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Aspects of the Higher Evolution of the Individual

by Sangharakshita

... in us'. You must have recited this, some of you. 'Erred',
is from Latin, to wander, 'strayed' is Anglo-Saxon. So why is it that Cranmer uses both, there
is a subtle difference in the meaning of these two words. So, if you are at all sensitive to
language, you cannot just roughly, on ideological grounds, change over and substitute a word
of Latin origin, probably polysyllabic, for an Anglo-Saxon monosyllable. It just doesn't mean
the same thing, if you are at all sensitive to language. So I really object to the virtual
massacring of the English language on ideological grounds. Just as I objected to the
introduction of the metric system on much the same grounds. I think it is all a symptom of our
progressive alienation from our actual experience.
Abhaya: The second question is from Dharmapriya about the role of memory, reason and
ethics in the development of self consciousness.
S: Perhaps we should take it bit by bit, if you have divided it into sections or clauses.
Dharmapriya: I'll just read it through, then you just say if I should. Generally you name
self-consciousness as the watershed in the evolutionary process, but in your description of an
individual's development the transition from rudimentary to full self consciousness appears to
be far more important. Could you clarify [8] this and say something about the role of
memory, reason and ethics in developing this full self-consciousness?
S: I am not quite sure, really, what the question is, or what the question amounts to. I think
that first bit is a little unclear to me.
Dharmapriya: Well the contrast between your normal use of self-consciousness as this
watershed in the evolutionary process and then this lecture describing the development of an
embryo and a child into an adult stage, say at the age of three, more or less things stand still,
at which point the child has developed sense consciousness and rudimentary self
consciousness and that is the point where the great decision comes. As if the transition from
rudimentary to full self consciousness seems to be a watershed.
S: It is a question of a watershed of what. If one is thinking in terms of the average human
development, the attainment of that rudimentary self consciousness seems to be the watershed
in as much as it is the highest point reached. Perhaps the expression is a little misleading,
because you know what a watershed is, it is a ridge down the two sides of which water pours,
it is a dividing line in that sense. But I am not strictly speaking using watershed here quite in
that sense. It is more like the highest point reached by the tide. It's the tide-line.
So, in the case of the average human being, the ordinary human being, rudimentary
self-consciousness is as far as he or she gets. Full self-consciousness is achieved only as a
result of personal effort. So I think I make that distinction to suggest or to underline that
though we have self consciousness we have only rudimentary self consciousness, there is still
a lot more work that we have to do in that particular respect. It's not that we can go from our
present state of self consciousness straight to transcendental consciousness. No, we have only
got rudimentary consciousness, thus the immediate task is to become more fully and truly self
conscious, we haven't even reached that stage yet. So in a sense, also, inasmuch as self
consciousness is characteristic of human beings, we are not yet fully human. I think this is
what I am trying to underline by that particular usage. And also we don't really make much
progress, I think I have emphasized this, anyway, in the lecture, in this respect, basically, after
the age of three. We acquire knowledge, we acquire skills, but the basic structure of our
psyche, in respect of its two poles of sense consciousness and rudimentary self consciousness,
remains really the same.
So, is that part clear?
Dharmapriya: That part, yes. The other part came up in our discussion. In one of your answers
to a question put to you at the original lecture, you relegated reason, even highly advanced
reason to the lower evolution. And we discussed that there seem to be several phenomena,
reason, memory, ethics, even aesthetics. Did they play a role, could they play a role in the
further development of self consciousness?
S; I think it is a reciprocal thing. I don't think one can regard one as cause and the other as
effect. I think the more self-conscious you are the more you are able to reason, especially [9]
with regard to the effect of your actions on other people and the way other people feel. And,
of course, the more you are able to reason and the more you can identify yourself with other
people the more your self-consciousness will develop.
I am not quite sure where memory exactly fits in. Perhaps this requires further thought. I have
spoken about it in Tuscany once or twice, haven't I. Memory, obviously, implies continuity of
consciousness, you remember that you did something. That is to say, your self, in the past,
becomes the object, so to speak, of yourself in the present. So in this way you are an object to
yourself, so this is reflexive consciousness, so here memory is inseparable from reflexive
consciousness and reflexive consciousness is inseparable from memory. Because, to the
extent that you are self-conscious you can remember what you have done, just as you can
imagine what you might do.
So, I find it very difficult to separate all these different strands out. Certainly very difficult to
regard one coming first and, so to speak, causing the others. They all seem to hang together,
one can distinguish them but one can't really separate them.
V: I did hear, it's one of these spiritual rumours I think, that one of the sixty-four Arhants had
very poor memory. I don't know whether you have heard anything like that, in fact I did hear
that you...
S: Ah, no. No, I don't think it was an Arhant. You might be thinking of a story about a monk
who admitted to the Buddha that he wasn't able to remember the Buddha's teaching. And the
Buddha said, 'could you remember a verse, if I was to teach it to you?' He said 'no, I couldn't
even remember a whole verse So the Buddha said, 'could you remember half a verse?' and he
said 'I think I might be able to remember that'. So the Buddha taught him that half a verse and
then he gained Enlightenment. It might be that story that you are thinking of, or that you
heard about, because as far as I remember there is no instance of an Arhant having a bad
It is possible, of course, I think for an Arhant to forget. Because if you are absorbed in a
higher state of consciousness you may not be aware of what is happening on other levels, as it
were. You may, for instance, lose all sense of time. Supposing you are meditating, you don't
have to be an Arhant to do this, but supposing you are meditating. You might have promised
to meet someone at three o'clock, but meditating, you just lose all sense of time. And when
you emerge from your meditation you find it is four o'clock. Now it might be said that what
you ought to do, before going into meditation, to tell yourself, 'look, I have got an
appointment at three o'clock, I have got to emerge from the meditation at three, or just before
three'. That is possible, according to Buddhist tradition. But if you don't do that, and perhaps
that would be a failure of, not so much memory, what would one call it?
V: Responsibility.
S: In a sense responsibility.
V: Mindfulness.
S: Mindfulness in a sense. If you didn't do it you could well continue.
So it is not that if you are a bit forgetful you are necessarily, therefore, on a very low level of
consciousness. Because, recollection of matters pertaining to a lower level of experience can
be blotted out by your experience of something pertaining to a higher level altogether. And it
isn't always easy to make the adjustment between one level and another. You may be deeply
absorbed in reading, say, the Life of Padmasambhava and you forget entirely that you are
supposed to start cooking at eleven o'clock. Do you see what I mean?
I remember a little incident from the life of Johnson in connection with memory. He says, 'if a
young man on leaving someone's house forgets to take his hat, no one says anything about it,
no one makes any comment. But if an old man forgets, they say "Aha, his memory must be
V: Have you any idea why someone like myself might have a bad memory?
S: Well what is a bad memory. My personal view is - I am thinking a little on my feet, so to
speak, about this. I think, if you have a lot of things to remember, the chances are that you
will forget some of them. This is connected with the other point I wanted to make, which was,
that if something makes a very deep impression on you, you are unlikely to forget it. So I
think memory is, perhaps, at bottom, a question of sensibility, or susceptibility to
impressions. Though there is a rider required here to the effect that, if you are subject to too
many impressions they tend to cancel one another out. Do you see what I mean?
V: What do you mean, what sort of impressions, different sort of impressions?
S: If you are dealing with a lot of people, and arranging to do a lot of things, it could be that
you just forget one or two of those things. Whereas if it was just a limited number of things
and you were a person who was reasonably impressionable, as it were, ...

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