Many people confound physical seeing with knowledge. They do not think deeply enough to discover that one may see a thing and not know it, while he may know a thing and yet not see it.
True perception is true knowledge. Perception is the capacity of the soul; it is the sight of the higher intelligence whose vision never errs. — Damodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement, Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, 1965, p. 515
Today's perceptions are the basis of the person we are going to become, and knowledge gained is the knowledge we will have at our disposal. Perception, as used here, is something conscious that is deliberate and intentional, such as the instantaneous flash of insight that can come when we intentionally look at something in a new way. It becomes a part of us. This is different from perspective. We say that our perspective changes over time, but this is mostly unconscious. It is time and habits of forgetting that are changing the perspective. It is not deliberate or intentional, and is the result of time, while consciousness is timeless. Realigning the way we perceive, as a conscious choice, assists the development of a better future. Even when the change is small, new insights can accrue and compound, so that the results will be much greater than the original effort expended. An increased perception can help our composite nature work together with insight; and because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, the whole, working increasingly together, can accomplish far greater things than can any individual part.
If we view ourselves not as a single, conscious entity, but a disorderly army of many different voices, we can perhaps see how the absence of wholeness inhibits perception, and how the different voices sometimes live a life of their own as a habit, separate from the whole. Theosophy uses the illustration of the human constitution composed of seven different parts — spiritual, mental, desire, etc. — all of which need to operate as a symphony for harmonious balance, each contributing its individual voice at the proper time, in the proper way, for the benefit of the whole. But this is true only for a being who has perfected itself in this world. We who are still "imperfect" do not always operate from a conscious viewpoint. We do not get angry, for example, because that is the correct thing to do, but instead have the habit of allowing one of our separate voices to manifest in anger and dominate in certain situations, especially if we are tired or upset — and many times we are not conscious of when this begins to happen. Internal conflict among the different habits is the natural result, and this inhibits our operating as a congruent unit. The desire habit called anger might be in conflict with the mental wish to keep ourselves under control and remain calm. These two voices then struggle for continued existence by vying with each other for power, and their connection to limited viewpoints skews their input to the perceptive function. We get a clearer view when operating from unity.
. . . between Strong Will and Free Will there is a profound difference. Strong Will is not will at all, but the manifestation of an abnormally developed separate self — in other words a desire. "Strong Will achieves conquest through conflict, but Free Will remains at peace in a stronghold that cannot be assailed." Strong Will is the manifestation of a purely separate self. Free Will is the manifestation of a Self united in harmony with the Laws of life. — P. G. Bowen, The Occult Way, Theosophical Publishing House, London, 1978, p. 35.
We cannot truly perceive from Strong Will. In order for Free Will to manifest as insight or understanding in the future, a conscious realignment is necessary in the present. In contrast to physical seeing and knowledge, ultimate perception is too far removed to be imagined, and is like the receding horizon line — there is always more to understand. But we can tread upon the path of continuous, conscious attempts to enhance our perceptions and our way of living.
Perceiving is part of any type of observation, and the same observation can be perceived in many different ways. Also, the perceptive function must be appropriate to each plane. On the physical level, using attention to consciously observe from the best vantage point can be illustrated with observations on doing a job. The Strong Will called judging may tell us that we don't like doing this job, and so there is resistance to doing it. Observing this, we can raise our level of consciousness, which yields the perception that this job is simply one that we wish to get done in the best way we can, thus reducing the resistance caused by judgment. We are then operating closer to the Free Will of the whole because our perception is no longer controlled by the habit voice that dislikes. The same is true for emotional, mental, and other processes. We can harmonize our vision with the whole on any and all planes, and so in turn expand our perceptions, allowing us to begin to learn even greater lessons, opening the door to a greater perception of ourselves and the world around us.
"The riddle of life is found in the active functions of a living organism, the real perception of which activity we can get only through self-observation, and not owing to our external senses; by observations on our will, so far as it penetrates our consciousness, thus revealing itself to our inner sense." ("'Elementary Instructions' of the esoteric physiology of practical Occultism,'' quoted in Lucifer (6:32), April 15, 1890, p. 98.) Self-observation is one step towards an increase of perception. This includes both outer and inner observation. We can begin to glimpse how perception works by observing the interaction of the two, which is the manifesting of our will. Where we begin does not matter, as we can always learn to perceive more. Anyone can become more perceptive by observing how our will manifests: that is, we can see if we accomplish our objectives (our will functioning through the whole) or, if we lose track of where we are going (a desire or habit interferes). And if we reach our goal, did we travel in the straight line set before us by our will, or did we get there by some circuitous route, continually sidetracked because we had to navigate around and through the individual voices trying to gain control?
If we do not yet operate as a complete being, we get sidetracked. Our will does not yet manifest for any significant period of time because the lesser parts are interfering, and not acting in unison. But just knowing when and to what degree we are out of control allows us to perceive when and where we can improve, and where we are on "automatic" and not paying attention. We can perceive from the highest level possible for us if we are alert, but when attention is taken up by internal conflict between the lower individual voices we are easily deflected, and many times are not even aware of where we went off course. Free will, as an expression of the Self united in harmony, cannot manifest when there is disorientation and internal conflict, nor when we attempt to suppress or control our habits by force. For example, when "judging" is dominant, there may be a conflict between judging and observing. We cannot really observe while judging is in control, and are blind to the abundance of perspectives necessary to perceive the totality. But if we make an attempt to suppress "judging," then "suppressing" and "judging" are in conflict and our attention is on suppressing, not truly observing and perceiving.
Most of us realize that these old, conflict-causing methods, which are really habits and not Free Will, cannot take us very far beyond where we now stand. We are all searching for a better way of living, but are locked into present limitations as long as perception is material, or habits are etched so deeply that they are concrete. We have in us mental graven images that we bow down to and worship, and are loath to give up. These graven images, of always looking at things in only one way, re-form the same tired old perceptions, and the same perceptions re-form a future person with the same limitations as the present one. We must learn to reform our perceptions in a positive way.
"The evolution of the internal or real man is purely spiritual. . . . a journey of the 'pilgrim-soul' through various states of not only matter but Self-consciousness and self-perception, or of perception from apperception." (H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, 1:175.) Apperception is conscious perception, in the words of Leibniz, "the light of perfect consciousness." But what is it that is called conscious as distinguished from "not conscious," and what are perception and self-perception? These questions must be answered individually. The differences are what make each person, and life itself, unique. Each person is not really a single conscious entity, but many disorderly voices which act like children, and must be periodically restrained and taught discipline. Any time we can raise our level of perception, we also raise the level of the observers, and they acquire a little more discipline and maturity. This in turn gives impetus to the journey through Self-consciousness and self-perception. Without conscious interaction and retraining, these individual voices will continue to function as independent, automatic habits, perhaps learned when we were children, that take over and keep us sleeping. The whole cannot be understood from any of these single, disjointed viewpoints. The voices must begin to sing in harmony to be able to perceive anything other than fragments. This does not happen all at once but, like most things in life, is a learning process that unfolds in a series of small steps towards a specific goal.
When we begin to observe our own habits and actions, we begin to perceive the things we do consciously and the dominance that habits have over our life, and perhaps begin to escape from the dominance of enslaving habits, which will in turn facilitate the self-perception of all of life's living organism. "Before the soul can see, the Harmony within must be attained, and fleshly eyes be rendered blind to all illusion." (The Voice of the Silence, tr. H. P. Blavatsky, p. 2)
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1994; copyright © 1994 Theosophical University Press)
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Our minds possess by nature an insatiable desire to know the truth. — Cicero