Catholic scandal; DMT and NDE

Catholic scandal

Will the current Catholic scandal in Pennsylvania cause many people to rethink the basic premises of Catholicism and other religions? Probably not, because there are too many hurdles to overcome, such as the (so-called) religious experience of common folk, the religiosity of those in power, and the social pressure that binds families and communities together.

Here are a few concepts to rethink:
● Clergy being accepted as infallible in understanding and behavior.
● What is (and isn’t) the Word of God?
● Are religious experiences what they seem to be?

Why did religious people commit sex crimes?  Well, sex scandals and sex crimes often abound where celibacy is the recommended behavior. Sexuality is a very powerful force.

And why did other religious people cover up the sex crimes? My response is that when people think their religion provides the path to the highest purpose of life, they are often willing to do unethical actions to safeguard their religion’s reputation.


Researchers at Imperial College London found that DMT causes similar experiences as Near Death Experiences (NDE).  DMT is the compound found in the ayahuasca plant that is used in some South American shamanic ceremonies. (A summary in a press release.  A scholarly article.)

Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, who leads the Psychedelic Research Group at Imperial College London and who supervised the research, said:

“These findings are important as they remind us that NDE occur because of significant changes in the way the brain is working, not because of something beyond the brain. DMT is a remarkable tool that can enable us to study and thus better understand the psychology and biology of dying.

I hope this kind of research causes people to question the explanations for other spiritual experiences. I have many blog posts that speculate that many so-called spiritual experiences are not what they seem and not what spiritual teachers say that they are. Perhaps my best blog post on this is Extraordinary mental shifts.

Controversial theories from Matt

Here is a collection of my theories and musings.

  1. A few instances of extraordinary mental shifts combined with spiritual explanations have led many people (including myself) to go after enlightenment in an over-zealous way. They are being fooled by the fantasy of enlightenment and their extraordinary mental experiences.  Extraordinary Mental Shifts   22 enlightenment experiences
  2. The physical jerks, swaying, vocalizations, and pain that are commonly call kriyas are caused by physiology other than kundalini. Subjective experiences of kundalini in the tailbone, spine, head, and chakra areas will have better explanations than an eruption of kundalini. The kriyas of aspiring yogis and the shaking/dancing of Christian charismatics have the same underlying physiology.  Kriyas, hypnic jerks, and tics
  3. The hopping that occurs when people practice the TM-Sidhi on levitation is no different than other kriyas. The hopping that occurs from full lotus is caused by physiological processes other than kundalini. Although hopping and TM are extraordinary mental experiences, TM and the TM-Sidhi program have a downside. Kriyas, hypnic jerks, and tics
  4. Kundalini experiences, awakenings, grandiose delusions, and deep meditational experiences are very powerful mental experiences that can affect decision-making and other aspects of life for many years. Everyone wants to be great
  5. Emotional, delicate people are more likely to have flashy spiritual experiences and awakenings than healthy people. Who has more spiritual, celestial-type experiences?  Look at the 22 enlightenment stories
  6. Intellectual prowess is not a safeguard to grandiose delusions. In fact, it seems that people who trust their above-average intellectual abilities are more prone to delusion than non-intellectual people. High intelligence, mania, and gurus
  7. A huge amount of intellectual discourse on enlightenment and spiritual topics has accumulated over the centuries due to the manic experiences of intellectuals. Guru maniacs
  8. Since many gurus exhibit signs of grandiose delusions, over-confidence, over-energy, and/or a lack of a moral compass, they deserve to be called Guru Maniacs. Guru maniacs
  9. A state of enlightenment does not exist. The theory of reincarnation probably arose from someone’s delusion.
  10. Subjective spiritual experiences can be misleading. Subjective experience of oneness and other spiritual experiences are not reliable when making comprehensive explanations of life. Powerful silence
  11. Subjective experiences of Pure Consciousness, inner light, Oneness, and other spiritual experiences will someday have physiological explanations that will invalidate yogic explanations. 22 enlightenment experiences
  12. There is a radiance effect from so-called enlightened people, from meditators, and group meditations, but the radiance effect is not a healthy influence on people who are ungrounded. The radiance effect when being close to “saints” or being with either Christian or Eastern spiritual groups is a mixture of good and bad effects.  A meditator had contagious energy. (Radiance is also discussed in My Enlightenment Delusion Chapter 20 entitled “Shaktipat, glossolalia, and group radiance”.)
  13. Trauma never leads to enlightenment. Kundalini awakened by trauma
  14. Depersonalization and other psychotic states resemble some of the experiences of so-called enlightenment. Even when people are able to adapt to their so-called enlightenment, there are greater detriments than benefits. People who try to reconcile “the dark night of the soul” and unpleasant, hell-like experiences of “enlightenment” with the supposed “great good” of reaching enlightenment are wrong. They have been misled.  The similarity between psychotic mania and kundalini crises is frightening   Kundalini crises
  15. In today’s internet age of openness and truth-telling, more and more people are disputing the hype of gurus and spiritual organizations. Actually, even some gurus are revealing that enlightenment is not what it is cracked up to be. Enlightenment experiences of Robert Forman
  16. The supposed ability of humans to reach enlightenment is not in accord with the 3.5 billion years of evolution of life on planet Earth. Enlightenment vs. Evolution
  17. Psychedelic drugs provide similar mind-blowing, life-changing experiences as those attained by yogic meditators. The assumption that drugs are risky whereas yogic meditations are without risk is wrong.  LSD, DMT, mushrooms, or meditation?   Mental and physical effects of hallucinogens
  18. Devotion to a guru is unhealthy and unwise in many ways. Devotion to a guru
  19. Spiritual seekers are harmed by following unrealistic dreams, by believing things that are not true, by ignoring practical life pursuits, and by risking major and minor health crises when intensely practicing spiritual practices.
  20. The lives of spiritual luminaries such as Ramana Maharshi, Gopi Krishna, and Suzanne Segal had serious flaws which call into question the knowledge that they shared. Thoughts on Ramana Maharshi   Thoughts on Gopi Krishna   The amazing story of Suzanne Segal
  21. Hyper-religious people either lack critical thinking skill, have been misled by their own spiritual experiences, and/or have a mental illness. Mania and hyper-religiosity   Comparing a kundalini crisis to the religious experience of epileptics
  22. Spiritual seekers are often ungrounded in that their ability to think clearly is negatively affected and their priorities in life are not practical.  Ungroundedness

Jerry Jarvis

Jerry Jarvis, former National Leader of the Transcendental Meditation movement in the United States, unexpectedly passed away on March 14, 2018.

A GoFundMe website that had been set up to help his wife Debby pay funeral expenses and her own medical expenses raised over $100,000. May 30, 2018 UPDATE: Debby Jarvis passed away on May 25, 2018.

A Facebook account at was set up to notify people of Jerry’s passing and to collect photos, condolences, and anecdotes.

Links to videos of memorial service

A video of the memorial service is 1 hour and 13 minutes long.  Here are links to brief video excerpts from the memorial service which was held on April 8 in Malibu, California: an 8-minute video of Phil Goldberg and an 8-minute video of John Cowhig.

Jerry was a very likable and kind person. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, I had a hard time understanding why he received bad treatment from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the TM organization. The TM movement treated lots of people in discourteous ways, but how could they do this to Jerry who had been instrumental in starting the TM movement in the U.S. and who had never stopped being a TM exponent?!!!

Nowadays after several decades of my pondering, the luster is gone when I consider Maharishi and his organizations. The luster is also gone from other movements and spiritual teachings which claim to have the inside track to enlightenment. I believe bad things happen in spiritual movements because spiritual movements act like they have all answers to life, but they don’t have all of the answers.

Loyalty vs conscience

From my vantage point, Jerry Jarvis was loyal to Maharishi despite being mistreated.

I wonder why Jerry hung around the TM movement after being black-listed. I wonder how Jerry responded in the early days to some of Maharishi’s shenanigans of which he must have been aware; my hunch is that Jerry would have reacted in a morally stern way, but I don’t know.

When I thought that TM and TM knowledge was the most important thing in life, I was loyal, but I also kept thinking for myself. I didn’t accept everything that Maharishi said.

While in the TM movement, my conscience would not let me do some things that Maharishi and the movement wanted such as moving to Fairfield, Iowa and setting up demonstrations of the TM-Siddhi of levitation.

Seemingly Jerry Jarvis (like many others who went all out for enlightenment and spiritual growth) neglected to plan and act for their own financial security and practicalities.

Eventually I came around to seeing many faults in Maharishi, TM, and the TM organization. I am no longer loyal, but I still have friendly feelings for Jerry Jarvis and others in the TM movement.

The following excerpt about Jerry Jarvis is from my book, My Enlightenment Delusion:

I set up an all-day seminar for meditators in Chicagoland with one of the best inspirational TM speakers, but he happened to be on National’s black list at the time.

The seminar had a large attendance, created enthusiasm for all who attended, and made a profit for the TM center. Since I never applied for another rounding residence course after these incidents, I never found out if I was black-listed too.

The inspirational speaker used the following analogy: If the master says, “Take me to Point X by driving down Adams Street”, and if you know that Adams Street won’t take you to Point X, you decide to take the correct route to get the master to where he wants to go.

I agree with the point of this analogy, but following this modus operandi made some waves. Maharishi seemed to disagree and surrounded himself with only “Yes Men”.

This inspirational speaker never seemed to give up on the idea of getting back in the good graces of Maharishi. He told me that he wished that Maharishi would give a course just for those who were black-listed, and that if Maharishi did, it would be the best course ever.

Mania and hyper-religiosity


  • Why are some humans hyper-religious? 
  • Why do the grandiose delusions of mania often have a hyper-religious component?
  • Why are religious beliefs often held with an undeserving certainty?

That experiences of mania often having a hyper-religious component is acknowledged by Brian Jost in the following quote from a blog at the International Bipolar Foundation.

Just this past week, I traveled with my wife and our seven-month old son to Winona, Minnesota, La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Viroqua, Wisconsin to share my experiences of living with bipolar disorder with four different audiences. At the end of two of the presentations, I was asked a question that I am often asked when I present my story. The question was “Why is it so common for hyper-religiosity to be part of mania?” This question often comes up because I speak to people about my manic and psychotic episodes which have all included feelings of understanding and knowing God and noticing an unquestionable faith, a faith that is more difficult to maintain when I am stable. At the most extreme of these experiences was the time that I actually thought that I was Jesus, followed by my manic and psychotic mind taking the delusion even further into believing that I was God. An enormous amount of information flooded my brain as I seemed to take on super-natural powers, acquiring knowledge that I believed was flowing from other dimensions that “normal” people are unable to detect. However, now experiencing stability, I don’t have all of that false information, nor do I have the answer to the question “Why is it so common for hyper-religiosity to be part of mania?”

Some mothers have postpartum mania with delusions of grandeur and religiosity. Here is a quote from the Postpartum Psychosis forum at (To find this particular post, I suggest doing an internet search for the exact quote.)

I have often wanted to share these aspects of my own illness in 1988. I wondered if anyone else had similar delusions and experiences that they can also share. Early on before I was sectioned and diagnosed I thought I had won the lottery in the Today newspaper we were coming into a great fortune. I also thought there was a stream of people at the front door wanting to come and see me and I kept going to open the door and looking out – there was no one. As the days progressed I thought I had supernatural powers for healing, communicating with my daughter in a psychic way and at one point thought perhaps I was Mary and the baby was Jesus. I was hallucinating dead relatives and was sure I was going to die if I slept. I was obsessed with heaven and hell and a place of judgement. On good days I wanted to wear white and on bad days it was black. During the illness in the psychiatric unit I was convinced I was actually in hell. As the illness continued I thought I was God and was quite comfortable telling my psychiatrist and CPN. I thought the Queen wanted to meet me and also that President Reagan from the United States wanted to hear from me. At one point I thought I was in hospital because there had been a major catastrophe in the area and I was needed for the collection of breast milk to feed the babies. I can smile about this now but at the time it felt so real.

Here’s a quote from a paper entitled “Religion, spirituality, and psychotic disorders” by Harold G. Koenig:

While about one-third of psychoses have religious delusions, not all religious experiences are psychotic. In fact, they may even have positive effects on the course of severe mental illness, forcing clinicians to make a decision on whether to treat religious beliefs and discourage religious experiences, or to support them.

Here is a quote from a paper entitled “Psychological characteristics of religious delusions”.

Delusions are a cardinal feature of psychotic illness, present in around three quarters of people with a schizophrenia spectrum diagnosis. Religious themes are common across delusion categories and types, with between a fifth and two-thirds of all delusions reflecting religious content. To be classified as a religious delusion, the belief must be idiosyncratic, rather than accepted within a particular culture or subculture. Strongly held beliefs that are shared within an existing religious or spiritual context would not, therefore, be considered to be religious delusions, irrespective of co-occurring psychosis. For example, believing oneself to be able to hear the voice of Jesus is not uncommon in a Christian society and thus would not in itself be classified as a religious delusion.

Author Chris Cole (who has Bipolar Disorder) wrote the following about his delusion:

“After a few days of trying to convince my parents that I was returning humanity to the Garden of Eden, they realized my condition might not be from taking psychedelic drugs as they had thought. I was escorted to my local psychiatric hospital, and once medicated, came down from my messianic mission to create heaven on earth. The only problem was, I had never been more certain of God in my life, and the clinicians just kept telling me that it was normal for grandiose delusions to take on religious and spiritual themes. I was not convinced.”

Here’s a quote from an article entitled “Why religious belief is not a delusion” by Dean Burnett:

That’s actually one of the signs of delusional beliefs: they’re very resistant to being challenged, no matter how inconsistent they are with reality. Because the brain isn’t “working” like it should, logic and reason aren’t as potent they might otherwise be.

But then, that begs the question, why do religious beliefs get a free pass? People are very resistant to those being challenged too. And believing that there’s a kindly-but-all-powerful father figure in the sky who watches and judges everything you do and his son who died but came back to life two millennia ago is going to return any minute, surely that’s no less likely than someone being targeted by a shadowy government conspiracy? It’s substantially less likely, in actual fact. What gives?

The article also happens to discuss why politicians feign being religious and contains this punchline from the TV show House MD: You talk to God, you’re religious. God talks to you, you’re psychotic.


Hyper-religiosity is often a component of psychotic experiences.

I am skeptical of all hyper-religious views and beliefs, even when held by people who seem to have other aspects of their lives under control. Perhaps a psychotic person has many screws loose whereas a non-psychotic hyper-religious person only has one screw loose.

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

The Kindle version is $3.49. The paperback version is $8.99.

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 Elena Bezzubova, Ph.D., who is a psychoanalyst, writes about depersonalization and the complicating factor of having a philosophical bent at .

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.


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 particular 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.