The Apex of Consciousnes
Abstract: Apex of Consciousness explores the idea that there are higher levels of consciousness leading to the presence of God or Nirvana. It asks where the idea for higher consciousness came from? Does science have all the answers or does science have its limits? Are we talking about the same phenomena in all religions? And how do we go about experiencing this for ourselves? All that and more is explored in Apex of Consciousness. A related article by the author, the "Journey of the Universe," [archive.org] expresses the idea that signs of higher consciousness can be inferred in physical matter.
"Man is My mystery, and I am his mystery."
'Who are we?' A question of human identity, but also a search for meaning and purpose. By asking, it is assumed that we do not fully understand our nature, otherwise why ask in the beginning. However, life might be easier if we did not ask. We wouldn't then be haunted by a hole made in our being by the question. Nevertheless, this tendency has defined human existence since the beginnings of civilisation; it is an undeniable urge to scratch the surface of an issue and investigate further. We want to know why anything is the way it is, the most fundamental being, who we are and how it is we find ourselves in this infinite and beautifully complex universe.
If we look at the incredible advances made in science and technology in recent times, we can see that these advances are a consequence of our attempt to ask why we exist. Nearly every manifestation of human culture is a vicarious reference to our search for meaning. However, what is meaning, how can it be defined. At the simplest level, it is to find what is really true about the phenomena we are looking into. Truth denotes the worth or relative importance of an object which in turn defines how meaningful it is to us. Truth puts us at ease. We like to know we are not bound to an illusion or fantasy of our own construction. If we think we understand some truth in our life, it helps us to achieve a level of contentment.
But what truth, that's the problem; our times seem to be plagued with relativity's of all kinds, whether of an ethical or social nature. How do we know that what we understand to be true, really is true? What is universally understood about being human has multiplied and branched in so many directions that a common meaning seems a long way off. Traditional sources of meaning like religion and mythology are declining and dividing, science has struck out on its own, understandably in many cases. What we are left with, are threads, which at times may seem impossible to unravel.
For some of us life in the universe is unremarkable, we are just incredibly smart animals at the top of the pecking order of evolving biological life on planet earth. Asking ourselves questions without definitive answers is only torturing ourselves needlessly. We might hear something like, 'be content with the prosaic nature of life and just get on with it, there is no ultimate meaning to anything'. Though inevitably, we will be drawn to asking questions about wider issues. It is true we are animals in the purely biological sense; the problem is we seem to be a bit smarter than we should be. We do not fit in proportionately with the rest of our animal friends. No other animal drives cars, use mobile phones or surf the Internet. In fact, human life in nearly every aspect is almost alien to every other form of life on earth, but more importantly, no other animal asks 'why it exists' or even 'why it dies'. If we look back a few million years, it would emerge that a large chasm has always existed. Though the difference seemed negligible, when viewing the faint horizon of human emergence, we have always been a world apart from our fellow animals. If there is not something mysterious about this difference in powers, then it is more than a little odd. We are to all intense purposes alone on a small speck of blue, whizzing around a larger speck of light in a vast illimitable universe, scratching our heads as to how 'we' and the rest of 'it' got here. Is it by some strange but amazing accident that we find ourselves in this universe or is there evidence of design and purpose (see dimitritishler.com/blog/2011/09/18/journey-of-the-universe)?
Contributing to our sense of aloneness is our mind; it sets us apart from the rest of life on this planet. We are self-aware and capable of incredibly complex and abstract thought. We have had to develop language as a way of communicating our multifaceted conceptual processes. Although our exploration of meaning and purposefulness is conducted in our physical environment, it is essentially an external projection of an inner condition.
Our search for meaning throughout history has taken us in every conceivable direction. Humanity today is a rich tapestry of cultures with diverse traditions, mythologies, philosophies and art forms. More recently, we have had the addition of science to illuminate our physical condition more than at any time in the past. Nevertheless, science is a new arrival, a small blip on the time line of history, it evolved from an earlier relative. That is of course religion, that most fundamental and persistent of cultural phenomena. All manner of science and philosophy had its early development in Islamic countries. While many Christian countries were burning books considered heretical, Islamic culture was preserving that same knowledge.
Today it is well known, that a split between religion and science in the western world, has been developing for several hundred years. It was bound to happen, as science did not benefit from being shackled to proving biblical truths that were in the main, no more than allegorical.
It is most likely that humans have never been without religion in some form. Religion has traditionally supplied humanity with purpose and place in the cosmos. Science is now vying with religion to help humanity practically in the everyday sense with technology, but also with broader questions of the creation of the universe, which it can and must do. Science however is not a cure-all or replacement for religion's failures, science has limits, in some case profound limits. It has limits to what it can discover purely within its own realm. John D. Barrow in his book 'Impossibility, The Limits of Science and the Science of Limits' explores these issues.
"Any talk of limits to science will alarm many people and comfort others. There are some who would equate the very idea of limits to scientific knowledge with a violation of our freedom of thought and action…. Yet, the more we try to grasp what science is, how it relates to the activity of human minds, the more we are drawn towards the possibility that limits might be deeply rooted in the nature of things. They might even define that nature of things."
The limits of science are bound to the limits of the human mind, not to the limits of the universe. Science also has social limits, like the moral and ethical use of scientific knowledge, an example being nuclear war and Hiroshima or genetic engineering and human cloning. Science does not have moral answers for these problems. Where and how do you draw the line, is there a moral gene that can give us the answers? I am not so sure, but that does not mean we should not go on trying to discover the impossible, it is how we use knowledge that is important, but it is Religion that has been one of the strongest advocates of the impossible.
It is in the religious context that ideas of self are taken to the widest extreme. We have derived meaning, not just for the immediacy of our physical condition – prescience – but beyond. Religion has traditionally stretched the frontiers of human experience past what is directly perceivable to the senses, expanding the definition of reality to include ideas of a non-physical nature. Some of these might include spirit or soul, a transcendent immortal counterpart to matter, which invariably includes in various forms the concept of an afterlife beyond the death of the physical body. Central to most monotheistic religions is the idea of a single compassionate intelligence behind the creation of the universe. Although this Creator brought the physical creation into being it is generally assumed that its essence is not physical in substance. There are ideas of transcendence above the physical, but at the same time paradoxically immanence, or complete closeness and proximity to the physical. As an example, there are some traditions that say that if the influence of this creator were withdrawn from the physical world for less than a moment it would completely collapse and cease to exist.
There are physical parallels, take gravity, it is a single physical law of attraction, which holds the matter in the cosmos in place. Gravity is an invisible universal principle that transcends the limits of diverse localised formations of matter; it acts universally on all matter, reaching out and touching the illimitable distances in the universe with ease. You cannot touch, taste, see or hear gravity, it transcends the physical senses, but we know it exists through intellectual extrapolation. However, an infinite intelligence is not gravity, which only affects the physical aspect of existence. By definition, gravity itself would have to be an extension of its creative power. It is the cause of physical laws, but in no way confined by them.
The creative process itself is an act of intelligence. Any human built product like a computer or work of art requires the mind engaging its analytical and imaginative powers. It would seem the human mind and body itself is a product of incredible intelligence. It displays attributes of order, harmony, flexibility, adaptive invention, complexity and many others. Humans cannot even come close to creating something as complex and imaginative as their own body, let alone the mind or for that matter a whole universe. The creation of an infinite universe implies the existence of infinite intelligence. Intelligence at a human level points to the existence of consciousness, a self-aware mind. If the creation of the universe is a sign of self-awareness, then there is possibility of a relationship with that Self. This forms the beginning of the fundamental premise at the base of every religion. It is the interaction of the Self at the Apex of Creation with the self of humanity as a part of that creation. With every religion there are different names given for this infinite intelligence, God, Allah, Yahweh, Brahma and many others. Note: from here on, for practicality, the word God will be used in most cases, although it is used in the most general sense of the word.
Knowing that God may have a Self does not put us any closer to a relationship. There is still an impossible degree of separation from the physical, which would isolate humanity. A human being confined to a finite body is limited in its ability to have a direct rapport with a creator, which is infinite, invisible, universal and non-physical. How then does the possibility of any relationship exist? How is the gap between finite and infinite to be bridged? We cannot make the first step; God will have to reach out towards us. This is where, in most religions, the idea of an intermediary between humanity and God exists. Normally they are called a Prophet, Sage, or Manifestation of God. It has always been somewhat controversial how a human being, essentially confined to the same limits as any other person, can be an intermediately. Particularly as it is an internal event, which cannot be directly verified.
The answer usually involves a combining of the human mind with the infinite mind. Through this co-mingling, a oneness arises which becomes seamless, and completely whole. There are a series of classic archetypal stories, which explain how this process happens. In some religious traditions, God approaches the prophets, imposing a revelation on them. This is the unwilling Hero scenario, where initially unwilling they concede to a higher will. The other, is the Prophet seeks out God in a search that takes them through a difficult and arduous journey, but they eventually triumph. The last is that they were always a reflection of Gods essence, no effort was required, and they somehow had a pre-existent divine soul – different and distinct from the human soul.
At some point, they announce to their follow humans the news, often with mixed results. As well as being open to change, humans are equally closed and threatened by change. The message from God usually involves a level of change which threatens the established norms of cultural life. Nevertheless, to those open to the new ideas, the messenger will try to show them how they to can approach God.
The founders of all the great religions have tried to formulate ways of living life which allow each person to approach the Self of God in daily life. The physical world acts then as conduit for internal mental symbol and metaphor. External conditions reinforce inner conditions of mind or self. The mind is trained to become paradoxically disciplined, but also open and supple to the ego being transformed into something higher. In the process the attributes of the contingent world are left behind, or rather attachment to contingent attributes falls away. The person then approaches the eternal and infinite world. Some of these devices include mediation, prayer, fasting and the practice of morality. Virtues are practised, like compassion and loving-kindness towards all humanity. In many cases, the peak experience for any practitioner has been to touch the mind of God at the highest level. We are talking here not just of a detached intellectual knowledge of our interconnectedness with the universe. As wonderful and awe inspiring as that is, there is difference between knowledge that is passively factual and that which is a direct experience of the reality which that knowledge may describe.
Two features of peak experiences have emerged that are strikingly similar regardless of belief system. A person undergoes a change in basic identity, their sense of self is transformed, that is, the perception of who they are shifts. Some have described it as a merging of the human self with the Self of God. The other feature is the experience of their state of being undergoes a transformation. It is as if the mind is immersed in a different substance. In the same way, when we swim underwater our physical reactions slow down due to the density of the water. Underwater, sounds appear different, the quality of light changes, there is calm and peacefulness, as our body floats in suspension. Paradoxically the transcendent states of being are incorporated seamlessly into normal everyday mundane existence. It is a subjective, but also universal and extrasensory enlargement of perception. The identity of the person moves from a more limited to expansive grander sense of Self.
It has been given many names such as nirvana, paradise, heaven, eternity and many others; various sages, mystics and philosophers have tried to describe it. Although not unnatural to humans, this state is essentially mysterious and difficult to attain at its highest level. At its most expansive and most soul stirring, we are faced with the limits of language and rational thought. Like a person who tries to describe to another, who has never experienced swimming in water, the clear water of the ocean and the beautiful warmth of the sun. Words then become empty and hollow, as they reach the limit of their power to impart understanding. The best that any of these pioneers could do was to lay down a way to attain it, which is what constitutes Sacred Scriptures in nearly every religion. Words are the beginning of the process. The end of the process is trying to attain in daily life a direct experience of the reality the scriptures describe.
However, this state is not some private psychological paradise that makes one impervious to the suffering of others. It is an unconditional selfless abandonment of the ego, and all the petty concerns for power, prestige and status. People in this state would treat all with equal loving-kindness and compassion. The relative distinctions that form a basis of separation between people begin to dissolve. The soul of each person begins to reflect the singular beauty of an eternal loving principle. Oneness emerges, which is reflected in all things, creation shimmers with clarity as the mysteries of life begin to unfold. Every persons mind becomes a doorway to the secrets of existence, in which the signature of a single creator is decipherable on every heart. But this is not a merging with the essence of God, rather the transformation of the self within, to a higher state of Self. A wonderful story that describes this journey is the poem 'Conference of the birds' by Persian Sufi poet Faridu'd-Din Attar (ca. 1150-1230 A.D). He tells the story of a band of birds who go on a journey looking for their King, a symbol for God. At the end they find a lake, in which their images reflect the Kingly attributes within them.
This is no small feat, some would say a bit over ambitious. Nevertheless, it is not impossible depending on how you approach the idea; everyone must have the capacity to perceive the divine in some way. If it were not attainable and natural then religion could not be regarded as universal to all humanity. It seems that there are degrees or stages in achieving the presence of God within oneself, like the steps of a ladder. The idea of stages allows each person to approach gradually, adjusting slowly to the increasing intensity of the light within. We have some evidence of this in most religious traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and most recently the Bahá'í Faith. Indeed as one begins to compare and contrast different concepts in the Scriptures of the world's faiths, the principles that underpin the process of spiritual ascent begin to look very similar. One will discern threads of interconnectedness beginning to pull tighter, until a puzzle unravels that shows clearly the need for religion has evolved from a single impulse. It makes some sense, that if oneness exists in our physical reality, then if a force or being behind creation exists it too should be one.
What we are talking about then is many names for the same reality, similar to an apple in many languages; what ever you call it is still an apple. This idea is essential to understanding the reality of a universal and transcendent state of being. Each of the great teachers such as Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Mohammed and Bahá'u'lláh have adapted different ways of attaining this state, but essentially these have been starting points, which took the limits of the cultures they emerged from into account. Superficially, they may differ, but in reality the same end point is the goal.
An apt way to describe this, is the viewing of a sculpture as if it were the eternal reality of God, from each viewpoint is appears different. If the linear sequence of time is drawn in a circle around the sculpture, each different viewpoint is then the perspective of each religion. As religion emerges, it evolves by responding to what it sees – both what is common to every viewpoint, but also what is different and unique to each angle. These would be the cultural and social conditions at different points of time in history. As each religion restated ideas of the Eternal, we gained a clearer understanding of what the object 'the Eternal' looked like. A sculpture is a finite object, and God is infinite, therefore we will never come to the end of a process of describing what the reality of God is, it will continue forever. Ultimately, the aim is to lift of the human mind to a state from which it can perceive directly, that everything in existence emanates from a single source. The end process then, is that the heart of each person not only witnesses the awesome eternal singularity of life, but also eventually merges with that reality insofar as their capacity allows.
But what is the starting point for this, where does one derive the assumption that religion is a unified process, which simply redefines the search for God over time. Many religions today would affirm that they are separate entities. Taken separately, each talk as if they are different and disconnected traditions of spiritual attainment? In modern times, far from providing spiritual attainment, religious difference has been the cause of much human misery, bloodshed and prejudice. Science at least has provided a relatively open platform to explore the physical reality of human life. Religion on the other hand has in many cases worked against us, often going against its on maxims. Such as 'love thy neighbour', unless he disagrees with you, is a different colour, race or religion, in which case kill him with impunity. This makes the search for common meaning unpalatable, as it suggests God regards some humans as superior over others. This is not a great picture of an All-loving, unconditionally compassionate mind. Rather it is a reflection of the frailty, and at times fragmented nature of the human character. Like most human agencies, religion will inevitably decline, moving away from the original purity of its principles. Religion reflects the organic, evolutionary and inevitably changeable world it inhabits. It declines, ages and becomes open to the petty corruption, that it was trying to mitigate in the first place.
It is from the life and writings of an 19th Century Persian mystic that ideas of a religious oneness emerge. Bahá'u'lláh had not only a profound and original mind, but was also a wonderfully compassionate human being. Initially he was a follower of an earlier Prophet named 'The Bab' ('The Gate' translated from Persian), but later went on to realise that he too was a Manifestation of God. Like all those great teachers that had preceded him, he had found a pathway to the ancient pre-existent being.
He claimed that he had had direct experience of these higher states of being. Of the religious teachers in the past we have at most, second hand accounts of their sayings. It becomes difficult to verify the authenticity of their writings. They have also been distinctly quiet on certain details. The Buddha is a good example, as he described this higher state of being as Nirvana, but refused to go into any full descriptive detail of what this state might be. This problem is resolved in the case of Bahá'u'lláh, who wrote a multitude of books, prayers and meditations in his own hand. More than this, he wrote several books dealing directly with the subject of a ladder of spiritual ascent. This idea is explored in the 'The Seven Valleys', Gems of Divine Mysteries' and the 'Hidden Words'. The first, describes seven levels of consciousness, and the second adds an extra two, making a total of nine levels of development, valleys or cities. In order, they are Search, Love, Knowledge, Unity, Contentment, Wonderment, Nothingness, Immortality and the City with No Name. The 'The Hidden Words' describes the same process in a less linear fashion. It disperses the essence of all religions more abstractly across a series of small self-contained and compact verses.
To understand the full implications of many of the concepts Bahá'u'lláh explores in the 'Seven Valleys' and 'Gems of Divine Mysteries', it is important to explore the general framework of Bahá'u'lláh's spiritual principles – the moral and philosophical underpinnings. To see part of a whole, it helps to see the whole first. When you see the foundation supporting a concept, only then will relationships between the parts and the whole become clear. Then the nine stages of the transformation of the self will find a proper context.
So then it is not for us to take this on it face value, but to confirm or deny this through our own experience. To find the truth of anything one must first seek it, then once it has been found, confirm that is the thing which was originally sought and if it is, then to examine it with an open mind to prove its truth. More than this, truth really needs to be lived and practised, absorbed into the fabric of a persons being and today we live in a society that has become more attuned to instant and immediate results. The sort of time it takes to develop oneself to be ready for these states of being can be a lifetime or at least many years. For that kind of investment of time, you'd like to sure you will get a result, and for that reason many never set on this path of self-discovery. So I hope the reader of this article will have the patience and diligence needed to set out and explore for themselves the limits of the Apex of their own Consciousness.