The dangers of duality

The dangers of duality: Recognition Sutra #6

This is part a series of posts on the 1000-year-old spiritual masterpiece The Recognition Sutras by Rājānaka Kshemarāja. In Sūtra Five, we learned that the mind is nothing but a contracted form of the one universal divine Consciousness; now we are taught what kind of reality we experience when we see things through the lens of the discursive mind. There are two ways to render Sūtra Six:

तन्मयो मायाप्रमाता ॥ ६

The mind is a māyā-perceiver.
One who consists [primarily] of the mind perceives duality.

To be more accurate, the second rendering is simply more explanatory, it's not a different translation. ~ Let's explore what this sūtra really means, and why it matters. First off, citta is a word which Sanskritists translate as “mind” but is more accurately rendered “heart-mind” in English because citta is the locus of both thought and emotion, these being inextricably linked. It is therefore no surprise that Kṣhema argues that the citta is the primary locus of our limited sense of self, our false sense of a separate, different, independent identity. This heart-mind is a 'māyā-perceiver' because the primary meaning of māyā in this philosophy is not “illusion” but Self-concealment-in-plurality. (Where 'plurality' and 'duality' are interchangeable terms.) That is, māyā is the Power of Differentiation, and it is through creative differentiation that Oneness appears to become concealed (though it remains just as present). 

The mind sees reality through the lens of māyā (that is, it sees things as separate and differentiated) because its primary function is to produce discursive thought-forms, or vikalpas. Vikalpas are mental constructs or interpretive filters that divide up (vi-kḷp) the world into discrete chunks for analysis (e.g.,“Dangerous to me or not? Source of food or not? Potential mate or not?” etc.). This function of the mind was very useful and important in our evolution, but has led to a problematic situation in which interpretive filters are almost constantly interposed between awareness and reality, such that it's very easy to mistake the filter for reality. This is one definition of the unawake state.

Nearly all thoughts are vikalpas. I often translate vikalpa as “differential thought-constructs” which indicates two things: first, the fabricated nature of vikalpas, which after all are not reflections but interpretations of reality, and second, the fact that all vikalpas are based in perception of difference and articulated in terms of difference (with the most basic difference being self versus other). The mind, by its very nature, is a perceiver of differentiation, not unity. Pleasant versus unpleasant, good versus bad, the way things should be versus the way things are. That’s no fault of the mind’s. Its function is to see difference, without which we couldn’t survive. But to what extent has that function come to dominate? The price we have paid is the increasing loss of the ability to see the greater unity which subsumes all difference. The mind is, in its natural state, a useful tool, not a locus of selfhood. A servant, not a master. And certainly not the aspect of our being which has the last word on what is ultimately real, and ultimately significant.

We could say that the aim of a Tantrik sādhanā is “letting everything adopt its proper place.” Any feature of our being, however benign normally, becomes swollen and distorted when it is the sole locus of our identity. When we are slaves of the mind, it becomes a tyrannical master. You are its slave insofar as you are constantly trying to please it, to make it happy. If you think the goal of life (or, even worse, the spiritual path) is to feel good all time, then you are a slave of the mind. If you think happiness is the result of accumulating advantages, or of maximizing everything you like and minimizing everything you don’t like, then you are a slave of the mind, and you run around doing its bidding every day. 

Because vikalpas are concerned with difference and hierarchy, this versus that, they easily give rise to behaviors of fear and aggression. When a whole group of people have come to agree on a particularly distorted vikalpa, the result can be anything up to and including war and genocide. Some vikalpas (like fundamentalism) function much like mental viruses in the way they spread and the harm they can cause. We could write a history of the human species in terms of the increasing dominance of vikalpa in human life. 

Brief opinionated excursus

To hint toward that history in a single paragraph, we may observe that with the species-wide shift from foraging to agriculture, vikalpas (and thus the mind that manufactures them and chooses amongst them) became more significant, as agriculture necessitated the new concept of ownership of land and resources; mine versus yours. Not coincidentally, the primary crops that came to be cultivated were ones that break down easily into glucose (e.g., rice and wheat). Glucose is the food for the brain. So the more the brain gets overfed with glucose, some have argued, the more it becomes overactive, and then it uses that extra thought-energy to get hold of more glucose, in a feedback loop. This is no doubt an oversimplification, but it remains a fascinating hypothesis: that the history of modern man is one in which the brain has effectively 'taken over' the body, prioritizing its glucose needs over the nutrients needed by all the other organs, with disastrous results, because they are not only physical (rampant obesity, diabetes, cancer, etc.) but mental. The overfed brain has produced bloated, sickly, distended vikalpas: nationalism, dogmatism, religion, fundamentalism, science divorced from morality, financial markets, escape into fantasy worlds (such as video games, some online communities, pornography, sterile intellectuality)—the list is endless. And these are the features that dominate our modern landscape.* With the advent of the internet, we can now spend more and more of our waking hours in a dimension entirely shaped by vikalpas, a mental landscape of the human race undergirded and shot through with largely unexamined charged emotional states (revolving primarily around desire and/or fear) articulated as opinions. [One of the reasons for this blog is to inject more śuddha-vikalpas into the Internet landscape; see Tantra Illuminated p. 357.]  End of excursus.

In his commentary on his own sūtra, Kshemarāja concludes his discussion by juxtaposing two sūtras from the Śiva-sūtras, describing the two primary modes of the self:

 On this point, the Aphorisms of Śiva state, in accordance with the true nature of reality, that “Awareness is the self” (caitanyam ātmā); and by contrast, when characterizing the māyā-perceiver, they say that “The mind is the self.” (cittam ātmā).

The Śiva-sūtras is a rather mysterious non-sectarian scripture received by the sage Vasugupta direct from Śiva in a dream. Kshemarāja here implies that such a divinely infallible source cannot contradict itself, and that therefore sūtras 1.1 and 3.1 (cited above) must both be true. The only way that this is possible is if both Awareness and the mind constitute the self, in different phases (parallel to the contrast yet identity of water and ice). Kṣhema clarifies that in the first instance, the scripture is speaking in terms of ultimate truth, and in the second, in terms of the contracted perceiver within the field of māyā. We are invited to awaken to the nature of the mind-self as a contracted form of the Awareness-self. Realization of this truth compels us to look more deeply and discover the nature of that Awareness-self, our essential being.

This post is an excerpt from my book The Recognition Sūtras (Mattamayūra Press, 2017).

For the online course to accompany the book, go to The Sutra Project

~ ~ ~ 

* Footnote: If the reader has an emotional attachment to any of the vikalpas mentioned in this list, or indeed to the glucose-heavy diet that helps fuel them, his own reactivity might be evidence in favor of the hypothesis briefly advanced here. I for one have never seen such foaming-at-the-mouth emotional reactivity than when one of these vikalpas is challenged in someone for whom it is a central part of his or her identity. And no challenge is more fundamental than one that strikes at the very root of the vikalpa-structure: the fact that it is all made up. In objective reality, there's no such thing as an American or a Christian or an Indian or a Hindu; these are all imagined realities. Nor is there any such thing as a 'good person' or a 'evil-doer'; note how different (and more reductive) these labels are from acknowledging that there are beneficial and non-beneficial actions. A key feature of the mind-world is right versus wrong, a black-and-white mentality which if operative in the reader may incline him to think that I am condemning out-of-hand all vikalpa-structures, as if they were intrinsically bad or wrong. If you think that is what is being said here, you have missed the point entirely.