SPIRITUALITY have never made easy bedfellows. Their
views on the nature of things often seem to clash.
And the more our scientific understanding of the
world has grown, the stronger that clash appears to
having explored deep into the realms of space, time
and matter, often appears to have done away with God.
Astronomers have looked out into deep space, to the
edges of the known universe; cosmologists have looked
back into what they call 'deep time', to the
beginning of creation; while physicists have looked
down into the 'deep structure' of matter, to the
fundamental constituents of the cosmos. From quarks
to quasars, they find no evidence of God. Nor do they
find any need for God. The Universe seems to work
perfectly well without any divine assistance.
The God that
science has thus eliminated is called "the God
of the gaps" - the God that was needed to
explain the gaps in human knowledge. Over the
centuries, science has progressively filled these
gaps. Before Newton, people thought God moved the sun
and moon through the heavens; now we understand their
motion in terms of gravity. Before Darwin, it was
believed that God created the many different species
of life; now we account for them in terms of genetic
evolution. Similarly with earthquakes, the aurora
borealis and the immune response: today plate
tectonics, solar ions and molecular biology explain
them quite satisfactorily.
mercilessly, science has filled the gaps. For a while
it looked as if the most significant gap of all - the
creation of the cosmos itself - would not be filled.
But quantum mechanics is now explaining how even the
Big Bang could have started all by itself. The God of
the gaps has finally, it seems, been made redundant.
however, more to religion than explaining the gaps in
our knowledge. Most traditions also speak of the
profound personal experiences that come from
following a spiritual path. They may talk of them in
terms of rebirth, liberation, awakening,
enlightenment, transcendence, rapture or holy union.
Yet whatever the interpretation, there is a general
consensus that these experiences have a profound
impact on one's life.
Science has very
little to say about spiritual experiences. They are
not occurring in the world of space, time and matter
that science charts so well, but in the world within.
To understand them fully we would need to venture
into the realm of 'deep mind' - a realm that Western
science has yet to explore.
SCIENCE MAY NOT
have explored deep mind, but others have. They are
the mystics, ascetics, shamans and spiritual adepts
of every culture. These people have used practices
such as meditation to delve beneath the surface
levels of the mind. They have observed the arising
and passing of thought. And they have looked beyond,
to the source of their experience, to the essence of
their own consciousness. There they have discovered a
profound connection with the ground of all being.
does not usually pay much attention to such
subjective approaches. It certainly does not consider
them 'scientific'. Scientists are concerned with
objective truths, with verifiable facts that are not
dependent upon one's state of mind. They are looking
for effects that can be measured, not internal
But is this
subjective approach really so unscientific? The
essence of science is to gain knowledge through
careful observation of the natural world. Since
scientists want to be able to trust this knowledge, a
process has evolved to make it as reliable as
possible - what is often referred to as the
part of this method is isolating the object of study.
If, for example, you were investigating the
electrical activity of the human brain during
meditation, you might put the subject in an
electromagnetically shielded room to reduce
electrical noise ('noise' in the technical sense of
unwanted information). Then, in order to get as much
desired information as possible, you would ensure the
electrodes made a good electrical contact with scalp.
You might also set up a 'control group', studying
non-meditators in the same circumstances, to be
certain that the effects you measured were specific
to meditation, not simply the result of relaxation.
Having gathered your data, you would study it, draw
conclusions, and then make your conclusions available
to others to see if they agreed. If they did, you
would have established some reliable knowledge about
meditation and the brain.
principles apply to someone using meditation to
explore the mind at first hand. First, they would
seek to remove themselves from external noise. This
is usually achieved by choosing a quiet place, free
from disturbance. Since one wants to observe the mind
clearly, it is important to remain awake and
attentive, so people generally sit in a relaxed but
alert posture. Then, closing the eyes, which reduces
visual distractions, one turns the attention within
and begins to observe.
The first thing
people notice when they observe their own mind is the
almost incessant flow of thoughts and inner dialogue.
This internal noise continually distracts the
attention from the subject of investigation: the
nature of the mind itself. Here meditation comes into
play. It can be thought of as an experimental
technique employed to reduce the internal chatter,
allowing subtler aspects of the mind to come into
people, throughout history, have entered the
laboratory of the mind and performed such inner
experiments. These 'inner scientists' have published
the results of their investigations in spiritual and
mystical texts - the Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching,
The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, The Cloud
of Unknowing. Their conclusions show a remarkable
consistency across culture and time, suggesting that
this subjective approach does indeed lead to reliable
knowledge about the nature of mind.
What have they
discovered? Almost everyone notices that as the mind
settles down there comes a growing sense of peace.
The self-talk that normally occupies much of our
awareness tends to increase arousal and tension. We
may be worrying about things we have or have not
done, feeling anxious about what might or might not
happen, planning a future action, solving a problem
or going over a conversation. As this activity
subsides, the mind naturally becomes more peaceful.
activity further, one can arrive at a point where all
verbal thinking ceases. At this level of
consciousness, one discovers a much deeper,
all-pervasive peace. Some call it bliss, others joy
or serenity; but all agree that the pleasures of
everyday life pale in comparison to this profound
feeling of inner wellbeing.
that is found in this inner quiet is love. This is
not the love we know in our daily lives, a love that
is usually focused on a particular person or
circumstance. It is pure love, love without an
object. It is 'being in love' in a new sense: one's
whole being is bathed in love.
Perhaps the most
significant effect of stilling the mind is
transcendence of the ego. When all the thoughts,
feelings and memories by which we usually define
ourselves have fallen away, the sense of a separate
self dissolves. There is no longer a sense of "I
am experiencing this thought or this sensation."
Instead there is an identity with the essence of
being. I am the consciousness in which all experience
DESCRIPTIONS of deep mind are remarkably consistent
across cultures, the ways in which people have
interpreted them vary widely. Within the monotheistic
worldview that dominated Western culture for nearly
2,000 years, mystical experiences were usually
interpreted in terms of a personal God. Such states
of consciousness are so far removed from daily life
that it is easy to see how they could be taken to be
a direct connection with divinity - particularly when
aspects of the experience correspond so closely to
traditional descriptions of God.
A state of
profound peace could indeed seem to be "the
peace of God that passeth all understanding". An
upwelling of the heart that bursts forth in an
all-pervading love might well be interpreted as the
love of God miraculously entering one's being. The
compassion that dawned could be confirmation of a
caring, forgiving God. And the sense of deep
fulfilment and inner freedom that comes with such
states could easily be taken to be the salvation
promised by a merciful Deity.
of the pure 'I am' did not, however, fit into the
monotheistic worldview quite as easily. Many
identified this unbounded sense of self with God.
Some went so far as to say "I am God." To
traditional religion, this rings of blasphemy. How
can any lowly human being claim that he or she is
God, the almighty, supreme being? When the
fourteenth-century German mystic Meister Eckhart
preached "God and I are One," he was
brought before Pope John xxii and forced to
"recant everything that he had falsely
taught." Others suffered a worse fate. The
tenth-century Islamic mystic al-Hall„j was crucified
for using language that claimed an identity with God.
Yet when mystics
say "I am God," or other words to that
effect, they are talking neither about the individual
person nor about a supernatural deity. Their inner
investigations have revealed the true nature of the
self. This they have experienced as a connection with
the ground of all being. And it is this that they
have named God.
experiences as a direct contact with God could be
seen as yet another example of the God of the gaps -
albeit in a more subtle form. In this case, the gap
is in our understanding of deep mind. Western
traditions, both religious and scientific, have left
this realm largely unexplored. To find a coherent
body of knowledge about the inner world, we must look
to the East, where spiritual adepts have been
exploring the mind for thousands of years.
Of the Eastern
traditions, Buddhism has probably gone the farthest
in charting the mind. Buddhism has no concept of God:
it is an atheistic religion - paradoxical as that may
sound to Western ears. For Buddhists, peace, ease,
joy and compassion come from knowing the essential
nature of mind. They are inherent qualities of pure
awareness - an awareness that is unsullied by the
agitation of everyday thoughts and concerns.
approach is taken by other Eastern traditions. Some
of them may talk of deities and devas, but in most
instances these are interpreted as aspects of the
mind - the inner challenges we face and the inner
allies that can help us on our journey.
traditions do not need to invoke a supreme deity to
account for mystical experiences, this does not make
these states of mind any less awesome, meaningful or
life changing. On the contrary, by interpreting them
in terms of one's essential nature, the Eastern
traditions can offer practical ways to make them more
religions have much to offer on theology, morality
and the potential for spiritual advancement, but less
on techniques that facilitate spiritual experiences.
Eastern teachings, however, provide detailed analyses
of how our awareness becomes trapped in habits and
attachments, and various techniques and practices -
we might call them inner technologies - to relieve
the mind of its dysfunctional patterns. The goal is
self-liberation, freeing the mind to experience its
essential nature, and reaping the rewards that come
from such an awakening. Here spirituality is science,
the science of the mind.
A THIRD WAY OF
interpreting spiritual states is that of Western
science, which believes that the real world is that
of space, time and matter, and that all phenomena are
reducible to events in that world. It seeks to
account for transcendental experiences, neither as a
union with some supernatural deity nor as a
reflection of the mind's essential nature, but in
terms of brain function.
research, which has aroused quite a debate in this
area, investigated changes in the brains of advanced
Tibetan Buddhist meditators. When the subjects
reported that their everyday sense of self was
beginning to dissolve, the researchers took a brain
scan. By observing the flow of blood through the
brain, they were able to identify changes in brain
activity. They found that as the sense of a separate
self dissolved, activity in the parietal lobe, an
area towards the top of the brain, decreased. This is
precisely the area that neuropsychologists believe is
responsible for the distinction between self and
that many draw from such studies is that spiritual
experiences can now be explained in terms of brain
function, and that science has once again triumphed
over religion. But there is really nothing very
surprising about these findings. It is generally
accepted that brain activity and subjective
experience bear a close relationship (even if we
cannot say whether one causes the other, or how). We
should expect, therefore, that changes in
consciousness as profound as the cessation of verbal
thought, the dissolution of a separate sense of self,
and a feeling of deep peace would show corresponding
changes in the brain.
That we are
beginning to chart these changes does not explain
away spiritual states. If anything, it validates
them. It shows that meditators probably do experience
what they claim. So we could think of these
discoveries as Western science beginning to confirm
the conclusions of the inner sciences.
claim that such states of consciousness have
beneficial effects on their lives: a tendency to be
more open, generous, caring and forgiving. There
seems little reason to doubt that this, too, is true.
If so, rather than concluding that spiritual
experience has been satisfactorily accounted for, the
scientific community might ask: how can we use our
growing understanding of brain function to enhance
the occurrence of these deep states of consciousness?
For they would appear to be just what the world
IN THE PAST,
spiritual awakening was seen as essential for one's
personal salvation: to save us from hell, whether
God-delivered or self-created. Today it has become an
imperative for our collective salvation.
clearly in crisis. If we continue consuming and
polluting as we have done, with little regard for the
long-term health of our environment, we will almost
certainly trigger some or other ecological
catastrophe. We may even render ourselves extinct.
Looking to the
underlying causes of this crisis we find, time and
again, the human factor: human decisions based on
human desires, needs and priorities, often driven by
human fear, greed and self-centredness. It is clear
that the crisis is, at its root, a crisis of
If we are to
navigate our way safely through these challenging
times, we need to see some significant shifts in
attitudes and values. We need to recognise that inner
peace does not depend on what we own, our social
status, the roles we play, or how wealthy we are. We
need to wake up to a deeper sense of self that is not
at the mercy of external circumstances, and that does
not need to be continually defended and maintained.
We need a degree of care and compassion that extends
beyond our immediate circle of family and friends to
embrace strangers and people of different race and
background - and also the many other species with
whom we share this planet. We need to know in our
hearts that their wellbeing is our wellbeing.
What is the most
effective way of promoting such shifts in
consciousness? The evidence points to spiritual
experience. Rather than distracting us from the
course of scientific progress, spirituality could be
our saving grace.
scientific knowledge has led to technologies that
have enabled us to control and manipulate our world.
The underlying goal has been to free us from
unnecessary suffering and increase human wellbeing.
Spiritual teachings have likewise sought to liberate
people from suffering, but their path has been
inward. They have sought to understand the mind and
to develop inner technologies that enable us to find
happiness and freedom within ourselves.
It is now
becoming obvious that the material approach has not
achieved all that people hoped. Despite our abundant
luxuries and freedoms there is little evidence that
people today are any happier with their lot than
people were fifty years ago. On the other hand, we
have only to look at the peace and wisdom emanating
from someone such as the Dalai Lama to see that the
spiritual approach does seem to bear fruit.
When it comes to
understanding the cosmos, science and spirituality
are describing two complementary aspects of reality:
one the nature of the material world we observe
around us, the other the nature of the mind observing
this world. When we consider how these understandings
can be applied to the betterment of humanity, we see
that science and spirituality are again
complementary. To create a truly sustainable world,
we need both: the knowledge of science integrated
with the wisdom of spirituality.
THICH NHAT HANH
mindfulness we experience Interbeing
which means everything is in everything else.
Therefore, one should know that Perfect
is a great mantra, is the highest mantra,
is the unequalled mantra, the destroyer of all
the incorruptible truth. This is the mantra:
gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha."
Buddha in the Heart Sutra
IS something that you utter when your body, your
mind and your breath are at one in deep
concentration. When you dwell in that deep
concentration, you look into things and see them
as clearly as you see an orange that you hold in
the palm of your hand. Looking deeply into the
five skandhas, Avalokitesvara (the Buddha) saw
the nature of inter- being and overcame all pain.
He became completely liberated. It was in that
state of deep concentration, of joy, of
liberation, that he uttered something important.
That is why his utterance is a mantra.
two young people love each other, but the young
man has not said so yet, the young lady may be
waiting for three very important words. If the
young man is a very responsible person, he
probably wants to be sure of his feeling, and he
may wait a long time before saying it. Then one
day, sitting together in a park, when no one else
is nearby and everything is quiet, after the two
of them have been silent for a long time, he
utters these three words. When the young lady
hears this, she trembles, because it is such an
important statement. When you say something like
that with your whole being, not just with your
mouth or your intellect, but with your whole
being, it can transform the world. A statement
that has such power of transformation is called a
mantra. Alokitesvara's mantra is
gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha."
means gone. Gone from suffering to the liberation
of suffering. Gone from forgetfulness to
mindfulness. Gone from duality into non-duality.
Gate gate means gone, gone. Paragate means gone
all the way to the other shore. So this mantra is
said in a very strong way. Gone, gone, gone all
the way over. In Parasamgate sammeans everyone,
the sangha, the entire community of beings.
Everyone gone over to the other shore. Bodhi is
the light inside, enlightenment, or awakening.
You see it and the vision of reality liberates
you. And svaha is a cry of joy or excitement,
like "Welcome!" or
"Hallelujah!" "Gone, gone, gone
all the way over, everyone gone to the other
shore, enlightenment, svaha !"
IS WHAT the bodhisattva uttered. When we listen
to this mantra, we should bring ourselves into
that state of attention, of concentration, so
that we can receive the strength emanated by
Avalokitesvara. We do not recite the Heart Sutra
like singing a song, or with our intellect alone.
If you practise the meditation on emptiness, if
you penetrate the nature of interbeing with all
your heart, your body, and your mind, you will
realize a state that is quite concentrated. If
you say the mantra then, with all your being, the
mantra will have power and you will be able to
have real communication, real communion with
Avalokitesvara, and you will be able to transform
yourself in the direction of enlightenment.
text is not just for chanting, or to be put on an
altar for worship. It is given to us as a tool to
work for our liberation, for the liberation of
all beings. It is like a tool for farming, given
to us so that we may farm. This is the gift of
are three kinds of gift. The first is the gift of
material resources. The second is the gift of
know-how, the gift of the Dharma. The third, the
highest kind of gift, is the gift of non-fear.
Avalokitesvara is someone who can help us
liberate ourselves from fear.
Sutra gives us solid ground for making peace with
ourselves, for transcending the fear of birth and
death, the duality of this and that. In the light
of emptiness, everything is everything else, we
inter-are, everyone is responsible for everything
that happens in life. When you produce peace and
happiness in yourself, you begin to realize peace
for the whole world. With the smile that you
produce in yourself, with the conscious breathing
you establish within yourself, you begin to work
for peace in the world.
smile is not to smile only for yourself, the
world will change because of your smile. When you
practise sitting meditation, if you enjoy even
one moment of your sitting, if you establish
serenity and happiness inside yourself, you
provide the world with a solid base of peace. If
you do not give yourself peace, how can you share
it with others? If you do not begin your peace
work with yourself, where will you go to begin
it? To sit, to smile, to look at things and
really see them, these are the basis of peace
we had a tangerine party. Everyone was offered
one tangerine. We put the tangerine on the palm
of our hand and looked at it, breathing in a way
that the tangerine became real. Most of the time
when we eat a tangerine, we do not look at it. We
think about many other things. To look at a
tangerine is to see the blossom forming into the
fruit, to see the sunshine and the rain. The
tangerine in our palm is the wonderful presence
of life. We are able to really see that tangerine
and smell its blossom and the warm, moist earth.
As the tangerine becomes real, we become real.
Life in that moment becomes real.
we began to peel our tangerine and smell its
fragrance. We carefully took each section of the
tangerine and put in on our tongue, and we could
feel that it was a real tangerine. We ate each
section of the tangerine in perfect mindfulness
until we finished the entire fruit. Eating a
tangerine in this way is very important, because
both the tangerine and the eater of the tangerine
become real. This, too, is the basic work for
Buddhist meditation we do not struggle for the
kind of enlightenment that will happen five or
ten years from now. We practise so that each
moment of our life becomes real life. And,
therefore, when we meditate, we sit for sitting;
we don't sit for something else. If we sit for
twenty minutes, these twenty minutes should bring
us joy, life. If we practise walking meditation,
we walk just for walking, not to arrive. We have
to be alive with each step, and if we are, each
step brings real life back to us.
same kind of mindfulness can be practised when we
eat breakfast, or when we hold a child in our
arms. Hugging is a Western custom, but we from
the East would like to contribute the practice of
conscious breathing to it. When you hold a child
in your arms, or hug your mother, or your
husband, or your friend, breathe in and out three
times and your happiness will be multiplied by at
least tenfold. And when you look at someone,
really look at them with mindfulness, and
practise conscious breathing.
the beginning of each meal, I recommend that you
look at your plate and silently recite, "My
plate is empty now, but I know that it is going
to be filled with delicious food in just a
moment."While waiting to be served or to
serve yourself, I suggest you breathe three times
and look at it even more deeply, "At this
very moment many, many people around the world
are also holding a plate but their plate is going
to be empty for a long time." Forty thousand
children die each day because of the lack of
food. Children alone. We can be very happy to
have such wonderful food, but we also suffer
because we are capable of seeing. But when we see
in this way, it makes us sane, because the way in
front ofus is clear - the way to live so that we
can make peace with ourselves and with the world.
we see the good and the bad, the wondrous and the
deep suffering, we have to live in a way that we
can make peace between ourselves and the world.
Understanding is the fruit of meditation.
Understanding is the basis of everything.
breath we take, each step we make, each smile we
realize, is a positive contribution to peace, a
necessary step in the direction of peace for the
world. In the light of interbeing, peace and
happiness in your daily life mean peace and
happiness in the world.
you for being so attentive. Thank you for
listening to Avalokitesvara. Because you are
there, the Heart Sutra has become very easy.
extract is reprinted from The Heart of
Understanding, published by Parallax Press,
Berkeley, California at $6.00.
Abundance is an essence that exists in infinite
supply in the universe. Abundance can take on
various forms such as an abundance of love,
money, happiness, joy, success, and so on.
Generally, we know what abundance is, but
bringing abundance into our daily life eludes
many of us.
Manifesting abundance requires that we put into
motion two aspects :
The energetic essence of abundance that exists in
infinite supply beyond structure and form.
Aligning the structured aspects of the human self
to the unstructured spiritual essence of
Manifesting Abundance is a
recorded process that will guide you to first
access the unlimited essence of abundance on the
spiritual plan, and then enable you bring this
energy essence into the structured aspect of
Manifesting Abundance uses the two spiritual
laws, "as above so below," and "as
within so without." Many have heard of these
laws but are not certain how to put these laws
into effect. To put the law into motion you must
first be able to access spiritual essences that
exist in unlimited supply on the levels beyond
physicality. Then you must align the structured
self to this essence, bringing the essence fully
into your inner world. When your inner world is
completely aligned to the essence, in this case
abundance, it must manifest in your outer world.
It is the law..
Two common mistakes people make is that they
access energy alone without bringing it properly
into form. Or they attempt to manifest abundance
by only using the structured parts of self
without accessing the energy of abundance first.
People commonly use techniques to attract
abundance, such as affirmations or rituals, but
these are incomplete. Without the energy essence
and the proper alignment of the structured
aspects of self, abundance will remain out of
and Others, by Libby Hall, Bloomsbury, 2000,
by Rupert Sheldrake HAVE YOU EVER felt you were
being watched, and
turned around to find someone staring at you?
Have you ever stared at
someone, and found them turn around and look at
you? Have you ever
thought about someone for no apparent reason, and
then that person rang
on the telephone? Or telephoned someone who says,
"I was just thinking
The chances are that you will answer
"Yes" to most, if not all, of
these questions. These are common experiences.
But they are all
phenomena that have, until recently, been ignored
by science because
they just don't fit in. They violate the
assumption that the mind is
confined to the inside of the head. Yet there is
now good experimental
evidence for their reality. They imply a much
more extensive view of
Institutional science still takes for granted the
mental activity is nothing but brain activity.
Instead, I suggest that
our minds extend far beyond our brains: they
stretch out through fields
that link us to our environment and to each
Mental fields are rooted in brains, just as
magnetic fields around
magnets are rooted in the magnets themselves, or
just as the fields of
transmission around mobile phones are rooted in
the phones and their
internal electrical activities. As magnetic
fields extend around
magnets, and electromagnetic fields around mobile
phones, so mental
fields extend around brains.
Mental fields help to explain telepathy, the
sense of being stared at
and other widespread but unexplained abilities.
Above all, mental
fields underlie normal perception. They are an
essential part of
How does vision work?
Are the images of what you see inside your brain?
Or are they outside
you - just where they seem to be? According to
the conventional theory,
there is a one-way process: light moves in, but
nothing is projected
The inward movement of light is familiar enough.
As you look at this
page, reflected light moves from the page through
field into your eyes. The lenses of your eyes
focus the light to form
upside-down images on your retinas. This light
falling on your retinal
rod and cone cells causes electrical changes
within them, which trigger
off patterned changes in the nerves of the
retina. Nerve impulses move
up your optic nerves and into the brain, where
they give rise to
complex patterns of electrical and chemical
activity. So far, so good.
All these processes can be, and have been,
studied in great detail by
neurophysiologists and other experts on vision
and brain activity.
But then something very mysterious happens. You
what you are seeing, the page in front of you.
You also become
conscious of the printed words and their
meanings. From the point of
view of the standard theory, there is no reason
why you should be
conscious at all. Brain mechanisms ought to go on
just as well without
The standard theory of vision applies to all
species of animal with
image-forming eyes. It does not explain why there
should be conscious
vision in any animal species, or in people. There
is just unconscious,
computer-like data-processing by the nervous
Then comes a further problem. When you see this
page, you do not
experience your image of it as being inside your
brain, where it is
supposed to be. Instead, you experience its image
as being located
about two feet in front of you. The image is
outside your body.
The basic idea I am proposing is so simple that
it is hard to grasp.
Your image of this page is just where it seems to
be, in front of your
eyes, not behind your eyes. It is in your mind,
but not inside your
Thus vision involves both an inward movement of
light, and an outward
projection of images. Through mental fields our
minds reach out to
touch what we are looking at.The sense of being
Sometimes when I look at someone from behind, he
or she turns and looks
straight at me. And sometimes I suddenly turn
around and find someone
staring at me. Surveys show that more than 90% of
people have had
experiences such as these. The sense of being
stared at should not
occur if attention is all inside the head. But if
it stretches out and
links us to what we are looking at, then our
looking could affect what
we look at. Is this just an illusion, or does the
sense of being stared
at really exist?
This question can be explored through simple
experiments that cost
nothing. People work in pairs. One person, the
subject, sits with his
or her back to the other, wearing a blindfold.
The other person, the
looker, sits behind the subject, and in a random
series of trials
either looks at the subject's neck, or looks away
and thinks of
something else. The beginning of each trial is
signalled by a
mechanical clicker or bleeper. Each trial lasts
about ten seconds and
the subject guesses out loud "looking"
or "not looking". Detailed
instructions are given on my website.
More than 100,000 trials have now been carried
out, and the results are
overwhelmingly positive and hugely significant
statistically, with odds
against chance of quadrillions to one. The sense
of being stared at
even works when people are looked at through
closed-circuit tv. Animals
are also sensitive to being looked at by people,
and people by animals.
This sensitivity to look is widespread in the
animal kingdom and may
well have evolved in the context of predator-prey
animal that sensed when an unseen predator was
staring would stand a
better chance of surviving than an animal without
Educated people have been brought up to believe
that telepathy does not
exist. Like other so-called psychic phenomena, it
is dismissed as an
illusion. Most people who espouse these negative
opinions, as I used to
myself, do not do so on the basis of a close
examination of the
evidence. They do so because there is a taboo
against taking psychic
powers seriously. This taboo dates back at least
as far as the
Enlightenment at the end of the eighteenth
century. But this is not the
place to examine its history. Rather I want to
summarise some recent
experiments which suggest that telepathy not only
exists, but is a
normal part of animal communication.
I first became interested in the subject of
telepathy some fifteen
years ago, and started looking at evidence for
telepathy in the animals
we know best, namely pets. I soon came across
numerous stories from
owners of dogs, cats, parrots, horses and other
animals which suggested
that these animals seemed able to read their
minds and intentions.
Through public appeals I have built up a large
database of such
stories, currently containing more than 3,500
case histories. These
stories fall into several categories. For
example, many cat owners say
that their animals seem to sense when they are
planning to take them to
the vet, even before they have taken out the
carrying basket or given
any apparent clue as to their intention. Some
people say their dogs
know when they are going to be taken for a walk,
even when they are in
a different room, out of sight or hearing, and
when the person is
merely thinking about taking them for a walk. Of
course, no one finds
this behaviour surprising if it happens at a
routine time, or if the
dogs see the person getting ready to go out, or
hear the word "walk".
They believe it is telepathic, because it seems
to happen in the
absence of such clues.
One of the commonest and most testable claims
about dogs and cats is
that they know when their owners are coming home,
in some cases
anticipating their arrival by ten minutes or
more. In random household
surveys in Britain and America, my colleagues and
I have found that
approximately 50% of dog owners and 30% of cat
owners believe that
their animals anticipate the arrival of a member
of the household.
Through hundreds of videotaped experiments, we
have shown that dogs
react to their owners' intentions to come home
even when they are many
miles away, even when they return at randomly
chosen times, and even
when they travel in unfamiliar vehicles such as
taxis. Telepathy seems
to be the only hypothesis that can account for
the facts. (For more
details, see my book Dogs That Know When Their
Owners Are Coming Home,
and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals.)
Knowing who's calling
In the course of my research on unexplained
powers of animals, I heard
of dozens of dogs and cats that seemed to
anticipate telephone calls
from their owners. For example, when the
telephone rings in the
household of a noted professor at the University
of California at
Berkeley, his wife knows when her husband is on
the other end of the
line because Whiskins, their silver tabby cat,
rushes to the telephone
and paws at the receiver. "Many times he
succeeds in taking it off the
hook and makes appreciative miaows that are
clearly audible to my
husband at the other end," she says.
"If someone else telephones,
Whiskins takes no notice." The cat responds
even when the professor
telephones home from field trips in Africa or
I soon realised that I myself had had seemingly
with telephone calls. I had thought for no
apparent reason of people
who then called shortly afterwards. Almost
everyone I talked to about
it said they had had experiences like this.
Through extensive surveys
in several countries we have found that such
experiences with telephone
calls are the most common kind of apparent
telepathy in the modern
Is this all a matter of coincidence, and
selective memory, whereby
people only remember when someone they were
thinking about rang, and
forget all the times they were wrong? Most
sceptics assume that this is
the case, but until recently there had never been
research on the subject at all.
I have developed a simple experiment to test for
Participants receive a call from one of four
different callers at a
prearranged time, and they themselves select the
callers, usually close
friends or family members. For each test, the
caller is picked at
random by the experimenter by throwing a dice.
The participant has to
say who the caller is before the caller says
anything. If people were
just guessing, they would be right about one time
in four, or 25% of
We have so far conducted more than 800 such
trials, and the average
success rate is 42%, very significantly above the
chance level of 25%,
with astronomical odds against this being a
We have also carried out a series of trials in
which two of the four
callers were familiar and the other two were
strangers whose names the
participants knew, but whom they had not met.
With familiar callers,
the success rate was 56%, highly significant
strangers, it was at the chance level, in
agreement with the
observation that telepathy typically takes place
between people who
share emotional or social bonds.
In addition, we have found that these effects do
not fall off with
distance. Some of our participants were from
Australia or New Zealand,
yet they did just as well when people called them
from the other side
of the world as with people in the same city.
Laboratory studies by parapsychologists have
significant statistical evidence for telepathy
(well reviewed by Dean
Radin in his book The Conscious Universe, Harper,
San Francisco, 1997).
But most laboratory research has given rather
weak effects, probably
because most participants and "senders"
were strangers to each other,
and telepathy normally depends on social bonds.
The results of telephone telepathy experiments
give much stronger and
more repeatable effects because they involve
people who know each other
well. I have also found that there are striking
between nursing mothers and their babies.
Likewise, the telepathic
reactions of pets to their owners depend on
strong social bonds.
I suggest that these bonds are aspects of the
fields that link together
members of social groups (which I call morphic
fields) and act as
channels for the transfer of information between
separated members of
the group. Telepathy literally means
"distant feeling", and typically
involves the communication of needs, intentions
and distress. Sometimes
the telepathic reactions are experienced as
feelings, sometimes as
visions or the hearing of voices, and sometimes
in dreams. Many people
and pets have reacted when people they are bonded
to have had an
accident, or are dying, even if this is happening
many miles away.
There is an analogy for this process in quantum
physics: if two
particles have been part of the same quantum
system and are separated
in space, they retain a mysterious connectedness.
When Einstein first
realised this implication of quantum theory, he
thought quantum theory
must be wrong because it implied what he called a
"spooky action at a
distance". Experiments have shown that
quantum theory is right and
Einstein wrong. A change in one separated part of
a system can affect
another instantaneously. This phenomenon is known
non-locality or non-separability.
Telepathy, like the sense of being stared at, is
only paranormal if we
define as "normal" the theory that the
mind is confined to the brain.
But if our minds reach out beyond our brains,
just as they seem to, and
connect with other minds, just as they seem to,
then phenomena like
telepathy and the sense of being stared at seem
normal. They are not
spooky and weird, on the margins of abnormal
human psychology, but are
part of our biological nature.
Of course, I am not saying that the brain is
irrelevant to our
understanding of the mind. It is very relevant,
and recent advances in
brain research have much to tell us. Our minds
are centred in our
bodies, and in our brains in particular. However,
they are not confined
to our brains, but extend beyond them. This
extension occurs through
the fields of the mind, or mental fields, which
exist both within and
beyond our brains.
The idea of the extended mind makes better sense
of our experience than
the mind-in-the-brain theory. Above all, it
liberates us. We are no
longer imprisoned within the narrow compass of
our skulls, our minds
separated and isolated from each other. We are no
longer alienated from
our bodies, from our environment and from other
people. We are
Dr Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of
The Sense of Being
Stared at, and Other Aspects of the Extended Mind