Experience: The Infinite

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lost in infinity compositeWhen, through whatever means – yoga, psychedelics, dreaming, personal crisis and tragedy, getting hit on the head – one comes to see through the mirages of one’s own mind, one becomes open to forces from which those still deluded are protected. Those forces must be understood to avoid getting lost in the infinity of mirages.

 

Experience: Table of Contents

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9

 

The delusions of those who believe in something, in anything, coupled with the inability to see below the surface of the mind, serve as a protective cocoon, or a womb, that shields such souls from the greater psychic ocean in which all of us are embedded. This psychic ocean was described last time in terms of curtains of swirling energies. Beneath the surface conscious mind is the world of human desires. Beneath this is the level of the blind instinctive urges of life. Beneath this is the torrent of seemingly infinite patterns that make up the Cosmos.

In reality, these are not curtains in any sense. They are more akin to vast jungles of psychic states, and they are like spider’s webs and quicksand to one who does not understand them. Here we want to discuss the deeper delusions that are possible when these forces enter one’s conscious mind. We begin by contrasting this condition to the state of mind most would consider “normal”.

“Normal” People

So-called “normal people” are those souls still caught in the womb of their surface mind. We recall aphorism 2-4 of the Shiva Sutras:

SS2-4

Which I.K. Taimni transliterates as:

SS2-4 transilliteration

 

And translates as:

II-4. “The lower kind of knowledge which develops through the mind in the realm of Maya or Prakrti is of the nature of a dream, i.e., purely imaginary and not real.”

 

It thus is a recurring theme in yoga to associate the “normal” state of consciousness as ontologically akin to a dream. I quoted Krishnananda previously:

“…when we wake up from world-consciousness. All these wonders, attractions and repulsions, these horrors, these forms of ugliness, these mysteries – all will be wiped out in a second when this relativity-consciousness gets sublimated in Absolute-consciousness, which is similar to the mind waking up from a dream into this world- consciousness…”

 

This leads to a view of Humanity different from mainstream Western views. In the yogic view, the “normal” mind, the mind confined to its own surface, has much in common with pollen grains on the surface of water. The pollen is buffeted in all random directions by a process called Brownian motion. Similarly, the surface mind of the “normal” person is buffeted about by life in all random directions by the forces underneath the surface mind. Such people laugh through the ups and cry through the downs of life, and all of this is taken at face value.

Certainly one knows their own emotions, “gut feelings” (intuitions) and reactions. But it is also true that one does not know from whence these arise. From van der Leeuw:

“Our very consciousness is terra incognita; we know not the working of our own mind. What is it that happens when we think or feel, when a moral struggle takes place in us, when we are inspired, respond to beauty or sacrifice ourselves for others? It is as if we were prisoners in the vast palace of our consciousness, living confined to a small and bare room beyond which stretch the many apartments of our inner world, into which we never penetrate, but one of which mysterious visitors–feelings, thoughts, ideas and suggestions, desires and passions–come and pass through our prison, without our knowing hence they come or whiter they go.”

 

Only rarely may the faint and nebulous suspicions arise of the swirling forces underneath. But never is this clearly grasped for the “normal” person, never is the curtain pulled back. The immense and abstract psychic ocean in which we are all immersed remains the invisible background of what is known. Those confined to the surface mind are but puppets of the swirling abstract forces from whence the human condition arises.

This level of darkness and ignorance is a level all souls go through. Such people play the vast majority of roles in war and peace, in innovation and art, in the rise and fall of civilizations. As such, this level of existence is no different than any other form in nature: a tree, a grain of sand, a sun beam, a blade of grass, the planets, the other living creatures, a rain drop, solar systems, galaxies: and humans who live on the surface of the mind.

One cannot pass judgment on the mind in this condition because it is an eternal level in the scheme of things. Is a grain of sand, a rain drop, a tree inherently good or bad? Is a planet in its majestic orbit about a star good or bad? Is a tornado or super nova good or bad? Is day good and night bad? Assigning an inherent moral value to the things of nature simply makes no sense. Similarly, Humanity cannot be judged. It is a thing of nature, a part of the Maya, and is neither good nor bad in and of itself, but simply is what it is.

Looking Under the Hood

But once one’s mind gets blown back, when, for whatever reason, by whatever cause, the deeper layers flood into the conscious mind, the conditions become irreversibly altered. The so-called “normal people” have no idea of these other states of consciousness, of how literal they are, of how abstract they are. Of how they cast a perspective on the so-called “normal state”, how they provide contrast and insight.

Even if the curtain was blown back only briefly, giving but a glimpse of some other states of mind, this is enough to lift one out of the complacency of “normalcy”. It is the contrast that is important. When one knows only a single condition, one is completely blind to that condition. It is only by contrast to another state that the so-called “normal state” can be recognized as such.

Then we must consider the conditions under which the curtain is pulled back. Is one prepared, and if so, to what degree? Or is it an unprepared exposure to things for which our language has no words and our culture has no concepts? In either case, a whole new level of danger comes into play and the relative degree of preparedness can help to blunt the impacts of these new dangers.

The Intermediate Zone

Sri Aurobindo offers one of the most cogent analyses of the dangers facing the person for whom the curtain has been pulled back, to whatever degree. He termed the inner layers The Intermediate Zone. The Reader is encouraged to read Aurobindo’s words. To quote Alan Kazlev, keeper of the Kheper site, the Intermediate Zone “is a beguiling and dangerous transitional region or stage or whole series of stages between ordinary consciousness and complete enlightenment.”

In the Biblical Old Testament, this concept is captured by the idea of “False Idols”, the ones Moses broke with such vehemence. In the New Testament, the notion is captured in The Temptation of Christ by Satan. The Christian parables, however, are metaphorical, though what they allude to is quite literal. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Intermediate Zone is described as the “siddhis”, the “super powers” that result from practicing samadhi and are but impediments to enlightenment. My favorite aphorism pertains to this issue:

 

3-52

 

We use Swami J’s translation:

“3.52 When invited by the celestial beings, no cause should be allowed to arise in the mind that would allow either acceptance of the offer, or the smile of pride from receiving the invitation, because to allow such thoughts to arise again might create the possibility of repeating undesirable thoughts and actions.”

 

This is my favorite aphorism for a couple reasons. First, the warning itself is important for those who have had the curtain pulled back. Second, it indicates the depth of what is at issue, yet in a slightly humorous way, although I am certain Patanjali was not trying to be funny. Still, the idea of being warned about being taken notice of by great Celestial Beings strikes my funny bone.

The Christian and Hindu ideas above are mutually consistent and the message is clear: when the curtain is pulled back, when one dips below the surface mind, one is now open to a whole new gamut of forces of distraction, and the chances of ensnarement have increased a million-fold compared to the so-called “normal” person who is merely buffeted unconsciously by such forces.

Getting Lost In Infinity

Aurobindo speaks of the incomplete nature of Intermediate Zone experiences:

“…idea-truths may have come down into him are partial only…”

 

He says:

“These things, when they pour down or come in, present themselves with a great force, a vivid sense of inspiration or illumination, much sensation of light and joy, an impression of widening and power. The sadhak feels himself freed from the normal limits, projected into a wonderful new world of experience, filled and enlarged and exalted; what comes associates itself, besides, with his aspirations, ambitions, notions of spiritual fulfilment and yogic siddhi; it is represented even as itself that realisation and fulfilment. Very easily he is carried away by the splendour and the rush, and … experience are usually lacking which would tell him that this is only a very uncertain and mixed beginning.”

 

Aurobindo speaks in a personal way, about how these forces impact the personality. This is an important way to convey the facts because it is how we encounter them, and his advice provides a guidepost for coping. The essence is that the new experience seems so grand, so expansive compared to our normal, mundane everyday experience. But this increase in relative greatness is itself the clue that what is experienced is only but a partial truth.

In the classical Raja Yoga, the main emphasis is on abhyasa and vairagya: practice and dispassion. These are the time tested methods used to protect and prepare the aspirant for when the curtain gets pulled back. Abhyasa are the prescribed practices of yoga that lead to nirodhah or restraint of the mind. Vairagya, dispassion, is the attitude required as the effects of the practices manifest.

In classic Raja Yoga, the results of abhyasa are the siddhis, the “super powers” that come spontaneously from silencing the mind. They give rise to the expansive feelings of being that Aurobindo discusses. What is described clinically and systematically by Patanjali, Aurobindo describes from the perspective of the person becoming drunk with only partial knowledge, partial truth, which is mistaken for complete truth because of a failure to appreciate the relative nature of the partial truth.

That is the key to understanding these warnings: they are saying that a relative truth, no matter how grand, how expansive, is still but a relative truth. Such relative truths seem to unfold without end. If one avoids the pitfall of getting entangled in a particular such truth, then one has the chance to discover the seemingly endless staircase of relative truth, of the ever-unfolding landscapes of ever-widening realization and being.

One ascends this staircase: through the forces of the personality, beyond the conscious mind, through the bizarre unconscious imagery beyond which are the forces of Humanity and its intrigues and dramas, into the forces of life on the Earth, of all the creatures and plants and the energies that unite them into one giant network. Beyond this are the forces of the Earth and its kin as members of the solar system, where the Sun’s energies dominate and control the countless patterns of revolution of our solar system. Beyond this are the forces of our Galaxy, the Milky Way, where forces and abstraction are such that the Sun is but a grain of sand, whisked along in a torrent beyond any human comprehension. And thence to the extra-galactic forces, and beyond this, cosmic realities that hold in their metaphorical hands the power of universes. And beyond this are universes within universes within universes, and the staircase of greatness fades into a fuzzy horizon where invisible glories can only be guessed.

The picture of an infinitely ascending staircase conveys the point: it seems to go on forever and ever and ever: greater truths encompassing lesser truths, greater beings encompassing lesser beings, glory beyond glory. Never ending, ascending seemingly to infinity.

And then we find ourselves lost in infinity, ensnared in the web with no end, falling down the proverbial bottomless pit. We become the condition of Prometheus who, trapped in bondage, had his liver torn from him each day, only to have it grow back so it could be ripped from him again the next day.

The illusion is infinity itself. Each level no different than our original insight:

“It is always holding out the sign: “come hither for your satisfaction.” When you get there you see in the distance another sign that reads “come hither for your satisfaction”.

That is really what the myth of Prometheus conveys: the infinite disappointment of being incomplete every day. The pain inflicted by the Eagle ripping out his liver is symbolic of the condition of incompleteness that accompanies relative being. He thought he was stealing fire from the Gods.  No, he was just deluding himself by getting trapped in infinity and finding that each new level (each new day) brought the same pain of incompleteness.

While symbolism is fun, I prefer plain talk such as given by Patanjali et al. For those for whom the curtain has been pulled back, when the warnings of such as Patanjali and Aurobindo are not heeded, we fall from the frying pan into the fire. We get lost in infinity.

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4 thoughts on “Experience: The Infinite

  1. Similar to the practise and dispassion you mention, in Buddhist practice you are warned to ignore all psychic effects or special powers that may arise. They’re described as ‘self-display’ – it’s all just consciousness playing with itself. If you want to see through the illusion, it all has to be ignored or you fall off the middle way.

    A great post – so many things to think about…

    • Hi Jessica. Thank you for stopping by and commenting and thanks for the kind comment.

      While I don’t know a whole lot about the various forms of Buddhism, given the little I do know I am not surprised they would have similar ideas. I know the Temptation of Christ is mirrored in the temptation of Buddha by Mara. Mara seems to be the Buddhist equivalent of maya.

      According the Patanjali’s Raja Yoga, at every level of the ascent into deeper and more expansive states of consciousness, there is always an accompanying set of temptations, which I think the Prometheus myth symbolizes in a graphic way. I think the message is something like: if you think you are going to be a God, or be like the Gods, or want to live with the Gods, sorry, Chum, it ain’t like that.

      When the curtain gets pulled back and one is ejected from the safe confines of the surface mind, it seems to me that the prescription of abhyasa and vairagya, practice and dispassion, is the most valuable advice.

      Thanks, Jessica.

      Don

  2. PeterJ

    This is wonderful. It brings to mind the Gospel of Mary and her description of ascension. She just ignores all the celestial voices.

  3. “When one knows only a single condition, one is completely blind to that condition. It is only by contrast to another state that the so-called “normal state” can be recognized as such.”

    Love this Don. I will continue on reading as there isn’t much one can say in response to the vastness of what you are presenting here.

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