[Thom Knoles] Welcome to my podcast, The Vedic Worldview. I’m Thom Knoles.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to a recording that was made between me and Eddie Stern before an audience of Vedic meditators, Ashtanga Yoga practitioners, yoga teachers in Manhattan. Eddie and I have always enjoyed being able to meet and to make comparisons between the variations of the knowledge from the point of view of Ashtanga Yoga, and find the unity points with that, and the basic principles of Vedic Meditation.
I think you’ll enjoy this conversation between us very much. Jai Guru Deva.
THE RELEVANCE OF YOGA TODAY – DISCUSSION WITH EDDIE STERN
Let me begin by just saying a few words first about Eddie, and I know many of you know Eddie, about half of you here know Eddie more than you know me. So we’re going to trade places in a moment and microphones. Eddie is, besides becoming a great and dear friend of mine, is a spiritual compatriot. He’s very recently written this marvelous book, “One Simple Thing: A New Look at the Science of Yoga and How It Can Transform Your Life.”
And Eddie is a humble man. So, he won’t say this about himself, but I’ll say it about him. He is one of the acknowledged masters of the ancient system of Ashtanga Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga goes back thousands and thousands of years into the traditions of India.
His master, Sri Pattabhi Jois, was known to me, and his master’s master, Shri Krishna Macharia, was a close friend and acquaintance of my master and my master’s master. And so we have a lot in common in that regard.
We really are like two branches from a tree that grew first in India. And we’ve known each other for a few years at least at this physical level of molecule to molecule. And I’m going to hand this microphone over to Eddie now ’cause it works and I don’t think that one does.
[02:54] A Few Words About Thom Knoles
– [Eddie Stern] For everyone here who does not know Thom, this is Thom Knoles here, and Thom is also a very humble person.
In fact, I could almost give the same introduction to him as he gave to me, which would save me the trouble of feeling nervous about this. But Thom, at a very young age, felt a calling towards spiritual truth, which doesn’t happen to everybody. And this led him to his master, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who he had the privilege and blessings of spending 26 years with in his physical presence and imbibing into himself the deep wisdom teachings of India and of the Rishis.
The teachings of the Vedas at their essence are a teaching of uncovering your own essential knowledge and wisdom. And after many years with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Thom was given the acknowledgement from his teacher and the confidence of his teacher that he had to look within himself for the rest of the knowledge in his journey, and was then sent off to cement that further into himself over the next 20 years until his teacher passed away. Now I knew some of this about Thom but not all of it. Some of this is new knowledge to me. But it taught me a lot, Thom, about what I knew about you already, which is that you embodied the teachings.
But after you shared with me the story about how your teacher said, “Look inside yourself, and you don’t need to check with me but check in your heart,” it made perfect sense to me about how you carry yourself with the knowledge shining through you. And so, I think, whenever in India, you see a spiritual brother, and Thom is a older spiritual brother and not because his beard is longer, but because he began walking on this path first, that you feel an immediate kinship because you see that the branches of knowledge all are coming from the same tree and that you all get to climb that tree together and wave to each other from different branches. So it’s a pleasure to be here climbing a tree with you, Thom. Thank you for having me.
[05:16] What is the Relevance of Yoga Today?
– [Thom Knoles] So Eddie, what is the relevance of yoga today?
– [Eddie Stern] So after I answer this question, I guess we can all go home because . I think the relevance of yoga today is the same relevance that yoga has always had. I think that as long as there have been people walking around this planet with something called a mind, their mind has been troubled. And that is not something which is new to humanity.
You go back thousands of years to when yogis first wandered off from the cities into the forest, they wandered off because their minds were troubled. And what were their minds troubled by? Their minds were troubled by thoughts, and our minds today are also troubled by thoughts. So we do yoga.
So I think the relevance of yoga today is exactly the same as it was thousands of years ago, that we have this thing called a mind and we have this thing called a body, they’re actually one and the same. And the things that happened in this field called the mind quite often trouble us. We don’t know what to do about them. So we have to quiet ourselves. And the way that we quiet ourselves is through using the body and physical postures, using the breathing in a particular way, using meditative techniques, which help settle the entire organism. And that’s not why yoga’s relevant today but why yoga has maintained relevance over several thousands of years.
That’s my guess.
[06:56] Experiencing Yoga vs Doing Yoga
– [Thom Knoles] When you go to India from the West in this day and age, you make an interesting discovery once you move around India properly. The use of the word yoga there is quite different to the use of the word yoga in the West. In the West, when we hear that somebody is, quotes, unquotes, “doing yoga,” from that, it could mean anything from people who show up at a studio every day wearing Lycra and looking for breakthroughs and having coffee afterward. Or it could mean something of a deeper, more spiritual meaning than merely bending and stretching and making yourself super flexible. It could mean people who chant various things and so on.
In India, the word yoga means union and union of every kind. But primarily it is union of the individual mind with that universal Self inside you. Yoga, to find unity between those two things. And the practices where you move the body and move the breath have other names. They have names like asana and pranayama. So that very often in India, you’ll hear that somebody is “experiencing” yoga, not “doing” yoga.
Experience of yoga means they’re having an experience of that deep inner unity of body and mind. And if a Westerner hears that, they might wonder, what kind of asana or position did somebody do to get that yoga? And they may be surprised to learn that that particular master never did any asana at all, but was living yoga. So this, I think, is an area where there’s substantial confusion between Western terminology and its originating terminology in India, and I’d love to hear your comments on that.
[09:07] The Four Classifications of Yoga
-[Eddie Stern] Well, first of all, in the 1980s when I first went to India and I was traveling around, I would get asked by Indians all the time, they would see this white guy walking down the street, and they would say, “What are you here for, why are you in India?” And I said, “Oh, I’ve come here to learn yoga.” And they would say, “To learn what?” And I would say, “Yoga.” and they would say, “To learn what?” And I would say, “Yoga.” And they go, “Oh, yoga.” And I quickly learned that I was not even pronouncing it right. Long vowels and short vowels in India. So, yoga is a short vowel.
Yoga, how Thom pronounced, is actually the correct way of pronouncing it. And then, they would invariably say to me, “Oh, yoga, very good for health.” And that was it. My understanding was I was on a spiritual quest. I wasn’t coming to do something that was good for my health. So, even in India, over the years, yoga a little bit fell out of vogue, but now it’s much more popular than it was.
And what Thom said is 100% accurate, which is that the way we think of yoga now is of asanas and pranayamas, and going to yoga studios and doing a yoga class and things like that. And that’s the most popular form that we have here.
In India, there are many different types of yoga. There are four main classifications. And those four classifications are based on the way that we interact with the world, basically, which is, we interact with the world by thinking, by feeling, by acting, and through stillness. And these are Jnana Yoga, the yoga of inquiry, Karma Yoga, the yoga of action, Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion and feeling, and Raja Yoga, or the yoga of stillness or meditation, which is where the eight-limbed yoga, Ashtanga yoga comes into play.
Ashtanga yoga is also thought of as the synthesis of all the other yogas. So, when we talk about medium, the earliest commentaries on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, talk about not union so much as yoga, but as concentration.
And yoga is a special type of concentration, where you become ‘as if one’ with that object that you’re focusing on, so that your mind and the thing you focus become one steady stream or an embodiment of it. It’s a type of union. But what Patanjali, who is one of the codifiers of the yoga system, said was that we’re not actually trying to join two things together because there aren’t two things to join.
[11:49] Directing Our Attention to the Divine
What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to uncover everything which is getting in the way of us recognizing that we are wholly complete already. So that yoga is the process of removing anything which is clouding the field of consciousness of perception, and preventing us from experiencing that we are already one and whole and part of this interconnected everything. So, that all the different practices are ways of removing those impediments.
So, when it comes to, say, something like the yoga of devotion, of bhakti, just as an example, one of the things we might be troubled by is if we see the objects of the world and we have a lot of desires for the objects of the world. Our mind gets caught up into the things that we think that we want to chase after that we assume are going to bring us happiness but they don’t. So, what we’re troubled by is desires for things that are really not going to bring us fulfillment.
So, rather than chasing after the objects which don’t bring us fulfillment, we switch our desire towards The Divine or the sacred, towards a mantra, or ritual, or carrying out different types of acts of devotion. So, we channel the troubling thoughts of desires for objects towards desire for The Divine.
And that’s a transformation of that same impulsive desire but we move it towards, say, Unity Consciousness. And then, the same thing happens with all of the different types of yoga as well, that we have one thing which is operating, but how we use it can differ.
So, for example, through the sense organs, we perceive things, through the eyes, through the ears, through the nose. It’s the power of perception that makes us connect and see and cognize with things of the world, but that power of perception can go out into the world. Or we can turn it inwards to perceive the Self. It’s the same power, but it all depends on where we move it.
So, the power of yoga is that you can take all the things that trouble us. But underneath it, there’s a constant. And if we can find what that constant is, then we can begin to adjust our experience of ourselves and of the world and you can direct it in more of a targeted type of way.
[14:02] There is Only One Thing
– [Thom Knoles] The way in which yoga was taught in my tradition, embraced all of that, and also that yoga therefore is not ‘a doing’ but that which removes, that which obscures Being, obscures truth. The truth being that there is one indivisible whole thing, and you are it. That thing that is one indivisible and whole is omnipresent. It’s not possible for anything to be omnipresent without you being it, right? If you’re not it, then that’s not omnipresence, that’s quasi presence.
So, if there’s one indivisible whole thing, if there is omnipresence, you must be it. We know from quantum mechanics and modern physics that through lab experiments that have been done repeatedly thousands of times, we can demonstrate that there are not as many as two things in the universe. There’s one thing, one indivisible whole conscious unified field.
Why do we say that it’s conscious? All things that exist are properties of that one indivisible whole, and consciousness exists. Since consciousness exists, and since there’s only one thing, that is, there are no particles really, this is what the great discovery of quantum mechanics is, particles are an appearance that come out of the expectation for there to be a particle. When there’s an observer who wants to experience a particle, that particle will appear in response to the observer’s expectation.
This is, in summary, what quantum mechanics has shown us. By the way, in case you’re wondering what quantum mechanics is, you use it every day, every time you switch on your computer. You use it every time you switch on your phone. It’s given us lasers, it’s given us digital technology. It happens to be the most successful theory of modern science. But it’s weird science. And it’s weird science in the sense that it tells us that there are not multiple things. There is one thing, and that one thing is a thing that appears to be many. It appears as many, but actually, all these many come out of this one indivisible whole.
And so then, how do we make that a practical thing for us to have in our daily lives? I mean, you wake up in the morning, you have to do something that’s going to give you an opportunity to pay your rent or buy your house or eat your lunch or whatever else you’re doing. How does all this pass the “So What Test”? Well, so what if there are physicists who’ve decided there’s only one thing? I experience that there are many things you might say. “The glass, there’s me, there’s all these people, we all seem to be different.” How do we get to that one indivisible whole state?
[17:14] Established in Being, Perform Action
And one of the earliest instances of a commentary on yoga was by a being, a guru and being by the name of Krishna. Krishna had a cousin who was in a real pickle. His cousin’s name was Arjuna. And Arjuna found himself on a battlefield facing an army of millions. He himself was backed by an army of millions, and they were about to go to war. And Krishna’s disciple or student, his cousin, Arjuna, was in a real pickle about what to do if this battle were to actually be carried out to its fullest. He saw nothing but devastation and destruction. And Krishna says to Arjuna, and all of his answers to his question basically rotate around his first answer, which is be. Just Be.
Step beyond all this diversity. Step beyond this. Go beyond all of this multiplicity. Experience the one indivisible whole state. From that place, then perform action. Nistrai-gunyo bhavarjuna is the word that comes from Bhagavad Gita. And then, two verses later, yoga-sthah, yoga, yoga-stah kuru karmani, established in yoga, established in Being, then perform action. If you perform action from there, you can’t do wrong. You can’t do wrong from that place. Because this is the place from which you experience your unity with, your oneness with, the home of all the laws of nature.
All the laws of nature themselves exist inside that one indivisible whole conscious field. And then, Krishna goes on to teach Arjuna how to meditate right there in the no-man’s land, in a battlefield between two massive armies who are itching to fight, just before the battle begins.
A very wonderful juxtaposition of teaching how to transcend all of this just before a war starts. So, very interesting way that the writer of this, Vyasa, intentionally placed the protagonists right inside what would be considered one of the most complex places to learn to meditate.
So, Eddie, as I’m sure you do, I often get students who will say to me, “I can’t do this. I have children.” And I said, “Well, Arjuna had a battlefield and a battle was about to begin and there were still a few loose arrows flying from one side to the other already and people jeering at each other and drum beating and elephants ready to go into battle. And that was the place where he learned to meditate.”
[20:13] The Kingdom of Heaven is Within
The references to this, by the way, though they are rich in India, are not in India alone. When we look at the scripture of all of the great faiths and traditions, all of the teachings of wise people from every continent on Earth, we will find very similar comments. First, you seek the kingdom of God, what is that? The place inside you. “Where is this kingdom of heaven?” they say in Matthew, to Jesus, and he says, “Verily, I say unto thee, the kingdom of heaven is within you.”
And so, when we see comments like that through the lens of practices like Vedic Meditation and yoga, we see that in fact, this message has been presented to humanity many, many times, but culturally, we tend to forget it. And it’s not our mother’s fault, by the way, or our father’s fault. It’s just a recognizable pattern of the loss and regaining of, revitalization of knowledge.
And our experience is that we’re entering a time right now of a revival of knowledge of the idea of just ‘Being’. Being, which underlies thinking and action. Being, which is the source of thought. And exploration of these techniques to get there has been extremely well-preserved and well-defined in India, the place from which both of us received our instruction from our masters.
But it’s very important to realize that this is not Indian knowledge. It’s not Indian knowledge. It’s knowledge that’s universal. So far, right now in history, India is having a bright moment for having preserved this so well. But not all Indians know anything about this. I’m sure Eddie would agree with me that when I go to India, and I’m sure the same is true with you, people who are Indians very often will come up to us and say, “Can you teach me something about yoga? Can you teach me about the Vedas? If you can, I’ll be your student.” Because people are so humble it amazes me. They see a white-skinned, blue eyed guy, and even though I’m teaching something from their ancient culture, they’re willing to become a student of mine if I can teach them anything at all from their own ancient culture. That’s the humility of that race.
And it’s that exact humility that has given people like Eddie and me the wonderful gift from our teachers of being able to pass on to people like you this knowledge. And it’s catching on, right? This thing is really catching on, meditation, yoga, and practices that challenge the assumption about how you have to stay involved in action all the time. No, transcend, go beyond, step beyond this daily experience. Experience the source of thought, experience that fountainhead of creativity.
That’s what this message is all about. And my dear friend and colleague, Eddie, has been one of the bright lights. In all of these years, we couldn’t ever get a crowd like this 20 years ago. If we wanted to talk to people about meditation or yoga, it would be a small little group of people and mostly kind of weirdos who would come and listen to us.
– [Eddie Stern] You guys are pretty weird, don’t worry.
– [Thom Knoles] And now, we just have a larger crowd of weirdos.
[24:04] Seek First
– [Eddie Stern] Okay. So, now that I have the opportunity, I’m going to ask you a couple questions, if I may. First of all, that was beautiful, what you just said. In regards to the connection between what Jesus said, in the Bhagavad Gita, the verse Thom was quoting from was basically about the renunciation of action. That we are troubled by actions when we expect that something particular is going to come from performing that action. And what Krishna was advising Arjuna to do was, “perform the action that you have to do, don’t expect anything to come from it, and then see what happens.” Because actually, it’s all been written. The battle is done, you’ve already won, you just have to play it out. So, do the thing you have to do and then see what happens.
And what Jesus said was, “Seek first the kingdom of heaven within you, and all else will be given.” So, you don’t look for the ‘all else’ first, what you do first is you seek. And then, anything that needs to come from it is going to come. Who knows what that’s going to be?
But the problem is that we don’t trust the action that we’re going to perform because we’re not established in just being who we are. If we were, then we wouldn’t be troubled by thoughts. But if we’re troubled by thoughts and troubled by what’s going on in our mind, then anything that we do are going to have an agenda like, “What is this action going to bring me? When I do this job, when I get this whatever, what’s going to come from it to make me more than I am?” And the answer is nothing.
[25:41] Rishi, Devata, Chandas – The Knower, The Process of Knowing, The Known
So, the problem which is set up potentially in the Yoga Sutra is that we have this dichotomy between that thing in us, which is seeing things. We take for granted the process of seeing because we think that’s who we are. And then, there’s an object that we look at that we think is separate from us that either we want to get or we want to avoid because that’s the basis of our life is navigating objects.
So, I’m an object for you right now, you’re an object for me. And we’re just going to navigate around each other and hope that we’re going to get the things we want from each other, or from jobs or from anything. But as Thom also said already, that all of this is just one thing, but we see it as different. And so, how Patanjali described this is there’s a seer, the process of seeing, and the thing which is being seen.
We see a distinction between the thing which is being seen and our process of observing. And Maharishi Mahesh Yogi called this the Rishi, the Chandas, and the Devata. And so, what I’d like to ask you is if you could explain, you spent a long time with Maharishi Mahesh, and usually, there’s a few things that are interesting. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi said things in ways that were different than anyone else I’ve ever heard in India anywhere. And usually, when you say Rishi, Chandas and Devata in the Hindu tradition or in the Vedic tradition, it refers to a mantra.
For every single mantra that exists, there’s a Rishi who heard it in his meditation, there’s a Chandas, the way of repeating it, and there’s a Devata or a beam of light, which is the energetic component of that mantra. So, for Ganesha, Ganaka Rishi, Ganaka is the sage, Nichrid Gayatrii, Nichrid is the way they pronounce it, and Ganapati is the Devata. So, you say, “Ganaka rishihi nricchad gayatri chandaha Sri Maha Ganapatir devata…Sri Maha Ganapati” and then, you start chanting the mantra. But we only hear about it, especially in South India, in regards to repetition of mantra.
But now, we have Maharishi saying, actually, that’s not the whole story. So, could you tell us what the whole story is?
-[Thom Knoles] I recorded an 85-hour course on this subject, called Exploring the Veda. And I’ll try to summarize it in less than eight minutes.
The concept of the Rishi as the knower, Rishi is the knower, that which is the ultimate witness of all things. There’s a place inside you which is the Rishi value. It is not the thoughts. It’s that which is witnessing the thoughts. Devata is the means of gaining knowledge. The means of gaining knowledge, that which lies between the object of perception and the knower. So, knower, knowing, and then known, Chandas. Chandas is that which is known.
Rishi, Devata, Chandas. The knower, the means of gaining knowledge, and that which is the known, the object. And when we look at the usual way of experiencing things in the waking state, there’s a big distinction. Deep inside me is the knower, my senses, my means of perception, that which lies between me and the object are the means of gaining knowledge, we’re going to use the word Devata for that for now. And then, the object itself, Chandas, that which is known.
[29:39] Samhita and Samadhi
As we take our consciousness deep inside, the deeper we go in our own consciousness, the more these three begin to merge. And there’s a place beyond thought called the Samhita. And the Samhita is the place where the three of these merge, the knower, the processes of knowing, and the known are all the same one thing, consciousness. Consciousness is the knower. Consciousness is the means by which knowing is occurring. And consciousness is the known.
And this place, the Samhita, in my tradition, the way we learned it, the other name for it is Yoga. Yoga, that state where knower, knowing and known are all bound up in one condition. Now, when the mind is able to go to that place and experience pure consciousness or pure awareness, which we would learn in Sanskrit, the word Samadhi.
By having experiences of Samadhi, going beyond thought, pure consciousness being pure awareness, we’re experiencing that place where knower, knowing and known are united. As the mind repeatedly goes there, we prescribe that people meditate a couple of times a day, and when the mind repeatedly goes to that place, that mind when it comes out from that place begins to experience a very interesting phenomenon. And that is that, “I am, as the knower, not separated from the object.”
This is because of exposure to that place where all three are together in one state, that objects are an extension of myself, “I’m beginning to see the world as extended itself.” And what does this give us? It gives us the capacity for spontaneous right action, because of a quality, an emotional quality that appears from this, which is empathy.
Now, we all know, you’ve been reading the constitutions of all nations, you know about ideas of unity, and, you know, that we are a family of humans, and we all need to be behaving like this, and so on. And these are conceptual ideas that are very beautiful. But perceptually, if I can’t see that, I’m going to behave in the way that my senses deliver information, and that is, “It might be true that we’re a family of humans, but you’re different to me and your kids sing different songs to mine. And we all wear different clothes and stuff. And I don’t know if I really want to hang out with you kind of people. I don’t know how you voted in the last election. And so, you might be ‘non-self’ to me.” There’s that strong sense of the knower, and then, the process of knowing is delivering to me an idea of non-self. The Chandas is non-self. That which is the object of knowledge, the known, knower, knowing and known are all separated out.
But when we keep going back to that place, where there’s the Samhita, Yoga, that place where we transcend all difference, we experience consciousness as the knower, consciousness as the knowing, consciousness as the known. And repeated exposure to this again and again begins to train the senses and the mind gently into that experience of Unity Consciousness. You are my extended self. Now, when we can experience that perceptually, not just conceptually, then our actions will be accordingly in that unity fashion. If I have a concept of unity, I might feel like, “I know intellectually that we all come from the same place and all that, that’s a great idea and all that but I just can’t believe that you voted for Trump.”
– [Eddie Stern] No, I didn’t. I have one question though.
– [Thom Knoles] Yeah?
[33:47] Your Inside is Out, Your Outside is In
– [Eddie Stern] So, you said that you see all the objects as an extension of you. Am I experiencing all of that outside of me or am I experiencing all this inside of me? And if that transformation of consciousness of those three things, Rishi, Chandas, and Devata means that I recognize that all of this experience here is happening inside of me, or is it actually that there’s something outside of me that I experience?
– [Thom Knoles] First one and then the other. Through repeated inner experience of it, what happens is it occurs to you, and there’s this moment of realization, that my inside is out and my outside is in and my outside is and in my inside is out.
You’ve heard this before in a Beatles lyric because they spent time with Maharishi. “Your inside is out, your outside is in, your outside is in, your inside is out. So come on, come on. It’s such a joy.” Those are the lyrics.
What is going on inside is actually outside, and it’s an interesting thing in perceptual psychology, we can demonstrate without any doubt that what you think is the world around you is actually a model that you built in your brain. We have a neuroscientist here who’ll back me up on this. Dr. Lana Morrow is here. This is her specialty.
The world that you think is out there is actually a model that your brain has built that gives you an impression of what’s out there. And it takes years and years for you to build your model from the time you’re a tiny little tot. Now, what this tells us is that if we change our internal model, then spontaneously, our behavior towards the outside changes because our internal model actually governs our external model.
The internal model goes through change through meditation, and through transcendence, the external model changes accordingly. And that means your behavior completely changes without you having to intellectually perform gymnastics about how you’re different to me, and I know I should really be thinking unity here. But the mental gymnastics are not needed. There is a direct perceptual phenomenon that takes place.
[36:10] Expanding Our Bandwidth
– [Eddie Stern] Okay. Thank you. So, then my next question is, as human beings, we operate in an extremely limited bandwidth, right? We can only see a certain amount of colors, not too many. Just seven and their permutations. We can only hear in a particular range of sound. We’re not like bats who see infrared. We’re not like whales who can hear sonically for a gazillion miles underwater.
So, the model that we’re creating is based on this limited bandwidth of sense perception, and whatever else goes into the creation of who we are upbringing, our genes, culture, all of that, and we create a false sense of what we think the world is, and who we think we are in it.
Do you think that, and excuse me for dumbing all that down, but do you think that the presentation of the Vedic wisdom then is implanting in us somehow this model that is free from a bandwidth of identification with all of the different modeling that we’ve done in our brains and in our minds all the time? That somehow by doing these practices, the bandwidth which we were operating under normally either expands or it goes away completely so we can experience a frequency that was before that, totally incomprehensible to us? That we tune into a totally different frequency, and that frequency is beyond the bandwidth of this whole modeling?
– [Thom Knoles] Yes.
– [Eddie Stern] Now we know.
– [Thom Knoles] But I’ll make a little comment on that, too.
It’s already been demonstrated that the dark-adapted eye, for example, if it’s dark adapted for a long enough period, is sensitive even to one photon of light. A photon of light is, at the Planck scale of objects, it’s about the size of an atom. The dark-adapted eye can perceive a photon, a single photon, this one little unit of light. Normally, when you look up into the night sky, the dimmest star that you can see is a star that has something on the order of 900 photons bombarding the retina of your eye. That’s the thickest star that you can see. But if you dark adapt that eye, you’d be able to see a single photon.
What would happen if your eye developed the acuity that it has when it’s dark adapted? If it developed that kind of acuity and you looked at the night sky, you wouldn’t see a black sky with a few stars in it, you’d see a sky that is filled with light, because that’s the truth of it. If you take a camera and hold the shutter open for a few hours, it’s not a black sky. It’s a sky that’s absolutely filled with light.
One of my daughters is an astronomer. And she operates a telescope at an observatory for people like us to be going to get some gee whiz experiences with this telescope. And one of the things that she loves to do is she’ll say, “Okay, point out a black space up there in between stars. And I’ll focus the telescope on that.” So, you do that. “Okay, we’re on that black space. Now, have a look. We’re going to increase the magnification.” Oh, there’s stars inside the black space. “Okay, now, find another point in between those stars. And let’s see what happens when we increase the magnification.” So, you find another black spot with the telescope and you increase the magnification by 10. And suddenly, there’s galaxies inside that black spot. “Find a place in between the galaxies,” she’ll say. “And see if it’s black.” You find another black spot in between galaxies, increase the magnification, there’s more galaxies.
What’s actually out there is nothing but light. But what we can see typically is just blackness.
What if we could enhance the acuity of our sensory perception? The human olfactory nerve can detect one molecule of vanilla as a stimulus, and identify it as vanilla in the equivalent of a room full of air. If that molecule of vanilla happens to touch the olfactory nerve, then a person would say, “I smell vanilla.”
[40:49] Changing Our Perception
So, we do have virtually quantum mechanical perception, but we haven’t refined it. We haven’t refined it. And one of the things that happens when we do these practices that refine the physiology, asana, pranayama, meditation, is that our brain and our inner mechanisms get honed and honed and honed to a level of acuity that is, in my opinion, quantum mechanical.
When we have the capacity to experience quanta, that is to say, the smallest discrete items that exist inside of any system, it’s bound to be a fact that our perception changes. But I think we can go beyond that. I think it’s possible to refine our sensory perception to the point that we can experience the Unified Field itself through our senses. That is to say the field of Being, what we would call in Sanskrit language, Brahman, that totality source out of which everything comes, which is everything. This would, to me, explain Unity Consciousness, that one is not just sensing emotionally that you are my very self, one is actually experiencing it perceptually. And that comes from going back into that Samhita state over and over and over again many, many, many times. Because our senses do operate inwardly.
When we close our eyes, we still have the ability to see because we have visualization. We can hear because we hear ourselves thinking. Smell, taste, touch, all the senses are inside there. When we take all of that into the Samhita, into that place where the knower, the knowing and the known unite, then what happens is the nectar of that experience is so great that our senses will hone themselves willingly to be able to keep experiencing that extreme subtlety. And then, when we come out of that state, aided by asana and pranayama, by the way, and this is a very important part of what I teach, and my tradition teaches that without asana and pranayama, you cannot do this. The process of refining the senses, refining and refining and refining.
And what opens up into the experience of the experiencer is worlds, not just an improvement on this world, but worlds of experience that are celestial compared with this level of experience. This doesn’t disappear. What appears within it is that which was always there, which is that celestial quality.
[43:31] Grounding Oneself in Being
– [Eddie Stern] It sounds like you’re describing some kind of a filtration system. We filter out a ton of information coming in all the time. And we’re filtering it out so we can just absorb whatever we’re able to handle. So, as we refine the filtration systems, like with light, you’ll begin to see more light between the spaces, and all of the galaxies, et cetera.
And I understand that the asanas and pranayama are going to help somehow mediate between our experience of this expanded sense of light, and living in the world that we have to navigate. But sometimes when, you know, we meditate a lot or do a lot of yoga, and the filtration systems become open, we start to feel very emotional or vulnerable, or we feel like too much is coming in all the time. And I think you already answered that by saying the fruits of asanas and pranayama, but I want to maybe hear what you have to say about this also, because we are opening a lot of floodgates through these practices, and sometimes it can become overwhelming. And I think you’ve probably had a lot of experience counseling people through this type of experience. So, maybe if you could say something a little bit about that?
– [Thom Knoles] The problem is not so much that we identify too much with all of the object world whether it is gross, which is what most people experience, just the grossest, most expressed. By gross, I don’t mean yucky gross. I mean, gross compared to the subtle, versus the subtle, because even the subtle can be overwhelming. If you have a deep celestial experience, then that could be overwhelming.
The problem really lies in not identifying enough with the field of Being that underlies it all. The field of Being that underlies it all, the Rishi quality, to use our language of it, Rishi, the knower, that part of you which is being the oceanic layer of you that can’t be overshadowed by anything, because it’s the source of all those things.
So, when students come to me and start saying, “I’m having a phenomenal set of experiences, and I can’t really understand it all,” one of the first things I like to check that they’re doing is enough asana and pranayama. Because asana and pranayama, for those of you who are not familiar with the terminology, is the way in which what we commonly call yoga in the West, when properly practiced, and I have to say that I’m with the master of that, when properly practiced, and pranayama, which is a methodology of administering to oneself the life force that’s in the air, pranayama, when properly practiced, will balance the physiology so powerfully that when meditation is done, and these great perceptions are being had, one feels grounded.
And so, the grounding comes from two places. One is getting the nervous system into shape, so that the nervous system is actually capable of delivering these higher levels of consciousness without the overshadowing effect. And two, establishing oneself more in the field of Being.
And this is one of the reasons why, by the way, and I know what Eddie thinks about this because we had a conversation over lunch last September, when you take a drug that allows you to pop your head through a portal into some psychedelic experience, it’s not that that psychedelic experience is not truth. In fact, it probably does have a lot of truth for you. But one of the problems with it is that, first of all, you can’t stabilize it, you can’t practice ayahuasca twice a day for the rest of your life, and the second thing is that you don’t have a perspective in which to understand what it is that you’re seeing.
And when I say See, I mean perceive, all five senses. What it is that you’re experiencing, there’s no perspective for it. And I’m not just going to pick on ayahuasca, any kind of psychedelic or psychoactive substance. One of the reasons why these psychoactive substances work is because we have receptors in our brain that are designed for our own psychoactive substances.
We do produce psychoactive substances in our brain. That’s why we have receptors for these things. They weren’t designed for something that came from another continent, or something that comes from a lab or something that comes from somewhere else. They’re designed for your own chemicals that are produced by your own brain. And in the due course of time with your own personal evolution, you’ll be able to develop in grades a context and a perspective for what these amazing experiences are that can be had.
Now, there’s no great harm in having a preview of coming attractions, as they say, in Hollywood. But if all you’ve had is previews, and you haven’t actually seen the movie, you’re missing out on something. So, what we want to do with the whole practice of yoga and meditation is to have such a huge amount of regular experience that we develop a context and perspective. And then, when we begin to have these heightened perceptions, they’re not overshadowing. If you think that the regular everyday world on the streets of Manhattan is overwhelming to you, you’ve seen nothing until you see the celestial world, which we know is big and high magnitude. If you’re not established in Being and you have an experience of that, it could make you stressed. It could make you very stressed.
And so, it’s important to develop that graded perspective before sticking your head through that portal and having a look and seeing what’s in there. And this is one of the reasons why, when people ask me about drugs and their usefulness, I’m always like, “Okay, well if you really have to go and do that and you know you already invested in it or whatever, then let me know what you experience, but you’re not going to be able to stabilize it.” Stabilizing the experience is what it’s all about, developing context and perspective. There are mechanisms in place.
[50:13] Guru – Remover of Darkness
This is why you need to have a good teacher. A good teacher is someone who knows how to help you stabilize your experience. They don’t just say, “Oh, look, practice this, go and do it. And good luck. See you later.” There’s somebody who you can come back to, and you can check in with, and who knows something about what you’re experiencing, and can guide you through that. Learning to meditate or learning yoga, very important first step. But after that, you really do need to have someone who knows how to remove the darkness.
That’s what the word guru means, a darkness remover, someone who removes darkness, that takes away the obscurity of the experience, so that you’re not just having experiences and you don’t really understand anything about it and that frightens you or it overwhelms you or whatever. So, between these two or three things, asana, pranayama, establishment in Being, and good solid intellectual understanding, you’re safe.
– [Eddie Stern] Yes. So essentially, what’s happening is through the practices, you’re making the container strong to be able to handle the fullness of experience that will come later on. Without making the container strong, you can get into trouble. Just to carry on with your coming attraction analogy, when we go to a movie and we see previews, what are the previews there for? To create anticipation in the viewer, to get you really excited and jacked up about what’s coming later on that you’re going to, of course, spend more money on.
And that anticipation is something that we call novelty. And when the brain begins to seek novelty, what it does is it sets off a cascade of hormones and neurotransmitters that keep us in a cycle of anticipation, which is the stress response, or a type of stress response.
And if it continues over and over again on a daily basis, it begins to create conditions of inflammation in the body, and inflammation in the mind. And this leads to a host of about 95% of the preventable diseases that we have in our society today that are caused by inflammatory responses in the body. And these include cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancers, diabetes, digestive disorders, and things like that.
So, we live in a society right now that is pushing novelty on us to keep us hooked into the consumer mindset so that we are reeled in like fish on a line. And what it’s doing is it’s actually literally making us sick with stress. So, the seeking of novelty, even in spiritual experience, is a danger as well when what we’re really seeking in our spiritual practice is consistency and groundedness in Being, so that we don’t get lost in the cascade of things that are set into motion.
[53:23] The Seven States of Consciousness
So then, where are we experiencing these things? We are awake right now, so we experience all of the things we’ve been talking about in a waking state. And then sometimes, we go to sleep at night, I hope every night, we should be. Otherwise, if you’re not sleeping enough, more information. During the sleep state, sometimes we dream and in that dream state, we feel that it’s real also, but we’re only the ones experiencing so it’s not a shared awake state. And other times, we’re in deep sleep and there’s an absence of content.
So, for all the things you just described, we are experiencing them in different ways. And they’re called the three states of consciousness. Waking, our shared experience right now. Dream state, where only I’m having the experience, but I think it’s real. And then a deep sleep state, where there’s an absence, my awareness of an absence of content. And then, there’s other like transcendence states.
In the yoga technology, we usually hear about these four states, waking, dreaming, sleeping, and the transcendent state. And Maharishi talked about seven states of consciousness that you don’t usually hear about in other places. So, in regards to the journey and the things we’ve talked about so far, everything that you’ve covered is occurring in one of these states. But we haven’t talked about the states of consciousness yet, where we can experience the seer, the seen, the process of seeing, and the unity of all those.
So, to move on to the next level, could you talk a little bit about these four states of consciousness at least? And then maybe if you want, the other three, adding up to seven as well, if time permits.
– [Thom Knoles] Well, I’m going to take it that your description of the four is very complete, waking, dreaming, sleeping are Relative. We call them Relative, partly because they’re ever changing, but also Relative because they’re related to each other. We sleep to the degree that we’re tired. We wake to the degree and we’re awake to the extent that we rested before waking. We dream to release stresses, which is also part related to the waking state, and so on, and so forth. So, these three states all bounce off of each other, and they’re relative in that way that they’re related to each other.
Then, there’s the fourth state, which is non-waking, non-dreaming, non-sleeping. You transcend your experiencing consciousness in its pure state, the Samhita. And consciousness in its pure state stands alone, but it’s temporary. When you come out, it’s gone, you’re living your everyday life again. But the residue of the state stays with you. Something of, it’s not just a memory, something built into the brain and physiology, partly because the brain begins to produce on a regular basis, neurochemicals of happiness, a cocktail of bliss chemicals which came from the mind experiencing that bliss.
When we say bliss, it’s not ecstatic bliss, it’s a supreme inner contentedness. The brain starts to produce that neurochemistry and our brain is very interesting. It doesn’t want to have to let go of that. It wants to learn how to combine that fourth state and the chemicals of it with the waking, dreaming, and sleeping states, and it progresses like that as you keep meditating.
Eventually, your brain learns how to create a style of functioning, in which you can have the fourth state going on. And it’s not overshadowed by the waking state. In other words, your brain learns how to sustain it in such a way that you’re experiencing a backdrop of that fourth quiet state that’s beyond thought, the state of Being, while simultaneously engaging in thinking and action. And so, then this state, which is the fourth state combined with the other three, and going on perpetually with the other three is a fifth state.
– [Eddie Stern] Okay. So, just to see if I understood what you said, imagine we had a screen right here, movie screen, and there was a movie being projected on it. And all of the light and the characters and the images in the story is going on. But normally when there’s a movie going on, the screen is not taking part in the movie, right? So, the screen never changes, but the movie is always playing on it. So, are you saying that now all of a sudden in this fourth state, the screen becomes integrated into the action of the movie? So, the screen is aware of itself having a movie projected on it while the movie is going on, and that’s just the integration?
– [Thom Knoles] Perhaps we can labor your analogy a little bit by just saying somebody sitting in the audience with a flashlight. For Europeans, that’s a torch. And they can shine the light on the movie screen while the movie is going on. And now, the movie is not that thing that’s making the screen, it’s not opaquing screen out. You can see the screen while the movie is going on.
– [Eddie Stern] And this screen is the background state?
– [Thom Knoles] Correct.
– [Eddie Stern] Okay.
– [Thom Knoles] And so, the screen is the background state and the movie’s going on, the waking, dreaming and sleeping states are going on. So, this is a fifth state.
The sixth state is the state where, through continued regular transcendence and going back into there again and again, the sense is super refined and becomes super acute, and then, the outside world that normally you would only see the most-expressed level, the grossest level, is no longer experienced solely as that. You begin to be able to see the impulses of laws of nature themselves personified.
Our brain is designed to personify things. If we look up at a cloud as a kid, we go, “Look, can you see the face? Can you see the eyes and so on?” Our brains are programmed to see faces and eyes. Whether a turtle would look up at the sky and say, “I can see an eye,” probably not. But human brains certainly are designed to model the universe and personify it.
[59:36] Creation, Maintenance, Disintegration – Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva
When we get into that, we’ve been in the fifth state for a while, we continue our practice and our senses begin to super refine. They become super acute by going inward many, many times. And the nectar of those inner experiences is so great but only available in the super subtle. And so, the inner senses keep refining and refining and refining and refining to get at the nectar of those states in meditation.
Then, what happens is the same senses when you come out of meditation are now applied to the waking state world. And what you start to experience is something far richer than what would commonly meet the eye of a person who’s in the regular waking state. You begin to actually be able to detect minute change, incredibly minute change occurring. And change always occurs in a variety of ways.
Things are either building themselves in a creative fashion, we would call that in Sanskrit the Brahma function. Things are either maintaining themselves in the evolutionary process. Or things are disintegrating and coming apart, the Shiva function, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva.
What one starts to experience is that the world is no longer just a world that is one dimension. It’s a world with many, many dimensions in it. And all of those deeper dimensions explain the more superficial dimensions. It’s a little bit like if you have your feet under the blanket on the bed and you’re moving your feet around, and you see the blanket moving, and it might look like mountains and things like that. But if you look under the blanket, you can see that it’s your feet doing it. You get to have a look in this state of consciousness under the blanket. This is the sixth state.
[01:01:28] Ritam – The Universal Cosmic Laws of Nature
-[Eddie Stern] Okay, I have a question about that. Before he goes on to seven. Okay, so in Yoga Sutra, at the end of chapter one, Patanjali says, <speaking in Sanskrit> , which is quite often translated as. “Then when the mind is totally serene and the light of awareness shines through as if by its own power.”
But I always wondered about that verse because the word Ritam means the universal cosmic laws of nature. So, Dharma is our personal laws that we follow, Ritam are the universal cosmic laws. So, to me, it sounded like, well, at that point of the light of awareness shines through into the changes of cosmic rhythms, which is essentially what the literal translation would say. So, it sounds to me now, what you’re saying is through the refinement of the senses, through meditation at the sixth level of consciousness, you see the laws of nature in operation and the changes that they occur. So, do you think this is what Patanjali is talking about in that verse right there?
– [Thom Knoles] That’s what my master taught me. Ritam Bhara is that state, which is sitting right on the cusp of absolute transcendence. If you go in the direction of absolute transcendence, just before transcendence is a place where individuality exists and universality also exists.
– [Eddie Stern] You’re in a liminal space.
[ 01:02:59]Devas – Personified Laws of Nature
-[Thom Knoles] Exactly, you’re on the cusp. And then, by visiting that place regularly in meditation, what happens is you begin to experience it outside of meditation. And it turns into a perceptual phenomenon that, exactly what you said, the laws of nature, all the mechanisms by which the laws of nature work, are completely cognizable by you.
Nothing bewilders you anymore. You can see all causes and all effects unveiled before you, but there’s something a little bit more than that and that is your brain personifies it. It turns it into beings, beings, small being. You see a world of beings in operation, a world of beings. And this is where if we look at the ancient Vedic literature, we see all the descriptions of Devas.
Devas are these personified laws of nature that are moving around the creation operators, the maintenance operators, the destruction operators. But let’s be very clear, just as everything in your world is a creation of a model you’ve created in your brain, this also is that. Everything that’s out there is in here. We can’t say, someone said to me, “Oh, I get it. The world of Devas or beings is not out there. It’s only in here.” And I go, “Hang on for a sec, everything that’s out there is in here.” And so, yes and no, everything that’s out is in, everything that is in is out.
There’s no difference between in and out. There’s no in and out. It’s all one thing. Your mind moves into that state where all things are understood. You have a level of understanding that is complete.
But there’s one more thing. And that is Being is one’s own inner nature. Since the fifth state, there’s been a sense that “I am, in my essential nature, I am this field of pure indivisible whole consciousness.” And here is the ephemeral world, whether it’s celestial or whatever it may be. But what is its true nature? And the senses refine and refine and refine through practice. And the revelation of that which was transcendent in the object is available now on the level of sensory perception.
So, the knower, Rishi quality, can see the knower in all objects. Being is experiencing Being. And this is what we call Unity Consciousness, and all the other layers. And so, first three states, Waking, Dreaming, Sleeping. Then the fourth state, Transcendence. Fifth state, Cosmic Consciousness. Sixth state, God Consciousness. Seventh state, Unity Consciousness.
– [Eddie Stern] Okay. Thank you for that description. So, these are basically the seven different states of consciousness, seven levels, moving from the waking, dream, to the Unity, existence of Being that, “This is all one.” Did you want to take any questions?
– [Thom Knoles] My gosh, we decided we were going to do that at the start of this meeting. And we questioned each other so much. Let’s take one or two questions.
[01:06:36] Brains Are Modelling Machines
-[Eddie Stern] This personification sounds like a human construct, are they beings or is that just what we create?
– [Thom Knoles] Are those beings actually out there? Or is it a human construct? Everything that’s out there is a human construct, everything.
There’s research that was done once with kittens, and don’t worry, the kittens weren’t harmed if you love kittens. And these kittens were litter mates, all from the same litter. But one group of kittens were raised in an area where there were no vertical lines anywhere. All the vertical lines were smoothed out. Kittens developed their inter-neuronal connections in about the first six weeks after birth.
Their litter mates were raised in an environment where there were no horizontal lines, everything was vertical. And when these two sets of kittens were brought out into the real world, the kittens who had never seen a vertical line would walk along and walk straight into a chair leg, or if you held this mic in front of them, would walk straight into that, they couldn’t see it. But if you held a ruler in front of that kitten, and then you held it sideways, they’d see the ruler, but they couldn’t see anything that was vertical if they hadn’t been raised with anything vertical. But if they’d been raised only with horizontal, it was the opposite. They could only see horizontal lines.
These kinds of things suggest to us that our brains are actually modeling machines. And what models us is what it is that we regularly perceive. Now, as our state of consciousness grows, what we regularly perceive has suddenly taken a quantum leap. First, in the inner meditation states, and then in the exterior states. And so, our brain is going to begin changing its model.
And yes, the human brain loves personification. We love it. We love referring to our cars as he’s and she’s and ships as she’s and whatnot. We have this kind of tendency already.
Is there one objective truth outside the human truth that humans could learn about that tells you what’s really true out there? We would also model that, whatever that answer is. What we can say is, what it is that people experience. What people experience is that the laws of nature and all their mechanisms do become personified in that consciousness state. And it is delightful.
And the reason why it’s delightful is because you are living a life in which you don’t wonder anything anymore. Everything is of course, of course, of course, of course. And it’s not like you’re living the life of an odd person, you may be odd in the fact that you’ve learned how to stop suffering. You’ve learned how to stop being bewildered. You move in the world in a completely different fashion to the way you would in a different consciousness state.
And so, it is a truth to say, and this is one of those fundamental things that we learn from the Vedas, you cannot stop someone from behaving according to their state of consciousness. State of consciousness is everything. Someone’s state of consciousness absolutely dictates what is it that’s real, what is it that’s not real, state of consciousness dictates these things.
All reports are reports upon the state of consciousness of the reporter. Anytime anyone reports anything to you, they’re reporting on their own consciousness state. And so, what is the one objective reality? Well then the question to that would be, according to whom? According to which brain that was conditioned in which way?
But what we can say is that there is a body of evidence, thousands of years old, and which has been verified and validated by modern-day experience, that in that sixth state, you do experience worlds of beings. And people who are in that state and who described this in this way are among you. They’re not strangers who walk around looking weird or anything, or maybe they do a little bit, I don’t know. But it is simply a state that is ultra-explanatory of everything.
And it’s a state in which someone who is described in the ancient texts as a “Rishi,” the word Rishi comes from the word, drishti, which means to see. A Rishi is a seer, someone who is a seer, someone who sees Totality.
I think that might be all we have time for him, sorry. That just means we have to do this again, Eddie.
[01:11:28]A Model That Removes All Models
– [Eddie Stern] I’m happy to. I have one other little thing. You quite often hear in the lore of the spiritual teachings in India that if you get a thorn in your foot or something like that, you can remove it with another thorn. So, you get a thorn in your foot, you can remove it with another thorn. Same thing with what’s troubling you can also be fixed by that thing.
So, in a relative model, the knowledge of the Vedas is basically the model that removes all models. So, on a relative form, a relative scale, the wisdom of the Vedas is the model which removes all the models which limit us. But from an absolute perspective, there are no roses and there are no thorns. Anything else?
– [Thom Knoles] I think that’s it.
– [Eddie Stern] I’ll say thank you first. And then, I’ll let the maestro say thank you to close. So, thank you all so much for coming. And Thom, thank you for having me.
– [Thom Knoles] Eddie, as ever, Jai Guru Deva.
– [Eddie Stern] Jai Guru Deva.
– [Thom Knoles] And more of these are needed. We need to have more conversations like this where we can just sit. Because we’re learning about each other here in front of all of you, which is just fantastic for us too. Thank you, everyone. And also, a very big thanks to our host, Rachel, who is the Benrubi Gallery. Thank you, Rachel, so much for having us.
Jai Guru Deva