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Nonduality Salon (/ \)

issue number two - October, 2000

Nonduality Salon Magazine

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ENLIGHTENMENT AND LIBERATION -
A SCIENTIFIC PERSPECTIVE

by Dr. Nitin Trasi

Indian spiritual tradition speaks extensively about the phenomena of Enlightenment and Liberation, but we do not see these conditions mentioned anywhere in scientific or medical books. Do these conditions then really exist? Are they scientifically compatible? Our religious literature describes Enlightenment as the loss or disappearance of `ahamkara' or ego. Ahamkara is the sense of separate individuality or `doership.' According to our scriptures, the average person is imbued with a false sense of separateness or doership (kartrutva), which is the separate `me' (aham). Where there is the me, there is the `other,' and where there is the other, the Upanishads say, there is fear (and psychological suffering). But is normal life really possible without the ego? And if so, can a person discharge all his worldly duties in that state? Can we explain these states in scientific terms?

So far this has not been done. But we can now show that such a state is scientifically compatible, and moreover, that it is not a strange, hallucinatory, magical state, but rather a most practical and real condition which can be demonstrated and explained in precise medical and psychological terms. We can show that the Enlightened or Liberated person is not a strange freak of nature, but the most normal, sane, uncomplicated human being that there can ever be. Briefly, we can explain it as follows.

Let us trace the development of an average individual from early life. As a baby, a person is not aware of himself as a separate entity. As the child grows into an adult human being, there is a progressive evolution of his nervous system and there finally comes a stage when the person is consciously aware of himself, as apart from his surroundings. As language and verbalized thought develop, this awareness can be expressed in symbolical form, and the perceiving organism is then labelled as a `me,' and automatically the rest of the world as `other.' This is where the split starts. When there is the separation of a `me' from the `other,' there is simultaneously a separation of interests - the interests of the `me' as against the interests of the `other.' This is where the conflict begins. The illusion of the `me,' which is the illusion of separateness from the rest of mankind, forms the basis for a host of `me-based' conditioning which drive the average man's activities in life. Most of our routine actions are based on the presumption of the existence of a `me' as a separate entity, and with the constant calculation of how such activity would affect that `me.' It is our me-based conditioning which gives us a picture of things as they `should be.' When the `me' is perceived to be adversely affected by something, psychological suffering is the result. Thus psychological suffering is fundamentally based on the primary illusion of the existence of an `I' or 'me' as a separate entity (separate from the `other' - which is the rest of the world), with separate interests. Physical pain even animals experience, but psychological suffering is unique to the human race. Man is a thinking animal, and this is the price he pays for his intellectual development.

However, a rare human being sees through this illusion of a separate `me,' and he is then said to be Enlightened. He then sees life in a completely different perspective. He no more sees life from the limited, restricted, false, individual perspective of the illusory `me.' Instead, he sees it in its Totality, as it really is, in its `suchness.' Enlightenment results in a complete transformation in his life (paraavrutti), and initiates a process of deconditioning from the effects of the me-illusion. This process finally culminates in a state completely devoid of me-based conditioning, and this state is known as Liberation, because such a person is then liberated from the psychological suffering that persecutes the rest of mankind. The Liberated One has no idea of `what should be.' He reacts appropriately to the `what is,' and that's that. Thus, whereas the average man is subject to psychological suffering, the hallmark of the liberated person is that he is entirely free of it.

The Indian philosophy of Advaita is often misunderstood to mean that everything is an illusion. Let us be clear about this - Consciousness is not an illusion - but the psychological separateness is! Consciousness includes the sense of being alive, being aware, being able to touch, taste, see, hear, feel, sense, act. That does exist. What is illusory is our idea of a `who' that is doing all of these things - a `who' that is expected to survive the death of the body. Touching, tasting, sensing does occur, but there is no entity, no one who touches, tastes, senses.

...man's obsessive consciousness of, and insistence on being a separate self is the final and most formidable obstacle to the unitive knowledge of God. To be a self is . . the original sin, and to die to self . . . is the final virtue. (Aldous Huxley)
And Enlightenment is the actual realisation or intuitive perception (not just belief or intellectual understanding) of this truth -- namely, the oneness of Consciousness and the absence of separateness. The mystic sees that he is not a separate individualized consciousness or soul, but that he is the one singular Consciousness, which is also called by some, God. Seeing this directly for oneself is Enlightenment. Jesus said, "That they all may be One; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they too may be One in us" Gospel of St. John, 17:21.

Enlightenment is not some esoteric, magical process. It does not give a man magical powers, or make him a superman. Enlightenment is simply the disappearance of an illusion which made him see everything from the point of view of a `me.' Enlightenment does not make a person all-knowing. When the scriptures talk of spiritual `knowledge' that occurs upon Enlightenment, they are not referring to any form of verbal, temporal knowledge. This is not a knowledge which can be learnt or developed in time. The word knowledge here refers to the true insight, the intuitive perception that is Enlightenment. Enlightenment is thus a change in perspective, a change of focus, a paradigm shift. It is a shift from the constricting, individual focus of a `me' to a view of life in its totality. It is a shift from being a circle with the illusory `me' as center, to a circle "whose circumference is everywhere and whose center is nowhere." The knowledge that comes with Enlightenment is not a temporal knowledge but is rather an intuitive insight into the way things are in their totality.

This is just a brief exposition to show that these conditions can be defined and explained in scientific terms. The actual details of the scientific explanation would be beyond a brief article such as this, but suffice it to say here that every detail of the condition can be thoroughly explained in medical and psychological terms. Surely, the day must come, and soon, when these phenomena will enter the scientific texts.

extracted from The Science of Enlightenment; reprinted with permission

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