“Only when each one of us feels the truth, appreciates the truth, accepts the truth, and is ready to follow the truth, will it work. When someone puts himself outside of the truth in order to study the truth, he won’t know what to do when something happens to him.”
~Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
There is a terrific amount of fresh and exciting activity these days revolving around the increasing connections and bridges being forged and mutually fruitful exchanges being made between the latest developments in the scientific field (such as in quantum physics, neuroscience, psychology, and of course in various consciousness studies) and the world of spirituality.
Some have even suggested that the scientific method, if followed without premature bias, will result in the discovery of the Truth with a capital “T”. Indeed, a good case could be made that awakened beings such as the Buddha were actually very scientific in the process and development of their brilliant and inspiring insights, and left behind scientific means and methods to achieve self-knowledge, happiness, and freedom from suffering.
Certainly, intellectual knowledge (which is the domain and goal of science) can be incredibly useful for the evolutionary advancement and betterment of the species (although it is also capable of being employed for destructive purposes, as has been sadly proven again and again in human history).
However, can even the highest of human concepts ever amount to truly liberating knowledge? Furthermore, can liberation ever be the result of some skilfully applied method, which could in turn be duplicated under laboratory conditions and be universally applicable?
The great Masters who have addressed the matter are unanimous in claiming that genuine Liberation is beyond the causal process of strategic effort altogether. Nor can it be achieved through a contrived mindfulness, which only leads back to thoughts and concepts.
The nondual sage Ramana Maharshi indicated as much when he said: “All that you need do is find the origin of mind and abide there. Your efforts can extend only thus far. Then the Beyond will take care of itself. You are helpless there. No effort can reach it.”
All the scientist (or any of us for that matter) can really do is to discover and then discard that which is not true. The mind can be employed to eliminate certain barriers to realization, but it cannot be used to grasp itself. Truth itself cannot be seen, because it is always what is seeing. Awareness can never be an object to itself. What is perceived cannot perceive.
Moreover, as the sage Nisargadata Maharaj noted: “Any knowledge of any kind that you think you have can only be in the consciousness. Whatever happens in consciousness is purely imaginary, a hallucination. How can the consciousness which came later give you any knowledge about that state which exists prior to consciousness’ arrival?”
Having some intellectual insight into truth is not at all the same as its direct realization. It is merely a faint and shadowy reflection, and not the great relief that comes with the genuine awakening that penetrates to the very cells. Relying on mind and intellect alone for an accurate model of reality (much less its living experience) is like trying to eat a painting of a cake on paper.
A good example of the coincidence of Science and Spirituality is demonstrated by the most recent findings/theories of quantum mechanics, which posit that there is no objective and independently existing universe outside of our observations and interpretations. Despite its apparent solidity, the universe is at heart a phantasm, a gigantic and splendidly detailed hologram. Moreover, if the apparent separateness of subatomic particles is illusory, it means that at a deeper level of reality all things in the universe are infinitely interconnected. In a holographic universe, even time and space need no longer be viewed as fundamentals.
This revelation is consistent with the Buddhist teachings of Madhyamaka (Middle Way), which also propose that that there is no objective reality independent of our mentally fabricated interpretations on perception, or conceptual designations, and that all phenomena arise interdependently (Pratītyasamutpāda). The late philosopher Alan Watts made a good point when he noted in this regard:
“The final Buddhist vision of the world as the dharmadhatu– loosely translatable as the “field of related functions”- is not so different from the world view of Western science, except that the vision is experiential rather than theoretical. Poetically, it is symbolized as a vast network of jewels, like drops of dew upon a multi-dimensional spider web. Looking closely at any single jewel, one beholds in it the reflections of all the others…”
Certainly, we may find such information challenging, or refreshing, or even revelatory, but does such knowledge alone have the power to free the hearer or knower from their own self-fixations and emotional contractions, or their habitual confusion over personal identity? Indeed, does any conceptual proposition have the power to bring about the cessation of suffering that follows each one of us like our shadow, and liberate us into the direct realization of our true nature?
Nisargadatta’s own guru, Siddharameshwar Maharaj, made a very salient point about true awakening: “When you have actually seen that you are not, there is no necessity of a means and an end. You have seen that you are not existent. There is a confirmed realization from top to bottom in the whole body, that ‘you’ are not there.” In other words, if awakening is real, and not just the accumulation of more conceptual insights, it must impact the total being, the “whole body”.
This point was echoed by Nisargadatta when he noted: “What you hear must enter you like an arrow and hit something deep within you. There must be an internal reaction; without the reaction, what you hear won’t do you any good. You should know it when the arrow reaches its mark.”
Any truth discovered as a result of intellectual analysis will likely still remain in the realm of knowledge, which is why many methods, whether scientific or spiritual, may bring one to the threshold, but none can carry one across. When does abstract knowledge become living wisdom? For that, something more is needed, something the intellect cannot comprehend, because it is that in which the intellect itself arises and dissolves.
As the great Kashmiri poetess Lalla once hinted: “Meditation and self-discipline are not all that’s needed, nor even a deep longing to go through the door of freedom. You may dissolve in contemplation, as salt does in water, but there’s something more that must happen.”
To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on empirical and measurable evidence that is subject to specific principles of reasoning. However, most of the world’s great wisdom systems are in agreement that “enlightenment” is intellectually incomprehensible; it cannot be understood or attained through conceptual knowledge, because it escapes all categories of thought, and so transcends all philosophical or scientific theories and propositions that are dependent on rational standardization, statistical analysis, and verifiable hypotheses.
Simply stated, the human brain does not understand how to process memories outside of the physical world. Our brain constructs memories by associating information with that which it already knows. Since it typically does not know what it is like to be a brain within an alternate or expanded reality, it has nothing to which it can associate information coming from the spirit state, and therefore it does not know how to translate or interpret it into language accessible by the brain.
There is a way of bringing such information into our awareness, but it involves bypassing the human brain by resonating at the higher frequency ranges which access “Quantum Intelligence”. In order to do so, we must first let go of our fixated identification with human consciousness, with all of its filters and conceptual designations, which obstruct our intuitive connection with Spirit.
There is certainly no doubt that a wise and appropriate integration of science and spirituality can lead to a better understanding of how human beings think and behave in both the micro as well as the macro context. However, true spirituality moves in the very opposite direction from science at a particularly critical juncture, in which relying solely on intellectual knowledge itself is seen and recognized to be an impediment, an obscuration holding the aspirant back from the necessary surrender of beliefs and concepts that is the prerequisite for any real spiritual breakthrough.
In other words, it is not by knowing, but by unknowing, that the ground is prepared for the emergence of transformative insights into one’s fundamental nature and identity. As opposed to the scientific paradigm of knowledge acquisition, the path of spiritual transcendence is more about releasing all mental fabrications, rather than perpetually gathering facts and constructing more concept models.
Again, Nisargadatta addresses this point: “While I am talking about knowledge that is beyond the phenomenal world, you are trying to understand through worldly concept and words. If you continue in the realm of intellect you will become entangled and lost in more and more concepts. It is not possible for you to acquire knowledge, you are knowledge. You are what you are seeking.”
Although with brain imaging techniques, science now has the tools to evaluate what happens in the brain during certain religious experiences, such as prayer and meditation, it cannot extrapolate that data and subsequently arrive at a prescription for removing cognitive and emotional fixations, much less the achievement of spiritual liberation. No fine tuning of neurotransmitters will ever result in awakening. For that, a special form of wisdom which directly realizes the essential emptiness of both self and phenomena must first arise, and that will not happen merely by manipulating brain scan data and attempting to form a hypotheses for the methodical acquisition of such insight.
With the benefit of the aforementioned brain imaging technology, scientists can now determine to some extent that so-called “spiritual emotions” and unity experiences occur when certain portions of the brain are either stimulated or else relaxed. However, although the body and the mind are interrelated, they are not the same. The mind is not the brain, and the brain is not the mind. The brain is physical, whereas the mind is formless. The mind is not contained in the brain, regardless of the speculative assertions of the scientific materialists. There is nothing within the body that can be identified as being “our mind”.
We are so accustomed to think of ourselves as bodies having consciousness that it has become a real challenge to accept consciousness as having bodies. Nevertheless, a key spiritual insight consists of the direct realization that bodily existence is but a state of mind, a movement in consciousness. True scientists of the mind turn attention back to its silent source. They practice being aware of being aware, seeking the source of consciousness, until they are able to withdraw beyond consciousness altogether. No instruments will take us there. In the process, even the sense of “us” and “there” are recognized as mere transparent conceptual designations. It all must be discarded — even the wish for truth — so that truth at last can reveal itself as the spontaneously evident presence of awake awareness.
Taking the inquiry to the next step, one might even argue that our purpose in incarnating in these human forms is not so much to find “Truth” (which is our actual nature, prior to, in the midst of, and after these temporary forms dissolve back to the elements). Rather, we are here more for the purposes of understanding and then transcending all the chronic poisons that tend to obscure our original innocence, such as greed, envy, hatred, pride, and ignorance. In the process, we learn how to “do the right thing” in every situation we encounter, and live a life of natural integrity. “The Truth” in its more universal or absolute sense is not really any of our business, as long as we are addicted to the false in the habitual way we live and relate in this realm.
In fact, it could be argued that the dense vibrational frequency at which we as humans resonate allows little if any possibility of expanding to the point where it can access the higher levels of consciousness. That is, as long as we are anchored to the human body-mind organism, we are simply not fitted for the appreciation or apprehension of the ever more subtle realities in the greater spectrum of consciousness beyond our current receptive capacity. A device with a hundred volt capacity simply cannot handle a million. It would incinerate the device. This is also why many near death experiencers report the sensation of “dumbing down”, upon return to the physical bio-vehicle.
In any case, there is no question that progress in our scientific understanding of ourselves and the world we inhabit shows enduring promise. The rapid advancements we are witnessing today in the evolution of the quality of our shared information data base can help speed our emergence as a species from the superstition-shrouded dark ages (which is sadly still entrenched in many parts of the world, particularly as a result of fundamentalist religious provincialism).
All knowledge is welcomed, but we also must recognize that knowledge does not equal wisdom, although the two can certainly go hand in hand. Indeed, there may come a time in our group evolution where any distinction between science and spirituality will have long ago been rendered obsolete in a new golden Age of Enlightenment, and what remains will only be the conscious process of Recognition that is equally accessible to all.
“Of all the hard facts of science, I know of none more solid and fundamental than the fact that if you inhibit thought (and persevere) you come at length to a region of consciousness below or behind thought, and different from ordinary thought in its nature and character — a consciousness of quasi-universal quality, and a realization of an altogether vaster self than that to which we are accustomed. And since the ordinary consciousness, with which we are concerned in ordinary life, is before all things founded on the little local self, and is in fact self-conscious in the little local sense, it follows that to pass out of that is to die to the ordinary self and the ordinary world.
It is to die in the ordinary sense, but in another sense, it is to wake up and find that the “I,” one’s real, most intimate self, pervades the universe and all other beings — that the mountains and the sea and the stars are a part of one’s body and that one’s soul is in touch with the souls of all creatures…..
So great, so splendid is this experience, that it may be said that all minor questions and doubts fall away in face of it; and certain it is that in thousands and thousands of cases the fact of its having come even once to a man has completely evolutionized his subsequent life and outlook on the world.”
The Drama of Love & Death, 1912