Previous      Home      Contents      Next

Chapter 3 / parts 7 - 12

Workshop on Spirituality - Part 2
7   Five Sheaths 

   Knowing that I've been sick, people have been coming to me and asking me: "How are you? Are you better? Are you feeling OK?" They mean: "How is your body?" That is, the gross body. It is the densest of the sheaths or bodies. This physical body is the food sheath.

   The next sheath, finer than the previous one has to do with vitality, breath, energy. It is intangible, and yet it is still very perceptible by us. We can feel the energy. You know when something is filled with energy, when something is vital. In the work that I do as a homeopath, we are very keen to perceive the vital force. We are not so much interested in the physical symptoms, but we are very much interested to see if the vital force is strong. A strong vital force can mean strong symptoms; it can create a lot of suffering but it can also bring about a cure and a return to health. Whereas with a low vital force there may not be many symptoms, but the person is on his way out.

   In English we speak of the astral or etheric body. There are different terms used for this vital sheath. So this is also a body that we have. It is bigger than this physical body. It extends out. It has an aura. Those who can see auras will see this body as the health aura. It is still quite dense. It is also an illusory body.

The next sheath is the mental sheath. Now we are talking about something that is much bigger and much finer than energy. We are now speaking about information, about thought forms, about concepts and ideas. This is something much more powerful than the grosser forms of energy and matter, characterized by the previous two sheaths. That is the mind sheath. We are also the mind. It is one of our bodies. It is still in the realm of illusion.
   The next sheath i

s the intuitive faculty which has to do with the discriminating intelligence. In the Indian language it is called buddhi. It is usually translated as intelligence, but buddhi is not just intelligence, because it really doesn't have to do with the faculty of thinking. It is something closer to the heart. It has to do with intuitive perception, unmediated by memory and the thinking mind. It is the faculty of discrimination, with the answer given not by weighing alternatives but by immediate knowing. It is tuning in to all the databanks of the universal consciousness. It is that which knows why we have come, why we have incarnated.


8  The Two Paths

   According to Western thought we are on an evolutionary track. We are moving up from below. We see ourselves as moving towards a goal. Swami will also speak to us of that. The Western idea is that we have ascended from below. But there is another idea, which is strictly Eastern, and which Swami frequently speaks of, which is that we have descended from above. Recently, in one of his discourses, he said: "You are all avatars, you are all the divinity incarnated in human forms." He said the only difference between this avatar (pointing to himself), and these avatars, (pointing to the devotees) is a few extra powers.

   Yesterday, when we were reading Swami's interview, he was really giving us that point of view, the descent from above. That is also in the Gita, and in the 34 discourses that Swami gave in l984 on the Gita. At that time there was a great deal of political disturbance in South India. People were being shot only five miles from the ashram. It was a time of great turmoil and upheaval. The ashram gates were locked and those of us who were there, were locked in with Swami. Every evening in the temple, Swami gathered all the students together and gave these discourses on the Gita.

   In these discourses he chose to talk of two paths. One path is the one coming up from below and the other is the one coming down from above. And he showed us that we are on both paths. We need two feet with which to walk, one is the worship of the form, which speaks of the quest to reach the heights from below, and the other is the identification with the formless, which speaks of the boundless divinity which is our reality, and our descent into incarnation, from above. This is a very powerful teaching. It is the essence of all the teachings - the two paths, one from above and the other from below.

   We are used to coming up from below. It is the Western tradition. It is the idea of evolution which was propagated by Darwin in the middle of the 19th century. Darwin's work was limited to living organisms. But now, in the last thirty years or so, the evolutionary theory has been expanded to include just about everything that science knows. The big bang was the first evolutionary production.

First there was energy and then the simplest forms of matter, the subatomic particles. They formed simple hydrogen and simple helium. From these all the other chemical elements arose, as matter formed into stars and galaxies; finally the solar system with its 92 odd elements came into being. We're speaking here of the Western idea of the elements. There is no conflict between this Western idea and the Indian idea of the five elements. The five Indian elements refer not to the chemical composition of matter but to the five states of matter: space is the vacuum, air is the gaseous state, fire is the plasma state, water is the liquid state, and earth is the solid state. These are all the states that we find in the universe.

   In the Wetern idea we have the chemical elements. All of these had to be produced in stars and then exploded out into space, where some would eventually be gathered up to form the solar system, including the earth. And then on the earth, in time, life came in very simple forms: first, as simple one-celled organisms, as bacteria, and then as simple plants. Finally, animals came along.

We have been talking of these sheaths. The food sheath is the mineral or chemical stage. Later evolved the first life and the plant stage, the vital sheath. When evolution went on to the animal stage, when a nervous system developed, then we had the mental sheath. Later came man. Man is associated with the intuitive, or higher mental sheath associated with the buddhi.

   Finally, there is the realized sage who abides primarily in the fifth sheath, the bliss sheath. In this finest sheath there are no objects or energies or thoughts or concepts or intuitive flashes. There is only the pure experience of joy. You are free of everything, including world and body and mind. There is only the intensely delightful feeling of bliss. It is purely subjective.

9  Cosmic Bodies 

   When we think of bodies, we think of living organisms, not of the universe. But these individual sheaths heave their equivalence in the universal or cosmic bodies. The macrocosmic parallels the microcosmic. The physical universe is the first sheath of the cosmic universe. The second sheath of the cosmic universe has to do with the primeval energy which fills the whole physical universe and extends beyond it. From it all forms of matter arise. Then there is the subtle universe of the cosmic mind. Swami has also spoken of this as the mind space. From here on, the distinction between the macrocosmic and the microcosmic becomes fuzzy; the infinitesmal and the infinite merge into one.

   The subtle universe beyond the gross or physical and interpenetrating it, is the cosmic sheath or universe of the mind. All these sheaths are spaces or worlds. That's why we speak of many worlds, not just the one world. We create new worlds every night in our dreams. They make up the mental universe. Finally, there is the greatest of all the universes; it is the subtlest and finest of all, and also the most extensive and powerful. This is the causal universe, the potential, the archetypal memory bank from which all forms and worlds arise. This is the world of the creative principle. It is the biggest, and inexplicably, it is also the smallest. It is the sacred space of the heart. It is made of bliss, and so, it is related to the bliss sheath, that we spoke of earlier.

You see, ultimately, in this strange play of creation, the whole of it can just be reduced to eternal delight. Everything we can call universe turns out to be totally subjective; there is nothing objective. It is consciousness only, knowing itself as 'I'. Only when it has become gross and densified into physical energy and things, does it appear to be something objective. But ultimately everything is subjective.

   The path then is to move our center of gravity, so to speak, from the physical to the vital to the mental to the intuitive on to the bliss sheath. Swami, as an embodied human being, lives mostly in the bliss sheath. He is always in bliss. An ordinary person on the street exists primarily in the gross sheath, the physical. When we are young and have lots of energy as vigorous youth, then we will live primarily in the vital sheath. Then as we develop our minds, we abide more and more in the mental sheath. But, you see, this is still only the animal level. Eventually, as we begin to incorporate some of these higher values, as we begin to know something of why we are here, we become established in the intuitive sheath, in our buddhi, our discriminating intelligence. And we become worthy of calling ourselves human beings.

    But, Swami says, ultimately, calling yourself man must mean: (m)aya or illusion removed, (a)tma or the supreme self realized, (n)irvana or liberation attained. So, what we have been speaking of as a human being, even one who lives a righteous life, is still only a transitional stage. It is not our true state, for truth is that which never changes, which is neither born nor dies. All that changes is illusion. So, we have to keep moving, drop off this illusion of a separate individual and move onto the stage of a sage, to spend most of our time in the equanimous state of bliss. But even that is still illusion, although it is the finest and thinnest veil. The seed of illusion is still present and the potential for returning to denser levels remains. A faint shadow of the individual still lingers on, which could sprout again. We must go totally beyond illusion, beyond all phenomena, to be established in who we really are, the absolute, the immortal self.

10  Waking, Dream, Deep Sleep

   Question: "Would you say some more about how we can use our knowledge of the dream and the deep sleep states to help us on our spiritual path?"
   Answer: As I mentioned yesterday, this is a very important consideration. We really cannot go very far on the wisdom path without a deep investigation of the dream and deep sleep states. Swami has spoken of this often and we are also guided in this by the Mandukyo Upanishad, which is the epitome of all the Upanishads. But, I must warn you; this is not easy to comprehend. Still, let us try. In the Mandukyo, this question of the different states of daily experience is taken up in terms of the OM. The entire range of human consciousness from the waking state to the supreme state of the absolute are seen to be characterized by the sound symbol OM. Every time we chant the OM we are going home. Let us see why this is so.

   The OM is considered to be the all-inclusive name for the whole universe, both visible and invisible; and it is also the symbol for the absolute, both as the supreme reality and as the immortal self. The Om is an integral whole, a single syllable of great potency. But, it can also be analyzed by breaking it into its constituent sound elements. For this we write it as AUM, which represents the three parts that make up the familiar written symbol for OM in Sanskrit:

   Here, the A of the AUM stands for this physical universe... everything that has to do with the waking state. The U stands for the mental universe... everything that has to do with the imagination, with the mind, with the dream state. Dream appears to be a totally different state from the waking state, but as we shall see, there is little that distinguishes these two states, except for the privileged position that we have assigned to the waking state, deluded as we are into believing our waking self to be our true self. Let us come back to this knotty issue later. Then what about the M of the AUM? It refers to the deep sleep state. Here we have the causal world. It is from here that all forms and all phenomena arise. It is like a vast library in which the video cassettes of all possible worlds, waking and dream, with their multitude of players and story lines, are kept. It is a potential state of infinite possibilities.

   The waking and the dream states are dynamic; there we find all kinds of forms and activities. The mind is active; a movie is going on. A picture is playing on the video screen. But, in deep sleep there is no picture; there is only the luminous screen, covered by a dark curtain that hides its effulgence. But, when we put on a video cassette without rewinding it, leaving it somewhere in the middle of the tape, then immediately the show starts playing from there. We find ourselves in the midst of a story involving a world of people and things that appear to have been going on forever. That is the mystery of the dream, and as we will discover when we exlore it deeply, that is the mystery of the waking state, as well.

11  Dreamer, Dream World and Dream 'I'

   Why do we dream? Because we are asleep. We are no longer awake. What does it mean to be awake? When we are awake we are aware that we exist. We have the sense of being present. "I am here. I am awake. I am alive." That is the implied statement of the waking state. It is the individual self, the ego, aware of itself and calling itself 'I', that makes these statements. It appears to be the true self. But then, it turns out not to be true, after all, since truth never changes; and yet as soon as we fall asleep, it disappears. The moment we forget that waking self, we are asleep. Through unconscious habit, we define ourselves as the waking self; then as soon as we forget that self, we are asleep. So, the regression of the active waking self into its inactive, quiescent state, characterizes the change of states from waking to sleep.

   What is distinctive about this waking 'I' is that it has separated itself from other things that are being perceived, and regards them as objects different from itself. So, inherent in the phenomenal experience of waking is the illusion of duality. As soon as this waking 'I' disappears, the mind and the waking world also disappear with it, and we are in the unity consciousness of deep sleep.

But then inexplicably the 'I' arises again, in a new guise, that of the dream self. Immediately, a whole universe comes forth, and a dream is underway. At the time when we are in it, we don't call it a dream. It is a self-consistent world not unlike our experience of the waking world, appearing to be totally real. It is only later, when we view it from the point of view of the waking state, and see that it was all just a play in the mind, that we call it a dream.

   When we are in it, it is totally believable. Everything in it appears to make sense. Like the waking experience, it is also immersed in duality. We will find various beings and objects there, and always the 'I' will be there. In other words, we are always present in our dreams. There is no dream without this subjective 'I', in contrast to other things there which are regarded as objects. The dream 'I' will not necessarily be the same as this waking 'I'. In the dream we might be many years younger. And the world there will be a different world; it may or may not directly correspond to the familiar world of our waking state.

   Besides the 'I' and the world, there must also be a dreamer. He is not visible to the 'I' of the dream, but nevertheless, the dreamer must exist behind the scenes to create this dream fantasy. The 'I' of the waking state does not usually have the gift to create such a fantastic world. Only a highly creative intelligence can create such a world; so there must be a God of the dream, whom we call the dreamer, who is dreaming the dream.

   The dreamer, the dream world and the dream 'I' all appear at the same time. And they also all leave at the same time. When their active phase is over and they return to their potential state, they merge into the quiescent state of deep sleep. Even waking up from a dream is still waking up from deep sleep. The night dream recedes into deep sleep, immediately the waking dream emerges, and the familiar video of the waking state starts playing again. Sometimes it does so even before the dream has completely faded out, and it appears that we have awakened directly from dream; but we have only transitioned from the illusion of dream back into deep sleep, and then on into the illusion of the waking dream, which we call 'waking up'. The 'I' has merely gone behind the scenes and changed costumes from its dream role to its waking role.

   This change of state from one to the other is very important for spiritual practice. In that moment there is neither dream nor waking. Therein lies the changeless state where for a moment, the mind is undisturbed. Swami tells us to train ourselves to pay attention to such moments. They are very common, but we let them flit by without notice. Every time we change thoughts or perceptions from one point to another, we pass through a moment of stillness. That instant of transition is a moment of the highest peace. There is much more to be said about this, but for now we will have to leave it, for it will take us too far afield.

12   Waking Dream

   Returning to the waking state, we see that it is just another type of dream, and in common with all illusions, it is characterized by two features: the non-apprehension of the reality, which has gone into hiding, and, the misapprehension of the reality, which is mistaken to be this little self and this world of things.

   We will speak more of these two aspects of illusion in a moment. Western psychology is primarily interested in the contents of dreams, using them as windows into the unconscious. And just as the law of cause and consequence threads together the notion of previous lives and previous states into one on-going saga of the transmigrating soul, so also the contents of dreams have a continuity with the symbols, events and emotional memories of previously experienced states. But the real significance of the dream is not its content but the dream process itself. The dream is a metaphor for the waking state. When we see the dreamer as the God of the dream, the dream world as akin to Nature, and the dream 'I' as the individual self, then we see the close parallel between the dream state and the waking state

Previous      Home      Top     Contents      Next