A Song for the Neuroscientists (Avadhuta Gita)

Weekend Thoughts: A Gita for the Neuroscientists

First it was physics, now it’s neuroscience. The scientific community has always delighted in casting its sceptical eye on the spiritual and mystic dimensions of life. And our ‘rational’, modern age, has readily granted them the position of ‘experts’ with few stopping to consider that title for the other side instead.

Modern neuroscientists have been able to make careers expounding theories that play with the mystical. There’s the science of ‘consciousness hacking’ which purports to use technology to enhance human experience. There’s also the ‘Integrated information theory’ which purports to measure the extent/depth of consciousness in each living thing. Most recently, efforts are starting to be made to achieve immortality through AI. In short, the list is long.

In his latest book, Two Saints, Indian journalist and author Arun Shourie has gone so far as to suggest (based again on the testimony of neuroscience) that the sadhana of the saints Ramakrishna Parmahansa and Sri Ramana Maharshi was marked by sleep disorder and unhealthy effects on the mind and brain. I must declare upfront that I have not read the entire book but the excerpts and book reviews that I have read have confirmed that deeper association with the book would be a colossal waste of time and money. Such comments about sleep deprivation showcase a poetic irony in that saints who are ‘awake’ are accused of not sleeping enough!

To our scrupulous neuroscientists, I propose a certain song (gita) of timeless origin in India – the Song of the Avadhuta or the Avadhuta Gita. Credited to the sage Dattatreya, the Avadhuta Gita is the song of every enlightened soul, including the avadhuts Sri Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna Parmahansa whose perception of life transcended the senses. Indeed, the basic fallacy in the scientific approach in assessing spiritual matters is its insistence on objective and measurable experience whereas spirituality belongs to the realm of the subjective.

He does not attain a “many” or a “One” that is separate from himself;
It is not something other, like an object with length and breadth.
It cannot be objectively proven, or compared with anything;
It’s the Lord, the Self, the Eternal, he attains.
(Avadhuta Gita, II: 36*)

The basic problem is that scientists keep turning up to scrutinise the mystical with their measuring sticks, trying to employ their senses and mind to figure out what is beyond the senses and mind. And we watch as they churn out theories and data about Consciousness, which attempts can be likened to someone bumping into furniture in a dark room. “No, it’s not this”, “not that”, “wrong again” sigh the enlightened sages. Neti, neti.

You are the ultimate Reality; have no doubt.
The Self is not something known by the mind;
The Self is the very one who knows!
How, then, could you think to know the Self?
(Avadhuta Gita, I: 42*)

In my view, the neuroscientists would be better off trying to understand the meaning of the following lines to better satisfy their curiosity about the physical and mental “condition” that a mystic experiences. This is the state of the avadhuta who has transcended space and time:

I’ve put an end to both wavering and unwavering;
I don’t even imagine thought.
I’ve put an end to both dreaming and waking;
I neither sleep nor wake.
I’ve put an end to animate and inanimate;
I’m neither moving nor still.
I’m nectarean knowledge, unchanging bliss; I’m everywhere, like space.
(Avadhuta Gita, III: 16*)

The two saints Ramana and Ramakrishna are not physically here anymore but their message is always timelessly here and quite apt for our mind-obsessed friends:

O mind, my friend, what’s the good of so much speaking?
O mind, my friend, all of this has been made quite clear.
I’ve told you what I know to be true;
You’re the ultimate Reality. You’re unbounded, like space.
(Avadhuta Gita, I: 68*)

The Avadhuta Gita has to be felt and experienced, not simply heard. Indeed it is a song without a tune. A song that each one must set to the tune of their own life.

*Dattatreya: Song of The Avadhut translated by Swami Abhayananda
Also see an
earlier article I wrote on similar themes and a recently published post on LWP where the spiritual teacher Mooji (in the lineage of Sri Ramana) explains what the path of self-enquiry is about.

See also: The Face of Grace, Ramana Maharshi 


Important Updates

We will be counting down to Yoga Day on 21 June with an article a day on yoga – some old, some new, ranging from articles on how to begin yoga, to more philosophical aspects. We’ll also feature a selection of 10 yoga-asanas – one a day staring tomorrow to get you in the mood!

Weekly Digest

Finishing up with a weekly round-up from LWP in case you missed it (scroll down to see more details):

Monday Recipe: Red Pesto, a vitamin powerhouse
Tuesday: Researcher Kiran Varanasi’s thoughts on how the computational nature of Sanskrit is directly relevant to science and ecology and can show us the way forward
Wednesday: Nimisha Bowry’s thoughts on the ‘As You Like It Generation’ in the LivLite section
Thursday: Beloo Mehra’s walk through the beauty and divinity of an Indian temple
Friday: Ranjan Bakshi’s review of Nithin Sridhar’s book, Musings on Hinduism
Saturday: An introduction to self-inquiry with a short clip by spiritual master Mooji discussing The Most Important Question
Last Sunday’s Newsletter: “We Won’t Always Have Paris”

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