What is True Enlightenment? Astonishing Insights from an Indian Philosopher, Part III

Table of Contents

Enlightenment has different meanings in different cultures. In the West “The Age of Enlightenment” has been seen as a progressive move in history. The understanding of Enlightenment in the East is different to the “rationalization of the world” that has been promoted in the West. So what is true Enlightenment? This is the view of our author Sutapas Bhattacharya.

Kapstein’s ‘scholarly’ book jumbles together diverse references to supposedly spiritual light although some are clearly not real mystical phenomena such as lights reportedly seen on the top of some sacred mountain in China. Astoundingly, Kapstein makes no effort to address why mystics in different cultures might have taken different interpretative perspectives on what may indeed be the same basic mystical phenomena. Such Constructivist arguments against a universal common core to mystical experience involve ‘explaining away’ on ideological grounds the glaringly obvious similarities between traditions in descriptions of enlightenment. Such dogmatic, superficial sophistry passes for scholarly analysis in academic Religious Studies to the bemusement of those who, like myself, were trained in Natural Sciences. At my selective intake secondary school in London (with a strong academic reputation), the bright boys usually went into Science through peer pressure, the less able into Humanities. Seeking a degree in the Humanities was seen as a fallback for the less able, not intelligent enough to study Natural Sciences or Mathematics. I had wanted to study ‘Religious Education’ at Ordinary Level (age 15-16) hoping it would be a World Religions syllabus. But the teacher chose to teach a strict Christian syllabus for the benefit of one boy, Ian Land (who was then a child actor on TV), whose parents insisted that he study Christianity. Only four of us started attending lessons (held during lunch-hours) but all except Ian Land dropped out after the first one or two lessons given the absurdity of what was being taught. We were supposed to just accept what the teacher spewed out, including the theological ‘superiority’ of the supposed Hebrew invention of Monotheism without discussion.Christian theologians tend to write so-called Apologetic tracts, attempting to defend mythological beliefs which clearly cannot be defended, either rationally or on evidential grounds. Christian scholars such as John Newport [41] and Philip Cary [42] give eloquent and informative discussions of the beliefs of other traditions but, in their conclusions, they revert to their dogmatic indoctrinations and simply reassert the ‘superiority’ of Christian beliefs and ideas without justification.

The afore-mentioned Persian mystic Suhrawardi was put to death in Palestine during the Crusades by Saladin, who obviously felt that Suhrawardi’s teachings compromised the Mohammedan faith. One contributor to Kapstein’s book, Paul Muller-Ortega (whose discussions with Kapstein prompted the Presence of Light project), has actually experienced the Light himself [43], but this is not mentioned in the book as Western academia frowns upon such personal testimonies as “subjective” [44, 45]. Muller-Ortega was the only one of the contributors who responded to my email criticizing the anti-Perennialist The Presence of Light and showing my evidence confirming that a well-established brain process was correlated directly with the Inner Light. Seeing the overwhelming evidence from all spiritual traditions and scientific research supporting my identification for the physical correlate of the Inner Light, Muller-Ortega [46] wrote:

…much of the scientific research on mysticism has had either of two purposes: either to support and confirm a particular group’s claims for the superiority of their method (witness the work on TM in the seventies, and the revival of such scientific investigations in the recent investigation of Buddhist meditation; or alternatively to be used as a tool for reductive explanations that explain away mystical experience and meditative practice as reducible merely, to brain chemistry, brain electricity and so on. I am pleased to see that your work appears to take neither of these tacks and seeks rather an intelligent adjustment between these two modalities of knowledge…

red and white animals and colours
Landscape with Animals (1913) painting in high resolution by Franz Marc. Original from the Saint Louis Art Museum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

In his chapter in The Presence of Light, Muller-Ortega notes that the Indian philosopher Abhinavagupta, living in Kashmir about one thousand years ago (before the Mohammedan invasions of this now-divided Indian territory) had access to thousands of years’ worth of Hindu and Buddhist yogic knowledge going back to the Rig Veda. The Kashmir Saivites’ Doctrine of Vibration is itself rooted in the Upanishads’ Doctrine of the ‘Elements’ (panch bhuta; five spirits). As we saw, the first created element is akasa which means Space conceived as subtle matter (ether) characterized by vibration. Maurice Bloomfield wrote in his The Religion of the Veda (1908), “There is no important form of Hindu thought, ‘heterodox’ Buddhism included, which is not rooted in the Upanishads.” [47]. Those familiar with the story of Siddhartha Gautama, the Shakya prince known as the ‘Buddha’ (Awakened One), will know that, although he challenged the Brahmanical Orthodoxy, he travelled far and wide across India debating with Brahmins and other traditions and lived to the age of eighty, and died peacefully. 

We have seen that Buddha denied a Ground of all Being and put forward the central Buddhist doctrine of Doctrine of Anatta (Pali for Anatman: meaning ‘no Atman’). Thus, if we took Buddha literally, he asserts that there is no Inner Light either. The Kerala-born philosopher-mystic Sankara (fl. 8th Century c.e.), was the most famous proponent of Advaita Vedanta which replaced Buddhist supremacy across India, following famous debates with leading Buddhist scholars. The point at issue here is that mystics living in Christian and Mohammedan societies were generally isolated individuals often persecuted, if not killed, for revealing their experiences. They also lacked access to the vast knowledge of yogic methodology and philosophical interpretation that existed in India and to a lesser extent in China. We have seen that the early French Indologists even called the Indian spiritual tradition ‘Tolerationism’ [48].

In fact, Mohammedans, especially the Shia of (Aryan) Persia/Iran have been far more open to mystical revelation and persecuted mystics far less than the heretic-burning Christianity of the West [49]. Thus, as with many such books, Kapstein’s opens with profound statements about Light as the intriguing bridge between the physical and the spiritual etc. but fails completely even to come near to elucidating these questions in any insightful way. Kapstein just tells readers, assumed to be fellow Constructivist believers, what they want to hear. Academics seem interested only in getting papers published, regardless of how vacuous their arguments. As we shall see below, scholars of Religion are not alone in appeasing the orthodox powers that be.

Physics-appeasement in Western Academic Philosophy

Astrophysicist Arthur Eddington asserted that Time was the bridge between Matter and Mind [50]. Physicist David Peat claims that Carl Jung’s concept of Synchronicity is the bridge between Matter and Mind through Jung’s notion of a Psychoid realm where Matter and Mind are indistinguishable [51]. Jung’s Synchronicity (which was in fact a special case of his ‘Acausal Orderedness’) is related to the Hindu akasa (and its transcendental, vibrational resonances of form) found in the Yoga Sutras. Synchronicity is also related to the nonlocality of QM highlighted by the ongoing ‘entanglement’ (interconnectedness) of particle-like phenomena which have interacted in the past even though they may be separated by vast distances (in theory this could be many Light Years). Clearly, the experience of the Inner Light is much easier to grasp and thus Light is a much better candidate than such vague, inchoate notions of Time and Synchronicity which Eddington and Jung did not clarify.

I should add that, given the Prana/Atman identity (part of the perennial Light and Life Energy correlation), and the association of feelings of energy with various spiritual phenomena, energy is thus another link between the Material and the Spiritual. Indeed, the scientific concept of energy arose during the 19th Century Romantic Era of antipathy toward the dominant Mechanistic and Rational world-view. The Newtonian system used the concepts of work and force. Prior to the use of energy in relation to the new scientific studies of heat by the likes of Joule, energy was used in a personal context referring to feelings of vitality and freedom [52]. In fact, many scientific concepts, including force, acceleration, work, attraction, heat and pressure are, like energy, animistic projections of human feelings onto Nature just as the ancients used notions such as Love and Sympathy for Synchronicity-like resonant effects. The notion of the Conservation of Energy actually came to the physician (not a physicist) Robert Meyer in a sort of mystical realization he experienced whilst suffering from a fever in the East Indies. As Jung noted, it is in fact an archetypal idea, prefigured by many traditional spiritual views of a power or energy that underlies the various manifestations of Nature [53].

white horse or unicorn
Blue Horse I More: Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

In their book The Non-Local Universe: The New Physics and Matters of the Mind, [54] historian of science Robert Nadeau and physicist Menas Kafatos (N&K) state:

It is also interesting that light was the primary object of study in new theories that would displace classical physics. Light in Western literature, theology, and philosophy appears rather consistently as the symbol for transcendent, immaterial, and immutable forms separate from the realm of sensible objects and movements. Attempts to describe occasions during which those forms and ideas appear known or revealed also consistently invoke light as that aspect of nature most closely associated with ultimate truths.

Although these authors limit themselves to Western thought; refer to Eurocentrism; mention Husserl’s efforts to ground mathematical physics in human consciousness; disclose some of the hidden Platonist assumptions underlying Natural Science; depict matter as a (holonomic) web of relations, and even state that it is not unreasonable to conclude that the universe is conscious, they nevertheless still exhibit a naïve understanding of the relationship between the New Physics and actual matters concerning the Mind. In the quotation above, the authors themselves seem to imply that the simplistic Platonic notions of static, unchanging forms or abstract, generic ideas are the ultimate truths. They also assert that they find it totally unacceptable to imply that Metaphysics is prior to Physics, claiming that they practice epistemological Realism and refuse to make metaphysical leaps! This is absurd. How Metaphysics (Aristotle’s term meaning “above” or “beyond” Physics) could not be epistemologically prior to Physics as Physics, as with any human conceptual system, is based on numerous unproven metaphysical assumptions is not explained.


This is Part III of Chapter 3 of “THE BRAINSTEM BRAINWAVES OF ATMAN-BRAHMAN. The Synthesis of Science and Spirituality” (In Two Volumes) (Volume 1), written by Sutapas Bhattacharya.

Book Cover enlightenment

Part I of the book chapter you can find here.

Title of Original Chapter: “The True ‘Light of Truth’: The Link between Spiritual and Material Realms”


41. Newport, John P. (1998) The New Age Movement and the Biblical Worldview: Conflict and Dialogue, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

42. Cary, Phillip (2000) Augustine’s Invention of the Inner Self: The Legacy of a Christian Platonist,Oxford University Press.

43. Muller-Ortega, Paul. Personal Communication 7th April 2006.

44. Forman, Robert K.C. (1999) ibid.

45. Barnard, G. William (1997) Exploring Unseen Worlds: William James and the Philosophy of Mysticism, State University of New York Press.

46. Muller-Ortega, Paul. Personal Communication 7th April 2006.

47. Bloomfield, Maurice (1908) quoted in Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli (1953) The Principal Upanisads, (Centenary Edition 1989), Unwin Hyman.

48. Sorman, Guy (2001) The Genius of India, McMillan India.

49. See for instance Tim Winter (Editor) (2008) The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, Cambridge University Press and Watt, W. Montgomery (1962) Islamic Philosophy and Theology, (2009 Reprint) Aldine Transaction (Rutgers University).

50. Eddington, Arthur, S. (1928) The Nature of the Physical World, J.M. Dent & Sons.

51. Peat, David (1987) Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind, Bantam Books.

52. Sirag, Saul-Paul “Hyperspace Reflections”. In Beverley Kane, Jean Millay and Dean Brown (Editors)(1993) Silver Threads: 25 Years of Parapsychology Research, Praeger.

53. Jung, Carl G. (1917, 1926, 1943) “On the Psychology of the Unconscious”. Excerpted in Anthony Storr (Editor) (1983) Jung: Selected Writings, Fontana.

54. Nadeau, Robert and Kafatos, Menas (1999) The Non-local Universe: The New Physics and Matters of the Mind, Oxford University Press.

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