Ever since I have been able to comprehend the things around me, I have known that I’m not like most people in this world. The best way I can explain it is I’m not “brainwashed” into all the emotions and thoughts that seem to distract others so easily.
Ted: I could definitely tell you are on a different wavelength than the average teenager, Melanie. I mean that as a compliment. You remind me of myself. Despite how I appear when I’m playing my teacher role, I am a reserved person. I have always been a bit of an outsider, more inclined to observe the drama than try to dominate it.
Melanie: When you say our mind and body get disturbed by things, would our ‘inner self’ be like our soul which doesn’t get disturbed? I have always believed that the human being is made up of the body, mind/spirit and soul. And because we have our soul, we are able to become aware of things that are deeper than just our mind and body from physical things, (not sure if the soul and inner self are considered as the same thing).
Ted: The “inner self” is actually deeper (subtler is actually a more appropriate word to use) than the soul. The soul is a rather nebulous or vague term. Though it is bandied about a lot in the “spiritual” and religious world, no one ever explains exactly what it is. However, Vedanta, which is the oldest “spiritual” tradition (i.e., means of investigating the true nature of reality and one’s own real identity) in the world, offers a very clear explanation of the subtle body, which is basically the equivalent of what is referred to as the soul.
Vedanta says that the human being is composed of three bodies: the gross, subtle, and causal bodies. These bodies are the “layers” of costuming, you might say, that pure awareness, which is our true nature, dons in order to play the role of a human being.
The gross body is composed of the five elements (i.e., space, air, fire, water, and earth). It is what we normally think of as the physical body. It is the body that “dies” or, to state it more accurately, resolves back into its elemental state after the “death” of the individual person.
The subtle body is referred to as the “inner instrument” and is composed of four different components: the mind, intellect, ego, and memory. Though what Vedanta specifically refers to as the mind is only one component of this “inner instrument,” sometimes the whole instrument itself is referred to as the mind. The subtle body is what is the closest equivalent to what is commonly called the soul. While the gross body is the counter across which our transactions with the surrounding world take place, the subtle body is the location of our actual experience (i.e., our perceptions of sensations, our emotions, and our thoughts).
The component of the mind performs the functions of perceiving sense data, integrating that data into a comprehensible experience, doubting or wondering what to make of the experience and how to react to it, and ultimately emoting and thereby instigating the response to the experience that will be executed by the active organs.
First, the mind perceives the sense data that is encountered by the sense instruments (i.e., the ears, skin, eyes, tongue, and nose). While the sense instruments are located in the gross body, the actual sense organs are located in the mind. This is evidenced by the fact that you can’t pluck your eyeball out of your head and leave it at home to watch TV while the rest of you went to school. The eyeball is the instrument through which seeing occurs, but seeing itself is a function of the mind. This is also why we can sometimes stare blankly into space when we are daydreaming and essentially see nothing. Since our mind’s attention was not directed toward an object outside ourselves, when somebody asks what we were staring at we find ourselves uncertain. Obviously, in that case we don’t see absolutely “nothing” because the mind is backing our eyeball to some degree, but such an occurrence does illustrate the fact that the basis of seeing is the mind.
Once the mind has perceived the sense data, it then integrates it into a coherent whole. This is why we don’t have to scramble about trying to match up what we see with what we feel and hear, etc. These don’t seem to be separate. They seem to go together. So when we see someone’s lips move and hear sounds in the form of words, we naturally assume that the person is the source of the sound.
Having integrated the sense data into a cogent experience, the mind then wonders what it means and how it—and by extension the person with whom it is associated—should respond to the experience. Is it a “friend” or “foe,” so to speak? Might it produce pleasure or pain? Should the person run away from or embrace the experience?
The mind, however, has no discriminative capacity of its own, so it cannot decide for itself what to do. This is where the intellect comes in. The intellect is the discriminating instrument. It is capable determining the nature of the experience and deciding how to respond to it. So the mind presents its doubts over to the intellect and awaits a decision.
While the intellect is the decider, it too requires some guidance concerning what decision it should make. In order to do this, the intellect actually goes beyond the body within which it is housed and seeks the counsel of the causal body, the third of the three “layers” or bodies that comprises a human being.
The causal body is the reservoir of all impressions left by one’s past experiences. These impressions are general in nature. They do not include every detail of one’s past experiences, but rather the general nature of those experiences. Say, for instance, that you eat a chocolate ice cream cone and find it pleasurable. The impression left in the causal body is one of pleasure. Your may not remember every bite you took, but you remember that eating the ice cream cone was a good experience. Thus, next time you are presented with the opportunity to eat a chocolate ice cream cone, the causal body will send a message to the intellect that it should eat the cone.
This, by the way, is the reason our responses to situations tend to be predictable and easily develop into habits. In one way, our habits can be good in that they can save us from danger or dumb decisions. In another way, however, our habits can become so automatic that they control us and rob us of our own free will. And if our interpretations of the impressions of past experiences are not altogether accurate or healthy, they can lead to problematic behaviors that lead to our ruin. For instance, if my response to stress is to smoke a cigarette and I enjoy the chemical affect of the nicotine in my system, then I most likely will repeat that behavior in times of stress and in no time can easily develop a habit that could be detrimental to my health.
The impressions left in the causal body are referred to as vasanas. These vasanas become the basis of the individual person’s likes, dislikes, desires, and fears. The impressions remain in unmanifest seed form in the causal body, and then sprout as desires and fears in the subtle body. These desires and fears in turn influence our decisions and eventually manifest as physical actions executed by the gross body. As mentioned, this cycle quickly becomes repetitive because every time we execute an action it fortifies the impression that initially spawned it and thus we become more and more prone to acting in the same manner. Eventually, we basically become robots acting at the behest of the desires and fears determined by our past impressions. Hence, we can say that we are basically controlled by our vasanas. In fact, we are so closely identified with our vasanas that we basically define ourselves by the aggregate of vasanas that are associated with our particular mind-body-sense complex. Only when we know who we really are can we break free from the tyranny of the vasanas.
At any rate, once the intellect has received counsel from the causal body about how it responded to similar experiences in the past, it then decides what to do. Usually, it decides to do what produced the most immediate pleasure in the past, which as pointed out may not actually be the most beneficial response.
Having decided what to do, the intellect assumes a sense of doership. That is, it identifies with the ego or the I-sense and thinks I will do this. In this sense, the ego is not the excessive pride or arrogance that is the common connotation of the word in the West, by rather the I-sense, the sense of being a separate independent individual person. With this added sense of doership, the intellect in the guise of the ego then sends the message back to the mind.
The mind feels this message as emotion, which we might think of more simply as energy in motion. In fact, if you look closely at the emotions you feel, you find that they are basically physical sensations that result from particular thoughts. These physical sensations are the initial impulses that register in the active organs (i.e. speaking, grasping, locomotion, generation, and excretion) and are then executed through the active instruments (i.e., the tongue, hands, feet, genitals, and anus).
Having said all that, the subtle body is essentially what is thought of as the soul. The causal body could be considered an extension of the subtle body, but it is not persona. The causal body becomes associated with a particular mind-body-sense complex (i.e., a particular individual person) because that particular mind-body-sense complex provides a certain aggregate or collection of vasanas an appropriate context in which to play out. In other words, the apparent person with whom a particular set of vasanas taken from the universal pool of vasanas (i.e., the macrocosmic or universal causal body) are associated has the body, mind, and living conditions that give the desires and talents produced by those vasanas the opportunity for their expression. For instance, a whole slew of highly refined musical vasanas were attracted to the subtle body that was housed in the fetus that eventually developed into the human being known as Mozart.
Obviously, any particular incarnation involves the exhaustion and the cultivation of new or fortification of existing vasanas. Those vasanas that don’t get exhausted in any particular lifetime remain in the vasana bundle associated with that particular mind-body-sense complex. Then, when the person dies, that vasana bundle resolves into a dormant state within the causal body until it finds a new fetus with which to associate that will provide that collection of vasanas the appropriate circumstances it needs to continue to express itself, so to speak. Hence, when we speak of reincarnation, it is not actually a matter of the specific person reincarnating, but rather a matter of the vasana bundle that informed that person relocating in and expressing through another subtle body.
The causal body is actually the universal reservoir of all the impressions ever experienced. Only a certain number of these impressions are readily available to a particular individual for reasons that are too complex to get into at present. But suffice it to be said for the moment that the universality of the causal body is the reason that even in cases where we are confronting an experience we have never encountered before we still have an instinctual sense of what to do. Though we are not consciously aware of it, in such instances we are drawing upon the universal pool of experience for feedback on how similar situations have been handled previously within the larger context of humanity as a whole.
The “inner self” is altogether different than all three of these bodies. It is the witness of them. Though we tend to think we are the gross, subtle, and causal bodies with which we are associated, we are actually the limitless scope of awareness in which these bodies appear. All three bodies and all experiences that take place within them are simply objects known to the “inner self.” This is why when you know who you really are, you remain undisturbed by the objects appearing within the scope of your being. “Worldly” life, both its “outer” and “inner” aspects, becomes nothing more than a holographic movie appearing within you.
Be clear, however, that the “you” we are talking about here is not Melanie the apparent person, but the pure limitless awareness in which Melanie appears as an object. This distinction is the subtlest and most difficult distinction to make. Most people are never able to dis-identify with the body-mind-sense complex that they appear to be and “step back” and see that they are really the unchanging eternal awareness in which the world, the body, the sensations, the emotions, and the thoughts are appearing. This is why, as you say later in this email, that most people think you are crazy when you start talking about reality being more than what meets the eye.
Melanie: All I have been trying to do for years is understand and answer my questions about, what you mentioned, the source of life, nature of reality and my true identity. No words can really explain that better.
Ted: Despite what the world would have you believe, this is the point of existence, if there can be said to be a point. You are at an “advanced” stage in your evolution as an embodied being, Melanie. The self is starting to see the possibility of knowing—actually “remembering itself” is a more accurate way to put it—itself through the vehicle of your intellect.
Although the self hasn’t actually forgotten who it is, due to its own inherent power of delusion, it plays a game, so to speak, of pulling the wool over its own eyes and forgetting its true limitless nature. This deluding power, which is called maya, has two powers: veiling and projecting. Once it veils the self’s true limitless nature, it then projects the “dream” of the world, including the individual person you seem to be, on the “screen” of pure limitless awareness and causes pure awareness to take itself to be a separate individual person within a world of separate independently existent objects.
When you understand that everything in existence is actually dependent on awareness for its existence, then you realize that everything is nothing other than awareness. Though the objects seem to exist as separate entities, they are all actually awareness. Just as the objects in a dream are nothing other than the awareness of the dreamer, so the entire universe, including the person you take yourself to be and the emotions and thoughts that seemingly exist “within” that individual, are nothing other than awareness. This is the true meaning of the saying, “One is all, all is one,” that you refer to later in this email.
Melanie: I am already aware of my inner self…
Ted: Remember, however, that the “inner self” we are talking about is not Melanie’s, so to speak. Melanie is actually an object within you. You are the “inner self,” the “light” of awareness in which Melanie appears and is known.
The true self simply sees all that is and even what is not (i.e., the absence of things, like in deep dreamless sleep), and remains ever calm, peaceful, and happy. The mind and emotions that we take to be ourselves (i.e., the person we seem to be) get disturbed, but the self (“I”) never actually does. It takes a quiet mind to “see” or understand this (you don’t actually see it because awareness is not an object). It’s so easy to get distracted by all the thoughts and emotions and things going on around us and to identify with this mind and body we appear to be. But if you can get really quiet, you’ll see that you are actually not the mind and body, but the one (the disembodied awareness) that sees these phenomena.
When you understand that you are the self and not the person you take yourself to be (and that everyone tells you you are), then you can rest in an eternal source of peace and serenity. Then the world can never really rock you socks. You can deal with the world in an efficient way and do what you need to do and all. But you never really get swept away by it. You always remain centered and can handle anything that life throws at you, so to speak, because you know that it is no more real that watching a cosmic, holographic movie. It’s pretty dang convincing, but it’s not real. The only real (and by real I mean unchanging) thing is you, awareness, the self.
Melanie: …and the peace that can come with it, but I haven’t been able to balance it with my body and mind.
Ted: There is no balancing it exactly. What you are calling “your” body and mind are only objects appearing within the scope of you, attributeless awareness.
Melanie: All these years of me hiding away in my room I found there’s more to humans than simply just the body and mind. So, I’m aware of it, but can’t make the connection. Just recently did I realize the relation between meditation and yoga with the inner self, so I am interested in it.
Ted: Meditation and yoga are means of purifying the mind and thus preparing it for the assimilation of the knowledge of your true identity as limitless awareness. In this sense, purifying the mind means calming it, quieting it, withdrawing it from its fascination with the surrounding world to a degree sufficient to allow for self-inquiry. Purifying the mind doesn’t mean you have to become a perfect person or some saintly being who never has a negative thought or emotion. You don’t have to be holy, you simply need a mind that is dispassionate (i.e., not swept up in the daily drama of the world) and calm enough to see that you are the whole.
Melanie: As “nerdy” as this sounds…
Ted: Hey, this “nerdy-ness” is great. I’m the biggest nerd there is. Welcome to the club!
Melanie: …the reason I became fascinated about understanding these things was from watching an anime show. The show is called Fullmetal Alchemist. It mentions how humans are made up of the body, mind/spirit and soul. And how “One is all, all is one.” ‘One’ being us individually, ‘all’ being the world. (We are all apart of one another, our bodies die, decay, and grow into the grass, a rabbit eats the grass, a fox eats the rabbit, etc).
The story is about these young brothers who lose their mother to a severe illness. They try to bring her back by a failed process of human transmutation with alchemy and also try to find out the truth of the world and life itself.
The moral of the story was you can’t bring back those who have passed and you can’t dwell in the past. This made me start thinking about death. Obviously, our bodies and mind are left here to be broken down.
Ted: There actually is no such thing as death. The elements that comprise the body simply resolve back into their elemental state. The subtle body transmigrates into another body. The causal body stays as it ever was.
And the self simply watches it all.
Because the self is not the mind, it doesn’t think, so to speak, so it doesn’t know itself as one would another person or even as you think you know yourself as the person you seem to be at present. The self is limitless awareness, so it has no attributes or qualities or characteristics by which it can be identified. It knows itself by virtue of being itself. In this way, it is similar to the deep, dreamless sleep state. Just because no objects arise in dreamless sleep doesn’t mean you don’t exist. Upon awakening the mind/intellect registers the memory of having slept soundly. If you had not been there and were not now here, you wouldn’t be able to remember now what had occurred then.
The bottom line is that you are always present. And experience doesn’t happen to you. It happens in you. When you illumine the mind or subtle body of an apparent person, that person sees what is within his or her mind and/or what seems to surround the person’s body. When that person “dies,” you illumine the next body-mind-sense complex (i.e., apparent person) that the subtle body inhabits. The slate of the subtle body is wiped clean between incarnations, so to speak, so it doesn’t remember its past associations, and thus it’s memory aspect (the fourth function of the subtle body, which was not addressed in the description I offered of the anatomy of the three bodies and the process of experience) doesn’t provide the intellect with specific images of experience from past lives.
Melanie: What I was trying to understand is the part that makes us who we are, the inner self, or soul. Possibly, our soul lives on forever, or has been here forever, eternity with no beginning or end. Whatever the case is, I’ve been interested in it, and can’t seem to get a grasp on exactly what I’m looking for yet.
Ted: Hopefully, the explanations I’ve offered have given you a start toward identifying the self.
Melanie: I feel like if I were to find peace with myself, I would find things to become pointless. If I’d be able to “see” through emotions and everything hectic going around out in the world, what would be the point in participating in everyday life if you knew inside that none of it is a big deal and that it is only affecting the physical part of ourselves that will eventually be left behind? Or is it something different and more deep than that?
Ted: The realization that you are not your experience and that all experience is ultimately no more real than a dream can be quite shocking and even disheartening. Once you get past that stage, however, you realize the freedom that is your inherent nature. Thereafter, rather than chasing experiences in life to try to get joy or meaning from them, you simply enjoy the experiences life offers without the stress of needing them to be any certain way or provide any certain outcome. Whatever happens is fine because you know that nothing can actually enhance, diminish, or affect you, awareness, in any essential way.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t care about life or live in a way that is considerate toward others and “meaningful” to yourself. You simply play the game for the joy of it, but are rocked by the ups and downs that are an inevitable part of it. You don’t need anything outside your self to be happy. You do what you do according to what your nature dictates, but you don’t need anything to be other than the way it is. I know that sounds paradoxical, but when you understand who you are, you play the role of the apparent person you seem to be to the hilt, but ultimately accept that whatever happens is simply the way the script was written for that character.
Melanie: I may sound a bit all over the place with all of this. It may be from lack of sleep, but it’s a bit hard for me to explain how I feel and compare it with what you have shared for some reason, it’s difficult to put my thoughts into words I suppose.
I haven’t been able to talk to anyone about these things without them thinking I’m insane.
Ted: I understand completely.
Melanie: I hope I made some sense in what I’m attempting to say and share. I want to try to understand this as best as I can.
Ted: If you really want to get a better understanding of this whole elaborate puzzle of existence, spend some time reading the information on the website. This will provide you with a good understanding of the fundamental teachings of Vedanta and will also provide us with a common vocabulary. Thus, we will have a better basis for a continued dialogue. My suggestion is to first read the Intro Articles in order, then read the FAQs, and then go to the Publications section and read the first selection, Tattva Bodha.
Then feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.
Also, I’ve written a book, “Self-Knowledge: The King of Secrets,” that should be coming out sometime between September and December.
Melanie: Thanks again for your thorough response.
Ted: My pleasure.
All the best you, Melanie.