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Possible difficulties in Yoga as a spiritual path towards transcendence

by Ernest Valea


The meaning of Yoga
Brief description of the Raja Yoga path toward liberation
Liberation techniques in Hatha Yoga
Possible difficulties of the Yoga practice
Ahimsa and vegetarianism
Contempt for the world and attachment to the guru
The asanas and religion
Potential dangers of breath control
Stilling the mind through meditation and the experiences that accompany it


This and other similar articles address potential inconsistencies encountered by a certain religious view. While I see them as inconsistencies, for others they may pose no problem at all. For this reason, the articles are entitled "Possible difficulties in [this or that religion]" and not "Contradictions in [this or that religion]". Each of these articles is a list of possible difficulties with short comments aimed at encouraging critical thinking on each issue.

 

The meaning of Yoga


The origin of Yoga as ascetic discipline is probably found in the practices of a religious group called the Vratyas in the Atharva Veda (XV). They are the first mentioned to practice the control of breathing and sexual rituals, with the goal of attaining ecstatic trance states. The term "Yoga" has its root in the Sanskrit word yuj, which means "to yoke." In its present meaning, this term was first used in the Taittirya and Katha Upanishads (around the 5th century BC). In the second, the god of death (Yama) explains to a young disciple how to attain the perfect knowledge of Brahman and thus merge with it, through restraining the senses and the practice of concentration. The parable of the chariot states:

Know the self (atman) as the lord of the chariot and the body as, verily, the chariot, know the intellect as the charioteer and the mind as, verily, the reins. The senses are the horses; the objects of sense the paths; the self associated with the body, the senses and the mind - wise men declare - is the enjoyer. He who has no understanding, whose mind is always unrestrained, his senses are out of control, as wicked horses are for a charioteer. He, however, who has understanding, whose mind is always restrained, his senses are under control, as good horses are for a charioteer (Katha Up. 1,3,3-6).

The lord of the chariot (the self) is silently enduring the foolishness of the charioteer (the mind) and the madness of the horses (the senses). Yoga is here defined as the method through which the mind (the charioteer) can bridle the wicked senses, in order that the self may get off the body and be united with Brahman: "This, they consider to be Yoga, the steady control of the senses" (Katha Up. 2,3,11).

There are two major meanings for Yoga in Hindu spirituality. The first designates the specific darshana described by Patanjali, while the second has a broader sense, implying any effort undertaken in order to attain liberation, independently of its meaning. Therefore, any spiritual discipline aimed at liberating the self can be called Yoga. As a result, the term is used with various meanings, having more or less in common with the Yoga darshana of Patanjali. For instance, Mantra Yoga is the method that consists of using mantras in order to attain liberation (as in Transcendental Meditation). Kundalini Yoga follows a Tantric view, stressing the awakening of kundalini and its final reunion with Shiva. The same goal is to be pursued in Hatha Yoga, but by following a strict physical discipline. Jnana Yoga follows a Vedantic view, aiming to find liberation mostly by one's effort to achieve a monistic view of reality, laying less emphasis on physical effort. Karma Yoga refers to a specific mindset that has to be followed in social life, i.e., to act in a way that is completely detached from personal interests and desires. This trend is best described in the Bhagavad Gita and will be analyzed in another article. Bhakti Yoga is the name given to the large variety of devotional practices of Hindu theism, aimed at pleasing a god and earning an eternal abode in his realm.

In this article we will refer to the Yoga technique as described by Patanjali, usually called Raja Yoga ("the royal Yoga"), and to the Hatha Yoga school.


 

Brief description of the Raja Yoga path toward liberation


In the period of the late Upanishads (Yogatattva, Dhyanabindu, Nadabindu and some 15 others composed after the 5th century BC), the tendency was to consider that spiritual liberation could not be attained exclusively by means of gaining intuitive knowledge, but it had to be experienced as a result of following a certain ascetic technique. The Shvetashvatara Up. (2,8-15) had already described some instructions for body postures, breathing control and exercises to focus the mind for being able to perceive Brahman. In grounding the new Yoga darshana, Patanjali took the technical elements brought by these Upanishads and used them as a tool for achieving the goal of the Samkhya metaphysics, the liberation of purusha from the bondage of prakriti.

Raja Yoga is properly defined and described in the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali's masterpiece. The purpose of Yoga is clearly stated from its very beginning (1,2): "the inhibition of the modifications of the mind" (citta vritti nirodhah). The normal states of consciousness are the product of ignorance (avidya), which generates the sense of duality and separatedness from others (asmita) and the will to live (abhinivesha). The continuous flux of thoughts and mental representations induced by such a mindset is called a sum of "modifications of the mind." They perpetuate ignorance and the captivity of purusha in the world of prakriti's manifestations. In order that liberation may be attained it is necessary that empirical consciousness be extinguished and replaced by a different state of consciousness, in which the experience gained through senses and mind (produced by prakriti) is replaced by an extra-sensory and extra-rational experience.

The above mentioned "modifications of the mind" are produced not only through interacting with the phenomenal world, but also by a category of latent tendencies present in our subconscious mind called vasanas. They are the conglomerate results of subconscious impressions (samskaras) created in previous lives. This inheritance starts to manifest itself in the mental realm, and becomes a further obstacle in attaining liberation.

Therefore, the control of mental states required in Yoga has a double focus: One has to conquer and burn both the external illusion (the false identification of purusha with the psycho-mental fluctuations) and the internal source of illusion produced by the vasanas. The Yoga technique shows the practical way in which the entire human potential, both physical and psycho-mental, is brought under control ("yoked") in order to attain the liberation of purusha. According to Patanjali (Y.S. 2,29), there are eight steps to be followed, a reason for which the method is also called Ashtanga Yoga (the Yoga of the eight limbs):

1. Restraints (yama);
2. Observances (niyama);
3. Postures (asanas);
4. Breath control (pranayama);
5. Withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara);
6. Concentration (dharana);
7. Contemplation (dhyana);
8. Enstasis (samadhi).

Here is a brief description of what each of them involves:

1) The restraints (Y.S. 2,30) are five important moral rules that the Yogi has to observe: a) non-violence (ahimsa) - abstinence from harming any living creature;
b) truthfulness (satya) - concordance between speech, deeds and thoughts;
c) honesty (asteya) - nonstealing;
d) continence (brahmacarya) - controlling lustful desires;
e) non-acceptance of gifts (aparigraha) - refusing attachments to any material goods;

2) The observances (Y.S. 2,32) are also five physical and psychical disciplines:

a) purity (shaucha) - avoiding impurity in body and mind;
b) contentment (samtosha) - seeking joy and serenity, independent of life's sorrows;
c) austerity (tapas) - accepting any extreme condition in life;
d) scriptural study (svadhyaya);
e) concentration on Ishvara (Ishvara-pranidhana) - imitating Ishvara's way of being. This is not devotion toward Ishvara, because he is nothing more than an impersonal macro-purusha (Y.S. 1,24), and there cannot exist any personal relation between him and man.

3) Practicing the postures (Y.S. 2,46) is the first stage of physical asceticism. Its aim is to immobilize the body, to bring it under control and refuse movement, with the only goal of helping concentration. Therefore, the purpose of performing asanas is not (as often believed in the West) to confer harmony and health to the body, provide relaxation, etc., but to be a physical support for concentration.

4) Breath control (Y.S. 2, 49-51) means the refusal of breath, following the refusal of movement by performing the asanas. It is said that just as psycho-mental tension affects the rhythm of breath, likewise the action of stilling the breath can contribute to stilling the "modifications of the mind." Therefore, pranayama is an important instrument in attaining a perfect state of concentration.

However, pranayama has a deeper meaning than just controlling breath. It rather represents the control of prana flow through the human body, which is the energy that controls any possible process or movement. Vivekananda defined it as following:

It is the Prana that is manifesting as motion; it is the Prana that is manifesting as gravitation, as magnetism. It is the Prana that is manifesting as the actions of the body, as the nerve currents, as thought force. From thought down to the lowest force, everything is but the manifestation of Prana. The sum total of all forces in the universe, mental or physical, when resolved back to their original state, is called Prana (Vivekananda, The Complete Works, 1931, p. 148).

As psycho-mental activity is itself generated by prana, and breathing is the main channel for prana' s influx into the body, it has to be strictly controlled in order to attain control over the mind. In Hatha Yoga practice, which prescribes strict observances for controlling breath, the reducing of prana influx is realized by progressively slowing down the rhythm of breathing. One begins with an inhalation/exhalation ratio of 1/2, then a retention of the inhaled air is introduced in between, attaining a ratio inhalation/retention/exhalation (puraka/kumbhaka/rechaka) of 1/2/2, which for the advanced practitioners becomes 1/4/2. The total amount of time for a breathing cycle can therefore attain several minutes. Theos Bernard, the author of a famous book on Hatha Yoga (Hatha Yoga, Rider & Co., London, 1982), mentions that "until the breath suspension (kumbhaka) had been developed to at least three minutes nothing of any significance could be done" (p. 89).

5) The withdrawal of the senses (Y.S. 2,54-55) is the result one achieves through the previous stages of physical asceticism. At this stage the senses no longer disturb the mind, so it becomes immune to all impressions from outside. As a result one can advance towards stilling the mind.

6) Concentration is defined by Patanjali as "confining the mind within a limited mental area" (Y.S. 3,1). It is not a simple exercise of attention control, but a way of slowing down mental activity by focusing it on a particular spot, i.e., on a particular object of meditation.

7) Contemplation is an "uninterrupted flow of the mind towards the object of meditation" (Y.S. 3,2). In this stage meditation is undisturbed and the object of meditation assimilated and penetrated to its utmost level.

8) Enstasis (Y.S. 3,3) is attained when the sense of self-identity is lost, and all products of prakriti's manifestation fade away. Purusha is liberated from involvement with prakriti and remains eternally isolated.

The result of the continuous practice of concentration, contemplation and enstasis (together called samyama) is the appearance of practical results for the Yogi, the so-called psychic powers (siddhi). In the 3rd chapter of the Yoga Sutra the following are mentioned: knowledge of the past and future (16), comprehension of the meaning of sounds uttered by any living being (17), knowledge of the previous birth (18), knowledge of the mind of others (19), invisibility of the body (20), knowledge of the time of death (23), strength of an elephant (25), knowledge of the solar system (27), knowledge of the arrangement of stars and their movements (28-29), knowledge of the organization of the body (30), cessation of hunger and thirst (31), entering another's body (39), levitation (40), superphysical hearing (42) and passage through space (43).

Having attained this spiritual level, the Yogi is tempted by gods and other spiritual beings to use his powers for selfish desires, or to become a god (Y.S. 3,52). However, following such temptations would lead to spiritual failure. When liberation is finally attained, purusha becomes free of karma in a state of total isolation (kaivalya).


 

Liberation techniques in Hatha Yoga


The goal of Hatha Yoga is to attain the final reunion of Shakti with Shiva. Shakti, the self, is located at the base of the spine as the dormant spiritual energy called kundalini. The ascetic practice demanded for awakening kundalini consists in certain physical exercises accompanied by respiratory techniques. After kundalini awakens, it travels through a spiritual channel (sushumna) of the subtle body, which corresponds physically to the spine, crossing seven important points called chakras. Each chakra corresponds to a Hindu guardian deity and is associated with its mantra and governing cosmogonical element. Once kundalini reaches the last chakra, it returns to its primordial union with the impersonal Ultimate Reality, represented by Shiva. This is one reason for acknowledging the religious character of the Hatha Yoga practice.


Chakra

Guardian deity

Mantra

Cosmogonic element

1. muladhara

Brahma

lam

Earth

2. svadhishtana

Vishnu

vam

Water

3. manipura

Maharudra

ram

Fire

4. anahata

Ishvara

yam

Air

5. vishuddha

Sadashiva

ham

Ether

6. ajna

Shiva

AUM

 

7. sahasrara

 

 

 


chakras

The awakening and rise of kundalini through the sushumna channel is achieved by following a precise ascetic technique in which the body plays an important role. Given its religious background, Hatha Yoga cannot be a mere physical training. The most important writing of this school, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, clearly states that Hatha Yoga has to be taught only in order to reach the Raja Yoga level (1,2), which means "the integration of mind in a state where the subject-object duality does not exist" (4,77), or in other words, only in order that the self may merge with the impersonal Ultimate Reality. Therefore, the attention granted to the body has a single purpose: to make it fit for attaining control over the mind and thus liberating the self.

The steps to be followed in order to attain liberation are similar to the Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes them as following:

1. cleansing practices (dhauti), needed for both physical and mental health;
2. body postures (asana) (H.Y.P. 1,17);
3. breath control (pranayama) (H.Y.P. 2);
4. locks (bandha, which temporarily restrict local flows of prana) and hand gestures (mudra), which regulate the flow of prana (H.Y.P. 3). They combine body postures, breath control and concentration;
5. samadhi (H.Y.P. 4), which combines the withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), contemplation (dhyana) and enstasis (samadhi) of the Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali (H.Y.P. 4,87-97).
The help of a teacher (guru) in assisting the practitioner is absolutely necessary, as the awakening and rising of kundalini is full of potential dangers for the Yogi. This and other aspects of the Yoga practice will be analyzed in the following section.

 


 


Possible difficulties of the Yoga practice

 

Ahimsa and vegetarianism


In its original setting, which is very clear, ahimsa plainly means "non-killing," with reference to any living being. The demand for a strict vegetarian diet has its root in the religious precept that meat is related to the slaying of animals, which are living beings endowed with the same spiritual essence (atman) as we are. But why should this principle be limited only to the animal kingdom? Plants are considered living beings too. For instance, when explaining reincarnation, the Katha Upanishad (2,2,7) states: "Some souls enter into a womb for embodiment; others enter stationary objects according to their deeds and according to their thoughts" (see also The Laws of Manu 12,6). As the term "stationary objects" (sthanum) is mostly translated as "plants" (see, for instance, Swami Sharvananda, Kathopanishad, Mylapore, 1968), the ahimsa principle should apply to them as well. Another, even more convincing, paragraph that questions vegetarianism is the following in the Chandogya Upanishad, which explains how the self returns to the physical world in the reincarnation cycle:

After having become mist they become cloud, after having become cloud they rain down. They are born here as rice and barley, herbs and trees, as sesamum plants and beans. From thence the release becomes extremely difficult for whoever eats the food and sows the seed he becomes like unto him (Chandogya Up. 5,10,6).

Then why are plants "killed" for preparing food? Maybe bacteria should also be spared by not boiling water when food is prepared. Although such requirements are absurd, they should be respected in order to be consistent with the ahimsa principle.


 

Contempt for the world and attachment to the guru


A paradoxical aspect which concerns the social life of a Yogi is that, while advancing in practice, many Yogis (especially in the West) forget the basic moral requirements and become arrogant, acquiring a feeling of superiority toward the profane world. Instead of being humble and pure (shaucha), they often behave as if they feel pity for their inferior fellow humans. Although they claim that the ego has to disappear, as it is a primitive character feature, their pride and contempt grows. This reveals a lack of truthfulness (satya), self-control and purity (shaucha) of mind. Far from detaching from any egoistic attachments, the result Yogis sometimes reach is weakening or even breaking their relationships with "ignorant people" (usually their families) and establishing an idolatrous relationship with the guru, the guide who keeps them moving along the right path. The relationship with the guru usually becomes very subservient, with the disciples surrendering their entire life to him or her and even worshiping him or her as a god. Therefore, the requirement of abandoning personal attachments seems to be valid only toward the profane world, while the strongest personal relation (attachment) becomes that with the guru. The scriptures seem to encourage this attitude:

There is no doubt that the Guru is father, mother, and even god. He has to be served with all thoughts, words and deeds. By the favor of the guru, everything that is bound to the self can be attained. Therefore, the guru has to be served day and night; else nothing of great value can be attained (Shiva Samhita 3,13-14).

 

The asanas and religion


It is usually taught today that Yoga is nothing more than a method of maintaining body fitness, physical vigor and mental health, etc., having nothing in common with religion. This way of defining Yoga has in view primarily the practice of asanas, well known today as an effective way of inducing relaxation. However, as mentioned above, the purpose of the asanas is to immobilize the body, to bring it under control and to refuse movement in order to help concentration. If the asanas are performed without following the ten moral precepts and not as a step on one's spiritual path toward liberation, they have nothing in common with true Yoga. Through the symbol each posture represents (the locust, the fish, the candle, etc.), it involves a change of personality and is prescribed by the guru according to the spiritual needs of his disciple, so that he may more easily surmount his ignorant condition.

Therefore, Yoga cannot be reduced to a mere form of psychophysical therapy. It aims to annihilate human psycho-mental life and anything that can define personhood. Yoga has always been considered a path toward transcendence, a way of rising above the world of illusion and reaching the Ultimate Reality. It was and will always be religious and this aspect has never been doubted in the East.

 

Potential dangers of breath control


Just as the asanas are not aimed at enhancing physical fitness, but the immobilization of the body, neither is the purpose of breath control (pranayama) to enhance the respiratory flow, but rather to reduce it, in order to attain a perfect state of concentration. The reason is the "metabolism" of prana, that form of subtle energy in which any form of physical and mental activity originates. As Yoga practice aims at "inhibiting the modifications of the mind" (Yoga Sutra 1,2), and these modifications are sustained by the prana flow through the organism, it is believed that psycho-mental activity can be slowed down and even stopped by reducing the respiratory inflow of prana.

Theos Bernard mentions that "until the breath suspension (kumbhaka) had been developed to at least three minutes nothing of any significance could be done" (Hatha Yoga, Rider & Co., London, 1982, p. 89). In the Shiva Samhita treatise it is mentioned that one has to reach 90 minutes in the retention of the inhaled air (kumbhaka) in order to attain the psychic powers (3,53), 180 minutes in order to attain the withdrawal of senses (pratyahara) (3,57) and 150 minutes for each chakra in order that dharana may be attained (3,64-65). The Hatha Yoga Pradipika treatise (2,11) recommends the practice of 320 breathing suspensions (kumbhaka) daily. The mudras (combinations of asanas, breath suspensions and concentration) are important aids in attaining such performances. (For instance the khecari mudra demands a progressive sectioning of the tongue fraenum, until the tongue is fit to get down the throat and lock breathing.)

A possible effect of dramatically reducing the rhythm of respiration is hypoxia (the decrease of the oxygen concentration in blood below a certain limit of safety for one's health). The pathologic manifestations of hypoxia mentioned in medical literature are convulsions, body shaking beyond control, itching sensations, muscles contracting unexpectedly, headaches, and perspiration. The interesting fact is that such manifestations do appear during the practice of pranayama. Even the sacred texts acknowledge them:

In the beginning there is perspiration, in the middle stage there is quivering, and in the last or the third stage one obtains steadiness; and then the breath should be made steady or motionless (Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2,12).
In the first stage of Pranayama the body of the Yogi begins to perspire. [. . .] In the second stage there takes place the trembling of the body; in the third, the jumping about like a frog; and when practice becomes greater, the adept walks in the air (Shiva Samhita 3,40-41).

Far from being considered dangerous, these conditions are considered normal and transient. Interesting to mention are also the known mental experiences provoked by the increase of carbon dioxide concentration in the blood as a result of hypoxia: "sensations of light and brightness, a sense of bodily detachment, the revival of past memories, a sense of communicating telepathically with a religious or spiritual presence, and feelings of great spiritual ecstasy and significance" (E. Hillstrom, Testing the Spirits, IVP, 1995, p. 94). Could it be a simple coincidence between the appearance of such manifestations and the practice of pranayama, so that hypoxia is not actually involved?


 

Stilling the mind through meditation and the experiences that accompany it


The last three of the eight steps prescribed by Patanjali, called together samyama, aim at attaining the perfect control of the mind, which results in annihilating any influence generated by prakriti. Consequently, the final liberation of purusha must follow. It is therefore wrong to consider the practice of samyama as mere "relaxing techniques" for eradicating one's daily stress. Relaxation may be a result of meditation exercises, but it is only a by-product on the way toward liberating the impersonal self from reincarnation.

A paradoxical aspect to be mentioned here is the appearance of the psychic powers (the siddhis) through the practice of samyama. From a naturalistic viewpoint, it seems that they are nothing but illusions induced by the practice of meditation. For instance, although the Yoga Sutra mentions the attainment of powers such as the profound knowledge of the solar system (3,27) and that of the organization of the body (3,30), all the knowledge we have in this area has been produced by scientific research, and never as a result of meditation insights. But if such knowledge is truly available through the practice of samyama, and as the demands for such knowledge are not egoistic at all, why has nothing been revealed until now? Although the purpose of Yoga is not to provide such information, there is no other way to prove that the so-called psychic abilities are real. Therefore, the experience of having such powers must be subjective, useful only for the spiritual advance of the Yogi but with no relation to the external world of empirical experience.

The most intriguing aspect of these "psychic powers" is the fact that they can be attained by using other means as well. The Yoga Sutra (4,1) mentions "drugs (aushadi), mantras and severe austerities (tapas)." What could be the connection between them? Let us first analyze what meditation could have in common with the use of drugs.

The Hindu tradition knows the use of hallucinogenic drugs from ancient times. The oldest reference is to the use of the soma drink by the Vedic priest during the sacrificial ceremony (Rig Veda 9). Similar ecstatic potions were used in other ancient religions (for instance in Shamanism, in its worldwide forms of manifestation). Although the way of attaining mystical experience through Yoga and drugs is different, the actual experiences are similar. The users of psychedelic drugs also claim to attain a super-rational, super-conscious level of liberation from profane existence, a sense of fulfillment and finding a deeper meaning of existence, etc. For instance, it is known that Aldous Huxley experienced mystical states induced by the use of mescaline and concluded that it must be a valid path toward experiencing unity with Brahman:

The beatific vision, Sat Chit Ananda, Being-Awareness-Bliss, for the first time I understood, not on the verbal level, not by inchoate hints or at a distance, but precisely and completely what those prodigious syllables referred to (The Doors of Perception, 1963, p. 18).

Although the use of drugs in the practice of Yoga is forbidden, the meditation experiences are amazingly similar. For more information on this topic, see the article: Do Psychedelic Drugs Mimic Awakened Kundalini? Hallucinogen Survey Results, by Donald J. DeGracia. It tests the hypothesis that the effects of psychedelic drugs (e.g., LSD, mescaline, peyote, etc.) are similar to the effects of the awakening of kundalini, or, in other words, the phenomenology of both states overlaps to a considerable degree. This data suggests that the awakening of kundalini and the "psychic powers" which accompany it have a physiological basis. (Also, you can get firsthand information on the many physical, psychological and spiritual dangers associated with the kundalini awakening from an author who has intimate and personal knowledge of it.)

In order to understand their effect on consciousness, we must analyze more deeply the meaning and goal of meditation exercises. They play a major role in detaching oneself from the world of illusion. As empirical experience (that produces false attachments) is mediated by the mind, ignorance (avidya) cannot manifest itself apart from mindful experience and therefore can be annihilated by stopping the mind's natural way of functioning. This means that the normal state of consciousness has to be abolished and replaced with a new one which does not perpetuate illusion. In order to attain such a state, the sensorial input of the senses has to be shut down (pratyahara) and the mind forced to ignore any normal psycho-mental experience, by performing concentration on a single point (an exercise called ekagrata). However, by forcing the mind to work in totally different conditions it will naturally get distorted perceptions of reality. The practice of samyama breaks the normal sensorial input and as a result, the senses come to a point where they do not process a continuous flux of information from the outer world that varies much from one moment to the next. Instead they stay immobilized on the same stimulus. As a result, one gets a distorted view of surrounding reality and of one's own body. The very sensation of unity with the outer world can be a result of distorting the sense of perception, as Elizabeth Hillstrom points out in her book Testing the Spirits (IVP, 1995):

In addition to the enhancement of boundaries in our visual systems, we have a built-in, highly developed tactile sense of the boundaries of our own body. This sense is apparently maintained by the continual flow of sensory information from the surface of our skin (feelings of touch, pressure, stretching of skin and muscles, and the like). If experiencers' awareness of the flow is significantly reduced, as it is during sensory deprivation and other altered states, they could easily conclude that their body boundaries were suddenly dissolving or that they were expanding or merging with other objects, even with God or the entire universe. Other features of the unity experience may be due to the fact that experiencers are in an altered state and realize that they have just reached a highly prized and hard-won goal. Acting together, these factors could produce profound feelings of reality, sacredness, ultimate meaning, bliss and ecstatic sensations throughout the body (p. 126).

Scientists have been studying the psycho-physiological results of sensory deprivation for many years. Many reports indicate that as sensory deprivation deepens, the hallucinations experienced by the subjects of such induced experiments become more significant, consisting in visual, auditory, tactile hallucinations, out-of-body experiences, visions of other worlds, and even encounters with spirits (Hillstrom, p. 60-63). Similar distortions of perception can be the result of performing extreme austerities (mentioned in the Yoga Sutra 4,1 as tapas), known long before Patanjali. These experiences seem to be very real because of the psycho-physiological conditions in which they appear, and also because of the expectations induced by the guru. Given the severe side effects of meditation, it is far from being an infallible way of grasping supernatural realities or ultimate truth.


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Copyright Ernest Valea. No part of this work will be used or reproduced by any means without prior permission from the author.