THE IMPERMANENT/PERMANENT SELF AND THE

ALCHEMICAL PATH

 
 
Julie of Light Omega
 
     
 
The Buddha's Way
 
 
The Buddha's Way
 
   
 

However innumerable all beings are,

I vow to save them all.

However, inexhaustible delusions are,

I vow to extinguish them all.

However immeasurable dharma teachings are,

I vow to master them all.

However endless the Buddha's way is,

I vow to follow it.

 

 
 

What is the 'self'? Is it our thoughts, our feelings, our dreams and ideals? Is it our past and future, our worries and hopes? Do we have a 'self', and if so, does it last, or is it a fleeting image constructed within time out of conscious experience, an experience which engrosses all of our energy and attention today, but disappears into the vastness of eternity tomorrow?

Deep contemplation over the great sweep of human history, from ancient times to the present, has brought to us a greater understanding of the nature of 'self'. From the perspectives of both Eastern and Western spirituality, we find that what daily experience tells us of the 'self' - the common thoughts and feelings that we refer to as our 'personality' - is not the self at all in its deepest reality, but the landscape of changing and often conflicting emotional states, mental patterns, and motivations that we carry, but that we are not.

In addressing the nature of the real self, spiritual thought and practice tend to take us in two different directions.

Perspectives of the East take us to an understanding of the 'impermanent' self and to a deeper awareness of what lies beneath this impermanence - to the ground of our being which is self-less and part of an undifferentiated Unity.

Perspectives of the West offer a way of finding truth within our bodies and emotions, albeit within a perfected version of these. 

The way of the East has given us the practice of 'non-attachment' - the logical and necessary step toward the locating of what is more real. 'Non-attachment' creates inner space around the drama of thought and feeling. It involves not only not identifying with the content of our minds, but also not grasping for the things that our ego tells us we must have. Ultimately, it brings us to a truer center of who we are.

The way of the West has given us the Ten Commandments and the moral imperative that can be realized through expressing our individual, embodied selves. It has also given us the commandment 'to love one another' and an understanding of the psychology of the emotions and of the personality.

Both perspectives may be seen as embodying truth.  Both are necessary to the human understanding in the way that a circle with two halves must join together in order to be complete. The realization of formlessness and Unity is one half of the circle. The way of form, captured in the statement of Jesus: "be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect"1 is the other half. This is the 'way of perfection' that today is called the 'path of purification'. It leads us to consider even impermanent states of feeling and thought to have reality and significance, for even in their limitation, they lead to transmuted states of thought and feeling that can merge with the Divine. 

The latter perspective is the mystical center of both the Judaeo-Christian tradition and of ancient philosophies of the past.2 As compared with meditative perspectives of the East, it is an alchemical perspective - 'alchemical' referring to the transmutation of emotional and mental states into the pure expression of the Divine harmonic of love. It is what we, as a civilization, must move toward if we are to establish a lasting peace within ourselves and upon the earth.

For millennia, the many paths of meditation have led human consciousness to transcend the limits of the personal in order to attain that which is ultimately real, unified, and unchanging. Simultaneously, the 'alchemical path' or 'path of purification' has been open to only a relative few, due to the general unavailability of specific knowledge regarding its pursuit and to the hardship of accomplishing its aims.  Today, however, as we become more capable of incorporating light within our physical selves and therefore of transmuting both mental states and emotions, we become able to achieve a truer version of reality in this way, achieving a depth of reality and truth that formerly could only be achieved through the practice of meditation. This new possibility arises because spiritual light is more present on the earth today, and the experience of our own identity can change because of this.

Within Buddhism, the practice of 'non-attachment' brings us to the place of greater clarity and truth regarding our inner life. Witnessing allows us to observe the inner drama without identifying with the content of what we see and feel.

Within an 'alchemical' practice, we are also brought to this place of witnessing, in the sense that we become progressively aware of what we carry inside without feeling that we are these things. Within both practices, an effort can be made to recognize content, while understanding that it is not oneself.

The difference between the two perspectives may also be described as follows: that a serious meditative practice will lead us to discover the undivided, pure Awareness that is there beneath thought and feeling - what Buddhism calls our 'ground nature'. By contrast, transmutation of emotional and mental states leads us to an embodied perception of identity - to a self within form, freed of the limitations of the personality - a self that recognizes its own Divine nature.

II.

The process by which transmutation takes place has been shrouded in mystery in the past. It is part of the 'great work' of hermetic teaching and of the many Mystery schools that flourished in ancient times. It involves raising each inharmonious emotion to its 'higher counterpart' so that the personal self can reflect the Divine level of our being, and so that this level can merge with the human.

Transmutation does not involve separating from the personality.  Rather, it involves redeeming the personality so that it can become a vehicle for the highest part of ourselves in fulfillment of our Divine purpose.

What is our Divine purpose?

Is there a Divine purpose for all of humanity or only for individuals?

Do we, together, have a goal that we are moving toward and if so, do we choose it, or has it chosen us in the sense of destiny?

The answer, according to the teachings of the ancients, is both. The purpose of human experience is to complete the 'circle of Creation', or, to put it differently, for God to realize Him/Herself within human form and for human consciousness to realize itself as Divine.

To manifest this purpose involves humanity's growth in the ways of both the East and the West, gaining knowledge of the true meaning and purpose of our human bodies and human experience, and, simultaneously, realizing the deep core of undivided Awareness that we carry inside as well.

Perspectives of both East and West educate us to a more whole and sacred view of ourselves and of life. They create a path toward individual freedom and away from the world's definitions of who we are. One way does this by uniting our thoughts, feelings, and bodies in their purified form with God, by whatever name God is called. The other way does this by bringing the formlessness of God - the All - into our awareness as the ground of our own Being. Both ways can become part of the practice of 'sacred breathing' - the inbreath and outbreath of being and non-being that is described in "Quantum Physics and Evolving Consciousness." Through the experience and practice of both, we become unified as a distinct individuality within the Unity that is God. We also experience the Unity of God, the All, immanent within our individuality. These two ways do not represent specific spiritual traditions, but rather 'orientations toward the Divine' that form one 'circle of Creation'. They are discovered as we realize that we are within the All and are part of that which is One and undivided, and that the All is within us, expressing as ourselves.  This is the deeper meaning of the motto on the Great Seal of the United States of America: "E pluribus unum" - out of many, One.  The reverse of this is also true -"E unum pluribus" - out of One, many.

III.

Transmutation means changing one thing into another so that it arrives at a different state or form. But what is it that we change into what?

To answer this, one must picture a 'continuum of feeling' for each emotion that we have. This continuum is like a rope with invisible markers occurring at regular intervals between both ends. At one end of the rope are the negative emotional states; at the other, the positive emotional states.

For example, on the Fear-Trust continuum, intense panic might reside at one end, gradations of anxiety in the middle, and calmness or trust at the other end. On the Sorrow-Joy continuum, depression or despair might define one end, gradations of grief or sadness might occupy the middle, and joy and hope might be found on the other end.

All negative states lie at one end of each continuum, and all positive states lie at the other. Unlike the negative states, however, the positive emotions that we feel are capable of expanding in the presence of light to a level that we are, for the most part, not yet aware of. For as positive emotions move closer to their source in God - to the purity of the Divine harmonic that is God's love and goodness - these positive emotions cease being simply human and begin to reflect Divine Love. In this sense, they become 'Divine emotions' rather than human emotions. They make of us sacred beings.

Because light is more available now on earth, it becomes possible to transmute emotions along each continuum through sacred intention. We can, for example, endeavor to bring light into our bodies and thoughts through sacred breathing and through prayer. These practices are part of 'alignment'- a movement of consciousness which enables us to feel at one with the Universal energies of Divine light and love.

If we are angry, by aligning with light we try to raise the anger toward the vibration of forgiveness. If we are frightened, we try to raise fear to the vibration of trust. If we feel depressed, we try to raise the vibration of sorrow to joy - not the kind of joy that is related to 'having fun', but the kind of joy that comes from perceiving meaning and purpose within our experience and within our own deeper nature. In all ways, we treat each negative emotional state as part of a 'continuum of wholeness', each having a paired-opposite which is calling us to it, asking us to learn how to be it.

The practice of transmutation is a way to change our emotions, our bodies, and the cells of our bodies so that they each can become expressions of the Divine. When we acknowledge our embodied self as a sacred identity, we can no longer disregard the need for purifying. We accept this responsibility so that we can more completely reflect the Divine intention that gave us life and that is our true purpose for existing.

IV.

The "Impermanent/Permanent Self" refers to the union of formlessness and form that is meant to take place within human experience. Through this unification, consciousness and matter can both begin to be perceived as sacred. As we move in this direction, not only do we establish within ourselves a new and more profound identity. We also incorporate Buddhic and Christ-consciousness within ourselves, realizing as a collective humanity what is meant by the promise of old:

"that God shall dwell among men and they shall be unto Him a holy people."6

To become 'a holy people' means to live a life that is in God and with God on all levels of our being. It is to sanctify our humanity so that we can live as we were created - in holiness.

 



 

1. NT: Matthew 5:48.

2. The Kybalion: A Study of the Hermetic Philosophy of Ancient Egypt and Greece, by Three Initiates.

3. Living in God's Reality: The Path of Purification, by J. Redstone.

4. This refers to the work of the Theosophical Society beginning with the writings of Helena Blavatsky in 1889, and to the subsequent publication in 1932 of books by Guy Ballard offering the teachings of the Ascended Masters in a form which non-initiates could digest.

5. Books such as Shambala: Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and,Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunyru Suzuki have been around for a long time and are written with Westerners in mind.

6. Exodus 29:45-46; Isaiah 62:12.

 


 
 

 

Related Writings:

The Practice of Purification - Alignment

Quantum Physics and Evolving Consciousness

 

 

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