On Imagining Reality
First of all, any real yogi (or Christian saint or mystic, for that matter) will caution you that spiritual experiences, realizations, visions, and powers ("siddhis") are ultimately of no importance, and can often be a distraction. This is partly because at the early stages of practice, there is still a mixture of the lower and the upper vertical (the mental and psychic planes), so to speak. Thus, one should not attach too much significance to specific details "until the consciousness develops more. The opening of the consciousness to the Divine Light and Truth and Presence is always the one important thing in the yoga."
The important point is to to realize that one is not limited by one's "outward surface or waking consciousness," but to develop the latent capacity "for entering into experiences of the inner consciousness of which most people are unaware but which opens by the practice of yoga. By this opening one becomes aware of subtle planes of experience and worlds of existence other than the material." Again, imagination is like the membrane between the higher and lower worlds, just as in science it is the membrane between appearances and reality, so to speak.
For example, modern physics requires a great leap of imagination to see "beyond" or through the deceptive appearances of solid matter. For the physicist, matter is nothing whatsoever like the way it presents itself to our evolved senses. It is, in the words of Teilhard de Chardin, a "floating condensation on a swarm of the indefinable." (BTW, Teilhard was Schuon's other evolutionist arch-nemesis, a veritable Catholic Sri Aurobindo, unless Aurobindo is the Hindu Teilhard.)
But does this mean that scientific theories are just human inventions, mere fancy with no anchor in reality? No, not at all. Rather, as described by Polanyi, scientific theories -- no less than authentic spiritual visions -- are analogous to "probes" with which we reach beyond the senses and into the unknown. They are both an irreducible blend of objectivity and subjectivity, without which thinking cannot take place -- neither scientific thinking nor spiritual intellection. One cannot reason in a void, whether one is reasoning about so-called "matter" or about Spirit. In both cases, the subject is merely attempting to penetrate and evolve beyond its own representation.
These, er, epistemological problems are all discussed in the opening chapter of my book. For example, "The laws that undergird the universe are invisible to our evolves senses; rather, they can only be 'seen' with the mind's eye, the eye of reason (and even more improbably, the eye of aesthetic beauty -- many mathematicians will reject a formula out of hand if it lacks 'beauty'). Strangely enough, science begins with the one world we experience with our senses (for where else could it begin?), but quickly saws off that familiar limb by excluding 'everything that can be imagined or conceived, except in abstract mathematical terms,' consequently relegating everything outside mathematical description -- the very world it started with -- to an 'ontological limbo' (W. Smith)."
Yesterday, our new troll, Xi, wisely rejected my magnanimous offer to grace us with a guest-post in which he outlines his meager philosophy, conceding that he did not actually have a philosophy, not even a meager one: "I don't have a 'philosophy' or metaphysical system. All such a system results in is self-referential blathering and confirmation bias" (sic).
No philosophy? Gee, ya' think? At any rate, Xi directly contradicts his disavowal of philosophy when, in the very next sentence -- which, by the way, glows with rudimentary intelligence -- he refers to the mind's curious -- curious to an intellectually curious person, anyway -- ability "to deceive itself and see patterns where none exist [and] to think that such nonsense actually pertains to anything real."
Thus, at the very least, Xi believes that the Real exists and that it is possible for the mind -- whatever that is -- to know it (for knowing falsehood presumes an ability to know truth). But what is the mind and what is the Real, and what is their relationship? Xi, that is your next assignment. You are very close to discovering Shankara's doctrine of maya, only 1200 years late.
Now, as Aurobindo explains in a letter to a disciple, spiritual visions and experiences can serve as keys "to contact with the other worlds or with the inner worlds and all that is there and these are regions of immense riches which far surpass the physical plane.... One enters into a larger freer self and a larger more plastic world.... These things have not the effect of a mere imagination (as a poet's or artist's, although that can be strong enough) but if fully followed out bring constant growth of the being and the consciousness...."
This very much reminds me of when I first began studying psychoanalysis, as I had some difficulty getting beyond the concrete meaning of some of the words used to describe primitive unconscious phenomena. For example, let's take this sentence by Melanie Klein from her classic paper Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms. I think you will agree that it sounds bizarre:
"I have often expressed my view that object-relations exist from the beginning of life, the first object being the mother's breast which to the child becomes split into a good (gratifying) and bad (frustrating) breast; this splitting results in a severance of love and hate.... From the beginning the destructive impulse is turned against the object and is first expressed in phantasied oral-sadistic attacks on the mother's breast, which soon develop into onslaughts on her body by all sadistic means. The persecutory fears arising from the infant's oral-sadistic impulses to rob the mother's body of its good contents... are of great importance for the development of paranoia and schizophrenia."
Yes, it sounded a bit wacky until I had my first psychotic patient during my internship at Camarillo State Mental Hospital, and Klein's theories not only fit like the proverbial glove, but were like a life raft that kept me from sinking beneath the ocean of this patient's paranoia and delusional attacks on me, Mr. Bad Breast. That is, at times I was the bountiful good breast, but in an instant could turn into the vicious and withholding bad breast, about which she would have dreams and vivid hallucinations of biting and tearing apart, and then being swallowed up in return. In one dream, we had a baby together, at which point she bit off the baby's head and then my head.
Anyway, back to Aurobindo before I run out of time, which I am about to. In another letter, he summarized our present discussion by writing that "Subjective visions can be as real as objective sight -- the only difference is that one is of real things in material space, while others are of real things belonging to other planes down to the subtle physical; even symbolic visions are real in so far as they are symbols of realities.... Visions are unreal only when these are merely imaginative mental formulations, not representing anything that is or was true or is going to be true."