Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Self as Centre

"I began to understand that the goal of psychic development is the self. There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the self. Uniform development exists, at most, at the beginning; later, everything points toward the centre. This insight gave me stability, and gradually my inner peace returned."
-Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Pradakshina (circumambulation)

"One of the customary aspects of going to a temple is the practice of going around the deity or the sanctum sanctorum. This is called pradakshina. Typically, pradakshina is done after the completion of traditional worship (pooja) and after paying homage to the deity. We cannot draw a circle without a center point. The Lord is the center, source and essence of our lives. We acknowledge this by performing pradakshina. Also, every point on the circumference of a circle is equidistant from the center. This means that wherever or whoever we may be, we are equally close to the Lord. His grace flows towards us without partiality. The pradakshina is done clockwise. Indeed, the word pradakshina means “moving rightward” in Sanskrit. The reason is, not as someone said, to avoid a traffic jam (Although, it certainly helps!). As we do pradakshina, the Lord is always on our right. Hindus traditionally associate right side with auspiciousness. So as we circumambulate the deity, we remind ourselves to lead an auspicious life of righteousness, with the Lord who is the indispensable source of help and strength, as our guide - “the right hand”. Often, devotees additionally circumambulate around themselves (turning in place) again, thereby recognizing the presence of divinity in themselves."

Source: Marg, Vol 2, No. 4 (July-August 2006)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Spirituality of Sound

To us, music can be a spiritual discipline on the path to self-realisation, for we follow the traditional teaching that sound is God - Nada Brahma: By this process individual consciousness can be elevated to a realm of awareness where the revelation of the true meaning of the universe - its eternal and unchanging essence - can be joyfully experienced. Our ragas are the vehicles by which this essence can be perceived.

The ancient Vedic scriptures teach that there are two types of sound. One is a vibration of ether, the upper or purer air near the celestral realm. This sound is called Anahata Nad or unstruck sound. Sought after by great enlightened yogis, it can only be heard by them. The sound of the universe is the vibration thought by some to be like the music of the spheres that the Greek Pythagoras described in the 6th century B.C. The other sound Ahata Nad or struck sound, is the vibration of air in the lower atmosphere closer to the earth. It is any sound that we hear in nature or man-made sounds, musical and non-musical.

-Ravi Shankar

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Whenever righteousness wanes
and unrighteousness increases
I send myself forth. In order to protect the good
and punish the wicked,
In order to make a firm foundation
for righteousness,
I come into being age after age.

- Bhagavad Gita

In Hinduism, avatar (or avatara) is a word used to describe the descent of a deity into manifest form. The term is derived from ava (down) and tṝ (to cross), and has come to signify the being who descends rather than the act of descent - the original meaning. Avatars are aspects of the Divine Self who incarnate for a specific purpose. There are many avatars of the Hindu Goddess (Shri Devi or Shri Shakti). The aspect of the Divine Self as guru, or teacher, also incarnates. Perhaps most of the Hindu avatars are incarnations of the deity Shri Vishnu, who is the aspect of the Hindu Trinity responsible for maintaining the universe and its laws. The other two aspects of the Hindu Trinity are Shri Brahma (creation) and Shri Shiva (dissolution). Avatars of Shri Brahma are very rare. Shri Shiva is thought not to have ever incarnated, as He represents the unmanifest Self. There are, however some great rishis and saints who are considered to be partial incarnations of Lord Shiva, for example Shri Ramana Maharshi (no connection to TM). Some of the aspects of Shri Shiva are believed to have incarnated, such as Shri Bhairava. The Shiva Puranas tell of a Shiva avatar in the form of a bird-lion, called S(h)arabha, who incarnated in order to quell the exessive rage of Shri Narasimha, the man-lion avatar of Shri Vishnu, after He killed the demon Hiranyakashipu. In some versions of the myth, a powerful and wrathful bird, with two heads, emerged from Narasimha and fought with Sharabha for many days until Shri Narasimha's anger was satisfied. The double-headed bird can be found on the emblem of Karnataka state in India, and also in European/Russian heraldry and Amerindian tradition.

Double-headed eagle of the Russian royal emblem.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Ego sum Lux Mundi
"I am the Light of the World"

The nativity of Jesus did not occur in December. It is appropriate that The Light of the World incarnated at the time of Diwali, the Festival of Lights. The date of Diwali is set by the Hindu lunar calendar, which varies from year to year. It usually falls in October or November.

However, late December also has significance for this incarnation of light, as it is the time of the mid-winter solstice, after which the days begin to lengthen in the Northern Hemisphere. Early Christians admitted that they had no idea when Jesus was born. It is likely that they fixed the date of Christmas at the midwinter solstice because of it's symbolic association with the resurrection of the sun's light, a time of rejoicing for those living in chilly Northern climes.

Long ago, I used to baulk at the notion that early Christians would have taken pre-Christian symbolism into account, until I went to Europe and saw churches built on pagan sacred sites, and temples recycled as basillicas. Early Christians believed that certain pre-Christian, pagan prophets and sybils had been given revelations which supported Christianity. This is harder for present day Christians to accept. Many of them seeing such symbolism as a watering down or contamination, rather than a reinforcement, of their faith.

Light is the phase of vibration associated with the Agnya (Brow) Chakra, the subtle psycho-spiritual centre located in the optic area of the brain.

The Libyan Sybil,
Sistine Chapel.

Maybe we antipodeans should celebrate Christmas in our midwinter. This already happens in the Blue Mountains not far from Sydney. It sometimes snows there in winter, so there's even the chance of getting a traditional European white Christmas. The idea for "Christmas in July" blossomed in 1980 as snow began to fall on a cold winter's night at the Mountain Heritage Hotel, Katoomba. A small group of Irish visitors had come to The Blue Mountains to enjoy the clear winter climate that they were accustomed to back in Ireland - they commented that "Celebrating Christmas in Australia during the heat of summer just didn't feel quite the same". The host and owner of the Mountain Heritage offered to re-create for his Irish guests, a festive 'Winter Christmas' atmosphere with all the trimmings - frosted windows, Christmas feasts of turkey, hams, mince pies and steaming plum puddings, and choristers joining together singing the joys of the festive season. Plus, of course, a snowman. This tradition has become known as "Yulefest" and lives on throughout the Blue Mountains in the winter months of June, July and August.

Monday, December 21, 2009


"Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself."
- Hermann Hesse

"Meditate. Live purely. Be quiet. Do your work with mastery. Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine."
-The Buddha

Saturday, December 12, 2009

At the Art Gallery of NSW

The Equivalence Of Self and Universe, 1824, (detail)

An exhibition currently at the AGNSW, Garden and Cosmos, includes paintings inspired by the Nath tradition of yoga. The painting above, The Equivalence Of Self and Universe, illustrates the Nath non-dual concept that the Self and Universe are one and the same. The painting below depicts the inner subtle body with its chakras.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


After her conversion to Christianity, the French Jewish writer Simone Weil found that she could use the Lord's Prayer to enter into a state of thoughtless awareness, mental silence or meditation.

“The effect of this practice is extraordinary and surprises me every time, for, although I experience it each day, it exceeds my expectation at each repetition. At times the very first words tear my thoughts from my body and transport it to a place outside space where there is neither perspective nor point of view. The infinity of the ordinary expanses of perception is replaced by an infinity to the second or sometimes the third degree. At the same time, filling every part of this infinity of infinity, there is silence, a silence which is not an absence of sound but which is the object of a positive sensation, more positive than that of sound. Noises, if there are any, only reach me after crossing this silence.”

- Simone Weil, Waiting on God.

Information and Reality

"In the history of physics, we have learned that there are distinctions that we really should not make, such as between space and time... It could very well be that the distinction we make between information and reality is wrong. This is not saying that everything is just information. But it is saying that we need a new concept that encompasses or includes both."
- Dr. Anton Zeilinger 

Zeilinger is first ever recipient of the Isaac Newton Medal for his pioneering contributions to physics as the head of one of the most successful quantum optics groups in the world. Over the past two decades, he and his colleagues have done as much as anyone else to test quantum mechanics. And since its inception more than 80 years ago, quantum mechanics has possibly weathered more scrutiny than any theory ever devised. Quantum mechanics appears correct, and now Zeilinger and his group have started experimenting with what the theory means.

Some theories of consciousness speculate that consciousness, perhaps even selfhood, is an information state.
Perhaps the distinction between Selfhood and reality is also a false distinction.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

St Michael

St Michael (after Raphael)
Oil on canvas, 
12.5 x 12.5 cm

St Michael is an aspect of the Self, who drives away negativity from the Ida Nadi (left/lunar channel of the subtle body). Those suffering from mental problems, lethargy, or chronic disease can invoke His aid. In the work by Raphael (a detail of which inspired this painting) St Michael is depicted slaying a dragon, representing the impure desires that can affect the left side.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Kundalini is the Mother of the world, who illumines the self
and gives shade to the sprouted seed of the universe.
It is the embodiment of the formless Brahman,
the cask of Lord Shiva,
the main spring of the sacred syllable Om.

- Shri Jnaneshwara (Dnyaneshwara. also known as Jñanadeva) (1275-1296), Jnaneshwari (Dnyaneshwari)

William Blake, Beatrice Addressing Dante

Monday, November 09, 2009


Oil painting by Jeffrey T Larson

"Everywhere we seek the Absolute, and always we find only things."
"Every beloved object is the center point of a paradise."

The Self is not a thing.
The Self is not an object,
The Self is pure Subject,
yet it is also things that are loved.
If anything in the world of things is the object of love,
it is the Self.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Julian of Norwich

The Anchoress known as Julian of Norwich (born in late 1342) is thought of as one of the greatest English mystics. Virtually nothing is known about her aside from what she writes in her remarkable book, but even there she reveals little about herself, preferring instead to talk about her “courteous” God. In her work (considered to be the first book written by a woman in English), Julian recounts an amazing series of visions she had while suffering from a life-threatening illness; as she reflects on the meaning of her visions, she reveals a profound level of mystical wisdom and insight that, over six hundred years later, remains on the cutting edge of Christian theology. Today, Julian is best known for her optimism; she is most-often quoted for saying “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well” (which was Christ’s response to her when she wondered about why sin had to exist). A lesser known but equally lovely quote: “The fullness of joy is to behold God in all.” Julian is also celebrated for naming both God and Christ as “Mother.” More than a cute theological ploy, she articulates a fully-formed spirituality of the motherhood of God, yet always within the parameters of an orthodox appreciation of the Christian faith.

The deep Wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother
in whom we are all enclosed

I beheld the action of all the blessed Trinity.
In that sight I saw and understood these three aspects:
the aspect of the Fatherhood,
the aspect of the Motherhood,
and the aspect of the Lordhood,
in one God.

- The Revelations of Divine Love of Blessed Julian of Norwich

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Slow Art

“What we need more of is slow art. Art that holds time as a vase holds water. Art that grows out of modes of perception and making whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel, art that isn’t merely sensational, that doesn’t get its message across in ten seconds, that isn’t falsely iconic, that hooks into something deep-running in our natures… art that is the very opposite of mass media.”

Robert Hughes, The New Shock of the New

Monday, October 19, 2009

WHO launches war on alcohol

"Humanity's relationship with alcohol has never been easy. Now it is about to undergo as great a change as our attitude to tobacco, which has seen smoking plummet from the height of cool to the lowest of unpleasant habits. That at least is the hope of the World Health Organization, which, between now and January, will be honing its draft of the first global strategy on reducing health damage from alcohol abuse, the fifth leading cause of premature death and disability worldwide."

"The overall harm caused by alcohol is greater than that caused by LSD or ecstasy, and not far behind cocaine. When society stops thinking of alcohol as as relaxing tipple and regards it as another drug, that will signal the biggest change in thinking of all."

-New Scientist

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bernadino Luini

This is a detail from a Madonna by Bernardino Luini, a painter in the circle of Leonardo da Vinci.
The painting has sustained a bit of damage over the centuries, so I did a digital restoration and added some sublime-looking clouds. The original is in the collection of the National Gallery in London. Not sure if it is being restored. I almost wonder if some goddess incarnated in High Renaissance Italy, whose face became a model for Leonardo and Luini.

Monday, October 12, 2009


"I am a rock, I am an island."
- Simon and Garfunkle

"To no one, who has broken off, and made himself an island, will insight rise of itself, not even with toilsome effort. Only to children, or childlike people, who know not what they do, can this happen."


"The true philosophical Act is annihilation of self (Selbsttodtung); this is the real beginning of all Philosophy; all requisites for being a Disciple of Philosophy point hither. This Act alone corresponds to all the conditions and characteristics of transcendental conduct."
-Novalis (Friedrich Von Hardenberg)

"Ego is absolutely superficial like a bubble. It is just like a balloon, which can burst just like that. And it should go. It should go so that you should rise. It should disappear so that your attention rises in your Spirit. And that you see the whole world as a part of that Spirit that you are."
-Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi

Selbsttodtung does not mean suicide; it is the dissolution of an illusory self produced by ego and superego. There is nothing violent or even destructive about this act, because that which is annihilated is already non-existent.

Obey your Self

"Obey your Self and not your ego. And then you can order also others. Not only human beings, but you can even order the sun and the moon and all the winds and everything in the world. Everything you can control, everything with this Agnya."

-Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, 1978, Agnya Chakra

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Korean Cinema

A sample of the exquisite cinematography in the Korean art film Chi Hwa Seon. Korea has produced some interesting film-makers in recent years. In this film, a painting master describes the way the Chi (perhaps similar to Hindu 'Chaitanya') energy "irrigates the senses". There are works of art which seem to emit subtle energy which can enhance the sense of sight.

A recent scientific study found that people who were told that they were going to be looking at a super hi-definition TV screen, perceived the images they saw to be better than if they were told they were looking at a standard resolution screen. So expectation can be deluding. But you can also sometimes be surprised by unexpected clarity.

Friday, September 25, 2009


The Australian writer David Malouf was interviewed on ABC radio today. In one of his recent novels, the ancient Greek god Hermes appears. The interviewer noted that Wikipedia entries on the ancient gods get more hits than entries on Jesus, and he may have been wondering whether or not this indicates a resurgence of paganism. Though not a 'pagan', Malouf explained that the persistence of interest in deities, the reason we still feel a thrill when we read the name of a deity in a poem or story, is due to the fact that they personify eternal qualities in human beings and nature. Carl Jung called them Archetypes. Others have likened them to windows through which the Divine may be seen.
From the perspective of universal Selfhood, there is only one being. The Self is a single gem, but it has many facets, and many qualities, qualities which are eternal, which sometimes take a human form in order to evolve the same qualities in human beings.
The Monotheistic prophets emphasised the one-ness of the Self because they observed people worshipping only that aspect of the Self (usually the god of wealth or war) which they believed would satisfy their greed. The founders of Judaism and Islam saw pure archetypes becoming objects of impure desires leading away from Self-realisation, not towards it. Self-realisation requires a simultaneous respect for all aspects of the Divine Self, not just the aspect that suits one's current proclivities.
The deities have survived in monotheistic cultures, as archangels, and the vast Kherubim of the creation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Advaita (the philosophy of undivided, non-dual Selfhood) could be misconstrued as being akin to soviet style collectivism - submersion of the individual in a totalitarian state.
The Austrian philosopher Wittgenstein, like many of his generation, was attracted by both Advaita and communism. He even made a visit to Moscow to see for himself how socialism was being applied there. He was not overly impressed.
Russia, under Stalin, was far from being an ego-less state. To the contrary, totalitarianism is the total dominance of society by the single paranoid ego of an autocrat. Marx's ideals can only work if everyone in a society operates selflessly for the good of the whole, including the leader.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

At the Art Gallery of NSW

The Vision of God, The Book of Job
This engraving by William Blake is currently on display, along with several others from the Book of Job series, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The Universal Self connects to human beings through the Sahasrara Chakra at the crown of the head. From the perspective of ego and superego (conditionings), universal Selfhood is terrifying. Those who still cling to these two illusory institutions are seen cowering on the right side of the composition.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Water doesn't have a mind.
It doesn't have intent.
It has no desires;
even the desire to be good.
It acts according to its nature.
When you let all things return to their nature
there is harmony.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

you are not your ego

When you are fighting the nature the ego develops within you. And then once that momentum has started in you it is very difficult to bring it down. It is such a terrible disease that people have taken it for granted that that’s a part of their lives. You are not your ego. You are not.
- Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi
1978, Agnya Chakra

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Deities Within


Indian painting showing the deities residing in the subtle system:
Shri Brahmadeva in the Swadisthana Chakra,
in the lower abdomen (creativity)
Shri Vishnu in the Nabhi Chakra,
at the navel (evolution and sustenance)
and Shri Shiva at the Sahasrara,
at the crown of the head
(dissolution of ego and superego through Self-realisation)

Note, Shri Shiva also resides in the left Heart Chakra. There is a strong connection between the heart and the Sahasrara Chakra.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Shri Ganesha

So Ganesha is the killer of ego,
because humility is the only thing
that really can neutralize your ego.

-Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi
Madras (Chennai) 1991

Friday, July 03, 2009

Hazrat Ali

Name of Hazrat Ali, The Lion of Allah

"The strongest amongst you is the one who subdues his self (ego)."
- Hazrat Ali

Foreseeing literalism/fundamentalism, Hazrat Ali, the nephew of the Prophet Muhammad, taught that the Quran has many possible interpretations. The earliest Muslims understood that the text, is a poetic work with vast possibilities. Fundamentalism is a form of blasphemy, as it dares to limit the creative possibilities of the word of God.
The Shrine of Lord Ali

Hazrat Ali, Incarnation of Lord Brahma, the creative aspect of the Self, instructed that his burial place should remain secret. According to legend his body was placed on a camel which was driven from Kufa. The camel stopped a few miles to the west, and here the body of Hazrat Ali was buried secretly. No tomb was raised and nobody knew of the burial place except a few trusted persons. It is narrated that more than a hundred years later, the Abbasid Caliph, Harun-ur-Rashid went deer-hunting outside Kufa, and the deer he was pursuing sought sanctuary at a place where the hounds would not follow. On enquiry as to why the place was a sanctuary, Harun-ur-Rashid was told that it was the burial place of Hazrat Ali. He ordered a mausoleum to be built on the spot, where, in due course, the town of Najaf, in present day Iraq, grew around it.

"Unless and until you take Hazrat Ali’s name your Swadisthan Chakra cannot be cured."
-Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi

Monday, June 29, 2009

no 'me'

In my unblemished nature there are no elements,
no body, no faculties, no mind.
There is no void and no anguish.
For me, free from the sense of dualism,

there are no scriptures, no self-knowledge,
no mind free from an object,
no satisfaction and no freedom from desire.
There is no knowledge or ignorance,

no 'me', 'this' or 'mine', no bondage, no liberation,
and no property of self-nature.

-Ashtavakra Gita

Sunday, June 28, 2009


"Wheresoever you go,
go with all your heart".


Friday, June 26, 2009

The Power of Silence and Zero

“Humility collects the soul into a single point by the power of silence. A truly humble man has no desire to be known or admired by others, but wishes to form himself into himself, to become nothing, as if he had never been born. When he is completely hidden to himself in himself, he is completely with God.”
- Isaac of Nineveh (AD 600)
A current affairs reporter was talking on TV about the Global Economic Crisis, and told viewers to brace themselves for "a whole lot of zeros", as she was going to talk about the 2.7 trillion dollars that have been lost on world markets. Seeing all those zeros after the 2 and 7 on the screen made me think about how important zeros are. Without nothing, nothing could exist. It's one of the apparent paradoxes of mysticism that to become truly nothing is to become everything.

One of my aunts mentioned that she has been reading a book called The Book of Nothing, in which the author reflects that Indian philosophy was unphased by the notions of zero and infinity, while Western schools struggled with them.

PS think of how many zeros that would be if you converted 2.7 trillion US to Zimbabwean dollars!
This 100 billion dollar note would buy a kilo of apples.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Eric Joyner, Sweet Buddha

Hollow at the centre; donuts symbolise our consumerist society.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Economic Anarchy

It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption. I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis in our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society. The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of evil.
- Albert Einstein, 1949

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


"Existence is illusory and it is eternal."
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky

"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."
-Albert Einstein

To the universal Self, the world appears as a play or an illusion. But for human beings this is not the case.

The subtitle of this blog sounds like a joke, but it's actually quite serious: philosophers do not agree on what is meant by the word 'existence'. It begs the question: If they can't agree on something as fundamental as that, what could they ever agree on?
The Vedic Hindu idea of Brahman, pure existence, or a universal Self, is usually classified as 'pantheism'; however, a more accurate label would be 'panentheism', since even deity emerges from Brahman. Pantheism has been generally despised by Western thinkers, partly because of an historical contempt for the beliefs of traditional peoples such as the American Indians.
Many ancient cultures such as Vedic, Native American civilizations share similar views on omnipresent nature; the ancient Greeks and Rome did not worship an omnipresent being. A form of omnipresent deity arises from a worldview that does not share ideas with mono-local deity cultures. Some omnipresent religions see the whole of Existence as a manifestation of the deity. There are two predominant viewpoints here: pantheism, deity is the summation of Existence; and panentheism, deity is an emergent property of Existence. The first is closest to the Native Americans' worldview; the latter resembles the Vedic outlook.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Rhapsody of the Sea

While I write,
as my creative sentiments draw towards cessation,
I no longer sense other people to be outside my Self.

Disturbance is always the lot of physical forms,
but Truth only remains unmoved.
It is externalities that are caught up
in all kinds of happenings -
the Tao itself is without mind.

- Shang Rong (442 - 497), Rhapsody of the Sea

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Ten thousand flowers in spring,
the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer,
snow in winter.
If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.



We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
- Lao Tzu


It is everywhere.

To a mind that is still,
the whole universe surrenders.


"When we forget the self [ego],
we can remember the 10 000 things."

"To study the Way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened
by all things of the universe.
To be enlightened by all things of the universe
is to cast off the body and mind of the self
as well as those of others.
Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out,
and life with traceless enlightenment
goes on forever and ever."


Friday, May 29, 2009

Glow of Hope

An Indian friend emailed me this image and told me it had been painted by the father of his classical Indian singing teacher. I remembered having seen the actual painting somewhere in India. A bit of internet research reminded me where:

Glow of Hope, alternately titled "Woman With the Lamp", is a painting by S.L. Haldankar. The work is currently stored in the Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery at Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore, India.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"I within did Flow"


A native health and innocence
Within my bones did grow,
And while my God did all his Glories show,
I felt a vigour in my sense
That was all Spirit. I within did flow
With seas of life, like wine;
I nothing in the world did know
But ’twas divine.

This is part of a poem by the English mystic Thomas Traherne, a precursor of William Blake. He goes on to describe how, in his mystical state, everything he sees appears as a treasure, a treasure which he does not desire to own, because it belongs to him, utterly, already. This is the experience of realising the Self which is the creator and ownerless owner of the world.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Einstein on Self and the Mystical

"A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive."
-Albert Einstein, 1954

"The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling is at the centre of true religiousness."
-Albert Einstein – "The Merging of Spirit and Science"

I think I may have posted these quotes before at some stage, but worth revisiting.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Fabula, El Greco, ca. 1600

This wonderful painting is incredibly modern for 1600. The Self-realised painter El Greco depicts a youth blowing on an ember in order to light a candle, overlooked by a monkey and a fool. Perhaps the monkey on the youth's right side represents the quickness and agility, but waywardness, of rajas; while the fool on the youth's left represents the dullness of tamas.

Giving Self-realisation is like one candle lighting another.

The Self realises itself. There is no source of enlightenment beyond the Self. Indeed there is no thing beyond the Self. However, one Self-realised person may ignite Self-realisation in an "other".

In the Sufi tradition, Self-realisation is believed to be transmitted through generations of Sufi masters. This transmission is called Baraka.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Empirical Reality

Schrodinger's cats
I believe that some of our most engrained notions about space and causality should be reconsidered. Anyone who takes quantum mechanics seriously will have reached the same conclusion.
What quantum mechanics tells us, I believe, is surprising to say the least. It tells us that the basic components of objects – the particles, electrons, quarks etc. – cannot be thought of as "self-existent". The reality that they, and hence all objects, are components of is merely "empirical reality".
This reality is something that, while not a purely mind-made construct as radical idealism would have it, can be but the picture our mind forces us to form of ... Of what ? The only answer I am able to provide is that underlying this empirical reality is a mysterious, non-conceptualisable "ultimate reality", not embedded in space and (presumably) not in time either.
How did I arrive at this conclusion? My interest in the foundations of quantum physics developed at quite an early stage in my career, but I soon noticed that my elders deliberately brushed aside the problems the theory raised, which they considered not to be part of physics proper. It was only after I attained the status of a fully-fledged physicist that I ventured to take up the question personally.
To put it in a nutshell, in this quest I first found that whatever way you look at it the quantum mechanical formalism, when taken at face value, compels us to consider that two particles that have once interacted always remain bound in a very strange, hardly understandable way even when they are far apart, the connection being independent of distance.
Even though this connection-at-a-distance does not permit us to transmit messages, clearly it is real. In other words space, so essential in classical physics, seems to play a considerably less basic role in quantum physics.
I soon found out, as often happens, that these things had been known for quite a long time. Schrödinger had even given them a name: entanglement, and had claimed entanglement is essential. But strangely enough he had not really been listened to. Indeed he had been unheard to the extent that the very notion of "entanglement" was hardly mentioned in regular courses on quantum physics.
And in fact most physicists felt inclined to consider that, if not entanglement in general, at least the highly puzzling 'entanglement at a distance' was merely an oddity of the formalism, free of physical consequences and doomed to be removed sooner or later, just through improvements on the said formalism. At the time the general view was therefore that if any problems remained in that realm these problems were of a philosophical, not of a physical nature so that physicists had better keep aloof from them.
I was not convinced I must say, and in the early sixties I wrote and published a book and some articles developing physical arguments that focused attention on such problems by showing that entanglement is truly something worth the physicist's attention.
And then a real breakthrough took place in that John Bell, a colleague of mine at Cern, published his famous inequalities, which - for the first time - opened a possibility of testing whether or not entanglement-at-a-distance had experimentally testable consequences.
The outcome confirmed my anticipations. Entanglement-at-a-distance does physically exist, in the sense that it has physically verifiable (and verified) consequences. Which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that some of our most engrained notions about space and causality should be reconsidered.
Bernard d'Espagnat is a theoretical physicist, philosopher and winner of the Templeton Prize 2009. He is the author of On Physics and Philosophy, Princeton University Press, 2006
You might wonder how the picture of the cats is relevant to the text in this post? I was browsing for a suitable image to upload, and accidentally double clicked on this painting of cats. Probably meaningless coincidence, but Schrodinger used a cat in his famous thought experiment. I've uploaded probably over a thousand images to various blogs and this has never happened before. The universe, or at least the mind, is truly strange.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

You are nothing

Robert Vickrey

"Torah abides only with him who regards himself as nothing."
Talmud, Sota 21 B

You are the Universe

Forest, Kristin Vestgard

"Tell me, how many intrepid heroes there are out there who know that they themselves are the universe whose mystery they are seeking, and that the universe is he who is seeking the mystery?"

-Orhan Pamuk, The Black Book

Orhan Pamuk is an interesting Turkish writer who won the Nobel Prize for literature. His novel The Black Book explores notions of identity.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lincoln quote

America will never be destroyed from the outside.
If we falter and lose our freedoms,
it will be because we destroyed ourselves.

-Abraham Lincoln



Never is a person so telling of himself as in his judgment of another.
-La Rochfoucauld

Some might argue that the ego self, though a simulation/delusion, has evolved to give human organisms a necessary motivation for self-preservation. So why try to get rid of it? The biggest problem with the ego illusion is that it destorts the way we see the world, blinding us to our faults and projecting them onto 'others'. It is like a vestigial mental appendix that could go septic at any time and kill the real Self in us.

Emergence Reversal

Mental things alone are real;
what is called corporeal, nobody knows of its dwelling-place,
it is a fallacy and its existence an imposture.
Where is the existence, outside of mind or thought?
-William Blake

Western science is struggling to explain how mental states emerge from matter; and, more problematically, how a sense of self arises from matter.
Indian Advaita philosophers reverse the sequence of emergence and state that the self pre-exists everything and gives rise to mind from which the so-called material world emerges.
Blake's declaration that 'mental things alone are real' is also a reversal of the 'materialist' view. It is not necessarily Idealism; the world is real if recognised as Self, unreal if seen as other than Self (what Blake would call the Imagination).
To scientists, the self is imaginary (a simulation created by the material brain to motivate survival behaviours) To Blake the self is Imagination. (The universal Self is the Universal Imagination).

The question is: what exactly do we mean by 'matter', 'material', 'corporeal', 'real', and 'self''.
William Blake
"In Blake's conception, the soul is disintegrated and must reconcile every element of her being on the road back to Eternity. This is reminiscent of the ancient Egyptian myth of the dismemberment of Osiris in the beginning of time, and man's obligation in gathering together the dismembered parts in order to arrive once more at spiritual wholeness. To do this, 'man requires a new Selfhood continually,' as Blake expressed it: 'Self annihilation' was necessary."
-Madeline Clark

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I am I not any longer when I see.
This sentence is at the bottom of all creative activity.
It is just the exact opposite of
I am I because my little dog knows me.

-Gertrude Stein, from Henry James, in Four in America.

Gertrude Stein's famous send up of Descartes' "I think therefore I am", was not only poking fun at the pretensions of philosophical thought, but also making a claim about the necessary relational character of one's essential identity.
- Linda Martin Alcoff, Visible Identities.
Philosophers operate in the Agyna Chakra - the region of vision, the mind's eye. They talk of the "blind forces of nature" as if seeing is intent; and attempt to "see" the Self through introspection, then, seeing nothing, conclude it doesn't exist. If you can see the mountain, you are distant from it. If you are on it, you cannot see it. The same applies to the Self.

The concept of self in Buddhism

In his review of Thomas Metzinger's book, The Ego Tunnel, Owen Flanagan includes the Buddha in his list of figures who have endorsed the idea that there is no self. This is somewhat simplistic. Sanskrit, the language spoken by Buddha in it's variant form, Pali, has several terms that could translate into English 'self'. The Sanskrit word jiva refers to an individual soul, atma can mean either an individual or universal self, aham means 'ego', while Brahman is a self that is coextensive with the universe. It's probable that the Buddha rejected the reality of jiva, but would have found rejection of Brahman illogical. This might sound pedantic but these terms refer to vastly different things. It's a weakness of the English language that it uses woefully imprecise terminology for discussing concepts of 'self'.
Edit 28 April 09
I sent this to New Scientist for their Letters pages, and surprisingly they published it. I was reading the issue and it took a few moments to register why the text I was reading seemed so familiar. It also took a while to appear on the news stands. Do they run letters past experts first?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"I am everywhere"

Church built on site of St Thomas' martyrdom in Chennai, India.

It's one of the proposals of this blog that Self - perhaps it's better not to use the definite article ('the Self'), because Self is not an object - is ubiquitous (everywhere), and therefore not really separate from the world.

Recently I was in Chennai, India, where the apostle Thomas was speared to death by local priests. This led me to re-read the Gospel of Thomas, where I found a clear statement of the ubiquity of Self:

"I am everywhere". "Even if you break a branch in half I am there."

Another quote which clearly shows the unity of Self is:

"Whoever drinks from my mouth will become as I am: I myself shall become that person."

Basically the equation is: The Universal Self (speaking in the form of Jesus) = your Self = everything that exists.

It's no wonder the early church hierarchy tried to destroy this gospel. A statement like that really undermines the notion that we need a priesthood as intermediaries between ourselves and the Divine.
Though the Gospel of Thomas was rejected from the canon, it's themes recur in the writings of the great Christian mystics. You can't ban Selfhood. You can ignore it, but it doesn't go away.

A couple of years ago, Pope Benedict tried to refute the ancient tradition of Thomas going to India. Indian Christians, who revere Thomas as the founder of Christianity in the subcontinent, provided evidence to support the tradition, and the Vatican backed down.
In the first century the booming spice trade sea route linked South India strongly with the Roman Empire. Jewish merchants visited Kerala frequently, many of them settling there. Jewish communities, tracing their ancestry back to the time of Thomas and earlier, exist in the region to this day. There is no reason why he could not have gone there, as attested to by several ancient sources.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Tanjavur painting of Lord Shiva,
the principle of unattached love.

When one is attached
to objects, or persons,
one calls them 'mine',
rather than seeing them
as oneself.

When there is possessiveness
and attachment
there is duality, division, separation.
Where there is love
there is no more duality or separation.

Actually there are no objects;
all is Subject (Self).
And there is only one person;
all is Shiva, Allah, Jahwe -
the singular Personification of all that exists.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Our Lady of Guadalupe

"It is no secret to anyone that Mexican Catholicism is centred about the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe... the scene of her appearance to the Indian Juan Diego was a hill that formerly contained a sanctuary dedicated to Tonanatzin ‘Our Mother’, the Aztec goddess of fertility."
- Octavio Paz (Mexican writer and diplomat)
Early one morning in December 1531, a Mexican Indian, Juan Diego, heard beautiful music and a woman’s voice calling him to the top of Tepeyac Hill, which he was just passing. He saw a radiantly beautiful woman, who identified herself as the Virgin Mary. She told him that a temple should be built in her honour at the bottom of the hill.
The Aztec earth goddess Tonantzin wore a white robe and was called "The Goddess of Sustenance", "Honored Grandmother", and "Serpent".
The serpent often has negative connotations in Christian cultures, but it is very common to find it as an attribute of the Goddess all over the world.

Ownership and Illusion

Disowning an arm or a leg despite the fact that it is still attached to the body is a common symptom of stroke, anorexia and schizophrenia. And, curiously, the temperature of these rejected limbs is always low. Now researchers have tricked healthy people into disowning a limb. The work implies a more complex relationship between mind and body than had been thought. The so-called ‘rubber hand illusion’ is induced by stroking a person’s hand while it is out of their sight and at the same time stroking a visible rubber hand. The trick makes the subject perceive the rubber hand to be their own. It was discovered that this feeling is accompanied by reduced blood flow and a drop in temperature in the ‘rejected’ limb. Thus the body tells the thalamus (part of the brain thought to regulate body temperature) what to do.
"The experiment suggests that the conscious sense of who we are is intimately linked to our physical bodies. This is pretty ingenious. They have shown a direct link between body ownership and the physiological system", says Henrik Ehrsson from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm Sweden.

-New Scientist 30 Aug 08

Through its identification with the physical body, and the inanimate objects used by the body, the ego gives us an illusory sense of being a discrete self (rather than a universal Self).