ahankara versus samvit

Jason - April 7, 2010 5:39 pm

American psychologist and philosopher William James said that when persons find themselves in countless situations they construct a personality to engage in that situation. For instance, when I go to school, I "put on" the identity of Jason the student. When I go visit my parents I put on another identity of Jason the son. When I am with my wife I am Jason the husband. James suggests, from the psychological perspective, that these various conscious identities are similar to a chain of islands peaking out of the ocean across a horizon. As we encounter a specific situation, up pops a new island/identity that we've created for oursleves. This is how we live out our conscious lives--by island hopping.


He says, in contrast, that we only discover our true nature when we let go of these temporal island-like identities, and recognize that beneath the surface (in the unconscious realm), all the above water personas have their roots/foundation in something more unified. When we dive under water we can see that all the islands have the same root/source and THAT is our true nature--not the particular identities that we manifest for ourselves and then cling to in our waking lives.


I was reading in Maharaja's "Siksastakam of Sri Caitanya" (2nd paragraph on p. 15) where he explains, "...the purpose of the jiva is to serve and thus love. When its existence is identified with matter (misra-sattva), its lack of awareness of its true self gives rise to a material identity (ahankara), and consequently its purpose [to serve and love] remains unfulfilled by serving the desires born of material identification (kama)."


I really like how this coincides with James's psychological approach. Now, James's explanation seems to point to the idea of a universal consciousness, and in his book "The Varieties of Religious Experience" his explanations have a monistic sort of tone, but our Gaudiya-vedanta explanation goes even further.


Maharaja explains, "By realizing this goal, the jiva no longer identifies with matter (suddha-sattva), it attains knowledge of the self as consciousness (brahma-jnana), and it partially fulfills its purpose, although it is suspended in the joy of identifying with Brahman."


James's psychological approach suggests the mountain under the water, which is the source of the islands that peek out above the water, is our real identity, but Maharaja explains that the essence of this portion of the first verse of Mahaprabhu's Siksastakam is pointing to something beyond even that! To realize the Jamesian idea is only part of the picture. Nama-sankirtan "cleanses the mirror of our awareness in a way that uses our head (su-medhasa) to soften our heart" and that the ultimate goal is an even deeper scuba-diving expedition to the depths of the ocean to "...become aware of our spiritual identity (samvit), and to fulfill our purpose in love (hladini)."


James went deep, but not deep enough. Having the good fortune of owning a copy of Maharaja's commentary on these verses was helpful for understanding James's ideas in relation to the Gaudiya conception.