Chinese charater for psyche

Mystical eastern philosophies
with the scientific knowledge of physics

Current understanding of physics leads down a path which is essentially mystical. Physics returns to the beginning. The evolution of Western science spirals along its path, beginning with the mystical philosophies of the early Greeks and rising and unfolding in an impressive development of intellectual thought that increasingly turned away from its mystical origins.

Western science is finally accepting the value of early Greek and Eastern philosophies. Proof is not based only on intuition, but also on experiments of great precision and sophistication, and on a rigorous and consistent mathematical formalism .

The roots of physics, as of all Western science, are to be found in the first period of Greek philosophy in the sixth century B.C., in a culture where science, philosophy and religion were not separated. The sages of the Milesian school in Ionia were not concerned with such distinctions. Their aim was to discover the essential nature, or real construction of things which they called "physis." The term "physics" is derived from this Greek word and originally meant the endeavor of seeing the essential nature of all things.

The Milesians were called "hylozoists," or "those who think matter is alive," by the later Greeks, because they saw no distinction between animate and inanimate, spirit and matter. In fact, they did not even have a word for matter, since they saw all forms of existence as manifestations of the "physis," endowed with life and spirituality. Thus Thales declared all things to be full of gods. Anaximander saw the universe as a category of organism which was supported by "pneuma," the Cosmic Breath, in the same way as the human body is supported by air.

The monistic and organic view of the Milesians was very close to that of ancient Indian and Chinese philosophy, and the parallels to Eastern thought are even stronger in the philosophy of Heraclitus of Ephesus.

Heraclitus of Ephesus believed in a reality of perpetual change, of Eternal Creation. For him, all static existence was a deception as his first principle was fire; a symbol for the continuous flow and change of all things. Heraclitus taught that all changes in the world arise from the dynamic and cyclic interplay of opposites. He saw any pair of opposites as a unity. This unity, which contains and transcends all opposing forces, he called the Logos.

The split of this unity began with the Eleatic school of thought, which assumed a divine principle standing above all gods and men. This principle was first identified with the unity of the universe, but was later seen as an intelligent and personal God who stands above the world and directs it. Thus began a trend of thought which led, ultimately, to the separation of spirit and matter and to a dualism which became characteristic of Western philosophy.

A drastic step in this direction was taken by Parmenides of Elea, who was in strong opposition to Heraclitus. Parmenides conceptualized existence as unique and invariable. Parmenides considered change to be impossible and regarded the changes we appear to perceive as mere illusions of the senses. The concept of an indestructible substance as the subject of varying properties grew out of this philosophy and became one of the fundamental concepts of Western thought.

In the fifth century B.C., the Greek philosophers tried to overcome the sharp contrast between the views of Parmenides and Heraclitus. In order to reconcile the idea of unchangeable (of Parmenides) with that of Eternal Creation (of Heraclitus), they assumed that existence is manifest in certain invariable substances, the mixture and separation of which gives rise to the changes witnessed.

This led to the concept of the atom, the smallest indivisible unit of matter, which found its clearest expression in the philosophy of Ieucippus and Democritus. The Greek atomists drew a clear line between spirit and matter, picturing matter as being made of several "basic building blocks."

These were purely passive and intrinsically dead particles moving in the void. The cause of their motion was not explained, but was often associated with external forces which were assumed to be of spiritual origin and fundamentally different from matter. In subsequent centuries, this image became an essential element of Western thought, of the dualism between mind and matter, between body and soul.

As the idea of a division between spirit and matter took hold, the philosophers turned their attention to the spiritual world, rather than the material, to the eternal human soul and the problems of ethics. These questions were central to Western thought for more than two thousand years after the culmination of Greek science and culture in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C..

The scientific knowledge of antiquity was systematized and organized by Aristotle, who devised the scheme which was to be the basis of the Western worldview of reality for two thousand years.

Even so Aristotle believed that questions concerning the eternal human soul and the contemplation of the Creator and Sustainer's Creation were much more valuable than investigations of the material world. The reason the Aristotelian model of the universe remained unchallenged for so long was precisely this lack of interest in the material world, and the strong hold of the Roman Catholic church which supported Aristotle's doctrines throughout the Middle Ages.

Further development of Western science had to wait until the Renaissance, when men began to free themselves from the influence of Aristotle and the Roman Catholic church and showed a new interest in nature. In the late fifteenth century, the study of nature was approached, for the first time, in a truly scientific spirit and experiments were undertaken to test speculative ideas. As this development was paralleled by a growing interest in mathematics, it finally led to the formulation of proper scientific theories, based on experiment and expressed in mathematical language.

Galileo Galilei was the first to combine empirical knowledge with mathematics and is therefore seen as the father of modern science.

The birth of modern science was preceded and accompanied by a development of philosophical thought which led to an extreme formulation of the Cartesian split.

This formulation appeared in the seventeenth century in the philosophy of Rene Descartes who based his view of nature on a fundamental division into two separate and independent realms: that of mind (res cogitans), and that of matter (res extensa).

The Cartesian division allowed scientists to treat matter as dead and completely separate from themselves, and to see the material world as a multitude of different objects assembled in a huge machine.

Such a mechanistic worldview was held by Isaac Newton, who constructed his mechanics on its basis and made it the foundation of modern science.

The Cartesian division and the mechanistic worldview have thus been beneficial and detrimental at the same time. They were extremely successful in the development of classical physics and technology, but had many adverse consequences. Twentieth century science, which originated in the Cartesian split and in the mechanistic worldview, and which indeed only became possible because of such a conceptual structure, now overcomes this fragmentation and leads back to the idea of unity expressed in the early Greek and Eastern philosophies.

In contrast to the mechanistic worldview, the Eastern view of the world is "organic." For the Eastern mystic, all things and events perceived by the senses are interrelated, connected, and are but different aspects or manifestations of the same supreme reality.

Our tendency to divide perceived reality into individual and separate things and to experience ourselves as isolated egos in this reality is an illusion which comes from our measuring and categorizing mentality. It is called avidya, or ignorance, in Buddhist philosophy, and is seen as the state of a disturbed mind which has to be overcome:

When the mind is disturbed,
the multiplicity of things is produced,
but when the mind is quieted,
the multiplicity of things disappears.

What is Nirvana ?

"We all interact with others in our environment at least partly on the basis of categories.
Categorization has profound consequences for intergroup interaction.
Categories are not just accidental, but are often purposely created."
- Jeffery Pfeffer*

make ignorance history know yourself

"Our mind is like a sword cutting reality into pieces, and then we act as though each piece of reality is independent from the other pieces. If we look deeply, we will remove these barriers between our mental categories and see the one in the many and the many in the one." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Although the various schools of Eastern mysticism differ in many details, they all emphasize the basic unity of the universe which is the central feature of their teachings. The highest aim for their followers - whether they are Hindus, Buddhists or Taoists - is to become aware of the unity and mutual interrelation of all things, to transcend the notion of an isolated individual self, and to identify self with the supreme reality. The emergence of this awareness - known as 'enlightenment' - is not only an intellectual act, but is an experience which involves the whole individual and is relgious in its ultimate nature. For this reason, most Eastern philosophies are essentially relgious philosophies.

In the Eastern worldview, then, the division of nature into separate objects is not fundamental and any such objects have a fluid and ever-changing character. The Eastern worldview is therefore intrinsically dynamic and contains time and change as essential features. The cosmos is seen as one inseparable reality forever in motion, alive, organic; spiritual and material at the same time.

Since motion and change are essential properties of things, the forces causing the motion are not outside the objects, as in the classical Greek view, but are an intrinsic property of matter.

Correspondingly, the Eastern image of the Divine is not that of a ruler who directs the world from above, but of a principle that controls everything from within:

He who, dwelling in all things,
Yet is other than all things,
Whom all things do not know,
Whose body all things are,
Who controls all things from within
He is your controller, your eternal Soul.

The Eastern worldview is also the worldview of modern physics. Eastern thought - and, more generally, mystical thought - provides a consistent and relevant philosophical background to the theories of contemporary science; a conception of the world in which scientific discoveries can be in perfect harmony with spiritual aims and religious beliefs.

The two basic themes of this conception are the unity and interrelation of all phenomena and the intrinsically dynamic nature of the universe. The further we penetrate into the submicroscopic world, the more we realize how the modern physicist, like the Eastern mystic, has come to see the world as a system of inseparable, interacting, and ever moving components, with the observer being an integral part of this system.

The organic, "ecological" worldview of the Eastern philosophies is no doubt one of the main reasons for the immense popularity they have recently gained in Western culture. Our Western culture, which is still dominated by the mechanistic, fragmented view of the world, is the underlying reason for the widespread dissatisfaction in our society and an increasing number of people have seen this.

Throughout history, it has been recognized that the human mind is capable of rationalizing two forms of knowledge, or two modes of consciousness, which have often been termed the rational and the intuitive, and have traditionally been associated with science and religion, respectively. These two types of knowledge may be termed logos and mythos.

In the West, the intuitive, relgious type of knowledge is often devalued in favor of rational, scientific knowledge, whereas the traditional Eastern attitude is generally just the opposite.

The following statements about knowledge by two great minds of the West and the East typify the two positions.

Socrates in Greece made the famous statement, "I know that I know nothing."

Lao Tze in China said, "Not knowing that one knows is best."

In the East, the values attributed to the two kinds of knowledge are often already apparent from the names given to them. The Upanishads, for example, speak about a higher and a lower knowledge and associate the lower knowledge with various sciences, the higher with relgious awareness. Buddhists talk about 'relative' and 'absolute' knowledge, or about 'conditional truth' and 'transcendental truth.'

Chinese philosophy, on the other hand, has always emphasized the complementary nature of the intuitive and the rational by representing them in the archetypical pair yin and yang which form the basis of Chinese thought.

Accordingly, two complementary philosophical traditions - Taoism and Confucianism - have developed in ancient China to deal with the two kinds of knowledge.

Rational knowledge is derived from the experience we have with objects and events in our everyday environment. Rational knowledge belongs to the realm of the intellect, whose function it is to discriminate, divide, compare, measure and categorize. In this way, a world of intellectual distinctions is created; of opposites which can exist only in relation to each other, which is why Buddhists call this type of knowledge 'relative.'

Abstraction is a crucial feature of this knowledge, because in order to compare and to classify the immense variety of shapes, structures, and phenomena around us we cannot take all their features into account, but have to select a few significant ones. Thus we construct an intellectual 'map of reality' in which things are reduced to their general outlines.

Rational knowledge is thus a system of abstract concepts and symbols, characterized by the linear, sequential structure which is typical of our thinking and speaking. In most languages this linear structure is made explicit by the use of alphabets which serve to communicate experience and thought in long lines of symbols.

The natural world, on the other hand, is one of infinite varieties and complexities, a multidimensional world which contains no straight lines or completely regular shapes, where things do not happen in sequences, but all together; a world where - as modern physics tells us - even empty space is curved. It is clear that our abstract system of conceptual thinking can never describe or understand this reality completely.

In thinking about reality we are faced with the same category of problem as the cartographer who tries to cover the curved face of the Earth with a sequence of plane maps. We can only expect an approximate representation of reality from such a procedure, and all rational knowledge is therefore necessarily limited. The realm of rational knowledge is, of course, the realm of science which measures and quantifies, classifies and analyzes.

The limitations of any knowledge obtained by these methods have become increasingly apparent in modern science, and in particular in modern physics which has taught us, in the words of Werner Heisenberg, "that every word or concept, clear as it may appear to be, has only a limited range of applicability."

For most of us it is very difficult to be constantly aware of the limitations and of the relativity of rational knowledge. As our representation of reality is so much easier to grasp than reality itself, we tend to confuse the two and to take our concepts and symbols for reality. It is one of the main aims of Eastern mysticism to rid us of this confusion.

Zen Buddhists say that a finger is needed to point at the moon, but that we should not trouble ourselves with the finger once the moon is recognized.

Taoist sage Chuang Tzu wrote: Fishing baskets are employed to catch fish; but when the fish are got, the men forget the baskets; snares are employed to catch hares; but when the hares are not, men forget the snares. Words are employed to convey ideas; but when the ideas are grasped, men forget the words.

In the West, the semanticist Alfred Korzybski made exactly the same point with his powerful slogan, "The map is not the territory."

What the Eastern mystics are concerned with is a direct experience of reality which transcends not only intellectual thinking but also sensory perception. In the words of the Upanishads:

What is soundless, touchless, formless, imperishable,
likewise tasteless, constant, odorless,
without beginning, without end, higher than the highest,
by discerning that, one is liberated from the mouth of death.

Knowledge which comes from such an experience is called absolute knowledge by Buddhists because it does not rely on the discriminations, abstractions, and classifications of the intellect which, as we have seen, are always relative and approximate. It is, so we are told by Buddhists, the direct experience of undifferentiated, undivided, indeterminate "suchness." Complete apperception of this suchness is not only the core of Eastern mysticism, but is the central characteristic of all mystical experience.

The Eastern mystics repeatedly insist on the fact that the supreme reality can never be an object of reasoning or of demonstrable knowledge. It can never be adequately described by words because it lies beyond the realms of the senses and of the intellect from which our words and concepts are derived. The Upanishads say about it:

There the eye goes not,
speech goes not, nor the mind.
we know not,
we understand not how one would teach it.

Lao Tze, who calls reality the Tao, states the same fact in the opening line of the Tao De Ching: "The Tao that can be expressed is not the eternal Tao."

The fact - obvious from any reading of the newspapers - that humanity has not become much wiser over the past two thousand years, in spite of a prodigious increase in rational knowledge, is ample evidence of the difficulty of communicating true knowledge through the use of symbols or words.

As Chuang Tzu said, "If it could be talked about, everybody would have told their brother." (ascertained by professional actors - don't try this at home! )

True knowledge is thus an entirely nonintellectual experience of reality, an experience arising in a non-ordinary state of consciousness which may be called a 'meditative', mystical or disassociated state of consciousness. That such a state exists has not only been testified by numerous mystics in the East and West but is also indicated by psychological research.

In the words of William James:
"Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different."

Although physicists are mainly concerned with rational knowledge and mystics with intuitive knowledge or mythical consciousness, both types of knowledge occur in both fields. This becomes apparent when we examine how knowledge is obtained and how it is expressed, both in physics and Eastern mysticism.

In physics, knowledge is acquired through the process of scientific research which can be seen to proceed in three stages.

The first stage consists in gathering experimental evidence about the phenomena to be explained.

In the second stage, the experimental facts are correlated with mathematical symbols and a mathematical scheme is worked out which interconnects these symbols in a precise and consistent way.

Such a scheme is usually called a mathematical model or, if it is more comprehensive, a theory.

This theory is then used to predict the results of further experiments which are undertaken to check all its implications. At this stage, physicists may be satisfied when they have found a mathematical scheme and know how to use it to predict experiments. But eventually, they will want to talk about their results to non physicists and will therefore have to express them in language. This means they will have to formulate a model in common language which interprets their mathematical scheme. Even for the physicists themselves, the formulation of such a verbal model, which constitutes the third stage of research, will be a criterion of the understanding they have reached.

In practice, of course, the three stages are not neatly separated and do not always occur in the same order. For example, a physicist may be led to a particular model by some philosophical belief he (or she) holds, which he may continue to believe in, even when contrary experimental evidence arises. He will then - and this happens in fact very often - try to modify his model so that it can account for the new experiments. But if experimental evidence continues to contradict the model, he will eventually be forced to drop it.

This way of basing all theories firmly on experiment is known as the scientific method, and we shall see that it has its counterpart in Eastern philosophy. Greek philosophy, on the other hand, was fundamentally different in that regard. Although Greek philosophers had extremely ingenious ideas about nature which often come very close to modern scientific models, the enormous difference between the two is the empirical attitude of modern science which was by and large foreign to the Greek mind.

The Greeks obtained their models deductively from some fundamental axiom or principle and not inductively from what had been observed. On the other hand, of course, the Greek art of deductive logical reasoning is an essential ingredient in the second stage of scientific research, the formulation of a consistent mathematical model, and thus an essential part of science.

Rational knowledge and rational activities certainly constitute the major part of scientific research, but are not all there is to it. The rational part of research would, in fact, be useless if it were not complemented by the intuition that gives scientists new insights and makes them creative.

These insights tend to come suddenly and, characteristically, not when sitting at a desk working out the equations, but when relaxing in the bath, during a walk in the woods, on the beach, etcetera. During these periods of relaxation after concentrated intellectual activity, the intuitive mind appears to take over and can produce the sudden clarifying insights which give so much joy and delight to scientific research.

Intuitive insights, however, are of no use to physics unless they can be formulated in a consistent mathematical framework, supplemented by an interpretation in plain language. Abstraction is a crucial feature of this framework. It consists, as mentioned before, of a system of concepts and symbols which constitute a map of reality. This map represents only some features of reality; we do not know exactly which these are, since we started compiling our map gradually and without critical analysis in our childhood. The words of our language are thus not clearly defined. They have several meanings, many of which pass only vaguely through our mind and remain largely in our subconscious when we hear a word.

The inaccuracy and ambiguity of our language is essential for poets who work largely with its subconscious layers and associations. Science, on the other hand, aims for clear definitions and unambiguous connections, and therefore it abstracts language further by limiting the meaning of its words and by standardizing its structure, in accordance with the rules of logic. The ultimate abstraction takes place in mathematics where words are replaced by symbols and where the operations of connecting the symbols are rigorously defined. In this way, scientists can condense information into one equation, i.e. into one single line of symbols, for which they would need several pages of ordinary writing.

The view that mathematics is nothing but an extremely abstracted and compressed language does not go unchallenged. Many mathematicians believe that mathematics is not just a language to describe nature, but is inherent in nature itself.

The originator of this belief was Pythagoras who made the famous statement, "All things are numbers," and developed a very special category of mathematical mysticism. Pythagorean philosophy thus introduced logical reasoning into the domain of religion, a development which, according to Bertrand Russell, was decisive for Western relgious philosophy:

"The relgious philosophy and theology, which began with Pythagoras, characterized relgious philosophy in Greece, in the Middle Ages, and in modern times down to Kant. In Plato, Saint Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz there is an intimate blending of religion and reasoning, of moral aspiration with logical admiration of what is timeless, which comes from Pythagoras, and distinguishes the intellectualized theology of Europe from the more straightforward mysticism of Asia."

The scientific method of abstraction is very efficient and powerful, but we have to pay a price for it. As we define our system of concepts more precisely, as we streamline it and make the connections more and more rigorous, it becomes increasingly detached from the reality of the Earth.

Using again Alfred Korzybski's analogy of the map and the territory, we could say that ordinary language is a map which, due to its intrinsic inaccuracy, has a certain flexibility so that it can follow the curved shape of the territory to some degree. As we make it more rigorous, this flexibility gradually disappears, and with the language of mathematics we have reached a point where the links with reality are so tenuous that the relation of the symbols to our sensory experience is no longer evident. This is why we have to supplement our mathematical models and theories with verbal interpretations, again using concepts which can be understood intuitively, but which are slightly ambiguous and inaccurate.

It is important to realize the difference between the mathematical models and their verbal counterparts. The former are rigorous and consistent as far as their internal structure is concerned, but their symbols are not directly related to our experience. The verbal models, on the other hand, use concepts which can be understood intuitively, but are always inaccurate and ambiguous. They are in this regard not different from philosophical models of reality, and thus the two can very well be compared.

The direct mystical experience is at the core of all schools of Eastern mysticism. Even those mystics who are engaged in the most sophisticated argumentation never see the intellect as their source of knowledge but use it merely to analyze and interpret their personal mystical experience. All knowledge is firmly based on this experience, thus giving the Eastern traditions a strong empirical character that is always emphasized by its proponents.

D. T. Suzuki, for example, writes of Buddhism: Personal experience is the foundation of Buddhist philosophy. In this sense Buddhism is radical empiricism or experimentialism, whatever dialectic later developed to explore the meaning of enlightenment.

The firm basis of knowledge on experience in Eastern mysticism suggests a parallel to the firm basis of scientific knowledge on experiment. This parallel is further enforced by the nature of the mystical experience. It is described in the Eastern traditions as a direct insight which lies outside the realm of the intellect and is obtained by watching rather than thinking; by looking inside oneself; by observation.

In Taoism, this notion of observation is embodied in the names for Taoist temples, kuan, which originally meant "to look." Taoist thus regarded their temples as places of observation. In Ch'an Buddhism, the Chinese version of Zen, enlightenment is often referred to as 'the vision of the Tao,' and seeing is regarded as the basis of knowing in all Buddhist schools. The first item of the Eightfold Path, the Buddha's prescription for self-realization, is right seeing, followed by right knowing.

D. T. Suzuki writes on this point:

"The seeing plays the most important role in Buddhist epistemology, for seeing is at the basis of knowing. Knowing is impossible without seeing; all knowledge has its origin in seeing. Knowing and seeing are thus found generally united in Buddha's teaching. Buddhist philosophy therefore ultimately points to seeing reality as reality is. Seeing is experiencing enlightenment."

A mystical experience, therefore, is not any more unique than a modern experiment in physics. On the other hand, it is not less sophisticated either, although its sophistication is of a very different category.

The complexity and efficiency of the physicist's technical apparatus is matched, if not surpassed, by that of the mystic's consciousness - both physical and spiritual - in deep meditation. The scientists and the mystics, then, have developed highly sophisticated methods of observing nature. A page from a journal of modern experimental physics will be as mysterious to the uninitiated as a Tibetan mandala. Both are records of inquiries into the nature of the universe.

-Franz Capra, physicist and author

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This website defines a new perspective with which to engage reality to which its author adheres. The author feels that the falsification of reality outside personal experience has created a populace unable to discern propaganda from reality and that this has been done purposefully by an international corporate cartel through their agents who wish to foist a corrupt version of reality on the human race. Religious intolerance occurs when any group refuses to tolerate religious practices, religious beliefs or persons due to their religious ideology. This web site marks the founding of a system of philosophy named The Truth of the Way of Life - a rational gnostic mystery religion based on reason which requires no leap of faith, accepts no tithes, has no supreme leader, no church buildings and in which each and every individual is encouraged to develop a personal relation with the Creator and Sustainer through the pursuit of the knowledge of reality in the hope of curing the spiritual corruption that has enveloped the human spirit. The tenets of The Truth of the Way of Life are spelled out in detail on this web site by the author. Violent acts against individuals due to their religious beliefs in America is considered a “hate crime."

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