Monday, January 9, 2017
Dear friends, this piece evolved on its own. The seed thought came to me in a picture or mental image. Strangely, I no longer recall the image but it conveyed the ego-mind dissolving beyond its boundaries into the Overarching Consciousness of God and Life. That’s as much as I can describe it, though it sounds clunky to write it this way. But it took a month or two to find the time and the mental courage to attempt to work with it. It doesn’t fit into politics, the world of Ananda, or Happy New Year, nor does it come “straight out” of Paramhansa Yogananda’s teachings. I continue to be drawn towards the boundaries of science and mind, wondering how to dissolve these boundaries. I don’t know why, but here are my reflections. I tried posting in five parts but blogpost is just not very smart. So, regrettably, it's all in one giant post.
Key words: Yoga Sutras, Patanjali, meditation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Paramhansa Yogananda, "Autobiography of a Yogi", dualism, nondualism, near-death experience, Albert Einstein, Kali Yuga, Dwapara Yuga, Shankhya, Yoga, Vedanta, Swami Sri Yukteswar
Part 1 – Yoga Sutras: Miracles that Matter
The science of meditation is most famously codified in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Unfortunately, the “sutras” are frustratingly abstruse, hampered by poor translations and hammered by dry, intellectual commentaries. But this much one can say as succinctly and distinctly as the sutras themselves: they affirm the reality of transcendent states of consciousness that go beyond the ordinary human mind and, indeed, beyond dependency on the physical form all together.
“The proof of the pudding (the sutras, that is) is in the eating.” Their purpose is to point towards the mind beyond the brain. In their own context and history, they are not considered speculative philosophy. They purport to describe that which is true and has been experienced. They constitute enigmatic revelations of the highest states of consciousness. They are a time capsule both in relation to a higher age long past, and in relation to a higher state of being not known to ordinary human consciousness.
The sutras’ authorship is ascribed to a man called Patanjali. I believe that he created this time capsule because he knew its wisdom was about to vanish owing to general, human ignorance and secrecy. He intended to preserve it for a future age when more enlightened souls would appreciate and strive to achieve its promise and potential.
Powers over nature (aka “miracles”) are described in book three of the sutras. The history of the lives of saints are filled with such stories. Testimony regarding these feats come from the lips of veracious men and women. Raising the dead; walking on water or on fire; bi-location; levitation; spontaneous healings; telepathy and other psychic powers; surviving long periods without breath, heart rate or recordable brain activity: these are powers described in the sutras and in the annals of the lives of the saints, east and west.
The now famous and world renowned spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramhansa Yogananda also relates miracles on every page. But its stories are from the 19th and 20th centuries! And during the twentieth century there are well documented accounts of such saintly souls as Therese Neumann (Bavaria, Germany, 1898-1962) or Padre Pio (Italy, 1887-1968), and others in India.
Science understandably sets such things aside, lacking as it does, both an explanation and the ability to recreate the phenomenon in a controlled environment. But another factor in the reluctance of scientists to investigate includes their own fear of being ostracized in their profession for being seen to stray outside accepted norms.
In this, they are not unlike orthodox religionists! The accepted dogma of science is that consciousness is a mere byproduct of brain activity. According to their orthodoxy, every human action and ability must be explained away by reference to survival and procreative impulses.
For the sake of discussion, if we contemplate the possibility of “mind beyond brain,” how could consciousness which has its origins in the “blind” evolution of matter outstrip its very own parameters such as the five senses and even the brain itself? Is it like the worm which sheds its cocoon and flies off, now a butterfly? But that metamorphosis is at least a material one. Its cause and effect process observable and understandable.
The mind (transcendent of the body and brain) has no form; no matter; no material connections. What about the increasing documentation surrounding near-death experiences when a human body is officially declared dead but the person revives and describes hearing and seeing when his body could not have either heard or seen (according to medical science)?
While we cannot expect that science will ever bridge this gap with an explanation that satisfies its own legitimate standards, we, of the human race at large, are under no such burden. It seems more likely that behind the great drama of cosmic nature with its vast stretches of time and space, both incomprehensibly large and infinitesimal, there exists an unseen force guiding evolution towards an ever awakening consciousness. Given enough time and space, this propelling intention may be the root cause of the evolution of forms from inanimate to animate to conscious, then self-aware. At last, the power of reason, inventiveness, abstract speculation, and religious impulses appear—as if these were intended.
Part 2 – Dualism and Nondualism
We, as humans, share a multitude of common characteristics while each of us remains unique. Consciousness, too, is simply consciousness but to express itself it comes into, or inhabits various forms. Consciousness BECOMES visible, and thereby, appears separate. Self-expression requires both a “self” and an “expression.” Subject and object in a state of becoming. Our selfhood, in order to become identifiable, must appear to be separate even if our source is in the great Being of Consciousness.
This dichotomy between form and spirit is at least one aspect of the philosophy called “dualism.” Dualistic philosophy says that the objective world of matter and the subjective world of consciousness co-exist equally and intertwine: both in macro and micro forms and states. The opposing and competing philosophy is nondualism. Nondualism avers that the objective world of form is but a manifestation of Consciousness.
Consciousness underlies, gives rise to, sustains, and finally dissolves all matter back into itself. Thus only Consciousness is said to be real and eternal while matter is unendingly in flux. I’m not here to argue these because in most respects they are essentially a matter of taste. What is, simply IS. But, for the record, I ascribe to the nondual view though I don’t think my life or happiness depends on it.
Inasmuch as ordinary humans do not experience transcendence except perhaps fleetingly, this suggests, to my mind, at least, that the underlying basis of reality is essentially nondual because to achieve it requires a directional effort away from separateness to oneness. The ordinary day-to-day human experience is pierced as I-Thou, by the appearance of separateness. No philosophy is required to experience this, even if only instinctively.
If humans alternatively experienced the two states, more or less equally, it would be a different “story.” Transcendent, religious experience is usually considered the apex of human consciousness. It may well be that in the world of duality in which science operates, no “theory of everything” (such as Einstein pursued unsuccessfully his entire life) can ever be found. By contrast, the unitive experience of pure and unconditional Consciousness speaks for itself, if it speaks at all! It is not as popular as the dual theory because relative rare, and, at that, it is beyond words in any case (except, of course, to poets and saints!).
And for those of us who subscribe to the Yoga Sutras, the very definition of reality given in the second stanza of Patanjali states that the goal of yoga (and of life and evolution) is transcendence, and that transcendence results from the cessation of all motion: physical, mental, emotional. This cessation is not what we call death. It is not even the VOID sometimes spoken in various metaphysical, meditative, or poetic traditions.
Far from snuffing out consciousness, it is clear, at least from the Yoga Sutras, that only consciousness remains. It may be the negation of ego (separative) consciousness, but this is hardly the equivalent of nothingness, strictly defined. Rather, it is said to be everything and nothing simultaneously.
[As an addendum to this discussion, let me turn your attention to the teaching of the triune nature of God: the Trinity. God the Father (Sat) is equivalent to the One (nondual); adding the Holy Ghost (Aum vibration), the visible aspect of creation (matter), we have two (dual); within the vibratory sphere resides the “son,” (Tat), or invisible, still reflection (only-begotten) of the Father, bridging the two opposites in a continuous spectrum of Consciousness. Thus both nondual and dual coexist as one. “Just sayin’”]
Part 3 – Piercing the Veil of Matter Near to Death
Imagine that as we inhabit the physical, human form, it’s apperance both requires and, in turn, generates an electro-magnetic, psycho-physiological force field (called the “aura” when “seen” by another). This powerful force field both protects “us” as a separate psychic entity but also forms an invisible, seemingly impenetrable barrier that separates us from other psyches and the ocean of consciousness that surrounds us. This is as true for us as it is for chairs, tables, atoms, molecules and electrons (to name just a few).
Imagine, too, that long ago it was discovered that there is a scientific, psycho-physiological method of piercing this psychic shield by controlling and slowing the breath and heart rate to near absolute stillness. The psyche, otherwise locked in form, can be released to enter the stream of consciousness from which it came and is sustained even in form.
Just as a non-conductive material can become a superconductor of electricity when its temperature is lowered towards absolute zero, consider that as we dissolve all mental, emotional, and physical activities the “shield” is lowered sufficiently to escape mortality (confinement in a physical form) and experience a cosmic state of Being (without loss of consciousness)!
To a limited degree this happens every night in sleep but the state of sleep is sub-conscious and thus we are generally unaware of what is going on. But because of the lowered mental and physical activity, sleep mimics, indeed hints at the possibility of, a state of super-consciousness!
The question naturally occurs whether this altered state suppresses (like sleep) our self-awareness or, instead, enhances and magnifies it. Anyone who has sincerely and deeply meditated knows that the answer is the latter. We are MORE aware when our thoughts, emotions and body are completely still.
As Paramhansa Yogananda writes in his now famous autobiography, quoting his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, “The ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness is intimately linked with breath mastery. This is India’s unique and deathless contribution to the world’s treasury of knowledge. The life force, which is ordinarily absorbed in maintaining the heart-pump, must be freed for higher activities by a method of calming and stilling the ceaseless demands of the breath.”
Thus it is that near-death states also induce, however involuntarily, a similar “out-of-body” but yet hyper-aware experience. For some who experience this it is a spiritual turning point, but, admittedly, not for everyone.
Meditation has been shown, clinically, to slow and even reverse the effects of aging. This is just one in addition to numerous other positive consequences for the body, mind, and general well-being. These proven results hint to us that the “fountain of youth” and the “elixir of life” is truly “within us” and that superconscious, vibrant life-vitality is the essence of health, life, happiness, and consciousness.
The price of this eternal freedom and paradise is nothing less than everything. It cannot be achieved for the mere wishing; nor is it transmitted as some would imagine it to be from the mere tap on the chest by a passing guru. Intensity of effort, as Patanjali writes, is the main criterion. Many lifetimes are needed to dissolve, or purify, the ego’s endless likes and dislikes (the reactive process).
Purification includes purifying the body and bloodstream of carbon dioxide and achieving such deep concentration and relaxation that all breathing ceases. This is followed by stopping of the heart. The result is the metamorphosis of the caterpillar of ego consciousness into the butterfly of eternal Consciousness. The result is that consciousness is then freed from the confines of the body and re-unites with the omnipresent and ego-less consciousness that exists at the heart of all creation.
I have vastly oversimplified these stages (see the Yogas Sutras’ the 8-Fold Path) and its many attributes but two notable and final stages were often remarked upon by Paramhansa Yogananda. The initial stage of cosmic consciousness involves fixity of the body in a death-like, trance state even as the consciousness soars in omnipresence. The final and permanent state requires no fixity of body but is omnipresence itself: with, or without physical form.
Part 4 – Shankhya, Yoga, and Vedanta
The Yoga Sutras make no argument with the obvious fact that it takes a human body, endowed with its highly advanced nervous system, for consciousness to become self-aware. Nor do the aphorisms concern themselves with how that came to be, or even, why (though the ‘why’ is implied by the transcendent states of consciousness which the sutras obviously consider the summum bonum of existence).
In fact, the very first sutra is “And now, we come to the practice of yoga.” Thus, much is implied as having preceded the “practice of yoga.” Paramhansa Yogananda and his line of teachers explain that the system of thought known as Shankhya precedes Yoga. Shankhya is an entire body of cosmology and cosmogony and could be, practically speaking, viewed as a belief system that describes creation as a manifestation of God through the dualistic principles or forces of consciousness and matter.
Pundits claim that the Yoga Sutras AND Shankhya are inherently dualistic. There’s even a quote in Shankhya that says God cannot be proved (Ishwara ashiddha). But as Yogananda explained this quote, this is not a denial of God; it simply means God cannot be explained by reason (or the senses) alone. As to being dualistic, well, let the pundits continue to argue about this but perhaps Shankhya and the Sutras are simply unconcerned about such questions. They evolved from and stand in relation to supporting the Vedantic philosophy of Oneness: Shankhya, Yoga, and Vedanta, are, as Yogananda put it, like the three legs of a stool.
The puzzle we face is this: the human body appears to be the prerequisite for human consciousness and self-awareness. On the basis, therefore, of outer appearances it would seem that the materialists might be correct in saying that consciousness is produced by matter. Yet, there are some (yogis and saints down the ages) who have shown inexplicable powers over the human body and over objective nature; indeed, over death, itself.
Which, then, is superior: matter, or consciousness? Is it “mind over matter” or “mind matters matter?” Or, as a dualist might insist: are they equals?
The saints make it clear what the answer to this is. But, in this age, science is our god. Then, if not to the saints, let us turn to the scientists. Scientists now tell us, quite confidently, and we are quite pleased to accept it, that there is an underlying substrata to matter itself that is more elemental. We (or, is it Einstein) call it, generically, “energy.” There are various forms of energy, some gross, others rather subtle. Science seems to be steadily going deeper and deeper into the subtleties of energy to the point where the trail seems to disappear into, what, vibrating strings that even science admits can never be “proved”?
The question that recurs, but from which science, as science, must recoil, is whether consciousness underlies energy? Unfortunately for science, consciousness can only really recognize itself in being self-aware. A man lying in a ditch might be sleeping; might be dead; might be drunk; or might be in “Samadhi.” For the average onlooker, only by his behavior can give a hint.
Part 5 – Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Consciousness
It has been predicted that a day is coming when we will not be able to distinguish artificial intelligence from human consciousness. I believe that could easily be the case. But will artificial intelligence ever produce an original great work of art? Can a machine sit and meditate? Can it feel?
Or, have a unique idea? It will no doubt be able to appropriately mimic a wide range of human emotions, but does it actually feel those emotions? Will it dream?
Just because human emotions are triggered by passing thoughts or circumstances and thus have very little enduring reality, that doesn’t mean that the ability of AI to mimic these responses under similar circumstances are actually “felt.” The core issue in the debates surrounding AI boils down to “what is consciousness?” Like God “Himself,” it can only be known intuitively and given evidence by the movements and actions it stimulates through recognizable and distinct forms. Iswara ashiddha. To misquote Forrest, Forrest Gump: “consciousness is what consciousness does.”
Only with psychic ability can one detect consciousness in a formless state such as a disincarnate entity (aka ghost) or in dreams or visions. Such psychic abilities are, of course, rare, but by no means unknown. Telepathy has been proven in countless experiments, yet it defies the law of science as to time, distance and space. Because science has no explanation, it simply ignores the evidence. (Nothing new on this account, just good ‘ol human emotions.)
Humanity’s collective experience and history provides ample evidence of the higher status of consciousness, of mind over matter. In the world of dogs, it’s not the biggest brute but the smartest dog that leads the pack. But at this time, our reason and scientific methods cannot go past their frozen (and largely legitimate) boundaries. They are thus inclined to dismiss evidence of higher consciousness for the “crime” of not knowing how to explain it. That doesn’t, however, mean it isn’t true. Just because science cannot isolate God in a test tube doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist.
If scientists were as rigorous and objective as they purport to be in following their own methodology, they would admit they can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, nor yet disprove the precedence of consciousness over energy and matter. Just because they claim that their rather mundane observations do not require a god to fulfill the dictates of reason and measurement, doesn’t mean they can provide any answer to “why?”
If you are willing to believe Einstein’s formula E=mc2 without even remotely comprehending what it means, why not accept what the greatest of spiritual scientists have discovered? This creation, your body, and your consciousness are far vaster than what our senses can suggest, just as the material universe itself is. Why not be open to the wisdom of ages and sages?
Swami Sri Yukteswar, guru to Paramhansa Yogananda and the greatest gyani yoga of modern times, stated that “without love, one cannot take one step on the spiritual path.” Someone once said to me, somewhat sarcastically when our relationship ended because of my insistence upon my spiritual search, “Well, it’s all a matter of taste.” In a way, yes: it’s really a matter of intuition: the subtle “taste” of truth and inspiration. Logic and reason can never convince anyone who isn’t already “open.” For many, inspiration and devotion opens the doors of truth. The rest is just details.
Joy to you from a point of singularity! I hope you've enjoyed this series!
Yoga Sutras, meditation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Paramhansa Yogananda, "Autobiography of a Yogi", dualism, nondualism, Shankhya, Yoga, Vedanta, Swami Sri Yukteswar,