Adapted from the book ‘The Art of Awakening the Soul’ © 2011, Prashant S. Shah; http://www.spiritual-living.in
Alchemy is the process of transforming Lead, your ordinary nature, into Gold, a spiritual being. How is this process accomplished through Yoga? How does it unveil the mysteries of the cosmos?
Here we explain this process in terms of our growth in consciousness. It will also give an insight into esoteric doctrines like the Hermetic Wisdom and the Emerald Tablet.
- The world as consciousness
- Our personal consciousness
- The human situation
- What is Bondage?
- The Separation
- What is Purification?
- The Alchemical Marriage
1. The world as consciousness
Consciousness is the basic stuff and the creative essence of the universe. Movement of consciousness has created the universe and all that is in it. The same consciousness that manifests as the universe is also the Self, the spiritual essence, of every individual being that arises in it. Hence, the metaphysical structure of the world is like a ‘woven fabric’, wherein subject consciousness (the essence) is the vertical thread, and object consciousness (the substance) is the horizontal thread.
Since consciousness is everywhere, everything in the cosmos can be known. The consciousness in one form can connect with consciousness in another form and come to know things from inside out. This is direct knowing.
However, in human beings consciousness is identified with the mind and body. Due to this identification the power of pure consciousness (the Self) is reduced to a ‘level of perception’ in the human mind. The particular level of perception depends on what our consciousness is attached to or associated with, and on its conditioning in the individual. Hence, the human mind can only know things INDIRECTLY, through inference and interpretation. This semi-conscious and roundabout way of figuring things out is called ‘mental knowledge’.
Alchemy speaks of purifying Lead and transforming it into Gold. In the spiritual context, it is the process of transforming the consciousness from being a narrow and inferring mental-consciousness, to becoming a wider and directly aware consciousness of the Self.
2. Our personal consciousness
When consciousness identifies with our body, we experience physical fears and sensual desires. When it identifies with the mind, we experience its tendencies, beliefs and conditioning. All these things put their limitations on our consciousness. They cloud the transparency of pure consciousness in our Nature. Hence, we do not experience the world with a pure consciousness, but we experience it with a personal consciousness.
The personal consciousness generates a duplicate-self, called the mental-self. This mental-self creates a personal world from our thoughts and emotions, and it keeps us constantly engaged with them. As a result we think in terms of ‘me’, ‘my story’, ‘my likes’, ‘my fears’, ‘my desires’, ‘my way’, and ‘my possessions’.
3. The human situation
When we look deep into ourselves, into our subjective experience, instead of at the world, we can identify two parts of our being: One part is a consciousness that is totally calm. It sees and observes. We call it our Soul. The other part is a consciousness that is active and always doing something. It thinks and acts. We call it our Nature.
At the beginning of our spiritual quest these two parts of our being seem to be separate; they stand apart. The ‘observer consciousness’ is calm and reflective, whereas the ‘doer consciousness’ is restless and doing something.
We can understand the process of our growth in consciousness by relating these two parts of our being.
4. What is Bondage?
The Soul quietly observes the activity of our Nature and mirrors it in its own consciousness. The Nature or the doer consciousness, on the other hand, acts out of its own impulse, not caring about the will of the observer, the Soul. Hence, our Nature dominates, and the Soul has no say in the decisions and actions of our Nature.
Although these two parts of our being seem to be unrelated, there is a connection. The Soul observes the decisions and actions of our Nature, but it is unable to accept all of them. However, since the Soul is in a passive condition, it has to endure what it cannot accept. Hence, the association of Soul with our Nature is bondage for the Soul.
5. The Separation
On deeper observation we find that although our Nature can act out of its own impulse, to carry on in this way it needs the acceptance of the Soul. When the Soul was passive, Nature took this acceptance automatically. However, once the Soul is awake, it can refuse to grant its acceptance.
When our Nature acts according to the wishes of the Soul, the Soul accepts all the actions of our Nature. It does this by mirroring these actions in its consciousness. However, when Nature acts against the wishes of the Soul, the Soul can withhold its acceptance. It does this by refusing to mirror the actions of our Nature.
The Soul is an independent consciousness that lives in the spiritual world. When we identify ourselves with the Soul, we can separate ourselves from our Nature. Then the contents (thoughts, desires and emotions) of our mind become like objects. We can look upon them as things within us, but separate from us; we can remain unaffected by them. When we exercise this option, we are liberated from our bondage to a purely mental existence. We have a mind and body, but we experience ourselves as separate from them.
6. What is Purification?
The Soul is an independent consciousness, whereas our Nature is a derived consciousness; it is formed in nature, but derived from impressions carried by the soul. Hence, our Nature arises out of the Soul and depends on it for its sustenance. The Soul has power over Nature and it can exercise the power.
The Soul sees the actions of our Nature and quietly mirrors them in its consciousness. By mirroring them it sanctions them. However, when our Nature acts out of its own impulse, the Soul can also refuse to mirror its actions. Then our Nature has to change its ways. Thus, the seeing of the Soul acts as a command for our Nature.
To experience the Soul consciousness we have to find something within us that is independent of the continuously changing thoughts and forms of life. Once we find this consciousness, we have to identify with it. Then we can know the right movement; we can know what the Soul wants our Nature to do. Then further, through a process of approving or disapproving the actions of our Nature, we can purify it and make it transparent to the Soul.
7. The Al-chemical Marriage
Alchemy uses the alternate movements of ‘separation’ and ‘purification’ to know and change the habits, tendencies and conditioning of our Nature. As our Nature gets purified we overcome the contradictory energies and divisions within our consciousness. Then the Soul and our Nature begin to dance to one tune. Our Nature acts according to the wishes of the Soul; and the Soul accepts all the actions performed by our Nature. This is the famous alchemical marriage or ‘MATING’ in consciousness.
From this mating a new consciousness is born, which is undivided and totally different from our earlier ‘mental consciousness’. It is neither subjective nor objective, but something all inclusive and beyond. This consciousness holds the key to the mysteries of the cosmos.