"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Krishnamurti: On a World Crisis of Consciousness

In 1966, Jiddu Krishnamurti, either a man before his time or, perhaps, a timeless man, observed: "The crisis . . . in the world is a crisis in consciousness, a crisis that cannot anymore accept the old norms, the old patterns, the ancient traditions, a particular way of life - whether it is the American way, or the European way, or the Asiatic way."

"And, considering what the world is now, with all the misery, conflict, destructive brutality, aggression, tremendous advances in technology and so on . . . though man has cultivated the external world and has more or less mastered it, inwardly he is still as he was. The great deal of animal still in him is still brutal, violent, aggressive, acquisitive (and) competitive. And he has built a society along these lines."

Listening to this enlightened teacher almost fifty years later, one has to ask: 'Have we changed, or have we just become more so?'

"Question:   Of what significance is hope and faith to living?"

Jiddu Krishnamurti
"Krishnamurti:   I hope you won't think me harsh if I say there is no significance at all. We have had hope. We have had faith - faith in church, faith in politics, faith in leaders, faith in gurus - because we have wanted to achieve a state of bliss, of happiness and so on, and hope has managed this faith. And, when one observes through history - through our life - all that faith and hope has no meaning at all because what is important is what we are. What we actually are, not what we think we are, or what we think we should be, but actually what is. If we know how to look at what is, that would bring about a tremendous transformation."

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

"We are the product of the society in which we live," Krishnamurti observes, "(of) the experience, the knowledge and all the rest of it. And there is nothing original. We repeat, repeat, repeat. To find out anything new requires tremendous inquiry and meditation."

"You don't just get it by just coming to a meeting for an hour and thinking about meaning," Krishnamurti warns, "one has to work tremendously hard."

"This requires much more alert, much more careful examination," he notes. "And one does not have the energy, the patience or the interest, because this is non-profitable. It does not bring you profit, financially or any other way."

"When you are really faced with a problem of war, of famine, of death, of poverty and so on," says Krishnamurti, "you can't argumentatively discuss about it. One has to deal with it. One has to put one's teeth into it. And you cannot artificially (and) intellectually have teeth to put to problems that are vital."
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

A half century after Krishnamurti's talk, and in a world evermore rife with existential problems - global warming, climate change, species extinction, over-population, hunger, intolerance, war, pollution and poverty - are we, or are the  leaders we allow to govern us, any more willing to put "teeth into" the problems that so manifestly cry out for our attention?

It seems not. Therefore, more so than ever it is apparent that we still face a crisis -  a crisis of both consciousness and conscience.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Andrew Cohen: On Spiritual Intoxication and Conscious Evolution

Spiritual teacher, Andrew Cohen
Editor-in-chief, EnlightenNext magazine.
For the ‘spiritual but not religious’ man or woman who senses there is more to this world than we are taught, or that we necessarily ‘see’ in our wired-together, scientifically-centered, postmodern world, the “evolutionary enlightenment” teachings of Andrew Cohen build a coherent, intellectually and spiritually satisfying kosmo-centric worldview based on leading edge scientific findings and the deep wisdom of the world’s great religious traditions.

In his most recent posting on the Huffington Post, Cohen explores what the enlightenment experience is like, and how it reaches its highest potential (and effectiveness) when it is a shared experience, when personal liberation is shared in what Cohen has called “autonomy in communion."

“In the new enlightenment,” writes Cohen, “in what I call Evolutionary Enlightenment, the goal is individual and collective conscious evolution in real time. That specifically points to the co-creation of new structures in consciousness, psyche and culture.“

"EnlightenNext" magazine.
“It's about creating the future from the inside out,” he notes. “And this process always begins with transformation at the very deepest depths of our own selves -- a transformation that shines out and touches the world around us with the immediacy of its own radiance and potency.”

“In the early stages of our own spiritual development,” Cohen observes, “we are dependent upon the experience of euphoric states to be able to see, feel and know that these higher potentials really do exist. The bliss and ecstasy of those states temporarily breaks the deep and often unconscious shackles of postmodernity: nihilism, cynicism, narcissism and materialism. It frees our awareness to expand in all directions, to embrace not only the outer limits but also the innermost core of our larger body, the entire cosmos.”

Yet, there are, as Cohen notes, inherent limitations to the potential that such individual experiences of spiritual bliss have. While very good, in and of themselves, individually they lack the power to force the next stage in man’s evolutionary process, a noetic evolution of humanity’s individual and collective psyche.

“When many individuals simultaneously know and experience the perfection of the possible,” Cohen writes, “Spirit itself calls us all to its own next step. Indeed, we are compelled to be the future that we see. Under the intoxicating influence of spiritual bliss, all of the individual and collective ego's fears and attachments are rendered null and void."

“But until the individual or individuals have actually taken that next step, until those higher potentials have become a permanent attainment, our ability to see the future that we want to create will always depend upon the experience of spiritual intoxication,” Cohen notes. (See attached video on "Conscious Evolution," below.)

“However, when we do the unthinkable,” Cohen concludes, “when we actually and demonstrably evolve to a higher stage beyond the veiling influence of postmodern existential confusion, we will be able to see that future as easily as we see our own face when we look in the mirror. Seeing that glory will no longer be dependent upon the presence of a higher state because we will already be there. From that point on, we will always only be creating the world that we have already become.”

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Non-Duality in Western Civilization

The West has always been influenced by the East. Even the West's principal religious tradition, Christianity, arose in Palestine, and has as its at root a fundamental non-dualistic perspective. See, for example, the following biblical passages: "Hear, O Israel: the LORD thy God is One." (Deut. 6:4); "I am in the Father, and the Father in me." (John 14:11); "I and the Father are one." (John 4:24).

This non-duality is no mere coincidence of wording, says philosopher and best-selling author, Peter Kingsley. The sense of 'One-ness' was already there at the birth of pre-Christian Western civilization and was then merged into the arising Eastern Christian tradition.

"Its fine what's going on in terms of coming together, and bringing different traditions, together, and this idea of a new global 'One-ness' (or) global harmony. But to me it's very important actually to be able to say, "Well that's been there since the beginning, and we here are looking towards bringing a greater reality or sense of 'One-ness' into these tatters of Western civilization."

"To me,"" Kingsley notes, it is very very important to say, "Yes, but that sense of 'One-ness,' not only did it happen to be there when Western civilization was born, but that it was out of that sense of 'One-ness' that Western civilization was very deliberately created."

While strains of the non-duality from the East permeates both the Old and New Testament, and indeed all of Greek thought, perhaps the great neo-Platonist Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, put it best in the second book of his famous "Meditations," when he observed:
"This thou must always bear in mind, what is the nature of the whole, and what is my nature, and how this is related to that, and what kind of a part it is of what kind of a whole; and that there is no one who hinders thee from always doing and saying the things which are according to the nature of which thou art a part."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Eckhart Tolle Part III: The Present Moment, Spirituality and Religion

Spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle,
author of "The Power of Now" and
"The New Earth: Awakening to Your
Life's Purpose
"(A) fundamental thing that first of all you need to realize," says enlightened spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, "is that life is 'now' and never not 'now.'" It's only this moment ever. Past and future only have a secondary reality. The past only exists if you remember it now. The future only exists if you mentally project yourself into some future moment; but, even that, you can only do 'now.'"

"Your entire life unfolds in this space of 'now,'" says the best-selling author, in the third of a three-part interview. "You cannot think, feel (or) experience anything that is not 'now.'"

However, "(p)eople don't live like that," he observes. "They live as if past and future - especially future for many people - were more important than the present moment. And they have a strange relationship with the present moment, which means with life. For many people," he notes, "the present moment is regarded unconsciously as an obstacle, because they are 'here' but they want to get 'there.'"

"That's a dysfunction," Tolle observes, "making the present moment into an 'obstacle.' Or, even worse, making the present moment into an 'enemy.'"

"It is the one basic spiritual truth," Tolle says. "That one basic spiritual truth expresses itself in different forms in the different religions. So, I'm going to the basic spiritual truth, instead of taking things from different religions and mixing them up."

"The different religions," he notes, "are just expressions of the one basic spiritual truth. So I'm going to the source of that, and express(ing) it in a way that people can understand and realize in their own lives without having to subscribe mentally to this or that religion."

"Whether they are Christians or Buddhists, or whether they subscribe to Islam, or any other belief, it doesn't matter," says Tolle, "the basic truth is there if you look deep enough in all the religions. So it is (a matter of) finding the core of spirituality that is there at the core of all religions."

"We go to the core of religion," he concludes, "rather than treating religion as an ideology, which it often becomes."

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

(See the first and second parts of Tolle's three-part interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Company's Sandra Abrams, here and here, respectively.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Eckhart Tolle Part II: Fear and Awakening

"There is a lot of fear in people," observes spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle. "They might lose their job, their investments are losing their value, many people are losing their jobs. So there are huge challenges coming."

But this is also (a) great opportunity for human beings to wake up when they are being challenged. How do you respond to these challenges," he asks?

"I would say that your life is not determined by what happens to you. That is what people believe. But that means you are at the mercy of every little circumstance.Your life is really determined by how you react to what happens to you. And how you react, or rather respond, to what happens to you determines what happens next."

"So if your reaction is of a negative kind," says the best-selling author, "if there is fear and anxiety, or continuous mental complaining - "this shouldn't be, but it is" - then that is the state of your consciousness, and the next moment or the future reflects that state of consciousness.

But if you are able to work and live in alignment with the present moment, rather than being in a state of hostility towards what is'" he concludes, "this is where the importance of the present moment comes in, the power of now comes in; the importance of not making life anything but what is the present moment."

"Because where else," he asks, "do you find life but in the present moment?"

See: Eckhart Tolle Part I: Ego, Silence, Being and Enlightenment"

Monday, April 25, 2011

Eckhart Tolle Part I: Ego, Silence, Being and Enlightenment

Enlightened spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle,
best-selling author of "The Power of Now"
and "The New Earth: Awakening to Your
Life's Purpose

In an uncut three-part interview, best-selling author and enlightened spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, a German-born modern-day mystic who lives in Vancouver, sat down with the Canadian Broadcasting Company's Sandra Abrams to discuss internal silence and being, the nature of the ego and his own enlightenment experience, as detailed in his books "The Power of Now" and "The New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose."

"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.'"

"To find that there is another dimension inside you," says Tolle, "where this mental noise is not operating for a while, that is like finding a depth inside yourself that perhaps you didn't know was there. And that," he notes, "essentially is a spiritual dimension. So it is really about finding that dimension in yourself where the continual mental noise for a while subsides".

"There is still an awareness of noises that you hear," he explains, "or your eyes may be open (and) you may be looking at things, but you are not labeling the noises that you hear. You are not interpreting them. You know they are there," he observes, "but you are not labeling them. The compulsive labeling that most people live with subsides for a while, and that is a tremendous liberation."

"Everybody has time for a moment of space," Tolle observes, "and it could start with taking a single thing, like taking one conscious in-and-out breath occasionally while you are waiting at the bus stop or at the traffic light, or while you are going up and down in the elevator."

"Instead of mentally projecting yourself forward to the next thing you have to do, that you are going to, or that you haven't done, why not take a moment," he asks, "when you are simply conscious of your breath?"

"Breathing in, the breath is always there, so you just put some attention on that. One conscious in-breath, feel the air going into the body, and one conscious out-breath.  During that space you have taken attention away from 'the voice in the head,'" Tolle notes, "and a little bit of space has opened up inside you. In that little space," he observes, "you feel a bit more alive. There is a certain aliveness and power in that space. Its not just nothingness; there is a power in there."

"Just to experience that you are not your thoughts" is a liberating experience that not many people find Tolle observes. "You are the awareness behind your thoughts. And to know that, you have to find that little spot inside you. In the silence."

Tollle concludes Part I of his CBC interview by talking about the dysfunction of the ego and the role it has played in human history, particularly recent human history.

"The ego is a mind-made sense of self," he explains. "The ego has a certain structure to it, (and) it needs certain things to survive.  It needs to emphasize the 'otherness' of others. It needs to judge people. It needs to immediately conceptualize and define a person that you meet. Immediately you will find judgment arising, and comparison arising. The image of who I am, (and) how does that compare to the other person. Inferiority? Superiority?" These are the ordinary functions of the ego, of which far too many people are wholly unaware, he explains.

"So there is a basic dysfunction built into the structure of the ego that works both on a personal level and on a collective level," Tolle says. And, it appears to be profoundly deep-seated and anti-social in its nature.

"There is this built in tendency to make the 'others' into enemies," he notes. "Why is that? Because the ego needs to emphasize the 'otherness.' By creating enemies outside, you have a stronger sense of who you are. But it is a false sense of who you are," he notes, pointing to the senseless wars of the 20th century.

"There is a very strong element of dysfunction in the human mind. And, really, this is what we are addressing when we become more conscious of compulsive thinking, and (when) we become conscious that we have been deriving our sense of self from what we have been telling ourselves in our minds of who we are."

"Then suddenly," says Tolle, "we see this operating in ourselves; we see this unconscious process . . . and by seeing it another dimensions has arisen. It is a profound "Awareness"" or Presence," as he calls it.

See: Eckhart Tolle Part II: Fear and Awakening

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sai Baba: Death of a Guru

Sri Sathya Sai Baba (1926-2011)
Today, on Easter Sunday, one of the long line of India's great spiritual gurus passed on. Sri Sathya Sai Baba, known universally as Sai Baba, passed away at age 86, in his hometown of Puttaparthi, India - a small and humble town that Sai Baba built into a spiritual Mecca for his domestic and international devotees.

According to reports in the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper, "The death of Sri Sathya Sai Baba at the age of 85 from heart and breathing problems has prompted scenes of mass grief across India – where his distinctive frizzy hair, trademark saffron robes, controversial miracles and simple message of ecumenical spiritualism had made him a new-age icon."

While his legacy, like that of so many other modern self-realized spiritual gurus, like Adi Da and Osho, may be tarnished by accusations of sexual improprieties, Sai Baba is much more likely to be remembered for his non-dual teachings of 'One-ness' and for his teachings that the basis of all religions is 'Love.'
"Man extols God as omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent," says Sai Baba, "but, he ignores his Presence in himself! Of course, many venture to describe the attributes of God and proclaim Him to be such and such; but, these are but their own guesses and the reflections of their own predilections and preferences."

"Who can affirm that God is this or thus," he asks? "Who can affirm that God is not of this form or with this attribute? Each one can acquire from the vast expanse of the ocean only as much as can be contained in the vessel he carries to its shore. From that quantity, they can grasp but little of that immensity."

"Each religion defines God within the limits it demarcates and then claims to have grasped Him. Like the seven blind men who spoke of the elephant as a pillar, a fan, a rope or a wall, because they contacted but a part and could not comprehend the entire animal, so too, religions speak of a part and assert that its vision is full and total."

"Each religion forgets that God is all forms and all names, all attributes and all assertions. The religion of humanity is the sum and substance of all these partial faiths; for there is only one religion and that is the religion of Love."
"The various limbs of the elephant that seemed separate and distinct to the eye-less seekers of its truth were all fostered and activated by one single stream of blood; the various religions and faiths that feel separate and distinct are all fostered by a single stream of love."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Adyashanti: "Time Is Running Out"

In researching the convergence of spirituality and science, I was struck, firstly, by the enormous amount of material available on a sense of "oneness" - what Vedantists and other Eastern wisdom traditions have long viewed as "non-duality" - and, secondly, I could not help but be impressed by the sense of urgency that both scientists and spiritual teachers have as to whether collectively we will wake-up to the nature of our interconnectedness, our "oneness," in time to avert the many life-threatening problems which we face on a global scale.

"Nobody can avoid the truth forever," says spiritual teacher, Adyashanti. "If the human species doesn't survive - (and) as far as I've seen in the history of the world there is almost no species that survives forever - if we don't do the job, if our consciousness doesn't evolve, 'Life' or 'Existence will just go, " Well, that didn't work out so well . . . phht! . . . You're out!" Not that he means this to be as casual as it might sound. He notes that "there will be a lot of blood, of suffering and difficulty in that process."

"It just seems that we keep getting to these crises," Adyanshanti observes." Not that this is necessarily bad, it just seems in his view, as in the view of so many others, that with mass extinctions, global warming, an energy crisis and ever advancing technology we are now facing our inevitable existential challenge.

"Crises are often the catalysts for change," he observes, "(and) I hope we are starting to agree that we are coming to a place of crisis; that we are coming into a contact, not with our own personal mortality, but with our mortality as a species."

"Just like individual mortality can lead to a change of consciousness because we realize time's run out that, there is no more time," he notes, "in that 'no-more-time' sometimes consciousness can shift. And, as humanity, I think we are rapidly approaching that same kind of imperative. Time is running out."

"So quite naturally," he concludes, " there is tremendous pressure on humanity, on humanity's consciousness. We all feel  it, right? This tremendous pressure to evolve, to awaken, because somehow intuitively everyone knows that if there is not some rather dramatic shift of consciousness then this tremendous opportunity will be missed."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sri Bhagavan on "What is Enlightenment?"

Sri Bhagavan, Co-founder (with
Sri Amma) of Oneness University
In the attached video, Sri Bhagavan, a modern teacher of non-dualistic enlightenment who follows in the living Vedantist tradition of Ramana Maharhi and Sri Nisagardatta, explores what enlightenment (or mukhti) is, and what the mental barriers to such enlightenment are. "The general definition which I give of mukhti (enlightenment)," says Sri Bhagavan, "is the liberation of the senses."

"When you see," this modern sage explains, "you do not see without the interference of the mind. If you can see without the mind interfering that is enlightenment. If you can hear without the mind interfering that is enlightenment. The same applies to smell, touch and even thought." 

"Thought (can) also be observed without your getting involved with the thought," Sri Bhagavan notes. "What happens is when you are thinking, you think you are thinking. But it is actually possible to see thoughts flow as though they are independent of you"

"This is a physical reality," he explains. "Actually you can see thoughts. Any kind of thought can be coming into you and flowing out of you, and you can watch them. This is the state of (enlightenment); that is, the complete liberation of the senses from the control of the mind."

"If you experience reality as it is," he notes, "then you will just experience bliss. You will see that this whole creation is perfect, that it is the most beautiful thing, that you are in heaven, (and that) you have made it into a hell."

Furthering his explanation of non-duality, liberation and enlightenment, Sri Bhagavan takes his audience through a practical explanation of how we attach to and identify with the contents of our mind - i.e., our thoughts. He then explains how we too often fall into the trap of seeking external relief from the angst or misery that our thoughts create, and what can happen when we let go of our unexamined attachment to our egoic, self-centered thinking.

"It is possible to liberate the senses from the clutches of thought," he notes. "Thought is necessary when required, otherwise why should thought interfere? There is no need for thought to come in and interfere with actual experience."

"Now when the senses become free of the thoughts of the mind," he explains, "we say that you have discovered unconditional joy, unconditional love. Such is this joy, that you will feel you are connected with everybody. You discover true love. . . . And this is an actual occurrence. That is what you are designed to be, that is what a human being is supposed to experience all of the time."

"Since you do not experience that," he continues, "your lives have become miserable. And, to escape that misery, you have created various escape routes, through which all the time you are escaping from your misery; which misery is, itself, because you are not experiencing reality. That is why people take to alcohol or to drugs, or sex or to whatever it is," he notes. "Because otherwise what is there in your life? It becomes meaningless."

"So the whole attempt of (life) is to help you experience reality as it is," he observes. "When that happens you discover unconditional love, and unconditional joy. You feel connected with everything and everybody. You do not feel you are a separate individual; you do not live for yourself alone anymore, because your 'self 'has become everybody. You live for the sake of humanity.

"This is not a concept or some imagined thing," he tells his audience. "This is a day-to-day reality when you become enlightened, or a mukhti."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"The Work' of Byron Katie

"Life comes out of your imagination. Life is a mirrored image of what you imagine to be true,' says enlightened spiritual teacher, Byron Katie. '

The Work,' as Katie calls her process of examining and re-orienting the thoughts of the mind, is a genuine liberation practice that has changed hundreds of thousand of lives, helping its practitioners to carve a different path through a world of hurt and pain.

In a two-hour audiostream special on Global One TV, Katie takes the viewer through a tour of her doing 'the Work' with a number of audience participants in different venues, dealing with a host of issues from prejudice to resentment and fear, and from the need for approval to the feeling of being unloved and unappreciated.

Watch live streaming video from globalonetv at livestream.com

"You know those people that are so cold?," Katie asks. "They're innocent. They are believing their thoughts."

"You know those people that have been so mean to you?," she asks. "They have to be. They are believing their thoughts about you, about the world."

"You know the things you do that you're so sorry for?," Katie continues. "Those things you regret? Those things that you experience guilt over? If you go back and you look at what you were believing before you did what you did, you will see clearly that you had no choice. Zero! And whatever you were believing before you did it," she notes, "you still believe. And you will do it again. Only you will just be a little more subtle about it so that you don't get caught so obviously next time.

And, so," she observes, "we become so secretive . . . so painful."

Katie offers those who practice 'the Work' an opportunity to examine their life stories, to see where they would be without that story, and to turn that story around so that they see who they could become without their story.

"I know the taste of freedom," Katie boldly states. "I know what that is. And if you don't love your world, I invite you to question what you believe about the world."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Thomas Merton on 'The First Lesson About Man'

This surreal poem, "First Lesson About Man" (from "The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton") is an all-too accurate view of the world from which the late, great Catholic contemplative, Trappist monk and prolific writer, Thomas Merton, sought refuge in the late 1940's. Sadly, it seems no less applicable to our state now, some 40-odd years after Merton's death, than it did on publication.

To paraphrase the words of the great 12th-century Sufi poet, Rumi: "We may need more grace than I thought."

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

First Lesson About Man” by Thomas Merton

Man begins in zoology.
He is the saddest animal.
He drives a big red car called anxiety.
He dreams at night
Of riding all the elevators.
Lost in the halls,
He never finds the right door.

Man is the saddest animal.
A flake-eater in the morning,
A milk-drinker.
He fills his skin with coffee
And loses patience with the rest of his species.
He draws his sin on the wall,
On all the ads in all the subways.
He draws moustaches on all the women
Because he cannot find his joy,
Except in zoology.

Whenever he goes to the phone to call Joy,
He gets the wrong number.
Therefore he likes weapons.
He knows all guns by their right name.
He drives a big black Cadillac called death.
Now he is putting anxiety into space.
He flies his worries all around Venus,
But it does him no good.
In space where for a long time there is only emptiness,
He drives a big white globe called death.

Now dear children
Who have learned the first lesson about man,
Answer your test:
“Man is the saddest animal.
He begins in zoology,
And gets lost
In his own bad news.”

Sunday, April 17, 2011

'Mindsight' and the Science of Mental Well-Being

"Mindsight is the ability of the human mind to see itself. It is a powerful lens through which we can understand our inner lives with more clarity, tranform the brain, and enhance our relationships with other."
-- Dr. Dan Siegel --
In one of the more insightful videos in an already insightful series of Google  TechTalks (below), Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., Co-Director of the UCLA Medical Center's Mindful Awareness Research Center and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, goes where many other mind scientists refuse to go and defines what the 'mind' is. He then takes his audience through a fascinating and informative tour of the brain, highlighting how 'mindfulness' enhances brain function and increases mental and physical health.

Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.
"You'd be amazed," says Dr. Siegel, "but a lot of people live there lives just having thoughts, feelings, beliefs and attitudes, having hopes and dreams, and memories and perceptions - all the stuff we can use to describe the mind - but they haven't developed the capacity to actually observe those mental activities as the flow of energy and information, as the mind itself."

"That process of being able to see mental activity with more clarity and then modify it with more efficacy is something you can name with the word 'mindsight,' he says, defining 'mindsight' as "the ability to actually see your mind, not just have one."

"When you look at different areas of research what you find is that when 'mindsight' is present, various ways of understanding mental health are also present. There is something about being able to see and influence your internal world that creates more health."

 Dr. Siegel, a developmental psychiatrist by training, then takes his audience through the paradigm-shifting case of the family of a woman whose middle pre-frontal cortex was permanently damaged in a tragic car accident; a woman who, in essence, said that she had "lost her soul."

Pre-Frontal Cortex
Siegel describes how the middle pre-frontal cortex of the brain regulates the body, attunes communication, optimizes the flow of emotional balance, inhibits fear, gives an individual the ability to pause before acting (response flexibility), and gives the individual insight (auto-noetic consciousness), self-knowing awareness, the capacity for empathy, the capacity for morality, as well as compassion and intuition, or introception (the ability to 'be in touch with the feelings of the body' that controls the individual's ability to have empathy).

"A healthy mind emerges from integrated systems. Integration, (being) very clearly defined as the linkage of differentiated parts," says Siegel. "So that when you have a nervous system that is integrated you get these nine functions," both in the individual and the family, as well as in larger groups.

In the practice of mindful meditation, notes Siegel, there is a 2,500 year tradition of specific mental training to develop mindfulness traits, and a tradition which is designed to develop all nine systems, centered in the middle pre-frontal cortex. "We have every reason to believe that what you are doing in (practicing meditation), says Siegel, "is strengthening the integrative fibers of the brain, in particular the middle pre-frontal areas."

Thus, he concludes, practicing meditation affects both the ability to approach problem areas in life that the meditator once withdrew from, as well as  improving his or her the immune system. "But," he cautions, "(t)he mind uses the brain to create itself, and if the pathways aren't there, the mind can't do it."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Rupert Sheldrake on 'The Extended Mind'

"We don't know how consciousness works, or what it does," says controversial biologist, Rupert Sheldrake. "This is one of the things which in science is called 'the hard problem,' because there is no known reason why we should be conscious at all, or exactly how the mind works."

"What I'm going to suggest," says Sheldrake, in a fascinating Google TechTalk, "is that our minds are field-like, that they are not confined to the inside of the head, that they spread out into the environment around us. And because our minds are extended beyond our brains, they can have effects at a distance."

"I'm suggesting, he says "that minds are field-like and spread out beyond brains in a similar way to the way that magnetic fields spread out beyond magnets, cell phone fields spread out beyond cell phones, and the Earth's gravitational field stretches out far beyond the Earth. These fields are within and around the systems that they organize, and I think the same is true of our brains."

Taking vision as an example, Sheldrake suggests that the mind is more than just the bio-chemical processes within the brain, that what we 'see' is not just an internal re-creation of an externality within the brain, but rather that the mind projects what we 'see' out to where it 'exists' in space-time.

Rupert Sheldrake
"I'm suggesting," says Sheldrake, "our whole visual experience of the world is projected out to where it seems to be. Our minds are projecting out all that we see.  So vision is a two-way process, light coming in and the outward projection of images. This, I suggest happens through . . . a perceptual field. . . . It is a field phenomenon, and in a sense your mind reaches out to 'touch' what you are looking at. The image of what you are seeing is superimposed on what is really there."

Because of this 'superimposition,' Sheldrake, who has developed a much larger theory of consciousness and what he calls 'morphic fields,' suggests that by looking at an object we can affect that object. In recounting a series of innovative experiments involving, amongst other phenomena, 'the sense of being stared at,' Sheldrake makes a convincing argument that the mind is, indeed, larger and more encompassing than the mere physical brain.

Einstein called the quantum phenomenon of 'non-locality' - or the entanglement of particles at a distance - "spooky." One wonders what he would have made of Sheldrake's findings. Would the preeminent scientist of the 'New Physics' have found Sheldrake's results 'spookier' still, or would it perhaps have spurred the great theorist on to bridge the continuing divides between quantum theory and relativity?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sages: Paul Brunton on the East and West

"When the iron bird flies, and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will  be scattered like ants across the World, and the Dharma will come to the land of red-faced people."
-- Padma Sambhava --
[Eighth-century Indian guru; founder
of Tibet's first Buddhist monastery]
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Paul Brunton (1892-1981)

From age to age, and on all continents that were occupied by humankind, there have been great sages bearing messages of radical non-duality. Ramana Maharshi and Sri Nisagardatta were two such sages from our modern era, and the relatively little-known philosopher Paul Brunton, a student of both, was another.

In speaking of the world's great sages (see the attached video, below), Brunton wrote:
"The world should be more grateful for the presence of such men. The good they do is mostly indirect, however, through intermediaries, or mostly hidden because psychological, so it escapes the world's notice.
Further, in speaking of the interplay between Eastern spiritual traditions and the "materialistic" West, Brunton wrote:
"We Westerners ought to be humbler than we usually are in confessing that we need to borrow some spiritual bread from the Orient today, as we did long ago. We ought also to be humble enough to confess those defects in our civilization and culture which arise from our emphasis on the quest for material wealth or livelihood. But, this said, let us firmly reject the absurd exaggerations of those Orientals who accuse us of a materialism so gross that we are unable to respond to spiritual urges at all. This is nonsense. It is true that the Oriental's basic instinct moves toward religion. But, in this modern era, this instinct is being overlaid with those same urges which have made the West what it is today. The same process overtook medieval Europe. Let us all, then, face the truth about what is really happening to us, both here and there, to all races alike. For make no mistake: it is a universal phenomenon."

"When the era of science overtook the West, the era or reason applied to mechanical development and external institutions, the push towards it was so great, the rewards so attractive, that we lost much of our balance. The East is being drawn in the same direction, the chief difference being that it has started later in time, and same push is beginning to appear all over the East. Will it not lead ultimately to the same defects? Not quite, for the Easterner has the spectacle of our own lopsidedness to warn him whereas we had no living example to provide us with such a lesson. What is the meaning behind this universal process? For we cannot believe it to be accidental in a divinely ordered world?"

"Philosophy answers that it is a fated evolution that man everywhere is intended to develop his intelligence and refine his feelings in all directions. If it is not materialism to attend to physical matters, to work for one's livelihood, to seek the comforts and conveniences of applied science or even the beautiful homes of applied art. Man is a growing creature: his reasoned thinking demands that he seek the one, and his aesthetic feeling demands that he seek the other. The materialism enters when to get these things, we forget the daily need of prayer and meditation, of listening for the voice of moral conscience and heeding the laws of spiritual balance."
["The Notebooks of Paul Brunton," vol. 10, "The Orient," pp. 16-17]
 Noting the then already-evident Western interest in Eastern wisdom traditions, Brunton writes:
"There is wider general interest in these subtle Oriental ideas than ever before but there is not much evidence of wider general willingness to practice with fervour the goodwill, the forbearance, and the compassion without which those ideas are half-dead, bereft of their best values."
["The Notebooks of Paul Brunton," vol. 10, "The Orient," p. 35]
And, on the convergence of the Western scientific vision, with Eastern metaphysical traditions, Brunton observes:
"When the scientific wisdom of the West unites with the mystic wisdom of the East, we shall arrive at truth."
["The Notebooks of Paul Brunton," vol. 10, "The Orient," p. 57]

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Nisargadatta on Acceptance and Love

Sri Nisigardatta (1897-1981)
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, one in the long line of self-realized Indian sages, was perhaps the foremeost teacher and philosopher of the non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta since his predecessor, Ramana Maharshi. In 1973, the publication of his most famous and widely translated book, "I Am That," an English translation of his talks in Marathi by Maurice Frydman, brought him worldwide recognition and followers.
[Source: Wikipedia.com]

 In the attached video (below), it is explained that Nisargadatta Maharaj "refered to the illusory sense of being, traditionally called the ego, as the I-Am-ness. He says that to find the source of this I-Am-ness and fully understand it as nothing more than a conceptual idea of one's self is the way to self-realization and wholeness. Maharaj asks the seeker to be in the state which is prior to the experience of I-Am-ness."
"The concept 'I Am' comes spontaneously and goes spontaneously," says Nisargadatta. "Amazingly, when it appears it is accepted as real. All subsequent misconceptions arise from that feeling of reality in the 'I-Am-ness.' The moment the feeling 'I Am' appears, the world also appears. Any image you have of yourself is not true. True knowledge is to abide in your own Self."
"The teachings of Maharaj," it is observed, "move our awareness from the I-Am-ness, this sense of separate identity, to a non-dualistic sense of oneness with the Absolute, which is our real nature." In explaining this shift in his consciousness, Nisargadatta explained to his visitors that what he meant was that he was "free of all content."
"To myself," he explained, "I am neither perceivable nor conceivable. There is nothing I can point out and say, "This I am." You identify yourself with everything so easily. I find it impossible. The feeling I am not this or that, nor is anything mine, is so strong in me, that as soon as a thing or a thought appears, there comes the sense, 'This I am not.'"

"I find that somehow by shifting the focus of attention,  I become the very thing that I look at and experience the kind of consciousness it has. I become the inner witness of the thing. I call this capacity of entering other focal points of consciousness 'love.' You may give it any name you like. Since at any point of time and space I can be both the subject and the object of experience, I express it by saying that I am both and neither, and beyond both."
This radical acceptance of what is - this love without subject, object or conditions - an enlightened and acceptive state of higher consciousness. What is, is. And we are part of that totality Nothing could be plainer. In the beginning chapters of his book, "I Am That," Nisargadatta addresses how the fundamental problem of the mind is overcome with an acceptive love:
"What is wrong with (the mind) seeking the pleasant and shrinking from the unpleasant? Between the banks of pleasure and pain the river of life flows. It is only when the mind refuses to flow with life, and gets stuck at the banks, that it becomes a problem. By flowing with life I mean acceptance - letting come what comes and go what goes. Desire not, fear not, observe the actual, as and when it happens, for you are not what happens, you are to whom it happens. Ultimately even the observer you are not. You are the ultimate potentiality of which the all-embracing consciousness is the manifestation and expression.
[Nisagardatta, "I Am That," page 6.]
"Meditation will help you to find your bonds, loosen them, untie them and cast your moorings, says Nisargadatta. "When you are no longer attached to anything, you have done your share. The rest will be done for you."

"Only in the dissolution of the problem in the universal solvents of enquiry and dispassion,' he notes, "can its right solution be found."
[Nisagardatta, "I Am That," pages 54-55.]

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An "Acceptive Love" Without Conditions or Objects

Love, what it is and what it means, has been a subect for philosophers and poets, theologians and ethicists, lovers and beloved, since the mists of time. The ancient Greeks, those philosophers that have been so influential on Western culture, recognized three categories of love: agape love, or the love we feel for other beings, generally; filial love, the love we feel for those family members and friends who are closest to us; and, erotic love, the love we have for our partner or our spouse.

Viktor Frankl (1905-1997)
Viktor Frankl, a renowned psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz, wrote in his classic work, "Man's Search for Meaning," that it is in love that a person can find one of his or her several paths to meaning in this life.
"Love," he notes, "is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Further more, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true."
 Frankl's thoughts on love speak, I believe, to all the differing levels of love that the Greeks spoke of; yet, there is perhaps still another level of love which can perhaps encompass all of these varyuing degrees of love, and in so doing actualize the potential in all of us,

"God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him," we read in the New Testament (1 John 4:16). This level of love, according to Pope Benedict XVI "express(es) with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny." But what kind of love is it that is synonymous with God, and which we are told we are capable of manifesting and abiding in?

One often hears or reads of "unconditional love," but is it really possible to have a love without conditions? Perhaps not, so long as that love is focused upon another person, whether it be agape, filial or erotic love. But perhaps it is possible to manifest a love without conditions, if and only if, it is a love that stems from a higher, expanded level of consciousness in which there is no specific object of that love, but rather everything, including the seer, becomes the object of such undifferentiated love.

It is this level of love - manifested in what I have come to think of as a state of "acceptive consciousness" that transcends the ordinary conceptive and rational nature of the self-consciousness of the observer - which seems to be the essence of many of the reported instances of higher religious or mystic experience, experiences reported not only by Christian mystics, but by mystics and sages from all the world's great religious and wisdom traditions.

"Individual selfhood is expressed in the self's capacity for self-transcendence and not in its rational capacity for conceptual and analytic procedures, remarked Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the great theologians of the 20th-century." "Love has taken away my practices and filled me with poetry," writes Rumi, the great 12th-century Sufi teacher and poet.

Unadulterated love, compassion and charity have all been the focus of the world's greatest and most enduring traditions, Christian and Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist, Taoist and Zoroastrian, and so many other traditions alike. But perhaps the greatest statement of this state of "acceptive consciousness," where all pre-conditions and objects of love fall away, is the following famous passage from St. Paul's first letter to the fledgling Corinthian church:
"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
[I Corinthians 13:1-13]
When Paul speaks of "the completeness coming,"and when Rumi speaks of "poetry,"this I believe is the love that transcends the individual self, the "acceptive love" that is the height of the religious or spiritual experience of the world's great mystics, irrespective of caste or creed. This is what is meant, I believe, when a wisdom traditions tells us that "God is love;" an objectless love that transcends the limitations of self-conscious thinking. It is the radical, non-dual love of enlightenment.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Deep Seeing through the 'Headless Way'

Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886)
"Swami Vivikenanda's teacher, the great 19th-century Indian sage Sri Ramkrishna, presciently observed that, "God is in the microcosm and the macrocosm." Poor, and lacking formal education (even by the then standards of education in British India), Ramakrishna was nonetheless able to convey truths that a century-and-a-half-later are at the heart of the convergence of spirituality, psychology and science. With the blossoming of a spirituality in the West informed by the ancient wisdom traditions of the East, the Jungian psychology of the collective unconscious, and the advent of relativity and quantum theory as the dominant paradigms in science, Sri Ramakrishna's brief observation seems evermore prescient today.

The late Douglas Harding, a truly enlightened spiritual teacher in his own right, put it this way:
"The world’s great mystics have a common message: There is a Reality which is Indivisible, One, Alone, the Source and Being of all; not a thing, nor even a mind, but pure Spirit or clear Consciousness; and we are That and nothing but That, for That is our true Nature; and the only way to find It is to look steadily within, where are to be found utmost peace, unfading joy, and eternal life."
(From "Religions of the World" by Douglas Harding)
Science’s answer says Harding, is that who you are depends on the range of the observer:
"You are human, but at closer ranges you are cells, molecules, atoms, particle. Viewed from further away your body becomes absorbed into the rest of society, life, the planet, the star, the galaxy. Science’s objective view of you – zooming towards and away from you - reveals a hierarchically organized system of layers that is alive, intelligent and beautiful. Thus you have many layers, like an onion. You need every one of these layers to exist. Your human identity, vital and important as it is, is just one of these layers. You are also sub-human and supra-human."
Neither science nor religion can, however, answer the question of who we are "at the center of (our) many layers. "The scientist cannot say because she can only observe you from a distance. However close she gets to you," he remarks, "she can only observe you from a distance. However close she gets to you, she remains outside of you. What or Who you really are, the Ground of Being remains a mystery."

While there are vast chasms between the accepted paradigms of science, metaphysics and psychology, the leading edges of these disciplines appear to be converging on the same truths, albeit they are described in different terms, all of which are concerned with the question: "What is consciousness."

Douglas Harding (1909-2007)
Indeed, in his masterful book, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, best-selling author and spiritual convert, Gary Zhukav contrasts the views of the great psychologist Carl Jung with those of his close friend and colleague, the Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist, Wolfgang Pauli. His conclusion? That modern physics has become "the study of the structures of consciousness."

Douglas Harding's teachings of radical non-duality, focus on the mechanisms by which a person's unexamined worldview helps to create the illusion of
individuality and a separateness from 'everything else,' on the mechanisms that help create what  Einstein called "an optical delusion of consciousness, or, in psychological terms, on what psychologists and most spiritual teachers call the ego.

To counter this "optical delusion of consciousness," and to come to rest in a higher consciousness beyond the ego, Harding taught what he called "the Headless Way." Elaborating on the intensive, experimental, 'top-down' nature of his "Headless Way" experiments, Harding remarked:
"Over the past [sixty] years a truly contemporary and Western way of 'seeing into one's Nature' or 'Enlightenment' has been developing. Though in essence the same as Zen, Sufism, and other spiritual disciplines, this way proceeds in an unusually down-to-earth fashion. It claims that modern man is more likely to see Who he really is in a minute of active experimentation than in years of reading, lecture-attending, thinking, ritual observances, and passive meditation of the traditional sort. Instead of these, it uses a variety of simple, non-verbal, fact-finding tests, all of them asking: how do I look to myself? They direct my attention to my blind spot - to the space I occupy, to what's given right here at the Center of my universe, to what it's like being 1st-person singular, present tense."
To experience this radical new way of "seeing" who and what you are, and to participate in what Harding called his "experiments" in seeing, visit the www.headless.org website and its "experiments" page that contains a number of his Zen-like practices.

In the following video, Harding explains his "Headless Way."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The 'Hard Problem' of Consciousness

Due to radical advances in brain imaging technologies - improved electroencephelogram (EEG),  positive-emission tomography (PET) and single photon emission computer tomography (SPECT) - it is now relatively easy to find out 'what' is going on in the brain at any point in time. What remains elusive is 'why' what is going on is, in fact, going on.

"Most neurophysiologists," says philosopher John Hick, Ph.D., "work on some highly specialized area of brain research and are not particularly interested in the philosophical issue, as they see it of the relationship between brain and consciousness." The 'easy problem,' according to Hicks, "is to trace precisely what is going on in the brain when someone is consciously perceiving, thinking, willing, experiencing some emotion, creating a work of art, etc." The 'hard problem', he notes, "is to find out what consciousness actually is and how it is caused."

The 'orthodox' position of most mind science researchers and theorists is that the brain generates consciousness bio-chemically, even though no specific neural correlate (a related area of the brain, or a 'nerve center') has been found for the phenomenon of conscious itself. This 'materialist' view of the origination of consciousness "is encouraged by the fact that it is possible to trace, with increasing precision, the neural correlates of conscious episodes," Hick observes.

Yet, despite a plethora of data detailing what areas of the brain are associated with which conscious (and/or unconscious) experiences, Hick notes that it is a mistake in logic to assume that the vast body of correlations speaks at all to the question of causation. Moreover, he points to a growing number of neuroscientists and contemporary philosophers of the mind who hold to a contrarian view, even if they reject the admissibility of introspective and subjective evidence into the question of just 'what' consciousness is on scientific grounds.

Hick, himself, is critical of both camps; but he is particularly so in respect of those dogmatic scientists and philosophers that insist that the almost 1:1 correlation of brain activity and conscious experience is proof that the former causes the latter.
"The question, Hick observes, "is how a conscious experience can be identical with a physical event in the brain, as distinguished from being precisely correlated with it; and to assume that the correlation constitutes identity simply begs that question. The belief that they are identical is not an experimentally established fact or the conclusion of a logically cogent argument but an affirmation of naturalistic faith. . . ."

"(W)ithin the parameters of normal science," he notes, "there is no possible observation or experiment that could ever decisively contradict mind- brain identity if it is false, and accordingly it is not a scientific hypothesis. In moving from examples of two apparently different physical objects or events being the same object or event differently described to the idea that brain and consciousness are related in the same way, we have moved from a scientific hypothesis to a theory that is in principle unfalsifiable."
There is no way short of introducing the scientifically dubious claims of parapsychology to prove that the materialist/rationalist school is wrong, Hick notes. (The ability to demonstrate that a theory is wrong, being one of the tests that all truly "scientific" theories must meet in order for them to be considered as being truly "scientific.") And, since "there is no way in which the idea that an electro-chemical event and a moment of consciousness are identical is falsifiable if false," Hick cannot help but conclude that "(t)he identity thesis is a theory stemming from a presupposed naturalistic philosophy, (and is) not (therefore) a scientific hypothesis."

Not that this resolves the chicken-egg question of whether consciousness or bio-chemistry is the first factor in the causal chain that forms, and informs, our conscious experience. It is equally impossible, again short of reliance on subjective parapsychology, Hick notes, to demonstrate the separate existence of consciousness, in and of itself.

Therefore, he concludes, "there is, surely, more than just a gap that a more complete knowledge of the brain may one day bridge, because no knowledge of the workings of the neural networks, however complete, can convert correlation into identity." Rather, "in spite of being so widely assumed within our culture, that mind-brain identity is a scientifically established fact, Hick states, "its status is that of an article of naturalistic faith." And it is, thus, exceedingly difficult, he points out, for philosophy "to avoid the conclusion at which so many neuroscientists have arrived, namely, that the nature of consciousness is a mystery."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

John Shelby Spong: A Rejection of Fundamentalism

Bishop John Shelby Spong (Retired),
Episcopal Church Diocese of Newark, NJ
"We've reached a point in our society," remarks retired Episcopalian Bishop, John Shelby Spong, "where the message that comes out of the church doesn't make contact with the world where people are living. So religion, Christianity in its traditional form, is more and more a relic of yesterday. And I don't think you can revivify a corpse."

In the attached video, Spong, a very 'controversial' figure of what might be called "the religious left" in America, brings his wide and ecumenical knowledge of biblical history and interpretation to bear not only on the story of Jesus as recounted in the Gospels, but more so on the dominant refrains of fundamentalist Christianity that are emanating from America's "religious right," alienating whole generations in America and abroad who rarely, if ever, attend church services - even for weddings and funerals.

Born into a fundamentalist evangelical culture, Spong (who was raised and schooled in North Carolina) rejects the literalist interpretation of the Bible which seems, today, to be the dominant feature of Christian life in America, going so far as to say that traditional theism itself may have to be rejected.

"The two movements that I see - at least in America, today - in religion," Spong says, "are a rush back to a fundamentalistic, pre-modern mentality that reminds me of simply an hysterical response to the death of religion. . . . And the other response, which is even bigger but doesn't make the press, is the response of those who say 'if that's what religion is, this fundamentalistic, pre-modern thing, I don't want anything to do with it.'"

Spong criticizes both "the Church" in America for promoting a form of pre-modern theism which focuses primarily on sexual matters that it knows little about, as well as the political right in America which has embraced a fundamentalist and militaristic tradition that panders to the population which embraces such fundamentalist religious views.

"God is a mystery into which we walk," Spong observes, "and the more deeply you walk the more that mystery just surrounds you."

"I consider myself today a God-intoxicated person," Spong says, "almost a mystic; but, I have no idea of what human words I would use to articulate 'who' God is, or 'what' God is; I can articulate (however) what my experience of God is."

Spong's informed but inevitably controversial views should perhaps be "required viewing" for the spiritual but not religious who are sick of the debate between fundamentalists and scientific rationalists and are still in search of spiritual teachings which are relevant to their modern, post-rationalist lives.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Vedanta: The Teaching of Yoga, or 'Yoking the Mind'

Perhaps the world's most powerful wisdom tradition - or, if not 'powerful,' certainly the most 'thorough' and 'ancient' - is that of Vedanta, also referred to as the 'Advaia Vedanta,' or 'vedAnta.'

With its foundations in the Vedas of ancient India, the world's oldest known spiritual teachings, and the Upanishads, the later but still ancient metaphysical interpretations of the four known Vedas (the Rigveda, Yagurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda), as systematized by the yoga aphorisms of Patanjali some 2,400 years ago, and as expounded by the great Indian philosopher of the 7th-century, Shankara, the Vedanta yields a complete teaching on the metaphysical (as well as physical) reality of 'non-dualism.'

In order to become an Advaitist, and fully grasp the Vedanta's teachings of radical non-duality, however, one needs to cultivate and nurture what Dr. Kuntimaddi Sadananda of the Advaita Academy calls 'the four-Ds' of Shankara, namely:
    • 'Discrimination' between what is eternal and what is ephemeral;
    • 'Dispassion' to reject that which is ephemeral in order to gain that which is eternal;
    • 'Discipline' of the mind to divert it from trivial or ephemeral pursuits in life in order to conserve the energy to pursue that which is eternal; and, finally,
    • 'Desire' strong enough to motivate one in that pursuit without getting discouraged by any type of obstacles that arise.
    Acharya Sadananda
    Dr. Sadananda notes - as excerpted in the on-line magazine, Non-Duality - that "if one does not have these four-fold qualifications, he has not prepared his mind for the knowledge of vedAnta." However, he further notes, "(t)he mind that has acquired these four-fold qualifications is a ‘pure’ mind that is ready to ‘take off’ when the vedAntic teaching is imparted by a competent teacher."

    Dr. Sadananda also suggests that it is the third of these "four-Ds" - the "discipline of the mind" - that is most critical to the would-be Advaitist's progress in Vedanta. It consists, he notes, "of six (all-important) subsidiary disciplines for uncompromising commitment" to the study of Vedantic teachings.

    These "six subsidiary disciplines" are, of course the six branches or "limbs" of yoga that Patanjali explores in his yoga aphorisms. ('Yoga,' which is derived from the same Sanskrit word as the English word 'yoke,' is synonymous with 'religion' in India, and consists of 'yoking' the Atman, or personal 'godhead' of the individual, with Brahma, the ultimate substrate which pervades and supports the entire manifest universe, as well as the unmanifest.)

    "(O)ne has to listen to vedAnta from a competent teacher (shravaNam) and reflect on it until all doubts are fully resolved (mananam) and finally contemplate on this until the teaching has been fully assimilated (nidhidhyAsanam)," Sadananada observes. "Listening to the teacher is sufficient if one has all the pre-requisites. For those who do not have the prerequisites, the other two are required until conviction takes place in the mind - a conviction that what vedAnta says is indeed true to the letter."

    This is, indeed, in line with the teaching of Sri Swami Satchidananda when he remarks, in his exposition of the second of Patanjali's one hundred-plus yoga sutras ("The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga."), that "(f)or a keen student this one sutra would be enough because the rest of them only explain this one."

    "How to Know God,"
    by Swami Prabhavanada
    and Chirstopher Isherwood
    For his part, Swami Prabhavananda (author, with Christopher Isherwood, of "How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali") compares the mind to a clear lake that has become muddied with relentless waves of barely conscious thought. It is in learning to still the mind, so that the sediment raised by the actions of the barely conscious mind settles out, Prabhavananda saysthat one learns to practice yoga, or "yoking."

    But in order to realize and effect this, it is clearly evident that one must learn and practice a 'discipline' of mind in order to "divert it from trivial or ephemeral pursuits in life," as Sadananda says "in order to conserve the energy to pursue that which is eternal."