It’s All One; or Is It Two?

I am sure you have heard the common spiritual expression ‘It’s all One.’ The saying is meant to remind us that things in the universe are interconnected and that nothing can be separated from the whole. This is certainly a fundamental truth that is the cornerstone of the yogic world-view and the realization of this truth as truth is the great goal of yoga practice. Experiencing the unity of all things as a living truth is the enlightenment experience of people such as Buddha, Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

For the rest of us, however, there seem to be additional truths: The Universe is One, but it’s also Two. Most of us experience the world from a more personal, isolated and less universal viewpoint. We live our lives from the perspective of individuality and separation, feeling and operating in the world with our personalities ‘steering the ship’ so to speak. Our individual personalities determine our experience of the world and our actions. This is neither good nor bad, it simply is the way it is.

Yoga acknowledges that we have all emerged from the universal Oneness and in the process, things split apart into their own individual entities. They are part of the Oneness but also separate from each other. The quality that separates things into individual entities is called ahamkara, the ‘I Maker’. Ahamkara is the force that defines people and things into their own particular and unique manifestations. You could call it their ‘personalities’, the unique collection of characteristics and tendencies that make them individuals. Ahamkara is not inherently bad or good, it is simply a quality that creates individual units, objects if you will. It is the force that makes you different from me and me different from a tree and a tree different from a cloud, and so on.

In humans, ahamkara is most often equated with our personal preferences and our ‘ego’: our sense of self preservation and our desire to do whatever benefits us the most. Usually ego means that we are being selfish and placing our own needs and best interests over the needs of others. Ego often manifests as the tendency to place one’s own ahamkara on a higher plane of value then another’s ahamkara.  This, of course, is the sign of narrow vision. No person or thing is any better or more valuable than another in the big picture. People and things are just different from each other, that’s all. No judgment.

The thing that yoga practice tries to wake up in us is a wider perspective: that things are separate but of equal value. Yoga also tries to put to bed our tendency to compare ourselves with others, whether elevated or diminished. There are few things more obnoxious than the yogi (or worse the yoga teacher) who has an ‘ego’ and acts as if other yogis, students or people are somehow less than themselves. A person with true spiritual understanding knows full well that even the first time yoga student has the same precious value that the yoga teacher of 20 years, the elephant, ant, stray dog or tree has. Conversely, sometimes yoga students look around in class and watch a person do a pose that they themselves cannot do and immediately make a comparison between the other person (better) and themselves (less). This is not useful; it is based on false values.

The quality of understanding that recognizes connection and values things and people equally is called buddhi. Yoga practice, in its subtler (and oft forgotten form) is the quest to turn selfishness and separation into unity and connection. Selfishness is easy and its gratification is sickly sweet, but in the end, it is poison. The way of buddhi is the way of truth, for truth can only be so if it applies to and benefits all equally. Ahamkara separates but buddhi unites.

So, take care of yourself, for you are a unique ahamkara on this earth. Take advantage of your strengths and try to diminish your weaknesses and be your unique self, by all means. When we balance our personality through spiritual practice and yoga, our higher qualities come to the front of our being. We learn to value ourselves and value others from the perspective of buddhi, the unifier. The universe is truly One, but it is also Two. Is that clear?

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