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The indian-born and Western-trained Roy J. Mathew, professor of psychiatry at Duke University and a
longtime neuroscience researcher, sets out to define that most elusive of notions, consciousness—what
it is, where it resides, and “getting past altered consciousness” to a truly awakened state. To aid
his effort, he quotes variously from pillars of both Western and Eastern thought, from Rene
Descartes and William James to the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Buddha, Patanjali, and the
ninth-century Indian philosopher Shamkara. He also draws on folktales, stories from his Syrian
Christian family in Trivandrum, and his personal experiences, as well as those of his patients
at the Duke Addictions Program, where he is clinical director.
The phenomenal degree to which
Mathew is literate in both Western science and Eastern philosophy makes The True Path, a
relatively brief book, both encyclopedic and authoritative, but that’s not what makes it special.
Its value comes from Mathew’s sensitivity to the religious experience—as when an addict patient
of his tells him, “The Lord came to me last night,” and he calmly asks her to tell him exactly
what happened, or when he ponders his late mother’s apparent powers of premonition—and his skill
at synthesizing the aims of the neuroscientist with those of the spiritual seeker (i.e., of the
human being). He examines contemplative practices, including meditation and hatha yoga, as
“ways of escaping the trammels of the flesh and moving toward reaching a transcendent,
nonmaterial reality”—i.e., pursuing our “quest for yoga,” or unity. Mathew describes his book
as “my modest attempt to bridge the chasm between science and philosophy,” but it is more
than that. It is an eloquent, thoughtful treatise on the transformative power of spiritual
experience, its relationship with neuroanatomy, and the evolution of the human mind.