Non-Duality and the Soul: Some Knotty Problems


   by Peter Holleran



   Part 2        Part 3        Part 4



   "All meditation systems either aim for One or Zero – union with God or emptiness. The path to the One is through concentration on Him, to the Zero is insight into the voidness of one’s mind." - Joseph Goldstein

   ”What happens metaphysically to the further existence of the being resulting from the conscious union of the ego with the Overself is guarded as a mystery and may not be discussed....He will unite with the Divine first by completely disappearing into it, then by discovering his higher individuality in it...When the two are one, when ego and Overself no longer remain at a distance from one another, man experiences his first illumination. What will happen thereafter is wrapped in mystery." - Paul Brunton (PB)

   "If you say there is nothing but One, you insult Him and you insult yourself." - Bhai Sahib

   "If I say He is one, the question of two arises." - Kabir

   "Immortality is freedom from the feeling 'I am'. Yet it is not extinction. On the contrary, it is a state infinitely more real, aware, and happy than you can possibly think of. Only self-consciousness is no more." - Nisargadatta Maharaj

   "It is as it is. Dvaita and advaita are relative terms. They are based on a sense of duality. There is actually neither dvaita nor advaita." - Ramana Maharshi


   The enigma beneath these quotes is the subject of this four-part article, whose purpose is to examine similarities and differences within various spiritual teachings in regards to use of the terms Soul and Overself, and whether they can be maintained within either an advaitic or Buddhist structure.

   We ask the reader’s pardon, as this article has ballooned to nearly book-length, in order to attempt to fully exhaust this many-facetted topic. It is not for the beginner, but largely for the student with a moderate familiarity with PB's thought, the various spiritual traditions, and teachings of non-duality, and who still has unresolved questions. We also ask the reader's forgiveness for a fair amount of repetition, as contrasting aspects are examined from different angles. Sub-headings in bold have been inserted to make reading manageable in shorter segments. Topics include: PB's views on the Overself, World-Mind, Soul, and Advaita; the purpose of self-inquiry; the role of the ego; the phenomena of multiple simultaneous incarnations; "Pure Lands"; the influence of Vedantic teacher V.S. Iyer on PB's thought; the concept of an Intermediary Liberating Presence within Relativity as found in Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Sant Mat; thought on the nature of nondual realization and its actualization; how Atman and Brahman can be One - yet not the same; and finally, the proposition of stages 'beyond' enlightenment or jivan-mutki. While complex and long-winded, and a presumptive tall order, this article hopefully will serve its purpose in shaking out a few cobwebs among traditional assumptions, and bring the reader a little closer to the inescapable mystery behind, beneath, and within all, without feeling the need to deny, assert, or, without thorough discrimination or investigation, accept anything authoritative.


   Introductory comments

   The astute reader of PB’s posthumous Notebooks series will discern for himself that he is on something like an archeological dig, or a search for the true meaning of the Bible, in the sense that several seemingly contradictory themes present themselves repeatedly. And, as the Notebooks were written over a period of several decades, it is not always easy or possible to tell at what date in PB’s own intellectual and spiritual development any particular “para” came from. As PB claimed his final enlightenment about twenty years before his death, this information would be useful in determining his exact final position. We propose several reasons for this discrepency: one, PB was evolving and wrote from different levels of insight; two, his mentorship with the vedantic pundit V.S. Iyer (1) profoundly influenced his writing - indeed, he was counselled by the latter and advised to take his teachings to the broader world - and the careful reader will find almost verse by verse analogy between PB’s writings and Iyer’s - which also seem to have similar discrepencies; three, PB was exercising the right and obligation of the sage, which is to offer what best suits his students, who are at different levels of understanding and development; fourth, PB left certain things as they were to stimulate our independent thinking; fifth, PB was still searching for an all-encompassing newly articulated doctrine that found common ground with many ancient teachings; and sixth, had PB the benefit of a computer and the internet he may have been able to re-write or further edit portions of his teachings that he simply did not have time to do. Anyone doing a lot of writing can understand this particular difficulty. Recall the dilemma when writing a term paper for college in the days when one had only a manual typewriter. Any mistakes or unclarity were either subject to an ugly 'cut and paste', arduous re-typing, or more often the submission as 'good enough as it is'. For someone writing tens of thousands of pages like PB one can easily see the difficulty and impossibility of perfect articulation of every phrase.

   The two basic models of thought that pervade PB’s later writings seem to be a leaning towards a stricter form of gyan or nondualism, compensating and adding to his earlier writings on yoga and mysticism, and what might be called a ‘nondual hermeticism’ (2), which recognized and allowed for a hierarchical presentation of reality within a fundamental nondual presence. These diverging lines should become clear as we proceed.

   "PB's Top Six Most Enigmatic Quotes"

   At the outset we would like to propose the following - in addition to the quote above - for the reader to ponder as he works his way through this paper. There many others, as we shall see, but these few are particularly provocative and distinctive, the search for their meaning yielding rich fruit:

   "How can man fully express himself unless he fully develops himself? The spiritual evolution which requires him to abandon the ego runs parallel to the mental evolution which requires him to perfect it...The ego is a part of the divine order of existence. It must emerge, grow, enslave, and finally be enslaved..."

   “I do not claim that sahaja yields ultimate reality; I only claim that it yields the ultimate so far known to man.”

   “Man’s individuality survives in the divinest state accessible to him...He as he was vanishes, not into complete annihilation and certainly not into the heaven of a perpetuated ego, but into a higher kind of life shrouded in mystery."

   "And we shall be with God as higher creatures."

   “It is just as hard to put into proper words what the resultant is when ego vanishes, when the No-thing reigns in the consciousness. To assert that there is non-existence would be as misleading as to assert that there is existence, even if it were of a higher kind. For if the ego is gone, what is it that activates the body in its dealings with the world, or even with itself? Because the topic is incomprehensible, the answer to this question must itself be either incomprehensible or wholly phrased in negative terms. But to say what IT is not, does not make very lucid what it is.”

   "To a certain individual it may be said: "I have faith in you - but the real You has yet to make an appearance. When it does you will then find your real work in life."


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   By way of a very brief preliminary, the following is offered. Advaita Vedanta is very popular today, but cut off from its ancient pre-Kapila Sam’khaya roots (more non-dual than that of post-Kapila), as well as the sapta-jnana-bhumika system of Vedanta, often seems a pale reflection of its traditional stature. That is, many assume that by seeing through the reflected sense of ego one is in immediately in contact with the Absolute; forget about anything in between these two, or how man, the Soul, the world, and God or a Divine Mind interact. All is One, shout its advocates, largely because they feel and see it that way and their logic tells them so, and the assumption is made that all of the former are mere concepts. But is it the case, and in what way is it so? For the devil is in the details. Many who say ‘all is One’ do not know this, or if they do the question remains, how they know this? They may in fact be taking their own Soul or formless and unlimited yet individual consciousness as the Absolute, and not really have clear knowledge of the existence of anything beyond that. How do they know there are not other (albeit non-separate) Souls, something (that is not a ‘thing) besides themselves? Recall that Sri Nisargadatta said, "in the Absolute every I AM is preserved and glorified." Many high teachers use the word "conscious entity" when referring to the Soul, knowing full well that it is "empty" and devoid of phenomenal characteristics. This is usually beyond the capacity of the Advaitin's logic. Many seem to box themselves into this corner, although granted, they do not see it as such, and their arguments are not without merit.

   In this essay we will be relying heavily on the writings of PB, who sometimes speaks in contrasting ways to stimulate our thinking, but whose basic position seems to have been that man, in his truest or higher self, is Divine-like, but not the Absolute - Nirguna - itself. In other words, our transcendant, non-phenomenal nature as consciousness, which he calls the Overself, is the divine Soul - metaphorically thought of as a ray of the Sun, or a drop of the ocean, but not the Sun itself or the Ocean itself. Even when knowing itself as 'dissolved' in the Ocean it is not annihilated, but retains an identity. It is non-separate from the world, which is its own manifestation, mediated by a common or universal ‘World-Mind’ in which the Soul inheres, thus nonduality is its essential mode of being, but the same can be said for other distinct-but-not-separate divine Souls as well. All happens within the One, but within which there are distinctions with both practical and transcendental implications. The divine Soul is inseparably rooted in the One Mind, and in this sense, ‘Atman and Brahman are One’, but still, it seems there are distinctions, without which many Mysteries remain unknowable and unrealizable.

   [For a concise description of PB’s unique terminology, please click here].

   First we will make some summary statements, then we will provide a series of quotations from PB's writings, before discussing the key issues. This is investigatory, we do not claim to have the answers, only important questions.

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   PB's views summarized

   Man, even the sage, cannot create a world or a universe, or even the mental image of such a world that will stand as a common world for other beings to participate in. However, a World-Mind does project a World-Idea through his mind which his own mind or consciousness translates and manifests for him and which he then appears to participates in it.

   There is one Mind, or Godhead. Its active aspect is called the World-Mind, or God’, which emanates Overselves as well as a World-Idea out of its infinite Consciousness-Being.

   Our Overself is expressed by him as ‘rooted’ in the World-Mind (‘rooted’ being a word he used to indicate its non-separation from the World-Mind), and a ‘point in Mind. In our deepest contemplation it is possible to experience an identity of essence as that ‘point’, but we do not become, nor are we, the Absolute Mind or God Itself, nor do we stay in that highest contemplation in every moment while incarnated.

   The Overself is infinite and formless, and the universal World-Image or ‘Idea’ of the World-Mind (or God) is projected through each Overself. That is why we have a world experienced in common. It is essentially mental, not physical; that is, a manifestation of consciousness, but there is a universal Mind and individual minds. The World-Idea is not a manifestation of ‘our’ individual consciousness, but it is ‘given’ to us by God or the World-Mind. We, as conscious entities (tred lightly with that word ‘entity’, as it is not meant in the usual sense of a perceivable or unperceivable form), co-create our world-image, as we all experience it from different angles of perception. Our own consciousness provides time and space to the formless World-Idea of the World-Mind; in this sense it is a co-creation.

   The Overself my first be experienced mystically, through deep inversion practice, perhaps through the 'Who am I?' enquiry, but then through the enquiry 'What am I ?' and 'What is the world', its universal and non-dual aspect is realized. PB felt that Ramana Maharshi stopped with the "Who am I?" inquiry only.

   We have some qualities similar to the World-Mind, the univeral consciousness (“in whom we live, move, and have our being”), but not those of creation and unlimited power, omniscience, etc. The universal World-Idea is provided by World-Mind to individual minds, which 'interpret that master-image for themselves yet are not solipsistic absolutes. This means that the mystic who experiences or attains nirvikalpa samadhi has not realized 'the one', even though in his imagination he may conceive that to be so later on. Yet he is not separate from it.

   For PB, the Soul is a 'double knower. It has, as it were, two parts or functions. One is eternally  awake , divine, and never incarnates. The other is 'demi-divine', downward-looking and sends forth an emanent of itself that does incarnate. It apparently gets cloaked in several vehicles or bodies (which are also paradoxically within the soul while the soul (or its emanent) is in the bodies as well. So neither the usual mystics or the radical nondualists have it quite right there.

   Through our Overself, the higher aspect of our Soul, we can, once in fully grown union with it, get emanations from its own prior or higher principles, termed by Plotinus the Nous and the One, and by PB as World-Mind and Mind, but we can never know all of that One - or even the World-Mind - in its totality. While we can realize we are a ray of that Sun, and even experience union with the ‘point’ in the ‘Sun’ or Mind in which that ray inheres, the essence of the Sun’s expression is the Mystery of Mysteries, Ein Soph, the unknowable Godhead.

   So, the arguments of nondualists who argue that 'consciousness is all', are epistemologically correct, in that we can only know something in consciousness, that is, the mental images we ‘see’ are ‘what is’ - there is no knowable ‘object’ behind what we perceive - and these images or thought ’reduce’ to consciousness. Such teachings, however, ontologically do not always give a complete or satisfying picture. The One is not so simple to explain. One will likely be in error if he says there is merely a One, or a One and duality, for on deeper contemplation, it appears that the truth is not so easy to pin down, but perhaps closer to being One in duality and duality in One: that is to say, a living reality.

   There is no way of logically or intellectually proving this point, or PB’s, it is only reasonable in light of many scriptures and clear, non-slogan-filled, thinking.

   For instance, Jesus said, “I and my Father are One.” Sounds nondual, right? He also said, “I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.” This is also a good rendition of the nondual position that the Many are in the One while the One is in the Many, or, to put it another way, ‘duality is in the One, and the One is in duality.’

   The sage sees ‘two’, or duality, but knows it as the One. He doesn’t just see nothing - nor does he by himself manifest the world, as some of the advaitic teachings, including that of Ramana Maharshi, may imply.

   Jesus also said, however, “The Father is greater than I.” Now we have a conundrum. But it is not unresolvable. “I and my Father are One”, yet “the Father is greater than I’. This is the basic Sufi position, and also that found in many scriptures - even some forms of Vedanta.

   For PB it simply means that our divine Soul, which is of the nature of consciousness, is ‘rooted’ in World-Mind, the active aspect of Mind, yet Soul or Overself is distinct nonetheless and not equivalent to that Mind.

   The sage does not just ‘return’ to the One when he dies, but can, if he so chooses and also, depending on many factors. He can also 'go in and out of it', per se, which suggests that there is a type of higher indivduality that exists. It is ‘not ‘the heaven of a perpetuated ego, but a kind of higher life shrouded in mystery’, wrote PB. The ray or the drop can merge temporarily in the Sun or the ocean but then come out as the same ray or drop! This is the teaching in Sant Mat also. We are eternal beings.

   Sri Aurobindo called the following 'the three eternal terms of existence', or basic conditions of reality, that we have to deal with: Absolute Spirit, Universal Spirit, and Soul. 'Absolute Spirit' is senior, but all three are real. For Plotinus there are three Primal Hypstases: the One, the Intellectual Principle (or Nous), and Soul. For PB there is Mind, World-Mind, and Overself.

   All is One, but it is a rich, mysterious One.

   The mere fact of transcending the ego does not yield ultimate reality in its place, but the Soul. This is radically different from most Hindu and Buddhist as well as contemporary nondual teachings, but I have found an ancient Dzogchen text written by a disciple of Tsongkhapa that speaks to this very point. This is therefore an immense clarification by PB over what has been the common teaching error. Once the Soul is realized, then one is ‘in a position’ to know its higher principles. In this view, then, consciousness is really an ‘outer expression’ of God’s being, so to speak, the most that we can know in ordinary human life, with but glimpses of more in the deepest contemplation. Some teachers, such as Sri Nisargadatta , Adyashanti, and anadi, have at times mentioned realizing what is ‘beyond consciousness’, although no one can permanently live from such a position.

   The advaitists and nondualists are not wrong, then, when they say that ‘all is consciousness’. Phenomenally speaking, they are right, but according to my understanding of PB, only incomplete.

   In sum, Atman and Brahman are one in Essence, but not identical - otherwise why have two words? Or we can say it is the same thing looked at from two different perspectives.

   Generally, in advaita, Atman refers to the innermost reach of subjectivity: consciousness itself, in itself. We might call this Soul or Overself. But when the consciousness functions in everyday reality and knows the world as the manifestation of itself, and also knows that the source of its own reality is the same source of the world's reality, that is termed Brahman. In other words, one might say the mystic achieves his highest realization in Nirvikalpa, the ultimate subjectivity. But he does not yet know what the body or the world is [i.e., an idea, or presentation to /in Mind]. The typical yogi or mystic sees the body as an adventitious vehicle, and his freedom in separation from that; while the sage has gone further and knows it as an idea arising from Mind or consciousness - his consciousness. This further reach of realization is attained when he comes out of his trance and, through understanding, realizes that his individual source is the same as the Universal source.

   But can we say there is only One? No, according to advaita, the most we can say is that there is 'not-two.' Thus, advaita does not prove there is one (i.e., a single homogenous block - although it is often expressed that way), only that there is not-two. This is quite different, and significant. It is beyond opposites and mental divisions. [Advaita also does not prove non-causality, but rather, it says that causality is not proven, another significant point that is often misrepresented].

   So the complete sage knows Brahman in this sense.

   "Nirvikalpa gives only Atman knowledge.How does the yogi know that what he finds in samadhi is Brahman? Where is the proof? He can know only by inquiring, byvichara...It is not enough to see a mere blank, Nirvikalpa. You have to see you are the universal self. You are free from ignorance not when you see nothing at all, as in yoga, but only when you see all this universe is yourself."

   Further,

   "It is no use seeing God everywhere. You must see Atman, the same soul, the same self, everywhere, and then you will treat all people alike, with equal beneficence." - V.S. Iyer, PB's vedanta teacher

   For PB, we can, through union with our Overself - the ‘deputy’ of the World-Mind (~Isvara/'God'), and a point in ultimate Mind itself - know that God is, but any more we can not know. God in a sense can know us, however. “And then shall I know even as I am known” (Corinthians). This is referred to in Sufism as the station of ‘nearness to Allah.’

   Of course this very point has been argued by mystics and sages for centuries, some professing identity, some ignorance, some union, some simply mystery, endless mystery (nay, not even ‘endless’ inasmuch as that is a concept). PB wrote in all these ways. He also said that rare illuminates may have the ‘cosmic vision, such as Krishna gave to Arjuna, where one learns something of the inner workings of the World-Idea, the intelligence governing the cosmos and the expression of the World-Mind. Most sages ‘only’ get enlightenment, however, which certainly is all one can ask for and more.

   It gets more than a little confusing. PB speaks of the Overself as the Soul in the heart, and also of the Overself as the realization of that inner reality AND the manifestation combined, i.e., Brahman, as previously defined, as contrasted with Atman alone.

   For PB, moreover, this realization has depths, of which in a number of traditions there are said to be three degrees. A 'deepening of consciousness?' Yes, and in this he seems to depart from common advaita. And for a sense of this we have to go to Plotinus for help. Plotinus posits three primal hypostheses, all of which may be considered to be what is commonly referred to as "the Absolute." These three are the One, the Intellectual Principle/Nous, and Soul. PB said his terminology of Mind, World-Mind, and Overself can be correlated with these three terms. For him, a sage in union with his Overself (Soul) - that is, a sage who has realized sahaj samadhi, or the continuous realization that consciousness and its manifestation are one - may then get glimpses, or 'catch the emanations from', the Intellectual Principle or World-Mind. And in this sense a sage in identification with his divine Soul may also remain a devotee - of the World-Mind, or God as Isvara. He may also get a taste of merging into Mind, or knowing his essence derives from that One, but he must still come out of it, so to speak, so long as he lives. Yet he does not, and can not, gain full knowledge of Mind or World-Mind in itself, that being impossible for man as he is so constituted. World-Mind is the source of the World-Idea that all individual minds share, but all Souls are rooted in World-Mind and not 'detached fragments of it' or 'separate' rays; and thus, once realized, one comes to non-duality.

   Can we say that there are multiple souls, or only one? Plotinus simplifies the conundrum by saying that the principle of Soul is a one-and-many. It's both. Of course it is paradoxical and the realization cannot be reduced any further. That is, we cannot say anymore about it, or that it is one way or the other.

   These are matters to study and contemplate deeply and often; they do not yield to understanding easily. Perhaps for many of us the most we can do is get a feeling for the things, that will become clarified more later on. The following are a garland of verses selected from The Notebooks of Paul Brunton illustrating his unique articulation of this ancient teaching, breathing new life into words like God and Soul which have become very much worn-out expressons due to the dominance of official Church doctrine, and lesser mystical and yogic teachings from the East, as well as the growth of ‘soul-less’ Buddhist doctrines, based on a certain manner of interpreting the concept of ‘anatta’. It is also a bit strange though, isn’t it, for all of their emphasis on both anatta, the Gelugpa sect goes to such lengths to find the ‘reincarnation’ of the next Dalai Lama, looking for proof in a child’s memories of people and places, etc.? If that isn’t a tacit acceptance of a concept of soul or individuality of some sort I don’t know what is. Unless they are just looking for some impersonal ‘karmic continuity’. But why a ‘karmic continuity’? What is the glue that holds it together instead of just a complete ‘re-shuffling’ of the deck between each incarnation? If there is nothing why go look for it?!


   PB's own words

   The Bhagavad-Gita, the ‘cream of the Upanishads’, talks about soul on almost every page, saying that it is ‘unborn’ and eternal’, so surely the problem is only one of proper understanding. Here, then, is PB on this important issue (all quotes are from Volume 10, Chapter 2 and 5; Volume 16, Part 1, Chapters 1, 2, 4, and 5; Volume 6, Part 2, Chapter 1; Volume 12, Part 2, Chapter 2; Volume 5, Part 2, Chapter 8; Volume 1, Part 1, Chapter 5; Volume 14, Chapter 3; and Volume 8, Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6; and Volume 16, Part 1, Chapters 1-3; specific citations are purposely not given to force the reader to wade through all of PB's often contrasting and divergent thinking on this matter!):

   “The soul in man, the Overself, is linked with, and rooted in, the soul of the universe, the World-Mind.”

   “It is his own greater self, his Overself, that he thus experiences, although he may be so overwhelmed by its mysterious Power, so awed by its ethereality, that he usually believes - and names - it God. And in one mode of meaning, his belief is not without justification. For at the core of the experience, he, the atom within the World-Mind, receives the revelation that it is ever there and, more, ever supporting him.”

   "Knowledge of law, language, or history can be collected and becomes a possession but knowledge of the Overself is not at all the same. It is something one must be: it owns us, we do not have it."

   “It is true that the mind makes its own world of experience, but it is not true that it makes it by itself; for behind the individual mind is the Cosmic Mind.”

   “If the world is but an idea there must be a mind which conceived it. Although my individual mind has so largely contributed to its making, it has not contributed to its original conception. Such a mind must be an undivided universal one in which my own is rooted. it must indeed be what men commonly call God.”

   “Thus the World-Mind originates our experience for us but we ourselves mould it. It suppies the karmic-force material and we as individuals supply the space-time shape which this material takes. This there is a union of individual with universal.”

   "The World-Mind thinks its ideas into our mind. It is the thinking of the World-Mind that is primarily responsible for the world. We share the ideas, participate in the sense-images thus evoked, it is true, but we do not project their original stimulus. There is a cosmic activity within ourselves. The world is originally the product of World-Mind, and only secondarily by reflection the product of our mind...With every breath and every thought he is co-constructing this universe with the World-Mind and, therefore, in the New Testament phrase, "in Him we live and move and have our being."

   "His first mental act is to think himself into being. He is the maker of his own "I." This does not mean that the ego is his own personal invention alone. The whole world-process brings everything about, including the ego and the ego's own self-making."


   Here he pretty much agrees with Sankara’s concept of Isvara and Maya as creating’ or, in modern terms, ‘meditating’ or ‘thinking’ or manifesting the world appearance, in which we at best are co-creators in it through its transformation by our individual mind and sensory apparatus. We share a world in common because the World-Mind 'gives us' the World-Idea. This, in essence, is the genesis of PB's doctrine of mentalism, in effect an upgrade of the vedantic concept of the world as illusion. All we perceive are ideas, or thought-stuff, within consciousness. Yet our Soul is the medium through which the World-Mind or 'God' projects a World-Image, and into which the Soul itself projects an incarnating emanent of itself through which to experience that World-Idea and evolve its understanding and Self-realization. The end result is to see all as idea within consciousness, and not separate from consciousness, rather than to conceive of liberation as a literal escape from the world, as many mystics, yogis, and more ascetic advaitins have done. Thus, non-duality is the goal of the quest, but within relativity it is effected and understood in a rather complex way.

   While PB was the first modern teacher to popularize the doctrine of mentalism, he was not, however, its originator. It in fact is ancient. Swami Saradananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, years before wrote:

   "The scriptures say [that] in the limitless, infinite cosmic mind the universe has arisen by way of ideation. And as the individual minds of yours and mine and of all people form parts of, and are comprised in, that cosmic mind, we all have to experience the same ideas. This is why we cannot, by our individual efforts, ideate a beast as anything else. it is for the same reason that although one of us attains right knowledge and becomes free from that delusion, all others continue in it as before. One more thing: although the idea, the universe, arises in the all-pervading mind of the omnipresent Person, He [i.e., the World-Mind, or Brahman as Isvara] does not get entangled like us in the bondage of ignorance." (Sri Ramakrishna The Great Master, p. 115-116)

   The realization of the non-duality of the world and the Overself could be accomplished in two primary ways. One, the more traditional approach, is to strip away attachment to the outer layers of the being, to realize the Soul within. In the process of deepening concentration the world of ideas becomes as real or even more real than the outer world, until finally one realizes the non-duality of the Nirvikalpa state. When achieved not solely through technique but through accumulated wisdom (i.e, transformation and understanding) as well, this realization will more or less automatically 'bleed through' the vehicles of the person into a full non-duality in all states. This, in essence, is the basis of the yoga system of Patanjali, as well as the deity yoga of the Tibetans. In the later, one establishes visualization of various deities, which become animated, through the grace of the guru or a Buddha, and one does not merely contemplate a vision, but inwardly actually receives 'empowerments' from the deity or 'mandala', which effects tantric transformation in the individual. Thus, eventually the nondual goal is actualized. The other method is in effect that of gyan yoga. PB speaks of learning, through many years of practice, to reverse the habit of seeing the world as an objective reality, and convert it into idea, which is then absorbed into one's understanding as consciousness, resulting in non-duality. In a modified form, this is sometimes the Dzogchen approach also - once one has received 'introduction to the (nondual) 'view'. In this way one would procede to ever-deepen this non-dual realization from without-inwards, the opposite of the more mystic approach. PB himself said that he first realized the truth of mentalism through mystic trance, but taught that it could be achieved in the other way as well. He cautioned, though, that it not be a mere intellectual exercise, or one would end up with the 'husk without the kernel.'

   Nevertheless, PB did once write that upon realization the two minds, individual and universal or cosmic, would be recognized as the same (in essence). As we will see, he flip-flopped a bit in saying whether the reality of Mind Alone or its aspect as World-Mind could be known this side of the portals of death. He continues:

   “In the end, no man can miss being in the presence of or confronted by, the divine power. It is a fact which, whether he accepts it or denies the idea of its existence, he must one day reckon with. This is because he has never really been separated from it, never been aware of any thing or thought except by virtue of consciousness derived from it.”

   “Those mystics who talk of becoming united with God have fallen into the dualistic fallacy. They talk as though God were separate and apart from themselves. The truth is that they already exist within God and do not need to become united with Him. What they need is to become conscious of Him - which is a different matter.”

   “Man is not God,God is not man, despite the vedantic self-drugging; but there exists an unbreakable relation between the two.”

   “His discovery of being born out of, and still remaining rooted in, the Infinite Mind of God, is a tremendous one but is does not make him identical with God.”

   “There is something deeper than our ordinary thoughts and feelings, something that is our inmost essential self. It is the soul. It is here, if we can reach it, that we may meet in fellowship with the Divine. Through it the World-Mind reveals something of its own mysterious nature.”

   “Much grotesque misconception exists among the mystics about this claim to have united with God. Not having passed through the metaphysical discipline and consequently having only a confused notion of what God is, they do not comprehend how exaggerated their claim is. For if they were really united with God, they should have the power of God too. They would be able to set up as creators of entire universes, of suns, stars, and cosmic systems. This feat is plainly beyond them. Let us hear no more of such babble and let them confine their strivings to realizable aims.”

   “It would be sheer arrogance were it not mere ignorance to believe that because we can go beyond the ego, therefore we can go beyond the divine soul and encompass the World-Mind itself in all its entirety.”

   “We exist always in utter dependence on the Universal Mind. Man and God may meet and mingle in his periods of supreme exaltation, he may feel the sacred presence within himself to its utmost degree, but he does not thereby abolish all the distinctions between them absolutely. For he arrives at the knowledge of the timeless spaceless divine infinitude after a process of graded personal efforts, whereas the World-Mind’s knowledge of itself has forever been what it was is and shall be, above all processes and beyond all efforts.”


   And yet,

   “We reject all theories of the Divine Principle having a self-benefitting purpose - such as to know Itself or to get rid of its loneliness - in manifesting the cosmos. It is the Perfect and needs nothing. The cosmos arises of itself under an inherent law of necessity, and the evolution of all entities therein is to enable them to reflect something of the Divine; it is for their sake, not for the Divine’s, that they exist.”

   ”The Sufi term “companionship with God” is more accurate than the Christian-Hindu “union with God.”


   [It must be admitted here that some Sufis feel the opposite, i.e., that it is wrong to assert, “God is”, rather than, as Al Hallaj, Sarmad, and Shams Tabrez asserted and were martyred over saying, “I am God”, for the former is to assert the existence of two things, when there is only one].

   “Vedantic claims which equate the self with God lead only to moral self deception and intellectual confusion. For a god can do no wrong and a human loses his identity, his significance, and his spiritual obligation to the quest if he thinks himself a god already.”

   "I am an Advaitin on the fundamental point of nonduality of the Real, but I am unable to limit myself to most Advaitins' practical view of samadhi and sahaja."


   [This is in reference to some traditional advaitic punditry that argues that the sage sees nothing, no world or other people, only ‘Brahman’, rather than seeing the world asBrahman]

   “I do not claim that sahaja yields ultimate reality; I only claim that it yields the ultimate so far known to man.”

   This is important. What does it mean? Can it be other than that here is, in a sense, further expansion of the transcendant Soul, and forever, but from within the Divine, not the human?

   "We do not accept that interpretation of mystic experience which proclaims it to be an extinction of human personality in God's being."

   "Every person maintains his or her individuality during and after the perishing of the body-thought...The personal man will survive death but he will not be immortal. The "I" which outlives his fleshy body will itself one day be outlived by the deeper "I" which man has yet to find."

   "The goal of self-elimination which is held up before us refers only to the animal and lower human selves. It certainly does not refer to the annihilation of all self-consciousness. The higher individuality always remains. But it is so different from the lower one that it does not make much sense to discuss it in human language. Hence, those who have adequately understood it write or talk little about its higher mysteries. If the end of all existence were only a merger at best or annihilation at worst, it would be a senseless and sorry scheme of things. It would be unworthy of the divine intelligence and discreditable to the divine goodness. The consciousness stripped of thought, which looks less attractive to you than the hazards of life down here, is really a tremendous enlargement of what thought itself tries to do. Spiritual advance is really from a Less to a More. There is nothing to fear in it and nothing to lose by it - except by the standards and values of the ignorant."


   [Note: Shree Atmananda speaks of an 'I-Principle'. Sant Mat says that the real I' is known in Sach Khand, or Sat Lok, i.e., it is the Soul (and not an intermediate self that temporarily survives physical death. In their terms, the latter would be PB's 'animal and lower human self', corresponding to self identified with the 'three bodies' and their respective dimensions: physical, astral/psychic, mental/causal). Sri Nisargadatta says that after the I Am comes, we must know the world, and find the 'Real I'. All agree there is an 'I'-consciousness].

   "The line of demarcation between man and the World-Mind can be attenuated but not obliterated."

   "He as he was vanishes, not into complete annihilation and certainly not into the heaven of a perpetuated ego, but into a higher kind of life shrouded in mystery."

   "What he has to do in the world as a human being is henceforth to be done not really by his ordinary personal self but by the presence which, shapeless and silent though it be, is the vital living essence of what connects him with God. If this seems to deprive him of the attributes which make him a man, I can only reply that we are here back with the Sphinx. Yes, the enigma is great; but the realized understanding and experience is immeasurably greater in its blessedness."

   “When consciousness is successfully turned in on its own deepest state, which is serene, impersonal, and unchanging, it receives the experience of the divine Soul, not of the Godhead. It brings us nearer to the Godhead but does not transform us into it. We discover the divine ray within, we do not become the sun itself.”

   "Let him be still and seek not to carry his profane curiosity into the Holy of Holies. In the end it shall be as if he were never existent, but this cannot be the same as death. For the dream - of which he is a part
[his lower part] - goes back into the Dreamer, into the Living God."

   “The truth is not only that nobody has ever known, that nobody knows, and that nobody will ever know the final and fundamental purpose of creation, but that God himself does not even know - for God too has arisen out of the Absolute no less than the universe, has found himself emanated from the primeval darkness and utter silence. Even God must be content to watch the flow and not wonder why, for both God and man must merge and be absorbed when they face the Absolute for the last time...There is That which abides in itself, sufficient to itself, unique, the Consciousness, the Finality. There is nothing beyond it. Before That one must bow in utmost reverence, humbled to the ground.”

   "Only after he has worked his way through different degrees of comprehension of the world whose passing his own development requires, and even after he has penetrated the mystery beyond it, does he come to the unexpected insight and attitude which frees him from both. In other words he is neither in the Void, the One, or the Many yet nor is he not in them. Truth thus becomes a triple paradox!"

   “His discovery of being born out of, and still remaining rooted in, the Infinite Mind of God, is a tremendous one but it does not make him identical with God.”

   “..although the Absolute in its passive state is unknowable, the Overself as representative of its active aspect, of the World-Mind, is knowable.”

   “Agnosticism, the belief that we cannot know ultimate truth, applies only to the attempts of the intellectual faculty. It does not apply to those of the intuitive faculty. But even then limitations are placed upon us. No man can come to know God as God is in Himself, for that is impossible, but all men can come to know God as he is in relation to man. This is because the Overself is all men’s contact point with the World-Mind.”

   “No one overwhelmed by the experience of Enlightenment has yet said the last word about Absolute Truth, for no words can either exhaust it or even touch it.”

   “If a man claims to know what God is in the same way that God knows it, he is talking nonsense, and falling into the sin of spiritual pride. No one can penetrate this irreducable mystery except in his own imagination, speculation, or psychic fantasy. No human effort can plumb the depth of the ultimate power. No human being has found the truth in all its angles, nor uttered the last word upon it.”


   Here he sems to diverge quite strongly from Iyer, who held Vedantically that Brahman most definitely could be known. He also says that Isvara and Jiva-atman are side issues:

   "Mysticism encourages you to be lazy, to think external objects are created by Iswara and internal objects are created by Jiva. Both Iswara and Jiva are your own creation. Don't waste time in Jiva and Iswara disputes; rather inquire into the nature of Brahman."

   In other words, in essence both minds are the same mind.

 nbsp However, even he spoke around the issue at times, saying, “the ultmate knowledge is knowing that Brahman exists,” (PB said that we can only know that it IS), and, “the knowledge of Brahman is knolwing that it cannot be known.” The gist seems to be that man as he is can know his essence as one with Brahman through a process of negating all that it is not, but we cannot see into its Mind to know why it manifests a world or not.

   “Jami, the Sufi, very beautifully distinguishes the doctrine of annihilation in God from that of identification with God in the following verse:

     So tread this path that duality may disappear,
     For if there be duality in the path, falsity will arise:
     Thou will not become He, but, if thou strivest,
     Thou will reach a place where thou-ness shall depart from thee.”


   Zen Master Tozan similarly wrote:

   “Everywhere I am able to see Him;
   He is me now;
   I am not Him.
   When we understand this
   We are instantaneously with the Truth.”

   “It is a fallacy to think that this displacement of the lower self brings about its complete substitution by the infinite and absolute Deity. This fallacy is an ancient and common one in mystical circles and leads to fantastic declarations of self-deification. If the lower self is displaced, it is not destroyed. It lives on but in strict subordination to the higher one, the Overself, the divine soul of man; and it is this latter, not the divine world-principle, which is the true displacing element.”

   "A mediating principle is necessary here. This exists in the Overself, which is nothing more than a germ of that same infinite MIND, although to the adventurous mystic it seems the unlimited End of all. If this were not present in man, not only would mystical experience be impossible for him but all religious intuition would be mythical to him. This is the divinity in him, but it is only a spark. The fullness of the flame is with the Godhead alone."

   "The Overself will overshadow him. It will take possession of his body. There will be a mystical union with his body. The ego will become entirely subordinate to it."

   “There is some kind of a distinction between his higher individuality and the Universal Infinite out of which it is rayed, whatever the Vedantins may say. And this distinction remains in his highest mystical state, which is not one of total absorption and utter destruction of this individuality but the mergence of its own will in the universal will, the closest intimacy of its own being with the universal being.”

   "When the two are one, when ego and Overself no longer remain at a distance from one another, man experiences his first illumination. What will happen thereafter is wrapped in mystery."

   “The Overself is one with the World-Mind without however being lost in it.”

   ”There is no final absorption, the individual continues to exist somehow in the Supreme. The fact that he can pass away into it at will and yet return again, proves this.”

   "There is no need to yield to the fear of the void, which comes in the deepest meditation. That is merely the personal ego offering its resistance to the higher self. That same fear of never being able to come back has to be faced by all advanced mystics when they reach this stage of meditation, but it is utterly groundless and is really a test of faith in God to protect them in a laudable endeavour; to come closer to him and to advance father from their lower self...it is not the best part of their nature which really dreads the experience of the Void, but the worst part."

   “If the claim of complete merger is valid, if the individual self really disappears in the attainment of Divine Consciousness, of whom then was this same self aware in the experience of attainment? No - it is only the lower personal self that is transcended; the higher spiritual individuality is not.”


   This appears to be a reference to the theosophical lower triad of physical, etheric or pranic, and astral/lower mental bodies; the higher triad of atma-buddhi-higher manas is the reincarnating entity, sometimes equated with the term Ego or 'permanent personality' (not to be confused with the personal ego as we ordinarily know it).

   "God as the Ultimate Reality is incomprehensible, intangible, absolute, and unthinkable. No human capacity, regardless of its power of stretching out, can so transcend its finite limitations as to achieve direct union with it. What the mystic does achieve, however, is union with his own individual divine soul - which is quite another matter."

   “If anyone says he has experienced the Void or if he says he has merged into the Absolute Spirit, then he must have been present to note that it is a Void or to know that it is Absolute Spirit. But clearly he was not present in his ordinary self
[rather, he was present as the Overself or Soul], or he would not dare to deny its presence nor claim its complete merger.”

   And finally:

   "In praying, the aspirant should direct his prayer to the only God he can know, that is, the God-Principle within himself - his own Divine Soul."

   As part of his general critique of Advaita he had this to say:

   "Philosophy does not dwell on the subject of nonduality. These are metaphysicians aplenty who will discuss or teach it for those who want to learn or listen. Philosophers neither support nor deny the doctrine. Here they are closer to Buddhism than to Hinduism."

   "The Advaitin who declares that as such he has no point of view, has already adopted one by calling himself an Advaitin and by rejecting every other point of view as being dualistic. A human philosophy is neither dualistic alone nor nondualistic alone."

   “The esoteric meaning of the star is "Philosophic Man," that is, one who has travelled the complete fivefold path and brought its results into proper balance. This path consists of religious veneration, mystical meditation, rational reflection, moral re-education, and altruistic service. The esoteric meaning of the circle, when situated within the very centre of the star, is the Divine Overself-atom within the human heart.”


   The meaning of the latter is obvious, if we take, for just one example, the Buddha's initial teaching of four progressive stages ('stream-enterer', 'once-returner', 'non-returner', and 'Arhat'): for a realization to be complete and stable and lasting, an all-around, balanced development is necessary. All the faculties of man must be brought to mastery, and the Light must penetrate all of the darkness. Or, in the tradition of the eighteen Tamil Siddhas of South India, whom Ramana Maharshi revered, one may achieve 'Self' or 'God-realization', in essence, on the spiritual and intellectual planes - such as through ascent to Nirvikalpa Samadhi - but to bring that nondual realization down into the lower vehicles takes time and endurance and deep surrender to uproot the habitual tendencies or obscurations of egoity that prevent the realization being fully actualized and irreversible. Thus, the Siddhas speak of an ascent, followed by a descent of the Divine light, into the spiritual, intellectual, mental, vital, and physical bodies, sucessively. Initial ascension or inversion is the classic yogic progression to sever gross identification, provisionally, prior to its eventual re-integration. It is not the only way, however, but something like such a transformation must take place, for nothing is bypassed in an integral spirituality. We will return to this theme towards the end of this paper.


   Overself: the Soul or God?

   As the reader may be getting the feeling, PB’s paras on the Overself seem to vary. On the one hand he says:

   “With the feeling of the ego's displacement, all feelings of devotional worship or mystical communion also come to an end. For they presuppose duality, a relation which vanishes where there is only the consciousness of a single entity - the Overself.”

   Why did he use the word ‘feeling’ here? Let’s see, how does the sentence read without that word? - “With the ego’s displacement, all devotional worship or mystical communion also comes to an end.” Doesn’t it seem different? And why the word ‘entity’? What does he mean by that? And, how does he know it is ‘a single’ entity? Elsewhere he speaks of the “World Mind’s emanated Overselves.”

   These questions he seemed to grapple with, for he also said:

   “ It is this latter [Overself], not the divine world-principle, which is the true displacing element.”

   “The Overself is
[Void] or ‘no thing’.”

   “It is individual, but not personal. The ego is personal.”


   Yet in another quote he refers to the Overself as “unindividuated being.”

   Thus, two streams appear to be found in PB’s method of argument: supra-mystical experience, and nondual ‘advaitic’ insight. The following seems to belong to the former category:

   "He enters into a state which is certainly not a disappearance of the ego, but rather a kind of divine fellowship of the ego with its source....He loses his ego in the calm serenity of the Overself, yet at the same time it is, mysteriously, still with him....It [the Overself] is a kind of impersonal being but it is not utterly devoid of all individuality....The dictionary defines individuality as separate and distinct existence. Both the ego and the Overself have such an existence. But whereas the ego has this and nothing more, the Overself has this consciousness within the universal existence. That is why we have called it the higher individuality....He as he was vanishes, not into complete annihilation and certainly not into the heaven of a perpetuated ego, but into a higher kind of life shrouded in mystery...The actual experience alone can settle this argument. This is what I found: The ego vanished; the everyday "I" which the world knew and which knew the world was no longer there. But a new and diviner individuality appeared in its place, a consciousness which could say "I AM" and which I recognized to have been my real self all along. It was not lost, merged, or dissolved: it was fully and vividly conscious that it was a point in the universal Mind and so was not apart from that Mind itself. Only the lower self, the false self, was gone but that was a loss for which to be immeasurably grateful."

   While the following seems to imply the second category - or does it still speak of the ‘nondual’ Soul? :

   “When you awaken to truth as it really is, you will have no occult vision, you will have no "astral" experience, no ravishing ecstasy. [Note: to be fair, even to realize formless, intuitive dimensions one will be beyond these experiences] You will awaken to it in a state of utter stillness, and you will realize that truth was always there within you and that reality was always there around you. Truth is not something which has grown and developed through your efforts. It is not something which has been achieved or attained by laboriously adding up those efforts. It is not something which has to be made more and more perfect each year. And once your mental eyes are opened to truth they can never be closed again.”

   [Never? Some (Anadi, Ramana, Adyashanti, Anthony Damiani, and many others) say that it can be lost and must be stabilized and integrated. Perhaps a better way of putting it is “can never entirely be forgotten again.”]

   In short, there appear to be three reasons for these differences: one, his views evolved over time; two, he meant different things by the term Overself; and three, he was still seeking a finer articulation of reality. Our feeling leans towards the third option. And this leaves open the possibility of a transcendant form of devotion and communion for the Overself ‘beyond’ the ego and its subject-object distinctions. This in fact would be consistent with many traditions.

   [A question to the Buddhists: ‘who’ knows there is ‘no-self’? No-self? Is no-self the opposite of self? If it is, then it is something within relativity, at best a pointer to transcend]

   Having established the reality of the Soul, however, PB paradoxically, or perhaps to 'keep us on our toes', or to make us think these things out for ourself, or to round out a discussion inadequately covered by traditional vedanta does point to deeper realizations that move increasingly closer - although not quite the same - to those of conventional advaita:

   “Union with the Overself is not the ultimate end but a penultimate one. What we look up to as the Overself looks up in its own turn to another and higher entity.”

   This is not in contradiction to his statements that the goal of the philosophic sage is complete union with his own divine Overself, which he also describes as 'no-thing', and that higher 'glimpses' can only be had temporarily while live.

   “The consciousness which normally identifies itself with the body - that is, the ego - when looking upward in highest devotion or inward in deepest meditation, comes to the point of contact [the Overself] with universal being, World-Mind. This point is its own higher self, the divine deputy within its own being. But if devotion or meditation is caried still further, to the very utmost possible stretch of consciousness, the point itself merges into its source. At this moment the man is his source. But - “Man shall not see my face and live!” He returns eventually to earth consciousness, where he must follow out its requirements. Yet the knowledge of what he is in essence remains. The presence of the deputy is always there meanwhile, always felt. It may fittingly be called his higher individuality.”

   “The difference between the individual and the universal self persists throughout the incarnations and no mystical emotionalism or metaphysical jugglery can end it. It will end indeed not by the individual transforming himself into the greater being but by his merging into it, that is, by the disappearance of his separate consciousness in the pure essence of all consciousness. But it need not so end unless he wants it.”


   Here PB speaks of one option for the liberated Soul. It should be remembered that the ‘separate consciousness’ he is speaking about is not separate in any human or egoic way; it is his divine, infinite, impersonal Soul that may choose to identify with its higher principles, the World Mind (Nous), or Mind, (the One). Otherwise, like most large-hearted sages, he will return to earth, as Soul, in perpetual service and sacrifice to other beings:

   "And for the sage who attains to THAT which forever seems to be changing but forever paradoxically retains its own pure reality, for him as for the ignorant, the flux must go on. But it will go on here on this earth, not in the same mythical heaven or mirage-like hell. He will repeatedly have to take flesh, as all others will have to, so long as duration lasts, that is, forever. For he cannot sit apart like the yogi while his compassion is too profound to waste itself in mere sentiment. It demands the profound expression of sacrificial service in motion. His attitude is that so clearly described by a nineteenth-century agnostic whom religionists once held in horror, Thomas Huxley: "We live in a world which is full of misery and ignorance, and the plain duty of each and all of us is to try to make the little corner that he can influence somewhat less miserable and somewhat less ignorant than it was before he entered it." The escape into Nirvana for him is only the escape into the inner realization of the truth whilst alive: it is not to escape from the external cycle of rebirths and deaths. It is a change of attitude. But that bait had to be held out to him at an earlier stage until his will and nerve were strong enough to endure this revelation. There is no escape except inwards. For the sage is too compassionate to withdraw into proud indifferentism and too understanding to rest completely satisfied with his own wonderful attainment. The sounds of suffering men, the ignorance that is the root of all these sufferings, beat ceaselessly on the tympana of his ears. What can he do but answer, and answer with his very life - which he gives in perpetual reincarnation upon the cross of flesh as a vicarious sacrifice for others. it is thus alone that he achieves immortality, not by fleeing forever - as he could if he wished - into the Great Unconsciousness, but by suffering forever the pains and pangs of perpetual rebirth that he may help or guide his own."

   In the meantime, he states about the 'Ultimate Realization':

   "No idea is ever really outside another, nor is any idea ever outside the mind, and all ideas, all that which is seen, can only theoretically be separated from the thinking seeing mind. As psychologists we have had in thought to separate seer from seen, so that we might learn at length what the nature of pure mind really is; but as philosophers we must now merge them together. It is because thinking must always have an object with which to occupy itself that it can never penetrate the Overself, for here there is only the One. We must renounce thoughts and things if we would enter into the Absolute. Because in this ultimate state there is no more awareness of an individual observer and an observed world, the distinction between individual mind and individual body also ceases. Everything, including our separate selfhood, is voided out, as it were. The resultant nothingness however is really the essence of everything. It is not the nothingness of death but of latent life. Human thought can proceed no farther. For when "not-two-ness" is established as the Real, the logical movement from one thought to a second can only prolong the sway of "two-ness" over the mind. In this pure being there can be no "other," no two, hence it is called non-dual. The integrity of its being cannot really be split. If the Overself is to be actually experienced, then it must be as a realization of the Infinite One [Note: if this statement isn't a paradox, one wonders what would be. Is PB saying here that there is an Overself, or isn't there? Elsewhere he also refers to the Overself as nondual, beyond subject-object distinctions, yet not the Infinite, although it itself is boundless consciousness. And to ask a pointed question, how would he know he has realized the ‘infinite One’?]. To divide itself into knower and known is to dwell in duality. The antithesis of known and knower cannot enter into it just as the opposition of reality and illusion is meaningless for it. The oneness of its being is absolute. The return to this awareness, which regards the world only under its monistic aspect, is the realization of truth possessed by a sage. When rational thinking can perceive that it cannot transcend itself, cannot yield more than another thought, it has travelled as far as it can go and performed its proper function. Metaphysical truth is the intellectual appearance of reality, the rational knowledge of it; but it is not reality itself, not realization. For knowing needs a second thing to be known; hence metaphysical knowledge, being dual, can never yield realization which is non-dual."

   Then he suggests that there are two forms of realization open to man, both 'touching Reality', but one superior to the other:

   "There are two paths laid out for the attainment, according to the teaching of Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. The first path is union with the Higher Self - not, as some believe, with the Logos [Note: as used here, the World-Mind]. But because the Higher Self is a ray from the Logos, it is as near as a human being can get to it anyway. The second path has its ultimate goal in the Absolute, or as I have named it in my last book, the Great Void. But neither path contradicts the other, for the way to the second path lies through the first one. Therefore, there is no cleavage in the practices. Both goals are equally desirable because both bring man into touch with Reality. It would be quite proper for anyone to stop with the first one if he wishes; but for those who appreciate the philosophic point of view, the second goal, because it includes the first, is more desirable."

   To try and sort this out further, PB taught privately that the One, Intellectual Principle or Nous, and Soul of Plotinus - the three Primal Hypostases - were roughly equivalent of what he termed Mind, World-Mind, and Overself. In his Notebooks, however, one will find quotes where he will alternately say that the Overself is both individual and non-individual, a 'point in ultimate Mind' or 'ray of the World Mind'. Yet in the previous quote one sees that he denies that man can in fact know the ‘sun’ of the World-Mind, only that he is a ‘ray’ of it, but also that man can know he is Mind, the Absolute. This appears to be similar to saying that man can know the ultimate Essence, as Mind or Nirguna Brahman, but not the World-Mind itself, or Saguna Brahman - which seems at first glance contradictory. Interestingly, this view has much in common with various Sufi positions, in which man can know the sameness of his essence with the ultimate in its Essence, while yet being yet a devotee of God. In short, it seems that PB wouldn't be pinned down to saying one way or the other whether there were in reality individual Divine Souls - holding that the traditional explanations simply were not adequate - but most definitely implied that they certainly were not separated in the manner that ordinary egos appear to be:

   "In all of us there is this resplendent being dwelling in the deepest concealment, linking us with the Supreme Being."

   "When man shall discover the hidden power within himself which enables him to be conscious and to think, he will discover the holy spirit, the ray of the Infinite Mind lighting his little finite mind."

   "Is this the answer to the Sphinx's riddle, that man's consciousness comes from an unknowable Source? or is it that this consciousness, freed from its animal inheritance and human confusions, is itself the Source? The initiate into the Egyptian Mysteries was given the answer."

   "Actually, there is only One thing, whatever you call it, but it can be studied from different standpoints and thus we get different results. That thing is Mind - unindividuated, infinite."


   Yet that 'One thing' appears to be more mysterious than can be imagined or conceived under the moniker of 'monism' as quoted earlier: it is a dynamic One, both a One-in-Many and a Many-in-One, a 'Holarchy of multiple Divine Souls each paradoxically knowing that itself is only the One, or the One Only! We can slice it up in many ways, and traditional teachings have attempted to do this, most often in a life-negative fashion, but we will not likely in any definitive manner succeed in setting rigid boundaries between the ego, the finite personality, the not entirely finite soul-nature (both individual and universal), and the unindividuated infinite impersonal essence. The seamlessness of unbounded Life will no doubt defy our efforts. Are we not ALL of it?

   When once pointedly asked the question whether it was necessary to understand the three concepts of Mind, World-Mind and Overself in order to understand the Absolute, PB responded in the affirmative:

   “If you are trying to think things out in an intelligent way, you must do that. You can't leap there. You can take the Absolute Advaitic point of view if you like, but you can't get there until you've gone through them - because you don't understand; the instrument is lacking which can handle it....Why did Plotinus split it into three if it wasn't necessary for us? Eventually you rise to the point where there is only THE ONE. In studying, using the intellect; all three are necessary.” (Annie Cahn Fung, conversation with PB in Mysore). (3)

   A Trinity of some sort has often been used to define the One absolute. It seems more workable in actual practice. Further, as stated in the introduction to Volume 14:

   "An issue of lively debate among serious students of this "true individuality" concerns whether it should be described as singular or multiple. Does each individual have his or her own unique Overself, or is the Overself one and the same in every human being? In several places, PB addresses the problems involved in planting both feet inflexibly in either camp. In the eighth chapter of The Wisdom of the Overself he wrote, "If there would be a slight technical confusion in using the singular number alone, there would be immeasurably more confusion if, in using the plural, this dire error of any radical difference existing between them were to be authenticated." For this reason, PB chose throughout his later writings to emphasize the oneness rather than the diversity within the Overself - the sameness of the core of the divine consciousness rather than the variety of its expressions..”

   So perhaps some of PB's unique teaching was didactic, and perhaps some of it was unique and a clarification of a more simplistic advaita. He definitely seemed to be of a mind to want us to think it out for ourself, and not stick with the ancient formulas:

   "Too often there is the slavish repetition of Advaitic dogmas, the dread of thinking for oneself or of daring to subject a sentence from Shankaracharya to semantic examination; the unimaginative, uncreative mentality which shuts the door on all non-Advaitic thought and interests or work since Shankara's century can only write commentaries on his work, producing mere echoes, never an inspired new statement."

   Annie Cahn Fung suggests that one aspect of PB’s thought about advaita is that of holding to a more inclusive view of Brahman rather than an exclusive one. Whereas some traditionalists say there is only the One, they tend to regard the relative experience as non-existent, maya, whereas for PB it is real inasmuch as it is an expression of the One, even if tht expression be via a narrowed focus of that infinite One he calls the World-Mind, roughly equivalent to the Hindu Isvara. This ‘inclusive’ view gives value to our experiences, even if it is unaskable whether there be any need or purpose for the One Itself to so manifest. Lama Anagarika Govinda expresses a similar thought:

   “Seen from the consciousness of the Dharmakaya, all separate forms of appearance are maya. Maya in the deepest sense, however, is reality in its creative aspect, or the creative aspect of reality. Thus maya becomes the cause of illusion, but it is not illusion itself, as long as it is seen as a whole, in its continuity, its creative function, or as infinite power of transformation and universal relationship.” (4)

   PB's ideas are complex, however. Here is another example:

   "Whenever I have used the term "the centre of his being," I have referred to a state of meditation, to an experience which is felt at a certain stage. The very art of meditation is a drawing inwards and the finer, the more delicate, the subtler this indrawing becomes, the closer it is to this central point of consciousness. But from the point of view of philosophy, meditation and its experiences are not the ultimate goal - although they may help in preparing one for that goal. In that goal there is no kind of centre to be felt nor any circumference either - one is without being localized anywhere with reference to the body, one is both in the body and in the Overself. There is then no contradiction between the two."

   This 'feels' right, but 'who' or 'what' is 'in' both the body and 'in' the Overself? And how does this relate to the mentalistic discipline which tells us that there is no 'body' to be 'in', just a bunch of sensations which themselves are reduceable to consciousness? ("The Overself has never expressed itself in matter simply because there is no matter!", and, "The body itself is a mental sensation.") Likewise, how does this relate to PB's remark that "The Overself will overshadow 'him', that ‘It will take possession of 'his' body. There will be a mystical union with 'his' body. The ego will become entirely subordinate to it" ? One is hard-pressed not to sense an individuality here, even while all is unquestionably Mind.

   The mentalistic doctrine itself is also faced with a minor challenge by PB's remarks elsewhere that the Overself is both 'in' the body while the body is simultaneously 'in' the Overself'. Unless these merely represent the inadequacies of language (which they very well may be), how can a 'thought' be' within' a thought? [the vedantic answer would be simply, "look to the dream state"]. The contemporary doctrines that speak of 'conscious embodiment', however, have relevance on this point. Exactly what is the body? Is it really just 'a thought', the 'transient spume and spray out of Emptiness' that PB characterizes it to be, and which the Buddhists and Vedantists make of it ? That may be, but if so why does it not just disappear immediately when the conscious principle leaves it at the time of death (in the case of the average person, we are not talking about Siddhas here!) ? Why do others continue to see it? PB's answer is that the individual consciousness does not continue to manifest it for that person, but the Universal or World-Mind does for other minds. This is logical and reasonable, but is it the truth? And, if it is one expression of truth, might it also be explained another way, making use of the teachings which posit spirit and matter, subsumed under a One, yet distinct at their various and seamless levels? In the ancient teachings of Sanatana Dharma the ‘elements’ are not regarded as actual substances, but as the substratum, as it were, of the ‘appearance’ of matter (the mulprakriti of prakriti, so to speak), and which lie on a gradient. Thus, in Buddhism, for instance, there are seven elements, including ether, space and consciousness, and with so-called spirit and matter known as manifestations of the same essence, yet with lesser or greater degrees of condensation along a spectrum. For instance, the seventh ‘material’ element is consciousness, and the lowest conscious element is ‘matter’. This is, understandably, a huge topic]. Further, what is the 'silver cord' that is said to tie the soul to the body made of, and 'who' makes it ? Is there a 'Holy Spirit' or isn't there ? These seem legitimate questions, although unlikely to totally contradict the mentalistic doctrine, that these are still only manifestations or emanations of Mind. The question is, “whose mind?” Can you “bind the Pleiades”, or create a world at will?

   There is another example of the difficulty of discerning between the Overself and the One or the Absolute. Both have been said to be ‘empty’ or ‘void’. PB did, in fact, say that the Overself was ‘no thing’. Is there more than one kind of 'no thing' ?

     To our understanding this is an explanation by PB of the full realization of the nondual Overself, not the One. In Ramana Maharshi’s original 'Who am I' inquiry, for example, one can through inversion arrive at the knowledge of the Self or Overself as nirvikalpa or a void-nature exclusive of the world. That is not the only possible result of the 'Who am I' inquiry, for it need not lead to inversion, nor must it, for may also yield directly a nondual realization. Ramana did talk much about inversion and descent into the heart, but also about inversion followed spontaneously by knowledge of the nondual Self. However, this is by no means inevitable, and was a chief criticism of Ramama’s “Who Am I?” inquiry by Iyer, who felt it was in a sense too selfish as it excluded the world as part of Brahman. There was a moral dimension to iyer’s criticism, who felt that serrvice to humanity was a chief means of expanding or universalizing the ego to a sympathetic identification with the All, whereas Ramana had sometimes said that one should get gyan or realization first before trying to help others. PB also felt this was a wrong view leading to a goal of inverted mysticism alone - or Atman without Brahman - and not befitting image of the sage or would-be sage that he adopted after being with Iyer. He states:

   "Ramana Maharshi was quite right. Pruning the ego of some faults will only be followed by the appearance and growth of new faults! Of what use is it so long as the ego remains alive?...But although Maharshi was right, his teaching gives only part of Truth's picture. Presented by itself, and without the other part, it is not only incomplete but may even become misleading. By itself it seems to indicate that there is no need to work on our specific weaknesses, that they can be left untouched while we concentrate on the essential thing - rooting out the ego. But where are the seekers who can straight away root it out? For the very strength of purpose and power of concentration needed for this uprooting will be sapped by their faults." (5)

   Iyer said almost the identical thing:

   “Maharshi’s teaching that no service to humanity should be undertaken because it is subtle egoism andvanity and that one should wait until one becomes a gnani first, is wrong. For it is through such service that the ego is expanded to include others until finally it embraces all mankind...If Maharshi were a Gnani he would not be content with sitting idle nor would he permit the frequent injustices and misconduct which goes on under his nose. He is a yogi and a mystic, no doubt, and one of the purest type, but had he realized truth his feeling of pity for humanity will not have permitted him to live quietly.”

   For Iyer the aspirant for truth or gyan should purposely go out and find his sympathy for the ALL if he wished to practice and realize Oneness:

   “For the oneness with all things cannot arise until after you have sought and achieved the sense of their welfare.”

   The sage would like Ramakrishna desire to beborn again and again in order to help all beings. Iyer felt that, along with purified and discriminative reason or buddhi, action was the true test of gyan:

   “There is no such thing as personal salvation. It is selfishness of the worst kind. No gnani can attain it unless all other people attain it too. Those who talk of finding moksha for themselves are dualists who harbor the false notion that the individual ego is real and who are deceiving themselves.”

   “The gnani of the highest order will always adapt himself to the needs of others who are suffering; he will limit himself outwardly and come down to their level. Thus if only yoga is their highest understanding, he will teach them yoga and nothing more. He will not refuse to help them because they cannot understand Vedanta, and thus leave them in their sufferings.”

   “When a man says that he has seen his internal self, he is still a yogi, but when he says that he has seen the Universe in himself, he has become a knower of Truth - a sage - a gnani...The removal of the I is not enough to realize Brahman. It happens in sleep, for instance. There must also be the knowledge that everything is yourself. The mystic may make some claim. So a test is to be appllied. The test is, is he doing anything for others?”


   This attitude deeply impressed PB. Ironically, however, his ideal of the philosopher-sage led him to criticize both Ramana and Ramakrishna as not being sages because of their 'unnatural' habits: in the case of Ramana, for having lying on a 'couch', and in the case of Ramakrishna, for his aversion to touching money. Whereas Ramana never wanted the 'couch', and protested for a long time over it, and also chastised Max Muller for remarking that Ramakrishna was just a mystic and not a sage, saying, "Don't ever say that. What was it that Ramakrishna did not know?!" Whereas Ramakrishna, simple yet erudite, had previous tendencies for ascended and unworldly samadhis, but which didn't interfere with his nondual gyan; he in fact kept a copy of the Ashtavakra Gita hidden for the instruction of Vivekananda alone.

   The inversion possibility of knowing the Overself or Atman through meditation was PB’s initial intention when he wrote about the highest goal of mysticism. It is the deepest mystic experience. It is nondual, but without experience of the world. So in a sense one can call it the 'individual' Self - but it is not really experienced as ‘centralized’ once the inward point is actually reached because when experienced it is infinite and impersonal, although paradoxically individual. It is the Void as a contemplative experience. PB says that, as awesome as it is, it ‘has a counterpart in ordinary life called detachment'. This would be 'stage one', and traditionally the usual requirement for ‘stage two’:

   “Ultimately, the aspirant has to rise into that pure atmosphere whence he can survey his personal life as a thing apart. Still more difficult is it for one to live on that level while expressing the wisdom and goodness known to him. It is, however, almost beyond human strength to achieve the second part of such a program. Therefore, he has first to establish the connection with the Overself so that its strength and understanding will then rule him effortlessly. The moment this connection is established, the aspirant will become aware of results from the descent of Divine Grace upon his personality. Such a moment is unpredictable, but, for the individual who sticks to the Quest, its arrival is sure.”

   This is still is not Brahman,nor the complete realization of the Overself, because it is excluding the world. However, with the 'what am I' or 'what is the world'? inquiry one comes out of any exclusive position to realize an inclusive nonduality, or consciousness along with and as the body and world. Here it makes sense where PB speaks of the Overself overshadowing the ego and making a mystical merger with one's own body. This is 'stage two' and certainly sahaja.

   It seems, moreover, that in sahaja, as in nirvikalpa, there is no felt center, but that, while a very high stage, is it also the Absolute? PB wrote, we repeat, that he did not say that sahaja was the highest state attainable, but only that it was the highest state realizable for man. Calling this the 'Universal Self' in stage two as opposed to the individual Self in stage one poses a problem, namely, that 'universal and particular' (or individual) are two relative polarities calling for a higher synthesis. Thus, this ‘second stage’, to our understanding, is what PB referred to in later writings as the true Overself, nondual consciousness with thought or experience (the World-Idea) included, is the true Soul, divine, undivided consciousness, paradoxically individual and non-individual and also not a state of detachment but maybe in fact even real attachment, or perhaps better stated as non [detachment]. The body is alive as never before, ‘wedded’ to consciousness, so to speak, in a real way and even sometimes felt as such. Otherwise the words of PB about one being both in the body and in the Overself make confusing sense. This maybe the stage of 'rivers are rivers and mountains are mountains again'.

   There can be countless bodhisattvas or 'old fools' in such a state of sahaja, however, recognizing others in and as that same condition, can't they? So it seems to me there may need to be recognition of a ‘third stage’, of Mind Alone, which may or may not be known continuously while incarnated. It is not clear from PB's writings if this is possible as a permanent realization.In one passage he suggested that it was only realizable upon dropping the body. Advaita says it can, however, that it is simply consciousness, which is the Ultimate. We demur for the moment, feeling that consciousness is too dualistic of a word for what we are after.

   Further, when describing his philosophic (non-mystical) initiation into the Overself, PB wrote:

   "From the present level the entire process of reincarnation now seemed to be illusory because it belonged to the realm of illusion itself. The True Self did not reincarnate at all."

   But then, near the end of his life he said:

   "The remembrance that I am too old to squander time comes back periodically but always it is conditioned and defeated by the realization that I will be reborn again, that in these future embodiments I shall have all the time needed."

   'I' will be reborn? 'Who' is this 'I'? He also said:

   "Those experiences which now seem to have happened to another man and belong to another age, did in fact happen to me."

   PB also said that it wasn't enough to keep repeating "all is Mind" - that there were 'a few other things that needed to be said'. One of these might have been:

   "To a certain individual it may be said: "I have faith in you - but the real You has yet to make an appearance. When it does you will then find your real work in life."

   This seems important. To repeat, what is this 'I' or this 'me' or this 'you' he seems to keep talking about, the one who has experiences, gets reborn, must 'make its appearance', and knows that the True Self is not subject to birth and death? Is it not a little mysterious? He, in fact, does say that such mystery never ends.

   He also said:

   "The Overself, in its passive purity, is spaceless and timeless."

   This is the 'higher phase' of the Soul, whereas while incarnate, in its 'active' phase, the realized Soul is said to partake of both higher and lower aspects, uniting time and timeless. For even the sage sees 'things', only he is said to know them as pure consciousness. (Again, for us ‘consciousness’, regardless of any attached adjective, is, to be technical, a relative term, not satisfactorily indicating the Naught, Nirguna, Nirvana, which is incharacterizable, but for now we will let this stand since it is so frequently used).

   "The materialist sees plurality alone and sees superficially. The mystic in his deepest contemplation sees Spirit (or Mind alone) without seeing Plurality, and sees incompletely. The philosopher sees both Mind and its manifold world-images as essentially the same and sees rightly and fully."

   Thus the philosopher as defined by PB goes from the "Who" to the "What". What the "What" is remains the question at hand. [For Iyer the preferred ordering of inquiry was going from the ‘What’ to the ‘Who’ (which is the natural order of inquiry for a child), or more specifically, “What Is the World?” (an idea, in Mind or consciousness), “What am I?” (as ego, an idea or Drysam, but in reality, the Drik, the Seer, Witness or Atman), to finally, “What is the meaning of the world?” (nondual Brahman, which includes the Atman alone and the world appearance known non-separably, or as one. However, he sometimes reversed the order as well. “The first thing invedanta is to question the ‘I’ until its illusory nature is perceived and the seeker no longer says, ‘I want to attain Brahman’).

   We will therefore simply leave the reader with the Soul, Overself or Atman as the paradox PB most often portrays it to be: distinct, but not separate, from other Overselves - and neither identical with nor separate from Absolute Reality or Mind, in which they are rooted. This is, incidentally, very very similar to the position and teaching of contemporary anadi, who said a very interesting thing.In contrast to most nondualists who argue that the use of the word soul is out of date and misleading, too theistic and egoistic, and revert to traditional terms such as Mind or impersonal Conscious only, Contemporary teacher Anadi reverses this and says that only at this time in history has man become developed enough and capable of recognizing, rather than denying, the subtlety of the Soul itself. As quoted from PB at the outset, and which seems a very significant statement:

   ”What happens metaphysically to the further existence of the being resulting from the conscious union of the ego with the Overself is guarded as a mystery and may not be discussed".


   The role of the ego

   And, moreover, in contrast to those who argue that the ego is simply unreal, a mistake, or a ‘myth’, PB has a more positive take on the ego and its function:

   "How can man fully express himself unless he fully develops himself? The spiritual evolution which requires him to abandon the ego runs parallel to the mental evolution which requires him to perfect it...The ego is a part of the divine order of existence. It must emerge, grow, enslave, and finally be enslaved..."

   “What or who is seeking enlightenment? It cannot be the higher Self, for that is itself of the nature of Light. There then only remains the ego! This ego, the object of so many denunciations and denigrations, is the being that, transformed, will win truth and find Reality even though it must surrender itself utterly in the end as the price to be paid.”


   This is a very positive view on the ego, and something relatively unheard of before PB. The ego is a development unique to the human evolution, and an active agent on the quest itself. And though in some sense it must ‘surrender’ itself ‘in the end’, even then it will or need not ‘disappear’, as advaita often insists, except temporarily in mystic meditation perhaps. It is not a ‘myth’, as some contemporary advaitins argue, or even ‘just a thought’, or the ‘cause’ of separation, as many others often rotely assert; rather, it has a positive function and is not to be denied or annihiated willfully as the overwhelming mass of traditional teachings have taught. So long as physical life persists it will be there, as a functional self-referrant, and a portion of the soul’s intelligence. With all its sense of lack and insufficiency, it is not sin, a ‘fall’, or something wrong. It is simply the inborn difficulty in man in limitations coming into his own in a long path of evolution, if you will, on this planetary life-wave. This is a refeshing and relieving teaching long overdue.

   “The personal man needs to grow and develop adequately as man. Only after this does he reach the stage when it is safe, and not premature, to undo the ego, and destroy its rule. For after this point the latter becomes a tyranny when the task now is to make it a subserviency...Those religions and teachings which tell me to destroy the ego do not appeal to me. But if I am asked to destroy the tyranny of the ego, to make it subservient to the Overself, it is certainly my duty to try and do so. Yet I consider that this is not the same as destroying my individuality."

   “Because the Overself is already there within him in all its immutable sublimity, man has not to develop it or perfect it. He has only to develop and perfect his ego until it becomes like a polished mirror, held up to and reflecting the sacred attributes of the Overself, and showing openly forth the divine qualities which had hitherto lain hidden behind itself.”

   “It may surprise people to learn that wholeness is a spiritual quality, that all parts of the man must receive and share in the light.”

   “Not until the light he has received becomes stabilized as a permanent thing can he be regarded as a master, and not until it is also full and complete can he be regarded as a sage.”


   That one cannot fully surrender oneself until one has matured his human character to a significant degree is another of PB’s central points that marks the divide between what he calls the Long Path and the Short Path. Maharj Charan Singh agreed:

   “Before you can surrender yourself, you must be master of yourself; or how else can you surrender? You can make a gift of what is your own and not what is owned by others.” (5b)

   PB’s teaching that the ego must actually be developed to the highest degree of its faculties of thinking, feeling, and willing in order to be capable of its complete surrender or displacement by the Overself consciousness is pure Hermeticism and the ancient mystery school teaching found all over the world. Anadi agrees:

   “Wholeness is a pure reflection of universal perfection in the heart of an individual being. For the soul to become whole, she must reach completion in her human existence and align her human identity with her awakening process. She has to reach maximal integrity within her human personality before she is free to realize herself, for unless the personality matures to the highest level of wisdom and purity, she cannot integrate her human incarnation with her eternal essence. The human consciousness of the soul must be refined to the point that it can serve as a suitable vehicle for her awakening and transcendence.” (5c)

   This is consistent with traditional Vedanta, in essence, which requires real preparation, but not in vogue with many of today’s direct path teachers, for whom it is often considered a waste of time. We will explain in detail later why we feel this can be a short-sighted view.

   Anadi also further extends what PB was pointing to in his discussion of the ego. Perhaps he is one of those PB predicted would come after him to elaborate on the base of teachings that he had brought forth. The following is a long but elegant passage:

   “The ego can do many things, but it simply cannot meditate. Pure meditation is not a form of doing, but a condition of being beyond the exercise of any method. A meditator who relies on any method of meditation cannot cross into the vertical reality of the now [he doesn't mean 'vertical' as in ascending, but in his usage it is only to contrast it from 'horizontal'movements in time and space], for the mind can only operate in the horizontal dimension of space and time. To open the space of pure meditation, the 'doer' must yield to being. We should not, however, attempt to drop the doer prematurely. Since the fully mature state of meditation cannot be achieved until we complete the inner path [which to him means re-establishment as the I AM, not mystical states], we need the support of the doer as we go through the process of establishing the condition of non-doing. This may appear illogical, but there is a very simple explanation: individual effort is performed within the sphere of the subtle ego, an extension of the mind that serves as a conscious link between the subconscious self and the inner state.”

   “The ego assists us in two ways in the practice of meditation: it helps to awaken the inner state, and it learns how to surrender itself in order to merge with that state. To comprehend this more clearly, we must recognize that the ego is not an independent entity, but a vehicle of the soul. While the false ego only serves the mind's agenda, the mature, conscious ego is an intelligent representation of the soul in her human personality. It is the conscious ego that becomes present in the mind and overrides the subconscious ego lost in daydreaming, the conscious ego that lets go into the inner state.”

   “In the process of merging with the inner state, the ego does not disappear entirely, rather its motives and purpose change. Prior to its surrender, the ego performs the role of subject, believing itself to be the host of our consciousness. But as awakening grows roots within our existence, the ego gradually moves to the periphery of our identity where it remains as a purely functional expression of the soul. It continues to support the deepening of the inner state, but its presence grows progressively more transparent and silent; it ceases to control the process of meditation and begins to humbly assist it.”

     “Our final aspiration, therefore, is not to eliminate the ego, but to transform it into an instrument of inner awakening. In the complete absence of ego no meditation can take place, for the soul requires its energy and intelligence to open the inner state. Only when it has fulfilled its purpose can the ego be fully surrendered to the silence of pure being.”

   “One of the principal tasks of the doer is to check the quality of meditation and gently balance the energies of doing and non-doing. The relationship between the doer and the state of non-doing actually runs parallel to that of attention and letting go. The activation of attention is a function of the doer, whereas letting go is the surrender of the doer into the ego-free space of non-doing. The doer is on both sides of the equation, for even though he surrenders, the surrender itself is on some level an act of will. After recognizing an absence of mindfulness, the doer, or 'checker', makes the decision to concentrate; or, having verified that there is a sufficient amount of presence, the checker introduces the intention of letting go into being. The wisdom of meditation calls for a precise balance between utilizing the ego and dropping it — they should in fact be a simultaneous occurrence.”

   “By letting go, the ego drops itself, and an immediate opening into the state of pure meditation occurs. As time goes by, however, the ego reappears, assessing the state or wandering off into daydreams; hence, in the next instant, the ego has to repeat the act of activating attention or surrendering. This dance of checking, becoming present and letting go takes place within an effortless, natural flow of intelligence. As our awakening deepens, the interplay between the checker and the inner state gradually merges into one movement, a movement of the now. In due time, the ego dissolves into the inner dimension to such an extent that it ceases to possess the power to assert its separate existence. Naturally, the functions of checking and cognizing still operate at times, but without the presence of an individual agent. The power of recognition and intelligence is owned by no one — intelligence moves in the impersonal awareness of pure reality.”
(5d)

   This is so much more precise and practical, that is, useful, than simply saying the ego is a thought, or that it does not exist. And it so close to PB’s own view:

   “There is much confusion of understanding about what happens to the ego when it attains the ultimate goal. Some believe that a cosmic consciousness develops, with an all-knowing intelligence and an "all-overish" feeling. They regard it as unity with the whole universe. Others assert that there is a complete loss of the ego, an utter destruction of the personal self. No--these are confused notions of what actually occurs. The Overself is not a collective entity as though it were composed of a number of particles. One's embrace of other human beings through it is not in union with them but only in sympathy, not in psychic identification with them but in psychic harmony. He has enlarged the area of his vision and sees himself as a part of mankind. But this does not mean that he has become conscious of all mankind as though they were himself. The true unity is with one's own higher indestructible self. It is still with a higher individuality, not a cosmic one, and it is still with one's own self, not with the rest of mankind. Unity with them is neither mystically nor practically possible. What we discover is discovered by a deepening of consciousness, not by a widening of it. Hence it is not so much a wider as a deeper self that he has first to find. With the rectification of this error, we may find the correct answer to the question: "What is the practical meaning of the injunction laid by all the great spiritual teachers upon their followers, to give up the ego, to renounce the self?" It does not ask for a foolish sentimentality, in the sense that we are to be as putty in the hands of all other men. It does not ask for an utter impossibility, in the sense that we are never to attend to our own affairs at all. It does not ask for a useless absurdity, in the sense that we are to become oblivious of our very existence. On the contrary, it asks for what is wise, practicable, and worthwhile--that we give up our lower personality to our higher individuality.”

   “Thus it is not that the aspirant is asked to abandon all thought of his particular self (as if he could) or to lose consciousness of it, but that he is asked to perceive its imperfection, its unsatisfactoriness, its faultiness, its baseness and its sinfulness and, in consequence of this perception, to give it up in favour of his higher self, with its perfection, blessedness, goodness, nobility, and wisdom. For in the lower ego he will never know peace whereas in the diviner one he will always know it.”
(Vol. 14, 3.108)

   And, as in his previously mentioned quote regarding the concentration necessary to root out one's ego being sapped by one's faults, he forthrightly denies the claims of those who argue there is nothing to be done, that we are already realized:

   “If we think, "I strive to become one with God," or, "I am one with God," we have unconsciously denied the statement itself because we have unconsciously set up and retained two things, the "I" and "God." If these two ultimately exist as separate things they will always exist as such. If, however, they really enter into union, then they must always have been in union and never apart. In that case, the quest of the underself for the Overself is unnecessary. How can these two opposed situations be resolved? The answer is that relativity has taught us the need of a double standpoint, the one relative and practical and constantly shifting, the other absolute and philosophical and forever unchanged. From the first standpoint we see the necessity and must obey the urge of undertaking this quest in all its practical details and successive stages. From the second one, however, we see that all existence, inclusive of our own and whether we are aware of it or not, dwells in a timeless, motionless Now, a changeless, actionless Here, a thing-less, egoless Void. The first bids us work and work hard at self-development in meditation, metaphysics, and altruistic activity, but the second informs us that nothing we do or abstain from doing can raise us to a region where we already are and forever shall be in any case. And because we are what we are, because we are Sphinxes with angelic heads and animal bodies, we are forced to hold both these standpoints side by side. If we wish to think truthfully and not merely half-truthfully, we must make both these extremes meet one another. That is, neither may be asserted alone and neither may be denied alone. It is easier to experience this quality than to understand it.”

   “This is puzzling indeed and can never be easy, but then, were life less simple and less paradoxical than it is, all its major problems would not have worried the wisest men from the remotest antiquity until today. Such is the paradox of life and we had better accept it. That is, we must not hold one standpoint to the detriment of the other. These two views need not oppose themselves against each other but can exist in a state of reconciliation and harmony when their mutual necessity is understood. We have to remember both that which is ever-becoming and that which is ever in being. We are already as eternal, as immortal, as divine as we ever shall be. But if we want to become aware of it, why then we must climb down to the lower standpoint and pursue the quest in travail and limitation.”
(Vol. 13, 2.5)

   In these two quotes we have seen PB take a practical stance on the need to actualize ourselves out of relativity in a real way, and also more or less denying the need or even possibility of realizing an absolute ‘oneness’ with others such as has been often suggested by teachers both new and old, such that we feel no personal identity at all. Self and other still exist, and are known as a unity, but the chief union is between man and his divine Soul, which like anadi, can then know itself indissoluably within the greater whole. But the possibility of higher stages is left open: PB once responded to a man who said that he felt that a chief characteristic of a sage was that he ‘loves everyone’, by saying, “I am not that advanced. I don’t love everybody.” According to the Buddhists, there are ten such bhumis or perfections. And again his quote, “sahaj samadhi is not the highest state possible.” In our view, the actualization of non-duality or the Atman in the microcosm (i.e., throughout all the koshas or bodies and planes) opens up to a vast unending evolution within nonduality in, so to speak, higher octaves of the macrocosm.


   The role of inquiry

   Anadi makes the point that while self-inquiry such as “Who Am I?” leads us beyond the ego it does not yield impersonal ultimate reality by itself, but rather our subjective essence and true identity as the soul:

   “Self-enquiry is the internalization of consciousness through the medium of the mind.  Properly applied, self-enquiry can bring us to the threshold of pure subjectivity, but lacks the power to awaken the whole experience of soul.  Through self-enquiry we may recognize our essence, but to become our complete self, we must evolve and expand within this essence beyond enquiry.”

     “The traditional aim of self-enquiry is not to awaken the soul, but to realize her absence, either through identification with the all-pervasive self-of-all or the negation of the personal self.  As we attempt to transcend our personality through self-enquiry we should take care not to negate our soul as well. Our aspiration to merge with totality should not lead us to self-denial.  If our self-enquiry results in identification with the universal self, we suffer a case of mistaken identity, having confused our relative subject with the absolute identity.”

     “For self-enquiry to reveal our true identity, we must be free of both ego-based perceptions of reality and strictly impersonal interpretations of enlightenment.  We must dwell neither in the void of negative absence derived from the negation of our personal self, nor an illusion of omnipresence derived from identification with universal I am.  True self-enquiry points to the essence of our individual existence, the heart of me.”

     “The soul is not the universal self, and never will be. Her very creation implies a level of individuation.  In the realization of the self we reach unity with the supreme reality, we do not become that reality. The state of unity is a plane rich in diversity that contains infinite angles of perception, all existing within a unified whole. “
(book of enlightenment, page reference misplaced)

   This is right in line with PB’s idea that we are in union with our soul and non-separate-from but not-identical-with ultimate reality. Anadi goes on to assert that while we do first realize the soul as our true identity, we then further realize the 'self' - which he defines as the unity - but not identity - of the soul with the 'supreme reality'. this is metaphorical language, but he says, mysteriously, that then  the soul 'knows herself in a new, transcendental way' - no longer through her presence but through her 'absence' in the ‘universal presence’ - although she continues to function and is not annihilated, and evolves as part of a higher octave, call it universal evolution, perhaps what the Sufis call the ‘journey in God,’ and some Buddhists the ‘higher way’ - beyond the human stage, something most of us do not have to worry about for a long time!


   Part 2

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1. For Iyer’s writings, please see Commentaries edited and compiled by Mark Scorelle.
2. Click here for an excellent, colorful brief summary of the hermetic world-view.
3. See the excellent two-part thesis on PB’s thought and development by Annie Cahn Fung.
4. Lama Anagarika Govinda, (Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism (New York: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1970), p. 219
5. Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (Burdett, New York: Larson Publicatons, 1988), Vol. 16, Part One, 5.183
5b. I.A. Ezekial, Sarmad: Jewish Saint of India (Beas, India: Radhasoami Satsang Beas, 1966, 1974), p. 68
5c. anadi, book of enlightenment, 2010), p.6
5d. Ibid, p.89-90