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Expanding Our Centre of Consciousness

May 27, 2008 04:34 PM
by Pablo Sender

This is an article of mine just published in The Theosophist, May 
2008, where I examined this subject from a psychological perspective 
(as presented by J. Krishnamurti) and the Occult approach by HPB. 
You can find this and other articles on my website

Expanding Our Centre of Consciousness
Pablo Sender

ALTHOUGH almost every spiritual tradition speaks of the divine 
nature in human beings, humanity is involved in suffering, 
brutality, and selfishness. Why are we in such a sorrowful 
condition? Is there any way out? Eastern philosophies as well as 
modern Theosophy say the origin of our present state is avidyâ, 
ignorance, and that only the perception of Truth will set us free. 
Avidyâ is not ignorance of common knowledge; rather, it is a lack of 
perception of who we really are, and what our relationship with the 
Universe is. Therefore the ultimate remedy for our innate illness is 
viveka, or spiritual discernment. This qualification is defined in 
many ways, but all of them are different expressions of the same 
essential idea: the discrimination between the Real and the unreal. 
Thus it is especially related to our faculty of perception.

Viveka has different aspects, as expressed in At the Feet of the 
Master, and its development has various stages, but we will focus 
particularly on the development of a capacity defined by Dr Annie 
Besant as being the essence of spirituality, that is, the ability to 
intuit the unity of all life. In like manner, HPB said 
that `spirituality is not what we understand by the words "virtue" 
and "goodness". It is the power of perceiving formless, spiritual 
essences',[1] without being deluded by the gross aspect of the 
manifested world.

Most of us deeply feel we are just our personality, that is, 
the `me', the one that is now reading, perceiving. We do not have 
actual consciousness of the unity of life; we have not 
developed `the power of perceiving the formless'. In our waking 
consciousness we only perceive the outer shell of the world through 
our five physical senses, which are very limited. Besides, we 
perceive it in terms of the inner (me) and the outer (the other). 
Our perception is confined to what is happening in `me' at the 
personal level. We usually cannot feel in ourselves what is going on 
inside another person or being. Therefore, naturally, selfishness 
arises, because we directly experience our individual necessities, 
our pain, pleasure, hopes, and only in an indirect way do we realize 
other people's feelings. That limitation is the very cause of our 
suffering, since we become identified with something that is 
fragile, small, separated, transient, and incomplete. Theosophical 
teachings, however, postulate that our real identity is eternal, 
whole, unconditioned. If we could perceive this, the problems born 
of our identification with the limited `I' would automatically 
vanish. But is it possible to perceive in an unbounded way?

Many mystics in different cultures and times had the experience that 
consciousness is ubiquitous. This experience was described by J. 
Krishnamurti (JK) in the following words: 

"There was a man mending the road; that man was myself; the pickaxe 
he held was myself; the very stone which he was breaking up was a 
part of me; the tender blade of grass was my very being, and the 
tree beside the man was myself. I also could feel and think like the 
roadmender and I could feel the wind passing through the tree, and 
the little ant on the blade of grass I could feel. The birds, the 
dust, and the very noise were a part of me. . . . I was in 
everything, or rather everything was in me, inanimate and animate, 
the mountain, the worm and all breathing things."[2]

Thus we know, through the experience of the mystics, that the 
working of this extraordinary spiritual perception is a possibility 
for human consciousness; that we can perceive in a holistic way, 
feeling as if we were part of every living creature and even of 
every so-called `non-living thing'. Let us examine, then, how we can 
have access to that kind of perception.

The psychological approach 

When considering this subject from a Theosophical point of view, we 
find two approaches: the psychological and the occult. They are 
complementary, and, to use HPB's words, would lead us to gain `a 
clear perception of the unity of the one energy operating in the 
manifested Cosmos'. We will begin by exploring the psychological 
approach, which is especially meant to remove obstacles, before 
building a different kind of perception. In order to have access to 
that complete perception, we have to discover first why it is that 
our consciousness works in such a limited way. In a talk with some 
friends, JK refers to this: 

"Wait, Sir, I am all that, the past and the present and the 
projected future; I am born in India with all the culture of 5,000 
years. That is all my point. That is what I call consciousness . . . 
when you say you are a Hindu and I am a Muslim; when there is 
focalization through identification, there is then choice."[3]

According to Theosophical teachings, our real consciousness, that 
which endures life after life, is beyond the personal mind, emotions 
and physical body. In every new life it builds those vehicles for 
its expression in the lower realms. But then that consciousness is 
limited by them during incarnation. In fact, the focalization of the 
unbounded original consciousness, limiting its capacity to perceive 
from a wider perspective, is due to the identification with the 
personality. In her article on `Morality and Pantheism', HPB wrote:

"The starting point of the `pantheistic' (we use the word for want 
of a better one) system of morality is a clear perception of the 
unity of the one energy operating in the manifested Cosmos . . . The 
principal obstacle to the realization of this oneness is the inborn 
habit of man of always placing himself at the centre of the 
Universe. Whatever a man might act, think or feel, the 
irrepressible `I' is sure to be the central figure. This, as will 
appear, on the slightest consideration, is that which prevents every 
individual from filling his proper sphere in existence, where he 
only is exactly in place and no other individual is."[4]

Thus the main problem seems to be the `inborn habit' of identifying 
ourselves with our limited, temporary, personal vehicles of 
consciousness, with the centre `I'. This personal consciousness of 
ours was formed in the infant as a result of the impact of 
impressions from the outer world upon the brain. Since then, that 
limited mind became the main means of perception during our waking 
consciousness. We are used to perceiving through it; we do not know 
anything else. As JK states:

"What is the problem? I have been seeing only this fragment 
(pointing to a portion of the carpet) . . . My whole life has been 
spent in observing the fragment. You come along and say this is part 
of the whole, this would not exist if the other did not exist. But I 
cannot take my eyes off this fragment. I agree that this can only 
exist because of the whole carpet but I have never, never looked at 
the whole carpet. I have never moved away from this . . . And I do 
not know how to remove my eyes and look at the whole carpet."[5]

We know, in theory, that our personal consciousness is only a 
fragmentary expression of a greater whole, the Individuality, or 
Higher Ego, but we are unable to realize that. We feel that we are 
this person; that this is our name, our age, work, features, etc. We 
do not know how to perceive in a different way, and there is a force 
that keeps our perception limited to that narrow field during our 
daily life. What is it? JK dwelt on this at length:

"What is it that prevents total perception of this vast, complex, 
existence? . . . When I enter the room, one object catches my eye. 
The lovely bedspread, and I casually look at other things . . . the 
rest recedes, becomes very vague . . . Why has perception focused on 
that? . . . I see this whole field of life only in terms of pursuing 
pleasure . . . Does that prevent total perception? . . . How can the 
mind see the whole of the field when there is only the search for 
pleasure? . . . What is the factor of pleasure? . . . Pleasure is 
always personal. . . So, as long as the mind is pursuing pleasure as 
the `me', how can I see this whole thing? I must understand 
pleasure, not suppress it, not deny it. So, it is important to see 
the whole, not the particular."[6]

Pleasure is a sensation born in that limited centre of 
consciousness, the complex body-mind. And as long as our 
consciousness is pursuing sensation, it will be bound to work 
through the personality. Damodar K. Mavalankar, one of the most 
prominent characters among early Theosophists, wrote:

"The desires and passions are, so to say, chains (real magnetic 
chains) which bind down the mind to these earthly carnal enjoyments 
and appetites. And he who wishes to rise superior to the Mâyâ which 
pervades this world must do so by breaking those adamantine chains 
which hold him a prisoner in this transient world."[7]

Thus, we should examine ourselves and ask: How are we living? Are we 
mostly seeking personal pleasure in the different activities in 
which we take part? Is our daily attitude one of self-protection, 
self-justification, and so on, trying not to be disturbed? If it is 
so, we are constantly strengthening the fragmentation of 
consciousness that is the `me', keeping our consciousness in the 
prison of personal sensation. It is not that we have to refuse 
pleasure as if it were sinful. If it comes, we experience it, in the 
same way as we experience unpleasant things. Both are part of life. 
But the fact that we are seeking for some kind of pleasure in almost 
every situation means that bodily sensations have a great influence 
on our consciousness. That is why, as we read in Practical 
Occultism, `The first great basic delusion you have to get over is 
the identification of yourself with the physical body'.[8] 
Unfortunately, it is not just a question of studying or talking 
about it. In most cases, study has to be the first step because it 
points out the direction. But if there is no real willingness to 
live according to it, this knowledge is of little use. In this 
connection HPB wrote:

"Knowledge or jñâna is divided into two classes . . . ? paroksha and 
aparoksha. The former kind of knowledge consists in intellectual 
assent to a stated proposition, the latter in the actual realization 
of it. . . . From the study of the sacred philosophy, . . . 
paroksha, knowledge (or shall we say belief ?) in the unity of 
existence is derived, but without the practice of morality that 
knowledge cannot be converted into the highest kind of knowledge or 
aparoksha-jñâna. . . . It availeth naught to intellectually grasp 
the notion of your being everything and Brahman, if it is not 
realized in practical acts of life . . . . You cannot be one with 
ALL, unless all your acts, thoughts, and feelings synchronize with 
the onward march of Nature."[9]

That is why real spiritual knowledge does not come merely through 
study, but through an integral way of life that also includes 
meditation, self-knowledge, and an unselfish attitude. If we are 
serious about it, we should train our consciousness daily to live 
beyond that centre of pleasure that is the `me'.

The occultist approach

We have seen that, according to HPB, `The principal obstacle to the 
realization of this oneness is the inborn habit of man of always 
placing himself at the centre of the Universe.' Let us ponder over 
these words from an occultist's perspective. The problem here is 
that we are conditioned by the sense of being that centre `where we 
only are exactly in place'. As stated before, consciousness is not 
necessarily limited by space or form, but it is able to become aware 
of what is taking place in other expressions of the One Life. Since 
it is not habituated to perceive beyond the personal centre, our 
practice should involve an attempt to decentralize our 
consciousness, thus getting used to expanding it for a wider 
perception. How do we do that? 

The practice of HPB's Diagram of Meditation is very useful in this 
endeavour.[10] The whole Diagram is designed to help us break the 
identification with our lower consciousness. The subject of this 
Diagram is too vast to be thoroughly discussed here and we will 
explore it in a future article, but we can refer to one portion of 
it. HPB suggests that we should gradually habituate our 
consciousness to perceive in a non-centred way, trying to live with 
a `Perpetual Presence in imagination in all Space and Time'. `From 
this', she adds, `originates a substratum of memory of 
universality.' This means that we should try to limit the 
focalization of consciousness to the spot where we are in space and 
time. It is not an easy thing to do, but the very effort in that 
direction develops the capacity to habituate our consciousness to 
perceive in a different way. We can use whatever strategy we find 
useful. When walking, for example, we could try to feel that we are 
everything that moves around, `our' body being just one of those 
objects. Or we could sit on a bench in a park and try to feel we are 
everywhere, or that our existence has neither beginning nor form. 
Then we should gradually incorporate that abstract feeling into our 
daily routine.

There is another interesting exercise suggested by C. W. Leadbeater:

"During meditation one may try to think of the Supreme Self in 
everything and everything in it. Try to understand how the self is 
endeavouring to express itself through the form. One method of 
practice for this is to try to identify your consciousness with that 
of various creatures, such as a fly, an ant, or a tree. Try to see 
and feel things as they see and feel them, until as you pass inwards 
all consciousness of the tree or the insect falls away, and the life 
of the LOGOS appears."[11]

Here Leadbeater points out two important things. The first 
is: `During meditation try to think of the Supreme Self in 
everything and everything in it', which is another aspect of HPB's 
meditation just mentioned. And second, he advises us to identify 
ourselves with the lower forms of life. Again, it is not an easy 
exercise because it involves entering into a new realm, but we can 
find some interesting hints in the words of JK, who has also 
suggested a similar experiment:

"It seems to me that one of our greatest difficulties is to see for 
ourselves, really, clearly, not only outward things but inward 
life. . . . Have you ever experimented with looking at an objective 
thing like a tree without any of the associations, any of the 
knowledge you have acquired about it, without any words forming a 
screen between you and the tree and preventing you from seeing it as 
it actually is? Try it and see what actually takes place when you 
observe the tree with all your being, with the totality of your 
energy. In that intensity you will find that there is no observer at 
all; there is only attention." [12]

To succeed in this kind of exercise, we have to be able to silence 
our personal consciousness. All of these exercises may be tested by 
oneself in a spirit of investigation. They will gradually develop 
the power of perception that is latent in every one of us. 
Undoubtedly, when this kind of spiritual discernment awakens, an 
important transformation will take place. As Leadbeater said after 
describing his exercise:

"When we know quite certainly that we are part of a whole, we do not 
so much mind where this particular fragment of it may be, or through 
what experiences it may be passing."[13]


[1] H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings (CW) 12, `Gems from the 
East', p. 451.

[2] Mary Lutyens, Life and Death of Krishnamurti, p. 42.

[3] J. Krishnamurti, Tradition and Revolution, Dialogue 
27: `Intelligence and the Instrument', Bombay, 15 February 1971.

[4] HPB, CW 5, `Morality and Pantheism', pp. 336-7.

[5] JK, Tradition and Revolution, Dialogue 18: `Energy and 

[6] idem.

[7] Sven Eek (Comp.), Damodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical 
Society, `Letter from Damodar to Carl H. Hartmann', p. 304.

[8] HPB, Practical Occultism, `Some Suggestions for Daily Life'.

[9] HPB, CW 5, `Morality and Pantheism', p. 337.

[10] HPB, The Theosophist, May 2003, `Diagram of Meditation', pp. 

[11] C.W. Leadbeater, The Inner Life, `Meditation'.

[12] JK, Freedom from the Known, ch. 11.

[13] loc. cit.

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