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Insights on Life

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LIFE is broad, deep and complex. We need to understand nature, human beings, society and, most of all, our own selves. We are born into a maze without a map, not knowing about its rules. The elders who are around us often teach us things that are inadequate, narrow or even downright wrong. Thus we are often misled into wrong pathways as we grow up.

I had to discover the rules of living by reading, asking and experimenting. I have found certain guidelines to be extremely helpful. They were the light posts that showed me the paths out of despondency, pessimism and even unhappiness. They are rooted in an ageless wisdom that belonged to no single culture, religion or organization. For most of my adult life, I have been guided by these time-tested principles, and I am grateful that I encountered them early in life.

The editors of a national newspaper encouraged me to write short essays about insights on living. I did, and afterwards they encouraged me to put up a blog site.  So here I am.

I would like to thank Wesley Chua for translating the essays into Chinese.

The Art of Contentment

Whenever happiness is defined, it usually includes the feeling of being contented. A discontented person is not happy about his lot. Thus a secret of happiness is to learn how to have contentment in life.

But does it mean that, in order to be happy, we should no longer have any ambition, any goals, or any desire for improvement since we are already contented? Doesn’t contentment lead to stagnation?

This point is usually where people misunderstand the meaning of contentment.

Truly contented persons are not those who are no longer seeking improvement. They do. But they calmly accept the circumstances of the present moment because it is the reality of the present moment. The complaint or dissatisfaction that one should have a car now when one cannot afford it yet is not only unrealistic but also foolish. It is to demand for something which is not possible at this moment. If I do this all the time, I will never be a happy person ever, no matter how rich I become or how high a position I attain.

Let’s take another circumstance. Suppose I have no fingers on my right hand since birth. I see that everyone I know has fingers. I am dissatisfied with my situation, even though I know that I can never have fingers in my life. This discontentment is pointless, and only contributes to unhappiness. The moment I can accept my situation then the discontentment ceases. It will no longer be a cause of unhappiness.

Contentment therefore is being able to accept calmly or cheerfully whatever circumstances we find ourselves in at any moment. My hands get dirtied now, then all right, they are dirty. I will wash it off within ten minutes. But while it is dirty, I can accept and live with it. I get sick and am bedridden for two weeks. All right, I am bedridden for two weeks. I accept it and make use of the recuperation time to read books or do something I like. If there is pain, then I accept the pain as it is. After two weeks I go back to work. I am queueing up in a long line and it will take one hour before it comes to my turn. All right, I have to stand and line up for the next one hour. I will be calm and cheerful for the next one hour. My legs are tired; all right, I accept that my legs are tired. What I am queueing up for is worth the temporary tiredness.

Discontentment is non-acceptance of the reality of the present moment. It is to want that this moment should be other than what it is.

Discontentment is also caused by comparison with other people. My neighbor has a car, I should also have a car. This reflects reliance on external social factors for our happiness. Perhaps I really don’t need a car, but I feel inferior if my neighbor has a car and I don’t. It is a reflection of our low self-esteem. The significance of our life is being measured by comparison or competition with others, which is a sure-fire formula for unhappiness. There will always be people who are better situated than us, as there will always be people who are less fortunate than us.

The psychologist Abraham Maslow described self-actualized people, or individuals who are nearer the apex of human maturity, as those whose feeling of self-worth are not dependent on culture or the environment. They are autonomous and depend for their growth on their inner potentials rather than the expectations of other people or society.

This is the reason why children should not be brought up in an atmosphere of competition or ranking or even comparison. Encouraging contests or comparison at home or in schools unconsciously creates a frame of mind that the worth of a person depends upon how one compares with others. It creates insecurity as well as discontentment. Happiness becomes elusive.

Patriotism, Nationalism and Love of Mankind

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Patriotism is the love of the larger social unit, especially to one that has nurtured us and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. The English word “patriot” comes from the Greek patris or fatherland. This larger unit is usually a nation, but it can be a region, a city, a tribe, a clan or even a family. We are willing to work for its betterment, to protect it, to volunteer for it or to do what we can to make it a more stable, just, organized and happy society.

Nationalism is quite different from patriotism. Nationalism has an element of separation from other nations. It is my nation as against other nations. In this sense, nationalism is divisive, and has been the cause of conflicts and wars for thousands of years. This of course is the result of social development in various periods of history. In the early periods the rules that govern human and social life are determined by a ruler who has the power to impose edicts or desires. There is insecurity and thus people need the protection by such powers against other powers. This leads to mutual fear and distrust, including the setting of physical boundaries between these groups, and a feeling of you versus us. These tribal feelings are but the precursor to national attitudes towards neighbors who are perceived as threats.

Muslims and Hindus have lived with each other in western India more or less peacefully for many centuries. Then in 1947, during the independence of India from the British, they decided to draw a boundary between themselves, leading to the deaths of thousands of people who were trying to cross such an invisible border which never existed before. Now India and Pakistan, people of the same nationality prior to 1947, became enemies and have engaged in intermittent wars and battles for the past half a century, both even developing nuclear weapons to “defend” themselves, as if anyone is going to win in a nuclear war. No wonder Albert Einstein wrote: “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

Within each country, we have provinces or states that have no restrictive borders. We don’t usually become “provincialistic” by asserting our loyalty to our province over or against other provinces. It is easy for us to become residents of other provinces or states. We will see that even if there are provincial or state boundaries, they do not become serious sources of animosity or hostility.

In the future, the world will have just one global government and the present nations will be like “global provinces” where we are free to cross boundaries and change residences. A semblance of such “international provinces” is happening to the European Union today, although nationalistic feelings are still strong due to historical and linguistic reasons. It is hoped that in future decades (or centuries?) it will be difficult to distinguish between a German, a French or a Czech as they are all Europeans. Thus national identities will blur, and former ethnic distrust and animosity will fade away.

National boundaries are inventions of the mind due to insecurity or greed. With modern communications, ease of travel, or globalized economies, we can no longer think of any country as an isolated island. We are one human family and can no longer make decisions based on purely nationalistic interests. The earth has become too small for distrust and bickering. Nations have absolutely become interdependent. The preservation of the Amazon forests is a global concern. The pollution of China or America will not just harm Chinese or Americans but may melt Antarctic ice shelves that can cause the rise of the sea level and submerge vast areas of Bangladesh. The Nile River as a water source is shared by at least four countries in North Africa. If Ethiopia, the source of the major tributary river will control the flow of water, it will affect Sudan and Egypt. In 1979, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat said, “”The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water.”

It will probably take a thousand years before mankind will outgrow nationalism and see themselves as brothers and sisters of one human family. But there is no other road. We must now espouse universal brotherhood. There is no other way. It is no longer just patriotism. It will no longer be nationalism, but a love of mankind. As Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables, wrote: “In proportion as I advance in life, I grow more simple, and I become more and more patriotic for humanity.”

How to Build a Happier Marriage

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A happy marriage is not an accident. It is something built and designed — day by day, week by week, year by year. It is both a science and an art. Marriage is supposed to be a “happily ever after” dream in life. But the sad reality is that divorces are going up even as marriages are going down. About half of marriages in the US end in divorce. The divorce rate of second and third marriages go even higher at 60% to 70%.

People say that they marry because they loved their boy or girl friends (except for matched or arranged marriages in many Asian countries). What happened to their vows that they would love each other forever? Some couples even file for divorce immediately after honeymoon.

How do we increase the chances of a happier marriage life?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Do not be in a hurry to get married. Get to know each other better first, particularly the character of the other. When the couple faces conflicts and difficulties (being late in a date, losing money, jealousy, etc.), that’s the best time to observe how each one reacts to difficult situations. One of the most important qualities to observe is the moral character of your potential life-partner. When his or her moral fiber is weak, then there is bound to be deep root problems that would be hard to solve.

2. True love is a genuine concern for the welfare of the other. Love is not about sexual attraction or admiration or dependency. It is a genuine concern for the welfare of the other. There is a natural and spontaneous interest in making the other person happier. On the other hand, when a partner is very self-centered, always thinking about his or her own needs, desires or demands, then that is a major factor that will make the marriage an unhappy one. Try to diminish negative reaction habits, such as irritability, anger, sulking, blaming, and impatience. These are the daily poisons that will undermine the relationship.

Geoffrey Hodson, an author and international lecturer, once said, “There is a key to marital happiness. If a couple practices this key, then marital happiness is guaranteed: Let each partner always think of the welfare of the other, and never of oneself.” I have observed and counseled many marriages and found that the major factor in marriage break-up is the loss of this genuine concern for the other. Selfishness is the number one enemy of a happy marriage. When we get into marriage, we are committing to a joint life, not a solitary life.

What is entailed here is that each partner must have attained a certain level of maturity, a wholesome balance between one’s own legitimate needs and a predisposition to be interested in the welfare of other people.

3. Do not marry because of physical attractiveness, wealth or social position. These are external things that easily lose their charm. How many love affairs and marriages of movie stars break up very quickly? Beauty and physical attraction fade off eventually. The glamor of wealth and social positions wears off very soon, and those are not reasons for continuing to love each other. Look at the relationship of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

4. Marriage is a lifelong friendship, a genuine interest in the other person. It’s simply fun to be with each other, with or without agenda. It is based on a certain chemistry of personality, a certain degree of compatibility of interests, and a respect towards each other’s character and values. Endeavor to build and nurture these, for when they are lost, there may be a tendency to try to look for a more meaningful relationship outside of marriage, which can be a danger flag for persons with a weak moral resolve.

5. Marriage involves a commitment, a willingness to hurdle misunderstandings, disappointments, misexpectations, irritation or hurts.

6. Realize that men and women are constituted differently and couples need to learn to adjust to each other. Males are in a hurry with sex, while females need to build up a mood. Women feel happier with simple heart-to-heart conversation, while men tend to be business-like in verbal interactions.

Marriage is like a plant that needs daily sunshine and watering for it to grow. Build the warm relationship intentionally. Give time to it. Learn how to be less selfish. Be a person fun to be with.

Is it Necessary to Believe in God to be an Ethical Person?

Many Christian evangelists think that if belief in God declines, there will be social chaos, crime and disorder. Michael Gowens, in his book Ready to Answer, states that disbelief in God “produces, first of all, moral collapse and degeneracy. . . . The resulting social chaos will eventually destroy that society. Excessive violence and crime, unrestrained sexual perversion, drug addition, child abuse, abortion, and virtually every form of debauchery and decadence known to man will eat away at the foundations of life until the civilization like Ancient Rome, will crumble.” (Lexington, Ky: Sovereign Grace Publications, 2011, p. 59). A video from a Harvard professor states that “if you take away religion, you can’t hire enough police.” (https://www.huffingtonpost. com/ronald-a-lindsay/atheism-leads-to-moral-de_b_6423018.html.)

It seems important to find whether this is true because, offhand, there are many societies as well as religions that do not believe in God. Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Bhutan, for example, which have large populations of non-theistic Buddhists, have remarkably low crime rates.

A useful source to find out if such a hypothesis is true are the crime statistics of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Here are the incidences of murders in four countries that are overwhelmingly Catholic and Protestant: There are 9.84 murders per 100,000 population in the Philippines, 26.74 in Brazil, 57.15 in Venezuela, and 108.64 in El Salvador. How about countries who generally do not believe in a God, either because of atheism, agnosticism or Buddhism? The crime rate of Hongkong is just 0.3 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, while Japan has 0.31.

In 2005, an American sociologist, Phil Zuckerman, went to and stayed in Scandinavia for 14 months and made a study of the relationship between belief in God and quality of life in Denmark and Sweden. He published his findings in a book entitled Society Without God. The reason he chose Denmark and Sweden was that they were “probably the least religious countries in the world, and possibly in the history of the world.” A 20-year old grocery clerk in Jutland, Denmark, told the author: “Young people think that religion is kind of taboo. As a young person, you don’t say, ‘I‘m a Christian and I‘m proud of it.’ If you do that, you often get picked on.” This is in spite of the fact that three-fourths of the people in Denmark nominally belong to the official Church of Denmark with is Lutheran.

The first thing that the author noticed when he came to Scandinavia was that there were no policemen anywhere. In Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark, he saw the first cop only after 31 days of staying. “In Aarhus, the violent crime rate there is among the lowest in the world for a city of that size. For example, in 2004, the total number of murders in the city of Aarhus was one.” Compare this to cities of similar population size: Victoria, Mexico, has 293 murders in 2006, St. Louis in the US had 188, and Vitoria da Conquista in Brazil had 208.

Zuckerman listed various facets of the social condition of Denmark and Sweden as compared to the rest of the world. He wrote:

“Despite their relative secularity, Denmark and Sweden are not bastions of depravity and anarchy. In fact, they are just the opposite: impressive models of societal health.”

Based on the United Nations Human Development Index of 2006, Sweden ranked 5th among 175 countries listed, Denmark was 15th. In terms of Gross Domestic Product per capita, Denmark ranked 4th and Sweden 8th in the world. In terms of absence of corruption, Denmark is 4th and Sweden is 6th in the world. Their crime rates are among the lowest in the world. (In 2016, Denmark has a crime rate of 0.99 per 100,000 people, while Sweden has only 1.15, compared to the rates mentioned above.) How about happiness of the people? Based on a study of Erasmus University, Denmark ranked number one in happiness among 91 countries.

Zuckerman wrote: “The fact is, the majority of the most irreligious democracies are among the most prosperous and successful nations on earth.”

All these studies show that it is not necessary to believe in a God in order for a society to live peacefully and ethically.

A recent study by Pew Research Center shows a clear correlation between national economic progress and their view that belief in God is necessary for people to be ethical. Those who rank highest in the view that in order to be good, belief in God is necessary, rank lowest in terms of economic development, such as Ghana, Pakistan, Jordan, Nigeria, Uganda, Indonesia, Philippines, etc. Those who rank low in this view, that is, they believe one can be good without belief in God, are among the most progressive in the world: Australia, Canada, France, Britain, Germany, Japan, etc.

Research and statistics do not therefore support the view that societies that do not believe in God or religion would fall into chaos and depravity. The opposite seems to be true. The least religious nations are the ones who rank high in important benchmarks of an ideal society: high income, low crime rate, well-established democratic institutions, high in gender equality, low in mortality rates, and high in the happiness scale.

Albert Einstein wrote: “A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”

Author J. K. Rowling similarly wrote: “It is perfectly possible to live a very moral life without a belief in God, and I think it’s perfectly possible to live a life peppered with ill-doing and believe in God.”

Pope Francis has similarly stated that even atheists can go to heaven provided that they are good or ethical persons.

Six Ingredients of a Happier Life

Happiness is what all people yearn for. Yet why is it that it seems very elusive? If it is so important, why is it not being taught in schools? We spend twelve or more years learning mathematics, why not a single semester on how to become a happier person? Are there time-tested ingredients that will make our lives happier?

Fortunately, there are guidelines which have been known since time immemorial by wise sages. In addition, modern psychology has found out a number of ingredients that accompany a happy life.

First, what is happiness?

It is not pleasure or excitement, for these are fleeting things that are due to a surge of sensory stimulation.

It is not also being wealthy, because rich people have committed suicide. One German industrialist, one of the richest persons in the world, committed suicide due to losses from some unwise investments but which still left him with about US$10 billion in assets. A 70-year study of Americans has shown that with the soaring of financial income of Americans, the level of happiness has not increased.

Neither is it fame. Marilyn Monroe killed herself at the height of her fame. She was just 36 years old. Other famous people who ended their lives are Robin Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun, and Vincent Van Gogh.

One of the insights of modern psychology is that happiness is not an event or episode. It is state of well-being that lingers in spite of the ups and downs of life. In other words, a person continues to feel good about life, that is, generally happy,  even when there are adversities that happen. If we look at the people around us, and reflect on our own lives and experiences, this is our common understanding of happiness. No person is free from adversities, setbacks, accidents, illness or losses. And yet some people are able to maintain a positive, optimistic and cheerful attitude, while others are grouchy and dissatisfied much of the time even when things seem to be going well.

Thus, we can define happiness in this way: “It is a sustained state of well-being, contentment and meaningfulness, accompanied by positive feelings.”

With the above introduction, let us look into six important ingredients in making our lives a happier one. All of them are within our control.

1. Remove Causes of Unhappiness. There are psychological factors that make a person almost incapable of long-term happiness. These are fear (including worry and anxiety), depressiveness, resentment, anger, guilt, hurt and even aversion.

A person with fear, for example, can hardly be happy. The state of fear is one of constriction and defensiveness that is definitely unpleasant, whereas happiness is one of naturalness, spontaneity, expansiveness and positiveness. Its roots are the thousand and one unpleasant and fearful experiences since childhood that have not been resolved and released. They impinge upon the present moment in a semi-conscious way that prevents us from being our natural self and being cheerful. These unresolved unpleasant experiences become subconscious “push buttons” that are easily triggered by memory or association. Roger may have suffered from the cruelty and bullying on his parents, and today he has fear of authority that affects his mood while at work or in social situations.

So long as these push buttons are lodged in the subconscious, it is very difficult for a person to become happy, natural, spontaneous or expansive. It is like a constant inner dark cloud that prevents the mind and feelings to be cheerful and sunny.

These push buttons can be removed through what is called self-awareness processing and which allows the bottled-up energy to be safely released permanently.

2. Develop Habits of Positiveness.  Positiveness refers to psychological states such as cheerfulness, enthusiasm, optimism, appreciation or gratitude.

Positiveness is a habit. Some people are genetically endowed with such a predisposition, others are not. For those who are not, they can develop positive habits and overcome one’s innate moroseness.

When a person consciously tries to be positive, something changes in the way one looks at life and the world. The world has not changed, but one’s state of happiness has. Try regularly expressing appreciation towards other people, feeling grateful for what we have and for what others have given us, smiling frequently, being optimistic about almost anything — then the habit of positiveness sets in. And life changes.

3. Nurture Positive Relationships. To most people, the greatest source of unhappiness is people. Jean Paul Sartre wrote: “I know what hell is. Hell is other people.”

The good news is that people are also the sources of their greatest happiness: friendship, a loving marital relationship, children, a happy work environment, and helping other people.

Positive relationship is something that is built, nurtured and watered on a regular basis through kindness, cheerfulness, humor and helpfulness. Other people may be nasty, critical, pessimistic or aloof. But that really is their problem, not ours. We can still feel friendly and positive towards them.

4. Help Others Selflessly. This is an inestimable ingredient of happiness — helping others without thinking of anything in return. It need not be in terms of money but anything that uplifts other people and make them feel happier.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, wrote: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

Dr. Martin Seligman once gave two weekend assignments to his psychology students. First is to engage in something that they think they will enjoy — watching a movie, hanging out with friends, going to the beach, etc. The second is to do something to help someone — even complete strangers. The following week, the students were asked which of the two activities gave them greater happiness. The students were unanimous: helping others gave a greater feeling of happiness.

5. Be Ethical. When we deliberately harm others — cheating, hurting, or depriving them of something — there are two consequences. Internally, we don’t feel good. We know that we have done something wrong, and we cannot have true inward peace and happiness. Externally, we have just set up a chain of karma that will return to us in a painful way — bringing more unhappiness. It can be immediate — like being punched back; or it may take years before we receive what we deserve, such as negative public opinion or going to jail; or it may come in another lifetime — being born to cruel parents or being born with severe disabilities.

6. Have a Wholesome Philosophy of Life. This covers insights that one learns from experience or from wiser people. Below are examples:

•   Do not compare yourself with others, but attain excellence by doing your best. Comparison is a major source of dissatisfaction and unhappiness — trying to keep up with our neighbors or colleagues. There will always be people whose life situations are better or worse than us. Neither be discontented nor proud in connection with what other people have or don’t have. We set our own inner benchmarks and pursue what is meaningful to us, not what is meaningful to other people.

•   Do not double your loss. Suppose I lost a leg due to an accident. I may feel bitter and constantly blame people or circumstances for the tragedy, resulting in long term unhappiness. What I don’t realize is that I have just doubled my loss — I have lost a leg, and I have lost my happiness. Why don’t I just stop at one loss, and retain my capacity for being cheerful and happy?

•   See the larger picture of life. Life is not just about jobs or income or social status. It is about growth of the soul towards perfection from life to life. This is a basic insight that has been known in the spiritual traditions of both east and west, whether Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic (Sufi) and other mystical movements. The psychologist Abraham Maslow describes such a growth direction as self-actualization and self-transcendence.

•   We create our destiny. Many people are passive victims of circumstances. Wiser people are aware that it is within our power to (a) change our attitudes towards our circumstances, and (b) we can alter our future circumstances by sowing the right seeds of karma at every moment.

The Two Parts of the Self

One of the most important facets of self-understanding and self-mastery is the realization that our different levels of consciousness can be divided into two groupings: (1) the lower self, consisting of our physical body (part of which is the etheric double with its prana or life energy), the emotional body, and the lower mind. This is call the personality. (2) the higher or inner self, consisting of our abstract mind, our transcendent consciousness, and the universal consciousness. This is also called the individuality

These two groups are often represented by two triangles, an upper upright triangle for the higher self, and an inverted triangle for the lower self.

The lower self or personality is a product of conditioning and influences. It produces the different habits and reaction patterns. It tends to resist things that go against the habit. For example, if I don’t do physical exercise, my body will resist efforts to start doing exercise. If I have the habit of smoking, the body will resist efforts to stop smoking. If I’m used to lying or exaggerating, I will have difficulties trying to be honest.

Unfortunately, not all of the habits of the lower personality are wholesome or helpful. Some of them in fact are destructive. Some go contrary to one’s highest ideals or aspirations.

The higher individuality or higher triangle, on the other hand, is impersonal. It sees things more objectively and not on the basis of likes or dislikes. It sees that smoking is harmful or should be stopped even if the body has acquired the habit. It sees something as right or wrong, regardless of whether an action will gain or lose advantages.

Throughout our life, we face these conflicts between the higher individuality and the lower personality. This is what St. Paul was speaking about when he stated: “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Rom 7:15) Helena Blavatsky similarly exhorts that it is one’s duty “to control and conquer, through the Higher, the lower self.” (Key to Theosophy)

The more mature a person is, the more the individuality prevails in action or decisions. Such actions tend to be wiser and conducive to internal harmony. On the other hand, people who allow the lower habits to prevail become prisoners of the past and are unable to rise above their conditionings.

What can we do to start letting the Higher Self become the dominant factor in one’s life?

Start with small things that are doable. Suppose you are not inclined to do 30 minutes jogging due to laziness. Then just make a small effort to do 2 minutes. But once you decide to do 2 minutes, then do so even if the body resists. Just do it. When you triumph for the first time, something is beginning to happen unconsciously. The inner will is beginning to assert itself, and the lower self is beginning to give way. Do it again another time, perhaps for 3 minutes or 5 minutes. Just do it because you say so. When you have repeated these doable decisions, you may notice that there will come a point when you will be able to assert over your laziness and do the 30-minute jogging.

This kind of self-training may make a major difference in your life. After your inner will has become strong enough, you can undertake major decisions or new behaviors that can change the direction of your life, such as writing 30 minutes every day, or reading 30 minutes every day, or playing the piano 30 minutes daily. When the higher will is strong, then one can reach one’s highest potential.

Who Are We?

There are two kinds of knowledge that are most important in life: knowledge about the world, and knowledge about the self. In the long run, the second one is the more significant. Without self-knowledge, we will just be carried away by the pressures of the outer world. With self-knowledge, we are able to determine our own destiny. Laozi wrote: “He who knows others is wise, he who knows himself is enlightened. He who conquers others is strong, he who conquers himself is powerful.”

Gurdjieff wrote: “Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.”

How do we start in our quest for self-knowledge?

First, we need to realize that we are not just this physical body. Materialists say that there is no soul, and that our thoughts and feelings are just the byproducts of our physical brain. When we die, it’s the end, there is nothing else.

Evidence shows that this is not the case. We have higher levels of consciousness quite independent from our physical body. Scientific studies have demonstrate this, such as in near-death experiences. This has been affirmed since the ancient times in mystical and religious traditions, whether Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, or Jewish Kabbalism. St. Paul speaks of the triune distinction of the body, soul and spirit. St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of the three kinds of souls, the vegetative, the animal and the rational. But what is important is that these can be validated by our own personal experience. Let us look through them:

1. Next to our body, there is an etheric body or etheric double which can separate itself from the physical body at certain times, such as during near-death experiences. Doctors all over the world have reported authenticated cases of people who had no pulse or breath, and yet these people found themselves floating above their bodies able to see and hear what was going on. This double is the vehicle for prana or qi energy that flows through the meridians and which can be manipulated by acupuncture. The energy emanation of this body can be photographed using Kirlian photography. When it is seen by the human eye, it is described as the human aura.

2. Finer than our body and etheric double is our emotional nature, sometimes called desire body. This is the center of our feelings. It is closely connected with the etheric double, such that when we feel a feeling, energy in the etheric double surges up. For example, when we are angry, we feel this energy in our head, chest and hands.

3. Then we have a mind that has two parts: (a) the lower mind, which is also called the concrete mind. Thoughts on this level have images, sizes, colors or shapes. They are closely connected with feelings, and hence are part of our personality. (b) the higher mind or abstract mind. This is capable of understanding concepts that are abstract such as infinity or square root. This level of thinking is impersonal, and transcends what we personally like or dislike.

4. Above the mind is our transcendent consciousness. This level of experience has been described by thousands of people who have attained it since the ancient times till today. It is called mystical experience. Christians call it contemplative or spiritual consciousness, Buddhism and Hinduism call it prajna or buddhi. Many great people, whether religious or non-religious, have reported to have attained this, such as Alfred Tennyson. The psychologist Abraham Maslow called this self-transcendence.

5. Universal Consciousness. This level is spoken of by many mystics but few appear to have attained it. It is called Nirvana by Buddhists, Union by Christians, fana by Sufis and Moksha by Hindus. It entails the dissolution of the ego and the merging into one of the individual consciousness and the cosmos.

The above divisions help us in understanding many important things, such as the explanations to paranormal phenomena, such as healing, apparitions, life after death, etc. It also shows us what is our higher potential as a human being, which is the awakening of these higher inner potentials within us. It enables to gain self-mastery and thus be able to attain our life goals.