Cognition and Freedom

by Raghavan Iyer @ Theosophy Trust


COGNITION AND FREEDOM


If anyone says that the Tathagata comes or goes, sits or reclines, he fails to understand my teaching. Why? The Tathagata has neither whence nor whither, and therefore he is called the Tathagata.

The Diamond Sutra

 All growth in self-conscious beings is based upon self-determination checked by karma, the consequences of past causation. The immortal soul, as a self-subsisting being, is engaged in an awesome pilgrimage within a vast Circle of Necessity extending over an immense period of time. Within this manvantaric matrix, each must give meaning to the assumption of responsibility in the light of the central teaching of the Diamond Sutra. Over millennia myriads of human beings are involved in elaborating modes of perception and awareness which generate diverse emphases in thought-forms, in language, and in ways and means of interacting with those abstractions called institutions, roles and rules. Archetypally, these divergences may be seen in relation to the invisible centre of an invisible circle, which is also the topological centre of an equilateral triangle. There is no priority to any of the angles made by any two lines of the triad. At the same time, there must be a fourth point, in relation to which the triad may be seen as a whole. The geometry of the universe involves an appearance of stability which masks the living arithmetic of ceaseless development.

 To begin to ponder upon the wisdom of the Diamond Sutra, the climactic message of the Buddha, we should reflect upon the fundamental identity of all monads. Every human being knows that in the context of the collective interdependence of beings under law, all discriminations between persons become illusory and irrelevant. Death does not discriminate between persons; an epidemic does not favour some and punish others. Men who sail on long voyages are silent witnesses to the majesty, impersonality and profound impartiality of the ocean, which is often compared to the whole of life. "Law" is merely a word given to the totality of interdependent relations that constitute a world or a system. One of the core statements of the Diamond Sutra is that the system is no-system. Consider any example – a school, a nation, an economy – and look at manuals, rules, and diagrams of edifices. Anyone can be induced to see a spatial field over a period of time in terms of determinate points and discrete relationships. Nevertheless, there is a freedom and an unstructured quality in human relationships. There is an indefinable improvisation in the relationship between a mother and her child, between a husband and his wife. These designations merely indicate persons in distinct roles, relative to particular contexts.

 In the Diamond Sutra the problem of specification is raised by the wisest of the Buddha's disciples who have mastered the divine dialectic of Buddhist ontology, which negates the substantiality of visible forms and the rigidity of discriminations relative to objects of sense-perception. Most people entertain an unphilosophical notion of some kind of timetable or guide book for travel in terms of a predetermined starting-point and a fixed terminus. Yet anyone who wanders in the mountains or roams about like a nomad, neither threatened by nor dependent upon maps, knows that all of these are arbitrary localized representations in what appears as a boundless field from a high altitude. Anyone from a great city who merely happens to fly over its towering structures experiences a sort of release from overdrawn lines and discovers something of the lightness of a bird on the wing. Every human being is capable of a certain freedom and largeness, a magnanimity which is beyond the possibility of specification and analysis, and transcends all formal limitations. At the very moment someone says he is this or that, the object of the statement is becoming something else. We are always living some sort of parasitic and derivative existence because of restrictively conceptualizing consciousness, which itself is essentially as unbounded as the sky, as free space, as the vast and unfathomable ocean. Even the concepts of law and evolution merely refer to a process of ceaseless breathing in and out, a cyclical manifestation in time, which itself cannot be caught within the circle. We can never see a circle from outside if we are identified with any point in the circle.

 Immense implications would emerge for the daily lives of human beings if they could seriously ask whether the onus probandi is in the wrong place all the time. They could look at babies and try to work back in consciousness to a time when they were less confined. Look at a person before he is obsessed with grades and degrees; watch a person over a weekend when he forsakes the distinctions that men make during the week. Every human being senses that he or she is more than all the conventionalized distinctions, which are devices for the solidification of matter and thereby a conceptual prison for consciousness. Human beings must give themselves the opportunity, deliberately and self-consciously, to focus their attention upon the forgotten truth that the mind cannot ever encompass reality. The very thought of space reaching out in every direction has a purifying and liberating effect upon the mind. This is because of fixed presuppositions and assumptions in relation to matter and spirit, which are merely two aspects of one and the same homogeneous substance-principle. Although called by many names, in the Diamond Sutra it is depicted as the fusion of the void with the white heat of thought bursting its own boundaries. The separation of inner from outer, man from the world, the infinite space within from the dimensionally defined though limitless space without, has a corrective and therapeutic function in relation to recovery of self-awareness within the context of shared awareness. If we think of many centres of light blended together, counting and differentiating become irrelevant. One experiences the joy and the thrill of a flood of light, but even this is only from the standpoint of the sense-organs. What looks like a flood of light may in fact be only a mirage, a film or veil upon that incredible voidness of absolute darkness which is necessarily true light.

 In delivering the Diamond Sutra the Buddha was stretching the serene minds and spatial perspectives of those few disciples gathered around him who already sensed that plane of consciousness where the Buddha abides even while in manifestation. They were able to accommodate the magnitude of vision of the Bodhisattvic state. The Bodhisattva is a being who has mastered the wisdom of compassion. Wisdom manifests as an unmodified state of calm consciousness. Everything else in relation to it is like an evanescent bubble. Thinking about this untrammelled perspective can help us to understand our own time. What individuals have failed to do on their own is happening collectively: there is a shared experience of voiding old forms and the past criteria of frozen meanings, all of which can no longer be maintained because the very will to impose them has weakened, and the defensive will to react against them is on the decline. The moment individuals try to capture this awareness of voiding the old in terms of isms or nihilisms, they experience the painful gap between soul-awareness and the cool capacity of spiritual wakefulness to master and radiate through every mode of expression with the precision one would find in music or mathematics. The Buddha was, in effect, extolling the music of the Soundless Sound, the mathematics of the zero. He was an artist speaking and singing, but also gently chiding. He effortlessly embodied, in an inimitable manner, the inexhaustible plenty of the boundless ocean of wisdom (Prajna) and compassion (Karuna).

 If a person really begins to see simultaneously from alternative standpoints and can make this a living reality in consciousness, while recognizing that this is still based upon a relative but always mistaken assumption of separate selfhood, then he is doing what is suggested in one puzzling place in the Diamond Sutra. The question is asked, why is the Absolute in persons? This is philosophically strange when so much has been said to void all attributes of Absoluteness. Any person can, as much as any other, embody and maintain self-consciously the serene awareness of the whole. This suggests that though our language and thought are riddled with pairs of opposites, the activity in itself, tathata, the thing in itself which is truly a process, is so overwhelmingly profound that it creates a Buddha-field. How is this possible? When people get together they collectively create a shared but nonetheless dependent sense of reality, but the moment a sufficient number of persons lose interest in that form of sharing, the entire field becomes absurd. This is a fact about human consciousness which requires and presupposes differentiation. The differentiation is constantly cancelled by the interaction which cannot be sustained except in terms of the false supports provided by the seeming continuity and substantiality of what is unreal unless beings attach and assume a reality to it. This is only a way of saying that a human being can never stay still. No man can ever experience total immobility. If he did, he would cease to be alive. Equally, the mere fact of always changing does not by itself mean anything in relation to the motive of unfolding the five eyes of which the Diamond Sutra speaks. Motive itself is the vast motor-force of Fohat, an ocean of energy in ceaseless motion.

 If the entire universe is a golden egg in which there is a fructifying principle of expansion, a breathing outwards, then all particular acts and motives are as unreal relative to the pulsation in the cosmic egg as an appendage which imagines it exists on its own, that it is not in fact wholly dependent. Every organ and cell of the human body depend upon that incredibly intricate network of nerve centres and invisible capillary streams of electromagnetic threads in subtle matter that binds together all light-atoms. The thought is overwhelming because human beings normally settle for less. Whether they talk a moral language, a seemingly philosophical idiom, or a scientific-mechanistic jargon, they are engaged in some sort of collective self-mutilation. One might think, as Tolstoi wrote in War and Peace, that there is no set of reasons sufficient to convey the rationale behind the bizarre course of history. Is there really free will? Tolstoi asked of the Napoleonic war whether it was all caused by one particular man with his obvious limitations, or whether perhaps there was a vaster force operating. When we seem to sense that greater force at work, it matters little who fills the role for the consummation of the collective Karma of the aggregates of human beings that masquerade as nations and races. We come to see what Schopenhauer stressed in the nineteenth century. The notion of personal will is possibly a tragic illusion. To this extent the behaviourists are right, but only from the standpoint of differentiated separateness which dilutes and destroys the mind. What behaviourists are doing in one direction is similar to what drug addicts are doing in another. There is a common, desperate need to wipe out some essential features of consciousness and experience.

 Supposing a man, when he looked at his life, saw that he could not particularize, did not plan, or deliberately intend most of what he did. When he begins to make experiments with the vast storehouse of energy that is the universe, with every centre of which he is linked through one of the various elements and substances in his being, he attempts to do what Nature does and becomes an alchemist. Every such apprentice alchemist will soon discover the extraordinary powers of concentrated thought and of controlled creative imagination. Few persons today think that the problems of some years ago, which at the time seemed so impossibly cosmic, were more than turbulences in teacups. Given the logic of identification, this is part of the ineluctable process of the prismatic scattering of undifferentiated consciousness into seven rays, which soon become obscured in a kaleidoscopic shadow-play. There is, in Platonic language, a series of reduced reflections, rather like an array of poor reproductions from a negative. There is a deep sense in which all human beings are dreamily involved in a secondary kind of existence. When men begin to wake up to the vastness and potency of cosmic will – rather than fear a grotesque God whimsically manipulating the world – they will see that there is nothing greater on earth than the sovereign dignity and majesty of self-consciousness. There is an amazing plasticity, power, flexibility and range to human consciousness, but also myriad possibilities of polarization through a perverse disinclination to focus steadily on a worthy goal. We drift into false assumptions about "I" as "Mr. So-and-So", deciding now to do this, and to do that tomorrow. There is a recurrent constriction of consciousness. There is ever the danger of losing our awareness of the internality which must be unbounded in relation to the unending variety of fields of cognition. It was recognized even by someone as inverted in spiritual perception yet insightful as Hobbes, who said that cognition is rather like conceiving or giving birth. Imagining, on the other hand, is not like conceiving. The imagination is so fertile, capable of such an immense progeny, that one cannot limit its richness in terms of certain strenuous acts of cognition.

 Our very language comes in the way of becoming self-consciously aware of what we already know. If we did not already know it, no communication would ever convey to us the consubstantiality of consciousness, behind and beyond possible focussing points of perception, and the intelligent, boundless universe as a vast though arbitrary aggregation of innumerable possible fields. This is the most difficult and crucial of all subjects for reflection. One can initially understand it by application to specific matters and then by learning to be free-wheeling in thought. This makes real the connection between unconditioned and conditioned. If a person has thought this through – engaged in dianoia – he finds that the whole notion of motive is transformed. While the universe cannot protect one's private intentions, through thought one can insert anything one chooses into the total good. Even though one does not fully know what that is, one can recognize it. One can equally visualize going in the opposite direction, unless one has blinded oneself to the point of enjoying a psycho-physical death-wish. We find we cannot explain easily the gesture of Jesus to Dostoevski's Grand Inquisitor. We cannot fathom the smile of a Mona Lisa or the inscrutable expression on the face of the Egyptian Sphinx. If a person suddenly did something without quite knowing why, in an atmosphere of acceptance and hope, with a great deal of give and take and a freedom from the burden of judgement, he or she would be astonished at how much human beings can improvise. And yet, they do it all the time when they care for each other. But when the demon of judgementalism, mired in a self-destructive shadowy self, and therefore a desperate insecurity, slithers like a snake into the picture, then nothing looks quite right. Everything is open to suspicion, so human beings torture themselves and nourish illogical attitudes.

 The tradition that goes back to Gautama the Buddha and before, and which came down through teachers like Pythagoras and Shankaracharya, venerates the universal mind, the jewelled storehouse of all thought. At one with it any human being is invincible, but separated from it a person is a playground of illusions, inversions and deceptions. When anyone really thinks through the message of the Diamond Sutra, he soon finds that the meaning of life is totally different because he was overlooking that which was obvious from the first. There is an omnidirectional reflection of light in even the rough-cut diamond. Each is reminiscent, in its own way, of the Kohinoor – the renowned 108 carat "Fullness of Light". Many have wondered about its enigmatic history traced through many kingdoms. Its story is shrouded in the secret annals of Initiates. There exist beings capable in consciousness of maintaining a boundless field of awareness in a manner that can be hooked to any point in space-time. The human mind when perfected in its powers is capable of impressing matter at a noumenal level merely by the magnetic touch of a finger or through a deft rearrangement of life-atoms. Nature is itself the carrier of myriad impresses across millennia, converting coal eventually into a diamond.

 In Gupta Vidya there are no such firm distinctions as we tend to make between metaphysical, mythic and metaphorical. Reality is one. The sages speak in terms of a total knowledge of all correspondences, and at the same time they can make endless substitutes and conversions because they effortlessly handle all the polarities – north, south, east, west, above, below – and yet they know that all of these are relativities. The Diamond Sutra is addressed to the Diamond Soul in every man, the hidden centre of the limitless light of awareness. We may be misled by physical analogies, but this noumenal light of mental awareness can create, sustain and dissolve entire fields of cognition. We know from common experience that few things can survive when totally ignored by all, and also that when human beings seize upon something, they lend it verisimilitude. The truly wise man both negates and affirms as he walks through life. Having found meaning and reality in abiding as a motionless being clothed in refined matter, he is like a person who has gone back into the egg. This is a puzzling phenomenon because we do not have physical representations which adequately depict the magic and beauty of self-transformation. When we reflect upon the diamond and the sun, we can conceive of subtle interactions over immense distances in time and of space. Yet a meteorite suddenly penetrating the atmosphere of the earth can instantly convert into diamonds whatever comes in its way. The laser beam of Buddhic perception can reach to the core (tattva) of anything and everything because it bypasses the region of dependent and secondary causation. It penetrates to the very root.

 The Diamond Sutra teaches that any person can, in principle, see to the core of conditioned reality. He can do this through a clear-sighted recognition of the dimensionless cause of unconditioned reality within himself and everyone else. The jewel is within one's reach; one has to use it. When a person is ready to replace angular views with a rounded vision, he can activate the magnetic sphere of influence around him. At all times human beings, on all planes, either speed up or slow down. They exhibit either restlessness or inertia and cannot move equally in all directions at the same time. As one moves away from homogeneity into the realm of the differentiated, what one man cannot use, another man will appropriate. This applies not only to human beings but to all whirling centres of energy. Nature abhors a vacuum. There is nothing that is wholly unused except on the visible plane, and even this is mayavic. One's whole conception of the world of which one is a part can be profoundly altered. To the unfolding Buddhic perception of a person who is truly awake, the logic of relations in diverse realms of matter and consciousness has nothing to do with those eyes and ears which Heraclitus designated as false witnesses to the soul. If human beings had always trusted to the unreliable reports of their physical sense-organs, there would have been no real knowledge of any kind. It is thanks to the light of intelligence and self-reflection that there is knowledge. Souls that are fully awake radiate the inimitable lustre of the diamond through the magical fusion of wisdom and compassion. Buddha exemplified the sovereign human capacity of voiding the seeming full whilst also showing an unspoken, ever-present sympathy for everything that lives and breathes.

 Whenever a person realizes the self-subsisting nature of truth, he enjoys the ineffable freedom which commands the power to see through the eyes of others, with and for them. He finds exhilaration in the expansion of consciousness that encompasses myriad perspectives. A point comes when one can do this not intermittently and by degrees, but ceaselessly by going to the very core, like the sage on a mountain who forgets there is a mountain, who sees no distinctions amidst the plains and between souls, but is replete with cosmic affirmation from what looks like bare negation in a limitless, azure expanse. These are imperfect representations of noumenal realities in the realm of consciousness. Every person has within him or her the possibility of coming closer to the Diamond Soul, the true Self of all. It is transcendent and need not be transfixed one-dimensionally or in as many dimensions as one may count, because it has a solidity and depth inseparable from the void. It is that which constantly rediscovers the voidness of the seeming full – the striking keynote of Buddha – and thereby prepares a person to do that which Krishna taught – to see the fullness of the seeming void. To bring these two archetypal modes together is the noble prospect and the divine destiny of the forerunners of the Aquarian Age. This is a time which spares no illusions or shadows, but which is spacious and fertile in opportunities for such expansion of awareness as may attract credible and sharable representations from the realm of Akasa into the free spaces among human beings.

Hermes, May 1978
by Raghavan Iyer