#2153 - Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - Editor: Jerry Katz
- The Nondual Highlights#2153 - Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - Editor: Jerry KatzHighlights Home Page and Archive: http://nonduality.com/hlhome.htm
Letter to the Editors: Click 'Reply' on your email program, compose your message, and 'Send'. All the editors will see your letter.Correction: In issue #2148, I stated that Guy Smith was a pseudonym. I have been informed by the publisher that that is the authors' real name. It is not a pseudonym. I apologize to the author and publisher for the error. Please see the corrected review at http://nonduality.com/hl2148.htm.This issue features a book review by W. Andrew Arnold of Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. "The book ultimately asks: 'Could it be that the brain has evolved the ability to transcend material existence, and experience a higher plane of being that actually exists?'”There is also a book review by Jerry Katz of Dancing with the Void, by Sunyata. Meeting Sunyata through his books is an encounter with silence.
Finally there is a selection from a blog on homelessness. For some people, homelessness is a choice, not a necessity. They live in their cars, campers, or vans and bask in the freedom that lifestyle offers. (If this repels you, please consider reading the article anyway.)Book Review: Why God Won't Go Away
W. Andrew Arnold
May 24, 2005
Why God Won’t Go Away
Brain Science and the Biology of Belief.
By Andrew Newberg M.D. & Eugene D’Aquili . M.D. Ph.D 1
“Why God Won’t Go Away” is a book by Andrew Newberg, M.D., an assistant professor in Penn’s
Department of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine. Newberg performed brain imaging on Tibetan monks and
Franciscan nuns while engaged in deep mediation and prayer, respectively. Although the book asks
many questions, the book ultimately asks: “Could it be that the brain has evolved the ability to
transcend material existence, and experience a higher plane of being that actually exists?”
First, the book demonstrates how the various parts of the brain interact to form generic belief. To
illustrate, it uses a very simple example of a hunter who believes that he has heard a leopard in
the brush. Arguing that survival is more important than truth to the hunter (and his genes),
Newberg demonstrates how belief is different from knowing. Humans have a strong tendency to form
beliefs based upon experience and information, which is fundamental. Stated another way, the
neuroscience of belief: “Uncertainty causes anxiety, and anxiety must be resolved.” And from the
most mundane matters to the most important, humans are hardwired to form beliefs about reality.
The book reaches some interesting conclusions, many of which require some degree of interpretation.
Most significantly, the results of studies support a hypothesis that our brains have evolved the
ability to have “mystical” experiences. Mystical experience is defined as “nothing more or less
than an uplifting sense of genuine spiritual union with something larger than the self.” However,
the book does emphasize that some mystical experiences are more intense than others as Newberg
demonstrates the neural pathways that are engaged in a cycle of brain activity, which deepens the
experience each time around this neural loop.
Newberg surveys descriptions across a wide range of religious beliefs and finds that there are
moments of enlightenment, salvation, the presence of God, or bliss, which are described in
strikingly similar ways. Each of these experiences involves the perception that there is a Reality
or Being that transcends material existence, and used the same brain processes to achieve such an
experience. The book states that this process is not always the result of deliberate effort, but
can occur in a variety of ways.
Brain imaging of the monks and nuns observed a pattern of changes in the brain. Part of the
findings are that a “dampening of flow of neural input” (shutting down your mind, emptying your
mind) affects many brain structures, and particularly those that involved in the orientation of the
self, particularly in regards/relative to its spatial environment. The interpretation of the data
was that by blocking information to this self-orientation center, a person loses the sense of
separation and experiences a feeling of unity or a joining with a Absolute Reality or God.
The book also contains discussions about how rituals can help deepen religious experience and help
folks achieve mystical experiences, although deep spiritual experiences are relatively rare. Also,
the book notes that the neural pathways involved in the experience of sexual orgasm are similar to
the neural pathways at work in the mystical experience. It seems that two very basic human
instincts are in some way linked; but the author stresses that the two experiences are not the
same, with the spiritual experience involving the “higher” parts of the brain.
The author cautions against misinterpreting the confirmation of bio-chemical and neurological
explanations for what we feel and experience in relations to God or a Higher Reality. Newburg
challenges the tendency to dismiss these physical manifestations as cause and not merely effect. He
reminds us that all our perceptions exist in the mind, and that just because we can observe the
brain function of a man frightened by a leopard obviously does not lead us to conclude that the
leopard was not real. The book finds more than ample reason to trust our experience of the
spiritual world to the same extent as we trust our experiences of the physical world.
On the other hand, Newberg states that to the degree he concludes the experiences of a unity or
wholeness or communion with a transcendent God are “real,” he believes the results of the study
also confirms a commonality of spiritual experiences across the spectrum of religious beliefs. He
believes the incarnations of God found in various religions’ reduce God to a concept, which is
something less than transcendent. This sentiment was best captured by the poem of C.S. Lewis quoted
in the book:
Footnote to All Prayers
He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolaters, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.
It is the belief of the author (and one which I personally ascribe to) that the incarnations of God
are metaphorical interpretations of the same spiritual reality, and that there is a danger of the
masks constructed to personalize God will interfere with gaining a deeper understanding of the
something much larger and mysterious. However, the author sees metaphorical interpretations
everywhere, and concludes that “all knowledge is metaphorical,” including science. It is a very
In the end the author finds that there is “a strong case that there is more to human existence than
sheer material existence.” The book concludes by finding that our minds naturally are drawn by our
intuition to a deeper reality;, and as long as our minds are capable of experiencing this deeper
reality, the belief in God will not go away.
1. Eugene D’Aquili was involved in the research at the heart of the book but passed away before the
book was written. Accordingly, the references to statements contained in the book are attributed to
Andrew Newberg.Dancing with the Void, by Sunyata. Edited by Betty Camhi and Gurubaksh Rai.
Ordering and further info: http://www.bluedove.com/new_repr/descrip/DanWit.html
One afternoon 1998, I was walking along Santa Monica Boulevard in Santa Monica and I saw a table set-up on the sidewalk outside a small bookstore. One title featured a color photograph of a man who I'd never seen before, but who I could at once see was a communicator of the nature of reality. That day I picked up a copy of Sunyata: The Life & Sayings of a Rare-born Mystic. The book introduced me to a person who -- how do I describe it? -- who was stress-free. Easy to be with. Quiet. Harbouring nothing. Separate from nothing. Strong in his knowing and presence and in his confessions about what is true; strong in his pointing out of "egojies," but always seeing/knowing/being or "awaring" the Self that is the reality of egojies.
Though I know Sunyata only through books and through brief discussions with Betty Camhi, who is the book's editor and who was a friend of Sunyata, I feel close to him, if that's possible. I can understand what editor Betty Camhi says in the Preface to Dancing with the Void: "After listening over a period of several years to ... questions and answers, I found myself becoming less interested in the verbal exchange and more interested in the silence and radiance that was emanating from this 'rare born mystic.' He had a healing presence."
But that's not the book I'm reviewing.
I'm reviewing Dancing with the Void, which is another book by Sunyata and co-edited by Betty Camhi, who co-edited the first book. This book is longer and better organized, but not necessarily a better or lesser introduction to the nature of Sunyata himself. In this book, as in the first one, you experience the silence of Sunyata. The silence comes through in the photographs (what first draw me to him) and his words. This book includes a biography by one of the editors, and several chapters telling of the people Sunyata personally knew: Tagore, Gandhi, Nehru, Ramana Maharshi, and others. Nearly half the book is biographical or autobiographical. The rest of the book consists of chapters on other people and topics: Albert Schweitzer, Milarepa, Kabir, Carl Jung, Gautama Buddha, Mysticism, Suffering, Awakening. The topics of sex, music, art, and death are covered within various chapters.
Throughout this book, on every page, there is the simple utterance of truth. The people and the various topics are very interesting, but secondary. In the spirituality racket it doesn't matter what we talk about because all topics are like the wide end of a funnel, expansive and open to all kinds of discussion, but very soon narrowing to the point at hand, which is the realization of "this." There is a series of such funnels in this book and the topics are certainly there to be enjoyed, studied, contemplated, experienced, savored.
Sunyata, Emmanuel Sorensen, was born in Denmark in 1890. He lived most of his life in India, where he felt most at home, and in the 1970's was invited by the Alan Watts Society to live in the United States. The following exchange reveals and tells much about Sunyata. They are taken from a taped recording of his talk of June 2, 1982.
Question: Why are you here?
Sunyata: Because the Alan Watts Society financed me here.
Question: Why did you do that? What would you teach?
Sunyata: I told them I had nothing to teach and they said, "That's why we wanty you." Aha! How nice! So I am the Silence behind all this noise.
Question: Did you want to come to America?
S: I had no wish to go anywhere. The body wask 84 and perfectly fulfilled, content that I would go to heaven rather than America. Utter constrast. It had to happen. I accepted it. I knew it could be done because they had financed Lama Govinda several times here. Bob Shapiro wrote saying, "Reality wise, Sunyaji doesn't need to do anything." That's why I'm here -- to do nothing.
Q: How did you get on in India?
S: My utter simplicity was an asset there. And my adaptability. I could be at home anywhere.
Q: How did you come to choose India to live?
S: I didn't choose India. India chose me. Tagore invited me to "come to India to teach Silence." And now I come here to America to do nothing. Look at that. Poetic. Tagore felt that Silence. That Silence is a kind of reality to me. It was there in my childhood. It's not the Silence of sound but really the Silence of desire, willfulness, craving, fear.
Q: How did you come to this Silence?
S: I was born so. And that was what the great sage in South India [Ramana Maharshi] said of me -- "a rare-born mystic." I didn't know what "mystic" was. I mean, what Ramana Maharshi meant by it. I built my hut in the Himalayas and lived there in solitude. No language to express it. Then the language grew up in letters to friends.
Though the chapters in the book do not actually take the form of letters, one chapter is presented as a letter. The title of the chapter is Suffering. It consists of a long letter from Daniel, a patient in the mental ward of an army hospital. Daniel had been in communication with Sunyata, uses Sunyata's terminology, and understands Sunyata's statements of truth, but the suffering is great. Daniel writes to Sunyata:
"I am in a state of anxiety -- my anguish unbearable. It is not mental depression, but just anxiety, fearful and blinkered, perhaps. Breath is choked, a heavy weight lies on the heart, the pain is both physical and mental. What is the meaning of this overwhelming pain? Why? Wherefore? How to escape it? How to live through it?
"Surely, suffering is the characteristic of human life. But in a hospital, in a prison and in a mental home, this suffering is starkly uncovered and undisguised and strikes one right in the face."
These are long letters. In part, Sunyata replies: "Weep and cry -- Dan, accept and dissolve. Let the due suffering overwhelm ego and ego-ridden mind. You will emerge. You are invincible. Sin, Karma, Self, God, etc., are all words, words, words, concepts and abstractions, until they happen to us and often painfully. The sin is ignorance, unawareness, blinkers and ego blindness, so don't harbor, develop or nourish a sin-complex or guilt complex. Karma, prenatal, pre-ego and ego-made, must be accepted as a fact in living. It can be atoned -- and we need not accumulate any more prarabdha. By our attitude and integral awareness, it is accepted, atoned and transcended. So let's drop our cumbersome conceit of agency, says Wuji."
Dancing with the Void is a gift of healing, wholeness, reality, silence. There is a side story told in Betty Camhi's preface. This book would never have been born if it were not for a highly improbable meeting between Betty and the man who was entrusted with writings that became this book. That meeting was apparently mediated or grace-given by Ammachi. Betty's Preface ornaments this book with a light entirely its own, one which makes us laugh at non-separateness simplicity of everything. I recommend a meeting with Sunyata.
~ ~ ~
Dancing with the Void, by Sunyata. Edited by Betty Camhi and Gurubaksh Rai.
Ordering and further info: http://www.bluedove.com/new_repr/descrip/DanWit.html
For some people, homelessness is a choice, not a necessity. They live in their cars, campers, or vans and bask in the freedom that lifestyle offers. It's not an easy life, but for some it is preferable to working long hours at jobs they don't like and paying rent, mortgage, upkeep on residences, and paying other prices for things they don't want anyway. I've never lived that way and do not recommend it, but it is an alternative that mentally healthy, nice people sometimes choose. Living on the margins of society often opens a person to nondual realization because it affords a perspective from which it can easily be seen that social barriers and boundaries are artificial and people are a product of their thoughts. For example, reading this paragraph, do the fences formed by your own thoughts seem compromised? Perhaps consider what Sunyata said when asked how he got by living in India: "My utter simplicity was an asset there. And my adaptability. I could be at home anywhere." I offer that the mainstream fears simplicity and the kind of lifestyle that naturally arises out of it, such as homelessness, or being poor, or living alone in sad rooms. It may ultimately be the healthiest thing, but the American mainstream seems to hate it. --Jerry Katz (note: I did not write the following article. It is from a blog.)
WAKE UP! You are frittering your LIFE away on FEAR!
Is it wrong that all your blogs seem to be luring me to a life of homelessness? I read these things and I think: You could have a nice life with no bills! It is so enticing. I have lots of bills, but I make enough to cover them AND save for retirement, but it means I have to work 50-70 hours a week, half a day on weekends. And I am worried all the time about whether I will work again after my last job, and I owe on my mortgage and my mother's mortgage. I lost half my savings in the market plunge, and it took me twenty years to save that much. So, I HAD to work again. I was still working, and I like my work, but the option of not working was no longer a choice for me. The worry about bills and debts is constant and chronic, and keeps me up at night, and makes me depressed during the day. I have a nice car, a nice house, a great job, and still, I have all the same feelings you do. This is a terrible way to live. And isn’t it strange that it doesn’t matter whether you’re homeless or not? Having things and a job does not make life easier AT ALL. I once even had a gorgeous 2 story home near the ocean that was designed and built all for me. It was “Zen Modern”. The whole idea was to have nature indoors and out, and have a sense of peace. It was wonderful and impressive, everyone used to say, “You should get this into Architectural Digest.” After a year of living there, I decided to sell it. The number of people it took to keep the place up was ridiculous. The constant work it needed was mind-boggling. I realized I was responsible for a small workforce that I needed to direct almost every day as to what needed to be done to keep the Zen Palace MAINTAINED. It was too much. So I sold it. Everyone else was so disappointed. They loved the house. And, yes, it was lovely, but the whole ZEN thing was a horrible lie. It was the most labor intensive house I had ever owned. This is the thing people don’t realize: How things look from the outside is never what you think. People thought living in my zen home would be peaceful and fulfilling. I thought being homeless would be the most horrible thing that could ever happen to me. And it is that VERY FEAR that has driven my entire life and career. I never thought, “I need to be rich so I don’t have to live in a modest ranch home in Oregon. “ I thought, “I need to be rich so I won’t ever be homeless.” And reading your posts has been like someone throwing ice water on my face. WAKE UP! You are frittering your LIFE away on FEAR!