Showing posts with label science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science. Show all posts

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Mind: the Last Frontier

{Note: In a class series given by me and my wife, Padma, at the Ananda Meditation Temple near Seattle, WA, we've been exploring a revolutionary view of human history from the book "The Yugas," by Joseph Selbie and David Steinmetz--Crystal Clarity, Publishers. This article and the one or two which may follow it, are inspired by that book, even if the subject here is seemingly unrelated to it.)

Since the age of exploration in the 16th century to the present, humanity’s main focus has been to scale the heights, the depths, the remotest reaches of earth and ocean, and to soar into space. We have split the atom and are busy seeking the answers to the source and nature of matter and energy.

What we have distinctly set aside into a backwater of cultural and investigative interest is the exploration of the human mind. Psychology is one of the newest sciences, having begun as a science late in the 19th century. It hasn’t made much progress, at least to “my mind,” in comparison to the research and development of science of mind researchers in ancient times in India and other such civilizations.

To the extent our culture has shown an interest in consciousness, it has taken the form natural to our modern sciences: an interest in the brain. While certainly helpful and interesting and while admittedly productive of research into the science of meditation, it remains body-bound, interested in and relating to the human body and nervous system. It has carefully avoided anything that cannot be measured by its machines or circumscribed by ascertainable behavior patterns.

Perhaps Descartes was the last to speak of the mind in existential terms when he declared (however incorrectly), “I think, therefore I AM.” In fairness to the old buster, I suppose he may have meant something more akin to “I am self-aware and thus experience myself as an object (distinct from other objects, including people).” Maybe the English translation is lousy, I don’t know. But even a high schooler would probably catch Descartes’ error: “I AM (self-aware), therefore I can think.”

So far as my ignorance can admit, that was the last we heard of the mind (vs the brain). Ok, so the existentialists had a go at it, along with their (mostly German) predecessors. But all that nonsense about reality largely sidesteps the mind itself. Most of them, so far as my jaded college memory is concerned, seemed to assume that their reason would bring to light whatever truth there was to be found. If they could reason it out clearly, they seemed to believe they were on to something real. While I am sure some of them had doubts about how far their efforts could go in establishing reality, it is my belief that they at least hoped that reason would suffice to discover reality.

Their only real tool, after all, was reason and the age in which they lived has its roots going back to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and was deeply committed to the recent so-called Age of Reason and the Age of Enlightenment (and the age of unceasing progress). Everyone, and certainly such deep thinkers, draws on intuition but they and our culture are largely unaware and lacking the credible tools and confidence with which to explore the subtler regions of the intuitive mind.

Developments in research and growing acceptance of evidence of reincarnation and near-death experiences, together with documented cases of children being born “without brains,” is beginning to make inroads into the fortresses of Reason and Matter.

The bible of consciousness that we’ve inherited from a long-ago age is the Yoga Sutras whose authorship is attributed to one “Patanjali” about which little to nothing is known. The date of his now famous treatise is only vaguely established somewhere between the first and fifth century BCE. It is widely believed NOT to be an original composition but a synthesis or summary of teachings handed down from ancient times.

The context and purpose of these “sutras” (aphorisms) are to detail a description of the journey of the ego-mind-body towards a state of Being which gives liberation from suffering, freedom from the existential and gnawing perception of our separateness, and freedom from identification with and dependence upon corporeal  existence or even subtle states of thought or feeling entirely.

The aphorisms claim that consciousness exists independent of the body or of any form and that, inhabiting the human body, its deepest yearning is to extricate itself from the hypnosis that the body, the senses, and the material (and subtle) world is the summum bonum of existence.

It is not a claim that would labeled as solipsism: the idea that the world is my own, subjective creation. Rather, the Sutras provide a roadmap to stilling the oscillations of the sense and body-bound mind (including feelings and actions) in order to perceive, rest in, and become the indwelling, eternal, unchanging and pure Consciousness which is the true Self and the Creator of all things, whether gross or subtle. In this reunion of individual consciousness with infinite consciousness, called “yoga,” the mind achieves perfect happiness or bliss. When the Self can sustain this state unbrokenly it need not be touched by any forays it may make into inhabiting a body or in traversing the worlds of matter, movement or thought.

Getting back to the last frontier of the mind, we are saying that this level of reality is independent and untouched by material objects, electrical (gross and subtle) energies, thoughts, emotions, memories, sleep, blankness and all other temporary states of being or sense objects.

The mind as seen from this vantage point of Oneness cannot be subjected to laboratory experiments using even sensitive machines. Yes, it’s true that brain waves and related electromagnetic emanations are measurable and are proven to be associated with different states of consciousness, but these measurements are not substitutes for those states nor can they define them, except by what few behavioral characteristics might be identifiable (heart rate and so on). It is presumably true that a person, for example, who habitually accesses deep states of meditation may be shown to be relatively free from anger, stress, or egotism, and may be shown to be more kind, compassionate and creative, but those are consequences not causes. They cannot substitute for the individual’s personal experiences of those states of mind.

These states of higher mind are not, by the measurement of individual experience, merely subjective, nor are they hallucinatory or mental projections or affirmations. They are not subjective because those who can achieve such states will show similar behavioral patterns as those described above. They are not inherently projections of the mind  or hallucinatory because those who do so are consistently found to be out of touch with day to day reality whereas subjects who achieve true states of higher consciousness are demonstrably more competent, creative, and balanced in outward behavior and attitudes.

The average person makes but rare distinction between his opinion (including emotional responses) and reality. If I feel a person is dishonest, I remain committed to that as a fact even if I have no proof. If I instinctively dislike someone, I find fault with this person readily. The opposite Is true for those whom I like. Making the distinction between reality and my perception of reality is a rare, or all too uncommon, fact of the behavior of most human beings. You can see this in high drama and profile in political or religious beliefs, or in racial or other stereotypical prejudices. Likes and dislikes in food, weather, fashion or morals are seen as subjective, irrational, or lacking in objectivity.

In the next blog, we will distill some of the levels of awareness that the Yoga Sutras reveal. From that we will offer suggestions for mindfulness and meditation that can help strip away the sheaths and layers of mental activity in order to achieve states of pure Self-awareness.

May the light of wisdom shine upon your mind, may the fragrance of truth exude from the flower of your receptive heart, and may your every action emanate waves of peace and charity to all,

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Search for Meaning - Part 2 (of 7) - What, then, is Happiness?

Part 2 - What, then, is Happiness?

If scientists, materialists or scoffers were more self-honest, they’d simply have to admit that these questions are outside the scope of their inquiry or their personal interest. Just about any “man on the street” can supply the most obvious answer to the purpose of life: we want to enjoy life and to perpetuate that enjoyment. It’s happiness we seek, silly! Most men and women, looking at life’s wonders, mystery, complexity, order, and beauty, see that the cosmos is veritably bursting with intelligence. The observant and aware human experience is sufficient to tip the odds strongly in favor of creation being both a product of, and directed toward increased awareness of, Consciousness, Intention, and Purpose! Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, was in awe of the universe and saw beauty and intelligence where other more pedestrian observers see how to make better bombs or grow food more profitably.

Most weekend-Darwinists would fall into the trap of admitting that mere existence isn’t enough, at least not for them personally! “Sure, I wouldn’t want to be in a coma or paralyzed for life. I’d want to enjoy life!” In any case, they can’t help but allow a higher purpose to enter which I will call simply, happiness. Right there they’ve forfeited the match by admitting to something, “happiness,” that cannot be defined and that constitutes a non-material reality -- in fact, a reality which is a product solely of consciousness and feeling! Bingo, ‘ol boy! I think I’ve just won!

And if you’d be tempted to say that happiness is the result of material satisfactions (home, hearth, money, pleasure, success, etc.) I would counter with the well established fact that the human experience discloses ample examples of people under the most harrowing conditions of pain, suffering or lack experiencing happiness (in the form of joy, contentment, and focus) like the full moon appearing in the sky, untouched in its beauty by earth bound devastation. The potential for human consciousness to transcend seemingly impossible physical conditions can never be circumscribed. Score one for metaphysics, I say!

You might still object by saying that desiring happiness (in any form) doesn’t make life necessarily meaningful, just purposeful? Hmmmm, hair splitting, are we? Even a scientist would say you have to limit your inquiries to what you know and can test. The meaning of life isn’t likely to found in a rock or in outer space. The very inquiry suggests consciousness & intelligence and, besides, intelligent or not, it is we who are asking the question, not the rocks or the whales. So we must be the measure of the response and the inquiry into whether and what is happiness and whether our pursuit of it is meaningful!

In any case, to admit happiness into the discussion is certainly a crack in the materialistic egg of strict Darwinism. You might object that seeking happiness doesn’t answer the question for the lower life forms and their respective stages of evolution. Hmmm, I would say, really? Are not earthworms and plants “happy” if they get sustenance and favorable conditions for living? Well, ok, we can’t say for sure they are “happy,” but as their simple needs are more fulfilled they are at least, well, “more fulfilled!” It’s at least as good as your survival of the fittest theory, I’d say. It supplies at least a motive, as it were, for their compelling interest to survive. Survival for its own sake has no logical explanation by itself without the squishy appearance of consciousness and feeling. A kind of primordial, “What’s in it for me?”

I will admit that we have yet to grapple with what is happiness. For one question that remains is not so much why we want to be happy (that is intuitively and innately self-evident even if beyond logic and reason), but what parameters foster this happiness. A murderer might imagine (presumably does) that killing his enemy will make him happier in ridding his life of some terrible pestilence. But remorse and regret may set in, afterwards, or the hangman’s noose, descend. Either way the happiness achieved by the murderer may be fleeting, at best. But, let’s explore the nature of happiness in another section.

Positing that happiness is the goal and purpose of life isn’t all that much of a threat to anyone, now that we’ve dismissed the Darwinists from the room, that is. It’s the atheists and the agnostics who are now left standing, quietly muttering to each other and suspicious of what’s to come next.

Our AA friends (agnostics and atheists) are suspicious because once you introduce meaning or happiness into life, then a higher octave than material fulfillments of the law of cause and effect is admitted into the conversation. The causes of achieving meaning are as insubstantial and lacking materiality as meaning and happiness itself. A metaphysical truth can only be dismissed when one lives comfortably, if narrowly, under the umbrella of materialistic, present life realities.

Right now, however, these baddies think that the meaning of life is to “get mine” and the only cause and effect they care about is how to cause mine to be got. Now I admit that some of ‘em are actually really nice people who love whales, pets, lovers and mothers. They just don’t cotton to that God thing. We’ll call this a sub-group of AA’ers, humanists.

You see: all of these people, nice or not, are wedded to the idea that the only realities worthy of note are the ones that they are interested in. Such realities are likely to be things they can see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. The idea of a broader, intangible reality is, for them, dismissible on the grounds of “Frankly, I’m not interested.” Even the billions of galaxies or the bad things that live under their fingernails are generally of little interest to this group of people. Maybe they love puppies or buy organic produce, but these they can touch.

Is there a way to bridge the happiness motivation into something less subjective? Can “God” enter the picture through the backdoor of happiness? Let’s wait and see….stay tuned for Part 3 – Consciousness, God & Intuition

Saturday, September 14, 2013

How Science Has Contributed to Spirituality!

For those of who you are "among the faithful, in the choir," these reflections are not for you. On the other hand, if you sometimes despair or at least feel frustrated by the scoffers who surround you, maybe here you can pick up a few tantalizing tidbits to use during "Happy Hour" over tea or at the breakfast table, or water cooler.

Put aside religion, now, for a moment. Put aside devotion, rituals, gurus, saviors, the Blessed Virgin (yes, there's only one left), etc. etc.

I'm not a student of science. I flunked high school physics (well, ok, I passed, but only on the curve). I find it difficult to change the oil in my car. Tires, well, no problem, but there I stop.

I remember the day that I realized that even my parents were now recycling paper, glass, and aluminum. Wow, I thought. This is like the 100th monkey. It's happening.

Somewhere between Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein, science, based on the simple credo of observation, measurement and experimentation, has revealed to us a world far stranger than fiction. String theory? Hey, they admit there will never be a proof! Billions of galaxies? Can't go there....too big. How many light years to the nearest star? What do you mean my body is mostly space? In the now outdated book, "Holographic Universe," the author avers that scientists contend that in a cubic foot of empty space is more latent energy than in the calculated mass of the entire universe. Gee, did I get that wrong? Re-read it!

I am not the first, no, on reflection, I'm the last.....person to note that science looks more like a page out of the hoary Vedas than it does resemble test tubes in a laboratory.

Albert Einstein's revelation (and it is nothing less than) that matter is the same as and has as its underlying reality ENERGY has broken down all barriers of caste, creed, race, gender, animate, inanimate and everything else in between. While some 20th century commentators at first grasped one end of the conclusive spectrum in saying that this means that nothing is real; nothing matters; it's all relative to what you want; it's all random, only electrical impulses bouncing around your what you like; do what feels good.......

More thoughtful common taters have come to say that, ok, if there's no "there, there," no center of the universe, no intrinsic purpose for life "out there," maybe the real purpose and meaning of it all is within each and every one of us! If the universe is giant electro-magnetic and energetically pulsating machine, who's running it? If energy underlies matter, maybe consciousness (intention, awareness, purpose) underlies energy!

Only a real nerd can learn about the universe, the human body, human history, and human psychology and the heights and the depths of human behavior and say, "It is meaningless." The abiding order, beauty, power, and intelligence exhibited in nature and in the most exalted aspirations and achievements of humankind can only suggest to an intelligent and sensitive consciousness the existence of an equal, and indeed, grander Intelligence and Beneficence.

Yes, there exists evil and suffering and darkness. If that were the sum total of reality, than, well, surely is meaningless. That there are courageous souls who have stepped up the plate of self-sacrifice, valor, compassion and inner peace shows that goodness also exists. From where? Why?

Ecological science has opened the eyes not only of my parents but of billions of souls to the intrinsic interdependence of all life: human, animal, plant and all the way down to one-celled and lower. What an incredible vision and view of life!

Coming in sideways, as it were, rushing our shores like a defensive line in football, comes Vedanta saying that "Life is One and Eternal. Realize Oneness with it in your deathless Self within!" Connect, then, the dots of ancient wisdom with modern scientific revelation.

Science is a tool of divine consciousness. Though giving us materialism and weapons of mass destruction, it has also shown us our equality and interdependence before the altar of nature. Spirit and Nature, working hand in hand!

Paramhansa Yogananda predicted that east and west will meet and the best of each would lead the world towards a greater truth. It is happening. Haltingly, for sure. but inexorably, like a silent tsunami.

Say then at your tea party: "Hasn't science shown us that we are One? That we need to co-exist, to cooperate and then we can achieve more prosperity, health, security and happiness than if we compete and conquer? The sages of yore have whispered in our ear eternal truths cloaked in the rational language of our god: the scientific method and attitude. What is true must be true for all!

Hari Bol!

Blessings to you through God and Guru!

Nayaswami Hriman, aka Swami Hrimananda!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Is Atheism Practical? Unsound?

Is Atheism Practical? Unsound?

[[ERRATA]] : My apologies: I mixed two quotes from Martin Luther King in my original blog. It was violence that he described as "immoral." In a paper he wrote in 1950 he described atheism as shown below.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described atheism as both “philosophically unsound and impractical.” 

Agnosticism I can relate to, at least on the basis that an honest (if simplistic) assessment of human realities can find no sensory evidence of the Deity. To say, therefore, “I don’t know” is to leave open the possibility rather than to join the ranks of dogmatists, both atheists and religionists in hotly declaring a belief or nonbelief in a reality that neither can prove nor disprove to the other.

My impression of at least some self-declared atheists is that they object to the depiction of a personal and vindictive God foisted on us by dyed-in-the-wool believers. If you can re-direct the atheist’s attention to the beauties of nature, the vastness and awe-inspiring complexities and antiquity of creation, the gift of human love, charity, and self-sacrifice, you will sometimes find a closet deist who worships the Unseen Hand by another name or form. I don’t mean to paint all atheists with the same brush, but in my experience this depiction describes some, perhaps many — those aghast or traumatized by the atrocities or hypocrisy of orthodox religionists.

Science may be devoid of faith or feeling but scientists are not. Too many are the Deist reflections of Albert Einstein, for example, for anyone to insist that the greatest scientists lack feeling, reverence or awe in contemplation of the mysteries of life and the natural world.

Paramhansa Yogananda, renowned author of “Autobiography of a Yogi,” came to live in the United States from India in 1920. He admired the material progress, genius, and good works of western scientists and, as if applying their methods to solving the riddle of human existence, asked for what purpose are we impelled to survive? That we seek to survive is far too obvious to question. But why? What is it we seek? And by what means do we find success and by what means do we fail? His inquiry into the mystery of our existence proceeded, like that of men and women of science, from observation and measurement, not from a priori declarations of absolute or revealed truth.

The ancient Greek sages averred that man’s highest duty is “To know thyself.” One such sage, Protagoras, shocked his contemporaries with the statement that “Man is the measure of all things.” In modern times the well known Indian sage of Arunachala hill, Ramana Maharshi, advised seekers to ask, “Who am I?”

If science teaches us that the universe is both incomprehensibly vast and yet without any known center or direction, we have seemingly two choices for humanity: we are either nothing (and life therefore is without meaning), or, we are, indeed, the “measure of all things.” This latter direction has, itself, two directions: I can join with the ranks of twentieth century existentialists in declaring that my ego is the center of the universe and my desires and impulses are the sole measure of truth for me; or, I can go in the direction of Jesus Christ and the Yogi-Christs of India when Jesus declared, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.”

At this point in human history we’ve yet to find life forms such as ourselves from other planets but given the estimate of 200 billion galaxies, I must supposed that the odds are greater than 100% that they must exist. 

But inasmuch as that inquiry must remain, for now, only speculative, let us turn to the human experience, then, for our inquiry.

The ancient scriptures of India admit that “God cannot be proved.” So, let us also take from them this admission and follow Jesus’ advice and Yogananda’s line of inquiry for the Holy Grail.

Yogananda started with the observation that what all men seek is happiness. Pleasure, yes, too, but that is easily experienced as fleeting and even counterproductive to lasting happiness as sensory indulgence, unless held in check, can destroy health and happiness. Held even in check, pleasure, moreover, is fleeting and even in its midst a reflective person feels its unreality (because based in perception and anticipation) and its limited span of fulfillment. Observation of human pleasure reveals that its pursuit can be addictive and overtake the good judgment, common sense, and human values of its votaries. Disease, harmful emotions, and premature aging await those who fall victim to the pursuit of pleasure as the summum bonum of life’s existence.

Human happiness is usually sought and seen in human love, cherished family ties, financial success and security, prestige, position, fame, talent, or beauty. But these are like prostitutes: loyal to no one. Observation of the facts easily discloses that those who achieve one or more such pinnacles of human happiness too often find the summit to be cold, windy, desolate, dull, fleeting or elusive. At the top there is nowhere to go but down and furiously scrambling up the mountain sides just below you are hordes of competitors and unseen snipers of  death, disease, or betrayal lurking in the shadows below.

None of these easily observable realities and shortcomings of pleasure or human happiness seem to deter the billions of human beings on this planet from seeking their elusive gains. Perhaps it is lack of wisdom, lack of refinement of feeling, lack of the knowledge of a viable alternative or the hypnosis of the allure of these achievements that blind mankind to our own greater potential for true happiness.

Never mind the question of how did this all come about and why. Never mind the fact that the created universe veritably shouts the existence of an overarching Intelligence and Purpose and that the odds of all of this coming into existence randomly is patently absurd, or that the question of the existence of Consciousness belies our very inquiry into it.

Each person can experiment as scientifically as the armies of white lab-coated technicians and their test tubes on what brings them true, lasting and satisfying happiness and contentment. Never mind the cosmos, for now. It seems to get along fine without us.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “Nonviolence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law — to the strength of the spirit.”

It is not difficult to discover for oneself that a selfish life is shortsighted and brings unhappiness and pain. An unselfish life, applied with common sense and balance, brings harmony and satisfaction. Heroes show themselves willing to give their lives that others may live free. Humanitarians, great leaders and reformers, and saints in all lands show that the way to inner peace and contentment is to live for high ideals and for the greatest good of all. The calm, inward gaze away from material objects and toward the intangible but life sustaining gifts of wisdom, compassion, creativity, selflessness, and devotion to the Creator are proof positive against the ceaseless flux of changing customs, conquerors, disease, war, and hatred.

Life goes on, as Gandhi and King would often put it, and proves that death, disease, and destruction cannot prevail.

How do these self-discoveries relate, then, to the existence of God? Take the journey and see for yourself. 

But along the way consider those whose lives you are following in your experiments with truth (living an unselfish life). What do these heroes and heroines say?

If what the great ones teach us is so obvious, why do so few take the higher path? The higher path requires climbing the mountain and going through the brambles of habit, upbringing, and the ego’s insistence that the body and personality must be satisfied first lest by unselfishness they suffer. And suffer they will, if we listen to them.

Moreover, the selfish life also calls to us, both from our dark past and from the sheer magnetism and allure of its fleeting or dark satisfactions. The great scourge of human happiness is addiction to sense satisfactions, enabled and empowered especially by the power of wealth, possessions, and influence.

The take up of the high road requires the give up of the easy, but descending path, toward the jungle of survival of the fittest ego and towards the swamp of mortal death, disease, and old age. To one whose gaze is fixed upon the greater reality and good of all life, the mortality and frailty of the human body and insecure ego are but universal realities  that we are challenged to “get over it.”

To paraphrase Paramhansa Yogananda and a vision he had of Divine Mother, “Dance of life and dance of death, know that these come from Me.” Fear not for they have no lasting reality for Spirit to Spirit goes, unfettered by matter’s ceaseless flux from form to energy and energy back to form.

Let us return then to Martin Luther King, Jr. and his labeling of atheism as unsound and impractical. I cannot claim to know his thoughts in this statement, but I believe his thoughts derive from the loss of the polestar of higher Self from which to guide one’s life. During his brief life (‘50’s and ‘60’s) post-war materialism and atheism (and the power and threat of communism based upon both), existentialism, together with amateurish interpretations of scientific discoveries and speculations such as chaos theory and relativity, were associated with what would be seen as the breakdown of morality and the rise of atheism and belief in the meaninglessness of life.

Atheism as a rejection of religious dogmas was not yet widely understood. King lived in a time of rebellion, both positive and negative. Thus Martin Luther King, Jr. both devout and deeply religious (in a nonsectarian way) and a deep thinker concerned with the trends of modern culture, would describe atheism as unsound. 

Atheism would be seen as impractical in contrast to how he saw his crusades for social justice as eminently practical in their methods but as justified in the perception of all men as children of God. That an agnostic or atheist might be a humanist, a proponent of an enlightened self-interest, or a pragmatist taking his cue from the scientific establishment of the interdependency of all living things and upon what might be called traditional Stoicism (a morality based on human values including moderation and self-sacrifice) would not have occurred to King or his religious contemporaries. (A Stoic sees that life brings both pleasure and pain, life and death, and taking the long view steps back from the pursuit of false and fleeting experiences to remain calm, dignified, and self-sacrificing, following what we might call the Golden Rule.)

It may well be that an atheist turns to the enlightenment of reason but as there are “no atheists in fox holes,” an atheist who holds fast and true to humanist ideals in the face of personal suffering, conflict, betrayal, humiliation or self-sacrifice is something much more than a mere atheist. Such virtue would not, in my opinion, derive from atheism but from a deeper and intuitive sense of justice and righteousness that no mere non-belief in a deity could suffice to sustain. Well, that’s my opinion. Taking this further, then, loss of moral judgment would not be a far step from one whose only anchor was this lack of a belief.

As studies have shown that those with a strong and abiding faith heal from surgery or illness faster, and cope with dying with greater aplomb, faith in God is already showing itself (using scientific methods of observation) to be practical. Faith-based communities, too, often show themselves effectively serving the ideals and good of society in ways no legislation or taxation could possibly achieve.

None of this is for the purpose of convincing a self-described atheist or agnostic to “come over to the other side.” Such a journey is like a river that runs silent and runs deep. But the impracticality of such a position, and its potential to lead to selfish behavior, productive of unhappiness, is surely worthy of consideration. The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. are certainly worth pondering.


Nayaswami Hriman

P.S. For an inspired and insightful explanation for Yogananda's "thesis" and modern thought, I direct your attention to two works by J. Donald Walters (aka Swami Kriyananda): "Out of the Labyrinth" and "Hope for a Better World." (Crystal Clarity Publishers, Nevada City, CA)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Reflections: Atheism & Agnosticism

Last week's blog article was on the subject of meditation and atheism. In that article I suggested that even an atheist can practice meditation because meditation is an art and science and it presupposes no religious belief or affiliation. It is internal to one's own consciousness, using self-awareness as a tool for exploring consciousness wherein consciousness is gradually stripped of "objects" of mentation. (Indeed, Patanjali, the great exponent of meditation -- his book of aphorisms being the "Yoga Sutras" -- describes the process of meditation as the gradual dissolving of all mental image making and their concomitant reactions. Surely something anyone can attempt.)

It mildly surprises me to see the intensity with which some atheists proclaim not only their lack of belief in God (fair enough) but their insistence that "God doesn't exist." Richard Dawkins is one of the more visible scientists claiming to debunk religious belief. None of that is new. What amuses me is that these more vehement atheists sound as fundamentalist as the fundamentalists, each insisting on something that in all events cannot be proved through reason or the senses.

I might say that to me it seems "reasonable" that the vast wonders of the creation hint at the existence of a very powerful and intentional consciousness but I certainly can't prove it. No more, however, can our scientists say anything more than that they cannot "find" God in their explorations, calculations, or experiments. The most they can say is they "see" no evidence for God's existence. That doesn't, however, disprove God's existence. It's merely a shrug.

I've long preferred the more honest agnostics: those who say that they haven't "found" God so how can they possibly say that God exists, or not?

It is the simplest thing in the world to scientifically demonstrate that we humans see what we want to see, hear what we think we are supposed to be hearing and so on. Tests upon eyewitnesses show conclusively that not everyone "sees" the same facts.

A person sensitive to color can choose and decorate a room with exquisite success such that most others can only but admire but would be nonplussed to replicate. Visionaries in every key field of human activity see things that few others can see. We can easily demonstrate that expectations influence outcomes, even in the efficacy of allopathic drugs.Sensory sensitivity is even more highly developed in some animals than in humankind. The wave lengths of various radiations are unseen by human eyes or unfelt by the human body even as they pass through us conveying telephone conversations or television images. We see objects as  separate but cannot see their underlying unity on the level of electro-magnetic forces or quantum physics.

So, yes, there is much in what we know or at least accept as real that could hint at realities far beyond currently accepted knowledge.

Consider the process of creativity. No, I don't mean of Beethoven or Bach. Consider how ideas "enter your mind." Granted, let's say you have a problem to solve and it is important to you. You ponder it. At some point you relax and let it go. And, as studies have shown us, then, voila! The answer appears in your head! It's not unlike a computer command to the hard disk in search of a word or a file or a program. Sometimes it's a little slow but then, voila, the answer appears.

However, unlike the hard disk where the answer to your query already exists for having been put there, a creative idea isn't merely (or at least not necessarily) something cobbled together from pre-existing data or past experience. Many people will no doubt agree that in some cases a new idea seems to have appeared literally from nowhere because so completely unique to our past experience or current expectations. If important ideas in the arts and sciences can appear from "nowhere," well, what does that tell you? Where did those ideas come from? Some of them have changed the course of history.

Studies of creative people will frequently show that such people develop the habit of expecting solutions and meeting them halfway, so to speak. Like Google, "feeling lucky?" There is a sense with such creative people that answers "lurk" as it were in a realm just beyond our sight but which, with practice, we can learn to access. It seems as if such people have a relationship to this unseen world of solutions. Suffice to say the world of human experiences is filled with a wide range of spectacularly unexplained psychic phenomenon.

It's really a matter of taste, you see. Perhaps you are inclined, for reasons of your own, to dismiss the concept of God. It simply doesn't please you; you find it irritating and uninteresting; irrelevant, that is to say, to what is important to you in your life. Well, then, why didn't you just say so!

Others pray to God constantly and attest to God's intercession in their lives. Some people are romantic and sentimental; others, hard-headed and pragmatic. These differences in temperaments may incline one to reject God and another to seek Him, but the question of His existence supercedes them both. Just because people used to believe the world was flat didn't make it so.

This distinction between "what I like" and "what is" is all too often ignored even by otherwise intelligent people. Sadly, few people distinguish between their opinion and the truth. I think Democrats are better than Republicans so of course Democrats are better! (So much for logic!) The simple fact that my inclination and temperament are in the direction that supports the Democratic platform is, as I have said, a matter of taste. Others may believe in the importance of law and order, and preservation of long-standing values.

The proper inquiry of science is how things work. The proper inquiry of religionists is why, for what purpose? There may be areas of overlap of common ground but each has its own field of exploration. I fail to understand why they don't leave each alone and in peace!

Science can never prove, e.g., that the universe has always existed. They might not be able to conclusively find a starting point and presumably the end point hasn't been reached, but how far back do you search before you decide "it's turtles all the way!" (Meaning: there is no beginning!) That might be your conclusion but it is not thereby conclusive! How and who measures infinity? And, even if you did, what impact would it have on the existence of God, who, by all accounts, is also eternal, with no beginning and end? How do you know that we, like the movie The Matrix, aren't but a dream of the Creator? Can you prove that? Or, disprove it?

No saint, moreover, can define God so as to contain Him. No religion, no dogma, no rite or ritual can claim monopoly of His favor. How can that which is Infinite and which has made all things be remotely defined except in the most vague ways: omniscient, omnipresent, infinite, infinitessimal, personal or impersonal. That hasn't stopped 99.9% of religionists from doing exactly that: defining God in ways that please themselves and make their religion the "top dog." But in this they reveal their ignorance as much as those chest pounding scientists who declare that "God is dead."

I say, therefore, that we should simply agree to disagree. I believe in God because it seems "obvious" to me that this vast and complex universe (including my inner universe of thought and feeling) couldn't possibly be devoid of goodness, purpose, and consciousness. But, I can't prove it, and even less so, to you, if you, by contrast, are a hard-nosed self-defined scoffer! I say, well, let's talk about the weather instead.

There is another line of inquiry that is slowly developing on the planet and I call it the "happiness" proof. Gradually, studies are showing that people with faith in God tend to be happier. Now a scoffer's going to have a field day with this, but, for the sake of a good discussion, what if it were actually true? The scoffer will quote Karl Marx's quip about "religion being the opiate of the people" while the religionist will cry "Aha--proof!" But in this case who is the one being pragmatic? The religionist or the scoffer?

This line of inquiry is similar to the observation that the natural development of human consciousness from infancy to adulthood includes an ever expanding sphere of interest and sympathies. Oh, well, of course not with everyone, but in the archetypal sense that we progress from the self-involved infant, the tantrum throwing toddler, and the emotional child to the teen who interests in the world around him, to the young adult who marries, has children, takes on responsibilities (civic, community and familial). We see the fatherly patriarch or matriarch of a clan, a community, or a nation overseeing with benign and wise interest the affairs of his or her "children." In this (admittedly) fanciful world, we view this as well adjusted and as happy a life as we can envision. (Only a dedicated narcissist would maintain through life a commitment to selfish self-indulgence as the summum bonum of life. By the end of life, measure his cup of happiness and see for yourself.)

What if, for example, we could demonstrate that those who include the welfare of others with their own tend to be happier and even more successful? We have the all but universally accepted "Golden Rule" that is suggestive of the truth that our happiness is related to an expansion of self-interest to an enlightened self-interest.

Thus it might be supposed that by this rule of thumb (expanding self-interest) the greatest happiness is achieved when we embrace all life as our own, perhaps even to Infinity (if that were possible). How, then will the Darwin-driven scoffer factor in human happiness? Do not we admire those who give their lives to defend or protect others? To call human love the product of dancing hormones racing to be first to perpetuate themselves may be an acceptable mechanical model (if only because it is causally self-evident) but few human beings would leave it at that. Why is it the testimony of our own race is so airily dismissed by those pretending to be objective in the pursuit of truth?

Well, as I said in the beginning, I can't prove to you that God exists but I am not alone in saying I am happier to make God a part of my life, not just in thought but in deed.


Nayaswami Hriman

P.S. I have purposely left out the testimony of saints and sages of east and west and in every century for presumably to the logician their lives fall outside the scope of their admitted interest. In truth, however, it is only because such people of "science" decide a priori that saints must be discarded. That is as unobjective and as biased discarding of available facts as anything in religion is capable of. Sigh.