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Year : 2022  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 2-7

The transparent mind and the peaceful self: Neuroscience and vedanta perspectives

Jacksonville Campus, University of Florida, Jacksonville, Florida, USA

Date of Submission08-Dec-2021
Date of Acceptance26-Mar-2022
Date of Web Publication26-Apr-2022

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Vinod D Deshmukh
3600 Rustic LN, Jacksonville, Florida 32217
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijoyppp.ijoyppp_54_21

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This review article is about the spontaneous dawn of the transparent mind and the peaceful self. The article starts with my direct observations as documented in my recent journal entries. As a neurologist, I ask myself, “how can I understand and explain these experiences in terms of modern neuroscience?” We as human beings have been asking such fundamental questions for thousands of years. The often asked questions are: Who am I? What is self? What is I-Me-Mine? What is self-consciousness? What is reality? How can I be free and peaceful? I have tried to answer some of these questions based on my personal experience and the review of current neuroscience. Self-aware experience is singular, nonspecific, multimodal with deep roots in human life, self-development, and evolution. Human development depends on both exogenous signals and endogenous self-organization. It is nature-guided. The evolution of vertebrates including humans is complex and fascinating. Our sense of self has been described in terms of two aspects namely, the subjective and objective self. We are alive as embodied and embedded beings in nature. The wholeness of our spontaneous peaceful being is unique and hard to describe, but it can be joyously actualized. One can understand self better by the affective rather than the cognitive approach. The nuances of self-aware being, the Atman have been extensively described in Upanishads, Vedanta, Yoga, and Buddhism.

Keywords: Advaita Vedanta, asparsha yoga, consciousness, holistic being, nature guided self-organization, nondual awareness, peaceful self, spontaneous feeling, transparent mind

How to cite this article:
Deshmukh VD. The transparent mind and the peaceful self: Neuroscience and vedanta perspectives. J Appl Conscious Stud 2022;10:2-7

How to cite this URL:
Deshmukh VD. The transparent mind and the peaceful self: Neuroscience and vedanta perspectives. J Appl Conscious Stud [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Dec 9];10:2-7. Available from: http://www.jacsonline.in/text.asp?2022/10/1/2/343858

  Introduction Top

The last three of my journal entries were as follows:

November 19, 2021: “Nonwandering Mind– Anew! This morning, I woke up refreshed. Just stayed in bed for a few minutes and watched myself and my mind. There were no thoughts or images. No provoked feelings. Body-mind-self were completely still, silent and serene. It was an absolute presence with natural bliss, and a sense of complete freedom from body-mind-personality, and the world. It was beyond time and form. I was at peace with myself. What a unique feeling it was. No wonder. It has been called sacred, divine, universal, or nondual.”

November 28, 2021: “I am the voice of silence. It is self-generated, and nature-guided. It is spontaneous and ever-fresh–ever-new. Self-effulgent. I am the light of conscious arousal, awareness and being guided by nature. I am the source, the creator of myself and my experiences. Nature-guided self-awareness is like a mother-and-child! We are the children of nature. Nature is in perfect order. One and One alone!”

November 30, 2021: “The Transparent Mind is real and joyous. Spontaneous incessant source of the sweeping conscious mental stream. The arousal-awareness is continuously generated in a living body-brain-mind. One gets swept away swiftly if one has not learnt the skill to pause at the very source of one's instantaneous conscious being. This source is like a timeless, endless, ever-fresh spring of vigilance. One needs to realize and appreciate this great wonder– the truth. Stop getting swept away downstream in the slow mental flow and suffer in the turbulent waters of wandering mental experience. The source I precedes Me, Mine and all dual experiences. Be the Source! Stay at the Source! Don't get swept away downstream. Notice the ever-new reality with a transparent mind, as if the mind does not even exist. Enjoy the ever-fresh mental transparency.”

My self-inquiry as a neuroscientist is this: How do I explain this real experience in terms of neuroscience? Can I understand this experience in terms of pure nondual awareness, Advaita Vedanta, and the Asparsha Yoga? (Chinmayānanda, 1983; Deshmukh, 2021b; Josipovic, 2019; Reddy, 2021; Sridhar & Nagendra, 2021; Srinivasan, 2021).

  Nature-Guided Human Development and Evolution Top

Human self-development throughout life is intriguing (Deshmukh, 2009). It, not only occurs during the intrauterine life in the womb of a mother but also in the extrauterine life until the age of at least 25 years. The intrauterine development and growth depends on endogenous self-organization, which is modulated by the exogenous signals from the mother and the surrounding natural world. With this model, one can use stem cells to generate an embryoid in vitro (Morales et al., 2021). The dorsal prefrontal cortex is the last area of the frontal lobe to mature, and it is responsible for working memory, inhibiting impulses, weighing consequences of intentional decisions, and finding the solution to the present situation (Samango-Sprouse, 2007). The growth of the precuneus of the parietal lobe is also a sign of human evolution and self-awareness.

Evolutionary changes have been explained on the basis of neurobiology and cognitive sciences. Paul Cisek's article on evolutionary neurobiology is outstanding. He explains the evolutionary ladder all the way from sponges to humans. Rostral-caudal polarization and expansion in terms of (a) archencephalon or forebrain (mesencephalon, diencephalon, and telencephalon) and (b) deuterencephalon-rhombencephalon or hindbrain (metencephalon and myelencephalon) are clearly explained with their behavioral implications. The two complimentary modes of behavior and mentation are proposed namely the exploitatory and the exploratory modes. The predominant neuromodulators in the forebrain and hindbrain are dopamine and serotonin. The two primal behavioral responses are described namely, to approach what is desirable and to avoid what is harmful. The whole tree of life with simple to complex behaviors is explained based on these fundamental evolutionary principles (Cisek, 2019).

Self-consciousness and world-consciousness in vertebrates are well described. The authors proposed two neural circuits namely (a) a “basal” subcortical system that includes brainstem, hypothalamus, and the central thalamic nuclei that may underpin the primary or anoetic consciousness likely to be present in all vertebrates; and (b) a forebrain system that includes the medial and lateral structures of the cerebral hemispheres and may sustain the most sophisticated forms of consciousness namely, noetic-knowledge based and autonoetic or self-reflective experiences (Fabbro et al., 2015).

The evolution of circadian rhythms in various animals with the body's master and peripheral clocks that organize sleep-wake cycles and other rhythmic behaviors is recently reviewed (Bhadra et al., 2017). Another interesting aspect of human evolution is the growth and expansion of the parietal lobe, especially the precuneus region. This is a central node in the default mode network that mediates self-related processing (Bruner et al., 2017). The human precuneus is much larger than a similar region in the brain of Chimpanzees.

A different approach to understanding human brain-mind evolution is to use cognition and the predictive inference machine learning. Such a predictive error processing approach is very popular at present to explain the three main aspects of human consciousness namely the level of alertness, the contents of awareness, and the sense of self (Badcock et al., 2019; Ginsburg & Jablonka, 2021; Seth, 2021). Seth even made a statement, “I predict, therefore I am.” In his latest book, Being You, he divides the self into five categories namely (a) bodily self, (b) perspectival self, (c) volitional self, (d) narrative self, and (e) social self (Seth, 2021).

  Human Sense of Self and the Experiential World Top

Human sense of self and its interactions with the world are subjective and hard to define in objective terms. Self-awareness is unitary, nonspecific, diffuse space-like, and multimodal with deep roots in human development and evolution. Self-awareness has multiple functional aspects including the original nondual awareness that precedes the dualistic experience of a self-represented world. The original nondual awareness is spontaneous, effortless, and nonrepresentational, whereas the dual experiential awareness is provoked by some signal from the experienced body or the world.

Although the sense of subjective self is unitary, most neuroscientists divide the concept of self into two or even three components. For a common understanding, self-awareness has been divided into the minimal self and the longitudinal self. The minimal self refers to a self that is immediate and unextended in time. It is the subject of conscious experience when attention shifts from the external to the internal world of body, mind, and behavior. The self-experience as the minimal and longitudinal self includes (a) body boundaries and self-location, (b) facial features and body size, (c) interoceptive, visceral, homeostatic, and proprioceptive sensations, (d) sense of self-agency for voluntary action and behavior, (e) multimodal mental imagery and mental time-travel, and (f) the online experience of the self and the world. The minimal self is mediated by the hierarchical neural networks in the brainstem, insula, and orbitofrontal cortex. The longitudinal self operates based on (g) semantic or factual memory and knowledge and (h) autobiographical memory. It is a global impression of self that gives us a sense of continuity based on our lifelong memories. It is mediated mainly by the self-referential default mode network (Sturm et al., 2018).

The hierarchy and interactions of complex neural networks involved in self-awareness are located in the brainstem and the forebrain. They are being further explored and defined in the current neuroscience. The multiple aspects self-theory was recently proposed based on the electrophysiology and the temporal profile of the dynamic self-processing (Walla et al., 2021). The authors suggested that the self-processing is serial, and it has two main components, namely (a) a nonpersonal primitive self or Me1, and (b) a personal elaborate self or Me2. In the electrophysiological studies including event-related potentials, the Me1 precedes Me2, and it also forms a background for Me2. Me2 typically manifests about 400 ms after the stimulus. Me1 and Me2 are analogous to William James' proposal of I and Me, physical self and mental self, or the Self-as-subject and the Self-as-object respectively (James, 1890).

Some authors suggest a division of the self into the bodily self and the cognitive self (Schaller et al., 2021). The bodily self has bodily self-consciousness with five key features namely (a) self-identification, (b) body ownership, (c) self-location, (d) first-person perspective, and (e) the sense of agency. The cognitive self is composed of many cognitive components including memory, language, mental imagery, and symbolic-abstract thinking.

The principle of reafference is another interesting neural mechanism to explain the basis of our sense of self (Jékely et al., 2021). Reafference is defined as any effect on an organism's sensory mechanism that is due to the organism's own action. Reafference principle implies a self-initiated action that evokes sensory effects, which are correlated with these actions and, therefore, they can be predicted and used. In more evolved nervous systems, corollary discharge or efference copy is a feedforward mechanism to achieve more complex actions and behaviors. Body-self is defined as a form of organization including motility, reafferent sensing, and morphology enabling the organism to act as a single unit.

Damasio, in his recent book, emphasized three distinct and consecutive stages in the evolution of living organisms. The three stages are being, feeling, and knowing (Damasio, 2021). Being is an organism's sense of its existence without any memory, representation, mental imagery, or thought processes. It mainly depends on homeostasis or life's self-regulation. Feelings allow organisms to represent in their own minds, the state of their own bodies preoccupied with life-regulation. They provide organisms with experiences of their own life. Feelings are crucial in the generation of the sense of self. Knowing depends on the processing of multisensory representations, memory, mental imagery, and life's history including the memory of interactions with others and the environment. Damasio also described the sources of mental imagery and contents from three different experiential worlds, which are (a) the external world around us, (b) the internal visceral world, and (c) the somatic world with representations of the body and its movements.

Damasio (2010), in his previous book, described three stages of self, namely the protoself, the core self, and the autobiographical self. The protoself is a neural description of relatively stable aspects of the organism. Its main product is spontaneous, primordial feelings of the living body. The core self is generated when there is an interaction between the protoself and some object with the resultant self-object image. The autobiographical self emerges when there are multiple coherent patterns, a stream of self-object images with memories.

Jaak Panksepp proposed three processes to describe the self and the subjective experiential world. (a) Primary process of the here-and-now experience (raw bodily affective feelings and perceptions of the external world), (b) Secondary process of consciousness (having thoughts and other perspectives about our raw experiences), and (c) Tertiary processes (having thoughts about thoughts, leading to self-awareness) (Panksepp, 2009). He also proposed the concept of the core simple ego type life form (SELF) as the neurobiological basis of soul. He emphasized our foundational affective experiences with the statement, “I feel therefore I am.” The core SELF is described as a primordial representation of the body, especially the visceral body, within the brain, which may be foundational for affective being and the emergence of mental processes. The core SELF is based on the deep subcortical processes that engender organismic coherence–a unified presence of an active organism with a diversity of emotional feelings (Panksepp, 2012).

Solms (2021) recenlty advanced these ideas in his book, The Hidden Spring: A Journey To The Source of Consciousness. The brainstem reticular formation is an ancient neural network present in all vertebrates. It is probably 525 million years old in terms of evolutionary history. Both Panksepp and Solms think that the brainstem reticular formation is the hidden wellspring of mind, where self-consciousness arises. “By stimulating the brainstem, we might expect to switch consciousness on or off.” The reticulate core brainstem generates affect and feelings and provides the foundation for conscious experience. All affective networks converge on the periaqueductal gray (PAG) matter, which serves as the main output center for feelings and emotional behaviors.

“The superior colliculi represent in distilled form the moment-to-moment state of the objective (sensory and motor) body, in much the same way as the PAG monitors its subjective (need) state. Merker calls this affective/sensory/motor interface between the PAG, the superior colliculi, and midbrain locomotor region the brain's 'decision triangle'. Panksepp called it the primal SELF, the very source of our sentient being.”

Consciousness was clearly defined as experience by Koch (2019) in his recent book. Here is a quote: “Consciousness is experience. That's it. Consciousness is any experience, from the most mundane to the most exalted. Some add subjective or phenomenal to the definition. For my purposes, these adjectives are redundant. Some distinguish awareness from consciousness. For reasons I've given elsewhere, I don't find this distinction helpful and so I use these two words interchangeably.” He goes on to make an insightful statement in his final chapter: “I now know that I live in a universe in which the inner light of experience is far more widespread than assumed within the standard Western canon. This inner light shines in humans and in the denizens of the animal kingdom, brighter or dimmer, in proportion to the complexity of their nervous system. Integrated information theory predicts the possibility that all cellular life feels like something. The mental and physical are closely linked, two aspects of one underlying reality.”

There is an extensive research literature on the topics of conscious arousal, attention, wandering mind and meditation. There are articles on flow states, nondual meditation and our sense of self-singularity. “Flow is a state of full task absorption, accompanied with a strong drive and low levels of self-referential thinking… We propose that dopaminergic and noradrenergic systems mediate the intrinsic motivation and activate mood states that are typical for flow.” (van der Linden et al., 2021) Flow states can manifest during self-absorptive attentional and effortless behavioral engagement as well as complete mental and behavioral disengagement with a calm, clear, compassionate, and a transparent mind. In a transparent mind, there are no obscuring preoccupations, imaginations or contents. Such a mind is so fully present and clear as if it does not even exist– amani-bhava as described in the Asparsha Yoga.

All of this literature does help us understand our own sense of peaceful conscious being and our experiential world (Brandmeyer & Delorme, 2021; de Haan et al., 2021; Laukkonen & Slagter, 2021). In describing the nondual or pure awareness, some authors have pointed out the ancient tradition of Atma-Vichara or the Who am I? inquiry. Some authors do refer to the ancient sources. “There are also other even older practices with Hindu origins such as self-inquiry in Advaita Vedanta that utilizes questions such as “who am I?” that point attention toward the “subject” of experience so that its absence may be discovered” (Laukkonen & Slagter, 2021). The absence of subject-object duality with no mental contents– advaita or amani bhava leads to a transparent mind and the peaceful self.

I have tried to integrate Neuroscience and Vedanta in my book, The Astonishing Brain and Holistic Consciousness: Neuroscience and Vedanta Perspectives, and in several other publications (Deshmukh, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2012a, 2012b, 2019a, 2019b, 2021a). This is my subjective integration and expression in the journal entries. The feeling of being the peaceful self–the Atman is clearly defined in Mandukya Upanishad:

Atman is not that which cognizes the internal objects (events), not that which cognizes the external objects (events), not that which cognizes both, not an undifferentiated consciousness, not (dually) conscious, not unconscious. It is unperceived, incapable of being spoken of, incomprehensible, without any distinctive marks, unthinkable, unnamable, the essence of oneself, that into which the (experienced) world resolves, the peaceful, the innocent, the nondual, such is the fourth (Turiya). It is the Self. It is to be known…The syllable AUM is the Self. S/he who knows the Self thus, merges in it, by itself” (Deshmukh, 2012b).

Finally, here is a short poem that was inspired to express the self-feeling:

Breath is physical. Thought is mental.

Intention is personal. Feeling is real.

I feel peaceful. That Peace is who I am,

The Atman.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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