What is psychological becoming and how it causes suffering?

In my article “A Life of Meditation“, speaking about meditation, I had written

“This is not about a meditation technique, nor is this about a few minutes or few hours of meditation practiced in the midst of one’s daily life. This is not about destressing oneself. This is about a life of meditation, a profound shift in which one’s whole life becomes a field of meditation. This begins only when one has understood and finished with all psychological becoming. “

One of the readers of this article asked me what I meant by “psychological becoming”. I thought that I should write an entire article detailing what I mean by psychological becoming and how it causes suffering.

There are two terms I have introduced in the topic of this article – “psychological becoming” and “suffering” and I relate them by saying that one causes the other. This is to emphasize that my discussion on psychological becoming is not merely an intellectual analysis but has to do with a tangible experience of suffering that we all face in our daily lives. If we undestand the process of suffering, there is an ending of it.

There are two causes of suffering that we experience – physiological and psychological. Physiological suffering is the one we experience bodily as a disease or injury. Psychological suffering is what we experience mentally as emotions and feelings. This classification has to be taken with some degree of fluidity though, because physiological suffering in our unexamined consciousness leads to psychological suffering, and psychological suffering in our unexamined consciousness leads to physiological suffering or clinical diseases like depression, diabetes etc.

Physiological suffering is a phenomena related to the senses. When a sense related phenomena is registered in one’s memory, it becomes a psycholoigical phenomena. So just to distinguish between these two different forms, let us call the sense related suffering as pain, and psychological suffering as suffering. When pain is registered and stored in memory, it becomes a root of suffering. Well, this requires a little explanation. Pain is an experience of the present. It is fleeting and happens in chronological time. Someone slaps me across the face; I get a burning and tingling sensation in my cheeks, which arises and subsides in a matter of minutes. The pain in itself does not constitute suffering. It is when we internalize and store this sensation of pain in our memory, psychologically as “insult”, or when we interpret this pain on the basis of our memory, psychologically as “insult”, that constitutes psycholigical suffering. Had there been no operation of memory at the moment of experiencing the slap, there would only be an instantaneous physical pain but no psychological suffering.

From this we can clearly see that the root of suffering is memory. All experiences we have in life are stored in the form of pain and pleasure in our memory. This memory, rather than playing just a passive storage function, actively intervenes in every moment of experience, not only interpreting it and giving it a psychological value in terms of pain and pleasure, but also predisposing one to act in the future to avoid pain and pursue pleasure. So we can see that memory and psychological time are one and the same thing. It is memory which stores an experience as past, it is memory which interprets an experience in the present on the basis of this past experience, and it is memory which predisposes us to create an experience in future on the basis of the past experience. So psychological past, present and future time are constructs of memory. If there was no psychological memory, there would be no psychological past, present and future. We would only register chronoligical time, the way we register the passage from day to night. We would only register the facts of events rather than the psychological value of pain and pleasure we ascribe to events.

If there was no psychological memory, will there be a psychological future? If we examine all our activities in our daily lives, very little of it has to do with basic survival of our organism: meeting the basic physiological comforts of food, clothing and shelter. Rather, almost all our activities and thoughts are directed towards a future. We are all the time having goals, plans, ambitions to become someone. We want to be rich, famous, respectable, knowledgeable, powerful, wise or enlightened: in a nutshell, we are all involved in a process of psychological becoming. Our entire life, it’s meaning and purpose, is defined by this movement of psycholoical becoming.

And we have seen that the basis of this psychological becoming is in psychological memory, which stores all the complex experiences of our life in terms of pain and pleasure, then projects a future to maximise pleasure and minimize pain. All psychological becoming : materialistic, psychological, intellectual or spiritual is an action to maximise pleasure and minimize pain. Socially we may differentiate this pleasure seeking in terms of lower and higher, calling spiritual pursuits higher than material pursuits, but esentially, they all constitute the movement of seeking and securing the experience of pleasure. I am not saying that this differentiation is absolutely pointless : in relative terms it has it’s value but one cannot get ultimate freedom till one has denied the entire gamut of psychological becoming. In the journey of understanding and negation of psychological becoming, the pleasures are stacked vertically from material to emotional to intellectual to spiritual. One moves from being materialistic to being spiritual like water gets hotter when heated from being 0 degrees C to 100 degrees C. Nonetheless the phase remains the same. Water at 0 degrees C is still water at 100 degrees C. A material person is still seeking pleasure as much as a spiritual person. The shift occurs beyond 100 degrees when there is a complete phase change. Water heated after 100 degrees C changes to water vapour: it is freed from it’s liquid state. In the same way a spiritual person is freed from suffering only when he gives up all notions of becoming : when he is freed from the state of seeking anything. There is a phase change in him too. He ceases to be a person because a person is nothing but psychological memory. When all his psychological memory is boiled out through understanding and insight, there is no “him” remaining psychologically. What one does not fail to appreciate is the fact that water at 0 degrees C or 50 degrees C or 99 degrees C does not boil and become vapour, but water at 99 degrees C is closer to becoming water vapour than water at 50 degrees C or 0 degrees C. Analogously, a spiritual person is closer to psychological freedom than a materialistic person. A person who as a thinker has worked through his material, emotional and social needs is much more closer to attaining freedom than one who is caught in meeting these needs.

I know I am going to make matters more complicated by saying this but, if I don’t, I would leave the readers with a very linear sense of whole process of freedom, which is nothing short of a lie. All models, systems and constructs are lies if they are purporting to be a path and guarantee of freedom. They would be more honest if they claim that they are just facilitating inquiry towards freedom. If I state that a spiritual person is more closer to freedom than a materialistic person, it is not in any absolute or literal sense. Water can, and does boil at a temperature beneath 100 degrees C at higher altitudes, where air pressure is lower. So the ultimate phase change of water is dependent not only on temperature but also ambient pressure. At a higher pressure, water would not boil even at 100 degrees C. Similarly, to say that a spiritual person is closer to freedom that a materialistic person, in simplistic terms, is to create a very grave error, an error which actually perpetrates suffering than lead to freedom. A person who wears saffron robes, denounced sex and family, who has left all posessions and become a monk or an ascetic, who is well versed with the scriptures, may not be more spiritual than a person who lives with a family, having sex, having material comforts and pleasures. What I mean by a spritual person is not a social role. A spiritual person in a social role may be all the more ambitious and power seeking than a simple materialistic person. He may be more bound to scripture and tradition than a materialistic who has an open and inquiring mind. A spiritual person, the way I use the term, is one who has a profound interest in freedom and understanding life: who devotes his life, time and energies to question, ponder, reflect, think and meditate on topics like human freedom, suffering, creativity, truth and love. All this is born out of an intrinsic love rather than a role play. Unlike so many modern gurus who have just achieved some intellect and psychic experiences, who veil their search for power and fame in a hundred different garbs in the name of teaching, a truly spiritual person does not mind being totally anonymous.

Now where is the suffering in all this psychological becoming in experiental terms? When one is in a state of psychological becoming, one is constantly having an unworded yet constant feeling of being deficient. This is largely unconscious for almost all who have become absolutely lost in society and all it’s movements, institutions and organizations. The deficiency expresses itself in the conscious as intentions, goals and ambitions. When one is ambitious one is always in a state of effort. There is a constant conflict between what is and what should be. I am poor but I want to be rich. I am unknown and anonymous but I want to be known and famous. I am powerless but I want to be powerful. I am bored but I want to feel stimulated and entertained. I am feeling empty and meaningless in life but I want to create a meaningful and purposeful life. I am having vices but I want to be virtuous. I am not knowing truth but I want to know truth. I am mortal but I want to be immortal. So every moment there is a conflict between what is and what it should be. And this, as I have tried to show, ranges from the most maerialistic to the most spiritual desires. At every moment and at every level of one’s consciousness there is a conflict created by what one is and what one wants to be. This conflict not only plays out in one’s mind but it plays out in one’s relationships at work, family and society. This is what plays out at a global scale in terms of war and clash of nations. This is the depth and scale of what constitues the suffering of psychological becoming : our society is a daily living monument of this.

Our whole society at present is created out of psychological becoming, so it actually actively encourages, promotes and rewards psychological becoming. In essence, our current society is a recipe for creation and perpetuation of suffering. One who inquires into freedom, realizes the factors of psychological becoming in society – expressed in it’s cultures, religions, organizations and institutions – breaks away from them: which means he drops out of the stream of society. This breaking away frees one from all the clutter that keeps one’s conscious mind engaged with the world. Once the conscious has become free from psychological becoming, there is silence in one’s mind and life for the deeper unconscious to reveal itself in one’s self inquiry.

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