Two Polarities of Spiritual Life - 1
Within the last few years, especially since Anthony Sutich and his associates in Palo Alto, California, began the publication of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology in 1969, the term "transpersonal" is frequently heard in psychological circles; and Carl lung had used it occasionally, probably not for the first time. It now is mainly used with reference to what exists beyond, or to the process of reaching beyond and transcending the level of actions, drives, feelings, and realizations which are usually regarded as being personal. Moreover, in most instances, the word "personal" has rather pejorative connotations, even though Carl Jung used the term "personality" in a positive sense which contrasts with the meaning given to it in theosophy and related types of thinking.
Unfortunately the word "transpersonal" is ambiguous, and its use can be confusing unless one clearly states what meaning one gives to it. The ambiguity arises from the double meaning of the prefix "trans" in the formation of words derived from the Latin. Trans means both through and beyond, and the former is more basic and common than the latter. The words, transparent, transpierce, or transaction, imply a process of through or across: on the other hand, the terms, trans-Himalayan or trans-Alpine usually refer to what exists beyond or "the other side of" these mountains. Their opposites are "cis-Himalayan" and "cis-Alpine."
In the meaning of "beyond," the prefix trans duplicates the Greek root meta; but the psychologists who are using the word, transpersonal, apparently felt that "metapersonal" would constitute an awkward blend of Greek and Latin, and might establish an unwanted link with "metaphysical." In the fall 1929, I began to use the word transpersonal; but it was used to characterize the release of a power operating through the personal.(1) The source of that power, consciousness, or activity could certainly be considered as existing beyond the realm of personality, but the activity itself is transpersonal because its most significant feature is its using a person as an instrumentality or agent through which the activity is released in a focused condition. Because such a meaning of the word transpersonal implies the existence of a source of activity in a realm beyond, above, or even deep within that of the personal and normal consciousness of human beings as at present constituted, it evidently has suspicious and unwelcome implications for the typical scientist who refuses to deal with entities existing outside the fields of sense perception and strictly rational conceptualization. If, however, a transpersonal type of activity implies a reaching beyond the limitations and the concreteness or rationality of what is still considered by most people the normal state of consciousness and feeling-experiences, then it is much more acceptable to the scientific mentality. It refers to religious aspirations and to man's devotion to transcendent and either superhuman or collectively held superpersonal ideals. Evolution is seen as an "ascent" and the great individual is thought to be "superior" to the human average.
On the other hand, if one thinks of transpersonal activity as a going through a person who then becomes an agent for the exteriorization of a cosmic force or a spiritual entity, one has to accept the world-outlook characterizing true Occultism. One of the most essential principles of Occultism, as stated in H.P.B.'s The Secret Doctrine (I:224), is that "the Universe is worked and guided from within outward, controlled and animated by almost endless series of Hierarchies of sentient Beings, each having a mission to perform, and who — whether we give to them one name or another, and call them Dhyan-Chohans or Angels — are "messengers" in the sense only that they are the agents of Karmic and Cosmic Laws. None of these Beings, high or low, have either individuality or personality as separate Entities, i.e. they have no individuality in the sense in which a man says 'I am myself and no one else'; in other words, they are conscious of no such distinct separateness as men and things have on earth. Individuality is the characteristic of their respective Hierarchies, not of their units."
If at the cosmic-spiritual levels at which such Hierarchies operate, there is, strictly speaking, no individuality it seems logical to accept the idea that, in order to act in a precisely focused manner at the level of human existence, these superindividual Beings require an agent, emissary or messenger among men in order to produce a strongly focalized release of energy — just as sunlight requires a focusing lens to generate sufficient heat to set paper on fire. This focusing activity of energy or creative (that is, transforming and transfiguring) power is what I mean by the term, transpersonal, whenever I am using it. It refers to a descent of power — an action from the spirit (or God) through an individual person.
Some transpersonal psychologists would probably accept the possibility of such an action from some transcendental source, for their approach to the universe and man is broad enough; nevertheless they insist on taking an empirical attitude and on looking at what happens from an experiential standpoint; and as a result the main field of their research is the study of these phenomena which extend, elevate, intensify and transform or transfigure human consciousness along lines usually interpreted as mystical, or at least quasi-mystical and subliminal. What is perceived thus are the varied manifestations of an upreaching sense-transcending and perhaps ego-surrendering consciousness — the "peak-experiences" studied by Abraham Maslow, the bliss, the wonder, the ecstasy of the self-actualizing and self-transcending individual — the drop of water on its way to merging with the sea.(2)
The path of the true mystic has often been outlined and the several stations it crosses have been explained, symbolized, sung in inspiring poetry, whether in India or Medieval Europe, by Sufis, Christian Gnostics, or even more recently by various types of illumined minds which have reached from the darkness of human emotionality and egocentricity to the light of a state of supernal revelation. But there is another path, another kind of light-revealing consciousness that operates in another direction, because it is differently polarized. This is the path of the Avatar, the Divine Manifestation or Incarnation — and at a lesser level of operation, also the path of the creative genius and of the cultural hero. A spiritual, cosmic, or divine power acts in and through these men. Whether in total consciousness, half-consciously, or even unconsciously, they have become agents of forces of spiritual Beings or Occult Brotherhoods that use them as focalizing instrumentalities — and in another sense, as "junior associates" or messengers — for the performance of actions demanded at certain times by the state of evolution of humanity, or only of a culture and community of human beings. These actions are "performed" — i.e. done through a form — and that form is the personality of the Avatar, the creative genius, or the hero whose deeds become symbols and examples for a whole culture or nation.
We shall return to this type of inspirited human beings, but before doing so a third type of persons should be mentioned, the great ascetics who, with intense and persistent will, fight against the biopsychic drives and passions of human nature in an attempt totally to control, dominate, subjugate, and even "paralyze" them. India has witnessed and still witnesses the self-imposed disciplines and even tortures used by such individuals. In that land of tropical exuberance these men seek to reach supernatural states of consciousness and power by the most violent forms of denial of all that, in their body, seeks gratification — all except perhaps the ego in its subtler aspects!
Asceticism undoubtedly is an integral component of the mystical life, especially in its first stages of "Purification," and mysticism and asceticism can be characterized as counterpersonal modes of activity. They operate in counterpoint to all that feeds, satisfies, and expresses a "personal" way of life. One could use also the term "counternatural," because these men and women work in opposition to the natural functions and tendencies of their biological organism and also of its psychological overtones. The main difference between the true mystic and the typical ascetic is that the former seeks a state of union with the Divine through love and/or utter devotion, while the latter tends to consider the means for reaching a supernatural state as ends in themselves and, consciously or not, remains attached to his self-will and the manifestation of the supernormal powers he has attained.
In the lives of some of the Avatars there are also early periods of intense self-deprivation and self-disciplining, and they do reach at times moments of mystical consciousness and a fervent devotion to whatever they know or feel is acting through them; but the direction or orientation of the essential life-activity is opposed to that of the mystic, at least until the great mystic himself becomes a center of radiation for "That" with which he has become united in love and total ego-surrender. Thus in attempting to define the characteristics of these modes of activity — reaching beyond and fighting against the personal nature, or consciously allowing the personality to be used for supernatural purposes — I do not mean to set rigid categories of behavior and goals. If one can speak of categories then there certainly are nonexclusive ones; they interblend at many points. They represent basic attitudes and goals which should be differentiated if one is to understand and properly evaluate what each of them characteristically implies and outwardly projects.
The ambivalence and ambiguity of the prefix trans in the term, transpersonal, are an excellent index to the difference between the mystic and, not only the great Avatar or Divine Manifestation, but the lesser types of human personages represented by the creative genius and the cultural hero. In order to avoid this ambiguity I prefer therefore to use two terms, counterpersonal and transpersonal.
This use appeared in the magazine THE GLASS HIVE, edited by the then well-known writer, Will Levington Comfort, and in a series of articles, entitled Mountain Talks with Rudhyar
Instead of impersonal, let us use another word more telling transpersonal. A personal type of behavior (or feeling or thought) is one rooted in the substance and conditioned form of the personality. A transpersonal type of behavior is one starting from the universal unconditioned self in Man and using merely the personality as an instrument. Such a type of behavior will be colored obviously by the personality — but not so much the personality of the actor as of the one toward whom the act is directed. It will be conditioned by the race, time and locality.
The keynote of the spiritual life is transpersonal adaptability. Transpersonal love is protean. It shines upon all; but is concentrated upon each according to each need. In some cases it may seem to all most personal, most like ordinary human love. And what of it? Who can recognize what is or is not super-personal, save one whose level of being is established beyond the realm of substantial form; who is free from clinging to form and name, from vanity; whose consciousness deals fundamentally with tides of Energy, the same through multitudes of forms? (from the article "On Personal and Impersonal").
In the first issue of The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology
(spring 1969) we find the following under the subheading "Transpersonal Definitions" (p. 15-16):
The emerging Transpersonal Psychology is concerned specifically with the empirical, scientific study of, and responsible implementation of the findings relevant to, becoming, individual and species-wide, meta-needs, ultimate values, unitive consciousness, peak experience, B-values, ecstasy, mystical experience, awe, being, self-actualization, essence, bliss, wonder, ultimate meaning, transcendence of the self, spirit, oneness, cosmic awareness, individual and species-wide synergy, maximal interpersonal encounter, sacralization of everyday life, transcendental phenomena, cosmic self-humor and playfulness; maximal sensory awareness, responsiveness and expression; and related concepts, experiences and activities. As a definition, this formulation is to be understood as subject to optional individual or group interpretations, either wholly or in part, with regard to the acceptance of its contents as essentially naturalistic, theistic, supernaturalistic, or any other designated classification.
This evidently covers a vast variety of possible data and interpretations; but the italicized word empirical, gives the general direction. In order to be acceptable to the vast majority of the college-trained, science-oriented psychologists and medical men — such an empiricism is required; and this fact already conditioned Carl Jung's basic attitude, at least in his public works. Return
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