Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Krishnamurti: On Psychological Security

What does it take to experience true security in an age that seems obsessed with being secure? Literally, billions of dollars are spent each year, by countries large and small, to purchase armaments in an attempt to obtain security by pure force. Yet, at a psychological and emotional level, individuals in these societies probably feel less secure then they ever have.

In a talk that predates the rise of the national security state, the late spiritual teacher, Jiddu Krishnamurti, examines our individual and collective need for security and explores whether psychologically security is even possible.

Throughout millennia, Krishnamurti notes, humanity has always sought physical security - adequate food, clothing and shelter - but has never managed to arrange a society that could provide these basic needs in adequate abundance to all. Perhaps it is this reality, he suggests, that compels an additional need for a psychological sense of security that is almost impossible for a society to attain, but which is possible to the individual.

"Desire for physical security," Krishnamurti observes, "has psychologically taken over the physical demands. One needs physical security, and that is the function of a good society." However, he notes, "each human being seeks pyschological security, inward security, relying on belief - holding on - hoping there, by inner belief, to find security in an idea, in a person, in a concept, in an experience."

But, he asks: "Does he ever find security in any of it . . . and if he doesn't why does he hold onto it?"

"For centuries, he suggests, "a belief has been created, and one accepts it naturally from childhood, and it is easier to follow what has been the tradition rather than to break away from it."

In the attached videos (from 1979), Krishnamurti examines how we have set up society after society that has failed to provide basic security - in terms of providing adequate food, clothes and shelter - and questions if, in light of this, we have the ability to critically examine the societies we have set up, and perhaps move from that critical examination towards true psychological security.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tolle, Heisenberg and Descartes: "I Observe, therefore, I Am"

Rene Descartes
Rene Descarte's famous dictum, "cognito ergo sum" ('I think, therefore, I am'), while logical and apparently self-evident on its face, may be wholly wrong. Voices as varied as spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, and Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Werner Hesienberg (who first developed the eponymous 'Uncertainty Principle' that forms an integral component of the quantum theory), have critiqued Descartes on precisely this conclusion. "I am, therefore, I think," would perhaps be a more accurate summary for Tolle, who has identified "thinking without awareness" as the main problem of humanity.

Werner Heisenberg
For his part, Heisenberg in "Physics and Philosophy:The Revolution in Modern Science," observes that Descartes' distinction between internal reality (res cogitans) and outer reality (res extensa) skewed  science so that it looked almost wholly to the external, a viewpoint that cannot be sustained given the role of the observer in quantum mechanics.
"(T)he basis of the philosophy of Descartes is radically different from that of the ancient Greek philosophers," Heisenberg notes. "Here the starting point is not a fundamental principle or substance, but the attempt of a fundamental knowledge. And Descartes realizes that what we know about our mind is more certain than what we know about the outer world. But already his starting point with the "triangle" God-World-I simplifies in a dangerous way for further reasoning."

"The division between matter and mind or between soul and body, which had started in Plato's philosophy, is now complete. God is separated both from the I and from the world. God in fact is raised so high above the world and men that He finally appears in the philosophy of Descartes only as a common point of reference that establishes the relation between the I and the world."

"If one uses the the fundamental concepts of Descartes at all," Heisenberg continues, "it is essential that God is in the world and in the I and it is also essential that the I cannot be really separated from the world. Of course Descartes knew the indisputable necessity of the connection, but philosophy and natural science in the following period developed on on the basis of the polarity between the "res cogitans" and "res extensa." The influence of the Cartesian division on human thought in the following centuries can hardly be overestimated, but it is just in this division which we have to criticize later from the development of physics in our time."
[Heisenberg, "Physics and Philosophy," pp. 52-53]
"If one follows the great difficulty which even eminent scientists like Einstein had in understanding the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory," Heisenberg remarks, "one can trace the roots of this difficulty to the Cartesian partition. This partition has penetrated deeply into the human mind during the three centuries following Descartes and it will take a long time for it to be replaced by a really different attitude toward the problem of reality."
[Ibid., p. 55.]

Eckhart Tolle
Perhaps, a better summary, and one that both Tolle and Heisenberg might accept is "observare ergo sum" - "I observe, therefore, I am" - for it is the observer that finally determines the outcome in quantum mechanics, coalescing one reality out of an infinite number of possibilities, and for Tolle it is the witnessing Presence of the observer that stymies the ego and makes his or her world whole.

 . . . . . . . . . . . . .
For a detailed introduction to the work of Heisenberg and the development of the quantum theory, particularly as it relates to consciousness, the cosmos and our Being, see the related post ("God, Quantum Physics and Cosmology: A Video Compilation"), which is available, below.

God, Quantum Physics and Cosmology: A Video Compilation

An interesting and informative video introduction to quantum physics, cosmolgy, the "new physics" and their relationship to "God" has been put together by UNFFwildcard on YouTube ( "God and Cosmology I").

Very detailed, the video series (embedded below) is nonetheless a concise explanation of the "new physics" and the problems and possibilities that quantum theory presents for our understanding of the cosmos, consciousness and, perhaps, an omnipresent God that pervades and supports the universe.

Video for God and Cosmology - Part 4 is available for viewing on YouTube by following this link.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fear, Desire and Experience

"Before you learn to swim, water seems to be a dreadful place. "Suppose I drown? What will become of me?" But once you learn to swim, you love the water. You have to learn to swim in this ocean of samsara - to become a master swimmer."
-- Swami Satchidananda --
Mastering our fears by overcoming desires - in this instance, the fear of death and the desire for perfect security - leads to the experience of something far greater than the sum of all fears and desires, i.e., the human ego. The ego cannot experience the divine, its experience is only that of fears that can never be allayed and desires that can never be fulfilled. Yet experience of the divine is just beyond the ego's seemingly firm, but feeble, grip.
"To know itself," the modern sage, Sri Nisagardatta remarked, "the self must be faced with its opposite - the not-self. Desire leads to experience. Experience leads to discrimination, detachment, self-knowledge - liberation. And what is liberation after all? To know that you are beyond birth and death. By forgetting who you are and imagining yourself a mortal creature, you created so much trouble for yourself that you have to wake up, like from a bad dream."
[Sri Nisagardatta Maharaj, "I Am That," p. 68.]
Over and over, saints and sages have used the metaphor of water - the spring, the lake, the river and the ocean - to express the challenges to, and potential for, transcendental experience of our higher being. Jesus walked on water, the Buddha crossed over to the far shore. The lotus flower is rooted in the muddy bottom of a lake and blooms on its surface. Rumi's flutes are fashioned from the reeds that grow along the river's shores, already singing plaintively for the divine breath that will loose the music they hold within themselves.

Rhetorically, Nisagardatta asks: "What is wrong with (the mind) seeking the pleasant and shirking the unpleasant?"
"Between the banks of pain and pleasure," he notes, "the river of life flows. It is only when the mind refuses to flow with life, and gets stuck at the banks, that it becomes a problem. By flowing with life I mean acceptance - letting come what comes and go what goes. Desire not, fear not, observe the actual, as and when it happens, for you are not what happens, you are to whom it happens. Ultimately even the observer you are not. You are the ultimate potentiality of which the all-embracing consciousness is the manifestation and expression.
Perhaps it was Herman Melville, author of "Moby Dick," the great novel of what happens to man when he seeks to kill the leviathans that lurk beneath the oceans' waters, who said it best when he observed:
"Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all of whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began."

"Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?
For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!"
In his metaphor, "Tahiti" is the higher consciousness of enlightenment available to the man who reaches its shore having crossed the ego-ocean of the "half known life," with all of the self-cannibalizing fears and desires that lurk beneath a surface that is often calm, but just as often storm-tossed. "Push not off from that isle," Melville warns, for if you do, "thou canst never return!"

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dalai Lama: Science, Buddhism and the Mind

H.H., the 14th Dalai Lama
From his writings and talks it is clear that the Dalai Lama is one of the world religious leaders, perhaps the world religious leader, most influenced and accommodative to learning from, and perfecting his religious knowledge with, the teachings of modern science.

In his introduction to the XIV Mind and Life Conference convened in 2007 in Dharamsala, the Tibetan leader-in-exile's residence, and based around his 2005 book, "The Universe in a Single Atom," the Dalai Lama observed that there were two challenges facing Buddhism in Asia: the first a political challenge, which he declares "not serious," and the second challenge coming from modern science itself.
"From the Buddhist point of view, and particularly from the Nalanda (or) Sanskrit based tradition," he observed, "one can see this reality as a challenge (and) opportunity for further exploration and discussion. These challenges can be seen as an opportunity for gaining new, fresh insights. We have brought this point up right from the beginning of our Mind and Life dialogues, that from the particular view of this particular brand or lineage of the Nalanda tradition, since the fundamental epistemological standpoint of this tradition is to really appreciate the need for evidence and reasoned-based understanding."
"So that, if there are certain facts, which as a result of experiment and based upon evidence, if we see clear evidence of their presence, then these are something Buddhists will have to accept as part of their reality. And if there are certain facts which even may have been part of the Buddha's heritage for a long time, and mentioned in the sutras and so on, if as a result of constant investigation and experiment no evidence is found, and furthermore if contrary evidence is found from the scientific side, then even if these have been part of the Buddhist tradition and explicitly mentioned in the texts, then we will have to reinterpret them."
"As far as external matters are concerned," he notes, "I think modern science (is) a more elaborate authority. I feel like that. Now, as far as internal matters, emotions or mind, (in) that field Buddhist, like ancient Indian thought, I think long experience and a long history (has) maybe some potential to contribute understanding about emotion or mind, and also how to teach sophisticated emotions."
"The Universe in a Single Atom' is a personal, and very successful attempt to chart the interface of Buddhist teachings and the new physics, particularly the remarkably similar (although differently termed) teachings of the Bhuddist Abhidarma teachings and quantum theory.

Explaining the importance of the Abidharma teachings on 'emptiness' - a concept expounded by the great Mahayana scholar Nagarjuna - the Dalai Lama writes that "at its heart," the concept of 'emptiness' "is (a) deep recognition that there is a fundamental disparity between the way we perceive the world, including our own existence in it, and the way things actually are. In our day-to-day experience we tend to relate to the world and to ourselves as if these entities possess self-enclosed definable, discrete, and enduring reality."

"According to the theory of emptiness," he writes, "any belief in an objective reality grounded in the assumption of intrinsic, independent existence is untenable. All things and events, whether material, mental or even abstract concepts like time, are devoid of objective, independent existence. To possess such independent, intrinsic existence would imply that things and events are somehow complete unto themselves and are therefore entirely self contained."

This remark is, of course, markedly similar on its face to Einstein's famous quote:

"A human being is part of the whole called by us the universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness."
"This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

The videos below, follow the lengthy proceedings of the XIV Mind and Life Conference, session by session. Readers may want to select from amongst the different talks by subject to see just how closely these leading minds from Buddhism and various scientific fields come to a convergence where spirituality and insights from meditative contemplation meet leading-edge science.

DAY ONE A.M. - Introductory remarks by the Dalai Lama. The Buddhism-Science Collaboration and the Limits of Scientific Knowledge: Exposing the Fracture Points. Dialogue Leader: Evan Thompson.

DAY ONE P.M. - Atomism, Emptiness, Interdependence and the Role of the Observer in Quantum Physics and Buddhism. Dialogue Leaders: Anton Zeilinger and Arthur Zajonc.

DAY TWO A.M. - Mental process underlying attention, visual perception, and cognitive control.

DAY TWO P.M. - Paying attention to awareness - "attention", "mindfulness" and "clear comprehension".

DAY THREE A.M. - Mental processes for attention and cognitive control in children and adolescents.

Day Three P.M. - The utility of improving attention and working memory with mindfulness-based training.

DAY FOUR A.M. - The attention-emotion interface.

DAY FOUR P.M. - Consciousness. Dialogue Leaders: Wolf Singer, Richard Davidson and Evan Thompson

DAY FIVE A.M. - Embodiment and intersubjectivity - empirical and phenomenological approaches.


DAY FIVE P.M. - Education, application, Buddhism and technology.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

William James: Religious Experience and Higher Consciousness

Western science is just now coming face-to-face with the question of just 'what' consciousness is, although much of its work is still concentrated on the quest to find the neural correlates of consciousness - a sign that the scientific search is still for consciousness arising as a phenomenon of the brain, rather than as an independent phenomena. This, of course, indicates the Western bias for materialism.

William James
It is now over 100 years, however, since William James "threw down the gauntlet" (as Alan Wallace notes in a convincing Google TechTalk), challenging Western science to investigate just what "consciousness" is, and why there appear to be so many different forms - particularly higher forms -  of it. "

In his masterwork, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," James writes that: "(P)ersonal religious experience has its root and centre in mystical states of consciousness." And, describing the qualities of such higher states of consciousness, beyond our ordinary egoic, self-consciousness, he observes that "(t)hey are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time."

Moreover, he notes, "(m)ystical states, strictly so called, are never merely interruptive. Some memory of their content always remains, and a profound sense of their importance. They modify the inner life of the subject between the times of their recurrence. . . . They bring a sense of mystery and of the metaphysical duality of things, and feeling of an enlargement of perceptions which seems imminent but which never completes itself."
[Wm. James, "Varieties of Religious Experience," pp. 379-384.]

Richard M. Bucke
Two of the examples he cites are from the Canadian psychiatrist, Richard M. Bucke (author of the renowned book, "Cosmic Consciousness"), and the great Indian teacher and spiritual ambassador to the West, Swami Vivikenanda.

Writing of his own experience of a higher, transcendental consciousness, Bucke observed:
"Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have eternal life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life then; I saw that all men are immortal; that the cosmic order is such that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle of the world, of all the worlds, is what we call love, and that the happiness of each and all is in the long run guaranteed. The vision lasted but a few seconds and was gone; but the memory of it and the sense of the reality of what it taught has remained during the quarter of a century which has since elapsed."
[Ibid., p. 397.]
Swami Vivekananda
The Indian yogi, Swami Vivikenanda, burst onto the Western stage with his appearance at the  Parliament of the World's Religions, held at Chicago's World Fair in 1893 and exposed Westerners, most for the first time, to the millennia-old yoga (or religious) teachings of the East. Vivikenanda's views on transcendental consciousness were extracted by James, from Vivkenanda's famous work, "Raja Yoga," in which he observed:
"(T)he mind itself has a higher state of consciousness, beyond reason, and . . .  when the mind gets to that higher state, then this knowledge beyond reasoning comes. . . . All the different steps in yoga are intended to bring us scientifically to the superconscious state or samadhi. . . . Just as unconscious work is beneath consciousness, and which, also, is not accompanied with the sense of egoism. . . . There is no feeling of I, and yet the mind works, desireless, free from restlessness, objectless, bodiless. Then the Truth shines in its full effulgence, and we know ourselves - for Samadhi lies potential in us all - for what we truly are, free, immortal, omnipotent, loosed from the finite and its contrasts of good and evil altogether and identical with the Atman or Universal Soul."
[Ibid., p. 400.]
When a man emerges from the experience of  Samadhi," James notes, "the Vedantists assure us that he remains "enlightened, a sage, a prophet, a saint, his whole character changed, his life changed, illiumined." The same conclusion is drawn of course by Bucke, and is a central tenet of his book, "Cosmic Consciousness."

All this goes to show, that the experience of individuals in the West and East (as amply demonstrated by both William James and Bucke) attests to higher states of transcendental consciousness beyond the mere egoic consciousness that the vast majority of us function and suffer (to greater or lesser degrees) in. Yet, it appears that Western-based science continues unabated in its attempt to find and map the neural correlates of these states of heightened consciousness, even while they have so far been unable to find the neural basis, or even come to a generally accepted working definition, of consciousness itself.

A video critique of William James' "Varieties of Religious Experience" by the distinguished American philosopher, Richard Rorty, is included, below.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Carl Jung: Mankind's Relilgious Impulse

Carl G. Jung
The great Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, was both psychoanalyst and social critic, as the video embedded, below, attests. He saw society suffering from its own neuroses, and felt that the individual could only come to terms with such outer neuroses, by developing psychological knowledge of his inner being, with all its mythological and religious significance.

Writing in his small but essential book, "The Undiscovered Self," Jung observed:
"Just as man, as a social being, cannot in the long run exist without a tie to the community, so the individual will never find the real justification for his existence, and his own spiritual and moral autonomy, anywhere except in an extramundane principle capable of relativizing the overpowering influence of external factors."

"The individual who is not anchored in God can offer no resistance on his own to the physical and moral blandishments of the world. For this he needs the evidence of inner, transcendent experience which alone can protect him from the otherwise inevitable submersion in the mass."

"Merely intellectual or even moral insight into the stultification and moral irresponsibility of the mass man is a negative recognition only and amounts to not much more than a wavering on the road to the atomization of the individual. It lacks the driving force of religious conviction, since it is merely rational."

"(A) natural function which has existed from the beginning, like the religious function, cannot be disposed of with rationalistic and so-called enlightened criticism," Jung observed. "You can, of course, represent the doctrinal contents of the creeds as impossible and subject them to ridicule, but such methods miss the point and do not hit the religious function which forms the basis of the creeds."

Because of this, Jung, writing at the height of the Cold War, warned of the evil warping of the religious impulse by the deification of the state. In today's world, it is perhaps not so much the deification of the state that poses the biggest challenge to the exercise of one's religious impulse, but consumerism, materialism, religious and economic fundamentalism and apathy.

Nonetheless, Jung's recognition that we have within us the potential and need for inner transcendent experience remains a timely message. For, as Jung observed, it is the collective psyche of mankind that still poses the biggest threat to our survival, a point he noted long before anyone suspected or seriously projected the existential Malthusian challenges of over-population, desertification, global hunger, species extinction and massive global warming that now threaten our very survival. Thus, before he died in 1961, Jung observed that mankind creates its own greatest challenges. "We," he famously said, "are the origin of all coming evil."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Quantum Physics and a "Great Leap" in Consciousness

Dr. Amit Goswami
The following talk on quantum physics and consciousness by Dr. Amit Goswami (of "What The Bleep Do We Know?" fame) gives the viewer an insightful look into the behind-the-scenes operation of quantum phenomena in forming the world we see, a world formation that is driven by our consciousness in Dr. Goswami's view. It is in quantum mechanics, says Dr . Goswami, that science first encounters the free will of the individual, an intriguing proposition that brings science full circle to its metaphysical roots in natural philosophy.

"Consciousness is the Ground of Being," says Goswami, and our present is conditioned by all the past  effects - our "memories of 'who I am'' - which are all reflected in what he calls the "mirror of our memories." In realizing that "the observer is the observed," he notes, we gain true "wisdom."

"But there really is no free lunch," Goswami warns, "we have to meditate and reach these non-ordinary states of consciousness before we become the creator of our own reality." Yet, this is not necessarily such a great leap, he observes. "As this is (becoming) clear," he notes, "we are getting a new wave, a new generation of enthusiastic investigators who are ready to take this leap."

After we take such a leap, "instead of playing in a small pond," says Goswami, "we play in the bigger arena of the world itself. We become a citizen of the universe."

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jung and Krishnamurti: Society in Crisis

Jiddu Krishnamurti
What role does the individual play in the development of the state, and what role does the state play in the the development of the individual?  Have we reached a point where "sustainable development" no longer makes sense and we should be focusing on "developing sustainability," first by examining the effects that modern life has on the individual and his or her consciousness?

Two of the greatest and most innovative voices of the twentieth-century - the philosopher/spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti, and the great psychologist Carl Jung - both point to the minimal effect that the individual has in the development of the state, and the huge effect the state has in the development of the individual. And both point to the dangers inherent in these realities of modern life.

Carl Jung (1875-1961)
"The goal and meaning of individual life (which is the only real life)," writes Jung, "no longer lie(s) in individual development but in in the policy of the State, which is thrust upon the individual from outside and consists in the execution of an abstract idea which ultimately tends to attract all life to itself."

"The individual," Jung observes, "is increasingly deprived of the moral decision as to how he should live his own life, and instead is ruled, fed, clothed and educated as a social unit, accommodated in the appropriate housing unit, and amused in accordance with the standards that give pleasure and satisfaction to the masses."

"The rulers, in their turn," he  notes, "are just as much social units as the ruled and are distinguished only by the fact that they are specialized mouthpieces of the State doctrine. They do not need to be personalities capable of judgment, but thoroughgoing specialists who are unusable outside their line of business. State policy decides what shall be taught and studied."
[C.J. Jung, "The Undiscovered Self," page 22.]

Jung's analysis, written in 1957, is a devastating indictment of modern society, and one about which he gives a dire warning, in the following video clip. In it, Jung observes that man will "not stand forever his nullification," and then pointedly warns that, "we are the origin of all coming evil."

For his part, Krishnamurti notes that "(t)here is conflict between man and society because man is in conflict within himself. and the conflict is between that which is static and that which is living. Society is the outward expression of man," he observes, and "(t)he conflict between himself and society is the conflict within himself."

"This conflict, within and without," Krishnamurti notes,"will ever exist until the highest intelligence (in man) is awakened."

"To be a good citizen is to function efficiently within the pattern of a given society," he observes. "Efficiency and conformity are demanded of the citizen, as they toughen him, make him ruthless; and then he is capable of sacrificing the man to the citizen. A good citizen is not necessarily a good man; but a good man is bound to be a right citizen, not of any particular society or country. Because he is primarily a good man, his actions will not be anti-social, he will not be against another man. He will live in co-operation with other good men; he will not seek authority, for he has no authority; he will be capable of efficiency without its ruthlessness. The citizen attempts to sacrifice the man; but the man who is searching out the highest intelligence will naturally shun the stupidities of the citizen."

"The intelligent man will bring about a good society," Krishnamurti notes, "but a good citizen will not give birth to a society in which man can be of the highest intelligence. The conflict between the citizen and the man is inevitable," he concludes, "if the citizen predominates; and any society which disregards the man is doomed."
[Krishnamurti, "Commentaries on Living: First Series," page 51.]

Mankind faces "a crisis in consciousness," Krishnamurti warns in the YouTube video, below, as a result of the society it has built. "Considering what the world is now," he observes, "with all the misery, conflict, destructive brutality aggression and so on, man is still as he was. He is still brutal, violent, aggressive, acquisitive, competitive; and, he has built a society along these lines."

So what needs to be done in order to face such a "crisis in consciousness," and to avoid "the coming evil" which Jung warns of? Krishnamurti, suggests that there needs to be a transformation both in mankind's consciousness and in our focus from the future to the existential problems of our mutual present.

"The State sacrifices the present for the future," Krishnamurti notes, "ever safeguarding itself for the future; it regards the future as all-important, and not the present. But to the intelligent man, the present is of the highest importance, the now and not the tomorrow."

"What is can be understood only with the fading of tomorrow," he concludes. "The understanding of what is brings about transformation in the immediate present. It is this transformation which is of supreme importance, and not how to reconcile the citizen with the man. When this transformation takes place, the conflict between the man and the citizen ceases."
[Ibid., page 52.]

Saying 'Yes' to Conscious Evolution and Life

Andrew Cohen, Editor-in-chief,
EnlightenNext magazine.
"Evolution," says spiritual teacher, Andrew Cohen, "really means we are part of a process that is going somewhere in time." In this, Cohen shares the view of a raft of spiritual teachers and philosophers from the Buddha to modern era sages like psychologist Richard M. Bucke, the Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin and the polymath philosopher/author Gerald Heard.

"(But)," asks Cohen, "(t)o what degree are we actually aware of the fact that we are part of a process that is becoming more complex and more self-aware in time, and that our own experience of consciousness and cognition is the very leading edge of that movement?"

"It is very interesting," he notes, "especially for those of us that are interested in the evolution of consciousness and culture, that as we make heroic spiritual effort - as we make the spiritual effort to become more conscious (and) more self-aware - as a result of making that spiritual effort we begin to feel our own movement."

"For the evolutionarily enlightened individual," Cohen observes, "that perspective really points us back to ourselves. And it says: 'To what degree are we enabling and encouraging this process of evolution to occur within this evolving cosmos as a result of our own heroic efforts?' Because," he notes, "ultimately . . . especially at the next stage of human cultural development, the ultimate source of meaning and purpose for the individual is going to be found through how much we are actually contributing to the process of evolution that made it possible for us to be here."

EnlightenNext Magazine
Cohen's teaching of 'Evolutionary Enlightenment' is a modern perspective that picks up the metaphysical gauntlet thrown down to post-modern spiritual seekers by his lineage in the Advaita Vedanta. Cohen's evolutionary teaching at once gibes with what we now know of humanity's origins and challenges the spiritual seeker to become an active and conscious participant in the imperative we have to chart the next leap forward in humanity's cultural and spiritual development.

In the following video, Cohen re-contextualizes the traditional Bodhisattva's vow in addressing the question of what comes next for us.

"Your whole life, when you take it seriously," Cohen notes, "becomes an expression of spirit in action, because you realize that is the whole thing, that is what you are doing here, (and) that's the whole point of this existence. Without that, life doean't mean anything. Otherwise you are just living a materialistic life satisfying narcissistic and selfish desires (that) ultimately doesn't mean anything."

"We are the luckiest people that have ever been born," Cohen observes, "so we have a different burden. We have to get over our ego so we can take responsibility for our tremendous good fortune."

"Ultimately, what we need," Cohen notes, "is a moral, philosophical (and) spiritual approach to life that makes sense of it all, because the post-modern predicament . . . doesn't make any sense. (We) are highly developed, intelligent people that don't know what (we) are really doing here. When we find out absolutely what we are doing, then we can discover the kind of conviction that can get us out of the ego and into the (evolutionary) process."

"Saying 'yes' to evolution has very powerful spiritual implications for the individual, and it involves saying 'yes' to life in ways that we never really have before," Cohen concludes. "And then saying 'yes' to eternity, and (then) saying 'yes' to the future, we have to take responsibility for all of it; (and) that means we have to become 'God,' so to speak, both metaphorically and literally."

Monday, May 16, 2011

Enlightenment Is Not Complex

There is a higher state of consciousness beyond the mind-chatter of our ordinary egoic human consciousness and the sense of suffering it engenders. It is in attaining to this higher state of consciousness, to a state of consciousness beyond the ordinary perceptive and conceptive mind, that one frees oneself from the anxieties, depressions, petty fears and annoyances that perpetually plague us. But how willing are we, really, to give up our perceptions about what we, life and the world are all about?

"Most of us want to feel better, we don't want to see that we are misperceiving things," says neo-Buddhist teacher, Adyashanti. "But that is the core of spirituality," he notes, "and the only way to really wake up is to realize that the way you perceive yourself may not be true."

"There is no such thing as a true belief," he observes. "Reality itself is simple, clear and unitary. There is nothing mysterious about it. The mystery all has to do with misperception."

"When we really start to wake up from our misperceptions, we realize reality isn't mysterious. Life isn't a big mystery. It's not really an overly complex thing. Freedom isn't complex. Enlightenment isn't complex. It is actually the opposite. It is the most simple thing. It is the most simple perception," Adyashanti notes.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The Over-Soul"

"Our faith comes in moments," writes Emerson, the great American Transcendentalist, "our vice is habitual." "Yet there is a depth in those brief moments," he observes, "which constrains us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences."

Continuing in his essay, "The Over-Soul," we read:
"We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty to which every part and particle is equally related; the Eternal ONE. And this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle the subject and the object are one."
"We see the world piece by piece," Emerson observes, "as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are the shining parts, is the soul."

"All goes to show," writes Emerson, "that the soul in man is not an organ, but animates and exercises all the organs; is not a function, like the power of memory, of calculation, of comparison, but uses these as hands and feet; is not a faculty, but a light; is not the intellect or the will, but the master of the intellect and will; is the background of our being in which they lie - an immensity not possessed and that cannot be possessed. From within or from behind, a light shines through upon things and makes us aware that we are nothing but the light is all." (Emphasis added.)

"The soul circumscribes all things," he notes, "contradicts all experience. . . . (And) in like manner . . . abolishes space and time."

"The influence of the senses," he observes, "has in most instances overpowered the mind to that degree that the walls of times and space have come to look real and insurmountable; and to speak with levity of these limits is, in the world, the sign of insanity. Yet time and space are but inverse measures of the soul."

"We are often made to feel that there is another youth and age," he continues, "than that which is measured from the year of our natural birth. Some thoughts always find us young, and keep us so. Such a thought is the love of the universal and eternal beauty. Every man parts from that contemplation with the feeling it rather belongs to the ages than to mortal life."
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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Krishnamurti on "Computers, Thought and the Transformation of Human Consciousness"

Jiddu Krishnamurti
In a talk given by the late spiritual teacher, Jiddu Krishnamurti - at a time before the proliferation of personal computers, and a decade-and-a-half before the emergence of the Internet - Krishnamurti (who died in 1986) presciently examines what will happen when the computer outstrips man's intellectual capacities and computers and robots begin to replace human beings in the workplace, thereby depriving us of our occupations.

"The computer is going to outstrip man in his thought," Krishnamurti predicts. (A predicition coming ever nearer to realtity as leading-edge scientists begin to master the difficulties in creating 'artificial intelligence.)

"The computer," he predicts," is going to change the structure of society, (and) the structure of government. . . . This is not some fantastic conclusion . . . or fantasy," he observes. "This is actually going on now, of which we are not (necessarily) aware. "

"The computer can learn, invent, and as a mechanical intelligence, the computer is going to make employment of human beings practically unnecessary," he predicts. "Perhaps humans may have to work  a couple of hours per day. These are all facts that are coming," he notes.

"You may not like it, you may revolt against it, but it is coming," he says. "(But) thought has invented it, and human thought is limited. But the mechanical intelligence of the computer is going to outstrip man. So what," he asks, "is a human being then?"

"There are concerns about a human being whose occupation is taken over by the computer (and) the robot etc.," Krishnamurti notes. "Then what becomes of the human?"

"What," Krishnamurti asks, "becomes of the human? We have been programmed biologically, intellectually emotionally, psychologically though millions of years, and we repeat over and over again the same patterns."

"We have stopped learning," he observes. "Whether the human brain that has been programmed for so many, many centuries, whether it is capable of learning and immediately transforming itself into a totally different dimension," is an open question, according to Krishnamurti.

Whether, and to what extent, we are capable of such a transformation, is a question which we all have to face - and a question we will face sooner rather than later, it seems.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Krishnamurti, "Learning that Transforms Consciousness," Part Three.

Krishnamurti, "Learning that Transforms Consciousness," Part Four.

Krishnamurti, "Learning that Transforms Consciousness," Part Five.

Krishnamurti, "Learning that Transforms Consciousness," Part Six.

Krishnamurti, "Learning that Transforms Consciousness," Part Seven.

Krishnamurti, "Learning that Transforms Consciousness," Part Eight.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Alan Wallace: "The Retinal Blindspot in the Vision of Our Origins," Part 2

Among scientists, as polymath lecturer, Alan Wallace points out, it is still generally considered "impolite" to bring up the question of what 'consciousness' is. Consciousness, it seems, is still very much the 800-pound gorilla in the science lab or classroom.

Yet, as Wallace observes, William James (one of the fathers of modern psychology), in speaking on the subject of consciousness more than a century ago, remarked: "That which we ignore recedes from our experienced sense of reality." This is, of course, a danger that Wallace made clear in the first half of his extensive lecture (embedded below) highlighting the problem that consciousness still presents for the mainstream of Western science.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Wallace observes, we have more information about the 'Big Bang' and the nano-seconds thereafter than we do of the origins of human consciousness. "There are no scientific means," Wallace notes, "of detecting the presence or absence of consciousness in anything, including you or me right now."

It is odd, Wallace points out, that we have virtually no knowledge of something which is so intimate to each of us. "Right now," he observes, "if one were were to ask cutting-edge people, that is people working in the cognitive neurosciences . . . what are the necessary and sufficient causes for the origination of consciousness in a human being . . . the answer would be: 'We don't know.'"

Further, Wallace asks, what is the nature of matter? This, of course, is perhaps the great question - with 'some' solutions (matter is essentially the same as energy, Einstein demonstrated) - of the new physics that emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century with the framing of both relativity and quantum theory. "There was something called twentieth-century physics," Wallace notes, "that makes the chunks of 'stuff' get very, very ethereal."

Wallace points out that "by the time you have the 'measurement problem' in quantum mechanics that makes at least suspect the very existence of quantum phenomenon before they are measured - in which the role of measurement remains a mystery in understanding the significance (and) the nature of the quantum realm - by the time you are speaking about probability waves that are being measured and that somehow collapse into actual particles . . . then matter has somehow become more ethereal than was assumed in the nineteenth century."

"You can," he notes, "(even) raise the question: 'Is there any energy in the nature of empty space itself?'" And the answer is, he points out, likely 'yes.' There is, he points out, a growing scientific consensus that the universe emerged from a quantum fluctuation and is imbued with 'dark energy'  and 'information' about the original fluctuation that we cannot even directly observe, although the mathematics indicates that it is there.

"As soon of you speak of the universe of space, time, mass, (and) energy as an emergent property arising out of a hidden (and) underlying dimension of information, the question of consciousness at least can be raised," Wallace observes. Information being, at least on its surface, a matter of the mind, the whole question of consciousness should therefore, according to Wallace, be once again kicked back into the scientific debate of just what the universe is. And yet, as he points out again, any scientific agreement that consciousness itself is a valid subject for scientific inquiry is still somehow lacking.

"Instead of simply assuming that the mind emerges from matter, Wallace concludes, it is possible now . . . and scientifically credible to consider the possibility that space-time and mass-energy all emerge from an underlying dimension of reality that may transcend the very duality of mind and matter."

And, it goes without saying, of course, that this very notion of a non-dual implicate order Wallace speaks of is the essential teaching of all the great Eastern (as well as some Western) wisdom traditions, a point that has not been lost on some of the leading-edge voices - scientific as well as spiritual - who, like Wallace, have probed the rarified and ethereal area where science and Eastern wisdom traditions seem to converge.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Alan Wallace: "The Retinal Blindspot in the Vision of Our Origins," Part 1

Alan Wallace, Ph.D.
In an insightful and encompassing lecture on the competing visions of our origins - metaphysical and physical, spiritual and scientific, Eastern and Western - Alan Wallace, a polymath Buddhist practitioner and trained physicist, traces how the origin of the scientific method has evolved to generally exclude anything that smacks of 'subjectivity' - and, most specifically, the phenomenon of consciousness.

The scientific stricture on limiting its studies to the strictly 'objective' became a very limiting bottleneck in the study of 'reality' with the rise of relativity and quantum theory at the beginning of the twentieth century.  In particular, its historical preclusion of anything that that might be construed as 'subjectivity' became more and more untenable as one delved further into the role that the 'observer' (or consciousness) plays in the microcosmic world of atomic sub-particles

The brilliant Werner Heisenberg, one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, in his book, "Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science," highlights (and questions) the extent to which 'subjectivity' was precluded from 'classical physics,' a prejudice that was carried over, with mixed results, into the so-called 'Copenhagen Interpretation' of quantum theory.

Werner Heisenberg
In "Physics and Philosophy," at page 29, Heisenberg writes:
"In classical physics science started from the belief - or should one say from the illusion? - that we could describe the world or at least parts of the world without any reference to ourselves. This is actually possible to a large extent. We know that the city of London exists whether we see it or not. It may be said that classical physics is just that idealization in which we speak about parts of the world without any reference to ourselves. Its success has led to the general idea of an objective description of the world. Objectivity has become the first criterion for the value of any scientific result. Does the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory still comply with this ideal? One may perhaps say that quantum theory corresponds to this ideal as far as possible."
"This division," between 'subjectivity' and 'objectivity,' Heisenberg observes, "is arbitrary and historically a direct consequence of our scientific method; the use of the classical concepts is finally a consequence of the general way of human thinking."

But is this really a consequence of "the general way of human thinking," as Heisenberg posits? In the first part of a compelling, if lengthy, lecture, Wallace traces how the strictures against 'subjectivity' arose because the scientific method, ironically, arose out of traditional Christian theological and metaphysical assumptions and worldviews.

"From the time of Copernicus, right on through Kepler, Galileo, Newton and so forth," Wallace observes, "science as we have come to know it has been overwhelmingly extrospective in its orientation (and) its perspective. To understand the nature of reality scientists have looked outwards."

"There are very good reasons (that scientists look outwards), and a lot of them are based in Christian theology," Wallace observes. "It's very important to bear in mind that a great majority of the founders of the scientific revolution were themselves devout Christians. A number of them were theologians, such as Newton himself. And so there were very deep metaphysical underpinnings to the scientific revolution. It was not by any means a revolt against religion," Wallace declares, "but rather an expression of it for many of its participants."

"The scientific aspiration from the time certainly of Galileo on through Newton and for quite some time after that," says Wallace, "was to know the objective world from a God's eye perspective, free of the limitations of human subjectivity."

"Prior to the scientific revolution, prior to the Protestant Reformation," he notes, "there was Christian theology and there was together with that a fairly strong . . . contemplative ideal (and) discipline founded by people like Augustine and the earlier Desert Fathers - and later right on through the Medieval period - that was largely introspective in nature. . . . But with the Protestant Reformation there was this movement outwards, and so one finds no strong inward contemplative tradition, so to speak . . . in the new Protestant Reformation."

Sir Isaac Newton
Wallace notes that "the Protestant Reformation . . . did have a contemplative mode to it, an active mode of inquiry into 'reality,' but (one) which stood instead of contemplative practice - sitting quietly, introspecting (and) going within one's own soul - (and) looked outwards."

"I think you can virtually regard scientific research, or scientific . . . methodology, as being like the contemplative counterpart for Christian Protestant theology," Wallace observes.

The methodology of third-person 'objectivity' (a cornerstone of the modern scientific method), Wallace notes, was thus developed as a method to check that personal subjective biases were not clouding the way in which a 'God's-eye view' would actually look upon the 'reality' of the physical world.

This has been "extremely successful for opening up that facet of reality that lends itself to third person investigation, namely the physical world" Wallace observes. "The disadvantage of that is that it ignores - simply because it refuses to attend to scientifically - those facts of reality that do not lend themselves to that type of third person public scrutiny. What leaps to mind," he notes, "is the whole range of subjective phenomena."

"What happens," Wallace asks, "if your authorities for knowledge very intelligently and for a sustained period and in multiple ways attend to one aspect of reality, and in a very concerted way, scientifically speaking, ignores another aspect . . . (or) domain of reality?"

William James
Wallace cites the pioneering American psychologist and philosopher William James, who, in his classic work, "The Principles of Psychology," observes that:
"The subjects adhered to become real subjects, attributes adhered to real attributes, the existence adhered to real existence; whilst the subjects disregarded become imaginary subjects, the attributes disregarded erroneous attributes, and the existence disregarded an existence in no man’s land, in the limbo “where footless fancies dwell.” . . . Habitually and practically we do not count these disregarded things as existents at all . . . they are not even treated as appearances; they are treated as if they were mere waste, equivalent to nothing at all."

And so, this quirk of the Eurocentric evolution of the scientific method excludes the radical 'subjectivity' of millennia of Eastern philosophical and psychological insights, thereby erecting a largely artificial interpretive barrier to understanding consciousness and the subtler aspects of 'matter' that are increasingly less amenable to Western interpretations as quantum theory and our understanding of it develops. A point that is well made by Wallace in the first part of his lecture.

(Part Two of this article is available here.)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mind or Brain? East or West?

Dean Radin, Ph.D.
Institute of Noetic Sciences
For a number of years Dean Radin, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, has been doing leading edge research regarding the boundaries of the mind-brain interface and chaos theory. His research, and that of his colleagues around the world, have melded their research regarding the influence of 'mind' on 'randomness' into the "Global Consciousness Project," a collective effort which explores whether the intentions or attention of large numbers of subjects have any statistical effect upon the results produced by random number generators.

Describing this interface of the scientific study of so-called 'paranormal phenomena' and the 'mind sciences,' Radin observes that the research being done through the project "all devolves back into the question of what is the role of mind in the physical world."

"From a Western science point of view there isn't much," he observes. But in describing his own work, and that of his colleagues, Radin notes that both the intention and attention of individuals do appear to have an effect in the wider environment. In describing the fascinating results coming in from the Global Consciousness Project, Radin notes that he and his colleagues have come to the startling conclusion that there is "a context where we can infer there is a mental concurrence going on, sometimes due only to attention."

"We don't know whether it is simply a lot of human minds that are somehow changing randomness, or whether this is a reflection of something bigger, something like a collective mind," Radin notes, "a collective mind which includes everything else including what we think of as matter and energy."

It may be, he posits, that "the same kind of organizing event that changes random events also changes our attention."

In a related video, Radin explores how the leading edge of Western scientific inquiries into consciousness seem to be converging on the same conclusions reached by millennia of Eastern inquiry into the nature of the mind.

"If you keep following out on Eastern lore," Radin observes, "you find things (at some point) of 'mystical union' with the entire universe. At that level, the report is - the reports across cultures and throughout history - that the universe is not the meaningless object that Western science says that it is. But, rather, that the universe is permeated with meaning and is saturated with consciousness."

"There is consciousness everywhere," Radin notes, "in which case, while the Western viewoint is that your mind, your awareness, is locked inside this structure (the brain), from the Eastern viewpoint this structure is the entire universe, and you can experience it like that."

"Western science has not quite gotten to the point yet where it is able to verify that that's the case," he notes, "but I think the signs are very clear that that is becoming an interesting question. And methods are being developed to take Western science and move it along this continuum to begin to verify in Western terms what the mystics have been talking about for thousands of years."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Make Gentle the Life of this World"

In an impassioned and inspiring presentation to the recent TedWomen conference hosted by Ted.com, Jacqueline Novogratz - an experienced NGO operative who has spent her career in developing and implementing philanthropic projects to fight global poverty - carries a message that a life of transformation and transcendence can make a difference in a world that faces a multitude of problems. 

Recounting the relationships with difference makers from around the globe that have shaped her worldview and inspired her work, Novogratz reminds us that each of us can and should make a difference by immersing ourselves in whatever the difference-making task is which may lie at hand.

"We face huge issues as a world," she observes, "the financial crisis, global warming, and this growing sense of fear and otherness. And everyday we have a choice. We can take the easier road," she notes, "the more cynical road, which is a road based on a sometime dream of a past that never really was, a fear of each other, distancing and blame. Or, we can take the much more difficult path of transformation, transcendence, compassion and love, but also accountability and justice."

"We need leaders, Novogratz observes." We ourselves need to lead from a place that has the audacity to believe we can ourselves extend the fundamental assumption that all men are created equal to every man, woman and child on this planet. And we need to have the humility to recognize that we cannot do it alone."

Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968)
Quoting Robert Kennedy, she notes that, "(f)ew of us have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events; and, it is in the total of all those acts that the history of this generation will be written."

Inspiring words, indeed, from one great generation to the next, and the next thereafter.

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In delivering the news of Martin Luther King's assassination to a crowd gathered in Indianapolis, Indiana, RFK - an inspiration to millions as the 60's tilted further into a violence that would end in his own assassination months later - urged his audience to "gentle the life of this world," a sentiment that should still be valued today.

Speaking within minutes of MLK's death, the following is the text of his remarks:
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have some -- some very sad news for all of you -- Could you lower those signs, please? -- I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world; and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it's perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black -- considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible -- you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.
We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization -- black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with -- be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.
But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poem, my -- my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:

"Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King -- yeah, it's true -- but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love -- a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past, but we -- and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder. But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

Thank you very much.