Does consciousness cease to exist when the brain dies? How do we unite with the cosmic consciousness?
Many years back, one evening, I was sandwiched in a car with my friends’ family en route to my school to view the grade 12 results. Grade 12 was a major exam of our lives and we were so excited and worried. Suddenly my friend’s mother remarked, “Adela will get 91%”. I was stunned. If true, it would be an amazing accomplishment, not only for me but also for my parents who had sacrificed a lot to put me through school. The preciseness of her prediction also surprised all of us in the car. It was certainly not a mere mood-lifting statement, such as “Adela will do great.” I remember my friend saying, “Why 91%, why not 90% or 95%?” and I remember his mother saying, “No, it would be 91%.”
When we got to the school, the printouts of the results were posted on the wall and I had secured exactly 91%. Over many years of my life, I never forgot that day in the car and my friend’s mother’s premonition.
An experience like this that can not be explained by science is what we term as a mystical experience. My friend’s mother was not a soothsayer in any traditional sense. A lawyer by profession she lives a normal life and does not have a crystal ball she can call on demand. She was not able to predict her own son’s unfortunate marriage which ended in divorce nor could she inspire her son to excel in studies which she obviously desired. And yet, my friend mentioned that she has always had such moments of sudden epiphanies.
What’s the point of this story? The point is that a personal experience like this leads you to wonder what other exciting possibilities are there beyond the frontiers of mathematics and science? It is one thing to read about the supernatural phenomenon in the diaries of ancient mystics, but it is completely another thing to first-hand witness these moments of transcendence.
An experience like this reinforces our conviction that it is possible for consciousness to transcend the boundaries defined by science.
Does Consciousness Cease to Exist When the Brain Dies?
Historically the possibility of consciousness transcending the brain and existing of its own volition (a “brain” outside the brain?) has been investigated in two ways. One way is, of course, the way of the seers and the spiritual explorers. The other way is the way of the scientists.
Science requires measurable ways of establishing the validity of any hypothesis. Herein lies the problem. Many such transcendental experiences are transitory and non-repeatable. As an example, my friend’s mother can not produce predictions on demand. As such her experiences will never pass the litmus test of a scientific investigation.
The really accomplished seers who can control their mystical experiences are few and far between – and these truly great men or women do not have any desire, nor any need for proving their supernatural abilities by participating in a scientific experiment.
Yet, our curiosity drives us to continue investigating the possibility of going beyond intellect.
In recent times, several doctors such as Dr. Peter Fenwick and Dr. Sam Parnia have had first-hand opportunities to observe self-transcendental phenomena such as near-death experiences that defy scientific theories. These men of medicine have come to believe that there exists a cosmic consciousness and an individual brain is merely the receptacle and processor for this consciousness.
Dr. Fenwick also writes in his book, that our brain tricks us into believing in its individuality, the so-called ego, when in fact there is only unity of our brain with the cosmic consciousness. When we die, the consciousness of the being does not cease to exist. After death, we go beyond the human experience of consciousness and unite with the universe’s entire consciousness.
To realize this unity with the cosmic consciousness has been the goal of the mystics since the dawn of human civilization.
Of Quacks and Fakers
One of my neighbors has a sign over her door, “Psychic Available for Consultation.” I have been tempted so many times to venture in and learn about my future and also how to mend it to my liking. On the other hand, I recognize the dangers in taking a step inside her parlor. It is very much possible that she is a charlatan, and would first trick my gullible brain into trusting her auguries, and then frighten me into spending money on her charms and crystals to ward off the lurking evil spirits. I might end up in an endless spiral of deception and anxiety by taking that first step.
This is how any shyster operates – by reeling you in slowly even as you are persuaded to spend more and more. A shyster relies on many psychological attributes of his or her clients – including Stockholm Syndrome which prevents us from condemning those who hold us hostage, and in our intrinsic desire to see goodness in others. I am reminded of my friend Ashu who signed up for an online real estate investment course for three thousand dollars. After a few months when I asked Ashu if he had made any money yet, he mentioned that to learn ‘real money-making skills’ he needs to sign up for another more expensive in-person course by the same company where they would equip him with the meat and potatoes. I was confounded not by the fact that Ashu had spent three thousand dollars with no tangible gains, but by the fact that he was gullible enough to even now not realize that these investment courses were simply designed to continue fleecing money from people like him.
John R. Brinkley (the “goat-gland doctor” who implanted goat glands as a means of curing male impotence), Charles Ponzi (for whom the “Ponzi scheme” is named) and quacks selling lizard oil for alleviating joint pain in Mumbai are just some of the many different kinds of charlatans who have preyed upon the trusting public since the dawn of humanity. All these frauds make it difficult to trust our judgment when a genuine mystical phenomenon appears before our eyes.
What also makes it difficult to investigate paranormal phenomena is the huge explosion of obviously spurious claims. YouTube channels that promote all pseudoscientific ideas that can be boiled down to clickbait titles (“A meteor obliterated a highly advanced city 20,000 years ago”) lead rational men and women to develop misgivings about anyone promoting something which is outside the boundaries of established scientific principles.
The difference between a genuinely holy man and a charlatan is sometimes not so clear. Take the example of a bent guru teaching about good things. I was especially shaken by news about the abuses perpetrated by a teacher from whose book I had learned a lot about Tibetan Meditation and Metta (Loving-Kindness) Meditation. I now wonder if the teachings themselves can be trusted if the teacher is of a much lesser caliber than what I had taken him for?
These are the people who have shaken our faith in transcendental phenomena. When almost all the so-called famous holy men and women are being proved to be con-artists with nefarious personal agendas then how can we trust in the concept of holiness itself?
That is why there is such a strong and well-grounded suspicion in the medical and scientific community against anyone who can not validate his or her claims through well established explanatory frameworks. Would you give a free rein to people like Dr. Brinkley who used to go around implanting goat glands in his patients to cure their impotency?
As a result of our apprehensiveness about the shammers, we immediately label specialists such as Dr. Fenwick and Dr. Eben Alexander as pseudo-scientists. The mere whisper of something which is rumored to defy the laws of physics and biology is enough to call out the rational wolves.
And yet, many personal experiences – which I am sure that each of us has had – point to the existence of a force that exists outside of what our intelligence can grasp.
Mind vs Heart
How do you go beyond intellect? Can you reason through such phenomena that defy the common laws of science?
Many people have an innate gift of extrasensory perception or have been endowed with other paranormal abilities such as the ability to heal or the ability to predict the future. Other men and women are inspired by such beings and seek to emulate them in learning the ways and means of achieving unity with the divine consciousness.
This force can not be grasped through logical reasoning. Nor can it be learned or explained as a concept. Had it been possible to write a step by step guide that would explain how to obtain enlightenment, the seers and mystics of the past would have done so.
In fact with a library full of books one could still remain a fool as Kabir points out in his couplet:
Pothi Padh Padh Jag Mua Pandit Bhaya Na Koi!
Dhai Aakhar Prem Ke, Jo Padhe so Pandit Hoye!!
Roughly translated Kabir’s poem means, “No one becomes wise by reading books, but a person surely attains wisdom if he or she learns even the tiniest bit about love.”
Reading Kabir’s poems as a kid I never understood the profound significance of his words. After years of introspection and studying many other practices such as Metta Meditation I am beginning to believe that the path to connecting with the divine consciousness is through love not merely through ritual prayers. I can’t, however, be too harsh on myself since all over the world including in Kabir’s birthplace even now people are torn apart by strife forgetting his admonishment to put love before textbook learning.
How to Go Beyond Intellect?
We come back to our original question, “How do you go beyond the intellect and connect with the cosmic consciousness which is swirling all around and inside you?”
If it was possible to provide the answer through words, great men and women who have gone before us would have done so. Instead what they have done is write down the right actions (e.g. feed the orphans, do not lie, inculcate kindness towards all) which we should adopt in our lives.
Through the centuries of civilization, seers have taught that you need to immerse yourself in the “right” actions and thoughts so that you become ready to receive the cosmic consciousness and see the experience the reality which pervades all universe.
I believe that our path would continue to become clearer as we continue striving in the right direction. This is my belief and hope.