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SCIENCE AND
MYSTICAL EXPERIENCE

(Chapter 6 of The Real Nature of Mystical Experience)

There is a great deal of variation in the accounts of mystical vision available to usfor study. Apart from the traditional mystics, whose frame of mind was essentiallyreligious and who underwent various spiritual disciplines to attain the mystical state,there have been poets, philosophers, scientists and scholars who had a sudden visionaryexperience, once or several times in their life, without the practice of any orthodoxreligious or esoteric discipline. Pascal, Bucke, Tennyson, Wordsworth and Tagore are a fewexamples of this type of mystical vision. According to his own statement, a few momentsbefore his epileptic seizures, Dostoevsky experienced a state of lucidity and bliss which,he says, counted more than a lifetime of ordinary experience.

How are we to account for this phenomenon? From immemorial times the mystical state hasbeen held to be a vision of Divinity, or God or Allah or Brahman or any celestial orsupernatural Being. There are hundreds of books from the pens of mystics themselves or oftheologians and other scholars supporting this view. For this reason a deeply religiouslife, involving seclusion from the world, renunciation, submission to Divine Will,contentment, austerity, even penance with extreme love of the Deity, and utter devotion,has been considered to be the essential prerequisite for success in this sublime quest.The Revealed scriptures of mankind are all explicit on this point. From this point ofview, the anomaly created by the mystical ecstasy of those on whom the experience was, asit were, thrust in the course of normal life, devoted to worldly pursuits, without havingmade the surrenders and sacrifices to deserve the reward from Heaven, is hard to explain.

There have been well-known mystics in recent times in whom ecstasy started fromboyhood, as in the case of Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharishi. In both of them the state ofintense absorption was, as it were, a natural state of the mind. Guru Nanak and Jnaneshwarwere mystics from birth. The former in his talk, behavior and poetic composition was areligious genius from the age of ten, while the latter wrote his famous commentary on theBhagavad Gita known as Jnaneshwari, and considered to be a classic, at the age of sixteen.There is no rational explanation for these extraordinary cases of mystical consciousness.

There are still many scientists who, like Freud, treat the whole phenomenon of religionas an illusion, a pathological condition due to repressed sexuality--their one answer tomany problems of the mind. According to this view, the whole irrational fabric of faithshould have been exposed to its bottom by now. But, strange to say, the reverse hashappened. Mystical vision and the miracles associated with it, now classified as psychicphenomena, have assumed an urgency and importance that they never possessed before duringthe last two centuries. This shows how erroneous the intellect can be. The widespreadthirst for self-awareness or the occult side of nature, which is a striking feature of ourday, is utterly inexplicable in the light of modern psychology.

It is incredible that the learned world should still be in the dark about a phenomenonthat has been at the base of civilization and culture, also all the moral and intellectualprogress made by mankind. The religious impulse and the lure of the supernatural, which wesee always associated with the life of man from as far back as archeological record isavailable, provide irrefutable evidence to show that the human mind has been occupied withthe occult and the divine almost from the beginning of reason. The priest, the witchdoctor, the medicine man and the shaman appear on the scene from the remotest periods. Inthe prehistorical world we see all the vanished civilizations of the past completelydominated by religion. In fact, in some of them the kings performed the offices of theruler and the high priest both. The current faiths that took form from about 2,000 yearsbefore the birth of Christ to medieval times kept as firm a hold on the imagination of manas those that preceded them by thousands of years. In this sphere of the human mind,science is but a helpless spectator of the scene.

The world is tense and the race lives under the overhanging threat of a holocaustbecause we are violating an Almighty Law of nature. We have not even the awareness of thisLaw. It is not mere chance or accident or hysteria or the machinations of charlatans andpriests that brought the current major faiths of mankind into existence. In such an event,they could never hold the tremendous sway which they did over the minds of people inalmost all parts of the world. It is not by chance or accident that the great spiritualluminaries were born to reveal the mode of life and the pattern of behavior to be followedby the multitude to live in concord with the evolutionary processes working in the race.It is the impact of their teachings and the order they established which prepared the soilfor the great achievements of modern science. The parents, grandparents and thegreat-grandparents of the pioneers of science were, in most cases, deeply religious menand women with faith in God and a righteous way of life. What will be the achievements ofthe progeny, born in all parts of the world, two or three generations from now, in themental climate which undiluted rationality has created we have still to see.

The signs, however, are not auspicious. Pregnancy and birth in a tense, highly chargedand threatened mental atmosphere can never be above fault. The tragedy has been that thecustodians of faith attached more importance to formulism than to the basic teachings ofthe founders. At the same time, many of the great thinkers and scientists, during recenttimes, failed to understand the importance of religion as the outward symbol of the deeplyrooted evolutionary impulse in human beings. They failed to note that all the revealedscriptures of mankind had a common purpose which is to implant an ideal of a HeavenlyDeity, called by the name of Brahman, God, Jehovah, Vishnu, Allah, Buddha or Ahura-Mazda,etc., and, to prescribe the way of life and the mode of behavior necessary to achieveunion with or proximity to that Being. In other words, the aim was to present anevolutionary ideal and the methods to achieve it.

Religion came, as I have said, to prepare the ground for science. The advent ofscience, too, did not come by chance or accident. It marks another stage in the evolutionof the human mind. We do not see the connection because there persists an erroneousimpression, even in the ranks of science, that the human brain is static and has been sofor the last, at least, twenty thousand years, since the time of the Cro-Magnon type ofman. We are, however, prepared to concede that there must have been some kind of aqualitative difference between the brain of a genius, as for instance Einstein, and a manof average intelligence. In fact, it is to locate this difference that portions ofEinsteins brain have been under observation for the last many years.

The wonder is that while we are ready to acknowledge that there must be a variation inthe brain of a genius as compared to that of a common man, we still naively believe themyth that there has been no appreciable change in the human encephalon for the pastthousands of years. Even a champion of evolution, like Teilhard-de-Chardin, subscribed tothe same view, probably under the impression that what the biologists of his daypropounded was the last word on the subject. The bloom of science and the bloom ofintellect, we see today, compared to the dense, slow-moving mind of the Stone Age man,shows as great a gulf, if not greater, as exists between a highly talented individual anda blockhead in our time. What physiological factors are responsible for this difference?No one is able to answer this riddle at present. The moment this difference is located,the enigma whether or not the human brain is still in a state of evolution will be solved.

The tragedy is that the human mind is never able to frame a correct picture of thestate of its knowledge even a few decades ahead. The great intellects, alive in the late1800s, could never imagine the state of knowledge of the intellects alive today.Similarly, the latter can never visualize correctly the mind of those living in the late2000s. There are extremely few who can think ahead of their time. The science of lifehas reached a stage where a breakthrough in our knowledge about the brain is imminent.This would show that the religious impulse is genetically present in human beings. Whereit does not exist, a departure from the normal is indicated. The aim of the impulse is toeffect coordination between the evolutionary modeling of the body and the surfaceconsciousness of the individual. I say this because there is no other explanation formystical experience. The fact that those who laid the foundation of all current faiths ofmankind made a clear avowal of the position that what they were preaching was revealed tothem by God, or an Angel, or a Divine Consciousness, or an Enlightened state of mind is aclear indication of this fact.

With the breakthrough in the knowledge about the brain, the stage will be set forrapprochement between religion and science. The real purpose for which science took birthis to bring about an acceleration in the evolution of mankind. From this point of view,science is not the end but the means to an end. This is the reason for the highlyincreased tempo of progress in our time. We are all a witness to the fact that changes andinnovations that, in medieval times, took centuries to occur are often accomplished indecades now. How has this come to pass? The answer that this is due to highlysophisticated technology is only partially correct. Technology itself is inextricablylinked up with the capacity of the human mind. It is the technological brain that hasevolved to the pitch where the amazing achievements of our day have become possible. Ifthe evolution of the brain does not keep pace with the speed of progress, a state ofstagnation would ensue beyond which it would be impossible to proceed.

The past history of mankind is standing witness to this ossification. What happened tothe Egyptians, Mesopotamians, the people of the Indus Valley, the Indo-Aryans, Chinese,Persians, Greeks and Romans after their rise to lofty heights of culture and eventechnological achievements of which we see surprising relics even today? Stultificationand decadence occurred as the brain ceased to keep pace with the demands of the progressachieved, and decay set in to level the once victorious and ascendant nations to dust. Asmany as fourteen civilizations, whose achievements are scattered all over the earth,which, some believe, were harvests of their contact with extraterrestrial intelligence,have already paid the forfeit for their ignorance of this Almighty Law. Our civilizationwill follow the same course, if science continues to ignore the fact that spiritualevolution is the real goal of human life.

The time-defying pyramids and the wonder-exciting temples of Egypt could not save thepopulace from falling a helpless victim to decline, when the brain ceased to cooperate.Space rockets, skyscrapers and all the wonders of modern science, combined, will not beable to save the race, if the brain refuses to tolerate the pressure to which it issubjected now, because of ignorance of the Law. The result would be what we are alreadywitnessing--a desire to drop out of the struggle, perverted thinking, drugs, promiscuity,escapism, discontent, violence, crime and wishful thinking of a holocaust. The top-heavy,ponderous structure of modern civilization, in every part of the world, is actuallyrocking. Only we are not fully aware of it, as we are not conscious of the worldwiderebellious trend of the human brain.

Written by: Gopi Krishna


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Written by: Gopi Krishna

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