on June 19, 2007
Far out, man! This fascinating anthology is full of a diverse bundle of articles, all of them serious, open-minded attempts to study and explore mystical, transcendental experiences: what they are, what they mean, what their significance may be, and what they indicate of humankind's latent potentialities--all from a kaleidoscopic range of perspectives. This variety also makes the book somewhat difficult to categorize. It gives equal space to speculative effusions on mystical traditions and coldly clinical analyses of their possible biological determinants. It gives credence to all sorts of ways of inducing these experiences, from good old-fashioned prayer and meditation to newfangled things like hypnosis, biofeedback, sensory deprivation, and (yes, this was the 60's and still considered scientifically legitimate) drugs like LSD or peyote. Most of the contributions are by psychologists of many different stripes, but amply represented are a number or religious leaders and scholars too, as well as the odd anthropologist or novelist or such.
Almost all of the articles are reprinted from prior sources, a few of which are still easily obtainable today but most of which are from now hard-to-find journals and magazines or rare books long out of print (a fate which this book itself seems to be undergoing), and some are even from well-nigh unobtainable sources like organizational newsletters and conference notes. The book also has a handy appendix with short biographical notes on the authors, suggested further reading, and lists of magazines and organizations dedicated to the study of higher states of consciousness. All in all, a groovy selection of studies well worth a look for anyone interested in a thoughtful, open and yet carefully objective consideration of humankind's experience of the Sacred.
After an Introduction by the editor, John White, this book includes the following articles:
1. "Altered States of Consciousness" by Stanley Krippner
2. "The Search for Ecstasy" anonymously from the magazine Mind Alive
3. "The Supra-Conscious State" by Kenneth Walker
4. "States of Consciousness" by Roger W. Wescott
5. "Visionary Experiences" by Aldous Huxley
6. "The Perennial Philosophy" by Aldous Huxley
7. "From Self to Cosmic Consciousness" by Richard M. Bucke
8. "Self-Transcendence and Beyond" by Robert S. De Ropp
9. "Transcendental Experience" by R.D. Laing
10. "Mystical States and the Concept of Regression" by Raymond Prince and Charles Savage
11. "The Mystical Experience: Facts and Values" by Claire Myers Owens
12. "Mysticism and Schizophrenia" by Kenneth Wapnick
13. "On Creative, Psychotic and Ecstatic States" by Roland Fischer
14. "Psychotherapy and Liberation" by Alan W. Watts
15. "Zen Buddhism: A Psychological Review" by Edward W. Maupin
16. "The Psychology of Mysticism" by U.A. Asrani
17. "The Ecstasy of Breaking-Through in the Experience of Meditation" by Lama Anagarika Govinda
18. "Drugs and Mysticism" by Walter N. Pahnke
19. "LSD and Mystical Experience" by G. Ray Jordan, Jr.
20. "Transcendental Meditation" by the Students International Meditation Society and Demetri P. Kanellakos
21. "The Experimental Induction of Religious-Type Experiences" by Jean Houston and Robert E.L. Masters
22. "Meditation and Biofeedback" by Durand Kiefer
23. "Trance Dance" by Erika Bourguignon
24. "Transpersonal Potentialities of Deep Hypnosis" by Charles T. Tart
25. "The 'Core-Religious' or 'Transcendent' Experience" by Abraham Maslow
26. "In Search of the Miraculous" by P.D. Ouspensky
27. "Introduction to the Tao Te Ching" by Arthur Waley
28. "Death and Renewal" by Richard Wilhelm
29. "The Resurrection of the Body" by Norman O. Brown
30. "The Mystic Union: A Suggested Biological Interpretation" by Alexander Maven
31. "This Is It" by Alan W. Watts
32. "From 'The Magus'" by John Fowles
33. "Postscript: Psychical Research in Relation to Higher States of Consciousness" by W.G. Roll
on April 7, 2016
John White (editor), The Highest State of Consciousness, Doubleday 1972; 2nd edn. Brighton, U.K., White Crow Books, 2012, 492 pp. ISBN 978-1-908733-31-3
This book provides an exploration, by a range of authors drawn from different disciplines, of the transcendental state of being. In his Introduction the editor states that this book is about enlightenment, mystical experience or any one of many other terms that are used to describe this mental state associated with specific (mainly eastern) spiritual beliefs. Transcendence is the goal of the most devoutly religious and this book explores the way 33 different mystics and philosophers see what is often called satori, nirvana, samadhi, moksha, the tao . . . the list goes on. But this will give readers a clear indication of what this book is all about – transcendence to the spiritual state of the afterlife while still in human form on Earth.
With so many contributors to this volume I can give no more than a general overview of the book and pick out certain subjects or contributors that resonated with me. In the opening chapter, American psychologist Stanley Krippner defines twenty states of consciousness for us. The British writer and follower of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, Kenneth Walker, sets the tone of his short contribution with a quote from Goethe: ‘The greatest happiness of the thinking man is to have fathomed those things which are fathomable and to reserve those things that are not fathomable for reverence in quietude’. Professor of linguistics and anthropologist Roger Wescott concentrates on the role of the ego and its apprehension at the prospect of death: he explores the concept of a ‘collective ego’ in our establishment of group identity.
Writer Aldous Huxley echoes Santayana in asserting that precious stones are regarded as precious not only because they sparkle but also because they endure. The ancients venerated trees and rocks for this same reason – that they endure through the generations carrying with them the wisdom of the ancestors. It is children and those closest to death who have the greatest access to the spiritual world. Creative artists, especially those involved in the making of stained glass, whom Huxley focuses on, share this kind of spiritual vision. Such visions are ‘things of grace . . . they are given to us; we don’t work for them. Acknowledgement of this supreme spiritual state recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds . . . the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being’. This ‘Perennial Philosophy may be found among the traditional lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world’.
Richard Bucke sees the likely emergence of a Cosmic Consciousness – a global awareness of and seeking after nirvana – as humankind continues to evolve. This would be the highest point of human evolution corresponding to what Teilhard de Chardin called the Omega Point. Claire Myers Owens too points up the acceptance of the mystical state by psychologists such as C.G. Jung and scientific priest Teilhard de Chardin against the dismissive attitude of others like Freud and psychiatrist R.H. Prince of McGill. Owens has a beautifully clear section on ‘Characteristics of the Mystical State’ in her chapter, expanding on the properties described by William James. Robert de Ropp also echoes William James in calling for recognition of the existence and exploration of a higher state of human consciousness.
Kenneth Wapnick, a clinical psychologist from New York, describes an interesting case study of a patient suffering from schizophrenia who was aware of her condition: her madness became the agent of the ‘death’ of her ‘former self’ which had to be abandoned ‘because it was ignorant of the true meaning of living’. Once in a straitjacket, she was ‘protected against herself and secure in the feeling that she could not harm or destroy others, [she] could release the bonds that were holding her back’. Many people who have experienced even transient mystical events like NDEs have felt this same euphoria of release from confinement of the human condition. The author compares these experiences to those reported by the mystic Saint Teresa of Avila. Durand Kiefer deals with the subject of Meditation and Biofeedback and Charles Tart explores the Transpersonal Potentialities of Deep Hypnosis “to move to relatively profound states of consciousness”.
Having encountered comparisons of mystical with mentally disordered states in earlier chapters, we now find Alan W. Watts contrasting the ‘disciplines of Buddhism and Taoism [that] are concerned with changing the consciousness of normal, socially adjusted people”’ with the work of the psychotherapist dealing with ‘peculiarly disturbed individuals’.
However, the psychotherapist ‘is dealing with something far more extensive than a psyche and its private troubles’ for their patients are part of ‘a complex of societies of vast material wealth bent on mutual destruction [which] is anything but a condition of social health’.
There follow a couple of chapters focused on achieving satori by eastern techniques of meditation, and chapters on hallucinatory states achieved through psychedelic drugs – a technique very popular in the 1960s. ‘Natural’ NDEs and OBEs, and conversations with mediums must be regarded as more authentic testimonies of evidence gathered from Spirit than the often incoherent ramblings of subjects on hallucinatory drugs.
I found the chapters by Arthur Waley and by Richard Wilhelm on interpretation of the Tao Te Ching quite illuminating. There are many in the world today, subject to the stresses of our materialist society, who would benefit from the techniques described for the achievement of Quietism or dhyana for the achievement of spiritual truth, happiness and inner strength. The latter author has published his own translation of this sacred text (published by Arkana in 1989), which itself has a Commentary on the philosophy of Lao Zi. From these brief summaries of chapter contents it will be obvious that the book explores higher states of consciousness achieved by many different techniques. The book is written in totally accessible language throughout and ends with a list of Further Reading but no Index.