This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3| Volume 4 | Volume 5 | Volume 6

10.3. Hindu Autology

General remarks

Rene Guenon’s excellent book Man & His Becoming According to the Vedanta has the advantage of being praised by one notable Hindu[1] as the best work on the subject in any European language. In that light, it seems that we would be hard pressed to do better, and so we have leaned heavily on his exposition for the summary below. Moreover, if this subject is found to be of any interest at all to the reader, we strongly recommend obtaining a copy of the book for further reading. Also, the reader should keep in mind that, as stated in the title of Guenon’s book, we have adopted the point of view the Vedanta. Passages from Hindu scriptures are cited using Guenon’s translation.

[1] Ananda Coomaraswamy.

The distinction between Self and ego

Christ said: ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.’[1] Which St. Paul affirmed, asking: ‘Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?’[2] These things the Hindu also affirms when he speaks of the ‘Self’ which is within us all, and in which our true identity is to be found, and which is none other than Brahma Itself. But this truth, which is true always, must be realized by each individually in order for it to become true for him, and it is the ‘Self-realization’ that is the task of all, and it is through this realization, which amounts to seeing for oneself what was true from the beginning, that one is enabled to say truly: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’[3] Before this realization is brought about, we live with an illusory self, that inferior shade which appears to us to be our identity, but which is only the passing and mortal mask we wear. To live without seeing this mask as the false self that it is is to live in ignorance, and without identity. To see the true ‘Self,’ on the other hand, is to see God in ourselves, and to discover our identity in God. This distinction, between the only true ‘Self’ and the transitory self which is destined to pass away, is identified in the Hindu doctrines as that between the ‘Self’ and the ‘ego.’

[1] John 14:23.

[2] 1 Corinthians 3:16.

[3] Colossians 3:3.

Personality and individuality

Alternatively, we could say this is the distinction between the ‘personality’ and the ‘individuality,’ although this immediately presents a problem for modern readers because even though it is precisely accurate, the modern way of speaking confuses personality with what is actually a part of the transitory individuality. Although this modern notion of personality is the most superior aspect of the individuality, it is part of it and shares its fate. Suffice it to say for the moment that personality, properly understood, is identical to the transcendent ‘Self’ and that the two are the same thing viewed from slightly different aspects. We will avoid this way of speaking, however, due to the confusions it would cause, and for our purposes here will accept the modern usage; and this means that here the personality will be identified instead with the ego.

The Self and Atma

The Self is the transcendent principle of the human being. The Self must always be understood as eternal and immutable, since it belongs to the realm of pure Being, and so it can never be anything other than itself, not being susceptible to any modifications. Rather, it merely develops the indefinite possibilities contained within itself, allowing these possibilities, in a relative way, to pass from potency to act throughout the various degrees of Existence. Although not all of these states are individual, some are, and one of these is the human state, which represents as we have said one particularly determination out of many. In short, the Self is the principle by which all states of being exist.

The Self is a primordial and non-particularized determination, and in Sanskrit is called Atma or Paramatma (‘Supreme Self’). Atma can be conceived as the ‘Universal Spirit,’ understood in the same way that theologians mean when they say that ‘God is pure spirit.’ Atma permeates all things and all things are its accidental modifications, acting in a way as vehicles of Atma, whether those things be intelligent or not. We should also say that ‘spirit’ for the traditional doctrines is not a correlative of ‘matter.’ There is no ‘spirit-matter’ dichotomy, and Atma permeates what moderns calls spirit as much as it does what they call matter.

Essential distinctions related to the Universal and the individual

The human person occupies a certain position among an indefinite number of other degrees of Being, and so it behooves us to situation ourselves properly in this hierarchy before we proceed any further. In order to do this, we begin by making a series of distinctions, the first of which is between two orders: the Universal and the individual. When it is said that the Self cannot be individualized, this is due to the fact that it belongs to the Universal. The Universal is often confused with what is, in reality, the individual domain. This is due mostly to the lack of any conception of the Universal in the mind of those responsible for the confusion. What we mean is that they apply the name ‘Universal’ to what is really the general, and the general is nothing but an extension of the individual. One more step away from the truth is taken when the general is not even meant, but merely the collective, which is even less universal than the individual, and belongs properly to the particular. At this point we can perhaps gain clarity by saying that the Universal and individual are not what Aristotle called ‘categories,’ which were but the most general of the genera, principles only applicable ‘within’ the individual order itself, and which cannot be used to describe it, much less the Universal. The most appropriate term drawn from Western thought would be the Scholastic idea of ‘transcendentals,’ since these transcend both genera and category, reaching into the Universal. Yet the transcendentals are nonetheless not properly metaphysical, in the sense that they are coextensive with Being and do not go beyond it, which is expected since this is the extent of the doctrine in which they are found. We could say that the transcendentals belong to ‘ontology,’ which pertains to metaphysics but does not attain to a complete metaphysics, ‘stopping short,’ as it were, at Being, when in fact what lies beyond Being is far more important, being the principle from which Being itself proceeds. To refer back to the previous distinction, we can say that it is Brahma which is the Supreme Principle, and Ishvara, Ishvara being assimilable to the first of Brahma’s determinations, or to Being.

To clarify matters, we offer the following table, showing the correct hierarchy of these conceptions:







Although we set the two side-by-side as if they were correlatives, it is critical to understand that there is no commensurability between the individual and the universal orders. The individual is a limitation, while the Universal represents a negation of that limitation and exceeds the former as its principle.

Universal: unmanifested and formless manifestation

We have also spoken of the manifested and the unmanifest, distinguishing between them much as we have done here between Universal and individual. This might lead to the assumption that the Universal and the unmanifested domains coincide, but in admitting these we must be careful to include also in the Universal certain states which belong to manifestation but are formless, and therefore supra-individual, for it is the presence of form which properly characterizes individuality. Thus, we can say that the Universal includes the unmanifested and formless (supra-individual) manifestation.

Individual or formal manifestation: subtle and gross state

Proceeding then into the individual order, which can safely be referred exclusively to formal manifestation, we meet with another necessary distinction two inferior states that fall within this order. These are: subtle state and gross state. These last could be considered different ‘degrees’ of formal manifestation. The gross state is simply corporeal existence itself, to which human individuality belongs, not entirely, but in one of its modalities. The ‘root’ of the human individuality, however, must be sought in the subtle state, which includes the extra-corporeal modalities of the human being. We should note here that in the same way that the Universal and the individual orders cannot be placed in opposition, the one being strictly nil in comparison to the other, so also the subtle and the gross are not symmetrical terms, since one of them encompasses a specific and very limited portion of formal manifestation, while the subtle state contains all the remainder.

Here is a second table outlining these terms:


      — The Unmanifested

       –Formless Manifestation


       –Formal Manifestation

              –Subtle state

             — Gross state

Asymmetry between orders

Having run upon it twice so far, and since we will encounter it repeatedly in our study of the multiple states of the being, it would be good to comment on this asymmetry briefly by way of an example from ordinary logic. It can be observed that whenever a quality of any kind is in question, all possible things are automatically divided into two groups: things endowed with this quality and things devoid of it. The first group has the benefit of being positively defined, while the second, being characterized in a negative manner, is indefinite in number. Not only is it indefinite in number, but in kind as well, since things devoid of the quality in question may be of various and orders. This should clarify why we stress that there is no symmetry between the two terms in these cases, and this will always be true when we are comparing two orders of being, one superior and one inferior. This is most true, for example, of the manifested when compared with the unmanifested, but proceeds in the same manner with regard to orders like the Universal/individual and states such as subtle/gross.

Degrees of existence

In order to group the possibilities of the human being together, we can say that the human being, in its integrality, is composed of a sum of possibilities which constitute its corporeal or gross modality, in addition to a multitude of other possibilities belonging its subtle modalities, these latter extending in various directions from the corporeal modalities. All of these taken together assigned to one degree of universal Existence.

The Supreme Identity

At this point we have before us enough data to establish what in Islamic esotericism is called the ‘Supreme Identity,’ and which, in Hindu terms, states that the Self is not distinct from Atma, which is in identical with Brahma Itself. Thus, to know the Self is to know Brahma, which, through the identification of knower and known, is to achieve union with Brahma. It is to this union that the term Yoga refers, which is the union of the being with the Divine Principle. Now it can hopefully be seen why the realization of the Supreme Identity is considered an ultimate goal of Eastern traditions. Of course, from the point of view of the Absolute, this union already exists, for without it no being could exist; and so the union in question is not the achievement of something that was not real, but refers instead to the individual becoming conscious of this truth, and in the end it is only from the point of view of the individual that the term ‘realization’ makes any sense.

Seat of Brahma

Having identified the indwelling spirit with Brahma, we can understand what is meant in the Chhandogya Upanishad when it refers to the ‘vital center’ of the human being, which is the ‘Seat of Brahma’ in the individual:

‘In this seat of Brahma [Brahma-pura],’ that is to say, in the vital center of which we have just been speaking, ‘there is a small lotus, a place in which is a small cavity [dahara] occupied by Ether [Akasha]; we must seek That which is in this place, and we shall know It.[1]

Here, and in much of what follows, the reader should keep in mind that when corporeal elements and features are referred to it should not be taken in an exclusively literal sense. Ether, taken as a support for the remaining four elements, here takes on a symbolic meaning and it is this meaning that matters, and the same goes for the ‘cavity’ and the ‘lotus’ which should imagined as spatial realities of the corporeal order.

This Atma, which dwells in the heart, is smaller than a grain of rice, smaller than a grain of barley, smaller than a grain of mustard, smaller than a grain of millet, smaller than the germ which is in the grain of millet; this Atma, which dwells in the heart, is also gareater than the earth [the sphere of gross manifestation], greater than the atmosphere [the sphere of subtle manifestation], greater than all the worlds together [that  is, beyond all manifestation, being the unconditioned].[2]

The central message of this text is the inverse relationship with what is below and what is above. We must recall, for example, the teaching of Christ, that what is first will be last, and what is last, first,[3] and that: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in the branches.’ (Matthew 13:31-32). What is first in the order of manifestation will always be, from the point of view of manifestation, the smallest and sometimes most insignificant. To use an illustration from geometry, we can say that the point occupies no space, and so is quantitatively nil, but at the same time it is the principle by which space in its entirety is produced. In the same way, this Atma which dwells in the ‘vital center’ is the principle of all, and from the point of view of the Absolute, it is not Atma that dwell in the human being, but the human being who dwell in Atma.

We refer to another text of the Upanishads that has another parallel that often goes unacknowledged in the Gospel parable: ‘Two birds, inseparably united companions, dwell in the same tree; the one eats of the fruit of the tree, while the other looks on without eating.’[4] Here the first bird is jivatma, whose concern is the world of action, while the second represents Atma, pure knowledge. Their ‘inseparability’ here signifying the fact that they are in reality Atma viewed from two opposite points of view.

[1] Chhandogya Upanishad VIII.1.1.

[2] Chhandogya Upanishad III.14.3.

[3] Matthew 20:16.

[4] Mundaka Upanishad III.1.1, Shvetashvatara Upanishad IV.6.

Potentiality and possibility

When speaking of the presence of the Self in the individual being, we say that the self is ‘potentially’ present in each, until the moment of Union. This is why it is compared to a seed or germ, and this is true until the ‘Union’ is realized. Again, this is accurate only because we are speaking from the point of view of the individual, where all possibilities which transcend him are appear as ‘potential.’ And this is the difference between ‘potentiality’ and ‘possibility’: the first term refers to an aptitude for development, presupposing a possible actualization; the second cannot in any way be regarded as potential, but should instead be considered as belonging to the principal order, which necessarily excludes all ‘becoming.’ But again, all possibilities viewed from the point of view of manifestation, which is the point of view of the individual, will appear as potentialities, when in reality this is a reflection of the individual being’s own capacity for realization–a projected potentiality, if you will.

Brahma in man is Purusha. Let us return again to the notion of the vital center, which was depicted as filled with Ether, and establish the levels of meaning to be drawn from this imagery. In the realm of the individual, there is the physical and psychic orders. On the physical level, it is ether; at the psychic, it is the living soul, or jivatma. Finally, transcending the physical order, the vital center is the unconditioned Self, or Atma, and, ultimately, nothing less than Brahma Itself. But Brahma, considered in this way ‘within’ man, is called here Purusha. Again, so many points of view, so many names. Such is the precision of a metaphysical doctrine, which must not deny any point of view its rightful place.

Returning to the Katha Upanishad:

In the vital center, dwelling of Purusha, the sun shines not, nor the moon, nor the stars; still less this visible fire [the igneous sensible element, or Tejas, of which visibility is the peculiar quality]. All shines by the radiance of Purusha [by reflecting its brightness]; it is by its splendor that this whole [the integral individuality regarded as ‘microcosm’] is illuminated.[1]

And in the Bhagavad-Gita:

One must seek the place [symbolizing a state] whence there is no return [to manifestation] and take refuge in the primordial Purusha from whom hath issued the original impulse [of universal manifestation]…This place neither sun, nor moon, nor fire illumines; it is there I have my supreme abode.[2]

One cannot help but notice the correspondence between the foregoing passage and the ‘Heavenly Jerusalem’ of the bible: ‘And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.’ Here we should point out that pura in Sanskrit signifies ‘city,’ and puru ‘plenitude.’ Thus, even at the level of the meaning of words, there is curious similitude.

This Purusha, of the size of a thumb [angushtha-matra, an expression which must not be taken literally as denoting a spatial dimension, but which refers to the same idea as the comparison which a grain], is of a clear luminosity like a smokeless fire [without any admixture of obscurity or ignorance]; it is the Lord of the past and of the future [being eternal, therefore omnipresent, in such wise that it contains in its permanent actuality all that appears as past or future relatively to any given moment of manifestation, a relationship that is, moreover, capable of transference beyond that particular mode of succession which is time proper]; it is today [in the actual state which constitutes human individuality] and it will be tomorrow [and in all cycles or states of existence] such as it is [in itself, principially, to all eternity].[3]

[1] Katha Upanishad VI.14.

[2] Bhagavad-Gita XV.4 and 6.

[3] Katha Upanishad II.4.12-13.