(Interactive session on 09.08.2014)
Keynote address by Asish Kumar Raha
(Other participant speakers: Dr. Debabrata Mukherjee, Mr. Amitava Tripathi, Mr. Paritosh Bandopadhyay, Mr. Gautam Kanjilal, Mr. R.K. Gupta, Ms. Sharmila Bhawal, Dr. Manisha Mukherjee, Mr. Ashok Sengupta, Dr. Kalyan Chakravarty & Mr. Asim Banerjee)
[Opening song – Ms. Jayanti Dasgupta]
Our three-dimensional phenomenal world of particles and the metaphysical world of consciousness are antithetical or mutually incompatible, prima facie. The former is generally labelled as unconscious, while the latter is governed by consciousness, meaning state of awareness, which is again divided into sub-conscious, conscious and super-conscious. From time immemorial, olden philosophical treatises such as Sankhya, Vedanta, Buddhist, Greek, Abrahamic traditions etc. have sought to resolve the puzzle of the mystical phenomenon called consciousness, sourcing its origin either to Nature (Prakriti) or to God. Recent researches into the same phenomenon by Quantum Physicists and Neurobiologists, though not yet conclusive, have come to preliminary findings that are diametrically opposed to each other and have raised more questions rather than resolving the existing ones. Some fundamental questions that we propose to dwell upon herein are as follows.
The question that confronts us at the very outset is whether consciousness is a natural or a spiritual phenomenon. Secondly, what is the difference between consciousness and super-consciousness? Third, whether there is any synergic or symbiotic relationship between the two worlds, phenomenal and spiritual; and if so, what are the nature, degree and extent of such relationship? Fourth, whether consciousness under dimensional limits is real or illusory, stable or variable? Fifth, whether consciousness is sourced to matter or matter is sourced to consciousness, or both are sourced to some other phenomenon, common or diverse? Lastly, whether our lives and destiny are controlled by a super-conscious entity or nature or by our own consciousness?
Before we dwell upon above posers to find logical answers, let us critically analyse ancient wisdom as also modern scientific researches on the subject.
Sankhya philosophy on consciousness:
“There is no philosophy in the world” says Swami Vivekananda (refer ‘A study of the sankhya philosophy’ in vol.2 of The Complete Works), “that is not indebted to Kapila” (the author of Sankhya philosophy). “Pythagoras came to India and studied this philosophy”, the Swami goes on, “and that was the beginning of the philosophy of the Greeks. Later, it formed the Alexandrian school, and still later, the Gnostic. It became divided into two; one part went to Europe and Alexandria and the other remained in India; and out of this, the system of Vyasa was developed.”
According to Sankhya philosophy, the nature or Prakriti is the cause of everything that exists, including consciousness. To be more precise, Prakriti manifests into Mahat or intelligence which includes not only consciousness but sub-consciousness and super-consciousness as well, among its many other qualities or attributes. From Mahat comes Manas or mind and Aham or universal egoism. What is striking in Sankhya philosophy is that all these so-called qualities such as intelligence, mind and egoism are nothing but matter. From egoism come five sense organs, viz. eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin with their corresponding qualities, as also five Tanmatras, viz. form, fluid, smell, touch and sound and out of the Tanmatras come gross matter viz. earth, water, fire, air and ether.
Prakriti, according to Sankhya, is insentient or Jara. Hence all its derivatives such as intelligence, mind, egoism or even the will, being compounds are also insentient. But when they reflect upon the Chit of the ‘Purusha’, the ‘Purusha’ becomes sentient. The second striking feature of Sankhya philosophy is that the ‘will’ being a compound and, therefore, a derivative of nature or Prakriti cannot be the cause of the creation of that very nature or Prakriti.
The Purusha of Sankhya is not just one but numberless. It is identical with souls, and a simple entity, not a compound and, therefore, immaterial. It is the witness for every work, but unaffected by it, for it is without action and without attributes since all attributes are compounds and the Purusha being outside of nature/Prakriti is not compounds. It is the unity of the Purusha with the Prakriti (the former being the enjoyer) that renders the creation kinetic and dynamic. The Purusha alone is sentient, even though sentiency or consciousness as a compound is a derivative of the nature/Prakriti. Both the Purusha and the Prakriti are omnipresent, without beginning and without end and this co-existence of two infinities without a cause is the third important feature of Sankhya philosophy.
The fourth and the most striking feature of Sankhya philosophy of Kapila is that God is not necessary to create the universe and that nature is self-sufficient to create the universe.
Vedanta as logical corollary to Sankhya:
While Vedanta agrees with Sankhya in its fundamentals that Mahat with all its derivatives including consciousness is a compound or a product of the nature/Prakriti, it differs from Sankhya in that the soul or Atman, called Purusha by Kapila is not infinite in number but just one, being the Existence Absolute, Knowledge Absolute and Bliss Absolute. In other words, the soul is not just Purusha of but Brahman. Thus while Purusha and Prakriti in Sankhya are two everlasting infinites without a cause, in Vedanta Brahman is the ultimate cause of Purusha and Prakriti.
“According to Vedanta”, to quote Swami Vivekananda, “the three fundamental factors of consciousness are, I exist, I know and I am blessed.” When that supreme awareness gets limited to mortal existence in this phenomenal world, the consciousness becomes a compound or a product of the nature, conditioned by dimensionally limited mind, intelligence and egoism.
Vedanta envisages Universal Purusha or Self, called Ishwara, as the governor of the cosmos as also individual lives and said Ishwara is not subject to the rule of Prakriti. Such being the case, Prakriti cannot be called infinite, in the given proposition that Universal Purusha or Ishwara falls outside its ambit. That Universal Purusha or Self in Advaita (non-dualist) Vedanta is called Brahman in Whom all universes including every particle and every living being are subsumed. In Dvaita (dualist) Vedanta, said Universal Purusha as the governor of the outer cosmos is called Ishwara and as the governor of inner cosmos of living beings is called soul or Atman. In other words, Vedanta postulates that all that exists is Brahman – Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma. Therefore, there is no material difference between soul and matter as the soul pulsates or vibrates in every matter. Therefore, what we find as matter is an illusion, not real, according to Advaita Vedanta.
Consciousness in Greek, Buddhist, Egyptian, Abrahamic and Gnostic traditions
Consciousness in above traditions has been invariably linked to soul and has been generally de-linked from matter. But none of the above traditions has linked human consciousness to God-consciousness like Advaita Vedanta has done.
Greek philosophy owes its parentage to Pythagoras who is also acknowledged as the father of the western scientific tradition. He had spent considerable time in India and Egypt to learn the secret wisdom of the East. He is credited with the teaching of transmigration of soul through successive incarnations and the linking of symbolic properties of mind with the mechanism of the universe. One of his greatest contributions was the notion of the harmony of the spheres that linked inner states of the mind to the celestial spheres. He claimed that he could hear music of the Heaven and visualized the soul in ecstasy. Democritus, another Greek philosopher cum scientist went to the extent of declaring that the soul was composed of the finest atoms and that at death soul molecules detach themselves from the corpse. He attributed all mental activities to the atomic particles, just like Kapila. Socrates who left no writings of his own was reputed to be the greatest Greek philosopher and was also known as an explorer of consciousness who bridged the gap between the spirit and the intellect. He subscribed to the theory of reincarnation. Plato, the well known disciple of Socrates, described this world as the shadow of the reality. Like Pythagoras and Socrates, he subscribed to the theory of reincarnation and out of body consciousness.
In Buddhist philosophy, consciousness is termed as Vinnana or Vijnana in Sanskrit. Vinnana arises from five material sense bases which are eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin, while the sixth sense base is mind. Buddhism, therefore, has envisaged six types of consciousness. Vinnana causes craving (tanha) and craving causes suffering. Therefore, one should not be attached to Vinnana. In Cetana Sutta (Awareness Discourse) the Buddha proclaimed as follows: “Bhikkus, what one intends, plans or is inclined toward, becomes a basis for consciousness. When consciousness is established, and grows, it leads to renewed existence, future birth, ageing and death, sorrow, pain, lamentation and despair. Thus the whole mass of suffering takes its root.” In Anguttara Nikaya discourse the Buddha lucidly explained his concept of consciousness as follows:
[Ananda:] “One speaks, Lord, of ‘becoming’. How does becoming take place?”
[Buddha:] “… Ānanda, kamma (action) is the field, consciousness the seed and craving the moisture for consciousness of beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving to become established in. Thus, there is re-becoming in the future.”
It can thus be seen that though Buddhist philosophical background is cast in the mould of Sankhya and Vedanta, by identifying consciousness as the root of suffering, it has drifted from the Vedantic postulate of Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma. Like Sankhya, Buddhist philosophy does not consider God as essential for creation of the universe.
Egyptian concept of consciousness revolves around Ka or the double residing inside the body and Ba, the main soul element. Both, according to Egyptian philosophy, are conscious and capable of independent thought. Both merge after the death through the machination of Akh after the Judgment. Egyptian belief in the likelihood of re-animation of the body (Khat) after death and consequent mummification of the dead body so as to enable its re-animation has made its philosophy rather mundane and worldly.
Abrahamic tradition that generally subscribes to single life existence till resurrection after the Judgment Day has its theory of consciousness centred on the experience of that single life based on which God will evaluate every individual on the Judgment Day. Consciousness, in this tradition is, therefore, necessarily body-centric.
The philosophy of Gnosticism (the word came from the Greek word Gnosis meaning knowledge or insight) came to be widely known in the 1st and 2nd century A.D. It was Platonic in the beginning as it drew its inspiration from Plato’s concept of two conflicting world souls – one rational, doing good only and the other irrational, doing just the opposite. While the cosmic soul is in the state of being and unchanging or the ideal, the irrational soul is represented by the matter and is in a constant state of flux, or becoming. It is for the rational soul to control the irrational soul. Gnostic philosophy, however, holds this material cosmos as an error on the part of the supra-cosmic being called Sophia (Wisdom) in fulfilment of a reckless desire to know the transcendental God, One beyond Being. In the process, Sophia created a semi-divine being called demiurge who in turn created this imperfect world. Thus Gnostics reject this world as a product of error and ignorance, a failed experiment that produces only sufferings and dejection. Later, on the question of possible salvation from the bondage of the irrational soul, they came under the influence of the Christian thought that God had sent His only son to suffer and die for the sins of all mankind so as to make possible the salvation of mankind. One of the well-known Gnostics was Ptolemy (140 C.E) who interpreted the desire of Sophia to know her Father as the desire to dissolve herself inasmuch as after knowing the Father she would no longer exist as a separate entity. This was precisely the reason why the Father rejected her desire. Gnostic philosophy conceived of three classes of human beings: material, animate and spiritual with their levels of consciousness varying widely. The material level of consciousness is non-intellectual centring on material comforts that are perishable, while animate consciousness is ritualistic with limited concept of God. Spiritual consciousness, according to Gnostics, needs no faith, as they know the reality and receive protection from nature.
Quantum physics and consciousness:
Stephen Hawking, arguably the greatest living quantum physicist, in chapter two of his book ‘The Grand Design’ has raised serious doubt as to whether man possesses free will. In his words, “It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behaviour is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.” He has based his above observation on recent experiments in neuroscience that have led to the finding that by electrically stimulating the brain, one could create a desire in a patient to move his/her hand, arm or foot or to move the lips and talk. He goes on to say in the last chapter of his book under the same caption viz. ‘The Grand Design’: “We cannot solve exactly the equations for three or more particles interacting with each other”. Hence, we are just not in a position to predict action of a human being, containing a thousand trillion, trillion particles so as to prove that it is actually a robot, having no free will/consciousness. Thus owing to our inability to do the calculations so as to predict actions of a human being, we concede, according to Hawking, that any complex being has free will (though in reality they do not have). It is thus patently clear that quantum physicists like Stephen Hawking are reluctant to accept the phenomenon like consciousness or free will for the simple reason that all these are governed by brain and not independent of it.
Secondly, Hawking is firmly of the view that since there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. The universe in the beginning was as small as the Planck size, a billion-trillion-trillionth of a centimetre from which it expanded by the law of gravity as if “a coin 1 centimetre in diameter suddenly blew up to ten million times the width of the Milky Way”. And this was possible because of the principle that gravity warps space and time. Based on the above phenomenon of quantum physics Hawking concluded that “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
While to Hawkins consciousness is nothing more than an accidental byproduct of laws of physics, to David Bohm, another well-known quantum physicist (refer: The Undivided Universe: An ontological interpretation of quantum theory), consciousness is rooted deep in the implicate order, and is, therefore, present to some degree in all material forms. In his words: “everything material is also mental and everything mental is also material, but there are many more infinitely subtle levels of matter than we are aware of”. “”It could equally well be called idealism, spirit, consciousness. The separation of the two – matter and spirit – is an abstraction. The ground is always one.”
Hawking’s observation that God is not necessary for the creation of universes, is strikingly similar to the essence of the Sankhya philosophy of Kapila. His other findings that man has no free will and his action is governed by laws of nature (Prakriti of Sankhya & Vedanta) agree in substance with the philosophy of Sankhya and are also akin to the revelation of Sri Krishna in verse 27, chapter 3 of the Gita as follows:
“All action is universally engendered by the attributes (Gunas) of primordial nature (Prakriti). A man whose self is deluded by ego thinks, ‘I am the doer’.”
Latest neurobiological researchers like Nobel Laureate Sir John Eccles (refer: How the Self Controls its Brain) and Stem Cell researchers like Robert Lanza (refer: Biocentrism) have a scientific explanation for consciousness and super-conscious phenomena. Sir John Eccles and Robert Lanza speak of a mental world in addition to the material world and hold that our mind or consciousness acts on the brain at the quantum level. To them, the mind is not only nonphysical, but non-material and non-substantial, while brain is just the opposite. Life/consciousness, according to them, plays a central role in creating the cosmos instead of the other way round. The perspective of our study of universes, therefore, ought to be switched from physics to biology, with emphasis on consciousness that governs the matter.
There are two physical phenomena that have so far defied known principles of Quantum Physics – viz. wave function of particles and quantum entanglement. Those two physical phenomena, in fact, hold the key to our study of consciousness and super-consciousness.
As for the first phenomenon, experiments have revealed that electrons behave differently when observed by a human. When not so observed, the electron behaves like a wave. When observed, it behaves like a particle. This change in behavioural pattern would suggest that the electron is aware, just like the human, whether it is being observed or not. Neurobiologists have taken the above finding of Quantum Physicists to a different level for explaining out-of-body experience (OBE) and near-death experience (NDE) while the body is in an anaesthetized or inactive state. In that state consciousness remains dis-embodied, and the subject observes events from outside the body. After returning to normal sense, the person can relate what his/her consciousness observed and heard from an out of body location. According to Susan Greenfield, Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford University and Professor of Physics at Gresham College, London, none has yet pointed to a single event that occurs in awake but not in anaesthetized brain. Experiments have also shown, as stated by John Eccles, that consciousness leaves a dying person, floats around observing things and later attach itself to an unborn foetus to start a new existence. Consciousness, therefore, has been classified by neuro-biologists like Eccles as a non-material entity and not a property of brain. It is similar to electron in behaviour. While the electrons in the brain behave as particles, it prevents consciousness from realizing that it is part of a whole. When the electrons behave as a wave, the consciousness becomes aware of its existence outside the mind and body, as a part of the larger whole. When the wave function collapses, consciousness returns to the physical body to become entangled just like the electron. This is known as double slit experiment with electron in quantum physics, which has been applied by neuro-biologists to consciousness. Experiment has further revealed that the dis-embodied consciousness possesses visual, auditory, and olfactory senses and experiences a new perception of reality outside of one’s self, I-ness, or oneness. When the person becomes self-conscious, the wave function collapses and the electron changes from wave to particle preventing the person from being aware of his/her larger self or existence as part of the whole.
This out-of-body consciousness can be achieved by a person through meditation when he/she gets eventually merged like a wave with the larger Whole, transcending the limit of time and space. In that state, his super-conscious mind may become capable of controlling the matter/nature and performing miracle. While in a state of meditation, mind is withdrawn from material world setting the particles into wave motion. In that state, if anybody touches the body of the meditator, he is likely to feel an electric shock, as has been experienced and recounted by a person who touched Swami Vivekananda (then Narendra Nath) while the latter was in deep meditation.
The second phenomenon defying scientific explanation is known as Quantum Entanglement of two particles that interact with each other almost instantaneously and certainly at a speed much faster than light, irrespective of distance. This is known as Nonlocality or ‘super-nonlocality’ as Bohm would describe it, which provides an explanation for telepathy, teleportation and clairvoyance.
We have received corroboration of the existence of dis-embodied consciousness from the book of Dr. Raymond Moody, an American heart surgeon, titled ‘Life after Life’. In his book he has recorded out-of-body experiences of some of his patients during the course of heart surgery. Further corroboration is available from the writings of past life regression therapists like Dr. Brian Weiss, suggesting that human brain does not only contain current life memory but also memory of several past lives.
Jill Bolte Taylor episode – the poser:
Ms. Jill Bolte Taylor (b.1959), an American neuro-anatomist and the national spokesperson for the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Centre, experienced a stroke on December 10, 1996, and underwent a major brain surgery on December 27, 1996, at Massachusetts General Hospital to remove a golf ball sized clot in the left hemisphere of her brain. She recorded her experience during the stroke and subsequent period of recovery in her sensational best-selling book ‘My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey’, published in 2008.
Her poser to self and humanity based on her experience during the period when left hemisphere of her brain was practically non-functional is as follows:
“We have two magnificent information-processing machines inside our heads. Our right mind focuses on our similarities, the present moment, inflection of voice, and the bigger picture of how we are all connected. Because it focuses on our similarities, in my mind she is compassionate, expansive, open, and supportive of others. Juxtaposed to that, our left brain thinks linearly, creates and understands language, defines the boundaries of where we begin and where we end, judges what is right and wrong and is a master of details, details and more details about those details. Because it focuses on our differences and specializes in critical judgment of those unlike ourselves, our left brain character tends to be our source of bigotry, prejudice, and fear or hate of the unfamiliar.” Her poser to humanity is quite pertinent: “So who are we? We are the life force power of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world. Right here, right now, I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere, where we are. I am the life-force power of the universe. I am the life-force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form, at one with all that is. Or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere, where I become a single individual, separate from the flow, separate from you. I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor: intellectual, neuroanatomist. These are the ‘we’ inside of me. Which would you choose? Which do you choose? And when?”
While it is difficult at this point of time to validate her substantive finding about diametrically opposite functions and characters of two hemispheres of human brain, her finding that the human brain contains ‘I’-ness as well as universality is in conformity not only with neurobiological endorsement of disembodied consciousness, but also with the quantum theory of dual character of electrons, one as a particle representing individuality and the other as a wave representing universality.
Explanation of super-consciousness by Sri Aurobindo & Swami Yogananda
It is two great yogis of 20th century, viz. Swami Yogananda and Sri Aurobindo, who have explained super-consciousness most lucidly and also how it can be accessed through yoga.
The whole effort of Sri Aurobindo and after his demise by the Mother was focused on the descent of Super-mind (or super-consciousness) into the earth-consciousness. In his magnum opus ‘The Life Divine’ Sri Aurobindo has described spiritual mind at four levels, viz. Higher Mind, Illumined Mind, Intuition and Over- Mind, in that order. According to him, our first decisive step in spiritual journey is an ascent into a Higher Mind which brings a large clarity of spirit. Its basic substance is a Unitarian sense of being. “It is a luminous thought-mind, a mind of Spirit-born conceptual knowledge.”
Our next ascent is into Illumined Mind, which in Sri Aurobindo’s words is “a Mind no longer of higher thought, but of spiritual light.” This light, according to him, is not a material creation, but primarily a spiritual manifestation of the Divine Reality, illuminative and creative. “The illumined Mind does not work primarily by thought, but by vision; thought is here only a subordinate movement expressive of sight (ref. The Life Divine, page 944).
The next level of ascent is into Intuition which is “a power of consciousness nearer and more intimate to the original knowledge of identity; for it is always something that leaps out direct from a concealed identity. It is when the consciousness of the subject meets with the consciousness of the object; penetrates it and sees, feels or vibrates with the truth of what it contacts, that the intuition leaps out like a spark or lightening-flash from the shock of the meeting.” “Its rays are not separated but connected or massed together in a play of waves of what might almost be called in the Sanskrit poetic figure a sea or mass of ‘stable lightening’.” (ref. The Life Divine, pp.946-47).
The next ascent of mind is into the Over-mind which is “a power of cosmic consciousness, a principle of global knowledge which carries in it a delegated light from the Supramental Gnosis.” “When the Over-mind descends, the predominance of the centralising ego-sense is entirely subordinated, lost in largeness of being and finally abolished; a wide cosmic perception and feeling of a boundless universal self and movement replaces it.” This sense of cosmic delight, according to him, “is not confined to the person or the body but can be felt at all points in an unlimited consciousness of unity which pervades everywhere.” (ibid, pp 950-51)
The final ascent of mind is to get merged into the Supramental. It goes to the credit of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother who thought of and strived for the descent of the supramental into this earth-existence rather than their own ascent. As for the descent of the Supramental, he wrote to a disciple: “But in its nature the Descent (of the Supermind) is not something arbitrary nd miraculous but a rapid evolutionary process compressed into a few years. That cannot be done in the whole world at a time, but it is done like all such processes, first through selected Adharas and then on a wider scale. We have to do it through ourselves (himself and the Mother) first and through the circle of Sadhaks gathered around us in the terrestrial consciousness as typified there. If a few open, that is sufficient for the process to be possible.” (Overman – by Georges Van Vrekhem, pp 117-18).
In Autobiography of a Yogi, Swami Yogananda has explained the science of Kriya Yoga as follows. One of the fundamental principles of science that no material body whose mass increases with its velocity, can ever attain the velocity of light, viz. 1, 86,300 miles per second. Only a material body with infinite mass could equal, if not exceed the velocity of light. This principle, according to Yogananda (refer Autobiography of a Yogi – Chapter 30: The Law of Miracles) is the cornerstone of miracles. In his words: “Masters who are able to materialize and dematerialize their bodies and other objects, and to move with the velocity of light, and to use the creative light rays in bringing into instant visibility any physical manifestation, have fulfilled the lawful condition; their mass is infinite.” The law of gravitation obviously has no effect on such master who is able to transform his body into weight-less infinite mass with a sense of identity with the Supramental or Pure Consciousness – ‘I am He’ (Sohaham). Free from matter-consciousness of three space dimensions and the fourth dimension of time, the Yogi transfers his body of light with equal ease over or through the light rays of earth, water, fire and air. It is thus that a Yogi can walk on water or through fire, or fly.
“The law of miracles is operable by any man,” says Yogananda, “who has realized that the essence of creation is light….. The actual form of the projection (whatever it be: a tree, a medicine, a human body) is determined by the Yogi’s wish and by his power of will and of visualization” (ibid).
The Yoga, by practising which the Yogi is able to transform his gross body into subtle body of light, or can separate his subtle body from his gross body, is known as the Kriya Yoga. Sri Krishna spoke of this Yoga to Arjuna, several millenniums ago (refer Chapter IV, verse 29, and Chapter V, verses 27-28 of Bhagavad Gita). Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras mentioned Kriya Yoga twice. It is said that one thousand Kriyas practiced in 8.5 hours gives the Yogi in one day the equivalent of one thousand years of natural evolution, and 3,65,000 years of evolution in one year. “The body of the average man is like a fifty-watt lamp,” writes Yogananda (ibid), “which cannot accommodate the billion watts of power roused by an excessive practice of Kriya.” Through regular practice and gradual increase, by reversing the flow of life energy from the outward world to the inner cosmos, the Yogi’s body and brain cells get re-vitalized by a spiritual elixir. He finally becomes master of his body and mind, fit to express the infinite potentials of cosmic energy, and achieves victory over the last enemy – Death (implying that the soul continues in body as long as the Yogi wills).
The following two anecdotes from Swami Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi are recounted to explain the phenomenon of super-consciousness. The first anecdote is taken from chapter 14 titled ‘An Experience in Cosmic Consciousness’ and the second one from chapter 39 titled ‘Therese Neumann, the Catholic Stigmatist’. In the first incident, in his early days of celibacy prior to monkhood when in his Master Sri Yukteswar’s abode young Mukunda (Swami Yogananda’s earlier name) was trying in futility to meditate, his Master understood his restive mind and just struck gently on his chest above the heart. What he experienced thereafter has been recounted in following words: “My body became immovably rooted, breath was drawn out of my lungs as if by some huge magnet. Soul and mind instantly lost their physical bondage and streamed out like a fluid piercing light from my every pore. The flesh was as though dead, yet in my intense awareness, I knew that never before had I been fully alive. My sense of identity was no longer narrowly confined to a body but embraced the circumambient atoms. People on distant streets seemed to be moving gently over my own remote periphery. The roots of plants and trees appeared through a dim transparency of the soil; I discerned the inward flow of their sap…….The creative voice of God I heard resounding as Aum, the vibration of the cosmic motor.”
The second anecdote related to the Swami’s yogic interface with a Catholic mystic of Bavaria, named Therese Neumann, who since 1923 abstained completely from food and drinks and on every Friday since 1926 was believed to have been experiencing in her own body the stigmata or sacred wounds of Christ (from crucifixion). On a Friday in July, 1935, the Swami visited the saint of Bavaria primarily to test whether her stigmata was genuine or self-inflicted. As he entered her cottage, he put himself in a yogic trance in order to attain telepathic and televisional rapport with her. In attunement with her, the Swami could clearly see the scenes of her vision, viz. that she was watching Jesus as carrying the timbers of the Cross amid the jeering multitude. The Swami could also see though her vision that the Lord had fallen under the cruel weight. From the above instance it would transpire that a yogi can extend his consciousness to another person to experience what that person has been going through.
Our studies from philosophical, scientific and yogic perspectives strongly suggest that consciousness as a phenomenon is distinctive from brain inasmuch as brain necessarily co-exists with a living body while dis-embodied consciousness as a phenomenon is now accepted by eminent bio-scientists after intensive researches (refer to our discussion above, under the caption ‘Neuro-biological explanation’). However, several questions as have been briefly stated in the Introduction still need to be answered in our concluding remarks. In this context, readers may refer to the concluding remarks of our earlier post on ‘Spirit World’ (Feb. 7, 2014) wherein anecdotal references have been made to establish that consciousness survives death. For the sake of brevity, we are avoiding reiteration. Let us now address the posers made in the Introduction.
1) Whether consciousness is a natural or spiritual phenomenon?
Consciousness in the sense we understand the term in association with human brain is a natural phenomenon. Whether it is philosophical tradition of Sankhya, Vedanta, Buddhists, the Greeks, or the Gnostics, or the views of quantum physicists, bio-scientists or the great yogis of present time, we find a general agreement on the point that consciousness is caused by a conglomeration of particles that form the two hemispheres of our brain, irrespective of whether constituent particles causing consciousness leave the brain temporarily or permanently (when a person is dead).
2) What is the difference between consciousness and super-consciousness?
Once our conclusion is that consciousness is a natural phenomenon, it logically leads to the inference that nature being the source of consciousness is potentially conscious. Indian philosophical traditions of both Sankhya and Vedanta, however, make a distinction between the terms sentiency (consciousness) and sentient (conscious), or in other words, between ‘potentially conscious’ and ‘actually conscious’. Briefly stated, traditional philosophical view is that though nature is the source of sentiency (consciousness) it is not sentient (conscious) all by itself, till it comes in contact with the Purusha (soul). On the other hand, Purusha (soul) is sentient without possessing sentiency which comes from Prakriti (nature). It will thus be seen that Purusha (the soul) and Prakriti (nature) are inter-dependent and complementary to each other for manifestation of this sentient world of particles, the highest manifestation of which is man. Thus neither the Purusha, nor the Prakriti is self-sufficient for the creation of this sentient universe. This being the case, the Vedanta, unlike Sankhya, says that both Purusha and Prakriti ought to be sourced to an ultimate powerhouse who is Brahman or God, described as Existence Absolute, Knowledge Absolute and Bliss Absolute (Sat-Chit-Ananda). Super-consciousness conceptually provides the all-important link to sentient souls to reach or perceive Brahman (God). Super-consciousness thus is not an attribute of either the nature (Pakriti) or the soul (Purusha) but flows from Brahman or God to pervade the universe.
As God is not subject of research by scientists, whether quantum physicists or bio-scientists, super-consciousness is looked upon as dis-embodied consciousness only and nothing beyond.
3) Whether any relationship exists between phenomenal & spiritual worlds?
According to yogic tradition prevailing all over the world, there is a link between the phenomenal and spiritual worlds through the medium of consciousness. Current findings of bio-scientists like Sir John Eccles, Robert Lanza etc., heart surgeons like Dr. Raymond Moody and psychotherapists like Dr. Brian Weiss tend to validate the yogic postulates as have been expounded in Life Divine by Sri Aurobindo and in Autobiography of a Yogi by Swami Yogananda.
4) Whether 3 dimensional consciousness is real or illusory?
Just as a single or a 2-dimensional creature cannot appreciate or envision the 3-dimensional world, our consciousness bound by our dimensional limits is not expected to lead us to the reality of multi-dimensional universes (according to M-theory, there are 12 dimensions and 10 to the power of 500 universes in all). Thus what we see or experience with our sense organs is in all likelihood fractured or distorted. As Swami Vivekananda observed, if we humans had one more sense organ, the whole world would have looked different.
According to the Advaita (non-dualist) Vedanta, the entire world is a Maya or illusion. There is no existence except Brahman (God). It is God that evolves and involves. When IT evolves, Big Bang like expansion with the primordial sound ‘Aum’ happens. At the time of ITS involution/dissolution, Big Crunch will result and all the creations will shrink back into their ultimate source. This evolution and involution go on cyclically. This, according to Vedantic tradition, is the ultimate reality, and the rest illusory. A logical corollary deduced from the above postulate is that the consciousness that helps in uniting souls is real and the one that divides is unreal. Love unites. Therefore, love helps in perception of the reality. Hatred divides. Therefore, hatred drifts us from the reality.
5) Whether consciousness is caused by nature or super-conscious?
We have answered this poser substantially in response to the very first poser itself. Super-conscious is the ultimate and not the immediate cause of our consciousness. Immediate cause of our consciousness is nature (Prakriti) as our 3-dimensional consciousness, whether embodied or dis-embodied, is made up of particles. As nature itself is caused by super-consciousness, we may term it philosophically as the ultimate cause of the universe, not the proximate one. The yoga is all about finding and uniting individual soul with the super-conscious through austerity and meditation.
6) Whether we are controlled by our consciousness, nature, or the super-conscious?
Do we make our own destiny or it is governed by the super-conscious? It is not easy to find an answer to this. Stephen Hawking would have us believe that we are no better than robot, controlled entirely by laws of nature. Sri Krishna in verse 27, chapter 3 of the Bhagvat Gita had conveyed to us almost the same message:
“All action is universally engendered by the attributes (Gunas) of primordial nature (Prakriti). A man whose self is deluded by ego thinks, ‘I am the doer’.”
Now the question is, to what extent our destiny is pre-determined. According to the Vedanta, Upanishads as also Buddhism, our destiny is substantially pre-determined by our past karma (action). In other words, our life is virtually programmed. The question is, whether our destiny is programmed by laws of nature randomly as proposed by Stephen Hawking, or judgmentally with reference to our past action/deeds by the mandate of the super-conscious. More importantly, whether there is any scope for discretion in our action or whether our action like our destiny is also programmed.
As for random programming of our destiny, it simply does not appeal to our rational mind, even while accepting for argument’s sake that we are no better than robots. Robots are pre-programmed, and there is a rational mind behind every programming. As a matter of fact, every natural phenomenon such as rain, earthquake, drought or volcanic eruption has a causal connection and, therefore, each such phenomenon can be logically explained and is also predictable. There is no reason why the same logic would not apply to the destiny of human beings. It would stand to logic to think, therefore, that whatever happens to an individual has a causal connection to his Karma or past deed. There is no wonder, therefore, that the destiny of a man should also be predictable, subject to our proficiency to know and decode the causal link.
Let us now turn to the last follow-up poser, viz. whether our action is also pre-determined. The answer is an emphatic NO. If our action is pre-determined, surely we cannot suffer its consequence logically. If a man is programmed to rob or steal, obviously he does not deserve punishment for robbery or theft. This would lead us to the inference that our action is not pre-determined though our fate or destiny is. The above inference finds support from the pronouncement of Sri Krishna in verse 47, chapter 2 of the Bhagvat Gita:
“Your right is for the action alone, not for the results.”
A question may arise whether there is any contradiction between the verse 27 of chapter 3 of the Bhagvat Gita, that says “I am the doer” concept is a self-delusion, and verse 47 of chapter 2 ibid that says that we have a right for action. As a matter of fact, the perspectives of the above two statements were entirely different. While verse 27 of chapter 3 was essentially a statement made in the cosmic perspective of the Sankhya philosophy delineating the role of the Purusha and the Prakriti, the verse 47 of chapter 2 was in the worldly perspective explaining the role of destiny vis-a-vis Karma (action). We, therefore, do not see any contradiction between the above two statements.
In sum, therefore, our action determines our destiny by the law of the super-conscious. Hence, our action is not programmed, though it may be influenced by several constraints or compulsions caused by our past action or deeds.