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The Neurophysiology of Enlightenment

by Robert Keith Wallace

Many great saints, seers, philosophers and scientists have contributed to the current change in attitude toward enlightenment. One individual stands out, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  Both saint and scientist, Maharishi was one of those uniquely gifted individuals who possessed an enlightened heart and an enlightened brain, along with the remarkable ability to communicate the most abstract ideas in a simple and practical manner. He introduced the world to the Transcendental Meditation technique, not a new but a very ancient practice, which he revived so that it was fully accessible to people from all walks of life. And he presented this technique in the language of our day—the language of science—demonstrating it to be of universal and immense practical value.

Maharishi has introduced an entirely new understanding of enlightenment, defining this highest state of human development in terms of the neurophysiological refinement of the brain, and emphasizing the numerous practical beneficial effects that can be achieved by anyone. This is very different from the stereotypical image of an ascetic monk sitting in a cave, striving to control his mind through concentration in order to achieve enlightenment, a state which appeared to have nothing practical, productive, or scientific about it. Maharishi maintained that the ability to become enlightened is innate to the physiology of every human being—householder and recluse, student and businessman, mother and child— and therefore, each individual deserves at least the opportunity to pursue this goal.

In 1974 I spoke to several thousand leading physiologists at the 26th International Congress of Physiological Sciences in New Delhi, India.  It was only a few years since I had completed my own doctoral thesis at University of California at Los Angeles. Entitled The Physiological Effects of Transcendental Meditation: A Proposed Fourth Major State of Consciousness the results of this thesis was published papers in leading journals such as Science, American Journal of Physiology, and Scientific American. I had been invited by organizers of this conference to give one of the main speeches. India was the ancient home of enlightenment and now, for the first time, research was able to show that enlightenment was an important discovery of modern physiology.

This integration of the ancient and modern sciences of physiology revealed that enlightenment was not mystical, not a hypnotic state, not a state of self-delusion not self-denial but represented the ultimate development of what we consider the most valuable qualities of life. It was real, natural and repeatable and developed systematically in a continuous and progressive manner on the basis of neurophysiological refinement or purification. Transcendental Meditation connected the known values of physiology with the ultimate possibilities of human development. Enlightenment was the development of consciousness to its full potential and therefore the most important discovery of modern physiology.  It was taken out of the realm of mysticism and uncertainty and shown to be of immense practical value.

For the first time in the millennia, the process of the development of enlightenment was open to anyone, staring from any level of consciousness, without requiring any special lifestyle or system of belief. The ability of gaining enlightenment is innate in the physiology of every human being and therefore very human being deserves to have the knowledge of how to utilize it. “There is no reason today in our scientific age for anyone to remain unenlightened.” Maharishi explained.

The effect of enlightenment may be understood from a very general standpoint in physiology: the purpose of any physiological system is to main low entropy and increase its degree of organization in the face of environmental disorder: in order to be alive and to grow.

In a physiology sense, enlightenment means, maximum stability with minimum entropy. Minimum entropy in turn is defined in formation theory as maximum certainty. As certainty is an aspect of knowledge and as enlightenment has been traditionally defined as pure knowledge and can now be measure for its physiological correlates. What the ancients meant by supreme knowledge, gyana, is the state of pure consciousness, and may be defined as the subjective experience of perfect order, zero entropy. Thus, the field of enlightenment provides modern science with a link between the objective and subjective, between the values of orderly physiology and orderly psychology—supremely developed consciousness, a state of pure knowledge.

This change in our understanding of enlightenment marked the beginning of a paradigm shift which Maharishi had initiated in the mid 20th century. There are numerous techniques of meditation available today, and an enormous number of people are interested in enlightenment through the popularity of meditation, yoga and other practices. I believe that there is nothing more important than the rediscovery of the practical value of the enlightenment. It has changed the world forever.


Selected References

  1. Wallace RK. Physiological effects of Transcendental Meditation. Science 167:1751-1754, 1970
  2. Wallace RK, et al. A wakeful hypometabolic physiologic state. American Journal of Physiology 221(3): 795-799, 1971
  3. Wallace RK. Physiological effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique: A proposed fourth major state of consciousness. Ph.D. thesis. Physiology Department, University of California, Los Angeles, 1970
  4. Wallace, RK, Benson,H, The Physiology of Meditation, Scientific American, February, 1972
  5. The Neurophysiology of Enlightenment: How the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi Program Transform the Functioning of the Human Body by Robert Keith Wallace, PhD, Dharma Publications, 201
  6. The Coherence Effect: Tapping into the Laws of Nature that Govern Health, Happiness, and Higher Brain Functioning by Robert Keith Wallace, PhD, Jay B. Marcus, and Chris S. Clark, MD, Armin Lear Press, 2020