Showing posts with label Dualism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dualism. Show all posts

Monday, January 9, 2017

Yoga Sutras, Dualism, Shankhya, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Mind over Brain!

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!

Swami Hrimananda

Yoga Sutras, meditation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Paramhansa Yogananda, "Autobiography of a Yogi", dualism, nondualism, Shankhya, Yoga, Vedanta, Swami Sri Yukteswar,

Monday, August 12, 2013

Is it unnecessary to follow a particular spiritual path?

Recently, I assisted with the planning towards offering a specially designed meditation support group for those in the "recovery" movement. The eleventh (of the now well known "Twelve Steps") step in the recovery process is prayer and meditation. So, we figured, since Ananda has much to offer in regards to both, why not offer such support to others?

The first question that arose, however, was "Wouldn't it be more acceptable to more people if what we offered drew upon a variety of universally acceptable prayer and meditation sources (and not just Ananda's)?

I had to admit that such was likely to be the case. The further statement to the question was the assumption that by only offering what Ananda had to share we'd be seen as promoting our own way, indeed, perhaps proselytizing. I had to admit, again, that, well, yes, some would certainly view it that way.

My musings here are not really about how best to format the meditation support group. In that particular instance, I had several, not entirely irrelevant, objections: 1. What we would offer would be universal and not particular; 2. The mere fact that we would draw on Ananda sources doesn't, in and of itself, make it self-promoting. 3. Self-promoting is an aspect of both intention and delivery and in this case there was to be neither. 4. What we have to offer is effective and helpful to people. There is nothing lacking in it and there is no need, therefore, from the standpoint of the goal of the support group to seek out other sources. 5. The public service we wanted to offer is not merely the use of our physical space but to share something valuable that we have to share.

I admit that to many people these distinctions are just too subtle and human nature too suspicious to carry the day against the objections raised above. I figure, well, ok, then if fewer come and fewer therefore benefit, that's their choice. Why should we dilute what we have when we know it is effective and offered in good faith?

In my last blog article I explored the question of whether heretofore "secret" teachings and techniques should be made free (or mostly free) and public. Is to do so to "throw pearls before swine?" Is there any harm done? For those exposed to sacred teachings who spurn them because not spiritually ready, such persons may, karmically and psychologically, defer their own acceptance for having rejected them. Aren't material objects which are considered precious generally costly, scarce or otherwise difficult to obtain?

Still, one could also argue that more people will have access and therefore, following the spiritual lottery odds given to us in the "Bhagavad Gita" by Lord Krishna, "out of a thousand, one seeks Me."

My conclusion in that blog article was not a call for secrecy but a reminder that what makes such teachings and techniques precious is that one must have, by self-effort and grace, have advanced sufficiently spiritually and sensitively to recognize their value and to plumb their depths through discipline, self-control and devotion.

So, now, what then, is best? A synthesis of yoga techniques and philosophies or a singular lineage and spiritual path? I say, "There's something for everyone." When searching it is useful to explore different traditions and teachers. To draw the best from each and incorporate it into one's "sadhana" (spiritual practices) can be helpful.

But how many frogs does one kiss before finding a prince? There is, so I believe and believe I have observed in others, a restlessness and dissatisfaction in a concatenation of disciplines and methods. It is not uncommon, when yoga practitioners of different lineages assemble together, to feel a different "vibration" in another tradition, even when outwardly very similar (practicing meditation and yoga, e.g.)

There's another point however. This must be either experienced by oneself or observed sensitively in others. When one approaches spiritual disciplines like a smorgasbord, the ego engages in a "like and dislike" weighing and comparing attitude. The sense of personal ownership and "doership" is increased, not lessened. It is an axiom of spirituality that ego transcendence is an integral part of the path to the goal. "I have chosen this technique, that method, this book or teacher" to satisfy "What I think is right for me!" The resulting direction of consciousness is opposite to that of the soul, which is surrender, self-giving, devotional and so on. There is, further, a tendency toward pride over having learned or studied all these different philosophies or techniques, or having studied under this teacher or that. It may even be the ego's excuse to remain "above it all" (meaning above a personal commitment to ego transcendence) -- best to study everything, you see.

Yes, the ego does have to make decisions, spiritually and otherwise. Those decisions, however, which incline one towards ego transcendence will advance the soul toward freedom ("moksha") faster. As I stated in the prior blog, there is no one "right" yoga practice or meditation technique. What is right is that which brings you toward soul freedom!

This idea leads one naturally, indeed, inexorably to the need for the guru. But I have written on that subject in numerous other blogs. Suffice to say that anyone who sincerely and with energy seeks spiritual freedom, such a one will be guided to those teachers, teachings, and techniques best suited to his own unique and individual path to God.

The simple fact is this: in the practice of yoga and meditation today (and, let's face it, in the multitudinous practices of religion and spirituality generally throughout the world), most seek something far less. In yoga, it's often health, inner peace, well-being, muscle tone, stress relief and so on. For students of philosophy there are just never enough time to read all those cool books. For others, there's always a newer and more popular teacher coming to town. Even for the vast majority of devotees (those who undertake yoga disciplines, prayer, or charitable service for spiritual growth or to do God's work), we are working out karma: we feel better living this way; we feel compassion for others; we want to give back; and sometimes it's less ennobling, as, for example, we engage in practices because we are expected to, or otherwise for approval and recognition.

You see, and now I get to the meat of things, we have this deeply embedded tendency to mistake the form for the spirit (behind the form). Thus, we get attached to doing yoga; or meditating; or reading and learning; doing charitable work; or going to church on Sunday. We mistake the outer act (even meditation performed mechanically is a kind of outer work) for the presence of God, or joy, or upliftment. We too often settle for the outer act because we know we can't control when the "spirit will move and come upon me." And, of course, we should never so presume.

Thus we think that if we can learn dozens of yoga poses or meditation techniques we will be better at yoga or meditation. Little do we realize how little it takes; or, put more intelligently, that it's the attitude and consciousness with which we pray, meditate, or stretch that awakens the Spirit within. When, far along our spiritual journey, we realize that "joy is within you," (Ananda's motto), and that spiritual growth is not a matter of accumulating more techniques, or reading more books, and that it is, after all, really simple, then we let go of our "romance with religion" (its outer trappings), and seek, as one great modern saint was apt to counsel, "God alone."

I'm not saying we throw the "baby out with the bath water." I'm saying that we realize that one, true path, one true teacher, one effective technique is sufficient in regards outer practices and that what we really need is attunement with divine realities. And this is where it gets "good." Good because so subtle. Good because God, being the Infinite Power, the Supreme Spirit, has no form; no name; all forms; all names! It's just too confusing. Monism? Dualism? Where to start? Where does it end?

Are you ready, yet, for a guru? Ok, later, then. Nonetheless, my point is that, using the analogy of human love, we don't need five wives or husbands: we need only one if we want to know what the potential of human love might be. And so it is with God. Being everywhere (and nowhere), we don't need to "kiss every frog." Rather, simplicity of outer practice; purity of heart; selfless hands in service; and devotion to the Supreme Spirit (in whatever form is your "Ishta devata" -- that which inspires you to seek Truth and Freedom).

It would not be my intention to discourage you if you are enthusiastically engaged in learning and practicing (or teaching) yoga, meditation, or other worthy spiritual practices. Energetic engagement of will towards and for Good is necessary for the refinement of our consciousness and nervous system, and the purification of our karma and dross.

Further, there are those whose syncretic methods are helpful to them, and, if they are teachers, perhaps helpful for others. I maintain, however, as stated above, that this a phase one goes through. A necessary phase for some, to be sure, but a phase nonetheless. I object to what is sometimes the pride and even arrogance with which some syncretic teachers and students look down upon those poor slobs "stuck" in one path or lineage. But, well, I have spoken above of the drawbacks to this form of "fast lane" eclecticism.

Nonetheless, I hope some of distinctions made here can be helpful. For, very often, given the tendency toward sectarian rivalry with which spirituality and religion is too often a victim, a sincere person hesitates to make the plunge toward a singular path, leaving behind the garden of syncretic delights (like leaving behind dating in order to marry).

No step, taken sincerely and intelligently, with energy and faith, toward God, toward Truth, can ever lead us astray. Lessons we may have yet to learn, to be sure, but if we take one step toward God, Spirit takes two toward us. As we increase in purity, wisdom, and energy our path to God will surely lead us home.

There is no God, but God. There is no good, but God. There is no Thing, but God.

Peace! Shalom! Shanti!

Nayaswami Hriman