Showing posts with label Darwin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Darwin. Show all posts

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Search for Meaning: Part 5 (of 7) : Evolution of Consciousness

Part 5 - Evolution of Consciousness

What if, for just a moment, we entertain the possibility that underlying all matter and form is consciousness. What if the evolutionary purpose of creation is to become more conscious, more self aware, and more connected in sympathy and feeling with others? And what if we discover that this does not pose a threat to the impulse to survive and propagate?

Indeed: consider how survival and propagation would fit neatly into the whole idea of reincarnation! If evolution is propelled by the intention of consciousness to take on form and through that form to become gradually more self-aware, then consciousness, so clothed, needs those forms to survive long enough to make progress. Then, in order to continue its evolution when the outer form it has inhabited has run its physical course of life, and after a “nightly” rest, it reincarnates and to do so it needs to find new forms, generally at least slightly more evolved. Indeed, such a possibility has not only been averred for thousands of years by the wise of east and west but this provides the intelligent and purposeful intention behind what otherwise seems a crude, hopeless, and mechanical explanation of life on earth. The cup of life may indeed be half full! (Something to think about, eh, Darwin?) Creation, defined as the cosmos, is “old as the hills,” and the evolution of consciousness is as much a part of it as the evolution of the forms of creation. Why not, then, mightn’t we be as old as time itself?

Just the other day a friend on Facebook shared a YouTube video from “Cosmology and Consciousness Conference” in India last month (Dec 2013) with Bruce Greyson, the speaker, an expert on consciousness beyond the brain. Here’s the link: He has studied numerous cases on reincarnation and other evidence supporting the idea that consciousness exists independent of form.

Any amateur psychologist will admit that the law of cause and effect governs thoughts and emotions just as much as it does chemicals, atoms and electrons! Over the long eons of creation, in this metaphysical view, perhaps as we gradually evolve through stages of mineral, plant, animal and human, we acquire more mobility, increased awareness of our surroundings, more control over our life, and, at last in human form, become self-aware. In super-human (superconscious) awareness, we achieve the Oneness spoken of even thousands of years ago! Achieving thus “Self-realization,” we are free to go (offstage, as it were, into the “bosom of the Lord”).

Instinct presumably guides the more or less automatic evolution of lower life forms towards higher life forms. But at the human level, armed with reason but heavily influenced by past subconscious tendencies, we can evolve upward or downward over time periods too great to even imagine. But intuition gradually awakens us to learn to expand our consciousness such that, as an example, we learn to love for love’s sake alone; to care for others because it is right; because it satisfies a deep need for connection; indeed, for many “reasons.” We simply know certain things about our feelings, consciousness and life. We may not articulate them in philosophical terms; or, we may do so, instead, using religious language. But the knowing is the same, regardless of the explanation employed. The left brain, reasoning mind is unable to critically examine the realm of intuitive knowing because intuition arrives on the doorstep of our awareness complete in itself, satisfied with the finality of its perception. It requires no acceptance and needs no approval. We can of course reject it. If we do so too frequently it will retreat back into silence. We can also, admittedly, misinterpret it or mistake subconscious influences, desires, and biases for true intuition. It takes practice to learn to recognize and trust true intuition.

Intuition knows that I am happier when I am calm, self-controlled, considerate, kind, energetic, and creative and so on. Our ego, by habit or self-assertion, however, wants excitement and stimulation (and to strike out at perceived threats) and then wonders puzzled when it receives the bill in the form of an emotional (or other) hangover or in returned hurts.

All great wisdom traditions acknowledge that the human psyche is engaged in a struggle between its past (and its subconscious) and its true potential in higher consciousness. Do we cling to the goal to “get ours” or do we haltingly and gradually begin to trust our intuition that happiness requires a long-term investment in an expansion of our consciousness?

The infant science we call modern psychology began with the proposal that it was more authentic to devolve in favor of our subconscious habits and to accept that these were our true self. This “solution” has been shown to be false, and worse, for it leads into greater suffering and unhappiness.

It must also be pointed out that the evolution of consciousness is not one of a species or even a group of people, but of each person, each soul, or put another way, individually. The nature of consciousness is such that evolution cannot be imposed upon itself. It awakens to itself and must choose to do so voluntarily AND individually. We call this free will.

Gradually, if we grow in wisdom and self-understanding through life’s ups and downs, we find that our definition of happiness takes us further than the pleasure of the moment and beyond self-gratification. It  expands to include the realities of others (family, friends, community, nation, and world), Even nature conspires to guide us in the direction of expanding awareness and sympathies. The young man falls in love; marries, starts a family, a career, becomes a responsible citizen and, in time, the doting patriarch of the clan. This naturally guided expansion of awareness brings us a satisfaction that the latest Smartphone or promotion cannot offer. Many a soul learns the hard way, later in life, that money can’t buy happiness.

When we take up recycling and donating to “Save the Whales,” clearly our frame of reference and scope of self-identification has expanded beyond our five senses, our immediate egoic interests, and beyond even our lifetime for it includes the welfare and well-being of other people.

Stay tuned for Part 6: God as Consciousness; God as Joy....

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

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Thank You Darwin!

I read once in National Geographic how researchers were analyzing human love and attraction and attempting to show that this, too, was but an outgrowth of our genetically programmed impulse for survival and continuation of the species.

I've never understood all the fuss about the law of survival. It seems so obvious (to anyone perhaps but a scientist) it should never have received tha attention it has garnered.

I suppose some of these "Darwinists" also interpret great works of art and acts of personal self-sacrifice in terms of the law of survival, as well. But the attempts reek of the sterile laboratory of dry, myopic reasoning.

Consider that long before Darwin, Adam Smith published the (then) shocking assertion that self-interest was the motivation behind all human action. Ah, yes,yet another fact of human nature revealed to us that is otherwise so obvious as to never having merited particular attention by people with common sense and a higher vision of life.

And then there's the "pursuit of happiness" enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. Who's to argue with these great "revelations?"

Now all told, none of this is either shocking or blasphemous in its own right. The issue I take with it all is twofold: 1) It's simply and truly inadequate to explain anything meaningful to human existence, and 2) Scientists and nonscientists alike have made bold attempts to make a philosophy of life (and in some cases a religion) out of such pedestrian observations. The modern age seems to have gloried in the most banal realities of human existence.

Returning, then, to Darwin and his army of devotees, we can say that competition and survival have been elevated to the heights of the greatest virtue in social theories, pyschology, politics, and the arts. Both communism and capitalism owe their stark, dark, and banal dogmas to the deification of the mundane realities of self-interest and material needs.

Again, who would argue with obvious fact of competitiveness (and its potential benefits when held in check). It's just that the 19th and 20th centuries which promoted this "philosophy" managed to slaughter hundreds of millions of people, wipe out entire species of animals and plants, and bring this earth rapidly towards potential self-destruction!

In other words, philosophy DOES matter. Social values DO MATTER. The Founding Fathers of America created checks and balances to hold at bay the self-interest that they wisely knew was the engine of human motivation. At the same time, they themselves were guided by and extolled for everyone high ideals of the social good, belief in God and recognition of divine love and virtues.

According to the teaching of duality, however, all things have their opposite. I have noticed that since the Sixties, the science of ecology is reawakening a steadily growing and enlightened self-interest that is the necessary counterweight to competition and materialism. Ecology contains an implicit philosophy of interdependence and places a high value upon mutually supportive diversity. At heart, these are, arguably, spiritual values and, in fact, only to some degree, scientific ones.

Of course, religion ought to offer such insights but science and religion have been at odds for centuries, with religion steadily losing ground and science gaining respect and becoming the religion of modern culture. Religious principles founded on a priori beliefs and sectarian dogmas have earned the disdain of intelligent and high-minded people all over the world.

So, if science is the modern religion then it must needs be science that will save us! And that's where the message of ecology seems to have played a role.

Still, science, whether pedestrian or elevated, cannot satisfy the deeper and eternal questions of humankind, nor can it satisfy the heart. For wisdom, too, Paramhansa Yogananda wrote in his famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," we have a hunger (not just for food and shelter).

This is where and why the life-affirming and all-encompassing ancient Vedanta philsophy of India has encircled the globe offering hope for a better world. Vedanta is incomplete with the knowledge, science, and art of how to attains its cosmic vision of the creation and the purpose of creation.

That art and science is the personal and nonsectarian practice of meditation and Self-realization. Science will never be enough to transform civilization. At every great turn of history, it is the saints and men and women of universal vision who guide humanity away from the rocks of self-destruction towards the shores of true survival.

Blessings, Hriman

P.S. If you'd like to learn more about this subject, please obtain a copy of Swami Kriyananda's (J. Donald Walters) insightful landmark book, "Out of the Labyrinth." It's sequel, equally inspiring and forward looking, is "Hope for a Better World."