Transcending the self… serving humanity

Never content to not understand anything related to theosophy – I looked up this phenomonoly (hope I spelled that correctly) Govert and Chris talk so much about, without ever explaining it. :)

Anyhow – I still don’t really understand Govert’s posts on the subject, but I did read some interesting bits on self transcendence last night. They go a bit beyond ‘Expanding our centre of consciousness‘ into a terrain I’m not personally familiar with – the centre disappears totally. This is something Krishnamurti did talk about, but to me – there always is a centre.

Still, our contemporary philosophers are in a way easier to understand, because they do stay close to experience. The ’self’ that gets transcended is obviously what theosophists would call the personal self. It’s the self that concerns itself with personal worries, personal annoyances, personal ambitions – forgetting there’s a whole world out there that just might need attention too.

Transcending this personal self in the sense of forgetting yourself and your own petty worries is an old theosophical theme. Serving the world, serving humanity, transcending the bonds of nationalism, transcending dogmatic religion, transcending local gossips and local interests has always been at the heart of TS work.

It is assumed in theosophy that only those who really transcend their personalities can truly serve the world. Only spiritual insight can feed effective work in the world. Yet the Mahatmas (or masters, or the white brotherhood) didn’t want us to wait for that transcendental insight – they felt we should actively transcend our limitations and serve humanity – our personalities will be broadened, our selfishness diminished as we go along.

Notice that all this is saying nothing about our inner drives, our passions. That’s because in the ultimate view those aren’t as important as making a commitment and sticking to it. I do think it’s wise to only make commitments that relate to our talents and passions in some sense – but that’s not what the mahatmas say. Perhaps while working, while doing our duty – whether that which presents itself or that which we find to do – a passion for it will develop.

I guess what I’m struggling with is that I’m not so sure how transcending the self works. Perhaps our theosophical terminology can be helpful after all.

The personality consists of body, emotional life, mental life. The personal self is all the selfish emotions, physical impulses feeding the mind. When that gets cleaned up through service, right diet, right thought, right speech – room comes in the mind for higher impulses that may bring an insight into life that goes beyond the parochial and local. This higher insight is called Buddhi by theosphists.

Some say Buddhi is the higher intellect – I would say it’s the light by which the intellect gets a clearer view of things. Buddhi still has a centre. Together with Atma and purified mind it forms the ‘higher self’ – it’s the source of all our genuine wisdom. The wisdom we don’t just mentally know – but can live. Our higher self is also the source of our sincerest aspirations. Only when we start to live them can the higher self really start to light up our mental and emotional worlds. Only when we start to trust That – can we really be called theosophists (instead of just members of the TS).

Note that I’m portraying the higher self and the personal self as two different things. That’s because for most of us this higher self is nothing more just yet than the ’still small voice’. It helps, it heals, but only when we open ourselves up to its wisdom. It’s never yet the most active part in us. It’s not yet a habit. It’s the personal that’s still ‘normal’, natural, the given.

This is where I start to stutter, because I’m not sure my words are sufficient – and I’m not sure I’m qualified to even talk about this…

I suspect a genuine mystical experience is one in which the higher self takes over completely. For a moment usually. The lower self is left watching, is left passive, is left absorbed into a world ‘without a center’. I don’t know whether that world is really without a center, or whether it’s without a center compared to the selfish world of the lower self. Either way: what happens can be discribed as a transcendence of the self. Theosophically we’d say the self is absorbed into the Self – the Higher Self.

Of that Higher Self – the Atma is, in theosophy and Advaita vedanta, ultimately one with all else. It is Brahman, the source of the universe. It is in that sense totally impersonal.

Note: I’ll leave you all to discuss whether my terminology is correct. I do hope the main thought does come across.

Originally published here.