The Inner Life, v. I/Fifth Section/I

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There are still many of our members who do not fully understand the problem of the higher and the lower self. Nor is this wonderful; for we are repeatedly told that there is only one consciousness, and yet we often clearly feel two, so it is not remarkable that students should be uncertain as to the real relation between these two, and should wonder whether the ego is entirely dissociated from his physical body and has an existence of his own among his fellows on his own plane.

This problem of the lower and higher self is an old one, and it is undoubtedly difficult to realize that there is after all only one consciousness, and that the apparent difference is caused only by the limitations of the various vehicles. The whole consciousness works on its own higher mental plane, but in the case of the ordinary man only partially and vaguely as yet. So far as it is active it is always on the side of good, because it desires that which is favorable to its evolution as a soul. It puts a portion of itself down into lower matter, and that portion becomes so much more keenly and vividly conscious in that matter that it thinks and acts as though it were a separate being, forgetting its connection with that less developed yet far wider self-consciousness above. So sometimes it seems as though the fragment worked against the whole; but the man who is instructed declines to be deluded, and reaches back through the keen alert consciousness of the fragment to the true consciousness behind, which is as yet so little developed.

Undoubtedly the ego is only very partially expressed by his physical body, yet we should not be accurate in speaking of him as dissociated from that body. If we figure the ego as a solid body and the physical plane as a surface, the solid body if laid upon that surface could manifest itself through that surface only as plane figure, which would obviously be an exceedingly partial expression. We can see also that if the various sides of the solid were laid upon the surface successively we might obtain expressions which differed considerably, though all of them would be imperfect, because in all cases the solid would have an extension in an entirely different direction, which could by no means be expressed in the two dimensions of the superficies. We shall obtain a nearly accurate symbolism of the facts as far as the ordinary man is concerned if we suppose the solid to be conscious only so far as it is in contact with the surface, although the results gained through the manifestation of such consciousness would inhere in the solid as a whole, and would be present in any later expression of it, even though that might differ considerably from previous expressions.

It is only in the case of those already somewhat advanced that we can speak of the ego as having a conscious existence among his fellows on his own plane. From the moment that he breaks off from his group-soul and commences his separate existence, he is a conscious entity; but the consciousness is of an exceedingly vague nature. The only physical sensation which occasionally comes to some persons is at the moment of awakening in the morning. There is a state intermediate between sleeping and waking in which a man is blissfully conscious that he exists, and yet is not conscious of any surrounding objects, not capable of any moment. Indeed, he sometimes knows that any movement would break the spell of happiness and bring him down into the ordinary waking world, and so he endeavours to remain still as long as possible.

That condition — a consciousness of existence and of intense bliss — closely resembles that of the ego of the average man upon the higher mental plane. He is wholly centred there only for the short time which intervenes between the end of one life in the heaven-world and the commencement of his next descent into incarnation; and during that short period there comes to him the flash of retrospect and prospect — a glimpse of what his last life has done for him, and of what his next life is intended to do. For many ages these glimpses are his only moments of full awakening, and it is his desire for a more perfect manifestation, his desire to feel himself more thoroughly alive and active, which drives him into the effort of incarnation. It is not desire for life in the ordinary sense of the word, but rather for that complete consciousness which involves the power to respond to all possible vibrations from the surroundings on every plane, so that he may attain the perfection of sympathy.

When the ego is still undeveloped the forces of the higher mental plane pass through him practically without affecting him, as he cannot respond to more than a very few of these extremely fine vibrations. It needs powerful and comparatively coarse vibrations to affect him at first, and these do not exist upon his own plane, and for that reason he has to put himself down to lower levels in order to find them. Therefore full consciousness comes to him at first only in the lowest and densest of his vehicles, his attention being focussed for a long time down in the physical plane; so that, although that plane is so much lower than his own and offers so much less scope for activity, in those early stages he feels himself much more alive when he is working there. As the consciousness increases and widens its scope he gradually begins to work more and more in matter one stage higher — that is, in astral matter.

At a much later stage, when he has attained to clear working in astral matter, he begins to be able also to express himself through the matter of his mental body and the end of his present effort is achieved when he works as fully and clearly in the matter of the causal body on the higher mental plane as he does now on the physical plane.

These stages of full development of consciousness must not be confounded with the mere learning to use to some extent the respective vehicles. A man is using his astral body whenever he expresses an emotion; he is using his mental body whenever he thinks. But that is very far from his being able to utilize either of them as independent vehicles through which consciousness can be fully expressed. When a man is fully conscious in his astral body, he has already made a considerable amount of progress; when he has bridged over the chasm between the astral consciousness and the physical, day and night no longer exist for him, since he leads a life unbroken in its continuity. For him death also has ceased to exist, since he carries that unbroken consciousness not only through night and day, but also through the portals of death itself and up to the end of his life upon the astral plane.

One step of further development lies open to him — the consciousness of the heaven-world; and then his life and memory are continuous during the whole of each descent into incarnation. Yet one step more raises the full consciousness to the level of the ego on the higher mental plane, and after that he has always with him the memory of all his lives, and he is capable of consciously directing the various lower manifestations of himself at all points of his progress.

It must not be supposed that the development of any of these stages of consciousness is ever sudden. The actual rending of the veil between two stages is usually a fairly rapid process, sometimes even instantaneous. A man who has normally no memory of what happens on the astral plane may unintentionally, by some accident or illness, or intentionally by certain definite practices, bridge over the interval and make the connection, so that from that time onward his astral consciousness will be continuous, and his memory of what happens while the physical body is asleep will therefore be perfect. But long before such an effort or accident is possible for him the full consciousness must have been working in the astral body, even though in the physical life he knew nothing of it.

In exactly the same way a man must have been for a long time thoroughly practised in the use of his mental body as a vehicle before he can hope to break the barrier between that and the astral, so that he can have the pleasure of continuous recollection. By analogy this lead us to see that the ego must have been fully conscious and active on his own plane for a long time before any knowledge of that existence can come through to us in our physical life.

There are many in whom the ego has already to some extent awakened from the condition of mere bliss which was described above, and is at least partially conscious of his own surroundings, and therefore of other egos. From that time on he leads a life and has interests and activities on his own plane; but even then we must remember that he puts down into the personality only a very small part of himself, and that that part constantly becomes entangled in interests which, because they are so partial, are often along different lines from the general activities of the ego himself, who consequently does not pay any particular attention to the lower life of the personality, unless something rather unusual happens to it.

When this stage is reached he usually comes under the influence of a Master; indeed often his first clear consciousness of anything outside himself is his touch with that Master. The tremendous power of the Master's influence magnetises him, draws his vibrations into harmony with its own, and multiplies manyfold the rate of his development. It rays upon him like sunshine upon a flower, and he evolves rapidly under its influence. This is why, while the earlier stages of progress are so slow as to be almost imperceptible, when the Master turns His attention upon the man, developes him and arouses his own will to take part in the work, the speed of his advancement increases in geometrical progression.

Of that stream of divine influence poured upon the ego by the Master, the amount which can be passed on to the personality depends upon the connection between it and the ego, which is very different in different cases. There is almost infinite variety in human life. The spiritual force rays upon the ego, and some little of it certainly comes through into the personality, because though the ego has put forth a part of himself he does not cut himself off entirely from it, notwithstanding the fact that in the case of all ordinary people the ego and the personality are very different things.

The ego in ordinary men has not much grasp of the personality, nor a clear conception of his purpose in sending it forth; and, again, the small piece which meets us in the personality grows to have ways and opinions of its own. It is developing by the experience which it gains, and this is passed on to the ego; but along with this real development it usually gathers a good deal which is hardly worthy of that name. It acquires knowledge, but also prejudices, which are not really knowledge at all. It does not become quite free from these prejudices — not only of knowledge (or rather its absence) but of feeling and action as well — until the man reaches adeptship. It gradually discovers these things to be prejudices, and progresses through them; but it has always a great deal of limitation from which the ego is entirely free.

As to the amount of the spiritual force which is passed to the personality, one can only decide in a particular case by using clairvoyance. But something of it must flow through always, because the lower is attached to the higher, just as the hand is attached to the body by the arm. It is certain that the personality must get something, but it can have only what it has made itself able to receive. It is also a question of qualities. The Master often plays upon qualities in the ego which are much obscured in the personality, and in that case of course very little comes down. As only those experiences of the personality can be handed on to the spiritual or permanent ego which are compatible with his nature and interests, so only those impulses to which it is able to respond can express themselves in the personality. Remember, though, that the former tends to exclude the bad and the latter the good — or rather we should call them the material and the spiritual, for nothing is bad.

One may sometimes see by clairvoyance many of these influences at work. On a certain day, for example, we may see a characteristic of the personality much intensified, with no outward reason. The cause is often to be found in what is taking place at some higher level — the stimulation of that quality in the ego. Sometimes a man finds himself overflowing with affection or devotion, and quite unable on the physical plane to understand why. The cause is usually, again, the stimulation of the ego, or it may be that the ego is taking some special interest in the personality for the time being.

In meditation we sometimes draw such attention on the part of the ego, though it is well to keep in mind that we must try to reach up to join that higher activity, rather than to interrupt it to draw down its attention to the lower. The higher influence is certainly invited by right meditation, which is always effective, even though on the physical plane things may seem to be very dull and quite without zest. The reaching upwards of the ego himself often means his neglect to send energy down to the personality, and this, of course, leaves the latter feeling rather dull and in the shade. The extent, then, to which the personality is influenced by the effort of the Master depends upon two things principally — the strength of the connection at the time between the ego and the personality; and the particular work which the Master is doing upon the ego, that is, the particular qualities upon which He is playing.

Meditation and the study of spiritual subjects in this earthly life make a very great difference in the life of the ego. The ordinary person who has not taken up spiritual matters seriously has only a thread of connection between the higher and the lower self. The personality in his case seems to be all, and the ego, though he undoubtedly exists on his own plane, is not at all likely to be doing anything actively there. He is very much like a chicken which is growing inside an egg. But in the case of some of us who have been making efforts in the right direction, we may hope that the ego is becoming quite vividly conscious. He has broken through his shell, and is living a life of great activity and power. As we go on, we shall become able to unify our personal consciousness with the life of the ego, as far as that is possible, and then we shall have only the one consciousness; even down here we shall have the consciousness of the ego, who will know all that is going on. But with many people at the present day there is often considerable opposition between the personality and the ego.

There are other things to be taken into account. It is by no means always accurate to judge the ego by his manifestation in the personality. An ego of intensely practical type may make much more show on the physical plane than another of far higher development, if the energy of the latter happens to be concentrated almost exclusively upon the causal or buddhic levels. Therefore people who see only on the physical plane are frequently entirely wrong in their estimation of the relative position of others.

If you have to deal with a fairly advanced ego, you will sometimes find him rather inconsiderate of his body. You see whatever is put down into the personality is so much taken from him! I have again and again seen cases in which the ego was to some extent impatient and withdrew into himself somewhat; but on the other hand in cases such as these there is always a flow between the ego and the personality, which is not possible with the ordinary man. In the ordinary man the part is, as it were, put down and left, though not of course quite cut off; but at this more advanced stage there is a constant communication between the two along the channel. Therefore, the ego can withdraw a great deal of himself whenever he chooses, and leave a very poor representation of the real man behind. So the relation between the lower and the higher self varies much in different people and at different stages of development.

As to the work of the ego, he may be learning things on his own plane; or he may be helping other egos — there are many kinds of work for which he may need an accession of strength. And then he may forget for a time to pay his personality proper attention, just as even a good man may occasionally, under some special pressure of business, forget his horse or his dog. Sometimes when that happens the personality reminds him of its existence by blundering into some foolishness which causes serious suffering. You may have noticed that sometimes, after you have completed a special piece of work that has needed the co-operation of the ego to a large extent — as, for example, lecturing to a large audience — he takes away the energy and leaves the personality with only enough to feel rather dispirited. For a time he admitted that there was some importance in the work, and therefore poured down a little more of himself, but afterwards he leaves the poor personality feeling rather depressed.

Of course, depression comes much more often from other reasons, such as the presence of an astral entity in a low-spirited condition, or of some non-human beings. And joy also is not always due to the influence of the ego, for the fact is that the man does not think much about his own feelings when he is in a fit condition to receive an influx of power. Joy may be produced by the proximity of harmonious nature-spirits, or in a variety of other ways. The channel between the ego and personality is by no means always open. Sometimes it appears to be almost choked up — a condition of affairs which is quite a possibility in view of its narrowness in most cases. Then the force may break through again on some occasion, such as that of a conversion. But for many of us there is a constant flow in some measure. Meditation, conscientiously done, opens the channel and keeps it open. Always remember, though, that it is better to try to go up to the ego than to bring it down to the personality.

Every ego has a certain knowledge of his own. He obtains a glimpse, between lives, of his past and future; in the undeveloped man this awakens the ego for a moment, after which he falls asleep again. During physical life the ordinary ego is to some extent capable of brooding watchfulness and a little effort, but is still in a sleepy condition. With a developed man the ego is fully awake. The ego in course of time discovers that there are a good many things which he can do, and when this happens he may rise into a condition in which he has a definite life on his own plane, though in many cases it is even then but dreamy. It is the ego's purpose to learn to be fully active on all planes, even the physical.

Suppose you have an ego whose principal method of manifesting himself is by affection. That quality is what he wants exhibited by his personality, and if you down here try to feel strong affection and make a specialty of that, the ego will promptly throw more of himself down into the personality, because he finds in it exactly what he desires. Be careful to provide what he needs, and he will quickly take advantage of it. Egos on their own plane can help other egos, when they are sufficiently developed to do so. The ego of the ordinary person has rather a vegetable consciousness or life, and seems to be only just aware of other egos. The personality will not know what the ego does, unless they have been unified. The ego may know the Master while the personality does not. The study of inner things, and living the life, wakes up the ego. Purely unselfish devotion belongs to the higher planes and concerns him.

I do not think the experiences of the personality can be transmitted to the ego, but the essence of them may. He cares little for the details, but he wants the essence of it. Any of those thoughts that we consider evil are impossible for the ego. For precise definition he must come down into the physical body. He devotes himself more especially during the heaven-life to the assimilation of the experiences of the personality, but he is doing it all the time. When you take up the study of Theosophy, and live the life, you begin to call the attention of the ego by sending up vibrations to which he can respond. The ordinary man has in his life little that appeals to the ego.

High unselfish affection and devotion belong to the highest astral sub-plane, and these reflect themselves in the corresponding matter of the mental plane, so that they touch the causal, not the lower mental. Thus only unselfish thoughts affect the ego. All the lower thoughts affect the permanent atoms, but not the ego; and corresponding to them you would find gaps in the causal body, not bad colors. Selfishness below shows in it as absence of affection or sympathy, and when the good quality developes the gap will be filled up. In the causal body you can see whether a man can possibly fail in this or that quality. Try to deve1ope the qualities the ego wants, and he will come down to help.

As is said in Light on the Path, watch for the ego, and let him fight through you, and yet at the same time never forget that you are the ego. Therefore identify yourself with him and make the lower give way to you the higher. Yet do not be too greatly disheartened if you should fall even many times, for even failure is to a certain extent a success, since we learn by it and so are wiser to meet the next problem. We cannot always succeed now at every point, though we surely shall do so ultimately. But never forget that it is not expected of us that we shall always succeed, but only that we shall do our best.