The Forgetful Son

Once upon a time there was a child, a young prince, who went out with his father, the king, on horseback. Returning home through a deep forest, there was a skirmish with some local bandits and the child became separated from his father. He was taken in by some kindly pig farmers who lived in the forest and the child grew up to become a pig farmer himself. He completely forgot who he was and every day thought: “I am a pig farmer.” When he was grown he one day happened to meet the king’s minister who recognised him. “You are not a pig farmer,” he told him, “you are the beloved son of the king.” Thereupon, the young man gave up the idea that he was a pig farmer and accepted his royal identity.

This tale is told to illustrate the predicament of the consciousness, which is originally pure but falls into accepting a lower identity because of identification with the physical organism in which it is currently embodied. The prince is the atma, or pure spiritual consciousness, and the minister is the guru, who restores his true identity.

In classical Western philosophy there is a simple duality between the self (body and mind) and matter (everything else). In contrast, Yoga philosophy categorizes the mind as belonging to matter. That means that the mind is part of ‘everything else’ and not part of ‘self.’ All thoughts, feelings, emotions and memories are matter – as material as a stone. It is subtle rather than gross matter, but matter nonetheless. The self, or pure consciousness, is distinct from matter, but identifies itself with matter.

Yoga philosophy goes even further. It describes several layers and functions of what Western philosophy calls the mind and the mechanics of how they work together to condition the pure self. The Sanskrit word Ahamkara means ‘I-maker’ and it limits the range of the self’s awareness to fit within, and identify with, the contours of the psycho-physical organism within which it finds itself. When the self is embodied, the ahamkara, or ego, conditions it to individualise itself according to the limits of the organism. When in the body of a spider the self therefore thinks: “I am a spider,” and when in the body of a dog thinks: “I am a dog.” And when in human form thinks: “I am a human. I am a man, woman, rich, poor, young, old, pretty, ugly.” Just as our prince was never at any time a pig farmer, but thought he was, so the self identifies with an organism, a tribe, race or nation due to proximity and repeated interaction.

The faculty of intelligence, or buddhi, is another layer and is above the ego or ahamkara.  Its function is ascertainment, discrimination; judgement, will, virtue and detachment. When not polluted it allows the self to be peaceful, happy, tranquil, and to properly discriminate. When this stage is reached the person is said to be a buddha. This is relatively rare. In most cases the buddhi is polluted by the primordial forces of the gunas, which create intense desires. These desires push the living being into action, and this is followed by disappointment. In this condition the self is bewildered and cannot come to a sense of how to make progress on the path of spiritual freedom.

Moral: The guru proposes a path towards the ultimate state of peace, tranquillity and happiness. Sharing his knowledge with the disciple he speaks to remove his forgetfulness, and to reawaken his true identity as the beloved of God.
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