Midweek Mysticism: The truth about Nirvana
Nirvana has not been explained with any precision in the West. The problem has been that it is often regarded as a realm protected by a small clique of initiates, and by the high priests of the ancient mystery religions who regarded it as a proof of life after death — which indeed it is.
Despite the dismissive attitudes of orthodox science, nirvanic experience, as Daniel Goleman called it, is part of our empirical knowledge. It is not, however, observed by the five familiar physical senses, or by the brain, but by another means of knowing: a space consciousness rather than the point consciousness of our normal senses. Currently, this is a dark region for science, although near-death experiences (NDEs) are opening up this whole area to fresh inquiry.
Dr Sam Parnia’s three-year research project at Southampton University has concluded with a positive view on the existence of NDEs. In his new book The Lazarus Effect, he terms them actual death experiences, because the person undergoing it is, in effect, dead.
I don’t agree with that overall assessment, since my own experiences of it show the body very much alive — see Proof of consciousness after death. But that is a mystical nirvanic experience, not a medical emergency. However, they come to the same thing, actual death being one case among many.
The notion of a single substance, or ground, underlying all things is not new. The pre-socratic Greek philosopher, Thales, thought that all matter was composed of water. His later colleague, Anaximenes, suggested that air was a more likely candidate.
In a purely material reality this seems absurd. But if we were able to see the world in the manner of extended still-frame photography, one picture every 50 years, say, over a period of several million, even the most solid mountain range would appear to move and flow. In fact it would be indistinguishable in many ways from the sea. Any being living at that frequency of thought would see rocks as water. It is a sobering idea that such beings would drink mountains. Water itself would be too volatile to register in such a slow-coach consciousness.
There are three levels of consciousness by which we obtain knowledge of the world:
1. through the “eye” of the five senses: perception
2. through the eye of the mind: conception
3. through the eye of the extra-bodily sense: nirvanic experience.
The first is used for the external world of time and its objects. This is the method of empirical science, which has given us the technology partly to master the physical environment.
The eye of the mind gives us the logic of philosophy and mathematics.
The eye of nirvanic experience (nirvanoception, perhaps) is used for the direct knowing of Nirvana, the world beyond body-mind, but containing it. This eye cannot tell us about scientific or material truths.
Rationalists have a tendency to exclude other forms of knowledge and maintain that there is only rational truth. Descartes is the typical example of this: “I think, therefore I am”.
A similar category error occurred when Justinian, the Byzantine emperor, closed the schools of philosophy in Athens because he claimed that philosophy was unnecessary since the truth had been revealed by Jesus Christ. Humans have three ways of knowing for a reason.
The idea of the suprapersonal is also relevant here. The nirvanic viewpoint is a suprapersonal experience from the perspective of the personal consciousness, the Soul.
It lifts us suddenly away from the ground of our small personal self to a perspective of the unified self-nature of the world. It is a privileged glimpse of what it means to be more than our body-mind. It does not mean that we are not ourselves. Just not whom we think we are in everyday life.
Enlightenment, or cosmosity as I’ve called it elsewhere, is the result of the action of nirvanic experiences on an individual who is ripe for development in this field. Here’s an analogy: the mind (the contents of consciousness) is like a radio broadcast which hitches a ride on a carrier wave. Because the carrier wave is stable, radio receivers can remain tuned to it.
The “carrier wave” in human experience is nirvanoception, which is apprehended as basic awareness. Our awareness, stripped of sense perceptions and thought processes, is therefore the central element in experience. Since, as Plotinus asserted, and nirvanic experience confirms, we are immersed in an ocean of consciousness, it is easy to see how our awareness might be expanded infinitely in moments of cosmosity.
Orthodox scientists, who observe solely through the eye of the senses, thus restricting themselves to the material world, are always surprised by paradox. The layered nature of reality explains many of the paradoxes inseparable from nirvanean philosophies. A ladder of understanding forms part of the ancient “perennial philosophy” of mankind and its absence is the biggest stumbling block for three-dimensional materialists.
Nirvana is now a world-word that has come to mean any paradisical situation or experience, even one generated by drugs. Originally, in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, it meant “deliverance of the mind”.
Nirvanic-type experiences have also been recorded in the annals of other religions and even among people of no religious affiliation at all. Indeed, it may be the case that standard religious practices and doctrines actively discourage the state from developing in an individual.
For a scholarly treatment of the meaning of Nirvana see: Nirvana Defined
… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.
Coming up: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world. Also a website, mystology.com.