The Individual Human Being

People Engagement Series

Resource Note # 3

A human being is only breath and shadow. 1 – Sophocles

Each one of us is proud to be born human. 

But, what exactly is an individual human being? The human organism is a genetic, physiological, psychological and spiritually sentient being that is placed in a given familial, social, political, cultural and historical context. 

And, why does the human being exist? Across ages and cultures, the flowering of latent individual potential has been considered as the primary goal of life.

The “individual” is considered as any unitary organism that is capable of an independent existence. The term is derived from the Latin individuum (“an indivisible thing”), which is a sum of the roots in(not) and dividuus (divisible). Thus, the word “individual” paradoxically refers to existence as “a single, separate and indivisible entity” as well as that “which is inseparable, or cannot be separated.” 

In Buddhism, the individual human being is conceived to exist as a series of interconnected processes that work in close cooperation with one another in a way that provides the appearance of being or forming a single and distinct whole. Instead of an atomic, indivisible self that is distinct from reality, Buddhists regard the individual as an interrelated part of an ever-changing, impermanent universe. 2

Thus, Buddhism considers individual existence to be indivisible from total cosmic manifestation.

At the other end of the spectrum, objectivist philosophy regards every individual human being as an independent and sovereign entity with a natural and inalienable right to his or her own life. An individual is considered to be a specific person, while individuality is considered as the state or quality of being a distinct entity that possesses uniquely particular needs or goals.

Thus, individuality appears to be a condition of autonomy (the self as separate from others) as well as dependence (the self as a part of others). In practice, it represents a state of mutual interdependence.

The individual human being may finally be conceived of as the child of interrelated patterns of cosmic forces that progressively gains the appearance of being a socially distinct living entity, with an apparent ability to function willfully and relatively independently. 

The Great Chain of Being

The origin of the human being is a great mystery. Who were the first father and mother? Did the tree precede the seed, or vice-versa? Which came first – the chicken or the egg? What is the genesis of all the living creatures? How did the world come into being? What is the source of this Cosmos?” 

The general pattern presented by the ancient adepts is that the Cosmos is a large family of integrated contents. It is said to be teeming with inhabitants. We refer to some of these dwellers as living beings, while others are regarded as inanimate or non-living.

The Cosmos is also referred to as the Universe. It consists of space, time, various energy forms (including electromagnetic radiation and matter), and also the natural laws that relate these together into a complex but orderly pattern. However, the Universe is not simply constituted of isolated units that have no connection with one another. The term “universe” signifies an orderly arrangement of things, whereby the particulars are characterized by external connections as well as internal relationships.

The ancient sages envisaged a cosmos that was more expansive as compared to that which is visible through the naked human eye or its extended instrumental arms. They conceived of the Universe as being constituted of numerous planes or levels of manifestation. Some of these levels extend behind us in the lower levels of evolution, while the others stretch ahead of us into its higher reaches. 

Physical objects represent the Universe at just one plane or density. Manifest reality is hierarchically composed of several different (but continuous) dimensions through which the Universe reveals itself to experience. These reach from the lowest, densest and least conscious to the highest, subtlest and most conscious. Each senior level transcends, but also envelopes, its junior dimensions. 

This is akin to a series of nests within nests of Being. 3

Insentient matter lies at one end of this spectrum of consciousness. At its other end is the super-conscious Spirit. In between, there is a tapestry of interwoven levels that reach from the body to mind to soul. However, most of these existential planes lie beyond the grasp of ordinary human perception. 4

This paradigm of a mysterious, multi-layered Universe is referred to as the “Great Chain of Being.” While each higher level in the Great Chain possesses all the essential features of the lower levels, it acquires at least one additional emergent quality that is not found in the latter. 

In the natural order, earth (rock) is at the bottom of the chain. This element possesses only the attribute of existence. The next higher level is that of the vegetable kingdom, whose inhabitants possess life and growth too. The plane of the vital animal body adds motion and sensations. While the human mind includes bodily emotions in its makeup, it also adds cognitive faculties such as reason. The soul adds higher cognitions such as illuminating insight and vision that are not found in the rational mind.

The ancient seers visualized these planes of existence as the degrees of experience through which each sentient being has to pass, in the course of its own evolution.

The Individual Human Personality

Akin to the multi-layered nature of the Universe, the human being is also an expansive entity that exists at multiple levels of being and knowing. The term personality is derived from the Greek word “persona”, which originally referred to an actor’s mask. This suggests that the human personality is merely an outward cloak that is overlaid upon a transcendent, inner self. 

The different dimensions or levels that constitute the individual human personality may be (somewhat simplistically) summarized as follows:

Kaya (The Physical Body)

The physical body represents the outermost sheath of the human personality. It is composed of many different types of cells that coalesce together to create tissues and organ systems. A strong skeleton made of bone and cartilage, surrounded by fat, muscle, connective tissue, organs and other structures, determines the shape of the human body. 

At a gross level, the body is merely a lump of solid matter. It is a physical object that needs nourishment in order to survive. Food is the source of chemical energy, which is ingested into the system so as to provide glucose and other chemicals that are needed for nourishing the vital tissues and organs. 

The human body is said to be created from food, and is sustained by it too.

Prana (The Vital Energy)

Every material object appears to be a distinct piece of matterthat is divided from other objects by the boundaries of space and time. However, the apparent solidity of matter is actually an illusion. 

When investigated through more sensitive means, the matter is discerned as a configuration of waveforms (E = MC2). When material objects interact with one another, they are found to continuously change their external forms and patterns. This flux is experienced as energy,which manifests as moving activity.

At a more subtle level, the body is thus a bundle of bio-energy or vital force. The individual human being may now be conceived of as a living organism that functions through purposeful activity. 

This vital force (Prana) represents the second dimension of the human personality. It denotes the very basic principle that distinguishes between living and dead matter. Pranais constituted of the subtle patterns of living energy that people experience in their lives. The covering of vital energy can be made visible by means of high-frequency photography, in the form of the person’s aura.

Manas (The Mind)

The external world of matter and energy appear to be a random flux, without any predictability or regularity in its patterns of interaction. However, a careful examination of these patterns reveals the presence of several natural laws and other useful data about the world we inhabit. At a deeper level of experience, these energy patterns represent “information” that illuminates our existence. 

The vital human being is equipped with five instruments in the forms of sense organs that import stimuli from the external world. These are delivered to a mechanism known as the mind. The mind constitutes the third dimension of the human personality.

Filling and pervading the vital sheath, the mind makes up the subtle body that is the field of our impressions. It comprises the faculties of sensation, emotion and thought as well as instinctual consciousness. Through the mind, we are conscious of ourselves as beings in the world.

The mind consists of a rapid succession of points of attention. It interprets sensory data in an objective as well as subjective manner. The exploration of the external world is the chief concern of the mind.

Objectively, the sensory impressions give rise to thoughts that are subsequently organized together. This enables the recognition of objects in the external world. Subjectively, the sensory data is correlated with the reservoir of our past impressions. This gives rise to an active and immediate response in the form of emotion. Further, all sensory perception is retained in the memory through imagination – which is the projection of a future possibility or action.

These mental processes form the basis on which the human knowledge of the world is gradually developed.

Buddhi (Intelligence)

The dynamic stream of sensations that arise from the mind is delivered to the faculty of human intelligence, which has two components: a) intellect, and b) intuition.

Intelligence constitutes the fourth dimension of the human personality. It represents a kind of Central Processing Unit (CPU) that connects the outer world of senses with the inner world of consciousness.

The ambient weather of a place at any given point in time is conditioned by its general climate. Similarly, sensory information is conditioned by the values and perspectives held by the person. 

Likewise, the elements of information obtained by means of the senses yield meaning and significance only after they are related, contrasted and juxtaposed with the fundamental beliefs of the person. The latter act as the frame of reference through which the world is perceived. They also guide the processing of selected stimuli from among the thousands that one is bombarded with at every moment. It is the function of the intellect to assimilate the fleeting sensory impressions by the application of reasoning methods, so as to arrive at the truth of phenomenon. 

On the other hand, intuition is the discriminative power that is capable of direct inner perception. Its operation transcends the medium of the senses. This latter sensibility of intuitive judgment embodies the imprints of wisdom. 

Chetana (Consciousness)

The elements of perception are seen to continuously appear and disappear in what we refer to as our “experience.” However, when the mind comes to rest (as in deep sleep), it seems that there is no experience at all. 5

Yet, we remember deep sleep as a refreshing experience. How do we know the changes and variations in our experience?

In order to detect change, an element of continuity must extend through all the variations that have taken place. For example, a common thread must run through the many individual beads in order to make a rosary. In the natural world, it is the motionlesspivot that enables the wheel to spin. In the cinema hall, it is the stationaryscreen that makes film projection possible.

The continuity that enables an individual to discern the qualitative conditioning of the world is provided by consciousness, which is the fifth and final dimension of the human personality. Consciousness is the final ground of all our perceptions, and of reality itself.

As objects come and go at the changing surface of our minds, they are illuminated by the consciousness that continues at the underlying background of experience. When the object comes into appearance, its properties are comprehended through a reflection back into consciousness. From underlying consciousness, understanding is then expressed as feelings, thoughts, and actions. 6

The singular principle of consciousness is the stable core of the human personality. It is the stationary screen upon which the cinematic images of the world are witnessed. 

Consciousness is the light of knowledge that illuminates, as well as the knower who apprehends. It is the subtle, unseen “something” within each tiny seed, from which the spreading tree manifests.

Consciousness is to life what electricity is to the light bulb. The inherent nature of electricity holds all the possibilities. However, its expression is limited to the capacity of the bulb itself. 

So also, the entire human personality arises from consciousness itself. The expression of consciousness in our being is limited only by our own capacity for awareness.

Every human being is born with these five dimensions or coverings. These may be considered as individual repositories of capacity, aptitude, and potential. In other words, every person carries exclusive gifts and endowments as she makes her way into this world. In Sanskrit, these source-potentials are referred to as “vasanas”. 

These vasanascrave for expression in the course of human life. When these intrinsic possibilities get channelized through appropriate kinds of external activity, they manifest as a person’s strengths. When an individual’s strengths are mutually aligned together and deployed in the service of a Higher Purpose, we arrive at the attainment of excellence in (and through) action. 

The Higher Self

Within these five coverings, there is the pure Awareness of the Higher Self. This is the innermost center of each person, as well as the supporting ground of all that is perceived externally.

There was once an argument among the gods over where to hide the secret of life, so that men and women would not find it. One god said: “Bury it under a mountain; they will never look there.” “No,” the others said, “one day they will find ways to dig up mountains and will uncover it.” Another said, “Sink it in the depths of the ocean; it will be safe there.” The others objected, “No, the humans will one day find a way to plumb the ocean’s depths and find it easily.” 

Finally, the wisest among the gods said, “Put it inside them; men and women will never think of looking for it there.” All the gods readily agreed. That is how the secret of life came to be hidden within the individual. 

The foregoing description of the human personality posits that men and women are multi-dimensional beings. Along with an outer life, individuals possess a rich and extensive inner life. 

However, people usually do not have ready access to their interior reality. The inner dimension of the human personality is like the butter that is present in curd; it comes to the fore only after a process of intense churning in the form of discipline, introspection, and meditation.

The Perennial Philosophy

Aldous Huxley has succinctly captured the essence of this phenomenon in a set of three statements that are collectively referred to as the Perennial Philosophy. They sum up the goal of human life as follows: 7

A. There is an infinite, changeless reality beneath the world of change.

B. This same reality lies at the core of every human personality.

C. The purpose of life is to discover this reality experientially.

The metaphysical assumptions that underlie The Perennial Philosophy imply that consciousness is the basic stuff of the universe, and that matter is derived from it. To paraphrase the great Indian mystic Nisargadatta Maharaj, “Matter and consciousness are not separate; they are the twin aspects of one and the same energy. Look at consciousness as a function of matter, and you have science. Alternatively, look at the matter as the product of consciousness, and you have spirituality.”

Engagement, Health, and Individual Well-being

A mounting body of research evidence indicates that engaged employees remain in better health as compared to their disengaged counterparts, as evidenced by lower incidences of hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, diagnosed depression, heart attacks, and other chronic health problems. They eat healthier and exercise more frequently. This leads to improved physical and psychological presence at work, and lower absenteeism, attrition as well as accident rates. 8People who are healthy as well as engaged are thereby found to be the happiest and most productive of all individuals.9

A healthy workforce is characterized by high productivity and commitment, enhanced resilience, improved retention, reduced sickness and fewer accidents. Healthy individuals are also found to learn more effectively, work more productively, have better social relationships, and are more likely to contribute to their community. 10Employee health and wholeness has become a “hard” economic factor for contemporary organizations, independent of its relation to workforce engagement. 11

A growing number of organizations have recognized that healthy working practices can help to enhance the physical as well as psychological well being of the employees. 12For instance, Patagonia Inc. (Chapter 1a) offers a fine example of the positive impact of wholeness upon human engagement. The drive to raise whole individuals, as well as healthy families, has facilitated the company’s consistent double-digit growth, unmatched employee retention, and the leadership of multiple social causes.

However, personal health and wholeness is the primary responsibility of the respective individual.  Much of the organizational effort to create an engaged work context can go waste if the people persist in an unhealthy and unwholesome approach to their life. Therefore, it is critically important for the individual employee to learn how to remain healthy and whole.

The Whole Individual

It was observed in Chapter 2 that engaged individuals bring about an integration of the head, the hand and the heart with their work. True engagement occurs only when the individual harmonizes all the numerous outer and inner dimensions of the being into a seamless whole. How exactly may one bring about such wholeness, and consequently, engagement?

The term ”wholeness” refers to being in harmonious alignment – complete, perfect, unbroken, uncut and free of any defect, deformity, mistake or impairment among the constituent parts and components. It is a state of undivided oneness or total unity, and represents the most natural state of being possible.

There are moments in which people encounter the harmony of the movement that is called “life”. These are the transcendent or peak moments, in which we become one with the experience itself. Individuals cease to spatially distinguish themselves as separate from the rest of the world. Time no longer appears to flow in a linear way. Such are the occasions when a holistic sense of awareness emerges.

Wholeness is characterized by the integration of the various dimensions of the human personality. Conflicts and divisions are transcended so as to achieve a totally “resolved” state of being. This enables the holistic perception and accurate evaluation of situations. It also facilitates the basic survival as well as the social adaptability of the human being. 

In all states other than wholeness, there arises a scope for confusion and strife.The question then arises, “How does an individual maintain wholeness in her being? How can the person resolve the sense of multiplicity and disjunction that impedes creativity, alignment, and effectiveness?”

It is observed that the words healwholehealthand holyshare a very close etymological relationship; they all arise from the old English word“hale”that translates, “wholeness, and being whole, sound or well.” In turn, Halecomes from the Proto-Indo-European root kailo, meaning “whole, uninjured, of good omen.” 

The art of maintaining wholeness thus appears to be closely related to the science of preserving health.

The Concept of Health

Health is a positive concept that indicates the extent to which the individual is able to satisfy needs and realize aspirations. It also refers to the person’s capacity to change and cope successfully in the face of significant adversity or risk. 

Health is a notion that is applicable to the human being as a unitary whole. It is characterized by anatomical, physiological and psychological integrity.

Thus, the phenomenon of health has connotations at all the different planesof human existence -physical, vital, emotional, mental, intellectual, moral, social, and spiritual.This is because the body, the mind, and the spirit are deeply intertwined and mutually interdependent entities. A phenomenon that affects any one of these dimensions usually has a discernible impact upon the others too.

For instance, a scary dream is primarily a mental phenomenon. However, its effects on the body (such as sweating or palpitation) are quite tangible in nature. Conversely, a tranquilizer tablet ingested into the body is observed to produce a definitely calming impact upon the mind.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Health represents the harmonious functioning of all the different faculties possessed by an individual, within a given cultural context. 13

Physical health refers to a robust overall condition of the person’s organ systems.

Mental health involves the ability to deal with psychological challenges in life. In general, mentally healthy people are found to:

  1. Accept responsibility for their behaviour, 
  2. Acknowledge their feelings and emotions,
  3. Feel good about themselves and others, and
  4. Hold a positive as well as a realistic outlook on life.

Social health is the sense of wellness that an individual achieves by forming emotionally supportive and intellectually stimulating relationships with family members, friends, and associates. 

Intellectual health is the ability to use problem solving and other higher-order thinking skills, in order to deal effectively with life’s challenges. 

Spiritual health is reflected in the belief that one is an integral part of the larger universal scheme, and that there is a broader purpose to human life.

Good health is the most basic quality that every human being must have. It enables one to function adequately and independently in a constantly changing environment. In the absence of health, the potentialities of life cannot be fully developed. An ancient Indian proverb rightly declares, “The primary blessing in life is a healthy persona that is free of disease.”

However, modern citizens appear to have forgotten the art of living in good health. We do not breathe rightly, eat correctly, digest well or excrete satisfactorily. The blood becomes impure, and the immune system is weakened. This results into psychosomatic diseases such as asthma, hypertension, ulcer, migraine, and diabetes. 

Health as a state of Balance 

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, stated that health is a state wherein the primary properties (wet, dry, cold, hot etc.) of the body balance each other. All the different systems of medicine across the world also agree that a healthy body enjoys a general state of equilibrium, wherein every organ of the body functions in harmony with all the other organs.

The internal environment of the human body constantly reacts to changes in the external environment. In order to maintain an overall state of balance, the different physiological functions of the body interact and interlock with one another through feedback loops. They regulate each other in order to maintain overall homeostasis.16This kind of integral performance helps the organism to preserve itself. 

When this homeostatic state is disrupted (as when hunger, sleep or cold is felt), the body involuntarily attempts to regulate itself. It signals the need for corrective action – such as eating food, or lying down for rest, or wearing a sweater. When the body’s needs are thus satisfied, it returns to a balanced state. 

The Holistic Approach to Health

Individual health is best preserved & maintained by preventing any disease from occurring in the first place. 

Yoga and Ayurveda are two sacred sciences that together facilitate human health and wholeness. Both the disciplines are grounded in ancient Vedic tradition, and thereby complement each other in practice.

The concept of physical and mental equilibrium is Ayurveda’s first principle. It declares that there are three basic humors (or doshas) acting in the body – the breath (vata), the bile (pitta) & phlegm (kapha). 

Ayurveda defines good health as “Sama Dosha, Sama Agni, Sama Dhatu, Mala Kriya, Prasanna Atma, Indriya Mala Swastha iti abhidhiyate”. This translates, “A state of health exists when a person’s digestive fire is in a balanced condition, the bodily doshasare in equilibrium, the body’s tissues are well-nourished, the waste products are produced at normal levels and are properly excreted, the senses are functioning actively, and the body, mind, and consciousness are harmoniously working as one.” 15

On the other hand, Yoga is an exact science of wholesome living. It advocates that the absence of physical disease or mental disharmony is just one aspect of health. Positive health is marked by vigour and vitality. An individual is regarded as truly healthy only when she is strong, sturdy, muscular with proportionate body parts, and remains free of any pain or disease.

The practices of Yoga are based upon the timeless laws of Nature.16While modern sciences have been largely unsuccessful in alleviating chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, backache, hypertension, arthritis and digestive disorders, Yoga has worked miracles as an alternative form of therapy.

The practices of Ayurveda impart strength & vitality to the body, while Yoga enables mental & spiritual development by providing an insight into our true nature. Their synergistic union yields a holistic way of life that harmonizes the external world of Nature with the intrinsic realm of the Higher Self. 

The Four Pillars of Health 

The presence of even warmth all over the body, lightness of feeling, keen hunger, sound and restful sleep with the person feeling cheerful and bright upon waking, clarity and perfect coordination of mind, ability of the body for physical exertion, freedom from laziness, and timely elimination of the waste products are the symptoms of true health. 17Good health is also characterized by a feeling of lightness; the presence of the body and its weight are not experienced as burdensome. 

A healthy person enjoys simple food. She possesses a digestive process that is quiet and strong. Hunger and thirst are felt at regular intervals. The skin feels warm, is smooth to touch, has elasticity, and is free of any unpleasant smells. The lung function is voluntary, and the breathing is deep and easy. The natural movements are free and unhindered. The healthy individual does not remain oppressed for very long by deep emotions, and recuperates quickly.

Such an exalted degree of health is achieved through the adoption of certain values, attitudes and lifestyle practices that are conducive to optimal human functioning. These are encapsulated as the four pillars of good health – AhaarVihaarAchaar, and Vichaar

They may be represented as follows:

a) Ahaar(Food & Diet): The term Ahaarrefers to food, which plays a major role in human existence. The life of every single cell in the body depends on the continuous supply of nutrients that food provides. Health may be preserved through the observation of a pure and wholesome diet.

Food also has a larger symbolic meaning in life. It is associated with love, sensuality, comfort, affection, security, and reward. By appropriately adjusting, modifying or changing one’s food and diet over a period of time, it becomes possible to influence even the basic character of the individual. An ancient saying declares, “As is the food, so is the mind. As is the mind, so is the man.”

b) Vihaar(Recreation & Revitalization): The Sanskrit term Vihaaroriginally stood for a monastery or sacred shrine that comprised of gardens as well as a resting place for use by hermits. The modern connotation of Vihaarrelates to a pattern and style of life that leads to the relaxation, recreation, rejuvenation and revitalization of the body and the mind.

The regular practice of Yogic techniques such as Asanas, Kriyas andPranayamaenable people to build up a strong body and a balanced frame of mind. Physical and mental health also depends on the cues that people observe about themselves – such as sleep patterns, exercise behavior and nutritional intake.

c) Achaar(Discipline & Harmony): Achaararefers to good conduct and a positive demeanour. It implies moral and ethical rectitude, as well as the inculcation of benevolence in one’s behaviour. The ancient notion of mental health was closely connected to morality. The mentally healthy person was considered to be one who lived a virtuous life.

A disciplined adherence to the norms of moral conduct in daily life helps to elevate the individual’s perspective. It brings about rejuvenation in the body-mind system, and also assists in reversing the disease process. Thus,Achaarais behavioral medicine that helps people to maintain balance in life.

d) Vichaar(Beliefs & Perspectives): Finally,Vichaaris translated as discernment or thinking. It refers to the sustained application of mind upon an object or issue, in order to scrutinize and discern its specific details. This term is derived from the Sanskrit word vicharana, which translates as “a random prowl or an enquiry into truth.”

Vichaaris the process of exploring the foundational beliefs and guiding principles in life. It involvesthe process of discrimination, reasoning or contemplative inquiry into fundamental questions, especially those that pertain to the nature of the Self. 

Assimilation of the practices of Ahaar, Vihaar, Achaar and Vichaarinto daily life gradually leads to the development of wholeness of the human personality.


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