Sri Lanka: Gateway to Other Worlds?
Scientists re-examine legends of Serendip
Ongoing space research shares much in common with recent investigations studying the basis for Lanka's ancient reputation as a gateway between worlds.
This article was written to commemorate Sri Lanka's contribution to worldwide functions marking 1992 as the International Space Year.
Patrick Harrigan, M.A., studied astronomy at the University of Michigan before entering the field of South Asia studies. He now serves as acting editor of the Kataragama Research Publications Project.
"Not only is the universe more complex than we ever thought, it is far more mysterious and magical than we ever believed." - American physicist Dr. Fred Alan Wolf
Instantaneous transport between worlds, once confined to science fiction, is today the subject of serious research in the rapidly-advancing field of parallel universe theory. Now Sri Lanka's living tradition of cosmography or sacred geography too is an object of scientific interest, the understanding of which could result in discoveries that are literally out of this world.
"Not only is the universe more complex than we ever thought. It is far more mysterious and magical than we ever believed," argues Dr. Fred Alan Wolf, theoretical physicist and author of Parallel Universes: The Search for Other Worlds, adding that "I now see the universe as a gigantic magical mystery tour, far in excess of the Beatles' verses."
One of the hidden axioms of physics," Dr.Wolf observes, "is that beneath everything lies simplicity. Whatever secrets lie in store for the discoverers of the universe's laws, those secrets will be simple ones."
Following similar paths, researchers in other fields have also been turning to Lanka's living traditions to better understand age-old oral traditions insisting that entire world-systems may arise solely from activities of the mind. Accordingly, many believe that Buddhist ontology may also find a place in the development of parallel universe theory in surprising ways. Still no one, scientist or yogi, has ventured to predict the shape of things to come, but already some startling implications are beginning to come to light.
Anticipating a day when mankind may be able to peer across into parallel worlds, some researchers have already begun to reckon with the possibility that other older forms of intelligent life may have long ago employed elegantly sophisticated means of traversing space and time to visit worlds such as our own. Indeed, they say, any truly higher intelligence would almost certainly find us long before we could detect it or them. And yet longstanding oral, written and performative traditions from the world over, including Lanka, suggest that this is precisely the case.
Not by defying laws of nature but by comprehending them, intelligent life from other worlds may have already had frequent contact with earth without ever resorting to crude mechanical means of transport. Like ancient mariners of earth, truly intelligent beings may have long ago discovered more efficient means of traversing space, if not time as well. Even now a high-stakes scientific race is on, not to fly to the moon or Mars, but to penetrate and explore some of the universe's deepest secrets right here on earth.
Long before modern scientists even considered the existence of gateways between parallel universes, the ancient world already regarded Lanka or Serendip as being the Antipodes, a topsy-turvy wonderland inhabited by nagas, yakas and various other-worldly spirits. Oral traditions still current today in Lanka tell of hidden gateways situated islandwide through which yogis and siddhas, including Lord Buddha and His assembly of arahats, could be transported to distant places or even to other worlds in the blink of an eye, reputedly through sheer mental comprehension alone.
Similarly, the nagas and other fairytale spirits may some day be understood as intelligent inhabitants of other lokas, exactly as Sri Lankan traditions have long maintained. Even Father Adam of Christian and Islamic tradition is said to have descended from Paradise to earth upon Adam's Peak, a major focal point of sacred power in Sri Lanka to this day.
Lanka's longstanding reputation as a gateway to other worlds has been testified to in modern times also by the great pioneer of dream-related psychology, Dr. Carl G. Jung. In Memories, Dreams and Reflections, Jung recorded his own experience of an intensely vivid post-anesthesia dream in which he suddenly found himself floating in space hundreds of miles above the earth's surface. He especially recalled looking down and seeing the island of Ceylon directly beneath him like a vast emerald in the shimmering blue Indian Ocean.
Looking upward, Jung beheld a dark temple-like structure which he felt drawn to enter. When he felt that he had passed out of this world and into a higher one of sacred knowledge and superhuman wisdom. Was Jung onto something and did it have something to do with Ceylon or Sri Lanka?
Dr. Jung's prophetic dream of a mysterious ‘gateway to heaven' and its explicit association with island Lanka may not have been sheer coincidence. By the 1960's, other scientific visionaries like Dr. Arthur C. Clarke were developing the same essential theme there in Śrī Lanka such that it is clearly identifiable in the science fiction film classic 2001: A Space Odeyssey. Subsequent writings of Dr. Clarke also suggest that he has drawn ample inspiration from oral traditions that portray Lanka as an ancient spaceport of sorts between parallel worlds.
Even today encounters with protean forms of intelligent life are still believed to occur in Sri Lanka, especially among epracticing mediators, shamans and other traditional specialists, who insist that such gateways are mind-made but functionally real nonetheless. Their extraordinary claims, while admittedly difficult to verify, fully deserve closer scientific scrutiny and, indeed, already further research is under way that may settle the question once and for all.
This often whimsical association of island Serendip or Lanka with the search for intelligent life is perhaps nowhere better exemplified than at the University of Claifornia, Berkeley, where astronomers using the world's largest radio telescope to scan the sky for possible signals from deep space are calling their project SERENDIP (Search for Extraterrastrial Radio Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Pupulation).
Not to be outdone, however, psychophysiologists at nearby Standford University's Sleep Research Center under Dr. Stephen LaBerge and at other research centers around the world have achieved stunning breakthroughs. By employing a common yogic practice known as lucid dreaming, they have been monitoring and recording the neuro-motor activity of sleeping human subjects who have learned how to recover full waking consciousness even as dreams are yet in progress. The technique, whereby a dreamer may creatively interact with mind-generated virtual reality, has long been used to explore the subtle dimensions of Lanka's living traditions.
Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen were the first modern theorists to posit bridges or gateways crossing time and space in the vicinity of intense gravitational distortions -- possibly even rips in the space-time continuum. Called Einstein-Rosen Bridges, they are suspected of connecting parallel universes, especially in the vicinity of blackholes or gravitational sinkholes that result when a massive star's core has collapsed.
Researchers exploring ways of mapping the contours of present-day Lanka's geographical sites of intense sacred power have been employing the same black holes studied by physicists as analogs to describe these hierophanies or manifestations of the sacred. Hierophanies here on the earth's surface may be expected to serve analogous functions as well. Instantaneous transport between lokas, for instance, could turn out to be more than mere fairy tales.
Ironically, modern science would appear to know more about events in deep space than about equally mysterious hierophanies right here on earth. And yet, by applying findings from fields as diverse as astrophysics and dream psychology, researchers hope to penetrate ever deeper into sacred invisible realms governed by remarkably simple principles.
Mankind, in other words, may today be standing at the threshold of discoveries having the most profound and far reaching consequences.
This article first appeared in The Island (Colombo) of October 13, 1992.
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