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Friday, December 21, 2018

Contemplative Science/Contemplative Prayer

Alan Wallace uses the term Contemplative Science to refer to meditation, since it is a scientific study of our minds although subjective in nature. Thomas Merton calls meditation practiced by Christians as Contemplative Prayer. Whatever name we give, the process of meditation includes reflecting on our own mental experiences as they appear in our consciousness. 
Consciousness has become a major subject of scientific scrutiny. There are several books on this subject. However, there is no definition of consciousness, agreed by all disciplines interested in this topic. That is because it is subjective and there are no objective means, as yet, of detecting and measuring consciousness. Two other topics defying definition are life and health.
The best we can do is to list its characteristics as experienced by each one of us and compare the list with those of others based on universal and uniform features. This is consciousness from the neurophysiological point of view. Not from a metaphysical point of view.
Buddha lists two features as characteristic of “pure” consciousness: luminosity and cognizant. The Vedas of India say the same thing. They are vague terms. However, both Buddha and the Vedas say that this is basic awareness (meta awareness) which illuminates everything – physical, mental, phenomenal, thoughts, emotions etc. It is aware of the objects of the mind and  of the mind itself.  In the Upanishad it says: tameva bhaantam anubhaati sarvam; tasya bhaasa sarvamidam vibhati. It shines on its own and illuminates everything.
This sounds interesting and intriguing. This also suggests that there is something else outside of our mind which gives the power of awareness to the mind. I have problem with that. Without a living body and a functioning brain, there is no mind. Without mind, there is no awareness. Granted that life is a mystery and consciousness is a mystery. Even if science figures out the “how” of life and of consciousness, I doubt we will ever find out “why”. 
This does not rule out the fact that everything we see and experience must have come out of “Something with Its Inherent Knowledge and Energy”, the Brahman, Father in Heaven, Allah or whatever name we have given.  
The best answer is ‘I do not know”.
The awareness of awareness is indeed special. My guess is that even some animals have this capacity. This is the faculty which leads to the ego (the I and the mine) and human arrogance. Therefore, it is worth reflecting on it to understand the realities of this universe and develop humility and compassion.
On a related note, I read in Aurobindo’s writing that the three worlds listed in the Vedas (Bhu, Bhuva and Swa) represent the body, mind and the connecting breath. Kaushitaki Upanishad says this too. Breath is another mystery without which there can be no life. Without life there can be no awareness.
It makes sense to focus on the breath, as the connection between the body and the mind and then focus on consciousness and the contents of the mind. The next step is awareness of consciousness of life and of our own awareness of that consciousness. The next step is to empty the contents and stay with pure awareness only.
That is what the original writings of the Upanishads and Buddha recommend. We get carried away by our arrogance. We refuse to consider the possibility that there are/ may be dimensions we are not aware of because of the limitations of our own brain and the mind. We get side-tracked and buried in so many side-paths and diversions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The "breath" is the connection between body & mind. Why not this be the same as "consciousness". May be my thinking is not quite right. The thought is most provoking. Thanks.