Monday, November 09, 2009

Reincarnation and the Problem of Evil: The Shadow WIthin Human Nature

Life within the conditional worlds, whether physical or subtle in nature, is founded up0n the basic dualism of the observer and the observed. The ego experiences itself as an observer, and the rest of the world, and all others, becomes the observed. As Nisargadatta points out, this introduces the principle of exclusion and projection: in reality there is only one universal consciousness, but whatever we do not identify with becomes projected outward as the universe of objects. What we exclude from ourselves becomes "other" to us, and lives as if independent of us, seemingly separate, and filled with its own awareness, desires, and impulses, which often seem to exclude us in turn.

Life within any particular world operates according to this principle, and this is what makes life in any world difficult and bewildering. However, the ordinary forms of life within the physical or spirit worlds is relatively uncomplicated in comparison to those of reincarnating spirits who live as a hybrid organism spanning both. Ordinary living things do not develop either a concept of evil, or habits that we could call evil. They certainly strive to survive, but they are not burdened with the extra complications of reincarnation, and thus they are not driven with the extra stress and ignorance inherent to that life to overcome its existential demands. They certainly desire to be free of the troubles of life and to commune with their own nature, but they do this, as Adi Da pointed out, in a very natural way. They simply find a place of safety and rest, and they "drop out". They relax deeply and fall into a natural forms of meditation without conceptual ideations, in part because they haven't got a high level of conceptual ability, but also for the even greater reason that they haven't got a functioning spiritual "soul" that feels uncomfortable and restless within the physical worlds.

Human beings have a very difficult time relaxing, compared with any other animal. Those who have pets such as dogs or cats know this well. We envy the ability of these animals we live with to simply relax and let go, to purr or sleep, while we remain tortured by thoughts and ambitions, fears and anxieties, concerns of all kinds, which keep us tense and overly active even when there is no apparent need to be. Animals become tense and anxious when they are threatened, or when they need to hunt for survival. Otherwise, they simply relax and stand "at ease". Humans, on the other hand, are always suffering some degree of tension and anxiety that seems part of our nature, and yet it's difficult to see how humans, as animals, could have evolved this disposition on their own, naturally. The explanations science has come up with for this have to do with our evolved brains and its higher capacities for intelligent, conceptual thought and imagination. However, this explanation does not seem entirely plausible. If we look at the animal world, those creatures which are the most intelligent do not seem to be more anxious than others who are less evolved. Bears, wolves, pigs, whales, dolphins, parrots, and so on, are not more anxious than less intelligent creatures like mice, pigeons, snakes or lizards. There does not appear to be anything in the natural evolutionary process which sacrifices psychological well-being in favor of some imaginative process that increases survival. To the contrary, in fact.

If human beings had evolved in a purely natural fashion, meaning without the factor of reincarnation modifying the results, we probably would have taken much longer to develop the kinds of conceptual capabilities we possess, but we would also be much more soundly adapted to them psychologically. It's not merely that there is something artificial about human reincarnation, and that it has put burdens on the physical organism that are unnatural to it -although that's definitely a factor - it's that the existential structure of reincarnation magnifies the dualisms already in place in physical and spiritual organisms, creating a much more deeply "divided" sense of consciousness. This division creates existential problems within our lives all the way up and down the line, and one of the primary divisions it creates is what is referred to in the psychological literature as "the shadow".

Freud's description of the unconscious created a concept by which we can understand that much of our own consciousness and its operating processes occur below the threshold of our conscious minds. We each have subconscious and unconscious processes in our psyches which we are not directly aware of, that nevertheless can control us to a significant degree. Freud's own theory of the unconscious postulated that these various hidden processes and functions were in reality rooted in the physiology of the body, the brain, and the nervous system, but that our understanding of these was too primitive to grasp the underlying biology of it all, and thus it could only be studied as it appeared in the psyche. Jung developed this concept of the unconscious in a different direction, postulating that many of the features of the psyche were not merely rooted in the individual's body-mind, but in an underlying structure of consciousness that he called the "collective unconsciousness". This collective unconsciousness manifested in our psyche in the form of universal archetypes, which functioned almost as autonomous self-conscious entities within us, competing for dominance and influence, which we as the ego, or the central conscious awareness, were constantly having to keep in check and make use of in an intelligent way. If we let these archetypal forces within us get out of control, they can wreck havoc in our psyche, cause all kinds of problems, and control our behaviors in ways that are often detrimental to us.

One of the central archetypes in Jung's system is the Shadow, which is a representation of the repressed and suppressed elements of the psyche which we cannot properly incorporate or integrate into our sense of self, and thus it operates as an unconscious entity within us, influencing and even controlling us from a place we cannot see. It is our "blind spot", and tends to cause us all kinds of troubles until we become conscious of it and are able to integrate it into ourselves properly. Until we do it, we tend to project this Shadow outward onto others, onto the world, even onto aspects of ourselves and our self-image that we are alienated from. We develop a sense of self and others that is "dark", even evil, and yet we are unaware of the origins of this sense of evil. Instead, it becomes a deep mystery to us, and we end up pointing the finger at others, as if it comes from them, although a part of us fears that we, too, have evil in us.

A proper understanding of the process of reincarnation sheds a great deal of life on the human problem of evil, using and explaining both the Freudian and Jungian views. Freud's notion that these psychological processes are rooted in physiology are quite true, and yet the real structure of our own physiology is largely unknown to us, since it is rooted in the spirit dimension of our psyche, which is where we actually live and function from. The human body and nervous system are simply one aspect of a larger organic system that is subtle in nature, but which we are not commonly consciously aware of. This unconsciousness of our own spiritual nature is what creates the primary forms of the Shadow in our psyche. And likewise, the fundamental nature of spirit is collective, inter-connected, and universal, which the physical organism is not, at least not in anything like the way that spirit is. Thus, our "collective unconsciousness" as Jung called it is actually a physiological feature of our greater organic body-complex, linked to our physical body through the network of subtle connections that make up our deeper self.

This larger network creates a far greater sense of tension and separation within the human psyche than any merely physical or spirit entity would experience. As mentioned, even spirit or physical beings experience an existential sense of separation, of a difference between the observing consciousness and the observed world. And yet for such creatures this difference is relatively simple, and coping with it occurs rather naturally. Such creatures are, when not feeling directly threatened, largely able to simply relax and feel something of their deeper nature, the very nature of nature, without complication. However, there are limitations to this easeful simplicity: these creatures are not easily able to see themselves, since they are not able to gain a perspective outside themselves that allows for that kind of discriminative view to develop. They simply feel themselves to be what they appear to be, whether it is physical or spiritual in nature. Which is why some spirits choose the process of reincarnation. They find that in becoming human, in identifying with a material organism in a material world, that a great capacity for self-knowledge, self-reflection, and self-understanding develops. The drawback to this is the tension and anxiety and very difficult psychic life this implies for the reincarnational entity.

Human life, therefore, is very much a "play within a play", the purpose of which is to "catch the conscience of the King", as Hamlet described it. In this sense our conscience is greater than a mere moral sense of right and wrong, it is a deeper spiritual sense of self-awareness, stimulated in us by the conscious choices we make as spiritual beings in human form (Hamlet's father, the Ghost, is the spirit-self speaking to Hamlet, trying to motivate him to greater self-awareness and self-understanding). The structure of reincarnation creates a play within the physical worlds that seems all to real to us, and yet it is bounded on all sides by the unknowable boundaries of outer birth and death, and within us of our own shadows and archetypal structures of the psyche. Within that structure of awareness, our sense of not knowing ourselves is magnified, since not only to we suffer from the basic unknowability of the observing consciousness, and of what we observe, but of even our own spiritual selves, which we feel to be apart form the physical world because it actually is. This creates "shadows within the shadows" of our own psyche, so to speak. And it is these shadows with the shadows that give rise to the problem of evil that we identify within ourselves and project upon the world.

This problem is not merely a conceptual or psychic one, we must keep in mind, but has its roots in the organic processes involved in reincarnation itself. There are three aspects to this, one being the difficulty in developing a full and healthy interconnected interface between the spirit and the physical bodies, the second being that of responsibly taking control of that connection from the spiritual side of our being, and the third part is one of becoming directly conscious of this entire process without creating illusory reflections within our own minds and bodies. If we look at the common examples of what is generally called "evil" in our world, they fit into one or more of these categories.

The most common and in some ways the simplest forms of evil we encounter are the result of "disorientation", one might call it. An individual simply fails to orient themselves properly in their psycho-spiritual life. They fail to grow the full set of healthy connections to the physical body that would enable them to relate to it properly. These individuals are simply "undeveloped" in the most basic sense, and the sometimes act in terrible ways as a result. These include many of the mentally ill, sociopaths, common criminals, and people of limited psychological capacity who simply "get out of control". They are out of control simply because they have not yet developed the full neural spiritual connections that would enable them to control the physical body and brain. It eludes them, and they struggle with fairly basic human problems as a result. In some cases, this means that the physical organism literally begins to act on its own, doing things that make no sense, because it is not receiving the proper controlling influences from the spirit realms, and it develops strange unconscious drives that it cannot comprehend or deal with. The organism would normally never be confronted with such drives if it were not a reincarnational vehicle, but even worse, the evolutionary adaptations that have developed in the physical vehicle to make reincarnation possible also leave it unable to function normally without the responsible input form our spiritual selves, and without that input, it can fall into extremes of dysfunction. In some cases, the "faulty wiring" between the spirit and the physical bodies can create truly disturbed and even "diabolical" results. We find the worst examples of such failings in depraved killers, rapists, criminals, sociopaths, drug users, alcoholics, etc. These people simply allow the physical body to get out of control, and when it does so, the burdens of reincarnation create aberated psychic patterns that would not normally exist in these organisms. Not having conscious control of the body, it becomes taken over by our shadow, the dark dimension behind the reflected self that is created in the process of reincarnation.

A second kind of evil comes into being in people who are more organized and developed in their psychic connections, but are deeply controlled by the existential anxiety of the reincarnational self, and rather than be responsibly aware if this anxiety on an internal level, they constantly project it onto others, and the world, and create a universe in which they are constantly battling with others, competing with others, in an attempt to solve the existential problem of the reincarnational self and its shadow, its lack of awareness of its own spiritual self. Such people even develop immense cosmological notions about the universe as a battle between the force of "good and evil", and of course see themselves as the good, and project the evil onto their enemies. This is probably the most persistant and problematic manifestation of the reincarnational shadow, as most of the organized strife in the world centers upon this problem. Warfare, economic exploitation, environmental degradation, even much of our chronic disease comes from this form of "evil", which is really just the result of a failure to internalize and becoming aware of our shadow.

Most of the psychological therapies people engage in are forms of what is sometimes called "shadow work", which involves becoming aware of one's shadow, and not projecting it onto others, but instead working with it internally. This has many very valid aspects to it, but unless it results in a spiritual understanding of our reincarnational situation, it can't fully succeed. Reincarnation creates an internal shadow in our awareness that is not resolved unless light is brought to the entire reincarnational process, which means that we have to become aware of our own basic situation as spirits attached to physical bodies. If we don't, we can't fully conquer the potentials for evil in us.

A third kind of "evil" can thus be created in more developed individuals who are unable to recognize this shadow of the existential reincarnational self as being a part of our shared collective unconscious. This kind of evil is something we are more commonly aware of in ourselves, and it is also far more pernicious when it takes us over, because it is not nearly as crude and obvious in most cases. This is our common, psychological shadow, that even relatively healthy, intelligent "good" people project onto the ordinary world around them. It creates and organizes a moral universe around the self, and yet it does not recognize that universe as a reflection of its own structure of mind, but sees it as in independent structure of forces and entities that must be analyzed, understood, and controlled from the perspective of the born individual - meaning, the body and mind as physical mechanisms. This is the "scientific" and secular viewpoint of the modern world, including that of modern psychology, and while it represents an attempt to be responsible within our world as it appears, it has its own shadow that it cannot evade or escape, which is the spiritual self itself. That spiritual self, when relegated to the shadows, emerges as a counterforce that creates endless conflict and dissension within not just ourselves, but our entire world of relationships here on earth. It also creates disturbances and weaknesses in our links to the physical world, and interodruces chronic patterns of behavior and conceptual illusions that are very hard to undo, but end up reinforcing themselves. One of those illusions is the existence of metaphysical evil itself, as well as all kinds of metaphysical ideations that have no genuine correspondence to metaphysical reality, but are the products of our own "shadow". The apparent fact of evil in the world only reinforces the notion that metaphysical evil exists "out there". However, even getting past this by ridding oneself of all metaphysical notions doesn't solve the problem, but only exacerbates it, because it continues to suppress the basic facts of our reincarnational existence, thus further adding to the shadow we experience in our lives.

Past-life therapies such as those offered by Newton and Weiss work in large part merely by helping people to become aware of the structure and source of their unconscious patterns and conflicts. This kind of knowledge does not necessarily solve these problems in themselves, it merely enables us to work with them consciously, aware of their basic nature, and this more than anything relieves us of much of the existential difficulty that arises in the course of our lives. Greater awareness of our own nature helps us restructure our psyche in ways that are both healthy and realistic, no longer oriented towards metaphysical illusions, or requiring us to reject metaphysics entirely, but recognizing our actual situation in this world and the unique challenges we face as human beings. The simple fact is that greater awareness is the single most important aspect of psychic and psychological healing, and if we are not getting better, it is often because we are not aware of the reality of our own lives. There's a school of secular psychology and philosophy which prides itself on being highly "knowing" of oneself, and yet deeply unhappy still, as if greater knowing about ourselves will lead to a greater sense of suffering. This simply isn't true, but is a symptom once again of the Shadow created by both the reincarnational self and our ignorance of it. If we gain direct knowledge of our self by the direct observation of ourselves, this kind of existential conflict without our "dark side" begins to evaporate.

The problem of evil, therefore, is metaphysical only in the sense that it is a reflection of the metaphysical connection between the spirit and the physical body. This is not inevitable, but is merely a stage in our growth as human spirits. It occurs as a result of ignorance of our deeper structure, and it is eliminated as we become more deeply aware of that structure. Evil is therefore a spiritual problem, to be solved by spiritual means, not secular ones. As we develop as spirits, we begin to see that evil is simply a form of undeveloped self-awareness, limited and suppressed by the existential constraints of the reincarnating self. This is not even a "mistake" in any greater sense of the word, in that this is part and parcel of the reason we incarnate as humans in the first place - to face these kinds of extreme challenges that aren't present outside the context of reincarnation. These extreme challenges take the ordinary dualities of conditional existence and magnify them even further, creating dualities within duality, almost ad infinitum, and thus forcing us to face the problem of duality itself and all of its ramifications in spiritual and existential terms. The purpose of that is not to create and tension-free human life of paradaisical nature. It is to create a dynamic school for spirits to gain greater self-knowledge about themselves through dramatic confrontation with the kinds of shadows which incarnation brings about, until they are resolved in our psyche.

1 comment:

Glenn said...

Your words in all your recent blogs are encouraging, like nutrients nutrients for my soul.