Alaya's Self

by Sue Prescott
Originally printed in the JANUARY- FEBRUARY 2008 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Prescott, Sue. "Alaya's Self." Quest  96.1 (JANUARY- FEBRUARY 2008): 13-15, 21.

O Hidden Life, vibrant in every atom;
O Hidden Light, shining in every creature;
O Hidden Love, embracing all in Oneness;
May all who feel themselves at one with Thee,
Know they are therefore one with every other.

                                                —Annie Besant

Theosophical Society - Sue Prescott, MSW, is a social worker, theosophist, and frequent lecturer at the Seattle lodge and surrounding area. She is author of Realizing the Self Within—an overview of the concepts of spirituality that can be applied to relationships and self-improvement.Annie Besant's inspiring poem "O Hidden Life," beautifully expresses the unity of all life. It utilizes the image of light shining from every living thing to represent our connection with the Divine, and with everything in our world. We are all of the same Light.

Throughout the world, there are numerous cultural expressions of unity. Chief Seattle of the Suquamish Native American tribe (from whom the city of Seattle got its name) refers to the interconnectedness of everything in our world as the Web of Life. He says that each person is a delicate strand within this web (Gifford 47). He also speaks about the links we have with nature as he refers to the rivers as being "our brothers" (35).
The Australian Aboriginal culture recognizes the Unity of all through the attitude that there are no barriers or separations between one person and another. Their belief that "I am a part of every other and every other is a part of me," incorporates the idea of an all-encompassing "us" (Rose 232). Each person being given the same respect reflects their principle that "everyone is equal around the fire."

In Africa, the Zulu and Xhosa tribes have a word that represents unity—ubuntu. It was taught at the Parliament of the World—s Religions in South Africa in 1998. Ubuntu refers to the view of the world that says we exist only by the help of others. We are alive only because we were born from our mothers. We survive through the help of our families and communities. Our communities exist because of the work of those who came before us—our ancestors. Ubunturefers to the support and caring that people give to one another.

Ubuntu is the concept of giving to others what we would want for ourselves. It incorporates the Golden Rule and recognizes that everyone has merit and is deserving of love.  Ubuntu values people for just being the way they are. It regards everyone as being a part of one human family and acknowledges that the blood in all of us is the same.

The unity of ubuntu can be seen in friendship. The Chinese philosopher Mencius (372—289 BCE) poetically described friendship as being "one mind in two bodies." The Greek philosopher Zeno (340-265 BCE) expressed the same notion in the saying, "What is a friend? Another I" (Bartlett 81). The unity experienced between friends is not obvious to a superficial glance. On the surface, friendship looks as if there are just two people interacting—nothing more. But when we experience the oneness of friendship ourselves, we know this deeper truth to be so.

Jalalludin Rumi, the Sufi poet, wrote of the same sense of unity in, "I, you, he, she, we. In the garden of mystic lovers, these are not true distinctions" (Barks 133). He explores this further in, "Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They are in each other all along" (163).

In theosophical terminology, the essence of unity is defined as the Atman or the divine Monad. From the Atman comes the manifestation of all forms in our world. From the One comes the many. Inherent in the unity of the Atman is diversity, just like white light contains all the colors of the spectrum. The same is true in the human body. All the different organs and cells work together as one.

The unity of the Atman is not always apparent. Each person seems to be a self-contained entity independent from all others. We can clearly see where one body ends and another body begins. But the divine nature within each person transcends the individual differences and unifies us, just like five separate fingers are united in one hand. The personal, everyday self represents the individual—s body, emotions, and thinking mind, while the inner, spiritual Self is the unifying, divine aspect within each of us. We all are of the same spiritual essence--for at the level of the spiritual Self, we are all one. The holy writing of Judaism, the Talmud, Zevachim E: 3b, depicts this truth in the teaching, "A partition does not destroy the unity of an oven" (Kantrowitz 10).

Perceiving the inner Divinity of everything in our world is metaphorically described in Islamic Holy Scripture. In the Koran, 2:115, we find, "Wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah." The Islamic mystic and poet, ibn ale Arabi, illustrates the same point: "When my Beloved appears, with what eye do I see Him? With His eye, not with mine, for none sees Him except Himself" (Nicholson 117). Describing the God within each one of us as being the one who recognizes the God in another is also a way of speaking about this unity at the level of the inner, spiritual Self.

Another Persian mystic, Bayazid of Bistam, wrote of the inner divine nature when he said, "I went from God to God, until they cried from me in me, —O Thou I!—" (Nicholson 12). Abu —l-Hasan Khurqani spoke of the same experience, "Do not seek until thou art sought, for when thou findest that which thou seekest, it will resemble thee" (99). Both mystics found peace within—the peace of the Self—by following the Sufi practice of fana, which is consciously dissolving the personality in order to accomplish baqa, or living solely as one with the Divine. The waning and the eventual disappearance of the personal self are poetically described by Abu —l-Hasan Khurqani when he says, "All things are contained in me, but there is no room for myself in me" (99).

In verse 219 of Voice of the Silence, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky presents the teachings of the ancient wisdom that call for us to "merge the Ocean in the drop and the drop within the Ocean." Human beings are mere individual drops in the ocean of life. The verse bids us to mute our distinct individual consciousness rooted in the personality to fuse with the larger "ocean" of collective consciousness. Transcending the identification with our individual, separated selves allows us to live as an expression of the inner, spiritual Self. This is true spirituality, for the word "spirituality," comes from the Latin root meaning "breath." This refers to the One Breath of which we all are a part.

Verse 217 of Voice of the Silence guides us to "Live and breathe in all . . . feel thyself abiding in all things, all things in Self." We are to unite with others at the level of our inner Self. This is where the promptings for Unity originate. The Self is Annie Besant—s shining light, emanating from each creature.

To "live and breathe in all" suggests that we should strive to interact in the world with concern and kindness toward others. These qualities are manifestations of compassion. Inverse 300 of Voice of the Silence, this powerful principle is emphasized: "Compassion is no attribute. It is the Law of laws—eternal harmony, Alaya's Self; . . . the fitness of all things, the law of love eternal." Compassion is the ultimate expression of Unity—Alaya's Self, which is the essence of the Universal Soul that is the root or basis of everything in our world. Alaya is the womb of the universe, the plenum or the fullness that is the source of life.

Stressing compassion as the Law of laws implies that, ultimately, there can be no other way to live. It is the fundamental principle upon which our world is based, for compassion arises out of the sense of oneness. Compassion in action is seen through forgiveness, helpfulness, and understanding—all of which exemplify the truth that there are no barriers between ourselves and others.

Compassion expressed in forgiveness shows the futility of holding on to resentment or anger because it not only hurts others but it also hurts us. The Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:4, says, "Who takes vengeance or bears a grudge acts like one who, having cut one hand while handling a knife, avenges himself by stabbing the other hand." There is an African proverb about the power of forgiveness: "He who forgives ends the quarrel." It is a message that echoes in the speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. 

We are taught to treat people with sympathy and understanding—to give others the same care we would give ourselves. The unity expressed here is illustrated by the argument that a person would not let the left hand remain dirty without using the right hand to clean it. We care about the cleanliness of the whole body. Likewise we are instructed to care about the well-being of all.

In sixteenth-century Spain, St. Teresa of Avila wrote of her mystical revelations by using the metaphor of an interior castle to represent the inner Self. She said that the castle must be built on a strong foundation of selflessness through acts of compassion and humility. She stressed that living an honorable life filled with good deeds will allow us to grow spiritually. "You must remember not to build on prayer and contemplation alone. Unless you strive to live the virtues, you will never grow beyond the stature of spiritual dwarves" (Starr 290).

St. Teresa emphasized that compassion involves service to others, which is necessary to make for a solid underpinning for the soul. "Offer yourself as a slave to God and try to find ways to serve and sooth your companions. This will be of more value to you than to them, the stones that support you will be firmly laid and your castle will not fall." (Starr 290). Helping to ameliorate the pain and suffering of others, whether physical suffering or spiritual emptiness, will help make our interior castle strong. Service to others mutes the voice of self-centeredness coming from the personality and allows us to act from the influence of the inner Self.

Similarly, verse 290 of Voice of the Silence bids us to "sweeter make the Ocean's bitter waves—that mighty sea of sorrow formed of the tears of men." To sweeten the salty ocean of human tears means to work for others and curtail our own self-interests.  This allows for the loosening of the identification with personality so we can live more in alignment with the Self—a process the Sufi's call fana.

Serge King writes that the Hawaiian and Polynesian traditions speak of union with the Higher Self, or aumakua, as being called Kanaloa— the companion of God (157). This represents the person who is fully present in the three worlds of ku—the instinctive, subconscious mind, lono—the conscious, thinking mind, and aumakua—the Source Self or the God within. Kanaloa describes the person who has merged the drop into the Ocean and become one with all, thereby living from the basis of having a strong interior castle within.

Living our lives conscious of the underlying unity of all or contemplating it through meditation subtly affects those around us. Again, it is due to the unity of the Self. It is illustrated by the exercise where a group of people hold on to a long piece of string tied in a circle. When one person tugs on the string, everyone feels the tension it creates. When several people pull on the string, it creates even more pull. This shows how one part of a system is linked to every other part. It illustrates how we can influence the expansion of the higher levels of consciousness by our own spiritual practice. Because we are all connected at the higher realms, we subtly affect the entire field when we meditate or hold the intention of leading a pure life.

Striving to do this is a daunting task. It involves effort, but each act of selflessness brings us closer to being a divine manifestation of unity on the physical plane. H. P. Blavatsky spoke about it in this way, "Very few are the strong swimmers who reach the Beacon. He who would get there must cease to be a number, and become all numbers. He must have forgotten the illusion of separation, and accept only the truth of collective individuality" (Collected 248). Becoming "all numbers" reflects living one—s life based on the unity of Alaya—s Self.

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Sue Prescott, MSW, is a social worker, theosophist, and frequent lecturer at the Seattle lodge and surrounding area. She is author of Realizing the Self Within—an overview of the concepts of spirituality that can be applied to relationships and self-improvement.