Full text of Dada Gunamuktananda’s talk on Consciousness: The Final Frontier by TEDxNoosa 2014 Conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: MP3 – Consciousness – The Final Frontier by Dada Gunamuktananda @ TEDxNoosa 2014
Thank you. I must say I’m very impressed with the way Mary pronounced my name. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
About 25 years ago, I was in my final year of medical school, but I’d been doubting my career choice for quite some time. Then one day, I went to take blood from a sweet little old lady, struck an artery instead of a vein. I still don’t know how I did that.
And as blood spurted out all over the place, I said to myself, “Yep, you’re definitely in the wrong profession here.” So in the interests of all concerned, I dropped out and became a yogi instead.
Hence my unconventional appearance. Well, actually, it’s not the only reason for my unconventional appearance. One of many shall we say.
So I’d like to share with you the yogic concept of space, our inner space, what we experience within ourselves – I’m redefining the terms a bit here – and outer space, everything outside ourselves.
We live in a vast universe. To give you some idea of its size, if we took the universe to be the size of our planet Earth, then our planet Earth would be about a billionth the size of a pin head in comparison. A billionth the size of one of those. I’m holding up a pin, in case you can’t see it. It’s my prop.
There you go. It’s the same one. It actually is the same one. A billionth the size of one of those compared to one of those. By the way, a billionth of size of a pinhead is about a millionth the size of a grain of sand, or about the average size of an atom, so take your pick.
In any case, the idea is that it’s really, really, really small compared to the size of the universe. So does that help put it in perspective? I think that gives us some idea of the size of our universe. An incredibly vast and complex universe which we’ve been expected to believe, according to modern science, appeared out of nothing without any intention behind it. That’s actually like expecting us to believe that our phones and laptops just fell into place without anyone designing them or putting them together.
According to biologist Rupert Sheldrake, “Modern science is based on the principle, ‘Give us one free miracle and we’ll explain the rest. And the one free miracle is the appearance of all the matter and energy of the universe and all the laws that govern it from nothing, in a single instant.”
But modern science is just now coming around to the conclusions held by yogic science for millennia, to an explanation of our Universe that is going to take our understanding to a whole new level, and that is that both the substance and the intention of the Universe come from a deeper reality than the material one we normally perceive with our minds and senses. And that reality is consciousness — an all-pervading, blissful awareness, inherent in everybody and everything.
Just as your own consciousness is the essence of your own mind, cosmic consciousness is the essence of the entire Universe. It exists within everything, and everything exists within it. Essentially, everybody and everything is part of and full of consciousness. Imagine that.
However, we, for reasons I won’t go into now, have largely given up on the idea of a higher consciousness in our modern world view. In the last 100 years or so, modern science has come to a very mechanistic take on reality.
What if though mind, matter, and space were all full of consciousness? What if the possibility of consciousness is a higher reality where every bit is real as any of our current constructs of reality? And what if it could give us, if only we were open to it, some very real advantages in understanding our world and where we fit into it, compared to some very serious disadvantages of a materialist world view?
In a materialist world view of an arbitrary, mechanistic, unfeeling Universe, there is every reason to feel alienated, lonely, fearful, and depressed. And if we don’t feel it ourselves, we all too often see it in others, and in the malaise of our society. Materialism doesn’t engender optimism in people or society.
On the other hand, in a blissfully conscious Universe, there is every reason to feel inherently connected to people and to the world, to feel loved, hopeful, happy, and at peace with oneself and others. In the words of my guru Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, “You are never alone or helpless. The force that guides the stars guides you, too.”
So rather then, trying to validate a worldview which makes us sad and fearful of the future, I believe, we should be trying to validate a worldview which gives us fulfillment and hope for the future, not just as individuals but as a society. The benefits of a conscious world view are immense. And it’s potentially no less valid than any of our constructs of material reality. This is not just wishful thinking.
In fact, the essence of the Universe is consciousness is just as valid a premise as the essence of the Universe is matter. The only difference is that one can be sensed and the other can’t. We can perceive matter with our minds and with scientific measurement, but we can only experience consciousness internally. We must find it within ourselves.
There was once a Sufi mystic called Nasreddin. I actually stayed in his hometown in Turkey for a few days once. And there are many stories about how he used to teach in eccentric and humorous ways. One of the stories goes that he lost the key to his house, and that he was looking for it one night outside under a streetlamp.
A passerby asked him, what he was doing. “I’m looking for the key to my house.”
“Where did you lose it?”, she asked.
“Somewhere inside my house.”
Then naturally she said: “Well, if you lost it inside your house, why are you looking for it outside?”
“Because it’s dark inside,” he replied.
We need to look for what we’re looking for in the right place. Even if it’s hard to look for it there. It’s easy to look outside, not so easy to look within. According to yoga teachings, consciousness lies within, and so we must look for it there.
But here’s the catch, not intellectually. It’s not something we can comprehend with the mind. Take the case of a light bulb, for example. A light bulb is capable of shining light on the room around it but not on the power which illuminates it. In the same way, we’re capable of comprehending the world around us but not the consciousness which animates us. It’s beyond the normal functioning of the mind, beyond words, beyond even thought itself.
The core of our being is not something that can even be spoken about let alone thought of. I think, we’re all familiar with the saying by Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.” But this is what yogic philosophy says, “When I stop thinking then I really am.”
Just because we can’t think of something, just because we can’t prove something scientifically, doesn’t mean it’s not there. We can’t prove a mother’s love for her child but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s a matter of the heart, and matters of the heart cannot be fathomed by the mind.
So material science can never get to the heart of what it really means to be human. We can only validate the essence of our existence through the deepest internal experience of awareness within us.
Well about now, you might be thinking that this is all a bit airy-fairy and New Age. Even I’m starting to think it listening to myself.
So I want to give you a few brief examples of scientists that have also acknowledged the likelihood of consciousness as a higher reality. There aren’t many of them. But those that there are, are quite distinguished. I won’t spend too much time on this. In fact, I’ll try to finish before I begin.
Max Planck, the father of Quantum Theory, considered 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,” this from the pioneer of Quantum Theory.
A bit later, the physicist James Jeans wrote: “The stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality. The Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.”
And I better throw in something from Einstein here just to give it a bit more umph. “The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is at the root of all true science. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power which is revealed in the incomprehensible Universe is my idea of God.”
Finally, I want to give you an example of a contemporary scientist who actually experienced higher consciousness first hand. Dr. Eben Alexander is a neuroscientist who had like many of his colleagues bought into the idea that the brain creates its own consciousness. Then, quite ironically, he contracted a very rare brain infection which put him in a coma for a week during which he experienced the heightened and enlightened state of awareness, despite the fact that he was clinically brain dead at the time.
He said: “During my seven days of coma, I not only remained fully conscious but journeyed to a stunning world of beauty and peace and unconditional love. I underwent the most staggering experience of my life, my consciousness traveling to another level.”
Dr. Alexander is now on a mission to convince the brain science community to, as he puts it, “graduate from kindergarten” and move on from the idea that the brain creates its own reality.
Now, fortunately for you and I, apart from examples such as these, there just so happens to be a systematic and scientific method of validating consciousness personally in our everyday lives. I think you won’t be surprised to hear me say that that’s going to be meditation.
Meditation is intuitional science where consciousness is substantiated by purely first-hand internal experience. Through meditation, it’s entirely possible to experience higher consciousness as every bit as real as you and I sitting in this room right now.
Once I had a particularly illuminating meditation experience where I felt the whole room was full of a field of consciousness vibrating with awareness and with bliss. It was so intense, so tangible. The feeling I had at the time was that I could cut it with a knife. It was undeniably real then and I still have no doubt about it to this day. So through meditation, one has many such experiences that ultimately lead to the realization of one’s consciousness.
Well, why don’t we go ahead right now and try to experience higher consciousness through meditation? Shall we give it a try? It might not have occurred to you when you woke up this morning that you’d be meditating today, but there you go, anything is possible.
So I invite you to close your eyes for a minute or so. Remember to breathe, and try not to fall asleep, I know, it has been a long day. And start off by centering yourself. Focus on your sense of self. Feel the center of yourself.
[Music starts playing]
Now feel that you are completely at peace. Feel peace and happiness all around you. Feel infinite happiness all around you. Now feel that you are merging into that infinite happiness.
Feel that your own sense of awareness is merging into the infinite awareness around you. Feel that your own consciousness is merging into the infinite consciousness all around you. Feel yourself becoming one with it.
Feel that you are one with it. Feel that you are it, and continue like that for a few more seconds.
Now, doesn’t that feel better? Yes? No?
Anyway, you might have gotten a glimpse just now into the possibility that your own consciousness is one with the consciousness of the whole Universe. That it’s within you as well as all around you. That it’s real, and that you can feel it, if you really try. And not only feel it but know it is at the core of your being.
This is not just an abstract concept, it’s about the essence of us all. It’s about discovering the greater consciousness within our own consciousness, realizing our own inner reality is the greater universal reality.
And the more we expand our sense of reality, our sense of being, the more connected we feel to all beings. The happier we are, the less fearful, the less lonely because we realize that all is a part of us, and that we are a part of all. The inner quest facilitates the embracing of all within ourselves, all people, animals, plants…The planet. People, animals, and plants on other planets — yes, it’s a no brainer — the whole Universe.
What I like to say is that just as the world becomes a smaller place with the development of communication and transport technology, so will the Universe become a smaller place with the development of meditation technology.
“Cosmic Consciousness abides in one’s sense of existence; in one’s very heart’s desire.” Shrii Shrii Anandamurti