Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Ending of Ego-Addiction: "A Pathless Land"

". . .. (T)he annihilation, cessation, and overcoming of bodily form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness, this is the extinction of suffering, the end of disease, the overcoming of old age and death."

"This, truly, is the Peace, this is the Highest, namely the end of all formations, the forsaking of every substratum of rebirth, the fading away of craving, detachment, extinction, Nibbana."

("A Buddhist Bible," Dwight Goddard ed., page 32.)
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Perceptions, mental formations and consciousness." Over 2,500 years ago, the Buddha identified these three mental phenomena - or, perhaps, noumena, to be more precise - as the root cause of suffering. In growing up we are conditioned by the people in our lives and our culture to regard so-called "normal" perceptions, mental formations and consciousness as being our "reality."

Few even think about these concepts, much less question whether our "reality" is so "real" after all. In a very literal sense, it could be said that we are "addicted" to our thinking, and the perceptions, ideas, inner narratives and identities that we take to be who we "are."

But is that so? And what can "we" do about it?

A modern enlightened master, Jiddu Krishhnamurti would ask us to question these propositions for ourselves; yet, his life's work points us to the truth that there is a near universal addiction to the ordinary  human consciousness. We are, he would likely say, overwhelmingly ego-addicted.

"When one makes an abstraction in thought, one moves away from 'what is,'" Krishnamurti writes in his book, "The Wholeness of Life." And that, he observes, has both ethical as well as psychological implications for the individual, suggesting that our propensity to think without an awareness of what we are thinking, is a life-long 'habit.' A 'habit' we should probably quit, as it interferes with our deepest psychological functioning, the ability to love.

"That movement of abstraction," he notes, "becomes a condition according to which one lives, therefore one no longer lives according to facts. This is what one has done all one's life; but one will never know what love is through abstraction, will not know the enormous beauty, depth and significance of love."

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986)
". . . Truth is a pathless land . . . "
"Why does man put up with this suffering," Krishnamurti asks, utilizing his customary method of inquiry:
Why does man put up with this suffering? . . . What is it that suffers? When one says "I suffer," who is it that suffers? What is the center that says "I am in agony of jealousy, of fear of loss"? Is it the movement of thought, as time, which creates the center? How does that I come into being, which, having come into being says, "I suffer, I am anxious, I am frightened, I am jealous, I am lonely". That I is never stationary, it is always moving: "I desire this, I desire that and then I desire something else", it is in constant movement. That movement is time, that movement is thought.
["The Wholeness of Life," p.  152.]
Such 'desire,' along with 'anger' and 'ignorance' is, of course, one of the "Three Poisons" that the Buddha identified as the root of our human suffering, our addiction to self, our ego-addiction. End desire, end anger, end ignorance and one will end suffering is the essence of the Buddha's "Third Noble Truth," the noble truth of the end of suffering.

The Buddha suggests a comprehensive eight point methodology to end this addiction to ego-centric thinking (his "Fourth Noble Truth," the noble truth of the eight-fold path to the end of suffering), all of which is set out to stop the 'thinking without awareness' that is the root of ego-addiction. Krishnamurti, for his part, suggests rigorous self-examination and inquiry to overcome theses thought processes
"Thought identifies itself with the name and with the form and is the I in all the content of consciousness," Krishnamurti observes. "(It) is the essence of fear hurt, despair, anxiety, guilt, the pursuit of pleasure, the sense of loneliness, all the content of consciousness. . . . If one runs away from it, one has not solved it; but if one remains with it, not identifying oneself with it  - because one is that suffering - then all your energy is present to meet this extraordinary thing that happens. . . . (W)hen one observes suffering in oneself, not escaping from it, but remaining with it totally, completely, without any movement of thought, without any alleviation, comfort, but just completely holding to it, then one will see a strange psychological transformation take place."
And that transformation? Is it the end of "self," or ego death? One will, of course, have to find the answer to that on one's own? It was the Buddha who said, in effect, "do not take my word for it, do not worship me, find out for yourself if these truths are not real." Or, as Krishnamurti famously said to a crowd of his "followers" before setting out on his radical course of lonely self-inquiry:
"I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organize it. . . . Because I am free, unconditioned, whole -- not the part, not the relative, but the whole Truth that is eternal -- I desire those, who seek to understand me to be free; not to follow me . . . Rather they should be free from all fears -- from the fear of religion, from the fear of salvation, from the fear of spirituality, from the fear of love, from the fear of death, from the fear of life itself."
["The Wholeness of Life," p.  153. Emphasis added.]
To end this addiction to thought, to end 'ego-addiction,' therefore, one must follow one's own inner path of self-inquiry and self-examination as one travels through this inner, "pathless land."

Monday, March 28, 2011

We All Suffer . . .

"What now is the Noble Truth of Suffering?"
"Birth is suffering; Decay is suffering; Death is suffering; Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain, Grief and Despair are suffering; not to get what one desires is suffering; in short: the Five Aggregates of Existence is suffering."
("A Buddhist Bible," Dwight Goddard ed., page 23.)
We all, every one of us, suffer from the same, progressive and unavoidably fatal illness. Such is life. And the death of each individual in time - itself a relative and wholly self-referential concept, and an unconscious, unseen dimension of the blind perspective of our seemingly separate existence - is inevitable.

Individual and collective suffering - in their nearly infinite forms that are rooted in the desires of the self, groups and societies - is the sole symptom of this uniform malady.

This existential disease presents as the angst of the psyche and causes the sufferer to incur nearly continuous yet varying periods and intensities of irritability, restlessness, discontent, a sense of ennui or non-fulfillment, and/or outright depression. These multiform strains of suffering may be temporarily anaesthetized with varying degrees of effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) by one's ingesting food, drink, drugs, or raw experiences, or by projecting one's inner angst onto others or the world environment at large. Yet, all these 'solutions' are only temporary expedients, and will ultimately fail.

The only known effective treatment for these symptomatic strains that does not exacerbate one's condition and, hence the self-same conditions in others, is to forgo both one's physical and mental attachments to and dependence on these alleviants, as well as the imperative urge to project one's internal strain externally by word or conduct. (This is the pith and substance of Gandhi's and the Buddha's ahimsa, the 'beattitudes' of Jesus, and Hippocrate's dictum, "Do no harm.")

However, to go without these dubious "pleasures" - to have true forebearance without anaesthetics or anaesthetizing attachments and experience - requires that one becomes capable of resting "within." One must become capable of experienceing rest in the deepest and most fundamental "aspect" of one's 'Being' and one's individualized dominion within the "collective soul" of humankind.

To do so, one must either gradually or suddenly - through the intervention of Grace - discipline the mind and body, particularly the ever-moving and ever-arising thought waves of the mind. One must become capable of grasping and developing the most fundamental aspect of one's (and our) 'Being' - an "aspect" beyond the reception, perception and conception of sensory and mental stimuli - the nous of the inner "Self" that allows us to experience and accept ourselves and others, indeed the world as a whole, as exactly the way that it is in time.

Others have said, and I believe it to be true that this is a three-step process consisting, firstly of acquiring a belief in this "acceptive" Unititive "aspect" common to all "beings" and which is fundamental to "Being" itself, and aspiring to the transcendence of the individual "self" through the dilation of one's consciousness beyond the rational and analytic capacities of the mind.

Secondly, one must srengthen this belief through experiential knowledge of this deeper and more fundamental aspect of one's individual (and collective) "Being." This may be accomplished through the interrelated and systematic discipline and application of "self-examination" (being cognizant of the movements of one's thoughts and the emotions which they cause), "meditation" (practicing resting beyond the movement of thought and emotion in one's inner aspect of "Being"), and "prayer," or pausing to affirm and invoke this most fundamental aspect of One's consciousness and 'Being.'

And thirdly, through the accumulation of periods of ever-greater "self" transcendence, when one's suffering self-conscious is dilated to experience the deeper aspect of one's (and our collective) "Being,"
one comes to build one's faith into a knowledge (or gnosis) of one's "Being" beyond time.

And thus ends suffering, as one abides ever-longer and more fully  in this fundamental, asensual aspect of the Ground of Being itself.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

David Bohm and the "Implicate Order" Behind What We See

In re-introducing his theory of the "Implicate Order" in his later work, "Unfolding Meaning," theoretical physicist and spiritual iconoclast, David Bohm highlighed the differences between the two leading strains of what may be called the 'New Physics' - relativity theory and quantum mechanics - two physical theories that still challenge scientists to synthesize their findings in a true "theory of everything."
"Relativity requires strict continuity, strict determinism and strict locality. In quantum mechanics you have to say the opposite - discontinuity, non-determinism and non-locality. The physical concepts of these two theories have not been brought together, although people are working out equations and methods of doing it mathematically. But the physical meaning has never been made clear."
[David Bohm, "Unfolding Meaning: A Weekend of Dialogue," p. 8.]
Of course, written in 1985, this description of the state of theoretical physics continues to hold true today. Although there have been a host of contender theories, like 'string theory' and the 'multiverse theory,' none has been accepted as closing the theoretical gap between relativity and quantum theory.

There has not yet emerged a consolidated, unified theory that accounts for both the macrocosmic effects of relativity theory and the microcosmic effects of quantum mechanics. Moreover, and one cannot but speculate that this is a result of not being able to reconcile relativity and quantum theory, science has not yet been able to formulate a unified theory that explains how the force of gravity is related to the electro-magnetic, weak nuclear and strong nuclear forces in a true "Unifiied Theory, or 'theory of everything."

David Bohm (right) in dialogue with spiritual teacher, Jiddu
Krishnamurti, with whom Bohm collaborated for many years.

Bohm suggests the problem is that we are looking at the phenomena of an "explicate order" only, and that beneath this explicate order" there exists an "Implicate Order" that truly forms the fabric of our 'reality.' "If you want to look at relativity and quantum theory as being together coherently," he observes, "we may ask a new kind of question. Instead of asking how the theories differ, let's ask what they have in common."

"What is common to both is [the] unbroken wholeness of the universe. Each has this wholeness in a different way," Bohm notes, "yet if wholeness is their common factor, that's perhaps the best place to start."

And, indeed it is from this "unbroken wholeness" of the universe, that many subsequent researchers and theoriststs have started. But with the continuing failure of such de riguere and exotic attempts as "string theory" and "multiverse theories" to reconcile these two great branches of modern physics - and, even more so, to give us a plausible "picture" of what the substratum of our glimpsed "reality" is - Bohm's notion of an as-yet unobservable "Implicate Order" remains convincing.

Indeed, it is echoed in the words of Bernard d'Espagnat, the French physicist and winner of the prestigious 2009 Templeton Prize (for research at the intersection of science, philosophy, and religion), who "developed the idea that the reality revealed by science offers only a 'veiled' view of an underlying reality that science cannot access, and that the scientific view must take its place alongside the reality revealed by art, spirituality, and other forms of human inquiry."

"Quantum mechanics allows what d'Espagnat calls 'weak objectivity,'" writes David Lindley in ScienceNow, "in that it predicts probabilities of observable phenomena in an indisputable way. But the inherent uncertainty of quantum measurements means that it is impossible to infer an unambiguous description of 'reality as it really is.'" D'Espagnat "has proposed that behind measured phenomena exists what he calls a 'veiled reality, that genuinely exists, independently of us, even though we lack the ability to fully describe it."

"D'Espagnat's writings on quantum mechanics lay out with great clarity the genuine puzzles that quantum mechanics presents," says Jeffrey Bub, of the University of Maryland. "But," Lindley notes, there is a certain skepticism "about finding common ground among notions of reality from art, science, and spirituality." As Bub remarked to Lindley, just because there's something strange about the physical world that quantum mechanics isn't telling you, "it doesn't follow that those gaps can be filled with poetry."

And yet, in close resemblance to Occam's famous 'razor,' a certain "elegance" of theory is one factor that science seems to favour in selecting one scientific paradigm for another. And in that "elegance" there appears what may almost be thought of as "the art of science." In suggesting his notion of what  constitutes an "Implicate Order" out of which our 'reality' is unfolded (or what d'Espagnat would qualify as falling behind the "veil") Bohm's technical language and vision have an artistic feeling and dynamism of their own:
" . . . (T)he movement of enfolding and unfolding is ultimately the primary reality, and . . . the objects, entities, forms, and so on, which appear in this movement are secondary.

. . . (Q)unatum theory shows that the so-called particles constituting matter are also waves similar to those of light. One can, in principle, make holographs using beams of electrons, protons, and so on, as well as sound waves -which has been done. The point is that all mathematical laws of the quantum theory that apply to these waves, and therfore all matter, can be seen to describe just such a movement in which there is a continual enfoldment of the whole into each region, along with the unfoldment of each region into the whole again. Although this may take many particular forms - some known and others not yet known - this movement is universal as far as we know. I'll call this univeral movement of enfoldment and unfoldment 'the holomovement.'"

"The proposal is that the holomovement is the basic reality, at least as far as we are able to go, and that all entities, objects[and] forms, as ordinarily seem, are relatively stable, independent and autonomous features of the holomovement, much as the vortex is such a feature of the flowing movement of a fluid. The basic order of this movement is therefore enfoldment and unfoldment. So we're looking at the universe in terms of a new order, which I'll call the enfolded order, or the implicate order."

"The word 'implicate' means to enfold - in Latin, to fold inward. In the implicate order, everything is folded into everything."
To Bohm, it is in this intricate and artistic dance of the enfolding and unfolding that our 'reality' takes form, seemingly separate yet entangled with, and an integral part of, the unseen and underlying "implicate order." It is in this dance, perhaps, that one finds expression of the largely unnoticed artistic side of physical reality. And it is  the "unknown" or perhaps the "unknowability" of our most basic realities that draws us to try and interpret this dance for ourselves.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
Basil Hiley, Emeritus Professor of Physics in Birbeck College, Univerity of London;
a colleague of David Bohm, on Bohm's Implicate Order and Quantum Physics.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Is there a Role for Science on Spirituality's 'Lonely Path'?

". . . And I will speak to thee of that wisdom and vision which, when known, there is nothing else for thee to know.

Among thousands of men perhaps one strives for perfection; and among thousands of those who strive perhaps one knows me in truth."                   
("Bhagavad Gita," VII:2-3)
It's been said, over and over, in all the world's great wisdom traditions, that the road to enlightenment or true liberation is a lonely path. Indeed, even in the world's most widespread religion, Christianity, those who traveled the furthest down the spiritual road, those like St. John of the Cross and Meister Eckhart, were often isolated by the Church authorities themselves. Speaking many centuries after the Bhagavad Gita was set down, Jesus (cryptically as ever) warned of the same existential loneliness in store for the true spiritual aspirant, saying, "The harvest is indeed great, but the laborers are few," (Matthew 9:27).

Essentially the spiritual quest for enlightenment is a lonely quest because it is an internal journey. Over and over, we read and hear testimony that it is essential for the spiritual aspirant to let go of the search for outward satisfaction, even his or her attachment to thoughts of outer things, in order that our real inner life is opened to us. The renowned 20th-century theologian, Paul Tillich, spoke of "the lonely self-inquiry" necessary to find the "depth" of one's existence:
". . . (A)ll those who have been concerned - mystics and priests, poets and philosophers, simple people and educated - with that road through confession, lonely self-scrutiny, internal or external catastrophes, prayer, contemplation, have witnessed to the same experience. They have found they are not what they  believed themselves to be, even after a deeper level had appeared to them below the vanishing surface. That deeper level itself became surface, when a still deeper level was discovered, this happening again and again, as long as their lives, as long as they kept on the road to their depth. . . ."                                   (Paul Tillich, "Shaking the Foundations," page 56)
Karlfried Graf Durckheim
Moreover, in today's Information Age, while our interconnectedness to a growing body of individuals seeking a higher meaning in their life seems to make this 'spiritual road' less lonely, it is deceptive. The pursuit of enlightenment is inherently a solitary business. While more people are striving for higher consciousness (perhaps "of hundreds," rather than "thousands," one strives to find the "Truth" of our existential being), even more individuals are hemmed in by the ever-illusive quest for more material wealth and 'security.' Such is the "Westernizing influences" of a worldview that tends to exult the material and discounts the spiritual.

In an interview with French Orthodox priest, Alfonse Goettman, the modern German mystic, Karlfried Graf Durckheim (see video at end of article), remarked that, "(t)he destiny of man is to become the one who can witness to the transcendent Reality at the very heart of existence." However as a culture, he observes, we seem to have turned a blind 'inner eye' to that destiny, much to our detriment.
". . . (C)ivilization in the West," he notes, "has developed only one pole of the human being and has sacrificed the other. Yet man is always called to a double mission: to recognize and master the world in which he lives, for which he needs efficiency, but at the same time to mature on the inner path which is vital to this fulfillment. The fruit of this maturity is seen in a person who is transparent to his essential being which he expresses in his daily life. It is a fact that western civilization has completely neglected this aspect of our nature."
His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama
Perhaps it is the Dalai Lama, with his profound respect for both scientific and spiritual inquiry, who best summarizes the basic existential problems - even threats - that an over-weighting of a 'mastery' of the physical world to the detriment of 'maturing' on the 'inner path' poses. In his insightful book, "The Universe In A Single Atom," he writes:
"The central question - central for the survival and well being of our world - is how we can make the wonderful developments of science into something that offers altruistic and compassionate service for the needs of humanity and the other sentient being with whom we share the earth."

". . . First of all like any instrument, science can be put to good use or bad. It is the state of mind of the person wielding the instrument that determines to what end it will be put. Second, scientific discoveries affect the way we understand the world and our place in it. This has consequences for our behavior."
Einstein famously remarked, "Science without religion is lame, while religion without science is blind." An apt paraphrase of this prescient observation in the context of over-weighting the importance of mastery of the physical world over mastery of one's inner self might be: "Spirituality without science is mute, while science without spirituality is deaf to humanity's deepest needs."

If the Information Age is to live up to its evident potential, it will perhaps do so by breaking up the relative loneliness of the spiritual path, thereby increasing the odds of finding the 'Truth' that Krishna gives in the Bhagavad Gita. The tool that might be most effectively wielded to break down this existential loneliness, given our overwhelming reliance on science and its technologies, is an authentic inner spirituality that is informed by open-minded scientific inquiry. Yet, the Western scientific culture by its logic and strictures continues, in most instances, to exclude the exploration of how inner, subjective spiritual experiences might fit into a more expansive worldview informed by both science and spirituality.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An Unheralded Zen Master

William Samuel (1924-1996)
Perhaps one of the most unheralded American 'Zen masters' was the late William Samuel - a 'Zen master' whose life was a temple, who glimpsed enlightenment fighting with the Chinese Nationalists in World War II, who found enlightenment on an embattled hilltop in the Korean War, and a 'Zen master' who sat 'Zaizen' for the remainder of his life in the hill country of Alabama.

Samuel's largely unheralded teachings, although he wrote two inspiring and informative books on the matter, are emblematic somehow of an enlightened man of the 20th century who found peace in war, and surrendered to the Godhead in the midst of battle. The following passage from his essay, "A Soldier's Story" is at once enchanting and inspiring. Here is a man that "glimpsed" and then "grasped" the Absolute amid the Hell's of the last century's worst conflicts.
"Let me write a Glimpse or two from those days," he writes. "First, harking back to China, Mr. Shieh and I, with five American teammates, were being pursued by a Japanese combat patrol. We were "retrograding," bringing up the rear of our little patrol, trying to get back to the safety of friendly lines. We were close to being captured. In those days, neither the Japanese nor Chinese "gave quarter." That is we took no prisoners. I knew that if I were taken by the pursuing Japanese, it meant certain death. On the other hand, Mr. Shieh might successfully pass himself off as a Chinese peasant. Oh, I cannot write this story! At this minute it is enough to remember Mr. Shieh seeing and pointing out the beauty of those purple blooms on the distant mountain we had yet to climb. I marveled at a man who could see beauty under such oppressive circumstances. I marvel more that he helped me learn to do it"
From the peace of his post-war home in rural Alabama, Samuel taught a distinctly American brand of non-duality; a brand of non-duality informed by his immerision into an ancient Eastern culture during the worst of times and situations of modern conflict. Samuel's unique experiences paint an intriguing picture of what must have been both "the best of times and the worst of times," to steal a line from Dickens.

Here, in a recollection of his post-World War II travels set out in his most personal and eclectic book, "The Child Within Us Lives," Samuel invokes the wonder of a young Western exposed at once to the contradictory worlds of an ancient and too-modern China, between ancient teachings and modern cynicism and disbelief:

           In Kwangse the group sat talking.
          "With all my travel and study I've never heard of the equation," the soldier groused.
          "I haven't either," said the minister. Neither had Lee nor Mary.
          Han said, "One who doen't live the Divine Equation simply doesn't know it. To know it without living it is to be dead. To know it is to live it. personally, I do not see how one can know he knows it without living it, but I don't know everything."
          "But friend Han," shouted the soldier, "you just told us that the real Identity of each of us is Omniscience itself! How can one be that and still now know everything?"
          Han said, "God knows everything, but I don't. I am merely the knowing of God, so I certainly don't know everything."
          "That doesn't make a damn bit of sense," the soldier said. "I call that circular reasoning," he added, leaving the room.   

 * * * * * * * * * * * * *    
The "Equation," of course is the fundamental truth of all the world's great wisdom traditions: 'All is One.' And Han, Samuel writes, "is not God and does not claim to be. . . . Han is as close as one comes to his real Identity before consciously being that One."

As such, Han is an inspiration for us all.

Samuel's work is elliptic, hinting at the Absolute and then drawing back in order to draw the spiritual aspirant in. Perhaps his most direct statement of the Absolute and our spiritual quest here is in his introduction to his other great work, "A Guide to Awareness and Tranquility." In it, he writes:
"The world is not as it appears to the busy, troubled mortal. A beautiful and magnificent harmony is spread over the entire face of the land; perfection permeates everything. This perfect Harmony is readily discernible and immediately available to anyone willing to acknowledge its presence and pay the small price demanded of it.

What is the price? Surrender of the personality! Only the personality, the prideful, intellectual ego, denies the totality of Reality and the presence of a perfect experience.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
"The world is not as it appears . . . ."

          I pause with Han and rest.
Breathing in, I become the fragrance of the purple blossoms on the side of the mountain we are climbing.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The "Present Moment" As a Mere "Consciousness of the Past"

In the first chapter of his insightful book, "The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self," philosopher Thomas Metzinger takes us from the leading edge of cognitive neuroscience, where the search is underway for the 'neural correlates' of consciousness (the specific areas of the brain that correlate to various mental phenomena and perceptions), to a discussion of the for-now seemingly ineffable question of just what consciousness is, and back to the question of epistemology that traces its roots back to Plato's famous "Cave," and beyond.

Quite correctly, he takes us through the argument that what we see as our 'reality out there' is an internal representation of the stimuli we receive from the outer environment. What we make of it, the mental construct of what "it" is, is a purely an internal matter.

Take colour. Metzinger points out that all the colours we see are just our own internal representation of the outside field of electromagnetic radiation that falls within the frequency range that our retina can detect and relay to the visual centers in our brain (the 'neural correlates' of vision). Yet the frequency range of electromagnetic energy we cannot see - gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet rays, infra-red waves, radio waves etc. - far exceed the limited band of frequencies we can detect as colours. But still the adage that "seeing is believing" continues to hold sway in our common understanding of our 'reality.'

Interestingly, Metzinger suggests our detection abilities may be evolving. Certainly, this has been put forward by Metzinger's predecessors who have studied the phenomena of consciousness. Both the pioneering psychologist Richard M. Bucke in his classic treatise, "Cosmic Consciousness," and the philosophical polymath, Gerald Heard, in "Pain, Sex and Time," both cite the inexplicability of  the 'blue' of the Aegean Sea never being mentioned in Homer's works, its  waters being referred to as wine coloured. Both give credence to the notion that our eyesight has continued to evolve in the bottom part of the visual spectrum.

Most interestingly, Metzingers states that the two facets of our subjective consciousness which are universally evident are (a) its "spatial internality" and (b) its "tempororal internality." The 'world' we see out there is not the world at all; it is not 'reality' but, rather, is our internal construction of the stimuli that our sense receptors - eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin - bring to our attention. We live in a 3-D world of our own making which is seamlessly cobbled together from the stream of stimuli created by our 'contact' with this colourless, odourless, tasteless and undivided, silent 'outer world' of electromagnetic phenomena. The more we ponder this reality, the more it begins to feel like the Buddhist notion of the Void from which all ideas and 'things' arise in a process of 'dependent origination' within our mind.
There is a famous Buddhist saying, "The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon." Meant to signify that the spiritual methodology one uses to attain enlightenment is not the state of enlightened consciousness and experience, the "finger pointing at the moon" analogy suggests an interesting counterpoint to Metzinger's observation that there are two very interesting aspects of our 'ordinary' consciousness: 'spatial internality' and 'temporal internality.'

The first of these concepts, spatial internality, is straightforward. What is seemingly 'out there' impinges on our senses, we form our 'internal image' of what is 'out there' and, then, our consciousness does a flip and it seems that all we see is indeed 'out there' and is a fairly accurate (if limited) representation of what is 'external' to us. However, 'temporal internality,' while equally convincing, seems to me to be an inherently inaccurate picture of what is 'external.'

"Conscious experience, as such," Metzinger observes, "is an internal affair. Whatever else may or may not be true about consciousness, once all the internal properties of your nervous system are set, all the properties of your conscious experience - its subjective content and the way it feels to you are fully determined. By "internal" I mean not only spatial but also temporal internality - whatever is taking place right now, at this very moment. As soon as certain properties of your brain are fixed, everything you are experiencing at this moment is also fixed."

It seems to me that the latter part of Metzinger's analysis dealing with "temporal internality" is evidently wrong, and just tends to reinforce the 'reductionist view' that consciousness is just a by-product of a highly evolved brain. Take the man (above) with his 'finger pointing at the moon.' He 'sees' his arm, his finger, perhaps some clouds, the moon, and the panopoly of stars behind the moon. According to Metzinger, this would be (from our pictured man's point of view) "what is taking place right now, at this very moment, when "everything (he) is experiencing at this moment is also fixed."

Yet, we know that what he is "seeing" is the light from the stars and that reflected by the moon illuminating the clouds, the finger, and the man's arm. And we know that this light is travelling at a uniform 300,000-odd kilometres per second. The light from the man's fingertip is reflected a split nano-second before the light illuminating his arm. The reflected light from the moon takes just over 2 seconds to travel the 700,000 or so kilometers that lies between the man's fingertip and the moon.

And the stars? Their light has been travelling for hundreds or thousands of years (or perhaps much more) to reach our man who sits quiescently pointing at the moon behind which they lie. (The closest stars - those in the Alpha Centauri star system - are 4.35 light years distant from the earth, while the nearest galaxy to the Milky Way - the Andromeda Galaxy, which is the only galaxy visible to the naked eye - lies 2.65 million light years beyond the man's outstretched fingertip.)

Indeed, it takes a nano-second or so for the light gathered in the man's eye to travel through his neural circuitry and register the images of "what is taking place right now" in the visual cortex. So, in a very real sense, whenever we 'look out, to the stars (particularly when we are looking at the far distant objects in the night sky) we are looking into the past. Sound waves are incredibly slower than light, so in actuality, what we hear is a 'dim echo' of our past. And while the sense of what we touch, together with our taste and the fragrances we smell, are more immediate, we still 'grope' in the darkness 'blindly,' so to speak.

In one of the most familiar passages in the New Testament, Paul observes that: "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (I Corinthians 13:12) It is a prescient reminder that our consciousness is much more than what we see, perhaps much more than we think . . . or even can think.

And each time we gaze at the stars, it is a reminder that  we are all only cognizant of what has already passed, that we are in actuality blind to the present let alone the future, but that we are able to take (and are taking) actions the effects of which we will only come to know in time. Each time, this is a reminder that the laws of karma - the laws of cause and effect - are operative; and we do not, and cannot, know what those effects will be precisely, though we are good "guessers" or prognosticators. Therefore, we should treat our ever-changing present moment with the care and respect which are its due.

As the stoic, neo-platonist Roman Emperor. Marcus Aurelius, observed: "All we ever have to live and lose is this ever passing present moment."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Entangled Universe, or 'The Structure of Consciousness?'

Quantum Entanglement
For the atheist, the seeming absurdity of the phenomena of 'quantum entanglement' likely raises for-now unanswerable questions; for the agnostic it must give wavering pause and cause him or her to suspect (once again) that something larger is going on in or beneath the universe; for the 'spiritual but not religious' it is likely to be a confirmation that there is a Wholeness or Unity to our 'reality' that is radically different from 'traditional' Western portrayals of what "God" is and how "He" operates. For the latter, an understanding of the basics of quantum entanglement will confirm that the representation of the 'Old Testament' God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is just that - an artistic 'representation' that was, more or less, coerced from Michaelangelo. It suggests, in fact, that we live in a physically, spiritually and psychologically "Entangled Universe."

Quantum entanglement is just one of many aspects of quantum theory that cannot be understood or 'pictured' very well, perhaps most so by those who are capable of 'best' understanding it. Fundamentally, it means that 'things' (experimentally, 'particles') that were once part of a single entity or system somehow remain connected thereafter; and if one makes an 'observation' that determines the properties of one 'part' of the former entity or system, the other part will instantaneously exhibit the opposite but equal property.
"Quantum entanglement is a property of the quantum mechanical state of a system containing two or more objects, where the objects that make up the system are linked in such a way that the quantum state of any of them cannot be adequately described without full mention of the others, even if the individual objects are spatially separated."
(Source: Wikipedia, "quantum entanglement.")
In simpler (and more illustrative) terms, when two particles come together and form a 'system,' thereafter "they behave like one object, but remain two separate objects. It is as if they now sit on the same teeter-totter seesaw. No matter how long the seesaw is, even if it is one million miles long, if one end is down the other end must be up, and this happens instantly." (Source: Simple English Wikipedia, "quantum entanglement.")

The "EPR paradox" (Einstein/Podulsky/Rosen) unsuccessfully
challenged the notion of quantum entanglement. (Wikipedia)
This 'radical' interconectivity at a distance (or 'non-locality,' as it is called in physics) gave Einstein fits. Although it did not cause the great scientist to pull out his iconic hair, he spent much of his latter career trying to disprove the phenomena. Along with his colleagues (Podulsky and Rosenstein) he proposed the "EPR Paradox" thought experiment in order to challenge the notion of entanglement, as according to relativity theory nothing travels faster than light; the speed of light (the c in Einstein's famous E=mc2  formula) being the notional "speed limit" of the universe.

Einstein was unsuccessful, however, and Scottish physicist John Bell showed in 'Bell's Theorem' that such 'super-liminal' (or "faster than light") connectivity must exist. This was proved, experimentally, in 1972; and thereafter the notion that one particle or 'thing' over 'here' is an integral part of a system with some 'thing' over 'there' - even when over 'there'  is a distance of thousands or millions of light years - fell away, and it began to seem that Western physics and cosmology was looking more and more like the cosmology and 'physics' of Eastern wisdom traditions.
(See article on Einstein's spiritual or 'religious' beliefs.)

The ideas of Buddhist 'dependent origination' (that everything that 'is' arises from interrelated and prior causes or phenomena) and "Indra's Many-Jewelled Net" from Hinduism (in which every bit of the universe is connected to and holographically "reflects" every other bit of matter) are beginning to look more and more like how Western physics was beginning to model the universe.

Perhaps this is just speculative and coincidental, but many informed scientists suspect that it is not. In any event, it has given great impetus to people who would classify themselves as 'spiritual but not religious' to question further the traditional notions of outwardly religious beliefs and dogma. More and more, it appears that the scientific and inner religious or spiritual traditions, as well as Western psychology are beginning to meld and overlap. Perhaps, they are destined to merge, as the following video on "Where Science and Buddhism Meet" suggests.

Or, as Gary Zukav observed in his now classic book, "The Dancing Wu Li Masters,," (at page 31), "(P)hysics is (becoming) the study of the structure of consciousness."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Fragments" from Bohm's "Implicate Order"

“. . . If there is knowledge, it will be done away with. For what we know is incomplete and what we prophesy is incomplete. But when what is complete comes, then what is incomplete will be done away with.. . . Now we see only an indistinct image in a mirror, but then we will be face to face. Now what I know is incomplete, but then I will know fully . . ."

(I Corinthians 13:8-12)

David Bohm (1917 - 1992)
David Bohm, the renowned physical theorist - who was at once the contemporary, colleague and friend of both Einstein and the renowned spiritual teacher, Jiddu Krishnamurti - proposed that there is a for-now imperceivable "Implicate Order" within which our perceivable universe (the "Explicate Order") unfolds. "I would say," he wrote in his treatise, "Wholeness and the Implicate Order," "that in my scientific and philosophical work, my main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment. . . ."

Over and over, Bohm observes that the basic problem we have in understanding ourselves, each other, and the basic nature of our 'reality' - particularly in the West, which is still in the grips  of a more-or-less 'classical' Newtonian worldview - is that we tend to break up or "fragment" the universe, the world, mankind, and even our thoughts, in order to 'understand' them, rather than trying to obtain a holistic vision of what we perceive.

"Being guided by this view," he observes, "man then acts in such a way as to try and break himself and the world up so that all seems to correspond to this way of thinking. He therefore obtains an apparent proof of his fragmentary self-world-view." (This echoes Einstein's comments about the commonly held world-view that he described as a sort of cosmic "optical delusion of [man's] consciousness.") It is a world-view that has grave implications, according to Bohm:
"Fragmentation is . . . an attitude of mind which disposes the mind to regard divisions between things as absolute and final, rather than as ways of thinking that have only a relative and limited range of usefulness and validity. It leads therefore to a general tendency to break up things in an irrelevant and inappropriate way according to how we think. And so it is evidently and inherently destructive. . . .

When man thinks of himself in this fragmentary way, he will inevitably tend to see himself first - his own person, his own group - he can't seriously think of himself as internally related to the whole of mankind and therefore to all other people. Even if he does try to put mankind first, he will perhaps think of nature as something different to be exploited to satisfy whatever desires he may have at the moment. Similarly he will think body and mind are independent actualities. . . . Physically this is not conducive to over-all health which means wholeness, and mentally, not to sanity which also has a similar meaning."

In a five-part 1989 interview (hosted on that was filmed at the Neils Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Bohm lucidly - given his vast knowledge, wide yet cohesive interests, and keen intellect - holds forth on a wide range of interrelated topics.  These include the relationship of the quantum and relativity theories to a holistic spiritual or metaphysical view of our 'reality,' the interconnectedness of all 'things' (including humankind) in a 'Wholeness,' the conflict between Western and Eastern worldviews, and the underlying 'deep roots' of the world's looming environmental problems - problems which stem from our treating world resources as separate "fragments" instead of the interrelated parts of a larger whole.

The "must-see" Bohm interviews capture one of the great minds, as well as great spiritual seekers, of the past 100 years at the height of his understanding of the "inter-relatedness" of all 'things' in the universe and our tendency to perceptively and conceptually break 'everything,' including (perhaps most importantly) our human interactions into 'fragmentary,' unrelated pieces.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New and Enlightened Views from the Vatican

In the rising awareness of and interest in the transcendental - not just in the world's great wisdom traditions, but in science, religious institutions and our culture generally - perhaps the growing acceptance of (and acknowledgment by) the Catholic Church of the truth revealed by leading-edge science is one of the most promising signs that physics, metaphysics and psychology are at last coming to a common understanding (albeit in different terminology) that there is a single, transcendental Unity that undergirds our perceptions and conceptions of "reality."

In a post several years ago, we reported how the head of the Vatican Observatory acknowledged the 'Big Bang Theory' as the most likely explanation of the Creation, a position overwhelmingly more enlightened than that held by fundamentalist Christians, particularly so-called 'mainstream' fundamentalist and evangelical Protestant sects in the United States, that insist on the "literal truth" of the Bible, despite its inherent contradictions and C.S. Lewis' reported observation: "If we are going to talk about the Bible, let's all agree that it's a work intended for grown-ups, or not have the discussion at all."

From Reuters report on Pope's address.
Now, in an address on January 6, 2011, Pope Benedict (as reported by Reuters), took an even bolder, if not further, step in the direction of reconciling the Catholic faith with the findings of reason and logic. As Reuters notes, "(t)he Catholic Church no longer teaches creationism -- the belief that God created the world in six days as described in the Bible -- and says that the account in the book of Genesis is an allegory for the way God created the world." Nevertheless, it still objects "to using evolution to back an atheist philosophy that denies God's existence or any divine role in creation."

But, perhaps most importantly, given the long running controversy over teaching evolution as opposed to creationism in U.S. public schools (or now Intelligent Design, a "politically correct" and watered-down version of creationism), the Church opposes "using the Book of Genesis as a scientific text."

"The universe is not the result of chance, as some would want to make us believe," Benedict reportedly told the crowd in St. Peter's Basilica on the appropriately chosen feast day of the Epiphany. "Contemplating it (the universe) we are invited to read something profound into it: the wisdom of the creator, the inexhaustible creativity of God."

"In the beauty of the world, in its mystery, in its greatness and in its rationality," he continued, "we can only let ourselves be guided toward God, creator of heaven and earth."

Pope Benedict's
timely remarks celebrating the Epiphany (the anniversary that Christians celebrate as the day that the Three Magis worshipped the infant Jesus) are part of a larger effort to bring the Catholic faith into the scientifically-informed 21st century. Part of that effort has included rehabilitating the ex-communicated Gallileo, the father of modern physics, and the speech, below, that Pope Benedict gave to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences' conference on " Scientific Insight into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life."

Reading the text of the Pope's remarks, one can only be impressed by the 'transcendental times' we are living in; a time when what was once the most conservative of Western institutions is addressing the roadblocks that have blocked it from recognizing the same 'Unity' that physics and psychology are rapidly moving towards.

In part, these are the remarks that Pope Benedict conveyed to the Vatican's own conference into the origin of life in the universe, on another appropriately chosen date - All Saints' Eve - October 31, 2008:
In this context, questions concerning the relationship between science’s reading of the world and the reading offered by Christian Revelation naturally arise. My predecessors Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II noted that there is no opposition between faith’s understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences. Philosophy in its early stages had proposed images to explain the origin of the cosmos on the basis of one or more elements of the material world. This genesis was not seen as a creation, but rather a mutation or transformation; it involved a somewhat horizontal interpretation of the origin of the world. A decisive advance in understanding the origin of the cosmos was the consideration of being qua being and the concern of metaphysics with the most basic question of the first or transcendent origin of participated being. In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is such by essence.
"In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was God. The same was
in the beginning with God."
John 1:1-2                    
To state that the foundation of the cosmos and its developments is the provident wisdom of the Creator is not to say that creation has only to do with the beginning of the history of the world and of life. It implies, rather, that the Creator founds these developments and supports them, underpins them and sustains them continuously. Thomas Aquinas taught that the notion of creation must transcend the horizontal origin of the unfolding of events, which is history, and consequently all our purely naturalistic ways of thinking and speaking about the evolution of the world. Thomas observed that creation is neither a movement nor a mutation. It is instead the foundational and continuing relationship that links the creature to the Creator, for he is the cause of every being and all becoming (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q.45, a. 3).
To “evolve” literally means “to unroll a scroll”, that is, to read a book. The imagery of nature as a book has its roots in Christianity and has been held dear by many scientists. Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author. It is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose “writing” and meaning, we “read” according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the author who has wished to reveal himself therein. This image also helps us to understand that the world, far from originating out of chaos, resembles an ordered book; it is a cosmos. Notwithstanding elements of the irrational, chaotic and the destructive in the long processes of change in the cosmos, matter as such is “legible”. It has an inbuilt “mathematics”. The human mind therefore can engage not only in a “cosmography” studying measurable phenomena but also in a “cosmology” discerning the visible inner logic of the cosmos. We may not at first be able to see the harmony both of the whole and of the relations of the individual parts, or their relationship to the whole. Yet, there always remains a broad range of intelligible events, and the process is rational in that it reveals an order of evident correspondences and undeniable finalities: in the inorganic world, between microstructure and macrostructure; in the organic and animal world, between structure and function; and in the spiritual world, between knowledge of the truth and the aspiration to freedom. Experimental and philosophical inquiry gradually discovers these orders; it perceives them working to maintain themselves in being, defending themselves against imbalances, and overcoming obstacles. And thanks to the natural sciences we have greatly increased our understanding of the uniqueness of humanity’s place in the cosmos."
 We live in "transcendental times," indeed!

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Shortfall In the Scientific Paradigm

It is high time that Western science (in a collective sense) examines its belief system. Of course, science is a belief system itself, a highly successful one - very arguably the most successful belief system mankind has ever constructed - but it is a belief system nonetheless.

With a host of man-made global crises facing us - everything from mass extinctions and global warming, to a coming phosphate shortage and the resulting threat of pending global hunger - it seems imperative that science takes a long hard look at its belief structures so that it may develop an ability to address all the dimensions of the myriad problems that scientific technologies have helped create.

In the intellectual struggle to come to a holistic understanding of the direction of physics, psychology and metaphysics, and whether perhaps all three point to a single Unity or Wholeness underlying our 'reality,' one of the most influential book explaining what modern science 'is,' how it 'works,' and 'where' it is likely headed, is Thomas Kuhn's by-now classic treatise, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions."

Kuhn starts out his survey of how scientific viewpoints jump from one static paradigm to the next by observing: "History, if viewed as a repository for more than anecdote or chronology, could produce a decisive transformation in the image of science by which we are now possessed." And, Kuhn's by-now classic treatise is largely an illustration of how science has historically and consistently jumped from one accepted scientific viewpoint to the next as the usefulness of the former erodes and the usefulness of the latter to solve unresolved problems is accepted within the scientific community.

"Science without religion is lame;
religion without science is blind."

Albert Einstein
In a grandeliquent statement of the role that history and historical accident plays (such as Dutch children playing with discarded lenses from one of the first lens grinders, which led to Galilleo's  invention of the telescope and modern cosmology), Kuhn writes:
"Observation and experience can and must drastically restrict the range of admissible scientific belief, else there would be no science. But they cannot alone determine a particular body of such belief. An apparently arbitrary element, compounded of personal and historical accident, is always a formative ingredient of the beliefs espoused by a given scientific community at a given time."

Yet, quite arguably, science over-restricts the "range of admissible scientific belief," and while utilizing the occasional "historical accident" as a catalyst to change, the line it draws between itself and all other bodies of purposeful historical investigation may be too narrow. It draws its line in the sand at the border of material 'objectivity' and rigid 'empiricism'. It does so, I would argue, to the detriment of both itself (by overly restricting the scope of its enquiry, and thereby leaving various "hard" questions unresolvable) and ourselves, who are the ultimate manufacturers and consumers of scientific beliefs.

Kuhn says that science comes to accept a 'paradgm' that explains all the observations they make and experiments they run. (But it has to be 'objective,' 'empirical,' 'predictive' and 'experimentally repetitive.') That paradigm remains rigid until someone notices an "anomaly" or 'observation' that the paradigmatic theory doesn't and cannot explain. At that point, someone comes along with a new theory. All the people in lab coats resist it at first, but in time as its predictions are proved to be correct experimentally and scientists come to a consensus behind it, the new theory is accepted, it supercedes the old theory and becomes the 'new paradigm.'

An example is how Einstein's Special (and then General) Theory of Relativity surplanted Newton's "classical" theory of physics and motion. Newton's classic theory couldn't explain the strange orbit of Mercury, it was an 'anomaly'. Along came an unheralded Swiss patent clerk with a wholly new theory of how we might understand the physics of motion. Einstein didn't figure it out to explain Mercury's orbit, but it did. He did, however, predict that the great mass of the sun bends the light from stars, an event that should be observable during a solar eclipse. This was in 1905. An Englishman, Arthur Eddington, thought Einstein was correct and in 1919 set up an expedition to photograph an eclipse. (No small risk to be thought of as collaborating in anyway with the hated 'Huns' just as 'the Great War' was grinding to its bloody end!). Eddington's observations proved the predictions derived from Relativity Theory, and gradually it became a new paradigm for physics (together with the Quantum Theory, which Einstein also played a hand in developing.)

The problem is that 'science' will not accept anything that is not "objective" and "empirical" (i.e., backed by data and expressible in mathematical terms). All spiritual experience is inherently "subjective" and "non-empirical" in the current view of what science is about. And, until this overarching 'paradigm' is successfully challenged, by definition all the observations of thousands of years of Eastern psychological, physical and metaphysical experience cannot challenge science's existing paradigms.

Albert Einstein (1879 -1955)
Einstein on Religion: TIME 04/05/07
This is true, even where (as in quantum mechanics which cannot explain why an "observation" is needed to give 'reality' to and 'determine' quantum effects, or how seemingly 'separate' particles remain 'entangled' with each other even at monumental distances) scientific theorizing calls out for the explanations that Eastern "inner scientists" discovered millennia ago. As Einstein noted, "Science without religion [remains] lame, while  religion without science [remains] blind."

I think, however, that Alan Wallace has recently and effectively challenged the scientific rule that somehow 'subjective experience doesn't count,' and he is succeeding in his campaign to at last get some scientist to look at the invaluable findings of Eastern traditions. I believe that his lecture on why Western science must look to the results of Eastern wisdom traditions is a must-see video for all scientists as well as for all spiritual aspirants and sages.

I suspect that once Western tackles the 'deep problem' of what consciousness is, how it is formed, and how it shapes our 'reality,' there will be a paradigmatic shift that will enable science to clean up the "mess" that lurks in the periphery of scientific theory, as well as the mess that we have created with an 'unmindful' use of scientific technology.

Indeed, Kuhn notes that it usually takes a generation for a paradigmatic shift to be recognized by the broader scientific community. Perhaps, we are now undergoing such a shift, and Western science is beginning to tap the wisdom of Eastern psychologies and metaphysics. If so, a new framework for addressing global problems may emerge from such an East-West synthesis.

In Gary Zhukav's "The Dancing Wu Li Masters", a now-classic treatise on the convergence of modern physics, metaphysics and the world's oldest wisdom traditions, Zhukav makes the following observations regarding a paradigm shift that may well be underway already. He writes:.
"According to quantum mechanics there is no such thing as objectivity. We cannot eliminate ourselves from the picture. We are a part of nature, and when we study nature there is no way around the fact that nature is studying itself. Physics has become a branch of psychology, or perhaps the other way round.
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, wrote:
The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner contradictions, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposite halves.
 Jung's friend, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, put it this way:
From an inner center the psyche seems to move outward, in the sense of an extraversion, into the physical world . . . 
"If these men are correct," Zhukav aptly noted, "then physics is the study of the structure of consciousness." [Emphasis added.]

If that is true, and a variety of research in differing scientific fields hints that it is, science may well be in the process of raising its own consciousness.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Science, Consciousness and Being

"Science without religion is lame,
religions without science is blind."

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
It has never been satisfactory for me to subscribe to a belief system that contradicts science (not a belief system restricted to the narrow limits of science, but not a system contradictory to science within those limits). As the Dalai Lama noted in his book, "The Universe In a Single Atom," if one's religious doctrines conflict with science, it is the doctrines that must be re-examined in light of scientific progress. Or, as Einstein observed, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

Because of my own background (my father and mother were a nuclear scientist and Christian Scientist, respectively), and my own education (psychology/sociology, followed by a law degree), I also needed a spiritual or religious perspective that squared with the findings of both the so-called “soft” social sciences and was harmonious with the humanities.

Physics, psychology and metaphysics/theology are the leading disciplines in the sciences, social sciences and humanities, respectively. Fortunately, all three seem to point to the perhaps unacknowledged, but nonetheless undivided, ‘Wholeness’ of which our respective ‘realities’ are intricate and integral parts. I find this most reassuring, while I endeavour through practice to penetrate this Wholeness at greater depths and for longer duration until, … well, who knows until, really?

I was fortunate in growing up without a forced understanding of some anthropomorphic and punishing God-man "out there" somewhere, like the roof of the Sistine Chapel come to spiritual life. Yet growing up in a Western culture, this was the common-place "idea" (or so I understood it) of a superman-like God which I rapidly rejected.

Mary Baker Eddy
On the wall of my bedroom, growing up, was a plaque setting out what is known as the "Scientific Statement of Being," by Christian Science founder, Mary Baker Eddy. It read:
"There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all. Spirit is immortal Truth; matter is mortal error. Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God, and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual."
Obviously, this view had a large impact on my thinking. Yet I could not ascribe to the "matter is mortal error" dogma. I understood matter to be very 'real' indeed. Nor could I get behind the whole "spiritual healing" shtick. It seemed, and seems, to be a fixation with physical health and death - and, worse yet, a denial of science - which seemed rather besides the point, particularly with the rapid medical advances in the last 150 years.

Science, of course, does not have all the answers. Yet, as Richard Dawkins notes in one of his rote speeches (quoting J.B.S. Haldane), "The universe is not only queerer than we suupose; it is queerer than we can suppose." Yet science is plodding away, as it should (and as metaphysics should). The findings in quantum dynamics theory - that there is no 'reality' (per se) but only a quantum 'flux' or potential until there is an "observation" that crystallizes our 'reality' - seem both astounding and awe-inspiring. It appears, indeed, that perhaps "All is infinite mind."

In his book, "The Commanding Self," the late Sufi author, Idries Shah, wrote:
“People follow one creed or system after another, each one believed to provide the answer, the thing that will solve all problems. In the West, for instance, people followed religion and threw it up for ‘reason’; then they put all their money on industry and finally on technology. Until they run out of panaceas they are unlikely to cure this habit."
Of course, there are no panaceas that provide lasting satisfaction. What humanity needs is a synthesis of understanding between the three great branches of knowledge: science, social sciences and metaphysics. Fortunately, it seems like the leading edges of the principal disciplines of these branches are beginning to converge and point to a "Unity" in which we are all participants. Out of this convergence we will undoubtedly come to know more of this Unity or Wholeness.

This Unity was captured succinctly in the teahcings of one of the great Chassidic Rebbes ('Chassids,' or 'Hasssidics,' despite all appearances, are members of perhaps the most 'progressive' and certainly the most 'mystic' branch of the ancient Judaic religion):
"Einstein received acclaim for demonstrating that energy and matter arre the same thing. The scientist who demonstrates how all forces are one in a unified theory will receive greater acclaim. So, since we all agree that someone will eventualy establish this, why not accept it right now, and we'll call it G_d?"

Friday, March 11, 2011

East and West . . . the 'Twains Must Meet!

If you do no more than visit your local bookstore and read the Introduction to Frances Vaughan's "Shadows of the Sacred," it will be well worth the effort - both for yourself and a world facing (or, rather, "not facing") immense challenges.

Never mind "sustainable development,"
we need to develop 'global sustainability.'
"Contemporary global culture is predominantly egocentric and materialistic," Vaughan notes, with the result that whole swaths of our society are "plagued by alienation and violence." And, so it seems, despite the much touted ideal of 'sustainable development,' little but lip service is being given even to this notion when, in truth, we should be putting all our efforts into 'developing sustainability.'

At times, Vaughn intimates, we all appear to be hypnotized by the same illusion: despite knowing that we live in a world with growing socioeconomic injustice and looming ecological disasters, we act as though these things will not impact us, or our loved ones.

(This attitude shows that our conceptions of 'love' may be much more restricted than we would like to profess. Of love for our fellow beings and our world, it seems we demonstrate a marked indifference.)

"Since the major threats to life on earth are caused by human behavior," Vaughan writes, "the need for changing consciousness is urgent." She continues:
"Global crises reflect values, beliefs and attitudes that seem to ignore our relationship to nature, Unexamined beliefs can be dangerous to ourselves, our children and the earth. Future generations will bear the burden of our addictions and illusions that promise salvation while threatening annihilation."
 Vaughan clearly advocates an informed religion that addresses our existential struggles in the modern world, rather than out-dated (perhaps dangerous) fundamentalist belief systems that do not reflect our modern 'realities.'
"Postmodern worldviews give scant support to the notion of a spiritual reality," Vaughan observes. "Yet a restless and persuasive hunger for living spiritually has led to widespread interest in new religions movements, ancient esoteric traditions and a variety of psychospiritual techniques that promise liberation or enlightenment. The spiritual quest is no longer the property of organized religion, nor is it a privilege of a few individuals who have made a formal commitment to religious life.
Consciousness: More than a byproduct of matter?
Yet, postmodern science, which places little credence on the potential that spirituality and higher consciousness might hold for a disaffected populace, continues to hold a nearly classical empirical view when it comes to the mind sciences. Meanwhile, much efforts has been spent in investigating in "debunking" viewpoints shaped by intuitive, subjective experience - viewpoints which are beyond the purview of science, as it is currently understood.

"The materialistic worldview that assumes consciousness is only a byproduct of randomnly generated matter is seldom questioned in secular society," much less by science, Vaughn notes. (A point made clear by Alan Wallace in a persuasive video urging that the Western mind sciences follow up on the research started by one of the deans of American psychology, William James, more than a centrury ago.) The inevitable result of this disparagement of the 'reality' of spiritual or religious experience is that religion "is presumed to be an opiate of the masses and spirituality no more than a palliative for those who cannot face the existential reality of our inevitable death," Vaughan observes.

But just as an aspirant on a spiritual quest "must traverse both the outer world of ego and the inner world of soul before reaching liberation," so 'outwardly-focused' Western science, which has afforded us a dubious 'mastery' of the physical world, must somehow synthesize the 'inwardly-focused' Eastern  knowledge about consciousness, psychologies and wisdom traditions that have been the subject of study for millennia, if we are to develop anything like "global sustainability." As Vaughan concludes:
"When we are willing to face our fears and make an effort to see through self-deception, a deeper awareness of the mystery of enlightenment leads us back to the practical task of nurturing spirituality as a source of healing and wholeness for ourselves and the earth."