International Forum for NeoVedantins

Story of Sri Ramakrishna:  Part 9
Altered State of Consciousness and Evolution of a God Man
A Study based on the life of Sri Ramakrishna


Evolutionary Hypothesis to explain the changes in the body and mind of Sri Ramakrishna brought about by various spiritual disciplines:

General Considerations

On developing a particular quality in response to certain stimuli, the genetic material, over a period of time, incorporates these qualities in its structure and transmits them to the next generation. The development of fur in polar animals in response to severe cold can be cited as an example. (We did not develop fur, but we became warm blooded instead in response to extremes of temperatures.) One sees many such adaptations during evolution, both in the nature and the human race.

Up till now it was a slow process as the process of evolution was under the control of the nature, but now it is possible to deliberately and consciously develop certain qualities in ourselves which can be then transferred to the next generation. It is possible to enter the altered state of consciousness so that the benefits derived by an individual can be handed over to the next generation for the benefit of the society. The value system accompanied with the realization of "altered state of consciousness of samadhi" is likely to change the future course of inter human relationship. It will end the exploitation, ego centrist attitude, and selfishness to usher in the new spiritual awareness of altruism, love, and divine brotherhood.

Evolution of Nervous System

The evolution of the nervous system from lower to higher species shows us that initially the brain structure was ill defined and capable of reflex actions only. There was no voluntary or willful activity. Later the development of extrapyramidal and cerebellar systems brought control, grace, and co-ordination to the motor act. With the development of cerebral cortex in vertebrates, it was possible to control the reflex activities by will or voluntary act. In human beings, with further development of neo-cortex, this progressed to still higher efficiency. We could plan the action first and then execute it. Moreover, it was possible to think, deduce, and imagine the consequence of such an act for one's welfare.

All these functions today are represented in the highly developed frontal and pre-frontal cerebral cortex in the brain. It has connections with the limbic system and the reticular formations as well. The evolutionary process shows us that it is the frontal lobe where such highly organized and developed centers are located: for memory, judgment, speech, language, learning, music, discrimination and so on.

Not only this, the frontal lobe of its own volition can imagine and consciously will, and actually stimulate the limbic system without the help of the external stimuli. We do not need the external stimuli like sensations from the special organs, food, pain and stress, to arouse or suppress our limbic system like the lower species require. Physiological experiments like EEG have shown certain peculiar responses (alpha waves) in some persons practising meditation, samadhi, etc. There it was seen that the connections between frontal lobe and the reticular formation (and the limbic system) were active of their own accord and not affected by the external stimuli.

In the process of evolution, certain unwanted responses and reflexes are suppressed and others are acquired. The suppressed reflexes or responses were useful for the earlier species, and the newly acquired are beneficial for more developed species. One example can be cited: we definitely know that damage to the extrapyramidal system in human beings leads to manifestation of abnormal movements, like tremor and chorea. These abnormal movements might have been useful for the lower species. For instance, we see tremor like movements in certain bacteria, fish, and aquatic animals. As the human being evolved, these movements were harmful for the survival, adaptation, and efficient functioning of the human organism. Hence they were suppressed with development of brain centers, neurotransmitters, and cortical control over the extrapyramidal system.

Similarly, the muscle tone, tendon reflexes, and postural reflexes were modified -suppressed or enhanced - by various interconnections between the motor areas, viz. cerebral motor cortex, extrapyramidal system, cerebellum, and anterior horn cells in the spinal cord. The result was that the human being developed capacity for very highly specialized skilled movements. Thus, walking, use of hands for fine work, writing etc. was possible. We cannot say for sure whether these modifications in motor system were the cause or the effect of development of emotions, learning language, music, reasoning, and ability to construct ideas, imagine, communicate, and similar higher functions.
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