Film Exam Questions: Week 3 (9876)

This assignment asked for a response to three questions tied to a set of short films viewed in class.

The Films

Question 1:

How do the honest revelations of Faqir Chand help explain religious visions around the world? Feel free to use examples from your own faith or background.

Faqir Chand's revelations that he did not have any conscious hand in the various visionary intercessions attributed to him by his followers present a challenge to the traditional interpretations of religious visions as the intentional interference of external spiritual entities into the adherent's perceptual space (whether in purely psychic, visionary form, or physically).

A number of alternative interpretations present themselves in this light. One might conclude that these visions are generated wholly in the minds of their subjects, perhaps as a form of self-delusion, or otherwise as a way for the unconscious mind to symbolically communicate information it has absorbed and understood to the conscious self, with the form in which the unconscious chooses to deliver its message determined by the cultural and personal prejudices and symbolic association-networks of the individual.

The most materialist versions of this interpretation are challenged by reports of visionary experiences which have provided their subjects with information that could not have been received, even unconsciously, through the physical senses. Other versions might account for these instances by positing some kind of as-yet-undiscovered (or if discovered, inadequately described or understood) connection between the unconscious mind and a deeper source of information altogether removed from the bodily senses; this deeper source of information might be described as intuition, higher dimensions of reality, a spiritual “otherworld,” or just plain God.

These interpretations all place the responsibility for the symbolic clothing of the visionary message on the mind (presumably, the individual brain) of the person having the vision; that is, they rule out the possibility that these visions originate from the entity or entities whose forms are perceived in the visionary state, on the basis that these entities, if living, have no conscious awareness of their apparent role in their followers' experience (this assumption being a generalization from the admission of Baba Faqir Chand of his own lack of such awareness).

However, this assumption does not in fact rule out entirely the possibility that such visions do originate in some way (perhaps only partially) from the entities beheld within them; perhaps in the example of Faqir Chand, some unconscious part of his individual identity has reached out without his conscious knowledge to partake in telepathic communication with his followers. It is undeniable that the content of an adherent's vision of Faqir Chand originates to at least some small degree from the person of Faqir Chand, as the adherent's past experience of Faqir Chand can be linked causally to the appearance of his image in hir vision, even if it is not his spirit which animates the image in this instance.

Traditional ideas of cause-and-effect in terms of individual identity begin to break down when we try apply them to the interpretation of mystical experiences, as the mystical experience is in large part defined by the partial or complete dissolution of the ego into a universal identity which contains and transcends all individuals. Dividing lines are revealed as illusory, and the world is experienced as an uncaused, self-caused, infinite yet entirely empty event; the identity of any predefined entity is revealed as the collaboration of all other entities in relation to which it is defined. If we follow the implications of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics to their logical conclusion and assume that all visions, thoughts, and associations beheld within the mind or the imagination must refer to actual physical manifestations located at alternate space-time coordinates within an infinite multidimensional information matrix, the question of whether these visions originate from within or without the mind of their subjects becomes largely meaningless; as here the mind is understood as a channel of transdimensional communication, a juxtaposer of spatio-temporally distant but spiritually related qualitative first-person here-now experiences whose inside and outside are different coordinates within the same larger multidimensional space, such that visions from the senses and visions from the unconscious can both be understood as either “externally originating” or “internally originating” without contradiction.

If you prefer not to buy into my whole “everything you can imagine is literally real” rap, at the very least you can understand this point by recognizing that all the images produced within the brain are built from mashed-up recollections of previous sensory experiences; thus our present internal experience is formed of our past external experience, recontextualized.

In this light, we could say that all of the interpretations described above reflect truths which do not contradict one another. Rather, these interpretations complement one another as multiple equally valid and equally useful perspectives on the same phenomenon.

We can say, then, that when one comes into contact with the transcendental other in a mystical experience, what s/he is coming into contact with can be understood to be hirself, or a deeper part of hirself which has previously been hidden from hir conscious awareness (in the symbolic clothing of their deity or devotional-object of choice), or another entity which has consciously or unconsciously reached out through the shared channel of the imagination to communicate telepathically with hir (though in truth, both entities involved in this exchange share a universal identity which they directly co-experience in the mystical state, which means that this explanation is ultimately synonymous with the previous two) or whose physical existence has otherwise reverberated out through time and space to influence the experience of the visionary in whatever small way (this reverberation can itself be understood as an unconscious exertion of individual influence, making this explanation synonymous with the previous one, and therefore synonymous with the rest as well). If we take all of these perspectives and consider them in the context of one another and in the context of our own mystical experiences, we might assert that the origin of the experience is ultimately a mystery in itself, or that it has paradoxically emerged from everywhere and nowhere at once.

Question 2:

How does the Kirpal Statistic work? Can you think of any other religious practices or beliefs where the Kirpal Statistic is applicable?

The Kirpal Statistic refers to the high likelihood of visionary experience resulting from an engineered situation in which the impending occurrence of such an experience is strongly suggested and expected by the subject. It works because the visionary experience is something which is inherently accessible to all human beings, only restricted from some by their own mental programming to resist its onset outside of sleep. Gurus and other religious leaders who tout one path or another to accessing this state have simply developed or stumbled upon effective techniques for hacking the mental firewall by means of which most people cut themselves off from their own internal fountainhead of inspiration, and either have deluded themselves into believing that these techniques of practice and belief are uniquely or even exclusively suited to bringing about mystical experience as opposed to all others, or, if they have not, they desire to convince others of such for power.

This understanding is applicable to nearly every form of religious practice and belief. Certain religions are more honest about the fact that their practices comprise techniques of consciousness change, such as the yogic practices of various Eastern religions, which put the power to achieve a mystical experience entirely within the hands of the practitioner, so much so that they are not even tied firmly to any one tradition and are practiced by Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains alike. Others describe their methods as exclusive paths to the divine which are wholly owned by the religious institution and cannot be correctly practiced outside of it, for example the Catholic Church's sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Very few religious traditions will admit outright that their beliefs are also tools rather than ontology (though they may be such as well), as very few religious believers are even aware of this.

Question 3:

How would a Chandian approach to religion potentially change certain belief systems? Feel free to draw from your own background.

A Chandian approach to religion would drastically cut down on dogma and the violence and intolerance which follow from it. Recognizing that the power of religion is not in its symbols but through them would increase tolerance for practitioners of other faiths and likely lead to a more syncretic, pluralistic, integral religious culture. Finally, rather than taking the conclusions of religious leaders and the philosophical assertions of religious scriptures for granted and working backward from there to justify them at all costs, we would be able to begin a process of open-sourcing religion, working together to separate the wheat from the chaff and then to pull that wheat into a 21st century context so that it may be useful to us without producing neurosis as a byproduct.

Competition among spiritual memes would begin to flourish in a healthy, collaborative way, guided by a collective human intention to develop the most efficient religious system for each individual (or rather for each individual to develop such for hirself), and to situate these individual systems within an agreeable universal context, a memetic substrate or meta-theory where each path is respected as the result of genuine good-faith efforts at self-development and truth-seeking, and any apparent contradictions are understood as the result of differing but mutually-non-threatening perspectives.