Consciousness based approach: An overview
“A consciousness stands behind the brute machine.”
—Sri Aurobindo: Savitri
The tent house of matter:
The modern scientific view of the human body is taken so much for granted that we hardly ever pause to consider that the body could be viewed from so many other standpoints. There is little doubt that modern medicine has been remarkable in making accurate observations about the material processes that govern the body. The grey area however is the inferences it has drawn from those observations. The inferences suffer the serious lacuna of being drawn upon a presumptuous premise of the sole reality of matter as we know it and its processes. The material world–view seen in isolation is much like a tent house hanging in mid-air with a vast and frightening unknown space within and around it. It is neither rooted to the ground below nor supported by a rope from above. Such is the figure of human body drawn by our present day Science.
Thus, we are told today of the inevitable fatalism of our genetic make–up. Convincing voices from some of the most sophisticated laboratories shout at us (or hypnotise us in believing) that our minutest reactions, from the first rush of love to the fits of post-partum blues; the immune response and the allergic response; the excess proliferation of cells as in Cancer or their under development are all written somewhere in the genetic script of our destiny waiting for its hour to unfold. We are but our genes and our true identity is our genetic identity. Sounds familiar, — like the racism of the old world in a new guise.
And yet, ask the astute geneticist about identical twins that are Nature’s clones in a way and you have elaborate theories to explain (or explain away) the difference in psychological make-up, self–experience and the world-view of these genetically identical but psychologically different people. Multifactorial, we are told, a term no better than guess work. A guessing within boundaries of course. The boundaries are the walls of matter; the tent-house hanging in mid-air. The space within and around, the forces at play that hold and support and even build the fabric of the tent – house are yet a forbidden territory. To probe them, even to question about them is a taboo, an unscientific speculation!
But not for long!
The materialist view of matter itself has led us to the point where fact and fantasy, the tangible and the intangible begin to mingle. The solidity of matter vanishes into the atomic void. The atomic void in turn collapses into a world of energy dancing in empty space. The seeming orderliness, the fixity of sequences, the links of cause and effect, the so-called laws are nothing else but a trick of the brain, an illusion woven by the senses and supported by a limiting mind that cannot observe the totality and the whole as one movement. Or perhaps they are habits mimicking cause and effect! The mind only perceives events successively and divides them on the basis of the time of observation into a past, present and future. Thus it sees a person coming in contact with someone having flu, it sees next this person himself begin to show signs and symptoms of flu. It therefore feels it logical to presume that flu is contagious and spreads from one person to another. Further based upon the nature of the physical contact it feels that it can safely conclude about the mode of transmission. Finally, it administers a drug to the patient and sees a curative response repeated in a ‘statistically significant way’ and again feels confident in patenting a physical remedy to cure us of a physical illness with a physical cause. Right?
Wrong! We can imagine / consider a scenario as vast as Time itself. At least from the time since man appeared upon earth. Then, if we could somehow see how the symptoms of illness and ‘illnesses’ itself are a pattern thrown up during certain spaces of time, we may observe many new and unknown factors. The upsurge in the flu virus, the lowering of our body defenses, the epidemic may all be linked to a third or fourth factor, for example war, that we fail to see or co-relate since we observe things in small spaces of time. Ischemic heart disease is another case in point. It is barely a few decades back that the medical pundits were convinced about smoking, obesity and dietary habits as being the prime factor in causing / precipitating a heart attack. The pattern however changed soon enough within a few decades. The clinician began to see more and younger people, appearing physically quite fit with no history of smoking suffering from major coronary blocks. And consequently they discovered a new factor – the type A personality. It was the kind of person created by the competitive world of today; a person driven by time, critical of everyone and everything with no time to release his emotional life. These persons had blocked their emotions, at least the positive ones and the blocked coronaries well reflected and recorded this inner state. So things began to fall in place. Smoking, wrong eating habits and IHD were all common symptoms of an unknown factor, — an impoverished and constricted emotional life driven by the mad rush of ambition. It is then that people began to observe and understand why quite a few people escaped an assault on their hearts despite the ghee, despite the nicotine and of course, despite being as obese as Sumo wrestlers.
But then where are the limits of the behind and the beyond. Our physical probes, even the most accurate and the minutest ones stop at the threshold of the mind. They paused at the doorsteps of that grey passage where thoughts, feelings, attitudes mingle with molecular currents and electro-magnetic waves within the brain and reach out from there through a complex neuro-circuitry to the remotest cell. And do they stop there? Or penetrate deeper touching the nucleus with its genetic core? We yet do not know and may never know as long as we limit our science to a study of physical vibrations alone. The vibrations of thoughts and feelings may and do affect our cells without the necessary support of a material medium just as the feelings aroused in one person can awaken and engulf another person who is emotionally or physically close without the aid of a physical medium. Or, perhaps just as the vibrations of an ‘ultrasound’ can go right upto the cells and resonate back without any visible physical evidence of penetration. So much for ‘Evidence Based Medicine’. Evidence, yes, but physical evidence alone that is the question! The answer is not easy and may not remain easy so long as our probe is limited only to physical data and molecular chemistry. We need to dig deeper, and deeper into the dumb and dark depths of matter, beyond the cellular mechanisms and processes, beyond genes and electrical currents, beyond molecules and electrons, beyond the vast unknown that almost frighteningly occupies with a fathomless emptiness our physical atomic and sub-atomic space. The Seer-poet probing thus, illumining by the inner Light of the Self the fathomless dark unknown beautifully observes:
Only by electric hordes your world is run?
Veiled by the unseen Light act other Powers,
These surface findings-screen phenomenon
All yet discovered are but mire and trace
—Sri Aurobindo: Collected Poems; p. 166 Discoveries of Science I
The deeper probe:
A day may well arrive when we are able to map each and every gene that determines some physical attribute and psychological event. We may also find the key that triggers into an amazing and unbelievable order the genetic concert and fine tunes the music of life down to the minutest details of its melody. We may, with stretches of imaginative fiction filling the factual gaps, relate each mental event to a precise neurochemical pathway. Perhaps, we may rather discover the varying intensity of molecular movements and electrical currents in the same pathway correlating with forming the material basis for an essentially mental experience. Having done that and thereby manipulating the chemistry to alter physiological events and psychological experience, we may sit back and congratulate ourselves at the wonders of molecular biology and its extreme limits!
But where are the limits!
The extreme limit is only a limit of our creative insight. As the horizons recede, the unknown is pushed a little further. And so will it be as long as we extend our gaze outward and outward. But where is the centre of this ever expanding circle of infinity? For having answered all questions about the mechanism we would still have the most fundamental question left unanswered, - “Who or what is this Self that experiences the mental events?” “Who is the witness, the thinker, the dreamer, the doer, the seer?” Confining ourselves to the chemistry we may move within the confines of a closed system with no issue or scope of any authentic evolution and certainly none of a Self-experience, A group of cells, tissues, organs and even a totality of all these functioning in perfect order and harmony does not lead to the sense of self. Just as a conglomeration of all the atoms and elements in the physical universe dos not explain a single movement of life. However life can and does explain the movement of the cosmos, the forces holding it, the forces moving it apart, - the breath of life expanding and contracting the living pulsating universe.
So too with the entire physiological processes and events of life. Mind can explain the logic behind the magical movements of life. Yet all the processes of life, in plants and animals and all the genes from the yeast to the ape cannot explain the logic of logic itself.
And what lies beyond the logic of logic itself and hold the key to the magic of the Infinite and the finite in a single embrace? What is it that can explain the gaps in our mind’s logic, the gaps in the rhythms of life and the gaps in our understanding of matter itself. This gap in our knowledge as well as the gap within the atom is filled by consciousness. Consciousness explains thought and mind and life and matter itself. Since it is Consciousness that has become these things. In the deeper view of things it is indeed Consciousness that becomes all these myriad phenomenon, physical, psychological or any other.
How are we to probe Consciousness? It is evident that if consciousness is anterior and superior to phenomenon then naturally any amount of investigation of one phenomenon by other phenomenal means will not lead us to any definite conclusion. Consciousness would always escape the grasp of phenomenon. Or we may at most understand only that much of ‘It’ as is involved in the process of the phenomenon, yet it is possible to study and understand consciousness and, having done that, it is possible to understand and know each and every phenomenon from the perspective of consciousness. Not only can one understand better, one can relate better, master better, this phenomenal world with the help of consciousness because consciousness is, in its essence, not only awareness or knowledge but also the force, the primal Conscious-Force that assumes and becomes the limited mind force and awareness and consciousness or life force and body force, etc, etc. We have an analogy here. When the physical scientist began to perceive matter not as matter alone but as one pole of matter–energy continuum, they could understand better, manipulate better, the world of physical phenomenon. So too when we begin to understand physical matter not just as matter–energy but as matter–energy– consciousness, we would understand even better. For consciousness is not just in the mental world nor it is a chance by–product of an aberrant gland acting in conjunction with the brilliant babble of a billion neurons. Consciousness is there in the instinct of the beast holding it in a cyclic chain of oneness with the rest of the biological world. Consciousness is also there in the gaps between atoms and molecules and in the seemingly empty space within the atom upholding this ocean of quarks and electrons and drifting particles of energy and weaving them all together with the fabric of ether.
Properties vs. quality: the unseen factor
If matter is nothing else but a condensation of consciousness (just as ice crystals are condensed vapour), each and every form has its correlate in terms of consciousness as well. While a phenomenal study of matter, can give us its quantitative attributes (for example weight, shape, properties, etc), the qualitative aspects of matter or any material form can only be rightly and fully understood in terms of consciousness. The ancient seers knew it well. So, when they worshipped a stone idol they saw in it a living expression of the Deity behind the form. It was not just another stone for them that can be hurled to hurt or huddled with other stones to build a wall. By appeal to the attribute of consciousness, they could use the stone idol to receive earthly and unearthly boons. As if the stone suddenly came alive and were changed with a power that exceeded even the limited average human consciousness. On its obverse side, totems and amulets were charmed (charged) by people through an inner act of consciousness giving it properties to harm or heal. Elaborate studies existed that even classified metals and stones into categories that could attract and hold helpful or harmful vibrations of consciousness. The use of marble in places of worship because of its property to receive and hold spiritual vibrations is well known. Of course, it is understood that the object had to be charged by those who had a capacity to do so. And when a patient having faith and receptivity in the method used the amulet or the stone he could receive the vibrations of consciousness entrapped in it. So much so that instances are on record wherein a glass of plain water, a small leaf of Tulsi (a sacred plant), the marigold flower (and other flowers as well), a thread, or for that matter any material object could be used to heal even difficult cases. We all have witnessed these things but chose to ignore since the bandage of a material science had covered our eye. But the bandage does get ripped of, the scales begin to fall of, the dust is cleared and we begin to truly se and know instead of, as we do now, know and se or rather still worse, think and see. Most of the time we see only the heap of dust thrown into our eyes as facts of truth but fail to see the force of wind behind and the luminous sun above. Or else we give the name of chance to our ignorance (or unwillingness to probe and know). Perhaps we feel safe within the limits of our material well till it collapses into the water underground and we suddenly see a very different, much vaster horizon and the world. The walls of the well are nothing else but the limits of our faith for in the end it is faith that precedes knowledge and not vice verse. Thus, we see and observe what we wish to see and observe. We draw inferences based on what will strengthen and support our basic belief about life. We see matter as matter alone because it absolves us of all except a minimum material responsibility. The Nihil womb of atom is after all a cosy place to rest if we wish to pass off the burden of our life to a mechanical inconscient force of Nature. But we can equally and with greater force of mastery see matter as an act of consciousness and thereby open doors of our science to a conscious handling of the forces of life. Thus, we can use pure material means to master sea-storm, a flood, an earthquake, or the rain and gale. We can equally approach these seemingly material phenomenon from the pole of consciousness. We can then master the sea, the wind, the rain, the earth and the sky by an appeal to the consciousness behind these phenomenal forms. Or else, we can integrate both using matter as an instrument and means to hold and convey a particular mode of energy, a certain vibration of consciousness. Matter and material means are like a vehicle carrying different personages and housing different personalities. And in each age mankind has used it differently. It has observed the same matter from one or the other of many points of views and supported by the faith of the Age created mental systems, sciences and philosophies. After all each age had its own unique and successful system of science, valid for that epoch of time but denied and denounced in another age. Each system of science, of medicine, is nothing else but a special way of looking at the same phenomenon. The real truth however escapes unobserved since it is not trapped in the phenomena at all. Each system is valid and invalid depending upon the age and the faith mankind puts into it. So too, each system is only one line of force that the One Force chooses to make itself available and accessible to humanity. Each system is nothing else but a certain bridge thrown across to fill the gap between the mental consciousness of man and the higher consciousness that is present everywhere but unseen and unfelt by us. The system is more like a movement in the wind that makes us aware of the air upon which our very existence depends, even though unseen and unfelt by us routinely. The ‘movement’ makes us sense what is otherwise insensible to our crude and limited senses. We however start relying too much on the ‘movement’ and not on that which moves and that which is the movement. Now it blows in one direction, now from another. And we look helplessly for the direction and search with a hopeless despair if the direction changes. But the thing that gives life is always there. Perhaps, we would do better if we stopped looking for directions and rather looked at the thing itself. Perhaps, we would recover much faster and better if we stopped relying so much on this or that system and rather put our trust in ‘That’ which acts through all the systems and acts even when we have dispensed away with them. For at the end of our search we discover only two things holding as an indispensable and solid pillar the different bridges and roads we take towards health and wholeness. On this side, it is the pillar of ‘faith’, while on the other side it is the pillar of ‘Grace’. All the rest is a dispensable necessity in between. Systems are interim truths that change from time to time. But Faith and Grace are the eternal unchangeables that forever endure.
Towards a holistic view:
Neither is complete without the other. We need to understand matter afresh in terms of consciousness. We also need to extract the latent possibilities of consciousness and translate them in material terms. Not just consciousness as we know it today, that is the limited mental awareness. But also not just the material matter or physical matter that our limited senses are accustomed to experience through evolutionary conditioning but also subtler matter appropriate to other planes of existence.
The consciousness approach (if one may say so for want of a better name) therefore opens the doors to a much vaster understanding and mastery of the forces around us. It is a completer understanding and therefore truly holistic. All other forms of knowing are limited and therefore valid within a limited range and for a limited time. Even a combination of all the systems is not holistic since there will always be many other systems that are undiscovered or forgotten and lost through which consciousness can travel or has traveled once. Many pathways and by-lanes are yet to manifest since the One Consciousness is potentially infinite and can use all methods and no method or infinite methods if you please! To know the One Consciousness is therefore to know all in essence and principles. To know the parts is only to know intermediary details whose both ends are missing from our sight. And to know the One Consciousness, the only known way is to identify with ‘It’ through whatever method. True knowledge therefore begins with knowledge of the One Consciousness that has become the many. And true science accordingly is the knowledge of the relationships of the One Consciousness in its application with the many.
In other word, not only our self-view and world-view but also our understanding and means of mastery over phenomenon depends largely upon the level of consciousness with which we are habitually or instinctively identified. This identification varies from species to species, from race to race, from one period of Time to another; but also varies from individual to individual. The variation can sometimes be so marked as to make some individuals very distinctly different (for good or worse) from the age and the environment in which they are born or live. This creates one kind of disequilibrium at a social and psychological level and continues in the form of a seeking, (sometimes even a restless seeking or rebellion with its own share of experimentation and error) till the individual consciousness either discovers its own type in the world, or if a rarer variety, isolates himself or creates its own kind around it. Our extension into other bodies and minds is not only through the physical unit and genes but also and perhaps even more commonly and importantly through consciousness. Consciousness reproduces itself into other bodies through a continuous interchange of which we are largely unaware. That can explain many things about individual and group psychology if we wish to. Also many of the seeming anomalies of life arise because of an apparent dislocation of our inner consciousness from the outer; or the consciousness of the different parts of our being. A wide and generous heart may find itself stifled when surrounded with mean and selfish thoughts, within or around it. A high and clear thinking may get pulled back by narrow and limited perceptions and feelings arising within or in those around him. A strong and noble vital may feel frustrated when its natural impulse is curbed in a cramped up environment or a weak and fragile body. And, of course, a body full of natural ease and grace may loose its innate beauty due to a rough vital misusing it. All these and so many other forms of disequilibrium of consciousness may arise in a human being leading to various forms of inner and outer maladies of the body and mind. A disease, from a consciousness perspective is essentially an inner disequilibrium. This inner disequilibrium sometimes translates itself as the aberrant movement of molecules, genes, chemistry and physiology. Whether this disequilibrium is triggered by inner or outer causes matters little for in essence it is always an inability of the inner to respond to the challenge from outside. And at a certain point, the sharp distinctions we draw between inner and outer, within and without, ourselves and others begin to fall and we see all as a single extension, a single oneness and a single plan.
Yet, for convenience we speak of individual pathologies and individual diseases. In reality not only the individual’s but also a larger disequilibrium within the humanity of which he is a part. No man is an island and that is much truer of our inner being. All the same, the human body is a symbol and an instrument. As a symbol it reflects faithfully the truth of our inner being, our inner strengths and weaknesses, our unique inheritance (psychological as well) and constitution, above all, it reflects the changes in our thoughts and feelings and impulses in the pattern of our consciousness. As an instrument it can be likened to a machine (as science does see it but unfortunately as an inconscient machine alone) driven by various forces, - physical, vital, mental, spiritual forces of consciousness. When it opens too much to the forces of a lower order, in short, forces of division, and disintegration, it falls ill. The nature of illness then becomes a symbolic pointer to the level of consciousness at which the forces of disintegration are active. Thus, when we use our mouth and tongue to project very harsh and crude vibrations, the teeth and oral cavity become susceptible to decay and illness. When we hold tight our feelings and let ourselves be governed by the choke of excessive ambition, we develop tight and choked coronaries hurting our heart. The stifling smoke of anger (and proneness to it) can stifle our lungs. Depression depresses every healthy function in general but specifically the immune and the cardiovascular system. Anxiety erodes the stomach and G I tract in general. The fire of desire finishes the bodily fuel much too early than warranted. Unkindness, jealousy, hate, fear, greed and lust in general attack the abdominal organs just as a weak and selfish sentimentalism adversely affects our liver. And so on and so forth.
Equally, an opening of the body and mind to a higher spiritual or a deeper soul-consciousness can protect and heal and strengthen and succour. One may do it through prayers, meditation, contact with someone inwardly developed, but it works best when the opening comes naturally and spontaneously as an inner need of the soul. This way, the illness can itself become one of the gateways to a deeper consciousness, a turning point that helps us depart from our ordinary mental to a higher spiritual consciousness. To put the whole thing in an apparent paradoxical reconciliation, we may say that the price of opening to the lower forces is illness and the prize of illness is a possibility of opening to the higher forces, out of sheer necessity. This alone (and not the theories of god’s curse and punishment) justifies the presence of pain and illness in a world built by an All compassionate God and woven by His consciousness with the fabric of Love. This alone justifies our passage through the hell of suffering as a short cut to heaven, a rough and bumpy road through which we move ahead when our feet are unwilling to trod the smooth and sunlit path.
The healer and the healed:
(The trilogy of Agent-Host-Environment (A new vision))
The healer therefore has a threefold task. First, to understand the truth and level of inner dislocation from the outer illness. By doing so, he assists the patient’s entry into his own inner life and its unique features. Second, to induce faith and assist in opening the patient through the rickety and narrow wicket gate of illness to the higher and deeper forces of health and healing. Here he may use whatever means or system comes naturally to him and to which the patient himself may be receptive. Thirdly, and most importantly, he cannot accomplish the first two tasks unless he himself is open and progressing towards deeper and higher zones of consciousness. If the physician is himself entrapped in a narrow and limited self-view and world–view, he obviously cannot become a truly powerful catalyst for the inner change. To work upon others one has to work upon oneself for in fact there are no others but the One carrying the all. And each particle and unit of this all that liberates itself from its fears and bondage automatically helps liberate others. Besides, we can give to the world only that which we have. Only one who has peace and harmony can potentially impart these to others. Only the strong can give strength to others.
“Only they who save themselves can others save.”
—Sri Aurobindo: Savitri
For the rest there is the usual physical view of health and illness, physical remedies and drugs, physical doctors knowing and replacing body parts with astounding precision but who miss the ‘One’ and the ‘whole’.
Just as we have the individual consciousness of the doctor and the patient so also there is the collective consciousness of the environment in which each of us dwells (our psychological dwelling place). The vibrations of consciousness and the quality of forces that cohabit and surround our inner dwelling are of importance in health and healing. This environmental consciousness may exist in a certain place as a formation from the past. Or else and in addition it is largely created by the consciousness of the patient and the people around him including the health care personnel. Interestingly, there is a reciprocal effect between our physical and psychological environment. A clean and simple environment full of sunlight and fresh air may well be conducive in attracting forces of beauty and harmony and health. So can certain colours and patterns and designs attract vibrations of peace and strength. The lighting of incense is not just a symbolic act of worship but a concrete physical means to purify the atmosphere. Equally, and in an obverse way, dirt, smoke, alcohol may make us ill not just by physical means alone but even more through a secret affinity to forces of disorder, confusion and disintegration. A whole world of consciousness based preventive hygiene waiting to be explored!
To conclude or to begin:
Finally, at the end of this day, the debate continues about which came first, - consciousness or matter. The ghost of Phineus Gage still haunts the scientific world. And so the miracle cures and sudden conversions of history like St. Paul and King Ashoka. The phenomenon of Hitlers and Bin Ladens on the one hand and that of a Buddha and Christ on the other hand continue to baffle the average humanity. Not to speak of the various hue and ranges through which the spectra of this world moves reflecting the shades of the viewer’s glass. Like the subjective-objective and the impersonal–personal dilemma it is unlikely to be resolved at the level at which we stand today. The mental consciousness of man stands at a strange cross-road. For below man there are no questions and therefore no answers. The problem and the solution move in a narrow arc of a modicum of few necessities. The animal does not carry the burden of its past nor the load of a future destiny. So too, beyond man, there is no need of answers even as there are no questions. Since all is self-explained, self-known in the light of a luminous Self there. But here, in man, the mental self is like a blind man moving through a virgin forest with sometimes the staff of faith and at other times the touch of a half-lit ignorance full of reasoned guesses as his support. The eye of knowledge is however missing and therefore he knows not his map or his compass. He feels ever unsure in the midst of a thousand million cosmic forces around him. He sees nothing in the atomic space and stumbles over each idea that holds him for a while. His knowledge only pushes the unknown further and ‘the Thing’ always escapes his infant grasp. He knows not who he is why he is or perhaps even where he is. Yet, unlike the animals he is aware that he is. And this is the source of his misery. He therefore has questions but no definite answers; problems with temporary solutions but no resolution of the enigma’s knot which ties his fate. He is defeated in the midst of his conquests and having fallen and failed finds himself victorious. Diseases and germs multiply even as drugs and remedies do. He only plays at pushing death for a while till it stares at his face again in another form mocking at his efforts.
The issue cannot be resolved at the level of the mental man. The mental man must rise and become the spiritual man or man–divine to undo the Gordian knot. The script of the earth indeed seems to be written in double terms, — the material and the spiritual. Both must embrace each other to complete each other. And that seems possible only in the common matrix of consciousness. Otherwise we have to rest content with playing with the mud of the earth or the mud of the stars and forget about the path of light that links the two.
This however cannot be. The debate over ‘Consciousness’ may now be divided 50-50 in two camps. But there is a growing effort to genuinely link the two. The debate and the effort are themselves indicative that the resolution is near. It may not be just round the corner. And truly speaking how do 20, 40, 50 or a 100 years matter so long as we as a race are moving forward. How does it matter whether we, as we know ourselves personally today would live to see the resolution. In the consciousness view of things we all will be there as we have always been speaking and working and sensing through one body or another, through one form or another. The worm is nothing else but a fore-runner and precursor of the now extinct dinosaurs. So too, the dolphin and the ape are nothing else but humans in disguise awaiting the hour of evolutionary knock that would shatter the simian mask and disclose the human face of analysis and reason from behind. And who or what is man? The Infinite wearing a finite mask! God denying his godhead; the divine wearing the shape of a limited intelligence and power. It is in a right answer to this question that there lies the true answer to all questions. And on the answer to this question rests the future of science and of man too!
The Sphinx calls to man and to his science:
“… Thou thinkest term and end for thee are not
—Sri Aurobindo: Collected Poems, A vision of Science