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
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', without being deluded by the gross aspect of the
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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'.
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."
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. 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
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."
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." 
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."
 H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings (CW) 12, `Gems from the
East', p. 451.
 Mary Lutyens, Life and Death of Krishnamurti, p. 42.
 J. Krishnamurti, Tradition and Revolution, Dialogue
27: `Intelligence and the Instrument', Bombay, 15 February 1971.
 HPB, CW 5, `Morality and Pantheism', pp. 336-7.
 JK, Tradition and Revolution, Dialogue 18: `Energy and
 Sven Eek (Comp.), Damodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical
Society, `Letter from Damodar to Carl H. Hartmann', p. 304.
 HPB, Practical Occultism, `Some Suggestions for Daily Life'.
 HPB, CW 5, `Morality and Pantheism', p. 337.
 HPB, The Theosophist, May 2003, `Diagram of Meditation', pp.
 C.W. Leadbeater, The Inner Life, `Meditation'.
 JK, Freedom from the Known, ch. 11.
 loc. cit.
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