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Long Distance Questions

Varieties of disbelief

Varieties of disbelief (Photo credit: jcbear2)

A stimulating debate brought me to read again a book- something I rarely do- I had picked up a decade back. The book in question is Yoga and Psychotherapy- The Evolution of Consciousness, authored by Rudolph Ballentine and Swami Ajaya under Swami Rama’s (of the Himalayan Institute) direction.

It was a delightful read the first time twelve years back. For one, it is the most rational explanation I have come across about the concept behind yoga and its practice. Second, or maybe this is the primary reason I took to the book, it corroborated a tentative idea I had while doing my postgraduation. As I came across  psychoanalytical  concepts pioneered by Freud and Jung, I thought there were some parallels to the levels of consciousness yoga theory proposes. I had even written a one-page note on it and then left it to rot for lack of resources to expand on the sketch. It pleased me immensely to see my passing thought expanded and substantiated by guys who had respectable academic credentials and years of research experience.

The book continued to delight the second time as well. It is still the most rational and unbiased study I know of, and the guy who got me reading it again thought so too. This time round, however, it has led me into asking rather uncomfortable questions.

The first question wasn’t in fact born from the book per se. It is about the nature of spiritual experience itself, and pertains to all the literature I have read on the subject. Indian spiritual thought, specifically Advaita, holds that, when one learns to trancend the everyday experience of duality, the absolute truth of non-duality reveals itself. The seer, that which is seen and the experience of sight all merge into one and this experience is not just beyond the realm of words, it is plain incommunicable.

Now, how do I know if what I have experienced is the absolute truth?  If an experience is incommunicable, how does one verify its universality? People do everything from drugs to trance-inducing rituals and meditation to arrive at altered states of consciousness-do they all lead to the same experience? If the answer is yes, it follows that this experience is the outcome of some neurochemical changes. Is that all there is to it? It is a different  thing, but what makes us think it is The Thing?

The second question is more troublesome, and it is the direct outcome of reading the book. While the authors offer a rational explanation that connects psychoanalytical theory with the philosophy of yoga and draw parallels, the whole edifice stands on the basic premise that man is capable of experiencing the absolute truth. Evolutionary scientists would tell us otherwise- that man, like every other organism, has to be still work in progress.  If every man is born with the infrastructure that gives him the potential to experience the Truth, a good number of them must have developed this capacity sometime during the evolutionary process; historically only a handful have claims to the feat. And worst, to say that man is capable of experiencing the Truth, sounds uncomfortably like God made man in his image. It smacks of an indolence that has made humans indiscriminately use the earth.

All this is despite the deep influence Advaita and the philosophy of yoga have on me- I so wish this to be true. And this is the most rational, experimentally backed volume of research I have come across. Being the non-academic that I am with no chance of getting formal education on the subject, I have little hopes of finding the answers in my lifetime. All the same I just can’t help hurtling down the perilous path of questions. Samshayatma vinashyati (The doubter is doomed)?

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March 10, 2013 Posted by | consciousness, freud, jung, psychology, Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments