last revision: 25 September 2023
This is the second half of the fourth section.
If you haven't read the first half, you may like to read that first:
or start from the very first section:
As we have seen already, the center and the borders of the self are perpetually shifting and in a person’s ordinary waking consciousness, our sense of who we are can include not only our body, mind, and personality, but even possessions, other people, roles, group-memberships and whatever else we happen to identify with at a given moment. What we consider our self and where we locate our borders, can vary over a stunningly vast range. To make things more complicated, we tend to have, simultaneously, different identities on different levels. There is a deep identity that hardly changes, if at all: you are, at least in some strange way, the same person that you were when you were one year old, or even younger. There are other identities which change slowly, over long periods, like those related to your work, social position, close family, health, country, faith. And finally, there is a surface identity which cheerfully flips from one state to another in a fraction of a second, as when you are engrossed in a book, and a sudden sound or physical touch makes the center of your identity jump almost instantaneously from some imaginary reality in the mind towards the body. Both the average and the ideal location for the borders of the self differ not only between individuals but also between different knowledge systems and (sub)cultures.
The table in this section intends to give a quick, schematic overview of four different ways of conceptualising the self.
|That||(unreal or unimportant)|
|the inner and the outer are both part of the Self,
which is one with Brahman, the Self of the world
There are obvious limitations to such an overly simplistic, two-dimensional diagram. We are all different and while for most people their human relationships may be closer to themselves than physical things, there may be exceptions. For a devoted carpenter, for example, the wooden furniture he is working on may actually be nearer and dearer to his self than his immediate family. So for him, while he is working, the column indicating his physical reality should actually be to the left of the column indicating his social reality. What is more, the demarcations between different knowledge systems and aspects of reality are not as sharp as they are in this diagram. Even when groups are quite different from each other as a group, the individuals within those groups can still have every possible opinion and every possible characteristic. This is especially true when the groups are large and have existed over a long period of time. So, as long as we keep in mind that this diagram indicates at best some general tendencies and centres of gravity, we could then say the following:
In the philosophical and spiritual traditions of India, the situation is again quite different. Here the essential identity of the individual tends to be seen as a centre of pure consciousness, and not as an egoïc, social or physical organism at all. In other words, most spiritual traditions in India place the ideal borders of the self radically further inside, so much so, that the centre of identification becomes one with the Transcendent or, as in some forms of Buddhism, disappears altogether. In Table a2-3, we have distinguished two types of Indian spirituality, one exclusive, one integral.
As we have seen, what we consider inner and outer depends on our vantage point. As long as we don't think too much about it (and keep psychology and philosophy at a safe distance) things are relatively simple: inside means inside a person (whatever that may mean) and outside means belonging to that person's environment. So, when we say, "his ideas come from inside", we mean that he has thought them out himself, and when we say, "his ideas come from outside", we mean that he may have got them from his friends or social media.
However, as soon as different kinds of philosophy and psychology get involved, the situation becomes quickly more complex. For the rest of this discussion, we will consider only two different viewpoints: the perspective of mainstream psychology as based on the ordinary waking consciousness, and the perspective of integral psychology as based on the puruṣa-centered witness consciousness.
Figure a2-3. Inner and outer: A shift of perspective
Mainstream psychology is limited to the ordinary waking consciousness. From its perspective:
Integral psychology is based largely on the witness consciousness of the puruṣa. From its position, all that is known to someone in the ordinary waking consciousness is called outer, so:
1One of the most popular dictionaries of philosophy has no entry for consciousness, and there is a multi-volume encyclopedia of psychology that has no entry for "soul".
2One could say that as long as one identifies with a small and fragile biological creature in a big and threatening world one has to defend oneself, so one has to build solid walls around oneself. But if one identifies with one's eternal and immutable Self, there is no longer anything that needs to be defended or excluded. The reason there is suffering and imperfection in this otherwise(?) incredibly beautiful and well-made world, is that we have to develop into centers of conscious action that not only act in full harmony with the whole, but that are also as entirely free as the Divine is. To make such free yet perfect action possible, every last little crumb of our nature must be perfectly aligned with the whole of the manifest reality. This takes time and labour. More on this in the chapter on self-development.
3The manner in which the word "behaviour" is used in psychology, changed over time. In Classical Behaviourism, only non-verbal physical action was called "behaviour". Later, Cognitive Behaviourism added speech and writing as "cognitive behaviour". Throughout, behaviourist psychologists remained committed to being objective and did not study thoughts, feelings, volitions and sensations directly. Though they often discussed them as if they were real, they accepted as their raw data only their verbal descriptions (made by their subjects), non-verbal behaviour and physiological measurements. Accordingly, in Figure a2-3 the word "behaviour" indicates only that part of us that is directly observable from the outside. In the Appendix there is a short chapter on classical behaviourism and another one about the epistemological differences between the main schools of psychology.
4In Sanskrit, there are many terms for the Self in opposition to Nature. Sri Aurobindo has given a hyper compact description of the difference between Samkhya's strict division between puruṣa and prakṛti, which helps to detach oneself from one's activities in the world, and the intertwined essentials of Kahsmiri Shaivism's īśvara and śakti, which helps in developing a more engaged spiritual life. We'll discuss both in more detail in the chapters on self-development.