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East Meets West on Evolution’s Border

by Matthew Gilbert

The official theme of the third annual Science and Nonduality conference was “On the Edge of Time,” but the unofficial narrative was about time running out on the flat-earth paradigms of our day: the world works like a machine, consciousness follows matter, our lives are essentially meaningless, we are in this thing alone. Indeed, in listening to the many voices representing both science and spirituality, it was clear that while there is no ultimate agreement on the nature of nonduality—“essential unity” in the Advaita tradition of Hindu philosophy—there was near unanimous recognition that a new era for humanity is emerging, and evolving around our innate interconnectedness. It’s an awkward emergence, to be sure, like the first faltering steps of a child learning to walk, but animated by unstoppable forces.

“The next Buddha is the sangha,” Vietnamese poet-activist Thich Nhat Hanh is quoted as saying, implying that the future of the planet depends on the awakening of the many, not the heroic efforts of the few (sangha refers to a community of spiritual practitioners). From the convulsive initiation of Arab Spring to the still amorphous Occupy Wall Street movement (now “the 99 percent”), the impulse for change is spreading rapidly and widely, like a benevolent virus fighting off the antibodies of outdated belief systems.

Speaker after speaker invoked how entangled we all are, from the micro to the macro, from the cellular to the cosmic. Those whose worldviews are rooted in ancient spiritual traditions cited the mystical texts and teachers of their religions: Rabbi David Cooper spoke of the mysticism of the Kabbalah, which declared “It gave rise to God, to heaven, and to earth.” Llewelyn Vaughn Lee recalled an ancient Sufi saying about the yearning for the Divine: “I am he who I love, and who I love is me.” Father Richard Rohr reminded us of Jesus’s caution, “As you do unto others, you do unto me.” And Buddhist teacher-activist David Loy brought forth the Vedantic saying, “All is self.”

When considered beyond their clichéd familiarity, these are remarkable statements. And perhaps even more remarkable is the movement of science toward similar conclusions. Physicist-meditator John Hagelin calmly proposed that “the structure of the superstring [theory in physics] corresponds exactly to the structure of pure consciousness,” and he showed dozens of slides to make his point. IONS’ Dean Radin presented seventy-five years of psi research, with average effect sizes equal to and even greater than what normally qualifies as evidential validity—we are, indeed, entangled. [Go here for Dean’s latest experiment.] Eminent physicist Menas Kafatos fluently entwined the concepts of quantum mechanics with ancient Eastern thought while noting that Sir Isaac Newton wrote extensively about mysticism. And on it went.

Granted, there is as much speculation on the side of science as there is faith on the side of the spiritual, but is it a coincidence that these dualities of belief and ontology are inexorably moving closer together at this time (remember Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics)? Although consciousness comes first in the East and last in the West, these two central paradigms seem to be spiraling together like strands of DNA in a dance of evolutionary creativity. And to what purpose? According to science writer Lynn McTaggart, spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen, integral theorist Ken Wilber, David Loy, and others at the conference, it’s the ineffable pull toward wholeness and connection in which we are waking up to our role as active agents. Does that suggest an intelligently designed universe? And who, or what, is the designer?

And yet for all the high-minded and inspirational talk, I leave the final, simpler words to nonduality teacher Rupert Spira, who reminded us that while we live in a world of swirling chaos, uncertainty, creativity, and emergence, the real action is in the now: “If the past and the future are never experienced other than by a thought occurring now, what does that say about time? And when we do not resist what is, when we do not seek what is not, we are…happy.”


Image © dreamstime | Rolffimages


  • 3 Comments
  • Anonymous Icon

    Vertigo Oct 30, 2011

    I think this awakening of the masses is necessary for the preservation of our species. It has a purpose that we will come to understand and appreciate in time.

  • Anonymous Icon

    TerrieC Nov 05, 2011

    This is all fine and good, and I hate to be the skeptic, but what do we do about the "human beings" who identify with gangs, and kill each other over patches, badges, and tattoos? What about the druggies out there killing each other over nickels and dimes? What about the primitives who think you cure AIDS by sleeping with a virgin? How do we shift their consciousness?

  • Matthew Gilbert Nov 09, 2011

    You raise excellent questions, TerryC, for which there are no easy answers. I think we each start with where we are, with what calls out to us, and then follow the trail that unfolds from that. Not everyone is open to the greater possibilities that life can offer; many a consciousness are still buried under layers of cultural and psychological conditioning – often generational. And of course there are the gross injustices of social and economic systems that put the needs of the few over those of the many. In short, there is much work to do. But better to begin somewhere than to be paralyzed by the enormity of the task.

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