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PATH to the SOUL
By Ashok Bedi
Samuel Weiser, Inc.Copyright © 2000 Ashok Bedi
All rights reserved.
The Soul and the Path
Know that that by which all this is pervaded, is indestructible;
Nothing can work the destruction of this which is imperishable.
Michael, a patient of mine, brought a vivid dream to his session with me one day. In the dream, Michael takes off in a small amphibious plane. He is concerned that he may be flying too close to some treetops. But then he realizes he has no control over his plane! As he looks out the cockpit window to scan his surroundings for a safe place to crash, he sees a much larger plane ahead of him. Each time the larger plane maneuvers, his little plane makes the same maneuver. Then he realizes there must be an invisible cable linking his plane with the larger plane ahead of him, and that his plane is actually not a plane at all, but a glider. At best, he can follow the movements of the large plane, and at worst, he can fight them.
Michael had come to me for therapy under pressure from his employer. Although he was technically proficient, he did his job joylessly. Nobody wanted to work with him. His employer said he could not get along with anybody on the job. Michael had been a military pilot and had wanted to fly commercial aircraft following his discharge. After his discharge, however, his parents had pressured him to enter a technical field. For many years, he continued to fly his private plane, but, as he became more and more depressed, hopeless, and isolated, he flew less and less. Finally, he sold his plane. Michael's difficulties at work mirrored his unhappy personal life. Although he and his ex-wife had shared a few interests, they had not been happy. Michael had remained in the marriage "for the sake of the children." When they left home, he felt his situation was no longer bearable, and he and his wife divorced.
When we are caught in a limited view of life, the soul often sends us a dream to give us a deeper view—the soul's view—of our situation. Dreams make a precious contribution to living out of the Soul. Throughout this book, I have quoted my own and my patients' dreams to illustrate the whispers of the soul that nudge and guide us to live a spiritually informed life.
Michael's dream came at a critically low point in our work. Michael believed he had to do everything by sheer effort of will, yet he felt he couldn't muster the energy necessary to continue, let alone undertake new tasks and responsibilities. He felt empty inside, as if he had lost his soul and couldn't go on. Michael was afraid he was going to crash. However, his dream showed him that there was another source of energy that could keep him airborne if he stayed connected and let it guide him.
Michael's dream told him—and me—that something greater than he, something beyond his control, was leading him on an invisible path toward a destination he could not foresee. The great Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung had similar dreams that shed light on Michael's dream and on the relationship between his glider and the large plane.
The Individual and the Higher Power
Throughout his life, C. G. Jung was gifted with powerful dreams and parapsychological experiences. Jung devoted his life to understanding the meaning of dream imagery. In October 1958, Jung had a dream that he understood as depicting the relationship between him and some higher power. In the dream, several UFOs fly over Jung's house. One of them "... came speeding through the air: a lens with a metallic extension which led to a box—a magic lantern. At a distance of sixty or seventy yards it stood still in the air, pointing straight at me. I awoke with a feeling of astonishment. Still half in the dream, the thought passed through my head: 'We always think that the UFOs are projections of ours. Now it turns out that we are their projections. I am projected by the magic lantern as C. G. Jung. But who manipulates the apparatus?'"
Jung had a similar dream in 1944. In that dream, he was on a hiking trip. As he walked along a little road through a hilly landscape, he came to a small wayside chapel:
The door was ajar, and I went in. To my surprise there was no image of the Virgin on the altar, and no crucifix either, but only a wonderful flower arrangement. But then I saw that on the floor in front of the altar, facing me, sat a yogi—in lotus posture, in deep meditation. When I looked at him more closely, I realized that he had my face. I started in profound fright, and awoke with the thought: "Aha, so he is the one who is meditating me. He has a dream, and I am it." I knew that when he awakened, I would no longer be
Jung's two dreams, and Michael's dream, vividly depict a relationship between the individual and something else that is perceived as superior.
In psychological language, we say that, in our waking state, we are unconscious of this "something else" that we cannot define more precisely than to say that an image of it exists from our dreams. Nevertheless, the dreams reveal that it is there and is depicted as crucial to our existence. Spiritual traditions would not hesitate to call the UFO, the yogi, and the large plane images of a higher power.
The Parable of the Ring
In Gotthold Ephriam Lessing's dramatic poem, "Nathan the Wise" (1779), Sultan Saladin of Jerusalem summons Nathan, a rich Jew known as "the Wise." In a private audience, the Sultan poses a question to Nathan: "Since you are so wise, tell me: What belief, what law makes the most sense to you?" Then the Sultan leaves Nathan alone for a few minutes to reflect on his answer.
"I have to proceed carefully," Nathan says to himself. "And how am I going to do that? I can't come across as a dyed-in-the-wool Jew. And even less as no Jew at all. Because then he'll ask me why I'm not a Moslem.... I've got it! It's not only children you can satisfy with a story.
"Many, many years ago," Nathan begins, "there lived a man in the East who had a priceless ring. The stone was an opal that sparkled with a hundred colors. It had the mysterious power to make the wearer who believed in its power beloved before God and man. The man of the East always wore the ring, never taking it from his finger, and devised a means to keep it always in his family line: he would pass it on to his most beloved son, regardless of birth order, and that son would become the head of the house by the power of the ring.
"This went on for generations," Nathan continued, "till it came to a man who had three sons, each of whom he loved equally. From time to time one or the other would seem to be more dear, and in a weakness of love the father secretly promised the ring first to one, then to another, then to the third. All went well until the old man knew that he was approaching death. What was he to do?
"Secretly he sent for an artist, and bid him spare no expense or time to make two rings indistinguishable from the original. And in the course of time the artist returned with three rings. When he examined them, the old father could not tell which were new, which was the original. Relieved and at peace, he summoned each of his sons to him individually, blessed each, gave each a ring, and died in peace.
"After their father was buried, the sons came together, each proclaiming that their father had blessed him, which was true, and had give him a precious ring, which was also true. Each said he was the head of the house. They argued. They fought. But they could not identify the one genuine ring."
"Rings?" the Sultan exclaims. "Don't play games with me. I asked you about beliefs, laws!"
"Let us return to the rings," Nathan continues. "The three sons go to the judge. Each swears that his father had blessed him—which was true—and had given him a ring—which was also true. 'Well,' the judge says, 'I'm not here to solve riddles. Are you waiting for the true ring to open its mouth and speak? Unless you can produce your father and he can identify the true ring, then quit wasting my time. But wait!' the judge continued. 'I understand that the ring has a magical power to make its wearer beloved before God and man. That will be the way to decide, because the false rings don't have that power. Which of you loves the others the best?' And the sons were silent. 'Speak,' the judge commanded, 'why don't you speak? Surely the true ring works in the present and not only in the past? Each of you loves himself best of all? Then you are all deceived deceivers! Apparently the true ring got lost, and to conceal and replace the loss your father had two more rings made.'"
"Magnificent!" the Sultan exclaimed.
Nathan continued. "So the judge said, 'If you want my advice rather than my judgment, listen. Accept the situation as it is. Each of you has a ring and a blessing from your father. Perhaps he wanted to put an end to the tyranny of the one and only true ring that dominated his house. Surely, he did love each of you equally, and did not want to hurt any one of you. So be it! And here is my advice.'" Nathan paused.
"The judge," he said, "looked at each of the sons. And then he spoke: 'Let each of you strive to live the power the true ring is supposed to have. Let this power manifest in gentleness, heartfelt tolerance, compassion, and submission to God. And then when the powers of the stone shine through your children's children, I invite you to come before this bench again. Then a wiser man than I will sit upon it, and pass judgment. Go now!'"
* * *
Each person has or seeks a path to the soul, to the higher power, to God. Ultimately, all paths lead to the same destination, although, from outside, each path looks unique and is distinct in its external particulars. Each path has something to offer. As you will see in the following pages, I take from the Hindu, Christian, medical, psychiatric, and analytical paths what I have found to work for me and for my patients. As the distance between individuals and peoples on this planet grows ever shorter and we come into ever closer contact with one another, we must learn to honor each others' paths. More: we must discover and integrate what another path offers that our own path lacks. Then we will discover that, fundamentally, we all want the same things.
What People Really Want
What do people really want? What is it that we all reach for, pursue, dream of? Hindu ethics recognizes four pursuits that embrace everything a person could desire: pleasure, wealth, freedom, and a life in harmony with the higher power and the order of the universe. This is called the "fourfold good," chaturvarga. A life in harmony with the higher power, dharma, is the sure guide for the other three: pleasure, which is known as kama; wealth, known as artha; and freedom or liberation, known as moksha. (I discuss these four concepts in greater detail in chapter 10.) The first three seem obvious—who doesn't want to experience pleasure, to have wealth, and to feel free? However, we can satisfactorily achieve kama, artha, and moksha only when dharma—the "indestructible presence"—is our guide. In other words, only a life informed by an adequate spirituality leads to lasting pleasures, to the wealth that neither moth nor rust nor thief can attack, and the freedom from mundane entanglements that sees them from the perspective of a higher power. In this endeavor, spirituality and psychology can and should work together.
Spirituality and Psychology
It is an unfortunate accident of history that spirituality and psychology got further and further separated. Beginning in the 18th century, with the Age of Enlightenment, and accelerating in the 19th, the methodology of the physical sciences was applied to the study of the human mind and soul. This led to a soulless psychology in the late 19th and much of the 20th centuries. Fortunately, more and more people are realizing that a psychology that ignores spirituality is just as impoverished as a spirituality ignorant of psychology. Part of the task I have set myself in this book is to contribute to building a bridge between the two.
Michael's dream shows a relationship between the individual human being and something greater. Christianity teaches that we are created in the image of God; Hinduism holds that the atman, individual soul or self, is the emanational creation of Brahman, the Transcendent Absolute, the all-pervading energy and Supreme Lord, or Primal soul. In the language of Jungian psychology, we say that the large plane, the apparatus behind the UFO, and the yogi correspond to the archetype of the God-image.
Archetypes themselves are unrepresentable, like the field of a magnet. Only when we place a piece of paper or glass over a magnet and sprinkle iron filings on it does the shape of the magnetic field emerge. Likewise, we experience the various archetypes when they appear in consciousness as images and ideas, or when they shape our emotions and behavior in typically human ways. Archetypes are universal patterns or motifs. They are the basic content of religious imagery and ritual, of mythologies, legends, fairy tales. They shape our dreams and visions, and, as mentioned, they structure our typically human life situations and experiences. Hence, to speak or dream of being at a crossroad is to employ an archetypal image referring to a time and place of momentous life choice, just as falling in love or reflecting on the meaning of one's life in old age are experiences patterned by the corresponding archetypes.
It is very important to understand the term "God-image." When I say that the large plane, the UFO, and the yogi correspond to the archetype of the God-image, I am definitely not saying that any one of them is God. Many followers of religious traditions, and often the traditions themselves, typically—and unfortunately—do not distinguish between the image and what it represents. St. Paul made the clear distinction between God and God-image when he wrote: "Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Hindu thought likewise clearly differentiates the deity from various images of the deity. Earlier, I said that the atman, the individual soul or self, is the emanational creation of Brahman. Brahman is described as the Transcendent Absolute, the all-pervading energy and Supreme Lord or Primal Soul. As such, Brahman is without qualities, formless, unrepresentable, totally transcending manifest existence. However, many Hindu God-images have been formed to represent various aspects of Brahman. Likewise, in Islam and Judaism, God as God is immaterial and therefore invisible, but by no means unreal. In the dreams cited, therefore, the archetype of the God-image appears in various guises.
There is another important parallel between Christian belief, Hindu belief, and depth psychology. In the Christian gospel, Matthew admonishes us to seek a new standard, higher than the old, to grow beyond convention and tradition: "You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly father is perfect" (Matthew 5, 48). Hinduism teaches that the individual soul (the atman) must unfold and grow to full maturity and the realization of its innate oneness with God. Both the Christian and the Hindu points of view recognize that the essence of the individual is divine. Both also point out that, through growth and maturation, we must transform our merely natural condition into a "higher" condition if we are to realize our innate oneness with the divine.
Jungian psychology speaks a different language here, using the term "individuation," but the message is similar. "We could ... translate individuation," Jung writes, "as 'coming into selfhood' or 'self-realization.'"
Individuation is powered by a driving force in each of us that propels us to consciously actualize our unique psychological reality, including our strengths and our weaknesses. Ultimately, individuation leads to the experience of a transpersonal regulating force or authority as the center of our individual psyches. "It is," Jung writes, "as if the guidance of life had passed over to an invisible centre."
The Individual Soul and the Primal Soul
For hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years, women and men have written about the soul. In speaking of the individual soul (the atman) and the Primal Soul (Brahman), I like to use the ancient image of the droplet and the ocean: the individual soul is like a droplet of water in the ocean of the Primal Soul. Metaphors are our attempt at expressing experiences that we cannot otherwise put into words or images; they are attempts to comprehend the otherwise incomprehensible. To continue the metaphor, the essence of both the ocean and each individual droplet is water. The ocean—the Primal Soul, Brahman, God, or cosmic order—is boundless. The droplet—the individual soul—is limited. The three dreams mentioned above depict the individual soul's relationship of dependence on the Primal Soul.
The individual soul depends ultimately on the Primal Soul for its very existence; but the Primal Soul also depends on the individual soul. How can this be? Over the ages, many mystics have realized that the individual soul is the medium through which the Primal Soul incarnates in the created human world. In other words, the Primal Soul works through us in the world, whether we know it or not.
Excerpted from PATH to the SOUL by Ashok Bedi. Copyright © 2000 Ashok Bedi. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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