The hookah smoking Cheshire Cat, asked Alice “Who are you?”
Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’
Vedanta is an ancient school of Hindu philosophy based on the Vedas, Vedanta is a combination of two words “Veda’, which means knowledge, and “Anta”, which means end, Vedanta literally means the end of knowledge[i]. I too feel that I am reaching the end of my knowledge.
My journey started with science and for the last twenty years I have oscillated between science and the Vedas. Like Tarzan swinging on a vine, I have swung from one end– science– to the other end –spirituality.
In the beginning, the arc separating the two ends was huge, I was mostly stuck at the science-end of the arc and unable or unwilling to let go. I felt secure in holding on to scientific knowledge. Spirituality was too big a leap into the unknown. But once I took the leap, about forty years ago, I opened up to a new reality. The arc between science and spirituality shortened for me. I picked up knowledge from each end, and little by little, knowledge from one end began to influence the other end. Like a hummingbird I was beginning to cross pollinate the two ends of knowledge. The two ways of looking at the world started to comingle.
I have reconciled the two views and a new way of looking at the world has emerged for me. This is a radical change in my world view, and this is why I feel that the end of my journey in search of the Truth is near. I have reached ground zero or the vacuum state[ii], as physicists are want to say, of my journey. The vacuum state is the stable state with the lowest possible energy. It is the point at which a pendulum comes to rest, after swinging from left to right, losing energy with each swing.
Looking to science, on my left, I understand the material world, the world outside of me, the objective world. Looking to my right I understand the world inside of me, the subjective world. In the middle, at my Zero point, I see that there is no separation between the objective and the subjective worlds. The world outside of me is the world inside of me.
There is only one reality. It is an unbroken reality. It is not split. It is non-dual[iii] as the Buddhists say. The left and the right are the yin and yang of my knowledge. In the middle is where they meet and become one.
“Who am I?”
“One of the strange things that we humans can do is to look at our own selves from the outside in, as well as from the inside out. In other words, we can feel and at the same time watch ourselves feeling…. We don’t really understand ourselves or what life is. It is a mystery, and this fact is hard to accept.” [iv]Annemarie Roeper in “The “I” Of the Beholder”.21
Raman Maharshi, probably the most famous sage of the twentieth century in India, taught “vichara” (Sanskrit for self-inquiry). Vichara is the constant attention to the inner awareness of “I” or “I am”. He recommended vichara as the most efficient and direct way of discovering the unreality of the “I”-thought.
I had been looking for truth in all the wrong places, it seems. I was like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, traveling down the yellow brick road only to find that there was no wizard. I was convinced that reality or absolute truth was something out there and I would find it through science. But, the turning point in my search for absolute truth was when I turned the lens inward.
Who is the “me” in me? Is there a homunculus in my brain? My search for the homunculus led me to looking into how my brain works. I started reading up on neuroscience. I came across the book Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind, written by the brilliant neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran[v], this book was an eye opener. This book set me off in a new direction of self-discovery. I was like a child exploring a new world. This was the beginning of my search for the homunculus.
I was hooked on neuroscience. I read voraciously. I discovered Douglas Hofstadter’s, I Am A Strange Loop[vi] and Gödel, Escher and Bach,[vii] Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works[viii] , and Antonio Damasio’s “Self Comes to Mind”[ix], and the brilliant Oliver Sacks and his book: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat[x].
Antonio Damasio’s framework of how through multiple brain processes, the self comes to mind, was, and is, as big a shift in my thinking about who I am, as Einstein’s theory of relativity was about the universe. Just as Einstein’s theory got me to abandon trusting my senses as the purveyor of reality outside me, Damasio had me convinced that the edifice that I had built, which represented who I was to me, was a fairytale conjured up by my brain.
Damasio and Ramachandran sent the homunculus packing but left me with this idea that the world is an illusion and I am a fairytale. My mind was swimming with these radical ideas. I let these ideas percolate. There was a long gestation period before the idea that “I do not exist” came to exist in my mind as a possibility.