Monday, January 28, 2008

Self-enquiry As a Yoga of Love: Cutting Through Spiritless Materialism

One thing I want to keep repeating, as often as is necessary, is that self-enquiry is not an intellectual or analytic process. It isn't even a form of discrimination at heart, though it is supported by discrimination. Primarily, it is what can only be called love, devotion, surrender - the heart. Discrimination is only useful in coming to this understanding. Discrimination teaches us that everything else is inherently meaningless, except for this core love of Self. All meaning comes from the Self, and is attached to the forms the Self takes by the mind that presumes itself to be the only real actor in all of this, but is in reality merely the still and actionless Self of love.

My experience of practicing self-enquiry is that it awakens this love spontaneously, without adding any particular intention for it to do that. As Ramana always said, there is no jnana without bhakta. What is most striking about love awakened by self-enquiry is that it is not attached to any particular object. The general practice of bhakta is to direct one's attention to an object, a God, a Guru, a symbol or archetype of some kind, and practice devotion to that object. I'm not saying this is wrong to do at all, mind you. I think it's a wonderful thing to practice. It's just that self-enquiry is different in that when love awakens through self-enquiry there is no object it is associated with. One can, of course, quickly associate it with an object. The Guru is the most common such object. So people around Ramana, for example, naturally associated the devotion awakened by self-enquiry with him as Guru, and practiced a devotional life in relation to him. This isn't wrong either, and is in fact also very wonderful. It's important to remember, however, that even Ramana always reminded his devotees that their real devotion was to the Self, and that he, Ramana, was only an outward symbol of the Self, the purpose of which was to help direct their attention back upon themselves, on the Self in the heart, and to use him for that purpose if need be, and not for any other purpose.

What self-enquiry shows us about love is that it does not arise in relation to objects, but that it arises spontaneously from the heart, because it is merely the heart's own nature. The problem with devotional religion in general is that it tends to see the purpose of this love arising from the heart as some imperative to direct itself to some “other”, to enter into loving relations with these others, and to fulfill some kind of loving destiny with them. All kinds of strange myths develop as a result, myths of Gods and Gurus and plans for the universe. But in reality all such ideas are merely the mind's imposition on this free love arising in the heart. Love itself has no purpose or direction. It is merely the Presence and Nature of the Self, the heart, our very being. What is realization but the recognition that this is so, and the cessation of all attempts to exploit or direct this love in relation to objects?

This doesn't mean we can't discuss the yoga of this love, that we can't discuss how it arises and moves into life. As mentioned in my last post, there's a whole cosmology of forms by which we appear here, and the practice of self-enquiry doesn't ignore these forms or their structure. In fact, if we aren't aware of that structure to some basic degree we can easily be deluded by our own mind and makes assumptions and associations that simply aren't true, that are the result of unconsciously presuming these forms and structures within our own minds to be inherently meaningful, rather than merely composed of mind-created meanings. And then our love becomes bound and destined, rather than free. So this merely amounts to understanding the structure of our suffering, and releasing that structure from the limitations we have placed upon it.

In my last post I discussed some of the structural relationships between the physical body and brain, and the pranic and astral bodies. I mentioned in particular that one of the chief developmental processes in becoming associated with a physical body is establishing a fully functional “interface” between the astral and the physical, particularly at the level of the brain and nervous system. If this is not done, we become frustrated and dysfunctional, to the degree that this interface is incomplete or damaged. I'd suggest that much of what we suffer from in the physical realm while alive is the result of our inability to properly develop and grow this synaptic interface with the astral self. Most of what we “do” in this life is really little more than this, not any achievements themselves. Because our attention tends towards objects, we do indeed develop these capacities in relation to objects, particularly physical ones, and this is good, because that is the very nature of the process. It is only that the way we tend to go about this actually reinforces object relations, and leads to clinging and attachment that actually interferes with the process, thus creating a long struggle with our own double-binds. The dilemma becomes one of relating to the physical with love, and yet avoiding the pitfalls of attachment in the process. I think we all know how hard that is.

Self-enquiry helps us go beyond these pitfalls by showing us that love is not about any object, even physical ones near and dear to us. It recognizes that the source of love is in the Self, not merely in the relationship between astral and physical. It teaches us how to love without being bound. More specifically, it allows the individual to develop these relationships in a way that undoes the pitfalls and limitations that develop if we seek through these means for some specific result.

I mentioned that one of the benefits of meditation is that it allows the astral and physical to grow and develop this “interface”. Primarily it does this not by any directed effort, but by the relaxation of the stress and struggle that interfere with this natural process. The surrendered and relaxed state of meditation allows this growth to occur naturally and in a healthy manner, rather than in an aberrated and object directed manner. Even if the form of meditation is object-directed in some fashion, as in devotional meditation, this can still occur if it results in a general relaxation of the brain and nervous system. However, tense and tightly focused forms of meditation may have a negative and aberating effect. By constricting the tissues of the brain, and of the pranic body, and of our astral energy itself, the ability of these to form strong and healthy bonds is disrupted and even perverted. This occurs when meditation becomes obsessive and overly object-oriented, or even when it becomes obsessed with pranic and astral energy as an object in and of itself. By turning these into objects of meditation, our energy becomes more disturbed, and is unable to form a healthy bonding with the physical body, resulting in ill-health and mental and emotional disturbance. There's much in the literature of kundalini yoga and other such approaches which demonstrates this danger.

Self-equiry, on the other hand, because it is not directed towards any object at all, is one of the most effective forms of meditation for the purpose of creating a strong and healthy interface between the physical, pranic, and the astral, as well as what is beyond the astral. When self-enquiry awakens the love of the Self, this centers us in the primal yoga by which the body does indeed grow to health in all these dimensions. The love that is the Self arises as a yogic force that has great nurturing power in the physical, pranic, and astral bodies, and helps unify them – not just in some abstract philosophical manner, but in a wholly direct and effective manner. In fact, it reaches beyond the astral into the discriminative body, the “bliss body” of deep sleep, the Witness consciousness, and the Source at the root of the Witness.

And this is where self-enquiry shows its real strength. It establishes a linkage all the way through our entire manifest self all the way to the Self that is our very Nature and Source. I liken it to an arrow that shoots straight from the Self, the heart, passing through all the “I”s of the deeper personality all the way to the physical self of the body-mind we feel ourselves to be. In each bodily sheath, this “I” is the mechanism of love and blissful attention, if self-enquiry is kept constant and alive. The enquiry into the “I” is a most effective means for opening the doors, so to speak, of the body-mind, such that we bring into life the clear and free being of the Self as love. This love of the Self creates and nurtures a healthy and open-hearted linkage between all these aspects of the body-mind, allowing them to grow and form the kind of functional relationship between all their parts and dimensions that is the hallmark of a happy life. And this “arrow” is ourself, our attention, our consciousness, our own being. There is no transmission of energy from the Self to us, no Grace falling down upon us from the sky, there is instead our own attention moving from its depth to its surface, and manifesting as freedom in the midst of the display of light and life that is our own Self.

In the practice of self-enquiry, this always manifests as an intensification of the sense of self, at every level, and the noticing of self as the prime experience at every level. The physical self is not diminished by this practice, instead it is merely opened to the pranic and astral. Attention does not become fixated in the pranic or astral in the process, instead it becomes opened up, and the natural relationship between these is allowed to grow and manifest in these bodies. The astral is not made an end, but another plane of the self's identity. Likewise, the astral itself is opened to the deeper identity of the discriminating self, and this is opened to the even deeper “bliss self” of the anandamayakosha sheath, and this opens to the Witness consciousness, which opens to the Heart itself. In self-enquiry, all these sheaths are effectively opened, such that the love-bliss of the Self moves through them, like an arrow, precisely to here. As this love moves through the sheaths of the body, it helps realign them to the naturally open and healthy relationship they ought to have, rather than the aberated and disturbed relationship they tend to fall into in ignorance. The light of the Self does not merely illuminate our awareness, it also heals and grows our bodies as they are intended to be, resulting in a overall bodily ease and harmony that is often called “sattva” in the traditions. Sattva means balance, harmony, and health, but at the deeper level, it is synonymous with enlightenment itself, because this is what enlightenment really amounts to, the full opening of the body-mind on all levels to the love-bliss of the Self.

This is how identification with the body is itself transcended. It is of course said in Ramana's teaching and many others in the Advaitic tradition that transcending identification with the body is what enlightenment is all about. And this is true. Likewise, it is said by Ramana that self-enquiry is the means by which identification with the body is transcended. This is also true. What tends to be left out of the public conservation about these matters, however, is how this yoga actually occurs. It is often left unsaid, and attention is focused instead on attention itself, and how important it is to focus attention on the Self, on the “I” thought. And this is all true too. But the process whereby self-enquiry actually matures is not very well described. At least that is my limited observation. I'm trying to point here to an integral part of that process, whereby self-enquiry actually functionally liberates the body-mind from identification at every level, through this yoga of awakened love of the Self that opens the doors and windows of the body-mind to see the world and the body from the perspective of the Self, through every facet of “I”, like an arrow shot through each “I” in a row, linking them all up in a single cord of energy-attention-love, and growing them, freeing them from their delusions and aberated connections, until there is simply a pure sattvic harmony all through every experiential dimension of the body.

One can see the evidence of this is the bodily disposition of people like Ramana. One can see it in the eyes of such people, even in photographs of them. There is no outward sign of perfection in them, only a completely relaxed and harmonious disposition of sattvas that makes them open channels of the Self. This is why they are as valued and treasured. Not because they are inherently different from you and I, but precisely because they are no longer being anyone but themselves, are no longer struggling with themselves, and have simply surrendered to themselves, to the point where their own Self has opened all the bodies of their being, from the depth to the surface, without obstruction. When we talk about “ego”, that is all it really means – the kinks and obstructions of energy and attention that makes us experience ourselves as something other than the Self. The sense of “I” that we call ourselves is merely that – a kink in the Self, that can be removed by allowing the love of the Self to permeate every place in the body-mind where our “I” is known. This restores us to our true “I”, and this is of course done by directing examining the “I” at every level we are aware of ourselves as “I”, which is really all of them, if we will stop limiting ourselves to the materialistic interpretation of experience.

And that is the real problem with materialism. It does not let us be ourselves, as we really are, but is constantly interpreting experience in a manner that diminishes our greater sense of self on any level but the physical. And this view actually aberates and disturbs us, because it prevents us from allowing the natural, healthy relationship to the pranic, the astral, and beyond, to develop as it ought to. Instead, it constantly diverts attention to its lowest and most material common denominator. This does not allow us to become healthy human beings, even at the level of the material world, because the material world requires a good and strong relationship with the pranic and the astral to become healthy and stable. Cut off from these, it gravitates towards all kinds of unhealthy paths, from exploitation of the physical to excessive control of the physical to religious dogmatism and fanaticism to mentalized idealisms to cutthroat competition and even open warfare. The general desperation of human beings is the result of an inability to feel the pranic and astral roots of our own being in any meaningful way, as well as what is beyond and deeper than even these. Self-enquiry, and all genuinely helpful spiritual paths, are aimed at awakening and opening ourselves to our own roots, grounding us in reality rather than in the abstracted fantasy of materialism.

I hope this helps explain my basic views on these matters. In the next few days I hope to respond to some of Tom Veitch's comments in an ongoing thread we've been opening up between our sites. I'd also like to write something about evolution, particularly in relation to the debates about creationism, intelligent design, and various spiritual approaches to the matter, including Ken Wilber's writings on evolution. It should be interesting. Also, I'll be tossing out one more Cosmic Vision as fodder for discussion.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Astral Evolutionary Materialism

I've been thinking about the two visions I posted here over the last couple of weeks, and what they mean to me. I'm been particularly interested in discussing the mechanics of bodily incarnation, and what that means both spiritually and developmentally for all of us. As it happens, I've been reading some interesting material lately that gives me fodder for some ruminations on these matters. And then, just a few minutes ago I checked in on the old Lightmind Forums to see if Tom had done anything new, and there's a post by him there that refers to my last post on Spiritual Materialism.

Tom has some problems with the way I try to make accommodations with atheistic materialism by acknowledging that our brains just aren't very well suited to process visions and other spiritual information that falls into it:
This view is a pretty good attempt to find a meeting place between the neo-Darwinian science and mysticism. Unfortunately it ends up siding with the atheists, in that the brain is seen as "better designed and formulated to process physical experience than mystical experience." The brain is viewed as largely limited to the provisional "beta" operating system, which is an outward-adapting system. The "omega" software -- which developed alongside the "beta" system, if pretty much discounted or ignored. This despite the author's familiarity with the literature and practices left by the explorers of consciousness: the yogis and sages of India. So, for example, there is no mention of what the yogis named the ajna and sahasrar chakras, nor of direct brain-experience via those long-known brain functions. And "our mystical experience" is described as "chaotic, discontinuous, in conflict, and contaminated by personal and structural biases."
I understand where Tom is coming from. I think he has a point that I'm bending backwards a bit in trying not to offend materialists or atheists. But I think I am pointing to a legitimate problem with mystical experience, visions, and other phenomena, which often gives materialists and atheists plenty of good arguments against spiritual phenomena and traditions that evolve from them. The physical brain is, indeed, a physical mechanism, evolved in most respects to process information in relation to the physical world. It does seem that it can also process information that comes from deeper experience as well, or we wouldn't be able to report visions and meditative experiences at all. What I think needs to be examined is how accurate it is in processing this information, and what kinds of corruption errors enter into that process.

Obviously all kinds of people have had legitimate spiritual experiences over the milennia, and just as obviously many have had conflicting interpretations of those experiences. I am of the view that much of that conflict is not merely conceptually based, but is literally based in the structural processing of the brain itself, and how it deals with spiritual phenomena. I think that this could even be described as an evolutionary process, that our brains are adapting to such things, and that not all brains are equally adept at cleanly processing and interpreting these experiences. Add on top of that the cultural interpretations that have been put in place, plus the conceptualizing, cognitive differences in individuals, and you get the general mess that is the current state of affairs in religion.

Much of what goes on in discussions of spiritual experience is confined to the latter matters of interpretation – cultural and cognitive. We tend to assume that our spiritual experiences are basically the same, it is just that we interpret them differently on these levels. I'm suggesting something a bit different here: that our brains themselves are engaged in very basic functional mechanical processes in relation to these experiences that are subject to all kinds of inconsistent disturbances and corruptions. Just, as I might add, our brain has problems accurately processing physical information, it also has problems processing spiritual experience, and perhaps even more so. Most courtroom experts will tell you, for example, that the most unreliable evidence presented in court is eyewitness testimony. People simply don't know what they see or hear, and they don't remember it properly or order it right in their minds. Countless examples about as to the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, such that if didn't go against the grain of our own beliefs in ourselves as witnesses, most of it would be thrown out. However, juries usually come to the opposite conclusion. They tend to regard eyewitness testimony as the most reliable of all information, and regularly convict people of crimes based on eyewitness testimony even when other information contradicts it. Many people put in jail for murder or rape who have later been proven innocent based on DNA testing were originally convicted based on eyewitness testimony.

And the same problem exists in religion. Whole religions exist which are based, for the most part, on highly questionable eyewitness testimony. Islam, for example, is based on the visions and dreams of the Prophet Mohammed, who wrote them down to form the Koran. Let us presume for the moment that he was sincere, that he really did have these dreams and visions as reported, and recorded them faithfully. No one really knows what he actually experienced, but we do know that how his mind interpreted these experiences can't merely be reduced to some set of ideas we call “Islam”. At its root was a mystical experience, a sensory experience that goes beyond the physical, that his brain processed at some level and produced the sights and sounds that he recorded. Muslims feel that these sensory experiences came from God, some Christians would argue it was the Devil, and a materialistic psychologist might argue that it was an example of delusional psychosis.

And this is the problem with mysticism in general. Visions are not merely subject to conceptual interpretation, the mere having of them implies that the physical brain has some capacity to receive and process the raw extra-sensory data of the vision, and thus we have to have some faith in the brain's ability to do that reliably, in such a way that accurately reflects not just the physical world, but the spiritual realms as well, and their relationship to the physical. The materialistic interpretation of visions is that they are merely the product of overactive imagination, or psychosis, or some other process within the brain, but even if we reject that reductionism in favor of the reality of spiritual consciousness, we do have to acknowledge that the physical brain must play a key role in the process, and that it represents a “bottleneck” on many levels that tests the reliability of not just the conclusions, but the raw data itself.

To have any chance of answering the questions this raises we have to address some very basic issues as to the anatomy of the human mind, the brain, the astral worlds, and what their relationship is to the physical. As Tom says, there is a long history in yoga about the various subtle structures of consciousness, including various chakras, but I think we have to admit that these are not physical structures. If one cuts open the brain, one does not find an ajna chakra behind the eyes, or a sahasrar at the top. One does find the pineal gland behind the eyes, however, and it's probably no coincidence that it is this gland which has been linked to the kinds of mystical experience which hallucinogenic drugs are found to induce. But how these various aspects of the brain and its immensely complex mechanism relate to our subtle anatomy is not easily demonstrated.

The Hindu system describes five sheaths to the body, the physical, pranic, astral, discrimination, and bliss sheaths. The middle three are really all what one could call “subtle” or astral, but they have distinct differences. The pranic body, for example, coincides with the physical body, and is only slightly more subtle than it. There are many suggestions that the pranic body is even composed of atomic and molecular structures very similar to those of the physical world, and that they “grow together” in some respects from the time of conception. The pranic body is the “energy body” that most people who are involved in spiritual practice learn to feel to some degree or another. It is most closely associated with the breath, and can be felt in the breath with even a modest degree of sensitivity. This is the meaning of the world “spirit”, and why early spiritual cultures place so much emphasis on the breath, and the power of the breath to connect us to the spirit real. What they are referring to is the pranic body, which is so closely related to the physical body that it often feels as if it is almost the same thing, and is very much involved in all kinds of ordinary experiences such as emotion and feeling, as well as basic health and well-being. However, this is not really what we mean when we talk about the astral body, or the process of reincarnation.

The dream-vision I recorded here about death, in which my “deeper personality” was temporarily shaken loose from the physical personae of Conrad, demonstrates how the astral being relates to both the physical and the pranic life. My own “deeper personality” is not the same as the physical personae of Conrad, but lives in the astral plane, and never actually “enters into” the physical world. Instead, it simply allows its attention and identity to be subsumed by the physical during incarnate life, and is not fully freed from that subjugation until death. In the meantime, there is a dualistic play going on at all times, in which our astral self is combined with, but never fully merged with, either the physical self or the pranic self. Moreover, it is linked to the physical through the pranic, which means that it is always at an even greater remove from the physical than we might like to think. On the one hand this is positive, in that it gives us greater distance from the overwhelming power of the physical, allowing us the ability to reflect, not just cognitively, but spiritually, on our life and decisions. This gives us greater moral and ethical capabilities than the physical body alone possesses. The physical body alone is, after all, just an advanced monkey (as one commenter has put it). But because we are not the physical body alone, we are more than just monkeys, we are spiritual, conscious beings who have the capacity for moral reflection and action. Even the brains we have evolved reflect this capacity. But there is the rub.

Because the astral body is at a remove from the physical, it must rely upon a complex web of interconnections to properly function through the physical. These interconnections are slowly developed from conception onwards, but like any developmental process they are subject to all kinds of interruptions and error. Likewise, they are evolving mechanisms, not something perfectly designed by a benevolent God for our perfect happiness. Like the physical brain itself, they are the result of a long series of evolutionary, developmental processes that have left us half-finished, and still adapting to all kinds of basic functional needs. In some cases they are better adapted than others. And there is of course a huge range of developmental achievement and capability at every level of the process, from the sensory level to the sensory processing level to the imaging level to the cognitive level to the cultural level. We can't pretend that there is anything genuinely universal about the results of these processes, because everyone's developmental capacity and path is going to be slightly different, or in some case, greatly different.

The result is that there is a wide divergence in not just the language of how mystical experience is reported, but in the sensory experience itself. One of the reasons for this is because the interconnections between the astral body and the physical body are of widely differing degrees of quality and capacity. Another reason is that the physical brain itself doesn't have a full capacity to process astral information. As mentioned before, one of the primary purposes of the physical brain is actually to filter out astral data that we would find confusing and disturbing to physical life. The physical mind is a fairly simple creature, and it just isn't made to process all that astral information. In fact, it is often said that the purpose of reincarnation is to start afresh without all the intruding details of our ancient spiritual history, thus enabling us to learn something new, and work out our problems in a more dramatic and tangible form than the astral life allows. This would be defeated if the brain were continually aware of the vast range of our astral lives, so it works to deliberately suppress such things for the most part.

Mystics, in that sense, are people who are finding ways to “hack” the brain, and allow us to gain access to information that not just the brain's software, but the hardware itself, has evolved to filter out. This isn't necessarily a bad thing at all. It could very well be that we have taken this filtering process too far, to the point where materialism itself actually has begun to seem rational and real to many people. That's my view at least. I think materialism represents a faulty development in the interaction between that astral and the physical brain, such that the physical brain simply takes over and runs amock, leaving the astral self stranded, so to speak, in a physical world that no longer even acknowledges its real existence. This is what gives rise to the universal feeling of alienation in our materialistic age, because we have indeed become alienated from our spiritual source and nature on this very basic level. (I'm not even referring to the non-dual source and nature here, just the astral mechanics of mind).

What all this implies is that a critical part of the process of growing up in this world involves the development of a healthy relationship to our astral selves, to the pranic life we are so intimately related to, and the ability to function clearly in relation to all these. That ability, as I've mentioned in earlier posts, involves the development of the discrimination body as well, something that is also often left out of the picture. New Age people often talk about developing a healthy relationship to the spiritual world, and this is all very good, but they often leave out the discriminative functions of the mind when they do so, whereas it is discrimination which is the “prime directive” of the spiritual life. It is even the primary purpose of being born in physical form altogether. We are born in physical bodies in order to develop wisdom, because here things really do seem distinct and separate, and thus it is the perfect place in which to learn how to discriminate between truth and lies. It isn't perfect for this because it is a place of perfection – just the opposite. It is perfect precisely because it tests us so severely in every respect imaginable, and requires that we develop discrimination in order to get through it.

In another respect, then, even the development of discrimination requires that we develop a fully functional relationship to the astral dimensions. I don't mean that we have to become “psychics” and go around seeing auras. That isn't the point at all. What I mean is that we have to help ourselves grow the capacity to “interface” with the physic so flawlessly that we can bring all our wisdom to bear upon the tasks at hand, and draw on the great depth of intelligence and discrimination we as astral beings have developed over many, many lifetimes. If we limit ourselves to what we have learned in this life alone, we are not going to do very well. We need to be able to fully interact with the physical as fully developed spirits, not merely as monkey-brains. This requires some tinkering with the brain itself, in a nurturing manner, in order to allow these connections to grow properly. That is one of the main benefits of meditation, for example. It's not merely a relaxation technique, and it's not merely some way of taking attention out of the physical and putting it on the astral. In some respects its the opposite. It's a way of allowing the astral mind to move into deeper relationship with the physical brain and build new connections, new synapses that allow the brain to feel and process astral information more effectively and usefully. That allows great wisdom to develop in both directions. Our physical bodies become smarter and better adapted to multidimensional consciousness, and our astral bodies gain new understanding and energy from the physical world. For that reason alone, meditation is often refreshing and re-invigorating.

As to Tom's criticism of me for promoting a neo-Darwinist slant on these matters, I plead guilty as charged. However, I don't see this as a criticism, but praise. I do think Darwin's “Great Idea” truly is great, and applicable even to the mechanics of spiritual evolution. I think spirituality in general would benefit from taking seriously the notion that even our spiritual anatomy is the result not of “intelligent design”, but of an open-ended evolutionary process that has gotten to its current state of affairs by long struggles of adaptation and on the ground experiment. I do not find this to be a reductionist approach, but one that marvels at the incredible variety and differentiation produced by evolutionary development, as opposed, say, to central planning. I think we have to realize that far too much of our religious and spiritual ideologies are the result of the kind of reductionist thinking that one finds in Stalinist or Maoist materialistic cults. The idea of a God at the top of the pyramid who is planning and directing all of human spiritual development along some kind of ideological line is itself merely the product of failed spiritual development, the kind that allows the physical brain to seize control and claim itself as the ruler of the universe of mind.

Now, I'm not opposed to the notion that there are subtle beings and even subtle “Gods” who might influence our evolution. Who knows, there might be aliens involved for all I know. But all such subtle beings are still part of the evolutionary environment in which we evolve, not something outside it. We evolve in response to, and in relationship with, all kinds of subtle forces and factors, some benign, some perhaps not so benign. How that actually occurs is hard for me to say. Or anyone for that matter.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Rage Against The Cosmic Machine – More Dreams and Visions

For those of you who might wonder if there is any way to fight the Cosmic Machine, if there is any place for rebellion and dissidence in the face of our vast multi-dimensional universe of form and structure, I offer the following Dream-Vision I had about 15 years ago. I think it sheds some light on quite a few matters, including this whole reincarnation scam we are stuck in.

I had this vision back in 1991 I think, while camping out with my wife and kids in Lassen National Park, one of the more beautiful places in the world. We found a remote camping ground about ten miles down a dirt road, at Juniper Lake, at an elevation of about 6000 feet. There was no running water or toilets, so we had to bring everything in with us, but the setting was incredibly gorgeous and restful. Spiritually, I was in deep crisis at the time. I had left Adidam a year before, and I had no real idea what I was doing. I would have to say that I was deeply dissatisfied with my life and what I had done with it thus far, which is one of the themes of the vision, but I was happy with my family at least, and pleased to get away for a week from everything.

The dream began in archetypal fashion. I was driving along a four-lane divided freeway in my minivan, talking on a cell phone to everyone I loved in the world. My wife, my kids, my relatives, all my friends, all kinds of people from whatever karmic past I had, they were all on the phone with me on a gigantic conference call, and it was immensely enjoyable to feel my relationships with all of them. It was so distracting that I began to veer out of the far right hand lane in the lane to the left, and I had to bring myself back so as to stay out of trouble. This happened two or three more times, and each time I was so absorbed in the phone conversation that I didn't notice I was drifting out of my lane until I had gone far to the left. My view through the windshield was being obscured as well my a number of very soft, comfortable pillows. The whole feeling of it was that I was so immersed in these loving relationships and the comforts of life that I wasn't paying attention to what else was going on. And then I drifted to the left one more time, and crossed over all four lanes of traffic, and by the time I noticed and tried to correct my steering, it was too late. The car hurtled over the left side freeway barrier, and flew out into the air. It was then that I realized the freeway at this point was actually a giant bridge, and that it was at least 200 feet above the ground. So the car and I plunged 200 feet to the ground below, and I realized in an instant that I was going to die, that I was going to lose all those loving relationships, simply because of one stupid lapse of attention.

And that's just what happened. I fell all the way to the ground, crashed, and died. Everything went blank. After a brief interlude, the dream resumed, but something had completely changed. Now I was driving the minivan on the streets below the bridge, as if nothing had happened. The car was fine and my body was fine, but I was a different person entirely. I could see Conrad driving the car, but I was no longer Conrad. I was viewing Conrad from a position slightly behind and to the right of Conrad's head. I was rather perplexed by the whole situation. Hadn't we just fallen 200 feet to our deaths? So why was Conrad alive and driving along as if nothing had happened? This didn't make sense. I knew this wasn't the way life worked. No one survives a crash like that. So why was Conrad still alive? Suddenly it all made sense. I realized that this was Conrad's dream. He had only dreamed that he'd crashed and died. And somehow, because the dream had seemed so real, we had become temporarily disconnected, and I had become self-aware again, able to see Conrad as a distinct, physical personae.

I was completely aware of myself as an astral being, as the “deeper personality” that had reincarnated as Conrad. There was no shock to this, it was just the most natural and obvious thing. It's only now, after the dream, that it feels necessary to describe it. In the moment, I was totally clear about who I was, that I was this reincarnating personality who had taken on the physical body of Conrad all these years, and who now, because of this dream of death, had been shaken out of that association, at least enough to see what was going on. I realized that this was a rather rare opportunity to evaluate how this reincarnation was going, and make some decisions about it. So I examined this guy Conrad and tried to see what was what with him. And my general assessment was, what a fricking lemon I'd gotten stuck with. There were some redeeming features to him, but in general he seemed like a very mediocre character who hadn't done much of anything in his life, either physically or spiritually, and who was struggling with so many basic things in life he seemed almost hopeless. I felt very much dissatisfied with Conrad, very frustrated and obstructed, and I felt as if I had to re-evaluate whether or not to continue with this incarnation or not.

So I tried to figure out whether Conrad was worth it or not. And on the face of it, Conrad really didn't seem to be worth my time and energy. I knew that if I wanted to stick with Conrad, I would just re-associate myself with his body and mind, wake up in the morning, and be almost completely subsumed in the identity of Conrad once more, and go along with that until he died a natural death, whenever that would be. This was not very appealing at all, and I felt rather repelled by the whole idea. I also realized that if I wanted to, I could chose to leave this whole Conrad incarnation behind, and go back to the astral worlds. But that option didn't seem all that great either, because it meant I'd have to just find another body to reincarnate in, and there's no guarantee it would be any better than Conrad. In short, neither option seemed all that great. In fact, the more I looked at the situation, the more intolerable both options seemed.

I realized that I didn't want to take either of those options, but I also saw that nothing else was being offered to me. And that made me angry. Really angry. I realized that if this was a moment to re-evaluate my situation and choose what I really wanted, none of these things were what I wanted. What did I really want? I wanted to be free of all this bullshit.

I looked around at Conrad's dream world, and realized how silly and stupid it was. I looked at Conrad and realized he was just a stupid tool who was oblivious to the realities of this universe. The dream was itself a perfect reflection of Conrad's attitude. One minute he's dreaming of death and annihilation, the next moment he acts as if nothing's happened, as if he's just out on a Sunday drive around town. He seemed oblivious and vapidly superficial, and not very bright to boot. This just pissed me off, the whole situation pissed me off, and I didn't know what to do except vent my anger. So I decided to have a little fun and blow off this dream world. I took control of the steering wheel, and instead of driving on the right side of the street, I began driving crazy and wild, all over the road, and the people in the dream world all got very scared and upset. They began running away from this madman on the loose, and I thought that was very funny indeed, since they were just dream people to begin with. It was as if I were violating the laws of the dream world, and this got them all very upset and they had to get away from me. Eventually I crashed the car into a gas station, and it broke the headlights on the car, and suddenly the whole world went dark, the sun went out, as if it were night. I said to myself, well, that's proof this is a dream world, because in the waking world the sun doesn't go out when you break your headlights.

I got out of the car, and now I was really pissed. I felt like a revolutionary just wanting to wreck this whole dream illusion. My anger was building and building, and driving me to some passionate end I couldn't even figure out. All I knew is that I didn't want to go back to being Conrad, and I didn't want to go back to the whole reincarnation game either. Both paths seemed futile and absurd, and no way to live. I wanted something else, but there didn't seem to be anything else, so all I could do was rage about it. And that's what I did. I just raged through the dream. I wasn't interested in buying into any of it. I began examining the world around me, examining everything really close, and saying “dream” to myself. I would look at things and say over and over again “dream”, until it became clear to me that each object in my view was merely a dream construct, a meaningless facet of my own mind. I could see that things were merely a dream, nothing more, nothing less, and as I did so my rage became intently focused on this process. It seemed that I knew that if I was going to get beyond this dream, I would have to penetrate to the root of it. So I kept inspecting everything until I could literally recognize everything as being a dream, not real at all, and there was a tremendous meditative intensity to this process, until the world around me began to change, to loosen up, to become less and less solid and fixed.

At a certain point in this process of dream-recogniztion I saw a small bridge up ahead. It was a simply wooden arched bridge, not very big really, maybe 60-70 feet long, resembling the famous bridges in Monet's water lilly paintings, but a larger and wider. The instant I saw this bridge I realized that it was merely a symbolic representation in the dream of the “Bridge to God”. That was a phrase out of a rather famous Adi Da talk about entering the psychic realm, and I recalled that in the dream, but I also realized that this was the real thing. It was just that my mind, being familiar with that phrase and concept, had constructed this dream-symbol to represent the passageway into the God-Realm. So I eagerly walked towards the bridge.

As I approached the bridge, however, I suddenly saw that it was guarded by two gigantic black dogs, resembling Tibetan Mastiffs. They were the biggest dogs I'd ever seen, and incredibly fierce looking. As I neared the bridge, they turned to look at me, and as soon as they saw me, they took off on a dead run towards me, teeth wide open as if ready to devour me. I knew in an instant that they were going to tear my face off and rip me to shreds, and my first instinct was to turn and run away as fast as I could. I had just begun to turn when the second thought occurred to me, “What am I afraid of? These are dream dogs, and this is a dream face and body. What do I care what they do to me?” So instead of running away, I just kept going forward, and as the dogs neared, I just looked at them and said “dream”. Sure enough, the dogs leaped at me, they tore my face off and began to rip me to shreds, but I didn't react at all, I simply continued in my conviction that they were dream dogs and could do me no harm. In short order the dogs realized that I understood this, and a spark of recognition appeared in their eyes. They backed down, a sign of respect on their faces, and they stepped aside to allow me to enter the bridge.

I walked up and over the bridge and as I crossed it the whole world began to change. I entered the God-Realm. Suddenly, everything in the world was sacred, was holy, was of the nature of God. It was an utterly beautiful thing. There were no “holy things” in this world, the world itself was holy. Sacredness pervaded the world like gravity pervades this world. One couldn't help but relate to everything in a sacred manner, because it was simply obvious that it was sacred. It was just like gravity in our world. One doesn't take a step, one doesn't even make a movement in this world without being utterly aware of gravity governing everything. It was the same thing in this sacred world. Holiness was simply the universal nature of things.

For a time I merely walked around enjoying this God-World, and marveling at the enjoyment of it. But fairly quickly I became aware that I was still in a dream world, though a sacred and holy dream world. And something about that remained unsatisfying. I realized that this still wasn't what I was looking for, that this was also part of the machine I was raging against, and my anger returned, even more powerfully than before. Except now my anger was much more refined and pure. It was no longer merely a violent emotion, it was a powerful and overwhelming urge to go beyond all dreams, even really good dreams like this one. So I returned to the process of inspecting this world, just as I had inspected the previous dream, looking at every little feature of it until it became clear to me that it was a dream. I continued to say “dream, dream, dream” to myself, until I could see that each object was a dream, no matter how sacred it appeared to be. And as I did so, the sacred world began to open up and dissolve, and another opening appeared, this time more like a window than a bridge, and I passed through it.

I then found myself in an even holier world. But soon I saw that it too was a dream, and I began the same meditative process of recognizing it as a dream, until it too opened up like a window, and I passed through to an even deeper world. And then I passed through that world as well. Each time a new world appeared, I inspected it again, and passed through it again. The process accelerated, so that I spent less and less time in each world, until I was moving through them so quickly it was hard to even notice them. Soon it was as if I was in a rocket ship just shooting through them all, and I began to rise up, passing through world after world in blinks of an eye. Soon I was inside a cathedral, shooting up through the nave and spire, no longer even seeing individual worlds, just flying at unbelievable speed through this narrow tube-like nave, only about ten feet in diameter, made of mostly white bricks with red lines running through it. I realized after the dream that this tube was the Sushumna, the spinal line where the kundaline flows, and the red lines in the walls were like blood vessels.

My determination was utterly exhaustive to break beyond every world, and yet finally I reached the very summit of the cathedral. I found myself hovering just below the domed ceiling of the nave, wondering what the hell was this? I felt hugely disappointed once again, as if after all I'd been through, this was all there was to find – a small domed ceiling. This was not what I wanted. I was not satisfied to be at the top of this whole structure of worlds. In fact, I was more enraged now than I'd ever been. I pounded on the bricks of the ceiling with my fists, yelling at the top of my lungs to let me through.

From beyond the ceiling, the Voice of God spoke to me. It was a deep, powerful voice, not at all unlike Charlton Heston, say. The Voice of God asked me one simple question: “Who is it who wants to pass through?” For a moment I was dumbstruck. It occurred to me that I had no idea who I was. I had once thought I was Conrad, but that was left behind long ago. I had thought of myself as this reincarnating personality, but those worlds were left behind as well. So who was I? As I asked the question, “Who am I?” the answer suddenly became clear. I yelled, while still smashing my fists against the ceiling bricks, “Da! Da! Da!” That, of course, was the name of God in Adidam, which I was most familiar with. I'm sure if I'd been a Hindu I might have said “Brahman!” or “Shiva!”, or if I were a Jew, “Yahweh!” In any case, it wasn't the word itself that mattered. It was the sudden recognition that I was the Divinity I had been seeking. And as I shouted out “Da!” the bricks crumbled under my fists, the ceiling broke open, and I passed through. As seems to be the case with such moments, there's no memory whatsoever I can bring back with me of what was beyond that ceiling. It was just perfect freedom.

I woke up in the morning from this dream as Conrad once more. I no longer had any sense of being that deeper personality, or “Da” for that matter. I was subsumed again by the physical persona of Conrad, in all his mundane mediocrity. Yet for some reason this dream has stuck with me after all these years in every single detail, as if it had been burned into my mind. It was obvious I wasn't enlightened, I wasn't much changed at all. But a deep impression had been made. I couldn't be so entirely blithe about my life anymore.

The general effect of this dream on me isn't what you might have expected. I didn't take up the practice of self-enquiry on its basis. I didn't start going around the world inspecting everything until it became clear that even this physical world is merely a dream. It seems that I really am an incredibly slow learner, just as my deeper personality had observed. But elements of this vision have certainly stayed with me, and continue to influence me. Every once in a while I re-immerse myself in the dream, as I've been doing now in writing about it, and there's definitely some kind of power to it that continues to draw me beyond the mechanical confines of this universal dream of ours. And yes, I finally did get interested in self-enquiry a couple of years ago. At the time of the dream, however, I took it to be a message to get more thoroughly re-involved in Adidam, because that was the religious karma I had. It took me years to realize that Adidam, too, was just another dream, and not a very good one at that. Whereas the dream itself clearly had no such message in it. Quite the opposite, it seems. It points to freedom from any such “cathedral” of conventional holiness.

There's plenty of other things in this dream-vision to discuss. I won't pretend that its symbols represent anything universal. But the mechanics of the dream do seem to represent a universal frustration and dissatisfaction with the whole business of reincarnation that can be the basis for an impulse to go beyond all of this. It's something of a Howard Beale moment, of yelling “I'm not going to take this anymore!” through the streets of the universe, telling the Cosmic Machine to just go fuck itself. We don't do that, because we don't see the whole picture in front of us, and see how endless and pointless the machine really is. We don't let our rage come to the fore in all its purity and singleness of determination. We don't take a closer look at the world we live in, and notice that it's all a dream, and that every object in it is merely a dream object, the good and the bad, the loving and the frightening. If we did, we might not put up with the options that seem to be put forth to us as inevitable and inescapable.

Maybe there's another way entirely.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Neuroscientific Materialism and Mysticism

After writing yesterday's post on Spiritual Materialism, I was reminded of another critic of spirituality, Geoffrey Falk, who was once a long-time member of Swami Yogananda's Spiritual Realization fellowship, later became involved in Ken Wilber's integral movement, and has ended up an incisive if increasingly rabid critic of both, and even all things mystical. He wrote a well-received online book called Stripping The Gurus, in which he rather scathingly indicts many well known figures on the spiritual circui. It is worth reading as a kind of mental vaccine  for anyone considering getting involved with any teacher or Guru. It's not a wholly convincing argument in my view, but its arguments are worth considering in any case. Many people find Falk's manner offensive and unnecessarily personal. I rather enjoy his style, but I must admit he uses a rather broad and heavy brush to cover over a great many subtleties he seems to wish didn't exist in this field of spiritual criticism. Even so, many of the objects of his criticism are well-deserving of some critical attention, a thing not much cultivated in the public world of spirituality these days.

The downside of Falk's arguments, I find, is the same bias towards materialism that is visible in Jody's Guruphilliac website as mentioned yesterday. Falk is even more materialistic than Jody, however, and seems to have the zeal of a convert to the cause. Of course, he also has the virtue of knowing what he's talking about, when it comes to scientific matters at least. His take-down of Wilber's evolutionary mysticism is quite on the mark, for example. And his explorations of the neurological correlates to mystical experience are also grounded in solid science. He takes the findings of neurology and science as indicating that there is no truth at all to mystical experience, and that we can safely categorize virtually all such things as forms of either brain damage or psychosis, which in essence are the same thing.

I've followed neuroscience for a long time, and I'm always happy to learn more about it. Falk's blog, which is an often amusing read, frequently delves into these matters, as in two entries from October 10-11, 2007, readable in whole in his archives, but not directly linkable. You will have to scroll down to the appropriate dates. I was particularly interested to find this passage, which relates to the Cosmic Vision I described in a previous post:

Subject: White Light October 10, 2007

From Chapter 22 of Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi:
[God] eventually appears to the persistent devotee in whatever form he holds dear. A devout Christian sees Jesus; a Hindu beholds Krishna, or the Goddess Kali, or an expanding Light if his worship takes an impersonal turn.

From Clay Stinson's (1997) Open Letter to Ken Wilber:
[T]he sustained "white light" experience, or "entering into the light" through meditation, is a form of what neuroscientists call cortex disinhibition—the random firing of neurons in the brain. This random firing, in turn, stimulates the visual cortex producing these lights and luminosity's fanatical mystics and zealous meditators talk about. Moreover, the greater the number of neurons firing, the greater is the intensity of the white light. Quantitatively put, with few neurons randomly firing, all one sees during meditation is a small circle of white, to bluish-white, light. With a moderate number of neurons randomly firing, one sees, during meditation, a moderately large circle of light. With all or most of the neurons randomly firing, one sees a circle of light so large, brilliant, and luminous that it literally engulfs the field of vision during the meditation session. The mistake, here, of mystics, meditators, spiritual "masters," and Near Death Experiencers is to identify the "neural noise" or "white light experience" for God, Self, Mind, "mystical realization," satori, etc....

[S]o-called mystics, meditators, and spiritual "Masters" with the "big realizations" are suffering from various species of (i) brain damage, (ii) epilepsy, (iii) psychosis, (iv) schizophrenia, and (v) debilitating depersonalization disorder, or (vi) some combination of these five.

As a measure of how far I've come in the past three years, i.e., since the time when I took parapsychological and mystical claims completely seriously: I agree with everything Stinson wrote in that piece, including its obvious (and valid) "reductionism."

I also really like the "tone" of it. :)

Note also that a "small circle of white light" is effectively a vision of an "internal sun," providing a neurophysiological basis for the "sun symbols" found throughout our world's mythologies, beyond mere exoteric "sun worship."

The finding that “With all or most of the neurons randomly firing, one sees a circle of light so large, brilliant, and luminous that it literally engulfs the field of vision during the meditation session,” is very interesting in relation to this vision of a circular “Cosmic Mandala” of lights stretching all the way to the periphery of one's vision, with a white light in the center surrounded by bluish light, and gold on the outside. That's certainly a fairly accurate representation of what I saw in my vision, as well as what Yogananda saw, and Adi Da as well. The question then is, what does this mean? Falk takes the materialistic view that it means these views are simply the result of the brain acting in an excited state, brought on by various intentional methods, or merely random happenstance. He seems to think this discounts or reduces such experiences to deviant brain phenomena.

The problem with this view is that the same data can be just as easily argued in support of mystical experience as being real. It would suggest that there are, indeed, ways in which the brain can reflect experience that is beyond the merely physical, if it is put into a state in which the normal sensory inputs from the physical world are interrupted, and different forms of processing are used by the brain. It even suggests that the structure of the brain itself can be seen as a reflection of these greater-than-the-physical patternings of consciousness. In other words, this “Cosmic Mandala” may be very much real, and the fact that the brain can be made to see it in certain states may simply reflect that even the brain itself is built upon a higher physics which enables us to process and recognize these higher perceptions.

The more obvious point that Falk seems to miss is that the main message of neuroscience is that ALL of our perceptual experience, physical and mystical, is a construct of the brain. Or at least, that it all perceptions are processed and created in the brain out of whatever inputs exist, and thus what we call “ordinary reality” is just as much a brain phenomena as mystical experience. The question of deviant phenomena arises only in relation to whatever brain phenomena we have come to except as “normal”. But we must always be reminded that what we call “normal” is itself a construct of the brain and nervous system that is subject to constant alteration and interpretation, and is composed of a great many “false perceptions” and assemblages of data that don't make real sense. It is often familiarity alone that allows us to “make sense” of or experience, and the problem there is that familiarity with an illusion of the brain can be just as convincing as anything we might call “real”. This is the real reason why religion is so full of nonsense – because our brains tolerate a tremendous amount of nonsense, and even seem to require it. So the problem isn't confined to religion at all. The whole gamut of human experience is guided by brains that lie to us all the time. This is where real skepticism and criticism should lead us.

Deconstructing our experience in toto is not a terribly reassuring process. The contributions of neuroscience here are immense, but they do not lead to materialistic conclusions, in my view. Rather, they lead to the conclusion that the snake is biting his own tail. That our entire materialistic view is itself merely a construct of the material brain, and that materialistic logic is a vicious circle that cannot find a solid foundation upon which to rest. It not only requires faith in material reality that cannot be confirmed, it requires faith in our own reasoning power that is dependent on a brain that can't be relied upon to tell us what is real.

The alternative to materialism is not plain old religious or mystical faith, however. The critique of neuroscience can't be dismissed so easily. We do have to recognize that even spiritual mysticism has no absolute foundation. It too is in essence subjective, it is merely an infinite subjectivity, rather than a reductionist subjectivity. And that is not genuinely consoling or satisfying either.

But at least with spiritual mysticism we are dealing with an open universe, rather than a closed one, and this alone is a good argument in its favor. We can't dismiss the relationship between mysticism and brain phenomena, but we can reject the notion of reducing it to merely that. Even so, we have to consider that because all mystical experience is indeed filtered through the brain, it is changed and modified to suit the brain's capabilities. Which means that mystical experience is inherently unreliable, and probably even more so than physical experience. We have to admit, I think, that our brains our better designed and formulated to process physical experience than mystical experience, which I think is why so much of our mystical experiences are chaotic, discontinuous, in conflict, and contaminated by personal and structural biases.

One theory I'd give credence to is that one of the primary purposes of the large and advanced brains that human beings possess is to filter out mystical and non-physical experience. This gives us a tremendous advantage in many basic respects, in that we are able to reduce the world to its physical dimensions, and thereby work with the physical world in a way that most other creatures cannot. The downside of this is that when we do experience mystical or even subtle realities, we don't know how to deal with them. Our brains literally don't know what to do, other than repress the experience, or discard the data. In some respects this helps us, but in others it represents a real liability, and can become a runaway train of reductionism that leads to much misery and isolation. The problem here is the notion that such reductionism is itself “real” rather than just a particular evolutionary path our brains have taken that does not reflect reality itself, but merely what works for human beings as creatures trying to survive and prosper in the physical world.

The problem with this evolutionary path is that it can actually reduce our chances of survival in the long run. Just as the strangeness of evolution can produce peacocks with massive tails that serve no use whatsoever, other than that female peacocks like them, our brains can produce an overabundance of wiring that suppresses the mystical simply because we find temporary satisfaction in that. It has certainly allowed us to vastly increase our numbers and dominance of the planet in the short run, but in the long run this same tendency could lead to our extinction, in so far as insensitivity to what we are doing on the spiritual level can make us oblivious to the damage we are doing not just to the planet, but to ourselves, in the process. Which is why I think these modern spiritual movements aimed at gaining greater spiritual and mystical experience of the world are essentially positive, in spite of the tremendous number of illusions generated in the process. I see an evolutionary correction happening, in which the motion towards reductionism is being refined by greater sensitivity to and understanding of the subtle and mystical. I think the structures of our brains are learning to adapt to mystical experience in a way that can often be quite positive. It can of course also be quite negative, as more than a few examples show. But evolution is always a messy and imprecise process.

I should mention that I'm not really referring to genetic evolution here, or even merely cultural evolution. I am referring to the evolution of human consciousness, which isn't precisely defined by either category. In other words, genetics alone does not define how people think, or even how brains work. Genetics certainly plays a huge part, but it only sets the table, it does not tell us what to eat and how to go about choosing what to eat. The brain itself is not defined by genetics. Rather it is in a constant process of growth and adaptation. Probably the greatest discovery of modern neuroscience is that the brain is not a fixed piece of hardware that is set in place once we have grown up. Quite the contrary, it is capable of a great deal of on-the-fly adapation. These can be affected in all kinds of ways, from behavior modification to spiritual techniques to diet and exercise to environmental factors. Brain imaging studies show remarkable adaptivity at every level, and the possibility of enhancing this process is growing the more the brain is studied. All of these processes can be seen as a meta process of the evolution of human consciousness, occurring at all levels, including the physical.

One other excert from Falk's blog is worth looking at:

I've just finished reading Newberg and d'Aquili's (2001) intriguing book Why God Won't Go Away. From which:
Research reveals that repetitive rhythmic stimulation ... can drive the limbic and autonomic systems, which may eventually alter some very fundamental aspects of the way the brain thinks, feels, and interprets reality. These rhythms can dramatically affect the brain's neurological ability to define the limits of the self. (p. 79)
If those rhythms are fast—in the case of Sufi dancing, for example, or in the frenzied rites of Voudon—the arousal system is driven to higher and higher levels of activation....
As a result, certain brain structures are deprived of the normal supply of neural input on which they depend in order to perform their functions properly.
One such structure is the orientation association area—the part of the brain that helps us distinguish the self from the rest of the world and orients that self in space—which requires a constant stream of sensory information to do its job well. When that stream is interrupted, it has to work with whatever information is available. In neurological parlance, the orientation area becomes deafferented—it is forced to operate on little or no neural input. The likely result of this deafferentation is a softer, less precise definition of the boundaries of the self. This softening of the self, we believe, is responsible for the unitary experiences practitioners of ritual often describe.

They later give similar plausible explanations for the meditative origin of a "subjective sense of absolute spacelessness, which might be interpreted by the mind as a sense of infinite space and eternity; or conversely, as a timeless and spaceless void.... There would be no discrete objects or beings, no sense of space or the passage of time, no line between the self and the rest of the universe. In fact, there would be no subjective self at all; there would only be an absolutely sense of unity—without thought, without words, and without sensation. The mind would exist without ego in a state of pure, undifferentiated awareness." (p. 119)

This, too, is something that Falk likes to interpret as demonstrating that even the mystical experience of “no self” or “egolessness” is simply the result of a deviantly functioning, or malfunctioning, brain. However, the real point seems to be the opposite. That the sense of “self” we take for granted throughout the day, and even in dreams, is itself merely a construct of the brain, and if that aspect of the brain which constructs a self is not there, neither is this so-called self. It suggests then that what is experienced by mystics is simply an absence of an artificial construct – in other words, a more genuinely pure experience of reality than the brain normally saddles us with. This may well be the case with all kinds of mystical experiences. Their relation to brain “malfuction” may merely be that when the brain is no longer processing sensory input in its accustomed fashion, we get a glimpse of what the world might look like to us when it is not so heavily processed by the brain – a more raw and more “real” perceptual experience, even one that is no longer saddled by the conventions of objective perception. Hallucinatory drugs have a long history of being used in this manner, and it may well be that they function not by “adding” anything to our experience, but by “subtracting” aspects of the brains processing of our experience, giving us a more raw and unfiltered experience of reality. However, the devils are always in the details, and the fact that both drugs and mystical experiences are processed by a brain at all indicates that we are always experiencing a mixture of the two, and how they mix together is always hard to predict, and decipher.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Spiritual Materialism

I recently had an interesting exchange with Jody over at Guruphilliac over a criticism he made of Bharat Gajjar, an elderly yogic teacher in the Sivananda tradition teaching in Delaware who had mentioned in some newspaper interview that he at times felt and even saw Sivananda giving him guidance in how to teach others. Bharat also mentioned that some of his students had at times seen Sivananda as well. Jody, who otherwise liked the guy, felt that this was an exploitive and deluding thing to tell his students, and that it would lead to delusions on their part. In our exchange, in which I tried to defend Bharat, who otherwise seemed to be the picture of a benevolent and kindly yoga teacher, Jody makes it clear that he views all such claims that subtle phenomena actually exist outside the imaginal subjectivity of the practitioner as simply superstitious personal mythologies, and represent nothing more than cultural indoctrination of Hinduism which deludes and detracts from higher understanding.

Now, I must admit I played a fairly strong game of Devil's Advocate with Jody, particularly in relating to his admission that he sings to photographs of Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi on his own altar, and even talks to them. He defends this practice on the grounds that he doesn't think he's actually singing to them personally and directly, and doesn't expect others to believe he does. I pointed out that whatever rationalization he has for this practice, it remains a superstitious practice and belief of his own, and that he is merely being preferential for one form of superstition over another. Furthermore, Ramakrishna himself saw and spoke to the Goddess Kali on a regular basis, and mentioned this all the time to his own students, some of whom saw Kali as well. Well, this debate went on and on as you can imagine, without any real resolution. One thing I will say for Jody say is that he demonstrated real maturity in not taking offense at the criticisms I made about his arguments and approach, and a willingness to answer openly and honestly, which is fairly rare these days. I much appreciate the work he does over at Guruphilliac exposing some of the crasser and more dubious claims of the modern spiritual circuit both in India and the west. But I think his approach also reveals something that is commonplace in the modern, western spiritual movement – a cultural bias towards materialism that often goes unchallenged.

How can that be, you might ask, given the incredible amount of dubious New Age fluff floating around? Well, I'd suggest that even much of the New Age fluff we encounter in the west today is itself remarkably materialistic. As one can often see, there's usually big dollar signs behind a lot of it. Almost everyone out there teaching is charging money for it, and usually not small amounts. The content of what is being sold is often of dubious material validity, from lofty philosophies to meditation techniques to promises of levitation to the miraculous healing power of almost anything from crystals to angels to sex to rare Peruvian herbs. Yet the content is still largely material in nature, and tends to reinforce a materialistic point of view. The goals of those who come to these teachers and paths are largely materialistic as well, from improved relationships to prosperity to a healthy, happy body to a fully integrated psyche to a peaceful lifestyle free of stress, and so on. And the way many people judge the validity of spiritual teachings and teachers is likewise very much based in materialism. Is the teacher exploitive of sex, drugs, money, power, etc.? If so, they are considered to be frauds. Does the teacher improve the material lives of his students in any way? In not, they are considered to be irrelevant.

It's not that these material considerations are unimportant. It's certainly true that Gurus who exploit their students for sex, drugs, money, and power are pretty clearly off on the wrong path. It's that this is not really the relevant criteria for judging spirituality in the first place. It betrays a deeper bias towards materialism itself that is even more deluding that these rather obvious forms of materialistic exploitation.

Likewise, even the critics of spirituality, such as Jody and others I've encountered on the internet, often base their critique of spirituality on materialistic criteria. As Jody remarks, he tries to limit himself to what he knows, and he knows the physical, and he feels that the subtle is merely a subjective projection of the personal imagination. The problem here is one of uninspected cultural bias. Western culture is – no surprise here – materialistic in orientation. I wouldn't suggest that western culture is purely and exclusively materialistic, but it shows a tremendous bias in that direct, such that even those who become interested in esoteric spirituality bring with them all kinds of materialistic assumptions. In my experience people like Jody are very sophisticated about all these issues, and they would undoubtedly reject the notion that they are materialists, or that they agree with the philosophy of materialism. Quite the contrary, they are quite well versed in spiritual matters, and have well developed philosophical views that could hardly be confused with materialism. Likewise, they often have all kinds of spiritual and metaphysical personal experience of their own. So they find it very easy to slough off any criticism of themselves as materialistic. And yet, if one examines the basis for much of their criticism of spirituality, it comes with all kinds of materialistic assumptions.

My explanation for this is that materialism is so deeply ingrained in our cultural psyche that it is almost impossible to shake it off. As much as we might immerse ourselves in spiritual philosophies and practices, many of which are based on a wholly non-materialistic viewpoint, such as Ramakrishna's, we keep returning to materialism as “real”, and view anything else as, at best, “imaginal”.

Those who become involved in non-dual paths have additional rationalizations for hewing to these materialistic biases, because non-dualism tends to discount the meaning and value of subtle experience, pointing instead to the experiencer himself, the Self. So it is fairly easy to claim that subtle experience is meaningless and merely a distraction from the true thread of spirituality, which they identify with the Self. They fail to acknowledge that these same teachings are equally critical of material experience, and likewise consider the physical world to be just as illusory as the subtle world – and likewise, they consider the subtle realm to be just as “real” as the physical world as far as either of them can be considered to be real.

What is often not understood by people like Jody is that the Self is just as much a “subjective, superstitious, imaginal myth” as the subtle dimension, and likewise, the physical world is just as much a subjective, superstitious, imaginal myth” as those two. It is only our cultural bias towards materialism that makes us give so much weight to the gross physical world, and so little to either the Self or the subtle. It is also hard for us to imagine any other way of being. The reality of the physical seems so obvious and fundamental, it's hard to see how anyone could think otherwise. However, many, many people do just that, and always have. The modern western world is one of the few times and places in history when the mass of human beings have actually taken the physical world to be the one, true, real world. Many consider this to be a great achievement, and there's certainly much that has been achieved in relation to the physical world that can be admired. But much of that achievement has come at the cost of our attention to both the subtle and the Self. We have become tremendously lopsided, with so much attention given over to the materialistic world that we have little left for anything else, and even when we do try to become more “spiritual”, we bring such a materialistic imbalance to the scene that we can hardly imagine what it would really mean to achieve true balance.

The widespread spiritual idea of the correct balance between physical, subtle, and Self is to put at least 95% of our attention and faith in the physical world, and a tiny fraction in only a limited, imaginal form of the subtle, with Self as merely an afterthought or a philosophical map we use to rationalize what we do in the physical world. This ideal of balance is really a materialistic balance between various aspects of the material world. It suggests that we try to balance material mind, material emotion, and material body, looking for the right way to achieve peace and harmony with these. Many of us hardly ever consider the subtle mind, subtle emotion, and the subtle body as something we have to work with in the same way as the physical. It is not considered “real” like the physical is real, but is purely some sort of personal, imaginal experience that has no relational validity, and no responsibility in relation to others.

The truth, as I see it at least, is that this materialistic attitude prevents people from maturing spiritually to the point of actually taking spiritual teachings seriously. Jody, for example, chants to his photos of Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi, but he never enters into the point of view of Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi that allowed them to actually become great spiritual figures. He keeps himself at arms distance from them, thinking of this practice as a purely imaginal gesture that has no subtle component. Practicing in this way may be rewarding personally in some sense. I imagine he wouldn't practice this way otherwise. But it isn't the approach to practice that allowed Ramakrishna to see and speak directly to the Goddess Kali, or that allowed Sarada Devi to continue her devotional relationship to Ramakrishna after his body had passed. The notion that these people, and their devotees, and many, many other ordinary devotees, were capable of actually relating on the subtle level to spiritual beings and forces and powers that lie in the subtle domain is considered taboo, superstitious nonsense, and a distraction from the “true” meaning of the Self. Well, news flash, you can't leap to the Self from the physical domain without also taking care of the subtle. It's not that one must dwell upon the subtle dimension, but one can't ignore it either.

And why can't one ignore the subtle? Because the primary, senior force of the subtle dimension is discrimination, and discrimination is utterly necessary for spiritual practice, whether one is a jnani, a bhakta, a karma yogi, a hatha yogi, or anything else. The senior aspect of the subtle is the vijnanamaya kosha, the discrimination body, the source of prajna, or wisdom. If this is not developed, there is really no hope or possibility for realizing the Self. One can think about the Self all one likes, one can think of one's spiritual practices as being centered in the Self all one likes, but it won't really amount to anything without the development of discrimination, which means the development of the subtle mind. All spiritual practices are really, if one looks at them from a non-material viewpoint, aimed at developing this discriminative ability, even if they are physical and material practices outwardly speaking. This is why even the non-dual traditions speak primarily about developing the capacity for discrimination. By this they don't mean intellectual abilities – at least not in the way we speak of such things in the materialistic west – but the ability to actually feel the truth of things, and to use this feeling capacity to discriminate between truth and falsehood, reality and illusion. Without this capacity, we are simply lost and hopeless spiritually. We don't know what we are doing, and we don't know why we are doing it. We inevitably gravitate back to materialism as the default position, and we even gravitate to materialistic forms of discrimination, rather than the true and deep form of discrimination that is really the whole point of these great spiritual teachings. The intellect as the west knows it is merely the materialistic side of the vijnanamayakosha, stripped of any deeper sensitivity. Thus, it is lost and unable to actually understand anything, or penetrate to the truth of anything, and it wanders endlessly in circles looking for verbal-mind answers to the great questions. But it is unable to answer these questions, or come to any certainty in its own vision, because it cannot take the subtle dimension as real, as anything other than an intellectual and subjectively imaginal ideation.

So I think it's very important to acknowledge the subtle dimension, and accept that we have to be responsible for it in a direct, feeling way, and not suppress ourselves or one another in any way in relation to the subtle. We don't need to become fascinated with the subtle, and we certainly shouldn't use such ideas to exploit other people, but merely because people can indeed be exploited by such ideas doesn't mean they should be made taboo. Materialism doesn't end human strife and exploitation by pushing aside the subtle and insisting that all such things are merely imaginary subjectivity. In fact, that approach condemns humanity to exploitation, and is itself merely a rationalization for not being responsible for the subtle dimension. It certainly isn't how western spirituality is going to develop any maturity. To the contrary, it is a recipe for a stunted adolescent spirituality that never grows up at all, and is never able to discriminate between true and false forms of spirituality.

It's important, I think, to be aware of the overwhelming power of materialism in our culture, and to know how important it is to grow beyond it, and not be limited by it. Living in the west has great advantages, but also terrible drawbacks, and this is the primary one in my view. There is no such thing as materialistic non-dualism, much as we might like to think. To go down the non-dual path means to let go of our materialism, and do so for real, not just philosophically. That means opening up to the subtle and beyond, not making false distinctions between the subtle and the material, but allowing all of experience to develop us as it needs to, so that we can be responsible for it, and thereby transcend it in the Self.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Favorite Living Teacher

I found a new website dedicated to Mathru Sri Sarada created by some of her Indian devotees that's worth checking out. It's not very well developed yet, but it's a good step for one of the more publicity-shy Gurus out there.

Saradamma, as she is often called, is one of the brightest lights in the Advaitic scene, but also one of its most hidden. She doesn't teach in public, she's never sought a following, and most people have never heard of her. There's only one book out on her, No Mind, I Am The Self, written by David Godman back in the early 1980's, and nothing since. Even that book is fairly thin. Half of it is devoted to her Guru, Lakshmana Swami, at her own insistence. It could use some serious updating, but apparently neither she nor Lakshmana have allowed it. So there's very little information out there about her.

Lakshmana Swami has likewise been a rather reclusive Guru. For long periods of his life he wouldn't teach in pubic either, and that style seems to have rubbed of on Saradamma. She has been his devotee since she was 16 years old, and even though she realized the Self at the age of 20, she never left him to go off on her own. She had no interest in teaching after her realization, and didn't seem interested in staying in the body at all. She's often said that without Lakshmana's efforts to keep her alive, she would have simply have given it up. Instead of teaching devotees, Saradamma simply played with them, literally. She made dolls, and built miniature parks and gardens on Lakshmana's ashram compound, and made that her primary means of relating to devotees. She seemed to consider all human activities futile and pointless, and saw no reason to pretend otherwise. Nevertheless, merely playing with her seemed to purify those around her, even if she behaved nothing like a jnani is supposed to behave. If none of this seemed to be the stuff to build a prestigious spiritual reputation on, it certainly endeared her to those who got to know her.

Over time she gradually took on more responsibility for teaching Lakshmana's students, as he had intended for her. Even so, she never showed much interest in verbal teachings or philosophy. Although Lakshmana was one of the clearest voices in Advaita teaching the practice of Self-enquiry, Saradamma herself never had the slightest interest in it, either before or after her realization. She followed the path of devotion and surrender to her Guru, Lakshmana, and saw no need for any other practice. She certainly acknowledges that for some Self-enquiry is the way, but she has little to say about it. She is more interested in silence than speech, which may be why there is so little written about her. Her main teaching is about devotion, bhakti, love of the Self. As she says in Godman's book about how she functions as Guru:

“I am just a mirror that reflects and magnifies what is going on around me. If people are a little angry with me then I am very angry with them. If people give me a little love, then a great flow of love goes back in return. It is not ordinary love, it is the power of the Self; whoever receives it is purified by it. When a devotee thinks of me in a loving way I am immediately aware of it, distance does not matter. I do not choose whom to love or how much love to give. The amount of love I send out depends entirely on the amount of love I am given. Ramana Maharshi once said that the grace of the Self is like an infinite ocean. If you approach the ocean with a cup, you can only take away a cupful; if you approach it with a bucket, you can only take away a bucketful. This is exactly how it is with me. I am willing to give my full love to anyone who wants it, but the devotee must initiate the process by loving me first. The Self does not choose whom to love; it only gives love to those who love it.

“It is the nature of the Self that it always gives more love than it receives. Sometimes, giving so much love causes a weakness in the body. At times I have found myself saying, “Arunachula, why do you make me love this person?”, but I cannot stop the flow. If a devotee really loves me then that love causes the grace of the Self to flow.

“It is my nature to love. I am love itself. I am overflowing with love and I want to give it all the time. I cannot stop myself from giving this love. Swamy sometimes tells me to be careful; he says that devotees who tell me that they love me this year may have completely forgotten me by the following year. I know from my own experience that this is true, but even with Swamy's words “Be careful” ringing in my ears, I cannot stop the love from flowing.”

There's something truly wonderful about this woman, and I think people should give her the attention she deserves. Her point about loving the Self seems apt for all of us. If we want the Grace of the Self, it stands to reason that we need to love the Self. We shouldn't imagine that self-enquiry is anything other than loving attention to the Self, or we risk missing the point entirely.

I'll try and post more about Saradamma in the future. Anyone who is interested can order Godman's book about her from the link above.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Dreams and Visions of the Cosmos

One thing I've been wanting to do on this blog for some time now is to make an accounting of a number of “visions” I've had over the years. Many of them have occurred as lucid dreams which took the form of a very elaborate and clear instruction that have stuck in my mind with such detail I can't help but imagine they have some intentional force or meaning. I can't altogether say where the instruction came from, or what it was intended to teach, but I've spent a fair amount of time absorbing and considering them in various ways, and so I might as well share them with others, and see what they might have to say.

The first vision I'd like to present occurred in 1985, while I was in Adidam. It bears a striking resemblance to some of the teachings within Adidam which had just been given shortly before this lucid dream, particularly Adi Da's teaching about the “Cosmic Mandala”. According to Da, the manifest cosmos takes the form - if one sees it in total - of a circular mandala of lights, with the clear white light at the center, a blue band surrounding it, and then a series of colored bands of primarily yellow, and then red, stretching all the way to the periphery of one's vision. This corresponds to descriptions found in various spiritual traditions as well, so we can't claim that it is purely some invention of Da's. The various colored bands are supposed to represent various dimensions of the cosmos. The clear white light represents the core, or source-light, the blue represents the causal or supra-causal dimensions, the yellow the astral dimension, and the red the gross physical dimension. There are smaller bands as well at some of the boundaries of these bands, but the general picture is fairly clear.

In my dream-vision, somehow I found myself, from the very beginning, contemplating this entire Cosmic Mandala from a position beyond my body-mind. I had no sense of being “Conrad” or even a human being at all. That had been left behind entirely. I was traveling slowly through this mandala of lights as bodiless attention, focused solely on the clear white light at the center, all the while engaged in a deep and powerful meditation upon this clear white light. It radiated a feeling of profound bliss that drew me slowly and inexorably towards it, and this seemed the most natural spiritual practice in the world. It was the same feeling I associated with the most profound meditations I have had in relation to the Guru. And that is what the white light seemed to be – the living form of the Guru, drawing me into Himself. The rest of the mandala seemed insignificant to me, merely the refractions and reflections of this clear white light, which was the source of all the other lights, and thus it seemed important to keep my attention on the white light, and not to allow myself to drift away from it.

At one point I became curious about these other lights in my peripheral vision, and looked at them a little more closely. I noticed something that was not in any of the literature I'd ever read on this subject, even in the Daist literature. These bands of light were not, as I had been led to believe, a homogeneous field of pure light. Instead, they were actually composed of trillions upon trillions of tiny dots of light, like a pointillist painting. From a distance, they merged together to form a single field of light, but in detail they were not continuous at all. I couldn't help wondering what these little dots of light were, and let my attention wander go ever so slightly toward the periphery of my vision to see for myself what was going on. As I did, it was as if I were in a spaceship that was veering off from its natural course, and zooming in on these little lights, accelerating with unexpected suddenness. As I got closer, that portion of the mandala expanded, and I decided to let my attention naturally move, almost randomly, towards whichever point of light it wanted to. My attention finally settled upon one particular light at the border between the yellow and red bands, where the colors blended together. (As it happens, it is said that this is just where our earth realm resides, in the yellow-red spectrum of the mandala.)

A strange and amazing thing happened when I focused in on this point of light. It began to expand, with something approaching explosive force, as I neared it. The light it was made of became diffuse and billowy, like a cloud of light that was beginning to take on gaseous form. I was no longer merely looking at this light, but I was being enveloped inside it. The gaseous light began to form into smoky clouds, and these began to congeal into giant galactic clusters, becoming more and more solid as the process progressed. It was as if I was watching in real time the explosion of the Big Bang, and the formation of our universe out of the resultant gases. My experience was not merely as an observer of this, but a participant. In other words, I could feel myself congealing as well, as if my own identity were becoming solidified into this world I had entered. Rather than being a pure form of attention, I was turning into a form myself, more and more tangibly, just as the universe itself was. I wish I could say that this process was enjoyable, but unfortunately it was just the opposite. The process of congealing from attention into form felt deeply uncomfortable and constricting, carrying with it a deep feeling of misery and suffering, at least in comparison to how I had felt previously, while contemplating the clear white light at the center of the mandala.

Fairly quickly the universe formed into solid shapes of stars and planets, with one planet forming right around me. Before I knew it, I found myself sitting on a park bench in a very attractive earth-like setting, with trees and walkways and beautiful landscaping surrounding me. People were walking by engrossed in their own affairs, and all of this seemed perfectly natural to them. Unfortunately, none of this beauty compensated for the intense feeling of misery that was engulfing me. It wasn't that I felt an acute sense of attack or pain, but something far worse, the feeling of simply being limited to a particular form in a particular world. A body was forming around me, as me, out of the light and attention I had previously freely moved through. At one point, I looked around, and I actually felt as if I knew what these things were. The trees were trees, the grass was grass, the park bench was a park bench. And suddenly I instinctively recoiled against this knowledge. It seemed not only false, but it epitomized the state of suffering I was in. And then I remembered the white light and the vision of the cosmic mandala I had been enjoying just a little while previously. I realized that I had forgotten the white light, I had even forgotten how I had gotten here, and I was beginning to accept this world as being real, as being my actual state and condition, as being simply “the way things are”. I became terrified that if I let this process go on any further, I really would be stuck here, I really would become incarnated in this world, and subject to its destiny and logic. I would forget the white light entirely, I would forget that this world was simply a congealed form of light and attention, that it was nothing more than a single point of light that my attention had expanded into a universe, and I would have no choice by to live out a life here as if this were necessary and true, rather than a diversion from what was actually necessary and true, which was to enter into the white light, which I had been moving towards before all this came about.

I realized that unless I did something drastic, I would be unable to retain this awareness. So I began to look closely at every little thing I could, and ask myself, “what is it?” As I mentioned before, the sense of knowing what things were seemed to epitomize my suffering, so it felt as if I had to attack that presumption of knowledge first. So I looked at everything I could, and asked myself “what is it?”, until it became clear that it wasn't at all what I thought it was, it was just light taking on a form. As I did this, the whole process of light congealing into form began to reverse itself. Instead of becoming more solid and real, everything began to get more diffuse and airy. Slowly, the whole world began to dissolve, and turn back into light. I found myself pulling away, the galaxies began to dissolve, and the whole process went in reverse, until my attention simply pulled away entirely, the universe collapsed back into a single point of light, and I turned back towards the white light. Soon I was restored to my former sense of freedom and bliss, moving with great love towards the clear white light.

This continued on until I had passed beyond the yellow realms entirely. As I began nearing the white light, however, wispy blue clouds began to pass in front of it, small and unobtrusive at first, but increasing in size and depth, until they completely enveloped the white light. In short order I found myself completely enveloped in a blue fog. I had entered some kind of formless blue world, with no up or down, no lights or features, no shapes or dimensions, no body or identity, and no memory whatsoever of the white light. It was just as bewildering in its own way as the universe of form I had gotten lost in before. I wandered aimlessly without any sense of the passage of time, since there was nothing to compare my movements to. I had no idea what was happening, where I was, or what I was supposed to find. I just had this sense that something was missing, and I had to find it, whatever it was.

Then, out of this homogeneous blue world, I saw the form of a large Victorian style mirror on a stand. It was rather strange, in that it was perfectly formed out of carved wood, the only object I'd seen in this entire world. However, the mirror was turned away from me, so I could only see its wooden backing. I approached the mirror, and turned it to face me. Looking in the mirror, I saw the brilliant clear white light. This is what I had been looking for, I realized. When I looked into the light, so near to me, my mind simply dissolved. All my thoughts vanished, and I felt the same love and attraction I had experienced previously, when I was floating through the cosmic mandala towards the light. The same attractive force pulled me forward, and I fell into the mirror. I fell, like Alice through the looking glass, right through the mirror, and as I did, everything dissolved. I dissolved. I entered the clear light white, and absolutely nothing remained, not even any ability to conceive or perceive the light. There was simply no experience left, and no dream. Nothing more could even be said about it.

When I awakened from this dream in the morning, I began to realize that the world I was waking into was just like the world I had entered into through the point of light. That this world as we think we know it is just like that point of light, but expanded out and accepted by us as real and true and “the way things are”.

This dream has stayed with me ever since as a reminder of what's really going on in this world, of what reality is really pointing towards, and of where I need to put my attention. I forget this way too often, but somehow, things keep reminding me of it.

So, another way of describing self-enquiry is the reversal of the process of identification with form, the reversal of the process of incarnation, and the knowing of who we really are, of what we actually look like in the mirror, and falling into that, rather than merely assuming that this conventional world is “the way things are”.