Anomalies of Consciousness: Indian Perspectives and Research

By Rao, K. Ramakrishna | The Journal of Parapsychology, June 1994 | Go to article overview

Anomalies of Consciousness: Indian Perspectives and Research


Rao, K. Ramakrishna, The Journal of Parapsychology


Eastern and Western Traditions

In the Western scientific tradition, consciousness is considered to be localized and bound to individual cortical structures and to therefore have no existence independent of the brain. It is assumed to be self-evident that to have awareness of a physical event or a material object without being in sensory contact with that event or object is impossible and that it is also impossible for the mind/consciousness to cause any changes in the material world other than changes in one's own brain (Broad, 1953). These assumptions rule out the possibility (a) that consciousness can survive bodily death; (b) that one can have information about objects and events that are shielded from his or her senses; and (c) that mind/consciousness can directly influence external objects or events.

There is growing scientific evidence to suggest the possibility of acquiring information that is apparently received independently of our sensory processes, as in extrasensory perception (ESP), and of direct action of mind over matter independent of our motor system as in psychokinesis (PK) (K. R. Rao & Palmer, 1987). Also, there are a number of cases in which a person has claimed to remember events in a previous life (Stevenson, 1974, 1975, 1984). Clearly all these phenomena are inconsistent with the Western scientific worldview. Therefore, they are regarded as anomalous.

From the perspective of Indian tradition, these phenomena are not anomalies of consciousness. Consciousness is not conceived as local and specific to a cortical structure. Individual streams of phenomenal consciousness emerge from and merge into an immense ocean of pure consciousness. Even the purusha (the Yoga concept of individual consciousness) in its multiple forms is nonlocal and without distinctions. It is unaffected by time-space, cause-effect constraints. Most of the classical systems of Indian thought, including Buddhistic and Jaina, regard ESP or yogic perception as a valid source of knowledge. In fact, procedures to develop ESP and other means of acquiring what appear to be super-normal abilities are described in some detail in the Indian tradition. The third chapter of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is devoted to a discussion of these phenomena. References to the acquisition of extraordinary abilities through ascetic practices are found in the Vedas and Upanishads. Yoga Vasistha, an ancient Sanskrit yogic text, contains numerous illustrative stories of a variety of yogic abilities and supernormal experiences, as well as the psychological, mental, and spiritual practices necessary for developing them (Atreya, 1954).

Theoretical Studies

I have previously reviewed Indian theories of yogic perception (K. R. Rao, 1957). In addition, Sinha devotes a chapter on supernormal perception in volume one of his Indian Psychology (Sinha, 1958). The NyayaVaisesika thinkers regarded what we now call ESP as essentially perception obtained directly by the mind. Whereas in normal perception the cognition of an object is mediated by our senses, in supernormal or yogic perception the mind (manas) functions independently of the peripheral organs. ESP is considered somewhat analogous to memory. S. P. Mythili (1982) discussed the ideas of classical Indian thinkers concerning memory nonlocalized in time and space. Jayantha Bhatta, in his Nyayamanjari for example, describes precognition as perception of a future object that comes into one's awareness via memory. The Samkhya school similarly holds yogic perception to be mediated directly by the mind without the senses. According to Samkhya, one can potentially perceive objects distant and far in space and time because of the connection of the mind with the prakriti, which is the ground of all material existence. However, the tamas component of the prakriti acts as a veil that can be removed in normal perceptions by the contact of the sense organs with the objects. In yogic perception, the yogin, through meditation, acquires the ability to pierce through the veil of tamas so that the mind can make direct contact with the objects. …

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