The story is that Shiva destroys the fifth head of Brahma. According to Devdutt Pattanaik, Brahma’s fifth head is ‘his own imaginary understanding of who he is’. The fifth head, Devdutt Pattanaik tells us, is ‘Brahma’s self-image’. The fifth head of Brahma is therefore the conditioned self or ego and it is the lot of the conditioned self or ego to be destroyed by Shiva. This is its fate, this is the way it goes for the conditioned self. That’s the way this particular cookie crumbles. This is what the conditioned self is looking at right from the word ‘go’…
The conditioned self is however not in the habit of dealing straightforwardly with difficult truths and for it this constitutes without any doubt the most difficult truth of all. What could be more difficult than this? Nothing for the conditioned self could be more challenging than facing this striking ‘lack of future prospects’ (if we may put it like that). It’s own prospective non-existence is most definitely not something it can contemplate with equanimity.
The conditioned self – which is the fifth head of Brahma in the story – has zero prospects. It is looking at zero chance of any positive outcome and the prospect of positive outcomes is its bread-and-butter. This is what keeps it going – without future prospects it cannot carry on. Even if its future prospects were negative (in the sense of bad outcomes that are coming its way) this would be something to keep the conditioned self going. It can work with bad prospects. The conditioned self can then invest in trying to avoid what is coming its way, and create a hopeful / optimistic narrative this way, or invest in feeling bad about its situation if decides that avoiding the unwanted outcome is not possible.
Even being pessimistic is fuel for the conditioned self. By creating judgements about the unwanted outcome and emotional reactions to these judgements the conditioned self can then create a narrative about how terrible its situation is and in this way – through its freshly-spun narrative – the conditioned self gets to carry on existing. The conditioned self exists only through its narratives after all and whether they are positive or negative, optimistic or pessimistic, hopeful or despairing, makes no difference in this regard. Any narrative will suffice – all that’s needed is the narrative. All that it needs to do is make itself relevant to what is going on.
The prospect of being destroyed by Shiva is not really a ‘prospect’ at all. This is not a ‘prospect’ or a ‘future outcome’ in the sense that it isn’t something that really happens. The conditioned self doesn’t really get destroyed by Shiva since in order to be destroyed by Shiva it would have to exist in the first place and it doesn’t. When Shiva destroys the conditioned self or ego this is a very ‘complete’ or ‘thorough-going’ act of destruction – it is so complete or thorough-going that even the possibility of having some sort of prior existence is destroyed. This isn’t mere negation, this is super-negation. This is an act of negation which is so complete that the act of negation itself is itself negated.
‘Super-negation’ is thus something that the conditioned self cannot weave a narrative around! There is no narrative around super-negation, super-negation negates the narrative that tells us about the negation, and then it negates the narrative that tells us about the negation of the narrative. Neither the narrative nor the meta-narrative about the destruction of the conditioned self ever arises because the conditioned self has been super-negated. Actually, it didn’t need to be super-negated because it never even existed in the first place. Not even the possibility of it existing ever existed. The whole issue never arises in the first place; the super-negation may therefore be said to represent bringing awareness to this truth. As we have already said, there are no narratives in super-negation. The thinking, rationalizing mind doesn’t come into it.
Faced therefore with its own super-negation, what is the conditioned self to do? What tactic is it to use? How can it pull something out of such an unforgiving situation? How can it gaze upon the Ineffable Voidness and yet at the same time come out with the sort of banal nonsensical rubbish that it habitually does always come out with? How can it look Immaculate Emptiness in the eye and yet still keep on spinning its interminable tedious narratives about itself?
The ultimate answer to this question is to say that it can’t. The conditioned self or ego can’t talk itself into existence, no matter how good a talker it is! This is just never going to happen. It never did happen. It never could happen. And yet at the same time everything we know (or everything we think we know) is known from the perspective of this illusory conditioned self or ego. That’s the only way we have of seeing anything – through the non-existent mind of the illusory conditioned self or ego, through the unreal eyes of the fifth head of Brahma…
Author: Nick Williams
Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.