Saturday, April 30, 2011

Quantum Physics, Consciousness and 'Reality'

"God is in the macrocosm and in the microcosm." said Sri Ramakrishna, the great self-realized sage of late 19th-century India. In this all encompassing and prescient observation, Ramakrishna foreshadowed the struggle which scientists, philosophers and spiritual seekers alike are having in trying to understand and put into words the relationship between traditional notions of spirituality and consciousness with the findings of 'the new physics,' and the particular difficulty they have in describing the startling nature of the  quantum theory, which says an act of conscious observation is necessary to 'determine' what happens at the smallest levels of 'matter.' (Indeed, it is difficult even to think or talk about 'matter' at such small levels, where the quantum physicist describes 'matter' as a probability wave, and the determination of 'matter' as the collapse of the probability wave function triggered by an act of conscious observation.)

In the video, embedded below, a host of 'new age' spiritual teachers and scientists explain why consciousness is a fundamental component - and, perhaps, the fundamental component - of the 'stuff' our universe is made out of.

Perhaps the most important of Einstein's many crucial contributions to 'the new physics' was to show that 'matter' and 'energy' are the same thing (the logical result of relativity theory and his famous e=mc2 equation). Now the great challenge, or holy grail of science, is to show how energy and consciousness itself act together in determining our physical 'reality,' a 'reality' which may not be as 'real' as we most commonly assume.

"There is no 'matter' as such," observes spiritual teacher, Wayne Dyer, quoting Max Planck, the forefather of quantum physics. "All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter."

"Matter seems like a good place to begin," notes medical doctor turned best-selling author and spiritual teacher,  Deepak Chopra. "The solidity of the world seems totally indisputable. As a fixed thing that you can see and touch, your body is also reassuringly solid. But beginning with Einstein, modern physics has assured us that this solidity is a mirage."




Max Planck (1858-1947)
"There is no 'matter' as such. All matter originates and
exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle
of an atom to vibration and holds this minute solar system
of the atom together. We must assume behind this force
the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This
mind is the matrix of all matter."
"It is the act of consciousness," says one commentator, "that actually creates the building blocks  the universe is made of. I can't imagine a universe that exists without us, because it is the act of us observing the world around us that is creating, (that is) allowing us to create as we go, a 'participatory universe.'"

"We may never find the edge of our universe as we are looking to define what this universe looks like," he notes. "We many never find the smallest particle in the quantum world to see what this 'stuff 'is that we are made out of. And the reason is, because everywhere we look - everywhere that consciousness explores with the expectation that something will be there - that exploration, that act of  looking (or) observation, is the act that creates something for us to see. We are actually building this universe as we go," he notes.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Transcendental Meditation and Consciousness

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the
Transcendental Meditation Program
"To understand meditation and consciousness, we need to understand . . . about the physical universe," says Dr. John Hagelin in his introductory video on Transcendental Meditation, below. "Modern science over the past fifty years has probed deeper levels of physical reality. Modern science has explored more fundamental level(s) of nature's functioning."

"From the superficial level of macroscopic physics - the sensory objects that surround us - to the world of the molecule, and the atom, and the nucleus, and  sub-nuclear natures of nature's functioning," he notes, "as modern physics has probed deeper level of nature's functioning it has revealed that more fundamental levels of nature are progressively more unified."

"The four forces of nature deep within the atomic nucleus become three, and two, and ultimately one unified field of all the laws of nature," he observes.

"From this fundamental perspective of modern science," Hagelin notes, "meditation properly understood and properly practiced is a systematic technique to experience deeper levels of mind, more subtle levels of thought, exploring deeper levels of human intelligence. And these deeper levels of human intelligence . . . correspond to the direct experience of deeper levels of intelligence in nature. This inward flow of the awareness quickly culminates in the direct experience of the unified field. . . . In this simplest settled state of human awareness - the most maximally expanded state of human consciousness - this is the meditative state."

"This experience of the unified field constitutes a fourth major state of human consciousness, distinct from waking, dreaming and deep sleep. And this fourth state of consciousness has the most profound implications for health, for brain development, (and) for virtually every area of human life."





Contemplatives and yogis have explored this fourth level of expanded human consciousness for thousands of years. Now with modern technology, brain scientists are confirming the claims of seasoned meditators and enlightened teachers like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation program.

"Brain studies of expert meditators while in 'peak states' have become increasingly sophisticated and better controlled," note a group of researchers whose findings on the effects of distinct, yet related Therevadan Buddhist meditation practices were generally confirmative of Dr. Hagelin's claims.

Much of the research on meditation and the brain involves Buddhist or TM practitioners. A wide selection of the available scientific literature is available on the WiseBrain.org website, an organization founded by Dr. Rick Hanson Ph.D., a neuropsychologist and affiliate faculty member of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and Rick Mendius, M.D., a neurologist, author and teacher, formerly on the teaching faculties of UCLA, Oregon Health Sciences University, and Stanford University.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dave Christian's 'Big History' of the Universe

As a highly complex, highly sophisticated and highly fragile species, says world historian David Christian in a recent Ted.com talk, it is important for us to realize the story of the universe, its complexity and our own fragility.

Despite the second law of thermodynamics (which says systems always move from a state of order to disorder, and not otherwise), "the Universe can create complexity, but with great difficulty," Christian observes. "In pockets there appear . . .  'Goldilocks conditions" - not too hot, not too cold, just right for the creation of complexity - and slightly more complex things appear. And where you have slightly more complex things," he observes, "you can get slightly more complex things. And in this way complexity builds, stage by stage."

"Each stage, Christian notes, "is magical because it creates the impression of something utterly new appearing almost out of nowhere in the universe. We refer to these moments in 'Big History' as 'threshold moments.' And at each 'threshold' the going gets tougher. The complex things get more fragile, more vulnerable; the 'Goldilocks conditions' get more stringent, and it is more difficult to create complexity."

"We, as extremely complex creatures," says Christian," desperately need to know this story of how the universe creates complexity despite the Second Law, and why complexity means vulnerability and fragility."

Christian then explains the entire "Big History" of the universe in under fifteen minutes in an inspiring talk that puts together everything you ever learned in high school science in one big picture that explains both how we came to be here at this moment in time - and how vulnerable we are due to our complexity and our fragility at this, our own 'threshold' moment in history.





Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tolle and Oprah: "The New Earth" Webinar Series

A 'high-water moment' in the spiritual awakening that seems to be occurring through much of the world was the 2008 series of web seminars by Oprah Winfrey and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, based upon Tolle's best-selling book, "The New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose."

Tolle and Oprah's webinar videos are a "must-see" for everyone  - religious, non-religious, agnostic, atheist or gnostic, alike - who is deeply interested in the spiritual quest and the transcendental times in which we are living in.

The following video captures the first few minutes of the ten-part series. The entire series is available on Oprah.com. Alternatively, I have provided (below) the links to all ten of these inspiring, informative and transformative videos which are currently hosted on Google Videos.




Tolle and Oprah, "A New Earth," Part One

Tolle and Oprah, "A New Earth," Part Two

Tolle and Oprah, "A New Earth," Part Three

Tolle and Oprah, "A New Earth," Part Four

Tolle and Oprah, "A New Earth," Part Five

Tolle and Oprah, "A New Earth," Part Six

Tolle and Oprah, "A New Earth," Part Seven

Tolle and Oprah, "A New Earth," Part Eight

Tolle and Oprah, "A New Earth," Part Nine

Tolle and Oprah, "A New Earth," Part Ten

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tolle and Adyashanti: 'The Voice in the Head"

Adyashanti
Meditation is not a goal, and a meditative practice is not the end, says the enlightened neo-Buddhist spiritual teacher, Adyashanti. In fact, he says, it can be counter-productive if we mistakenly identify ourselves with our thoughts about meditation.

"If it's thought only as a means to an end" he says, "then its is overvalued."

"Because, he says, we think, 'You must do this in order to achieve a certain end.' Meditating (is then seen) as a means to get to a spiritual goal. Then we tend to adhere to ideas that say we must meditate a certain amount, and a lot, that it's sort of the highway to enlightenment. But that is to turn (meditation) into a goal. And, as soon as we turn it into a goal, then it is trapped within what I call the 'dream state' - a state of consciousness that is dominated by the mind (and) which is created by the mind."

"The 'dream state,'" he explains, "is just another word for mental consciousness, actually believing the mental noise in one's head, which is the common state of consciousness. The common state of consciousness of humanity is one in which human beings believe the mental noise in their head. And because of that, human beings have this compulsive relationship with thought. They think compulsively. Its like an addiction. As if you would sort of cease to be if you didn't think."

"In a very simple manner of speaking, its all awakening is - our consciousness going from this 'dream state' in which we are caught in the compulsive nature of thought and its world-view, and its 'self-view' - and going from this which is itself a 'dream state' created by thinking, and going from that to the state of consciousness which is not proceeding from thought."

"Whenever thought is no longer compulsively moving and, therefore, we are not deriving our sense of self from it, our sense of reality from it," says Adyashanti, "then we are free of the ordinary 'dream world,'" from the ego's consciousness and the suffering it causes.




This simple yet profound teaching is similar to that of his colleague, the spiritual teacher and best-selling author, Eckhart Tolle.
"Most people have a voice in their head which is the usual thought processes that they are usually identified with," says Tolle. "So for most people that is their basic reality, that 'voice in the head'. And, they are so identified with these continually arising thought processes," he notes, "that they don't even know that they are identified with every thought that comes to them. They don't know that there is a 'voice in the head' because they are the 'voice in the head.'"

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Physics, Quantum Theory and the Search for God

In a recent issue of the science magazine Discover, writer Zeeya Merali probed the beliefs of a number of influential scientists (and scientists turned believers) as to whether there is evidence of God "within the fractured logic of quantum physics." In doing so, Merali uncovered a fruitful and diverse not-so-underground scientific dialogue on the subject. For as the theologian Nicholas Saunders told Merali: "Most physicists are amateur metaphysicists."

John Polkinghorne, the focus of Merali's article (and a particle physicist turned Anglican minister who has collaborated with such notable physicists as Nobel laureates Abdus Salam and Murray Gell-Mann), describes how he first started exploring the interface of physics and metaphysics with the premise that "God acts in the world, but he is not a showoff conjurer who violates the same laws of nature that he made."

While Merali never makes a clean break from the traditional but antiquated Western anthropomorphic idea of God as a 'Supreme Being' acting outside of space-time to influence events in the material world (and thereby human history), he does examine several specific areas at the leading-edge of science that leave room for, or necessarily imply, the operation of causative factors from beyond our understanding of space-time's seeming 'reality.' Three of these, quantum entanglement, the uncertainty principle and the collapse of the quantum wave function come directly from quantum theory, while a fourth is chaos theory itself.

In addressing quantum entanglement - the observation that objects which are spatially separated remain somehow "linked" to objects they were once closely associated with  - the quantum theorist, Antoine Suarez, of the Center for Quantum Philosophy in Zurich, explains that, "There is no story that can be told within the framework of space-time that can explain how these quantum correlations keep occurring."

Split photon experiment that demonstrates the extra-
temporal/extra-spatial effects of quantum entanglement.
"You could say," Suarez notes in his explanation of the latest split-photon experiment designed to further investigate the mystery of quantum entanglement, "(that) the experiment shows that space-time does not contain all the intelligent entities acting in the world because something outside of time is coordinating the photons' results."

"Physics experiments," says Suarez, "cannot demonstrate the existence of God, but this test shows that today's physics is compatible with all major religious traditions. There is," he notes, "strong experimental evidence for accepting that non-material beings act in the world."

While Suarez' choice of the word 'beings' is perhaps unfortunate, in that it summons up notions of the antiquated and mistaken notion of a man-like God beyond time and space, his notion of an extra-temporal/extra-spatial 'something' that is determinative of quantum effects is (so-far) unimpeachable, at least from the perspectives of physics. And, it is here that the thin philosophical membrane separating physics and metaphysics seems to be - at least - semi-permeable.

As Pilkinghorne, himself, concludes: "Physics asks how the world works, and when it answers that question it finds a very deep, marvelously patterned order. But it doesn't explain where that order comes from. I believe that the order is a reflection of the mind of God."

An interesting companion piece to Merali's article in Discovery, which never totally disassociates itself from the traditional Western Christian notion of a metaphorically embodied God external to man and the universe, is the following video interview of Dr. Amit Goswami, the renowned theoretical physicist who now serves in an advisory capacity to the Institute of Noetic Sciences. In it, Dr. Goswami observes:
"Let's count the ways that God is pictured. God is not just pictured as an old bearded person sitting in a throne in the sky majestically giving out judgment on us. That is a very, very narrow picture by a very, very narrow sect. . . . A quantum object cannot be explained unless we assume - seriously assume - that consciousness is the 'Ground of Being' and it chooses out of the quantum possibilities the actual event of experience."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Non-Duality and Preparedness: A Sufi View of 'Oneness'

"I am by nature a traditional mystic," says author Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. "The new age spiritual teachings, so to speak, didn't mean much to me. My focus was on the inner experiences of the individual, the inner mystical experiences that really belong to classical Sufism."

"And then a strange thing happened in the spring of the year 2000," he notes, "suddenly my attention was shifted. It's like  somebody turned my head from here to there, and then I saw what I call this 'emerging consciousness of 'Oneness,' that there is something awakening in the world that hasn't been here before."

"In a way," he notes, "you can trace it back to the mystical understanding of 'Oneness,' because 'Oneness' is a basic mystical experience. Many, many, many people have had experiences of 'Oneness.' They've woken up for a moment, like the poet William Blake said, "to see the world in a grain of sand." They've had those momentary experiences where they see everything as one; they see that the universe is one dynamic whole."

"But the idea that this might become part of our collective human experience," he observes, "not just an individual mystical experience, which it has been traditionally in the past - the unio mystico of the mystics - that somehow the whole of humanity is taking a step to a different level of awareness, this really began to interest me."

"And, all I can do," says Vaughan-Lee, "is say that there seems to be a need to prepare the ground, so that if such a moment should happen, if there should be something that happens that awakens humanity, the whole of humanity . . . that one can begin to prepare the stepping stones."

"But how it is going to happen I don't know," he observes. "I thought it was going to be much simpler."



Preparing such a foundation, however, may be of the utmost importance. Without a preparatory foundation, Vaughan-Lee observes, the individual may be dangerously unprepared for such an awakening of consciousness.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
In a related video, Vaughan Lee observes that "a human being is quite complex. We have a soul that longs for God, but we also have a personality, an ego that has developed, that has conditioning - (the) influence of parents and all of the dramas of being alive, of being part of humanity. And when you really seriously commit yourself to spiritual life, you have to start to clear out some of the clutter you have accumulated in your life."

"For this," he warns, " it is necessary to have some psychological system. Otherwise, what happens is that the bright light of the divine in you floods you, and you get unbalanced. You have to become grounded in yourself."

"Sadly," he notes, "there have been people who have become intoxicated by God but then became unbalanced because they haven't done the inner work that is needed for grounding the human being. You need a process to help you to prepare, to help your 'inner self' to prepare."

"If you haven't done that inner work, if you haven't explored yourself psychologically, then the spiritual energies that come into the human being will unbalance you and you will become ungrounded."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Theravada Buddhism and the Brain

"Brain studies of expert meditators while in 'peak states' have become increasingly sophisticated and better controlled," note a group of researchers whose findings on a distinctly Therevadan Buddhist meditation practice and the brain were published on the WiseBrain.org site.

While much of the research on meditation and the brain involves Buddhist or TM practitioners in only one state of meditation, Theravada Buddhists meditators practicing the "eight jhanas" provided a group of neural researchers (Hagerty, Isaacs, Brasington, Shupe and Fetz) the opportunity to observe a trained Theravadan contemplative in varying states of meditation, utilizing the jhanas as benchmarks and the opportunity to use the resting state of the meditator himself as a control group.

Meditation on the "eight jhanas," while prominent in the Buddha's time, is now largely restricted to the Theravadan tradition centered in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. The contemplative states reached by meditators in the different levels of the jhanas are variously described by the researchers as follows:
"The first jhana is described as intense physical energy and emotional joy, often accompanied by muscle tension, twitching, tears, hair standing on end, etc. The second jhana is more sedate, with physical relaxation, a strong sense of joy coming in waves and only a minor sense of physical energy. The third jhana is energetically quiet, but with strong contentment and happiness. In the fourth jhana the pleasure turns to neutrality, described as equanimity."

"In the fifth jhana one senses an infinite space all around. In the sixth jhana one senses that one’s consciousness has become infinite. In the seventh jhana there is a deep sense of nothingness, an absence of form. The eighth jhana is named “neither perception nor non-perception” because the mind does not even categorize the experience."
Put together, the "eight jhana" meditation sounds like an ascent to nirvana, as do the powerful changes the meditation seems to effect in the brains of the contemplatives - at least based on these results.

Utilizing an EEG connected to the scalp to monitor the contemplative's brain wave functions, the researchers were able to follow the contemplative's sequential ascent through the eight different stages of this focused meditation, and his subsequent descent. And the results, while technical, were impressive.

The researchers predicted that  simple changes in the brain regions responsible for each of the five principal experiential features of jhana state would show that: (1) internal verbalizations fade, (2) external awareness dims, (3) the sense of personal boundaries is altered, (4) the experience of evaluations, goals, and “shoulds” diminishes, and (5) attention is highly focused on the object of meditation.

The data confirmed the researchers' predictions in four of the five categories with mind 'chatter' and external awareness dimming and the sense of personal boundaries expanding. Yet while, the subject's attention was indeed shown to become highly focused, only some of his "shoulds" diminished. One wonders how the subject would have done were he not required to communicate with the researchers via a clicking a mouse as he passed through the phases and peak phases of the jhana meditation. But I guess that, alas, even such a well-designed experiment could not wholly eliminate all the "shoulds" that we each encounter everyday. Thank goodness that in our own meditations we don't have to deal with such distractions, we just need to sit.

For those who remain skeptical of the ability of meditation to change the internal state of a skilled contemplative, check out the video, below, as polymath philosopher/spiritual pandit, best-selling author and meditator, Ken Wilber stops his brainwaves during a progressive meditation.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Brain Science and Non-Duality

One of my first spiritual teachers had to have a leg amputated. While he was recovering, he told a wizened elderly nurse who was near retirement how his "phantom limb" felt cold. The nurse brought him a heated blanket and put it over where the missing leg would have been. In minutes, the coldness of the missing limb was gone. It goes to show that the mind is a mysterious instrument that is far more perceptive, perhaps, than the brain and the central nervous system.

Similarly on the audio-recording of Wayne Dyer's "There Is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem," Dr. Dyer describes an experiment in which an act of kindness was performed for one group of individuals, the act was witnessed by another group and a third group acted as a control. Seratonin levels of all individuals were recorded both before and after the experiment, and not surprisingly the seratonin levels in the group that received the act of kindness went up markedly. (Seratonin is one of the "feel good" neurotransmitters in our brains that tells us all is well with us and the world.) More interestingly, seratonin levels also jumped in the witnessing group but not in the control group.

The experiment made sense to me. After all, who doesn't feel good when they witness a spontaneous act of kindness? It is why we make saints of the Mother Theresas of the world.

Now, however, in a riveting Ted.com lecture delivered by renowned neuroscientist V.S. Ramachadran, Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego, Ramachadran gives a satisfactorily plausible explanation of these phenomena. In describing how  "mirror neurons" in the human neo-cortex work, Ramachadran accounts not only for how human civilization and culture has been able to 'evolve' in the astoundingly short evolutionary time-frame they have, but also how humans have developed their capacity for empathy.

Further, and perhaps most interestingly, Ramachadran relates these latest findings in neuroanatomny back to what ancient Eastern wisdom teachings and psychologies have expounded for thousands of years. It is possible, he says, "to absolve the barrier between you and other human beings."

"There is no real independent self aloof from other beings, inspecting the world and inspecting other people," he observes. "You are, in fact, connected not just by Facebook and by the Internet, you are actually quite literally connected by your neurons, and there are whole chains of neurons connected around this room talking to each other. And, there is no real distinctiveness of your consciousness from somebody else's consciousness."

"And this is not just mumbo-jumbo philosophy, it emerges from our basic understanding of neuroscience," Ramanatha points out.

"For the longest time, " Ramachnadra concludes, "people have regarded sciences and the humanities as being distinct. C. P. Snow spoke of the 'two cultures' - sciences on the one hand and humanities on the other - and never the twain shall meet. So I'm saying that the mirror neuron system lies at the interface, allowing you to think about issues like consciousness, representation of self, what separates you from other human beings, what allows you to empathize with other human beings, and also even things like the emergence of civilization and culture, which is unique to human beings."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Stranger to One's Self

 Humankind is unique because we are conscious of our consciousness. So far as we know, no other species is capable of this self-reflection, And while this has allowed all that we know of culture - from philosophy to physics - to flourish, when it comes to the individual most of us are more or less blind to our inner realtities.

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
The great 20th-century theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, author of the famous "Serenity Prayer," once observed:
" . . . (M)an, alone among all animals, stands in contradiction to himself. The possibility for this contradiction is given by the self-transcendence of the human spirit, the fact that man is not only soul, as unity of the body, but spirit, as capacity to transcend both the body and soul."
[Niebuhr, "The Nature of Man," vol. 1 page 30.]
For his part, the great Swiss psychologist Car Jung, wrote:
"Most people confuse "self-knowledge" with knowledge of their conscious ego personalities. Anyone who has ego-consciousness at all takes it for granted that he knows himself. But the ego knows only its own contents, not the unconscious and its contents. People measure their self-knowledge by what the average person in their social environment knows of himself, but not by the real psychic facts which are for the most part hidden from them. In this respect the psyche behaves like the body with its physiological and anatomical structure, of which the average layperson knows very little too. Although he lives in it and with it, most of it is totally unknown to the layman and special scientific knowledge is needed to acquaint consciousness with what is known of the body, not to speak of all that is not known, which also exists."
[Jung, "The Undiscovered Self," pages 14-15.]
Man, thus, stands in contradiction with his or herself, because most people know but little of their psyche, and almost nothing of their essence, an essence which is beyond both psyche and the soul. Few, indeed, even look. And this fact, seems to be a truth of all inner religious teachings.

For example, the great Buddhist master, Tulke Urgyen Rinpoche, observed that, "Buddhas become awakened because of realizing their essence. Sentient beings become confused because of not realizing their essence. Thus there is one basis or ground and two different paths."
[Tule Urgyen Rinpoche, "As It Is," vol. 2, page 43.]


Sufi teachings, the esoteric, inner teachings of Islam, are also based on this rarely realized "essence." "All dervish teachings," writes Idries Shah, "is based not on the concept of God, but on the concept of essence. . . . 'He who knows his essential self, knows his God.' Knowledge of the essential self is the first step, before which there is no real knowledge of religion."
[Idries Shah, "The Sufis," page 309.]


It is also recognized in the Christian scriptures, where the Book of James, notes that, "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." (James 1:8) And, in the Katha Upanishad, one of the most ancient of all the Indic scriptures, advises that: "The wise should surrender speech in mind, mind in the knowing self, the self in the Spirit of the universe, and the Spirit of the universe in the Spirit of peace."

But the Katha Upanishad also famously notes that few look past the egoic self in a search for the truth of man's being. "Sages say the path is narrow and difficult to tread," says the ancient teaching, "narrow as the edge of a razor."
["The Upanishads," Penguin Classics, page 61.]

Very few, it seems, truly walk the 'razor's edge' it seems; for, as Jesus advise his disciples: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it."(Matt, 7:13-14)

It is, of course, notoriously difficult for an individual to plumb his or her inner depth. Over and over, in all traditions there are warnings, the crux of which are that 'the inner spiritual journey is a lonely path." For most people, who are not bothered by existential questions it is far easier to ignore the subtle yet disturbing questions of 'who' and 'what' we really are, and 'why' we are here.

Even religious institutions,  Jung observed, for the  most part, only address the outer conditions and needs of man.
"The Churches," writes Jung, "stand for traditional and collective convictions which in the case of many of their adherents are no longer based on their own inner experience but on unreflecting belief, which is notoriously apt to disappear as soon as one begins thinking about it. The content of belief then comes into collision with knowledge and it often turns out that the irrationality of the former is no match for the latter. Belief is no adequate substitute for inner experience, and where this is absent even a strong faith which comes miraculously as a gift of grace may depart equally miraculously."

"People call faith the true religious experience, but they do not stop to think that actually it is a secondary phenomenon arising from the fact that something happened to us in the first place which instilled nous into us - that is, trust and loyalty. This experience has a definite content that can be interpreted in terms of one or other of the denominational creeds. But the more this is so, the more the possibilities of these conflicts with knowledge mount up, which in themselves are quite pointless. That is to say the standpoint of the creeds is archaic; they are full of impressive mythological symbolism which, if taken literally, comes into insufferable conflict with knowledge."
 Thus, for the rare individual who wishes to 'walk the razor's edge,' settling for the outer teachings of the various creeds and denominations is unlikely to suffice. With the "capacity to transcend both the body and soul," that lonely spiritual traveler will need to take the "inner way" that leads from the lower self-consciousness of the ego, to the higher God-consciousnes of his or her essence. He or she will have to become a Buddha, or at a minimum, a Bhodisatva, foregoing ultimate enlightenemnt until all beings become enlightened themselves.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The 'Hard Problem' of Consciousness

Dr. David Chalmers: "There is more to
consciousness than a physical process in
the brain. You could know all there is to
 know about the physical processes in the
brain and you wouldn't know all there is 
to know about consciousness.
"
From the time of Newton and the rise of positivism, scientific empiricism has tried to 'objectify' the world, eliminating all subjective views of what we and our world are all about. This approach falls short, however, when it comes to the 'hard problem' of what consciousness itself is, observes philosopher, Dr. David Chalmers, director of the Centre for Consciousness at Australia's National University. After all, how can we deal objectively with a subject matter - consciousness - which is inherently the essence of subjectivity?

"We're so hooked on the idea that to do proper science you have to be objective, you have to eliminate anything subjective from the picture to build up a scientific framework," says Dr. Chalmers, "that every last remnant of consciousness, of subjective experience in the data, gets eliminated. In the scientific theory, for example, of heat or light, you give a theory of molecules moving fast in a hot object. One gives a theory of everything it seems, all the objective aspects of heat, (but) one leaves out the very central subjective aspect of 'hotness.'"

"Science," Chalmers observes, "is actually built up on the idea that one has to eradicate the subjective to give these objective theories. If so, then when . . . it comes to giving a theory of consciousness itself, which is the paradigmatically subjective phenomenon, it may be that the methods of science have to be expanded."





"For the most part, people don't talk about it," Chalmers notes, "at least until very recently. And, in recent years people have actually started to talk about consciousness a little bit more centrally. And some of these problems are being brought directly into people's attention."

"Now," he observes, "I think were coming to a point where we are going to see a concerted effort from a number of people from different disciplines."

In a related video (below), Dr. Chalmers goes further into the hardest, of the 'hard problems' in science - what consciousness is, why it arises and what its 'qualia' is.

Echoing other leading voices in consciousness studies, such as Alan Wallace and Rupert Sheldrake, Chalmers observes that, "(t)here is more to consciousness than a physical process in the brain, because you could know all there is to know about the physical processes in the brain and you wouldn't know all there is to know about consciousness."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Jung & Tolle: Finding Meaning in Difficult Times

How do people seek meaning in transitional times such as these, in times where economic, political and cultural "norms" that we have lived with our whole lives, and which have to a greater or lesser extent defined our lives, are increasingly being challenged? Where can meaning now be found?

In an interview in the late 1950s, the great Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, warned that, "Man cannot stand a meaningless life." Because of this, he warned, it is mankind which poses the gravest dangers to itself.
"The only real danger that exists is man himself," says Jung. "He is the great danger, and we are pitifully unaware of it.  We know nothing of man. Far too little. His psyche should be studied, because we are the origin of all coming evil."
This is a prescient preview of the dangers we face from one of the greatest minds of the early 20th-century, a period rife with great minds like Einstein, Heisinger, and Jung's friend and colleague, Wolfgang Pauli. All of whom, perhaps because they survived two world wars, and the birth of atomic weapons and an era of "mutually assured destruction,' were quick to warn of mankind's inherent danger to itself. “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, Einstein once remarked, "but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher/author of "The Power of Now,"
and "The New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose."




"We are the origin of all coming evil," Jung remarks. And, this, at a time before evidence of global warming, mass extinction of species, desertification, energy crises and toxic industrial pollution of the environment were seriously considered.

In contrast, current best-selling author and enlightened spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, looking at the  difficulties that many people in the West are nofacing due to seemingly ever-changing shifts in economic and cultural norms, notes that these problems may be a catalyst for change.
"For many people, limitation in one form or another is coming into their life situation. And, that is actually not what the media wants us to believe, that these things are dreadful. The challenge that many people are encountering at this time, is actually that which will push them into a new state of consciousness. That is the possibility. that is the promise. Whenever you encounter a crisis situation, whether it is personal or collective, there is the opening into a new way of being. It is a possibility. It doesn't mean that everyone will embrace that possibility.

"Do not believe what we are told in the media," Tolle observes. "That we should be in a state of fear. That the only real response, the only natural response to what is happening is a state of fear. That is an unconscious response. We need to see that change is absolutely necessary in this world, and the dissolution of many of the ego-based structures is absolutely necessary for the planet to survive, and for humanity to survive. So what's happening is not dreadfully 'bad.' What's happening needs to happen. The totality, the intelligence behind phenomena is doing it, So, it is a good thing."

Paradoxically, Tolle says that mankind can actually find the "meaning" which Jung saw as so necessary for our lives in the very challenges that we have been conditioned to see as "threatening" our way of life. As such, the coming changes will be what makes or breaks the human spirit, and so determines our fate.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Falling from Grace, Falling into Grace

"Thinking without awareness is the main dilemna of human existence," Eckhart Tolle observed in his great book, "A New Earth." Similarly, in his newest book, "Falling Into Grace," the neo-Buddhist spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, notes that "one of the greatest reasons that we suffer is because we believe the thoughts in our head."

In short, says Adyashanti, we are taught to believe that the world we create in our head is the real world, a mental error that has prompted ancient and modern teachers alike to warn us that the world we live in is 'maya' - i.e., an illusion, or a dream.

Krishnamurti (1895-1986)
In one of their many dialogues, the late, great spiritual teacher, Jiddu Krishnamurti, and the theoretical physicist, David Bohm, took up the question of just why men and women came to believe in, and then identify with, their thoughts:
"DB:   Yes. It is important to bring out this point - that rationality is limited, and, as you say, the fundamental fact is that more generally (people) cannot be rational. They may succeed in some area.

K:   That's right. That is a fact.

DB:   That is a fact, though we don't say it is inevitable, or that it can't be changed.

K:   No. It is a fact.

DB:   It is a fact that it has been, it has happened, it is happening.

K:   Yes. I, as a common human being, have been irrational. And my life has been totally contradictory, and so on, which is irrational. Now can I as a human being change that?

DB:   Let's see how we could proceed from the scientific approach. This would raise the question, why is everybody irrational?

K:   Because we have been conditioned that way. Our education, our religion, our everything.

DB:   But that won't get us anywhere, because it leads to more questions: how did we get conditioned and so on.

K:   We can go into all that.
David Bohm (1917-1992)
DB:   But I meant that line is not going to answer.

K:   Quite. Why are we conditioned that way?

DB:   For example, we were saying the other day that perhaps man took a wrong turning, established the wrong conditioning.

K:   The wrong conditioning from the beginning. Or, seeking security - security for myself, for my family, for my group, for my tribe - has brought about this division.

DB:   Even then you have to ask why man sought this security in the wrong way. You see, if there had been any intelligence, it would have been clear that this thing has no meaning.

K:   Of course, you are going back to taking the wrong turn. How will you show we have taken a wrong turning?
. . .

DB:   Also it would have to be made clear why, if thought is so important, it causes all the difficulties. There are the two main questions.

K:   Yes. I think the wrong turn was taken when thought became all important. . . . That is fairly simple. So thought has been made king, supreme. And that may be the wrong turn of human beings.

DB:   You see, I think that thought became the equivalent of truth. People took thought to give truth, to give what is always true. There is the notion that we have knowledge - which may hold in certain cases to be true. There is the notion that we have knowledge - but men generalize, because knowledge is always generalizing. When they go to the notion that it would always be so, this crystallized the thought of what is true. This gave thought supreme importance.
"Why is it that we do this?," asks Adyashanti. "Why do we believe the thoughts in our head?  We don’t believe the thoughts in someone else’s head when they speak them to us. When we read a book—which is nothing but the recording of somebody else’s thoughts—we can take them or leave them. But why is it that we are so prone to grasp at the thoughts that occur within our own mind—to hold onto them and become identified with them? We don’t seem to be able to put them down even when they cause great pain and suffering."
"The capacity to think and utilize language has a shadow side," notes Adyashanti, "that, if left unattended and used in an unwise way, can cause us to suffer and experience unnecessary conflict with one other. Because after all, that’s what thought does: It separates. It classifies. It names. It divides. It explains."

"Again, he notes, "thought and language have a very useful aspect and they are therefore very necessary things to develop. Evolution has worked very hard to make sure that we have the capacity to think coherently and rationally, or, in other words, to think in ways that will ensure our survival. But when we look back upon the world, we see that the very thing that has evolved to help us survive has also become a form of imprisonment for us. we’ve become trapped in a world of dreams, a world in which we live primarily in our minds."
Thus, through identification with our very random thinking we fall out of grace. However, through mindfulness and the sort of radical self-enquiry advocated by Krishnamurti and the long line of spiritual teachers before him, like Sri Nisargadatta and Ramana Maharshi, we have the opportunity, as Adyashanti makes so clear, to fall once more back into grace.

And, at a time when we face global warming, rampant pollution of the environment, widespread deforestation, mass extinctions, soaring population growth, energy shortages and an ever-growing threat of mass hunger, there is an urgent imperative for us to seek the answers within that will lead to answers in the world.

But, to paraphrase the great 12th-century Sufi poet, Rumi: "We may need more grace than we thought."
 . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

 In the attached video, Adyashanti explores mindfulness, compulsive thinking and our relationship to thought.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Music and the Nature of the Mind

“Rhythm and harmony find their way into the secret places of the soul.”
-- Plato (426-348 BCE) --
The poets, philosophers and seers of  the world's great wisdom traditions so often seem to have spoken directly to the truths in life which modern science is now confirming. Perhaps this indicates how the questions we have are universal and therefore frame the questions that science is most interested in answering; or, perhaps we have always sensed where the answers to our greatest questions lie, and science is just now getting around to investigate 'why' our answers 'are' what they are.

In a fascinating video account of how music affects us (embedded below), Dr. Annirudh Patel, of the Neurosciences Institute, looks at the intersection of the arts and science, in his investigation of where and how music and the brain interact "Interest in music and the mind," he notes, "is as ancient as philosophy itself."

Patel begins his account by referencing studies that show how music stimulates deep and evolutionarlily ancient structures in the brain, the same pain/pleasure structures associated with eating and sex. These structures, Patel notes, are triggered and release the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine while an individual is listening to his or her favourite musical passages, the musical passages which give one a shiver or a tingle in their spine. "Somehow," Dr. Patel observes, "listening to instrumental music, a very abstract activity, is accessing the same brain structures as are behaviours important for our physical survival and reproduction."

Music, it turns out, not only stimulates both the ventral tagmental area and the nucleus accumbens, two ancient brain structures that are close to the amygdalla and the brain stem. But, Patel notes, music also activates a host of brain functions that are correlated to a host of other specialized regions throughout the brain, including regions related to emotion, memory, learning and plasticity, attention, motor control, pattern perception, imagery and many more. And the wide impact that music has on our brains may make it a portal into understanding the deeper questions of mind science.

Music, no less than language, is a defining trait of our species; universal to human beings, and unique to human minds; a controversial remark when one considers the song of the meadowlark or the nightingale. However, Patel notes, birds sing only at specific times and for specific reasons that are involved primarily with territoriality and reproduction, while humans in every culture make music in the widest of circumstances and for a myriad of reasons.

Displaying an image of a 35,000 year old flute made from the wing-bone of a swan in the late Pleistocene Age, Patel explores whether we have been shaped by other evolutionary strands to be musical, or whether other forces are at play. Just as language has a grammar and syntax, Patel notes, so does music, and these features of each may be related.

Just as there is a dysfunction resulting in the loss of language skills (i.e., aphaysia), there is also a lesser know dysfunction resulting in the loss of some portion of each individual's innate musical ability, amusia. And damage to any number of different brain regions can result in different forms of amusia, showing the complex and diverse physiology of our musical abilities.

In order to understand our linguistic and musical abilities, and their interrelatedness, Patel compares  linguistic and musical 'anomalies' - glaring grammatical errors and off-key musical errors. Language and musical grammars it appears overlap in terms of the brain regions each utilizes. Patel found that  professional musicians with highly sensitized musical regions who suffer aphaysia do not typically suffer amusia as well, while persons with normal musical abilities suffering aphaysia do suffer amusia, demonstrating that the "grammar functions" of language and music are closely related.

Interestingly, in comparing musical abilities across species, Patel notes that there are only a relatively few species that have achieved what he term "vocal learning' - that is, the ability to learn and produce complex vocal and/or musical patterns based on what is heard. These include humans, certain songbirds (including parrots), cetaceans (whales and dolphin), as well as some species of bats and seals. Notably, humans are the only primates to have developed vocal learning skills. Our closest relations amongst the world's varied species, the chimpanzees and binobos, appear to be devoid of this vocal learning ability.

Patel posits that by tapping into the innate ability of some species - particularly ours - to process and replicate music (or vocal sounds), neuroscience may be able to shed some light on the elusive question as to just how 'the mind' is related to 'the brain.' Music, he notes, engages many brain functions, is complex yet highly reducible, has its own grammar, and lends itself readily to studies of learning. Along with the ability to compare structure and functions of the brain across varied species, Patel holds out the hope that musical neuroscience can shed some light on the question of how the gray matter of the brain is somehow turned into that which each of us recognizes as 'mind.' And this, of course, is perhaps the question which haunts not only neurology, but key disciplines in biology, chemistry and physics.

Rhythm and harmony may, thus, indeed be the key into "the secret places" of our souls, as Plato so presciently observed millennia ago. And if so, it will help unravel a whole host of until now unanswerable questions, including why we appear to be the only species that seem capable of being not only conscious, but of being conscious of our consciousness; a question which, in and of itself, is a question worthy of Plato.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Meditation and the Neuroplasticity of the Brain

Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
In a world that is quite obviously "on the edge of the sword," says contemplative neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson, "(p)eople are way too driven by greed, hatred, and delusions," the 'three poisons' identified by the  Buddha. Worse, yet, Hanson observes: "Our caveman brains are armed with nuclear weapons."

Hanson, who holds a doctorate in neuropsychology and is co-author (with Richard Mendius, MD) of "Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom," is, however, quick to assure us that all is not lost. Far from it.

Due to the neuroplasticity of the brain - the brain's ability to grow and continually form new neural connections throughout an individual's lifetime - Hanson notes, our ability to exercise "neural networks of happiness, love and wisdom" may be precisely the saving grace that takes us out from under the existential 'Sword of Damocles' that seems to loom so large over our lives at times.

"Neuroplasticity (also known as cortical remapping)
refers to the ability of the brain to change as a result
of one's experience." (Source: Wikipedia)
It is only in the past several decades - during which time our knowledge of the brain increased a hundred-fold, according to Hanson - that neurologists and neuropsychologists have examined the ability of the adult brain to make new neural connections, an ability that may stay with us well into our 'golden years'. Prior to the 1990s, brain-wise, it was widely felt that it was all downhill after age 20-or-so.

Now, Hanson remarks, research amongst so-called 'contemplatives' (primarily seasoned Buddhist and Transcendental Meditation practitioners) has shown that the brain changes significantly as a result of prolonged meditative practice.
"One of the enduring changes in the brain of those who routinely meditate," Hanson notes, "is that the brain becomes thicker. In other words, those who routinely meditate build synapses, synaptic networks, and layers of capillaries (the tiny blood vessels that bring metabolic supplies such as glucose or oxygen to busy regions), which an MRI shows is measurably thicker in two major regions of the brain. One is in the pre-frontal cortex, located right behind the forehead. It’s involved in the executive control of attention – of deliberately paying attention to something. This change makes sense because that’s what you're doing when you meditate or engage in a contemplative activity."

"The second brain area that gets bigger," he further notes, "is a very important part called the insula. The insula tracks both the interior state of the body and the feelings of other people, which is fundamental to empathy. So, people who routinely tune into their own bodies – through some kind of mindfulness practice – make their insula thicker, which helps them become more self-aware and empathic. This is a good illustration of neuroplasticity, which is the idea that as the mind changes, the brain changes, or as Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb put it, neurons that fire together wire together."
"Buddhism teaches that the mind takes the shape of whatever it rests upon," Hanson notes; "or, more exactly, the brain takes the shape of whatever the mind rests upon."

Because of its neuroplasticity, Hanson posits, prolonged meditative practice with happiness and compassion as its objects will breed evermore happiness and compassion, and through this we may find the necessary escape from the Buddha's "three poisons." Meditative practice that trains the mind of the comtemplative towards ever greater compassion and happiness, due to the brain's plasticity, therefore breeds a repetitive and positive cycle leading towards enlightenment, just as the Buddha taught 2,500 years ago.

Science, it seems, at least Hanson's rapidly growing scientific discipline of contemplative neuroanatomy and neurospychology, is catching up with the evidence garnered from the world's oldest wisdom traditions. And, in this field at least, mind science is starting to pick up "the gauntlet thrown down by William James" over a century ago now. Hanson's research, along with the innovative research of many others in this growing filed, it seems, is starting to probe just what 'consciousness' is, and how higher states of consciousness forge not just our mental 'reality,' but also how they shape our physical 'reality' as well.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Crisis of a Divided Consciousness

"Humanity faces the crisis of a divided consciousness," writes Dr. Robert Atkinson, Professor of Human Development and Religious Studies at the University of Southern Maine.

"A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."
-- James 1:8 --
While this is not new, in and of itself - after all the problems of 'duality' and the seeming 'individuality' of the human ego have been addressed in virtually every one of the world's great wisdom or religious traditions - the problems that a "divided consciousness" presents in the age of instantaneous information and reaction are immense; and, it seems we are not facing these collective challenges, as yet. Rather, the reverse seems more likely to be true.

On the whole, it seems we tend to avoid life's basic existential questions, chief amongst them the "double nature" of man's consciousness, relegating such 'problems' to the backwaters of religious and metaphysical traditions that seem less and less relevant to the challenges we face on a daily basis.

"Our collective story is lagging behind, resisting the flow of evolutionary change," Atkinson observes. "The pre-twentieth-century story we have carried with us into the twenty-first century – built on the assumptions of duality, separation, and boundaries – has lost much of its meaning, power, and, most alarmingly, hope for the future. It faces crisis after crisis without offering any lasting resolution (and, the) once well-understood principle of continual progress toward a collectively desired and beneficial goal is missing."

"As we struggle through a time that begs for a momentous breakthrough," Atkinson asks, "will we let this crisis get the best of us, or will we midwife our current transformation-in-progress toward collective harmony and planetary sustainability?"

Atkinson identifies the following seven 'principles' which are universal, cross-cultural and found to varying degrees in all of the world's great religions and wisdom traditions:
1. Consciousness is a potentiality set in motion by a dynamic process. We are born with an inherent urge to understand reality, unfolding through our desire to make sense of life’s mysteries. Our fullest potential for consciousness is realized as we independently investigate the twin knowledge systems of science and religion while integrating our own life’s lessons.

2. Change is inevitable and necessary for evolution. On both the micro and macro levels, from algae to weather systems, the nature of everything is constant change. There can be no evolution without change. To navigate this time of unusually rapid change, of universal reformation, we need a transformation of consciousness, which will become the change agent for the evolution of civilization.

3. Growth by degrees is inherent to life. The pace of growth enables all life forms to evolve toward their potential. Historians, mystics, and developmental theorists understand that growth on the individual and collective levels is regulated by a creative, dynamic, universal force and designed to occur in a gradual and ordered progression.

4. Transformation occurs through the conscious confrontation of opposing forces. Individually and collectively, we participate in the inherent dialectic of life not only by being tested to our limits but also by being pushed beyond them to confront unknown realms. Just as change is necessary for evolution, so is transformation. The trials and tribulations of life have purpose; they are the cause of great advancement. Opposition is a catalyst for transformation and is essential for maintaining the law of balance in the universe.

5. Consciousness expands along an eternal continuum. Consciousness pervades all of creation; it’s at the heart of an interconnectedness that links all beings. Our consciousness of ourselves, each other, and the universe – our spiritual development – has been ever-evolving and increasing in complexity over time. Evidence for this includes an increasing capacity among many to think globally and identify themselves as world citizens.

6. Consciousness progresses toward unity. As we journey through our lives, we discover many viewpoints, experience many identities, and confront endless pairs of opposites. At some point we may even glimpse an inherent unity to it all, a hidden wholeness. This is not a fluke. Evolution has been leading us toward a more complex understanding of this mystery and toward a greater appreciation of our essential oneness.

7. Reality is a unified whole, and revelation is continuous. On the horizon of eternity, out from behind the illusion of the many, all veils pass away, and all that remains is the One. Only through the eyes of unity does reality appear as changeless yet evolving. Unseen but ever-present spiritual forces, revealed progressively and cyclically, have always been and still are being released, pushing evolution to higher levels of convergence, signaling humanity’s coming of age.

Atkinson's "principles," so reminiscent of Aldous Huxley's "Perennial Philosophy," holds out great hope for an evolutionary leap in both individual and collective consciousness, although they do not minimize the challenges we will face in getting there.

As Atkinson notes, "(t)he motifs and archetypes for a story of renewal and regeneration are embedded in these seven principles," which "operate on an evolutionary basis, both linearly and cyclically as well as individually and collectively."

"Do not be conformed to the world: rather
be transformed by the renewal of your mind."
-- Romans 12:2 --
"We meet each challenge along the continuum (of consciousness), he notes, "as we live within the world of opposites and take on a divided consciousness. Yet, in the end, he observes, "the final step brings us back to a consciousness of oneness when we recognize that reality is a unified whole."

"As more and more individuals come to understand the essential unity of humankind and begin to live accordingly," he concludes "our collective cultural and spiritual development will move ahead toward its next stage of maturity."

Yet, he notes, "(t)he awakening of a global consciousness, along with the acceptance of a global ethic, can only succeed when it is simultaneously linked to and understood as interdependent with the core principle of our time – the oneness of humanity."

If this principle is "affirmed as a common understanding," he observes "all will be in place for the practical organization of humanity into working relationships of oneness, harmony, and unity, which are the building blocks of world peace and prosperity."

And, he might add, only when such a common understanding of fundamental unity is affirmed, and such harmonious relationships have been forged, will we have fulfilled this next stage in our evolutionary potential.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Jack Kerouac: The End of a 'Beat'

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)
After the American Transcendentalists and the New Thought movements, with their various teachers and teachings, yet before the Hippies with their LSD, and before the New Agers with their crystals, there were the "Beats." And before the "Beats," as after the "Beats," there was the prolific writer and wanderer, Jack Kerouac - the singular "King of the Beats."

Kerouac, for all his hard-drinking and womanizing ways that were immortalized in "On the Road" and his many other novels, was nonetheless, and more than anything else an Arahat, a spiritual seeker. His most personal writings, the notebooks he kept that were published as "Some of the Dharma," reveal over and over the depth of the spiritual enlightenment he chased from his native Maine to New York City, and from San Francisco to the deserts of Mexico and the beaches of Florida.

In "Some of the Dharma," a masterpiece of existential poetry and prose, he writes:
MY PERSONALITY SELF is only like a river in its valley - the river is like Mind Essence, the shores Jack Kerouac - as soon as it gets "out to sea" there is no more river and my realization of essence of mind restored unshackled to shoreless void---but mind will continue to suffer down other rivers after my river runs out of its banks, so "I'll suffer again," because I'm mind, my realization of suffering is due not to my personality-shores but due and informed by the mind essence "waters" that stream through---So as long as ignorance exists I'll, as mind, suffer---consciously, too---The mistake of ignorance is in my own mind now.
["Some of the Dharma," page 183.]
Again and again, he would turn to the theme of ignorance, and the pursuit of his enlightenment with or without the help of the Buddha, the saints or God.
The world is what's in the mind.---
The reason why concentration is advised is because
sentient beings have a tendency to run wild in the
wrong direction and stampeded to Ignorance---
["Some of the Dharma," page 183.]
Kerouac died as he lived, and fittingly it was in 1969, before he would witness the demise of the love spread during that era. He died at the age of 47 from an internal hemorrhage caused by cirrhosis of the liver, the result of a lifetime of hard drinking.

Yet, in the end, it seems Kerouac may have obtained, in his own way, a peace that few of us come to know. On the final pages of "Some of the Dharma," he writes:
The Karma Emptiness Movement works automatically, evil is paid up prompt. . . . . .

ALSO   It's worse than death not to know that "God" is the same thing as yourself----
and that's precisely the situation everywhere---and everywhere they're "dying"---
Kerouac concludes that his life was due to "a load of unpaid karmic debts," which his "automatic sentient suffering (would) make good."

Surely, it has . . . and still does . . .

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Finding the 'Stillness' of Our Being

"Be still and know that I am God."
-- Psalms 46:10 --

What is the deepest truth of human existence? What is the deepest truth of who and what you are?

". . . thinking without awareness
is the main dilemna of human
existence.
"


These are the the fundamental existential questions which enlightened spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, examines in the attached video excerpt introducing his talk/teaching, "The Deepest Truth of Human Existence."

In the video, Tolle asks the listener to acknowledge and focus on his or her "realm of stillness underneath the stream of mental noise," underneath what the philosopher/psychologist William James termed the "stream of consciousness," underneath the mental phenomena of the human ego which Tolle rightly observes most people are mistakenly identified with as "themselves," or 'who' and 'what' they are in their essence.

"We are here to explore the deepest truth of who you are," Tolle observes, "because you are human existence. We are here to explore the deepest truth within yourself. Knowing yourself at the deepest level, (is) a level so deep that knowing yourself and knowing God become one and the same."

"That which acknowledges that dimension in you," says Tolle, that "which is able to listen to that dimension - (to) listen not to something but to nothing, (to) listen to 'no' thing - that in you which is able to acknowledge that dimension and to be attentive to that dimension, is a realm of existence underneath the stream of mental noise."

It is because of "this stream of mental noise," because of the misidentification of our egoic 'selves' with our real essence, that nearly all of us struggle with our thoughts and the existential questions of 'what' we are, 'who' we are, and 'why' we are here.

"Through thought you cannot pay attention to silence," Tolle notes, "because thought is noise." And, it is because of this conditioned way of constant thinking we have learned, that most everyone in this age struggles to experience the consciousness of God, and experientially witness the 'state of grace.'

Thus, as the psalmist urged millennia ago, it is now - as ever - necessary for the spiritual aspirant to "(be) still and know that I am God."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *


"The world is too much with us. . . ."
-- Wm. Shakespeare --