Friday, December 30, 2011

Einstein meets Patanjali

Einstein meets Patanjali
And asks, “Who Am I?”

The new year of 2012 is upon us and in combination with the holy season of Christmas or, if you prefer, Winter Solstice it is a time for reflection over the past year (or life), and a re-setting of priorities.

History, science and metaphysics offer such a vast and grand view of the creation and evolution that we, as individuals, can only appear as insignificant. Imagine every 100 years hardly a trace remains of the human race which once reveled, cried, fought, rejoiced, aged, and finally past from sight. Within hours of one’s death in a retirement facility your belongings can be boxed up, emptied, delivered to the dumpster or thrift store, and nothing left of your life remains.

You can take a collection of newspapers from any decade in the last century and re-arrange the headlines and article titles and re-create tomorrow’s news. It’s all basically the same stuff.

That’s a pretty depressing assessment of our lives. Yet for all the “facts” assembled here, we aren’t depressed for we don’t live our lives from that perspective. We are in the middle of our own universe.
But are we being real or are we hiding our hands in the endless sands of delusion? Perhaps we, too, need some way to expand our self-identity to embrace the vastness which is the greater reality in which we live?

But how? Traditional beliefs that say God is in the heaven above, looking down upon us, sometimes answering our pleadings, but always judging our actions, and then when the play is over we get our just desserts. End of story. This “guy” must be like some cosmic but petty traffic cop or like a child playing with toy soldiers arranging them in various battle formations, blowing them up, moving them around. This is hardly a satisfying view nor does it bear any resemblance the view of the cosmos our science provides.

My teacher, Swami Kriyananda, in his book, “Out of the Labyrinth,” (also in his guide to meditation, "Awaken to Superconsciousness") asks this question: “Either nothing is conscious, or everything is conscious.” I have puzzled over this because it omits all the possibilities in between. But his statement is in context of the modern view of evolution and biology, namely, that consciousness is produced by the electrical and chemical responses in the brain to sense stimuli. The argument of materialism is that consciousness is the product of matter’s evolution and response to its environment.

Metaphysics says the opposite: that matter is the product of consciousness, or put another way, matter is the product of a conscious intention, and that, therefore, all created things possess some level of consciousness. Hard to prove this in the case of rocks and minerals, gases and lower life forms.

Kriyananda’s response to his own question includes the statement that, to the effect, it is an interesting question given our interest in it. I think what he is saying that insofar as it we who are asking the question of “What is consciousness,” the very question answers itself in that to even ask such an abstract question is to prove the independence of consciousness from matter. A clever response to be sure and not an easy one to grasp, a bit like a funny joke where you know it’s funny but you can’t quite explain it.

To be fair to the poor old struggling evolutionary biologists, we can’t deny the contribution of the human brain and nervous system to the human ability to ask impossibly abstract questions! (I’ve heard that someone was found who was very much alive but didn’t have a brain, or at least important parts of it.) So far as we can tell, even our closest animal relatives don’t ask these questions. We seem to be alone in that department of living things. There’s no point in denying the incredible “mechanism” of the human body, brain, and nervous system.

And rocks really don’t seem very conscious even if arguably they “behave” like rocks and thus conform to their own kind of intelligence and action-plan. Some are extraordinarily beautiful and suggestive of art and meaning. Others, like crystal, have attributes that go way beyond ordinary garden rocks (like the difference between gifted humans and the larger quantity of “clods” that hang around this planet).

Metals and plants have been shown to have responses analogous to emotions and fatigue. I think of the initial work by the great Indian scientist, J.C. Bose, followed by others around the world showing the same cross-over towards consciousness.

There’s a bumper sticker cliché running around (yes — bumpers) that says “The only way out is in!” The bridge between our human experience in the body and the outer and vast world of this universe is, in fact, our consciousness. It is our awareness that makes it possible for us to survey the universe and notice that our bodies (size, shape, power, length of life) are hopelessly insignificant.

The measure of value is not in conquest, space, time, brute force, longevity, or knowledge of the natural world. If we behave insignificantly, then to that degree we are. This is to say that if we take for our reality that all we are is this short-lived, disease-prone, and death-bound higher animal that lives for palate, pleasure, and position only to see all three evaporate, well then we have condemned only ourselves.

Through imagination we can travel back or forward in time or to worlds hitherto unseen. This mind that we possess is what links us to all life. To view the cosmos and see the hand of a vast and benign intelligence and to seek to contact this Mind is what elevates us above being mere objects limited by time, space, weight, and shape.

We can approach this Mind in many ways: we can expand our Mind to include the welfare of others and of life around us; we can go “within” to contact this cosmic Mind directly; we can seek the company and wisdom of others who have gone before us and can show us the way; or, we can strip from our own mind the self-limiting, instinct bound self-affirmations of the body-bound ego.

The mind as we experience it carries on the ages old tendency of constant movement as if in unceasing warfare of self-defense or self-gratification. Only as we awaken to our higher potential do we begin slowly to begin to gain control of this instinctual functioning which is tied to the body, tissues, organs and its preservation.

Those who pursue with deep dedication the arts, the sciences, service to humanity, self-forgetfulness, or God alone begin to re-direct the mind’s lower tendencies to increasingly abstract or self-forgetful realms of awareness. Only when all outward objects or goals fall away and we direct our consciousness in upon itself does the fusion of knower, knowing, and known smash the atom of ego and release an incredible and life transforming expansion of consciousness towards the limitless horizon of infinity.

Einstein’s famous formula suggests that as an object approaches the speed of light its mass grows towards infinity. Well, he said it well. Of course we are not speaking of the mass of our human body, but of our consciousness. Einstein’s formula couldn’t be applied literally to matter, anyway. But that doesn’t make it invalid, only suggestive of truth that perhaps he, himself, did not cognize.

When he posited light as the only constant in the universe here, too, he touched the hem of consciousness and stated a principle that he may not have grasped at least in its metaphysical aspects.

All great saints speak of God manifesting as light and the voice of God as a sound of many waters, or as thunder. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the author describes as clinically as any Einstein the elements of consciousness as it pursues itself down the corridors of creation’s elemental stages.

At the dawn of a new year, therefore, don’t spend another year merely pursuing comforts, running from troubles, and looking forward to nothing more significant than a cup of tea, a Friday night movie, or getting to bed early. You have been born to “know Thy Self.” Meditation science has come that we might know the “truth that shall make you free!”

Nayaswami Hriman