THEOSOPHY, Vol. 50, No. 2, December, 1961
(Pages 65-67; Size: 10K)


[Article number (15) in this Department]

IT seems to be an old, old problem for Theosophical students to encounter confusion when trying to identify themselves with either "Higher Manas" or "Lower Manas." Of course, this is an old, old problem for philosophers through many centuries, and accounts in part for the vehement rejection of any kind of dualism on the part of so many contemporary thinkers. The Theosophist sometimes speaks of the immortal individuality as "Buddhi-Manas" or "Higher Manas," and yet at the same time he is often reminded in Theosophical writings that evolution takes place in the area af Lower Manas. Is it possible to bypass some of the confusions and paradoxes of terminology to find a simple way of identifying ourselves?

Perhaps there needs to come a time, for each student engaged in the consideration of stated metaphysical principles, to temporarily set them aside and begin to reason from direct experience -- later returning to metaphysical doctrine in order to see if correlations and confirmations have been established. In the simplest terms, we can say that each man is obviously a "unit of mind" -- an individuality. Though all men manifest different degrees and varieties of intelligence, there is no doubt that each manifests some degree or some variety. The quality of mind is universal in two different respects, moreover: there is no "thus far shalt thou go and no farther" for the potential development of each mind, while at the same time each "mind unit" is definitely susceptible to absorption in group beliefs, opinions, and prejudices. So the "mind-unit" clearly works on different levels, and, in terms of modern psychological philosophy, one of these can be called the level of "conditioned" thinking and the other the level of autonomous thinking. Here, then, we arrive at a sort of operational definition of what in Theosophical terminology are called the lower and the higher mind.

Each mind-unit, then, lives in two worlds -- the lower being represented by the three qualities as depicted in The Bhagavad-Gita, and the higher characterized by the capacity to transcend the conditionable aspects of intelligence. We are both the "lower mind" and the "higher mind" as we choose to be, alternately. But we are never, save momentarily, one of these to the entire exclusion of the other. This is another way of saying that there is no unalterable "self," though there is an unalterable "power" for molding or transforming the characteristics of our intelligence. The mind principle is imperishable, but none of its constructions can fail to be altered through evolutionary experience. The soul, as the self-moving unit, cannot be defined by any terms save its own -- though it is also a fundamental differentiation of universal mind. The center of choice is neither in lower mind nor higher mind but in ourselves, as we choose one or the other level of expression. It is perhaps here that we come to a more detailed understanding of why contemporary philosophers object to any descriptions of the soul -- and why Buddha, though convinced of the existence of an enduring individuality, refused to discuss the characteristics of this individuality.

It is this aspect of Buddha's subtlety which has been so emphasized -- and also so exaggerated -- in the Zen tradition, for in Zen a great deal of attention is paid to the doctrine of the "not-Self." (We find an echo in portions of contemporary existentialism when an existentialist philosopher affirms that "there is no self.") The point is that if we cannot describe ourselves as either higher mind or lower mind, there are no adequate descriptive terms for the consciousness of man, since everything we do ordinarily describe is by way of relativity -- and every form of relativity may be construed as some point on a measuring scale of either "good" or "bad," or "higher" or "lower." This point is conveyed in an interesting fashion by Professor Huston Smith in The Religions of Man. In this passage he attempts to render Zen philosophy understandable to the Western mind:

With all they contribute, words have three limitations. At worst, they build up a false world in which other people are reduced to stereotypes and our actual feelings are camouflaged in honorific titles. Second, even when their description of experience is in the main accurate it is never adequate; they always dilute the intensity of immediate experience even when they do not distort it. Finally and most important, the highest modes of experience transcend the reach of words entirely.

Every religion that has developed even a modicum of semantic sophistication recognizes to some extent the way words and reason fall short of reality when they do not actually distort it. However much the fact may baffle the intellectualist and utilitarian, supra-rational experience remains the paradox and life blood of religion as well, indeed, as of creative art. The saints of every faith are constantly telling us of contact with another world which dazzles, delights, and transfigures them with its "clear day of eternity which never changes into its contrary." With all this Zen is at one, its uniqueness lying only in the fact that it is so concerned with the limitations of language and reason that it makes their transcendence the central intent of its method....

Zen has its sacred books. In addition to the Sutras which it shares with Buddhism as a whole, it has its own special texts, the Hekigan roku, the Mumonkan, and others. But one glance at these will reveal how unlike other scriptures they are. Almost entirely they are given to pressing home the fact that Zen cannot be equated with any verbal formula whatever.

And yet, as many Zen disciples so well demonstrate, reasoning and making comparisons are not without value. But if we are to undertake reasoning about the lower mind and the higher mind, we can hope to do so impartially only if we are neither -- since it could hardly be expected that higher mind or lower mind could reason properly about "itself."

One student has suggested: "Higher Manas, as a principle, as itself, so to say, cannot function on the material plane; only its ray, its influence, its projection, can be utilized at the operational level. It might be well, then, in the interest of semantic clarity, to use the term 'Higher Manas' chiefly as defining the essential, imperishable Mind-principle at the non-operational level."

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:


What are really culture and civilization? ... Real culture is spiritual. It proceeds from within, and unless a person is naturally noble-minded and strives to progress on the spiritual before he does so on the physical or outward plane, such culture and civilization will be no better than whitened sepulchres full of dead men's bones and decay. And how can there be any true spiritual and intellectual culture when dogmatic creeds are the State religion and enforced under the penalty of the opprobrium of large communities of "believers." No dogmatic creed can be progressive. Unless a dogma is the expression of a universal and proven fact in nature, it is no better than mental and intellectual slavery. One who accepts dogmas easily ends by becoming a dogmatist himself. 

--H. P. BLAVATSKY: "Progress and Culture"

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