On Morality and Psychology (12/15)

A subject of abiding interest is that of the fluidic, spectral nature of psyche.  One of the most disturbing as well as liberating implications of the fluidic, spectral nature of psyche is that all dogmatic or unequivocal stances (assumed by the ego) are unavoidably biased, relative, partial, and therefore psychologically problematic.  Moreover, all such unwavering postures inevitably provoke a compensation from their opposing or complementary stances.  This confrontation with the opposite pole of our firm stance can ‘take place’ outside or inside of us.  The confrontation may be welcome and lead to harmony or reconciliation of the two halves—or it may be dreaded and result in the shattering of the stance (and possibly the ego that is unconsciously merged with it).  If the confrontation with the opposite of one’s established ego-stance turns out to be harmonious and healing, it is probably because that opposite was embraced with compassionate love and understanding. “Love thy (perceived) enemy!”  If the confrontation turns out to be violent and shattering, it is probably because the ‘opposite’ was reacted to with intense fear and psychological ignorance.

Here, incidentally, is where moral convictions and psychological insight are most clearly at loggerheads.  Moral strength, conventionally understood, has little that is equivocal or ambivalent about it.  Such fluidity is considered to be ‘wishy-washy,’ flimsy, or wobbly.  Firmness of will and a refusal to abandon one’s morally upright position are exemplary from the conventional standpoint—which is almost invariably reducible to a psychologically simplistic contest between ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ virtue and vice, purity and corruption, light and darkness.

From the subtler (and contrastingly ‘problematic’ or ‘complicated’) psychological perspective, all these moral opposites are interrelated, interdependent elements of an essentially seamless, unbounded whole—what Jung called ‘the totality of the Self.’  The underlying integrity or coherence of this whole is, for the most part, unconscious where the dogmatic moralist is concerned—and by a kind of inevitability, given the blinders he wears.  But one needn’t be a person of unflinching moral convictions to be unconscious of the underlying unity and interdependence of opposites that, together, constitute the polaristic psyche.  Plenty of flaccid nihilists, hard-boiled cynics, and untethered relativists can be every bit as unconscious of the hidden harmony of the opposites as these ‘peerless paragons of moral virtue.’  The jury is still out as to whether moral heroes or moral zeros create more actual mischief in the world. Neither hyperactive moral fanaticism nor slugged-out lassitude has a whole lot to recommend them, in the end.

Once the genuine ‘psychologist’ has been thoroughly initiated into this ‘mystery’ (of the hidden correlativity and underlying continuity of the pairs of opposites, the conventional, dualistic moral perspective is interpreted in a radically new way.  The limited, limiting, and illusory assumptions upon which moral schemes—of any sort—are founded become plainly visible, objectified, and are ‘seen through.’  Once this Rubicon has been crossed, the newly-hatched ‘initiate’ no longer perceives most moral (or ‘immoral,’ for that matter) phenomena or actions in quite the same way as he did before.

After being ‘re-valued,’ it is not that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ signify nothing—or nothing of any importance or value.  But they now signify something quite different from what they signified before.  This radical reinterpretation is made possible only by the transcendence of the former, dualistic-agonistic scheme where—as in ancient Zoroastrianism—Good and Evil, elevated to the status of cosmic principles, are forever at war with each other, or at least until one side wins out.  What must be transcended is metaphysical dualism.  Duality, of course, is the precondition—the sine qua non—for conflict, separation, and oppositionalism.  There are no heroes or villains in Advaita, or ‘non-duality,’ because all such characterizations are relative—to their opposites, or inverted images—and therefore illusory from the standpoint of transcendent unity.  But—and here mere words and concepts become hollow, lame, and anemic—it is absurd to speak of a standpoint in connection with the transcendent unity, precisely because, as the totality, it contains and digests all possible standpoints.

Unfortunately, the kind of consciousness that is being crudely sketched here is practically inconceivable to the person of overpowering moral convictions.  And by this I do not exclusively refer to morally upright persons.  I mean anyone for whom it has become impossible—if only for a moment, and speculatively—to perceive themselves, the world, and other persons completely stripped and shorn of any moral agenda, judgment, or criteria.  To liberate one’s consciousness from the blinding and enfolding grip of morality (of one sort or another, where some general, authoritative conceptions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are implicitly believed to be real and binding) is a necessary step which must be taken before the hidden unity or primal brotherhood of ‘God and the devil’ can be glimpsed—and withstood.  Moreover, for those who cannot or will not see this creative-destructive unity of the opposites—‘good’ and ‘evil,’ ‘noble’ and ‘base,’ ‘truth’ and ‘lies’ (or fictions)—it is almost never a lack of intelligence that stands in their way.  Rather, it is owing to the fact that they are simply too personally invested in their ‘role’ as upright hero or (equally self-invested) ‘lowdown’ villain in the giant, ongoing ‘morality play’ that 99.9 per cent of human life, now as ever, would appear to consist in.  In the short chapter from Zarathustra entitled ‘On the Thousand and One Goals,’ Nietzsche suggests that morality has always been the ‘motor’ that propels and orients ‘civilized’ human activity.

Thus, the initiate who has achieved and sanctioned his own ‘honorable discharge’ from this never-ending story—this fight to the death between good and evil—is not thereby magically exempted from having to ‘play along’ with those who are still thoroughly conscripted—and invested—in the tragicomedy.  Nevertheless, ‘keeping up appearances’ for simplicity’s sake doesn’t diminish in the least the ironical stance from which he regards the human drama.  This ironical distance is certainly not snobbery or arrogant conceit.  Au contraire.  Rather, it is the fruit of a long process of di-vestment from the cherished concerns and personal prerogatives of the self-righteous ego.

Paradoxically, the genuine psychologist who has attained mental liberation from (the largely artificial-conventional tyranny of) morality is perhaps the one person best suited to exemplify both the cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice) and the three heavenly graces (faith, hope, and charity).  The reason for this lies precisely in his having most completely seen through and moved beyond the tainting and prejudicing personal motivations for action.  His impersonality does not derive from cold-heartedness or indifference to the sufferings and needs of others, but from a sober realism about the inherent fragility and evanescence of all things human.  This purgation of everything frivolous and superfluous from his austere, clear-eyed soul leaves him serenely indifferent towards those frivolous but time-and-soul-devouring distractions that enthrall the multitude.  In fact, the purifying process that the initiate undergoes actually deepens his compassion for those who, being unready to confront the truth, restlessly resort to all manner of diversions in order to drown it out.  Nevertheless, this sensitive awareness of others’ actual capacity for confronting and digesting the existential truths guides the initiate in his peculiar field of service to humanity.  His most fruitful ties will naturally be forged with those, always few in number, whose similar experiences and concerns enable them to hear and understand what he has to offer them.  For those who do not, there are different teachers to respond to their markedly different needs and longings.  The initiate sees the folly and futility of attempting to teach unwelcome truths to the unfit and the unready.  Such misdirection of his knowledge and energy is as harmful as it is wasteful.

Jesus and Nietzsche as Western Cultural Syzygy (2/10)

Jesus’ personally catastrophic but culturally redemptive sacrifice and renunciation of the separate (egoic) self enacted the archetypal crisis that ensues when the higher self thoroughly subordinates (but does not destroy) the lower personality—in order to transform it into an obliging vessel for impersonal love and superior wisdom.

Nietzsche’s reductive ‘reading’ of Jesus’ voluntary martyrdom—namely, that it sprang from his crushing disappointment in others’ inability to love him as fully and unreservedly as he needed them to—tells us a good deal more about Nietzsche, I would suggest, than it tells us about Jesus.[1]   Nietzsche’s personally tragic but culturally invaluable rejection and repudiation of every ‘selfless’ (i.e., non-egoistic) means of transcending the bounds of ego-consciousness is, in many respects, a perfect inversion and counter-image of Jesus’ career. These two world-historical figures are infinitely more instructive as a pair—as a kind of Castor and Pollux—than when taken singly. If there is anything to transcend now, it is not so much ‘the apparent world’ or the metaphysical ‘afterworld,’ but the duality, ‘Christ vs. Anti-Christ.’ With this, we have our work cut out for ourselves, say, for the next six or seven hundred years—or, so Jung thought.

[1] This applies to some extent to Nietzsche’s famous critique of Paul in Daybreak, as well.

 

Pharmakon (12/10)

Am I indolent and shiftless in certain ways? I sometimes have the sense that my life could easily be a whole lot richer, outwardly and inwardly, if only I became more actively or aggressively engaged with what’s there before me in my environment, with the people I am already acquainted with, with the opportunities that are easily within my reach. But perhaps I cherish my steady, comfortable, reflective lifestyle so much that I habitually incline towards a kind of quietism. More often than I care to admit, I shy away from personal involvements, projects, and events that will exact a significant investment of energy or exertion from me—but which do not ‘call’ me in some special (undeniable) way. I show a decided preference for personal relationships, projects, and other endeavors that can be conducted or enjoyed in a leisurely, unforced manner. Could this decided preference (or habitual characteristic) of mine somehow be bound up with a chronic energy shortage? Do I instinctively avoid big exertions of any type because I need to guard and conserve my precious, limited store of energy? And are we talking here about physical vitality or psychic energy? Certainly these two forms of energy are very closely intertwined, if they are not quite interchangeable. But psychic energy is very intimately linked to interest, just as physical vitality is linked to appetite or desire. To speak, then, of a diminishment of psycho-physical energy leads us to a consideration of waning desires and diminishing interests. We begin to register a general decline in vitality—physical and psychic—as the world of persons, places, ideas, and enterprises begins to lose its accustomed allure, when these things fail to call us with the same magnetism and intensity they displayed before.

But it may be asked—‘Are we under any obligation to remain passionately interested in the worlds within and without us?’ I know how queasy and uneasy I generally feel when I am in the presence of hyper-enthusiastic persons who resort to using some kind of psychic Viagra or mental methamphetamines to keep up their inspiration-erection for their lives—as soon as things start to go a little bit limp. Again, I am not attempting here to justify or to whitewash indolence or endorse shiftlessness—if indeed that is what I’m occasionally afflicted with. Nor am I content to poke malicious fun at the many strategies (pharmaceutical, fantastical, ideological, creed-driven, etc.) that a growing number of persons resort to in order to reach an ‘arousal’ state for existence when they can no longer take their former lust for life for granted.

‘The invisible worm that flies in the night…has found out thy bed of crimson joy—and his dark secret love does thy life destroy’

It is always a dicey business to guess at the meaning of Blake’s enigmatic poems, but since ‘The Sick Rose’ is one of the ‘Songs of Experience,’ we start off with a very large clue. The sexual explorer; the man or woman who embraces the world of experience with eros—the delving psychologist and the probing philosopher who burrow like worms or moles as deeply down into the roots of their experience as they can, in search of insight into the nature of things—are all, either knowingly or unwittingly, on a path of unmaskingif not flaying—life itself. And even if—like an onion with limitless layers and no ultimate center or core—life can never be finally unveiled to reveal its true face, there is an undeniable and unmistakable quality of ‘disenchantment’ that anyone who has traveled some distance down this path of unmasking is all too familiar with. Even if no ultimate answers regarding the innermost nature of things is—or ever can be—arrived at, a certain innocence is irretrievably diminished somewhere along the thorny way. Mere uncertainty about the adequacy of our naïve vision of life and its objects of joy and desire cannot help but eat away, like a slow-working acid, at the very fabric of such innocent confidence in surface appearances, along with the whole kit and caboodle of received poppycock that is waiting to be ingested with mother’s milk. Experience itself—real, digested experience of actual things, persons, problems—is the pharmakon that transforms us from innocent babes into wary and chary, reflective onlookers. The Greek word (we hear ‘pharmacy’ and ‘pharmaceutical’ in it) meant both ‘remedy’ and ‘poison,’ and this is in fact the way that authentic experience works upon different persons—or one person at different points in his/her life. It can poison our enjoyment of existence by sabotaging our interest, our desire, and our confidence. Or, it can help to liberate our minds and hearts from childlike notions and expectations which serve, in the end, only to distance us from the reality and the deeper insights that, alone, can provide a legitimate and worthy foundation for our brief lives. But as with any authentic and profound insight—the pharmakon is a paradox: both sides are equally valid at once, regardless of their apparent contradiction.

But—am I lazy and indolent? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Lao-Tzu’s Timeless Little Relativizer (11/10)

I just quickly reread the Tao Te Ching—yesterday and this morning, upon waking—pleasantly surprised to find that it still reliably succeeds in quieting my restless mind and significantly reducing my care and concern for any foolish or non-essential activities, relationships, goals, and hopes. In effect, its laconically and powerfully rendered perspective penetrates deep into my intuition and releases me momentarily from my typical ensnarement in the ego-perspective. From its vantage point the ego is noticeably relativized—not pummeled or thwacked with a cane, not abused unnecessarily or shamed into a hang-dog, abject state, but gently and poignantly objectified. The effect of this is to free up and then activate healing psychic energies that otherwise tend to be ignored, disparaged, and mistrusted by the self-absorbed personal ego. Along with Chuang-Tzu’s short parables, Lao-Tzu’s little book is truly a timeless repository of spiritual wisdom—two seminal, psycho-active texts which, for me, come closer perhaps than any such writings from other spiritual traditions—with the qualified exception of some Zen Buddhist stories and practices—to providing a glimpse of ‘the whole’ in its unbroken state.

This great virtue stems, I suspect, from the absence in Taoism of any sort of metaphysical-moral dualism, such as we find in Plato and in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic schemes—at least in all of their exoteric or orthodox presentations. Buddhism, Hinduism, and the various yoga disciplines from India also seem, at least in the forms I am acquainted with, to stress the importance of breaking the binding ‘spell’ of Samsara (in order to liberate the detached, ascetic meditator) to such an extent that a psychologically precarious one-sidedness in favor of spirit and the disengaged observer generally ensues. What has always appealed most to me about Taoism is its careful (and carefully tempered) embrace of the world as it is, in its quest for balance and harmony—which is not quite the same thing as mere transcendence into a state of spiritual abstraction, but may be better described as poised playfulness with ‘the ten thousand things.’ This fairness, or respectful sense of justice, towards the world (the ‘ten thousand things’) that is central to Taoism has always appealed to my philosophical conscience, which has never been content with any religion’s systematic campaign to categorically devalue and reject the world and the body, or—through some kind of spiritual transcendence—to psychologically escape from them. While such lofty and ‘superior’ spiritual ambitions can certainly entail enormous effort and sacrifice on the part of willful world-renouncers who aspire to such lonely heights, it seems to me that no less effort and self-sacrifice are required to take ‘the middle way’ between ‘heaven and earth.’ The middle path of the ancient Taoists works with the ‘way (the Tao) of things’ and not for one side against the other. The short tenth chapter captures this quite well:

 

Carrying the body and soul and embracing the one,

Can you avoid separation?

Attending fully and becoming supple,

Can you be as a newborn babe?

Washing and cleansing the primal vision,

Can you be without stain?

Loving all men and ruling the country,

Can you be without cleverness?

Opening and closing the gates of heaven,

Can you play the role of woman?

Understanding and being open to all things,

Are you able to do nothing?

Giving birth and nourishing,

Bearing yet not possessing,

Working yet not taking credit,

Leading yet not dominating,

This is the Primal Virtue.       

Borderlands (6/24/16)

Can we imagine a perspective from which the human person, as such, may be viewed, at last, with a divine – or, shall we say “Olympian” – sense of humor that is neither maliciously mocking and derisive, after the fashion of some modern absurdists and deconstructionists, nor with resolute, categorical dismissiveness, as certain schools of Indian practice have been doing for centuries? One thing that both of these camps have set out to do (along with others that I needn’t mention here) is to analyze the human personality down to its elemental nuts and bolts or constitutional ingredients. I wholeheartedly agree with the need for such preliminary steps before any genuine progress can be made along the somewhat different lines I am proposing. What I am after, though, is something more than a mere theory or explanatory scheme. What I’m after will undoubtedly entertain various theoretical elements or suppositions, but these will certainly not be etched in stone. Perhaps, indeed, they will seem to be written in water or sand on a windy day – or cloud-like in their ephemerality and puffy provisionality. What I’m after is not so much a stance or a fixed attitude but a fluid kind of counterpoint or complementarity towards an ever-metamorphosing field (or gestalt) of complex phenomena. There is no sitting still, for long, upon or within the sea, and there is indeed something fundamentally oceanic about this fluid, ongoing dance – or is it a kind of mysterious copulation? – between the observer and the observed. And regardless of whether there is penetration or not, this divinely humorous dance is indisputably a tango.

Cutting to the chase, let me say that what imbues this “morphing perspective” with the epithet “divine” is our developed capacity to see the person essentially in the transpersonal terms of energy constellations and interrelationships. What, then, allows the sense of humor to enter the mix? I would suggest that this depends primarily upon our ability to break the hard nutshell that protects the sacrosanct feeling of personal significance and inviolability. Not a nut easily cracked, to be sure, but the most important one for our present purposes, nevertheless. For those who have been reading “between the lines” it is already evident that there is indeed something “inhuman” about the enterprise we are embarking upon here. It stands to reason that the human, as such, can only be viewed (or experienced) in its naked entirety from a psychic position that is somehow extra-human, supra-human, or in-human. At this point, no doubt, only the most monstrously curious reader is still genuinely gripped or intrigued by the experiment proposed here. All those for whom such a “view” is too dizzying, or incomprehensible, or constitutionally repellent have said to themselves, “Now he has gone too far! I’ll have no more of this rubbish.”

For those, then, who are still with me I wish to suggest a potentially helpful paradox. The key to breaking the nut and releasing the “sense of humor” hidden within is to learn to see life from the vantage point of “death.” It is only from the stillness and silence of the motionless center – or eye of the hurricane that is life – that the fundamental angst of human consciousness can at last be dissolved and transcended. So long as the silent (death-like but vital) stillness of the center is unknown or forgotten, our attention will be more or less helplessly enslaved by the swirling, churning maelstrom of life at the periphery – and at the farthest removed from the center, the winds and flying objects are most likely to carry us away and wound us.

Perhaps now it will be understood that I enclosed the word death in “scare quotes” earlier because I was in fact talking about the mask or specter of death. The still, silent, vital center appears death-like, of course, from the immersed and dramatic condition that most of us partake of most of the time. This is the enormous spectrum of possible experiences, passions, and perceptions that are native to consciousness within the pairs of opposites. And if profoundly still, spiritual centeredness looks like death from the ever-shifting perspective of the hurricane-periphery, what do the “persons” (and their consciousness) look like to those quietly planted in the center? Like dreams and dream figures. “Death” and “dreams.” And where is that elusive sense of humor spoken of earlier? It is always within reach just beyond the magnetic/gravitational field of angst – which appears to be mysteriously synonymous with the “human/personal as such.” No wonder such humor has something essentially divine about it.

A Tentative Psychological Typology (4/09)

I offer here a playful-sketchy stab at yet another psychological typology—a general scheme for distinguishing some basic character types, based primarily upon the factors that move us from within and shape us from without.  Other typologies—e.g., astrological, Platonic, Theophrastus’, the Enneagram, and particularly Jung’s (which is known to many via the Myers-Briggs test)—are far more richly developed, elaborate, and subtle, but I offer this as something merely for the reader to play with.  To begin:

Some persons define themselves chiefly by what they want—what they desire in and from life, whether that happens to be a luxurious, oversized home and a Ferrari or, someday, to become a contestant on American Idol.  Others define themselves principally by where they’ve come from—what persons, places, and events have shaped them into “who” they are.  Still others seem to be defined primarily by philosophical, ethical, or religious ideas with which they deeply identify and against which they continually measure and evaluate themselves.  There is, finally, a relatively rare fourth type that seems driven principally by a yearning for release from all forms and attachments which enthrall or encumber the spirit.

A person whose sense of identity is markedly bound up with the concrete worldly goods or accomplishments he yearns for may turn out to be a mere dreamer or a marvelous, inspiring “success story,” depending on a variety of factors, the most significant of which are the person’s actual capacities (practical single-mindedness, powers of concentration, drive, willingness to make sacrifices, intelligent understanding of the means to his ends, etc.) and the attainability of that desired end, relative to those actual capacities and abilities.  But once that which is yearned for (and which has hitherto defined “who” our person is) has been attained—if it is attained—then what?  If the yearning and the striving and the creative work that were involved in the attainment of the goal were crucial components of the person’s sense of happiness and identity, what is likely to happen when that yearning, striving, and creative work are no longer fixed upon their former goal—since now it has been attained?  Presumably, just maintaining one’s hold upon—or possession of—the realized dream will not be quite the same thing, or bring the same level of satisfaction, as the striving and the initial attainment of the goal.  Doesn’t such a person—once the goal is achieved—undergo something like a symbolic death experience?  Up till now his life has been defined and driven by the quest, and now that a kind of finish line has been crossed, life itself may very well feel wrapped up, psychologically speaking.

Could it be that the impractical dreamer who yearns but does not strive, who idealizes but takes no decisive steps to realize that which he imagines for himself, is faced with a very different form of “impotence” and “death” than those who actually realize their grand dreams and then are left somehow dissatisfied—stumped about what to make of their “winnings?”  Is it possible that such unaccomplished, un-proven dreamers are able, somehow—before ever setting forth—to “see around the corner” of their dreams?  Perhaps they intuitively anticipate the inevitable slackening and disillusionment that is experienced as soon as we get what wish for—and this alone is enough to dampen their zeal?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps he or she simply lacks the will, discipline, confidence, and courage required to strive effectively.  In either case something is left undone, perhaps unfulfilled and unborn in the ineffectual dreamer—some drive or motivation that, despite its ultimate inability to bring complete satisfaction, nevertheless eventually gets accomplished because of the striver’s struggle and sacrifice.

Those who understand and define themselves chiefly by the personal biographical events and local cultural conditions out of which they have emerged tend either to praise or to blame these factors for the person they’ve become.  If, at bottom, they love and respect what they’ve become, their positive affirmation of those shaping factors from their past will probably take the present form of passing on this same legacy and way of life to others who are in search of well-being.  If, however, the person feels himself to have been botched or irrevocably tainted by his origins and his background, this may provide a kind of excuse or rationalization for his remaining mired in a condition of self-disgust and psychological paralysis.  What is interesting is that the actual conditions (of genetics, parentage, early education, socio-economic status, cultural and religious affiliation, ethnicity, gender, etc.) can be almost the same in both of these very different cases, and one person will feel spurred on and energized by them while the other will feel cursed or blighted by them—which suggests that a good deal more than just environmental factors are always at play in how we turn out (or who we turn out to be).  These hypothetical background conditions in both cases may be benign or favorable (in a popularly understood sense—say, with wealth, superb formal education, respectful tolerance and liberty, benign social environment, etc.) or the opposite (poverty, alcoholic or negligent parents, little or no formal education, etc.), while happy/fulfilled lives and miserable ones can arise from both sorts of conditions.  What is crucial to this type is the decisive role played by his past in the present state of his character, or fate.  In both cases there will be a tendency to replicate those conditions out of which their identities were forged—in the one case because of the energizing and structure-providing powers associated with those conditions; in the other, simply because he is crippled by them and stuck, monotonously repeating the same pattern over and over again, but never really going anywhere.

With persons whose identity is principally informed by abstract ideas or ideals, we encounter a similarly wide spectrum stretching between those, at one end, who are more actively and dialectically engaged with ideas and those, at the other, who are extremely passive and slavish in their obedience to them.  In both cases there tends to be a greater measure of impersonality, as a by-product of their relationship with grand ideas and abstract principles, which frequently have a noticeably impersonal character, even when they claim otherwise.  “Impersonal” does not necessarily mean “dead” or unfeeling, since ideas and the persons animated by them can certainly be zealously passionate, magnetic, and may even convey a certain warmth and humor.  Unless, of course, the person is merely the puppet or soulless mouthpiece for some inviolable, ruling theory or piece of dogma, in which case the life of the person is unconsciously leeched away by the “pale cast” of his tyrannizing idea, which possesses him, exploits him, and eats away at him like a degenerative disease.

How can an abstract, impersonal idea or a cold and bloodless theory have such an effect upon a living, breathing human being, it will be asked?  Such a question could only be raised, paradoxically, in a psychologically imbalanced era, in which ideas have been robbed of ‘soul’ and reduced to instrumental tools in the service of merely practical or mundane purposes.  I refer to the “pragmatic,” instrumental reason that has all but completely supplanted and extinguished the speculative ideas and the philosophical thinking with which our pre-modern forebears seem to have had more natural and easy relations—and a better feel for.  One equips oneself to wrestle with ideas only after he has come to respect them (in their once grander and more magnificent forms) as our prehistoric ancestors respected and revered great and often dangerous animals, upon which they at the same time depended for sustenance.

I have added one more type to the three I’ve already mentioned, although in many respects it is perhaps better conceived as an undoer of merely personal identity than as a formative factor.  I would describe it as a “form-shedder” for it may be linked with the Hindu notion of moksha, or liberation from the body, the passions, and all mundane attachments.  Just as with the other three identity-related categories, this fourth one has an active (rajas) and a passive, or inert (tamas) modality: non-attachment and nihilism.

The inclusion of this fourth category (or type) seems warranted as a transformative element in an otherwise static or closed scheme.  It is the radically dynamic variable, if only because of its subversive, undermining relationship to the other three.  And yet, it is not a case of apples and oranges here, since this fourth category is still related to the central issue of identity—only from a perspective of decomposition rather than of composition, deconstruction rather than construction—withdrawal rather than immersion.

On the Gunas (12/17/15)

The psychological reconciliation or balancing of the foundational, energy-generating pairs of opposites results in a sattvic state of dispassion or serene neutrality. And while such inner peace and tranquility is welcomed by many of us much of the time, this is not always the case. The rajas element within our constitution, or make-up, naturally prefers drama, activity, and noise over silence, stillness, and peace. And rajas—just hypothetically, or intuitively, speaking—will be necessary so long as there is a considerable measure of tamas (inertia, torpidity) in our system. Is it not likely that the principal aim of rajas—so far as our spiritual liberation is at stake—is to hammer the dense stones of tamas into powder that can easily be blown away by the wind (pneuma)? What this suggests is that a proper love and appreciation for sattvic neutrality and dispassion can only be earned after the long, dramatic conflict between rajas and tamas—the active principle and the dark, inert material one?

So long as there is a preponderance of rajas in one’s composition, it will be difficult to experience sustained periods of sattvic stillness and serenity. Rajas will kick into gear (or into play) and stir things up all over again. But this is a necessary activity, one that cannot simply be willed—or imagined—away. It must be patiently and thoroughly outgrown.

In saying all of this, I do not know for certain if—or how much—my theory accords with traditional Indian doctrine respecting the gunas—but the gunas provide my imagination with one of the most useful schemes with which to make meaningful sense out of this complex and mysterious process of spiritual transformation.