Humankind has been exposed
to the forces of nature ever since we made
an appearance on the face of this planet. We
find ourselves very inadequate in our struggle
for survival. Disease and death are unavoidable.
Happiness and pleasure are at the most momentary
and fleeting. Endowed with a rare capacity
of modeling internally, in our minds—through abstract thinking—the
problem of “uncertain futures”, we
search for coping mechanisms to overcome our
limitations. Incisive logical thinking leads
us to the surprise finding that nothing was ever
created and all our troubles are the result of
mentation, which is responsible for generating
an imaginary “self”. We discover
that the visible world is an illusion and that
one is not really an individual but an eternal
indivisible seamless One-Whole-Self experiencing
an ineffable peace and inexplicable joy.
A few questions, however,
remain: Are there two distinct ‘gateways’ of neuronal
networks, one giving raise to “self” and
another to “Self”? Could a shift
in the operational focus from the node of an “individual
self” to a “Universal Self” augmented
by opioids like anandamide and neurotransmitters
like oxytocin bring about a change in the perceived
worldview? Is “negation of the visible
world” a mere clever coping mechanism in
the face of indefatigable misery? Or is there
Humanoids (our anthropological ancestors) first
appeared on earth about two million years ago.
Human beings came around 200,000 years back having
diverged from their first cousins, Neanderthals,
about 400,000 years ago. Modern man descended
from a small group that lived in Africa. Driven
by droughts, he spread to the rest of the globe
in waves of migrations about 50,000 years back.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the
faculty of philosophical “thinking” about
abstract issues dawned on humankind. Thinking,
per se, predates Homo sapiens, as shown by the
comparative studies between humans and chimps
conducted at Emory University (Rilling, 2007).
Marean (2007) reports evidence that goes back
to 164,000 years “for the earliest cultural
trappings of modern human species.” Cave
paintings (evidence of memory and expression)
date back to 82,000 years. Coulson (2006) found,
in Africa, 70,000 year old relics of ritual worship
indicative of “ability for abstract thinking.”
Neanderthals existed in Africa, Europe, and
even went up to China. Krause (2007) found FOXP2
genes in Neanderthal remains from north Spain.
This gene and the skull bone structure indicate
that Neanderthals had language capability. In
spite of that, Neanderthals totally disappeared
about 30,000 years ago. Anthropologists ascribed
many reasons for their extinction. Kuhn and Stiner
(2006) recently suggested, after a detailed study
of Neanderthal sites and artifacts, that they
failed to develop division of labor between genders,
a survival tactic successfully adopted by Homo
From the beginning, humankind has struggled
for existence. We were relentlessly exposed to
the ravages of nature. We had to confront wild
beasts and powerful predators. Inexorable natural
processes were too daunting to our fragile and
mortal bodies. Whatever might be the coping mechanism
innovated, problems of “uncertain futures” (Plotkin,
1997) haunted us. Nature’s destructive
fury seems inescapable, disease and death unpreventable
and suffering and misery unavoidable. Everything
around constantly changes; happiness and pleasure
seem fleeting and at best only occasional. So,
man in millennia past, explored for ways and
means of surmounting such limitations.
The quest led to the discovery of a “self” within—a “self” that
identified with the body, giving a distinct personality.
The “self” is protective of itself
and judgmental about whatever the senses observe.
It seeks permanency. We surmised that misery
emanated because of “self”. We want
to rid ourselves of it. Someone said, “Our
sensory system is the cause of a “self” within
us. Therefore, burn the senses.” So they
starved the body, mutilated the senses or practiced
frightful rites. Others said, “Surrender “self” to
a Supreme Being, who will take care of everything.”
Yet others said, “Thoughts emanate unstoppably.
Thoughts give “name and form” to
every sensory signal (sensation) received from
outside; create a “self” and assess
things in relation to “self”—friend
or foe; mine or thine. “Self” thus
distinguishes itself from the world “out
there”. It tends to get attached to friendly
objects for security. Why not find “something” unchanging
and let “self” be attached to THAT
instead of seeking refuge in ephemeral worldly
objects? All problems would evaporate if we join
Smart move indeed! So they searched for
an eternal all-powerful ‘that’.
Their astounding, unbelievable and counterintuitive
finding at the end: “Nothing was
ever born!” That outcome, in one-word,
is the essence of Advaita.
Let us follow step by step their Search.
We begin with what is around.
A world out there is perceived.
Therefore, there has to be a ‘Perceiver’.
Who is the “Perceiver?”
Our sense organs (eyes etc.) are not the Perceiver.
They just receive the signals and pass on the
info to the corresponding cortex (“Indriya”).
The constant activity of neurons in the brain
produces thoughts (Manas). The new input
from senses is compared with the stored information
in memory (Chitta). Memory is accumulated
knowledge that was learned or experienced in
the “past.” It comprises both genetic
and memetic (= cultural, religious, etc.) information.
A final meaning to what we sense is assigned
by intellect (Buddhi) interpreting the
new information in relation to our Ego (ahamkara).
Manas, chitta, buddhi and ahamkara together
give us the sense of I-ness (Antahkarana).
Therefore, I-ness is merely an epiphenomenon
arising out of the neuronal processes. It’s
not an objective entity.
Research by Tsien (2007), Nicolelis and Ribeiro
(2006) established that hierarchical networks
of neurons store info in a dynamic neurochemical
environment. Neuroscientists like Drs. Heatherton,
Lieberman (referred to in Zimmer, 2005) showed
that there is no single identifiable ‘spot’ as “self” or
Ego in the brain. Networks of neurons particularly
in Medial Prefrontal Cortex work as “gateways” for
information processing giving us a feeling of “self”.
Thus, indriyas, I-ness and the non-existing “self” are
all brain processes that help in our apperception
of what is seen. They cannot be the “Perceiver”.
Whenever we cognize a thing, we are lost knowingly
or unknowingly in a process of comparing and
contrasting what is seen now with
the past which is dead and gone. So we never
observe what is. Because of this process
(which takes about a quarter of a second according
to Prof. Crick), we are perpetually behind the “true” now.
We live in a pseudo-now which is nothing but
the past projected as present.
If we are “missing what is” because
of this mentation, what causes Mind? Whatever
that is, it must precede Mind.
Our Sensory system does not work unless we
are Conscious. (So-called “unconscious” and “conscious” together
constitutes Consciousness). What color, sound,
language, texture or flavor is sensed is immaterial
to consciousness. Like it makes no difference
to an antenna what program it receives. Therefore,
Consciousness is the detector “element”,
the sensor and should exist prior to mind.
But Consciousness cannot function in a stand-alone
mode. Consciousness requires a physical body
(organism) and also “life-force” within
that organism to manifest itself (a dead organism
is not conscious). So consciousness and life-force
must have come from something else. That “something” must
have existed prior to these two.
That “something” should obviously
be independent of both consciousness and life-force.
That is to say it should be immaterial to that “something” whether
an organism is living or dead. Therefore, it
must be ever present and should transcend life,
birth and death. That “something” is “Awareness”.
Or call it by any other name you like.
Is there something prior to Awareness?
We have just no way of knowing.
We left the mind two stations behind. We traveled
ahead transcending mind to consciousness and
reached Awareness now in our analysis. Remember
Mind is the mechanism that sustains an “identity” for “me”,
defining my “persona”. Mind being
no more existent at this stage, there is no scope
for “I” to exist, for “I” lost
its support structure. “I” being
not there, there’s none to know anything.
Awareness is not amenable to expression using
such surrogates like words, symbols, and concepts
because all these are within and limited to mind.
Mind being just a name for the mental processes
and consciousness being just a neutral sensor,
neither of them can be the “Perceiver.”
So the real Perceiver is “Awareness.”
Hence, Awareness is the so called “me” perceiving.
Suppose everybody and everything around carries
this analysis. They will also reach the same
understanding: they, themselves are Awareness.
It means there is nothing but Awareness all-around.
It is Awareness perceiving Awareness by being
Aware. It is all One. Not Two. Advaita.
Awareness, being beyond birth
and death, cannot have a birth. So nothing
could ever be born. That’s the Truth.
The “Search” we
did thus far is meditation. To be steadfastly
established in that Truth is Liberation.
We may ask, “Why does a world still appear
to me?” Vedanta provides an answer through
two basic models.
Model One : The world you
see is as real as a dream. The wakeful world
differs only in its space-time dynamics from
dream world. (Brain records the same 40 Hz activity
during dream or wakeful states!) Ego, mind, self,
or whatever, is all part of dream and untrue.
They are illusions. Like seeing a snake in a
rope. You cannot cure an illusion like you cannot
treat an illness experienced in a dream. You
can only wake up or go into deep sleep. Just
wake up and the dream automatically vanishes.
Similarly, Truth prevails when Wakeful world
vanishes (Swartz, 1996).
Model Two : The logic of triad
(triputi) is used to explain the phantom
world. If you see something, implicitly there
are three things: observer (drasta),
the observed (dristi) and the action
of observing (darsana). That is to say
that there is an observer distinct from the observed,
the two being separated by a distance. The action
of observing bridges the separation. A separating
distance sprouts because the moment you look
at a thing, the neuronal processing of identification
of the object and positioning it vis-à-vis “me” takes
place. In the absence of this mentation, there
is only the action of observing. When only an
action of observing exists, there are no “observer” and
a separate “observed”.
Could a Perceiver exist alone without a world
to perceive? “Yes”, says Vedanta.
That “state of a seer without anything
to see” is referred to as Drik (Potent-Looker)
(Krishna Murthy, 2007).
[Many of the Buddhist Meditation methods and
Cognitive Behavioral Therapies are based on this
oneness of Observer-Observed-Observing.] To maintain
that an observer is separate from the observed
(including positing Human vs. God, Disciple vs.
Guru) is duality and not Truth.
Some more Questions and interestingly counterintuitive
1. If Awareness and Awareness only
is there everywhere, why don’t I see
If you are an inseparable drop of water within
the ocean and if there is nothing other than
the ocean, can you view the ocean away from yourself?
Therefore, you yourself are awareness! The world
is not apart from you. The world is a seamless
part of you.
2. What knowledge should I acquire?
Nothing to be acquired. It’s actually
giving up what you have! Knowledge always grows.
That means at any given time, the amount of knowledge
learnt is limited. Hence it is forever incomplete
and therefore, imperfect. What is imperfect cannot
lead you to perfection. In fact knowledge becomes
a burden. You have to empty yourself of all knowledge
which is Ignorance (= nescience) in Vedanta!
Drop all the known (remember: all the known is
stored as memory which we call mind). So end
the mind; not mend, bend, blend or grind it.
Self ends when mind comes to an end. “That
is a form of death while living”, as Mr.
J. Krishnamurti puts it (Skitt, 2003).
3. Who dies in the death of an organism?
Nothing dies. What ends at the death of an
organism is the imaginary “you”–your
so-called personality which is nothing but a
virtual entity put together staking a claim to
an assortment of characteristics and memories
as “yours”. The organism also does
not die, in a sense, because the materials (chemical
elements) the organism is made up of get recycled
and used again. Thus you could be having a few
carbon atoms from the gut of Yudhistira! (The
chemical elements that constitute our body are
older than the earth and solar system.)
4. Do I renounce the World to be free
Well, you don’t. Shri Nisargadatta Maharaj
assures, “Do you give up the bed when you
fall into deep sleep? You just forget it! Liberation
is not being free from the
world. It is being free of the
world” (Dikshit, 1981; Powell, 2004). Free
of “persona”, only unnamed, unclaimed,
unchosen sensations remain. Body reverberates
as One with every flutter of a leaf, ripple in
water or cloud in the sky.
This question is the tantalizing title of the
book edited by David Skitt (2003) reporting Mr.
J. Krishnamurti’s dialogues with Buddhists
led by Dr. Walpola Rahula and scientists like
Prof. David Bohm. In his exposition, Mr. Krishnamurti
did lead the group in a journey to the Truth
through a deconstruction of many-taken-for-granted-pet-concepts.
Still, an answer to the main question appeared
nebulous. As if to highlight this, Part II of
the book opens with an innocent but desperate
question of a listener of Mr. J. Krishnamurti’s
talks. The questioner asked Mr. J. Krishnamurti
why, in spite of hearing Krishnamurti for several
years, no change had taken place in him (the
Many religious leaders, politicians, ideologues
and philosophers have been attempting for millennia
of years to transform man into a happy individual
and establish a harmonious society. Their philosophies
could at best help a few individuals to keep
the wayward mind under reins and to stay calm
and composed in presence of happiness or adversity.
But squalor and misery, conflicts and violence
within an individual and in the society at large
continue to the present.
Significant progress has been made of late
in understanding neural codes (e.g. Nicolelis
and Ribeiro, 2006) and how brain stores and retrieves
information (Tsien, 2007). No single spot as “self” could
be identified to exist in the brain. It was found
that certain networks of neurons operate either
singly or in overlapping combinations as ‘gateways’ for
autobiographical memories. Those ‘gateways’ help
provide a distinct identity as ‘self’ to
an individual (Zimmer, 2005). Such an identity
in turn furthers survival of the organism and
protection of the body.
In contrast to the “self” (of an
individual, Jiva), the “Universal
Self” of a liberated person (Jivanmukta)
identifies him as one with the whole universe.
It is suggested here that human beings are possibly
endowed with two distinct information processing
nodes or “gateways”: a private “self” and
a “Universal Self.” A person’s
apperception of the sensory information would
depend on which gateway is used. Table 1 lists
the differences in cognition from the viewpoints
of “self” and “Self”.
A liberated man functioning with “Universal
Self” as the center experiences ineffable
bliss and inexplicable love-for-all. Ancient
Indian scriptures hold that such a state is the
goal of evolution, the purpose of life and the
objective to be reached by every human being.
However, a lurking doubt persists. After all,
sorrow and suffering exist in the world. Disease
and death are indefatigable. Misery cannot be
wiped out or wished away. We know these as facts.
In such a case, ability to regard the miasma
of the visible world as unreal and viewing it
as mere phantasm would be a clever coping mechanism.
Is being lost in a noumenon only an escape from
the phenomenal world? Even a Jivanmukta needs
three morsels a day, has to pay taxes, requires
an ID for travel, and will have to fix broken
bones. With realization of Truth, he and the
world do not evaporate into thin air like a dream
dissolving on waking up!
However, there is a significant difference
in living with a “self” or “Self”.
This gets exemplified in “actions” as
indicated at rows 11-13 in Table 1. Sage Vasishta
said that the actions of a Jivanmukta would
not form impressions nor would they have a carry-forward
effect (Krishna Murthy (2007a). It may be mentioned
here that Mr. J. Krishanmurti (1989) in his talk
of Nov 22, 1985 in India spoke about the possibility
of ‘experiencing’ without forming
a memory record in the brain. He said that the
brain cells would then be free to mutate! Mutation
in the neurons brings about an effortless change
in the chemistry and structure of the brain.
As attested by several studies, neurochemical
and biomedical enhancement of thinking and cognition
can be obtained through a modification of the
brain chemistry. A decade and half ago Mechoulam
discovered a fatty acid produced in the brain
that mimics marijuana. He named it “anandamide” after
the Sanskrit word ananda meaning “bliss.” Anandamide
is “a part of the brain’s endocannabinoid
system that plays analgesic, anti-anxiety and
antidepressant role.” A drug URB597 created
by researchers in the USA and Italy is expected
to be available in the market in 2008. The drug
helps in inhibiting the enzymes that breakdown
anandamide (see original
Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter long known to
influence social behavior and cognition. Recent “research
with rodents and non-human primates has shown
that oxytocin, as well as the structurally similar
peptide vasopressin, plays an important role
in attachment and affiliative behaviors including
pair-bond formation, maternal behavior, sexual
behavior and separation distress” (Bartz
and Hollander, 2007). Experiments demonstrated
that oxytocin increases trust and social memory. “Liquid
Spray”, a product based on oxytocin, for
enhancing trust is available commercially.
Future work on brain chemistry may be able
throw up more such molecules that define the “ineffable
bliss and inexplicable happiness” of a Jivanmukta.
Sage Vasishta discussed several methods of
nulling the mind in the 78 th Canto, Chapter
V, (The Calm Down) of Yogavasishta (Krishna Murthy,
2007a) leading to the state of a Jivanmukta.
Of particular interest here is the following
technique described for the arrest of mental
“Open the mouth. Fold back the tongue
and touch uvula with the tongue. Extend the tongue
a bit more and press the uvula. Keep pressing
uvula with the tongue and let oxygen-rich air
enter the Brahma randhra. Hold the air there.
Then movement of life-principle (and mentation)
Such techniques and more vigorous tantric methods
prescribed elsewhere like further stretching
the tongue to touch the pituitary suggest that
a state of null mind is achievable through manipulation
Let us hope that future scientific developments
will be able to help in bringing about a shift
from “self” to “Self” in
the operational neuronal circuits of human brain.
Every man will then function from a caring “Self” as
center with a feeling that the whole universe
is himself and not a private individual centered
around a petty competing “self.” Or
possibly a new discovery that may give a paradigm
shift to our understanding, unimaginable in present
day terms, is waiting round the corner!
The paper traces the mathematics-like precise
logic of arriving at Oneness in sequential steps,
principally based on the published conversations
(teachings is a word not preferred by either
of them) of Mr. J. Krishnamurti and Sri Nisargadatta
Maharaj, well-known thinkers and philosophers
who lived until the eighties. Some of the steps
narrated here may seem wanting in detailed explanation.
They have been kept cryptic, as otherwise the
paper would run to several scores of pages. But
it is hoped that the ‘fragrance’ of
what is being hinted at by those stalwart philosophers
can be felt. In order to scale up for mass application
of what is achieved at an individual level to
all of humanity, it is necessary to rewrite the
high-skill algorithm to a low-skill routine.
Understanding neurochemistry and the hierarchical
neuronal “gateways” responsible for
operationalising a “Universal Self” as
against an individual “self” may
help in this direction.
I am indebted to Prof. M. Lee, Editor, Yogacara.net
for her thoughtful inputs and patience with my
marathon email correspondence which helped in
polishing this article.
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Table 1: Comparitive Attributes of an Individual
(Jiva) and a Liberated Person (Jivanmukta).