Friday, June 26, 2009


The Case for Neuronal Correlates:

Jivanmukta is a ‘state’ (for lack of a better word) when the sense of one’s existence as a separate entity distinct from what is around ceases. Yet this loss of individuation occurs within an individual.

A man does not evaporate into thin air on Realization, on becoming a Jivanmukta like the snake disappearing on seeing the rope. His body very well continues to exist in the world with all its needs of food and oxygen, enjoyments and sufferings etc. The man (or rather his body) is physically there still.

Our scriptures state that Jivanmukti (Liberation) is obtained on the annihilation of the impressions of past lives (vasanas). It is also stated that vasanas are responsible for engendering the ‘mind’ (thoughts and counter thoughts). The ancient Indians, however, conceived of an intangible mental body and mental world made up of very subtle ‘mindstuff’ to explain mind. Bhgavad-Gita (III – 42) gives a pecking order with increasing superiority of status and a concomitant fineness to mind and intellect with respect to the gross visible body as follows:

Physical Body --> Indriyas (Sense Organs)--> Manas (Mind) --> Buddhi (Intellect)--> (Nameless) Tat (Brahman).

In general as per modern usage, the word ‘mind’ comprises the four different functional aspects of (i) Thoughts and counter thoughts; (ii) Intellect; (iii) Memory; and (iv) I-consciousness or ego unlike the ancient Indian classification. Further, Neuroscience tells us that all these are the functions of the brain.

(One can, of course, argue whether brain causes these functions or it is only an organ influenced by some ‘forces’ beyond the brain. We shall discuss this controversial issue separately).

If we disregard for the present what forces cause these functions in the brain, neuroscientists are able to identify their obvious record in the brain scans obtained using different imaging techniques. So clearly brain is the seat of mind. Whatever was attributed to physically invisible ‘mindstuff’ by the ancients can be seen in the brain using techniques like magnetic resonance imaging, single photon emission computed tomography, positron emission tomography,diffusion tensor imaging, magnetoecephalography, magnetic resonance tractography, diffusion tractography etc. and the more simple electroencephalography. These are sensing systems beyond the immediate capability of our physical sensory organs.

The “Form” of mind is still said to be retained in a Jivanmukta, though vasanas (except in trace residual quantities) and mind are annihilated. Therefore, if we can identify such traits which can be observed in the brain of a Jivanmukta, we will have certain “characteristic markers” to differentiate a Jivanmukta from an ordinary man, though the physical body may not show any external difference.

We shall next list what could possibly be the unique characteristics of a Jivanmukta’s mind which still retains its ‘Form’ in the brain of his physical body and each trait's corresponding neuronal correlates which can be expected in his brain.

(Added on 10 Dec 2011:  See verse # 52 in Atmabhodha of Shankara about Jivanmukta (Muni)'s characteristics -- he moves around like wind without a motive and is unaffected (untouched) by the qualities of the limiting adjunct).

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