Beyond the Paranormal is the second essay in the series of five on various topics related to cosmology and consciousness my Deekshithar and I wrote in the late 90ies. It reflects our research and thinking on the whole of the traditions, rituals, mythology, architecture, and art of the Shri Shiva Nataraja Temple of Chidambaram. The contemporary academic approach is that all spiritual expressions from the past are in actual fact politically motivated in one way or another. Or a scam perpetrated by individuals who profited in some way. For instance, it has been proposed that the Ananda Tandava Murti, the form of Shiva who is the presiding deity in Chidambaram, was designed by servants of the Chola dynasty as a propaganda instrument expressing their territorial ambitions.
Now, this is itself propaganda of the materialistic lobby. And although I acknowledge the achievements of western technology science, my Deekshithar and I argue here that ignoring the immaterial aspects of the cosmos is a stupid and harmful thing to do. This ignoring has brought us global warming, pollution, capitalism gone berserk, because there is not enough sense of communal responsibility, no sense of dharma, doing the right thing. Of course, plenty of people do what they can, but too many feel they can get away with not paying the price, not taking responsibility.
I believe our cosmos has its origin in consciousness, not the other way around. And that all souls are connected and responsible together. And that the Mahabhuta Akasha or Space is the Unified Field Force Western science has been looking for unsuccessfully.
Although this was written over twenty years ago I think it is still an urgent topic. As humanity faces the challenges of Artificial Intelligence, challenges to democracy and its values, and Global Warming, we have no other option than connect to the essence of our soul for strength and inspiration.
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Breath and Cosmos
The Art of Vedic Healing
Beyond the Paranormal
The normal and the not so normal
Do we really know what is normal? We all entertain certain entrenched ideas about what is normal and what is not, based on our traditions and our routines, but a quick look across the borders of our respective countries, or even a peep into the neighbors’ house will show us that normal is a very relative concept, dependent on both place and time, and even individual attitudes. Today we accept exploration of the moon and other planets, the Internet, and even genetic manipulation as perfectly normal. Whereas these things were inconceivable just half a century ago. Would it be so inconceivable to propose that what was perfectly normal once upon a time may have been placed outside the boundaries of the normal by historical processes in the same way?
The word paranormal literally means beyond or above the normal. It is used to refer to phenomena that are considered to be beyond or outside normal explanation. At the same time, these phenomena remain part of the human experience. Almost every person on this planet has at some time some experience with what is generally considered paranormal phenomena. Either on a personal level or in one’s immediate circle. Deja vu experiences, predictive dreams, or telepathic contact with loved ones, are just a few of the human experiences which are considered to be paranormal.
Why have these phenomena been pushed beyond the boundaries of the normal, the explainable? They have been part of our experience since time immemorial. Ancient scripture and legend are witnesses to their existence and to the acceptance by the humanity of their reality in the past. Their exile to the unknown has been a relatively recent development, entirely due to the accident of history called the scientific revolution. The first steps onto this path were taken by the Greek philosophers of the classical era. The second phase of this development can be traced to Medieval Christianity, which welcomed some of them, especially Plato and Aristotle, as authorities on cosmology and methodology. The third and decisive step was taken in the Renaissance and after, when a combination of technological discoveries (the telescope and microscope prominent among them) and a sudden fondness of practical experiments, in combination with a surge of insatiable curiosity for the unknown, led Europe’s intellectual elite onto a course never before ventured upon.
This scientific revolution, and especially the impact of the technological applications it generated, had unprecedented consequences. Our world and our existence as human beings will never be the same again. But the nature of its roots and origins meant the unprecedented growth of knowledge and understanding related only to the material. This was entirely new and in its own way very successful. The revolutionary development of a scientific understanding of the material world had however as a side effect that certain human experiences came to be considered paranormal or beyond normal. This was because they eluded every attempt to analyze and explain them by accepted scientific means and methods. And they remain to do so till today.
The reaction of most of the scientific community has been either ignore these phenomena or to deny their existence. And a propaganda war has been waging for a long time now to persuade the population in general that paranormal phenomena are delusions of the mind and are in reality non-existent. The problem is that however many persons of authority broadcast their non-existence, they just won’t go away.
Why has science, which has been so successful in other areas, been so utterly unsuccessful with regard to paranormal phenomena? The answer to this question lies in both the character of science and in the character of the phenomena. Science on the one hand is entirely fixated on material reality through phenomena that can be measured. Tangibility of some sort is a condition to be accepted by science as a reality. Paranormal phenomena are functioning primarily outside the reach of or context of gross materiality. They appear within our consciousness. We experience them, but they don’t necessarily show up in a graph.
It must be said here that a small group of dedicated academics who defied the existing prejudice in scientific circles against the paranormal has been very successful in one area of research. Their field of research has been named parapsychology. Over the past decades, they have gathered both quantitative as well as qualitative proof in support of the existence and reality of paranormal phenomena. But a rational explanation or theory that would satisfy both our common sense and scientific prerequisites has not been forthcoming.
This is without any doubt due to the character of the phenomena. They belong to the territory of the spirit and interact with material reality only in so far we can interact and are part of that material reality. Science can measure the activity and functioning of our brain, which is constituted matter and material processes. But so far science has not been able to establish how the functioning of the brain relates to the functioning of our mind. Our actual thinking power, memory and learning abilities, and the like. Science has developed just a very dim understanding of the areas within the brain where some of these functions may take place. Almost nothing is known about the how, except that electrical and chemical pulses are exchanged, creating certain wave patterns that can be registered with electronic equipment. And what constitutes the root-origin of our human consciousness, our sense of I and Thou, our self-awareness, and our emotions are entirely outside the reach of academic science.
What paranormal phenomena have in common is that they function at the interface of consciousness and materiality. To engage the subject from this angle has as a consequence that consciousness and materiality are treated as two entities which together constitute reality. This is contrary to the approach of materialistic science which treats consciousness as an accidental product of the accidental evolution of life on our planet. We don’t engage in this approach just blindly. As we mentioned at the beginning of this article we can look back to times when what is now considered to be outside the boundaries of the normal was treated as being within the normal, although it was understood to be special. This period of human history lies not very far in the past, and in some parts of the world, in certain branches of human civilization, this approach is still considered normal and valid.
Factual Orientation and Feeling Orientation
I propose to call these two approaches to the understanding of reality factual orientation and feeling orientation. In factual orientation we recognize the scientific preoccupation with ‘hard’ and ‘cold’ facts with that which is tangible, substantive, and measurable.
Feeling orientation is less obvious to us, mainly because it has been marginalized by the success and domination of factual orientation over the past centuries. Feeling orientation directs itself towards the domain of the spirit. The experience and development of human consciousness, especially in relation to the Absolute Consciousness which is infused within our reality. “Know thy Self, nothing else is worth knowing.”
Matter and consciousness interact in the cosmos, generating evolution and life. The one is inconceivable without the other. Consciousness and Life is the force that drives matter towards higher organization and complexity, where matter by itself inclines towards entropy or disorder.
Mysticism and spirituality are the disguises in which feeling orientation has survived in the age of science and technology. Feeling orientation is not necessarily the antagonists of factual orientation. Although it considers the material world relevant as far as the development of consciousness and spirit is concerned it does not judge science and technology as negative perse. Factual orientation, on the other hand, has been reacting quite a bit with animosity towards feeling orientation. This is because it has not been successful in its attempts to reduce spirit and cautiousness to measurable and tangible material phenomena. Consequently, the territory of the spirit remains largely outside of the power of control which factual orientation has established over many other aspects of our existence. And it has therefore also been largely unsuccessful to convince humanity to reject religion and spirituality and mysticism as superstitions.
Which brings us back to the paranormal phenomena. They just won’t go away. Worse, scientific methods have been successfully used to statistically show their existence. But all the attempts to explain them satisfactorily have remained unsuccessful. This has been done mainly through some extension of models and theories from physics. This is understandable as science looks to material nature and its phenomena to explain our world. Parapsychology has looked towards electromagnetism and quantum mechanics that would account for the phenomena they had measured. Without much success so far. The research group Scientific Study of Consciousness Related Physical Phenomena of Princeton University in the USA has successfully carried out research into Psycho Kinesis which has led to the postulation of a “consciousness field” generated by the human mind.
The unwillingness of paranormal phenomena to follow the expectation of the scientists to behave as a material principle leads us to the first step of the recognition of consciousness as an independent entity in the cosmos. Paranormal phenomena are clear and are the interface between human consciousness and the material universe. They include clairvoyance across space and time, telepathy, telekinesis, and many other effects. They show that the relationship of our consciousness with the material world in which we live is less straightforward than the relationship of matter with matter. If we want to come to an understanding of these we will have to approach it from the angle of the laws that govern consciousness itself! And not from the laws that rule matter.
Luckily we won’t have to start this approach from scratch. In a bygone era of human history, those who sought spiritual realization made the inquiries into their own psyche and consciousness. From this day designed a path of practice and discipline which eventually leads to the complete realization of unconditioned consciousness. This path has been named yoga, and its oldest description is contained in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. From this ancient text, it becomes clear that paranormal phenomena were considered perfectly normal, although special. They are called siddhis or attainments and they are said to come into being by birth as a gift, through the use of aushadha or herbs, through the application of mantras or incantations, through tapas or purifying action, and through Samadhi or yogic trance. (Y.S.161)
The description of attainments includes knowledge of the past and the future, knowledge of previous lives, knowledge of other minds, and many others, including paranormal powers over aspects of the material world. And the description of how to achieve them is direct and clear. One who follows the eightfold path of yoga unconditionally attains to these powers. But they are considered obstacles to the ultimate goal of unconditioned consciousness (Y.S.142). The crucial practice which is the key to the achievement of these paranormal abilities is called Samyama. This is the simultaneous practice of the three internal exercises of concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana), and yogic trance (samadhi).
The Yoga Sutras describe these internal practices as follows:
“Concentration is steadfastness of the mind.” (Yoga Sutras, 107)
“The continuation thereof the mental effort is meditation.” (Yoga Sutras 108)
“The trance modification of the mind is the destruction and rise of all-pointed ness and one-pointed-ness, respectively.” (Yoga Sutras 117)
It is the practice of Samadhi which is of interest in the context of how paranormal phenomena are brought about and how they function within the relationship of human consciousness with the material world. Vyasa, the author of the earliest commentary to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describes and explains Samadhi as follows:
“All-pointed-ness is a characteristic of the mind. One-pointed-ness is also a characteristic of the mind. The destruction of all-pointed-ness is its disappearance. The rise of one-pointed-ness is its appearance. The mind puts on both these characteristics. This mind then following along both these characteristics of destruction and manifestation which make its very nature, inclines towards contemplation. This is the trance modification of the mind.”
The practitioner generates in the mind the two states of all-pointedness and one-pointedness, and directs them to alternate until they synthesize into a completely new form. Here the brain is used as an instrument on which two notes are played till their vibrations merge into one new note, vibrating on a higher plane. The result is that the mind becomes as it were an empty mirror. That is described in sutra 109.
“The same when shining with the light of the object alone, and devoid as it were of itself, is trance.” (Yoga Sutras 109)
This state-of-being gives unprecedented power to the individual consciousness. It is the power of knowing, understanding, and beyond this, control over the subjects on which Samyama is practiced. What is the source and root of this power? This brings us to what Patanjali has to say about the essence of the practice and the ultimate goal of yoga.
“Yoga is the restraint of the mental modifications.” (Yoga Sutras 2)
“ Then the seer stands in his own nature.” (Yoga Sutras 3)
In modern terms, we could say that the complete and integrated unconditioned consciousness is the ultimate goal of yoga and that subsiding or silencing all our miscellaneous and aimlessly roaming thought processes is the method that leads to this goal. Normal people living a normal life have a continuous stream of thoughts that go everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Shopping lists, bits of memories, likes and dislikes, worries, and what not, all flow through our mind day and night. Learning to control and direct the power of the mind has the same effect which learning to control and direct the physical body has. We become the master over it. We can become athletes, masters of martial arts, or accomplished dancers, among many other things. Such accomplishments have become highly regarded over the past decades. But the idea that we could become the masters over our mind and through this mastery attain unprecedented understanding and power over ourselves and the material world we live in has no place in our present mindset.
The reason of course is easy to point out. On the one hand, we have become separated from the path of the spirit because of the material success of science and technology. On the other hand, this development was initiated and propelled by the fact that spiritual attainments seemed to have become more difficult to achieve over the past few thousand years, are now more difficult than ever before. Although the practice of several branches of yoga is quite popular in the West no obvious advantages besides peace of mind and lower blood pressure seem to have been achieved. And the situation in the land of origin of yoga, India. Rja Deekshithar’s father was a great yogi, and during his childhood he met many great deal yogis and sadhus who had reached the higher planes of spiritual attainment. Since the passing away of that generation, I have not met anybody with a background of yogic or other spiritual practice, including myself, whom I would consider the equal of these people.
Not only do we find a coherent and consistent description and explanation of paranormal phenomena in the ancient doctrine of yoga. Ancient doctrine related to the philosophy of yoga offers us useful insights into the constitution of the cosmos which may enable us to formulate a successful theory of the explanation of the paranormal phenomena. This may not come as a total surprise to the reader. But what will definitely come as a surprise is that this ancient cosmological doctrine, which was formulated thousands of years ago on the Indian sub-continent, can be shown to have many connections with the most advanced cosmological theories that have been developed over the last century.
Vedic cosmology may seem very different from modern materialistic cosmology at first sight. This is mainly because the stress is on consciousness and spirit as the underlying force and reality of the creation. The other difficulty in comparing the two systems of thought lies in the different kinds of language and imagery they both use. Whereas physics uses the jargon of modern science, the Vedic doctrine uses mythological imagery to express its ideas and concepts. To access the rational and scientific information encapsulated in these one has to decode the images and translate the symbolism.
Within, under, and beyond the many fold manifestations of existence is found the absolute oneness of Brahman, the one self-existent impersonal spirit, sometimes called universal world soul. The word Brahman literally means growth, expansion, and development. It is the principle of cosmos, its being and becoming at the same time. Not a created entity. From this principle, the Creation originates. The first phase towards creation initiates the emergence of the duality of forces, male and female, consciousness and materiality, Fire and Water, which enable interaction to take place. This interaction generates vibration. From this primordial vibration, several other phases follow in which spiritual entities such as Ahamkara, this sense of I, and Budhi, or Understanding, are evolved. Eventually leading to the creation of the lowest plane, material reality. An ancient text expresses it as follows.
“From this Brahman indeed, which is this Self, was produced Space; from Space emerged Air, from Air was born Fire; from Fire was created Water; from Water sprang up Earth. From earth were born the herbs. From the herbs was produced food. From food was born man.” (Taittiriya Upanishad, II, I, 1)
Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth are the primordial elements that constitute the material plane of Creation. These elements or Mahabhuta can be identified with the forces that, according to physics, function on an elementary level in our universe. The four elements which are said to be atomic are Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. I have argued in my article “Akasha Gamanam” that these can be recognized as identical with gravity, the week nuclear force, the electromagnetic force, and the strong nuclear force respectively. But here we are concerned with the functioning and explanation of paranormal phenomena and we must therefore focus on the fifth element, Space or Akasha.
Akasha can literally be translated as ‘towards appearance’, ‘becoming visible’ or even as ‘ from out of the brilliance’. Generally, it is translated as space, sky, vacuity, or ether. It is the first element to appear as a physical and material entity, and the other four are evolved from it, one after the other. Akasha is described as one and indivisible, non-atomic, all prevailing, and ubiquitous. It is characterized by motion in every direction and by ‘Shabda’, sound vibration, and the Word.
Although Akasha is translated as space it must not be confused with geometrical space which is called ‘dish’ in Sanskrit. Akasha is a Mahabhuta or Elementary gross substance. As it is described as one and indivisible and as separate from geometrical space or dish, and time or kala, it can be concluded it was not subject to impact from these two principles. I propose that Akasha can be understood as the field of force that unifies all other physical phenomena, the grand Unified Field Force that has been sought after by physicists since Albert Einstein.
If it is a physical substance then what is its role in the explanation of paranormal phenomena? It is the key for all understanding of the paranormal and the connecting element between consciousness and matter. The Taittiriya Upanishad (I, vi, 1-2) states
AKASHA SHARIRAM BRAHMA
Akasha, the substance of space, is the embodiment of Brahman or cosmic consciousness. It is an all-pervading and omnipresent, non-atomic field. It provides the ground tone of all material phenomena. And it is also the field from which all life and consciousness are generated. It is through Akasha that consciousness and materiality interact. And it is through Akasha that paranormal phenomena take shape. In Akasha we recognize the consciousness field generated by the human mind which was postulated by the parapsychological research group from Princeton University, USA. Except that through the doctrine we learn that the relationship is the other way around. It is the field of Akasha that generates consciousness.
As Akasha is the base and medium of both cosmic and individual consciousness on the material plane we must consequently all have the latent ability to tune into this field of universal cosmic consciousness. The modifications of our mind which churn thoughts endlessly are the obstacles to an effective relation of our individual being with this primordial source of all life and consciousness. It is as though we have a radio, but the tuner is having a will of its own and is roaming without direction from frequency to frequency. When functioning in an average and normal way a person can’t stop the flow of thought and can only partially direct it. The practice of yoga, and specifically its three internal exercises of concentration, meditation, and yogic trance, are designed to obtain complete control over one’s own mental processes. Consequently, this will generate a complete integration of mental functions, both on the physical plane of the brain, as well as on the subtle plane of the mind. Lifting the individual consciousness to a higher level of performance. Here, what is otherwise paranormal, becomes normal.
This interpretation also explains why paranormal phenomena are often more obvious in circumstances where people are emotionally involved. In emotional states, rational thought processes become suppressed, and people become more one-pointed. At the same time, the emotional state also generates unconscious integration and all-pointed-ness. In such a condition it will be easier for the individual to tune into the field of Akasha. Mental blocks and obstacles melt away and that paranormal linkup can occur spontaneously.
Science and doctrine
In what way could this application of ancient Vedic doctrine be helpful towards the establishment of a functioning theory of the paranormal? Science as a whole will without doubt protest vigorously against the application of what it considers as superstitions from a bygone past to the field of science. Proving that the ancients knew the four forces of nature and the unified force as the five material elements will not be easy if the evidence meets with strong prejudice. And proving the existence of Akasha as the substance of space will not be easy either as a complete the universally invariant field cannot be detected. It would take the cooperation of scholars with a Vedic background with physicists. And the application of all human intelligence, inventiveness, and stubbornness. In the present mindset and organization of the academic world, such people could just as well live in different universes, so unlikely is such cooperation.
An indirect approach of this thesis is probably the most fruitful one. Such an approach would benefit parapsychology as well as the doctrine, and most likely eventually also physics. As Akasha is understood as the medium of consciousness its role in paranormal phenomena could function as indirect or circumstantial proof of its existence and function as a witness to its characteristics. Research into states of consciousness with modern non-intrusive measuring techniques could be fruitful. For instance, the concept of trance is known to function on several planes. Samadhi or yogic trance is different in nature from the trance of the possessed, although there might be some functional overlapping. Both lead to the possibility of paranormal phenomena. Shamanic trance may or may not be related to either or both. It is outside my field of expertise so I have no knowledge of whether any research has already been done in this direction.
A better understanding of the functioning of our consciousness could be generated from research on the basis of what is said about it by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. Such an understanding would be of great importance to the present humanity. As we enjoy ever greater success on the material plane, we become more and more helpless opposite our own consciousness and spirituality. Mental and emotional dysfunction and violence are problems that are not going to go away by themselves. Yoga has been proven to be of great help in situations where violence and tension are rife. When yogic practice was introduced in Indian jails it had an obvious positive effect on the whole prison population.
As the Yoga Sutras are witness to the acceptance in ancient times of paranormal phenomena as part of reality, and of the possibility of such phenomena being consciously controlled by the practitioner, this text might be a very good starting point for future parapsychological research.