First published in January 2015
Photo by Thomas Zimmer
“The pure categories are the experience of the impure categories when they are recognized to be one with Consciousness” (Dyczkowski, 1987).
As the process of manifestation (involution of Ultimate Reality into becoming the physical Universe) begins, the tattvas (principles, states of consciousness) that logically appear first are those of what is called the Pure Creation and pure knowledge. Again, here, the word pure means that there is no sense of separation from Consciousness in this stage of manifestation. A contemporary scholar of Kashmir Shaivism writes: “Unity with the Self is interiority and difference and distinction from it is exteriority. It has nothing to do with positions in space” (Pandit, 2003).
The ‘subject’ and the ‘object’ (the ‘I’ and the ‘This’) are a Unity, and the true nature of Reality, non-duality – a unity, and eventually, Identity – is realized. In other terms, this ‘true nature’ is not yet ‘veiled’ by the processes that occur at the lower tattvas of the Impure Creation: maya and those below it (Figure 1). It is the realm of Universal Experience, the Universal Subject and ‘ideal’ manifestation – all experience is in the form of ‘idea’.
As the realm of the Pure Creation is beyond time, space, and natural law, it is also a thought-free realm (tattvas above the level of the mind). These ‘ideas’ are not coming, then, from the mind, where time, space and natural law do exist, but from the internal ‘direct perception’ of the highest state of the Self. This involves the levels of Speech of Pasyanti-vak, and ultimately Para-vak in the uppermost tattvas (Figure 2 – with levels of Speech). Therefore, through the desire to perceive an object in the seemingly ‘external’ world, we access (usually unconsciously) with ‘internal’ direct perception, the plenum of all knowledge (the Self). A Kashmir Shaivism scholar notes: “Ordinary people are not aware of the absolute unity of the Self, existing at the moment of the beginning of a direct perception…” (Pandit, 2003).
On ‘Perception and Perspective’ of the Pure and Impure Creation
Perspective and perception, in a sense, explain in simple terms the worlds or realms of manifestation and why they are not the same – yet while being not at all different. Using the example of a 102–story building, essentially the ‘world’ at the top is ‘sky’ and the ‘world’ at the bottom is ‘street’. From an overall perspective, it is something else yet again – it’s the same world. But if you could only see ‘straight ahead, in front of you’ (due to some pre-set conditions), and could be located first at the top, and then at the bottom – you would think they were two entirely different worlds! The Matrika (Sanskrit syllables) are arranged differently for the two realities – the two realms. Ours is ours and not clearly translatable to that which is of the Pure creation, or realm, and above. By design, one cannot use the syllables of the Pure, ‘higher’ realm in the words of this Impure creation or ‘lower’ realm.
Pure and Impure Realms, Perception and Human Development
Ultimately, the state we are meant to live in, according to Kashmir Shaivism, can be described as the state of the ‘Fully Awakened’ or perfectly enlightened Yogi. “(His) ‘perception’ of the Supreme Lord Who, as we have said, is his own Self, is a ‘direct’ experience free of thought constructs, ‘constant’ at all times and at every level of experience (i.e. waking, dreaming and deep sleep)” (Dyczkowski, 1992).
‘Direct perception’ plays a key role in the relationship between the two realms, or states of being (consciousness), the Universal and the Individual, the Pure and the Impure. It unifies the knowable into a single undivided whole. And the means necessary to experience and develop this ‘direct perception’ are orchestrated by the mind and senses (the ‘means of knowledge’). Therefore, ironically, a direct (thought-free) perception of a ‘something’ in the objective field of the Impure Creation, or external world of everyday reality, can result in attaining the state of the Self. “When the fettered soul (Purusha) desires to see some object, he becomes, in this state of cognitive intent, instantly and spontaneously one with the Supreme Soul, Who is the Benefactor (of all living beings)” (Dyczkowski, 1992).
Therefore, perception can serve to unite the finite and the infinite – the object and the Supreme Subject – thus liberating the human being. It is, then, one of numerous ways, says an Eastern sage, in which the Universe (including the mind) exists for our evolution (“upliftment”) (Lakshman Joo, 2002) and is therefore again illustrative of the practice aspect of Kashmir Shaivism.
The continual flashing forth (pulsation) of the involution (into diversity and form) and the evolution (back to Unity) inherent in the abhasa process, can be depicted vertically, to represent Universal manifestation, or horizontally, to represent the flux of Human perception – also a manifestation. The flux of perception – moving, as it were, from the perceiver ‘out’ to that which is perceived, and back ‘in’ to the perceiver, occurs countless times a moment. This process affords us all an enormous number of opportunities for evolutionary progress – just by being alive – if we can become consciously aware of them.
When both involution and evolution via perception occur simultaneously (a process called Bhairavi mudra) – ‘living internally’ (identity with Supreme Subject) while ‘perceiving and operating externally’ (realm of the object) – one is said to be in the state of liberation – of Supreme I-Consciousness. This state eventually becomes stable through consistently and consciously practicing the experience of it. This is one of the many practices prescribed in Kashmir Shaivism, and described in the sacred text of the Vijnanabhairava (Singh, 1981).
Perception as Spiritual Practice
“An experience at that first moment (of perception) is just a simple reflection of an object as it is in itself – a thought free state”. It is not at all touched by any mental idea or any word image …The mind of an experiencer imposes on it the ideas of its name and form in the next moment … (This) experience is a knowing accompanied by the ideas of a definite name and form” (Pandit, 2003).
Many are the stages or moments of perception. But, for human evolution, the three initial stages are among the most important. We can catch the very beginning of the impulse, the cognitive intent, the will – to see something, for example, just prior to looking at, or seeing something, or just as we first begin to look at, or see something in our environment. Then, immediately follow it (that ‘impulse’) back to its source. If we do this consciously and continuously, as a practice, we hone our awareness of the realm and reality of the ‘Voice of Intuition’, pratibah, that which underlies everything. And we can progress to remaining stable in that state of the initial stage of the Manifestation process, Sadasiva tattva and Pasyanti-vak. Evolution to even higher states – to the Ultimate Reality – comes with continued and constant awareness of our own true nature.
Describing just such a practice, Mark Dyczkowski, a renowned scholar of Kashmir Shaivism, notes: “…(one) must catch the initial moment of awareness just as perception begins. (This initial moment of perception is when the power of the will to perceive is activated.) It is the subtle state of consciousness that reveals the presence and nature of its object directly… One must (remain thought-free, and) not move on from the first pure sensation of the object, but return to its original source in his own ‘I’ consciousness” (Dyczkowski, 1987).
The scholar goes on to say: “…There is no split between the cognizing subject and the things he wishes to perceive, the instant the state of cognitive intent (prevails). In the same way, nothing in the universe is severed from the Supreme Self” (Dyczkowski, ibid).
Establishment in this state of the Pure knowledge reveals powers that evolution regains. “…It is during the ‘transition of the moment’ (the second moment of perception – the state in which thought is momentarily suspended) that omniscience, omnipotence and mastery of all things, etc. (become clearly manifest). …(This is) “…the creative intuition…pratibah” (Dyczkowski, 1992).
‘Thought-free State of Perception’ from two Points of View: Kashmir Shaivism’s ‘Nirvikalpa’ and Neuroscience’s ‘Non-Adult visual capabilities’ and ‘Unconscious processing’
A commentary from the Isvarapratyabhijnakarika of Utpaladeva states: “Cognition of the name and form of an object is preceded by simple perceptual awareness, known as nirvikalpa, or non-conceptual, knowledge” (Pandit, 2003). Nirvikalpa is a state in the Pure Creation of self-aware, pure consciousness. It is unlike ordinary knowledge (savikalpa) and perception, as found in the Impure Creation where name and form veil the awareness of pure consciousness.
Nirvikalpa (non-conceptual knowledge) is attained through (in) a thought-free state. To become established in this state is the goal, and a major evolutionary step. ..... (Which is likely to be the understatement of the century.)
‘Experiencing, observing the world … but not seeing ... anything (as separate from Ultimate Reality)’ describes a state we are in quite a lot of the time, due to the nature of Universal Manifestation, including our own perceptual processes. One example of what conscious awareness in this state might be like is seeing an entire town, as a whole, from a mountaintop, at a distance - without differentiation of streets, buildings, and other particulars. It is to perceive something as a whole, and not in distinct parts – that seeing which is without thought. This is a ‘direct perception’ and seeing at the level of Pasyanti-vak.
“A baby experiences in the nirvikalpa state, without thought. As the baby grows up, their experiences are both nirvikalpa and savikalpa (with thought), (and) later in life, only savikalpa. To regain that Supremeness you have to gain the nirvikalpa state in this savikalpa state. It is only then that the nirvikalpa state will remain permanently” (Lakshman Joo, 2003). This is why it is said that true liberation is only liberation while still alive … the work must be done while you’re still here.
Science’s ‘Non-adult visual capabilities’
Scientific research in visual perception corroborates differences between the visual capabilities of babies and adults as well. And, oddly enough, demonstrates a visual phenomenon that corresponds with the described quality of perception of the nirvikalpa state with the same example of “seeing a town from a distance”.
Imagine two identical photos of the same town: one a normal, crisp photograph, and one altered for certain characteristics – i.e. blurred and reduced in contrast. The altered one demonstrates what a human infant sees and the normal one what an adult sees. It is not until about the age of four that adult visual capabilities are fully developed (Kiorpes and Movshon, 2004).
Science’s ‘Unconscious Processing’
Another example of recent scientific findings in the neurosciences echoes the progression from nirvikalpa to savikalpa states as a human grows through infancy to adulthood. Researchers focusing on the nature of perception in infants and very young children, compared to that of adults, have discovered phenomena that parallel the wisdom contained in Kashmir Shaivism regarding nirvikalpa/savikalpa states.
Several studies investigated the notion that ‘conscious perception’ of stimuli involves a two-stage process. Working with adults, a team led by Stanislas Dehaene, a French scientist, discovered that the first stage involves unconscious processing of images. But it was found that if a person looks at an image long or hard enough (prolonged and emphasized external focus), after about 300 milliseconds, a second stage occurs, marked by the beginning of reverberations of a network of brain regions. This activity is correlated with what the investigators called ‘conscious perception’; that is, people are able to report on what they’ve seen. “It is only when this network of frontal and parietal brain regions, the global neuronal workspace, becomes active that we have conscious access to information about what we have perceived” (Ananthaswamy, 2014).
One of the parallels here with Kashmir Shaivism is the idea of a two-stage process. It appears that nirvikalpa stands parallel to the first stage designated as unconscious processing. And savikalpa correlates with the second stage called conscious perception (also a process).
Another French team, including Dehaene, Sid Kouider and colleagues, investigated, in the first study of its kind, whether or not there was a similar signature in babies between 5 and 15 months old (Kouider, et al, 2013). There were clear signs of what the scientists called ‘conscious perception’. But they noted an important difference among the groups. Babies from 12 to 15 months old showed the second stage of reverberating neural activity beginning about 750 milliseconds after the onset of the stimulus, rather than after 300 milliseconds. And in 5-month-old infants, the ‘lag’ was even greater, with their brains responding after 900 milliseconds.
Therefore, the younger the child, the longer it took them to register ‘conscious perception’ of an external stimulus. In other words, they stayed in a state of more global awareness, (a parallel with the nirvikalpa state), for a longer time, the younger they were. The 5-month-old infants had a ‘lag time’ (in other words, stayed in that global awareness state) before registering ‘conscious (external) perception’ after a visual stimulus that was 900 milliseconds compared to 300 milliseconds for adults. And even for the slightly older babies, those ranging from 12 to 15 months old, these very young children still maintained that state (the ‘lag time state’) longer than adults do (Ananthaswamy, 2014).
Considering these studies together, however, also reveals a ‘reversed parallel’ in a sense, as well. The perspective in contemporary neuroscience in general is that the more common, ‘ordinary’ (or normal) state of consciousness (and ‘conscious perception’) is ‘primary’, and therefore somehow more value-laden. Ironically, ‘unconscious processing’ is not valued in the same way, relative to the ‘conscious’ type. However, from the perspective of Kashmir Shaivism, it is of even greater value, as it appears to pertain to the extra-ordinary state of nirvikalpa. This is very elegantly described by Swami Laksman Joo above in his quote about a baby experiencing in the nirvikalpa state, without thought, then gradually moving to experiences in both nirvikalpa and savikalpa as they get a bit older, and then finally, at an even later age, experiencing in only savikalpa (the state in which we can become nasty human beings if we’re not careful).
In other words, it would appear that the more ‘(truly) conscious’ a person is, the longer their stage one of what contemporary neuroscience calls ‘unconscious processing’ could be. This might especially be true for experienced meditators – even to the point of their having much less of stage two ‘conscious perception (processing)’ registering in their brain – even though they are in actuality consciously processing normally!
Studying yogis or long-time meditators in this way calls to mind something the Dalai Lama once told a group of scientists. He urged them to study the brain in as many ways as possible, in meditation research. Perhaps that would be a fruitful next step for neuroscience in particular (and humanity in general). There has already been some indication from studies on the effects of psychoactive drugs that use of such substances can ‘take one back’ to the experience of infancy, and stage one (Ananthaswamy, 2014).
Another team of scientists, including Tim Sweeny, Alison Gopnik, and colleagues, studying perception in infants and young children (in comparison to that of adults) has summarized their work and related work of others in the following way. Young children are good at making judgments about groups (the ‘larger picture’), but are less good at focusing attention on particulars. In summary, “If adult awareness is like a spotlight that lets us pay selective attention to things, an infant’s awareness is like a lantern, shedding diffuse light on everything around. That may let them perceive many things at once” (Ananthaswamy, 2014). The results of these studies with respect to children, and the ‘lantern’ analogy, appear to describe the nature of the nirvikalpa state. While the ‘spotlight’ analogy and adult awareness (naming, labeling, describing – attributing name and form) seem to characterize the savikalpa state.
It would appear that at this point in time, science does not yet understand how valuable a state nirvikalpa is to ultimate human development. Yet as Laksman Joo points out, we must attain nirvikalpa from savikalpa in order for nirvikalpa to remain permanent, and for us to realize our birthright and ultimate human potential (Laksman Joo, ibid.).
Toward a Psychology of Absolute Consciousness: Active Evolution to the Natural Human State of Pure I-Consciousness
Scriptures of Kashmir Shaivism tell us that only attainment of the highest state – liberation from bondage in this life – is authenticliberation. Several key elements are considered essential for this process: a spiritual guide, scripture, sound reasoning, and – above all – one’s own personalexperience (Dyczkowski, 1987). Many Eastern masters and sages also emphasize that ultimately, it is ‘student’s grace’ that allows for authentic realization to take place – virtually no matter what spiritual path one follows.
Our own psychospiritual evolutionary progress is extraordinarily important for life in this world – our life and ... the lives of those who inhabit it with us. In the words of a contemporary scholar of Kashmir Shaivism: “All these universal activities of this world and of the people living here cannot go on smoothly – as long as the monistic unity of everything is not accepted. Such unity is basically, the monistic, infinite I-Consciousness, the absolute Knower, who pervades all of existence and runs it as a cosmos” (Pandit, 2003) – and It also happens to be – who we really are.
References and Additional Reading
Ananthaswamy, A. Into the minds of babes. New Scientist, 23 August 2014
Beckenstein, J. Information in the holographic universe. Scientific American 15: 74-81, 2005
Briggs, R. Knowledge representation in Sanskrit and artificial intelligence. Artificial Intelligence 6: 32-39, 1985
Chatterji JC. Kashmir Shaivaism. Albany, NY: State University of NY Press, 1986
Dyczkowski, M. Doctrine of Vibration. Albany, NY: State University of NY Press, 1987
Dyczkowski, M. The Stanzas on Vibration. Albany, NY: State University of NY Press, 1992
Joseph, GC. The Crest of the Peacock, Non-European Roots of Mathematics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2011
Kiorpes & Movshon, (in) The Visual Neurosciences, Chalupa and Warner, Eds. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004
Kouider, et al. (in) Science. 19 April, 2013
Lakshmanjoo, Sw. Kashmir Shaivism, The Secret Supreme. Culver City, CA: Universal Shaiva Fellowship, 2003
Lakshmanjoo, Sw. Siva Sutras, The Supreme Awakening. Culver City, CA: Universal Shaiva Fellowship, 2002
Lawton, G. (in) New Scientist. May 14-20, 2011
Olshausen, B. Principles of Image Representation in Visual Cortex, (in) Chalupa and Werner, Eds. The Visual Neurosciences, Ch.108, p.1603: Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004
Pandit BN. Aspects of Kashmir Shaivism. Srinagar, Kashmir: Utpal Publications, 1977
Pandit BN. Isvara Pratyabhijna Karika of Utpaladeva. New Delhi: Muktabodha Indological Research Institute, 2003
Singh, Jaideva. (Abhinavagupta) Paratrisika-Vivarana. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2002
Singh, Jaideva. (Ksemaraja) Pratyabhijnahrdayam - The Doctrine of Recognition. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1990
Singh, Jaideva. Vijnanabhairava, or Divine Consciousness. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1981
Susskind, L. The world as a hologram. J. Math Physics 36: 6377-96, 1995
Susskind, L. The Cosmic Landscape, String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design. New York, NY: Back Bay Books, 2006
Tegmark, M. The mathematical universe. Found. Physics 38: 101-150, 2008
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