Chronicle Section Twelve:
I MISTOOK MY EGOHOOD FOR SOMETHING ELSE
A decade after my episode at Millbrook, I happened to read a paraphrasing of a Buddhist text called Abhiddharmapitaka, which clarified both dilemmas. My assuming that "I" had arrived at some divine domain was the mis-take. "I" actually had arrived at a kind of "egohood," not "godhood." This predicament is described in the text and my bliss as well as my panic and confusion are clearly explained.
In the Abhiddharmapitaka reading: "The six lokas of the fifth skandha," explain the bliss as "Union with projections", whereas, the panic is "referring back to yourself," or colloquially: " coming down." Perhaps that insight would have been more useful to me than the Harvard trio's adaptation of "Bardo Thodol" or "Tibetan Book of The Dead, which dealt with the in-between states in "The Psychedelic Experience ."
Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism," © 1987, by Chogyam Trungpa: simplifies the experience of "The six lokas of the fifth skandha" using the metaphor of "the monkey" for "egohood." "He [the monkey] watches limitless space; he is here and limitless space is there and he watches it. He imposes his preconceptions [set] on the world [setting], creates limitless space, and feeds himself with this experience.
The monkey has managed to reach the ultimate level of achievement; but he has not transcended the dualistic logic upon which achievement depends. The walls of the monkey's house are still solid; still have the quality of 'other'... Sooner or later the absorption [bliss] wears off and the monkey begins to panic... the monkey becomes preoccupied with figuring out what has gone wrong."
That preoccupation defined my suffering (as well as bliss) the first days, months and years after the panic at Millbrook. Until the monkey's semi-final surrender, all remains pretty much a panic. In surrender, the monkey was "made to lie down by still waters" (ocean of bliss), and this in the full daylight of the human realm. With compassion for the monkey, I found compassion for all apparent "others."
This "monkey," "the I" is mentioned in other teachings. We already heard Alan Watts say: "It ['I'] does not exist." Another western born teacher, Adi Da Samraj says: "There is no 'I' inside, other than, or separate from the body-mind (or conditional self)... When this understanding is most profound, only That in which 'I' is arising stands out as Obvious." So what might "That" obviousness be ?
Although these teachers use ordinary words, it is their context that is certainly extraordinary and would not have even been comprehensible to me prior to my experience 40 years ago. At least now, this plain English allows intuition to fathom at least a portion of the depth in those statements. "I" realize that whatever words are used, their meaning is limited by my "sphere of view" (or perspective) .
The monkey metaphor, which Chogyam Trungpa used, along with the word "egohood" was certainly helpful in my considering even the ordinary, less expanded behavior of mind. "Ego" has certainly occupied the attention of the Wisdom Traditions for quite some time. And what would be more demonizing than the expression: "egohood," if not to describe an ultimate mind set.
Ego, is a 3-step transliteration from the German of Freud: "das Ich" to plain English: "the I," to the Latin: "ego." an "idea" that has confounded not merely ancient spiritual practice but today's psychologies. For English writers, "I" is merely the vertical stroke of a writing instrument, the simplest of marks: a placeholder. If only we consciously realized how meaningful and meaningless that simplicity.
Freud, as well as our self, would have us keep the substantiality of an "I" in place as if it were an entity, whereas those adept at the workings of consciousness say there is no such entity. It is this shift that "I" have come to realize went both ways in my own experience. It would seem that only in the conventions of language does "I" exist, which complicates and confuses the distinction between actor and action.
Who, one might ask is the actor, if not "the I" ? This may be the same "who am I" question that Ramana Maharshi would have us ponder. So, keeping the spin on "what is" rather than "who is," let's continue. It is confusing when that great Indian adept says ask the question: "Who am I?" When "I" ask that question, it always comes out "what am I" or "am I what is"?
The word "who" presupposes an entity asking the question as well as answering it. Whereas, if I ask the question "what is I," the answer rings clear: "I is an action, or merely action, " if only the action of mind asking the question that presumes an entity it calls "I." In my epiphany or purview at the height of the psychedelic experience, "I" would imagine as an entity "I was it" would be true, but "I" am not or is not an entity!
So, coming full circle, the actor in any of this is merely consciousness or awareness of an action and, using a convention both in mind and word, to pronounce an existence or placeholder for that awareness or consciousness. If we accept that logic or illogic, then "Ihood" or egohood is neither angelic or demonic but virtual or illusory. So, the "monkey" metaphor is appropriate, after all.
This is not to say, "I am not it," rather to say whatever mind does with experience is not the same as what awareness does with it, an awareness or consciousness that is what is even before inventing mind or the mind's "I," an absolute consciousness, which in Sanskrit is called "Cit" or "Chit," the term often used in regard to "a priori" Consciousness, insinuating no other kind.
Perhaps, like me you have figured it out by now, that there is no entity at all except the one consciousness, which through embodiment looks at it-self and says: "I am it." We often refer to an entity as a person and vice versa, so too the wisdom teachings speak of divine person, or divine being, even supremebeing, as to distinguish that from an ordinary kind of being or person.
Next Chronicle Section (13)