Here is an excerpt from a book chapter of this title by my Yoga teacher, Marshall Govindan. The title of the book is Enlightenment: it’s not what you think. This is what preceded the meditation we did last week at Yoga Class on the nature of reality. You can find the book on Amazon or at www.babajiskriyayoga.net.
What is reality? Recent scientific discoveries make one thing certain about the age-old question. It is certain that science does not have a good grasp of reality. Two of the best models of physical reality, the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics, appear to be fundamentally incompatible.
An article in the magazine Nature reinforced this by explaining that quantum mechanics describes the behavior of a system known as local realism. Local realism is fairly easy to understand: The properties of particles can be described completely, and the properties remain localized, meaning that they can’t be transmitted to a different location faster than the speed of light. It can be expressed more simply as: Things are the way they are, right here.
However, if you include a process known as entanglement, in which particles behave immediately under the influence of other entangled particles – which may be half a universe away – you have a problem. The local reality is neither local nor … well … real.
In quantum mechanics, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle asserts a fundamental limit on the accuracy with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle, such as position and momentum, can be simultaneously known. In non-technical language, the more precisely one property is measured, the less precisely the other can be known or controlled. Werner Heisenberg argued in 1927 that every measurement destroys part of our knowledge of the system that was obtained by previous measurements. In other words, the experiment is affected by the observer.
In recent decades, quantum theorists have described entanglement. Two entangled subatomic particles, which can include photons moving at the speed of light, have properties that are linked. Measuring the properties of one entangled item will cause the other to switch instantly from an indeterminate state to a state in which properties are defined by its entanglement with the other. Because the entangled items can be far apart when this occurs, the transfer of properties appears to occur faster than the speed of light.
This doesn’t sit well with many physicists including Albert Einstein, the father of the theory of relatively, who argued that we don’t yet understand some underlying properties of reality. Some physicists have tried to compensate for this lack of understanding by creating hidden variable models, which contain properties of reality that we don’t know how to measure.
That’s where the article Nature comes in. A set of plausible models allowed us to test the behavior of the infinitesimal particles that form our universe. The results confirm the odd quantum phenomenon of entanglement, which even Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” The results demand that we discard the idea of local reality.[i]
Does this mean that it’s time to give up on reality? The authors seem to think so. They summarize their results as supporting the view that any future extension of quantum theory “… must abandon certain features of realistic descriptions.”
Enter the perspective of the Yoga Siddhas
Since the ancient times, the Yoga Siddhas have approached this question from a unique inner perspective, and their documented findings are instructive. They may be characterized as mystical, and they are no less inaccessible than the mathematical equations of theoretical physics. We must go beyond the written symbols, whether they be poetical, paradoxical, analogical, or mathematical, to discover for ourselves the Truth, Being, and the underlying Reality (Sat).
The unique perspective has been described by the Siddha Tirumular:
Not the highest one, nor Sadasiva,
Nor the formless one, nor the state of image;
Wonderful like the experiencing of the pleasure of love
He is immersed in (me) beyond one’s imagination
Tirumular (Tirumandiram, Verse 2943
Tirumular asks the same question as the theoretical physicists: How should we describe the Ultimate Reality? Is it the highest one? Is it Sadasiva (the Lord)? Is it without form, or does it have properties? He agrees with the theoretical physicists: It is indescribable.
In the next verse, Tirumular drives the point home with an analogy, warning us:
Oh fools, who see things with physical eyes,
Real bliss consists in seeing through the inner eye;
How can the mother express to her daughter
Her enjoyment with her husband?
Tirumular (Tirumandiram, Verse 2944)
Just as the pleasure of love cannot be described, it is impossible to explain the bliss of experiencing Reality. We should be immersed in it, or we should encounter something beyond our imagination.
Just as the salt in water, the Lord is immersed.
As parapara in para without any distinction;
The hidden implication is merged in the (word);
How? How? Is it just like that.
Tirumular (Tirumandiram, Verse 2945)
Para refers to our highest or supreme Self – our soul – as distinct from the body, mind, or personality. Parapara refers to the Supreme Being. Both share one essential quality: consciousness. But consciousness is neither an object nor an epiphenomena (by-product of brain activity) that depends on the existence of a brain, as some materialists have argued. All living creatures, even those without brains exhibit consciousness. Consciousness is the Subject, that which witnesses, that which observes. It pervades everything, both great and small, and so, it defies all attempts by physicists to measure it. It is not an “it.” It is not “out there.” It is everywhere, within and without.
By raising the question “How? How?” Tirumular is referring to the inexpressible and translinguistic nature of the merging of the soul or individualized consciousness with the Lord, or Supreme Consciousness. The answer cannot be defined in words or symbols but by turning within. Tirumular points the way in the following verse.
Nandi (the Lord) was there in the midst of the mind
Worship and contemplation (of God) ceased spontaneously;
The bright light that arises in the middle space.
I merged with it through my wisdom (jnana).
Tirumular (Tirumandiram, Verse 2947
Because the Lord is merged in me, in my consciousness, and arises in “my” mind as a bright light, all formalities (rituals) of worship and contemplation have ceased spontaneously to exist. Now for me, in that state of union, there is no need for ritual, scripture, and temple.
By merging I felt the presence of parapara;
By merging I attained Siva-gati;
By merging I became conscious of consciousness;
By merging I witnessed many aeons.
Tirumular (Tirumandiram, Verse 2953
By Merging, I have become aware of Being itself. In other words, I have attained a perception not of my awareness but of Being’s awareness of Itself in “me”. I have become eternal. Siva-gati is final liberation from the egoistic perspective, of I am the body-mind.
[i] Groblacher, S., Paterek, T., Kaltenbaek, R., Brukner, C., Zukowski, M., Aspelmeyer, M., and Zeilinger, A. (2007). An experimental test of non-local realism. Nature, 446, 871-875.