The Yogic View of Consciousness 18: Monads, Networks, and Spaghetti


YVC COVER 18-2Manifestation is one giant interconnected network. Leibniz described this in his Monadology which is quite copacetic with the yogic view of consciousness. However, as we discuss here, Leibniz the optimist interpreted the network of manifestation differently than yoga is wont to do.

Contents for The Yogic View of Consciousness:

Intro Ch 1 Ch 2 Ch 3 Ch 4 Ch 5 Ch 6 Ch7 Ch 8
Ch 9 Ch 10 Ch 11 Ch 12 Ch 13 Ch 14 Ch 15 Ch 16 Ch 17
Ch 18 Ch 19 Ch 20 Ch 21 Ch 22 Ch 23 Ch 24 Ch 25 Ch 26
Ch 27 Ch 28 Ch 29 Ch 30 Ch 31 Ch 32 Ch 33

Review (Simple Version)
Before moving on, let’s review and summarize. Chapter 2 introduced a picture of the yogic view of consciousness by mixing the metaphors of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and how a movie projectors works:  YVC 18 Fig 1In this picture, the Absolute is depicted as a projector that projects the light of consciousness into the cave of consciousness. The entirety of the cave is the mind. According to the Samkhya philosophy as used in yoga, the cave has four levels or states.   The wall of the cave (a la Plato) is the screen of consciousness where our first person subjective awareness perceives the shadow-world of phenomena. This is the realm of visesa gunas where the world is perceived as consisting of many copies of diverse objects like stars, planets, people, plants, animals, atoms, molecules, etc.

The other three levels of the cave—alinga, linga, and avisesa—are the “deep structure” of the mind. For most people, this “deep structure” is the unconscious mind. But these states can be accessed by advanced yogic practices.  Chapter 9 discussed pratiprasava, or the recession of effects into causes. Pratiprasava is the withdrawal of consciousness backwards from visesa, to avisesa, to linga, to alinga, which then passes through the bindu (dharma mega samadhi) to the Absolute (or Kaivalya, “Alone”, to use the yoga term).

A central idea represented by the above image is that when consciousness projects from the Absolute to the screen, it is called paranga cetana, or outwardly directed consciousness. When the light withdraws backwards from the screen to the Absolute, this is pratyak cetana, or inwardly directed consciousness. The advanced yoga practices are in large measure the intentional cultivation of pratyak cetana.

Review (Not So Simple Version)
Chapters 4 through 17 elaborated on the above picture and generated a considerably more abstract understanding of the yogic view of consciousness. Chapters 4-7 discussed various views of the Absolute. This was an exercise in irony because the Absolute is ineffable.

Chapter 8 transitioned from the Absolute to the Relative. “Relative” means “related to”. Western mathematics was presented as the language of choice for describing the Relative because math is the language of pure abstract relationships. Math provides many possible patterns of relationship which we can then use to describe the regularities we observe in the world around us (ala Hermann Weyl).

From Chapter 9 onwards, we discussed the bindu. Initially, the bindu was introduced as the “doorway” between the Absolute and the Relative, lying at the deepest level of the mind, and accessed by the most advanced of the yogic methods: dharma megha samadhi. We soon found the metaphor of a “doorway” to be inadequate for describing the bindu. Instead, it was explained that the bindu bridges the four layers of the mind by acting like a harmonic transition.

Then things got really kooky when it was explained that the bindu is not just a passive bridge, but is the mechanism that generates Manifested existence. The four worlds of the gunas are projected out of the Absolute by the Mahabindu in a manner resembling a diffraction grating, producing a structure akin to rainbows within rainbows within rainbows. These various spectra of existence are not dead matter, but are minds within minds within minds etc.

While it’s impossible to illustrate minds within minds, we can beef up our illustration of the yogic view of consciousness.   The next image is a feeble attempt to illustrate how the Absolute diffracts into Manifestation. It is a slightly different way to depict what is illustrated above.  It shows how Manifestation consists of the four phases of the gunas that go from the most general at Alinga gunas to the most differentiated and specific at visesa gunas. The phases of the gunas are connected via bindus, which I have depicted as Möbius strips that appear to have two sides but only have one.

YVC 18 Fig 2What we call “mind’ is called “ahamkara” in yoga. Ahamkara is the constriction of consciousness into a relative form, a seeming individual mind. However, separateness and individuality are illusions of the maya. Minds as we know them exist inside of greater minds, which are constrictions inside of even greater minds, and so on, bleeding off into a seeming infinite hierarchy of minds within minds within minds. What a fly’s mind is to our human mind, our human mind is to the mind of a solar system or galaxy. This view solves the ancient riddle of The One and The Many, how the One expresses itself in seeming infinite forms, all conscious, all experiencing life, movement, the gunas.

There is one last item to discuss about this seemingly infinite hierarchy of minds. They form one vast interconnected network. All the grades of different minds are connected via the bindus. The Many is an illusion; Maya. There is only One. Whether experienced as the Absolute or the Relative, there is only an undivided wholeness. However, from our relative vantage point as limited human beings, this wholeness is masked under the appearances of variety and diversity of objects.

This last topic is the most important because it explains the modus operandi of yoga, of how samadhi works. The Many is one vast interconnected network. Samadhi allows one to move through the bindus and thereby travel in the mind throughout this network. Thereby the seemingly limited relative human being can transcend its individualized mind and experience life and consciousness through any mind in existence, and ultimately experience all minds simultaneously in the state of Kaivalya.

Some Mundane Examples
Before discussing the more abstract aspects of the network of Manifestation, let’s consider more mundane examples. A dualism that plagued Western thought in the early modern period was that of force and matter. Matter is visible and tangible to our senses. Force is invisible and manifests only in its effects. Physics has identified four forces that move physical matter: gravity, the electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear forces.

Consider gravity. We do not directly perceive gravity, we only feel its effects as the weight of our bodies and the weight of other masses. Newton offered the idea that weight is a manifestation of what seems to be an invisible force, something like a magnetic attraction, between masses. As to the nature of this force, he offered no hypotheses. Einstein refined our understanding of gravity by explaining it as the bending of space-time by mass. Even with this more accurate and abstract understanding, gravity is still otherwise invisible except for its effects. It is similar with the other forces. We see their effects, but each force is an intangible something that causes tangible things to move.

Force is not only physical, it is also mental. We humans are bound together by invisible psychological and social forces. Whether the bonds of family or of nation, of religion, or common belief, whether the bonds of love or hate, these intangible forces are known only by their effects. The mental forces drive us into the myriad patterns of observable human behavior resulting in all the artifacts of culture and of our individual actions.

We appear to be autonomous, individual humans, but we are not. The tangible items we perceive in nature appear as separate and autonomous things, but they are not. We humans are linked together via social, psychological, and physical forces. Life is interlinked in a vast web of relationships of mutual dependency. Every mass in the universe is linked to every other mass by the force of gravity.

As van der Leeuw stated:

“In this world of relativity each relative thing is related to all else; there is not an atom in this universe of mine to which I am not related, even though I may not be conscious of the relation. I have no existence at all as a separate creature, though I may at times imagine myself as such; rather am I part of an intricate web of relativity in which all things mutually determine one another.”

So, even in our mundane perceptions, the world we experience is one unified thing. All the seemingly separate things are held together in various networks of interactions operating at many different levels; physical, biological, social, and so on. The perceptions achieved via yoga methods only amplify and reinforce this observation, and drive home how total and complete the integration of Manifestation really is.

A Tale of Two Quotes
The yogic picture of the networked nature of Manifestation was summarized in Chapter 9:

“This entire hierarchy (of minds within minds within minds) is linked via the bindus. That is, the whole of manifestation is one vast hierarchical network linked via the bindus of the various grades of mind that exist in nature. The only qualitative picture like this in the West is Leibniz Monadology.”

We’ve seen Taimni’s picture:

TThis image is meant to depict exactly what I said: manifestation is a vast network of minds within minds within minds. Taimni’s picture is that of a network. Networks are made of two things: nodes and links (or vertices and edges). In Taimni’s picture, the minds are the nodes (circles in the picture), and the bindus are the links (lines connecting the circles in the picture). So this thing that Hindus call “Manifestation” is not just a fractal, it is not just patterns of motion; it is also a vast interconnected network.

Every mind is ultimately connected to every other mind, no matter how seemingly great or small the minds seem to be. Manifestation is just one thing. It is one gigantic interconnected network of minds. The Many is only an appearance, the One is the only reality.

There are two quotes I have used in the past that can be thought of as reflecting the two extreme ways to interpret this vast network of Manifestation.

First, Leibniz (Monadology):

“Now, this interconnection, or this adapting of all created things to each one, and of each one to all the others, brings it about that each simple substance has relational properties that express all the others, so that each monad is a perpetual living mirror of the universe.”

Second, as Readers of What is Science? have seen, is Swami Krishnananda (The Realization of the Absolute):

“Everything in the world is a network of unintelligible relations”

Both quotes recognize the network underlying manifested existence. Leibniz, ever the optimist, sees a type of perfection there. Krishnananda, in line with yogic values, sees maya and chaos. Let us discuss each quote in turn and see how the two views imply each other as a yin/yang thing.

Leibniz’ Monads
For those who don’t know what a monad is, this section is a very brief review of the subject.  Leibniz developed the concept in answer to the ancient philosophical questions: (1) what is everything made of? and (2) what is the answer to the mind-body problem? Leibniz expressed his monadology in notes that were unpublished in his lifetime, but eventually discovered and published under the name Monadology. The whole thing is 13 pages long.  I suggest you go read it.

What is everything made of? According to Leibniz, it is made of monads.  What is a monad? It is an atom of mind-stuff or an atom of consciousness.

What is the answer to the mind-body problem? According to Leibniz, there is only mind.  In this he was an idealist because he recognized that the world we perceive exists only inside of our minds. However, although he was a contemporary of Berkeley, he did not accept Berkeley’s form of idealism.  Unlike Berkeley, Leibniz accepted that the physical world exists independent of our human minds.  However, this physical world is made of monads, or mind-stuff, of atoms of consciousness.  In this, Leibniz was perhaps one of the first panpsychists in modern times in the West.

There is an immense amount of material written about the Monadology, mainly in philosophy. I will not pretend such erudition here.  However, what is clear to me as someone trained in science is that Leibniz was trying to reconcile the dualism of force and matter mentioned above.  His solution was the idea of monads.  The idea was that an atom of consciousness, a monad, is where force comes from.  Leibniz equated force with will power, hence force must involve something that is intrinsically conscious.  Then, in ways he never tried to describe in any detail, he thought that the monads combined into ever more complex ways to generate material substances.  In this he foreshadowed our modern understanding from Einstein’s work that matter and energy are equivalent (i.e. the famous E = mc2).

Leibniz was a founder of our modern Western science. However, his contributions to calculus and classical physics were only a small proportion of his thought. The Monadology never made it into science. It was way too far ahead of its time. His idea of a “universal grammar” only found expression in 20th century science with the advent of computers. It is now recognized the Leibniz was the first to think of the idea of a general purpose programming language.

Fortunately, at least some philosophers have been (rightly) hypnotized and enamored by Leibniz’ other ideas, such as the Monadology, and have kept his torch burning these past few centuries. Nonetheless, Leibniz’s idea of monads never made a dent in the rise of modern science.  Monads become relevant when we try to make sense of the yogic teachings.  Hence my discussion here.

With this brief background, let’s continue.

Reflections Reflecting Reflections Reflecting Reflections…
As the quote above indicates, monads were postulated to have the property that each one reflects all the others. With this idea, Leibniz saw an infinite harmony in the monads reflecting each other. Conceptually, it is an elegant idea. Actually, it is much, much more than just elegant. As an intellectual idea, it provides the maximum concept of the unity of consciousness.  Leibniz, as well as being a swell guy, was a genius of the first order. He always took a topic to its logical extreme.

Leibniz, as emphasized by Greg Chaitin, was perhaps the first to stress the idea of getting the maximum out of the minimum (which takes on a new light when considered in the context of Nicholas of Cusa’s idea of Maximum = Minimum). Nature will do the minimum action to give the maximum effect. Eventually this intuition became the precise idea of “least action” in physics, and has played a key role in our understanding of nature ever since.

Leibniz’ idea of monads derives from the intuition of getting the maximum result for minimum cost. From the minimal idea that all monads reflect each other, we get a concept of maximum unity. Not just maximum unity, but the maximum idea of how unity and diversity coexist.

Leibniz’ Monadology surfaces with a vengeance if considered in the context of yoga. The idea that each monad reflects all other monads is the closest Western idea to the core teachings of yoga. The big difference between Leibniz’ ideas and yoga is that Leibniz was being theoretical. Yoga is method and experience. Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised if the empirical realities of exploring consciousness do not exactly fit his theoretical conception. What is amazing is how closely the monad idea corresponds to the yogic teachings.

However, the Devil is in the details. We must ask: What would it really be like to have an infinity of mirrors each reflecting each other?

Even though the whole process is governed by lawful interactions, the end result will be a plate of spaghetti.

Krishnananda’s Spaghetti
For Readers who may not know, referring to something as a “plate of spaghetti” is the modern way to say “Gordian knot”, which is to say, it means that things are so tangled up that it is hopeless to make sense of the situation.

Let’s elaborate further on Leibniz’ monads. First, there are an infinite number of them. Whether we use Cantor or Cusa’s idea of infinity, it’s still a lot of monads. Leibniz’ concept of monads foreshadowed Cantor’s transfinite numbers of aleph-null and the continuum we discussed in Chapter 14.

Recall, Cantor made the bold (or absurd) step of putting all the integers together inside the same fence. How many integers did he put inside his fence? Aleph-null of them. Cantor then did a “trick” with all these integers. He asked: how many subsets of integers can be constructed? If you don’t know, a subset is just a subgroup of elements, where each element is drawn from the total. For the integers, here are a few example subsets:

{1, 2, 3}
{10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100}
{5, 17910}
{27, 55, 107, 1041, 2121, 11717, 71191119, 43933029911}
…and so on

You can make a lot of subsets from the integers. Cantor “proved” that the number of subsets of the integers = c, the continuum. Recall, Cantor believed in different sizes of infinity. Aleph-null, the total number of integers, is the smallest “size” of infinity. Cantor showed that the number of subsets of the integers, also called the power set of the integers, was infinitely bigger than the set of all integers. This is analogous to how there are infinitely more real numbers than integers.

Let’s apply these ideas to Leibniz’ monads. Imagine each monad is an integer. That means we have aleph-null of them. However, each one monad is reflected by all other monads. That is, each one monad gives rise to an infinity of reflections. So, then we ask: how many reflections do we end up with?

I am suggesting that the reflections of the monads are the same as the power set of the integers; they are the same “size”. Therefore, if we have aleph-null of monads, we end up with c reflections of the monads. And bingo, we are back in the continuum, which, to use understatement, is a bit of a mess.

We can carry Leibniz’ idea one more step. When a monad reflects everything, does it then reflect the reflections? If the reflections form a power set of all the monads, AND if the monads can then reflect the reflections, then what order of infinity are we dealing with?

Do you see the problem? I can reduce it to one word: mess. Or three words: plate of spaghetti.

There is one final consideration. Manifestation is not static. Everything moves. Everything changes. Therefore, if all things reduce to consciousness reflecting itself in myriad mutually reflecting beings, then the whole thing is slipping and sliding all over itself. The reflections keep changing.

To summarize: one of Leibniz’ monads reflects all other monads, and therefore contains an infinity of reflections. However, reflections reflect themselves, so there is an infinite hierarchy of reflections within reflections within reflections. Finally, all the reflections are constantly shifting and changing. What would this “look” like?

I think Swami Krishnananda nailed it when he said:

“Everything in the world is a network of unintelligible relations”

Monty Python said about the Roman Empire: “As empires go, this is the big one”. We can similarly say about Manifestation: “As messes go, this is the big one.”

Now, this plate of spaghetti we get when considering Leibniz’ monads are based on tenuous mathematical patterns that some have considered to be absurd. Krishnananda’s position that the world is an unintelligible network is based on traditional yogic considerations. As he says:

“Everything in the world is a network of unintelligible relations. Things are not perceived by all in the same fashion…The forces of distraction which constitute the individual consciousness are not of the same quality in everyone. There is a difference among individuals in their perception and thinking. It is impossible to have a knowledge of anything that does not become a content of one’s own consciousness. Everyone is inside the prison of his own experience and knows nothing outside his consciousness. The world is rooted in the belief in its existence. The form of the world changes when the consciousness reaches the different relative planes of the various degrees of reality.”

…and so on.

However, we don’t want to give Leibniz short shrift. Leibniz struggled with the link between his monad theory and actual manifestation. He thought of monads as “metaphysical”, but he was unclear and uncertain as to how this ideal metaphysical reality related to the world of phenomena we perceive with our senses. This confusion has perpetuated up to the present in all the commentaries of Leibniz.

However, this relationship is made crystal clear in yoga. It is the difference between the Relative and the Absolute. van der Leeuw quotes Plotinus’ Ennead v. 8, 4, which is a vision of the Absolute:

“In this intelligible World everything is transparent. No shadow limits vision. All the essences see each other and interpenetrate each other in the most intimate depth of their nature. Light everywhere meets light. Every being contains within itself the entire Intelligible World, and also beholds it everywhere, every thing there is all, and all is each thing; infinite splendour radiates around. Everything is great, for these even the small is great. This world has its sun and its stars; each star is a sun and all suns are stars. Each of them, while shining with its own due splendour reflects the light of the others.”

Leibniz intuited Kaivalya, the Absolute, in his theory of monads. The stages from this pure state of the Absolute to the relatively chaotic manifestation are simply not spelled out clearly in the Western intellectual traditions. The yogic view of consciousness spells out the increasing hierarchy of complexity in the four states of the gunas. This notion is refined in the 36 tattvas of Kashmiri Shaivism.

The reflections of reflections fold and compound upon themselves until it becomes as Krishnananda so lucidly indicated: a network of unintelligible relationships.

These are but two out of the seemingly infinite perspectives on the Absolute. The trick to tie it all together is the idea of the “unconscious mind”, and it is here we will pick up in Chapter 19.


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