An Unholy Trinity
There is a parable attributed to the fourth-century Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu, which has been given numerous interpretations. In this parable, he tells us that he dreamt he had become a butterfly. This distressed him terribly, and when his friends enquired as to why he was distressed, he replied: “While asleep, I dreamt I had become a butterfly.”
The friends laughed and said: “Nobody is ever so disturbed by dreams. When you awake the dream has disappeared. So why are you so disturbed?”
Chuang Tzu said: “If Chuang Tzu can become a butterfly in a dream, it is possible that now the butterfly has gone to sleep and is dreaming she is Chuang Tzu.”
How then do we know which is the dream and which is reality? Is the butterfly real or is Chuang Tzu real? This is the power of illusion – when we can’t tell the difference between reality and the dream. Each is simply a process of the mind – a different combination of thoughts and images. Mind creates the illusion – that which does not exist, but appears so real that we don’t realize we are deceived. The mind and the ego exist in our body by virtue of our soul. These three, mind, ego and soul are the necessary trinity for us to experience life in the physical universe.
A baby is born without the encumbrance of an ego but it quickly establishes likes and dislikes and it learns how to expresses its joy or distaste by either crying or laughing. This is when the first building blocks of its ego are laid. A baby comes into the world from the very source of life – the Shabd. As it grows it seems to lose its original innocence – its soul – that drop of pure Shabd which sustains it for as long as its karma keeps it in its body.
But of course, it isn’t really lost at all. Something far more mysterious happens. The soul remains intact in a state of purity and wholeness; it is simply buried deeper and deeper inside as the baby’s sense of self develops.
As we become aware of our apparent separateness from the world around us, our mind and our karmic connections become stronger and our soul is buried underneath layer upon layer of mental and karmic dross. The mind becomes ever stronger and dominant, and the ego flourishes.
We generally refer to the ego as that part of us that we perceive as our self – the thinking and feeling person that we identify with. We consider this self as being separate from others and from worldly objects. It is through this self that we experience and interact with the outside world. Ego is our sense of self-importance, self-esteem and self-image. It creates our personality, which determines the way we perceive and interact with the physical duality created by the mind – the dream that we find ourselves in.
Ego is created and driven by karma: our country, culture, family, moral values, our level of intelligence and education, our conscience. To a great extent we are born with these relationships, influences, and attitudes already in place, determined by our karma. And that karma also determines impressions taken in by the baby as it grows and its ego develops. The karmic environment is held in the mind. It moulds and shapes the growth of the ego according to the requirements of the baby’s destiny – modelling the developing infant according to the needs of its future life – and then, it directs it along the path of its life. The mind and ego orchestrate our destiny.
Mind is something we are all familiar with because we live with it and constantly use it as we attempt to unravel and understand some of life’s riddles. The author of One Being One explains this:
We want to solve the riddle of thinking with our thoughts. We want to know the nature of our mind with our mind. We want to understand the nature of our self with our self. It’s not rocket science to figure out that that kind of approach will lead us round in endless circles.
When the Masters tell us that the effects of an action are stored on the mind as an impression, we may not understand how – but we accept it. In the same book the author explains this saying:
All our thoughts and deeds are recorded – not in some heavenly tome, but in the soft, impressionable putty of our own minds.We are the ones who keep the detailed record, deep in our own unconscious minds. If we are unaware of this, it is because we are almost infinitely forgetful.
The reactions and impressions of our past experiences are stored in the mind. They are the sanskaras or imprints left on the ‘putty’ of the mind from previous lives. These impressions are carried forward from life to life. Our perception and understanding are based on the effects, tendencies, imprint and conditioning of our sanskaras, and it is the mind that carries the indentation of all of our past impressions.
Our predisposition to think, act or proceed in a particular way results from our past actions and reactions – and those pull us back and create our next life and our progressive karma. Maharaj Ji makes this clear when he says:
Individual karmas do not determine our future. It is the accumulated effect of those karmas that we have to go through.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I
Our mind thrives on change and delights in the creation and its diversity, in which it searches for more and more worldly pleasures. Enter the senses. Our senses are in fact, the root of all our problems – they create our desires which result in our karma. The Great Master said that our desires are the cause of our birth and rebirth in this world. This is explained in the following verse from the Upanishads:
As is your desire, so is your will.
As is your will, so is your deed.
As is your deed,
So is your destiny.
And yet, knowing this, we try to move heaven and earth to satisfy these fleeting desires, sometimes risking everything we have in their pursuit. Again in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I, Maharaj Ji explains:
Desires are nothing but strong thoughts. These strong desires − even if no action follows − they are all grooves on our mind. And the grooves pull us back.
Desire fuels our effort to achieve and possess. As the American author Napoleon Hill wrote: “Desire is the starting point of all achievement.” It is our desires that move us along our karmic path compelling us to satisfy their fulfilment. Ultimately all our desires are going to be fulfilled − in one way or another. But their fulfilment may not come in the way we intended, because it is the impression that must be satisfied, and that depends on the type and the intensity of the desire.
In The Call of the Great Master, the Master explains this saying:
Suppose, for example, that a young married woman dies without a child. She had been praying all her life for a son and this desire weighed heavily on her heart at the time of her death. Well, nature may give her a body (say of a female animal) through which she will get in each litter half a dozen offspring every six months. Nature is very relentless and strict. Bodies and forms do not make any difference to her. She looks only to the desire that is imprinted on the antahkaran and which remains the same whichever kind of body one goes to.
Underlying the mischievous mind, the bulging ego and the runaway senses lies the enduring soul. In The Divine Romance, the author explains the soul’s predicament in the creation under the influence of the mind:
She mistakes the love offered by the temptations of physical life for the only true love in existence, the divine love between the soul and God. … But under the influence of the mind and senses, the soul mistakes the outer reflection for the inner Reality. She seeks a faded counterpart of the true, divine love in the fleeting images and associations into which that pure love has been splintered and divided by the processes of creation.
Sadly, we do not identify with our souls. We identify with our mind and our ego, hence the epic tale of the soul’s sad captivity is like a fairy story to us. Little do we consciously realize that the soul in her formless, pristine purity is our true self.
Many delightful things have been written about the soul and its beauty. Over the centuries many mystics and their disciples have tried to describe both the brilliance of the soul and its noble and spiritual qualities. Yet we have no idea of the radiance and beauty of the light hidden deep within us. We have the theory – the map of where the jewel is buried. But it is only through dedicated practice – the search – that we will uncover the jewel within.
Mystics tell us that the soul wears a garment or robe of light – its own pure spiritual light. In the Path of the Masters the author describes the astral body by saying that it is also called the light body because when seen, it appears to sparkle with millions of little particles resembling stardust. If this is the description of the astral body, can we even begin to conceptualize the beauty and radiance of the soul?
The conscious energy of the soul is within us and is the very life and essence of our whole being, and it is up to each of us to realize it and to experience it for ourselves. Then we will not only free ourselves from worldly ties but also free ourselves from the deception of illusion. As in Chuang Tzu’s riddle, we need to resolve the mysterious relationship between the dream and the reality.
To us the world is limited to our sense of self, bound up in the individual experiences and memories we have accumulated. The innocence and wholeness of who we truly are, that we brought with us as babies, appears to be forgotten – but this is also part of the illusion. That essence of a new-born baby – that innocence – remains within us and its apparent loss is a factor of this creation only. The magic still works beyond what we can see, hear and touch in this dream we call life.
We have a wonderful spiritual Master, a beautiful spiritual path and a great opportunity to solve a Chuang Tzu’s riddle – to awaken from the dream to the reality of what lies within. Let’s not waste it – let’s experience the magic.