Monday, November 4, 2013

Many Voices, Many Selves

An "eastern philosophy" seems to presuppose a belief in reincarnation, among many other assumptions about why we are here and what we are doing. 

I find myself a part of what is frequently called the “eastern philosophy” camp of writers and thinkers. This term suggests a number of key factors, among them, a belief in reincarnation (even though beliefs in reincarnation exist in a wide range of cultures across time and around the world), a belief that a soul lives not only one incarnation but many, repeatedly, that the purpose of this repeated reincarnation is so that the universe, or “all that is,” might deepen its understanding of itself, and that the ultimate goal of this is oneness, that is, the soul realizing that she is not a separate entity, but connected to the universe, a part of the universe, one with the universe, one with everything.

Furthermore, “eastern philosophies” tend to teach that the “reality” that we accept as reality is an illusion and that there is an inherent sense of suffering that comes from taking this illusion too seriously, becoming attached to any part of the illusion, and coming to feel entitled to possessing or experiencing the many objects, entities, and events that form the illusion.


A key component of this illusion is the body the soul inhabits, the integration point where the soul and this world meet. The brain, a key component of this integration point, does many complex operations, including interpreting and modulating sensory data, using these to generate “experiences,” which it remembers and builds into narratives, distinguishing those it prefers from those it doesn’t prefer, thus creating a personality and ultimately a self, which strives to maintain the belief that it is complete, whole, and, most importantly, separate from everything and everyone else in the universe. This “separate self” is called the “ego.”

For “eastern philosophy,” the ego is a significant concept. The ego is generated and lives in the brain of each human. There is a saying that goes, “The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.” Anything we can say of the mind we can say of the ego because the ego depends on the mind—the rational processes of the brain—to maintain itself, its preferences, and its entitlements. 

Television:  a good metaphor for the body as a "receiver" of the soul.

We might consider a television as a metaphor for the body. A television has parts whose ultimate purpose is work together to project integrated images and sound which have been broadcast to it, or sent to it through a cable, onto a screen. The body, similarly receives a signal--the soul. Nevertheless, the major difference between a television and the body is that the body not only receives a signal—energy in the form of a soul—but also generates its own experiences within the material world, ultimately creating the ego. Whereas a television only projects what is broadcast or sent to it via a cable, the body both “receives” the soul, and “projects” its own experiences from the ego.

The body both receives a soul and projects its own experiences onto the "screen" of the mind. 

It is in this sense that we see the soul, our Authentic Self, working through a body that has the capability of generating its own experiences. It is in this way that we have a fragmented self in the form of the ego and its many parts as well as the Authentic Self--the soul who has incarnated into this material existence.