What would the facts be like if we had them? They would be as follows. Everything that we experience as material reality is born in an invisible realm beyond space and time, a realm revealed by science to consist of energy and information. This invisible source of all that exists is not an empty void but the womb of creation itself. Something creates and organizes this energy. It turns the chaos of quantum soup into stars, galaxies, rain forests, human beings, and our own thoughts, emotions, memories, and desires. In the pages that lie ahead we will see that it is not only possible to know this source of existence on an abstract level but to become intimate and at one with it. When this happens, our horizons open to new realities. We will have the experience of God.
After centuries of knowing God through faith, we are now ready to understand divine intelligence directly. In many ways this new knowledge reinforces what spiritual traditions have already promised. God is invisible and yet performs all miracles. He is the source of every impulse of love. Beauty and truth are both children of this God. In the absence of knowing the infinite source of energy and creativity, life's miseries come into being. Getting close to God through a true knowing heals the fear of death, confirms the existence of the soul, and gives ultimate meaning to life.
Our whole notion of reality has actually been topsy-turvy. Instead of God being a vast, imaginary projection, he turns out to be the only thing that is real, and the whole universe, despite its immensity and solidity, is a projection of God's nature. Those astonishing events we call miracles give us clues to the workings of this ineffable intelligence. Consider the following story:
In 1924 an old French villager is walking home. With one eye lost in the Great War and the other severely damaged by mustard gas in the trenches, he can barely see. The setting sun is bright, so the old man is completely unaware of the two youths on bicycles who have wheeled around the corner and are barreling down on him.
At the moment of impact an angel appears. He takes the lead bicycle by its two wheels, lifts it a few feet in the air, and sets it down safely on the grass beside the road. The second bicycle stops short, and the youths become tremendously excited. "There are two! There are two!" one of them shouts, meaning that instead of just the old man alone, two figures are standing in the road. The entire village becomes very worked up, claiming afterward that the youths were drunk or else have made up this fantastic tale. As for the old man, when he is asked about it, he says he doesn't understand the question.
Could we ever come to an answer ourselves? As it happens, the old man was a priest, Père Jean Lamy, and the appearance of the angel has come down to us through his own testimony before his death. Lamy, who was saintly and beloved, seems to be credited with many instances where God sent angels or other forms of divine aid. Although reluctant to talk about them, his attitude was matter-of-fact and modest. Because of Lamy's religious vocation, it is easy to dismiss this incident as a story for the devout. Skeptics would not be moved.
Yet I am fascinated simply by whether it could have happened, whether we can open the door and allow helpful angels into our reality, along with miracles, visions, prophecy, and ultimately that great outsider, God himself.
One bald fact stands at the beginning of any search for God. He leaves no footprints in the material world. From the very beginning of religion in the West, it was obvious that God had some kind of presence, known in Hebrew as Shekhinah. Sometimes this word is simply translated as "light" or radiance. Shekhinah formed the halos around angels and the luminous joy in the face of a saint. It was feminine, even though God, as interpreted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is masculine. The significant fact about Shekhinah was not its gender, however. Since God is infinite, calling the deity He or She is just a human convention. Much more important was the notion that if God has a presence, that means he can be experienced. He can be known. This is a huge point, because in every other way God is understood to be invisible and untouchable. And unless some small part of God touches the material world, he will remain inaccessible forever.
We personify God as a convenient way of making him more like ourselves. He would be a very perverse and cruel human, however, to remain so hidden from us while demanding our love. What could possibly give us confidence in any kind of benevolent spiritual Being when thousands of years of religion have been so stained by bloodshed?
We need a model that is both part of religion yet not bounded by it. The following simple, three-part scheme fits our commonsense view of God. Shaped like a reality sandwich, this scheme can be pictured as follows:
---- TRANSITION ZONE ----
The picture is not new in its top and bottom layers, placing God above the material world and removed from it. God must be separate from us, or else we would be able to see him here, strolling about as he did in the Book of Genesis. There, after the seven days of creation, God walked in the garden of Eden, enjoying his handiwork in the cool of the evening.
Only the middle element of our diagram, called the transition zone, is new or unusual. A transition zone implies that God and humans meet on common ground. Somewhere miracles take place, along with holy visions, angels, enlightenment, and hearing the voice of God. All of these extraordinary phenomena bridge two worlds: They are real and yet they are not part of a predictable cause-and-effect. To put it another way, if we stubbornly cling to material reality as the only way to know anything, skepticism about God is totally justified. Miracles and angels defy reason, and even though holy visions may be catalogued time after time, the rational mind remains defiant, defending its sure grip on the material plane.
"You really think God exists? Well, let's break it down. You're a doctor, I'm a doctor. Either God is causing these diseases we see every day, or else he can't do anything to stop them. Which one is the God you want me to accept?"
This voice is from a skeptical colleague I used to make rounds with in the hospital, a confirmed atheist.
"I don't want you to accept either one," I would protest.
But he would press the point. "Reality is reality. We don't have to argue over whether an enzyme or hormone is real, do we? God can't survive any kind of objective test. But we all know that. Some of us just choose not to keep on fooling ourselves."
On one level he was right. Materialist arguments against God remain powerful because they are based on facts, but they fall apart once you dive deeper than the material world. Dame Julian of Norwich lived in England in the fourteenth century. Dame Julian asked God directly why he had created the world. The answer came back to her in ecstatic whispers:
You want to know your lord's meaning in what I have done? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love.
For Dame Julian God was something to eat, drink, breathe, and see everywhere, as though she were an infatuated lover. Yet since the divine was her lover, she was elevated to cosmic heights, where the whole universe was "a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand."
When saints go almost mad with rapture, we find their expressions both baffling and yet very understandable. Although we have all gotten used to the absence of the sacred, we appreciate that journeys into the transition zone, the layer closer to God, continue to happen.
The experience of God feels like flying. It feels as if I'm walking above the ground with such equilibrium that nothing can sway me from my path. It's like being the eye of the storm. I see without judgment or opinion. I just watch as everything passes in and out of my awareness like clouds.(1)
This uplifting experience, which is common to saints and mystics, is the record of a quantum journey. There are no known physical mechanisms that trigger it, yet feeling close to God occurs in every age, among all peoples. We're all capable of going beyond our material bonds, yet we often fail to value this ability. Although we hear in church or temple or mosque that God is love, he doesn't seem to exert much passionate attraction anymore.
I don't believe saints and mystics are really so different from other human beings. If we look at our reality sandwich, the transition zone turns out to be subjective: This is where God's presence is felt or seen. Anything subjective must involve the brain, since it takes millions of neurons firing together before you can have any experience.
1. Fight-or-flight response: the response that enables us to survive in the face of danger. This response is linked to a God who wants to protect us. He is like a parent who looks out for the safety of a small child. We turn to this God because we need to survive.
2. Reactive response: this is the brain's creation of a personal identity. Beyond mere survival, everyone pursues the needs of "I, me, mine." We do this instinctively, and from this response a new God emerges, one who has power and might, laws and rules. We turn to this God because we need to achieve, accomplish, and compete.
3. Restful awareness response: the brain can be active or at rest, and this is its response when it wants peace. Rest and activity alternate in every part of the brain. The divine equivalent is a God who brings peace, who enables us to find a calm center in the midst of outward chaos. We turn to this God because we need to feel that the outer world isn't going to swallow us up in its endless turmoil.
4. Intuitive response: the brain looks for information both inside and out. Outer knowledge is objective, but inner knowledge is intuitive. No one checks with an expert outside themselves before saying "I am happy" or "I am in love." We rely on our ability to know ourselves from the inside out. The God that matches this response is understanding and forgiving. We need him to validate that our inner world is good.
5. Creative response: the human brain can invent new things and discover new facts. This creative ability apparently comes from nowhere -- the unknown simply gives birth to a new thought. We call this inspiration, and its mirror is a Creator who made the whole world from nothing. We turn to him out of our wonder at the beauty and formal complexity of Nature.
6. Visionary response: the brain can directly contact "the light," a form of pure awareness that feels joyful and blessed. This contact can be bewildering, because it has no roots in the material world. It comes as a vision, and the God that matches it is exalted -- he delivers healing and miracles. We need such a God to explain why magic can exist side by side with ordinary mundane reality.
7. Sacred response: the brain was born from a single fertilized cell that had no brain functions in it, only a speck of life. Even though a hundred billion neurons developed from that speck, it remains intact in all its innocence and simplicity. The brain senses this as its source and origin. To match it, there is a God of pure being, one who doesn't think but just is. We need him because without a source, our existence has no foundation at all.
These seven responses, all very real and useful to us in our long journey as a species, form the unshakable basis of religion. If you compare any two minds -- Moses or Buddha, Jesus or Freud, Saint Francis or Chairman Mao -- each projects a different view of reality with a matching God. No one can shoehorn God into a single box. We must have a range of vision as vast as human experience itself. Atheists need their God, who is absent and nonexistent, while at the other extreme mystics need their God, one of pure love and light. Only the brain can deliver this vast range of deities.
You might immediately object that the human mind creates these versions of God, not just the brain. I absolutely agree -- in the long run the mind is much more primary than the brain in creating all perception. But for now the brain is our only concrete way of entering the mind. In cartoons a lightbulb shows up over somebody's head when he has a bright idea; this isn't so in real life. The mind without the brain is as invisible and unprovable as God.
Also, you might argue that just because God is seen in a certain way by us, that doesn't mean he is that way. I don't believe this is black or white. God's reality doesn't stand apart from our perceptions but is woven into them. A mother can see her newborn child as wonderful and worthy, and through her perception that baby grows up to become a wonderful, worthy person. This is one of the mysteries of love. A subtle give-and-take is going on at the deepest level between parent and child. In the same way God seems to grow directly out of our deepest inner values. There is a similar give-and-take below the level of mere belief. Peel away all the layers of an onion, and at the center you will find emptiness; peel away all the layers of a human being, and at the center you will find the seed of God.
I believe that God has to be known by looking in the mirror.
If you see yourself in fear, barely holding on with survival at stake, yours is a God of fight or flight.
If you see yourself as capable of power and accomplishment, yours is a God of the reactive response.
If you see yourself as centered and calm, yours is a God of the restful awareness response.
If you see yourself as growing and evolving, yours is a God of the intuitive response.
If you see yourself as someone who makes personal dreams come true, yours is a God of the creative response.
If you see yourself as capable of working miracles, yours is a God of the visionary response.
If you see yourself as one with God, yours is a God of the sacred response.
Although everyone's brain can create countless thoughts -- just to take a number, at ten thoughts a minute, a single brain would conjure up more than 14,000 thoughts a day, 5 million a year, and 350 million in a lifetime. To preserve our sanity, the gross majority of these thoughts are repetitions of past thoughts, mere echoes. The brain is economical in how it produces a thought. Instead of having millions of ways, it has only a limited number. Physicists like to say that the universe is really just "quantum soup" bombarding our senses with billions of bits of data every minute. This swirling chaos must also be organized into a manageable number. So the brain, with its seven basic responses, provides more than sanity and meaning: it provides a whole world. Presiding over this self-created world is a God who embraces everything, but who also must fit into the brain's way of working.
In one way or another, when a person says the word God, he is pointing to a specific response from this list:
Any God who protects us like a father or mother stems from fight or flight.
Any God who makes laws and rules over society stems from the reactive response.
Any God who brings inner peace stems from the restful awareness response.
Any God who encourages human beings to reach their full potential stems from the intuitive response.
Any God who inspires us to explore and discover stems from the creative response.
Any God who makes miracles stems from the visionary response.
Any God who brings us back into unity with him stems from the sacred response.
As far as I know, the brain cannot register a deity outside the seven responses. Why not? Because God is woven into reality, and the brain knows reality in these limited ways. It may sound as though we're reducing the Almighty Father, the Primeval Goddess, and the Mystery of Mysteries to a firestorm of electrical activity in the cerebral cortex -- but we aren't doing that. We are trying to find the basic facts that will make God possible, real, and useful.
Many people will be sympathetic to this because they long for a God who fits into their lives. No one can make God enter the everyday world, however. The real question is whether he might be here already and going unnoticed. I keep coming back to the transition zone in our "reality sandwich." Unless you are willing to take your vision there, the presence of God is too ghostly to be relied upon. Is the brain prepared for such a journey? Absolutely.
A friend of mine once knew John Lennon very well and continued over the years to grieve his passing. She is a gifted singer, and one night recently she had a dream in which he came to her and showed her an image from the past when they were together. Waking up, she decided to write a new, very intimate song based on her dream, yet in the cold light of day she began to have doubts. I came to London for a visit, and she told me about her indecision.
"After all, it's only a dream, isn't it?" she said. "Maybe I'm foolish to make too much of it."
At that moment her three-year-old ran into the room and plopped himself onto a chair in the corner. He happened to land on the remote control for the television, which came on suddenly. On the screen, amazingly, we saw a nostalgia program showing John Lennon and my friend smiling at the camera, caught in the exact moment she had witnessed in her dream. She burst into tears and got her answer: She would write the song for him.
I believe that this interaction took place in the transition zone. A message arrived from a deeper place than we usually go. To say that it came from spirit or God is totally justified, but the brain also played its part, for this incident began with everyday brain processes -- thoughts, emotions, dreams, doubts -- that finally crystallized into inspiration. We see a perfect example here of our fifth response, the creative response.
Material reality, the world of objects and events
Quantum reality, a transition zone where energy turns into matter
Virtual reality, the place beyond time and space, the origin of the universe
Here we run into a semantic problem, because the phrase virtual reality is no longer used the way a physicist would understand it. These words now commonly mean computer-simulated reality or even, very loosely, any video game. So I will modify virtual reality and call it the virtual domain, and to follow suit, quantum reality will have to become the quantum domain.
It isn't just coincidence that these three layers parallel the religious worldview. The two models have to parallel each other, because they are both delineated by the brain. Science and religion are not really opposites but just very different ways of trying to decode the universe. Both visions contain the material world, which is a given. There has to be an unseen source of creation, because the cosmos can be traced back only so far before time and space dissolve. And there has to be a place where these two opposites meet.
I said before that I don't think mystics are set apart from ordinary people. They are just better quantum navigators. They journey into the transition zone closer to God, and while we might visit there for a few moments of joy, at most a few days, saints and mystics have found the secret of remaining there far longer. Instead of wondering about the mystery of life, a saint lives it. Yet even without adequate words to convey that experience, we find certain similarities from culture to culture:
· The body's heaviness becomes as if weightless.
· A sense of floating or looking down from above is felt.
· Breathing becomes lighter, rarefied, more even.
· Physical pain or discomfort are much lessened.
· A sense of energy streams through the body.
· Color and sound are heightened; increased sensitivity to all senses.
A common phrase for this sensation, which one hears over and over, is "going into the light." It's a phenomenon not limited to saints. Some or all of these bodily changes occur to common people. Existence breaks through its drab routine with a surge of bliss and purity. Some mystics describe these moments as timeless. Afterward a psychological afterglow often persists, a peaceful certainty that one has "come home." In this transition zone that almost reaches God's domain, experience is both inner and outer.
But what if we could steady our flash of ecstasy and learn to explore this strange new territory? Then we would discover the same thing revealed to Dame Julian six hundred years ago: "He is our clothing that wraps us and winds us about, embraces us and all-encloses us, for love. . . . Remain in this, and you shall know more of the same . . . without end." In other words, the sacred isn't a feeling, it is a place. The problem is that when you try to journey there, material reality keeps pulling you back again. The wondrous moment passes. To remain in the transition zone is extremely difficult.
Let me bring these abstract terms down to earth. Some of the following experiences have occurred to all of us:
In the midst of danger, you feel suddenly cared for and protected.
You deeply fear a crisis in your personal life, but when it comes, you experience a sudden calmness.
A stranger makes you feel a sudden rush of love.
An infant or young child looks into your eyes, and for a second you believe that an old soul is looking at you.
In the presence of death, you feel the passing of wings.
Looking at the sky, you have a sense of infinite space.
A stunning glimpse of beauty makes you forget for a second who you are.
Whenever you have any such experiences, your brain has responded in an unusual way; it has responded to God.
If we only knew it, God's most cherished secrets are hidden inside the human skull -- ecstasy, eternal love, grace, and mystery. This doesn't seem possible at first glance. If you take a scalpel to the brain, you will cut into soft gray tissue that doesn't respond to the touch. There are lakes of slow-running water in this quivering terrain and open caves where light never penetrates. You wouldn't suspect that a soul is hiding here somewhere, that spirit can find its home in an organ almost as liquid as red blood cells and as mushy as an unripe banana.
The landscape of the brain is deceptive, however. Every burst of light that has blinded every saint in history took place here in the darkness. Every image of God was designed in tissue that appears to be a mass of congested nerves. So to find a window to God, you have to realize that your brain is layered into regions that are ruled by different impulses. The new kingdoms are full of higher thought, poetry, and love, like the New Testament. The old kingdoms are more primordial, like parts of the Old Testament. They are ruled by raw emotion, instinct, power, and survival.
In the old kingdoms each of us is a hunter. The ancestral plains of Africa are buried deep in your cranium, remembered with all their terror and hunger. Your genes remember leopards that leapt out of trees, and in a traffic snarl the old brain wants to hunt that leopard, fighting it to the death. Many doubters have said that God was invented so that these ferocious instincts can be kept in check. Otherwise our violence would turn on us and kill us. But I don't believe this. The oldest hunter lurking in our brains is after bigger prey, God himself. And the motive isn't to fight or die but to find our speck of joy and truth that nothing in the world can erase. The one thing we cannot survive is chaos.
We evolved to find God. This is what the lightning storm of the brain's endless activity is all about. God for us is not a choice but a necessity. Almost a hundred years ago the great psychologist and philosopher William James declared that human nature contains a "will to believe" in some higher power. Personally James didn't know if God existed or whether there was a world beyond this one. He was almost certain that no proof of God could be found, but he felt it would deprive human beings of something profound if belief was stripped away from us. We need the hunt.
God, it turns out, isn't a person; God is a process. Your brain is hardwired to find God. Until you do, you will not know who you are. There is a catch, however. Our brains don't lead us automatically to spirit. Seeking has always been necessary. Some people feel that God is within reach, or at least within stalking range, while others feel he is totally absent. (It is curious that 72 percent of respondents in a recent poll said that they believe in heaven while only 56 percent believe in hell. This is more than naive optimism; the tendency of life is to point us in the right direction.)
A seeker always hopes to see the one, true, final God who will settle all doubts, but instead we hunt for clues. Unable to take in the totality of God, we get hints from the brain, which is constantly exercising an amazing ability to insert a glimpse of spirit in the most mundane situations. To return to a few of those simple examples I gave:
In the midst of danger, you feel suddenly cared for and protected. Spirit is being revealed through fight or flight.
You deeply fear a crisis in your personal life, but when it comes, you experience a sudden calmness. Spirit is being revealed through restful awareness.
A stranger makes you feel a sudden rush of love. Spirit is being revealed through the visionary response.
An infant or young child looks into your eyes, and for a second you believe that an old soul is looking at you. Spirit is being revealed through intuition.
Looking at the sky, you have a sense of infinite space. Spirit is being revealed through unity.
It is typical of modern life to believe that nature is set up to be random and chaotic. This is far from true. Life looks meaningless when you have worn out old responses, old realities, and an old version of God. To bring God back, we have to follow new, even strange responses wherever they lead us. As one spiritual teacher wisely put it, "The material world is infinite, but it is a boring infinity. The really interesting infinity lies beyond."
It is very important to absorb this notion that spirit involves a constant process. It isn't a feeling, nor is it a thing you can hold and measure. In the unfolding of spirit many mysteries begin to make sense. For instance, consider this famous sentence from the Vedas: "Those who know It speak of It not, those who speak of It know It not." The mystery here is tied up in the word It. If It means some kind of revelation, then you may struggle all your life to join the elite who have had It revealed to them. Enlightenment turns into something like a secret handshake. But if It means a real place that one can journey to, there is no need for frustration. You just find that place, without pointless words. "Don't talk about it, go!" seems like sensible advice.
A striking example that there is a reachable place beyond material reality is prayer. Beginning more than twenty years ago, researchers devised experiments to try to verify whether prayer had any efficacy. Seriously ill patients in hospitals were divided into groups, some being prayed for while others were not. In all cases best medical care was still given, yet it became evident that the prayed-for group seemed to recover better. This result was all the more astonishing when it was discovered that the person doing the praying didn't have to know the patient personally, or even know their names. But only in 1998 did a Duke University team verify to all skeptics that prayer indeed has such power.(3) The researchers took into account all manner of variables, including heart rate, blood pressure, and clinical outcomes; 150 patients who had undergone invasive cardiac procedures were studied, but none of them knew that they were being prayed for. Seven religious groups around the world were asked to pray. These included Buddhists in Nepal, Carmelite nuns in Baltimore, and Virtual Jerusalem, an organization that grants E-mail requests for prayers to be written down and inserted into the Wailing Wall. Researchers found that surgical patients' recovery could be from 50 to 100 percent better if someone prayed for them.
Of all the clues God left for us to find, the greatest is the light, the Shekhinah. From that clue we can unfold a true picture of the deity. This is a bold claim, but it is corroborated by the fact that science -- our most credible modern religion -- also traces creation back to light.(4) In this century Einstein and the other pioneers of quantum physics broke through the barrier of material reality to a new world, and in their awe most had a mystical experience. They sensed that when light gave up its mysteries, God's light would be known.
Our vision can't help but be organized around light. The same brain responses that enable you to see a tree as a tree, instead of as a ghostly swarm of buzzing atoms, also enable you to experience God. They reach far beyond organized religion. But we can take any passage from world scripture and decode it through the brain. It is the mechanism that makes the scripture real to us. Our brains respond on the same seven levels that apply to our experience:
1. A level of danger, threat, and survival.
2. A level of striving, competition, and power.
3. A level of peace, calm, and reflection.
4. A level of insight, understanding, and forgiveness.
5. A level of aspiration, creativity, and discovery.
6. A level of reverence, compassion, and love.
7. A level of unbounded unity.
Every Bible story teaches something at one or more of these levels (as do all world scriptures), and in every instance the teaching is attributed to God. Your brain and the deity are thus fused in order for the world to make sense. To repeat, the one thing you cannot survive is chaos.
If you believe in a punishing, vengeful God -- clearly related to fight or flight -- you won't see the reality of the Buddha's teaching of Nirvana. If you believe in the God of love envisioned by Jesus -- rooted in the visionary response -- you will not see the reality of the Greek myth wherein Saturn, primal father of the gods, ate all his children. Every version of God is part mask, part reality. The infinite can only reveal a portion of itself at any one time. Indeed, we would have all grown up, in the West at least, calling God " Itexcept for the linguistic anomaly that Hebrew has no neuter pronoun. In Sanskrit ancient Indians had such problem and referred to infinite deity as both That.
The most startling conclusion of our new model is that God is as we are. The whole universe is as we are, because without the human mind, there would be only quantum soup, billions of random sensory impressions. Yet thanks to the mind/brain, we recognize that encoded into the swirling cosmos are the most valued things in existence: form, meaning, beauty, truth, love. These are the realities the brain is reaching for when it reaches for God. He is as real as they are, but just as elusive.
I am not imagining that every skeptic and atheist reading this book has suddenly jumped to his feet proclaiming that God is real. This will have to go by stages. But at least now we have something to hold on to, and it is something extremely useful. We can explain those mysterious journeys that mystics have taken into God's reality. Such journeys have always deeply moved me, and I remember exactly where my fascination began. The first such voyager I ever heard of was called the Colonel -- his story is one of the seeds of this book. As I retell it, I can feel my mind experiencing his reality, which passed through so many phases from danger to compassion, from peace to unity. He will serve as a promise of the unfolding truth that is possible in any of our lives:
I was ten and my father, a doctor in the Indian army, had moved his family to Assam. No part of the country is as green and idyllic. Assam is an Eden, if Eden were covered with tea plantations as far as the eye can see. I could literally hear a song in my heart as I walked to the high-perched school on the hill. It must have been the magic of the place that made me notice an old beggar who used to sit by the road. He was always there under his tree, dressed in tatters, rarely moving or saying a word. The village women believed absolutely that this unkempt figure was a saint. They would sit beside him for hours, praying for a healing (or a new baby), and my grandmother assured me that our neighbor lady had been cured of arthritis by walking past him and silently asking for his blessing.
Strangely, everyone called this old beggar "the Colonel." One day I couldn't control my curiosity and asked why, and my best friend from school, Oppo, found out for me. Oppo's mother had once been healed by the Colonel, and Oppo's father, who was a newspaper reporter in town, had a remarkable tale to tell me:
At the end of World War II, a large force of British troops, the doomed "forgotten army," had been pinned down or captured by the invading Japanese in Burma. Because of the unending monsoon rains, the fighting had been tough and miserable; the treatment received by the prisoners of war was atrocious. Indians served in the British army, and one of them was a Bengali doctor named Sengupta.
Sengupta was on the verge of starving in a POW camp when the Japanese decided to retreat from their position. He didn't know if the British army had somehow advanced close by, but it didn't matter. Instead of marching the POWs to a new prison, their captors lined them up and shot each one in the head at close range with a pistol. This included Sengupta, who was in some way grateful to die and end his torment. He heard the gun blast at his temple, and with a jolt of searing pain he fell over. Only this wasn't the end. By some miracle he regained consciousness several hours later -- he judged the passage of time because night had fallen and the prison camp was dead quiet.
It took some moments before Sengupta, who felt that he was suffocating, realized with horror that he had come to under a heavy pile of corpses. In the rush to abandon camp, no one had checked to see if he was really dead, and his limp body had been thrown onto the pile with the others. It seemed like an eternity before Sengupta gathered enough strength to crawl out into the open air; he staggered to the river and washed himself, trembling with fear and revulsion. It was obvious that he was alone and that no Allies were coming to rescue him.
By morning he had made the decision to walk to safety. Deep in a war zone with no sense of Burmese geography, he could only think to return to India -- and that is what he did. Surviving on fruit, insects, and rain water, he traveled by night and hid in the jungle by day. The terrain consisted of hill after hill, and the ground was deep in mud. Although he passed occasional villages and peasant farms, he didn't dare trust anyone enough to ask for refuge. He could hear unknown wild animals in the dark at a time when tigers were still found in Burma, and he stumbled over snakes that terrified him.
Sengupta's trek took months before he stepped across the border into Bengal, and eventually the emaciated hero walked into Calcutta, heading for British army headquarters. He made his report and recounted his achievement, but the British, far from believing him, immediately had him arrested. He was put in irons as a probable Japanese spy or collaborator. Broken emotionally as well as physically, he lay in his dark cell and contemplated the fate that had taken him from one prison to another.
Somewhere during this period of disgrace, under daily interrogation and a later court-martial, Sengupta went through a supreme transformation. It wasn't something he ever spoke about, but the change was startling -- in place of bitterness he gained complete peace, he healed his wounds both inner and outer (fitting for someone who would turn into a healer of others) and he stopped struggling, waiting calmly for the inevitable sentence of the court. Amazingly the inevitable never came. In a sudden change of heart the British chose to believe that his story was true, prompted by the immediate end of hostilities when the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Japan.
Within a week Sengupta was dragged out of prison, awarded a medal for valor, and paraded through the streets of Calcutta as a hero. He seemed as strangely oblivious of the cheers as he had been of the suffering. Leaving medicine behind, he became a wandering monk. When he finally grew old and found his resting place under the tree in Assam, he didn't tell anyone his story. It was the locals who dubbed him the Colonel, perhaps tipped off by Oppo's father, the newspaper reporter.
Naturally my first, burning question at the age of ten was how a man could be shot in the head with a pistol at point-blank range and survive. Oppo's father shrugged. When they were captured, most of the British soldiers were armed with ammunition made in India. The Japanese executed them with their own pistols, and no doubt one of the bullets had been defective, filled with powder but no shot. Anyway, that was the best rational guess. So much for the miracle.
Today I ask another question that means more to me: How does such extreme torment, which provides every reason to abandon faith, turn into absolute faith instead? No one could doubt that the Colonel had arrived at some kind of saintliness from his ordeal. He made the mystic journey; he hunted God to the finish. I now realize what a profound miracle the human brain actually is. It has the capacity to see spiritual reality under any circumstance. In Sengupta's case, consider what he might have been overwhelmed by: the terror of death, the possibility of being here one day and gone the next, the fear that good will never prevail over evil, and the fragile freedom that could be extinguished by cruel authority.
Sengupta's soul journey passed through fight or flight, restful awareness, intuition, and vision, eventually finding the courage to live entirely in the visionary response for the rest of his life. He ensconced himself in a new way, clothed in love and serenity. The brain discovered that it could escape the prison of its old reactions, rising to a new, higher level that it perceived as God.
So now we have the outline for the entire spiritual journey in our hands: the unfolding of God is a process made possible by the brain's ability to unfold its own potential. Inherent in each of us is wonder, love, transformation, and miracles, not just because we crave these things but because they are our birthright. Our neurons have evolved to make these higher aspirations real. From the womb of the brain springs a new and useful God. Or to be precise, seven variations of God(5) which leave a trail of clues for us to follow every day.
If asked why we should strive to know God, my answer would be selfish: I want to be a creator. This is the ultimate promise of spirituality, that you can become the author of your own existence, the maker of personal destiny. Your brain is already performing this service for you unconsciously. In the quantum domain your brain chooses the response that is appropriate at any given moment. The universe is an overwhelming chaos. It must be interpreted to make sense; it must be decoded. The brain therefore can't take reality as it is given; one of the seven responses has to be selected, and the quantum realm is where this decision is made.
To know God, you must consciously participate in making this journey -- that is the purpose of free will. On the surface of life we make much more trivial choices but pretend that they carry enormous weight. In reality, you are constantly acting out seven fundamental choices about the kind of world you recognize:
The choice of fear if you want to struggle and barely survive.
The choice of power if you want to compete and achieve.
The choice of inner reflection if you want peace.
The choice to know yourself if you want insight.
The choice to create if you want to discover the workings of nature.
The choice to love if you want to heal others and yourself.
The choice to be if you want to appreciate the infinite scope of God's creation.
I am not arranging these from bad to good, better to best. You are capable of all these choices; they are hardwired into you. But for many people, only the first few responses have been activated. Some part of their brains is dormant, and therefore their view of spirit is extremely limited. It is no wonder that finding God is called awakening. A fully awakened brain is the secret to knowing God. In the end, however, the seventh stage is the goal, the one where pure being allows us to revel in the infinite creation of God. Here the mystic Jews searching for the Shekhinah (6) meet the Buddhists in their search for satori, and when they arrive, the ancient Vedic seers will be waiting in the presence of Shiva, along with Christ and his Father. This is the place which is both the beginning and end of a process that is God. In this process things like spirit, soul, power, and love unfold in a completely new way. Here certainty can replace doubt, and as the inspired French writer Simone Weil once wrote about the spiritual quest, "Only certainty will do. Anything less than certainty is unworthy of God."
ONE. A REAL AND USEFUL GOD
1. A number of short answers to the question "What does the experience of God feel like?" can be found in Jonathan Robinson, Bridges to Heaven (Walpole, N.H.: Stillpoint Publishing, 1994), pp.54-62. Responses were all provided by spiritual writers and teachers.
2. The beginning of "spiritual physics" is complex, and because quantum theory has now expanded into at least forty different and often conflicting interpretations, the whole subject remains extremely thorny. I first attempted to unravel the basic ideas in Quantum Healing (New York: Bantam Books, 1989), but for more technical resources, I can lead the reader to several books that have made a deep impression on me over the past decade. They are all classics in one way or another and recognized as starting points into the quantum maze.
David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980).
Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics (Boston: Shambhala Press, 1991).
Roger Penrose, The Emperor's New Mind (New York: Penguin USA, 1991).Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe (New York: HarperCollins, 1991).
Fred Alan Wolf, Star Wave: Mind Consciousness and Quantum Physics (New York: Macmillan, 1984).
Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters (New York: Bantam Books, 1980).
The best collection of original writings from great physicists on metaphysical matters was edited by Ken Wilber, Quantum Questions (Boston: Shambhala Press, 1984). Wilber went on to publish authoritative books about mysticism and physics that combine compassion and great depth of knowledge. A good appreciation of his insights can be gained from one of his earliest books and one of his most recent: Eye to Eye (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1983) and Eye of the Spirit (Boston: Shambhala Press, 1997).
3. The Duke project, formally known as the Monitoring and Actualization of Noetic Training, presented its findings in fall 1998to the American Heart Association.
4. Readers will vary widely in how much quantum theory they'll wish to read about. For an introduction to the paradox of how light behaves, nothing is wittier or more palatable for the layman than a series of freshman physics lectures given by the late Nobel laureate Richard P. Feynman: Six Easy Pieces (New York: Addison-Wesley,1995). Big Bang theory changes so rapidly that it is difficult to find an up-to-date treatment outside the pages of the journals Nature and Scientific American. I have relied upon Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1988), now ten years old but still reliable in the essentials on how time and space came into existence.
5. An eye-opening book on the many conflicting aspects of Jehovah, as he careens through the turmoil of the Old Testament, is Jack Miles, God: A Biography (New York: Vintage Books, 1995). For a large compendium of modern spiritual writings, the reader is referred to Lucinda Vardey, ed., God in All Worlds (New York: Vintage Books, 1995).
6. I am referring to students and devotees of Kabbalah. An introductory explanation of Shekhinah can be found in David S. Ariel, What Do Jews Believe? (New York: Shocken Books, 1995), pp.22-23ff.