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Neuroscience in conversation with Mysticism

One fine day I happened to come across a video of an interview, or rather it could be said Neuroscience in conversation with Mysticism. It was between the renowned mystic of South India, Sadhguru, and the famous neuroscientist and author, David Eagleman. I never expected such a face-off to occur between two people belonging to two worlds. These worlds are widely regarded as dissimilar and yet share quite a few commonalities. I gained some valuable insights from the conversation and therefore, decided to write a short article to share with you. This is by no means a total summary of the conversation. I urge everyone to watch the video to get a comprehensive insight on the various topics discussed. Meanwhile, this article(Neuroscience in conversation with Mysticism) might motivate you to do the same.

Jaggi Vasudev

Before I proceed with the details, let me give you a little bit of context. Jaggi Vasudev, or as he is more commonly known, Sadhguru, is a yogic, an author and a mystic.

Even though Yoga is something that has become more popular in recent times. The terms spirituality and inner-self is met with unawareness, disinterest, and misconception. Generally thought of as something related to theistic beliefs and metaphysics, or something that monks do. Such mentalities are generally dismissive of the importance of spiritual practices in day to day life. With the current world inclining towards science and materialism, having a minimalist and a spiritual mindset has become even more important.

Science solves problems via theoretical, experimentation and observational methods. Whereas, spiritual insights are usually gained via certain pre-defined practices, generally unexplained by naked-eye observations. Hence, it becomes difficult for both fields to reconcile on a wide range of subjects.

David Eagleman

He is a neuroscientist who has done extensive experiments on real-life subjects to unravel the mysteries of neural networks in our brain. He did so by observing behavior patterns arising from different parts of the brain. Neuroscience attempts to understand the mechanisms of neural networks the scientific way. But it has yet to explain a lot on why things work inside the brain the way they do.

On the other hand, some of the same questions have been answered via a different approach, the approach of introspection and spiritual practice. So, in the following summary, two dignitaries representing their respective worlds come together to understand the absolute in a collaborative effort.

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Neuroscience in conversation with Mysticism

Point 1) Civilization: Are we moving forward or backward?

In the beginning, Sadhguru raises a crucial point. We have progressed a lot as a civilization?

Technology has made our lives easier. We are more comfortable than any of our ancestors ever were. In contrast, has our well-being been taken care of? We still are as joyous, or even less joyous than we were a thousand years ago. We are so comfortable and yet, have we given as much consideration to our well-being? It goes to show that material pleasures are meaningless and temporary. As the world is progressing towards marketing unnecessary material, our needs and wants are getting increasingly insatiable by the day. The inability to handle emotions along with ignorance and lack of help. It has increased the rates of people resorting to self-harm and other destructive activities both mentally and physically.

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Point 2) The language barrier and Yogic upliftment

For a common man, there are some metaphysical terms that are associated with spirituality and yogic practices that are hard to grasp. The inclusion of such terminology makes it difficult for a person to enter this domain. Regarding this, Sadhguru says and I quote,

 ” Language is deeply enslaved to the fundamental logic which is a product of our intellect.”

Language has to make sense and if it doesn’t, its fundamental purpose of communication won’t be fulfilled. Vocabulary falls short of describing what is beyond normal experiences. He also mentioned an epitome of the state one can reach by committing to yoga practices-‘ yogic perfection’. This is with reference to the perceived limits of our level of consciousness as limited to the sensory organs. Yogic perfected alludes to being equanimous and exuberant. If we succeed in reaching yogic perfection, our sensory perceptions along with our outlook of the world, through which we experience it, will be morphed as we realize different levels of consciousness.

Various monks such as Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa and Sri Aurobindo have touched the different dimensions of consciousness. Over the ages, their teachings have attempted to convey to the masses what exactly they felt while undergoing such experiences. If you visit the Aurobindo Ashram anytime, unless you yourself have had such experiences; all that has been written by Sri Aurobindo in text form will seem like a wild fantasy. It makes little sense but this probably only goes on to reinforce the claim that vocabulary poses huge constraints in defining what we cannot experience in our day to day lives.

Point 3) Understanding religion

I particularly liked one comment which Sadhguru made on religion which is pretty self-explanatory and it goes on like this,

” Religion was once started as an individual experience; one person shared his metaphysical experiences with a few around him, and over a period of time it becomes organized and something totally different.”

Humans are inefficient at retaining information. It is no surprise that a piece of information intended to be of value could be manipulated and tainted. With different narratives and dogmas and over a long enough period of time, it becomes something that appears to be something very prejudiced and biased.

Stating his opinion on belief systems, Sadhguru said, ” We are trying to handle our ignorance with solace. Solace is what you’re seeking. You must believe something. It is a good thing.” “Religions and faiths have given solace to people for thousands of years. Solace is one thing, a solution is completely different.” ” Instead of multiple psychiatric sessions, it is better to believe something.”

I do not know if a belief system can be a substitute for therapy sessions but if a person requires help, I think it is best to consult someone who understands the problem and has had successes in treating the problem. This is a subject that will take one entire article on its own so I leave it to the reader to contemplate this thought.

Point 4) What is life?

Speaking in esoteric vocabulary, Sadhguru said,

” What you eat is life, what you breathe is life. Humans are a piece of life. It is like a bubble. When a bubble bursts, the most essential ingredients of the bubble, air, it is all there. This is all of life. This whole cosmos is a living cosmos.”

From a scientific perspective, this doesn’t make sense. We know the cosmos comprises vastly of non-living matter. So from my point of view the word ‘Life’ here is used as an informal word for something else. Which again reiterates the fact that words fall short in defining certain experiences.

Point 5) The answer lies in- physical proof or inner findings?

Sadhguru believes that if the scientists, who spend most of their lives looking outward, turn inward, then something phenomenal can happen. To this, David Eagleman replies in defense of science that the reason they turn outward is to understand what a piece of life is, possible via speculation and observation. He contemplates that it might be illusory to have an understanding that the entire cosmos is alive. This difference in mechanisms of perception is what had led to conflicts between these two worlds. Although, at the core, it is possibly two groups of people trying to explain the same thing in two different languages of which neither has any idea of the other language.

Although David Eagleman spoke very little as compared to Sadhguru and it appeared more like an interview, I would recommend the readers to read his book, The Brain. In it, he explains the marvels and wonders of the brain in layman terms and elucidates fascinating behavior patterns in connection to various parts of the brain.

This stimulating ‘Neuroscience in conversation with Mysticism’ covers this and much more topics but my intention of writing this article was to invoke thoughts and encourage people to explore both the subject matters. I believe that if we take determined steps to understand these subjects and adopt certain practices, it can impact our lives in ways we never imagined. Have a go at this video to know more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwgkvBZXum0

So did this ‘Neuroscience in conversation with Mysticism’ had an impact on you?

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