There are a number of difficulties for Westerners who want
to learn about mystical traditions that originated in the ancient past
or that come from
other parts of the world.
Many of the mystical traditions can be difficult to understand because
what we know about them may be translated from a different time,
language, and culture. There also may be idiosyncrasies if a body of
knowledge comes from an oral tradition that makes it different from what
you might expect from a modern self-help guide.
Sometimes there are aspects to these traditions that we
just don't understand. In some cases, a practitioner's world view can
influence how he understands a phenomena.
However, often certain
aspects of these traditions can be understood in modern terms,
there is a practical side with exercises and practices that are used for
If you want to understand these mystical traditions, in some cases
theoretical knowledge will help, but in many cases you have to do the
practices and experience them for yourself. When these ancient
traditions are taught in the West, sometimes the finer points are lost,
therefore, if you want to learn about mystical traditions, you should chose
teachers or books by authors who are qualified to teach them. Certain
traditions are more amenable to book learning than others, so learning
from books can work in some cases, but sometimes a good teacher will be
much better than a book.
Types of Mystical Experiences
Zen Buddhist Practices
Certain aspects of mystical traditions can make sense in modern terms,
especially if there is a practical side with exercises and practices
that are used for specific purposes. This is true for the meditation
practices of Zen Buddhism. Different forms of meditation are useful for
different purposes. When the mind is more turbulent, it is easier to
meditate using a technique that is more active. Chanting is a more
active form of meditation than just sitting and observing the breath.
This is why, in many Western Zen centers, they follow the traditional
practice of chanting at the beginning of the nightly meditation
practice. After a day's activities, the mind is turbulent so they
start with chanting and after
the mind has had a chance to calm down, they then go on to sitting
meditation which is a more passive form of meditation and is more
suitable for a calmer state of mind.
In the Zen tradition, it is customary to do bowing
practice before chanting first thing in the morning. Bowing practice is a bit like the exercise
Westerners call a squat thrust. You go from standing to lying face down
on the ground and back up over and over. At first glance
this appears to be merely a type of religious tradition but when you
consider the effects of exercise on stress it makes a lot of sense.
Stress hormone levels are highest in the morning. This is because of
reduced caloric intake during sleep. Stress hormones are involved in
increasing blood sugar levels. When the brain needs more energy upon
waking up after a night of fasting, stress hormone levels rise so the
brain can get the energy it needs.
Exercise can also raise blood sugar levels reducing the need for
elevated stress hormone levels. Exercising first thing in the morning
is very effective way to reduce the level of stress one experiences in
one's life. If you are pursuing peace of mind through Zen practice, the
tradition of bowing first thing in the morning is as good a form of exercise as any Western
exercise like the squat thrust.
This shows that while some traditional practices may seem like arbitrary traditions, they may
really exist for practical reasons that are correct. If you ask the Zen
master why they do bowing practice he will say it is to develop
This makes sense if you consider the fact that the fight or
reaction involving stress hormones is more conducive to a selfish
behavior (self preservation) than the calm relaxed state you feel after
In my experience, chanting aum as a form of meditation has effects that
differ from other forms of meditation. One evening I went to my
center and we did that type of chanting meditation for about 20 minutes. We were
instructed to chant loudly and pay attention to the vibrations of the
sound wherever we felt them in our body. For example, there are air
spaces in the chest and sinuses that can act as resonating chambers.
You have to try it and experience it to understand what this is all
I enjoyed this meditation so much that as I was driving home, I
continued to do it in my car. When I got home and went to bed, I shut
my eyes but it seemed like I had forgotten to turn off the light. I
opened my eyes, but the room was dark. I closed my eyes again and I
noticed I saw a white light in the upper middle of my visual field where
the third eye is supposed to be.
I point this out as an example demonstrating that we don't really
understand what the effects of different types of spiritual practices
are or how they act. I don't know if chanting aum is a superior form
of meditation for psychic development or if there are other special
consequences of chanting aum in particular. But, my experience shows
there are aspects to such spiritual practices that are not understood.
A person's world view may influence how they interpret mystical
experiences. If you don't have any concrete framework with which to
understand something unexplainable, you have to hypothesize something
abstract. Even if the hypothesis is initially not mystical, if the
hypothesis survives over time it may take on mystical characteristics.
I think this is why so much of the ancient knowledge seems mystical to
us. The ancients didn't have our modern scientific framework to
hypothesize explanations with, so they had to invent something, often
metaphorical, to describe what they experienced. I can think of two
examples of mystical experiences I've had of
that I interpreted using a modern framework
which, with my modern world view, seemed unusual but not mystical.
One is nonduality, the other is kundalini energy.
Kensho: Seeing the oneness of all things.
Kensho is defined as:
Kensho (C. Wu) is a Japanese term for enlightenment
experiences—most commonly used within the confines of Zen Buddhism.
Most commonly used within the confines of Zen Buddhism—literally meaning
"seeing one's nature" or "true self." It generally "refers to the
realization of nonduality of subject and object." Frequently used
in juxtaposition with satori (or, "catching on"), there is sometimes a
distinction made between the two in that some consider satori to be
qualitatively deeper. Kensho itself has been said to be "...a blissful
realization where a person's inner nature, the originally pure mind, is
directly known as an illuminating emptiness, a thusness which is dynamic
and immanent in the world." Kensho experiences are tiered, in that they
escalate from initial glimpses into the nature of mind, on to an
experience of emptiness, and then perhaps on to Buddhahood.
At the Zen center I went to, students were taught that long practice in
meditation can lead to a direct experience of the oneness of all things
and that experience will prove the philosophy of
oneness is true. The knowledge of this truth of oneness is supposed to
eliminate selfishness and have transforming consequences for the
I used to go to the Zen center two or three days a week. I would go
right after work and I would start meditating a few hours before the
evening practice session and then stay for the evening session. On one
day of the week there was an extra long evening session so the total
time I would spend in meditation that day added up to a good number of
hours. One time, near the end of that long evening session, I was
meditating, gazing at the wooden floor, (in Zen it is customary to
meditate with the eyes open) and I felt myself being pulled forward out
of my body for a few seconds. A minute later it happened again for a
During this time I had no sensation of my body at all, the only thing I
was aware of was the perception of the floor in my visual field.
Because it was the only thing I was aware of, it seemed to me that I
associated my self with that thing. I knew I existed but I didn't know
where. I knew this image of the floor existed. It seemed natural to
associate this image with my self. It seemed like I was this image of
I knew that this experience must
the "nonduality of subject and object"
mentioned in the definition of kensho above. (Sometimes this state
is called samadhi although that word is applied to
different meditative states different traditions.) It proved to me that the
sense of self is subjective.
At the time I was a materialist and I interpreted the experience
differently from the traditional explanation. To me it seemed that
because I was so deeply relaxed, most of my brain was asleep except for
a bit of consciousness and a bit of visual processing. To me it was an
illusion due to an unusual combination of brain centers being deeply
relaxed or "asleep". Several years after I had this experience I read
about scientific research that that suggested my interpretation is
at least partly right.
Also, if a sensation is constant, the brain tends to tune it out. If there
is a constant type of sound, you may stop noticing it after a time. If
you stare at one spot without moving your eyes, your visual field will
start to become gray. This phenomenon is part of why one may lose all
sensation of their body. If you sit completely still, the sensation of
the body is unchanging and the brain will tend to tune it out.
However this neurological interpretation of nonduality is also consistent with the filter model
of consciousness which says that the brain does not produce
consciousness but filters it. When the brain is quiescent
from meditation it may filter consciousness less and one
may have expanded consciousness such as this awareness of the oneness
of subject and object. The filter model of consciousness
is explained in the chapter on
in the section on the fallacy
Consciousness is Produced by the Brain.
Maybe the Zen master would say I didn't have enough
experience of it to make a good interpretation. Maybe turning off parts
of the brain does not reduce consciousness but allows fuller awareness
through our nonphysical spirit. Maybe if I was sitting on a mountain
top under a blue sky looking down into a green valley illuminated by
golden sunshine, it would strike me as being more mystical than it did
sitting on a mat and staring at the floor. While it demonstrated to me
that the idea of self is subjective, I did not experience any
transformational consequences nor did it help me internalize the truth
of the oneness of all things.
Does this prove the ancient teachings are wrong? I don't think so. I
don't think my interpretation is any more certain than the metaphysical
one. Maybe I really did perceive the true oneness of all things, but my Western world view prevented me from appreciating it. Maybe some
clever philosopher could show how my interpretation
is really the same as the traditional explanation. The point is that the
way I interpret the experience is determined by my own world view. The
ancients didn't have a lot of ideas about how the brain worked so they
couldn't have thought up my interpretation even if they had been
inclined to be materialistic. Similarly, it may be that our difficulty
in understanding the Eastern mystic beliefs is that we have too many
scientific ideas that we can't let go of in order to understand the
mystical explanations. Maybe if we could really understand them we
would agree that they are correct. But what is also important to
is that this experience of Kensho, which might be hard to believe
if you only read about it, is a real phenomena and can be experienced
if you make the effort. In this sense, the ancient teachings are 100%
Another mystical experience I've had is kundalini energy. Kundalini
energy is also something that one experiences as a result of meditation.
The modern-classic book that describes this is "Living with Kundalini"
by Gopi Krishna. The initial release of this energy is often likened to
a geyser exploding from the base of the spine, rushing up the spine, and
then blowing out the top of the head. Subsequent experiences may vary.
Gopi Krishna had a very bad kundalini reaction as a result of his
meditation practice and was practically an invalid as a result.
I had read a little about kundalini when I started experiencing it.
Fortunately I was not as severely affected as Gopi Krishna, but based on what I had read
and later when I read Gopi Krishna's book, I had to conclude that what I
experienced was what is called kundalini energy. However I didn't
interpret it as anything mystical. It seemed to me that because of
meditation the mind became calm and the body relaxed and the physical
effects of all sorts of suppressed emotions were coming up from the
unconscious because there was nothing to distract me from my own
thoughts. Muscle tension is a sign of repressed thoughts - couldn't
relaxation release repression?
To me kundalini is a psycho-neurological-physiological event, not a
mystical event. I find support for this theory in Gopi Krishna's book
where he describes his diet. I think he was suffering from malnutrition
and that caused an emotional imbalance and that was made worse because
meditation lowers the psychological defense mechanisms that we use to
shield ourselves from our own negative emotions. In this case I do
think the mystical explanation is wrong. Maybe a clever philosopher can
show how my explanation is the same as the mystical one, but I think
there is a problem with the mystical explanation: it doesn't lead to a
way to solve the difficulties caused by a bad kundalini experience. My
interpretation does: eat a diet including minerals, vitamins, and other
nutrients needed for healthy brain function. For a period of time I
found that I couldn't meditate because when I tried, the kundalini energy
would be too disruptive. I found that improving my diet caused the
kundalini energy to diminish dramatically and no longer prevented me from
When you look at a mystical tradition you have to
separate the practical side from the philosophical side. The
philosophical side may be wrong, or impossible for a Westerner to
understand, or a symbolic or other metaphor that needs to be unwound by
a clever philosopher. However, on the practical
side one should be very, very careful before rejecting claims about what
certain practices may result in. Kundalini is triggered by meditation,
and kensho can be induced by meditation. What do they really mean?
The phenomena are real, the interpretation is difficult to understand.
If you went out into the wilderness, the jungle, or the desert, and met
primitive aborigine, you might think he was extremely ignorant and
foolish because of his ideas about nature spirits causing rain, flood,
drought, and evil spirits causing illness. However, there is something
that you should take very seriously about his beliefs: his knowledge
about how to survive in his environment. If you dropped a Westerner
alone into the jungle or desert he might be able to give a very
scientific explanation of why he was dying a few days later but die he
most certainly would. Similarly, with mystical traditions, there is
very good reason to take philosophy with a grain of salt but to give
practical matters very serious consideration. If someone from an
aboriginal culture today can have this disparity between philosophical
and practical knowledge, then the people living 2000 or 3000 years ago
could exhibit the same contradictions. If someone spends hours a day
meditating with a certain technique or doing yoga or acupuncture or
qi-gong and they make certain claims about the consequences of those
practices, it is reasonable to take them seriously even if
their explanations don't make sense.
God is love.
People who experience being in the presence of God during near death experiences describe having an overwhelming feeling of being loved.
God is omnipresent.
You can tap into this source of universal love without having a near
death experience. I explain how to do this in the chapter on Meditation
in the section on
Tapping into Universal Love
One day I was doing my daily absent healing meditation and, as
sometimes occurs, I sensed the presence of a spirit during the
meditation. I asked the spirit who they were and what they were doing?
I felt the presence of my grandmother and I also felt that she loved me.
I felt loved. This type of spirit communication is telepathic, the
medium senses what is in the mind of the spirit. I felt loved by
sensing her feeling of love for me. So I felt loved by feeling love.
And now since I was feeling love it was easy to send love back to her, I
loved her because she loved me. Her love had a way of banishing the
loneliness that is inherent in our mortal condition, and I liked that
and loved her for doing that. However, this initial perception of love
was like a seed crystal around which love from within myself could
crystallize. My own awareness of even more love within myself meant I
could send more back to her. There is no such thing as "conservation of
love" like the physical law of conservation of energy. Love tends to
increase when it is transfered, not remain constant.
I believe the source of all love is is God. It comes from God but flows
from within us.
Maybe it comes through that part of us that is created in
God's image or that part of God that is in all of us that is the essence
of what we were created from.
I have to admit I am somewhat inhibited so it was a little uncomfortable
for me to allow this love to flow from me, but it felt like it was the
right thing to do. This love felt like it was coming out from my heart
chakra and I have been told by different mediums that it would be
important for me to open my heart chakra and now it seemed to be
The next day, when I sat down to meditate, I remembered this experience
and love began to flow again. I let it become the focus of my
meditation. I felt love for God, my family, my neighbors, all people,
all living creatures, all life on earth, all life in the universe, the
whole universe. This is a way of experiencing oneness in the same way that kensho is, but instead of taking the path of stillness you engage the universe directly.
Love is like the healing force. In spiritual healing the healing force
comes from a higher source and flows into us. However, love comes from
within and flows outward. Love has healing qualities. When you let it
flow it heals from within. So letting love flow out from you is
complimentary to spiritual healing. In the simplest sense, love erases
anger, hate, envy, jealousy and other negative emotions. All these
emotions cause stress. Stress is known to adversely effect health.
Removing these sources of stress allows the body to heal those adverse
effects on health.
As I write this, I just noticed an interesting
synchronicity. My computer is
somewhat old. The paint on the keys is wearing off and it is completely
gone from one key. A few days ago I cut a piece of paper in the shape
of the letter small enough to fit on the key. I put a square piece of
clear tape the size of the key over the paper letter and stuck it to the
key. All of the other keys have their letter painted delicately in the
upper left corner of the key. That one key on my computer now has a
large bold paper letter taking up most of the key. As I type this description
of my experiences of love, I can't help but notice that key, the "L" key
and that big bold L which reminds me of the word Love.
One time I was doing stretching exercises to relax after work.
While I was doing the hatha yoga asana the plow, sitting on the floor with
my legs outstretched and reaching my hands towards my toes, I
had an unusual feeling that I had access to all the knowledge in the
universe. This is similar to a phenomenon reported by people who have had near-death experiences, and to
experiences in Himalayan yoga of merging with the Absolute.
People might not understand what it means to merge with the Absolute.
It might sound frightening, like dying.
But it does not mean losing consciousness. It means expanded
consciousness. It is more like remembering than forgetting.
From My Blog
Joy During Meditation
Consciousness Beyond the Hypnogogic State
Communicating with Other Entities
Spirit Contact During Meditation
Tingling or numbness when you focus your attention on a part of the body
is very common and occurs in a relaxation technique called progressive
relaxation often used in hypnosis and self-hypnosis. You focus your
attention on each part of the body and think "my foot is relaxed and
heavy, my leg is relaxed and heavy", etc. etc. until you feel very
relaxed over your whole body.
However, tingling or sensations of numbness at the brow chakra, the
crown chakra or other areas of the head, if they occur spontaneously
without focusing attention on that area of the body, are commonly
believed to be an indication of psychic development. Among
Spiritualists who sit in development circles for mediumship, those
sensations are very common and are attributed to the action of
spirits communicating and spirit
guides helping them to develop mediumship.
My experiences are consistent with these beliefs.
I have done a lot of meditation through out my life and I didn't notice
anything like these sensations until I started doing spiritual healing
in a Spiritualist church. At first it felt like a spirit was putting
their hands on my forehead, giving me healing energy to pass to the
person I was healing. A few months later it started happening when I
was at home and doing absent healing (sending healing to people who are
not present in the same location). A few months after that, it started
happening when I would meditate and try to communicate with spirits.
Then it started happening when I was doing any type of meditation. Then
it started happening even when I wasn't even meditating.
Even though I had done a
lot of meditation previously, it didn't start happening until I got
involved working with spirits, so it seems to me that these sensations are
associated with psychic development and interactions with
spirits are involved.
When I receive a communication from my spirit guides using the
natural method for communicating with spirits described in this book, I sometimes feel like I'm in
another dimension independent of time and space and having a kind of
vision that is similar to descriptions I've read of NDEs. Then I find
myself back to normal reality with the memory of that vision. It seems
very NDE like to me, and different from what I experienced in
traditional mediumship classes. When I developed that technique, my
intention was to follow the advice of certain spirits who were guiding a
medium I read about. Those spirits said that they can be of more help
to a person who meets them half way. I think this is what is happening.
In this technique for mediumship the mind moves towards the spirit world.
a lot of advantages to it, it's safer and it's easier for them to
communicate in their native environment.
One difficulty is that advanced guides don't think in human
language. The communications are highly symbolic even when I hear words.
For example, a few days before I wrote this article,
I was meditating and I asked my guides if or when my
psychic abilities would develop to the
point where I would feel comfortable
giving psychic readings for other people. The next thing I knew, I was
in that place independent of time and space. I saw a flame burning on
an oil lamp. I heard a voice ask, "Do you want the fire?" Then I heard
myself saying, "No." Next I heard the same voice ask me, "Do you want
the fuel?". Again I heard myself saying, "No." then I was back to
reality. I understood the flame to represent the Buddhist concept of
life which is used in the explanation of reincarnation: that a new life
is like lighting a candle from another flame, it comes from the same
flame but is a new one. So the fire represents a new life as a psychic
who can give readings. The fuel I understood to represent something
like the energy used in spiritual healing, a kind of life force or fuel
that gives life. A gradual absorption of this energy is supposed to
have transformational qualities in addition to healing qualities. A
sudden strong dose of it can make someone suddenly psychic but can
damage the physical body. So the answer to my question was that at some
level I'm not ready yet for that type of life even if I might like to
have greater abilities, and that its better to develop gradually than
risk getting burned from too great an inflow of energy, too rapid
progress, and too sudden transformation.
The subject of alien intelligences comes up occasionally in the
context of mediumship and spiritual healing. One of the members of my
development circle worked in a health profession and he would sneak in
spiritual healing while he had his hands on the patients doing
conventional treatments. His healing guides were aliens, they would
come through during mediumship class occasionally.
We are not the
only group that has had this type of contact.
Alien contact is something that comes up for mediums whether they are
spiritualist or not. It isn't talked about too much because
mediums have a credibility problem among some people to begin with. The
UFO pseudo-skeptics are just as malicious as the psi pseudo-skeptics.
Mediums don't really need the additional personal attacks they would
attract if they were more forthcoming about it.
"The Reconnection" by Dr. Eric Pearl is a book about the author's
experiences as a chiropractor who became an energy healer. He had a
type of mystical realignment done by an unusual mystical practitioner.
Afterwards, his chiropractic patients started getting healing for
conditions unrelated their chiropractic treatments. Some patients
started channeling aliens during treatment.
I think these aliens do this work because they are compassionate and
want to help other beings who are suffering. If you knew someone was
suffering and you could help them with a thought, would you do it?
Since psi seems not to be limited by distance or time, if some aliens
have surplus healing capacity there is no reason they could not apply it
wherever it is needed in the universe.
Anyone reading this who wants to give healing in this way can do it too.
The chapter on
explains how to do spiritual healing.
Exercise 3 in the chapter Natural Mediumship
describes how to send healing energy to where it
is needed for the highest good.
Sending healing to where it is needed for the highest good is not a core
principle of Spiritualism, but it is taught in many spiritualist healing
circles. The links above describe one of the various methods by which it can be
Some channelers claim to be channeling aliens. You should be very
skeptical about such claims. Unless the channeler is able to give
some verifiable information you have no way to assess whether
they are accurate or not.
The aliens that came through to our class were not alien spiritual masters, they didn't predict disasters or
tell us how many children to have. They had specific information for
the person they were guiding on the subject of being a healer.
would present themselves
clairvoyantly to the students in my class who brought them through.
They appeared short, with dark hair, light skin, and dark eyes
but were not inhuman looking.
These aliens communicated via mental
mediumship, sometimes through students who didn't
know others had brought them through
before. However, we didn't go to meet with them to confirm their
Usually, with mediumship, if we say, "Your grandmother liked
to drive race cars" the
sitter can confirm it. If we say "your healing guides like to raise
tribbles" there is no way we can currently confirm it, except to the
extent that if different students bring through the same message
from the same entities it
confirms what the guides are saying but doesn't prove what they are
saying is true.
Remote viewers have also reported contact with aliens. Psychics, remote viewers and mediums, are all communicating with entities that appear to
Some UFO reports turn out to military aircraft. But, just like with psi
and afterlife phenomena, UFO skeptics have often not made the effort to
read the literature and their explanations do not fit the facts. If you
are interested a good starting point would be to read books by David
Jacobs and John Mack who were both university professors who
investigated the abduction phenomena and found there was something very
real and very unusual going on.
The aliens may be keeping their presence low key to protect our world
from becoming destabilized from contact with their more advanced
civilization. Many primitive cultures on earth
were destroyed when Europeans settled in their areas
and something similar could happen if aliens had open contact with us.
The US government probably has a very complicated policy on disclosing
what it knows about UFOs. On the one hand, UFOs are a good cover story
for sightings of secret air-force projects. On the other hand, if
someone sees a secret plane or rocket they are easily discredited
through ridicule for believing in UFOs. If the capabilities of alien
craft were known it would encourage weapons development in other
countries (ie. a faster than light missile would be very destabilizing),
if aliens are abducting citizens and the government can't do anything
about it, they look impotent and people will get upset.
If government officials have accepted technology transfer
as compensation for abductions of citizens, there might be
adverse consequences if it became public knowledge for those
officials who permit it to continue.
Another possible reason the government keeps it secret is because the
aliens don't use money. If it became public knowledge that an advanced
civilization older and technologically superior to ours doesn't use
money, it could destroy the current power structure in the world.
More on this subject can be found on my blog in the article: UFO Secrecy and Spirituality.
I actually got interested in spirituality after reading about UFOs.
Back when I
was a materialist, I picked up a book at the supermarket about UFOs
because I thought it would be entertaining to read. It turned out to be
interesting and credible so I started reading more books on the subject.
Sprinkled throughout the UFO literature I found hints here and there of
a project going on between the aliens and souls of the dead. Since I
found many of the UFO stories credible I thought I better investigate
the afterlife as well.
Learning Mystical Traditions
Seeking Out Mystical Experiences
Not everyone who has mystical experiences seeks them out. I
started meditating when I was very young. I had read that meditation is
helpful in dealing with stress and I was having a stressful time so I
tried it. I found it was helpful. Many years later I read a book on
Zen Buddhism and I learned that people would go on retreats and meditate
all day for months at a time. I wondered what that would be like so I
tried to do what I could, and I started meditating for a few hours a day.
I found that all that meditation made a big difference. My mind was much calmer. In
hindsight it seemed like the ordinary mental state is a constant mental
fugue - I had been living constantly thinking about the past and future
always living in a kind of fantasy unrelated to my current situation.
When I did a lot of meditation I was more connected to the reality of
whatever situation I was in. I didn't want to go back to that seemingly
insane delusional mental state so I kept up doing a lot of meditation.
As a result of all that meditation, I had a few mystical experiences,
kensho, kundalini, that weird light in my head that came from chanting
aum, but I never sought them and I don't really attach much mystical
significance to them.
However, if you believe that those experiences have value, for example
if someone thought experiencing kensho would help them understand and
internalize the philosophy of oneness, I think that might be why they
would seek it out. For example, with mediumship and healing, I did seek
out those because they seemed to me to be practical skills that would
have value in themselves. Having learned them, I use them every day.
Many of the mystical traditions can be difficult to understand because what we know about them may be translated from a different time, language, and culture.
For example, Buddhist and other Eastern writings may seem strange to Western readers because they often involve numbers that seem to denote some kind of numerological significance.
However, these integers are not numerology, they are memory aids.
ancient times they didn't have easy access to books and everything had
to be remembered. If it's called "the eight fold path", then you know
there are eight things in the list when you are trying to remember them.
There is also a lot of repetition for the same reason - it makes it
easier to remember. Buddhism and other teachings that
were passed down through an oral tradition may seem to be
expressed in an idiosyncratic or clumsy manner, but it isn't fair to judge them
against the ideal of a modern self-study guide. When it was originally
set out, no one could access that
information in any way whatsoever except through a trained teacher. It
was never meant to stand by itself.
Sometimes there are two sides to these mystical traditions, the
theoretical / philosophical side and the practical side of
practices and exercises. The theoretical / philosophical side may make no sense to
a modern reader but the exercises may be somewhat clearer. This is true of Buddhism
and also, in my opinion, The Course In Miracles which is a Western
development - so it is not entirely a flaw restricted to the ancient Eastern schools
of mysticism. (If you are interested, the Buddhist sutras on practical exercises in meditation include:
The Sutra in the full awareness of breathing : anapanasati sutta
The Sutra on the four establishments of mindfulness: satipatthana sutta)
Some of the criticisms of Eastern mystic philosophies, such as
vagueness, are due to poor translations. The problem can also be that
the translator doesn't understand, from their own experience, the
mystical phenomena they are writing about. A meaningful modern
translation of ancient metaphors is difficult enough but if the
translator doesn't understand the spiritual experiences either, it is
going to cause problems for students.
If you look at different translations of the "Tao Te Ching" you will see
that various translations can be very different.
There are links to many divergent translations at
Different translations of the bible are also highly divergent.
If the translator isn't trained as a scientist, his translation
won't be meaningful to
Westerners with a scientific inclination either. If someone who was
trained as a scientists and linguist, and was also an advanced adept in
the mystical tradition made a translation, it might be meaningful to
scientifically inclined Westerners. I don't know if there has ever been any such person
available to make this kind of translation for a mystical tradition.
Part of the problem Westerners may have when studying Eastern mystical
traditions is that when these practices and theories are adopted by
Westerners, many of the finer points may be lost.
When I did aum chanting at the Zen center, the instructor, who learned
from an Asian Zen master, told us exactly how to sit (your sitting
posture effects the forces on you chest and abdominal muscles which effect how you
breathe and how the chest will resonate), how to breathe, how to make
the sound, what shape to form with our lips, how to change the shape of
the lips as we made the sound, how to start the sound, how to end the
sound etc etc.
When I did aum chanting a few years later in a class at a Spiritualist
church, the instructor simply put on the new age music and said, "okay
everybody chant aum". Calling this aum chanting is like calling rice
crispies an example of traditional Asian cuisine.
There is some controversy about whether mystical traditions should be
learned only from other practitioners or if they can also be learned
from books. It can be very hard for some people, when they
read about a subject, to determine what is right and should be followed
and what is incorrect and should be ignored. In my
opinion the good teachers should write books or put instructions on the
internet. The best thing is for every one to have a great teacher but
that is not always possible and since there will always be bad
information published, it is better to have the good information available too.
One difficulty in writing training materials is that teaching is
somewhat like guiding a group of blindfolded people trying to ride
bicycles along a straight path. Some riders will veer to the left and
need to be guided to the right and others will veer to the right and
need to be guided to the left. It's hard to give customized instruction
through a fixed written piece.
However, I still think that mystical teachings should be published. My belief is that if everything was
written out and explained clearly, the best texts would become recognized
and more people could progress further than if the only source of
learning were through working face to face with teachers.
My advice to someone who is looking for good written instruction, is to
find books by a Westerner who
has trained with a master from the traditional culture, or books by
a master from
the traditional culture who is fluent in English.
Translations of the traditional writings are sometimes interesting from
an intellectual point of view but as mentioned above
there are practical problems learning from them. But, even
if there are problems with the ancient writings, the philosophy may be
still be useful and one should go to a modern teacher/writer if he wants
to learn about it.
I had read a lot about Buddhism and Zen Buddhism before I ever went to
the Zen center and found that having done that reading I didn't learn a
lot of new things at the Zen center (except maybe how to chant aum. I
also didn't study koans which is something you can't do that without
a teacher.). However at the Zen center it was still helpful to meet with
people who had a similar interest to keep me motivated to continue the
practices. This is a very good reason to seek out a teacher and other
students - being part of a community of like minded individuals can
help you maintain your interest, effort and inspire you.
It was a little different when I started to get interested in
Spiritualism. I read a lot and when I started going to spiritualist
churches, I felt I knew more book learning than the ministers, teachers,
healers, and mediums. However I don't think I could have learned energy
healing and mediumship from any existing book. While I read about those
things and believed other people could do them, I did not have high
expectations that I could actually do those things myself. From going
to church and taking classes I learned that most people can learn to do
them. I took the classes without any particular expectation and I just
did what the teacher said to do and it worked. So in some cases
having a teacher may be necessary for the student to learn
This web site describes how to do spirit communication and spiritual
healing without a teacher. But it's hard to tell
if someone with an interest but preconceived ideas like
I had would bother to try those techniques. Also, with mediumship, I think it is
easier for the spirits to communicate when a group of people are
together as they are in a class. Additionally, with mediumship you need
to be very sensitive when working with people who are suffering from
grief and so if you are going to do readings for other people you should
probably take classes from a reputable medium.
Therefore, I think there should be books available on mystical subjects
and I think it can be helpful to read them. However, it is also helpful
to take classes to meet people with similar interests.
There are probably aspects to the subjects that you will not learn
unless you study in person with a teacher. Not only because
personalized instruction cannot be given in a written book, but also
because you might not try everything and experience it for yourself if
you only read about it.
I should point out that Buddhism is a bit different from Spiritualism
with respect to the centralness of experience.
With Spiritualism, if you believe in spirits and the afterlife you don't
really need to experience anything else first hand for that to change
your outlook on life, or on how to live life, or on what values are important
etc. Belief that your actions in life will affect the conditions you
experience in the afterlife, that there is no eternal damnation, that
there is no vicarious atonement, that the spirit can develop and
progress both during this life and in the afterlife, improving itself and the
conditions it finds itself in, are important principles of Spiritualism.
Many people can get that from reading books about philosophy or books
about other people's experiences. Experiencing it first hand either by
getting a reading from a good medium, receiving spiritual healing, or
learning to do those things can make it real and some people do need to
have such first hand experiences before they will believe, but it is
the belief not the experience that is central to the point of the
philosophy. Evidence for this can be seen from the observation that
people who had NDEs are less
likely to commit suicide. When investigators looked deeper into this
phenomena they found that people who
read about or heard about NDEs were also less likely to commit suicide.
This shows that it is the belief that is important because you don't
have to have an NDE to benefit from the knowledge of the afterlife.
(Belief is a central point of Spiritualism but
in addition to the philosophy,
there is also a practical side to it.
Spiritual healing is something you have to experience to benefit from,
and experiencing mediumship can also help people suffering from grief.)
However with Buddhism, book learning is completely useless, unless you
apply it in meditation practice. The whole point of Buddhism is to
change yourself through the practice of meditation. No intellectual
understanding of philosophy or even scientific understanding of how
meditation induces the relaxation response, or stories about what
happened to other people will make you less selfish and more peaceful.
You have to do the meditation yourself to get that.
For this reason, certain mystical systems might be better candidates for
learning from books than others. A religion like Spiritualism where you
can benefit from an intellectual understanding would be a good
candidate for learning from books.
One of the obstacles for our Western scientific understanding of these
practices, is that to understand them, it is not sufficient for
the researchers to just read about them, it is not sufficient for
researchers to just theorize about them, and it is not sufficient for
researchers to just study people who do them. In order for the
researchers to understand these phenomena, they must also master those
practices themselves. I think this is true about studying the effects
of meditation as well as studying mediumship.
One very good way for you to get more information on the effects of
these practices might be for you to try it yourself.