For many people, the first experiences
of an extended consciousness have come from newly organized groups.
Some of these groups are resolutely commercial, others clannish
and secretive. In considering both types of groups, we encounter,
again, the difficulties of understanding
and conveying an advanced knowledge of human capacities.
In observing how these "franchised mysticism groups" promote
and maintain themselves, we can note how the original knowledge
seems to shrink to fit commercial requirements.
Many people have been associated
with both psychotherapy and parapsychology for many years. The advent
of trademarked, franchised mystic cults, however, is a more recent
development. Some people seize upon them as the latest stage in
their own continual self-preoccupation and indulgence; others seek
new "experiences" for themselves. Such forms of meditation,
and of awareness-training, have usually met with immediate and continued
disdain from professional psychologists and educators, sometimes
justified, sometimes for the wrong reasons. That these pop cults
and organizations exist and thrive is in large part due to the same
lag in mainstream awareness that has allowed the psychotherapeutic
disciplines to extend their rightful role in our affairs. Along
with our cultivation of intellectual skills, and the increasing
prominence of those skills in education and professional life (with
attendant specialization of function, there has been an almost complete
abdication of teachings regarding the person and what could be called
wisdom and self-knowledge. The trademarked awareness systems have,
therefore, moved into an area of "applied psychology"
in disuse within the academic and educational professions.
The systems offer either one
special technique or a synthetic amalgam of techniques drawn from
many sources. These techniques, in spite of the opinion of most
academics, may not be entirely worthless. The "systems"
do continue the fragmentation and
degeneration of an authentic mystical tradition. Although
the piecemeal benefits of these cults may be of scattered and transient
use, such benefits are often perverted to the perpetration and dominance
of the system, or to the personal service and material benefit of
the leader. The process is similar to the bureaucratic encrustation
of a new and perhaps useful government program: the original impetus
is lost. If quite important traditional teachings about the person
and conscious evolution have fallen into the hands of the contemporary
guru-superstar industry, then both the organizers of this industry
and those responsible for our education share responsibility. After
all, if one is denied normal food one will search out alternatives,
even food that makes one sick.
In our society, where is one
to learn how to calm one's mind in times of stress, how to improve
personal relationships, attain a measure of responsibility for the
direction of one's life, and come to terms with one's own creation
of experience of the world, let alone an intuitive wisdom of the
purpose of life? The existence of
"instant-weekend" and simpleminded meditation-training
systems tells us more about what is missing from contemporary education,
even at a rudimentary level, than any amount of professional criticism
could do - we are a society of spiritual illiterates, suckers for
a quick answer. Many have turned to the showmen/salesmen
and to the recycled Indian dropout to make up for the basic shortcomings
of our education - and at great, and often unnecessary, cost.
We are lax in the training
of personal knowledge. We may spend years perfecting our tennis
stroke, yet precious little training is offered on the nature of
our bodies or on the personal dimensions of our own experience.
Much modern research, for instance, shows our ordinary consciousness
to be a construction of the world, a "best guess" about
the nature of reality. Yet rarely, if ever, in psychology or education
classes is this fact brought home to students and made part of their
experience. Rarely are students acquainted with procedures that
might allow them to realize the benefits of this understanding.
"Academic" learning is rather determinedly kept in one
sphere, with its own professionals and hierarchy, "applied"
training in another: rarely does the academic become involved in
training people, and rarely does the "applied" psychologist
or educator make any dent in mainstream academic thinking.
new, franchised self-improvement courses are neither the instant
self-transcendence-fantastic-enlightenment panaceas that their followers
resolutely contend, nor are they, as most academics contend, entirely
lacking any phenomena of interest. Most self-awareness programs
provide some of the rudiments of a once-complete technology of consciousness.
In the absence of anything more highly developed, such programs
impress their followers, and yield great benefits to their leaders
- after all, a simple tape recorder might be enough to convince
a primitive tribe that the bearer was a representative of the deity.
From one system, one can learn to relax; from a second, to relate;
from a third, to respond. Converts are often attained by classic
methods: program leaders offer either a minor service to the inexperienced
in the meditation/relaxation system, for example, or they offer
a severe initiation/conversion experience, as in the large-scale
awareness-training systems. Particular systems come and go, inspired,
perhaps by a given site or the particular style of a leader or a
particular technique, yet their successes and excesses remain fairly
Consider one such reduced example
of a complete tradition: the practices of meditation as developed
in various cultures of the world and in various cultural eras are
quite diverse. The practice may involve whirling, chanting, singing,
or concentration on the movement of the beat, on specially posed
questions, or on an internal sound. It may consist solely of ordinary
activities, imbued with "mindfulness"; it may involve
prayer in the church, in quiescence, or in unison. There may be
an attempt to deliberately separate two coexistent streams of consciousness.
Other, more advanced techniques may involve the control of various
"centers" in the body, as in early Christian mysticism,
and receptivity to communications beyond the norm. Meditation practices
have many, many diverse functions, depending on the nature of the
students and of the society.
primary function of the diverse techniques of meditation
is to begin to answer the
basic questions of life, such questions as go unanswered
in ordinary social or educational interaction. For instance, one
might ask, "What is the purpose of existence?" or "What
is death?" in the same verbal analytic mode as one might ask,
"What is the size of that building?" Most of us are trained
to ask questions in this manner. But those of esoteric tradition
contend that personal questions about the nature of existence cannot
be answered in the same rational, verbal manner as can questions
about the nature of the physical or even social environment. Meditation,
then, is "a-logical," intended to defeat the ordinary
sequential and analytic approach to problem-solving in situations
where this approach is not appropriate.
Questions are sometimes given
that have no answer, for the purpose of showing, simply, that not
all questions that can be posed can be answered. A Zen Master might
ask, "What is the size of the real you?" - then instruct
a follower to return with the answer, an answer obviously impossible
to express in words or in rational thought. On koan, as such questions
are called, is the following: "If you say this stick is real,
I will beat you with it. If you say this stick is not real, I will
beat you with it. If you do not say anything at all, I will beat
you with it." Obviously, this is a situation in which there
is little one can say, since the appropriate
response lies in another realm.
A Japanese academic who wished
to "understand" Zen more fully went to a monastery to
submit himself to the koans. He was asked "What is mu?"
- to define, that is, a word which has no meaning in Japanese. As
a good scholar, he proceeded to look up the syllable in Japanese
and other Oriental dictionaries to determine a potential root meaning
and habitual usage. He presented his findings to the Master, who
repulsed him and immediately sent him away. Our scholar next thought
the question to be more subtle and tried to analyze the tonal component
of the syllable in every language of the Chinese group. He again
presented his findings to the Master, who now thought it was time
to convince this poor scholar of the seriousness of his situation,
that it was not a question of another academic excursion. "I
will give you one more chance," he said, "and if you do
not solve the riddle, I will cut off your leg." Now, even in
the most extreme arguments or thesis examinations of the academic
world, thing usually don't become this rough. But the threat did
frighten the scholar "out of his wits," so to speak. He
completely concentrated upon the syllable itself, trying to puzzle
out the meaning, and in the process of concentration itself he achieved
the result. The question had a nonanalytic effect, and a nonverbal
result as well. Those who are not privy to the extreme concentration
brought about by the Zen Master's exercise, or the scholar's reply,
might not realize that many of the
most important and compelling questions that face us cannot be looked
up in an encyclopedia or dictionary. There is no place where the
meaning of one's life is "written up."
Chanting, whirling, and other
exercises are concentration techniques, exercises whose primary
effect is mental, not confined to mere relaxation or to a highly
promoted "fourth state of consciousness" involving deep
relaxation. That we become confused when considering meditation
is partly due to the fact that many of the undeveloped esoteric
traditions come to us mixed with their Indian, Japanese, and Middle
Eastern backgrounds, with their particular medical and cosmological
systems and other cultural trappings. It is again a problem of the
container and the content - we cannot sufficiently distinguish those
aspects of esoteric tradition which can be important for the development
of our own consciousness from the less importable foreign aspects
of cultural style. Vegetarianism, for instance, is widespread and
is functional in India due to the short supply of meat (which, when
available, is often of poor quality, or even dangerous). Similarly,
speaking Japanese, or using soy sauce (or, better, Tamari) is no
more "spiritual" than consuming hot dogs, ketchup, or
beer. Not useful either is the wholesale adaptation of a particular
system of Indian medicine or cosmology, when in these areas the
West has developed beyond the East. As
we often encounter them today, the ancient esoteric traditions are
accidental conglomerations of useful techniques and outmoded cultural
trappings. In such an atmosphere, a reduced form of meditation
can be mass-merchandised.
And for many, their entire
association with the techniques of meditation has been with the
most rudimentary and minor form, that of a concentrative repetition,
divorced from any cultural background, and divorced from other techniques
that are organically associated with it. It is like learning how
to spell, without ever learning how to read.
Continual concentration upon
any object produces certain biological results. Among them is a
loss of contact with the external world - which may be interpreted
differently by a person merely amusing himself by staring at a crack
in the wall, or by a person in a psychological experiment, or by
one who performs these actions at the beginning of serious practice
in esoteric tradition. One particular form of this concentrative
meditation, known by its trademarked name as "Transcendental
Meditation," is in fact the most elemental and least transcendent
form of meditation of all. Indeed, Transcendental Meditation, quite
popular in the United States and Western Europe, has offered many
their first idea of what these traditions are about - unfortunately,
too often in the form of a giggling, smiling guru and a highly developed
program of scientific "validation." Descriptions of the
efficacy of Transcendental Meditation are displayed in brochures
and on posters stuck on laundromats and pizza parlors from Spokane
to Boca Raton: "Improves levels or rest, aids natural changes
in breath rate, cardiac output, relaxation, restful alertness, brain
wave synchrony, faster reaction time, increased perceptual ability,
learning ability, academic performance, productivity, job satisfaction,
job performance, self-actualization, inner control, mental health,
psychology," and so on. Indeed, it is claimed by the proselytizers
of "TM" that it is the "answer to all your problems."
Nowhere do we see reference to the
major mental purpose of meditation; we are given only the
reduction. Common to many of the franchised systems are these commercial
claims to improve every aspect of human life. This is a mark of
a cult system. Participants believe they have in their grasp a technique
good for everyone at all times - not one that might have selective
benefits and detriments.
In the case of TM, the bulk
of its claimed scientific "validations" are usually marked
"submitted for publication" - or are published by the
movement's own Maharishi International University Press. TM is promoted
as a synthesis of East and West - which means, presumably, that
Western science is at last considered able to investigate practices
of the East. If there is a synthesis here, it is an unfortunately
comic one - the lack of scientific rigor in the East joined with
the lack of spiritual advancement of the West. Such claims constitute
a debasement of both science and meditation. Here, science is employed
to document improvements in personality, or bodily changes, with
no consideration given to whether such changes are in fact due to
meditation, and what the significance of the change really is.
For instance, the mere report
of an alteration in the electroencephalogram means almost nothing
by itself. The EEG alone is quite an unstable measure, and rigorous
controls must be maintained to ensure that it actually relates to
significant brain activity. Recording an EEG might be compared to
placing a heat sensor over a computer and attempting thereby to
determine the computer's program. The innumerable brochures and
posters which promote the TM movement often go beyond scientific
evidence. "Increased synchrony" of the brain, for example,
which connotes to those versed neither in meditation nor in brain
research a measure of the mind's "increased harmony,"
that both hemispheres are working together, is often claimed as
a result of TM. In truth, such "synchrony" (a finding
largely unrepeated) derives from the fact that the brain may produce
more alpha rhythm in times of quiescence, and thus the correlation
of the two hemispheres of the brain is increased. Similarly, a time-displaced
frequency (fourier) analysis is sometimes displayed. The implication
here is that mind is "calm" during meditation, since the
graphs have an appearance of regularity. This is merely the use
of undigested technical vocabulary to impress the credulous. The
pattern of an epileptic seizure might well look, to the uninitiated,
as a coherent pattern on a frequency analysis. And thus with the
relaxation measures, and the various additional studies. The fallacious
and promotive scientism here seems to be: if any psychological
or physiological measure alters during their practice of the concentrative
"transcendental" meditation, then
a. it must be due, exclusively, to this wonderful practice; and
b. the change must be "good."
The studies continually barrage
one with measures of increased Goodness and decreased Badness, during
and after the practices.
Note how the process works.
Herewith a proposed physiological experiment which will yield positive
results, and which could be repeated (or, rather, performed for
the first time) in any physiological laboratory in the world. I
will also draw the same conclusions as do the TM merchandisers from
their experiments (A and B). Suppose we assume that reading were
not developed in our society. I might claim that reading "sacred"
literature, such as the Bible, not only leads to increased Goodness,
but that it actually causes physiological changes. Imagine the following
experiment (C): physiological measures are taken on selected subjects
before reading, while reading, and after reading: eye movement is
chosen for the physiological validation of our experiment.
We could naturally conclude
that before reading, physiological activity was at a low level,
but during reading it dramatically increased, and returned to baseline
afterwards. If we wanted to continue the research, we could undoubtedly
record alterations in Regional Cerebral Blood Flow (RCBF) to the
left hemisphere, changes in Galvanic Skin Resistance (GSR), etc.
However, our experiment would not explain how an arbitrary measure,
such as eye movement, relates to the supposed benefits of reading,
or whether, for instance, other types of reading would show similar
effects on the eye-movement measure.
Several points need to be raised
about research attempting to validate meditation. This kind of research
tends to be promotive and exploitative; it uses science to sell
a product. This promotionalism is rather like drug-company television
commercials that show one product entering the bloodstream faster
than others. The essential question should be: what is the real
effect of meditation? Popular forms of meditation are, most likely,
a quite reduced and sanitized form of a more advanced exercise,
no more useful than repeating the world "Coca-Cola" or
"money" over and over for relaxation. This exercise is
not at all useless in itself, especially in cases of stress, but
as it is packaged it is no quicksand to someone seeking extended
problems of promotive hucksterism are to be expected when so few
people are sufficiently acquainted with the intention, possibility,
and range of esoteric traditions. Certainly, relaxation of
habitual thought patterns, and internal control, as developed in
esoteric tradition, can be of help to many people, especially those
prone to anxiety and worry. It may even enable "normal"
people to stabilize their health and achieve a more flexible repertoire
of thought strategies, as a prelude to involvement in esoteric traditions.
However, the primary purpose of meditation is not physiological.
No one meditates to attain "synchrony of electrical activity
of the brain hemispheres" or "a long period of pure, high-amplitude,
single-frequency theta waves." Meditation is undertaken to
increase one's capacity for experience and self-understanding.
The mental "emptiness"
achieved by the concentrative forms of meditation is not a mere
lapse in attention but an alteration in one's basic approach to
the world, a glimpse of a potential consciousness. Other exercises,
such as the "mindfulness" rituals in Zen, are intended
to yield in the observer a notation of habitual sequential patterns
of mental activity characteristic of the individual. There are a
myriad of potential consciousness-alteration techniques. As our
culture is opened up to the East, various immigrant have entered
with techniques borrowed piecemeal across cultures.
However, although there are
many techniques available, most people are not in a position to
choose which technique is most appropriate for them. There is, after
all, no indigenous cultural tradition to draw upon. "Experts"
who have little experience of the unity and coherence of spiritual
techniques offer instant-weekend self-improvement courses which
promote the particular amalgam chose by the expert himself. They
often involve a little meditation, a little indoctrination, a little
scientology, and a little "validation," with the audience
softened up (as in the best of brainwashing) by fatigue, fasting,
and insults. Such courses bear the same relationship to a consistent,
spiritual developed teaching as the techniques of a sex manual have
to the experience of love. (* Note: "I once received a form
letter (with a computer address label) from one West Coast instant
guru that ended with "I love you.")
instant-enlightenment weekend approach can be produced by
several means. One could duplicate the results by techniques as
diverse as the proper use of jewelry, or by fasting, by dancing
to exhaustion, by sensory deprivation or overload, or with drugs.
Such an upset of ordinary activities and consciousness yields a
"first experience" that the world is different from what
one had thought. Yet, as a "first experience," we are
likely to misinterpret its significance, just as people often overvalue
their first sexual experience. We often find any real benefit to
the student plowed back into service to the organization.
If, for instance, you had never
heard of an automobile, you might be excited to be offered, for
$50,000 a vehicle that actually ran on gasoline. Such a vehicle
might be comprised of the fenders of a 1921 Ford, the engine of
a 1926 Hispano-Suiza, the transmission of a contemporary Mercedes,
seats from a Chevrolet pickup truck, the rear body from an Austin.
You might be further impressed by the sacrifices and the submission
you and many volunteers would need to keep such a vehicle on the
road. If no one else of you acquaintance, however, had ever heard
of an automobile, you might well become famous as the person "who
gave it all up for the vehicle that could move itself." Yet
even the most humble contemporary economy car would be an improvement.
The franchised weekends take
just such an advantage of the gap in our education. Popular mysticism
claims "converted" adherents for techniques which should
be part of our basic education. Its enthusiasts take a partial aspect
of esoteric tradition, such as an exercise meant for one community,
and generalize it to everyone, and offer the same mass indoctrination
or initiation to everyone. The initial "experience," then,
is often channeled, not into the individual's personal development,
but into the service of the system. Since the systems are synthetic
and artificial amalgams, they must be kept going with much infusion
of effort and activity. Thus, social gratification begins to substitute
for the development of consciousness, with parties, mixers, investment
clubs, phone solicitation, uniform dress, and jargon designed to
create an elite in-group. Continual reminders are given to stragglers,
by mass mailings, letters and phone calls, Christmas gifts, solicitations
of service to the head of the organization, all consequence of the
artificial nature of the system. The question is not only whether
the constellation of techniques has any effect, but also whether
in the long run the usefulness of the experience of the technique
is outweighed by the benefits of the system itself, whether people
seeking to develop themselves are ultimately exploited by those
who confuse the container with the content.
The noncommercial, secretive,
esoteric cults are unfortunately similar to the well-advertised
consciousness systems. The degeneration
of a true religious tradition in the West has left those high-minded
"metaphysical people" prey to those who substitute an
ancient fragmentary teaching for a unified whole. David Pendlebury
describes the current situation:
and "intoxication" are of course not intended literally;
nor are they merely flowery metaphors: these are technical terms
denoting twin poles of human awareness, each in its own way indispensable
to balanced development. A man has to see the true reality of his
situation; he has to take a very sober look at him self. Equally,
though, he needs a taste of another condition in which his latent
possibilities are recognized. Taken on its own, either pole is sterile,
developmentally speaking. There are plentiful examples all around
us of such imbalances. Perhaps you too had a Calvinist great-uncle
who died heartbroken, having succeeded in convincing himself, a)
that "the grace of God" was essential, and b) that such
"grace" had been withheld from him. Perhaps you, too,
have friends whose Ouspensky-oriented understanding of Gurdjieff
has left them eternally bewailing the (obvious facts that "man
is asleep," "man cannot remember himself," "man
cannot do," etc.) Or other friends who have chosen to "freak
out," to "blow their minds"; and are astonished,
in rare moments of lucidity, to find themselves inhabiting a "behavioral
sink" or terminal sewer." Or other friends, perhaps, who
inform you in and out of season that: "I was hopelessly at
sea, until (name and address supplied) showed me the answer."
Pendlebury mentions the Caucasian
"mystic" George Gurdjieff, whose followers unfortunately
have come to represent the fragmentation of much of contemporary
esoteric studies. Although by many accounts Gurdjieff was a man
who personally could awaken a sense of life and action in his associates,
his work has become the captive of his most doctrinaire and severe
followers, who seem to cherish their incompleteness and merely shout
"I must wake up" while reading obsolete doctrines.
A fragment of a coherent approach has become honored among
those who look to each new teacher for the secret that will allow
them to turn away from their morbid self-preoccupation and experience
the wholeness of life.
This kind of esoteric school
serves to promote the abnormality of those involved. Thus, the continuous
search for "true teachers" of mysticism often leads enthusiasts
to an examination and popularization of the past, of teachings inappropriate
for our time and culture. Outmoded books on alchemy, ancient mysticism,
commentaries on Gurdjieff and other mystics are all scoured by the
devout in their hope of finding "the key" which will unite
all. One of Gurdjieff's teachers describes this process to one who
sought out the teachings of the East: "You are scrabbling about
in the sands, looking for bits of mica to piece together to make
a mirror, not realizing that the sand itself is capable of being
transformed into the purest glass."
Here, then, is an essential
distinction between the obscurantist esotericizers, who continually
proclaim to "search the heavens" and the "depths
of their souls" for isolated bits of knowledge, and a potentially
viable contemporary spiritual teaching. Reductionism, or inflation,
can exist on all levels, including the metaphysical. Merely writing
in effulgent and self-denigratory terms about an outmoded cosmology
is no more relevant to the real development of human knowledge than
are psychiatric theorizing or the double-talk of commercial awareness-training
groups. That the dead hand of a cold, sterile Metaphysical Inflationism
should have touched the students of Gurdjieff - a man, for all his
shortcomings, who always sought genuine development - is a great
If there do exist so many difficulties
in popularizing the fragmentary remains of esoteric tradition -
a meditation technique that is sold for everybody, a man screaming
for hours effectively brainwashing an audience, or a turgid "metaphysics"
- then what might currently be useful in preparing the ground?
of the contemporary fragmentary systems suffer from a confusion
of the essence of mystical tradition with the original system itself.
They often confuse the system with the knowledge, mixing up mistranslated
ancient descriptions of "sight" and what can be "seen"
with the technical details of an operation designed, say, to remove
occlusions. A blind person accustomed to hearing inflated exaltations
of the joys of sight may not be prepared when someone introduces
technical procedures that are actually useful in an eye operation.
"What are these cold hard things I touch?" he may exclaim
of the surgical instruments. "What is their relationships to
the grandeur of green grass, or to a sunset, of which I have heard
so many wondrous descriptions?" Why many people of differing
specializations may need to be involved in the task of surgery;
why there is a need for antisepsis, for someone to have studied
the physiology of the eye (or brain hemisphere, in the case of hemianopia),
would entirely escape those who have become diverted from the attempt
at seeing into a mere interest and expertise on "the dimensions
of spiritual experience," "techniques of mysticism,"
"traditional approaches to the mind," or "the wisdom
of the East." Such a person wishes for more availability of
effulgent and high-minded descriptions of sight: the fragmentary
This is a continuous difficulty:
the confusion of the vehicle with the objective, of the hard technical
knowledge available in this area today with romantic descriptions
of the universe, "spiritual experiences," "beings"
of all orders, a "cosmic law." However, current literature,
travel writings, and scientific facts all can serve a valid and
reconstructive purpose: if properly presented, they can convey to
the interest student the rudiments of "sight," and can
aid in developing a more comprehensive awareness of himself and
of life. This can occur even though the literature may not directly
mention cosmology, God, mysticism, or any of the things most usually,
romantically and traditionally, associated with mystical experience.
Many of the most important books, then, do not appear in "metaphysical"
collections, nor are they used by mystical societies. They may not
contain one word of reference to this area, or be labeled "metaphysical."
They are present but are "invisible" to the hemianopic,
or to the blind slave of tradition, or to the devotee of the current
Yakoub of Somnan, explaining the function of
the literature that he used, said:
"Literature is the means by which
things which have been taken out of the community, such as knowledge,
can be returned.
The similitude is as of a seed,
which may be returned to the earth long after the plant from which
it grew is dead,
with perhaps no trace of it remaining.
The learned may be millers of the grain-seed,
but those whom we call the Wise are the cultivators of the crop.
Take heed of this parable,
for it contains the explanation of much irreconcilability of attitudes
in the two classes of students."
- excerpt from