The concept that there is an essence, typically called ‘human nature’, is an attractive proposition for many thinkers. However, the opposing view – the concept that the ego has no essence – is not new, nor original to existentialism. It was part of Buddha’s thinking. Plato produced a different formulation, which perhaps is the best of both worlds.
To give an answer that is suitable for modern times requires a consideration of monad theory and whether consciousness is unitary or binary in form.
The idea of essence is critically important to reincarnation theory. If a person has an essence, then this essence is that which is reincarnated. However, if the person has no essence, then what is it that is reincarnated? This latter view is the one that I attempt to explain.
In the Buddhist view, the individual has no essence. So there is no such thing as human nature. The ego does not seem to reincarnate, since the infant has no memories of past lives. All that reincarnated, according to Buddha, was a bundle of personality characteristics. Buddha"s account of the reincarnation process is inadequate. However, during his time no better theory could be produced. To adequately understand this process requires an understanding of the subconscious mind, and this understanding only began in any depth with the work of Nietzsche in the late nineteenth century - 2500 years after Buddha !
I agree with the view that there is no basic human nature ; what passes for this is basic social conditioning. Once the infant is born, its ego has to create itself. My view is that the ego is an empty form, to which the ego’s life experience contributes the content.
The ego creates itself. How is this achieved? I use psycho-dynamic theory to explain this achievement. The ego can create itself because it receives help from the previous ego. And where is the previous ego? – in the subconscious mind !
Form & Structure
Plato had the view that the ego is an empty form. The concept of essence was handled by him under the term ‘Idea’. In the Platonic view, human nature is an Idea or archetype. The Idea is empty of all content. I can agree with this view too. The Idea is a blueprint to which the ego is constrained by the boundaries that are generated by karma. By creating himself the ego manifests the Idea in reality. The ego adds his life experience to the Idea in order to create an individual identity.
As a backdrop to my psychological ideas I use some ideas from theosophy, by which I mean ideas that came to prominence in the theories of Tibetan occultism (Madame Blavatsky and Alice Bailey) and Rudolf Steiner.
Within a perspective of theosophy, the original ego of primeval times (millions of years ago) was an empty form, without any essence. The way that I understand this wonder is to think of the ego as being without any mental structures of any kind. The ego is undifferentiated from the background from which it came, and completely amorphous. There is no structure or pattern to its thinking. But then its range of thinking is very narrow, since it functions primarily on emotional experience (presumably the experiences of bliss and ecstasy).
Over the course of aeons, incessant incarnations force the ego to create patterns to its thinking. Mental structure is created by developing habitual patterns of thinking and responding. This means that the ego is forced to differentiate its intangibility into defined structures in its mind. These structures, these patterns, create the ego’s existence. The ego becomes a creature of habit.
Another way of understanding this perspective is to consider the idea of boundaries. When the individual is first created, its consciousness is nebulous and without boundaries. It is a self-contained unity, a monad, but with no awareness. Through aeons of reincarnating around the higher planes of existence it gradually descends down to less-refined levels. The higher planes are ethereal, nebulous and formless, without any boundaries (rather like colour: colour exists but it has no boundaries to it). The lower planes gradually become more dense as ether gives way to heavy gases and light liquids. The life forms in these regions begin to need shapes and boundaries. Finally the physical plane of solid matter (represented by Earth) is reached, and this is the densest of all. On the physical plane, boundaries are relatively sharp.
So for the monad, as it descends slowly down the planes, boundaries get created as it becomes less nebulous, and consciousness becomes aware of itself. Boundaries bring awareness with them. Boundaries and awareness are the stuff from which the ego can create itself.
To create oneself requires power and meaning. The ego learns to orientate on power in its evolution as it slowly creates its own structure. Power originates from the will to survive, which underlies all forms of existence. The ego also seeks meaning to the enigma of evolution. The manner in which it seeks meaning determines the patterns of its thinking.
Many writers repudiate the ego and focus their aspirations on returning, or re-connecting, to a higher self, or soul, which presumably does have an essence. As a temporary expedient when times are bad, this goal has value, in that it enables a person to interpret his distressing experiences in a way that he can handle for the moment. However, a return journey does not seem to me to be the aim of evolution ; evolution does not go backwards. Instead a forward journey is required. To achieve this the ego needs a spiritual ideal. This ideal takes the ego into the unknown.
How does a spiritual ideal arise? So long as the ego is centred on material values then nothing of higher value will attract it. One day perhaps, either in a past life or in the present life, the ego is given a vision of a higher reality (a vision is a kind of spiritual gift, usually from the soul). If the ego responds positively to the vision then that ego begins the slow process of pulling itself up by its own bootlaces. It creates an ideal of some kind and around this ideal collects everything that the ego considers to be good, in terms of beliefs, attitudes and values.
The ego now becomes aware of the limitations of materialism and of orthodox and traditional social values. Sensitivity develops and the ideal is raised ever higher in value, in contradistinction to mundane reality. This ideal reincarnates along with all the other values and fixed beliefs that the person has. Hence it has now become a permanent driving force in that person.
However, the mind works in a dialectical manner, and this applies just as much to the use of spiritual gifts as it does to anything else. There is always a price to be paid for gifts. If a gift enhances some positive aspects of a person’s character (as it is very likely to do), it also enhances some negative aspects too. The negative aspects are the problems that arise when the person begins to apply his gift within his personal and social life.
For example, I was given the sensitivity with which to delve into the subconscious mind and acquire its wisdom, but that same sensitivity turned my life, both private and social, into purgatory. My sensitivity left me vulnerable to being hurt by other people. Even after I developed a ‘thicker skin’, my sensitivity to the effects of abreaction remained and kept me immersed for long periods in resentment and bitterness. It is the problem of sensitivity that drives advanced seekers into solitude.
Other spiritual gifts may be the acquisition of faith, or the achievement of excellence in musical abilities, or in the development of psychic abilities such as clairvoyance. It is the enhancement of sensitivity and intuitive abilities that is the focus of gifts. The application of dialectical theory to spiritual gifts gives rise to a rule, which can be called the first rule of spirituality. This rule is :
Any spiritual gift that is given to a person helps his life in some directions and hinders his life in other directions.
Every spiritual gift produces undesirable side effects, automatically and always.
At a more mundane level, this rule can be generalised to :
there is always a price to pay for the development of any ability.
This general rule is fairly obvious, but the side-effects of receiving gifts is not usually mentioned in religious and New Age literature. Because of the effect of enhancing negative aspects of character, the attainment of spiritual gifts always leaves the advanced seeker capable of ‘falling from grace’.
In one’s spiritual journey, sooner or later the excitement of the initial stages (when everyone likes to co-operate together in a loving atmosphere) gives way to a harsher reality. The mature seeker has to learn to solve his problems on his own. At this stage the monad theory of consciousness is often relevant. In this theory the individual is held to be a self-contained unity of consciousness. The attractiveness of this view of consciousness is that the individual makes his own reality ; everything that occurs to that individual is the result of free choice and determined effort.
In this theory, the world as the person sees it is a reflection of what he is. His experience of life has its origins in his internal reality. His internal reality actually creates his external world. His thoughts, feelings and attitudes, even his mental images, eventually materialise into physical manifestations. Along with this affirmation of creative activity goes a denial that anything in the mind can control the person against his wishes. He is not at the mercy of unconscious forces ; they cannot influence him unless he agrees to let them. If he does not like his experience, then he has to change the content of his thoughts and desires. His experience will change in tandem with the change in his thinking. He is always the creator of his experience, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant to him. In summary, the events that appear to happen to him are first created in their potential by him within his own mind.
This view is too simplistic because it demonstrates little understanding of the mind. To live a life of complete choice requires that consciousness be a unitary phenomenon: when consciousness is this simple and uncomplicated then the individual has complete control over his own mind, because that mind is also a unitary phenomenon. But, in fact, this is just not true, since each person has a split within the mind: the mind has both conscious and subconscious components. The reality of the subconscious mind turns consciousness into a binary phenomenon.
In the reality of a person, his life is lived on two levels, which are conventionally termed being and becoming. Being is the level of monadism (the conscious mind) and becoming is the level of dynamic psychology (the subconscious mind). At the level of being (otherwise called the ontological level), there is no interaction between monads. Interaction always occurs at the psychological level, since all psychological relationships incorporate aspects of bonding.
I illustrate this view by looking at the unconscious use of projection and introjection. Although projection and introjection function together as an unconscious mental loop, this loop is self-contained and so can be classified as a monadic mechanism.
Suppose that I enter into a relationship with a woman who I find attractive. What actually am I doing ? . What is occurring is that I see in the woman the projection of my own femininity. Hence when I relate to the woman I thereby relate to the feminine side of my character. As a man, I am masculine – this is socially acceptable. My feminine aspect has to be hidden. I get round this obstacle to having a balanced personality by using the woman as a mirror. I project my femininity onto her, and then when I relate to her I introject it back into myself. This way I can explore my own femininity. This aspect of a relationship is at the level of being, and the analysis is in harmony with monad theory.
At the psychological level, the level of becoming, each person needs a partner to interact with and to share emotions and needs – this makes them come alive. But at the level of being, each person is a self-contained monad and no actual interaction occurs, since at this level neither person gives anything to nor takes anything from the other.
To understand the deficiency in the monad theory we have to look at the primary negative effect of the subconscious mind, which is to create determinism and confusion. There are two opposing tendencies present in consciousness. The stratagems of projection and introjection, within which context the conscious mind usually functions, form a monadic mechanism. Yet the individual is constrained within social relationships that are often outside of his control. Aspects of determinism and confusion that are components of relationships indicate that the person is not a monad at the present time (though evolutionary pressures will make him so in the far distant future). Each person is not a unitary consciousness but a binary one. It is the dynamics of social relationships that create a binary consciousness.
What is the most significant difference between a unitary consciousness and a binary one ?
The most significant difference between a unitary consciousness and a binary one is that the unitary consciousness is free from abreaction ; abreaction requires a binary form of consciousness.
Abreaction needs the presence of a subconscious mind in order to happen. Abreaction occurs at the psychological level. A true monad does not have a subconscious mind. Therefore a true monad should be free from abreaction.
I look at the purpose of creating the subconscious mind, and so forming a binary consciousness. I place my views within a context of evolution (in harmony with theosophical theory).
When the individual is first created in primeval times it is a self-contained monad. It is a narcissistic individual, free and unconstrained, with no boundaries. It has no ethical consciousness and so does not accept responsibilities. This scenario poses a fundamental question that is central to any theory of the evolution of consciousness. Assuming that the individual is a monad, the question is: ‘How does a monad develop care and concern for other beings ?’ . The answer is that the monad has to acquire a subconscious mind, and the only way to do this is through the process of reincarnation.
Reincarnation begins the creation of the subconscious mind, which will eventually become greatly magnified once social patterns of living are developed. In turn, the subconscious mind maintains the process of abreaction (which is generated by the impersonal god). Abreaction is the factor that sooner or later forces the monad to assume such care and concern.
To make the monad acquire such care and concern is the purpose of a life on Earth. The monad works its way down the planes of existence, finally beginning to reincarnate around the Earth plane, oscillating between heaven and Earth, and occasionally hell.
Once the individual becomes involved in social relationships which it cannot flee from when situations become unpleasant then the subconscious mind begins to develop in intensity and breadth. Everything that the individual does not like is relegated to the subconscious mind and is forgotten. Self-deception and social conditioning have arisen. The subconscious mind is dissociated from normal consciousness. Now consciousness is completely binary in its form. The individual is no longer a monad. Freedom of choice becomes restricted ; the individual has to learn to compromise. The individual has to learn to give consideration and respect to the needs and desires of other people.
As it continues to reincarnate around the Earth plane the person begins to rebel against social conditioning and strives once more to attain the monad state. In the course of evolution the subconscious mind is purified by ethical training or transformed by constant self-analysis. Eventually consciousness should return to being a unitary phenomenon, but this time it can handle responsibility in an ethical and harmonious manner. It is once again a monad, yet a monad which can be socially-orientated if it so chooses, without losing its centre of narcissism.
The basis of creation is power, and it is focused on monads. The purpose of human evolution around the Earth plane is to change the base of the monad’s awareness from power to ethical and psychological understanding.
Author Bio :
Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath, owner of a map of psychological spirituality suitable for modern times.
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