In multiple posts on this blog I have referenced a theory of unitive consicousness as the best explanation for how it is we are alive in the Universe. If you’re interested in learning more about this theory, the place to start is the book below, which I summarize in this brief review.
“Consciousness is the agency that collapses the wave of a quantum object, which exists in potentia, making it an immanent particle in the world of manifestation.”
Amit Goswami, The Self-Aware Universe (1993)
This simple and powerful idea is at the heart of the book The Self-Aware Universe, in which physicist Amit Goswami proposes a monistic idealist interpretation of quantum mechanics, and connects science with mysticism and religion. He explains the physics in simple terms for the layperson, with ample figures to help with understanding. His proposed theory does away with the paradoxes of quantum physics which arise when a purely materialistic theory is applied. It also reintroduces meaning and morality to existence, huge problems for materialistic science to grapple with and a major reason for the rift between science and religion, a rift which is so damaging to society.
Goswami attempts to heal this rift with his new approach to science which acknowledges the reality of consciousness. He explains his philosophical approach with reference to past philosophies, and cites experimental results which support his view. He goes into dense discussions of the experimental data and how best to interpret it, but also has light-hearted mock encounters with historical philosophers to provide background.
This book is a must read for anyone serious about understanding the nature of reality, and their place in the Universe.
When Aileen and I first reunited, she gave me a book about heart disease, written by Dr. Dean Ornish. It is titled “Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease.” She had already given it once before – to her husband, Gavin, after he developed heart problems. Based in part on the advice from this book, he switched to a vegetarian diet, which helped. He also took pharmaceutical drugs, and after much medication management is now back to eating meat. It’s not like he necessarily followed Ornish’s program exactly, but reading it and heeding some of its advice was a help.
I read the book when Aileen gave it to me, and while I also have not followed the program exactly (or much), I certainly valued what I learned. Mostly the program for treating heart disease is just common sense advice: reduce stress, get exercise, absolutely do not smoke tobacco, and eat a proper diet. In fact, nearly half of this book is healthy recipes.
What I really valued about the book was its many anecdotes of individuals reversing heart disease, and the way their path to healing was tied to the bigger picture of their life. It wasn’t just about making physical changes, but also changes in attitude and in their emotional life, even in their spiritual life. It was about how beliefs and feelings affect physical well-being.
Ornish calls his program “opening the heart.” He specifically discusses opening to one’s feelings, to the needs of others, and to a higher purpose. What I got out of it is that heart disease, whatever its physical manifestations, is a result of closing oneself off. It is a disease of isolation.
The idea that the key to reversing heart disease is “opening” the heart ties to the concept of chakras, which are the centers where vital energy flows in alignment with physical organs. Charkras can be open or closed (“blocked” is also used), and when closed or blocked, disease will result in the corresponding organ(s).
The chakra aligned with the heart is the seat of emotions and love; that is why you have that feeling of your heart expanding when you experience intense love. This can even happen when you vicariously experience love while watching a mushy romantic movie. You are experiencing your heart chakra opening, blossoming even (think of how chakras are often depicted to look like flowers). Watching mushy movies is good for your heart!
But walling off your emotions, being unwilling or afraid to care about yourself or others, will close down your heart chakra. The vital energy aligned with your heart will be blocked, and the organ itself will begin to show signs of disease. Emotional isolation – loneliness, or anger and fear directed at others – leads to an ailing heart.
As the name of Ornish’s program implies, opening the heart (chakra) is the key to maintaining heart health. He does not specifically mention chakras, either because he discounts them or because he does not want his book to seem like it supports alternative medicine. But I think that the similarities between his medical program and the concepts of chakra medicine are no coincidence. A deeper truth about the nature of human life is being revealed.
How can it be that there is some kind of vital energy, and how could it possibly interact with our physical bodies? There is no measurable quantity of physical energy associated with our feelings of vitality, feelings like what I described above, when your heart expands with joy and love. But those feelings are real – our experience of them is direct evidence of this vital energy.
The best explanation of how our vitality – our aliveness – is connected to our physical forms lies in the the primacy of consciousness model of reality. I have brought this model up before, in a post on “mind over matter.” There, I described how my mental experience manifested in parallel with events in the physical world, mediated by unitive consciousness.
A similar phenomenon occurs in vital experience, which manifests in parallel with our physical bodies. The correspondence of the chakras of our vital bodies (there are seven chakras total) to specific parts of our physical bodies is mediated by unitive consciousness, which is the agency which keeps us alive. Our experience of our vital bodies is internal and private; it is our feeling of being alive, not accessible to others, who can only see our physical bodies. Other people will notice when consciousness ceases to correlate our physical bodies with a correpsonding vital body, of course – that is when our physical bodies become lifeless; that is, when we die.
That, anyway, is the theory of life based on the primacy of consciousness model of reality, a model on which I have expounded here in several posts. How this model can be applied to the life sciences, and to medicine and health, is covered in an excellent book by Amit Goswami called “The Quantum Doctor.” I’m currently rereading it, but I’m sure at least some of what it says lines up with what Dean Ornish wrote in his book on heart health. Per Goswami, our beliefs and feeling affect our physical bodily health because they are all connected through the agency of consciouness. Ornish might not have said so quite as explicitly, but he was on to the same thing.
The science is clear on the matter – health can be influenced from above, by intention and emotion, as much as from below, by chemicals (drugs) and surgeries. Keep all of that in mind to live a full, healthy life.
Last Christmas we got a cool new board game, called “The Quacks of Quedlinburg.” Its theme is brewing potions, and its primary game mechanic is drawing ingredients out of a bag, trying to draw as many as possible to score the most points. But some ingredients, if you draw too many of them, will cause your potion to explode, costing you points. You don’t want that! Tension comes from the fact that you need to keep drawing to get points, but you might go too far, and – BOOM!
Good game design requires some feature like this to generate tension, to keep the game interesting. This particular mechanic, in game design terminology, is called “push your luck,” and it is a pretty reliable way to do it. But there’s another thing about this mechanic that I wanted to bring up: apparently some people have more luck to push than others do. I say that because Aileen wins the game every time we play!
We must have played half a dozen games by now, and every time, when she is drawing her ingredients, they come out in a nice friendly order and she scores a lot of points, whereas I draw the dangerous, exploding ingredients and have to carefully consider whether to keep going (push my luck) or settle for fewer points. I end up falling behind in points, and then complain to Aileen, “this game has no catchup mechanism,” to which she usually replies, “you only say that because you always lose.”
Aileen offers an interesting explanation for the disparity in our luck. She says she does well because she doesn’t care what she draws out of her bag, whereas I am motivated by fear when I draw, and so my anxious energy is affecting my outcome. It’s poisoning the potion, so to speak.
Could this be? Could one’s attitude about a random event actually affect the random outcome? This has been studied scientifically, by the parapsychologist Helmut Schmidt. He conducted experiments on mental influence on the results of random number generators (recorded on computer disk), and found a statistically significant deviation from chance expectancy. What’s fascinating is that an effect is shown even with prerecorded events, providing no one inspects the record before the subject attempts to influence the results.
But how can this happen? An answer lies in the primacy of consciousness model of the universe. In this model, mental reality manifests in parallel with physical reality. Mental objects of experience – thoughts, intentions – are quantum objects just like the physical ones that surround us in the material world. They come into existence in the same way that the physical world does – by the collapse of the quantum wave function by unitive consciousness, which is the fundamental ground of all being.
Going back to my game of Quacks, when I draw from my bag, unitive consciousness simultaneously collapses the wave function of my mental experience (carefree or anxiety-ridden) and the wave function of my physical draw from the bag (favorable or unfavorable by the game rules). In my individual ego-consciousness, I experience either exultation at a fortuitous draw or frustration at an unfortuitous one.
But the quantum dynamics of my mental experience – the meaning ascribed by my mind to the outcome of the random draw – is tangled up with the quantum dynamics of the physical draw itself. By worrying about a bad draw, I am skewing the probability distribution of the physical event. My expectation is biasing the result! That is how this is a case of “mind over matter.” I need to learn to be chill when I’m drawing my potion ingredients, to open my mind up to more possibilities.
This model even explains Schmidt’s strange finding that mental influence can affect an already recorded (but not observed) random number generation. The collapse of the wave function (“state vector” as the experimenter puts it) occurs in the moment of conscious observation, and no sooner, as implied by the famous double slit experiment. In other words, until the record on the computer disk is observed, its state is undetermined, just like that of Schrödinger’s cat.
You might not give much credence to the work of Helmut Schmidt, since he was a “parapsychologist,” a field which is generally considered to be pseudoscience. But haven’t you ever been playing a game with dice rolling and experienced the right number (or wrong number) come up just when you needed it (or dreaded it) the most? Maybe in a table top roleplaying game, where the story meaning is particularly entwined with the dice outcomes, where the fate of a beloved character hinges on a critical hit or miss, or on making or failing a saving throw. I know I’ve experienced it.
I’m sure we’ll play Quacks again, and I will try to release my fear and let the flow of good luck come to me. But I will have to fight my own nature. My competitive edge and my ego-identification with the outcome of random draws from a bag is what tangles me up, even though there are no real stakes in the game other than whether or not we’re having fun.
Where do I get this stuff? If you’re interested in learning more about primacy of consciousness as a model of reality, a good place to start is the book “The Self-Aware Universe” by Amit Goswami.
It comes up infrequently on this blog, but I am broadly interested in spiritual perspectives and metaphysics, and have a modest collection of books on religion and spiritualism which has fed my knowledge over the years. Of all the spiritual traditions I’ve read about, the one that resonates the most with me is Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhist philosophy in general is scientific, in that it is based on contemplative study, and is non-dogmatic. Tibetan Buddhism also happens to be the system that most closely aligns with the “science within consciousness” theories of my favorite philosopher, Amit Goswami.
So I was delighted when my partner showed up at home one day with a copy of “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,” which she had found at a thrift store. She’s always shopping at thrift stores and when she saw this book thought – correctly – that I would be interested in it. It was written by Sogyal Rinpoche, a Tibetan spiritual master who lived in exile in the West until his death in 2019. It’s essentially a layperson’s guide to The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is an esoteric work that is difficult to understand (I know, I have a copy).
Here’s my review of the book on goodreads:
If you’ve ever tried to read “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” you know that it’s much too esoteric a work for the layperson. “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” makes the same teachings more accessible to the ordinary Western reader. The author is a Tibetan spiritual master who was living in exile in the West, and in his writing he adds a personal touch connecting the book to his autobiography and his experience as a spirtual practioner. At the heart of the Tibetan Buddhist teachings is recognition of impermanence and the need to prepare for death. This life is a transitionary stage only, a precious opportuntity to realize the true nature of reality, by encountering the true nature of the mind, the pure state of awareness called Rigpa. As the book puts it, “The View is the comprehension of the naked awareness, within which everything is contained.” (p. 156). This ties into the idea of primacy of consciousness, or monistic idealism, the metaphysical principle behind Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. The book goes into details of how to practice meditation and spiritual devotion, with emphasis on the power of compassion, but also the importance of finding a spiritual master. The book then goes into ways to help the dying. Western society does not connect death to spiritual growth, choosing instead to isolate the dying and prolong their suffering, which is a terrible approach (there is recognition in the book of how the hospice movement is changing this). There is also a detailed description, from the perspective of Tibetan Buddhism, of the process of dying, and of the experiences of the “bardos,” or transitionary states between death and rebirth. This is where the book ties into the more difficult to understand wisdom of the “Tibetan Book of the Dead”, which is poetic and ritualistic in format. This book explains the Tibetan beliefs and ritual practices in ordinary language. How much of it would be applicable to a Westerner in their life is another question, but certainly the overall philosophy and understanding of the meaning of life and death is valuable. The sincere and hopeful intention of the author, who was expelled from his suffering country at a young age, is heartwarming. This is a recommended work for anyone trying to decipher the “Tibetan Book of the Dead,” as well as for anyone looking for an insightful spiritual perspective on the nature and meaning of death.
Review of “The Tibetan Book of LIving and Dying” on goodreads.com.
What the Tibetan Book of the Dead is essentially doing is providing guidance on how to prepare for death, and on what to expect in the experience of dying. Part of this preparation is meditation, in order to train the mind to be still, to not grasp at thoughts and be troubled by turbulent emotion, so that you can experience awareness in its primal state. In that way, you will be prepared at death for encountering higher dimensions of the mind, and potentially becoming liberated. Buddhism focuses on the mind, because, as this post’s title suggests, the mind is the universal basis of experience, and all life and death occur within it.
Ideally you should be conscious and in a meditative state at the moment of death. If death is sudden and violent, or if you are in a troubled mental state while dying, these encounters with higher dimensions will pass by in a blip, and you will simply be propelled into a new incarnation. But if you are prepared, you will recognize these encounters, as described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
First, at the moment of death, you will encounter the Ground Luminosity, which is described by Sogyal Rinpoche as a self-originating clear light. It is the fundamental inherent nature of everything, which underlies all existence. It might even make sense to call it “the Supreme Being” – that is, that which is and beyond which nothing else is. You can see what I am getting at here. Should you recognize this Supreme Being and become One with it, then your karmic journey is complete. You’re done with it.
If not, you will next encounter what The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying calls the Intrinsic Radiance, which is like the mind in its purest state. You’re basically in a dream realm now. Within this radiance, the Peaceful and Wrathful Gods manifest, of which there are a large number, and which are all named and correspond to different aspects of the psyche. You might think of them as like Angels and Demons. You actually have a chance of remaining in this realm as an enlightened, disembodied being, but if not – off you go to your next birth.
I make the comparisons to similar concepts in Christian theology because I believe that all religious traditions derive from the same fundamental truths about the nature of reality. That’s why they end up with similarities in their models. Sogyal Rinpoche recognizes this too, and makes an explicit comparison between Buddhism and Christianity, when discussing the different mental realms in Buddhist philosophy.
These realms are the kayas, a word which literally means “body” but which signifies a dimension or field, according to Sogyal Rinpoche. They are the realm of the absolute, the realm of fullness without limitation, and the realm of the finite and relative. The experience at death is like a sudden ascent to the highest realm, followed by a descent into the realm of finitude, and incarnation.
This trinity of realms has a correspondence with concepts in Christianity, as follows.
Dimension of the mind
dimension of unconditioned truth
dimension of fullness, beyond duality, space and time
dimension of ceaseless manifestation
Now to the parallels between what Sogyal Rinpoche writes and Amit Goswami’s science within consciousness. I hinted at them in the review with this statement:
As the book puts it, “The View is the comprehension of the naked awareness, within which everything is contained.” (p. 156). This ties into the idea of primacy of consciousness, or monistic idealism, the metaphysical principle behind Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.
What Goswami argues in his theories is that consciousness is the ground of being. Consciousness does not emerge from material interactions, as materialists would have you believe, but rather contains the material universe as a manifestation within it. As the Beatles put it, “it’s all within yourself.” This is similar to the Buddhist idea that all experience is within the mind.
Goswami’s argument for the primacy of consciousness is based on the measurement problem in quantum physics. The particle is not there unless it is observed, but if awareness were an epiphenomenon of material (i.e. particle) interactions, then how could observation manifest the particle? Awareness must be fundamental and the particles themselves the emergent phenomena.
In Goswami’s model, the ground of being is what he calls unitive consciousness – undifferentiated and universal. In the words of Erwin Schrödinger, “Consciousness is a singular of which the plural is unknown”. This unitive consciousness is like the Ground Luminosity, or the realm of Dharmakaya.
Consciousness must be unitive to avoid the “Wigner’s friend” paradox from quantum mechanics: how can two different observers collapse the same wave function? What if each observer collapsed it from its probabilistic wave form state into a different particle state? The Universe would be a mess!
Well, the answer is that there are not really two different observers. There is one field of awareness and one consciousness which chooses and manifests reality. The apparent separation of consciousness occurs because in the moment of observation, consciousness identifies with the measurement apparatus itself – that is, with the organism whose sensory systems are entangled in material reality. This creates a subject-object split – a subjective experience of an objective reality.
But really, both subject and object are aspects of the one field of consciousness, of the Absolute. The individuated self is a mirage. Everything, the experiencing self and all the objects it experiences, are encompassed in this one highest realm. As the Beatles put it, “life flows on within you and without you.” This is in concordance with the ideas of Tibetan Buddhism and other mystical traditions.
When unitive consciousness collapses the quantum wave function and manifests reality, there is at first an experience in “primary awareness.” This is akin to the experiences in the higher mental dimensions as described in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and it is possible to directly access this experience though disciplined meditative practice. But ordinarily we experience reality in the “secondary awareness” of the ego, which gives us the familiar subjective sense of self and identity.
Goswami posits that, in addition to the material body which humans possess, we also possess subtle bodies whose forms determine our vital experiences and mental experiences – that is, our feelings and thoughts. The connection between our subtle bodies and our physical bodies is maintained through the entangled manifestation within consciousness. In the words of William Blake:
“Man has no Body distinct from his soul; for that called Body is a portion of a Soul discerned by the five senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.”
– William Blake, from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
The physical and subtle bodies via which we experience reality are thus what we would call “Body and Soul,” and exist within the Sogyal Rinpoche’s dimension of Nirmanakaya, the realm of manifestation. But because our awareness emerges from a higher order, we are able to get a glimpse of higher realms. It is just difficult and not likely, especially if we allow ourselves to be distracted by all the goings on down here on Earth. That is precisely the point of mystical wisdom such as that of The Tibetan Book of the Dead: to teach us about this potential and remind us of its importance, given that our time in the world of manifestation must inevitably come to an end.
Sogyal Rinpoche doesn’t know about Goswami (The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying came out well before Goswami’s publications), but he does bring up one physicist whose theories connect to Tibetan Buddhism. That physicist is David Bohm, whose ontology of an implicate order and an explicate order to explain the mysteries of quantum physics can be likened to the different realms of mental experience which Sogyal Rinpoche describes. This correspondence is given in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and I’ll just add to it here, from Goswami’s model.
The bliss body of unitive consciousness
implicate, enfolded order
The formless body in the archetypal realm
explicate, unfolded order
The limited body of experience in the realm of manifestation
I hope this introduction to spiritual science has been illuminating. It’s a subject which has intrigued me for a long time, though I tend to study it more from an intellectual perspective than as spiritual practitioner. I know I should meditate more, but the world of manifestation is always beguiling me with its fascinating goings on.
Here is the wisdom of the Beatles to close off this post. May you see beyond yourself and find peace of mind!
I discovered the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore by listening to the music CD A Gift of Love II. This is the second of a pair of albums by New Age author Deepak Chopra which put to music love poetry read by an ensemble of notable guest speakers (the first album uses the poetry of Rumi and is just as good). Tagore is considered to be a national treasure by the people of India, and from the great wisdom of his very quotable sayings it is easy to see why.
When I contemplate his many teachings, I find that I truly believe what the master says about love – that it is the ultimate meaning of life. For when the unity of consciousness, which is the ground of all being, separates into the duality of subjective observer and experienced world, it creates a yearning for reunion. This desire propels the Universal Will as it seeks higher and higher forms of expression within consciousness. Thus, love is the very reason for existence.
When you love, you are extending your conception of what you are, what belongs to you, outward into the world. You are expanding your ego-identity. Love is seated in the 4th chakra – anahata – which manages emotions, the confluence of your mental and vital natures. In other words, the meaning of your life. Anahata is the central chakra, and so love is central to your being. It radiates out from you in every worshipful act.