The Spiritual and Scientific Conundrum

‘We believe that we are heading toward a new synthesis…Our role is not to lament the past. It is to try to discover in the midst of the extraordinary diversity of the sciences some unifying thread. Each great period of science has led to some model of nature. For classical science it was the clock; for nineteenth-century science, the period of the Industrial Revolution, it was an engine running down. What will be the symbol for us? What we have in mind may perhaps be expressed best by reference to sculpture, from Indian or pre-Colombian art to our time. In some of the most beautiful manifestations of sculpture, be it in the dancing Shiva or in the miniature temples of Guerrero, there appears very clearly the search for a junction between stillness and motion, time arrested and time passing. We believe that this confrontation will give our period its uniqueness.’

Prigogine & Stengers
Order Out of Chaos

It had always seemed to me that science, unlike spirituality, accepts the validity and relevance of certain cosmic properties such as time and space, which constitute our experience of material creation – indeed, which are fundamental to the emergence of a creation in matter. Spirituality, I had come to discover early on, denied any valid purpose and place to these aspects of creation. In fact, almost all spiritual paths can be summed up as methods devised to carry seekers ‘out of time’ (and space). However, recently I have had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with the pioneering work of the noted physical chemist, Ilya Prigogine, which has radically altered the idea I had of science. Prigogine, I came to discover – with a certain satisfaction – is as obsessed with time as I am; and moreover, he has the same complaint about science as I have regarding spirituality: its denial of time and the contradiction this introduces in its search for truth.

Let me quote certain passages from Prigogine’s interview with OMNI (May, 1983). The interviewer questions him about his methods of discovery and his early experiences as a scientist who was decidedly a ‘nonconformist’. What I shall quote will certainly convince the reader that in the world of science, Prigogine has faced the same resistance that my work faces in the world of spirituality, where my occupation with time is often labelled ‘unspiritual’ or ‘mental’.

Can you recall a particular moment when you had a flash of insight into a specific problem you were working on?

Well, I always remember with pleasure my first work on non-equilibrium thermodynamics, in 1946, when I realised that non-equilibrium might be a source of organisation and order. I was very, very happy to have this idea, which has never left me. Perhaps in science, at some point, there is a close relationship between who you are and what you try to do. Science is a much less objective enterprise than often assumed. It’s true you need some tools. You need to write down your findings and convince yourself and others. But the driving force for new ideas has to be a deep personal involvement in the problems you’re working on.

Are you an intuitive person?

Oh yes. For me mathematics is only a tool to write down my ideas so that in the long run they can be communicated. I say ‘in the long run’ because in my history all of the ideas I have proposed have been poorly accepted.

What was the scientific climate like when you first began to study time?

Well, quite naturally I was interested in the reaction of well-known scientists to this line of research. Their reaction was uniformly negative. It was in 1946 or 1947 when one of the most famous scientists attending the lecture I gave stood up and asked, ‘Why is this young man devoting his interest to irreversible causes? Irreversible causes are just illusory. Time is just a parameter, so forget about it.’ I was so stunned by this reaction that I was unable to get up and respond. But I happen to be very stubborn; so I continued. Today the situation has changed quite a bit. Time has become an essential factor in elementary particles as well as cosmology.

You were a nonconformist, a dissident. How did you muster up the conviction to go against the prevailing ideology?

I would say, again, this probably corresponds to a deep psychological element that isn’t easy to make explicit. The attitude of Einstein toward science, for example, was to go beyond the reality of the moment. He wanted to transcend time. But this was the classical view. Time was an imperfection and science a way to get beyond this imperfection to eternity. Einstein wanted to travel away from the turmoil, from the wars. He wanted to find some kind of safe harbour in eternity. For him science was an introduction to a timeless reality behind the illusion of becoming. My own attitude is very different because, to some extent, I want to feel the evolution of things. I don’t believe in transcending, but in being embedded in a reality that is temporal.

There is no need to go into further details of the work of this notable scientist. If desired, the reader can pursue the study via his latest book, in the English translation entitled, Order out of Chaos (Bantam Books, 1984). I must point out, however, that in the above statements, Prigogine could be describing the attitude of traditional yogis or seekers on the spiritual path, and the ultimate goal they desire to attain. It is clear that, as Prigogine points out, even a scientist is necessarily influenced in his discoveries by the fibre of his own consciousness-being. Einstein, as probably all other scientists, was seeking a means to ‘go beyond’, to escape the cosmic and earthly dimensions, so painful and apparently irredeemable; just as the practitioners of yoga do, the seekers after nirvana and samadhi. In the world of science it would appear, time and all that it engenders is an illusion. In the Commentaries on The Magical Carousel (Chapter X), I have discussed in depth this position, in particular concerning the theories of Einstein.

It is evident that the life and work of a scientist like Prigogine conspires to demonstrate that the crux of the human dilemma, lodged at the root of all the known spiritual enquiries and systems, was, in its later stages, transported into the heart of the scientific enquiry. This fact, somewhat of a revelation for me, demonstrates in a most emphatic manner that the real and only answer to this problem lies indeed in a synthesis that carries us beyond both science and spirituality.

In my article, ‘The Supramental Synthesis’, I referred to the Mother’s perceptions in this regard, which determined the beginning of certain insights into the new cosmology. Without referring to the details constituting each enquiry – the scientific and the spiritual – she made it clear that ‘something else’ was needed, that pursuing either way or method to its ultimate reaches would not suffice. Indeed, it is this aspect of the Supramental Manifestation that presents the imperative necessity to evolve a new language in order to distinguish it from traditional yogas and spiritual paths, a language that describes more faithfully the new experiences of the reality of our material world and the true foundations of this new consciousness that is being established on Earth, in and of time.

Yet, as the references to Prigogine’s work reveal, this action is certainly not restricted to any one sector of society or country, or any particular discipline in the quest for truth; or to any elite which, by virtue of its dedication to a realisation of God as opposed to Mammon, entitles it to some privileged status. Rather, the Supreme Consciousness is working through inspiringly diversified channels. These may be few at present – all too few we are sometimes brought to lament – but nonetheless there are clear signs that an acceleration is in progress, and the Power is carrying us rapidly to new stages in the establishment of the supramental creation.

Prigogine’s comments expose a truly critical problem – inherent in both science and spirituality, and by consequence at the very root of the human malaise. This is the question of decay, degeneration, and ultimately death that all things born in time are subject to; the only secure fact of our human embodiment, it would seem, is the factor of an irrevocable march of time leading to inevitable death. From the moment of birth we progress toward our demise. The situation is so distressing and has reached such a desperate threshold that the utter purposelessness of such an existence – conditioned so thoroughly by the irreversibility of death – is likely to result in a global, collective suicide. The factor that stands behind and upholds the irrepressible arms race, for example, is this despair over a march of time that we cannot control, that moves us irrevocably toward a death we fear and can in no way avoid. This appears to be the sole purpose of birth.

Sri Aurobindo’s message to the world is the advent of a new way, an entirely new path for humanity. This path leads to a state of immortality. Thus the direction he provides is, quite logically, entirely different from all previous paths that sought in their entirety an escape from birth as well as death, an obliteration of the conscious Seeing Eye and a dissolution (nirvana) into the comforting transcendence of Nothingness. Though some fill this nothingness with fantasies of a blissful paradise, it is still distinctly ‘otherworldly’. But Sri Aurobindo takes us precisely into the core of this world of matter, and hence into the innermost recesses of time and not out of it. As Prigogine might explain it, ‘to be embedded in a reality that is temporal’.

Why is this so? Simply because if we speak of a transformation of matter as central to Sri Aurobindo’s revelation, then time is the indispensable ally in the task. His yoga rests in the secure womb of time, which in turn is the creative driving force behind evolution. Indeed, the last chapter of his The Synthesis of Yoga is aptly entitled ‘Towards the Supramental Time Vision’, which was to open the way to a formulation of his own yoga but which, as he stated, he had not had the time to present. He left us only with this hint that ‘a new vision of time’ would be a key.

Prigogine has described for us the reluctance of the scientific community to accept the place of irreversibility (the ‘arrow of time’, past-present-future) in its postulations. In the same light I shall now quote from a most interesting new publication on this very subject, consisting of dialogues between J. Krishnamurti and the physicist David Bohm. The book is very appropriately entitled The Ending of Time (Harper & Row, 1985). Of all the books I have read on this theme, certainly this particular collection of conversations offers the most dramatic revelation of the conundrum the world knows, engendered by the unwillingness of both the yogi and the scientist to face squarely the question of Time and find the true answer. What we have been witnessing throughout the ages is a shrinking from the problem and a maddening attempt to obliterate the individualised consciousness in order to step out of time and the entire universal creation – as if this were indeed possible – and thus escape the pain, the frustration, the exasperation that the certainty of death imposes and all the difficulties engendered by this ‘corruptible flesh’.

The problem lies in the fact that in so doing no attempt has been effectively made to understand what is the real purpose of birth on this Earth, in this cosmos. For surely the Supreme Consciousness that clearly upholds and controls the course of our lives and evolution, is not some impish, devilish, capricious God, who plays games with a hapless humanity to please and appease some insatiable sadistic hunger. Yet the way to learn what that true purpose is lies in a quest into time, rather than away from and beyond it, insofar as it is time alone that can reveal the sense of the evolutionary process.

What that sense is, Sri Aurobindo has indicated. Likewise, in my work with time via the practice of the integral and supramental yogas, I have been able to confirm those same discoveries. The present level of human evolution is a transitory passage to a higher poise. And rather than being a passage to death and total annihilation, our present Age is the glorious gateway to a splendid new future.

But it is time that offers this encouraging vision and carries us to this newness. Yet all the spiritual leaders insist that we go ‘beyond time’ in order to know God and attain liberation. Some do this openly, as we shall soon learn from the dialogue I will present between Krishnamurti and Bohm; others do it more covertly; and many without even realising that this is their aim. From The Ending of Time, the reader can assess how difficult a transition this is, and how utterly confused both the spiritualist and the scientist are at this point:

J. Krishnamurti:  We have extended our capacities outwardly, and inwardly it is the same movement as outwardly. Now if there is no inward movement as time, moving, becoming more and more, then what takes place? Time ends? You see, the outer movement is the same as the inner movement.

David Bohm:  Yes, It is going around and around.

JK:  Involving time. If the movement ceases then what takes place?… Now if that movement ends, as it must, then is there really inward movement – a movement not in terms of time?… You see, that word movement means time. (Pages 15-16)

Krishnamurti discloses here the correlation, quite logical, between time and movement. According to him, both must cease. In the course of his conversation with Bohm, he defines creation in matter, in particular in our physical bodies with all the elements they provide for experiencing life in the cosmos and on Earth, as being something of which we must rid ourselves. He makes this clear by distinguishing the mind as a property we must disconnect from the brain – the latter, the physical instrument provided for the purpose of enacting the commands of the mind on the physical plane (see Vishaal 0/2), is hence thoroughly ‘in the mire’ as it were.

JK: My brain – but not mind – has evolved. Evolution implies time, and it can only think, live in time. Now for the brain to deny time is a tremendous activity, for any problem that arises, any question is immediately solved.

…Now how are you going to open the door, how are you going to help another to say, ‘Look, we have been going in the wrong direction, there is really only non-movement; and if movement stops, everything will be correct’?

…That is, mankind has taken a wrong turn, psychologically, not physically? Can that turn be completely reversed? Or stopped? My brain is so accustomed to the evolutionary idea that I will become something, I will gain something, that I must have more knowledge and so on; can that brain suddenly realise that there is no such thing as time? (Page 18)

The next part of the dialogue specifically locates the conflict, which, according to Krishnamurti, lies between a brain that has evolved in time, and a mind that is supposedly free of time. Krishnamurti sees this as the root of the problem. However, as far as I can perceive, the conflict is not in a temporal/atemporal dichotomy, but rather in the fact that Krishnamurti is an embodied consciousness like all of us, inhabiting a physical body which is his instrument of perception and his means of participating in this evolutionary and spiritual adventure – and yet, this instrumentation is being wholly denied. To me, the problem is a perception that places us at odds with not only the bodies we inhabit but with our total habitat – the Earth and cosmic dimension. For time, movement, are the underlying truths of our world. What Krishnamurti is describing in this dialogue is the very problem I have been revealing as the root of the species’ extreme distress: the quest that is intended to carry us beyond this dimension we are born into, as the only means of escaping from a pain that we cannot understand in its true perspective and hence overcome within the legitimate boundaries provided us as an evolving species on this particular planet, Earth. And contrary to what Krishnamurti suggests, this is the attitude that is the ‘wrong turn’ humanity took; yet that very ‘wrong turn’ is precisely the remedy he is offering. That is, his solution of seeking to stop time and movement IS THE WRONG TURN, and it was taken many millennia ago, and is the focus of every spiritual discipline and religion the world knows.

The answer lies here. In time. Not out of it. Indeed, embedded deep in the core of time, as I am sure Prigogine would agree.

DB: But I think you are implying that the mind is not originating in the brain. Is that so? The brain is perhaps an instrument of the mind?

JK: And the mind is not time. Just see what that means.

DB: The mind does not evolve with the brain.

JK: The mind not being of time, and the brain being of time – is that the origin of the conflict?

DB: Well, we have to see why that produces conflict. It is not clear to say that the brain is of time, but rather that it has developed in such a way that time is in it.

JK: Yes, that is what I mean.

DB: But not necessarily so.

JK: It has evolved.

DB: It has evolved so it has time within it.

JK: Yes, it has evolved, time is a part of it…Can the brain itself see that it is caught in time, and that as long as it is moving in that direction, conflict is eternal, endless? You follow what I am saying?… Has the brain the capacity to see in what it is doing now – being caught in time – that in the process there is no end to conflict? That means, is there a part of the brain which is not of time? (Pages 19-20)

The problem becomes acute when the exchange between these two eminent men produces these memorable lines:

DB: You see, to go further, I think one has to deny the very notion of time in the sense of looking forward to the future, and deny all the past.

JK: That’s just it.

DB: That is, the whole of time.

JK: Time is the enemy. Meet it, and go beyond it. (Pages 21-22)

This represents the classic postulation of the theory of Illusionism, be this in the realm of spirituality or science. There is something fundamentally, radically, pathetically wrong in a quest that places us in the necessity of denial of our experience of life, in a body, in material creation. Conditioned by this particular vision, the only possible and logical conclusion is that existence on this planet is simply without any rational purpose. The exchange between Krishnamurti and the physicist Bohm, reaches such extremes that toward the end Krishnamurti has Bohm ‘agreeing’ that the universe is not of time:

JK: I am asking you as a scientist, is this universe based on time?

DB: I would say no, but you see the general way…

JK: That is all I want. You say no! And can the brain, which has evolved in time…?

DB: Well, has it evolved in time? Rather, it has become entangled in time. Because the brain is part of the universe, which we say is not based on time.

JK: I agree.

DB: Thought has entangled the brain in time.

JK: All right. Can that entanglement be unravelled, freed, so that the universe is the mind? You follow? If the universe is not of time, can the mind, which has been entangled in time, unravel itself and so be the universe? (Page 220) 

It is certainly difficult to understand how David Bohm, a physicist, can reconcile his lifetime involvement of the study of physical laws, for which measure is essential and temporal studies are paramount, with this perception: the universe is not of time. Furthermore, these dialogues reveal a rather incomplete understanding of just what the universe is; for it is not only the dense material substance that we can know by the external senses, but consists of other subtler dimensions that are all contained in this ‘universe’. Mind and the planes which it rules are just as much ‘of this universe’ as the physical brain. And hence mind is also ‘of time’. While we are on this planet, the brain and mind must work together in order to provide us with an instrument that harmonises our consciousness-being with the laws of time and evolution consonant with Earth’s position in the solar system, a penetrating study of which reveals the purpose of this evolving species that has been so meticulously equipped with the proper instruments to allow for this conscient experience of oneness with our total habitat, in a continuous evolution toward higher embodied states of being.

I believe that these extracts from The Ending of Time have demonstrated more clearly than any material appearing so far in the spiritual or scientific world that the root of humankind’s dilemma is this misguided quest, which over the millennia has sought to carry the human being in the direction beyond the lawful condition of his embodiment. Above all, it is the pernicious misinterpretation that the origin out of which material creation has emerged is a void of nothingness, and that this void, this nothingness is the ultimate attainment in one’s quest, which has done the most damage. This situation is poignantly conveyed in Krishnamurti’s own words:

‘…to be free of becoming? That is the root of it. To end becoming…. Of course, there is only complete security in nothingness!’   (Page 257)

To put it succinctly, this is nothing other than the denial of the Mother, of materia, of the fullness of that womb of creation, and that Vedic Divine Measure that the Mother laboured so intensely to unveil on Earth as the planet’s deepest secret and reason for being. David Bohm has recently presented his new theory of physics, the ‘implicate order’. In our terms, enfolding would be involution; and unfolding, evolution. But surely one has the right to question his position as a scientist, since all this ‘order’ implies the active participation of movement and time. It would appear then that we are here faced with a paradoxical split: on the one hand there are his statements in this dialogue with Krishnamurti to the effect that ‘the universe is not of time’, implying that time only exists as a distortion of the brain in one’s psychological experience, and not elsewhere in the universe or otherwise; on the other hand, he presents a new theory of physics, an implicate order which demands the intrinsic instrumentation of time. This would appear to reflect the same dichotomy, and in some cases down-right schizophrenia, that characterises the acute malaise of our times, discernible in practically every sphere of our collective and individual lives. Above all, with such a philosophy as one’s background, it is understandable that scientists are assiduously working to present us with greater and better means of total destruction. Why not? Insofar as it is all nothing but illusion in any case?

In concluding, this dialogue calls to mind the experiments carried out at the New Jersey Neuropsychiatric Institute (1983), in which hypnosis was used to erase a person’s time-sense. A group of college students were given suggestions while under hypnosis that upon awaking they would have no past or future, or sometimes no time at all. The effect on these patients was most disturbing; some turned catatonic, others behaved like schizophrenics. The conclusion was that life must have a direction provided by its ‘arrow of time’ in order for it to be worth living; and that people who are given a present but without the past and future, become preoccupied with death and behave schizophrenically.

I feel that if one were to pursue the path laid down in The Ending of Time, the results would be similar if not identical to these experiments. While it is simply an intellectual exercise and remains on the level of philosophical banter, no serious harm is done. Nonetheless, when spiritual authorities encourage people to embark upon a quest of this nature – and Krishnamurti’s credentials in this regard are certainly some of the best – then the matter requires serious deliberation. It can be emphatically stated that these old ways, these obsolete perceptions that have been pursuing us like draining phantoms throughout the ages, can in no way bring us into harmony with life, as a civilisation, and above all, solve the distressing impasse in which the human race presently lives.

This is the Age of Supermind. Sri Aurobindo has often described the Supermind as the only reconciler of paradoxes. Are not Prigogine and Stengers in their book, Order Out of Chaos, anticipating the same advent when they write:

‘We are now entering a new era in the history of time, an era in which both being and becoming can be incorporated into a single non-contradictory vision.’

The answer lies, as the Mother has suggested, in a third poise. Beyond both science and spirituality.


December, 1985

The Friend

‘Quiet’ comes a voice from the depths
Where Thou art.
Abandonment commands the being
To be silent.
Intimate joy flows in Winds
From within
As we wait in calm assurance
Of the ultimate Power.

Here, here where all was once
God’s hell;
Here where suffering wounded
And scarred,
The ageless Mystery’s secret
Effortlessly unveils
Time the relentless enemy
As Time our heartfelt Friend.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *