It’s not often you have the time or luxury to ponder in depth what many brilliant minds, past and present, have said about the nature and origins of consciousness and its role in the universe. Which is a pity because my experience is that when I have, usually after reading or hearing something, it’s forced me to rethink – in a good way – my whole way of being.
This recently happened when I heard an interview (click on Parts 1 and 2) with conference favourite, B. Alan Wallace, leading scholar, author and meditation teacher. Wallace is presenting at Mind & Its Potential in October. You can also hear him in conversation later on the same day with another mental giant, Professor V. S. Ramachandran.
Wallace challenges the mainstream view that dominates academia worldwide, namely that everything in the universe, independent of our human concepts and measurements, consists of space, time, mass and energy.
He also urges us to reassess the nature of consciousness. “Mainstream science assumes that consciousness emerges … from complex configurations of chemical compounds, engaging with or interacting with electricity, but no one has proposed exactly how this occurs, or when in the evolution of life on this planet consciousness arose.
“Nor do we know in the development of the human fetus when consciousness emerges or what are the sufficient causes for it doing so?”
Wallace says scientists simply assume that consciousness emerges from matter. He argues that’s because science is expert at observing matter. Conversely, science has yet to devise a sophisticated means for directly observing states of consciousness or the mind. Nevertheless scientists aren’t willing to rely on first person experience which “violates the principles of scientific materialism.”
Not so Wallace. He has turned to the contemplatives who for millennia have been advising us to rely totally on our immediate experience of the nature of mind or consciousness. Moreover, that when we do, we will find a dimension of consciousness that lies beneath our ordinary psyche called the substrate consciousness “which is blissful, luminous, non-conceptual” and does not arise from matter of any kind.
Not only that, we will discover the nature of reality itself, that all phenomena are empty of any inherent nature or identity of their own and arise relative to the means by which the phenomena themselves are apprehended.
Even particles, fields, space and time which we imagine to exist independently of perception are, in fact, human constructs.
This radical take on reality also finds its parallel in modern quantum mechanics. Quantum cosmology further contends that there’s no evolution of the universe fullstop without an observer/participant separating the objective world from their subjective observation. Think about it. Without the participant superimposing the sense of now relative to which there is a past and future, how can there be time? It’s only with dualistic grasping do we find ourselves inhabiting a world of this and that, now and then.
What’s truly mind-boggling is that we can all experience that which lies beyond all dualistic appearances. How? Through the practice of meditation, a very popular topic at all our events. Only on this path, says Wallace, can one finally discover who one is. “One is awakened. And this is what it means to become a Buddha.”