Summary: We have now built up to the turning point of the essay. Here we crack the nut of the link between scientific discovery and samadhi.
Being Put In Place
We in the West pride ourselves on our hard-nosed realism and objectivity. However, when seen from the perspective of Hindu philosophy, we are neither realistic nor objective, but simply ignorant. The Hindu mind is literal and material in a fashion far beyond the Occidental imagination. Both great civilizations have taken different aspects of experience as axiomatic and constructed theories, methods, and ways of life, accordingly.
In the West, we take the world to be real. Due to the influence of the ancient Greeks, time, space, matter, energy, and causality are axioms to the Western mind. At the fringes of our science and philosophy these are debated. But in the nitty-gritty core of our culture, in our everyday lives, these ideas dominate our experience.
As detailed in Part 5, ancient Indian discovery went “inward” and this led to the invention of yoga. Thus, the axioms of Hinduism do not involve the external world, but instead involve the mind and consciousness. These are approached with a realism and literalism that is not only beyond Occidental imagination but beyond Occidental experience.
However, in spite of these vast differences, the approaches converge. After all, we inhabit the same universe, so this is to be expected. Thus, we can intelligently use Hindu ideas to understand science, and vice versa. The differences factor into the scope and implications of each world-view. While I am sometimes critical of the West, it must be recognized that what is going on here is the attempt to have the two world views shed light on each other. It may not be an equal illumination from both perspectives, but both contribute to illuminating a synthesis that transcends either.
To really understand how the experience of samadhi illuminates the experience of science, we need to go deep into the Hindu mind and bring to the fore ideas that are superficially unfamiliar to the Western mind, yet evoke a deep resonance because of their truth.
Consciousness Is Being
“A great thinker said, “I think, therefore I am – cogito ergo sum,” but this is to put the cart before the horse. We do not think because thoughts are the cause of our being. Rather, our being is the cause of thought. Our existence is prior to the very process of thinking. “I think, therefore I am,” is not the way of putting it. Instead we should say, “I am, and therefore I think.”
“The thinking is a subsequent arrangement which comes into manifestation in respect of external relations, but there is a prior being which is the reason for and the condition for the processes of thought in respect of objects.”
“Minus content, what is consciousness? It looks featureless. But it does not mean that drisimatrah, or the pure consciousness condition, is a featureless transparency bifurcated from the content.”
“If we attribute being to objects, and consciousness is to be regarded only as a process of knowing, it would be divested of the being [attributed to] things, and consciousness would be non-being; it would be non-existent. But that cannot be, because being is what gives value to anything. Minus being, nothing can be. Therefore, the being of a thing cannot be divested of consciousness; and vice versa, consciousness cannot be divested of being. Existence is consciousness, and consciousness is existence. They cannot be separated.”
Convincing the reader is not the main point of sharing this argument. The point is to illustrate how the Hindu mind works. To reword it perhaps more concisely, he is asking: what is the precondition for thought? Two things are. First, to exist, to be, is a precondition for thinking. This is self-evident (and thus an axiom): how can something think when it does not exist? The second precondition is consciousness. How can there be thought without awareness? To the Hindu mind this is also self-evident, it is axiomatic. However, in general, this is not an axiom to the Western mind.
Because of computers, programming and advances in neuroscience, we entertain the notion of “intelligent machines” and have science fiction fantasies of self-aware computers. This is nothing new, but has always existed in the Western imagination: the homunculi of the Middle Ages, Frankenstein of the Victorians. But in fact, such things do not exist in the physical world except in the imagination, along with unicorns and Mickey Mouse. Musings of inventing conscious living things stem first, from an overinflated sense of self-importance of the Western ego. As if our machines and technologies can create consciousness. This is pure hubris.
But secondly, such delusions stem from the fact that the Western mind does not clearly demarcate consciousness from the content within consciousness. Instead, it tends to treat these as synonymous. Hence the fantasies of creating conscious beings are associated with performing computations that are like those occurring in the brain. And this in spite of the fact that computers already ape many aspects of human thought, illustrating the dissociation of mental operations from consciousness. Of course not all authors confuse consciousness and its contents, thankfully. For example, Bernard Baars’ clearly distinguishes consciousness from its contents in his global workspace theory published in his book Cognitive Theory of Consciousness (here).
The reason the Hindu distinguishes consciousness, as a thing in itself, from the specific contents of consciousness, such as thoughts, emotions, acts of will, desires, etc., is because of the experience of yoga. Recall from Part 6 that the purpose of yoga is to cause all motion in the mind to stop (“chitta vritti nirodhah”). When this is performed, it is discovered that something still exists: a naked, empty, pure self-awareness.
Samadhi on Consciousness
We have spoken to this point of samadhi performed on a pratyaya, a thought within the mind of the yogi. This type of samadhi is called “sabīja samadhi” (see also), where the pratyaya, the object of meditation is called a “seed” or “sabija”. In addition, there is “nirbīja samadhi” or samadhi without a seed, without a pratyaya. This is the most advanced form of samadhi. It is the ultimate goal of all samadhi practice to achieve this state. So, if there is no “seed” in the mind of the yogi, what then is the object of concentration? It is consciousness itself.
It is the experience of yoga that consciousness can be stripped, emptied, of all content, yet something remains. This something has two properties. One characteristic of the state of nirbīja samadhi is existence. Existence does not cease when consciousness has no content. Second, there is awareness of being aware, which is pure self-awareness. The state of nirbīja samadhi is awareness of being aware, and nothing else. In this state is only consciousness and existence. Hence the formula consciousness = being.
We should celebrate the discovery of this state as one of the greatest discoveries of yoga, and of mankind.
We are now positioned to state a major insight of this essay. According to the line of reasoning above, when any object is perceived by the senses, it obviously exists (of course excluding mistakes in perception). Since it exists, there must be consciousness because consciousness = being. The implication of the experience of nirbīja samadhi is that the mere existence of a thing implies the presence of consciousness. This provides a logical argument as to why Hindus see all things that exist as consciousness. Of course, to a yogi it is not a matter of logical argument because these things are directly experienced in samadhi. But for those of us who do not experience samadhi, there you go, I’ve given you a logical argument.
We in the West need an argument, a rationale. The Indian mind does not. Over millennia of integrating the insights of yoga into their culture, the idea that being = consciousness is axiomatic to the Hindu mind.
Now, it is naive and stupid to think the yogic logic is so daft as to insinuate that everything that exists is conscious the way you or I are conscious. This is NOT what they are saying. If something exists, there must be consciousness associated with it. To what extent it is conscious of specific contents of greater or lesser richness, to what extent it can act in a lesser or greater capacity depends on the structure and constitution of the thing. But the implication is that even the most rudimentary structures that exist have consciousness.
This viewpoint exists in Western philosophy and is called panpsychism. However, to the Western mind, this is merely an interesting, or absurd depending on one’s attitude, hypothesis. Panpsychism competes with a plethora of other views of Nature found in the mental jungle that is the Western intellect. To the yogi, the consciousness of objects is a direct experience. It is the consciousness at the core of any existing thing with which the yogi fuses in samadhi.
The Stuff Inside Of Consciousness
We can now understand the distinction between mind and consciousness in yogic thought. Consciousness is like a container, or a medium, with two properties: (1) it is, and (2) it is self-aware. Mind is any pattern inside the container. The general word for any pattern in the container of consciousness is “vritti”; a wave or whirlpool in the medium of consciousness. The vrittis are categorized in a very complex fashion in Hindu thought.
Taken in total they are called “Prakriti”: the totality of all manifested existence. The term “Prakriti” is often translated as “Nature” or “Mother of all matter” or similar such terms. Prakriti is the source of the gunas, discussed in the Interlude. The gunas are the three types of dynamical patterns. They are called rajas, tamas and satva. We can only understand the gunas by way of our modern understanding of Dynamics. The gunas are dynamical systems with different types of attractor states. Tamas is the dynamics of fixed point attractors. Rajas is the dynamics of strange attractors. Satva is the dynamics of limit cycle attractors.
As explained in the Interlude, to the Hindu mind, all things that exist are made of the three gunas, the three general types of dynamical patterns, mixed in different proportions and combinations. The gunas form all the patterns found in consciousness, including the physical world, the mental world, and other deeper worlds of which the West is unaware.
The Mind-Body Problem: No Problem!
The mind-body problem, the link between the body and mind, between the physical and mental, has been a perineal problem in the West since ancient times. There is no mind-body problem in yogic and Hindu thought. It is an incorrect dichotomy in their view. There are only the gunas, the dynamical patterns. This is why mind can act on body and body can act on mind, why matter and mind can interact: they are both made of the same “thing”. But this “thing” is not a substance. Both mind and matter are constructed of dynamical patterns. That is what it means to say that everything is made of the gunas. Since mind and matter are both dynamical patterns, they can interact with each other. No big deal. End of story.
Of course, in practice it is not so simple. Mind and matter are different types of dynamical systems, just as the flow of a river is different from the flux of light from the Sun. But just as the dynamics of photon flux from the Sun can interact with a river on the Earth, the dynamical patterns that we perceive as atoms and bulk matter can interact with the dynamical patterns that we perceive as thoughts and ideas. Meanwhile, both sets of dynamical patterns are just vrittis, patterns of gunas, in consciousness.
We have already pointed out two critical facts about the relationship between mind and matter:
- We cannot just think any arbitrary thought and bend matter to our will, and
- We can think highly specific, highly technical thoughts and bend matter to our will.
How this happens is exactly explained by the discoveries made by yogis. It is because a physical system is a highly specific dynamical pattern (combination of gunas, to use the Hindu term). If we can match that highly specific dynamical pattern to the dynamical pattern that is our thoughts, then we can interact with the physical system. The process is no different, in essence, than the Sun heating water. It is just the interaction of two different dynamical systems.
This “matching” of the dynamics of thought to the dynamics of sensory experience is what we call science. Note that when stated in these terms, it is clear that the entire process occurs within consciousness. We match perceptions at two different levels of consciousness; sensory perceptions are matched to mental perceptions. The whole process occurs within consciousness. When understood in these terms, it starts to become clear how samadhi can reveal the svarupa and artha of the pratyaya only within consciousness.
Jump to the other parts of What is Science?