Posts by smehro

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Get a Grip on Reality

If you think you have a solid grip on reality, think again.

Nothing is as it appears, as Alice remarked in Alice in Wonderland.

We perceive reality through our senses. Our senses are limited, and they capture only a sliver of what is “out there.”

What is real is much more than what we can perceive.

Here are some thought experiments to try out which might change your view on what you consider to be real:

1. Imagine your eyes had the magnifying power of the world’s most powerful telescope; what would you see then? Would your world look different?

2. Imagine that your eyes could see like an electron microscope; what would the world look like to you then?

3. Imagine you had x-ray vision or could “see” through objects like an fMRI machine; what would you see then?

4. What would the world look like if you could see quarks or the world at its most fundamental level-quantum level? Hint: objects would come in and out of existence. It would be a “now you see it, now you don’t” world.

We have instruments that “see” the world(s) imagined in each scenario above, but our senses cannot see these worlds unaided. Reality is all of the above and is more than what we perceive it to be.

Try out these thought experiments and “see” for yourself.

Question Reality!!





A straight line from science to god

I am a rocket scientist; science has been my religion, but I have found God through science. Not the God of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, or any other organized religion, but a very different God. Let me explain. I will take you step-by-step through the evidence in science that has led me to conclude that if there is a god, the god is within us.

I will touch upon these key theories in science to make my case — the Big Bang, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, how life emerged from matter, the path from a single-cell organism to a human being, the organ systems that make up the human body, the structure of the brain and how the brain processes information to create our reality.

Buckle up for the ride.

  1. The Big Bang: According to science, the Universe was birthed fourteen billion years ago at Big Bang. In the beginning, there was matter and energy. All the energy that existed during the Big Bang still exists because energy is neither created nor destroyed. Matter merged to form galaxies and planets. Our planet was formed four billion years ago. There is scientific proof for each step in this chain of events. What is not known is what was there before the Big Bang and what happened a few moments after the Big Bang (inflationary theory). But the evidence of what happened a few minutes after the Big Bang is solid. The religious faithful have alternate beliefs about the universe’s origin though the scientific evidence to support Big Bang is rock solid (pun intended).


2. How life emerged from matter: Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, and Phospate are the five elements from which life emerged, according to the latest theories in science. The prebiotic phase shown in the figure below is when the five elements combine to form the macromolecules of life. The macromolecules of life, carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acid, are shown in the second figure. There are several scientific theories on what could have caused the creation of macromolecules, but there is no consensus. Religions doubt the entire theory of evolution because there is no proof for how life emerged from matter. Even if we accept legitimate skepticism about this one aspect of the theory of evolution, there is scientific proof for every step after that.

The third figure is my favorite. It shows the macromolecules and their essential role in our lives.

source fig 1: source fig2:


3. Structure of a cell and DNA: Macromolecules took a billion years to form a living cell, and it was another billion years for the forerunner of the human cell to emerge in the conditions that prevailed on planet earth then. The image below shows the intricacies of a human cell. Every element identified in the picture is a marvel of nature. Each is assembled from macromolecules; for example, the cell membrane is made from lipids and proteins. My DNA makes me who I am and different from you and all other humans, alive or dead. The structure of the DNA, genes, and chromosomes is shown in the second figure. Our genes carry the instructions for making us who we are (physically). Each gene is a sequence of DNA with instructions for making a specific protein. DNA is the “god molecule.” It carries instructions for the development, growth, and reproduction of life. And it is constructed from just five elements hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphate. Just FIVE!! Pause and marvel at this miracle of life. Many see the hand of God here. Science can explain the chemistry behind DNA, but it has competing theories about how the five elements combine to form the macromolecules, the building blocks of the DNA, or how matter becomes life.


4. Single-cell organism to 37 trillion-cell organism (us): It took 2–3 billion years since the emergence of a single-cell organism to evolve into us humans.


5. Cells to tissues to organs to organ systems to man/woman:


6. The ten organ systems that keep our bodies humming: 1. Skeletal 2. Muscular 3. Nervous 4. Cardiovascular 5. Respiratory 6. Digestive 7. Lymphatic 8. Endocrine 9. Urinary 10. Reproductive.

This video produced by National Geographic is an excellent primer for understanding these ten systems and their functions.

Science 101: Human Body | National Geographic Society

Media Credits The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional…

7. The crowning achievement of evolution is our brain: The human brain, to me, is the most amazing, breathtaking, extraordinary, and mind-blowing (pun intended) structure. If I had known then what I know now, I would have become a neuroscientist instead of a rocket scientist. I have spent the last thirty years trying to understand how our brains convert thoughts (intangible) to tangible matter (electrical signals), which move our muscles, and, conversely, how sensory information (electrical signals) is converted to perception (intangible). Simply put, if you understand how the brain works, you know yourself, nature, and god.


These brain images, with descriptions of what each region of the brain specializes in, are key to understanding how we think, feel, remember, believe and act. Our beliefs about anything, including religion, science, and philosophy, result from neurons firing in the cerebral cortex. Yes, it all happens in the brain. This is how:

Our sense organs transmit information (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch) about the world outside us as electrical signals to our nervous system. The nerves transmit this energy to the thalamus. The thalamus acts like an internet router; it processes information and passes it onto the cerebral cortex (parietal lobe), where perception happens, and electrical signals become our reality.

How the internet works might help us understand how our brains process information from our sense organs.


Our sense organs are the modem; the thalamus is the router; the cerebral cortex is the computer that receives the signals, decodes them, and creates what we perceive. In computer jargon, the cerebral cortex renders our reality. It took me years to grasp the full implication; it blew my mind when I did.

This is not all; the brain takes the signals from the nervous system to create a perception of who we are, the “I.” No material or physical thing inside us is “I.” There is no homunculus. We create the “I” we think we are. The book by neuroscientist Prof. Antonio Damasio “Self Comes to Mind,” explains the neuroscience of how we construct our “I.”

Our brains not only create our reality but also create us. We are not who we THINK we are. Who are we? Who am I?

This is the question each of us should ask. This is the question that science made me ask. I did not know who I was. This is where religion came in for me.

After reading the scriptures, the Vedas, and Buddhist texts (the three religions I am familiar with), I have concluded that all religious texts are prescriptions for discovering who we are. The three religions say, in different ways, that there is a divinity within us, and that is who we are. All three have different approaches to getting in touch with this divinity. Prayers, meditation, and reading the scriptures are different ways to the same end.

I am committed to discovering who I am. I am religious in that sense. Science has led me to become religious but not a follower of any religion.

More from sunil mehrotra

Atoms to Adam

Science, Religion, and Spirituality: The quest for TRUTH

The four slides below capture 300 years of scientific progress in explaining the origin of the Universe, the creation of planet earth, how life emerged from matter, and the evolution of humans from a single-cell organism.

Each chart is a 30,000 feet view of the subject matter, and the knowledge is from one or more disciplines in science. Collectively the ten charts describe the “forest” we belong to. One can drill down from “the forest to the trees to the weeds” of each chart, where all the magic of science is.

These charts answer the questions of what, where, when, and how of all of existence but NOT “the why,” — why things happen?

I turned to philosophy and religion for these answers. The knowledge captured in the ten slides is settled “truth” and not debatable by religious doctrines or philosophical speculations, Except for THREE topics in science.

  1. What was there before BIG BANG?
  2. How life emerged from matter.
  3. What is Consciousness? Science cannot explain what it means to be ME. Where do my thoughts, feelings, emotions, and desires come from?

These questions fall into the domain of religion and philosophy. For anyone, like me, in search of Truth (and nothing but the truth), one has to explore these domains. While science has been the foundation of my belief system, I have delved into religion and philosophy for answers to these important questions. I have found answers at the intersection of science and Vedic philosophy. I have written two books on this topic — Shiva’s Dance: A Scientist Dances with the Sages and The Mind of God of Revealed: Einstein’s Unfinished Business, and am working on the third.

I am a fairytale

“Tat Tvam Asi” say the Vedas.[i]

“Thou art That”

Who am I?

The journey of self-discovery is a journey inward. The journey starts at the outer layer- the body- and goes deeper inward and deeper still (Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate-Heart Sutra) only to discover that there is nothing there except emptiness. The body is made of atoms and atoms are mostly empty spaces; the atoms themselves are made of elementary particles which have no independent existence, they exist only when an observer is there to observe them. If elementary particles are not real then the atoms are not real, and the body that appears solid is just empty space. This is undeniably so, it is what modern physics tells us. We also know from neuroscience that “I”, the self, that I identify with is a figment of my mind and does not exist. The body does not exist, I do not exist.

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? 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 itself is a fundamental property of Reality, not space-time, matter-energy.

“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.”[ii] Explains Prof. Hoffman.

Prof. Hoffman’s radical idea is that 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[iii]. The Mahavakyas are a distillation of Vedic insights into the nature of Reality. If we substitute the term Consciousness for Brahman in the Mahavakyas below we see the parallel with Prof. Hoffman’s ideas.


Brahman is real the world is unreal

Brahman is one without a second

Brahman is the supreme knowledge

Thou art that

I am Brahman

All that is Brahman


Consciousness is real the world is unreal

Consciousness is one without a second

Consciousness is the supreme knowledge

Thou art that

I am consciousness

All that is Consciousness

Most physicists and neuroscientists, even to this day, have shied away from tackling the problem of consciousness. They consider consciousness to be the domain of religion and philosophy. Not so for the Vedic sages, who delved deeply into the nature of consciousness, which they called Brahman.

The root of 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, 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 not the name of God. These contemplations neither promote nor oppose any particular religious concept of God.

Immanence and transcendence: One may also think of Brahman in theological terms, though that is unnecessary. Within that perspective, the scholars speak of two principles: immanence and transcendence. Immanence is the divinity existing in and extending into all parts of the created world. In that sense, the Mahavakyas suggest that no object contains or is not part of that creation.

It’s indescribable, as it is beyond form: However, if one chooses to hold the word Brahman, it is handy to remember that Brahman is indescribable. For convenience’s 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 taste of chocolate — are the ultimate nature of Reality.”

The conclusion of both the Vedas and Prof. Hoffman is that the experience of everyday life is the ultimate nature of Reality.

God is an experience. Every moment that we are fully alive and experiencing life without filters-preconceived ideas and beliefs- we are experiencing the divine.

All that is there is Brahman!

Thou art that!!

And that is that.

[i] (, n.d.)

[ii] (, n.d.)

[iii] (, n.d.)

Be a Voyeur

“You can observe a lot just by watching” — Yogi Berra

I have become a voyeur-a silent witness of my inner self. I can watch my thoughts, my emotions, and my bodily sensations. I am a voyeur of “me.” It is as if there are two “Mes”, there is one that is watching, and there is one that is being watched. I can watch all of “me” dispassionately, like a scientist. This is the single biggest step forward in my journey of self-discovery. One small step for the new me and one giant leap for the old me. Apologies to Neil Armstrong.

It has taken me many years to develop the ability to watch my thoughts and emotions without judging them. I have learned a lot about myself just by watching my thoughts, emotions, and sensations in my body. It is a skill I developed through practice. Normally, I get swept up in my thoughts, one thought leads to another and another, and the mind wanders off. I had to work at breaking this habit. I had to learn to let go of thought as soon as it appears. I had to train myself to look at a thought as a cloud wafting through the sky, watch without attachment, and see it as an object as it drifts. Slowly the thoughts stop coming when I do this now. My mind becomes still.

The act of watching, non-judgmentally, quietens my mind, quells my emotions, and removes tension in my body. My mind, body, and emotions become harmonized. Borrowing the language from the Vedas, my chakras become aligned, my nadis[i] open up, and I feel connected to the universe. In this state, there is no “I.” There is just emptiness. I am like an empty vessel, open, spacious, and accepting. And attuned to the wisdom of the universe.

Paraphrasing Yogi Berra, I observe a lot just by watching. There is no need for a guru; there is wisdom within us. There is a knowing beyond knowledge. We can access this wisdom. Unfortunately, we are not taught to get in touch with the wisdom within us. Some, like me, stumble into it, many turn to religion, and most never discover it.

Scientific methods cleave the observer from the observed. But the voyeur in us, or the silent witness, turns us, the observer, into the observed. Only humans have this capacity to observe themselves. I am an object to the voyeur in me that can be watched and studied “scientifically.” I can gather data on the workings of my mind and analyze it like a scientist. Equally importantly, I change the contents of my mind by watching and witnessing them. Quantum physics has proven that the very act of observing a phenomenon changes it. By observing my thoughts, I release the baggage associated with any negative thoughts I may be holding on to. Observing one’s thoughts erases the associated network of thoughts from the memory bank, leaving less material for the mind to dredge up. Over time this practice empties the mind and frees it from past conditioning. It opens the mind to experiencing life fresh and anew in each moment.

The Vedic sages were scientists of a kind. Their method of inquiry was from the inside out. Their starting point of inquiry was their mind (and emotions). Through this process, they transcended their minds and accessed “truths” that western science is just beginning to approach. The process of the sages was the inverse of the process of western science. The Vedic sages started with the subjective self and discovered that the rest was a projection of the self (mind). Modern scientific methods exclude the personal, the self, from their study of the phenomenological world. Thus, western science has not yet made the connection between the subjective and the objective — the world inside and the world outside.

“Science describes accurately from the outside; poetry describes accurately from the inside. Science explicates, and poetry implicates. Both celebrate what they describe.” Ursula K. Le Guin.[ii]

The voyeur in me is a scientist. The voyeur observes and collects data on me, just like a scientist. The very act of observing “me” changes me. The change happens automatically without additional effort. By watching one’s thoughts, the entire structure of related thoughts and beliefs is uprooted; it is like pulling out the root structure underneath a weed-. The practice of witnessing one’s thoughts and feelings is transformational because it empties our minds of past conditioning.

[i] (yogapedia, n.d.)

[ii] (Brainpickings, n.d.)

Heart Transplant

“it is with heart one sees rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince.

“The Caterpillar is the first character who tries to guide Alice on her journey. Since she’s tired of growing larger and smaller due to circumstances beyond her control, the Caterpillar teaches her to eat parts of the mushroom to control her size. Some critics, and especially people in popular culture, see Caterpillar as a representative of drug culture since he’s smoking a hookah and shows Alice how to eat a magic mushroom. But we prefer to see Caterpillar as a lackadaisical guru who helps Alice figure out how to control the imaginative world that she’s exploring. The Caterpillar also reminds Alice that changing in size and shape isn’t always a bad thing — after all, one day, the Caterpillar will metamorphose into a butterfly, and instead of being unnerving, it will be the high point of his life.” [i]

Everyone needs a lackadaisical hookah-smoking guru. After all, we also must be reminded that changing isn’t always a bad thing and could be the high point of our lives. Metamorphosis, for us, is akin to a “heart transplant.” Why?

The latest findings by neuroscientists are that the seat of all passions is the amygdala, two almond-shaped structures that sit on top of the brain stem. Daniel Goleman (Goleman, 2005), who popularized the concept of emotional intelligence, explains in his book that humans have two brains- the thinking and the emotional. The thinking brain is the neocortex, and the emotional brain is the amygdala. If the amygdala is severed, one loses the “ability to gauge the emotional significance of events.” A sad condition to have, as one becomes a robot devoid of feelings.

The Vedic sages did not understand the structure of the brain, but their exploration into human emotions led them to conclude that we have three bodies-the physical body, the emotional body, and the mental body. And they came to similar conclusions as the neuroscientists that the emotional body is impulsive and acts at times without “forethought,” hijacking the mental and the physical bodies. We have all experienced instances where we lost control and acted in ways that we later regret. In these instances, our thinking brain is no longer in control, and our emotions have taken over.

Emotions are powerful energies. In Hinduism, there is an imagery of a coiled serpent representing the energies trapped in our bodies. This energy is called Kundalini, best explained as a parable of Shiva and Shakti-two deities in Hinduism.

The parable, as described in (, n.d.), goes as follows:

“Lord Shiva symbolizes consciousness and the unmovable power of the observer. He is said to have meditated for thousands of years while Shakti danced for him. Her longing to be one, dancing with her beloved, provokes him to open one of his three eyes. She beckons for him to dance with her. He closes his eye and rests back in meditation for thousands more years, awaiting her absolute clarity that joining in harmonious union with him is her true desire. As her longing intensifies, she determines that she must dance with her Beloved Lord Shiva. At that, his three eyes open, dance together, and the universe unfold into creation all at once. All of nature is created as a result of their union.”

Both neuroscientists and the Vedic sages have concluded that when the emotional and the mental bodies/brains work in harmony, we reach peak performance levels. The ultimate state of being is when the mind, body, and heart are perfectly aligned and in harmony with nature.

“Nature is all that dances, moves, and changes in this world. The witness or seer within each of us is Shiva, and the nature of all things around us and within us is Shakti. When Shiva and Shakti are separate, spiritual awakening cannot take place. That separate state is known as a duality. The very merging of Shiva and Shakti obliterates duality and opens the spiritual river of oneness through which Kundalini flows.”[ii]

Our negative emotions are trapped energies (Shakti) seeking release. Our spiritual metamorphosing happens when we transmute our negative emotions into healing energies. It is the transformation that Gary Zukav refers to as the journey from the head to the heart. I have come to think of it as a heart transplant.

Learning to recognize my emotions and how to deal with them has been the most difficult part of my journey and the most transformative. I have learned to pay attention to my negative feelings. Negative emotions draw our attention to areas in us that need to be healed. The energies trapped in our emotions are looking to be released. We can release these energies consciously, or they will release themselves, often causing drama in our lives. Emotions held back and not released leave an emotional scar in us.

We often use the analogy of a musical instrument to describe our emotional state. We say that “our heart strings were pulled,” “we are high strung,” we are “tight as a drum,” “felt played like a fiddle,” etc. There is a good reason for it; our emotions are energies in motion that create sensations in our bodies. Each emotion has a unique “signature movement” in our body. Anger feels different than love, and sadness is different from joy. We respond emotionally to life events. It is as if life events strum our emotional strings to produce different notes in our being; Love, happiness, gratitude, and awe feel as if our entire being is in tune with the harmony in nature, whereas sadness, anger, fear, and disgust produce discordant notes in us.

“it is with heart one sees rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince.

I taught myself to watch my emotions. Emotions become objects to be watched. Watching releases blocked energy, which releases tension in the body. I began to track my emotions every day for eighteen months, built a database of my emotions and mental states, and recorded how my body felt in response to an emotional charge.

I have become a scientist of my own emotions. I can watch my thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations dispassionately. I have discovered a lot about myself just by watching. As the incomparable Yogi Berra[iii] said, “you can observe a lot by watching.” I learned that I can get my emotions off my chest by staying current with my emotions. I do not hold them in. They no longer fester in me, becoming toxic.

I have noticed that negative emotions feel different in the body than positive ones. The body feels weighed down with negative emotions, hence the expression, “I feel like I am carrying the weight of the world.” Positive emotions make my body feel buoyant, almost weightless. Not surprisingly, our emotional state affects others around us. Emotions are like vibrations emanating from us and creating a field around us.

Negative emotions in us bring negativity in others, and positive emotions positively affect others. Neurologists attribute this effect to mirror neurons in our brains. These are the “monkey see; monkey do neurons.” “When I see you smiling, my mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, initiating a cascade of neural activity that evokes the feeling we typically associate with a smile. I don’t need to make any inference on what you are feeling; I experience immediately and effortlessly (in a milder form, of course) what you are experiencing.”, according to Marco Iacoboni[iv], a neuroscientist at UCLA.

Negative emotions alert us to the broken pieces of our psyche. They are the tip of the iceberg; we have to look beneath the surface and discover what in us triggers these emotions and why we feel the way we do. Heeding the message embedded in our negative emotions is a big part of self-discovery. If we fix what is inside, the outside will not matter.

[i] (, n.d.)

[ii] (, n.d.)

[iii] (, n.d.)

[iv] (, n.d.)

God is a Gamer.

Our Universe is a Virtual Reality Game.

Let’s look at Creation from God’s perspective, not ours. Why did God create this Universe? The Vedic sages, in my opinion, have the best explanation for why. According to the Vedas, God created the Universe for its sheer joy. God wanted to have some fun.

The Vedic sages were deep thinkers, and their insight was that all Creation is Sat. Chit. Ananda—Existence. Consciousness. Joy. Sat is the objective universe-the world of matter, energy, and forces, the world that physicists study. Chit is consciousness. Consciousness is the creative energy that animates Sat. Ananda is the joy of experiencing Creation. Sat. Chit. Ananda is all there is.

Of course, this is speculation, but neither science nor religion will ever know why the Universe exists. So, let’s play with the idea that there is a God, and he(she) created the Universe for the joy of it. We humans exist because God has a sense of humor. We are here for the amusement of God; this may sound esoteric or far out, using a sixties expression. What if this is true?

Let’s put God in our digital age and imagine she is a gamer. She designs virtual reality games for the fun of it. Her most incredible virtual reality creation is Creation. The humans (us) are her user interface or haptic devices for her to interact with her virtual reality game. The only way she can have a sensory experience of her creation or Creation is through humans. Let me explain this again. Just as virtual reality designers here on earth create virtual reality goggles and gloves to interact with their virtual worlds, God created humans to be her interface.

Now it all fits. God created this virtual reality game that we consider our Universe, and she made us her user interface. She did this for her amusement. Sat. Chit. Ananda.

We humans take ourselves too seriously. We are just a user interface for God. Religions have been telling us this but in an archaic language “thy will be done on earth as in heaven,” meaning let God work through us her user interface, do not resist, surrender to the will of God.

I will submit that if you re-read the holy texts, be it the Bible, Vedas, Buddhists texts, or Quaran, from the perspective of God as a creator of this virtual reality game we call our Universe; you might be amazed at how the teachings make sense. All religions teach us how God wants us to be. Do they not?

Meditation Is Hard.

An unorthodox approach to meditating.

Don’t let anyone tell you that meditation is easy. “All you have to do is watch your thoughts, and your mind will become quiet,” Jiddu Krishnamurty called it Choiceless Awareness. As hard as I tried, I could not quieten my mind. I was ready to give up on meditation.

Out of desperation, I took to extreme measures to quieten my mind. I started by listening to music while wearing high-fidelity headphones and cranking up the volume. Low-frequency rhythmic sounds would drown out the noise in my head. I mainly listened to drums and chants and would drop into a state of “no mind”; lost in my music. The rhythmic sound of drums and the Gregorian and Buddhist chants would stop the chattering in my mind. The longer the music went, the better I felt.

I was so drawn to this experience that it became my practice for almost a year. Every night I would put my headphones on and repeat the exercise. I became addicted to the experience. My teenage son was in a punk band during this period in my life, and I took to going to his performances and losing myself in his music. I would close my eyes and listen to his loud band. This experience, too, as strange as it sounds, would quieten my mind.

After a year of listening to loud music through headphones and going to concerts with a view to “meditating” in this unorthodox way, I felt motivated to try traditional meditation. After quieting my mind through music, I would stop the music and sit quietly in meditation. I could watch my thoughts float like wisps of clouds in the sky. Often my mind would become still and completely quiet; in these moments, I was lost to the outside world, lost in the void. It felt good.

I meditate often. I drop into meditation in the noisiest of places, such as in crowds or at a party. I became skilled at Choiceless Awareness. I can watch my thoughts. I have flipped from being a scientist to a yogi of the mind. I can now switch quickly and seamlessly between two realities-the external reality and the internal reality. It is almost as if I have a quantum brain or a dual way of being. I can connect with the world of my senses or transcend my senses and enter a different reality.

No mind, no matter. No matter no mind

There is a tale about an Indian king that my father-in-law is fond of telling. The story goes that one night the king dreamt that he was a pauper; he woke up very disturbed because now he did not know whether he was a pauper dreaming that he was a king or a king who had dreamt that he was a pauper. We are like the king; how do we know we are not in a dream?

Even science can’t tell me if I am dreaming or awake at this moment. As I write this sentence, I could be dreaming that I am writing this sentence. The brain processes are the same when I am dreaming as when I am awake. The firing of neurons in our brains is how we see, feel or sense anything. Our senses bring information from the outside world to our brains through our neural systems. The trees we see, the birds in the sky, and other people, are all created in our brains. Every object outside us has a unique pattern of neuron firings. Each blade of grass, each cloud in the sky, everything has a unique pattern of neural firings in our brains. All that we perceive- the world outside us, our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations- are patterns in our brains. Our dreams are also made of patterns of neurons firing in the brain. How our dreams are made is no different from how reality is constructed in our brains. We create the world in our minds. Our world is a projection of our mind. It is all in our heads. What is inside is outside.

Our body, too, is a pattern of neuronal firings. I perceive my body as a pattern of firings in my brain. This does not mean that my body does not exist; all I can be sure of is that something exists. This “something” creates a pattern of neuronal firings, which my brain makes me believe is my body. For all I know, I might be a hat rack. Oliver Sacks’ book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a hat”[i] is about a brain impairment called visual agnosia, wherein a person is unable to recognize objects. Sacks writes in his book about a man with visual agnosia who mistook his wife for a hat. The point is that our brain creates an image we recognize as our body. When the brain circuitry is impaired, as in the case of patients with visual agnosia, the image created to represent the body could be anything. Those afflicted with anorexia have a distorted image of their body, making them think that they are overweight when they are underweight. These examples illustrate what shaky ground we are on when we accept, uncritically, as real what our senses tell us.  

 “…few things about our beings are as remarkable, foundational, and seemingly mysterious as consciousness. Without consciousness- a mind endowed with subjectivity- you would have no way of knowing that you exist, let alone know who you are or what you think. “Antonio Damasio,[ii] professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, and the head of the Brain and Creativity Institute, in his book “Self Comes to Mind,” writes.

According to Damasio, our brain creates our conscious mind. Our conscious mind creates our reality. He continues, “The fact that no one sees the mind of others, conscious or not, is especially mysterious. We can see their bodies and actions, what they do or say or write, and make informed guesses about their thoughts. We cannot observe their minds, and only we can observe ours, from the inside and through a rather narrow window.”

Damasio offers a neuroscientist’s view of how our mind creates our reality. Damasio is saying that the contents of our mind create our reality. If we change the contents of our minds, we change our reality. Let this sink in. Each one of us exists in our reality. And, each of our realty is mind created. It is as if each of our lives is in our bubble or a simulated reality of our creation.

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, believes that the odds are that we are living in a simulation. His argument goes that the swift advancement of video game technology indicates we’ll be capable of creating a fully lifelike simulation of existence in a short period. In 40 years, Musk explained, we’ve gone from Pong to massively multiplayer online games with millions of simultaneous players, games with photorealistic graphics, and stand now on the cusp of a new wave of virtual and augmented reality experiences.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the museum’s Hayden Planetarium, put the odds at 50-50 that our entire existence is a program on someone else’s hard drive. “I think the likelihood may be very high,” he said. Somewhere out there could be a being whose intelligence is that much greater than our own. “We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence,” he said. “If that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just a creation of some other entity for their entertainment.”

We each inhabit a different reality, a reality of our creation. Therefore, the truth that each of us perceives is relative. So, what is absolute Reality?

No matter, no mind. No mind, no matter. Which came first, mind or matter? This is the existential question.

[i] (, n.d.)

[ii] (Damasio, 2010)

Nothing Matters

If life is Maya, an illusion, as the Vedas say, or that there is more to reality than meets the eye, as scientists have proven, then what is real?

The Cheshire cat, in Alice in Wonderland, is the wise one, always ready with an answer to Alice’s questions. It appears and disappears at will. Sometimes the cat is gone, and left behind is its smile. Reality might be like the smile on the Cheshire cat. The smile is real, the cat illusory. What we don’t perceive might be more real than what we do.

When I look out of my window, I see trees with branches and leaves. The tree is separated from other trees by empty spaces, the branches are separated from other branches by spaces between them, and the leaves too are separated from other leaves by spaces between them. Without the spaces, the tree would be a big mush. Without space, there would be no objects. When we remove objects, all that is left are spaces in between, like the smile on the Cheshire cat. Does space give rise to objects? Can there be one without the other? Is the nothing of space something? 

The new frontier in physics is the “nothingness” of space. Physicists are trying to figure out what it is. Nothing apparently is not no-thing. At first, physicists believed that space was filled with the mysterious substance ether. This idea was experimentally put to rest by Michelson and Morley in 1887[1].  More recently, physicist John Wheeler commenting on Einstein’s theory had this to say about the nothingness of space “Mass tells spacetime how to curve, and spacetime tells mass how to move.” This put nothingness of space on the same footing as matter. “Nothing” mattered from this point on. Space was no longer an inert stage on which matter did its thing. Nothing is active in the cosmic dance, moving and being moved by matter. The nothingness of space is not emptiness but is as much a player (or should I say a dancer) as objects are in Shiva’s cosmic dance.

“Plato, who so vigorously avoided the void…. sounding a little bit like a chemist, seemed to view the background (void) something like a neutral solvent–something that allows other things to come to be without imposing too much of its personality. The background can’t have any personality of itself, otherwise, it would be showing its own face as well.” Wrote K.C. Cole, The Hole in the Universe.

Philosophers such as Plato and today’s scientists agree that the void of space, the nothingness, has no detectable features. So, what is this void? And how do we find out what it is?

“…suffice it to say that very little in the universe is nothing. Almost all the seeming nothings are sums of opposing somethings,” writes K.C. Cole. “What seems like a silent sea of nothing is an infinite number of positives and negatives, all joining together and splitting up in an endless jumble of uncertainty.”

Nothing is not no-thing, but, instead, is teeming with potential some things. It is full of matter and antimatter in equal proportion, canceling each other, which the scientists refer to as conserved quantities or the law of conservation. The things that are conserved are energy, momentum, and charge. The most fundamental things in nature are those that never change. These are changeless and timeless. As is the speed of light, it is a constant, no matter what. It is interesting to think that a photon that travels at the speed of light never ages. The photon that started at Big Bang is still the same photon. It is timeless.

Symmetry is a term used by physicists to describe the void or emptiness of space. It is what accounts for the void or nothingness but has no detectable features. Symmetry is the reason why the void appears as nothing, yet it is full of potential energy and teeming with matter and antimatter. Symmetry is what cancels matter and its opposite, resulting in nothing or the void. Symmetry is an important concept in physics. All the conservation laws are the result of symmetries in nature. Conservation laws are the accountants of nature; they balance the books, that is, they make sure that energy is never created or destroyed, and all the energy that we started at Big Bang is conserved. In other words, when we reassemble all the fragments of nature that happened during the Big Bang, we return to nothing.

Symmetry is the equivalent of Yin and Yang in Zen Buddhism. Yin and Yang’s symbol represents opposites that exist in harmony as one until that harmony is broken, and then they become opposites.

Another analogy for Symmetry is if you were to walk into a glass door thinking there was nothing there, and you shatter the glass into many pieces, you have just broken Symmetry and created something out of nothing.

When symmetry is broken, something emerges. Out of nothing comes something. In the beginning, there was nothing, just the void, which was teeming with potential something. By breaking this symmetry, our universe emerged at Big Bang. This is the creationism story in science.

The creationism story in the Vedas is written in hymn form in the Rig Veda. It too, speaks of how in the void, the opposite existed until “symmetry” was broken, and creation happened.

First, there was the void:

    Then there was neither death nor immortality

    , nor was there then the torch of night and day.

    The One breathed windlessly and self-sustaining.

    There was that One then, and there was no other.

In the void existed opposites:

The sages who have searched their hearts with wisdom

know that

which is 

kin to that which is not.

Rig Veda, Creation Hymn 1500 BCE —Translated by A. L. Basham

It seems that all of existence is the dance of opposites. When the opposites merge, as in Yin and Yang or in the concept of Symmetry, there is a void. The void is seemingly nothing but in it is the potential for everything.

From the void emerged the “opposites”-matter and anti-matter, spaces and objects, darkness and light. Without opposites, there is no existence. Without darkness, there is no light; without evil, there is no good. We know a thing by its opposite. Reality itself is non-dual[ii]; it is an undivided whole. Because of the limitation of our sense organs, we do not see the oneness behind appearances.

Most of us accept, uncritically, what our senses tell us is reality. We are like fish in a pond; all they know is water. To them, their reality is the pond; they have no reason to suspect that there is anything other than the pond. Most of us are like that, but the few, like the physicists and the ancient sages, who have gone beyond the limitations of their sensory perceptions, have brought us tales of what lies beyond. It is up to us whether we accept what our senses tell us is reality or find out for ourselves what lies beyond the reach of our senses.

“If you look at zero, you see nothing, but look through it, and you will see the world.”[iii] Robert Kaplan.

There is a void in each of us. It is the hole we feel in our being; it is what makes us feel that there is something missing from our life. This void is the source of energy that animates us. As Rumi, perhaps the greatest poet of all time, wrote:

[1] (, n.d.)

[ii] (, n.d.)

[iii] (Kaplan, 1999)