Friday, August 21, 2015

Meditation Beyond the Brain!

updated: Sun, 8-23-15

Studying the teachings and life of Lahiri Mahasaya, and the teachings of one of his great disciples, Swami Sri Yukteswar, and finally, their emissary to the West and to the modern age, Paramhansa Yogananda, one encounters a tradition with very ancient roots. The teachings of India are almost impossibly complex and variegated. But here I am speaking more of the breadth and depth of yoga techniques, almost as a subset of the theology and philosophy of India which is known as Sanaatan Dharma. Yoga is the applied spirituality of India. The essential message and purpose of the yogic science was announced at the beginning of Yogananda's public life in America with the publication of his first book, which he called The Science of Religion.

This line of great spiritual teachers, who we view as the greatest of teachers--avatars--represent a tradition that focuses on techniques ("yoga") that utilize subtle aspects of the human body and mind to achieve states of consciousness that exist beyond and independent of the human body, including its nervous system and the brain.

It is no coincidence that scientific studies of the brain and the effects of meditation upon the body and brain are growing exponentially. Looking back we can see that Yogananda and his guru and param guru were tuning into the consciousness of a new age even as they are, simultaneously, carrying on a teaching that is incomprehensibly ancient. Not only carrying on, but clarifying and unwrapping this science from the dustbin of indifference and medieval secrecy. The clarifying aspect includes stripping away, as one who prunes branches from a rose bush or apple tree, techniques, superstitions and non-essential elements from the yogic treasury which had become dusty, hoary, misunderstood, and "overweight."

Science is taking human knowledge and awareness to the very edge of matter and energy: indeed, beyond the fringe of what can be observed, verified, experimented upon and proven. In this, science is beginning to hit a wall beyond which it will find exponentially increasing difficulty to penetrate. I have read, for example, that "string theory," though the current best guess explanation for certain esoteric (to most of us) phenomenon, cannot, the scientists admit, ever be "proven," at least not in the conventional sense we attribute to testing of drugs, rockets, and the human brain.

It is the human mind that is driven by curiosity and thirsting for knowledge. Beyond the edge of matter and energy is a realm of subtlety that can easily be viewed as "mind" or consciousness. At least it has suspiciously similar characteristics. It's like time and space being curved and turning in on itself. We've gone so far in our search for the essence of matter and energy that we find ourselves facing ourselves: the observer of the experiment cannot but effect, even by his expectations, the result of the experiment!!!! And that's not even attempting to describe what we discover out past the fringes of matter and energy.

The mind, seeking ultimate knowledge, finds its Self. Mind turned inward upon observing its Self finds its Self looking into a mirror. Like two mirrors facing each other, the image goes on and on into Infinity.

Yogananda was very much a "bhakti:" a lover of God, especially in the aspect of Divine Mother. Yet, like his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar and like Lahiri Mahasaya, he explored and shared the yoga techniques as a science. A science is something anyone can explore and use and discover the same basic results. In the science of mind, however, the only laboratory is the mind itself and the tools in the lab of consciousness are the human body, the mind, and self-awareness. The mind-body-breath of the yogi scientist must be refined and honed no less precisely than than the calibration of the Hadron Collider or any of the most sophisticated electron microscope or the most esoteric mathematical formulae.

Modern science requires a high degree of education and dedication. Higher education is costly. The tools of science, like the Hadron Collider, costs billions of dollars. Yoga techniques don't require expensive tools but the price of exploration to the edge of discovery is no less in terms of dedication and personal commitment. Just as only a few can be top level, leading edge quantum physicists, so there are but a few yogis who would be masters of the yoga science. As Yogananda's guru put it, "Saints are not produced in batches each semester like accountants." Just as millions of people work in scientific fields (engineering, medicine, research, etc.) so only a handful can be "Einsteins" in their area of expertise.

But that doesn't mean that millions can't benefit from the discoveries of the yogi-scientists, just as millions benefit from the fruits of scientific advances and discoveries. Few of the millions of those now meditating intend to, want to, or even contemplate the existence of highest states of consciousness achieved by advanced yogis and saints. Yet, they benefit in countless ways -- physically, mentally, and spiritually -- from their daily practice.

Scientists are grappling with trying to understand the human brain. Their professional dogmas and their tools dictate that they must look only to what they can see and touch (i.e., the brain) for the source of human thought, emotions, memories and health. And they are right to do so. Even common sense suggests to our minds, whether from the overarching evidence of biological evolution, or from the functions of the human body itself, that the brain produces consciousness and not the other way around. For now, they must even largely ignore the growing body of evidence that consciousness exists outside the brain. That's ok -- for now, and, for their present purposes.

But the yogi-scientists have proved otherwise using their tools and techniques to reach those conclusions. These conclusions -- that consciousness exists outside and independent of the brain -- are just as provable as the experiments of the scientists, provided you use the only tool and method that exists to discover this reality: consciousness itself. This tool needs sophisticated calibration through a strict diet and vibrant healthy lifestyle, a strong moral and ethical code that assists in overcoming narrow self-interest and helps gain mental detachment from the body, the senses, and personality.  It requires wholehearted commitment to the pursuit of a level of consciousness that is ego and body transcendent. It requires one-pointed attention to the details of one's training and the regimen given by one's highly advanced teacher.

Let me digress for a moment. My son, Kashi, recently described a scene (from a movie? I'm not sure.) where three robots were talking to one another. One of them declared something like, "I know that it was I who just said that." Kashi reported that the consensus was that this proved that the robot was self-aware. "Really," I said, "does it?" I believe that most people today, being exposed to the rising rash of robot-awareness but not having thought particularly deeply about AI (artificial intelligence), have yet to make the most basic distinction there is: the distinction between the appearance of consciousness and self-awareness itself.

Just as a drunken person might talk or act but not remember what he said or did, so self-awareness is personal and individual. It cannot be detected or proven outside of itself (meaning by others) unless it takes on the appearance of sentience. Walking, talking, writing, typing, moving, etc. all are signs of life and life suggests some degree of awareness. By mechanical or electronic means (preprogramming), no matter how sophisticated is your imitation of consciousness, the appearance is NOT proof of the reality! Only I can say of myself, I am conscious. Yet saying it doesn't prove it. Only "I" can know it.

A movie may seem lifelike but we know, when watching it, that it is only a movie. And even though we get caught up in the movie, laughing and crying, getting carried by the story, its impact very quickly fades away, just like all the other emotions and thoughts that we, ourselves, have. You see, not even our thoughts and emotions are, themselves, the proof of our self-awareness. They are like leaves on a tree, bright and green for the summer, then fading into Fall and falling away in winter while yet the trunk and roots of the tree remain impervious to outer, superficial change.

Descartes said, "I think therefore I am," and, pardon me, old friend, but it is truer to say "I am conscious, therefore I can think." With our cleverness our robots may be able to imitate life and art and intelligence, but we can NEVER create self-awareness. Great art and ideas descend from a higher level of reality where no form, no logic, no past memory nor merely regurgitated conglomeration of preprogrammed data can be substituted for the flow of intelligent, self-conscious awareness. I say, "I had an idea." This is true, but it is truer to say that an "idea appeared in the mind." It might be a melody, or formula, or a solution to a problem.

What science cannot and presumably will never detect with instruments is that invisibly encoded in the flow of energy which is called many things (say, for now, "Life Force"), similar to DNA, is innate intelligence and the impulse power of intention. (After all, nothing that science can observe or test will ever explain "Why we exist at all.") Like wires inside conduit, or language embedded in a digital cell phone signal, ideas and intelligence exist within the very channel of life's energy from conception to our departure at death. Let me ask you this: "Will robots have "ideas?"

I admit that I don't know where the boundary is in the distant future between biological, human genetic material (sperm and ovum) and human, self-aware life. But I do know that no amount of data or manipulation of data can create inspiration or consciousness.

Returning now to the science of yoga, the yogi-scientist, in addition to the regimen outlined above, uses the breath and the mind as vehicles or highways that can take the human mind back to the place of awareness that transcends the functions of the brain. Life in the human body begins with our first breath and ends with our last breath. It is the most fundamental sign of life and consciousness. (BTW, robots don't breathe!) Wherever life comes from and wherever it may go when it leaves the body, it comes and goes evidenced by and carried upon the back of our breath. In Paramhansa Yogananda's famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," he wrote "The ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness [consciousness beyond the brain] is intimately linked with breath mastery. This is India's unique and deathless contribution to the world's treasury of knowledge."

The brain and nervous system are designed to operate the physical body, to protect, sustain, and defend the body. But these fulfill, for human life at least, a dual role: not only to create and protect the human body, but also, endowed with the power of abstract thought, logic, reason, and memory, to explore and question the very essence and basis of life itself. In the highly developed and advanced potential of the human brain and nervous system, consciousness finds the means, an organ, fit to express and reveal itself as it Self: self-aware and, ultimately, independent of its own vehicle.

Just as most of us cannot survey the heavens above or the intricacies of life within without a sense of awe at the overwhelming power, majesty, intelligence and beauty that cannot but be the motive force behind it all, so too the evolution of life has for its highest purpose, the yogis tell us, the revelation of Self-discovery: a game of divine "hide-n-seek." No matter that this Infinite Consciousness bides its time through incomprehensibly long eons of time and seemingly microscopically slow evolutionary processes, for in the mind of Mind it is all but an idea, a dream: real seeming only to the players in the dream but not to the playwright.

Every night in sleep, the world and our body is whisked away on a magic carpet of subconsciousness. Our troubles are, for a few hours, gone as we sleep in space unmindful of the bag of bones which is our prison. In this prison the bars of bones and walls of flesh prevent us from seeing the blue skies of omnipresence. The yogi learns conscious sleep wherein the alpha brain waves and the theta brain waves are brought into equilibrium between conscious and subconscious states.

For brain transcendence is, like the horizon line at the sea, a thin line between the ocean of subconscious and the sky of the conscious mind. The yogi learns to "escape" through the worm hole that lies thinly between the two. The vehicle that takes him there is the breath. For when the breath can be made to be quieted (by consistency and intensity of yoga practice), the brain functions that tie him to the body are sufficiently quieted that the "escape route" appears.

In conscious freedom from the pounding heart and breath which tie us to the body, the yogi's consciousness can soar and feel a joy that is without sensory or circumstantial conditions. Tasting this frequently and then daily, the yogi gradually achieves control of autonomic functions of the body and eventually this state of consciousness can be retained regardless of outer involvements and activities.

This in brief and narrowly described summary is the science of religion. No use of religious terminology is needed to free us, though it contributes greatly given the fullness of the human character and its need for feeling, inspiration, and self-giving. One cannot aspire or love or be devoted to a merely abstract concept. The effort it takes and hinted at above demand a dedication beyond any form of human self-giving to a cause or person. Love for the guru (as in incarnation of God); love for God as joy or peace; love for God in any sincere and pure, as dedication and commitment and as the willingness to sacrifice all lesser things for the pearl of great is the beginning and bliss is the end.

"Think" beyond the brain; beyond the ego; soar in breathlessness outside of the prison of ego. Think freedom; be free; give your all to the All. Meditation will take us beyond the brain; beyond the body; beyond the ego, and, finally, beyond the mind and perceive objects into pure and infinite Consciousness. No matter how much time; effort (whether mild or intense); how many lives.....for, indeed, God is always with us; God IS us; God is within us, forever.

When does it all end? Yogananda, when asked this question replied, "When we achieve endlessness."

Joy to you in the contemplation of No-thing!

Swami Hrimananda