Universal Consciousness

“You don’t ‘have’ a life, you ‘are’ life. The One Life, the one consciousness that pervades the entire universe and takes temporary form to experience itself as a stone or blade of grass, as an animal, a person, a star or a galaxy.”  – Eckhart Tolle

Scientists, and thus our culture and our psychologies, cannot seem to grapple with the phenomenon of consciousness, its appearance and ubiquitousness in nature, because we have yet to shake off the anthropocentric view that only humans are truly conscious, and that consciousness arises from our brain.  In the general population there may be acknowledgement of consciousness in other animals, but then it usually remains isolated to what we consider higher level animals like our dogs, cats, or the apes – again, only through association to humans can we accept functioning self-aware consciousness.  Only recently has the possibility of consciousness just as complex as that of dogs been attributed to pigs and elephants, somewhat less so in cows, and then more generally to the mammal species, while complex, seemingly self-aware intelligence in some non-mammal species, such as in octopi or crows, is also being acknowledged.  As usual, we have humanity at the center of the universe and there is an outward spiral of relevance from there, always the reference point being association with human identity and interests.  We are an egocentric species living in an egocentric culture.  We are a dualistic culture, which means we understand things by disassembling them. 

We are quite blind to a very different perspective which has been held by mystical philosophies of every culture dating back thousands of years, which holds the Universe as THE organism of our cosmic reality and every star, planet, life-form, particle of sand, molecule, and atom is an appendage, an expression of, a cell, an organ in the body of the Universe.  This goes not only for matter, but for consciousness, for these perspectives hold that there is no material world without the world of consciousness pervading and generating it. In the ancient Vedic tradition of South Asia, the progenitor of Hinduism and Buddhism, it is viewed that the Universe is primarily unmanifested consciousness called “Brahman.”  This could equate to Western religions’ notion of God, except that there is no projection of human qualities or volition to shape or interfere in the affairs of humanity; there is simply pure creative infinitely intelligent potential that bursts forth as the physical world, which in its human manifestation is referred to as “Atman.”  The Way of Brahman is called Dharma, quite transcendent of human interests, for Brahman is manifesting an entire Universe.  Wisdom traditions tell us it is wise to align with Dharma, but humans want the Universe to bend to us. This is our fall from Grace.  

Atman roughly equates to the Western notion of soul, yet this does not quite correlate either, for the Western notion of soul has implications of the continuation of the ego or personality, whereas “Atman” is more understood to be the true and original Self which is pure consciousness, the “witness consciousness” of Brahman experiencing and interacting with itself.  Importantly, it is understood that every physical manifestation – every person, animal, plant, mineral formation – is Brahman manifested, Universal consciousness channeled through whatever cognitive capacity the entity possesses – humans more complex than other animals, animals more complex than vegetation, vegetation more complex than mineral, yet, at its essence, through the many, resides the One.  So, this perspective is called non-duality, the recognition that all the Universe is One, manifesting as many.

 So here we are, now thousands of years later, with our anthropomorphic notion of God, our personal, judgmental, lawgiving, divisive notions of God that have been the source of endless divisiveness, conflict and war, which have humanity separated from Nature in a callous relationship of exploitation.  Our science has been the butcher, carving up all of Nature, figuring out how the various cuts can serve humanity, failing to recognize divinity anywhere in our world, not even in humans.  Our theology has God in Heaven and humanity fallen, separate from God, and all the world is just the makings, the great hardware and grocery store for humanity to get our consumer goods.  And we are damn near at the breaking point with this planet-as-store-for-humanity ideology.  God is nowhere to be found. Dharma is ignored.

AND….. almost miraculously, our science, in its slicing everything down to its next level to better discover how to exploit the world, has found….. consciousness.  Science is beginning to recognize consciousness in plants – real cognition, storage of information, and communication kind of consciousness.  Any pre-European invasion Native American could have told you this.  And more.  They would tell you of the animals, the mountains, the rocks, the trees and plants, the rivers and the winds possessing wisdom and speaking to us.  They would also tell you that this phenomenon of consciousness is in all things because it is the consciousness of the Great Spirit.  And in their condescension, Europeans called these magic people superstitious heathens.  As Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, and mystics in every culture would tell you in their own cultural vernacular, we are not the source of consciousness; we are channels, receivers, processors, and broadcasters of consciousness energy originating from Spirit, God, the Cosmos permeating every atom of the material world.  This is also the discovery with which modern Western science is grappling.  Our reductionist bias has had us taking the physical world apart and studying it for four hundred years, and we finally took it apart down to the subatomic level, the quantum-world level, and we find… consciousness in particles interacting with each other, energy waves becoming particles under observation and particles popping out of and back into the quantum soup.  Consciousness beats our hearts and balances the genius biome universe in our guts as well as concentrating, focusing, and working in the very complex organization of matter which is the human brain.

The difference between Western religions’ idea that God created the world like a potter, and the Vedic, the aboriginal, and mystics’ sense that God is IN the world, is the game changer.  The challenge is for humanity to reframe its religious impulse from worshiping the idea of God standing outside of Nature and our everyday world into the sacred spiritual sense of the mystical non-dual traditions.  Science now has evidence corroborating that consciousness pervades not only ourselves but every animal, plant, and mineral of this world.  If we are ready to accept the obvious, that consciousness seems to be functioning not only in our brains but in every cell and organ of our bodies and at the subatomic level of matter, this opens us to a science-based spirituality which heals the human-Nature rift of the modern world.  Yet, science seems unable to cross this boundary to address the very real possibility that there is Universal Consciousness (and what else could we give the name God?).  It is simply too threatening to the existing dualistic, materialistic, egocentric, reductionistic basis of our culture.  With this realization, however, a new civilization can be born – not based in strife and exploitation – but rather in reverence for ALL.  This revelation opens the way for humanity to move forward in this Universe with a viable, beautiful future relating to all as sacred. It takes us out of the dead-end we are now facing.

When you go to a yoga class or a meditation class, there is a good chance you will encounter the greeting phrase “Namaste.” It is a Hindu word which translates as “God within me recognizes and salutes God within you.”  While most of today’s Westernized Hindus do not live this philosophy any more than Christians demonstrate Jesus’s core teachings of universal love, tolerance, acceptance, and non-materialism, a new and viable human civilization will need to be built on a religious foundation of Namaste, not so different from Jesus’s all-encompassing love, the recognition that “we are ALL God’s children,” even the animals, flowers, waters, earth, and air.

The Vedic tradition teaches consciousness, mysterious, infinitely intelligent and creative consciousness energy, in perfect harmony and balance, is our core Self.  To know our true Self, we must penetrate the noise of the egoic, personal mind to find the silent intelligence of infinite, dynamic stillness which flows through us – Its source, the Universe. This is the true purpose of meditation – to find not only our true Self-as-consciousness, but our kinship with all of Life.  How wonderful a realization!  How wonderful a home in the Cosmos, in Nature, in Infinity awaits us there!  Everywhere you look, you discover, as the Vedic teachings tell us, Tat Tvam Asi, I am That.  Life, Sacred intelligence is at work everywhere, unblemished by human ego.  In the Western traditions, this is Eden, and it can be reclaimed.  Western science does not need to be banished; it can be celebrated as the vehicle that took us from ignorance to wisdom at last, its purpose now not to exploit the world, but to protect and join the energies of consciousness and manifestation in harmonious unity.

But first – we must recognize the error, the horror, which is human egocentrism, the viewpoint of separateness and our compulsion to stratification of who and what does and does not count in our mindset of exploitation.  We must begin working our politics, our economics, our religion, and our science toward the true principles of the spiritual impulse that flows through humanity.  We must recognize and realize the intelligence, the Universal Mind of our Source, which tells us our purpose is to celebrate the sacredness of every person, every animal, every plant, and even mineral.  To do this, we must learn individually, and then collectively, to quiet down our restless, greedy, insecure, thinking, emoting minds to find our Source, to find intelligence that is vast and wise and compassionate and knows Dharma.  This is who we are. Then we will know what to do to heal ourselves, our societies and our planet.  This Earth, this Universe, is our real temple.  Let us come home to worship.  Instead of living in the delusion that we have the answers, let us begin living in the open question of the wonder that is human life, always open to include what we had not been able to include before.