From Schroedinger's Cat to Krishnamurti's Dog: mysticism as the 1st person science of consciousness

Published in Consciousness Research Abstracts, proceedings of the "Tucson II" conference (Journal of Consciousness Studies) Arizona: University of Arizona

The Tucson conference was a great experience and meeting place. I made a brief presentation at one of the parallel sessions (see link below to the complete session), following a lively presentation by A.L.Smith on the comparison between cosmic consciousness and LSD experience. The hall was packed, more it seemed out of interest in the latter than the former. It was a hard act to follow, and althought the Krishnamurti's Dog Problem aroused some curiosity, there was not much scope for debating the important part: mysticism as the 1st person science of consciousness. The paper outline promises to introduce the work of Douglas Harding, but there was not space in the abstract or time at the conference to do so. Hence I include a link to Harding's Web site:

Link to Douglas Harding Home page

The Tucson conference is the major international meeting place for Studies in Consciousness.

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`Devi, imagine the Sanskrit letters in these honey-filled foci of awareness, first as letters, then more subtle as sounds, then as most subtle feeling. Then, leaving them aside, be free. (From the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra, Lord Shiva's 112 methods of meditation). If we strip the religious, the occult, and the paranormal from mysticism then we are left with an endeavour that has to do with pure consciousness itself. In India there have developed two basic paths towards pure consciousness: bhakti yoga and jnani yoga, the first relating principally to devotion and the second to awareness, which shall be the concern of this paper.

The quote above from the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra outlines very briefly one of countless techniques developed in India for apprehending pure consciousness. It is also significant for mentioning the `honey-filled foci of awareness'. While the Buddha was reluctant to comment on the blissfulness of consciousness itself, the association of bliss with consciousness is deep-rooted in Indian religious thought, and is raised here to emphasise an important sub-text in the current Western investigation into consciousness: we have an instinct that it is a rewarding endeavour in its own right. What the Indian techniques have attempted for some three thousand years is to encourage an enquiry into what happens when we reverse the normal direction of our senses, that is when we suspend for a period our investment in the objects of our sense organs and place an emphasis on the subject. This is described metaphorically as a reversal of the arrow of awareness, or the creation of a double-headed arrow that simultaneously makes the observer aware of the manifest world revealed through the sense and the consciousness into which these manifestations enter.

The Western evolution of Studies in Consciousness can be symbolised by the Schroedinger's Cat Paradox: we can extrapolate from it a range of issues that turn Western science from a purely 3rd person science to a partly 1st person science. The Krishnamurti's Dog Problem is an invention of the author and bridges the gap between the current Western change of orientation and the rescuing of Eastern mysticism from its simultaneous obscurity and gee-whiz popularism. Krishnamurti was one of the greatest 20th century exponents of jnani yoga, teaching the reversal of the arrow of awareness through choiceless awareness and a silence of the mind. He commented once that for the duration of an hour's walk not a single thought entered his mind -- this raises for us the problem of his dog for whom we can assume the same state for the period of their walk. What then is the difference in consciousness between these two beings? Krishnamurti taught for over 50 years, but rejected the techniques of his religious inheritance, thus leaving us with no methodology for the exploration of consciousness. However another great 20th century mystic, Douglas Harding (author of On Having No Head), has provided us with precisely that. This paper will explore Harding's toolkit of 1st person techniques for the investigation of consciousness, and will relate them and mysticism more generally to the current questions raised in Studies in Consciousness.