Beyond Technology

Swami Tapasmurti Saraswati

We are living in an age of increasingly sophisticated technology and electronic wizardry. It has become a part of our everyday attempt to improve the quality of our lives, and increase the efficiency of our activity. Technology has also become the baseline for confirmation of our experiences, i.e. if something is shown by scientific evidence to be true, then it is accepted throughout the society. The advent of the use of technology in the science of evolution of consciousness was inevitable. The yogis claim that their knowledge and experience are open for technology to investigate and experiment with. The most advanced research in this area to date comes from the field of biofeedback. Although biofeedback research only began in the last twenty years or so, the information being revealed is already confirming the yogis' claims, and stimulating further research.

Tools of self-awareness

Technology has made available a variety of biofeedback devices to monitor many of the aspects of the human organism. Biofeedback is a term usually associated with complicated electronic gadgetry, but it need not be so. We have been using biofeedback for much longer than the electronic age has been around.

Perhaps its most common day to day use occurs when we look at ourselves in a mirror, then the mirror becomes a biofeedback instrument. Using the mirror, we can train ourselves to look angry, happy, sad, or whatever. It will show us whether we look healthy or sick, or whether we need to shave or comb our hair. Its reflection is an accurate picture of our appearance at that time. Using this concept as an analogy, we can begin to understand the more sophisticated devices.

In scientific terms, biofeedback means the use of various devices to monitor psycho-physiological functions, and to use the information provided to learn to exert a conscious control over these functions. It has enabled a breakthrough into the study of the intimate relationship between body and mind, and is providing increasing confirmation of the yogic claim that the mind can be used to influence all aspects of the physical body. Biofeedback has become an important tool in finding out more about ourselves and expanding our awareness. Yoga is also a tool for increased self-awareness, but its teachings extend beyond the body and mind. Various states of relaxation and meditation have been shown to produce characteristic patterns of beta, alpha, theta and delta waves in the brain, and many correlations between these brainwave patterns and altered states of consciousness have been drawn. Initially this research appeared as an obsession with alpha waves until Swami Rama's comment, 'I have news for you alpha is nothing,' initiated a broader outlook.

As well as its psychotherapeutic use, biofeedback has become an important part of the attempt to provide further dimensions of understanding to the multidimensional nature of spiritual evolution. Its use should be understood as a tool in this quest, not a means of developing abilities which control the device only, it is possible to become a biofeedback 'gymnast', by being able to produce any desired result on the apparatus, but without gaining any spiritual understanding.

Similarly, it has been shown in tests on meditators that the use of any word, such as 'bananas', can produce the same relaxation response as the mantras of the various spiritual traditions. This may be true as far as the physiological measurements are concerned, but yoga claims that mantra has a specific quality, distinct from the use of just any word, and this quality produces more than just a physiological response. At this point, the yogic science and our technological sciences start to part company.

It seems that there is a difference between the ability to control one's physical and mental states, and the development of a spiritual consciousness. There are other parameters important for evolution, which have not yet, or cannot be, detected. It must be remembered, however, that we are still in the Stone Age as far as biofeedback research is concerned, and many of its present day conclusions are not absolute. We have only been able to put together a few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle; the total picture is far from complete, although it is encouraging.

Guru feedback

To use biofeedback as a tool for total evolution, we need a mirror that can reflect the total picture of our psyche. Such a mirror exists in the form of the guru and has been available for many thousands of years. The feedback occurs in the relationship between the guru and the disciple. This relationship is such that the disciple's whole nature is monitored and reflected by the guru, who transmits the information necessary to direct the disciple's awareness and activity into the process of spiritual awakening. As more aspects of the disciple's nature are revealed, further information is transmitted by the guru to continue awakening the disciple to higher awareness. This monitoring and transmission is a continual process.

A mirror was used as our original example of a biofeedback device, and it is often stated that the guru is a mirror to the disciple. His response to our actions, thoughts, desires, emotions and aspirations is not coloured by his own personal reactions. There is complete empathy, where the guru knows our experience and feelings, and can communicate through this sensitivity, at a level which we can recognise and respond to. Through this interaction, we become aware of what we are, and more important, what steps to take along the path to self-improvement and total self-awareness. The thought that, one day, this process could occur through the use of some technological device does not seem possible, because within the guru/disciple relationship is the essential quality of life itself. The tradition exists because of the possibility of interaction on all levels - physical, mental, emotional, psychic, spiritual, and the living qualities which thread them all together. The qualities of the guru/disciple relationship are too abstract and too subtle to ever be duplicated in a machine.

Our technology works in the realms of matter, time and space; it is an exoteric science. The guru not only works in these realms, but also in the esoteric or transcendental realms, beyond the barriers of time and space. Swami Satyananda Saraswati has said that the guru is one who stands at the doorway between these realms, and can see into, and work from both sides. So, although technology is barred from the transcendental by its very nature, it is rapidly contributing to our self-understanding and acceptance of the yogic science. However, anyone seriously desiring to transform his consciousness to the utmost degree will eventually have to come to the guru, beyond technology.