Posts by smehro

work in progress

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 is 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 an active participant in the cosmic dance, moving and being moved by matter. 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 scientists of today 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 at all 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 somethings. It is full of matter and antimatter in equal proportion, cancelling each other, this 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 which 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, all the energy that we started at Big Bang is conserved. In other words, when we reassemble all the fragments of nature that happened at Big Bang, we get back to nothing.

yin yang

Symmetry is the equivalent of Yin and Yang in Zen Buddhism. Yin and Yang symbol represents opposites which 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 that there was nothing there, and you shatter the glass into many pieces, you have just broken Symmetry, and created something out of nothing.

When a 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, emerged our universe 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 as in the concept of Symmetry, there is the 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[i], that is, it is an undivided whole. It is because of the limitation of our sense organs that 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.”[ii] 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:

“Remember the entrance door to the sanctuary is inside you.

We watch a sunlight dust dance, and we try to be that lively,

but no one knows what music those particles hear.

Each of us has a secret companion musician to dance to.

Unique rhythmic play, a motion in the street we alone know and hear”[i]

Perhaps the void is the absolute truth or Reality that we seek, all else is relative, impermanent and an illusion. All of existence is a play of opposites; it is impermanent, Reality is an unbroken whole. We have to reach beyond the limitations of our senses to have a personal experience of Reality. Psychedelic drugs, meditation, music, dancing, poetry, kaons, art and even prayer for some, are means of transcending the limitations of sensory perceptions, and experiencing the void, symmetry, soul or God (if you will).




[i] (The Soul of Rumi, 2002)

[i] (, n.d.)

[ii] (Kaplan, 1999)

[1] (, n.d.)


Nothing is as it appears

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” Alice, in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland[i].

Some have interpreted the book, Alice in Wonderland, as an allegory for man’s journey to Christ or enlightenment or self-discovery. There are many passages in the book, such as the one above, that are both playful and profound. Initially, in my journey, I was like Alice, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” I began to entertain the possibility that perhaps there is more to reality than “meets the eye”, or that which meets the eye is not real. The insight of the Vedic sages that the world is an illusion or Maya might be worth investigating further, I thought.

Maya is often misunderstood to mean that the world of our senses does not exist, the correct interpretation, though, is that the world is not as it appears. Dr. Samuel Johnson, an eighteenth century distinguished English writer, is said to have refuted the idea that the world is an illusion by kicking a stone, and exclaiming “I refute it thus”[ii]. The idea that the “real” world is an illusion is hard for many to accept. But, it is a fact that there is more to the world than our senses are able to perceive.

For example, visible light is only a small segment of the full spectrum of light. The full spectrum of light or electromagnetic spectrum is the range of all frequencies of radiation from low frequency radio waves to the very high frequency gamma rays. The human eye only responds to the visible light components which lie between infrared and ultraviolet radiation. Clearly, there is more to reality than meets the eye.

In my search for Reality, I read and reread theories in physics from Newtonian mechanics to Einstein’s relativity to Niels Bohr’s quantum physics. I was looking at theories in physics not as an explainer of how things worked, but as a revealer of truth. I read books such as The Hole in the Universe by science writer K.C. Cole[iii] and The Elegant Universe by physicist Brian Greene[iv], alongside, Seat of the Soul[v] by Gary Zukav and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle[vi]. The threads from science and eastern wisdom were beginning to weave together into an understanding of a “new reality”. The new reality that was emerging for me was more like the world of Alice than the world that my senses perceive. What seems real is not, and what is not, is.

Noting is as it appears. Light is not just light; matter is mostly empty space; space is curved; time is relative. All true, but not how we perceive any of it. Our eyes respond only to the visible spectrum of light, we hear only a limited range of sounds, between 20Hz and 20KHz, dogs by contrast hear up to 65KHz and bats can hear between 1Hz and 200KHZ. Our perception of what exists is proscribed by the limitations of our sense organs. Thus, there is more to reality than our senses are able to perceive.

The picture of reality that physicists paint is beyond our ability to perceive it, it is a reality in which everything is connected to everything else; space and time are one; particles buzz in and out of existence; there are massive black holes; solid objects are mostly empty spaces; ten dimensional spaces, particles are waves too; uncertainty abounds; etc. While the physicists’ view of reality is beyond the pale of our senses, at least our intellect can comprehend this reality, the reality that the Vedic sages speak of, is one that is beyond the reach of even our intellect.
The Vedic view of Reality is that it is Turiya[vii] or the fourth state of existence beyond the waking, sleeping and dreaming states, Turiya state encompasses the other three states. The four states of existence are represented by the symbol OM. Each element in OM symbolizes a state of existence. The “3-like” object represents the waking, sleeping and dreaming states, and the “crescent with the diamond” represents Turiya. Turiya is a transcendental state beyond the reach of our senses. Indian sages and other mystics are known to have the ability to go in and out of Turiya state, at will.


I had come to accept that Reality hides behind appearances. And, that what our senses perceive to be real is not all of Reality, and therefore an illusion.

Life is an illusion in that that there is more to existence than our senses are able to detect. Life is incomplete without experiencing what our senses cannot detect. The most meaningful work that we can do in life is to discover for ourselves part of existence that is hidden from our senses. There is a whole another realm waiting to be discovered.

“An unexamined Life is not worth living”-Socrates

[i] (, n.d.)

[ii] (, n.d.)

[iii] (, n.d.)

[iv] (, n.d.)

[v] (, n.d.)

[vi] (, n.d.)

[vii] (, n.d.)

The hole within

Most people have a hole in them. A giant gaping hole. This hole is bigger than our physical self. I had one. This hole, I have realized, is the gap between who I really am and who I was pretending to be. Most people do not even know that they have a hole in them, but the hole shows up in their lives, in its mild form, as discontent and in the more extreme form as a dis-ease.

Some turn to self-destructive behavior such as drugs, alcohol, gratuitous sex and violence to escape from this unease, still others, chase after fame, fortune and pleasure. This unease is a call to come home, to realize who we truly are and to dwell in our true nature. There is nothing that we have to become. All we have to do is to accept and love ourselves for who we are. Not love of a narcissist, but an all-inclusive love, a transcendental love (agape).

This hole or emptiness is not detectable by any instrument. It will not show up in an X-ray or MRI. It is even hidden from us, it reveals itself to us as a feeling, as if something is lacking in our lives. We look to external objects and experiences to fill this hole, without realizing that this emptiness is in a dimension outside of space and time. There is nothing in the material world that can fill this emptiness. This emptiness is larger than all that exists in space and time. This emptiness is bigger than the universe.

This emptiness is love, it is transcendental love. It is our true-self pining for itself.

“Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits – and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire! “

Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam

This love is transformative. For mystics like Mirabai, in India and St. Teresa of Avila it was the love of God that consumed and transformed them. Mirabai, was a fifteenth century Indian princess, who renounced her princely life and went against the traditions of that time to devote her life to Lord Krishna. Her poems are of love and devotion to Lord Krishna.

Life in the world is short,
Why shoulder an unnecessary load
Of worldly relationships?
Thy parents gave thee birth in the world,
But the Lord ordained thy fate.
Life passes in getting and spending,
No merit is earned by virtuous deeds.
I will sing the praises of Hari
In the company of the holy men,
Nothing else concerns me.
Mira’s Lord is the courtly Giridhara,
She says: Only by Thy power
Have I crossed to the further shore.


This all-encompassing love, call it love for God or self-love, is what it takes to fill the emptiness inside us.

“Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self.”  Victor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor.



“There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done

Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung….

There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be

It’s easy

All you need is love, all you need is love

All you need is love, love, love is all you need”

The Beatles

[i] (Mirabai, n.d.)

Even atheists have a God

I have journeyed through science, religion and philosophy, have participated in spiritual practices and have had countless discussions with people on a similar journey. Along the way, like a meandering river, I have been changed by the terrain that I have encountered. I started by looking for absolute truth as if it were an object, a theory or an idea existing somewhere out there, I have discovered that truth lies within me.

I started out an atheist and I now believe in God. Not a God that is in heaven but a God within me. Not a God of any religion but a presence within me. This presence I now know is my essence; my dharma; my religion; my true north. It is my real self. It is who I am. I am not a physical being that I thought I was. I am not my body nor my mind. I am pure consciousness.

The scientific theories and the Vedic insights which have shaped my beliefs are:

  • There is no separation between what is outside of me and what is inside me. This separation is illusory. We perceive separateness because our five senses are limited in their capacity to sense all that exists. There is no objective world outside of my subjective perception of it. The observer in me is the observed. (Latest theories in physics support this view).
  • The manifest world is created in our minds. The world that I perceive is constructed by my brain, it is a mental construct. (Neuroscience supports this view).
  • My body too is a mental construct. (Neuroscience supports this view)
  • I do not exist. The “I” that I identify with is itself a mental construct. It is a thought just like any other thought. (Neuroscience supports this view).
  • I am not my body. I am not my mind. I am not a physical being. (Vedas and neuroscience support this view)
  • I am my essence. I live my dharma. (Vedic insight)

These are radical notions which defy conventional thinking. And, they belie what I see, hear, touch, taste and smell. My sense organs do not nor can they reveal to me that which is real. I did not come to accept these ideas uncritically. These ideas have taken shape in me over twenty years; they did not come to me fully formed nor all at once. Most of these ideas seemed implausible, at first, but after considerable research and after probing and pushing at these ideas to find any flaws, I have come to accept them and they are the bedrock of my belief system.

We live in a virtual reality created by our minds. The world of our senses, the world we accept as real, is created in our minds. The world out there is a projection of my mind. All the objects we interact with are virtual; all the people we interact with our virtual, time and space are virtual. The virtual reality we live in is so realistic that we mistake it for reality. As long as we rely on our senses we will not know that we are trapped in a virtual world.

The way out is the way in(ward). The way inward is the way of self-inquiry. As the Heart Sutra in Buddhism says “Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate”-you have to go deeper, deeper and deeper still to get to the “other shore”, which is discovering your true nature. This journey inward has led me to understand who I am and what reality is.

My essence is not a thing, it cannot be detected by our senses. It is pure consciousness from which arises our mind which in turn creates our reality. Each of us has an essence which is unique and special; it is who we are meant to be. It is what neuroscientist Donald Hoffman calls a conscious agent. I have realized that what I took to be real- my sensory world, is unreal and what seemed unreal is real.

I have skirted using terms that have religious overtones, such as spirit, soul, atman or God, but I feel that I now have the understanding and the language to state what they mean to me, and what they mean to me is different from what they are conventionally understood to mean. Spirit, soul and atman are synonymous, in my world view, with the Truth in us, our essence, our true nature. It is who we are. It is the only piece of Reality in each of us. Most of us go through life without discovering our true nature or our spiritual self. We identify almost exclusively with the physical and are not aware of our spiritual self. We are asleep to our own true selves. This is why, realizing our true nature is known as awakening. I now know that my true nature is not physical. I am a spiritual being having a physical experience. This realization is a one-eighty degree turn for me. I started my journey believing that I was a material being living in a material world (paraphrasing Madonna).

The material world is so alluring and so real to my senses that in spite of my understanding that it is only Maya I am caught up in its drama most of the time. The difference for me now is that I know how to extract myself from this drama. I know that I have a choice that I can exercise moment to moment-a choice to show up as a physical being or as a spiritual self. Like a quantum particle I can toggle between the two states of being. There is a Buddhist saying that captures this state of being, well “you can be in the world but not of it.” It takes effort to switch from one state to the other and a constant remembering of who I really am.

The two streams of knowledge-physics and the Vedas-have come together for me to create this epiphany in me-the understanding of who I am, and what my dharma is. This is not where I started my journey. I started my journey identifying with my physical self. I have arrived at this view of myself or more accurately led to this belief, by science and the wisdom of the ancient sages. This belief reconciles my knowledge from science and my understanding of the Vedas, it satisfies my intellectual curiosity and it feels right to me. My entire physical being, that is, my mind, body and heart, are aligned with this view.

I believe that we all need a God and we have a God. The God is within each of us. The God is a presence in each of us. Even atheist have a God. This God is not some external deity, it is not the God that religions promote, it is our true nature, it is who we are meant to be. It is uniquely ours. It is universal only in that that each of us and every sentient being is conscious because of it. It is consciousness itself.


Choose drama or dharma

The journey of self-discovery is a journey inward. The journey begins with the body and goes deeper inward 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. So, what exists? What is left is the mind.

What then is the mind? The mind is pure consciousness say the Vedas. Physicist Donald Hoffman has a radical theory that the most elemental unit of existence is consciousness and that each of us is a conscious agent. We are not our body, we are not our mind, we are a conscious agent. Conscious agent, though Hoffman makes no such claim, is akin to Atman in Hinduism and soul in Christianity, it seems to me. What makes each of us unique is our Truth or Dharma.

Dharma and Karma are concepts in Hinduism[i]that have found currency in the west. Dharma is an idea that I was dismissive of, at first, because I misunderstood it to mean one’s destiny. It means a lot more than one’s destiny.

Dharma, as I understand it now, means one’s essence. Our dharma is what makes us unique and special. Every living thing has its essence or dharma, which is unique to it. This is why an apple seed cannot grow into an orange tree. The concept of genes, in science, is the closest idea to dharma. Richard Dawkins, in his book, The Selfish Gene, makes two assertions that are revolutionary: 1) our genes are immortal, that is, they carry information that makes each of us unique, and this information is never destroyed, not even at death 2) the genes are selfish, that is, they are about self-preservation and procreation.

Our dharma is our genetic code. It is what makes us “us”. Our genes are about self- preservation and procreation, which is our animal nature, but our dharma is more than our genes. Our Dharma is our essence, it is who we are, beyond our animal nature. Our dharma includes our genes but is not proscribed by them. It is often said that dharma is our destiny and that our dharma is set by our karma(acts) in past lives and how we act in this life. This too is a limited view of what dharma is.

My dharma is my Truth. It is my religion, that is, it is who I am meant to be. Dharma is also understood to mean one’s duty, but, in my view, it is much more than that. Dharma is the seed in me from which emerged my mind. Self-discovery is about getting in touch with this essence in us. Our dharma is our Truth.

Either we live our Truth or are swept up in the drama of daily life. It is either Dharma or drama. When we live our Truth, we are in harmony with nature and all of existence.

[i] (, n.d.)

Truth hides in plain sight

I am reminded of a lovely poem by the Indian poet, Harivansh Rai Bachan, the poem is Madhushala (The Tavern).[i] I had to journey through science and wisdom traditions to appreciate this poem. It is about a seeker who starts his search not knowing which path to take. Well-meaning friends point him to different paths, but the poet suggests that the path does not matter, all that matters is that he start his journey. There is no time to waste, he must be on his way.

In this poem, wine is a metaphor for Truth, the tavern for the destination.

Seeking wine, the drinker leaves home for the tavern.

Perplexed, he asks, “Which path will take me there?”

People show him different ways, but this is what I have to say,

“Pick a path and keep walking. You will find the tavern.”

He who has burnt all scriptures with his inner fire,

Has broken temples, mosques and churches with carefree abandon,

And has cut the nooses of pundits, mullahs and priests —

Only he is welcome in my tavern.

Alas, he that with eager lips, has not kissed this wine,

Alas, he that trembling with joy, has not touched a brimming goblet,

He that has not drawn close the coy wine-maiden by her hand,

Has wasted this honey-filled tavern of Life.

Life is short. How much love can I give and how much can I drink?

They say, “He departs,” at the very moment that he is born.

While he is being welcomed, I have seen his farewell being prepared.

They started closing the shutters of the tavern,

as soon as they were raised.

If anyone asks my name, say it was, “The Drunkard”.

My work? I drank and passed the goblet to everyone.

O Beloved, if they ask my caste, say only that I was mad.

Say my religion worshipped goblets and then chant with your rosary,

“The tavern, the tavern!”

An earnest seeker  will find his truth. The truth hides in plain sight, it is Life itself. His religion is living life to the fullest, moment to moment, and his life’s work is to get other’s drunk on Life. The Buddhists call such persons Bodhisattva, someone who has become enlightened but stays around to help others through their “dark night of the soul”.

Those who have experienced “God”, like mystics and poets, report that Reality is indescribable. It is not a person, place or a thing. It is a truth within. One has to go on the journey of self-discovery to know Reality. Until then, all the intellectualizing, debating and discussing is meaningless and leads nowhere.

[i] (, n.d.)

Scientists know relative truth not absolute truth

I had bet on science to answer my existential questions-who am I, what is reality, what is truth. Twenty years later I have come to realize that scientific knowledge is a dead end, in fact all knowledge is useless when searching for the absolute truth.

” A fascinating feature of the Absolutes — in fact, a defining feature — is that there is no way to get there from here, that is, from within the physical world. There is no gradual, step-by-step path to go from relative truth to absolute truth, or to go from a long period of time to eternity, or from limited wisdom to the infinite wisdom of God. The infinite is not merely a lot more of the finite. Indeed, the unattainability of the Absolutes may be part of their allure. The final defining feature of these Absolutes, Lightman notes, is their unprovability by the scientific method. He writes:” Yet I did not need any proof of what I felt during that summer night in Maine looking up at the sky. It was a purely personal experience, and its validity and power resided in the experience itself. Science knows what it knows from experiment with the external world. Belief in the Absolutes comes from internal experience, or sometimes from received teachings and culture-granted authority.” (Popova, n.d.)

Mystics and poets are more in touch with reality than scientists. Reality, as it turns out, is an experience. It is to be lived and felt. Thinking about Reality is not the same as experiencing reality. Jane Goodall’s poem The Old Wisdom evokes the feeling of what it is to discover that the sky, the stars, the earth and the entire Universe is within us; within the Eternal I. What is real and true is within us waiting to be experienced.

The Old Wisdom

By Jane Goodall


When the night wind makes the pine trees creak

And the pale clouds glide across the dark sky,

Go out my child, go out and seek

Your soul: The Eternal I.


For all the grasses rustling at your feet

And every flaming star that glitters high

Above you, close up and meet

In you: The Eternal I.


Yes, my child, go out into the world; walk slow

And silent, comprehending all, and by and by

Your soul, the Universe, will know

Itself: The Eternal I.


Mystics are proof that Absolute Truth is experienced. It is a felt truth. it is not a thing, a thought or an idea. It is a feeling. It is a knowing not knowledge. Various saints such as Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila and mystics such as Rumi and Ramana Maharishi have experienced absolute truth and are proof that there are levels of consciousness beyond our normal waking states. Buddha and Christ were highly evolved mystics who embodied higher states of consciousness.

Truth hides in plain sight. We search for it in objects and material things, we personify it, we give it a name, we build churches, mosques and temples about it, and we fight wars and kill others in the name of one’s conception of absolute Reality. But we are mistaking an idea of Reality for Reality.

At the end of my search I was expecting a resplendent God revealing herself with trumpets blaring and heavens parting. Instead what I found was a bust, a zero, sunya, nothing. Reality is formless, indescribable, without beginning or an end. I can’t touch, smell, hear, taste or see it. But, I can feel it.

There is a difference between knowledge and knowing. All knowledge is limited. Reality cannot be understood through the intellect. Reality is a knowing, it is a feeling.

I am a fairytale

“Tat Tvam Asi” say the Vedas.[1]

“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”.[2] 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”[3]

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[4]. 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!


[1] (, n.d.)

[2] (Dark Night of the Soul, n.d.)

[3] (, n.d.)

[4] (, n.d.)

I do not exist


Image source: Wikipedia

The image above shows how the outside world gets reconstructed in our brains. Our sense organs bring information to our nervous system which transmits the signals to the brain where the neurons go to work. Every object “out there” triggers a pattern of neuronal firings in our brains, which our mind interprets as a tree, a dog or a man, as in this picture. It is in this regard that the world we see is a projection of our mind. We cannot be certain of what it is that is out there. All that we can be certain of, is that there is activity in our brain which our mind projects as the world out there. The world out there is created in our brains in-here. The world out there is an illusion created by our minds. It is Maya.

Now, to the fairytale. According to Damasio, the neuronal firings in our brain which create the outside world also create the fairytale “I”. V.S. Ramachandran’s extensive body (pun intended) of work with fMRI[i] has shown how our body parts are represented in the brain. Damasio’s thesis is that just as our brain maps our body, so also it maps our “self”. According to Damasio’s framework the self that we identify with, is the result of several complex processes in our brains. It is like a thought, it is ephemeral. There is no cartesian “I” to be found anywhere in the body. The “I” is a fairytale that our brain conjures up. As Alice remarked in Alice in Wonderland “it gets curiouser and curiouser”. I am a fairytale, a figment of my imagination.

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle” says Alice.

I do not exist. The “I” is a thought like any other thought in our brain. It is a “fairytale” that our brain conjures up. Strange as it sounds, it has been scientifically proven to be so.

I do not exist. The “I” is a thought like any other thought in our brain. It is a “fairytale” that our brain conjures up. Strange as it sounds, it has been scientifically proven to be so.

The Vedas say that the world outside of us is an illusion, a mental construct, neuroscientists agree. Damasio goes even further and posits that the “self” itself is a mental construct. The implication is that all that exists, including ourselves, is mind-made. It is all in our head. Our mind creates our experience of whatever is out there and it creates the experiencer, that is us. Our mind is the creator of the experience and is the experiencer.

“I Am A Strange Loop”, says Hofstadter.

It seems to me that the answer to Alice’s question “Who in the world am I?” is, we are our mind. Without mind there is no world out there and there is no me. “No mind no matter. No matter no mind”, as Yogi Berra might have observed.

[i]  (, n.d.)

Who are you?

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.


[i] (, n.d.)

[ii] (, n.d.)

[iii] (, n.d.)

[iv] (, n.d.)

[v] (, n.d.)

[vi] (, n.d.)

[vii] (, n.d.)

[viii] (, n.d.)

[ix] (, n.d.)

[x] (, n.d.)