The many meanings of transpersonal

I am reading The Modern Alchemist, which is a good introduction and overview of the general alchemical process, but also has some quirks.

It also reminds me of the many possible uses of the word transpersonal. I have never quite understood what is meant by it, so I have avoided using the word, but this is an opportunity to explore some of the ways it can be used.

Transpersonal as universal at human and soul levels

In The Modern Alchemist, the word transpersonal seems to be used, at least some times, as meaning universal. Something is transpersonal if it is a universal psychological pattern or process.

It can also be expanded beyond the human level to the soul level. At both levels, there are universal patterns and processes, universally human and universally soul.

This is a horizontal transpersonal, going beyond the individual to include the collective.

Transpersonal as beyond the human, as soul and Spirit

Transpersonal can also be used as meaning the soul and Spirit. This is a vertical transpersonal, transcending the individual human into the soul and Spirit realms.

More generally, transpersonal can mean a shift beyond where we usually place our sense of I. If there is a sense of I there, it is typically placed on a combinations of segments of our human self and soul. And we may, temporarily or more stably, go beyond this in what we experience as ourselves. This is another form of transpersonal.

Transpersonal as absent of I

And transpersonal can mean absent of I. When there is a sense of I there, placed on our human self or soul, it is taken as personal.

Yet, the human self and the soul, as anything else in the world of form, is inherently absent of any I. When this is realized, when Spirit awakens to itself, it is a shift beyond the personal into the transpersonal. It is all recognized as not being personal, and never having been personal.

This is probably the less typical way to use the term (I don’t think I have ever seen anyone use it in this way), but it is another way of going beyond the personal, of shifting into the transpersonal.

The meanings of personal

It may also be interesting to explore what personal means.

Personal could mean anything that is individual, such as this human self and soul.

Personal can also mean an experience of this human self and soul as personal. This is an experience of personal that comes from identification. When there is a sense of I here, placed on our human self and/or soul, it can be taken and experienced as intensely personal.

When what this I is placed on becomes a me or mine, when it goes from an apparent subject to object, it is a little less personal. And when this me or mine is within the context of realized selflessness, any sense of it being personal goes away.

And personal can also refer to the unique flavor of this human self and soul. Everything about is may be universally human and soul, but it still has a unique flavor. It is still icecream, but its particular flavor is strawberry-kiwi. The flavor is there before and after realized selflessness.

The problems with the word transpersonal

One problem with the word transpersonal is that it can be used in so many different ways, probably many more than mentioned here. That is of course the case with many other words we use, such as ego, so that, in itself, is only a problem if the definition is not made explicit.

And there are also some problems with the specific definitions above.

If it used as meaning universally human or soul, that it is a problem. I have not found anything in me that does not appear universal. It seems that anything happening – any process and any pattern, in any of us, is a reflection of universal patterns and processes. How could it be otherwise? If it is all universal, as it appears to be, how can we make a differentiation between personal and transpersonal in this way?

If it is used as meaning soul or Spirit levels, it appears a little more clear-cut, although there are a couple of things to keep in mind. It may be that the soul level continues after the human self dies, so there is a differentiation there. But in our daily life, where exactly is the boundary? And although we can certainly differentiate out our human self and soul from the larger world of form, they are still Spirit.

Also, and more problematic, the soul level is still very much personal. It is part of the world of form (although not physical) and it is individual, just as the human self is. And we can certainly place a sense of I on it, just as we can with our human self. So why call it transpersonal? Only Spirit is truly beyond the personal soul and human self, as emptiness, awakeness and all form.

If transpersonal is used in a very general way, to mean a shift beyond our sense of what is personal, it gets even more nebulous, as this sense of I can be placed on just about anything, including any combinations of segments of our human self and soul.

If it is used to describe the shift from a sense of I to realized selflessness, it is even more clear cut, but probably not very useful. There are already many other, and more familiar, terms for this.

And more generally, if nothing is really personal – if it is all universal patterns and processes, inherently absent of I – how can anything be transpersonal?

So transpersonal cannot easily be used to refer to what is universally human or soul, since all seems to be. It cannot easily be used to refer to the soul level, since that is individual and in form, just as the human self, and thus can be seen as personal too. And if nothing is really personal at all – if it is all universal patterns and processes absent of any I, how can anything be transpersonal?

I guess this very cursory outline shows why the word transpersonal is not all that useful for me, unless I can find some definitions that make more sense and have some practical use. (To me, it seems that the term comes out of a general idea of what is personal and what goes beyond, without having thought much about it.)

Finally, I have to admit that I am not very familiar with how the term is used by others so this whole discussion may be unfair, and it is certainly uninformed. And it probably also duplicates what many others have said, and probably resolved long time ago.

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