Sunday, September 27, 2009


At the outset, a Hearty Welocme to Mr. Rafael Stoneman, Ms Cathy Ginter and 'Emptynessdancing' to the Blog. I look forward to their thoughtful contributions / comments -- ramesam.]

Bhagavad-Gita Chapter IV, Verse 10 provides an important key for attaining Oneness with the Supreme Consciousness through Self-Knowledge. The Sloka says: "Many have attained Beingness in "Me" (= Consciousness) having freed (themselves) from Attachment, Fear and Anger and staying absorbed in Consciousness."

Attachment (likes and dislikes), Fear and Anger are the innate emotions acquired by an organism in evoution to help in its self-protection and survival. These traits are reflected in the more primitive parts of the brain, chiefly the neural circuits known as the 'limbic system'. If the limbic system is damaged, an animal loses the capability to express these emotions. A person less prone to anger, fear and attachment will obviously be in a much happier state. Recently an interesting case of a patient with damage to these components is reported by Dr. J. Feinstein et al.

Roger lost almost his entire "limbic system" due to viral infection. What happened to Roger's mind when his brain suffered such injury?

"Roger's IQ is above average; his speech and language abilities are excellent; his vision and hearing are normal, although he has no sense of taste or smell. His short term (working) memory, attention, and reasoning abilities are unimpaired. His motor abilities are fine - he is reportedly an excellent bowler. [However,] he is unable to remember anything that has happened since the infection, which was 28 years ago..... Roger's personality and emotional life seems to have been changed by the infection as well, but in a rather fortunate way:

Roger appears remarkably unconcerned by his condition. He hardly ever complains and, in general, shows little worry for anything in life. Both of his parents and his sister fervently claim that Roger is always happy. Moreover, based on his family’s report, Roger is paradoxically happier now than he was before his brain damage. ... His premorbid disposition of being somewhat reserved and introverted has shifted to being outgoing and extroverted... Most conversations with Roger involve animated speech that is replete with prosody, gesture, and, often times, laughing. He readily displays signs of positive emotion including happiness, amusement, interest, and excitement. As previously noted, Roger’s positive mood has remained essentially unchanged over nearly three decades.

Another case is that of a lady referred to as "SM." Her amygdala (an important part located in the medial temporal lobes) known to process strong negative emotions, such as anger and fear, and considered to be the seat of emotion in the brain was damaged. Dr. R. Adolphs and his coleague noticed that SM was "very outgoing and is almost too friendly, to the point of "violating" what others might perceive as their own personal space. She is extremely friendly, and she wants to approach people more than normal."

Added on 10 June 2011:
"At one point they took SM to a pet store to see how she would behave around snakes, an animal she had earlier told them she hated. When she saw the snakes, she was immediately drawn to them. She even picked one up and began playing with its tongue. When asked to explain her behavior, she said that she was overwhelmed with curiosity."

(Excerpts from Science News, October, 2009)
"Using the latest neuroimaging tools, scientists are getting a look at what goes on in the hypnotized brain. The findings are mesmerizing. When hypnotized people act on a hypnotic suggestion, they really do see, hear and feel differently, such research shows."

"New research at the University of Geneva suggests that hypnosis alters neural activity by rerouting some of the usual connections between brain regions. Such neurological detours don’t happen when subjects merely imagine a scenario."

"David Spiegel, a psychiatrist at Stanford University School of Medicine says: "Ten to 15 percent of adults are 'highly hypnotizable,' meaning they can experience dramatic changes in perception with hypnosis. A person’s ability to become hypnotized is unrelated to intelligence, compliancy or gullibility, but may be linked to an ability to become deeply absorbed in activities such as reading, listening to music or daydreaming."

" In 2005, scientists at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City used functional MRI to show how hypnotic suggestions can override "automatic" processes in the brain. The fMRI results were also striking. Highly hypnotizable participants showed less activity in a brain area called the anterior cingulate cortex, which is active when people are trying to sort out conflicting information from different sources."

"In the June 25 issue of Neuron, Yann Cojan of the University of Geneva and colleagues report: Hypnotized people who are told that their left hand is paralyzed show brain patterns that differ from those who aren't hypnotized and from those who aren't hypnotized but are told to pretend their left hand is paralyzed. Under hypnosis, neurons in the brain’s motor cortex fired up as usual to prepare for the task. But when instructed to use the left, or “paralyzed” hand, the motor cortex failed to send signals to motor execution regions. Instead, it directed its signals to another brain region, the precuneus. The precuneus is a sort of center for self-consciousness. ... By rerouting motor signals to the precuneus, hypnosis appeared to decouple the typical relationship between brain areas that generate the signals for hand movement and the areas that carry out such movements. Subjects who were not hypnotized and were asked to fake paralysis showed no such disconnect between these regions."

"Consciousness" is still an Achiless heel or a Holy Grail in Neuroscience. There is no agreed definition even for the word consciousness. However, it may be quite safe to say one thing. The word "Consciousness" as used in the Bhgavad-Gita verse quoted at the beginning of this Post and the "consciousness" that science is probing may not be the same.

Medicos have their own working definition for consciousness, though it is difficult even for them to categorize who is truly in a vegetative state when it comes to edge cases. A recent report by Dr. T. Bekinschtein and others showed how a patient supposed to be in a vegetative state has exhibited a remarkable capacity "to learn." By repeated training, the patient began to respond to a tone before blowing puffs of air on to his eyes. Some others are, of course, skeptical of the results and think it could be a Pavlovian conditioning.

In the meanwhile, anesthesiologists have scored a point. They seem to have found a "spot" for consciousness in the brain. Prof. Marshall Devor and Ruth Abulafia described this month (September 2009) their discovery of an area of the brain that participates in the control of "alert status."

"Loss of response to painful stimuli and loss of consciousness are the most striking characteristics of surgical anesthesia and anesthesia-like states, such as concussion, reversible coma, and syncope (fainting). These states also exhibit behavioral suppression, loss of muscle tone, a shift to the sleep-like "delta-wave" EEG pattern, and depressed brain metabolism."

"A small group of neurons near the base of the brain, in the mesopontine tegmentum, has executive control over the alert status of the entire cerebrum and spinal cord, and can generate loss of pain sensation, postural collapse and loss of consciousness through specific neural circuitry."

They described it as "center of consciousness" at least in the laboratory rats that they experimented with.

Added on 28 July 2011:
I have come across a very absorbing discussion on Defining Consciousness by J. Bogen (Neurosurgeon), C. Koch (Neuroscientist), S. Hameroff (Anesthesiologist), L. Brothers (Psychologist) and R. Kuhn (Moderator) at:

Added on Apr 06, 2012: As you awaken from anesthesia:

"We expected to see the outer bits of brain, the cerebral cortex (often thought to be the seat of higher human consciousness), would turn back on when consciousness was restored following anesthesia. Surprisingly, that is not what the images showed us. In fact, the central core structures of the more primitive brain structures including the thalamus and parts of the limbic system appeared to become functional first, suggesting that a foundational primitive conscious state must be restored before higher order conscious activity can occur."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009



A Post titled "Nonduality and Compassion" subtitled as above appeared at:

Background: Nondualist Jeff Foster talked in an earlier writing of his about an African girl starving with hunger that he saw on a TV show and how the scene changed as the channels were flipped. A question was then raised: (in Jeff's words reproduced from the NDHighlights # 3645)

"Jeff, in your latest piece of writing you talk about seeing a starving African girl on the TV. But how can that be Oneness? I mean, it's okay for you to say that, you're not starving, after all. But she is. Couldn't "Oneness" just be a concept you're using to push away or deny the reality of living in this world? A way for you to cope with the harsh realities of existence and suffering?"

Jeff continued a long response ending with the sentence:

"Feed her, damn it. What else is there to do, when there is no longer anything to defend?"

A rejoinder to this appears at : [NDhighlights] #3663 - Tuesday, September 22, 2009.

The rejoinder is reproduced below:

"I have reasons to believe that the first Question that Jeff referred to regarding the hunger of the African girl was the one posed by me, though understandably he did not mention names. He acknowledges it to be a great question. And thanks for that.

And what does come out at the end of all that long-winded blow hot blow cold response about the hunger?

A frustration that clearly stands out glaringly in our face as apparent from the two interrogatives in additon to the the swearing words in the ultimate sentence of his.

And just before venting the frustration, he says, "Feed her."

Can anything be more naive? Was it not our very beginning question? Is not the "feeding" the very problem in the world? Have we not come back to square one?!

Whether it is the roach running to save its life from the lizard on the wall over there or a pack of panthers chasing a bison cruelly biting into the delicate parts of its butt in the forest, it is all about "feeding." The prey-predator struggle, the cunning methods of aggression of the predator, the camouflage of the prey to save itself, the violence of the killer and the guaranteed misery for the victim are all about "feeding."

Humans continued this evolutionarily ingrained nature of biological systems to appease their dependence on food with their own covert and overt tricks of exploitation and victimization.

The non-exclusivity or all-inclusivity of Advaita hardly eliminates any of these dependencies and the inevitable violence beyond numbing certain qualia / reactions. That is why it appears to me that Advaita eliminates the "sufferer" rather than "suffering" per se.

When the "sufferer" ends but the body organism continues to live, he/she becomes a Jivanmukta. His/her body, apparent or otherwise, needs oxygen, food, water etc., though he/she sees a Oneness and the snake-like illusiory appearance of the world has ceased [for him/her]. It should really be quite revealing if we can investigate how the neuronal networks in the brain of a Jivanmukta function."

Readers may kindly send a copy of their Comment also to:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Is Religion A Conspirancy?

[First a Welcome: I am pleased to welcome Mr. Anjanna to the Blog. He raised some interesting questions on the Post "Nothing is Ever Born." I have given my response in the Comments section and look forward to his continued contribution. 
(The length of my repsonse is over 1170 words long and can almost be treated as Advaita 101).]


Dr. M. Shermer wrote a brief article on "Why People Believe in Conspiracies" in the September issue of Scientific American. One of the readers observed that religion was perhaps the oldest conspiracy.
Consciousness is a word captured by philosophers and monopolized by the religious lot to the extent that scientists remained for a long time reluctant even to touch any thing that has to do with consciousness. Science is now teasing out consciousness slowly and hesitantly because of the baggage the word has accumulated in history.

The two words Consciousness and Conspiracy are in fact derived from the same root as explained in detail by Dr. A. Zeman.

Dr. Pascal Boyer published a book, "Religion Explained" a few years ago. It had the subtitle: The Evolutionary Foundations of Religious Belief. Of late many universities are carrying out research on the Evoluion of Religion.

The points raised by Dr. Shermer with regard to conspiaracy are quite relevant in the context of religious evolution too. An extract from his article is given below:

"Why do people believe in highly improbable conspiracies? In previous columns I have provided partial answers, citing patternicity (the tendency to find meaningful patterns in random noise) and agenticity (the bent to believe the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents). Conspiracy theories connect the dots of random events into meaningful patterns and then infuse those patterns with intentional agency. Add to those propensities the confirmation bias (which seeks and finds confirmatory evidence for what we already believe) and the hindsight bias (which tailors after-the-fact explanations to what we already know happened), and we have the foundation for conspiratorial cognition."

To the above I will add "Endowment Effect" which was initially proposed by Chicago economists. I think it has a powerful psychological role in sustaining religious belief. Man does not like to give up anything he has (perhaps including his memetic infections) and hence continues with unfalsifiable belief structures in the name of religion.

Added on 08 Oct 2011:
Cognitive and neural foundations of religious belief, in PNAS, Mar 09, 2009:
"We propose an integrative cognitive neuroscience framework for understanding the cognitive and neural foundations of religious belief. Our analysis reveals 3 psychological dimensions of religious belief (God's perceived level of involvement, God's perceived emotion, and doctrinal/experiential religious knowledge), which functional MRI localizes within networks processing Theory of Mind regarding intent and emotion, abstract semantics, and imagery. Our results are unique in demonstrating that specific components of religious belief are mediated by well-known brain networks, and support contemporary psychological theories that ground religious belief within evolutionary adaptive cognitive functions."

Added on 15 May 2012:
Why religion exists:

"The primary purpose of religious belief is to enhance the basic cognitive process of self-control which in turn promotes any number of valuable social behaviors. Volunteers were primed in four experiments to think about religious matters. Those volunteers showed more discipline than controls, and more ability to delay gratification."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


[WELCOME: At the outset a very HEARTY WELCOME TO CHRIS AND ASTRID SCHUMACHER. I look forward to their active interventions and contributions.]


In order to retain the main thrust of the Non-Dual teaching in Peter's book without getting deflected in emphasis, I replaced the last para in my Posting of 14th September 2009 with the following paragraphs:

Peter’s book is a well-reasoned out presentation from the position of Supreme Oneness about our Presence, the only thing that is present at the present. This is unlike the more familiar approach of leading a seeker from the visible world to the sensory perceptions, to mind and finally to the One Universal Self. The breathtaking view from the position of Oneness suddenly dissolves all our perceptions and implodes our sense of time-space dimensions, into an undimensional Infinity (which becomes one more term for Consciousness in his deft argument).

Those of us who understand Non-Duality intellectually feel at ease with the metaphor of a mirage to describe the unreality of the world. We comfort ourselves that we continue to see the mirage though we know it is unreal. But Peter uncompromisingly sticks with the more fundamental and more famous snake-rope metaphor -- the world disappears like the seemingly appearing snake on realization of it being actually a rope. Speaking like one abiding in that Consciousness, Peter nonchalantly proclaims that the tree all of us see in the yard across has not arisen at all! That leaves us gasping for breath at the very pinnacle of Advaitic teaching.

That Advaitic position is perhaps incommunicable and only to be known by the Presence, of itself and by itself. Upanishads describe this as “Drik” state (Turiya) and one who abides in this permanently is a Jivanmukta.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Consciousness is All: Peter Dziuban

Mandukya Upanishad comprising no more than twelve mantras is truly unique amongst the ancient Indian scriptural texts. The seventh mantra contains the core inexpressible Philosophy of Non-Duality. While other Upanishads may deal with religion, theology, mysticism in addition to philosophy, Mandukya concerns itself with pure philosophy. It is most truly and very deservingly said that “Mandukya alone, among Upanishads, is sufficient for liberation.”

The commentary by Gaudapada (7th Century (?) on Mandukya is well known. Gaudapada affirms in no uncertain terms in his Karika (commentary in verse form) that “No body is ever born; no cause exists for any origin. The highest Truth is nothing is ever born” (Chapter III Verse 48). This astounding and counterintuitive conclusion is repeated by him towards the end of the Karika (Ch. IV – 71) to convey, in full force, the only Truth, Nothing is ever Born. Further he declared boldly that “there is none in bondage nor any seeker for liberation nor any one liberated” (Ch. II – 32).

“You were never born” is the hidden message that lies behind Vyasa’s declaration in the words of Lord Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita, when understood in proper context and depth. Quoting from Gita:

By the Maya of the Supreme, we revolve like puppets mounted on a machine (Ch XVIII - Sloka 61);

We are only an apparent cause and whatever has to happen has already happened (Ch XI - Sloka 33);

Because of the reason that Prakriti produced everything, the world goes round and round (Ch IX - Sloka 9-10);

Prakriti performs all actions and only an egoistic fool thinks that “I am the actor” (Ch III - Sloka 27).

The above veridical words unmitigatingly demolish the conceptions "I" can do, "I" have to do or "I" do any thing and point to the non-existence of a 'me as a self'.

The four words “You were never born” encapsulate the core wisdom expounded by Sage Vasishta, if you distill the 32,000 verses in the six chapters of Yogavaasishta by Sage Valmiki.

“You were never born” is the secret key for Happiness and Happiness is what you are!

John Wheeler wrote a book in 2007 with the title “You Were Never Born” (click for a review of mine

Still we remain unconvinced and those four words continue to haunt us as an enigma, a conundrum, hard to digest.

And now comes Peter Francis Dziuban (pronounced Jubin) laying bare the Truth of it in his book “Consciousness is All.” It hits straight in our face. We cannot run or hide anywhere. For, there is nowhere to go.

Peter was not exposed to Mandukya or Gita or even Advaita. He followed theistic Christian doctrine initially and through his own Self-inquiry stumbled on to the Great Truth of Non-Duality. And he likes to spread the joy of what he found. He does it gently, unambiguously and non-dogmatically in plain simple English, no special argot nor any abstruse scriptural quotes in obscure lingo to impress.

But simple words like You, All, Is, Presence, Happiness all stand out with self-effulgence and a new brilliance in his delicate persuasive prose and they become synonymous to Consciousness, the only Thing (No-thing) that Is! It is all unblemished Pure Oneness, Non-duality, Advaita!

Scott Kiloby’s interview (audio) of Peter is at :

Peter comes out in the discussion as the guy next door, like you or me or anyone on the other side of the road, in his humility, politeness and the story of his life. But his words carry mind-boggling, nay, mind-shattering, profound truth. First timers may get confused or amused when he talks of is-not being not is when Is is all that Is! The message sounds simpler if you have pre-read at least Chapter I of his Book – he makes a few Chapters from his book available free at his website:

Peter’s book is a well-reasoned out presentation from the position of Supreme Oneness about our Presence, the only thing that is present at the present. This is unlike the more familiar approach of leading a seeker from the visible world to the sensory perceptions, to mind and finally to the One Universal Self. The breathtaking view from the position of Oneness suddenly dissolves all our perceptions and implodes our sense of time-space dimensions, into an undimensional Infinity (which becomes one more term for Consciousness in his deft argument).

Those of us who understand Non-Duality intellectually feel at ease with the metaphor of a mirage to describe the unreality of the world. We comfort ourselves that we continue to see the mirage though we know it is unreal. But Peter uncompromisingly sticks with the more fundamental and more famous snake-rope metaphor -- the world disappears like the seemingly appearing snake on realization of it being actually a rope. Speaking like one abiding in that Consciousness, Peter nonchalantly proclaims that the tree all of us see in the yard across has not arisen at all! That leaves us gasping for breath at the very pinnacle of Advaitic teaching.

That Advaitic position is perhaps incommunicable and only to be known by the Presence, of itself and by itself. Upanishads describe this as “Drik” state (Turiya) and one who abides in this permanently is a Jivanmukta.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Sourced From: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Volume 1172 Issue Longevity, Regeneration, and Optimal Health
Integrating Eastern and Western Perspectives, Pages 231 - 251, 28 Aug
2009 (Copyright © 2009 The New York Academy of Sciences):

Excellence in Being and Doing and Everyday Happiness

Daniel Brown, Psychiatry Department, Harvard Medical School, Newton, Massachusetts, USA


Western psychological research on positive psychology and Buddhism
have recently converged in their emphasis on the development of
positive states, like states of excellence and everyday happiness.
Yet, these traditions differ in their approaches to positive states,
with respect to a state-trait and doing-being distinction. Western
scientific research on peak performance emphasizes discontinuous,
time-limited peak performance states wherein individuals do things
extraordinarily well in sports and in the arts. The Eastern spiritual
traditions emphasize continuous excellence of being, in the form of
traits or character strengths. In both traditions mental imagery is a
key ingredient to excellence training. With respect to everyday
happiness, Western psychological research has focused on the role of
meaning systems in the transformation of flow states into vital
engagement in everyday life, while Buddhism stresses the role of
meditation training to gain mastery over all levels of mind that leads
to everyday happiness. Rorschach and tachistoscopic research on
advanced meditators suggests that advance meditators have gained
unusual mastery over states of mind not yet documented in the Western
psychological research on positive psychology.


Dr. Chris French is a Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he heads the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit. Here are some extracts from a write up of his in Guardian of 9th September 2009:

[M]ost people assume that the most reliable evidence of all is that based upon personal experience.....As even brief exposure to the field of anomalistic psychology will reveal, personal experience is often a very poor guide to reality.
Both perception and memory are prone to errors. What we see and hear, especially under less than ideal observational conditions, can be heavily influenced by our prior beliefs and expectations.

Hallucinations are much more common than most people realise. Memory is also prone to errors: many of our recollections are not even distorted versions of events that we have witnessed but instead are complete fabrications.

Anomalistic psychology investigates the imperfections of the human cognitive system that could lead us to conclude that we have experienced the paranormal when in fact we have not.

Because scientists are human beings and therefore susceptible to all of the cognitive biases referred to above, in practice the scientific method is not perfect. But it is the best approach we've got. It is the only approach to truth that I am aware of that at least acknowledges that such biases exist and attempts to control for them.....Furthermore, its reliance upon replicability, self-correction, critical evaluation by peers, and ultimately upon empirical data means that we can legitimately have a higher level of confidence in well-supported scientific theories than in other assertions about the ultimate nature of reality.

[M]ost people believe in the paranormal, a sizeable minority claim to have had direct personal experience of it, and many live their lives in accordance with such beliefs....... evidence suggests that such beliefs may, in certain contexts, provide psychological benefits.

One obvious example is the fact that people who believe in an afterlife, despite the lack of any convincing scientific evidence, will be less afraid of dying. Exposure to anomalistic psychology may not only lead people to question paranormal claims but also to question firmly held religious beliefs. One of the implicit messages of anomalistic psychology is, "Question everything – but use the appropriate critical thinking tools when doing so." For some people, this will be a challenge they prefer not to face.


Dr. M. K. Sarma contributed the following write up to the Blog. I thank him for the gesture. I welcome all readers to give their comments / suggestions.



By M. K. Sarma

Advaita is the ultimate bliss one aspires for.

Bondage to one's mind and body and the search for means of deliverance from ensuing plurality is depicted in Devibhagavata as a very peculiar story.

This is a story narrated by the disciple of Veda Vyasa to the sages seeking their freedom from Kali in the forest, Naimisa.


A king aspiring for a son requested his Guru, Vasistha to conduct a Yajna. During the course of the Yajna, the queen expresed her desire for a female child.
A daughter was born. The King was disappointed. On the advise of Vasistha, the king worshipped Iswara and got the daughter transformed into a male child, subsequently named as Ila ( suggesting meaning mundaneness).

Ila along with his retinue went for hunting and entered a park. The park had a history, however.

The background of the park: Once, when Iswara and Parvati were in mutual enjoyment in that park, holy sages entered the garden for the Darshan of Iswara. Parvati was utterly embarassed as she was totally undressed. The sages left and Iswara made a rule: whoever that entered this garden hereafter would become a female.

King Ila and his retinue including horses got accordingly transformed on entering this garden. Ila who was back to femininety, was ashamed to go back to his kingdom and eventually became the wife of Budha.

After a few years, he got disgusted with his femininety. Praying to Iswara, he earned a boon: He would be male and female on alternate months.

After a few more years, Ila was disgusted even with this and prayed Devi. She granted him permanent male state.


The aim of this story should not be to cow down simpletons into fear for the magical powers of a divine couple. The magic of advaita and plurality appears in this story.

The plurality, we constantly observe is a manifestation in the Single entity that exists. What is manifested is depicted as due to the will in the Single entity. What manifested has the nature of multiplying. Male has a role in a woman begetting children. The will in the Single entity is termed Purusha and the manifestation is named Prakriti. Iswara and Parvati correspond to this couple in the story.
King is required to be identified with the Single entity to be able to protect Dharma. When his awareness is set on the will of the Sigle entity, Advaita he is a male. When he losses himself in plurality, he is part of the plurality, the Prakriti and becomes female. Permanent male state is a blessing that comes best from Prakriti. We should deal with this plurality in such a way that we attain Advaita.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Brain distinguishes living and Non-living (SCIENTIFIC FINDINGS - 4)

Our brains have hard wired capacity to categorise living and non-living objects

B.Z. Mahon and others from Italy and USA found from their research that as human beings we are hard-wired in our brain to distingusish living and non-living things. Whether one is blind from birth or sighted, the brain has a capacity even in the absence of visual inputs to separate the caotegories like animals - towards which humans have important emotional responses — from non-living things like tools. This work is published in the Journal Neuron in August 2009.

Welcome to Dr. M. K. Sarma:
A very Happy Welcome to Dr. M.K. Sarma to the Blog. We shall be eagerly looking forward for his knowledgeable contributions and comments.