The Sound of Silence?
The Dolphin’s Way
Savoring the Moment
When you've seen beyond yourself, then you may find peace of mind is waiting there
The Sound of Silence?
The Dolphin’s Way
Why is meditation hard?
Enlightenment for a wave is the moment the wave realizes that it is water. At that moment, all fear of death disappears.
Thich Nhat Hanh
A condensed version of book From Science to God, (Full text online)
by Christian de Qunicey, Noetic Sciences Review #50, pp. 8-13,44-47
did I imagine that spirituality would be so important in my life. Throughout
my childhood and student years I always thought
I would end up as a scientist. I
loved science. I loved discovering how the world works, why the sky is blue,
what makes the wind blow, how sound travels through the air, how electric currents
flow, why iron rusts, why things expand when heated, how plants know when to
bloom, how we see color, how a lens bends light, why planes can fly, how a rainbow
forms, why snowflakes are six-pointed stars.
The more I discovered,
the more fascinated I became. At sixteen I was devouring Einstein and marveling
at the paradoxical world of quantum physics. I delved into different theories
of how the universe began, and pondered the mysteries of space and time. I had
a passion for knowing, an insatiable curiosity about the laws and principles
that governed the world.
I was not, however, a materialist,
believing that everything could be explained by the physical sciences. By my
mid-teens I had developed an interest in the untapped potentials of the human
mind. Stories of yogis being buried alive for days, or lying on beds of nails,
intrigued me. I dabbled in so-called out-of-body experiences and experimented
with the altered states of consciousness produced by hyperventilating or entraining
the brain's alpha rhythms with pulsating lights. I developed my own techniques
of meditation, though I did not recognize them as such at the time.
Nevertheless, my overriding
interest was still in the physical sciences, and, above all, mathematics. Thus,
when it came to choosing which subject I was to study at university, the choice
was obvious. And when it came to deciding which university I should apply to,
the choice was again clear: Cambridge. It was, and probably remains, the best
British university for studying mathematics.
In my third year, I was
exactly where I thought I would want to be. Stephen Hawking was my supervisor.
Although he had fallen prey to the motor-neuron disorder known as Lou Gehrig's
disease several years earlier, the illness had not yet taken its full toll.
He could walk with the aid of a cane and speak well enough to be understood.
Sitting with him in his
study, I found half my attention would be on whatever he was explaining to me
(such as the solution of a particularly difficult set of differential equations),
while my eye would be caught by the hundreds of sheets of paper strewn across
his desk, on which were scrawled, in very large handwriting, equations that
I could hardly begin to fathom. Only later did I realize these papers were probably
part of his seminal work on black holes.
On more than one occasion,
a spasmodic movement of his arm would accidentally send most of the papers sliding
to the floor. I wanted to get down and scoop them up for him, but he always
insisted I leave them there. To be doing such ground-breaking work in cosmology
was achievement enough. To be doing it with such handicaps was astounding. I
felt both extremely privileged and very daunted.
So there I was, studying
with the best of minds in the best of universities, yet something else was stirring
deep inside me.
My studies in mathematics
and quantum physics explained how the entire material universe could have evolved
from the simplest of the elements-hydrogen. Yet the most fascinating question
for me had now become: How had hydrogen-a single electron orbiting a single
proton-evolved into a system that could be aware of itself? How had the universe
It was becoming clear that
however hard I studied the physical sciences, they were never going to answer
this deeper, more fundamental, question. I felt a growing sense of frustration,
manifesting at times as depression. I found myself reading more about mind and
consciousness, and less able to focus on my mathematical assignments.
Best of Both Worlds
My tutor must have sensed
I was not at ease in myself and approached me one day to ask how I was doing.
I shared with him as best I could my confusion and misgivings about my chosen
path. His response surprised me: "Either complete your degree in mathematics
[I was in my final year] or take the rest of the year off and use it to decide
what you really want to study." Then, knowing how hard it would be for me to
make such a choice without a deadline, he added, "I want your decision by noon
Saturday, five minutes
before noon, I was still torn between my two options, struggling with feelings
of failure, and a sense of wasted time. In the end, I surrendered to an inner
knowing that I would not be fulfilled continuing with mathematics, and that
I really wanted to take the rest of the year off. By late afternoon I had packed,
said a temporary farewell to my friends, and was on my way, with only uncertainty
During the next six months
I produced light shows, worked in a jam factory at night, and from time to time
pondered my future career.
After exploring various
options I returned to Cambridge to study experimental psychology; it seemed
the closest academic approach to understanding consciousness. Whereas clinical
psychology involves treating those who are mentally ill at ease, experimental
psychology is concerned with the functioning of the normal human brain. It includes
the study of the physiological process of perception and how the brain builds
up a picture of the world. It encompasses learning and memory, the brain's control
of the body, and the biochemistry of neuronal interactions. Understanding the
brain seemed a start in the right direction.
So I found myself able
to continue pursuing my interests in mathematics and physics, while at the same
time embarking on my exploration of the inner world of consciousness.
Today, after thirty years
of investigation into the nature of consciousness, I have come to appreciate
just how big a problem the subject is for contemporary science. We all know,
beyond any doubt, that we are conscious beings. It is the most intimate and
obvious fact of our existence. Indeed, all we ever directly know are the thoughts,
images, and feelings arising in consciousness. Yet as far as Western science
is concerned, there is nothing more difficult to explain.
'Hard Problem' of Consciousness
The really hard problem-as
David Chalmers, professor of philosophy at the University of Arizona, has said-is
consciousness itself. Why should the complex processing of information in the
brain lead to an inner experience? Why doesn't it all go on in the dark, without
any subjective aspect? Why do we have any inner life at all?
This paradox-namely, the
absolutely undeniable existence of human consciousness set against the complete
absence of any satisfactory scientific account for it-suggests to me that something
is seriously amiss with the contemporary scientific worldview. For a long time
I could not put my finger on exactly what it was. Then suddenly, about four
years ago on a flight back to San Francisco, I saw where the error lay.
If consciousness is not
some emergent property of life, as Western science supposes, but is instead
a primary quality of the cosmos-as fundamental as space, time, and matter, perhaps
even more fundamental-then we arrive at a very different picture of reality.
As far as our understanding of the material world goes, nothing much changes;
but when it comes to our understanding of mind, we are led to a very different
worldview indeed. I realized that the hard problem of consciousness was not
a problem to be solved so much as the trigger that would, in time, push Western
science into what the American philosopher Thomas Kuhn called a "paradigm shift."
The continued failure of
science to make any appreciable headway into this fundamental problem suggests
that, to date, all approaches may be on the wrong track. They are all based
on the assumption that consciousness emerges from, or is dependent upon, the
physical world of space, time, and matter. In one way or another they are trying
to accommodate the anomaly of consciousness within a worldview that is intrinsically
materialist. As happened with the medieval astronomers, who kept adding more
and more epicycles to explain the anomalous motions of the planets, the underlying
assumptions are seldom, if ever, questioned.
I now believe that rather
than trying to explain consciousness in terms of the material world, we should
be developing a new worldview in which consciousness is a fundamental component
of reality. The key ingredients for this new paradigm-a "superparadigm"-are
already in place. We need not wait for any new discoveries. All we need do is
put various pieces of our existing knowledge together, and consider the new
picture of reality that emerges.
Because the word "consciousness"
can be used in so many different ways, confusion often arises around statements
about its nature. The way I use the word is not in reference
to a particular state of consciousness, or particular way of thinking, but to
the faculty of consciousness itself-the capacity for inner experience, whatever
the nature or degree of the experience.
A useful analogy is the
image from a video projector. The projector shines light onto a screen, modifying
the light so as to produce any one of an infinity of images. These images are
like the perceptions, sensations, dreams, memories, thoughts, and feelings that
we experience-what I call the "contents of consciousness." The light itself,
without which no images would be possible, corresponds to the faculty of consciousness.
We know all the images
on the screen are composed of this light, but we are not usually aware of the
light itself; our attention is caught up in the images that appear and the stories
they tell. In much the same way, we know we are conscious, but we are usually
aware only of the many different experiences, thoughts, and feelings that appear
in the mind. We are seldom aware of consciousness itself. Yet without this faculty
there would be no experience of any kind.
The faculty of consciousness
is one thing we all share, but what goes on in our consciousness, the content
of our consciousness, varies widely. This is our personal reality, the reality
we each know and experience. Most of the time, however, we forget that this
is just our personal reality and think we are experiencing physical reality
directly. We see the ground beneath our feet; we can pick up a rock, and throw
it through the air; we feel the heat from a fire, and smell its burning wood.
It feels as if we are in direct contact with the world "out there." But this
is not so. The colors, textures, smells, and sounds we experience are not really
"out there"; they are all images of reality constructed in the mind.
It was this aspect of perception
that most caught my attention during my studies of experimental psychology (and
amplified by my readings of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant). At that time,
scientists were beginning to discover the ways in which the brain pieces together
its perception of the world, and I was fascinated by the implications of these
discoveries for the way we construct our picture of reality. It was clear that
what we perceive and what is actually out there are two different things.
This, I know, runs counter
to common sense. Right now you are aware of the pages in front of you, various
objects around you, sensations in your own body, and sounds in the air. Even
though you may understand that all of this is just your reconstruction of reality,
it still seems as if you are having a direct perception of the physical world.
And I am not suggesting you should try to see it otherwise. What is important
for now is the understanding that all our experience is an image of reality
constructed in the mind.
Because our perception
of the world is so different from the actual physical reality, some people have
claimed that our experience is an illusion. But that is misleading. It may all
be a creation of my own mind, but it is very, very real-the only reality we
The illusion comes when
we confuse our experience of the world with the physical reality, the thing-in-itself.
The Vedantic philosophers of ancient India spoke of this as "maya." Often translated
as illusion (a false perception of the world), the word is more accurately translated
as delusion (a false belief about the world). I suffer a delusion when I believe
that the manifestations in my mind are the external world. I deceive myself
when I think that the tree I see is the tree itself.
If all that we ever know
are the images that appear in our minds, how can we be sure there is a physical
reality behind our perceptions? Is it not just an assumption? My answer to that
is: Yes, it is an assumption; nevertheless, it seems a most plausible assumption.
For a start, there are
definite constraints on my experience. I cannot, for example, walk through walls.
If I try to, there are predictable consequences. Nor can I, when awake, float
through the air, or walk upon water. Second, my experience generally follows
well-defined laws and principles. Balls thrown through the air follow |precisely
defined paths. Cups of coffee cool at similar rates. The sun rises on time.
Furthermore, this predictability is not peculiar to my personal reality. You,
whom I assume to exist, report similar patterns in your own experience. The
simplest way, by far, of accounting for these constraints and for their consistency
is to assume that there is indeed a physical reality. We may not know it directly,
and its nature may be nothing like our experience of it, but it is there.
To reveal the nature of
this underlying reality has been the goal of the physical sciences, and over
the years they have elucidated many of the laws and principles that govern its
behavior. Yet curiously the more deeply they have delved into its true nature,
the more it appears that physical reality is nothing like we imagined it to
be. Actually, this should not be too surprising. All we can imagine are the
forms and qualities that appear in consciousness. These are unlikely to be very
appropriate models for describing the underlying physical reality, which is
of a very different nature.
Take, for example, our
ideas as to the nature of matter. For two thousand years it was believed that
atoms were tiny balls of solid matter-a model clearly drawn from everyday experience.
Then, as physicists discovered that atoms were composed of more elementary,
subatomic, |particles (electrons, protons, neutrons, and suchlike), the model
shifted to one of a central nucleus surrounded by orbiting electrons-again a
model based on experience.
An atom may be small, a
mere billionth of an inch across, but these subatomic particles are a hundred-thousand
times smaller still. Imagine the nucleus of an atom magnified to the size of
a grain of rice. The whole atom would then be the size of a football stadium,
and the electrons would be other grains of rice flying round the stands. As
the early twentieth-century British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington put it, "matter
is mostly ghostly empty space"-99.9999999 percent empty space, to be a little
With the advent of quantum
theory, it was found that even these minute subatomic particles were themselves
far from solid. In fact, they are not much like matter at all-at least nothing
like matter as we know it. They can't be pinned down and measured precisely.
They are more like fuzzy clouds of potential existence, with no definite location.
Much of the time they seem more like waves than particles. Whatever matter is,
it has little, if any, substance to it.
Somewhat ironically, science,
having set out to know the ultimate nature of reality, is discovering that not
only is this world beyond any direct experience, it may also be inherently unknowable.
With hindsight, my decision
to study theoretical physics along with experimental psychology was definitely
the right one. They
provided two complementary directions to
my personal search for truth. Theoretical physics was taking me closer toward
the ultimate truths of the physical world, while my pursuit of experimental
psychology was a first step toward truth in the inner world of consciousness.
Moreover, the deeper I went in these two directions, the closer the truths of
the inner and outer worlds became. And the bridge between them was light.
Both relativity and quantum
physics, the two great paradigm shifts of modern physics, started from anomalies
in the behavior of light, and both led to radical new understandings of the
nature of light. For example, in relativity theory, at the speed of light time
comes to a stop-in effect, that means for light there is no time whatsoever.
Furthermore, a photon can traverse the entire universe without using up any
energy-in effect, that means for light there is no space. In quantum theory,
we find that light has zero mass and charge, which in effect means that it is
immaterial. Light, therefore, seems to occupy a very special place in the cosmic
scheme; it is in some ways more fundamental than time, space, or matter. The
same, I later discovered, was true of the inner light of consciousness.
Although all we ever see
is light, paradoxically, we never know light directly. The light that strikes
the eye is known only through the energy it releases. This energy is translated
into a visual image in the mind, and that image seems to be composed of light-but
that light is a quality of mind. We never know the light itself.
Physics, like Genesis,
suggests that in the beginning there was light, or, rather, in the beginning
there is light, for light underlies every process in the present moment. Any
exchange of energy between any two atoms in the universe involves the exchange
of photons. Every interaction in the material world is mediated by light. In
this way, light penetrates and interconnects the entire cosmos.
An oft-quoted phrase comes
to mind: God is Light. God is said to be absolute-and in physics, so is light.
God lies beyond the manifest world of matter, shape, and form, beyond both space
and time-so does light. God cannot be known directly-nor can light.
My studies in experimental
psychology taught me much about the basic functioning of the human brain. Yet,
despite all I was learning about neurophysiology, biochemistry, memory, behavior,
and perception, I found myself no closer to understanding the nature of consciousness
itself. The East, however, seemed to have a lot to say about consciousness,
and so had many mystics, from around the world. For thousands of years they
had focused on the realm of the mind, exploring its subtleties through direct
personal experience. I realized that such approaches might offer insights unavailable
to the objective approach of Western science, and began delving into ancient
texts such as the Upanishads, The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, The
Cloud of Unknowing, and works of contemporary writers such as Alan Watts, Aldous
Huxley, Carl Jung, and Christopher Isherwood.
I was fascinated to find
that here, as in modern physics, light is a recurring theme. Consciousness is
often spoken of as the inner light. St John refers to "the true light, which
lighteth every man that cometh into the world." The Tibetan Book of the Great
Liberation speaks of "the self-originated Clear Light, eternally unborn . .
. shining forth within one's own mind."
Those who have awakened
to the truth about reality-whom we often call illumined, or enlightened-frequently
describe their experiences in terms of light. The sufi Abu'l-Hosian al-Nuri
experienced a light "gleaming in the Unseen. . . . I gazed at it continually,
until the time came when I had wholly become that light."
The more I read about this
inner light, the more I saw close parallels with the light of physics. Physical
light has no mass, and is not part of the material world; the same is true of
consciousness. Light seems in some way fundamental to the universe, its values
are absolute, universal constants. The light of consciousness is likewise fundamental;
without it there would be no experience.
This led me to wonder whether
there was some deeper significance to these similarities. Were they pointing
to a more fundamental connection between the light of the physical world and
the light of consciousness? Do physical reality and the reality of the mind
share the same common ground-a ground whose essence is light?
Hunting through my local
library one day, I happened upon a book titled The Science of Being and Art
of Living by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This was the Indian teacher who had recently
made the headlines when The Beatles renounced their use of drugs in favor of
his technique of Transcendental Meditation, or TM for short. Little knowing
how much this work would change my life, I added it to the pile of books I was
borrowing and took it back to my study. There it sat, unopened, on my desk for
two weeks. Finally I got around to taking a further look. Within minutes it
had my attention. Maharishi was saying the exact opposite of just about everything
I'd heard or read on meditation; yet it made sense.
To give just one example,
most of the books I had read on meditation talked about how much concentration
and effort it took to still the restless mind and discover the deep peace and
fulfillment that lies within. Maharishi looked at the whole matter in a different
way. Any concentration, the least bit of trying, even a wanting the mind to
settle down, would, he observed, be counterproductive. It would be promoting
mental activity rather than lessening it. He suggested that the reason the mind
was restless was because it was looking for something-namely, greater satisfaction
and fulfillment. But it was looking for it in the wrong direction, in the world
of thinking and sensory experience. All that was needed, he said, was to turn
the attention 180 degrees inward and give the mind a technique that helped it
settle down. Then, in that quieter state it would begin to taste a little of
the fulfillment it had been seeking, and would be spontaneously drawn on to
deeper levels of its own accord.
Maharishi's ideas appealed
to my scientific mind. They were simple and elegant-almost like a mathematical
derivation. But the skeptic in me was not going to take anything on faith. Just
because something is written in a book, or because some famous person says it,
or because many others believe it, does not mean it is true. The only way to
know how well his technique worked was to try it.
As soon as I completed
my undergraduate degree, I earned some money driving a truck, then set off in
an old VW van for India (it was the sixties, after all). My destination was
Rishikesh, an Indian holy town, about 150 miles north of Delhi, at the foot
of the Himalayas. The plains of northern India do not gradually rise up into
mountains, as in the Alps; the landscape looks more like the Rocky Mountains
in Colorado. One moment it is flat, the next there is mountain. Rishikesh nestles
right where plain turns into mountain, and at the very point where the Ganges
comes tumbling out of its deep Himalayan gorge.
On one side of the river
was Rishikesh the bustling market town, its crowded streets a jumble of stalls,
honking cars, bicycle rickshaws, and bony cows. On the other side was Rishikesh
the holy town. The atmosphere here was very different. There were no cars for
a start. The one bridge across the river-a suspension bridge strung high across
the mouth of the gorge-was deliberately built too narrow for cars. Along this
side of the river, and sprinkled up the jungle hillsides above, were all manner
of ashrams, each with its own architectural style and spiritual inclination.
Some were austere walled quadrangles lined with simple meditation cells; others
gloried in lush gardens, fountains, and brightly colored statues of Indian deities.
Some were centers for hatha yoga, others taught meditation or followed the teachings
of a particular guru.
About two miles down river
from the bridge was Maharishi's ashram, the last habitation before the winding
track disappeared into the jungle. Here, perched on a cliff top, a hundred feet
above the swirling Ganges, were half-a-dozen bungalows, a meeting hall, dining
room, showers, and other facilities providing some basic Western comforts.
Here, just over a hundred
of us, of all ages, from many countries, had gathered for a teacher training
course. Many were like myself, recent graduates and looking for intellectual
understanding of Maharishi's teachings as much as experience of deep meditation.
There were PhDs in philosophy, medical doctors, and long-term students of theology.
Over the coming weeks we
listened to Maharishi talk at length, and asked question after question, virtually
interrogating him at times. We teased out everything, from the finer distinctions
of higher states of consciousness and subtle influences of meditation to the
exact meaning of various esoteric concepts.
Even more important than
our growing understanding of meditation was the opportunity to deepen our experience.
Initially we meditated for three or four hours a day. As the course progressed,
Maharishi gradually increased our practice times until we were spending most
of the day in meditation-and much of the night as well. He wanted us to have
clear experiences of the states of consciousness he was describing.
During these long meditations,
the habitual chatter of my mind began to fade away. Thoughts about what was
going on in meditation, what time it was, what I wanted to say or do later,
occupied less and less of my attention. Sounds outside no longer triggered images
of monkeys playing games on the roof. Random memories of the past no longer
flitted through my mind. My feelings settled down, and my breath grew so gentle
as to virtually disappear. What thoughts there were became fainter and fainter,
until finally my thinking mind fell completely silent. In Maharishi's terminology
I had transcended (literally gone beyond) thinking-hence the name "Transcendental
Indian teachings call this
state samadhi, literally "still mind." They identify it as a fundamentally different
state of consciousness from the three major states we normally experience-waking,
dreaming, and deep sleep. In waking consciousness we are aware and experience
the world perceived by the senses. In dreaming we are aware and experience worlds
conjured by the imagination. In deep sleep there is no awareness, either of
outer world or inner world. Samadhi they define as a fourth major state. There
is awareness, one is wide awake, but there is no object of the awareness. It
is pure consciousness-pure in the sense of being unmodified by thoughts and
images-consciousness without content.
In terms of the video projector
analogy, this fourth state of consciousness corresponds to the projector being
on, but without any data being fed to it; only white light falls on the screen.
Likewise, in samadhi you know consciousness itself, in its unmanifest state,
before it takes on the many forms and qualities of thinking, feeling, and sensory
One further quality of
this state of consciousness marks it out from all our normal states. When you
are in this state you discover a sense of self that is more real and more fundamental
than any you have known before. You are no longer an individual person, with
individual characteristics. Here, in the complete absence of all normal experience,
you find your true identity, an identity with the essence of all beings and
Looking for the self is
rather like being in a room at night with only a flashlight, looking for the
source of the light. All you would find would be the various objects in the
room that the light fell upon. It is the same when we try to look for the self
which is the subject of all experience. All we find are the various ideas, images,
and feelings that the attention falls upon. But these are all objects of experience;
they cannot therefore be the subject of the experience. For this reason, the
self cannot be known in the way that anything else is known.
We can now begin to see
just how close are the parallels between the light of physics and the light
of consciousness. Both
are beyond the material world. And both seem to lie beyond space and time. Both
seem intrinsically unknowable-at least in the way that everything else is known.
And both are absolutes.
Every photon of light is an identical quantum of action, and the foundation
of every interaction in the universe. The light of consciousness is likewise
absolute and invariant. It is the source of every quality that we ever experience.
And its essential nature is the same for
everyone. Since it is beyond all attributes and identifying characteristics,
there is no way to distinguish the light of consciousness in me from the light
that shines in you. In other words, how it feels to me to be conscious-that
sense of being we label "I"-is the same as how it feels to you. In this sense
we are one. We all know the same inner self.
I am the light. And so
are you. And so is every sentient being in the universe.
Mystics have spoken of
this inner light as the Divine Light, the Cosmic Light, the Light of Light,
the Eternal Light that shines in every heart, the Uncreated Light from which
all creation takes form.
Once again the phrase "God
is Light" comes to mind. But now God begins to take on a much richer and more
personal meaning. If God is the name we give to the light of consciousness shining
at the core of every sentient being, and if that pure consciousness is the very
essence of self, then it is only a short step to the assertion that "I am God."
To many, the statement
"I am God" sounds ridiculous. God is not a human being, but the supreme deity,
the almighty, eternal creator. How can any lowly human being claim that he or
she is God? To those of a more religious disposition, the statement may sound
heretical, if not blasphemous. When the fourteenth-century Christian priest
and mystic Meister Eckhart preached that "God and I are One," he was brought
before Pope John XXII and forced to "recant everything that he had falsely taught."
Not all were so lucky. The tenth-century Islamic mystic al-Hallãj was
crucified for using language that claimed an identity with God.
To those who do not believe
in God at all, such statements are meaningless, the symptoms of some delusion
or pathology. They might have been tolerable a couple of hundred years ago,
but not in the modern scientific era, where God seems a totally unnecessary
concept. Science has looked out into deep space, across the breadth of creation
to the edges of the universe. It has looked back in "deep time" to the beginning
of creation. And it has looked down into the "deep structure" of the cosmos,
to the fundamental constituents of matter. In each case science finds no evidence
for God; nor any need for God-the Universe seems to work perfectly well without
any divine assistance. Thus anyone talking of a personal identity with God is
clearly talking nonsense.
That is where I stood thirty
years ago. Now I recognize that I was rejecting a rather naïve and old-fashioned
interpretation of God. When we look to mystical writings, we do not find many
claims for God being in the realm of space, time, and matter. When mystics refer
to God, they are, more often than not, pointing toward the realm of personal
experience, not something in the physical realm. If we want to find God, we
have to look within, into the realm of deep mind-a realm that science has yet
Abridged version of Peter Russell's new book 'From Science to God'
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