Even in this modern age, scientists do not really understand the fundamental nature of energy, force, matter, and the makeup of the cosmos. That's an awful lot of truth not to know. This book attempts to bridge the gap between what is scientifically knowable truth and what is the intuitive truth of spirituality.
The book outlines the basic truisms, First Principles, that underlie all human activity; immutable principles that never change regardless of time, personal relationships, status in life, social interactions, or anything else. Accessibly written, the book teaches a new approach to appreciating the beauty and elegance of both science and spirituality.
You may read this book for free below. Should you desire a paperback copy, it is available for purchase at amazon.com
Promissory materialism is simply religious belief held by dogmatic materialists … who often confuse their religion with their science.
Sir John Carew Eccles, Nobel Laureate
Veritas Lux Mea:
What is truth? This is the famous question that Pilate asks Jesus at his trial following Jesus’ statement that he has come to testify to the truth. It’s a question that has reverberated down through the ages.
In terms of truth, one might well ask how Pilate’s question ended up in the Bible in the first place. Pilate and Jesus were certainly present at the time, but it is unlikely that either of them caused it to be in the Bible. So there must have been someone else present who heard Pilate’s question and relayed that information to the New Testament author. Who might that person have been? Some say that it was John the apostle, who was allowed by the Romans to accompany Jesus during his trial with Pilate, as a sort of “lawyer” advocate. Where is the truth?
Is there an absolute truth, or is truth relative? Is one man’s truth another man’s falsehood? Since I am a scientist, let’s examine the truth that might be found in science at the present moment in time.
Science is the subset of philosophy that applies logic to experimental observations. The application of logic based on observations would appear to be one method of getting at truth. This is essentially the scientific method. But what about facts or realities that may exist but which we cannot yet observe with either our senses or the extensions of our senses provided by the scientific equipment that we presently know how to construct.
Scientists claim to know the truth, but how much does science really know? Since Einstein published his famous papers in 1905, we now know that matter and energy are essentially the same thing (E = mc2). Our nuclear weapons have dramatically verified that matter can be converted into energy. In fact, this is the basis for the term “weapons of mass destruction”. In addition to destroying great quantities of people and things, these weapons destroy matter (mass) by converting it into energy. However, scientists have yet to ascertain how to convert energy back into matter.
Given that matter and energy are essentially the same thing, let’s just talk about energy. What is energy? My college freshman physics book grandly stated that “energy is the ability to do work”. But this definition is completely off the mark. It says nothing about what energy is, only about what energy does.
Science knows about the kinds of things that kinetic energy, potential energy, and electromagnetic energy can do. But what is energy? What is the essence of energy, the truth of energy? In fact, no scientist in the world can answer this simple question.
In a similar vein, what is force? Inertial force is defined by the equation F = ma. Here, m is inertial mass and a is the acceleration of that inertial mass. This equation is the basis for much of our modern technology. But why does F = ma? What is the reason for this equation, the truth behind it? No scientist has an answer to this question yet either.
Physicists currently talk about the four fundamental forces of nature. These are the gravitational force, the electromagnetic force, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force. They seek a unification of these forces, a Theory of Everything. But they are very, very far from this goal because they have been unable to integrate the gravitational force with the other three forces. At the present time, the gravitational force which controls cosmic bodies cannot be reconciled with the other three forces that control the matter and energy in the universe.
How did the universe begin? The currently-accepted scientific theory is that the universe began approximately 13.7 billion years ago in a “Big Bang”. Actually, the term Big Bang was a derogatory one coined by the famous astronomer Fred Hoyle, who espoused the opposing theory that the universe has always existed. It’s interesting to note that the person who first formulated the Big Bang theory was a Belgium Catholic priest by the name of Father Georges Lemaitre. Lemaitre put forward the essence of the Big Bang theory in 1927, based on Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The discovery of the cosmic microwave background is key to the foundations of the Big Bang theory, since this is thought to be the afterglow of that original stupendous event. At the very first infinitesimal fraction of a second of the Big Bang, all energy and all matter were contained within an infinitesimal volume of space-time.
But there are two key questions about the Big Bang that no scientist in the world can answer. The first question is: What caused the Big Bang? And the second question is: Where was everything before the Big Bang happened?
What is our universe made of? The present cosmological Standard Theory is that only 4% of the universe is made up of the matter and energy that we can presently detect! 26% of the universe is “Dark Matter” and the remaining 70% is “Dark Energy”. An analogy for this is what a person sees when he (or she) looks at a sparsely populated mountainous region at night. You can see the pinpoints of light from the residences of the people who live there, but you cannot see the mountains.
Dark Matter, what is that? No one knows at present, but scientists say that we are all swimming in it. Dark Matter passes through your body all the time, but does not interact at all with the normal matter (i.e. matter composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons) that make up the atoms of your body. Science says that Dark Matter exists because of the gravitational effects that it has on ordinary matter. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is encased in a sphere of Dark Matter. And so are all the other galaxies in the universe.
Even less is known about Dark Energy. Cosmologists describe the effects of Dark Energy as follows. If you have two volumes of space that are completely empty of matter, then these two volumes of empty space will repel each other, for reasons that are totally inexplicable at the present time. Essentially, these two volumes of space will exert a negative gravitational effect on each other. Science says that Dark Energy exists because there is no other way to explain the observational fact that the universe is continuing to accelerate in its expansion.
So at the present moment in time, science does not understand what makes up 96% of the universe! You cannot have truth with such a limited amount of understanding.
Having summarized the current scientific understanding of the very large (i.e. the cosmos), let’s now proceed to discuss the scientific understanding of the very small. Quantum mechanics is the field of science which deals with descriptions of the very small. It describes the behavior of electrons, protons, neutrons, and atoms. Scientists consider quantum mechanics to be the basis for the understanding of how very small bits of matter behave.
Quantum mechanics is based upon a famous equation called the Schroedinger wave equation. However, Schroedinger said that, had he known to what use his equation would be put (namely as the basis for quantum mechanics), he never would have published it! Similarly, Einstein never believed in quantum mechanics. His famous quote is that “God does not play dice”.
Why were Einstein and Schroedinger so adamantly opposed to quantum mechanics? Because it appears to strain scientific logic as we know it in all other aspects of science. The Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman said: “Anyone who isn’t disturbed by quantum mechanics doesn’t understand it.” Here are some examples that illustrate this conceptual difficulty.
In quantum mechanics, matter can behave either as a particle or as a wave, depending on the conditions of observation. This is called particle-wave duality. Let’s consider the electron. If you have electrons running down a metallic wire, they act like individual particles. This is the basis of electricity. However, if electrons pass through a finely-spaced grating, they act like waves, forming interference patterns. This is the basis of the electron microscopes that are used to greatly magnify objects. So which is it? In the most fundamental sense, are electrons particles or are they waves? What is their inherent nature? And why do they appear to behave differently based on the type of the observation that is made.
The Schroedinger equation is an equation based on the variable Y. Quantum mechanical solutions to the Schroedinger equation all occur as Y2, which is taken to be the probability that a particle will occupy a given region of space. So Y2 is a probability. But what is Y? Quantum mechanicists will tell you that Y is a “possibility wave”. But that’s not a very satisfying explanation, is it.
Then there is the famous cat-in-the-box thought experiment put forward by Schroedinger in order to challenge the logic of quantum mechanics. In the theory of quantum mechanics, all outcomes of a quantum mechanical system are possible until they collapse into only one outcome through the act of observation. The cat-in-the-box thought experiment simplifies this somewhat by considering only two possible outcomes: the cat is alive, or the cat is dead. Until you open the box and observe the cat, it is both alive and dead! That’s the logic of quantum mechanics.
Finally, consider quantum mechanical action-at-a-distance. Under certain conditions, two particles of light, two photons, can be emitted simultaneously from an atom, but traveling in opposite directions. Such photons are said to have quantum mechanical properties that are “entangled”. Quantum mechanics predicts that by measuring a particular quantity of one of these so-called “entangled” photons, its polarization state, then the polarization state of the second photon is also determined. Effectively, the two photons are linked together even though they are physically separated. And it doesn’t matter whether the two photons are separated by a fraction of an inch, one foot, 100 feet, 1 mile, 1000 miles, or 100,000 light years when you make your measurement on the first photon. The properties of the other photon are also instantaneously determined, even if the other photon may be across the galaxy! Einstein deridingly termed this “spooky action-at-a-distance”. The Irish physicist John Stewart Bell conceived of a way to experimentally measure photon entanglement and, when the measurement was made, this prediction of quantum mechanics was observed to occur. But how it occurs remains a complete mystery.
So is the full truth provided by our current level of scientific understanding? Not by a long shot. Not even close. At the present time, scientists do not really understand energy (matter is just a condensed form of energy), force, and the cosmos, both grand and tiny. That’s an awful lot of truth not to know.
What I have just endeavored to show is that the scientific method of observation and logic can elucidate elements of truth only within the framework of current scientific understanding. And today’s scientific truth may be tomorrow’s scientific falsehood. The logical scientific approach can take you up to a certain point, but to proceed further the only thing that you can rely on is your intuition about the truth. This may sound unscientific, but it is nonetheless true.
There are more things in heaven and earth, dear Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
The Spirit of Things:
All the people who lived on the Earth 150 years ago are now dead. Think about that. It puts things into a certain perspective, doesn’t it. Billions of people are now gone. Where did they go? Did they simply cease to exist after a paltry few years of life and consciousness? Or do they continue to exist in some way, in some place.
My belief, my own feeling, is that we are spiritual beings. This is the essence of what we are, our true reality. When the body physically dies, our essence, our spirit continues to exist. Death is not the end of things, it is a new beginning. Personally, I am looking forward to death because I think that it means being born (or perhaps born again) into a more expansive level of existence.
It seems ridiculous to me that a single lifetime is all there is. In a lifetime of say, eighty years, you are just beginning to learn something and then you die. How can such a situation be satisfactory? How can it be the truth? There must be an existence after death otherwise a single lifetime is completely pointless, an absurdity, a cosmic joke. I have a strange very early childhood memory. I am on a street in my old neighborhood and I am looking out from somewhere inside my head and thinking the thought “What am I doing here?” Isn’t that an odd memory for a little child? What does it mean? Does it mean that I have recently come into this life from somewhere else?
There is the question: Where do you go after you die? But there is also the question: Where were you before you were born? I was born in April 1946, so before July 1945 I had absolutely no physical existence at all. There was no physical me on Earth. So where was I before July 1945? Did I not exist at all, or did I exist in some spiritual state.
As a scientist, I must ask myself what evidence is out there for life after death and a spiritual level of existence. I will now put forward aspects that suggest that there is much more to us than just a body and a brain.
There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition.
Rod Serling introduction to “The Twilight Zone”
Romance of Many Dimensions:
We live in a three-dimensional world, with time as a fourth non-spatial dimension. That’s the observable fact of our physical existence here on Earth. But I think there may be other dimensions existing that are perhaps related to a spiritual realm. From our perspective here in the three-dimensional world, what might we understand about them?
There are a couple of interesting references in this regard. The first is a relatively old book, first published in 1884, by Edwin Abbott entitled “Flatland-A Romance of Many Dimensions” (1). In his book, Abbott described the lifestyle of two-dimensional people who inhabit the imaginary two-dimensional world of Flatland. Interestingly, Abbott was neither a scientist nor a mathematician, but rather a school headmaster whose field was the classics. He conjured up a whole two-dimensional society with their own quirks and rules of behavior. Women were straight lines. Soldiers and the lowest classes of workmen were triangles. Middle class Flatlanders were equilateral triangles. Professional men and gentlemen were squares or pentagons. Members of the nobility were hexagons, rising up to polygons. And finally, the priests were circles.
Somewhat oddly, Abbott seems to have had a certain level of disdain for members of the opposite sex, since he classed them in the lowest order of his two-dimensional hierarchy and also had the following comments:
If our highly pointed Triangles of the Soldier class are formidable, it may be readily inferred that far more formidable are our Women. For if a Soldier is a wedge, a Woman is a needle; being, so to speak, all point, at least at the two extremities. Add to this the power of making herself practically invisible at will, and you will perceive that a Female, in Flatland, is a creature by no means to be trifled with.
But here, perhaps, some of my younger Readers may ask how a woman in Flatland can make herself invisible. This ought, I think, be apparent without any explanation. However, a few words will make it clear to the most unreflecting.
Place a needle on a table. Then, with your eye on the level of the table, look at it side-ways, and you see the whole length of it; but look at it end-ways, and you see nothing but a point, it has become practically invisible. Just so is it with one of our Women.
……. The dangers to which we are exposed from our Women must now be manifest to the meanest capacity in Flatland. If even the angle of a respectable Triangle in the middle class is not without its dangers; if to run against a Working Man involves a gash; if collision with an officer of the military class necessitates a serious wound; if a mere touch from the vertex of a Private Soldier brings with it danger of death; --- what can it be to run against a Woman, except absolute and immediate destruction? And when a Woman is invisible, or visible only as a dim sub-lustrous point, how difficult must it be, even for the most cautious, always to avoid collision!
His opinions on women aside, Abbott indicated some of the physical constraints that would be encountered in a two-dimensional universe. For a person living in Flatland, the visual appearance of all objects (except Women end-on) would be as straight lines, even though they would actually be two dimensional plane figures such as triangles, squares, polygons, and circles. For example, a large circle would appear as a long line, while a small circle would appear as a short line. Two-dimensional objects that might be present inside of the outer objects would not visible to the Flatland observer. Thus, the “internal organs” of Flatland inhabitants could not be seen. Nor could the insides of the Flatland dwellings, which by the way were universally pentagonal in shape.
A line feature would present an absolute physical barrier to a Flatlander. He could only circumvent it by going around it peripherally. Gaining entrance to a pentagonal home in Flatland could only be had by passing through open line segments on the faces of the pentagon.
Given the above, one question you may ask is how a Flatlander would be able to distinguish between triangles, squares, polygons, and circles. The answer is that he would have to go round their periphery and note the number of vertex discontinuities, as well as the relative distances between vertex discontinuities. In the case of circles, there would be no vertex discontinuities around the periphery and this observation would automatically indicate that it was a circle. Line segments (the Flatland Women) would have only two discontinuities, one on each end of their line segment. Obviously, the identification of inhabitants would be a much more difficult process in Flatland as compared to the process in three-dimensions (Spaceland in Abbott’s terminology).
While Flatland is an amusing little book in terms of its two-dimensional social commentary, its concepts have been significantly extended to out-of-body and near-death experiences in an article published by Brumblay (2).
Brumblay considered what a two-dimensional being might experience if he were suddenly thrust into a three-dimensional environment. Basically, the Flatlander is elevated and floating above his two-dimensional landscape.
When this happens, many of the two-dimensional constraints will be immediately removed. The Flatlander will be able to see through his two-dimensional line barriers. He will have a 360 degree view of his two-dimensional environment, and will be able to see the shapes of the triangles, squares, polygons, and circles that he previously could only see in the form of line segments. He will also be able to see any features that may be present inside of these two-dimensional figures.
Now he can see through what to him were previously “walls”, and look inside Flatlander houses. He would be able to see the Flatlanders in their true forms, and also to see their “internal organs”. Naturally, this would be very disconcerting to him, since he would still possess his two-dimension way of thinking and discerning.
In moving from two-dimensions to three-dimensions, the extracted Flatlander would become invisible to the inhabitants of Flatland, because he now existed in the third-dimension, which is completely inaccessible to them.
The extracted Flatlander would also have the ability to predict the future experiences of his fellow Flatlanders to some degree. To see this, consider a Flatlander who is moving through a two-dimensional maze. The extracted Flatlander would be able to know in advance what future events the maze Flatlander would encounter based on the choices that were made while traversing the maze. He would know what the future event-options were for the maze traversal.
In his new three-dimensional environment, the extracted Flatlander would have freedom of movement in three dimensions, rather than just two. He could essentially traverse his previous line “walls” by simply hopping over them. He could translate and rotate his three-dimensional “astral body”. The extracted Flatlander would be aware of a three-dimensional environment that was totally foreign to him and his two-dimensional way of thinking. He would be forced to learn about and adapt to his new higher dimensional universe.
Given this background as to what could be expected in going from two- to three-dimensions, the next logical step is to extrapolate as to what might be expected in going from three- to four-dimensions.
In our three dimensional world, we know of left-right, up-down, and forward-backward. But we have no concept at all of the nature of a fourth spatial dimension, which I will, for lack of a better terminology, call “in-out”. What the dickens might “in-out” be? We haven’t the slightest idea until we can actually experience it. Abbott devoted a significant section of Flatland to attempts by a three-dimensional being to describe the third dimension to a two-dimensional being, with absolutely no success.
So what might a three-dimensional person who somehow finds himself in a four-dimensional “astral body” experience? Here are some speculations, based on the two- to three-dimensional scenario.
First, he would be completely invisible to three-dimensional observers. He would be able to see through walls and see the interior features of closed, three-dimensional objects - he could see the internal organs of his fellow three-dimensional humans. It is possible that he might have a completely spherical field of view, that is, he would be able to see in all of the spherical directions simultaneously. Time as we know it in the three-dimensional world might be different, perhaps even non-existent, in the four-dimensional world. It might be possible to view past, present, and future simultaneously. Just as with the two-dimensional being in three-dimensions, there would be a very significant dislocation in perception of the higher dimensional reality. Our fourth-dimensional voyager would be quite confused and apprehensive, until he obtained at least a little familiarity with his new surroundings. It would take him a while to modify his three-dimensional view of the four-dimensional world.
Some theoretical physicists today conceive of ten-dimensions as the reality of our universe. While a ten-dimensional universe can be formulated mathematically, visualizing and understanding such a place (places really) is essentially impossible within our three-dimensional perspective. Does this mean that such things cannot exist? Is it tantalizingly possible that such extra dimensions might be a potential home for a spiritual realm?
In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.
Dying to Know You:
I was first introduced to near-death experiences when I was on a business trip in 1977 and bought the book “Life After Life” by Raymond Moody to read during my airport terminal wait (3). I have always been something of an anxious flyer. Would the next flight be my last? Was my luck about to run out since I had flown so many flights already that had made it okay. I must admit that after reading this book, I started to feel somewhat better about flying (but still not totally relaxed).
I found the “Life After Life” book fascinating. It presented information that I had never known. A typical near-death experience was the following. A person felt as though “they”, their consciousness, had left their body. After doing so, they realized that they were observing the scene below, typically a hospital room, from a vantage point above, near the ceiling. They could see their body and the medical personnel who were attending to it. After some time of this observation, they then found themselves moving through a dark tunnel, with the feeling that they were moving at great speed. There was a bright, white light at the end of the tunnel. When they reached the light, which was dazzlingly brilliant, they experienced feelings of great peace and unconditional love. Some people saw religious figures, some saw dead relatives, some saw people they did not know but who definitely seemed to know them. Some people had a rapid life review. After a while, they were informed that this was not their time and they had to go back. They didn’t want to go back, but the process happened anyway and they found themselves again in their body. Most of the people who experienced these near-death experiences had no subsequent fear of death, and had a greater appreciation of life. They tended to be more spiritual, but not necessarily more religious.
I personally have never had such a near-death or out-of-body experience. I often wish that I had (but minus the trauma part). However, I have a professional colleague who did, when he had a heart attack. Let’s call him Don (not his real name). Before this experience, Don was quite a worldly and hard-nosed type of person. At a technical meeting, we had lunch and during that lunch when I asked him about his heart attack he spontaneously began to relate to me his near-death experience. I was somewhat taken aback, since this type of discussion was quite out of character for Don as I had known him up to that time.
Don said that his heart attack began and he was in great pain due to it and very fearful about the possibility of dying. He told me it felt like he left his body and was then transported to some other place, where he was given the choice to proceed further or to go back. Don told me that the choice to proceed further had great peace associated with it, while the choice to go back had much pain. But he chose to go back because he felt he couldn’t leave his wife yet. So he was sent back.
I was very surprised. I had never expected to hear a near-death experience related by someone as worldly as Don. Yet there it was. He was completely sincere and it was obvious that it had made a great impression upon him. Shortly after having this lunch with Don, he stopped attending technical meetings and dropped his consulting business. Perhaps he discovered what was really important.
Researchers are now starting to perform scientific studies on near-death experiences (4-7). These near-death experience (typically abbreviated NDE) studies show that about 18% of cardiac arrest patients report a near-death experience. Near-death patients had been clinically dead, as established by electrocardiogram records, until their revival.
Several theories on the origin of NDEs have been proposed. Some think the experience is caused by physiological changes in the brain, such as brain cells dying as a result of cerebral anoxia (lack of oxygen). Other theories propose a psychological reaction to approaching death, or a combination of such a reaction and anoxia.
The mental state of cardiac arrest survivors is a close approximation to that of a dying brain. This is because cardiac arrest patients have two out of the three criteria that are medically required to pronounce a person dead. These three criteria are: 1) no cardiac output (in other words, no heartbeat); 2) no spontaneous respiratory effort (meaning no breathing); 3) fixed dilated pupils (a result of loss of brainstem activity).
NDE memories are not similar to hallucinations since they are highly structured, narrative, easily recalled, and clear (hallucinations typically don’t have these characteristics). NDEs appear to occur during unconsciousness, which is surprising because when the brain is so dysfunctional that the person is deeply comatose, the cerebral structures that produce subjective experience and memory have to be severely impaired. Even if the unconscious brain is flooded by neurotransmitters, this should not produce clear, lucid remembering experiences, since the parts of the brain that generate conscious experience and memory are impaired by the brain’s loss of oxygen.
Immediately following a cardiac arrest, a person’s blood pressure drops to very low levels. Doctors use the electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure brain activity during procedures such as heart and brain surgery, and it has also been used during cardiac arrest situations. The EEG shows that during a cardiac arrest there is an initial slowing of the EEG waves, which then proceed to flat-line in about 10-20 seconds and remain flat during the cardiac arrest until the start of resuscitation. During cardiac arrest, blood flow to the brain is disrupted, leading to an absence of brain wave activity. As a result of these processes during a cardiac arrest, brain function and hence consciousness is lost.
The occurrence of lucid, well-structured thought processes together with reasoning, attention and memory recall of specific events during a cardiac arrest NDE raises many interesting and difficult questions as to how such experiences are possible. These experiences seem to be happening at a time when the brain’s functional state can be described as severely impaired at best, and at worst nonexistent.
Results of studies suggest that NDEs in cardiac arrest are not hallucinations, since they happen in a seemingly non-functioning brain, whereas hallucinations always occur in a functioning brain. In addition, cerebral localization studies have shown that thought processes are associated with a number of different cortical areas, rather than single areas of the brain. Because of this, a globally disordered brain would not be expected to produce lucid thoughts. NDEs in cardiac arrest are not jumbled thought processes and in fact suggest a heightened awareness, attention and consciousness at a time when consciousness and memory function would not be expected because of the lack of brain activity.
In the Lancet paper (4), the following account of a near-death, out-of-body experience is given. This account was reported by the coronary care unit nurse:
During a night shift an ambulance brings a 44 year old cyanotic, comatose man into the coronary care unit. He had been found about an hour before in a meadow by passers-by. After admission, he receives artificial respiration without intubation, while heart massage and defibrillation are also applied. When we want to intubate the patient, he turns out to have dentures in his mouth. I remove these upper dentures and put them onto the ‘crash cart’. Meanwhile, we continue extensive CPR. After about an hour and a half the patient has sufficient heart rhythm and blood pressure, but he is still ventilated and intubated, and he is still comatose. He is transferred to the intensive care unit to continue the necessary artificial respiration.
Only after more than a week do I meet again with the patient, who is by now back on the cardiac ward. I distribute his medication. The moment he sees me he says: ‘Oh, that nurse knows where my dentures are’. I am very surprised. Then he elucidates: ‘Yes, you were there when I was brought into hospital and you took my dentures out of my mouth and put them onto that cart, it had all these bottles on it and there was this sliding drawer underneath and there you put my teeth.’ I was especially amazed because I remembered this happening while the man was in deep coma and in the process of CPR. When I asked further, it appeared the man had seen himself lying in bed, that he had perceived from above how nurses and doctors had been busy with CPR. He was also able to describe correctly and in detail the small room in which he had been resuscitated as well as the appearance of those present like myself.
At the time that he observed the situation he had been very much afraid that we would stop CPR and that he would die. And it is true that we had been very negative about the patient’s prognosis due to his very poor medical condition when admitted. The patient tells me that he desperately and unsuccessfully tried to make it clear to us that he was still alive and that we should continue CPR. He is deeply impressed by his experience and says he is no longer afraid of death. Four weeks later he left the hospital as a healthy man.
How can we explain this account? How did the man come by the information that he related to the nurse? Remember, this is a well-documented, factual case that has been reported in a respected medical journal.
Near-death experiences have been extensively documented by Dr. Michael Sabom (8,9), a cardiologist, who was inspired to do this as a result of reading Moody’s “Life After Life” book in 1976. Sabom felt that Moody’s book was not very scientific in its analysis of NDEs, and he wanted to perform better scientific medical evaluations, and was in a position to do so.
Sabom described approximately 200 cases of near-death experiences. The most extensively medically documented one was that of “Pam Reynolds” (not her real name). Pam Reynolds had a giant basilar artery aneurysm, a ballooned section of a large artery at the base of her brain. If the aneurysm ruptured, the result would be immediate death. So she needed a major operation to fix the problem. And soon.
The operation she was having in 1991 when she had her near-death experience was a very radical one. The surgical team would lower her body temperature to 60 oF, stop her heart, and then drain the blood from her head so that the aneurysm could be safely removed. At the start of the aneurysm removal procedure, she would be quite clinically dead, with no heart beat and no brain waves.
Because this was such a major and radical type of procedure, Pam was extensively monitored during the surgery. She had a catheter placed to measure pulmonary pressures and blood flow from the heart. Cardiac monitoring leads were attached to follow heart rate and rhythm, and an oximeter was taped to her index finger to measure oxygen levels in her blood. Urinary temperature was measured by a thermister placed in her bladder and the core body temperature of her inner body was measured with a thermister placed deeply into her esophagus. Her brain temperature was monitored through a thin wire embedded in its surface. She had EEG electrodes taped to her head to record cerebral cortical brain activity, and her auditory nerve center located in the brain stem was tested periodically using 100-decibel clicks emitted from small speakers inserted into her ears. In summary, she was fully loaded with instrumentation and diagnostics for the surgery.
Pam was placed under general anesthesia by the anesthesiologist. The surgery then began with the surgeon, a Dr. Spetzler, cutting out a large section of Pam’s skull with a Midas Rex 73,000 rpm bone saw, which made a loud buzzing noise.
Here is Pam’s account of the start of her near-death experience (9):
The next thing I recall was the sound: It was a natural D. As I listened to the sound, I felt it was pulling me out of the top of my head. The further out of my body I got, the more clear the tone became. I had the impression it was like a road, a frequency that you go on …. I remember seeing several things in the operating room when I was looking down. It was the most aware that I think that I have ever been in my entire life…. I was metaphorically sitting on Dr. Spetzler’s shoulder. It was not like normal vision. It was brighter and more focused and clearer than normal vision …. There was so much in the operating room that I didn’t recognize, and so many people.
I thought the way they had my head shaved was very peculiar. I expected them to take all of the hair, but they did not ….
The saw thing that I hated the sound of looked like an electric toothbrush and it had a dent in it, a groove at the top where the saw appeared to go into the handle, but it didn’t …. And the saw had interchangeable blades, too, but these blades were in what looked like a socket wrench case …. I heard the saw crank up. I didn’t see them use it on my head, but I think I heard it being used on something. It was humming at a relatively high pitch and then all of a sudden it went Brrrrrrr! like that.
Someone said something about my veins and arteries being very small. I believe it was a female voice and that it was Dr. Murray, but I’m not sure. She was the cardiologist. I remember thinking that I should have told her about that….I remember the heart-lung machine. I didn’t like the respirator….I remember a lot of tools and instruments that I did not readily recognize.
At this point in the operation, Pam had been under general anesthesia for one and a half hours. The neurosurgeon located the aneurysm in Pam’s brain and found it to be extremely large and extended up into the brain. He decided that the radical hypothermic cardiac arrest approach would be required.
Using a cardiopulmonary bypass machine, Pam’s blood was pumped into a chilling reservoir and cooled, then returned to her body. Her core body temperature fell dramatically and, as a result of this, she went into cardiac arrest. Her brain waves flattened until there were none and her brain stem function declined. After 20 minutes of this blood cooling procedure, her core body temperature had fallen to 60 oF and she had achieved a total brain shutdown. Then the surgeons tilted Pam’s operating table up, turned off the cardiopulmonary machine, and drained the blood from Pam’s head “like oil from a car”.
Pam reported a further extensive NDE experience. However, the time period from Pam’s initial out-of-body observation of the surgeon’s bone saw device to the start of the hypothermic cardiac arrest procedure was about two hours. So it is not clear whether the remainder of Pam’s reported NDE occurred during this two hour lag time or during the time of her hypothermic cardiac and brain arrest. Here is the account of her further NDE:
There was a sensation like being pulled, but not against your will. I was going on my own accord because I wanted to go. I have different metaphors to try to explain this. It was like the Wizard of Oz – being taken up in a tornado vortex, only you’re not spinning around like you’ve got vertigo. You’re very focused and you have a place to go. The feeling was like going up in an elevator real fast. And there was a sensation, but it wasn’t a bodily, physical sensation. It was like a tunnel but it wasn’t a tunnel.
At some point very early in the tunnel vortex, I became aware of my grandmother calling me. But I didn’t hear her call me with my ears…..It was a clearer hearing than with my ears. I trust that sense more than I trust my own ears. The feeling was that she wanted me to come to her, so I continued with no fear down the shaft. It’s a dark shaft that I went through, and at the very end there was this very little pinpoint of light that kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
The light was incredibly bright, like sitting in the middle of a lightbulb. It was so bright that I put my hands in front of my face fully expecting to see them and I could not. But I knew they were there. Not from a sense of touch. Again, it’s terribly hard to explain, but I knew they were there…..
I noticed that as I began to discern different figures in the light – and they were all covered with light, they were light, and had light permeating all around them – they began to form shapes I could recognize and understand. I could see that one of them was my grandmother. I don’t know if it was reality or projection, but I would know my grandmother, the sound of her, anytime, anywhere.
Everyone I saw, looking back on it, fit perfectly into my understanding of what that person looked like at their best during their lives.
I recognized a lot of people. My uncle Gene was there. So was my great-great-Aunt Maggie, who was really a cousin. On Papa’s side of the family, my grandfather was there……They were specifically taking care of me, looking after me.
They would not permit me to go further…..It was communicated to me – that’s the best way I know how to say it, because they didn’t speak like I’m speaking – that if I went all the way into the light something would happen to me physically. They would be unable to put this me back into the body me, like I had gone too far and they couldn’t reconnect. So they wouldn’t let me go anywhere or do anything.
I wanted to go into the light, but I also wanted to come back. I had children to be reared. It was like watching a movie on fast-forward on your VCR: You get the general idea, but the individual freeze-frames are not slow enough to get detail.
Then they (the deceased relatives) were feeding me. They were not doing this through my mouth, like with food, but they were nourishing me with something. The only way I know how to put it is something sparkly. Sparkles is the image that I get. I definitely recall the sensation of being nurtured and being fed and being made strong. I know it sounds funny, because obviously it wasn’t a physical thing, but inside the experience I felt physically strong, ready for whatever.
My grandmother didn’t take me back through the tunnel, or even send me back or ask me to go. She just looked up at me. I expected to go with her, but it was communicated to me that she just didn’t think she would do that. My uncle said he would do it. He’s the one who took me back through the end of the tunnel. Everything was fine. I did want to go.
But then I got to the end of it and saw the thing, my body. I didn’t want to get into it …. It looked terrible, like a train wreck. It looked like what it was: dead. I believe it was covered. It scared me and I didn’t want to look at it.
It was communicated to me that it was like jumping into a swimming pool. No problem, just jump right into the swimming pool. I didn’t want to, but I guess I was late or something because he (the uncle) pushed me. I felt a definite repelling and at the same time a pulling from the body. The body was pulling and the tunnel was pushing…..It was like diving into a pool of ice water….It hurt!
With the blood drained out of her head, the aneurysm sac collapsed “like a deflated balloon”, and surgeon removed it. The cardiopulmonary bypass machine was then turned back on, and warmed blood began to be flow into Pam’s body. Her body started to warm up and the EEG showed evidence of electrical activity in her brain. With warming, her heart monitor began to register the disorganized electrical activity of ventricular fibrillation, which was brought into a normal heartbeat through defibrillation. After her body reached a temperature of 89.6 degrees, it was de-instrumented and her surgical wounds were closed.
The most compelling aspects of Pam Reynolds’ NDE are her out-of-body descriptions of the surgical procedures and equipment that were being employed at the time the surgeon was cutting into her skull to expose her brain. These descriptions are very difficult to explain from a scientific medical viewpoint, and are indicative that her conscious awareness no longer resided in her body.
The best introduction to Locale II is to suggest a room with a sign over the door saying, “Please Check All Physical Concepts Here”.
No Body Home:
Some people have reported that they are able to leave their bodies without the need for a near-death experience. This is the so-called out-of-body experience, or OBE for short. Let me describe two of the most interesting OBE cases.
In 1968, Charles Tart, then in the Psychology Department at the University of California-Davis, reported on the case of a “Miss Z” (10). Miss Z was a single woman in her twenties with two years of college education. Tart indicated that she had a warm personality and was highly intelligent.
Miss Z had had OBE experiences since she was a child. In fact, as a child she thought that they were not unusual and that everyone had them. These OBEs were almost always the same for her. She would wake up during the night and find “herself” floating up at the ceiling, where she could look down and see her physical body asleep in bed. The OBE would last for less than a minute, and then she would fall back into a sleep state again.
Tart conducted sleep experiments to monitor her brain wave EEG output and other aspects such as rapid eye movements and skin resistance. He was attempting to correlate such measurements with the occurrence of OBEs. The sleep experiments took place in one room and the monitoring was done in a room immediately adjacent. Connecting the two rooms was an observation window so that the sleeping patient could be observed. Miss Z slept in a bed just below this observation window. The electrical leads from all of the various monitoring devices were bound into a common cable arrangement that went from her head to a cable connection box at the head of the bed. There was enough slack in this cable for her to turn in bed, but she could not sit up more than about two feet without breaking the cable connections. So her movements other than a few in the bed itself were severely restricted. She could not leave the bed nor could she stand up on the bed without these movements being detected immediately.
Above the observation window and about five and one-half feet above her head as she lay in bed was a small shelf, and above that a clock. It was on this shelf that Tart placed a five-digit random number unseen by Miss Z. The objective of the experiment was for Miss Z to leave her body, float up to the ceiling, and from this vantage point observe and then recall this random number when she awoke. Tart would change to a different random number on each of the nights of his sleep experiments.
Experiments were conducted on Miss Z for four consecutive nights. The first night nothing happened, but this was expected since the first night of any sleep study is usually discounted because the subject must get used to a somewhat unfamiliar sleeping environment. Here are the salient features of what Tart reported on the next three nights (10):
A number of interesting incidents occurred during Miss Z's second night in the laboratory. As Miss Z went to sleep, she showed a drowsy pattern alternating with a waking pattern for approximately the first ten minutes. Then there was a minute of a drowsy EEG pattern consisting of occasional theta waves, some alphoid waves (alpha waves of one to one-and-a-half cycles per second slower than her usual waking alpha), and a good deal of flattening of the record, ending in thirteen seconds of waking alpha rhythm, nearly continuous, and then a large body movement. With this body movement, Miss Z called out that she was awake and that she had just had a sensation of starting to float up toward the ceiling immediately prior to her moving and calling out. The finger photoplethysmograph was being used on this night, and her heart rate during this time was a steady seventy-one beats per minute, not in the least unusual. Her BSR was steady throughout this time, no GSRs were seen at all, nor was there any body movement. Also, there were no REMs during this period.
Miss Z then went to sleep, quickly going into Stage 2 sleep, which lasted for about half an hour, and then a half hour of Stage 3 and Stage 4 sleep. This was followed by a short Stage 1 dream. Her Stage 1 dream period showed a classical Stage 1 pattern with REMs. This dream was followed by about an hour and a half of Stage 2 sleep, then twenty minutes of Stage 1 sleep, and then another period of unusual EEG. For approximately one minute Miss Z showed a pattern of alphoid waves mixed with poorly developed, low voltage sleep spindles. Then there was a two-minute period of alphoid waves superimposed on a generally low voltage pattern with no spindles and no clearly developed theta waves. This was followed by a minute of predominantly low voltage theta activity, with very poorly developed sleep spindles present, This terminated in a large movement and Miss Z awoke. There were no REMs during this four-minute period, heart rate was steady at seventy-four beats per minute, and BSR steady, with no GSRs. There were two small body movement artifacts during the terminal period of slowed alpha without spindles and one small body movement in the period of slowed alpha and poor spindling which began this unusual EEG sequence. The sequence occurred at approximately 3:15 A.M.
Upon awakening from this sequence, Miss Z called out, "Write down 3:13 A.M. I don't see the number, but I just remember that." Although she did not say anything more, the implication, confirmed by conversation later on that morning, was that she had floated somewhat above her body, high enough to see the clock, but not high enough to see the target number.
On her third night in the laboratory, Miss Z went to sleep quickly and showed an ordinary sleep pattern for the first half of the night, that is, Stages 2, 3, and 4 alternating with a couple of Stage 1 dream periods at approximately ninety-minute intervals, At 3:35 A.M. an unusual EEG pattern sequence started which will be described here. It began from Stage 3 sleep, which was clearly defined by frequent, well-developed sleep spindles and clear, high voltage delta activity. Then there was a minute of large body movements, followed by five minutes of alphoid activity with no spindles, some flattening of the record, and no REMs. Then there was another minute of massive body movements, followed by a half minute of rather poorly developed Stage 1 EEG, that is, a flattened low voltage slow pattern, but with the theta almost absent and no REMs. Again there was a half minute of body movements, and then five minutes of alphoid activity as before. There were several bursts of twenty-four cycle per second rhythmic activity in the frontal channel during this five-minute period, but it is not clear whether these were actually EEG patterns or some sort of external electrical artifact which happened to occur at this time. Then for two and a half minutes the alphoid activity was less prominent, there was some theta activity, but still no spindle activity. Then there were five minutes of record that could not be classified because body movements obscured almost all of it except for occasional slowed alpha. Then there was a minute in which the EEG record was clear and showed alphoid activity predominantly, but the strain gauge REM channel showed all sorts of artifact, such as one might get from tremors of the eyelids. This was followed by seven minutes of alphoid activity, with some flattening, and continual interference and possibly tremor on the strain gauge REM channel. Then, after some more body movement, there were three minutes of waking alpha rhythm with high amplitude REMs. The subject may very well have been awake during this brief period. Then followed a minute and a half of Stage 1 pattern with REMs (dreaming), although the theta was rather poorly developed. There were some occasional bursts of twenty-four cycles per second activity in both EEG channels again. This gave way to seventeen minutes of alphoid activity with no REMs and only a couple of small movements of the body scattered through this period. There were occasional GSRs during this long period of EEG disturbance. Then there were a couple of minutes of Stage 1 EEG pattern, with occasional REMs (dreaming), and Miss Z awoke. She reported on OOB experience. After her final awakening later in the morning, she wrote a full account of this experience, as follows:
“I seemed to be flying, although too high and seemingly fast to recognize where I was; neither did I have any sense of where I was going. The flying disturbed me as I knew I was supposed to stand up in the room and read the number above my head, Therefore, I would rouse or questionably awaken and realize that I was still lying on the bed. Every time I drifted off to sleep I would resume flying, however. This was not preceded by any other activity-that is, there seemed to be no intermediate experience between falling asleep on the cot and flying. Finally, the third or fourth time I flew I decided to relax and let the experience come to completion. Very shortly (that is, in far less time than was objectively possible - I would say less than two minutes) I realized I was on my way home; that somehow my sister was involved in the experience. Essentially simultaneously with this realization I found myself in my home in Southern California, in the living room. Seated in the rocker was my sister, dressed in her pajamas. She seemed upset, somewhat frightened; however, she recognized me immediately and did not seem particularly surprised to see me. We did not talk, but we seemed to communicate (i.e., I knew she had had a nightmare, she welcomed me, etc.). After standing with her (she had arisen when I appeared) for a brief period of time, we walked back to her bedroom where I observed her body asleep on the bed - she was lying on her right side and seemingly tranquil. The sister with whom I had been communicating observed that it was probably time for me to go and I agreed. Almost simultaneously with this understanding I began to rouse and to realize I was back in the lab.”
I was unable to contact the sister before Miss Z went home for a visit a few weeks later, so this experience cannot be considered as to possible parapsychological aspects. On this visit home, Miss Z discussed the incident with her sister, and reported that the latter vaguely recalled having a dream about Miss Z visiting her at about the proper time, but unfortunately no written records were made. As for the experience per se, this sort of OOB experience in which she seemed to travel a great distance was unusual for Miss Z. After reporting the experience described above, Miss Z went back to sleep, had a couple more Stage 1 dreams during the night, and was awakened by me at 6.50 A.M. so that she could get to work.
Miss Z went quickly to sleep, entering Stages 3 and 4 less than fifteen minutes after going to bed. The night was uneventful for the most part - there were several Stage 1 dream periods in the first two-thirds of the night, as would be expected for any normal subject. After four and a half hours of sleep, she had a Stage 1 dream period with REMs which lasted for half an hour. The EEG was technically rather poor on this night, being obscured with a great deal of sixty cycle artifact and requiring rather heavy high frequency filtering to make it clear, so the EEG findings should be taken with the realization that they are subject to more error than usual. Miss Z's Stage 1 dream terminated with several minutes of intermittent body movements and EEG artifact.
Then (at 5:50 A.M.) the occipital channel showed an enlarged, slow wave artifact, the REM channel showed no REMs, and the record looked like a Stage I tracing; however, I could not be sure due to the considerations mentioned above. At 5:57 A.M. the slow wave artifact was lessened and the record looked somewhat like Stage 1 with REMs, but I could not be sure whether this was a waking or a Stage I record. This lasted until 6:04 A.M., at which time Miss Z awoke and called out that the target number was 25132. This was correct (with the digits in correct order), but I did not say anything to her at this point; I merely indicated that I had written the number down on the record. I then told her she could go back to sleep, but twenty minutes later I awakened her so that she could get ready to go to work. At this time, she described her experience as follows:
“I woke up; it was stifling in the room. Awake for about five minutes. I kept waking up and drifting off, having floating feelings over and over. I needed to go higher because the number was lying down. Between 5:50 and 6:00 A.M. that did it. ... I wanted to go read the number in the next room, but I couldn't leave the room, open the door, or float through the door. . .. I couldn't turn off the air conditioner!”
It should be mentioned that Miss Z had expected me to prop the target number up against the wall on the shelf; actually, I had laid it flat on the shelf, which she correctly perceived. Also, I had put a second number on a shelf in the equipment room, but she reported she could not get into this room to see the number. -Neither could she turn off the air conditioner, and she complained - that although it had been stifling, it was too cold in the room by that time.
Since Miss Z's correctly calling a five-digit number (P = 10-5 [i.e., odds of 1 in 100,000]) was the first strong evidence that her OOB experiences contained a parapsychological element, I inspected the laboratory carefully the next day to see if there was any way in which this number could have been read by non-parapsychological means. As a first alternative to an explanation involving extrasensory perception, we decided that "sophisticated" cheating by Miss Z was not impossible. She might have concealed mirrors and reaching rods in her pajamas and used these during the period when the EEG was difficult to classify (due to movement artifacts) to read the number. While this is possible, I personally doubt that it occurred.
The second alternative is that she might have seen the number reflected in the surface of the case of the clock which was mounted on the wall above it. This was the only reflecting surface in the room placed in such a way that this might have been possible. Both Dr. Hastings and I spent some time in the dimly lit room to dark-adapt our eyes, and tried to read a number from the subject's position on the bed, as reflected on the surface of the clock. As the room was dimly lit and the surface of the clock was black plastic, we could not see anything of the number. However, when we shone a flashlight directly on the number (increasing its brightness by a factor somewhere between several hundred and several thousand) we could just make out what the number was in the much brighter reflection. Thus, although it seems unlikely, one could argue that the number constituted a "subliminal" stimulus in its reflection off the clock surface. Therefore, Miss Z's reading of the target number cannot be considered as providing conclusive evidence for a parapsychological effect.
Miss Z was an interesting subject for Charles Tart indeed! On her Night 4 session, she correctly identified the five-digit random number that Tart had set, against odds of 1 in 100,000. It is rather unfortunate that Tart was not able to completely discount the two possibilities, other than an actual OBE, by which Miss Z might have viewed the random number. On the other hand, both of these possibilities seem quite remote. Given this result, one has to wonder why Tart did not perform additional extensive experimentation with Miss Z, but apparently he did not.
The second interesting OBE case is that of Robert Monroe. A full description of Monroe’s OBEs is contained in his book “Journeys Out of the Body” (11). Monroe was 42 years old and president of a multi-million dollar company when his OBEs began spontaneously in 1958. Prior to that time, he had experienced no OBE phenomena at all. He had a business background and a scientific background as well. In other words, he was a no-nonsense guy, a solid citizen. Not the type that you would expect to be the first to document in logical, observational detail his experiences with OBEs. Here is Monroe’s account about how his OBEs began.
In the spring of 1958 I was living a reasonably normal life with a reasonably normal family. Because we appreciated nature and quiet, ours was a country environment. The only unorthodox activity was my experimentation with techniques of data learning during sleep - with myself as the chief subject. …. It was a Sunday afternoon and the family had gone to church. I lay down on the couch in the living room for a short nap while the house was quiet. I had just become prone (head to the north, if that had any meaning), when a beam or ray seemed to come out of the sky to the north at about a 30o angle from the horizon. It was like being struck by a warm light. Only this was daylight and no beam was visible, if there truly was one.
I thought it was sunlight at first, although this was impossible on the north side of the house. The effect when the beam struck my entire body was to cause it to shake violently or “vibrate”. I was utterly powerless to move. It was as if I were being held in a vise.
Shocked and frightened, I forced myself to move. It was like pushing against invisible bonds. As I slowly sat upright on the couch, the shaking and vibration slowly faded away and I was able to move freely.
I stood up and walked around. There had been no loss of consciousness that I was aware of, and the clock showed that only a few seconds had elapsed since I had stretched out on the couch. I had not closed my eyes, and had seen the room and heard outdoor noises during the entire episode. I looked out the window, especially to the north, although why and what I expected to see, I don’t know. Everything looked normal and serene. I went outside for a walk to puzzle over this strange thing that had happened.
Within the following six weeks, the same peculiar condition manifested itself nine times. It occurred at different periods and locales, and the only common factor was that it began just after I had lain down for rest or sleep. Whenever it took place, I fought myself to a sitting position, and the “shaking” faded away. Although my body “felt” the shaking, I could see no visible evidence that it was doing so.
My limited knowledge of medicine envisoned many possibilities as the cause. I thought of epilepsy, but I understood that epileptics had no memory or sensation in such seizures. Furthermore, I understood that epilepsy is hereditary and shows signs at an early age, and neither was evident in my case.
Second was the possibility of a brain disorder such as a tumor or growth. Again, the symptoms were not typical, but this could be it. With trepidation, I went to our longtime family physician, Dr. Richard Gordon, and explained the symptoms. As an internist and diagnostician, he should have had what answers there may have been. He also knew my medical history, such as it was.
After a thorough physical, Dr. Gordon suggested that I had been working too hard, that I get more sleep and take off a little weight. In short, he could find nothing wrong with me physically. He laughed at the possibility of a brain tumor or epilepsy. I took his word for it and returned home relieved.
If there was no physical basis for the phenomenon, I thought, it must be hallucinatory, a form of dreaming. Therefore, if the condition came again, I would observe it as objectively as possible. It obliged by “coming on” that very evening.
It began some two minutes after I lay down to sleep. This time, I was determined to stay with it and see what happened rather than fight my way out of it. As I lay there, the “feeling” surged into my head and swept over my entire body. It was not a shaking, but more of a “vibration”, steady and unvarying in frequency. It felt much like an electric shock running through the entire body without the pain involved. Also, the frequency seemed somewhat below the sixty-cycle pulsation, perhaps half that rate.
Frightened, I stayed with it, trying to remain calm. I could still see the room around me, but could hear little above the roaring sound caused by the vibrations. I wondered what would happen next.
Nothing happened. After some five minutes, the sensation slowly faded away and I got up feeling perfectly normal. My pulse rate was up, evidently due to the excitement, but no more. With this result, I lost much of my fear of the condition.
….. If I thought I faced incongruities at this point, it was because I did not know what was yet to come. Some four weeks later, when the “vibrations” came again, I was duly cautious about attempting to move an arm or leg. It was late at night, and I was lying in bed before sleep. My wife had fallen asleep beside me. There was a surge that seemed to be in my head, and quickly the condition spread through my body. It all seemed the same. As I lay there trying to decide how to analyze the thing in another way, I just happened to think how nice it would be to take a glider up and fly the next afternoon (my hobby at the time). Without considering any consequences – not knowing there would be any – I thought of the pleasure it would bring.
After a moment, I became aware of something pressing against my shoulder. Half-curious, I reached back and up to feel what it was. My hand encountered a smooth wall. I moved my hand along the wall the length of my arm and it continued smooth and unbroken.
My senses fully alert, I tried to see in the dim light. It was a wall, and I was lying against it with my shoulder. I immediately reasoned that I had gone to sleep and fallen out of bed. (I had never done so before, but all sorts of strange things were happening, and falling out of bed was quite possible).
Then I looked again. Something was wrong. This wall had no windows, no furniture against it, no doors. It was not a wall in my bedroom. Yet somehow it was familiar. Identification came instantly. It wasn’t a wall, it was the ceiling. I was floating against the ceiling, bouncing gently with any movement I made. I rolled in the air, startled, and looked down. There, in the dim light below me, was the bed. There were two figures lying in the bed. To the right was my wife. Beside her was someone else. Both seemed asleep.
This was a strange dream, I thought. I was curious. Whom would I dream to be in bed with my wife? I looked more closely, and the shock was intense. I was the someone on the bed!
My reaction was almost instantaneous. Here I was, there was my body. I was dying, this was death, and I wasn’t ready to die. Somehow, the vibrations were killing me. Desperately, like a diver, I swooped down to my body and dove in. I then felt the bed and the covers, and when I opened my eyes, I was looking at the room from the perspective of my bed.
So that’s the account of Robert Monroe’s first OBE and some of the events that led up to it. One thing that you will note about Monroe’s written account is the detailed, logical, observational nature of it, despite the truly unusual events that he is describing. His descriptions sound like those that a scientifically-trained person would make. This style tends to give a level of credence to what he is describing. Monroe states that he was in an astral body form, which he termed in his book a “Second Body” or “Second State”.
Monroe was very curious and sought to explore in detail his OBEs, to understand them as best he could. He adopted a gradual, experimental approach, as a scientist might (remember, Monroe had some level of scientific background in his education), building more understanding for himself with each additional OBE that he experienced. Monroe described experiencing three different “Locales” during his OBEs.
Locale I consisted of people and places that exist in our physical world. Monroe could travel out-of-body to different physical locations and observe the activities going on in these locations. However, Locale II was completely different and Monroe described it as follows:
The best introduction to Locale II is to suggest a room with a sign over the door saying, “Please Check All Physical Concepts Here”.
….. Postulate: Locale II is a non-material environment with laws of motion and matter only remotely related to the physical world. It is an immensity whose bounds are unknown (to this experimenter), and has depth and dimension incomprehensible to the finite, conscious mind. In this vastness lie all of the aspects we attribute to heaven and hell, which are but a part of Locale II. It is inhabited, if that is the word, by entities with various degrees of intelligence with whom communication is possible.
…. Time, by the standards of the physical world, is non-existent. There is a sequence of events, a past and a future, but no cyclical separation. Both continue to exist coterminously with “now”.
….. Laws of conservation of energy, force field theories, wave mechanics, gravity, matter structure – all remain to be proved by those more versed in such fields.
Superseding all appears to be one prime law. Locale II is a state of being where that which we label thought is the wellspring of existence. It is the vital creative force that produces energy, assembles “matter” into form, and provides channels of perception and communication. I suspect that the very self or soul in Locale II is no more than an organized vortex or warp in this fundamental. As you think, so you are.
The third locale that Monroe described is Locale III. Here’s what he said about his experimental visits to a location in Locale III.
Locale III, in summary, proved to be a physical-matter world almost identical to our own. The natural environment is the same. There are trees, houses, cities, people, artifacts, and all the appurtenances of a reasonably civilized society. There are homes, families, businesses, and people work for a living. There are roads on which vehicles travel. There are railroads and trains.
Now for the “almost”. At first, the thought was that Locale III was no more than some part of our world unknown to me and those others concerned. It had all the appearances of being so. However, more careful study showed that it can be neither the present nor the past of our physical-matter world.
The scientific development is inconsistent. There are no electrical devices whatsoever. Electricity, electromagnetics, and anything so related are non-existent. No electric lights, telephones, radios, television, or electric power.
Habits and customs are not like ours. What little has been gleaned implies a historical background with different events, names, places, and dates. Yet, while the stage of man’s evolution (the conscious mind translates the inhabitants as men) seems to be identical, technical and social evolution are not completely the same.
I have only very briefly indicated what Monroe had to say about Locales I, II, and III. If you are interested in the further extensive details of his descriptions, you will find them in his book. It is difficult for me to believe that Monroe’s OBE accounts were pure fiction concocted for the purpose of writing and selling a book about them. This would be totally inconsistent with his background, social, and financial status. What could he possibly have to gain by the publication of his OBE experiences, other than the satisfaction of communicating to other people something that he sincerely believed and considered quite important.
It should be mentioned that Charles Tart also had Robert Monroe as an OBE subject (12). Tart conducted nine sleep sessions with Monroe using the same experimental monitoring techniques that he employed with Miss Z, and with the same ultimate objective of correctly identifying a five-digit random number seen during an OBE. Unfortunately, although Monroe said that he had two OBE experiences during Tart’s monitoring, in neither of them was he able to see or report the random five-digit number. However, in one of his OBEs, Monroe reported the presence of Tart’s technician who was with her husband in the adjacent experimental monitoring room during this sleep episode. Monroe correctly identified both she and her husband. The presence of her husband was surprising to Tart (who was not there himself at the time), since Tart had established a policy of not allowing outsiders to observe his sleeping subjects. The technician said that, against Tart’s policy, her husband came to keep her company during the late night hours. Tart was not aware of this fact, but Monroe observed it during his OBE. With regard to Monroe’s EEG patterns, Tart described them as “very atypical”, with high intensity theta waves during periods of non-REM sleep. While it was not conclusively established, Tart believed that Monroe’s stated OBEs were occurring during his non-REM sleep segments.
I have never had an out-of-body experience. The closest I may have come to one is when I first started to practice transcendental meditation many years ago. On one occasion, I achieved a very deep meditative state, where I felt strangely disconnected from my body. In fact, my impression during this meditative state was that I could not really feel my body at all. At this time, I suddenly had a distinct feeling that I was falling down a dark tunnel. It scared the heck out of me, and I immediately mentally struggled to fight against this falling sensation. My struggle succeeded and the falling sensation stopped. I’ve wondered ever since that time what would have happened if I had just let the falling sensation continue. Would I have left my body? If I had to repeat this incident again, I would definitely have let it happen. From my current vantage point, I wish that I had done so, because I have never had a repeat of this experience during my many meditative sessions since that one time. Perhaps my initial rejection of it created some sort of mental blockage of the phenomenon. If it ever manifests itself again, I will be ready.
I have been born more times than anybody except Krishna.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens
Been There Done That:
Have we lived before? Will we have another life to live when we die in this one? These are age-old questions, to which religious views give mixed answers. Hinduism definitely ascribes to reincarnation. You continue to reincarnate until you have removed all your negative karma. After that, you transition to a spiritual existence. However, the Religions of the Book - Judaism, Christianity, Islam - say no, there is no reincarnation. They tell you that you only have one life to live here on Earth and this is it. Thereafter, you go to Heaven (or Hell), depending on how you lived your one life.
So religious teachings do little to resolve the reincarnation question one way or the other. Is there anything more quantitative that exists concerning reincarnation? Are there some facts regarding reincarnation out there?
The more quantitative studies that have been conducted on reincarnation can be placed into two groups. The first is that of hypnotic regression in which people relate information about past lives that they have experienced, while they are in a hypnotic state. The second group comprises detailed case studies of living people who have conscious memories of past lives. Let’s discuss the hypnotic regression reincarnation studies first.
Hypnosis has been around as a practice since the 19th century. Today, it is an established medical procedure for dealing with psychiatric, pain, and habit disorders. Yet, the scientific and medical communities have very little real understanding of the nature of the hypnotic state. I once asked a medical student at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to explain to me what the nature of the hypnotic state was, and he was at a loss to do so.
Hypnosis appears to be a state of altered consciousness. Based on brain wave measurements, it is certainly not a state of sleep. Under hypnosis, people can remember things that they cannot recall in their conscious state. They can remember very specific details of events they have experienced, even many years after the fact. This aspect is sometimes used in the investigative work of criminal cases. While hypnotized, people can be made to perform physical feats that they would normally find quite difficult or impossible to do in their conscious state, such as holding out their arms motionless for extended periods of time or immersing a hand in ice water for a long time. People can also be given post-hypnotic suggestions by the hypnotist, which they then proceed to follow once they are out of the hypnotic state.
A study of the functional neuroanatomy of hypnosis has yielded some interesting observations (13). In this study, brain function during the hypnotic state was monitored by determining the distribution of regional cerebral blood flow, which was taken as an index of local neuronal activity. Positron-emission tomography (PET) scans were employed for this.
The PET results indicated that during the hypnotic state there was a great deal of activity in the occipital, parietal, precentral, prefrontal, and cingulated cortices of the brain. They showed that the hypnotic state exhibits cerebral processes that are different from those of simple memory, and suggested that this state was related to the activation of sensory and motor areas of the brain, but without any actual external sensory inputs or movement responses. Brain activation during the hypnotic state occurred to a greater extent in the left side of the brain than in the right side.
During the hypnotic state, monitored EEG recordings did not show any sign of sleep (e.g. spindles, K complexes). Instead, the waking alpha rhythm was fragmented and replaced by periods of slower theta rhythms. Oculograms showed the occurrence of slow, roving eye movements.
The researchers concluded that the hypnotic state was not one of sleep, nor was it related to schizophrenic hallucinations. They stated that it was a particular cerebral waking state where the subject, while seemingly in a sleepy mode, experiences a vivid, coherent, memory-based mental imagery that pervades the person’s consciousness.
The ability to enter the hypnotic state varies from person to person. Some people can be hypnotized very easily, but some cannot be hypnotized at all. The reasons for this disparity are as unknown as the nature of the hypnotic state itself. Some hypnotists say that those who have practiced meditation over extended periods of time or those who can focus their minds on specific tasks are the types of people who can be hypnotized relatively easily.
The most famous case of hypnotic past-life regression is that of Bridey Murphy (14). In 1952 the hypnotherapist Morey Bernstein first regressed Ruth Simmons, who described under hypnosis a previous life as Bridey Murphy. Here’s how the first hypnotic session went. Morey Bernstein leads Ruth Simmons back:
Rest and relax. Now I will not ask you any more questions for a while. But I want you to think about what I am saying. I want you to think about the things I am saying. You are going back…back…, ‘way back into time and space. Now, for instance, you are going to be six years old. Think about the time you were six years old. Think about the time when you were six years old. And now slip on farther back to when you were five years old. Think about that. See yourself. See some scene. See some scene in which you were five years old. You don’t have to tell me about it, just think about it, and see it in your mind. Now go on back farther, four years old. See yourself, see something that took place when you were four years old. Now go back farther, still farther. Three years old, see yourself when you were three years old. And now back still farther. Two years old, two years old, two years old. And now still farther back. One year old, one year old. See yourself when you were one year old. See some scene. Watch yourself. Be looking at yourself when you were one year old. Now go even farther back. Oddly enough, you can go even farther back.
I want you to keep on going back and back and back in your mind. And, surprising as it may seem, strange as it may seem, you will find that there are other scenes in your memory. There are other scenes from faraway lands and distant places in your memory. I will talk to you again. I will talk to you again in a little while. I will talk to you again in a little while. Meanwhile your mind will be going back, back, back, and back until it picks up a scene, until, oddly enough, you find yourself in some other scene, in some other place, in some other time, and when I talk to you again you will tell me about it. You will be able to talk to me about it and answer my questions. And now just rest and relax while these scenes come into your mind…..
Now you’re going to tell me, now you’re going to tell me what scenes came into your mind. What did you see? What did you see?
Ruth Simmons now speaks under hypnosis:
RS:….Uh….scratched the paint off all my bed. Jus’ painted it, ‘n’ made it pretty. It was a metal bed, and I scratched the paint off of it. Dug my nails on every post and just ruined it. Was jus’ terrible.
MB: Why did you do that?
RS: Don’t know. I was just mad. Got an awful spanking.
MB: What is your name.
MB: Your name is what?
RS: Friday. (note that it sounded like Friday to Morey Bernstein)
MB: Don’t you have any other name?
RS: Uh….Friday Murphy.
MB: And where do you live?
RS: …I live in Cork….Cork.
MB: Is that where you live?
MB: And what is the name of your mother?
MB: And what is the name of your father?
MB: How old are you?
RS: Uh…four…four years old.
MB: All right. Now see if you can see yourself a little older. See if you can see yourself when you’re five, or six, or seven, or see yourself when you’re an older girl. Are you a girl or are you a boy?
RS: A girl
MB: What is the name of the country in which you live?
RS: It’s Ireland.
MB: Now that you are eight years old, do you know what year it is?
MB: You don’t know what year it is?
RS: Eighteen something. Eighteen-oh….1806.
MB: Eighteen hundred and six?
So began the famous account of Ruth Simmons under hypnosis about her previous life as Bridey (not the “Friday” of the four year old child) Murphy in Ireland, from her birth in the year 1798 to her death in the year 1864 at the age of 66.
The unfortunate thing about the Bridey Murphy case is that the hypnotist, Morey Bernstein, was unable to subsequently substantiate any key historical details that Ruth Simmons described about her childhood in Cork, her marriage and adult life in Belfast (Bridey Murphy said that she had had no children), or her death. So all that there is in this case is the detailed and vivid account given by Ruth Simmons of her previous life as Bridey Murphy while under a state of hypnosis.
After the Bridey Murphy case, hypnotherapists began to conduct large numbers of past-life regression cases. Helen Wambach documented more than a thousand of such regressions (15). Here is her description of her best regression subject.
My best hypnotic subject was Robert Logg, a San Francisco businessman. He had learned self-hypnosis in his early twenties while in a Veteran’s Administration hospital, where he was diagnosed as dying of tuberculosis. He had found that using self-hypnosis to relax himself began to reverse his lung condition, and he gradually improved, to the point where he was discharged from the hospital as cured. (This is a remarkable example of how self-hypnosis can be used to develop contact with the subconscious levels of personality. Bob had brought himself from the very edge of death back into this lifetime). He continued to use self-hypnosis through his college career, and the skills he developed served him in good stead for many years. It is perhaps through his experience with self-hypnosis that he began to realize he was having “psychic” flashes, which led him to study parapsychology, although he shied away from the more dramatic, “show business” aspects of psychic explorations. He came to a lecture of mine and felt strongly that he was to work with me in exploring the hypothesis of reincarnation.
The first time I hypnotized Bob, I realized that I had a very unusual subject, one of the very small percentage who could speak easily and well while in the hypnotized state. He seemed able to hold his consciousness at two levels, getting impressions from the deeper layers of the personality but able to relate them easily through the conscious mind. In our many hypnotic sessions, Bob has shown the ability to write hieroglyphics while in the hypnotized state and to speak foreign languages. We are still evaluating this material.
With Bob, I explored fourteen past lives. The dates of these lives are somewhat confused, because Bob often found the numbering system in our human concept of time difficult to deal with when he was in an altered state. He occasionally gave overlapping dates, but in general the time period was precise enough to allow checking of some data.
His most impressive and powerful past life was in Egypt, around 2000 BC. He said his position was that of a high priest, but he himself did not feel religious. His primary job was to expand trade routes, and to arrange terms with neighboring tribes and bring about a peaceful exchange of goods and services to replace the warfare that had gone on prior to his rise to power. I asked Bob to give details about the non-Egyptian peoples he dealt with around 2000 BC.
One tribe, which he called the Kawakanish, he described as “a rather aggressive Semitic, light-skinned people living in the region to our northeast, who specialize in livestock raising and the production of rye and popa.”
“What land lies to the east behind this tribe?” I asked him.
“The lands are controlled by the invaders from the far continent. They adorn themselves and are rather artistic in the use of winged bull-like creatures. I believe the name is Assyrian for this highly developed civilization. Our Phoenician allies are constantly in fear and confusion from these land-based aggressors.”
“Are there any slant-eyed people in your country?”
“There are slaves who were brought to our kingdom in an earlier conflict. We have slant-eyed yellow-skinned individuals who are considered poor in their work attitude. We call them the Skitchnia.”
I asked Bob if he knew of any different races in his area.
“The peoples who brought the knowledge are long-headed people. They have elongated ear lobes and rather strange noses. There are very few of them left, and they are mostly a matter of legend. But there are a few still in the population. They are the long-headed people of the olden times.”
Bob gave many details about his life in that time period, and we are continuing to check whatever data can be checked from four thousand years ago. Thus far, Bob’s information about clothing and artifacts has proved accurate.
The second of Bob’s fifteen lives was lived around 1300 BC and was in startling contrast to his life as a high priest, for in this lifetime he was a driver of a cart that brought grain to some central storehouse in Egypt. He lived in a small adobe house with a young wife and seemed to have little interest in the world around him, though he was aware of a new group of slaves, who had just been brought to the central granary. His major emotional impression in this life was his terrible sorrow at the death of his young wife; he reported that she had been bringing meat back to their dwelling when she was set upon by a pack of dogs and killed. He lived out the rest of his life in loneliness.
In these two early lives Bob had been male. In his next life, around 400 BC, he was again in Egypt, but this time he was a woman of a merchant or trading caste, and was involved in intrigue centering around the throne. As a woman, he married someone of higher station – though not the Pharaoh or one of his direct relatives – and schemed to siphon off wealth from the royal household to the family he had belonged to before he married. The woman he was in this lifetime was cold and materialistic, becoming enraged when her husband died without leaving her any power or influence at the court. But, she reported, “My family now has influence, because they now have money. I’m tired of this struggle, it was all for nothing. The battle has been lost – lost – lost; the struggle is lost.”
When I asked her how her husband had died, she responded, “A very ignoble death, of a common malady, and I shall take the noblest means to follow.”
I asked Bob to see this body after death, and he said, “My body is treated as it should, with due respect to my status, and it is properly processed and placed with my chosen one. We are in an antechamber to the east of the main chamber in the cave of Kurakama.”
The fourth life that Bob reported – as a male again, but this time in western Lebanon – was a very happy one for him. He had a wife whom he felt warmly toward and five children (he was particularly attached to one son who had a physical disability). His job was making cheeses from goat’s milk and distributing them on the trade routes that ran through his small village. He was also very interested in the Jewish religion and said that his village had no rabbi, but that his father, whom he deeply respected, served as a kind of common-law rabbi and counseled the others in the village. In this lifetime, Bob conducted himself with great dignity and spoke in a thoughtful and solemn manner. He apparently enjoyed the position of prosperous tradesman in the village, and he was very attached to the land, which he described as remarkably beautiful, with trees and rolling hills. In this lifetime he died when a very old man, surrounded by his family and full of feelings of satisfaction about a life well lived.
Although he was again a male in his fifth life, everything else was very different. The time was around 100 AD, and Bob found himself in Greece, orphaned at an early age and the ward of a powerful Roman governor of Greece. His relationship to the older man was sexual in nature. Bob described this life as sensual and pleasurable, but he had no feelings of accomplishment. He died of a disease when fairly young.
There is a long stretch of time from around 100 AD to 1300 AD that Bob and I have not yet explored, since he has not gone spontaneously to lifetimes in this time period. The next life he reported was as a woman in 1300 AD, living a very primitive life in a village in Central America. The family village was small, and apparently there was no one to marry because intermarriage among the villagers was forbidden. So it was with considerable pleasure that the woman of this lifetime reported a raid from a neighboring tribe when she was sixteen, in which she was captured and married to one of the invaders. There was much enjoyment reflected in this account; being a captive apparently was much better than staying in the isolated family village. By age twenty-five in that lifetime, this woman already had several children and was contentedly living in a village on a river. She described thatched huts that sat on stilts over the water, and said that her favorite occupation was weaving bamboolike shoots. But when she was twenty-eight, an epidemic broke out in the village, and she died of a fever. Everyone else was also ill, and apparently the entire village was wiped out in this epidemic.
In Bob’s seventh life he was again a woman, this time in Portugal in 1450 AD. The woman of this lifetime lived in modest circumstances and had a peaceful though rather short life. She described vividly the town square of the city she lived in. She too died of illness, but was unable to tell what the illness was. Apparently, she was in a coma when she died, because she found the time of departure from the physical body difficult to pinpoint.
After two lives as a female, Bob was a male in his eighth life, in the 1500’s. This time he returned to a higher status, being an Italian nobleman in a village just south of Naples. But it was a cold and unsatisfying life. He seemed to have little with which to occupy himself, and he felt “turned off” by the other noblemen around him. He had no power himself, and bitterly resented it when a neighboring duke levied taxes on him.
“They’re all talking about the latest tax levy,” he said, “something to do with a war levy. It is either gold or personnel to fight. I personally prefer to send two men, rather than to deplete my monetary resources. This duke is preparing to battle the next kingdom, and I am completely annoyed and fed up with constant levies and useless conflicts.” In this lifetime, he married for political reasons, and his relationship with his wife was unhappy. He died of old age, surrounded by his family, but feeling little warmth for anyone about his bedside.
In his ninth life, from 1590 to 1618, he was again a female. In this life, he lived in Wales. It was an unusual life in that the Welsh girl who he was had a romance with a Spanish seaman, who had apparently been shipwrecked near the shore where she lived, and became pregnant. The seaman disappeared and the girl suffered great shame for carrying an illegitimate child. She died in childbirth, full of bitterness and fear, sure that she would be condemned to hell for her sin. When I took Bob to the between-life experience after death as the Welsh girl, he explored the purpose of that lifetime and became aware that the Spanish sailor in the Welsh lifetime had also been the wife of the Egyptian cart driver in the earlier life.
In Bob’s next lifetime, the tenth, he was once more a male, this time a French peasant who tended fields of millet and whose only possession was a wooden spoon that he treasured deeply. After Bob came out of hypnosis, he was amused at his deep pride in his wooden spoon and remarked, “When I think of all the worldly goods I have now, I think that that French peasant valued his spoon more than I value all the furnishings in my home.”
In his eleventh lifetime, Bob was a prosperous English businessman who dealt in woolens, a successful merchant able to afford a home in a London square. He managed his business until he was around sixty-five and then turned it over to his son. His marriage was happy and he felt close to his wife and children. He seemed to enjoy his work, which took him to Scotland and France, both the buying of wool from peasants and distributing the woolen goods of his company. Since the span of this lifetime was from 1715 to 1790, I asked him if he was aware of the war with the Colonies. He responded angrily, “The colonies! Their cotton is hurting our wool business!”
Life number twelve was a shift in race again. Bob was a male in a lifetime from 1810 to 1870, he was supervising machinery in a cotton mill. Again he was involved with fabrics, but now the material was cotton, and his job was to work with new machinery imported from England. The English woolen merchant succeeded by the Egyptian cotton-gin engineer represented an interesting transition. In this lifetime in Egypt, he had only one son, and his wife died young. He focused most of his attention on his work, and died of a heart attack at the age of sixty.
In Bob’s thirteenth lifetime, he was a male again, born within four months of his death as an Egyptian engineer. This time he was an urchin who hung around the docks of London, England, evidently living by his wits, although in his earlier years he had been cared for by an old woman. When he was around eleven years old, the captain of an English ship called the Dolphin took him on board as a cabin boy. He developed a father-son relationship with this captain as they sailed around the world. Especially noteworthy in this lifetime was a stop the ship made in a South Sea island near New Zealand, where Bob, as a young cabin boy, became close to a native chieftain. Apparently, the captain of the Dolphin was very much interested in the myths and legends of the island natives, and the captain, the native chief, and the cabin boy spent several months together on the island. Interesting stories about the myths of these peoples came out of this recall, but of course there is no way to check their accuracy. All we were able to find out was that there was an English ship called the Dolphin under British registry in that time period.
Bob’s fourteenth life was as a female who was born in 1900 and died in 1902 in Baltimore, Maryland. This was a death in early childhood, so after Bob experienced the death, which was again nontraumatic, as deaths in infancy seem to be in my samples, I asked him why he had died so young.
“I seemed to know after I’d been born that I’d chosen the wrong parents,” he replied. “Apparently, I knew this wouldn’t work out well, so I just left.”
Bob’s fifteenth life is as a male born in California in 1930. In this present lifetime he has utilized the skills of the merchant, the fabric dealer, and now, in his later years, some of the insights he felt he acquired in ancient Egypt.
Other than the interplay of vocational interests, it is hard to see a clear karmic pattern emerging from this panorama of fourteen past lives. Bob lived nine lives as a male and five as a female. He seemed to enjoy the male lives more than the female lives, but again there is a stretch of eight hundred years in which we have no past-life recall. He seemed to resist becoming aware of females lives, so it is possible he did not recall lives in this period because they were female. If so, a balance closer to fifty-fifty would have been achieved. Racially, he was Egyptian, Central American Indian, and Caucasian. He reported no lives in Asia.
We were able to check some of the material Bob gave us about the lifetimes in ancient Egypt. The hieroglyphics he drew while in the hypnotic state were analyzed by an Egyptologist, who reported that 80 percent of them were used in ancient Egyptian scripts, but the style of writing was that of someone who was drawing a picture he had seen rather than writing the way a scribe would have written. The Egyptian Bob spoke was more difficult to analyze. The Egyptologist said that 50 percent of the syllables were apparently used in Egyptian speech, but obviously we have no tape recordings of ancient Egyptian language, so this is only an estimate.
Some of the material on Bob’s life as an English woolen merchant did check out, but in most of his other lifetimes, all that could be researched was the general appropriateness of his dress, living conditions, and climate in the places where he reported he had lived.
I could find no instances of errors or anachronisms in these fourteen lives. Bob is a well-educated subject who reads widely and is knowledgeable about history. He had no way of knowing Egyptian hieroglyphics except through having seen them in books. The results of our research were positive, but I felt that they were still not sufficient to prove that Bob had actually lived these lives.
There we have the account of one Robert Logg, who related fourteen past lives to the hypnotherapist Helen Wambach. It would seem that there are three possible explanations for this account. The first is that Logg made up these past lifetimes in his own subconscious mind while under hypnosis. The second is that Logg might somehow have been able under hypnosis to tap into the life memories of fourteen other individuals who had actually lived in the past. The third possible explanation is that Logg was, while in the hypnotic state, relating past lives that he himself (or herself) had lived in the past.
Since Helen Wambach had a large sample of past-life events (1088), she did an analysis of her information. Very interestingly, she found that, in her sample, 50.9% of the past-lives were lived as male and 49.1% as female. Thus, the past-life experiences matched the current male/female population ratio. She also analyzed the number of past lives that were reported in various different time periods. She found that the number of past lives reported by her subjects doubled from 400 AD to 1600 AD, and then doubled again from 1600 AD to 1850 AD. Such an observation would be consistent with increases in the world population during these time periods. Essentially, the frequency of past-life episodes for a given individual was increasing with time (i.e. the time interval between a past-life and the next past-life was decreasing with time). Wambach found that her subjects reported upper class past-lives 5% of the time, middle class past-lives 30% of the time, and lower class past lives 65% of the time. This observation is consistent with the relative numbers of social class strata. In terms of race, nearly all of Wambach’s subjects were white, middle-class Californians. However, their reported past-life experiences were essentially multi-racial, split approximately as 33% Caucasian, 33% Asian and Indian, and 33% Black and Near Eastern.
Wambach also asked her subjects to describe the death experience. An average of 49% experienced feelings of deep calm and peace and accepted their death with no difficulty. Another 30% felt very positive feelings of joy and release. An average of 20% reported seeing their bodies after their death, and floating above the body while watching the activity around it. They stated how pleasant it was to die, and what a sense of release they had after they left their bodies. Said one subject: “Dying was like being released, like going home again. It was as though a great burden had been lifted when I left my body and floated up toward the light. I felt affection for the body I had lived in that lifetime, but it was so good to be free!”
This brings us to the second general class of information about reincarnation. This class involves detailed investigations of people who claim to be reincarnated, and who have memories of previous lives, usually just the last previous life, in their conscious memories. The foremost authority on this class of information is Ian Stevenson, who performed detailed investigations on over six hundred cases of claimed reincarnation. Stevenson’s book “Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation” is a classic in the field (16). Stevenson personally collected extremely detailed, first-hand, eyewitness information from the principals involved in his reincarnation cases. The twenty cases in his book are representative of the hundreds of cases of reincarnation that he studied. I will describe only one of Stevenson’s cases, the case of Swarnlata in India.
Swarnlata Mishra was born in Shahpur, District Tikamgarh, Madhya Pradesh on March 2, 1948, and lived in the town of Panna. At an age of three and one-half years, she began talking to the other children in her family about details of a previous life in a town called Katni, which was about 100 miles from Panna. She said that she had been a member of a family there named Pathak. Swarnlata revealed fragments of her apparent memories, mostly to her brothers and sisters, but also to some extent to her parents.
In 1958, Swarnlata, whose family had by this time moved to Chhatarpur, met the wife of Professor R. Agnihotri, who came from the area of Katni and whom Swarnlata claimed to recognize from having known her during her previous life in Katni. This convinced her father that she might actually be relating information about a previous life, and he started to write down some of Swarnata’s statements.
In March 1959, a Mr. Banerjee spent two days investigating Swarnlata’s case with the Mishra family. He then went to Katni, where he met the Pathak family, the family Swarnlata claimed to have been a member of in her previous life. Before going to Katni, Banerjee had noted nine statements Swarnlata made about the Pathak residence and he confirmed these upon arriving there. Before Banerjee went to Katni, the Mishra family did not know which Pathak family it was that Swarnlata had been speaking about (there were a number of families named Pathak in Katni). Banerjee said he was guided by Swarnlata’s descriptions into finding the right Pathak house. He found that the statements made by Swarnlata corresponded closely with the life of Biya, daughter of one particular Pathak family in Katni. Biya was also the deceased wife of Sri Chintamini Pandey, living in the town of Maihar. Biya had died in 1939.
Prior to this, the Mishra and Pathak families had never met or had any form of contact with each other. In the Summer of 1959, members of the Pathak family and of Biya’s marital family traveled to Chhatarpur, where they were recognized by Swarnlata, even though she had never seen them before. Shortly after these visits, Swarnlata and members of her family went first to Katni and subsequently to Maihar (and nearby towns) where the deceased Biya had lived much of her married life and where she died. In Maihar, Swarnlata recognized additional people and places and commented on various changes that had occurred since the death of Biya. Sri Mishra, Swarnlata’s father, made written records of these recognitions shortly after they occurred.
In the Summer of 1961, Stevenson spent four days in Madhya Pradesh and interviewed a number of people concerned with the case at Chhatarpur, Katni, Sihora, and Jabalpur. Swarnlata had continued to visit Biya’s brothers and children, for whom she showed the warmest affection.
The Mishra and Pathak families firmly denied any acquaintance with each other prior to their meeting in connection with the verification of Swarnlata’s statements. The wife of Professor Agnihotri had known Biya in the Maihar-Katni area. But neither Swarnlata nor her family had known the Agnihotri family prior to the time when Swarnlata made her initial statements about Katni. Both Sri Mishra and Sri Agnihotri stated that the families had never met until the occasion when Sri Agnihotri, having heard of Swarnlata’s claims to remember a previous life, invited her and her father to his home to tell some friends of his about the previous life. At that time, Swarnlata learned that Srimati Agnihotri came from the Katni area and asked to see her. Swarnlata’s recognition of Srimati Agnihotri then occurred. This happened in July 1958, when Swarnlata was ten and had already been talking about her previous life for six years.
In 1961, Stevenson personally interviewed the key people associated with the Swarnlata case. The following is a partial summary of what Stevenson verified concerning the statements of Swarmlata about her past life as Biya (16):
The Pathak house was white. The house had four stuccoed rooms, but other parts were less well finished. The doors were black. The doors were fitted with iron bars. The front floor of the house was of stone slabs. The family had a motor car. There was a girls’ school behind the house. A railway line could be seen from the house. Lime furnaces were visible from the house. – correct.
She had had pain in her throat and had died of throat disease. – partially correct. According to Sri Rajendra Prasad Pathak, Biya had had some trouble in her throat and had been treated for this. She died some months later of heart disease.
Recognition of Sri Hari Prasad Pathak, brother of Biya. – correct. Sri Hari Prasad Pathak arrived unannounced at the Mishra home in Chhatarpur. He did not introduce himself to Sri Mishra. Swarnlata at first called him Hira Lal Pathak, but recognized him as her younger brother. Then she called him correctly “Babu”, the name by which Biya had known him.
Recognition of Sri Chintamini Pandey, husband of Biya. – correct. Sri Chintamini Pandey and his son Murli arrived in Chhatarpur and concealed their identities from residents of that town. A meeting was arranged at which Swarnlata was asked to name the people present. The two anonymous visitors were present with nine other men from Chhatarpur, some known and some unknown to Swarnlata. When she came to Sri Chintamini Pandey, she said she knew him in Kanti and Maihar and looked bashful as Hindu wives do in the presence of their husbands. She also recognized Sri Chintamini Pandey in a group photograph of nine people taken forty years earlier.
Recognition of Sri Murli Pandey, son of Biya. – correct. During their meeting in Chhatarpur, Murli tried to mislead Swarnlata and for almost twenty-four hours insisted against her objections that he was not Murli, but someone else.
Sri Chintamini Pandey, husband of Biya, had taken 1200 rupees from a box in which she had kept money. – correct. Sri Chintamini Pandey stated that no one except Biya and himself knew about his having taken this money.
Recognition of Sri Rajendra Prasad Pathak, brother of Biya. – correct. Swarnlata correctly assigned his place as the second brother of Biya.
Recognition of Sri Vishwambar Prasad Pathak, brother of Biya. – correct. Swarnlata correctly assigned his place as the third brother of Biya.
Recognition of Sri Brij Kishore Pathak, brother of Biya. – correct. Swarnlata correctly assigned his place as the youngest brother of Biya.
Inquiry about a neem tree formerly in the compound of the Pathak house. – correct. There had been a neem tree in the compound, but a few months before Swarnlata’s visit, it had been blown down in a storm and removed.
Inquiry about a parapet at back of the Pathak house. – correct. This parapet had been removed since Biya’s death.
Non-acceptance of the suggestion that Biya had lost her teeth, and the statement that she had had gold fillings in her front teeth. – correct. Sri M.L. Mishra said that Sri Brij Kishore Pathak tried to deceive Swarnlata by saying (falsely) that Biya had lost her teeth. Swarnlata denied this and insisted she had had gold fillings in her front teeth. The Pathak brothers could not remember this and consulted their wives, who verified Swarnlata’s statement as true of Biya.
Biya’s father wore a turban. – correct. Sri Chhikori Lal Pathak had worn a turban, not a particularly common form of headdress in that part of India. Swarnlata was shown a cap and hat and asked which one her father wore. She replied that he wore neither, but a turban.
Recognition of bara as the favorite sweet of Biya. – correct. This food was unknown to the Mishras. Swarnlata herself had never tasted it, but when given it at Katni said: “I used to eat this in my previous life.”
Recognition of Biya’s room in house in Maihar. – correct.
Recognition of the room in the house at Tilora where Biya had died. – correct. Swarnlata correctly identified the room where Biya had died.
Recognition of absence of verandah in house at Tilora. – correct. The verandah had been removed since Biya had died.
Recognition of Biya’s other son, Naresh. – correct. Sri Murli Pandey tried to mislead Swarnlata by saying that Naresh was someone else called Bhola. Swarnlata insisted he was Naresh.
One can readily see from the above account the very detailed amount of investigative work that went into each and every one of Stevenson’s reincarnation cases. What are the possibilities in assessing the reincarnation case of Swarnlata described by Ian Stevenson?
The first possibility is that an awful lot of people were lying about what they reported. Here is what Stevenson had to say about this.
In judging various possibilities, we may consider first that a rather widespread conspiracy among all the witnesses, especially the Mishras, Pathaks, and Pandeys. But a family of prominence, with extensive business interests such as the Pathaks have, is not going to participate in a hoax to which a large number of false witnesses would have to subscribe, any one of whom might later defect. If a hoax has occurred in this case, it must have come from the Chhatarpur side. Nothing I learned about the character of Sri. M.L. Mishra among people who knew him in Chhatarpur gave grounds for any suspicion whatever that he had perpetrated a hoax. According to his own statement, he doubted for a long time the authenticity or veridicality of his daughter’s statements, and he made no move to verify them for more than six years. When Sri Banerjee visited the area of the case in 1959, he indicated a wish to observe personally any recognitions of the Pathak family on the part of Swarnlata. He was therefore chagrined when the two families got together without notifying him so he could be present. In a letter to me of August 6, 1962, Sri Mishra stated that he did not want Sri Banerjee present because he feared Swarnlata would not accomplish the recognitions and that this would publicly embarrass him. We can suppose that if he had contemplated some gain to himself from fraud, he would have wished to involve independent witnesses to lend support and fame to the case.
So the possibility that the Swarnlata case was a hoax and a fraud is an unlikely one.
The second possibility is that Swarnlata’s mind was able to access the memories of Biya’s relatives, friends, and acquaintances, via some sort of extrasensory perception or psychic route. With regard to this, Stevenson concluded that Swarnlata’s memories appeared to be patterned by the personality of Biya, rather than just being a collection of memories telepathically extracted from other people’s minds.
The next possibility is that the personality of Biya was somehow residing in the mind (and body) of Swarnlata. In other words, that Swarnlata was partially “possessed” by the personality “spirit” of Biya, which had survived Biya’s physical death.
Finally, the fourth possibility is that Swarnlata was actually recalling memories from a previous life that she, or rather her spirit, had experienced. So the possible explanations for the Stevenson’s Swarnlata case are fraud, extrasensory perception, possession, or reincarnation. If fraud can be ruled out, as Stevenson believed, then we are left with extrasensory perception, possession, or reincarnation as possible logical explanations of the observed facts. Two of these three possibilities would be indicative of a continued spiritual existence after physical death.
When I ask myself “Have I ever been reincarnated”, I cannot answer this question in a logical, scientific way. To provide an answer I must rely on my intuition alone. There is no other recourse. Do I feel that I have had previous lives?
For me, the answer to this question is Yes. This is based on admittedly vague feelings of mine. For example, I have a long-standing and deep-rooted fear of knives. Where does this fear come from? There is nothing in my present life that would cause such a fear. I have never experienced a traumatic event with a knife that I can remember. I even asked my mother if I ever had any accidents with a knife when I was a very little child, and she said no. Also, for some inexplicable reason, I seem to have a certain fondness for the time period from the 1890’s to the beginning of World War I. When I went on a business trip to Florence, Italy in the late 1990’s, I experienced a warm and comfortable feeling for the city, even though I had never been there before. Walking the streets of Florence seemed so good and right. Finally, I have this vague feeling that I may have been a woman at some point in the distant past. The only way that I know to attempt obtaining a more definitive answer regarding the possibility of my own reincarnation (or reincarnations) is to subject myself to hypnotic past-life regression and then see what I might (or might not) have to say.
“Ich bin Gretchen”
Ian Stevenson, “Unlearned Language”
Xenoglossy is a word that may not be familiar to you. I know that this word was foreign to me the first time I encountered it. The term xenoglossy means the expression of a language that has not been learned. The speaking in ancient Egyptian by Robert Logg which was previously discussed in association with the hypnosis studies of Helen Wambach is an example of xenoglossy.
Ian Stevenson also performed research on cases of xenoglossy (17). He extensively documented the xenoglossy case of Gretchen. In this case, in 1970 a woman in Mt. Orab, Ohio who had absolutely no knowledge of any German during her life, under hypnosis began speaking in German as the personality Gretchen, who had lived in the nineteenth century. During these hypnotic sessions, the Gretchen personality spoke only in German. In Stevenson’s words, here is how the case began:
Carroll Jay (hereafter referred to as C.J.) was the hypnotist for the experiments from which this case developed. He was (and is) a Methodist minister who had developed an interest in hypnosis and skill as a hypnotist. He had begun studying and practicing hypnosis in about 1954. …… He experimented with his wife, Dolores (hereafter referred to as D.J.) and found that she was an excellent subject for hypnosis. The present case, however, did not develop from explicit suggestions by C.J. to D.J. that she should regress to a “previous life”. Instead, it began as follows. C.J. had hypnotized his wife one day in order to give her relief from a backache, and in the course of this he asked her: “Does your back hurt?” To his surprise she replied: “Nein.” This occurred on May 10, 1970. Although he had and has no effective knowledge of German, C.J. knew that nein means “no” in German, and a few days later, on May 13, 1970, he tried to evoke the presumably German personality again. He succeeded, and the new trance personality identified herself by saying: “Ich bin Gretchen” (“I am Gretchen”). Over the next few months further sessions were held, and Gretchen gradually emerged more fully and gave more details about herself.
Stevenson, who spoke German, conducted conversations in German with Gretchen but was only able to obtain sketchy information about her life. She said that her name was Gretchen Gottlieb and that she lived in Eberswalde, Germany. Gretchen said that her father, a Hermann Gottlieb, was the mayor of Eberswalde, and that her mother, Erika, had died when Gretchen was about eight years old. She said that she lived on Birkenstrasse in a stone house.
Gretchen related that she did not go to school, had never done so, and could not read or write. She seemed to have little knowledge of the geography in the vicinity of Eberswalde, and little knowledge of events happening outside her immediate life. She described herself as “stupid” (“dumm” in German). Gretchen stated that she was a Roman Catholic and that the head of the church was Pope Leo. She made negative comments about Martin Luther. Gretchen said that she died at the age of sixteen. Based on the sketchy information that she supplied, Stevenson deduced that Gretchen had lived in the nineteenth century, and until at least 1878 when Leo XIII became Pope.
The woman, Dolores Jay, who manifested the German-speaking Gretchen while under hypnosis, had never learned German or been exposed to German speaking people in her life. She was born into a lower middle class family in Clarksburg, West Virginia, where her father worked as a cutter in a local glass factory. She attended the local grade school, middle school, and high school. At the age of eighteen, she married her husband Carroll Jay, whom she met in high school. Carroll Jay was also from the Clarksburg area. At the time of the Gretchen manifestations, she and her husband were living in Mt. Orab, Ohio, a small town close to Cincinnati.
On April 23, 1975, Dolores Jay signed the following signed statement about her knowledge of German:
This is to state that, prior to the development in 1970 of the experiments at which the Gretchen personality emerged and began speaking German, I had no conscious knowledge of the German language or any awareness of having learned it, or of being able to understand or speak it.
Prior to 1970, I never studied the German language in school or elsewhere and was never, so far as I know, in the presence of anyone who spoke the German language to me or in my presence. The only spoken German that I am aware of having heard (prior to the development of the “Gretchen experiments” in 1970) occurred during radio and television programs on which some German would be spoken, as in productions dealing with the Second World War.
Dolores Jay was given a polygraph test, the results of which verified her written statement (albeit polygraph tests are not 100% accurate). Dolores Jay’s parents, a Mr. and Mrs. Boyd Skidmore, provided the following signed statement about her knowledge of German:
This is to state that we have known Dolores Skidmore Jay since her birth and early childhood and can make the following statements about her exposure to opportunities for learning the German language.
Dolores had two ancestors who spoke German, but they had died many years before her birth. No member of her family since her birth spoke German in her presence.
We know of no friends or acquaintances who spoke German to or with Dolores or in her presence, when she was a child or later. To the best of our knowledge there have been no German-speaking persons in the Eastview section of Clarksburg where she lived until her marriage. (There have been a few German-speaking people in Clarksburg town, but she did not have opportunities to speak German with them).
During her childhood Dolores was closely supervised and never absent from home for more than brief periods without our knowing where she was. She only visited homes of relatives and friends in the neighborhood where we lived. None of them could speak German.
We had no books written in German in the house when Dolores was a child. There were some books written in English which contained some German folk or fairy tales.
Dolores never studied German at school or otherwise, so far as we know.
There you have the Gretchen case of xenoglossy. A middle class American woman speaking the German language as the personality Gretchen while under hypnosis. It seems abundantly clear that Dolores Jay was completely incapable of speaking even the most rudimentary German sentence in the conscious state. How was she able to do it during hypnosis? Assuming that there was no conspiracy of fraud in the Gretchen case, there would seem to be only two possible explanations. Either she was manifesting the independent spirit of Gretchen, or she was recounting aspects of a previous life that she lived as Gretchen. What other possibilities are there?
Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.
Arthur C. Clarke, in “2001: A Space Odyssey”
Through a Glass Darkly:
I have never personally seen a ghost, but many, many people claim that they have. The closest that I ever came to a ghostly-type experience occurred many years ago in Dayton, Ohio. At that time I was working at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and living in an apartment located in Kettering, a suburb of Dayton.
One night I went to bed as usual in my apartment, and while I was still fully awake, I distinctly felt something very suddenly press into the blanket covering my body, in the vicinity of my stomach. It wasn’t a very heavy pressure, perhaps something of the order of a pound or two, and it felt like it was relatively small in size, perhaps the size of a fist. But it was a definite, sudden, spatially-defined push. Naturally, I was quite startled by this totally unexpected event, and immediately turned on the light next to the bed to see what it was. But I saw nothing, nothing at all. And a quick search under the bed and around the room and apartment came up with nothing.
What was it that seemed to suddenly press into me? To this day, I still haven’t the faintest idea. Was it a ghostly touch from some previous occupant of the apartment, or some other type of paranormal event? I wish I knew.
There have been, and continue to be, many accounts of the appearance of ghosts reported by people. Perhaps the most thorough investigations of ghostly encounters were studied and reported by the Society for Psychical Research in the nineteenth century. Many members of this Society were highly educated and had reputable careers outside of this activity. For example, one of the presidents of the Society was none other than William James, Harvard professor and the person considered to be the father of modern psychology. An excellent description of the Society’s investigations of ghostly encounters is available (18).
The David McConnel Apparition:
The most bizarre and well-documented case of a ghostly encounter put forward by the Society for Psychical Research is the David McConnel apparition. In the terminology of ghostly encounters, this is termed a crisis apparition.
Lt. David McConnel was a British pilot trainee. During an otherwise routine flight, he died in a plane crash on December 7, 1918. Importantly, the exact time of his death, 3:25 pm, was known because the watch he was wearing stopped when his plane crashed. At roughly the same time that McConnel crashed, his military training roommate, a Lt. J.J. Larkin, stated that he saw McConnel walk into the pilot lounge, and that he had a short conversation with him. Here is Larkin’s account which he wrote on December 22, 1918 for transmission to McConnel’s father and family (18):
David, in his flying clothes, about 11 am went to the hangers intending to take a machine to the “Aerial Range” for machine gun practice. He came into the room again at 11:30 and told me that he did not go to the range, but that he was taking a “camel” to Tadcaster drome. He said, “I expect to get back in time for tea. Cheero.” He walked out and half a minute later, knocked at the window and asked me to hand him out his map, which he had forgotten. After I had lunch, I spent the afternoon writing letters and reading, sitting in front of the stove fire.
What I am about to say now is extraordinary to say the least, but it happened so naturally that at the time I did not give it a second thought. I have heard and read of similar happenings and I must say that I always disbelieved them absolutely. My opinion had always been that the persons to whom these appearances were given were people of a nervous, highly-strung, imaginative temperament, but I had always been among the incredulous ones and had been only too ready to pooh-pooh the idea.
I was certainly awake at the time, reading and smoking. I was sitting, as I have said, in front of the fire, the door of the room being about eight feet away at my back. I heard someone walking up the passage; the door opened with the usual noise and clatter which David always made; I heard his “Hello boy!” and I turned half round in my chair and saw him standing in the doorway, half in and half out of the room, holding the door knob in his hand. He was dressed in his full flying clothes but wearing his naval cap, there being nothing unusual in his appearance. His cap was pushed back on his head and he was smiling, as he always was when he came into the rooms and greeted us. In reply to his “Hello boy!” I remarked, “Hello! Back already?” He replied, “Yes. Got there all right, had a good trip.” I am not positively sure of the exact words he used, but he said, “Had a good trip,” or “Had a fine trip,” or words to that effect. I was looking at him the whole time he was speaking. He said, “Well, cheero!” closed the door noisily and went out.
I went on with my reading and thought he had gone to visit some friends in one of the other rooms, or perhaps had gone back to the hangars for some of his flying gear, helmet, goggles, etc., which he may have forgotten. I did not have a watch, so could not be sure of the time, but was certain it was between a quarter and half-past three, because shortly afterwards Lt. Garner-Smith came into the room and it was a quarter to four. He said, “I hope Mac (David) gets back early, we are going to Lincoln this evening.” I replied, “He is back, he was in the room a few minutes ago!” He said, “Is he having tea?” and I replied that I did not think so, as he (Mac) had not changed his clothes, but that he was probably in some other room. Garner-Smith said, “I’ll try and find him!”
I then went into the mess, had tea, and afterwards dressed and went to Lincoln. In the smoking room of the Albion Hotel I heard a group of officers talking, and overheard their conversation and the words “crashed”, “Tadcaster”, and “McConnel”. I joined them and they told me that just before they had left Scampton, word had come through that McConnel had “crashed” and had been killed taking the “camel” to Tadcaster. At that moment I did not believe it, that he had been killed on the Tadcaster journey. My impression was that he had gone up again after I had seen him, as I felt positive that I had at 3:30. Naturally I was eager to hear something more definite, and later in the evening I heard that he had been killed on the Tadcaster journey.
Next morning, Garner-Smith and I had a long discussion about my experience. He tried to persuade me that I must have been mistaken, that I had not actually seen Mac on the previous afternoon about 3:30, but I insisted that I had seen him. As you can understand, Mr. McConnel, I was at a loss to solve the problem. There was no disputing the fact that he had been killed whilst flying to Tadcaster, presumably at 3:25, as we ascertained afterwards that his watch had stopped at that time. I tried to persuade myself that I had not seen him or spoken to him in this room, but I could not make myself believe otherwise, as I was undeniably awake and his appearance, voice, manner had all been so natural. I am of such a skeptical nature regarding things of this kind that even now I wish to think otherwise, that I did not see him, but I am unable to do so.
The foregoing are just the plain facts of the case. Would you please give me your opinion? I have given you every detail and described easily and naturally just as it happened. I must thank you very much for David’s photograph. I shall always treasure it. We had been very good friends though not intimate friends in the true sense of the word, as though I had known him for about four months, we had been roommates for about six weeks only. We had lots of discussions, political, social, and educational, but not once did we discuss anything bordering on the occult or spiritual. Had we done so, I would perhaps have been able to account, in a measure, for his appearance in this room at the time of his death. As it is, I have no explanation whatever to offer.
Jas. J. Larkin, 2nd Lt. R.A.F.
The following are corroborative statements concerning Larkin’s description of the apparent ghostly apparition of David McConnel:
Mr. Larkin has related almost word for word what he told me on the afternoon of the 7th (December, 1918), at about a quarter to four. Knowing the type of man he is, I most certainly believe this strange occurrence, but am at a loss to explain it.
Gerard Garner-Smith, Lt. R.A.F.
On Sunday morning, December 8th (1918), Mr. Larkin told me the story exactly as he has written it down here. I have known Larkin rather intimately for some time, and although at any other time I would have been inclined to disbelieve a story of this nature, knowing Larkin as I do and as he is, I am convinced of his story as he has told it.
R. Mowat Hillman, Lt. R.A.F.
The Society for Psychical Research requested additional details from Larkin about the circumstances of the apparent apparition, and Larkin responded to them with the following on June 27, 1919:
The Society already has my detailed description of the occurrence – regarding the time, it was about 3:25, or rather between 3:20 and 3:30 pm. The room was quite small, about 12 feet square, and at the time the electric light was on and also a good fire burning in an open stove. I may mention that the light was particularly good and bright, and there were no shadows or half shadows in the room. Outside it was still quite light, but being a foggy, cold day, I had my door closed and the light on and the fire going. I think that is all the additional information you require, as I understand from Mr. McConnel’s letter.
Jas. J. Larkin, 2nd Lt. R.A.F.
The Society account then makes the following comments on the case:
Lt. Garner-Smith’s corroborative statement supplies evidence that Lt. Larkin had identified the man who entered his room on December 7, 1918 as Lt. McConnel before he could have had any normal knowledge of the accident which had only just occurred. The identification cannot therefore be due to any trick of memory consequent on the news of the accident. That being so, the only normal explanation which could be made to cover the facts would be one of mistaken identity. It was with this possibility in mind that we questioned Lt. Larkin concerning the lighting of the room. Obviously such a mistake would be far more likely to occur in a dim light. Lt. Larkin’s reply on this point is satisfactory. The light, he tells us, was good, and under these circumstances it is very difficult to suppose that Lt. Larkin could mistake a man, with whom he actually had conversation at a distance of only a few feet, for another man with whose voice and appearance he was perfectly familiar.
A further argument against the theory of mistaken identity is that Lt. Larkin observed that the man who entered his room was wearing a naval cap. This was worn by only two other men at the aerodrome besides Lt. McConnel, neither of whom, as we are assured by his father Mr. McConnel, who is personally acquainted with them, “could either in height, or build, or manner, or voice, have been mistaken for my son.”
What is described above, by a seemingly very reliable witness who by his own admission did not believe in ghosts prior to this event, is the apparent completely solid apparition of a fellow pilot who had just died in an aircraft accident. Furthermore, it was clearly documented that the witness, Lt. Larkin, had no knowledge of McConnel’s death at the time that he experienced the apparition. This is a ghostly encounter that is indeed difficult to explain on any materialistic basis.
The Greatest Medium: Daniel Dunglas Home:
Daniel Dunglas Home is without question the most important spirit medium of the nineteenth century, perhaps of all time. Home wrote a book describing in some detail his life and his spiritual activities (19). Home (Scottish pronunciation “Hume”) was born near Edinburgh, Scotland in March 1833. As a child, he and his family moved to America, to live in Troy, New York. This is what Home said about the beginnings of his spirit medium abilities:
My mother was a seer throughout her life. She passed from earth in the year 1850, at the age of forty-two. She had what is known in Scotland as the second sight, and in many instances she saw things which were afterwards found to have occurred at a distance, just as she had described them. She also foresaw many events which occurred in the family, and foretold the passing away of relatives, and lastly, she foretold her own four months previously.
When about thirteen years of age, the first vision which I distinctly remember occurred. I was, from my delicate health, unable to join the sports of other boys of my own age. I had, a few months before the vision which I am about to relate, made the acquaintance of a boy two or three years my senior, and somewhat similar to myself both in character and organization. We were in the habit of reading the Bible together, and upon one occasion, in the month of April, as we had been reading it in the woods, and we were both of us silently contemplating the beauties of the springing vegetation, he turned to me and said, “Oh, I have been reading such a strange story!” and he told me a ghost story connected with the family of Lord ____ , and which I have since found to be well authenticated. A portrait of the lady to whom it occurred still exists in the family, and is known as the lady with the black ribbon. The present Lord ____ , who is of the same family, has told me that he was born in the chamber where the spirit appeared. My friend Edwin asked me if I thought the story could be true, and I said I did not know, but that I had heard strange things of that kind. We then agreed that whichever one of us should first be called from earth would, if God permitted it, appear to the other the third day afterwards.
About a month from this time, I went with my family to reside in Troy in the State of New York, a distance from Norwich, where Edwin lived, of nearly three hundred miles. I had been to spend the evening at the latter end of June with some friends, and nothing had occurred during the evening to excite my imagination, or to agitate my mind; on the contrary, I was in a calm state. The family had retired to rest, and I at once went to my room, which was so completely filled with moonlight as to render a candle unnecessary.
After saying my prayers, I was seated on the bed, and about to draw the sheet over me, when a sudden darkness seemed to pervade the room. This surprised me, inasmuch as I had not seen a cloud in the sky; and on looking up I saw the moon still shining, but it was on the other side of the darkness, which still grew more dense, until through the darkness there seemed to be a gleam of light, which I cannot describe, but it was similar to those which I and many others have since seen when the room has been illuminated by spiritual presence.
This light increased, and my attention was drawn to the foot of my bed, where stood my friend Edwin. He appeared as in a cloud of brightness, illuminating his face with distinctness more than mortal. His features were unchanged except in brightness, and the only difference I saw was that his hair was long, and that it fell in wavy ringlets upon his shoulders. He looked on me with a smile of ineffable sweetness, then slowly raising the right arm, he pointed upward, and making with it three circles in the air, the hand began slowly to disappear, and then the arm, and finally the whole body melted away. The natural light of the room was then again apparent.
I was speechless and could not move, though I retained all my reasoning faculties. As soon as the power of movement was restored, I rang the bell, and the family, thinking I was ill, came to my room, when my first words were, “I have seen Edwin – he died three days ago at this very hour.” This was found to be perfectly correct by a letter which came a few days afterwards, announcing that after only a few hours illness, he had died of malignant dysentery.
That is Daniel Dunglas Home’s own account of his first medium interaction with a spirit.
Home went on to become a world-renowned spirit medium, who held séances for the crowned heads of Europe. The descriptions provided by witnesses of his medium abilities are impressive indeed. In Home’s presence, large and heavy objects such as tables were suspended in mid-air, with no observed or possible means of such support. Superb musical arrangements were played on an accordion that Home held in only one of his hands, with the other end of the accordion seemingly moving of itself. Apparitions of apparently solid hands and arms appeared that would touch people in his vicinity (however, it is interesting to note that there was never a full-body solid apparition that occurred in Home’s presence). Finally and most spectacularly, many witnesses reported that Home was able to levitate himself and move around freely in the air with no visible means of support!
Here is a description of a heavy table being suspended in mid-air by an attendee at one of Home’s séances (19):
Presently the table rises with a slight jerk, and steadily mounts till it attains such a height as to render it necessary for the company to stand up, in order still to be able to keep their hands with ease in contact with the surface, although that is not absolutely necessary.
As there are some present who have not witnessed this movement before, a desire is expressed to examine the floor, and a gentleman goes under the table for the purpose. The whole space, open to the view of the entire partly, is clear. From the carpet to the foot of the table there is a blank interval of perhaps two feet, perhaps three, for nobody has thought of providing a means of measuring it, and we must take it by guess. The carpet is examined, and the legs and under surface of the table are explored, but without result. There is no trace of any connection between the floor and the table; nor can it be conceived how there could be any, as the table had shifted to this spot from the place where it originally stood a few minutes before. The inspection is hurried and brief, but comprehensive enough to satisfy us that the table has not been raised by mechanical means from below; and such means could not be applied from above without the means of immediate detection.
Of a somewhat similar character is another movement, in some respects more curious, and certainly opening a stranger field for speculation. The table rears itself up on one side, until the surface forms an inclined plane, at an angle of about 45o. In this attitude it stops. According to ordinary experience everything on the table must slide off, or topple over; but nothing stirs. The vase of flowers, the books, the little ornaments are as motionless as if they were fixed in their places. We agree to take away our hands, to throw up the ends of the cover, so as to leave the entire round pillar and claws exposed, and to remove our chairs to a little distance, that we may have a more complete command of a phenomenon, which, in its marvelous development at least, is, I believe, new to us all. Our withdrawal makes no difference whatever; and now we see distinctly on all sides the precise pose of the table, which looks like the Tower of Pisa, as if it must inevitably tumble over.
With a view to urge the investigation as far as it can be carried, a wish is whispered for a still more conclusive display of the power by which this extraordinary result has been accomplished. The desire is at once complied with. The table leans more and more out of the perpendicular; two of the three claws are high above the ground; and finally, the whole structure stands on the extreme tip of a single claw, fearfully overbalanced, but maintaining itself as steadily as if it were all one solid mass, instead of being freighted with a number of loose articles, and as if the position had been planned in strict accordance with the laws of equilibrium and attraction, instead of involving an inexplicable violation of both.
This is an eyewitness description of the appearance of a ghostly hand that took place during one of Home’s séances:
The quire of paper before spoken of was taken from the floor, slowly lifted up, and placed upon the table, as I can affirm, without the aid of a human hand. Sitting at that end of the table where this was done, I was enabled to see the whole of this proceeding. The quire of paper was placed upon the edge of the table, and so near my hand as to touch it. This was done slowly and deliberately, and this time at least I was permitted to see plainly and clearly the hand that had hold of it.
It was evidently a lady’s hand – very thin, very pale, and remarkably attenuated. The conformation of this hand was peculiar. The fingers were of an almost preternatural length, and seemed to be set wide apart. The extreme pallor of the entire hand was also remarkable. But perhaps the most noticeable thing about it was the shape of the fingers, which, in addition to their length and thinness, were unusually pointed at the ends; they tapered rapidly and evenly toward the tips. The hand also narrowed from the lower knuckles to the wrist, where it ended. All this could be seen by such light as was in the room, while the hand was for a few moments holding the paper upon the edge of the table.
It suddenly disappeared, and in a moment the pencil was thrown from some quarter, and fell upon the table, where the hand again appeared, took it, and began to write. This was in plain sight, being only shaded by one of the circle who was sitting between the paper on the table and the fire. The hands of each one present were upon the table, in full view, so that it could not have been one of the party who was thus writing. Being the nearest one to the hand, I bent down close to it as it wrote, to see the whole of it. It extended no farther than the wrist.
With a feeling of curiosity natural under the circumstances, I brought my face close to it in the endeavor to see exactly what it was, and, in so doing, probably destroyed the electric or magnetic influence by which it was working; for the pencil dropped and the hand vanished. The writing was afterwards examined, and proved to be the name, in her own proper handwriting, of a relative and intimate lady friend of one in the circle, who passed away some years since. Other marks were also made, and the word “Dear” had been written just as the pencil dropped. This writing has been preserved, and remains as an evidence of the reality of the fact. That it was produced by no hand of anyone bodily in that room I know and affirm.
The hand afterwards came and shook hands with each one present. I felt it minutely. It was tolerably well and symmetrically made, though not perfect; and it was soft and slightly warm. It ended at the wrist.
Finally and most dramatically, this is a description of one of Home’s levitations by a séance attendee:
Suddenly, and without any expectation on the part of the company, Mr. Home was taken up in the air! I had hold of his hand at the time, and I and others felt his feet – they were lifted a foot from the floor! He palpitated from head to foot apparently with the contending emotions of joy and fear which choked his utterance. Again and again he was taken from the floor, and the third time he was carried to the lofty ceiling of the apartment, with which his hand and head came in gentle contact.
Home said the following about his state during these levitation episodes:
During these elevations, or levitations, I usually experience in my body no particular sensations than what I can only describe as an electrical fullness about the feet. I feel no hands supporting me, and since the first time, above described, I have never felt fear, though should I have fallen from the ceiling of some rooms in which I have been raised, I could not have escaped serious injury. I am generally lifted up perpendicularly; my arms frequently become rigid and drawn above my head, as if I were grasping the unseen power which slowly raises me from the floor. At times when I reach the ceiling, my feet are brought on a level with my face, and I am as it were in a reclining position. I have frequently been kept so suspended for four or five minutes.
Home stated that he had absolutely no idea how he was able to levitate himself or produce any other of the remarkable phenomena that occurred in his presence:
I have not, and never had the slightest power over them, either to bring them (the phenomena) on, or to send them away, or to increase, or to lessen them. What may be the peculiar laws under which they have become developed in my person, I know no more than others. Whilst they occur I am not conscious of the mode by which they are produced, nor of the sort of manifestation that is about to occur. Any peculiar sensations that I may experience during certain of the manifestations, I will describe as far as I can, while mentioning the visions or external phenomena. Beyond being of a highly nervous organization, there is nothing peculiar about me that I am aware of; but I continue to have delicate health, and I firmly believe that had it not been for these phenomena, I could not have lived till now.
Scientific Studies of D.D.Home by Sir William Crookes:
William Crookes was one of the most distinguished scientists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was both a physicist and a chemist, and the discoverer of the chemical element thallium. Crookes also invented the radiometer and the cathode ray tube. He served as President of the British Royal Society, the Chemical Society, the Institution of Electrical Engineers, and the Society of Chemical Industry. Crookes was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1863, received the Royal Gold Medal in 1875, the Davy Medal in 1888, the Sir Joseph Copley Medal in 1904, and the Order of Merit in 1910. He was knighted for his scientific achievements in 1897. To sum up, William Crookes was indisputably a world-class scientist of his day.
Crookes became interested in spiritualist phenomena in 1869. His original motivation was to debunk such phenomena by making rigorous scientific observations of them. In this context, he became involved with the spiritualist D.D. Home, and began to conduct experiments on the spiritualist phenomena that Home displayed.
Crookes published the results of his experiments with Home in the January 1, 1871 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Science. Given below is his published description of the phenomena that he observed (20).
Twelve months ago in this journal I wrote an article, which, after expressing in the most emphatic manner my belief in the occurrence, under certain circumstances, of phenomena inexplicable by any known natural laws, I indicated several tests which men of science had a right to demand before giving credence to the genuineness of these phenomena. Among the tests pointed out were, that a "delicately poised balance should be moved under test conditions"; and that some exhibition of power equivalent to so many "foot-pounds" should be manifested in his laboratory, where the experimentalists could weigh measure, and submit to it proper tests." I said, too, that I could not promise to enter fully into this subject, owing to the difficulties of obtaining opportunities, and the numerous failures attending the enquiry; moreover, that "the persons in whose presence these phenomena take place are few in number, and opportunities for experimenting with previously arranged apparatus are rarer still."
Opportunities having since offered for pursuing the investigation, I have gladly availed myself of them for applying to these phenomena careful scientific testing experiments and I have thus arrived at certain definite results which I think it right should be published. These experiments appear conclusively to establish the existence of a new force, in some unknown manner connected with the human organization, which for convenience may be called the Psychic Force.
Of all the persons endowed with a powerful development of this Psychic Force, and who have been termed "mediums" upon quite another theory of its origin, Mr. Daniel Dunglas Home is the most remarkable, and it is mainly owing to the many opportunities I have had of carrying on my investigation in his presence that I am enabled to affirm so conclusively the existence of this Force. The experiments I have tried have been very numerous, but owing to our imperfect knowledge of the conditions which favor or oppose the manifestations of this force, to the apparently capricious manner in which it is exerted, and to the fact that Mr. Home himself is subject to unaccountable ebbs and flows of the force, it has but seldom happened that a result obtained on one occasion could be subsequently confirmed and tested with apparatus specially contrived for the purpose.
Among the remarkable phenomena which occur under Mr. Home's influence, the most striking, as well as the most easily tested with scientific accuracy, are - (1) the alteration in the weight of bodies, and (2) the playing of tunes upon musical instruments (generally an accordion, for convenience of portability) without direct human intervention, under conditions rendering contact or connection with the keys impossible. Not until I had witnessed these facts some half-dozen times, and scrutinized them with all the critical acumen I possess, did I become convinced of their objective reality. Still, desiring to place the matter beyond the shadow of doubt, I invited Mr. Home on several occasions to come to my own house, where, in the presence of a few scientific enquirers, these phenomena could be submitted to crucial experiments.
The meetings took place in the evening, in a large room lighted by gas. The apparatus prepared for the purpose of testing the movements of the accordion, consisted of a cage, formed of two wooden hoops, respectively 1 foot 10 inches and 2 feet diameter, connected together by 12 narrow laths, each 1 foot 10 inches long, so as to form a drum-shaped frame, open at the top and bottom; round this 50 yards of insulated copper wire were wound in 24 rounds, each being rather less than an inch from its neighbour. The horizontal strands of wire were then netted together firmly with string, so as to form meshes rather less than 2 inches long by 1 inch high. The height of this cage was such that it would just slip under my dining table, but be too close to the top to allow of the hand being introduced into the interior, or to admit of a foot being pushed underneath it. In another room were two Grove's cells, wires being led from them into the dining room for connection, if desirable, with the wires surrounding the cage.
The accordion was a new one, having been purchased by myself for the purpose of these experiments at Wheatstone's, in Conduit Street. Mr. Home had neither handled nor seen the instrument before the commencement of the test experiments.
Before Mr. Home entered the room the apparatus had been arranged in position, and he had not even the object of some parts of it explained before sitting down. It may, perhaps, be worth while to add, for the purpose of anticipating some critical remarks which are likely to be made, that in the afternoon I called for Mr. Home at his apartments, and when there he suggested that, as he had to change his dress, perhaps I should not object to continue our conversation in his bedroom. I am, therefore, enabled to state positively, that no machinery, apparatus, or contrivance of any sort was secreted about his person.
The investigators present on the test occasion were an eminent physicist, high in the ranks of the Royal Society, whom I will call Dr. A. B.; a well-known Sergeant-at Law, whom I will call Sergeant C. D.; my brother; and my chemical assistant .
 It argues ill for the boasted freedom of opinion among scientific men, that they have so long refused to institute a scientific investigation into the existence and nature of facts asserted by so many competent and credible witnesses, and which they are freely invited to examine when and where they please. for my own part, I too much value the pursuit of truth, and the discovery of any new fact in nature, to avoid enquiry because it appears to clash with prevailing opinions. But as I have no right to assume that others are equally willing to do this, I refrain from mentioning the names of my friends without their permission.
Mr. Home sat in a low easy chair at the side of the table. In front of him under the table was the aforesaid cage, one of his legs being on each side of it. I sat close to him on his left, and another observer sat close to him on his right, the rest of the party being seated at convenient distances round the table.
For the greater part of the evening, particularly when anything of importance was proceeding, the observers on each side of Mr. Home kept their feet respectively on his feet, so as to be able to detect his slightest movement.
The temperature of the room varied from 68 degrees to 70 degrees F.
Mr. Home took the accordion between the thumb and middle finger of one hand at the opposite end to the keys (to save repetition this will be subsequently called "in the usual manner"). Having previously opened the bass key myself, and the cage being drawn from under the table so as just to allow the accordion to be pushed in with its key downwards, it was pushed back as close as Mr. Home's arm would permit, but without hiding his hand from those next to him .Very soon the accordion was seen by those on each side to be waving about in a somewhat curious manner; then sounds came from it, and finally several notes were played in succession. Whilst this was going on my assistant went under the table, and reported that the accordion was expanding and contracting; at the same time it was seen that the hand of Mr. Home by which it was held was quite still, his other hand resting on the table.
Presently the accordion was seen by those on either side of Mr. Home to move about, oscillating and going round and round the cage, and playing at the same time. Dr. A. B. now looked under the table, and said that Mr. Home's hand appeared quite still whilst the accordion was moving about emitting distinct sounds.
Mr. Home still holding the accordion in the usual manner in the cage, his feet being held by those next him, and his other hand resting on the table, we heard distinct and separate notes sounded in succession, and then a simple air was played. As such a result could only have been produced by the various keys of the instrument being acted upon in harmonious succession, this was considered, by those present to be a crucial experiment. But the sequel was still more striking, for Mr. Home then removed his hand altogether from the accordion, taking it quite out of the cage, and placed it in the hand of the person next to him. The instrument then continued to play, no person touching it and no hand being near it.
I was now desirous of trying what would be the effect of passing the battery current round the insulated wire of the cage, and my assistant accordingly made the connection with the wires from the two Grove's cells. Mr. Home again held the instrument inside the cage in the same manner as before, when it immediately sounded and moved about vigorously. But whether the electric current passing round the cage assisted the manifestation of force inside it, is impossible to say.
The accordion was now again taken without any visible touch from Mr. Home's hand, which he removed from it entirely and placed upon the table, where it was taken by the person next to him, and seen, as now were both his hands, by all present. I and two of the others present saw the accordion distinctly floating about inside the cage with no visible support.
This was repeated a second time, after a short interval. Mr. Home presently re-inserted his hand in the cage and again took hold of the accordion. It then commenced to play, at first, chords and runs, and afterwards a well-known sweet and plaintive melody, which was executed perfectly in a very beautiful manner. Whilst this tune was being played I grasped Mr. Home's arm, below the elbow, and gently slid my hand down it until I touched the top of the accordion. He was not moving a muscle. His other hand was on the table, visible to all, and his feet were under the feet of those next to him.
In another part of the room an apparatus was fitted up for experimenting on the alterations in the weight of a body. It consisted of a mahogany board, 36 inches long by 9 1/2 inches wide and 1 inch thick. At each end a strip of mahogany 1 1/2 inches wide was screwed on, forming feet. One end of the board rested on a firm table, whilst the other end was supported by a spring balance hanging from a substantial tripod stand. The balance was fitted with a self-registering index, in such a manner that it would record the maximum weight indicated by the pointer. The apparatus was adjusted so that the mahogany board was horizontal, its foot resting flat on the support. In this position its weight was 3 lbs., as marked by the pointer of the balance.
Having met with such striking results in the experiments with the accordion in the cage, we turned to the balance apparatus already described. Mr. Home placed the tips of his fingers lightly on the extreme end of the mahogany board, which was resting on the support, whilst Dr. A. B. and myself sat, one on each side of it, watching for any effect which might be produced. Almost immediately the pointer of the balance was seen to descend. After a few seconds it rose again. This movement was repeated several times, as if by successive waves of the Psychic Force. The end of the board was observed to oscillate slowly up and down during the experiment.
Mr. Home now of his own accord took a small hand-bell and a little card match-box, which- happened to be near, and placed one under each hand, to satisfy us, as he said, that he was not producing the downward pressure. The very slow oscillation of the spring balance became more marked, and Dr. A. B., watching the index, said that he saw it descend to 6 1/2 lbs. The normal weight of the board as so suspended being 3 lbs., the additional downward pull was therefore 3 1/2 lbs. On looking immediately afterwards at the automatic register, we saw that the index had at one time descended as low as 9 lbs., showing, a maximum pull of 6 lbs. upon a board whose normal weight was 3 lbs.
In order to see whether it was possible to produce much effect on the spring balance by pressure at the place where Mr. Home's fingers had been, I stepped upon the table and stood on one foot at the end of the board. Dr. A. B., who was observing the index of the balance, said that the whole weight of my body (140 lbs.) so applied only sunk the index 1 1/2 or 2 lbs. when I jerked up and down. Mr. Home had been sitting in a low easy chair, and could not, therefore, had he tried his utmost, have exerted any material influence on these results. I need scarcely add that his feet as well as his hands were closely guarded by all in the room.
This experiment appears to me more striking, if possible, than the one with the accordion. As will be seen on referring to the cut, the board was arranged perfectly horizontally, and it was particularly noticed that Mr. Home's fingers were not at any time advanced more than 1 1/2 inches from the extreme end, as shown by a pencil-mark, which, with Dr. A. B.'s acquiescence, I made at the time. Now, the wooden foot being also 1 1/2 inches wide, and resting flat on the table, it is evident that no amount of pressure exerted within this space of 1 1/2 inches could produce any action on the balance, Again, it is also evident that when the end furthest from Mr. Home sank, the board would turn on the further side of this foot as on a fulcrum. The arrangement was consequently that of a see-saw, 36 inches in length, the fulcrum being 1 1/2 inches from one end; were he, therefore, to have exerted a downward pressure, it would have been in opposition to the force which was causing the other end of the board to move down.
The slight downward pressure shown by the balance when I stood on the board was owing probably to my foot extending beyond this fulcrum.
I have now given a plain, unvarnished statement of the facts from copious notes written at the time the occurrences were taking place, and copied out in full immediately after. Indeed, it would be fatal to the object I have in view - that of urging the scientific investigation of these phenomena - were I to exaggerate ever so little; for although to my readers Dr. A. B. is at present represented by incorporeal initials, to me the letters represent a power in the scientific world that would certainly convict me if I were to prove an untrustworthy narrator.
The above-described scientific observations and experiments by William Crookes on the phenomena manifested by the medium D.D. Home are, to my way of thinking, indicative of very real phenomena that cannot be explained by current scientific concepts. Crookes ascribed these phenomena to the action of a scientifically unknown “Psychic Force”. The scientific community rejected the validity of these experiments, but Crookes, the world-class scientist, had absolute confidence in the reality of his scientific observations of these effects until the day he died. Perhaps scientific studies of spiritualist phenomena should begin anew. After all, our scientific measurement capabilities are now much more extensive and sophisticated than they were in Crookes’ time. The results might prove startling for the scientific status quo.
Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.
The holiest Christian site in the state where I used to work, New Mexico, is unquestionably the Sanctuario de Chimayo. It is located in the rural town of Chimayo which is about thirty miles north of Santa Fe. Every Good Friday, pilgrims walk the thirty miles from Santa Fe to the Sanctuario as an act of penance (some even drag along wooden crosses). The Sanctuario itself is a small, relatively nondescript old Spanish church which was erected in 1810 on a spot that, it is said, was previously considered to be a spiritual place by the Pueblo Indians. The altar and interior of the church are rustic old Spanish, but the main attraction for the faithful is the little side room to the left of the altar. In it, there is a small, shallow hole in the floor containing loose dirt that is said to have miraculous powers. The remainder of the room is filled with testimonials to miracles that have occurred as a result of visits to the Sanctuario. Whoever visits takes some of the miraculous dirt - we certainly did. When I inquired as to why the hole never got deeper with all the dirt that was removed each day, the local priest explained that they regularly replenish the hole with dirt from the outside.
Do you believe in miracles? Webster’s definition of a miracle is “an extraordinary event attributed to a supernatural agency”. There are so many miracles reported in the writings of the Religions of the Book. In the Torah, the Great Flood survived by Noah and his family was a miracle of the negative type. On a more positive note, Moses experienced the burning bush, the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the guiding pillar of fire, and manna from heaven. Major miracles in the New Testament include the immaculate conception of Mary, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the raising of Lazarus, and of course the resurrection of Jesus. The primary miracle in Islam is the communication of the content of the Quran directly to Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel. Yes, there are many miracles recorded in the Religions of the Book.
What is most startling and well documented miracle that has occurred in recent times? There can be no doubt that it was the “dance of the sun” that took place in Fatima, Portugal on October 13, 1917. Let me relate to you the details of this seemingly miraculous event.
On May 13, 1917, three young Portuguese children had a vision of a strange “Lady”. This occurred in a pasture called Cova da Iria. The three children were Lucia Santos (age 10), Franscisco Marto (age 9), and Jacinta Marto (age 7). The Lady appeared to them floating near the top branches of a small oak tree. She told them that she had messages for them and that she would reappear at the same time and in the same spot on the 13th day of the month, for the next five months.
On the 13th of each subsequent month, the children saw and talked with the Lady at the oak tree in Cova. And, as word of this miraculous event got around, they were accompanied by larger and larger crowds of devout Catholics, who believed the Lady to be Mary, the mother of Jesus. Only the children could actually see the Lady. The crowds saw nothing but the children, who appeared to be entranced by an unseen presence.
The Lady told the children that the war (World War I) would end soon. She said that Russia would be converted. She gave the children a vision of Hell, and revealed two other secrets to the children. And on July 13th, the Lady told the children that there would be a “great sign” on her last visit on the 13th of October, so that people would believe.
The 13th of October was a dreary day, cold and quite rainy. Despite these conditions, the children, along with approximately 70,000 people, were assembled at the Cova for the last visit of the Lady, and the promised “great sign”. Included in the crowd were many skeptics there to observe what might happen. The Lady appeared to the children and Lucia asked her what her name was. In response, she said that she was the Lady of the Rosary. And with that she rose into the sky and disappeared.
Then the promised “great sign” began. Here is how it was described by a number of the skeptics in the crowd who observed it. These eyewitness accounts were told to John De Marchi, a Catholic priest and researcher who interviewed eyewitnesses in depth during his research on Fatima conducted during the period 1943-1950.
"Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bare-headed, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws — the sun 'danced' according to the typical expression of the people." ― Avelino de Almeida, reporter for the highly secular newspaper O Século.
"The sun, at one moment surrounded with scarlet flame, at another aureoled in yellow and deep purple, seemed to be in an exceeding fast and whirling movement, at times appearing to be loosened from the sky and to be approaching the earth, strongly radiating heat." ― Dr. Domingos Pinto Coelho, reporter for the newspaper Ordem.
"The sun's disc did not remain immobile. This was not the sparkling of a heavenly body, for it spun round on itself in a mad whirl, when suddenly a clamor was heard from all the people. The sun, whirling, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible." ― Dr. Almeida Garrett, Professor of Natural Sciences at Coimbra University.
"As if like a bolt from the blue, the clouds were wrenched apart, and the sun at its zenith appeared in all its splendor. It began to revolve vertiginously on its axis, like the most magnificent firewheel that could be imagined, taking on all the colors of the rainbow and sending forth multi-colored flashes of light, producing the most astounding effect. This sublime and incomparable spectacle, which was repeated three distinct times, lasted for about ten minutes. The immense multitude, overcome by the evidence of such a tremendous prodigy, threw themselves on their knees." ― Dr. Formigão, a professor and priest at the seminary at Santarem.
"I feel incapable of describing what I saw. I looked fixedly at the sun, which seemed pale and did not hurt my eyes. Looking like a ball of snow, revolving on itself, it suddenly seemed to come down in a zig-zag, menacing the earth. Terrified, I ran and hid myself among the people, who were weeping and expecting the end of the world at any moment." ― Joaquim Lourenco, an observer in Alburitel, located 18 kilometers from Fatima.
So on October 13th, 1917 these observers along with 70,000 other people saw what they interpreted to be the sun “dance” in the sky. This phenomenon took place for a period of about ten minutes. People reported that they had no difficulty looking directly at the sun, which appeared to them as a rotating silver-whitish disc that threw off various colors from its periphery. A further interesting detail is that people in the crowd, who were soaking wet from standing in the rain, reported that they were completely dry immediately following the sun event. People as far as 40 kilometers from Fatima reported seeing the phenomenon, but not further away than that.
How can we explain the phenomenon observed at Fatima on October 13th, 1917? One thing that is clear is that the sun around which our planet revolves did not physically exhibit such effects on that date. No astronomers observed any such behavior on that day, and they certainly would not have missed it. Furthermore, if our sun had actually “danced” in this way, the Earth would no longer exist! Many have called Fatima a “mass hallucination” of fervent religious believers who saw what they wanted to see. However, such an explanation clearly does not hold water. Many skeptics and critical observers in the crowd who were certainly not religious believers also saw the phenomenon. Further, the phenomenon was observed by people up to 40 kilometers away, who were just going about their everyday business. Finally, there is the physical drying of peoples’ clothes that was reported by many.
There would appear to be only two possible explanations for what took place at Fatima. The first is that what people were observing was not actually the sun. Eyewitnesses reported that the rain clouds, which were heavy all day, suddenly parted and the “sun” then appeared. This “sun” could be readily gazed at, since it was not the blindingly intense sun that we know, but rather a silvery looking disc. Unfortunately, there is only one grainy black-and-white photograph of the Fatima “sun” in existence. It shows a gray-white disc surrounded by a somewhat brighter background. In addition, the “sun” shown in the photo is not perfectly circular, appearing slightly elliptical in shape. Perhaps what was observed was a flying craft that came beneath the overcast clouds, which still obscured the real sun. In other words, perhaps people were observing an unidentified flying object that subsequently “danced” in the sky and gave off multi-colored spinning light and enough heat energy to dry out peoples’ clothes. If one accepts this explanation, then it also implies that the children were communicating with a Lady who was indeed not-of-this-earth, but also not from the heaven of the Bible.
The other explanation is, of course, that this was a genuine miracle produced by spiritual entities in some manner that is unknown to us. Which explanation do you prefer?
Even when I was studying mathematics, physics, and computer science, it always seemed that the problem of consciousness was about the most interesting problem out there for science to come to grips with.
The Hard Problem:
As far as I can tell, I was not conscious of myself until about the age of three years old, when I started having my first memories. If I was conscious before that time, I certainly have no memory of it. The first memory that I can recall is looking down at my younger brother, who happened to be sitting on the floor at the time. At that moment, I was conscious that I was the person who was looking at him.
We are conscious only part of the time each day, our waking hours. Each night we become unconscious when we drift into sleep. People become temporarily unconscious when they experience a fainting spell. Medical procedures and drugs can also take us from the conscious state to unconsciousness with dramatic suddenness. When I had to be anesthetized for a medical procedure, an IV was placed into my arm and the anesthesiologist told me that he would count down from ten and by the end of his count I would be unconscious. Despite my best efforts to stay awake, the last number I remember him saying was six. This makes it clear that the state of consciousness involves brain function, at least in part. The brain must clearly be capable of maintaining a conscious state.
The neuroscientist Benjamin Libet has performed some very interesting experiments associated with the interaction of brain and consciousness (21,22). These experiments involved the direct stimulation of the brain sensory cortex of awake patients who were having invasive neurosurgical procedures done for medically necessary reasons (all patients had given their prior consent to Libet’s performance of his experiments). The somatosensory cortex of their brain was exposed and then electrodes were applied to it in order to stimulate this area of the brain with trains of electric pulses that could be varied in frequency, intensity, and duration. What patients felt as a result of this direct electrical brain stimulation was as if they were being touched on the skin. Libet observed that there was a minimum intensity below which no sensation was consciously reported. At and above this electrical intensity limit, no conscious response was elicited unless the duration of the electrical stimulation was continued for at least one-half of a second (or 500 milliseconds – a millisecond is one thousandth of a second).
So in Libet’s brain stimulation experiments, it required 500 ms for a conscious response to be elicited from the direct electrical brain signal. What is amazing about this result is the length of time that was required for the conscious response. The speed of signals traveling along the brain neurons is about 100 meters per second, and it takes them less than 1 millisecond to cross a synapse. It takes about 10 milliseconds for auditory stimuli and 30 milliseconds for visual stimuli to reach the brain. In our everyday experience, we react to painful stimuli in much less than one-half second. So just what is going on here?
Libet suggested something very controversial to explain his experimental results. He put forward the hypothesis that, once the sensory event was actually detected by the brain after the 500 ms lag time, it could then be subjectively antedated so that the conscious perception would a detection that had occurred in a much shorter time interval, say only 40 ms. However, the brain mechanism by which such antedating might happen was not specified. What Libet’s brain experiments apparently reveal is that, in an absolute sense, our conscious perception of an event lags the actual occurrence of that event by half a second, but that we don’t detect this half-second lag because the sensation is “antedated” by another brain mechanism. If true, this is remarkable indeed in terms of how we perceive reality.
Other interesting studies have been performed. One such is called “binocular rivalry”. In these experiments, the left eye is shown one picture while the right eye is shown a different one. Rather than merging into some sort of composite image, the two eye pictures alternate in the field of consciousness, effectively competing for consciousness. How this alternation occurs is not known at present, but might be related to interactions between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
Another interesting set of studies are those which have been conducted on epileptics whose treatment to minimize seizures was the severing of the corpus callosum, the fiber bundle that connects the left and right sides of the brain. When the corpus callosum is severed, such studies indicate quite literally that “the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing”. A possible implication may be that there are actually two consciousnesses in each of our brains, one for the left hemisphere and one for the right. This would indeed be remarkable if true, but at the present time it is essentially speculation.
However the key questions are these: What is consciousness? Why am I a conscious being? Where is my consciousness located? These simple questions are questions of the greatest significance that are currently unanswered by modern science, which can only provide limited insights into them. Consciousness is the number one mystery of the mind.
One can at least start on the journey to understand the essence of consciousness by asking: What does it feel like to be conscious? To me, it feels like I, that is my consciousness, is located in my head, somewhere behind my eyes. From this vantage point, I take in inputs from my senses, evaluate them, think about them, and then act (or do not act) in response to them. This feeling of consciousness has a designation. It is called the “theater of the mind”. Thus, mind is associated with consciousness.
So consciousness is associated with the mind, with the mind’s thoughts and with the mind’s feelings. I, my consciousness, can think abstract thoughts. I can think about things that I can’t sense with my senses, for example non-light electromagnetic radiation. I can think about abstract concepts such as quantum mechanics. I can ask questions such as: What does it feel like? To be alive, to be free, to breath in the fresh air, to see a beautiful sunrise or sunset, to appreciate a great work of art. These “what is it like” aspects of consciousness are termed “qualia” in the consciousness literature. Qualia are subjective assessments of what things are like. What is it like to be a dog? Or, what is the redness of that red scarf? Or, that sunset is beautiful! Abstract thoughts and qualia are the essence of what consciousness is perceived to be by the individual conscious entity.
The “hard problem” of consciousness, as coined by David Chalmers (24), is this: How do physical processes in the brain produce subjective experiences? In other words, how are the first-person “I” experiences produced by third-person brain events. I very much enjoy visiting art museums. The paintings that I especially like are those that “please my eye”. This is a personal qualium of mine, of my consciousness. How does my feeling of appreciation for the paintings that I most enjoy gazing upon come about? What transforms the visual image taken in by my eyes into the subjective experience of personal art enjoyment? That indeed is a very “hard problem”.
Take a look at the following image (25). In Ref. 25, this image was presented as an analogy to seeing the enlightened truth in Buddhism. What do you see in it?
This is the image of something that is quite common, that you will recognize immediately once you “see” it with your consciousness, rather than just your eyes. If you don’t immediately recognize what it is, continue looking at it until you do. When I first saw this image, I couldn’t for the life of me tell what the common “something” was right away. I had to look at it for a while, go away and do something else, come back and look at it again. And again and again and again. But then suddenly I “saw” it, and when I did I said to myself “of course!”. The conscious awareness of what this image actually depicts is a very nice example of the “hard problem”. (If, after an honest and sustained effort, you still cannot “see” the image, look at the bottom of the last page of this book.)
There are two generic intellectual groups associated with consciousness. Individuals in the first group are called dualists. Dualists say that a person is composed of two distinctly different entities, body (the physical), and mind (the spiritual). Our consciousness, our “I-ness” is then associated with the mind, our spiritual part - in other words our soul. For dualists, the explanation of subjective qualia experiences is straightforward. They are associated with the spiritual aspects of the mind.
A famous dualist was Rene Descartes, the discoverer of the Cartesian coordinate system. Descartes said the body and the spirit (soul) coexist together in the living person. It is the spirit that is the conscious entity and that embodies the mind. Descartes concept is termed “the ghost in the machine”. The body and the brain are physical entities, while the spirit and mind are spiritual entities. Thus, they are fundamentally different from each other and this raises the key scientific problem with the “ghost in the machine”, which is: How does the “ghost” interface with the “machine”?
This is certainly a very valid scientific question. How do our sensory inputs from the physical world outside get to the spirit, the mind, so that the mind can think about them and feel them? Similarly, how do the thought actions and decisions generated by the mind translate into actual physical actions? Descartes postulated that this interfacing took place in the pineal gland in the center of the brain. But to the present day there is no scientific evidence for this pineal gland interface, nor any satisfactory explanation as to how “brain stuff” can interact with “spirit (mind) stuff”.
The second consciousness group, the monists, say that we are nothing more than body and brain. Our consciousness is essentially an aspect of our brain function. They argue that there is no such thing as spirit or soul. The most famous recent monist has been Francis Crick, the Nobel Prize winner for the discovery of the structure of DNA. Crick put forward the “astonishing hypothesis” (26). Basically, the “astonishing hypothesis” states (as expressed by Crick) “that ‘you’, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules”. In other words, your consciousness is essentially the integrated activities of your nerve and brain cells. The central problem with the monist approach is that no one has yet been able to scientifically determine where or how the brain cells and their associated brain centers integrate the consciousness. One cannot identify where in the brain the consciousness is located or how consciousness is assembled in the brain. Nor can monists effectively explain the subjective “I” qualia. Crick died without finding the solution of the “hard problem” in his brain consciousness investigations. Perhaps he now knows the answer.
There are two general monist concepts of the brain and consciousness. The first suggests that specific groups of neurons in the brain are associated with specific conscious experiences. That was Crick’s view. This concept says that there is one set of brain neuron groupings for, say, the conscious experience of the beauty of a painting, and another different set of neuron groups for, say, the conscious idea of God. The second approach conceives that consciousness is derived from a more generalized increase in the brain’s neural activity. This view says nothing about what creates consciousness in the brain, but rather what controls the level of consciousness. The first approach might be described as the “neuron quality” approach, while the second as the “neuron quantity” approach.
Are you a dualist or a monist? One way to get a feel for which one you might be is to take the following consciousness test put forth by Blackmore (23). This is also called the “beam me up Scotty” test after a famous line from the TV show Star Trek.
Suppose someone actually invented a teletransporter device of the type that was portrayed on Star Trek, and asked you to go for a trip. When Scotty (or whoever) threw the switch, every cell in your body would be scanned and that information stored in a vast computer memory. Next, your actual physical body would be totally vaporized, but the data describing it would be beamed at the speed of light to your intended destination. At that new location, the information would be used to completely and exactly reconstruct your body as it had been before, right down to every detail of the atomic level.
Your body and brain that was beamed to the new location would be a perfect match to what you had at the old location because the teletransporter was 100% reliable in all aspects of scanning, transmitting, and reassembling. Since your brain was exactly the same, the teletransported “you” would have the same personality and memories as the old “you”.
Now the question is: Would you go?
If you are a monist, then you would not hesitate to take the teletransporter trip, since the “you” would be exactly the same “you” on the other end of the trip. However, if you are a dualist, you might definitely hesitate to have Scotty push the teletransporter button, since doing so would cause the death of your body and the separation of your spirit, your soul, from it. In other words, you would hesitate because you did not want to die. You would hesitate because the “you”, your consciousness, your essence, would not be reproduced at the other end of the teletransporter. Your teletransported body would perhaps be occupied by a different “ghost in the machine”. One wonders if the crew of the Enterprise ever had such trepidations.
Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.
There is one more aspect to consciousness that I would like to touch on, and that is the so-called “bundle theory” of consciousness. It is interesting to note that Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, was the world’s first bundle theorist.
The Buddha proposed the doctrine of annatta (no-self). He envisioned consciousness as a flowing stream that is constantly moving and changing. Bundle theory says that the self, the entity, the “I”, is not really a continuing entity at all, but is basically a “bundle of sensations”. In other words, there is the experience, but there is no experiencer. David Hume, the Scottish philosopher who coined the term bundle, put it this way:
For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat and cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception.
Another way to think of the bundle theory of consciousness is to picture a mountain stream. The stream can be considered to be the flow of life. Now you may think that “you” are a distinct object, say a leaf that is floating down the stream. However, the bundle theorist would say that “you” are not the leaf but rather “you” are the stream itself, the flow of your life’s experiences.
At first glance, the bundle theory of consciousness might seem difficult to comprehend. How could “I” be merely a collection of experiences? But one of the things that makes it interesting is the observation of multiple personalities occupying one body. A famous case is that of Ansel Bourne (23).
Ansel Bourne was a preacher who abruptly disappeared from his life in Providence, Rhode Island on January 17, 1887, after withdrawing a significant amount of money from a local bank. Two weeks after Bourne’s disappearance, a man by the name of A.J. Brown rented a shop in Norristown, Pennsylvania and began a small confectionery business. Brown led a quiet, orderly and unassuming life in Norristown until the morning of March 14, 1887.
On that morning, Brown woke up in a fright and told the people in his boarding house in Norristown that his name was not Brown, but rather Ansel Bourne. He had no memories of his confectionery shop or any of his other activities in Norristown, and had absolutely no idea how or why he was there. He told the people around him that his last memory was withdrawing some money from a bank in Providence. His neighbors thought he had gone insane but he convinced them to telegraph a nephew of his in Providence, who fortunately verified his identity and soon returned him there.
In 1890, Bourne’s case came to the attention of William James, the father of modern psychology. James thought that if Bourne was placed under hypnosis, the personality of Brown might reappear. Sure enough, when Bourne was hypnotized, the Brown personality re-emerged and described in detail all of the activities that had occurred in Norristown. James tried to reunite the Brown personality with the Bourne personality, but was unsuccessful. So Bourne lived the rest of his life with another personality inside his head.
There have been other famous cases of multiple personalities, such as the case in the 1950’s of “The Three Faces of Eve” (later a movie), where there were three personalities, Eve White, Eve Black, and Jane evoked in one physical person. Another 1970’s case, Sybil, (also made into a movie) described the case of a woman who appeared to possess sixteen separate personalities.
In past times, such cases of multiple personality were regarded as “spirit possession”. In terms of the present physiological knowledge of brain function, the reasons for the occurrence of multiple personalities still remain unresolved.
Let’s end this discussion on consciousness by coming back to the Buddha. It is said that when the Buddha achieved “enlightenment”, he was sitting under the Bodhi tree in the deepest of meditative states. Here is a description of what the Buddha himself experienced during his enlightenment event, as supposedly related directly by his immediate disciple and personal attendant of the Buddha, Elder Ananda (27):
Now when I had eaten solid food and had regained strength, then quite secluded from sensual desires, secluded from unwholesome states I entered upon and abode in the first meditation, which is accompanied by thinking and exploring, with happiness and pleasure born of seclusion. But I allowed no such pleasant feeling as arose in me to gain power over my mind. With the stilling of thinking and exploring I entered upon and abode in the second meditation, which has internal confidence and singleness of mind without thinking and exploring, with happiness and pleasure born of concentration. But I allowed no such pleasant feeling as arose in me to gain power over my mind. With the fading as well of happiness, I abode in onlooking equanimity, mindful and fully aware; still feeling pleasure with the body, I entered upon and abode in the third meditation, referring to which the noble ones announce: ‘He has a pleasant abiding who looks on with equanimity and is mindful.’ But I allowed no such pleasant feeling as arose in me to gain power over my mind. With the abandoning of bodily pleasure and pain and with the previous disappearance of mental joy and grief, I entered upon and abode in the fourth meditation, which has neither pain nor pleasure and the purity of whose mindfulness is due to onlooking equanimity. But I allowed no such pleasure as arose in me to gain power over my mind.
When my concentrated mind was thus purified, bright, unblemished and rid of imperfection, when it had become malleable, wieldy, steady and attained to imperturbability, I directed, I inclined my mind to the knowledge of recollection of past lives. I recollected my manifold past lives, that is to say, one birth, two, three, four, five births, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty births, a hundred births, a thousand births, a hundred thousand births, many ages of world contraction, many ages of world expansion, many ages of world contraction and expansion: ‘I was there so-named, of such a race, with such an appearance, such food, such experience of pleasure and pain, such a life term; and passing way thence, I reappeared elsewhere, and there too I was so-named, of such a race, with such an appearance, such experience of pleasure and pain, such a life term; passing away thence I reappeared here’ – thus with details and particulars I recollected my manifold past lives. This was the first true knowledge attained by me in the first watch of the night. Ignorance was banished and true knowledge arose, darkness was banished and light arose, as happens in one who is diligent, ardent and self-controlled. But I allowed no such pleasant feeling as arose in me to gain power over my mind.
When my concentrated mind was thus purified … I directed, I inclined my mind to the knowledge of the passing away and reappearance of beings. With the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, I saw beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, happy and unhappy in their destinations. I understood how beings pass on according to their actions: ‘These worthy beings who were ill-conducted in body, speech and mind, revilers of noble ones, wrong in their views, giving effect to wrong view in their actions, on the dissolution of the body, after death, have reappeared in states of privation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell; but these worthy beings, who were well-conducted in body, speech and mind, no revilers of noble ones, right in their views, giving effect to right view in their actions, on the dissolution of the body, after death, have reappeared in a happy destination, even in a heavenly world.’ Thus with the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, I saw beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, happy and unhappy in their destinations. I understood how beings pass on according to their actions. This was the second true knowledge attained by me in the second watch of the night. Ignorance was banished and true knowledge arose, darkness was banished and light arose, as happens in one who is diligent, ardent and self-controlled. But I allowed no such pleasant feeling as arose in me to gain power over my mind.
When my concentrated mind was thus purified … I directed, I inclined my mind to the knowledge of exhaustion of taints. I had direct knowledge, as it actually is, that ‘This is suffering,’ that ‘This is the origin of suffering,’ that ‘This is the cessation of suffering,’ and that ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering’; I had direct knowledge, as it actually is, that ‘There are taints,’ that ‘This is the origin of taints,’ that ‘This is the cessation of taints,’ and that ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of taints.’ Knowing thus and seeing thus, my heart was liberated from the taint of sensual desire, from the taint of being, and from the taint of ignorance. When liberated, there came the knowledge: ‘It is liberated.’ I had direct knowledge: ‘Birth is exhausted, the holy life has been lived out, what was to be done is done, there is no more of this to come.’ This was the third true knowledge attained by me in the third watch of the night. Ignorance was banished and true knowledge arose, darkness was banished and light arose, as happens in one who is diligent, ardent and self-controlled. But I allowed no such pleasant feeling as arose in me to gain power over my mind.
Before my enlightenment, while I was still only an unenlightened Bodhisatta, I thought: ‘This world has fallen into a slough; for it is born, ages and dies, it passes away and reappears, and yet it knows no escape from this suffering. When will an escape from this suffering be described?’
I thought: ‘What is there when ageing and death come to be? What is their necessary condition?’ Then with ordered attention I came to understand: ‘Birth is there when ageing and death come to be; birth is a necessary condition for them.’
I though: ‘What is there when birth comes to be? What is its necessary condition?’ Then with ordered attention I came to understand: ‘Being is there when birth comes to be; being is a necessary condition for that.’
I thought: ‘What is there when being comes to be? What is its necessary condition?’ Then with ordered attention I came to understand: ‘Clinging is there when being comes to be; clinging is a necessary condition for that.’
…. Craving is there when clinging comes to be ….
….Feeling (of pleasure, pain or neither) is there when craving comes to be ….
….Contact is there when feeling comes to be ….
….The sixfold base of contact is there when contact comes to be ….
I thought: ‘What is there when the sixfold base comes to be? What is its necessary condition?’ Then with ordered attention I came to understand: ‘Name-and-form is there when the sixfold base comes to be: name-and-form is a necessary condition for that.’
I thought: ‘What is there when name-and-form comes to be? What is its necessary condition?’ Then with ordered attention I came to understand: ‘Consciousness is there when name-and-form comes to be; consciousness is a necessary condition for that.’
I thought: ‘What is there when consciousness comes to be? What is its necessary condition?’ Then with ordered attention I came to understand: ‘Name-and-form is there when consciousness comes to be; name-and-form is a necessary condition for that.’
I thought: ‘This consciousness turns back upon itself; it does not extend beyond name-and-form.
….. I thought: ‘What is not there when no consciousness comes to be? With cessation of what is there cessation of consciousness’? Then with ordered attention I came to understand: ‘When there is no name-and-form, no consciousness comes to be; with cessation of name-and-form there is cessation of consciousness.’
I thought: ‘This is the path to enlightenment that I have now reached, that is to say: With cessation of name-and-form there is cessation of consciousness; with cessation of consciousness, cessation of name-and-form; with cessation of name-and-form, cessation of the sixfold base; with cessation of the sixfold base, cessation of contact; with cessation of contact, cessation of feeling; with cessation of feeling, cessation of craving; with cessation of craving, cessation of clinging; with cessation of clinging, cessation of being; with cessation of being, cessation of birth; with cessation of birth, ageing and death cease, and also sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair; that is how there is a cessation to this whole aggregate mass of suffering.’ The cessation, the cessation: such was the insight, the knowledge, the understanding, the vision, the light, that arose in me about things not heard before.
So according to the Buddha’s account, Nirvana is achieved through the cessation of consciousness and name-and-form.
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.
Teilhard de Chardin
Our Spiritual Essence:
What you have just read is the strongest evidence I can find supporting the existence of a spiritual reality that is separate and distinct from our physical reality. As a scientist, I think that this evidence significantly outweighs the evidence that we are simply just physical body and brain. There are just too many observations that simply cannot be explained on a strictly materialistic basis.
In addition to my scientific assessment, I very strongly feel that I am a spiritual being, that my consciousness is not just brain phenomena. This is admittedly not scientific, I know, but it is an element of truth for me. As Krishna says to Arjuna in Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita (28):
There has never been a time when you and I and the kings gathered here have not existed, nor will there be a time when we will cease to exist. As the same person inhabits the body through childhood, youth, and old age, so too at the time of death he attains another body. …. The impermanent has no reality; reality lies in the eternal. Those who have seen the boundary between these two have attained the end of all knowledge. Realize that which pervades the universe and is indestructible; no power can affect this unchanging, imperishable reality. The body is mortal, but he who dwells in the body is immortal and immeasureable. … You were never born; you will never die. You have never changed; you can never change. Unborn, eternal, immutable, immemorial, you do not die when the body dies. …. As a man abandons worn-out clothes and acquires new ones, so when the body is worn out a new one is acquired by the Self, who lives within.
In Hinduism, the Self, the Soul is called the Atman. And the Atman is the essence of the immortal, immeasurable, unchanging Brahman who is all, everything, who is the all-encompassing God.
Further, I believe that not only human beings but all living things are spiritual beings in essence. It is the presence of the spiritual element within the physical element that establishes something as “living”. It is the spirit that provides the life-force to the physical shell.
Now this brings us to another very hard question: What is life? The encyclopedic definition of life typically goes something like this (29):
Animate beings share a range of properties and phenomena that are not seen together in inanimate matter, although examples of matter exhibiting one or the other of these can be found. Living entities metabolize, grow, die, reproduce, respond, move, have complex organized functional structures, heritable variability, and have lineages which can evolve over generational time, producing new and emergent functional structures that provide increased adaptive fitness in changing environments. Reproduction involves not only the replication of the nucleic acids that carry the genetic information but the epigenetic building of the organism through a sequence of developmental steps. Such reproduction through development occurs within a larger life-cycle of the organism, which includes its senescence and death. Something that is alive has organized, complex structures that carry out these functions as well as sensing and responding to interior states and to the external environment and engaging in movement within that environment.
My own thought on this is that if something can die, then it possesses a spiritual life-force within it. Inanimate objects are not life. For example, a crystal of a chemical can have a complex composition. It can grow. It can even move as it grows. But it is “born” only in the sense that it starts from a crystalline nucleus. And even though it may cease to exist as a crystalline form, it does not “die”. Its chemical constituents merely change into another physical form. Viruses are usually described as “semi-life”. They reproduce their genetic DNA or RNA chemical makeup, but they cannot do so on their own. They need to invade a living cell in order to reproduce. Do viruses “die”? I don’t think so. Just as with crystals, upon dissolution the chemical constituents that make up viruses change into different physical forms.
Are bacteria spiritual beings? What about amoeba? What about plants? What about insects? What about fish, and dogs and cats, and dolphins and chimpanzees? Does an ant have a soul? Does an individual bacterium have a spirit associated with it?
My feeling is that the spiritual life-force within any living thing is the same in its fundamental nature. The spiritual essence of a bacterium, of an amoeba, of a blade of grass, of an ant, of a fish, of a dog (or cat), of a dolphin, of a chimpanzee is the same spiritual essence as that of a human being.
However, it is obvious that the consciousness levels of the spectrum of living things are vastly different. And there is one other very important difference. This difference is that only human beings here on the planet Earth have the consciousness capacity to think abstractly about their relationship to God. In my view, the spirit (the life-force, the essence) is different from the consciousness (the mind).
Has any other life-form on the planet exhibited this consciousness capacity to date that we know of? Not to this point in time. I have been observing my dog for years. He is a very intelligent dog in that he knows his name when he is called and he appears to have an understanding of a small number of spoken words. I think that my dog knows that he exists. I believe that he thinks doggie thoughts and dreams doggie dreams. But I have never seen any evidence that my dog can think abstract thoughts about God. However, if we were ever to find out that dogs, or dolphins or chimpanzees or any other living thing can conceptualize God, then we would have to accept them as equals, at least in consciousness if not in intellect.
This line of thought begs the question: What if there are beings in the universe that are more intelligent (perhaps vastly so) than we humans? Do they believe in God? And, if so, do they believe that we are their equals in consciousness? Kind of puts the shoe on the other foot, doesn’t it.
Astronomers now know that the existence of planets around stars is a relatively common feature of the universe. Since this is now scientifically established, the probability of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe must certainly be considered as quite high.
I believe that when (not if) we encounter an intelligent life-form that is not from the planet Earth, we will find that they do indeed have the concept of a spiritual Supreme Being, and that they will treat us as consciousness equals, if not equals in intelligence. If they are more intelligent than we are, they should also possess higher levels of spiritual understanding.
Sometimes when I’m mad there’s a part of me that seems to be a little sad.
Sometimes when I scream there’s a voice in me that says you shouldn’t be so mean.
Portion of the lyrics from the song “Me and I” by ABBA
Me and I:
There is something profound in the concept of Me and I.
Eckhart Tolle in his book “The Power of Now” related how he realized the distinction between Me and I and achieved a state of enlightenment as a result of an intense and sudden meltdown of his psyche that was induced by a severe depressive episode (30):
Until my thirtieth year, I lived in a state of almost continuous anxiety interspersed with periods of suicidal depression. …. One night not long after my twenty-ninth birthday, I woke up in the early hours with a feeling of absolute dread. I had woken up with such a feeling many times before, but this time it was more intense than it had ever been. The silence of the night, the vague outlines of the furniture in the dark room, the distant noise of a passing train – everything felt so alien, so hostile, and so utterly meaningless that it created in me a deep loathing of the world. The most loathsome thing of all, however, was my own existence. What was the point in continuing to live with this burden of misery? Why carry on with this continuous struggle? I could feel that a deep longing for annihilation, for nonexistence, was now becoming much stronger than the instinctive desire to continue to live.
“I cannot live with myself any longer.” This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. “Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with.” “Maybe,” I thought, “only one of them is real. I was so stunned by this strange realization that my mind stopped.
What Tolle described as happening is that during a period of intense mental suffering, his “myself”, his ego, collapsed and disappeared, and was temporarily replaced by his “I”, his true spiritual consciousness. When he awoke from this pure “I” state, his mental suffering had vanished and his conscious ego had undergone a dramatic transformation. You might even be tempted to say that he had been “born again”.
Tolle’s account is extraordinary and corroborates something that I have felt is true for a long, long time. I am not really the author of this book, the scientist John Joseph Petrovic. I am the spiritual entity who is presently living the life of John Joseph Petrovic. That’s who I really am.
In your own life, a spiritual entity is who you really are.
Many are the names of God and infinite the forms through which He may be approached.
The Name That Cannot Be Spoken:
The name of the Deity worshiped by Abraham and Moses is written as four symbols in Hebrew texts. These Hebrew symbols translate as YHWH in English and are pronounced in the English-speaking world as Yahweh. However, traditional Jews will not say this name aloud because they consider it to be much too sacred to utter. Such is the reverence that they attach to it.
Yahweh is but one of the many names given to the reverence of a Supreme Being. For Christians, the name God is most often used. Hindus worship the Godhead Brahman. In Taoism, Dao is the Creator of the Universe. Allah is the One God of Islam. And Buddhists prefer to speak of Wholeness.
However, there are some for whom the name God produces intense intellectual unease. For these people, God is also a Name That Cannot Be Spoken. For them, this name is only uttered in a negative context and, furthermore, anyone who uses this name in a reverential way has reverted to the ignorance of the past.
For my part, I use the name God here without hesitation. I fully realize that this name carries with it the human-produced baggage of belief, non-belief, and social systems (for example, throughout this book I refer to God as He, rather than HeShe). I might have chosen to use a more vague term such as Universality, but I did not do so because this would have been awkward from my perspective. My belief is that God is the essence of a Reality with Mind and Will, and so this is the name that I employ.
Emotionally I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time.
What is it Like to be an Atheist?
Many scientists, intellectuals, and leading lights of the study of consciousness in the dawn of the 21st century do not think that we are spiritual beings and don’t believe that God exists. What is the reason for this?
It wasn’t so long ago that belief in God was the norm for scientists and intellectuals. This was certainly the case at the start of the 19th century. In fact, if you did not believe in God at that time, you were in danger of being ostracized by your peers and society. But then different, less God-centric, ideas began to emerge. Let’s briefly describe the key scientific and technological ones.
The first was Charles Lyell’s “Principles of Geology” published in 1830-1833. Lyell’s work provided the scientific basis for modern geology. He put forward the idea of uniformitarianism which said that gradual changes over very long periods of time had shaped the Earth. This contrasted with the catastrophism theories of the time, which were largely based upon biblical Genesis accounts.
Then came Darwin. A young Darwin had a copy of Lyell’s “Principles of Geology” during his voyage on the HMS Beagle, and subsequently became a close friend of Lyell. Darwin’s theory of evolution in his “Origin of Species” put forward the concept that God did not create man, nature did. Darwin himself evolved from a Christian into an agnostic. Here is what he says about God in his autobiography (31):
During these two years I was led to think much about religion. Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality. I suppose it was the novelty of the argument that amused them. But I had gradually come, by this time, to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow at sign, etc., etc., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian. The question then continually rose before my mind and would not be banished, - is it credible that if God were now to make a revelation to the Hindoos, would he permit it to be connected with the belief in Vishnu, Siva, etc, as Christianity is connected with the Old Testament. This appeared to me utterly incredible.
By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported, - that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become, - that the men at that time were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us, - that the Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneous with the events, - that they differ in many important details, far too important as it seemed to me to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eyewitnesses; - by such reflections as these, which I give not as having the least novelty or value, but as they influenced me, I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation. The fact that many false religions have spread over large portions of the earth like wild-fire had some weight on me. Beautiful as is the morality of the New Testament, it can hardly be denied that its perfection depends in part on the interpretation which we now put on metaphors and allegories.
But I was very unwilling to give up my belief; - I feel sure of this for I can well remember often and often inventing day-dreams of old letters between distinguished Romans and manuscripts being discovered at Pompeji or elsewhere which confirmed in the most striking manner all that was written in the Gospels. But I found it more and more difficult, with free scope given to my imagination, to invent evidence which would suffice to convince me. Thus disbelief crept over me at very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct. I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all of my friends, will be everlasting punished.
And this is a damnable doctrine.
With respect to immortality, nothing shows me how strong and almost instinctive a belief is, as the consideration of the view now held by most physicists, namely that the sun with all the planets will in time grow too cold for life, unless indeed some great body dashes into the sun and thus gives it fresh life. - Believing as I do that man in the distant future will be a far more perfect creature than he now is, it is an intolerable thought that he and all other sentient beings are doomed to complete annihilation after such long-continued slow progress. To those who fully admit the immortality of the human soul, the destruction of our world will not appear so dreadful.
Another source of conviction in the existence of God connected with the reason and not the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capability of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look at a first cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a theist.
This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of species; and it is since that time that it has very gradually with many fluctuations become weaker. But then arises the doubt - can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as the possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions? May not these be the result of the connection between cause and effect which strikes us as a necessary one, but probably depends merely on inherited experience? Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.
I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble to us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.
The next non-Godcentric idea to come along was in the form of a physics experiment, namely the Michelson-Morley experiment conducted in 1887. Prior to this, it was thought that light traveled in a wave medium of “ether”. Michelson and Morley sought to measure differences in the speed of light relative to whether light was moving in the direction of the “ether flow” or opposite to the direction of “ether flow”. But their interferometer results showed conclusively that there was no detectable difference in the speed of light no matter what direction it was measured in. This meant that there was no “ether”, and no etheric frame of reference in the cosmos. If there was no cosmic “ether”, then perhaps there was no God who was its source.
Roentgen discovered x-rays in 1895 and proceeded to use them to image the interior of the human body. In 1896, Becquerel found strange rays emanating from uranium, and in 1898 Marie Curie discovered the same behavior in radium, and coined the term radioactivity. Mankind was starting to learn about invisible radiation.
In 1905, Einstein filled the physics vacuum created by the Michelson-Morley experiment with his Special Theory of Relativity. He showed that the speed of light was always constant because time and length were variable, depending on the relative motions of the frames of reference. As a consequence of this, he also discovered the famous equation E = mc2 which showed that energy and matter were equivalent. Einstein later developed his General Theory of Relativity, revealing that gravitational forces were the result of distortions of the space-time framework in the vicinity of large celestial masses. These were indeed God-like concepts put forward by a human being.
Einstein, who was born Jewish, did not believe in the personal God of the Torah. But he appears to have had spirituality concepts along Buddhist lines, as suggested by the following quote:
The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.
In 1914, the evil of World War I descended upon the world. It was a ludicrous “war to end all wars” that saw the employment of new and deadly technologies for the slaughter of vast numbers of human beings. The war of the machine guns, the tanks, the first warplanes, and the poison gases. Self-inflicted human misery on an unprecedented scale. How could a God who is all-good allow such a thing? The Lost Generation started to think that maybe there was no God.
The 1920’s saw the development of quantum mechanics by figures such as Heisenberg and Bohr. Electrons were determined to have properties that were not deterministic, but rather probabilistic. The components of matter were both particles and waves, depending on how they were measured. The act of observation determined reality. Strange ideas indeed, but they successfully predicted the results of experiments. Was matter created by God or was God created by matter?
Probing of the atom and the atomic nucleus occurred in the 1930’s. The neutron was discovered by James Chadwick in 1932. In 1938, Hahn and Meitner split the uranium atom.
And then there was World War II, the seed of which was planted by World War I. Technological destruction reached new levels. More powerful guns and artillery. Faster and more deadly warplanes. Undersea warfare with submarines. And, of course, the atomic bomb, which ended WWII, but started the Cold War. More death and human misery than even World War I. And the creation of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, physicists had known sin. Where was God in all this?
In 1953, Watson and Crick solved the structure of DNA. On Saturday, February 28, 1953 it is reported that Crick came into the Eagle, a Cambridge pub, and announced to everyone there that he “had found the secret of life". In April 1953, the now famous Watson and Crick paper was published in the journal Nature. Humans had started down the road to the creation of life. No need for God anymore.
It was in the year 1965 that Penzias and Wilson discovered the cosmic background microwave radiation which is considered to be the best evidence for the existence of the Big Bang that brought everything in the universe into existence some 13.7 billion years ago. Cosmologists have since been describing everything about the development of the universe from the first infinitesimal fraction of a second of its existence up to the present. Is it really God who created the universe or did the universe create a place for God?
On July 20, 1969 the first humans walked on the Moon. When Armstrong stepped on the lunar surface, it was mankind’s first step into the cosmos. It was a triumph for science and technology and the beginning of the quest into the “final frontier”. The cosmos no longer belonged totally to God.
In the 1980’s the computer came into widespread personal use, and the way we worked began to change forever. We started working as man-and-machine
The 1990’s saw the emergence of Dark Matter and Dark Energy as the cornerstones of the Standard Theory of Cosmology, and the discovery of the first extrasolar planets. They also saw the cloning of Dolly the sheep. And the explosion of the Internet and email.
And now early in the 21st century, we have the complete sequencing of the human genome, and people attempting to create living bacteria from chemical “scratch”. Deus ex humana.
It is said that most of the Nobel prize winners are (or were) either overt or covert atheists. If so, they believe that the “I”, the first-person experience and all its associated subjective qualia (e.g. what is it like to be something), are simply a product of brain activity and that we will eventually come to learn how the brain produces the “I”. In other words, they believe that consciousness boils down to only neuronal activity in some shape or form. Neurons as soul. And cessation of existence with cessation of the brain at death. So if our conscious essence is nothing more than neuron cells in the brain, then there is no need for God.
What are the arguments that God does not exist? One is that we have no material evidence for the existence of God - no one has ever experimentally measured the touch of the Hand of God or taken a picture of the Face of God. Another is that God is nothing more than an illusion created by the neurons in our brain – it is we who create God in our heads. A third is that God cannot exist because of all the evil that we experience around us – if evil exists then an All-Good God cannot exist. A fourth is that there is no solid evidence for a spiritual reality based on God – material reality is all there is.
Atheist and biological scientist Richard Dawkins has written a book with the provocative title “The God Delusion” (32). One of the chapters is entitled “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God”. What is most interesting about this title is the use of the word “almost”. Part of the “almost” for Dawkins appears to be the difficulty in explaining certain “supernatural” events, such as the observation of the “sun dancing in the sky” made by 70,000 religious pilgrims (and also a significant number of critical observers) at Fatima in Portugal in 1917.
Is Dawkins hedging his bets in the same manner as the famous mathematician Blaise Pascal, who said it was better to believe in God, since if you were right you would have a heavenly reward and if you were wrong it wouldn’t matter. Unlikely. Dawkins is simply affirming the fact that no one can absolutely prove the non-existence of God and that some observed phenomena are really quite difficult to explain on a solely materialistic basis.
When I use my consciousness to try to imagine what it is like to be an atheist, I feel deep-rooted sadness and fear. To think that there is no purpose for earthly existence and consciousness, other than perhaps to maximize pleasure and minimize pain (as Epicurus taught). To think that all the striving and knowledge and beauty and love in life is silly and pointless. To experience existence and consciousness, and then to have them wrenched away forever at death.
I’m very happy not to be an atheist! But I suspect that the opinions about God and spirituality voiced in this book will be derided by some who will say that they are outrageously simple-minded and unworthy of anyone who calls himself a scientist. Well, so be it. After all, derision of heretics is one of the pillars of the Atheist religion.
It is as impossible for man to demonstrate the existence of God as it would be for even Sherlock Holmes to demonstrate the existence of Arthur Conan Doyle.
Elementary, My Dear Watson:
If we accept the evidence that we are in essence spiritual beings, then from what, where, and how did we come into existence as separate, conscious entities? My own feeling is that we, along with everything else that exists, were created by an all-encompassing, conscious, intelligent Presence that has always existed of itself and within which all exists. This is God, this is Brahman. I cannot prove this scientifically, no one can, I just feel it to be true, I feel it down to the core of my being. In other words, the Theory of Everything boils down to God.
You might ask: If God exists, then where is He? The answer is that God is everywhere. He is the essence of everything, animate and inanimate, physical and non-physical (spiritual). Everything is contained in the ocean of God. There is nothing that is truly separate from Him. God is All.
And God has always existed. There was never a time when He was not. As God is said to have described Himself to Moses: “I Am Who Am”. What a exquisitely elegant and concise way to express to a human being something of the nature of an eternal entity! Also, notice the use of the word “Who” here, the same word that is used in the Rig Veda of Hinduism.
Why did God create us and our universe? Why did God give us existence and consciousness? Why did He make us different from the inanimate objects? Some people have speculated that God created the universe and all the conscious beings in it so that He could have a material experience of Himself. But only God knows the true answers to these questions. He had His reasons.
In the 13th century, the great Christian philosopher/theologian (and later saint) Thomas Aquinas put forward five logical and observationally-based proofs of the existence of God. They are as follows (33):
The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.
The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or one only. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.
The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence – which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not received it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.
The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among being there are some more and some less good, true, noble, and the like. But “more” and “less” are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest, and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum of heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.
The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.
These are the five famous proofs of God put forward by Thomas Aquinas. The first is the argument of a Prime Mover. The second is the argument of the First Cause. The third is the argument of First Existence. The fourth is the argument of First Properties. And the fifth is the argument of First Intelligence. All of the five Aquinas proofs of God are very compelling on the basis of logic and reason, and have been so since they were first framed by him.
In his book “The God Delusion” (32), Dawkins suggested that, rather than invoking God as the terminus of Aquinas’ arguments, it is better to conjecture the terminus to be a “big bang singularity, or some other physical concept as yet unknown”. In comparison to Aquinas, Dawkins’ conjecture sounds quite weak. He postulates that there is no conscious entity at the termination of the regressions. However, before the Big Bang, nothing physical existed. No energy, no matter, no space, no time. This being the case, something non-physical must have logically produced the Big Bang. And the Big Bang must have happened for a reason that did not exist in the physical. And this we call God.
There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.
George Bernard Shaw
God Through Religious Eyes:
Are you a religious person? I was born and raised a Catholic, but I now consider myself to be a catholic Godist. When my daughter was an undergraduate student at Harvard, she purchased an amusing little poster entitled “Religious Views of Life” from the Harvard bookstore. I still have that poster hanging on the wall in my study. It contrasts the various different religions as follows:
Taoism: S--t happens.
Confucianism: Confucius says, s--t happens.
Buddhism: If s--t happens, it isn’t really s--t.
Zen Buddhism: What is the sound of s--t happening?
Hinduism: This s--t happened before.
Islam: If s--t happens, it is the will of Allah.
Protestantism: Let s--t happen to someone else.
Catholicism: If s--t happens, you deserve it.
Judaism: Why does this s--t always happen to us?
Agnosticism: What is this s--t.
Atheism: I don’t believe this s--t.
I think that this is an effective, concise comparison of the different religions. I might substitute the following for Buddhism: Why must one suffer this s--t? And the following might be appropriate for the young Mormon religion: This must be latter-day s--t.
It may be useful to some of you to summarize how the major religions in the world view God. I list them in chronological order of their inception.
Hinduism is the oldest world religion. Its written roots are thought to date back to about 3000 BCE (oral traditions are said to be even older). At that time, which also coincided with the Mahabharata War, the great Indian epic, it is said that the Vedas were written down from the oral tradition by the writer Vyasa. There are four Vedas: Rig, Yajur, Sama, Atharva. Of these, the Rig Veda is considered to be the oldest and the one upon which the other Vedas are based.
The God-Head in Hinduism is Brahman. Brahman is eternal and all-encompassing. Brahman created everything and everything exists within Brahman. In the Rig Veda, Brahman is referred to as Ka (Who). Thus, at its root Hinduism is a monotheistic religion. Four manifestations of Brahman are discussed in the Rig Veda: Indra, Agni, Soma, and Surya. These manifestations are said to be associated with the Aryan roots of Hindu civilization.
Somewhat later than the Vedas are the Upanishads, which are philosophical interpretations of the Vedas. It is in the Upanishads that the concept of Brahman is developed in considerable detail. It is also here that the three primary current-day manifestations of Brahman are described: Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver), Shiva (the Transformer (also called the Destroyer)). These three constitute the Hindu Trinity, or the Trimurti.
Judaism possibly dates back to approximately 2000 BCE. At that time it is said that Abraham was chosen by Yahweh to be the father of the people of Israel. Then somewhat later Moses led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land. Rather interestingly, there is currently no archaeological evidence that either Abraham or Moses actually existed. The Torah is the primary religious document of Judaism. As with Hinduism, Judaism was an oral tradition before it was a written one. Moses is said to have been the author of the first five chapters of the Torah, but it is not clear at all who the actual author(s) were. It is thought that the Torah was placed into written form in approximately 600 BCE. Judaism says that there is only one God, Yahweh.
Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, lived from 566-486 BCE. He was an Indian prince in the area of northern India and, as such, began his life as a Hindu. At the age of 29, he left his princely home (and his wife and young son) and became an extreme ascetic for about six years. After nearly dying of his extreme asceticism, he adopted the Middle Way to spiritual development, neither extreme asceticism nor extreme materialism. He became an expert in meditation, and, it is said, one day during a very deep meditative state underneath a tree, he achieved the state of “Enlightenment”. Thus enlightened, he became aware of the Four Noble Truths: 1. Suffering exists; 2. The source of suffering is Cravings; 3. Suffering is ended by the cessation of Cravings; 4. Cravings are ended by following the Eight-Fold Path. The Eight-Fold Path is: 1) Right view; 2) Right intention; 3) Right speech; 4) Right action; 5) Right livelihood; 6) Right effort; 7) Right mindfulness; 8) Right meditation. When all Cravings are ended, then one achieves the state of Nirvana.
In Buddhism, does achieving Nirvana mean union with God? Unfortunately, the Buddha was unclear on this aspect. The Buddha taught that once Nirvana was reached, there was no rebirth. Nirvana appears to be essentially complete absorption into some spiritual state, but he did not associate this spiritual state with the name God.
Taoism (also called Daoism) was founded in approximately the 6th century BCE by Laozi, who was an archivist in the Zhou Dynasty court. It is an original religion of China, along with Confucianism. In fact, it is said that Laozi was a teacher of Confucius. Laozi was the author of the Daode jing, the Scripture of the Way and its Power. Dao is the Way, which is considered to be the spontaneous source of the life of the universe. De is the Power which is contained in everything in the universe, which can bring a natural order and harmony if it is not disturbed by human influences.
In the Daode jing, the Dao is described as the Mother of the Universe:
There is a being – in chaos yet complete.
It preceded heaven and earth.
Silent, it was, and solitary;
Standing alone, never changing.
Moving around, yet never ending.
Consider it the mother of heaven and earth.
I do not know its name.
To call it something, I say dao.
Forced to give it a name, I say great.
Great – says it departs.
Depart – says it is far.
Far away – says it returns.
Therefore dao is great, heaven is great,
Earth is great, humans too, are great.
In the universe there are four ‘greats’
And humans make their residence in the whole of them.
Humans are modeled on earth.
Earth is modeled on Heaven.
Heaven is modeled on dao
Dao is modeled on its own spontaneity.
This is as close as Taoism comes to describing a concept of God. The yin-yang symbol is the symbol of Taoism. It symbolizes the flow and harmony of opposites. Taoism also incorporates the concept of qi (chi) as the life energy that circulates within the body.
Confucius is considered to have been a contemporary of Laozi in the 6th century BCE. While Laozi based Taoism on the flow of nature, Confucius based his philosophy primarily on the morality of human social interactions. The Confucian concept of God is similar to the Taoism concept of God. Confucius taught that human beings should pursue perfection by treating their fellow human beings in a principled way. As Confucius said: “Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you.”
The Christian religion began in 30 CE with the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was Jewish, so the roots of Christianity lay in Judaism. Like Judaism, Christianity is a monotheistic religion, and the One God is the God of Abraham and Moses. The primary Christian scriptures are contained in the New Testament (the Old Testament is basically the Torah of Judaism). The Christian scriptures describe Jesus as the Son of God, indicating that he had a dual nature, being both man and God. Interestingly, in this respect Jesus is very similar to Krishna in Hinduism, who was said to have been an incarnation of one of the God-head manifestations Vishnu. Christianity is also similar to Hinduism in the introduction of the Trinity, the Triune nature of God: Father, Son, Spirit. In the Christian Trinity, the Father is the Creator, the Son is the Preserver, and the Spirit is the Transformer. The Trinity is a God-concept not contained in Judaism.
Muslims say that Arabs and Jews both spring from the same ancestral root, Abraham. Arabs are descended from Abraham’s son Ishmael while Jews are descendants of Abraham’s son Isaac. In about the year 610 CE, the prophet Muhammad had his first visitation from the Angel Gabriel, a heavenly angel described in the Torah. Over a number of years, Gabriel communicated to Muhammad the direct wisdom of the One God, Allah. These communications were later written down in the form of the Quran, the Holy Book of Islam. The Quran describes Allah as the Beneficent, the Merciful. Muslims regard every word in the Quran as the direct word of Allah, who is the same God as the God of Judaism and Christianity. These three religions are often referred to as the Religions of the Book. The concept of the Trinity is rejected in the Quran, as is the concept that God had a Son. Instead, the Quran states that God is One.
From the above brief summary, we can see that there are a variety of concepts of God amongst the world’s historical religions. Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, despite their differences, all see God clearly as the creator. On the other hand, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism are more vague with regard to the concept of God as a distinct Supreme Being and the issues of creation of the universe. The former religions might be characterized as God-centric, while the latter might be described as Being-centric. However, it is clear that the Being-centric religions too have at their root a Something, a Nirvana or a Dao, that transcends the material world.
In the final analysis, as Gandhi said, all religions are basically the same, in that they all direct our attention to a spiritual reality.
We are the dust of long dead stars. Or, if you want to be less romantic, we are nuclear waste.
A Universe Designed for Us:
There is a marvelous little book entitled “Just Six Numbers” by Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal at Cambridge University, which describes the six fundamental numbers that determine the characteristics of the universe (34). They are based on the deep forces in nature that shape the universe.
The first number is the number of spatial dimensions in the physical universe, D. The universe is a three-dimensional one and thus the value of D is equal to 3. Our physical experience is one of left-right, up-down, and forward-back. However, if D were 2, we would be living in the world of Flatland, and things would be drastically different, as was so interestingly described by Edwin Abbott (1). Similarly, if D were 4 our universe would contain an extra spatial dimension - call it “in-out” - and things would be vastly more interesting and complex than they are in our three-dimensional existence. Why does D equal 3 in our universe? That is a very good question.
We now know that the galaxies that compose our universe are grouped into clusters and superclusters. The structuring is a result of forces and energies that were operative shortly after the Big Bang. This cosmic structure is characterized by a number, Q, which is the ratio of two fundamental energies, and has a value of about 1/100,000, a quite small number. Q can be thought of as an index of the smoothness of the expanding sphere of the cosmos. If the value of Q were smaller than 1/100,000, the universe would have few large-scale galactic structures. If it were larger, there would be a violent interaction of galactic clusters and superclusters, and the formation of immense black holes.
Will our universe, which began with a Big Bang, end by dissipation through endless expansion or will it eventually contract in a Big Crunch? The answer to this question depends on the cosmic number W. This number is the ratio of all the material present in the universe to a critical value of material that guarantees that gravity will ultimately attract all things back to a Big Crunch. When W = 1, the expansion energy of the universe exactly matches the gravitational contraction energy. For unknown reasons, the value of W was “tuned” to equal 1 in the earliest eras of the universe after the Big Bang. If W had been less than 1, stars and galaxies would never have had enough time to form by gravitational attraction. And if W had been greater than 1, the universe would have experienced a Big Crunch long ago. Either way, we would not be here now. At the present time, the value of W is estimated to be 0.3 (including both visible matter and Dark Matter), and it thus appears that the universe will continue expanding.
The next number is the so-called cosmological constant l. Einstein was the first to propose the existence of l, as a way to generate a static universe from his general theory of relativity. While Einstein’s motive for l has long been discounted since we are clearly living in an expanding universe, its value has taken on a new interpretation because of the discovery of Dark Energy. Dark Energy is a force of presently unknown character that acts as a repulsive force between the elements of space itself. It is Dark Energy that is causing the universe to continue to accelerate in its expansion and it is the action of Dark Energy that causes l to have a very small, but finite value. If l had a value larger than its current one, the universe would have expanded too fast for stars and galaxies to have formed at all.
The processes that go on in our Sun are summarized in the number e. e reflects the amount of mass that is converted to energy by the nuclear fusion reactions that power the Sun. The observed value of e is 0.007. If this value were a little smaller, say 0.006, then the Sun would have a shorter lifetime but, more importantly, the Sun would not be able to produce the elements in the periodic table, of which our physical bodies are composed. Conversely, if e had a value of 0.008, the Sun and the other stars in the universe would burn hydrogen so efficiently that there would be no hydrogen left over to form an essential ingredient for life, water. So if the number e were only slightly different from its observed value of 0.007, life as we know it would not be possible.
The sixth number is N. This number measures the strength of electrical forces between atoms divided by their gravitational attractive force. The value of N is extremely large, equal to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (or 1036 in scientific notation). If N had a slightly smaller value, say 99.9% of its observed value, only a much smaller and much more short-lived universe could exist. The creatures in such a universe could be no bigger than apple seeds, and the time required for biological evolution would be short, thus significantly constraining the development of advanced species.
In his book, Martin Rees had the following to say about the significance of the six fundamental numbers of the universe (34):
These six numbers constitute a “recipe” for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be “untuned”, there would be no stars and no life. Is this tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it the providence of a benign Creator? I take the view that it is neither. An infinity of other universes may well exist where the numbers are different. Most would be stillborn and sterile. We could only have emerged (and therefore we naturally now find ourselves) in a universe with the “right” combination. This realization offers a radically new perspective on our universe, on our place in it, and on the nature of physical laws.
I find it difficult to accept, as Rees apparently does, that the better alternative for the apparent “tuning” of our universe for the development of life is the concept of “an infinity of other universes”, as compared to the existence of a Creator. When faced with choosing between possibilities that cannot yet be proven by experimental facts, scientists usually resort to the principle of Occam’s Razor, which says that given two possibilities that cannot yet be proven, it is better to choose the one which is the simplest.
So I ask you, which of these explanations seems the simplest to you?
We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.
Big Sky Country:
Look up at the clear sky at night and you see part of what we know thus far to be the universe. With our current range of observation, astronomers estimate that there are about 150,000,000,000 galaxies in the observable universe. Each one of these galaxies contains approximately 150,000,000,000 stars. So in the observable universe there are approximately 22,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars! And that’s just what we can see with our present scientific observational tools from the vantage point of Earth.
Let’s assume that 0.1% of these stars have planets associated with them. That means that there are approximately 22,500,000,000,000,000,000 planets in the universe. Now let us further assume that 1 in a billion of those planets has life on it. That makes 22,500,000,000 planets where life (as we may or may not know it) exists. Basically, it is highly likely that there are literally billions of planets in the universe upon which living beings exist. And each one of those living beings has within it the spiritual life-force.
The distances associated with the universe are truly vast. The distance from Earth to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is 4.3 light-years (one light-year is 5,878,000,000,000 miles). This distance to Proxima Centauri has been measured using unambiguous parallax measurements. Our own Milky Way galaxy is approximately 150,000 light years in diameter, while the closest neighbor galaxy to the Milky Way, Andromeda, is 2,300,000 light years away. The farthest object that we have observed to date is a quasar-type object at a distance of approximately 10,000,000,000 light years.
At the present moment in time, the science of cosmology, the study of the cosmos, is in a great state of confusion and ignorance. The last time cosmology was in such a state was in the late 19th century, after the famous Michelson-Morley experiment which disproved the existence of an “ether” through which light and everything else traveled. It was not until Einstein’s famous paper on the special theory of relativity in 1905 that this previous state of cosmological confusion began to lift.
The current problem is a “Dark One”. Cosmologists have discovered that 96% of the universe is made up of “Dark Energy” and “Dark Matter”! The remaining 4% is the energy and matter that we can detect with our current scientific instruments. At the present time, scientists do not have the faintest clue as to what either Dark Energy or Dark Matter might be! What a state for human science to be in. What a lack of knowledge of the universe.
Black holes are another example of this lack of knowledge. The current cosmological thinking is that there may be a black hole at the center of every galaxy. There seems to be a supermassive black hole at the center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. The gravitational attraction of black holes is so great that not even light escapes, hence its blackness. Anything falling within the event horizon (the point of no possible return) of a black hole would be “spagettified” by the immense gravitational tidal forces. And what exists at the center of the black hole? Cosmologists are confronted with a “singularity” there, a point where the gravitational forces go to infinity and where the laws of physics as we know them break down completely. Physics hates the concept of singularities. And not only that, where does all the matter go that gets pumped into such a singularity?
One thing we do know. The universe does indeed exist. We have sent people to the Moon. We have sent space probes to the planets of our solar system. We even have some probes that have now left the solar system into interstellar space. Those points of light up there in the night sky are real places. How did they all come to be?
The currently accepted theory is that the universe began 13.7 billion years ago as a result of the “Big Bang”. Before the Big Bang, there was absolutely nothing. No matter. No energy. No space. No time. But one micro-micro-micro-micro-micro-micro second after the Big Bang, all of the matter and energy in the universe burst into existence, from a point singularity. Where was it one micro-micro-micro-micro-micro-micro second before the Big Bang? Scientists are at a complete loss to say.
And did the Big Bang even occur at all? The two primary reasons why most scientists support the Big Bang theory is that: 1) the universe is presently expanding; 2) there is a background microwave radiation permeating the observable universe that suggests the remnant energy of a vast explosion.
But the possibility also exists that the universe has been here for a lot longer than only 13.7 billion years. In this scenario, the universe periodically expands and then contracts, but not to a point singularity. In effect, the universe “breathes”. As far as the background microwave radiation goes, it may be completely unrelated to any form of cosmic explosive event. Interestingly, this is the scenario described by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (28):
Those who understand the cosmic laws know that the Day of Brahma ends after a thousand yugas (a thousand yugas is 4,320,000,000 years) and the Night of Brahma ends after a thousand yugas. When the day of Brahma dawns, forms are brought forth from the Unmanifest; when the night of Brahma comes, these forms merge in the Formless again.
How did the universe begin? Whether a Big Bang or a Breathing Universe, my answer is that it was created by God and that He maintains the order of the universe. Why did God make the universe and us in it? We certainly don’t have a clue. God is pulling the strings of the universe. As Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: “Just remember that I Am, and that I support the entire cosmos with only a fragment of My Being”.
I want to know God's thoughts; the rest are details.
The Theory of Everything:
The great French mathematician and astronomer Pierre-Simon LaPlace was the first to voice the concept of a Theory of Everything in his 1814 work “Essai philosophique sur les probabilités”:
An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.
In more recent times, the Theory of Everything is an attempt to merge the theories of the four fundamental interactions of nature – gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force – into a single theory. An additional aspect is that this single theory should be compatible with the framework of quantum mechanics. At the present time, physicists are nowhere near a Theory of Everything, especially in view of their complete lack of understanding of what they describe as Dark Matter and Dark Energy.
My own view is that there are really only two fundamental components of the universe. These components are Spirit and Energy. Although they coexist, Spirit is the ultimate source of Energy.
Since Energy is the easier of the two to describe (if one can call any attempt at a description of Energy easy), let’s start with it. Energy is Action, it is the Action of God. Energy is what makes things happen in the universe. It is motion and also the potential for motion. Energy is what we understand as the electromagnetic radiation that permeates the universe. Energy is also matter. Matter is nothing more than Condensed Energy. Energy is the essence of gravity and all the other forces of nature. All the material things and forces in the universe are Energy. Where does Energy come from? It comes from the Spirit of God.
Spirit is the ultimate Reality of the universe and beyond the universe. Spirit is the all-encompassing God. Spirit creates Energy. How does this creation occur? By the Will of God. But Spirit is not Energy. It is something that is entirely different. There is no material aspect to it at all. The universe exists within it, but Spirit may extend beyond the universe into realms that are completely indescribable in human material terms. Perhaps Spirit might be associated in some way with the Dark Energy and Dark Matter that appears to account for 96% of our universe. Then again, it might be something of higher dimensionality than our own. In any case, I believe that Spirit is the life-force in all entities that live and die in the material world. But there are, in all likelihood, non-material Spirit realms and non-material conscious Spirit entities coexisting with the material part of the universe. Ultimately, all Spirit resides in God, for God is All.
Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.
Henry Van Dyke
A Stitch in Time:
Einstein called time the fourth dimension. If we pick a point in three-dimensional space, then the characteristics at that spatially fixed point will change as its time changes.
In Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, time is not an invariant quantity, it depends on the relativity of your motion. An atomic clock in the hand of a person moving near the speed of light will run noticeably slower than an atomic clock in the hand of a person at rest with respect to, relative to, the moving person.
There is a vast spectrum of time in our universe. The atomic fission of an unstable atomic nucleus takes place in a time of approximately 0.000000000000000000001 second, while the vibratory motions of a chemical molecule occur times on the order of 0.0000000000001 second. The wavelength of the highest pitched sound that we can hear is about 0.00005 second. Our hearts beat about once per second. One year amounts to 31536000 seconds. The approximate age of the universe is 432000000000000000 seconds (13.7 billion years). The range of time of human experience is 0.05 second (the shortest event you can consciously perceive) to 3942000000 seconds (a maximum human lifetime of 125 years).
This clearly shows that the time reality of the universe is vastly larger than the time reality of any human being. Events occur on nuclear and molecular levels that are much too fast for us to experience without the aid of scientific instruments. Similarly, events occur on a cosmic scale that are much too slow for us to comprehend from our frame of time reference, without the aid of extrapolative models. And this is just the time range that we are aware of based on our knowledge “at this point in time”. There may be much more rapid and much slower time realities that we currently do not comprehend.
In our life, we speak of the past, the present, and the future. We refer to this as the “flow of time”. But the fact is that in our actual experience, we experience everything in the Now, the present. The past is already gone and the future is yet to come. We actually live in the time of Now. Now is the only time frame that we can ever directly experience.
Regarding the flow of time in the physical universe, our current science tells us that time only flows in one direction, the direction of past-present-future, the so-called “arrow of time”. One might ask the questions: Why does time flow in only one direction? Or why does time flow at all? From our vantage point of the Now, is it possible to move to the past, or to the future? Time travel has always been the stuff of science fiction. If one could indeed go back to the past, then it might be possible to alter the present and the future as a result of doing so, thus creating different realities based on these alterations of past events.
In one way, though, we can observe (but not alter) the past. The light that we observe from objects in the universe must travel from the distant object to Earth at the speed of light. Since the distances in space are so vast, by looking further out into space, we are in effect looking into the past. The most distant object that we have seen in space thus far is a quasar, which is about 10,000,000,000 years old. What is a quasar? The only thing scientists know about this object is that it is very old, and it emits an absolutely enormous amount of energy.
Time exists in our universe of energy. But what about in the Spirit? Does time exist in the Spirit reality? I think not. For God, there is no time. God is timeless. He is the I Am Who Am. He always existed and He will always exist. God is eternal. We have absolutely no grasp of what the reality of eternity is, since it is completely out of our time frame of reference. In God, the past, the present, and the future are all the same, they are elements of the timeless Now.
Most modern biologists, having reviewed with satisfaction the downfall of the spontaneous generation hypothesis, yet unwilling to accept the alternative belief in special creation, are left with nothing.
George Wald, Nobel Laureate
How did life begin on the Earth? Many scientists argue that life began as a random confluence of chemical compounds in a “primordial soup”. However, the great difficulty with this explanation is that the probability of such a thing happening by random chemical processes is astronomically low. In his book “The God Delusion”, Richard Dawkins invoked the statistical “magic of large numbers” as a counter for these low probabilities, stating that the universe contains at least a billion billion potentially life-supporting planets and that, with odds of life occurring randomly at one in a billion, life would still arise on a billion planets in the cosmos (32).
How good is Dawkins’ argument? It is examined in considerably more chemical and statistical detail in an excellent article entitled “Probability of randomly assembling a primitive cell on Earth” by Mullan (35). Let me summarize this analysis for you.
How old is life on Earth? Based on the radioactive dating of rocks, the age of the Earth is estimated to be 4.6 billion years old. The earliest potential fossil evidence for life discovered to date are fossils in rocks from the Apex Chert in Australia that are thought to be cyanobacteria (although there is significant dispute as to whether or not the observed features actually constitute the fossilized remains of living entities or are merely mineralogical in nature). These features have been dated to 3.5 billion years ago.
From these dates, it might be estimated that the time available for the synthesis of the first living organism by chemical reactive means was 1.1 billion years. Now 1.1 billion years seems like a terribly long time, and one might be tempted to think that life could easily have evolved chemically in such a long time span. But Mullan’s analysis has shown that this is not the case.
The bacterium is the basic unit of independent self-replicating life (viruses can be somewhat simpler, but viruses are not self-replicating since they depend upon interactions with bacteria (or cells in an organism) in order to reproduce themselves; viruses are considered to be “semi-life”). What is the simplest free-living bacterium that exists in the world today? It is an organism called Mycoplasma Genitalium (MG). The total DNA length in MG is only 580,070 base pairs (compared to the 3,300,000,000 base pairs in human DNA). In its natural state, MG possesses just 517 genes, in comparison to the tens of thousands of genes that humans possess. However, by selectively removing genes one-at-a-time, scientists have shown that MG can still function with only about 250 protein-encoding genes. So the simplest bacterium that can function in our present world can do so with as few as 250 genes in its genetic code, and 250 proteins that are synthesized from this genetic code. This forms the baseline from which Mullan proceeded.
He then took the reductionist viewpoint that the earliest bacteria were very likely significantly simpler than even the simplest bacteria of today. This seems like a quite reasonable assumption, and is certainly consistent with the viewpoint of the vast majority of evolutionary biologists. Mullan assumed that the simplest early life form would have only 12 proteins, and the associated 12 protein-synthesizing genes. That’s a factor of 20 below the baseline for the MG bacterium, and the absolute minimum that would be required to conduct basic bacterium cell functions.
Proteins are large molecules that consist of a series of smaller amino acid molecules that are linked by peptide bonds into a chain in a specific order. In our current world, there are 20 specific amino acid molecules that can be assembled into proteins. One of the simplest proteins in the human body, insulin, consists of a series of 51 amino acids. Hemoglobin contains 574 amino acids. Based on protein structure and function, Mullan argued, again on a reductionist basis, that the simplest first life proteins could not have been shorter in length than 14 amino acids.
Thus, he estimated that the bare minimum bacterium cell that could function as self-replicating life would contain 12 proteins, each protein only 14 amino acids in length, and would also have the DNA and RNA structures required to encode and produce these 12 proteins from basic chemical constituents. This is Mullan’s simplest first-life protobacterium cell, and the place necessary to start in order to calculate the probability of forming such a cell at random from the “primordial chemical soup”.
The first step in the probability analysis is calculating the probability of the random chemical formation of a single protein which is 14 amino acids in length. Call the amino acid sequence of this protein ABCDEFGHIJKLMN. The random synthesis of this protein can start off by forming, say, the EF pair. The probability of this is equal to (1/20) times (1/20) = (1/20)2 = 1/400. This is so because E can be any one of the 20 amino acid molecules, and F can be any one of the 20 amino acid molecules. Then the probability of forming ABCDEFGHIJKLMN is simply (1/20)14, which is equal to 1 in 1018. This is the probability of randomly forming a single protein from a primordial soup that already contains the full gamut of the 20 amino acid molecules that are required for living systems. The probability of randomly forming 12 proteins is then ((1/20)14)12, which is equal to 1 in 10216.
But, as Mullan indicated, it is not enough to just assemble 12 proteins to have a functional living bacterium. The bacterium cell must be able to reproduce itself, and for that the bacterium needs to have DNA. The replication of 12 proteins requires that the cell have at least 12 genes on its DNA. The genetic code requires three base pairs for each amino acid identification, so each protein gene encoding 14 amino acids must have 42 base pairs, plus 3 base pairs to begin and end each genetic sequence, or a total of 48 base pairs. This means that a 12 protein DNA strand must contain a minimum of 576 base pairs, in the proper genetic code sequences.
Factoring in the probability for the formation of the DNA molecule as well as assumptions about the existence of significant redundancy of protein functioning for the cell processes in the primeval bacterium cell (which greatly increases the probabilities of protein formation), Mullan finally arrived at a probability of 1 in 10129 that the reductionist-based primeval bacterium could have been produced by random chance chemical reactions in the “primordial soup”.
But you might then argue, well okay, the odds are diminutively small, but there was an awfully long time for chemical reactions to occur from the time the Earth first formed until the time that the first bacterium formed. Let’s take a look at this.
A probability of 1 in 10129 means that approximately 10129 individual chemical reactions would have to take place in order to make it essentially certain that the cell would be formed.
So how many chemical reactions could have taken place in the roughly 1.1 billions years between the formation of the earth and the tentative fossil documentation of the first living cells? Mullan also estimated this number, making assumptions that maximized its value as much as possible.
He made four extreme assumptions to increase the number of chemical reactions to its maximum possible value. First, he assumed that every chemical reaction collision produced a bonding between the associated molecules. This means that when two molecules came together, their chances of achieving a chemical bond were essentially 100%. Any chemist will tell you that this assumption is wildly optimistic, and that it takes many chemical collisions before bonding is achieved. But this was Mullan’s first assumption.
The second assumption that Mullan made was that the number of chemical molecules present in the primordial soup was the same as the number of chemical molecules in all of the biomass present on the Earth today. Clearly, this is also a gross overestimate.
Third, he assumed that all the chemical molecules present in the primordial biomass soup were in the form of either the 20 life-associated amino acids, or the bases associated with the DNA molecule. Again, a gross overestimate.
Finally, Mullan assumed that the primordial soup biomass was concentrated into liquid pools that were 100 times smaller than the oceans on the current Earth, so that their concentrations in the liquid primordial soup would as high as possible.
Using these four extreme assumptions, Mullan calculated the time interval between chemical reactions in the primordial soup to be 0.00000000005 seconds (5 x 10-11 seconds). Now the time interval of 1.1 billion years translates into 3.5 x 1016 seconds. Dividing the 1.1 billion year time interval by the chemical reaction time, one comes up with the number 7 x 1026 chemical reactions. This is the number of chemical reactions that a single amino acid in the primordial soup would have experienced. But since there were a total of 2 x 1039 amino acid molecules in the primordial soup (based on today’s total biomass), the total number of chemical reactions for all of these molecules was about 1065 chemical reactions that would have taken place before the first living bacterium appeared.
Multiplying the probability of life through random chemical reactions (1/10129) by the total number of chemical reactions 1065, we get that in a 1.1 billion year time span, the probability of forming the first living bacterium from the primordial soup is still only 1 in 1064 !
Now let’s see what the probability actually is for life forming on one of the billion billion planets in the universe cited by Dawkins in “The God Delusion”. A billion billion is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000, or in scientific notation 1 x 1018. Multiplying the probability of life forming on a single planet by the number of planets in the Universe, we get the probability of life forming on just one of the total number of planets in the Universe. The probability of life forming on one of the planets in the Universe is 1 in 1046, or 1 divided by 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Clearly, Dawkins’ argument about large numbers is not correct. There is simply no way, statistically speaking, that “life will still have arisen on a billion planets” as Dawkins stated.
In order to appreciate the extreme nature of the very low probability of the appearance of the first primeval (and very highly reductionist) living bacterium by random chemical reactions, consider the following.
What is the probability that from all of the stars in the universe, we could pick out our sun at random? There are approximately 150,000,000,000 stars in each galaxy, and there are approximately 150,000,000,000 galaxies in the observable universe. This means that the chance of picking our sun at random is 1/(150,000,000,000) times 1/(150,000,000,000), or approximately 1 in 1022. What this means is that it is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times more likely that we could pick out our sun at random from all the stars in the visible universe, than that an extremely primitive living bacterium cell could have been produced by random chemical processes on any one of a billion billion possible planets. This comparison serves to show how unlikely in the extreme it is that the first life on Earth was produced by random chemical processes.
If not from chemistry, then how did life appear? The only other science-based possibility is that life was seeded on Earth from someplace else. It might be that life arrived via the Earth impact of a body from space, such as an asteroid or comet. Or it might be that some extremely old and advanced extraterrestrials seeded our planet with life some three billion years ago. If one accepts this possible avenue, then one is still faced with accounting for how the “life from somewhere else” came into being.
Of course, there is one other spiritually-based possibility.
You cannot be both sane and well educated and disbelieve in evolution. The evidence is so strong that any sane, educated person has got to believe in evolution.
The Dislocation of Evolution:
It is abundantly clear from the fossil record that life on Earth passed through slow evolutionary stages as proposed by Darwin. However, it is now equally clear that separating those slow evolutionary stages were major catastrophic, dislocative events that periodically terminated large portions of the various species living on Earth up to that time. So the development of life on Earth was a combination of both very slow evolutionary and very fast (in comparison) dislocative processes.
There have been six major mass extinctions identified in Earth’s history.
The Cambrian-Ordovician extinction occurred approximately 490 million years ago and caused the termination of many brachiopod and trilobite species. The causes of this extinction are not known. About 440 million years ago, the Ordovician-Silurian extinction, thought to be caused by changes in sea levels due to glaciation, produced a 60% reduction in marine species. The late Devonian extinction of 360 million years ago (cause unknown) again killed 60% of the marine species that survived the earlier extinction. The Permian-Triassic extinction event is the largest known and happened 250 million years ago. As a result, 96% of all marine species and 70% of all land species died. It is thought that the P-T catastrophe may have been due to a comet or asteroid impact and perhaps impact-related volcanism. About 200 million years ago, the Triassic-Jurassic extinction killed many species and set the stage for the rise of the dinosaurs.
The best-known extinction is the Cretaceous-Tertiary (or K-T) event 65 million years ago. Due to high iridium levels in the rocks marking this event, it is thought to have been caused by an asteroid impact that happened at the site of the present Yucatan peninsula. This is the extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs and set the stage for the rise of the mammals, of which man is one species.
Slow evolutionary processes are produced by two means. The first is the “survival of the fittest” mechanism that allows those species best adapted for self-preservation to pass along their genetic characteristics, while the second is the buildup of genetic mutations over long periods of time. In contrast, the fast dislocative events appear to have been produced by major perturbations in the Earth’s biosphere, sometimes caused by impacts of bodies from space.
The development of life record just outlined shows that the physical bodies which we presently inhabit are the result of both cumulative slow evolution and fast dislocative events. Were it not for the K-T extinction incident, the Earth today might be populated by intelligent, conscious beings with dinosaurian, rather than mammalian, ancestry.
Are the processes which have led to the human physical form truly random acts of nature? Remember, we are talking about events such as the procreation of very well-adapted individuals, the genetic disruption of DNA molecules by ionizing radiation, and impacts of comets or asteroids. On the face of it, such events do appear to be random.
But in the grander scheme of things, is it really important whether the conscious, intelligent beings on Earth appear ape-like or dinosaur-like? I think that this is of no consequence at all. Perhaps throughout the universe, God allows random processes to dictate the physical shells that His conscious material beings eventually inhabit. I will be quite surprised if, in our first contact with intelligent beings not of this Earth, they turn out to look very much like us. However, wouldn’t it be extremely interesting if the off-world beings that we will eventually meet one day have a DNA structure similar to ours?
Either we throw away the idea that consciousness evolved by natural selection, or else we have to find a function for it.
A Consciousness Need:
As we have shown, the random chemical creation of life has a low probability in the extreme. But we can probe still further and ask: Why are we conscious living beings? Why are we aware that we are aware? Why do we have the capacity to question our existence and our universe? Why do we have the ability to pursue beauty, truth, and love? Why do we have a consciousness that can conceive of God?
There would appear to be no obvious advantage of consciousness from the Darwinian evolutionary viewpoint. “Survival of the fittest” does not require consciousness, it only requires having the best physical characteristics for survival in the environment.
Animals do not possess human consciousness, yet they are excellent Darwinian survivors. Sharks, turtles, horseshoe crabs, and cockroaches have been around since before the age of the dinosaurs. My dog appears to have the intelligence of a human two year old child. He can understand and respond to simple words and phrases. He can communicate his needs on a rudimentary level. But if my dog could talk and you were to ask him “what day is it”, he would undoubtedly reply “today”. My dog is conscious that he is here today. While he may remember to some extent events and people from the past, he does not ponder on these past events. Nor does he worry about his future.
I do not think that my dog has thoughts about beauty and truth. And I don’t believe that he thinks about God and his relationship to God. While I would like to think that my dog loves me, I don’t know if he does so in any conscious way. My dog’s level of consciousness consists of knowing when he is hungry, when he is threatened, when he is in pain, when he needs to perform bodily functions, when he wants to play ball, when he wants someone to rub his stomach, and when he wants to sleep. My dog has the consciousness that he needs to be a survivor in the Darwinian sense of the term.
But how does human consciousness aid “survival of the fittest”? Did we evolve our human consciousness by a process of natural selection? And if so, when and how did this happen in the Darwinian history of the human species?
In the sequence of human evolution, the ability to make and use simple tools began with homo habilis about two million years ago. Homo habilis then evolved into homo erectus 1.5 million years ago, who continued refining the use of tools. However, neither habilis nor erectus is thought to have evolved the capability of spoken language. The ability for language is considered to have begun with homo sapiens about 500,000 years ago.
There is no doubt that spoken language gave homo sapiens significant advantages over homo habilis and homo erectus. Sapiens could more effectively organize the hunting of food because of it. Spoken language certainly seems likely to have facilitated the communication of conscious thoughts, but was it the cause of these thoughts? Some argue that abstract conscious thought evolved as a result of the development of spoken language, while others argue that it was present prior to spoken language.
With regard to language, the case of feral children is interesting. Feral children are children who are removed from human contact at a very young age and for a very long length of time (typically years). Such unfortunate children are often lost in the wilderness, and animals are the only living things with which they have contact. When these feral children are finally rediscovered by humans, their observed behavior essentially mimics that of the animals that they had most contact with in the wild. In other words, although they are human beings, they essentially behave like animals and display the physical behaviors and sounds of animals. Furthermore, most feral children find it very difficult to learn spoken language and the language that they do learn tends to be only rudimentary in nature. This is because they did not hear any spoken language during their early childhood years when human language learning ability is known to be at its zenith.
The first feral child to be studied was Victor of Aveyron in France. Victor was initially seen wandering in the woods near the town of Saint Sernin sur Rance, in southern France, at the end of the 18th century. He was captured but then escaped, and wasn't retaken until January 1800. Although Victor appeared to be about 12 years old, he could not speak and had a number of scars which suggested that he had been in the wild for a significant length of time. He was taken in by a medical doctor by the name of Jean Marc Itard who attempted to teach him language, but Itard was unable to teach him to speak, nor to tame his wild behavior (although he did display some limited signs of human empathy). In the end, Victor was committed to a mental institution, where he died at the age of about 40.
The existence of feral children bears on the question: What differentiates human beings from animals? Clearly, for feral children the answer is not much in terms of Darwinian survival. But what kinds of thoughts did these feral children have in the wild? Anatomically, the brains of these children are fully functional human brains. Feral children who are old enough and acquire enough language capability to express themselves reveal that they have memories of events that happened to them while they were in the wild. This would suggest that they had the concept of the “I”. They were aware of themselves. But did they have abstract thought processes? Did they think any thoughts other than those related to survival? Were they happy when they found enough food to eat? Were they sad when one of their animal companions died? Were they afraid of their own death? Did they have at least a rudimentary concept of something greater than themselves? Unfortunately, it appears that there are currently no definitive answers to these questions from the very limited number of feral children cases that exist.
In closing this section, we must ask what is the evolutionary advantage of the conscious thought that prompted homo sapiens to make cave paintings 50,000 years ago? It is likely that the motivation of the ancient cave painter was to either describe a successful hunting event or to petition God for a successful hunt. Why, in the Darwinian sense, would such paintings produce any advantage for “survival of the fittest”? A better spear might, but not a cave painting. Most telling of all is the 50,000 year old cave image of the hand of the cave painter himself. He left this as evidence that he had made the painting, evidence of his creation of this work of art on stone. It was the mark that he, as a conscious entity, had existed.
We have the capacity to think about whether or not God exists. How does this ability aid us in any way in terms of our Darwinian survival? The answer is that it does not. This is because survival in the material world is not the ultimate reason for human consciousness. We have consciousness so that we can realize the purpose of our existence.
Reason, observation, and experience; the holy trinity of science.
Robert Green Ingersoll
No human being can comprehend the complete nature of God. Nor can any individual spiritual entity. Only God can fully know God. We comprehend only the most ephemeral outlines about what He truly is through our logic and beliefs. We conceive that God is universal, omnipotent, and eternal.
But perhaps the most esoteric and debated aspect is the triune nature of God. This concept is present in both Hinduism and in Christianity, but is rejected in Judaism and Islam. The doctrine of the Trinity in Christianity says that there are three manifestations of the one God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. Furthermore, this Trinity has existed for all eternity. There never was a time when God was not triune.
The Trinity has always been the most difficult God-concept that Christianity has had to deal with. The epistles of Paul, which are the earliest documented Christian teachings, and the gospel of Mark, which is the first of the gospels to be written, unequivocally teach the doctrine of the Trinity, based on the teachings of Jesus. But the Trinity was not always accepted by groups of early Christians. The most famous case associated with the Trinity was the idea put forward by Arius in the early fourth century. Arius said that God the Father created God the Son. This concept was hotly debated at the First Council of Nicea in the year 325 CE. And it is the reason why the Christian church at that time formulated the Nicean Creed, which is the basis of the Christian faith to the present day. As originally formulated by the First Council, the Nicean Creed is as follows (36):
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of all things, visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten of the Father; he is begotten, that is to say, he is of the substance of God, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten and not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things, both in heaven and on earth, were made. Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven and took our nature, and became man; he suffered, and rose again the third day; he ascended into heaven, and will come to judge the living and the dead. And we believe in the Holy Ghost. The holy catholic and apostolical church condemns all those who say that there was a period in which the Son of God did not exist; that before he was begotten, he had no existence; that he was called out of nothing into being; that he is of a different nature and of a different substance from the Father; and that he is susceptible of variation or of change.
It should be noted that the First Council of Nicea said nothing about the nature of God the Spirit (the Holy Ghost).
Interpreting the concept of the Trinity has been the herculean task of theologians since the beginnings of Christianity. In my opinion, the best explanation of the Trinity was put forward by the great Christian theologian Origen (37). Origen said that the Father was the Essence of God, the Son was the Mind of God, and the Spirit was the Action of God.
That foremost man of science, Isaac Newton, taught at Trinity College at Cambridge. Yet Newton could not accept the concept of the triune nature of God. He rejected it as illogical. But the logic of man may not be the logic of God. I feel that man is composed of soul, mind, and body, and that man was created in the image of a triune God – Father, Son, Spirit.
I believe that we are all children of God, offspring of the Creator and constructed in His image. I feel that I, as an entity, am composed of soul, mind, and body. The soul portion is associated with God the Father. My soul contains a little bit of the Father, the Essence of God, and it is the essence of the spiritual entity that I am. The mind part is linked with God the Son, the Mind of God, and my mind is ultimately connected to the Cosmic Mind. The physical body is associated with God the Spirit, the Action of God. My body allows my soul and mind to interface with and act upon the material world in which I presently reside.
When, how, and why did God create us to be little separate bits of Himself? Were we created at our conception in this life, or at some point in time eons ago, or have we always existed as separate God-entities? Did God conceive the thought of us whereupon we instantaneously came into existence? What purpose did God have in giving us individual existence and consciousness? I can frame these questions, but I cannot provide any answers.
If we are in essence spiritual beings created by God in the image of God, then where is the Kingdom of God? According to their established traditions, the Religions of the Book (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) say that God is in a spiritual place called Heaven. On the other hand, Hinduism teaches that Brahman is everywhere and in everything, while Buddhism speaks of Wholeness.
My own feeling is that the Kingdom of God is indeed as conceived in Hinduism and more vaguely in Buddhism. It is everywhere and in everything. I believe that, in this regard, the Religions of the Book have diverged from the Truth over the centuries. Since I was born a Christian, let me use Christianity as an example of why I think the Religions of the Book have been distorted by time and human modifications.
If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.
Mohandas K. Gandhi
Rooting Out Christianity:
How did the present Christian beliefs in God and Jesus Christ come to be? To answer this question, one needs to delve into the earliest history of Christianity.
Jesus of Nazareth definitely existed on Earth. There is absolutely no historical question about this. His existence is verified by two sources independent of any Christian writings. The first source is Josephus, the Jewish historian. The second source is Tacitus, the Roman historian. Both state that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Here is the account of Josephus written in the years 93-94 CE (38):
Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works – a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
Since Josephus was decidedly not a member of the tribe of Christians, historians suspect that his rather affirmative account of Jesus as the Christ was a result of embellishment by early scribes who were Christians. Perhaps this is the earliest example of distortion associated with Christianity.
The Roman historian Tacitus gave this description related to a rumor that Nero was responsible for the fire in Rome in 64 CE (39):
Therefore to quell the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus, and the pernicious superstition was checked for the moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judaea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue.
It’s interesting that Tacitus refers to Christianity as a “disease”. Clearly, there are no early Christian distortions in Tacitus’ account of Jesus!
There are three strata of Christian historical writings (40). The first stratum (30-60 CE) contains the epistles of Paul. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians was written in 50 CE, his letter to the Galatians in 52-53 CE, his letter to the Corinthians in 53-54 CE, and Paul’s letter to the Romans in 55-56 CE. Paul’s writings were thus about 20 years after the death of Jesus.
Also a part of the first stratum may be the Gospel of Thomas, said to have been composed by the Apostle Thomas, and thought to possibly date from the 50’s CE. The Gospel of Thomas is considered to be the premier document of the Nag Hammadi documents that were discovered in Egypt in 1945 (41). It is essentially a summary of 114 sayings of Jesus, each beginning with the words “Jesus said”. We will come back to the Gospel of Thomas because I believe it to have pertinence as to what Jesus may actually have said during his ministry.
The most important document in the second stratum of Christian writings (60-80 CE) is the Gospel of Mark, thought to be composed in the early 70’s CE. The Gospel of Mark was written by Mark, whose name was really John Mark. John Mark had actual physical contact with Jesus, since he was the son of a woman disciple. It is likely that the Last Supper took place in her home, and that John Mark was the person who “ran away naked” from the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested. John Mark was the Apostle Peter’s scribe, and related in his gospel what Peter told him about Jesus. The Gospel of Mark is considered to be the most historically accurate gospel since it was the first gospel written, and is often referred to as the “photograph of Jesus”.
Christian historians also believe that there was a “Q” gospel in existence at the time of the Gospel of Mark that later became embedded, along with Mark, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. However, no copy of this postulated Q Gospel has ever been found, and the author is unknown.
The third stratum of Christian writings took place during the years 80-120 CE. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke were both written around the late 80’s CE. Matthew is said to have been written by the Apostle Matthew, and is considered to be the “Jewish gospel” since it was written for the Jewish community. The Gospel of Luke was written by Luke, who was a follower of Paul. Luke was a physician and a Greek, and Luke’s gospel is regarded as the “Greek gospel” because it was targeted at the Greek community. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke drew their materials from the Gospel of Mark and from the Q Gospel. Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles as a second volume of his Gospel.
The Gospel of John was written about 100 CE, and is thought to have been written by two Johns. The first was John the Apostle, and the second was John the Evangelist. Obviously, John the Apostle was a very, very old man at the time the Gospel of John was composed, so it is likely that most of the actual writing was done by John the Evangelist, using material that he obtained from John the Apostle. It should be noted that the earliest fragment of any of the gospels is a fragment of the Gospel of John, which is firmly dated to the year 125 CE. The Book of Revelations is also attributed to a John, but it is not clear whether this was John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, or another John entirely.
That is a quick rundown on the historicity of the major writings contained in the present Christian New Testament. But it must be emphasized that there were other historical writings that did not end up in the New Testament. These include the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Cross Gospel, the Gospel of the Egyptians, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Secret Gospel of Mark, and the Signs Gospel.
How did the present New Testament, the Christian Canon, actually come to be? It begins with the Roman emperor Constantine. Constantine was born in the year 274 CE in York, England, then an outpost in the decaying Roman Empire. He was one of three Roman emperors at the time, and waged a campaign to defeat his rivals.
In this campaign, he was poised to march his army into Rome and do battle with his rival. But on the day before the battle, before crossing the river into Rome, Constantine had a vision in the sky of a cross of light, and the words “In Hoc Signo Vinces” (In This Sign Victory). He also had a similar vision that evening.
The next morning, Constantine fashioned Chi-Rho battle standards (the Christian symbol of a P overlaid with an X), marched into Rome and was victorious. Following his great victory, he then made Christianity the state religion, and the Roman Empire became the Holy Roman Empire. As a result, virtually overnight the number of Christians increased from about 200,000 persecuted individuals, to 30,000,000 citizens of Rome! This was an immense step in the establishment of Christianity as a major world religion.
Having installed Christianity as the official Roman state religion, Constantine found that he needed to coalesce the various diverse elements of Christianity into a coherent whole. So he called together the First Council of Nicea in the year 325 CE. This Council was composed of 318 Christian bishops throughout the Holy Roman Empire. Notable among them was Eusebius, the first Christian historian, who was the Bishop of Caesarea. Eusebius recorded some of what went on at the First Council of Nicea in his Church History (42).
Before Constantine, the early Christian church had been struggling to define what the content of Christianity really was. In particular, in the late second century, the church figure Irenaeus fought to establish church doctrine. In terms of the widely accepted writings at the time, there were the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the epistles of Paul, and epistles from other apostles and disciples of Jesus. However, there was also a large body of further writings that were accepted by some Christian factions, but not by all Christians. There were many writings that were written significantly after the time of Jesus, but which were claimed to be divinely inspired. It was very much a hodgepodge.
This is what the First Council of Nicea had to confront and clarify. At the same time, there was also the major heresy of Arius to address. It is interesting that, most often, heresy is defined as the concept that was on the losing side. In the case of Arius, he had stated that in the Christian trinity, God the Son was not equal to God the Father, because the Father had existed before the Son and had thus created him. Arius was also present at the First Council of Nicea.
So Constantine convened the First Council of Nicea, and he also agreed to pay for 50 copies of a Christian Canon that would be agreed upon by the 318 bishops at the Council. Constantine was an emperor who knew how to get things done. The bishops at the First Council of Nicea proceeded to formulate the content of what is now the Christian Bible (36):
Besides the Canonical Scriptures, nothing shall be read in the Church under the title of “divine writings”. The Canonical books are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, the four Books of Kings, the two Books of Chronicles, Job, the Psalms of David, the five books of Solomon, the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobias, Judith, Esther, two Books of Esdras, two of Maccabees.
The Books of the New Testament are: The Four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of Paul, one Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews, two Epistles of Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude, and the Revelation of John.
There you have it. The source of the Bible as we know it today. Established by 318 bishops in the year 325 CE, more than three centuries after the birth of Jesus. After the First Council of Nicea, any Christian writings that were not included in the above were to be rejected as incorrect. Most were considered to be heresy and were destroyed.
But we have recently gotten a glimpse of the vast number of Christian writings that existed before the First Council of Nicea from the discovery of the Nag Hammadi documents in Egypt in 1945.
These documents were found by a farmer who was digging for fertilizer near the town of Nag Hammadi in Egypt. He uncovered a large buried clay pot and inside it were many very old documents written on papyrus.
The farmer took his treasure-trove home, where it remained for some period of time. His wife even used some of this ancient literature as fire kindling! What a loss to the Christian world (although I’m sure it was important to her at the time).
Eventually, these documents made it to the outside world and they were determined to be ancient Coptic Christian religious writings of the so-called Gnostics (the word Gnostic means knowledge). In the fourth century, the Gnostics were declared heretics by the official Christian church. These Nag Hammadi documents have been archeologically dated to the year 325 CE. They were likely documents that had existed in a Christian monastery library at the time of the First Council of Nicea. When the Council made its decree on the content of the Bible, the monks had to get rid of these forbidden documents, but they probably could not bring themselves to destroy such treasures, so they buried them in a clay jar.
With Nag Hammadi, we have a collection of early Christian religious writings that can be firmly dated to the year 325 CE. These documents are to Christianity what the Dead Sea Scrolls are to Judaism. The list of documents that were discovered and translated from the Coptic is extensive (41):
The Prayer of the Apostle Paul; The Apocryphon of James; The Gospel of Truth; The Treatise on the Resurrection; The Tripartite Tractate; The Apocryphon of John; The Gospel of Thomas; The Gospel of Philip; The Hypostasis of the Archons; On the Origin of the World; The Exegesis on the Soul; The Book of Thomas the Contender; The Gospel of the Egyptians; Eugnostos the Blessed; The Sophia of Jesus Christ; The Dialogue of the Savior; The Apocalypse of Paul; The First Apocalypse of James; The Second Apocalypse of James; The Apocalypse of Adam; The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles; The Thunder, Perfect Mind; Authoritative Teaching; The Concept of Our Great Power; Plato, Republic; The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth; The Prayer of Thanksgiving; Asclepius; The Paraphrase of Shem; The Second Treatise of the Great Seth; Apocalypse of Peter; The Teachings of Silvanus; The Three Steles of Seth; Zostrianos; The Letter of Peter to Philip; Melchizedek; The Thought of Norea; The Testimony of Truth; Marsanes; The Interpretation of Knowledge; A Valentinian Exposition, with On the Anointing; On Baptism and On the Eucharist; Allogenes; Hypsiphrone; The Sentences of Sextus; Fragments; Trimorphic Protennoia; The Gospel of Mary; The Act of Peter
Many of the above writings are not complete, having been partially destroyed or damaged during the time that the farmer had the priceless collection at his home and used some of it for fire kindling.
The premier document of the Nag Hammadi collection is by far the Gospel of Thomas. Prior to Nag Hammadi, only fragments of the Gospel of Thomas had been discovered by Christian historians. But here we had a complete copy! It was in the form of a codex, a primitive book made of papyrus pages tied together. Such codexes were used in olden times because they were easier to transport from place to place than were papyrus scrolls. It was written in Coptic, not Aramaic or Greek, but the copy was firmly dated to the year 325.
Unlike the synoptic Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, the Gospel of Thomas does not describe the life of Jesus. It is merely a collection of 114 of the sayings of Jesus. Here is how it begins (43):
These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke, and Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down.
Who was Didymos Judas Thomas? Didymos means twin. This person is taken to be the Apostle Thomas, the Doubting Thomas. The Apostle Thomas is said to have eventually traveled to India in the first century, arriving in the present state of Kerala on the west coast of India, then proceeding around the tip of India to the city of Madras (now called Chennai), where he is described as being martyred by local Brahmins. There is actually a Cathedral of St. Thomas in Chennai, which commemorates this tradition. It contains a fragment of bone said to be from Thomas the Apostle.
Many of the 114 sayings in the Gospel of Thomas are also contained in the Gospel of Mark, suggesting that these gospels were written close together in time. It is intriguing to think that the Gospel of Thomas might have predated the Gospel of Mark, but this is not definitively known. Nor is it known how the Gospel of Thomas is related to the inferred first century Q Gospel.
Saying 12 in the Gospel of Thomas is very interesting:
The disciples said to Jesus: “We know that you will depart from us. Who (then) will rule over us?”
Jesus said to them: “No matter where you came from, you should go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.”
This says that Jesus’ appointed leader after he is gone is James the Just. But who was James the Just? As a Catholic-school-educated person, I had never heard of James the Just in any of my religious instructions. This statement in the Gospel of Thomas came as a surprise to me when I read it. Since then, I have learned much about this James, and I believe that he is the key to understanding some of the true historical aspects of Jesus.
Eusebius, Josephus, and Paul all mention James the Just. He was the First Bishop of Jerusalem, the first leader of the embryonic Christian church. James the Just is not to be confused with the Apostle James. They were two different people. The Apostle James was martyred in about 49 CE, while James the Just was martyred in 62 CE. The first Christian leader was not Peter, or any of the other apostles, but rather James the Just. It is logical to ask what distinction James possessed that he was singled out to be the leader of the apostles after Jesus was gone, and was made the first Bishop of Jerusalem.
There is a very strong possibility that James the Just was the brother of Jesus. If one accepts the immaculate conception of Jesus, it is not clear whether James was a half-brother (through Mary and Joseph) or a step-brother (one of Joseph’s children from his previous marriage) of Jesus. But it is clear that he had a brother relationship. This is what Eusebius said about him (42):
James was called the brother of the Lord since he too was called Joseph’s son, and Joseph Christ’s father – though the Virgin was his betrothed and before they came together she was found to have conceived by the Holy Spirit, as the inspired Gospel tells us (Matt. 1:18). This same James, whom early Christians surnamed “the Just” for his outstanding virtue, was the first to be elected to the bishop’s throne of the church in Jerusalem. Clement (of Alexandria) in Outlines, Book 6, puts it as follows:
Peter, James, and John, after the Savior’s ascension, did not contend for the honor because they had previously been favored by the Savior, but chose James the Just as Bishop of Jerusalem.
In Book 7 of the same work, the writer also says this about him:
After the resurrection the Lord imparted the higher knowledge (gnosis) to James the Just, John, and Peter. They gave it to the other apostles, and the other apostles to the Seventy, one of whom was Barnabas. Now there were two Jameses: one, James the Just, who was thrown down from the parapet (of the temple) and beaten to death with a fuller’s club; the other, the James who was beheaded (Acts 12:2).
Paul also mentions James the Just when he writes: “But I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother” (Gal. 1:19).
….. But the most accurate account of him is given by Hegesippus, who came in the generation after the apostles. He writes, in Book 5 of his Memoirs:
(Administration of) the church passed to James, the brother of the Lord, along with the apostles. He was called “the Just” by everyone from the Lord’s time to ours, since there were many Jameses, but this one was consecrated from his mother’s womb. He drank no wine or liquor and ate no meat. No razor came near his head, he did not anoint himself with oil, and took no baths. He alone was permitted to enter the sanctum, for he wore not wool but linen. He used to enter the temple alone and was often found kneeling and imploring forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like a camel’s from his continual kneeling in worship of God and in prayer for the people. Because of his superior righteousness he was called the Just and Oblias – meaning, in Greek, “Bulwark of the People” and “Righteousness” – as the prophets declare regarding him.
Representatives of the seven sects among the (Jewish) people, which I previously described (in the Memoirs), asked him what “the door of Jesus” meant, and he replied that he was the Savior. Because of this, some believed that Jesus was the Christ. The sects mentioned above did not believe in a resurrection or in One who is coming to reward each according to his deeds, but those who did believe did so because of James. Now, since many even of the rulers believed, there was an uproar among the Jews, scribes, and Pharisees saying that the whole populace was in danger of accepting Jesus as the Christ. So they assembled and said to James: “We call on you to restrain the people, since they have gone astray after Jesus, believing him to be the Christ. We call on you to persuade all who come for the Passover concerning Jesus, since all of us trust you. We and the entire populace can vouch for the fact that you are righteous and take no one at face value. So do persuade the crowd not to err regarding Jesus, since we and all the people respect you. So stand on the parapet of the temple, where you can be clearly seen from that height and your words be heard by all the people with all the tribes, and the Gentiles too, gathered for the Passover.”
So the scribes and Pharisees made James stand on the temple parapet, and they shouted to him, “O righteous one, whom we all ought to believe, since the people are going astray after Jesus who was crucified, tell us, what does ‘the door of Jesus’ mean?” He replied with a loud voice, “Why do you ask me about the Son of Man? He is sitting in heaven at the right hand of the Great Power, and he will come on the clouds of heaven.” Many were convinced and rejoiced at James’s testimony, crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Then the scribes and Pharisees said to each other, “We made a bad mistake in providing such testimony to Jesus, but let us go up and throw him down so that they will be afraid and not believe him.” And they cried out, “Oh, oh, even the Just one has gone astray!” This fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “Let us remove the just man, for he is unprofitable to us. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their works.”
So they went up and threw down the righteous one. Then they said to each other, “Let us stone James the Just,” and they began to stone him, since the fall had not killed him. But he turned and knelt down, saying, “I implore you, O Lord, God and Father, forgive them: they do not know what they are doing.” While they were pelting him with stones, one of the priests among the sons of the Rechabites, to whom the prophet Jeremiah bore witness, cried out, “Stop! What are you doing? The righteous one is praying for you.” Then one of them, a laundryman, took the club that he used to beat out clothes and hit the Just on the head. Such was his martyrdom. They buried him on the spot by the temple, and his gravestone is still there by the temple. He became a true witness to both Jews and Gentiles that Jesus is the Christ. Just after this Vespasian began to besiege them.
This is the full account given by Hegesippus, which is in agreement with Clement. So extraordinary a man was James, so esteemed by all for righteousness that even the more intelligent of the Jews thought that this was why the siege of Jerusalem immediately followed his martyrdom. Indeed, Josephus did not hesitate to write:
These things happened to the Jews as retribution for James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus who was called Christ, for Jews killed him despite his great righteousness.
Eusebius certainly had a lot to say about James the Just in his Church History. Recently an ossuary, or bone box, has been discovered in Israel, dated to the year 62 CE, the year that James was martyred. The aramaic inscription on this ossuary says: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”
There are a number of other Sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas that especially resonate with me, and there are those that quite honestly puzzle me. Some of the following sayings do not appear in the Gospel of Mark, nor in any other of the synoptic Gospels.
Jesus says: “The one who seeks should not cease seeking until he finds. And when he finds, he will be dismayed. And when he is dismayed, he will be astonished. And he will be king over the All.”
Why will you be dismayed then astonished once you seek and find the truth? What will there be in the truth that will cause these reactions?
Jesus says: “When you see one who was not born of woman, fall on your face and worship him. That one is your Father.”
What human has ever existed on Earth that has not been born of woman? The only person not born of woman referred to in the Old Testament was said to be Melchizedek. Jesus himself was definitely born of woman.
Jesus says: “Perhaps people think that I have come to cast peace upon the earth. But they do not know that I have come to cast dissension upon the earth: fire, sword, war. For there will be five in one house: there will be three against two and two against three, father against son and son against father. And they will stand as solitary ones.”
This would appear to be a prediction of future events. The early Christians did not experience peace since they were persecuted first by the Jews and then the Romans. Later they in many instances became the persecutors, for example in the Crusades and with the actions of the conquistadors in the new world.
Jesus says: “I will give you what no eye has seen, and what no ear has heard, and what no hand has touched, and what has not occurred to the human mind.”
The reference to “what has not occurred to the human mind” is interesting. This would imply that Jesus was more than just a human.
The disciples said to Jesus: “Tell us how our end will be.”
Jesus said: “Have you already discovered the beginning that you are now asking about the end? For where the beginning is, there the end will be too. Blessed is he who will stand at the beginning. And he will know the end, and he will not taste death.”
Jesus appears to say that after we die, we go to the place where we existed before we were born. Is there an implication here of reincarnation?
Jesus saw infants being suckled.
He said to his disciples: “These little ones being suckled are like those who enter the kingdom.”
They said to him: “Then will we enter the kingdom as little ones?”
Jesus said to them: “When you make the two into one and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside and the above like the below – that is, to make the male and the female into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female will not be female – and when you make eyes instead of an eye and a hand instead of a hand and a foot instead of a foot, an image instead of an image, then will you enter the kingdom.”
This is one of those puzzling Sayings in the Gospel of Thomas. What does this mean? When you make two into one, when you make the inside like the outside, when you make male and female into a single one? Could this refer to the shedding of the physical body upon death and the taking up of a non-physical form?
His disciples said: “Show us the place where you are, because it is necessary for us to seek it.”
He said to them: “Whoever has ears should hear! Light exists inside a person of light, and he shines on the whole world. If he does not shine, there is darkness.”
Jesus is saying that light is a very positive attribute, while darkness is a very negative attribute. It is suggestive of near death experiences, where people are transported to the light.
Jesus says: “Love your brother like your life! Protect him like the apple of your eye!”
This Saying reaffirms the Golden Rule: Love your neighbor.
Jesus says: “I stood in the middle of the world, and in flesh I appeared to them. I found all of them drunk. None of them did I find thirsty. And my soul ached for the children of humanity, because they are blind in their heart, and they cannot see; for they came into the world empty, and they also seek to depart from the world empty. But now they are drunk. But when they shake off their wine, then they will change their mind.”
The reference to being drunk may refer to being drunk with respect to worldly desires, as opposed to the desire for spirituality and spiritual growth as a result of the life on Earth. The reference to “children of humanity” is interesting, since it may again imply that Jesus was more than human..
Jesus says: “If the flesh came into being because of the spirit, it is a wonder. But if the spirit came into being because of the body, it is a wonder of wonders. Yet I marvel at how this great wealth has taken up residence in this poverty.”
The great wealth is the spirit, the soul. The poverty is the body. Physical life occurs when the life-force, the soul, enters the body. That is a wonder. The body does not create the spirit. If that were so, then it would indeed be a “wonder of wonders”, because it is just not that way.
Jesus says: “become passers-by.”
In a way, this sounds like a saying from Buddhism. The Buddha said that everything was impermanent.
Jesus says: “Whoever blasphemes against the Father, it will be forgiven him. And whoever blasphemes against the Son, it will be forgiven him. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, neither on earth nor in heaven.”
This “sin that cannot be forgiven” also appears in the synoptic Gospels, and it is just as puzzling there as it is here in the Gospel of Thomas. It almost seems to suggest that, in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit has a higher standing than either the Father or the Son. Also, how does one “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit”? If there is a “sin that cannot be forgiven”, certainly one would want to know exactly what that sin was, so as to avoid it like the plague!
One should note that the early Christian theologian Origen was also very puzzled by “the sin that cannot be forgiven”. He specifically discussed it in his book Periarchon, but did not provide any further insight into its explanation (37).
Jesus says: “Blessed are the solitary ones, the elect. For you will find the kingdom. For you come from it and will return to it.”
This is another Saying that is suggestive of reincarnation. Jesus says that you come from the kingdom and that you return to it. Do you then come back again?
Jesus says: “If they say to you: ‘Where do you come from?’ then say to them: ‘We have come from the light, the place where the light has come into being by itself, has established itself and has appeared in their image.’ If they say to you: ‘Is it you?’ then say: ‘We are his children, and we are the elect of the living Father.’ If they ask you: ‘What is the sign of your Father among you?’ then say to them: ‘It is movement and repose.’
Jesus says that we are children of God who come from the light. This suggests that God is the Light. And the sign of God is “movement and repose”, in other words movement and non-movement, or action and non-action.
His disciples said to him: “When will the resurrection of the dead take place, and when will the new world come?” He said to them: “That resurrection which you are awaiting has already come, but you do not recognize it.”
Jesus is saying that his disciples have already been resurrected, but that they do not realize it. This suggests reincarnation.
His disciples said to him: “Is circumcision beneficial, or not?” He said to them: “If it were beneficial, their father would beget them circumcised from their mother. But the true circumcision in the spirit has prevailed over everything.”
An interesting and direct comment about circumcision which says that, because it is not natural, it is not useful.
Jesus says: “Whoever has come to know the world has found a corpse. And whoever has found this corpse, of him the world is not worthy.”
The corpse is worldly materialism, as opposed to spirituality. Those who develop their spirituality rise above worldly desires and seek spiritual goals.
Jesus says: “I am the light that is over all. I am the All. The All came forth out of me. And to me the All has come. Split a piece of wood – I am there. Lift the stone, and you will find me there.”
This sounds like the very essence of Hinduism! Brahman is All. That is what the Vedas and the Upanishads say. God is everywhere and in everything. Everything is a part of God.
Jesus says: When you see your likeness you are full of joy. But when you see your likenesses that came into existence before you – they neither die nor become manifest – how much will you bear?”
This appears to be another reference to reincarnation. Your “likenesses that came into existence before you” sounds like a description of previous lives and personalities.
Jesus says: “Why do you wash the outside of the cup? Do you not understand that the one who created the inside is also the one who created the outside?”
The outside of the cup refers to the body. The inside of the cup refers to the spirit, the soul.
The above are the Sayings of the 114 Sayings in the Gospel of Thomas that I have found to be the most interesting and insightful. But the Gospel of Thomas Saying that has impacted me the most profoundly is the following one:
Jesus says: “If those who lead you say to you: ‘Look, the kingdom is in the sky!’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you: ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fishes will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you and outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will realize that you are the children of the living Father. But if you do not come to know yourselves, then you exist in poverty and you are poverty.”
The kingdom is inside of you and outside of you. What a powerful statement! When I first read these words in the Gospel of Thomas, the great truth in them leapt right out at me. What they say is that there is a spark of God inside each of us, at the very core of our soul. And they also say that God is present in everything – and everyone – around us. Turn over a stone, and there God is. See your neighbor (and even your enemy), and there God is. God is the alpha and the omega. God is in everything in the universe. In other words, God is All.
If the living Jesus said these words as the Gospel of Thomas relates, then Jesus essentially encapsulated all the religions of the world into a single statement! Hinduism says that Brahman is All. Buddhism says that Wholeness is All. Judaism says that Yahweh is All. Islam says that Allah is All. Taoism says that Dao is All.
In Saying 3, Jesus said that you must come to know yourself, the true spiritual you. You must strive to know the God inside you. If you don’t come to realize this, if you believe that all you are is a physical body and brain, then you don’t recognize the magnitude of your true existence. In other words, you exist in the poverty of the physical world, not realizing the true wealth that you have, and are, in the spiritual world.
We have finally arrived at the Truth at the root of Christianity.
I certainly don't believe in the soul as an enduring entity. Our brains are made of neurons, and nothing else. You take enough of those, and you put them together, and you get a soul.
Soul of the Matter:
What is the soul? A few years ago, I was staying with my wife at a bed and breakfast in Cambridge, Massachusetts while visiting our daughter, who was attending Harvard University at the time. We came down one morning for breakfast and there was an elderly gentleman sitting at the table also having his breakfast. I was talking to my wife on a topic related to religion and saying something about the soul. All of a sudden the elderly gentleman turned and asked me “What is the soul?”.
His question took me for a loss. I sputtered a bit while trying to formulate a coherent response in my own mind. I think I said something like “Your soul is the spiritual part of you.” Then he said again “Tell me what the soul is.” I sputtered again in reply “Don’t you think that you have a soul?” He said “No.” The conversation ended with that, and I left the table thinking that this man must be an atheist, and feeling a bit sorry for him. But I also left the table feeling disappointed that I couldn’t have answered his question better.
The Christian theologian Origen thought that all souls had been created by God, and had been given free will by Him. Because of this free will and associated sin, they had removed themselves from the presence of God to a lesser or greater degree. The archangels were the least removed, the angels more so, human beings even more so, and finally the devil and his minions were the most removed from God since they had sinned to the greatest degree.
Let me make an attempt to describe what I think, what I feel, the soul is. I will use simple illustrations to help get these ideas across. I believe that, at its core, the soul is a little bit of the essence of God - that we are truly and fundamentally Children of God. I think that, for some reason only God knows, He creates souls that are essentially infinitesimal pieces of Himself. When did or does God create souls? Did He create trillions upon trillions of them eons ago, or does He continually create them? Who knows? I certainly don’t.
The soul is essentially the “I”. “I” am not my brain/body combination. The “I” of my existence is the spiritual entity of the soul. God gives each soul a very important attribute, and that attribute is free will. The soul is free to choose the path it will follow, and because of this God-given freedom, the kernel of the soul tends to build up a “coating” of its “cravings”. Cravings are things that I desire in life that are not truly God-centered. They can be associated with desires for wealth, power, and glory. They can be involved with pride and prejudice, love and hate, or lust. They can be related to a dependence on material things, or a dependence on intellectual ideas. They may be associated with dependencies on other people or material addictions.
There are all manner of cravings that we can build up around the spark of our Godly essence during a lifetime. But the effect of these cravings is to insulate the “I” from the infinity that is God.
A materialist might put forward the following scenario with regard to the soul. Our biological science has already demonstrated that we can clone animals. These animal clones have bodies and brains that are virtually identical to each other. It is now possible to clone human beings. When (or if) fully developed human clones are born into this world, they will also have essentially identical bodies and brains. Would they, then, have the same soul?
The answer to this is a definite no. The body and brain have nothing whatsoever to do with the identity of the soul. Identical twins born by biologically natural processes are very much like clones. But they do not share the same soul. The spiritual soul is completely distinct from the material body. Human clones, if and when they come to maturity, will all have distinct, different souls.
The disciples said to Jesus: “Tell us how our end will be.”
Jesus said: “Have you already discovered the beginning that you are now asking about the end? For where the beginning is, there the end will be too.”
Saying 18, Gospel of Thomas
The Circle Game:
Origen believed in the transmigration of souls and reincarnation as a logical means to explain God’s justice when some people are born into poverty and suffering while others are born into riches and comfort.
Having been created by God as a little bit of His essence that is somewhat distinct, and possessing the attributes of free will and free-will-related cravings, the purpose and destiny of the soul is to re-unite with the spiritual infinity of God. The analogy here is the merging of a distinct drop of water with the vast ocean. But the complicating factor is cravings, which are essentially the negative karma that we build up during a given lifetime of existence. It is this separating layer of negative karma, our cravings, that we must remove before we can completely remerge with the Ocean of God. In the presence of cravings, the soul becomes immersed in that Ocean upon death, but still remains as a distinct entity within it. The greater the overcoat of cravings on the soul, the more it is removed from closeness to God. The removal of cravings requires reincarnation and the spending of many lifetimes for its complete dissolution. We cannot fully remerge with the Ocean of God until we eliminate all of our cravings. This may take many lifetimes to accomplish and, until it is accomplished, we cycle between births and deaths, and the lifetimes in between.
During a given lifetime, because of our free will, we have the option of either decreasing our cravings, or increasing them. Decreasing our cravings brings us a step closer to complete absorption back into the Ocean of God. Increasing our cravings means that we will need additional time, additional lifetimes, in order to remerge with the Ocean of God, our final destiny. When we lead a good life, we decrease the burden of our cravings. And when we lead a bad life, we increase that burden.
After we have lived a sufficient number of lifetimes to reduce our cravings to zero, when we die after our last lifetime, our soul is fully re-absorbed into the Ocean of God. This is the point of Nirvana in Buddhism. Whether or not we lose our soul individuality at this point, I do not know. My feeling is that, although reincarnation in the physical no longer occurs, we may continue to exist as spiritual individualities that must strive further to more completely unite with God’s essence on higher spiritual levels.
The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Makeup (of) Your Mind:
What is the Mind? Where does it exist? How is it structured? How does it function? These are major questions indeed. Let’s see what we seem to know.
First, we know that we have a conscious mind. When we wake up each morning, we are in the conscious state. During that time, we take inputs from our five senses, and we have coherent thought processes. However, each night when we go to sleep, we pass from the conscious state to the unconscious state. I have attempted to assess my own transition from consciousness to unconsciousness in approaching the sleep state. I am definitely conscious and concentrating on remaining conscious up to a certain point. But then a veil seems to come down relatively rapidly and I am unconscious and in the state of sleep. I do not seem able to modify this transition with the concentration of my conscious mind. The transition from consciousness to unconsciousness during sleep is a rapid one once it begins.
Additionally, we can be made to go abruptly from the waking conscious state to the unconscious state artificially through the use of anesthetics. There is also the physical trauma aspect of consciousness. If someone hits you on the head hard enough, you will immediately transition from the conscious to the unconscious state. Finally, drugs can affect the brain to cause a state of unconsciousness. Abnormal brain chemistry can also produce mental illnesses of the conscious state such as depression and schizophrenia which can be relieved by the administration of appropriate drugs.
The above observations make it patently clear that the state of consciousness is clearly associated with brain function in large measure. However, people have been trying for years to determine where in the brain the consciousness is located. All the research that has been done thus far indicates that consciousness is a generalized brain function that draws from many different physical locations in the brain.
Walker has written an interesting book called “The Physics of Consciousness” (44). As one aspect of his analysis, he attempted to quantify in a physics sense some of the important aspects of consciousness:
· The shortest time event that can be detected consciously is about 1/25 of a second. For example, if someone pricks you with a pin, it will take you no less than 1/25 of a second to record a conscious perception of the pinprick.
The consciously experienced visual field has about 2,000,000 bits of information. If I close and then open my eyes, the image that I see will contain approximately 2,000,000 “pixels”. Walker called this the consciousness field capacity. It derives from the fact that we have about 2 million optic nerve fibers going from our two eyes to the brain.
Based on electrical pulse rates of the optic nerves, the maximum information rate that can be supplied to the brain is in the range of 45-200 million bits of information per second. Walker termed this information rate the consciousness channel capacity.
From these observations about the characteristics of consciousness, Walker went on to speculate that the key role in consciousness is the quantum mechanical tunneling of electrons across the synapses of neurons in the brain. From this hypothesis and other estimations as to the mechanics of brain function, he derived the following equation that stipulates a necessary condition for consciousness (44):
F > ---------
n t2 N
F = firing frequency of a synapse = number of synapse firings per second
n = number of donor electrons from a synapse site = 200,000
t = synaptic delay time = 0.3 millisecond
N = total number of synapses in the brain = 2.35 x 1013
M = soluble RNA “electron stepping stone” molecules = 7.45 x 1020
t = electron jump time = 8.4 x 10-12 second
This inequality equation says that the quantity on the left hand side of the equation must be greater than the quantity on the right hand side of the equation for us to experience consciousness. Plugging in the values of the parameters indicated above, the equation states that only if the firing rate, F, of a brain synapse exceeds 0.015 firings per second will we experience consciousness. What an interesting result! This would explain how we transition to sleep unconsciousness, since the brain would slow down during the initial relaxation state before sleep. It would also explain how anesthestic drugs and brain trauma induce the unconscious state.
But do we also have another level of mind that is distinct from our conscious mind? I refer of course to the subconscious mind. Sigmund Freud thought we did. He felt that the subconscious mind (he called it the unconscious mind) was the storehouse of repressed memories and desires. Freud’s analogy of the mind was an iceberg. The conscious mind was that part above the water, while the subconscious was below the water line. As with an iceberg, the subconscious was significantly larger than the conscious, and was the site of a great many negative things such as fears, violent motives, unacceptable sexual desires, immoral urges, irrational wishes, selfish needs, and shameful experiences.
While I agree with Freud that we have a subconscious mind, I believe that it is positive in nature and much more encompassing than what Freud conceived it to be. In contrast to Freud’s iceberg floating in water, the analogy of a sailing ship is a good one for expressing my view on the subconscious. Part of a sailing ship is under water, but the bulk of the ship is above water. The part of the ship below the waterline can be taken as our conscious mind, while the larger portion of the ship represents our subconscious. The two parts of the ship are connected to each other but the environments that they experience are distinctly different. The below-water part sees only the dimly lit water immediately around it, while the above-water part sees a great expanse of sea and sky. Furthermore, the above-water part can see where the ship is headed, while this is invisible to the below-water. Using this analogy, the subconscious mind is much larger in scope than the conscious mind, and has greatly expanded abilities and perceptions that are not present in the conscious mind.
What is the evidence that we have an expansive subconscious mind? First consider hypnosis, a state that appears to allow some level of direct access to the subconscious. Under hypnosis, people can remember details of events that they cannot remember in the conscious state. Indeed, hypnosis has been used in criminal investigations to obtain details of events from witnesses that they simply cannot recall when they are consciously aware. People also recall childhood memories from long ago in vivid detail. These memories reside in the subconscious mind.
Under hypnosis, people can be made to exhibit physical reactions that would be very difficult under the control of their conscious mind. If it is suggested that they will feel no pain when pricked with a pin, they will not feel pain. If a suggestion is made of some painful trauma, then they will experience that pain even though no trauma has occurred. Through post-hypnotic suggestions, people can be made to perform actions while in the conscious state that they have not conceived in their conscious mind. These things are possible because hypnosis is somehow able to gain access to and influence the subconscious mind.
Another manifestation of the subconscious mind occurs in the dreams we have during REM sleep. We are not conscious, but our mind is functioning in a semi-coherent way. We can “experience” many things in our dreams, some bizarre and some relatively mundane. People often have recurrent dreams. A dream I have had more than once is that I am back in graduate school and still working on my graduate courses and Ph.D thesis. However, due to disorganization and laxness on my part, I have failed to complete important coursework and I am way behind in the completion of my thesis work. This gives me a great deal of “dream anxiety” until I finally have the thought that I actually completed my PhD thesis and received my Ph.D degree years ago. However, this momentary lucid thought does not end my dream, which merely continues along other avenues. Another recurrent dream that I have is that I am walking around and interacting with people, but I have very few clothes on and feel quite embarrassed and silly about the fact. I don’t know why I have this particular recurrent dream, but it apparently is a relatively common one that many people experience. Some dreams combine conscious memories with subconscious scenarios. Finally, unless we write them down immediately upon awakening, we rapidly forget most of our dreams.
But what happens to our mind during non-REM sleep? We have no level of consciousness then, not even a dream consciousness. Where am “I” during non-REM sleep? As far as I can tell, no one really knows. The scientific studies of non-REM sleep are rare indeed. This is because there are no rapid eye movements and no dreams to investigate. Yet brain waves are still being generated. My feeling is that “I” am ensconced in my subconscious mind during the periods of non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep-like conditions can also be produced during deep meditative states. The “I” is there, but not the conscious. Only the subconscious.
How does one explain the mental feats that can be performed by savants? How does a savant calculate the value of pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, out to twenty-five thousand decimal places in his head? How does another savant read and remember every name and telephone number in the New York City phone book? Or instantly recall everything that he has ever read in his life? Such mental feats are only possible through the use of the subconscious mind. They are not within the capacity of the conscious mind.
I believe that all creative thoughts originate in the subconscious mind. In the entire course of my 40-plus year scientific career, I have had a goodly number of interesting and useful ideas, many of which were translated into scientific journal publications. But I have only had six scientific ideas that I would consider to be truly creative in nature, that constituted something entirely new. In each of these six cases, the kernel of the creative idea did not occur by any conscious, logical process. It simply “popped” into my awareness as a completely formed thought, from somewhere other than my conscious mind. I think that “somewhere” was my subconscious mind.
So it is clear that we have a conscious mind and it is highly likely that we have an expansive subconscious mind. Where can we go from there? I believe that we can proceed by viewing conscious and subconscious as manifestations of the Body-Mind-Soul interaction. Although it involves three parts, this view is fundamentally different from Freud’s materialistic Id-Ego-SuperEgo mind formalism.
The interaction of the Body, in this case the brain, with the Mind is what constitutes the conscious part of Mind. This view accounts for all of the physical aspects of the transition from consciousness to unconsciousness, since these (sleep, anesthetics, physical trauma) all have an influence on the Body (brain) aspect of the Body-Mind interaction.
The subconscious mind comes from the Mind-Soul interaction. The Soul is considered to exist in a state of superconsciousness. This superconsciousness derives from the fact that the Soul, the “I”, is a little bit of God’s essence. It is probably not possible for the conscious mind to begin to comprehend the range and extent of superconsciousness. Superconsciousness is associated with the “All” and with infinity.
But the Mind-Soul interaction elicits the subconscious Mind, which can be accessed to a limited degree by the conscious Mind. As I have pointed out, interactions between the subconscious and the conscious occur during hypnotic states and during dream states, and may also be responsible for truly creative thought.
What happens to the Mind when one dies? At death, the brain no longer functions and the Body piece of the Body-Mind-Soul interaction is gone. When this happens, the subconscious takes over as the conscious portion of Mind in the Mind-Soul interaction. So, at death, we have full-time access to our subconscious Mind.
If clear consciousness were really possible with a completely flat EEG, this would indeed change our view of the mind-brain relationship.
Fields of Dreams:
I am saying that our mind is composed of both conscious brain-stuff and subconscious soul-stuff. But this clearly begs the question: How does the conscious mind interact with the subconscious mind – in effect how does the soul interact with the body?
There is a dearth of definitive experimental data associated with consciousness and the brain. However, some rather interesting experiments have been conducted on the effects of brain exposures to magnetic fields and their influences on conscious perceptions (45). In these studies, a helmet was constructed to apply weak magnetic fields to both the left and right hemispheres of the brain of subjects while they were isolated from the external environment. Their conscious perceptions and feelings during brain exposure to these magnetic fields were then recorded and analyzed. Popular media called the brain magnetic field device the “God Helmet”. The two most distinctly reported conscious effects produced by the “God Helmet” were the sensation of a presence in the room with the helmeted subject (even though no one else was present in the isolation room), and feelings of fear. Magnetic fields applied to the right hemisphere of the brain maximized these perceived effects, while fields applied to the left hemisphere minimized them. Interestingly, many of the confirmed monists who tried wearing the “God Helmet” did indeed experience unusual effects.
Given the well-known physical phenomenon of electromagnetic induction, it would not be surprising that magnetic fields could generate electric currents in the neurons of the brain, and that such induced currents might induce consciously perceived experiences. Is this how brain-stuff interacts with soul-stuff? Is soul-stuff composed of superconscious ultra-ultra high frequency electromagnetic waves which we cannot currently detect, that could reduce their frequency in order to form intelligent electromagnetically-induced thoughts in our brains?
Other people argue that such interactions might take place at an even more fundamental level. These people speculate that quantum mechanical effects trigger electrical effects in the synapses of the neurons. In his book “The Physics of Consciousness” (44), Walker suggested that the quantum mechanical tunneling of a single electron across a single neuronal synapse leads to a cascade process in the brain that is responsible for consciousness and conscious thought. For him, the soul resides in the non-deterministic quantum mechanical realm, the realm of zero-point energy.
Or perhaps the body-soul interaction is more akin to some sort of matter/dark matter interaction. Dark matter is speculated to be fundamentally different “stuff” from ordinary matter. But our matter-world is postulated as embedded in a sea of dark matter. Dark matter is thought to flow through us all the time, every minute of every day. Do subtle occasional collisions between electrons and dark matter particles in the neurons account for conscious-subconscious interactions?
The fact is that, although one can speculate on a number of possibilities, the mechanism by which soul-stuff interacts with brain-stuff still remains a complete unknown. But then again, do we really understand the mechanisms underlying quantum mechanics?
What we are is God's gift to us. What we become is our gift to God.
The Bottom Line:
God has given each and every human being three exceedingly great gifts. They are Existence, Consciousness, and Free Will. The reason why God gave these gifts to us is known only to Him.
We exist because God created us as distinct spiritual entities. He created our soul. He gave us our spiritual existence and before He did, we did not exist as individualized entities in a very absolute sense. We, as distinct entities, are not eternal because we had a beginning. Only God is eternal.
Then God gave us the gift of consciousness. We are conscious of our existence in relation to God. This is not the same as awareness of existence (i.e. we are aware that we are aware). All living things are aware that they exist, to a greater or lesser degree. Plants and the lower animal forms possess a very rudimentary awareness of their existence, while the higher animals have greater levels of existence awareness. But only human beings have a consciousness that can conceive of their creation by and relation to God.
Finally, God gave us the gift of free will. We are free to chose to do the Will of God, or not to do it. No other living entities, no plants and no animals, have been given such a gift. They have no freedom of choice, they live their lives totally in accordance with the Will of God. But for human beings, free will is the mechanism by which spiritual growth can be attained.
Do you love God - or do you fear Him? What’s your answer to this question? Most people will probably say: Yes I love God, but I also somewhat fear Him. What they fear is His retribution if they’ve done something wrong. They fear that God will send them to Hell forever if they commit too many sins, or at least may have to spend some time in the lesser hell of Purgatory. In other words, they fear the Wrath of God.
Those who fear God do so largely because they do not properly understand their relationship to Him. They think of God as an absolutely remote and distant entity, and they feel totally insignificant in relation to Him. They cannot relate to Him on a personal level. Even when they pray, they do so as if there was a vast gulf between them and Him. Know that the fear of God is totally incorrect.
The Truth is that God is Love. God loves you with an unconditional love. You are God’s creation and He is directly concerned with your well-being and spiritual advancement. God is not remote from you, He is the essence of you. He walks with you at all times. God loves you unconditionally and so, also, must you love God in return. He gave you spiritual life. He is your true parent. Love God as He loves you.
I'd worship the ground you walked on, if only you walked in a better neighborhood.
I have lived in many different neighborhoods in my life. The neighborhood of my childhood years was an ethnic inner city one, with its homes tucked close to each other and its local mom-and-pop stores. My teenage years were spent in the suburbs where it was more spacious and green, and where I had youthful room to run and explore. As a young adult, my neighborhood became more academic, diverse, and intellectually stimulating, allowing me to grow as a person. And my adult life has been spent in a number of different neighborhoods, each with its own charms and occasional inevitable thorns.
I also live in a scientific neighborhood. The people that I interact with professionally all have scientific backgrounds. Many have attained the level of Ph.D (less ceremoniously known as Piled higher and Deeper). Some of them indeed know quite a lot about, unfortunately, relatively little. It’s interesting that in science, the word neighbor is not often used. Perhaps neighbor is just too personal a word. We call each other colleagues. Seldom in the scientific literature do you run across the word neighbor. Only in specialized circumstances does this word appear. In cosmology, we talk about neighboring stars and galaxies. In crystallography, two atoms that are located next to each other in the crystal lattice are called nearest neighbors. But I’ve never run across an article on the science of being neighborly.
What neighborhood do you live in at the moment? Do you like your neighborhood; is it a place where you want to be? We tend to think of the neighborhood as the physical location immediately surrounding our home. Our neighbors are those next door, across the street or down the block. How many of your neighbors do you know? Most people know at least some of their neighbors, if only on a casual basis. Perhaps more importantly though, how many of them do you like?
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
You and the Neighbors:
Let me begin by emphasizing that you cannot really love your neighbor if you do not love yourself first. Loving one’s self is absolutely essential for the love of neighbor. Unfortunately, in this world there are many who do not love themselves, who may even hate themselves. Too many people have feelings of insecurity, inadequacy and self-loathing. They may dislike the situation they were born into, or their inherent abilities, or their spouse, or their job, or the things they’ve done, or the things they haven’t done. A whole host of things can cause them to feel less than love for themselves. In the extreme, some even turn to suicide.
Self-love is not the same as selfishness. Self-love is recognizing how significant you are in the sight of God, irregardless of your station in life or life’s situations. Self-love is realizing that God walks with you all day, every day, and that God loves you unconditionally. If God can love you that way, then you certainly can too. Self-love is knowing how important you are: To yourself, to others, and to God. Only if you love yourself will you be able to truly love others.
Why is it so important to love your neighbor? Because Jesus said to love your neighbor as you love yourself? Because Confucius said: Do not do unto others as you would not want them to do unto you?
The reason you must love your neighbor is that you and all of your myriad neighbors are children of God. Remember that God is everywhere and in everything. You are inextricably linked to your neighbor by and in God. You and your neighbor are essentially connected one with another through Him. So when you love your neighbor, you are thus also loving God. Love of neighbor is another manifestation of love of God. You cannot say that you truly love God if you do not also love your neighbor.
The first neighbors we have in life are our parents and our siblings. My closest neighbor when I was a child was my brother, my lone sibling. Because we were only separated by one year in age, we did everything together. We played baseball - I was the pitcher and he was the catcher. Later, we taught each other to play tennis. I remember one time protected my younger brother from the bullies who were trying to harass him at the local swimming pool. We delivered newspapers together - I still vividly recall having to go out with him very early in the morning on extremely cold winter days to drop off papers on doorsteps. As boy scouts, we went on camping trips - eventually, we both became eagle scouts through our shared activities. We attended the same grade and high schools. We even got into our share of trouble together – fortunately none of these incidents was serious.
Yes, when I was young, my brother was my first and best neighbor. After high school, we attended different colleges and began to develop different interests and sets of friends. And we began to drift apart and go our separate ways. For many years, we have been physically separated in the places we live. You might say that we are now more distant neighbors than we were as children and teenagers. Yet, we are still the best of neighbors.
When I was a child living in my old neighborhood in the inner city of Cleveland, the homes were quite close together, so we had lots of neighbors. Since it was an ethnic eastern European immigrant neighborhood, most of these neighbors were similar to ourselves. They had the same background, went to the same church, ate the same kinds of foods, and shared the same values. It was easy to know and love them. You felt familiar and safe there. Then my family moved to the suburbs. One of the motivations was because our ethnic neighborhood was being encroached upon by people who were very different from us. These people had a different skin color, different cultural background, different way of speaking, and (it appeared) different value system. The view was that these new people were not our neighbors and would never be our neighbors. As a young child, I could not properly understand this situation. Now I do.
Jesus said that it is easy to love those who love you, but what you must really strive for is to love your enemies, because someone you perceive as your enemy is also your neighbor. This is, in a practical sense, the hardest aspect associated with the principle of loving neighbor. When I was a graduate student, I lived on one side of a duplex house with a group of other graduate students. An unknown occupant living on the other side of the duplex and right opposite my bedroom wall got into the habit of playing very loud music late at night, which was having a distinctly negative effect on the quality of my sleep. On one night, the music was so loud and I was so fed up with this nuisance that I started banging on the adjoining wall with my fist to try and make the noise stop. I guess I was a little overzealous in this (or perhaps hit a weak spot in the drywall), because to my great surprise my fist put a goodly sized hole in the wall! At the time, I did not feel a great deal of love for my noisy neighbor.
How can you love someone who you dislike or who you feel hates you? The answer is: With great difficulty. But that is what you must strive to do. Also remember, if you love your enemies, they might eventually become your friends.
Who is Your Neighbor? It’s certainly not just the person who lives next door to you. Your neighbors are your spouse and your children, and all the people that you know and come in contact with, either directly or indirectly. In fact, ultimately it is every human being alive on the planet. All those people that you see and hear about on the global news everyday, they are also your neighbors. As children of God, they are connected to you and you are connected to them.
However, a much broader definition of neighbor is “anything that lives”. We share this planet with myriad entities that possess the spiritual life force. You must love all that is alive, just as you are alive. So in the most universal sense, your neighbor is any living thing - human, animal, plant, even microbe – on Earth. And yet beyond that, when we discover life elsewhere in the universe, those life-forms will also be our neighbor. Any entity with a living consciousness, however rudimentary, is your neighbor. You have an awful lot of neighbors.
The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.
You may not recognize the name Gonxha Bojaxhiu but you probably recognize the name Mother Teresa. These are the two names of the person who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. As a child, Gonxha Bojaxhiu grew up in Skopje, Macedonia. As a Catholic nun, Mother Teresa helped to ease the anguish of the “poorest of the poor” in the slums of Calcutta, India.
While she was alive, Mother Teresa was regarded by many, myself included, as a living saint. She dedicated her entire life to helping others and never herself. She brought aid and comfort to completely unloved people, with an unconditional, selfless love. In the process, she earned the love and admiration of many millions of people around the world, and especially the Indian people. I once had occasion to visit the Indian embassy in Washington DC to obtain a visa for a trip there. On the wall in the waiting room of the embassy was a large, prominent portrait of Mother Teresa. That is the impact which she made. If I were to select one human being in my lifetime who best lived the principle of “Love Neighbor”, there is no doubt that I would pick Mother Teresa.
Yet what was quite surprising to me was that Mother Teresa lived most of her life in a very deep spiritual darkness, as evidenced by the public disclosure of her most private communications with her closest spiritual advisors (46). In fact, she experienced what might be described as a decades-long “deep spiritual depression”, following the establishment of her group the Missionary Sisters of Charity in 1948 in Calcutta.
However, this was certainly not the case in the years before the start of her Calcutta ministry. In her writings (46), Mother Teresa stated that Jesus himself communicated the following directly to her during a spiritual retreat which she made in 1946:
One day at Holy Communion I heard the same voice very distinctly. “I want Indian nuns, Victims of my love, who would be Mary & Martha. Who would be so very united to me as to radiate my love on souls. I want free nuns covered with my poverty of the Cross – I want obedient nuns covered with my obedience of the Cross. I want full of love nuns covered with the Charity of the Cross. Wilt thou refuse to do this for me?”
On another day. “You have become my Spouse for my Love – you have come to India for Me. The thirst you had for souls brought you so far. – Are you afraid to take one more step for your Spouse – for me – for souls? – Is your generosity grown cold – am I a second to you? You did not die for souls – that is why you don’t care what happens to them. – Your heart was never drowned in sorrow as it was My Mother’s. We both gave our all for souls – and you? You are afraid that you will lose your vocation – you will become secular – you will be wanting in perseverance. – Nay – your vocation is to love and suffer and save souls and by taking this step you will fulfill my Heart’s desire for you – That is your vocation. – You will dress in simple Indian clothes or rather like My Mother dressed – simple and poor. Your present habit is holy because it is my symbol – your sarie will become holy because it will be my symbol.”
I tried to persuade Our Lord that I would try to become a very fervent holy Loreto Nun, a real Victim here in this vocation – but the answer came very clear again. “I want Indian Missionary Sisters of Charity – who would be My fire of love amongst the very poor – the sick – the dying – the little street children – The poor I want you to bring to me – and the Sisters that would offer their lives as victims of my love – would bring these souls to Me. You are I know the most uncapable person, weak & sinful, but just because you are that I want to use you, for my Glory! Wilt thou refuse?”
These words or rather this voice frightened me. The thought of eating, sleeping – living like the Indians filled me with fear. I prayed long – I prayed so much – I asked Our Mother Mary to ask Jesus to remove all this from me. The more I prayed – the clearer grew the voice in my heart and so I prayed that He would do with me whatever He wanted. He asked again and again. Then once more the voice was very clear – “You have been always saying ‘do with me what ever you wish’ – Now I want to act – let me do it – my little Spouse – My own little one. – Do not fear – I shall be with you always. – You will suffer and you suffer now – but if you are my own little Spouse – the Spouse of the Crucified Jesus – you will have to bear these torments on your heart. – Let me act – Refuse me not – Trust me lovingly – trust me blindly. Little one give me souls – give me the souls of the poor little street children – How it hurts – if you only knew – to see these poor children soiled with sin. I long for the purity of their love. – If you would only answer my call – and bring me these souls – draw them away from the hands of the evil one. – If you only knew how many little ones fall into sin every day. There are convents with numbers of nuns caring for the rich and able to do people, but for my very poor there is absolutely none. For them I long – them I love – Wilt thou refuse?”
Mother Teresa wrote that she was directly called upon by Jesus to establish the Missionary Sisters of Charity and to minister in Indian garb to the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta. Having received this direct communication, she proceeded with the greatest tenacity to carry out her mission for Jesus.
This was the Mother Teresa that I thought I knew, the living saint who could talk with Jesus. But this was clearly not the inner spiritual reality that she was living. In 1953, she first expressed her profound “inner spiritual darkness” in a letter to her archbishop:
…. Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself – for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started “the work”. Ask Our Lord to give me courage.
Mother Teresa was, for some reason, experiencing a “terrible darkness” within her from the time that she first established the Missionary Sisters of Charity. What caused such a darkness in a living saint? How dark was it? Why was it there? These are the questions that I asked myself. The darkness was indeed very dark, as anguishly expressed by Mother Teresa in writings to her spiritual advisors:
There is so much contradiction in my soul. – Such deep longing for God – so deep that it is painful – a suffering continual – and yet not wanted by God – repulsed – empty – no faith – no love – no zeal. – Souls hold no attraction – Heaven means nothing – to me it looks like an empty place – the thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God.
Lord, My God, who am I that You should forsake me? The child of your love – and now become as the most hated one – the one You have thrown away as unwanted – unloved. I call, I cling, I want – and there is no One to answer – no One on Whom I can cling – no, No One. – Alone. The darkness is so dark – and I am alone. – Unwanted, forsaken. – The loneliness of the heart that wants love is unbearable. – Where is my faith? – even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness & darkness. – My God – how painful is this unknown pain. It pains without ceasing. – I have no faith. – I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart - & make me suffer untold agony. So many unanswered questions live within me – I am afraid to uncover them – because of the blasphemy – If there be God, - please forgive me. – Trust that all will end in Heaven with Jesus. – When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven – there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. – Love – the word – it brings nothing. – I am told God loves me – and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Before the work started – there was so much union – love – faith – trust – prayer – sacrifice. – Did I make the mistake in surrendering blindly to the call of the Sacred Heart? The work is not a doubt – because I am convinced that it is His not mine. – I don’t feel – not even a single simple thought or temptation enters my heart to claim anything in the work.
The whole time smiling – Sisters & people pass such remarks. – They think my faith, trust & love are filling my very being & that the intimacy with God and union to His will must be absorbing my heart. – Could they but know – and how my cheerfulness is the cloak by which I cover the emptiness & misery.
In spite of all – this darkness & emptiness is not as painful as the longing for God. – The contradiction I fear will unbalance me. – What are You doing My God to one so small? When You asked to imprint Your Passion on my heart – is this the answer? If this brings You glory, if You get a drop of joy from this – if souls are brought to You – if my suffering satiates Your Thirst – here I am Lord, with joy I accept all to the end of life – and I will smile at Your Hidden Face – always.
It would appear that God let Mother Teresa experience an inner spiritual wasteland! Somehow, with what seems like superhuman effort, she managed to continue her Calcutta ministry in spite of it all. She kept smiling despite the extreme inner pain. As the years passed, she apparently became more and more accustomed to the pain, but it never completely went away.
Why did God visit such an intense spiritual darkness on Mother Teresa? What was His reason? Why did God seemingly remove Himself from her vision when she wanted and needed Him so desperately? For some reason, she did not come to realize that God was always with her – in her soul. She could not feel that God cared for her and loved her with an unconditional love. Perhaps God clouded her spiritual perception in order to help her more fully appreciate the loneliness and absolute rejection of the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta. Maybe He wanted her to “walk in their shoes” not only physically, but spiritually as well.
In her lifetime, Mother Teresa journeyed from the heights of spiritual heaven to the depths of spiritual hell. Yet, never did she swerve from the most intense Love of Neighbor. For this, there is no doubt in my mind that she is a Saint – and that she is with God. Her spiritual darkness in life has become dazzling spiritual light.
Instant Karma's gonna get you,
Gonna knock you right on the head,
You better get yourself together,
Pretty soon you're gonna be dead,
Lyrics from Instant Karma (We All Shine On) by John Lennon
Dance of Free Will and Karma:
Do we have free will? Do we have the ability to choose the paths we take in life, to choose between good and evil? Some say that we cannot have free will. Their logic is as follows. God is All, therefore God is All-Knowing. If He is All-Knowing, then He already knows the choices we will make in life. Therefore, we cannot have free will.
At first glance, this argument appears logical and seductive. But it neglects to take into account the fact that it is God who has given us free will as a characteristic of our spiritual existence. Why did God give us this free will? Only He knows. However, one possibility might be that, having made us distinct spiritual entities with individuality, God wishes to observe the paths we choose to take during our long journey back to reunion with the All.
God indeed is All and All-Knowing. God knows all of the infinite number of paths that we might choose to take in life. There is a certain analogy here with quantum mechanics. In quantum mechanics, the solution of the Schroedinger equation for the characteristics of a given quantum mechanical system contains all of the possible characteristics that the system might exhibit. It is only when an observation of the system is actually made that the quantum mechanical “state vector” collapses to the one characteristic that actually occurs. By this analogy, God is the Schroedinger equation, and our free will is the observer. Our free will is what causes the action to coalesce from the infinity of possibilities that only God knows. Using this analogy, we might be able to grasp how free will is possible with an All-Knowing God.
Another way to think about this comes from the conceptual two-dimensional world of Flatland (1). Consider a Flatlander that is moving through a maze in Flatland. At every turn, he is confronted with a free choice – to go one way or the other. Now a three-dimensional observer above the maze knows exactly what all the possible outcomes of his various choices will be. But it is only the free will of the Flatlander that determines the actual outcome of his travel through the maze.
God knows all the possible outcomes from all of the choices that we make in life, but He allows us to freely determine our own fate because that is what He wants us to do.
Why is it that some people have good lives and some people have bad lives? Why do some enjoy all the opportunities and comforts of life, and some live in abject poverty and misery? Why are some smarter, richer, and healthier than others? Why are children born with birth defects that affect their lives from that point forward? How can a just God allow this to happen?
The answer to all of these questions is karma – you reap in this life what your free will sowed in a previous one. Karma is the cosmic law of cause and effect. Karma is God’s law.
If you were hateful to others in a previous life, then you will experience hatred in this one. If you were rich in a previous life and did not share your riches with others, you will now be poor. If you previously sought power and the control of others, you will next be powerless. If you pursued fame at the expense of others in your past life, you will be a face-without-a-name in this one. If selfish pride was practiced before, then humility is your next experience. If you deliberately caused physical injury to someone in a previous life, you can expect to experience physical disabilities or physical injuries in your present existence.
Yet it is possible that not all the trials in life are the result of karma produced in a previous life (or lives). Some of our trials may be given to us by God to address specific aspects of our spiritual development, or even as a way to influence the spiritual development of those around us. I have experienced a serious illness in my life. Was I given this illness because of something that I did in a previous life? Maybe or maybe not. Perhaps this suffering was visited upon me so that I could more fully appreciate the gift of health, or the suffering of others. Or perhaps my illness was a vehicle by which my loved ones could gain spiritual development by providing me with care and comfort. It’s hard to know. One would like to think that there is not an exact one-to-one karmic correspondence between the events that happen to us in this life and what happened in previous ones. But it is likely that many of the things that you experience are the direct result of how you used your free will in previous times.
Some time ago, I remember reading an article about reincarnation that stated that the great U.S. President Thomas Jefferson had been reincarnated and was presently living a life as a poor black man in a U.S. inner city. At the time, I thought to myself, why would such a great man as Jefferson, the author of the uplifting words of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, reincarnate into what might seem to be a significantly lower station of life. It was only much later that I and the world learned of the affair and children that Jefferson had with his black slave Sally Hemings. It then became immediately clear why such a reincarnation would make a great deal of sense for Jefferson!
Please realize that karma is not meant to be a punishment. Rather, it is a mechanism designed to help us achieve spiritual growth. Basically, it allows you the ability to learn from your mistakes, if you will only use your free will to do so.
I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.
If God is All, how can evil exist? Why does God allow evil? These are questions that have been posed for millennia.
We can start by asking: What is evil? It is my view that evil is “that which is not the Will of God”. Since God is All-Good, the Will of God cannot be evil. But remember that God has given us free will. It is we who produce evil, when we sin, when we freely choose not to do the Will of God. God allows us to make this choice. It is we who create evil, not God. God does indeed allow evil to exist since He has given us the free will of choice. God could, after all, have created us as perfect beings who would always do His Will. But He did not. Perhaps He did not in order that we could experience spiritual growth to an eventual state of All-Good.
There is also another way to look at evil. That way is the theory of opposites. Without the existence of “cold”, there can be no such thing as “hot”. Without “dry” there is no “wet”. So one might say that without “evil” there could be no “good”. Maybe this is why God allows evil to exist. But I think that in God’s plan, evil is something that is inherently unstable. Eventually, evil must be transformed into good, even if this process takes millennia upon millennia.
Natural calamities are not evil, even though they can produce much suffering, death, and destruction. A single tsunami, produced by an undersea earthquake, caused the death of 250,000 people. Was this an evil event? No. It was the Will of God. God had some reason for its happening, even though we cannot immediately see what that reason might be.
Are scientific discoveries ever evil? The development of the atomic bomb comes immediately to mind. Scientific experiments showing that the neutron existed set the stage. Then, in London, a man by the name of Leo Szilard was waiting to cross a street. When he reached the other curb, he had formulated the idea that a neutron-induced chain reaction could produce a bomb of tremendous destructive force. The rest is history. Are atomic chain reactions inherently evil? Absolutely not. But the way they are used by man certainly can be. Atomic chain reactions can benefit humanity if employed to generate electricity for large numbers of people without atmospheric pollution. Or if used as a planetary defense against civilization-threatening Earth asteroid impacts. Maybe these were the things that God had in mind when He gave that idea to Leo Szilard.
Animals kill each other every day. They do this for food and occasionally during mating competitions. Is this killing evil? No. The animals are acting according to their instincts, not free will. They do not kill in anger. Their killing is the Will of God.
Only humans kill in anger or for pleasure. And killing under these circumstances is most certainly evil. There are some humans who kill other humans because they hate them and who kill animals for sport. Killing for these reasons is not the Will of God, it is a wrong choice made by our free will. There are no such things as “good hunting” or “holy war”. However, having to kill someone or something in self-defense is not evil, because it is not done for either of these wrong motivations.
Have you personally ever know anyone in your life that you would regard as “born evil”? I can’t think of a single person whom I have known that I would put into such a category. Was Hitler born evil? I don’t think so. His tremendously evil deeds are part of recorded history, but it’s what is not recorded about him that I wonder about most. What started Hitler down the path of evil? I think that it may have been something that happened to him in the time before he served in the German army in World War I, or perhaps shortly thereafter. And I think it may have involved Jewish people. Was Hitler scorned by a Jewish lover (or her parents)? We’ll never know.
If evil is “not doing the Will of God”, how are we to know what the will of God is? The answer is that we know something is evil if we feel in our soul that it is evil. Our conscience tells us what is evil and what is not. In other words, you will know evil when you feel it.
Does the devil, the epitome of evil, exist? Origen, the great Christian theologian, thought so. I must say that I have not found any significant evidence that would suggest the existence of a spiritual being that one might term “Lucifer” or “Satan” or “the devil”. However despite this, I have a gut feeling that evil spiritual entities do exist and can tempt and in some cases even temporarily possess human beings. The hit movie The Exorcist was based on an actual exorcism performed on a boy in St. Louis in 1949. Can the devil or his minions cause someone to commit an evil act? Only if that person uses his free will to listen to what the devil tempts. Stay away from Ouija boards!
Origen stated that in the final analysis, all evil must be transformed back into goodness and remerged with God. He was basically saying that evil is something that is not sustainable over the very long haul, that evil must eventually transform itself back into good. Given this logic, Origen concluded that even Lucifer, the devil himself, would, after an extremely long cosmic interlude, be transformed back to goodness and reunited with God. After all, Lucifer was once God’s highest archangel, before he used his free will to commit the great sin of pride.
The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end.
End of the Mean:
Have you ever been caught telling a “little white lie” to avoid a difficult or embarrassing situation? I think that all of us have at one time or another. Getting caught in a white lie is usually more embarrassing than the thing we were trying to avoid. White lies seem like a small thing, but they are a concrete personal example of using the end to justify the means.
How many times has profound evil been generated by believing that the end justifies the means! The killing of human beings in war is justified on this basis. Most ludicrously, the slaughterhouse that was World War I was called “The War To End All Wars”. In actual fact, WWI was the root cause of World War II. Evil means always beget evil ends in the final analysis. WWII was fought to rid the world of fascism. But it then led to a “cold war” against communism. During the cold war, many evil acts on both sides were justified as “necessary” for the good of the parties involved. And smaller wars like Vietnam were fought in the name of “containment of communism”. More recently, wars have been fought in the Middle East justified by the overthrow of dictatorships. But the first Iraq war only led to the second Iraq war. And so it goes, on and on and on. That’s what happens when those in power believe that the end justifies the means.
Perhaps the most disturbing examples, though, are those performed in the name of religion, in the name of God. In the Torah, the Jewish people are described as waging war and killing many in their pursuit to occupy the “promised land”. The Christian emperor Charlemagne sent out his armies with the charter, either convert to Christianity or die. The same has been done in the name of Islam. Now we have the scourge of Islamic terrorism. Radical fundamentalists calling themselves “martyrs” kill both themselves as well as innocent people. They justify this by believing that they are doing the will of Allah. True martyrs are those who die for their religious beliefs, but they are never those who also kill others for those beliefs.
Is there ever a situation where the end justifies the means, where a greater evil will be lessened by the use of an evil means? The example that comes to mind is the attempt of high ranking Germans to assassinate Hitler during the waning hours of World War II. These people felt that Hitler had betrayed Germany and was taking it into ruin. Hitler needed to be eliminated so that a new German government could negotiate with the Allies to prevent the complete destruction of Germany before it was too late. So they planted a bomb at one of Hitler’s staff meetings. Hitler was only a few feet away from the bomb when it detonated, but for some reason he was not killed or even seriously injured (although many others in the meeting were).
Suppose those Germans had succeeded in killing Hitler. Would that end have justified their use of murder? The answer is simply No, not even in that case. The end justifying the means is never the Will of God. If only this simple truth could be learned, much of human-caused suffering would never happen.
I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.
Booker T. Washington
I Hate You!:
How many times in your life have you said this to someone? Perhaps you said it to some of your playmates when you were a child. Or to your parents when you were a teenager. Or maybe to your spouse during the course of a domestic argument. We all have probably used this phrase at some point in our lives. But when we did, we really didn’t mean it deep down.
But suppose someone brutally murdered a person whom you love, say your spouse or your child. It is truly sad that the news media report such heinous crimes almost every day. What would be your reaction? Most would say that you have every right to hate that murderer, to wish him the worst possible punishment, to want him to burn in hell forever. Yet one person said “forgive them for they know not what they do”. In such a horrible case, could you follow that example? Could you really forgive the killer of your spouse or child? Most people will answer No to this question. In my own case, I would like to think that my answer could be Yes, but I truly cannot be sure. After all, Jesus set only perfect examples and I am an imperfect human being.
Hate in any form and for any reason is a tremendously destructive evil. Almost all of self-inflicted human suffering stems from hate (carelessness accounts the remaining small portion). Typically, humans hate other people because of wrongs done (or perceived done) to them or to those they love by other people, or because those other people are viewed as different in some negative way. It may be the color of their skin, their religion, their ethnicity, their political orientation, the fact that they are rich, or the fact that they are poor. At its root, hate is the result of deep-seated fear. Fear of suffering, fear of rejection, fear of change, fear of inadequacy, fear of differences, fear of failure, and the greatest fear - fear of death.
Do you hate (or if you prefer, intensely dislike) anyone? Ask yourself this question on a regular basis. I do. Is there anyone in your life that you can truly say you hate?
Immediately after September 11, 2001, my reaction was to hate Osama bin Laden for his masterminding of the murder of 3000 innocent people. It was a gut reaction. I wanted him to be found and to suffer horribly for what he had done. Death was not good enough for him. He needed to agonize until he begged for death. That’s what I initially felt, a visceral hate for the man. But with time and effort, I have come to no longer hate him. I feel very sorry for him though, because not only did he kill 3000 people and hurt countless others (in the name of religion), he has also injured himself terribly. When he dies, it is a loving Allah that will make him realize the rewards of his hate. He has accrued very bad karma in this life and he will be required to reap what he sowed. Perhaps he will be a victim of some horrific act of violence in his next life (or maybe in 3000 or more other lives) that will cause him great suffering. And show him the consequences of his actions. He will ultimately learn the wrong of the hate that drove his actions, but it will be an extremely painful lesson for him. Hate is never the Will of Allah.
It is interesting how quickly love can turn into hate. This is most evident in failed marriages. Before marriage, the parties start out madly in love with each other. Everything seems so beautiful. But after marriage, things can change dramatically. Anger, misunderstandings, selfish behavior, and failures to communicate can often transform this mad love into mad hate. Even to the extent that one party may injure or kill the other. Love is turned into destructive hate. What a travesty! Yet it happens all too often.
Vengeance goes hand-in-glove with hate. Remember the Broadway musical and Academy Award winning movie West Side Story? Tony and Maria seek “a place for us”. But Maria’s brother Bernardo stabs Tony’s best friend Riff to death in a gang fight. So in a fit of vengeance Tony kills Bernardo. Then finally Chino avenges Bernardo by murdering Tony. Maria and Tony never found their “place” because of the cycle of vengeance.
Vengeance only breeds more hate. Someone has wronged us and we seek our revenge. We want to get back at them, to hurt them as they have hurt us. But in doing so, more wrong is produced and hence more vengeance. A vengeful act never really satisfies the wrong that may have been done to us. If you hurt the one that hurt you, will that really make you feel better? Does it really settle the score? After the vengeful act, what you will feel is not satisfaction, but a sense of emptiness. And the other party will now seek revenge on you. Round and round it goes. The best current example of such a cycle is the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, until all parties are blind and toothless. The only way to break such an unholy cycle is through forgiveness, just as Jesus said. Practice forgiveness rather than vengeance.
In your own life, always resist with all your might the urge to hate anyone or anything. Make a conscious effort every day not to hate. And if someone hurts you, forgive them and make a clean, new start.
Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.
The Hurting Game:
One day at work, I was discussing something in the office of a colleague, when she suddenly exclaimed “Oh, there’s a bug on my computer keyboard”. My immediate reaction was to say “That’s okay, I’ll kill it for you”, since I thought she was scared of it. But to my surprise she said emphatically “No, don’t kill it”, whereupon the bug proceeded to crawl inside her keyboard. When it eventually resurfaced, she carefully gathered it up and shoed it out into the hallway to go on its way. Hopefully, no one stepped on it. This little vignette made a lasting impression on me. She went out of her way not to hurt a bug.
We have a definite inclination to try and hurt those who hurt us or who we perceive may have an inclination to hurt us. You can see this in young children. When someone hits them, they want to strike back in anger.
It is written that even Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, experienced hurt. Tipo-daduo was a cousin of the Buddha who was envious of the Buddha’s influence and wanted to supplant him and take over his followers. Tipo-daduo made an attempt to kill his cousin by rolling a boulder down upon him. But the Buddha survived this assassination attempt, although he did sustain an injury to his leg. So even the Buddha experienced a suffering in life caused by another’s envious actions.
Hurting others can be physical, but it can also be mental, emotional, or social. Judging others can hurt them in these ways. I have a tendency to view negatively people who are overweight. I wish I didn’t but I do (maybe it’s because I have to struggle so hard to keep my own weight down). How could they have let themselves get into such a bodily condition. They must have no will power and no concern for their health. I have to consciously fight this unwarranted and unkind rush to judgment. We must constantly resist the temptation to pass judgment on other people - only God has that right. I try to remember that each time I have a midnight snack.
Hurting someone is most often motivated out of hate. But it can also occur through carelessness or selfishness on our part. When I was a teenager, I was playing pool with my cousin in the basement of my parents’ home. Fortunately we were playing on a miniature pool table with miniature pool sticks. Anyway, on a whim I decided to swing my pool stick from its tip end like a baseball bat. Unexpectedly, the rubber pool tip came off and the pool stick flew out of my hands during the swing, striking my cousin in the head. His head wound bled profusely, but fortunately he was not seriously injured (thank God the flying stick did not hit him in the eye!). I had hurt my cousin through my own carelessness. I didn’t want it to happen, but it did, and I could not take back my action.
We often hurt others because of our own selfishness. We feed our needs and desires at the expense of the needs and desires of others. This can happen at home, it can happen in the workplace, it can happen anywhere in our daily life. Selfishness is evil. We must strive instead for the selflessness which is the good. This is one of the major themes in the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. The Lord Krishna advises Arjuna of the following (28):
You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without selfish attachments …. Every selfless act, Arjuna, is born from Brahman, the eternal, infinite Godhead. He is present in every act of service. All life turns on this law, O Arjuna.
Know this. When you hurt someone, you are also hurting yourself. In fact, you hurt yourself more than the person that has been hurt. You have committed an evil act that you must now atone for, if not in this life then in the next. You have created a bit of bad karma and you will now have to deal with it.
Practice loving kindness.
A Hand for a Hand:
We must reach out to help others in as many ways as we can and as best we can. The Buddha put it so concisely and beautifully when he said “practice loving kindness”. But helping others is never easy. It requires our time and effort. We have to go out of our way and normal routine to do it.
The first help we receive from others in life is from our parents. Most people – but not all – are blessed with loving and caring parents. Happily, this was the case for me. From their day-to-day interactions, I always felt that my parents loved me and cared about my well-being. They took the time to teach me the necessities of life and they made sure I got the best education that they could provide. And, yes, they punished me when I needed it, but never excessively and always with love. They gave me enough freedom to make mistakes (I made my share) and the opportunity to learn from them. As they aged, I tried to stay as close to them as I could even though we were physically separated by a long distance. I love them and I miss them. If you are a parent, be the best parent that you can to your children, since the help and guidance you give them is so terribly important.
I was a boy scout in my youth. The scout leader of our troop was a Mr. McFarland – we scouts all called him Mac for short. Mac had a regular day job just like other adults, but he spent numerous evenings, weekends, and his vacations teaching us many things, important things. He taught us how to tie knots, how to make fires, and how to camp out. To this day, I have a love of the wilderness and the outdoors because of him. And importantly, he taught us to Be Prepared, something that has benefited me greatly during the rest of my life. I never knew what Mac did for a living, I just knew him as someone who helped me learn important things. He is long gone from this world, but after forty years, I still think of him. He touched my life.
Mac’s form of helping was the person-to-person, contact-sport type. This form involves things like feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, consoling the sick, helping the aged and the young, providing police, fire, and medical help, and the activities of social workers. Some people are better at it than others, especially outgoing people, the so-called people-persons. If this is you, then do what you can in this way.
Then there are those who are in a position to help large numbers of people through the decisions that they make. These are the religious leaders like the Dalai Lama. These are the selfless governmental leaders concerned with the public good, like Gandhi. These are the leaders of large public and private institutions that worry about the stakeholders as much as they do about the stockholders.
Unfortunately, in recent times such altruistic governmental and institutional leaders have been in rather short supply. Many political leaders put their politics and personal goals ahead of the real needs of the people they were elected to serve. Getting re-elected and acquiring power and influence is more important than addressing the critical issues facing their country and its people. Similarly, the leaders of large corporations enrich themselves far beyond what can be justified by their level of responsibility. This is usually done at the expense of those who do the actual work of producing the corporation’s products, through ruthless downsizing and outsourcing to maximize profits, stockholder returns, and their own salaries. The leaders who put their agendas ahead of the good of their own people need to realize that the wealth and power they may acquire in this life means nothing. They will not take it with them when they die. What they can take is the help that they provided to others when they were in a position to do so.
Finally, some people help by sharing ideas, views, and concepts that may benefit others. They pursue the generation of written and spoken words that can uplift humanity. The inspiring words and moral framework in the U.S. Declaration of Independence come immediately to mind. So do the great ideas of science that have helped to take the human race from the stone age to the stars, and have eased man’s earthly burden so that he can better contemplate the spiritual. The great philosophers have planted foundations for the moral and rational behavior of human beings in their interactions with each other. Yes, the sharing of ideas can help the spiritual growth of many.
This last category is the one I try to fit into in some very small way. It’s the reason that I’ve written this book.
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
The Nine Habits of Spiritual Living:
How does one go about living spiritually? How should one behave? What should one do? For myself, I believe that if I follow the nine habits listed below, I will be growing spiritually and living a spiritual life.
1. Strive to know, love, and serve God.
2. Practice selflessness.
3. Meditate often.
4. Follow your conscience.
5. Associate with good.
6. Welcome change.
7. Accept the reason.
8. Cherish the moment.
9. Do not fear.
These are the things I believe I must focus on each and every day in order to help me stay on the right track. You might call them my personal nine-fold path. I offer them to you only as a guide, since each of us must find our own way in life.
See Him more clearly,
Love Him more dearly,
Follow Him more nearly,
Day by Day.
Lyrics from the song “Day by Day” in the Broadway musical "GodSpell"
What Are You Doing (Here)?:
Why are you here living a life on the planet Earth? Are you a simple quirk of cosmic fate, the product of a series of random events? Are you just an infinitesimal, insignificant speck of dust in the vast universe? Or the detritus of long-dead stars? Absolutely not. No way in heaven. Know that you are here for a reason.
When I was a very young student in Catholic grade school, the basis of our religious training came from the Baltimore catechism. I remember the priest quoting this catechism one day about what the purpose of life was. The Baltimore catechism said that the purpose of life was “to know, love, and serve God”.
At the time, this simple phrase meant little to me. It was just a sing-song phrase that was the answer to the question on the test on religion. Since that time long ago, I have learned much about life by experiencing the good, the bad, and the ugly along the way. I have also acquired considerable knowledge about both science and spirituality, and hopefully some insights into the nature of true reality.
And you know what? The conclusion that I have come to is that the purpose of our existence is To Know, Love, and Serve God. How interesting that, with all the knowledge gained in a lifetime, I should come back to this simple, direct, profound conclusion!
To know God. For a long time I thought, how can you know God, God is so removed, so distant. God Is Who Is, while I am just a small self-aware speck on a little planet orbiting one of the 150 billion suns in a galaxy that is just one of 150 billion galaxies in the observable universe.
But I have come to begin knowing God. The breakthrough came when I realized that there was a little spark of God inside me! God then became very close and very personal. I realized that He is concerned with my personal well-being. God walks with me (and has carried me at times).
To love God. God is the one who gave me existence. How can you not love both your father and mother. We are all children of God. In fact, God is love. His love for us is unconditional, as is the love of parent for child. We love God because He has given us everything that we are and have. We exist in and with Him. By loving God, we can experience the unconditional love that we all seek.
To serve God. We are living here on Earth is to serve God. We serve God by using our free will to do the things that will bring us closer to Him. Origen said that by using our free will to do good, we bring ourselves closer to the ultimate goodness of God. And this is our ultimate goal, our ultimate destiny. To remerge with the totality of God.
The reason that you are here in this particular lifetime on Earth is to learn something that is important to your spiritual growth, something that will help to bring you closer to God. This learning is not the accumulation of facts about subjects such as philosophy, science or religion. It is not book learning. Nor is it about the quest for new knowledge. It is rather the learning that one acquires from the experiences of life.
Think about this. When do you feel you have learned the most during your life. Has it been during the good times or the bad times? I think you will agree that the most significant learning occurs during those bad times in your life, those times of trauma. This has certainly been true for me.
During the good times, you enjoy them, but you coast in terms of the life-learning process. It is during the bad times that you learn much about yourself, the content of your character and your relationships with others. And with God.
People say that you learn from your mistakes. Perhaps some of this learning is related to mistakes you have made in a previous life. In other words, perhaps your karma is directing the learning process. Other people say that the spiritual growth of your soul can take place faster in an earthly life than it can in the spiritual realm. All I know is that you have lived a successful life if you have learned the things you need to for your spiritual development.
No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.
River of (My) Life:
We all go through the various phases of life: infant, child, young adult, adult, middle age, old age. Not only do we grow physically during life, but we can grow spiritually if we use our free will to make an effort to do so. Let me sketch out the way spiritual growth has happened in my own life.
As an infant and a very young child, we essentially have no intellectual awareness. I have absolutely no conscious memories of being an infant or a very young (1-2 year old) child. That’s not to say that these memories don’t exist somewhere in my subconscious, since such memories can sometimes be brought forth during hypnosis. My first conscious recollection is when I was 3 years old. Before this, I have no memories at all.
When did I have my first memory of God? When did I start thinking about God? I have an old memory, maybe when I was about 5 years old, of being in our Catholic church for Sunday Mass. But this memory just contains a remembrance of the interior of the church, and no real thought about God. Was it at the time of my first holy communion, when I was in about the second grade, or about 7 years old? My very vague memory of that event was that I had to dress up in a little suit that was rather uncomfortable. But my memory of then doesn’t seem to encompass any serious thinking about God.
I remember receiving religious instruction in the Catholic grade school that I attended. But what I recall of this is essentially related to the rules and mechanics of the Catholic religion. For example, during one instruction, the priest told our class group that if you said 1000 Hail Marys, then you were guaranteed to go to heaven. Well, you can’t beat that offer! I started right away to say these Hail Marys as fast as I could. However, by the time I got to Hail Mary number 844 (or thereabouts), I had repeated it so many times that I literally forgot the prayer! But I calmed down and eventually it came back to me and I pressed on to the required number of 1000. So I guess that heaven is a sure bet for me.
I attended a Catholic high school which was for boys only (the orthodox view at the time being that Catholic high schools should be sexually segregated). Most of my days there were spent on studies and the trials of getting through the teenage years. I do have a vivid memory though of going into the high school chapel to pray during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. I prayed to God that a nuclear war would not happen. I did not want to die at such a young age. I was scared to death of death. At the end of my senior high school year, I attended a mandatory three-day religious retreat which was apparently designed to allow for the religious contemplation of my future life. Honestly, I found this monastic cloistering rather stifling and was quite relieved when it was over.
Next, I attended a secular college and majored in science. After graduation, I went to graduate school, and eventually obtained a Ph.D degree. During this period of my life, my focus was on my education, and also on interactions with the opposite sex. I met my future wife in my second year of graduate school. I had no distinct religious focus during this educational period, although I went to church regularly on Sunday largely out of conditioned childhood habit. But I didn’t really think much about God at all. I did, however, meet many people whose religions were other than Catholic, which helped to broaden my religious perspective considerably.
After graduate school, I spent three years in the military, where I worked stateside as essentially a scientist in a lieutenant’s uniform. Luckily for me, this was effectively equivalent to doing a three-year post-doctoral assignment. I also had the advantage of having my future wife in the same town, where she was working on her Masters degree. We got to know each other a lot better during this time. It was a relatively worry-free, happy time for both she and I. I thanked God for my relationship with her and for our time together.
When my military duty was finished, I moved to my first real job, in the small, but well-known, town of Los Alamos, New Mexico. During my first year there, I also married my wife, and we initially settled into a small, furnished apartment. After one year there, we bought our own place, a cozy little townhouse that we furnished. We made many trips to the nearest large town, Albuquerque, to buy furniture for our new home. I also threw myself into the activities associated with my new job, which was working on radioisotopic thermoelectric heat source power systems for the Voyager spacecraft. We were young and filled with enthusiasm for life. I can’t say, though, that I thought much about God during those days. My wife was a stauncher Catholic than myself, so I always went to church on Sundays (and Holy Days). Life was good, everything was up, we had not yet experienced any of the downs of life.
In less than a year after we were married, my wife became pregnant. I remember her telling me that she thought she was while we were having a picnic next to an idyllic mountain stream that runs down Santa Clara Canyon in northern New Mexico (we were lunching on watermelon at the time). With that began the preparations for the big arrival. The shopping for a host of baby-related things. In the latter part of that year, my wife gave birth to a baby girl. I remember seeing our new daughter in the hospital when she was only two hours old.
During our years together, my wife, daughter, and I have each faced very significant individual trials. There were times when things got really rough. However, we faced these difficulties together and they bonded us to each other as only such bad times can. In retrospect, God helped us weather these storms. He carried us through them. When I was 50, I began to have the spiritual epiphany that I described at the beginning of this book. I have to say that it was only then that I began to think much more deeply about God and to grow spiritually at an increasing pace. Perhaps it was the accumulation of the life events that had preceded.
When we are children, our primary concern is to grow and explore our new world. When we are young adults, we seek to experience life and new interpersonal relationships. When we are adults, we are busy establishing careers and families. But when we become middle-aged, we start planning for retirement and begin to realize that we now have more life behind us than we have ahead of us. In the first half of our lives, our consciousness grows primarily as our brain grows. But in the second half of life, it is the relationships with our soul that increasingly occupy our consciousness.
This is what happened with me. I’m not different from most other people in my life’s journey. But all my life, I have tried to follow the old boy scout motto Be Prepared, and it has greatly helped me in my career, family, and the various trials that I have faced. So now, I must start preparing for the ultimate physical reality, which is death.
But death is not the cessation of living. Death is really birth into a different realm of existence. I think that we go back to where we came from, as written in the Gospel of Thomas. What I’m trying to do now is to understand as much as I can about what happens after death, about spiritual truth, about God, before I actually die. Then I will feel that I am prepared for what must inevitably happen. Logically, I know that I will learn the ultimate spiritual truth after I die, but I have a need to reach for as much of this truth now so that I can strive to live spiritually in each of my remaining moments. The only things that I now pursue in this life are Truth and Love.
The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.
The Good Life:
What are you seeking at this point in your life? Is it money, power, fame, sex, success, adulation or any combination of the above? If these are the sorts of things you seek, then you are looking in all the wrong places. For in fact, the only two things that are ultimately worthwhile seeking are Truth and Love.
To know the Truth of your earthly existence, that is a worthwhile life goal. To understand where you came from, why you are here, and where you are going, that is what you should be striving to comprehend. What is Truth? Truth is that which is changeless. Anything less can never be absolute Truth. Knowing the Truth will indeed set you free.
To be Loved unconditionally, and to give Love unconditionally, that is what will make you truly happy. Nothing else ever will. Perhaps the closest that we can come to unconditional love here on Earth is the love of a mother for her child. You believe that your mother will always love you. And she will try to do so as best she can, but she is, after all, only human.
You know deep down within the essence of yourself that God is the only source of genuine Truth and complete unconditional Love. So you know where to seek and to find both of these. And the path you must follow to attain these things is called “spiritual living”.
How do you go about living spiritually? I once had the opportunity to attend a series of lectures on Hinduism at the spacious home of a good friend of mine who came to the U.S. a long time ago from India. The lecturer was one of his scientific colleagues who was also originally from India. During one of these talks, he said that what you needed to do was “to live the best life you could and offer it up as a gift to God”. When I heard it, this simple statement rang of profound wisdom.
How do you live the best life that you can? One key factor is to live life selflessly and not selfishly. This is a clear message conveyed in the Bhagavad Gita, the greatest of Hindu religious documents. Gandhi said that if you read only one Hindu religious work, it should be the Bhagavad Gita, and Gandhi was absolutely right.
There are a few people who live according to this wisdom from an early age. But most people don’t. I didn’t. The people who do are the most altruistic of souls. They dedicate their lives to helping others, not themselves. They put the needs of others before their own needs. In religious groups, dedicated Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, Jewish rabbis, Muslim imams, Hindu priests, Buddhist monks, and nuns of all religions fall into this category. Mother Theresa is a shining example. In the non-religious area, it is the people who attend to the social, moral, and medical needs of others. Gandhi is an excellent example. So is Martin Luther King. So are all those dedicated medical providers and social and aid workers.
For most people, myself included, living selflessly requires conscious effort every minute of each day. It’s really a collection of simple, everyday things. Such as helping your spouse with the housework, even though you yourself hate to do housework. Such as making and taking time to talk about things with your spouse and your children. Such as giving your coworker a helping hand when he or she needs it. Such as doing what you can for the homeless, even if it’s just giving them a donation out on the street.
Living selflessly also means pursuing your goals, your career, but not for the benefit of yourself. Rather, for the good your career achievements may provide for others – your spouse, your children, your relatives, your friends, your coworkers, anyone with whom you interact. In the final analysis, the things you achieve in your career are of absolutely no value. When you die, you cannot take any of these career milestones with you. The Nobel Prize winning scientist will be a winner after death only if his achievements benefited others more than himself. As John Lennon said in the lyrics of one of his songs “you don’t take nothing with you but your soul”. He found out how true that lyric was.
Live life with God as your goal. Not money. Not fame. Not power. Not sex. Not pride. But God. You need to keep God in your thoughts each day, every day. At this point in my present life, all that I seek is God, who is the essence of Truth and Love. In order to attain Him, it is necessary that we pursue spiritual growth as our objective in life. Pursuing spiritual growth is the key to living spiritually.
If you want to find God, hang out in the space between your thoughts.
Meditate on This:
One method that is extremely helpful for spiritual growth is meditation. Meditation as a human activity is thought to be very old, possibly beginning with early hunter-gatherers who may have stared into their fires to induce meditative states. The established practice of meditation dates back to the early beginnings of Hinduism in about 5000 BCE. Perhaps the greatest meditative master was Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. It is said that he discovered the fundamentals of Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path, on the way to his Enlightenment during a succession of increasingly deeper meditative states.
I first began meditating when I was a twenty-something adult. I was drawn to my particular form of meditation, Indian transcendental meditation, because of the exposure that it was beginning to attract in the Western world, and the potential benefits which it was said to have - physiological, mental, and spiritual. I was curious about it, so I went through the short but interesting little Indian meditation initiation ritual at a local meditation school, was given my mantra (and told, for some obscure reason, never to reveal it to anyone), and then sent on my way to find my own meditative path. That was more than thirty-five years ago and I still meditate on a regular, daily basis.
Here is how I meditate. I sit in a comfortable chair and look upward until my eyelids become heavy so that I feel the need to close them. I begin by briefly asking God for a few heart-felt personal requests. Then I ask God to guide me to His Truth, and to guide my thoughts and actions. I then tell God that I love Him and serve Him.
After this, I begin to clear my mind of all thoughts. This can best be achieved by focusing on your breathing. Don’t think about breathing, just feel your breathing in and your breathing out. A mantra, or repeated word, can also be helpful. Some people use the mantra, Om, or a variant of it. When thoughts come, don’t fight them, don’t purposefully try to eliminate them, just recognize that they are there, and they will go away by themselves.
As you do this, you will feel your body become more and more relaxed. And at some point when all thoughts are gone, you will essentially lose your conscious state temporarily. No thoughts, no feeling of your body, just your existence. This is the goal of meditation. In this state, you may be as close to communing with God as is possible in the physical existence. After a while, typically about 30 minutes in my case, your conscious state returns of itself and you feel rested and relaxed. Don’t be afraid of losing your conscious state during meditation. There is nothing to fear, this effect will not harm you in any way. And don’t be disturbed if you do not attain the state of no-consciousness every time you meditate. I am only able to achieve this deep meditative level on occasion. Finally, don’t try to force this state to happen when you meditate. It will come when it comes.
The no-consciousness state is not sleep. I think that in this state, you are essentially within your subconscious mind, your spiritual mind. And I think that during this state, it is possible for you to receive insights that will eventually surface in your conscious mind. Spiritual insights. I believe that many of the things that I am writing now have had their genesis from my many years of meditation.
So two keys to living spiritually are living selflessly and meditating to obtain spiritual guidance and truth. Simple really.
Let your conscience be your guide.
Jiminy Cricket in the Disney movie Pinocchio
Living spiritually means striving to do the Will of God in everything, each and every day. But how can a person know what the Will of God is on a day-to-day and event-by-event basis?
Religious fundamentalists seek the Will of God in their religious writings and institutions. This is perhaps most evident in Islam. Muslims believe that every word, even every mark of punctuation, in the Quran is the direct Word of God. Therefore, to them the Quran represents the Will of God, as the Quran is interpreted through their religious scholars. On a daily basis, devout Muslims seek to live their lives based on the Quran, and in addition the traditions of the prophet Muhammad. Similarly, Christian fundamentalists seek the Will of God in the words of the Bible.
I believe that you cannot know the Will of God by blindly following religious writings and religious leaders. Religious writings and institutions are the product of human beings. They provide a vehicle for a focus on God, but they are not the way to know the Will of God.
When I was a child, I very much loved the early cartoon movies produced by Walt Disney that my parents used to take me to see. They seemed magical to me. Those movies like Snow White, Fantasia, Pinocchio, Cinderella, Bambi, Alice in Wonderland, and Lady and the Tramp stirred my imagination. I still remember scenes from them, like the classic spaghetti kissing scene in Lady and the Tramp. And I remember the character of Jiminy Cricket, who was the conscience of Pinocchio. Jiminy Cricket told Pinocchio what was right and what was wrong. It’s interesting and heartwarming that a Disney movie could convey to the child’s mind a concept that is so profound.
To truly know the Will of God, you must look inside yourself, to your conscience – that little voice inside you. I believe that your conscience is the vehicle that God uses to communicate His will directly to you.
When you need to know what is right and what is wrong, examine your conscience on the matter. Lay it out carefully in your mind and examine your feelings about it. If your conscience tells you that something is wrong, then it is wrong. You may try to rationalize away what your conscience is communicating, particularly if its message is not the most convenient one for you. But no amount of rationalization will change the truth that is being conveyed. It will not go away. Once you get the guidance from your conscience, then it’s up to you to use your free will to make the right decision.
Always remember that your conscience is a personal antenna to God’s Will. All you have to do is tune in.
God always pairs off like with like.
The Attractive One:
If you’re married, what attracted you to your spouse? If you’re not, what attracts you to your significant other? Perhaps initially the attraction was more of a physical one, the beauty of her face or the size of his chest. But for the longer haul, personal attraction is a combination of commonalities and complementaries.
What do my wife and I have in common? Many things. Some of the most important are the same morality, the same family values, the same scientific leanings, the same appreciation of the fine arts, the same childhood religion. We have an awful lot in common.
But that’s not to say that we share everything in common. My wife is an extrovert, a people-person, while I tend to be more introverted and less people-oriented. My wife is a traditional Catholic, while at this point in time I consider myself to be a catholic “Godist”. I play tennis and my wife doesn’t. My wife likes Scrabble, and I don’t. I lean towards Democratic politics while my wife has Republican leanings. My wife believes in focusing on commonsense everyday things, while I tend towards the more visionary. Yes, in many respects we are opposites. But we are opposites that are complementary to one another. Opposites attract when they are complementary. Our sum is greater than each of our parts
In interpersonal relationships, a general rule is Like Attracts Like. You like someone because they are like you. And you also like someone because they have characteristics that you like and wish you had.
When someone is like you, that causes you to feel comfortable in your interactions with them. You know what to expect in many of these interactions, and they feel warm and fuzzy. You hark back to the things in your youth that you share in common. You pursue common interests together. My wife and I enjoy visiting museums whenever we can. I feel comfortable attending Sunday Mass with my wife because we share the religious rituals of our childhood.
Then the complementaries add to your relationship. You might say that they are responsible for spicing it up. I am salt and my wife is pepper. At parties and social gatherings, it is my wife who adds the sparkle and I bask in her glow. When I go off on an idealistic tangent, my wife helps to bring me down to earth. And when she gets a little hot under the collar, I am there to help calm her down. Yes, such variety is indeed the spice of life.
In the spiritual sense, the principle of Like Attracts Like also applies, with the proviso that evil and good are never complementary. Bad people tend to be attracted to other bad people, while good people seek out other good people. You can definitely tell something about a person by the friends they keep. In order to live spiritually, you must make every effort to seek out the good in all of your personal and social interactions and relationships. By doing this, good will naturally be attracted to you. And spiritual growth is growth in goodness.
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
There is an old saying that “the only thing constant in life is change”. You’ve probably heard it. Examine the details of your life and tell me that this statement isn’t true.
We start changing the moment we are born. I have a picture of myself at age two hanging in my office. That photo shows me as a bright-eyed, pudgy-faced, happy little kid. That is certainly not the face that I wear today. In fact, every cell in your body eventually either changes to a new cell or dies.
Our bodies change, but also our minds. The way I thought as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult, and as a thirty-something adult is different than the way I think and look at things now.
Where you live changes. I was born and spent my early childhood in a house in the inner city of Cleveland. At age 10, my family moved to a home in the suburbs. At age 21, I moved into my first apartment. Then I moved again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. So up to this point in my life, I have lived in 11 different places. Sadly, the house where I was born and spent my early childhood was torn down years ago, but that too is change.
The people you know and interact with constantly change. I have lost contact with all of my childhood friends, all of my high school friends, and all of my college friends. When you move, you lose track of your neighbors. Once you leave a job, the work friends you had there tend to drift away as well. Only your best friends and relatives remain. And even they eventually start dying off.
It would seem that change is not always for the better. Often you hear older people reminiscing about how things were so much better in the “good old days”. They remember the times when life moved at a slower pace. When you could walk the streets at night without looking over your shoulder. The times when you knew and were friends with most of your neighbors. The times when you could unhesitatingly help someone without the fear of being mugged or sued.
I once heard a sermon in church where the priest was comparing the world of today with the world of Jesus’ time. He noted that we are vastly more technologically advanced now than we were two thousand years ago. We are so much better fed and housed, we have our cars, high definition TVs and other technological toys, and we have instant internet access to people and information. But then he asked if we were morally more advanced today than in Jesus’ time. Yes, the time of Jesus was brutal in many respects, some people were even crucified. Yet, back then there were no random acts of violence as there are so often today on the streets of our cities. If someone took another’s life, they at least gave that act some thought and had some justification for it. It seems that we have become numbed to all the violence, immorality, suffering, and death that we see on the nightly news each evening. Two millennia ago, people fought and killed each other in wars. But that warfare was never on the scale that we have today. It is estimated that sixty million people were killed in World War II, most of them civilians. Have we progressed morally over the past two thousand years? It doesn’t seem like it.
There is no doubt that change happens, but such change can be either good or bad depending on how we, as the human race, use our collective free will to make this world a better place or a worse one. Change will occur in your life, do not fight it or fear it. Instead, strive to make the actions in your life a force for positive change. If enough of us do that, the world cannot help but change for the better.
Sometimes things will fall apart in order for other things to fall into place.
Games of Chance:
If you truly believe the adage “everything happens for a reason”, this will help you tremendously to cope with the worst of the bad things that you may experience in this life.
What do I mean by this? It means that nothing happens by accident, by chance. Nothing is random. It also means that things that seem bad, perhaps even evil, also occur for a reason. Everything that happens has a purpose, although that purpose may not be evident immediately, or even at all. You may eventually understand the reason for a terrible thing happening to you. Or you may not - in this life.
My feeling is also that none of the interpersonal relationships in our life occur by chance. The people that we meet, that we know and love, that we interact with, are all meant to be there for a reason. This includes relatives, spouses, children, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and perhaps even very casual acquaintances. Maybe they are all there to aid us in our spiritual development in various ways. Have you ever met someone for the first time and felt an immediate attraction that you cannot quite put your finger on? Perhaps you had a personal relationship with that person in one of your previous lives that is now continuing in this one.
There are moments in your life that are pivotal, that change the course of your future. We all have them. Such moments happen for a reason. One such moment for me was the following.
I had just started graduate school when the law was suddenly changed so that graduate students were no longer exempt from the military draft. This was at the height of the Vietnam war, and I was of prime draft age. In other words, I was faced with a tough situation that required swift action on my part.
What were my options? They were limited. If I remained in graduate school, there was a high probability that I would be drafted and eventually end up in Vietnam as an enlisted man. Since I was not an ardent supporter of the Vietnam war (I didn’t see it as crucial to the existence of my country as World War II was), the idea of putting my life and future on the line for the geopolitical views of some high government officials was not something I particularly wanted to do.
My second option was to quit graduate school and obtain employment at an organization that would qualify me for a draft deferment. But my goal was to obtain my Ph.D degree and pursue a career in science. If I took a job at this point in time, it might mean that I would never get my advanced degree and would never be a scientist. Or at the very least, it would make it very much harder for me to follow my aspirations.
There was only one other long-shot option. If I couldn’t beat them, I could try to join them. If I somehow managed to join the ROTC, I could then continue on as a graduate student and fulfill my military commitment as an officer after I had obtained my Ph.D degree. As I said, this looked like a real long-shot, though.
But I was desperate enough to try it, and once I made up my mind, I decided that I would contact the ROTC people the very next day. So on that day, I walked into the ROTC offices on campus and asked them if they had any openings for graduate students in their program. To my great surprise, they said that they did indeed have a few such openings. They also told me that today was the last day that I would be able to apply!
So I applied - and I was accepted (probably because I was a former eagle scout). As a direct result of this one event, I remained in graduate school and obtained my Ph.D degree. Because I was still in graduate school, I met my future wife at a graduate student party. Because of the military commitment that I picked up, I was able to do what was effectively a three-year postdoctoral assignment at a prestigious military scientific lab. And because of my tenure in the military and my effective postdoc, I was able to obtain the scientific employment that lasted for 30 years until I retired.
If I hadn’t walked into that ROTC office so long ago, if I had waited just one more day to walk in, my life would have been so completely different! I would most probably have a different wife and child (or children), have lived in different places, and have had a much different working career. Who knows, I might even have died young in Vietnam.
I believe that my walking into that ROTC office on the day that I did happened for a reason. Absolutely I do.
But what about the horrible things that happen to people. Some natural, like the tsunami that killed 250,000 people. Some technological, like airplane and automobile crashes. Some human-caused, like the murder of 3000 people on 9/11. Do these things happen for a reason too?
There can be no doubt that natural disasters cause physical death and suffering for large numbers of people. But my feeling is that these natural disasters also happen for a reason. They are part of God’s natural plan, which we cannot know during our finite lifetime.
What about two hundred people who die in a plane crash caused by a mechanical failure? Why did they have to die this way? What was the reason? Why did they deserve such a fate? One can only say that for each and every one of those people on the plane, the time for the cessation of their present lifetime on Earth had come. God knows why.
On the face of it, though, it’s harder to say that something like 9/11, a human-caused act of physical death and suffering, happened for a reason. After all, this was an act of evil, caused by the misuse of free will by men who justified their actions in the name of Allah. What could possibly be God’s reason for letting something like this happen? In a case like this, we must attempt to take the larger, longer view. Perhaps in the long run, some good will come out of 9/11, even though there was much evil in the short run. Maybe it will cause Islamic people to re-examine the man-made aspects of their religious beliefs, and in doing so modify them so as to bring them back into better accord with the true Will of Allah.
As I was writing this, a gunman walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania and shot to death five young Amish girls who were attending school there, before taking his own life. You might see this as the senseless killing of innocents. What could possibly be the reason for this inhuman, senseless act of multiple murders. Even in a case like this, there is a reason. Perhaps it is the fact that the Amish parents of the murdered girls could forgive the man who killed them and provide aid and comfort to his family. This amazing act of forgiveness was communicated immediately across the globe by the international media. Think of the global impact of their act of forgiveness! They were truly following Jesus’ admonition to love your enemy. Maybe that’s the reason why this seemingly senseless crime occurred.
Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That's why we call it “ the present”.
What’s Happening Now:
When I was a teenager, I used to play baseball in one of the youth leagues. My position was right field, which is usually reserved for those players who aren’t all that good. I could field okay, but my major weakness was batting. For some reason, my eye-arm coordination was a bit too slow. While I could hit the ball a country mile if I managed to make contact with it, the problem was the contact. I struck out a lot. And I spent a lot of time sitting on the bench. We were playing the last game of the season and the coach mercifully took me off the bench and put me into the game. I struck out a couple of times, and it was now my last time at bat. The pitcher wound up and threw his pitch. I just closed my eyes and swung as hard as I could. I heard the solid crack of the bat and the ball shot off like a rocket far over the head of the center fielder (that particular ballfield had no fence). I circled the bases and came home long before they ever got the ball back to the infield. That home run was a great moment for me.
It’s quite easy to cherish the moment when that moment is a good one. We savor the times when we feel relaxed and happy, when we feel unthreatened and loved. We relish the good times. The times with family and friends. The times of vacation and rest. The times of achievement and recognition. We wish that such moments could last forever, but they never do.
We each have those other uncomfortable moments, embarrassing moments, stressful moments, bad moments in life. At work, we may be under time pressure to get something done. Or we may have a meeting or a presentation that doesn’t go well. Or we may be required to travel out-of-town to meeting after endless meeting. Or we may have less than satisfactory interactions with our coworkers. At home, we can have stressful interactions with our spouse, children, and relatives. Or we have to cope with the day-to-day demands of family life and the drudgery of household chores.
I readily admit that most of my life I did not make a conscious effort to cherish the moment. The events of a bad moment made me upset and I tended to continue to relive them over and over in my mind, with negative feelings about others’ actions and/or my own perceived mistakes. I continued to inflict the pain of that moment on myself, long after the moment itself was gone. Why did that bad moment have to happen to me!
Some of the moments that we have to face in life can be so tough that we have a great deal of difficulty facing them, let alone cherishing them. I have faced such moments during the illnesses that have happened to my family members and myself. There were times when I really did not want to wake up from sleep, so I wouldn’t have to deal with the conscious realities of those moments. However, I have a different outlook on events of the moment now. And I am very much more at peace with the moment. In all of these bad situations, it is important that you still focus on cherishing the moment. We learn the most about life and we have the greatest spiritual development as a result of the bad moments. They help build our character and, along with the good moments, they are God’s gift to us for our spiritual growth.
Most of all, remember that the moment is as it was meant to be, even if it seems negative or painful (physically or mentally) at the time. If you can adopt this simple approach, it will greatly ease your mind in coping with those bad moments in life. You will lose your concern and stress about the events of the moment. They were meant to happen, no matter how frightful and disturbing they seem to be at the time. Never fight the moment. Accept it and let it happen. Deal with it as best you can. Cherish the moment – caress it. Each moment is ephemeral, it will never come again. If you can bring yourself to do this even in the worst of times, you will find tranquility in the midst of whatever life has in store for you.
No one knows whether death is really the greatest blessing a man can have, but they fear it is the greatest curse, as if they knew well.
The Death of Fear:
Fear of death is the most powerful fear that a person can experience in life. We logically know that we must certainly die, but we are typically quite afraid to face that fact. Most people just shove thoughts of death into the back of their mind and try not to think about it. But it lies there in everyone’s mind all the time.
Why is this so? Why do we fear death so much? It’s because we want to continue to exist and we don’t know whether we will or not after death. So the fear of death is really a fear of the non-continuation of existence. And it is also a fear of the unknown. And for some, the fear of judgment and retribution for wrongdoing.
But if you come to believe that you are really a spiritual being in essence, rather than a physical being, the fear of death disappears. It is only the body that dies, not “you”, your soul. This is why people who have had near-death experiences no longer fear death. They have been shown that they will continue to exist after death of the body. Death is nothing more than a rebirth into your true spiritual existence.
Knowing that you are really a spiritual being brings about “the death of fear”.
I have no fear of death at this point in my life. I know that I will continue to exist after my body dies, so I do not need to be afraid of cessation of my existence. I am not really my body. But I will admit that I have a fear of the dying process, since it is so often associated with pain and distress.
I will tell you what I personally believe happens when you die. This is my opinion based on reports of near-death experiencers and on my own intuition.
First, at the moment of death your soul leaves your physical body behind. You experience quite directly and definitively that “you” are not your body at all. The “you” is your mind/soul entity that is now remote from your body but still quite alive and aware. At death, your conscious mind dies with your brain, but your subconscious mind now becomes the consciousness of your soul.
For a while, you may observe things around you in the physical realm. You may see your body and wonder at the sight of it from a remote location such as near the ceiling of the room. If you are in a hospital, you may view the scene of medical personnel scurrying around trying to revive your dead body. But eventually the consciousness that is “you” will be transported to a very different environment.
Some people say that what you initially experience immediately after death depends a great deal upon what you believe that you will experience. If you are a Muslim and expect gardens under which rivers flow, then that is what you will initially see. If you expect to see the pearly gates of heaven, you will see them. If you expect to go to hell, you will be transported to a hellish-like place. And if you believe that death is the end of your existence, your consciousness will dwell in a void of nothingness, a total nada. Fortunately for those who believe them, these initial situations of hell and nothingness will only be temporary.
Whatever you initially expect and experience, eventually you will find yourself being transported into a region of light. It is dazzling, brighter than the sun, but somehow you are not harmed by it and you can still see within it. And within the light, you will be welcomed by beings who seem to be made of light. Some may be beings that you recognize such as deceased relatives, some may be entities you do not seem to know but who somehow know you. Some you may interpret as religious figures. You have an overpowering feeling of unconditional love in the light as it envelopes you and permeates you. You feel that the light is love and that the light is God. And you feel that you are home. You have been born again into the spiritual world. The beings welcome you with expressions of love and acceptance but their communication is totally non-verbal. They will talk to you with their consciousness, and you hear them in your consciousness.
You become aware that you now exist in a timeless realm. Hard as it is for any physical human being to comprehend, there is no “time” in the spiritual realm. There is no one-way sequential flow of events. There is only the “now”, which somehow encompasses all of past, present, and future simultaneously. This “no time” aspect is the most difficult after-death reality for me to try and grasp. Yet this is what near-death experiencers report. Events that happen in “no time” can only be expressed as sequential in our physical reality, so that is what I am forced to do in order to describe what happens “next”.
The welcoming phase of your spiritual rebirth eventually finishes, and you (that is, your soul, your consciousness) then proceeds to the next phase, which is a life review.
The life review is an extremely comprehensive review of the events of your entire life, from your first awareness to your last moment before death. You experience this review not only from your own memory and perspective, but also from the perspectives of all those whom you interacted with during your life. You feel the things that you felt during the various events in your life, but you also experience the feelings of those you affected. When you caused someone to feel happiness, you feel their happiness. When you caused them pain, you feel their pain. Think about the number of people you have interacted with and influenced in some way during your life. How many do you think it was? Included in this number are people that you didn’t even realize that you influenced. How many times have you frowned at a stranger passing on the street rather than smiling at them. What affect did that frown have? During the life review, you feel all of this yourself.
The purpose of this life review is not to torture you, but rather for you to see firsthand the things that you learned, or did not learn, for your spiritual development during the life that you have just lived. The purpose of the life review is not to judge you. God does not judge. God loves you with unconditional love. If there is any judge during the life review, it is yourself. You realize what you did or did not accomplish for your spiritual growth.
For those who led spiritually-oriented lives, the life review should be a rather pleasant experience, but what about those whose lives were not so spiritually-oriented or who might have done evil things. What was Hitler’s life review like? It is hard to imagine the hell that it must have been, the hell that he caused for himself. Perhaps he is still experiencing it. To feel the pain and suffering that he caused millions upon millions of human beings. That is truly God’s justice for Hitler. Hitler is judging himself.
There are those who might say that Hitler was so evil that either he will be eternally suffering in hell, or that his essence, his soul, will be destroyed by God. I have to say that I don’t believe either of these scenarios. I do not think that any soul, however evil it may have become through its free will, will ever be destroyed by God. God created that soul from Himself and God will never destroy it. The soul is a little “bit” of God. Remember that He loves every soul unconditionally and unconditional love forgives all things. God does not punish the evil soul. Rather, the evil soul punishes itself by causing itself to be severely retarded in its spiritual growth towards eventual reunion with God. It will exist in a condition that is removed from closeness to God, essentially it will exist in a hell of its own making, until it finally begins again to grow spiritually towards God.
What happens when the life review is completed? What is our ultimate destiny? Where do we go from here, from where we are now? I feel that our ultimate destiny is to reunite with God. We came from God and we go back to God. But we may have to experience many physical lifetimes and many spiritual lifetimes before complete reunion with God.
Our goal is to strive as hard as we can to perfect ourselves in spirit. We are to strive toward the perfection that is God. It may be that after we have perfected ourselves to the point that we no longer require any more physical lifetimes, there is a further spiritual ladder to climb. There may be a succession of spiritual rungs that we need to ascend. It may take almost an infinity of “time” to make it to the top of the ladder. But once we do, we will reunite totally with God. We will cease to exist as a separated “little bit of God”. Our consciousness will finally be fully absorbed into the Cosmic Consciousness, from whence it originally came.
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