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Excerpted from a research paper titled "The Scientific and Spiritual Implications of Psychic Abilities" by Jane Katra and Russell Targ. Copyright © 2000 by Jane Katra and Russell Targ. Excerpted by permission of the authors. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the authors. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.
"For thousands of years, various wisdom teachers have presented a world view to all who will listen."
Jane Katra and Russell Targ, "Why
Would A Scientist Pray?" from a research paper titled, "The
Scientific and Spiritual Implications of Psychic Abilities"
Why Would A Scientist Pray?
Today, many of us are searching for a comprehensible spirituality, one in which experience takes primacy over religious belief. It is evident that a person need not believe or take on faith anything about the existence of universal spirit, because the experience of God is a testable hypothesis, as we describe below. However, philosophical proof is not our purpose. Rather, we have become aware that this experience is available to anyone seeking a spiritual life who at the same time desires to remain a critical and discerning participant in the twenty-first century. We can include God in our lives without giving up our minds, if we can transcend our usual analytical thoughts and learn to become mindful. A scientist might pray, or search for "the peace which passes understanding" as a way to experience the truth without conscious thought.
In his 1939 essay "Science and Religion," Albert Einstein suggested that we each have the potential for a greater awareness of truth than analysis alone can offer: "Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends. But, the ultimate goal itself, and the longing to reach it, must come from another source."
Wisdom teachers throughout history have shown that the experience of God is possible without belonging to a church or following a religion, as long as one’s basic motive is to discover truth. Dr. Herbert Benson recently proposed that we — our bodies and our brains — are "hard-wired for God." By this he means that throughout the past twenty-five hundred years — from Buddha, Jesus, and the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of Hassidic Judaism), to such poets as Rumi, Blake, and Emerson — mystics have shared a common experience that is actually available to us all. In all the mystic paths, the experience of God is celebrated, rather than the belief in God, or the religious ritual. The Sufi poet Rumi shared his thoughts which arose after experiencing his own divinity:
Whenever we sit peacefully and quiet our mind, we have an opportunity to experience an oceanic connection with something outside our separate self. To many, that connection is experienced as an overpowering feeling of love, and it may well constitute part of our evolutionary process as a species.
This feeling of universal love, without any particular object, is often associated with the realization that we reside within an extended community of spirit enveloping all living beings. Such feelings of unbounded interconnected consciousness have been described by many as an experience of God. The gift of a quiet mind allows us to understand what it means to be in love, like being immersed in loving syrup, as contrasted with being in love with another person. It is possible to reside in love (or gratitude) as a way of life. This experience is the source of the often-heard expression that "God is love," which in an ordinary context is easily dismissed as a simple cliché, or worse, as not even comprehensible.
These oceanic, loving, peaceful experiences are examples of the compelling feeling of "oneness" that mystics have been urging us to explore for millennia. Jesus called this state of awareness "the peace that passes all understanding," and a "kingdom which is not of this world." Hindus call it "bliss," or ananda. And Buddha called it a state of "no-mind," meaning the absence of thoughts disrupting awareness of indivisible unity.
This state is available to us now, while we reside in the world, whether or not we know or follow any religious teachings. Psychologist Joan Borysenko has written, "When the heart is open, we overcome the illusion that we are separate from one another."
The Path Of Self Inquiry
Early in the twentieth century, two of the world’s greatest logicians, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Alfred Ayer attempted to describe the physics and metaphysics of what can be known about reality. These Logical Positivists proclaimed that nothing meaningful could be said about God, because no experiment could be designed to either prove or disprove (verify or falsify) whatever one might say. But, by the end of their lives, both Wittgenstein and Ayer were willing to seriously examine the idea that the experience of mystics might actually be considered data — something observable in an experiment. In fact, in Wittgenstein’s last book, On Certainty, he gave primacy to experience over theory. This pre-eminent logician tells us, "The solution to the riddle of life in space and time lies outside space and time."
For thousands of years, various wisdom teachers have presented a world view to all who will listen. They have described a "sit down and be quiet" practice that is available for all to observe and experience. They then invite us to examine our experience, and see if it corresponds with their teaching. Ultimately, this seems like an acceptably scientific, empirical approach to spirituality.
Thirty years ago national U.S. magazines proclaimed on their covers that "God is dead." Today, we would say that God is neither alive nor dead, but rather manifesting as activity in consciousness -- transcending and transforming one’s ordinary awareness. God is an active personal experience rather than a distant entity in the sky. Our five familiar senses bring us data of the material world, while filtering out and limiting our exposure to the wider, transcendent world of active awareness available to the quiet mind. The direction of our attention is the most powerful tool we have to transform our lives.
After centuries of academic bombast, we are finally coming to recognize how tentative so-called scientific truth really is. In a scientific world increasingly governed by so-called laws of "indeterminacy" (Werner Heisenberg) and "nonlocality" (John Bell) in physics and "incompleteness" (Kurt Godel) in mathematics, we are beginning to find room for the experience of God.
Philosopher Ken Wilber makes this point with great force in his book Quantum Questions. He asserts convincingly that although physics will never explain spirituality, the spiritual realms may be explored by the scientific method:
Wilber describes three different, but equally valid, avenues of scientific empiricism: The eye of the flesh, which informs us about the world of our senses; the eye of the mind, which allows us access to mathematics, ideas, and logic; and the eye of contemplation, which is our window to the world of spiritual experience. None of these approaches suggest that we must embrace any body of dogma, or that we need to integrate Santa Claus into a scientific view of the modern world. They do, however, invite us to look beyond our thinking mind to discover who we are.
People everywhere are searching for ways to bring meaning into their stressful lives. Our days are filled with an increasing number of activities, and a decreasing amount of time in which to do them. We look for happiness through the acquisition of things. We want things, and we want them desperately. We want them now, and we want them to last forever. Despite owning more possessions than any people in history, despite our advanced learning, sophisticated communication and technological apparatus, our lives often seem overshadowed by feelings of isolation, despair, and powerlessness. And we feel this during the greatest period of prosperity and good health in history. We seem unable to change the course of our individual lives, our communities, or our environment, where life often seems hopelessly threatened. This frustration occurs because our wealth and all its distractions cannot substitute for what is really essential – our ability to take control of our own minds, and investigate the source of our consciousness.
The Perennial Philosophy first described by Aldous Huxley is the thread of universal truth that permeates all the world’s spiritual traditions. It teaches us that alongside the actions we take to improve our world, we also have the opportunity to experience either unity and peace, or isolation and fear. And from the ancient Hindu Vedas, as well as the contemporary teaching of A Course in Miracles, we learn that we give all the meaning there is, to everything we experience. While we can’t always control the events around us, we do have power over how we experience those events. At any moment, we can individually and collectively affect the course of our lives by choosing to direct our attention to the aspect of ourselves which is aware - and through the practice of self inquiry, to awareness itself. We can ask, "Who is aware?" and then, "Who wants to know?" The choice of where we put our attention is ultimately our most powerful freedom. Our choice of attitude and focus affects not only our own perceptions and experiences, but also the experiences and behaviors of others. Spiritual teacher Gangaji, who points to the path of self-inquiry, reminds us that we are "already completely whole, totally free, and permanently at peace." She suggests that we are beings of consciousness, participating in what the authors would call non-local awareness. She writes:
Mahatma Gandhi taught that "The only devils in the world are those running around in our own hearts. That is where the battles should be fought." Heaven and Hell are available for the asking, but no experience can take place in our lives except in our consciousness, and with our agreement. A master told his student: "You don’t have to look for God. God is here now. If you were ever here, you would see him."
We conclude that the scientific and spiritual implications of psychic abilities are evident in the continually unfolding mystery of the space-time in which we live. And a quiet mind has the opportunity for experiencing itself as love that is timeless, eternal, and unseparated by our bodies.