We are trained, especially so, in our modern society that the meaning of our lives is evolution of self. The idea of evolution is actually a product of western science which believes in a linear notion of time. In the eastern societies, time was viewed as cyclic, and therefore the eastern societies never came up with evolutionary theories. Because time was cyclic for them, the stress was not on evolution (in time) but on something beyond time : the timeless. However, all that is almost gone, even in the east. As western attitutudes dominate the world today, through western science, education and technology, there is a universal acceptance and worship of linear time and evolution of self.
The entire momentum of society is a thrust towards evolving or becoming better. We are all trying to evolve materially, emotionally, intellectually or spiritually. So instead of examining and questioning the nature of self, the society actually nourishes, sustains and rewards the activity of self. Though there seems to be an evolution in technological terms, one never examines whether there has been any evolution of man psychologically. As a result, our society is a seething mass of many selves trying to evolve in different directions, each direction conflicting with the other. The crudest expression of evolution is perhaps “survival of the fittest”, an idea falsely attributed to Charles Darwin. The most sophisticated form of idea of evolution is found in psychological and psychospiritual theories ranging from self-actualization to the co-opting of statements such as ‘You are Brahman/Universe’ from religions.
In passing I must mention that neither did Charles Darwin state anywhere the most ubiquitous maxim attributed to him, “Survival of the fittest”, neither did he create a theory called “Theory of Evolution”. Anyone interested in going through more details on this may visit the website link https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/people/about-darwin/six-things-darwin-never-said
In my last article “What is psychological becoming and how it causes suffering?” , I described how psychological memory is the root of psychological becoming. In this article I am going to look into how this process of psychological becoming is the very nature of what we call our self or ego; in other words there can be no existence of self/ego without the process of becoming; our self/ego is never going to find peace, silence or the timeless; it’s very existence demands an eternal construction and maintenance : the whole idea of evolution of self is an illusion that lock us in “the eternal wheel of time and suffering”
What is self? self is a centre consisting of a collection of memories. These memories are stored in the form of thought. There are two kinds of thought : factual and psychological. Factual thought or knowledge is undoubtedly required to conduct our daily lives ; for organizing our food, clothing and shelter. Psychological thought or knowledge is that which we identify with as our ‘self’. It is that thought/knowledge which is stored along with associated feelings of pleasure and pain. So psychological memory/thought/knowledge constitutes our ‘self’ and it is not just a passive bundle of information but a dynamic system that is predisposed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Psychological memory/thought/knowledge is made up not only of what every individual gathers in his/her own lifetime but it is also made up of the entire psychological memory of man. So the self of every person is not only made up of particular likes and dislikes but is also made of instinctual drives common to all humanity : pain and pleasure.
Each self, therefore , in modern parlance can be said to be a bundle of hardware and software. The hardware part are the basic instinctual drives of man in each person and the sofware part is the particular psychological memory/knowledge/thought that one accumulates in one’s lifetime. The software for each individual is different. I may be programmed as a Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Buddhist. I may be programmed as an Indian, American, Chinese or Japanese. I may be programmed as a an atheist or a a theist. I may be programmed as a businessman, scientist, artist or philosopher. But all these individuals programmed in different ways would be running on the same hardware programs of pain and pleasure: each seeking pleasure and avoiding pain according to their software.
The average man of society lives a life enmeshed in the software. For him, his self is the particular software or the particular psychological memory/knowledge/thought downloaded in him. Each self is therefore a software fragment that is competing with other fragments to survive and dominate. No amount of evolution of these fragments is ever going to change their basic nature : fragmentation. The very nature of psychological knowledge/memory/thought is fragmentation. Man was expelled from the Garden of Eden becasue he ate the fruits of knowledge. Once a fragment is created, it has to exist – survive and flourish – or else it has to die. Since the knowledge fragment we call self is sustained by pain and pleasure, there is pleasure in surviving and becoming, and pain in dying.
The accumulation of knowledge is perhaps the most glorious activity attributed to man. We are called civilized or cultured because of all our science, art, technology, philosophy and religion. We carry with us the hubris that we are more “advanced” than the “uncivilized” tribals on the basis of our superior knowledge through which we can dominate and exploit nature. We prize the intellect and claim it to be an evolution of self. But it is this very intellect that has fragmented man and nature, and fragmented man and man. It is the intellect that has created global warming and other global environmental catastrophes; it is the intellect that has created divisions of nations, classes and religions which leads to war. We fail to see that the intellect is nothing but accumulation of knowledge and knowledge is always limited, always a fragment that is trying to become more. It is a process of eternal becoming in time. A fragment can never become the whole. A finite process can never become infinite. Nonetheless our society is geared only to cultivation of intellect, to the study of knowledge whether in the material, emotional, intellectual or spiritual realm. Since all knowledge are fragments of the whole, each fragment conflicts with the other. We can talk of unity, brotherhood or peace which is nothing but another fragment in the knowledge system called ethics, but there can be no unity till man sees the limitation of all knowledge.
Because each self is constituted of a finite amount of knowledge, it never meets life as it is, but always with a background which is prejudiced or predisposed to view life in a particular way. The relationship with life is between two knowledge systems. When one sees a river, an artist sees it’s beauty, an environmentalist sees it’s pollution, an engineer sees it’s potential to generate electricity, a fisherman sees it’s potential to give him livelihood and a thirsty person sees it’s vital need to quench his thirst. When I meet another human being I meet him as a Hindu or a Muslim; Indian or American; rich or poor; literate or illiterate; capitalist or communist; scientist or artist. When I meet my wife, I meet her with all the memories/knowledge of past pains and pleasures she has given me, all the images I have constructed of her; pregnant with expectations of pleasures she shall provide and cautious of pains she may inflict on me. Whether I am a scientist, artist, philosopher, in this relationship, all my software of particular conditionings fades to the background and the much powerful hardware conditioning of basic instinctual drives, come to the foreground: naked & unadorned. Even if I am a Noble prize winner, even if I have contributed to the march of advancement in human knowledge, as a husband, I am like any other man in front of his wife.
Even when one is entirely alone, the software and hardware of self are doing their work. Thought never stands still. Fire cannot exist without heat, thought cannot exist without movement : the self is always moving from the past to the future. In one’s quite moments one is thinking about how to become rich, famous, knowledgeable or virtuous. Every person in society is involved in the flow of society; it’s institutions, organizations and media, which are constantly bombarding one with a singular message, that one has to become: become better. This voice is not outside. There is no outside and inside. The individual creates society and the society shapes the individual. Even when alone, the society exists as one’s self……with all the murmur of psychological becoming.
While the average man never gets out of the net of evolving oneself through all the particular knowledge/conditionings – of evolving his software of self – a few men venture to take a peak of what is under all this software. There are those who seek to understand the hardware of the self : psychologists, philosophers and spiritualists. Nowadays, even scientists have entered the fray. Consciousness, which was a subjected banned from hard science has entered the scope of their investigation.
So now we are trying to understand the self as a scientist, psychologist or a philosopher Did you get the clue? No? I can understand ! This is tricky terrain. Can you see, when we are trying to understand our self, what is the tool we are using as a scientist, psychologist, philosopher or spiritualist? Aren’t we again using knowledge? The self, as we have seen all along, is a bundle of knowledge which is limited. To understand the self, we are now using another knowledge system : science, psychology, philosophy, which too, is limited. One limitation trying to study another limitation. This is a GIGO situation. GIGO – garbage in garbage out – in computer science describes the concept that flawed, or nonsense input data produces nonsense output or “garbage”. All knowledge systems are products of thought and when we use the products of thought to study thought, we produce further thought: tonnes and tonnes of it. So even these systems have been evolving over time – bifurcating and branching: adding to the bundle of memories/knowledge constituting self.
So we have competing theories, models, systems, ideologies, beliefs in the history of man’s attempts to understand himself. Of these the most enduring ones have been religions and spiritual systems, based on rationality or belief. The lure for them and their longevity is not without a basis. They go deeper than other systems, they go further than the farthest reaches of rational thought. They outclass all psychology, philosophy and science because they enter the core of the self’s hardware : pleasure and pain. Religion can be taken as a belief system, as is the case with the masses and the charltans. But the deepest goal of religion is to liberate man from all suffering and conflict. A lot of excavation needs to be done before one can enter this chamber. The rare individual ventures this deep, and for the one who does, the greatest paradoxes of self awaits him here – psychological time, duality and death. The understanding of these paradoxes differentiates a truly ‘religious’ person from a religiously deluded person. Since almost none understand the greatest paradoxes, religion joins the list of all accumulated knowledge of man, which involves him in evolution and conflict.
In India, there is a liberation path called Vedanta. It means the end of all knowledge. It gives a clue to, how not accumulation, but the ending of all knowledge, is the way out of conflict.