The discovery of quantum physics in the last few decades has redefined the way we view the universe and has forever changed the face of science. Interestingly, many of the theories proposed in quantum physics resemble key concepts from ancient spiritual systems, providing us with parallels as to the way reality is represented and understood.
For modern spiritual practitioners, these parallels are a testament to the wisdom of ancient spiritual traditions, especially traditions such as yoga and tantra, where we find complex, detailed and complete descriptions of the nature of reality and the fundamental principles and universal laws that govern creation. In particular, they provide explanations as to the nature of our relationship as conscious beings to the world in which we exist.
Various spiritual traditions include descriptions of extraordinary concepts such as parallel dimensions, subtle realities that exist beyond the material world, and fundamental formative fields and energetic structures that provide matrices for the unfolding and organisation of energy and matter.
They also include notions about the essential role of consciousness within creation. Many of these concepts do not fit into the paradigm of classical physics – the physics that describes our everyday reality, governed mostly by mechanistic laws such as Newton’s laws of motion, gravity and energy preservation.
A similar situation also exists between quantum physics and classical physics, where there seems to be one set of rules for the quantum world and another for classical physics, and the two do not reconcile. This relationship goes both ways – not only can the discoveries of quantum physics be seen to validate the concepts of spiritual systems, but the world view of spiritual systems can provide a completely different framework that can allow a deeper understanding and explanation of the extraordinary concepts of the quantum world, even providing answers to some of the greatest scientific challenges of today.
Unity within Diversity
Progress in theoretical physics during the past decade has led to a progressively more unified understanding of the laws of nature and of theories which point towards a fundamental unity behind the observable reality. The universe appears to us as being extraordinarily complex and diverse, but it is fundamentally unified. Such theories identify a single universal, unified field at the basis of all forms and phenomena in the universe.
The feeling of unity beneath life’s diversity, is also a central theme of every major spiritual tradition. While our everyday experience tells us that we are separate from one another and distinct from all the forms of reality that we interact with, altered states of consciousness, such as those experienced in profound meditative states reveal that at some fundamental level, we are united with each other and with all of reality. The practice of profound meditation allows one to withdraw from the outwardly directed perception of the world through the senses, to experience deeper levels of mind and stillness, to move even beyond thought and mental activity and to experience the universal unity that lies at the basis of existence. By so doing, we can have direct access to the unified field as theorised by quantum physicists.
Another phenomenon in the quantum world that is in line with the idea of unity within diversity can be seen in quantum entanglement. In classical physics there are constants that can never be broken, such as the relationship between mass and energy – the result of which means that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. However, in the quantum world, two particles can be connected in such a way that information can be shared instantly between them, regardless of distance. This is known as quantum entanglement. When two particles become entangled, they remain connected even when separated by vast distances. Entanglement can also occur between millions of particles and is thought to take place throughout nature, and within the atoms and molecules in living species. When hundreds of particles become entangled, they act as one unified object. These so-called many-body entangled systems describe a network of entanglement. If we also consider the big bang theory of creation, which states that the entire universe emerged from a single point of super condensed energy, then literally everything in existence has one, single united source.
Here we can draw a parallel to a Tantric vision of reality – the existence of an underlying fabric or network of connections, that unites all the apparently separate aspects of reality. A central tenet of Tantra is that of non-duality, the recognition that underlying the multiplicity and diversity of experience there is a single, infinite and indivisible reality, the nature of which is pure consciousness. All the apparently separate aspects of creation are ultimately an expression of that one Ultimate Reality.
Role of the observer
One of the key notions in quantum physics relates to the unusual properties of subatomic elements. At the subatomic level we see that the building blocks of matter are not so solid and well defined as we might expect. Subatomic elements exist as fields of probability rather than as defined particles located in known space and time. Moreover, we find that it is the process of observation or measurement of that quantum state that defines that state – so until it is measured the particle exists in a state of superimposition, where it exists in many states at once. Before it is observed, the particle of matter is not actually a particle, but an abstract probability wave – it does not have a real physical state but exists only as the possible outcome of a future measurement. When the measurement takes place, the quantum probability wave collapses to a localised particle, and becomes an object of conscious experience.
This is an interpretation of quantum behaviour known as the Copenhagen interpretation. It reveals an important aspect – that there is a relationship between the act of observation of a conscious observer and the existence of physical matter. If consciousness is so inextricably linked to matter, then from the scientific perspective, we can no longer ignore its influence.
The role of the observer in spirituality is a central aspect. Upon deep enquiry into the nature of our outer experience with the empirical world and with the inner experience of our own being, fundamental questions arise: ‘Who is the one that is aware of this experience now?’ ‘Who is the subject of our perception and observation of our inner and outer reality?’ ‘What is the observed and who is the observer?’
In Tantric philosophy, the waking experience involves three components, the Subject – the one that observes, the Object – that which is observed, and the Act of observation or perception. These appear to be separate and distinct, but this is only because we see them through the prism of the mind. In reality, they are all one – the Subject, Object and Act of observation are simply the consciousness fixing itself on the different components that constitute reality. In this context, consciousness is observing the object, but it is also observing the subject – the one who perceives.
In a deep meditative state, this threefold structure of the waking experience — the observer, the observed and the process of observation — are reunited into one indivisible wholeness of pure consciousness.
Parallel worlds and dimensions
Another interpretation of the particle-wave duality of nature is called the Many Worlds Interpretation. This theory states that the collapse of the probability wave when it is observed, never really happens, and that the wave function is the only true nature of reality. When the wave is observed we become aware of one reality, however, all other possibilities continue to exist as alternative worlds. Many, perhaps infinite worlds exist, all with different quantum outcomes. And this occurs in every moment – so frequently that the rate is practically infinite. In this vision, the wave function is the complete picture of reality and our measurement i.e., our conscious experience of the observable world, is just a fraction of it.
In addition to multiple worlds, each world contains multiple dimensions. String theory, a leading theory in quantum physics, proposes that a particle is actually made of tiny strings of vibrating energy. The way a string vibrates determines what type of particle it is. However, for this theory to be true, the existence of multiple dimensions is required, because the strings need more than just three dimensions to express all their vibrational patterns. For the mathematics of string theory to be consistent, there must be ten different dimensions of space-time!
These notions are not unlike what we find in Hindu cosmology, for example, that there are innumerable universes besides this one, and that the Supreme Universal Consciousness manifests in each and every one. More than this, each universe is made up of multiple dimensions of reality, so that existence is not just made up of the physical world that we perceive through the senses, but there are other subtle worlds, made of vibrational frequencies that are outside the range of the senses.
In Vedic philosophy the description of the Universe consists of three main worlds: the physical, the astral and the causal world, each of which is considered to be a distinct plane of existence defined by their vibrational frequency. The physical world is the dense world of solid reality that is perceived by the five senses. The astral world is the world of thought and subtle forms, and the causal world is the blissful realm of truth. The subtle realms of the astral and the causal worlds are further divided into different worlds, or planes of existence known as the upper or paradisiacal worlds, and the lower or infernal worlds. The yogic system also includes specific techniques that allow the practitioner to explore these subtle dimensions. With sufficient training, the yogi can perform conscious, astral projections, allowing a direct experience of the subtle worlds.
Everything is Energy
One highly significant revelation of the exploration into the subatomic world is that everything is made up of energy. At the most fundamental level there are quantum fields, and everything emerges from both fluctuations within and / or interactions between those fields.
We find the same essential notion expressed as a fundamental principle in various spiritual systems such as the Western esoteric tradition of Hermeticism, and the ancient system of Tantra. The traditional Tantric vision says that the entire manifestation is made up of energy in vibration, from the lowest vibration that characterises all phenomena that appear in the physical universe, to the highest frequencies specific to the world of spirit.
This vibratory phenomenon is defined in Yoga in a universal principle called the Law of Resonance. This law describes the vibratory nature of existence, that all objects, beings, and phenomena are defined by their frequency of vibration. From this perspective everything can be understood in terms of the interactions between systems of resonance. Even complex phenomena such as human emotion, knowledge or states of consciousness can be defined and understood as specific resonances. All the various forms of yogic practice then, from bodily postures to breathing techniques and forms of meditation, are in reality methods of tuning into specific frequencies of vibration that exist in the universe.
There are also many enigmatic aspects of reality that have not yet been fully included in current scientific models. In order to explain the functioning of the universe it is necessary to take into account the presence of so-called dark matter and dark energy as well as anti-particles or anti-matter.
According to the standard model of cosmology, the composition of the universe is made up of only around 5% ordinary matter, the rest being made up of 27% dark matter, and 68% dark energy. This tells us that there are still many mysteries to be discovered and included in our quest to complete the current models of reality. In the Tantric vision, these mysterious facets of creation, yet unexplainable by modern science, can be understood in terms of resonance, as energies with specific, enigmatic, vibrational frequencies.
The parallels between quantum physics and the concepts found in the wise visions of universal spirituality outlined in this article provide a glimpse into the enigmatic way in which science and spirituality can be united and support each other.
A special feature of the courses offered in this spiritual school is to approach spiritual practice in a scientific way, that is, to understand the theory expressed as principles and mechanisms, to use known methods to experiment with the specific concepts, and to validate these truths and realities via direct experience.
The models of reality offered by both modern science, in particular quantum physics, combined with those offered by ancient spiritual traditions, as well as the direct experience of these models through individual and collective spiritual practice, can greatly assist in bringing us to a deeper, more essential understanding of reality and of ourselves.