FTP026 - What Is Enlightenment. Vinay Gupta interview on Future Thinkers Podcast with Mike Gilliland and Euvie Ivanova
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Mike: Before we get into it guys, I need to apologize for the audio quality; our audio recorder broke halfway through this episode. We basically are using Skype audio on our end. Fortunately, Vinay was recording on his end, so his audio is perfectly fine.

Also, this episode [00:01:30] talks a lot about the dogmas and untruths about enlightenment. I think it’s really important that we get this through – what enlightenment is and what it isn’t – so that people don’t have the same old dogmas they’ve always had about enlightenment. That’s what this episode’s about and in the next one we talk about Vinay’s story, how he achieved enlightenment, what his description of enlightenment – that one gets more into the practical side of it, which is interesting. We hope you enjoy this episode and we’ll get right into it. I’m excited for this one.

Vinay: [00:02:00] Yeah, I have that feeling like, “Oh God, here we go.”

Mike: You were the most popular episode for us last year.

Vinay: Really? Wow.

Euvie: Yeah.

Mike: You got our brains going, too, I think you got our listeners pretty excited. So, we got lots to talk about.

Vinay: It was a really, really fun show.

Mike: Yeah, it was.

Vinay: Yeah, that was one of the best, most fun interviews I’ve ever done.

Mike: Cool.

Euvie: Awesome.

Mike: Hakuna matata space [inaudible [0:02:26], that was…

Vinay: [00:02:30] Yeah, I knew as soon as you said that, “Okay, this is gonna be a classic.”

Mike: Yeah. So, Vinay, last time we talked something that blew my mind, I did not expect when we were talking, was you said you were enlightened. I wasn’t prepared to ask you questions about that, but since we talked to you last we’ve had a ton of experiences over the last year. We’ve meditated a lot more, we’ve read a lot about meditation, and we’ve had some experience with it that I could say would mini [00:03:00] [inaudible [0:03:00]. So, I’m interested to hear your opinion on this, this is what this episode’s gonna be about. Why don’t you tell us about your experiences? What is enlightenment?

Vinay: The first thing is it’s a terrible idea, right, it’s really not the kind of thing that anybody ought to be chasing unless they’ve left themselves with no alternative. Nobody really tells you that at the beginning of the process. The zen guys hint at it a little bit like, “Best not to start, but if you start, best to finish.” All this kind of stuff. Once you start drilling away [00:03:30] at the deep structure of the mind, once you see a little bit of light on the other side, you’re more or less compelled to finish the job. In some ways, it’s better to leave everything running pretty much the way that it was and deal with the world in an ordinary way. If you are foolish enough or hungry enough to poke that initial little hole, then you find yourself drawn further and further and further to scrape away reality until you get out into the other side, where you of course discover simply reality.

[00:04:00] You’re just successfully replacing one kind of ignorance with a different kind of ignorance, but that second kind of ignorance is fundamental ignorance, it’s the knowledge of the limits of knowing and fully living with the limits of knowing in a way that we normally obscure for ourselves.

Mike: It’s interesting, because when I hear people talk about enlightenment they say it’s sort of a no limit thing, and you’re saying it’s just another level of limit.

Vinay: Okay, for most of us, [00:04:30] most of the time you look up at the night sky, “Oh, stars,” and that’s where the process stops. If I look up at the night sky, I get hit right in the head with I’m just looking into a 13 billion lightyear deep abyss. I’m sitting on top of a spinning rock and the only thing that’s holding me down is the curvature of space time. I can damn near feel the rotation of the earth. You can just stare up like, “Wow, [00:05:00] I’m spinning really, really quickly on this enormous bowl of rock being held down by a force I don’t really understanding, staring into a 13 billion lightyear abyss. Amazing.”

The thing is that if I didn’t know the physics of what was happening, even in this kind of arm waving way, I’d be staring up and I’d be saying, “Oh my God, it’s the infinite mystery,” right? The infinite mystery is not so infinite and not so mysterious now. We’ve got science, we’ve got cosmology, we’ve got lots of good answers to pretty [00:05:30] fundamental questions. Almost all of the questions about human nature that have been traditionally answered by mysticism or religion are now answered pretty adequately by science, particularly evolutionary biology. We have a lot more certainty about the way the world is.

What we don’t have so much is cultural understanding of how to live now that we have that certainty. You’ve got a billion years of ancestors and we know roughly what shape almost all of them were, we know that if we manage to get humanity off planet we could [00:06:00] potentially expand through what appears, right now, an almost infinite empty cosmos. And that process could run for, I don’t know, hundreds of billion of years maybe and we’re somewhere in the middle of that process. When you live with that kind of stuff right in front of you, not veiled by the normal process of ordinary life, you’re constantly taking part in this cosmic evolutionary process but there’s nothing mystical about that cosmic evolutionary process; it’s the cosmic evolutionary process. Does [00:06:30] this make any kind of sense, or is this a little insane sounding?

Mike: No, absolutely.

Euvie: Yeah, totally makes sense.

Mike: I’ve often just, like you described, sat up there and looked at the stars and felt like I was strapped to the end of a rollercoaster, like you said, almost feeling the earth rotating. It’s interesting. Why would someone not want to pursue enlightenment?

Vinay: Okay. You’ve got to think about this in terms of processes. I will argue that the enlightened state is the natural state of human [00:07:00] beings, that we more or less start enlightened. It’s hard to do this without metaphysical speculation. For the sake of argument, let’s say that reincarnation is plausibly real. In Buddhism, the belief is that beings are formed in a non-enlightened state and then they have to find their way up through the muck to enlightenment, that this is the way in which suffering is exited.

The Hindus have a slightly different take, which is we think the beings are born enlightened and then they create the unenlightened state [00:07:30] of being as a special purpose experience in much the same way that you might go into a movie theatre. The certain notion is that the unenlightened state is created by a conscious wilful limitation of consciousness to narrow focus and to narrow the agenda down to something which is more enjoyable. You can think of this a bit like if you’re going to be on a long-haul plane flight, you might want to have a couple of drinks and zonk out in front of a movie, rather than sit there for 14 hours with the total awareness of everything [00:08:00] that’s happening around you going by second by second by second by second.

Distraction is actually pleasant sometimes and, often, it’s useful. What you might call ordinary consciousness, the unenlightened state, is a special purpose state of being that’s created to give rise to the ordinary human experience. If the ordinary human’s experience is good, there’s no particular need to reach for enlightenment. If the ordinary human experience is bad, the enlightened experience is an alternative that you might [00:08:30] want to try as an alternative. If it turns out to suit you better, great. If it doesn’t, well, now you’re stuck with it. I think that it’s really important that people don’t say, “Ordinary consciousness is crap, we’re going to go out there and find enlightened consciousness.”

Ordinary consciousness is better than enlightened consciousness for nearly all people nearly all the time, which is why they cling to ordinary consciousness so hard and avoid enlightened consciousness at all costs. That clinging to the ordinary is not a symptom [00:09:00] of some kind of pathology, it’s not a symptom of an illness, it’s not a disease of the mind, it turns out that that stuff works really well for most of what’s important to people and, perfectly reasonably, they cling to what works for them, right?

There is no special prize for being the highest person in the world. It’s not like it confers divine God-like powers, it’s not like it gets you free entrance to movies. Everything stays the same, you just look at the world in a completely different way. Is that completely different way in some way realer than unenlightened consciousness? [00:09:30] Yes, it’s pretty clearly a superset of ordinary consciousness, right. Enlightened consciousness includes ordinary consciousness plus a whole bunch of other stuff, but at the end of the day we’ve had enlightened beings on this planet for a really long time and I think you can make a pretty good argument that, on average, have made things worse rather than better.

Mike: How so?

Vinay: Well, is religion good for humanity or bad for humanity?

Mike: That’s an easy one. What about the religions that cause you to focus [00:10:00] inward like Buddhism and Hinduism? Are they still bad for the world?

Vinay: You can argue that Hinduism has been pretty neutral. You can argue that Buddhism has been neutral or positive. But when it goes wrong, I mean, Tibetan Buddhism was this terrible fusion of Tibetan medieval feudal theocracy with an enlightenment tradition. So, your local medieval land owner was a monastery that still had a military and a police force associated with them and enforced medieval brutality against the local [00:10:30] peasants but now you’re being punished by a Buddha. I’m not really sure that this is beneficial for anybody, obviously the same thing is happening all across Catholicism, it’s all across Islam. There’s no real sense that thee regimes were any better than they would have been if there’d been no religious component to the rule.

If the peasantry didn’t believe that God was on the side of their masters, maybe they would have been a little more vicious in fighting back when the occasion arose. I think you have to really say, “If people are going to [00:11:00] pursuing consciousness, why are they going to do any better at helping out the world than the people that pursued consciousness before them?” We’ve had a long heritage of people pursuing consciousness, where exactly is it getting us? Is it working?

Euvie: Then what’s the point? What would be the point?

Vinay: Remember what I said about if you scrape away the crap and make a little clean spot where you can see the light on the other side? Once you get that far, you will very likely be compelled [00:11:30] by your curiosity and desire to finish the process. Once you get a glimpse of, “I have this feeling that I might actually be God… that would be a little strange but maybe I should check.” Once that thought occurs to you in a real way, once you see some glimmer of infinity inside of you, the tendency is to pursue that knowledge until you get the entire thing out.

It’s like if you’re [00:12:00] looking for fossils or in a mine looking for diamonds and you chip away a piece of rock and behind there’s something beautiful and clear and crystalline, you’re not going home until you’ve got that thing out of the rock and you know what it is. Once you have that initial glimpse of that kind of interior infinity or you see the mystical wonder in everyday life, once that little spark is there, it’s pretty hard to let it go. That naturally results in this [00:12:30] kind of unravelling of identity until you sit there in this crystalline, bright silence, then the question is, “Okay, now what? What do I do with this?”

Mike: What have you chosen to do with it? It’s actually interesting that you’re so active in Ethereum…

Euvie: Real life.

Mike: Real life, exactly. How come you’re not in a cave somewhere right now?

Vinay: I spent two years, after I got enlightened… [00:13:00] I got enlightened in it must have been ’98, ’99… I spent a couple years working at a web design job, I rented a nice apartment. I lived a pretty good ordinary life for a while and had no concerns outside of my personal sphere of influence. I was just letting the enlightenment settle in, because the two years after you get enlightened are often really, really difficult and traumatic because you’re walking around in the world with enormous hypersensitivity, very little filtering of your consciousness. [00:13:30] Everything seems wonderful, terrible, absurd, and all these other emotions all on top of each other. You don’t really necessarily know how to perform your social role now that the entire world seems like this endless [inaudible [0:13:40] theatre.

After I had a couple years settling in, I think we talked about this last time we talked, I had this dream or vision in which I was shown the very real possibility that the earth was going to die and all the people were going to die and it was going to create the world’s worst pile of bureaucratic paperwork in the [00:14:00] netherworld for all of these people who were going to be relocated to a new planet to continue their incarnation cycle. The entire thing was like Douglas Adams, it was this perfect absurdism but it was this friendly, cheerful almost British absurdism that was kind of like Monty Python’s guide to the netherworld.

You see, if they all die at the same time, we have to do the paperwork and we can’t face 1,000 years of [00:14:30] listening to people complain. It was this notion that there was a mass call up that anybody with any unfulfilled spiritual potential was be for us to go forth and do something to try and preserve life on earth. After the dream vision thing ended, and I was stone cold sober at the time, after it ended it was like, “Wow, what the hell was that?” There was this settling in process and over the course of the next few weeks a totally new set of [00:15:00] motivations arose inside of my being.

I found myself suddenly directly personally bothered by the state of the world, I began to realize that human extinction really was a possibility within my lifetime, and I really began to just get pulled more and more and more into this activist mode that I’ve been in for a long time. It all came out of essentially a vision and the vision was completely ridiculous.

Mike: That’s so interesting.

Vinay: It’s completely bonkers but that’s okay, that’s just what happened. I think it’s very important, [00:15:30] by the way, that we keep an open mind about the value of spiritual experience. Everybody wants their spiritual experiences to be final and definitive revelations of absolute truth and they want them to generate certainty rather than uncertainty. People who’ve been at that game on this planet for probably as long as we’ve had mushrooms. People have always gotten into a position where they take their psychedelic experiences or their spiritual illuminations or their artistic breakthroughs and then they run around telling everybody that [00:16:00] they’ve made a discovery about the nature of the absolute.

These discoveries about the nature of the absolute almost never agree with each other, so I think it’s safe to say that what people are seeing – although it appears to them to be absolute – is still relative. This is really critical. As a student of comparative religion, everybody will tell you that all the saints and sages say exactly the same thing, until you actually look at what they say and then you discover they all said different things.

Mike: Right.

Vinay: Right. All you need is love. Well, apart from sometimes you need force, will. [00:16:30] Peace is all that there is. Well, apart from this thing where you have to fight back against your persecutors. You should be a fearless warrior like the Japanese. You just look in the details and it’s like, “Actually, these people agree on almost nothing.” In almost all cases, they have an enlightenment experience and they immediately cast the enlightenment experience into the forms that are available to them from the culture that they’re in.

Mike: What is your perception on some of the new age law of attraction type… I don’t know if you could call them religions, but whatever they are, popping up.

Vinay: [00:17:00] Yeah, I think they should all be fed into a wood chipper. Several of the most prominent teachers should be fed into a wood chipper feet first. Because what they’re doing is they’re preying on the most predatory and selfish aspect of western civilization and turning them into a spiritual path.

Mike: Right.

Vinay: Right? By all means, have your wealth from this law of attraction stuff, but then you’re spending all of this stuff to buy crap that was made in China by people who are living in [00:17:30] what amounts to prison labour.

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: You’re pretending that, in some way, this wealth is clean because it came to you after you did your meditation, right? It doesn’t matter how high you are spiritually, if you are consuming products that were made by slave labour, you’re still in the system. You might be consuming products that were not made by slave labour – we only buy organic local, everything we have is handmade raw materials – but you’re then resting on top of a culture which is running on top of [00:18:00] Chinese factory prisons. Okay, you didn’t do it, but the people that made your car did it. You didn’t do it, the people who made your house did it. You didn’t do it, but your doctor did it.

If you pull all of the suffering, all of the coerce, all the places where people are having guns and sticks pointed at them to make them obey, if you pull all of that stuff out of our society, there’d be damn near nothing left. No computers, no phones, most of our engineering artefacts, large parts of our buildings, most of our clothes, [00:18:30] all of that stuff just evaporates. The forms of enlightenment for people become… I don’t even want to say enlightenment. The forms of spirituality quote unquote, where people become enormously self-satisfied that they’re okay and they’ve done the right thing and they’ve purified themselves and that’s why their lives are fantastic, in a world which is deeply, deeply, deeply troubled, this approach is not okay.

It’s a sign that what they’ve done is they’ve deluded themselves that what is inside of their head is more important that what’s around them. I literally mean [00:19:00] these people should be fed into wood chippers, they’re just awful for the world. They’re bad for people. They’re a smoke screen of false enlightenment and it’s a false enlightenment, which is completely compatible with success inside a modern capitalism, even while modern capitalism is slavery powered on one side and eco side on the other. Anybody that can tell themselves that thier spirituality makes them perfectly comfortable with that situation, right… I’m not saying that everybody has to have [00:19:30] an outward facing engaged spirituality in the way I’ve chosen to.

If you are somebody that has broken through the shackles and what you see on the other side is something that says, “The best thing that you can do for the world is to sit on your butt, contemplate what is happening, and project truth into nature,” I’m perfectly happy with the monastics that choose to do that. They’re contributing as little as they can to the problem and they’re largely convinced that clear consciousness is the only thing that they really have to offer the world. I think those people are incredibly important to the function of our [00:20:00] civilization in all kinds of really subtle ways. But that’s a very different thing from this approach that says that you can take the fruits of the civilization in the form of wealth without taking responsibility for where that wealth was generated.

Mike: What about some of the older paths of enlightenment, like Buddhism and Hinduism and Chinese meditation? You seem to have picked a side with Hinduism, why is that?

Vinay: Well, I’m Indian. I was vaguely around it when I was a kid, [00:20:30] my teachers were Hindu. My teacher’s teachers were a weird Hindu. That pull thread of my life backs into the immortal yogi tradition of India. All of this stuff is premedieval peasant belief systems; they didn’t know any astronomy, they didn’t know any cosmology, they didn’t know any evolutionary biology. The fundamental fabric of the universe around them was mysterious and if they saw the world currently, what they saw was mystery. In actual fact, we know an awful lot now about [00:21:00] how things really are.

I think the evolutionary biology is the one truth that we have more evidence of than practically anything else. It’s not that unreasonable to me that we might make some completely transformative discoveries about fundamental psychics that explain why there are so many weird particles and why so much of the cosmology we have makes no sense and answers dark matter an all the rest of this kind of stuff. I think that it’s possible that our current physics will turn out to be fairly shoddy compared to what replaces it. There are [00:21:30] lots and lots of various big weird anomalies in physics that are wide open for explanations.

On the other hand, I think our evolutionary biology is pretty well nailed down. The fossil record is, I don’t want to say complete, but we’ve got an awful lot on fossil record. We are pretty certain about the order in which things evolved, we’ve got lots of really, really great evidence from the DNA of living animals about what was descended from what, where things branched from each other. The fundamental implication of that is that you can look at a human being [00:22:00] across a room and have very near certainty about what that human being is.

It’s a collection of atoms reproducing on a set of templates that have evolved over a billion years. All the questions about human nature that we have, very nearly all of that stuff immediately resolves into basically replicator economics. That was a perspective that was not available to the Buddha, it was not available to the ancient Hindus. It hasn’t been available to anybody until Darwin, and I still think that the spiritual world [00:22:30] is having a real problem actually accepting Darwin. What Hinduism means, the Hindu’s name for Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma, typically translated as eternal truth.

The problem is that if you say eternal truth in the west, what people hear is, “God said so.” That’s not what eternal truth means in India. What eternal truth means in India is, “That which has never been contradicted by experience.” Everywhere that we went across space and time, these things were still the case. I would argue that any [00:23:00] reasonable form of Hinduism has to fully accept biological evolution and has to throw out anything in the tradition which is incompatible with biological evolution, because as far as I can tell we are certain of biological evolution as the origin of human beings.

You can ask some questions about what happened in the first stages of evolution when the first replicators existed. Did they fall from space in pods? Did they evolve from patterns on crystals? Was it something to do with primordial super [00:23:30] lightning bolts? I agree that the science there is indeterminate, we may never know. It might just be too long ago with no remaining evidence. We don’t know. Everything after the point where the fossil record begins is pretty much nailed down to the [inaudible [0:23:43], there’s just no doubt about what happened. Not that I’m aware of anyway. Inside of that framework, what is it then to be a replication machine asking about its own nature? You see what I’m saying?

You have to take the fossil record at face [00:24:00] value. When we inquire into human nature, what you’re staring into is a billion years of replicator history. That’s an absolute answer as to what the human being is. There may be some kind of additional quality of consciousness which is revealed by meditation. For many people, there is. But that process is being carried out in a body which is unambiguously the result of a historical biological process. Nobody’s really taken that on the nose.

Euvie: In this whole picture, what is consciousness from your perspective?

Vinay: [00:24:30] I can tell you what I’ve experienced and I can tell you what I can justify. What I can justify is that consciousness is an emergent process that evolves in higher social animals to let them to model the behaviour of other animals. I think all of our evidence points to social intelligence evolves in a way that drives the general intelligence that we have. Now, all of that said, if you meditate and you get enlightened, you will almost certainly [00:25:00] get a shatteringly intense insight into the nature of this kind of universal cosmic mind that appears to be inside of all beings and all matter simultaneously.

Afterwards, you can look at things like ants and you can clearly see that ants perceive themselves to be people. There doesn’t appear to be any fundamental difference in the personness of anything. Moths, all this kind of stuff. If I’m in a position where I am careless, [00:25:30] watching something like bugs frying themselves against a street light is actually upsetting because it looks like people. We have two qualities here. There’s what we can justify from the biological framework of reality around us, which we can see, and there’s this kind of intuitive insight that whatever it is that makes things alive also confers on them a sense that they have an individuality and existence and knowledge of self.

That’s easy to see with the higher animals like dogs. [00:26:00] But if you think of, for example, the Jains in India, they’re a religious sect that will sweep bugs out of their path with brooms so that they don’t kill anything by existing. They only eat fruit because they say the fruit is being freely offered by the tree, but a root vegetable is being pulled up by violence. It’s not really easy to make that work as a lifestyle on this planet but they certainly give it a try. There is a fundamental thing that people perceive when they do enough spiritual practice. [00:26:30] You must know 500 accounts of this stuff. People regularly have the experiences and then write down what happened to them as closely as they can.

But what people from every culture have tried to do with those experiences tell each other that they’ve discovered the objective truth and everybody now has to listen to what they say. This is where we go wrong. I think that it’s much more intelligent and much more reasonable for us to say that this is an unexamined aspect of human nature, we’ve got long historical records of people having these experiences, [00:27:00] and that we should start to study these experiences from the perspective of science – I don’t necessarily mean sticking people in MRI machines but let’s actually try and catalogue and document what happens to people when they get enlightened.

“Okay, what happened to you? Who were you before? Who were you afterwards? What did you see? What changed? What happened to you? How did it affect your psychology? How did it affect your relationships? How did it affect your family? What did you then go on to do with your life?” You could bring the enlightenment tradition [00:27:30] back inside of a scientific paradigm that allows examination of learning about it. I’m pretty convinced that the sum total of knowledge inside of the world’s enlightenment traditions amounts to two things; a reasonable amount of practical technique for getting people there and an enormous amount of total horse crap which is layered all over the situation by medieval peasants that had no idea what a human body was made of.

We have to take the experience, because I think the [00:28:00] experience is really quite worthwhile – much as I sound like I’m down on enlightenment, I really just don’t want people chasing it for no good reason. Then we have to separate off all of the traditional mythology around it and we have to throw it right the hell out of court and then we have to look at the experience again with everything that we’ve learned since these bloody books were written, then we have to reintegrate it into our knowledge base. What I would love to see is a scientific tradition of enlightenment that took everything we know about how to do [00:28:30] science around human minds and apply it to the enlightenment experience.

I can’t see another sensible way of proceeding with this. If we accept the medieval mysticism around this stuff, every culture has its own brand of medieval mysticism, they all disagree with each other, and many of them come with horrendous consequences like attempting to regulate other people’s sex lives. Because people continue to perceive the enlightenment experience as [inaudible [0:28:59] [00:29:00] divine authority, we’re in a position where people have an enlightenment experience, con other people into believing that this gives them some right to make law and then proceed to boss their followers around like they’re slaves. I think it’s a scam. I don’t see any evidence that the enlightenment experience makes people better rulers. I don’t see any evidence that the enlightenment experience makes people fundamentally better at judging what is good for the long-term future of humanity.

Mike: What does it do? How is it good for the world if more people [00:29:30] were enlightened?

Vinay: First question, is it good for the world if more people are enlightened? Where’s the evidence? This is what I mean about getting rid of the mythology. The mythology is more enlightened people will make the world a better place. The evidence is we’ve had lots of enlightened people and it’s not really clear it’s helping any. You see what I’m saying? You get outstanding figures: Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela. [00:30:00] You could look at some of the great modern teachers of meditation like [inaudible [0:30:03]. You could look at potentially people like Timothy Leery or Robert Anton Wilson, Richard [inaudible [0:30:12] who went on to become [inaudible [0:30:13], who I’ve had some personal contact with.

There’s lots and lots and lots of these people out there. I took a very strong initiation from yogi Raj once. I’m not sure either he or I understood [00:30:30] what was happening at all. In these kind of processes, some being emerges, they step into a condition of historical need or historical necessity, they give people a set of instruction which appear to be appropriate to the time and the place. Often, that will result in peace rather than war. Turns out, what you hope will be a lasting peace that will solve the entire problem turns out to be a temporary peace where another problem replaces the problem you had. Gandhi brings peace [00:31:00] to India, but India’s partitioned into two; one half goes on to get nuclear weapons then the other half gets nuclear weapons and they point the nuclear weapons at each other, they yell at each other over a border.

Now, we can argue that this is not what Gandhi wanted, but it’s certainly what Gandhi achieved. If they had gone ahead and had a genocide and they’d had a war, there would have been one India and there would have been no nuclear weapons pointed at the one India by the other half of the one India. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Depends who you ask. [00:31:30] The notion that Gandhi was in some way a God, that he came along, that he fixed the entire situation and that he brought peace where otherwise there would have been war, it may be that he simply delayed the war by 60 years and when the war arrived it was nuclear. Progress? Maybe.

In this kind of context – this is what I mean about dismantling the mythology of enlightenment – everybody wants to believe that there is a Santa Claus, everybody wants to believe that if they do their work really hard they’re going to become the kind of person that can fix [00:32:00] things just by standing near them. If that is the case, why is the world not fixed? You see what I’m saying? What we’re back into is a sort of economics of enlightenment. I think it’s pretty clear that you can make an argument that there are a bunch of critical situation where, if we hadn’t had enlightened actors involved, you would have had immediate horrific consequences.

I think that Indian partition is an obvious good example of that. It’s also apparent that if you don’t continue to have another bunch of [00:32:30] enlightened people come along immediately after the first bunch and continue to maintain what happens, the bloody situation falls to pieces again immediately afterwards. The first thing that I would hold out is the idea that enlightenment has lasting influence. I think, in practice, you get people to do the job that they can do and, after they are gone, the situation passes into another pair of hands and if those people are muppets, pretty soon muppetocracy reigns again. I don’t think this notion is that you just apply enlightenment to a situation, it’s perfectly [00:33:00] permanently resolved is remotely credible.

I think it’s an ongoing effort. Second thing is I think that there are some jobs which are appropriate to enlightened people and there are some jobs which are appropriate to murderous psychopaths. I think that sending an enlightened person to do a murderous psychopaths job is not really a good idea, and the converse is certainly true. If you think of a range of types of human consciousness. I think that there are different things which are appropriate to different people. It’s not at all clear to me that enlightened people are better than other people [00:33:30] at everything.

I don’t think it necessarily happens that way at all. They tend to be hypersensitive to external stimuli, they can be easily distracted, they’re often space cadets, they have a terrible tendency to assume that they’re superior, they also have a tendency to ramble on about what’s happening in other dimensions. These are not necessarily the people that you want flying your jetliners. Right? You see what I’m saying? One way you could think of this [00:34:00] is that enlightenment is an extreme form of artistic temperament.

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: Now, what I don’t want to do is create any confusion that there is no such thing as the enlightenment experience. Let me just really nail this down. There is definitely a thing called enlightenment, it is a very dramatic thing. If you’ve had the experience, you could tell other people who have had the experience more or less 100 percent reliably. I don’t want to make an unnecessary parallel with sex, [00:34:30] but it’s not that different from being in high school and people trying to guess who’s had it and who hasn’t; the people that have can, generally speaking, tell the people that haven’t pretty fundamentally easily.

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: Right? There is a thing there, it is a very objective thing. It is thing that you can have. After you’ve had that thing, you see the world in a completely different way, “That’s what all the fuss is about.” Yes, there is a Santa Claus in as much as there is a [00:35:00] thing called enlightenment. It is possible to get there. After you’ve got there, it changes everything. But, accept nobody’s story about what it is – it’s all medieval horse shit until proven otherwise and it’s extremely important that we do not carry the medieval myths along with the enlightenment process. If you bring the medieval myths along with you, you’re going to wind up in a medieval future and we can’t afford a medieval future with nanotechnology.

[00:35:30] If we’re going to have an enlightenment tradition that actually works in the modern world, we have to have a modern enlightenment tradition that does not bring along all the medieval theocratic baggage with it. I don’t really see people doing that, I don’t see any kind of concerted effort to demythologize enlightenment, to scrape the barnacles of the practices, and to figure out how to make this stuff actually good in the 21st century, rather than it being essentially the re-enactment society for various feudal medieval theocracies. [00:36:00] I don’t want Catholicism to prosper in the future, I don’t want Islam to prosper in the future, I don’t want Buddhism to prosper in the future.

All of these have been political power structures, right. The Indian tradition has a bit of an advantage in that, whenever possible, we try and keep enlightened people out of politics. We don’t have quite the history of having our God kings ruling over everything and telling everybody what to do. Usually, the Gods and the kings are kept in separate buckets, but Hinduism has a long and terrible history of doing [00:36:30] awful things just like all the other traditions have. I think that the first thing we ought to consider is treating the historical records as being the gibberings of a bunch of medieval lunatics until prove otherwise. The how-to information is often accurate but the actual world model that comes along with the how-to information is extremely dangerous.

If they didn’t understand biological evolution and they didn’t understand the framing of modern cosmology, everything that had to say about what a human [00:37:00] being is and how we should treat each other is considered extremely suspect. If it’s ingested as received truth just because some enlightened bastard said it, you’re going to get poisoned. You don’t accept the medicine of the 15th century, do not accept the enlightenment of the 15th century, because they’re still out there in the new age world covering each other with leeches and pretending it’ll cure aids. The enlightenment traditions that they’re talking about are just as stupid.

Mike: How do we start to modernize it?

Vinay: [00:37:30] I think you just have to ask hard questions about what is it and what is it good for. There’s no real way to figure out what it is unless you actually sit down and do it. Again, the medieval thing, “Oh my God, it’s so difficult, you have to have special karma,” this, that, and the next thing. No, you have to just not care about anything else for long enough that you actually get through the bloody work load. As far as I can tell, it is a mechanical grinding process for 85 or 95 percent of the process, and at [00:38:00] the end of that there’s a whole bunch of fiddly stuff, which is basically a knack like playing a guitar or cracking a whip, where it’s really important to have somebody show you how to do it because learning by yourself takes a century.

Step one: gather data. The only method is that we have for gathering data is to do the bloody work. Step two: if you have an enlightenment experienced and you’re lucky enough to get the breakthrough, don’t take anything for granted when you want to tell yourself what just happened. Because the tendency that people have over and over and over again – we see it in history – [00:38:30] is that you have an enlightenment experience and afterwards you gravel into the local mythology and interpret your experience using it.

Mike: Right. Yeah, I’ve seen that.

Vinay: This is what forms the religious traditions of the world. People have enlightenment experiences. They repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat the myths that were given to them and then they see the experience through the lens of that myth and the entire cycle continues forward. No doubt, no doubt, no doubt, if you tell people [00:39:00] that their first sexual experience is happening inside of some religious context, the experience is so powerful and so overwhelming you’re going to repeat the religious context indefinitely. You can look at the conventions that we have around marriage as being that kind of structure.

You take people at a moment of astonishing imprint vulnerability and they grab onto whatever convenient truth is around them and they reify it, they make that convenient truth into the absolute truth. I think all of the evidence around us says that in the enlightenment traditions are doing exactly that and, as a result, [00:39:30] there’s a whole bunch of medieval horse crap which is along for the ride and we need to get rid of it. I say that as somebody that is well versed in the medieval horse crap. I really understand those systems, there’s a ton of detail. I am completely convinced that they are all wrong.

Mike: Can you tell us a bit about the history for you and the process towards becoming enlightened?

Vinay: Yeah, absolutely. Let me take a short break here and get some more tea.

Mike: Sure. I have so many questions.

Vinay: [00:40:00] Yeah, it’s quite a different way of looking at the problem, let’s put it that way. I think it’s super important for your listeners to really get an exposure to the idea that there is something real there but you don’t have to accept all the stories around it. Because if your listeners are a tall, intelligent, and astute, they’re going to be very, very, very clear that these stories are obviously nonsense. The last thing I want is for people to say, “The stories are nonsense, therefore there’s no such animal.” The stories are nonsense but that doesn’t mean there’s no such animal.

[00:40:30] The stories are nonsense because they’re prescientific. Almost everything which is prescientific is nonsense. We didn’t have a repeatable procedure for discriminating the nonsense from the sense, until we got science. That’s pretty much what science is for. It blows my mind that you see otherwise intelligent and reasonable people standing up and repeating whatever medieval horse crap they were given when they got enlightened as if it were a simple, obvious absolute truth. Are you crazy? Why on earth would you believe that? [00:41:00] Have you seen it yourself? Is there evidence? People look at you like you’re mad for asking. You guys are in Bulgaria now?

Mike: Yeah, we are. We were in Portugal for a few months. It wasn’t so much the place, it was just the meditation practice that I think for both of us was really well-established and we had a really good routine with it. We started having these experiences. Like you say, scraping away the muck and seeing the jewel underneath, but there were many times where we got [00:41:30] it felt like almost to the other side. I’ll speak for myself.

Vinay: Yeah.

Mike: It just waved in and out, yeah.

Vinay: That sounds fantastic.

Mike: Yeah.

Euvie: I guess I’m still trying to figure out what the value of spiritual experience is, because I’ve had several very intense ones. One time, I was meditating… Actually, several times, I was meditating and I just slingshot into outer space, my body dissolved and I was the universe, outside of time. [00:42:00] Obviously, it’s a very fantastical experience, but how do you integrate it in your everyday life? What’s the value of this kind of stuff? Is there value in it?

Vinay: Well, let’s have a think about this. Historical context, right. Given these things were being done by human beings, the biological context that we arose in is critical, because that’s what a human being is for all intents and purposes. We need to put these things into a cultural context. If we go back [00:42:30] 1,000 years, people were having these experiences, we didn’t have any scientific model. Let’s say for a moment that what you’re getting, by some weird occult means, is a glimpse into the way that things actually are. You have this experience of your body dissolving, your consciousness is immersed in light, “Wow, I’m actually seeing something that’s here.”

If that’s happening in an environment where there is no procedural method of getting to truth, you’re going to wind up [00:43:00] thinking that that experience is fundamentally a way of seeing what is underneath the real world. Underneath the real world is infinite light, right. See what I’m saying about how you would interpret that if you had no access to science?

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: Now, you’ve got access to science, right. When you say floating in space, do we mean space like a literal space or do we mean space like it’s something inside of our heads? This sort of notion that you’ve got to think about the things that we objectively know to be real and [00:43:30] then you have to think about your experiences relative to that, this is where the position is where, if you keep your grip, you wind up rational and useful, and if you lose your grip you wind up as new age idiots that really need to be fed into woodchippers. The knowledge which comes from meditation is certainly very, very, very convincing.

It can often allow you to do things that are completely unreasonably effective relative to other things. You look deep inside of yourself, [00:44:00] you think and you meditate and you feel, you come back to the surface with a firm conviction that you understand the situation and then you act. 9 times out of 10, you’ll turn out to be in harmony with the situation in ways which are completely transformative. There is deep knowledge inside of us. When you can get at it, it’s very transformative for what’s around us. That’s fairly well established. I think you can see a pretty good track record of heavy weight mystical people that then go off into the world and get a lot of stuff done.

Problem is, [00:44:30] if they fit it inside of the theology which assumes a whole bunch of things which are completely not true, like God hates humanity and runs an infinite dungeon called hell where the evildoers are punished for all eternity, then all the deep wisdom inside of the person is then twisted by the false knowledge that they’re carrying along with them. That, to me, is the tragedy of religion, that it fuses what is real knowledge from deep inside of us with false knowledge from outside of us into something which is passed down as if [00:45:00] it was divine received truth.

I cannot tell you what is happening to you. I don’t think the science is there yet. I can tell you what the medieval people from my tradition say is happening, but if I repeat that to you as if it’s truth, I’m lying to you because I know damn well that it isn’t. I know more about how a human being is made than they did. I know more because I live in a culture that has access to things like epigenetics, right. We know that genes are turning off and on in [00:45:30] our bodies when we eat different foods. We know that some of that material is passed down to our children if we have them. That’s new knowledge. We didn’t have that a million years ago, we didn’t have that a thousand years ago, we didn’t have that a hundred years ago.

We barely had it a decade ago. All of these experiences have to be slotted into the available cultural knowledge base around you. I can’t express how important it is that, if you’re looking at material that comes from the distant past, [00:46:00] their ideas about the nature of the human body and the nature of the universe around us were so imperfect that whatever wisdom that was coming out of them in the meditation process was being immediately received into total ignorance of the fundamentals of human existence. You see how dangerous that could be, right.

You’ve got a two and a half, three, four billion strong army of people that are completely sure of these medieval truths and are willing to kill each other over them. The people that get enlightened inside [00:46:30] of those reality tunnels, inside of those medieval frameworks, take their fool certainty that comes with the spiritual experience and they take this awful theocratic mumbo jumbo, the fuse them together, then they go forth and march forward with a sword hung in the air. If the enlightenment experiences are received in a way that turns into dogmatic certainty that the local religion is absolutely true, I think it’s one of the most poisonous things there is.

I think what we… I don’t want to say what we need, but I think what is [00:47:00] extremely valuable about the present time is that you can have the enlightenment experience while remaining in a condition of rational scientific doubt. This is essentially Saganism. I don’t know whether Carl Sagan was formerly enlightened or not but he certainly has many of the attributes of an enlightened being. I never met the man, I wish I had. I grew up on his work, had an enormous influence on me. If we imagine for a moment that Carl Sagan was enlightened, that’s what scientific enlightenment looks like. You have the absolute sense of wonder [00:47:30] and rapture that comes with the enlightenment experience and you experience that wonder and rapture in the full context that what you’re seeing is objectively real.

This is really worthwhile. The kind of poetic wonder that comes along with enlightenment is a really strong thing, but maybe best that we have that poetic wonder about things which are actually there, like our DNA, rather than counting the angels that may or may not dance on the heads of pins. I don’t want people spending their enlightenment [00:48:00] experience cataloguing the attributes of a non-existent God, but I think it’s pretty cool that your body is essentially a billion-year-old poem. There are rhyming couplets inside of your DNA that go all the way back to the beginning of time.

I don’t know how old the oldest gene is in the human body but I bet there are sequences of DNA where one thing follows another. In a sequence of bass players, I bet there are sequences that go back hundreds of billions of years largely unchanged. Quite amazing. [00:48:30] I would much rather have a tradition in which we just accepted that the ignorance about the fundamentals of life is not affected by enlightenment. You get certainty about something but the something that you get certainty of does not allow you to look around corners.

It doesn’t allow you to suddenly mysteriously know the fundamental structures of the world around you. It gives the illusion that it does, which is why all the medievals were so certain that this stuff was important. All of the objective evidence says it’s an illusion because if it really converged, [00:49:00] all of the world’s religions would come to the same conclusions about all the major stuff and it’s just now true, they don’t. Do you see how important this is in terms of context?

Mike: Yeah.

Vinay: You know, I was raised, my guru was completely certain that all the religious truths converged. If I went along with that at an emotional level, sure enough it looked kind of true, but if you disengage from the kind of wish for it to be true and actually stop and say, “Right, what do they actually believe? What is written down? [00:49:30] What do they practice?” They’re in different universes. Making sense so far?

Mike: Yeah. I’ve thought about this before, what it’s like to have an enlightenment experience and then come back and filter it through your normal, rational mind and filter it through whatever kind of symbolism or upbringing that you have. I can see how easily it would go awry with religion and any kind of ancient dogma.

Euvie: Or modern dogma.

Mike: Or modern, yeah.

Vinay: Yeah, you bet.

Mike: Absolutely.

Vinay: I mean, all of these UFO people, [00:50:00] it’s pretty clear they’re having some kind of spiritual experience, mystical experience, but they come back with this complete certainty of all their UFO cult stuff. No, we can’t be having that. It’s just not there. You guys have spent a bunch of time around hippies or moving around hippy circles, festivals, circuits, that kind of stuff.

Mike: Euvie more so than I.

Euvie: Yeah.

Vinay: You ever come across these skinny muscular white guys that just can’t stop moving, they usually have dreadlocks, [00:50:30] their speech is very, very, very charismatic, very persuasive, they almost never stop talking, their bodies never stop moving and all that they’re interested in is telling you how fantastic magic mushrooms are?

Euvie: Yeah.

Vinay: The fact that taking magic mushrooms makes you want to get other people to take magic mushrooms is a replicator behaviour. It’s meme, right. It’s something between somehow they’ve become part of the mushroom propagation process.

Mike: No kidding. The plants have hijacked [00:51:00] humans to do their bidding.

Euvie: Terrance McKenna talked about that actually, that’s hilarious.

Vinay: Right. I think you’ve got to assume that the religious processes are doing something similar to the enlightenment experience – that a lot of what’s happening in the religions is we’re creating contexts where the naturally occurring enlightenment processes are being shepherded in to a set of channels, which cause them to replicate a whole bunch of material which has nothing to do with the enlightenment process along the way.

Mike: [00:51:30] While we’re on the subject of psychedelics, do you find that that plays a role in experiences of enlightenment?

Vinay: Yes. The [inaudible [0:51:39] has five mechanisms by which you can get enlightened – one of those mechanisms is clearly a reference to psychedelics. It shows up in a couple places in the Tibetan literature. In Indian yoga circles today, if you go off into the mountains, they’re still on the jungle juice. I was part of a very large, [00:52:00] broad psychedelic breakout in the 1990s. There were people doing psychedelics everywhere, all over Europe, all over America. You’d always meet people that were into that stuff or on that stuff. You’d go to something like Burning Man, it was just an enormous wave of interest is psychedelia. A lot of casualties, really a lot of casualties.

I would say maybe a third of the people that I knew that were heavily into psychedelics came out from the experience a bit worse than they went in. [00:52:30] Quite a few people had psychotic breaks and were never the same again. I think it’s clear that a lot of people do have enormously profound life transforming experiences. There’s a ton of academic research on treating post traumatic stress disorder with psychedelics, which I think is incredibly important. Depression with psychedelics, incredibly important. I think that we’re in a position where with appropriate clinic harnesses – medicalization, this kind of stuff – you could potentially get a psychedelic culture that was both [00:53:00] safe and effective.

But right now, what I see in psychedelic culture is it’s not safe or effective and there’s a folk law around psychedelia which is most of the same attributes of this kind of self-replicating bullshit that we see in religions. Terrence Mckenna has a good case in point, right. 2012, did anything actually happen? Nothing, right? How certain was Terrence McKenna that it was coming? Really certain. Really, solidly, powerfully, evangelically certain. [00:53:30] It ain’t there. This, to me, is the fundamental breaking point is we’ve got to stop thinking that just because somebody enlightened said, it’s true.

We’ve got to start accepting that enlightenment is a natural human process, it happens to people, it is not something that automatically intellectually purifies their environment and makes everything around them true, and human beings who’ve just had the enlightenment experience tend to fall back on what they know as a way of explaining what’s happened to them. That set of mechanisms [00:54:00] explains to me 85 percent of what’s happening around enlightenment. Natural human process that can be facilitated in much the same way that marathon running is an extension of the natural human process. At the point of enlightenment, whatever stuff that people have kicking around in their heads as an explanatory framework becomes activated and they will then tend to assume that that is what exactly happened to them in objective forms and they have a terrible tendency of then teaching that stuff as if it was absolute truth.

[00:54:30] I think we can see that pattern replicated across culture after culture after culture after culture. Clearly, most of the people that are out there proclaiming these absolute truths are talking nonsense. They don’t agree with each other. If they all agreed and it was all fundamentally the same stuff, we could argue that they’re seeing an objective truth. They don’t agree with each other about more than a few things, like, “It’s all really cosmic and wonderful and time and space are really big.” There’s not really a fine detailed grasp of something fundamental which is [00:55:00] properly objective. Because if there was, in all probability, these people would agree with each other about those fundamentals.

The lack of agreement about the fundamentals is extremely important. Nothing that we can do makes it possible to reconcile the world’s religious traditions with each other in the detail, even on the broad general principals they disagree. In person, the people from those traditions that are enlightened are often very friendly to each other and get along really well, but they’re not in the habit of turning around and saying, “[00:55:30] Well, you know, actually the stuff that we all agree about is much more important than all this traditional nonsense and we’re just going to chuck it out. I don’t really care what the Buddha said, he’s not here today.”

I think that’s what it’s going to take for us to get enlightenment into a position where we can get science and enlightenment on the same side. I think that we have to do that, because science is the best thing there is. I can’t stress this too strongly. I come from a tradition which is arguably 8,000 years old [00:56:00] and we didn’t know what human beings were Darwin. You see what I’m saying? I think it’s reasonable to say. Sometimes when people push me on, I say I’m post-Hindu. I think the ancient Hindus, if they’d understood biology at all, if they’d understood evolution, I’m completely convinced the ancient Hindus would have taught it as Hinduism.

“Yes, we’re here to tell you that this whole thing is actually produced by a very simple mechanism, it works like this and you’re a part of it.” [00:56:30] To me, that represents the next step forward in the history of human relationship with the infinite cosmic mysterious unknown. We have to bring our science into the mystical domain and we have to bring our mysticism into the scientific domain. I don’t mean that in a sense of one day quantum physics will prove that Buddhism is the truth. If it does, great. If it doesn’t, no bid deal. What I mean is that we have to bring the same sharpness of attention which causes us to be able to make discoveries like [00:57:00] evolution or relativity and we have to bring that into the domain of consciousness exploration, consciousness study. Bring the lab coat, wear the lab coat, you’re in the lab coat. What am I going to do? I’m going to explore my mind and I’m going to find out exactly what’s going on in there.

If you get that process right, you see the chink of light. If you go all the way through the process of revealing that chink of light fully, you become enlightened. I just can’t stress it too strongly – don’t grab onto the traditional stories [00:57:30] about what just happened if that happens to you. Grab onto the science. “Okay, so I’ve had this experience, I’m in a body that I know for sure evolved. We don’t really understand what consciousness is yet, the jury is still out on that one. Right, okay, I have an unknown here.” If you experience this is as an unknown, “I’ve got some new data,” I don’t think you fall into error that way. It took me three years of work, [00:58:00] maybe four or five actually, to fully reconcile the fact that I could not get any evidence that they knew about evolution in Hinduism, fully worked through my system.

It was a fundamental break in my moral model, because up until that point I really believed that the enlightened masters of the past had recorded the truth about everything that was around me. I thought that they fundamentally understood human nature better than the moderns did. [00:58:30] Then it really chipped away at my certain, like, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Where’s the evolution?” The day when I figured out that you could have taught evolution to a goat herder 7,000 years ago… That really means something. “Wow, we could actually have gotten this across to these people.” If the enlightened masters knew it, why didn’t they teach it?

That was a fundamental break in my world that took my years to work through. [00:59:00] In that case, we’re not seeing absolute truth through enlightenment. What exactly is it that happened to me? I went back over the experience, I looked at it, I recreated bits of it. I went backwards and forwards really, really, really putting it under the microscope. I can describe a bit more about the experience, but given that we’re talking about the cultural constructs and the stuff around it, the absolute bedrock here is if it’s so great, why didn’t they beat Darwin? Why did it take an English guy a couple hundred years ago [00:59:30] with an obsession with finches and beetles to actually resolve the question of what are human beings?

You and I have both grown up knowing what human beings are, because Darwin is the first guy that noticed. Up until Darwin, we didn’t know what nature did. Why does a human being exist? “Well, God made one out of plasticine one day.” Really? No, I’ve got a better story for you. Replicating molecules and you can see them today. Once you get Darwin as the fundamental base layer, you’re not going to stray very far [01:00:00] when it comes to questions about human nature, you’re not going to stray very far in questions of human origins. This doesn’t mean that there is nothing unresolved about consciousness.

The enlightenment experience shows you immensities about consciousness, most of which are completely unscientific and almost impossible to describe. Oh my God, the overwhelming nature of the enlightened response to consciousness. Oh my God. The perceptive shifts that come afterwards. This stuff is epic, it’s immense. It makes the psychedelic [01:00:30] experience look relatively weak. No doubt, all that stuff is actually there. Oh my God, it’s epic.

But I don’t want the next generation of people having their enlightenment experiences and then becoming drones in the replicating structure of these medieval theocracies, not even my medieval theocracy. I come from a medieval theocracy, you’re more than welcome to have some of my medieval theocracy, but it’s not actually good for you. The only thing that I can give you [01:01:00] that resembles durable truth is stick close to Darwin and hope that the physicists sort their crap out so we get a cosmology that makes sense.

Mike: I think we laid a pretty good ground work here for what it is not and what to watch out for, but I’m interested to hear your perspective on the experience.

Vinay: Alright, strap in.

We first interviewed Vinay Gupta on Future Thinkers Podcast a year ago. It was stimulating conversation about a wide variety of topics, including

Ethereum, basic human needs, and space colonization. But the topic that caught our interest the most, and one we have since gotten a lot of comments on, is that of enlightenment.

The man claims to be enlightened, and I am inclined to believe him. It is a fascinating subject, so we invited Vinay on the podcast again to talk specifically about this. This time, our conversation lasted 4.5 hours and blew our minds yet again. We had to separate it into several episodes to make it more digestible. This is the first part of this new interview, making it Part 3 of the total Vinay Gupta saga (Listen to part 4 and part 5 here).

What is Enlightenment?

Ancient esoteric traditions describe enlightenment as a permanent transformation of consciousness, which allows one to see things how they really are. An awakening.

Enlightenment is a bit of a slippery topic. On one hand, the transformation of consciousness is an experience that people have talked about for thousands of years. It has been documented in many ancient written and oral traditions. To many esoteric spiritual schools, enlightenment is not just real. It is a central theme or even the main goal – for example, in Buddhism and Hinduism.

On the other hand, a transformation of consciousness is a subjective experience, and is something that can be difficult to measure in conventional ways. We can use self-reporting, but people’s own biases tend to muddle the results. From a scientific perspective, what we can do is measure the outward effects of it – brain activity, heart rate, response to different stimuli, behaviour.

Studying Consciousness, Meditation, and Enlightenment

We have now seen many scientific studies on meditation. The studies showed a drastic differences in the types of brain activity in meditators and non-meditators. Scientists have also been able to measure the results of meditation. There is clear evidence that meditation increases self-awareness and self-control, improves physical and mental well-being, deepens our empathy towards others, and even increases neuroplasticity in the brain.

But enlightenment is a rare beast, and we don’t have so much data on it – at least not yet. Not many people claim to be enlightened, and out of those who do, not all of them may actually be enlightened.

Some people are skeptical that enlightenment exists at all. After all, few people have experienced it, and those that have sometimes describe it in different ways.

And that is another thing that makes the study of the subject tricky.

Misconceptions About Enlightenment

There are many misconceptions and myths surrounding it. Being an ancient practice, the enlightenment tradition has collected a lot of mythological baggage over the millennia. Much of the mythology surrounding the transformation of consciousness is pre-scientific, and wrapped up in cultural and historical biases. And those myths and biases keep getting passed down from teachers to students.

To bring enlightenment into the modern age, we have to scrape the mythology off it.

And this is what we talk about in the first part of this interview with Vinay Gupta. He goes into detail explaining what enlightenment is and what is isn’t, how it relates to modern science, and which aspects of the tradition need to be dropped to make it useful to us today.

Quotes From This Episode:

“Once you start drilling away at the deep structure of the mind, once you see a little bit of light on the other side, you’re more or less compelled to finish the job.”

“I would argue that the enlightened state is the natural state of human beings. We more or less start enlightened. And then we create the un-enlightened state of being as a special purpose experience, much in the same way that you might go into a movie theatre.”

“I think it’s really important that people don’t say, ”ordinary consciousness is crap, we’re going to go out there and find enlightened consciousness”. Ordinary consciousness is better for nearly all people, nearly all the time.”

“You can have the enlightenment experience while remaining in a condition of rational scientific doubt.”

In this episode:

  • What is enlightenment, and what isn’t?
  • Is enlightened consciousness better than ordinary consciousness?
  • Why the modern version of “law of attraction” misses an important point
  • Dismantling the mythology of enlightenment
  • Do psychedelic play a role?
  • Why we need to document and study enlightenment scientifically

Mentions and Resources:

  • Vinay’s website
  • MRI studies of Buddhist monks and meditation: one, two

Recommended Books:


More From Future Thinkers:



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