The previous part brought us midway through the Yoga perspective to the self of man; the Vedic layout is cosmic and a lot vaster in comparison. The discussion is now poised around three entities : the transcendent self-pure, the individual self infused in the mind and the intellect, and the Mother Substratum on which the whole of the internal phenomena rests.
The Substratum preloads the self with its individuated identity anchored to a body and a name, alogwith its characterstic long term nature the man is destined to better or worsen through his choices and actions. Each of the subtle subjective domains — mind and vitality — supply their respective existential qualifying adjuncts to the individual self to deal with its daily saga of biological, community and situational specificities.
The individuation starts at the mother memory ground — the Substratum — that provides the “I” with its primordial sense of being separate, solitary and fearful, before it is covered with its remembered inseparable associations : a body to extend over, limbs to move and do with, senses to peer out at its location and surroundings, and a name to announce itself as someone particular. Cognition of objects in the environment follows, of people and things, establishing either familiarity to add further bonds and identity layers or this strangenesss that deepens awareness of dark emptiness in oneself. The knowledge and ignorance of objects directly manifests in how one feels, thinks and has an idea of oneself.
Passing through pre-existing inner but grosser domains, the individual self becomes curious in the intellect, doubtful in the mind, and practically saves itself by the strength it senses of its own vitality, unifying it with the body. The self is soon filled with recall of its abilities and skills and is ready to resume life from where it had left before. It is thence the particular body-mind-vital self in itself but one among many around it. It desires more prominence to itself than that unhappy anonymity.
Most 21st Century State constitutions guarantee the individual’s right to life and freedom to be and do, unless it infringes upon that of others. But such guarantees remain far and hazy compared to the intense drama playing out closer home. Hovering between known and unknown, pushed and thwarted, the existential self struggles and barely steadies itself by that illusion of familiar identities, relatedness and relationships, and anchors itself to those few certainties then in its belief. Desiring to build upon it, the self senses for itself a real opportunity to life, to exercise its freedom in order to strengthen and make itself both more viable and valuable. The mind streams the threats of failure to do so, to vigorous nods of vitality and the Body-I.
The world thus looms over each man’s ambition. It introduces stress into his happiness and wants in his joy. He wills for freedom and justice but what he must have is this esteem, a powerful identity that would be real to himself, reflecting off recognition by others. Through the strife, he has his loves and likes but is never far from his revulsions and hatred. His role, assigned and contracted, is bound and defined and he must deliver on its terms in order to deserve his happiness.
The existential game becomes serious at the cost of our self-awareness of our source and true identity as the unindividuated self-pure. During the individuation process, the latter fills the causal adjunct already arisen out of the Substratum and is reduced to being the “formed” individual self. Through acquiring layered identities, all evidence of this spiritual root of man is covered and the primordial individuating process is curtained. The primordial causal content of the individual being is thenceforth veiled thick and buried deep with the pitch of forgetfulness.
The Substratum, memory mother ground of consciousness, is the black hole singularity to the existential self, at which the featuring of the self is complete as it were. It is thence stuck with its identity and nature, rooted deep in habit and thought. Its compulsive object orientation, through the senses, only deepens the identity and nature even further. They are reinforced every time the existential self heeds its vital surges, wields the will, directs its limbs, and concerns itself with its relatedness with things and its relationships with people.
Once the self has gone on enough with life’s web of cyclicities, it turns away to rest by itself. It dreams all by itself, in its mind, with projections from inputs impressed on the memory ground, more recent ones mostly and occasionally from ancient ones filed in deeper layers. It rests blissful during deep sleep, unconditioned, in a state of total inertia and ignorance. Away, in the meanwhile, its subtle and gross adjuncts heal up their wear and tear from having to bear the masked self, its thought and will, whims and caprices, emotions and drives. The self then arises into a buffer dream before waking up to its gross world.
The self alternates between the two great shores where the spirit meets the material world at its one edge and with the bliss-self-pure at the other. Sooner or later, as years and decades pass by, the self realises that there is no escape from the burden of individuation, the cyclic returns to same life encounters, the memory of events in past that push forward the identity-locked self, and from this anticipation of events crowdlined in the future.
The feverish rapidity of internal happenings, involving the self trapped in this river of life, consumes every bit of its breath and attention. Life inundates it with day-to-day hurries across roles, situations, dualities and all things in between its extremes : small and big, rich and poor, high and low, light and dark, said and unsaid, strong and weak, health and illness, sober and drunk, hunger and satisfaction.
Hunger is what the self inevitably returns to, for food and sex, money and power, love, society and companionship, and rest. It is hunger that defines this phenomenal perpetuity called life, long or short. There is no exit from hunger for the existential self of animal or man.
Encounters with death of loved ones and excruciating experiences of separation fill the self with pervasive chasm, fearful and abysmal, and with that excessive sense of irredeemable loss. For a time, such experiences render identities meaningless and relationships miserable. One then lives with questions that have no answers.
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The Vedas are a compilation of utterances of seer selves, from hoary times in prehistory to later eras over succeeding millennia, who systematically transcended the individuating and featuring adjuncts to their being. At the end, they merged in their own Truth Value in Unconditioned Universal Being (Existence), Undifferentiated Infinite Bliss and Absolutely Unattached Witness Self. The all-subsuming experience, the Vedas inform, is of one homogeneous fullness, complete and timeless, wholly without object and feature, memory or mind.
Whilst the experience is both immediately direct and absolutely overwhelming, it also completely transforms the life perspective, values and belief system, sense or meanings the individual self has of itself, of object beings and things, and of the universe. It quenches all curiosity, completely removes all fear, want and will, and this inevitable relatedness and conditioning automatic to the individual being. The only memory on the Substratum, which the realised self identifies with, is that of its experience of its own Supreme Truth : the Self Infinite.
Those earliest of Vedic seers, who came back thus transformed, made it their lifelong vocation (not profession) to revisit that transcendent Truth as frequently as they could in order to describe as accurately as possible that indescribable experience of the Supreme or True Being common to entire creation and to discover those cosmogonical principles that connect the observed material effects with that First Cause. Later, we find the sages laying down systematic courses for others to individually pursue to regain their own ontological ultimate Truth Value, on one hand, and infusing coded practices to inculture entire communities into the reality of unmanifest universal spiritual root of all life everywhere. Practices were designed to engage all community individuals in contemporaneous generations.
The Vedas present a body of knowledge and practices that brought the individual to electable Vidya, which led individuals to becoming better, more free, collectively happier and aligned, as opposed to their naturally sensual object orientation marked by hunger and lust, quest for status and power, security for oneself regardless of others’ fears, passing pleasures that yielded to abiding pain, and massive reign of apathy or indifference.
The individual’s journey through reversal of orientation against the naturally programmed grain of its existential being is long, exhaustive and demanding. It generates much friction and heat, and despair; but every inch of success also adds a quantum to one’s personal capacity for seeded focus, strength of will, and self-control. It enabled the seers to suprahuman application, perhaps over millennia of unbroken tradition of bequeathed knowledge and skills, the way to negotiate within, and to self-enlighten. The Vedas themselves speak of it severally about those early sages and teachers; they recall, with unreserved gratitude and reverence, the earliest spiritual pioneers who discovered the “light” in the deepest recess of their own hearts, how it illumined their within and the world without, on one hand, and connected their selves with that boundlessly helpful consciousness which was cosmic in extent and universal in nature, on the other.
The output of these early Vedic seers, both at charting individual courses and at detailing coded community practices, was stupendous and astonishing. What we have of it today is less than one-tenth of the entire body of work compiled by Ved Vyas in 4th Millennium BC. Each of the four Vedas had more than one recension or school…
The 20th Century Yogi Exemplar Sri Aurobindo says, “The Veda is the creation of an early intuitive and symbolical mentality…” That is how it seems ten millennia later. Indisputably, in its own setting in time, it would have been elitist for long as a band of yogis would have attempted to bring the heavens on to earth, constantly innovating to organise human life in its light, establish immortality of the soul in the face of daily death, and anchor existence to its abiding truth value amidst experience of its certain transience. It would have been impossible without an intuitive schema with universal appeal or symbols that shone bright enough in common awareness to keep people from going too far astray.
In the next few parts we shall further explore the warp and woof of Vedic perspectival web that oozed the sacred and raised humans in the image of gods.