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Becoming Human

Hierocles, an ancient Greek philosopher in the tradition that traced its roots to Plato and Pythagoras, summed up the essence of his teachings by saying, “And so one must become first human, then god.”1

We might wonder why Heirocles said we have to become human. Aren’t we human already? Are we walking around in these human-looking bodies without actually being ‘human?’ Why do we need to learn what it means to be human? Perhaps at least part of the answer lies in a letter written to a disciple by Maharaj Sawan Singh in Dawn of Light,

As long as the focus of attention is below the eyes, there is no difference between human beings and animals in form. The actions are alike.2

If we want to be human, it means we have to pull our attention up to the eye centre. We often speak of the eye centre, metaphorically, as a door. On one side of that ‘door’ is all that is physical; on the other side awaits all the spiritual realms – the radiant form of the master and the melodious sound of the Lord’s voice calling us home. Standing right at that door is somehow what being human is all about. The effort we make every day to gather our scattered attention and draw it little by little to the eye centre is our effort to become human. Without this effort, we are just another kind of mammal, spending our life energy searching for a mate, raising our young, building a house, finding food.

In the same letter, Great Master says that most of us have our attention headquartered at the heart centre and scattered throughout the body from there.

Normally the focus of attention is at the heart centre. By effort it eventually rises to the eyes, but more easily falls to the lower centres. The attention is running up and down in the six centres, from lowest to highest, but its headquarters is the heart.

As long as the heart is the focus, the mind continues generating thoughts – wool-gathering – and the individual is impressionable to circumstances.3

This is not the clear thinking of vivek. It’s like bubbles coming up from the swamp of memories, fantasies, desires, worries, old grievances. In fact – as anyone who has ever tried to meditate knows – this stream of automatic thought often seems to be on a repeating loop. However, Great Master says that as soon as we bring the attention to the eye centre, all this stops.

When the focus of attention has been raised to the eyes and the attention has entered within, then the mind ceases generating thoughts; it is now running within instead of outside. The individual then is unaffected by external circumstances or changes. In other words, a person behaves according to the focus of his attention.4

In our normal waking state, we are liable to react to every little thing that happens, but as we work to bring our attention to the eye centre through simran and dhyan, we naturally become less reactive. This process of becoming less reactive is an essential part of becoming human. Great Master writes encouragingly,

Every time you repeat a Name attentively, you are trying to rise up, and sooner or later the eye focus will become the headquarters of your attention. Patiently persevere, avoid hurry, and with a calm mind sit in the spiritual exercises.5

This is the work of a lifetime. As Great Master says, “Water runs downhill automatically but requires a powerful engine to force it uphill.”6 So there’s effort required to become human. It is effortless for us to be animals. That is automatic, like water running downhill. But it takes effort to gather up all of our attention, to bring all of ourselves to stand at that door.

Sometimes it is helpful to hear how the same insight is expressed in a different tradition, using different language, a different conceptual framework – but clearly pointing toward the same truth. So let’s look at what Hierocles meant when he said, “And so one must become first human, then god.”

Hierocles was a Platonist, a follower of Plato. Like other Platonists, he taught that our attention can flow in three different currents within the human psyche: the lowest, the middle and the highest current. We might think of it as where our desires go, but the word they used was ‘love’ (Greek, philia), saying that our love can flow in three different currents within us.

The lowest current hankers after all the stuff that gives pleasure to the senses – food, sex, wealth and all the things that wealth can buy to provide for our comfort. The middle current seeks honour, fame and power. It loves to compete and to win, to be respected, to have status, to have power. The highest current longs and yearns for Truth.

Only the highest current is distinctly human. The lower two are shared with animals, and they function in us exactly in the same way as they do in animals. Each of these currents is associated with a different part of the body. The lowest current is associated with the belly and below; the middle current with the chest; the highest current with the head. As long as we are in a physical human body, all three currents are active. We are part animal, part human. It’s not that the lower currents are evil, or to be suppressed – but it’s good to understand them for what they are. The two lower currents act or react automatically, driven by involuntary impulses, instincts, just like an animal. They do not have the capacity to make choices. When something triggers a reaction, they react automatically. When provoked, they will pounce… without a second thought.

As long as our attention is streaming full force into these lower currents, we do react automatically. But as Platonists like Hierocles taught, when we direct more attention to the highest current, there is less power going into the lower two currents. They likened it to the flow of water: if water was flowing into three channels, and then you divert more of the water into one channel, there will be less going into the other two channels. Plato wrote,

Of course we are aware that when the desires in the human being are drawn strongly to any one thing, desires for other things are weakened. It is just as when a stream of water has been diverted into another channel.7

Becoming human is a matter of redirecting our attention, our love, toward the highest current, associated with the head. As Hierocles taught, this highest current is the home of a faculty that is unique to humans, called logos. It is similar to what we might call vivek, clear thinking. This logos has the capacity to turn the attention inward, to introspect. It has the capacity to understand. Above all, it has the capacity to make choices.

Logos is the faculty that can discern, understand, and, above all, make logical, reasonable choices. It was sometimes called ‘the ruling power’ or ‘the inner guide’ (hegemonikon) because in a well-ordered and happy life, clear thinking (logos) guides the two lower currents of the psyche.8

Diverting the current of love towards the highest current of the psyche strengthens clear thinking. Exercising the power to reflect, consider, and make choices leads to actions that are voluntary and free, rather than being compelled by blind impulses that make no logical sense. For Hierocles the most important thing about using our uniquely human ability to choose, rather than react, is freedom. He taught that “most humans are slaves, automatically and unquestioningly following the dictates of a disturbed and chaotic psyche.”9 So thinking clearly and making good choices is freedom from that slavery.

How often have we heard Baba Ji pose a question something like: What is the difference between a human being and an animal? And then he’ll answer his own question, saying that animals react. The law of action and reaction is operating throughout the physical universe. We see it in chemistry and physics. Animals, just like the rest of the physical universe, react. And, as long as we are away from the eye centre, we function in the same way as animals do. We react.

In order to rise above our animal instincts, we need to think before we act. We are the ones who will have to bear the burden caused by our ill-considered reaction. No one else is going to lug that load around. We have to think clearly, ponder the options, consider our priorities, then take action. In some ways, simran is the gift to help us slow down and to give ourselves breathing space before that knee-jerk reaction takes over. In this way, we can exercise the privilege that is only given to humans: we can make a choice.

Baba Ji has often repeated that we can as easily make the right choice as the wrong choice.

What is the right choice? If we make the right choice, we finish off the karma. If we make the wrong choice, we set off a whole new chain of action and reaction. So the right choice in every situation leads to freedom. Unfortunately, even when we do make the right choice, the results are not in our hands. For example, we might be in a difficult situation, and we stop ourselves from reacting; we think clearly and make the right choice. And even so, it might not fix the situation the way we’d like it to. The immediate result, the visible result, is not what we wanted. But if, in the long run, the result we want is freedom, then the result is in our hands because we can make the choice that finishes off the chain of karma. And the masters assure us if we put in the right effort, in the right direction, the power within will help us take the right step.

How do we make the right choice? As human beings we must have objectivity. But what does it mean to be objective? We might gain insight into this question by seeing how Platonic philosophers like Hierocles explained it. What they meant by ‘objectivity’ was being in harmony with the Cosmic Law, also called the Divine Will. As they explained it, the Cosmic Law, the power that sustains the whole cosmos, is called Logos. The human being is a microcosm of the macrocosm, like a small replica of the cosmos. The faculty of logos (clear thinking) within the human being is like a small replica of the cosmic Logos. The two are related. That’s why the faculty of logos within us allows us to align our attitude, thoughts, feelings, and actions with Logos, the Power that keeps everything in the cosmos unfolding moment by moment in perfect order and harmony.

Only humans have this ability, although we may not use it. The human faculty of logos allows us to see from the perspective of the Whole, not just our small, narrow perspective. When we look at the world around us from a partial, self-centred view, we see opposition, division everywhere; we see predators and prey, we see one living being eating another living being. We see us and them, my people and not my people, good and bad. From the perspective of the Whole, it is all one beautiful harmony, all unfolding in perfect balance, exactly as the Divine wills it to be. This is objectivity, seeing from the perspective of the Whole, the All. And, according to Hierocles and teachers in his tradition, it is a perspective that is natural for a human being.

If we could adopt this perspective, this objectivity, we might be able to see the cosmos as the Platonic philosophers did. They taught that there is a soul within the physical body which gives life and consciousness. Similarly the cosmos has a body - the physical universe - with a cosmic soul that gives life and consciousness to all the beings living in it. This cosmic soul loves and cares for each and every particle of the cosmos; it is all her body.

If we understand this, we know that we are all like limbs of one great body. So naturally, we also love and care for each other. We are all parts of one Being. Therefore, love for all people, all creatures, all of nature, is what is natural for a human being. That love, that feeling of affinity is true objectivity. We sometimes think of reason as one thing and as love as something different. But from this perspective, reason and love are part and parcel of the same thing.

We often think of love as a feeling, an emotion. Sometimes we think we feel love, sometimes we think we are totally devoid of love. But the mystics tell us that love is the core of our being. Hierocles, like other teachers in his tradition, taught that love (Greek philia) flows continuously through all the three currents of the psyche. It is all love, but it takes different forms depending on which current it is flowing through.

It is all a matter of which of the three currents in the psyche this love is channelled through. Channelled into the lowest current of psyche, love is all about what pleases me, what I want to have. To love another person in this way is a possessive, jealous, me-centred kind of love with a focus on meeting one’s own needs and desires.

Channelled into the middle current of psyche, love is less self-centred and can inspire noble acts of self-sacrifice. Picture the warrior, filled with love of country, riding forth to the battlefield, prepared to sacrifice life itself. Picture the parent who, without a second thought, sacrifices so much for the well-being and comfort of the children. Yet the warrior does noble battle only for ‘my’ country, ‘my’ clan, ‘my’ religion, and those outside the circle of ‘my’ may even be deemed enemies, or evil, or unworthy of humane treatment. The parent sacrifices only for ‘my’ children, not for children in general. This is a love that can flip over into righteous vengeance.

If love is redirected upward to flow through the highest current of psyche, the negative emotions of jealousy, envy, anger, desire for revenge – which come from the middle current of psyche – begin to dissolve and disappear. Loving-kindness, mercy, forgiveness begin to arise naturally. One’s perspective becomes broader, more objective, less self-centred. As the philosophers taught, all truly generous, selfless, and altruistic actions come from the love that flows through this highest current.10

This quality of love doesn’t judge or condemn and is the quality of true humanity. This unique love is the characteristic of the saints. It is the quality we associate with the greatest human beings, this ability to see past all the divisiveness and hatred, past all the judgement and prejudice. Theirs is such a generous love that no one is left outside the expanse of that love. And the love that knows only how to give is also the characteristic of the divine. When philosophers in Hierocles’ tradition described the divine, they spoke only of one main characteristic: a generous love that excludes no one. They said the essential nature of the divine was a love that had no jealousy. The divine, they said, is always reaching out to help any human who is trying to turn toward the divine, never turning anyone away. So when we become human – truly human, not just carrying a human body around – our nature becomes more and more like the nature of the divine.

So, how do we become human? Every effort we make to draw the attention to the eye centre, every round of simran, is one small step in the direction of becoming human. The more our attention is toward the eye centre, the more we will be able to keep from reacting automatically to whatever is happening, and the more we will be able to think clearly and to make a free choice. When we make the right choice, we finish that karma.

The more that our attention is toward the eye centre, the more we are able to be objective. And as Hierocles taught, being objective means seeing from the perspective of the Whole, the All. Once we recognize that we are all like limbs of one body, we will know that loving and caring for all is natural for a human being. And these qualities of true humanity draw us ever closer to divinity.

  1. Be Human – Then Divine, p.34.
  2. Dawn of Light, 3rd ed. (2018), Letter 66, p. 139.
  3. Ibid, Letter 66, p. 139.
  4. Ibid, Letter 66, p. 139.
  5. Ibid, Letter 66, p. 139.
  6. Ibid, Letter 79, p. 178.
  7. Be Human - Then Divine, p.107.
  8. Ibid, p. 103.
  9. Ibid, p. 108.
  10. Ibid, pp. 124-125.