Gita Talk #10: Pretend We’re All Just Sitting Around In My Living Room Together

Via on Jun 21, 2010

Gita Talk

…has been a grand experiment, and a surprisingly successful one at that.

Let’s keep the experiment going.  Today I was thinking, how would this work if we were all just sitting around in my living room? What would that Gita Talk look like?

Well, for one thing, we’d go around the room and read a few stanzas at a time.

Then we’d talk about what those stanzas meant.

I would look around the room and call on people.  New readers would be drawn into the conversation and have their questions addressed.

The more experienced readers would be the teachers.  They would express some of their more advanced ideas, but they would also naturally help the new readers.

The only thing I can’t do on a blog is call on you initially.  So for this experiment we have to rely on you to be more willing than usual to jump in and make your first comment.

The most interesting Gita Talk’s have been conversations more than comments.  It only takes 5-6 people fully involved to make a great conversation.  Please consider being one of them.

Once you’re in, I’ll moderate the discussion, just as I would in person.  I’ll ask leading questions.  I’ll ask newer readers to ask more questions, and I’ll call on the more experienced readers to help explain things to the group, etc.

So let’s try this with Chapter 9.  We’re not in any rush.  Let’s go through the chapter stanza by stanza, as though we were all sitting in my living room together.

Let’s start by reading and discussing the first six stanzas of Chapter 9:

Because you trust me, Ajuna,
I will tell you what wisdom is,
the secret of life: know it
and be free of suffering, forever.

This is the supreme wisdom,
the knowing beyond all knowing,
experienced directly, in a flash,
eternal, and a joy to practice.

Those who are without faith
in my teaching, cannot attain me;
they endlessly return to this world,
shuttling from death to death.

I permeate all the universe
in my unmanifest form.
All beings exist within me,
yet I am so inconceivably

vast, so beyond existence,
that though they are brought forth
and sustained by my limitless power,
I am not confined within them.

Just as the all-moving wind,
wherever it goes, always
remains in the vastness of space,
all beings remain within me. (BG 9.1-6)

Anyone want to volunteer to start with a comment or question?  If not, I’ll start by calling on YOU!

Please see
Welcome to Gita Talk
for all Gita Talk blogs and general information.
Jump in anytime and go at your own pace.

About Bob Weisenberg

Bob Weisenberg: Editor, Best of Yoga Philosophy / Former Assoc. Publisher, elephant journal / Author: Yoga Demystified * Bhagavad Gita in a Nutshell * Leadership Is Like Tennis, Not Egyptology / Co-editor: Yoga in America (free eBook) / Creator: Gita Talk: Self-paced Online Seminar / Flamenco guitarist: "Live at Don Quijote" & "American Gypsy" (Free CD's) / Follow Bob on facebook, Twitter, or his main site: Wordpress.


197 Responses to “Gita Talk #10: Pretend We’re All Just Sitting Around In My Living Room Together”

  1. Jelefant says:

    I am very interested in the relationship between the word practice, which ends the second stanza, and the word faith, which begins the third. What do you think of the term "faith" in the third stanza: "Those who are without faith in my teaching cannot attain me." I suspect this statement is likely to be misinterpreted in a culture dominated by credo religions, like ours. Do you think "faith in my teaching" here means something like "you must believe in Me" or something more like "you must be willing to practice?"

    • Hi, Jelefant. This is one of those words that has no equivalent in English. (Plus, as you pointed out, the word "faith" is loaded with other religious usage that is much more narrow than what the Gita means.) Eknath Easwaran thought this word, "shraddha" in Sanskrit, was so important that he devotes two pages to it as part of the climax of his introduction to the Gita! Probably worth reading from here:

      One last untranslatable concept and I will let the Gita speak for itself. That concept is "shraddha", and it's nearest English equivalent is faith. I have translated it as such, but "shraddha" means much more. It is literally "that which is placed in the heart": all the beliefs we hold so deeply that we never think to question them. It is the set of values, axioms, prejudices, and prepossessions that colors our perceptions, governs our thinking, dictates our responses, and shapes our lives, generally without our even being aware of its presence and power.

      Then he goes on to give the example of medical studies that show that a patient is more likely to recover who believes that he or she will.

      So I think "faith" is more like a "belief system" than what we usually think of as "faith".

      What do the rest of you think?

    • svan says:

      Jelefant & Bob, thank you for your elegant explorations on the faith topic.

      The first line stands out for me, "Because you trust me, Arjuna, I will tell you what wisdom is…" Faith is something like trust, perhaps. Or confidence…

      Without faith, trust or confidence in the teaching, why would I practice? What would that practice look like? If there was no faith, trust or confidence between student and teacher, why would the teachings be shared?

      One of my teachers talked about three essential levels of faith or confidence for one's practice: 1) in the source of the teaching 2) in the teaching itself and 3) in yourself.

      When I look at it this way, I find I do need faith, trust and confidence to help me overcome resistance, doubt and insecurity and keep practicing.

      • I agree, svan. Trust, confidence, belief that makes sense, plus everything Easwaran and you guys added–all these meanings of faith I can embrace.

        I think some of us who grew up Catholic, or with some other extreme form of Christianity, have a problem with the word because when we were kids it was a way of saying "You can't question that, and, in fact, if you don't believe that you are sinning and could go to hell for it." That sounds extreme, but the ultra-traditional Catholicism I grew up with said exactly that. The creed was the creed, and not believing was a sin, sort of like the inquisition.

        (My apologies to those of you who are devout Catholics who were never subjected to this sort of emotional abuse of innocent kids, or, like my wife Jane, never took it seriously, and therefore never suffered anything from it. I'm just honestly telling you how it was for me. I should probably talk less about this.)

        • Greg says:

          The meaning of faith in the above translation is consistent with the Christian tradition. It is a turning of the heart toward the divine.

          Too often many religious conflate "blind faith" with the richer meaning of faith.

          When we consider a religious tradition, however, I think it best to consider its best practitioners rather than those who alter the faith into the mundane.

          • Jelefant says:

            Who are the "best practitioners"? Does the divine have a rating system? I'm often tempted to suspect those who proclaim themselves "best practioners," though by suspecting them I become just as guilty of uninformed, unqualified judgment as they are in proclaiming themselves best.

            Is it possible that recalling past lives "alters the faith into the mundane"?

    • Meaghan says:

      Thanks for this discussion of faith and shraddha. I've enjoyed reading. I have to read Easwaran's version of the Gita for an upcoming training and am looking forward to the introduction Bob mentions.

      • Hi, Meaghan. Yes you will enjoy the Easwaran version. Just a note. The overall introduction is written by Easwaran, but the chapter introductions, while very informative, often seem to differ with Easwaran's own more inspiring point of view in the introduction! This is not a bad thing, as long as one realizes it and just gets interested in the differences.

        Enjoy it.


  2. paramsangat says:

    ….another thing…
    if its the case that people will drop off, and not come back because they reach this "goal"… in the end there will be obly a few people/animals left to play in flesh and bone. That doesnt make much sense to me. I mean, that doesnt sound like a "genious" idea. But if we are here to enjoy being flesh and bone, being able to do "earthly" things and all the time enhance the experience. And having a choice how to react to things. That could be a real eternal FUN game. And every time with the thrilling sense that you're here for the "first" /last time, making it an adventure. THAT I find more of a genious idea :)

    • Love your comments, paramsangat. People can probably predict what I'm going to say about this–This is one of the reasons I don't believe in reincarnation. It utterly devalues life!

      The bulk of the Gita, in contrast, makes it clear that absolutely everything in the universe is infinitely wondrous (divine, if one feels comfortable with the term), including our bodies and even our egos!

      This is one of those cases the reader/seeker has to make a choice between contradictory messages in the Gita. My choice, and yours I think, is clear. I go for life.

      What do the rest of you sitting here in my living room think?


      • paramsangat says:

        I could believe in reincarnation as such, in the sense I described above, that we would reincarnate for fun. Not becasue of that we havent reached the "goal" yet and are still on this journey to understand that & do whatever it takes to free ourselves…, or because of "bad karma"..or whatever.
        I'm pro-FUN, pro-ADVENTURE, pro-Playfulness, pro-self empowerment….all that is pro-happy living… :)
        Making me aswell of course… pro-"everything is infinitely Divine/Wondrous" :) Wooohooo :)

      • Greg says:

        I have a difficult time imagining how reincarnation devalues life. If anything, it is the opposite. Reincarnation speaks to our true life, our true essence. It tells us that those transient objects to which we become attached, which inevitably degrade and dissolve, are not who we really are. If anything, the concept of reincarnation validates our true life, which is timeless and formless.

        • It would seem to devalue our physical lives, especially expressed as a punishment.

          In the Yoga I practice mind, body and spirit are one and inseparable, so our physical lives are every bit as true and meaningful as our spiritual lives. As the majority of the Gita proclaims, even the present passage, EVERYTHING is part of the infinitely wondrous universe (= divine, = "Brahman", = God), including our physical existence. "All beings exist within me" and "all beings remain within me."

          What do the rest of you think?

  3. Hi Parmsangat and Bob, OK you said jump in so here goes.
    Personally, I do believe in reincarnation for fun and learning. But aside from that my interpretation of "They endlessly return to this world, shuttling from death to death." as a people who only lives in the physical world and has no sense of god, higher power, great spirit, whatever you want to call it. Every day they wake up and "endlessly return to this world" the material world. I see shuttling from death to death as shuttling from various life situations that have are superficial or rooted in power struggles or vanity. Egotistical pursuits or pursuing financial gain with greed- Corrupt politicians or greedy CEOs could be grandiose examples of people who shuffle from death to death.But it would be possible for someone who leads a less prosperous or powerful life to also shuffle from death to death. The people I am thinking of don't even realize they are missing anything, the phrase "they cannot attain me" would leave them indifferent, who cares, I am living the life. Those interested exploring deeper meanings to life, study and try to find shraddha.

  4. Hey, Bob, nice living room. But, ummm…dude….plastic slipcovers? ARP magazines? An autographed picture of Annette Funicello over the mantlepiece? How old *are* you, man?! Gotta say, I really admire a guy so close to feeding the tree who doesn't believe in a literal afterlife….

    Anyway, you know I'm with you on reincarnation, and I certainly prefer the idea of "faith" as the confidence or positive motivation that keeps a person going in the practice to more theistic notion of "if you don't believe in me I'm not gonna let you attain out of the cycle of rebirth" (and don't even get me started on the "law of attraction"). Then, I suspect both readings are probably somewhat inevitable based on whether one takes Krishna as a literal being or a metaphor.

    • At the same time, I find myself thinking something similar to what I think when reading liberal Christian theologians like John Shelby Spong and members of the Jesus Seminar, with whom I also agree on almost everything, but find myself saying "why not ditch Christianity and the Bible completely and start over if you're gonna throw out that much of it?"

      Got any chips and salsa in the house, man?

    • Hi, Jay. Thanks for writing and making me laugh, as usual.


  5. Greg says:

    These verses are very informative. I find them to be very helpful to understanding the Gita.

    I permeate all the universe
    in my unmanifest form.
    All beings exist within me,
    yet I am so inconceivably

    vast, so beyond existence,
    that though they are brought forth
    and sustained by my limitless power,
    I am not confined within them.

    Just as the all-moving wind,
    wherever it goes, always
    remains in the vastness of space,
    all beings remain within me. (BG 9.1-6)

    The idea that Self permeates all the universe is vital. It does not mean that one is equivalent to all in the universe, but rather that one goes through — permeates — the universe. One has to ask, What is the nature of that which can permeate? This question ends up being vital to the practice. Worth knocking it around a bit.

    And then, following up and further clarifying, the Gita says, "I am not confined within them." This is consistent with permeates. It says Self goes through forms, but is not constrained or limited by them, and thus not equivalent to them.

    These two lines start to shape and define very important qualities of Self. They may seem merely poetic, but from my experience, they are absolutely vital to the practice and are practical descriptions. They describe the nature of enlightened consciousness. We permeate all things and are not constrained or limited by any, and thus we are not equivalent to things.

    The lines "All beings exist within me" and "all beings remain within me" do not refer to a form. In other words, Self is not a jug or vase or container, but rather all things exist solely within the vastness of our consciousness.

    In the practice, in a practical manner, we begin to learn about these qualities, these properties, when we detach from attachment to and identification with specific forms.

    For example, when we discover through the practice that we are not confined or limited or defined by the body we discover how we permeate the body. We find our true nature is never the body. We discover that our consciousness, which is able to permeate a body, has simply become "stuck" by virtue of thinking we are the body and believing we are constrained by the limits of the body.

    Thus, the practice leads to an understanding of the nature of consciousness, which then leads to our understanding of Self as that pure consciousness that permeates all forms.

    Reincarnation is simply the thought they we are now connected or attached or identified with a particular form. That cycle of death to death or the wheel of birth and death ends when we realize our true nature as pure consciousness without form, a consciousness that can permeate all form but which is never equivalent to the form.

    Make any sense at all?

    • YogiOne says:

      Actually, this makes no sense whatsoever. It strikes me as dogma with neither consensual nor experiential validation. Consciousness is produced the brain and nervous system and is limited to such. We can't even share consciousness with other beings known to be conscious. This idea that the universe itself is conscious is a fairy tail. Just because some ancient dudes thought of something that caught the imagination doesn't mean that it is true. Certainly, in light of more recent knowledge, based on demonstrably superior methodology, it is time to follow the evolution of Yoga rather than being trapped within the dead, desicated body of its past.

      • Thanks for writing, YogiOne. I have some thoughts on this.

        But first, let's go around the room and ask–what do the rest of you think?


        • svan says:

          okay, venturing out of my depth again — does this all come down to the question of whether something can exist independently, unchangingly, permanently…? be it consciousness, the soul, God or Krishna?

          Immanence seems quite reasonable to me while transcendence strikes me as kind of redundant… those are just my current opinions, not conclusions by any measure

          • Scott says:

            It depends on the definition of immanence. MJy point of view is the divinity is a human value and from that point of view, the entire universe could be seen as divine. If, however, you mean that a divine being or essence manifests in and through all aspects of the material world, I've seen no evidenc efor that at all, and thus don't find it "reasonable."

          • svan and Scott. When I was writing my eBook Yoga Demystified I ended up using the term "infinitely wondrous" for "divine" and "the infinitely wondrous unfathomable life-force of the universe" for "God". I was trying to see if I could describe Yoga philosophy without any religious terminology at all, and without anything that seemed illogical to me. I succeeded to my own and many others' satisfaction (but certainly not to everyone's.)

            More religiously oriented people, like our friend Greg here, for example, will always be unhappy with my kind of secular view of Yoga. But for me, it's precisely Yoga's more rational orientation that makes me able to whole-heartedly embrace it. I believe that the ancient Yoga sages had this same orientation, even though they were still steeped in religious language and metaphor. That's why I feel a kinship with them.

            This seem similar to what you are both saying. Am I reading you properly?

            Love to get other opinions on this.

      • integralhack says:

        Well, there is religious dogma and then there is the dogma of scientism which is really quite similar (in both cases there is a great deal you don't know, but you put a great deal of "faith" in the mythology or methodology, respectively). Consciousness may have more than one definition, but yet I'm wondering what "demonstrably superior methodology" is employed to measure it?

        • Scott says:

          The only methodology used to produce ideas such as the ones expressed by Greg is introspection – a notoriously flawed method susceptible to every sort of bias and no possible objective review. The methods of neturalism on the other hand are peer-reviewed, objective measures with reliability and validity carefully measured. The methods, results and interpretations are open to logical review and refutation. The results of naturalistic methods need no repetition here. With regard to consciousness, the only entities so far demonstrated to possess consciousness of any type that can be objectively studied and living beings, and arguably, some computer-based entities. Localized and distributed elements of consciousness have been studied and well documented in the neural tissues of many animal species including our own.

          • integralhack says:

            I don't think anyone is presenting introspection as an objective scientific study–Greg can correct me if I'm wrong in regard to his view.

            Your argument would be more compelling if you could point to an actual study (along with the study's definition and delineation of "consciousness"). I haven't been able to find any. There are neuroscientists and neuropsychologists, such as Dr. Rick Hanson (author of Buddha's Brain), who think the spirit of science should be open to the possibility of non-local consciousness unless it can truly be proven to be impossible (he hasn't been convinced, obviously).

            Don't get me wrong, I'm not a pusher of Atman or Brahman (or any "Big Man or Woman in the Sky", for that matter), but I am vigilant against scientism (as opposed to science) used to provide spurious arguments against non-local consciousness based on studies of local consciousness.


          • Just my personal take on this. Since I'm a "spiritual rationalist" (for lack of a better term until I find one) I usually avoid the word "consciousness" precisely because it does imply some sort of human-like consciousness.

            However, I don't have any trouble using it when the context makes it obvious that we're only using it as a metaphor for whatever drives the universe to do the infinitely wondrous things that it does. It's a metaphor for an unfathomable something that is clearly there but is utterly beyond our understanding–the infinitely wondrous unfathomable life-force of the universe.

            It's almost certainly not conscious in any human sense of the word, so, in my opinion, all attempts to define it in terms of human consciousness belie the fact that it's just an inadequate metaphor for the ineffable. Better to avoid the word "consciousness" altogether rather than to make that mistake.

            The Gita's message, as I read past all the vestiges of religious language to its core, is that the universe is infinitely wondrous and we are are an integral part of that infinite wonder. That seems utterly rational to me. That's the level at which an ultra-scientist like Einstein can read and interpret the Gita.

            I haven't yet met anyone who is willing to argue that the universe is NOT infinitely wondrous. It would seem that the more scientific (=rational) one is, the more one becomes aware of this, because scientists are always working on the edge of our knowledge, and it's so usually more obvious to them how vast and unfathomable what we don't know is.

            How do you, Matt, and you other readers feel about this interpretation of the Gita?


          • integralhack says:

            You raise some good points, Bob and you are doing a great job of moderating and bringing the discussion back to the Gita.

            I agree that usage of the word "consciousness" creates confusion because we lack a lexicon (especially a common one) to describe such concepts. But, I'm only parroting the usage of others, not making up my own phrases.

            I love your usage of "infinite wonder." What's not to like?


          • YogiOne says:

            Science is open to anything so long as objective evidence can be produced or the possibility of objective evidence is part of the theory (falsifiability). That is one of the aspects of science that protects it from dogma. That being said, you still have to show some evidence that a phenomenon exists either through direct observation or as a theoretical extension of known phenomena within a context of pre-existing scientific knowledge. There is no such evidence or valid theory that could support the existance of "non-local consciousness. If anything is spurious, it is promoton of such an absurd idea with no basis in fact or valid theory.

          • integralhack says:

            Hell, I can't produce a theory of consciousness let alone a theory of non-local consciousness. I am not a promoter of non-local consciousness, but I can't disprove such a notion either. You are the one positing the non-existence of such a phenomena. I am not positing anything.

            I am merely suggesting that scientific method may not be the appropriate tool in this case–at least not in this point in our scientific development.

          • YogiOne says:

            Oh, and please do enlightment me about what method of inquiry is superior to the process of science?

          • integralhack says:

            Superior? I never said any inquiry was superior, but one form of inquiry may be more appropriate than another given the specific case. I wouldn't apply the scientific method as a means of literary criticism, for example.

          • YogiOne says:

            Depends on how you understand scientific methods. The first two pillars are to describe and explain natural phenomena. If literature is understood as a natural phenomenon, produced by natural beings, then the process of describing it and explaining it as would be done in literary criticism fits in quite well with a scientific approach. If you made up something that doesn't exist in the work of literature and used that as a basis for your critique rather than basing it on the literature, then you have the equivalent to making up things like infinite consciousness. Neither is honest.

          • integralhack says:

            Good literary criticism is typically a multidisciplinary enterprise: insights and approaches are garnered from history, philosophy, literature, and yes, the sciences. But to suggest that scientific method is the only way to investigate, interpret and evaluate literature is the worst and most ridiculous form of positivism. Hopefully you aren't seriously suggesting this.

            YogiOne, if you truly believe that scientific method is the best approach for literary criticism, then show us how it is done with the Gita.

          • I think that's a very fair and illuminating question, integralhack. I agree that it's very distorting to think that science is the only or best way to look at anything. Isn't that what you mean by scientism? (This is a word I'm just learning about through you.)

            What about that, YogiOne? How does one apply scientific analysis to a literary/spiritual work like the Gita? (And anyone else who would like to comment, of course.)

          • integralhack says:

            Yes, Bob.

            Per Wikipedia (it has a good entry on scientism): "Scientism is the idea that natural science is the most authoritative worldview or aspect of human education, and that it is superior to all other interpretations of life."

            In other words, scientism–as opposed to science–upholds natural science as something of a belief system or ideology.

            A true scientist or a skeptic would not promote scientism, IMHO.

          • Thanks, IH. This is good education for me and I'm sure others.

          • HI all, trying to read all the commentary and not quite sure I am understanding the debate. But have you heard of Roger Nelson? A scientist studying global consciousness, you can look him and his studies up on Wikipedia.

          • Thanks, Elise. I'll take a look. One thing I found out is that Prince's original name was Rodgers Nelson!


          • Yes true, wonder what P. Rodgers Nelson would say about this?

          • YogiOne says:

            And the opposite – that all ways of knowing win and all get prizes – what do you label that?

          • Hmmm, how about being a human being?. It seems to me one has to match type of knowing to the purpose of the knowing. I need to learn about flamenco guitar playing in a different way than I learn about physics.

            Plus science is extremely limited when you have a complex task with lots of unknowns and random events, like running a business, which I did for 25 years.

            Let's call it "situational knowledge"–match the approach, and the degree of science, to the situation.

            What do you think?

          • YogiOne says:

            BTW – where science has been adequately demonstrated to be superior there is no question of scientism. And, no, I'm not going to give you a history lesson regarding the history of how science has been proven to be superior to others ways of seeking knowledge. Do the work yourself.

          • YogiOne says:

            When you critique a book you first describe something about the book. This is directly equivalent to the first stage of scientific process. You describe the natural phenomena you intend to study. Second, you compare the ideas in the book to other ideas and there are no a priori limitations on the associations you draw. This parts is directly equivalent to the first part of the second stage of scientific inquirey which seeks to explain/understand natural phenomena. Of course science goes into much greater detail at this point where literary criticism usually skips to the end which would be to offer conclusions based on the work previously completed. The process of science is far more encompassing than hypothesis testing. It is often the case that people try to put science into a smaller box than they should.

          • Have to strenuously disagree with this one, YogiOne. Except for hypotheses and creative imagining, science is about things that can be measured with some precision and studied, which isn't usually true of the topics of literary criticism.

            There are a few things that come close to science in literature. Graham Schweig is writing a "Concordance" for the Gita, for example–a comprehensive analysis of all the words in the Gita and where and how they are used. But even this couldn't really be called scientific, because it's still necessarily very heavy with the author's judgment.

            I'm not sure how you can even begin to compare literary analysis to science. Logic is critical. But science is an different animal altogether. I'm guessing this is a good example of what Integral Hack would call a totally inappropriate use of science, and therefore "scientism". Am I right, Integral?

          • Have to strenuously disagree with this one, YogiOne. Except for hypotheses and creative imagining, science is about things that can be measured with some precision and studied, which isn't usually true of the topics of literary criticism.

            There are a few things that come close to science in literature. Graham Schweig is writing a "Concordance" for the Gita, for example–a comprehensive analysis of all the words in the Gita and where and how they are used. But even this couldn't really be called scientific, because it's still necessarily very heavy with the author's judgment.

            But I'm not sure how you can even begin to compare literary analysis to science. Logic is critical. But science is an different animal altogether. I'm guessing this is a good example of what Integral Hack would call a totally inappropriate use of science, and therefore "scientism". Am I right, Integral?

  6. Greg says:

    The idea of conservation of mass-energy is not the same as reincarnation.

    In the example of constituent parts of one form (a tree) dissolving and then being reformed in another form (mushrooms) is conservation of mass-energy. This is simply physical form to physical form.

    There are those who misinterpret Buddhism and Hinduism in a materialistic manner who believe this is equivalent to reincarnation but that is an alteration.

    Buddhists do not overlook the metaphor and do not believe in a Self that is reincarnated. Rather it is a matter of direct observation. The Buddha, for example, spoke of his many, many lifetimes. He speaks directly to this fact, not in a metaphoric sense but as a narrative of specific events.

    Following the Buddha, I have come to observe/know the same — one can recall a previous incarnation, the period between lives, another incarnation, and the period between lives, and so on. And, as I have done, one can tie this to actual physical events and objects. I forget the fellow's name — researcher at UVa — who spent considerable time documenting such research. In my case, I do not rely on the research for certainty but have the recall myself.

    And then, as one advances in the practice, one comes to know those periods (the majority) when there was no attachment to form, no incarnation. As a result, one comes to know Self as being other than all forms.

    This is what the GIta is getting at, but which we too readily relegate to metaphor. Perhaps metaphor makes sense when we have no other options, but there are sufficient numbers of teachers who know this area firsthand that we should not have to go in that direction.

    Not sure where this takes the discussion… perhaps only to a huge question mark. A gigantic HUH? But sometimes the haunting HUH? takes on a life of its own and new observations and perceptions align which allow one to open doors that otherwise might have remained closed.

  7. In keeping with our living room theme, here's what I would say if we were all together right now:

    I would like to thank Greg for all his contributions to this and other Gita Talks. I really do appreciate your enthusiasm and the time you put into your extensive comments, Greg.

    That said, I want to make sure that other potential participants here are not discouraged by the lofty level of Greg's thinking. I always like hearing what Greg has to say, but I have to confess that for me personally it's on the highly theoretical and abstract end of the Yoga spectrum. I try my best to understand it, but I often have trouble, and when I do, his thoughts are often very different than my own.

    I have a much simpler idea of Yoga philosophy and the Gita, which is well expressed in Gita Talk #5: Sublimely Simple, Profound and Livable.

    (Greg has already told me in our other debates that he thinks I'm pretty far off track in my thinking, and I have certainly been receptive to hearing Greg's problems with my ideas. This is a two-way street, to be sure, and a fruitful one, I think.)

    I hope those of you who have more down-to-earth questions and comments will still join the discussion.

    Who's next with an idea?


    • Greg says:

      We should design a disclaimer that appears with all my posts. "The following is not consistent with the moderator's views, so do not blame him." :>)

      And, "The following program may not be appropriate for all participants. Viewer discretion is recommended." :>)

      Or, "The following was achieved by a professional on a designed course. Please do not try this at home."

      Or, "Leaving the earth can be dangerous to your health. Please proceed at your own risk. Down-to-earth questions can be found elsewhere."

      Somewhere in there, we can capture the situation. And make sure no one is offended.

      • I like #1 best! A general immunity for the moderator. That's what I need. Can we put some legal teeth in that?

        I think you put your finger on it in your last one, though. The fact is, a great many of us have no particular desire to leave the earth. That's not what spirituality is about for us.

        Thanks for your good-natured reaction to my comment. Greg.


  8. Tobye Hillier Tobye says:

    you making Tea Bob? :o)

    Hmmm, my turn to hold the rock…. It's all very metephorical isn't it! Yogaforcynics got close to my perception saying that you're close to feeding the tree Bob!
    That's a lovely thought, that when you quit this mortal coil, you're just tree food…. but being tree food, you become the tree and when that tree dies and gets used for firewood, you're the flame, the heat and the light that comforts your children or, your children's children.

    Do ya hear me? The idea that once you have the realisation that you'll always be part of everything in some way, there cannot be death….

  9. Not sure if I understand the differences or disagreements between Bob and Greg. Is this more of a debate or explanation of reincarnation? When Greg talks about the self, I would replace that with what the Quakers call inner light. I don't think Quaker's believe in reincarnation. So you have this inner light and it's in everyone and it is not your body or form and it connects people, I see it as your "true nature." That is what I understand him to be talking about. The inner light might go with you to the next life or go into a tree. You could just exclude reincarnation if that's not your cup of tea. And also I clicked on the link to Bob's view of the Gita and I totally agree with what you say so am I missing something?

    • One reason so many Quakers do yoga is that the "inner light" idea translates so perfectly to "the divine within me honors the divine within you." And another thing Quakers and yogis have in common is that a general vagueness about the exact nature of that inner light–or, at least an openness to a wide variety of viewpoints about it. There are Bible-centered Quakers, just as there are more religious Hindu- or Buddhist-oriented yogis who embrace more literal metaphysical understandings of heaven and hell or reincarnation, respectively. And there are many in both camps who view things more metaphorically. At a Quaker memorial service for my father, I stood up and said that, actually, he vacillated in his mind between being a Quaker, an Episcopalian and an atheist, and numerous members of the meeting came up to me afterwards, approving of what I said–and that's similar to the response I've always gotten when telling fellow yogis that I really don't believe in much or any of the metaphysical stuff. In both, it seems to me, the emphasis is on the path, rather than insisting on a solid definition of where that path ends.

      • Hi, Jay. I'm with you all the way, except that I think you're being unfair to the word "metaphysical". I think that an Einsteinian wonder at all incredible things we don't know about the universe is also metaphysical.

        But I agree that "metaphysical" has more often been used to describe elaborate dogmatic systems of belief about things we really have absolutely no idea about. So I understand your usage, too.

        I like this story very much. Do other readers have stories like this about religion?


        • Jelefant says:

          Bob, I think you're right on the mark with "Einsteinian wonder." If we all just remain flexible in our interpretations wonderful convergences emerge rather than rigid differences. The Vedic people understood 4,000 years ago that matter is energy. Einstein gave us E=MC2 a hundred years ago. We could insist that they're not exactly the same thing, or we could revel in the illumination their similarity offers.

          Likewise, the inner light of the Quakers that Elise describes is not far from the inner light described in the Yoga Sutras. We can insist on the differences of the different attempts humans have made to describe these common experiences, or we could revel in the illumination of that common fire.

          (I think this gets at the differences between Bob and Greg–and me, too. We can insist on the subtle differences of our own view of things or revel in the illumination…)

      • integralhack says:

        Great point, YogaforCynics, not only is the practice important, but the "objectified end" sort of defeats the purpose. Yet, I find myself constantly having to remind myself of that point.

        This is why some Buddhists and yogis blather on and on about the dangers of conceptualization, I suppose.

    • Good question, Elise. It's probably time for some definitions. Here is what I understand the definition to be:

      Literal reincarnation–the rebirth of a specific recognizable soul in another body.

      This is what I do not believe in. I'd like to hear from more of you who do believe in literal reincarnation and how it works for you.


      • Hi Bob, I believe in literal reincarnation, but I feel strongly that it is a personal decision and don't want to convince anyone of my beliefs. I feel it is important to respect the choice to believe what you want. None of my immediate family members share my belief in literal reincarnation, don't think any cousins or any other relatives and many or most of my friends think past lives are wierd. My husband wonders why everyone who thinks they can remember a past life only remember the lifetime they were Elvis or Cleopatra or something. I think you can look at the Gita from the perspective of either, doesn't seem that important and I think it's better to keep it simple. But it is fun to discuss this.

  10. Tobye Hillier tobye says:

    How does someone go about recognising a soul in a new reincarnation?

    • YogiOne says:

      Good question. I'd like to hear an answer to that one too.

    • Ok I just responded to Bob that I do not want to argue the case for reincarnation, so I am contradicting myself by providing a link to a really interesting story about a boy who remembers being a World War II Fighter pilot.… There is a lot of stories about this boy online and a book about his story. That being said, my son who is 11 years old has said for many years that he thinks he will turn into dirt when he dies then become a plant and then a cow will eat him and he will be a cow or something like that.

  11. DurgaDas says:

    I can't help myself but be reminded by Adi Shankara's Tat Twam Asi summary of Vedanta- Thou Art That. It seems that Sri Krishna is saying nothing but that here, but metaphorically. In other words, similar to how Jesus, read metaphorically said "there is no way to God but through me". When saying that, neither Sri Krishna, nor Jesus conceived themselves as separate from the individuals they are speaking to, nor with the undifferentiated consciousness. All similar ways of saying Tat Twam Asi, IMO.

  12. Let me start a new line of discussion. What do you make of this passage?:

    This is the supreme wisdom,
    the knowing beyond all knowing,
    experienced directly, in a flash…

    Anyone want to jump in?

    (I so wish I could call on people, the way a good discussion leader does! Please pretend I just called on you.)


    • durgadasji says:

      Sri Krishna is speaking of enlightenment here- pure right brain awareness. And according to my mentor John Dobson, this is a Vedantic assertion- the moment when we step beyond transformational causation past separate perceptions/illusions and into reality. John calls this apparitional causation- or as Vedantins call it, First Cause.

      Words are hard here, especially English words to describe what we're talking about, but put simply in a yoga cliche'- the drop merges with the ocean and becomes the ocean. I like that physical metaphors are often the best descriptors of this.

      Another nice way I have heard this enlightenment described is that the knowledge, the know-er and the known become one, and the subject/object problem ceases due to this merging of consciousness.

      • I've still got the science vs. religion debate in my head, and it occurred to me that it's a scientific fact that we are physically made of the exact same material as the rest of the universe, and that we are continually interchanging molecules of that material in the form of our breath and our food and the regeneration of our cells.

        So why would it be unscientific to perceive ourselves that way?

        If you were a wave in the ocean
        And someone asked you what you are
        Would you answer
        “I am a wave”
        or would you answer
        “I am the ocean”?

        (from Yoga Demystified)


        • Tobye Hillier tobye says:

          science vs. religion? left brain vs. right brain no?

          • I would say, maybe in general, but I think both are both, too. I'm reading this biography of Einstein and was surprised to see that he emphasized right brain over left brain in explaining his success. (I think I already quoted this passage elsewhere in this discussion):

            I'm enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. –Albert Einstein.


          • I really like that Einstein quote! To me it:s not a science vs religion as more of a debate of science vs what is consciousness and what is form? And like I have said before it is you choice to believe in the words or description of these ideas that suit your own experience. I like the Einstein quote because it touches upon all we have debated but in a language that would be accessible to many.

          • Hi, Elise. I like what I've read about Einstein so much that I've decided to dig in and really learn more about him. In a few weeks I'm going to do a Gita Talk relating the Einstein's spirituality to the Gita. It will be an expansion of this short piece: Albert Einstein as Yoga Sage.

            One of things I want to figure out is if Einstein every read or was influenced by the Gita himself. I wouldn't be surprised, since it was a topic of conversation among intellectuals of his day. Anyone know?

  13. Karen M. says:

    Yes !!
    This is the supreme wisdom,
    the knowing of all knowing,
    experienced directly, in a flash

    This wisdom is beyond the mind. This wisdom is beyond the intellect. This wisdom is beyond cognitive thought. We take those parts of ourselves to ponder and reason, but it is dangerous to hold on to that logic. Study via the intuition and heart
    is a better route, but still, the wisdom that Krishna speaks of is beyond that. What I have found is that as we allow the Grace of these teachings to permeate our being… that in a flash we receive a most sublime and powerful epiphany that allows us a direct experience of what Krishna is saying. We find that our understanding has risen into a whole new and profound level. Our life changes. It is indeed the Supreme Wisdom. The Knowing beyond all knowing. Blessings and thanks again for this wonderful gift, Bob.

    • Well put, Karen. Your enthusiasm and emotion for for this material are evident in you effusive comments, and I really enjoy hearing that from you.

      Please see my followup question in my reply to YogiOne under my original comment.


  14. This is a continuation of the fascinating discussion under the first "Greg" comment that now has 53 replies. I wanted to start a new comment stream to get more people involved, but you can still go back there and see where this question came from.

    Scott, here's an interesting intellectual and scientific conundrum for you. What happens when scientific study of human behavior shows that many people benefit greatly from distinctly non-scientific brain activity, like believing in God, reincarnation, and direct prayer?

    It seems to me that people are so drawn to religion that eventually the science of psychology will prove that these things satisfy deep emotional needs and that believing in something bigger than ourselves, be it science or religion, ultimately plays the very same role in the mental health of an individual, even though one is "true" and one might be "fantasy".

    I know this can be worked into the theory of naturalism, but it certainly complicates the picture of what you or anyone else urges someone else to believe or not believe, don't you think? What if belief in general, even if it is irrational, be it religion or art or literature is scientifically proven to be good for mental health and even human progress?

    Wow. That IS a very interesting question indeed, if I do say so myself! I hope to hear from Scott and others on this one!

  15. I've been quoting Einstein a lot in our discussion about science and religion. Here is a terrific radio program that does an excellent job of revealing Einstein's Gita-like religion:

    Einstein's God (column on the left).

    Please tell me what you think?


  16. svan says:

    I have a question that springs from the ongoing science/religion debate: in terms of purusha and prakriti… what does the Gita say? Is Krishna one or the other, neither, both, beyond both or all of the above? and where does Brahma fit in?

    • Great question, svan. I'm going to hang back and hope that some of our other readers will tackle this one first.

      Thanks for writing.


      • Can anyone else help svan out with his question here? (svan, I'm going to give it a little more time, then I'll take a crack at it. I'm glad you asked this important question.)

    • Krishna is the universe itself and the life-force behind the universe, in all its infinite wonder. This is sometimes not obvious because he takes on more limited forms on occasion to make this point or that. But it's always just a role the universe is playing. This it pretty well established early in the text. But if you haven't read Chapters 10 and 11 yet, they explode into rapturous poetry about Krishna's true nature.

      So the correct answer to your multiple choice is "all of the above" and more that we can't begin to comprehend, the way even an Einstein feels about the universe. The Gita answers the science/religion debate by encompassing everything, certainly including both science and religion. There are multiple passages in the Gita which state explicitly that all other Gods are just part of him, which means, in practical terms, that all religions lead to him.

      Brahman (with the "n" at the end) is synonymous with Krishna. It's just the more formal and abstract word.

      Just to avoid confusion, there is also an important ordinary God in the pantheon called "Brahma" (as you wrote it without an "n", but I think you probably meant "Brahman") who is "merely" the God of Creation.

      Please let me know if you have any further comments. Thanks for writing.


      • svan says:

        Thanks, Bob. Yes, I meant to type Brahman. So, Brahman is equivalent to Krishna, not beyond Krishna? I sometimes get confused about these layers and relationships among terms. I know the terms are just pointers, but some are more accurate than others. Thanks again.

        • Remember I'm not a scholar, but yes, Krishna is just the human representation of Brahman. As I mentioned before, this point comes to a poetic crescendo in chapters 10 and 11.

          Personally, I love Yoga because even though it can seem complicated at times, especially in the middle of one of the ancient texts, in the end it all devolves in to utter livable simplicity. See Gita Talk #5: Sublimely Simple, Profound and Livable and The Rest is Commentary

          Please keep asking these important questions. It's good for everyone!



  17. YogiOne says:

    Are these the definitions you intended for the terms you used? Purusha = pure consciousness, Prakriti = physical form or the material world.

    • svan says:

      those are definitions I'm familiar with, yes… are there others?

      • YogiOne says:

        Well, there are some relating to specific dieties in the patheon, and since you questionned Krishna and Brahma at the same time, I thought it would be good to agree on the definitions before going into it further. I also get confused about some of the sanskrit terms, so I figured some of the folks following this discussion might benefit from havinbg the definitions stated explicitly.

        That said, Bob gives a very concise answer to your question above, so I'll try to take it a step further by asking a related question:

        Without Prakriti, what would Purusha have to be conscious of?

        • svan says:

          I don't know. Without purusha, would prakriti exist? Without "knowing" where or what is "existing"? can purusha exist separately, independent of prakriti? can there be prakriti without purusha?

          How important are these questions and their answers to one's practice of yoga and the type of yoga one practices (karma, jnana or bhakti in the Gita)?

          • I can only give you my personal answer. These distinctions are not important to me at all, simply because they are all blown away by the main point of the Gita anyway–that everything is one infinitely wondrous universe anyway. The Gita entreats and inspires us to ignore all such distinctions and simply live with the awareness of the wondrous whole, of which each of us in an integral part, and thus infinitely wondrous ourselves.

            If this is true, what need do we have to over-contemplate purusha (soul/spirit) and prakriti (nature)? Krishna blows them away with a concept infinitely more glorious and real. Krishna says over and over again, "All you need to do is think about me all the time", where "me" is the one indivisible wondrous life-force of the universe, encompassing all other Gods, but also all other concepts, like purusha and prakriti.

  18. YogiOne says:

    So, what is science? Bob requested a succinct definition. Science is an evolving human process with the following goals: to describe, explain, predict and control natural phenomena. Now, that is succint enough but probably not detailed enough to be satisfying. I'll add that science has a number of qualities that values associated with it that help define what makes for good science too, and some that are absolutely required for it to be science at all. All of science exists within the philosophy of naturalism (everthing that exists is natural and nothing outside the natural world can affect it) for instance and the proper subject of science is the natural world.

  19. […] Gita Talk #10: Pretend We’re All Just Sitting Around In My Living Room Together Gita Talk #10: Pretend We’re All Just Sitting Around In My Living Room Together […]

  20. […] Gita Talk #10: Pretend We’re All Just Sitting Around In My Living Room Together […]

  21. Hi, Jelefant. If that's what I thought people meant when they use the word "reincarnation", I would agree completely. The fact that our body's material turns into other matter and even other life is a scientific fact. Genetics is a fact. My grandson already looks and acts like me at the age of 15 months. As you say, life goes on, and after the meteor strikes that destroys humanity some day, the universe we are all part of still goes on.

    But that's not what most people mean when they say reincarnation. Sometimes I clarify by saying "literal reincarnation". What people usually mean is a recognizable "Bob" showing up in another body in the future. I don't belief this. But I know many people do and that's fine. I respect their opinions. I hope some of them will speak up and defend the idea of literal reincarnation.

    Just to show I'm open minded about this, I'm reading a book right now by Deepak Chopra called Life after Death: The Burden of Proof, which is Chopra's passionate support of reincarnation.

    Great thoughts. Thanks,


  22. Sawennatson says:

    What a discussion!

    Jelefant writes: Many people, including Buddhists, overlook the metaphor and literally *believe* that the sort of coherent self that exists on earth returns in another body, but I think that misses the grace of the teaching."

    I find this true in myself. Lately, to counteract this, I have been think of this "coherent self" as a bunch of animated causes and conditions. Now adding that to Bob and William's discussion from chapter six: "all activity (even selfish activity) is a manifestation of him." My mind is shattering.

  23. Hi, Sawennatson. Good to see you again. After you wrote your reply I added a couple of thoughts to the end of my reply just above yours. Take a look.


  24. Greg says:

    In Buddhism, there are two senses to suffering. The first pertains to pain associated with the deterioration of the body. As you get old you can suffer physically. In this same category is the suffering of loss. You may lose loved ones, or things to which you cling. And, if your awareness extends out beyond your immediate self, you feel the suffering of others. One may be aware of the terrible conditions others must suffer through, or one may be aware of the pain that arises from the genocidal conditions imposed on some people. There are people suffering greatly on this planet, and to the degree that we connected with them, we suffer, too.

    The second kind of suffering is more subtle. It is a kind of suffering that accompanies being attached to that which is not your true nature. It is the suffering of living a lie. It is the suffering of living in a state of non-enlightenment. One may have a perfectly joyous physical existence and at the same time realize that this does not reflect one's true essence and to the degree that one is separated from true essence, one suffers. Very subtle, but common with the more advanced masters.

    The problem with "death to death" ( or in Buddhism "the wheel of birth and death") relates to its enforced or compulsive or unconscious nature. A bodhisattva, for example, makes a very conscious decision to be born or incarnated into a body for the purpose of helping others. The type of reincarnation that is considered problematic is when one has no control over the sequence. It is as if one is a prisoner of karmic forces and one is "sentenced" time and time again to become attached, in a semi-conscious state, to a body. For a spiritual being such enforced incarnation is degrading. (So much so that very few recall the events involved.)

    Those are a few thoughts tossed out…to be kicked around or shoved over into the corner.

  25. Very well put, Jelefant! For me personally spirituality goes too far as soon as it pretends to describe in detail and with great certainty that which is unfathomable, like God or the exact nature of the soul. No one, not even the most spiritually advanced truly knows the details of these things. We can only know for sure the wonder.

    So, as you say, the Gita is, by it's own description of itself, a work of metaphor for what Krishna himself says is indescribable and unfathomable, which goes, of course, for Krishna himself as well.

    What do the rest of you think about this question of literal truth vs. metaphor in the Gita?


  26. Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

    Thanks for offering your home for this talk, Bob. I am of the opinion that there is no literal truth, only metaphor. It only becomes interesting, as it becomes tangible through the magic of metaphor. Treating the text as literal truth stifles the potential, I think. But when we can look at the words with our capacity for creative meaning-making we can hit jackpots of deeper awareness!

    I have already lived many lives within this present existence, going further with it takes me into fantasy. It might be interesting fantasy, but still I recognize ponderings about what happens after physical death as fantasy for me because I don’t have any perceptions about that.

  27. Thanks for joining us, Brooks. I like that.

    What metaphorical meaning do you take from "they endlessly return to this world,
    shuttling from death to death."?


  28. Scott says:

    Sharing consciousness has never been demonstrated, nor is there a valid hyposthesis for a mechanism that would allow for it. (Before you ask again how we can know something doesn't exist, please research the idea of proving a negative, because such arguments are a waste of time). For answers to the rest of your questions, please see my reply to integralhack above.

  29. Very interesting thoughts, Jelefant and intergralhack.

    No one was more logical or scientific than Einstein. But that didn't keep him from being highly spiritual. However, being a scientist, he never tried to define the unknown as anything other than the infinitely wondrous unknown. So while spiritual, his was a secular spirituality, unattached to the certainties of some religions. His spirituality was very Yogic. For him the infinitely wondrous unknown was plenty to keep him spiritually excited!

    What do you others think of this?

  30. Scott says:

    Oh, and "shared consciousness" has been studied – or rather claims of shared consciousness (mind reading) have been studied and routinely debunked. And, if you want a rational discourse about any topic, please show me a naturalistic observation record indicating that the phenomena exists to begin with if you are going to claim it is real. If ou admit that it is only an abstract concept at this point, then fine, I'll get into any type of philosophical conjecture you would like. Dogma is when there is no evidence, yet a belief is stated as fact.

  31. Thanks for this warm support, Jelefant. I agree, "secular" is an inadequate term because I have no problem as all with religion that is non-dogmatic, wonder-filled, love oriented, and sees God as the unknown, not the known. Most religions have small movements within them that are like this.

  32. paramsangat says:

    Thanks Greg, I see what you mean. I read some buddism time ago and it was kinda in the back of my head, while commenting, aswell with everything else I've read and heard about this topic…
    But really I was just talking from my personal perspective.
    As you say, if one imagine another person/beings suffering (how it would feel), one will suffer accordingly. But that wont help anyone, just add another sufferer to the crowd.. :)
    Thats how I view things.
    Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu (May all beings be happy)

  33. Hi, jurgadsji. No apology necessary! Your comment is crystal clear, and you use the length to make your points clearer.

    My concern was that Greg and I both, not just Greg, can tend to get a little abstract in our exchanges. Not trying to control that either, just trying to get a little balance so everyone can participate.

    Isn't it amazing that the Gita can attract an a devotee of traditional translations like yourself, a broad-minded Christian like Greg, and a spiritual rationalist like myself and we all have a lot to talk about?

    Thanks for being here. I hope to hear much more from you.


    P.S. I'm guessing you would find Graham Schweig's version of the Gita to be the perfect happy medium between Mitchell and Prabhupada's. (I've read all three multiple times.) Did you know that Schweig calls Prabhupada's version "As It Isn't"? According to Schweig Prabhupada's outlook was heavily influenced by Christian missionary thinking, in spite of his authentic sounding name.

  34. YogiOne says:

    You are misconstruing my argument. Greg made an assertion about the existance of a certain phenomenon. If you make that kind of assertion, it is your responsibility to provide the supporting evidence. I questionned the validity of the phenomenon and the method upon which his evidence is based.

    I did make an assertion about a similar, if not identical phenomenon, and asserted that the methods of naturalism are superior and the evidence is superior. This is not dogma because all naturalistic methods are results are open to scrutiny and if found wanting, can and will be replaced. If the same could be said of Greg's philosophy, he would have abandoned discredited methods and the results they produced long ago.

  35. Jelefant says:

    It is likewise absurd to insist something doesn't exist just because you lack the proof for it. What if you have no access to spaghetti? Will you insist spaghetti doesn't exist? In any case, the purpose of religion is to speak of the mysterious, the unprovable.

  36. I am not sure if science can prove shared consciousness, but Roger Nelson is devoting his life to that. He is on wikipedia- With all respect people are looking into this at the least.

  37. That's a really interesting interpretation, Brooks. Have you written about that already on your blog?

  38. Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

    Thanks, Bob, for asking me about that!

    “Those who are without faith

    in my teaching, cannot attain me;

    they endlessly return to this world,

    shuttling from death to death.”

    If all we can perceive are memories from the past, or even if we are dependent only on what we see with our eyes, we might be stuck in a consciousness of death, in that our perceptions are about what has already happened or already here, existing now (already past). From perception to perception, we might be moving from death to death if we are seeing only what we know already, and compressing experience through the eyes of what we have already lived. Returning always to this world, the one we think we already know, that is actually composed of memories; living out of the graveyard of what we think, instead of seeing anything as it actually is, forever being born if we are awake or alive enough to see it.

    Having faith is about embodying a consciousness of birth. We have to believe that the world is bigger than what we already know, and that this “bigger” contains some good things. This “faith” might be about trusting the process of our lives unfolding, and remaining available to fresh perception, even confusion because if we truly open our eyes and minds we might not fully understand everything we see because we are looking at something new or looking at what we have known in a new way.

    In this way we might find that we can be born in every moment, instead of settling for a constant experience of death as we try to fit everything we see into the catalog of what we already know.

  39. integralhack says:

    Right on and science should have an open spirit as well. Most scientific studies on consciousness are great, but they are limited to localized consciousness and neural nets. The "debunking" referred to above is usually a misplaced materialism. A consciousness beyond local consciousness (dare I say "transcendent") might have a very different perception of reality than our localized selves. Therefore, a "shared consciousness" might be something very different than you and I looking at the same photograph.

  40. Jelefant says:

    Right on, and the best we have are some competing theories of how consciousness operates and why it's so complex. I know of some scientists–and these guys are the hard core materialists–who don't think consciousness is produced in the brain and nervous system. They think the brain receives it, like a radio receives radio waves, as the senses interact with the material world.

  41. YogiOne says:

    This is a most interesting response. I need to ask, if you don't accept materialism, how do you decide what is believable and what is not? No one seems to want to believe what Greg offers, but if you think something exists outside of the material universe (whish of course includes both matter and energy) your beliefs are not different from his on the most basic level.

  42. YogiOne says:

    Actually, there are thousands of studies directly manipulating localized and distributed facets of consciousness in a wide variety of animal species. Within the human species a good place to start is with the Penfield studies of brain function. More recent imaging studies can also reveal much about how the brain produces consciousness. So, we have much more than competing theories. One thing we don't have is any evidence of an area or distributed network within the brian that "receives" radio waves. Any scientist who proposed such a mechanism would have some serious explaining to do. Input channels to the brain are well understood down to the molecular level and the brain is well mapped with regard to major functions. Proposing such a previously unobserved phenomena in such a well researched area would not be taken seriously by any honest scientist. The evidence to support it would have to be extraordinary indeed.

  43. Jelefant says:

    Really, we don't have an area or distributed network within the brain that receives sensory input?

  44. YogiOne says:

    We have well defined areas that receive sensory input – and we understand very well the types of input (light, sound, chemical, physical), including the range associated with each – none of which are radio waves. We know from a variety of different methods, which parts of the brain respond to them. The rest of the brain is mapped well enough to exclude the possibility of such a major functional component as a receiver for externally produced consciousness. Again, no serious scientist would propose such an absurdity.

  45. integralhack says:

    Skepticism is great and I'm completely with you there, YogiOne. 'nuff said and I'll return to the Gita.

  46. integralhack says:

    By definition, a materialist believes that all is matter. Materialism is a poor position for a scientist or a skeptic for it presumes–perhaps dogmatically–the primacy of matter. Mentalism, the belief that mind is all that truly exists, could also be considered a poor position for similar reasons.

    A better position avoiding these extremes might be a Middle Way beyond these conceptual quagmires . . . 😉

  47. YogiOne says:

    I never said that all the major issues are settled. However, there are definitely many areas that are settled. Just because our knowledge in many areas continues to grow, it doesn't mean we can't have confidence in the areas that have been well understood.

  48. YogiOne says:

    Oh, and before this gets too abstract :-), one reason I'm pushing the issue is because the answer to these basic questions is at the core of how we choose to interpret the Gita. If you decide that something should be taken as metaphor rather than literally, the reason for that decision is that the selection violates a basic rule of how you understand the world. People tend to reject the supernatural aspects because they have inherently, if not explicitly adopted the philosophy of naturalism. They just can't bring themselves to admit it. Too much cognitive dissonence.

  49. YogiOne says:

    Well, I'm not at all certain that Einstein would agree with your characterization of his beliefs. He made many statements that contradict how you see him. He certainly would not have defined the unknown as infinite. He was well aware (before the end of his life) that the universe is finite. Wonderful yes, and excited about the prospect of ever increasing knowledge, yes. He was like a kid in a candy shop when he realized that for practical purposes, we would never know everything there is to know about the universe. That means that the struggle to understand more would be unending so long as we continue to exist. That for sure is very yogic.

  50. Hi, Jelefant. I'm still just absorbing this fascinating debate, so I have no position to take, except to say I love your last analogy–doubting the ocean because there's no water on your desk. A similar fun analogy I heard recently was:

    It's like a fish trying to perceive a place where there is no water.

    This actually supports both your positions, it seems to me, both idea that there are things out there we just can't perceive because of our own built-in limitations, AND the falseness of pretending we can define them!

  51. Jelefant says:

    Yes and no one said we shouldn't have confidence in the areas that are well understood. You can even extend that confidence to areas that are not well understood if you like. Just don't expect everyone to join you.

  52. Hi, YogiOne. Thanks for you contributions to this great discussion.

    I didn't say the the universe was infinite, rather that it is "infinitely wondrous", a point with which Einstein most certainly would agree. Please see Albert Einstein as Yoga Sage. There's a whole chapter about "Einstein's God" in Issacson's biography, called. Some one asks him if Einstein if he is religious and he replies:

    Yes, you can call it that. Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in fact, religious.

  53. YogiOne says:

    Bob, we have multiple examples of being able to detect, measure, and explain natural phenomena which we cannot perceive directly through our limited perceptual abilities. There is no falseness or pretending there. These things exist and we all rely on them. In fact, it was through those tools that people like Einstein came to understand the awesome vastness and complexity of the Universe.

    Jelefant's analogy only works if you completely disregard the possibility of Universal principles. There could, concievably be places where E is not even roughly equivalent to "C" squared for instance. However, to believe in that with no evidence means you have no standards at all. If you can believe in anything, nothing has meaning.

  54. I agree, and I didn't mean say that if I seemed to.

    I'm actually not talking about belief at all. I'm talking about a feeling–a feeling of wonder and awe at the universe. For that one doesn't need to make anything up. Even just the world we do know is plenty awesome and amazing to me.

    I'm not just talking about the cosmos, either. To me and to the Gita, even a rock is awesome and amazing. So is a paper clip (the example I use in "Yoga Demystified".)


  55. Scott says:

    More to the point of the current discussion: "The mystical trend of our time, which shows itself particularly in the rampant growth of the so-called Theosophy and Spiritualism, is for me no more than a symptom of weakness and confusion. Since our inner experiences consist of reproductions, and combinations of sensory impressions, the concept of a soul without a body seem to me to be empty and devoid of meaning." – Albert Einstein

    "The more a man is imbued with the ordered regularity of all events the firmer becomes his conviction that there is no room left by the side of this ordered regularity for causes of a different nature. For him neither the rule of human nor the rule of divine will exist as an independent cause of natural events."

    So, Einstein was clearly a materialist and a naturalist.

  56. Hi, Scott. Not sure why you think I would disagree with this. Your Einstein quotes and the ones I quoted are not inconsistent, in my opinion. Do you think they are? I embrace all of them.

    As a spiritual rationalist myself, I don't believe anything that doesn't make logical sense to me (not "provable", "logical"). One of the things that makes logical sense to me is to feel a sense of infinite wonder at the universe, from a rock to a galaxy and everything in between, including human beings. And it makes logical sense to me that we understand less about the life-force (as Einstein put it) of the universe than we know.

    I read the Gita as saying the same thing in rich metaphorical language, laced with anachronistic beliefs from the fact that it was written 2500 years ago. What's most surprising is that it's so rational for its time, not that it's so irrational.

    What do you think?

    One difference between us may be that I readily accept other people's interpretations of the Gita that are very different from mine, Graham Schweig's, and other readers who believe in reincarnation, for example, even though they're not for me.

  57. integralhack says:

    Well, Einstein has been parceled into tidy little conceptual boxes (marked "materialist" and "naturalist") anyway. I know I'm inspired.

    Scott, I would like to see this materialistic, naturalistic rigor turned toward an analysis of the Gita, if this is possible.

  58. Hi, YogiOne. I enjoyed those "epistemological arguments", although I always have to look up "epistemological" because I can never remember what it means (theory of knowledge).

    Question for YogiOne and everyone else, too:
    Do you think aquiring this Yogic understanding is simply waking up to reality one day, where it just suddenly clicks, as implied by "in a flash", or the result of many years of struggle and devoted practice?


    P.S. You are right about the translation. Graham Schweig's more precise translation is

    This is the king of knowledge,
    the king of secrets,
    the ultimate means
    of purification.
    Understood by
    direct perception,
    in harmony with dharma,
    it is joyful to perform
    and everlasting.

    Speaking of epistomology, in his footnote, Graham says "The King of knowledge" can be understood as meaning "There is a knowledge that should rule souls as a king rules his people."

  59. I'm copying this question over to a new comment stream to give it more exposure and get more response. Please go there to answer this one.

    Scott, here's an interesting intellectual and scientific conundrum for you. What happens when scientific study of human behavior shows that many people benefit greatly from distinctly non-scientific brain activity, like believing in God, reincarnation, and direct prayer?

    It seems to me that people are so drawn to religion that eventually the science of psychology will prove that these things satisfy deep emotional needs and that believing in something bigger than ourselves, be it science or religion, ultimately plays the very same role in the mental health of an individual, even though one it "true" and one might be "fantasy".

    I know this can be worked into the theory of naturalism, but it certainly complicates the picture of what you or anyone else urges someone else to believe or not believe, don't you think? What if belief in general, even if it is irrational, be it religion or art or literature is scientifically proven to be good for mental health and even human progress?

    Wow. That IS a very interesting question indeed, if I do say so myself! I hope to hear from Scott and others on this one!

  60. Hi, Durgadasji. Yes, your comments are completely relevant.

    Another analogy–I have spent a good part of my life moving my fingers rapidly over strings tightly pulled over a wooden box with a hole in it, which moves the air in ways that then enter my ear and make me feel good inside. (I play flamenco guitar.)

    Science is only just beginning to figure out how this works in the brain, but I don't do it because it's rational or scientific. I do it because I can't NOT do it. I do it because it makes my whole body feel right. I think for many people the same is true of religious belief.

    In fields like music and religion, it is science that has the catching up to do.

    What do you other readers think?

  61. Jelefant says:

    This is a wonderful, illuminating reply DurgaDasji. Thank you.

  62. integralhack says:

    I think that is a wonderful analogy, Bob. I don't see anyone opposed to scientific explanations, we just want them to be real explanations, not scientistic ones. Just saying "science has this one in the bag" doesn't make it so.

    Maybe one day science can also sufficiently explain why we enjoy the music coming from the guitar as well, but until that day comes we are left with more spiritual-sounding descriptors like beauty and harmony.

    Perhaps science can one day also explain why much of scientific discovery is inspirational (resulting from dreams and reverie) rather than a dry application of scientific method which really just refers to methods for testing a hypothesis. I almost wrote "proving" a hypothesis but then I was reminded that scientific method doesn't really prove anything; it just provides a possible explanation or shows that a given hypothesis is false. In Einstein's words: "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong."

  63. YogiOne says:

    It is one this to assert that a type of knowledge exists and another to develop epistemological understanding of the knowledge. Answering these questions about the particular knowledge is question would help define the epistemology of the idea: What is the knowledge? How is the knowledge acquired? What do now? and How do we know what we know about this knowledge? Answering these questions goes a long way toward helping us understand the validity or truth of an idea.

  64. YogiOne says:

    As for your question, from an experiential point of view, which is what the Gita is about, I'd say that I've experienced both hard won knowledge and seemingly sudden insights. The sudden insights tend to be more emotional in nature. I cried the first two times I ever did yoga and I knew pretty much immediately that I belonged in yoga. However, to gain the benefits of Yoga itself required lots of strugle and devoted practice.

  65. Meaghan says:

    But if you had never practiced, would the "in a flash" moment be possible? Perhaps "struggle" is too intense a descriptor, but for me the moments of waking up to reality are the fruit of the practice! For me personally, if i had never found yoga I'd be far too wrapped up in the material, and in the mundane day-to-day hardships we all face to even recognize a moment of clarity. It's the practice that has created space and opportunity for those realizations.

    It's like an band that achieves "overnight success" – it's hardly ever really "overnight".

  66. Excellent thoughts, all, Integral. I'm reading Isaacson's biography of Einstein. It's really opening my eyes about the "scientific method". And it's got so many juicy Gita-sounding quotes I don't know what to do with them all. How about this one, which particularly supports what you wrote in your comment:

    I'm enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. –Albert Einstein.

    All beings exist within me,
    yet I am so inconceivably

    vast, so beyond existence,
    that though they are brought forth
    and sustained by my limitless power,
    I am not confined within them.

    Question for readers. How do you feel about the relationship between science and spirituality? How do you fit this week's Gita passage into your worldview?


  67. YogiOne says:

    Consider for a moment that you may be trying to put science in a box that is a bit too small. Science is a great deal more than method. Quite a lot has been written about "inspiration" (to use your term) in the process of science. Its fits in well during the hypothesis development or theory generating phase of scientific inquiry. However, one area where science differs from religion is that scientists do not allow "belief to follow upon lively conception" – William James. Following inspiration, a whole lot of work has to be done before accepting a hypothsis as joining the realm of scientific knowledge. I find that Yoga works much the same way. You might have an inspiration for a new sequence, but you don't know for sure if it will work the way you want it to until you try it out. You don't know how it will work with others until you try it out on them. You discover limitations and make improvements during the process. And so it goes.

  68. Thanks, YogiOne. This is closely related to the new comment I just started which is a continuation of the long science discussion that got up to 53 replies under Greg's first comment. I would love to hear your ideas on that new stream, too.


  69. I like this answer very much, because it allows for both sudden insight and the benefits of long practice.

    How do the rest of you feel about this?


  70. Thanks, YogiOne. I knew you'd bring the psychology perspective to this stream, although I hope we will hear from religious readers who will object to your characterization of their practice! (I'll assume you probably meant "…some people use it as a permanent object…")


  71. integralhack says:

    I agree with you completely here, YogiOne! If there is no practice (or real personal exploration and questioning of fundamental ideas and concepts) then religion is a transitional object. I almost reached for a transitional object just now–whew!

  72. integralhack says:

    I don't think I want to box in science, YogiOne. I think there are some wonderful interactions taking place between science and Buddhism and science and yoga.

    During my run today I listened to a couple of podcasts, one was a Buddhist Geeks podcast with Stephen Batchelor (author of Buddhism without Beliefs and Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist). Batchelor is something of an agnostic who doesn't "believe" in things like rebirth or God but doesn't attempt to say (and can't prove, really) that these "things" don't exist. I think this is a wonderful attitude and is quite applicable to science and scientific method.

    During the podcast Batchelor was careful to distance himself from "militant atheists" (I presume he's referring to pundits such as Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens) for he recognizes that these atheists have just traded one form of fundamentalism for another. Batchelor's essential point, really, is just to shelve these "beliefs" or "non-beliefs" and get on with practice which doesn't rely on them anyway.

    I am not trying to limit the boundaries of science, but I am arguing against a scientistic dismissal of shorthand concepts people use, whether it is Greg's view of a vast, all-permeating consciousness or Bob's "infinite wonder."

    The irony is that we both have an appreciation for yoga and for many, especially some ancients, it was something of an "integral science."

    So I'm willing to meet you halfway, YogiOne: I won't box in science if you don't limit the shorthand concepts and feelings of wonder, divinity or immanence that science really has no proof against. After all, I suspect our viewpoints might have more in common than our limited conversation here might reveal.

    To bring this back to the Gita, I think that dogma typically emerges from rote and fundamentalist belief in the words of another (whether it comes in the form of a spiritual text or the authority of a spiritual leader or pandit). The Gita (particularly the part Bob just mentioned) urges us toward jnana or knowledge that is gained through our own exploration and practice. Furthermore, there is more than one yoga that can be used to gain that understanding. I think that science or another's broad spirituality (and these aren't necessarily exclusive) are two ways to get there.

  73. YogiOne says:

    I'll compromise here and use the word "most." Few people ever seriously question the religion they were spoon fed as children.

  74. Hate to disagree with two people I like so much, but a person's religion should be judged on what kind of human being they become through it, not by how much they've questioned it or how much they understand it. Give me a loving compassionate fundamentalist who really lives his or her faith than an uncaring religious intellectual who has questioned and analysed everything but is still an ass.

    Let's judge people on how they act rather than whether they are intellectual or not! That just seems like common sense to me. Some of the finest, most giving people I know are unquestioningly religious.

  75. integralhack says:

    Cool. Now that I'm aware of your broader definition of scientific inquiry, I have more appreciation for your outlook.

    Sometimes it is more effective to find the common ground before arguing differences. Some weeks ago I got into a minor Twitter discussion with Sam Harris (@SamHarrisOrg on Twitter). It started thus:

    Sam Harris: I'm a fan of the Dalai Lama's, but this…. . Anyone know how to clean vomit off a keyboard? [the link is a op/ed piece the Dalai Lama wrote for the NY Times on the common ground of compassion in religion].

    Sam Harris: The DL is actually very smart/compassionate/impressive in person, but this utterly disingenuous.

    Me: @SamHarrisOrg What about the Dalai Lama's op/ed piece do you find "disingenuous?"

    Sam Harris: @IntegralHack Not only does DL believe that Buddhism is better than Islam, etc. He believes his strand of Buddh is better than the others.

    Me: DL does make valuations but he's not going to reach common ground by being explicit re: faults–diff than being disingenuous

    I never received an answer from Harris. I just found it strange that he thought the Dalai Lama should be railing about the faults of other religions when he was really trying to discuss the common ground of compassion. Harris has become such a one-issue pundit (railing against the irrationality of religion) that he has forgotten that religion doesn't have a monopoly on irrational thought–including that which he seems to exhibit here.

    Harris seems to think that it is better to "speak the whole truth" about your worldview even if that whole truth runs counter to your objectives. What do you think about this?

    But I am intrigued about your notion of knowledge (I'm not being catty). I believe there are "operative myths" which can have functional value but aren't true and there are mixes of fact and falsity in our day-to-day lives. I also believe Occam's Razor is useful (and generally employed, whether people know it or not) in cases where we don't necessarily "know" but have a reasonable, operative and simple explanation at hand. This seems agreeable to naturalism's view, but let me know if I'm off track.

  76. Knowledge exists along many other axes than just True and False! Are you limiting knowledge just to the concept of "facts"?

  77. integralhack says:

    You do raise a good point and I agree that there is still more to religion/spirituality than serving as a transitional object.

    In my compassionate effort to find common ground with YogiOne, I became something of an ass. Eeyahh!

    Seriously, I agree. :)

  78. Scott says:

    Hmmm. You appear to have changed the topic from ideas/knowledge and the validity thereof to a question of what makes decent people. I don't think religion or intellectual development produce either, and I've certainly seen extremely compassionate and extremely uncompassionate people who hold to every tradition I've come in contact with. So, I don't think you can judge a religion by what it "produces". The results are too varied. Likewise, many of the most commpassionate, giving people I know are not at all religious. I'd also add that my non-religious friends tend to be less biased and less likely to support violence against other people or against natural resources than my religious friends. This is my personal experience and I'm not aware of any research indicating this is a more generalizable phenomena though, so don't take that as more than my person observation of a limited sample.


  79. Scott says:

    Oh, and if they don't adequately examine their own beliefs, the beliefs are not their own. They are practicing someone elses religion – which may be just fine for some, but which also clearly leads many people to follow those who would use them for purposes at odds with their own best interests and the best interests of others. It is in fact this blind following of authority that leads to the most destructive of all human activities. So, in the balance, I'd say you can judge someone by how well they have thought through their own beliefs. Promoting that kind of blind acceptance of authority allows others to use the same argumenst whether they are benign or hostile in their intent.

  80. Great thoughts, Integral.

    A small clarification. (I don't know if it's important or not.) Even though I'm strongly defending the idea of religion here, I myself am strictly a spiritual rationalist, i.e. my mind doesn't allow me to include in my own spirituality anything that doesn't make general logical sense to me.

    The type of Yoga I practice requires no illogical beliefs whatsoever. For me, infinite wonder is a description of how I feel, not a statement of belief. And to me it's perfectly logical to be in awe of the universe, from a single cell in my body to the millions of stars in a galaxy. It would seem totally illogical NOT to feel amazement at these things.

    This is why I personally prefer Yoga to religion. But that's just me. I embrace people who are religious, too, as long as they are good people and don't distort their religion to evil ends.

  81. We agree? That's no fun. Now what do I do?

  82. Scott says:

    But this one is usually accepted as the most fundamental element of knowledge. Without truth, knowledge is false and thus not knowledge at all. Every system of thought has its own criteria for determining whether ideas are true or not. There are some, such as mathematics that explicitly use ideas they know are false in order to solve specific problems, but those false ideas are also eliminated in the process of the mathematical manipulations. They know this will happen, so the ideas are accepted as utilitarian, but not true. Their use is also carefully justified by the theory of mathematics underlying the equations being ultilized. Perhaps the spiritual ideas being promoted in the Gita have no need of truth, but I've not really seen that acknowledged. If truth doesn't matter in the Gita or in spirituality that seriously limits the validity of it for me.

  83. Scott says:

    And you can judge a religion based on whether it promotes free thinking or not. Most will be found lacking in that respect.

  84. I'll go with your phrase "The results are too varied." I hope you will agree that science's value diminishes to the extent that results vary even with the same apparent inputs. This is when science can be way off base as it tries to apply principles based on mere averages to an individual. I would question the usefulness of the very studies you propose above if they produce "results that are too varied."

    This is the same problem I would have if I had tried to run my business entirely on science. a) It would force me to pay attention only to things I could measure, and b) it would force me to make decisions based too much on averages and not enough on my intuition about all the non-measurable factors of an individual situation. I would probably have gone broke trying to do this.

    Logic is alway useful, but science in only useful in some circumstances where certain narrow conditions apply.

  85. Looking at the world entirely on the basis of true and false is one of the most limiting world-views I've ever heard of. Is beauty true or false? Is imagination true or false? Is music true or false? Is poetry true or false? Is inspiration true or false? Is love true or false? Is spiritual exaltation true or false?

    Facts are true or false. Only facts. And I don't think you would argue that facts equal knowledge, would you?

    (Also, please see related reply to Integral just below.)

  86. In my opinion you can't generalize about religion or even a specific religion, and even more certainly you absolutely can't generalize about an individual human being based on what religion he or she happens to be.

  87. Scott says:

    I agree with you about judging the person based on their religion. However, you can judge both according to what process they support and engage in. Those who support a process of submission to authority rather than fully supporting the free, deep and expansive exploration of the foundations of their belief system are judged harshly in my book. The reason for my harsh judgement is that this very process is the cause of great suffering, destruction and abuse. Not only that but it is a major source of ignorance even among those who appear to be benign dictators.

  88. Scott says:

    Logic is one requirement of a scientific statement, thus part of the scientific process. Again, you chose scientific process and methods according to the subject of interest. Just because you don't study a frog with a telescope, it doesn't mean that the telescope is not useful.

    Variance can also be too small to be useful, and the useful amount of variance itself varies depending on the phenomena being studied. So, no the value of science does not diminish to the extent that results differ based on similar conditions. It depends on the range of variance inherent in the phenomena being studied. Things that produce reliably unpredictable results within a specifc range such a fractals are very interesting.

  89. These statements of yours about religion are the epitome of unscientific generalizations and conclusions. Your attempt to grapple with this by making such patently unscientific statements about religion and religious people is as good an example as I can think of to illustrate the limits of science.

    Even a key component of knowledge like history, which is based on facts, can rarely be "scientific". It will always be based on intuitive conjecture based on limited infomation. This is what most of life is like, which is why science has a vital but limited role to play in human events, and why IntegralHack object to it being made into a God of its own.

    Logically your broad condemnation of religion can only be classified as your own opinion, shared by others. You wouldn't try to classify it as science, would you?

    Enjoying this conversation very much. Thanks for engaging. Where's Hack when we need him?


  90. I should have been more specific. I agree with you that scientific results are almost always "interesting", even if based on averages. When I used the term "useful", I meant useful in making decisions. Here is where it becomes very dangerous to rely on "scientific results" that might not really reflect reality because of the built-in limitations of the scientific process itself.

    So I agree, any science is always interesting, but not necessary useful in making a decision, and in fact terribly dangerous to use inappropriately, as Intergral Hack is worried about, I think.


  91. If I could add an analogy, condemning religion because it has sometime created bad results is like condemning all science because it produced the arms race and the BP oil spill.


  92. YogiOne says:

    Again, you are simply trying to inappropriately limit science, and you failed to deal with the facts that religion indeed has a dark side. This is well-known to history and to your own experience. You were the one to propose judging a religion based on what it produces and I don't think you can just duck this aspect of what it produces. Well, yo could, but then I'd have to call you a chicken. :-)

  93. YogiOne says:

    Oh, and to be clear, I am criticising a specific process commonly found in religions. The emphasis is on process and not the religion. Religion vs. science is the context in which it arose. It could be applied equally to other institutions, including Yoga. Westerners typically avoid the authoritarian Guru/student relationship for the very reason I am criticising authoritarianism in religion in general. Authoritarianism is contrary to scientific values because it limits the free exploration of ideas. It is a value judgment to be sure, and I know which I prefer.

  94. Jelefant says:

    Elise, Roger Nelson isn't the only one (and thank you for the link to him). Most physicists working in Unified Field Theory believe in a universal consciousness that individuals tap into.

  95. I agree with you, Jelefant. That's exactly what my logic tells me!

    (I think my view of logic is expansive rather than restrictive. In business I used logic to develop techniques to improve my creativity, for example. I used logic to understand that I needed to use less logic and more intuition at times, to use my right brain more, instead of my logical left brain so much,etc. I used my natural logical tendency to develop the non-logical parts of my personality. This, I think was critical to my business success. Does that make sense?)

  96. Jelefant says:

    It does. It's like reading a book, or writing one, about the limitations of language.

  97. Tobye Hillier tobye says:

    I've always felt that the whole idea of doing 100,000 aums or, sitting under a tree, or in a cave for a coupla years is kinda the long way around, that true enlightenment can be found in the blink of an eye (actually, hatha yoga pradipika states that there are 840,000 moments in the blink of an eye!)

    To think we have to make an arduous journey to find true knowledge is a bit of a trick played on us….. like in "the alchemist" where the bloke goes searching for what was under His arse all along!

    That said, there's no flashing lightbulb for me yet :o)

  98. YogiOne says:

    I think you can criticise science for these things. Science has failed miserably in regard to its own ethics. That is, not being responsible for the use of its own products. Likewise, religion can be criticized for failure to own its own darkside, which certainly includes what I described previously.

  99. YogiOne says:

    Truth is foundational because it it applies to the question of whether a thing exists or not. That doesn't hinder the "object" in question from also having other qualities. Without existance, music would have no beauty. Without the existance of abstract thought, no beauty, imagination, poetry or music would exist. So, thuth is only the beginning of knowledge, not the end. I'll also add that being open to ideas that may or may not eventually be demonstrated to be true is part of the scientific process. Letting go of ideas that fail through the scientific process is also required if you desire integrity. Luckily, there are tons of ideas which are currently still in process, and there is so much yet to learn that it is wholely impossible for us to ever possess all knowledge.

  100. It happened for me when I was reading Stephen Cope's Yoga and the Quest for the True Self. He was talking about how each of us is already divine, when, in a flash, I suddenly understood that "divine" means simply "infinitely wondrous". Divine to me is simply unfathomable wonder and amazement at the universe we live in. At that point for me, Yoga ceased to be an effort or struggle and became instead a constant joy.

    I like to hear from others about how you "got Yoga".

  101. YogiOne says:

    Lets take another example. Science produced the atomic bomb. From an American point of view, the good guys got it first and used it to end a war and thus save lives. Now, we are in a constant struggle to keep "the bad guys" from getting one. Most scientists I know would prefer that we had kept that technology to ourselves in the first place. Despite the possibility that it could be used for good by the right people, the technology is simply so imbued with the possibility of harm (even in the hands of the good guys), we would be much better off without it.

    There are aspects of most religions that I see the same way. Training their followers to simply accept the authority of the religion upon the threat of everlasting suffering is definitely one of those aspects. I would also argue that it is unnecessary and that religions would be stronger if they genuinely promoted critical thinking. Religions can and do change over time, so maybe there is hope. One of my favorite local bloggers here in the Houston area is a pastor who regularly confounds the more traditional religious community by stating he is an atheist, but he also believes in God.

  102. Hi, YogaOne. I completely agree that religion has often created horrible results and tried to say so above ("…it has sometime created bad results"). What I'm arguing against is the unscientific condemning of all religion because of those bad results.

    I also think that most scientists themselves would say that science itself, on its own, is morally neutral (just as Krishna=the universe sometimes, but not always, describes himself). As soon as someone is making a moral judgment of any sort, that's not objective science anymore, but philosophy or religion.

    That doesn't mean that scientists are amoral, just that they are always more than just scientists.

    Just my view on these things, YogiOne.


  103. Right, YogiOne. And all those other fields of knowledge out there, like philosophy and religion and poetry and music and history, etc. are for those areas of knowledge that are not yet "possessable" by scientific study!

  104. I'm completely with you on my personal preference. But I keep thinking about people like my father who was a devout Catholic all his life, didn't care to question anything, and, partly as a result of his religious practice and belief, was one of the most wonderful human beings I've ever known. (See My Father: Starting Yoga at 87.)

  105. Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

    Thanks, Bob! I haven't written specifically about this, yet, but it's on my mind… A tangentially related post: <A HREF""&gt” target=”_blank”>;

    Are you in Chicago tomorrow??

  106. Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

    Hmm. I messed up the link:
    Here it is

  107. Oh, that's a great blog. Everyone, click on that link and read it! Here's an excerpt:

    The world is bigger than me. It is bigger than the contents of my mind, and more than what I know. So there is some mystery to the world and how things work and why things happen the way they do. This mystery is what the surrendering is about. It acknowledges that there is a larger reality that we, as individuals, cannot control and cannot know. There are times to let go of the desire to control reality, and there are times to trust that things are as they are, existing with reasons that are out of the realm of ordinary understanding. So what we are being asked to surrender to is this larger realm. It is awe-inspiring to witness the beauty of a moment without words, without knowing, and not controlling.

    Yes, Jane and I are both looking forward to Linda's workshop. Will you be there as well? That would be great.


  108. Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

    Yes, Bob, I am going to go, I think! So it will be fun to meet you and Jane and Linda-Sama! Wow.

  109. integralhack says:

    Scott, the atheist who also believes in God is interesting. Is he actually an agnostic or does reason take him one direction and faith another? Or does he take the word atheism literally and is "not-theistic" as opposed to "anti-theistic?" This would be close to Stephen Batchelor's view in regard to metaphysical concepts in Buddhism.

    Regarding critical thinking, I think there are critical thinking traditions in most of the major religions, but you are correct that these aren't mainstream practices, generally.

    Buddhism, like yoga, encourages personal investigation, but even it has been turned into a more traditional religion by later schools.

  110. YogiOne says:

    The guitar you use wouldn't exist without the scientific process. You are still not seeing how the process, process, process, yes, I said process of science is larger than your expressed understanding of it.

  111. YogiOne says:

    I know people like that too – my maternal grandmother for one. I believe she would have been just as saintly had she been taught to be more thoughtful about her religion. I don't think that the authoritarianism is necessary, and thus, the iatrogenic effects of it are simply not excusable.

  112. iatrogenic? Please enlighten me!

  113. I watched my guitar being made in a small famous shop in Madrid in 1971, Sobrinos de Esteso (nephews of Esteso, one of the most famous flamenco guitar makers, although his Sobrinos are now just as famous.)

    There was nothing scientific about it, without stretching science way beyond its commonly accepted definition. Accumulated knowledge over generations, yes. Carefully refined techniques and methods, yes. Testing by the reactions of their flamenco guitarist customers, yes. Experimentation, yes.

    But no one would call it science because it was more intuition and feel than data and analysis. If by science you mean any place where anything is being accomplished through any means, then our whole discussion has been based on a misunderstanding of definition of the word science.

    Not only that, with a definition that includes intuitive guitar making producing subjective results, you'd have to then include intuitive spirituality that gives subjective results as well, which is what you were objecting to at the beginning of this discussion I believe.

    So, to get back on track, please give us you concise definition of the word "science". Maybe we agree on everything and always have!


  114. YogiOne says:

    Iatrogenic refers to inadvertent adverse effects. The term is most often used when refering to health care. When we try to do no harm, we are most successful when we use the least invasive or smallest intervention possible to obtain the desired effect. We do this because we understand that any treatment can have adverse side effects in some people. So, the less we do to get the desired effect, the better. Of course, for some religions, creating sheeple who will unthinkingly do the bidding of the authorities in the church is the desired effect, so in that case, the adverse effects are not inadvertant.

  115. YogiOne says:

    Science has drastically improved the strength and durability of the strings used in most guitars, though Bob may still use strings made from intestines on his. Natural scientists also catelogged, tested and described the qualities of hardwoods used in the construction of musical instruments. Woods that have ideal properties for the neck and fret boards allowed for the length of the neck on guitars to grow longer without making them too heavy or cumbersom to use. So, yes, science did allow the artist who constructed Bob's guitar to do his job. We are much like the fish in the ocean, but we are swimming in science.

  116. Thanks, YogiOne. As I mentioned before, if you define "science" to mean any and all discoveries and improvements in human activity, regardless of how they occur", then, of course I would have to agree with you that science is, by this very definition, involved in all human activity and progress. Is there anything in human progress that you do not consider to be science?

    Do you consider the actual making of the guitar in the guitar shop to be science? Is an artist engaging in science because the paints and brushes he uses were enhanced by science? Am I a scientist when I play flamenco guitar?

    Good discussion.

  117. Ah, the beauty of Yoga.

    One can take a scientific view of the universe,
    like yours,
    or a divinity view
    like Graham Schweig's,
    and still end up in pretty much
    the same blissful place.

    The bliss can be seen
    as the release of certain chemicals in the brain,
    as in your view,
    or a personal love affair with God,
    as in Schweig's view.

    The Gita doesn't really care.
    Both of you are experiencing
    the infinite unfathomable wonder of the universe
    first hand.

  118. svan says:

    Ah, the sweetness of practice. Thanks so much for your responses.

    The only thing I know for sure is that the world is not what it seems. The world exists (prakriti) but not the way I think it does. For me, purusha is like the life-force Bob talks about, the animating force that mobilizes my prakriti in a way that is different from a rock or a river. I can see these two existing interdependently, with prakriti being easier for me to imagine existing "independently" than purusha… I know that there are schools that argue specifically one way and another, but I have not fully understood their arguments and how they apply to actual practice…

    For instance, my view of science dictates what I do when I'm sick — I tend to go to allopathic doctors, rather than alternative practitioners. It's not quite so simple with my practice, however… Like YogiOne, I find myself completely drawn to bhakti yoga. Even though my head doesn't have an object, my heart seems to have one, but I cannot name it…

  119. YogiOne says:

    Oh, and your guitar playing is pure art.

  120. Yes, I have been enjoying this vigorous dialog myself. And I think you just brought it to a perfect conclusion with your last expansive paragraph above! Thank you.


  121. Thank you. I'm so glad you enjoy it.

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