Printed in the Winter 2020 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Ravindra, Ravi, "Yoga and the Future Science of Consciousness" Quest 108:1, pg 12-16
By Ravi Ravindra
Who am I? Whence is this widespread cosmic flux?
These, the wise should inquire into diligently
Am I primarily a body that has, in response to accidental, material forces and laws, produced a mind with both self-consciousness and consciousness of other people and things? Or am I essentially something else—variously called spirit, soul, Self, Brahman, God, Buddha mind, the Very Person—who has taken on both body and mind as an instrument for action, love, and delight in the world? Does the body have consciousness, or does consciousness have the body? Can the body exist without consciousness, and can consciousness exist without bodily functions?
It is quite clear how yoga and other spiritual disciplines respond to these questions. One of the fundamental assertions in yoga is that the true knower is not the mind. The real knower—called purusha, the Very Person—knows through the mind, not with the mind (see Ravindra, “Yoga”). As William Blake wrote, “I see not with the eyes but through the eyes.”
At issue is a hierarchy of levels of being, and therefore of consciousness, within a person, as well as the nature of the person. For this reason, every spiritual tradition regards “Who am I?” as the fundamental human question. As a contemporary Zen master in Korea, Chulwoong Sunim, said to me, “Who am I?” is the most essential and comprehensive koan.
This is also a basic question about the nature of the cosmos, for we are not apart from it, nor can we have any certainty about the nature and validity of what we know about the cosmos without having some clarity of what in us knows and how it knows. The Psalmist asks, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:3–4).
The responses of contemporary science lie on the other side. One heuristic principle in particular interferes with the knowledge of a radically different and higher level. This concept enters as the Copernican principle in astronomy and cosmology and as the principle of uniformitarianism in geology and biology: one has to do with space and the other with time. According to the former, the universe as a whole is homogeneous and isotropic: the same laws of physics operate everywhere. The latter principle essentially says that the same laws and forces have operated in the past as in the present.
Consequently, scientific laws are believed to apply universally, in all regions of space, and throughout all periods of time. By this thesis, the materials and laws on other planets and galaxies, and in past and future times, can be studied in terms of the laws, materials, and forces known to us now on earth.
Neither of these principles—however successful from a scientific point of view—has anything to say about levels of consciousness (Ravindra, “Experience”). But they have led to a denial of any radical difference, not only in terms of space and time, but also in terms of levels of being among humans. They also subtly preclude knowing anything above the level of the mind by doing away with the analogical and symbolic modes of thinking, according to which a fully developed person could internally mirror the various levels of the external cosmos.
A Science of Consciousness Requires Transformed Scientists
When ancient and medieval thinkers in Europe, China, and India, in their sciences of alchemy, astronomy, and cosmology, spoke of different planets having different materials and different laws, they meant at least in part that various levels of being or consciousness have different laws.
From this perspective, higher consciousness cannot be understood in terms of, or by, a lower consciousness. The subtler and higher aspects of the cosmos can be understood only by the subtler and higher levels within humans. True knowledge is obtained by participation and fusion of the knower with the object of study, and the scientist is required to become higher in order to understand higher things. As St. Paul said, things of the mind can be understood by the mind; things of the spirit by the spirit. The ancient Indian texts say that only by becoming Brahman can one know Brahman. The Gandharva Tantra says that “no one who is not himself divine can successfully worship divinity.” For Parmenides and for Plotinus, “to be and to know are one and the same” (Parmenides, Diels frag. 185; Plotinus, Enneads, 6.9).
This has implications for any future science of higher consciousness that would hope to relate with what is real. Such a science would have to be esoteric, not in the sense of being an exclusive possession of some privileged group, but in speaking of qualities that are less obvious and more subtle. Such a science would both demand and assist the preparation, integration, and attunement of the scientist’s body, mind, and heart so that they would be able to participate in the vision revealed by higher consciousness. In the felicitous phrase of Meister Eckhart, one needs to be “fused and not confused.” “There, insight is naturally truth-bearing,” says Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (1.48–49; 2.15; 3.54).
This preparation is needed in order to open the third eye, for the two familiar eyes do not correspond to the higher vision. It is only the third that can see the hidden Sun, for, as Plotinus says, “to any vision must be brought an eye adapted to what is to be seen, and having some likeness to it. Never did the eye see the sun unless it had first become sunlike, and never can the soul have vision of the First Beauty unless itself be beautiful” (Plotinus, Enneads, 1.6.9).
The important lesson here for any future science of consciousness is the importance of knowledge by identity. We cannot remain separate and detached if we wish to understand. Rather we need to participate in and be one with what we wish to understand. Thus Meister Eckhart: “Why does my eye recognize the sky, and why do not my feet recognize it? Because my eye is more akin to heaven than my feet. Therefore my soul must be divine if it is to recognize God” (in Klostermaier, 533n.). Similarly Goethe:
If the eye were not sensitive to the sun,
It could not perceive the sun.
If God’s own power did not lie within us,
How could the divine enchant us?
In the well-nigh universal traditional idea of correspondence between the human being and the cosmos—the microcosm-macrocosm homology—it is easily forgotten that this idea does not apply to every human being. Only the fully developed person (mahapurusha) is said to mirror the whole cosmos. Such developed persons are quite rare. The idea of inner levels of being (or of consciousness) is absolutely central, as is the question of “What is a person?” It is difficult to believe that we can dispense with spiritual disciplines for transforming human consciousness by developing concepts or instruments from lower levels of consciousness.
Nevertheless, there is a ubiquitous unwillingness to accept the need for radical transformation or subjecting oneself to a spiritual discipline. Even when the idea of transformation has some appeal, often one wishes to be transformed without changing—without a renunciation of what one now is and with an attitude of “Lord, save me while I stay as I am.”
Moreover, it is not possible to come to a higher state of consciousness without coming to a higher state of conscience. The general scholarly bias tends to be towards a study of various levels of consciousness—which are much more often spoken of in the Indic traditions—and not so much towards various levels of conscience, which are more frequently elaborated in the biblical traditions. It would be difficult to make much sense of Dante’s Divine Comedy without an appreciation of levels of conscience. In many languages, such as Spanish, French, and Sanskrit, the word for both conscience and consciousness is the same. This fact alone should alert us to the possibility of an intimate connection between the two. The awakening of conscience is the feeling preparation for an enhancement of consciousness.
The Future Was and Is
Time has a different sense and meaning in different states of consciousness, and an essential feature of high levels of consciousness is a sense of timelessness, or the simultaneity of all time. The remark of Jesus Christ, “the lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), that “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58), indicates the freedom from time sequence that is characteristic of high states of consciousness. Such states correspond to levels which are “eternal” (which is not the same as “everlasting”: Ravindra and Murray). According to the Yoga Sutra (4:33), the sense of time as sequence enters when the level of consciousness falls from the highest state. That highest state—kaivalya—is one of freedom precisely because it is free of the constraints of time.
By contrast, all scientific measurements are in the realm of time: otherwise there could be no measurement. One root meaning of the word maya (usually translated illusion) in Sanskrit is to measure. If the Real is that which is perceived in the highest state of consciousness, that which can be measured cannot possibly be real. The Real is immeasurable, but it can be tasted, experienced, delighted in.
When it comes to an understanding of higher consciousness, the revelations of the great traditions do not pertain only to the past. Of course, the texts and individuals in the traditions are from the past, but their major concern is the Real, eternally and for ever, neither in the past nor in the future.
The First Person Universal
In our attempts to find objective knowledge (the great aspiration of science, the yoga of the West), we cannot eliminate the person. What is needed in fact is an enlargement of the person—to be freed from the merely personal and subjective to be more inclusive. In order to comprehend, one needs to be comprehensive, not as a horizontal extension of more and more knowledge but as a vertical transformation, in order to participate in the universal mind.
To return to the opening idea in this paper, although it is true that we humans know and think, the question is what or who thinks. During a conversation with the author, J. Krishnamurti said quite simply, “You know, sir, it occurs to me that K does not think at all. That’s strange. He just looks” (Ravindra, Krishnamurti, 77). If K was a short form of Krishnamurti, what is Krishnamurti a short form of? Of the entire cosmos? Not him alone, so, potentially, each one of us. If so, one looks and knows through thought rather than with thought.
The yoga of the East is towards the realization of the First Person Universal. Only such a person can know without opposition and separation, freed from any desire to control or to manipulate. Then one loves what one knows.
Klostermaier, Klaus K. A Survey of Hinduism. 2d ed. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.
Ravindra, Ravi. “Experience and Experiment: A Critique of Modern Scientific Knowing.” Dalhousie Review 55 (1975–76): 655–74. Reprinted as chapter 7 of Ravindra, ed., Science and Spirit. New York: Paragon House, 1991.
———. Krishnamurti: Two Birds on One Tree. Wheaton: Quest, 1995.
———. “Yoga: the Royal Path to Freedom.” In K. Sivaraman, ed., Hindu Spirituality: Vedas through Vedanta. New York: Crossroad, 1989, 177–91. Also included in Ravindra, Yoga and the Teaching of Krishna. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1997.
Ravindra, Ravi, and P. Murray. “Is the Eternal Everlasting?” The Theosophist 117 (1996): 140–46. Also included in Ravindra, Yoga and the Teaching of Krishna, Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1997.
Ravi Ravindra is emeritus professor of physics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is the author of a number of books including The Pilgrim Soul: A Path to Transcending World Religions; The Gospel of John in the Light of Indian Mysticism; and most recently, The Bhagavad Gita: A Guide to Navigating the Battle of Life. He was interviewed in Quest, summer 2018.
A version of this article was originally published in D. Lorimer, Chris Clarke, et al., eds., Wider Horizons: Explorations in Science and Human Experience (Fife, Scotland: Scientific and Medical Network, 1999): 186–92.