Version 2.00 of book now available

Version 2.00 of My Enlightenment Delusion is a 217-page, 60,000-word book that was completed in December 2017 and contains the original material in Version 1.00 plus 7 additional chapters.

  • Chapter 13 contains a comparison of epileptic religiosity with kundalini crises and mania.
  • Chapter 21 juxtaposes spiritual experiences, psychedelic experiences, mania, near death experiences, and G-force induced loss of consciousness.
  • Chapter 22 discusses Robert Forman’s book Enlightenment Ain’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be and the unrealistic, rosy picture that enlightenment brings an end to all suffering.
  • Chapter 23 is devoted to looking at the disquieting aspects in the lives of Suzanne Segal, Ramana Maharshi, and Gopi Krishna who are all departed but continue to inspire many spiritual seekers.
  • Chapter 24 thoroughly describes the enlightenment experiences of 22 individuals and then offers a critique of their experience.

The book can be purchased on the Amazon website by going to https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XS55JKC/.

The Kindle version is $2.99 (or free if you are a member of Kindle Unlimited). The paperback version is $6.99.

Extraordinary Mental Shifts

“Extraordinary Mental Shift” (EMS) is a new phrase and acronym that I am coining that refers to all kinds of significant mental changes that could either be temporary or long-lasting.  I chose “Extraordinary Mental Shift” rather than “altered states of consciousness” because it seems like a neutral way to label an experience.

An Extraordinary Mental Shift can be good, or it could be bad, or it could be a mixture of both good and bad. Not everyone will have the same opinion on particular EMS’s.

A person who has had an EMS may feel wonderful and ecstatic, but friends and family might worry that the person went crazy or is at risk of making unwise decisions. A shift from depression to wellbeing is good, but if the shift also included a grandiose delusion, it would be a mixture of both good and bad.

Some EMS’s have almost universal acceptance as being totally good and healthy such as a runner’s high, a natural high while experiencing nature, being moved by listening to music or performing music, and sexual excitement. Some EMS’s which most people consider to be bad are: being drunk on alcohol, paranoia, mania,

Some examples of EMS’s for which people have different opinions include: awakening shifts, kundalini crises, spiritual emergencies, oceanic feeling, religious conversion, mania, depersonalization, psychedelic trips, and religious ecstasy.

Humans have a natural tendency to want to feel good or to feel great or to feel ecstatic; in software terms this natural tendency could be described both as a feature and as a bug; this natural tendency motivates progress, but also negative actions like impractical decisions and addictive behaviors.

People could purposely have EMS’s (as in religion, drugs, and vision quests) or accidentally have EMS’s (as in trauma, near death experiences, and psychosis).

 Religion-induced EMS

Here are some religious things that people do purposely in order to elicit EMS’s: prayer, group prayer, meditation, group meditation, rituals, dancing, pranayama, hatha yoga, worship, bhakti yoga, shaktipat, darshan, singing, chanting, listening to music, story-telling, religious study, self-inquiry, and ascetic practices.

Sidebar: The followers of religions can be broken down into moderate followers and gung ho followers. The moderate followers are mainly immersed in practical activities of living. The gung ho followers have a proclivity for religious practices and are willing to go to extremes to realize the goals of their religion.

I suspect that the gung ho followers of religions and spiritual movements are aiming for a different set of experiences than the moderate followers of religions and spiritual movements.

I think that the religious scholars who accept the theory of Perennialism are correct in that the foundation for all religions is/was the same (or similar) experience. However, unlike Perennialists, I am skeptical that any religion has correct knowledge about the significance of Pure Consciousness Events, awakenings, and other experiences.

With the passage of time, all religions develop sects which disagree with each other on significant tenets. Dogma, rules, and a huge mishmash of spiritual literature have seemed to overtake the original emphasis on experience. I don’t lament that the original emphasis on experience has been obscured. Rather, I lament that the original understanding of religious experience was probably wrong and that religion leads people down a road of mixed good and bad effects towards a mirage.

Armed with a theology of spiritual goals and having had some EMS’s, some gung ho followers will go to the ends of the earth to reach a spiritual goal. Having an EMS in a group prayer/meditation or in the presence of a guru/luminary further encourages spiritual desires and actions. My suspicion is that there is a radiance effect (or contagious effect) from being around spiritual people, but that radiance has a mixture of good and bad effects.

There are some significant benefits of religious and spiritual experiences that include understanding the nature of life, escape from depression and other bad mental states, experiences of love and wonder, and an optimistic view for the future in that everything will be as it should be.

Despite the benefits of spiritual EMS’s, here are some of my skeptical observations and opinions:

  • There are troubling similarities between spiritual experiences and the experiences of mania, epilepsy, and hallucinogenic drugs.
  • Very few gung ho aspirants reach the “promised land”
  • Some spiritual seekers are harmed in numerous ways
  • The benefits of enlightenment and other spiritual goals are ill-defined
  • Many of those who think they reached the goal(s) report that they had years of virtual hell on the path and that it took years to stabilize and adapt to their ultimate EMS
  • It seems unwise to live life relying on the theories (and supposed experiences) of reincarnation, kundalini, God/gods, angels, devas, and Oneness.
  • The spiritual movements that cause followers to have some EMS’s also furnish followers with a lot of hype, a lot of intellectual gymnastics, and a lot of the “blind leading the blind”.

In the future, there will probably be physiological explanations for those EMS’s that are also described as awakenings. Here is one preliminary attempt to explain some spiritual experiences that comes from Neural Substrates of Religious Experience by Jeffrey L. Saver, M.D. and John Rabin, M.D.:

“The core qualities of religious and mystical experience, assented to by a wide variety of psychologists of religion, are the noetic and the ineffable-the sense of having touched the ultimate ground of reality and the sense of the unutterability or incommunicability of the experience. Frequent additional features are an experience of unity, an experience of timelessness and spacelessness, and a feeling of positive affect, of peace and joy. We suggest that the primary substrate for this experience is the limbic system. Temporolimbic epileptic discharges can produce each of these components in fragmentary or complete form: distancing from apparent reality (depersonalization, derealization), timelessness and spacelessness (autoscopy, time distortion), or positive affect (ecstatic auras).”

Sidebar: One fairly-common symptom of spiritual awakenings is that one feels detached from one’s body and one’s mental processes, and consequently one feels like an outside observer of one’s life. Transpersonal psychologists, (psychologists who have integrated spirituality and psychology), successfully advocated to change the definition of depersonalization in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) so that depersonalization is only considered a psychosis if the symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in life functioning. See the webpage at   http://traumadissociation.com/depersonalization. Elena Bezzubova, Ph.D., who is a psychoanalyst, writes about depersonalization and the complicating factor of having a philosophical bent at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-search-self/201610/depersonalization-philosophical-awareness .

Hallucinogens, psychedelics, and drug-induced EMS

Alcohol is probably the most used drug to cause EMS’s. Here are the first 3 sentences on alcohol from Wikipedia:Alcohol, also known by its chemical name ethanol, is a psychoactive substance or drug which is present as the active ingredient in alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, and distilled spirits (hard liquor). It is one of the oldest and most common recreational substances, causing the characteristic effects of alcohol intoxication or “drunkenness”. Among other effects, alcohol produces mood lift and euphoria, decreased anxiety, increased sociability, sedation, impairment of cognitive, memory, motor, and sensory function, and generalized depression of central nervous system function.”

Wikipedia’s definition of hallucinogen: “A hallucinogen is a psychoactive agent which can cause hallucinations, perceptual anomalies, and other substantial subjective changes in thoughts, emotion, and consciousness.”

Hallucinogens cause seemingly real sensory experiences that don’t exist outside the mind. However, it would be difficult to convince some people that their drug trips were unreal; in fact, some people state that their drug-induced experiences gave them insights into life which were life-transforming.

The first 2 paragraphs from Wikipedia on Psychedelic drug:

“Psychedelics are a class of hallucinogen, and are substances whose primary action is to alter cognition and perception, typically as serotonin receptor agonists, causing thought and visual/auditory changes, and heightened state of consciousness. Major psychedelic drugs include mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT. Studies show that psychedelics are physiologically safe and do not lead to addiction. In fact, two studies conducted using psilocybin in a psychotherapeutic setting reveal that psychedelic drugs may assist with treating alcohol and nicotine addiction.

Differing with other psychoactive drugs, such as stimulants and opioids, psychedelics tend to qualitatively alter ordinary conscious experience. Whereas stimulants cause energized feelings and opioids produce a relaxed euphoric state, the psychedelic experience is often compared to non-ordinary forms of consciousness such as trance, meditation, yoga, religious ecstasy, dreaming and even near-death experiences. Most psychedelic drugs fall into one of the three families of chemical compounds: tryptamines, phenethylamines, or lysergamides.”

Wikipedia states on dissociatives: Dissociatives are a class of hallucinogen, which distort perceptions of sight and sound and produce feelings of detachment – dissociation – from the environment and self. . . . “Perhaps the most significant subjective differences between dissociatives and the classical hallucinogens (such as LSD and mescaline) are the dissociative effects, including: depersonalization, the feeling of being unreal, disconnected from one’s self, or unable to control one’s actions; and derealization, the feeling that the outside world is unreal or that one is dreaming.”

Dissociative drugs that are used recreationally include phencyclidine (PCP or angel dust), nitrous oxide (laughing gas), and ketamine (an anesthetic drug).

One of the arguments for using hallucinogens is that they provide the same kind of insights and experiences that otherwise would probably take years of dedicated spiritual practice. Recent scientific trials using hallucinogens have shown some promise in helping psychoses such as suicidal ideation.

On the down side, there are mental and physical risks to taking drugs. I would add that even if a drug causes a beneficial EMS, there is a side-effect risk to being influenced by an EMS that is not real/true.

Hallucinogens and psychedelics have been declared illegal in many parts of the world. Some religious authorities and gurus disrespect psychedelic experiences as either being unreal experiences, dangerous experiences, or ill-conceived shortcuts to genuine spirituality. The spiritual master Meher Baba wrote, “If God can be found through the medium of any drug, God is not worthy of being God.”

Other activities done on purpose to cause EMS’s

For an experience to qualify as an EMS, it must be a significant shift from normal mental experience. Here are some other activities that cause EMS’s: massage, heat exposure, cold exposure, exercise, outdoor nature experiences, sexual activity, and ASMR triggers (whispering, personal attention).

Things that cause EMS’s accidentally

  • Near-Death Experiences from Wikipedia: “A near-death experience (NDE) is a personal experience associated with death or impending death. Such experiences may encompass a variety of sensations including detachment from the body, feelings of levitation, total serenity, security, warmth, the experience of absolute dissolution, and the presence of a light. NDEs are a recognized part of some transcendental and religious beliefs in an afterlife.”
  • G-force induced loss of consciousness (G-LOC) have some characteristics that are similar to near-death experiences. G-LOC is described in the Near-Death Experience page on Wikipedia:
    “These episodes are observed with fighter pilots experiencing very rapid and intense acceleration that result in lack of sufficient blood supply to the brain. Whinnery studied almost 1000 cases and noted how the experiences often involved “tunnel vision and bright lights, floating sensations, automatic movement, autoscopy, OBEs, not wanting to be disturbed, paralysis, vivid dreamlets of beautiful places, pleasurable sensations, psychological alterations of euphoria and dissociation, inclusion of friends and family, inclusion of prior memories and thoughts, the experience being very memorable (when it can be remembered), confabulation, and a strong urge to understand the experience. However, hypoxia-induced acceleration’s primary characteristics are “rythmic jerking of the limbs, compromised memory of events just prior to the onset of unconsciousness, tingling of extremities …” that are not observed during NDEs. Also G-LOC episodes do not feature life reviews, mystical experiences and “long-lasting transformational aftereffects”, although this may be due to the fact that subjects have no expectation of dying.”
  • Traumatic experiences are EMS’s that often lead to depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress syndrome, substance abuse, emotional detachment, and dissociation. Some people claim that trauma has led to awakening experiences; I have a blog post that has my opinion on awakening shifts caused by trauma.
  • High fever delirium and sleep deprivation are other unpleasant EMS’s.

Conclusion

Extraordinary Mental Shifts (EMS) are a part of life. They are often wonderful and have good effects. However, there are differences of opinion on whether some EMS’s are good, bad, or a mixture of good and bad.

I feel confident in stating that religion-induced EMS’s have a mixture of good and bad effects. I am skeptical that a state of enlightenment/salvation exists although I cannot completely rule out its possibility.

Thoughts on Ramana Maharshi

Shri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi lived from 1879 to 1950 in India. His family members were religious Hindus; an uncle had become a sannyasin, someone who renounces the world.

When 16 years old, he had an overwhelming spiritual experience in which a life force seemed to possess him, and his body became rigid. Later in life, he considered this experience to be sudden liberation. Two months later, he secretly slipped away from home to become a sannyasin.

In the first year of being a sannyasin, Ramana Maharshi was so deep in Samadhi that he was oblivious to the bites of vermin and pests. Saints and friends started to protect him and take care of him. He was so unaware of his body, that food had to be placed in his mouth or he would have died from starvation.

Over many years, spiritual seekers were attracted to being around Ramana Maharshi. In 1902, one follower published Ramana Maharshi’s answers to 14 questions that pertained to self-inquiry to “achieve the effortless awareness of being”. Many visitors started to come to see Ramana Maharshi and some became devotees. Ramana Maharshi used words sparingly, and a main means of instructions was just “silently sitting together” with his visitors.

In 1912, Ramana Maharshi had an epileptic fit in which his vision was impaired from a “bright white curtain”, his breathing was seizing, and his skin turned blue. Ramana later said that he occasionally had previous epileptic fits.

In the 1930’s, two books introduced the Western World to Ramana Maharshi. People were flocking to the ashram, and some people had to be prevented from trying to touch him. Ramana Maharshi considered trying to flee in order to live a life in solitude.

From 1948 to the time of his death in 1950, he had a cancerous growth on his arm for which he tried surgery and other remedies. Ramana Maharshi reportedly told a disciple, “Duraswami is crying because he thinks I am suffering agonies! My body is suffering but I am not suffering. When will he realise that I am not this body?”

Well-known gurus who were greatly influenced by Ramana Maharshi include: H.W.L. Poonja (Papaji), Mooji, Andrew Cohen, Gangaji, David Godman, Ramesh Balsekar, Robert Adams, Paul Brunton, Arthur Osborne, and Ethel Merston.

Here are my skeptical views of Ramana Maharshi and his spiritual path:

  • There were long periods of time in which he could not take care of his own safety and health which makes me wonder why people would want to emulate or follow him. In his first years of being a sannyasin, he was so deep in Samadhi that he was oblivious to the bites of vermin and ants. In one period of time, people put food in his mouth for fear that he would die from starvation.
  • Ramana Maharshi admitted to having occasional epileptic fits. His “sudden liberation” when he was 16 years old sounds like an epileptic fit. Some epileptics are known for their over-religious zeal. His obsessive behavior as a sannyasin and his intense mental life that he advocated seem similar to some characteristics of Geschwind syndrome. Also see my blog post on epilepsy and hyper-religiosity.
  • It appears that the devotees and visitors felt something when in the presence of Ramana Maharshi. They probably had an experience of powerful silence or some other extraordinary mental shift. Whatever emanated off Ramana Maharshi was somewhat contagious. It seems to me that Ramana Maharshi might have cultivated a mental illness through self-inquiry in conjunction with epilepsy. A skeptical point of view would postulate that the extraordinary mental shifts experienced by devotees and visitors contained a mixture of beneficial and deleterious effects. It would be difficult to decide whether the devotees’ preoccupation with a spiritual path (at the expense of practical living) or the actual results of spiritual practices had bigger adverse effects on their lives.
  • When on his deathbed fighting cancer, Ramana Maharshi would sometimes cry out in pain, but state that the pain did not touch his Self. He claimed to not have any body-consciousness, and therefore he did not feel pain even as his body suffered from cancer. A skeptic would notice the paradox that the same voice that spoke eloquently about self-inquiry and enlightenment was now screaming in pain. A skeptic would question whether the benefit of enlightenment was overstated or whether his understanding of enlightenment was just plain incorrect.
  • Even a skeptic would concede that Ramana Maharshi believed that he was Brahman, but a skeptic may think that that his inner subjective experience was a delusion.

 

22 enlightenment experiences and Point-Counterpoint

I present 22 enlightenment experiences and then offer arguments both for and against the existence of enlightenment. I am biased in that I doubt if a state of enlightenment exists, but I am willing to accept the possibility that enlightenment may be real.

I don’t want to make waves for anyone who is claiming to have had awakening shifts so I am referring to experiences without using names. Most of the stories mentioned below were gleaned from interviews on Rick Archer’s website Buddha at the Gas Pump. As far as I know, all 22 people are still living. At least six of them could be described as full-time gurus.

Enlightened #1 (E#1) was depressed often from early youth to 29 years of age and also had trouble with anxiety and fear. As a child he had suicidal ideation. In college, he studied philosophy, psychology, and literature; he had a scholarship to do post-graduate research at Cambridge University but dropped out soon after starting. When 29 years old, on one day he started to identify with consciousness instead of “the voice in the head”. He stood back from his thoughts and there was a separation. He decided, “The unhappy I was not me.” The next morning there was an underlying peace. The understanding of awakening was not there at first so he investigated numerous spiritual traditions to get the understanding. For several years he wandered around “in a state of deep bliss” and frequently spent time sitting on a park bench; one day somebody asked him a philosophical question which led others to also ask him questions; these park-bench-questions ultimately led to books, TV appearances, and seminars around the world. According to ABC newsman Dan Harris, E#1 is able to describe very deep incisive aspects of human experience but can quickly veer into Looney Town, and his statement that he never gets into a bad mood seems unbelievable.

Enlightened #2 had mystical experiences as a child; sometimes he would be walking around not knowing who he was, as if his identity dropped away and emptiness was looking through his eyeballs; he would feel incredible intimacy and oneness with his surroundings. These childhood experiences got stimulated in a new way when he started to meditate. While in his early 20’s, he had an intuition that he was going to die at 25 years of age. On one day when he was 25 years old, he was intensely trying to have a spiritual breakthrough, and he was meditating with all of his will, but instead of a breakthrough, he felt defeated and he felt that he should give up his spiritual search; however, immediately (at the moment of surrendering to defeat) he had a kundalini awakening and his heart began racing; then he thought his heart would explode and he was going to die; as he peacefully accepted this outcome, he went to an “infinity of black” and he felt that he was that “infinity of black”; then he had many insights coming so rapidly that he couldn’t differentiate between them or articulate what they were. After a while, the energy calmed down and he came out of meditation; then he started laughing hysterically about his chasing of enlightenment. For the next 5 years, he said that the ups and down were so intense (as he worked out emotional, ego, and spiritual issues) that he wouldn’t wish those experiences on his worst enemy. At 32 years of age he had another awakening that created a clear, stable state. He described awakenings as first being very vivid, but later the feeling of “Wow, look what I am realizing!” falls away and it is not such a big deal. He also admits that some seekers are spiritual shipwrecks who don’t have a full awakening and whose lives are damaged.

For 6 years after having an awakening shift of consciousness, the life of Enlightened #3 (E#3) was difficult as he avoided normal life pressures and lived penniless in the home of his sister. Later while he was visiting his guru, he was told: “If you desire to be one with truth, ‘you’ must completely disappear”, at first he felt anger and resistance to this statement from his guru, but later that day the anger lifted and he felt great peace, emptiness, and love towards the guru; he felt he was not the same identity as before; he was an immensity and there was a silence about everything. It was like he was in a vast universe, but he was also the universe. At a much later time, his eldest son died unexpectedly, and a couple of E#3’s elderly gurus died. In the recounting of his awakenings, he said that at one time even though he felt he was very humble, he still had to “puke out” a lot of arrogance before his realization became complete.

Starting at about 15 years of age, Enlightened #4 spent over 20 years in an all-out quest for enlightenment through the self-inquiry of Advaita (2) although he was able to make a living making art at the same time. While with a guru, he had a realization that sensations of experience did not occur in his mind or body, but rather in an open aware presence; that presence was awareness. This realization was at first only experiential before it became rationalized. Then he realized that all experience which used to seem to be outside of himself actually took place within him and the experiences were made out his Self. He said that knowingness or awareness pervades all experience, and it became clear to him that he was that awareness.

One day when Enlightened #5 was sitting on a small hill, the difference between what is me and what is not me disappeared; he said, “What is me was just spread all over the place.” Tears came to his eyes and every cell was bursting with ecstasy. He did not know what the experience was, but he didn’t want to lose it because it was the most beautiful thing. If he looked at the sky or at anything else, tears would come. He stopped telling people about his experience because tears would come while telling them. At that time, he was familiar with Western philosophy but did not know much yogic philosophy or knowledge; people thought he was having amazing Samadhi experiences and were pestering him so much with questions about spirituality/life that he wanted to get out of town. (E#5 has a following, but he has also been accused of being a charlatan and criminal.)

When about 5 years old, Enlightened #6 started seeing a “bubble of light” that surrounded his body. At about 8 or 9 years of age, he sometimes experienced intense energy and over-whelming happiness, and he discovered that walking/running for hours helped him to manage it. When in high school, he felt awake inside when going to bed at night, and he didn’t feel that he slept. He said, “I went through a lot of challenges for about two years – mental challenges, not physical. It’s very difficult for me to talk about that other than to say, I had a very challenging time for two years, and then, when I started meditating, doing TM, it disappeared overnight, all of that stuff.” After he started TM as a young adult, his experiences ramped up to intuiting, hearing, and seeing subtle levels of creation. He later became a successful artist and businessman, but for a couple years as a young “awakening man” his wife was needed to keep him going in the everyday realities of life.

Enlightened #7 is healer, yoga teacher, and counselor. She said she started seeking at a very early age. As an adult, she had a 9-year bout with a chronic, debilitating illness. She was involved with yoga, meditation, Tibetan medicine, massage, and philosophical inquiry. On the night before attending a Satsang, she was emotionally unsettled after having an intense discussion with her significant other. At the Satsang she shifted to “identifying with unbounded awareness”. Subsequent to the Satsang, she had a couple other shifts to greater unity, peace, and knowledge of God.

While on a 9-month TM teacher training course, Enlightened #8 started to witness sleep, dreaming, and waking. He described his reaction to witnessing as being “over-observant” to indicate that his relative self may have been somewhat involved in witnessing his sleep, dreaming, and waking. He started to have advanced spiritual experiences such as Hiranyagarhba and visions of Krishna and subtle entities. Hectic life activities of jobs, marriage, and children pushed his exuberance for spiritual progress to a back burner for many years, but when his life eventually slowed down, he attended Satsangs and spent time gaining yogic knowledge. He had a series of awakenings and considers himself to be in an advanced state of enlightenment. He cautions that when bliss kicks up, “you better hope that it doesn’t happen in public”. He said that he has memories from past lives which were mostly past traumas.

During an extremely traumatic experience when Enlightened #9 was 5 years old, she said that she was in deep silence separated from the horror. When working on an art project when she was 16 years old, she had a celestial experience that was so beautiful that she could hardly bear the ecstasy. She later had another celestial experience while riding on a bus which led to her being put in a mental hospital because she stayed on the bus far too long hoping to re-capture the experience. She practiced 2 kinds of meditation in her life and spent some time living in a spiritual community. She had an emotional trauma when her husband left; she said that it took 16 years to heal, but her colleagues were unaware of her suffering since they always thought of her as being unusually calm; she maintained the inner silence during this emotional time and described it as “watching this creature suffer”. She said a level of silence is always with her no matter what happens. From her awakening, she feels secure, and she feels that nature guides and protects her.

Enlightened #10 describes his childhood as hell due to having an alcoholic father and a mother who was in mental hospitals several times. As a child, he had some experiences of overpowering love. Once when he was deep in TM meditation, he was mildly concerned when he observed that he didn’t seem to be breathing; it occurred to him that it would be okay if he died at that moment because he had lived a good life; then he decided to “push it” by continuing his meditation even though he thought he may be dying; then he heard a loud noise, felt a vibration in every cell of body, and saw a bright explosion of light; then there was silence, nothingness, and infinite awareness; he said that prior to this meditation, he identified with the person that was born on his birthday, but after that meditation he realized that “ the I” was Being who had been mis-identified with his small self; he said, “Before I was in the world, but after this meditation the entire universe was in Me.” He said it took about 4-5 years to re-engage in the world and that it was challenging when he did not feel attachment to his wife, children, and all things. His awakening was difficult for his wife who left him. He said that his awakening led him to lose his fear of public speaking. He admits that he has brief experiences of depression.

Enlightened #11 said that he was philosophical at an early age and sometimes wondered, “Am I alive? Is this really happening?” He said that as a child he sometimes had terror attacks. As a young teenager, he accepted Christ and had a born again experience. He went on a church mission trip. Through business connections, he was convinced to start TM. After hearing about Cosmic Consciousness (CC), he expected to achieve CC soon, and he asked for CC in his prayers. At his first TM residence course, he started witnessing which lasted a couple weeks after the course, and then witnessing faded away before coming back again later. He said it was a profound joy having pure awareness under-girding everything; he was witnessing all experiences, even depression.

Enlightened #12 is a musician. He was fascinated with psychedelic drugs for about 5 years from 15 years of age to 20. While being a part of the TM movement, he was a strict adherent to doing his long, twice-a-day meditation program in a group that was assembled in the Golden Domes of Fairfield, Iowa. One day he walked into his house, and suddenly everything that he knew about himself was thrown up in the air, and he considered whether all of his previous knowing of himself was not true; it was as if the rug was pulled out from under him and challenged him to really think about who he really was. As time went on, he adjusted to knowing that he was pure consciousness. While knowing himself to be the silence of pure awareness while in activity, he had another profound shift in awareness in which “the edges of things seemed to disappear”; he later understood this to be the beginning of Unity Consciousness where he saw his inner unbounded value to also be in his experience of the outer world. He said that he thinks a lot about things and that he concludes that consciousness does the labeling of things and that which is labeled is also consciousness; he said that when a person realizes that “I am That” and “what I see is also That”, it is a major change. In a self-reflective mode of thinking, he realized that the “dark corners” that he didn’t like about himself were also consciousness, and that like them or not, he said, “They are Me”; when he realized that sadness and defeat were also “Me”, a sense of relief and acceptance followed which seemed to propel him into more awakenings to Silence; he accepts that the Silence is Me and that the other concepts of my individual self are also Me.

Enlightened #13 was interested in infinity as a child. She noticed that colors seemed brighter on her very first day of starting TM when she was 17 years old. After meditating for many years, her spiritual experiences dramatically increased after marrying a gung-ho TM meditator. She said that her experience inside meditation is the same as her experience outside meditation; she suggested that meditators who don’t know if they transcend in meditation might be having the silence of pure awareness along with thought. She has been surprised by quite a few experiences like experiencing the life of a fish while tasting fish and knowing the quality of other people’s lives from the sound of their voice. She has experienced celestial beings at times; she understands she couldn’t exist without the celestial beings and that the celestial beings could not exist without her.

Enlightened #14 avoids conversation about if he is enlightened, but he had a front row seat to two enlightened people. From 1973 to 1998, his life revolved around Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and he was in the inside circle of followers for most of those years. In 1998 when the number of TM initiations were way down, he was a successful TM teacher in the field, teaching far more people by lecturing and by referrals than other TM teachers. In 1998, he considered going back to Maharishi, but instead sought out another spiritual teacher. In an interview with Rick Archer of BATGAP.com, he said, “Some of the people who have the deepest, clearest, most fantastic spiritual experiences, can be outrageous narcissists, immoral bastards, and sometimes right out jerks.” He also said that spiritual

experiences often don’t last and often don’t lead to enlightenment.

Enlightened #15 studied to be an artist and has a successful career as an artist. He had some semi-witnessing experiences when young. He noticed that he would have witnessing experiences when reading philosophy. He endured a teenage trauma when a mentor was murdered and another trauma as a young adult when his 6-year old daughter died in a traffic accident; after taking a year or two to heal emotionally from his daughter’s death, he helped other parents to grieve and address the death of their children; he feels that his daughter’s death acted as a trampoline to lift him into spiritual development. During sleep one night, he had a dream in which he was initiated into a meditation technique, and he subsequently practiced that meditation for over a year. When meditating with his significant other (who was a hatha yoga instructor), he shocked both of them with a shaking kriya that he couldn’t stop for about 30 minutes. After that, all of his meditations had head swaying which he described as being pleasant. Not knowing if his kriyas were a good thing, he was led to start TM at the urging of his mother. After starting TM, a TM teacher saw his head movements and told him that he would evolve very fast and that he should take the TM-Sidhi course. Because he had a busy life, he just continued to do TM twice per day for 5 years and the kriyas of his head continued; he even noticed that while saying grace before a meal that his head would shake. Although at first he was somewhat skeptical and cynical of Maharishi and the TM movement, he noticed that the silence of meditation became more profound when he delved into Maharishi’s translation of the Bhagavad-Gita and other spiritual treatises; soon he became a flag-waving exponent for TM. At this time in his career as an artist, creativity was pouring out of him; he said that he disagrees somewhat from Maharishi’s statement that suffering isn’t necessary in order for artists to make outstanding art because there are so many examples in history of artists who used suffering to provide a profound ground for consciousness to express itself in an uplifting, powerful form of art. When he took the TM-Sidhi course, he said, “That was the end of me,” which alludes to an awakening in which “I ceased to exist as I had previously known myself”; while on the TM-Sidhi course even before learning the TM-Sidhi on levitation, kriyas had his body jerking all around; he was feeling the deconstruction of personality with every day that passed on the TM-Sidhi course and by the time the levitation sutra was given to him, he felt that he no longer knew who he was, and he was confused when discovering that Emptiness was at the core of his life. When first given the levitation sutra, he felt nauseous, he felt as if he was dying, he felt that he couldn’t take it anymore, then he visualized a 3-dimensional image of Maharishi which led him to stop worrying, and then he sensed a big ball of white light above his head, then it seemed like his body jumped into the ball of white light, then there was only being one with the white light with no “me” left; when this experienced waned, “I was apparently jumping all over the place and the TM-Sidhi administrator was preventing me from hopping into a metal radiator”. While having the ball of white light experience, he had no sensation of what his body was doing. Afterwards in a group meeting, his speech was impeded; it took quite a bit of time and effort for him to simply say that he had experienced something that had surpassed all of his previous experiences; as he was talking 3 ladies started laughing so hard hysterically that they were rolling around on the floor (which turned out to be some kind of release because these ladies started hopping during the TM-Sidhi program on the next day). After the TM-Sidhi course, his body jerked around with all kinds of kriyas as soon as he closed his eyes to meditate. A few weeks after the TM-Sidhi course, he was worried about flying on a plane because he couldn’t sit still on account of all kinds of kriyas. After some time had passed, he had a couple of other awakening experiences; one experience was a sensation of energy in his feet moving up to his neck upon which he heard a beautiful, ecstatic, flute-like sound that kept him in such elation for several days that he can’t remember doing anything other than listening to that beautiful sound; during another experience when laying down, he felt a fizzing-like sensation behind his eyes which led to a feeling that his forehead had been slashed and opened up which in turn led to an inner manifestation experience of an equilateral triangle that was pouring out light that subsequently and immediately become the universe; in this experience, he understood that the universe is eternally coming out of his own unbounded I-ness. It took a couple of days before he regained a normal awareness of his body, but then he had a strange reaction to the question of “Who am I?” Later he learned that he had experienced a total depersonalization such that the ego is completely gone. This was the beginning of a 5-year-long process of integrating That into his life, and it was not easy. Some of his friends felt he had gone crazy. He lost enthusiasm for life and felt that he was experiencing a déjà vu. His idea of free will was being rearranged.

The education and career of Enlightened #16 is in art. He had light and bliss as an infant. At about 14, he started to meditate and experienced bliss and energy moving up. At 17, he learned TM, and TM teachers did not know how to respond to his experiences of the “sizzling” of his crown chakra. At 19, he was meditating and had a longing for God who he assumed was Krishna; he saw a blue pearl in the center of a blue eye in his inner vision which was extremely blissful; he entered into the blue pearl which was an infinite space of blissful, blue consciousness; he knew that the blueness was pure Being which was his Self; he still had a longing for God and then saw Krishna (or some other blue being) in the Namaste hand gesture; he completely surrendered to Krishna and then he went unconscious. Afterwards when he opened his eyes, he had wild kriyas of heat, electrical shocks, and jerking for a couple of hours. Then he saw God in everything or pure existence in objects for about 6 months, but there was no witnessing. Then it faded out in a couple of years. After having this experience, he became a TM fanatic because he thought TM was responsible for the blue pearl experience. Later he took the TM-Sidhi course and had a chance to ask Maharishi over the phone about the blue being, but Maharishi ignored his question. He was curious about what the blue being was and its significance. After the great appreciation of God faded away, he became depressed when he was 23 years old. He then found another guru who was rather worldly since he had a wife and job, and since he ate meat and drank alcohol; on one of the meditation weeks with his new guru, he was working in the dining room when he had an urge to meditate; he went unconscious during the meditation, and when he woke up he had blissful crying as if some major release was occurring; when he told his guru about the experience, the guru asked him what his name and age was, but he couldn’t answer, and instead he started having flashbacks to previous incarnations; he temporarily lost all identification with his personal self, but the next morning his personal identity was back. Then he had some very tough years with depression, with life being meaningless and with no reason to live; psychoanalysis did not help him. He learned that his spiritual energy was contagious in group meditations in that others had kriyas and experiences of love. Over a span of about 15 years, he completed his education and attended Satsangs with a couple other gurus. Then he used 4 months to one-pointedly meditate for 6 hours per day; on the last day he felt kundalini energy go up into his brain. Then he had violent kriyas with electric shocks; he found that these kriyas were also contagious to others in group meditations. He stopped meditating, but he still had Shakti running up his spine. After receiving “shaktipat in absentia” from a guru, his kriyas ended, and he could re-begin meditation. Depression was pretty much gone at this time. He saw the Self in everything, but at first there was no bliss and it was vague. As a couple days and weeks passed, it became more clear, and bliss started to erupt in the body. He said that he has been in this state for the last 6 years (up to the time when the interview was recorded). He said that although bliss goes up and down, there is always a baseline of bliss.

Enlightened #17 is married with 2 children, and he has experienced the ups and downs of life as a businessman. He was very active in the culture of the TM movement besides having a very active interest in psychology, philosophy, and religion. After practicing TM for 25 years, one day he was driving his car while was bemoaning the fact that he wasn’t enlightened yet; he decided to try the advice from a professional motivator that if he didn’t feel free to ask himself if he could let go of the thought that “I am not free”; when he let go of the thought “I am not enlightened and therefore not free”, suddenly a cone of silence came down upon him; this was his first major awakening and that silence has never left him since that moment; within minutes of the cone of silence and after realizing that he had probably just been enlightened, he also realized that he still didn’t have the power of Maharishi or Ammachi, so he wondered what would happen if he let go of the thought that he didn’t have the same power as they had; immediately after having that thought, he seemed to go even deeper in the silence, and as he was in that silence, all of creation started to pour out of that silence with all the gods coming out first, then masters like Maharishi and Ammachi, and then quite a bit later all of creation appeared. After this awakening, he describes his next 2 or 3 weeks as having a “loud silence”, but then it became normal. He said that enlightenment is not a way to escape from feelings, but he did notice that feelings did not hook him the way they used to and that feelings don’t last as long as they used to. He said the backdrop of his life is bliss and out away from that backdrop is the activity of life that has many ups and downs. His witnessing of sleep was crystal clear for a few weeks, but after a while he said he didn’t care if he was witnessing sleep, and he no longer bothered to notice if the Silence was there in sleep. He said that I have been blessed with many spiritual experiences, but it is always a battle with pride to deal with the thought that “I am so spiritual” or when conveying spiritual experiences other to think “I am so cool”.

Enlightened #18 is involved with dance and alternative healing. She had her own dance company while in high school, but she said that she was extremely emotionally disturbed which led to a nervous breakdown. Her spiritual awakening occurred after about 10 or 11 years of TM, but she is unsure if she had some mild awakenings prior to that. She had devoted 2 years to doing long meditation programs, and during this time she had some volatile emotions such as being angry, upset, sad, fearful, anxious, and prone to crying. She met someone who helped her work on things that were going on emotionally for her. She said that with spiritual development you seem to grow to a point, and then you have to surrender and let go of something; if you are ready, this leads to something really cool happening. Her spiritual awakening occurred after she had cut back on the length of her meditation; she had a shift in attitude during one meditation in that she didn’t care anymore and in that things didn’t have to be a certain way; and this attitude shift led to waves of bliss; then she had a visualization of Maharishi and Guru Dev, then she saw a celestial gold light and celestial pink light and lotuses; and then she felt like a huge weight was lifted of her physiology so she felt lighter, healthier, and more energetic; she felt unbounded, and she worried that it may go away, but it never did. When her eyes are open now, she said she knows herself to be more than her body, but when her eyes are closed she feels like she is God or a goddess; when she closes her eyes the center of the universe is right in front of her or in her heart. She said that she has briefly had the feeling that she doesn’t exist as a person, but that it didn’t affect her ability to function in the world and that she believes that this is just a transitory stage to higher states of consciousness. She has had a number of awakenings and expects that her experience will continue to grow and integrate into her life. She said that she got to her awakening by confronting her emotions and feelings, and it was hard.

Enlightened #19 had a high stress job, was a 4 pack per day smoker, and regularly drank hard liquor. He started TM in 1973, immediately gave up hard liquor, and stopped smoking 18 months later. He started the TM-Sidhi program in 1980. In a 1983 car accident, he experienced white light in a near death experience. After having a deep experience at a TM center, he said that he heard people’s thoughts, but at the time he did not consider that he had been enlightened. While attending a Natural Law Party convention in 1996, he had an awakening in which it felt that all of his emotional stresses were lifted which caused tears; later the tears turned to spells of laughter which lasted for 2 days; then when he looked into his heart (which used to have so many stresses), he saw the world; in the next day, he saw the whole creation in his heart but he still did not consider himself to be enlightened. After moving to Fairfield, Iowa in 1999, he discovered that different spiritual teachers and healers who came to town  were helpful to him; he appreciated videos discussing awakenings, and he especially appreciated confirmation of his awakening from real live people; these programs helped him realize that he himself was consciousness and that everything else was a manifestation of consciousness; he also realized that he had been awake for some time, but didn’t have the knowledge to understand his experience. He said the good news about an awakening is that you are awake, but the bad news is you are starting at the kindergarten level and have a lot to learn since the concepts of who you think you are no longer true. Some of his experiences were so beautiful that it was almost too much to bear, but he said the body acclimates to it so what was once a flashy experience is integrated into normal life. He said that an awakening is just another thing you acclimate to.

In 1976, Enlightened #20 was unhappy, smoking, and drinking during his first year of graduate school. Then he started TM, but he said he was still caught up in the world. A few years later he started the TM-Sidhi program but still had some old habits. In the 1990’s, he thought he needed to develop some qualities of the heart so he visited some other spiritual teachers and techniques; he felt good when attending retreats, but the benefits faded when he left the retreats. After 30 years of seeking, silence seemed to stick around all the time, and a Satsang group helped him to recognize the silence that was there. Paradoxically, it appeared that life was still the same as it was before but also completely different at the same time. He noticed that he still had all of his foibles such as a poor reaction to criticism and being upset by things, but he noticed he could be attached to the silence which was always there. Then when he found some spiritual practices that helped him to address his foibles, he noticed that his relationship to the silence changed in that his awareness found it enjoyable to rest in the silence and become identified with the silence. In the 1990’s he became involved with at least 3 well-known gurus. He said the gift of silence helps him get along better with people because he has a settled mind that is ready to listen. He feels that God is taking care of him and that life is positioning things for his benefit.

Enlightened #21 said that he is enlightened but also just an ordinary person and that he is not promoting any books, a website, or anything else; he likes to go to the baseball games of the New York Yankees. As a child, he was aware of a vast stillness each night when he closed his eyes and laid down for sleep. When he was in the army, he remembers having had a witnessing experience when performing his job as a photographer in front of two 4-star generals. After getting out of the army, he opened a photography business, but he smoked marijuana every day for about a year. In an attempt to get away from marijuana, he tried hatha yoga and meditation from a book. In 1972, he started TM and had such pleasant and beautiful experiences that he went to TM teacher training about 7 months later. He noticed that things didn’t bother him anymore and that he and his wife would often say that things don’t matter anymore. He taught TM until 1976, but decided he should get a job since he was only making about $25/month teaching TM, and he had a baby on the way, but his circumstances allowed him to take a 6-month advanced teacher training for TM teachers before getting a job. On the 6-month course he started witnessing after opening a box of Rudraksha beads. He describes witnessing as being a change of point of view such that stillness is experienced inside and outside is relative life going on; you step back from your normal position of experience to just watch what is going on; however, during this 6-month course instead of identifying with the silence, he felt that his individual self was aware of both silence and activity; this type of witnessing lasted about 3 years, but did not include witnessing of sleep. For the next 8 to 12 years he continued to meditate regularly while he was involved in job and family, but witnessing faded away except when he consciously brought it back. Because the TM movement strongly discouraged seeing other gurus, he hesitantly went to a meeting in 1999 with another spiritual teacher who was recommended by friends; at his first meeting, he immediately went into a very deep silence in which the world seemed to drop away; for 2 or 3 years, he kept seeing this spiritual teacher until he decided to drop all gurus and just be on his own; during this period of time in his life, he and a friend exchanged numerous emails describing their spiritual experiences. One day in 2002 as he was staring at a tree, he came to accept that he would never understand witnessing so he should let it go; when he let it go, then he shifted from his old style of witnessing where he was watching the silence and watching the mind to realizing that “I am that silence”; he explained that it used to seem like the “small me” (where thought existed previously) wanted to own both silence and mental activity, and that was uncomfortable; the “small me” then decided it wasn’t going do that anymore so the small, personal self faded away; he said the old style of witnessing was boring and flat, without much happiness. After the Self was realized in 2002, his subsequent changes in life have to do with perception and how the mind and body react to life. He describes his subjective experience of thinking, decision-making, and activity as happening by themselves; the impulse to thinking and activity seem to arise without individual will. Everything is going on by itself, things are happening as necessary, and there is an experience of peace.

After Enlightened #22 had her consciousness awakening she said “her mind was gone” for months and she had all kinds of light experiences, but then her mind came back with a vengeance. Since her spiritual teacher didn’t know how to help her, she went to India to be with Papaji where she experienced extreme peace at times and more phenomenal experiences, but also doubts and self-loathing. She didn’t feel that proponents of Advaitist teaching were taking her unpleasant experiences in relative reality seriously. She came back to America from India very sick, and she was mostly bed-ridden for 18 months with back pain and other issues, and she didn’t care if she died; she decided to deal with her mental and physical pain instead of trying to dismiss it by thinking it didn’t touch her as some Advaitists think. She said that some aspirants do spiritual techniques to get away from pain thinking that identifying with consciousness would get them out of pain; she wonders what people are trying to push away who claim that there is no small self. She adds that if Advaitists are trying to push something away, then even they have duality. She now believes that besides realizing the divine Self, spiritual teachings need to account for and make space for being human. She became a leader in the Trillium Awakening movement which recognizes that humans are finite embodiments of infinite consciousness; some people in Trillium Awakening feel that the knowledge of enlightenment in the 21st Century has evolved beyond what ancient yogis knew.

PointCounterpoint

Each of the next paragraphs has a topic, a point of view from a Believer in enlightenment, and then a counterpoint of view from a Skeptic of enlightenment.

More and more people are becoming enlightened although it is still relatively rare. Believer: There are many stories of enlightenment on the internet which provide evidence that a state of enlightenment does exist and that enlightenment is attainable. Skeptic: 1. If a state of enlightenment does exist, and only a few ever attain it from the tens of millions who start the spiritual path, then the likelihood of enlightenment is dismal for most people. 2. There are untold stories of people who quit the journey due to harmful effects or lack of benefits. There are untold stories of spiritual shipwrecks who are the people who continue to arrange their lives for an all-out effort to reach enlightenment. The stories and legends of enlightened people who eventually overcame suffering provide false hope to seekers (who may or may not be in a spiritual crisis) to increase efforts (beyond reasonable) to reach enlightenment.

Different people have similar experiences of enlightenment. Believer: 1. Different spiritual seekers and even some non-seekers have remarkably similar experiences of enlightenment, and this is evidence that a state of enlightenment does exist. 2. The human nervous system acts like an instrument in a scientific experiment to verify the experiences and knowledge of enlightenment. Skeptic: 1. The experiences of seekers may be similar because everyone has been influenced from hearing spiritual discourse and previous enlightenment stories. Non-seekers having unexpected spiritual breakthroughs gravitate towards explanations that they are far along in the enlightenment process. 2. Even if conceding the point argued by Robert Forman that people are having some of the same mystical experiences all over the world regardless of their religion, there are still a wide variety of experiences which make it difficult to pinpoint what enlightenment is and what the stages of awakening are. 3. The experiences of enlightenment and psychotic episodes (like mania and depersonalization) are similar in many ways and might have the same underlying causes. 4. Even if the subjective experiences of samadhi and enlightenment are repeated by numerous people, the enlightenment theories that explain these experiences are open to debate.

Witnessing. Believer: 1. When the silence of the Self becomes awake, there is sense of separation between the Self and outer experience; when identifying with the Self it feels like one has taken a step back to witness outer experiences. 2. Witnessing sleep, which is maintaining silent inner awareness while sleeping, is a conclusive test for the development of Cosmic Consciousness. Skeptic: 1. The descriptions of witnessing vary from person to person, and some people have described witnessing as being unpleasant.   2. Some people who think they are witnessing sleep are probably not asleep and are mood-making. If someone has mental activity that “I am witnessing sleep”, they are not asleep. Some people who claim enlightenment imply that witnessing sleep is not a necessary aspect of enlightenment. Some people who claim enlightenment say that when they wake up in the morning, in retrospect they don’t feel that they were ever asleep.  3. Witnessing seems to be uncomfortably close to Depersonalization Disorder that is explained in the 2014 article entitled “Enlightenment’s Evil Twin at The Atlantic; a reader of that article wrote the following comment: “I have been completely from one end of the spectrum, spending long periods of time in a disassociated and derealized hell and very quickly bouncing to the other, obtaining moments of pure enlightenment and awe of the perfection of everything to the point of laughing and crying at the beauty of creation for hours. I have threaded the so, SO thin line between enlightenment and insanity my entire life, having spent periods of time at both extremes and constantly weaving between the two, often as an intellectual excessive with myself to find absolute truth but finding nothing but entirely subjective perceptions of the universe that I can change at my whim.

Enlightenment provides support from nature. Believer: Nature or God arranges things in life for the good of enlightened people. Skeptic: The lives of enlightened people are not perfect just as non-enlightened lives are not perfect. Everyone has good things and coincidences that happen in life, but some people interpret them as being caused by a special support of nature. If one has heard that nature celebrates the enlightened, then an enlightened person might even think that a fish that jumps out of the water is celebrating his/her enlightenment (which is what Matt Landing thought during his kundalini crisis).

Overwhelming spiritual experiences. Believer: It is understandable and worthwhile that preliminary and secondary experiences of enlightenment may be so overwhelming that they adversely affect daily life for days, months, or years. Skeptic: Although overwhelming spiritual experiences may have a mixture of good and bad effects, the bad effects of delusions, overconfidence, and poor decision-making outweigh the benefits. It is a big deal that overwhelming spiritual experiences disrupt everyday responsibilities and activities. Some God-intoxicated people require caretakers. Here’s a link to a page on Kundalini crises that describes some overwhelming experiences.

Rough times adapting to enlightenment: Believer: The dark night of the soul and other hard times right before an awakening and right after an awakening are just adjustment periods in order to integrate to a new spiritual viewpoint. Skeptic: Some seekers and enlightened people have endured unpleasant times that have lasted from weeks to decades. Why do people choose to spend time and money to go after enlightenment while knowing about the hell that many enlightened people have experienced and the hell that some seekers have experienced?

Are the benefits of enlightenment exaggerated? Believer: 1. Humans are meant to be enlightened. 2. Enlightenment provides wonderful experiences of bliss, ecstasy, equanimity, mystical visions, and God. Enlightenment cannot be oversold. Skeptic: 1. If humans evolved from primordial life forms, it is difficult to see how humans are meant to be enlightened. There is no proof that a state of enlightenment exists. 2. Even some enlightened people state that the benefits of enlightenment are being oversold. Some enlightened people have stated that there are emotional issues and other foibles that need to be worked on after enlightenment. 

Pride and ego. Believer: The ego fades away completely (or almost completely) in the state of enlightenment, and the impulse to action comes from universal need (or Brahman or nature). Some enlightened people claim that they are Brahman and that there is no individual self. Skeptic: When watching so-called enlightened people, it seems obvious that they have pride and ego. Even some enlightened people have said that they have a continual battle with pride. Believing that one has achieved the difficult and rare state of enlightenment will make one feel special and great, and therefore it is not surprising that quite a few enlightened gurus willingly accept praise and adoration. Having followers or others who show respect can be a way to skyrocket pride, self-worth, and ego.

Enlightenment is a real experience, not a delusion. Believer: Human beings have a mind and nervous system that is capable of knowing, experiencing, and being the ultimate reality that underlies the illusory relative existence. Skeptic: 1. There is no way to prove the existence of Being. Even if there was a way to prove the existence of Being, there is still no way to prove that the inner subjective experience of silent awareness is actually the experience of Being. 2. A long time ago, someone may have jumped to a false conclusion that a subjective experience of powerful silence is an experience of Being; this subjective experience may have been caused by a certain functioning of neurotransmitters in a similar way as what happens during psychedelic use, near death experiences, traumatic experiences, and psychotic breaks.

Experience and understanding. Believer: 1. Understanding of reality and understanding of spiritual experience complements spiritual experience. 2. Understanding of non-duality and Being can facilitate awakenings as is the case with hearing Mahavakyas which are the great sayings from the Upanishads. Skeptic: 1. Understanding in life generally complements experience, but the experience of enlightenment could be a delusion. 2. Neuroscientist/philosopher Sam Harris states that spiritual experiences of transcending the self tell us nothing about the cosmos because what happens in the subjective expanse of a meditator’s mind cannot be extrapolated to make claims about God or the universe. Some other subjective experiences that can’t be verified to exist on any level other than the mind include regular dreaming, lucid dreaming, astral travel (2), and near death experiences.  The experience and understanding of enlightenment could be as fanciful as traveling to the moon in a dream.

Trauma and enlightenment. Believer: In some cases, an experience of trauma can cause an awakening experience and start the activation of kundalini. Skeptic: Trauma is more likely to lead to mental illness than to enlightenment. Emotional and physical trauma are injuries to health; some people recover and become stronger, but thinking that trauma leads to enlightenment seems delusional. Quote from the National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Dissociative disorders are characterized by an involuntary escape from reality characterized by a disconnection between thoughts, identity, consciousness and memory.  … The symptoms of a dissociative disorder usually first develop as a response to a traumatic event, such as abuse or military combat, to keep those memories under control.” Witnessing during a temporary stressful experience is not a sign of being highly evolved.  A link to a blog post on Kundalini awakened by trauma

Spiritual experiences in childhood. Believer: Spiritual children must have been spiritually advanced in their previous incarnation, and therefore they are ready to quickly complete their journey to enlightenment in this lifetime. Skeptic: Some so-called spiritual experiences during childhood are within the normal range of experience. Having some childhood spiritual experiences may indicate a susceptibility to mania and other altered states of awareness.

High intelligence and high creativity. Believer: Many enlightened people and exponents of spiritual paths are highly intelligent and highly creative; they believe the spiritual knowledge that they eloquently describe and share. Skeptic: 1. All humans including highly intelligent and highly creative people have an almost infinite ability to fool themselves. 2. Speaking eloquently about the intellectual spirituality that has accumulated over centuries does not prove the existence of a state of enlightenment, and cognition of non-duality and other aspects of reality are subjective experiences that can’t be verified. 3. Some researchers and some experts have said that there is a statistical association between high intelligence and mania. With the passage of time, even those with mania can probably adapt in order to make use of the benefits of their psychotic break and to minimize the detriments of their break. It is unlikely that an intellectual who thinks that they are enlightened will accept opinions that they have had a psychotic break, and especially unlikely if they have their own followers or if they live around other seekers.

Surrender, letting go, giving up. Believer: Many people on the way to enlightenment made fast spiritual progress by letting go of ideas/ambitions or by surrendering to a higher power. Enlightened people are not attached to things. Skeptic: 1. There are lots of unenlightened people who take life lightly and who are not rigid in the way that they think. So-called enlightened people may say that they are not attached, but they still show emotions of anger, sadness, and disappointment. 2. Some spiritual paths create a huge desire for enlightenment and then suggest that one must surrender that desire; the mental gymnastics on spiritual paths can cause altered states of consciousness which may also be described as a psychotic break, a spiritual crisis, or mania.

Physical and mental health, longevity. Believer: Enlightenment is a culmination of the growth that humans are meant to have, and is therefore the highest state of health. Enlightenment is a state where all stresses in the physiology have been released. Skeptic: Enlightened people and spiritual seekers don’t seem to have any better health or longevity than other people. Enlightenment does not appear to jive with the 3-billion-year evolution of life and the natural selection involved in survival of the fittest.

Escape from depression. Believer: When some people become enlightened, they make an abrupt shift from depression to blissful equanimity. Skeptic: It is a good thing if an enlightened person has escaped from depression. People who have Bipolar Disorder sometimes go from deep depression to mania, so if someone is depressed, everyone around them should be on the lookout for future symptoms of mania such as grandiose delusions, overconfidence, energy, greater creativity, and impulsive behavior. 

Flashy spiritual experiences. Believer: Flashy spiritual experiences such as powerful silence, white light, unbounded awareness, etc. indicate that enlightenment may be nigh. Skeptic: 1. It seems that people who are emotional are quite often the type of people who have flashy experiences, and that stable people are not as likely to have flashy experiences. Very few people become enlightened, and very few people who have flashy experiences become happily enlightened. 2. People who suffer from depersonalization sometimes experience “visual snow” and heightened acuity; this seems somewhat close to descriptions of celestial perception and a description of Unity Consciousness in which the edges of things seem to disappear. People with mania can experience more vivid colors. When perceptions change after an awakening, the perceptions are influenced by mental bias. With the passage of time, flashy experiences usually seem to calm down and therefore do not catch the attention of people who claim enlightenment.

Osmosis and radiance: Believer: Meditating in a group, receiving shaktipat, attending Satsangs, and being in proximity to enlightened people are ways to reach enlightenment faster. Spiritual energy can be contagious. Skeptic: 1. Spiritual radiance may possibly be explained by a placebo effect. 2. It could be that a radiance effect from spiritual people could affect others in a similar way a.) to how people are affected when around individuals who are sad, laughing, or angry or b.) to how people respond to crowds when attending sporting events, concerts, or movies. Spiritual radiance might have a deleterious effect on some people, especially those who are ungrounded. Having a so-called awakening shift by virtue of shaktipat or radiance may not be a good thing.

Enlightenment experiences of Robert Forman

 In 2010, Robert Forman wrote a book entitled Enlightenment Ain’t What It’s Cracked Up To Be. It is available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B005S0KF8E.

His book honestly describes his experiences of enlightenment including features that don’t match the hype promulgated by the Bhagavad Gita, spiritual traditions, and many gurus. His book title alludes to the fact that his enlightenment did not lead to bliss, unshakeable equanimity, and an end to all suffering.

Robert Forman was a teacher of Transcendental Meditation who had an awakening experience in December 1971 while on his TM teacher training course (TTC) in Mallorca, Spain. For several days on TTC, he felt pins and needles on his skin. Later he felt as though some kind of tubes at the back of his head were opening up; although this was not a classic kundalini awakening, it left him with what he considers to be the classical awakening state.

Robert had significant depression and anxiety issues in the years prior to his awakening experience. He also had depression and anxiety issues for years after his awakening even though the unbounded silence/nothingness had become his identity. Through psychotherapy, he came to terms with panic attacks and not being the person he wanted to be while around his wife and colleagues. Besides being provocative, his book title of “enlightenment ain’t what it’s cracked up to be” was his opinion based on his experience.

A quote from his book:  “Behind everything I do now is this bottomless emptiness, so open as to be without end. I have grown accustomed to the fact that this is now me. Not me doing dishes, not the me that is worried or writing a paper, not the me that feels alone or scared or happy. But it is the me that watches and lives and holds it all. I am, strange to say, infinite. And astonishingly, miraculously, the old me is here as well.”

Robert Forman comes with credentials that bolster his announcement that he is enlightened. After TTC he struggled teaching TM, and he struggled working in his father’s business for a while, but he eventually succeeded in education by earning a Ph.D. in Comparative Religions at Columbia University, specializing in the study of mystical experiences. He has been a professor of religions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, Vassar College, Union Theological Seminary, and the New School for Social Research. He has taught courses on mystical experiences and spiritual goals of every tradition. He is the founder and Executive Director of the Forge Institute for Spirituality and Social Change. He is also the author of ten scholarly books on spirituality, mysticism, and world religions.

Dr. Forman agrees with the poet Coleridge and others that spiritual knowledge steers spiritual experience. He states that history, training, and expectations may actually shape the neural pathways that make religious experience, BUT there are some experiences (such as his awakening) which are so surprising and unexpected that the experience could not have been triggered by spiritual knowledge.

To religious/philosophical scholars, the view described in the last sentence above is called Perennialism and leads to the opinion that mystics from different religious traditions can have the exact same experiences. The opposing Constructivism view holds that there is no innate experience free from mental and cultural constructs and also that there is no objective, numinous reality.

Dr. Forman participated in some publicized debates between Perennialism and Constructivism that are known as the “Katz-Forman debates”. Points and counter-points are at the following website https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mysticism/.

Dr. Forman said he knows lots of enlightened gurus and spiritual teacher/leaders, but he doesn’t know any who don’t have “stuff” to work on; if you hear a guru say that he doesn’t have an ego, Dr. Forman advises, “Run!”

Interview links

His interview on Buddha at the Gas Pump is at https://batgap.com/robert-k-c-forman-ph-d/.

His interview at ConsciousTV is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHl0hivK180&t=2887s.

Dr. Forman’s own website is at http://enlightenmentaint.com/.

My conclusion

Even if a state of enlightenment does indeed exist, many gurus and spiritual traditions have exaggerated the merits of enlightenment while not adequately mentioning possible unwelcome aspects of enlightenment. If seekers knew this, they might make different choices in their lives.

The internet age is fostering truth-telling about gurus, spiritual experiences, and spiritual movements. Today’s spiritual seekers have a huge advantage in having access to the inside stories whereas spiritual seekers from the past only had the hype and “official stories without any of the dirt”.

Robert Forman, some gurus, and some spiritual seekers are being much more forthright about their experiences than the “previous enlightened” from decades and centuries ago. It is laudable that they are truthfully revealing hardship in awakening and aspects of awakening that were hidden from previous seekers. Still, the skeptic in me wonders if the truth-tellers are holding back somewhat in order to paint themselves and their spiritual practices in a nice light.

Plethora of enlightened?

When I wrote my book, I was unaware that there were so many gurus and non-gurus who were claiming to be enlightened. I wrote my book from recollection and reflection, and my recollection was that extremely few people professed that they had become enlightened.

After listening to a bunch of interviews on BATGAP.com (Buddha at the Gas Pump) and YouTube recently, I was surprised to learn that a plethora of TMers and others have spoken out about their enlightenment.

I am willing to accept the possibility that enlightenment exists. Quite a few people speak convincingly about their enlightenment awakenings. However, there are also numerous things that make me skeptical.

In my book and my blog, I have written that there is no proof that a state of enlightenment exists. All of those interviews with the enlightened will be fodder for more musings in future blog posts.

I don’t intend to listen to the hundreds of interviews on BATGAP.com, but I have already viewed some of them. Stay tuned.

Thoughts on Gopi Krishna

Wikipedia states: Gopi Krishna (30 May 1903 – 31 July 1984) of India was a yogi, mystic, teacher, social reformer, and writer. His autobiography is listed under the title Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man.”

Gopi Krishna’s accounts of his own kundalini activation are respected by many kundalini advocates and spiritual luminaries including Deepak Chopra, M.D.

Gopi Krishna published his first book in 1967 to publicize the benefits and experiences of his kundalini activation which he thought would entice others and help them have a smoother kundalini activation.

Gopi Krishna expressed the opinion that kundalini activation is another step in the evolution of mankind and this evolution would bring great blessings to mankind. Therefore, he thought that his book and other publicity would bring great benefits to individuals and to the world.

The quotes shown below in blue italics are from his book, Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man. The book is available as a free PDF .  It is also available for Kindle Readers at Amazon.com.

(My conclusions are at the bottom of this rather long blog post.)

At the age of 34, Gopi Krishna had a forceful awakening of kundalini and described it in his book in Chapter 1 as follows:  The illumination grew brighter and brighter, the roaring louder, I experienced a rocking sensation and then felt myself slipping out of my body, entirely enveloped in a halo of light. It is impossible to describe the experience accurately. I felt the point of consciousness that was myself growing wider, surrounded by waves of light. It grew wider and wider, spreading outward while the body, normally the immediate object of its perception, appeared to have receded into the distance until I became entirely unconscious of it. I was now all consciousness, without any outline, without any idea of a corporeal appendage, without any feeling or sensation coming from the senses, immersed in a sea of light simultaneously conscious and aware of every point, spread out, as it were, in all directions without any barrier or material obstruction. I was no longer myself, or to be more accurate, no longer as I knew myself to be, a small point of awareness confined in a body, but instead was a vast circle of consciousness in which the body was but a point, bathed in light and in a state of exaltation and happiness impossible to describe.

Gopi was not sure if he had hallucinated or if he had succeeded in experiencing what both ancient and modern sages and ascetics had described. That night he was depressed and fearful. And he when he went to bed at night, he slept fitfully. The next morning, he again experienced an inner awakening during meditation, yet he felt uneasy and depressed during the day.

For the rest of his life Gopi Krishna was captivated by this experience and other blissful spiritual experiences, however his life was also punctuated with bouts of depression, weakness, digestive upset, and near death episodes. Gopi Krishna later concluded that his problems were due to not having a knowledgeable teacher to guide him through his kundalini activation.

A quote from Gopi Krishna’s book, Chapter 3 about some possible bad outcomes of kundalini: The awakening may be gradual or sudden, varying in intensity and effect according to the development, constitution, and temperament of different individuals; but in most cases it results in a greater instability of the emotional nature and a greater liability to aberrant mental conditions in the subject, mainly owing to tainted heredity, faulty modes of conduct, or immoderation in any shape or form. Leaving out the extreme cases, which end in madness, this generalization applies to all the categories of men in whom Kundalini is congenitally more or less active, comprising mystics, mediums, men of genius, and those of an exceptionally high intellectual or artistic development only a shade removed from genius. In the case of those in whom the awakening occurs all at once as the result of Yoga or other spiritual practices, the sudden impact of powerful vital currents on the brain and other organs is often attended with grave risk and strange mental conditions, varying from moment to moment, exhibiting in the beginning the abnormal peculiarities of a medium, mystic, genius, and madman all rolled into one.

A Chapter 3 quote stating that his bad kundalini experiences caught him by surprise: Like the vast majority of men interested in Yoga I had no idea that a system designed to develop the latent possibilities and nobler qualities in man could be fraught with such danger at times as to destroy the sanity or crush life out of one by the sheer weight of entirely foreign and uncontrollable conditions of the mind.

A Chapter 3 quote, about his dark depression:  There was no remission in the current rising from the seat of Kundalini. I could feel it leaping across the nerves in my back and even across those lining the front part of my body from the loins upward. But most alarming was the way in which my mind acted and behaved after the incident.  …  What was more startling and terrifying was the fact that the point of consciousness in me was not as invariable nor its condition as stable as it had been before. It expanded and contracted, regulated in a mysterious way by the radiant current that was flowing up from the lowest plexus. This widening and narrowing were accompanied by a host of terrors for me. At times I felt slightly elated with a transient morbid sense of well-being and achievement, forgetting for the time being the abnormal state I was in, but soon after was made acutely conscious of my critical condition and again oppressed by a tormenting cloud of fear. The few brief intervals of mental elation were followed by fits of depression much more prolonged and so acute that I had to muster all my strength and will-power to keep myself from succumbing completely to their influence. I sometimes gagged my mouth to keep from crying and fled from the solitude of my room to the crowded street to prevent myself from doing some desperate act.

A Chapter 3 quote, about worrying for his sanity: It seemed as if the stream of vitality rising into my brain through the backbone connected mysteriously with the region near the base of the spine was playing strange tricks with my imagination. Also I was unable to stop it or to resist its effect on my thoughts. Was I losing my mind? Were these the first indications of mental disorder? This thought constantly drove me to desperation. It was not so much the extremely weird nature of my mental condition as the fear of incipient madness or some grave disorder of the nervous system which filled me with growing dismay.

A Chapter 3 quote, about keeping his kundalini crisis a secret: No one could even suspect what was happening to me inside. I knew that but a thin line now separated me from lunacy, and yet I gave no indication of my condition to anyone. I suffered unbearable torture in silence, weeping internally at the sad turn of events, blaming myself bitterly again and again for having delved into the supernatural without first acquiring a fuller knowledge of the subject and providing against the dangers and risks of the path.

Commentary from Chapters 3 and 4 by Psychologist James Hillman, about kundalini from a Western perspective: From the psychiatric view, was this experience not a psychotic episode? With this question we come to the heart of a Western problem. We have no other than these diagnostic categories for conceiving states of this kind. Alien and altered states of consciousness are the province of the alienist. Fortunately, Gopi Krishna had another set of concepts (Kundalini yoga) which could place within a non-pathological context what was going on. In so far as the awakening of Kundalini is not limited to the Indian sub-continent only, it is conceivable that some of the experiences described in Western psychiatric interviews could also be viewed as the beginnings of enlightenment rather than as the beginnings of insanity. (I think in particular of epilepsy and of Dostoevsky.) The touchstone, again, is the same: the way in which the personality handles the experience, the integration of it. It is to our author’s credit that he avoided psychiatry, and even medicine, when later he was to go through the feverish experience of being burned alive from within. Again, however, from the viewpoint of modern psychiatry such avoidance is typical of a man undergoing paranoid delusions. How close the borderlines are!

A Chapter 5 quote, connecting kundalini to all religions and spiritual systems: All religious observances, all acts of worship, all methods of spiritual development, and all esoteric systems which in one way or another aim to provide a channel of communication with the supersensible, the divine or the occult, or offer an avenue for exploring the mystery of being, are all means, both effective and defective, to procure satisfaction for this deeply seated and universally present urge. The form taken may be of a heinous bloody sacrifice, a gaping self-inflicted wound, the self-caused blindness of the sun-gazer or constant torture to the body on a bed of nails, melodious chanting of hymns, recitation of prayers, prostration in devout worship, the discipline of Yoga, or any other spiritual exercise; the objective invariably is the occult, the mysterious, or the supersensible in divine, demoniac, spiritual or any other form. From the very beginning the urge has expressed itself in an infinite variety of religious beliefs and creeds, superstitions and taboos traceable to the remotest epochs of man’s existence. The impulse to invest the inanimate forces of nature with intelligence and to credit the spirits of the dead with continued existence beyond the grave, characteristic of the primitive mind and the civilized man’s attempt to postulate an almighty Creator and to offer worship to Him, arose from the same source and owe their existence to the presence in the human organism of an extremely complicated and difficult to locate mechanism, which the ancient Indian savants called Kundalini. Whether the aim be religious experience, communication with disincarnate spirits, the vision of reality, liberation of the soul, or the gift of clairvoyance and prediction, the power to influence people or success in worldly undertakings by supernatural means or any other mundane or super-mundane objective, connected with the occult or divine, the desire springs from the same psychosomatic source and is a twig or branch of the same deeply rooted tree. Kundalini is as natural and effective a device for the attainment of a higher state of consciousness and for transcendental experience as the reproductive system is an effective natural contrivance for the perpetuation of the race. The contiguity of the two is a purposely designed arrangement, as the evolutionary tendency and the stage of progress reached by the parent organism can only be transmitted and perpetuated through the seed.

A Chapter 5 quote, about Gopi not finding a suitable teacher and therefore he suffered: Those who talked with dignified reserve, looking very wise and deep, ultimately turned out to be as wanting in accurate information about the mysterious power rampant in me as those of a more unassuming nature who unbosomed themselves completely on the very first occasion without in the least pretending to know any more than they really did. And thus in the great country which had given birth to the lofty science of Kundalini thousands of years ago and whose very soil is permeated with its fragrance and whose rich religious lore is full of references to it from cover to cover, I found no one able to help me.  …  Perhaps it was destined also that I should suffer acutely for years because of lack of guidance and my ignorance, to enable me by suffering to make smooth the path of those in whom the sacred fire will burn in the days to come.

A Chapter 7 quote, lamenting the lack of useful kundalini knowledge: The ancient treatises exclusively dealing with the subject of Kundalini Yoga abound in cryptic passages and contain details of fantastic, sometimes even obscene ritual allusions to innumerable deities, extremely difficult and often dangerous mental and physical exercises, incantations and formulas technically known as mantras; bodily postures called asanas, and detailed instructions for the control and regulation of breath, all couched in a language difficult to understand, with a mass of mythical verbiage which instead of attracting is likely to repel the modern student. Truly speaking, no illustrative material is available either in the modern or ancient expositions to convey lucidly what the objective reality of the methods advocated is and what mental and organic changes one may expect at the end.  …   In India no other topic has such a mass of literature woven around it as Yoga and the supernatural, and yet in no book on the subject is a penetrating light thrown on Kundalini, nor has any expert provided more information than is furnished in the ancient works. The result is that except for perhaps a few almost inaccessible masters, as scarce now as the alchemists of yore, there is no one in the whole of India, the home of the science, to whom one can look for authoritative knowledge of the subject.

A Chapter 8 quote, about Gopi thinking that there were very few masters of kundalini: Accomplished masters of Kundalini Yoga, always extremely rare, are almost non-existent now, and the cases of a spontaneous type, where the awakening occurs suddenly at some period in life, more often than not end in mental disorder, which makes a coherent narration of the experience impossible. Under the circumstances it is no wonder that a detailed account of this strange experience is not available anywhere.

A Chapter 8 quote, about Gopi thinking that mental illness could be due to kundalini: Among the inmates of mental hospitals there are often some who owe their malady to a prematurely active or morbidly functioning Kundalini.

A Chapter 9 quote, about saints not having greater longevity: Even after making full allowance for the miracles performed by them, the life stories of known saints, mystics, and prophets make it undeniably clear that the inviolable biological laws were almost as effective in their case as they are in the case of other human beings, and that they were as prone to hunger, thirst, and fatigue and as easy a prey to disease, senescence, and death as the other ordinary men of their time. Not one of them survived for a remarkably longer span of time than that normally allotted to mortals, say a few dozen years, to demonstrate conclusively the victory of spirit over flesh, nor did any of them completely conquer hunger, thirst and sleep or radically alter the predisposition of the body to age, disease, and decay.

A Chapter 9 quote, about people with psychic abilities often suffering from maladies: It has been observed that at the time of psychic manifestations or physical phenomena in mystics or mediums, signs of faintness, partial or complete insensibility to surroundings, convulsive movements, and other symptoms of organic disturbance are frequently present.

A Chapter 9 quote, about the importance of physical health and strength: The ancient authorities on Yoga, though aware of the important role played by the physical organism in developing supersensory channels of cognition and fully conversant with the methods for diverting its energies in this direction, were far more interested in the spiritual than in the physical side of the science, attached little significance to the biological changes occurring in the flesh as compared to the resulting momentous developments in the realm of mind. The general level of knowledge in those days and the tendencies of the time also precluded the possibility of such an investigation. Even the advocates of Kundalini Yoga, starting with the discipline and purification of internal organs, have failed to give that status to the corporeal frame as the sole channel for success in Yoga, leading to transcendence, as it deserved.

From the very nature of the exercises and the discipline enjoined, it should, however, be obvious even to the least informed that the pivot round which the whole system revolved was the living organism and it was to bring it to the required degree of fitness that the initiates devoted precious years of their lives to the acquirement of proficiency in maintaining difficult postures, in the art of cleaning the colon, the stomach, the nasal passages and the throat, in holding the breath almost to the point of asphyxiation, and in other extremely hard, even dangerous, practices.

From commentary of Chapters 7, 8, & 9 by Psychologist James Hillman, about secrecy of experience:  Our author was strongly moved not to tell anyone of what he was going through, not even his wife. Again, this rigid secrecy is typical of one in the throes of a paranoid delusion. To open the secret is in a sense what we call ‘reality testing’. If it were laughed at, argued away, diagnosed as sick, a whole world would collapse. But more, there is something in the nature of mystical experiences that demands secrecy, as if the archetype behind the events which are in process needs a certain tension in order for it to be fulfilled.

From Chapter 11, about sleep:  I have said a good deal about the working of my mental equipment during waking hours without making any mention about its condition during sleep. The first time I became aware of an alteration in my dream consciousness was during the night in February 1938 when I passed the crisis, tasting sleep after several weeks of insomnia accompanied by a maddening mental condition. I fell asleep that night wrapped in a mantle of light perceptible in the dreams also. From that day extraordinarily vivid dreams became habitual with me. The bright lustre in my head, always present during wakefulness, continued undiminished during sleep; if anything, more clearly apparent and more active during the night than during the day. The moment I rested my head on the pillow and closed my eyes to invite sleep, the first object to draw my attention was the cranial glow, clearly distinguishable in darkness, not stationary and steady but spreading out and narrowing down like a whirlpool or swirling water in the sun. In the beginning and for many months it appeared as if a piston, working in the spinal tube at the bottom, were throwing up stream after stream of a very lustrous fluid, impalpable but distinctly visible, with such force that I actually felt my whole body shaking with the impact of the current to such an extent as made the bed creak at times.

A quote from Chapter 12, about celibacy and strong will:  When accidentally the centre begins to function prematurely, before the nerve connections and links have been fully established and the delicate brain cells habituated to the flow of the powerful current, the result is likely to be disastrous. The delicate tissues of the body in that case are likely to be damaged irreparably, causing strange maladies, insanity, or death. In a grave emergency of this kind the only way open to nature to avoid a catastrophe is to use liberally the ambrosia contained in the human seed and to rush it in a sublimated form to the brain, the nervous network, and the main organs in order to provide the injured and dying cells with the most powerful restorative and food available in the body to save life.  …  It is for this reason that the ancient teachers of Kundalini Yoga, taught by an experience extending for thousands of years, insisted on an exceptionally robust and hardy constitution, mastery over appetites and desires, voluntarily acquired control over vital functions and organs, and, above all, the possession of an inflexible will as the essentially needed qualifications in those offering themselves for the supreme undertaking of rousing the Shakti. An excellent condition of both body and mind, difficult to achieve in the unfavourable environment of modern civilization, is absolutely necessary in an enterprise of this nature to prevent the brain from giving way completely under the unbearable strain. It is not surprising, therefore, that any one who set himself determinedly to the hazardous task of awakening Kundalini before her time was acclaimed a Vira, meaning a hero, and the practice itself designated as Vira Sadhana, or heroic undertaking, even by fearless ascetics themselves, indifferent to physical torture and death.

A quote from Commentary on Chapters 12 & 13 by Psychologist James Hillman, about why some of Gopi’s experiences do not match traditional kundalini descriptions: As our author says, in the standard works of Kundalini Yoga and Hatha Yoga, and Chinese Yoga as well, there are chakras, distinct centres of experience located in the body, each with an elaborate symbolism of colour, number, animal, God, element, and body organ or system. Gopi Krishna did not have these experiences, although he explains how it might be possible for one to have viewed the circles of light as petaled chakras. For him there were no lotuses. We are reminded of his suffering. However, the organic experiences he sensed do correspond with the emphasis in these yogic systems upon physiological reality and upon the changes in vital centres and organs expected once the Kundalini is aroused and the light or breath is in circulation.

A quote from Chapter 14, about lamenting that physicians don’t know about kundalini:  In mentioning apparently minor details I am influenced by the consideration that I should not omit any facts. Transformation of personality is fraught with risks, needing attention to every phase of conduct and careful regulation of activity. If all I have to relate was known but a few centuries earlier, the knowledge properly systematized and applied might have helped physicians to save many persons from the clutches of insanity.

A quote from Chapter 14, about being very weak and eating meat to regain his strength: A sudden idea darted across my now almost delirious mind, and calling my wife to my side, in a weak voice I asked her to serve me nourishment every two hours that day, beginning early, each serving to include in addition to milk a few ounces of well-cooked, easy-to-digest meat.

A quote from Chapter 15, getting healthier and leading a normal life:  We travelled to Srinagar in the beginning of April 1944. Owing to the joint efforts of my wife and her father and the pains taken by them to make every kind of provision for the two-day hilly journey, I reached Srinagar in my then extremely weak condition without mishap. There, surrounded by relatives and friends and nursed with assiduous care by my wife and daughter, I made rapid progress, gaining enough strength in a few months to resume my duties in the office. In the course of a year I grew hardy and strong, able to bear strain and fatigue, exertion and pressure, but I could not overcome the susceptibility of my system to digestive disorders in the event of unusual delay or irregularity in diet. I resumed my old habit of two meals a day, with a cup of milk and a slice of bread in the mornings and afternoons. By the end of the year my appetite became normal and the amount of food moderate, with a small measure of meat as a necessary ingredient. The lustrous appearance of external objects as well as of thought forms and the brilliance of dream images was intensified during the worst period of the last disorder and grew in brightness to such an extent that when gazing at a beautiful sunlit landscape I always felt as if I were looking at a heavenly scene transported to the earth from a distant elysium, illuminated by dancing beams of molten silver. This astounding feature of my consciousness, purely subjective of course, never exhibited any alteration, save that it gained in transparency, brilliance, and penetrative power with the passage of time and continues to clothe me and all I perceive in inexpressible lustre today. Years passed without bringing any new development in me to the surface. Whatever was happening was transpiring within, beyond my knowledge and away from the reach of my eyes. Failing to notice any other change in me except for the sea of lustre in which I lived, and sternly warned by the last awful episode to desist from invoking the supernatural again, I occupied myself fully with the world and its affairs in an attempt to lead a normal life.

A quote from Chapter 17, about kundalini experience leading to “God intoxication” :  I had heard stories of men who, intoxicated with joy to the point of madness on their first glimpse of the supersensory state of existence after the awakening, had been so entirely carried away from earthly life that they found it impossible to come down to the normal level of consciousness in order to attend to the needs of the body; their spirits in unbroken ecstatic contemplation of the fascinating super-sensual realm from the beginning to the end had departed the starved body without even once descending back to earth.

A quote from Chapter 17 acknowledging the possibility of grandiose delusion and over-confidence: Without losing a single day I journeyed to Srinagar by air, relinquishing forever the thought of roaming the earth in the traditional way to effect the regeneration of mankind, a fantasy in my case born from the desire for power, the yearning for mental conquest, which often accompanies the activity of Kundalini in the intellectual centre, causing a slightly intoxicated condition of the brain too subtle to be noticed by the subject himself or by his uninformed companions, however erudite and intelligent they may be.

A quote from Chapter 18, people are mostly normal despite kundalini’s power:  IN the course of time I came more and more towards the normal, while retaining the heightened state of consciousness inviolate, and descending mentally from a state of intoxication to one of sobriety. I became more keenly conscious of the fact that though my psycho-physiological equipment had now attained a condition that made it possible for me on occasions to transcend the boundary rigidly confining the mental activity of my fellow beings, I was essentially in no way different from or superior to them. Physically I was what I had been before, as susceptible to disease, decay, and age, as liable to accident and calamity, as prone to hunger and thirst as I always had been, a normal man in every other way save the alteration in the mental sphere, which by bringing me on occasions nearer to sober metaphysical realities, as astounding and remote from our ordinary conceptions as light is from darkness, had a curbing effect upon the frivolous and vain tendencies of my mind. I had in no way overcome the biological limitations of my body, in no manner exceeded the measure of its endurance and physical capacity, or attained any miraculous powers to defy the laws of nature. On the other hand, my system had grown more delicate.

A quote from Chapter 18, on his near death experiences:  The struggle lasted for nearly seven years. Only the heroism of my wife saved my life. She sold her ornaments and denied herself to the limit to provide the indispensable articles of food needed for my use. I was utterly powerless to prevent her from doing so and had to continue as an impotent witness to her sacrifice. She was the only person who knew all about my condition, and, without in the least understanding the real significance of the development, tortured herself to save me from the pain of violent bodily disorders which invariably followed in the wake of a marked irregularity or deficiency in diet. On no less than three occasions during this period I came back from the jaws of death, not because of any caprice of the mighty energy now inhabiting my body, or owing to any deliberate omission on my part, but because of grinding poverty, lack of amenities, insufficient and unsuitable diet, which in spite of the heroism of my wife and the sacrifice of my two young sons, who often insisted on surrendering a part of their own share to me, could not be what it should have been because of the utter inadequacy of our finances. On such occasions, lying in a state of utter exhaustion on the sick bed, I wondered at the stupendous mystery of fate which allowed one destined to reveal a mighty secret to be distressed and tortured for the lack of a few coins which flowed in streams on every side and were scattered right and left by many on trifles every day. But even in the most gloomy conditions an unshakable conviction always persisted in my mind like a solitary star, gleaming faintly in an otherwise darkly threatening sky, that I would somehow survive the crisis and live to place in the hands of mankind the great secret on which depended the future safety of the race. It was mainly because of this inward strength, which no external source could infuse in me, that I was able to put up a strong resistance even in the most desperate situations with no possibility of help from any earthly source. The evil effects of these serious breakdowns in health, the unavoidable result of destitution, lasted for several months each time and once for nearly two years. During such periods until the body regained the depleted store of vital energy, I lost the sublime moods and for part of the time even suffered from disquieting mental symptoms. But there was no diminution in the vital current or in the radiant halo around the head even in the weakest conditions.

A quote from Chapter 19, Gopi confidently expected the world to change from his knowledge of kundalini: One may ask how all that I can say will have such an effect on the world as to succeed in creating the mental climate that will remove the threat of wars, usher in an era favourable to the establishment of a universal religion, a new world order and a one-world government, with the demolition of racial and colour barriers and the introduction of other much-needed reforms conducive to the unhindered progress and uninterrupted happiness of mankind. The answer is simple, so simple perhaps that many may find it hard to reconcile its apparently ordinary character with the colossal nature of the transformation it is expected to bring about. All the changes I have mentioned will be brought about by the simple device of demonstrating empirically the alteration wrought in the human organism by a voluntarily awakened Kundalini. In every successful experiment the results would be so positive as to leave absolutely no room for doubt and so astounding as to demand immediate revision of some of the most firmly established scientific theories and concepts of today, leading inevitably to the transference of the world’s attention from purely materialistic objectives and projects to spiritual and psychical problems and pursuits.

Conclusion

Gopi felt that many people suffering from psychosis were having a malfunctioning of their kundalini center and this opinion is similar to the feeling of some psychologists who speak of “spiritual emergencies”. In a previous post, I stated that a kundalini crisis should be viewed as mental illness and that the similarity between a kundalini crisis and psychosis is scary for those who think they are on the way to enlightenment via a kundalini crisis.

After Gopi Krishna had his first forceful awakening of kundalini, he alternated between experiences of elation and depression. This seems reminiscent of Bipolar Disorder. His spiritual experiences may have been due to the Bipolar mania that was brought on and exasperated by his meditation. My blog post on “TM and flipping out”  has a quote from a former TM meditator who had Bipolar mania and who cautioned that feelings of becoming enlightened can quickly lead to the chaos of mania.

Although Gopi Krishna was a householder, family man, and employed, he also had some followers during his kundalini crisis. Having followers reinforces the grandiose delusions of mania. Gopi alluded to some of his own grandiose delusions in the second quote shown above from Chapter 17. I wrote about the effects of having followers in the Guru Maniacs blog post.

Gopi’s kundalini crisis was a secret that was kept from most people. For those in whom he confided, he learned to tell his kundalini story in a way that didn’t freak them out. He avoided psychiatry because he knew psychiatry would not accept his experiences as valid. In my post on Guru Maniacs , I speculated that Guru Maniacs are able to adapt to their mania over a period of time. They learn to hide grandiose delusions while benefiting from the increased energy and confidence that comes from mania.

I wrote that highly intellectual people are statistically more prone to mania than average people in this blog post. Guru Maniacs use their intellectual abilities to impress followers. Gopi’s intellectual abilities are apparent in his writing. His vocabulary was vast. Most of his sentences were long and complex. Although his writing was not easy or fast to read, his meaning could be deciphered. Gopi used his intellectual powers to persuade people to accept that kundalini theory is true.

Like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Gopi Krishna believed that spiritual experiences depend on physiology. Gopi wrote that it was important for seekers to be healthy and strong. Gopi felt that his past experience and his strength developed as a wrestler helped him. I agree that all experiences depend on physiology, but I do not believe in kundalini theory. I suspect that future physiological theories will explain the mania of so-called kundalini crises better than kundalini theory. In the first Chapter 9 quote included above, Gopi seems surprised that saints do not have greater longevity and better health.

I suspect that nutritional deficiencies could play a significant role in kundalini crises. Spiritual aspirants often try bizarre diets in an attempt to reach enlightenment faster. Prior to my own kundalini crisis, I had created nutritional deficiencies through periodic fasting and a mostly raw food diet. Diet and nutrition played a crucial part in Gopi Krishna’s kundalini crisis. He wrote that he sometimes didn’t feel like eating and that he had digestive upsets. After being on the brink of death, he changed his diet and ate tremendous quantities of food. He mentioned that meat was an essential part of regaining his health.