Science and Spirituality: Any Points of Contact?
The Teachings of U.G. Krishnamurti, A Case Study
Paper Presented by Dr. J.S.R.L. Narayana Moorty
at the Krishnamurti Centennial Conference
Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, May 18-21, 1995
The following paper discusses some issues commonly raised in regard to the relationship between science and spirituality. In particular, I wish to examine the issue of the apparent similarities (or symmetry) between statements made by scientists and those made by mystics concerning the unity of existence (or of the universe). I shall argue that the positions of the scientists and those of the mystics are not comparable, and I wish to propose that the very premise that the mystic or the scientist has any sort of experience or knowledge of a state of unity, especially when seen in the light of the teachings of U.G. Krishnamurti, a contemporary teacher, is questionable.* * *
I shall include in my discussion references to a few well-known contemporary scientists, e.g., David Bohm, Rupert Sheldrake and Stephen Hawking. In addition, I shall use some statements of U.G. Krishnamurti as a reference point, and I will raise some questions concerning his statements as well. I shall also discuss the issue of the survival of the soul after the death of the physical body and compare the views of Rupert Sheldrake and U.G. Krishnamurti. To complete my account of U.G., I shall report some of his views which are more or less relevant to science and its methods and conclusions, as well as make some remarks as to how U.G. functions in day-to-day life without the burden of thought. I shall conclude my paper with some of my own remarks on U.G. and his teachings.
U.G. Krishnamurti (referred to in the rest of this paper as "U.G.," as that is how he is addressed by those who know him personally) is not only quite radical in his teaching, but he also makes constant remarks about the radical transformation he had undergone in 1967, when he was 49 years old, and about the altered way he currently functions in day-to-day life. Whatever changes he went through at the time of his transformation made him free from the 'stranglehold' of thought, and in some sense he is 'selfless', or 'mindless'. His remarks about the way his body functions, the manner in which his perceptions, visual or otherwise, occur, and his remarks about other matters, are quite pertinent to the topic of this paper. Also his remarks about the possibility (or rather the impossibility) of understanding the universe or of having any experience of unity generally attributed to the mystics question many of our own assumptions in this area and give us room to question.
* * *
Religion, of which spirituality is considered an essential trait, has in the past come into conflict with some of the theories and conclusions of science. Three major areas of conflict are: the time of creation, the manner of creation, and the constitution of the human being, particularly with regard to the question of whether there is anything in the human being, such as the soul, which survives the death of his physical body. The most conspicuous instance of this conflict is that between creationism and evolution. Most people, at least those who are not totally committed to the teachings of the Bible (or Koran), consider the conflict settled in favor of science. As to the first of these concerns, i.e., the age of creation, again, unless one is a total and literal believer in the Bible, one would have to agree with the current teachings of science that the beginnings of the universe lie in a much more remote past than 3000 BC.
* * *
Some religions, in particular Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism (and perhaps also Confucianism), have, at least sometimes, claimed to have no particular conflict with science, particularly in the areas of the origins of creation and the manner in which it occurred. Hinduism is quite compatible with the idea of evolution, although it would allow that creation takes place out of some primeval matter at the beginning of each cycle of creation-sustenance-dissolution. These religions are also quite comfortable with science in the matter of the age of the universe. Hinduism, for instance, would rather vaguely agree that the age of the universe is, say, some billions of years. And Hinduism has its own version of evolution, which agrees with the scientific theory that evolution is from the simple to the complex and from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous.
However these issues are settled between religion and science, there is another area of contact between the two which seems more attractive and amenable to mutual interest and investigation—and that is the interface area between science and spirituality. The points of contact here seem to be much closer and more intimate. Renee Weber, in her Dialogues with Sages and Scientists, maintains that both the scientist and the mystic seek unity in the universe or reality. "A parallel principle derives both science and mysticism—the assumption that unity lies at the heart of our world and that it can be discovered and experienced by man." (Weber, p.13). While the scientist, according to her, approaches the question of unity through his scientific method and reasoning, the mystic approaches it through self-knowledge. While the methodology of science is quantitative and mathematical, the methodology of mysticism is meditational. (Weber, p.8). Weber admits, however, that there are other differences between science and mysticism: scientific method is cognitive and analytical; it studies the universe piecemeal. It claims its results to be objective and value free. (Weber, p.8). The mystic's unity is experiential—it is union with the infinite (for instance, the "Thou art that" of the Upanishads). (Weber, p.9). While the scientist seeks to unify, he leaves himself out of this "equation" (Weber, p.10), in spite of the fact that in quantum mechanics the observer and the observed are "admitted to constitute a unit." According to Weber, the scientific community has not yet caught up with the full meaning of this declaration. (Weber, p.10).
Particularly in physics, the search for the 'singularity' before time, as in the physical theories of Stephen Hawking, is an expression of this search for unity, just as the 'super-implicate' order in David Bohm is another such expression. Professor Bohm claims that the quantum mechanical field theory implies some such notion as his super-implicate order. (Weber, pp.34, 37). In his view, the relationship between what he calls the super-implicate order(1) and what he calls the implicate order is similar to the relationship between consciousness and matter. They are two aspects of one "process." (Weber p.38). Bohm disputes other physicists who claim that his theories do not have much scientific value because they do not yield any empirically predictable results. Yet he claims that his theory is not mere speculation but "is implied by present quantum mechanics if you look at it imaginatively." (Weber, p.37). But when he is asked the question of whether there is any super-super-implicate order, he answers that "we can't grasp that in thought.... We're not saying that any of this is another word for God. I would put it another way: people had insight in the past about a form of intelligence that had organized the universe and they personalized it and called it God. A similar insight can prevail today without personalizing it and without calling it a personal God." (Weber, p.39).
Bohm observes that Sheldrake, a biologist, admits that the evidence for the latter's morphogenetic fields(2) is very limited and "requires a lot of experimentation." (Weber, p.96). His own and Sheldrake's theories are about as testable as any other theories. There is no way to disprove a hypothesis of this level of generality, although it's possible to conceive of evidence accumulating which would make it look unlikely. As far as the implicate order is concerned, since that's even more general, it would be much harder to discuss evidence. The only 'evidence' I can present is that it's a way of looking at the subject which brings it all together. And I think it has a promise of being truthful.... (Weber, p.96).
Bohm disputes the scientific idea that the ability of a theory to predict and control nature proves its truth. "It merely proves that we can turn this crank and get the right answers in a certain area. If you restrict yourself to these areas, your theory naturally appears unassailable." (Weber, p.105).
In general, both Bohm and Sheldrake seem to embrace the idea that the universe ultimately developed out of some sort of consciousness or intelligence. They both deny that either matter or mechanism explain nature and the universe. They both believe that meaning (mathematics for David Bohm) and order are part of nature and that we can study that order through mathematics or scientific theory. And yet, Bohm clearly gives the idea that thought is incapable of grasping the ultimate origins of the universe, because previous scientists (like Poincaré‚ or Einstein) didn't know what the source of their mathematics was, and therefore they called it mysterious. (Weber p.147).
It is Bohm's view that, inasmuch as he is studying the mathematical order of the universe, and inasmuch as mathematics is meaning and meaning is a property of consciousness, the scientist is ultimately, like the mystic, studying consciousness. "In some ways the pure mathematician is going into one of the aspects of consciousness." (Weber, p.149). He says that although the scientist is "inspired by the experience of matter, nevertheless once it has entered consciousness he is trying to find something that goes on in consciousness which has an order of its own." (Weber, p.149).
Physicists like Hawking, although critical of the speculative fancies of scientists like Bohm, do, on grounds that their theories are not falsifiable in Karl Popper's sense (Weber, p.210), admit that "most of theoretical physics is connected with an urge to understand the universe, rather than with any practical applications, because we already know enough to deduce practical applications." Hawking admits that the theories about the laws governing the four fields are not consistent, although they are all adequate "to predict more or less what will happen in most normal situations." (Weber, p. 210).
They differ at the level of predicting very high energies, energies much higher than we can simulate. We require physical theories to be consistent; thus we require nature to be consistent. Hawking also thinks that "time and space and everything else are really in us. They are just mathematical models that we've made to describe the universe." Consequently, Hawking says that the distinction between studying nature and merely our models of nature is not a meaningful distinction.
Thus it's clear from the ideas presented above that the difference between scientists like Hawking and scientists like Bohm is only a matter of degree, not of kind. They both would like to arrive at an understanding of the universe. And both are interested in arriving at a theoretical understanding of the universe which aims at unity. Both rely on reasoning and thought, even though Bohm, due to his inclinations toward mysticism, admits that thought is incapable of understanding ultimate reality. Both would go beyond merely experimental predictability. The difference seems to be that Hawking would restrict himself to reconciling the conflicts in the various scientific theories concerning the fundamental fields, whereas Bohm would want to go further and try to understand the theories and achieve a unity beyond the current physical theory.
According to Weber, the mystic, on the other hand, is engaged in "splitting his self-centered ego and the three-dimensional thinker that sustains it." (Weber, p.11). He, "in changing himself, changes the subtle matter within in some radical way for which no scientific explanation is at present adequate." (Weber, p.12). For the mystic, a theory cannot comprehend reality, for it puts limits on the unbounded. (Weber, p.14). The questions of the why's and the wherefore's of the universe lead, for the mystic, to the idea that the universe originates in consciousness. (Weber, p.15). "Subtle matter gives birth to and governs dense matter, but all matter forms a continuum.... At its most subtle and inward point (if there is such an end point) matter and consciousness become indistinguishable." (Weber, p.15). Professor Weber thinks that this subtle matter can be "approached through non-ordinary states of consciousness" as experienced, for instance, in Tibetan Buddhism (Weber, p. 15). "A traditional meditation in Tibetan Buddhism enables the meditator to experience the unity of space, matter, and consciousness." (Weber, p.16).
Regardless of Bohm's and Hawking's statements that they only study models in physics, that, in other words, the physicist is merely studying himself (i.e., the mathematical models in his mind, rather than reality itself), it is clear that in some fashion the study does not and in principle cannot include the scientists themselves. It's not just that theoretical physics, as Weber claims, has not yet somehow come to understand the implications of quantum mechanics. It is not even that, as the "Copenhagen Interpretation" of quantum mechanics states, we do not actually study reality, but only our interpretation of reality.
It's just that no matter what theory a physicist arrives at, it must, as a theory, preclude the person of the scientist as part of the unity. A theory is a thought, and as a thought, it must preclude the thinker. It is precisely this separation that the mystic is trying to transcend. It is merely a concession on Bohm's part to mysticism when he says that thought cannot reach reality or that the physicist studies consciousness. These statements made by him are not consistent with his being a physicist, for they are not compatible with science or its method, particularly its rationality.
* * *
For a teacher like U.G., on the other hand, what is problematical is not only that our theories of the universe, of space and time, of causation, or of evolution are merely our interpretations of reality, but also that the self (of the scientist, from the scientist's point of view) is itself a product of the putting together (in the mind of the scientist) of various sensations or memories through (his) thought. In that sense, the self or the subject who does the scientific study, and who is normally taken for granted, is himself an 'interpretation'.
The mystic, in his turn, inasmuch as he is a mystic, is more interested in what Weber calls union with reality. Such a union may result in transcending one's sense of separation, a transcendence which the mystic had been seeking through his methods of self-knowledge and meditation. However, the mystic's pronouncements concerning his experiential discovery of the unity of existence, of the universe, or of Godhead are not in any way comparable to the physicist's theories of the universe, for the mystic's statements have no scientific, that is to say, publicly verifiable (or falsifiable) content, as do the scientist's.
It is true that in some sense both the scientist and the mystic do seek unity. Perhaps the very search for understanding is born out of a sense of separation which is caused by one's thought processes, and which presents, in one's consciousness, the clear separation between oneself as the observer and the world (including oneself, inasmuch as one is aware of oneself as a being in the world) as the observed. But there is a fundamental difference in the approaches: the scientist is not satisfied with a mere 'experience' of unity, whatever that experience may consist of, but seeks a unification in theory. The mystic, on the contrary, is sure that no theory will ever result in a unifying experience. Furthermore, when the mystic does 'experience' such a unity, the quest for unity will no longer be there. Not only the quest is gone, but the seeker is gone in a very fundamental sense. It is in this context that U.G.'s teachings have relevance.
U.G. says that the basic questions concerning the universe or ourselves (or reality, if that's what you call it, and, we may add, questions about the meaning of life) are the self. And these questions try to maintain themselves as the self. And, moreover, they do not allow for any complete answer, for the answer would put an end to the questioner. In fact, the same thought process which created the original separation between the thinker and the world would endlessly keep asking further questions about whatever answer is given.(3)
Furthermore (and this goes quite contrary to many mystical traditions), U.G. says there cannot be any 'experience' of unity or union with reality. According to him, a claim to any experience presupposes not only an awareness of the experience as an object, but also a recognition of it as an experience. And these conditions are enough to destroy any possibility of there being a unity, let alone an experience of unity, because any recognition implies a duality or division between the subject and the object. How can there be an experience of unity where there is a subject left out of the object of experience?
Is it possible that there is indeed an experience of unity, but when the experience occurs, there is no awareness of it, yet it could be recalled as such sometime later? U.G. denies that such a possibility exists, because, in order for there to be a memory of an experience, there has to have been an initial experience (or knowledge) with an awareness which implies a subject-object distinction. In other words, he denies that it is possible to have an experience without a subject-object distinction; were it possible to have such an experience, he denies that we could have a memory of it. When there is no such distinction (as should be the case with the so-called experience of unity), there can be no recognition of that state, and therefore the state does not constitute an experience, and for that reason there can be no memory of it later.
Nevertheless, when U.G. describes his own process of 'death'(4) or a 'thoughtless' state, he admits that there must be in that state some awareness of what was going on, or he would not be able to talk about it. This admission leads us to wonder whether, after all, U.G. is not concurring with scientists like Sheldrake and Bohm in their assertion that consciousness is the ultimate reality and is the 'unity' of the universe. U.G.'s admission would be somewhat akin to that of the scientists in another sense also, namely, that it is somewhat speculative (although perhaps not to him), for in the awareness of his own thoughtless state there must be some thought operating (according to his own admission, or else he would not be able to report about it), and his statement about consciousness being everywhere would, therefore, also be somewhat speculative. He may have superior knowledge (to that which we have) in this matter, but, to us, his statements expressing such knowledge must, like the statements of the scientists, sound speculative.
Is it possible, then, that when the mystic talks about the experience of unity (say, his experience of Brahman or of Emptiness) that there is just a unity of consciousness (let us say, just awareness) without any awareness of that awareness (or a 'minimal' or 'implicit' awareness, as U.G. himself seems to suggest in his own case when he undergoes his experience of 'death' or similar extraordinary experiences (see below), and that a full-blown subject-object division comes into the picture when that experience is recalled and named? In other words, is it possible that, although in the mystic the continuity of consciousness is broken up in such a way that there is no self (the continuity of consciousness or experience or memory is what creates the self), there is still a physiological lingering or trace of a previous experience? And is it possible that, although there might not be any explicit subject-object distinction at the time of experience, a memory of it becomes possible later because the physiological trace is translated at that later moment as a memory experience, and as a consequence, one recognizes and names the experience (albeit calling it nameless)? It may well be that the experience now is remembered as one of formless emptiness or of energy or of ecstasy. In any case, it would be remembered as being free from any of the delineations of ordinary experience.
Suppose it is possible for the mystic to experience unity in such a fashion. In what way would this unity be compared to the unity posited by the physicist? Is it not possible to interpret this unity (or the experience of it) as just a subjective (although uplifting) experience of the mystic? Does this imply that there is unity (such as of consciousness, or whatever the scientist might be speculating about) in the universe as a whole? If there is any unity in the universe in the scientific sense, then it is not something the scientist can observe (for the scientist always has to remain outside of it as the observer). And if it can be observed, then we can't know if it is the unity of the universe or not.
Given such a paradox, it seems to me that the unity professed by the mystic and that professed by the scientist are not comparable. In fact, I think we got into the trap of comparing these only because of the ambiguity in the term 'unity'. The unity for the physicist has to remain a conceptual and objective unity. And unity for the mystic has to be an experience where there is no observer, and hence there is no distinction between objective unity and the subjective experience of it.
For U.G. there is no such thing as reality; whatever our thought constructs as reality is all the reality we know or can know of. While the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum mechanics says that what we know is only our interpretation of reality (including the reality of the scientist), the interpretation does not, however, doubt the reality of the scientist who makes such an assertion. U.G., on the contrary, says that the thinker, you, me and U.G. himself included, are all constructs of thought. That's all we can know. And this idea is quite consistent with the general tenets of mysticism. U.G. merely draws the consequences of this thesis consistently.
The above remarks also apply to our understanding of reality as being bound by the laws of cause and effect. Current physics (because of Quantum mechanics or of Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty) may revise our notions of cause and effect. U.G., on the other hand, sees any attempt to relate events in terms of cause and effect, along with the attempt to 'understand' reality, as part of the project of making the self. Causation is the self's means of controlling the world and of thus maintaining itself and its own continuity. It is more than an effective way of surviving in this world and decidedly more than a way of ordering events with a view to understanding 'reality'.
For someone like U.G., then, the quest of science would reveal itself as a mere technology which delivers various products, rather than an endless attempt to understand reality. Science is valid to the extent of its results. Outside of that, according to U.G., it is just an endless spinning of wheels for the purposes of the scientist's self-aggrandizement.
U.G., in fact, does not separate the scientist from his science. As he calls the scientist's enterprise into question, he is also calling the scientist's person into question, inasmuch as he is exposing the personal motivation behind any scientific enterprise. Just as he does with people from other walks of life, he is attempting to frustrate the self-centered efforts of the scientist in the way of self-aggrandizement. He has no positive teaching of his own in this matter—he only seeks to frustrate the efforts of the scientist, and he does not attempt to fill in that gap with any other suggestions.
Generally speaking, religion has problems in accepting the current hypotheses (and implications) of science concerning the constitution of the human being. While science does not explicitly deny any specific teaching of religion (nor is it interested in investigating religious claims), its investigations of the human being are limited to the physical, biological, psychological and social or cultural aspects of man. Science does not easily lend itself to a belief in anything else, particularly in a soul which may survive the death of the body. This—the belief in a soul—seems to be essential to most religions for a simple reason: besides a commitment to a belief in some supernatural being, religion is also committed to a belief in personal morality, with its implications of personal sin and redemption. Without the idea of salvation or liberation and some blessed state that would be associated with it, religion would probably not have much appeal. These conceptions of salvation and liberation, of heaven or nirvana, have to be correlated with the opposite conceptions of sin or bondage, or some state of suffering (caused by his fallenness), from which man has to be saved.
Science is generally resistant to the idea that in the human being there could be a soul above and beyond the body, or some entity besides the body and its structures, an entity which survives the death of the body, for the fundamental reason that scientists cannot conceive of any memory or personality traits existing without the support of the brain or the body. Whatever is psychological (or spiritual) in man must seem to be rooted in the physical. After all, physics is the most basic of all the sciences.
Rupert Sheldrake, however, is one of the few contemporary scientists who maintain that such a survival of something beyond the body is possible on the ground that it is possible for memory to exist without the support of the brain. (And David Bohm concurs with him on this possibility.) Sheldrake argues that just because we do not know of any memory without the brain, it does not follow that there cannot be any memory outside the brain. For all we know, the brain can act as a conduit through which memory (or consciousness) manifests itself, much like the antenna and the wiring in a radio act as conduits for the electromagnetic waves to be manifested as sound. Thus, just as the radio signal can exist (in the form of electromagnetic waves) outside the radio with its antenna and wiring, memory can exist outside the brain.
It's clear that Sheldrake is speaking from a vitalist persuasion in biology, which is not shared by the majority of biologists. They think that his claims are not supported by scientific method and that hypotheses such as Sheldrake's are mere conjectures and have no predictive value. Sheldrake denies this. He thinks that his "hypothesis of formative causation [his morphogenetic field theory] is testable. It can be tested through experiments that I propose...." (Weber, p.78).
Let us compare these views with U.G.'s views on the human being, particularly his views on memory and consciousness.
U.G. says that memory is not necessarily located in the brain:
They say that memory is in the neurons. If it is all in the neurons, where is it located in them? The brain does not seem to be the center of memory. Cells seem to have their own memory. So where is that memory? Is it transmitted through genes? I really don't know. Some of these questions have no answers so far. Probably one of these days they will find out. (NWO, p.161).
In U.G.'s conversations, we can see that, for him, thought is somewhat akin to memory. Thought, memory and knowledge are all ways in which our past experience operates on the present "input," including recognizing, interpreting and comparing data. These processes create our sense of time and also our sense of the self. If we ask the question, "Where do memories or thoughts come from?" U.G. answers it as follows:
Where does thought come from? Is it from inside or outside? Where is the seat of human consciousness? So for purposes of communication, or just to give a feel about it, I say there is a thought sphere. In that 'thought sphere' we are all functioning, and each one of us probably has an 'antenna', or what you call an 'aerial' or something, which is the creation of the culture into which we are born. It is that that is picking up these particular thoughts. (ME, p.111).
U.G. seems to warn us that science may not be able to study consciousness or the field from which these thoughts or memories arise:
All the experiences—not necessarily just your experiences during your span of thirty, forty or fifty years, but the animal consciousness, the plant consciousness, the bird consciousness—all that is part of this consciousness. (Not that there is an entity which reincarnates; there is no entity there, so the whole business of reincarnation is absurd as far as I am concerned.) That is why in your dreams you dream as if you are flying like a bird.... How it is transmitted, I don't know, I can't say, I am not competent to say. But this seems to be the means. There must be some means of transmission... much more than the genetic: the genetic is only part of it. Consciousness is a very powerful factor in experiencing things, but it is not possible for anybody to find out the content of the whole thing—it is too vast. (ME, p. 114).
About the phylogenetic memory U.G. says:
"I can make no definitive statements about the part genes play in the evolutionary process, but at the moment it appears that Darwin was at least partially wrong in insisting that acquired characteristics could not be genetically transmitted. I think that they are transmitted in some fashion. I am not competent enough to say whether the genes play any part in the transmission." (NWO, p.171).
There seems to be some parallelism between Sheldrake's morphogenetic fields and U.G.'s field of consciousness of which human consciousness is a part. Racially and individually, we seem to be 'tuning' into that field. Of course, neither Sheldrake nor U.G. is clear about the specifics as to how this takes place. U.G. (much like the Dalai Lama) leaves the matter to the scientists, although he is skeptical that they will ever be able to study consciousness as such. Sheldrake, being a scientist himself, hopes his theories will be verified by experimental methods someday. But, at the moment, neither Sheldrake nor U.G. have any confirmation from science for their views, and, as such, these views remain speculative. U.G. may be more certain of his ideas than Sheldrake, however, but to his audience, the veracity of his statements remain just as speculative as Sheldrake's.
While U.G. frustrates all of our attempts to understand human consciousness, he, at the same time, describes the way he functions and what happens to him in a thoughtless state. These descriptions pose a challenge to science. Not that he would let scientists study him. (At times he does, but that depends on the scientist he is at the moment talking to):
There are no persons, and no space within to create a self. What is left after the continuity of thought is blown away, is one disjointed, independent, series of interactions. What happens in the environment around me, happens in here. There is no division. When the armor you are wearing around is stripped away, you find an extraordinary sensitivity of the senses that respond to the phases of the moon, the passage of the seasons, and the movements of the other planets. There is simply no isolated, separate, existence of its own here, only the throb of life, like a jellyfish. (MM, p. 145).
...It [the death process] defies description. But I can mention that in this death state, the ordinary breath stops entirely and the body is able to 'breathe' through other physiological means. Among the many doctors I have discussed this strange phenomena with, only Dr. Laboyer, an expert in childbirth, gave me a sort of explanation. He says that newborn babies have a similar way of breathing. This is probably what the original word pranayama meant. This body goes through the death process on a daily basis, so often, in fact, that every time it renews itself it is a given a longer lease. When, one day, it cannot renew itself, it is finished and carted off to the ash heap. (MM, p.145).
...After the breath and heartbeat come to almost a complete stop, somehow the body begins to 'come back'. The corpse-like appearance of the body—the stiffness, coldness and ash covering—begin to disappear. The body warms up and begins to move and the metabolism, including the pulse, picks up. If you, out of scientific curiosity, wish to test me, I am not interested. I am simply making a statement, not selling a product. (MM, p.146).
This whole process of dying and being renewed, although it happens to me many times a day, and always without my volition, remains very intriguing to me. Even the thought of self or ego has been annihilated. Still there is something there experiencing this death, otherwise I would not be able to describe it here. (MM p.146).
When the separative thought structure dies, these glands and nervous plexi take over the functioning of the organism. It is a painful process, for the hold of thought over the glands and plexi is strong and has to be 'burnt' off. This can be experienced by an individual. The burning or 'ionization' needs energy and space to take place. For this reason the limits of the body are reached, with energy lashing out in all directions. The body's containment of that energy in its limited form brings pain, even though there is no experiencer of pain there. (MM, p. 147).
This painful death process is something nobody—not even the most ardent religious practitioners and yogis—wants. It is a very painful thing. It is not the result of will, but is the result of a fortuitous concourse of atoms. (MM, p.148).
How all this fits into your scientific structure, I do not know. Scientists doing work in this field are interested in these changes, if they are described in physiological rather than mystical terms. These scientists envisage this kind of man as representing the end product of biological evolution, not the science-fiction superman or super spiritual beings. Nature is only interested in creating an organism that can respond fully and intelligently to stimuli and reproduce itself. That's all. This body is capable of extraordinary perceptions and sensations. It is a marvel. I don't know who created it. (MM, p.148).
Scientists in the field of evolution now think that the present breed of humans we have on this planet probably evolved out of a degenerated species. The mutation that carried on the self-consciousness must have taken place in a degenerate species. That is why we have messed everything up. It is anybody's guess as to whether anyone can change the whole thing. (MM, p.148).
Speaking further of how he functions without the domination of thought, U.G. says:
Then, the senses become very important factors; they begin to function at their peak capacity without the interference of thought except when there is a demand for thought. Here I must make one thing very clear: thought is not self-initiated; it always comes into operation on demand. It depends upon the demands of the situation: there is a situation where thought is necessary, and so it is there; otherwise it is not there. Like that pen you are using—you can write a beautiful piece of poetry or forge a check or do something with that pen—it is there when there is a demand for it. Thought is only for the purpose of communication, otherwise it has no value at all. Then you are guided by your senses and not by your thoughts any more.... (ME, p.110).
The way U.G. functions is as a natural living organism, without the 'stranglehold' of thought—he functions efficiently, from moment to moment, without any urge to be or do anything other than what he is doing at that moment. He explains how, in him, there is chaos and order simultaneously in every moment of attention; how his visual perception is two-dimensional; how one picture of whatever is occurring is replaced by another, totally disconnected picture as soon as some other thing in the environment captures his attention; how there is no connecting link between one event and another; how music can be mere 'noise'; how, as an occasion demands, all the knowledge relevant to it is brought to bear upon it, and when the need is gone, then he is back to the 'meaningless' or thoughtless state.
There is no way for another person to understand all this. To try and understand it, one would have to put it as information into one's own mental and conceptual framework, and then there would always be questions about this information springing from one's own experiences, prejudices and expectations (concerning oneself and one's life). Or, one could live like U.G., in which case there would be nothing to understand, as the need to understand will have disappeared.
U.G. does make some startling statements about genetics, rebirth, disease and so on. Some of these statements are hard to make sense of, because our present-day science has not investigated them, or they may sound false, because science sometimes seems to conflict with them. Examples of such statements are:
"For those who believe there is such a thing as rebirth, there is rebirth; and for those who do not believe in it, there is no such thing. However, 'objectively speaking' there is no rebirth—for what is there to be born again?"
"All chronic disease is genetic"—here he seems to believe in some kind of physiological karma—there is nothing you can do about it, except bear with it and, if necessary, temporarily palliate it.
To experience pain you have to link one (momentary) sensation with another through memory and thought. Pain is necessary to the healing process—if you let it be, the body will find its way of absorbing or integrating it.
The body never dies; it is only recycled—our (non-existent) self is the only thing that dies. If left alone without the influence of thought, the body functions most sensitively, efficiently and absolutely peacefully.
We don't want to be free from our problems, for to be free from them is to put an end to ourselves.
The most immediate question that might come to a reader's mind when he reads the above discussion of U.G. is: how does U.G. know whatever he is saying about himself (and his thoughtless state)? For all normal and practical purposes he seems to use his knowledge and thought like everyone else. Either he is in his thoughtless state and he does not know it; or he knows his thoughtless state and he is not in it.
In ME (p. 46), U.G. describes his state as a state of 'not knowing'; knowledge only comes into the picture when there is a demand for it. Once the demand is met, then he is back again in the state of not knowing. On the very next page (p. 47), speaking of the "tremendous peace that is always there within, that is your natural state," he says, "...This is volcanic in its nature: it's bubbling all the time—the energy, the life—that is its quality." Then, U.G. asks, "You may ask how I know. I don't know. Life is aware of itself, if we can put it that way—it is conscious of itself." Nowadays, U.G. would express the thought somewhat differently by saying, "Knowing and not knowing exist in the same 'frame'."
In looking at this "tremendous peace," If we substitute the word 'unity' for 'peace' we immediately perceive the paradox: on the one hand, we cannot experience 'unity', for to experience it is to recognize it; and that can only be possible when there is a duality or division. On the other hand, to make a statement that there is unity (or peace, in the above context) is to know it. And to say that unity (or life) is conscious of itself seems to be inconsistent with the previous statement. How can we understand this paradox?
I think that when a person is freed from the 'stranglehold' of thought, in some sense the person (or the subject) does not exist as a continuing entity any longer. Not that the entity ever really existed before—only the illusion of it was there. Now that the illusion is not there, knowledge operates for a moment, answers the demands of the situation, and immediately and automatically slips back into the background.(5) When U.G. answers his audience's questions, he responds in words. His audience tends to make sense and meaning out of these words and is tempted to apply the same rules of logic that are normally applied to discourse. But as there is no 'person' in someone like U.G., there is no division (or sense of separation) within him; and whatever 'unity' is there is expressing itself without the normal logic of 'consciousness' or 'experience'. Even U.G.'s responses to our questions have no meaning for him. It is not that they are meaningless. There is no consciousness of 'separation' or of anything (or anyone) as being separate from himself. Hence, it would not be appropriate to call statements of U.G. expressions of 'knowledge', at least in the ordinary sense of knowing. Words, meanings, music, sounds, objects, etc., appear for a moment and then in the next moment (or 'in the same frame') recede into the background and become mere noise, two dimensional space, irritations or 'blobs'. We, however, 'interpret' the sounds coming from U.G. as meaningful and try to apply truth values to the statements coming from him. But, for U.G., these ideas do not have 'meaning', or truth or falsehood.
If such is the life of a person free from thought or the self, we could call it a state of 'unity', but there is no one to realize or experience that unity, nor is there any knowledge or experience of it in the usual sense of the terms. U.G. tries to express this life in a fashion peculiar to himself. To his audience, who try to measure whatever they hear with their normal yardsticks of subject-object, meaning-object dichotomies, however, such a life must remain a mystery.
At this point U.G.'s audience is tempted to ask: "How do we understand such seemingly nonsensical utterances of U.G.? Why should we even be interested in such 'nonstatements' of U.G.? Why should we pay any attention to U.G. or his teachings at the expense of disregarding the testimonies of the many mystics of the world making claims to a knowledge (or at any rate an experience) of unity?"
I think the answer to these questions lies in the epistemological challenge. U.G. poses to both the mystic and the scientist. If the critique he makes of both mysticism and science is extended to his own statements, it is true that we are led to some puzzles. But then, what if the above is the only possible way a man who lives in an undivided state lives, and traditional mystics did not always realize its implications?(6) Although U.G.'s utterances make no 'sense' to U.G. (it is not that they are nonsense either), his audience cannot help but try to make sense out of them, for they are using the activity of making sense as part of the project of making their selves, in the sense that they relate his statements to some project (epistemological, spiritual or some other personal project) in their lives. U.G., on the other hand, can operate in this world without having to fall into the dichotomy of sense and nonsense. To us, he appears to be a man like any other man, living, and carrying on in this world. U.G., however, has no sense of who he is. He has no concept or image of himself, and hence even the question of whether he is alive or not-alive does not arise for him. He may momentarily answer our questions with counter-sounds or utterances. The problem of making sense, attributing truth and falsehood, or looking for the facts 'behind' the words, is our problem, not his.
In view of the above discussion, then, shall we say that U.G.'s thoughtless state is a state of experiencing the unity of the universe? As U.G. in some sense does not exist as a continuing person (subject, self), there can be no knowledge (which is a temporal 'state of mind') of such unity; and in such a person there is no awareness of either unity or its opposite, viz., disunity or division. Unity and division are concepts which presuppose a continuity in consciousness. For U.G.'s audience, on the other hand, any such unity must remain a concept, for as far as they are concerned, they will never know what is in U.G. except as a concept, which always necessitates its own opposite. For instance, the audience might be tempted to theorize that when U.G. is in a thoughtless state he is experiencing unity and that when that state is temporarily disturbed, then there is disunity or division. But how can they ascertain the truth value of such statements?
J.S.R.L. Narayana Moorty
Department of Philosophy
Monterey Peninsula College
Monterey, CA 93940
If you have any comments please e-mail to:
1. "...a super-information field of the whole universe, a super-implicate order which organizes the first level into various structures and is capable of tremendous development of structure." (Bohm in Weber, p.33).
2. "The theory of morphogenetic fields proposes that there's a field, or a spatial structure, which is responsible for the development of the form (in living organisms)." (Weber, p. 75).
3. We have learned this quite clearly in Kant, as when he shows how reason generates paradoxes when it is applied to the universe or the soul beyond the limits of possible experience—paradoxes such as that the universe has an unconditioned condition or first cause and that there must be a cause for that cause.
4. About U.G.'s 'death' process see below.
5. Even to use the term 'knowledge' is misleading in this context. Knowledge presupposes in our ordinary life a continuity in the self such that we can say, "I did not know then, but now I know it." Such continuity is nonexistent in the case of U.G. Yet in some sense U.G.'s past knowledge or experience is coming into operation here. But the knowledge is operating for the moment only, without being related to a reference point or to a project of the self, such that we formulate our desires and plans on the basis of such knowledge or seek the repetition of the current experience which is recognized as such and such.
6. Some mystics did realize the problems in expressing themselves. In my opinion, Shankara, Nagarjuna and Chuang Tzu all had an inkling of these problems and resorted to dialectical reason to 'point the way' to an 'experience of reality' without giving a positive verbal expression in statements which can be understood as representations of an experience of reality.
Bibliography and References
(Abbreviations of U.G.'s works referred to in the text of the paper are as shown below.)
What Survives?, Rupert Sheldrake/Gary Doore (Ed.), Tarcher, Los Angeles, 1990.
Mind is a Myth, U.G. Krishnamurti, Dinesh Publications, Goa, 1988. (MM).
The Mystique of Enlightenment, U.G. Krishnamurti, Akshaya Publications, Bangalore, India, 1992. (ME).
No Way Out, U.G. Krishnamurti, Akshaya Mudrana, Bangalore, India, 1992. (NWO).
Dialogues with Scientists and Sages, Renée Weber, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London and New York, 1987.