The Light of Consciousness

Blending physics, psychology, and philosophy, internationally renowned writer, Peter Russell, leads us to a new worldview in which consciousness is a fundamental quality of creation. He is fascinated by how light is a recurrent theme in meditation, religion, philosophy and modern physics, and asks ‘Does physical reality and the reality of the mind share common ground in light?’

The one “I am” at the heart of all creation,

Thou art the light of life.

Shvetashvatara Upanishad

My studies in experimental psychology had taught me much about neurophysiology, memory, behavior, and perception. Yet, despite all that I was learning about brain function, I was no closer to understanding the nature of consciousness itself. The East, however, appeared to have a lot to say about the subject, and so did many mystics, from around the world. For thousands of years such seekers had focused on the inner realm of the mind, exploring its subtler aspects through direct personal experience.

Believing that such approaches might offer insights unavailable to Western science, I began delving into ancient texts such as The Upanishads, The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, The Cloud of Unknowing, and contemporary writers such as Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, Carl Jung, and Christopher Isherwood.

I was fascinated to find that here, as in modern physics, light was a recurrent theme. Consciousness itself was often spoken of in terms of light. The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation spoke of “the self-originated Clear Light, eternally unborn… shining forth within one’s own mind.” St. John referred to “the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”

Those who have awakened to the truth about reality–whom we often call illumined, or enlightened–frequently describe their experiences in terms of light. The sufi Abu ‘l-Hosian al-Nuri experienced a light “gleaming in the Unseen… I gazed at it continually, until the time came when I had wholly become that light.”

With all your science can you tell how it is, and whence it is, that light comes into the soul?

Henry David Thoreau

And the tenth-century Christian mystic St. Symeon saw: “a light infinite and incomprehensible… one single light… simple, non-composite, timeless, eternal… the source of life.”

The more I explored this inner light, the more I saw close parallels with the light of physics. Physical light has no mass, and is not part of the material world. The same is true of consciousness; it is immaterial. Physical light seems to be fundamental to the universe. The light of consciousness is likewise fundamental; without it there would be no experience.

I began to wonder whether there was some deeper significance to these similarities. Were they pointing to a more fundamental connection between the light of the physical world and the light of consciousness? Do physical reality and the reality of the mind share the same common ground–a ground whose essence is light?

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