Marc Gafni and Andrew Cohen
In this excerpt from “Authentic Self and Unique Self”, published in the March 2011 issue of Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, Andrew Cohen and Dr. Marc Gafni engage the nature of spiritual realization. Other dialogues on the same topics are also provided at the bottom of the page.
Andrew: Yes, what we really want to do is clarify what you mean by Unique Self, and what I mean by the Authentic Self, because these are such big themes in both our respective teachings and we really want to pull out what the distinctions are between them. I also want to say that at a basic level we don’t actually disagree. I think it is more a difference in emphasis that separates us. I’m emphasizing one dimension of this and you’re emphasizing a different one, but in terms of the general picture and map, as far as I can see, we’re mostly in agreement. That is why I think dialogues like this can be very positive and wholesome in generating evolu- tionarily inspired creative friction between our different points of emphasis so as to support the forwarding of a larger conversation on the whole.
When we awaken to this part of the self, it is quite a discovery. We begin to recognize that the most intimately felt sense of who we are at all times has actually never been born and has never entered the stream of time—it has always been free. Because that part of ourselves has never been born and has never entered the stream of time, it has also never been hurt, wounded, traumatized, or victimized and has never really had any particular experience within the realm of time and form. When we recognize that, it is quite a discovery. It’s an experience most people liken to coming out of prison because before awakening to that Timeless Ground of Being, most individuals see and perceive their experience through the prism and the perspective of the psychological self and the psychological self-structure, which includes the personal ego and the culturally created dimension of the personal self. The experience of the Ground of Being is liberation and emancipation because we realize that who we really are has never been born and has never entered the stream of time. Our psychological self and also our culturally conditioned self are very real, but they are merely relative dimen- sions of who we are as individuals.
What I noticed when I became a spiritual teacher over 24 years ago, after teaching for about a year or so, is that when people were in that deep meditative state, they didn’t have any trouble manifesting enlight- ened awareness, but they couldn’t hold that when they left the meditation cushion. The image I often use in my teaching to describe this is that I ask people to imagine they are sitting on their bed in a deep meditative state with their eyes closed and suddenly there is a loud knock on the door and someone starts calling to them. In that moment we are shocked out of our deep meditative state and we suddenly realize that we have to respond. The question is: how are we going to respond? We realize that we can only respond, act, and react to others and the world through the structures of the psychologically and culturally conditioned self and that puts a limitation on how we live in the manifest world.
After about 10 years of teaching, I discovered that there is another dimension of this “unbecome,” un- born, unmanifest, or enlightened dimension of the self that can also respond to the manifest world. This other dimension of the enlightened self is the energy and intelligence that we both refer to as Eros. It is the energy intelligence that initiated and drives the greater process of evolution; it is the energy and intelligence that caused the Big Bang itself. It is that energy and drive that absolutely aspires and desires to unequivocally exist in the world of time and form. All the very creatively inspired human beings of history, whether they were art- ists, musicians, scientists, spiritual luminaries, or politicians, were individuals who were very driven by this energy. They were driven by the ecstatic urgency of the evolutionary impulse. Individuals who are lit up with this particular unique evolutionary impulse, the expression of which is a kind of ecstatic urgency, are awake to the force of Eros itself. The expression of this kind of energy is inspiration—an unusual degree of inspira- tion that has an ecstasy and urgency to it. It is a drive to make the world a better place, and most specifically, most importantly, it is a drive to give rise to that which is new, and to that which has never existed before. The most creative individuals throughout history who were the real architects of society were individuals who were deeply driven by this force that came from the deepest part of themselves. It is that force of nature that uniquely compels human beings to innovate and thus give rise to that which is new.
Now, until human beings begin to be cloned, we will all be unique. Biologically, we all have differ- ent genes and psychologically we all have different life experiences and cultural backgrounds. So the self- structure of each and every individual is always going to be unique. When the energy and intelligence of Eros works through us, how that’s going to actually express itself is always going to be unique depending on our background and conditioning and the unique gifts and talents we may possess, but the deepest quality of Eros is still the same in all of us.
Marc: That is a fantastic overview of your teaching. As you already said, we share a deep common language in regard to much of the teaching even if we arrive at it through very different paths and say it in different ways. Let me try and outline, in a similar way, the basic understanding of Unique Self. Your core intuition that we are basically talking in the same realm seems absolutely correct, but our difference in emphasis could also yield a great richness out of which great music could emerge. And as you said in one of our delightful phone conversations, emphasis matters.
The context out of which I talk about Unique Self is really the context of my particular lineage in the Kabbalistic teachings. The particular master I want to honor in this tradition, and the one whom I draw from, is Mordechai Lainer of Izbica, a Hasidic master that lived in the mid 19th century. I spent much of my life breathing him in and trying to merge with him as my text guru, if you will. I also have spent a good part of my life writing a couple thousand pages that served his teachings and outline this great tradition of Unique Self as it moves through the Kabbalist lineage. A similar tradition appears in Sufism, and I recently discovered that A.H. Almaas has also written about this. Using different language, Unique Self expressed in Eastern terms is a realization of the nature of emptiness.
Unique Self is, in my understanding, not merely the necessary expression of distinction, which results from cultural, social, or psychological conditioning. Rather, Unique Self is the only quality of essence or realization of emptiness that we ever experience. But I am getting ahead of myself; let me speak initially out of my lineage tradition of Kabbalah.
In the Kabbalist tradition, what stands against the realized human being or what is in the way of the hu- man being moving towards realization would always be the yesh. The yesh would be something akin to what you are describing as the ego, or what we might describe as the separate self. It is that experience of limitation on our identity when we experience ourselves as being merely a separate skin-encapsulated ego. The move toward realization would be to engage in practices that cause a disillusionment of that ego. However, we do not deconstruct the separate self; we do not evolve beyond ego. Rather, we release the self-contraction of the
ego; we evolve beyond exclusive identification with ego.
About Andrew Cohen
Andrew Cohen is an internationally respected spiritual teacher, and the founder of Evolutionary Enlightenment. Departing radically from a traditional Eastern approach, Evolutionary Enlightenment calls not for transcendence of the world, but for a deep and heroic responsibility for its evolution. In nearly three decades of teaching work, he has engaged with thousands of seekers worldwide, evolving his teaching in response to direct dialogue with students, teachers, scholars and philosophers.