Becoming switched around, trapped in the crystal cave, we lose not only the sense of the living world around us, but the expanded sense of ourselves. Our identity is diminished. We become vulnerable to those fragmented self-images, prone to corrosive beliefs.
In Hans Christian Anderson’s story of ‘The Snow Queen’, the little boy Kai gets a splinter of the troll mirror lodged in his heart. The mirror fragment distorts reality, making what was beautiful seem ugly. When we get switched around, it is like having a splinter of this same distorting mirror lodged in our heart. What was formerly lovely to us, can seem jaded. Kai’s character changes from a happy, affectionate boy into some one uncaring. His heart has frozen over, so that he comes under the influence of the snow queen. If we start to feel fractured and disgruntled ourselves, our attitude to others can change. We tend to blame people in our lives or conditions created by others further afield (the commuter traffic, the unfair tax laws) for our discomfort. Or we grow distrustful. And then, we may try to find further ways to alleviate our discontent. But if, like blaming, the actions we take carry forward the same distortion — we leach emotional sympathy or intimacy from some one, we bully or manipulate a little — we may feel some temporary relief, but end up entrenching our experience instead of shifting it.
Again, what is starting to happen here is the emergence of a limited sense of self due to the malfunctioning of consciousness. The experience of the whole identity has been replaced with a fragmented sense of identity, because consciousness has become polarised in the manifest world. And this in turn is reflected back to us from the outer world. In other words, if we feel fragmented, we will see and experience and create a fragmented world around us.
The genius of the Buddhist understanding of this gives us a language to describe its subtleties. ‘Intuitive mind’ while it remains attuned to the transcendent aspect of consciousness is what allows this dimension to be translated into the manifest. At the same time, our own identity partakes of both dimensions. We have a personality self, coloured and shaped by DNA,
background, culture, and we also draw on the transcendent self or universal consciousness. We live in both worlds, and participate directly in a quality of self that goes to infinite depths, as well as in the unique facets of our peculiar human selves. So we have an expanded sense of identity, we feel whole, we live in a large place.
However, if this balancing place of awareness loses its attunement to the transcendent, the separated sense of self that arises instead can become mistaken for the whole self or, in Govinda’s words, for the “real and permanent centre of [the] personality.” It is not the whole self, but it thinks it is. This condition is known as the ‘defiled mind’ (klista manas). ‘Defiled mind’ has two problematic propensities, which reinforce one another in what can become a wildly destructive positive feedback loop. One propensity is inflation. David Bohm put it this way: ‘We generally behave as if the ego regarded itself as the universal ‘I am” beyond all limits of time, space and conditions.’ The problem of inflation is easy to see when a flawed leader gains power in a political vacuum, such as happened when Hitler became Germany’s Fuhrer, and when Stalin became head of the USSR and, on a smaller scale, when the Romanian Communist leader Ceaucescu dominated the country for over 20 years. These were men who indeed behaved as if they were beyond all limits of space, time and conditions in every way possible.
Firstly, they acted in ways that were beyond all limits of what is moral and humane. They were able to entertain monstrous ideas, carry out monstrous acts.
Hitler, of course, invaded various neighbouring countries until he precipitated World War II in which over 50 million people lost their lives. He also instigated and presided over the plan to wipe out the Jewish race; under his regime, the death camps and concentration camps were constructed; efficient ways to transport and then gas large numbers of men, women and children were devised; as well as ways to burn their remains, and recycle their possessions, even the gold from their teeth, and the hair from their heads. Stalin set up the system of work camps called Gulags, where millions of citizens were sentenced to long periods of hard labour in freezing conditions for minor or trumped up offences; millions more were tortured (in other ways) or simply executed. Ceaucescu also sentenced millions of ‘dissidents’ to forced labour and used secret police to terrorise the citizenry and he forcibly evicted hundreds of people from their homes to build his Casa Republicii at the centre of Bucharest. These men had lost all sense of empathy and compassion, they were able to see other human beings merely as integers, units to be destroyed or exploited systematically and efficiently. However, not only were they astoundingly destructive and inhuman, they were also irrational. Stalin had his most seasoned army officers murdered just as the storm clouds of World War 2 were gathering. Hitler gave orders for Germany to be raised to the ground in his final days. Ceaucescu had vast canal systems built which went nowhere. The nightmare regimes they presided over therefore lacked measure and proportion from every vantage point (including the hideous and often titanically scaled architecture and public art they sponsored).
In a subtle irony, when ‘defiled mind’ takes over, and believes it is now the ‘real and permanent’ center of the personality, it has lost the sense of relationship with the largeness of the transcendent self. The sense of being part of something expansive and whole has been replaced by a sense of diminishment. Therefore, to make up for this loss, the diminished identity promptly inflates and thinks of itself as if it is the whole thing — not just an aspect of the universal consciousness but the whole of universal consciousness — something that is ‘beyond all limits of time space and conditions.’ This shift is also a loss of the sense of meaningful relationship to the universal or transcendent self, with the result that instead meaning must be found in other ways.
And this is where the second propensity of ‘defiled mind’ kicks in, which is to become over-intellectual, over analytical. Once again, the Buddhist cosmology of consciousness helps break down this problem. For in addition to ‘intuitive mind’ there is another aspect of mind which Govinda translates as ‘intellectual mind’ (“mano-vijnana”). ‘Intellectual mind’ is of course the aspect of intelligence that thinks analytically and logically, and divides the world into parts: sorts, categorizes, and discriminates. Clearly we need this aspect of mind, and there is nothing wrong with it when intuitive mind is in place, holding open the connection to the ‘universal consciousness’. This is why Einstein said that ‘the intuitive mind is a sacred gift, the rational mind is a faithful servant.’ He meant that the rational or intellectual aspect of mind is there to serve the intuitive mind, to input data from the world around, and help fill out the insights of intuition. When the rational mind is the faithful servant of the intuitive mind, its function is moderated and informed by the transcendent intelligence (‘arya-jnana’), and the two can work together hand-in-glove:
Not only is the intellectual function moderated by transcendent intelligence, but the individual consciousness is moderated by universal consciousness. The system is whole, and in balance. But when ‘defiled mind’ sets in, the intellect begins to be informed by the substitute self, and, increasingly under the thrall of involvement with what already exists (the ‘outer’), becomes endlessly dissecting and dissatisfied seeking to control or manipulate conditions to satisfy its inflation. And this is when the intellect’s activity can run away with itself. Without the overarching context of wholeness, it leads to fragmentation and barrenness and what the Buddhists call ‘error’:
“It is because of the activities of the discriminating-mind that error rises,an objective world evolves and the notion of an ego-soul becomes established.” (Lankavatara-Sutra)
The intellect meshed with the partial and inflated identity dissects the whole into meaningless fragments in order to aggrandize itself. One example of this was the Wall Street investment banks’ ‘securitized assets’ madness, the mind-bendingly complex investment packages, mixed together with toxic mortgages, given triple ‘A’ ratings, and sold to clients worldwide.
Fragments are not the same as parts. A part has a relationship to the whole that is coherent, but a fragment does not. As David Bohm pointed out:
“A part … is intrinsically related to a whole, but this is not so for a fragment. ….to fragment is to break up or smash.To hit a watch with a hammer would not produce parts, but fragments that are separated in ways that are not significantly related to the structure of the watch.” “Unfolding Meaning”
It’s ok to divide things up into parts and think about them, just as long as we are able:
“to view those things in a bigger context, namely from the point of view of that fundamental oneness or wholeness, which is at the bottom of all consciousness and its objects.” “Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism”
The bankers also had no moral sense, no empathy, no compassion for the suffering of the millions of individuals affected by their actions. And equally no regard for the well being of the larger whole — whether of their nation, the economy or their client companies. This is because they had lost or never known the wholeness of their own identity:
“the experience or the knowledge that we are not only parts of a whole, but that each individual has the whole as its basis, being a conscious expression of the whole “ “Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism”
‘A conscious expression of the whole” — what a lot of meaning is contained in this brief phrase. The way we perceive, think, generate ideas, treat others and create born out of the conscious translation of one world into the other; out of a whole identity not a partial or fractured ego. This conscious expression of the whole is really what is meant by the word ‘integrity’. The Oxford Dictionary gives its primary meaning as ‘the condition of having no part or element wanting; unbroken state; material wholeness, completeness, entirety.” The quality of unbroken wholeness then came to be associated with ‘soundness of moral principle’ and ‘the character of of uncorrupted virtue’. Again, we can see here that morality relates to the deeper meaning of integrity and not to following rules or belief systems. This is a secondary, derivative meaning of morality because rules and belief systems relate to the intellectual functioning of the mind without awareness of the whole. Morality is about living out of the higher order of identity as opposed to a acting as separated ego self-righteously following or promulgating a list of ‘dos and don’ts’.
When we look out at the problems we see — whether close in, or further afield, whether micro or macro — much of what we are really looking at is the aggregate distortion caused when identity and consciousness malfunction. The translation of the transcendent into the manifest ceases, or becomes distorted.
Human consciousness becomes destructive. Very simply put, this is about the means creating the end: the very way we use our consciousness is the cause of our problems. This is why action born out of policies that seek to try to solve the problems often doesn’t work. Because the cause is systemic and ‘deep’. Effective action will only arise out of the understanding of both cause and reflection, and will seek to address both.
Again, there are large implications here in terms of what constitutes leadership and effective behaviour in any field. Leadership is making conscious space for the impulses and understanding from the ‘transcendent’ aspect of identity so that we evolve policy and take action that is informed by a higher level of integrated intelligence. It was this resource of inner direction that Emerson urged his listeners and readers to trust and listen for:
“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages.”
Or anyone else for that matter. If we are focussed too much on the outer world, we tend to listen more to other people’s ideas and insights, and lose confidence in our own:
“Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” Self-Reliance
As a writer, I am familiar with this syndrome, reading insights articulated by ‘experts’ that I myself had already thought but dismissed because ‘only’ I had conceived of them. Or, in the actual craft of writing, when I attempt to re-work passages from after-thought, second guessing and often losing the essence of my original inspiration.
We could say that the very core of leadership consists in understanding the way our consciousness is designed to work, which also means understanding that there is a deeper dimension of identity. This would mean that an effective leader understands that his or her orientation is what most fundamentally impacts the world he or she inhabits, whether that world is apparently large — a nation, a multi-national company — or apparently small, our family.