As an eager young person studying all this esoteric stuff it took me a while to realize this, but I finally got it. When a teacher or a tradition continually keeps repeating the same simple message it is because it is actually hard to ‘get’. And most people who think they’ve ‘got it’, have only really scraped the surface.
This is the case with the concept of the self. In recent years I have had much difficulty in trying to get this basic message across to students (particularly young students): the self does not exist outside of convention. Me, you, the Orthodox Pope, the lovely Helena-Bonham Carter, we actually do not exist in any intrinsic sense.
Now this may sound very Buddhist, and yes the Mahayana traditions keep on repeating this truth, but it is also very western. The magical understanding is that our regular conventional self is a projection, a vehicle for the functioning of the higher self, which in turn is a vehicle for the deeper or true self. We can equate these three spheres of functioning with the three Triads of the Tree of Life: the conventional self to the Astral triad, the Higher Self to the Ethical Triad and the Deep Self to the Supernal Triad.
The Supernal triad is beyond the phenomenal world; it does not have any existence outside of Unity, and is non-existent in conventional terms. We cannot experience it, point to it, taste it, invoke it etc. Indeed there is no ‘it’ at all. The pathway to this realization is the Empty Room of Daath where nothing at all can be found. To gain an insight of this mystery we may contemplate how the magnificence of Jupiter (Chesed) translates into the dark sterility of Saturn (Binah).
Now I think I was blessed as a youth to begin weird mind experiments along these lines quite early on, thanks to the influence of St Robert Anton Wilson (may the Mound keep him and bless him) and others of his ilk. I remember months of some deep work and coming home from Jungian therapy on my scooter and getting a breakthrough insight. I was singing a Howard Jones song and came to the line “jumbled mess of preconceived ideas”. I realized this was all ‘I’ was and started uncontrollably laughing like a loon, swerving all over the road. I still laugh when I find myself thinking I am any more than this. I think this is why Buddhist masters laugh so richly and deep all the time. It is very funny.
However, I am still not very good at getting this point across to my younger students. Often when I present this truth people reply with assertions of the existence of the self. I’ve even had one young woman assert it is actually ‘us’, our regular conventional self who reincarnates. Of course, when asked about her previous incarnation she could not supply any information, even though she assumed it was ‘her’ in that incarnation. Other people are very upfront: they like being themselves, they have developed and worked on their self and do not want to ‘give it up’.
People worried about ‘giving up the self’ can be consoled by the words of St Bob: “It is easier to assassinate the President of the USA than to lose our egos”. No matter what full on spiritual process or ego destructive exercise or solitary retreat we engage in, when we come back to normal life we are still here, conventionally existing, aware of I and ‘not I’. Though of course we are changed.
A Tantric teacher of mine remarked the other day how difficult he found it learning to drive in Australia. Asked to ‘turn left’ by his instructor, he did not know which way to turn. Was it to his left, or the road’s left, or the left of the car coming toward him? His extensive Tantric work had indelibly altered him so that he did not automatically reference everything to himself.
And anyway we all have to ‘give up’ our self; it’s called death. Esoteric work is a way of giving our self up more and more before death so we are less self referential and therefore of more service to the world. Cool, eh? 🙂