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History of the Self, Part I

The history of the United States partakes of the history of Europe. That is, the history of America cannot be isolated from European history. Even isolated locations and peoples have histories that have been impacted by broad events.

For example, I currently live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The history of New Mexico is not merely a part of the history of the United States (and thus Europe), but it is also a product of the history of the entire Western hemisphere. Likewise the history of Albuquerque is also a part of the history of the world. Taking this idea a step further in both directions, the history of my person partakes of universal history, not only of this planet but also of the human race. The history of the self, ultimately, is the chronicle of the existence. Every individual’s history, with a broad enough identity, is cosmic.

If someone asked you to share your past, you might not consciously relate events that reference American, Western, or Chinese (let alone cosmic) history, but at the same time your person is bound to the history of all peoples. Every society inherits the challenges of it’s past, and every member of society must face these challenges. The manners in which we face them inform classifications between us. Where the manner in which we face challenges is incomplete or short sighted, the classifications inevitably reflect divisiveness.

Trace Western civilization back fifteen hundred years to the dying Hellenistic world, which was facing the challenges of its history. Thriving throughout the descending Dark Ages, its deathblow came with the Hannibalic War. Western society adopted Christianity in response to those challenges. By doing so, the West dramatically differentiated and divided itself from the rest of the world. Literally embracing the fictional drama of the Passion under Constantine was a poor response to the challenges of history. While under the leadership of such great leaders as Marcus Aurelius, however, Christianity was as much a consideration of a more robust society as were the "barbarian" hordes.

As that society degenerated and weakened, Christianity became stronger. The “solution” of Christianity, therefore, was not merely a response to a challenge but might also be described as an infection gaining strength in a dying body. The dogmatic world-denying beliefs of Christianity (such as the Perousia, or immanent return of the Jesus persona widely supposed by humans who believed in his first coming), like a virus, could not find a host in the strong Hellenistic world, but as the society's immunity dropped, Christianity spread.

The embracement of the belief in a Second Coming among Evangelists and other Christian denominations similarly reflect a poor response to the challenges of our history.

When individuals join an organized religion in answer to the challenges of history, a process of narrowly defining the sense of self and excluding the individuated self from membership with a hundred other religions ensues. Both on the macro and microcosmic scales, the response to challenges of history that reflect the embrace of a narrow identity results in bowing out of the human race as a evolutionarily, if not spiritually, undifferentiated body.

This is the pervasive theme of the history of centralized religions, which is to say the history of unsuccessful responses to the challenges of the day. When the manner of facing a challenge does not admit that the history of the individual is the history of the cosmos, and instead admits only a narrow history of a narrow identity with a puny ethnic monad, societal suicide, in one form or another, is the result.

Of course, Western society is not the only society guilty of such a reaction to the challenges of its history. Today, there are five societies in the world, none of which can be said to take part in the human race as one undifferentiated and united body, but instead contribute to its division. These societies are: Western Christianity, East Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Hindu Society, and East Asian Society, all embodying a blend of religious and philosophical trends.

Politics, like religion, is now a global phenomenon, harnessing economic might to maintain centralized power. The distance-overcoming technology Bronze Age led to the ability of one government of one nation to easily influence the politics of another. We are thus unable to cleanly isolate political power centers from each other. The same is true with economics. A century ago the term "global economy" held little meaning.

But religion, immersed as it is in culture, practically remains local despite the overarching nomenclature conventionally used. Though big party politics uses religion to further very worldly ambitions, including the ambition to centralized more power in fewer hands, religion as a trigger is usually deeper than politics. Its narrow ideology infects political and economic decision-making processes in directions that are largely in synch with the agendas of any centralized power – the obfuscation of scientific and rational principles through anti-intellectualism, materialism, and entertainment --

Imagine what that would be like: you are a citizen of a nation that will, in a few centuries, confess belief in a religion that to you is little more than a treasonous cult whose insane beliefs you hear stories of from time to time. Imagine America, in a few centuries, being comprised of largely Heaven's Gate followers who kill themselves at certain astronomical times in order to bodilessly board a spaceship orbiting Pluto. The late astronomer Carl Sagan called this an example of an entire civilization undergoing "some self-inflicted brain surgery."

Christianity is but one brand of beliefs that reacts to challenges with sectarian membership, unscientific principles, and pseudo-historical assumptions. Fundamentalism is on the rise because people are not squarely facing the challenges of their history. This is where mass causality affects us more than it should. On the individual and social levels, this indicates the presence of infirmity, even as the Hellenic world embraced the Christian solution only when it was on its knees.

There are some very important questions that the individual must ask if he is to understand the broader history of the self:

· What is your history, the history of your close family, country, religion, society, and race?

· Who and what forces sculpted this history?

· How did you determine your choices?

· With what challenges does your society face you?

· How are you answering these challenges?

· Are you allowing your society to answer for you?

· How much does any of this mean to you?

· What are you willing to do to be free from conditioned responses?

A sure way to fail to understand history is to project the parameters of the narrow self onto history. Around the turn of the twentieth century, there lived an astronomer named Percival Lowell, who, carrying the torch of the astronomical work of Schiaparelli, concluded after years of observation that Mars was inhabited by a highly sophisticated race of almost god-like beings who were responsible for building intricate canals that carried water from the polar ice cap to the Martian cities. Lowell was painfully aware of the skepticism of other astronomers, but he was dead sure of his findings and of their cosmic significance. When Lowell was eighty-four, however, a scientist by the name of Wallace applied his knowledge of Mars and at once determined that the flow of water on Mars is impossible. After half a lifetime spent on mapping those canals – canals that other astronomers with even better equipment (and later reconnaissance satellites that have since mapped the entire planet) never saw – this came as a devastating blow to Lowell.

Like most of us in projecting onto our past, Lowell created what he longed to see. In so doing, he exited the field of science and entered the realm of science fiction. He advanced science and the scope of human knowledge no further; instead, he machinated a cosmology that one could observe only by looking into his own head; but because it captured the public's imagination, it stuck for decades.

Astronomers will ideally resist bringing their biases, beliefs, and desires to the telescope. Certainly there have been Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, nontheist, and atheist astronomers, but the astronomer leaves religious beliefs behind. The same must be the case with historians.

Projecting his own preconceptions onto Martian geography as Lowell did is no different than projecting religiosity onto the world – past, present, and future – with our beliefs. Projecting is a pastime that seems to be contagious. A good scientist does not identify their findings with their religious beliefs because one has nothing to do with the other (unless their religion is purely to believe that knowledge and science are the way to understand the mind of God). The farther and more accurately astronomers observe outwardly, the less valuable is any racial or religious distinction.

The same holds true when looking within to determine the history of the self, which is eventually to know infinitude. Every religion that human beings have created is too narrow for the deep meditator who identifies with the entire cosmos. As a meditator looks more deeply within, it is less possible to distinguish themselves as belonging to one religion or one race. Only the superficial meditator will identify with a narrow religious paradigm. Behind such identification, more often the not, is the desire to promote an ism, a book, retreats, or paraphernalia to others.

Conventional scientists observe in an effort to understand, to gain knowledge. There is no room for bias or belief. The spiritual scientist looks within for the history of the self for the same reason, and again there is no room for bias or belief. An astronomer will gladly take the opportunity to use a more powerful telescope. He or she will not observe with the weaker one because it was built by his or her church or because it is the only one allowed by his or her belief system. This would limit the distance of observation. Similarly, the spiritual scientist will employ the best methods to look within. He or she will not allow the little ego to identify with and defend the lesser technique, teacher, or path and thus limit the depth of intuition.

Scientists, who deal with both the interior and external worlds will always need to ask these questions:

· What is knowledge?

· How is knowledge verified?

· What are the differences between knowledge and relative information?

· What are the differences between knowledge and speculation, knowledge and belief, knowledge and a philosophical system, knowledge and a working cosmology?

· How is knowledge acquired?

· What are the procedures to acquire the kind of knowledge that will remove astronomical ignorance, medical ignorance, and spiritual ignorance?

· How are these procedures different?

· Why are they different?

· To replace spiritual nescience with omniscience, what kind of knowledge is needed?

· How is this accomplished?

· Is the individual taking the steps necessary to acquire such knowledge?

· If not, why not?

One of the greatest blows Adi Sankara wrote in opposition to the various philosophies that he rejected was in writing the following: Outer ritual cannot destroy ignorance because the two are not mutually contradictory. Looking into your toilet will not contradict your ignorance of the solar system. Reading a book on astronomy will give you second-hand, if that, information on the solar system. Looking into the night sky will give you first-hand experience of the solar system and beyond. Looking with a powerful telescope will give you far more knowledge of the universe.

Similarly, looking anywhere or at anything with the mind, senses, thoughts, feelings, or heart will not contradict nescience. Intuition, which literally means to look within, is required. Looking within with a weak technique and restless mind will bestow limited knowledge. Looking within with a powerful method that stills the breath and heart bestows knowledge. Looking within switches off the senses and directs the freed energy to awakening the dormant cerebrum, the seat of intuition. With the cerebrum awakened, nescience, or ignorance, is replaced by omniscience.