First Person Accounts of Yoga Meditation Yield Clues to the Nature of Information in Experience

By Shetkar, Reshma; Hankey, Alex et al. | Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, January 2017 | Go to article overview

First Person Accounts of Yoga Meditation Yield Clues to the Nature of Information in Experience


Shetkar, Reshma, Hankey, Alex, Nagendra, H. R., Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy


INTRODUCTION

The Vedic culture of ancient India distinguished two kinds of experience (1), gross (sthula) which was derived from perception through the five gross senses, and merely rational mental processes, and subtle (sukshma), which was derived from the corresponding subtle senses, and mental abilities like seventh sense communication (2), intuition, and well-characterized phenomena known as ritambhara pragya (3), and jyotishmatti pragya (4). The latter were developed by special techniques contained in advanced Yoga practices (5,6), and represented subtle means of directly accessing facts and truths about creation (6) and its structure (7), not limited to the gross, physical universe, but also concerning the subtle 'levels of reality' (lokas (8)), accessible by the soul. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad states that there are many levels of sukshma reality (7), and that these subtle levels control the gross level known through sense perception. This overall structure makes the Vedic sciences, in principle, far more powerful than the modern sciences, so that they can access and describe classes of phenomena inaccessible to the methods of modern science. (9)

In support of these statements, the Vedic sciences outline training programs through which the individual can rise to the heights of the subtlest levels of reality (10,11), and transcend them in order to attain the ultimate, supreme level of Brahman (12) from which all creation manifests. In this way, having defined the subtle levels, the Vedic Sciences clarify the nature of experience, and outline training to actualize levels of subjective refinement of conscious experience, through which their findings can be verified. They form a description of creation in both its subjective and objective aspects that are profound and complete.

Although first person accounts of experience have traditionally been excluded from scientific consideration, the work of Varela and Shear (13) has clearly defined the conditions under which they may be accepted as philosophically valid. They now form potentially useful sources of information about the nature of mind and self. Most Vedic science sources rely on such first person accounts to discuss experience and consciousness.

As an integral aspect of their program of investigation of the universe of sense perception, the Vedic sciences contain many sections where profound statements about the nature of subjective experience are made. Such statements, made from highly refined levels of consciousness, can be taken as authoritative. In fact, they turn out to be in agreement with many statements from western science and philosophy about the nature of the self and awareness, and can even be used to judge the level of refinement of different philosophers (14) in the domain of development of consciousness. Certain great poets, like T.S. Eliot, in 'Four Quartets' (15), and Thomas Traherne, in his poem, 'My Spirit' (16), give descriptions that can really only be understood with reference to the Vedic literature, since they concern the realization of the ultimate levels of creation. Jonathan Shear (17), in particular, has shown that these statements transcend all cultural boundaries, and can be found in descriptions of meditation from all great cultures in East and West. This article presents detailed statements selected from the ancient Vedic literature describing the structure of conscious experience, to establish a basis for the scientific description of the phenomenon. In this, the Vedic literature provides a unique and unparalleled resource. Its methods outlined in Yoga (18,19) provide a means of accessing states of conscious experience free from the veiling effects of information content (20), so that the real nature of the experiencer shines forth, and can be accurately cognized and expounded, as is done in the Vedanta sections of literature (21,22).

METHODS

Careful selections from the ancient Vedic literature are made, yielding precise statements concerning conditions on the nature of conscious experience, and our understanding of it. …

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