What Is Self? A Study of the Spiritual Journey in Terms of Consciousness

What Is Self? A Study of the Spiritual Journey in Terms of Consciousness

By Bernadette Roberts
Boulder, CO: Sentient Publications, 2005, Paperback, 208 pages.

What Is Self? A Study of the Spiritual Journey in Terms of Consciousness by the Catholic contemplative Bernadette Roberts is profound and helpful, although not the easiest introduction to her work. Those who are not familiar with Roberts might turn first to her earlier books, The Experience of No-Self, and The Path to No-Self. What Is Self? includes less immediately personal narrative and more of the philosophical underpinnings of Roberts's understanding of the spiritual journey.

Roberts endeavors to express interior movements at the outer limits of what we know as human experience, The subject matter inevitably results in a difficult text, one that demands slow reading and much pondering. Many readers might want to begin in part: 3, where Roberts summarizes her own journey, This narrative provides a handhold as the reader wrestles with the more abstract earlier chapters,

The author is known for her teaching that the dissolution of the personal ego, and the following discovery of unity with the divine center, is not the end of journey, Rather, the unitive state leads us into the marketplace" where the true self in union with the divine is fully exercised until there is no more to do, no more to give. Then the self (identified as consciousness itself) falls away, and with it all self-experience, including the experience of the divine. She points again and again to the fact that our experiences of the divine are our experiences, which may be caused by but are not themselves the divine, "Thus the deepest unconscious true self IS the experience of the divine, or the divine in experience. This experience, however, is NOT the divine. What falls away, then, in the no-self experience, is not the divine, but the unconscious true self that all along we thought was the divine!"

What lies beyond the no-self event is expressed in koanlike language, which threatens to stop the brain in its tracks. Roberts hints at many deep mysteries, including a profound understanding of the true nature of matter, form, and the physical body, which will probably be of interest to theosophically inclined readers.

Some readers may be uncomfortable with Roberts's Catholic theological commitments and may quibble with her interpretations of Hinduism, Buddhism) and Jung. (These issues are carefully addressed in the forewords by Jeff Shore and Ric Williams,) Nonetheless, her writing is infused with a powerful honesty, and one has the sense that she is trying not to fit into any preconceived mold but to express the insights she has gleaned from her journey as clearly as she can. Even if our journey has been different from Roberts's, we can only bow before such an offering.


January/February 2006