From Depression to Bliss – My Old Notes From School Days

I was going through a small bag that I have preserved since school days. I came across a few notes written by me when I was in school. I am sharing those notes with you to show you how depressed and helpless I was in school days. I have omitted certain parts of them. The practice of mindfulness was what cured me from depression and helped me realize my own nature and find my own true bliss.

Here are the pictures of those notes:

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The last picture is not very clear. I have mentioned there that sometimes I used to weep for no reason. It was a mystery for me and I didn’t know what caused my tears without reason.

My depression was very hard to bear and I thought of commiting suicide many times. But it was that suffering which made me to seek the ultimate liberation.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – A Therapy based on Eastern Spiritual Concepts

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

This pic belongs to a group for Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT) in FB. ACT is a modern day therapy based on Eastern spiritual techniques like mindfulness, and is used to treat depression, anxiety disorders and many other psychological issues. I have mentioned ACT in my book as it actually helps to bridge science and spirituality, which is also one of my visions.

In my book, I have talked about several psychological concepts like hedonic treadmill, self concept, cognitive dissonance, cognitive biases, operant conditioning, brain and it’s functions, especially the left brain interpreter etc, in an attempt to show an empirical validity for certain spiritual concepts which I found to be true iny experience.

For people who want to explore ACT, I recommend reading the books of author Russ Harris; his latest book covers in depth about ACT. This therapy has a very good future and potential. Dr.Russ Harris is also one of my friends in FB now and he wished all the best for my book. I have quoted him in my book too. So I thank him for accepting my friend request and welcome him to our friends club.

From his bio:

Russ Harris is an internationally acclaimed acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) trainer and author of the best-selling ACT-based self-help book The Happiness Trap, which has sold over 600,000 copies and been published in thirty languages. He is widely renowned for his ability to teach ACT in a way that is simple, clear, and fun–yet extremely practical.

I have stressed the importance of witnessing meditation enough in my blog and book. But when I came across a quote by Sigmund Freud in an ACT group, I was pretty surprised that even he was aware of the power of witnessing. Witnessing is not about just noticing one’s thoughts. It stands on a firm spiritual understanding of the three marks of existence and the discrimination between the subject and the object. So witnessing meditation may seem to be too simple to ignore but it is very subtle and understanding it is very tricky. Here is the quote from Freud:

Sigmund Freud quotes

A Human Being Is Not An Entity But A Process

I have noticed that human beings often judge other people based on the notion that a human being is a static entity. When they talk about other human beings, they somehow unconsciously assume that the person never changes. We often reduce human beings into mere labels such as ‘he is a good guy’, ‘he is a bad guy’ etc. We tend to define human beings and confine people within the boundary of a definition. This is usually based on a very short time acquaintance with another human being. You may know a person for the past six months and within those six months that person has already been conceptualized as a static entity inside your mind; Based on how you react to the experiences with that person, you tend to form an opinion that never changes in your life. I mean, you never bother to revise that opinion.

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We often say that the first impression is the best impression. I think that is wrong. The first impression is the worst impression. Because the first impression is usually formed with insufficient data. You hardly know a person but you think you have already figured it out. The saddest part is, this first impression is usually difficult to change. Because of this, people often stress the importance of leaving a good impression at first meeting. This is often given as a self help advice. But people should also be advised about the fact that the first impressions about a human being in your mind doesn’t capture the full picture of what that person is.

In fact, it is impossible to grasp a full picture of a human being. Because, as I said, a human being is a process. In the lifetime of about 60 years, a human being undergoes many changes. He very frequently changes his ideologies and opinions, regrets his past actions, refines his behaviour, learns new things and tries to be more mature.

Every human being is born as a clean slate but has the genetics to have some predisposed qualities or characters. This genetic part is under nobody’s control. You are simply born with certain genes and it was not your choice. But a person learns behaviours and thought patterns by interacting with the environment. Everybody tends to repeat the behaviours which are rewarding and stop the behaviours which lead to unpleasant consequences. This type of conditioning is called operant conditioning. So how a person behaves at any given moment is a product of his genetics and his learned behaviours.

Usually, the type of environment a person gets to interact with and the type of people he gets influenced by is not in his control either. The environment is so huge with complex network of thousands of people who influence what you think and how you behave; but the human being is so tiny. He can’t control what he interacts with completely. So, if you think about it, a person is helpless when it comes to his character at any given moment. He has so and so character traits because of thousands of factors which was not under his control. Of course, everyone has free will but the free will is only an appearance. Any decision that you make in any given moment is tied to both your genetics and everything that you have learned and absorbed from the different environments you have interacted with in your entire life.

If you understand this correctly, it will automatically increase your compassion towards other human beings. It will make you more tolerant, accept other human beings as they are and forgive them easily for their defects.

Second, it is a fallacy to judge people based on their past actions. What a person did ten years before is not important and it doesn’t define how he is now. He interacts with the environment everyday and lets it shape him. So everybody goes through waves of personal transformations throughout their lives. To understand this, let us recall what I said in the beginning of this post: a human being is not an entity but a process.

There is a beautiful story in ancient Indian literature. Valmiki, the author of Ramayana was said to be a thief once. After his interaction with Narada, he is said to have completely transformed. This story gives an example of how a thief turns into a saint because of his interaction with the environment. Oscar Wilde says “The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”. Future opens the door for transformation.

I would even say that the words like saint and sinner are mere labels which do not capture the totality of a human being. A human being is way more huge and complex than these labels. Every human being usually has good intentions, passions, care for loved ones and understanding and tolerance towards other human beings. But sometimes things go wrong and they end up learning behaviours and ideas which deviate from the social norm. All that needs to be done is to make those people unlearn those behaviours. If humanity does more research on that, we can come up with better options than punishments. Punishments are barbaric and only some poor unluckier ones go through it. The rich and influential can often get away without going through legal actions, in spite of committing crimes that are worse.

Some Wonderful lyrics of Tamil Poet Vairamuthu Regarding Spirituality

Generally, I prefer movies which show reality as it is, like a mirror. A lot of Indian movies are usually anti-reality, but things are getting better. There are a few Tamil lyrics written by Tamil poet Vairamuthu, who is currently the top lyricist in Tamil Movie Industry.

Let us start with a wonderful movie ‘Anbe Sivam’ (2003). The movie itself comes with a strong spiritual message and seems to be inspired by the Hollywood movie ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles ‘. You can compare the stills, they look alike:

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Now, let us see a song in the movie with its English translation:

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“யார் யார் சிவம்? நீ, நான், சிவம்!
வாழ்வே தவம்! அன்பே சிவம்!
ஆத்திகம் பேசும் அடியார்க்கெல்லாம் சிவமே அன்பாகும்!
நாத்திகம் பேசும் நல்லவருக்கோ அன்பே சிவமாகும்!
அன்பே சிவம்! அன்பே சிவம்! என்றும்,
அன்பே சிவம்! அன்பே சிவம்! எங்கும்,
அன்பின் பாதை சேர்ந்தவனுக்கு முடிவே இல்லையடா!
மனதின் நீளம் எதுவோ, அதுவே வாழ்வின் நீளமடா!

  • கவிப்பேரரசு வைரமுத்து

Who is Shiva? You and I are (essentially) Shiva!
Life is a penance; Love is Shiva!
For theists who surrender to the Almighty, Shiva is love!
For atheists who are good at heart, Love is Shiva!
Love is Shiva, Love is Shiva forever!
Love is Shiva, Love is Shiva everywhere!
If you walk on the path of life, there is no end for you..
The length of your mind (heart) is the length of your life!

  • Vairamuthu, The Great King of Poets

(If you do a search, you may be able to watch the movie online with English subtitles. I recommend watching both ”Planes, Trains and Automobiles ‘ and ‘Anbe Shivam‘ if you are interested in both movies and spirituality.

Then there is another song from the movie Padayappa (1999). Here is just a part of that song, which I like very much:

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தங்கத்தை பூட்டி வைத்தாய் வைரத்தை பூட்டி வைத்தாய்
உயிரை பூட்ட ஏது பூட்டு?
குழந்தை ஞானி இந்த இருவர் தவிர இங்கே
சுகமாய் இருப்பவர் யார் காட்டு!
“ஜீவன் இருக்கும் மட்டும் வாழ்கை நமது மட்டும்”
இது தான் ஞான சித்தர் பாட்டு!
இந்த பூமி சமம் நமக்கு;
நம் தெருவுக்குள் மத சண்டை ஜாதி சண்டை வம்பெதுக்கு?

  • கவிப்பேரரசு வைரமுத்து

You can lock the gold, you can lock the diamond,
but you cannot lock your life inside a body!
Is there anyone who is blissful except a child and a Jnani (self-realized person)?
Only as long as life is in the body, you can say that life belongs to only me.
This is the song of the Jnana Siddha!
Everyone has equal rights on the earth (like a family)..
Why should there be quarrels in our street based on religious and caste discrimination?

  • Vairamuthu, The Great King of Poets

 

Controversies on Vairamuthu

People, especially politicians in Tamil Nadu have been trying to malign and defame Vairamuthu because of an absurd reason. Vairamuthu wrote a research article about a Tamil saint Andal, completely praising her Tamil poetry.  He also quoted a researcher who said that Andal was a Devadasi who lived and died in Sri Rangam temple in Tamil Nadu. Devadasi literally means, a slave to God! A huge community called Devadasi community existed in South India and the women who belonged to this community were brought up in temples right from the young age and were taught fine arts. Women are usually good at fine arts like dancing, singing, painting etc. You can check out Sreeja Renganath from Quora for example: https://www.quora.com/profile/Sreeja-Renganath. For me, she seems to be the living manifestation of Goddess Saraswathi, the Goddess of wisdom. I am not being polite, I am being brutally honest. Read this answer of hers, you will know what I mean: https://qr.ae/TUhfF0 (an English name which represents wisdom is ‘Sophia’. This can be said like the English concept of Sarasvathi.)

Devadasis were wonderful women. Usually, they grew up to be extraordinarily devoted and consider God as the master and themselves as slaves. This is called Dasa Bhavana, the attitude that Hanuman is shown to have towards Rama in Indian epic Ramayana. These girls saw the Almighty as their husband. But later on, some people who were in charge of some temples started enslaving these Devadasis, took advantage of them and used them for prostitution. People who are so attached to the forms of deities (without realizing that all forms represent one truth), who claim that their ‘God’ can be insulted, should first realize that this tragedy that happened to Devadasi community was the actual insult to Goddess Saraswathi. Over the years, the word ‘Devadasi’ earned a bad connotation. The word ‘Devadasi’ can be very easily misunderstood nowadays as a synonym for prostitute. So, thousands of people who didn’t even read Vairamuthu’s essay started to verbally abuse him, threatened to kill him, forced him to apologize to Andal by coming to Andal’s temple in Srivilliputtur and made his life difficult after that for no reason. Vairamuthu didn’t do anything wrong in this regard!

Recently, he also has been accused of sexual harassment by a singer Chinmayi in Tamil Nadu, via the METOO campaign. Chinmayi made an allegation on him and the poet denied it.  Chinmayi says that it was something that happened more than a decade before. I have no idea who is saying the truth! But the impression that singer Chinmayi has made in general among the people of Tamil Nadu is not good. I sense a dominative character in Chinmayi and I suspect that she can lie or at least exaggerate something and make a mountain out of the molehill. Generally, after looking at the METOO issue, everyone gets this question: ‘Is this campaign really helping common men and women or is it only targetting celebrities? Because I know very well that most of these common people in India do not use Twitter or have never heard about it. Also, what makes these people to think that a person is exactly the same as how he was more than a decade ago?’

People change… But forgiveness, which seems to be the backbone of all the world religions is becoming an out of date concept these days!

The truth will win one day! No matter what the truth is, it will win! I just wrote this post to help people see and focus the positive side of poet Vairamuthu. He is a legend..

For the sake of the argument, let us say that Vairamuthi was indeed guilty of things that he is accused of. We need to still realize the fact that every saint was once a sinner and every sinner has the potential to become a saint. A human being is not a static entity, it is a process! Even Valmiki, who wrote Ramayana is said to be a robber before he became a saint!

This post is an expression of gratitude to Andal herself. The month of Marghazhi (16 Dec 2018 – 13 Jan 2019) which is considered to be special for Andal is also approaching. The name Andal reminds me of my English teacher at Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal Golden Jubilee Matriculation higher secondary school, Sankarnagar, Tirunelveli -627357. My English teacher in my seventh standard was a teacher named Andal. Whenever someone says my English is good, please understand the whole credit goes to her. Folded Hands on EmojiOne

These are the letters  that she wrote to me many years before:

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Wow, the first one is dated on 24th of  November, 1997. I didn’t realize that the anniversary of this letter was over just a couple of days before until I began to write this paragraph… (I have already mentioned about this letter and a few other letters in my Quora answer here: https://qr.ae/TUhfPb )

Satyameva Jayate!

The Truth About Yantras, Chakras, Temples, Tantra and Agamas

A Yantra is nothing but a map for meditation. The map can be used externally to build temples and internally to practice Yoga. A Yantra represents something called a Mandala.

Here is a raw skeleton of a simple Mandala:

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If you want to construct a room only for meditation (certain Tantric meditations that I will discuss shortly), you can construct a beautiful room with this map. The circle at the center is a place for an idol or a statue. This statue itself should be designed in a way so that each aspect of the statue represents a deep meaning. This central idol is surrounded by three small idols around it. The idea behind such a place is to create an emotional association with meditation by decorating this room, playing melodious songs, by making it a practice to take bath before entering the room etc. When you meditate in this place every day, just looking at the map or mandala can trigger a meditative feeling in you or make you ready to meditate. It can capture your attention in a minute and change your thought flow to something that is advantageous to meditation. This works based on something called ‘classical conditioning’.

If you want another example for classical conditioning, then do this: think about the days when you fall in love for the first time, wear the same kind of perfume that you were wearing in those days and listen to the song that you heard often those days. It will remind you of those beautiful days. This can be used to your own advantage. This is the science behind Yantras and temples. It is based on psychology, not based on physics or chemistry.

There is also a kind of meditation that you would do with these yantras and the temples modeled using Yantras. Let me first give you a model of another simple Yantra here:

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It has four surrounding deities instead of 3. This was actually the very common form of design when people started to use these things in the very beginning. Because these four surrounding deities represent four directions. Almost all religious groups in ancient India including a lot of folk religious practices had deities for directions. These deities were simply absorbed into Tantric practices as devices. This also helped those religious practitioners to convert their superstitious religious sentiments to a psychological device.

Here is an example of Vajrapani mandala in Vajrayana Buddhism following the same model:

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First, I will explain how you meditate based on this Yantra. You have to visualize yourself as the central deity and visualize the four deities of four directions as the extensions of yourself. This is the basis of Vajrayana and Tantric meditations. With more practice, you can visualize the mandala quite accurately.

You can make it more effective by constructing a temple using this mandala. When you fill the temple with unique sense perceptions like lamps, smell of camphor and flowers, chants etc and keep the place free from other distractions, then doing tantric meditations in such a place will gradually associate all these sense perceptions with meditation itself. So, an exposure to even one of this sense perception will be helpful to a great extent by changing the course of your thought stream and making it inclined towards meditation.

The energy you feel when you enter such a place comes from your own body and not from the mandala. Because a rush of emotions certainly affects your body as much it affects your mind. (When a teacher enters a noisy classroom on the day when you forgot to do your homework, does the energy of sudden fear you feel come from the teacher or happen in your own body?).

During the Vedic period, there were no temples or idols. Temples emerged as the result of people who started practicing these meditations in the late 1st millennium BC, probably a couple of centuries after the period of Buddha. Almost all Shiva temples are built with Shaiva Agamas and all Vishnu temples are built with Pancharatra or Vaikhanasa agamas, which are Tantric agamas that deal with these things in detail. (Sri Ramanuja played a major role in promoting Pancharatra. He replaced Vaikhanasa with Pancharatra in Sri Rangam temple and most of the other temples too. Tirupati temple is an example of the temple which follows Vaikhanasa agamas).

The beauty of such mandalas is that, the people who created it made sure that each aspect of it has a deep spiritual meaning. So, this accomplishes another purpose as well, by acting as mnemonic devices. When you understand how it works, you can take advantage of all the benefits it offers.

For example, Pancharatra has a concept of Viyuha in which there are four deities: Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha. Here, Vasudeva represents the Purusha or Shiva or the absolute; Sankarshana represents Prakriti or Shakthi; Pradyumna represents the mind (your likes and dislikes) and Aniruddha represents ahamkara (ego). In some tantric texts, nine deities are used instead of four: (1) Vāsudeva, (2) Saṅkarṣaṇa, (3) Pradyumna, (4) Aniruddha, (5) Nārāyaṇa, (6) Nṛsiṁha, (7) Hayagrīva, (8) Mahāvarāha, and (9) Brahmā.

But just buying a Yantra and keeping it in the home will do nothing. You need to understand what each aspect of Yantra represents and use it for meditation after completely understanding the design, the purpose and the pointers that the Yantra represents. Because all these are psychological.

But there is another purpose for Yantras which is the most important one. After some point, you should start seeing your own body and mind representing a Yantra. You understand yourself as a living temple and locate each deity at a particular place in your body.

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Let us take the above image as an example. This is a Shatkona, my favorite one. The symbol has two triangles.

  1. The regular triangle represents the absolute and each side of it represents Sat, Chit, and Ananda which means truth, consciousness, and bliss.
  2. The inverted triangle represents Prakriti and her three states or qualities: Sattva (balance), Rajas (activity), Tamas (inertia or lethargy).

The union of these two triangles represents the union of Purusha and Prakriti, which is actually the essence of non-duality. So, this star is a perfect symbol of spiritual enlightenment itself.

If I have to use this mandala for a temple, then I would need 7 deities, one for the central deity and 6 for the surrounding ones. If I were to internalize these 7 deities then I would need 7 locations in the body. When you are in a cross-legged sitting position, how would you divide your whole body starting from your butt to your head into 7?

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This is how you can do it. There is no other way! This is the truth about chakras.

Do you know that initially there were only 4 Chakras and not 7? I will tell you why.

Before the common era and during the late first millennium BC, there was no concept of chakras. But people did have a concept about Nadis. They thought that there is a Sushumna Nadi in the center. People believed that when a person dies, his spirit exits through one of the nine holes of the body. They also believed that if the spirit goes upwards through Shushumna Nadi and exits the body by breaking the top of the head, he will go to heaven. That sounded reasonable to them because if the heaven is somewhere above, then spirit should move upwards. Many texts talk about voluntarily moving the soul or spirit through Shushumna Nadi at the time of the death to make sure that the person reaches the heaven. They called this practice Utkranti. Utkranti was also used to mean traveling from one body to another. It is this Utkranti which is called as Mahasamadhi in modern days.

The concept of chakras actually emerged much later. Chakras are just an attempt to internalize the locations and deities of a mandala or a yantra. It developed just a 1000 or 1200 years before, between 8th century AD to 10th century AD.

  1. Hevajra Tantra, one of the Buddhist tantric texts during the period of 8th century AD talks about just 4 chakras. The reason they chose four is quite obvious. It is because most of the early Tantric mandalas were based on four directions and assigning 4 deities to each direction. In Buddhist tantras, the following four deities called ‘four heavenly kings’ were used in meditations. The concept is same as the four forms used in Pancharatra. So, during 8th century AD, they internalized these four deities as four chakras in the body.

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2. Kaulajnananirnaya which contains the core teachings of Matsyendranath describes a system of 11 chakras. This text is also from the same time period. Please note that Matsyendranath is one of the yogis who is quoted by Sadhguru often. But Sadhguru himself doesn’t know that Matsyendranath talked about 11 chakras and not 7.

3. Abhinavagupta, a great mystic of Kashmir Shaivism had adopted a five chakra model.

4. Sat Chakra Nirupana, another Tantric text talks about a six chakra model.

This is how slowly the system evolved into the current system of seven chakras. They are conceptual and were only meant for visualizations. But it is this concept of Chakras which has become a huge business in the world today.

Here is a picture of Kali Yantra:

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First of all, What do these 36 corners represent?

During 8th – 6th century BC, people were interested in going inward to find a way out of suffering. When they explored and enumerated the contents of the consciousness, each sect or group of monks came with different numbers as indivisible entities of one’s conscious field… Buddha came with five and called it five aggregates. Vedanta also came up with five and called it five koshas. Samkhya came with 24 units or tattvas by including sense perceptions, sense organs, organs of actions (hands, legs, speech, excretion, reproduction) and five elements. This way of enumerating the contents of consciousness and coming up with these basic units continued for about 1500 years. Kashmir Shaivism, which is the youngest of all ( which has influenced Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev a lot ) came with 36 basic units. They are called as 36 tattvas. The 36 corners of this yantra represent 36 tattvas.

Each unit was like an atom of the internal world. Vaisheshika, a school of thought in India is called as atomism because it enumerated the contents of consciousness this way and divided them to inseparable things called ‘anu’. But this has been greatly misunderstood by people. There are people who think that these anus/atoms are the actual atoms that we study in Physics.. No, not at all!

Let me explain how this enumeration works. Let us say you look at a tree. You can explore the tree and enumerate its units by dividing the tree into its parts, narrowing down to its molecules, atoms, electrons and quantum particles.

But this is not what we do in spiritual practice. In spiritual path, this is how people see it:

1)When you look at a tree, there is a perception of a form. But where does this perception happen? It happens within the field of consciousness. So, a visual sense perception is actually one of the 36 units.

2)This visual perception is accomplished through eyes, hence eye as a sense organ is also one of the 36 units.

3)Is what is perceived a solid, liquid, gas, the heat which reacts with these three or the empty space in which it occurs? It is a perception of a solid structure. And this solid nature is made as one of the 36 units too, making it as one of the Panchabhutas.

4)Now, what kind of feeling does this perception create in the consciousness? It may create like, dislike or a neutral feeling. This is called manas and it is also one of the 36 units.

5)Does this perception trigger a memory? Oh yes… So memory or Chitta is also one of the 36.

6) What did I use to discriminate all these things? I used my intellect. So intellect or Buddhi is also one of the units.

7) Who is doing all this? It is just happening but it gives you an illusion that ‘you’ as a personal entity separate from the existence is doing it. This is ego or Ahankara is also one of the 36.

This way, people enumerated the contents of consciousness which was helpful for them to discriminate between the awareness and the contents of awareness.

So, this enumeration has got nothing to do with physics or chemistry as many people tend to believe. It is a process of deep investigation of the contents of the field of your conscious subjective experience itself.

The central Bindhu in the Kali Yantra or the central Linga in the Linga Bhairavi yantra represents the Atman, witness or your true nature. The 5 inverted triangle around the Bindu represents the Vedantic way of enumeration which is 5 koshas. They represent your body, breath, your mind, intellect and experience/bliss.

The eight lotuses represent Prakriti or nature and symbolize another way of enumeration. The eight things are solid, liquid, gas, heat, space, activity, inertia and balance. This is a bit outward focused and was probably added to symbolize the nature as we observe it through our five senses. A meditation using this Yantra will require a very complicated visualization.

I can go on and on and explain why Yantras have played a very important role in the spiritual history and how useful it is in meditation. Because using a Yantra has multiple purposes:

1)Taking advantage of classical conditioning and easily get into a meditative state.

2) Mnemonics to remember certain core pointers.

3) A map to construct temples.

4) Helps in the ‘doing’ oriented meditation like Shamatha, Ashtanga yoga etc because of the requirement of complex visualizations.

5)Prepares the ground for ‘non-doing’ oriented meditation: self-inquiry/mindfulness. This is the most important part. Everything that is done in a spiritual path is done to prepare oneself to the direct approach towards spiritual liberation.

When a seeker asked Ramana Maharshi about Shri Yantra, he replied very beautifully with no mumbo jumbo or nonsense:

Talk 405.
19th April 1937

A respectable and orthodox gentleman asked about Sri Chakra.

Ramana Maharishi: It has a deep significance. There are 43 corners with sacred
syllables in them. Its worship is a method for concentration of
mind. The mind is wont to move externally. It must be checked
and turned within. Its habit is to dwell on names and forms,
for all external objects possess names and forms. Such names
and forms are made symbolic mental conceptions in order to
divert the mind from external objects and make it dwell within
itself. The idols, mantras, yantras, are all meant to give food to
the mind in its introvert state, so that It may later become capable
of being concentrated, after which the superb state is reached
automatically.

I recently wrote a detailed post on my blog by making use of all the concepts used in Tantric meditations. You can read it here: A Shamatha Meditation Based on Symbolism, Visualization, Mnemonics and Classical Conditioning

It is about a 3-level meditation that also includes a Yantra, but a visually appealing one:

yan-full-high

 

What is Ego in the Context of Non-Duality?

Ego is a tricky word and it has been used to convey about 3-4 different things… And there has been a confusion because of translations… This post will clarify the confusion that might have arisen.

1. There is a word called ‘Ahamkar’. This word has been used in Yoga, Vedanta and Samkhya. And this ‘ahamkar’ actually disappears completely after enlightenment. But this word is usually translated as ego in English. Let us look at the actual meaning of the word Ahamkar. Its a compound word consisting of ‘Aham’ which means ‘I’ and ‘kara’ which means ‘to do’. The compound word indicates the idea ‘I am the doer’.. This idea can only exist in separation or duality. After enlightenment, you can’t even find a slight scent of Ahamkara, because duality completely disappears.

2.  There is also something called ‘Aham vritti’… This is also translated as ego in English. But ‘Aham vritti’ is actually the root of the self-concept, which too is destroyed completely after enlightenment. Self-concept is the story of ‘you’ that you carry in your head. This story completely loses its focus, importance, significance and power after enlightenment. You only access the self-concept that you have in memory. But there is no active, consistent, solid self-concept which spans from past to future.

3. There is a function in the mind which helps you with social interactions. Its is also referred to as ego. I use the word ‘ego’ to refer to this. This function is totally necessary for social interactions. It is this function which strives to protect and enhance the self-concept. So by its very nature, ego is defensive. But after enlightenment, self-concept disappears while ego as a function persists. This is why you can notice some kind of defensiveness even in enlightened people. But they defend the truth, instead of defending a self-concept.

4. Freud used the word ‘ego’ in a totally different way. If you look up his theory about ego, super-ego and id, you will understand what he is saying in his theory.

Note:  This is very important. If you find one guru saying something about ego which another guru seem to contradict, then always remember that they are probably using the word ‘ego’ to mean different things. The above is the quick checklist that you can refer. I have an entire chapter in my book called ‘Problem with words’ where I discuss certain confusions that tend to happen because of using one word to mean multiple things or using multiple words to mean a single thing. Makes sense? So, when you listen to a spiritual guru, it is very important to inquire what meaning he is actually giving to a particular word by checking the context.

ego-definition.png

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 has studied various spiritual experiences and has 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?