Swami Rama told his students: I am a messenger, delivering the wisdom of the Himalayan sages of my tradition. My job is to introduce you to the teacher within.” (from Love Whispers)
The teacher within is who or what? If you look at your body, you see skin, stretched over a frame, a bag filled with bones, blood and fluids. If we ask a chemist, he will say you are so much iron, zinc, calcium, etc. And you will laugh, because you know that is not you.
When you look in the mirror of your past, and you see the child playing in the sand, the teenager going to school, having a crush on a school mate, you see how you became a secretary, a student, a mother, a husband, you became Mr. Average with a whole lot of psychological conditionings that you call memory and identify with. You might look at yourself in the mirror of your past and wonder, “is that me”? You’ll laugh with relief, because you know that, also, is not you.
Who is the One that laughs?
Who is the One that knows that you are neither your physical body, nor your psychological make-up (which is what we call personality)?
There is within you, a knowing, or we could say a knower. The Bhagavad Gita, talks of the knower of the field. This knower is also called the witness. It is that part of that consciousness that operates in you that some call the Spirit or the Soul and others call the voice of inner wisdom.
Absolute consciousness, what we call the Divine, is limiting itself in you, so as to function through your apparatus, your material body, and mind.
How to understand this?
If we go back to the beginning of existence, not your or my existence, but of the phenomenal universe, we can say that there was nothing, or better, no-thing. I am referring to what was there before the Big Bang, the explosion that split off the gases that cooled to make out poor planet. We can talk about it in Myth or in Science, it makes no difference.
In the very Beginning, there was the potential of a manifest world, that’s all we can say. This un-knowable, we call Brahman, or Tao or the Absolute Godhead. Let’s not get stuck on the word; it’s not important.
This indescribable Potential out of its own volition became two aspects/powers/forces: A cosmic intelligence, conscience, with knowing, i.e. consciousness and the energy/power to manifest.
If you prefer to talk the language of science we could say, at the beginning were electromagnetic waves that inherently expressed in/as symmetry and gravity.
Let’s stick to consciousness and energy!
To these two forces nothing has been added nor taken away; in Yoga-speak we call these two forces : Purusha and Prakriti.
Through interaction eventually they formed the manifest universe, including you and me.
We can understand it in analogy to churning milk: It gets churned and churned and eventually it becomes butter, a solid. Milk and butter are the same, yet different forms.
Now if that is so, then each part of the manifest world contains the original ingredients: consciousness and energy, knowing and acting.
That knowing, we call Divine consciousness. It is described as ever-free and unlimited, yet it contains all potential for the cosmic laws according to which Creation unfolds.
Consciousness as it appears in manifestation, in us, is hidden, like light is hidden under many lampshades or blankets, and we can’t see it.
We can observe that divine intelligence/consciousness in two modes and understand it in analogy with the Sun and its rays:
A ray of the sun is pure light, none other than sunlight,
yet it’s rays are only rays. Not the sun in its Totality.
By the power of this ray, we are aware, it allows us to “see” our body and our world.
We know the ray, but the sun?
In the Maitri Upanishad, the students ask their teacher:
“Since this body is like a chariot without consciousness, who is the Spirit who has the power to make it conscious? Who is the driver of the chariot?”
Prajapati, the teacher - answered:
“There is a Spirit who is amongst the things of this world and yet he is above the things of this world. He is clear and pure, in the peace of a void of vastness. He is beyond the life of the body and the mind, never-born, never-dying, everlasting, ever ONE in his own greatness. He is the Spirit whose power gives consciousness to the body: He is the driver of the chariot.”
And he explains:
“There are five subtle elements, tan-moues, and these are called elements. There are also five gross elements, maha bhutas, and these are also called elements. The union of these is called the human body. The human soul rules the body, but the immortal spiritual Soul is pure like a drop of water on a lotus leaf. The human soul is under the power of the three constituents and conditions of nature, and thus it falls into confusion. Because of this confusion the soul cannot become conscious of the God who dwells within and whose power gives us power to work. The soul is thus whirled along the rushing stream of muddy waters of the three conditions of nature, and becomes unsteady and wavering, filled with confusion and full of desires, lacking concentration and disturbed with pride. Whenever the soul has thoughts of "I" and "mine" it binds itself with its lower self, as a bird with the net of a snare.”
Two important points:
a. There appear to be two ways to talk of “the Soul”. That which we call the human soul, that rules the body, and that soul is by its association with the body is governed by the three conditions of nature, called the gunas. Hence it is conditioned. In Yoga-speak we refer to this human soul as jivatma. It has mastery over the body.
b. But within this conditioned "human soul” there is a core that is pure; The pure soul. That which is our swabhava, our pure being, without learnt behavior.
We could say: the Sun of all-knowing is limited in us to its ray, which we call the Atman.
Atman is the pure ray of the sun, shining brightly.
But think of a ray of sun shining through the polluted atmosphere of our industrial cities. It makes the ray itself seem diffuse and polluted, and its light dim. This polluted/conditioned ray, who’s light appears to us dimmed, we call jivatman.
The pollution is not of the nature of the ray, because the light only appears impure as it shines through the pollution.
The teacher in the Maitri Upanishad says: “He is hidden behind the veil of the three conditions and constituents of the universe, but in the joy of his law of righteousness he is ever ONE, he is ever ONE!”
Within the “house” of our material body, there lives the ONE. If we can get through the layer of pollution/conditioning, we find there a ray of pure light, pure knowing, pure consciousness, or what in yoga we call Purusha- from pur, the indweller, and usha (vash), the city.
In the city of our body lives the indweller, the knower, the witness, “the interior Master”. We call it the Atman.
In short, when there is conditioning, we talk about jivatman, and when there is no conditioning, just pure, consciousness, we talk of atman; yet they are the same.
The question arises whether it makes sense at all then to talk about a personal soul or jivatman. After all, the sunlight remains the same, whether it shines through clear air or polluted air, so can there be a personal soul, a limited version of the Absolute?
If we look at the Isha-Upanishad, it says,
“One is the outcome of the transcendent, and another is the outcome of the immanent”.
It’s as though we can’t see the Absolute divine splendor, because its hidden; it’s a riddle, that inner knowing is personal and is universal. How can it be?
Can there be a soul, a personal divine spark which is at the same time is the Absolute divine spark? The wisdom teachings say: A spark of fire is none other than Fire.
Soul then is none other than divine consciousness? The splendor of the sun is none other than the ray?
As the Isha Upanishad says: The divine radiance, “that Spirit far away within thee is my own inmost Spirit. “
The ONE divine consciousness appears to us as individual Spirit, because its surrounded by the pollution of our conditioning. Atman becomes jivatman when we, through identification with our body/ego (called ahamkara in yoga) get lost in the jungle of conditioning. Removing the conditioning, defining the core, we realize there is none other than purusha, consciousness, atman, or the “ray of the Absolute.
The process of diving deep through the conditioning, we call Meditation. “We call that, practicing of Silence” (Swami Veda Bharati)
When we leave the forms and our conditioning behind, we discover our our true being as the Absolute Atman.
Knowing this, we might consider where the light of your lamp goes if you switch off the bulb?
Electricity remains, or more scientifically, electromagnetic waves, that we call Electricity, remain. However the form of that electricity, its expression, changes. Some times it is latent, sometimes it has the form of the light in the light bulb. Sometimes the light-bulb is dim, sometimes there is no light. Yet electricity is there, and with every light switched on, appears as fresh light.
Electricity is one: There is a continuity of Electricity, but not of the form in which it expresses. The continuity is of Electricity, is the same as that of consciousness, as of the Knower;
it expresses however in many forms and often is hidden under layers of shades.
Now where has our exploration taken us?
Our inner wisdom, our inner teacher, witness, consciousness, knower, is continuous, is present in all, but it appears as individual as it expresses in and through individual forms. This means that the consciousness in me and you is the same! We share this “inner wisdom holder” yet s/he appears as though your inner wisdom is different from mine due to our different conditionings. Hence it appears that there are two different layers, yet really they only appear as two, because of the different “make up” that hides the true light.
We share that knower that illumines our world, that brings us from darkness to light, that brings us from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowing.
That knower, that Gu-Ru (bringer of light) is one principal, one consciousness, that works through and within all of us. Just like electricity works through all light-bulbs, heaters and fans.
“So the inner teacher” is the Guru principal within us!
Please note: Guru is not a person outside us. Guru is that ray of the absolute sun of consciousness. This interior Master is not a personal authority, limited to me. It’s not “my soul”. I can claim no ownership! The minute I do, I am referring to the light shining through the pollution, and not to the light itself.
The light of consciousness, that principal of all–knowing, the Supreme Teacher that lives within, is a power beyond, a principal permeating all of creation, like the sun that illumines all. It is that power of knowing, which is “the seeing behind all eyes”, which includes the “seeing behind my eyes”. It is Absolute Consciousness, self-existing, and it is Consciousness within me.
Two apparently contradicting truths.
It’s difficult for us to understand, because we are programmed to think in a certain way, just like a computer is programmed in a certain language. It boils down to the limitations, of the mind that we normally use, to understand.
Our thinking mind, manas in Yoga-speak, is limited to the programming we call memory or learning. It operates according to those patterns that we have been fed since childhood (and before).
In some cultures the mind is fed, educated, trained to think logical, analytical, linear and reasonable thoughts. In others culture the mind is fed/educated/trained to think cyclic, holistic and intuitive thoughts.
To really understand this, is to know that all our concepts, all our so called factual truth, all factual knowledge, all cherished traditions are learned. Learned through our own experience, and the teachings of society, religion or culture. They are personal imprints, learned, conditioned.
Earlier this year in Rishikesh, India, where our ashram is, there was a period of stifling grey warm weather. Weeks of still hot, stuffy air. Then one morning suddenly, the weather broke and a cool wind rose and fresh invigorating air suddenly flowed through valley. I ran out of the ashram, down to the River Ganga and danced on the bank, right down to the waters edge; swirling my arms in joy and exhilaration. Anyone seeing me, might have thought “there is a mad woman!”
Eventually some Indian people came by, they had their arms clasped tightly, scarves wrapped around them, sheltering their body from the cold wind, bent over, walking carefully and protectively. Then I realized the depth of what we call conditioning!
I, as a North European, loved the cold fresh wind. It made me ecstatic. At the same time people grown up in India along the Ganga feared the cold inhospitable winds.
Everything in our mind-field is conditioned. Every thought and reaction, feeling and perception is learned at some time or other. Everything about us is habitual reaction, even the way we think, and feel.
Understanding this, the students of the Kena Upanishad then asked:
“Who impels us to utter these words? Who is the Spirit behind the eye and the ear?”
And the Master answered:
“It is the ear of the ear, the eye of the eye, and the word of words, the mind of mind, and the life of life.”
And he continued:
“What cannot be spoken with words, but that whereby words are spoken: Know that alone to be Brahman, the Spirit;
What cannot be thought with the mind, but that whereby the mind can think: Know that alone to be Brahman, the Spirit;
What cannot be seen with the eye, but that whereby the eye can see: Know that alone to be Brahman, the Spirit;
What cannot be heard with the ear, but that whereby the ear can hear: Know that alone to be Brahman, the Spirit;
What cannot be indrawn with breath, but that whereby breath is indrawn: Know that alone to be Brahman, the Spirit.”
So when we talk about the “inner teacher” or Consciousness as the indweller of our existence, we talk about that power “by which the eye can see, the mind can understand”, and not the contents of what the eye sees, nor the interpretation of what the mind understands—including all our concepts and ideas of which we are so proud. All these are subjective and learned, yet the power behind these is the true Inner Teacher. And, saying that, is itself a concept coming from a conditioned, learned mind!
Mankind has always struggled to understanding the dual aspect of divinity is in us and yet beyond us. Divinity, purusha, Consciousness is unlimited, yet it is also consciousness in you and me. It means the source of all-knowing is in us. If only we can clean the dust off and purify the pollution that hides it.
Hence after dis-identification with the body comes also dis-identification with individual-soul. Using the concept of Soul or Spirit is really a way of explaining the otherwise in-explicable. Being human, we have to resort to concepts, to language, to descriptions to communicate.
Remember the Kena Upanishad: “What cannot be spoken with words, but that whereby words are spoken: Know that alone to be Brahman, the Spirit.”
So what lives in us, as the highest, most subtle power, that could be called “interior Master” or “inner wisdom”, is none other than Brahman, Purusha or….?
Now let our understanding go one step deeper, get even more subtle:
If inside us, the power behind the mind, is Brahman, the power to understand is Brahman, - or Purusha, or the Absolute Consciousness, then if we try to understand what these mean is,
Brahman is trying to understand Brahman.
Consciousness is there to become conscious of ITSELF.
The inner teacher is that very same power, that tries to understand the inner teacher.
Or in short, the inner wisdom teacher is contemplating itself.