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..:: The Observer VI / Immortality ::..


Alan Schneider


              Immortality has been the subject of hundreds of thousands of pages of spiritual discourse throughout history in hundreds of spoken and written languages, indicating its status as a primary human concern present in the observational field.  The investigation of this phenomenon is the subject of this, the sixth essay in The Observer Series.   

             Although there are several possible places to begin this investigation, I will do so with the Buddhist doctrine of the Four Noble Truths, summed up in the observations that all of life is suffering in one form or another, caused by the persistence of desire and the desire actions committed to pursue and obtain desire objects, and resolved by the enlightened realization that all we perceive as separate from us through the body and senses is yet always present within us as spiritual Truth. The Buddha correctly maintained that the only way to know this Truth is through meditation – it cannot be arrived at logically through thought, or imagined, and defies all secondary description of its experiential nature.  

            The Noble Truths certainly apply to the consideration of immortality.  We are as concerned with this condition as we are only because we desire to experience – or observe – it eventually, presumably following the death of the body, the primary vehicle of observation up to that point.   Now, much of what the mind (please note the lower case treatment of the word) and ego consciously experience originates within the body as subconscious instinct, and we have these elements active within the observational field because they demonstrate physical survival value – organisms that possessed more of these perceptual inclinations tended to circumvent certain threats to existence more effectively than those without such inclinations did.  The wish for immortality is linked to the instinctual fear of death, i.e. the fear of the permanent cessation of experience as originating in the physical senses.  If I feel that I may be able to experience ongoing sensation of some kind following death, then that condition loses some of its threatening content in my consciousness.  This mental state has overall survival value for the individual seen in the reduction of global anxiety about living, the increased willingness to take risks (many of which will be at least partially successful in their outcomes), and an overall increase in positivity and sense of well being.  

            The problem with the desire for immortality is the same problem that is present within the nature of any desire – it creates and sustains the perception and belief that we are subjects separated from the objects (or objective conditions) that we desire.  This state of perception is endemic to observation on the Physical Plane – it is the automatic and inevitable outcome of the interaction of the physical senses, memory, and the ego, and is driven by the instincts of the body for various types of gratification, most of which, in turn have survival value for the organism.  If I observe my desire for food, I will tend to seek out nourishment persistently.  If I desire sex, I will tend to seek out a partner persistently and copulate more often.  If I desire social prestige, I will join more organizations and pursue promotion through their ranks in consequence, and so on, and all of it depending on the primitive perception of subject and object rooted in the body and senses. 

            If these tendencies have so much survival value, why question them at all? Why concern ourselves with their long term consequences for human consciousness?  Why worry about what the Buddha, and many other spiritual teachers throughout history, have said against it?   Because these individuals have seen to the maximum possible extent that a human being can, from the perspective of the highest wisdom attainable, and all knew the deep and subtle threat implicit in desire – addiction to the doomed condition of the body and physical senses, which must perish eventually.   This addiction will preoccupy our involvement in life to the absolute detriment of the exploration of the higher states of observation knowable in the total Psyche – using up incarnate time that we cannot really afford to lose if we wish to know the spiritual Truth.   The only hope of attaining real immortality is to turn away from the physical realm, and go within to discover and observe as much about our spiritual nature as possible.  The first paradoxical step in this process is to recognize that the desire for immortality is the primary mental stumbling block that prevents us from attaining it by fostering an obsession with the superficial physical events of living!

            While it remains true that the individual’s Karma determines the nature and extent of observation,  and extroverts (probably the majority Jungian type in any culture) will always tend to observe what is without rather than what is within (to their detriment), we must nevertheless make every effort to direct our attention, and the attention of those in our immediate physical environment, within to the journey of spiritual exploration. Why? Simply because it is the only hope of ever realizing the Self, and that, in turn is the only hope of ever experiencing the imperishable in any direct form.  Although prayer is one possible avenue of approaching the Self, it frequently remains ego motivated, thus often occurring in fundamentally selfish contexts. This leaves meditation as a preferred method, because it turns consciousness away from the ego, away from desire, and toward the more subtle, substantially free, modes of observation present in the collective unconscious.  This reflects an additional liability of desire – it enslaves consciousness to physical perception on the Physical Plane. The primary function of meditative observation is that it intrinsically promotes and develops freedom of inquiry for the observer – hence, dispassionate observation is the antithesis of desire in the observational field.  

            When meditating on the fallacy of desire and desire action, the earnest student is usually amazed by the extent of both conscious and unconscious desires present in the observational field, and they are extremely numerous, to be sure – the ego has seen to that!  Literally everything experienced is evaluated by the ego through the perceptual filter of hedonism for its pleasurable or painful content, and classified in terms of its relative desirability as a result.  And again, this has undeniable survival value for the organism – many unpleasant experiences are so because they overload the organism with intense stimulation, an inherently dangerous circumstance best avoided, and those who do so tend to live longer and procreate, passing on this capability to their offspring.  But the fact remains that excessively focusing on desire and comfort still tends to generate obsessions supporting those activities, occupying our time and consciousness to the detriment of self-exploration and meditation. Yes, we must survive, and hopefully prosper, and yes, these accomplishments mean nothing in and of themselves – they acquire meaning in the contexts of contemplation and enlightened self inquiry.  

            Eventually, the serious meditator who stills many desires will find that another insidious pitfall awaits along the Path – the desire to be free of desire can become as dangerous as any other desire.   One cannot want to be free as an actual condition – one can only be free.  When even the goal of desireless consciousness has receded from awareness in the practice of meditation (and right living), we have paradoxically arrived at the destination sought for – liberation from Karma and suffering in the state of Satori, the supreme bliss surpassing understanding and description.  In this state of awareness, even the question of immortality is irrelevant, because conscious observation has passed beyond the desire to live forever, beyond even the concept of desire, into the Self.   We have attained peace beyond understanding through the consummation of Yoga, and have come home to our true nature at last.  We are absolutely free observers.  

            If the Self is the original source of all observation, as I strongly suspect it to be, many paradoxes must be considered from the perspective of observation at the level of physical sensory awareness on the Physical Plane of Expression, in reality so very limited in scope and capability.   How did this inverted condition come to be – one in which what seems to be outside is really inside, and what seems to be tangible is illusory, while what appears to be quite fantastic is ultimately the Truth?   This is the crux of the matter regarding what appears to the mind and senses as “reality” – how did it come to be as it appears to be through all of the levels of observation?  

            If we begin with what can be known and agreed upon by most observers, the physical universe spontaneously appeared for all intents and purposes from pure nothing, initially expanding so rapidly that it just popped into manifestation, occupying an unsubstantiated extent of space and time before things slowed down enough to support observation and measurement as they exist today, and these measurements indicate that the expansion and dissemination following the initial appearance are still continuing as the primal void is continuously filled with form-based manifestation.  

            Locally, here in the solar system (about ten billion years ago), the Sun spun off two great arms of hot cosmic gas that eventually cooled enough to form the planets, including our Earth – with this formation completed about five billion years in the past.   Arguably around two or three billion years ago, the first primitive inert amino acids coalesced into elemental proteins, in a chain reaction that eventually resulted in self-replication, and life was born on Earth in the form of algae existing in tidal pools.   At some point, some of the algae mutated in the presence of solar radiation into animate forms that could swim around in the cell colony through the use of flagella, and ingest dead algae, although they still possessed chloroplasts and could synthesize their own sugar for food from sunlight, just as the algae did.  

            Eventually, some of these new organisms lost their chloroplasts, again as a result of radiation mutation, but acquired the ability to ingest not only dead but living algae through surrounding them and absorbing them through their now permeable cell walls, simply dissolving and directly metabolizing the captured cellular contents. Thus innocuously began the predatory feeding cycle that has existed ever after on this Earth, long before the evolution of nervous enervation, and very long before the advent of human sentient consciousness.   

            Somehow, there must have been an inherent turbulence present at the instant of Creation that propelled all of the subsequent events thereafter.   I submit to the reader that this turbulence was intelligent in character, on a level far beyond human intelligence today, and has always manifested an intelligent design in the background behind the surface chaos of creation.  Our human experience of that intelligence is the Self at the center of the Psyche, come into rudimentary perception at our stage of evolutionary development.   And this Self is aggressive in nature and intent – disposed to continue Creation as its first priority, beyond the conditions and consequences for the mortal carriers of that Creation.   I submit to the reader that the Self has always existed, even before the first manifestation of form, and will exist after the collapse of the physical universe as we know it today – beyond understanding but not beyond observation, because it is observation manifest as physical and temporal form.   Observation by the Self is the essential process that creates all manifestation.  

            And, again paradoxically, this Self, on the rare occasions when it is directly observed by a human source in deep meditation, is composed of pure Love and pure Light – these are the root drivers of all manifestation everywhere.   Ultimately, the universe is a pulsation of Love and Light radiating forth from a Super Being omnipresent in its background both internally and externally – the Jungian Self.  

            We attain immortal perception by experiencing this living Truth, and being fully present in the here and now, things that sound simple enough, but are most difficult to attain as conditions of existence.   The Self exists in the background of experience – in the deep subconscious – because that is where it chooses to be, at the most powerful place in the Psyche, creating everything we experience by observing it into existence, just as it always has, and always will.  If we can reach this level of observation ourselves, we pass beyond mortality into infinity – we become One with the Self.  And meditation is the Way to this level of Knowing and Being – the way home for humanity.  

            In the next, and last, essay in The Observer Series, we will complete the investigation of the question of immortality, and probe, as well as can be probed, the spiritual and psychological implications of the Jungian Self for human observers here in our solar system.  


                                                                                 - With Love, Alan -

                                                               (Copyright 2009, by Alan Schneider)


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