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Evolution and Devolution-Chapter 2-On the Plane of Self Consciousness
And in the first place it would be well to get a firm hold of the meaning of the words "Self consciousness," upon the definition of which an excellent writer and most competent thinker [200-255] has these remarks: "Self consciousness is often referred to as a distinguishing characteristic of man. Many, however, fail to gain a clear conception of what this faculty is. Dr. Carpenter confounds it with the 'power of reflecting on their own mental states,' while Mr. Darwin associates it with abstraction and other of the derivative faculties. It is certainly something much simpler than introspection, and has an earlier origin than the highly derivative speculative faculties.
If it could only be seized and clearly understood, self consciousness would doubtless prove to be the primary and fundamental human attribute. Our language seems to lack the proper word to express it in its simplest form.'Think' approaches this most nearly, and man is sometimes described as a 'thinking being.' The German language has a better word, viz., besinnen, and the substantive Besonnenheit seems to touch the kernel of the problem. Schopenhauer says: 'The animal lives without any Besonnenheit.
It has consciousness i.e., it knows itself and its weal and woe; also the objects which produce these; but its knowledge remains constantly subjective, never becomes objective; everything that it embraces appears to exist in and of itself, and can therefore never become an object of representation nor a problem for meditation. Its consciousness is thus wholly immanent. The consciousness of the savage man is similarly constitutes in that his perceptions of things and of the world remain preponderantly subjective and immanent. He perceives things in the world, but not the world;his own actions and passion, but not himself.'"
Perhaps the simplest definition (and there are a score of them) would be: self consciousness is the faculty by which we realize. or again: without self consciousness a sentient creature can know, but its possession is necessary in order that he may know that he knows. The best treatise so far written on this subject is Romanes' book, already several times referred to .
The roots of the tree of life being deep sunk in the organic world, its trunk is made up as follows: Beginning at the earth level we have first of all the lowest forms of life unconscious and insenate. These in their turn give birth to forms endowed with sensation and later to forms endowed with Simple Consciousness. From the last, when the right time comes, springs self consciousness and (as already said) in direct ascent from that Cosmic Consciousness.
It is only necessary in this place, as clearing the ground for the work to be done, to point out that the doctrine of the unfolding of the human being, regarded from the side of psychology, is strictly in accord with the theory of evolution in general as received and taught to-day by the foremost thinkers. This tree which we call life and its upper part human life and human mind, has simply grown as grows any other tree, and besides its main stem, as above indicated, it has, as in the case of other trees, thrown off many branches. It will be well to consider some of these. It will be seen that some of them are given off from the lower part of the trunk, as, for instance, contractility, from which great limb, and as a part of it, springs all muscular action from the simple movement of the worm to the marvellously co-ordinated motions made, in the exercise of their art, by a Liszt or a Paderewski.
Another of these large lower limbs is the instinct of Self-preservation and (twin with it) the instinct of the continuance of the species-the preservation of the race. Higher up the special senses shoot out from the main trunk and as they grow and divide and again divide they become large and vitally important branches of the great tree. From all these main-of shoots spring smaller arms and from these more delicate twigs.Thus from the human intellect whose central fact is Self Consciousness, a section of the main trunk of our tree, spring, judgement, reason, comparison, imiganation, abstraction, reflection, generalization. From the moral or emotional nature, one of the largest and most important of the main limbs, spring love (itself a great branch dividing into many smaller brances), reverence,faith, fear, awe, hope, hate, humor and many more.
The great branch called the sense of sight, which in its beginning was a perception of the difference between light and darkness, sent out twigs which we call sense of form, of distance, and later the color sense. The limb named sense of hearing has for branches and twigs the apprehension of loudness, of pitch, of distance, of direction and as a delicate twig just coming into being, the musical sense.
Reference: Cosmic Consciousness: A study in the Evolution of the Human Mind: Richard Maurice Bucke.
Evolution and Devolution-Chapter 1-To Self Consciousness
It will be necessary, in the first place, for the reader of these pages to have before his/her mind a tolerably complete idea in outline of mental evolution in all its three branches-sensuous, intellectual and emotional -up to and through the status of self consciousness. Without such a mental image as basis for the new conception this last (that is, cosmic consciousness) to most people would seem extravagant and even absurd. With such necessary foundation the new concept will appear to the intelligent reader what it is: A matter of course-an inevitable sequel to what preceded and led up to it.
Only a very short ime ago (and even yet by most) this break in the line of ascent (or descent) was supposed to be impassable by ordinary growth. It maybe said to be now known to be so passable, but it still stands out and apart from the even path of Cosmic development before our vision as that broad chasm or gap between the brute and the man. For some hundreds of thousands of years , upon the general plane of Self Consciousness, an ascent, to the human eye gradual, but from the point of view of Cosmic evolution rapid, has been made. In a race, large brained, walking erect, gregarious, brutal, but king of all other brutes, man in appearance, but not in fact, the so-called alalus homo, was, from the highest Simple Consciousness born the basic human faculty Self Consciousness and its twin, language.
From these and what went with these, through suffering, toil and war; through bestiality, savagery, barbarism; through slavery, greed, effort; through conquests infinite, through defeats overwhelming, through struggle unending; through ages of aimless semi-brutal existence; through subsistence on berries and roots; through the use of the casually found stone or stick; through life in a deep forest, with nuts and seeds, and on the shores of waters with mollusks, crustaceans, and fish for food; through that greatest, perhaps, of human victories, the domestication and subjugation of fire; through the invention and art of the bow and arrow; through the taming of animalsand the breaking of them to labor; through the long learning which led to the cultivation of the soil;through the adobe brickand the building of houses therefrom; through the smelting of metals and the slow births of the arts which rest upon these; through the slow making of alphabets and the evolution of the written word; in short, through thousands of centuries of human aspiration, of human growth, sprang the world of men and women as it stands before us and within us to-day with all its achievements and possessions. [124. 10-31].
The Human Condition-Thomas Keating
In 1997 Father Keating is one of the architects of the Centering Prayer movement and of Contemplat97, Father Thomas Keating became the fifth person to deliver the Harold M. Wit Lecture on living a Spiritual Life in the Contemporary Age at Harvard Divinity School. Born in New York City in 192, Father Keating entered the Cistercian Order in 1944 in Valley Falls, Rhode Island. Fourteen years later he was appointed superior of St.Benedict's Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, and in 1961 he was elected Abbot of St. Joseph's Abbey, a large Cistercian monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts.
After two decades in Spencer, he returned in 1981 to Snossmass, where he established a program of intensive ten-day retreats in the practice that he calls Centering Prayer, a contemporary form of the Christian contemplative tradition. Father Keating is one of the architects of the Centering Prayer movement and of Contemplative Outreach, a support system for those on the contemplative pathe. He is also a former chairman of Monastiic Inter-religious Dialogue, which sponsors exchanges between monks and nuns of the world's religions; a member of the International committee for Peace Council, which foster dialogue and cooperation among world's religions; and a member of the Snowmass Interreligious Conference, a group of teachers from the world's religions who meet yearly to share their experience of the spiritual journey in their respictive traditions.
He is the author of several best-selling books on the contemplative tradition, including Open Mind Open Heart, The Mystery of Christ, Invitation to Love and Intimacy with God.
When he visited Harvard Divinity School, Father Keating delivered two lectures and led a service of Centering Prayer in the chapel of Andover Hall. In an era when the commodification of spirituality in America seems inescapable, his presence and message were genuinely inspiring and encouraging. Thus he fulfilled the desire of Harold M. Wit, who established the lecture series in 1988, to bring to Harvard "unusual individuals who radiate in their thought, word, and being those spiritual qualities and values that have been so inspiring and encouraging to me along my path."
The publication of these lectures gives me the chance once again to acknowledge with gratitude Harold Wit, a generous benefactor of Harvard Divinity School, and to thank Thomas Keating for bringing together in these lectures the Christian Contemplative tradition with insights from contemporary psychology. May his lectures serve as a guide to "true peace" sane counsel and spiritual comfort in God," in the words of The Cloud of Unknowing, the fourteenth-century English spiritual classic on which Centering Prayer is largely based.
Where are you? This is one of the great questions of all time. It is the focus of the first half of the spiritual journey. Biblical scholars and readers will remember that in Genesis 3 it is the question God asked when Adam and Eve had taken off for the underbush after their disobedience. He called out to them and said, "Adam, where are you?" They were hiding in the woods, and God was looking for them. Adam said, "We heard your voice, and were scared because we were naked." So God said, "How did you know you were naked?"
This marvellous story of creation is not just about Adam and Eve. It is really about us. It is a revelation of where we are. The same question is addressed to every generation, time, and person. At every moment of our lives God is asking us, "where are you? Why are you hiding?" all the questions that are fundamental to human happiness arise when we ask ourselves this excruciating question: Where am I? Where am I in relation to God, to myself, and to others/ These are the basic questions of human life.
Reference: The Human Condition: Ronald F Thieman
The Human Condition-2-Thomas Keating
Sometimes it helps to turn to a story from another spiritual tradition: in juxtaposing the two stories, we may get a new insight. Here is a Sufi tale that is also about the human condition.
A Sufi master had lost the key to his house and was looking for it in the grass outside. He got down on his hands and knees and started running his fingers through every blad of grass. Along came eight or ten of his disciples . They said, "master, what is wrong?" He said, "I have lost the key to my house." They said, "Can we help you find it?" He said, " I'd be delighted."
So they all got down on their hands and knees and started running their fingers through the grass. As the sun grew hotter, one of the more intelligent disciples said," Master, have you any idea where you might have lost the key?" The Master replied, "Of course. I lost it in the house". To which they all exclaimed, " then why are we looking for it here?" He said, "Isn't it obvious? There is more light here."
We have all lost the key to our house. We don't live there any more. We don't experience the divine indwelling. We dont't live with the kind of intimacy with God that Adam and Eve reportedly enjoyed in the Garden of Eden and the Sufi masters seems to have enjoyed before he lost his key.
The house in the parable represents happiness, and happiness is intimacy with God, the experience of God's loving presence. Without that experience, nothing else quite works; with it, almost anything works. This is the human condition - to be without the true source of happiness, which is the experience of the presence of God, and to have lost the key to happiness, which is the contemplative dimension of life, the path to the increasing assimilation and enjoyment of God's presence. What we experience in our desperate search for happiness where it can not possibly be found . The key is not in the grass; it was not lost outside ourselves. It was lost inside ourselves. That is where we need to look for it.
Contemporary psychology has a significant contribution to make at this point. Infants do not have self-consciousness, or at least they have a very small amount. it emerges gradually through various stages of a child's development. Full self-reflective consciousness begins around the ages of twelve to fourteen. Prior to that time, we have an innate thirst for happiness but no practical experience of the presence of the divine within us. So we look for happiness somewhere else.
According to St.Augustine's theology, original sin has three consequences: (1) we don't know where happiness is to be found (ignorance); (2) we look for it in the wrong places (concupiscence); and (3) if we ever find out where it might be found, the will is too weak to pursue it anyway. That is the somewhat dismal view that Christianity has offered up to now. If you are a Buddist, you can track the same sort of idea in the teaching about sufferinh and the cessation of suffering.
Contemporary psychology has provided us with a knowledge of the unconscious. The discovery is only a hundred years old, and it casts an enormous light on all spiritual disciplines. In recent years, we have witnessed the development of various psychological theories such as codependency and the dysfunctional family, which assert that more and more people, at least in the Western world, are afflicted by these pathologies (as much as 95 to 98 percent of the population). These theories are getting pretty close to the idea of the universal character of original sin.
But the spiritual journey is more than a psychological process. It is of course primarily a process of grace. God also speaks to us through nature. The more we know about nature, the more we know about the mind of God. Einstein believed that science was directed toward discovering God's thoughts. Quantum physics itself is a kind of spirituality insofar as it is always looking farther into the unknown to see what is beyond the known.It is a search for ultimate reality.God is available through many sources besides the religious quest. I don't mean to imply that psychology replaces the work of religion, but it seems to me that it greatly supports religion and brings a certain clarity to area of the human condition, especially the discovery of the unconscious.
All of us have been through the process of being born and entering the world with three essential biological neeeds: security and survival, power, and control, affection and esteem. Without adequate fulfillment of these biological needs , we probably would not survive infancy. Since the experience of the presence of God is not there at the age we start to develop self-consciousness, these three instinctual needs are all we have with which to build a program for happiness. Without the help of reason to modify them, we build a universe with ourselves at the centre, around which all our human faculties revolve like planets around the sun. As a result, any object entering into our universe -another person or event-is judged on the basis of whether it can provide us with what we believe or demand happiness to be.
Reference: The Human Condition: Thomas Keating-Elaine Pagels