by Kailasam Iyer
You hear this expression “being one with the Universe” or “feeling one with the Universe” with the implication of an identity, resonance, compatibility, what is good for the Universe is good for me and vice versa type of cuddling in all sorts of socio, political, economic, religious interactions. What does this mean? Why is it felt sometimes and not others? Why do some people feel it and not others? When you eat a moderate amount of healthy food in the evening and if it is all digested before you go to sleep, chances are you will sleep well and wake up with a smug smirk on your face. You are in tune with your perceived universe or in other words the universe is a friendly place or the universe is cozy to you as a cocoon. The feeling is entirely subjective and transitory. Where does this feeling come from and why doesn’t it stay permanently? OR is there a way to latch on to it permanently? The answer lies in our understanding of what we mean by “the Universe” and who we are.
The Universe is what it is. What we make of it changes. Before Kepler, people truly believed that the earth was at the center and that all the heavenly bodies revolved around it. Our concept of the material universe is undergoing revisions all the time. All you have to do is to think about Dark Matter and it blows your mind. Which brings me to consciousness.
We are, when we are awake, continuously aware of a universe with things, lives, and activities (our own, others’, etc.), and the interactions among them. This “our” universe is pure awareness and is conditioned by what our individual homeostatic state is and the way and degree to which we are separated from it. Our individual homeostasis is an external manifestation of a combination of genetic and epigenetic factors. At any given moment in the history of the Universe, a human being is the repository of evolutionary memory, anthropological, historical, cultural, social memories, and memories associated with individual experiences. The interplay between these memories and the activities of our senses give rise to perceptions which were generally and broadly pigeonholed by our Gurus under the three gunas. An instant ago is memory; an instant from now is the unpredictable ( only because it is intractable) future; this instant is the present and at this instant, the perceived universe is created for the consciousness. Our faculties ( the hardware and the software of our machinery) and our capacities ( what we have eaten and how and how much of it has been converted to ATPs and hormones according to our genetic codes) perceive and react to “our” universe through the lenses of the three gunas which are emergent properties of an instantaneous arrangement of the state of our being. It is no exaggeration to say that our individual universe is created by our gunas for our consciousness at every instant of our lives. The characteristics of whichever guna is dominant at any given instant will determine our perceived universe and we will react to it according to the dictates of that guna. The degree of our compatibility we feel with the universe depends on the separation we feel away from our homeostasis. In homeostasis, the organism is in tune with “its universe”; away from homeostasis, the organism does everything it can ( whether it succeeds or not) to bring itself back to homeostasis. The organism has no choice. Homeostasis or a desire for it is not absence of needs; it is a dynamic state of having the basic needs met. Think of the thermostat in your house set at a temperature. When the actual temperature is different from the set temperature, the difference is sensed as a voltage to start the HPAC unit. The HPAC unit is shut off when the difference disappears. This servomechanical drive operates at the most fundamental unit of life, the cell. To me, this is the real meaning of our sanskaras. The emergent property of the composite of all the different kinds of memory that we are a repository of at any given instant decides what our homeostasis is. In my case, these days, I am not in my homeostasis until I can figure out the NY Times puzzle every day and I am not able to do it many days. There is a certain inevitability to this OR is there? Prof. V. S. Ramachandran says we don’t have free will but we do have free won’t; but there is always a price to pay. In homeostatic state, the organism is in harmony with the perceived universe.
What is the relation between the perceived universe and the Universe as it is? There is no perceived universe without a Universe ( with its beings and activities) to perceive. Memories are records of “past” perceptions. The signals which are emitted by the Universe are sensed, perceived, and interpreted by our prakriti (of which we are a manifestation) for our consciousness which is an emergent faculty of the of the physico-chemical state of our brain.
So, how and when can we know the Universe as it is? Our homeostatic state is not fixed in concrete. The requirements of homeostasis can be minimized further and further by dint of practice and vairaghyam to a level of bare sustenance of life force when the focus can be on an unadulterated vision of the Universe. The first step is to quiet our senses which would eliminate the biases of the metaphoric wakeful state. Secondly, we need to “forget” everything we know ( all our memories) which would get rid of our biases in our metaphoric dream state. Thirdly, we need to still our drives to keep our heart humming and blood flowing through our veins at an abject lowest level to achieve the metaphoric deep sleep state. From this state ( a thin layer on a substrate) we can glimpse the substrate. Beyond this “deep sleep” state, we can experience the completely self-free and bias-free Atman. Reading about it is not enough; experiential knowledge is what matters. This knowledge is the ultimate goal of pursuing any and all of the dharshanas, Yoga included. This is the real meaning of Arjuna’s Atman ( a manifestation of Krishna) viewing the Vishvarupam ( a dynamic continuum of past, present, and future of the Universe) of Krishna with the aid of a special vision ( a gift of Krishna). This is the perch from which the being gets a view of the Universe as it is OR this is when the perceived universe is mapped onto the Universe-as-it-is completely and identically. This is not euphoria but a transformational epiphany. The fact that this is a brain state does not detract one iota from its potential to create a retrievable memory state which is called upon to guide the being in its “wakeful” state. Two things happen when you are in possession of this knowledge. One, you remember this when you get back to the wakeful state and you have an equanimity that you did not have before. Two, you know how to get back to be in touch with Atman when you need to for the purpose of viewing the Universe as it is. How do I know this? I don’t. People whom I believe have written about this. Personally, I have never gotten past sensory delights. But I constantly reflect on the genius of our ancestors who identified this brain state and delineated pathways to it.
If we are smugly satisfied with just calming the mind and experiencing the temporary delight, we are missing out on the possibility of experiencing the permanent Anandham of nischalanam. When we come out of this temporary calm and delight, we are in no better shape to see the Universe as it is than when we went into it. That is why a samadhi pill is a contradiction in terms. This bias-free and activity-free Anandham is the base on which our lives and experiences are built for the consciousness to be aware of and what I think the neuroscientists refer to as the awareness of awareness. Dean started to talk about this when he mentioned his technique for calming down. He “observes” the peregrinations of his Self through the emotion/thought space. We have all experienced this. Think about the time you were in the middle of an experience. Our sense of self is in the experience. Our consciousness is evaluating the quality and the usefulness of the experience for future reference in negotiating the travails of life ( survival) and decides to create/forget memory for retrieval. Almost always, if you pay attention, you are aware of an additional layer which is an awareness of this consciousness. There is this quiet fly on the wall observing and not doing anything. If you can latch on to this awareness of awareness and stay with it without any reference to your needs, wants, and desires you may be in samadhi. Researchers say that this faculty is unique to humans and is the latest in the evolving cortex. I am not so sure; when I look at my daughter’s dog Miss Money Penny on those occasions when I make her do something she doesn’t want to do, she looks at me quizzically to convey the thought that by a very simple change in the quirk of nature, our positions could be interchanged. What I don’t know is whether Penny has that faculty or I am anthropomorphising our dog.
We refer to Thyagaraja Swamigal as the Nadha Brahmam for a very specific reason. His vision of Sri Rama in Kana Kana Ruchira, Annamacharya’s vision of Lord Venkatesvara in his kirtanai, Muthuswami Dikshitar’s vision of Kamalambal, Hendel’s Messiah, Beethovan’s Ninth, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio are expressions of a perceived identity and their contribution to our attempts at perceiving that identity. I think Sunitha is aware of this and we ought to get her to talk about it. It is not the repetition and concentration on one syllable. It is the complete surrender to paravasham (possessed by ANOTHER) through absorbing arrangement of fundamental sounds.