Living in the Moment Eternally — 3

[One of our esteemed Readers, Shri V. Madhava, has been kind to send an off-line message to me a few days ago saying “I enjoy reading your writings and just finished reading the article “Living in the moment eternally Part 2”.  Wondering if there is a Part 3 as there seems to be a broken link…” Reason enough, I guess, to continue on with my chatter — ramesam.]

Part 1                   Part 2 

Brain Activity - Past or Future vs Present Let us recall that living in the Now is an important trait of a jIvanmukta. J. Krishnamurti wondered if we could have an experience but not record it in our brain as a memory so that all our experiencing will be ever in the Present, in the innocent Now, afresh and always anew from moment to moment.

We already know from several studies that the areas of activity in the brain are about the same whether we think of the past or future (Panel A in the figure to the left). In contrast, experiencing in the present showed a clear difference in the activity of the left parietal cortex (See Panel B). But as Martin rightly observed in his Comments at Part 2, we are not really in a position to definitively assert that we understand the processes of memory formation, recall etc.  However, the good news is that the research particularly during the last 3-4 years in Neuroscience is opening up new doors to our knowledge on memory.  The confused situation we have been in since the days of Karl Lashley, who “In 1950, admitted defeat [of his ‘engram theory’], proposing instead that memories were not contained within a small set of cells but distributed across the brain” is slowly getting cleared up.  It does appear now that an engram (a definite pattern in the firing by a clique of neurons distributed globally in the brain) exists when a memory forms or when it is recalled. By manipulating selective neurons, Sheena Josselyn and colleagues demonstrated that “they can silence or activate the cells that make up the memory’s pattern, erasing and evoking specific memories and even implanting false memories.”  It was also established that there is a specific time window when an experience gets stored as a memory. If we are able to block that window, the memory does not get recorded. Scientific American said in 2012 that “Drugs and other therapies may soon be able to alter or even delete recollections selectively.”

Brain activity during “trance” state was reported by Andrew Newberg and his colleagues in 2012.  Their studies were made on “Brazilian mediums during the practice of psychography, described as a form of writing whereby a deceased person or spirit is believed to write through the medium’s hand. [Their] research revealed intriguing findings of decreased brain activity during mediumistic dissociative state which generated complex written content.”

I brought some of these matters to the notice of Peter Dziuban, the well-known Non-dualist, and requested him for his views. He made many illuminating points in his response. I reproduce below what he said in his mail in 2013:


First, it seems like there are several versions/definitions for “now” depending on who you talk to.  In the cases below, that “now” is the human “present moment” now, the fleeting instant between what the mind calls past and future–but it is completely and only on a mind level.

The “Now” of spirituality is different–it is a consciously realized state, a consciously lived state, that is not on the same level of the mind.  As one of my teachers, Lorene McClintock put it: “NOW is not a time.  NOW is a conscious experience.”  There is a conscious experience of peace, bliss, stillness etc.  Usually this “Now” does not completely preclude what still seem to be mind functions (memory, etc.) but at this point, as one’s experience has “expanded” and no longer is limited to mere mind-activity,  the mind is no longer “the only game in town.”

In the medical cases described there was a brain malfunction or departure from what we consider “the norm” (no memory) but that’s all there was. This new variation of experience was still in realm of mind, finite phenomena, or better said, an absence of what is considered normal phenomena. There was no consciously abiding as pure Consciousness.

As readers here know, this pure Consciousness is always present as the “primal” state of being, of all existence. It is non-local and universal, and includes body within Itself, rather than It being localized inside a body.  But this primal, universal Consciousness is usually overlooked in one’s experience due to conscious attention being given to the constant arising or flow of body-phenomena such as sensing, thinking and emotions.  These seem to be “superimposed” on the foundational NOW of universal Consciousness.

It’s worth noting that because this non-local NOW Consciousness is not an experience being had inside a body or brain, there’s nothing about Its BEING that can be measured inside a brain.  A test subject experiencing the infinite Eternal NOW is always going to disappoint those trying to measure It scientifically, because there’s nothing of the Eternal NOW in the brain to measure. 

I also think that what we call spiritually “living in the Now” is largely a matter of degree, and there’s a lot of variability.  It’s not a cut and dried thing like an on/off switch on a light.  For many in spirituality, “living in the Now” is like functioning on two levels simultaneously.  There is a conscious state of bliss or quiet, but at the same time, mind/sensory activity still appears to be going on.  The difference, as we say, is that there no longer is any identification or attachment to it.  These would be examples of how, as you say, living in the Now is NOT the same as living without memory.

Then, to the degree one “goes deeper” into the Now (don’t know how else to say it) to that degree, the sensory/mind activity seems to fade out–just as a movie image on the screen in a theatre seems to fade out when the house lights go on.  Nothing was done to the picture, but in the full light the picture no longer can appear.

Finally, from the “standpoint” of pure Infinite Self, Presence, these questions/issues cannot even be addressed because to the Infinite no such thing ever is even occurring or being experienced.  There is no sense of time, no sensory or mental experience or appearances–thus questions cannot be asked or answered about it.  This is a poor example, but it’s like when you are wide awake during mid-day, you are not troubled by the questions of the characters in a sleeping dream because no such sleeping dream is even occurring. You cannot account for the events in a dream that you’re not even having due to being wide awake.


[Note 1: The sentences shown in red above in Peter Dziuban’s explanation are additional inputs very generously provided by Peter on June 26, 2016 in order to bring in greater clarity to the reader.   I am very much obliged to him for his time and the love with which he shared his thoughts in explaining the intricacies of the difficult subject being discussed.

Note 2: The figure shown is adopted from “Consciousness of subjective time in the brain” by  L. Nyberg et al . The Panel A shows that “compared to a control task of doing mental arithmetic, both remembering and imagining (in the past as well as future) of an action activated numerous brain areas and there was very strong overlap between the two conditions. The Panel B shows the crucial contrast between remembering, past imagining and future imagining, vs. imagining in the present. This small nugget of the left parietal cortex represents an area where the brain is more active when thinking about times other than the present, relative to thinking about the same thing, but right now. The authors note that this area ‘partly overlaps a left angular region shown to be recruited during both past and future thinking and with parietal regions implicated in self-projection in past, present, or future time.’ ” ]


In closing, permit me to repeat a couple of points that I already made in the Comments sections of the earlier two Parts:

  1.  We know that correlation is not causation and the purpose here is not looking for immediately creating a jIvanmukta in the lab using the neuronal correlates as a basis.
  2. Our main interest for the present is whether an observable footprint can be seen in the brain of body A as distinct from the brain in B — A being the body of a person behaving and acting in a certain fashion with a strong belief in his/her having a separate ‘self,’ and B is the body (of the same individual) after imbibing and ingesting the Advaita message but the body [now] functions because of its own innate intelligence built into it and there is no interference from the concept of a separate ‘me.’

4 thoughts on “Living in the Moment Eternally — 3

  1. In order to kick start a new discussion and also partly to transfer the discussion at the other thread, please permit me to reproduce here two quotes from the Comments section of the Blog: Beyond Advaita:

    Quote 1. Dec 19, 2009:

    I received through private e-mail three very interesting Questions from a young reader of the Blog. I give below his questions and my brief response to him.

    Q 1: Does the so called ‘self’ gateway node really create an experiential feeling of ‘self’ OR a new operand called “Forgetfulness” acts on attributeless “Awareness” at that node making Awareness forget that It is actually an undivided, unlimited Everything?

    ramesam: It is undoubtedly far fetched to make any definitive statement on the way the neuronal networks function because these studies are in a preliminary stage. As per the work of Prof. Tsien and a few others, there appears to be a hierarchy of networks synchronously firing information from different parts of the brain when a particular ‘object’ is cognized. When thoughts about ‘self’ related information is processed, one finds more activity in ventral medial prefrontal cortex and also precuneus. These areas of the brain are supposed to contain self related or autobiographical info (e.g. I am so and so; I am an engineer etc.). So a gateway node of the nested neuronal circuits comprising these locations can only contribute the info contained within them (by higher intensity/frequency of firing). This node then functions as a gatekeeper only allowing info related to ‘self’ to pass through.

    If you propose that they may selectively erase info (hence result in forgetting), you are up against two difficulties. One is that they cannot suppress the neural circuits in the billions of neurons in the rest of the brain. Secondly, you will have to assume the presence of a priori imprinting of certain circuits with info about Awareness only within a few neurons. Therefore, there cannot be an entity called “forgetfulness” which newly comes and imposes itself on the system.

    When you refer to “forgetfulness”, perhaps you are referring to the Advaitic explanation saying that Awareness ‘forgetting’ Itself, becomes the I-thought. Here ‘forgetting’ is used only in a figurative sense. Awareness neither forgets nor remembers anything. It is immutable. This explanation is only made under a false premise to answer a question raised within a false domain (i.e. ignorance).

    Q: How does one “feel” the Infinite Awareness at the “Universal Self” gateway node?

    ramesam: I agree “feel” is a wrong word. But this is a weakness we have to live with because we have to use language to express something inexpressible. What I mean is that there will be no sense of a separate ‘self’. No ‘entity’ remains to give raise to thoughts like I see, I act, etc. with a separate identification of ‘me’. That particular brain where this is happening, loses the consciousness of individuating boundaries, only an experience of Universal Oneness remains without an experiencer (e.g. something like ‘LaLa Land’ that Jill described in her experience).

    Q: Can the neuronal firing (pulses) reflect Infinite Awareness at all?

    ramesam: I also do not know. That is the reason I am curious about the brain scans of Jivanmuktas.

    Further, as I explained under the comment section of the previous Blog Post, one may not find a definitive ‘positive presence’ of a Marker for Universal Self or Brahman or Awareness. It is perhaps the “absence” of certain traits within the brain of a Jivanmukta (compared to the brain of an ajnani) that may stand out as Markers in the brain of a Jivanmukta.

    Thank you again for your very interesting and searching queries,

    Quote 2. Dec 03, 2009:

    First a big Thank you to Cos Mic for the time and thought he could spend on the Blog.

    Re: “me” thought: It is used as a short hand to express the gateway ‘node’ of neuronal networks through which all such information which is related to the body organism are processed. It is not yet understood how this process engenders the subjective feeling of a ‘self’, a ‘me’, within the organism. Neuroscience could not find a specific ‘spot’ in the brain for the ‘self.’ The word ‘seer’ is used in a figuritive sense because after an object is cognised, the immediate thought that usually follows is : I ‘see’ the object.

    Re: Consciousness: The word Consciousness in Advaita and Neuroscience undoubtedly point to different things. Neuroscience is still grapling with the issue, as I already indicated. The statements as given by Cos Mic are from the Advaitic standpoint and are absolutely indisputable.

    RE: The brain scans: The main point made in the suggestion regarding brain scans of a Jivanmukta is this:
    The “realization” of a Jivanmukta is totally confined to that specific individual and is happening within him/her. Would “realization” of Truth leave a foot-print within him/her or not? We may not look so much for a thing that is “present” as a foot-print in the brain. It could be the “absence” of certain processes that happen in a normal man (e.g. absence of ‘self’ node gateway, higher hormonal levels of oxytocin etc. In a Jivanmukta). At this investigative stage no suggestion is being implied about establishing any cause-effect relationships or logical derivations.


    • Thank you, Ramesam, for a stimulating article series, with supplemental comments. You’re right that the discussion I was having with Anonymous probably fits better here than under the previous article on plenitude, etc. So I will pick up the thread here.

      Please let me outline my position in brief. I’ve always been fascinated by scientific research into the nature of consciousness, so I agree with you that it’s a very intriguing question as to whether there may be neuronal correlates for a jivanmukta. You do apply the appropriate caveats regarding the technical scope of the discussion, and I understand you won’t be issuing certificates anytime soon. 🙂 So it is certainly appropriate to have a look at what the science tells us, and I don’t want to close the door on such considerations. But I also have to candidly say that my position is closer to Dennis’ than yours. I think that the total change in perspective that comes with moksha may not necessarily always yield measurable brain markers, even if it appears to do so in some instances.

      Aside from his potentially problematic use of the word “experience” to describe that which cannot be described, I think Peter Dziuban hit the nail on the head with his comment above:

      “It’s worth noting that because this non-local NOW Consciousness is not an experience being had inside a body or brain, there’s nothing about Its BEING that can be measured inside a brain.  A test subject experiencing the infinite Eternal NOW is always going to disappoint those trying to measure It scientifically, because there’s nothing of the Eternal NOW in the brain to measure.” 

      Spot on. If the non dual teaching of Advaita is correct, then brains are mithya, empirical things that apparently arise in the One Consciousness. So while it may be of entertainment value to an apparent jiva to study such possible correlates, we should not lose sight of the fact that it is essentially a dualistic concept. This particular jiva became Liberated so they are somehow different than other jIva-s, thus conferring a special status. Yet we know what the Upanishads tell us about the problem of “seeing difference here.” Is this not just then another example of the tendency to view things dualistically, attributing difference to one dream character where no substantive difference actually exists? I think if we could ask a jnAni this question, he or she would merely smile, and perhaps also reply that they are no different from anyone else.

      Best Regards,

  2. Ramesam,

    The following is a copy of the post I just made in the ‘Plenitude’ thread which I think should be also posted here.


    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘Anon is taking a slightly different line.’ I still don’t see how scientists could look into the brain and see the absence of a separate self. Let’s just say I don’t have the imagination for it.

    But, there is another issue which would concern scientists examining the brain of a ‘jivanmukta’. In Buddhism, there are 4 stages of ‘enlightenment’. The first stage sets the stage for the subsequent three more. This is the understanding that there is no separate self, no entity that inhabits mind and body. Through further contemplation, mindfulness, and jhana (a type of concentration), samadhi happens. Through samadhi, the skandas (I don’t know the terms that Vedantins use and my use of skanda is just mine that I picked up over the years, I think the Buddhist term may be different), the so-called ‘seeds’ of defilements are gradually burned up or disappear giving each successive stage (4) a name and a deeper realization until the whole business is done. As the Buddha declared when he was done under the Bodhi tree, ‘It is finished’.

    My point is not to name these stages, but to point out that what one calls a jivanmukta may not be the same for every jivanmukta because the ‘defilements’ reside as seeds in consciousness or wherever they reside and could have different effects on the brain at each successive stage. This might also explain to those who have had ‘satori’ or ‘insight’ into the non-existence of self, but who still experience dualities and disturbance. This also correlates with what Nisargadatta always told his followers that they needed to stabilize this sense of ‘I Am’ and ‘Being’. These are but stages.

    Since all this is theoretical, conceptual, for me it has nothing to do with anything except the imagination, reflected consciousness in Vedantic terminology. It is a way losing the thread of mindfulness and is anti-thetical to living in the present, or as Ramesam call it, ‘Living In The Moment Eternally’.

  3. Dear Charles and Anon,

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    At the outset let me state that the Quote that Charles provided from Peter Dziuban’s observations is incontestable. I am fully with Peter when he says that “It’s worth noting that because this non-local NOW Consciousness is not an experience being had inside a body or brain, there’s nothing about Its BEING that can be measured inside a brain.”

    That exactly is, in fact, the reason why I mentioned that we will not look for a “positive presence of a marker” for ‘liberation’ in the brain.

    It is the individuated person who thinks that s/he is separate and distinct and assumes that he is “finite” and not infinite. So this assumption or “limits-setting-imagination” (a thought) is the trait which should have its imprint or “signature” in the brain of the body before liberation. Reversing the argument, it is reasonable to expect that the brain of the body after liberation may not show this imagination of being a limited separate “me-ness.”

    It looks to me that the main reason to disagree with the model described by me could be within the way the Consciousness – mind relation is formulated by you. Therefore, it is crucial that we should examine how one conceives the ‘origination’ of the ‘individual mind’ (the “me”) from brahman (Consciousness). There could be a problem if one is wedded only to the Doctrine of Reflection as the acceptable theory. We know from the scriptures and Shankara’s bhAshya-s that the Doctrine of Reflection is only one of the explanatory devices. It is not a Law. IMHO, the analogy of pot-space and Infinite-space as spelt out by Gaudapada can be more helpful wherein the imagined “limiting walls” of the pot bring in a sense of separation, a “me.”

    Gaudapada explains in his kArika:

    आत्मा ह्याकाशवज्जीवैर्घटाकाशैरिवोदितः ।
    घटादिवच्च सङ्घातैर्जातावेतन्निदर्शनम् ॥ — advaita prakaraNa, shloka 3

    Atman may be said to be similar to AkAsha (Space) manifested in the forms of the jIva-s (embodied selves) which may be compared to the space enclosed in pots. Again, as pots etc. are said to be produced from the AkAsha, similarly (gross) bodies are said to be evolved from the Atman. This is the illustration of the manifestation (from brahman, if any) — Translation by Swami Nikhilananda

    Clearly, the production process of jIva-s from brahman is just like birth of pot-space from the Infinite-space.

    We also know from the shruti vAkya-s on Creation (IkShaNa and anupravisat) that it is brahman Himself (saH) thought (akAmayata)

    ‘सोऽकामयत बहु स्यां प्रजायेय’
    ‘तदैक्षत बहु स्यां प्रजायेय’
    (Meaning: He wished, “Let me be many, let me be born).

    And He Himself entered.
    तत्सृष्ट्वा । तदेवानुप्राविशत् । — (taittirIya II-vi-1)
    (Meaning: That (Brahman), having created (that), entered into that very thing).

    Please note that there is no ‘other’ actor as a thinker, nor did the ‘thought’ belong to some “other” entity.

    Further, we have from taittirIya II-vii-1:

    असद्वा इदमग्र आसीत् । ततो वै सदजायत । तदात्मानं स्वयमकुरुत । तस्मात्तत्सुकृतमुच्यत इति |
    (Meaning: In the beginning all this was but the Unmanifested (Brahman). From that emerged the manifested. That Brahman created Itself by Itself. Therefore It is called the self-creator).

    So the thought-wave is a vibration within brahman, by brahman, composed of brahman.

    The thought-wave brought about the ‘imagination’ of finity / separation.

    With the modern advances in optogenetics and brain scanning techniques, trained scientists can detect the presence and nature of a specific thought under lab conditions.

    Broadly speaking, our sense of being ‘located’ in space occurs in the temporoparietal junction (TPJ), an area of the brain where the temporal and parietal lobes meet. The TPJ is also known to play a crucial role in self-other distinctions. Our autobiographical memories are stored in the medial prefrontal cortex and the precuneus. ‘Many studies attribute specific functions such as anticipation of tasks, attention, motivation, and modulation of emotional responses to the anterior cingulate cortex.’ The amygdala governs our fears and emotions. Maybe expert Neuroscientists can better delineate the areas and the specific nested networks of connected neurons with accuracy.

    It will, surely, be quite interesting and highly educative to see the activity in different regions, as described above, in the brains of the Neo- and the traditional Non-dualists.


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