So, what are the Three Principles and why should any of us care?
Here is the (short) background information dump first:
The Three Principles are a non scientific explanation/model of how human experience of life works. They are named as Thought, Mind and Consciousness and together are a model/description of human psychology and Life itself.
Unlike current scientific explanations, they assume a spiritual reality deeper than material reality and which informs the material in a non-reductionist model of how we as humans experience our lives. Three Principles advocates tend to refer to their model as factual, rather than as model or metaphorical account which is what I am doing here.
The three principles are:
Universal Mind: The ‘juice behind the whole system, the inherent creative potential and intelligence and seeming ‘urge’ to manifest in the world of form.
Universal Consciousness: Our ability to be aware of our own experience of living, feeling and thinking together with the sense that it is ‘real’.
Universal Thought: The shape that Universal Mind takes as it comes through individuals and then becomes personal thinking – which is then subject to psychological and biological forces in the ways it becomes our individual personalities.
There can be a huge degree of ‘so what?’ at this point for many people. It can just seem too abstract and unrelated to daily life to really be relevant to most of us. But bear with me, this is just the information dump part of the article, the relevance will be pointed to further on.
Sydney Banks (founder of the Three Principles)
Sydney Banks was one of those people who pop up in the history of the world who have an apparently spontaneous spiritual experience that changes them for the rest of their lives. Much has been written about him and for an ‘in house’ / orthodox portrayal you could read the following article:
The short version (and more critical – in the sense of critical thinking rather than negatively appraising) is that Sydney Banks had an experience of ‘Reality’ / a different way of seeing Life and how we as humans experience that ‘Reality’ / different way of seeing Life, which was to him, profoundly meaningful and explanatory.
It does seem to be a quality of such experiences that they are very convincing to the individual concerned, and of course, as we know from both the false memory research and the research into ‘enlightenment expereinces’, ‘conviction’ is no guarantee of ‘reality’.
Note this does not mean the experience was a ‘true insight into how things are’ or an ‘untrue’ one, only that conviction of the truth of the experience is a part of the experience itself. If you are interested in reading more about this aspect, you could read this paper (http://nonsymbolic.org/PNSE-Summary-2013.pdf)
Banks spent the rest of his life articulating an understanding of his experience and teaching it to others in a way that might encourage their own similar insights (as distinct, and more useful than, intellectual understanding).
There have been many individuals who have had ‘transcendent experiences’ and there are some things in common. One thing, to develop a point made above, is that the person becomes very convincing if they choose to share because being convinced themselves is part of the experience.
Another thing in common is that the individual’s experience is filtered through the life experience of the individual and what becomes presented as the truth is flavoured by the (natural) limited personality and knowledge of the individual.
In the Three principles case (in my opinion, which probably would not be shared by most in the 3P community) this filtering resulted in a less than useful disdain for any kind of technique, including techniques such as meditation that have been employed by other teachers who had similar experiences and found such things more likely to help their students than hinder them. Thus, people who have had these glimpses of ‘enlightenment’ (whatever that may mean) can still be completely wrong about some things that are outside their sphere of competency and knowledge.
So why should we care?
Quite simply, the understanding and insight that Sydney Banks pointed to can (and has) been a game changer for some when it comes to wellbeing. This wellbeing is conceived of by the Three Principles community as not coming from applying (for example) stress management techniques. Change that happens through insight into the Three Principles is seen by the community as coming from a deeper source than cognitive conditioning, for example,
“Syd was waking people up to the divine nature of their soul.” (Michael Neill)
and to put it simply, the more closely our own deepest understanding of life is actually in line with how life is, the more life will flow for us.
My completely subjective opinion is that if you are the kind of person who already believes in a spiritual dimension to Life and who therefore is open to a depth model of experience and psychological change then a Three Principles approach genuinely may have much to offer – and I would count myself in that number.
However, I would also suggest that the particular Three Principles model is quite flawed in places, yet if you keep ‘in the conversation’ you will tend to have insights that take you further into this understanding, to your benefit, and in my own experience, I feel much better for it – yet also often frustrated by what I regard as complete tosh…
I also think it would be quite possible to see the positive changes made through following this approach in a purely cognitive light, for example, as a global cognitive restructuring that occurs through membership of a belief community. The Three Principles are describing the nature of experience and life itself as a spiritual reality that informs the material and psychological reality.
Of course, if you have no belief in such a spiritual reality, it is game over at this point…
If you do have a sympathy for a more spiritual understanding then the Three Principles may hold value for you, as they certainly have for me, not least in terms of the simplicity this understanding can bring to various contexts in life.
I would not abandon my common sense though. There are things that (in my opinion) the Three Principles community and Sydney Banks just got (and continue to get) wrong. I am going to make no attempt to list those points because this article is not about attacking or defending an academic model; rather it is about giving my particular overview of the Three Principles approach. For me this has been about finding my own truth and understanding.
So overall, I would characterise the Three Principles as a ‘finger pointing at the moon’. There is much that could be said about the finger, but that would be to miss the point. The moon is always worth seeing.
I have, and express reservations and disagreements with the orthodox Three Principles presentation. Yet I consider that may will find immense value in the approach. People such as Dr William Pettit are doing immense good work in spreading and articulating this understanding in a way that takes into account scientific knowledge. Others have taken this understanding into troubled and violent communities to great effect (you can read more about this here http://insideoutunderstanding.com/books-by-jack-pransky/modello-a-story-of-hope-for-the-inner-city-and-beyond-2/)
For me, although I will never be a ‘groupie’, one of the ‘in crowd’, this approach is one I am moving closer to and hope to work from more – and for me there is no contradiction with then employing an evidence based cognitive technique should I think it would be useful.
Life is bigger than our descriptions of it.