Unit IV. Development of the Self-conscious Mind

  1. The Unconscious Ground
  2. The Self-conscious Mind, Intellect
  3. Preoperational Development
  4. Early Learning
  5. The Buddhist Skandhas
  6. The Void is Awake
Materials needed: Journal

Books Needed:

The Upanishads*
Inner work

Magical child
Shankara's Crest-Jewel of Discrimination

Yoga and psychotherapy*

Practices and Exercises:

Inner work
The Crest Jewel of Discrimination
The Magical Child
Concept formation
The Magical Child (continued)
Amritabindu Upanishad
Shvetashvatara Upanishad
Extending the model

* You may already have these books

"Liberation is the cutting of the knot of ignorance in the heart." - Shankara

Have you ever thought about how remarkable it is that you can think about yourself from the standpoint of other people? It is as if you can leave your own body and go stand in their shoes. Yet you could not always do this. The ability emerges at around age five or six in most children. There was once a home movie of me, now fortunately lost, that showed me hopping down the front steps of our house. I then paused on the bottom step, looked at the camera with my head tilted, jumped down the last step and brushed my hands together as if I had accomplished something. To this day, the memory of that film embarrasses me because of the blatant self-consciousness it portrayed. It is interesting that it takes five or six years to develop this capacity for self-centeredness. That is the job of the ego, but it also rests on a fairly mature brain and mind. In this unit, we will trace the development of mind up to and including this stage of internalization.

The Unconscious Ground

Our starting point is that unfocused matrix out of which all intellect emerges. This is called the "unconscious" because it is that aspect of ourselves of which we are unaware. One of its components is the "primary process." Primary process is a general field of awareness without any particular sustained focus. Pearce (1989, p. 145) says, "The primary process is the function through which we are conscious of the earth as a thinking globe, the flow of life, the general field of awareness...[It is] also past, current and potential possiblity and experience." It dominates the life of young children.

The unconscious includes the Id aspect of the personality which is the source of all desires, drives and motives and which is not governed by any social restrictions because it is so primitive. When the ego begins to develop, it takes on the job of controlling the Id and governing the personality from a rational stance. So it operates on what is called the "reality principle." With the advent of ego, the person becomes capable of repression, denial, projection and a host of other psychological defense mechanisms.

Thus a territory is carved out of the unconscious background by the ego and made conscious. Then the ego takes up a stance of separation and individuation toward the outside world. It also creates a self-image and sets itself up to defend that image, no matter what, even if the image is negative and painful. At least it is familiar.

As development continues, another level of consciousness is created called the subconscious or the personal unconscious. The difference between this and the unconscious proper is that the subconscious can be reached. It includes memory as well as perceptions and sensations that are not in the forefront of our attention but which can come to the front if needed. An example of this is how you do not attend to household sounds when you are reading a good book, but you would still hear the doorbell if you are expecting company. Mothers are notorious for hearing their children when they are not making noise because that usually means they are getting into trouble. So it is as if we can program ourselves to selectively attend to or disregard various stimuli.

There is another level of consciousness that Jung (de Laszlo, 1959) calls the "Collective Unconscious." This is a level of potential awareness that is the same for everyone, but of which most of us are not usually aware. It includes those great figures of possibility called archetypes which are patterns of being that are the same over all cultures and which are found in all cultures and societies. For this reason, they are seen as collective. They probably stem, in part at least, from the commonality of human experience or perhaps they rest on common brain structures. Some examples are the Great Mother, the Hero, the Wise Old Person, the Spiritual Child, etc. I think of an archetype as a kind of Light-body or light-structure upon which denser flesh may be laid in the creation of human beings. This realm can be accessed in dreams, perhaps in daydreams and in guided imagery.

The unconscious is the great unknown, perhaps the last true frontier. It is possible to access it also through dreams, psychoanalysis, guided imagery and a process called twilight imaging (Progoff, 1975). When we bring unconscious content to the attention of the conscious mind, it is possible to claim and retain it thus enlarging the scope and dimensions of the conscious mind.

This is part of the psychoanalytic process devised by Freud. Although it is currently denied by many modern psychologists, psychoanalysis is very valuable in curing certain types of neurosis exactly because it brings past traumas and unresolved, repressed conflicts to light.

The meaning of the unconscious that we have been discussing is that of unawareness. Because I do not know what is there, I say I am unconscious of it. That does not mean that the unconscious itself is unaware. In fact, it is most likely the prototype of awareness. And in that sense, we are talking about the unconscious as the Ground of all Being, the Absolute. Buddhists call it the Void or Sunyata. This means the unformed core of vibrant energy which is all there is, ultimately, and out of which everything is created. It is that Ultimate Reality we call God, Beingness, the Divine One, Brahman, Allah, the Tao and the Absolute. This Being is supremely conscious... we think it must be to have created the entire cosmos.

So we can think of at least two nesting matrices. One is the Ground of all Being and the other is the primary process. One is cosmic, the other is an individual's experience of it. But, I think we will see that the principle of "As above, so below" will operate here in that the process of the mind taking form out of the global primary process is analogous to the creation of the universe out of nothing in particular.

Exercise: Inner Work

1. Read Inner Work, Part I by Robert Johnson to page 26 and compare what he says with the summary given here. Please notice the new terms he presents. You may want to start a glossary for yourself that defines these terms because we will be meeting them again and again.

Consider whether you have an attitude toward the unconscious. By attitude is meant a concept or concepts of what the word "unconscious" means, coupled with a feeling about it. If you have no feelings one way or the other, it is not an attitude, but merely a concept or idea. In either case, see if you can write down a description of the unconscious for later reference. If you have an attitude, make note of that as well.

What do you think about the idea that many distinct personalities live within us? How are imagination and dreams alike? Why does Johnson think dualities are necessary?

2. Read pages 127-130 in Yoga and Psychotherapy. How does the view of Rama, et al. about the unconscious differ from that of Johnson? Make some notes about these differences in your journal.

The Self-conscious Mind, Intellect

Before we get too far into this unit, something needs an explanation in order to provide a background for what will be presented. What follows outlines the psychological development of the mind. Now, you may say, what does that have to do with anything? I'm interested in the spiritual journey. Well, that is what needs to be addressed because mind is the leading actor in creating our separation from the Divine One.

In all of the eastern traditions, and in some of the western ones, the mind and ego are considered to be the major obstacles to enlightenment, and great effort is taken to escape from their spells. The reasoning behind this attitude is that the mind, in cahoots with ego, creates the veils that shut us out from the knowledge of who we really are - which is The Divine One. You see, in eastern philosophy, we are the Divine One. It is an identity relationship. In western traditions, on the other hand, we are seen to be in a personal relationship with the Divine One. That is a duality: me and God. Not: I am God. The latter may sound like blasphemy to you, but it is a conviction that is shared by more than half the people on the planet.

In fact, that half understands that the dualities are the real culprits. There are, in fact, no real separations. All separation and duality is a figment of the mind's imagination, and ego's job is to perpetuate the illusion. You may remember a discusssion in Book I about Universal vs Relative Reality. The Universal Reality is what is: there is only the One, and everything we perceive is part of that One. The Relative Reality is what our senses and perceptions tell us is there, and it is the world we live in everyday. Both exist simultaneously, but only the Universal Reality remains when one systematically examines one's experience.

You will see, when you get to the chapters assigned from Pearce's (1986) Magical Child, how children start out with the ability to perceive the Ultimate Reality directly. Pearce calls this primary perception. He sees the young child positioned in a matrix called the primary process which we might call the Ultimate Reality. From this position, there is a possibility for the child to bond with the Ultimate Reality via the earth matrix. But this usually does not happen because our educational system sidetracks the process in the interest of developing the mental constructions (intellect) that create the false perceptions mentioned above. If you have ever felt abused by the educational system, this is probably the reason why. You were deprived of your birthright when you lost your connection with your primary perceptions. And this is the reason we all feel disconnected and separated. This is soul loss in its most elementary form.

The Relative Reality is a construction of the mind, and, as such, has multiple flaws in it. We overlay our direct sensations and perceptions with mental constructions and interpretations that alienate us from an accurate connection with the way things truly are. Thousands of people who have meditated faithfully testify to the accuracy of this interpretation from their experiences of the Ultimate Reality, during which the Relative Reality disappears. In the following sections, we will see how the superficial reality is created in the course of mental and personality development. Believe it or not, such a false construction of reality can be documented by modern experimental psychology. Furthermore, it receives the support of consensual validation from the culture and nearly all of our social groups.

Exercise: The Crest-Jewel of Discrimination

1. Read Shankara's Crest-Jewel of Discrimination (Prabhavananda, Swami and Christopher Isherwood, 1975). This very cogently and coherently explains our identity with the One and the illusion of separateness spun by the mind and ego. Notice that Shankara says it is the sheaths or kosas that cloud our knowledge of who we really are. These are the concentric bodies that enclose us: the physical, etheric (called "subtle" by Shankara), two mental and the bliss sheaths.

Please make an outline of the main ideas presented as you read, so you have a skeleton structure upon which to hang the upcoming information. You may want to compare it with mental development as it occurs in our society as well as with the Buddhist interpretation of the same phenomenon. This is the Yogic viewpoint.

2. Close your eyes for a moment and think back to your earliest memories. What are they like? Are they kinesthetic, visual or auditory? Or are they, perhaps, so vague that you can not put them into words. How far back can you go with your memories? Four years old? Three? Two? Earlier? Most of us can not go back much farther than two years old or so. Of course, there is regression analysis which can take us back into the womb or into previous lives, it seems. But, without that kind of unusual stimulation, what can you just remember on your own? And what kinds of things do you remember? Were they events that were highlighted in some way by high levels of emotion such as fear or surprise? Or special occasions you remember for their joyful components such as a birthday?

Tracking memory gives us a feel for the different quality of sensation and perception in the early years before the mind became so conditioned to certain patterns of operation. During the first two years, your memories, if any, are likely to be kinesthetic because your mind was not capable of creating visual images. However, we find that during massage, people often recover global bodily feelings related to events that were occuring at a much earlier time. The body is the first vehicle for coding our experience. So what memories of infancy there are can be found in the muscles and tissues. Later on, we shall see, comes visual and auditory memory followed by conceptualization. But first, let us see what happens in the brain while all this is going on.

Brain Development. In an adult, the long, rapidly transmitting neurons in the nervous system are insulated by a material called a myelin sheath. These sheaths develop slowly, the process is about 95% complete at 6 years of life and totally complete by 18 years. Before the sheaths are in place, new connections can be made with other neurons all along the length of the long neurons which accounts for the importance of early learning and environmental stimulation in the development of intelligence. However, after myelination is complete, it becomes more difficult to make certain kinds of connections. One example, given before,is of the greater ease of learning a new language during childhood as opposed to middle age. The aspects of language that depend upon speed such as accent and inflection are much more difficult, if not impossible to master, once one is out of childhood.

One of the things, it is said, that distinguishes human beings from other animals is the size of the brain relative to the rest of the body mass, plus the length of time it takes for it to mature. While it is maturing, there is more flexibility in terms of learning. For instance, if a young child suffers brain damage in the hemisphere which is normally given to speech and language development, s/he can fairly easily manage a transfer to the other side. Not so for an adult. It is as if the open possibilities diminish with age.

Hemispheric dominance. Another factor that is tied to age is hemispheric dominance. You probably already know what that is. What you may not know is when it is accomplished and that it is a relatively recent development in human history. Our brains specialize. There are two major divisions of the cerebral cortext, the most recent evolutionary development. The left side generally is concerned with analytic, linear information processing, the right with global, simultaneous functioning. Furthermore, some kind of a decision seems to be made at around six years of age to allow one hemisphere to dominate the other. This is called hemispheric dominance, and it is established through a multitude of the physical and sensory activities that accompany children's play.

There is a figurative midline that runs vertically directly in front of the body and that would divide the world outside in half if it were perceptible. For the first six years, perhaps seven or eight in some children, everything that happens on each side of this midline is processed by the eye and hand of that same side. You can see this in operation if you ask a young child placed in front of a blackboard to start well to the left of his/her body and, with the right hand, draw a line clear to the other side. S/he will turn the whole body to the left so the eye and hand holding the chalk is always on the side in which the action is moving. Or you can tie an object to a piece of string and swing it in front of the child going back and forth across the midline and ask him/her to watch it. If you then observe his/her eyes, you will see them appear to "jump" as they pass the midline, an indication that the focus is shifting from one to the other. The ability to easily and fluidly cross the midline back and forth with the eyes is a critical faculty in learning to read which is why some children cannot read until they are older than the norm. Boys tend to take longer to develop this ability than girls. It is undoubtedly significant that one of the exercises used to treat slow readers is having them crawl. Often it is found that these children learned to walk without first crawling. Crawling enables the child to learn how to coordinate the two sides of the body. Hemispheric dominance is also important in learning to read as it settles the problem of which side is going to do the leading which, in turn, assists in crossing the midline.

These examples are given so you can appreciate the importance of brain maturity in the development of the mind.

Internalization. Another important shift takes place between the ages of five and seven years. We could call it internalization because it appears that a gross turning within occurs at this time. Freud was the first to notice it in the manifestation of repression. This emerges around age five and is dependent upon maturation of the ego. A separation is achieved in the mind between that which is not to be conscious and that which is all right; and the former is repressed, i.e., relegated to the unconscious mind. It is probably no accident that the superego makes its appearance at this time. The superego is better known as the "critic." It is that part of our personalities that takes over the parental role in designating right from wrong and proper behavior from unacceptable behavior. It is directly responsible for guilt and shame feelings. It carries all the parental prohibitions, ideals, and norms right along into adulthood, so we no longer need our parents to govern our behavior. It is the voice of conscience. In many of us, it is terribly authoritarian and bossy and needs to be cut down to size, a job that is difficult to do without a psychotherapist.

But this is not all of the story. Another kind of internalization is also taking place. Vygotsky (1962) was one of the first to recognize that there is a connection between speech and intellectual development. Initially, thinking is linked to the motor aspects of the child's speech. That means that, up to about five years of age, a mother knows what her child is thinking, plotting, etc. because the child thinks out loud. In other words, thinking is directly tied to the speech or language process. We all regress to this when faced with a difficult problem. Who does not talk out loud to themselves when trying to figure out how to solve a puzzle? However, at around age five, thinking suddenly goes underground. And it is a fairly abrupt transition. Now, mother no longer knows what little Johnny is up to. Thinking has become detached from speech. This has the advantage of speeding up thought astronomically. It also enables verbal mediation which is essential to concept-formation. We will return to that later in this unit.

Exercise: Mind-Watching

1. The next time you sit for meditation, focus your attention on the process of what your mind is doing. This means watch the process instead of dismissing it. This is tricky because our tendency is to get caught up in the content of what we are thinking and forget to watch the process. In fact, you may find it difficult to do both - thinking and watching thinking. But give it a try. What happens? Do you lose your focus? Does it shift back and forth? Which process seems to dominate, watching or thinking?

Select a prayer or poem you know and like, and try to recite it silently all the way through without letting anything else distract you. Whenever you get distracted, start over at the beginning. What happens? Why do you think that is? How does this exercise make you feel? Now try to say the same passage out loud. How does this differ from merely thinking it?

Now, set your mind to solving a problem. Do it first just in your mind. Watch what happens to all the aspects of the problem. Do you get confused? Sidetracked by a daydream or another train of thought? After playing with this for a while, get the essentials of the problem down on paper. What are the pros and cons? Or what are the givens you know about? What is not known? What is the goal? As you put this together on paper, watch your mind. Is there more focus than in the exercise above? How do you account for that? Do you work better in your head or with the essentials out in front of you in a concrete form?

2. Now read Yoga and Psychotherapy, chapter 3 to page 84 and compare the view of these authors with the development of the mind that has just been presented. You will get a feel for the difference in perspective between the eastern and western concepts of mind. You may want to review Unit 4 in Book I, especially Figure 3 and Figure 4 which diagram the Internal Instrument (also called the Antahkarana). It might be a good idea to print Figure 3 because we will be referring to it again.

In the next section on Preoperational Development, keep the schemas of Rama et al. in mind and see if you can relate Piaget's work to them. What part of the Internal Instrument is being developed during the stage of Preoperational Development?

Makes some notes in your journal about what you learned from this exercise.

The mind works with information best in a linear format initially, then it begins to learn how to use other methods for speeding up the process and keeping track of all the parts. That is called intellectual development, to which we will turn now.

Preoperational Development

Our attention will be drawn to preschool learning and development in this section. So, if you will, bring to mind an image of a child you may know around the age of three or four years. This is a being of boundless curiosity who is into everything: testing, sampling, asking questions, doing..doing..doing. The constant "why?" questions can drive a mother to distraction if she tries to track the child. It is as if the whole world is opening up for exploration and the child cannot get into it fast enough. Now able to walk around and run, this child is hard to keep up with and requires constant supervision in order to avoid trouble or danger. We call this the preconceptual stage of preoperational development because children are unable to construct concepts yet. They are engaged, however, in preliminary activities that lay the foundations for later conceptual thinking.

To help avoid confusion, let us take a moment to define our terms. Operation, in this context, means the ability to categorize and organize information into highly structured modes of functioning. Another way of thinking about it is the way a set or sets of elements are manipulated or combined. They can be reversed or regrouped while the operator is able to keep the original form in mind simultaneously. It also means that children understand that "out of sight is not necessarily out of mind," that there are operations that can go on mentally without being seen. Operational thinking is objective, meaning that the individual's focus and attention are detached from his/her immediate perceptions.

A concept is a group of things that are all alike in some basic quality or qualities which can be represented by a single word which stands for the quality or qualities that every member of the group has in common. With concept-formation, we can treat a whole group of things as if it were a single thing which helps the thinking and problem-solving process enormously. A concept can even refer to something that is completely abstract and that has no concrete reality such as "justice" or "greed."

However, concepts don't come naturally. They have to be learned. And it is pretty complicated learning. Stimulus deprivation in childhood can set a child back very severely because the basis of concept-formation is extensive experience with the characteristics of things. And that is what normally happens during the preschool period during children's play. We will briefly trace the sequencing of that learning in a minute.

Jean Piaget was a giant in the research on children's intellectual development. He devised games to play with children and questions to ask them that enabled him to observe how children thought about the things and the events in their lives at different ages. And Piaget kept careful, voluminous records. Although he did not do controlled research, as we like to think of it in psychological circles, his work was so carefully documented that his research has inspired experiments done by others who employ the stricter documentation we now require. Piaget's studies seeded a whole era of educational research. He was able to outline, not only the general parameters of child development, but specifically the underpinings of intellectual development that make the more complex forms possible such as social and personality development.

The first stage is sensory-motor development which was discussed in Book I. This Book will take up the Preoperational stage and the next Book, the Operational stage which is then followed by the Formal Operations stage that is characterized by the ability to think about one's own thinking and to work with probabilities.

The Preoperational stage deals with how children think before they are able to form concepts and it breaks down into two substages: the Preconceptual and the Intuitive. During the Preconceptual stage, roughly two to four years of age (ages are approximate and normative), a child is learning how to match, sort and group things and to develop the ability to pick out the defining qualities or characteristics of things. In the Intuitive stage, four to seven years of age, we see the beginnings of the first intimations the child has that things are not just as they appear to be to the senses. For instance, if I were to pour water from a short, squat glass into a tall, slim glass without adding or subtracting any water, the younger child would think there was now more water. The Operational child, seven to twelve years old, would be able to reason that, since I did not add or subtract any water, it had to be the same contrary to what appears to be the case. This is called conservation. However, the child in the Intuitive stage would still think there was more water, but would sense that something was wrong and would be likely to question the process.

In what follows, keep in mind that we are tracing the development of intellect, the conditioned mind, and not that of intuition which follows a very different path.

Preconceptual Intellectual Development. The two- to three-year old child typically thinks in a linear fashion. This leads to this which leads to this which leads to this.... etc. It might look something like this: "Lunch -> nap -> snack -> play -> cleanup -> dinner -> bath -> bed." If you were to give such a child a set of blocks that differed in color, shape, height and width and ask him to put together the ones that go together, a typical test using Vygotsky blocks (Hanfmann & Kasanin), you would get a line or a pile of blocks added at random in any order that catches the child's fancy such as a red, small cube -> a large blue cylinder -> small yellow triangle. There is no sense of grouping.

A little later in time, a child near the end of this stage will show the beginnings of a grouping strategy by being able to sort things into two piles based on a single characteristic. For instance, putting white buttons in one box and black ones in another. This is basically a matching process. Still later, the child can group things into piles based on one characteristic, e.g., the red blocks here, the green ones there and the yellow ones over here. This is still basically matching or sorting though a bit more complicated.

In all of these examples, children show increasing awareness of the fact that things have characteristics and that these characteristics can be used as a basic for forming groups. But it is not yet concept formation because language is not used yet as a mediator. That begins to develop in the next stage.

Exercise: The Magical Child

Read Magical Child, chapters 11-12. Formulate a set of guidelines for parenting in this stage of development based on what you have learned. Consider how you would optimize the child's intellectual development while, at the same time, preserving his/her innate gifts. Write these out formally and print a copy for your journal.

Intuitive Intellectual Development. If language were not internalized and divorced from speech, a person could not use it to form concepts. A concept requires what is called verbal mediation. This means that a name substitutes for all of the relevant characteristics that define the basis for the concept. This kind of grouping is a step up from direct, concrete play with objects where the basis for grouping is immediately visible, so language is used to bridge the gap. A true concept is based on an abstract quality that may not be immediately observable, for instance, color. So a label for this quality is needed to keep the focus. A single color, such as red, may be observed in a single object. But color, per se, cannot be. So, to group objects on the basic of color requires that the person be able to hold on to the abstract idea of color while, at the same time, remembering what the task is. Children who can verbalize "color" to themselves and who understand what the abstract concept means are prepared to group a diverse selection of objects into piles based on color. Older children could probably do this without any trouble given the following instructions: "Put the blocks together in piles that belong together." (In this task, the directions do not specify what the basis for grouping is.) Color is a dominant characteristic for most children, so those in the intuitive stage might arrange the blocks in piles of red, green, blue and yellow overlooking the shape, height and width qualities. Alternatively, they might focus on the shape and overlook color.

Here we have the beginnings of ability to focus the mind. The fuzziness of the primary process is being restricted by various discriminations in order to bring order out of apparent chaos. To actualize all of the potential power of the intellect, the mind has to be trained to make such distinctions. That it is achieved quite often at the expense of intuitive development is the price we have paid in our culture for the information superhighway. For, in the focusing process, the global perspective is lost, at least temporarily. That it can be regained is the lesson we are privileged to learn from Yoga and Buddhism.

To give you a feel for where development goes from here, try this task:

Exercise: Concept Formation

In the example given above of the water being poured from a short, squat glass into a tall, thin glass, explain in a word or two (no more than four or five maximum) or label the basis of your knowledge that there is still the same amount of water. Feel free to test this out. The fact that nothing was added or subtracted does not count because you already have been told that. How else do you know?

Exercise: The Magical Child continued

Read the Magical Child, chapters 13-14. Explain "matrices" in your own words. Also explain "primary process" and "primary perception." Think about examples of each from your own experience as a child or from watching children you may know. Have you lost contact with your primary process and/or primary perceptions? Or can you remember them from your childhood? Do you have them now, or are they lost or watered down? If you do remember them or are in touch with them now, write a detailed description of all you can remember. If you cannot remember any, what do you think happened to them and when? Who was responsible?

Early Learning

We have sketched out a sequence of early learning and tried to show how it serves as a basis for later, more complex kinds of thinking and problem-solving. The brain is flexible and the child is curious, so the amount that can be learned seems to be limitless. There is ample research to show that early learning also is the most persistent. In your own memory, some scenes from childhood may stand out with almost luminous clarity. Elderly people who are beginning to lose their short-term memory can still review their early experiences in incredible detail. However, the amount of information on learning is so voluminous that it cannot possibily be covered in this short summary. This is only meant to give you a flavor of the general processes that are operating so you have a context for other areas of development that spring from and are based on the development of intellect.

Intellectual development is a mental process part of which is based on: 1) separating oneself from the outside world, 2) identifying qualities or values, 3) discriminating between things, people, ideas and events and then 4) identifying common qualities or values. Consequently, 5) one can group them on the basis of the characteristics that are deemed to be relevant by the individual. Since these processes are found in every aspect of human life, they seem to be pretty elemental, providing a kind of foundation for all subsequent behavior.

The Buddhist Skandhas

"..as ego develops, freedom and imprisonment begin to exist; and that relative situation
contains the basic quality of ignorance."(Trungpa, 1975, p. 11)

The statement quoted above lies at the core of Buddhist philosophy. The Ultimate Reality is emptiness, the void, Sunyata, which contains nothing. That means no thing. However, as we begin to develop psychologically, an ego gradually emerges as the result of experience and sensory input. And, as it does, it begins to create its own relative reality. It is called "relative reality" because how we perceive "the world" depends upon the egomind's interpretation of what the information brought in by the senses means. Since, say the eastern philosophers, there is really nothing out there and since the ego tends to ignore the fact that it has made up the whole thing, the condition of the person whose perceptions are dominated by the egomind is called ignorance, i.e., ignoring the basic facts.

But, you may protest, there really is a world out there. I can see, hear, taste and smell it. However, both physicists and modern psychologists might remind you that the senses convey only "on" and "off" impulses in the nerves that lead to the sensory cortex of the brain. One has to learn to organize this electro-chemical information into meaningful perceptions. And that is done by the mind as the brain matures. Furthermore, eastern psychology maintains that the mind, itself, is only another sense since it brings in information also, albeit more complex information. And they go even further to say that the information brought in by the mind and senses is erroneous.

There is data from modern physics to support these interpretations. If you were to train an electronic microscope on anything in the world, it would disappear. Why? Because everything is ultimately composed of extremely minute particles and/or waves, at least as far as we can presently document. Therefore, you might venture to say that the emptiness or void is full of electricity or electromagnetism and nothing else. You can verify this in your own experience if you sit for meditation long enough to attain the state of Samadhi. In that condition, your mind quietens and the senses withdraw; then, lo and behold, there is nothing there. Of course, you have to stay awake and not go to sleep in order to observe this phenomenon - which implies that consciousness exists (and that is another argument). Otherwise, who would be doing the observing? This question of Who is central to all spiritual disciplines. We will come back to that again.

One of the main themes of the Abhidharma, an important Buddhist text, has to do with the creation of "reality" by the human mind. How do we make up a universe out of the "whole cloth" of nothingness? Well, the ego is our fall guy again. There are five stages of this fallacious creation, called the skandhas. Skandhas are "heaps" or collections of "..details and aspects of psychological inclinations of different types."(Trungpa, 1975, p. 18)

"The skandhas represent the constant structure of human psychology as well as its pattern of evolution and the pattern of evolution of the world. The skandhas are also related to blockages of different types - spiritual ones, material ones, emotional ones, " says Trungpa (1975, p. 3) in Glimpses of Abhidharma. We are bringing the skandhas in here because they deal specifically with the separation that is the theme of these guidebooks as well as with how our personality development rigidifies our lives into ego forms. As the title of the book suggests, this information on the skandhas comes from a larger treatise called The Abhidharma (Trungpa, 1975) which is part of the three bodies of teaching that make up the Buddhist scriptures. Dharma has many meanings but the usage here is in terms of the law or how things are. Abi means something visibly apparent. So Abhidharma means how things are seen to be. We are now going to investigate the patterns of ego development which take up just one tiny segment of the Buddhist teachings on the subject.

There are five skandhas: form, feeling, perception, intellect or samskara, and consciousness. We will begin with form and work our way through the others in the order given above because that is the way the ego develops in real life. Caution: these terms, in the Buddhist context, do not mean what you would ordinarily expect them to mean, so please pay particular attention to the definitions.

Form. The first skandha is form. Now, form, here, is not what you usually call "form." It is not some thing. It is the first separation, the first split into duality. It separates the observer from what is observed which ignores the fact that there are not, in fact, any such boundaries. Remember we are all just vibrations of energy. Our boundaries are really fuzzy, if not non-existent, as any psychic can tell you. So to say to yourself, "I see a flower" is an error in perception and an error in interpretation. There is no separate [ego] "I" and there is no flower. They are both mental constructions that disappear under certain conditions that are well-defined by the mystics in every culture. "Flower" is a label we give to a concept that represents a group of things that appear to have certain characteristics in common, a group of perceptions, in other words. This separation into "I" and "other" is the first and most basic mistake that we all make. This kind of error gives rise to self-consciousness later on, at around age five or six when one becomes able to see oneself as an object of others' perceptions.

Note: It might be interesting to observe your own ego during the following discussion which is going to negate its existence. All of the negative emotions you may experience are ego defenses. For, if this material were not true, the ego would not be threatened, would it? Arguing and disbelief are also forms of defense you might want to look into. However, I urge you to keep an open mind. You are alone with your computer, so there is no real threat, is there?

Form is the English translation of the Sanskrit word, rupa, which means a structuralizing process or a dynamically organized field. Here it is applied to how ego sets up its territory. One of the major problems of human existence is the lack of any true control over reality. Because, say the Buddhists, none of this world is really out there and what we perceive is all in our minds, there is no ground to stand on, no person who stands on it or tries to stand on it and this causes a great deal of suffering for the poor ego. It is basically without a point of reference since there is nothing to relate to. So its solution to this problem is to project itself out into space and, thereby, create its own world which feels like it is under control. But, since the projections are not real and the world is not real, so neither is the control, and ego has to keep shoring up its defenses to keep from knowing that. The not knowing is called basic ignorance. This means an ignoring kind of not knowing. I do not want to know there is nothing out there, in this case.

We do not want to know because we are helpless to do anything about it and that is terrifying to the ego. Are you not already resisting the idea that the world is not really out there? Do not your senses tell you there is something there? Of course they do. That is their job. But they only have contact with the ephemeral vibrations that come into their receptor cells. And vibrations are not solid. So what makes us think there is a solid world out there? Actually there is something out there and we can have direct knowledge of it through our senses when we become one with them as young children do. However, in very early childhood, ego begins to try to control the world, and it overlays the direct knowledge with secondary perceptions (called maya or ignorance) which are about the world. These, you will agree, are not real in terms of having their own objective existence since they are only in the mind of a person. This is the old relative vs absolute reality dichotomy which we do not need to argue again.

Trungpa (1975, p. 10) says ego has eight kinds of consciousness which includes: 1-5) five senses, 6) the mind, 7) ignorance which manifests as cloudiness or confusion in the mind and 8) the unconscious in the sense of not knowingness. All of these consciousnesses are part of the form we are talking about.

The first step ego takes is naming and labeling. We will see, in the section on language, that the first words a child speaks are the names of things. And the timing of the emergence of the first word corresponds to the beginnings of ego development sometime during the second year of life. Now, naming is a very powerful move. When we name something, we feel like we have some control over it. Notice that in the creation story in Genesis, the Lord names everything as he creates it. This clearly establishes his authority. But, to name something, there has to be a separation between the namer and what is named, otherwise it is still all the same one thing. Therefore, this is the first duality that is created by the egomind. (During this discussion, the best definition for the skandha in each section will be italicized.) That object over there is not a part of me. It is a table, block or whatever. In doing this, ego creates its own private space, boundaries and an identity that is separate. This is what we call form.

The ego not only creates the separation, it ignores the fact that the boundaries were created by itself and do not really exist. It also becomes self-conscious because it sets itself up as an observer, an inner watcher. Self-consciousness at the beginning is only a rudimentary form of the self-consciousness that we see at age five when children become aware of themselves as the object of others' attention. But there is, at the initial separation, now a watcher who feels apart from the object of his or her perception. This is a part of the sensory-motor development documented by Piaget (1952). As an example, children lying on their backs in the crib may be playing with a toy. Gradually they notice that the toy feels different from their other hand because the other hand sends touch signals to the brain as well as the hand that is doing the feeling. The toy does not send signals except through the feeling hand. So it is "not me." Boundaries between me and not me are established by touching and mouthing things in the environment. All of this establishes a point from which ego can now make comparisons. We will see that the language of three-year olds reflects this process with the emergence of adjectives.

Feeling. The next development is an evaluation of what the "I" experiences. It can be positive, negative or neutral. This tendency lays the groundwork for the three Buddhist poisons: passion (holding on), aggression (destruction) and ignorance (ignoring) all of which are impulses to do, or not do, something about the ego's constructions. At this point the opposites and characteristics of things begin to emerge. In Yoga, we call the characteristics "gunas." They may be sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic depending upon how refined the sensory input is. Sattvic is the most refined.

Evaluation presupposes a distinction between the judge and the thing being judged. And it grows out of some kind of relationship with the object. In the beginning, it is probably just a pain vs pleasure distinction. And, as such, it gets attached to emotions which give things an energetic charge. Trungpa (1975, p. 22) says, "Feeling relates to mind as emotion with its source in imagination." Ah, here is our imagery again. And feeling relates to the body as a cluster of instincts, things, or thingness. So we can see that it is related to Freud's concept of the Id which is invested in maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. Incidently, the Id is not conscious but operates on a subliminal level.

Feeling requires that a judgment be made in order to evaluate something. Thus because of its connection to emotion, the feeling skandha carries an energetic charge which has motivational potential. Hence, feeling supplies some of the power to support the ego's illusion of separateness. What this means, so far, is that now we respond to our self-created version of what is happening and our self-generated judgments about whether it is good or bad or indifferent. We will see, later on, that a subsequent step is to project these perceptions and judgments outward onto others which enables us to then respond to our own emotional creations as if they were something different from ourselves. So now, we have separation and evaluation leading to emotionality. Notice the primary role of want in this construction.

Feeling uses the natural characteristics of things and experiences to support the initial idea of duality. This means that we now respond to our version of what is happening rather than to the raw reality. This is yet another move away from direct perception. It requires extremes of the opposites, so more ignoring must take place, overlooking the graduations of characteristics on the dimension. For example, we say, "everything is black and white for him. There is no gray." This expresses a certain rigidity in perception that gives a feeling of solidity, and therefore control, to the person who is doing the evaluating or judging. This is probably why we notice rigidity in people who tend to be critical.

Perception. Ego now moves out to conquer more territory. It wants to control the space in which things exist, so it tries to constrain the open space within which it has created dualities and feelings. This space is the awakened state of primordial consciousness. It has no characteristics, is not a thing, nor is it apprehendable. So it can not be controlled. This situation frightens the ego and threatens its power to organize the "world," so it tries to freeze the open space in which ignorance and energy developed. It tries to possess and restrict that awakened state of primordial consciousness. In doing so, perception tries to extend the territory of the ego's dominion and thus define it more clearly. All this is done in relation to the ego's central reference point which is ego identity or "I-am"-ness.

Form and feelings, as described above, deal with what is manifested. In perception, the ego now tries to bring control over the unmanifested as well by holding on to it and by trying to establish connections with it. This is much more difficult since space is not available to the senses, so ego begins to develop more fear of loss of control. This fear can become despair. So ego may deal with that by becoming attached to the fear itself, making fear into another ground to hang on to it. Trungpa (1975, p. 43) says we could let go of the need to control and simply experience things as they are. This is called "emptiness" or sunyata. Instead, we cover over the "isness" of things with our own veils of illusion and then become afraid when we cannot control what we have created or reduce the uncertainty. One of the dilemmas this type of perception plunges us into is confusion which can only happen in frozen space. We can easily see confusion as a defense against ego's loss of control.

There are five aspects of perception: manifestation, nonmanifestation, the two polarities and absolute nothingness. When it can, the ego manifests something which leads to a feeling of hope because it solidifies space. When it cannot, it gives up hope of maintaining any ground in the emptiness it is trying to master which leads to a feeling of fear. However, this is still a form of control and solidification because ego makes despair into solid ground. The two polarities have to do with ego expanding its vision of territory outward or inward. Finally, in the face of undeniable absolute nothingness, the ego gives up control as well as fear and hope, and no longer tries to control the situation. At this point one may touch the basic intelligence or Buddha nature called tathagatagarbha.

To recapitulate, we have the basic ground of emptiness which is the actual " isness" of things without any conceptual overlay or control by ego. Then we have the internal watcher called "ego" which is engaged in staking out territory and trying to solidify reality so it can be controlled. Perception is ego's reaction to feeling. It recognizes something, then reacts to reduce uncertainty. Ego's major motivation is to maintain itself as "I-am," a separate, independent individual. However, since this is an artificial concept that is not based on reality, it has a tendency to break down rather frequently. Therefore, constant vigilance is required to maintain it. Furthermore, the defenses that ego has erected also tend to slip and get out of hand which scares the ego and leads it to tighten its efforts at control. "Ego's game is ignoring what is really happening." (Trungpa, 1975, p. 58)

Intellect (Samskara). The ego now goes up to another level in trying to extend its territory. It begins to collect mental states and use them as part of the control endeavor. These are bodymind states that have emotional overtones. The patterns of intellect are related to each other, may be organized into complicated hierarchies and may have emotional qualities attached to them. Intellectual patterns may take the form of thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, preconceived ideas, categories or hierarchies. When they have emotional overtones, these may take on the qualities of passion, aggression or ignorance. Attitudes, particularly, are known to have a strong emotional, as well as cognitive, component which is what makes them so difficult to change.

Intellect, as described here, conforms to the concept of lower mind (manas) in Yoga. However, keep in mind that we are still talking about ego's machinations. Ego is using the mental capacities as a means to extend its territory of control. This pattern is illustrated in Figure 3 of Book I. However, intellect gives the ego a false sense of control because it confirms the mistaken view of the world and continues the self-deception and illusion of solidity.

One of the more interesting reactions of ego when exposed to the groundlessness of space and the consequent threat to its loss of control is to generate confusion. Confusion feels like disorientation. Suddenly I don't know what is happening. I do not understand what is going on. Mental activity stops as if it were on overload as, in fact, it may be. Confusion holds the space still while ego has time to regroup.

Keep in mind that intellect here means the conditionable mind. It is probably at this level that the thought, "I am" emerges along with a quality of volition. We create a whole mental realm of existence for ourselves. In fact, that is where many of us in this culture live and move and have our being, to borrow a phrase from alchemy. Our thoughts, ideas and opinions become more real to us than the grass underfoot which we may no longer notice until it needs cutting. The attachment deepens. And this brings up the spector of karma.

"Karma is a creative process which brings results, which in turn sow seeds of further results... The speed of karma is based on the five skandhas." (Trungpa 1975, p. 51) The implication is that, as ego adds more territory, it is getting deeper and deeper into illusion and unreality which is eventually going to have to be unraveled. Once we employ the conditionable mind, we get into habits most of which tend to operate without conscious awareness, so the patterns of karma can become self-perpetuating. Also, intellect leads to action which is crucial to the formation of karmic themes.

Karma is basically cause and effect except that it tends to string itself out into a linear series of causes and effects which acts as other causes leading to other effects, etc. For instance, telling one lie makes it necessary to tell another to cover it up which necessitates another one, and so on. Habits are a good example of karma at work because they automatically replicate and reinforce patterns which are causative. Meditation is one way to arrest these developments because it helps us bypass the ignoring and fundamental duality. When the mind and senses are quiet, karma stalls.

Trungpa (1975, p. 53) also noted that, at the level of Intellect, the whole process picks up speed. That is, once there is a goal or target, what was previously merely neutral energy takes on aggressive characteristics. We have got to get there - yesterday. Everything in the way must be sacrificed to the goal. Our whole American society is an example of what is meant by this kind of speed. There is an obsessive-compulsiveness about it that reeks of anxiety. So it appears that co-opting the mental realm is no solution to the problem of groundlessness.

Consciousness includes all the previous levels of separation and adds thinking to them. What is meant here is not consciousness in the sense of pure awareness or even of giving attention to something. It refers to that stream of consciousness that runs constantly underneath our other mental processes. It is discursive thought, the mindless chatter that provides background noise and that fills in the empty spaces that are not yet under ego's control. Trungpa calls it "subconscious gossip." (p. 74)

Consciousness is that which perceives. It is the basic essence of mind which contains the faculty of perception. It is

It is awareness in the service of ego. We experience it often as mental chatter in the background of our daily life. As such, it is the noise that fills the gaps in ego's defenses.

This description of consciousness seems to me to identify a level of consciousness that Freud calls the subconscious or preconscious mind since it does include memory, and we are aware of its contents, or potentially can be aware of its contents. It does not speak to the concepts of the collective unconscious or the unconscious or to higher levels of consciousness. That is probably because Buddhists refer to higher levels of consciousness as panoramic awareness. That has the characteristics of compassion and wisdom which we do not find in the skandhas. What is decribed here as the consciousness skandha is apparently the same thing as the stream of consciousness that was noticed by William James. The Buddhists also call it discursive thought because it is usually uncontrolled and illogical. As such, it wanders on and on like mindless gossip.

This is the part of us that is related directly to confusion, the cloudy mind. It contributes to the maintenance of the sense of relativity. Here that means being related to something that was ego-constructed. This partnership between ego and consciousness is based on the need for a place to store all the reminders of the flaws in the ego's construction of reality. So the fog of confusion masks the ego's game of expansion. Consciousness, in this context, is an awareness (or unawareness) in the service of ego.

All of these skandhas are based on one motive - to maintain an illusion of separateness. One could say, and we probably will, that all of our intellectual development that is supported by our culture and educational system is basically in the service of this one essential delusion, that of individuality.

So, you say, when I am enlightened, will all the skandhas disappear? The answer is probably not. The dualities are so engrained in our psychological development, it is probably not possible to get rid of them. And one would expect it to be extremely difficult to live in the world in a continual state of sunyata unless one had a caretaker. Our society generally does not support people who choose to remain in a state of altered consciousness as does India, for instance. But we can bring understanding to our ego's strivings and seek to see through its machinations, so that we can come from a place of greater compassion for ourselves as well as for others.

Now, you may well ask, what can we do about all this subterfuge? Do we want to? Can we? Of course. And the remedy will probably not surprise you. It is meditation. Meditation stops the processes and creates a silence within which we may begin to get glimpses of panoramic awareness. It enables us to drop out of the fundamental duality and begin to experience sparks of the underlying wisdom of what we truly are. As we do so, we become more hopeful of the possibility of living without attachment, without the frantic pressure to maintain all the fences and boundaries. We make peace with the groundlessness and egolessness in the absence of projections. As we slip into the emptiness of sunyata, we discover we do not have to control anything. It is possible to just experience the flowingness of the way things are. Meditation in action is ".. A process of providing fundamental space.." (Trungpa, 1975, p. 60). The whole point of meditation is to develop prajnaparamita, the wisdom eye or transcendental knowledge. "Meditation is an act of non-duality... There is no relationship involved." (p. 79)

Exercise: Meditation

If you are not already meditating (see Unit 2), begin a meditation practice of a half hour a day, with plans to gradually work up to an hour a day by the end of the first month. If you have not worked through the first Book and have no experience with meditation, please consult A Path with Heart for instructions on how to proceed and some information about what to expect during the initial months of practice.

During the sitting time, allow no distractions. This may mean getting up earlier in the morning in order to secure quiet time. It is well worth arising early because meditation will give you additional energy and peace of mind. However, you need to expect disruptions from the repressed unconscious and preconscious material at first. And you will gain a real appreciation for the discursive mind during the early stages. However, with persistence, the mind will gradually quieten and allow you access to what the Buddhists call the "spacious meadow"of panoramic awareness. Well-practiced meditators say that their daily meditation is the high point of their day and that it is essential to their well-being.

It is also important to keep the spine straight which may be tension-provoking or even painful at first until the muscles that keep you erect develop strength and flexibility. If you have a great deal of trouble sitting still, you may want to begin your practice with some Hatha Yoga classes which are intended to help one develop a "good seat" for meditation. If you have trouble with your legs sitting cross-legged on a cushion, it is all right to sit in a chair as long as you do not lounge. Since most chair backs recline a bit, a pillow behind your spine will help you stay erect. The reason for this posture is to keep the chakras in alignment. If your body is balanced in an upright position, it takes less effort to remain erect. It also insures that you will not topple over.

You may want to keep a journal to track your progress. After a month or two you may see evidence of the bodymind settling down and space beginning to open up.

If there is a Buddhist community in your area, I recommend you join them for sitting meditation as it is much easier to maintain the necessary discipline in a group. There is usually free instruction from someone in the community made available to beginners. If there is no such group, perhaps you could begin your own by asking some friends to join you.

Meditation is the royal road to enlightenment. The first step may be taken any time you are ready. As you do so, you will be joining an ever-enlarging group of serious aspirants.

The Void is Awake

It was probably inevitable that all of these models would come together and create their own gestalt. The night after I wrote the last section, I woke up at about 5:00 AM with the knowledge that the processes I have been describing, including that of developing one's own self, ego and intellect, are all the same process beginning with the Samkhya model of the first Book (Figure 3.) What they all have in common is that they are all based on separation, the One divides Itself into two which then interact to produce the fourth. This is the Tetragrammaton we first met in the Kabbalah (Figure II-3a). Please notice that this model is also the model of a hologram. Another thing all the models have in common is that they all involve a reflection or projection process which I will describe below. And they are all feedback models. Here are some diagrams to illustrate the points.

The first few concepts of the Samkhya model in Yoga are related as follows:

Samkhya Model

The Samkhya philosophers say that the Ultimate Reality divided itself into Consciousness (unmanifested and active energy) and Matter (manifested and receptive energy). Then the light of consciousness was reflected from matter resulting in the Universal Mind. This mind then gave rise to the Personal Mind that is composed of the higher mind, the ego and the lower mind or intellect respectively. There is then a mutual reflection between the higher mind and consciousness which, among other things, provides feedback to consciousness.

A very similar model is the Tetragrammaton or Tetrad of Hermetists which goes all the way back to the Egyptian civilization before the Persian invasion. It is a Universal Principle or Law which manifests in every sphere of life according to Mouni Sadhu (1978, p. 15) who has spent most of his life studying the Tarot that embodies the Tetragrammaton. The Law is composed of four principles symbolized by the Hebrew letters that form the name of God (YHVH), i.e., Yod, He, Vau, He. The pattern of this also forms a square. I am going to take a few liberties with the sketch to point out the similarities to the other models. It is customarily drawn with the Yod at the top of a triangle and the last He as a dot inside the triangle. However, the process is identical except that essence is not included in the original Tetragrammaton, so it is only the lower part of this diagram that is the Tetragrammaton.


Yod is the active, manifesting power which corresponds to Consciousness in the Samkhya system. The first He is the passive screen or receptor, e.g., Matter. Vau is the neutral reflection of both Yod and He. These three form a new unit, the second He or the first family. The first family then serves as the Yod or active element of the next family. There are seven nested families producing progressively more densely material lower worlds (Sadhu, 1978, p. 16). In the entire schema there are seven of these nested triangles which constitute the 22 major Arcana of the Tarot (diagram in Sadhu, p. 17). The model assumes an undivided Inaccessible Essence or Absolute that produces the Yod and He. This would be the same as the En-Soph of the Kabbalah which is intimately linked to this system.

A holographic model takes the same form:


Normal light is run through a machine [I assume] that produces a coherent light source (light of the same frequency in which all waves are in step, e.g., a laser). This coherent light is then split into two beams by a half mirror. One goes directly to the holographic film. The other reflects from an object and then goes to the holographic film. The two beams create an interference pattern containing information about the object which registers and is recorded on the film. Later, a coherent light beam projected through the film produces a three-dimensional image of the original object suspended in mid-air.

This description and diagram is oversimplified because in actual holography the laser light is further re-routed with mirrors and lenses to achieve particular angles, but the principle is the same. (For specifics, see A cosmic book by Itzhak Bentov, 1988, p. 91-95.) Bentov says, "..our psyches form an interference pattern with all other units of consciousness in the universe. This Universal Mind hologram, or the Absolute, contains all frequencies, and each level of consciousness can relate to it as its absolute reference beam." (p. 94, italics his)

It is easy, so far, to see the similarities of these models in their form. Now, look at the first stages of sensory-motor development when children are establishing the boundaries between themselves and objects that are "other." Whether that other is a person or a thing makes no difference. And we have:


Children focus their consciousness, as attention, on objects and learn to separate objects from themselves which is a first step in the development of a mental image. Sensation, which is simply vibrations registering in the receptors and being carried to the sensory cortex of the brain as "on" - "off" neuronal signals, is connected with the motor cortex as children handle objects. When these connections are made, and as a result of experience with the objects, children become able to identify the objects, attach meaning to them and recognize them reliably. We call this perception. It is easy to see this as a feedback model if we make the connection between consciousness and perception two-way. Conscious attention goes out and contacts the object. It is then reflected back from the object as vibrations which are registered in the brain (mind) and recognized by consciousness. This is essentially a feedback loop as is the Samkhya model presented above. Perhaps we need duality to maintain consciousness because consciousness needs to be aware of some thing. On the contrary, awareness means awakeness and does not require an object.

Exercise: Amritabindu Upanishad

Read the Amritabindu Upanishad and reflect on sensory-motor development as the possible creator of maya and duality.

Now let us go to the model suggested by the skandhas:

Emptiness   This is not quite as clear cut, but it will give you a feel for the similarity in process. Out of the Emptiness of clear awareness, ego creates the first duality (Form) between self and objects in the world. This is like the setting of boundaries that the child in the sensory-motor period of development is doing. This is me, and this is not me. Then the ego projects its consciousness onto the objects and, with awareness of the qualities of things, feeling or evaluation is born. This energetic charge probably necessitates further control, so the ego produces perception and the intellect as secondary lines of defense. Further need for control results in a two-way interaction between perception/intellect and ego. Then consciousness is induced to take the role of discursive thought as a further barrier to the knowledge of emptiness that threatens the entire structure. There is feedback implied in this model as well since the ego is in touch with all of these structures and juggles them around to suit its purposes.

To belabor the analogies further, one can think of mind as the creator and follow the same line of reasoning. The mind divides itself into attention (consciousness) and objects. Projecting its attention onto objects, results in perception which then feeds back into the system. In fact we may have a nesting system in which the Ultimate Reality creates the Universal Mind which then creates human beings with personal minds who then create egos and intellects for themselves which then create art, their lives and relationships. That might look like this:

Summary Model

Notice the similarity to the Sephiroth (with the two sides reversed). There are two sides, one devoted to the unmanifest [active] forms of consciousness (on the left) which are increasingly shrouded, and the other to the [receptive] material forms (on the right) which increase in density and narrow in focus as we move down the diagram. The center progression is all related to mind if one assumes the world (at the bottom of the diagram) is a projection of the ego and intellect. We can go a step further and notice that discrimination keeps the dualities intact, while generalization tends to reunite them. For example, reading the diagram from top to bottom is a study in discrimination or separation using boundaries of some sort. On the other hand, reading upwards, generalizing, we find the dualities resolved into the single unit at the next level up.

Also note that the two sides might correspond to the Ida and Pingala in the chakra model or to the two strands that compose the DNA. Chopra (1996) comments that DNA is how the quantum field/intelligence expresses itself in material form. DNA is a transmitter, not the source of information.

The projection and reflection process is the basic paradigm. Projection separates while reflection brings the projection back home albeit on a different level. Consciousness is projected, then reflected back to itself to give feedback plus a hologram of the original pattern. Notice that this is a kind of reflecting pattern that is normally used in psychotherapy to induce healing.

It seems logical that we, as creations of the Absolute, might use the same holographic process to create our minds and our personalities. "As above, so below." We are told that we are made in the image of God. So it seems reasonable to assume that occasionally the self-conscious mind, thus originated, would look back to its Creator and say, "I know You." However, like a hologram, as we get further from the Source, our images become increasingly vague although they retain their form and structure. If the mirror that reflects back is imperfect or cloudy, the feedback may become erroneous or lacking in definition. That is, it may become confusing, vague, veiled or illusionary. Such an outcome is referred to as maya in Yoga.

This diagram also indicates the important role played by duality in creation which suggests that we might have more respect for it.

Exercise: Shvetashvatara Upanishad

Read the Shvetashvatara Upanishad and reflect on the similarities in themes between this presentation of the creation and the Sephiroth. Make a list of ways in which they are alike and another to delineate how are they different. Can you thread your way through the confusion of different names that are given to the Absolute and the lower levels of creation? To do this, find the similarities in descriptions.

You may need to be patient with the proliferation of different names. We are dealing with the philosophies of many systems that seem to be vastly different, and each has its own set of labels. However, keep in mind that the key observers in each of these systems were all looking at the same phenomena. So there are bound to be correspondences if we are willing to look for them. The reward is a huge insight into the workings of creation.

We have seen how the projection/reflection or holographic paradigm can be used to describe a whole host of creative processes. Most importantly, it provides a structure for feedback and the nesting of creations, so that the basic, inactive awareness of the creator, whether that is the Absolute or a single human being, can become interactive as is consciousness with matter. This reminds us of the Sufi saying, "I was an hidden treasure and I longed to be known, so I created the world that I might be known." (Field, 1983, p. 69).

We might say that "The Void is awake."

Exercise: Extending the Model

Make several copies of Figure II-4 which is a template for the holographic model. Begin to observe and search for other examples of the holographic process in your daily life to try to verify its authenticity for yourself. If you find instances, fill in the empty concept boxes on your diagram.

Keep in mind the three defining rules for the model:

1. The One becomes two thus creating separation or duality. (You may find that the One is a not-immediately-obvious background element, but do not let that discourage you. The One is always there and so is the separation/duality. The most generalizable part of the model is what comes after that.)

2. The invisible, energetic element is projected onto the visible, inert one which gives rise to a new, third element through reflection or deflection.

3. There is feedback back to the invisible, dynamic element from the third or fourth element.

This unit has explored the dimensions of self-creation through ego and intellectual development. We examined a Buddhist contribution to the understanding of basic duality and separation in our lives. And an holographic model emerged to account for the similarities in processes of creation.


Bentov, Itzhak with Mirtala. A cosmic book: On the mechanics of creation. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 1988.

Chopra, Deepak. The Higher Self: The magic of inner and outer fulfillment, a set of five tapes. Chicago: Nightingale-conant Corp., 1996, 1-800-323-5552.

de Laszlo, Violet S. The basic writings of C. G. Jung. New York: Modern Library, 1959.

Easwaran, Eknath. The Upanishads. Petaluma, CA: Nilgiri Press, 1988.

Field, Reshad. Steps to freedom: Discourses on the alchemy of the heart. Putney, VT: Threshold Books, 1983.

Hanfmann & Kasanin . Kasanin-Hanfmann Concept Formation Test. Chicago: C. H. Stoelting Co., 424 N. Homan Avenue, Chicago, IL. 60624.

Johnson, Robert A. Inner work: Using dreams and active imagination for personal growth. San Francisco: Harper, 1986.

Jung, Carl G. Memories, dreams, reflections. New York: Vintage, 1968.

Pearce, Joseph C. Magical child: Rediscovering nature's plan for our children. New York, Bantam, 1989.

Piaget, Jean. The origins of intelligence in children (2nd ed.) New York: International Universities Press, 1952..

Prabhavananda, Swami & Isherwood, Christopher. Shankara's Crest-Jewel of Discrimination. Hollywood: Vedanta Press, 1975.

Progoff, Ira. At a journal workshop: The basic text and guide for using the Intensive Journal process. New York: Dialogue House Library, 1975.

Rama, Swami, Ballentine, Rudolph & Ajaya, Swami. Yoga and psychotherapy: The evolution of consciousness. Honesdale, PA: The Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy, 1976.

Sadhu, Mouni. The Tarot. North Hollywood, CA.: Wilshire Book Co., 1978.

Trungpa, Chogyam. Glimpses of Abhidharma. Boston: Shambhala, 1975.

Vygotsky, L. S. Thought and language. (Edited and translated by Eugenia Hanfmann & Gertrude Vokar). New York: Wiley, 1962.

You will find the next Unit 5. Speech and Language Development provides us with the tools we use to create ourselves. We will examine the role of speech in self-image, relationships and thinking. And we will take a look at the importance of silence and mantra on the spiritual journey.

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