Once, the mathematician Donald Newman(1930-2007) was struggling hard with a problem, but couldn’t resolve it by any means. He went to sleep at night and had a dream. This was not the kind of dream which gives the solution to a problem, but a dream in which he met fellow mathematician John Nash. Newman asked Nash about the problem, and Nash told him the answer. When Newman finally wrote the paper, he gave credit to Nash. (I’m not kidding, read the story in this book or in the Scientific American ).
It is rather remarkable that when we have a weakness – for example a ridiculous habit, a defect or an imperfection – since it is more or less part of our nature, we consider it to be very natural, it does not shock us. But as soon as we see this same weakness, this same imperfection, this same ridiculous habit in someone else, it seems quite shocking to us and we say, “What! He’s like that?” – without noticing that we ourselves are “like that.” And so to the weakness and imperfection we add the absurdity of not even noticing them
Centuries ago, Yajnavalkya used the analogy of “the great fish which travels along both banks, the nearer and the farther” while referring to the human consciousness which oscillates between the waking and the deep sleep state (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.17). He wrote that when the Atman “rests in the intermediate state (of dream)”, it sees both states – waking and deep sleep (Brihad. Up. 4.3.9). In the state of dreamless sleep, the Advaita Vedantins saw evidence of the existence of Brahman; they reasoned that if a person feels refreshed after sleep, it must be because the Atman had temporarily united with Brahman .
One of the themes on which Sri Aurobindo and the Mother differ from early Vedantins is “conscious dream exploration”. While Sri Aurobindo claimed that the occult worlds that we enter in our dreams are as “real” as the physical world, the earliest Advaita Vedantins, Gaudapada and Adi Shankaracharya (8th century C.E.) saw all the worlds as illusory. For Gaudapada and Shankara, the highest state was sushupti (deep sleep) because the Atman became united with the Brahman in that state.
One of the pleasures of studying dual Gurus like Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is that sometimes one can find spontaneous and fascinating coincidences in their records. It is as if they had independently experienced the same occult phenomenon. In a previous article “Does Nature revolt against machinery?“, we saw an example where Sri Aurobindo and the Mother independently perceived that some machinery failures could be due to the action of occult forces. While Sri Aurobindo alluded that occult forces could be behind large air and sea disasters, the Mother saw that the vital forces released during sugarcane crushing could cause a breakdown of machinery.
Tibetan monk and molecular geneticist Matthieu Ricard is the happiest man in the world according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin. The 66-year-old’s brain produces a level of gamma waves – those linked to consciousness, attention, learning and memory – never before reported in neuroscience.
Until recently, comatose patients who did not regain awareness in a few weeks would be written off as hopeless, but advances in neuroimaging technologies have revealed that comatose patients continue to display a degree of mental awareness. Scientists have found that disorders of consciousness are not an on-off phenomenon but span a continuum. These results validate remarks made by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother several decades ago. That is the subject of the first section below. The second section discusses the surprising learning abilities exhibited by sleeping newborn babies.
In one of his notebooks entitled “Philosophical Questions”, the English scientist Isaac Newton(1642-1727) jotted down his musings into questions related to the mind-body problem. He contemplated on the working of the mind, the seat of the soul (was it in the brain?), the nature of free will, the existence of a soul in animals and so on. Amongst these jottings, we find a brief allusion to meditation and to the mind-reading skills of an Oxford scholar.
You can drive a car while listening to a song, but when you want to see better, you instinctively lower the radio volume in the car. You can listen to a melody while doing chores, but when you want to hear better, you inevitably stop and squint your eyes. The American President Lyndon Johnson once claimed that his political opponent Gerald Ford could not pass wind and chew gum at the same time. Such quotidian observations seem to suggest that there may be some natural constraints in our ability to do multiple tasks simultaneously.
Children have the preternatural ability to discern elementary puzzles that adults, burdened by their self-importance, are no longer able to unravel. A child once asked the Mother why depression seemed to last longer than pleasure. Before you read her answer, I would urge you to step back and reflect on the possible rationale on your own.
The seemingly impenetrable material world which we behold before our eyes is actually encased in the subtler worlds of the vital, the mind and other higher transcendental worlds right upto the highest triune world known as Sachchidananda (i.e. Existence-Consciousness-Bliss). The vital worlds are inhabited by vital beings, which can be benevolent or malevolent. The malevolent beings, which are keen on extending their influence in the larger Universe, can at times possess and victimize feeble or depraved human beings. These are some observations made by the Mother Mirra Alfassa on this theme.
Fear plays a preeminent role in the human experience and manifests itself in diverse forms in our lives. There is fear of God which is an artifact of organized religion, fear of loss, failure and humiliation in society, fear of disease and death, fear of darkness, alarming creatures and ghosts and lastly, fear of the Unknown. If you ask anyone who has had a spiritual opening, he or she would instinctively tell you that fear is fundamentally a result of unconsciousness. Excessive indulgence in fear is counter-productive because that propagates vibrations which may attract the very phenomena that we cringe from, according to the Mother.
Over the years, the Mother conducted numerous dialogues with students at the Ashram school in which she expatiated on the proper method of studying and diligently developing the mind. What seem like banal exhortations are in reality infused with innate wisdom, as becomes evident when we juxtapose her insights with anecdotes from the lives of scientists such as Richard and Joan Feynman, Stanislav Ulam and Sofia Kovalevskaya.
One of the pleasures of studying dual Gurus like Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is that sometimes one can find spontaneous and fascinating coincidences in their records. It is as if they had independently experienced the same occult phenomenon. The Mother had once remarked after Sri Aurobindo had left his body: “Nirod (a disciple) is reading me his correspondence with Sri Aurobindo. Strangely enough, there are all sorts of things that I said much, much later, I had no idea he had written them! Exactly the same things. I found that very interesting.” In this article, we will examine some striking parallels in the observations they made fifty years apart pertaining to Nature’s reaction to machinery.
The Yogin who attains Self-realization discovers that latent powers of perception have awakened within his or her illumined consciousness. He or she begins to receive subtle images and sounds that convey the subjective internal states of the beings around him – humans, animals, and possibly even aliens. In this article, we demonstrate that observations on animal intelligence made by Sri Aurobindo decades ago have been fulfilled by recent results in comparative psychology and cognitive ethology (the field of science dedicated to studying animal cognition).
This article discusses an assorted range of post-mortem topics : the difference between sleep and death, the state just before death, the difference between cremation and burial, the need for funeral ceremonies, and resurrection.
Benjamin Franklin famously said that there are two things we cannot escape: death and taxes (he didn’t know about tax shelters). In this article, we cover observations made by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother Mirra Alfassa on some taxing questions related to death – suicide, euthanasia and capital punishment.
Noted reincarnation researcher, Dr Ian Stevenson(1918-2007), identified several cases of children whose birthmarks or birth defects seemed to coincide with the death wounds of the person they claimed to be in their previous incarnation. We shall discuss some cases here along with a possible explanation for the birthmarks in light of the insights of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have managed to reverse-engineer the motion-processing which goes on within the brain’s visual cortex. They recorded the brain activity of volunteers watching videos and then used that recorded data to approximately reconstruct the videos they had been viewing.
36 year-old Lee Hadwin of North Wales, Britain has neither the talent nor training to be an artist. His day job is a nurse. But he wakes up in the middle of the night and creates fantastical works of art, of which he has no recollection in the morning. He began drawing in his sleep in childhood and these drawings became more detailed by the time he was sixteen. Today, his work is displayed in art galleries! The Edinburgh Sleep Clinic has described his case as unique.