“Tat Tvam Asi” say the Vedas.
“Thou art That”
My search for the absolute truth has come full circle. I am back to where I started. The longing, that set me on my journey in the first place, was for something that was already within me, as I have now discovered. It is like a homecoming. I was like ET, in the movie Extra Terrestrial, pining for home.
The journey home for me has been tortuous yet thrilling. The joy of finally discovering who I am has been worth experiencing the “dark night of the soul”. The path back home has meandered through quantum mechanics, theory of evolution, neuroscience, psychology and Vedantic philosophy. It has taken me twenty years to discover who I really am.
After twenty years of exploration and much thinking I have concluded that there are three possibilities for who I really am:
- I am a physical being: This is who I thought I was when I started my journey. This is who most people think they are. This is what our senses tell us who we are. When I look in the mirror I see a figure and I know that that is me. My family and friends know me as the me that I see in the mirror. But, I have concluded that that is not the real me. Why? Physics and neuroscience have convinced me that that is not who I really am. Physicists tell me that my senses are limited in their ability to perceive all that this is there. My eyes, my nose, my ears, my skin and my tongue have limited range of sensitivity to all the energies that are out there. Thus, we perceive only a small fragment of the what existence. Neuroscientists like Damasio and Ramachandran inform me that the world we perceive including our own selves are created in our brains. The world we perceive is created through patterns of neuronal firings in the brain. Thus, I have to reject the idea that I am a physical being. I must be something different and possibly more than just the physical self that my senses and my mind have conjured up.
- I am a mental construct: Damasio, Ramachandran and other neuroscientists have convincingly demonstrated through their work how our mind creates the world outside of us, as well as an image of our body and even our feeling of selfhood. Their research has proven that all of physical reality (including us) is a mental construct and an illusion as the Vedic sages had divined. I am a figment of my own imagination; I am a fairytale. I am inclined to accept the view that I am a thought and an idea in my mind, and not the physical being that my senses perceive. I am more than what my senses can perceive.
- I am a feeling: Based on scientific evidence I have ruled out the possibility that I am a physical being. Neuroscientists have convinced me that I am a thought and an idea in my mind. I am not who I had gotten to know and take for granted. I am not a physical being but an ephemeral and ethereal presence, some might call it the spirit.
The” I” that I identify with is a figment of my imagination. The I that I have grown up with and am fond of is not real. The I that has memories and hopes is not who I am. The “I” is a thought in the mind. This begs the questions what is mind, and whose mind is it? Science has no answer yet, this is called the Hard Problem of Consciousness. There are many theories of consciousness, one of the most radical theories is the one by Prof. Donald Hoffman, a cognitive scientist at The University of California, Irvine. His theory is that consciousness is matter, energy and space-time are not the fundamental properties of reality but consciousness itself is. He explains”
“I call it conscious realism: Objective reality is just conscious agents, just points of view. Interestingly, I can take two conscious agents and have them interact, and the mathematical structure of that interaction also satisfies the definition of a conscious agent. This mathematics is telling me something. I can take two minds, and they can generate a new, unified single mind. Here’s a concrete example. We have two hemispheres in our brain. But when you do a split-brain operation, a complete transection of the corpus callosum, you get clear evidence of two separate consciousnesses. Before that slicing happened, it seemed there was a single unified consciousness. So it’s not implausible that there is a single conscious agent. And yet it’s also the case that there are two conscious agents there, and you can see that when they’re split. I didn’t expect that, the mathematics forced me to recognize this. It suggests that I can take separate observers, put them together and create new observers, and keep doing this ad infinitum. It’s conscious agents all the way down.”
Prof. Hoffman’s radical idea is that reality is consciousness itself. Each of us is a “conscious agent” and collectively we are consciousness. All that is there is consciousness itself. This view is amazingly similar to the Vedic view of reality.
The essence of the Vedic view is captured in the Mahavakyas or Grand Contemplations. The Mahavakyas are a distillation of Vedic insights into Reality. If we substitute the term Consciousness for Brahman in the seven Mahavakyas below we see the parallel with Prof. Hoffman’s idea of Realty. In the Mahavakyas below Atman is analogous to “conscious agent” in Prof. Hoffman’s thesis.
Brahman is real the world is unreal
Brahman is one without a second
Brahman is the supreme knowledge
Thou art that
Atman and Brahman are the same
I am Brahman
All that is Brahman
Root of the word: The word Brahman comes from the root brha or brhi, which means knowledge, expansion, and all-pervasiveness. It is that existence which alone exists, and in which there is the appearance of the entire universe.
Not subject to change: Brahman means the absolute reality, that which is eternal, and not subject to death, decay, or decomposition. In English, we speak of omnipresence or oneness. This is the principle of the word Brahman.
Not a proper name: Brahman is not a proper name, but a Sanskrit word that denotes that oneness, the non-dual reality, the substratum underneath all of the many names and forms of the universe. Brahman is somewhat like the difference between the word ocean, and the specific ocean Pacific Ocean. The word Brahman is like ocean, not Pacific Ocean. Brahman is not a name of God. These contemplations neither promote nor oppose any particular religious concept of God.
Immanence and transcendence: One may also choose to think of Brahman in theological terms, though that is not necessary. Within that perspective, the scholars speak of two principles: immanence and transcendence. Immanence is described as the divinity existing in and extending into all parts of the created world. In that sense, the Mahavakyas can be read as suggesting there is no object that does not contain or is not part of that creation.
It’s really indescribable, as it is beyond form: However, one chooses to hold the word Brahman, it is very useful to remember that Brahman is often described as indescribable. For convenience sake, it is said that Brahman is the nature of existence, consciousness, and bliss, though admitting that these words, too, are inadequate.
Seek direct experience: The real meaning comes only in direct experience.
Prof. Hoffman “I’m claiming that experiences are the real coin of the realm. The experiences of everyday life — my real feeling of a headache, my real taste of chocolate — that really is the ultimate nature of reality.”
There is an uncanny similarity between cognitive scientist Hoffman’s view of ultimate reality and the Vedic definition of Brahman. And, the conclusion of both is radical that the experience of everyday life is the ultimate nature of reality.
I am that!
And, that is that!
 (Dark Night of the Soul, n.d.)