AOH :: SCIBND14.TXT|
"Science Without Bounds" - Union
This is 14UNION.TXT, chapter 14 of
Science Without Bounds
A Synthesis of Science, Religion and Mysticism
The author invites comments and criticism,
and may be reached at email@example.com.
"Science Without Bounds" is copyrighted by Arthur J. D'Adamo and
may be freely redistributed.
- Union -
Right views, goals, actions, and efforts eventually lead to what
Buddhist's call right mindfulness and right concentration. For
us, right mindfulness will mean certain mental states conducive
to gnosis. And right concentration will indicate first-hand
experience of or union with the Eternal - gnosis.
The process of achieving right mindfulness or right concentration
is variously called contemplation or meditation since
"meditation" and "contemplation" have opposite meanings in East
In the West, "contemplation" refers to gnosis, to right
concentration. For example, in Western Mysticism Edward Butler
Contemplation at its highest limit is identical with
the mystical experience, and involves . . . an
experimental perception of God's Being and Presence.
"Meditation" refers to some sort of mental activity, for example
reflecting on a biblical incident, a theological concept, or a
doctrinal statement. (See ,421 for an example of this use of
"meditation.") It's meant to lead to contemplation.
In Eastern religious literature, the terms are reversed.
"Meditation" refers to experimental perception of God, while
"contemplation" means mental reflection. Basil Pennington, a
Roman Catholic monk, describes (,29) this confusing
situation and decided to use "centering prayer" or simply
"centering" for what's called "meditation" in the West and
"contemplation" in the East.
The term "centering" is quite compatible with our world view
since experience of the Ultimate Ground of Existence is also
experience of the Center. The term "centering prayer," however,
is less general since prayer is religious. A secular person could
think of drawing closer to the Center as a metaphysical,
philosophical, but entirely non-religious process. For such a
person, there's nothing inherently religious about consciousness
becoming aware of itself (not "Itself" since they don't identify
consciousness and deity). Similarly, a scientist might maintain
becoming more directly aware of energy (again, not "Energy") is
entirely secular. For such individuals, "centering" is the
appropriate term. Yet, centering can be religious, and religions
have often acknowledged its value.
So, for some people, "centering prayer" is the more appropriate
term. And for others, "centering meditation" is better. And for
still others "centering" is preferable. I'll generally use
"centering" to indicate all three. So "centering" indicates right
mindfulness, a mostly mental process which seeks to promote
experimental perception of what can be viewed religiously as God,
or non-religiously as our own true Self.
Centering seeks to still the thoughts, emotions, and senses that
so often occupy our Consciousness so that Awareness may become
aware of Itself. The Christian saint Albert the Great described
centering when he wrote:
When St. John says that God is a Spirit, and that He
must be worshipped in spirit, he means that the mind
must be cleared of all images. When thou prayest, shut
thy door - that is, the doors of thy senses. Keep them
barred and bolted against all phantasms and images.
Nothing pleases God more than a mind free from all
occupations and distractions. Such a mind is in a
manner transformed into God, for it can think of
nothing and love nothing, except God; other creatures
and itself it only sees in God. He who penetrates into
himself, and so transcends himself, ascents truly to
God. . . . Leave thy body and fix thy gaze on the
uncreated Light. Let nothing come between thee and God.
How to still the body? In normal circumstances it's helpful if
the body is fit. Aches and pains demand attention and capture
awareness. So one aim of Hatha yoga is a fitness which prepares
the body for centering. Of course, other types of exercise would
also serve this purpose. If the body is fit, then sitting still
and quiet in a comfortable position should allow awareness of the
body to lessen.
Yet aches and pains can be a powerful motivation for lessening
body awareness. Someone with an ill body might find it harder to
lose awareness of body, but be much more motivated to do so.
How to still the emotions? Roman Catholicism defines (,42)
the "seven deadly sins" or "capital sins" as pride, covetousness,
lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. Gluttony and sloth keep
us aware of the body; the others, the emotions. So one task is to
reduce the pride, covetousness, lust, anger, and envy which may
surface in centering. Resolving such emotions is not only good
psychologically but aids centering. How can we reduce them?
That's one of the aims and results of a moral life. That's why
moral virtues are one of the first steps of the path.
Another task is reducing positive emotions which may surface in
centering. Love of spouse or child, for example, should be put
temporarily aside for a higher love, love of God. Later we'll see
how Ramakrishna found even the love of a God who was a Person a
barrier to the highest level of centering.
If the body and emotions are quiet, then all remaining is to
quiet the thoughts. The work of preparing the body and emotions
are done in daily life. Although the work of controlling the mind
can occur in daily life, too, it's usually done during centering.
Therefore, the main goal of centering is often viewed as quieting
the mind so that various level of gnosis become accessible.
Many books describe centering exercises. For example, The
Relaxation Response (), written by an M.D., explains the
health benefits of centering and describes, among other
techniques, the technique (,162-3) of "breathing
Breathing mindfulness is a common centering exercise which may
be used for religious or non-religious purposes. It seems of
Buddhist origin, and Buddha recommended it highly. For example,
in the Anapanasatissuta (the "discourse on mindfulness when
breathing in and out"), he says
[m]indfulness of in-breathing and out-breathing, monks,
if developed and made much of, is of great fruit, of
great advantage. (,124).
He described it as follows. A person
. . . sits down cross-legged, holding his back erect,
arousing mindfulness in front of him. Mindfully he
breathes in, mindfully he breathes out. (,124).
Forms of breathing mindfulness appear in many religions. The
Jewish Shneur Zalman, for example, believed
. . . God's invisibility to be an illusion wrought by
man's ignorance. (,132)
and therefore thought the
. . . best means for breaking the spell was consciously
to motivate his soul by means of the breath . . . Only
sustained contemplation could awaken the divine
intelligence that resides in every soul. (,132-3).
One type of breathing mindfulness is as follows. Sit in a quiet
place and turn you attention to your breathing. Concentrate
exclusively on your breaths. Count them, either on the inhalation
or the exhalation. Or count both, the inhalation as one, the
exhalation as two, etc. If you find yourself thinking of anything
but your breath, go back to one. If you reach ten, also go back
to one. Continue.
Surprisingly, breathing mindfulness, as well as other forms of
centering, can give a mild form of ecstasy. The mind can find
rapt attention on one fixed focus peaceful and soothing. Of
course, this procedure can also be extremely boring, especially
to a mind accustomed to frequent stimulation, particularly of the
kind offered by television. Someone with a short attention span
might find breathing mindfulness very difficult or even
impossible. If they persevere, however, concentration and
attention span increase.
A Quaker publication first describes the centering process:
. . . [S]ilence is not an end in itself but a way
toward worship. . . . In the normal course of everyday
life the mind is filled with flotsam from external
stimuli. This must be calmly put aside . . . [W]orries
. . . should not stand in the way of submerging your
individual self in the one eternal Self. (,21),
and then describes the usefulness of mantra:
The way to this union is through prayer. Some Friends
use a short and oft-repeated prayer or a mantra as an
aid to concentration. (,21).
Concentrating on the breath can be difficult, especially at
first. The breath is subtle and content free; the mind may demand
something it can more easily grasp, something more definite.
Therefore, a meaningful word or phrase is sometimes used as the
focus instead of, or along with, the breath. If the word or
phrase is "ah," "peace," or even "wealth, power, and fame" then
the centering is non-religious.
Often, however, the phrase is specifically religious. In the
Hindu religious tradition it's called a "mantra", and beads
similar to the Catholic rosary are used to count repetitions. The
Eastern Orthodox Hesychastic tradition uses the Jesus Prayer -
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner" -
often synchronized with the breath or heartbeat. (A good
introduction to this method is given in .) Hesychastic monks
incessantly repeat this phrase, seeking to fulfill the
recommendation of Jesus "that men ought to always pray" (Lk
18:1,) and Paul to "Pray without ceasing." (1Thes
5:17,). In fact, in Christianity
[t]he ideal of the first monks was to carry on
incessant prayer. (,386).
Pennington notices (,33) similarities in the dhikr
centering method of Islam's Sufis, the Buddhist nembutsu method,
and the Jesus Prayer. He also says centering was the principal
kind of prayer in Western Christianity (,29) for a thousand
years, until about the 14th century. Then, vocal liturgical
prayers became dominant. Liturgical prayers are closer to what
most people think of as prayer. In Teresa's time, academic
theologians (,142) favored vocal prayer and opposed her
insistence (,144) on "mental prayer," i.e., centering. Such
theologians, however, were themselves opposed by (,143)
"people who disdained technical theology as dry and detached from
the spirit of religion" and by (,142) "people who exalted
the knowledge gained through direct religious experience and
In centering, one aims for the direct experience of one's own
Awareness. As such, centering's focus is inward. Awareness is
intentionally directed away from the external universe. Indeed,
centering, by its very name, implies coming closer to something
which is immanent.
In contrast, one might aim for direct experience of the Ground
of the external universe. Here, the focus is outward. Awareness
is directed to the external world. Of course, we already
experience the external universe, but we don't usually experience
its transcendental Basis. Such experience is the object of
How is merging practiced? Someone begins by seeking the
transcendental Basis of some particular external object.
Underhill describes how this might be done. First, the object is
. . . may be almost anything we please: a picture, a
statue, at tree, a distant hillside, a growing plant .
. . (,301).
Next, we are asked to
[l]ook . . . at this thing which you have chosen.
Wilfully yet tranquilly refuse the messages which
countless other aspects of the world are sending; and
so concentrate your whole attention on this one act of
loving sight that all other objects are excluded from
the conscious field. Do not think, but as it were pour
out your personality towards it: let your soul be in
your eyes. Almost at once, this new method of
perception will reveal unsuspected qualities in the
external world. First, you will perceive about you a
strange and deepening quietness . . . Next, you will
become aware of a heightened significance, an
intensified existence in the thing at which you look. .
. . It seems as though the barrier between its life and
your own, between subject and object, had melted away.
You are merged with it, in an act of true communion:
and you know the secret of its being deeply and
unforgettably, yet in a way which you can never hope to
Teresa may have practiced such merging, for she writes she
. . . found gazing at fields, water, or flowers a great
help, for they spoke to me of the Creator, and served
as a book in bringing me to a state of Recollection. .
. . I used at times to feel . . . the presence of God .
. . (,42-3).
Merging may lead to illumination, one of the first and most
common forms of gnosis. At this stage, the world is lit up; the
mystic perceives a glow and knows it is of God. For such a
[n]othing appears to him any longer as purely profane.
. . Creatures . . . become sacraments which proclaim
the presence of God everywhere . . . (,425).
In fact, such experience may be an unrecognized, first-hand
experience of the Uncreated Light. Illumination is like seeing a
glow but not recognizing the fire from which it comes. However,
if recognition is present, if not only the glow, but the fire
itself is seen, then we have first-hand experience.
Benefits of Centering and Merging
In addition to helping achieving right concentration, centering
and merging have other benefits. Let's begin with an analogy.
Many tasks require a steady hand; if a person's hand is
unsteady and always shakes, that person can't do calligraphy,
sculpture, and surgery is certainly out of the question. A steady
hand, a hand which can be held fixed on one point at will, is
prerequisite to these activities and others.
Many people have a steady hand, but an unsteady mind; they
can't concentrate steadily at will. True, their mind is sometimes
concentrated when something grabs their interest, a thrilling
novel or show, perhaps. But they can't steady and concentrate
their mind where and when they please.
But just as a person might develop a steady hand by practicing
holding it fixed, a person may developed a more steady,
concentrated, "one-pointed" mind by practicing holding it fixed
on some object of centering or merging.
Not only is a quiet and controlled mind a help for various
activities, it can also reduce suffering.
Imagine a young child, a boy of six, whose parents take him to
a physician to be vaccinated. They don't mention the vaccination
needle. After an examination, the physician quickly rolls up the
little boy's sleeve and gives the shot. The boy yells and starts
to cry, but soon, with his parent's encouragement and perhaps
some candy, he feels better. He's suffered a brief sharp pain and
a few minutes soreness.
Now imagine instead the boy is brought to the physicians
office, and shown the needle he'll receive the next day. Perhaps
he sees another child vaccinated. At home, he can't eat and has
trouble going to sleep. The following morning he feels terrible.
He cries and begs his parents not to take him to the physician.
The ride to the office isn't pleasant for him or his parents.
When it's over his parents, as before, give him words of
encouragement and candy.
The little boy has suffered much more than in the first
scenario. For twenty-four hours, his thoughts and emotions have
given him much torment and little peace.
Imagine now an ability rare for adults and even rarer in
children - the ability to control the mind and heart. If the
little boy had this ability, he would have been able to put the
thought of the needle out of his mind for twenty-four hours. He
would still have had to experience the pain of the first
scenario, but would have saved himself from the added torture,
the worry and fear, of the second. The ability to control his
thoughts and emotions would have saved him from pain. Even an
imperfect, limited ability to partially control his thoughts and
emotions would have saved him from some pain.
So, control of thoughts and emotions can reduce pain, while
uncontrolled thoughts and emotions (worry, fear, etc.) may
themselves cause us much pain. In fact, much if not most of the
pain people in advanced countries suffer - people who have enough
to eat, sufficient clothing and housing - is this type of pain.
Controlled thoughts and emotions could greatly reduce it.
It's easy to feel such control is not within the reach of the
normal person. Yet the normal person clearly has the potential.
It's not uncommon to cut yourself while playing a sport,
basketball or soccer for example, but not realize it until you
notice the blood. Your intense concentration on the game made you
insensitive to the moment's pain. If we could produce such
intense concentration at will, might we not be able to lessen
It's interesting, by the way, that religious beliefs such as
"God always provides" have effects similar to those obtainable
with control of thoughts and feelings. The beliefs give some
measure of control over thought and emotion, since genuine belief
in Divine Providence banishes worrisome regard for the future.
Also, religious forgiveness and atonement provide a powerful
antidote to regret and worry over the past. Thus, some religious
beliefs produce results similar to centering or merging practice:
they effectively limiting negative, useless, painful thoughts and
emotions. (Of course, religion sometimes promotes negative,
useless thoughts and emotions, too.)
Right Concentration: Self-Referential Awareness
Ideally, a quiet body, emotions, and mind lead to gnosis.
Unfortunately, they can lead to pitfalls instead. Rolt writes:
There is a higher merging of the self and a lower
merging of it. The one is above the level of
personality, the other beneath it; the one is religious
the other hedonistic; the one results from spiritual
concentrations and the other from spiritual
Underhill describes the lower merging as a (,322) "half-hypnotic
state of passivity", a "meaningless state of 'absorption
in nothing at all'", and (,324) "vacant placidity". She
associates these evils with "Quietism."
Quietism, a unbalanced mystical theory which appeared three to
four hundred years ago in Europe, overemphasized (refer
,471-2) the passive nature of centering and merging and
carried it over into all aspects of life. In Quietism, it seems,
a quiet body, heart, and mind lead to a Consciousness aware of
nothing at all. Of such quietness Ruysbroeck wrote:
Such quietude . . . is nought else but idleness, into
which a man has fallen, and in which he forgets himself
and God and all things in all that has to do with
activity. This repose is wholly contrary to the
supernatural repose one possesses in God; for that is a
loving self-mergence and simple gazing at the
Incomprehensible Brightness . . . (,322).
Quietism was suppressed, perhaps overly so since the effort,
writes Huxley, resulted not only in its elimination but also
(,66) "to all intents and purposes the extinction of
mysticism for the better part of two centuries" in Europe.
So how can a quiet body, emotions, and mind lead to gnosis?
We've seen the Real is immanent in the world, yet transcends it.
Therefore, some mystics experience the God Which is not a Person
immanently, as their very own, true and deepest Self, while other
mystics experience It transcendently, as external to, and
different from, their own self or selves. Gnosis may be
experience of That which is immanent or That which is
transcendental. Since we've identified Consciousness with the
Eternal, we'll describe right concentration, gnosis, mostly in
terms of immanence. We'll present it primarily as an immanent,
inward experience where Consciousness becomes aware of Itself.
Usually, Consciousness is aware of something external to
Itself, of body, emotion, or thought, all entities with only
relative existence. Imagine someone with a large measure of
detachment from thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations who
is sitting still in a quiet place. Their senses are unstimulated,
so their bodily awareness is minimal. Their emotions, too, are
still; they're at peace, neither loving or hating. Their mind is
calm and quiet, with little or no thought. Moreover, though the
practice of humility and selfless action they've turned away from
their relative selves. What remains for their Consciousness to be
For a Consciousness aware of only Itself there's no duality. It
has temporarily become unconscious of the body, heart, and mind.
It knows only Itself. The triad of knower, knowing, known
disappear since Consciousness is all three. A Consciousness aware
of only Itself has escaped from duality and ceased to be aware of
entities with only relative existence. Such an Awareness is in a
self-referential state. Self-referential states and processes
naturally lead to infinity, physically, mathematically, and
An example of a physically self-referential state or process
occurs when an audio speaker's output is (usually inadvertently)
fed back into a microphone. A feedback loop is established where
output becomes input becomes output, etc. - each time passing
through the amplifier and getting louder. If the amplifier's
electronics allowed, this self-referential physical process would
eventually produce infinite volume. Instead, the amplifier
quickly reaches the limits of its electronics. The resulting,
high-pitched squeal is familiar to anyone who has ever set up a
music or public address sound system.
Self-referential processes also lead to infinity logically. As
Rudy Rucker writes in Infinity and the Mind:
The philosopher Josiah Royce maintained that a person's
mental image of his own mind must be infinite. His
reason is that one's image of one's own mind is itself
an item present in the mind. So the image includes an
image that includes an image, and so on . . . The old
can of Pet Milk, for instance, bore a picture of a can
of Pet Milk, which bore a picture of a can of Pet Milk,
As another example: We said long ago that when a knower
transcends the triad of knower, knowing, and known, when they
merge with the known, then only One remains. But does only the
One remain? Rather, aren't there two elements, knowing and the
now united knower/Known? A common answer to this objection is
that since God is One, God's self-knowledge is not different from
God. Thus, there are not two elements, but One. God and God's
self-knowledge are identical.
If the answer is accepted, then it follows that God is, in some
way, a self-referential process. Why? Because if God's self-awareness is
itself the same as God, then we have awareness aware
of itself, that is, self-referential awareness.
Rene Descartes, the 17th century French philosopher and
mathematician who gave the world the Cartesian coordinate system
of high school Algebra, may have experienced self-referential
consciousness. Descartes believed the soul or mind resided in or
near the pineal gland. Let's see why this suggests self-referential
First of all, which is it, soul or mind? We consider these as
two separate functions: the mind, the intellectual function, and
the soul, the consciousness function. Descartes may not have made
that distinction. The caption to a figure (,137) taken from
the 1677 edition of his De Homine, for example, shows the soul
near the pineal gland. However, another reference (,v5,601)
has Descartes dividing the world into matter and mind. So perhaps
Descartes used the same word for what we consider two separate
functions. If so, either soul or mind might be a valid
Second, where is the pineal gland? An atlas of anatomy
(,25,95) shows it about level with the ear tops, slightly
rear of center. So, Descartes believed consciousness or mind
resided somewhere in that area. Of course, he may not have
believed it actually resided in the pineal gland.
Finally, why? What could have suggested to Descartes that soul
or mind resides in that part of the body? Perhaps, it was a
"centering" experience like the following.
Sometime when you're alert, not fatigued or sleepy, sit up
straight in a quiet place and close your eyes. Become aware of
the space around you. Attach these labels: front, behind, above,
below, left, and right. For example, picture the floor or ground
and think "below"; picture the ceiling, or the sky, and think
"above"; picture the tree to your left and think "left." Now
begin to zero in on the center point by thinking of closer
things: if you are conscious of your left ear, think "left"; if
you feel the air in your nostrils, think "front." If you feel
your jaw, think "below." Try to get as close as possible to the
center point which divides front from back, left from right, and
above from below. This point seems to be the base of
consciousness, the place from which you now look out at your body
and the world beyond. It also happens to be close to the pineal
The Location of Awareness
If consciousness actually resided in or near the pineal gland,
then our exercise would be slowly bringing Consciousness closer
to awareness of Itself, the Center. The situation, however, is a
bit more complicated since we know today that consciousness may
reside anywhere in the body. As Wilder Penfield, a
neurophysiologic researcher, writes:
To suppose that consciousness or the mind has
localization is a failure to understand
Fred Wolf, a physicist, deduces from this quote that
. . . mind appears to be everywhere. It is observing on
the scale of atoms and molecules, neurons, cells,
tissues, muscles, bones, organs - in other words, it is
observing on all scales of physical existence.
Wolf's statement easily follows if Consciousness and Center, the
Ultimate Ground of Existence, are one and the same.
Even if Awareness doesn't actually reside near the pineal
gland, something crucial does seem to be going on in that part of
the body. Penfield continues:
The great mathematician and philosopher, Rene Descartes
(1596-1650), made a mistake when he placed it in the
pineal gland. The amusing aspect is that he came so
close to that part of the brain in which the essential
circuits of the highest brain-mechanism must be active
to make consciousness possible. (,109).
It seems consciousness somehow connects to body there.
. . . [I]t became quite clear in neurosurgical
experience, that even large removals of the cerebral
cortex could be carried out without abolishing
consciousness. On the other hand, injury or
interference with function in the higher brain-stem,
even in small areas, would abolish consciousness
So, even if our exercise doesn't bring us closer to the actual
seat of consciousness, and even if there is no fixed seat of
consciousness in the body, our exercise does bring us closer to a
point to which consciousness enjoys some sort of special
The affirmative way, the negative way, the moral virtues, the
other steps along the path, and right mindfulness all aim towards
right concentration, towards gnosis. If we think of the Eternal
immanently, then they all aim at freeing an Awareness from
involvement with the relative, the transitory, and aim instead to
have It become aware of Itself. For when a mystic's
. . . consciousness of I-hood and consciousness of the
world disappear, the mystic is conscious of being in
immediate relation with God Himself; of participating
in Divinity. (Delacroix, Etudes sur le Mysticisme,
p.370 in ,330).
There are degrees of right concentration. At first, the mystic
may draw closer to God in illuminative experiences. These
experiences change the mystic even as wood drawing closer to a
fire begins to take on some of fire's qualities: it glows, or
even burns with the fire's flame. If the wood draws close enough,
it eventually enters the fire.
When the soul is plunged in the fire of divine love,
like iron, it first loses its blackness, and then
growing to white heat, it becomes like unto the fire
itself. And lastly, it grows liquid, and losing its
nature is transmuted into an utterly different quality
of being. (,421).
The wood, glowing and burning even as the fire glows and burns,
may begin to see its real self as indistinguishable from the
fire's. Its flame merges with the fire's flame. Similarly, as the
mystic lives more and more in awareness of the Eternal, a like
merging of consciousness may occur. In the words of Symeon:
'It is a truly divine fire, uncreated and invisible,
eternal and immaterial, perfectly steadfast and
infinite, inextinguishable and immortal,
incomprehensible, beyond all created being.' This light
'has separated me from all being visible and invisible,
granting me a vision of the uncreated One. . . . I am
united with the One who is uncreated, incorruptible,
infinitely invisible to all.' (,118).
Eventually, the wood is transformed into fire. Similarly, if
mystical experiences reoccur, the mystic may have
. . . more and more the impression of being that which
he knows, and of knowing that which he is. (Delacroix,
Etudes sur le Mysticisme, p.370 in ,330).
The mystic may begin to see their real self as no different from
the Self, the Eternal. Such a mystic may say:
I am, verily, that supreme Brahman which is eternal,
pure, free and one, impartite bliss, non-dual, and
existence, consciousness and infinite. (,54)
Or, as the writer of the taittiriya upanishad, expressed it:
I am established in the purity of Brahman. I have
attained the freedom of the Self. I am Brahman, self-luminous
. . . I am immortal, imperishable. (,54).
Complete union, however, isn't fully achieved as long as the
mystic experiences any sort of duality. Feeling identical to the
One is not the same as actual perfect conscious union with the
One, since the duality of knower, knowing, known still exists.
Thinking or even knowing the experience is of the Self is not
sufficient for union. For as along as the mystic doesn't
experience the Eternal as their own Self, their gnosis remains
first-hand, not unitive.
The lower states of samadhi . . . lack . . .
completeness of union. Ramakrishna knew that Mother
Kali was not other than Brahman; yet, because of his
great love for her, he was at first unable to accept
this fact completely. . . . Ramakrishna's love for Kali
was the last-remaining trace of dualism in his mind.
When he could go beyond that, he could attain union
with Brahman. (,118-9).
For a while, Ramakrishna's love of Kali as something other than
himself, as "the effulgence of pure consciousness", kept him in
duality. He couldn't free himself from seeing the Eternal as
something other than himself. He worshipped the One as Kali, the
Mother of the universe, the Uncreated Light, and couldn't rise
above this duality.
The mind withdrew itself easily from all other things
but, as soon as it did so, the intimately familiar form
of the universal Mother, consisting of the effulgence
of pure consciousness, appeared before it as living and
moving . . . (,225).
Knower, knowing, and known still remained.
Ramakrishna was eventually able to rise above all duality.
With a firm determination I sat for meditation again
and, as soon as the holy form of the divine Mother
appeared now before the mind as previously, I looked
upon knowledge as a sword and cut it mentally in two
with that sword of knowledge. There remained then no
function in the mind, which transcended quickly the
realm of name and forms . . . (,225).
Ceasing to experience the Uncreated Light as something other than
himself, he now saw It as his true Self. Losing all distinction
of knower, knowing, known he united with It. A monk of the
Ramakrishna order describes what happened next:
In that rapturous ecstasy the senses and mind stopped
their functions. The body became motionless as a
corpse. The universe rolled away from his vision - even
space itself melted away. Everything was reduced to
ideas, which floated like shadows in the dim background
of the mind. Only the faint consciousness of "I"
repeated itself in dull monotony. Presently that too
stopped, and what remained was Existence alone. The
soul lost itself in the Self, and all idea of duality,
of subject and object, was effaced. (,161).
Notice that with this kind of experience, unconsciousness of
the external world is due to the nature of the experience itself,
rather than any physical weakness. For self-referential awareness
is, by definition, Consciousness aware of Itself, rather than the
exterior world. It's also been called pure consciousness since
for an Awareness aware only of Itself there's no mixture or
combination of It and something else.
Another description of the unitive experience Ramakrishna
enjoyed is as follows:
Beyond the realm of thought, transcending the domain of
duality, leaving Maya with all her changes and
modifications far behind, towering above the delusions
of creation, preservation, and destruction, and
sweeping away with an avalanche of ineffable Bliss all
relative ideas of pain and pleasure, weal and woe, good
and evil, shines the glory of the Eternal Brahman, the
Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, in the Nirvikalpa
Samadhi. Knowledge, knower, and known dissolve in the
menstruum of One Eternal Consciousness; birth, growth,
and death vanish in that infinite Existence; and love,
lover, and beloved merge in that unbounded ocean of
Supreme Felicity. . . . Space disappears into
nothingness, time is swallowed up in Eternity,
causation becomes a dream of the past, and a tremendous
effulgence annihilates the oppressive darkness of sense
and thought. . . . [O]nly Existence is. . . . His
illumination is steady, his bliss constant, and the
oblivion of the phenomenal universe is complete.
It's claimed Ramakrishna's body, became (,161) "motionless
as a corpse." It's also claimed his breathing and heart stopped!
. . . [T]here was not the slightest function of the
vital force in his body . . . [H]is face was calm and
sedate and full of effulgence. . . . completely dead to
the external world . . . [H]is mind, merged in Brahman,
was calm and motionless like an unflickering lamp in a
windless place. (,256)
. . . when he ascended the highest plane of non-dual
consciousness his heart-beats and functions of the
senses were stopped . . . and the body lay like a
corpse; all the modifications of his mind, such as
thought, imagination etc., came to a stand-still and he
dwelt in absolute Existence-Knowledge-Bliss.
Are such claims accurate? We'll return to this question later.
The Result of Union: Annihilation or Return
Many mystics (,151) never return from the unitive state;
they merge with the Eternal and leave the external world behind,
forever. The wood is consumed; the finite, separate identity
vanishes without a trace. As a drop of water enters the ocean and
loses its individual identity, Consciousness merges back with the
Deprived of soul, the body (,154) eventually dies.
Although Ramakrishna believed suicide (,164) a "heinous
sin," he didn't consider a gnosis experience which resulted in
death of the physical body as suicide. Indeed, if gnosis is the
aim of human life, then the physical body has fulfilled its
purpose once permanent union is established. Once someone reaches
the other shore, they may discard the boat.
It's said, however, that some people do return; in fact, this
was said of Ramakrishna. Such a person, however, is forever
transformed. Like wood almost totally transformed by fire, the
ego remains as a kind of ash, an insubstantial residue. For such
. . . that 'I'-ness of theirs lives in constant
unbroken consciousness of an intimate relation with
God, such as 'I am a servant, a child, or a part of
Him'! . . . Knowing that God is the quintessence of
everything, that "I" does not any more hanker after the
enjoyment of worldly objects such as sight, taste, etc.
. . . Those who were till then in worldly bondage, but
have now attained perfection . . . and are living the
rest of their lives in some loving relation with the
divine Lord are known to be 'liberated-in-life.'
Now, living beyond the show world and seeing all things as one,
that person sees
. . . all things equal . . .
Absorbed in Brahman
He overcomes the world
Even here, alive in the world. (,60).
For them, illumination is permanent; they see that the Eternal
One has became all. For them, the world's people and objects,
their own selves and Self, and God, are one and the same; for
them, there is only One.
We know a man, a cow and a mountain merely as such. He
saw that the man, the cow and the mountain were indeed
a man, a cow and a mountain; but at the same time, he
saw that the indivisible Existence-Knowledge-Bliss, the
cause of the universe, was gleaming through them.
For such people, all is pure, all is God.
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