The Science of Mysticism and The Art of Skepticism

In the search for knowledge, people behave like Crows, jumping from one philosophy to the other — seeking the all-elusive "Truth".

Is it some extreme case of megalomania, that leads one to believe that there is something beyond the mundane monotony (or not) of everyday life? That they have to find the reason for their existence — as though it were a pre-ordained event?

Do alternate

states of awareness really exist or are Mystics self-deluded megalomaniacs, suffering from one of the several "disorders" prevalent in the world? {sidebar id=3}


If not, what then is the difference between a Mystic (A Yogi) and a person suffering from some delusional disorder?

These are some very pertinent questions that might arise in one's mind, while confronted with the baffling phenomena of Mystical Experiences and Altered Awareness.

The Science of Mysticism

The quintessential "being" in every human would think about spirituality at some stage of his life. The quest for Knowledge is always "just around the corner" for most of us — even though we never usually get down to starting off on the journey.

We live in a materialistic world today — where material comfort rules supreme.

Now it is more the case of not wanting to acknowledge these spiritual "desires" — because for the ideal materialist, the acceptance of ideas such as spirituality would be a deviation.

Even to the atheist, atheism is his philosophy, his religion, his spirituality.

At this point, it is extremely important to differentiate between spirituality and religion.

Religion is the externalized/material manifestation of spirituality. Spirituality is the internal quest of the individual. Throughout our history, it has been observed that beautiful philosophy gets rigidified into books, teachings and churches due to sedimentation, with time.

It's like a pipe that carried water and has not been serviced for years. The water contains sediments that collect somewhere along the length of the pipe, collecting and settling down till eventually the sediments cement and block the flow of water.

Even the modern human eventually thinks about his/her spiritual development at some stage in life. There is a great conflict in progress right now, in many a mind — regarding their purpose on Earth, the meaning to their existence and their future after death.

A long time back, I came across a bunch of old paperback novels by a writer called T. (Tuesday) Lobsang Rampa.

Lobsang Rampa was a Tibetan Buddhist monk, who was supposed to be the re-incarnation of a great Tibetan Lama. He trained and conditioned from the age of four, to take up a very hard and difficult role in his future — living in the West — spreading the words of the many Buddhas who came and left after Gautama.

It was in his books that I first read about Mysticism in an objective manner. All previous encounters with the "Mystical Experience" were shrouded in a cloak of mythology and round-eyed wonder (vismay). I read about the Tibetan Creation "Myths" and found there was a great similarity with our own Indian Creation Myths.

Following that first Lobsang Rampa book, I started getting inundated by a constant stream of books and literature on Mysticism, in the most curious manner. I next came upon a book on the life of a great American Clairvoyant — Edgar Cayce — while boarding a train to Delhi, on my way to a job interview. The book was written by a Medical Doctor. From that book, I learnt some techniques of concentration and meditation. And over a period of a few months, I had my first "Mystical Experience" — a Vision (it so turned out, that the vision has had a great impact on my life). Incidentally, Edgar Cayce seemed to have been affected by Indian mystical traditions to a great extent.

An artful Skeptic would suggest that I had "unconsciously psyched myself into hallucinating…"; but I stand by my experience — and unless the skeptic can prove to me that my experience is re-producible by anyone (merely by the power of suggestion), I stand unperturbed.

Layers of the Onion

To the human comprehension, the most difficult idea is that there is more to "reality" than meets the eye. I mean, there is an immortal proverb built around the notion that what we cannot see (or in some sense measure) does not exist — Seeing is believing.

But how true is this proverb?

A lot of people believe in a lot of things they cannot see. What does that suggest us regarding the intellectual state of such people?

Recently, I have been reading a commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by I.K. Taimni and I find in the Sutras brilliantly compressed philosophy.

It is difficult to even comprehend the import of such brilliance. How is it possible to compose tiny verses like the Sutras (of various traditions) and yet compress so much knowledge into them?

The commentary on each sutra is several pages long at times. What kind of brilliance made the composition of these complex sutras so easy?

I find a great similarity between the Sutras of the ancients and Mathematical equations of the modern.

In both cases (Sutras and Math), the knowledge is not readily consumable by the common man (like myself) — thus the involvement of syntax, grammar and pages of elaborate commentary (and often times metaphors).

One particular Sutra:

    PratyakshAnumAnAgaAh pramANAni I (7)

caught my eye and would likely provide an interesting view in this matter (of Mystical experience).

This Sutra translated in English is like this:

    (Facts of) right knowledge (are based on) direct cognition, inference and testimony.

To quote from the commentary:

pramANA which may be translated approximately as right knowledge or knowledge related to facts, comprises all those experiences in which the mind is in direct or indirect contact with the object of the senses at the time and the mental perception corresponds with the objects. Although three sources of right knowledge are mentioned in the sutra and only in one (Pratyaksha) there is direct contact with the object, this does not mean that there is no contact with the object in the other two. The contact in these two cases is indirect, through some other object or person.

My point here is that even though there is no direct cognition (and which is not possible for many due to several factors), true knowledge can be reached indirectly. So, it is possible for the questioner (of the Mystical experiences) to reach the reality of the knowledge in a second-hand manner, with at least one of them volunteering to experience this knowledge through direct cognition (because the "Mystic" is naturally not a reliable source to them — being in the "other" group).

Our reality can be treated as one layer of an onion (where the universe in all its mystery) is the onion. It is possible to cross over, from one layer to the other, by practicing the way of the Yogi or the Mystic.

It is disturbing and yet at the same time mildly amusing that the skeptics refuse to investigate the phenomena first-hand and often quote each other to "prove" their point.

In the course of the discussion that followed Sri Balagangadhara's article on Sulekha (India and her traditions: A response to Jefferey Kripal…), the topic of Native American Rain Dance came up.

Skeptics questioned the veracity of the Rain Dance (whether it acutally manages to cause Rain). To be able to understand why the Native American or people of various shamanistic traditions believe in a certain idea or practice a certain ritual, it is very important to know what these ideas represent.

It is also very important to experience the "force" of these ideas, since a majority of these are experiential by nature.

The native traditions (be it native American, East European, African, Chinese or Indian) lay a lot of emphasis on looking inward or "tuning in" (as this New Age idiom goes) as opposed to the mechanistic/materialist outlook of Western (Modern) Sciences and philosophy.

It would be a mistake to call these traditions (let me use the term "Internal Traditions" to refer to these from now on; "External Traditions" to refer to Modern Science and philosophy) religions or cults, since they are typically more a way of life than a way of worship.

I make this statement now that — It is possible to see energy as it exists in nature (in its primordial state), using the very faculties that allow us to see, sense and hear. Everything in this universe is flow of energy and it is this energy that makes us conscious. To be able to perceive this energy, it is important to "let go" of the existing cognitive mechanism.

In fact, the Native American shaman can perceive in a manner different from that of the common man. It is perhaps the peculiarity of his social condition that enables him to do so. For, Native Americans (at least the traditional ones) have a set of belief systems different from the modern world. It is the same as the claim by the Yogi that he can see the true nature of the universe while in samadhi — pure energy.

Yes, a lot of the original intent of the Internal Traditions might have gotten covered by the dust of rituals (for the sake of rituals) and non-experience. But like any good Yogi would tell you — his way is a practical way, a way that works and produces results.

Anyone who has ever meditated will know that meditation can be one of the most daunting tasks ever encountered by man. There are numerous distractions, thoughts racing back and forth, a veritably chaotic condition that is inherent to the mind. This "tuning in" so to speak, requires the invaluable tool of meditation to achieve its purpose. To "peel off the layers" of the onion, it is necessary that some form of meditation be employed.

Thus, the aspirant usually begins with a lot of enthusiasm (expecting instant satisfaction), but gives up the practice after realizing how difficult a task it is, to let go of these thoughts. How many people are actually aware of the constant chaos in their mind?

The human being is conditioned from childhood, to develop numerous blocks and barriers over his consciousness, thereby affecting his awareness. The biggest contributor of these barriers is society. Since he lives in a society, he has to "conform" to its beliefs (at least to a certain extent) and practices. Hence since he is a child, his environment is constructed based on this need to conform.

It might well be necessary (and that's why it is that way), because perhaps modern man lacks the strength of intellect required to face the alternate realities that come forth when the rigid barriers on his consciousness are gone. Therefore the reader would be mistaken to assume that I am against society or social structures.

Think about it for a few moments, and perhaps you will see my point of view…

Yogic traditions speak of the various sheaths of the human being. They are (in a top-down sequence) as follows:

The Annamaya Kosha — the physical sheath (the physical body as well know it)
The Pranamaya Kosha — the pranic/energetic sheath
The Manomaya Kosha — the conscious mind sheath
The Vigyanamaya Kosha — the unconscious mind sheath
The Anandamaya Kosha — the blissful sheath

In earlier times, the knowledge of the first two (grosser sheaths) was common knowledge and man could manage/maintain these two using physical exercises like Hatha Yoga. But with the advent of time, the knowledge of only the lowest sheath (lowest not in any derogatory sense) remained.

With the coming to dominance of the West, the wheel was literally "re-invented". And Western school of knowledge is merely in its infancy at this moment.

It is very easy to ascertain the presence of the pranic sheath (by practicing exercises that induce/mobilize prana). One can feel the prana flow, like mild electricity within the body (through the pranic circuits — meridians/nAdis). The prana can be felt most commonly in the arms and fingertips as tingling electricity (not to be mistaken for the sensation when a part of the body goes to "sleep").

It is possible to cross over from our layer to the others — all it needs is the right amount of prana (energy), patience and will. The process of this crossing-over (using the Internal traditions) is what I consider to be the Science of Mysticism.

The Art of Skepticism

Throughout history, there have been skeptics. Skeptics are a necessary part of the Social machine, questioning the veracity of most things. Without the dissenters and skeptics, rational inquiry would be incomplete (and sometimes impossible). The dictionary meaning of "skeptic" is "One who habitually doubts".

The sad part of the story is that this constituent of the rational process is (in my humble opinion) so wrought with dogma, that nothing rational or scientific remains. Most often than not, the Skeptics drop the process of scientific enquiry to quote each other as "proof" of their research.

The most common point that the artful skeptic's arguments hinge around is as follows: "since YOU (the mystic) are making the claim that Mystical experience is valid, the onus is on you to prove it."

How is it possible that the very people who are considered un-scientific and charlatans by the skeptics, would be able to convincingly prove to the skeptic that their point of view is valid?

Let's take a hypothetical situation. I subscribe to the Mystic's world view and I state that whatever the Mystic has experienced is reality. I am challenged by the skeptic in this regard. In such a case, whose responsibility would it be to disprove me?

I haven't challenged the Skeptic, but it the skeptic who has challenged me.

The only way for the Skeptic to prove/dis-prove me is to embark on the path of the mystic. There are elaborate explanations and practical instructions available for the mystical aspirant (take the Yoga Sutras, for example). There are bonafide text books on mysticism. Doesn't it make sense that the skeptics do "controlled experiments" to prove/dis-prove the veracity of these books and instructions?

Let me give you an example. Till about three decades back, scientists did not believe that Lucidity was possible in dreaming. Dreams, it was assumed, were random activities of the brain which were not controllable. They were supposed to be the function of the brain on residual memories of the day in waking life. Until some scientists actually got down and tried to organize the process of lucid dreaming in a structured manner. Guess where they got their foundation (in fact a majority of their information) regarding lucid dreaming from? Ancient Indian and Tibetan texts.

The Tibetan Buddhists have a separate field of study on the practice of Dreaming (called the Yoga of Dreams), with which they practice and study Lucid Dreaming, dream interpretation, etc.

The fact that pre-cognition in dreams exists, I have learnt without doubt from my dreams and those of people in my family. I have dreamt in great lucidity about future jobs, the people I would work with, months ahead of actually meeting these people or applying for these jobs. Cases of watching the death/accidents of close family members is an often reported phenomenon for pre-cognitive dreamers.

The US Military and DIA used Remote-Viewers in its spying activities for well over 20 years. Remote viewing is kind of like pre-cognitive dreaming, except that what is being "dreamt" is actually present (and not some event in the past). People can learn Remote Viewing and remote viewers are supposed to be trained by the American Spy Agencies and US Military.

Let me give the skeptic a little "trick" that will enable him/her to achieve lucidity in dreaming. When you start dreaming, look at your hands (life them up to your face height and stare at the hands — you'll realize your dreaming when you do that). The looking at your hands is a good cue to trigger lucidity. In order to be able to do so, one has to give a strong command to the self to look at the hands during dreaming.

It's kind of like telling oneself to wake up at 3:45 AM. If the command is strong enough, you will wake up at the pre-determined time.

Okay, guess what? Even after the fact that "lucid dreaming is possible" was proven, the skeptic refused to accept it. The only way for the skeptic to accept it is by himself achieving lucidity (even then I think he would choose to delude himself…). The skeptic's way (most often) unfortunately is not a scientific process anymore. And his process of argumentation has become an Art-form. The skeptic always keeps passing the buck, over to those they oppose; not taking the responsibility for what they claim to be "un-questionably false".

Like I said earlier, the internal traditions have their instructions clearly and distinctly laid out — in the form of Sutras and other documentation. If the skeptic has to disprove these internal traditions, he has to experientially and experimentally do so. Just because the ideas proposed in these traditions do not adhere to his worldview, does not mean they are wrong. It is well possible that the skeptic's view is extremely myopic or even non-existent in some cases. The skeptic refuses to get into a serious debate on most issues (with experts of the tradition they are skeptical about) using evasive arguments and excuses. This artful evasion and trickery employed by the skeptic is what I consider to be the Art of Skepticism.

I will give another example. Something that I came across in another discussion thread on Sulekha. This was based on a couple of articles in the Columns section of Sulekha. I will refer to the second of the two (Burial of Haridas in Lahore). During the course of the discussion that ensued following "Haridas' burial", I compiled a few pages from the book Beyond biofeedback by Elmer & Alyce Green. The sections compiled were with reference to Swami Rama's Voluntary Controls experiment at the Menninger Foundation. In face of the enormous "evidence" provided in laboratory conditions, the resident skeptics of Sulekha found every "non-excuse" to reject the validity of the studies. There's nothing wrong with people forming ideas, but to studiously avoid sensible debate on their viewpoints is disturbing (especially since these folks claim to have impeccable scientific credentials).

Definitely not the last word

The intention of writing this essay was not by any means to try and justify one side of the story, or condemn another. This struggle between the "believer" and the skeptic is as old as the human race itself. Perhaps that is why the world has turned out to be the way it is today…

While it is important for Internal traditions to survive and grow, it is also important that the dissenters not be silenced forcibly or neglected in any way. There is naturally a symbiotic relationship between the two camps — even though it might not be obvious outwardly. Each group will only grow and learn more from the other. What is needed is a healthy dialog between them.


• I.K. Taimni. The Science of Yoga The Theosophical Publishing House.
• Carlos Castaneda. The Art of Dreaming HarperCollins Publishers Inc., paperback edition.
• Elmer and Alyce Green Beyond BioFeedback
• Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep, Snow Lion Publications, First Edition USA 1998.

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