“Who am I?” or “What am I?” are questions that have perplexed humanity since the beginning of modern times. From the great philosophers, to the ancient sages and the common person, mankind has invested limitless time pondering these questions. And yet, one challenge to finding the answers this is the mind itself – it’s our human nature to be inquisitive, and the mind can often override our ability to “let it be”. While we are hesitant to put the brakes on our spinning wheels and relinquish mental control, the very answer to this age-old contemplation may lie in allowing the questions to dissolve rather than be solved. In other words, be courteous and get out of your own way.
What a beautiful, rewarding process personal transformation can be if we surrender our conditioned beliefs and open the door to attuning our many spiritual layers. It takes work, but it can be the most rewarding work you can do. Glad.is was enlightened by the message of Dr. Ravi Ravindra in recognizing and transforming these layers, and hope it influences your thinking patterns likewise:
Aligning to the Divinity Within
By: Dr. Ravi Ravindra
All great teachers have said that human beings do not live the way they should, and the way they could. In a Christian context we would find suggestions that in general human beings live in sin, but that they could live in the grace of God; in a Buddhist context the suggestion is that we live as if asleep, but we could wake up. This is what the Buddha did. In fact the very word ‘buddha’ means ‘one who is awake.’
Similarly, in other traditions there are ways of indicating the gap between the way we live and the way we could. To live rightly needs education, teriqua, transformation; this in turn needs a discipline, a spiritual path, a yoga. Science is interested in discovering the way it is; spiritual traditions can hardly ignore the way it is, but they are more interested in assisting an aspirant to discover the way it could be. This requires a radical transformation of a person’s entire being—mind, body and heart.
Why is transformation needed? When we look at ourselves without self‑pity and self‑justification, we find ourselves conflicted, doing things which we do not want to do, and saying what we do not want to say. Why do we do wrong, even against our own better judgment? Simply because we are self-centered and self-occupied. Being full of ourselves, we don’t let Truth or God or Reality guide or run our life. There is a simple Hasidic saying, “There is no room in him for a God who is full of himself.”
If we become aware of the strong forces which keep us away from the Real, a deep-seated part in us, a particle of Divinity, wishes to be free of these constricting forces. Within each human being there is an element oriented to the Truth, to God or to Brahman. There is a force of attraction resulting from a vision of something sublime or an experience of true love, beauty or harmony. We begin to sense the truth of the universal testimony of all the sages in the history of humanity that the entire space is permeated with subtle and conscious energies—variously called the Holy Spirit, Allah, Brahman, the Buddha Mind, or simply the One or That—and we wish to be in touch with that all pervading Reality. We can be more and more convinced that transformation is needed in order to realize what the sages have attested from their experience as the Truth. Practice is needed in order to prepare one’s whole being—body, mind and heart—so that one can be in contact with the Holy Spirit.
We cannot create this subtle Reality, but we can become receptive to it. This demands a lot of preparation and sacrificing of what one is attached to and ultimately of me-me-me. And it is important to note that all spiritual disciplines aim at freedom not for myself but from myself. This freedom from oneself is sometimes described in stronger terms of “dying to oneself” in the ancient texts.
There are many obstacles (kleshas) to transformation. The most important one being ignorance (avidyÅ), primarily of our true nature and of our relationship with the cosmos. It is because of this deep-seated ignorance that we take the transient parts of ourselves—such as the body and the mind—for what is said by all the sages to be eternal, namely the spirit. If we begin to see more and more subtly, we begin to realize that human beings are the organs of perception of the cosmos. As is remembered in the Islamic tradition that “Allah said, ‘I was a hidden treasure and wished to be known. Therefore, I created man.’”
Human beings have a special calling. They can be not only organs of perception in the cosmos but also instruments of right action. With more and more spiritual development, they can invoke the help of higher levels within themselves as well as outside—the devas, angels, God—and fulfill their proper role, remembering that without God it cannot be done; without human beings it will not be done.
It is important for us not to fix an image of God, as is sometimes necessitated for the purposes of culture and of visual arts—as we can see in the painting of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, ironically in the citadel of a tradition committed to struggle against making graven images of God. It is, of course, easier to be against other peoples’ images than our own. This is why a continual turning to an impartial self-knowledge is the sine qua non of any serious spiritual discipline. As Christ said, “The Kingdom is inside you, and it is outside you. ” (Gospel of Thomas II,2:3).
Ultimately we return again and again to the Great Mystery ‘What am I?’ Ko’ham? Unlike scientific mysteries, real spiritual mysteries cannot be solved even in principle, but by a steady practice of contemplation the mind and the heart can soar to another level of insight and love where the mystery is dissolved. Then one does not deny it or reject it and is not frightened by it. One celebrates the Mystery in song or dance or poetry or philosophy or physics. However, the person has been transformed by the mystery, somewhat freed from oneself, and born of the Spirit.
Only thirteen days before his death, the celebrated poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote a short poem in Bengali, his native language, which in an English translation would read:
In the beginning of my life,
With the first rays of the rising sun,
I asked, ‘Who am I?’
Now at the end of my life,
With the last rays of the setting sun,
I ask, ‘Who am I?’
Dr. Ravindra’s spiritual search has led him to the teachings of J. Krishnamurti, G. I. Gurdjieff, Zen, Yoga, and a deep immersion in the mystical teachings of the Indian and Christian classical traditions. He is the author of several books on religion, science, mysticism, and spirituality.
See some of Dr. Ravindra’s Retreats listed in our Retreats calendar.
[Editors Note: This article was originally featured on FeatheredPipe.com – a Glad.is featured retreat destination!]:
Get deep. How do you prepare yourself for personal transformation? (Share the great books you have read or practices you’ve adopted!)