Saturday, January 22, 2011

Path to Heaven

Know that which has form to be unreal and the formless to be permanent.  Through this spiritual instruction, you will escape the possibility of rebirth.

--- Astavakra Samhita (trans. Swami Nityaswarupananda)
The scripture here gives us a key. Whatever has form is unreal. Finding the formless is the path to the real.

So what is form? Form is something that has qualities: colors, sounds, scents, tastes, or feeling. Physical objects have form.

Throughout history and cultures, sages have often directed our attention to formless things as pointers to the truth. In Taoism, there is much talk about water. In Christianity, there is light. Tibetan Buddhists often talk about space. 

In Hindu thought, the spectrum of existence is arranged from the absolute formless (nirguna Brahman) to absolute form or matter (prakriti). It is said that the formless gives rise to the form. This happens in a series of stages from the most subtle to the gross. The more subtle a thing is, the higher up on the spiritual hierarchy. Why? Because it is more like the highest.

The same goes for Taoism. The highest, the Tao, is without form. The lower end of creation is the 10,000 things. Creation goes from the Tao, to the one, to yin and yang, to the five elements, to all things. Returning to the Tao is ascending the ladder from form to formlessness.

In Christianity, the first thing that is created is light. Light on the first day, whereas the bodies of light (sun and moon) are created on the fourth day. The heaven and earth start out “formless”.

Accordingly, physical matter being mostly form is at the bottom. Thoughts are higher because they are less substantial. Awareness is higher because it even more formless than thought. Intuition is ranked higher than intellectual knowledge because it has less form.

Seen in this light, one can clearly see the pathway to return to the source.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Brain and the Mind

The brain and the mind is an interesting subject and a great personal question for me.  The question is:  does physical brain create the mind?

Obviously, the brain and the mind are linked.  Damage to the brain can effect the functioning of the mind.  Meditation can impact the brain.  The materialist conclusion is that the brain produces the mind.  However, others have pointed out that correlation does not mean causation, as we have explored in the posts on dependent origination.  The most we can say is there is a correlation between the brain and the mind.

An intriguing, alternate suggestion is that the brain is a receptor for the mind.  Under this theory, the brain is essential to the full functioning of the mind, and damage to the brain can affect this functioning.  The analogy is between a radio and the music.  The radio does not create the music, it transmits it.  However, damage to the radio can impair transmission.  This theory can be traced back to William James, the famous pragmatist.

Ferdinand Schiller proposed that the purpose of the physical brain was to limit consciousness, to focus it on on the physical realm.  According to Schiller, "Matter is not that which produces consciousness, but that which limits it and confines its intensity within certain limits."  Simple and course machinery allows simple and course manifestations of consciousness, i.e. animals and insects. In this way, matter is like a circuit that conducts the energy of consciousness in a certain way.

This is very much in line with the concept of upadhi in Advaita.  Upadhi limits infinite consciousness.  This is a type of creation by limitation, and may at first sound counter-intuitive.  But consider water.  Water in its raw, pure form is too much for us to use.  We need to limit it, through dams or canals, or with hoses.  Then we can use it in a specific way.   

Of course, this is just something to ponder.