This is a transcription of a lecture originally given live and unscripted on Gnostic Radio. Download the audio lecture here.
The self-knowledge that we seek to acquire is not theoretical or based in beliefs but is instead something experiential, something we have to know from our experience, directly.
In the same way that we experience anything in life, the nature of the investigation that we conduct in ourselves, or what we call the "I", has to be approached in a very scientific manner. It cannot be approached effectively based merely on theories or dogma. A theory or belief always remains simply as that; a mere theory cannot change anything.
We seek to know ourselves in order to create a better life, in order to change our experience and become better people and to help others become better.
We seek true knowledge; we seek to know reality in order to uncover the causes of suffering and to change those causes for causes that produce happiness, harmony, joy.
The root of all those experiences is precisely within us. Our happiness is not dependant upon external conditions, and anyone of us can verify that. We may acquire some external condition that we long desired, we may experience a fleeting happiness, but it does not last.
This essential fact of intransience or impermanence is of key importance in our investigation into the nature of our "I." We cannot put our faith and trust into something that is impermanent. Something that is impermanent will ultimately be no more. It is unreliable and unpredictable, and thus is not something that we can depend upon.
So from this approach, through a practical self-analysis and with mindfulness of impermanence, we investigate the causes of our experiences, the causes of what we experience from moment to moment.
In Gnosis we call this investigation Self-observation. This is a process within which we make our consciousness very active, very aware, and introspective. In other words, we become hypersensitive of our psyche. Without this activity, there is no way we can arrive at any true knowledge of ourselves.
In other words, what we require is to awaken our consciousness. This is not something easy to do nor is it something that can be done overnight. There is no magic pill and no short cut. We awaken consciousness through consistent, persistent effort from moment to moment. This awakening occurs only by will through applying our will, by applying pressure to our consciousness to be active, watchful, cognizant. This cognizance begins here and now, watching ourselves, constantly, without stopping.
In the beginning, we always fail. We lose the continuity of our self-awareness. So we have to start again, and again, constantly watching, constantly trying to break through the veils that normally cloud our vision.
In the previous lecture we discussed this series of veils, which in Buddhism are called Skandhas. The Sanskrit word Skandhas means “aggregates” in English. It can also be translated as “heaps” or “collections.” If you are familiar with meteorology or earth science, you know that an aggregate is a collection of different materials, like sand, gravel, and rock of varying densities, weight and mass. The ego that we have within us is just that: a collection of many different elements.
The skandhas are a collection of many components, which vary in their weight, mass, and size, and they vary in their power. They are organized based upon five veils, sheaths, levels, or relative degrees of density.
In the previous lecture we examined the way that these skandhas are studied in the public level in most schools of Buddhism. At the public level, the skandhas are presented in a psychological form as a way to begin to analyze our psychological functions, the way our mind works, the way our consciousness works. This first level of study is essential, and that is why the Buddha focused on it and taught it, and that is why the traditions of Buddhism continue to study and teach about the aggregates, the skandhas. It is important for all students to have a good foundation in the basics, because without a good foundation, the higher teachings become destructive.
To synthesize the public understanding of the skandhas, the first skandha is called form, which physically we relate with the physical body. Through form we have sensation, which is the second skandha. We perceive sensations through the third skandha, perceptions. Perceptions are interpreted through mental formations, the fourth skandha. These mental formations have light, energy, because within them there is consciousness, the fifth skandha.
This approach provides a structure, outline, or diagram of how our psyche functions.
Each level is called an “aggregate” (skandha) because at each level there are multiple aspects, many parts, so these five levels are simplified, synthesized.
When we look deeper, when we look in our experience from event to event, from moment to moment, this technique or this tool of the skandhas becomes very useful. It provides us with a way of applying a structured analysis to our experience. By applying this structure of analysis it provides a guide to help us to penetrate towards the inner reality, the inner truth of any given experience. This is the very value of it that we need to grasp and put into practice.
In the Gnostic tradition we talk about self-observation as an activity of consciousness. You have to understand that the activity of self-observation and self-remembering, as an activity of consciousness, does not mean there is an absence of analysis. When you are in a state of self-observation or self-remembering, this state of active consciousness, you have the option of applying that consciousness in an analytical form even through the three brains in order to penetrate into the nature of the given phenomenon.
As an example, in the morning when we get ready for our day and we begin to get dressed, in that moment we begin to start making a selection of the available clothing. Why do we select what we select to wear? If in that moment we are in a state of self-observation and self-remembering, we can apply conscious awareness to the analysis of our decision making and look into our own psyche to determine what are the psychological processes happening in that instant, processes that happen very rapidly, that are related to form, sensations, perceptions, mental formations, and the consciousness.
One who is making the consistent effort to self-observe, being mindful, is simply consciously watching what they do. A beginner may not have sufficient force in the consciousness to also analyze what they do. This is something you have to taste for yourself, something you develop yourself. It is very easy to begin an analysis of something and get distracted by the intellect and wander off into theories. This is not the kind of analysis that we need.
When we look closely into our own psyche, there are processes that unfold. Remember, when we interact with form, sensation happens, and the perception of those sensations is interpreted by mental formations. Within those mental formations, consciousness is trapped. We remain completely unaware of all these things most of the time. If we apply this analysis to the event of our example, we could say: “What is it about this form that is producing sensation for me? What are the sensations that I am experiencing and how am I reacting to them? Why am I attracted to a one article of clothing over another? What is it about that particular bit of clothing, the form of it, that attracts me?”
In all of these questions, we have to look into ourselves for the answer. Theorizing is useless here: we have to be scientific and look at the evidence. When we look at the (1) forms we are interacting with, we will find there is a (2) sensation related to it. Each sensation adds a filter to our (3) perception, and that perception is interpreted by a (4) mental formation, who is empowered by (5) consciousness.
For example, we want to wear a particular shirt because of a sensation we feel in relation to it. Someone once praised us when we wore it, and those words produced a sensation that made us feel attractive. Because of the mental formation that we developed when we felt the sensations of being praised, our pride and vanity felt stimulated. Thus, when we pull that shirt from the closet, the reality is that we want to repeat the perception of that sensation through that form. In other words, the consciousness that is trapped inside of that mental formation is being utilized by the mental formation to again perceive the sensation produced by that form. In turn, we mistakenly believe that this shirt gives us a sense of self.
This is the basis of the addiction of fashion. People are addicted to fashion, enslaved by fashion, because they believe it gives them a sense of self, a sense of identity, individuality, or of being different. Many people idolize the idea that they can be “a non-conformist,” an “individual,” to be somehow different, and yet they do not recognize that in their seeking after individuality they are merely imitating someone else. The one who wants to be a non-conformist is usually just conforming to someone else’s idea.
Fashion is merely the effort to project a sense of "I," a sense of self. Unfortunately, anytime we fall into the trap of trying to project a sense of self through our clothing, that "I" or that sense of self does not last long and is inevitably contradicted very soon: the latest fashion comes out and suddenly, the fashion we were so proud of yesterday is obsolete, and we feel fear, worry and anxiety that suddenly we are not following the trend, or we look dated or out of touch. We become anxious that we are not ahead of everyone else, and that someone might be laughing at us, someone might be making fun of us so we need to buy new clothes.
This is how people become enslaved to the constant need feed this sense of self that they find fashion, and project that false self to others. Yet, the same phenomenon happens in relation to all forms of culture, such as music, television, or movies, and it happens with almost everything else in life. Some people do this with cars; they want to project their identity to others by having the coolest, latest car. Some do this with jobs, careers, or the company they work for. Some do it with their spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend. Iin order to be envied or admired, they only want to be with the coolest boy in the school or the most handsome guy in the neighborhood, and if somebody new and exciting comes along, they want the new one, so that everyone will be envious or feel inferior.
No matter what our own psychological addictions and habits are, if we apply conscious analysis to ourselves from moment to moment, we can discover where our consciousness is most trapped. Only when we discover the cages can we become free of them. This is why conscious self-analysis from moment to moment is so important.
We want to know the truth directly, and the capacity to do that is in our consciousness. Yet, as we are now, the consciousness cannot see the truth; it cannot see truth as long as it is trapped inside of a lie. The main thing we have to do is extract the consciousness from the lie. Then, naturally, the consciousness can see. So we need to know in ourselves where our consciousness trapped.
Each one of us is different. Some of us have our consciousness trapped in a sense of identity related with our background, our culture, our country, our education, our religion, our musical tastes, or our fashion choices. We build a very strong sense of self in these cultural aspects which are all related to personality.
If we have the courage to begin to really analyze these parts of ourselves where we find this sense of self, we discover that they are impermanent. They are unreliable. Often, students arrive to these studies and begin to study and practice the techniques of self-observation and meditation, and they become terrified. They become terrified because we show them how to see that the "I" is not real, that this sense of self we have is an illusion, and that the ego must die in order for the reality within us to emerge. When they begin to experience that this sense of self is a lie, an illusion, many, many people run away terrified. They run and find some other school that makes them feel good about themselves, that supports their illusion of an "I." There are many schools that will do that for you; of course, at a price. What is most distressing about this is that they are running from themselves. They are running from the truth about themselves.
People who actually acquire Gnosis reach that level of experience by conquering their fear. You really need to develop the quality of fearlessness in order to experience Gnosis. Fear is a huge obstacle. Fear is an "I," it is an ego. It is the great defender of the illusion that we have created.
When we begin to really utilize this analytical tool of the skandhas and look deeper into our experiences from moment to moment, we start to see how our "I's" work, how the egos within us manipulate our consciousness in order to keep themselves alive.
As important as self-observation and analysis are in this effort, they can only see the superficial levels. Even with the most profound, persistent, and incredible efforts to be in a constant observation of oneself, you can only see so much. This is because you can only see through the senses you have active here in the physical world. To really go to the root, to the depth of the mind, you need to learn how to meditate.
Through self-observation and analysis, you acquire some information. Through meditation you also acquire information, but deeper, more profound, because through meditation you learn how to extract the consciousness from the skandhas. When the consciousness is extracted from the skandhas, it is unfiltered, unimpeded, free of any filters. This is freedom, liberation, ecstasy. In Sanskrit, that freedom is called Samadhi. This is an experience within which the consciousness is completely free of any obscuration. It is an experience that can be called Nirvana or Heaven, because it is perfect bliss.
There are many forms of Samadhi, and many levels. They all share common characteristics: perfect mental clarity, perfect perception, serenity, penetrative power.
Kabbalah and the Skandhas
The skandhas, aspects, or levels of analysis have a direct correspondence in the Initiatic Kabbalah. The skandhas are normally taught in Buddhism, but when we analyze their meaning and importance, we can see that those same levels and functions are described in the Tree of Life. This is going into a deeper level, a level that is important.
While we can use the teaching of the skandhas in this physical level in our self-observation and self-remembering, when you really get into the experience, consciously, of your own ego and how the ego functions, you likewise go beyond the physical level. Otherwise you cannot understand how the mind works. This is because what you study physically is the physical matter and the physical effects that come from other forms of energy and matter. There are forms of matter you cannot study directly from the physical world. As an example, in the physical world we can study the form (rupa), ourselves, our physical body or the physical form of any other element we might encounter, and we can study the sensations related to those forms, but it is difficult because those sensations are being filtered. We can also study our perceptions of those forms, and this is even more difficult because our perceptions are even more heavily filtered. We can also study mental formations to an extent but this is difficult because mental formations we see here are thoughts, feeling. We see the results of those mental formations; we cannot see the actual formation. In other words, we can see a shadow or an impression of the energy, but we cannot see the matter that is producing that energy. To see those things, we have to develop the capacity to extract the consciousness from form, meaning the physical body. In that way, we start to learn how to extract the consciousness from each level until it is totally free; from that point of view it is able to see everything.
1. Form: The Sephirah Malkuth
When we relate this to the Kabbalah, we know that Malkuth is sephirah at the base of the Tree of Life. In Hebrew, Malkuth means “kingdom.” Malkuth is related to our physical body, or in other words, the third dimension.
When we study the third dimension, we study it here and now, in the physical body. Processing through the third dimension are all the energies and forces from the other worlds. You can see this for yourself right now. Where are your thoughts coming from? Where are your feelings coming from? Scientists have theories about this, but they cannot definitely say because in the physical plane they can only measure the results of thought, not the thought itself. The same is true of emotions. Scientists can measure the trail left by the thought, or the trail left by the emotion, but the emotion itself is not in the physical world. Physically, we only see the result, not the cause.
When an impression strikes your physical body, there is an interaction that happens between two forms. That interaction is a crossing of energy transmitted through each physical form. That crossing of energy is transmitted through the nervous system; the nervous system in our physical body is a channel of energy related to the Vital / Ethereal body. This is how we receive sensations: the physical nerves transmit energy. That energy is multidimensional.
2. Sensation: The Sephirah Yesod
Inside of the physical body is the energetic body that gives it life. This energetic body is called the body of Qi (Chi), the Vital Body, or the Ethereal body. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is called the subtle body. This is a body of energy. Without the body of energy, there can be no physical body.
The physical body is represented in Kabbalah by the sephirah Malkuth. The body of energy is represented by the sephirah Yesod, which is immediately above Malkuth. The physical body belongs to the third dimension. The vital body belongs to the fourth dimension. We cannot see the fourth dimension with our physical senses, but we can measure some ways that the fourth dimension affects the third dimension.
The vital body is the superior or subtle aspect of the physical body. It is the electricity of the physical body, the energy, the force of life, the prana, the aura. Without this body of energy, the physical body is dead. They are two parts of one entity; they cannot be separated. If they are separated, the physical body dies.
When we relate these two bodies to the skandhas, we can see that the physical body (Malkuth) is related to the skandha of form (rupa). The Vital / Ethereal body (Yesod) is related to the skandha of sensation (vedena).
If the Vital body is separated from the physical body, the nerves can function but no sensation is felt because sensations are carried by the Vital body. This is what happens when our foot or arm “falls asleep.” There is a temporary separation of the vital and physical limbs. This also explains what happens to amputees. A person who has lost a leg or arm can still “feel” that arm or leg because the Vital body still has the limb, even when the physical part is gone. The sensations are energetic, vital. They are not physical.
The Vital body is in the fourth dimension. It is related to Eden.
In the fourth dimension these energies are processed and transformed. The Vital / Ethereal body is a body of energy which has form or matter in the fourth dimension. In its third dimensional aspect, it is the energy of the physical body. This is something important to understand. These dimensions co-exist, they inner-penetrate each other. They are co-existent. As I'm standing here and giving this lecture, you see my physical body, but what is animating my physical body are levels and levels of more and more subtle energy and matter. You cannot see my thoughts, feelings, intutions, inner perceptions and more, yet they are happenings. The same is true as you are listening. Your physical body is easy to see, but inside the physical body are processes that are happening related with the vital body, energy in movement; the vital body has some effects visible physically, but the causes are rooted in the fourth dimension.
The Vital body is made of four primary levels. If we relate this to a physical analogy, we could say that the vital body would almost be like four gases of varying densities. We call these four densities “ethers.”
The two inferior ethers are called:
- the ether of life: manages the energies of reproduction
- the chemical ether: related to transformations of energies in the body, such as metabolism
The two superior ethers called
- Luminous ether: manages the energies of perception
- Reflecting ether: manages the energies of memory, imagination, willpower
These two are related with our powers of perception. The Luminous and Reflecting ethers receive, transform, and transmit the energies of sensation, to and from our physical nervous system. This is how we can see that our vital body, called Yesod in Kabbalah, is synonymous with the skandha Vedana, related with sensation.
3. Perception: The Sephirah Hod
In the Kabbalah, emotions are related to the sephirah Hod, which is the third sephirah from the bottom. Hod is Hebrew for glory. Hod is related to our Astral body. In Sanskrit, this body can also be called Kamarupa, which means “the body of desire.”
When we begin to apply conscious analysis to discover the nature of our own "I," our so-called self, we need to discriminate what we feel, and recognize the emotions that drive us. If we are really sincere with ourselves, really honest, we can see that the vast majority of what we feel as emotion is based in desire: selfish desire. This is why the astral body is called the body of desire or the emotional body.
When we sensations are transformed by the Vital body (after receiving them from the physical body), we then “perceive” them, but based upon the state of our Astral or emotional body. We react with like, dislike, or neutrality. It is here that we begin to respond with the emotional qualification of “good or bad.” This is not thought, it is an emotional feeling. Of course, these feelings are not rational, logical, or even sensible. They are entirely derived from the quality of our Astral body, which unfortunately is submerged in selfish desire.
4. Mental Formations: The Sephirah Netzach
The fourth sephirah from the bottom of the Tree of Life is called Netzach, which means victory. Netzach is related with the Mental body. This is our body of thought. Our thinking process is related with the energy emanating from our Mental body. What we sense as thoughts are emanations from our Mental body.
After the immediate emotional reaction to a sensation, we then see the emergence of thought, “I like it,” or “I don’t like it.” Thought is slower than emotion, which is slower than sensation.
The Astral and Mental bodies interpenetrate one another. They are within the Vital / Ethereal body, which is within the physical body. All of us are experiencing this right now. We have a physical body, which may be digesting something, processing our blood, and receiving and transmitting energetic signals related with sensations coming through our perceptions. We are also simultaneously experiencing emotions and thoughts. Thus, in this instant, you can see a very complex interrelationship between many forms of energy and matter, and not all of them are physical.
The Astral and Mental bodies are related with the fifth dimension, which is more subtle than the Ethereal body. And of course, they are related with the third and fourth skandhas, Samjna and Samskara.
The Four Bodies of Sin
Let us synthesize:
- physical body: the skandha of form
- vital body: the skandha of sensation
- astral body: the skandha of perception
- mental body: the skandha of mental formation
In Kabbalah, the first four bodies we have described are called “the four bodies of sin,” because it is here that we act, make mistakes, and have karma. Through our physical body we express the energy of the ethereal body, the emotions that drive us, and the thoughts that we use to justify our desires.
These four bodies of sin are also known as “the protoplasmic bodies.” We say protoplasmic because they are lunar or mechanical, not solar or conscious. They are a form of inheritance that we receive from nature for free, as a house or vehicle through which our consciousness can acquire knowledge and experience. There is a superior form of matter called solar matter that one has to create consciously through a process known as the second birth. This is symbolized in many religions, such as Trikaya of the Buddha, the chariot of Ezekiel, the wedding garment of Jesus, the chariot of Arjuna, and more.
In all the great religions, there have been many explanations given about the process of our soul or consciousness inhabiting physical matter. We can say in concise terms that we come here because of actions we performed in the past. We have made ourselves into what we are. We have the body, the emotions, the thoughts that we have now, because we made them. We made our own house, and we suffer in it, because we do not understand how we made it. This is what we need to change.
A conscious, analytical observation of ourselves leads us to develop the ability to clearly perceive each level of our psyche. We always emphasize always the need to work consciously here, physically; to awaken the consciousness here and now in the physical body. When we engage in that activity, from moment to moment, always making the effort to see the truth of our perceptions, the truth of the sensations that we experience, and the truth of our feelings and thoughts, gradually we develop discrimination: the ability to distinguish between the false and the real.
In their investigative analysis of their own experience from moment to moment, the Gnostic student is always looking to consciously see what is real and what is not. If in the physical world we are making the effort to consciously perceive and be cognizant of ourselves, then we are making the effort to ask: "Is this form permanent? Does it truly exist? Is it truly reliable? Is it truly what it appears to be? Is this sensation truly what it appears to be? Is it truly real? Is it dependable?” and so on, with perceptions, thoughts, and feeling. In each case, what we are looking for is: does it have truth?
Truth cannot be known by the "I." This is something you will never understand as long as your consciousness is still inside of an "I." The truth cannot be known by the "I," by the mind. Only the consciousness can know the truth, but for that, the consciousness needs to be extracted from the "I."
This kind of self-analysis begins here and now, in the physical body, by questioning and becoming aware of all the processes of the physical body.
I want to remind you what we are looking at now is the deeper level of the skandhas. We have to open up our understanding of these skandhas, they have multiple levels of meaning.
When we are inside the physical body, we can see the other skandhas if we are really watching, if we are really paying attention. While in the physical body we can see sensations, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness... If we are really cognizant. Yet, this is not enough; we have to go beyond the physical body.
You may discover that you became very identified with a given moment in the day, perhaps when someone said something that made you angry (which happens all the time). So you observe the physical forms that relate to that experience, and you observe the sensations that relate to that experience. Then you watch how those perceptions were interpreted by the mental formations, in other words by samskaras, and then you can see how the consciousness responds. When you are identified, the consciousness is asleep and responsds mechanically according to its conditioning. You can see all this physically. If you want to destroy that mental formation, if you really want to come to know your true identity, your true self, you cannot do it from within that anger. Anger can only see through itself. That anger will always see everything from its point of view. In other words, if you are trying to comprehend that "I" while you are still angry, you will not be able to do it. You may be able to understand a certain degree and experience a certain degree of what that anger feels and looks like, but you will not be able to completely understand it, because you cannot see it for what it is. You are still within it. Your consciousness is being conditioned by it. Consequently, you will not be able to eliminate that anger. In order to see the anger for what it is, you have to extract your consciousness from it. You need equanimity. You need to cancel the identification with the anger. You cannot do this by avoiding the anger or repressing it. Neither can you do it by indulging in it. The only way is with patient, conscious observation and analysis of it.
Every mental formation (samskara) perceives all sensation (vedana) according to its conditioning. Anger can only see in the way that anger sees. Anger sees the way that it does because it was made that way. It is a filter, like a pair of glasses. It changes the light that we see.
In other words, every mental formation (samskara) is also form (rupa), but in the world of the mind. Every ego is form (matter) in the Mental World (Netzach).
The Form of the I
If you begin to take these studies very seriously and seriously observe yourself, you start to remember dreams or a conscious experiences in meditation or the internal worlds where you see a person or persons, who you do not recognize, but who are doing you harm in some way; perhaps through violence, threats, or some form of enticement (seduction). You need to realize that those persons are your own egos in the fifth dimension (astral or mental world), in your own subconsciousness.
The dream figures or images that you see in meditation or dreams have form or matter (rupa) in their level or dimension in nature. These mental formations (whether egos, effigies, or other constructions):
- have form (protoplasmic matter in the fifth dimension)
- experience sensation (transformation of energy)
- perceive (react to sensation)
- are mental formations
- and they trap consciousness inside of them
The experience of seeing your own ego, these mental formations in yourself, can be disturbing. You may see crowds, even a whole psychological city, which is yourself, and you see that you are many selves. This is why we call this “the doctrine of the many.” This is why Jesus taught about the legion of the “I.”
In general, we talk about the ego as having three main components. These are the three traitors. You find in all the different traditions that the great Avatars and Prophets always have three traitors. These three traitors are related with our three brains:
- the Intellectual brain
- the Emotional brain
- the Motor-Instinctive-Sexual brain
It is through the three brains that the seven capital sins manifest themselves.
Those seven are actually innumerable variations. Each one is a samskara: a mental formation, an ego, "I's."
There are 49 levels in our mind. The mind is very deep. The mind is illustrated in what religions are usually called hell, the avernus, the Avitchi, or in Kabbalah: Klipoth, “the world of the shells.” Each samskara is a shell, a vessel that is empty of real existence. It is a shell made of nothing real, permanent, yet it traps consciousness. When the consciousness is extracted, the shell is revealed to be dust; nothing but dust.
The existence of the ego is only possible because we put our consciousness into it. We are the ones responsible for that. We created our suffering by transforming impressions in the wrong way, which results in the formation of egos.
When we begin from moment to moment to take responsibility for that, to analyze our experiences through our sensations and perceptions, through our thoughts and feelings, to become more cognizant of ourselves to moment to moment, we start to penetrate, to become really discriminating.
Start to question what you feel and think. Look for the truth in any given thought, feeling, or sensation. Can you tell what is true and what is false? Do not be mechanical, following your habits in action, thought and feeling. Your habits are the basis of your suffering.
Most of the time, we just do whatever we feel like. We follow our thoughts and do not question them. When we start thinking "Oh, this person must hate me," we believe those thoughts. Or we think, "God hates me," and we believe the thoughts. We do not realize that thsoe thoughts are the product of an ego who is trying to corrupt us! We do not realize that the continual stream of emotions and thoughts is produced by lies: they are self-produced illusions.
We made the cage that we exist within, because we became identified with form, sensation, perception, and in turn created the ego. Self-observation initiates the process of developing a continuity of consciousness that can stop the creation of psychological cages, but it is not easy, because we are very lazy.
You can never comprehend any religion unless you begin to work here and now on yourself to be cognizant; to be actively perceiving and discriminating phenomena. It does not matter what you call your religion: without this active perception, you remain like a leaf tossed by the wind; tossed about your own thoughts, feelings, by karma, and by circumstances.
Our power is in our consciousness. That is the power we used to create our ego, and that same power that can be used to destroy it. The power is in our hands, it is not outside. It is within us! When we use that through self-observation and self-remembering, that continuity of cognizance can be deepened.
Furthermore, it must be deepened by learning how to meditate. Meditation and self-observation are one and the same; they are the same activity: the activation of consciousness, to be awakened, to watch without distraction, to perceive actively and receive all impressions from all possible directions with complete cognizance. We have that ability but we do not develop it because of fear, ignorance, laziness, etc.
If we make the effort to awaken, our perceptions of the skandhas will change radically. We start to develop the ability to penetrate into things, to see beyond what we normally saw, to see deeper. This is something intuitive. It is something spontaneous that can never be faked and it is something beautiful: it is called realization. “To realize” is to see the inherent truth in something. We can begin to have realizations now, by looking into what has caused us to be caught in illusion.
When we have a sense of self or identity with a lot of consciousness trapped in it, when we begin to look into that and question that sense of self, we are looking to realize what is true in it and what is not. Some people are vegetarians; in itself there is nothing wrong with this. Being a vegetarian is a very beautiful ideal with many benefits, but some people make an "I" out of it. They make a religion out of the kitchen; they become fanatics. They make a sense of self out of being vegetarian, and because of this sense of "I," they can become enraged at other people, angry, proud, envious, jealous, fearful. In other words, they have trapped a huge amount of their own consciousness in that self, which in itself, is a lie.
The same is true of any of our tastes in our personality. We all do this. Each of us has our own ways of finding a sense of self in self-created illusions. We become very much attached to memories, ideas, concepts, theories, perceptions, etc that we have put our own consciousness into and trapped it there.
In other words, we give away our inheritance. We give away our real power and put it into a cage that will always lie.
Through conscious discrimination, we question that. We begin to stop taking that "I" so seriously. We question it, wonder about it, and look deeper at it. “Is it real? Is it true? Am I really that?”
In the morning, when you put on your clothes, you do it with an attraction towards a certain identity that you want to project. You want others to see you in a certain way. The clothing that you pick, the hairstyle you wear, the music you play in your car, the car you drive... All of these we picked to project a sense of self. Begin to question all of these things. Say, "Is this really me?" Really observe what you do. Ask yourself when shopping or walking, “Is my clothing really a definition of who I am? Why do I need others to see me in a certain way? Why do I need to live at the whim of others opinions?” Then you begin to see that throughout your life you continually changed your clothing style. Where is your real self? Where is your real self in something you continually alter and change? Where is something you can truly depend on, even in the face of death?
It is that penetrating investigation, that analysis, that can lead you to the realization that so much of what you think, feel and do is not “you.” The projection that you are trying to give to others, that you are also trying to project to yourself, is a lie. Why should we spend so much time and energy projecting a sense of self that does not even exist?
This is how a Gnostic develops psychological equilibrium. This is how they learn how to stand on their own two feet, to swim against the current of life, to follow the true self; the sense of identity which is based in truth, in reality, in direct realization of the facts.
I am not talking about physical facts, because everything physical is impermanent. When we take off those clothes at night, this is synonymous to us taking off the physical body when we die. A night passes, and the next day we put on a new body. We take on a new personality, maybe with a new gender, maybe in a different country with a different language and a different family. Where is this sense of self? Where is the "I" that we loved so much?
These insights demonstrate the value of meditation, dream yoga, and astral projections. When you have your first experience of realizing that you were alive somewhere else, as someone else, living in a way that is completely contrary to everything you think you are now, you will realize how asleep we are. It is a shocking experience, but a beautiful one. With such an experience, many things become clarified. This is an experience that we all can have if we make the effort to practice seriously, every day.
Those realizations of truth accumulate the more we practice. The more effort we make, we begin to penetrate into all the different facts of our life and the essential nature of them. What we begin to discover is that there is no real self in form. In this physical body, there is no self that is independent, that exists eternally, no self that is reliable. The physical body or the form of anything will die. There is nothing everlasting in this body. We cannot rely on it.
There is no real self to be found in sensations either. Sensations never last. They always pass away. And, the antithesis is always there. If you try to experience as many pleasurable sensations as possible in your life, you initiate the swing of a pendulum, which is energetic, which is a law of nature called Invariance. When the pendulum swings to the pleasurable side, it will inevitably swing to the painful side because those forces have to equilibrate. This is the basic cause of humanty’s pain. Everyone is chasing pleasure without realizing that this effort produces pain. When you discover that law is real and active continually, you realize "Wait a minute, all this pain that I've been having, all the suffering I've been having, is because I was chasing after the illusion of pleasure." When you realize the fact of that pendulum, you realize that in sensawtions there is no reality, no permanence, no real self, no truth. There is no real existence in sensations.
Then you go deeper into perceptions and see they are all illusory too. The way we perceive things is always modified, it is never real as long as we are inside that sense of self. What gave us pleasure yesterday fails to satisfy us today, because our perception (desire) is always disatisfied, always searching, always hungry. There is no permanence in desire. Desire is fickle, unreliable, and ever discouraging.
Then, when we penetrate into the level of seeing our own samskaras, investigating them in the internal worlds, in dreams, in meditation, you discover the same thing: these are all false selves that fight to dominate the consciousness. None of them are real. They are all fickle, impermanent, unreliable. Every “I” that we have within is contradictory, self-destructive, and characterized by ignorance of the facts. What of that can we trust and rely upon?
Our consciousness is trapped within the samskaras. It is compartmentalized, fragmented, and dispersed. When we enter and experience these little sections, these little particles, there is beauty in those portions of consciousness but they are not the consciousness free, or as a whole.
Some traditions have become mislead in believing that as soon as you can taste Samadhi, you have found liberation. Some traditions teach that by learning how to access Samadhi and experiencing those sparks of freedom, that this is liberation, that all you have to do is extend those experiences. This is not true. The consciousness is still trapped inside the ego. Having Samadhi or experiences of freedom is good, but it is not enlightenment, because the ego still exists. After their meditation, their consciousness goes right back into its cages of pride, anger, envy, jealousy, lust, and more. People who believe such experiences are enlightenment develop “mystical pride,” also called mythomania. They believe in a divine "I" or a superior "I." They begin to call themselves Masters, Avatars, Prophets, Guides, proclaiming themselves to be this or that incarnated Master or great Initiate from past ages. They may experience Samadhi, but filtered in a very subtle way.
In Hinduism and in Gnosis, we study Atman, or “the self.” The term Atman is related to Chesed, the fourth sephirah. Atman represents our Spirit, our Buddha, our Inner Father, our Inner God. A practitioner who is developing the discrimination to move beyond the superficial levels of the ego and to look deeper and to have the experience of the consciousness may experience the beauty, the glory of their own Atman, their own Spirit, but then they become identified and believe this is the real self. But it is not.
When the Buddha Shakyamuni taught the about the Skandhas, he taught the doctrine of Anatman. Anatman is a Sanskrit term that roughly means “no self.” The Buddha did not deny the existence of the soul, the self, or the Spirit. What the Buddha denied is that the Spirit can exist independently. The Buddha taught that the soul cannot exist independently, that the self cannot exist independently. He taught that everything in manifestation is dependant upon its origin.
The consciousness is related to the sephirah Tipereth, the causal world, the sixth dimension. There is no ego there. To experience this world, one must be completely freed from the ego. In this world and above, one finds only pure consciousness and that which is beyond consciousness. While outside of the physical body, one can also many beautiful experiences in the fifth or fourth dimensions, in the form of samadhi, dreams or astral projections.
When the experiences of such realms are brought back to the physical brain, those memories pass through the skandhas: from consciousness, through the mental formations, through our perceptions, and are interpreted as sensations manifesting into the brain as memories. Thus, our Astral or out of body experiences are translated by the "I." So we remember “I was in such and such a level of consciousness, the Sixth and Seventh Dimension and I saw my Inner God and I am this incarnation, so and so.” This is how mythomania begins. The soul trapped in the ego is seduced into believing it is a Saint.
Master Samael Aun Weor was very explicit throughout his books that we have to go beyond the consciousness. In many of his books he taught a practice which is rarely understood, which you may have read. First we are to meditate, and empty the mind of all thought. Then he says to abandon the physical body by examining it and saying, "I am not the physical body," and then we should abandon it. Then, we are to examine the Ethereal body, and say, "I am not the Ethereal body" and abandon it. And we are to proceed consecutively through the Astral body, Mental Body, Causal body, the body of the Consciousness, and finally through the body of the Spirit, the Atmic Body and in each case the procedure is the same. We are to examine that body and then abandon it.
This practice is not understood by Gnostic students and even instructors. Very few of us have yet developed the capacity to see our physical body for what it is. Most of us are so identified with the physical body we equate it with ourselves. We have not yet developed the capacity to see the physical body is impermanent and not the Self. When referring to the body, we still say “I.” We say “I am hungry, I am tired,” when it is the body that is tired. We have no consciousness of the body as a vehicle, a machine. We may have heard of this idea, but we are not conscious of it.
So, if we are unconscious about the physical body, how can we expect to be conscious of our internal bodies?
This practice demands that we see and examine consciously, directly, the Ethereal body in the fourth dimension; to examine it consciously and then discard it. Then we have to do that in the fifth and sixth dimensions, examining all these bodies to see that none of them are our true self.
The ultimate experience of this practice is to come to the direct realization of the doctrine of Anatman, the doctrine of no self: to be free of vehicles of any kind.
This practice leads us to experience reality: to be something that is and also is not; something that you can experience but can never explain. Something that is Universal and Divine. That has a sense of Self, it has a sense of Self, it has real identity, it has real individuality but it is not an "I".
In Buddhism, they call this experience Shunyata. This is the experience of the emptiness. It is not emptiness in the way we think of, it as something that lacks existence. Properly understood, emptiness means that something lacks inherent existence in and of itself. In other words, from the point of view of ultimate reality, it does not exist independently and on its own, yet from the point of view of conventional, interdependent, causal existence, it does exist. This is important, even if right now you cannot see why. When you experience it, you will understand.
Our real self lacks a sense of "I" but it is an "I." Our real self is a Divine form of individuality that is beyond individuality. It is, in a sense, the body of Christ; it is the experience of the Trikayas and beyond that. This is where we begin to discover the nature of the real Self.
Some students, when they study this doctrine, become very confused and say, "I don't understand the teaching that says we need to kill the ego and the personality? What is left? Do we become nothing?”
It is easy to understand this question because all we know is the ego; all we know is the personality. We do not understand that there is something beyond that. The truth is that there is a reality beyond the false “I.” There is an experience beyond ego and personality, but it is unlike anything that the intellect can conceive. It is a kind of perception and experience that is more real than physical reality. It is more real than the astral world or the mental world. It is more real than the causal world; it is Reality. It is something beyond what we can conceive in the mind. From that place have come our most beautiful Human Beings: Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, etc... These are all great, great beings who have come from this place of real existence, as individuals, real individuals, to teach us how to reach individuality. For that, the false "I" has to die. This is how we come to know the real "I". We have to escape the false one; the false one has to die. When the false "I" is dead, what remains is happiness, love.
Questions and Answers
Instructor: The mourning we feel for someone who has died is identification. Identification is multifaceted. You stated that we are identified with the physical form of that person, but why? Why are we identified with the physical body of our loved ones and why do we think that is their self? It is because we think that of ourselves. We think our own body is us. Even spiritual people do not understand this. It is contradictory to see so-called spiritual people crying over a death. If they were spiritual people with conscious experience of the internal worlds, they would know that the body is just a shell that needs to be discarded occasionally, and that the person never dies. The soul does not die. So who are we crying for? Ourselves. It is our ego that is crying. This does not mean that we should not mourn for those who suffer. Suffering is horrible, and mourning is natural. Yet, we should be conscious of our emotions.
When you have the experience that your real self is beyond the physical body, then you begin to comprehend that this is true for everyone; then you begin to comprehend that when someone dies, your experience of that does not need to be what it used to be. You can be different.
The identification that we have with each other is really harmful. When someone dies for example, when you are very identified with them, crying and mourning for that person, in some sense it can provide solace, like a sense of comfort for that dead person, but it also becomes a source of attachment and stop them from moving on to what they need to do. There are cases where someone was grieving so much for a dead relative that the dead relative remained there, the personality or the essence of that person could not move on because the attachment was so strong.
The best thing for us to do is to pray for the dead ones and encourage them to aspire towards the Light.
Instructor: The practice of meditation is quite simple. The goal of meditation is to activate the consciousness so that it can develop the ability to perceive reality; to realize the truth. We have to start where we are. We begin meditation right here where we are in our physical bodies. When we sit to meditate, we start by relaxing the three brains, slowly and carefully. First you need to relax the body completely. You have to relax your mind completely, and also your mood, your emotions. When those are all relaxed, than you can start to concentrate and extract consciousness, to pull back from all external phenomena. Here is where some additional difficulty can come in...
First, most people cannot even relax. Even some that call themselves “advanced meditators,” people who have meditated 10, 20 years, do not relax properly. The result is they end up sitting for half an hour to an hour without ever reaching meditation because there is some vibration in the body or in one of the three brains that traps the consciousness in that level.
Someone who has actually relaxed and has combined drowsiness with attentiveness begins to become more introverted, forgetting the physical body while keeping awareness of it. This state is similar to what we feel when we fall asleep at night. We start to feel that the body is different, that we are not the body. This is an important feeling; when that separation is beginning to deepen, than we have other techniques that we can apply, such as watching the breath.
The goal at this point is to deepen the sense of separation. It is not to simply sit there. People get stuck here counting or watching the breath with anapana practices. Some people just get stuck there, they get right to that spot and they stay there. That is fine but they will not actually enter into real meditation. Likewise, people who begin to observe thoughts, feelings and sensations and note them or become more cognizant of them can also become stuck in that place. This is also okay, but it is still not meditation.
Meditation begins when the absolute quietude erupts. When the mind goes completely silent, this is where we reach what is called in Sanskrit Dhyana. Some people call it “the void,” but it is not the true void or emptiness, it is simply a still mind.
In that state arrives the first possibility to actually meditate on something, which is Dharana, which is the ability to concentrate on one thing without any distraction. This is “one pointed mind.” In Tibetan Buddhism this is called Shamata, which we talk a lot about. Shamata has many levels. Yet, this experience of undivided attention is also not yet meditation, it is concentration.
When we talk about meditation, what we are really indicating is Samadhi. Samadhi is different. The experience of each of these things will tell you exactly what I am describing. Concentrating on one thing to the exclusion of everything else is a good practice and can be used as a doorway to Samadhi but it is not Samadhi. Likewise, non-exclusive meditation, which is like a mahamudra technique, is a type of meditation on meditation. It is called “a methodless method”; it is a way of developing attention and awareness without using a particular form of focus. That too can lead to Samadhi, but in itself is not Samadhi.
Samadhi is a doorway that we go through when the consciousness completely escapes the three brains. When our consciousness completely leaves behind all of the skandhas, there is an experience of ecstasy. That experience can last an instant or it can last for what seems like days.
The key factor to enter Samadhi is detachment. Right now, we are attached, identified with being in the body. We are identified with sensations, perceptions, mental formations, even with consciousness that is trapped. When we sit to meditate, the whole purpose is to detach the consciousness from everything. To do this, we cannot identify with anything.
In our practice, we start with our three brains:
- We relax the body, in order to not identify with the body.
- We relax our feelings in order to not identify with feelings.
- We relax our thoughts in order to not identify with thoughts.
When psychological elements surge within us, we observe them and separate ourselves from them, in order to not identify with them. This is a form of psychological judo, where we turn each sensation and experience back against itself, in order to push them away from the consciousness. This is how a space of serenity emerges inside. In that space is complete non-identification, just serenity, pure perception, yet cognitive; it is cognizance, but beyond thought.
In any stage of that process of trying to approach the door of Samadhi, we can become identified. We may become identified with a pain in our leg, an itch, being tired, or the desire for Samadhi. This is a huge obstacle. The desire to escape the body, the desire to talk to an angel or a Master can become an obstacle. We may become identified with the desire to impress other students or our instructor, to look like we know how to meditate.
In every case, from moment to moment, with patience and continual serenity, we have to extract the consciousness, to not identify. This is not an easy task. What it requires is to simply be attentive.
At some moment, unexpecedtly, when we are completely empty, open, relaxed, and attentive, we suddenly realize that we are awake in the internal worlds and having an experience of Samadhi. Normally, the very first time it happens we become so excited that it ends immediately and we are shoved back into the body. Then we feel a mixture of excitement and disappointment and we become really identified with that, and then we cannot recover that experience for a long time [laughter]. It takes a lot of psychological equilibrium to have those experiences and not to become identified with them. Therefore, I will give you the first, most important crucial and important clue: do not talk about your experiences with others! That urge to talk about it will you get you identified very fast, and then you will be stuck again.
Audience: Do we need to go into ourselves in order to discover why we have that urge to discuss those experiences?
Instructor: When I say do not talk about it, I am primarily referring to the conscious experience that we have, to our realization; even if that realization is physical. Even if we realize that the body is impermanent and that we are impermanent. In a lot of cases, we want to talk about it in situations that are not appropriate, where someone else cannot understand us so we end up creating a conflict or we build our own pride. I am not saying that you should not talk about your feelings or how you feel about things. There is value in the Sangha, in the community, in relating with each other and supporting each other and discussing. This is an important part of having a spiritual community and having a family as well. Yet, you have to learn how to discriminate. Learn to listen to how your real self will guide you through intuition. That is something that I hoped to address in the lecture today, which is part of discrimination: learning how to discriminate the impulses that we feel in our actions. Part of the reason we need to always be watching our three brains is to discriminate those impulses. We feel impulses to act in certain ways, we feel certain impulses to feel and think in certain ways. We need to question them all. There is a distinct difference between impulses that come from our real Being and those that come from the ego. Sometimes that flavor is very subtle. That takes experience; there is no other solution for that other than experience.
Instructor: I would recommend that you read the works of Samael Aun Weor. All of this is synthesized in his work. If you meditate on what you read, you will come to understand that. Sometimes, what we do for lectures is take a given section of his work and expand on it. We illustrate it from the traditions that we draw from. This is an example of that. The teaching of the skandhas is universally taught in Buddhism and was well understood by Samael Aun Weor. He synthesized it by simply saying aggregates, the psychological aggregates. Most of us read that and think he means the egos, but we have to look deeper, what does that mean? What is an ego and how does it work?
When you investigate Buddhism, you will find that Buddhism teaches the five skandhas. Some students have become confused, not being able to see the relationship between skandhas, as traditionally taught, and aggregates as taught in Gnosticism. My hope was in these two lectures to explain the relationship. To me, it is clear. It is deep, there is a lot of depth to it and we could have gone a lot deeper. In reality, this is something we have to acquire for ourselves. Outside of the works of the Master and Buddhism, I would refer you to all the great scriptures. All this knowledge is within all of them.
Instructor: The question is about not getting stuck in the breath or labeling. Well, do not do that practice. If you are getting stuck labeling what arises in your mind, do not label them. If you feel you are getting stuck labeling the breath, then do not do that anymore.
The whole exercise of meditation is a exercise of consciousness; it is not mechanical. In some traditions, people have the very mistaken idea that if you repeat a certain mantra 100,000 times, then you will reach Samadhi. There are a lot of teachers who teach that way. This is false. There is no mechanical way to activate consciousness. It is done by will, by using it, and learning how it works. You will learn how it works by working with it. If you just sit to meditate and it becomes a mechanical, repetitive practice, then you are not going anywhere.
Any practice from this tradition can awaken your consciousness if you use it consciously. The practice that I described earlier, that Master Samael taught, of identifying, analyzing each body and gradually extracting ourselves from it, you can use that now. Start looking closely at your physical body. If you do this as a meditation, it can lead you straight to Samadhi. Even the first time you use it, as long as you do it consciously. This is the whole point.
You can access Samadhi without any technique at all, if you know how to use your consciousness. This is the basis of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. It is to awaken without technique. It is to enter Samadhi purely by conscious awakening.
You have to teach yourself to meditate. It is hard to teach yourself, yet this is how it is. This is why we study the books, scriptures and practices. Each one teaches us details that we learn, but there is no mechanical way, so watch yourself very carefully. When you see yourself becoming mechanical and repetitive, change what you are doing. Change it! It doesn't have to be a big dramatic change, just become conscious.
Audience: Can sounds around us become obstacles when we meditate?
Instructor: The truth is, anything can be a obstacle. At the same time, anything can be a support; it can help us. If you study any traditional writing of Tantra, one of the main things that is emphasized, particularly the higher schools, the practitioner learns to take advantage of everything and learn how to use it. To some, this sounds very dangerous. Some people do use it in the wrong way and turn that into black magic. As an example: let us say you are meditating and there is a jack hammer making a lot of noise next door. Most of us would be very irritated by that and would just stop; we would get frustrated and give up. Yet, some people will use that sound as a mantra and begin to meditate in that sound and use that sound. Eveb better, going deeper than that, some people will use their frustration with the sound as a technique. This is tantric. Such a person will meditate on their frustration. Iin that frustration there is a doorway to Samadhi because in that anger there is consciousness. When you can connect to that, you can connect right into the heart of that anger and see what caused it. What it is made of, where it came from. You can comprehend it, you can realize it, you can destroy it. Most of us do not do that; most of the time we just get frustrated and walk away.
Instructor: This is a big problem in many schools of mysticism and that is when any kind of experience arises, the person will label that and think that they have understood it. As an example: if the jack hammer goes off and we become frustrated and angry, the person thinks "Ah that's anger, that's anger, that's anger, that's my anger. Ok, I've seen my anger, now I know I have anger. Ok, I have anger," and that's it, and they do not go any deeper. There is no comprehension in this, it is just labeling. Putting a label on something does not change it.
To comprehend anger is to penetrate into that anger and to see when you made it, how you made it, how it acts, behaves, feeds itself, manipulates you and utilizes you. What body did you created it in? In what lifetime did you create it? How much energy does it take away from you every day? When you can understand those things, than you have comprehended it, but more than that, you comprehend it entirely when you are not angry anymore. When that jack hammer goes off and you feel no anger, then the ego is not there.