Science and Spirituality: Potential Allies in Discovering Truth
Presented at the Science Non-Duality Conference, San Jose CA
October 23, 2015
>>Rick Archer Introduction:
This is a talk that I gave at the Science and Non-Duality Conference in San Jose, CA in September 2015. I put a lot of thought into the talk and it was something I had to read rather than speak out extemporaneously because there were so many details and so many quotes and I thought you might enjoy it.
It wasn’t recorded very professionally, at the last minute a friend brought in her camcorder and as you can see sometimes I am off camera and I was also pressed for time because I only had forty-five minutes and I really needed at least an hour if not more, so I had to cut some things out. I am going to add those things in this rendition of the talk, and it will be obvious that I’m sitting here and not at the conference, but it makes the thing more complete.
And, I want to express gratitude to my friend Ralph Preston who does all of the video post-production for BATGAP ever since the beginning and he hasn’t done so yet at this moment but I’m sure he is going to spend a lot of time putting in all of the graphics I wanted the audience to see during my talk.
So, thanks for watching and if it jumps to me sitting here in my yellow shirt instead of at the conference, you now know why. Thanks.
>>Cut to Conference – Deepak Chopra Speaking:
I met Rick in 1980, at the TM Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts and then things took on a, uh, and, uh, in my life changed very rapidly after that. I met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and it’s a long story I won’t go into today. But then Rick was at that time teaching meditation. He wasn’t my instructor, but he was close to the family. And we had a big conference in India, and he stayed at our home and got to be very close with my parents, and so I lost track of him after I left, uh, the organization and then we met here again two years ago.
So he is a very long-time experiential explorer of consciousness. I look upon him as a very wise person and, you know, there are two kinds of things happening at this conference. A lot of it is intellectual, which is exciting. I like that. But a lot of it is very experiential and I think Rick comes from both places. So, you wanted to say a few words.
Thank you very much. I just want to say, Deepak, if I end up benefitting people’s lives 5% as much as you already have, I will consider my life to have been well lived. <Audience Applause>
And also, since I co-taught the course in which Deepak learned to meditate that kind of puts him in my Karmic Downline <Audience Laughter> in the Great Cosmic Multi-Level Marketing scheme <Audience Laughter>. I think I’m good to go <Audience Laughter>.
So, as I was about to say earlier tomorrow night I will in the main hall facilitating a conversation between Deepak and Rupert (not that they need much facilitation) about whether matter actually exists. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. <Audience Laughter>
So, you’ve all heard the Upanishadic expressions, Aham Brahmasvi “I am That;” Tat tvam asi “you are That;” and Sarvam khalvidam brahma “All of this is That.”
If these expressions are true, and if we take nonduality seriously, then it may appear that I am standing here talking to you and you are sitting there listening to me, but in reality, there’s only Consciousness interacting with itself, giving rise to apparent forms and phenomena, and hiding its true nature from itself in the subjective experience of those forms.
In other words, we are the Divine having a human experience. We’re sense organs of the infinite, instruments of the Divine. Instruments of God.
People often thank me for doing Batgap, and I appreciate the thanks, but in a very real sense, I don’t feel like I’m doing it. It’s more like I’m being done.
If a paint brush could talk, it wouldn’t say “I paint”. It would say “I apply paint where the hand guides and directs me.” During my decades of teaching meditation and more recently, doing Batgap, I’ve often felt like an instrument of something much larger and wiser than my individuality.
I’m sure we can all relate to this in our own ways, and the reason I have this slide here is that this sentiment was expressed beautifully in the Prayer of St. Francis.
“Lord make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon.” And so on.
But I’m not comparing myself with St. Francis. Deer and rabbits run away from me. Birds fly away. <Audience Laughter> And also my motivation has never been purely altruistic. I’ve always been zealous about spiritual evolution as much for own happiness as well as for what good I might do in the world. In the early days, my attitude was, “I want enlightenment more than anything and I’ll do anything to get it.” I think you can all see the absurdity in that phraseology.
But in 1972, based on that attitude, when my teacher said that “if you’re really serious about enlightenment you should become a monk,” I abruptly and callously broke up with my girlfriend, (sorry Donna, wherever you are), and embarked on a 15-year monastic phase. One of the incentives during this period was that one of these days we were all going to end up living in an Ashram in the Himalayas. This is the view from a friend’s balcony in that ashram.
This is another friend who lives there, aptly named Atmananda.
Recently Atmananda emailed me to say, “There is a beautiful sadhu in Gangotri who loves your Buddha at the Gas Pump stuff.
He lives in Gangotri year-round, much of the time with no electricity, his kutiya, his little hut, buried in snow, but somehow he found your site and loves it!”
Gangotri is a tiny village, high in the Himalayas near where the Ganges emerges from a glacier. So, in a round-about way, I’m in the Himalayas, and in a lot of other places, serving as an instrument of the Divine, not in the way I originally envisioned, but in a way for which I’m better suited and more useful.
So, that was all presented from kind of an individual perspective. We’re going to consider another perspective in a moment, but first, Part One of my talk. That was just the prelude.
So this is the Science and Nonduality Conference. We bring together both the scientific and the spiritual traditions of gaining knowledge because the highest expressions of both realize that ultimately there is one non-dual reality appearing as diversity. At this conference we’re considering whether both traditions are talking about the same ultimate reality – not that there could be more than one – and how we can know or experience it.
If science and spirituality are both about understanding Reality, then they should be on the same team. They should concur about a lot of things, and for both, experientially verifiable evidence should be the arbiter of truth.
Science fiction writer Philip K. Dick said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing it, doesn’t go away.”
I might add that believing in something doesn’t make it real. Scientists are not concerned about belief. They don’t say “Believe my theory or I’ll blow you to bits and you’ll burn in hell for all eternity”. <Audience Laughter> Rather they say, “Here’s a promising theory. My research supports it. See if yours does. In fact, see if you can refute it.”
The highest forms of spirituality do the same. The Upanishads and similar scriptures don’t ask for belief. They describe deeper realities that people have experienced and invite the reader to experience them as well. On the other hand, science has given us the means to blow everyone to bits, and real spirituality on a mass scale is critically needed to prevent us from doing that.
The best scientists and spiritual aspirants have a lot in common. The best scientists arrived at their insights through deep intuitive knowing and then work out the details intellectually and experientially.
The clearest spiritual realizers cultivate their realization systematically, scientifically, proceeding carefully by steps of knowledge and experience. If science adopted the best of spirituality, and vice versa, both paths of gaining knowledge would be greatly enriched. And this conference is an opportunity to do just that.
For a long time, religion has been the predominant expression of spirituality in the world. Religions spring from the experience of some sage who is a living embodiment of Truth, but even in his lifetime, most people don’t understand him because they don’t share his level of experience. After his death, his message gets more and more distorted. Lacking the means to provide the experience their founders had, religions advocate belief, and unverifiable beliefs tend to clash.
Hundreds of millions of people have been tortured and killed over the distorted remnants of what started out as the most sublime experience a human being can have. So, belief not corroborated by experience can be delusional and dangerous.
Science, and a scientific approach, can help restore experience, rather than belief, as the foundation of religion and spirituality.
Carl Sagan said, “How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought?! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant’ Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”
Something of this nature seems to be happening. People are everywhere are waking up. They aren’t satisfied with mere belief. They want direct experience. Many of them are leaving traditional religions. Others are breathing new life into those religions. And many regard science as a modern-day revelation, which is why conferences like this exist.
Erwin Schrödinger said “The more deeply physics probes, the more unified nature becomes. “Quantum physics thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe.”
Max Plank, the founder of quantum theory, said, “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
So, the most advanced physicists equate this basic oneness, which they may call the Unified Field or vacuum state, with consciousness. I’ll use such terms as Unified Field, Consciousness, God, and Brahman interchangeably in this presentation. Richard Dawkins isn’t here is he? OK, Good. Whew!
Physics tries to discover more fundamental levels of nature through objective methodologies. Because the physicist uses external tools, he can never overcome the subject/object split. At best, he can aspire to gain a mathematical understanding of non-dual reality, supported by evidence from massive particle accelerators and other tools. In other words, he can achieve some intellectual understanding of the Unified Field but cannot experience his true nature as that field.
But if the ultimate nature of reality is consciousness, then what instrument could be better suited to exploring it than the human nervous system? It reflects consciousness much more capably than a particle accelerator. Using the nervous system as an exploratory tool through subjective methodologies such as meditation, one can transcend the subject/object split and experientially realize one’s true nature as the ultimate, non-dual reality. This tool is also much more publicly accessible. We can’t all get Ph.D.’s in physics and gain access to particle accelerators, but we all have nervous systems.
- Here is Part Two of my talk. And, this is really the heart of it.
If everything is consciousness, then the qualities we see displayed in the world must somehow reveal qualities of consciousness.
19th-century Hasidic master Menahem Nahum said, “The Creator’s glory fills the whole earth; there is no place devoid of Him. But his glory takes the form of garb; God is ‘garbed’ in all things. This aspect of Divinity is called shekhinah, ‘indwelling,’ since it dwells in everything.”
The Bible says, “For what can be known about God is plain to [people], because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”
So, I would like to consider some of the qualities consciousness is supposed to have and see whether science can help us detect those qualities in the “things that have been made” – the world around us.
The first is, It’s everything. Everything is it. – Advaita – nonduality – tells us that that which may appear physical is actually consciousness, appearing to assume physical forms. Physics tells us that apparently physical stuff is all the same, non-physical reality, appearing to assume different forms.
It’s fundamental. Materialists argue that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of brain functioning that ends when the body dies. But physics understands the Unified Field to be fundamental. The brain and everything else arises from it. Advaita says the same thing of consciousness.
It’s eternal and indestructible. The Bhagavad Gita says, “Know that to be indeed indestructible by which all this is pervaded.” If everything is consciousness or the Unified Field, then forms may come and go, but their true nature remains unchanged. One of the traditional metaphors is gold taking the form of various ornaments. I just used that this morning. Earrings can be melted down to form rings, but it’s really just the same gold assuming different forms. The gold itself is indestructible.
It’s all-pervading. There is no place or thing near or far, large or small, which can be found to be anything other than consciousness. It’s not that consciousness permeates creation the way water permeates a sponge. Consciousness is both the water and the sponge. There is no distinction. There’s a song that goes “God is watching us from a distance.” Not so. God, or consciousness, can’t be distant from anything. How can it be distant from itself? Every molecule, cell, body, star, and galaxy is governed perfectly. Not by consciousness, or God, as a puppeteer governs a puppet, or as a clockmaker makes a clock and then winds it up and lets it run, but as consciousness or God, interacting with itself. If God were distant, then he wouldn’t be omnipresent, and it’s obvious he’s omnipresent, because everywhere we look or can imagine looking, there he is – Infinite Intelligence on display.
It’s self-referral. If consciousness is all that exists, then it has nothing other than itself with which to interact. In terms of physics, the Unified Field refers to, becomes aware of, or interacts with itself because there’s nothing else down there for it to interact with. This self-interaction causes relative expressions such as force and matter fields to emerge. These, in turn, give rise to elementary particles as manifestation proceeds. The Vedas outline a parallel process. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna, who was said to have been an avatar – the Absolute in human form – says, Prakritim swam avashtabhya, Vishrijami punah punah “Curbing back on my own nature, I create again and again.” So, in other words, the self-interaction of the Absolute, of consciousness, gives rise to the apparent material creation.
It’s intelligence. Consciousness is sometimes presented as silent and quality-less, but the more mature spiritual traditions regard it as both infinitely silent and infinitely dynamic – as the repository of all qualities, among them intelligence and creativity. The vast complexity of every bit of creation is beyond our comprehension, and far beyond our computational abilities. Scientists don’t have much to say about how the complexity and orderliness of nature are actually managed.
Physicist Paul C. Davies says, “…to be a scientist, you had to have faith that the universe is governed by dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, mathematical laws of an unspecified origin. You’ve got to believe that these laws won’t fail, that we won’t wake up tomorrow to find heat flowing from cold to hot, or the speed of light changing by the hour. Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of nature are what they are? …The favorite reply is, ‘There is no reason they are what they are–they just are.'” They are what they are because consciousness is pure intelligence, and the laws of nature are impulses of intelligence. I’m going to talk more about that in a minute.
Einstein said: “Contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity, to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe which we can dimly perceive and try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.”
If we acknowledge intelligence as a primary quality of consciousness, then spirituality can help scientists understand what they now regard as a miracle and a mystery, and science can help spiritual seekers see that everything is consciousness.
Science tells us that in every cubic centimeter, anywhere in the universe, innumerable laws of nature are functioning flawlessly, and in perfect coordination with one another. Spirituality tells us that those laws are clear evidence of the omnipresence of intelligence.
There is supposed to be something like between 40-100 trillion cells in the human body, and so if that is the case you look at your finger there are probably billions in your finger alone. And as Carl Sagan put it, “A single cell contains the equivalent information content of over 10 million volumes.”
Each of these cells is about as complex as Tokyo but only a few microns across; and each contains about 100 trillion atoms, each capable of repairing, not the atoms but the cells, each is capable of repairing and reproducing itself. Does this sound like randomness or chance to you?
There are 20 elements in amino acids that combine in certain sequences to form the 700,000 kinds of proteins in our body. To make just one of these proteins, collagen, you need to arrange 1,055 amino acids in precisely the right sequence. If this had to happen by chance, it would be like a Las Vegas slot machine with 1,055 spinning wheels each with 20 symbols and you had to get the same symbol on all the wheels to win the jackpot. The odds of achieving this through chance are far greater than the number of atoms in the universe. And that’s just one of 700,000 proteins.
Next quality. It’s orderly, not random or chaotic. Nature’s laws are perfectly orderly. Nothing is random, accidental, or arbitrary. In mathematics, there’s something called Chaos Theory, in which seemingly random events are actually predictable from simple deterministic equations. As theologian R.C. Sproul put it, “If there is even one maverick molecule in the universe, there is no God.” For all the talk of random selection in Darwinian theory, many scientists recognize that life could not have come into existence by mere chance.
Astronomer Fred Hoyle said, “The chance that higher forms have emerged in this way is comparable to the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junk yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein”.
So, an even inanimate creation is not random or accidental. I hope this video plays, but, let’s take something that may seem random, and consider how it’s not. Rocks in a tumbler. Or better yet if the video plays.
Han Solo: That wasn’t a laser blast, something hit us.
Princess Leia: Han get up here!
Han Solo: C’mon Chewy
Princess Leia: Asteroids
Han Solo: Chewy, set 271
Princess Leia: What are you doing? You are not actually going into an asteroid field?
Han Solo: They’d be crazy to follow us, wouldn’t they?
Princess Leia: You don’t have to do this to impress me.
C3PO: Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1!
Han Solo: Never tell me the odds.
So, the movements of the tumbling asteroids are not random. They are in perfect accord with gravitational and other laws of Newtonian physics. Our most powerful computers couldn’t compute all the variables involved, but all-pervading Intelligence has no trouble doing so. Another thing. When the guy flying the TIE fighter goes splat into the asteroid, it was in accordance with the laws of karma. <Audience Laughter> His karma and that of Han Solo and the other beings in the Millennium Falcon. We can debate later on whether droids have karma.
Deepak Chopra: At least stuck in the first chakra.
Rick: Yes. Sorry about the next slide.
The Bhagavad Gita says, gahana karmani gatih – “Unfathomable are the Laws of Karma.” They are unfathomable by human intellect, because they are infinitely complex, but the infinite, all-pervading Intelligence doesn’t break a sweat administering the karma of trillions of beings throughout the universe.
It’s a field of infinite energy and potential. Physicists say that at the level of the vacuum state, a single cubic centimeter of “empty space” contains more energy than is displayed in the entire manifest universe. We are swimming in an ocean of subtle energy of such immense power that it is virtually incomprehensible. The big bang is happening constantly. As cosmologist Brian Swimme put it, “The universe emerges out of an all-nourishing abyss not only 14 billion years ago, but in every moment.” In our own experience, when we realize our true nature as pure consciousness, we become conduits, to whatever degree our physiology is capable, of infinite energy and intelligence.
It’s infinitely correlated. Last year’s conference was about entanglement – how two entangled particles a galaxy apart can communicate instantly with one another. Infinite correlation would mean that since everything is consciousness, and consciousness is not segmented or bound by space and time, every bit of creation is intimately and directly connected to every other bit. This helps to explain the realm of psychic and extra-sensory phenomena, precognition, things like that.
This is a good one. Contact with it is blissful, fulfilling. The scientific relevance of this is that some scientists are seeking to understand the neurophysiology and neurochemistry of the blissful nature of enlightenment. You’ve heard the phrase “sat chit ananda”, which means Absolute Bliss Consciousness. Consciousness is bliss, or at least contact with it is. The Upanishads say, “contact with Brahman is infinite joy.”
The Taittiriya Upanishad says:
Out of bliss, these beings are born,
In bliss, they are sustained,
And to bliss they go and merge again.
If life doesn’t seem blissful, then perhaps we’re not connected with its source clearly enough.
The Brahma Sutras say, Aanandmayo Bhyaasaat . . . “With (regular) Practice That becomes Blissful.”
So bliss is one of the perks of realizing our true nature as Brahman, or Totality, and can even be thought of as a litmus test of it, but it might take regular practice to cash in on that.
Knowing ourselves as That eliminates fear.
The Upanishads state, “Certainly all fear is born of duality”. You are a wave, but the wave is the same water as the rest of the ocean, just stirred up a bit. If we experience ourselves as only a wave, we are isolated, short-lived, vulnerable, and at the mercy of forces we don’t understand or control. If we know ourselves as the ocean, then we live primarily as That, secondarily as a wave. We abide in a felt sense of timelessness, immortality. The Gita again states that even a little of the practice of uniting with the eternal, indestructible reality delivers from great fear.
It’s us! It’s what we are. Again, most fundamentally, you are pure consciousness, the intelligence permeating, containing, and governing the universe. If that’s ultimately all there is, then what else could you be?
It’s the home of all the laws of nature. All the laws of nature governing creation reside within consciousness. The term “laws of nature” has an impersonal, mechanical connotation. We refer to gravity, electromagnetism, etc. as laws of nature. But if everything is consciousness, intelligence, then these laws and all others must be made of intelligence, impulses of intelligence or consciousness. Plato described the universe as a single living creature that encompasses all living creatures within it. If we think of it that way, then the laws of nature are like specific currents of intelligence flowing within the ocean of intelligence, performing various functions.
In the Vedic tradition, these currents are understood as devas, which is crudely translated as “gods”.
The Rig Veda says:
Richo Akshare Parame Vyoman
Yasmin Deva adhi vishve nisheduh
“All the Devas, the impulses of Creative Intelligence, the laws of nature responsible for the whole manifest universe reside in the transcendental field.”
If you know yourself as that field, then you live as the home of all the laws of nature. All the impulses of intelligence governing creation reside within you. Your thoughts and actions tend to align with them, so they support you. If you do not know yourself as That, then you are estranged from those laws. You tend to act in opposition to them, so they oppose you and you experience obstacles and suffering.
The Bhagavad Gita says: “He who has conquered his self by his Self alone is himself his own friend, but the Self of him who has not conquered his self will behave with enmity like a foe.”
Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring will destroy you.”
If everything is consciousness, does it follow that everything is conscious? And to what degree? There is a Sufi saying, “God sleeps in the rock, dreams in the plant, stirs in the animal, and awakens in man.”
A rock is as much in consciousness and consciousness in it as is a human being. But rocks do not appear to be conscious in any meaningful sense. Yet at the atomic and sub-atomic levels, looking at carbon atoms for instance, a rock is indistinguishable from a human being. Some would argue that even at this level, nature is conscious.
Physicist and cosmologist Freeman Dyson writes that, at the atomic level, “Matter in quantum mechanics is not an inert substance but an active agent, constantly making choices between alternative possibilities… It appears that mind, as manifested by the capacity to make choices, is to some extent inherent in every electron.” Plants are incredibly intelligent. Read Michael Pollan’s recent New Yorker article, The Intelligent Plant. And it is obvious that animals are highly conscious, intelligent, and emotionally sensitive.
These examples suggest that everything is conscious to some degree, but that that degree spans a vast range. The Sufis are not disputing that these forms are made of God. They are just saying that God, in and as forms, varies in the degree to which He recognizes and expresses the fullness of His nature. The more complex and sophisticated the physical structure, the more fully consciousness can be reflected. We see much more sophisticated, complex structures in living beings than in rocks. Structures capable of reflecting consciousness enough to be conscious, conscious that they are conscious, and in the enlightened, conscious that they are consciousness.
God sleeps, dreams, and stirs in the rock, the plant, and animal because they don’t have brains and nervous systems capable of enabling consciousness to be fully awake to Itself. But human beings do. It’s just a matter of taking full advantage of the instrument in our possession.
Albert Einstein said, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead…”
Kurt Vonnegut said, “I don’t know about you, but I practice disorganized religion. I belong to an unholy disorder. We call ourselves Our Lady of Perpetual Astonishment.” <Audience Laughter>
He was a meditator by the way.
Most of us don’t go through our days “rapt in awe” or astonished. Why is that?
William Blake, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
Our perceptual abilities are dulled, and our hearts are numbed, so we tend to perceive only the surface value of everything around us and within us. Spiritual practice refines the nervous system and cleans our doors of perception.
You might ask, if we know ourselves as Infinite Intelligence, will we know everything? Will I know what Francis Bennett is thinking right now? Would I want to? <Audience Laughter>
Sure, it’s possible. The more we refine our faculties of knowing, the more we can know. But the human instrument is not designed for omniscience. It’s said that it takes a celestial body for that. As sense organs of the infinite, we are filters, lenses, conduits. The electrical field powers all light bulbs, but no individual light bulb can illumine the world. If it tried to do so, it would burn out.
There is a scene in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gita where Lord Krishna, where Arjuna begs Lord Krishna to show up in his divine form. He is asking for omniscience. Lord Krishna says, “No, No, you can’t handle it” and he says, “Come on, Please!” <Audience Laughter> and Krishna says, “Ok you asked for it!” and the rest of the chapter is basically Arjuna begging him to take the vision away because it is too much for him to handle.
Ok, leave Krishna there for a minute.
Now that we have established that in essence, we are the Totality, the infinite intelligence permeating and containing everything, that science offers evidence that we are That, and that we can know ourselves as That through spiritual practice, I want to switch gears and tell you a story.
(Part IV unspoken)
So, when I was a little kid, I don’t know, nine or ten, I got one of those diseases we all got in those days that make headlines when kids get them today like chicken pox or something like that and I had a high fever. The fever somehow triggered in me a fascinating experience that was so fascinating that I kind of forgot that I was sick, and I just sat there with my eyes closed, exploring it. And the experience was one of infinite vastness and infinite tininess. Infinite vastness and infinite tininess, kind of simultaneously. Has anyone ever had an experience like that? Yeah. Either with a fever or in meditation or Ayahuasca or whatever <Audience Laughter>.
So years later I became aware of this verse from the Katha Upanishad.
It says, “The Atman (the Self), smaller than the small, greater than the great, is hidden in the hearts of all creatures.”
So, we don’t just dwell in this body. We dwell in the hearts of all living creatures. And also non-living, if we can draw that distinction.
Rumi said, “Don’t you know yet? It is your light that lights the worlds.”
Here is a verse from the Shvetaashvatara Upanishad.
“You are woman. You are man. You are the youth and the maiden too. You are the old man hobbling along with a staff. Once born, you are the face turned in every direction. You are the dark blue butterfly; you are the green parrot with red eyes. You are the thundercloud, pregnant with lightning. You are the seasons; you are the seas. You are without beginning, present everywhere. You, from whom all worlds are born.”
I want to elaborate on this by showing you some examples of large and small things. You’ve seen presentations like this before, but I want you to watch this one while keeping in mind that this is not something that’s happening “out there”. It’s happening within you – within consciousness, within infinite intelligence, God, Brahman, Totality permeating and pervading and perfectly orchestrating all these events.
Kind of an animation of the merger of Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies. And imagine that you are observing this merger in real time as a silent, eternal witness, because you actually are. According to Drake’s equation, everything I say about the earth here is probably also true of 1,000’s of intelligent civilizations throughout our galaxy, billions throughout the universe. This merger, if you can play it, will take over 8 billion years, so I’m going to speed it up since I only have 5 or 10 minutes <Audience Laughter>.
If we were to let… What this thing actually shows is the galaxies kind of spinning around merging and whooshing and going every which way you can imagine. So, if you let one second equal a year it would take two hundred and fifty-four years to complete this.
If we let one second equal a hundred years it would take two and a half years. Um, excuse me. Yeah, it would take two and a half years. So, a hundred years is a generous human lifespan. You can imagine trillions of lives blinking on and off like little strobe lights throughout both galaxies with their romances and heartbreaks, triumphs and tragedies, wars fought over little bits of territory and little ideas.
If we let one second equal a thousand years it would take three months to complete this which is, you know, a thousand years is the lifespan of a civilization, so we have Mesopotamia, Egypt, Rome, the modern era clicking along every second for three months. Also, this seems to be the frequency with which major religions are founded, most degenerating soon after their founding into the fundamentalist belief that they have a monopoly on Truth and everyone else is doomed.
If we let a second equal ten thousand years it would take about ten days. Modern humans are believed to have originated around two hundred and fifty thousand years, or, about twenty-five seconds ago.
If a second takes a hundred thousand years it would take a day to complete the merger. That is about the cycle of ice ages.
If a second equals a million years it would take about two hours. The Permian mass extinction happened about two hundred and fifty million years, about four minutes ago, due to CO2 volcanoes in Siberia causing global warming. Killed about ninety percent of all life on earth, especially the larger species.
Here we go. If we let a second equal ten million years it would be completed in thirteen minutes. I still don’t have time, but thirteen minutes would do it. At this speed, continents would be visibly shifting, mountains rising and eroding, a hundred ice ages would be scrubbing the earth each second. Meteors and asteroids would be pounding the planet. The ancient earth is about four point seven billion years. Incidentally, if I outstretch my arms like this one swipe from a nail file would eliminate human history. That represents four point seven billion years. In about five billion years, or seven minutes at this rate, the Sun would become a red giant and consume the earth after turning it into a molten blob. At this point, global warming skeptics will concede <Audience Laughter> that the earth is warming, but still insist that it’s not due to human activities. <Audience Laughter> I’m just kidding. The human race as we would recognize it will probably be gone in a second or two at this rate.
But other intelligent races will evolve because it’s the nature of universal intelligence to evolve itself into forms through which it can enjoy itself as a living reality.
As large and long as this merger will be, in the big picture it’s only a really brief, tiny local event. And it’s dwarfed by the eternity and unboundedness of the Self.
I’m going to go through some quick comparisons here.
If you shrank the sun down to the size of a white blood cell and shrunk the Milky Way galaxy down using the same scale, the Milky Way would be the size of the United States. That’s because the Milky Way galaxy is huge. This is where we live in it. All the stars you see at night are inside this yellow circle. But even our galaxy is a little runt compared with some other galaxies. Here’s the Milky Way compared to several of them. Within the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, there are approximately 10,000 galaxies. And that total field of view there represents only 1 ten-billionth of the total sky. Here’s the Local Galactic Super Group, the Virgo Supercluster, the Local Superclusters, and the observable universe.
The Śrīmad Bhāgavatam says,
“There are innumerable universes besides this one,
and although they are unlimitedly large,
they move about like atoms in You.
Therefore, You are called unlimited.”
He might have been referring to Krishna since it’s the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam but there’s no distinction.
This discussion of the vastness of the universe is like discussing the Pacific Ocean without considering its depth. The universe is multidimensional and whether we consider dark matter, in terms of physics, or the subtle realms, in terms of spirituality, most of what exists is beyond the limits of ordinary perception.
The Church fought the idea for centuries that the earth was, that the earth was not the center of the universe because it made us seem less important. Each successive discovery of how large the universe is has caused some people to become depressed, to feel that we are an insignificant speck in a cold, mechanistic vastness. But you would only feel this if you were egocentric, if you felt that this (body) is all you are. But again, we are infinite Intelligence. Every new discovery of how vast the universe is should make us even more appreciative of how vast God, our true Self, is.
So, this vast, universal perspective does not negate or diminish our personhood. Some teachers emphasize over and over that “You are not a person. There is no one home. There is nothing to do and no one to do it.” I would say, courtesy of Francis again, that of course you’re a person. You’re just not only a person. The fact that you are the ocean doesn’t mean that you aren’t also a wave. You’re both. Brahman, the totality, includes both Absolute and relative and both are full.
Some say that since we’re not a person, we don’t have free will. Ultimately this may be true, but knowledge is different in different states of consciousness, and we can’t live our lives based on an intellectual concept of a state of consciousness and we can’t live our lives based on an intellectual concept of a state of consciousness we’re not living. I would venture to guess that that’s what 99% of the people who say this sort of thing are trying to do. So, if you perceive yourself as having free will, then exercise it to the best of your ability. As the Gita puts it, “the dharma of another brings danger.”
I’ve covered mostly the Larger than the larger, smaller than the smallest already. I just wanted to say something about atoms.
The number of atoms in a gram of hydrogen is such that if you expanded them to the size of unpopped popcorn kernels they would cover the Continental United States nine miles deep. That is just one gram of hydrogen. And each of these atoms is functioning with perfect orderliness in accordance with a variety of natural laws, both within itself and in relationship to all the other atoms, again the expression of infinite, all-pervading Intelligence, which is our essential nature. Incidentally, atoms are huge compared with sub-atomic particles, and infinite intelligence manages those perfectly too.
Most of our atoms have been through the life cycle of several stars. That’s how they were formed. Atoms are so numerous that there are about a billion of them in each of our bodies that were also in the body of Shakespeare, Christ, Buddha, but not Elvis <Audience Laughter> and fortunately not Justin Bieber <Audience Laughter>. The reason for that is it takes them a while to distribute.
So, in conclusion to Pat IV, everything we can observe, near and far, large and small, reveals infinite intelligence at play, and we are nothing other than that intelligence.
So, Part Five in three minutes.
What are the practical implications of all this?
Martin Buber wrote a book called “I and Thou”. One of the major themes of the book is that all our relationships bring us ultimately into relationship with God, who is the Eternal Thou. But I think we can take it a step further. Ultimately, we have an “I and I” relationship with the universe, because there’s only one Reality. The Gita says one sees, “The Self in all beings and all beings in the Self”. Christ said, “I and my Father are One.” He also said, “… Insomuch as ye did it unto one of the least of my brethren, ye did it unto me.”
So all lives matter… Life is precious because it’s God embodied.
By clear-cutting the rain forests, we’re destroying our own lungs, literally. By polluting the rivers and oceans, we’re poisoning our own blood. By exterminating species, we’re lopping off our own fingers and toes. The 6th great mass extinction is well underway – the first manmade one. 150-200 species go extinct every day. If global temperatures rise by 6 degrees centigrade, which some authorities say is likely, these extinct species will include the human.
So, if we are the intelligence governing the universe, then why is the world so screwed up? Why are our lives so often screwed up? Or are they? From one perspective everything is perfect just as it is. There is some Zen guy who says, “You are all perfect just as you are, but you could use improvement.” <Audience Laughter>
If life is problematic, perhaps it’s because we’re not in tune with our essential nature. Christ said, “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do.” They know not what they do because they know not what they are. If you know yourself only partially, then the products of your mind and heart will not reflect totality. Partial reflections of Pure Intelligence will produce mixed effects. Something will be accomplished, while unwittingly, some harm will be done.
Partial knowledge in our individual lives results in mistakes, which cause suffering. When partial individual knowledge on a mass scale is expressed through governments, wars are fought. When it expressed through corporations, harmful technologies and products are produced.
The more fundamental the level of nature’s functioning, the more powerful it is. The molecular is more powerful than the mechanical. The atomic is more powerful than the molecular.
Therefore, the more fundamentally we tinker with nature’s functioning, the more critical it is that, that we know ourselves as the Intelligence governing Nature, the home of all the laws of Nature.
Genetic Engineering is an example of messing with a very basic level of nature, critical to all life, which we understand very partially. If we screw up on that level, the ramifications could be catastrophic, and irreversible.
I just want to say one final point here. The “drill baby drill” crowd says that if we extract all the oil and gas we know about, the U.S. could be energy self-sufficient for at least 100 years. Environmentalists say that if we burn all that oil and gas, humans won’t be around in 100 years. I say that there’s not really an energy shortage. There’s an intelligence shortage. Every individual in every country is sitting on an infinite reservoir of intelligence, and if enough of us begin to “extract” it, societies will become less wasteful and more conscious of the consequences of their actions, marvelous technological solutions will emerge, and small-minded opposition to them will evaporate.
So how do we realize our true nature as infinite intelligence? Where do we find it? Remember, it’s all-pervading. So, the easiest place to find it might be right here, one’s heart. God may be omnipotent, but He’s also omnipresent, so one thing He can’t do is remove himself from your heart. Once He is found there, eventually, He can be found everywhere.
I’d like to play a song for you now which I didn’t get to play in my original presentation. This is written by a friend and my wife Irene sings backup. It’s from the, or harmony. It is from the Chāndogya Upanishad.
There is a light that shines beyond
Shines beyond all things on earth
Beyond us all, beyond the heavens
Beyond the highest heaven
This is the light that shines in our heart
The little pace within the heart
Is as great as this vast universe
The earth and heavens are there
And the sun and the moon and the stars
Fire and lightening and winds are there
And all that now is. And all that is not.
For the universe is in Him,
And He dwells within our heart.
There is a light that shines beyond
Shines beyond all things on earth
Even here, in this life,
This universe is conquered by those whose
Whose mind is established in equanimity
Flawless indeed and equally present
Everywhere is Brahman.
Therefor they are established in Brahman.
He whose Self is untouched by the external
Knows that happiness which is in the Self.
His Self, joined in union with Brahman, enjoys eternal happiness.
Even here, in this life, the universe is conquered by those
Whose mind is established in Brahman.
I want to call your attention to one line in that song, “For the universe is in him and He dwells within our heart.” That means our heart contains the universe. They say we live in a holographic universe and each part contains the whole. Everything is essentially infinite. How much infinity does it take to contain the universe? The whole is contained in each of the parts.
I also wanted to end on, to conclude on kind of a devotional note. Non-duality is often presented in a rather dry, heartless tone. But the great nondualists were anything but dry. They were also great bhaktas, devotees. Why? Because it is inevitable in the course of one’s spiritual development. We have hearts, and the heart enjoys the sweetness, even the ecstasy, of love and devotion. Shankara, the founder of Advaita, said, “The intellect imagines duality for the sake of devotion, and he wrote beautiful devotional poetry.” Ramana was devoted to Arunachala. Nisargadatta sang bhajans & pujas. So, I think we can look forward to our hearts blossoming more and more as we grow in appreciation of the ultimate non-dual nature of everything.
I’ve tried to express in this talk the notion that consciousness, or God, is the sole reality and that we are waves on the, that we are that reality, and as individuals we are waves on the ocean of that reality. But that all sounds rather intellectual. I’d like to play you song now that expresses the sentiment that one who is experiencing that, not just understanding it, might feel. It’s a beautiful song by Peter Mayer called “Holy Now.”
(“Holy Now” song played)
When I was a boy each week
On Sunday we would go to church
And pay attention to the priest
As he would read the holy word
And consecrate the holy bread
And everyone would kneel and bow
Today the only difference is
Everything is holy now
Everything is holy now
And when I was in Sunday school
We would learn about the time
Moses split the sea in two
Jesus made the water wine
And I remember feeling sad
That miracles don’t happen still
Now I can’t keep track
‘Cause everything’s a miracle
Wine…from water is not so small
But an even better magic trick
Is that there is anything here at all
So… the challenging thing becomes
Not to look for miracles
But finding where there isn’t one
When holy water was rare at best
It barely wet my fingertips
But now I have to hold my breath
Like I’m swimming in a sea of it
It used to be a world half there
Heaven’s second-rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now
Read a questioning child’s face
And says it’s not a testimonial
That’d be very hard to say
See… another new morning come
And say it’s not a sacrament
I tell you that it can’t…be…done
This morning, outside I stood
I saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now
It used to be world half-there
Heaven’s second-rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now
Final point. For those who feel their spiritual evolution is retarded, or that it is finished, or who run into some teacher who claims to be finished. This is a quote from St. Theresa of Avila who said, “It appears that God Himself is on the journey.”