The following three consciousness states are excerpted from an article titled "What Does Mysticism have to Teach Us About Consciousness" by Robert K.C. Forman of Hunter College, CUNY, and edited by me (the Wanderling) for our purpose here. However, before getting into what follows there are a few clarifications I feel are required. First, the use of the words "Mysticism" and "Mystical" as used by western writers for things-east. For me there is a negative connotation in the words in that they seem to conjure up visions of snake charmers, people in turbans laying on beds of spikes, and gurus levitating...none of which is intended or implied for our purposes. Secondly, even though the three consciousness phenomenon are listed by Forman as being separate, for me it is more an effort by the author to compartmentalize or pigeon-hole the "Whole" into some sort of word-understandable parts. Shuffling them all together is closer to experience. Last is a sentence quoted below by Bernadette Roberts where she says: "Previously such experiences had sparked a fear in her, perhaps a fear of never returning." In the next section of Awakening 101 (Folder Six, Meditation) at the bottom of the page is a folder titled "Additional Comments on Meditation" where, speaking of my Zen mentor I write:
"Under his auspices
as a young teenage boy still in high school I was coached and guided into the
practice of Samadhi and eventually Deep Samadhi. There is a place one
reaches where you no longer are. Just before that point it is one of the most
frightening experiences imaginable. I would not let loose because I was afraid
that I would "not be able to get back." Thinking back I recall fears of what would
I do if "somebody took my body" for example...perhaps thinking I was "dead"
because basic body metabolism nearly ceases to the outside observer. It is
like you are actually gone."
Roberts' statement: "a fear of never returning" is the first time I have ever heard, read, or seen anything anywhere that said anything close to the same thing.
THREE MYSTICAL PHENOMENA AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS
I. PURE CONSCIOUSNESS EVENT:
The author, Forman, starts with a report of the first of three mystical phenomena, the Pure Consciousness
Event (PCE). First, from Christian mystical literature, St. Teresa of Avila writes of what she calls the ‘orison of union’:
"During the short time the union lasts, she is deprived of every feeling, and even if she would, she could not think of any single thing. .
. She is utterly dead to the things of the world . . . I do not even know whether in this state she has enough life left to breathe. It seems
to me she has not; or at least that if she does breathe, she is unaware of it. . . The natural action of all her faculties [are suspended].
She neither sees, hears, nor understands."
Several key features of this experience jump out. First, Teresa tells us that one reaches this ‘orison of unity’ by gradually
reducing thought and understanding, eventually becoming ‘utterly dead’ to things, encountering neither sensation, thought nor
perceptions. One becomes as simple as possible. Eventually one stops thinking altogether, not able to ‘think of any single
thing . . . arresting the use of her understanding . . . utterly dead to the things of the world’. And yet, she clearly implies, one
II. DUALISTIC MYSTICAL STATE, the peculiar ‘oceanic feeling’
The second mystical phenomenon bears a dualistic pattern. Let us look at two reports. The first comes from the
autobiography of a living American mystic, Bernadette Roberts, middle-aged ex-nun, mother, housewife, and author of The
Experience of No-Self. She had been in the practice of meditating in a nearby monastery, she tells us, and had often had the
experience of complete silence we described above. Previously such experiences had sparked fear in her, perhaps a fear of
never returning. But on this particular afternoon, as her meditation was ending:
"...once again there was a pervasive silence and once again I waited for the onset of fear to break it up. But this time the fear never came.
. . . Within, all was still, silent and motionless. In the stillness, I was not aware of the moment when the fear and tension of waiting had
left. Still I continued to wait for a movement not of myself and when no movement came, I simply remained in a great stillness."
She became silent inside but, to her surprise, did not emerge from that silence. She stood up and walked out of her chapel,
‘like a feather floats in the wind’, while her silence continued unabated. No temporary meditative experience, this was a
permanent development of that quiet empty interior silence
"...once outside, I fully expected to return to my ordinary energies and thinking mind, but this day I had a difficult time because I was
continually falling back into the great silence."
She ‘remained in a great stillness’, driving down the road, talking on the phone, and cutting the carrots for dinner. In fact that
inner stillness was never again to leave her.
She experienced her interior silence as her original ‘consciousness’, by which I understand that she experienced it as devoid
of the intellectual self-reflection that generally accompanies experiences. She describes this new state as a continuation of
what she had encountered when she was in her meditative silence (PCE); only here she remains fully cognizant of her own
silent awareness even while active.
In a previously published autobiographical report of such a state the author associates a permanent interior silence with
"This began in 1972. I had been practicing meditation for about three years, and had been on a meditation retreat for three and a half
months. Over several days something like a series of tubes (neuronal bundles?) running down the back of my neck became, one by
one, utterly quiet. This transformation started on the left side and moved to the right. As each one became silent, all the noise and
activity inside these little tubes just ceased. There was a kind of a click or a sort of ‘zipping’ sensation, as the nerve cells or whatever
it was became quiet. It was as if there had always been these very faint and unnoticed activity, a background of static, so constant
that I had never before noticed it. When each of these tubes became silent, all that noise just ceased entirely. I only recognized the
interior noise or activity in these tubes in comparison to the silence that now descended. One by one these tubes became quiet, from
left to right. It took a couple of weeks and finally the last one on the right went zip, and that was it. It was over.
After the last tube had shifted to this new state, I discovered that a major though subtle shift had occurred. From that moment
forward, I was silent inside. I don’t mean I didn’t think, but rather that the feeling inside of me was as if I was entirely empty, a perfect
vacuum. Since that time all of my thinking, my sensations, my emotions, etc., have seemed not quite connected to me inside. It was
and is as if what was me, my consciousness itself, was (and is) now this emptiness. The silence was now me, and the thoughts that
have gone on inside have not felt quite in contact with what is really ‘me,’ this empty awareness. ‘I’ was now silent inside. My
thinking has been as if on the outside of this silence without quite contacting it: When I saw, felt or heard something, that perception
or thought has been seen by this silent consciousness, but it has not been quite connected to this interior silence."
In this experience the silence is explicitly associated with awareness. It is experienced as ‘the I’, ‘what was really ‘me’, ‘my
consciousness itself’. Somehow this area in the back of the head seems to be associated with being aware; as it became
silent, a sense of the self or consciousness itself within became more articulated, and was now experienced as silent.
Like Roberts’, this shift to an interior silence was permanent. Thus we should call it a state, not a transient experience. I call
it the Dualistic Mystical State (DMS).
III. UNITIVE MYSTICAL STATE:
Our last commonly reported mystical experience is a sense of becoming unified with external objects. It is nicely described by
the German idealist Malwida von Meysenburg:
"I was alone upon the seashore . . . I felt that I . . . return[ed] from the solitude of individuation into the consciousness of unity with all
that is, [that I knelt] down as one that passes away, and [rose] up as one imperishable. Earth, heaven, and sea resounded as in one
vast world encircling harmony. . . . I felt myself one with them . . ."
The keynote of Malwida’s experience is that in some sort of immediate or intuitive manner she sensed that she was connected
with the things of the world, as if she was a part of them and they part of her. It is as if the membranes of her experienced self
became semi-permeable, and she flowed in, with or perhaps through her environment.
A similar experience is described in Starbuck’s 19th century collection of experience reports. Here again we see a sense of
unity with the things of the world:
". . . something in myself made me feel myself a part of something bigger than I . . . I felt myself one with the grass, the trees, birds,
insects, everything in nature. I exulted in the mere fact of existence, of being apart of it all, the drizzling rain, the shadows of the
clouds, the tree-trunks and so on."
The author (in Starbuck's collection of experiences) goes on to say that after this experience he constantly sought these experiences of the unity between self and
object again, but they only came periodically. This implies that for him they were temporary phenomena, lasting only a few
minutes or hours.
This sense of the unity between self and object, the absence of the usual lines between things, is clearly reminiscent of
Plotinus’s First Ennead:
"He who has allowed the beauty of that world to penetrate his soul goes away no longer a mere observer. For the object perceived and
the perceiving soul are no longer two things separated from one another, but the perceiving soul has [now] within itself the perceived
Again we have a lack of boundaries between consciousness and object. It is not clear from this passage if Plotinus is
describing a transient or a permanent experience. Yet some reporters clearly tell us that such an experience can be constant. Though it is often hard to distinguish biography from mythology, Buddhist descriptions of Sakyamuni Buddha’s life clearly
imply that his Nirvana was a permanent change in epistemological structure. Similarly the Hindu term for an enlightened one,
jivanmukti (enlightened in active life), clearly suggests that this experience can be permanent.
Notice how different these reports are from our DMS descriptions of an inner expanse. There we saw no change in the
relationship between the subject and the perceived world. Here ‘the object perceived and the perceiving soul’ are now
united. ‘I felt myself one with the grass, the trees, birds, insects, everything in nature.’
One of the clearer descriptions of this state comes from Krishnamurti, who wrote of his his first experience of this sort, in
"On the first day while I was in that state and more conscious of the things around me, I had the first most extraordinary experience.
There was a man mending the road; that man was myself; the pickax he held was myself; the very stone which he was breaking up
was a part of me; the tender blade of grass was my very being, and the tree beside the man was myself. I also could feel and think like
the roadmender and I could feel the wind passing through the tree, and the little ant on the blade of grass I could feel. The birds, the
dust and the very noise were a part of me. Just then there was a car passing by at some distance; I was the driver, the engine, and the
tires; as the car went further away from me, I was going away from myself. I was in everything, or rather everything was in me,
inanimate and animate, the mountain, the worm and all breathing things. All day long I remained in this happy condition."
Perhaps the most unmistakable assertion that these shifts can be permanent comes from Bernadette Roberts. Sometime after
her initial transformation, she had what is clearly a development on her earlier dualistic sense of an expanded consciousness.
"I was standing on [a] windy hillside looking down over the ocean when a seagull came into view, gliding, dipping, playing with the
wind. I watched it as I’d never watched anything before in my life. I almost seemed to be mesmerized; it was as if I was watching
myself flying, for there was not the usual division between us. Yet, something more was there than just a lack of separateness,
‘something’ truly beautiful and unknowable. Finally I turned my eyes to the pine-covered hills behind the monastery and still, there
was no division, only something ‘there’ that was flowing with and through every vista and particular object of vision. . . . What I had
[originally] taken as a trick of the mind was to become a permanent way of seeing and knowing."
She describes this ‘something there’ that flowed with and through everything, including her own self, as ‘that into which all
separateness dissolves.’ She concludes with an emphatic assertion: ‘I was never to revert back to the usual relative way of
seeing separateness or individuality.’ Again we have a state, not a transient episode.
We could multiply these examples endlessly. This Unitive Mystical State (UMS), either temporary or permanent, is a very
common mystical phenomenon. It is clearly an evolution of the previous sense. First one continues to sense that one’s
awareness is expansive, field-like, and that the self is experienced as larger, expanded beyond the usual boundaries. One
feels oneself to be ‘a part of something bigger’, which is to say, senses a lack of borders or a commonality between oneself
and this expanse. Indeed, in Bernadette Roberts’ case, her sense of ‘something there’ followed and was an evolution of her
initial dualistic mystical state. But now this perceived expansion of the self is experienced as none other than, permeating with
and through, the things of the world. One’s boundaries become as if permeable, connected with the objects of the world. The
expanded self seems to be experienced as of the same metaphysical level, or of the same ‘stuff’, as the world. Despite the
grammatical peculiarities, ‘what I am is the seagull, and what the seagull is, I am’. (source)
Awakening 101 emphasizes Zen outside the scriptures---however, throughout the course you will find I make references to and link through to various sutra sources. The reason for such is either to back up my viewpoint with how they came down from the Buddha or not to remake the wheel. The following sutra on Enlightenment is a combination of both:
This sutra or scripture has been dedicated by the Buddha. It is a resume of his fundamental doctrine preached during his life-time so it may be considered as his last will.
It has the same character as the Sutra of Forty-two Sections and the Testament Sutra which the Buddha has particularly
consecrated to monks.
The written form of the Enlightenment Sutra differs somewhat from that of other sutras. Usually in other sutras we find
such wordings as "Thus have I heard" used at the very beginning and "All were very happy and retired with pleasure" at the
end. But all these expressions are not found in this sutra.
RETURN TO FOLDER FIVE