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SANTHIP  KANHOLY

Graduate Research Assistant, Virginia Tech : Aerospace & Ocean Engineering

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What does science has to say about enlightenment or the consciousness of an enlightened individual ?

All religions speak of a non-dual consciousness state which can be experienced individually. My question is what does science has to say about enlightenment that has been experienced by Buddha and other present day enlightened individuals ? What can it say to help us in pointing towards that non-dual state of consciousness ?

I have been fortunate enough to have access to an enlightened individual. So I have been witness to how different they are. I want to know what does science have to say about the consciousness

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    Minh Do

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    Mar 17 2011: I made a note of this before in another discussion but just for posterity here: enlightenment is not the correct translation of "bodhi" in the Buddhist canon, which implies a finality. Awakening is the correct translation, and thus has different implications for how to picture that experience or continuous state of mind.

    I think it's hard enough trying to pin down what is mind, let alone what is awakening. I think the closest science has gotten to that is the studies that neuroscientists have done with some of the Dalai Lama's meditation monks, and other related studies. I don't think triptamine is a full-proof explanation as there are different types of minds that have achieved different types of realizations with different types of meditation. For example, the experience of compassion, one of the central points of Buddhist doctrine and a defining factor of an awakened person, does not trigger triptamine, but a whole 'nother part of the brain associated with sympathy.

    I think ecstatic-ness and extreme exuberance generated by drugs or certain chemicals in the brain do not define awakening as awakening is defined by a realization into the nature of reality and mind that stays in a person's being until death. Drugs and chemical reactions are temporary.
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      Apr 5 2011: I agree that science still has much to traverse before coming to accurately capture and portray what the nature of non-dual or the ultimate consciousness would be.

      Awakening, and enlightenment is the same experience that is being described using different words, I feel.

      Is not mind a collection of thoughts ? I would prefer to use this definition for the mind, and then separate consciousness/ awareness as that within which the mind/thoughts move. But yes... science can hardly say what a "thought" is.. or would describe a thought to be hard to measure ...
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      Mar 24 2011: In the buddhist definition, nirvana is defined by no longer experiencing suffering, no longer being reborn, seeing into the essential nature of reality (which includes seeing/experiencing all thing as impermanent, seeing things as essentially not having a self, and seeing things as ultimately unsatisfactory).

      Essentially, an awakened person, through practice that leads to insight into the nature of their own minds (and reality) is no longer subject to the negative emotions that tend to govern and control our lives. In a lot of ways, it can be said that an awakened person is the king of their domain and has full control of all their actions because they see through a lot of the nonsense that makes up our daily lives. For example, an un-awakened person would get hit by a friend and react with anger, sadness or whatever. The awakened person, in the same situation might respond with compassion for the person, or with sensibility or whatever. This is because the awakened person sees the big picture (or the ultimate picture), he is not caught up in the details of why this person hit him or how or how he should react in retribution. In Chinese Zen, a term was coined as "host" and "guest"...The awakened Master is the host and the students are the guests. Because the host hosts emotions and experiences whereas the guest is controlled or conquered by emotions and experiences. The host knows the whole house and reacts accordingly. The guest only knows one room and reacts accordingly.
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          Minh Do

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          Mar 25 2011: Hi Birdia, Wow. That's a broad stroke of different schools of thought and practices that I'm not sure I could answer comprehensively. But I will try my best here...

          From what I have studied in Zen (Ch'an) Buddhism, they are all linked. Chinese Zen takes its roots through Indian Buddhism (Bodhidharma) and Japanese and Korean takes their roots from Chinese. In Zen, they consider the unbroken lineage of Masters as paramount. A sidenote on that though, if you check out one of my favorite books, Swampland Flowers which features talks, letters and responses from Master Ta-Hui. In the introduction they make reference to a rather famous quotation in Ch'an, that "half a man is better than no man", which means that sometimes a Master cannot find a successor that is equal in his level of realization but is enough to pass on the torch to the next generation. Having said that, there's also famous stories (specifically in Ta-Hui's case) wherein the student's realization surpasses the Masters and the Master has full acknowledgment of that (Ta-Hui's Master actually used to come down from the pulpit and sit and listen to his own student's lectures). You can make of that what you will...

          My knowledge of Hinduism (philosophy and especially practice) is very limited so I'll refrain from making comparisons there, but will say that I think that the thesis that "all religions point to the same realization" may be a bit hasty, especially given the above.

          If we want to look at orthodox Mahayana schools (and also evidenced in root Theravadin texts) there are certainly different levels of realization. At the root of the Mahayana awakening is compassion and the vows to stay in this world until all suffering is over (arguably never). In non-Mahayana, one only seeks to leave samsara and end suffering for oneself. The types of mental practice are certainly different and arguably lead to different mental experiences.
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          Mar 25 2011: Anytime! This is certainly one of my favorite topics. And i do hope that neuroscience will take greater interest in the topic. Theres a book titled Zen and the Brain but i have yet to open it up. Now if only the mind as byproduct discussion was less cluttered we could get into some meat. Hehe. Although i have been loving some statements people have been making. Your take?
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          Minh Do

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          Mar 28 2011: Birdia, I know what you mean. It seems people don't like to stick with hard facts and argue through the validity of statements. Nevertheless, one of the things I did like was Kathy K's statement that thoughts are not generated by the brain but pass through the brain. Not sure how true this is, but it is certainly provocative. But then we would have to come up with a more agreeable definition of "thought".
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        Apr 5 2011: I guess it would be better to say an awakened person allows emotion to pass through them, rather than allowing the emotions to run around the center of an ego or an individual identity with the transient ( body , achievements , possessions etc )

        A zen master can display anger too. Just wanted to say that here.. from what you have said it would seem like all masters are compassionate, and they cannot display a "negative" emotion per say.... But would say that they donot allow emotions to affect the peace within, be it anger or compassion :)
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    Mar 23 2011: Some of us think we know everything and some of us know that we know nothing.
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      Apr 5 2011: very true.. But those who know everything realizes how little they actually know ... :)
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        Apr 6 2011: I would qualify that and say that only SOME of those who think they know everything think that they know a little.
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          Apr 7 2011: I agree.. in the end, some would claim that there is nothing to know at all.. Some call them enlightened.. :-)
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      Apr 6 2011: Some of us think that we know everything and some of us know that we know little.
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        Apr 6 2011: Jimmy ...I still cling to my statement that we actually know nothing except that we do not know because all the input we have into our brain is sensory and we believe our eyes, ears, etc. If you were to compare faith and paranoia, they are both beliefs, except that one exists in a climate of love and the other in a climate of hate. (:>)
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    Mar 16 2011: Santhip: Can you define what you mean by enlightenment? You apparently have a conception which divides people into two groups - enlightened and non-enlightened. What distinguishes the two? Are people ever born enlightened? If some are born un-enlightened and transition into a state of enlightenment what defines that transition point?
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      Apr 5 2011: The definition of enlightenment above is that direct experience of non-dual consciousness. The people who are enlightened have experienced this state of non-dual consciousness and has this state of consciousness as the active state of consciousness to the point of no thought at all.So the distinguishing factor would be the state of consciousness. But it isn't just the state of no thoughts. But a state of no thoughts which happen after the complete recognition of the illusory nature of the "ego" or the individual "me" , including the attachments , agendas etc.. to the point that they do not feel themselves to be separate from the flow of the universe, and they do not have a sense of identity, which everybody usually possess with the word "I" .

      I don't know if babies are born enlightened. But I would say that the original nature of consciousness is that of the non-dual consciousness. But perhaps they do not recognize this. But society adds conditionings upon our consciousness making us beleive that we are the conditionings that cover this original non-dual nature of consciousness.

      The transition point would be the direct experience of non-dual consciousness to the extent that the external and the internal persona we hold on to as our sense of identity, is blown off. If you ask them who they are, they would say, I am that which is non-dual and which has never been born or dead :-)
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    Mar 16 2011: Science doesn't say anything about the enlightenment experienced by Buddha.
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      Mar 16 2011: It has been claimed that the chemical triptamine ( not sure ) is the reason why individuals experience mystical experiences. Can that explain enlightenment as well ?