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

 

 

 

 

Awakening Through Mindfulness – Bridging Science and Spirituality

One of the reasons for much of the suffering that we go through in life is taking life too seriously. It is not uncommon though; almost everyone is so serious about the drama of life. So, everyone has assumed that there is no way out of it. But, there is a potential for a change in your attitude towards life which will make you to treat life as the lifelong movie in which we all are just characters. There is also a potential to remove all the unwanted suffering that we have imposed on ourselves by removing the serious identification with the character called ‘you’ and your story.. I went through a journey myself that helped me to realize this potential and make it possible. (You can read more about my journey here: The Journey of a Seeker). I will call that whole process as ‘Awakening Through Mindfulness (ATM)’.

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If you believe in God, you can use the belief itself as an aid towards changing your attitude. Many people consider themselves as a puppet of the God’s hands. That helps them change the way they react to the situations and stop taking everything personal. But it is just a coping mechanism; No one is actually sitting up there and directing your life. Life and the force of the life itself is a deep and interesting mystery. If you want to call that force God, you can. That is a beautiful personification. Warning! For many people,  beliefs have actually been a hindrance in the whole process.

There is a way to really experience life as a movie and to be not affected by your self-image. You can completely detach yourself from the identification you have with the self image.  .. Changing the attitude is the first step to ending the self created suffering and experience the life impersonally.. Your personality and your ego that projects the personality are just a part of the mask that you, as the character of this movie, are wearing. What hurts the mask doesn’t hurt you anymore, once you start experiencing life this way. Not only your ego and personality, but every thought, emotion, experience and knowledge that you witness in your consciousness is a part of that mask. Remembering this analogy of the mask and contemplating on it can help you to change your attitude to be favourable in the process of awakening.

As you proceed with this journey, you will eventually have to drop a lot of your beliefs and directly choose to know what you believed is true or false. Then, either you know or you don’t know. There is no need in believing something. The sense of security that we get from beliefs will not at all be needed anymore once you start experiencing the life devoid of self-created suffering. You don’t need any solace from the beliefs anymore. That life experience which stands apart and independent from your identity is what I call as an ‘awakened life’.

What you Call as Self is an Illusion!

The next step is just to realize and remember always that there is no self; I am not kidding! It is a scientific fact. What you perceive, think and experience every moment is the result of millions of neurons in your brain communicating with the neighboring neurons through electrochemical signals. This constant perceptual activity gives an illusion that there is a static self. This self which is experienced as being the one who inhabits the body, being the one who is thinking the thoughts, being the one experiencing emotions, being the agent of actions and having free will is an illusion. Also, every person you see is a complex network of forces communicating with each other in cell level, chemical level and atomic level. 2500 years ago, a man called Gautama Buddha revealed the truth of the no-self for the first time.

Seeing this in neuroscientific perspective, what you experience as you and your story is just a result of activity happens in a combination of brain structures called Default Mode Network DMN). This network is active when you are mind-wandering,thinking about others, thinking about yourself, remembering the past, and planning for the future. Hyperconnectivity of the default network has been linked to rumination in depression. Studies have shown that meditators and people who claim spiritual awakening have less or almost no activity in DMN.

This illusory  self is not consistent and static; it is ever changing. But the only thing which is consistent and constant throughout your life is your existence; the conscious, moment to moment experience that you are alive.

Three Aspects of the Absolute Reality

There are three aspects to what that is consistent: Existence, Consciousness and experiencing.

Existence can be defined as whatever that exists in the ultimate, absolute level. You perceive and know that objects exist because of this. It is the sense of being alive.

The objects may keep changing but the existence itself is something that is constant. It is not a ‘thing’ though. It is the basis of anything that is subjective.

Consciousness is like a light that shines up everything in the existence. It can be compared to the light in a movie screen using which your thoughts, emotions, perceptions and experiences are constantly being played. The movie screen is static all the time. It also exists in sleep, but there is nothing to show. Since consciousness is completely dark and since voluntary functions of the mind are shut off, there is actually nothing much is happening that is worth to be recorded in the brain and stored in long term memory.

Experiencing is not about various experiences that you go through every moment. It is the base of all experience, which is naturally peaceful. Peace is always the first and last experience of the lifetime. Even in death, the final moment is peace; a lot of scientists believe that a neurotransmitter called Dimethyltryptamine or DMT released in the brain during the last moment of death which gives peace and bliss. You are so peaceful during the birth too. You can obviously see that in the new born babies. Even throughout the life, you go through a lot of peaceful moments where you are ultimately content, all drives seem to be temporarily satisfied and you experience the ultimate peace and contentment. That peace is not really something that comes and goes. It is the subtle backdrop of all the noisy perceptions happening in the mind and never changes too. It is the base experience of all the experiences. An awakened person may often go through peak experiences (rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter – Abraham Maslow) when they touch the ultimate level of peace. During peak experiences, the boundaries of experiencer, experiencing and the experience dissolve and they all become one. The same happens with the knowledge as well. The  knower, knowing and  the known become one.

Note that, when I say experiencing,  I am talking about the ‘experiencing’ aspect of your existence; not about an independent experience. Any experience, including the peak experience com and go. But the ‘experiencing’ part of that which is consistent never changes.  It would be better to use a different word than experiencing but I can’t think of anything that comes closer right now.

So, whatever that is consistent which has the aspects of existence, consciousness and experiencing can be called with any  name you want to use. You can call it XYZ if you want! Some words that have been used in eastern traditions are absolute, Om, brahman, Sat-Chit-Ananda etc… Some call it as your ‘true self’. The problem with all these labels is that you start to see this XYZ as some object, a thing; Something that can be either perceived, experienced or known. But it is actually like the space or the field in which everything is perceived, experienced or known. So, it is very important to not to get too attached to the word.

Seeing the illusory self for what it is and completely removing the identification with it lets you to relax yourself in the truth of being alive and conscious. It will eventually let you free from hedonic treadmill and the pursuit of subjective self worth. You will feel liberated from the prison of this illusory self. This will give you a tremendous acceptance of what is; You will see life as a game with its own rules and challenges. But seeing that as just a game which will eventually end, makes you to play it with enjoyment and a great sense of peace.

Many practises have been suggested which help you to go through this process of awakening; self-inquiry, contemplation of the truth and so on. The practise that I can suggest for you is the one which worked for me.. It is called Sati in buddhism, Shikantaza in Zen, Shakshi bhav in Upanishads and mindfulness by buddhists as well as modern psychologists.  Mindfulness is used not only as a path to awakening, but also in modern therapies as a means to decrease depression and stress, increase well being, control addictions, slow down emotional reactivity etc.

What is Mindfulness and How to Practice it?

Mindfulness can be defined as focused nonjudgmental attention to experiences of thoughts, emotions, and body sensation in the present moment that is practiced by simply observing them as they arise and pass away. The paper ‘Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition’ which was published by University of Toronto in 2014 suggests a two-component model of mindfulness:

1) Regulation of attention in order to maintain it on the immediate experience

2) Approaching one’s experiences with an orientation of curiosity,openness, and acceptance, regardless of their valence and desirability.

When you try to observe your thought process, you may lose your attention many times. Once you notice that the mind has wandered, you just bring it back to the awareness of thought process or body sensations again. No matter how many times the mind wanders away, you must take it easy and accept it. You can do this while doing whatever you are doing, like walking, eating, working out, waiting in a queue etc. Notice the flow of thoughts as if you are watching a stream flowing or traffic moving. Eventually you can extend the time that you practise mindfulness to most of the waking hours of the day. This may take years and years of practise.

When practicing mindfulness, don’t approach it as if you are working towards a goal. That would simply mean that you are enhancing the self-concept and strengthening the identification with it .Awakening is not an achievement. It is getting rid of the craving for any achievement that increases your self-worth or enhances your self-concept. Seeing mindfulness as a means for something to be achieved itself is a trap which may slow down the process of awakening.

In a couple of months of practise you may start noticing gaps in your thought process.You may also notice reduction in the number of thoughts. Also, a lot of unconscious patterns and repressed thoughts may start to come up and appear in the light of your conscious observation. It is quite normal. Just pay attention to whatever that comes up without reacting to it. But if you do react to it, that’s ok. Just notice that and wait to see what comes up next. As you do it more and more, the gaps will be more frequent and you may even start to wait for the next thought or feeling to arise. In a few months, you will start to feel more peaceful and relaxed. Your emotional regulation would also have improved.

While practising, become aware of the defense mechanisms of the ego whenever you notice them. Notice the repeated thought patterns and your attempts to maintain and protect your self-esteem.

Reading the authentic sources of Zen and Advaita can help you a lot in moving through the process. Personally for me, reading the transcribed talks of Osho and J.Krishnamurti were helpful in understanding how mindfulness works and how to go about practising it. Osho called it ‘witnessing’ and J.Krishnamurti called it as ‘Choiceless awareness’. The names are different but the meaning is exactly the same.

Once you have practised mindfulness for long term for a year or two, you may go through a crisis at times, usually called ‘Spiritual Crisis,’ a form of identity crisis where you experience drastic changes to your meaning system (your unique purposes, goals, values, attitude and beliefs, identity, and focus). It may cause a lot of disturbance, but don’t be alarmed. It happens to everyone but it will pass. The fruits of mindfulness always outweighs the disturbances caused by spiritual crisis.

Benefits of Mindfulness

I came across an interesting paper ‘How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective’ published in 2011 by Association For Psychological Science. It lists 4 major benefits of mindfulness and also lists the details of studies which support them.

Here are those four benefits:

  1. Attention regulation
  2. Body awareness
  3. Emotion regulation, including a. Reappraisal b. Exposure, extinction, and reconsolidation
  4. Change in perspective on the self.

The fourth one, ‘Change in perspective on the self’ is very important, which explains in detail about a lot of what we discussed about ‘Self’ in this post. You can search for this paper in ‘Academia’ and download it for free.

There have been many other studies done on mindfulness which show that mindfulness decreases suffering and increases subjective well being. Buddha prescribed mindfulness as the path to spiritual enlightenment. Whether you are looking for spiritual enlightenment or just improved well being, there is no doubt that mindfulness is the way to go.

 

The Journey of a Seeker – My Story

In this post, I am going to talk about my spiritual journey and the two most influential people in my life, Osho and Sadhguru. I am going to walk you through the journey of my life and give you accurate description of the changes that I went through in my sadhana. Then I will provide an honest unbiased review of both Sadhguru and Osho. Finally, I will put the concept of spiritual enlightenment in a scientific perspective and try to explain it using the terminology of academic psychology.

My Spiritual Journey – Me to Me

Early years

I grew up in a Hindu family which required me to believe in a personal God and his family of Gods. My grandparents taught me that God had a family with children who had God relatives. I was asked to pray to them to have my wishes granted and threatened to be punished by God if I was morally wrong. My early childhood days were spent in listening to stories of mythology and singing devotional songs. I showed more devotion than any of the other children of my age in my neighborhood. Eventually, I began to fall in love with all these heavenly beings and had a deep desire to see them with my physical eyes. I was told that it was possible if I prayed enough.

In those early days, I have watched movies in which devotees performed Tapas (penance) to get a vision of God and to get their boons granted. They were shown to be sitting or standing with closed eyes in various positions for years with no food and water so that they can have such visions. Seeing those people in movies, I too tried to imitate them. I used to sit with closed eyes for fifteen to thirty minutes every day when I was seven years old. Unknowingly, I had tried to do my first meditation this way.

I had learnt to read very early in my life. When I was seven years old, I could read and understand stories in children’s magazines written in Tamil. This was going to help to me to learn some advanced topics in the years to come. The same year, I was also taught in school about Buddha. I was taught that Buddha attained enlightenment under a bodhi tree and I had no idea what it meant.

Introduction to Ramakrishna

When I was about nine years old, I happened to read the book ‘Gospel Of Ramakrishna’. Ramakrishna Paramhamsa was the guru of Swami Vivekananda. He was considered to be enlightened but was not as famous as Vivekananda. I was fascinated about the trances that Ramakrishna used to go through, a state in which he was immersed in divine bliss with no consciousness of the outside world. The trances are called Samadhis. I also read about the unbelievable stories of how he used to have visions of Goddess Kali and talk with her. His words were filled with pearls of wisdom. One thing he insisted was to stay away from women and gold. He considered the desires for women and gold to be the common obstacles to spiritual enlightenment. The Indian word for spiritual enlightenment is Moksha, the event which frees an individual from the cycle of birth and death and makes him to be directly united with God. This concept is same as salvation or the union with God in Christianity.

Reading this book increased my desire to see God in a physical form. Ramakrishna used to say that if somebody shed tears in the desire to see God, then he would definitely see God in this lifetime and attain liberation (enlightenment).Reading this, I immediately shed tears after shutting myself in the pooja (worship) room.

I was also impressed about the fact that Ramakrishna followed Christianity and Islam to see if they also led to the same goal of Samadhi. He was able to get the same results by doing sadhana in Christian and Sufi paths.

Exposure to Yoga and other concepts

After a year, I started reading a book about Yoga and came to know about Ashtanga yoga, the eight limbs of Yoga in the path of attaining Samadhi. Samadhi is the highest goal of Yoga but it required years and years of practising meditation, doing asanas and pranayamas (exercises manipulating the breath). I tried to do meditation often but ended up fighting with my thoughts and had no success in concentration. After seeing continuous failures in getting my mind to focus on a single object, I finally gave up the confidence that I could do it.

Then I started reading Bhagwad Gita and Periya Purnam (A collection of stories of 63 enlightened devotees of Lord Shiva). I had also read a few mythological books including Skanda Purana and Shiva Purana. I also read texts about Vedanta and self-inquiry but I could not understand them. Finally, I started to believe that God is one, formless but can show himself to devotees in the form they worship.

When I read more about science, I understood that many of the things which are in the religious domain are not accepted by science. One day I thought, ‘May be I should do something to create a bridge between science and religion’. I always dreamed of becoming a scientist when I was a child. I believed that if religion is approached in a scientific way, we can discover many things.

Teenage Years

During my teenage years, I developed depression and inferiority complex. I had trouble in forming friendships and I saw myself as unworthy. But I had a lot of ambitions. I had mastered the art of writing poetry in Tamil in classical metres like venba, asiriyappa, virtutham etc. I was known as a good poet and orator in my school, by the time I was 14 years old. Even though I had inferiority complex, I had absolutely no stage fear. But my depression deepened in the coming months and I began to show some abnormal behaviour in school. I used to shut myself in a classroom and cry without any reason. I also developed a crush on a girl and started convincing myself that it is love. I lived far away from reality and had developed a fantasy prone and neurotic personality. I clearly showed the traits of bipolar disorder. I used to be known as the most brilliant student in my class. But the depressive phases and my so called ‘love’ had made me to seek more time in solitude.  After recovering from depression to some extent and finishing my tenth grade, I wrote hundreds of poems about love, life and God during the summer vacation. By this time, I had also formed an image of an ideal self, a self that I wanted to be. Everybody has an actual self and an ideal self. The less they overlap with each other, the more anxiety they feel. My actual self and ideal self didn’t seem to even touch each other.

First, I wanted to be seen as normal by people and conform to the standards of society. I wanted to develop my social skills and interact with people with confidence. Then I wanted to be known as an accomplished poet or an author in the future. Finally, I wanted to marry the girl I loved and live happily ever after. Before I die, I wanted to make sure that my name is registered in the history. That was my ideal self. I realized I had to work really hard to achieve my goals.

Also, when I looked back on what I read about Yoga and attaining Samadhi, I realized that was not going to be possible. How can I ever stop my desire for money, women and other things? After all, everyone is striving for well being. If I stop going for things that will increase my well being, then what else I would do to bring myself lasting happiness? I realized that spirituality is not for me.

College years

I lived away from my parents when I was studying in a polytechnic college in Chennai. I initially stayed in a hostel but due to pathological ragging that was done by seniors in the hostel, I moved to a room shared with other students. I faced a lot of issues during those times but I have just made the long story short. I had chosen to study chemical technology but unfortunately in a few months I realized that it was not the subject I wanted to study. So, for the first year and a half, I did not score well in the exams.

In the fourth semester I took a decision. I decided to dedicate myself to studies, accomplishing my goals and showing ultimate devotion to God to earn his grace. I also tried to be morally perfect in every aspect. If God chooses to show his grace to people who are moral and devotional, then it should happen to me. So, I pushed myself to the extreme. The life for the 6 months was very intense and I gave my 100% in everything, in every moment of life.

During mid December of that year, I started to walk 2 kilometres in the morning at 4 am everyday to a nearby temple and pray for about an hour. Then I would walk back to my room. I did the same thing in the evening and I continued this for a month.

Here is the gist of my prayers: “Dear God.. you know me very well and you are aware of what I can do and what I cannot do. I am trying all I could do to change myself, work hard and also be a good person. But I have difficulty in controlling my impulses and exercising self-control. Why did you create me like this, with this kind of genetics? Please show me the way.. I don’t know what else to do. I have what you have given me as my available resources.. You gave me this body, you gave me these tendencies.. How can I alone be responsible to correct those tendencies and be a good, kind, hardworking person? You gave me the environment and genetic factors that made me neurotic, selfish and irresponsible. I tried my best and I am not able to change that. Is it fair if you punish me for something that I don’t have full control over? Please be kind and help me”..

I literally used to have a mental conversation with God everyday in the temple. In the mean time, I started analyzing my thoughts and behaviors seriously. Every time I behaved in a negative way, I sat and analyzed what went wrong. I made my thought process conscious and engaged in a deep contemplation every day.

In the mean time I started to wonder how much control an individual has over one’s behavior. Consider the following facts:

  • People with low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter produced by the nervous system, are predisposed to show impulsive activity and emotional aggression.
  • People who have high levels of testosterone are more likely to show aggressive behavior.
  • A brain tumor caused an individual to be sexually abusive towards girls. Once the tumor was removed, he became normal.

These psychological findings show that a person’s behaviour is highly influenced by hereditary factors, hormonal levels, other biological factors and the environment. They can even affect self control. So, somebody’s moral behaviour is not completely under his or her control.

“So, If God created me like this, is it fair for the God to punish me for the behaviour that is simply the result of my biology? Also, what kind of God he is if he chooses to favour the people who prays to him? I am willing to change and trying my best, so what is stopping from God to help me?”

I used to put these questions to God when I prayed. I reasoned with him a lot and I told him I really had no idea what to do more than what I was doing then. Whatever the problem was, I asked God to fix it. If it seemed impossible for any reason, I asked him to take my life and give me eternal peace.

When it came to studies, I made sure I dedicated a few hours each day. I pushed myself too hard and started to bite off more than I could chew, in all aspects. I remained alert about my thought patterns and behaviors and constantly monitored myself. I could manage all this until the end of the semester. After that, there was no way I could continue doing what I was doing. The grip that I had over myself began to loosen and I started losing my self control.

I did really well in the exams that semester. I had got the third highest score among my peers. But I had expected to come first. I did all I could do for this. I obviously worked harder than others but I still couldn’t reach my goal. My ideal self appeared to be so far away. I felt restless, anxious and unhappy.

In the next 6 months, I experienced a tremendous fear of loss. I started to get thoughts like, ‘what if I lost everything I have, What if I become a beggar?’…. I didn’t resist those thoughts, instead I waited to see what those thoughts are up to. Whatever bad situation that I imagined, I made myself mentally strong to face it. I told myself ‘I can face anything in my life!’… One of my favorite proverbs those days was ‘Hope for the best but prepare for the worst’..

I gradually started questioning everything in my life.. What is the purpose of this life after all? Why should I continue to live? Everything seemed to be meaningless. My rational mind started to question the existence of God. When I dug deeper into my mind, it seemed as if nothing had any purpose. There seemed to be no way to fulfill the expectations of mind. I thought I would rather die instead of having to suffer with my immature, neurotic and unpredictable personality.

Then I thought, ‘If I have decided to end this life now, then I have a freedom of doing anything I like… I can die at any minute when it seems to be impossible to live any longer.’… The idea that death is an open choice all the time gave me a sudden sense of freedom and peace. ‘Let me let this life going and see what happens’ I thought.

Introduction to the books of Osho

I got a membership in a nearby library later that year, in my fifth semester. That is where I saw a book by Osho. I had heard about him before but had no idea who he was and what he taught. So, I borrowed that book and began to read.

The first thing that caught my attention was what he said about meditation. He said that trying to concentrate and fighting with thoughts generate more and more thoughts as a result. He made very clear that meditation was not concentration. He suggested a new technique for meditation which was to witness my thoughts non-judgmentally, as an observer. He taught to observe my thoughts as if I had nothing to do with them. I was kind of already doing this and I felt it very easy and doable.

Next, he said that God is not a person. There is no personal God. ‘That is what I thought’, I said to myself. He told that there is Godliness, which is the very essence of life, which is the very essence of who I am.

Third, He made very clear what ego is. One of the things that both shocked me and sounded true was the fact that even trying to be humble can be a subtle way for ego to show superiority over others. We tend to think we are more humble than others and that kind of gives us a humble ego. He made me aware that ego tries to find meaning in everything and attaches itself to it. It makes me to define myself with concepts and always makes me in a constant pursuit of enhancing itself. It maintains a story, the story of ‘me’ and makes us constantly to be identified with it and protect it all the time. He also revealed that cutting of the identification with this self-concept created by ego is enlightenment. It is just realizing our own nature which is hidden behind the veil of ego. That is what Buddha realized under Bodhi tree. That is what Ramakrishna found in Samadhi. That is what every individual is searching for. That true nature of yours is what people actually call God. God is not somebody who is sitting in the heaven, watching you and granting your true nature. Everybody has a potential to realize their true nature.

I realized that a new door was opened for me. A new possibility of attaining complete fulfilment in my life has been just revealed to me. I found it to be refreshing, exciting and illuminating. I continued to read many books of Osho and became addicted to it. In one of his books, he revealed his own story of enlightenment and how it happened to him.

(I will explain my own criticisms about Osho later in this post. I am listing whatever happened in a chronological order)…

Here is a list of facts and teachings revealed by Osho, a gist of what I understood from many books I read after that:

  • As you start witnessing your thoughts and be alert each and every moment, you will start noticing gaps between thoughts. The gaps will get bigger and you will soon be able to witness your unconscious patterns, emotions, moods and subtle sensations. Gradually your thoughts will reduce and you will come to a point where there is absolute stillness. Then suddenly, when you are least expecting anything to happen, enlightenment happens.
  • Then you realize you are what you have been searching for. Your true nature which is beyond space and time is revealed to you which leaves you absolutely blissful and content.
  • If you try to become a morally good person, it leads to suppressing your desires. Then you will become hypocrite. You will be a good person at the periphery, but in the center all those tendencies that cause immoral behavior will exist and erupt at anytime. But once you are enlightened, you will naturally be a good person.
  • The presence of an enlightened person radiates peace and love, and has the ability to quieten your mind. If you get to live near an enlightened person, your spiritual progress will naturally accelerate.
  • Love is another path to enlightenment. You can either start with witnessing or love.
  • If you pay attention to what you are doing and witness everything that happens inside you, than anything that you do is a meditation. Simple things like walking, eating will become a meditation if you are mindful, alert and witness every thought, sensation and activity that happens. It is important to have a non judgemental attitude.
  • When you live moment to moment like this, you will simply do what is required at the given moment. Preoccupation with past and future disappears. There will not be even necessary to make plans for the future. You will be absolutely satisfied with whatever the present moment brings to you.
  • He gave a controversial discourse series called ‘From Sex to superconciousness’ in which he said being mindful during sex can be a good meditation and become a doorway for enlightenment.
  • He insisted that there is no need to renounce the world to be spiritually enlightened. One can become enlightened by living a normal life as a householder.
  • Phrases like ‘achieving enlightenment’ or ‘becoming enlightened’ are actually wrong because we are already what we are looking for. We just have to realize or uncover that. He made very clear that words can be misleading and they are just like a finger pointing to the moon.

There are many other strange facts that he revealed in different discourses. He has given many examples of enlightened people who can leave their body at will. If they want to die, they will just shed their body like shedding their clothes. In one discourse he said that an enlightened person has an aura of 24 miles radius and anybody who is sensitive within that 24 miles radius will feel the effect of his presence.

He has talked about his past lives. In many of his early talks, he talked about various things regarding reincarnation, the time it takes for a soul to take a new womb, karma etc. He said that dreams during sleep will completely disappear after enlightenment.

He also mentioned in a couple of discourses that most of the time, enlightenment and death happen at the same time. Many people, when they get enlightened, immediately leave their body due to the extreme shock that they go through in their body.

I noticed a style in Osho. Osho had a tendency to exaggerate things. When he narrated an event that happened in the life of somebody who was enlightened, he often made his own screenplay and dialogues and made the story very dramatic. So, If somebody copies and rephrases what he said, it will be very obvious to people who have read many books of Osho’s discourses.

Also, he said many times that what he talks in his discourses is not at all important. His discourse is simply a device to silence our minds and make us receptive to his presence. Once we are receptive and available to his presence, then it can directly work on the seekers to progress in the path. He insisted more on a silent transmission than the content of his talks.

He also insisted that enlightenment should not be seen as a goal. That is a subtle way of ego entering through the backdoor. Enlightenment is not an achievement; it is simply uncovering our true nature. Everybody has the potential for it. But a desire for enlightenment can also be a hindrance in getting it.

He has contradicted himself many times and has openly admitted it. Life is full of contradictions. So, there is no way to explain about reality in a completely logical way. Sometimes it is natural for his statements to seem like contradictions. But whenever somebody asked about a contradiction, he often explained it to prove that in fact there was no contradiction.

Osho was very creative in his way of talking. His talks were filled with anecdotes, jokes, harsh criticisms against many popular people, repetitive statements and sometimes pointless gossip. He gave commentaries on Upanishads, Bhagwad Gita, Buddhist texts, Zen, Sikhism, Christian mysticism, Sufism and many more. He made very clear that all these paths lead to the same goal and explained the true essence of these paths.

Witnessing – Phase 1

As soon as I started reading Osho, I have also begun to put his witnessing meditation into practise. His witnessing meditation is an age old technique which is called Sakshi Bhav in Vedanta, Shikantaza in Zen and Sati (Mindfulness) in Buddhism. In the recent years, science has found substantial evidence for the role of mindfulness meditation in decreasing stress and increasing well being.

Soon, I went to my native place for my semester holidays and I got enough solitude to practice witnessing. A month earlier, I was practicing his other meditations like dynamic meditation, gibberish meditation and more. I created my own therapy based on his various meditation techniques and I do believe that it resolved a lot of unconscious issues.

As I progressed in my witnessing meditation, I started feeling calmer and peaceful. The thought process gradually slowed down. I continued to do it every day with great involvement. One day, when I was staring at the ceiling witnessing my thoughts, there was a brief moment of stillness with no thoughts. There was an absolute clarity and peace of mind that I had never encountered before. For the first time, I realized that I can exist without thoughts. It gave me a clear and firm knowledge that thoughts are not me.

This was like a Eureka moment. An immediate excitement followed that gave me a new strength and peace which continued for the next six months. I went back to college for the final semester, which is the happiest period that I had in the entire three years. This momentary realization was a confirmation that there is something indestructible. I interpreted it as a glimpse of my essential nature. Osho used to call this Satori.

After this, I was able to concentrate on a single task for hours and be immersed in it. Recently, as I began to learn psychology, I realized that there is a name for this. It is called ‘flow’. Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. These states were very common and occurring everyday when I was immersed in a task. During those states, there was no feeling of my individual existence. It was as if I had disappeared.. There was just pure awareness, focus and a sense of being alive.

I felt that the complete flowering of enlightenment is very near. But I also remembered Osho saying that there will be many beautiful moments that you will pass through. Don’t make any of those moments your home. Just keep going. You may feel that you have arrived but it is not necessarily so.

I talked to one of my close friends regarding this and I started to explain him about the beauty of meditation. I also told him that I felt like I might be enlightened soon. But I was wrong. After about six months, the initial excitement of this Eureka moment faded. But the feeling that there is something indestructible and everyday occurrence of flow continued and never stopped.

As I continued to read Osho’s books, I felt very unfortunate that there was no enlightened master like Osho at present time that I could meet and ask my questions. I felt that if there was someone like him around, then he could guide me on my spiritual path.

Encounter the enlightened – The First Satsang With Sadhguru

In January 2003, I saw a wall post regarding a satsang at Marina beach, Chennai. It was titled ‘Encounter the enlightened’ in Tamil with the photograph of a man with a long beard. He looked like Osho. I saw the name ‘Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’ printed in the wall post. It was to be held on January 22, 2003. As soon as I saw it, I made up my mind to go there.

It was a beautiful evening at Marina beach with thousands of people gathered. Sadhguru spoke about many things which were similar to what Osho had said about enlightenment. He spoke in Tamil flavored with Kannada accent, sounding like the dialect of actor Rajinikanth. Most of his views were matching with the views of Osho. When he gave us instructions for a guided meditation, he asked everyone to focus in the middle of one’s eyebrows. I remember him saying ‘Just keep a slight focus in between your eyebrows, but don’t concentrate’. This instantly reminded me of Osho. ‘So, there is someone here who is enlightened’, I told myself. But it seemed almost impossible to approach him as he was already quite popular.

He spoke about his foundation called Isha Foundation based in Coimbatore which conducts Yoga programs all over the state. At the end of the satsang, his book ‘Encounter the enlightened’ in Tamil was on sale. But I had no money to buy it. I returned home with mixed feelings; A happiness on having seen another modern day enlightened Guru and a disappointment for not being able to buy that book.

After finishing my course in Polytechnic, I noticed a weekly article in Anantha Vikatan authored by Sadhguru, with a title in Tamil that translates to ‘Desire for everything!’.. This again reminded me of Osho’s advice saying that we should not repress our desires. At the same time, another clean shaved guy with the name Nithyananda showed up with his own article in Kumudham which introduced him as another enlightened modern day Guru! But for some reason, he didn’t quite appear enlightened to me, may be because he didn’t have any beard J..

My Career in BPO and My First Isha Yoga program

After spending a few months at home reading books by Osho and searching for a job, I started working. After working in two different companies in various profiles, I finally got a job with good salary in a call center in Chennai. I started earning money, made new friendships, faced a lot of ups and downs and changed four different companies in about 5 years time. I had stopped reading spiritual books and went ahead with life. Finally, I saw an announcement for Isha Yoga program which was to be conducted in Anna University for two weeks. (or one week, I don’t remember). I enrolled in the program with my friend.

I had a good time over the whole program. We were given detailed information about Isha and its activities for social welfare. I also came to know more about Dhyanalinga, which is said to give you the same effect that you will get in the presence of an enlightened guru. They said that if one sat in front of Dhyanalinga and closed his eyes, he would automatically become meditative. According to Sadhguru, the Dhyanalinga has all the seven chakras that a human being has. It has been consecrated in such a way that the energy and peace that radiates from Dhyanalinga is the same as the energy and peace radiated in the presence of someone who is enlightened. We were taught a kriya called shambhavi mahamudra, which had to be practiced twice a day. At the end of the Isha Yoga program, I immediately enrolled for the upcoming next level program called Bhava Spandana. It was a three day residential program in Isha Yoga centre, Coimbatore.

I arrived in Isha Yoga centre in the evening on the first day of Bhava Spandana. We were asked to submit our mobile phones, bags and money as there will not be any contact with the outside world for three days. I went to the dome of Dhyanalinga for the first time and meditated for fifteen minutes. To be honest, I just felt a normal relaxed state and stillness and nothing much in the presence of Dhyanalinga. The atmosphere was definitely conducive for meditation but I felt nothing more than how I would usually feel when I meditated in my home or room. May be I was not receptive enough or maybe the effects of the linga are overrated…  But usually, according to Sadhguru and Osho, trying to figure out such things with our rational mind is not going to work. Their usual argument is, our logic cannot figure out something that is beyond logic. But I had an immense trust on Sadhguru. So, I was confident that I was on the right way.

I felt very insecure on the first night of Bhava Spandana. I felt like I had been disconnected from the outside world. But the next morning, the insecurity disappeared. I participated in all the meditations in BSP with 100% intensity. Some of the meditations involved action and were similar to the concept of dynamic meditation by Osho. The feelings of oneness and peace I felt there was not new to me since I had already experienced that with my witnessing meditation. But the three days were very beautiful and the overall experience was good.

After the BSP program, I came back to Chennai and my regular routine started again. A lot of things happened in my life then which gave me extreme suffering. I used to become emotionally dependent on certain people that I liked a lot; If the people I liked didn’t give me the same attention to me, it made me to suffer and become anxious. That was exactly what was happening in those days. It took a few months for me to become alright again.

Exploring Spirituality further

I had bought two books by Sadhguru, ‘Encounter the enlightened’ and ‘Mystic’s musings’. The book Mytic’s Musings was about many things that any rational person would never want to believe in. But I had no problem with that because of the trust I had in Sadhguru. I always remembered what Sadhguru said, ‘Don’t believe me or disbelieve me! Don’t come to a conclusion about anything by yourself. Be ready to say I don’t know and be a seeker’… Osho has said the same thing many times. It has always been my own approach to life too.  I finished reading those two books and watched a lot of videos of Sadhguru’s talks.

I continued my meditations and I had many peak experiences. Peak experiences were described by psychologist Abraham Moslow as “rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter”. In the mean time, I read the teachings of Ramana Mahirishi. I also came to know about Eckhart tolle and his awakening experience. I read three of his books, ‘The Power of now’, ‘A New Earth’ and ‘The Stillness speaks’.

I came across the teachings of another Indian guru named Poonjaji. Soon I discovered that there are many people who claim to be enlightened, especially in the west. Some of them I read about were Gangaji, Andrew Cohen, Ramesh Balsekar, Mooji, Joan Tollifson etc. I read their testimonies about the awakening experiences. Are each of one of them really enlightened or they just had some peak experiences and glimpses of their reality? There seemed to be no way to find out. Can we really draw a single line called ‘Enlightenment’ in someone’s life which is the ultimate line after which there is no progress further? Is everyone who claims to enlightened talk about that same line? I emailed a couple of these people and got answers too. They said that their enlightenment was a gradual process and not something that occurred in the single moment as Osho described. They also didn’t have a totally thoughtless mind, ability to leave the body at will or memories of previous incarnation. Did Osho exaggerate the effects of enlightenment by saying that there would be no thoughts or did these people just conclude that they were enlightened with no basis to support their claim? I had no answers to these questions.

I had already integrated Karma Yoga, Gnana Yoga and Bhakthi yoga in my life and made my life itself a sadhana. Every moment was an opportunity for me to explore the depths of unconsciousness and clear out the clouds which were hiding my own reality. The concepts of Advaita taught me ‘acceptance’. I learnt to accept the life as it is.

My Marriage and the life after

I got married in December 2008. The first two years of my marriage were spent in a lot of conflicts and quarrels between me and my wife. I became addicted to alcohol and started drinking twice or thrice a week. I started learning about PHP programming, chess tactics, astronomy, photoshop and many other things. Photography became my new hobby. Nothing much happened in my life those days. I used to go to Ramana Mahirishi’s ashram in Tiruvannamalai with my wife whenever I got a chance and spend time in meditation.

Two years later, I moved to my own native place, Tirunelveli and got a job there. I spent my time in learning, writing articles and trying out new things on the internet. New interests always popped up and got me going. The moments of flow helped me to stay on focus.

After another two years, I moved to Coimbatore. I started exploring places nearby. I climbed mountains and hills on weekends and took pictures. I enjoyed trekking in various places of Nilgiris. I had stopped drinking alcohol and started experimenting with cannabis. It seemed to be a magic herb. It enhanced my creativity, focus and compassion. We had no kids and there were no big responsibilities. I used to visit Isha Yoga centre occasionally but wasn’t thinking much about enlightenment or spirituality. I didn’t think anything about the future or the past. Living in the present moment was quite satisfying but there was still something incomplete in me which was yearning for fulfillment.

On May 5, 2014, I climbed the Velliangiri mountains. It is a holy mountain near Coimbatore. Isha Yoga centre is right at the foot of the mountains. Sadhguru himself had spent time there and he had said that many enlightened people left their bodies there and their energy can be still felt in the mountains. There was no one to accompany me to trek the mountain so I went all by myself. I started walking uphills at about 7:30 AM and reached the summit by 1:30. The mountain is very steep and difficult to climb. The view from the top is amazing. I had the darshan of the linga in the summit, took rest for about 30 minutes and started walking downhill. I took many photographs and finally reached the bottom at about 7:30 PM. The experience was wonderful.

The Major ‘Change’ – Is it Enlightenment?

The trip to Velliangiri mountains triggered the seeker in me and I decided to go deep in meditation as much as I could. I started paying attention to every moment, every thought and every sensation. I made very clear to me that whatever I observe, perceive, think, experience and know is not me. I witnessed all the passing emotions and moods as a passive observer.

I went to Isha yoga centre every week, took bath in Theerthakund and meditated for an hour. I spent almost half of the day there. In the office, my nature of job was to talk to the customers over the phone during the whole night and answer their questions. I became deeply involved in the present moment and enjoyed my work. I soon stopped thinking about many things in the external world. I noticed my thoughts slowing down leaving a peaceful, clear stillness in the large gaps between each thought. Very soon, I started feeling intense euphoria at times which lasted for hours. The quality of my work increased, the clarity in my voice and speech increased and I started to feel waves of bliss in my head. It was like a cool breeze flowing in my head.

Soon, I stopped my interactions with other people. It was not my conscious decision but happened automatically. I couldn’t believe that all these things were happening to me. I didn’t feel any intense negative emotion or anxiety but almost the whole day at my work was filled with bliss and peace. Soon, the psychological boundaries between me and the world started to disappear. I started getting a lot of attention and I was pretty sure that something tremendous was happening.

I went to attend Sadhguru’s darshan that happened in the Isha ashram on June 18th and 19th, 2014. I felt one with the whole universe during the entire satsang. The feeling of oneness with the world was then continuous. Whatever I did seemed to happen without much of my conscious will. Everything I did was spontaneous like a river flowing down the hills. The doer in me seemed to have completely disappeared and everything seemed to be happening out of cosmic will instead of my own will.

It was a huge blessing. Every day at work, I felt tremendously happy and satisfied. For the first time in my life, I felt complete and fulfilled. I wondered, ‘Is it really possible for me to suffer ever again?’… I felt like the king of the whole world.

I went to another satsang that was held on July 12, 2014 (Guru Purnima day). I remember getting on the bus feeling so light as if I had no weight on the body. Everything seemed to be so transparent. During the entire satsang, I was immersed in my Self. That night while I was lying on my bed, there was a sudden clarity. It seemed that my search was over. There was nothing else to achieve and nothing more to do to make me complete.

The days after the change

The excitement and the wave of bliss were gradually reduced in the days to come. Though I no longer felt the waves and breeze of bliss in my head, being peaceful and complete has been the normal state of my mind from those days of transformation to till date.

Though I had no doubt that the journey as a human being in my life was over and it wouldn’t matter if I die at any moment, the transformation didn’t exactly fit into the description of enlightenment as implied by Osho and Sadhguru. When I thought about it later after the next two years, I noted down my observation of the changes it had made in my thinking, well being and my way of life:

  • Self image is no longer important to me.
  • My past no longer plays a role in giving me a mental identity in my mind.
  • I cannot think about future the same way I did before. In a sense, I seemed to have lost the sense of time. I don’t and can’t rely on an event in the future for satisfaction.
  • I stopped feeling that there is an ‘other’. The psychological boundaries between me and the world disappeared. A lot of concepts in Psychology doesn’t seem to apply to me or relevant to me. For example, I no longer felt the psychological self-consciousness and cognitive dissonance.
  • Emotions like sadness and fear seems to have disappeared. But I continue to show the sign of a sudden fear in my facial expression and bodily movements. (For example, if a moving vehicle suddenly comes close to me enough to hit me, I respond to it in the usual way. But it doesn’t have the same impact on my mind as it did before. May be it is so subtle but I don’t usually feel fear or sadness)
  • I continue to feel angry when I am disturbed by others. As a person, I always used to be high in neuroticism and easily angered ever since I was a child. It seemed to a genetic factor. It makes sense to assume that meditation or an awakening experience doesn’t mysteriously change a person’s genetics. But the factors that will make me angry were reduced completely. I could easily change my mood from being angry to being normal.
  • It is not like feeling continuous bliss and being drugged all the time. But there is always a peace and fulfillment and there is no longer a feeling that something is incomplete.
  • The thoughts have not completely disappeared but they have been tremendously reduced. My thinking is usually not about the past or the present. For example, at any moment I may be thinking ‘May be there is life on one of the moons on Saturn’, or ‘How come humming birds are really too small? They are cute’… I hardly think about me.
  • There is absolutely nothing paranormal. I don’t have any memories of past life and have never seen a damn aura in my life.
  • Biological drives like food and sex motivates my behavior as usual. But motivation theories like expectancy theory or goal setting theory doesn’t seem to apply for me much. I am not driven to do something because I will get something as a result in three months time. I have to remember to consciously involve myself to do it. But I will do something to get a bottle of brandy to drink this evening. These days I have developed a conscious practice of planning ahead and thinking about doing things which are necessary for the future. The drawback with that is, I may completely forget to do it.

Also, while some changes obviously occurred as an immediate result of the transformation, some changes are gradual and still occurring within me. It took a long time to learn to live with this transformed personality and there were challenges that I faced. It is hard to put it in language, because in one way or the other, it will be misleading.

I continue to learn by my experience with this new phenomenon (in fact, people will say that it is not a new thing, it is just a person’s real essence which was and will be always present. That is true… But it is still gives a new outlook. The way it affects our behavior and our experiences is new).

I went through a great deal of suffering after this transformation when I lost my job in the next two years.  That is long story and I don’t want to go into that in detail now. I had to find a new job, had no money and depended on my parents for a couple of months. During those days, I actually missed my old job and the people. Then I realized that I had a subtle attachment with that environment which was not obvious. It took a while for things to settle down. But it was only temporary and soon it became like nothing actually happened. I have written more about what happened in the next three years after awakening in this post: Spiritual Enlightenment – Is it a Myth or Real?

 

   Osho and Sadhguru – What I noticed about them

Osho – A second look

So if this transformation is not enlightenment, then there must be another shift which is going to happen. But is that really true or enlightenment has been simply exaggerated and over rated than it really is?… Many stories of enlightenment from the west are same as my transformation. So, according to them, I am enlightened but according to Sadhguru and Osho, I am not.

This is something to figure out to prevent people from being misled. Scientific research about enlightenment is the only way to go about it. It is interesting to note that, Osho himself was completely not free of ego. To be exact, his need to feel superior seemed to be still there after enlightenment.

Let me give you some obvious examples:

  1. In the initial years, Osho regarded Nostradamus as simply a crazy man. This is what he said about his predictions:

“Nostradamus can be interpreted in any way you want. The sentences are not clear, the grammar is not correct. The words are such that you can fit them into any context you want”.

But just read what he said about the same man later, when it seemed like Nostrademus predictions about a great future teacher fit with Osho:

“Just a few days ago, I was seeing one of the most significant books to be published in this century, ‘Millenium’. It is a deep research into Nostradamus and his predictions. Eighty thousand copies were published – which is very rare – and they were sold within weeks. Now a second publication, a second edition, is happening in America, another is happening in England, and the book is being translated into many other languages – Dutch, German….

Nostradamus was a great mystic with an insight into the future. And you will be surprised to know that in his predictions, I am included. Describing the teacher of the last days of the twentieth century, he gives eight indications. Krishnamurti fulfills five, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi fulfills three, Da Free John fulfills four – and I was amazed that I fulfill all eight.

In this book ‘Millenium’, they have made a chart of the teacher about whom Nostradamus is predicting – that his people will wear red clothes, that he will come from the East, that he will be arrested, that his commune will be destroyed, that flying birds will be his symbol, that his name will mean moon…. Three hundred years ago that man was seeing something that fits perfectly with me – my name means “the moon.” And in their chart they have declared me the teacher of the last part of the twentieth century.”

Obviously, when Osho found this as boosting his superiority, he regarded the same man as mystic.

  1. Initially Osho didn’t criticize S.N Goenka and even asked his disciples to attend a Vipassana retreat by Goenka. But once Osho heard that Goenka in an interview had said that Osho was his student before, Osho started criticizing S.N Goenka so harshly.
  2. Osho always considered J.Krishnamurti as enlightened. When he heard that J.K had criticized him recently, Osho immediately reacted to it in his next discourse. He said that J.K was just in the border of enlightenment and is not enlightened yet. He also made the same statement in his last book Zen Manifesto.

Also, you will find a significant difference between what Osho has said in his early talks in India and the talks he gave in America. Even though Osho had his own rationalizations on that, anyone who carefully observes this difference can notice many things which clearly indicate that a lot of what Osho said about enlightenment could be just his opinions and exaggerations but may not be facts.

Osho had a really nasty habit of labeling people he criticized as stupids and idiots. His natural defense mechanism would usually come into play when he tried to rationalize things like this as “It is a device. I am just trying to shock you people”. But I don’t agree that many of the things that he calls as device were really consciously devised by Osho to help people towards their spiritual progress. It is pure rationalizing, one of the defense mechanisms of ego that you can observe in any human being. But I did believe that those were genuine devices when I was reading those hundreds of books of Osho. Some of them could be, but not all of them.

Many people who know Osho are probably aware that nitrous oxide was used during dental sessions with Osho. He dictated three books under the influence of Nitrous oxide. If you read those books, you will certainly notice that nitrous oxide did influence his clarity and thought process. But Osho has said that a drug will not impact an enlightened person’s alertness and consciousness in anyway. Also, it is more likely that Osho became addicted to Nitrous Oxide even though he denied it. That affected his thinking process a lot. When you read the books of his talks in the US, you will notice that those talks were just repetitive and pointless ramblings.

My assumption is that behavior, personality and opinions greatly vary between enlightened people because they still retain their genetics and even old habits. A person who was a jerk before enlightenment can retain some of those tendencies after enlightenment and a person who was like a sage before enlightenment may look like an absolute and perfect sage after enlightenment.

But they are just my assumptions. If you ask me ten years later, I may have a different answer. I am more inclined now to approach enlightenment in scientific way. For science, both skepticism and open-mindedness are necessary and important.

Osho’s Influence in the world

Osho definitely made a great contribution to the world. He brought spiritual enlightenment from the heights of great sages to the valley that most of the people in the world live in. He created awareness about enlightenment and showed to people that there is really a way to reduce a great deal of unnecessary suffering in the daily life.

Osho influenced many people who we believe today as enlightened. I can smell that influence in many books written by gurus who are alive today.

sadh

Image credit: https://twitter.com/DerekBaconART

How Osho influenced Sadhguru

Sadhguru has never endorsed Osho, even though he has talked about a lot of other mystics. In Mystic Musings, he claimed that most of what he knows came as a direct transmission from his guru. But it is certain that a lot of what he knows also came from Osho.

Enlightened people certainly share the same knowledge and experience of reality. So, in those aspects they can certainly rely on their own experience even though it may appear that one person might have copied the ideas of another person. But it doesn’t apply to everything. A lot of what Sadhguru knows seems to have come from the books by Osho. But I wonder why he never gives him credit.

Here are a few examples..

  1. Here is an anecdote given by Sadhguru:

“When you sit in front of a living Guru, you have many problems, judgments, likes and dislikes, because invariably you end up looking at his personality. People have left their Gurus for all kinds of frivolous things. This happened with J. Krishnamurti, a realized being and very wonderful man. There was a certain lady who was very close to him and deeply involved with his work. She was always around him and traveled to many places with him. Once when he was in Amsterdam, Holland, he went into a shop to buy a tie for himself. He was so meticulous about choosing a tie, because he was very conscious about everything and also what he wore. He could throw the tie away if he wanted to, but when he wears it, he wants it to be in a certain way. So he went into the shop and spent nearly four hours picking out one tie. He pulled out every tie in the shop, looked at it, put it on, and then said, “No.” It took him four hours to select just one tie. This woman watched and watched and watched, and as minutes passed, in her mind his enlightenment receded. She thought a man who could be so concerned about what kind of tie he wears couldn’t be enlightened, and she left him. Many such stupid things are done because of your judgments.”

Source: http://www.dhyanalinga.org/difference_qa.htm

How did Sadhguru came to know about this incidence? There is absolutely only one way he could have known this. You cannot find this information anywhere except in Osho’s talks. Osho knew this because the lady herself told Osho about this incident. You can find this anecdote from the book ‘The Book of Wisdom’ by Osho.

Here is a link to that excerpt:

http://oshosearch.net/Convert/Articles_Osho/The_Book_of_Wisdom/Osho-The-Book-of-Wisdom-00000012.html

  1. Sadhguru once told a story that supposedly happened when Aristotle met Heraclitus. Heraclitus was trying to empty the ocean with a spoon. You can read the whole story here:

    http://isha.sadhguru.org/blog/li…

    But Aristotle lived between 384–322 BC and Heraclitus lived between c. 535 – c. 475 BC. There is no way that this meeting took place.. Obviously, it seems there is some mistake…

    How did Sadhguru know about this anecdote?

Obviously, you cannot find the story of Aristotle meeting Heraclitus, except in a book of Osho. The story is from the book ‘Hidden Harmony’ – Chapter 5, by Osho.

Here is the link: http://www.osho.com/iosho/library/read-book/online-library-look-aristotle-flower-51daeb6a-147?p=5ae86f113210d477f5542e2c5aa6a6e5

So, did Osho make up this story? No… The story actually happened in St. Augustine’s life. Osho simply mismatched the names because memory doesn’t work perfectly all the time.

  1. In the same link, you can find Sadhguru criticizing the statement “I think, therefore I am” made by Rene Descartes.

But as far as I know, the first person who ever criticized this statement in the context of spiritual enlightenment was Osho. And, Osho actually made a mistake in interpreting Rene’s statement.

Just by reading that statement, anyone can misinterpret that as “Thought is the basis of existence, you cannot exist if you don’t have thoughts’….

But that is not what Rene Descartes intended to say. He said that you can doubt any belief or concept but you cannot deny your own existence. The doubt implies that there is a doubter. A doubter has to exist to doubt. If you don’t exist, you cannot doubt, and you cannot think. So, if you think, that actually means you exist. That is what he meant by saying ‘I think, therefore I am’.

Here is more clear interpretation of the statement that I found in a forum:

“I think, therefore I am” is a crude mistranslation of Descartes’s proposition. It misrepresents the essence of Descartes’s philosophy because most philosophers now regard the process of thinking as a kind of invisible mechanical action (i.e. stimulus-response).

Historians, philosophers and many scientists have repeated this mistranslated phrase for more than three hundred years. But Descartes’s meant something entirely different, as can be seen when “cogito ergo sum” is read in context.

The Latin word, cogito can mean “I think”, “I know” or “I am aware”; ergo always means “therefore” in any context. However, sum can mean “I am” or “I exist”. To suggest that, “I know, therefore I am” would be wrong as it’s possible to accept wrong knowledge as correct.

If you read Descartes’s Philosophical Writings in context, it becomes obvious that he was concerned with awareness rather than with thinking or knowing and with existence rather than being.

Properly translated, Descartes’s phrase should therefore read: “I am aware, therefore I exist” – a subjective rather than a mechanistic generalization. No machine can be self- or globally aware, no matter how many sensors are attached to it.

In fact, the philosopher Spinoza translated cogito ergo sum as “I am conscious, therefore I exist”. Even that’s wrong, although it’s closer to the truth than the usual lazy mistranslation which has unfairly earned Descartes’s the reputation of being a crude reductionist.

It’s true that he stated the obvious: that physiological functions are pseudo-mechanical. But he also insisted that man was much more than a machine because of his subjective awareness of the self and of the universe.”

How will a teacher find out if a student has copied another student? If both made the exact same mistake, then one person must have copied another.

Sadhguru simply used Osho’s example without realizing that Osho himself has interpreted it in the wrong way.

  1. Sadhguru once said that seventy percent illness are created by the mind..

http://isha.sadhguru.org/blog/video/the-symptoms-of-an-ill-mind/

Is it a fact? How did he come up with 70%.. Why not 72%? Why not 80%…

Because, Osho also said the exact same thing: http://www.osho.com/read/featured-articles/body-dharma/the-mind-and-disease-hypnosis-and-health

  1. Read the following excerpt from Sadhguru:

“So, this is…this whole idea of right and wrong, good and bad is all human nonsense. Existence is not human centric. They have always told you… many religions of the world have been going about telling people “You are made in God’s own image” and once you are in God’s own image naturally the place that you live They believed this for a long time, isn’t it? Even now they are insisting. You’ve heard of this guy Copernicus? Copernicus was one of the first guys who came and said, “Earth is not the center of the universe; not only not the center of the universe, it is not even the center of the solar system.” And he promptly died. That’s not bad thing; it’s a good thing because the next man after him, when he uttered the same thing the local church decided to skin him alive. They wanted to peal his skin off and the skin would not cooperate. So, they decided to burn him alive. The next significant man who has uttered the same thing was Galileo; he said the same thing. Then they got ready with the skin peelers. Then he said, “No, no, no, no; earth is the center of the universe and the cosmos. What is my problem? (Laughter) As you say earth is not only the center of the solar system and not only the center of the universe; it is the very center of the cosmos. Anyway I do not know what is the center of the cosmos, you want to assume. I want to save my skin. That much I know.” (Laughs)

So, today science has proved to you that definitely earth is not the center of the solar system, in the universe you are just a miniscule. Tomorrow morning if you and your planet disappears, if it evaporates nobody is going to miss it. Hmm? The whole solar system evaporates tomorrow morning it will be just a small vacant place that nobody is going to miss in the existence, nothing is going to happen. Yes? God won’t come rescuing you. It’ll just pooff it will go. This is a good thing. This whole idea that I am made in the image of God has left man so crude and he has been walking upon this planet so wantonly without any concern for any other life on this planet, simply because he believes he is in the image of God. If you knew that your life is as significant or as insignificant as that of an ant – it is actually.”

–  From http://isha.sadhguru.org/blog/video/are-you-looking-for-solace-or-a-solution/

Now read this excerpt from Osho and you will find that the above excerpt is the exact rephrase of what Osho said. It sounds almost like Sadhguru had just read this before coming to the discourse:

“Human beings have thought of God in human terms. It is natural. We have said that God created man in His own image. If horses could think they would deny this: they would say that God created horses in His own image. Because man has created the philosophy, he has made himself the center.

Even God must be in our image. He must have created us in His own image. Man’s ego has asserted these things. This is not knowledge, this is not knowing – this is simply an anthropocentric feeling.

Man feels himself to be the center. We have thought that the earth is the center of the universe and man is the center of creation. These conceptions are false imaginations, dreams of the human ego. God has not created anybody in His own image because the whole is His image. The trees, the earth, the stars; the animals, men, women – everything that exists is His image, not just man.

Then too, we have divided the world into good and evil. The world is not so divided: good and evil are our evaluations. If man did not exist on the earth there would be neither good nor bad. Things would exist, things would be there, but there would be no evaluation. The evaluation is man’s: it is our imposition, it is our projection.”

–  From ‘The Eternal Quest’ by Osho

  1. Both men surprisingly had the same views about nations:

“Someday, we must overcome the idea of a nation. Such a silly idea – someone draws a line and that becomes so immensely important. These boundaries have become meaningful only because there is such inequity in the world. If there was no inequity, if for example, Mexico and the United States both had the same level of economic prosperity and wellbeing, would one side be guarding the borders with guns, barbed wires and all that, and would the other side be digging tunnels to get here? No. Whoever wants to go in either direction could do so – no one would care. But in our lifetime, we may not see the abolishment of national borders. Europe has done reasonably well, but it looks like they are beginning to step back from the European Union because those who have, do not want to share with those who do not have.”

By Sadhguru – From http://isha.sadhguru.org/blog/lifestyle/does-it-matter-where-you-live/

Osho said the same thing:

“NATIONS HAVE BECOME out of date – but they go on existing and they are the greatest problem. Looking at the world with a bird’s eye view, a strange feeling arises that we have everything – just we need one humanity.

For example, in Ethiopia people were dying – one thousand people per day – and in Europe they were drowning billions of dollars worth of food in the ocean.

Anybody looking from the outside will think humanity is insane. Thousands of people are dying and mountains of butter and other foodstuff is being drowned in the ocean. But Ethiopia is not the concern of the Western world. Their concern is to save their economies and their status quo. And to protect their economic structures, they are willing to destroy food which could have saved the lives of thousands of people.

Problems are worldwide – solutions have also to be worldwide.

And my understanding is absolutely clear, that there are things somewhere where they are not needed, and somewhere else the very life depends on them. A world government means looking at the whole situation of this globe and shifting things where they are needed.

It is one humanity. And once we think of one world, then there is only one economy.”

  • From ‘Hari Om Tat Sat’ by Osho

http://oshosearch.net/Convert/Articles_Osho/Hari_Om_Tat_Sat/Osho-Hari-Om-Tat-Sat-00000005.html

  1. Here are a couple of comparisons as well:

Sarada giving the knife to vivekananda:

http://oshosearch.net/Convert/Articles_Osho/Early_Talks/Osho-Early-Talks-00000010.html

http://isha.sadhguru.org/blog/sadhguru/masters-words/stories-swami-vivekananda-life-inspired/

Alexander and immortality:

Osho https://oshostories.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/alexander-and-immortality/

Sadhguru http://isha.sadhguru.org/blog/yoga-meditation/history-of-yoga/when-alexander-chased-immortality/

  1. Have you heard about a story told by Sadhguru about Ramakrishna’s obsession over food to keep his body alive? Try as much as you can to find out the source of the story and you can only find this story in Osho’s talks. I have read in many places Ramakrishna liked certain fruits and sweets. But the conversation between Sarada and Ramakrishna regarding the obsession over food and Ramakrishna saying that it is necessary to keep his body alive seems to be just an imaginary incident created by Osho. Even if it was true, it is highly unlikely that both Osho and Sadhguru somehow independently got access to this information which is not found in any other sources.

I have all three volumes of ‘Gospel of Ramakrishna’ which is the most honest account of Ramakrishna’s life incidents. When you read the book, you will feel like watching a movie. Everything that happened was exactly recorded by the author and there is not even a single place where it is mentioned that he had an obsession over food and he was often checking the kitchen to find out what is cooking. But Ramakrishna always used to ask for a glass of water which was necessary for him to come out of Samadhi.

9. Sadhguru narrates a story of Svetaketu in a podcast:

Svetaketu and the Cows

But you can’t find this story of Svetaketu as narrated by Sadhguru in Upanishads… Because it seems that the story is a mixture of two different stories from Chandogya Upanishad, one story is of Svetaketu (His father questions him if he has known that which cannot be known) and the other is the story of Satyakama (the one who is sent to forest with 400 animals)..

So, how did Sadhguru come up with this story? You guessed it. Osho made this mistake of mixing up the two stories:

http://www.osho.com/iosho/library/read-book/online-library-supreme-svetaketu-taught-78d59dde-9b0?p=867d5652b07d80469abc69481a91e28f

10. Sadhguru says in a discourse that there are two paths :

“Fundamentally, on any Spiritual path, there are only two types of spiritual processes in the world – the path of Samadhi and the path of Pragna”

This is actually a Buddhist distinction, but usually the terms Samatha and Vipassana are used, instead of pragna and samadhi, respectively. Osho was the one who used these terms when talking about this distinction. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev also used the same terminology and even gave the same examples given by Osho.

Check my post here: https://nellaishanmugam.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/path-of-samadhi-and-pragna-talks-by-sadhguru-and-osho/

So, It is very obvious that Sadhguru has read books of Osho and greatly influenced by him. I respect Sadhguru a lot for all the phenomenal work that he is doing for this world. But while he is taking a lot of effort to give credit to Adiyogi, why did he fail to give credit to Osho? He hasn’t even talked about him in his discourses.

                                             Spiritual enlightenment and Science

We think we are rational human beings. But unfortunately it is not so. Every human being’s thinking is naturally biased, which is a nature’s way of helping human survival. We must consider all the cognitive biases that can happen when people interpret their own enlightenment. Cognitive bias can influence our logical thinking in various ways. No matter how intelligent a person is, he is not free of cognitive bias. I used to believe that enlightenment destroys the bias, but if you observe the enlightened people and their talks, you will find out it is not true.

Many reports of spiritual enlightenment are self-reports. The individuals who go through a spiritual experience and shift their centre from self-concept to their being, they often try to conform to the believed standards of enlightenment. It is natural, because a human being as a social animal wants to conform to the standards of society. Conformity is studied by social psychologists.

Only a few people have revolted against the conventional standards and proposed some new standards. Osho is an example. But still, they don’t completely ignore all the standards as they cannot completely avoid conformity, which is a human tendency when it comes to social behaviour.

For example, almost all enlightened people agree with existence of Karma.. Sure, we all know that natural laws exist. But Karma is not explained as a natural law all the time. They imply that something from an individual continues to another new born individual and affects him. But did they really come to that conclusion with some knowledge that they gained out of their own experience and interpreted that knowledge in unbiased way or are they simply repeating what has been said? Is the role of collective unconsciousness (Carl Jung) understood falsely as the role of karma?

Some people report that they remember their previous reincarnation. But you also need to know that there is something called ‘False memory’ which is a psychological phenomenon wherein a person recalls something that did not occur.

Interestingly, when scientists did research about reincarnation, they analyzed reports of past life memories from various people and found that most of the people who report such memories come from the eastern part of the world. The obvious reason is the fact that reincarnation is a belief which mostly comes from the East. So, obviously when they have false memories, they associate it with reincarnation. While false memories are not intentional, some people are also likely to intentionally make up such stories.

How about seeing auras? Can it be Synesthesia? (a neurological phenomenon that causes cross wiring of senses)..

I am not saying that all these claims of seeing auras or remembering past lives cannot be real.. It could be. I am just suggesting all the possibilities. When it comes to science, you have to be both open minded and skeptic. But people are usually inclined more towards believing or completely denying.

But I assume that there is certainly a link between enlightenment and neural plasticity. Scientists now believe that mindfulness meditation can rewire the brain. An enlightened brain could be a completely rewired brain that inhibits the activity of sympathetic nervous system when there is no need. SNS is supposed to be activated when an animal feels that there is a threat for life. If a lion is chasing the deer, then SNS of the deer activates its fear and makes it to run fast. But as human beings evolved from being an animal to human, the SNS gets activated even for trivial issues and makes human beings to suffer. Rewiring the brain through meditation or self-inquiry may be the way to get rid of this human suffering.

The most reasonable way to study enlightenment is to study the brains of enlightened people. Scientists can observe many things from techniques like fMRI and PET scans. They have been already studying the brains of mediators but only a couple of so called enlightened people have volunteered to have their brains studied.

 

The Theory of Enlightenment – by Scientific Method

Is there a way to  approach enlightenment scientifically and create a scientific doctrine of enlightenment? I think there is. We can derive a scientific definition of enlightenment and then do research to prove that the phenomenon called enlightenment  and enlightened people do exist…

Why science? Because science has a strong appeal. People don’t have issues in accepting anything that is scientifically proven..It is held that the knowledge in science is based on strong public evidence proven with careful, precise and systematic observation.

First, let me tell you something about scientific method.To be a scientist, you need to follow a specific approach in acquiring knowledge with some values and standards. The main values and standards are skepticism, open-mindedness, objectivity and accuracy.

The measurement of anything that you observe should be very accurate. You should also watch out for any cognitive bias that is affecting your objectivity. You should carefully avoid confirmational bias, availability heuristics, logical fallacies and relying on intuition rather than rational thinking.

Even if you are a spiritual seeker (or someone claiming to be enlightened) and have no knowledge in psychology, you can still play this game. To play this game, you need to put up a skeptic’s mask. That is the first thing.. That way you can also support a scientific research for enlightenment and be just an audience of the game and enjoy the game. If you are psychologist and have some interest in this research, then you can find various ideas to formulate a theory and hypothesis for enlightenment.

The goal of my article is not to create such a theory.. But I can probably help in giving you an outline of the theory or help you to create the outline and concepts in the theory.  I am not a scientist but I studied Psychology with authentic textbooks and found it fascinating. I acquired some basic knowledge on psychology and understand how a research in psychology works.

                                           Am I enlightened?

I went through a  major ‘change’ in my life when I was about thirty years old, which is similar to a lot of the reported awakening experiences. That ‘change’ completely changed my perspective of the reality, gave me contentment and peace which may be temporarily lost and regained, reduced about 80% of my involuntary thought process, assumably reduced much of the activity in my default mode network, brought a lot of subconscious tendencies into light, destroyed the obsession and attachment towards my own self-image and stripped away a lot of attachments that I had on the objects of everyday life. It stopped the feeling of cognitive dissonance and self-consciousness completely. (Self-consciousness is an acute sense of self-awareness. It is a preoccupation with oneself, as opposed to the philosophical state of self-awareness, which is the awareness that one exists as an individual being; although some writers use both terms interchangeably or synonymously – Wiki)

If you are wondering what is cognitive dissonance, then let me quote from Wikipedia:

“In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress (discomfort) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values; when performing an action that contradicts one of those beliefs, ideas, or values; or when confronted with new information that contradicts one of the beliefs, ideas, and values. In other words, the term refers to the perception of incompatibility of two simultaneous cognitions, which can impact a person’s attitudes.

Leon Festinger‘s 1957 theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how human beings strive for internal consistency. A person who experiences inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable, and so is motivated to try to reduce the cognitive dissonance occurring, trying to “justify” their behavior by changing or adding new parts of the conflicting cognition, as well as actively avoiding situations and information likely to increase the psychological discomfort”.

Now, is the ‘change’ that I went through ‘enlightenment’? It need not be. It doesn’t fit into a lot of what is said about enlightenment. It neither made me a morally infallible person nor did it make me a person who is blissed out all the time like drugged with LSD or ecstasy. But it did give me some blissful experiences in the beginning which made me feel that  I had achieved the ultimate non-drugged bliss, peace and contentment one can possibly achieve. I remember walking on the road like a king one morning with a cool breeze of bliss flowing in my skull. A couple of months later, I noticed that It only made me aware of my egoic tendencies but those tendencies still exist as a part in my consciousness and can still influence my decisions. The ‘change’ did not happen in a single moment but in a process that lasted for about two to three months.But It reached its peak when I was in a Gurupurnima day satsang (July 12, 2014) with Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev.

The change that I went through made me to look my self-image and the tendencies to keep it perfect and consistent as a subset of my own true reality, which seemed to be my true self (a sense of self based on spontaneous authentic experience, and a feeling of being alive)… It took away the distinction of feeling that there is an other and there is me… My definition of the true self and a false self is consistent with the theory of true and false self by  Donald Woods Winnicott, an English paediatrician and psychoanalyst. And also, to call that as a real ‘Self’ is metaphoric because the real self is not really a self – as the word is understood commonly by people. It is not an ‘I’ – as the word is commonly understood. The buddhist idea of Anatta fits more with it.

I can assume that the cause for the change is partially the catharsis and ‘meditation with action’ that I did ten years earlier to the change and mainly the constant practice of mindfulness or choiceless awareness that went on for a month before the change. Also, learning, understanding and assimilating the concept of Advaita about 5 years earlier to the change acted as a catalyst and help me to see things in a new light. There is absolutely nothing paranormal about it, no ESP, no auras and no memories of a previous incarnation…

By putting the skeptic mask on, the only word that I can use for these events with the limited vocabulary that I have is, ‘change’. But I am pretty sure that there are people out there in the world who actually use the word ‘enlightenment’ for a similar ‘change’ that happened in their lives. Psychology also has a word for a change in a person’s life which produces some of the results in a human being similar to the results that can be observed in a person who is believed to be ‘enlightened’; It is called ‘Self-Actualization’.

                                  The characteristics of self -actualization           

Psychology views ‘Self-Actualization’ as one of the human needs, the top one in the pyramid above physical and social needs. The term was originally introduced by the organismic theorist Kurt Goldstein for the motive to realize one’s full potential. Expressing one’s creativity, quest for spiritual enlightenment, pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to give to and/or positively transform society are examples of self-actualization.

1024px-Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg

Below are the characteristics of self -actualization according to Wikipedia:

  • Efficient perceptions of reality. Self-actualizers are able to judge situations correctly and honestly. They are very sensitive to the fake and dishonest, and are free to see reality ‘as it is’.
  • Comfortable acceptance of self, others and nature. Self-actualizers accept their own human nature with all its flaws. The shortcomings of others and the contradictions of the human condition are accepted with humor and tolerance.
  • Reliant on own experiences and judgement. Independent, not reliant on culture and environment to form opinions and views.
  • Spontaneous and natural. True to oneself, rather than being how others want.
  • Task centering. Most of Maslow’s subjects had a mission to fulfill in life or some task or problem ‘beyond’ themselves (instead of outside of themselves) to pursue. Humanitarians such as Albert Schweitzer are considered to have possessed this quality.
  • Autonomy. Self-actualizers are free from reliance on external authorities or other people. They tend to be resourceful and independent.
  • Continued freshness of appreciation. The self-actualizer seems to constantly renew appreciation of life’s basic goods. A sunset or a flower will be experienced as intensely time after time as it was at first. There is an “innocence of vision”, like that of an artist or child.
  • Profound interpersonal relationships. The interpersonal relationships of self-actualizers are marked by deep loving bonds.
  • Comfort with solitude. Despite their satisfying relationships with others, self-actualizing people value solitude and are comfortable being alone.
  • Non-hostile sense of humor. This refers to the ability to laugh at oneself.
  • Peak experiences. All of Maslow’s subjects reported the frequent occurrence of peak experiences (temporary moments of self-actualization). These occasions were marked by feelings of ecstasy, harmony, and deep meaning. Self-actualizers reported feeling at one with the universe, stronger and calmer than ever before, filled with light, beauty, goodness, and so forth.
  • Socially compassionate. Possessing humanity.
  • Few friends. Few close intimate friends rather than many superficial relationships.

                           Spiritual Enlightenment and Human Evolution

Many people who are known as enlightened persons have said that a person can be either enlightened or not enlightened, there cannot be a partially enlightened person. But I don’t think that changes that enlightenment produces in the brain happens in a single moment. And I definitely believe that enlightenment brings changes in our cognitive process which can be observed through brain imaging techniques like MRI. So, it is possible that a certain change is initiated in the brain in the beginning of the process in which a person becomes enlightened. We can assume that the change is gradual until it reaches a certain point which is the ultimate point. The time it takes to reach the ultimate point may vary from a few days to many years. So, even in my case, it is possible that the change is still going on and not complete yet.

Modern day spiritual gurus have started to view enlightenment as a natural process that happens in human evolution. At this point it is just another made up theory created using rational thinking alone and as the spiritual gurus don’t have a way to know if it is true for sure.. It may be true but we first need to scientifically prove whether such a thing as enlightenment exists. If your skeptic mask is too loose, then you may shout out ‘No, the gurus have access to akashic records, they have some unique abilities to know certain things!’… Remember, we are discussing science.. Trying to prove that a so called enlightened person has access to some extraordinary internet called ‘Akashic records’ is a long way to go in science.

When we create the concepts in our enlightenment theory, it is necessary to create predictions based on the theory which can be verified by experiments and reproduced any number of time. Those predictions are called hypotheses. For example, a hypothesis can look like this: “There is only ‘x’ amount of activity in the DMN (Default mode network) in the brain of a person who can be defined as ‘enlightened’ according to science.” For this, we have to define ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘an enlightened person’. In the first place, we can only define an enlightened person by the parameters that can be measured.

I tried to create a couple of definitions for ‘Enlightenment’, making it as narrow as possible. Also, the definition must be something can be easily changed to a scientific definition.

                                           The True reality

Let us try with a first possible definition. This one is not really a scientific definition, but I have managed to strip it off a lot of concepts associated with enlightenment and put it in a very narrow window:

Enlightenment is the knowledge and experience of a person’s true reality which is realized by that person that permanently changes the outlook of the outside world for him/her.”

But what is a person’s true reality? Can we even explain that in scientific terms? A few comments on the true reality:

1) The true reality itself cannot be observed because nothing that is observed by a person is the person’s true reality. The person’s reality is neither his mind or nor his body because both can be observed by the person.

2) But there are things which are observable by science in the brain of the person who is enlightened (has realized his true reality). We can compare those observation  on people who are not enlightened and find out that difference. If there is a noticeable difference which make the enlightened ones stand apart from the crowd, then we can make those observable attributes to create a scientific definition of an  enlightened person.

3.The true reality is one. There are no two true realities. This implies that there is something common in the consciousness of every individual. Your true reality and my true reality are not two different things. This can only be a subjective experience. So, we can make a case study of the people who claim that this is how they see the reality. Then we can find out if they fit into our scientific definition of enlightenment by checking if they have the same observable traits we discussed. If there is any correlation, it will strengthen this theory.

May be we need to see enlightenment from a neurophysical perspective and define it in a way to make it easy for science to conduct research. How about this one?:

Enlightenment is a realization that happens to a person as a result of a cognitive event or a series of events which result in permanent changes in a person’s cognition and the perception of reality. It also increases the person’s subjective wellbeing and mental peace to the maximum possible level. It helps an individual to step out of hedonic treadmill.

This definition may not be a complete definition of enlightenment and people in spiritual practices may see think it doesn’t cover all aspects of enlightenment. But we are looking only at the aspects of the enlightenment which can be observed in an MRI scan.

If you are a psychologist, you can probably make a better one.

               Observable symptoms of enlightenment in the brain

I have come up some observable symptoms of enlightenment and meditation in the brain, that I derived based on the experiments done by scientists:

  1. Greater well being and reduced stress.
  2. High activity in the brain’s left prefrontal cortex
  3. Low or no activity in the Default mode network.
  4. Higher tolerance of pain.

These are the 4 main symptoms that I think which can be observed. I will go into these symptoms in a moment and explain them based on the scientific studies which have been done in the past.

We have to make accurate measurements of the values of these 4 traits  in people who claim to be enlightened and people who are not. First we need to make a comparison between the results of these two groups and confirm if the above observation is true. If it is true, then we can compare the scores of the people within the group of people who claim that they are enlightened. We have to look for the highest numbers in the scores. Then we can find out the maximum values of these scores and check if most of the people in that group have the maximum possible values. The experiments have to be repeated multiple times to get confidence in the results.

 The Role of Mindfulness and other meditation practices:

By observing the lives of people who are believed to be enlightened by the spiritual community, we come to know that they followed a course of various techniques called ‘Spiritual practice’ which resulted in the events preceding enlightenment. Among the practices like Self-inquiry, Yoga, love etc, one of the practices that is very common and scientifically proven to be  beneficial for mental health is ‘Mindfulness’ meditation.

According to Wikipedia, here are the scientific findings about mindfulness:

“Large population-based research studies have indicated that the practice of mindfulness is strongly correlated with greater well-being and perceived health.This is applicable to society at large as well as specific settings such as workplaces and schools.Studies have also shown that rumination and worry contribute to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, and that mindfulness-based interventions are effective in the reduction of both rumination and worry.

Clinical psychology and psychiatry since the 1970s have developed a number of therapeutic applications based on mindfulness for helping people who are experiencing a variety of psychological conditions. Mindfulness practice is being employed in psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, such as bringing about reductions in depression symptoms, reducing stress, anxiety, and in the treatment of drug addiction. Recent studies demonstrate that mindfulness meditation significantly attenuates pain through multiple, unique mechanisms. It has gained worldwide popularity as a distinctive method to handle emotions.”

So, we can summarize what mindfulness does:

  1. It correlates with greater well being.
  2. Reduces rumination and worry, stress and anxiety.

So, we can safely hypothesize the enlightened people have increased subjective well being and less stress, anxiety and worry than common people.

It is essential to point out here that most of the enlightened people claim that they are in a constant meditative and mindful state. Several traits have been observed by brain imaging techniques on  meditator’s brains. So, we can also hypothesize that enlightened people are likely to have the same traits which were observed in meditators.

Here is a list of traits observed on the brains of meditators, according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_activity_and_meditation :

  1. Decreased alpha blocking and increased frontal lobe specific theta activity.
  2. Recent studies have shown heightened activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, frontal cortex, and prefrontal cortex, specifically in the dorsal medial prefrontal area during Vipassana meditation. Similarly, the cingulate cortex and frontal cortex areas were shown to have increased activity during Zen meditation.
  3. Greater sensitivity to emotional expression and positive emotion
  4. Increased density in grey matter regions and white matter pathways in the brains of individuals who meditate in comparison to individuals who do not.
  5. Higher tolerance for pain.

Low activity in Default Mode network (DMN):

Gary Weber is a scientist as well as somebody who has claimed to have become enlightened, has observed that most of the thoughts in his mind has disappeared after enlightenment.

In an article about Gary Weber, it says “Over time, Weber figured out that it wasn’t that all his thoughts had disappeared; rather a particular kind of self-referential thinking had cut out, what he calls “the blah blah network.” Scientists now refer to this as the “default mode network” (DMN), that is, the endlessly ruminative story of me: the obsessive list-maker, the anxious scenario planner, the distracted daydreamer.  This is the part of the thinking process we default to when not engaged in a specific task”. (Source: http://psychologytomorrowmagazine.com/jeff-warren-neuroscience-suffering-end/ )

It is also interesting to note that science has observed that DMN activation correlates with more unhappiness.

Here is a definition of DMN from Wikipedia: “The default mode network is most commonly shown to be active when a person is not focused on the outside world and the brain is at wakeful rest, such as during daydreaming and mind-wandering. But it is also active when the individual is thinking about others, thinking about themselves, remembering the past, and planning for the future”.

My own observation about my mind after doing years of mindfulness meditation is that most of my thoughts have disappeared. Based on the Wiki definition of DMN, I can confidently assume that there is a very less activity in the DMN of my brain.

So, we can also hypothesize that enlightened people have less or no activity in default mode network.

High activity in the brain’s left prefrontal cortex:

Here is an excerpt from an article about Matthieu Ricard, who is considered as the happiest man in the world by scientists  (Matthieu Ricard: Meet Mr Happy) :

“Matthieu Ricard, French translator and right-hand man for the Dalai Lama, has been the subject of intensive clinical tests at the University of Wisconsin, as a result of which he is frequently described as the happiest man in the world. It’s a somewhat flattering title, he says, given the tiny percentage of the global population who have had their brain patterns monitored by the same state-of-the-art technology, which involves attaching 256 sensors to the skull, and three hours’ continuous MRI scanning. The fact remains that, out of hundreds of volunteers whose scores ranged from +0.3 (what you might call the Morrissey zone) to -0.3 (beatific) the Frenchman scored -0.45. He shows me the chart of volunteers’ results, on his laptop. To find Ricard, you have to keep scrolling left, away from the main curve, until you eventually find him – a remote dot at the beginning of the x-axis.”

Here is another page that shows some pictures from the test which was done: Is this the world’s happiest man? Brain scans reveal French monk has ‘abnormally large capacity’ for joy – thanks to meditation

By doing the above research, this is what science has confirmed:

Meditation has been found to lead to high activity in the brain’s left prefrontal cortex, which in turn has been found to correlate with happiness.

So, we can hypothesize that enlightened people also have high activity in the brain’s left prefrontal cortex and hence they are happier than others. (I am not saying that all meditators are enlightened; But this hypothesis is based on the claim that enlightened people are always or mostly in a state of meditation.)

                                                   Conclusion

The only way to speed up a scientific research on this is by voluntary cooperation by all the gurus out there who say that they are enlightened and teach a way for others to become enlightened.  If these gurus tie up with scientists and are willing to have them checked with MRI scanning, science can make some useful discoveries. This is actually a good contribution that they can make to humanity rather than keep giving discourses, writing more books, conducting meditation retreats and mix their own views with the information which is already available on spirituality. As much as I have observed, enlightened people can still have various cognitive biases and still experience influence from the ego when making decisions or choices. When science can actually look at what is going on in their brain, why don’t they come up and volunteer? Many organizations associated with enlightened people are run by volunteers, but these enlightened people themselves have to volunteer to make this great revolution to happen. A scientific research on this can answer what we human beings are really up to and what are we evolving to be. At last, we can find out a scientific way out of human suffering.

Related links:

How Understanding the Process of Enlightenment Could Change Science?

What Really Happens In Our Brains When We Have Spiritual Experiences?