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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Individuality?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Individuality

Being an Individual is Taking Oneself to be a Self-Image

The achievement of a separate individuality depends on two conditions: The establishment of a cohesive self-image. In fact, the sense of being an individual is nothing but taking oneself to be this self-image. In other words the individual is a mental structure constructed in the mind. Before this construct is developed, according to object relations theory, there is no sense of being a person. The internalization of a positively regarded image of the mother (the "good mother"). The individual, that is the self-image, is supported psychically by the presence of the mother's image; thus the child does not feel alone when physically separate from the mother. He feels supported by the presence of the mother's image, which gives him a sense of security, which allows him to be away from her, and makes it safe to regard her as an autonomous person.

Dialectic Interaction Between the Individual and Being

So the individual and Living Being are not two things and, at the same time, they are not one thing. Reality is more mysterious than simply saying that everything is one. Seeing this opens up a new appreciation of the individual. Not only is the individual necessary for any form of realization—including the nondual, which says that the individual is a delusion or an ephemeral form—but also the individual has an intrinsic significance that is fundamentally mysterious. There is a dialectic interaction between the individual—the practitioner or the experiencer—and Being, in its manifestation and in its wholeness. Understanding this dynamic interaction—between individual and whole, between practice and grace, between dual and nondual—begins to reveal a deeper understanding of how things really happen. Reality is far more nonlinear and indeterminate than the boundlessness or the nonduality that true nature reveals. The indeterminacy of true nature allows realization to behold reality in many ways. Yet that perception always happens through the individual consciousness—a consciousness that is always present, whether explicitly or implicitly, in any condition of realization.

It is Hopeless for the Ego Individuality to Become Free of Its Inadequacy

Given that ego is so cut off from the real resources of Being, one might wonder where it gets its strength and energy! Part of the answer is that individuals vary in terms of the rigidity of their identifications with ego structures, and as we saw in our discussion of maturity and metabolism, the less rigid or the more flexible the ego individuality is, the more permeable it is to Essence and its resources. Under such conditions, one has available some real strength and energy, at least some of the time. However, the sense of who one is is never devoid of the state of inadequacy. The self of ego is what is inadequate, even though one might not really be inadequate to the demands upon one. This is seen in students who are experiencing essential states but still believe they are inadequate. This is a result of identifying with the ego individuality. Individuals believe consciously or unconsciously that they are truly inadequate, because they believe they are the ego individuality, and this individuality is actually basically inadequate. It is hopeless for the ego individuality to become free of its inadequacy; this is why most individuals identify so much with inadequacy and hopelessness. When one identifies with ego then one is, in a manner of speaking, truly inadequate and hopeless.

Memories Compose the Sense of Oneself as a Separate Individual

The sense of oneself as a separate individual, which as we have seen depends upon the development of a cohesive self-image, can be seen as composed of memories and, in fact, cannot exist without its connection to memories, to personal history. But the memory of a person is not the same as a person. The memory is of something that supposedly existed at some point in the past.

Necessity for Individual Consciousness

Now given that in the nondual perspective, there is no individual that does anything, from that perspective, practice does not make any sense. It’s true that in the nondual condition the issues around causality, motivation, and goal disappear, but so does practice. There is nobody there to practice and there is no practice; it’s all simply nondual truth that is manifesting everything, including what we call practice—and everything else, such as playing tennis or taking a shower or going to the store. That is why if we abide in the nondual condition, after a while there is no point in practicing. In that realization, to practice is to leave nondual awareness and revert to a smaller or more limited realization. This is why some nondual teachings think that practice is not good for you because practicing means deferring the nondual condition. But from the view of totality, the nondual condition is only one of infinite kinds of possible realization. Nondual realization is accurate in the sense that this vastness and transparent truth is what is manifesting everything, and the self is either a delusion or a form simply manifested, and all activities are simply ways of seeing the continuous manifestation of reality as a whole in its unity and oneness. However, without the view of totality, we might forget that there would be no realization, no enlightenment, and no awareness of the nondual condition if it weren’t for the individual.

Realizing that You are a Cell in a Bigger Body

These four virtues indicate what qualities we need in order to live a genuine human life, a life that can lead us to the deepest truth. If we have love and respect for Being, sincerity and earnestness about reality and truth, if we have delicacy and refinement, and if we are helpful and generous, then the major obstacles that block the perception of oneness are removed. When I say that the truth is our oneness, or that there is no separateness, I am not saying that when you realize this truth, you will disappear as an individual. You might take oneness to be a loss of who you are; you might fear that you are going to disappear. The condition of oneness can either be the sense that you are the oneness, the undivided Supreme Being, or that you are a unique individual who is inseparable from the Supreme oneness. Your individuality remains, but you as an individual are part of the totality. You realize you are a cell in a bigger body, that your body is a cell in a bigger body. It is not that your body will be erased, nor that you as a unique human being will disappear. No, you remain a unique human being, but that unique human being is an expression of the oneness, is supported by the oneness, and is part of the oneness, one cell in the larger cosmic body. So you are not less and you are not more than anyone or anything because everything is of the same nature. You cannot be more and you cannot be less.

The Intrinsic Importance of the Individual

The individual soul matures and develops through life and experience and understanding. Its maturation reveals the essential person we call the pearl beyond price, the manifestation of the true individual instead of the ego individual. There is an essential person, and the essential person is a person of presence, a manifestation of presence. But the individual is a much bigger mystery than we know. There are realizations and truths about reality that are not apparent in the nondual condition. As we investigate and see the implications of the nondual dimension, we can transition to other forms of realization, which not only reveal the importance of the individual for any realization, but also reveal the intrinsic importance of the individual. It’s not only living presence and total nondual reality that need to be realized. That is not all of realization. The individual has his or her own importance. The view of totality shows that other forms of realization can reveal the individual in a different light, which is not evident in most teachings or most states of nonduality.

The Need to Recognize Our Sense of Individuality

Ultimately, it is true, the student needs to arrive at this state of egoless cosmic consciousness, for this is a stage on the way to liberation. But, this state might be irrelevant for him at the time regardless of how beautiful it looks on his guru. The student might need to see and learn a state of solid will, for example, because he happens to be in need of resolving his issues, his life situations, that are centered around the aspect of will. It is true the individual will have to learn to let his ego boundaries dissolve and let go of his sense of individuality. But how can he let go of his sense of individuality until he knows he has one? First he will need to see that he has individuality; he has to see and understand what individuality is before he can let go of it. He also needs to see how his ideas about individuality and his holding onto them lead to suffering. He has to see that his sense of individuality and his attachment to his sense of self do not lead to fulfillment and are not syntonic to his harmony or peace of mind.

The Process of Essential Metabolism Develops the Soul Into an Individual of Essence

The next step is for the soul to continue this journey of individuation by including more dimensions of the soul’s potential. This happens by integrating her ego achievements into the essential ground of the soul. The sense of being an individual, which is based on identification systems of images and object relations, can now go through a transformation. The structures that constitute it can go through a process of clarification in which they are consciously understood. The soul can inquire into her ego structures, recognize them as structuring through mental impressions, and metabolize them into her essential presence. The structures are based on memories and impressions that constitute the history of the life of the soul. By becoming aware of this history, recognizing its content as it actually was, and understanding instead of identifying with it, the soul can metabolize the important experiences in this personal history. The soul digests the truth and learning in this history rather than using it to define herself. This metabolism, which can happen only if the process of inquiry occurs in the presence of essence, integrates one’s personal history and learning into the ground of the soul. The structures lose their structuring power and the learning and skills synthesized in them now become integrated into the soul directly, instead of indirectly through images and identifications. This process of essential metabolism develops the soul into an individual of essence. The sense of being an individual with unique qualities and skills does not disappear, but appears in the soul now as an essential presence that has a personal quality. (See The Pearl Beyond Price, chapters 11–15, for a detailed discussion of this process of metabolism.)

The Sense of Separateness of the Individuality of Ego

The individuality of ego has a sense of separateness that is based on the building of self-boundaries. These boundaries contribute to the sense of being an individual. However, these boundaries become walls separating the individual from other human beings, and from the universe in general. Even if we take psychological individuation to be more than the development of the psychic structure, for instance if we take it to be the emotional experience of oneself resulting from such mental structure, the boundaries still function as walls, which are not permeable to real contact. Ego boundaries create a much more profound separateness than is usually recognized. Object relations theory regards ego boundaries as necessary for the sense of being a separate and unique individual, the fruit of the process of ego development; but it does not appreciate how much such boundaries separate human beings from each other, or how they make true contact impossible. We will explore this point more fully. This might not be clear for an individual identifying with ego, but it becomes acutely obvious when one knows oneself as a being, and not as a elf-image. One then experiences the structure of ego giving rise to the sense of separateness as thick and rigid shields around oneself, restricting him from truly touching another human being or being touched by another in any deep way. There is also a profound isolation from the rest of reality, which becomes the most important barrier against the experience of oneness with the universe.

The True Individuality of the Personal Essence

Since the Personal Essence is the true individuality, it is closely related to the capacities of primary autonomy, which are usually referred to as the ego functions. We have seen that the development and integration of these capacities is intertwined with the development of object relations. Thus we might wonder what happens to these capacities when the object relations are finally metabolized. The answer is that they finally come into their own. They become more developed, more integrated and more synthesized into a harmonious whole, not dependent on a mental structure. Their true origin, the extent of their function and their real meaning become clear. In general, the presence of the Personal Essence brings about a radical expansion and individuation of autonomous functioning, indicating the greater development and integration of the apparatuses of autonomy. Its realization brings about an increasingly radical movement towards autonomy and individuation, leading to greater actualization of one’s potential. One becomes more creative, more productive, more original and more fulfilled in personal involvements. Accomplishments and developments manifest externally in one’s work and in personal relationships. One begins to become clear about one’s place in the scheme of things, more definite about roles and functions.

True Nature is Aware of Itself through Individual Consciousness

The personal and impersonal are in a living dialectic. The impersonal expresses itself personally through an individual life. Although we think of this as living our realization, it is also true nature expressing its realization. And yet, even though it is clear that true nature expresses itself by manifesting everything, this does not negate or eliminate the fact that true nature is aware of itself through the individual consciousness. Our experience might not feel individual or personal; we can feel that we are everything, as if everything is expressing itself as one totality. But this awareness is made possible through the individual consciousness. We can view reality from both sides—the personal or the impersonal—and both are useful as long as we don’t become fixed in either perspective.

We Lose the Sense of Bounded Individuality as We Become that Totality of Cosmic Dynamic Presence

So we understand the teaching of Christ when we realize that the individual, separate, bounded soul is a belief in our minds, and we relax and realize that the soul is continuous with the rest of reality. That soul continuous with the rest, as that totality, is then the Logos or the Christ or the Word. This is an exact and specific resolution because we don’t simply let go of our boundaries and become pure consciousness, pure awareness, or the Absolute or something like that. We let go of our boundaries without losing our uniqueness. We continue to be a soul, to be an individual, but are continuous with the rest of reality. We are an individuation, then, out of a totality. So it’s a very specific resolution. The disappearance of the boundaries is not complete disappearance of the individual. So we lose the sense of bounded individuality as we become that totality of cosmic dynamic presence—the Logos itself, in which there is no individuality. Yet, it is not simply boundless dynamic presence with no individual, even though it has no division or duality. For it is also possible to be a unique individual not separate from that cosmic presence, such that it’s hard to tell if you are an individual or not an individual. You are an individual and unique and at the same time you are the totality. That means the concepts are there still: the concept of a person is there, the concept of a table is there, the concept of a house is there, the concept of a tree is there, the concept of life is there, the concept of humanity is there, the concept of the universe is there. All the concepts are there but are not completely separate from each other. They’re more like variations in the same substance, formations of the formlessness.

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