In order to understand what happens to Man in sleep and after death it is necessary to have an understanding of Man's constitution.
A subject of this nature can not be treated like Mathematics or Chemistry where ideas can be expressed in formulas and words mean definite things. When we consider that we can not from our own observations describe the appearance and functions of the organs in our body, we should not be surprised at the difficulty we experience in trying to understand such intangibles as mind and consciousness and we must not expect a clear-cut presentation such as might be possible if we were dealing with physical objects.
One difficulty is that we can not get far enough away from the objects we are trying to understand to get a perspective view of them, for they are in one sense parts of ourselves. In another sense they are tools of ours and the description of their functions varies according to the view-point we take at the moment. Another difficulty is that the various elements or principles of Man's constitution overlap, interblend and merge one into another and some of them are entirely above the understanding of the human mind in its present stage of development. In studying this subject, therefore, we must make use of our intuition as well as our mind.
Man is not a single, indivisible homogeneous unit, but is a composite entity made up of many different elements and principles, under normal conditions operating harmoniously together during Man's life on Earth. Besides his visible, physical body, he is endowed with an inner, invisible, complex constitution, part of which is inferior to his ordinary mental Consciousness, and part superior to this Consciousness.
The essential part of Man is a Ray or stream of consciousness, a part of the Universal Consciousness, the Divine Source of all life. This Ray is inseparable from the One Universal Life, just as a sunbeam is inseparable from the sun, but while embodied it appears as a separate unit.
This Ray is the core around which Man's composite nature is built. The various principles of his constitution are all different aspects or manifestations of this Ray, and all are vitalized into activity by its presence.
As this Ray descends through the various planes or levels of Nature, it focuses its essence into active centers at each of these levels and builds for itself vehicles suitable for existence thereon. In each case the vehicle is built from the materials and energies of the plane in which it is to operate, and each such vehicle enables the Ray to evolve and progress by experience on one or another of these planes.
The idea of a stream of consciousness using different vehicles or appearing under different aspects, might be illustrated by comparing the stream of consciousness to a ray of sunlight. This appears as a single ray, but is in reality a combination of different radiations and can be made to appear under different aspects as the seven prismatic colors.
The descent of the Ray of Consciousness through the planes of Nature might be compared to the passage of a sunbeam through several layers of glass. There are varieties of glass that will permit the passage of certain radiations from the sun, while excluding others. Let us imagine a sunbeam passing through seven different grades of glass, of which the first one will allow all the radiations to pass; the next one will be impervious to one wave-length with its corresponding color, but lets the other six pass through, and so on down through the different strata or layers of glass until finally, in the last instance only a single color penetrates and illumines the objects under the lowest glass. Even though the light, that penetrates to the lowest level, is feeble and gives an inadequate idea of the brilliance of its source, yet it is a part of the original ray and carries with it a faint glimmer from the highest to the lowest level.
In a similar manner the Ray of Consciousness that forms the core of Man's nature, finds full expression only on the higher planes of being, while on the lower, only a minute portion is able to manifest.
The Ray of Consciousness thus expresses itself through various vehicles, each acting on its own plane and all apparently more or less independent of one another, but since all these vehicles are vitalized by the same Ray they are in reality only different aspects of this one Ray, just as the seven prismatic colors are different aspects of the one sunbeam.
Whereas the one Ray of Consciousness vitalizes all the principles that go to make up Man's constitution, it can only center its dominant activity in any one of these at a time, and while it is fully active in this one principle, the others remain inactive.
In each case the consciousness of one plane receives its vitality from the next higher plane and in its turn vitalizes the consciousness on the next lower plane. When the vitalizing current withdraws from one plane into its source on the next higher plane, the vehicle on the lower plane becomes dormant.
The vehicle produces a limiting effect on the Ray of Consciousness, which causes the portion of the Ray thus encompassed to identify itself with its vehicle and thus gives to this fraction of the Ray a feeling of separate and independent existence.
When the Ray vitalizes its vehicle it transforms some of its consciousness to the latter and this, together with the limiting effect of the vehicle, gives to, the combination of Ray and vehicle a feeling of self-hood, or Ego-ship belonging to the plane in which the Ray functions for the time being.
There is in Man, therefore, only one Ray or stream of Consciousness, but more than one Ego. Only one of the latter, however, is active at any one time.
The relationship between the Ray of consciousness and its vehicles might be compared to the relationship between an individual and his different activities in daily life.
A man working in the basement of his house, dressed in overalls, shoveling coal into the furnace, sifting ashes, cleaning up rubbish or tinkering in his basement shop seems like a different individual from the same man, when, dressed in his business suit, he is engaged in his daily work, perhaps meeting and conversing with customers, advising clients or mixing with his business associates at dinner. And again, we might hardly recognize him if we visited him in his home on a Sunday afternoon when, with his family, he enjoys some music, listens to the radio or perhaps relaxes by the fireplace or in his hobby-room.
We might say that this individual expresses himself and functions through three different "egos," the Basement ego, the Business ego and the Family ego. While he functions as one he is for the time being identical with it and the other "egos" are dormant. He has, as it were, a "sliding scale of egos" through which he expresses himself and his consciousness moves up and down this scale as conditions require.
In the illustration used, the difference between the various "egos" is not so great but that the individual knows perfectly well of his identity through them all, for his experiences all take place on the same plane and he does not lose consciousness in changing from one "ego" to another.
The different egos in Man's constitution on the other hand are separated by a greater gulf and usually a loss of consciousness intervenes in changing from one vehicle to another, hence the continuity of identity is not so apparent in this case.
When we come to study Man's constitution in greater detail, it will be convenient to "begin at the middle" or with the part that is most familiar to us. Let us therefore start by trying to determine what our ordinary, everyday consciousness is, and where it fits into the scale of Man's complex nature.
Every individual is aware of a center of consciousness within, which he recognizes as "himself." This individualized consciousness feels its separateness from other entities and thinks of itself as "I-AM-I" and not someone else. This "I-AM-I" or Ego has the power to direct the mind to any object it chooses. The mind in that case acts like a mirror that reflects the light of consciousness on the object and thus enables the Ego to learn about it.
When the Ego uses the mirror of the mind to reflect the light of consciousness back upon itself, the Ego becomes aware of its own existence. It is then what we call "self-conscious." It exists and it knows that it exists. This faculty belongs to the evolutionary stage of Man, but is lacking in the animals. The latter are conscious, but not yet self-conscious.
What is this "I-AM-I," this center of self-conscious existence, this "YOU" or "I," this entity or "Ego," that presides over our nature during the waking hours of the day?
It is a portion of the central core of man's being, focussed or individualized by working through a physical-mental vehicle. It is the Ray of Consciousness expressing itself through the Human Constitution and may therefore be referred to as the "Human Ego."
When we go to sleep, the Ray withdraws its projection from the physical body which it inhabited during the waking state.
The Human Ego then loses consciousness of the physical plane, for it abandons the body, its only means of contact with this plane. It is then reabsorbed into its source on the next higher plane of being. This source is the Ego or focus of the Ray on the next plane above the ordinary mental. This higher center of consciousness is the real and enduring principle in man. It functions in and through a higher, mental-spiritual vehicle independent of the physical body and will be referred to in the following as the "Higher Ego" or "Reincarnating Ego."
In going to sleep, then, the Human Ego leaves the physical plane behind and takes up its existence on the mental-spiritual plane of the Higher Ego, but, since it is here deprived of its usual vehicle, it can not retain full self-consciousness on this higher plane and it therefore lapses into a dormant or dreamlike existence.
When morning comes, the body, rested and refreshed, is again ready to receive its tenant-master. Then the Higher Ego again sends out its projection, the Human Ego, into its waiting vehicle, the physical body, and a new day of learning and experience begins for the observing consciousness.
There are planes intermediate between the physical and the mental-spiritual where the Higher Ego exists and these must be traversed by the Human Ego before it can return to its source. It frequently happens that the Human Ego lingers on one of these in the course of its journey. Some memories of this may be retained as dreams and on rare occasions it may even have some recollection of existence on the plane of the Higher Ego.
Just as the foliage of a "perennial" flower has its origin in its enduring root, so does the Human Ego have its origin in the Higher Ego, the undying part of man. And as the visible part of the plant wilts and dies in the fall, when its vitality is re-absorbed into the root, so is the Human Ego re-absorbed into its root, the Higher Ego, both in sleep and after death. In sleep, the return is incomplete, perhaps more like the closing of the petals of some flowers at night. At death the "foliage," the body with its brain and lower mind dies, and the return of the Human Ego to its "Father," the Higher Ego, is complete.
The Human Ego itself is not a "fixed quantity" for it has its octaves of consciousness running all the way from our highest aspirations at the upper pole down through intermediate states to purely personal concerns of bodily comforts and pleasures at the lower pole. The lowest octave of the human consciousness, which is only concerned with its own personal welfare may be referred to as the "Personal Ego."
In view of this variable scale of consciousness, this interblending and overlapping of the higher and the lower, it will not always be possible to specify just what shade of meaning should be applied to the term "Ego."
Since it seems easier to visualize the idea of an "Ego" rather that that of a Ray or Stream of Consciousness, and since any Ego is in fact always a product of the Ray, it is felt that the term Ego may safely be applied in a general sense and sometimes interchanged with the term Ray and that the reader's intuition will guide him in interpreting the correct meaning.
The Human Ego might be said to be the midpoint of man's complex nature. It is, as it were, a spectator, an observer of the drama of life. It feels the impulses from the organs of the body. It takes note of events that occur in the outer world around it. It watches the thought-stream that flows through the mind as a spectator in a theater would watch the pictures on the screen. It experiences the tides of emotion and feeling that sometimes lift it on wings of hope and other times drop it into the depths of despair. It may identify itself with the experiences it undergoes or it may stand apart from these, viewing them like a panorama seen from an observation post. In the former case it is being whirled around at "the rim of the wheel of life." In the latter case its observation post is at the calm and unmoving "hub." It weighs and considers the experiences of life and passes judgment on them, approving or disapproving as the case may be. It extracts from these experiences lessons for the future. By its choice of good or bad, it modifies and remolds its character, using the Will for its instrument of control.
This is the Human Ego, the I-AM-I, the YOU or I of everyday life. This is the Ray of Consciousness as it shuttles back and forth every twenty-four hours between activity on the physical and the inner planes of being.
From its first conscious memory in early childhood, up through youth, maturity and old age, the Human Ego has passed through many and varied experiences. It has changed its outlook on life many times, but at the end of life it knows itself to be the same, identical entity that awoke to consciousness in early childhood.
Above the Human Ego in man's constitution stands the Higher or Reincarnating Ego, already referred to. This, however, is not the summit, for the core of man, the Ray of Consciousness, has its origin in the Universal Divine Essence — the One Life — and there are other and higher foci between the Higher Ego and its ultimate source. These higher foci, which may be grouped together and referred to collectively as "Man's Inner God," are as yet dormant in the ordinary individual.
The Ancient Wisdom tells us that the only way Man can learn about his Inner God is to gradually evolve the faculties necessary for a conscious existence on the planes where this god functions, and this means for the Human Ego to ascend along the Ray of Consciousness and become one with its Inner God.
Since the Inner God is beyond the comprehension of the human mind and since the latter is prone to deny the existence of what it can not understand, it is not surprising that the idea should seem strange and unacceptable to many. The inability of the human mind to understand something is, however, not a valid reason for denying its existence. Compassion and self-sacrificing love can never be explained by the mind, for they belong to a higher plane of consciousness, yet we know that they are realities and exert a powerful influence in the world.
All great religions teach us that there is something divine within Man. The Bible tells us that Man was created in the image of God (Gen. 1, 26, 27) and refers to his innate divinity in I Cor. III, 16, where St. Paul asks: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwells in you?"
The ancient Scriptures of the Hindus refer to Man as a "reflection in matter" of his Inner God and their literature teems with references to this subject. The entire Bhagavad-Gita for instance is a dialog between man's Inner God "Krishna" and the Human Ego here called "Arjuna." In the following quotations Krishna speaking to Arjuna says:
It is even a portion of myself which, having assumed life in this world of conditioned existence, draws together the five senses and the mind in order that it may obtain a body and may leave it again. And these are carried by the Sovereign Lord to and from whatever body he enters or quits, even as the breeze bears the fragrance from the flowers. Presiding over the eye, the ear, the touch, the taste and the power of smelling, and also over the mind, he experiences the objects of sense.— Chap. XV
And in Chapter XVIII Krishna says:
"There dwelleth in the heart of every creature, O Arjuna, the Master, — Ishwara* — who by his magic power causeth all things and creatures to revolve mounted upon the universal wheel of time. Take sanctuary with him alone . . ."
* ISHWARA, an individualized Ray of the cosmic spirit in every human being.
Although our awareness of the Divinity within us is vague and incomplete, it is not altogether lacking. From where come Man's impulses toward noble and generous deeds, to self-sacrifice, kindliness and compassion? What makes a mother sacrifice her own interest for the welfare of her children? What keeps the humblest man faithful in the performance of some simple duty? What is it that speaks to Man through the voice of conscience? From whence come the inspirations of genius, music and art? Why does the poet picture to man's mind the Millennium, the ideal state where love, beauty and harmony reign "somewhere" — "on distant shores to mortal feet forbidden"; and why does man in his heart respond to these ideas and in his turn dream of and long for that ideal state? What is it that makes man always restless and dissatisfied with earthly achievements, always in search of something else, he knows not what? Is it a memory of some forgotten higher state, a golden age, "a paradise" that somehow was lost and that now haunts him and tries to attract his attention?
In answer to all these questions the Ancient Wisdom tells us that this upward urge, these impulses to higher things come to man from the Divine source within his own nature, his Inner God, the ray in man from the One Spiritual Sun. It is in this part of his nature that man feels his oneness with all life. The promptings that come to him from this side of his nature are always toward harmony and good will, always tending toward unity and Brotherhood.
In his present stage of development man often fails to respond to these impulses from above and then the outer man, the "Image," the "Reflection of the Inner God" becomes warped and distorted, but when he does respond in some measure, he grows ever nearer to the ideal within. As evolution proceeds, more and more of Man's Inner God will become manifest in his outward life.
Before proceeding with our studies regarding the principles in Man's constitution below the Human Ego let us first recapitulate what we have studied so far. Beginning this time "at the top" and placing each element in its proper order, we have first a Ray from the Universal Consciousness expressing itself through various vehicles on the different planes of Nature, the highest being Man's Inner God. Next on the scale comes the Ego with its different aspects as the Higher or Reincarnating Ego, then the Human Ego or ordinary self-consciousness with its higher and lower aspects, the former being the truly Human Ego, the latter being the Personal Ego.
Next we shall study the principles or vehicles used by the Ego in its contact with the mental, intermediate and physical planes of existence.
When the Ego is active on the mental plane it is like one who observes a film of thought-pictures being reeled off before his inner vision. This mental activity begins when the Ego first returns to the body after its absence during sleep, and it continues until the Ego leaves the body at night.
Many people do not make any distinction between the thought pictures and the Ego, which observes them. The spectator is so interested in the pictures he sees that he identifies himself with them. When we are so wrapped up in these pictures that we fail to recognize the distinction between them and ourselves, we become the slaves of the mind. Our thoughts run hither and yon, one giving rise to the next, and we are dragged along wherever these thoughts take us. We are not aware of this slavery at the time, however, for we have erroneously identified ourselves with our thoughts.
At other times we realize our power to control the mind, for we can take it off one subject and place it on another. The mind may be obstinate, however, and revert to the first subject. It seems to run in grooves and to have a will of its own, which is often opposed to our will, but we do know that if we use sufficient will power we can overcome the obstinacy of the mind and make it obey our will.
This brings out two important facts: First we are not identical with our minds, but separate and distinct from them. It is because of this separation that we are able to turn the mind from some subject that we deem undesirable and place it on something constructive. Second, the fact that we can control the mind at times shows that we need not be the slaves of that mind, but may extend this control by practice and perseverance until we obtain full mastery over it.
The relationship between man and his mind is similar to that between a rider and his horse. The horse has desires and a will of his own and if allowed to follow his own inclinations, will roam aimlessly from place to place, perhaps bringing his master into difficulties. But a rider who knows his business will control the horse and direct him to some useful purpose which in the end will benefit both horse and rider. The horse is a good servant, but a poor master.
The mind, like the horse, is a poor master, but can be a wonderful servant when it is brought under control and properly trained. We know that with sufficient will power we can concentrate the mind on a single point, thus solving problems that could never have been worked out had the mind been allowed to wander idly and without control. The mind then, is an instrument that the Ego uses, and the brain is the tool of the mind. In ancient Hindu scriptures the mind is referred to as "the organ of thought."
The mind is dual in its nature. The higher part of it is in touch with our spiritual nature, and the lower part is dependent on the brain and the physical senses, and gravitates toward the material side of our nature.
When the Ego centers its attention in the Higher Mind, it realizes its oneness with all life. It then thinks and feels in unison with its fellows. It seeks expression in thoughts and deeds of altruism and compassion. It recognizes the better side in others and by its trust and faith helps to strengthen this better side.
The lower mind is the result of the Ray of Consciousness working through the human constitution and is so closely associated with the brain and the desires of the body that it identifies itself with them. It receives impulses from the organs in the body, which demand satisfaction of their various wants. It is concerned with personal comforts and pleasures and the little problems of everyday life. It observes that its own vehicle is distinct and separate from other vehicles, and therefore feels that its interests conflict with those of others. Thus it becomes interested in itself to the exclusion of others, and often plans and schemes to gain advantage over its fellow men, for it does not recognize its oneness with them. When not engaged in a specific task, it drifts aimlessly from one thought to another, or is stimulated into activity by external events.
There is no distinct line of demarcation between the Higher and the lower Mind; one merges imperceptibly into the other. The Ego can center its attention in only one part of the mind at a time and only that part of the mind is active for the time being.
By constant use of the Higher Mind in altruistic, constructive thought and a lofty idealism, the spiritual side of our natures grows stronger. When, after many incarnations, we shall have transferred our consciousness to this part of our constitution, we shall pass in full consciousness through death's door into a spiritual state of being.
Another side of our nature includes such attributes as moods, feelings and emotions. We feel by turns serene or irritable, gloomy or cheerful, happy or depressed. We are at times sympathetic toward our fellows and at other times indifferent. One time we are swayed by hate and revenge, and again by love, generosity and good will. We do not often experience these feelings in their extremes, but we are aware of their influence on us. As in the case of our thoughts, we can also stand apart and watch the ebb and flow of our emotions. Certain of these feelings we approve of; others we deem undesirable.
In describing our moods we sometimes use the expression that we are in a certain "frame of mind." This seems to be an accurate description, for then the Ego views everything from only one fixed angle, to the exclusion of other viewpoints. If we are happy, everything looks rosy; we cannot understand how we could have felt so miserable before. If we feel gloomy, everything looks blue and we doubt that we will ever be happy again.
Our feelings and moods can have a strong grip on us. We know from experience that moods are not permanent but are subject to change. The change may come slowly and a mood wear off as a result of the routine duties of everyday life. Or we may suddenly be jerked out of one frame of mind by some external event, as when the telephone rings or a friend calls with some important news that demands quick action on our part. However, we need not wait for outward circumstances to jar us out of an undesirable frame of mind. We can accomplish the same result if we resolutely take up some useful or constructive work that requires our entire attention. We also know that we can change our moods by the use of sheer will power, and the method is to deliberately substitute a desirable mood for an undesirable one. We can refuse to be miserable and downcast, and instead, cultivate an attitude of cheerfulness. We can refuse to give way to irritation and critical attitude, substituting for them calmness and friendliness. (A very helpful article on this subject is W. Q. Judge's "Cyclic Impression and Return and our Evolution.")
Like thoughts, our emotions also seem to have a will of their own, and it is often difficult to control them. But as we have controlled them at times, we know that it can be done, and our power over them increases with practice.
Therefore, since it is possible for us to stand apart, and watch the ebb and flow of our emotions and pass judgment on them, and since we have the power to direct the current by our will, it is evident that we are no more identical with our moods and feelings than we are with our thoughts.
Medical science has accumulated a vast amount of knowledge regarding the human body, including the relation of the brain, the nervous system, the muscles and the various organs. It can also explain how light that strikes the eye, and sound waves that enter the ear, are transmitted through various intermediate mechanisms until they reach the brain through the nerves.
There is still, however, a gap in our knowledge of how a thought can result in an act; how a mental impulse, an act of will, can be transmitted from the consciousness to the brain and thus eventually cause the matter in a muscle to obey an order from the will. There is also a gap in our knowledge of how sense-impressions from the outer physical world, such as sound and light, after they have reached the brain as nerve-impulses, are transmitted from the brain to the indwelling consciousness.
The Ancient Wisdom tells us that Consciousness and Mind cannot act directly on gross, physical matter, but that there exists in Nature matter that is more ethereal and refined than the gross matter that we know. There are other forms of energy, intermediate between our mental energies and the ethereal matter referred to. It is by means of these as yet unknown energies that mental impulses are "stepped down" or transformed until they reach the brain. From there the impulses are relayed as nerve impulses that eventually affect the muscles and finally result in actions on the physical plane.
The Ancient Wisdom tells us further that man has an inner, invisible body, built on this ethereal invisible matter, and that our gross, physical body is an exact duplicate in physical matter of this ethereal body. In fact, our physical body takes its shape, is made coherent and retains its relatively stable appearance by being built, as it were "brick for brick," cell for cell, on this invisible framework or model-body. The model-body, being of a more ethereal substance, is sensitive to mental impulses, and translates these into physical acts. The Ego is thus able to enforce its will on the physical body through the intermediary of the mind and the model-body.
In our enumeration of the various parts that go to make up man's constitution, we come finally to the most material part, his physical body. This is the only part of man that is visible; all the rest is unseen.
The human body is a truly marvelous instrument with all its organs and faculties cooperating to make a living unit — the animal side of man. By means of this body with its five senses and its physical brain, the Ego is able to contact the material world, learning and evolving by experience therein.
The body is the "facade" of man's complex nature, the part that "faces the street," the part that "shows from the outside," so to speak. Behind that facade man lives an inner life in his other and unseen principles. The body is the "Town Hall" in that little community of various elements that make up the human constitution. It is the common center where all these elements meet and confront each other with their various desires and demands, aspirations and longings. If the "town meeting" which is held by these conflicting interests is presided over by an Ego that is inspired and governed by the Ray of Divinity at its core, then the various elements will cooperate, and a harmonious and useful life will result. If the Ego surrenders to the undisciplined lower elements, the result will be in harmony and suffering, though even this suffering will in time cause the Ego to choose a wiser course.
Many people identify themselves only with their bodies, and think that the body is the principal part of themselves. A little thought will show that this is not the case.
If we watch a sleeping person, we notice that the body lies there quietly, performing certain automatic functions. The heart beats, the blood circulates, the lungs breathe, etc. The eyes are closed, but the ears receive sounds from the outside, yet there is no response to these sounds. If there were a hundred sleeping bodies in front of us they would all act about the same. The body we see before us is not the friend we know so well. The qualities in him that we like and that make him unique have separated themselves from the sleeping body and left the scene for the time being, perhaps to retire into the more ethereal part of the inner constitution. We cannot contact the real part of our friend through the sleeping body, but we do know that he is in some way linked with it. He cannot contact us unless he returns to the body and takes control over it. We see from this that the body is not the man himself, but like the mind, is a tool used by the Ego for its evolution here on Earth.
That part which is absent during sleep is more essential than the sleeping body before us. If we call this absent, essential part for the time being the "soul," we realize that it would be more appropriate to say that man is a soul and has a body rather than to say he is a body and has a soul.
The body grows weaker with advancing years, but the better part of the Human Ego, the part that has centered its consciousness in the higher principles of its nature, is unaffected by the decline of the body. The true Human Ego knows that it is not of the body and feels "young in spirit" in spite of the ailing body. It is only the lowest part of the Personal Ego, the part that has identified itself with the body, that feels itself growing old.
The various elements of man's nature — which have just been enumerated — are not separated into different "compartments" but interblend with and interpenetrate each other so that each principle partakes to some extent of the nature of all the others. Just as the prismatic colors blend and merge, and when all are present produce white light, so do, man's principles blend and merge, and when all are present produce a complete man.
During our earth-life they are all, directly or indirectly, associated with the physical body. The Ego may shift its attention from one portion of its nature to another a hundred times a day, but the transition from one to another is so smooth and gradual that we often fail to notice that a change has taken place.
It may be interesting at this point to give another extract from the Upanishads, in order to show how the teachers of that period illustrated man's composite nature:
Know that the soul (the Ego) is seated in a chariot, and that the body is that chariot. Know that the mind is the charioteer, and that the will is the reins.
They say that the senses are the horses, and that the things of sense are the road. The wise declare that the migrating soul is the self fictitiously present in the body, senses, and common sensory.
Now if the charioteer, the mind, is unskillful, and the reins are always slack, his senses are ever unruly, like horses that will not obey the charioteer.
But if the charioteer is skillful, and at all times firmly holds the reins, his senses are always manageable, like horses that obey the charioteer.
The senses and organs of man are constantly seeking to gratify their wants, and are therefore the "horses" that furnish the motive power for man's activity. The "things of sense" are the objects in the material world that can gratify the senses; hence these make up "the road" on which the "horses" travel. The Soul, the Ego, is the passenger in the chariot. The driver, the charioteer, is the Mind, and if this is skillful and obeys the orders of its Master, the Ego, and by means of the will keeps the senses under control, all goes well. But if the Mind slackens its attention, the senses may run rampant and endanger the safety of the Ego.
There is a modern expression which shows that the practical man of today accepts a view of life not so different from that pictured in the foregoing illustration, which was borrowed from the ancients. The modern version does not go into so much detail but simply states "It is experience we get, while looking for something else." The "something else" is usually money, which simply represents our ability to gratify our desires. It is our desires that send us on a quest for the "things of sense" and make us try this venture or that in order to gain our ends. At the end of the road, more often than not, we did not get what we had hoped for. But we did get a harvest of experience, which we would not have had if we had made no effort, and it is experience we must have if we are to evolve. Thus a selfish motive defeats itself, but may through disappointing experiences lead to some advancement.
Since the human constitution with its various principles or "tools" enumerated above is the same for all men, it would be natural to expect men to be alike in all particulars. This however, is not the case. We see on every hand great differences in characteristics among men, differences in disposition, temperament, outlook on life, etc. We also note vast differences in natural gifts, talents and aptitudes. These differences exist not only in adults, but are also apparent among children. Mothers of large families will tell us that such differences exist from the very start and become apparent as soon as the child has developed the faculties necessary for self-expression. These different qualities appear before education or environment could have had any influence. They unfold themselves from within and are not the result of implanting from without.
Thus among children of the same parents one may have a sunny, happy disposition, another a more serious, perhaps a sullen one. One may be neat and orderly, while another is careless; one may be generous, another selfish; one reckless and unreliable, while another is cautious and trustworthy.
There is often a striking difference, even among children in the same family, in their natural talents, aptitudes and "inborn gifts." The very expression "inborn" shows a recognition of the fact that such qualities are not acquired but must have existed prior to birth. Thus we note that some children find mathematics easy, but languages difficult. Some like music and art, while others are mechanically inclined; some seem to be gifted in many directions, while others have no particular aptitudes.
When such differences appear among children of different families, a difference in heredity is usually advanced as the cause, but when equally great differences occur among children in the same family, where the heredity is identical, we must look elsewhere for the cause.
A child's musical tendencies reveal themselves early in life and often before any musical training or teaching has taken place. The life-histories of our great musicians almost all bear witness that the gift of musical genius shows itself to a remarkable degree in early childhood, and often in families where there is no heredity to warrant its appearance.
It is true that innate qualities can be modified by training, education and environment. Teaching will bring out what is already within, but unless the talent is there to begin with, the result will be meager. This is apparent when we observe the vastly different effect of exactly the same training on different students in the same group.
The qualities enumerated above, such as temperament, disposition, talents and aptitudes, when taken collectively distinguish one individual from another and constitute his character. The character can be modified by education, training and environment, but since it manifests before any of these, factors have had time to operate, it must be inborn rather than acquired. And since it frequently differs from that of the parents, it cannot be explained as the effect of heredity. How then are we to explain the existence of this character? The Ancient Wisdom teaches that it is an inheritance the Ego brings with it from a former existence.
The word character comes from a Greek word meaning "to stamp, engrave or inscribe." Before the days of paper it was customary to engrave letters on stone or stamp them on clay tablets. Each letter had a mark, unique to itself, which distinguished it from all the rest. Even today, when we speak of the letters of the alphabet, we refer to them as the "characters" of the alphabet, having in mind that all these letters are distinguished from one another by characteristic marks.
A man's character, therefore, is the collective peculiarities or qualities that distinguish him from other men.
We build our character by repeated thoughts, repeated emotions and feelings, and by the acts which result from these. Think a thought often and long enough and it will find expression as a spoken word or an act. Repeat an act often enough and it will become a habit. A thought is soon dismissed, an act soon forgotten, but they leave a mark, however slight, on the character. When they become habitual, they engrave themselves deeply in the invisible part of man's nature.
We also build that part of our character that embodies our innate gifts, talents and aptitudes. We build this part by repeated efforts at training in these various lines so that these "gifts" are not gifts in the sense of undeserved favors, but gifts from ourselves to ourselves. They are memories of past skills, gained by efforts in former lives and preserved for us in the invisible part of our nature.
Character, then, is not a separate principle or independent segment of man's constitution, but it is the collective habits and consequent tendencies which we have built up in all the various parts of our constitution. It is the collective habits of body, habits of emotions and feelings, thought habits and moral habits; habits of obeying the voice of conscience, or of yielding to, temptation, as well as habits of training in all fields of endeavor. It is what we have made of ourselves.
The accumulated effect of all these habits gives us a tendency, a "set" in a certain direction, a predisposition, a "leaning" which makes it natural and easy for us to act along the groove that habit has scored.
It is our character or collective habits that determines how we will react to sudden impacts from outward circumstances and what makes us "ready to go" in this or that direction. It is also our character that determines what our thoughts will revert to when they are not directed by our will. It also determines what our emotions and feelings become when they are not under control, but allowed to find their own level. Whether this level be high or low, good or bad, depends on the direction and impetus we have given.
The character is the inner, invisible clothing the Ego weaves around itself by its thoughts and deeds, strand by strand, fibre by fibre, just as the larva builds its cocoon in which it must later live. During life we improve this character or we degrade and mar it. At the end of life it still remains as an accumulation of forces and energies, and as such cannot be annihilated or destroyed. What happens to this character after death?
The Ancient Teachings state that it remains unchanged and latent on inner planes of Nature until in distant ages the Ego returns to physical embodiment, when it finds its inheritance, this character, awaiting its master. It is like a traveler's check, sent in advance, waiting at the destination when the traveler arrives. It is a "Will and Testament" which our present self is making to its future self, and when the Ego returns to Earth as a newborn child, its character — which now begins to re-manifest itself is the "capital" with which it starts its new incarnation. The newborn entity, therefore, is virtually a reproduction of the former entity that was.
Since the character — the "clothing" in which we are now enwrapped, our work-a-day self — is the accumulated effect of our own past thoughts and deeds, it may be said that we are our own handiwork, our own Karma. With this in mind we can understand Pythagoras' statement that "We are our own children." When we consider that our disposition and tendencies, our abilities and gifts are all "memories" of habits established in former existences, and that our character therefore is our collective memory of all our past lives, we can understand the meaning of Plato's expression . . . all inquiry and all learning is recollection."
We may have things stored in the "attics and wardrobes" of our character that we are not aware of. Some people find themselves shocked at receiving sudden and unprovoked impulses to wrongdoing. At other times the impulses may be of a beneficent nature. These impulses are injections into the consciousness of thought-deposits from a long forgotten past. In the course of time all hidden deposits in our character will come to the surface, the evil ones to be remedied or sloughed off, the good ones to be expanded and reinforced.
Many are inwardly aware of having undeveloped talents, which have not expressed themselves for lack of opportunity. In due course all such gifts will find expression and can then be cultivated and improved.
The character of man is deep-seated and does not change from day to day or hour to hour as our thoughts and feelings do. We cannot shake it off as we can a mood, but we can change it by the same method we used in building it up. If a building is not what it should be and we want to remodel or rebuild, it must be done by replacing defective bricks with new and better ones, and this must be done brick by brick. It cannot be done by a single effort, but is a slow and laborious process. That is why we should be so careful of our thoughts and deeds in the first place. We should make them so that they will not have to be replaced later.
There is no shortcut to remodel character. That is why New Year's resolutions, though beneficial, so often seem ineffective. In our enthusiasm we overlook the fact that what we hope to change with a single effort, was built up by repeated thoughts and deeds during long periods in the past. In order to be effective, the effort must be constantly renewed and steadfastly continued throughout the year.
A resolution, even if not fulfilled, however, is better than no resolution at all, for no effort is lost and it is at least one brick replaced. An understanding of the magnitude of the task we are undertaking in changing old, established habits, will keep us from losing courage, if progress seems slower than we had hoped for, and will help us to keep up the effort.
It has already been said that our character is what we have made of ourselves as a result of all our thoughts and deeds, with their consequent habits. Our character gives us a "set" or inclination in a certain direction, and if this remains unchanged it determines our final destiny.
There is a bit of Eastern Wisdom which says that:
If you sow a thought you reap an act;
If you sow an act your reap a habit;
If you sow a habit you reap a character;
If you sow a character you reap a destiny.
If we live up to the best that is in us, our character will constantly improve and set us on the road to a bright and fruitful destiny. If we seem to be heading in the wrong direction, this can be changed, but to change it, we must first change our character.
To do this, we must change our habits, our acts and our thoughts, which of course takes time and steady effort.
The following quotation, which is taken from the Dhammapada, a Buddhist scripture, shows that the Ancients taught thousands of years ago that our character is built by our thoughts:
All that we are is the consequence of what we have thought. It is based on our thoughts. It is all derived from our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a thought of evil, suffering follows him, exactly as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the cart.
All that we are is the consequence of what we have thought. It is based on our thoughts; it is derived from our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an innocent and pure thought, happiness follows him, exactly like a shadow that never leaves him.
"He treated me badly; he struck me; he overcame me; he robbed me" — in those who cultivate such feelings hate will never cease.
"He treated me badly; he struck me; he overcame me; he robbed me" — in those who do not cultivate such thoughts, hatred will die.
For hate never is overcome by hate at any time. Hate passes away through love. This is the ancient rule.
Our destiny, then, is ultimately determined by our own thoughts and deeds. We are not "predestined" to anything by anyone else. As we alter our character for better or for worse, so do we ourselves thereby determine our own destiny.