What is called the world is only thought. ~ Who Am I?
Ramana Maharshi. (Talk 556)
What is called the world is only thought. ~ Who Am I?
Ramana Maharshi. (Talk 556)
“Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakens.
“Even though the reality of the Self has been stated in many ways, it remains untold. The self is known only by actual Experience. That Experiential Awareness of the Self is prevented by the mind due to the firmly established conviction that “I am the body, ego/mind”.
MAKING SENSE OF CONSCIOUSNESS. Part 1.
When reading any of this material you are best advised to look to the implied meaning of emphasised words and not merely read the word as it is used in common speech. Mysticism has always demanded penetrative insight – almost out of perversity – to goad the enquirer to look deeper. It therefore takes a little time and application to understand how the term Consciousness is used in mysticism, particularly if this is unfamiliar territory. You are advised to forget what the term has come to mean in neuroscience, medicine and psychology and in modern parlance that assumes a complicity in superficial philosophical view. In Mysticism the word Consciousness has a more elusive and far more profound meaning and in respectful deference to all Mystics, they did get there first.
The nature of Consciousness as the term is used in mysticism is not an idea that can be grasped merely by reading an article or even a book or two. It is a concept informed and corroborated by experience that has to be harvested over many years – a concept that eventually penetrates everything we think we know. Neither is its nature a question of opinion or belief in something that might place it in the realm of religious doctrine. It (Spirit) exists independent of the existence of any animated life form or meme. Consciousness, as realised by mystics, is a fundamental aspect of the cosmic matrix, as real as the material that forms the universe. It is not an imagined Idea. This is not intended to sound like fundamentalism though I accept that at first it may do so.
If you have the time to read and reflect on the content of this blog, it will become apparent that the way Consciousness is defined in mysticism dramatically alters the way we perceive life. When we fully integrate this concept into our notion of existence it impacts on everything. It does this by profoundly reorganising our Conceptual Hierarchy forcing us to re-examine ideas modern society considers primary and inviolably sacred and yet which are, when seen from a metaphysical point of view, actually spurious. The Mystic (and the Yogi) eventually comes to live in an entirely different and unconventional conceptual reality; one that manifests what we all desire – a deep sense of happiness and well-being. We each seek this gem even if we are not aware that it drives us. Worldly desires are the carrot dangling on a stick that we fruitlessly chase in pursuit of enduring happiness and contentment until it occurs to us to ask, “Who is holding the stick”. Were that not so then all these words would be so much idle rhetoric.
It would though, be naïve to presume that we could all suddenly be happy simply by adopting an idea that sages have pondered for centuries. What most of us do not realise is that we have been duped, even brainwashed, by the prevailing ignorance of a sophisticated yet Spiritually bankrupt society into a way of thinking about life that ensures that an enduring experience of happiness and well-being is actually impossible. In 21C society, rationalism, and its bedfellow Atheism, dominates as the prevailing mindset; a mindset that considers Spiritual Intuition as archaic and irrelevant in the search for answers to the mystery that presents as Existence. This is largely because Spirituality is seen as being synonymous with a Religious Belief when religious belief is a social phenomenon and another thing entirely. We have learned to be extremely mistrusting of subjective experiences as being wholly unreliable as a basis on which to construct theories that challenge this normality even to the extent that we label them illness or psychosis when in fact they are often glimpses of a Spiritual Reality. ‘Enlightenment’, Swami Bawra once told me, ‘is mastered madness’. To walk the path is to walk a knife edge and any peace manifested this way does not materialise through feint endeavour. It seems to me fundamental that we learn to recognise the difference between Delusions (or in extreme cases Spiritual Psychosis) and Stable Insight if we are ever to navigate what is a very mysterious ocean.
It has always been something of a mystery to me that in its search for an explanation for Consciousness contemporary researchers focus on the Illusory Effect (the complex activities of Mind) and ignore as being irrelevant any explanations for the origins of Consciousness offered by mystics, choosing to see any insight they can offer as being merely Religious and rooted in blind faith. This is a position informed by a lamentable lack of Profound Understanding.
If we really wish to understand the nature of Consciousness we have to set aside our empirical criteria for investigation and accept that our body and mind must become the laboratory and in faith accept that Subjective Experience will finally deliver the singular insight (Knowledge from whence all else proceeds) that is Reality – Consciousness.
Long before scientific rationalism dominated our thinking Mystics observed that Consciousness did not originate in the brain; rather that the brain is a kind of port through which Consciousness, with its own unique properties, shines and in doing so gives rise to self awareness and the phenomenon that is animated life and in a material component (Nature) that is otherwise inanimate and insentient.
Depicted diagrammatically the two positions look like this:
The first of these diagrams is the empirical version that yields only unresolved complexity. It offers beguiling explanations but not truths.
The second depicts the mystical view, which is that Consciousness itself is immaterial in every sense and not generated by the biology we take to be ‘us’ as thinking beings but rather causes that biology to manifest thinking beings. From this singular understanding proceed more complex models and concepts. Without this insight ideas are merely bits of discordant information floating unrelated in an endless void – ideas only as profound as our personal ability at intelligent complex thought. Intellectually brilliant but fundamentally flawed. The property of Insight, (as distinct from learned academic material) is distinct in that what is revealed is not personal – it is not MY knowledge. It is there to be Seen by anyone who can look without Egocentric interference. Hence the term Seer. One who Sees Essential Knowledge.
The ability to observe this phenomenon takes years of single minded practice but it is not impossible and neither is it pointless. Mastering this process is not for nothing; it has a pay-off that is so profound that it is spoken of with deep reverence. In resolving this conundrum we come to experience an enduring state of sublime happiness, or bliss, (our true nature) that is so profound that it eradicates all suffering by bringing the struggling illusory Mind to complete stillness.
Millions have touched this state by accident and have failed to appreciate the profound nature of the experience. But even without understanding, the experience changes everything for the individual. Where it is fleeting we will speak about it for the rest of our lives as a moment when we touched everything; understood everything; even merged with God. Where it is prolonged and without mastery it brings a peculiar kind of madness and a unique kind of suffering. Understanding this process and its implications sets us right. According to mysticism realising the true origin of Consciousness is actually the pinnacle of human endeavour because Consciousness is what I Am.
Ramana Maharshi stated:
If there is a goal to be reached it cannot be permanent. The goal must already be there. We seek to reach the goal with the ego, but the goal exists before the ego. What is in the goal is even prior to our birth, that is, to the birth of the ego. Because we exist the ego appears to exist too. If we look on the Self as the ego then we become the ego, if as the mind we become the mind, if as the body we become the body.
It is the thought which builds up sheaths in so many ways. The shadow on the water is found to be shaking. Can anyone stop the shaking of the shadow? If it would cease to shake you would not notice the water but only the light. Similarly take no notice of the ego and its activities, but see only the light behind. The ego is the thought `I’. The true `I’ is the Self.
Q: If it is just a question of giving up ideas then it is only one step to realization.
A: Realization is already there. The state free from thoughts is the only real state. There is no such action as realization. Is there anyone who is not realizing the Self ? Does anyone deny his own existence? Speaking of realization, it implies two selves – the one to realize, the other to be realized. What is not already realized is sought to be realized. Once we admit our existence, how is it that we do not know our Self?
“The words Religion and Spirituality are not interchangeable. They mean entirely different things. Religions are dependent on cultures and would in fact die out if humanity ceased to exist. They are a cultural & historic phenomenon and bound in relativity; dependent on belief or a following for their existence. Spirituality on the other hand is part of the matrix. Part of the physics of the subtle universe, and in fact all universes should they exist. Its existence is not dependent in any way on whether we believe in it or not. It exists as surely as the sun exists. Were all humanity to vanish Spirituality would remain unaffected for eternity.”
The conundrum posed by our existence is one that has challenged humanity’s best thinkers for millennia. Our conviction at having alighted on ‘the truth’ has provided us with endless hours of debate, inflamed our deepest passions and even divided whole nations and nations from nations, and it continues to do so. Imaginative stories handed down through generations and our wild speculations have determined the path humanity has carved through time, and millions have died defending a ‘truth’ that has later turned out to be false. Myths, it could be said, are merely our truths that have fallen from grace.
What is abundantly clear is that humanity is on a long and complex evolutionary journey. Not so much a physical one, (though that is also true) but a conceptual one that has brought us to a critical point in our understanding of the nature of existence. It does not take a genius to observe that humanity for all its technological development is ideologically unintegrated, and some would say hopelessly so. If we are beings with a Spiritual essence and are not just accretions of stardust then at some level we are united in our differences but on a psychological level our egocentric tendency to want to establish and reinforce our differences at any cost, rather than find that one idea that might unite us all, is tragic and tearing us apart.
Opinions now differ radically as to whether the cause of this human conflict is religious or due to the emergence of scientific reductionism or just down to plain old human nature. The one thing we can be certain about is that the divide is enormous and the gap not inclined to close any time soon unless there is a paradigm shift in our thinking. What is also certain is that conceptually there is no going back, though there are many who wish that we could. When religions compete with science as they have done for centuries now, science has the whip hand.
Humanity has invested a huge amount of time and energy in technological development and to understanding the nature of material reality but its understanding of a Subtle Nature beyond material existence is still entrenched and shockingly naïve. Questions posed by much respected academics within the scientific community as to the nature of consciousness, to pick one instance, presume it to be a material phenomenon when there is a significant body of knowledge in existence to suggest that it is not. If the questions we pose have already eliminated the sphere where the correct answer may be found then we will remain trapped in ignorance.
There is a rather tongue in cheek attitude aimed at those who spend their time considering where all This came from and how we got to exist at all. Observing me at thirteen sitting idly in a chair apparently doing nothing but gaze into space my mother would ask, “What are you doing?”
“What about?” she would challenge.
“Life,” I would say.
“Well you just sit there and think about life and I will get on with something useful.”
Contemplating how life works on a subtle level, meditation if you wish, is often seen as a rather indulgent and selfish activity that does not contribute much to the ebb and flow of society itself, but the paucity of our understanding on this level directly impacts on the choices we make and the future we forge. The rudder of our society may be awash with academic brilliance but it is short on the wisdom that emerges from this supposedly indulgent activity to the extent that the direction we steer is often completely counter to what would be best for the long term whole.
A very long time ago when the population of Earth was relatively small it did not matter too much what we thought about the mechanics of reality but now, as we stand on the brink of a global environmental crisis and perhaps even the perfect storm, it really does. We are all being asked to reflect on the nature of our desires. If we can no longer afford to want the material objects that have so charmed us for a century, then what? The ascendency of the philosophy of despair that has emerged out of Scientific Reductionism; ‘life has no meaning beyond what we see’; ‘Success can only be measured by how we dominate others who are weaker,’ runs counter to what most of us want to believe. Even if we do not understand, we cling to the notion that life has a subtler purpose or that things are meant to be. Well does it have a purpose and is there a principle that orders meant to be out of chaos? And that is not all.
There is another aspect to this discussion that has little to do with how history unfolds or how technologically advanced we become. How we conceptualise reality, the model we each hold in the very core of our being – or how we See – has a direct bearing on the nature of personal suffering. Though intrinsic to human nature, Suffering is a phenomenon of self awareness and is a mutable condition that we have the power to affect. This has always been the case and it transcends the ebb and flow of social change and development. Not for no reason is Samkhya Philosophy considered as, ‘that knowledge, knowing which, does away with all suffering.’
The implication is implicit in the statement. As a product of nature we are bound to the certainty of change and ultimately that process of change leads to our demise. Since we can do nothing about this inevitability it is not possible to eradicate physical, or emotional or intellectual suffering except through a modification of our perception.
At one time religions completely dominated the, ‘what is existence’ debate. Within Christianity, ideas that challenged the dogma of the period were met with violent opposition and repression. Heresy was once a crime punishable by death. The injustices that were carried out in the name of God are legion and very well documented so there is no necessity to dwell on them here. Even so, even in the near distant past, it was still extremely difficult for scientists as individuals to be objective and to disengage their ideas from the notion of the existence of God and when discoveries emerged to challenge the dogma of the day, even as recent as Darwinism, it often produced tremendous conflict both personal and social.
In defending notions held to be ‘The Word of God’ but that were clearly out of accord with the emerging empirical evidence of the day, as free thinkers prised open nature’s underbelly, the authority of the Christian church was gradually eroded until Christianity became a shadow of its former self and as such was unable to guide the rising star that was to become Reductionist Science that would then go on to become the platform for the now expanding Atheistic view of the status quo (those collective bodies that determine the policies that seek to shape our lives) that prevails today.
Religious fundamentalism may appear to be on the rise but I would risk stating that its days are numbered and not because atheism is going to sweep the planet. Creative imagination will always challenge ideological entrenchment and it was only a matter of time before our Creative Intelligence outwitted blind faith and the religious hysteria that is mistaken for spiritual experience. It is no longer an either/or choice of Religious Dogma or Scientific Rationalism. Dogmatic science masquerading as truth is no better than dogmatic religion masquerading as truth. The alternative view is one that sees the development of conceptualisation as hierarchical – first Religious Dogma, then Scientific Rationalism, then Integrated Science or as some would have it Noetic Science.
It is a model that proposes that matter is orchestrated by an Intelligent Principle that is not material in nature and which produces a symphony from inert matter that appears life filled or animated – a cosmic drama of such immense beauty and complexity that it inspires awe in every sense of the word.
“When a question is posed from a false premise, or conceptual misunderstanding any answer we can imagine or conclusions we draw will most likely be incorrect. It is our questions more than our answers that convey what we truly understand.”
“That which is impenetrable to us really exists. Behind the secrets of nature remains something subtle, intangible, and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion.”
Do not believe anything
because it is said by an authority,
or if it is said to come from angels,
or from Gods,
or from an inspired source.
Believe it only if you have explored it
in your own heart
and mind and body
and found it to be true.
Work out your own path,
(For an overview of this blog please read ‘About’.)
For a short while through 1986 and 1988, in my determination to become a sanyasin, I lived on an Ashram in a place called Virat Nagar near Pinjore in India where I practiced Yoga and studied Samkhya Philosophy. Yogananda, a practicing yogi who also lived on the Ashram, took it upon himself to try to adjust our (three Americans and myself) everyday, conditioned perception of Reality, into one that stood any chance of seeing Reality as it really is and not simply as it presented. His method was simple. He would constantly challenge us by asking, (incomprehensibly to me at the time), “Who is the doer? Sit and ask yourself, who is the doer?” and when our social habits complicated our thinking would add, “Be Natural! Just be Natural.” By this he meant be true to yourself or don’t try to be something you are not because in the end Egocentric flamboyance does not count for much and is counter-productive in any pursuit of real freedom.
Adjustment was a huge fence to jump and it took me many years, and the persistent and inexhaustible patience of my teacher, Swami Vishvatma Bawra, to realise what Yogananda meant by this cryptic statement. The way we think, is something most of us simply accept from birth as being what it is – a function of the brain or some psychic inner world, that is inseparable from Me. That the terms I and Me are grammatically distinct but conceptually interchangeable when they can be made to mean something utterly different. This is not so. The implication I received from Yogananda’s question was that there was something profound to be gained from resolving this conundrum, but what was he implying? Is there a realizable, distinction between I and Me that is not merely one for the sake of it – or to put it another way, simply a case of clever and bewildering semantics?
Yogananda was a practiced yogi so his question was not an idle one? Yoga, is a process that, when performed correctly, produces experiences that profoundly alter our perception. Yoga is not a religion nor is it ritualistic. Neither is it a discipline performed from speculative or fanciful ideas – though it often becomes something it is not when exploited by sophisticated societies as a way to keep fit! It is a process that has two aspects, Practice and Philosophy. Just as Material Science exploits the subtlest laws of materail existence transforming stardust into technology, Yoga exploits the laws of subtle existence to transform the conduit for Consciousness – us. In this way Yoga practice deepens insight and insight deepens practice. The net result of this dynamic process is the revelation of Causal Reality in Experience. The boons and insights attained through the practice of Yoga are utterly timeless and ones that can be enjoyed in silent isolation, transcending the time-bound march of social change and the trap that is modernity.
All that said, back to Yogananda’s searching question – if I am not the Doer then what is? The notion that we are not Mind appears at first to be an absurd thing to say. But in Samkhya, Mind, like our bodies, is defined as being a product of Nature, even though it transcends the physical, (as distinct from nature with a small ‘n’) and as such we can, with a little practice, watch it just as we can watch a sunset. What then becomes apparent is that Mind is not the Observer, (the witness) but rather, that the observer is something else far quieter and uncluttered that is not mind.
When we touch the world beyond our body, (with any of our senses) intellect will respond by regenerating an aberration, echoing back what it has experienced in the past. Ego/Mind is constantly being modified through our interaction with Nature and what we make it mean is determined by intellectual clarity. If we respond unmindfully to those impressions when they generate dialogue, consciously or unconsciously, they become us and we them, to be swept up in the maelstrom that is thinking (Mind). In engaging with Mind as if it were real we add to it or fuel it – going round in circles. In Yoga Mind is seen as being a projection of Ego and as such it is endless – a ghost or shadow that persists as long we persist as an individuated sentient being, unless we intervene.
When our identification with Mind becomes chronic we call it insanity and to some degree we are all insane. The benign state of this insanity is labelled Normal. Normal is the level of insanity society can live with. A kind of low grade noise that is not too intrusive and not too painful. Anything more intense we consider abnormal. Listening, (observing or witnessing) is the first stage in becoming free and sane. If we merely observe impressions, and do not engage with them, with time a distance appears between the drama and the observer and the turbulence that is Mind is seen for what it is, shadows of a past inspired by the present. Merely observed without resistance and without judgement impressions are free to pass naturally. The one thing we can be certain about is that everything in Nature changes. Ripples in the pond that is Mind die away to be ceaselessly replaced by other ripples. So long as we resist impressions, consciously or unconsciously, they endure. We resist then when we enter into the dialogue.
Contrary to how it appears Observing is the only true act of Free Will. Everything else is rooted in Natural cause and effect or the illusion of free will. Stimulus, response: stimulus, response. Nothing we decide can be in isolation. Decisions are always determined by past experience. Mind will dominate our life so long as we affirm our ingrained lifelong habit and engage with it believing its shadows to be real. When we cease this automatic response to what we think and feel; observe without imposing ‘this is good and this is bad’, our relationship with Mind radically changes. Mental content ceases to present as real and becomes just content. When performed earnestly this process has a profound effect on the quality of our intellect which in turn ‘clarifies’ through this act of observing. This is an entirely natural process available to us all. In so doing we move from a state of disintegrated confusion towards clarified integration accompanied by a profound sense of well-being. We do not necessarily become cleverer or worldlier, we simply become clearer. Linear logical (clever intelligence) gives way to Insight, (perceiving the whole or intuitive intelligence) more commonly known as Wisdom. Intelligence should not be judged by its content but rather by its quality and profundity of its perception. We can know nothing of the world and yet still have a brilliant intellect. It is a state of perception in which apparently contradictory profound truths can exist at the same time and still be true. Such a person is in yogic terms, a Seer. Swami Vishvatma Bawra was a Seer.
The past appearing in the present is an echo nothing more. Echoes die away as long as we do not continue shouting. (Resisting or engaging with Mind is shouting! Longing is shouting.) We shout because it is what we have always done. We think our Mind defines who we really are but it doesn’t because it is not who we really are. I am not my past, or what I have learned and do, or what I believe however rational it may sound or appear. I am only the observer. What we actually become through this process of disengagement (detachment) is clear vessels filled with joy. A sensation we all pursue and yet one that cannot be obtained directly through its pursuit. Personal experience becomes the proof and validation of the process; speculation is the chaos that gives way to Knowing. And all this happens simply because we are conscious, sentient beings restless for meaning and understanding.