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Soma (text) | briancapleton.com

Non-Fiction

Sprituality & Transpersonal

Śiva's Brainchild

What we often don't get, at the current time, in considering how the brain "creates consciousness", is that no brain ever came into existence in isolation. There are not billions of different principles of the brain, with a different principle operating in each human brain. Rather, there is one principle of the brain. And each individual human brain is a uniquely configured instantiation of that one principle. Similarly, just as, in modern scientific terms, the mind arises as a construct of brain function, so also there is only one mind, of which each individual human mind, is a uniquely configured instantiation. When put like this, this principle should be easier to see.

Verily, that One became threefold [the Trimurti]. He developed forth eightfold, elevenfold, twelvefold, into an infinite number of parts. Because of having developed forth, He is a created being (bhūta); has entered into and moves among created beings; He became the overlord of created beings. That is the Ātman (the Soul) within and without - yea, within and without! 

- Maitri Upanishad.277

Entheogens are "psychoactive substances" that when ingested have the potential to induce some kind of Divine or spiritual experience. In terms of the brain they release in some way the "mode of restraint" in the way the brain is normally working. 

Perhaps, we might speculate, this is by allowing multiple, new paths of connections between neural networks, that are otherwise relatively isolated. And perhaps also by repressing certain neural circuits that would otherwise normally be active.

Essentially, it is not possible to disentangle this scientific question from the question of how it is that biological brain function equates to our experience of self and world, in the first place. 

The question of the effect of entheogens on the brain is closely related to the content of the Hindu corpus. The reason is that the Vedas which are the oldest part of the corpus, and later parts of the corpus too, are based on "revealed knowledge" of rsis (seers) in the context of a religious culture of fire sacrifices, in which, it seems, there was the use of an entheogenic plant substance called Soma.

The Vedas are the earliest part of the corpus of the Indian scriptures. The Vedas alone exceed the extent of the Bible more than six times over.295 Soma is mentioned frequently in the Vedas, as well as in the Puranas and Upanishads.

The Rig Veda is arranged in ten mandalas, consisting of “hymns” in which there is frequent mention of Soma and of drinking Soma. The entire ninth Mandala is dedicated to Soma and consists of 144 hymns to Soma. 

Plants or "herbs" in Hinduism are more than just culinary things or food. The Skanda Purana, for example, refers to "medicinal herbs" regarded as "full of nectar and conducive to excellence of intellect",296 and Soma was regarded as the ‘Lord of all medicinal herbs’.297 

As an ingested substance, Soma appears to have been prepared by mixing juice crushed from an actual plant, with milk.298 The contextual background is a culture of fire sacrifices carried out under the influence of Soma, often called Soma sacrifices.

However, Soma clearly also refers to the moon. The moon, in the Hindu corpus, is a Being, and like all beings, is an expansion of the Brahman. Soma also infers attaining higher states of consciousness through the ingestion of the plant substance. 

There is a contemporary analogy here. In the modern world of material understanding, and scientific materialism, we, as a species, landed on the moon in 1969. But the result was more than merely materialistic knowledge of the moon. One could argue it created an unprecedented shift in perspective, in the human mind, certainly in the Western world. Perhaps the icon of this is the famous "Earthrise" picture. 

To this day, we now talk about "the planet" in everyday parlance, in a new way, that before, we never did. For the first time, we saw us, and our planetary home, in a new, more "cosmic" way. 

The ingestion of Soma, which does seem to be what the sources are referring to, constitutes a psychical equivalent of this going to the moon, and then even beyond it, by going beyond the limitations of the material-bound mind. In Eastern spirituality generally, the moon is also associated with the mind.    

If the Soma spoken of in the Vedas relates to an entheogenic plant substance, which certainly seems to be the case, then we can surmise that it was the plant that assisted the entering of the consciousness of the risi into the states from which came the chanting or verses that were eventually written down in the Rig Veda.     

We need to remember that Hinduism primarily recognises that all beings ultimately come from the one Being - Brahman. In essence, it is through becoming the illuminated consciousness of Soma, that the reality of being-consciousness-bliss or sat-chit-ananda associated with the Brahman can be realised as the Soma no one ever tastes.299 

In modern usage the effects of the psychoactives and entheogens that are currently known to science are not explicitly controllable. However, today, in the modern world of Western science, there is now a new thrust to scientifically investigate the brain and the experiences that arise through it whilst under the influence of psychedelic or entheogenic substances.

Perhaps one of the most promising areas in this respect is the scientific investigation of the effects of DMT on the brain, in terms of the experience of being and world of being, of a subject under its influence. 

DMT - n,n-dimethyl tryptamine - is basically what we might consider a modern substitute for Soma (although it is not currently certain what Soma actually was). DMT would appear to be in this respect more promising even than the previously quite well-known "magic mushroom" substance, psilocybin. 

DMT is a naturally produced substance that is also naturally found in the human brain.300 Ayahuasca, the hallucinogenic drink that has long been traditionally used by some Amazonian tribes, is rich in DMT.301 

One of the salient things that is emerging from the studies of the effects of DMT, is subjects reporting experiencing: 

"... an autonomous alternate world rather than a dream or hallucination".285    

One outstanding thing about reported experiences is that what is experienced seems "more real than real".303 A large study of 2,561 individuals under the influence of DMT, published in 2020, reported that "entity encounters" experienced under the influence were said to be "more real than normal reality" in 81% of cases during the experience, and 65% after the experience.304 

Also, the results showed that ‘more than half of those who identified as atheist before the experience no longer identified as atheist afterwards’, and that in 80% of cases ‘the experience altered the respondent’s fundamental conception of reality’.

The "more real than real" aspect of the experience is of course indicative that comparatively, the ordinary, everyday experience of the material world, so often referred to as "reality", is an experience of a world that is less "real", or more "dreamlike" than what is sometimes referred to as a "DMT breakthrough".    

Considered as a construct of brain function our mind and conditional experience of being is a dynamic structure. Just as brain function is a dynamic structure. And anything that we know as thought or experience, is part of that structure. That structure hasn't come into existence in isolation, in just a single brain.

What we often don't get, at the current time, in considering how the brain "creates consciousness", is that no brain ever came into existence in isolation. There are not billions of different principles of the brain, with a different principle operating in each human brain.

Rather, there is one principle of the brain. And each individual human brain is a uniquely configured instantiation of that one principle in nature. Similarly, just as, in modern scientific terms, the mind arises as a construct of brain function, so also there is essentially only one human mind in nature, of which each individual human mind, is a uniquely configured instantiation. When put like this, this principle should be easier to see.

So there is only one human mind, but it's not anyone's individual, personal mind. Nor is anyone's individual mind, separate from this one human mind. Rather, everyone's individual mind and experience of being as a human being, is a uniquely configured instantiation of the one human mind. Just as the principle of the brain operating in everyone's individual brain is a uniquely configured instantiation of the one principle of the brain.

"Subsequently" to this, there arises in each human being the individual, personal mind, out of this natural mind. The personal mind is the natural, individually instantiated mind's creation. It is the aspect of the naturally arising mind that interprets this experience of natural mind and calls it "I". This is the personal ego.

What we experience as the world, is a construct of brain function. It is essentially mind. Similarly, from the point of view of our experience of it, what we experience as the world, is the one natural mind. So everything in the world is part of this natural mind. 

It's not anyone's individual, personal mind, because that's just the personal ego, as we have just explained. So to walk around declaring that "everything is my mind" or "everything is your mind" from the point of view of the personal ego, would be delusion.

It is a delusion that actually sometimes happens, though, and it can be found in the now quite popular idea of "manifestation", which is the idea that as a person, you can "manifest" (through psychical or mental means) what you want.

Rather, everything in the world that is available to perceive or experience, or know about, or participate in, is part of the one natural mind (i.e. world), of which each individual natural human (impersonal) experience of self, is a uniquely configured instance.

But then, things become more complicated because an involution takes place. Involution is where one thing "folds itself" inside itself. So what happens is that the personal ego, that is, the principle of it, is part of the one principle of the mind, that every natural human mind is a uniquely configured instance of.

And so the arising of the personal ego becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, in the very existence of the world or natural mind. Nevertheless, everything in the world as a whole is the one natural mind created by nature, and each individual human being experiences a unique instance of it, as their experience of self. And entangled in that, is then the aspect of this natural mind, that is the personal ego. That gets there, through this involution.

So the blockage to being able to realise that what nature creates as the world, is one and the same as our experience of self, is the personal mind or ego, itself. Hence, when we start to become spiritually mature, and begin to awaken to this truth, concomitantly with that, we begin to become transpersonal.

The natural mind, in itself, in us, as it were, isn't personally problematic. Our personal problems as human beings, arise through the personal mind, the personal ego. Because it is a false interpretation of our situation and constitution. Out of it, arises a major part of what is called "the human condition".

In our experience of being this one natural mind, there are different "levels" of what we experience what we might call "real". For example, we might imagine something, and visualise it in our imagination, but then we might say that what we saw, wasn't "real" because it was only imagination. But actually, it was still "real", as an artefact of mind, and its associated experience. There is a certain level of "reality" in the experience of it, otherwise it wouldn't be experienced.

If we actually see something through our senses, rather than just in our imagination, then that's a different level of "reality of experience", because its a different aspect of brain function. Both experiences may actually involve some of the same parts of the brain, as we know from brain scanning, but what is actually going on in the brain, in each case, is different. What the DMT study shows is unusual "levels" of "reality of experience". But this "reality of experience" is still being delivered through brain function.

What is going on in the brain, is in any case only a uniquely configured instantiation of the one principle of the brain. So across humanity as a whole, imagination and sense perception are just as mixed up, as they are in an individual. But everyone "looks out" into this world and imagines that it is separate from the self, when actually, the world itself has known by human beings is the one human mind, of which our individual, natural mind, is an instantiation.

Modern scientific evidence itself, which reveals that everything we know and experience is a construct of brain function, actually points to this. But in general, we cannot understand the scientific evidence, or don't even know what to do with it, because there is an inherent blockage in our comprehension, that comes not from lack of scientific data, or lack of ability to think objectively, but rather, because we are not transpersonal.

So in the so-called "DMT breakthrough", it is often reported that what is experienced is "more real than real". That's because DMT changes the way the brain is working, and takes experience to a different "level" of "reality of experience", so to speak, in which what is experienced, is above, as it were, mere imagination, but also above ordinary sensory experience.

Anything that can be experienced or known through the one principle of the brain, is anything that that structure is capable of creating, as experience or knowledge. Different cultures, and religions, and even different DMT experiences, explore different aspects of this structure and its possibilities. But always, it is what is created through the principle of the brain. 

It's perfectly possible to experience something that doesn't seem to be dependent upon the biological brain, such as an "out of the body experience", or experiences of "astral being" and so on, when actually that dependency is still there. This is all wrapped up in the fact that the biological brain organ, as we encounter it, is itself only encountered through the principle of the brain. The principle of the brain through which our experience of being and mind actually arises, transcends the merely material representation of that principle, which is what we encounter as the material, biological brain organ.

So where is "reality" in all this? This is not a modern question. It's just that before the times in which we are living now, it hasn't been addressed in these terms. The Hindu corpus already answers it, with the answer: the Brahman. It's just that the Brahman is not an object or a "thing". It's not a principle, like the mind is, and the brain is, and therefore, ultimately, something that can be mentally understood. It's not that.

As the Hindu corpus overall communicates, the Brahman is not something separate from us, that we discover. On the contrary, the Brahman is the reality of the Being that even in our limited, conditional experience of being, as a human being, we already really are.  

This Reality of Being called the Brahman, is realised by awakening as that Reality of unconditional Being, in which there is Joy (or alternatively what the Hindu corpus in general calls bliss), Knowledge and Consciousness. This Consciousness is not merely the mind. It's not merely the one natural mind that everyone's individual, natural mind is an instantiation of. It's not merely the principle of the brain.

There is only one Brahman, just as there is only one principle of the brain. But also, just as everyone's individual experience of the principle of the brain, as individual self and mind, is different, so there is also more than one kind of realisation of the Brahman.

In general, when a human being realises the Brahman, the underlying realisation is the same, in all cases, which is realisation of the Self, as unconditional Being, not dependent on any condition of being, or on existence. An aspect of it is  what the Hindu corpus calls sat chit ananda (or alternative spellings), which means "being consciousness bliss". But the actual realisation of it has different "levels" and "aspects". For example, the realisation may or may not include gnostic illumination.

The communication of it by an individual will be in some way unique, not just because communication is delivered through a unique individual, natural mind, but also because the realisation is itself unique. However, all realisations are of the One, the Being, Splendour, Brahman or Self, which means  variant communications of it are recognisable for what they are, by any human being who has had the realisation.

Importantly, as we have been seeing, the Indian Bhakti tradition recognises that an initial realisation of the Brahman as the impersonal bliss of liberated, unconditional Being, is actually the effulgence or radiance of what Bhakti knows as Krsna. In other words, the Reality of transcendental Life and Being (Vrndavana) above the "impersonal" realisation of the Brahman. 

So the initial realisation of the Brahman is transpersonal, and is of impersonal, unconditional Being. But above the "impersonal" realisation of the Brahman, is the realisation of transpersonal Life and Being, in which "personal" takes on an entirely new, transcendental meaning.

Everything, including the Brahman and the material world, is understood to be created through the expansion of being, of That Being. And Bhakti holds that the highest realisation of That Being is the realisation of the Spiritual Reality of the Divine Couple Radha-Krsna in Vrndavana - realised as Chaitanya.305

The Brahman is likened to seeing the Sun, whilst still higher, inside the Sun, is the true Spiritual Reality, the Source of this effulgence, that is the glorious, inconceivable Reality of the eternal Joy and love of the Being Krsna,306 realised in Chaitanya Consciousness as Radha-Krsna in Vrndavana.307

This goes well beyond anything that the scientific investigation of the effects of DMT, can access or understand. The "more real than real" aspect of the DMT experience is just a preliminary indicator in the field of scientific investigation of the brain. It does highlight the questionability of clinging to naive materialism and scientific materialism, in which it is believed that the material world is a "reality" in its own right, separate from us and independent of brain function. 

It is an indicator that everything we can ever know, actually falls in the first instance into the domain of the experience of being, and world of being. Because always, this is already in place to begin with, before we "know" or experience anything. Our experience of being is already in place first, before we measure anything in science, or understand anything at all about our world. 

First, before we have any of this human experience, there is the brain. And the prima facie thing about the brain is that it creates our experience of being and world. If we are looking straight through this fact or beyond it, without noticing it, then we have failed to notice what "nature" is really all about.

DMT interferes with the working of the brain. As such, it interferes with the working of the mind. We must remember that in Hinduism and Buddhism, even though Hinduism is regarded as "theistic" and Buddhism is often regarded as "atheistic", the aim of spiritual practice is to discover God,  beyond the mind. The Brahman, the Being, is not just beyond the mind, but as the great Hindu corpus communicates, it is the Source from which the mind is created.

The ingestion of DMT deconstructs the mind in some way. The effects of DMT in studies include a large variety of experience-types that depend on the individual. For example, the experiences include parallels to other experiences not under the influence of externally provided DMT, such as near death experiences, the experience of bodiless being, alien abduction, specific religious experiences, and so on. The beings encountered include "machine elves", hyper-intelligent beings, circus characters such as clowns, jesters, jokers, and so on.

Amongst the experiences are explosive translocation into other worlds, other "realities", flying through "other dimensions", and encountering DMT itself as a personified being (in parallel to how Soma appears in the Vedas). 

There are encounters with many beings with specific roles, such as "the teacher" and "the trickster", which clearly correlate with Jung's archetypes. There are even encounters with "sentient geometry" and Hyper-dimensional structures. Then there are also encounters with "messages" about the nature of the cosmos, love, and being.308 There are also "encounters with God" and mystical experiences.309

These are just a few examples of what is experienced. They are all aspects of the mind itself, and of what can be reconstructed out of that structure. It is not the same thing as the realisation of the Brahman.

When we are talking about such things as "machine elves" and "alien abduction", and "black holes", then clearly we are talking about something that pertains to the times and culture in which the participants in such experiments are living. 

We have to remember that the use of Soma in ancient Indian culture was taking place in ancient Indian culture, and was not "experimental" in this same way. It wasn't being "investigated" from an objective, materialist point of view, and wasn't being taken in the context of that setting. The thrust of the content of the Hindu corpus is not about "experiences you may have when taking Soma". 

On the contrary, Soma in the Hindu corpus is just a part of a much bigger picture. And we need to recognise that so too, are the effects of any entheogens or psychedelics that are currently examined by science. This whole field is part of a much bigger picture.

That bigger picture, from the point of view the Hindu corpus, is about Brahman, or God. That is, knowledge or ignorance of Brahman, or God. From the point of view of the materialist Western mind, the bigger picture is also about our knowledge or ignorance of this bigger picture.

The question is, how do we get to see the bigger picture? Naive materialism is the blockage. In modern science-related terms, naive materialism is the naive presumption that the material world exists independently as something separate from us. It is the presumption that it must be other than a construct of brain function, erected on belief in the psychological and emotional conviction that it is other than our self.

That psychological and emotional conviction rests on the personal idea of "who I am", rather than on actual knowledge of this self, as an experience of being. It is in the way of things that increasing knowledge of this self dissolves the blockage, and there, behind what dissolves, is our already intrinsic natural knowledge of the true nature of the world in which we live. 

No amount of data or scientific interpretation of data can provide this knowledge. Because it is necessarily experiential. But what science can do, is tip us towards awakening into this knowledge.

It is already trying to. Because in science, we already know that there is nothing we know, think, or experience, that is not a construct of electrochemical brain function. And that includes the material world that we experience, too. 

The material world, within which, as part of it, arises the brain organ itself. The material world, that includes naturally occurring substances such as DMT and Soma, which help to break down this blockage of naive materialism, by taking the carpet out from under the feet of this personal idea of "who I am".

But there is another way in which this happens. It is what the Hindu corpus as a whole is all about, beyond the earliest parts of it in which Soma features. There is another way. Which is simply the realisation of the Brahman, as the Truth of our own Identity through spiritual pursuit and the Grace of God. And in the corpus of the Puranas as a whole, the central process through which this realisation happens, is called the churning of the ocean. Which is something we will come to talk about.

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