“IT’S only in your mind, you’re just imagining it,” are things we say to someone who we judge to be naive or confused—or when we think their perceptions don’t fit our accepted notions of “reality.”
A curious comment by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine: “the Universe is real enough to the conscious beings in it, which are as unreal as it is itself,” sets the stage for a deeper discussion of what constitutes “reality.”
In Eastern psychology “the Universe is called, with everything in it, Maya.” We never know “things in themselves.” This is the mystery of consciousness. Yet, being conscious is the one thing we cannot deny.
“What consciousness is can never be defined psychologically,” Mme. Blavatsky wrote with conviction: “We can analyse and classify its work and effects—we cannot define it, unless we postulate an Ego distinct from the body.”
Higher forms of consciousness cannot be explained “as the simple resultant of the cerebral physiological processes” of the brain— they are only a “form for purposes of concrete manifestation.” That is, the brain is only the tool of consciousness.
Using mind as a basis, it is only through a “stream of spiritual Intuition” that can reveal ultimate reality. To achieve this state, Blavatsky writes, we must begin by distinguishing the higher ego, beyond the five senses, from the personal ego, wrapped up in the brain:
“The pure object apart from consciousness is unknown to us, while living on the plane of our three-dimensional World; as we know only the mental states it excites in the perceiving Ego. And, so long as the contrast of Subject and Object endures – to wit, as long as we enjoy our five senses and no more, and do not know how to divorce our all-perceiving Ego (the Higher Self) from the thraldom of these senses – so long will it be impossible for the personal Ego to break through the barrier which separates it from a knowledge of things in themselves…”
In her article Psychic & Noetic Action, Blavatsky repeats: “The phenomena of human consciousness must be regarded as activities of some other form of Real Being than the moving molecules of the brain.”
Mathematician, theoretical physicist and psychologist Peter Russell agrees.
Referred to by interviewer, Regina Meredith (Conscious Media Network) as the “eco-philosopher extraordinaire,” Russell asks tough questions about “the hard problem of consciousness.”
He states that any concept that mind is separate from the brain, “is completely foreign to the current scientific worldview. The world we see is so obviously material in nature; any suggestion that it might have more in common with mind is quickly rejected as having ‘no basis in reality.'”
Following the interview, is an excerpt from the first part of Peter Russell’s multi-part presentation on the question.
Conscious Media Network
with Regina Meredith
The Primacy of Consciousness
by Peter Russell
(Chapter contributed to Science and the Reenchantment of the Cosmos by Ervin Laszlo)
See also video stream of presentation given at Physics of Consciousness conference here.
An argument as to why the ultimate nature of reality is mental not material.
“Ervin Laszlo has proposed that the virtual energy field known as the quantum vacuum, or zero-point field, corresponds to what Indian teachings have called Akasha. the source of everything that exists, and in which the memory of the cosmos is encoded. I would like to take his reasoning a step further and suggest that the nature of this ultimate source is consciousness itself, nothing more and nothing less.”
“Consciousness is Everywhere”
Again we find this idea is not new. In the Upanishads, Brahman, the source of the cosmos (literally, “that from which everything grows”), is held to be to Atman (“that which shines”), the essence of consciousness. And in the opening lines of The Dhammapada, the Buddha declares that “All phenomena are preceded by mind, made by mind, and ruled by mind”.
An Alternative Worldview
Such a view, though widespread in many metaphysical systems, is completely foreign to the current scientific worldview. The world we see is so obviously material in nature; any suggestion that it might have more in common with mind is quickly rejected as having “no basis in reality.” However, when we consider this alternative worldview more closely, it turns out that it is not in conflict with any of the findings of modern science—only with its presuppositions. Furthermore, it leads to a picture of the cosmos that is even more enchanted.
All in the Mind
The key to this alternative view is the fact that all our experiences—all our perceptions, sensations, dreams, thoughts and feelings—are forms appearing in consciousness. It doesn’t always seem that way. When I see a tree it seems as if I am seeing the tree directly. But science tells us something completely different is happening.
Light entering the eye triggers chemical reactions in the retina, these produce electro-chemical impulses which travel along nerve fibers to the brain. The brain analyses the data it receives, and then creates its own picture of what is out there. I then have the experience of seeing a tree.
But what I am actually experiencing is not the tree itself, only the image that appears in the mind. This is true of everything I experience. Everything we know, perceive, and imagine, every color, sound, sensation, every thought and every feeling, is a form appearing in the mind. It is all an in-forming of consciousness.
The idea that we never experience the physical world directly has intrigued many philosophers. Most notable was the eighteenth-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who drew a clear distinction between the form appearing in the mind—what he called the phenomenon (a Greek word meaning “that which appears to be”)—and the world that gives rise to this perception, which he called the noumenon (meaning “that which is apprehended”). All we know, Kant insisted, is the phenomenon. The noumenon, the “thing-in-itself,” remains forever beyond our knowing.
Unlike some of his predecessors, Kant was not suggesting that this reality is the only reality. Irish theologian Bishop Berkeley had likewise argued that we know only our perceptions. He then concluded that nothing exists apart from our perceptions, which forced him into the difficult position of having to explain what happened to the world when no one was perceiving it. Kant held that there is an underlying reality, but we never know it directly. All we can ever know of it is the form that appears in the mind—our mental model of what is “out there”.
A World of Maya
It is sometimes said that our model of reality is an illusion, but that is misleading. It may all be an appearance in the mind, but it is nonetheless real—the only reality we ever know. The illusion comes when we confuse the reality we experience with the physical reality, the thing-in-itself. The Vedantic philosophers of ancient India spoke of this confusion as maya. Often translated as “illusion” (a false perception of the world), maya is better interpreted as “delusion” (a false belief about the world). We suffer a delusion when we believe the images in our minds are the external world. We deceive ourselves when we think that the tree we see is the tree itself.
The tree itself is a physical object, constructed from physical matter—molecules, atoms, sub-atomic particles. But from what is the image in the mind constructed? Clearly it is not constructed from physical matter. A perceptual image is composed of the same “stuff” as our dreams, thoughts, and feelings, and we would not say that these are created from physical atoms or molecules. (There might or might not be a corresponding physical activity in the brain, but what I am concerned with here is the substance of the image itself.) So what is the mental substance from which all our experiences are formed?
The Brain Does Not Produce Consciousness
The English language does not have a good word for this mental essence. In Sanskrit, the word chitta, often translated as consciousness, carries the meaning of mental substance, and is sometimes translated as “mindstuff.” It is that which takes on the mental forms of images, sounds, sensations, thoughts, and feelings. They are made of “mindstuff” rather than “matterstuff.”
Mindstuff, or chitta, has the potential to take on the form of every possible experience—everything that I, or anyone else, could possibly experience in life; every experience of every being, on this planet, or any other sentient being, anywhere in the cosmos. In this respect consciousness has infinite potential. In the words of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, “Consciousness is the field of all possibilities.”
The Infinite Ground of Consciousness
This aspect of consciousness can be likened to the light from a film projector. The projector shines light onto a screen, modifying the light so as to produce one of an infinity of possible images. These images are like the perceptions, sensations, dreams, memories, thoughts, and feelings that we experience—the forms arising in consciousness. The light itself, without which no images would be possible, corresponds to this ability of consciousness to take on form.
We know all the images on a movie screen are composed of 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 perceptions, thoughts, and feelings that appear in the mind. We are seldom aware of consciousness itself.
“All phenomena are projections in the mind.”
—The Third Karmapa
News and recent additions to Peter Russell’s website, The Spirit of Now
Waking Up in Time
Omega Institute, NY, May1-3. Weekend workshop.
An Easier Way of Being
Esalen, Big Sur, CA, June 5-7. Weekend workshop.
“Av@tar” - a musical dance drama
A musical dance drama based on the play “Christ & Magdalene” written by Keva Apostolova
May 29, 30, 2009 @ Judson Memorial Church, NY
55 Washington Square South (b/n West 3rd & Thompson Street)
Admission: $ 20 (tickets are sold at Judson Memorial Church 30 minutes prior to the performance
For reservations email: Antonia Katrandjieva: email@example.com
AV@TAR is the first dance theater staging of a contemporary Bulgarian playwright in New York City. Directed by internationally acclaimed theater director & choreographer Antonia Katrandjieva, the world premier is based on the play “Christ & Magdalene” by Bulgarian playwright Keva Apostolova. Based on the Gnostic Gospel of Mary Magdalene and on the Yogic concept Aparigraha “Non- attachment” – A performance bridging religion and spirituality.
“There is no Religion higher than Truth”
“All things exist in and with one another and the whole, they depend on one another, but when the time of dissolution comes, all things will return to their roots and essence. What has come from the above returns to the abode from which it has come, and what comes from below returns to its origin. What is in between has never existed and will return to the Great Void.” (Helena Petrovna Blavatsky)
Av@tar is an interfaith project in times of religious intolerance exploding all over the world. Religion should embrace spirituality. It is a celebration of divine consciousness under the dome of Faith. Faith is not blindness into dogma, it a freedom of the spirit to worship its own truth. All religious paths lead to one source – the attainment of divine consciousness. Everyone is entitled to believe in his own truth. Truth is an interval of many truths, religion is an interval of many beliefs. “Religare” in Latin means to relate, to connect, to share a common origin, to coexist. We need Unity in Diversity, we need to embrace religion with an attitude of ecumenical pluralism, mutual tolerance and respect.
The Institute of Noetic Sciences is a nonprofit membership organization located in Northern California that conducts and sponsors leading-edge research into the potentials and powers of consciousness-including perceptions, beliefs, attention, intention, and intuition. The Institute explores phenomena that do not necessarily fit conventional scientific models, while maintaining a commitment to scientific rigor. 101 San Antonio Road, Petaluma, CA 94952
IONS’ late President Emeritus, Dr. Willis Harman, wrote:
“[We] have previously acknowledged her [H.P. Blavatsky] as an integral part of our own origins.” … “[T]he modern scientific worldview is inherently flawed and misleading in ways vital to the well-being of individuals and societies, and inimical to the future viability of human civilization.”
The Retreat Center at the Institute of Noetic Sciences
Located on 200 acres of beautiful rolling hills just 25 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, we offer meeting facilities, cuisine, and accommodations for 5-120. Our clients offer educational programs, workshops, and retreats, with a broad focus on health, personal growth, and transformation. We also welcome weekend workshops and retreats for small groups (fewer than 25). Many programs are open to the public.
Lisa VanderBoom 707.779.8224
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