine essence and it seems appropriate that it shouldn’t be so accessible. 

Dale: Yes, it’s because the soul has this higher aspect, the higher self. The personality self is the way the soul contacts the physical world. It cannot do it otherwise, so it needs this personality, this persona, to gain experience in the world, which is one of its functions. 

Sarah: Both are needed. The problem is that too many people, including psychologists, focus only on this outer aspect, or what the Ageless Wisdom might call the lower self and they ignore the higher self. I think it was Freud that first uncovered an inner subjective layer to the human self, but he revealed, if I understand his work, the subjective self in terms of impulses, drives and desires that were in some ways shameful or conditioning in a way that wasn’t very expressive of the dignity of man. These subjective impulses are part of being human, but too few psychologists have pointed to the higher aspect as well. The Italian psychologist Roberto Assagioli, who wrote Psychosynthesis and The Act of Will, was one who was aware of the higher self. Others were Alfred Adler and Abraham Maslow. 

Dale: Jung was also aware of it. He didn’t put it in quite those terms, but it was there in his consciousness. 

Robert: I’m intrigued by what Alice Bailey said, and we quoted her in the beginning of this show, that “the key to the mystery of God is found in every human being.” It seems to be, as we explore our self and the deeper levels of self and if we explore self deep enough, we ultimately find God. As one develops spiritually, does the distinction between the personal self, the personality, and the higher self, the soul, become lessened?  

Sarah: Well, in fact, I would say it becomes greater for us at a certain stage. You might not think that would be so, but many people who try to develop spiritually, find that the spiritual energy that they begin to access through meditation and study initially has the effect of heightening the personality, making it a little bit more resilient and resistant to the divine energies of the soul. The will of the personality can become strengthened. The mind awakens, and the mind can be quite a separating mechanism when it’s not integrated with the mind of God. It can be quite separative and hard in its expression. So, if there is a stage in the development of the spiritual life when the personality becomes kind of an entity on its own, and you can look at people and realize that they are going through that stage; it’s a stage, it’s not forever. It can actually be a sign of development so long as eventually it’s superseded with the soul becoming more dominant, the soul being that aspect of the self which is group conscious, group identified, inclusive in its view and having the sense of being at one with humanity, at one with life and not as an independent, separated existence. That’s the effect of the soul. 

Dale: Yes, it’s when the quality of love begins to come through, that’s when you can see the soul beginning to manifest because love is one of the basic qualities of the soul. Not the personal kind of love, but the more universal love. Not love for the little self so much but love for the world around you, the love, concern, and compassion for the world in general. 

Sarah: There are spiritual teachers like the Buddha and the Christ that have been aware of this dichotomy, or this split between the personality and the soul, and they’ve warned against it. The Buddha said that self-affirmation is the cause of all sorrow. The desire to affirm the separated self, to enhance its power and to protect it and keep it distinct and thriving is a deep inner urge within human beings, and yet, he said, it is the cause of all sorrow. When you think about it, it is true; this urge to protect and defend the separated self as if it can stand alone and apart from the whole of life and the rest of the world is where we find our suffering. He and Christ tried to teach through their example, the merging of the self, or the identity, in the whole. 

Robert: It’s interesting too, that the latest scientific findings underscore what both Jesus Christ and Buddha said, that we are indeed all connected. It’s very profound and of course it’s very hard to understand but there are some books available today that explain the latest findings in quantum physics. So, if we’re all connected, maybe then we’re all part of the same Self, which is an intriguing idea. Sarah, I’d like a recommendation for one of Alice Bailey’s books that might pertain to what we’re talking about today. 

Sarah: Well, if I can recommend two, I’d recommend Esoteric Psychology Volumes One and Two. Esoteric Psychology gives an insight into the soul and as Alice Bailey referred to it, its vehicle, the personality. It’s as if the soul needs that equipment to carry out its purposes, which it does, but with the awareness that the personality is only the vehicle or the necessary form through which the soul, which is love and light, can express itself in the world. Those two volumes I think would give our listeners a good understanding of the scenario. Coming back to this thought of the Buddha saying that self-affirmation is the cause of all sorrow reminded me of a comment that Houston Smith, the wonderful writer of The Religions of Man or as his book is now called The World’s Religions made. He said that “everything I do for my private well-being adds another layer upon my ego and in thickening it insulates me more from God.” And yet, conversely, he said, “every act done without a thought for myself diminishes my self-centeredness until finally there is no barrier that separates me from the Divine.” When you think about it, yes, every act done for the separated self insulates one from God, and yet so many of us spend all our resources thickening the layers around the separated self, the sense of “I” as a distinct and separate being from the rest of humanity. 

Robert: According to that quote then, the truly enlightened person would be just as interested in the welfare of others as he is for himself. But that certainly is a very advanced state of being. 

Sarah: But it’s possible. It’s possible for all of us. Yes, the greatest beings have demonstrated this awareness flawlessly, but I think all of us can strive to imagine and to begin to develop this capacity to identify with others and know that the self is really one in all human beings. Look around you on the subway, the train, or the bus, or when you’re in a gathering of many, many people and try to imagine on the level of consciousness that there are no borders and no real separations, that we are all drawing from the same well or the same reservoir of life and light and love. There are so many similarities that unite human beings, and yet we spend so much time trying to define how we are all distinct from each other. And yes, our distinctions are necessary and they’re part of the rich tapestry of humanity, but I sometimes think we should put more of our focus on realizing how very much alike we all are. 

Robert: And it brings to mind, too, one of my favorite quotes from Scripture set forth by Jesus Christ, that he who treats me well is also he who ministers to the prisoner or the sick person. That’s the essence of it. I wish I could remember the exact words of it; perhaps you do? 

Sarah: “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.” That speaks to my heart as well. 

Robert: It certainly pertains to what we’re talking about today. Are there ways in which we can distinguish the soul working out in the world through the personality? 

Dale: Yes, and in relation to what we’ve just been talking about, I think one rather unique way is through the study of psychology, through the whole practice of psychology, particularly if you want to include in this what we just mentioned, esoteric psychology. The soul comes into play when a lot of discontent begins to arise in human nature. In our personality lives we may be going along our merry little way and are very happy, and suddenly we become very discontented about all of what’s happening. We’re leading our beautiful materialistic life and suddenly this begins to change and we begin to look at life differently and want something based on a different value system. Maybe a person has followed the material path for their whole life and suddenly they find it all wanting and lacking meaning. And so, a certain kind of interference pattern crops up in our personality life and I think this is the point where psychology could really step in and see it as the first influence of the soul taking shape. 

Sarah: It’s often a state of depression, but you’re saying that it can really be a positive step. 

Dale: I think it’s a positive step if you can see it as the first impact of the soul beginning to make an impact on that lower consciousness. The energy of the soul is in effect creating an interference pattern in the personality life. I think if you could recognize it for what it is: it’s the inner self beginning to make itself known so that the link up with the higher self can begin. 

Sarah: Friction can often be quite a positive stage for growth. The discomfort. We’re so oriented toward achieving comfort. 

Dale: We have the expression in our work called “divine discontent” and it’s exactly that. It’s the divine part of us, the soul, who is discontented with this very bland personality life, and so it’s making an impact on the lower self to get busy and to start the refining process. 

Robert: Actually, what you’re saying is very interesting. You’re saying that for a person who’s in a state of depression, there may be something deep within his being saying things are not right, you’re not on the correct path and although you might have material wealth and you might have all the things that most people like, there is something wrong. So, what you’re saying is intriguing because the person who’s in a state of depression might be motivated to move on and change his life in a very profound way. 

Dale: Yes, exactly. If perhaps they could actually use this depression to work through it and to see it as something deep within that’s trying to come to the fore. 

Robert: There are certainly very profound psychiatrists who have written articles that are very much in harmony with what you just said. Can we see the growth of self-awareness in any larger trends in society? 

Sarah: Yes, we’ve been focusing on the individual, but you can take these same concepts of the self and see them within humanity. I think one being the demand for freedom that has been increasing ever since the French and American revolutions. Freedom is an ideal that all human beings now strive toward. I think this is an indication that human beings are not a part of a herd but have a sense of self autonomy that is divine in potential. For a while it leads to a stage where the individual is independent and perhaps a bit separated from society, but that’s only a stage. The urge for freedom is a divine propelling force. Another aspect of the world at large that demonstrates the growth of the sense of self is the awareness of civil rights that is so worldwide now. The different cultures don’t all agree on what constitute rights, but the idea that human beings, just by being human, are entitled to certain rights is, I think, a divine recognition that recognizes the self and its inherent dignity and worth. 

Dale: And also, the self being group conscious. We’ve mentioned this before, the growth of this group idea as it’s been called. That’s very much present in the world today because everything that gets done nowadays is done by way of a group and that’s also part of the evolution of the soul coming to the fore, because the soul is group conscious. 

Robert: I think you’re absolutely right. We have to remember that it was not that long ago that the general trend was the idea, even amongst religions, that man was basically evil. Now we see a transition occurring where a lot of organizations and religions are opening up to the idea of the dignity of mankind and that certainly shows a degree of progression. In closing we invite you to ponder on this thought; Goodwill is the touchstone that will transform the world. Goodwill is love in action. It’s the energy that draws us together in right relationship. There is a world prayer called the Great Invocation. It’s a call for light, love, and goodwill to flow into the world and into our hearts. Let’s listen for a moment to these powerful words. 

Sarah: Closes the program with the adapted version of the Great Invocation

(This is an edited transcript of a recorded radio program called “Inner Sight”. This conversation was recorded between the host, Robert Anderson, and the then President and Vice-President of Lucis Trust, Sarah and Dale McKechnie.)

(Transcribed and edited by Carla McLeod)




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