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..:: Enlightenment II / Science ::..


Alan Schneider


           The subject of this essay will be the revisioning of the concept of Enlightenment – a subject so often mentioned in these essays, and now to be clarified in a fresh interpretation for Post-Postmodern Earth – a deeply divided and sectarian planet increasingly filled with suffering, alienation, and confusion.  

            We can begin this process by constructing a working definition of this term.  Enlightenment in the spiritual sense implies an opening of consciousness to an enhanced perception of phenomena beyond the obvious material forms of physical manifestation.   Such Eastern terms as Samadhi (Sanskrit: to blend), Satori (Pali: to understand), Bodhi (Sanskrit: to know), and Nirvana (Pali: to blow out – i.e. dispel, release, overcome) all suggest deeper levels of perception and comprehension that exceed the conventional ones that float on the surface of daily consciousness, and they are certainly accurate descriptions of at least some features of Enlightenment, and the Enlightened condition.   Enlightenment occurs when we deeply investigate the conditions of this life, searching at the most distant destinations of experience for the subtlest messages and meanings to answer the questions: “Who am I?”, “Where am I?”, and “Why am I here?”.   

            For most of us, Enlightenment remains a fundamentally spiritual concern, occurring outside of the framework of the science and technology that has created and defined the world as we know it today through the physical senses.   This is perhaps unfortunate, particularly in consideration of the essential amorality of science and technology, devoted as both are to the provision of superficial creature comforts, often at the expense of insight and compassion.   This essay will attempt to suggest a scientific basis for the Enlightenment process as a possible corrective to this amoral level of perception, first by redefining the terms mentioned above (most of which are thousands of years old, and originate in cultures both physically distant, and esoteric in the extreme), beginning with the representative example of Samadhi.   

            This expression is used in the context of Yoga practice of one inflection or another – both Kundalini and Hatha Yoga acknowledge the appropriate use of the term – and it denotes the more or less complete attainment of a “blending” or “combining” of sensory consciousness with highly “Ascended” consciousness in a mental state of extreme ecstasy and bliss (Sanskrit: Ananda), frequently accompanied by visual experiences of intense light and colors, auditory ones of delightful and/or hypnotic sounds, emotional ones of full and complete love and acceptance (i.e. Agape love), and cognitive ones of direct and intimate contact (i.e. blending) with a Supreme Consciousness apparently existing beyond the sensory condition, and completely superseding it.  

            Now, to genuinely understand this condition – the primary goal of Enlightenment after all – we must begin with the consideration of the most scientific systems of spiritual understanding known, the primary psychologies of Freud and Jung, since all other subsequent scientific theories of perception originated with these two systems.   Let us initiate this consideration now, returning to the states of utterly high awareness such as Samadhi following this foundational discussion.  

            Prior to the medical work of Freud, mental aberrations were either not recognized, or, in the more extreme cases, were deeply feared and responded to with violent abuse and social rejection of the most extreme kind – beatings, imprisonment, torture, and exile.  Although he certainly advanced some theory that is questionable by modern standards, Freud is to be credited with the courage to begin scientific inquiry into the root causes of mental dysfunction, and the development of several effective and, most importantly, humane, treatment modalities.   However, his terminology was incomprehensible to the lay person seeking to understand his theories, ergo, we will simplify his basic system of thought now.  Freud conceived of three layers or phases of mental activity – the physical/instinctual, which he referred to as the Id, the fully conscious waking state, the Ego, and the social/moral conditioning of the Superego.   In most people, the Id is/was largely unconscious – i.e. not perceived by the Ego during its daily waking activities, largely due to the influence of the heavily conditioned Superego, much of which was/is also unconscious and automatic.   So, we have a relatively small area of conscious awareness bracketed by two very extensive regions, respectively of instinct and social control, that still define the human condition to this very day – a state of continuous internal conflict that, to Freud, accounted for all minor and major mental dysfunction, which he called neuroses and psychoses.   Thus, our fundamental waking awareness is the result of the pressures applied by physical instinct to our social conditioning.   

            Jung took things a large step further, and postulated the existence beyond the personal Id, in a region that he called the collective unconscious, of an extensive, inborn system of primary mental forms that he referred to as archetypal symbols, suggesting that these constituted the universal foundation of consciousness surpassing mere instinct, and accounting for the emergence of all subsequent social structure, including the Superego.   This accounted for the largely unconscious nature of both the Id and the Superego – they originate in the preformative collective unconscious, defined by the symbols existing there.  For Jung, this also accounted for their common occurrence across cultures, a good case in point being the incest taboo, which is seen in almost every culture of history, and the image of the serpent as the carrier of the sexual energy referred to by Freud as libido, and both Yoga and Jung as Kundalini.    Between these two individuals, we have a fairly complete picture of the dynamics of human awareness, one that remains essentially valid today.    Now let us expand upon and continue to clarify these approaches in greater detail and depth of meaning, utilizing an evolutionary model of development.  

            The physical edifice of the human body, complete with its behavioral tendencies, whatever their sources may be, is the culmination, at least on land, of the entire process of evolution on Earth – with the possible exception of dolphins, we know of no more advanced consciousness, and theirs remains a fundamental mystery.  This body is enervated and initially motivated by simple instinctual drives from the point of birth until death that simply occur without the need for explanation or comprehension, and culminate in the reproduction of our species – a most effective process, judging by the enormous human population on Earth today.  These instincts are known physically through the media of the senses and emotions, the former registering on the surface of consciousness, and the latter more subliminally – frequently beneath the surface of perception – but both drive behavior from the primal state of physical existence.   Therefore, this is where our exploration of the human condition and consciousness must continue.  And when the Jungian theories of collective experience are factored into the mix, things become very complex, even at this basic level.   If Jung is correct, as I believe he is, then we are literally born in conflict with ourselves, and must spend the rest of our lives struggling to resolve this into as much inner peace and harmony as we can achieve, regardless of what the external structure of our culture is like.   Freud was also aware of this conflicted condition, and it formed the basis of his final work, Civilization and Its Discontents, in addition to his much of his existing psychological theory.   

            Our existence does not occur in a vacuum – we exist within the context of a physical environment from which we are created and by which we are destroyed eventually – and this environment is the first source of human conflict as we struggle with each other for the acquisition of the physical resources needed for ongoing survival.   Taking into account the trends of evolution throughout the history of the planet, our inherent species-wide personal conflict is quite possibly the mirror of the historical planet-wide conflict among all species – an inter-species struggle for survival in which our inborn turmoil is a latent survival advantage over other less sophisticated organisms.   The inherent level of personal agitation present in the human Psyche – the term given by Freud (and Jung) to the total human consciousness – serves to spur us onward through life, whether referenced as libido or Kundalini, this conflict establishes the dynamic internal tension accounting for our consciousness and awareness.    This mysterious and fundamental psychic force literally creates the foundation of knowing and being in our sexually differentiated species, regardless of which particular sex we may be – nothing is more essential to our nature than the differentiation into male and female form, and subsequent male and female behavior, both driven by libidinal turmoil.   

            Regardless of what we may feel to be the circumstances of existence, the fact remains that all information available to us comes directly from human sources of communication – the written and spoken words of others, living and dead. These messages may be attributed to any number of extrapersonal, or extrahuman, sources, but the fact remains that they emerge from our peers, having been present in living bodies at the time.   Thus, the body remains the foundation of conscious expression, genetically divided into the primary sexes as its most salient primary manifestation – whatever else we may be, we are almost always either clearly male or clearly female organisms.   

            Using these self-evident characteristics, it is possible to construct a grid of the physical foundation of consciousness, featuring two lower quadrants of the literal sex of the individual (male on the right, and female on the left), and the psychological orientation of conscious expression represented in the upper quadrants, again with the male on the right and female on the left.   This grid might appear as represented below:


                                  female orientation             x            male orientation


                                    female anatomy              x              male anatomy


             It will be seen, upon giving this simple diagram some thought, that it is quite possible for a given individual to have, for example, a male primary anatomy coupled with a female primary personal psychology, although the typical relationship would be male-to-male.   This does not imply the well known Jungian designations of the anima and animus – the latent female tendencies in men, and latent male tendencies in women – what is postulated here is the fundamental behavioral orientation of the person – i.e. masculinity or femininity – as the psychological foundation of behavior. Under this classification system, a masculine man would still have a latent feminine anima largely present unconsciously and acting within his Psyche in that context.   Individuals with heavily skewed orientations (e.g. male body with pronounced female behavioral traits) might conceivably, in fact, demonstrate latent animus (male) tendencies in this scenario.   This system has the great strength of combining the psychological driver of awareness (whether this is termed libido, or Kundalini, or perhaps simply life-force) with the physical platform sustaining that awareness in an utterly objective, sexually neutral matrix that allows for any sexual orientation present in consciousness, while still affirming the primary affect of sexual expression on that consciousness.   

            If we then begin at this stage with the physical body seen as the inevitable vehicle of primary awareness and the libido as the driver of that awareness, we have a fairly scientific foundation of consciousness.   However attractive the extended theories of manifestation propounded by various philosophies may be, this is the concrete reality of our data processing – whatever it means, the body is the common denominator of all subsequent meaning.  This brings us to the consideration of the personal mind, as represented by the aforementioned Freudian ego.    I must assert here that this phase of the mental process is sustained by the body, created by the libido, and modified by acculturation.   Although it superficially appears that there is an insurmountable Mind-Body Problem (i.e. Cartesian dualism), and that my mind simultaneously exists in the same brain which also holds a mental model of that brain,  the brain as the organ of cognition is fundamental, while the mental construct of “the brain” remains secondary, as does the mental construct of “the body”.   Something is writing this essay, experiencing the act of that writing, and classifying that act, regardless of the cultural filter applied to the classification.   Life is objectively real, if subjectively experienced.   

            The individual almost always develops and exists within cultural contexts that tend to shape most or all of behavior and belief throughout our existence.   These include language, lifestyle, personal appearance and behavior, occupation, and many other features of material existence, including the belief that the material existence as knowable through the physical senses is the only or most primary one.   And, although it does appear to be so, it is nonetheless still possible to modify the experience of consciousness through many means to create an awareness of an extensive array of alternative expressions.   From the viewpoint of science, these techniques of modification amount to laboratory procedures in awareness that can produce, at their most distant reaches, the radically altered states of perception noted at the beginning of this essay – Samadhi, Satori, and other expressions of full Enlightenment.   And once again, if we combine the common features of Freudian and Jungian theory, we can advance further in the scientific understanding of these altered states of awareness.   Now, these may still be particularly sophisticated cultural artifacts, but they remain examples of the best tools available for the acquisition of scientific knowledge – rational, clear-headed, experimentally grounded, and intelligently constructed.  

            Essentially, Jung began where Freud stopped, the latter being unwilling to risk the condemnation of the medical establishment through suggesting that some significant portion of the Psyche was manifest, or even originated, beyond the body.   This in no way invalidates Freudian theory – it simply indicates the prevailing attitude at the time – in a word, Mid-Victorian, and repressive in the extreme.  And, although Jung’s theories remain controversial to this day, they are simply too important to summarily disregard.  Why?   Because if Freud was correct in his apparent contention that “I” am restricted to “my” body, then “I” die with that body completely, eliminating any possibility of an afterlife or continuity of conscious of any kind.   For this reason, if no other, we should give Jung a fair hearing…  

            Where Freud maintained that the Superego was the result solely of social training,  Jung suggested that the inborn patterns of the archetypes and resultant archetypal symbols were heavily influential in what we chose as a species to train into each other – perhaps even the majority influence present.   How, then, can this matter be tested?   How can it be measured?  And, most importantly, what does it mean to humanity?  

            An answer to these questions is that the matter remains subjective, and so must the garnering of evidence supporting it – the information cannot be obtained through objective means, but it can nonetheless still be obtained.   How?   Through the practice of trance induction, effectively sending the ego into a “sleep” state, and thereby permitting the residue remaining in consciousness that is otherwise drowned out by the ego tasking of our waking routines to emerge into direct perception, often very vividly.   At least in this way the contents of the unconscious can be observed, and may even be subject to some degree of quantification, although this will still be a subjective estimate on the part of the observer.    I have participated in several experiments over the years in which the participants were asked to numerically rank the valence of many different perceptual phenomena, and the results were always very disparate – thus, it would seem that beauty (as any other perception) remains in the eye of the beholder!    Apparently, there are brain wave measurement experiments that are substantially more objective, but there is still a catch to these as well – the increase in cortical activity being measured is still referenced with regard to the participant’s subjective reaction to the stimulus present.    So, we must conclude that the psychological “Tower of Babel” – our individual human focus of conscious perception – remains in affect for the time being…  

            This does not, however, invalidate the technique of the first person documentary –the ethnography – as a most valuable, if imperfect, investigative tool.   This technique, when coupled with the subject’s social dialog of the trance experience as directly recorded and reported, is a powerful descriptive methodology, and very useful indeed.   I have even heard of such testimony being polygraphed to verify its authenticity, again with limited reliability, however, due to the inexact nature of the measurements taken and the ability of certain people to manipulate the procedure.   Yogis, in particular, are capable of completely defeating this type of test, routinely causing the machine to register false positives and negatives with great delight.   But, the ethnography is a lengthy procedure spanning weeks, months, or years, and incorporating the test of time in the process – perhaps the most difficult test of them all to manipulate or defeat.  

            When this method is used in the context of trance investigation, the initial images and perceptions reported are invariably Jungian archetypal symbols of certain basic types known by psychiatry to be recurrent in human consciousness – the Hero, the Shadow, the Great Mother, the Great Father, the Warrior, the Judge, the Dragon, the Serpent, and many others encompass such themes emergent from the unconscious while in trance – a full listing is far to extensive to even consider giving here – there are at least hundreds of such images composing the Psyche present at even the initial stage of trance, and there are several such stages to experience as the individual becomes more adept at entering and remaining in the condition.    The universality of these images (Joseph Campbell’s famous book The Hero with a Thousand Faces speaks to this phenomenon as an example here of just one archetypal symbol) was the foundation of Jung’s Theory of the Collective Unconscious, and he himself traced the practice of Kundalini Yoga through a least five stages of successively deeper trance as an academic example using the Hindu Chakras as primary archetypal symbols.  Yoga practitioners claim there are at least seven such stages, (as described by the Chakras) and perhaps as many as twelve, if the Hebrew Cabala and its primary image of the Tree of Life is considered, and Buddhist meditation practice has referred to many more, in the form of the multitude of the Bodhisattvas, and the Thousand Faces of the Meditating Buddha.   Possibly everything has an archetypal correspondent.   

            Although he himself had not achieved the higher (deeper?) stages of trance as a result of his rigorous scientific training – this would have required him to positively certify that his experience had transcended his body and sensory apparatus, a “scientific impossibility” – Jung was still familiar with ethnographic reportage of such events, and customarily did not attempt to refute them.   In particular, his postulate of the Self as the origin of all Psychic events (and therefore every human experience) points to such an epistemology of consciousness.    The many fantastic achievements of the Hindu Yogis and Pundits – the Siddhis, or supernatural powers – seem to defy rational explanation and point to the incredible extent of these latent within humanity.  Now, the question remains whether these trance oriented and actuated facilities also indicate the capability for transcendence of the physical death of the organism so feared by the ego, and this consideration will comprise the balance of this essay.   Indeed, death is the ultimate test of consciousness, life, and faith.   

            An old Buddhist saying runs “If I die before I die, then I do not die when I die.”   In many ways this cryptic slogan epitomizes Buddhism – the goal of Satori and the achievement of the condition of Nirvana (pure non-dual consciousness) both entail the death of the ego, i.e. the end of all subjective personal experience, attained through the dedicated meditation and austerity of the Noble Eight Fold Path prescribed by Buddha himself as the only real curative for the “problem” of sensory existence.   There is such a profound state of peace and repose present in Satori that it eclipses even the Bliss of Samadhi, and, at least according to the Buddha, anyone who is willing to make the necessary personal sacrifices can attain Satori in this lifetime through simple Mindfulness Meditation practice.   In this state of pure non-dual consciousness, death does not matter to us, because the subjective ego that so feared it is gone, along with the objective process of “death” that the ego had framed as an inverse desire object – a fear object.   No subjects means no objects – I have effectively died before I die – and yet consciousness without objects continues, although there are no referents for this mode of being – it simply must be experienced to be known – there is no other way.  

            The highest states of awareness mentioned at the beginning of this essay all require this negation of the ego – something that Freud and Jung (not to mention several of their many successors in the psychological venue) could not even imagine, because that would have necessitated the absence of an “imaginer” and an imagined condition!      Without the acculturated filter of the ego acting on consciousness, we are free beings – with it to even the slightest extent, we are enslaved by our beliefs and conditioning and will make very little progress past that point.   The great genius of the Buddha was that he was able to psychologically travel so far beyond his mind that he saw that mind for the death trap it was, and realized what had to be done to save us all from ourselves.   As impossible as this seems, this life is doomed for everyone unless we release every-thing and embrace no-things as the ultimate Truth of Consciousness.   We can only conquer the Void by becoming the Void – by throwing ourselves into it in love and trust.  

            The Buddha felt that the Heart Chakra Opened in Selfless Love and Compassion was the genuinely highest state attainable by the human consciousness, and that all of the Chakras beyond this level represented egoism in one form or another, and were doomed to collapse through self deception eventually for that reason, the attainment of Samadhi notwithstanding. Only the very purest Gurus could remain in Samadhi indefinitely, but Buddha taught that anyone having any kind of life or life obstacles could still attain the Open Heart and be of service to their fellow human beings – in reality the greatest human accomplishment.   For Buddha, our personal Karma was not an obstacle, but an opportunity for spiritual achievement and transcendence.   And Christ also said again and again that “The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You, and All Around You” – literally present everywhere but at “you” as the boundary layer of experience – the ego – the particle focus of illusion blinding us to the wave of Grace that could be ours if we would but walk far enough away from the material condition of the senses.    This journey is the great hope of spiritual involvement – not that we will live indefinitely in our present form, but that we will transcend the need for form at all in the Enlightened understanding of Divine Love as the cause of existence in an eternal here and now.  

            This remains a personal conscious transformation that we must make on our own – at a certain point within human experience the strictly scientific method of inquiry can take us no further, and there we must make a Leap of Faith into the unknown as the price of additional progress.    Perhaps we are simply still so limited in our ability to understand our condition that we must abandon understanding – that is, cognitive thought – in favor of the emotional, feeling processing of information and impressions of the world.   Apparently the Buddha discovered that, at the extremity of negation, when every other form and condition had been lost – functionally in deathLove still remained as the universal force behind Creation, a Truth that Christ knew as well, and offered to us then and now through the Gift of His Grace – the truest spiritual science…


                                                                                - With Love, Alan -

                                                               (Copyright 2010, by Alan Schneider)


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