Radiance at the back of the mind


Well, first of all, I just thought I’d read you a little bit of a clipping. It’s 1973. It refers to the famous story repeated by a number of authors in antiquity, that when the Roman Navy came into the port of Syracuse, held by the Greeks, the Greek scientist, Archimedes, set their fleet afire by concentrating the rays of the sun with mirrors onto the Roman boats.

In 1973 a classic book on optics and wavefronts was published [‘Applied Optics’]. In the appendix to this book, the author, Stavroudis – whose book was very favourably reviewed in Nature as the future classic textbook on optics and wavefronts – he, in this appendix, said that most unfortunately for this traditional story, it can’t possibly be true.  Because, even if it’s true that the walls of the harbour were high, even if Archimedes had lined up 150 soldiers, say, and had concentrated the light of the sun with mirrors on to a Roman boat, they could only have raised the temperature by 2 or 3°C. They couldn’t possibly have set it alight. That is the conclusion of this now famous textbook on optics.

Shortly after this, a commander in the Greek navy, who evidently had not very much scientific education, persuaded the naval administrator to try the experiment. They lined up 60 Greek sailors at Skaramangas Naval Base near Athens, and they aimed large mirrors, reflecting the rays on to a wooden boat 160 feet away. Smoke appeared within seconds, and very quickly the boat was on fire. You see, he wasn’t a scientist, and didn’t know that it couldn’t possibly work.  [laughter]  What made it worse still, he tried it again, and it worked again!

Well, in any ways, this story – anybody can get caught out, if not his own subject – but one shouldn’t be too overawed by people who tell you, “Oh, it must be this, and it must be that,” looking at the thing with what’s called the beady eye of science from outside, because the thing is to do the actual experiments. My teacher recommended us to study science and said it produces clear thinking, and it’s a valuable contribution to training the mind, like the study of metaphysics as this study; and the practice of art and music are a valuable training of the feelings and also the will in the discipline.

He didn’t care so much for people who were artistic; he wanted people to be artists; not to be professional artists, but to be able to sketch just a little bit something that appealed to them. He didn’t care so much for people who were just musical. He said, “Learn to play a few simple tunes on some instrument so that you are a musician.  Then your appreciation will be very much greater, and you will be expressing something, not simply passively receiving.” He used to give many examples from the scientific and the mathematical field and also from the field of history, which he studied in great depth.

For instance, he studied the history of the Crusades from the Arab side. He could read the accounts of the Arabic historians, not only from the Western side. One thing he remarked was as to what a very much higher civilization it was, the Saracen civilization, though that was not what used to appear in our history books when I was at school.

Now, one of the examples of meditation; there can be an analogy in some of the little bits of scientific knowledge that the layman is now expected to know. One of the experiences people have in studying or trying to practise anything spiritual is that they practise, or they go to some holy place and they come back, with a feeling of exultation and with a feeling of purification. For quite a time afterwards, there’s a sort of faint radiance at the back of the mind, but that’s all. It doesn’t last. It fades away, and then something is done again and again. There’s a sort of faint radiance, and then it goes. When one’s young or when one’s at the beginning of a path, one thinks, ‘Oh, well of course it’s going to get better. It will last longer and so on.’ But it doesn’t. Finally, people can get very depressed and disappointed. They feel, well, this is all there is. There are little spiritual touches, so to speak, but it never actually leads anywhere, and it doesn’t help you when you’re in real trouble.

If you’ve seen uranium at an exhibition, say, a bowl of uranium, say in the sunlight, you’ll see a faint radiance on it. That’s a bit like the faint radiance that comes from an interest and an occasional practice of a spiritual path. That’s all.  Now, these spiritual practices or these exercises we do, or an act of virtue or an attempt to enquire into reality through meditation and through metaphysical analysis, they leave a dynamic impression in the roots of the mind, that is dynamic. It has a sort of radiance, which it emits, or can emit. While there are only very few of these or comparatively few, they stand by themselves.

[An example is given here [drawn on a sheet]. There’s a little bit of uranium which has been purified but still not very much of it, and here are three of the uranium atoms. Now, a neutron comes and strikes one of them. Without going into the whole process, that one that’s been struck releases, in this case, four neutrons. Here, you can see these arrows. They just go off into space. It’s they that produced this faint radiance. It doesn’t hit another atom then another atom there, but of course it misses them. This one went a little bit close, but it was travelling very fast. It never touched the atom here.

While there’s a certain amount, a limited amount, of spiritual practice which has put down a limited amount of these dynamic impressions, then there will be a faint radiance and our lives do have a sort of savour, a spiritual savour about them. But that’s all. When the amount of uranium reaches what’s called a critical size, then there’s a change. Now, here we’ve got the same situation but there are many more of the uranium atoms. A neutron comes and it strikes this atom and as before it releases, knocks out four other neutrons, this one up here.  Now, before, it missed. There was only one uranium atom anywhere near. Here, although it misses that one, it strikes that one. This one will release two more neutrons. Then this one, out here there was nothing. It just went off into space, but here it strikes the uranium atom, which in turn will release two more neutrons which will strike other atoms because there are so many atoms. This one here struck this.

This one which missed this atom but here is striking the long stop. Then you get what we’re told is a chain reaction. When one is struck, it releases and that strikes others and that’s released, and that strike still others until the whole mass of uranium, as they say it, has reached critical side, it’s gone critical. Then it begins to emit, as you know, this tremendous radiance which is controlled to make nuclear power. If uncontrolled, it can make an explosion. Purification and then there has to be intensification.  Then there will be this unlimited energy from the nucleus.]

Talks in this series are:

1. Radiance at the back of the mind

2. Radiance at the heart of every atom

3. St Francis and Ōta Dōkan

4. Inspiration comes with its own energy

The long talk is Inspiration & Energy from Yoga Practice

© Trevor Leggett


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