Scientists of the Soul
Maharaj Charan Singh once said:
The greatest miracle of the mystics is that they change the very attitude of our life.…They turn everything upside down in our life.
‘Science of The Soul’ is the official name of the registered charity of the Radha Soami path. Scientific method involves forming an hypothesis to explain a given phenomenon, then researching and experimenting to prove or disprove it. Spiritual research, like any other, involves questioning, reading, thinking, and attending talks by respected teachers. Our ultimate research is meditation, an endeavour to control the mind so that we may become conscious of the divine within ourselves. But as scientists of the soul we must use the very instrument that we are trying to control to lead us to our true self, our soul.
We are told about our divine purpose when we first approach the teachings, but we need constant reminders because the so-called reality that we experience at a physical level seems so convincingly real. That is why we need our perception to be turned upside down again and again to help us discriminate the real from the illusion. Can modern science help us, and provide information that supports the unchanging truth of the saints? In a limited way, it can.
Free will ?
Bill Bryson, in his popular book about modern science, A Short History of Nearly Everything, does not discuss free will as such, but in his opening paragraphs he demonstrates how little control we have over our existence:
Welcome, and congratulations, I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn’t easy, I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize.
He goes on to explain that “first trillions of drifting atoms obligingly combined” (to form your physical body). You are unique, so each set combines differently and in a very particular way. These atoms, which are totally unaware of you, continue to co-operate until you die. These atoms occur everywhere else in the universe – mainly carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen and a little calcium and sulphur. Common stuff, the only thing special about them is that they make ‘you’. He says that there is no law or obvious reason for this, but they make everything that is observable too.
Bryson also talks about evolutionary theory, the survival of those most able to adapt to the earth’s ever changing environment. He points out that over the last 3.8 billion years, each of our ancestors has been attractive enough, healthy enough and lived long enough to produce the next generation, so that we finally find ourselves right here and now – “That is of course the miracle of life.”
Mystics tell us that time is part of the mind’s illusion, so what do scientists say? Now that brain function can be observed by scans, we know that there is a tiny delay while our brain co-ordinates the information that comes from our five senses because it arrives at different rates. So our perception of the present moment is always a few micro-seconds in the past. In addition it has been observed that we reinvent any given memory each time we recall it, colouring it with our present state of mind. And we all have different perceptions of any shared experience.
So the past is gone, subject to our fallible memory, and the future is only available to our imaginations based on what we believe happened in the past. We function using a series of guesses to plan our lives and we all know that the old saying is true: “Man proposes, God disposes.”
The certain truth about the future is beyond our ability to know, and the truth about the past is unreliable. But now, this present moment, is real, isn’t it? Or maybe just a fraction of a second old? Our senses are describing reality to us aren’t they?
What can we see? Vision is the brain’s interpretation of light waves that enter the eye and are turned upside down as they land on the retina. This information is coded as electrochemical impulses, which are sent along interconnecting pathways of neurons where they are interpreted for us by the brain. So our reality depends on interpretations of coded impulses.
Then the colours we see are our brain’s analysis of light waves, but we are only able to perceive a few of these waves with our naked eye, and even this perception varies among individuals.
Even more extraordinary, according to neuroscientist David Eagleman, is that our brain holds a template of what it has already processed, which it only amends with small amounts of new information in each moment. So we are mainly seeing what we expect to see.
And our touch? Let’s take something solid like this magazine you’re reading now: this is real enough, surely? But we know that at the sub-atomic level everything we see, no matter how solid looking, is composed of tiny particles, full of energetic space, smaller than we can imagine and moving very quickly and precisely. The perception of solidity is created by the repulsive force of their electrical charges.
A Theory of Everything and the nature of matter
Physics can take us so far, but the big questions remain unanswered. A hundred years ago Einstein developed his general theory of relativity. In the same period the study of quantum mechanics began to describe the micro-world of atoms and particles. These theories form the basis of our knowledge of the physical universe even today, but they don’t go far enough. Particle physicist Harry Cliff, who works on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN says:
The universe is far, far too interesting. Relativity and quantum mechanics appear to suggest that the universe should be a boring place. It should be dark, lethal and lifeless. But when we look around us, we see we live in a universe full of interesting stuff, full of stars, planets, trees, squirrels. The question is, ultimately, why does all this interesting stuff exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? This contradiction is the most pressing problem in fundamental physics, and in the next few years, we may find out whether we’ll ever be able to solve it.
Two properties of the universe can be measured: the cosmic energy field that holds the atoms together and therefore everything we see; and the force of dark energy that appears to be driving the expansion of the universe. Cliff calls these measurements “dangerous numbers” because if they were even slightly different, the universe would not exist. But we have no explanation for them and he wonders if we are capable of understanding these forces at all:
We may be entering a new era in physics: an era where there are weird features of the universe that we cannot explain; an era where we have hints that we live in a multiverse that lies frustratingly beyond our reach; an era where we will never be able to answer the question, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’
The author of One Being One says that what is missing is a proper understanding of consciousness:
It seemed to me that while the scientist looks at the outer universe with the help of his analytical intellect, the mystic explores the inner universe of the very consciousness that scientists use to perceive the outer world. Both are looking at the same one universe, the only difference being the perspective and the field of study.
He goes on to say that human perception is limited by our particular senses, and we, like other life forms, construct our version of reality from the information we get. Dolphins are conscious of a 3-D sonar world which is as detailed as their visual one and bats can catch a speeding moth by ultrasound because they live in a dark world of vibration.
The writer presents a fascinating idea about the nature of con-sciousness and reverses the earlier theory that there is a slight delay to our perception of the present moment. He does this by describing a presentiment or pre-stimulus response identified in repeated experiments. The brain takes account of images presented at random on a computer screen a fraction of a second before they are seen. He says:
It’s mind-blowing! Which way round is reality?… It seems to demonstrate that the event had already happened in the mind.
To him, it suggests that the mind is creating the material world through consciousness.
He explains this idea by using light as a metaphor:
Everything we perceive with our senses is just a projected image. There is the light in the projector: that’s the One Being. Then there’s the film through which the light shines: that’s the mind. And then there’s the screen on which the projected images appear: that’s this world.
And us? We are the light, of the same essence as the One Being. So we, with our minds, are part of the projection system. We are conscious beings, and everything is a projection of the One Conscious Being, the Universal Consciousness. Switch off the light in the projector and everything disappears.
He continues by explaining that the projection system is supremely dynamic, there are multiple screens of increasing density and we are looking at the coarsest version. And what we call science is the analysis of that screen using ill understood instruments – the brain and the mind, which are actually part of that screen.
So there is no external material world that is entirely separate from us. Our sensory experience of the material world is the material world. Or our personal version of it, for it’s an entirely subjective experience.
He concludes that these ideas don’t invalidate human knowledge, they just place it in an all-encompassing spiritual picture. Later he says that a part probably cannot know the whole; we need a different kind of knowing, a wider perspective which includes consciousness, matter and our source. We have to escape from the screen of our projected reality and climb up the beam to the light in the projector or “the axis of being within ourselves”.
As scientists of the soul with a perfect living Master to help us, we have the huge benefit of the miracle the saints bring us. We can continue our research, knowing that it is consistent with many scientific findings that lead to the only true research: our meditation. Remembering that the Masters come to, “turn everything upside down in our life”, could help us to understand that upside down is the right way to be!
Perhaps we have done everything in the world to find health and radiance, happiness and peace, except to listen to, and heed the soul, crying always that same plaintive cry, the cry of the stream for the ocean, the cry of the prisoner for freedom, the cry of the watcher for morning, the cry of the wanderer for home, the cry of the starving for food, the cry of the soul for God.
Leslie Weatherhead, in The Lion Christian Quotation Collection