Linda Johnsen, M.S. is author of eight books on spirituality, including Daughters of the Goddess: The Women Saints of India. This essay was originally published in "Transformation," the journal of meditation as mind/body medicine, and it is being reprinted by the permission of The American Meditation Institute.
I can't even count the number of times people have told me I remind them of Mr. Spock. That's because, like Spock, I have an intensely analytical approach to life. If it's not logical, I'm not buying it.
Mr. Spock, as most people born on Earth are aware, is First Officer on the starship Enterprise in the popular TV program Star Trek, which originally aired from 1966 to 1969. Every young person I knew watched that show. We were all fascinated by the extraterrestrial cultures the Enterprise crew encountered during its mission "to explore new worlds and new civilizations." Especially compelling was the plot device that in the 23rd century, where Star Trek is set, humans have largely conquered their violent, selfish nature and now devote themselves to scientific exploration and humanitarian service.
Many of the aliens Mr Spock and his fellow crewmembers run into have extraordinary powers. Some are telepathic, others can manifest or dematerialize objects including their own bodies. Some live for centuries, or even eons, according to how humans reckon time. Interestingly, some of these entities, humans included, acquire amazing abilities like space travel through their mastery of technology. Others travel through time or across dimensions through mastery of their innate spiritual abilities. They can skip across light years as easily as you can shift your awareness from your left hand to your right foot.
I'm no Spock, but like him I have traveled to different planets. I'll never forget my first day on an alien world called Calcutta. It looked, sounded and tasted completely different from my home world, a place we usually call Western Civilization. The short, brown-skinned beings there spoke a language I couldn't understand, worshipped foreign deities, and related to the universe in a manner utterly dissimilar to what I was used to. To describe it with a term the logical-minded Mr. Spock would have used if he had landed there, India was "fascinating."
No one who hasn't been there can appreciate how unique India is. Five thousand years ago people around the globe had a vastly different understanding of spirituality than most of us do today. Their perspective has been almost completely eradicated over the centuries by missionizing religions as well as advocates of scientific materialism. India is one of the last places on Earth where you can still find people who believe, speak and act much as their ancestors did five millennia ago. Visiting India today really is like traveling backward in time, or like visiting another planet, one that vanished long ago.
I had read numerous Indian texts, including the Yoga Vasishtha, the Mahabharata, and the Tripura Rahasya, which described beings called yogis who allegedly were telepathic, could materialize objects or travel outside their bodies, who sometimes lived in the same body for centuries or who consciously transferred their awareness into a new body when the old one wore out. They were, the texts claimed, conversant with whole other dimensions of reality. This was as good as Star Trek! But with one critical exception: the starship Enterprise is fiction, while the yogic tradition in India is for real.
How could a logical person such as myself, a real doubting Thomas as all my friends know, buy the miraculous stories told in ancient Indian texts? That's because an alien from that other world had already made contact with me in the heart of the American Midwest. His name was Swami Rama, and he was a mahasiddha ("great adept" who has mastered his inner powers), as he proved repeatedly in American laboratories under scientific supervision. He not only demonstrated astonishing control over his physiological functions which, till then, Western scientists believed impossible, but also moved a metal needle through sheer mental focus. ("Mind over matter" is called telekinesis in the West; this rigorously monitored experiment was conducted at a research facility in Topeka in 1970.)
Even Swami Rama's worst enemies acknowledged his extraordinary abilities. Anyone who spent time with him experienced his jaw-dropping ability to read minds, as well as his talent for willing flowers to blossom out of season, empty teapots to pour gallon after gallon of chai, and even to materialize objects out of thin air. (Some of these well-attested feats are chronicled in Dr. Justin O'Brien's Walking with a Himalayan Master, which I highly recommend.)
Needless to say, this is all illogical. According to Western science, this must be fiction. But Swami Rama sat us down to teach us yoga science, a system that dates back over 5000 years. Swamiji's tradition, which is called Sri Vidya, is rooted in the insight of perhaps the greatest and most influential scientist of all time. His name was Kapila; he was born in northern India in vast antiquity. (I described his influence on early Buddhism in a previous issue of Transformation.)
Kapila enumerated twenty-five evolutes of reality. The lowest five of these are the only ones presently known by Western physics: solid, liquid, gaseous, and plasmic matter, plus what scientists today call "the zero point field" from which these originate. Kapila also noted far more subtle forms of matter of which Western science is unaware, and types of energy actually generated by a mental field. He delineated the dramatic role of intelligence in the organization of matter and the imperative role of consciousness in cosmology.
It's easy to dismiss Kapila's science as superstition. But it's hard to explain Swami Rama's abilities, and the miraculous-seeming skills of other advanced yogis, without taking these ultra-refined levels of matter and energy into account. Many of the fundamental mysteries of life and death completely ignored by Western science can be rationally explained by Eastern science.
Imagine it's the 23rd century and you're hurtling into outer space on your own version of the starship Enterprise. You encounter a civilization in some ways vastly more advanced than your own. You actually observe its citizens using skills like telepathy or telekinesis that scientists back on Earth claim are against the laws of nature. Once you begin studying with these remarkable aliens however, you realize that their understanding of nature's forces is in fact far more expansive than your own. While you continue to appreciate the achievements of your native science, you also begin to see its limitations. This is the experience many of us have actually had once we're exposed to yoga vidyas, the "inner sciences" of ancient Indian civilization. While modern Western science is amazing as far as it reaches, it's also inadequate to explain the phenomena we're now witnessing.
Beyond the Brain
As I traveled through Bengal and then on through the rest of Planet India, I met more great souls with extraordinary insight and abilities: Amritanandamayi Ma, Shree Maa of Kamakhya, Tapasvi Baba and others. Of course they live on the same planet as those of us raised in the West, but in a very real sense they live in a different universe. They experience the cosmos radically differently. Their worldview is vastly broader than ours, embracing not just physical matter and known forces like electromagnetism and gravity, but subtler forms of matter called tanmatras as well as the energy field of consciousness itself, chitshakti. Although these elements and energies really exist and are experienced and manipulated by the inner scientists of the yoga tradition, we don't even have words for them in English.
The great souls live beyond the brain. As Swami Rama patiently explained, the brain is in the mind, not the other way around. The purpose of meditation is to hone our awareness till we can hold our awareness in samadhi, a deeply focused state that opens the floodgate of prajna, intuitive insight. This can ultimately lead to a state of mastery many in the West would consider science fiction, but which those of us fortunate enough to keep company with yoga adepts have witnessed for ourselves. These yogis, however, are not aliens from other junctures of the galaxy. They are human beings exactly like us except that they have taken the time and trouble to actuate powers within themselves that all of us have, but most of us ignore.
What is the key unlocking the inner world and its vast potentials? It's simple: sustained spiritual practice (abhyasa) performed continuously for as long as it takes (nairantarya) in a spirit of heartfelt reverence (satkarasevito). In order to accomplish this, we must cultivate enough dispassion (vairagya) that we can temporarily put the affairs of the external world out of our mind and turn our focus inward toward stillness and self-knowledge. During meditation we step out of time and space as we know them, into an uninterrupted state of unalloyed joy (ananda) in the heart center or unbroken I-am-ness (asmita) in the eyebrow center. If we can sustain this sense in our meditation practice, we are on our way to a remarkable awakening. The universe will never be the same again.
We need to challenge ourselves to live beyond the brain. This means that every day, without fail, we turn off the TV, turn off the cell phone, and turn off the babble in our mind. As we have learned in our yoga classes, we breathe our way into silence, conscious control of our breath being the flywheel that regulates our autonomic nervous system, calming our mental turbulence. Once the usual jabber in the mind ebbs away, what is left? Our essence, our soul, the vastness of inner space, that sacred part of us that is never unconnected from pure spirit. Do we have the courage and desire to boldly go into this extraordinary new world?
Even on Star Trek, Mr. Spock-that most analytical of aliens-would go on spiritual retreats to refresh his energy and deepen his understanding. To him (and perhaps also to us, as we expand our horizons through yoga practice), this is simply logical.