Everyone Is Doing The Best They Can – May 12 Class Notes

Last night in Friday’s class I mentioned a podcast with discussion about scientific evidence that demonstrates the complexity of our consciousness and hints at why it can be very difficult for people to change, even when they are sincerely committed to do so.

Mahzarin Banaji is Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics in the department of psychology at Harvard University. She is the co-author of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, and co-founder of the implicit bias research organization Project Implicit.

Notes from our May 12 discussion:

Our consciousness has multiple layers. Some of these layers are difficult or impossible to reach through the intellect (thought, reason, etc). Interestingly, there are parts of us that guide our decisions and thinking, that may be beyond our reach mentally. In other words it’s possible, even probable that we are strongly driven by past impressions that we are not even aware of.

Influence from the past includes countless previous incarnations.

As we mature through human incarnations we’ll evolve through four basic stages. These have been described in yoga as:

  • Shudra (dimly aware, very simple, possibly animalistic, the first stage of humanity)
  • Vaishya (merchant consciousness, seeks personal gain, even at expense of others)
  • Kshatriya (warrior, one who works for a greater good, will sacrifice their own life for a high cause)
  • Brahmin (knows Truth, and would inspire others to seek it, understands that lasting fulfillment can only be found within)

A person may have a job as a merchant, but can have the consciousness of a Brahmin. A doctor, priest or school teacher could have the consciousness of vaishya. This is about what drives us from within and what we are capable of understanding at any point along the way, not what we do outwardly.

The contemporary idea of caste being a social system, or something that one is born into based on family name, position or tradition is not what we’re talking about here. Yogananda said these ideas are false.

These distinctions do not change the true nature of the soul. At the highest level all souls are free from ignorance. The soul is that part of our consciousness that is always one with God. The ego and personality are the parts we’re talking about here because this is where we operate from on the way toward maturity. The ego is that part of our consciousness that is identified with the┬ábody. It experiences itself as┬áseparate.

Instead of using the above ideas to put ourselves or others in limiting boxes, I hope we’ll do just the opposite.

There is a beautiful soul at the core of every being. We can choose to look beyond what seems obvious and external to experience the divine. Even those who do bad in the world are doing what they believe is right in some way. They’ll suffer greatly for every wrong in their own time, there is no escape. Why not trust that the soul will guide them when they are ready to hear? Why not accept our human family as we accept our children? After all, who knows how many lives each of us have lived – or not, before this one? Who knows how old or young we really are?

One can choose to reject or accept these ideas blindly, or to observe and test them scientifically. The only way to know what is true is to live consciously and practice sincere introspection. Our lives bring our lessons. Life is our school.

This is an entry into a yogic view on life and a lot to try and cover in one meeting. I hope these ideas will be helpful when working practically with our own issues.

Our homework for this week:
Simply notice beauty or whatever inspires and uplifts your consciousness and spend a little more time communing with and appreciating it each day.


Next week, we’ll discuss the three qualities of consciousness that animate us and our world. These qualities lie beneath what we have discussed so far and even beneath the subconscious mind. We’re on a journey from the external toward the center of who we are. This knowledge is key to self understanding and to support the change we seek in ourselves.

Next class notes