Antakarana I: Reality, Ego and the Bridging Organ
by A. C. George
In these ponderings, squeezing the products of contemplation and esoteric experience into neat packages of a thousand or so words is not always viable. Many of these posts, therefore, represent parts of more extended and often multifaceted themes that concern the esoteric activities of yours truly. This particular post is the first of a group around the Sanskrit notion of antaḥkaraṇa, which is too esoterically significant and too easy to misunderstand to restrict its interpretation to a single semantic dimension. Thus the blog will return to this topic every so often, as it will take far more than one posting to exhaust it to my satisfaction.
The aforementioned term antaḥkaraṇa is fundamental in Yoga philosophy. It can be translated as “the maker in the middle” or “middle-man making/maker”, but is usually rendered as “the bridge/bridging organ”. Regardless of nomenclature, the dynamic of antaḥkaraṇa embodies the process through which consciousness constructs- or reconstructs and even deconstructs- reality. This “organ” has four expressions or processes according to (my interpretation of) Indian esoteric thought:
- Manas is the perception matrix. This is the reality modeling/structuring network. Manas is associated with mind, although technically mind encompasses the full spectrum of the organ.
- Citta is the substance or medium of awareness (mind-stuff). It is the field of awareness or mind-field, whose fluctuations represent the other three expressions of the organ.
- Buddhi involves the will/initiative and active vectoring property of the organ. It is its discerning and choosing capacity.
- Ahaṁkara is the focusing and localizing function that defines the sense of self as a “person” or ego. It is the “I-am-function” aspect; the mind’s handle on itself, a construct of the former, as a handle is a construct of a pot. It is also what some forms of spirituality claim we need to trash- or just realize it doesn’t exist in the first place.
Contrary to Neoplatonic and Hermetic philosophy that claims all is mind, in the metaphysics of yoga, mind is an organ. Even if tradition did not claim this, however, it is still my understanding and conclusions drawn from three decades of practice. As a sort of middle-man of our embodiment dynamic, antaḥkaraṇa is not an objective observable, which we can place outside ourselves and remain true to its nature. It is experienced in the first person, which in the west has been translated as “ego”, probably because the word means “me” in Greek. This is not the ego of Sigmund Freud, nor is it the ego that is characterized in terms of selfishness and deluded pride. It is the first person perspective that is fundamental for the other three dynamics of the organ to work smoothly.
Ahaṁ-kara as the “I-am-function” is a dynamic of our psychic physiology, similar to how a physical organ operates as a dynamic of the body as a whole. This organ may be physically associated with the brain and its working, but the brain is an objective observable, while the bridging organ is first person by definition. That is the realization that places the ego in its proverbial place in my view, not the idea that individuality is somehow an existential flaw or falsehood.
If that were so, we could argue that manas and buddhi are also illusions- and some do, whether they are the wizened corpses of tradition or of a modern or postmodern pretense. On the other hand, all form is a patterning of a fundamental medium, and like the shape of a fluid being arbitrary, everything that can be measured is devoid of fundamental autonomy in terms of what it appears to be. That might be taken as an illusion if we use a movie analogy, but the association is misleading. The grand physical events in an epic flick are simply a play of insubstantial light. The play of light, however, is real. An illusion is all in our heads, and nowhere else. A mirage, on the other hand is a play of temperature in the air masking as a fluid medium. Mirage, however, is not an accurate metaphor for the nature of manifestation either.
I view mind as a function of the organic embodiment of consciousness within and through the equally living medium understood as “power” according to the Tantra traditions of South Central Asia. These traditions view the existentially omnipresent poles of consciousness and power as lovers, and not as a single divine being (consciousness) playing with an inert medium or field. Reality is born of their union and cannot be without both. Power (śakti) is formless chaos without consciousness, and consciousness is an insubstantial corpse without power.
According to the view described above, all that is experienced as reality is the dance of power, while consciousness infuses it with luminous direction and subjective presence. That does not mean the medium that is power is inherently just a random field with no existential sense of its own. It forms a whole with consciousness, which without power has no reference frame, and is not even aware of its own existence. It is consciousness of transparent infinity/eternity, and may as well be nothing. The same applies to power. Without consciousness, it is unconscious, and falls inert without an inkling of reference.
Thus power and consciousness are described in terms of female and male respectively. All that is, is an embodiment of dynamics of both to one degree or another. Power’s inherent existential mode is desire, a magnetic draw upon consciousness qualified in accordance to what is to be birthed with it. Consciousness is thus what is drawn in for birth to take place, and is what marks which directions the vibration of power will go to establish what is to be born from it. The bridging organ is a creation of both consciousness and power, with power in this case being of a subtle dynamic, and consciousness more prominent.
In this installment, we have referred to one of the four expressions of the (human) bridging organ, which is its existentially centralized “I-am” mode. It is a function that serves the purpose of centralizing consciousness so the form of its embodiment can cultivate existential autonomy. When unbalanced it can also promote existential insulation and alienation from all it perceives outside of itself, including its very own potential. In order to understand the “ego”-function, however, the antaḥkaraṇa anatomy needs to be described in greater depth.