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The Sacred and the Profane:

Toward An Integration of Two Perspectives on Reality.

Stanislav Grof, M.D.

The understanding of human nature and of the cosmos developed by Western science is substantially different from the worldview of the ancient and pre-industrial societies. During the last three centuries, our scientists have systematically explored various aspects of the material world and accumulated an impressive amount of information that was not available in the past. It has significantly expanded, corrected, and replaced earlier concepts about nature and the universe. However, the most striking difference between the pre-industrial and modern worldview is not in the amount and accuracy of data about material reality; this is a natural and expected result of scientific progress. It is a fundamental disagreement concerning the presence or absence of a sacred or spiritual dimension of existence.

The Material World and the Domain of the Sacred.

All the human groups of the pre-industrial era were in agreement that the material world which we perceive and in which we operate in our everyday life is not the only reality. Their worldview included the existence of deities, demons, discarnate entities, ancestral spirits, and power animals, as well as domains in which these existed. They had a rich ritual and spiritual life that revolved around the possibility to achieve direct contact with these ordinarily hidden dimensions of reality, to receive important information or assistance, and to influence the course of material events.

Under these circumstances, the activities of everyday life were based not only on the information received by the senses, but also on the input from these ordinarily invisible dimensions. Western trained anthropologists were often baffled by what they called the "double logic" of the cultures they studied. While the natives clearly possessed extraordinary skills and ingenious implements for survival and sustenance, they


combined their practical activities, such as hunting and fishing, with rituals addressing various realms and entities that for the anthropologists were imaginary and non-existent.

The cosmologies, philosophies, and mythologies, as well as spiritual and ritual life of the pre-industrial societies, contain a clear message that death is not the absolute and irrevocable end of everything, that life or existence continues in some form after the biological demise. Their elaborate eschatological mythologies are in general agreement that after the death of the body the soul experiences a complex series of adventures in consciousness. The posthumous journey of the soul is sometimes described as a travel through fantastic landscapes that bear some similarity to those on earth, other times as encounters with various archetypal beings, or as a progression through a sequence of non- ordinary states of consciousness (holotropic states). In some cultures the soul reaches a temporary realm in the Beyond, such as the Christian purgatory or the lokas of Tibetan Buddhism, in others an eternal abode - heaven, hell, paradise, or the sun realm.

Many cultures have independently developed a belief system in metempsychosis or reincarnation that includes return of the unit of consciousness to another physical lifetime on earth. The concept of karma and reincarnation represents a cornerstone of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, the Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, and Taoism. Similar ideas can be found in such racially, geographically, historically, and culturally diverse groups as various African tribes, American Indians, pre-Columbian cultures, the Polynesian kahunas, practitioners of the Brazilian umbanda, the Gauls, and the Druids. In ancient Greece, several important schools of thought subscribed to it; among these were the Pythagoreans, the Orphics, and the Platonists. This doctrine was also adopted by the Essenes, the Pharisees, the Karaites, and other Jewish and semi-Jewish groups, and it formed an important part of the kabbalistic theology of medieval Jewry. It was also held by the Neoplatonists and Gnostics.

Pre-industrial societies thus seemed to agree that death was not the ultimate defeat and end of everything, but an important transition. The experiences associated with death were seen as visits to important dimensions of reality that deserved to be experienced, studied, and carefully mapped. The dying were familiar with the eschatological


cartographies of their cultures, whether these were shamanic maps of the funeral landscapes or sophisticated descriptions of the Eastern spiritual systems, such as those found in the Tibetan Bardo Thödol. This important text of Tibetan Buddhism represents an interesting counterpoint to the exclusive pragmatic emphasis on productive life and denial of death characterizing the Western civilization. It describes the time of death as a unique opportunity for spiritual liberation from the cycles of death and rebirth and a period that determines our next incarnation, if we do not achieve liberation. In this context, it is possible to see the intermediate state between lives (bardo) as being in a way more important than incarnate existence. It is then essential to prepare for this time by systematic practice during our lifetime.

These descriptions of the sacred dimensions of reality and the emphasis on spiritual life are in sharp conflict with the belief system that dominates the industrial world. According to Western mainstream academic science, only the physical world really exists. The history of the universe is the history of developing matter; life, consciousness, and intelligence are more or less accidental and insignificant epiphenomena of this development. They appeared on the scene after billions of years of evolution of passive and inert matter in a trivially small part of an immense universe. According to Western neuroscience, consciousness is a product of the neurophysiological processes in the brain, and thus critically dependent on the body. Very few people, including most scientists, realize that we have absolutely no proof that consciousness is actually produced by the brain and not even a remote notion how something like that could possibly happen. In spite of it, this basic metaphysical assumption remains one of the leading myths of Western materialistic science and has profound influence on our entire society.

The Mystical Worldview and Western Psychiatry.

In a world where only what is material, tangible, and measurable is real, there is no place for spirituality of any kind. Although religious activities are generally permitted, or even formally encouraged, from a strictly scientific point of view any involvement in spiritual matters appears to be and is interpreted as an irrational activity indicating emotional and intellectual immaturity -- lack of education, primitive superstition, and


regression to magical and infantile thinking. The belief in any form of existence after death is generally ridiculed. The death of the body, particularly of the brain, is then seen as the absolute end of any form of conscious activity. Belief in the posthumous journey of the soul, afterlife, or reincarnation is seen as a product of wishful thinking of people who are unable to accept the obvious biological imperative of death, the absolute nature of which has been scientifically proven beyond any reasonable doubt.

Direct experiences of spiritual realities are then seen as manifestations of a serious mental disease, psychosis. Western psychiatry does not make any distinction between a mystical experience and a psychotic experience. The kindest judgment about mysticism that has so far come from official academic circles was the statement of the Committee on Psychiatry and Religion of the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry that in its statement Mysticism: Spiritual Quest or Psychic Disorder? published in 1976 declared that mysticism might be a phenomenon that lies between normalcy and psychosis.

Religion, bereft of its experiential component has largely lost the connection to its deep spiritual source and as a result of it has become empty, meaningless, and increasingly irrelevant in our life. In many instances, live and lived spirituality based on profound personal experience has been replaced by dogmatism, ritualism, and moralism. The most belligerent partisans of mainstream religion insist on literal belief in the exoteric versions of spiritual texts that appear childish and blatantly irrational to the educated modern mind. This is further confounded by various indefensible attitudes of religious authorities, such as denying women the right of ministry and dwelling on the prohibition of contraception in face of such dangers as AIDS and overpopulation. Rampant sexual abuse, particularly pedophilia, perpetrated by clergy on all the levels of the hierarchy further undermines the authority of organized church.

In this form, mainstream religion cannot possibly compete with the persuasiveness of materialistic science backed up by its technological triumphs. Even dedicated individuals and groups of ardent believers cannot usually stay completely immune against the undermining influence of the sophisticated skepticism of mainstream scientific theories. Under these circumstances, religion has ceased to be a vital force


during our life, as well as at the time of dying and death. Its references to divine realities, supernatural beings, life after death, the posthumous adventures of the soul, and the abodes of the Beyond, such as heaven and hell, have been relegated to the realm of fairy tales and handbooks of psychiatry.

The entire spiritual history of humanity has been pathologized. At the cradle of all the great religions of the world were transpersonal experiences of their founders, prophets, and saints. We can think here, for example, about Buddha's encounter with Kama Mara, his seductive daughters, and his army or Buddha's reliving of various episodes from his past incarnations accompanied by "tearing of the karmic bonds." The Old Testament describes among others Abraham's interaction with God and the angel, Moses' encounter with Yahwe appearing in the burning bush, and Ezechiel's flaming chariot. The New Testament depicts such scenes as Jesus' temptation by the devil during his stay in the desert, Saul's blinding vision of Jesus on the way to Damascus, and St. John's apocalyptic epiphany in the cave on Patmos. Islamic scriptures portray the journey of Mohammed through the seven heavens, paradise, and hell in the company of archangel Gabriel. According to traditional psychiatry, all these experiences are indicative of severe psychopathology, mental disease of the individuals involved.

Psychiatric literature abounds in articles and books discussing what would be the best clinical diagnosis for various famous spiritual figures, some of them of the stature of the Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Ramakrishna, or Saint Anthony. Visionary experiences of the transpersonal realms are usually attributed to severe psychosis of the schizophrenic type or to epilepsy, as it is in the case of Mohammed. St. John of the Cross has been labeled "hereditary degenerate" and St. Teresa of Avila a "hysterical psychotic." Mainstream anthropologists have argued whether shamans are schizophrenics, borderline psychotics, hysterics, or epileptics. There is even a paper applying psychopathological criteria to meditation. It is entitled Buddhist Training As Artificial Catatonia and its author is the famous psychoanalyst and founder of psychosomatic medicine Franz Alexander (Alexander 1931).


This interpretation of the nature and origin of religions is rather simplistic and unconvincing. Western psychiatry has failed to provide an explanation as to how an unknown pathological process affecting the brain (occurring crossculturally in about one percent of the population) could generate the rich spectrum of specific visions, emotional states, and extraordinary ideas found in various mystical traditions of perennial philosophy. Moreover, it is not very plausible that artificial products of a pathological process in the brain could become powerful forces of human history, have a profound impact on the lives of millions of people of different times, races and cultures, and provide inspiration for astonishing literature, art, and architecture. The degree and scope of this influence makes it clear that we are dealing with something that is connected with the most fundamental dynamics of the human psyche.

The profound differences between the worldviews of pre-industrial cultures and the Western industrial civilization, particularly the disagreement about the spiritual dimensions of existence, have been usually attributed to the superiority of Western materialistic science in understanding the nature of reality. However, closer examination of the existing evidence clearly shows that this is not the case. In view of the findings of clinical and laboratory consciousness research of the last several decades, the single most important factor responsible for the differences between the worldview of modern technologized societies and all other human groups throughout history is not the superiority of Western materialistic science over primitive superstition, but its disregard and profound ignorance in regard to holotropic states of consciousness.

The only way the Newtonian-Cartesian worldview of Western science can be maintained is by systematic suppression or misinterpretation of all the evidence generated by consciousness studies, whether its source is history, anthropology, and comparative religion, or various areas of modern research, such as parapsychology, thanatology, psychedelic therapy, experiential psychotherapies, laboratory study of biofeedback, sensory deprivation, and lucid dreaming, or the work with individuals in psychospiritual crises ("spiritual emergencies"). Academic circles have been protecting and defending themselves against the influx of critical information from all these areas with the rigidity,


stubbornness, and determination reminiscent of fundamentalist religions and violating all the principles of good science.












consciousness that are instrumental in the ritual and spiritual life of ancient and aboriginal cultures inevitably leads to an understanding of the nature of reality and of the relationship between consciousness and matter that is fundamentally different from the belief system of technological societies. I have yet to meet a single Western academician who has had significant personal experiences with holotropic states of consciousness and

continues to subscribe to the mainstream scientific understanding of consciousness, psyche, human nature, and the nature of reality that is currently taught in Western universities. This is entirely independent of the IQ, educational background, and specific area of expertise of the individuals involved.

Many presenters at the conferences of the International Transpersonal Association (ITA) and Association of Transpersonal Psychology (ATP) can be mentioned here as salient examples - parapsychologists Charles Tart, Stanley Krippner, Dean Radin, Marilyn Schlitz, Russel Targ, and Keith Harrary, psychologists Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), Kenneth Ring, Jim Fadiman, Frances Vaughan, Richard Tarnas, Arthur Hastings, and Jack Kornfield, philosophers Huston Smith and Christopher Bache, psychiatrists John Mack, Roger Walsh, and myself, anthropologists Michael Harner, Carlos Castaneda, Christian Rätsch, and Barbara Meyerhoff, chemists Albert Hofmann, Alexander Shulgin, Dennis McKenna, and David Nichols, system theorist Ervin Laszlo, and physicists David Bohm, Amit Goswami, Willis Harman, Saul Paul Siraq, Nick Herbert, Fred Alan Wolf, and many others.

The ability to accept the existence of the spiritual dimension of existence thus does not reflect the nature and level of familiarity with Western materialistic science, but the experience of and sophistication in regard to holotropic states of consciousness. Because of the critical role of personal experience, full knowledge and appreciation of the mystical dimension is impossible without it and those who have not had it can hardly be considered experts in this regard, irrespective of their academic credentials and the


number of books they have written. This situation is comparable to the obvious inability of pre-adolescents, who have not had a personal experience of the sexual orgasm, to understand its nature and compelling power.

Technologies and Technicians of the Sacred.

Ancient and pre-industrial cultures have held holotropic states of consciousness in high esteem, practiced them regularly in socially sanctioned contexts, and spent much time and energy developing safe and effective techniques of inducing them. These states have been the main vehicle for their ritual and spiritual life as a means of direct communication with the archetypal domains of deities and demons, forces of nature, animal realms, and the cosmos. Additional uses involved diagnosing and healing diseases, cultivating intuition and ESP, and obtaining artistic inspiration, as well as practical purposes, such as locating the game they were hunting and finding lost objects and people. According to anthropologist Victor Turner, sharing in ritual events also contributes to tribal bonding and tends to create a sense of deep connectedness (communitas).

The techniques developed by ancient and aboriginal cultures for inducing holotropic states of consciousness combine in different ways chanting, breathing, drumming, rhythmic dancing, fasting, social and sensory isolation, extreme physical pain, bloodletting, and other elements. Many cultures have also used psychedelic plants which are among the most powerful means of changing consciousness. Famous examples of the latter are various preparations made from hemp (hashish, charas, bhang, kif), the Mexican cactus peyote, morning glory seeds, psilocybine-containing mushrooms, fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), the African shrub eboga, psychedelic snuffs, secretions of toads (Bufo alvarius), and the Amazonian jungle liana Banisteriopsis caapi used in yagé or ayahuasca. Additional important triggers of holotropic states of consciousness are various forms of systematic spiritual practice involving meditation, concentration, breathing, and movement exercises, that are used in different systems of yoga, Vipassana or Zen Buddhism, Tibetan Vajrayana, Taoism, Christian mysticism, Sufism, or Kabbalah.


These methods have been employed in many different sacramental contexts, such as various shamanic procedures, healing ceremonies, and rites of passage - powerful rituals enacted at the time of important biological and social transitions, particularly circumcision, puberty, marriage, or birth of a child. Here belong also the ancient mysteries of death and rebirth, for example the Sumerian mysteries of Inanna and Tammuz, the Egyptian temple initiations of Isis and Osiris, and the Greek Bacchanalia, rites of Attis and Adonis, and the Eleusinian mysteries. The specifics of the procedures involved in these secret rites have remained for the most part unknown, although it is likely that psychedelic preparations played an important part in at least some of them (Wasson, Hofmann, and Ruck 1978). Eastern and Western spiritual systems that have used regular practice of exercises, meditation, fasting, and prayer are additional important contexts.

This reverential attitude toward holotropic states of consciousness contrasts sharply with that found in technological countries. Western industrial civilization has pathologized all forms of holotropic states of consciousness (with the exception of dreams that are not recurrent or nightmares), spends much time trying to develop effective ways of suppressing them when they occur spontaneously, and tends to outlaw tools and contexts associated with them. As I mentioned earlier, Western psychiatry makes no distinction between a mystical experience and a psychotic experience and sees both as manifestations of mental disease. In its rejection of religion, it does not differentiate between primitive folk beliefs or the fundamentalists' literal interpretations of scriptures and sophisticated mystical traditions and Eastern spiritual philosophies based on centuries of systematic introspective exploration of the psyche.

Re-Visioning of Psychiatry and of Western Science.

By seeing holotropic states as manifestations of mental diseases, Western science has pathologized the entire spiritual history of humanity and assumed a disrespectful and arrogant attitude toward spiritual, ritual, and cultural life of pre-industrial societies throughout centuries. From this perspective, of all the human groups in history only the intellectual elite of Western civilization that subscribes to the Newtonian-Cartesian


paradigm of Western science has an accurate and reliable understanding of reality and of the human psyche. All others have been primitive, ignorant, or deluded.

Systematic study of various forms of holotropic states of consciousness conducted in the last several decades by clinicians using psychedelic therapy and powerful experiential psychotherapies, thanatologists, anthropologists, Jungian analysts, researchers of meditation and biofeedback, and others has shown that Western psychology and psychiatry have made a serious error in dismissing mystical experiences as manifestations of brain pathology of unknown etiology. The new findings have inspired the development of transpersonal psychology, a discipline that has undertaken unbiased scientific research of spirituality on its own terms, rather than seeing it through the prism of the materialistic paradigm.

In contrast with the traditional attitude that pathologizes the entire spiritual history of humanity, transpersonal psychology seriously studies and respects the entire spectrum of human experience, including holotropic states of consciousness, and all the domains of the psyche, including perinatal and transpersonal phenomena. By doing it, it is more culturally sensitive and offers a way of understanding the psyche that is universal and applicable to any human group and any historical period. It also honors the spiritual dimensions of existence and acknowledges the deep human need for transcendental experiences. In this context, spiritual search appears to be an understandable and legitimate human activity.

Religion and Spirituality.

To prevent the confusion and misunderstandings that in the past have plagued similar discussions, it is critical to make a clear distinction between spirituality and religion. Spirituality is based on direct experiences of other realities. It does not necessarily require a special place, or a special person mediating contact with the divine, although mystics can certainly benefit from spiritual guidance and from a community of fellow seekers. Spirituality involves a special relationship between the individual and the cosmos and is in its essence a personal and private affair. At the cradle of all great religions were visionary (perinatal and/or transpersonal) experiences of their founders, prophets, saints, and even ordinary followers. All major spiritual scriptures -- the Vedas,


the Buddhist Pali Canon, the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and many others are based on revelations in holotropic states of consciousness.

By comparison, the basis of organized religion is institutionalized group activity that takes place in a designated location (temple, church), and involves a system of appointed mediators. Ideally, religions should provide for its members access to and support for direct spiritual experiences. However, it often happens that a religion completely loses the connection with its spiritual source and becomes a secular institution exploiting the human spiritual needs without satisfying them. Instead, it creates a hierarchical system focusing on the pursuit of power, control, politics, money, and other possessions. Under these circumstances, religious hierarchy tends to actively discourage and suppress direct spiritual experiences of its members, because they foster independence and cannot be effectively controlled.

Direct spiritual experiences appear in two different forms. The first of these, the


perception of the everyday reality. A person having this form of spiritual experience sees the people, animals, and inanimate objects in the environment as radiant manifestations of a unified field of cosmic creative energy and realizes that the boundaries between them are illusory and unreal. This is a direct experience of nature as god, Baruch Spinoza's deus sive natura. Using the analogy with television, this could be likened to a situation where a black and white picture would suddenly change into one in living colors. Much of the old perception of the world would remain in place, but would be radically transformed by the addition of a new dimension. The second form, the experience of the transcendental divine, involves appearance of archetypal beings and realms of reality that are ordinarily transphenomenal, that is unavailable to perception in the everyday state of consciousness. They seem to unfold or explicate – to borrow a term from David Bohm - from another level or order of reality into our field of consciousness.










These two types of transpersonal experiences represent the source of inspiration for the founders of religions, saints, prophets, and spiritual practitioners. For many people, the first encounter with the sacred dimensions of existence often occurs in the


context of the death-rebirth process, when the experiences of the different stages of birth are accompanied by archetypal visions and scenes from the historical domain of the collective unconscious. However, the full connection with the spiritual realm is made when the process moves to the transpersonal level of the psyche, where various spiritual experiences appear independently of the fetal elements. Occasionally, holotropic states of consciousness provide direct access into the transpersonal realm, bypassing the biographical and perinatal levels.

The observations from the study of holotropic states confirm the ideas of C.G. Jung concerning spirituality. According to him, the experiences from deeper levels of the psyche (in my own terminology perinatal and transpersonal) have a certain quality that Jung called (after Rudolph Otto) 'numinosity'. The subjects having such experiences feel that they are encountering a dimension which is sacred, holy, radically different from everyday life, belonging to another order of reality. Like Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas, it seems to be superordinated to the material world and to form and inform it. The term numinosity is relatively neutral and thus preferable to others, such as "religious", "mystical", "magical", "holy", "sacred", "occult", and others, which have often been used incorrectly and are easily misleading.

People who have experiences of this kind open up to spirituality found in the mystical branches of the great religions of the world or in their monastic orders, not necessarily in their mainstream organizations. If these experiences take a Christian form, the subject would feel close to St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, or St. Hildegarde von Bingen, rather than develop appreciation for the Vatican hierarchy, politics, and the edicts of the popes, or understand the official position of the Church on contraception and ban on the participation of women in the clergy. A spiritual experience of the Islamic variety would bring the subject close to the teachings of the various Sufi orders; it will not engender admiration for Ayatollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, or Osama bin Laden or enthusiasm for jihad, the Holy War against the infidels. Similarly, a Judaic form of this experience would connect one to the Hassidic or the Kabbalistic tradition and not to fundamentalist Judaism or zionism.


True spirituality is universal and all-embracing and is based on personal mystical experiences rather than on dogma or religious scriptures. By comparison, the mainstream religions unite people within their own radius, but tend to be divisive, because they set their group against the others and often strive to either convert them or eradicate them. The conflicts between Christians and pagans, Muslims and infidels, Hindus and Sikhs, are just a few salient examples. In today's troubled world, religions in their present form are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Even differences between various factions or interpretations of the same religion can result in centuries of internecine atrocities, as exemplified by the history of the Catholics and Protestants or the Shiites and Sunnis.

Transpersonal Understanding of Human Nature.

From the scientific point of view, the main question regarding spirituality and religion is the ontological status of transpersonal experiences. While mainstream psychiatry and psychology see them as products of pathology, transpersonal psychology has shown that they are important phenomena sui generis that have great heuristic and therapeutic value and deserve to be seriously studied. While much of what is found in organized religions and their theologies is certainly in serious conflict with science, this is not true in regard to spirituality based on direct transpersonal experiences.

The findings of modern consciousness research actually show remarkable convergence between the insights from transpersonal experiences and many revolutionary developments in Western science referred to as the emerging paradigm. As Ken Wilber (1982) pointed out, there cannot possibly be a conflict between genuine science and authentic religion. If there seems to be a conflict, we are very likely dealing with "bogus science" and "bogus religion", where either side has a serious misunderstanding of the other's position and very likely does not represent the best example of its own discipline. Much confusion in this area has been caused by serious misconceptions concerning the nature and function of science and scientific theories. What is presented as a scientific refutation of spiritual realities is often based on scientistic argumentation rather than science. An additional source of unnecessary problems concerning religion is a serious misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the


spiritual symbolism in sacred scriptures. This approach is characteristic of fundamentalist

movements in mainstream religions.

When scientism and fundamentalism collide, neither side seems to realize that

many of the passages in spiritual scriptures around which the controversy revolves should

not be understood as references to concrete personages, geographical places, and

historical events, but as accounts of transpersonal experiences. Scientific descriptions of

the universe and the stories in religious texts do not relate to the same realities, they do

not compete for the same terrain. As mythologist Joseph Campbell pointed out in his

inimitable style and with his caustic Irish humor, "the immaculate conception is not a

problem for gynecologists and the promised land is not a piece of real estate."

The erroneous belief that the abodes of the Beyond - Heaven, Paradise, and Hell -

are located in the physical universe - Heaven in the interstellar space, Paradise

somewhere in a hidden area on the surface of our planet, and Hell in the interior of the

earth – has led to a bizarre and entirely unnecessary conflict between science and

religion. Astronomers have used extremely sophisticated devices, such as the Hubble

telescope, to explore and map carefully the entire vault of Heaven. Results from these

efforts, which have of course failed to show any Heaven replete with God and angels, are

taken as definitive proof that such spiritual realities do not exist. Similarly, in cataloguing

and mapping every acre of the planetary surface, explorers and geographers have found

many areas of extraordinary natural beauty, but none of them matched the descriptions of

Paradise found in spiritual scriptures of various religions. Geologists have discovered that

the core of our planet consists of layers of solid and molten nickel and iron, and its

temperature exceeds that of the sun’s surface. This earthly core is encased in layers of

dense and mostly solid silicate rock—not a very plausible location for the caves of Satan.

Spiritual symbolism accurately portrays events and realities that we experience in holotropic states of consciousness and does not refer to occurrences in the material world of our everyday reality. Aldous Huxley made this very clear in his excellent essay Heaven and Hell (Huxley 1959). The only field that is capable of approaching the problem of spirituality scientifically is thus consciousness research focusing on systematic and unbiased exploration of non-ordinary states of consciousness.


Many scientists use the conceptual framework of contemporary science in a way that resembles more a fundamentalist religion than science. They mistake it for a definitive description of reality and authoritatively implement it to censor and suppress all observations that challenge its basic assumptions. The world view of materialistic science is clearly incompatible with the theologies of organized religions and the authority that science enjoys in our society certainly works in favor of its position. Since most people in our culture are not aware of the difference between religion and spirituality, the destructive influence of this kind of 'science' does not affect only religion, but extends to spiritual activity of any kind. If we want to achieve clarity concerning the basic issues involved in this conflict, it is essential to make a clear distinction not only between science and scientism, but also between religion and spirituality.

In the twenty-five years of its existence, transpersonal psychology has amassed

ample evidence suggesting that transpersonal experiences are fascinating phenomena that

represent a serious challenge to Western materialistic science. They indicate an urgent

need for a radical revision of our understanding of the nature of consciousness, its

relationship to matter, and its role in the universal scheme of things. In addition, the

observations and conceptual frameworks developed in the transpersonal field are in

consonance with major revolutionary advances in other disciplines, such as quantum-

relativistic physics, systems theory, biology, and brain research. In spite of all this, many

professionals refuse to accept that the transpersonal orientation represents a legitimate

scientific endeavor. They dismiss it as an irrational and undisciplined product of a group

of eccentric, mystically oriented professionals and paraprofessionals who are not familiar

with the most basic principles of traditional science.

The main reason for this criticism is the fact that the findings and conclusions of

transpersonal psychology are incompatible with the most basic metaphysical assumptions

of the Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm and with the materialistic philosophy that has

dominated Western science for the last three hundred years. However, the critics

completely ignore the fact that many of the pioneers and prominent representatives of the

transpersonal field are people with solid academic backgrounds and often impressive

professional credentials. They have departed from the traditional conceptual frameworks

not because of their ignorance of the most basic principles of Western science, but


because the mainstream conceptual frameworks failed to account for and explain too many of their important observations and experiences.

The work with holotropic states of consciousness has shown that human consciousness can transcend the usual limitations of the bodyego, space, and linear time. The disapearance of spatial boundaries can lead to authentic and convincing identifications with other people, animals of different species, plant life, and even inorganic materials and processes. It is also possible to transcend the customary constraints of linear time and experience episodes from the lives of one's human and animal ancestors, as well as collective, racial, and karmic memories. In addition, transpersonal experiences can take us into the archetypal domains of the collective unconscious and mediate encounter with images of blissful and wrathful deities of various cultures and visits to mythological realms.

A fascinating property of all these different types of transpersonal phenomena is

the fact that they can mediate access to entirely new information about various aspects of existence. The nature, depth, and scope of this information often by far surpasses the intellectual knowledge that the individuals experiencing these phenomena have obtained through conventional channels. The study of consciousness that can extend beyond the body, William Roll's "theta consciousness" or the "long body" of the Iroquois (Roll 1974), has generated vast amounts of observations that question the most fundamental assumptions of Western science. Thus, for example, the belief that perception of the environment has to be mediated by sensory organs has been shattered by thanatological studies of veridical out-of-body experiences. Similarly, the existence of transpersonal experiences mentioned earlier undermines the deeply ingrained belief of materialistic science that memory requires a material substrate, such as the neuronal network in the brain or the DNA molecules of the genes.

It is in principle impossible to find or even imagine any material medium that

would store or convey the new information about the universe that forms an integral part

of various transpersonal experiences. This knowledge clearly has not been acquired during the individual's lifetime through the known means - sensory perception, analysis


and synthesis of the data, and storage of the information in the memory banks of the brain. The information seems to exist independently of matter and be contained in some fields that cannot be detected by our scientific instruments or in the field of consciousness itself. These observations from the study of transpersonal experiences are supported by evidence that comes from other avenues of research. Challenging the basic metaphysical assumptions of Newtonian-Cartesian thinking, scientists like Heinz von Foerster, Rupert Sheldrake, and Ervin Laszlo seriously explore such possibilities as "memory without a material substrate," "morphogenetic fields," and the “PSI” or “Akashic Field” (von Foerster 1965, Sheldrake 1981, Laszlo 1993, 1999, 2003, 2004).

Observations of this kind profoundly change our understanding of human nature. Traditional academic science describes human beings as highly developed animals and biological thinking machines. Experienced and studied in the everyday state of consciousness, we appear to be Newtonian objects made of atoms, molecules, cells, tissues, and organs. However, transpersonal experiences in holotropic states of consciousness clearly show that each of us can also manifest the properties of a field of consciousness that transcends space, time, and linear causality. The complete new formula, remotely reminiscent of the wave-particle paradox in modern physics, thus describes humans as paradoxical beings who have two complementary aspects: they can show properties of Newtonian objects and also those of infinite fields of consciousness. The appropriateness of each of these descriptions depends on the state of consciousness in which these observations are made.

Cosmic Game: New Insights into the Nature of Reality.

The new vision of human nature certainly represents a radical departure from Western academic science. However, modern consciousness research has generated challenges that go even farther. The most fundamental metaphysical insight reported by people who have experienced holotropic states of consciousness is the realization that the universe is not an autonomous system that has evolved as a result of mechanical interplay of material particles. Those individuals who have experienced to sufficient depth the dimensions of reality that are hidden to our everyday perception tend to undergo profound changes in their understanding of reality itself. They find it impossible to take


seriously the basic assumption of Western materialistic science that the history of the universe is nothing but the history of evolving matter. The idea that the universe, life, and consciousness could have developed without the participation of creative intelligence appears absurd, naïve, and untenable. This then leads naturally to the question about the existence and nature of the supreme principle in this universe, the ultimate creative force, or God.

As a result of powerful transpersonal experiences, the world-view of Westerners, regardless of their level of intelligence and educational background, typically shows a considerable shift in the direction of the cosmologies of various pre-industrial cultures. They might start seeing the universe as being ensouled in a way that is characteristic for cultures with animistic religions. This is based on the fact that experiences of conscious identification with animals, plants, and even inorganic materials and processes are a common occurrence in holotropic states of consciousness. These experiences are extremely authentic and convincing and can bring new information about the phenomena the person identifies with. In principle, everything that in everyday life can be experienced as an object, has in a holotropic states of consciousness a corresponding subjective counterpart.

Another important category of transpersonal experiences involves the mythological dimensions of the collective unconscious and profound encounters with various archetypal beings. Sometimes these figures appear in the form of generalized divine or demonic personages representing various universal roles, such as the images of the Great Mother, the Terrible Mother, the Wise Old Man, Death, the Trickster, Anima, or Animus. Other times, they assume concrete forms of deities from pantheons related to specific geographical areas, historical periods, and cultures.

Many subjects reported, for example, visions of personified images of the Christian God sitting on a throne surrounded by hosts of angels, Virgin Mary with the Divine Child, Jesus on the cross, Satan crushing the souls, or the punishing god Yahwe of the Old Testament. Others encountered the Nordic gods Wotan and Thor, or the Greek deities Zeus, Aphrodite, Apollo, Pluto, Dionysus, and Chronos. The Indian pantheon was


represented by Shiva, Kali, Ganesha, Krishna, Lakshmi, Buddha, and by various Boddhisattvas. On occasion, the experiences featured various Egyptian gods, such as the Great Mother goddess Isis, the falcon-headed Horus, crocodile-headed Sebek, Ibis- headed Thot, jackal-headed Anubis, or the lioness-headed goddess Sekhmet. Others described encounters with Pre-Columbian gods, such as Quetzalcoatl, Huitzilopochtli, and Coatlicue or deities of various preliterate cultures from Africa, South America, North America, and Polynesia.

The encounters with these archetypal figures were typically extremely powerful and impressive. They were usually accompanied by extremely intense emotions ranging from ecstatic rapture to paralyzing metaphysical terror. Depending on their nature, these divine figures were usually viewed with great awe and respect, as beings that belong to a superior order and are endowed with extraordinary energies and power. In this sense, the experiencers of these states shared the attitude of many pre-industrial cultures that have believed in the existence of divine beings who govern and control the plane of material existence. A fascinating aspect of these experiences was that - like other transpersonal phenomena - they often brought new and amazingly detailed information about these beings and realms that was independent of the subjects' racial, cultural, and educational background and previous intellectual knowledge of the respective mythologies.

The Cosmic Creative Principle or God.

However powerful and shattering were these archetypal appearances, they were not associated with a sense of encounter with the supreme principle in the universe and with the feeling of full understanding of existence. These deities themselves appeared to be creations of a higher power that transcended them. Even an anthropomorphic figure of the Cosmic Demiurg (savikalpa samadhi) usually is not experienced as the ultimate. I therefore searched in the reports of the people I had worked with for experiences that were perceived as the ultimate, as the farthest reaches of consciousness and the human spirit. On those occasions when these individuals felt that they had experienced the Absolute, fully satisfied their spiritual longing, and attained the goal of their philosophical quest, they had no concrete figurative images.


The descriptions of the supreme principle were highly abstract and strikingly similar. The individuals who experienced this ultimate revelation showed quite remarkable agreement while describing the experiential characteristics of this extraordinary state. They reported that it transcended all the rational categories, limitations of the analytical mind, and constraints of Aristotelian logic. The supreme cosmic principle seems to exist beyond space and time as we know it and contains in an inseparable amalgam all conceivable polarities. Although it is typically described as resembling in some sense a radiant source of light of unimaginable intensity, it differs in some significant aspects from any forms of light that we know from everyday life. It is an immense and unfathomable conscious entity endowed with infinite intelligence and creative power.

The supreme creative principle can be experienced in two different ways. Sometimes, it is possible to maintain a sense of separate identity and play the role of an astonished observer witnessing the mysterium tremendum of existence. Other times, all personal boundaries dissolve or are drastically obliterated and one merges with the divine source and becomes indistinguishable from it. People who had the privilege of this experience realize that what they encountered is in our daily life referred to as God, but for most of them this term seemed too trivialized and discredited by mainstream religions to be appropriate for what had happened to them. Similarly, the names like Absolute Consciousness or Universal Mind that are often used to describe this experience are hopelessly inadequate to convey the immensity of such an encounter.

The supreme principle can be directly experienced in holotropic states of consciousness, but eludes any attempts at description or explanation in terms of everyday reality and of the language we use to communicate about matters of daily life. All those who had this experience seem to agree that it is ineffable and that words and the very structure of our language are painfully inappropriate tools to describe its nature and dimensions to those who have not had it.

Identification with Absolute Consciousness is not the only way to experience the supreme principle in the cosmos or ultimate reality. There exists another type of


experience that seems to satisfy the seekers who search for ultimate answers. It is the identification with the Supracosmic and Metacosmic Void. The terms supracosmic and metacosmic used in this context by educated individuals who had this experience refer to the fact that this primordial emptiness and nothingness appears to be both underlying the phenomenal world as we know it from our usual states of consciousness and supraordinated to it. The Void transcends time and space, it is absolutely unchangeable, and lies beyond all dichotomies and polarities, such as light and darkness, good and evil, stability and motion, microcosm and macrocosm, agony and ecstasy, singularity and plurality, form and emptiness, and even existence and non-existence.

In a strange and paradoxical way, the Void seems to represent the source of all existence and yet, at the same time, contain all of creation in itself. While the Void does not contain anything in a concrete form, it seems to contain all of existence in a potential form. This metaphysical vacuum pregnant with potential for everything there is appears to be the cradle of all being, the ultimate source of existence. Creation of phenomenal worlds is then realization and concretization of its pre-existing potentialities. In this paradoxical way, the usual dichotomy between emptiness and form, or existence and non- existence is transcended. However, the possibility of such a resolution cannot be adequately conveyed in words; it has to be experienced to be understood.

Such experiences involve transcendence of the concept of linear causality and of the law of conservation of energy that appear mandatory in our usual states of consciousness. Since on this level the material world is seen as an expression of Absolute Consciousness and the latter, in turn, appears to be interchangeable with the Void, transcendental experiences of this kind provide an unexpected solution for some of the formidable problems and paradoxes that beset the rational mind. The baffling cosmogenetic enigmas of the origin of the interchangeable dyad energy-matter, of three- dimensional space, and of linear time disappear on this level as if by magic. Echoing ancient Buddhist texts, this experience conveys the fundamental truth about existence:

"Form is emptiness and emptiness is form."


Similarly, the problems of the original cause and of the Prime Mover that plague theoreticians speculating about the origin of a mechanistic material universe are eliminated from the cosmic scheme. The subject who experiences the transition from the Void to Absolute Consciousness or vice versa does not have the feeling of absurdity that he or she would have in the usual state of consciousness while considering the possibility of something originating out of nothing and then again disappearing into nothingness without traces. On the contrary, there is a sense of self-evidence, simplicity, and naturalness about this process, accompanied with the feeling of sudden clarification or 'AHA' reaction. However, this sense of ultimate understanding sharply contrasts with the inability to communicate such illuminating insights in our everyday language.

Any descriptions and definitions depend on the use of words and are thus severely limited by the restrictions of the vocabulary that has been developed to denote phenomena of the material world as it is experienced in constricted states of consciousness. For this reason, ordinary language is totally inappropriate for communication about transcendental realities and about experiences encountered in various non-ordinary states. Educated individuals familiar with the Eastern spiritual philosophies, often resorted to Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese, or Japanese terms when describing their spiritual experiences and insights. They were using expressions like samadhi, sunyata, Kundalini, bardo, nirvana, anatta, satori, kensho, chi (ki), and Tao for high transcendental states or, conversely, samsara, maya, avidya, and the like when referring to everyday reality. The Oriental languages were developed in cultures with high sophistication in regard to spiritual practice and holotropic states of consciousness and contain many words specifically describing nuances of the experiences and mechanisms involved. Ultimately, even these words can be fully understood only by those who had the corresponding experiences.

Others suggested that the language of poets, although still a highly imperfect tool for expressing the essence of ultimate realities, seems to be more adequate and appropriate for this purpose. They could suddenly understand why so many of the great visionaries and religious teachers resorted to poetry while sharing their metaphysical insights. These people often recalled and quoted passages from transcendental poetry and


reported that previously puzzling or even incomprehensible parts of such texts seemed to be illumined with new meaning and became lucid and intelligible. The poets who were most frequently quoted in this context were the Middle Eastern mystics Omar Khayyam, Rumi, and Kahlil Jibran, and the Indian visionaries Kabir, princess Mira Bai, Sri Ramana Maharshi, Rabindranath Tagore, and Sri Aurobindo. From Western literature, the poets who were often mentioned were William Blake, Rainer Maria Rilke, D.H. Lawrence, and William Butler Yeates.

Tat Tvam Asi: Discovery of One's Divine Nature.

In systematic self-exploration using holotropic states of consciousness, we repeatedly transcend the ordinary boundaries of the body-ego and identify with other people, animals, plants, or even inorganic aspects of nature and also with various archetypal beings. We discover in this process that any boundaries in the material universe and in all the other realities are ultimately arbitrary and negotiable. By shedding the limitations of the rational mind and the strait-jacket of Aristotelian logic, we can break through the many separating barriers, expand our consciousness to unimaginable proportions, and eventually experience the union and identity with the transcendental source of all being.

An important consequence of such experiential identification with the supreme creative principle in the universe is the recognition of our divine nature. We realize that our own being is ultimately commensurate with the entire cosmic network, with all of existence. This is succinctly expressed in the famous statement found in the ancient Indian scriptures, the Upanishads: "Tat tvam asi" (literally "Thou are That", meaning "you are of divine nature", or "you are Godhead"). It suggests that our everyday identification with the embodied consciousness (jiva or namarupa) is an illusion and that our true nature is that of divine creative energy (Atman-Brahman).

In this context, the experiencer's ego, his or her usual state of consciousness, and the experience and concept of the material world, or 'objective reality', in all its complexity appear to be nothing but playful products of the cosmic creative principle. They represent only one of an infinite number of modes in which it can manifest and


experience itself. The Newtonian world of solid matter, three- dimensional space, linear time, and unrelenting causality, as we experience them in our ordinary states of consciousness, appear in this context as partial and rather limited manifestations of the overall consciousness of the Universal Mind.

In the last analysis, the material world of our everyday life, including our own body, is nothing but an infinitely sophisticated "virtual reality", a divine play created by Absolute Consciousness/ Cosmic Void. Since there are ultimately no boundaries between the individual psyche of each of us and any part of creation, including the cosmic creative principle itself, we are, in a sense, collectively, and each of us individually both the playwrights and actors in this cosmic drama. These experiences of identification with the cosmic creative principle are often accompanied with profound insights, concerning the nature and dynamics of this divine play, that the Hindus call lila.

The study of holotropic states of consciousness conducted since the mid-1950s has shown without any doubt that the infinitely rich phenomenology of the transpersonal domain of the psyche, including the historical and archetypal collective unconscious, complete record of the evolution of species, as well as the history of the cosmos and the solar system, cannot be adequately explained as a product of a pathological process or as constructs derived from our experiences in the material world. A full description of reality thus has to include both the secular and the sacred domains as equally ontologically real (or equally unreal) complementary aspects of existence. Without the recognition of the numinous dimensions of the human psyche and of the universal scheme of things our worldview will remain incomplete, incomprehensible, and unsatisfactory.


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