I was in a discussion with a friend of mine the other day who finds eastern spirituality compelling; that is, he believes in a universal consciousness that exists in all things (including inanimate objects like rocks, for example).My friend also shared with me a moment where, when he was meditating, he felt like his “self” was dissolving and he was becoming one with all things in the universe – which simply affirmed his presupposition that when we die we return to this eternal consciousness and become one with it.
Now, my friend’s beliefs in the afterlife and the particular conclusions he draws from his meditative experiences raise an epistemological issue. Does my friend have good justification for believing what he believes? Of course this question applies to us all if we really want to discover whether or not there are good reasons to believe what we believe.
So my friend believes in a universal consciousness that exists in all things. But how does he know this is true of reality? What good reasons does he have to conclude such a thing? My friend also believes that, when everyone dies, they return to this source of consciousness. Again, how does he know this is true of the afterlife?
If you ask him, he appeals to his experiences meditating. But this raises more questions: Why should he trust his experiences meditating? Whoever said that, whenever you meditate, your feelings must be trusted? Our senses most certainly can be deceived in this reality, so why should we automatically trust them when it comes to the next?
Also, at face value there appears to be a problem with his experience. If it were true that he was no longer his individuated self but one with all things, what does it mean to say, “I no longer was me?” If there was an “I” experiencing anything in that moment then it necessarily follows that my friend did not dissolve his individuated self; his self was still there. And if his self was still experiencing something then it stands to reason that he is mistaken in his conclusions about his experience.
Now, maybe I’m wrong about this. But I believe these to be legitimate questions and concerns that remain unanswered from this particular worldview. Anyone with a perspective on this is welcome to weigh in!