by Bernadette Roberts

Definition of Terms
No one knows the true nature of self as long as he is living it, or is it. The true nature of self can be disclosed only when it falls away and becomes known in retrospect, by its absence or what was. As it turns out, self is first and foremost an unconscious experience and only secondarily a conscious experience. Thus the self we know is the conscious-self, and the self we do not know is the unconscious-self; together these constitute the entire human dimension of knowing, feeling and experiencing. In essence, self is what it means to be human. As a dynamic but non-eternal experience it is in passage, a passage that is our life. Thus we might say that what self or consciousness IS, is a passage through human existence. With the falling away of self, it becomes possible to get an overview of this passage along with its major milestones. From this particular perspective we will be discussing the experience that we consciously know as self, but unconsciously cannot recognize until it is gone.
Before we begin, however, it should be pointed out that beyond the human dimension of knowing and experiencing lie other dimensions of existence: animal, plant, mineral, elemental, as well as the dimension of ultimate Truth, the divine-Absolute, God, or whatever we wish to call the alpha and omega of all possible levels of existence. What keeps human beings locked within the centrality of their own experience is self or consciousness; while man knows about other dimensions of existence he cannot experience these dimensions because consciousness precludes his doing so. Thus no one, for example, can know the immediate experience of a bird or a lump of sugar. In order to BE a bird or a lump of sugar there could be no human experience, and thus there would be no one to give us a report. Consciousness then precludes the experience of other dimensions of existence, and it does so in order to make the human experience possible. If consciousness had not come into existence, the limit of experience would be that of the animal; if the animal or purely sensory experience had not come into existence, the dimension of experience would have remained that of the plant; and without the plant, existence would be purely elemental, and so on, back to the ultimate source or beginning. The point is that consciousness is only one dimension or level of existence and this dimension is our unique human way of knowing, feeling and experiencing.
Because the terms "self and "consciousness" express the same experiences and because nothing can be said of one that cannot be said of the other, we use these terms interchangeably and affirm that the true nature of self IS consciousness. The study of self, therefore, is equally the study of consciousness. But since we cannot use two interchangeable terms to define one another, we must derive our definition of self or consciousness from the experiences that give rise to these terms in the first place. As everyone's most immediate knowing ("I exist," for example), self or consciousness is first of all an experience and only secondarily a word or an idea that expresses this experience. Thus if there were no experiences to back up the terms "self or "consciousness" (and all their subsidiary expressions: I, me, you, etc.), these terms could not have arisen. It is solely by experience that we know self or consciousness; as a mere word, concept or theory held in the mind, we can never know it.
In these pages we use the term "consciousness" (or "awareness") to include the entire system of consciousness with its various levels of experience from the unconscious to God-consciousness. By "consciousness" or "self we mean the whole of the psyche, which, in Jungian terms, includes the conscious ego and unconscious self. In Eastern terminology it includes the "true Self," "Atman," or "Pure Consciousness," at least as I see it. All of these experiences fall within the experiential boundaries of self or consciousness. To realize an abiding oneness with the divine is the highest potential of self or consciousness; in this case the deepest experience of self IS the experience of the divine. But this realization or awareness is not outside the boundaries of self or consciousness. Throughout these pages the word "consciousness" always includes both the conscious and unconscious levels of consciousness. Although we will be going into the primary experiences that constitute the self-experience, our first interest is to find out what makes this experience possible in the first place.
Consciousness and the Senses
Although we say that man is unique by reason of consciousness and not by reason of the senses-which belong to the animals as well-the problem with excluding the senses from man's unique way of knowing is that as long as consciousness remains, man never experiences "pure" sensory perception (as the animals do). This is because these two systems, consciousness and the senses, are intimately connected and function as a unit or singular whole. Thus from the day we are born (or conceived even) the development of consciousness depends on the simultaneous development of the senses. Despite this developmental priority or dependency (of consciousness on the senses) we cannot equate the human sensory system with that of the animal whose sensory system has no potential for functioning in conjunction with consciousness. This means that the human sensory system is unique to man and must not be equated with the sensory system of the animal. Where the human sensory system has the potential for functioning in conjunction with consciousness, the animal sensory system has no such potential because no consciousness is present. To say that animals are not conscious beings frequently raises objections. These objections, however, are based on the fact that consciousness is incapable of experiencing pure sensory perception-which is knowing without consciousness-and thus it underrates, because it does not understand, any way of knowing other than its own.
For the most part it rarely occurs to anyone that the human sensory system can function without consciousness. Usually people believe it is the other way around-namely, that consciousness can function without the senses. This latter belief, however, is based on the notion that consciousness is eternal or an immortal soul perhaps, but in truth, matters are actually the reverse. Man, like the animal, can function without consciousness, but neither man nor animal can function without the senses. Thus while it is quite possible for man to go on living and functioning without consciousness, once the senses cease to function the result is a purely vegetative mode of existence. While plants can thrive in such a dimension of existence, neither man nor animal can do so. The whole point is that as long as consciousness remains, it functions in conjunction with the senses and does not allow for "pure" sensory knowing. Thus we must keep in mind that apart from consciousness or separate from it, the senses have their own way-of-knowing and partake of a dimension of existence not available to consciousness.
Although it is not our intention to go into the nature of "pure" sensory knowing, it is important to note that once consciousness falls away sensory knowing turns out to be quite different from what we had previously believed it to be. Where we thought the senses had been responsible for discriminating the particular and singular, and believed that consciousness and the intellect posited the universal or whole, it turns out to be the other way around. The senses do not know, and cannot focus on, the particular or singular;
it is nowhere in their power to do so. Consciousness alone has this focusing and discriminating power. Thus by themselves the senses cannot discriminate the singular or particular, and without the singular there is also no plural, no parts and wholes, no one-and-the-many. Sensory knowing is not derived by reflection, intuition, feeling or any such experience; instead, whatever is to be known is simply "there"-quite flatly with no thought or feeling. The senses merely apprehend "what is" with none of the distinctions, discriminations and labeling that are so indicative of the function of consciousness. As it turns out then, consciousness is a discriminator, discriminating the particular and multiple, the knower and known, subject and object. Its dimension is entirely relative, while the senses are non-discriminating and non-relative, knowing neither parts nor whole. Also, pure sensory knowing is neither a different type of consciousness nor a different level of the same; rather, it is a totally different system or way of knowing-virtually a different dimension of existence. Pure sensory knowing bears no resemblance to the knowing, experiencing dimension of consciousness. Obviously there are more ways of knowing than that of consciousness.
Similar to the senses, consciousness is a physiological function integrated with the total body-mind functioning. From this integration man derives an unconscious subjective sense of physical form, or experiences himself as a discrete, separate entity or being. In the absence of consciousness, however, the experience and awareness of physical form dissolves, resulting in the unusual experience of bodilessness, a condition to which man would have to acclimate if consciousness were permanently to fall away. So form as it is experienced by consciousness is quite different from form experienced by the senses alone-and different as well from Form known in the absolute sense of the term. Thus when we have occasion to say that "form is void," we are not speaking from the experience of consciousness and its way of knowing (or even its way of not knowing); rather, this statement is made first of all from the experience of "pure" sensory knowing. Then ultimately, when we have realized that void IS absolute, this statement is made from the perspective of absolute knowing. For now, however, we wish only to emphasize that for mankind sensory knowing as it lies beyond consciousness is not the same as the animals' sensory knowing. The movement beyond consciousness is a forward step for man, not a backward step into the animal dimension of existence. Our human passage to the divine is an irreversible forward movement; it cannot reverse itself or move backwards to any lesser dimension of existence.
The Function of Consciousness
The fact that man is not always conscious of his own awareness (self-conscious, that is) attests to the rootedness of self-awareness in the unconscious. This rootedness is responsible for the continuity of self-consciousness across all levels of consciousness, including the level we call "unitive" or "God-consciousness." There could be no self-awareness if this awareness were not, first of all, unconscious. As someone once noted, nothing rises to the conscious level that is not first on the unconscious level of consciousness. This fact tells us that self-awareness on the conscious level is not sufficient to account for self or consciousness, and that we must look to a deeper level if we are to find the true source and origin of self-awareness.
This deeper level, of course, is everything we call the "unconscious," a level we often think of in terms of content and storage, or mysterious energies and powers-in a word, everything we do not know about ourselves on the conscious level. But far more important, on this unconscious level consciousness functions automatically, spontaneously, almost mechanically and beyond our conscious control. Also on this level, consciousness as a physiological function connects with other physiological functions and is integrated with the total body-mind. This integration is such that changes in either the function of consciousness or in any bodily function is reciprocally experienced by the body and consciousness alike. Sometimes we forget this fact and believe, instead, that consciousness or self is somehow separate from the body, suspended in it, or can exist apart from the body. If this were so, consciousness could never be integrated with body-mind functioning or affect our lives in any way, which is obviously not the case.
The great importance of the unconscious is that it is the root level of physiological functioning for the whole system of the psyche or consciousness. On this physiological level consciousness is the reflexive mechanism of the mind (or brain), which is the mind's ability to bend on itself in order to know itself-know its own functions, experiences, thoughts and content. The act of bending on itself IS the act of self-awareness-the mind's own awareness of itself. Because of this bending action we have the subject-object poles of consciousness, which is the mind knowing itself as object to itself. Thus subject and object are the same, the same mind knowing itself. Self-knowledge then is the subject-objectified or subject-as-object, and all "self words are expressions of this reflexive act, expressions of the mind's own experience of itself. Although the word "self can become a mere concept or content of the mind, the spontaneous origin of all self words are the experiential expressions of the reflexive mechanism of the mind. Everything else that can be said of self is secondary to the act or function which IS self-awareness on the unconscious level. Thus the reflexive act of the mind is what the knowing-self IS; self is not the result of a reflexive act; rather, self IS this act.
Because the reflexive mechanism or act of self- awareness is an autonomous mechanism; it is not under conscious control-we cannot stop or start it, or alter it in any way. Thus on a totally unconscious level, self-awareness goes on whether we are conscious of it or not. Only when we become aware of our own awareness (self-conscious, that is) do we move to the conscious level of consciousness, which is a "reflective" level (as opposed to the unconscious or "reflexive" level). Unlike the unconscious, we have some control over the conscious or reflective level. Here we can deliberately reflect on ourselves, look within (introspection), or remain in the state of simple self-awareness-there are various levels of reflectivity. In simple terms, self-awareness exists on both the conscious and unconscious levels of consciousness, and thus all consciousness is self-consciousness.
The self-awareness we know most about is the experience of the reflective or conscious level of consciousness; the self-awareness we know little about or may not know at all, is the experience of the unconscious level of consciousness-virtually the level of its physiological functioning. This tells us that even if we could do away with reflective self-awareness (conscious level of the psyche), we still could not do away with reflexive (unconscious) self-awareness. As a physiological function the reflexive mechanism underlies all levels of consciousness; thus to do away with one level would be to do away with all levels-which, of course, would be the end of all consciousness. This means that if consciousness (self) ceased to function, it would have to cease across all levels because, at its physiological root level, consciousness functions on an all-or-none basis. The mind does not "half bend" on itself.
Because self or consciousness is first and foremost a physiological function, nothing short of the cessation of this function could account for any state or condition we call "no-self or "no-consciousness." Thus if the reflexive mechanism of the mind were to cease functioning it would cease across all levels of consciousness, from the conscious to the unconscious as well as God-consciousness. So long as the reflexive mechanism persists, however, self persists because this mechanism IS consciousness; it IS the mysterious unconscious self. The reflexive mechanism is not a function that may or may not give rise to the experience of self; rather, on the unconscious level, self IS this function. When we consider all the experiences and content to which this mechanism gives rise, we become so wrapped up in these secondary aspects of self or consciousness that we sometimes forget its physiological roots. Even though most of our passage through consciousness consists of dealing with its various experiences and content, our present interest is to focus on the true nature of self prior to all secondary experiences and content.
It is not difficult to see why the deepest self is virtually an unknown, or why we constantly experience its profound unconscious mystery. Because its deepest nature and experience is unknown some people identify self or consciousness as the mystery of the divine, or identify it AS the divine. Indeed, we do this without knowing. Thus, for example, we believe our experiences OF the divine to BE the divine when, in fact, what we experience is the unconscious responding to the divine. We might compare this to the experience of being stuck with a needle-our experience is our response to the needle, which means the experience is only ourself; it is not the needle's experience. We do not know the needle's experience or its particular dimension of existence; in fact, we do not know if the needle experiences anything at all. So too, when we experience the divine, the experience is our response to the divine, which means the experience is only ourself-our unconscious self. Our response (the effect), however, is not the divine's experience, just as it was not the needle's experience. We do not know the divine's experience or dimension of existence. While the divine (or needle) may be the cause of our experience, the experience itself is the effect. Thus no matter how divine our experiences may appear to be, we cannot justify the leap that claims our experience IS the divine or the divine's own experience. We have to admit that all we can know and experience of the divine-and the universe for that matter-is limited to our human dimension of knowing and experiencing and that this limited way of knowing and experiencing is the boundary of consciousness.
Although we say that experiences of the divine are virtually experiences of ourselves-the unconscious self as it touches upon the divine-this does not mean that consciousness is totally separate from the divine. On the contrary, so long as anything lasts, nothing is separate from the divine. The divine is the unknown of matter itself-not matter, however, as it is known and experienced by consciousness or the intellect and senses. But if consciousness as a structure and function is not divine, it is also not separate from the unknown divine substance from which it is formed. That which is truly divine about man and the universe is beyond any particular form, structure or function, and therefore beyond anything we can point to. Though consciousness has its own unique experience of the divine, the divine is beyond the knowing, experiencing dimension of consciousness.
The Knowing Self
So far we have mentioned only the reflexive mechanism of the mind, which is the "knowing self and one of the two experiential dimensions that make up self or consciousness. The other dimension is the "feeling self," which is equally mysterious and rooted in the unconscious. Although the knowing self and the feeling self are two different experiences, they nevertheless function together to form the inseparable wholeness of self or consciousness. This functional unity is such that if there were no feeling self there also would be no knowing self, and vice versa; we cannot have one without the other.
We have already said that the mind bending on itself is responsible for all self-awareness. When the mind bends on itself what does it see? It sees itself, of course. As an automatic function, this seeing or self-awareness is first of all unconscious and only secondarily conscious. The developmental process is the movement from one level of awareness to another while the reflexive mechanism remains stable throughout. Because the mind bends on itself it sees or is aware of itself; thus we have the knowing experience "This is I," "I am myself," and so on. Self is not a socially learned or conditioned experience; it is not a mistake or an illusion. Rather, self or consciousness is a concrete function of the human brain; without it, man would not be man.
If we can understand the reflexive mechanism and how it works we can see that the mind knows itself solely as object to itself. This is a reflexive type of knowing in which the subject-self is no different from the object-self; either way the mind bends, it bends on itself. There are not two selves, of course, one an object and the other a subject. On the contrary, if the object-self changes, it is only because the subject-self changes. In the course of our journey, then, it is not the reflexive mechanism that changes; rather, it is the level of self-awareness that changes. Thus we can know ourselves on a superficial level (through the eyes of others, for example) or we can know ourselves to the depths of realizing we are not separate from the divine. What makes these changes in depth possible is the stability of the autonomous reflexive mechanism.
So we have to keep in mind that the reflexive mechanism underlies all levels of consciousness and self-knowing, and that its physiological roots constitute the unconscious or unknown aspect of self or psyche. It is not possible, however, to discover the true depth of these unconscious roots until the reflexive mechanism has permanently ceased to function. Thus to the very end of the journey, the final boundary of consciousness remains totally unconscious and unknown. When the reflexive mechanism has permanently ceased to function, however, the true unconscious nature of this mechanism becomes known-known by its absence.
The Feeling Self
Like the knowing self, the feeling self has profound roots in the unconscious, so profound that it could be said the feeling self predominates over the knowing self as man's primary experience of self. Off hand we tend to think of the feeling self as the emotional or affective system, when in truth, the affective system is only the more conscious experience of the feeling self. What few people realize or suspect is that the root experience of the feeling self is the experience of life and being. Thus the true feeling self IS the experience of "life" and "being," which together with the reflexive mechanism or knowing self composes the whole of consciousness and the entire self-experience. Sometimes we attribute the feeling of life and being to physical energy or to the experience of soul or spirit. At one point in our journey, when we have realized oneness with the divine, we may even attribute this experience to "divine Life" and "divine Being." For the most part, however, people simply take their experience of life for granted-so much so, they would probably not think to list it among their experiences. But however we interpret it, we can appreciate how difficult it is to articulate our subjective experience of life and being. Its mystery defies adequate expression and description, which testifies to its profound roots AS the unconscious itself.
Although the experience of life and being seems to pervade the entire body-mind and to defy a specific bodily location, for the perceptive it seems to have a point of origin in a mysterious non-physical space within ourselves, a space we regard as the center of consciousness. Much has been said and written of this life-center. Under various names and headings we find this subjective phenomenon mentioned in the various literatures of the world, from philosophies and religious traditions on down to modern psychology. This feeling center (which IS the feeling self) has various experiential levels from the physical to the divine. How we see or experience it has to do with our level of spiritual and psychological maturity. Many people regard this mysterious center as the seat or origin of consciousness. While this is ultimately true, as a matter of developmental priority and experience, however, we cannot say which came first, the knowing or the feeling self. These are basically two sides of the same coin, which coin is the whole of consciousness.
Although it is not our intention to go into the various experiences that derive from the feeling center-energies, emotions, passions and other subtle feelings-it is important to point out that the "will" is, itself, the deepest experience of the feeling-self or center of consciousness. Thus in experience the will IS the experience of simple "being." We are not always clear on the experience of will because as a volitional faculty it can move in either of two directions-toward or away from something. This movement is actually the experience of "desire," which is a movement of the will, but not the will in its more profound immovable state. In other words, the will is simple energy or being, while its movement in either direction is desire. Perhaps the most simple expression of the deepest experience of will is "feeling-being." It is when the will moves, however, that we have desire, wanting, grasping. If all movement of the will were to cease-as in a desireless state-the will would nevertheless remain as the simple experience of being. Purely as a volitional faculty, however, the will or feeling self is its own "to be or not to be," meaning that self can either surrender its life and being to the divine from which it arises or it can keep it solely for itself. Though we are not free to choose existence-it is too late for that-HOW we are "to be" in this world is our choice. Underlying human freedom is the fact man exists by no power of his own, and so, too, by no power of his own can he cease to exist.
The human passage might be compared to a moving sidewalk that is carrying man to his ultimate destiny. The choice is either to tune-in and go with this movement or to spend our lives going against it. Either way we cannot get off or stop the movement, because the passage takes its own course and will be completed whether we wish to go with it or not. Thus the quality of life is our choice, but not life itself. The will as it exists primarily for itself is the "ego," and though it is the immature feeling self, it is not the "true" feeling self. The ego suffers and becomes anxious or has a tantrum when it does not get what it wants, whereas the true self, as the simple quiet experience of "being," is a joy. Having attained everything in its deepest divine center, it wants for nothing. Thus "being" is the will prior to its movement in any direction, a will that finds no lasting peace until it rests in its divine center. The point to keep in mind is that the will or feeling self is not a thinking or intellectual faculty, but instead is the experience of "feeling being" or "feeling life." Without a thorough account of the will, no description of consciousness or self can be complete. This feeling self together with the knowing self IS the whole of consciousness and each one's experience of personal selfhood and existence. Man has no greater certitude than this-that he exists.
Unity of Consciousness
To explain the unity of consciousness we might compare its structure to an inverted triangle. The subject-object poles (reflexive mechanism of the mind) form the base of the triangle which leads downward to converge at a one-pointed center. Without the base there can be no center, and without a center there can be no base. What posits a center is the reflexive mechanism of the mind looking into itself, an unconscious "look" which carries awareness down or within to a "point" where subject and object converge and come together in the simple experience of life and being. This center is the true focal point of the mind or reflexive mechanism (the knowing self) which, while it is initially an unconscious center, with maturity becomes the conscious center as well. As the immature center, the feeling self is the "ego." As the more mature center, it is what Carl Jung called the true "Self." But beyond even the deepest unconscious Self lies the divine. That which experiences the divine IS the unconscious Self, but when this Self-the experiencer and its experience-falls away, the divine turns out to be non-experiential by comparison. In other words, the divine is beyond all possible human experiences, which means that self or consciousness' highest experience of the divine is no experience at all.
Carl Jung suggested that the true unconscious center (Self) might coincide with the body's center of physical gravity. This suggestion makes sense when we consider that man's upright position in space is due to the body's experience of consciousness. Unconsciously the human body has a feeling of being centered, not in the brain, but in the body's mid-section-similar to the Japanese hara. This unconscious center is also responsible for man's experience of physical form or sense of being a discrete entity. Beyond this even, this center is the primary cause of all bodily awareness. Still, we should keep in mind that the reflexive mechanism of the mind is responsible for centering the whole experience of "life" and "being." Without this centering we could not speak of life and being in terms of "source" or "origin." So the center of consciousness is an energy, an energy unique to consciousness alone. This energy is not responsible for sensory or vegetative life; rather, it is solely responsible for conscious life. This energy IS consciousness; it IS the feeling self and the center of consciousness.
Similar to a machine that needs a specific fuel to function, the reflexive mechanism needs a specific energy to function. If there were no fuel there would be no function. If there were no function there would be no fuel-one cannot exist without the other. One way to imagine the function of consciousness is to think of it as similar to an electric typewriter, where the knowing-self is the reflexive mechanism, and the feeling-self is the fuel or energy that runs the mechanism. The keys are the senses that respond to external stimuli; the touch of a key triggers the reflexive mechanism, which instantly leaves its subjective stamp on the paper (the mind). This reflexive action is a spontaneous discrimination whereby every sensory impression bears a subjective stamp, whether we are conscious of it or not. These subjective impressions constitute the content of consciousness. But what would happen if the motor of the typewriter were turned off or had no fuel? Although the keys (the senses) would remain, when they were touched, nothing would happen. Because the reflexive mechanism no longer works, no subjective stamp is possible-that is, no discriminating, no content, and no self. This is what would happen if the reflexive mechanism or knowing self ceased for lack of energy to fuel it. This example gives us some idea of the unitary structure and function of consciousness, and of the impossibility of living with half a consciousness-that is, with only the reflexive mechanism (the knowing-self), or with only the central energy (feeling-self). Consciousness either functions as a whole or it does not function at all. We may not always experience this wholeness or unity of consciousness, yet it is always there whether we are aware of it or not.
Summary of the System of Consciousness
Altogether the feeling self is the center of consciousness; it is the experience of life, being and undifferentiated will. It is all the experiential energies, powers, emotions and feelings that arise from this center. The feeling-knowing self is not only the feeling and knowing OF self; rather, feeling and knowing IS self, self prior even to the feeling and knowing OF self. This means that it makes no difference if, at this moment, we feel nothing and arc not aware of ourselves, because self or consciousness is still present as the unconscious prior to any conscious awareness or particular feeling. When, however, something rises to the conscious level, then we are aware of self, and it is this self we usually know, while the unconscious self we usually do not know. Everything we know and feel of self is, therefore, secondary to the unconscious act or function of the mind bending on itself, and secondary as well to the unconscious (largely taken for granted) experience of life and being.
Without the reflexive mechanism of the mind there could be no self at all. The reflexive mechanism is the mind's ability to bend on itself, and in doing so the mind sees and knows ITSELF. If the mind could not see or know itself, there would be no self experience and there would be no self to speak of because the term could not have arisen. At things stand, however, this bending action creates the subject-object poles of consciousness. If it were not for self-as-object there could be no knowledge of self-as-subject-no subject at all, in fact.
Some people hold that the mind itself, without a reflexive mechanism, is the true self or subject. As they see it, if we could just stop the mind's reflexive activity we would come upon a self beyond the subject-object self. Now the only way this notion or theory could be tested or verified would be to stop the reflexive mechanism and see if any self or self-experience remained, or see if some "other" self was revealed. The problem of verifying this theory, of course, is stopping the reflexive mechanism: who or what is going to stop it? Can self actually stop itself? At best, meditative silence can still the conscious self or still deliberate self-awareness; it cannot put an end to the knowing self or reflexive mechanism of the mind. While meditative silence can set the stage for the revelation of the true Self, this revelation is still Self. The point is that self cannot get rid of itself or cause its own cessation. Neither the reflexive mechanism (knowing self) nor the feeling center can ever bring about its own extinction. If such an event should happen (the cause being totally beyond self) there is no self or self-experience remaining, and no revelation of some "other" self. Those who say otherwise have never come upon the cessation of the true Self.
What we usually know about the autonomous reflexive mechanism is primarily its superficial experience-the conscious self, that is. The reason for this is that from birth we have unconsciously taken the self-experience for granted. Because of this we cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to live without some form of self-awareness or sense of self. Indeed, the very idea might strike us as unthinkable-which it is. Even if we tried to catch self (or self-awareness) in the act, we could not do this because we ARE this act. This fact constitutes the unique mystery of human existence, which is the same unique mystery of the whole self-experience. Only when the reflexive mechanism ceases to function can it be known that all consciousness is reflexive and thus, a!! consciousness is self-consciousness. Without the reflexive mechanism of the mind there is no awareness of self because there is no self to be aware of, and no self to BE awareness. If the mind is not bending on itself, there is no "itself."
What we usual find in our search for the true self is the profound feeling self, not the knowing self. The feeling self is not reflexive and thus it is non-dual. As the singular feeling of life and being, the feeling self is incapable of a subject-object dichotomy-such as the knowing self. It is this feeling self we usually regard as the stable true self. We have to remember, however, that the feeling self cannot stand apart from the knowing self or exist solely in its own right; a feeler without a knower is unthinkable. We might add that the surprise of the falling away of all self or consciousness is not the cessation of the reflexive mechanism; rather, it is the falling away of the feeling self. Somehow we expected the singular non-dual experience of life and being to be more eternal than the reflexive mechanism of the mind, but such is not the case.
But before we can discuss the true no-self event, we must first discuss a prior event-the falling away of the ego-self and the transforming process this event initiates. It is only after this event that we come upon the egoless condition generally known as unitive or transcendental consciousness, God-consciousness or whatever our preferred terminology. While this egoless or unitive condition is the mature condition of man in this world, it is not his final condition or destiny. The purpose of the egoless state is to get us to yet a further goal or end, which is no-self or no-union. Thus the egoless unitive condition is not the end of the journey; instead, it is the vehicle or condition for getting us there.
We cannot come upon mature existence or right living until we first come to the egoless unitive condition. Only the true unitive Self is able to live fully and fearlessly in the world-or in the ordinary marketplace. It is only after the true Self has been lived to the fullest extent of its potential that it ultimately falls away. Self or consciousness falls away because its purpose and potential for full human existence has been completed-finished. With its completion man moves to his final divine destiny.
Once again, the prevalent mistaken notion to dispel is that the egoless state is the end of the journey or the ultimate goal to be attained. There is far more to self or consciousness than the ego-self. What is urgently needed in order to understand the completed journey is a clear distinction between ego and self, and a clear distinction between the falling away of the ego and the much later falling away of self in its egoless unitive condition. These are two totally different events or experiences separated by years of living out the unitive condition in the marketplace to its ultimate end. Where our contemplative literature speaks of only ONE major event or goal (the falling away, transcendence, cessation or transformation of the ego, however we care to consider it), it does not address the much further event: the falling away of all self or consciousness along with its egoless unitive condition. Without this second event we do not have a complete map of the human journey. So long as we speak of only one major event (no-ego) we have only half the picture, which half brings us to the mid-point of our passage. To have the complete picture we need to understand the true nature of self or consciousness and make a clear distinction between the falling away of the self-center or "ego," and the much later falling away of the "true Self and the divine center. So let us move on to discuss the ego, its falling away and the transforming process that culminates in the transcendental or unitive state.2
The Ego
The term "ego" articulates a specific experience. Its best articulation might be this: the ego is what we feel when self-will is crossed, blocked or otherwise thwarted. It is the psychological pain that underlies all tantrum behaviors-anger, hitting back, revenge, anxiety and much more. It is the cause of true psychological and spiritual suffering and always symptomatic of an imbalanced, immature psyche. The ego is the interior movement we experience when we do not get what we want; it is also the experience of near uncon-tainable highs when we do get what we want. Obviously the ego is the experience of extremes-extreme feelings, that is-and for this reason it easily imbalances the whole psyche or consciousness. The ego is first and foremost the feeling self-it is not, primarily at least, the knowing self. Merely to know something exists-an object, a virtue, something good or bad-does not mean that we want it for ourselves. The ego springs alive only when we want something for ourselves and are determined to get it, possess it. This affirms that the ego is the experience of self-will, a will turned solely on itself that seeks its own fulfillment and benefit. When frustrated this egoic power or energy has given rise to all the evils in the world, yet the same ego in pursuit of goodness can give rise to great good in the world. Thus the ego is a particular self-energy or power that can go either way-negatively toward what is not good for self, positively toward what is good for self. If we believe that the divine is our highest good, then the ego (self-energy or self-will) goes in pursuit of the divine, and this pursuit is the ego's true, proper, developmental direction. The ego is, therefore, basically good; it is only bad when it goes against its own highest good.
Developmentally the ego is the original center of consciousness. What we call "egoic consciousness" is the totality of self or consciousness centered around its own central energy or self-will. If consciousness were represented as a circular piece of paper, this ego-energy would be its center. Initially this center is the feeling-self experienced as "I want," "I must have." There can be no underestimating the power and determination of the ego; it is no illusion or mistake. In fact, it is the most verifiable human experience that we know. Some people seem to believe that the ego is a mistake from the beginning, a mistake in that consciousness has failed to recognize the divine as its true center. But this belief is incorrect. We can both know and experience a divine center through the ego, even while the ego or our own self-center remains intact. Directly underlying this ego-center, then, is the divine. In this matter the function of consciousness is similar to a telescope where the center of consciousness is a peephole through which we glimpse the infinite-the divine beyond all consciousness. Because of this hole we can focus on the divine and even declare it to be the true center of consciousness. The divine, however, is EVERYWHERE; it is not the center of anything. Consciousness or self is what centers the divine and experiences it. When we speak of the divine as "within" or as a "center" we should ask ourselves, "Within what, the center of what?" The answer, of course, is "our self or consciousness." Without self or consciousness there would be no "within" and no "center."
As consciousness develops it becomes aware of the divine within, and with the whole force of its ego-energy or self-will it goes in pursuit of the divine-indeed, what other energy in man seeks Truth? The ego does not hide the divine; rather, initially at least, the ego is the feeling self that experiences the divine. We do not have to reach any particular age for this experience-children are good experiencers of the divine. The ego, then, is no hindrance to the divine; quite the opposite, the divine is an enormous help to the ego.
The greatest help in finding the center of consciousness is an interior experience of the divine (some form of presence or supernatural power). It is at this point or ego-center that the divine often reveals itself, and in doing so draws attention to the center. The divine revealing itself at the center virtually turns the will or feeling self in its direction, a direction deep within, underlying the self-center and away from the rest of self. In this way the divine sets up an attraction like a magnet that keeps consciousness singular and pointed in its direction. At first, staying aware of the center may entail a mental effort or some form of deliberate mindfulness, but with practice we become increasingly more centered and catch on to how this new awareness works in everyday life. This is how an experience of the divine brings about a shift in awareness and begins to move toward a definitive change of consciousness.
Initially there is the tendency to believe that self-awareness is primarily a mental process and, therefore, awareness of the divine is also a mental process. Thus many people making the spiritual journey start out by striving to keep the divine in mind at all times. But once we begin the passage in earnest we gradually discover that true self-awareness and true awareness of the divine are not mental at all. The first lesson we learn is that true awareness is not centered in the mind or in any mental process. Instead, it is centered at the point of the triangle we mentioned earlier: feeling-being, will or life-force, which is the feeling self prior to any movements that arise from this feeling center. This awareness is actually our experience of being prior to all reflective thoughts that arise in the mind regarding self-and the divine.
But no matter how numerous or blissful our experiences of the divine, there is no lasting satisfaction with transient experiences. What we want most of all is a permanent state of continuous awareness of the divine, awareness of an abiding oneness and union. Since by its very nature the thinking, remembering mind is incapable of such a feat, this abiding awareness must take place on the most profound level of the unconscious psyche or self, a level we cannot attain of our own accord because whatever we can do is limited solely to the conscious self. In other words, what we consciously experience and know of the divine (and as much as we know of ourselves) is obviously limited to the conscious self. By no activity of its own can the conscious self bring about an abiding awareness of oneness with the divine on an unconscious level; its own efforts can go only so far in this matter. Beyond a certain point, then, or at the limit of our own doing, the divine must take the initiative. Thus when some unknown critical point is reached, or when we have done all we can from our side of consciousness to attain this permanent awareness, the divine takes the initiative and breaks through the unconscious center of consciousness.
To understand the significance of this event in the context of the journey, it is important to note that prior to this breakthrough the ego (and the whole of egoic consciousness) was already enjoying an assurance of oneness and union with the divine. Indeed, at this stage people may even believe they have already attained an abiding union or oneness. This is why the sudden falling away of self's divine experiences is such a bewildering event. We do not know, of course, that the ego has fallen away, we only know this is retrospect;
for the moment, all we know is that we no longer experience the divine. Since the self-center or ego had been that in ourselves which experienced the divine (as well as the experience itself), without the ego we are also without our experience of the divine. In other words, take away that which experienced the divine, and that which it experienced (the divine) goes with it. The self-center does not fall away, however, because it is bad or because it is a particular problem at this time; it falls away because it is not our deepest center. Underlying the self-center is the divine center; thus to come upon the divine without this medium, the self-center or ego must fall away.
No-Ego Experience
The divine's breaking through the center of consciousness shatters the ego like a hole made in the center of ourselves. To get some idea of this breakthrough we might again compare the psyche (consciousness) to a circular piece of paper where the original center was the ego. With this sudden breakthrough we now have an empty hole in the center of ourselves; instead of the ego or self-center, we now have a divine-center-the empty hole. The empty center is two things at once; it is the absence of self and the presence of the divine. There is no self-center anymore; there is only a divine-center. We might visualize this arrangement as a doughnut: consciousness or self is the bread that experiences an empty center in itself. From here on consciousness or self will be egoless. Obviously there has been a radical change of consciousness; there has been an upheaval to which we have no choice but to acclimate.
Many people see this change or upheaval as a process of transformation, but I see it as a process of acclimating to a divine center. Consciousness has not been changed into anything; rather, a chunk of consciousness or self has permanently fallen away. The divine increases as self decreases or falls away; this is the way it works. Self or consciousness is never transformed into the divine; it never "becomes" divine. If we knew the true nature of consciousness we would know this was impossible. The major problem with the notion of transformation is that it forever hangs on to some form of self and never lets it go. It perpetuates the notion that self gets better and better, more and more divine, when in truth, the divine increases in proportion as the self decreases or falls away. The notion of a divinized self only increases or inflates the self; for those who buy into this notion, the journey may well end it total disillusionment.
Off hand we would imagine that a permanent breakthrough of the divine into the unconscious would be a wonderful, blissful experience. But in fact it is a terrible experience; to unhinge self-will and everything to which it is attached is a shattering experience. What is more, this self-will, energy center or feeling-self, had been our primary sense of being in this world up to this point in the journey. Thus the whole of consciousness or self is affected and not just the center. But most important, with the shattering or falling away of the self-center, the ego's experiences of the divine go with it. The ego can no longer experience the divine because there is no ego anymore to experience the divine. The whole ground has been pulled out from under self; it can no longer turn on itself or have its own way-on its own ground or terms, that is. From here on self has a new ground or center of being to which it must now acclimate or adjust.
The account of this event by Christian contemplatives is the sudden disappearance of the divine. The divine, of course, cannot disappear; so what, then, disappears? "That" which experienced the divine (to this point in the journey) disappears, and with it go not only its experiences of the divine, but seemingly, that which it experienced-the divine. This event is John of the Cross' "Dark Night of the Spirit" wherein consciousness or self feels bereft and empty of the divine and, consequently, bereft and empty of itself. The ego was already firmly attached to the divine; this attachment was the ego's deepest joy and sense of true life. Thus the falling away of the ego is actually experienced as the falling away of the divine or one's deepest sense of true life. The contemplative's primary concern is not a loss of self (ego), but his loss of the divine. The divine, of course, is never absent or lost; what. is absent or lost is that aspect of the psyche which experienced the divine: the ego.
Without the ego we do not at first recognize the divine on its own ground, which ground seems only to be a great emptiness or void in ourselves. We keep looking for the divine on our own (ego) ground and cannot understand why it does not appear. We are in for a struggle here on every level of consciousness, and there will be no peace until all the energies, will, desires and feelings have been totally submitted to the divine-a dark, unrecognized silent void in ourselves. Submitting ourselves to this interior emptiness-virtually our own nothingness-is not easy; it requires an enormous faith. Indeed the entire acclimating process will stretch the human limits. From this point on we can no longer direct our own journey; we seem unable to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps or return to our previous comfortable state. The only thing we can really do is grin and bear it-suffer. In experience it may feel as if a hole were being burned through the center of our being.3
After many difficulties we eventually get to the bottom of the void and acclimate to this empty state of affairs-but then there really has been no other choice. Finally one day the inner darkness, nothingness or emptiness, is revealed AS the divine Ground- reveals itself to consciousness or self. Thus once we have adjusted to a radical change of consciousness, the divine openly reveals itself AS the deepest center of our being, a center that is IN ourselves but not OF ourselves. From here on the unconscious self opens upon the divine, opens upon a dimension beyond itself which, at the same time, seems to be an extension of itself. At one and the same time we both know and experience that the deepest experience of our own existence is no different than our experience of the divine's existence. In other words we can truly say that our deepest experience of life, being and existence IS our experience of the divine. These are not two separate experiences, my life and God's life, but one single experience of life and being.
At the same time we know the divine Ground to be the center or source of all that exists, not just ourselves; thus through the divine we realize in what way we are one with all that exists. The moment of this revelation is also the disclosure of the true self, a new self, and perhaps the only self we had ever come upon. In experience, the basic sense of the true self is a wholistic sense of unity and oneness that results from the realization (or disclosure) of the divine center of ourselves. The true self is the whole self or consciousness centered on a divine center instead of a self-center or ego. In a deeper sense, however, the true self is that aspect of our self or consciousness that is one with the divine; in essence, the true self is an unknown. Thus the true self is that mysterious unknown in ourselves that both knows and experiences the divine unknown. In terms of consciousness, the true self is the unknown unconscious self as it touches upon and experiences the divine. If we visualize consciousness as a doughnut, the true self is the innermost rim of bread that touches upon the divine and thereby experiences the empty divine center.
We learn something else once the acclimating process is over: we had spent a lot of time trying to transform our conditional phenomenal self, a self, however, that is not even transformable. In other words, we had tried to transform the self we knew (naturally) which turns out to be the superficial impermanent self and not the "true self or that which is truly one with the divine. In retrospect we may feel tricked in this matter or want to kick ourselves for having spent so much time and energy trying to perfect that which can never be perfect. While the impermanent phenomenal self is vastly improved without the ego, it is not destined for perfection or eternal life. Basically, the phenomenal self is just personality or idiosyncratic expression, which, in a totally silent state (one of no expression), is nowhere to be found.
This brings us to a consideration of the change in the structure and function of consciousness due to the no-ego event. In terms of what I know of its immediate happening, the first event of the falling away of the ego could best be articulated as a cloud of unknowing suddenly descending and shrouding the thinking mind. In John of the Cross' view the mind is dazed as if by a brilliant light, but what we immediately know for sure is that the mind has been altered in some mysterious way. As it turns out the mind never returns to its former way of knowing and seeing. The second event follows immediately on the first. The moment the mind deliberately looks into itself it sees a dark empty hole where formerly it had encountered the divine. This hole is both the absence of a self-center or ego as well as the positive presence of the divine-center. The empty center is not consciousness, self, or ego;
rather, the empty center is the divine, and what experiences this hole or empty center is consciousness or self. Thus self or consciousness experiences the divine, but is not itself the divine. Some people refer to this empty center as the "true self and affirm that "the true self is no self," meaning that the true self is no-ego-self, or that the "true self is the divine center OF self. Obviously self or consciousness remains; what is missing is only the self-center or ego which, prior to its shattering, was the only self we knew. The opening up or bottoming out of the center of consciousness does not do away with the rest of consciousness or self; rather, this opening up is experienced by consciousness as a new level of awareness, virtually a new dimension of its own existence. This new awareness we call God-consciousness or Mystical Union-different traditions have different names for it.
This breakthrough has not altered the reflexive mechanism of the mind. The only difference now is that the mind no longer bends solely on itself or its own self-center (ego), but it now bends on a totally divine center-the void or empty center of self. This means that the unconscious self and the divine are given (known) in the same single act of the mind bending on itself, which act or function, as we have said, IS self or consciousness. Self-awareness goes right on; only now, instead of unconscious self-awareness, there is unconscious God-awareness (due to the divine hole in the center). The reflexive mechanism has not been changed or altered; rather, the center of consciousness has changed. Although this change affects the whole of consciousness or self, it does not do away with it; indeed, we could not speak of a "true self unless the mind continued to bend on itself and its divine center.
Having to bend on an empty unknown center radically affects the mind, virtually forcing it to adjust to a different dimension of knowing. The mind no longer bends on the usual self-center or the divine it once knew; instead, it bends on an empty center and the divine it does not know. The mind's unconscious seeing of an empty void in itself is responsible for the phenomenon we know as the "third eye." This phenomenon is the result of the cloud of unknowing-seeing nothing, as it were. Thus when the mind sees the divine it sees nothing; but once this nothing is revealed AS the divine, then we call this unknowing "true knowing." This particular phenomenon-the mind seeing nothing-initially impairs the ordinary function of the mind. Sometimes, however, it borders on ecstasy, or becomes ecstasy. Physiologically the third eye can be a painful and annoying experience, and one that may last for years. Because of this phenomenon some people feel they may be going off the deep end of their journey. A piece of good news, however, is that once the acclimation process is over-which may take years -this phenomenon is no longer a problem or is rarely noticed anymore. The experience of the third eye then is reflexive consciousness or the knowing-self having to adjust to seeing its own empty center-seeing nothingness first of all, and then eventually seeing this is the divine. Here the mind is adjusting to a new dimension of knowing, a dimension we call "unknowing."
Another point regarding this new state of affairs is that, because the change of consciousness has taken place on the unconscious or reflexive level, we may not always be aware of the divine at the conscious or reflective level. This is important to keep in mind because many people think that in this state they will be conscious of the divine at all times, which is neither true, necessary, or even possible. Continuous divine awareness is on a different level of experience than that of a reflecting, remembering or thinking mind. Rather, this experience is first and foremost on the singular level of our feeling of "life" and "being." With the replacement of the divine-center for the self-center, our deepest experience of life and being is also our experience of the divine-Divine life and being, as it were. Everything outside this center is seen as relatively superficial (the facade of life) and ultimately perishable. But what is outside this divine center? Self or consciousness, of course. Here some people like to distinguish two selves: the divine center they call the "true self or "higher self," and self outside this center they call the "lower self or conditional (non-eternal) "phenomenal self." Although this terminology may be convenient for the sake of communication, the truth of the matter is quite different. The true center of consciousness is not self. As noted before, the hole in the center of a paper is not the paper; so too, the empty divine center of self or consciousness is not self or consciousness. Self is that which is aware of its divine center, but it is not itself the center. To have a center-of anything-there must also be a circumference; one is only known relative to the other. Take away the center and there is no circumference, and vice versa. In the unitive state the divine is the center and self or consciousness is the circumference. Take away either one, self or the divine, center or circumference, and both disappear together.
If I had to put my finger on the major change of consciousness or what actually happens with the falling away of the ego, I would pinpoint the feeling self, specifically self-will or the experience of self-being. Following the divine breakthrough, the specific energy or power that IS self-will does not work anymore. At first this predicament is reminiscent of St. Paul's complaining about doing the things he did not wish to do and not doing the things he wished to do. It is as if our self-will had been immobilized and all our efforts come to naught. The inability to help ourselves or the sense of our own helplessness is quite overwhelming. But what really has happened here? Obviously the particular energy of self-will-that which craves, clings, grasps and becomes attached-has disappeared. Although the breakthrough of the divine into the unconscious releases great psychological energy, this energy is not ours to get hold of; if anything, it is ours to be wary of. What we have to seek is a center of no energy, a center of calm, stillness and peace; we must submit all experiential energies to this interior silence and emptiness. The true drama of the falling away of the ego is centered in the will, energy, or feeling-self.
It is not without insight or experience that the Christian tradition holds that union with the divine is a union or conformity of wills- self-will with divine-will. That the energy, power or will that IS consciousness is united to the power or will of the divine is quite true. By reason of this divine power we (self or consciousness) are created, held in existence, and ultimately return to the divine. The falling away of the ego is a major step in the return journey; from now on self or consciousness can never move against the divine or go against the proper direction of the journey. So it is true to say that in the unitive state we have no will of our own-that is, no will separate from the divine or no self-will that can go against the divine. As the journey moves forward we will see again and again how this works-it will strike us as marvelous. This union of wills, however, was not brought about by our own doing. It occurred because the divine broke into the unconscious to dissolve a specific energy, the energy of self-will, or that which could go contrary to the divine-the ego.
Once again, the ego-center does not fall away because it is false or bad; rather, it attaches itself to the divine and gives its all until there is no more to give. Once we give all, the divine takes all- even what we did not know we had to give. Another reason the self-center dissolves is that its steadfastness in goodness cannot be compared to the divine center. So long as the self-center remains it can still reverse itself and go in pursuit of what is less than its highest good or less than the divine. This is why its falling away is an irreversible event that forever excludes the possibility of going in pursuit of evil or turning back on the divine. The whole purpose or function of the unitive condition is to give man the divine assurance of an abiding union and oneness that can never be reversed. The certitude of this union is the essence of human freedom that gives rise to the courageous and fearless living out of this condition in the human adventure. The egoic state has no such certitude or attributes.
From this distance we can now look back and see that all the years we lived solely from this superficial level of egoic consciousness were years of immaturity. Naturally there was no way of knowing this ahead of time; there is no way of recognizing the ego or egoic consciousness until it has fallen away. For this reason it is somewhat pointless to talk about the ego ahead of time; so long as we ARE it, we do not know this and therefore think it is something else. So, although there is a lot of talk about the ego, nobody knows what it is until it is not there anymore. Later it works the same way with the "true self: no one knows what it is so long as they are living it or are it. The nature of the "true self (the unconscious self) and its oneness with the divine is only disclosed when it, too, eventually falls away and becomes known in retrospect.
Beyond Transformation: The Pathless Path
Once we have fully acclimated to a new consciousness, the journey moves on. The further we move beyond this change, the more we lose remembrance of how things were experienced in the egoic state. Once the newness of the unitive state fades into the background of life, so too its initial contrast with the former egoic condition fades from recall. Without the ego anymore we cannot effectively recapture or resurrect the old egoic feelings and way of knowing-it is impossible. Thus where the initial emergence into the unitive state had seemed so mystical and supernatural, once acclimation is complete, the unitive state becomes the most natural thing in the world. In other words, what initially seemed to be a higher, superior mystical consciousness, becomes a quite ordinary everyday consciousness. Indeed it is the only one we immediately know.
In itself this new consciousness is not spectacular; it is only in contrast with our former consciousness or self that we know it as a more mature state or level of consciousness. Thus with the distance of years, looking back over the whole transforming process it now appears to be nothing more than everyman's normal developmental process, a process of human maturation. What the ancient mystics had regarded as a supernatural boon is now seen as the true developmental path required of every human being. Still, when going through this transformation everyone continues to regard it as high mysticism consisting of out of the ordinary experiences; then too, without the divine it would not have happened in the first place, nor without the divine would we have made it through. But if it is certainly out of the ordinary for egoic consciousness, from the perspective of unitive consciousness, it is all in the ordinary course of things. Here we might recall the Buddhist saying: samsara is nirvana and nirvana is samsara, meaning that just as egoic consciousness was once our natural, ordinary state, so too unitive consciousness now becomes our natural, ordinary state. From the position of egoic consciousness, unitive consciousness always appears to be quite supernatural, mystical or nirvanic, but once we get there, it turns out to be utterly ordinary. Between the two, however, there are great differences: the difference between an immature and mature human being, the difference between two different types of consciousness, and the difference between two very different ways of living and being in the world.
The ordinariness of the transformed, egoless, unitive condition is important to emphasize and put forward. In our Western religious tradition there is no veneration of those who have come to unitive, transcendental or God-consciousness. Holiness and sanctity are not calculated in terms of any state of consciousness, but by the fruit it manifests-first and foremost, unconditional charity (love) or compassion. Charity or compassion is the hallmark of the unitive state because the absence of a self-center makes it a spontaneous choiceless requirement. The unitive state is the inability to put ourselves first. The very need and energy for doing so is not there any more; it cannot be done even if we try to do so. In fact, when we try to do so we discover it cannot be done.
The unitive state is not an end in itself; rather, its purpose is authentic human existence, for it is only by living a mature existence that we can make our way to a far greater end or destiny. We do not know this great end ahead of time (though we may have glimpses of it), nor can we come upon it until the unitive condition has been exhaustively exercised and tested in the marketplace. By "marketplace" I mean not only the ordinary un-mystical circumstances of life, but a life basically indistinguishable from those around us. The unitive state claims no superiority because we now see the same divine in others that we see in ourselves-so how are we better than anyone else? As for the phenomenal self, we know it is perishable anyway. Thus any claim to superiority would not be indicative of the true unitive state. Returning to the marketplace we claim nothing for ourselves and expect no recognition from others. Indeed, no one knows about our "mystical" experiences.
Until the unitive condition has been lived out in the marketplace to its ultimate ending, all we usually hear about are the ecstasies and agonies of the transforming process, the glories of the new state and its superiority over the egoic state. Without accounting for the marketplace stage, however, this gives us a lopsided and incomplete view of the purpose and end of the unitive state, a view which has led us to believe that the unitive state is the end of the passage and the final goal of human existence. The immediate purpose of the unitive state, however, is simply the ability to live the human condition in its most mature state, that is, live it from a divine center and not from a self-center. Having finally arrived at the mature human state the immediate goal is not to die-as if there were no further to go-but to live the human experience as fully as possible. Without exercising this maturity or having had it tried in the fire of the marketplace, the journey cannot go forward to its true end. This end, of course, is the ultimate cessation of the entire self-experience (all consciousness) along with its mature, egoless unitive state. The marketplace is the necessary preparation for such an event.
The egoless condition has been mistaken for the end of the journey for a number of reasons. One is that the final revelation of the divine center and true self has a definitive sense of ending as well as a sense of a new beginning. This end, of course, is the ending of the egoic state and the beginning of the unitive state. From this particular position we do not see anything further to be attained in this world; nothing else is wanting. With the divine we have everything; we are home free. So what do we do now? The path ahead is to live this egoless condition to its fullest unitive potential, a potential we cannot know until it has been lived. From the beginning of the unitive state to its ultimate ending there is a lot of living to be done. In fact, between its initial disclosure and its eventual falling away lies a discrete stage of the journey that has been all but ignored in the literature. But, then, until the unitive state is lived to its ultimate ending, we do not even know if it has an ending. After all, there can be no end to what has not first been lived.
To understand how this works let us imagine for a moment that a butterfly represents someone who has just emerged from the transforming process-the cocoon. He recognizes that he is totally changed and feels as free as the wind, yet he has no idea about the life ahead. Where the cocoon had been a secure path unto itself, here, now, there is no path ahead. What is he to do? Obviously he has never before experienced life as a butterfly; up to this point all he has known is the life of a caterpillar and its transforming process. Though he is very good about telling us how life goes up to the point of emerging as a butterfly, he cannot tell us a single thing about the mature life of a butterfly. Until and unless he lives his new condition in the ordinary world, all he can tell us is how he became a butterfly; he cannot tell us about the life of a butterfly. In fact, until it dies, all the data on the life of a butterfly is not in. The obvious point is that we cannot have the whole story on the egoless unitive state until it has been thoroughly lived in the marketplace and then fallen away. This ending or falling away of the unitive state is the true "no-self experience." For those who have only come to the unitive state, then, the pathless way ahead is nothing more spectacular than life in the ordinary marketplace.
Once we have acclimated to the unitive state the picture is this: consciousness is now permanently centered in, on, and around divine Being; it is one with itself, one with the divine, and through the divine, one with all that exists. The true knowing-feeling self is integrated and unified; the psyche or subjective self is whole and balanced with a depth and dimension of insight not available prior to the transforming process. Finally man is as he should be, poised and ready for mature human existence and authentic living, and all this for the first time in his life. In the old days it was the blissful, ecstatic experiences of the transforming process that were acclaimed and emphasized, but today it seems that the well balanced psyche is more highly prized. That the attainment of right living is more highly valued than blissful living tells us something about the direction modern consciousness is taking in this matter of ego transcendence.
With the revelation of the divine source or ground of being, our experience of the divine becomes no different than our deepest experience of life. We can say in truth, "the divine is my deepest experience of life and being," and affirm that true self-awareness is equally awareness of the divine. Perhaps the key term for the unitive experience is "being." Some years ago the advent of Existential philosophy suggested, to me at least, that more people had come to the mature transcendental state, or had realized pure being, than was generally expected. Even though they have not been regarded as mystics or contemplatives, most existentialists have understood being from a religious and experiential point of view. This may indicate a change or evolution in modern consciousness and its view of the transcendental state, a view that sees this experience in the philosophical terms of everyman's passage, not just the passage of a few mystics. In kind and numbers we underestimate those who have made the journey thus far, or those who have made the existential leap-transcended the ego, been through the ordeal of transformation, and realized true being as the condition of mature human existence.

What is Self?
by Bernadette Roberts
Part 2
The Critical Turning Point
The unitive state is as far as we can go with the inward journey. Once we come to the unitive state, the inward movement comes to an end; it is over, finished. We cannot go beyond the divine or innermost center of being-we cannot go deeper than the deepest. If we feel there is any deeper movement possible, or any greater depth to be realized, we have not yet come to the unitive state. The divine is that deepest point in ourselves where no movement is possible or where all movement comes to an end.
The fact that we cannot go beyond the deepest divine center indicates that this center marks the deepest vertical boundary of consciousness. Though we know the divine is infinite and without boundaries, in experience the divine center is actually a boundary, a boundary that IS consciousness. The very terms, "innermost," "deepest," "centermost" all indicate an experiential boundary beyond which consciousness cannot go-thus it cannot go beyond its divine center. We have to face the truth that consciousness can experience only so much of the divine, simply because it is not divine. It is an error to believe that the unitive or transcendental condition is limitless or that it has no boundaries. What remains to be revealed in the unitive state is how far the human limits have been expanded due to the unitive state, and how far man can actually push these new limits. Until this state is fully exercised and tested in the ordinary marketplace, its limits can never be known. In fact, until we push limits (any limit, for that matter) we can never know if limits exists, much less know what they are.
Apart from the revelation of the deepest divine center and true self, one way we know that the transforming process is over and that the butterfly is complete and ready to fly is that none of its experiences, even its ecstasies, add a jot to its new condition. Thus all the experiences and practices that were helpful in the transforming process become unnecessary, they bring about no change and take us no deeper than the deepest center. The butterfly that is truly complete knows without doubt or hesitation that he has gone as far in this life as it is possible to go at this time, hence the definite sense of ending. The question that now arises is how best to live this new life. For the completed butterfly there will arise the courage and fearlessness to put the past behind, and fly into the unknown as the servant of all in order to exercise and test its new life under the most trying circumstances. Failure to take this leap or risk indicates that the butterfly is not complete and still clings to its secure position with all its experiences and practices. Here I think of a Buddhist saying that once we have reached the other shore we have no need to carry the raft around with us. The raft, of course, are all the practices, experiences and even the life style that were a part of crossing over from the old to the new life, or from the egoic to the unitive state. These are of no use any more, they add nothing to the unitive state and if we cling to them, they may even hold us back.
We must be clear, however, about what is meant by letting go the raft of our former practices. Once we find the pearl of great price the search is over; we no longer need the tools, maps and other paraphernalia that had been helpful to the quest. (The tools and maps, for example, might be silence, solitude, meditation, inspirational reading and much more). Not all practices, of course, are means to an end-some practices are actually ends in themselves. In my own tradition, for example, the Eucharist (the true presence of Christ) is not a means to anything, but an end in itself and the truth that has been realized. Also, much that was formerly a practice has become the permanent state of affairs. Thus charity or compassion is no longer something we practice, it is the deepest center of our being that arises automatically, spontaneously. We no longer need silence and solitude to practice awareness of the divine because this is our everyday consciousness. It is not that we deliberately let go our former practices; rather, with the pearl in hand, digging automatically ceases. Now we go out to share our find with others.
The reason for bringing this up is that some people have the mistaken notion that a "realizer" is one who no longer practices his religion-or has no religion anymore. But this makes no sense if we understand that all someone has realized is the ultimate Truth of his religion. Once we realize Truth, what do we do with it-give it up? This makes no sense. Once we realize Truth we live it and share it; we cannot throw it away. Anything that can be dismissed or thrown away is obviously not ultimate Truth. The "raft" then refers to those specific aids and interior ruses by which we crossed the river. Letting go simply refers to the realization that we no longer need these helps and securities; once on the "other shore" (the divine center), we have no need for anything, because now we have everything.
Between the beginning and the end of the unitive state, then, there is a long road to traverse, a road that few people realize is there. To get on this road, the choice is to fly or not to fly-to leave the raft behind or not to leave it behind. The piece of enlightenment on which this decision is based is what I call "the critical turning point." The occurrence or non-occurrence of this turning point may give us a clue to why some butterflies remain remote and secure on their branches for the rest of their lives and why others take to the pathless path and enter the ordinary marketplace.
Once the inward journey is over and a new life begins, several enlightening experiences occur which, while they add nothing to the unitive state, nevertheless give insight into it. One of these is a glimpse beyond the unitive state to a final divine condition (beatific or heavenly, there is really no name for" it) wherein the unitive state is canceled like a candle dissolved in the sun. From our present position this final condition appears incompatible with continued earthly existence, impossible in fact. Because this experience is beyond the unitive state, the obvious conclusion is that the unitive state is transient, non-eternal and meant only for this life. At the same time we learn that in the final condition there is no sense of any self, not even unitive or God-consciousness; the final state seems to be beyond all this. Permanent entrance into such a marvelous condition, however, seems to be the ultimate death experience. But since we do not seem destined to die right away, the question arises of how best to live and exercise the present unitive condition in the here and now.
Following these experiences is a further piece of enlightenment. Seeing that the unitive state can be transcended only in death, and since death does not seem imminent, there comes the need for a deliberate, generous acceptance of the phenomenal self with all its conditional experiences and situations. There arises a great determination to live this human condition as fully as it was divinely intended to be. At the same time the choice to live the unitive state to its fullest human capacity entails an element of sacrifice, which is the deliberate forfeiture of all beatific or heavenly experiences. There are several reason why this deliberate forfeiture is required in order to get on with the unitive life.
To begin with, these advanced experiences are only transient, and thus there is the repeated return to the unitive state. From this we conclude that this heavenly condition cannot become permanent this side of the grave. Also, because the final condition cancels the unitive state, we know these two states are incompatible; the heavenly state totally overwhelms the unitive state. Such lofty experiences pull in the opposite direction from any earthly involvement. They do not invigorate the psyche; rather, they tend to dissolve it. The choice involved here is either to foster these advanced experiences or to forfeit them-walk away if possible. What matters is that we make the choice.
There is also the recognition that because these experiences add nothing to the unitive state, they serve no real purpose in our spiritual life. We do not need them, desire them or cling to them; above all, we are cautious lest they become self serving instead of God serving. We have come too far to be attached to our "experiences." To get on with life is what the unitive life is all about; it is not about transient beatific or heavenly experiences, however wonderful these may be.
But the most important reason for putting off these experiences and opting instead to enter the marketplace is the great love and generosity engendered by the unitive condition. This love is too great to be kept within or solely for one's self; rather, this love wants to move outward to embrace not only the whole of human existence, but all that exists. Thus when the inward journey is over, the whole movement of the passage turns around and begins to move outward because of the expanding divine center and its all-inclusive love and generosity. This love finds no outlet for its energies in the mere enjoyment of transient beatific experiences. In fact so great is this love, it would sacrifice heaven in order to prove and test its love for the divine in this world. There comes to mind St. Therese's dying words, "I will spend my heaven doing good on earth," meaning she would choose to do good on earth rather than enjoy the bliss of heaven. It should be remembered, however, that this choice or forfeiture is peculiar to this particular stage of the journey. We cannot forfeit any experiential state if it is not ours to surrender.
The turning point then is the choice between our heavenly experiences and the generous, full acceptance of our human condition. While I cannot speak for others in this matter, as a Christian I saw this turning point in the light of Christ's own choice. At one point Christ deliberately "put off his divinity in order to "take on" our humanity, take on this impermanent conditional self or consciousness in order to be with us in the marketplace. This was a choice for humanity over heaven itself. By doing this, however, he could show us the way and lead us back with him to the heavenly state from which he came. Thus in light of Christ's forfeiture of the ultimate divine condition and his acceptance of the human condition, the Christian follows in the footsteps of Christ when he moves into the marketplace and a life of selfless giving. He knows without question that when his earthly mission is complete the divine will take all, but in the meantime he will give all.
Though I am not a Buddhist and cannot speak for their experiential path, I think this same turning point may be found in their own tradition-at least in that of the Mahayanas. My understanding is that until the practitioner becomes an enlightened Bodhisattva he is only aspiring to become one. He becomes a true Bodhisattva when he definitively sees or realizes the impermanence of self-not merely the egoic self, but the impermanence of even the enlightened Bodhisattva condition. It is only at this point (the turning point) the Buddhist can "put off" his nirvanic experiences and with his wealth of compassion go forth to "save all sentient beings." Certainly this is a movement outward to all life and to a life of selfless giving. This is not, of course, a forfeiture of the unitive state which cannot be forfeited any more than the butterfly can return to its larva stage. Rather, this going forth means putting behind the delightful and lofty nirvanic experiences which add nothing to the immediate enlightened condition. As long as we continue to exist in this world the expression of love and compassion is a million times greater than our transient experiences of another existence wherein this world is neither seen nor known.
The turning point, then, is when the whole movement of the journey turns around. In the beginning the movement was inward, but having come to the infinite divine center there is no further inward to go, and the movement turns around and begins to go outward. This outward expansion is virtually an expansion of divine love and our love for the divine. Few people realize or recognize that the inward journey has a definitive end, and that at one point man's psychological-spiritual journey becomes an outward movement. We have to be cautious, however, that there is no premature going outward or an untimely return to the marketplace. When this happens we have a case of the blind leading the blind. But the turning point is well marked; when we come to it we shall know it and there will be no doubts. As a milestone it is so critical that if it does not occur we go no further with the journey, which means we can never come to the end of the unitive state this side of the grave. Unless the true self (or egoless self) has lived to the fullest extent of its unitive potential, there can be no ending of self or consciousness while still in this world. The whole purpose of this state is to bring us to yet a further end, which end is the death of self and the divine-in Christian terms, Christ's own death. Perhaps the difference between those who move on and those who do not lies in the particular experiences we have been discussing. In simple terms, the turning point is the realization that even the unitive state is impermanent and that, until it permanently falls away in death, it must be fearlessly exercised in the here and now.
But before we can discuss the eventual falling away of the unitive self or consciousness, we must return to the butterfly that has irrevocably left behind all the securities of the cocoon and embarked on the pathless journey that lies ahead. Although the ego-self is now known in retrospect as what was, the "true self is yet unknown. All we know at this point is that self is one with the divine and that its deepest true nature (the essence of self or "what" it is) is as mysterious and unknown as the divine itself. The unitive state is virtually the union of two unknowns. We are well acquainted with the everyday phenomenal or impermanent self, but the unknown aspect of consciousness that is one with the divine, we do not know. It is only by living out the unitive condition in the marketplace that the final true nature of self or consciousness is gradually, and then finally, disclosed. Thus beyond the turning point there begins the further disclosure of the unknown true self.
Beyond the Turning Point: Unmasking the True Self
As already noted, in the unitive state the phenomenal or impermanent self still remains. This particular self-experience, however, is very different than it was in the egoic state. To get some idea of what makes the difference, let us again imagine self or consciousness as a circular piece of paper. The edges of the paper respond to incoming data and this response heads inward for the self-center where, in the egoic state, it becomes stuck because there is no place else to go. In the unitive state, however, the ego center is gone; the empty hole in the center of the paper is the divine. Thus when a response comes to the empty center it stops because it can go no further. At this point or threshold of consciousness all responses meet up with the divine empty center where they dissolve or come to naught. In this way our feeling responses to events and circumstances never go beyond a certain threshold-the threshold of consciousness or self-at which point self or consciousness meets up with the divine empty center.
Due to the empty center, consciousness is well balanced; for without the ego-center consciousness is incapable of extremes. The empty center is as far as any feeling response can travel inward. When it reaches that point, it goes down the hole and disappears. It is important to point out, however, that ordinarily few of our responses go deep enough to experience this threshold of consciousness-in this case, threshold of the feeling self. In the egoic state we defend ourselves against the experience of extremes because it is the cause of psychological pain and suffering. In the unitive state, however, because of the empty center we have no fear of extremes;
in fact, we welcome any challenge that enables us to experience the dissolution of our deepest feelings into the divine center. When there is insufficient challenge to allow for this experience we may even go out and seek it. There is no emotional protectionism in the unitive state; we have learned that a suffering self flows into the divine and dissolves in it. To experience this dissolution is a joy in itself; sometimes it strikes us as miraculous.
Because the superficial phenomenal self is everything we know and experience of self in the unitive state, we might define the phenomenal self as everything BUT the divine or empty center. What we call the "true self," on the other hand, is the unknown link between the divine and the phenomenal self. The phenomenal self-experience does not arise from the divine, but from the true self or that unknown aspect of consciousness that touches upon the divine and stands midway between the divine and the phenomenal self. While the true self is known to exist and be one with the divine, its true nature, essence, or "what" it is, is unknown. Merely to label this aspect of consciousness as the "unconscious self or the "true self does not tell us "what" it is; all it tells us is "that" it is. In terms of the paper with the empty center, the true self would be the inner threshold where the unconsciousness touches upon the divine, or where divine air (as it were) blows through consciousness. In experience this unitive center is experienced as a steady flame, a consuming flame of love. But whatever the essence of the unknown true self, we know that it gives rise to the known phenomenal self. The nature of this unknown self is the true mystery of the unitive state. The divine is not a mystery, nor is the phenomenal self a mystery; both are clear cut in experience: the divine is immovable and does not arise, while the phenomenal self constantly arises from the unknown true self.
It is important to emphasize the difference between the divine and true self because one of the major challenges or hurdles to be overcome in the unitive state is the temptation to regard various experiential energies as the divine instead of the self, which is all they really are. We have to keep in mind that consciousness is the experience of energy, and that in the unitive state there is still the experience of various energies and feelings. The energies experienced in this state, however, are different from those experienced in the egoic state, different because they arise from the unconscious self and not from the ego self. Because these energies are new to us they seem to be quite extraordinary; we may even think they are from the divine, or are the divine. But they only arise from the unconscious self. In purely Jungian terms we might call these particular energies of the unitive state the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Where in the egoic state and in the transforming process we had to come to terms with the archetypes of the personal unconscious-our past, relationships, false images, the conscious self, our own person, in other words-here in the unitive state we must now confront and unmask the more subtle but powerful archetypes or energies of the unconscious self. These are energies or powers that could not be consciously confronted prior to the unitive state, because they are powers specific to the unitive state. Until we come to this state we are not aware of their existence. So one task of the unitive state is that we do not mistake these energies (or any experience of energy, for that matter) for the divine, but instead, see them as belonging solely to the unconscious self. This task may not be as easy as it sounds; to regard certain energies as supernatural can be a powerful temptation.
In the unitive state the unconscious or unknown true self lies so close to the divine that in a state of great silence it is often indistinguishable from the divine. But outside this silence there is the temptation to mistake the experiential powers of consciousness or self for the powers of the divine. The truth that must eventually be learned or disclosed is that the divine is not an energy or power, and that none of our experiences of energy or power is divine. Instead, these are powers of the unconscious self which, in its oneness with the divine, we are tempted to regard as the divine itself. The claim to possess supernatural powers in the unitive state is well-known and documented. People have regarded themselves as prophets, healers, saviors, and God knows what else. As Carl Jung noted, the possible masks the unconscious self can take (the archetypes of the collective unconscious, that is) are almost unlimited. They represent the various cultural views man has of a superior being, even though what is regarded as superior in one culture may not be seen as superior in another. Although an archetype is a self-image of some sort, more importantly it is an experiential energy, virtually the energy of consciousness or self. In the unitive state this energy can take on a particular self-image and play out a particular role, usually the role of someone with a special mission, message, or powers. None of this, of course, is the divine; rather, it is the unconscious self which is often mistaken for the divine.
Throughout this stage or state there will be many temptations to put on one of these divine or supernatural masks and play out the role. If we fall for one of these masks or believe self is something it is not, or if we forget how utterly conditional and impermanent it is, we forfeit going any further with the journey. It is imperative to stay with the true divine center which is a "stillpoint" and not an "energy-point," and to dismiss these arising energies or powers if we think they belong to the divine in any way. Of our own accord we cannot get rid of these energies. After all, consciousness cannot put an end to itself. Our task is simply to see that they are self and nothing but the self. If we cannot eventually make this distinction, we march off to our own dead-end, and the passage may well end in total delusion.
In this matter it is interesting to note that prior to his final enlightenment Buddha resisted all such powers and energies by remaining in the silent, energy-less, seemingly powerless stillpoint. This divine stillpoint is actually more powerful than all man calls power and energy, a simple stillpoint that does not move at all, but wins out over every movement, force and power that we know of. At one time Christ also put aside temptations to seize power and presume on the divine or declare himself divine. No one comes to the ending of the passage who has not had these particular temptations and unmasked them completely. When one mask fails, another appears which means we must eventually make our way through all the collective archetypes until there is none left, or until they become like variations on a single theme, which theme is self- the true self and a very real experiential energy.
In certain cases it may be difficult to distinguish the behaviors of someone in the unitive state who has fallen prey to one of the archetypes from someone who is still ego-bound and believes himself to be God's gift to mankind. They can both be unconsciously noxious when trying to impress their divine powers on others. There is a great difference between the two, however. For one, the ego-bound are not dealing with the energies of the collective unconscious. Instead they are simply overrun by them and are made their helpless puppets so to speak. The egoless (unitive) condition, on the other hand, is irreversible. Once the ego center is gone, it is gone forever; thus there can be no return to the egoic state whatever the temptations that follow. In this case, since there is no ego to be overrun or ego energies involved, these people have a handle on the energies of the collective unconscious and are not helpless puppets. Always they have the conscious choice either of keeping a distance between the unconscious and the divine or of letting go this distance and proclaiming these energies divine. The difference, then, is between the totally helpless medium (the ego-bound) and the deliberate medium who always has the choice to back out. A number of important factors are involved in discerning the difference between the two, but we cannot go into them here. Our purpose is only to point out the possible dangers of the unitive state and the major hurdles to be overcome at this stage of the journey.
Something else to remember is that in the unitive state the reflexive mechanism is still intact-the mind bending on itself is not free of an object-self or self-image. To be free of an object-self there would also have to be no subject-self. One is only relative to the other and neither is absolute. If freed of the subject-object self we would not be tempted to regard ourselves as divine because there would be no self to BE divine. Also, we must remember that the self-image in the unitive state is quite different from the self-image in the egoic state. Because (in the unitive state) the mind unconsciously bends on a divine center and not an ego center, the unconscious self-image is not separate from the divine. This fact can play into an archetypal role. Our task is to stay clear of these unconscious images or archetypes and adhere to the unknown instead. We have to see that all experiential energies, feelings or archetypes are admixed with self, and that the divine can never be an image, energy, concept, feeling or whatever. The nature of all such archetypes IS self and nothing but self; certainly they are not divine. In this matter the true contemplative is an agnostic adhering to the unknown, in contrast to the gnostic who falls for the known-the archetypes, that is.
Where our journey through transformation was the unmasking of the conscious self and the personal unconsciousness, the journey through the unitive state is the gradual unmasking of the unconscious self and the collective unconscious with its far more subtle energies, intuitive way of knowing, self-image, and so on. Though self or consciousness is always one with the divine, it must be continuously and clearly distinguished from it. Even if our religious belief-system affirms that self is not divine, it would make no difference. In some form or other these archetypes or temptations are common to every human being who comes to the unitive state. Self-knowledge on the conscious egoic level is not the same as self-knowledge on the unconscious unitive level, and it is the latter that is being disclosed in the living out of the unitive condition. The moment the nature of the true self is finally and ultimately revealed is the same moment of its permanent dissolution. Obviously there is far, far more to self or consciousness than the ego, and much further to go in the journey than merely the ego's transcendence or dissolution.
In terms of structure and function it is difficult to trace the gradual dissolution of consciousness beyond the no-ego experience. This is because it takes place on a level of consciousness beyond our conscious awareness-reminiscent of Christ's definition of perfect giving, "Your left hand must not know what your right hand is doing." in the unitive state selfless giving is so automatic there is Wtually no other way of living, and in this living, self continually decreases. Returning to the hole in the center of the paper, let us imagine the divine empty center expanding outward-the hole becoming larger-so that the void of self increases as the divine void increases. The paper diminishes from the center outward (not in its circumference) because the divine flame is consuming self from within. In a life of egoless giving and living the self is becoming increasingly selfless (it is already egoless), which means the paper diminishes (falls away) with each act of egoless giving; A true act of egoless giving is when we give and there is no return to self whatsoever. We get nothing back, not even the joy of giving- we may even be kicked for our efforts to be helpful. This requires selfless giving to be carried to heroic proportions; the hallmark of such an act is the falling away of some deep sense of self.
Although we may experience or intuit a further dying to self, we do not understand it because it is taking place on an unconscious or unknown level of ourselves. Then too the knowing-feeling self is so much in the service of others it increasingly has no life to call its own, nothing reserved for self, nothing left but the divine. In large measure the self is worn away or worn down by a life of continuous selfless giving-giving to the divine, to others and to all life without fear, stint or measure. There is nothing easy about this, yet there is ever present an undauntable spirit and a deep joy that is never diminished. Imperceptibly the unitive state is coming to an end. But it can only come to an end when there is no more self to give and no potential left untapped, which means consciousness or self has been fulfilled and can go no further. When the hole in the paper has expanded so that only the barest rim or circumference remains, we are on the fine line between self and no-self, consciousness and no-consciousness. One more expanse from the center and the boundaries of self or consciousness give way forever.
One reason people do not see the need for any further death of self or consciousness beyond the unitive state is that in this state self is not a problem-it is egoless, one with the divine, loving, good in every respect-so why lose it? To begin with, no one in this state sets out to lose self; until we come to the fine line no one even suspects such a possibility. Even if we did, by our own effort we can never go beyond self or consciousness; self cannot do away with itself anymore than it created itself in the first place. Also, because the problematic self was the ego, and the true self is one with the divine, the very idea of losing the true self is little different from the idea of losing the divine-it is unthinkable in other words. Until it actually happens it IS unthinkable; self cannot imagine or conceive its own non-existence or any life without itself. This is impossible because that which thinks about no-self IS self. Due to the unconscious reflexive mechanism of the mind ever-bending on itself, consciousness virtually goes around and round; of its own accord it can never get out of itself. In the end, however, by a single stroke of the divine, self and the divine go down together, fall away in one piece-but then they were one anyway. This experience is not only the experience of no-self, but equally the experience of no-divine. The eventual falling away of self is not because it is bad, sinful, a problem, or anything of the kind; rather, it falls away because it is not eternal and because it has lived to the fullest extent of its human potential and can go no further.
Self also falls away because its existence and whole dimension of knowing and experiencing (even in the unitive state) is less than perfect, less than final. Once it falls away it is clearly seen that self or consciousness had been a veil over the divine, a medium of knowing and experiencing which, unknown to us, had been responsible for the illusion we spoke of earlier. This illusion is the belief that experience of the divine IS the divine. Although the deepest experience of which self is capable IS experience of the divine, this experience is not the divine. By contrast, self or consciousness' most authentic experience of the divine is no experience, a non-experience, we might say. This means that in the end our experience of the divine turns out to have been the experience of our own deepest self. So the final unknown illusion to fall away is the revelation that all human experiences of the divine are only the unconscious self. And if we take away all consciousness or self, all its divine experiences go with it. The divine as it exists beyond the unconscious true self can never be experienced by any self or consciousness because, quite simply, self or consciousness is not equal to it, not up to it. The ultimate illusion, then, is mistaking self for the divine or believing our experiences of the divine to BE the divine.
Ecstasy: The Vehicle of Crossing Over
One way to explain the change that takes place between the beginning and the end of the unitive state involves a discussion of the true nature of ecstasy, defined as the suspension of all consciousness from the unconscious to God-consciousness. Suspension means the temporary cessation of the reflexive mechanism and the fuel (specific energy) that propels it, along with all the experiences to which consciousness or self gives rise. Because ecstasy can be experienced at any stage of the journey it is not indicative of any particular stage along the way; yet if we are familiar with this experience we notice a change in the ecstatic state as the journey progresses. What changes is not the nature of ecstasy or the suspension of consciousness; rather, what changes is the consciousness that is suspended. When only the barest rim of our circular paper (consciousness) remains, we can see that there is very little consciousness left to be suspended. In the egoic state (the solid paper without an empty center) the cessation of consciousness is an overwhelmingly extraordinary experience, whereas when only a fine line or the barest rim of consciousness remains, ecstasy is not too different from our present state. Thus ecstasy is not such an extraordinary experience. The further along we are in the journey, the less unusual and more prolonged the experience becomes because we are better prepared to sustain it.
If there is any problem with ecstasy it arises from the fact that consciousness is so integrated with the senses that the suspension of consciousness also seems to be a suspension of the senses-which it is not, of course. It is because of the integration of consciousness and the senses, however, that sustained or permanent ecstasy appears incompatible with continued earthly existence. After all, if both consciousness and the senses go down and stay down, we would verge on a condition of physical death or lapse into a purely vegetative state. We read accounts of ecstatic mystics and contemplatives who have blacked out for periods of time and have no awareness of the world at all. What would become of them if they remained in this condition? Obviously they would die because the senses have closed down along with consciousness. But if the senses could remain perfectly functional or awake during ecstasy, the world of ordinary life could go on as usual, only without self or consciousness. So perfect ecstasy is the ability of the senses to remain awake and perfectly functional in the absence of consciousness. If this can be done-or if some event makes it possible-life can go on without self or consciousness.
Thus one of the imperceptible changes that takes place between the beginning and end of the unitive state is the increasing ability of the senses to stand alone and not be affected by any change in consciousness or any change in the self-experience. Learning to ignore all the various movements of self or consciousness-which means not going along with them, getting caught up in them, and seeing them for what they are-is one of the automatic lessons we learn in the unitive state.
Authentic ecstasy is not something we can bring about by our own efforts. The unconscious reflexive mechanism is not under conscious control; rather, it is beyond all the efforts and movements of the phenomenal self. While the energies, feelings, thoughts and reflexions of the phenomenal self may not be problematic in the unitive state, they are nevertheless movements of self or consciousness. Ecstasy is a more perfect condition than the unilive state because there is no self or consciousness in it, hence no possibility of any movement or self-awareness.
Once we see that all movement of self arises from the true unconscious self and not from the divine Ground, we have come a ways in the unitive stage. With this realization "pure sensory perception" becomes increasingly important and trustworthy; also, ecstasy or the suspension of consciousness becomes increasing more perfect, more natural and everyday-though not permanent. So the path that lies ahead once we come to the unitive state will ultimately bring about the separation of these two different systems- namely, consciousness and the senses. The purpose of this separation is to enable the senses to remain awake and functional once the system of consciousness has fallen away.
Whether it is recognized or not, ecstasy is the immediate vehicle or condition that ultimately moves over the line or goes beyond the boundaries of consciousness. Obviously, self or consciousness does not move over the line or go beyond the boundaries of self or consciousness. Until the senses have become fairly independent of consciousness, there can be no permanent suspension of consciousness or crossing over-beyond all self or consciousness, that is. Until the preparation is right, ecstasy keeps returning to self or consciousness. We might add that for some people, ecstasy has never suspended the senses or made them totally inoperable; for others, however, it seems the senses are greatly affected and made inoperable by the suspension of consciousness. I do not know why this is so, but from the literature it seems that for the visionaries, the senses are more greatly affected by ecstasy. But whatever the case, ecstasy might be used as a gauge of our journey from beginning to end. This gauge is the increasing ability to "bear the vision" as it were, without the senses going down or without everyday life and its normal behaviors coming to a standstill. The goal, then, is to keep the senses awake and able to respond even though consciousness or self has been suspended, or once it has ceased to function.
As already said, when we come to the point of perfect ecstasy there will no longer be a significant gap between the ecstatic state and our ordinary, everyday unitive consciousness. This means that the final dissolution of the fine line between the two (the unitive state and ecstasy) falls away without notice. This dissolution becomes noticeable when the usual return to unitive consciousness does not occur. Because we have no way of knowing ahead of time what lies beyond this line or what the permanency of such a state of existence (ecstasy) would be like, there may be an initial movement of fear at the idea of crossing over and never again returning. But what eventually casts out all fear is a lifetime spent with the divine, a lifetime of being finely attuned to its ways and doings, and years of testing self's absolute immovable trust in the divine. An entire life's journey of love and trust is now brought to bear on the single unknown moment of permanently crossing the line. The enormous preparation and variety of experiences needed to come to this moment can never be sufficiently stressed.
What is meant by the "fine line" between two different dimensions of existence is the difference between a temporary suspension of consciousness (ecstasy) and an irreversible permanent suspension, which is the end of all ecstasy and the beginning of the no-self dimension. In other words, as long as ecstasy is a transient experience, there is always a return to the unitive state, but the moment there is permanent suspension of self or consciousness, there can be no return. Instead, there begins the adjustment to a totally new dimension of existence, and one that could not have been imagined ahead of time. Ecstasy does not define the new dimension of existence or the no-self condition; rather, ecstasy is only the vehicle or the condition of crossing over to a new dimension of existence. Prior to this moment, ecstasy, as it was experienced during the passage, was only the gauge of readiness for eventually passing over a hitherto unknown line, a line we are not aware of until we are on top of it.
The moment consciousness is permanently, irreversibly suspended-with no possibility of return-is a moment unknown to consciousness; thus the moment of passing over is totally unknown. It is not an "experience." Once on the other side we can no longer speak of ecstasy; there is no ecstasy anymore because there is no consciousness to be suspended. Here begins a totally new dimension of existence, one that bears no comparison to the ecstatic experience. We should also add that no one-no entity or being, no self or consciousness-passes over the line. Passing over simply means that all experiences of self or consciousness have permanently ceased. On the other side nothing remains that could possibly be called "self or "consciousness."
One final point. As noted earlier, when we first came to the unitive state we had glimpses or experiences of yet a further, more final state: beatific, heavenly, or whatever we might designate as the ultimate divine condition. At that time, however, we regarded this final condition as incompatible with continued earthly life. But once beyond the fine line, the former divine condition becomes possible this side of the grave or without death. The reason for this is that over a long period of time the dependency of consciousness on the senses decreases, until finally (when we come to the fine line), the senses are not appreciably affected when consciousness is suspended. This means there comes a point in the journey when the senses can remain perfectly functional and can go right on without consciousness or self. Thus the distance traversed between the beginning and the end of the unitive state entails an increasing separation between the senses and consciousness; all of which, of course, is a preparation for eventually living in a state wherein there is no self or no consciousness.
No-Self Experience
The falling away of self or consciousness is composed of two different experiences or events. The first is the permanent suspension of consciousness-the cessation of the reflexive mechanism or knowing-self. The second experience is the falling away of the center of consciousness, which is not merely the feeling self, but the divine center, which is our entire experience of life and being. This latter event is the true and definitive no-self experience. What the second event insures is the permanency of the first event. The center of consciousness was the fuel or energy of the reflexive mechanism, and without this fuel or energy there can be no return of the reflexive mechanism. No return of the knowing-feeling self, that is. No return to any self.
In order to convey an understanding of this event we refer once again to the circular piece of paper (consciousness). By the time we come to the end of the unitive state there is only the barest rim or circumference remaining-which we have called the "fine line." Within this slender boundary is the divine center. Though no small center, the divine is still within the boundaries of consciousness; this is the divine within self and immanent in all that exists. But the moment this rim, fine line or circumference, disappears, not only is there no paper remaining (no self or no consciousness) there is also no divine center remaining. When the paper disappears so does its empty center. Without the paper (or some type of vessel) there is no within or without, no center or circumference. Thus we can no longer speak of the divine as immanent and/or transcendent, nor can we speak of oneness or union, or of any unitive or transcendental condition. Nor is there any experience remaining of life, being, energy, will, emotion, form, and much more. These experiences ARE (or were) self or consciousness, and now they are no more. And since consciousness or self WAS the experience of the divine, without this mediumship all divine experiences are gone.
So the definitive no-self experience is not the suspension of consciousness or a permanent state of ecstasy; rather, the definitive no-self experience is the sudden falling away (or "drop") of the divine center of consciousness along with its profound mysterious experience of life and being. This event is the sole indicator that the boundaries of consciousness-the whole knowing-feeling self and one entire dimension of existence-have irreversibly fallen away or dissolved. No other experiential event articulates the total dissolution of self or consciousness. The no-self experience, then, is, first, the cessation or permanent suspension of the knowing-self and, second, the sudden falling away of the divine center along with the entire feeling-self and all its experiences.
The extraordinary and unsuspected aspect of the no-self experience is not the falling away of the phenomenal self-experience, which was inconsequential anyway; rather, it is the falling away of the divine and the experience of "life." It is as if the Ground of Being had been pulled out from under the entire self-experience. For many long years the unitive experience had been our deepest self-experience, thus its dissolution is not merely the falling away of a superficial, conditional little self-experience; rather, it is the falling away of the experience of divine life and being which, in the unitive state, IS self's deepest experience of existence. Though this event might have been called the "experience of no-divine," this would not be wholly true to the experience and definitely not true to its reality. In the unitive state the divine IS the deepest experience of self and the singular experience of being; thus to dissolve the experience of the divine is to dissolve the deepest experience of self. Calling this the "experience of no-self is not a name or title given after the experience, it is not a mental deduction or an approximation; rather, "no-self IS the experience. This is its exact nature and an exact statement of its truth. No other experience in the journey lends itself to such an accurate statement of truth.
Intellectually we know, of course, that the divine cannot fall away or disappear. But in experience the divine can indeed fall away or disappear-this experience is well documented, particularly in the Christian no-ego experience. What disappears, however, is the experience of the divine, not the divine. The experience falls away because it is not divine. As it turns out, the experience of the divine is only self or consciousness. Thus the deepest unconscious true self IS the experience of the divine, or the divine in experience. This experience, however, is NOT the divine. What falls away, then, in the no-self experience is not the divine, but the unconscious true self that all along we thought was the divine!
The shocking revelation of the no-self experience is just this: that all our experiences of the divine are only experiences of ourself, and that all along the divine as it existed beyond self or consciousness had been non-experiential. While the divine had been the cause of our experiences, the experiences themselves (the effects, that is) were not the divine. This means that consciousness or self is the medium by which man experiences the divine. By medium we do not mean that consciousness is a veil through which we see and experience the divine-as if self were on one side and the divine on the other. Rather, consciousness is the experience we ARE: man himself. In essence man is consciousness and consciousness is man; thus consciousness or self is the whole human experience, including experiences of the divine.
What man does not know is that consciousness is the boundary that defines the entire human dimension of knowing and experiencing and that self's deepest experience is the experience of the divine. The divine, however, is beyond the boundaries of human existence, having existed before man or consciousness came into being. Consciousness comes from the divine and returns to the divine, and in between is our human passage. In making this journey our experience of the divine is according to consciousness or on human grounds; thus everything we know of the divine is according to consciousness or self. The fact that all experiences of the divine are self and not the divine should be good news to those who make the journey in the darkness of naked faith-without divine experiences, that is. In the long run nothing is really gained by these experiences. They are unnecessary and may even be deceiving. In truth, as imperceptible grace, the divine works beyond our awareness or experience of it. A great secret revealed beyond self is that so long as self or consciousness remains, its most authentic, true and continuous experience of the divine is simple faith. Few people think of faith as an experience because it is so mysterious. And yet faith IS the divine, simple and clear.
The true no-self experience can never be grasped unless we first know the unitive experience. In the unitive state the experience of the divine is our deepest spiritual experience of life and being. If someone told us that this experience could fall away, most probably we would only think of death. Although this is indeed the only true death experience man will ever have, yet those in the unitive state expect this mysterious experience of life and being to go right on. That it does not do so is the shock of the whole event-we should probably say "aftershock" because the event is over before we know it. The shock consists in the sudden realization that everything (every experience, awareness and knowledge) we thought was the divine, turns out to have been only our self. It is the shock of realizing we had spent our whole life living the error of thinking we were NOT that which we experienced, or not that which we had been aware of. The truth of self, however, is that the experiencer is the experience and the experienced. This means we are not only our own experience, but equally everything that we experience. Such a disclosure might well be followed by a sense of having been cheated or hoodwinked all our life. Where we had truly believed that the divine experienced within ourselves had been the divine, now suddenly it is clearly known to have been only ourself-our deepest true self. While recognition of this error is not a happy realization, it is also not unhappy, for now, at least, there is no deception remaining; the unknown self, the great deceiver, is gone. The paradox of the no-self event is that the falling away of self or consciousness is also its revelation, the revelation of its true nature. This revelation consists in nothing other than the absence of the entire self experience-that is, the whole dimension of knowing, feeling, experiencing. This is no small event or revelation when we consider that what has fallen away is as mysterious and deeply rooted as the divine itself. Beyond this event, however, there begins the gradual revelation of the true nature of the divine as it exists beyond all self or consciousness.
The first question that arises following this event is "What remains when there is no self and no divine?" Discovering the true nature of "what remains" is virtually the journey from death to resurrection, or the journey from God to Godhead in Christian terms. Right off, it is obvious that the body and senses remain- which seems easy enough to account for-yet knowing the true nature of the body and senses is another matter entirely. The revelation of the true nature of the body is the revelation of the resurrection and the true nature of Christ's mystical body. This revelation (true nature of the physical body), however, can never be accounted for in any terms available to consciousness (and the intellect), because its true nature is beyond consciousness. Thus neither our intuitive nor scientific minds can grasp or articulate its true nature or, for that matter, the particular knowing available to the senses without consciousness. While the ultimate truth of the body is beyond all our usual notions and experiences of it, the resurrection reveals that the eternal body outlasts all the experiences we call "soul" or "spirit." Consciousness had been responsible for these experiences, and without consciousness there is no experience of "within-ness," or of any soul or spirit dwelling "within" the body. The notion of a soul or spirit independent of the body, which leaves the body at death, is not true. As for the specific energy of life and being-the inner flame-that suddenly drops away in the no-self event; it vanishes like a bubble into divine air. When there is no fuel (self) left to consume, the divine flame goes out.
Beyond consciousness, the ultimate Truth of the divine is that it is neither immanent (within anything) nor transcendent (beyond anything), but IS everything that eternally exists. What the divine is NOT, however, is the structure, function or energy of anything. The energy that is consciousness or self is but one of many functions of matter, which function is not divine. As said before, what lies beyond the death of self or consciousness is the resurrection with its revelation of the true nature of the body or true nature of matter. To understand this revelation, however, it is important to distinguish between the scientific notion of matter and the true nature of matter. What I call the true nature of matter is "eternal form," eternal form that cannot be grasped by the senses, intellect or consciousness. Another way to articulate eternal form is to say that what consciousness regarded as matter turns out to be spirit; and what consciousness regarded as spirit turns out to be matter. Solely in terms of consciousness this means that the mystery of matter IS spirit, and the mystery of spirit IS matter. Consciousness was responsible for this dichotomy or distinction, but beyond consciousness no such distinction exists.
The question often asked regarding no-self is, "Who, beyond self or consciousness, knows the divine"? But if there is no self or "who," the question cannot be answered because it cannot be asked in the first place. The question presupposes an answer in the same terms or in the same dimension in which the question is asked-the dimension of self or consciousness, that is. Beyond the dimension of self, however, the question cannot and does not arise. Such a question can only arise within the dimension of consciousness, where consciousness or self is its own answer, of course. The type of "knowing" that lies beyond self or consciousness cannot be known, defined, articulated or identified in any terms of consciousness and its intellect. Whatever can be grasped by consciousness can find some form of articulation, but what cannot be grasped by consciousness cannot be articulated. For this reason the "knowing" that exists beyond consciousness and which most characterizes the no-self condition, cannot be accounted for at all. About the only thing that can be said is that it has no resemblance to either the knowing or unknowing of consciousness. I call this mysterious knowing the "cloud of knowing" to distinguish it from the "cloud of unknowing" or the type of unknown-knowing peculiar to the unitive state. The "cloud of knowing" is different because there is no "unknowing" about it.
Tb help understand the falling away of self it is helpful to make a distinction between God and Godhead, where God is the Absolute known to and experienced by consciousness, and Godhead is the Absolute as it lies beyond all self or consciousness and can never be experienced by it. The difference between God and Godhead is very great, and consciousness cannot bridge this difference; in truth, the span between the two is a great void. What it takes to bridge this void and come to the dimension of Godhead necessitates the death of God-the death of consciousness or self and all its divine experiences. We do well to remember that the whole message of Christ was that we must go through God to get to the Godhead, which means we must go with our subjective experiences of the divine and live this human dimension to its fullest potential. Thus going with God is our passage to the Godhead or Absolute. Going through God and with God is "the way" to the Godhead that Christ revealed.
Distinguishing Between No-Ego and No-Self
By this time it should be evident that self or consciousness is not an entity or a being; it is not an individual person, a soul or a spirit temporarily dwelling in the body; nor is it divine, eternal or immortal. Self or consciousness is, however, the experience of all of the above-entity, being, soul, spirit and so on. Self or consciousness is a specific, unique experience or set of experiences. Take away self, and all its experiences go with it.
So the first thing to understand regarding the nature of self or consciousness is that it is not an entity, being, soul or spirit; rather, it is an experience that we mistake for these things. Between experience and reality or between experience and Truth, there lies a great difference. Tb discover this difference means traversing the great void between self and the divine-virtually the void between man and the divine. As long as we continue to regard self as an entity, being, soul or spirit, there is no hope of ever understanding what is meant by no-self. This is why interpreting self (and no-self) in terms of any other paradigm, path, or definition than the one presented in these pages, will not only be the cause of much confusion and distortion, but it will be the cause of the true no-self event becoming lost altogether. As it is, this event has already been lost from the literature because there has been no understanding of what self or consciousness really is. Thus some people think self is the divine, the unconscious, the ego, the immortal soul and so on, but none of these is self.
Of all these errors, however, none is more erroneous and misleading than equating self with ego. As used in modern psychology the terms ego and self are not synonymous or interchangeable; on the contrary, a distinction has been made quite clear in contemporary literature. Where Western philosophy and theology made no distinction between these terms or their meaning, in the Christian contemplative tradition, at least, there has always been a distinction between a lower and higher self-the lower being the ego, the higher being the true self. But now that the specific terms "ego" and "self are in common usage, it is important to articulate the contemplative journey in the prevailing language. This means we can no longer use the terms ego and self interchangeably or fail to make an experiential distinction between them. By the same token we cannot equate no-self with no-ego or fail to distinguish between these two different events.
As said before, what happens when we fail to make this distinction, or mistake the falling away of the ego for the falling away of self, is that the true no-self event becomes lost. It is lost because no-self has been understood as something it is not-it is not the no-ego event. Instead of two events separated by an entire stage, the traditional path speaks of only a single event, invariably the no-ego experience, but often referred to as "no-self." The no-ego event, however, is a half-way mark immediately PRIOR to the revelation of the unitive state, whereas the no-self event comes AFTER the unitive state has been thoroughly lived in the marketplace, after which it comes to its ultimate ending. Until this error is understood we cannot have a complete account of the human passage; instead, we will continue to believe that realization of the true self or egoless unitive state is as far as man can go this side of the grave-which is not true. But this is how the true end of the journey has become lost-by mistaking no-ego for no-self. We must not confuse these different endings: first the ending of the egoic condition and, later, the ending of the unitive condition.
But this is why, when hearing of the no-self experience or falling away of the unitive state, a great deal of confusion has been generated. Faced with an event we have never heard of before or an experience with which we have no acquaintance, we conclude that no-self must mean no-ego; we think it is a matter of semantics or we believe the author is ignorant of the contemplative path or has made a mistake in interpretation. Since anyone can use the phrase "no-self we have to be very clear about what is meant by "self or "consciousness" and continually check on its experiential usage throughout the journey. If self or consciousness is not experiential and not an immediate identity, then it is nothing. If self or consciousness is just another name for the divine, one or the other is dispensable. But this is why, without a clear definition of self in terms of immediate experience, the true meaning of no-self has been mistaken for no-ego and thereby eliminated from the journey. For one reason or another it seems this elimination has been going on for centuries. Our contemplative or mystical literature only hints at a no-self event, whereas the no-ego experience has been well documented in every religious tradition.
It is unfortunate that most of our older religious texts do not make a clear experiential distinction between ego and self. Although the distinction between the egoic and unitive states (lower and higher self) is taken for granted, these texts use the term "self to define both the egoic and unitive condition. Thus, for example, we hear a great deal about the evils of self, the falling away of self, the realization of self, and the deified self, which does not lend much clarity to the subject of self or consciousness. Then too if we have not had the experiences of which these texts speak, we have no way of discerning their different uses of "self." It follows that if we have not realized the experiential difference between the falling away of the ego-center and the later falling away of-the true-self (the divine-center along with the phenomenal self), we do not have the tools for discerning the difference or know what to look for in the literature. From the position of the egoic state we are bound to interpret the no-self experience as the no-ego experience; it cannot be otherwise. Also, to tell someone newly arrived in the unitive state that down the road the divine-center, his whole experience of life and being, will ultimately dissolve, would strike him as unnecessary, unimaginable, erroneous in fact. So even these advanced individuals tend to regard no-self as no-ego. But to dismiss the difference as a "semantic distinction" is unconscionable. It is nothing more than a refusal to examine the experiences and define the terms.
An example of questionable semantic usage might be the following. The Hindu regards the realization of his true self or Atman (Brahman in human experience) as his ultimate enlightenment, while the Buddhist regards the realization of no-self or w-Atman as his ultimate enlightenment. The question, of course, is what the Hindu and Buddhist mean by "self or "Atman" If by no-self or no-atman the Buddhist only means "ego" in the sense of a false self, then there is little difference between these two religions; the difference would be only semantic. But if by no-self the Buddhist means no-Atman in the Hindu sense of "Atman," then the difference between these religions is explosive-and enlightening. As it stands, however, while Hinduism makes a rather clear distinction between the ego (jiva, ahankara) and self (Atman), Buddhism tends to eliminate the self entirely-be it the ego-self, true-self, divine or absolute self. In some ways the Buddhists throw out the baby (the true-self or Atman) with the bath water (its ultimate impermanence). We cannot speak of any cessation or falling away of self or Atman unless it has first been realized. Perhaps this is why, with one exception, I did not find the no-self experience articulated in the Buddhist's texts. If from the beginning we assume there is no self or Atman, we could not expect to hear of its cessation or falling away. Needless to say I do not hold that self or Atman-or ego for that matter-is an illusion; on the contrary, without self, human beings would not exist.
The point is that if we could define the entire self-experience (ego, self, true-self, consciousness and so on) in experiential instead of philosophical or theological terms, we could eliminate a great deal of erroneous conjecture, misinterpretation, confusion and bickering. This means paying more attention to the experiences behind the terms we use rather than accepting them at face value or as a matter of blind belief. We could then be straightforward with one another and accept our differences without further ecumenical mincing. Although no one is expected to define Absolute Truth, we should be able to define everything short of it because this includes everything we know and experience.
One hope of eventually straightening the path or recognizing two different endings instead of only one may lie with the coming-of-age of Western psychology. Modern psychology has become increasingly aware of the transformation process and hence increasingly aware of the distinction between ego and self. We can no longer brush aside the terms "ego" and "self as a "semantic difference." On the contrary-and many thanks to Carl Jung in this matter-these terms are becoming increasing differentiated and defined in the light of experience and spiritual development. Because of this we may now be in a position to understand not only the falling away of ego consciousness but ultimately the falling away of the unconscious or true self as well. Although we are just now getting used to the notion of transformation or no-ego, and though it seems unfair and premature to talk about the ultimate dissolution of the true-self and the divine, we may be more ready for understanding this experience than ever before. It seems that the history of man's experiences moves on whether we are ready for it or not; that is, when enough people arrive at one frontier, another frontier immediately opens up-In summary, these few pages have tried to say something about the difference between ego and self and their ultimate falling away. We define self as the totality of consciousness, the entire human dimension of knowing, feeling and experiencing from the conscious and unconscious to unitive, transcendental or God-consciousness. The ego we define as the immature self or consciousness prior to the falling away of its self-center and the revelation of a divine-center. In the long run, however, it would make no difference how we defined self or ego when all the experiences on which these definitions were based are ultimately wiped out. I am not aware of a single experience we could define as self or consciousness that is not ultimately dissolved. Though we may arbitrarily wish to name the divine "consciousness" or "self," these names bring about more confusion than if we called the divine "air" or "bird." At least these terms do not confuse the divine with the human experience we experience and express as self or consciousness. For this reason when we speak of self we must speak in terms of experience and not in terms of any theory, speculation, philosophy or belief system. If self is not an experience, it is nothing.
Barring the event itself, the obstacles to a true understanding and acceptance of the ultimate falling away of all self or consciousness are formidable. This is a hard reality to face, as hard perhaps as the ability to grasp the true nature of Christ's death (God's death) if it were to be truly understood. Christians have never questioned the nature of Christ's death experience; they think of it as just his physical death-similar to the physical death of every human being -and thus their concern does not go beyond its redemptive purpose. As I see it, however, this totally misses the point, message and revelation of Christ's death. At the same time r have not found a consensus in the Buddhists' literature regarding the exact nature of Buddha's enlightenment. Was it a no-ego or a no-Atman-Bra-hman event? (As a Hindu, Buddha may well have experienced a divine Atman prior to his enlightenment.) By contrast, Buddha's enlightenment seems easier to accept than Christ's death on the cross: the former image being one of serenity and peace, the latter being one of cruel suffering. But what we must not forget is the picture of Buddha before his enlightenment, the picture of a dying, starving man, beset by every conceivable temptation, or the picture of Christ after his death, in the glory of resurrection and ascension. We might call the picture of Christ on the cross "before" and the traditional picture of sitting Buddha "after," while not forgetting their reverse pictures-dying Buddha and the resurrected Christ. These two pictures are as interchangeable as their experiences. Where Christ dramatically and physically manifested the no-self experience for all ages to see and ponder, Buddha described the experience, spoke of it to others, and lived out its condition for many years afterward. In both instances, however, the message is the same: self is not eternal, the Absolute lies beyond all we know and experience of the Absolute, self or consciousness. If we believe Christ is God or the one Absolute, the wordless statement of the cross is made all the more dramatic, shocking and powerful.
Unfortunately, consciousness is reluctant to admit that everything it experiences and knows is only as much as its own dimension and capacity permits. Indeed, for the most part consciousness does not even realize its own limitations. Nor will it ever realize its limitations until the human experience has been stretched to its furthest potential, a potential no man knows ahead of time. What this means is that there can be no falling away of self or consciousness until self or consciousness has been lived to the limits of its human capacity, which capacity is obviously its total fulfillment. To expect a kind of mystical demise of something we never really knew, or had never fully experienced or lived, is simply wishful thinking.
The true nature of self is elusive because it is such a continuous, autonomous experience we cannot remember a time we were without it, and try as we like we can never catch it in the act. But the main reason self is so elusive is that it originates at a "point" where the entire system of consciousness borders on no-consciousness, or where self verges on no-self. Whether we think of this as the point where the divine begins or where consciousness emerges from nothingness, or where consciousness merges with the whole body organism, this point is nevertheless responsible for the sense of mystery and unknowableness of the self-experience. Any paradigm of consciousness that does not take this "point" of origin into consideration becomes a closed system. If we assume consciousness or self has no origin, we assume it has no end, and thus as either an eternal phenomenon or one that is unaccountable and purposeless, the entire subject becomes a pointless investigation. The ideal, of course, is to begin our investigation with no prior assumptions, paradigms or belief systems regarding self and to allow the experiencing self to ultimately reveal its own eternal or non-eternal status, reveal its own origin and end. This way we avoid a premature closure which only keeps the subject moving in an endless, pointless, self-perpetuating circle.
But no matter where we begin the investigation of the true nature of self or consciousness, the inherent problem is that we can know only as much of it as we have lived, actually experienced. This fact alone is an inevitable barrier to a full understanding of the completed passage. If we have not lived it all, we can not know it all. Another problem is that consciousness or self cannot possibly imagine or grasp its own eventual ending or non-existence.
The mind is incapable of understanding how this would go; self cannot experience no-self; consciousness cannot experience no-consciousness. Thus because the mind cannot lay hold of any such condition it generally denies such a possibility. As soon as the mind thinks of its own non-existence, when self is suddenly confronted with the imminent possibility of its own extinction, the automatic response is fear, withdrawal and denial. In such an experience (which is quite common) consciousness is confronted with its own annihilation, extinction or non-existence, and at the same time sees nothing beyond. Indeed, consciousness cannot see anything beyond; without itself or without a seer, nothing can be seen.
We must remember that consciousness is not a medium for knowing itself; consciousness is only a medium for knowing what is NOT itself. Consciousness or self does not mediate self-knowledge, but is ITSELF the essence of self-knowledge or self-awareness. This means that at one and the same time consciousness is the totality of subjective experience as well as the medium for experiencing everything that lies outside its own dimension of existence. If we take away self or consciousness, not only is there no self or subject, but there is no medium for experiencing anything else (or other) that exists. This is why. confronted with the possibility of its own extinction, consciousness sees nothing beyond, and why, without consciousness, there could be no experiences of the divine or experience of self AS the divine. The falling away of consciousness opens upon a totally new and unsuspected dimension of existence, one that can never be experienced by consciousness because its dimension is beyond the boundaries and potential of consciousness or the psyche. This is why the falling away of self or consciousness is the only true death experience man will ever know. Short of this, every notion we have of death is not it. (See Appendix II.)
One Way to View the Passage
One possible way of envisioning the human passage is the following. We think of ourselves as originally emerging from the unknown, from darkness, nothingness or non-existence into the light of consciousness. But as consciousness develops we discover the increasing ability to see in the dark, see into the nothingness or mystery within ourselves and eventually realize that this darkness and nothingness is the divine from which we emerged and with which we are one. Thus we discover that our original darkness IS true light. Midway in this passage, divine light (darkness or unknowing) and the light of consciousness are in balance, with neither outshining the other. But as we move beyond this midpoint, divine light begins to outshine the light of consciousness until, in the end, the light of consciousness goes out and only divine light remains. From this vantage point we look back on the passage and see that although consciousness was the veil that dimmed the light, this dimming was necessary in order to make the human dimension possible. But if consciousness makes human existence possible, it is also not separate from the divine, nor does it completely hide it; on the contrary, consciousness or self is man's faculty or medium for experiencing the divine-so long as it remains, that is. Our passage through consciousness is the gradual return to the divine; we leave the divine unknowingly and in darkness, but we return knowingly and in light.
The divine, of course, is not light; we only use this term metaphorically. The essence of the Absolute cannot be known or experienced by the mind or consciousness, for which reason all our names, labels, definitions and descriptions are incapable of grasping it.

2 In the Christian context the term "unitive state" can have several meanings. First of all, it cannot apply to any transient experience of oneness with the divine because this does not constitute a permanent state. The term "transforming union" is the cocoon stage that immediately follows the falling away of the ego-self; obviously it is a stage of transformation. Once the butterfly emerges it is in a permanent state of "mystical union." In these pages "unitive state" is used in this sense of "mystical union." It applies to the butterfly's entire state of existence from its emergence from the cocoon to its death. While the caterpillar lives in the state of egoic consciousness, the butterfly lives in the state of unitive consciousness. This latter state is also what I call the "marketplace" stage of the journey. The caterpillar left the marketplace in search of oneness with the divine and thereafter entered the cocoon. Once it emerges from the cocoon, however, it returns to the marketplace-but as a butterfly. "Unitive state" then refers to the state following transformation; it is the ordinary life of the mature butterfly. What are known as "Espousals" and "Mystical Marriage" are basically transient experiences.
3 Needless to say I have no understanding of those religious paths that imply that the falling away of the ego is just a matter of dispelling a piece of mental ignorance or a false idea of ourselves. Looking East, I do not find there any experience comparable to the Dark Night of the Spirit: no account of a bottoming out of a self-center (ego), or of an acclimating (or transforming) ordeal, or of dire interior emptiness and void that ultimately turns out to be the divine-not the self.