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February 2002


LIGHT OF CONSCIOUSNESS: UNKNOWABLE REALITY

Introduction by Paula Peterson

Many years ago I read a wonderful, inspirational book called Global Brain by the pioneering scientist and visionary, Peter Russell. In that book he offers scientific facts that support beliefs of ancient and indigenous peoples - that the earth is a living consciousness. And if I remember correctly, he was the one who popularized the GAIA Hypothesis.

In the following article, he validates one of my persistent observations which I feel sheds an important light on the "matter" - which in turn may give a new twist to the query, "What's the MATTER with it NOW?" as your car lurches to a dead stop just as you drive away from the mechanics shop where the original problem was supposedly repaired.

It has forever bugged me when some spiritual people refer to our existence as an illusion. I could never buy into that interpretation: I see the world as a very real place. However, the real illusion (real illusion?) is in our interpretation of that world.

In other words, all that we see "out there" is filled with interpretations that were told to us by someone else. In reality, we don't really know what ANY "thing" is.

(Gasp!)

It's true. Think about it. If you look out the window today, what do you see ? A tree? A car? A street? Some flowers? People? Children? Do you instantly think "tree", "car", "people", "children" - OR do words only form if you feel you must define what you see - as in conversing with another person or if you are dialoguing in your mind about what you see.

But those are only words that give a name to what we see so that we can communicate about it or analyze it. In truth, we don't really know what we are looking at. It's all a part of the vast tapestry of creation - why must we divide creation into parts and insist on certain forms of interpretations?

Names of things have been given to us by another person in order for us to know what an object is. A certain specie of tree is called oaktree in American language, but it is called "inque" by a remote tribe in Africa. Do we say, "Well, "inque" really means oaktree" - or is it just as appropriate to say "Well, oaktree really means "inque" because the African version has been around a lot longer than the American version."

What I'm getting at here is that we give names to "matter" - the material parts of our world - through interpretation. Before you were told that the object outside your window was a tree, what was it? Before anyone invented language and used words to name objects, animals and events, what were all those things?

If we begin to look at the world - as well as the events in our lives - as though we don't really know what anything is, then we can begin to dispel the illusions of our lives that tend to keep us imprisoned. It's the illusions - the interpretations we give to what we see and what we experience - that keep us from becoming more liberated and seeing the truth of what really is.

As children, we did not yet know all the names of things and so the world was a huge and wonderful place to explore and experience without fear and mistrust. It didn't matter whether we knew or not the names of anything - we were swimming deep in the full current of awe and curiosity and our level of enthusiasm gave us infinite energy, creativity and joy.

So what happened to us?

We forgot that only through the eyes of a child (innocence), can we re-enter the kingdom of heaven.

When we begin to realize that we really don't know as much as we think we know, then we can regain much of that childlike enthusiasm for life: for without the interpretations that built fear, suspicions, inhibitions and hatred of others - we become free to be more of our essential selves - our authentic selves.

Innocence does not mean ignorance. The original meaning of innocence was "free from guilt or sin through lack of the knowledge of evil."

Until we were taught to have fear and to mistrust each other - until we were frightened into holding ourselves back from enthusiastically living life more fully - there was no interpretation of "evil" - for what is "evil"? The opposite of LIVE.

Peter Russell has written other wonderful books, as well. Here, I have included excerpts from one of his articles on consciousness. Namaste' - Paula Peterson

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THE LIGHT OF CONSCIOUSNESS

by Peter Russell


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Unknowable Reality

Because our perception of the world is so different from the actual physical reality, some people have claimed that our experience is an illusion. But that is misleading. It may all be a creation of my own mind, but it is very, very real–the only reality we ever know.

The illusion comes when we confuse our experience of the world with the physical reality, the thing-in-itself. The Vedantic philosophers of ancient India spoke of this as "maya." Often translated as illusion (a false perception of the world), the word is more accurately translated as delusion (a false belief about the world). I suffer a delusion when I believe that the manifestations in my mind are the external world. I deceive myself when I think that the tree I see is the tree itself.

If all that we ever know are the images that appear in our minds, how can we be sure there is a physical reality behind our perceptions? Is it not just an assumption? My answer to that is: Yes, it is an assumption; nevertheless, it seems a most plausible assumption.

For a start, there are definite constraints on my experience. I cannot, for example, walk through walls. If I try to, there are predictable consequences. Nor can I, when awake, float through the air, or walk upon water. Second, my experience generally follows well-defined laws and principles. Balls thrown through the air follow precisely defined paths. Cups of coffee cool at similar rates. The sun rises on time. Furthermore, this predictability is not peculiar to my personal reality. You, whom I assume to exist, report similar patterns in your own experience. The simplest way, by far, of accounting for these constraints and for their consistency is to assume that there is indeed a physical reality. We may not know it directly, and its nature may be nothing like our experience of it, but it is there.

To reveal the nature of this underlying reality has been the goal of the physical sciences, and over the years they have elucidated many of the laws and principles that govern its behavior. Yet curiously the more deeply they have delved into its true nature, the more it appears that physical reality is nothing like we imagined it to be.

Actually, this should not be too surprising. All we can imagine are the forms and qualities that appear in consciousness. These are unlikely to be very appropriate models for describing the underlying physical reality, which is of a very different nature.

Take, for example, our ideas as to the nature of matter. For two thousand years it was believed that atoms were tiny balls of solid matter–a model clearly drawn from everyday experience.

Then, as physicists discovered that atoms were composed of more elementary, subatomic, |particles (electrons, protons, neutrons, and suchlike), the model shifted to one of a central nucleus surrounded by orbiting electrons–again a model based on experience.

An atom may be small, a mere billionth of an inch across, but these subatomic particles are a hundred-thousand times smaller still. Imagine the nucleus of an atom magnified to the size of a grain of rice. The whole atom would then be the size of a football stadium, and the electrons would be other grains of rice flying round the stands. As the early twentieth-century British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington put it, "matter is mostly ghostly empty space"–99.9999999 percent empty space, to be a little more precise.

With the advent of quantum theory, it was found that even these minute subatomic particles were themselves far from solid. In fact, they are not much like matter at all–at least nothing like matter as we know it. They can’t be pinned down and measured precisely. They are more like fuzzy clouds of potential existence, with no definite location. Much of the time they seem more like waves than particles. Whatever matter is, it has little, if any, substance to it. Somewhat ironically, science, having set out to know the ultimate nature of reality, is discovering that not only is this world beyond any direct experience, it may also be inherently unknowable.

The Paradox of Light

With hindsight, my decision to study theoretical physics along with experimental psychology was definitely the right one. They provided two complementary directions to my personal search for truth. Theoretical physics was taking me closer toward the ultimate truths of the physical world, while my pursuit of experimental psychology was a first step toward truth in the inner world of consciousness.

Moreover, the deeper I went in these two directions, the closer the truths of the inner and outer worlds became. And the bridge between them was light.

Both relativity and quantum physics, the two great paradigm shifts of modern physics, started from anomalies in the behavior of light, and both led to radical new understandings of the nature of light. For example, in relativity theory, at the speed of light time comes to a stop–in effect, that means for light there is no time whatsoever. Furthermore, a photon can traverse the entire universe without using up any energy–in effect, that means for light there is no space. In quantum theory, we find that light has zero mass and charge, which in effect means that it is immaterial.

Light, therefore, seems to occupy a very special place in the cosmic scheme; it is in some ways more fundamental than time, space, or matter. The same, I later discovered, was true of the inner light of consciousness.

Although all we ever see is light, paradoxically, we never know light directly. The light that strikes the eye is known only through the energy it releases. This energy is translated into a visual image in the mind, and that image seems to be composed of light–but that light is a quality of mind. We never know the light itself.

Physics, like Genesis, suggests that in the beginning there was light, or, rather, in the beginning there is light, for light underlies every process in the present moment. Any exchange of energy between any two atoms in the universe involves the exchange of photons. Every interaction in the material world is mediated by light. In this way, light penetrates and interconnects the entire cosmos.

An oft-quoted phrase comes to mind: God is Light. God is said to be absolute–and in physics, so is light. God lies beyond the manifest world of matter, shape, and form, beyond both space and time–so does light. God cannot be known directly–nor can light.

The Light of Consciousness

My studies in experimental psychology taught me much about the basic functioning of the human brain. Yet, despite all I was learning about neurophysiology, biochemistry, memory, behavior, and perception, I found myself no closer to understanding the nature of consciousness itself. The East, however, seemed to have a lot to say about consciousness, and so had many mystics, from around the world.

For thousands of years they had focused on the realm of the mind, exploring its subtleties through direct personal experience. I realized that such approaches might offer insights unavailable to the objective approach of Western science, and began delving into ancient texts such as the Upanishads, The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, The Cloud of Unknowing, and works of contemporary writers such as Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, Carl Jung, and Christopher Isherwood.

I was fascinated to find that here, as in modern physics, light is a recurring theme.

Consciousness is often spoken of as the inner light. St John refers to "the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation speaks of "the self-originated Clear Light, eternally unborn . . . shining forth within one’s own mind."

Those who have awakened to the truth about reality–whom we often call illumined, or enlightened–frequently describe their experiences in terms of light. The sufi Abu’l-Hosian al-Nuri experienced a light "gleaming in the Unseen. . . . I gazed at it continually, until the time came when I had wholly become that light."

The more I read about this inner light, the more I saw close parallels with the light of physics. Physical light has no mass, and is not part of the material world; the same is true of consciousness. Light seems in some way fundamental to the universe, its values are absolute, universal constants. The light of consciousness is likewise fundamental; without it there would be no experience.

This led me to wonder whether there was some deeper significance to these similarities. Were they pointing to a more fundamental connection between the light of the physical world and the light of consciousness? Do physical reality and the reality of the mind share the same common ground–a ground whose essence is light?

Meditation

Hunting through my local library one day, I happened upon a book titled The Science of Being and Art of Living by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This was the Indian teacher who had made the headlines when The Beatles renounced their use of drugs in favor of his technique of Transcendental Meditation, or TM for short. Little knowing how much this work would change my life, I added it to the pile of books I was borrowing and took it back to my study. There it sat, unopened, on my desk for two weeks. Finally I got around to taking a further look. Within minutes it had my attention. Maharishi was saying the exact opposite of just about everything I’d heard or read on meditation; yet it made sense.

To give just one example, most of the books I had read on meditation talked about how much concentration and effort it took to still the restless mind and discover the deep peace and fulfillment that lies within. Maharishi looked at the whole matter in a different way. Any concentration, the least bit of trying, even a wanting the mind to settle down, would, he observed, be counterproductive. It would be promoting mental activity rather than lessening it. He suggested that the reason the mind was restless was because it was looking for something–namely, greater satisfaction and fulfillment. But it was looking for it in the wrong direction, in the world of thinking and sensory experience. All that was needed, he said, was to turn the attention 180 degrees inward and give the mind a technique that helped it settle down.

Then, in that quieter state it would begin to taste a little of the fulfillment it had been seeking, and would be spontaneously drawn on to deeper levels of its own accord.

Maharishi’s ideas appealed to my scientific mind. They were simple and elegant–almost like a mathematical derivation. But the skeptic in me was not going to take anything on faith. Just because something is written in a book, or because some famous person says it, or because many others believe it, does not mean it is true. The only way to know how well his technique worked was to try it. Journey to India

As soon as I completed my undergraduate degree, I earned some money driving a truck, then set off in an old VW van for India (it was the sixties, after all). My destination was Rishikesh, an Indian holy town, about 150 miles north of Delhi, at the foot of the Himalayas. The plains of northern India do not gradually rise up into mountains, as in the Alps; the landscape looks more like the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. One moment it is flat, the next there is mountain. Rishikesh nestles right where plain turns into mountain, and at the very point where the Ganges comes tumbling out of its deep Himalayan gorge.

On one side of the river was Rishikesh the bustling market town, its crowded streets a jumble of stalls, honking cars, bicycle rickshaws, and bony cows. On the other side was Rishikesh the holy town. The atmosphere here was very different. There were no cars for a start. The one bridge across the river–a suspension bridge strung high across the mouth of the gorge–was deliberately built too narrow for cars. Along this side of the river, and sprinkled up the jungle hillsides above, were all manner of ashrams, each with its own architectural style and spiritual inclination. Some were austere walled quadrangles lined with simple meditation cells; others gloried in lush gardens, fountains, and brightly colored statues of Indian deities. Some were centers for hatha yoga, others taught meditation or followed the teachings of a particular guru.

About two miles down river from the bridge was Maharishi’s ashram, the last habitation before the winding track disappeared into the jungle. Here, perched on a cliff top, a hundred feet above the swirling Ganges, were half-a-dozen bungalows, a meeting hall, dining room, showers, and other facilities providing some basic Western comforts.

Here, just over a hundred of us, of all ages, from many countries, had gathered for a teacher training course. Many were like myself, recent graduates and looking for intellectual understanding of Maharishi’s teachings as much as experience of deep meditation. There were PhDs in philosophy, medical doctors, and long-term students of theology.

Over the coming weeks we listened to Maharishi talk at length, and asked question after question, virtually interrogating him at times. We teased out everything, from the finer distinctions of higher states of consciousness and subtle influences of meditation to the exact meaning of various esoteric concepts.

Pure Consciousness

Even more important than our growing understanding of meditation was the opportunity to deepen our experience. Initially we meditated for three or four hours a day. As the course progressed, Maharishi gradually increased our practice times until we were spending most of the day in meditation–and much of the night as well. He wanted us to have clear experiences of the states of consciousness he was describing.

During these long meditations, the habitual chatter of my mind began to fade away. Thoughts about what was going on in meditation, what time it was, what I wanted to say or do later, occupied less and less of my attention. Sounds outside no longer triggered images of monkeys playing games on the roof. Random memories of the past no longer flitted through my mind. My feelings settled down, and my breath grew so gentle as to virtually disappear. What thoughts there were became fainter and fainter, until finally my thinking mind fell completely silent. In Maharishi’s terminology I had transcended (literally gone beyond) thinking–hence the name "Transcendental Meditation."

Indian teachings call this state samadhi, literally "still mind." They identify it as a fundamentally different state of consciousness from the three major states we normally experience–waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. In waking consciousness we are aware and experience the world perceived by the senses. In dreaming we are aware and experience worlds conjured by the imagination. In deep sleep there is no awareness, either of outer world or inner world. Samadhi they define as a fourth major state. There is awareness, one is wide awake, but there is no object of the awareness. It is pure consciousness–pure in the sense of being unmodified by thoughts and images–consciousness without content.

In terms of the video projector analogy, this fourth state of consciousness corresponds to the projector being on, but without any data being fed to it; only white light falls on the screen. Likewise, in samadhi you know consciousness itself, in its unmanifest state, before it takes on the many forms and qualities of thinking, feeling, and sensory experience.

One further quality of this state of consciousness marks it out from all our normal states. When you are in this state you discover a sense of self that is more real and more fundamental than any you have known before. You are no longer an individual person, with individual characteristics. Here, in the complete absence of all normal experience, you find your true identity, an identity with the essence of all beings and all creation.

Looking for the self is rather like being in a room at night with only a flashlight, looking for the source of the light. All you would find would be the various objects in the room that the light fell upon. It is the same when we try to look for the self which is the subject of all experience. All we find are the various ideas, images, and feelings that the attention falls upon. But these are all objects of experience; they cannot therefore be the subject of the experience. For this reason, the self cannot be known in the way that anything else is known.

Universal Light

We can now begin to see just how close are the parallels between the light of physics and the light of consciousness.

Both are beyond the material world. And both seem to lie beyond space and time.

Both seem intrinsically unknowable–at least in the way that everything else is known.

And both are absolutes. Every photon of light is an identical quantum of action, and the foundation of every interaction in the universe. The light of consciousness is likewise absolute and invariant. It is the source of every quality that we ever experience. And its essential nature is the same for everyone. Since it is beyond all attributes and identifying characteristics, there is no way to distinguish the light of consciousness in me from the light that shines in you. In other words, how it feels to me to be conscious–that sense of being we label "I"–is the same as how it feels to you. In this sense we are one. We all know the same inner self.

I am the light. And so are you. And so is every sentient being in the universe.

Mystics have spoken of this inner light as the Divine Light, the Cosmic Light, the Light of Light, the Eternal Light that shines in every heart, the Uncreated Light from which all creation takes form.

Once again the phrase "God is Light" comes to mind. But now God begins to take on a much richer and more personal meaning. If God is the name we give to the light of consciousness shining at the core of every sentient being, and if that pure consciousness is the very essence of self, then it is only a short step to the assertion that "I am God."

Consciousness and God

To many, the statement "I am God" sounds ridiculous. God is not a human being, but the supreme deity, the almighty, eternal creator. How can any lowly human being claim that he or she is God?

To those of a more religious disposition, the statement may sound heretical, if not blasphemous.

When the fourteenth-century Christian priest and mystic Meister Eckhart preached that "God and I are One," he was brought before Pope John XXII and forced to "recant everything that he had falsely taught." Not all were so lucky. The tenth-century Islamic mystic al-Hallãj was crucified for using language that claimed an identity with God.

To those who do not believe in God at all, such statements are meaningless, the symptoms of some delusion or pathology. They might have been tolerable a couple of hundred years ago, but not in the modern scientific era, where God seems a totally unnecessary concept. Science has looked out into deep space, across the breadth of creation to the edges of the universe. It has looked back in "deep time" to the beginning of creation. And it has looked down into the "deep structure" of the cosmos, to the fundamental constituents of matter. In each case science finds no evidence for God; nor any need for God – the Universe seems to work perfectly well without any divine assistance. Thus, anyone talking of a personal identity with God is clearly talking nonsense.

However, that is where I stood thirty years ago. Now I recognize that I was rejecting a rather naïve and old-fashioned interpretation of God.

When we look to mystical writings, we do not find many claims for God being in the realm of space, time, and matter. When mystics refer to God, they are, more often than not, pointing toward the realm of personal experience, not something in the physical realm. If we want to find God, we have to look within, into the realm of deep mind – a realm that science has yet to explore.

...........

Peter Russell is an independent scholar, an IONS fellow,and author of many books, including The Global Brain Awakens and Waking Up in Time. This article is adapted from his forthcoming book. For more information, visit: www.peterussell.com or write him c/o The Institute of Noetic Sciences.


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