An Invitation to Debate: Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati vs Modern Vedanta teachers

This article is an invitation for a healthy debate with modern Vedanta teachers like James Swartz who claim that their teachings are in line with traditional Vedanta. I think James Swartz, in particular, wouldn’t mind in clarifying some of the concerns raised in this article, as he himself considers that criticism is a healthy aspect of Vedanta. Also, since he has said in a Dharma combat that he enjoys such debates, I hope he doesn’t consider this as something unimportant or offensive.

First of all, I am not in any way stating my own opinions here and I am well aware that with my age and qualifications, I am not the right candidate to present such arguments. However, whatever I write here is only from scriptures including mukya Upanishads cited by Shankaracharya, Brahmasutras, Gita and the commentaries of Shankara on these texts. Since independent works such as Vivekachudamani are not considered as authentic works of Shankara by many, those texts are not quoted.

Swami_Satchidanandendra_Saraswati

Also, these concepts are directly from the book ‘Method of Vedanta’ written by Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati, who was a Sanskrit scholar and vedantic monk. He dedicated his whole life in bringing out the kind of teaching method that was actually adopted by Shankara. He lived up to the age 94 and has written over 200 books. He has worked hard enough to bring out the true teachings of Shankara. And, the whole Vedanta community is indebted for his extraordinary work. So, this debate is indeed between Satchidanandendra Saraswati and any other Vedanta teachers who would like to participate. I hope this debate will help to clarify much confusion that give raise to innumerous arguments among many sincere disciples of Vedanta.

 

A Brief Summary of the points discussed

 

  • Experience and Moksha

According to James Swartz, the teaching method in Vedanta that is taught to qualified students results in ‘self-realization’, which is an experience of self. But the knowledge has to be assimilated for years to attain Moksha, translated by him as ‘enlightenment’. Also, according to the highly revered Swami Dayananda Saraswati, there is no such thing as experience at all, which happens as the result of the teaching.

But according to Shankara, teachings lead to direct experience of self, which is same as Jnana or enlightenment. This knowledge gained through direct experience of self doesn’t have to be strengthened by any further practice. He doesn’t seem to make such a distinction between self-realization and enlightenment at all. The objection that is raised against this is usually called as Prashankyana vada.

In Brahma Sutra Bhasya, Shankara gives a lot of details on this on his commentary for the verse 1.4.7. Since his discussion on this is quite long, I wouldn’t be able to provide the entire section here. However, in the citations that I have included below, you can see some of the verses cited by Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswathi, to show how teaching results in the direct experience of self.

 

  • Nididhyasana

This has been defined in many ways by modern teachers.

For example, Ted Schmidt, a student of James Swartz defines it as following in his site:

Nididhyasana is the practice of continuously meditating upon the teachings of Vedanta. This type of meditation is not to be confused with formal seated meditation.”

James Swartz defines it a little differently in his site, which doesn’t sound like the practice but the result of the practice itself:

“It is the complete assimilation of the knowledge that destroys the network of ignorance-based desires and one’s sense of doership. It has a dramatic experiential impact in so far as one’s life becomes free and peaceful and completely fulfilled.”

He also says ‘nididhyasana never ends for the jiva’ in his Facebook page.

However, Satchidanandendra Saraswathi defines it as a sustained meditation on self. Please refer his explanations and citations given by him below, in the citations section.

I think it is really important for students to know what Nididhyasana exactly is. So, I hope this debate will clarify the confusion on this.

 

  • The Teaching model of Vedanta – Adhyaropa apavada

This is regarding a significant contribution by Satchidanandendra Saraswati, who revived the true structure of the ancient teaching taught by Upanishads and Shankara. I didn’t find any modern teachers writing or talking about the third step, which also negates the intentionally superimposed attributes on Self, which were superimposed on it solely as teaching devices in the first place. (Please refer the citations section for details).

 

  • Enlightenment, bliss and cessation of desires

This is something that I myself noticed in Shankara’s bhasya on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad on verse 4.3.33, which talks about cessation of desires and bliss of self..

However, James Swartz says that enlightenment doesn’t result in eternal bliss. So, was the verse just an exaggeration and did Shankara fail to mention it so? I have noticed Shankara’s commentaries and how precise they are in explaining everything; so I doubt if the latter was true.

Also, James Swartz says “This idea is another negative formulation of enlightenment. Nirvana is a desireless state of mind. This view is based on the idea that desire is suffering, which it is. To say that you want something means that you are not happy with what you have. This teaching is unworkable because a desireless mind is a contradiction in terms. When, except during sleep, do you not want something?”

Both of the above views of James are explained here in his page. And, needless to say, many teachers of Vedanta in this century share his view as well.

But doesn’t this contradict with the scriptures and Shankara? Please explain how to resolve this contradiction.

The following passages are the citations for the four points that I have mentioned.

 

Experience and Moksha

 

Known technically as ‘the Absolute’ (brahman), it is of the nature of immediate experience, void of all the attributes of transmigratory life. This is the meaning of the word ‘that’ (in the phrase ‘That thou art’), familiar to the experts in the Upanishads.

– Shankara (B.S.Bh.IV.i .2)

In the case of enquiry into the Vedic ritual, the Vedic and other traditional texts alone are the criterion. But this is not so in the case of the enquiry into the Absolute. Here it is the same texts that are the authority, but with immediate experience (and firm remembrance, etc.) added in the case of the purely metaphysical texts . For knowledge of the Absolute requires to culminate in immediate experience (anubhava), and (unlike the part of the Veda dealing with commands and prohibitions) has an already-existent reality for its object.

– Shankara (B.S. Bh.I.i.2)

Repeated resort to the appropriate means of knowledge is indeed useless in the case of the person who can attain immediate experience of the fact that his true Self is the Absolute merely from hearing the text ‘That thou art’ spoken once. But for him who is not able to do so, repetition is the proper means.

– Shankara in (B.S.Bh.IV.i .2)

True, it has been said that the Veda itself proclaims that reason must be respected, as it enjoins pondering as well as hearing. But this should not be used as a pretext for allowing empty hypothetical reasoning to gain entry. For in the present context only those arguments that are sanctioned by the Veda may be resorted to, and that only as an auxiliary to the attainment of direct experience.

– Shankara in  (B.S.Bh. II. i. 6)

 

Nididhyasana

 

Swami Satchidanandendra saraswathi explains what is nididhyasana and also quotes verses from Shankara, Gaudapa Karika and Gita which give instructions on how to practice nididhyasana.. And this differs from what is being taught by other teachers. By Nididhyasana, he means actual meditation.

Here is Swami’s explanation:

“The aim of the one practicing sustained meditation (nididhyasana) is different. He tries to attain direct vision of reality (here in this very world) by turning his mind away from all else. And there is the difference — as against upasana — that after the rise of knowledge nothing further remains to be done.

It is this sustained meditation that is referred to at Katha Upanishad I.ii.13 by the name ‘Adhyatma Yoga‘. In the Gita it is sometimes called ‘Dhyana Yoga‘ (e.g. XVIII. 52). In the Mandukya Karikas it is called ‘restraint of the mind’ (G.K.III.41, etc.). Its nature is described there in that latter work.

Everywhere its result is described in the same way as right metaphysical knowledge, and from this comes immediate liberation.

And here are the citations provided

  1. The wise man comes to know God through mastering Adhyatma Yoga, and gives up joy and sorrow. (Katha I.ii.12)

Sankara’s Commentary:

Mastering Adhyatma Yoga: Adhyatma Yoga means withdrawing the mind from objects and concentrating it on the Self. Having meditated on the deity, the Self, through attainment of Adhyatma Yoga, the wise man gives up joy and sorrow because there are no gradations of value in the Self.

  1.  ‘He is seen by those of subtle vision through their subtle minds’ says the Veda (Katha I.iii.12), pointing out that the highest state of Vi§nu is difficult to attain. Then the same text goes on to teach yoga as the means to attain it, in the words ‘The wise man should dissolve the senses into the mind and should dissolve the mind into the intellect. He should dissolve the soul into the great self and he should dissolve that into the Self that is pure peace’ (Katha I.iii. 13).

That is, he should first give up the use of speech and the other organs of action and perception and should remain identified with the lower aspect of the mind alone. He should then note that the lower aspect of the mind, too, has defects such as an inclination towards the sense objects and unsteadiness in its decisions, and he should dissolve it into that higher aspect of mind (buddhi) which has fixed determination for its nature and is sometimes known by the technical term ‘intellect’ (vijnana). He should refine the intellect and resolve it into ‘the great self, the experiencer or apex of the intellect. The ‘great self, however, must be dissolved in the ‘Self that is pure peace’, the supreme Spirit that is the subject of the section, the summit of human experience.

– Shankara (Brahma Sutra Bhasya I.iv.l  (the whole second point above is Shankara’s commentary on Brahma sutras)

  1. Resorting to dispassion, always intent on the Yoga of Meditation (Dhyana Yoga). (Bh.G. XVIII. 52)

Sankara’s Commentary:

Meditation means dwelling on the true nature of the Self. Yoga means one-pointed concentration on the Self. He who is intent on ‘Dhyana’ and ‘Yoga’ thus defined is the one ‘intent on the Yoga of Meditation’. The use of the word ‘always’ is to show that he has no other duties, such as daily repetition of the Vedic verses.

  1. That yoga should certainly be practiced with resolute mind. Giving up without exception all desires that come from individual will, restraining the sense-organs on every side through the mind, one should gradually withdraw from all activity, with will and intellect firmly controlled; keeping the mind fixed on the Self, one should not think of anything.

Wherever the fickle mind wanders , one should bring it back and fix it on the Self alone, under firm control. Supreme joy comes to such a yogi, whose mind is at perfect peace, whose lusts have subsided, who is sinless and who has become the Ab solute. Such a yogi, free from all sin, always controlling his mind in this way, easily attains the supreme joy of con tact with the Absolute. With his mind controlled through yoga, he sees himself in all beings and all beings in his own Self, seeing the same everywhere.  (Bh.G. VI. 23-9)

Sankara’ s Commentary: ‘

Seeing the same everywhere’ is said of one who has the same undifferentiated vision or knowledge of unity and identity with the Absolute and the Self in regard to all things of different grades, from Brahma to the beings of the vegetable and mineral realms. (Bh.G.Bh.VI.29)

  1. The mind must be restrained tirelessly, as if one were emptying the sea with the tip of a blade of grass. One must resort to special means to restrain the mind when it is dispersed amid desires and enjoyments. The mind must also be awakened and held in restraint even when it is perfectly calm in the dissolution of dreamless sleep. Mere dissolution in dreamless sleep is no better than desire (since it is also the seed of future worldly experience).

One restrains the mind from desires and enjoyments by remembering ‘All is pain’. When one remembers ‘All is the Unborn (the Absolute)’, one does not even see what is born. When the mind is drowsy in its practice of yoga one should arouse it, and when it is distracted one should again calm it down. One should know that the mind is soiled with latent impressions, and should not allow it to move when it has attained the state of equilibrium, free from the tendency either to dissolution or distraction.

Even there, one should not savour the joy. One should acquire non-attachment through the discriminative wisdom that sees all joy as born of Ignorance. When the mind, although at first motionless, moves out once more, one should again carefully bring it back to unity. When the mind no longer either undergoes dissolution in dreamless sleep or distraction amidst desires and enjoyments, and it is motionless and without manifestation, then it has reached its state of perfection. It (has reached the state of ‘no-mind’, G.K.III. 32, and) is the Absolute. (G.K.III. 1-6)

 

Adyaropa Apavada – The Teaching Method in Vedanta

 

This teaching method ‘Adhyaropa apavada‘ is not properly followed by many modern teachers who teach Vedanta today. That is why I think people get stuck in all kinds of concepts..

 Here is how he describes in short, in one of his books:

(a) In order to disclose the nature of the self as Brahman in itself Srutis like the following negate all specific features superimposed on it by the unenlightened common mind :-

“It is this Akshara (the Imperishable), 0 Gargi, so the knowers of
Brahman say. It is neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long, not
red, not viscid, not shadowy, not dark, not the air, not the ether, not
adhesive, tasteless, odourless, without the sense of sight, without the
sense of hearing, without the vital principle, mouthless, without measure,
neither interior nor exterior,. It eats nothing, nobody eats it.”
– Br.3-8-8.

(b) Lest, by this strict denial of all properties it may be taken to be absolute nothing (s’unya), it is taught by means of illusory attributes seemingly pertaining to it owing to Upadhis (apparently conditioning factors).

(c) At the close of the teaching the rescission of even the imputed attributes used as a device for purposes of teaching, lest it should be regarded as actually belonging to it.

(Many modern teachers stop with (a) and (b) )

Citations provided by Swami:

1.”The Absolute is that in which there is no particularity. There is no name, no form, no action, no distinction, no universal, no attribute. It is through these determinations alone that speech proceeds, and not one of them belongs to the Absolute. So the latter cannot be taught by sentences of the pattern ‘This is so-and-so’.

In such upanishadic phrases and words as “The Absolute is Consciousness-Bliss’ (Brhad.III.ix.28.7) . ‘A mere mass of Consciousness’ (Brhad.II.iv.12) , ‘Brahman’, ‘Atman’, the Absolute is artificially referred to with the help of superimposed name, form and action, and spoken of exactly in the way we refer to objects of perception, as when we say ‘That white cow with horns is twitching’.

But if the desire is to express the true nature of the Absolute, void of all conditioning adjuncts and particularity, then it cannot be described by any positive means whatever. The only ‘ possible method then is to refer to it through a comprehensive denial of whatever positive characteristics have been attributed to it in previous teachings, and to say ‘neither this nor that’.

– (Brhad.Bh.II.iii.6) – Shankara

 

  1. “Nor can the Absolute be properly referred to by any such terms as Being or non-being. For all words are used to convey a meaning, and when heard by their hearers convey the meaning the speaker had in mind. But communicable meaning is restricted without exception to universal, action, attribute and relation….

The Absolute, however, does not belong to any universal (genus), so it cannot be expressed by a noun such as ‘Being’ or ‘non-being’. Being without attributes, it cannot be described by any adjective denoting an attribute. And being actionless, it cannot be expressed by any verb denoting activity.

For the Upanishad speaks of it as ‘Without parts, without activity, at rest’ (Svet .VI.19) . Nor has it any relation with anything. For it is ‘One’, ‘without a second’, ‘not an object’ and ‘the Self. Hence it cannot be expressed by any word. And the upanishadic texts themselves confirm this when they say ‘That from which words fall back’ (Taitt .ll.9) , and in other passages.”

– (Bh.G.Bh.XIII.12) – Shankara

 

  1. And because the Absolute has no particular characteristics, the Veda indicates its nature by denying of it the forms of all other things, as is shown, for instance, in the following pa sages: ‘And so, therefore, the teaching is “neither this nor that”‘ (Brhad.II.iii.6) , ‘It is other than what is known, and above the unknown’ (Kena I.U), ‘That from which words fall back without obtaining access, together with the mind’ (Taitt .II.9) .

And the Vedic texts also relate how when Badhva was questioned by Baskalin he gave his answer merely by not speaking. ‘Sir, teach me in words’, Ba§kalin said. But the Teacher remained silent. Finally, at the second or third time of asking, Badhva replied, ‘I am telling you, but you do not understand. This Self is utter silence’

– (B.S.Bh.III.ii.17) – Shankara

  1. “Who so knows the Self, thus described, as the fearless Absolute (brahman), himself becomes the Absolute, beyond fear. This is a brief statement of the meaning of the entire Upanishad.  And in order to convey this meaning rightly, the fanciful alternatives of production, maintenance and withdrawal, and the false notion of action, its factors and results, are deliberately attributed to the Self as a first step. And then later the final metaphysical truth is inculcated by negating these characteristics through a comprehensive denial of all particular superimpositions on the Absolute, expressed in the phrase ‘neither this nor that’.

Just as a man, wishing to explain numbers from one to a hundred thousand billion (points to figures that he has drawn and) says, ‘This figure is one, this figure is ten, this figure is a hundred, this figure is a thousand’ , and all the time his only purpose is to explain numbers, and not to affirm that the figures are numbers; or just as one wishing to explain the sounds of speech as represented by the written letters of the alphabet resorts to a device in the form of a palm-leaf on which he makes incisions which he later fills with ink to form letters, and all the while, (even though he point to a letter and say “This is the sound “so and so”‘) his only purpose is to explain the nature of the sounds referred to by each letter, and not to affirm that the leaf, incisions and ink are sounds;

In just the same way, the one real metaphysical principle, the Absolute, is taught by resort to many devices, such as attributing to it production (of the world) and other powers. And then after wards the nature of the Absolute is restated, through the concluding formula ‘neither this nor that’, so as to purify it of all particular notions accruing to it from the various devices used to explain its nature in the first place’.

– Brhad. Bh.IV.iv.25 by Shankara

  1. Hence that Brahman cannot be denoted by the epithet ‘jnanam’ (knowledge) either. Nevertheless, it is indicated though not expressed, by the word ‘‘jnanam’ denoting the semblance of consciousness which is really a modification of the mind. It is not directly denoted by that term because Brahman is devoid of genus and other specific features which alone are the occasion for the application of words to a thing. So is it with regard to the term ‘Satyam’ (truth). For Brahman is by its very nature devoid of all specific features. The term Satyam really refers to the genus ‘being’ inhering in external objects, and when Brahman is described as ‘Sat yam’ (Real), it is only indicated by that term. But Brahman is not actually expressed by the term ‘Satyam’.

–  Shankara – Tai. Bh. 2-1, p. 285.

  1. “Objection : “Is not even Atmandenoted by the word
    ‘Atman’ ?

Reply: No. for there are Srutis like ‘From which words fall back’,
‘That in which one sees nothing else’.
Question: How then do texts like ‘Atman alone is below ….’ and ‘It is Atman’ reveal Atman ?
Reply: This is no fault. For, the word (Atman), primarily used in the world of differences to denote individual soul as distinct from the body it possesses, is extended to indicate the entity which remains after the rejection of body and other not-selfs as not deserving that appellation, and is used to reveal what is really inexpressible by words”.

– Shankara – Ch. Bh. 7-1-3, p. 542.

 

Moksha, Bliss and Cessation of desires

 

Many teachers of Vedanta these days say that an enlightened person still goes through suffering and enlightenment is not a state of constant bliss. They also claim that enlightenment is not cessation of desires. (For e.g James Swartz in Shiningworld.com lists cessation of desires as one of the myths of enlightenment, in his 1 year course published in the website.)

I also found the following from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Chapter 4, Section 3, verse 33 which contradicts this modern view.

“4.3.33   He who is perfect of body and prosperous among men. the ruler of others, and most lavishly supplied with all human enjoyments, represents the greatest joy among men. This human joy multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy for the Manes who have won that world of theirs. The joy of these Manes who have won that world multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy in the world of the celestial minstrels. This joy in the world of the celestial minstrels multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy for the gods by action those who attain their godhead by their actions. This joy of the gods by action multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy for the gods by birth, as well as of one who is versed in the Vedas, sinless and free from desire. This joy of the gods by birth multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy in the world of Prajapati (Viraj), as well as of one who is versed in the Vedas, sinless and free from desire. This joy in the world of Prajapati multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy in the world of Brahman (Hiranyagarbha), as well as of one who is versed in the Vedas, sinless and free from desire. This indeed is the supreme bliss. This is the state of Brahman, O Emperor, said ‘Yajnavalkya. I give you a thousand (cows), sir. Please instruct me further about liberation itself.’ At this Yajnavalkya was afraid that the intelligent Emperor was constraining him to finish with all his conclusions.”

Shankara also acknowledges this verse in his commentary on this Upanishad and further cites a verse from Mahabharata in his commentary:

“Vedavyasa also says, ‘The sense pleasures of this world and the great joys of heaven are not worth one-sixteenth part of the bliss that comes of the cessation of desire’ (Mbh. XII. clxxiii. 47).”

But many modern day Vedanta teachers today teach that bliss is not an attribute of truth at all. They even say that ‘Ananda’ from ‘Sat-chit-Ananda’ doesn’t translate to bliss (which is weird because the same word ananda is used in Tamil also, the language I speak, which means happiness)

Conclusion

I would like to thank you for your precious time spent reading this entire article. I would appreciate your thoughts on this so that it will clarify many questions raised by people who are sincere students of Vedanta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clarifying Confusions in James Swartz’s Vedanta Teachings

This article aims at removing some of the confusions and correcting some of the wrong information found in the teachings of James Swartz’s Vedanta teachings. He deserves an applause though, just for his efforts to spread traditional Vedanta in the west.  However, as a person born and brought up in India, I can clearly see that he is misinformed on a lot of things. I am not going to argue whether he is enlightened or not; he may be or may not be. I have no way of knowing that.  But to be honest, I have doubted his enlightenment sometimes and wondered if he is on some kind of ego trip in thinking that he is one of the very few ‘qualified’ teachers of Vedanta. When he said that Ramana Maharshi was not a qualified teacher, my doubts became even strong.

A little about myself

Before I start, let me give a short introduction of my own spiritual journey. I had no physical guru, but I was a very sincere seeker. I had tried yoga and Vedanta when I was a boy, but couldn’t understand it much. 15 years ago, I learnt basics of vedanta, zen and mindfulness and I had a glimpse of my own nature that changed my life. I continued mindfulness and self-inquiry for the next 12 years. Mindfulness and self-inquiry was not like two different practices to me, because both have the same procedure of inquiring into each arising thought and experience.

Three years ago (in 2014), a complete shift occurred that completely removed the psychological boundaries between me and the world. Since  then, I never had a distinct feeling of a separate ‘me’ and an ‘other’. The seeker of enlightenment had died and there was no doer anymore. In the next three years, things got settled down . But I still have thoughts and vasanas, even though they don’t affect me. Now, according to James Swartz’s definition, I am already enlightened. Because, now I have an irreversible hard and fast knowledge that I am the non-dual, limitless awareness and not the contents of my consciousness. It is not just intellectual, but my actual reality every moment. But, I don’t want to claim any enlightenment yet. First, claiming enlightenment is not going to make any difference in me. Second, according to Ramana Maharshi, this is not enlightenment. There seems to be a need to wait until all the vasanas are removed (not merely rendering them unbinding) and the thoughts created by all vasanas are removed.

If you ask James, he would say that one doesn’t have to remove the vasanas but just have to render them unbinding by liberation. Again, I am not going to argue whether Ramana’s definition was correct or James’s definition was correct. But Ramana’s life and his words themselves  indicate  that he might have actually removed all the vasanas and involuntary thought movements. He himself said that he usually didn’t have thoughts running in his mind; also, the way he lived his life shows that he probably was completely vasana free. So, that gives me every reason to believe that Ramana was right. But I am no longer a believer of things. I choose to remain open minded on this and say ‘I don’t know yet’ at this point.

Having said that, I am completely sure about some of the wrong information that James is preaching. I know they are wrong. So, I am just going to make some corrections here. This is not intended to offend James or his students. I just feel that wrong information should be corrected. So, let us get started.

Was Ramana a qualified teacher?

If James Swartz reads what I have said above, the first thing he is going to say is ‘Ramana was not a qualified teacher’. According to James, a qualified teacher is someone who systematically unfolds the teachings of traditional vedanta. By this definition, Buddha, Bodhidharma , many enlightened Zen masters and Tao masters are not qualified teachers. When someone even utters the name of Ramana Maharshi, James Swartz’s first response is always ‘Ramana Maharshi was not a qualified teacher’.

Sri_Ramana_Maharshi_-_Portrait_-_G._G_Welling_-_1948

First of all, what we call as traditional Vedanta is solely based on Shankara’s works and his commentaries on Brahma Sutras, Gita and Upanishads. There is a claim that Vedanta assumes Gita, Brahma Sutras and Upanishads as authority, but the actual truth is, the school (Advaita) was developed by basing Shankara as the authority. We need to remember here that Shankara was just one human being who had a certain teaching and certain way of life. It is not necessary that every enlightened person in the world should completely teach according to Shankara’s teaching model. Long before Shankara, words like Vedanta, Yoga and Samkhya were just words to represent different aspects of one essential teaching. For example, In Bhagavad Gita, chapter 3, verse 3, Krishna says that Samkhya is called as Jnana Yoga; And we all know that Jnana Yoga is another term for Vedanta. So, Shankara just revived the ancient teachings and presented according to the time he was living. (James Swartz himself has written commentaries of Bhagavad Gita, but the words Samkhya and Jnana Yoga is in the original Sanskrit verse which is translated to path of knowledge in English).

Second, Ramana taught mostly in Tamil. What a westerner would read is an English version of talks which was translated by a translator guy in Ramana’s ashram.  So, when the translator interprets Ramana’s Tamil words and translates to English, a part of the original teaching is lost; when that is further interpreted by the Western guy who wrote them down, another part of the teaching is most likely lost. And, the teachings given to westerners was only a very small percentage of what Ramana taught in his entire life. Because, he was talking to thousands of Tamil seekers all his life and taught them in Tamil. Ramana also wrote a lot of poems in Tamil which have his essential teaching. There are hundreds of books written in Tamil by people who were taught by Ramana and who lived with him in the ashram.

Third, most of the seekers who met Ramana were very advanced. We can see that in the conversations themselves. There was no need to teach them about three gunas, five koshas, creation theories or qualifications needed for spiritual practice. In India, especially in Ramana’s time, knowledge on these subjects was abundant. With long term residents of Ashram like Annamalai Swami and others , Ramana talked about everything, probably more than what James has taught to his students. He also met visitors who just stayed in the ashram for a day or two and to them, he just answered their questions according to the level of their seeking.

I also heard another reason from James for calling him not a perfect teacher. James says that Ramana’s devotees are confused by experiences and knowledge of Atman because Ramana didn’t make a clear distinction. He is completely wrong. Ramana is very clear in the essential teaching about self-realization.  If Ramana’s devotees are confused with anything at all, it is  just because Ramana is no longer alive to clarify their doubts.

Ramana was a perfect teacher in every way. He talked and walked the talk. Being a simple guy in an Ashram, he attracted attention from people all over the world. Vedanta would be half dead by now without Ramana.

Is path of Yoga all about chasing blissful experiences?

I read James Swartz opinion about Yoga in many of his articles and talks. He says that Yoga is just about getting some blissful experiences and not a complete path to realization. He says that Yoga is only helpful in preparing the mind and will not help in liberation at all.

That is completely wrong. The goal of Yoga is Nirvikalpa Samadhi, which is not a dualistic experience. In Nirvikalpa samadhi, experiencer and experience merge into one. However, Ramana used to say that Nirvikalpa samadhi should become Sahaja samadhi so that the yogi can lead a normal life and guide others. Also, Ramana always insisted that self-inquiry is the best path of all but he never said that Yoga doesn’t lead to enlightenment. He only said that all the other paths are indirect ways.

Yoga may be a long and difficult path, but perfect for people who can’t surrender the ego;  but saying that Yoga only leads to experiences and not to realization is completely wrong.James might have probably met some wrong yogis or wrong teachers of Yoga and came to this wrong conclusion.

Is enlightenment experience or knowledge?

This is a very complicated question.

First of all, let me make a distinction between truth and enlightenment.

Truth is Brahman, which is the absolute witness of everything that is observed. Truth cannot be an experience because experience can be witnessed. Also, experience generally implies a dualistic experience, which constitutes an experiencer and experience; But in truth, there is no duality. This also applies for knowledge, because in truth the knower and knowledge merge together.

Enlightenment on the other hand, refers to the event of realizing the truth. We have heard that for some people it is gradual and for some people it is a sudden event. Any event is always accompanied by some kind of experience; it may be dual or non dual but the aspect of the experience still exists when the experience and experiencer merge together. In that sense, there is nothing wrong in calling a sudden enlightenment as an experience as long as it is clarified with a proper context.  Because, not talking about the experiential aspect of it may mislead people to believe that just intellectual understanding is enough to call it as enlightenment.

But both experience and knowledge are poor word choices, we unfortunately have no other words in English. The English word experience can be misleading because a person may believe that truth is some kind of special experience that he is going to experience for the rest of his life. The word knowledge can be equally misleading because a person may believe that enlightenment just involves committing some information to memory after understanding it intellectually.

In Sanskrit, we have different words.  Experience, which just represents an affective state is called Vedana. Vedana can be positive, negative or neutral. (This word is rarely used, but found in many buddhist texts). The experiential aspect of enlightenment is known as either anubhava or anubhuti, which is actually a pramana (means of knowledge); The word actually means experiential knowledge. The word Anubhava in Tamil (my first language) is exactly that but just with one additional letter: ‘anubhavam’.

Also, we have two words for knowledge as well. Knowledge that refers to mere information is called Vidya or veda. The knowledge gained by enlightenment is called Jnana.

Instead of providing such a detailed clarification, James seems to be obsessed with giving a lecture stating ‘enlightenment is not experience’ whenever he hears someone talking about some experience. He gives detailed reasons for why enlightenment is not an experience which is not at all necessary. Because, people who may have already read English translations of Indian texts may often use the word ‘experience’ to mean the valid experiential knowledge, Anubhuti. If James reacts the same way to these people, it is actually like giving them wrong information because of some linguistic confusion. Also, arguing why enlightenment is not an experience by providing arguments for why truth is not an experience is a huge fallacy.

To wrap up, a sudden enlightenment similar to what happened to Buddha can be actually an experience (vedana, the affective state). The enlightenment itself is anubhuti (experiential knowledge) which is translated to English as ‘experience’.

Is Self-realization and Enlightenment different?

James Swartz adds another big confusion. He uses the word ‘Self-realization’ for a glimpse of truth, an awakening experience and he uses the word ‘enlightenment’ for Moksha, the liberation. But this will mislead a lot of people. Because self-realization and enlightenment are generally understood as synonymous. In Ramana Maharshi’s translated talks, you will only find the word ‘self-realization’ for final enlightenment. Why change the meaning of a word instead of using it in the conventional way? Why not just call the glimpse of truth as awakening, as it is usually called?

This is not a big problem in itself, but big enough to cause a lot of confusion.

Is criticism a part of Vedanta?

James criticizes a lot of teachers. He would name each and every teacher he thinks as not qualified and just thrash them like anything. I agree with some of the criticism, especially on neo-vedanta. Although I agree that neo-advaita  seems to be lacking a practical method for enlightenment, obsessively criticising the teachers and naming them is unnecessary. (Here is the weird part. James claims he knows a lot of enlightened people.. If you ask him to name them, he would say ‘No, I won’t name people’… When he names all the imperfect teachers, why not name the enlightened ones? ).

Anyway, that’s not the point. To justify all this, James often says that criticism is a main aspect of Vedanta. That is not true. He probably got this idea from Sankara’s debates with Buddhists. But those are debates! He met people face to face and debated with them. Debate is not same as criticism.Even if  Shankara  criticized people, it would not be right to say that criticism is a main aspect of vedanta itself. This is like saying smoking  is an essential part of psychology, just because Sigmund Freud smoked a lot.

Does Buddhism have an issue in understanding the reality?

I came across a Satsang article in James’s website. There was a discussion regarding Buddhism between a seeker and James Swartz. Here is what James says:

“I am not surprised that they don’t know the self. That is our issue with Buddhism since time immemorial. I have yet to meet a Buddhist that understands it. There is a video on my website of a Buddhist – the only one I ever came across who seems to know what it is and that he is it – that seems to indicate that self-knowledge is alive somewhere in the Buddhist world, but it is very rare. They are doer-oriented, experience-oriented, particularly the jhana guys.”

Really? First of all, any Buddhist you meet will tell you there is no self. But it is not contradictory to Vedanta. Buddha used different terminology. He didn’t define reality in  positive terminology so that nobody will form a concept about truth in their mind. So, he simply called it as sunyata (similar to nirguna Brahman) which literally means ‘emptiness’. So, no matter how many enlightened Buddhists you meet, you are never going to find someone who says ‘I am the self, the limitless non-dual awareness’.

Also, Buddhism is not just about Jhanas. Jhanas are just concentration practices. The stress is actually on Vipassana, getting insight into the true nature of things. It is similar but more powerful than self-inquiry in my experience. In fact, understanding the theory and practicing mindfulness helps to do self-inquiry better.

James Swartz seems to be obsessed with words. He would only agree with Advaita terminology. He fails to understand that the path of truth can be expressed with different words, which is exactly why we have so many traditions.But such an obsession with words and concepts would only make people suspect if his enlightenment was purely intellectual.

If someone claims that He, his wife, his students who were authorized to teach, his guru and some swamis he knows are the only qualified teachers on the planet, there is every reason to doubt that something is wrong.

 

 

 

The Evolution of Vedanta, Yoga and Buddhism – A Truth Revealed

The aim of this article is to show that  Vedanta as we know today and Yoga which is practiced today are incomplete when taught independently. They have lost a lot of essential teachings of ancient rishis by evolving into two separate schools.  It also  aims to show that these modern schools have deviated much from the teachings of Ancient India.

Vedanta and Yoga were never seperare during the time of Upanishads. There were not two different schools. Instead, the teachings of Ancient India mainly included the following two aspects:

  • Insight

This constitutes getting insight into the nature of reality and seeing that the separate self is illusory in the moment to moment experience. Practices like self-inquiry and  Buddhist mindfulness are essentially the same and are mainly insight practices. The Advaita Vedanta that we know now focuses mainly on insight.

  • Concentration

This is often neglected in traditional Advaita but it was once advocated as a necessary skill to develop along with insight. Concentration and insight complement each other. There are some seekers who can do well by focusing on concentration and developing the insight later. But there are also seekers who are comfortable in doing insight practices first and achieve one pointed concentration later. Upasana in Vedanta (which is not taught in the modern days), Yogic samadhi and Buddhist Shamatha are practices that develop concentration.

It is definitely possible to bypass concentration practices altogether and practice insight alone. Concentration will automatically develop as a by product. But this is not true for all people. Some people are more comfortable and capable of starting with Yogic practices.Also, practicing both of them together can be very helpful towards liberation.

Because of this, yogic concentration practices and insight practices were both taught in Upanishads. In fact, there are certain upanishads which are dedicated to Yogic practices alone. They were never considered as separate schools of thought. Even Adi Shankara has elaborated on yogic and tantric practices on his text Soundarya Lahari.

The theory part of both Advaita and Yoga were adopted from Samkhya karika written by an ancient rishi called Kapila. In Bhagwad Gita, Samkhya is mentioned as another term for Gnana yoga, which is nothing but self-inquiry practices  and Nidhidhyasana of Vedanta that we know today. The terminology of Samkhya appears to be dualistic but in essence, it was not; It was actually a path for non-dual wisdom. Otherwise it would not have been mentioned in Bhagwad Gita, which is actually considered to be an authoritative text of Vedanta, along with Brahma Sutras and Upanishads. Samkhya mainly focused on discrimination between Purusha and Prakriti (satya and mithya in Vedanta) and offered insight into the reality which actually resulted in  seeing Purusha and Prakrita as one non-dual reality, even though it was not explicitely stated in Samkya sutras.

So in essence,  Vedanta, Yoga and Samkya were not really separate schools of thoughts.  These were words used to represent the aspects of the same essential teaching.  But after the period of Upanishads, people started giving more importance to Vedic rituals rather than focusing on the core teachings that help individuals towards their liberation.

Wisdom by Buddha

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The first rebellion against this growing importance of pointless rituals was done by Buddha. He established the core ancient teachings of insight and concentration but just used different terminology. He categorized the teachings into two main paths, which are complimentary to each other.

1)Vipassana (Insight)

This is essentially the same as Vedanta. Buddhist mindfulness is a practice to examine each thought and experience that arise each moment and look into the nature of their absence of a separate self, impermanence and suffering. This is exactly what self-inquiry does when you inquire the nature and origin of each thought. What was called as Nirguna Brahman (absolute reality that is empty of attributes) in ancient India was named as ‘Sunyata’ (emptiness) by Buddha. Since Buddha took a psychological approach, he intentionally used negative terminology so that people don’t form mental concepts about the absolute reality.

2)Shamatha (Concentration)

Buddha didn’t ignore the yogic practices of concentration. He introduced Jhana meditations which are essentially the same as Dhyana, Dharana and Samadhi. But he also explained how practicing either insight or concentration can automatically improve the other.

Buddha took an empirical approach in understanding the nature of mind. The deep psychological insights found in Apidhamma in Pali Canon, is very unique to Buddhism which is completely absent in the traditional schools of Advaita and Yoga which developed later as separate schools.The psychological wisdom found in Buddhism is compared to modern Psychology because of so many similarities between the two.

Traditional Vedanta, Samkhya and Yoga talk about three gunas which are sattva (balance), rajas (restlessness , too much activity in the mind), Tamas (inertia or mental dulness) to show how rajas and tamas are hindrances to insight and concentration. Buddha went futher and added three more to the two hindrances (panca nivaranani): Restlessness, Dulness and sloth, sensory desire, ill will and doubt.

Finally, Buddha went one step above in handling the mere curious people who wanted to accumulate factual  and theoretical information. He very well understood that such an accumulation of unnecessary knowledge may reinforce the idea of a separate self. So, contrary to the ancient teachings which taught different theories of creation (Ajativada, drishti-shristi vada, shristi-drishti vada), Buddha asked people to ignore such questions and theories and told them that these questions do not lead people to true knowledge. These questions have been termed as ‘Avyakata’ (unfathomable)  by Buddha. Sometimes, he was silent when people asked such questions which is popularly known as ‘Noble silence’in Buddhism.

 

Wisdom by Shankara

Any form of teachings get clouded and polluted overtime by people when they add new interpretations, ideas and speculations. This is mainly done by curious scholars who were not enlightened and had no interest in liberation.

When it comes to Buddhism, it faced two major problems:

  • There was a strong political pressure in Indian kingdoms to eliminate Buddhism since Buddhists didn’t practice Vedic rituals. But people were clinging so much to Vedas that they were not able to accept or understand the revolutionary teachings of Buddha. Because of this pressure Buddhism was widely eliminated from India but became very popular in China, Japan and South Asian countries.
  • Due to lack of teachers and proper guidance, many Buddhists in India became deluded and began to misunderstand the core teachings of Buddha.

Adi Shankra was not against Buddha’s core teachings or Yoga. But he reestablished the core teachings of ancient India by writing commentaries and texts on both insight and concentration practices, debating with ritual oriented Mimamsa scholars and deluded Buddhist scholars.

Realizing that vedic rituals and worshipping personal deities could not be easily removed from Indian tradition, Shankara had no choice but to compromise on certain things. He accepted the worship of personal God but popularised the concept of Ishwara and taught people that they can revere their favourite personal deity as Ishwara. He divided the sects of such deity worships to six categories (shanmata), based on the six popular deities, but insisted that any personal God is the representation of Absolute reality.

But since he was pretty much aware of what was  happening to the core teachings of Buddha, he had to debate with the remaining deluded Buddhist scholars to make them accept his newly formulated teachings. But he never excluded Yogic practices that were meant to achieve one-pointed concentration and Samadhi. In fact, he praised Yoga Vashista, the text which contain both vedantic and yogic teachings and regarded Vashista, the author of Yoga Vashista as the first teacher of Vedanta. But apart from the terminology and certain culturally oriented concepts, his teachings were essentially the same as Buddha’s teachings.

Distortion of the Original teachings

Again, needless to say, Shankara’s orginal teachings were distorted. Scholars conveniently ignored the concentration oriented practices and maintained the school of Advaita based on the rest of Shankara’s teachings. Overtime, vedantins became mere intellectuals who kept repeating that all is maya. This led to 5 other subschools of vedanta which criticized vedantins as mayavadis.

At the same time, Yoga started evolving as a separate school which ignored a lot of insight present in  Vedanta. They became more focused on physical postures and chasing various experiences.

 

You are the Truth – A Poem about Non-duality

Here is my recent poem about non-duality or advaita, which has some pointers to contemplate for anyone who is seeking the truth:

You are the Truth - The Essential Wisdom of Advaita
You are the Truth – The Essential Wisdom of Advaita

The poem in the above image is a part of the longer poem that I wrote later.. I expanded the above poem to make it a part of a story which is metaphoric and reveals the essence of the ancient teachings.. It combines the vedantic teachings, mindfulness and verses from the Bible:

You are the Truth

Carrying the weight of past in my head
And dragging the scenes which were old and dead,
I ran to grab the bliss of the future;
The more I ran, the more was the torture..

The torture of the hedonic treadmill
Followed me as I continued uphill;
I was caught in the prison of craving
With tedious thoughts, my mind was raving.

I met an ugly old man on the way
who had a long thick beard with shades of grey.
His face was shining with heavenly bliss;
In his eyes I saw an endless abyss!

“What makes you so happy in this rat race?”,
I asked him as he slowly turned his face.
He replied,”The answer is within you!
The grand kingdom of God is within you!”

“That’s a joke”, I said “Are you kidding me?”.
“No!” He said, “Turn inward, you’ll become free!
You’ve made your own boundaries inside your mind,
You’ve closed your eyes and think you’ve become blind”.

I said, “How can I get out of this trap?
I want to find the way, give me the map”
He said, “You’re the way, the truth and the life!
Be still and know you’re that, and end this strife!

You’re not your body and you’re not your mind;
Not knowing the timeless truth makes you blind;
You’re not your story and you’re not your thoughts;
You’re not those age old, buried mental knots.

You’re not that chattering voice in your head;
You’re not anything that you did or said;
You’re not anything that you have or know
You’re the truth that is watching all this show!

You’re not anything that can be perceived;
You’re not an object that can be observed;
You’re the screen where the world is being played;
You’re the emptiness where the form is made.

You’re the one witnessing the mind and breath;
You’re one without two, beyond birth and death;
Like the air trapped in a small round bubble,
You feel separate which brings all the trouble.

Inquire inside and wake up from this dream!
Let truth alone shine like a bright white beam!
By inquiry, your illusions will break;
You’ll stop mistaking the rope for a snake”

Hearing these words stopped my thoughts for a while.
Looking in, I slowly began to smile.
I watched my thoughts as they slowly passed by;
I observed my mind like a secret spy.

For years, I contemplated on his words;
I watched my thoughts fly like a bunch of birds.
One day, I woke up and realized the truth;
Since then my life has been peaceful and smooth!

 

Was Shiva the Real Adi Yogi or Is that Sadhguru’s Nonsense?

Recently, a 112 foot Adiyogi statue was unveiled in Isha Foundation, Coimbatore by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The beautiful statue was designed by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev as a credit to the first yogi and as an inspiration for the world. But who is the actual first yogi revered by yogic tradition? Was it really the mystical Lord Shiva or someone else? Sadly, the original Adi yogi has been forgotten and has been replaced by a carelessly spun story by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev.

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Let me first quote the story as it is narrated by Sadhguru.

Story of Adi Yogi as narrated by Sadhguru

“When we say “Shiva,” there are two fundamental aspects that we are referring to. The word “Shiva” literally means “that which is not.” On another level, when we say “Shiva,” we are referring to a certain yogi, the Adiyogi or the first yogi, and also the Adi Guru, the first Guru, who is the basis of what we know as the yogic science today.

In the yogic culture, Shiva is not seen as a God. He was a being who walked this land and lived in the Himalayan region. As the very source of the yogic traditions, his contribution in the making of human consciousness is too phenomenal to be ignored. This predates all religion.

Over 15,000 years ago, Adiyogi appeared in the upper regions of the Himalayas. No one knew where he came from or what his origins were. He just came and went into intense ecstatic dance upon the mountains.

People saw that he was experiencing something that nobody had known before, something that they were unable to fathom. So they gathered around him wanting to know what it was. But no one had the courage to go near him because he was so intense, like a blazing flame of fire. So they waited, hoping something would happen. Some people waited for months and left and Only seven hardcore seekers stuck on. These seven were insistent that they must learn from him, but Shiva ignored them. They pleaded and begged him, “Please, we want to know what you know.”

At last after 84 years of intense sadhana,he decided to become a Guru. On a full moon day which is known as Guru Pournami because the Adiyogi transformed himself into the Adi Guru – the first Guru was born on that day. He took the seven disciples to Kantisarovar and started a systematic exposition of yoga in a scientific manner. He began propounding the whole mechanics of life to these seven people, not intellectually as a philosophy, but experientially. He explored every nut and bolt of creation with them. He brought forth yoga as a technology with which every human being can evolve himself.

The transmission went on for a long period of time. After many years, when it was complete and had produced seven fully enlightened beings, who are today celebrated as the Sapta Rishis, Adiyogi sent each one of them to different parts of the world. One went to Central Asia. Another went to North Africa and the Middle East, where certain schools exist even today. Another went to South America, and that is one culture that imbibed it in a deep way and made something big out of it. One went to East Asia.

One stayed right there with Adiyogi. Another one came to the lower regions of the Himalayas and started what is known as Kashmiri Shaivism. Another one went south into the Indian Peninsula. This one is very important for us because he is Agastya Muni. Of the seven Sapta Rishis, Agastya Muni has been the most effective in terms of bringing the spiritual process into practical life, not as a teaching, philosophy or a practice, but as life itself. It is the benefit of what he did that the Indian people are still enjoying because he produced hundreds of yogis who were like fireballs.” and it goes on.”

First, it looks like Sadhguru has mixed two different stories and made them into one story. I don’t mean that Sadhguru would have intentionally done that. Regardless of whether someone is enlightened or not, human memory has its limitations. Sadhguru probably heard these stories long time ago and due to memory errors, he might have made the two stories into one, which narrates something that never happened. I don’t blame Sadhguru, but the blind followers who simply take whatever Sadhguru says as correct.

I think it is important to make a few things clear. Let me first discuss who this Shiva is and a story from mythology that talks about Dakshinamurthy. Then I will talk about the real Adi yogi, who initiated 8 sages and sent them to different parts of the world.

Who is Shiva?

First, the word ‘Shiva’ doesn’t mean ‘that which is not’, as said by Sadhguru. I have no idea how he came up with such a meaning. The word ‘Shiva’ means ‘auspicious’, which has always been used as an adjective in Vedas. The word has been used for many deities, not just Rudra, the earliest form of Lord Shiva that we know today. It was just a word used to honour someone. Slowly, the word ‘Shiva’ got associated with the Vedic deity Rudra.

Second, mythology is not history. The stories in mythology might have been created for various reasons: to convey deep mystic teachings in the form of a story, to help people to develop devotion for a personified form of the ultimate truth as an aid towards self-realization, to entertain people etc. A puranic story always has multiple contradictory versions, each of them created by people to glorify their own favourite personal God.

Sadhguru has many times indicated that this Adiyogi is the same as Dakshinamoorthy. But the story of Dakshinamoorthy and the story of the Adiyogi who sent 8 rishis to different parts of the world are two entirely different stories.

Let me narrate a puranic story. When Lord Brahma was doing his work of creation, he created many sons from different parts of his body. Four of his sons named Sanaka, Sanatana, Sanandana and Sanatkumara were born from the mind of Brahma. These four people became Brahmacharis against the wish of their father. It is also said that Brahma became very angry because of that, and out of anger Rudra, the earliest form of Shiva was born.

But in Shaivite traditions, it is said that these four people approached Shiva who then assumed the form of Dakshinamoorthy to teach them. He taught them about Self-realization using chin mudra that symbolically shows how a person realizes the ultimate truth. That was all his teaching! According to the story, he just taught the essence of all the scriptures by a small gesture. Note that this applies to all traditions, not just Yoga. Most of the Indian schools of thought like Advaita, Yoga, and Samkya have the same essence even though they use different terminologies.

There are different stories associated with these four kumaras. Some of them are contradictory. Each purana has its own version. So, it is very clear that Dakshinamoorthy is a pure form created for devotion and sadhana, not a historical being who walked on the earth. And Dakshninamoorthy was not shown as teaching traditional Yoga at all. He is clearly not the Adiyogi of the yogic tradition. But this is not to deny the significance of Dakshinamoorthy in anyway. He is a great symbolic representation of enlightenment.

Who is the real Adi yogi?

During 200 BC or 300 BC, a great yogi called Nandhi natha lived in mount Kailash. He was a real human being who walked this planet and was the guru of the great Patanjali. He initiated 8 disciples (Sanatkumar, Sanakar, Sanadanar, Sananthanar, Shivayogamuni, Patanjali, Vyaghrapada, and Tirumular) and sent them to various parts of the world including central Asia to spread Advaita Shaivism. The whole Yogic tradition goes back to Patanjali whose Guru was Nandi natha. Nandi Natha also composed a poem with 26 verses called Nandikeshvara Kashika.

Even today, the Nandhi natha yogic tradition regards Nandi natha as the Adiyogi. A school of this lineage called Adi Natha does regard Shiva as the first yogi, but that was just a title given to Nandinatha, since Shiva means ‘auspicious’.

Tirumular, a well known Tamil saint and the disciple of Nandhinatha was actually the one sent by Adi yogi to south India to spread this school (not Agasthiya). Shiva sending sage Agasthiya to South India to balance the earth was just another puranic story and even that story doesn’t say that he was sent to south India to teach Yoga, as Sadhguru narrates.(Again, this is not to deny the significance of Agasthiya; He was a great Siddha who made great contribution to the world).

Vigyan Bhairav Tantra – 112 techniques for Yoga

Sadhguru also says that Adiyogi statue is 112 feet high and this is to represent the 112 techniques given by Lord Shiva. These 112 techniques are from Vigyan Bhairav Tantra, which is claimed to be a part of ancient Kashmir Shaivaite text called Rudrayamala. It was composed by an unknown author sometime around 8th century AD as a form of imaginary conversation between Shiva and Shakthi.

So, this Vigyan Bhairav Tantra is in no way related to the Adiyogi  Nandhi natha or a historical man called Shiva. The whole text of Vigyan Bhairav Tantra was actually popularized by Osho all over the world. Vigyan Bhairav Tantra is a very rare text which was translated to English by Paul Reps based on the commentary given by Swami Lakshman Joo Raina, a self-realized mystic of Kashmir Shaivism. The translation of Paul Reps was used by Osho to give his own commentaries.

The credit of popularizing Vigyan Bhairav Tantra goes to these three people:  Lakshman Joo, Paul Reps and Osho. Without them, not many people would have known about this valuable text.

As I already mentioned in my previous article ‘The Journey of a Seeker’, Sadhguru uses so many anecdotes, information, views and ideas given by Osho but never gives him credit. Osho was a honest and courageous man who created a great worldwide awareness about self-realization. He was the first man to popularize the fact that there is nothing wrong for a self-realized man to live a normal life with all the luxuries of the world. If Osho didn’t have the courage to own 92 Rolls Royces and still claim enlightenment, we wouldn’t be accepting Sadhguru owning a helicopter or playing golf. It is easier to accept Sadhguru now because we have already seen Osho like this. Osho did all the ground work but the poor man doesn’t get the credit.

The Adiyogi statue looks beautiful, there is no question. But he didn’t build this statue to give credit for whoever the adiyogi was. It is simply a statue of Lord Shiva built to attract crowds and tourists. If Sadhguru is the kind of man who gives credit to people, then he would have given credit to Nandhi Natha (the actual Adi yogi) and Osho already.

Is There a Scientific Evidence for Spiritual Enlightenment?

I see a lot of people asking this question.. What does science say about spiritual enlightenment? Is it possible to prove it scientifically? What are the possible neural correlates of nondual awareness? Can there be a scientific way out of suffering?  I have explained the possible scientific explanations for spiritual awakening in my earlier articles  ‘Theory of Enlightenment – by Scientific method’ and ‘Awakening Through Mindfulness – Bridging Science and Spirituality’. But in this article, I am going to elaborate further on the scientific model for spiritual enlightenment and I will mention many significant studies that have been conducted on this topic.

Operational Definition for Enlightenment

Before we attempt to prove that something called enlightenment exists, we need to come up with an operational definition for enlightenment. If you are new to the term ‘operational definition’, I can explain it a little bit for you. First, Operationalization is a process of defining the measurement of a phenomenon that is not directly measurable, though its existence is indicated by other phenomena. Operationalization is thus the process of defining a fuzzy concept so as to make it clearly distinguishable, measurable, and understandable in terms of empirical observations.So, an operational definition for enlightenment should be defined in such a way that it can be easily distinguishable, measurable and understandable by observation.

spiritual enlightenment

The problem with that is, each tradition has its own definition for enlightenment. Even within a single tradition, there are various schools which define it in their own way. It is also very hard to put a lot of subjective aspects in words. Rather than defining enlightenment based on its subjective aspects, it may be easier to define it based on the neural correlates of enlightenment/non-dual awareness which can be observed.

Jake H. Davis, Postdoctoral Associate at New York University published a paper in 2013 titled ‘Can enlightenment be traced to specific neural correlates, cognition, or behavior?‘ in which he discusses this issue in detail. He says that by integrating evidence from neuroimaging with evidence of behavioral transformations specified in particular traditional descriptions of meditation practices, some important obstacles may be mitigated. He talks about various studies which have been previously conducted on people who claim spiritual enlightenment.

Here is what he concludes in the paper:

“It is therefore, necessary to responsibly unpack traditional constructs into common psychological and neurocognitive terms that can correlate with first-person experience with some consistency, but without unwittingly dismissing the deepest and most fundamental features of the practices from which they originate. We are, in the end, cautiously optimistic that progress can be made on well-defined projects in this area that integrate behavior and phenomenology with neuroimaging evidence, but not without a careful consideration of the methodological obstacles. Responsible scientific investigations of enlightenment can proceed only on the basis of rigorous understanding of particular experiential states or behavioral traits within a particular tradition as part of a whole value system, embedded in many other aspects of the models employed in that specific tradition of how the mind works and how awakening progresses.”

Another paper that was published in Scientific God journal was very interesting. Before I talk about the paper, let me tell you what this Scientific God journal does in their own words:

“The purpose and mission of Scientific GOD Journal (“SGJ”) are to conduct scientific inquiries on the nature and origins of life, mind, physical laws and mathematics and their possible connections to a scientifically approachable transcendental ground of existence – we call “Scientific GOD.” By “scientific inquiries”, we mean building concrete and testable models and/or hypotheses connected to hard sciences (e.g., physics, neuroscience, biochemistry and physiology) and doing the experimental testing.

We believe that in this golden age of Science the GOD in whom we trust should be spiritual as well as scientific. Indeed, since we are all made out of the same subatomic, atomic and genetic alphabets, the scientific GOD each of us seeks should be one and the same whatever our race, religion and other differences.”

The paper ‘A Natural Explanation of Spiritual Enlightenment’ published by James Kowal attempts to explain enlightenment and the ultimate reality (non dual consciousness) through quantum physics. Here is the abstract of the paper:

“ Recent developments in theoretical physics, which include attempts to unify the laws of the universe, as in string theory, and attempts to explain the origin of the universe, as in inflationary cosmology, are interpreted in terms of the theater of consciousness mental model of the world. This scientific paradigm dates back to ideas that Plato first discussed in the Allegory of the Cave, and is consistent with the holographic principle of quantum gravity, the many world interpretation of quantum theory, and the Gödel incompleteness theorems. This mental model of the world leads to a natural theory of the mind, and is consistent with spiritual discussions of creation, as found in Genesis, and expressions of nondual wisdom, as found in the Tao Te Ching. A natural explanation of spiritual enlightenment in the nondual sense of ‘no-self’ or ’emptiness’, and the concept of ‘nothingness’ as expressed in Buddhism, Zen and Hinduism, are also discussed.”

If you search for ‘James’ in Scientific God journal you fill find a lot of interesting papers published by him. In those papers, he has discussed many things regarding to consciousness and how the experience of world arises from consciousness.

Identification with the ‘Egoic self’ and the sense of duality

Based on my own experience and based on the essential teachings of various traditions that talk about spiritual enlightenment, there is one thing that I have found which is common in all these traditions. It is all about removing the duality, the solid psychological distinction between ‘me’ and the ‘other’ or ‘me’ vs ‘world’. People who are spiritually enlightened feel that their experience of the reality is nondual and they don’t derive a separate sense of an egoic self based on their life story and their self-concepts.

So, it all boils down to one thing – Change in the perception of self. Let us first discuss various brain functions related to this feeling of separate identity.

Your Brain – The Seat of your Conscious Experience

Before we go further, it is essential to understand the basics of your brain. Your brain has specialized cells called ‘neurons’ which communicate with other neurons through electrochemical signals called ‘Action potentials’. Everything we think, feel and experience is the result of the constant activity in the neural network of your brain.

Let us talk about two distinct parts of the brain – the higher and lower. The upper part of the brain, that is involved in higher cognitive functions is divided into four lobes – Frontal (just behind your forehead), parietal (second half of the top part of your brain, behind the frontal lobe), occipital lobe (in the back of your head) and temporal lobe (two sides of the head, near the ears). Frontal lobe is responsible for executive functions like planning, analysing etc. It has a structure called neocortex which is the recently evolved part of the brain. Your brain also has a lower part that includes limbic system, brainstem and hindbrain which take care of the basic functions of the brain like arousal, sleep, hunger etc. It also prepares the brain to face a threat and initiates the flight or fight response. Amygdala in this region is responsible for emotions such as fear; hippocampus is responsible for forming new memories. This whole lower part is the oldest part of the brain which reminds us that we are essentially animals.

Your upper brain, the cerebral lobes, can be divided into two hemispheres. Each hemisphere dominate the other in certain cognitive functions. This phenomenon is called lateralization of the brain. A very important distinction is language. Your left hemisphere plays a major role in language production and understanding the language.

The Left brain interpreter – The creator of duality and the cause of suffering

Now, let us try to understand what creates the separation between ‘you’ and the rest of the world. This basic categorization is done by our left brain and it can be explained by something called left-brain interpreter. This is what creates categories like ‘you’ vs world, self image vs ideal self, good vs bad etc. The categorization of ‘you’ vs ‘world’ becomes very solid in the long run, as a result of learning and neuroplasticity.

To give you a brief introduction of this left brain interpreter, let me quote from Wikipedia:

The left brain interpreter refers to the construction of explanations by the left brain in order to make sense of the world by reconciling new information with what was known before. The left brain interpreter attempts to rationalize, reason and generalize new information it receives in order to relate the past to the present. The concept was first introduced by Michael Gazzaniga while he performed research on split-brain patients during the early 1970s with Roger Sperry at the California Institute of Technology.] Sperry eventually received the 1981 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his contributions to split-brain research

The drive to seek explanations and provide interpretations is a general human trait, and the left brain interpreter can be seen as the glue that attempts to hold the story together, in order to provide a sense of coherence to the mind. In reconciling the past and the present, the left brain interpreter may confer a sense of comfort to a person, by providing a feeling of consistency and continuity in the world. This may in turn produce feelings of security that the person knows how “things will turn out” in the future.

However, the facile explanations provided by the left brain interpreter may also enhance the opinion of a person about themselves and produce strong biases which prevent the person from seeing themselves in the light of reality and repeating patterns of behavior which led to past failures.The explanations generated by the left brain interpreter may be balanced by right brain systems which follow the constraints of reality to a closer degree. The suppression of the right hemisphere by electroconvulsive therapy leaves patients inclined to accept conclusions that are absurd but based on strictly-true logic. After electroconsulsive therapy to the left hemisphere the same absurd conclusions are indignantly rejected.

Chris Niebauer is a neuroscientist who received his Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuropsychology from the University of Toledo where he specialized in left-right brain differences. He has written a book called ‘The Neurotic’s Guide to Avoiding Enlightenment: How the Left-brain Plays Unending Games of Self-improvement’ in which he explains this left-brain interpreter in detail. This book is based on the teachings of Eckhart Tolle and attempts to integrate his teachings with neuroscience. Let me quote a few lines from his book:

“The interpreter in the left brain has a preference for consistency and little tolerance for ambiguity. There are right and wrong answers and things need to be predictable and orderly.Paradox is a turn-off to interpreter. Left brain is so based in categories, it categorizes everything as right and wrong, good and bad. Categories divide and the interpreter has divided itself into ‘How i am’ and ‘how i want to be’ “

“The left-brain interpreter is categorical, it creates division outwardly and inwardly, so let it do its job, let it do its thing. Here we might ask why you want to go beyond your ego and more importantly, is it your ego that wants this? Because if it is, it can’t. Going beyond the ego is nothing like what the ego thinks it is, how could it be? When the ego tries to drag itself beyond itself it may bring along a little anxiety and conflict, so remember that all scary things are pretend. Also, Alan pointed out in the 70s that the biggest ego trip of all was in believing that one was beyond the ego. Today this is also true but with one more level to it, today there is the ego trip of pointing out that the 6i:4:est ego trip of all is in believing you have gone beyond the ego. The notion that you can improve yourself by going beyond your ego stems directly from the interpretive mind, and as such, is an interpretation that something is wrong and there is something that needs be done about it. Again, there is the interpreter created category of “me as I am” vs. “me as I want to be” which are both just thoughts bouncing around in the skull. So, ironically, if you are trying to improve yourself, you can’t. The notion that your self needs improving is an interpretation and we are going around interpretations. There is an irony in most bookstores called the “self help” section. I might suggest renaming this as “Books that reinforce the illusion that the left-brain interpreter can be what it isn’t free of itself.”

“The interpreter also creates and sustains our collection of categorical thoughts called our beliefs.”

Here the story of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is worth mentioning. She is a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist who experienced a severe hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain in 1996. This permanently changed her perception of reality.

She says, “It was as though my mind had shifted away from my normal perception of reality—where I’m the person on the machine having the experience—to some esoteric space where I’m witnessing myself having this experience.”

“My perception of physical boundaries was no longer limited to where my skin met air,” she has written in her memoir, “My Stroke of Insight”. The core message of the book is that people can choose to live a more peaceful, spiritual life by sidestepping their left brain. You can read here whole story here.

As we see, the interpreter plays a major role in dividing the reality. It also creates a split between our self-image and our ideal self. We all have a self-concept (called ‘Ahamkar in Indian traditions’) which consists of various beliefs about who we are and what we want to be. As clear borders have been defined for this egoic identity, there is a constant need to protect and enhance this identity. Most of our suffering results from our constant identification with this conceptual entity by giving it a solid reality in our minds. A threat to the self-concept or self-image is perceived by our body and mind like any other threat in the world (like a threat faced by an animal of being killed). So, all of such experiences create the same physiological reactions by activating the amygdala and initiating a fight-or-flight response.We are also in a constant pursuit of enhancing the self-concept by accumulating wealth, knowledge and beliefs about ourselves. We depend on our past to define who we are and we depend on the future to enhance it. Because of this, we are stuck in a hedonic treadmill.

Let me quote from Wiki again to define ‘Hedonic treadmill’

“The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. Brickman and Campbell coined the term in their essay “Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society” (1971). During the late 1990s, the concept was modified by Michael Eysenck, a British psychologist, to become the current “hedonic treadmill theory” which compares the pursuit of happiness to a person on a treadmill, who has to keep walking just to stay in the same place’”

Spiritual enlightenment promises to end suffering by ending this hedonic treadmill. It leads one to resolve all the internal conflicts and to feel one with everything. It removes the idea that there is a separate entity inside which has to enhance itself for fulfillment. The left brain may still continue to categorize things, but they are not solidified in our consciousness and urge us to protect those solidified entities.

Neural Correlates of the egoic self

To study about the enlightenment in neuroscientific perspective we have to know about a neural network called ‘The Default Mode Network’ in the brain.

The default mode network (DMN) refers to the structures in the brain which are active when we are not focused on any task in particular. If you are idle, this network is activated by default. This network is activated when we are mind wandering, thinking about others, thinking about one’s self, remembering the past, and envisioning the future. This network has everything to do with the egoic self that we are identified with. The main structures of default mode network are precuneus, posterior cingulate cortex, medial prefrontal cortex and certain other areas.

This indicates that the solid entity of ‘me and my story’ categorized by the left-brain interpreter has a need to be enhanced and protected. The whole process of enhancing and protecting this entity can be observed as a constant activity in the default mode network during the resting state of the brain. This activity can in turn feed and activate the left-brain interpreter again.

Excessive activity in default mode network has been correlated with depression. It has also been found that decreased activity in default mode network correlates with increased happiness.

Based my own experience and according to various studies done on mindfulness meditation, I can say mindfulness reduces the activity in default mode network and changes the perception of self. The practise of Buddhist mindfulness and contemplating on the nature of reality ultimately leads to removing the psychological boundaries of ‘me’ and the ‘world’. The effects of mindfulness in improving emotional regulation and changing the perspective of ‘self’ has been discussed in detailed in the papers ‘‘How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective’’ and ‘Neuroscience of Mindfulness’.

Neural mechanisms of suffering

Dr. Rick Hanson, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist, has written a wonderful book called ‘Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom’. In this book, he has attempted to bridge science with the traditional Buddhist teachings. He explains the neural mechanisms of suffering and explains how, by meditation, one can bring neuroplastic changes in the brain and end suffering.

So, what exactly happens when our brain perceives a threat to our self-image?. Our brain regards it as a danger and activates the amygdala. Here is how he describes it:

“Something happens. It might be a car suddenly cutting you off, a put-down from a coworker, or even just a worrisome thought. Social and emotional conditions can pack a wallop like physical ones since psychological pain draws on many of the same neural networks as physical pain (Eisenberger and Lieberman 2004); this is why getting rejected can feel as bad as a root canal. Even just anticipating a challenging event—such as giving a talk next week—can have as much impact as living through it for real. Whatever the source of the threat, the amygdala sounds the alarm, setting off several reactions: The thalamus—the relay station in the middle of your head—sends a “Wake up!” signal to your brain stem, which in turn releases stimulating norepinephrine throughout your brain. norepinephrine throughout your brain. The SNS sends signals to the major organs and muscle groups in your body, readying them for fighting or fleeing. The hypothalamus—the brain’s primary regulator of the endocrine system—prompts the pituitary gland to signal the adrenal glands to release the “stress hormones”epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol.

Within a second or two of the initial alarm, your brain is on red alert, your SNS is lit up like a Christmas tree, and stress hormones are washing through your blood. In other words, you’re at least a little upset. What’s going on in your body? Epinephrine increases your heart rate (so your heart can move more blood) and dilates your pupils (so your eyes gather more light). Norepinephrine shunts blood to large muscle groups. Meanwhile, the bronchioles of your lungs dilate for increased gas exchange—enabling you to hit harder or run faster. Cortisol suppresses the immune system to reduce inflammation from wounds. It also revs up stress reactions in two circular ways: First, it causes the brain stem to stimulate the amygdala further, which increases amygdala activation of the SNS/HPAA system—which produces more cortisol. Second, cortisol suppresses hippocampal activity (which normally inhibits the amygdala); this takes the brakes off the amygdala, leading to yet more cortisol. Reproduction is sidelined—no time for sex when you’re running for cover. The same for digestion: salivation decreases and peristalsis slows down, so your mouth feels dry and you become constipated. Your emotions intensify, organizing and mobilizing the whole brain for action. SNS/HPAA arousal stimulates the amygdala, which is hardwired to focus on negative information and react intensely to it. Consequently, feeling stressed sets you up for fear and anger. As limbic and endocrine activation increases, the relative strength of executive control from the PFC declines. It’s like being in a car with a runaway accelerator: the driver has less control over her vehicle. Further, the PFC is also affected by SNS/HPAA arousal, which pushes appraisals, attributions of others’ intentions, and priorities in a negative direction: now the driver of the careening car thinks everybody else is an idiot. For example, consider the difference between your take on a situation when you’re upset and your thoughts about it later when you’re calmer. In the harsh physical and social environments in which we evolved, this activation of multiple bodily systems helped our ancestors survive. But what’s the cost of this today, with the chronic low-grade stresses of modern life? “

This constant  ‘SNS/HPAA arousal’ (Sympathetic nervous system –  hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis) when a threat is perceived for this ‘egoic self’ is the reason why we go through unnecessary stress and suffering. Practices like mindfulness shrinks amygdala and inhibits SNS/HPAA arousal. Many years of mindfulness practise combined with insights of reality produces neuroplastic changes in the brain which results in spiritual enlightenment.

In addition to this Rick also explains how a duality is created:

 

  • “The parietal lobes of the brain are located in the upper back of the head (a “lobe” is a rounded swelling of the cortex). For most people, the left lobe establishes that the body is distinct from the world, and the right lobe indicates where the body is compared to features in its environment. The result is an automatic, underlying assumption along the lines of I am separate and independent. Although this is true in some ways, in many important ways it is not.

 

  • Since we are each connected and interdependent with the world, our attempts to be separate and independent are regularly frustrated, which produces painful signals of disturbance and threat.”

Neural Correlates of Non-dual Awareness

Now, we are going to look at another paper called ‘’Neural correlates of nondual awareness in meditation‘, which talks about a nonconceptual nondual awareness (NDA) that abides, ordinarily unrecognized, in the background of all conscious experiencing.

The paper gives a detailed  description of the non-dual awareness:

“This background awareness appears in meditation to be unitary and unchanging—a cognizance that is in itself empty of content, yet clearly aware and blissful—whereas various sensory, affective, and cognitive contents, and the various states of arousal appear to it as dynamic processes or, as a well-known metaphor states, like images in a mirror.NDA is characterized, among others, by its reflexive property—it knows itself to be conscious without relying on subsequent moments of conceptual cognition. According to some traditions,our inability to ordinarily detect NDA is due to an obscuration of this reflexive property by mistaken cognitions arising from substrate consciousness.

Although NDA is experienced in meditation as a vivid presence of empty awareness that knows itself directly without mediation by conceptual thought, substrate consciousness is experienced as a pleasantly restful absorbed state, akin to deep sleep yet not entirely unconscious, which one knows retroactively. The question of what may be the relationship of NDA to subjectivity and a sense of self has been a matter of considerable debate among various Asian philosophies and is beyond the scope of this review.”

The result of the studies suggest that ‘Precuneus awareness network’ is responsible for the non-dual awareness:

“Although our previous study did not find statistically significant differences in connectivity of individual ROIs, the connectivity of the central precuneus ROI was marginally higher for the NDA condition. The above statement has led us to hypothesize that the central precuneus network might be significantly involved in NDA. Our interest in this region was furthered by participants’ reports of the presence of two particular features of NDA: reflexivity, traditionally described as awareness being aware of itself; and spatial extendedness, described as the sameness of space inside and outside of one’s body.

Preliminary data from this study indicate that NDA resulted in an increase in connectivity between the central precuneus and the dlPFC, accompanied by a decrease in connectivity between the central precuneus and the right angular gyrus (rAng), whereas the connectivity of the rAng to the right dlPFC and left dorso-medial prefrontal cortex increased, and the interhemispheric connectivity between the left and right dlPFC decreased.

Interestingly, no significant changes in connectivity have been observed between the central precuneus and the medial prefrontal cortex, and between the dorsal anterior cingulate (ACC) and other ROIs.”

Following are the interpretations made based on the observation:

    1. An increase in functional connectivity between the central precuneus and dlPFC could be indicative of a degree of unity of awareness 95 and related to the reflexivity of NDA, as information from the central precuneus is maintained online in working memory.
    2. The observed decrease in connectivity of the central precuneus to the right angular gyrus may be contributing to experiences of spatial extendedness, as the two areas are together involved in integrating spatial reference frames.
    3. The absence of significant changes in functional connectivity between the central precuneus and the areas of the medial prefrontal cortex may indicate that during NDA, even with minimized phenomenal content, there is no active suppression of self-referential processing such as that seen in FA or OM meditations.
    4. The absence of significant changes in connectivity of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) may be indicative of the more effortless, less cognitively controlled nature of NDA meditation.

A Contemporary Theory of Awakening – by Richard Boyle

Another noteworthy scientist who did research on spiritual enlightenment is Dr.Richard Boyle. He has worked as a Senior Research Scientist at the Institute for Social Research, University of New Mexico. He has written a book called ‘Realizing Awakened Consciousness – Interviews with Buddhist Teachers and a New Perspective on the Mind’ which has a collection of interviews with eleven prominent Western Buddhist teachers (Shinzen Young, John Tarrant, Ken McLeod, Ajahn Amaro, Martine Batchelor, Shaila Catherine, Gil Fronsdal, Stephen Batchelor, Pat Enkyo O’Hara, Bernie Glassman, and Joseph Goldstein) and one scientist (James Austin) who have experienced awakening.

He has published a paper called ‘Cracking the Buddhist Code:A Contemporary Theory of Awakening’ in  Journal of Consciousness Studies. Here is the abstract of the paper, which makes a lot of sense:

“The theory proposes that what Buddhists and others have called awakening is the same thing as “pure perceptual experience,” defined as the awareness our perceptual systems would present to us if they acted on their own, with no interference from conceptual systems. Two forms of interference are particularly apt to interfere with pure perceptual experience: uncontrolled inner speech (wandering thoughts, monkey mind) and distortion of perception to fit reified conceptual structures. Monkey mind has been shown to be caused by hyper-activity in the Default Mode Network (DMN) of the brain, which happens whenever nothing else demands our attention. Reification occurs, especially, in three kinds of symbolic structures, all of which we acquire as part of the culture we are born into:

  1. Scripts, which describe situations and events and prescribe appropriate behavior.
  2. Conceptual systems – theories, belief systems, social reality, world views, theologies and ideologies, etc.
  3. The underlying construct of four dimensional spacetime, in which we think we live.

The fact that predispositions toward uncontrolled DMN activity and reification of conceptual structures are essentially universal among humans means (at least within the realm of science) that they must have evolutionary roots. However, some people have and do overcome these two biological predispositions by engaging in such special practices as meditation and forms of inquiry. The theory seeks to specify how all this works in more detail and a way that allows the predictions to be studied.”

Persistent Non-Symbolic Experiences

Dr. Jeffery A. Martin is a founder of the Transformative Technology space, serial entrepreneur and social scientist who researches personal transformation and the states of greatest human well-being. He spent the last 10 years conducting the largest international study on persistent non-symbolic experience (PNSE), which includes the types of consciousness commonly known as: enlightenment, nonduality, the peace that passeth understanding, unitive experience, and hundreds of others. More recently, he has used this research to make systems available to help people obtain profound psychological benefits in a rapid, secular, reliable, and safe way.

He has done research on over 1200 participants (who claim to be enlightened) all over the world and he has made many publications. He has documented various traits that he has observed in enlightened people in his paper ‘Clusters of Individual Experiences form a Continuum of Persistent Non-Symbolic Experiences in Adults’ . The list of his publications can be read at his website.

Other scientists who were involved

Apart from the ones that I have mentioned, there are many other scientists who have done research on this topic and have written books about it.

Arthur J. Deikman, who was a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California did a lot of research on the subject and coined a term called ‘Mystical psychosis’.This term is used to to characterize first-person accounts of psychotic experiences that are strikingly similar to reports of mystical experiences. When Arthur himself went through a mystical experience, he became more interested in this subject. You can find many of his articles on his website. One particular article ‘Awareness’ explains the non-dual awareness in detail.

Modern scientists like Culadasa and Sam Harris are also worth mentioning. They have written books about meditations and spiritual awakenings. Abraham Moslow’s theory of self-actualization is the earliest description in psychology of the ultimate human potential, which is very close to self-realization. Willaim James, an early psychologist have studied various spiritual experiences and have written a book about it.

Conclusion

What do we get from all these studies which have been conducted? They all offer various clues on the direction that we need to go, in order to do more research. While we can’t derive strong conclusions based on the existing evidence, they make it very easy to narrow down to the exact neural correlates involved in spiritual enlightenment.

Many neuroscientists are interested in researching spiritual awakenings, as they now know that it is about something that definitely exists as a possibility for human beings to end their suffering and live a more peaceful life. As Neuroscience grows, we will soon have many ways to study the brain and understand exactly how a spiritual process works.

You can read about my own spiritual transformation in the following two articles:

  1. The Journey of a Seeker
  2. Spiritual Enlightenment – Is it a Myth or Real?

 

 

Apidhamma – An Overview of Buddhist Psychology

Buddha was one of the earliest psychologists of human history. Modern Psychologists are impressed by the vast psychological knowledge present in the Buddhist doctrine. When investigating the mind to find the cause and cessation of suffering, Buddha took an approach that is similar to the scientific method employed in modern scientific research.

The collection of canonical texts revered as exclusively authoritative in Theravada Buddhism is known as Tripitaka, which means ‘Three baskets’.

Here is a short description of those three baskets:

(1) The basket of expected discipline from monks (Vinaya Piṭaka)

It consists of rules and regulations of monastic life including dress code, dietary rules and prohibitions of certain personal conducts.

2) The basket of discourse (Sūtra Piṭaka, Nikayas)

This is the collection of discourses given by Buddha,

(3) The basket of special doctrine (Abhidharma Piṭaka)

This includes technical, analytical and systematic content with deep insights into the psychology human mind. It was taught by Buddha to his most eminent disciples.

buddhist psychology

Apidhamma talks about two truths: Ultimate truth (Sammuti Sacca)and Conventional truth (Paramattha Sacca):

Conventional truth: The world we perceive which appears to have individuals interacting with each other is the conventional truth. We use our conventional language to express different things in the conventional truth. The idea that there is an individual self which is the essence of a human being is an apparent reality but ultimately, there is no individual self or essence.

This concept of a relative truth also exists in Vedanta, which is called Vyāvahārika (vyavahara), or samvriti-saya.

Ultimate truth: When we look at the truth in ultimate level, there is no self or an entity in reality. All that exist are aggregates or skandhas. The five aggregates or heaps are: form (or matter or body) (rupa), sensations (or feelings, received from form) (vedana), perceptions (samjna), mental activity or formations (sankhara), and consciousness (vijnana). These five aggregates completely explain a sentient being’s physical and mental existence.

So, anything you think as individual is actually made up of these five aggregates each of which are “not I, and not myself”. According to Buddha, clinging to these aggregates as if they are real is what causes suffering.

When we negate all these aggregates as not self, that which remains is ‘sunyata’ translated as ‘emptiness’ in English. But Buddha chose to express everything in negative terminology and hence Sunyata just explains what it is not. According to that definition, the reality, the ultimate truth which exists is free of any essence, anything that can be conceived by mind or senses.

But this ‘Sunyata’ in Buddhism and the ‘Brahman’ described in Vedanta is actually the same. The problem with the word Brahman is that it lets one to imagine Brahman as something, an entity or an essence. But even the Vedantic texts say that Brahman cannot be described in words because it is not possible to objectify it in anyway. It is not possible to mentally conceive an image or description about Brahman but it can be realized and seen as the truth of everything we perceive, by direct experiential knowledge. There is a term called ‘Anubhava’ which has the aspects of both experience and knowledge of the absolute truth. In Vedanta, this absolute or ultimate reality is called as Vyāvahārika satya (vyavahara), or samvriti-saya.

Buddhism goes even deeper than Vedanta in explaining psychological aspects of human thought.

Dhammas

The reality can also be described in terms of Dhammas.Dhammas are the ultimate entities or momentary events which make up the fabric of our experience of reality. The conventional reality of substantial objects and persons is just a conceptual construct created by the mind on a constant flow of dhammas which appear and disappear.

There are four categories of dhammas:

Citta – It is one’s mindset, or state of mind but cannot be classified as an aggregate because it is neither an entity nor a process.

Cetasika (mental factors, mental events, associated mentality)- the mental factors are categorized as formations (samskaras) concurrent with Citta. There are 52 types of Cetasika.

Rūpa — (physical occurrences, material form), 28 types

Nibbāna — (Extinction, cessation). This dharma is unconditioned it neither arises nor ceases due to causal interaction.

Many other concepts such as svabhava and causality exist in Buddhist psychology. In Buddhism, a deep insight into a person’s mind stream to see the impermanence, suffering and anatta (non-self) in everything perceived in a person’s citta is stressed for the cessation of suffering.

The core practice of Buddhist path to liberation is mindfulness. Being mindful of one’s moment to moment experience including thoughts, sensations, volition, states of mind etc with non-judgemental attitude, openness and acceptance gives insights into workings of the mind and ultimately leads to cessation of suffering and Nirvana.

A simple outline of this spiritual path excluding all its complex theoretical structure is explained in my post ‘Awakening through Mindfulness’.

I have explained my own journey in the following articles:

1.The Journey of a Seeker

2.Spiritual enlightenment – Is it a Myth or Real