A Discussion and Survey of Optimal Well-Being, Spiritual Realization, and True Exellence
(c) Copyright 2008 by Timothy Conway
[Based on Timothy Fitzpatrick Conway, “The Criteria for Spiritual Realization: An Investigation of Optimal Well-Being,” PhD dissertation, California Institute of Integral Studies (San Francisco, CA), June 1988.]
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It is a matter of paramount consideration to find the living answer to an all-important question: What is optimal well-being? To put this question in slightly different terms: What is the highest stage of human development?
In a PhD dissertation completed back in 1988, I examined the hypothesis that there is indeed a cluster of identifiable traits for an optimal well-being, a highest stage of human development, known as spiritual realization, enlightenment, awakening, or liberation.
I distinguished certain “altered traits of consciousness” (ATCs), including cognitive-mental traits, but also including intuitive, social, affective-emotional, behavioral and motivational traits, These traits were gleaned through 1) extensive documentation of spiritual literature of past and present eras (hundreds of written works of East and West), and 2) a survey given to two dozen spiritual teachers (more or less representative of different sects within the Great Traditions). This survey asked these teachers to evaluate (via Likert-scale and open-ended commentary) twenty possible criteria for spiritual realization, and also asked them to identify any additional criteria and to posit what they felt were the most quintessential criteria.
On this multi-faceted basis of authority, the most important and consistently affirmed criteria for spiritual realization include:
• a balanced equanimity or equipoise, a freedom from disturbing or agitating likes and dislikes, binding attachments and aversions;
• a deep bliss before-beyond the passing surface states of mind (joy, sorrow, etc.);
• an unattachment to any extraordinary experiences or energies or states;
• a compassionate, ego-free serving of fellow sentient beings;
• a freedom from the exclusive sense of “me-my-mine”;
• an intuition of nonduality (no fundamental separation between self and other, self and world, self and God);
• a profound love of God or Supreme Reality;
• an intuition that the phenomenal world is a non-solid, "dream-like" projection in/by the universal Consciousness or God;
• a greater sense of spontaneity and flow;
• a greater awareness of the “eternal here/now”;
• greater insight/spiritual “intelligence”;
• greater attentiveness or mindfulness or sensitivity;
• spontaneous positive influence on fellow sentient beings;
• transcendence of the egocentric “doer” sense;
• many additional criteria, affirmed by the literature and survey respondents, were posited, including greater vital energy, attitude of gratitude, benign humor, sensitivity to subtle phenomena, etc.
Significantly, in this PhD dissertation the literature of the “four forces” of psychology was also reviewed, yielding a rich listing of features of well-being given by various psychologists. (See section below for this listing of features.)
For the field of religious studies, there were interesting findings. For instance, I discovered some differences among spiritual traditions concerning the criteria for optimal well-being, especially cognitive (“belief-system”) differences, which preclude any simplistic speaking of an “identical” state of realization across traditions. Nevertheless, it was highly significant that spiritual masters from different traditions do share most if not virtually all of the same most important “alternate traits of consciousness” or ATCs, thus challenging any “pluralistic” view of enlightenment in vogue today within certain circles of academia. I also found discrepancies between what classic spiritual literature affirms as criteria for spiritual realization and what some modern representatives maintain (because these representatives often seem unfamiliar with the best mystical literature of their own sacred tradition).
Survey respondents and the great spiritual literature of past and present indicate several especially important means or methods for spiritual realization: cultivating the traits listed above (equanimity, compassionate ego-free service to others, profound love of God or Supreme Reality), as well as associating with a powerful teacher or heroic role-model; meditation (convergent or divergent); supreme earnestness; and ruthless self-examination and penetrating self-inquiry (into the ultimate Source of the body-mind). Spiritual literature also emphasizes additional factors, one of the most important and interesting of which is “just being, no egocentric doing.”
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In our secular society, it would seem, at first glance, that the fields of biology and psychology are the two chief academic disciplines that would have articulated a picture of optimal well-being. However, it is easily seen that humans very healthy on the biological level can still live in a state of great dissatisfaction, even misery, such as when psychologically ridden by depression, boredom, and emotional reactivity in the form of frustration, anger, resentment, jealousy, envy, shame, and so forth; whereas there are numerous cases on record of people who, on a biological level, are quite unhealthy, and would be expected to be in a psychological state of great suffering, such as when dying from cancer--yet who claim, or are claimed by others, to be experiencing tremendous well-being on a subjective level.  (--See endnotes at bottom of webpage.)
Thus, it appears that the field of psychology would have more to say about optimal well-being than would biology. But the history of psychology shows that it mainly arose more as an expedient to remedy the existence of various types of disturbing mental disorder, rather than as an exploration of the farther (higher) reaches of human well-being. Psychology, in its two main manifestations in the first half of this century, namely, the psychoanalytic and behaviorist schools, was concerned with the problem of bringing nonfunctional or problematically functional (for example, schizophrenic, phobic, repressed, emotionally confused) people up to a level of adequate functioning or “coping” with the demands of daily life, free of excessively severe reality-distortion or anxiety. (And note that a certain amount of neuroticism and anxiety was considered “normal”). As for the issue of what constitutes a higher order of functioning beyond mere coping with life, mere “normality,” that is to say, the issue of what constitutes true health or well-being--not to mention any possible “optimal” well-being (which, for instance, might involve extraordinarily low amounts of neuroticism or anxiety, if any at all)--almost nothing is stated in the literature.
Up until the past two decades, there have been only a relatively few psychologists interested in studies of the methods for and dynamics of true well-being, beyond “normal” living or coping (James, 1902; Bucke, 1901; Schultz, 1934; Jung, 1933; Rank, 1945; Moreno, 1946; Happich, 1948; Benoit, 1951, 1954; Kretschmer, 1951; Perls, 1951; May, 1953; Sorokin, 1954; Allport, 1955; Frankl, 1955; Moustakas, 1956; Maslow, 1956; Progoff, 1956; Assagioli, 1958; Fromm, 1960; Boss, 1963; van Kaam, 1964 ). Of course, some of these psychologists have gone deeper than others into the subject. The necessity to inquire into spirituality (some would call it “mysticism”) so as to account for higher levels of well-being.
In contrast to the behaviorists and mainstream psychoanalysts, these researchers encouraged a study of true well-being and, in a rudimentary fashion, began to probe some of its possible features.
Their research (see next section for a review of this literature) often touched on or even delved deeply into such spiritual traditions as Zen Buddhism, Hindu Vedanta, and Christian mysticism so as to enrich their views. Unfortunately, there was no official support for, or seeming great interest in, this work in the mainstream of psychology (e.g., the American Psychological Association). Psychologists were still mainly interested in the dynamics of pathology, not extraordinary health, and the two main paradigms in psychology for studying pathology were psychoanalysis (and related schools of depth psychology) and behaviorism.
In 1960, with the publication of the Journal of Humanistic
Psychology, and the formation of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, founded by Abraham Maslow and Anthony Sutich, the quest for discovering and studying real well-being, beyond the mere diagnosis/analysis and treatment of pathology, was formally an issue for psychology. With this so-called "third force" in psychology, there could now be an official focus on dynamics of health in addition to the focus on the dynamics of pathology. This ushered in the human potential movement and the concern for self-actualization.
But within less than a decade, even the paradigm of humanistic psychology was obsolete for studies in extreme well-being.
“The first three forces of Western psychology--behaviorism, psychoanalysis, and humanistic psychology--had been limited in their recognition of the upper reaches of psychological development.” (Roger Walsh & Frances Vaughan, 1980, p. 18)
“Western psychology in general and psychoanalytic theory in particular do not address the other [higher] end of the developmental spectrum [as is mapped out, for instance, by Ken Wilber (1980)]. Their definitions of maturity and health reach no further than psychosocial identity, object constancy, mutuality in object relations, and more adaptive, less conflicted rearrangements of impulse and defense.” (Jack Engler, in Wilber, Engler, and Brown, 1986, p. 50)
“Orthodox, Western psychology has dealt very poorly with the spiritual side of man’s nature ... that vast realm of human potential dealing with ultimate purposes, higher entities, with God, with love, with compassion ... choosing either to ignore its existence or to label it pathological. Yet much of the agony of our time stems from a spiritual vacuum.” (Charles Tart, 1977, pp. 4-5)
In 1969, Maslow and Sutich, going beyond an involvement merely with humanistic psychology, established the Journal for Transpersonal Psychology, and helped form the Association for Transpersonal Psychology.
And now, with this “Fourth Force” in psychology, the quest for finding and studying well-being officially jumped to a more profound level: the level of determining “optimal well-being” or “extreme health.” For it was realized in the 1960’s by these pioneer researchers in humanistic psychology (e.g., Maslow, Sutich, Assagioli, et al.) that optimal well-being might involve features and dynamics and a whole new model of human consciousness and human identity which transcend the paradigm of humanistic psychology. Higher than “self”-actualization was [spiritual] Self-actualization, which could only occur via self-transcendence, a transcending or going beyond the usual selfishness or egocentricity.
Transpersonal Psychology was founded on the realization that a “trans-personal,” “mystical,” “spiritual” “dimension” or “essence” or “Self” (cf. “self”) exists within the human being, as a human’s True Nature. Fulfilling higher-order meta-needs, or “Being”-needs, and realizing this Self or spiritual reality could allow for a more profound kind of well-being than even humanistic psychology had envisioned. In what has now become one of the textbooks of this new field, Transpersonal Psychology is defined as being “concerned with expanding the field of psychological inquiry to include the study of optimal psychological health and well-being” (Walsh & Vaughan, 1980, p. 16).
Significantly, in their education in this area, researchers in Transpersonal Psychology, like some of the aforementioned Humanistic-oriented psychological researchers of earlier decades, were and are still now reading some of the classic literature from the great spiritual traditions--Zen, Theravada and Vajrayana Buddhism, Hindu Vedanta, Sufism, Taoism, Christianity, Judaism, and American Indian shamanism. Furthermore, transpersonal psychologists were now very open to practicing spiritual disciplines and dialoguing with teachers more or less representative of these spiritual traditions. A number of articles by, or interviews with, various spiritual teachers themselves are to be found in the issues (especially the earlier issues) of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. Initially, the emphasis was on encountering the Eastern spiritual traditions, but soon the “Western” spiritual traditions--Christianity, Judaism, Sufism, and American Indian shamanism--were included in this encounter, though the main focus still seems to have been on the Eastern spiritual traditions, especially the Buddhist schools. (The Buddhist schools can seem more “scientific” than the others, perhaps because of, first, their many categories or lists of mental factors, states of consciousness, and so forth, as well as, second, the absence of any concept of God, which can sometimes breed a peculiar kind of discomfort in Western academic researchers.)
An encounter with spiritual traditions was noteworthy, since one reason psychology arose in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was due to the evident failure of the Western religious traditions to help Westerners handle their mental disorders. However, now it was the esoteric (inner), mystical, “spiritual” traditions--East and West--that were being studied by these psychologists, not so much the exoteric (outer), orthodox, “religious” Western traditions. The exoteric religious traditions still tend to be viewed suspiciously by psychologists (even by many transpersonal psychologists) as ineffective and impotent, if not actually psychologically harmful. To speak further of this “spiritual”-“religious” distinction (see also Charles Tart, 1977, p. 4), the “spiritual” aspects of the “great traditions” tend usually to have a more clearly soteriological, transformational emphasis, pointing toward a more radical kind of extreme well-being, whereas the “religious” aspects of the great traditions tend merely to be oriented to intellectual doctrines, ritualistic practices, and gaining members for the “in-group.”
Dick Anthony (in Anthony, et al., 1987) is pointing to the same distinction with his notion of “multilevel” vs. “unilevel” sensibility. According to this distinction, “Unilevel groups err toward trivializing and misreading the nature of genuine spiritual transformation.... Groups with unilevel sensibilities confuse the attainment of authentic spiritual transcendence or realization with the attainment of mundane psychological, sensory or material conditions, such as financial success, interpersonal satisfaction, inducement of special inner sensations or moods, commitment to a certain set of beliefs.... They harbor the attitude that the value as well as the proof of spiritual transformation lies in predictable, observable consequences in the mundane sphere.” Whereas, by strong contrast, “Multilevel groups do not confuse mundane and transcendental consciousness, and so foster genuine inner spiritual development. Our frame of reference for defining unilevel versus multilevel sensibilities is the collective teachings of the great mystical traditions... Hinduism, Sufism, ... Buddhism,... Zen Buddhism, Christian mysticism and Taoism.”
For their part, Western researchers in the actual fields of religious studies, with only a relatively few exceptions (notably, Danto, 1972; Ellwood, 1980; Happold, 1970; Huxley, 1945; Inge, 1948; Jones, 1909; Katz, 1978; Moore, 1973; Otto, 1950, 1962; Pratt, 1930; Scharfstein, 1973; Scholem, 1954; Schuon, 1975; Smart, 1958, 1970; H. Smith, 1965, 1976; M. Smith, 1931, 1977; Staal, 1975; Stace, 1960a, 1960b; Streng, 1976; Suzuki, 1957; Underhill, 1961; Von Hugel, 1921, 1926; Watkin, 1920; Whiteman, 1961; Woods, 1981; Zaehner, 1957,
1960; Zimmer, 1951) have been less concerned with optimal well-being or spiritual realization (i.e., the “mystical” aspect of religious life), and instead much more concerned with the orthodox and exoteric side of religion. And such mainstream researchers have been chiefly concerned with the conventional, exoteric Christian religious traditions, not with the truly “spiritual,” esoteric, mystical traditions found cross-culturally within the world’s orthodox religious traditions. These researchers have not really done anything to articulate an optimal stage of human well-being, evidently preferring instead merely to discuss the origins and histories of religious beliefs and rituals, and the theologies, ontologies, eschatologies, epistemologies, cosmologies and demographics of religions (again, mainly the Christian religion), emphasizing “academically rigorous,” but thereby often quite limiting, methodologies for studying religion--all of which do not directly bear on the issue of what constitutes optimal well-being.
While such concerns in the academic field of religious studies undoubtedly have their place of importance for research, of paramount importance is the realization that it is not any of these topics or areas of study, but rather the subject of optimal well-being, which is centrally emphasized in the classic spiritual literature written or spoken by the great spiritual masters themselves--who, quite clearly, constitute the core and raison d’etre of all the great religious/spiritual traditions.
For instance, in Christian literature, one does not find Jesus or the great Christian saints talking about abstruse theological or philosophical or methodological research issues. Instead, these eminent spiritual masters are frequently talking about “perfection” or “salvation” and the need to realize an incomparable love of God, love of neighbor, charity, peace, contentment, fortitude, humility, faith, trust in God, and so on; and the Buddhist and Hindu masters or sages are frequently pointing to that psychospiritually sublime, “unconditioned condition” of nibbana or nirvana (a “blowing out” of selfishness) or moksa (freedom or liberation from all that egotistically binds) or brahma-vidya or jnana (knowledge or realization of Absolute Reality) as the highest stage of human development, the essential, final goal-- optimal well-being. And they claim and actually exemplify that this optimal well-being involves an extraordinary --perhaps fantastic sounding-- degree of bliss, equanimity, peace, love, fearlessness, desirelessness, compassion, sensitivity, freedom from negative selfish states, and sometimes even various “wondrous” or statistically “extraordinary” abilities. A life lived without ever realizing this optimal well-being is considered by these spiritual masters, East and West, to be a life entirely wasted in pursuit of the trivial --no matter how socially “prestigious” such a life may seem to be!
The “Great Traditions” of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism,
Christianity, Sufism, Jainism, Judaism and Shamanism, have, with greater or lesser clarity, long posited a lofty model or goal of optimal human well-being. And it is this ideal that interested many of the aforementioned humanistic-oriented psychologists and largely inspired the emergence of Transpersonal Psychology. This ideal continues to impress the major current researchers in the field of Transpersonal Psychology (and a number of researchers in the Humanistic Psychology field)-- almost all of whom are practitioners-apprentices of spiritual traditions.
Now the main focus for us here is the precise nature of the cluster of traits which might comprise such an optimal well-being or spiritual realization and whether this cluster of traits is identical across the different spiritual traditions.
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In the spiritual traditions, this goal of optimal well-being, the highest stage of human development, is denoted by a great number of terms, including the several terms mentioned above--nibbana/nirvana, moksa, brahma-vidya, jnana. Other such terms from the Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi and Christian traditions include kaivalya (release into the Alone/All-One condition), sahaja samadhi (a natural, eyes-open non-duality or unicity of awareness), siddhi (accomplishment), anuttara-samyak-sambodhi (supreme, perfect enlightenment), fana‘ (extinction of selfishness) and baqa‘ (remaining as God), theosis (deification).
Ralph Metzner (1980, 1986) has documented ten prominent metaphors for the transition to and achievement of optimal well-being: from dream-sleep to awakening; from illusion to realization; from darkness to enlightenment; from imprisonment to liberation; from fragmentation to wholeness; from separation to oneness (at-one-ment); from being on a journey to arriving at a destination; from being in exile to coming home (at source); from seed to flowering tree; from death to rebirth.
Transpersonal Psychology authors Roger Walsh, Duane Elgin, Frances Vaughan, and Ken Wilber (1980, p. 37), summing up some of the research in the field of spirituality, maintain that “awakening or enlightenment is the aim of the consciousness disciplines.”
The terms “awakening” and “enlightenment” are frequently used in some spiritual circles to refer to an incomplete, initial or intermediate insight or opening into one’s spiritual process toward optimal well-being. For our purposes, the goal of optimal well-being will not be chiefly denoted by these terms, but simply by the term “spiritual realization,” though “spiritual awakening,” “enlightenment,” “liberation,” “wholeness-holiness” and “oneness” or “nonduality” are terms which I consider fairly equivalent and no less worthy, and which will be used intermittently here.
Though I mainly use the term “spiritual realization” as perhaps the most appropriate term to denote the stage of optimal well-being, I am also aware that, in the spiritual literature, this term “realization” has been criticized as inadequate--for example, the eminent south Indian sage Ramana Maharshi used to say that the spiritual Self is always already real, It alone is real; we are always already this real Self. The spiritual way that Ramana repeatedly emphasized, is not so much a matter of trying to realize (i.e., “make real”) our spiritual Self, but more a matter of stopping the chronic, ignorant activity of trying to “make real” all of our selfish, constricting tendencies (Ramana Maharshi, 1972; Sri Ramanasramam, 1968).
Each of the other terms used in the spiritual traditions to refer to optimal well-being can, likewise, also be found to be criticized as inadequate by some of this same literature. For instance, a number of Hindu sages and Oriental Zen masters say that our true identity is always already awake, free, enlightened, and whole, and that the sense of spiritual sleep, bondage, darkness, fragmentation (etc.) is a temporary illusion, destined inevitably to extinction. Hence, to talk of “awakening” or “liberation” or the like is to speak of an illusory event, for “nothing is really ever happening”--for Absolute Reality is fundamentally changeless, not capable of being improved.
It should nevertheless be noted that each of the various terms found in the spiritual literature to denote optimal well-being have certain connotations which are pertinent and useful for psychologists in certain ways. For instance, the term “awakening” is interesting for psychologists because of the suggestion that what is normally considered “waking” consciousness may perhaps be a kind of “dream” fairly similar in nature to the night-dream; this term “awakening” further suggests that one may transcend the three “normal” known states of consciousness--waking, dream, and dreamless sleep states--and discover a new state of consciousness, or even “That” which transcends any and all particular “states” of consciousness as their source or matrix or very substance. (Indeed, the Hindu Vedanta teachers maintain the existence of turiya, “the fourth,” the principle of consciousness that witnesses the three conventional states; they even confess the reality of turiyatita, that Absolute Awareness which transcends even the witnessing function.)
The term “enlightenment” is also intriguing in that it suggests both an increase in radiance as well as a kind of radical “aha” learning phenomenon (in the same manner that an object mistakenly perceived as a snake in a dark room is discovered to actually be an inert rope when a light is turned on); “enlightenment” also has the connotation of “lightening up,” in the sense of relaxing, letting go of a needless psychological burden and becoming less attached, more free-flowing and cheerful.
The term “liberation” is also interesting for psychologists in that it suggests becoming free of limiting and binding self-concepts and/or cognitive, perceptual, affective, motivational patterns of conditioning, with a consequent increase in psychological autonomy.
The term “wholeness-holiness” suggests a re-owning of projected, fragmented aspects of consciousness in a profound integration or reintegration of consciousness--not only in terms of personal intrapsychic phenomena, but also interpsychic phenomena in the transpersonal domain.
The term “spiritual realization” connotes a shift into a new context from which to function, one which “subrates” other, more limited contexts (see Eliot Deutsch, 1969. pp. 15-26), and is thus more real (“realized”), less involved with the false, the illusory, the transient, and which may, therefore, bring new cognitive, perceptual, affective, motivational, behavioral, and social consequences.
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SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS RESEARCH
If there really is such an optimal well-being, a higher or even “highest” stage of development, a higher/highest condition of consciousness, a genuine spiritual realization or awakening or liberation, what are its criteria or features? Are these criteria posited unanimously by spiritual traditions cross-culturally and in both ancient as well as modern times? Or are some features important for some traditions/times and not for others? Are some criteria more important than others? Is spiritual realization for everyone or only for a few elite? Does spiritual realization, or the shift into optimal well-being, occur gradually or suddenly? Is it final and irreversible, or subject to reversal, degeneration or undoing? What are the means for spiritual realization, and is there only “one way,” or are there many ways to undergo realization into optimal well-being? What is the relevance of the idea (if not the actual fact) of spiritual realization for psychological research and practice?
To my knowledge, such questions have not yet been comprehensively, adequately, satisfyingly addressed in the transpersonal or other psychological literature, though, to be sure, very brilliant (albeit partial) contributions have been made by a number of researchers (whose work will be reported in this dissertation).
Several decades ago, Gordon Allport, a prominent Western psychologist, declared to Houston Smith, eminent professor of comparative spirituality, “In the West, we have... on the psychology of liberation--nothing” (Smith, 1977, p. 161n).
While aforementioned humanistic and transpersonal psychological researchers have actually made fruitful inquiries into various aspects of well-being and even “optimal well-being,” I believe that much, much more can be discussed and posited about the subject of optimal well-being and a “psychology of liberation.” My PhD dissertation contributed toward such a psychology of liberation: 1) by presenting the views of psychologists, and, more importantly, documenting the views of spiritual masters and scriptures from the Great Traditions, and of current more or less representative teachers from the different traditions; and 2) by attempting to address various questions such as those raised earlier, with special emphasis on a) elucidating the criteria or characteristic features of this spiritual realization, and b) the means for spiritual realization.
Such criteria seem capable of being posited which bear on all the dimensions of human psychological functioning-affective, cognitive, perceptual, behavioral, motivational, attentional, interpersonal/social, and even such dimensions as “intuitive” and “energetic.”
What, then, is the importance and implication of investigating optimal well-being, specifically in terms of optimal-well-being-as-spiritual-realization?
1. For research psychology such a study is important in that a more clearly detailed and profound view of psychological “health” can be posited--a view, furthermore, which must account for a spiritual, and not solely psychological, dimension of human being. The paradigm of Western psychology can thereby be expanded to embrace new issues for research (such as developing psychological inventory tests to ascertain the presence of and/or measure new skills, personality traits, or other psychological constructs), and even new or relatively unused methods of research (for it may be discovered that optimal well-being may be researched most fruitfully--not by the experimental method--but, perhaps, by the participant-observer research method, or by the phenomenological research method).
2. For the fields of Transpersonal Psychology and also Religious Studies, it is important to determine whether there is in fact a “transcendental unity of religions” (as affirmed by Huxley, Schuon, Wilber, et al.), a single “highest stage of development” shared by those from various spiritual traditions who go furthest in their realization; or, on the other hand, as some researchers now wish to maintain (Brown, 1986, Katz [et al.], 1978), whether there are different outcomes of the spiritual paths, “different mountaintops.”
3. Some of the research in the fields of mysticism (e.g., Stace and Bucke) and much research in Transpersonal Psychology, especially in its earlier phases, has often tended to be occupied with transitory altered states of consciousness (ASCs) and higher states of consciousness (HSCs). However, this dissertation is based on Maslow’s oft-noted concern (1972) over the “state-trait” issue and values his observation that one needs to beware being overly concerned with glamorous-sounding but transitory “peak experiences.” The task, instead, is to discover what psychologist Asrani terms the “plateau experience” (U.A. Asrani, in White, 1972). In other words, in our investigation, the emphasis is not so much upon “altered states of consciousness” as upon “altered traits of consciousness” or ATCs. My thorough study of the literature of many eminent spiritual teachers suggests that authentic spiritual realization entails a permanent, unchanging plateau-experiencing, a highest stage of development which involves a cluster of traits. And not only does this highest stage of development have the alleged advantage of being stable, it is also claimed by these spiritual masters to be superior to all “peak experiences” in a number of ways.
4. In terms of the practice of psychotherapy, through this
inquiry into spiritual realization clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors may be informed of a higher stage of development possible for both their clients as well as for themselves:
a) therapists can be challenged out of any complacency over feeling “psycho-spiritually healthy,” and can become aware of a more optimal context of well-being from which therapy can more fruitfully be conducted;
b) a more definite goal of true “health” for the client in the therapeutic process can be posited (this is an ideal outcome to begin approaching, if not to be completely realized, in the course of therapy).
In addition, certain current unconventional experiences of the client (or the therapist!), very prone to being labeled “pathological” by conventional psychologists, may be seen to actually be phenomena pointing toward extreme well-being (not merely toward deeper pathology). For instance, moments of “selflessness,” or lack of ego-boundaries between self and other, which may initially produce confusion, anxiety, malfunctioning in one’s tasks, and which therefore could be considered by many psychologists as “pathological confluence,” may actually be a transitional occurrence on the way toward extraordinary perceptual clarity, empathy, compassion, spontaneous paranormal powers (e.g., clairvoyance, telepathy), and so on.
5. For developmental and educational psychology, a clearer
picture of the traits involved in a higher (highest?) stage of development would imply that children in the school system be exposed to lesson-plans and values in a curriculum which promotes the realization of such traits in the years ahead for as many students as possible.
Furthermore, at the other end of the age spectrum, “retired” or close-to-retiring individuals, prone to feeling “dumped” by their society, would still have a meaningful goal upon which to focus-- namely, spiritual realization, which is not dependent upon age. These elderly citizens would still have a profound reason for living.
There are several other significant implications hopefully yielded by this dissertation, but these are better reserved for the closing discussion section.
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REVIEW OF THE WESTERN PSYCHOLOGICAL LITERATURE
In this section, a summary and discussion of the contributions of a number of Western psychologists on the subject of psychological health are presented. At the commencement of work on my PhD dissertation, I initially created an anthology roughly 170 pages in length presenting the views of various psychologists on well-being mainly in their own words. Due to space limitations and the proper purposes of a dissertation, this body of material was not used; however, it is highly worthwhile to be able to read many of these psychologists’ own words on this important subject. (It must be interjected that the increasing number of psychologists in the humanistic and transpersonal psychology fields who are writing on the topic of well-being are in many cases not as familiar as they might be with the writings on this topic already put forth by other psychologists--thus they often seem to be engaged in an activity akin to “re-inventing the wheel.”)
In this section, as a kind of summary, I will simply list the features of well-being offered by some three dozen important psychologists over the last 110 years in various writings, and then I will review some of this literature, especially that literature put forth by certain transpersonal psychologists which pertains to optimal well-being (our most pertinent task here at this webpage).
Presented at the outset of the summary-listing are the features of “normal psychological health” which are to be found in the theories of some of the more influential thinkers in the history of mainstream Western psychology--Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Otto Rank, Wilhelm Reich, and Erik Erikson. Following these are presented the features of a more “extreme” or “profound” psychological health as formulated by Erich Fromm, Hubert Benoit, William James, and Richard M. Bucke. After brief coverage of the position of the Behaviorism school of psychology (John Watson, B.F. Skinner, and Albert Ellis), attention is given to the features of optimal well-being as found in the views of leading psychologists associated with the movements of humanistic psychology (Abraham Maslow, Roberto Assagioli, Frederick Perls, Douglas Heath, Arthur Combs, Adrian van Kaam, et al. and transpersonal psychology (Maslow, Daniel Goleman, Ram Dass, John Welwood, Ken Wilber, Daniel Brown, Richard Anthony, Roger Walsh, Frances Vaughan, John White, et al).
In the Transpersonal Psychology field, specific articles on well-being written by several authors are sometimes sampled here for features of well-being, hence in the list below two authors are in some instances given together, while in another place one of the authors is posited alone (for instance, an important article co-authored by Welwood and Wilber provides certain features of well-being which are presented here separately from the views of Welwood alone and Wilber alone).
The various features of well-being are listed here sometimes as nouns or noun-phrases, and at other times as adjectival phrases describing one who lives in this state of well-being. It must be further noted that this “state” of well-being described by most of the authors is not a “state” in the conventional sense of the word, which implies a passing condition of consciousness; rather, this well-being is an “unconditioned condition” of consciousness that has begun to manifest certain abiding “traits” of well-being. So, whereas one may continue to speak of the “state of well-being,” what is really intended here is (in more verbose terms) the “cluster of abiding traits which are characteristic of well-being.”
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Summary of the views of western theorists from the "Four Forces of Psychology" concerning the features of health/well-being:
i) Psychoanalysis/Ego-psychology/Depth psychologies and others:
1) Sigmund Freud (1856-1939): freedom from the seven defense mechanisms (repression, denial, rationalization, reaction formation, isolation, regression, projection) and ability to sublimate anxiety; ability to free-associate; ability to live by reality principle (not pleasure principle); attainment of genital stage of psychosexual development; ability to enter into mature sexual love relationships; productive use of one’s talents; making conscious (bringing into the sense of “I”) what was formerly unconscious (perceived as “it”). (Freud, 1953).
2) Carl Jung (1875-1961): individuation, coming to whole selfhood; self-realization; diminishing the layer of the personal unconscious, revealing the wider collective unconscious; entering absolute communion with the world at large; union of conscious with unconscious; freedom from ego-inflation and ego-impotence; development of the thinking, intuition, feeling, and sensation functions. (Jung, 1967).
3) Alfred Adler (1870-1937): development of gemeinschaftsgefuhl, social interest and cooperation and sense of human solidarity, connectedness, fellowship; an attitude of constructive mastery of the environment; fulfillment in work/friendship/love; promotion of socially conjunctive emotions, reduction of socially disjunctive emotions. (Adler, 1956).
4) Otto Rank (1884-1937): successful working through of the birth trauma and the fundamental non-instinctual dualism of fear of life and fear of death; development of will-power and self-assertiveness; achievement of a unified working together of will, counter-will, and ideal-formation, yielding an optimally productive and creative life. (Rank, 1945).
5) Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957): freedom from psychological and physical armoring, and the development of a free-flow of orgone energy; ability to act and react as a whole organism. (Reich, 1973, 1960).
6) Erik Erikson (1902-72): cultivation of eight virtues/traits: hope, willpower, purpose, competence, fidelity, love, care, wisdom. (Erikson, 1963, 1968).
7) Erich Fromm (1900-80): overcoming separateness through at-one-ment/union; ability to love (involving, as preliminaries, discipline, concentration, patience, supreme concern for master of the art of loving, intense practice, care, responsibility, respect and knowledge); ability to be alone with oneself; ability to be fully present in the here and now; to have sensitivity to oneself without defense or rationalization; having an image of complete, healthy human functioning; transcending concern for oneself; overcoming of narcissism; ability to be objective; being able to penetrate and fuse with another person; humility; rational faith; courage to take a risk; full intensity and awakeness; full development of reason; openness; emptiness (in the Zen sense); dropping the ego; giving up greed; seeing reality as it is; ability to just be (not addicted to consuming, having, or doing); ability to live in real joy. (Fromm, 1963a, 1963b, 1976).
8) Hubert Benoit (1904-92): satori (Zen enlightenment); ego death and rebirth as the “new man” in the realization of the Absolute Reality or Supreme Identity, with concomitant peace, bliss, humility, spontaneity, freedom from binding attachments; a felt-sense of lightness and transparency of the organism; a “letting go which lasts,” attained after the “non-will to experience” has balanced out the chronic “will to experience”; perfect existential joy; sense of clarity and unity; perfect tranquility and cessation of mental agitation; freedom from the dualistic-egotistical illusion; awakeness, alertness; one’s behavior is now determined by the “total law of universal cosmic equilibrium,” not by the “disordered laws of partial determinism”; realization of the Self and not-Self as really one, not opposed; realization that one is always free, never really having been “bound”; consciousness of the essence of mind (located neither inside nor outside, but everywhere and nowhere) in the midst of being conscious of various images, sensations, etc.; overcoming of subject-object dualism (yet not confusing sensory objects with one’s own organism); going beyond the chronic “hypnotized” state of having one’s attention localized and “captivated” in attachment to exclusive objects; acceptance of the natural “will to live” without attachment; realization of life as a blissful play; acceptance and balance of convergent [concentrated] and divergent [open-ended, receptive] functioning; non-attachment (in the sense of possessing as if one did not possess); indifference to suffering (though having a sensibility to it); freedom from pride (the root of all “sins”/errors); minimal consideration of self; being the Absolute Self and not seeing any difference between “my” body and any “other” body or phenomenal object. (Benoit, 1959, 1973, 1987).
9) William James (1842-1910): saintliness; charity, purity, felicity, patience, bravery; superior denomination of happiness; steadfastness of soul; living in a wider life than that of this world’s selfish little interests; surrender to a benevolent ideal power; an immense elation and freedom; loving and harmonious affections; attitude of “yes, yes” rather than “no” (where the claims of the non-ego are concerned); blissful equanimity and peace; freedom from fear, tenseness, anxiety; emphasis on being rather than having; living from a new center of energy; trust in God and reliance upon God; positive transformative influence on others; an increaser of goodness in the world; abounds in impulses to help (souls as well as bodies); reliability; humble-mindedness; lives in unity consciousness; aware of our oneness with the Absolute/God. (James, 1958).
10) Richard M. Bucke (1837-1902): cosmic consciousness; peace and happiness; sense of cosmos as being a living presence; sense of eternal life/immortality; sense of all things working together for the good and happiness of each and all; sense of love as being the foundation principle of the world; freedom from fear of death; no sense of sin; greater charm of personality; sense of immersion in subjective light. (Bucke, 1923).
11) B.F. Skinner (1904-90) and John Watson (1878-1958): simply, absence of phobias and non-functional behaviors.
12) Albert Ellis (1913-2007): freedom from irrational beliefs and demands; a self-fulfilling, creative, emotionally satisfying life. (Ellis, 1975).
iii) Humanistic Psychology:
13) Abraham Maslow (1908-70): self-actualization; mastery of deficiency needs and devotion to Being-needs; attains Being-cognition (beyond self-centeredness); concerned with ends (rather than means); sense of finis, completion, totality; pure happiness, bliss, fulfillment; sense of perfection; desirelessness; purposelessness, non-striving; fearlessness; anxiety-free; courage; unhampered, freely-flowing, uninhibited; metamotivation; spontaneity; creativeness; here-now activity; fulfillment of one’s vocation; transcendence of time-space; sense of eternity; awe-full sense of the sacred, the holy, the absolute; innocence; acceptance of whatever happens; equi-valuing; humility; patience; unitary seeing; integration or resolution of dichotomies/opposites; philosophical, unhostile sense of humor; Being-love; more efficient perception of reality and more comfortable relations with it; acceptance of self, others, nature, simplicity; continued freshness of appreciation; mystical/peak experiences; gemeinschaftsgefuhl; more profound interpersonal relations; democratic character structure; transcendence of any particular culture; valuing of truth, beauty, goodness, wholeness, dichotomy-transcendence, aliveness, uniqueness, justice, order, richness/differentiation, playfulness, self-sufficiency, meaningfulness; full experiencing without adolescent self-consciousness; continually making growth choices rather than fear choices; letting the self emerge; realization of one’s possibilities; honesty; taking responsibility; giving up defenses and metapathologies; re-sacralizing (avoiding the defense mechanism of de-sacralization). (Maslow, 1956, 1972).
14) Carl Rogers (1902-87): (adding to Maslow:) openness to experience; living in more existential fashion; being and becoming a process; increasing trust in the organism; full acceptance of oneself as one is; congruence in inner/outer behavior; unconditional positive regard for all. (Rogers, 1961, 1967).
15) Roberto Assagioli (1888-1976): discovery or creation of a unifying center, one’s true Self, and psychosynthesis--the formation or reconstruction of the personality around the new center; Self-awareness, independent of any content of consciousness; elation; expansion of consciousness; reverence-worship-joyful participation in the larger reality; relief from the narrow limitations of the personal self; communion and identification with universal life; assimilation of inflowing superconscious energies; joy, serenity, inner security, calm power, clear understanding, radiant love; realization of essential Being, direct experience of the Self; expansion of personal consciousness into that of the Self. (Assagioli, 1958, 1965).
16) Frederick Perls (1893-1970): maturing; transcendence from environmental support to self-support (self-regulation); fuller use of potential; being centered or grounded in oneself (the highest state a human can achieve); seeing whatever happens as a passing parade; being completely in touch with oneself and reality (no phobic avoidances of here-now or fantasies about it); awareness of ongoing experience; experience of “satori,” waking up from the dream of “maya” (fantasies, loss of contact with authentic self); losing your mind and coming to your senses; authenticity; response-ability; healthy oneness with all life; freedom from the four ego-boundary disturbances (introjection, projection, confluence, retroflection); establishment in the continuum of awareness; fuller sense of “I” (re-owning the “it”); richer and more sensitive awareness to figure/background relationship; authentic spontaneity; ultimate joy of life (joie de vivre); living in the aliveness of the fertile void; feeling of being nothing, just function. (Perls, 1951, 1969).
17) Arthur Combs (1912-99), et al.: expansion of self-concept toward the ideal of an unrestricted, saintly self; feeling of identification extended to include all humanity; selfishness has disappeared; positive view of self, openness to experience, identification with others. (Combs, et al., 1976, 1985).
18) Eric Berne (1910-70): non-problematic relationships; developing the three healthy ego-states: clear adult, natural child, nurturing parent (outgrowing the compliant or rebellious child and the critical parent); developing autonomy by releasing/recovering awareness (living in the present); spontaneity, intimacy; freedom from problematic, dangerous games/scripts. (Berne, 1967).
19) Douglas Heath: adaptation (optimal balance between adjustment and self-fulfillment); maturation of cognitive skills, self-concept, values, and interpersonal relationships, in terms of increasing symbolization, allocentrism, integration, stability, autonomy; sense of joy and power; expressive, affirmative enthusiasm; liberation of stores of energy; accuracy of self-insight; self-confidence; honesty; compassion; integrity; spontaneity; ability to commit and be steadfast; freedom from desire; courage; enlightenment, sahaja (natural state), salvation. (Heath, in Walsh & Shapiro, 1983).
20) Susan Kobasa, et al.: hardiness: commitment to work and family; sense of being challenged (not burdened) by life; feeling of being in control of events (rather than helpless or out of control). (Kobasa, et al., 1979).
21) Adrian van Kaam (1920-2007): “authentic, true personality” ; self-awareness of one’s uniqueness; consciousness of one’s limitations and acknowledgment of God; self-acceptance; self-realization of one’s concrete potentialities; self-determination; freedom to give oneself to commit; responsibility, ability to respond (not just react); focus is on God, the task at hand, other persons, the world (not on oneself); joy, strength, serenity; obedient to life, independent to choose God, to give oneself in freedom; ability to put psychological distance between an impulse and its fulfillment; ability to sensitively feel; clear, intelligent view of situations, not muddled by prejudice, anxiety, impulsiveness; stability of behavior; equanimity, with ability to be deeply moved; self-determination; being anchored in God; daring and free, yet also cautious and prudent; transcendent and immanent in situations; reasonably independent of others, able to form own judgments, yet also able to recognize one’s own limitations; very positive influence on others; radiates strength and light; attitude of letting-be toward others; openness to others; able to admit mistakes; communicative attitude; strong but not stubborn, wise but not pedantic, unique but not peculiar; able to enter existential world of the other (though not necessarily identifying with it); awareness of fundamental values; more effectively perceives reality; judges people more competently; more objective balanced thinking; ready to experience people/situations as they really are; less intimidated by the unknown; spontaneous, simple, natural, yet able to adapt to conventions; detachment from/transcendence of the crowd; better able to concentrate; appreciation for truth, beauty, and goodness in daily life; ability to be ecstatic; sense of thanksgiving to God; ecumenical; sympathy and affection for others; subtle sense of existential humor; creativeness and originality; freshness of outlook. (Van Kaam, 1980).
iv) Transpersonal Psychology:
22) Abraham Maslow (1908-70): self-transcendence; transcendence of self-consciousness, of one’s own organism, time, culture, one’s past (remorse, shame, etc.), selfish ego-centering, death, we-they polarity, basic needs, other people’s ignorance and their opinions, one’s super-ego (one realizes intrinsic conscience), weakness and dependency, limitations of present situation, dichotomies, one’s own will (achievement of love of one’s destiny), one’s conceptions of one’s abilities, the merely human, the split between facts and values, negatives, inhibitions, space, effortful striving, fear, individual differences, human limits, and one’s own credo or values system; transcenders enjoy “plateau living”; they live under the aspect of eternity; attain Taoist objectivity; better understand parables figures of speech, the arts; perceive unitively, sacrally, have mystic experience and mystic fusion; meta-motivated; more responsive to beauty (or capable of perceiving beauty); acceptance of natural world; perhaps prone to a Being-sadness (due to the suffering and stupidity in the world); attracted to (not frightened by) mystery; more experiences of suchness and the miraculous; sense of awe, ultimate ignorance, reverence, and oblation. (Maslow, 1972).
23) Daniel Goleman (1946- ): fifth state of consciousness: establishment in pure consciousness (“fourth state,” Sanskrit: turiya) yet simultaneously witnessing the thought in the waking state; witnessing also the dream and sleeping states; profile of the “arhat” [Buddhist saint]: absence of greed (for sense desires), anxiety, resentments, fears, dogmatism, aversion (to loss, disgrace, pain, blame), lust, anger, suffering, or the need for approval, pleasure, or praise; loving-kindness, impartiality, calm delight, quick and accurate perception. (Goleman, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975a, 1975b, 1981, 1985).
24) Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) (1931- ): realization of transcendence and immanence of God; living in the eternal Now; total equanimity; love for God and fellow beings; readiness to selflessly serve; sense of being nobody; absence of fear of non-existence; no sense of being the separate see-er or hearer, just pure awareness (no distinct “you” being aware); no separation; clarity; freedom from fear, doubt, confusion, self-consciousness; pure compassion; pure love; wisdom; humility; simplicity; no clinging; focus of attention is guided by the need of the moment; intuitive doing, no need to think about what to do; perfect faith, no fear of change; openness and harmony with the whole universe. (Ram Dass, 1971, 1974, 1976, 1978).
25) Michael Washburn and Michael Stark: freedom from egocentricity, from the need to prove oneself as a someone, from identification with the self-image, from fear of the unknown; courage; realization of an empty fullness; unconditional self-acceptance and affirmation; tranquility; bliss (no anxiety or despair); no perceptual distortion from self-image; resilient, spontaneous, creative action; world-centered (not self-centered) perspective. (Washburn & Stark, in Welwood, 1979)
26) John Welwood (1943- ): clear mind; self-other are not separate; living out of the open space of groundless, insubstantial, omnipotential, centerless awareness; exemplifies the inseparable interconnectedness of form and emptiness; sense of spaciousness yet with close attention to detail; ability to unfreeze emotional energy through mindfulness of its essential nature. (Welwood, 1976, 1977).
27) John Welwood and Ken Wilber: radical giving up of identification with all ideas about oneself; transcending the healthy ego by realizing a more encompassing egoless awareness not tied to any idea of self; reclaiming the “it” (total life environment) via a way of being that is expansive and open, without attachment to boundaries; a sense that all sentient beings and the world are extensions of one’s body; compassion; social concern; no repressing or projection onto others of one’s awake intelligence; no anxiety over conventional self; acceptance of death in all its forms as the letting go of any
identification or attachment. (Welwood & Wilber, in Welwood, 1979).
28) Ken Wilber (1949- ): eradicating the primary dualism between subject and object; eradicating the illusory boundary conjured up between self and not-self; authentic living in Unity Consciousness or no-boundary awareness at the ultimate “level” of Absolute Mind (which is not really a “level”); living in the eternal, timeless Now; no longer searching for Mind nor trying to objectify Mind; realization that witness and witnessed are one and the same; one “is; reality; no sense of inner subjectivity confronting any world of outer subjectivity; pure, non-dual seeing/experiencing; responsibility for everything; sense of identification with everything; realization of the Unborn and Undying; awareness of the eternal now, the nunc stans (not merely the nunc fluens); not bound by the past (memory) or future (expectation); realization of the changeless Self, the transpersonal I-ness; no misidentification of the Self with anything; Hindu jivanmukti state [fully liberated while alive in the body]; bodhisattva vow of compassion; surrender of all resistance; spontaneous realization that everything is right; awakening from the dream of separate self; realization of Consciousness/Atman [Self] as the Original Condition and Suchness of all that is in gross, subtle, or causal realms; realization that the world process is one’s own Being; realization of the suchness of all states (“normal” or “altered” states of consciousness); realization of the identity of the Formless and Forms; not caught in the micro-genetic involution of each moment (i.e., realization that, at the beginning of each moment, one is God); no maintenance of any kind of “atman project,” any obsession with a symbolic substitute for transcendence (into/as the authentic Atman); freedom from any of the pathologies at the nine fulcrum points of development (psychoses, narcissistic-borderline disorders, psychoneuroses, script [role-or rule-] pathologies, identity neuroses, existential pathology, psychic disorders, subtle pathologies, causal pathologies); burning of the root inclinations and desires (kleshas and vasanas) for contracted and separated modes of existence; freedom from the dualism or tension between the unmanifest and the manifest; realization of sahaja-bhava samadhi [natural state oneness-absorption]. (Wilber, 1977, 1979, 1980).
29) Daniel Brown and Jack Engler: awareness of the interaction of form and energy, or form and space; seeing all one’s percepts as the dance of the mind; witnessing of the arising and dissolution of forms from/into energy/space; non-defensiveness in experiencing any intrapsychic conflicts which may arise (mastership evidently involves no such conflict); possibility of no endopsychic structure in the sense of permanently opposed drives and controls; seeing all events as the projection of the mind; integrative style of perception; deep compassion. (Brown & Engler, in Wilber, Engler & Brown, 1986).
30) Daniel Brown (1948- ): basis enlightenment (awareness is no longer inextricably bound up with mental activity and events); path-enlightenment (eradication of karmic or egocentric activity); fruition enlightenment (varying across traditions: the Mahamudra literature of Vajrayana Buddhism maintains that there is consciousness of the co-existence of the three Buddha-bodies in oneself; the Visuddhimagga of Theravada Buddhism maintains that there is deep peace and stillness without any extraneous mental activity; the Yogasutras of Hindu Raja/Ashtanga Yoga; maintain that the highest state is the “raincloud” samadhi [absorption], in which all possible forms of knowledge and existence pour forth); in all three traditions there is awareness of ordinary consciousness and its content but from a vastly different perspective; eradication of misperceptions and biases; awareness is permanently freed from psychological structure; view of external reality is permanently altered (due to experience of psychic powers, the “extraordinary samadhi,” and enlightenment); realization that ordinary reality is an elaborate construction, a model; freedom from erroneous ideas; the internal experience of suffering is alleviated; reactivity of the mind to its content ceases; there is no experience of emotional pain. (Brown, in Wilber, Engler & Brown, 1986).
31) John Chirban: God-likeness; re-identification of one’s person with his or her true, genuine, original identity-the image of God; commitment to “life in Christ”; freedom of spirit from worldly passions; experience of God’s Light; theosis, deification, union, or communion and participation with the Holy Spirit in life. (Chirban, in Wilber, Engler & Brown, 1986).
32) Richard Anthony (1939- ), et al.: consciousness of a unity of existence in which polar splits (e.g., subjectivity and objectivity) are fully and irreversibly integrated and synthesized; true detachment, inner poise in the midst of intense action or grave disasters; profound transcendence of self-interest; participation in suffering of sentient beings; full involvement in all circumstances; active benevolence; no sense of separative otherness in relation to anyone or anything; pure, unconditional love, bringing maximum benefit for those with whom one comes in contact; “going beyond good and evil”; penetration of all limited identifications with matter, energy, and mind; fully conscious of being the formless, Divine Reality; no trace of egoic, separate self; manifest personality is a direct expression of and link with the Divine Being; attenuation of the many forms of preoccupation with the self-concept and self-interest; release from involvement with all sense of “I,” “me,” “my,” “mine”; permanent state of infinite completeness, freedom, knowledge, power, bliss; freedom from identification with opposites, such as masculine-feminine, strength-weakness, etc.; absence of sexual desire; attainment of theoria, the highest and continuous knowledge of eternally existing, unchanging reality, the Nous, the Good, the Absolute. (Anthony, et al. 1987).
33) Deane Shapiro: emptiness (absence of preconceptions, strivings, thoughts); judgment-free acceptance; accurate discrimination; non-attachment (ability to let go); balance; flexibility; ability to not be caught exclusively by any one perspective; relaxed, composed, appropriate, skillful action based on the demands of a given situation; mastery of both “active (leadership) control” and “letting-go (surrendering non-interfering) control” on cognitive, emotional, attentional, and perceptual levels, and ability to balance these two kinds of control; eradication of restlessness and also sloth, torpor, helplessness; increased degrees of freedom; maximum sense of joyfulness, promoting minimal suffering for others and for oneself. (Shapiro, in Walsh & Shapiro, 1983).
34) Jack Kornfield (1945- ): breaking down of a limited personality, body-centered view of oneself; nonidentification with a limited self. (Also, see his lengthy response to this dissertation’s survey.) (Kornfield, in Walsh & Shapiro, 1983).
35) Roger Walsh: the ten paramis; [excellences or virtues] of Theravada Buddhism: generosity, virtue, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination for beings welfare, loving-kindness, equanimity. (Walsh, in Walsh & Shapiro, 1983).
36) Roger Walsh and Frances Vaughan: ability to enter and hold specific states of consciousness at will; multiperspectivism; freedom from “psychosis” as entrapment in any single state of consciousness and the failure to recognize its relative and distorted picture of reality; enhanced voluntary control of mental processes; non-interfering awareness or mindfulness; freedom from exclusive identification and the self/not-self dichotomy and concomitant fear and suffering; more inclusive identity (of both intra and extra-psychic processes); awareness experiences itself as both nothing (pure awareness) and everything (the entire universe), nonspatial (nowhere and everywhere) and nontemporal (eternal); unmoved by egocentric desires; sensitivity, clarity, freedom from distortion; sensitivity to, and control of, the mental stream of dialogue and fantasy; acts “in accord with the Tao”; responds effortlessly, appropriately, compassionately, selflessly to the needs of the situation; free of attachments (via process of
extinction, modeling, and successive approximation); no desire for wealth, power, prestige; total positivity, total bliss; realization that there is no abiding ego; freedom from psychological defenses (which are the “distortions of awareness designed to protect distortions of awareness [i.e., the ego-sense]” from our mental interpretations and expectations concerning reality); realization of our true identity as beyond the health/illness dichotomy, as beyond any definition; realization of awareness as transcendent, unconditioned, unattached being-awareness-bliss (sat-chit-ananda); development of “lucid dreaming” concerning the egocentric dream of life. (Walsh & Vaughan, in Walsh & Shapiro, 1983).
37) Frances Vaughan: self-transcendence; mastery of the mind; non-attachment to sense of ego-identity, to psychic powers, etc.; balance between effort and surrender; unconcern with winning or losing; [Buddhist virtuous qualities of] investigation, energy, rapture, generosity, renunciation, patience, loving-kindness, truthfulness, calm, concentration, and equanimity; [A Course in Miracles New Age Christian characteristics of] honesty, tolerance, gentleness, joy, defenselessness, generosity, patience, faithfulness, and open-mindedness; corrected perception. (Vaughan, in Walsh & Shapiro, 1983).
38) John White: termination of egocentric consciousness, the contracted self-centered point of view; realization of the free, unbound perspective knowing that one is infinity operating through a finite form; realization that all phenomena are non-ultimate, passing; realization of the truth of Being, and being perfectly poised as being-amid-becoming; comprehending the unity of all dualities; transcendence of all sense of limitation and otherness; direct perception of our oneness with the infinite; termination of the illusion of separateness and all painful, destructive defenses; change of one’s sense of identity;
experiencing the cosmos as unified and intimately one with your own essential being, rather than experiencing oneself as a separate, isolated physical form apart from all the rest of existence; liberation, freedom; marvelous release from all the corrosive scheming, manipulation, and defensiveness people “e-go” through to protect their illusory self; evaporation of self-pity, self-righteousness, anger, lust, envy, sloth, and so forth; energy and intelligence are freed to make heavy work light and to be creative in tasks and relationships; life becomes simple and unitive; the world becomes wonderful, the ordinary becomes extraordinary; “problematic” circumstances become a challenge, even an exciting opportunity to learn/grow; no aversion to nor suffering from unpleasant or difficult circumstances; infinite fulfillment, assuredness, happiness; existence itself is seen to be inherently blissful; whatever occurs is perfectly acceptable; one’s mere being contributes to the liberation of all and the salvation of the world; realization that everything is yourself. (White, 1984).
* * *
In addition to the many psychologists whose views have been sampled here for features of optimal well-being, there are, of course, a few other psychologists who have touched on the subject. For instance, in the earlier years of the humanistic psychology movement, there are some ideas (though not a lot) about authentic well-being in the works of such thinkers as Victor Frankl (1955, 1974), Gordon Allport (1955), and Ludwig Binswanger (Needleman, 1963). Among the more current transpersonal and humanistic psychologists, there are many writing and/or lecturing these days on the topic of optimal well-being, spiritual realization whose views could also be examined here.
However, it would go far beyond our scope to try to cover the work of all these psychologists--if, indeed, any such total coverage could be accomplished at all, given the rapid rate at which the abundance of such materials are emerging in the present day.
The really significant contributions to the topic, as this writer sees them, have been reproduced here.
* * * * *
Thus far we have focused on the views of psychologists concerning well-being. What about the views of scholars in the field of mysticism and comparative religion? With only a few exceptions, these thinkers have not really presented anything systematic or very comprehensive concerning the features of spiritual realization. For instance, in the classic work of W. T. Stace (1960b), the concern is with characteristics of mystical experiences (extrovertive and introvertive), rather than with ongoing mystical “living,” or spiritual realization. (This is the same as that distinction between “peak experiences” [“peek experiences”] and “plateau living,” or the distinction between “spiritual events” and “spiritual life.”) The chief characteristics which Stace posits--unifying vision, unitary consciousness; sense of objectivity/reality; blessedness, peace, etc.; feeling of the holy, sacred, or divine; paradoxicality; and ineffability--are not very comprehensive for a psychology of optimal well-being which is interested in the ongoing traits of a highest stage of development.
Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), in her great work Mysticism (1911) and other works speaks of the “unitive life” as the final level of spiritual realization, but is neither systematic nor even very comprehensive in her treatment of this level. True freedom, the capacity to fully be, an invulnerable serenity, joy, and love, disappearance of selfhood in the divine, the substitution of a Divine Self for the primitive self, complete absorption in the Infinite, establishment of the self as a center of energy, “an actual parent of spiritual vitality in other men,” greater power of dealing with circumstance through heroic effort or creative activity-these are the chief ways in which Underhill in her pioneering books on mysticism describes the unitive life of spiritual realization. She also relies heavily on Catholic medieval mystic Jan van Ruysbroeck for descriptions of this highest stage of spiritual development.
William McNamara, an eminent Catholic spiritual director, in “Transpersonal psychologies” (in Tart, 1977), highlights the twelve major characteristics of the mystic way (for neophyte and adept alike), as originally elucidated by E. Watkin (1920): 1) emancipation (from limits of sense perception and intellectual processes); 2) conversion from creatures to God; 3) introversion (in touch with the deep center where God touches); 4) detachment from self (superficial self or empirical ego); 5) conversion from matter to spirit (from a world of sense to an intuitive world); 6) increase of delicacy or subtlety (greater sensitivity); 7) liberation (from ego enslavement); 8) unification (human wholeness); 9) purification; 10) the attainment of peace; 11) will identification with the will of God (empirical ego-surrender); 12) progressive attainment of reality (beingfulness).
This twelvefold list of characteristics is probably the most systematic, comprehensive profile of spiritual realization to be found in any of the works in the field of mysticism and comparative religion, though it still does not appear to be as comprehensive as one would like.
Alan Watts is highly popular for his voluminous writings,
ostensibly about mysticism and spirituality--though Professors Nordstrom and Pilgrim of Syracuse University in an important article in 1980 have harshly criticized Watts' work, demonstrating that its import is actually anti-mystical, anti-spiritual, because it tends to not be conducive to any real transcendence of egocentricity. Ultimately, Watts is shown to be really promoting a mere intellectual realization that “this is IT,” that the relative is the Absolute, that one is always living in the eternal here-now, that there are never any problems because the ego does not really exist, and so forth. In the last years of his life, Watts even comes to regard mystical experience as merely “feeling jazzy inside” (his mother’s definition) (1972, p. 83). In short, there is no comprehensive, profound presentation of the features of optimal well-being provided by Watts in any of his works.
Returning to a consideration of the substantial list of features of health and well-being posited by the psychologists which has been given here, a summation of these features yields a very detailed profile on the “optimally well individual.” Especially in the writings of James, Bucke, Fromm, Benoit, Maslow, Assagioli, van Kaam, and the transpersonal psychologists, there is some very eloquent, rich, profound material in many of the original passages which I examined, suggesting levels of well-being tremendously exalted beyond the usual conception of health, well-being and “mature development” as found in the thinking and living of general society.
As can be readily seen, most of the “first force” and “second force” psychologists of the psychoanalytic/depth psychology/ego-psychology and behavioral psychology traditions (e.g., Freud, Adler, Rank, Reich, Erikson, Skinner, Watson, and Ellis) are positing features of a kind of health which mainly have to do with 1) anxiety-free coping in the world, 2) satisfying achievement in the areas of work, marriage, sexuality, creativity, and social intercourse, and 3) a basic
organismic comfort and/or integration as a bodily-mental being.
On the other hand, James, Bucke, Fromm, Benoit, along with the transpersonal psychologists and a number of humanistic psychologists are pointing beyond these conventional, “normal” models of health to a domain of well-being which involves the “super-normal” and often the “spiritual” or “mystical,” such as 1) the cultivation of a host of “saintly” virtues (goodness, humility, equanimity, compassion, courage, selfless serving of others, etc.); 2) the intuitive realization of a spiritual, transpersonal identity/Self, unlimited and non-separate (non-dual), beyond the limiting “confines” or “boundaries” of an exclusive identification with the mind-body organism; 3) an unexcelled peace, happiness, contentment, optimism; 4) an exquisitely refined degree of attention/mindfulness/witnessing/
mental clarity; 5) a spontaneous, non-attached, non-egoic-motivated functioning in the world; and so forth.
It is highly significant for our purposes that the latter psychologists have suggested the spiritual or transpersonal or “saintly” as the highest stage of development, and that most of the really “deep” material presented here (from psychologists such as James, Bucke, Fromm, Benoit, Maslow, Assagioli, van Kaam, and the transpersonal psychologists) is based on the spiritual-mystical-sagely-saintly wisdom of the Great Traditions (e.g., Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Sufism, Taoism, Judaism). Through my own personal observations and direct experiencing, I have long considered this “wisdom of the Great Traditions” tremendously efficacious in promoting psycho-spiritual health. But this is a wisdom which is not at all currently emphasized in the mainstream academic, educational, or medical institutes of the “developed” nations. Thus, the valuing of the wisdom of the Great Traditions by some of the foremost psychologists of the past 110 years points to the need for implementing this wisdom into mainstream society in such a way that wider sectors of people and policy-making can be exposed to it and come to benefit from it.
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DISCUSSION OF THE LITERATURE
William James was one of the earliest Western psychologists--and certainly the most influential. His two-volume Principles of Psychology was published in 1890; thus, James was popular a good twenty to thirty years before Freud attained an equal level of popularity. James, moreover, was expressing a genuinely “humanistic” psychology a full seventy years before the formal inception of Humanistic Psychology.
However, because of the dominance of first-force psychology (Freudian psychoanalysis and related schools) and second-force psychology (behaviorism) in western academic circles from shortly after the turn of the 20th century onward, James’ important views were largely ignored until recently. Undoubtedly the main reason James’ views were suppressed or ignored is that he couched his ideas in less “scientific” (or is that “scientistic”?) formulations, and utilized the empirical introspective method, a method which was, especially for the behaviorists considered very inadequate.
A decade after the publishing of his monumental Principles of Psychology, James was a psychologist-turned-philosopher, deeply influenced by his studies of religious experiences (mainly in the Roman Catholic and Protestant Christian traditions of the West). With his Varieties of Religious Experience, consisting of a series of talks James delivered as Gifford Lecturer on Natural Religion at the University of Edinburgh in 1901-2, James presents some profound notions-very much aligned with the Great Traditions of spirituality--concerning an ideal or optimal well-being. His characteristics of “saintliness”--though somewhat limited in comprehensiveness and needing some more exemplars from non-Christian traditions--are put forth in extremely eloquent, inspiring words, infused with a deep sense of values and awareness of God.
R.M. Bucke’s work, chiefly in the form of his book, Cosmic Consciousness, a study in the evolution of the human mind; (1923), is significant in that he, like James, is a lone voice speaking out from the past on behalf of an optimal well-being amidst psychologists who seem to be mainly interested only in pathology; furthermore, he bases his views upon an evidently empirical study of thirty-four cases of “cosmic consciousness,” as well as upon his own direct experiencing.
Note, however, that Bucke’s findings indicate to him that
“Cosmic Consciousness... appears in individuals mostly of the male sex... [and] it appears at about that time of life when the organism is at its high-water mark of efficiency, at the age of thirty to forty years.” (Bucke, 1923, in J. White, 1972, p. 82)
I would point out, first, that in both the Christian tradition of saints over the centuries and in the Hindu tradition of saints in the twentieth century, just as many females as males seem to be experiencing “cosmic consciousness.” Second, there are, especially in the Hindu tradition, cases on record of very, very highly realized beings--such as Sankara, Jnanadeva, Ramana Maharshi, Nityananda of Kanhangad, Anandamayi Ma, Anasuya Devi, and Mata Amritanandamayi--who were great spiritual prodigies at very early ages, as early as 5 or 6 years old.
Erich Fromm warrants mention as a psychoanalyst who outgrew the strict models of Freudianism to become an early pioneer of what later came to be known as “humanistic psychology.” In his writings, especially The Art of Loving (1956), Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis (1963), and To Have Or To Be? (1976), Fromm brought forth a clear notion of psychological health and well-being, as well as an emphasis upon the insights, practices, and values of the spiritual traditions, to the attention of many psychologists and lay-persons.
Hubert Benoit deserves a very special mention as a surgeon-turned-psychoanalyst who then, in his realization of the Zen way of well-being (in the midst of very traumatic psychophysiological circumstances due to a severe injury incurred during World War II), went way beyond the entire paradigm of the psychology of his day, presenting a genuine transpersonal psychology some eighteen years before such a field formally arose. Indeed, I believe Benoit offers his readers a profound way of psycho-spiritual liberation--and in this sense he has served, via his writings, as a veritable spiritual teacher. Reading Benoit’s two most important early works available to English-speaking readers-The Supreme Doctrine: Psychological Studies in Zen Thought (first published in an English edition in 1959, translated from the 1951 French edition by Terence Gray--who later wrote influential works himself under the name Wei Wu Wei) and Let Go! Theory and Practice Of Detachment According To Zen (1973; French edition published in 1954)--one senses that Benoit was much more thoroughly steeped in the “Zen-mind” than was Fromm or most other writers of the day who reported on Zen Buddhism. There is a tremendously radical, penetrating, original and insightful quality to his work, which is written largely in a first-person, phenomenological-philosophical-psychological mode (thus virtually insuring that it would not be much appreciated by the “scientistic” types!).
Unlike Fromm, most of whose views became popular in psychology for professional and layperson alike, Benoit was a French psychiatrist neither writing in English nor living in English-speaking countries, and so, unfortunately, due to the “logistics of knowledge” (not commonly recognized as a limiting or biasing factor in the academic world) Benoit’s views have never become as widely known or as influential amongst English-speaking psychologists or laypersons as they deserve to be, despite a sweeping recommendation by no less a thinker on these topics than the philosopher Aldous Huxley, who writes the preface to Benoit’s first work. (Ken Wilber, in his early works, is one psychologist to show such appreciation, albeit he only quotes from Benoit’s first and less-developed work, The Supreme Doctrine; this omission is somewhat remedied by Joseph Hart’s article on Benoit for the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 2, No. 2, 1970; note that a third, more recent work by Benoit has been made available to the English speaking world, The Interior Realization ).
In the three above-mentioned works Benoit explicitly talks of optimal well-being both in terms of “Realization” and in the traditional Japanese Zen Buddhist context of “satori,” roughly translated as “awakening” or “enlightenment.” Thus Benoit’s intentions can be seen to be closely aligned with ours.
He is basically concerned with the human realization of an ever-present, Absolute, Supreme Identity. Such a realization brings the concomitant realization that one is always-already free, of the nature of bliss, and manifesting the will of the Absolute. A genuine spontaneity, a complete freedom from imagined, limiting attachments and binding dilemmas, and thus a total well-being can then naturally manifest.
The so-called “third force of psychology,” known as Humanistic Psychology, emerged in the 1950’s and 1960’s specifically as an attempt to look at psychological health more closely in its own terms, not just indirectly (i.e., as an absence of pathology, which is the way “health” tended to get presented in the psychoanalytic and behavioral psychologies). Abraham Maslow was an early pioneer of Humanistic Psychology with his school of “Being-Psychology” and his notion of the “peak experience(s)” enjoyed by “self-actualizing” individuals.
Maslow gained his early fame mainly for his notion of the “hierarchy of needs,” a hierarchy beginning with the “deficiency needs” (“D-needs”) at the lower levels of the spectrum, and culminating with the “Being-needs” (“B-needs”) at the higher end of the spectrum. The latter are also termed the “meta-motivation” needs.
The hierarchy of needs is: a) physiological needs (hunger, sleep, etc.); b) safety needs (stability, order); c) belonging and love needs (family, friendship); d) esteem needs (self-respect, recognition); and e) self-actualization needs (development of capacities).
The extremely “psychologically healthy” individual, or self-actualizer, is one who has satisfied the lower needs and is free to devote himself/herself to self-actualization needs.
Maslow later expanded this hierarchy of needs to include “self-transcendence needs”--and, indeed, Maslow came to view “self-transcendence” as an even more profound state of maturity or psychological health. He helped to found the field of Transpersonal Psychology (“Fourth Force Psychology”) in the late 1960’s on the basis of this higher view.
Maslow was fond of making long lists of qualities of self-
actualization and, later, self-transcendence. His writings, based on a very informal kind of empirical research (a study of some two dozen cases of individuals who seemed to be self-actualizers--and note that his later theories about self-transcendence do not explicitly refer to any actual cases of self-transcenders), appear a bit sketchy, and could benefit from more in-depth discussions of the various features of well-being which he is positing. But Maslow does offer a fairly wide, comprehensive list of qualities of optimal health, which, especially with his views on self-transcendence, clearly involves a spiritual, not merely psychological, dimension. Any psychologist interested in optimal well-being owes a lot to Maslow for formally paving the way toward “the farther reaches of human nature.” (Note: this is, of course, the title for the best collection of Maslow’s papers on self-actualization and self-transcendence [Maslow, 1972].)
Roberto Assagioli, an early humanistic psychologist and founder of Psychosynthesis, was very influenced by his studies of Eastern spiritual traditions, especially the Advaita Vedanta of Sri Ramana Maharshi; thus, his views on what he came to call Self-Realization are actually quite “transpersonal.” His views, though limited in comprehensiveness, point to an optimal well-being which, again, goes beyond the merely psychological into the realm of the spiritual.
Arthur Combs and Donald Avila, in an influential humanistic psychology textbook, Helping Relationships: Basic Concepts For The Helping Professionals (1985), deserve mention here for openly recommending the selflessness and ultimate healthiness of the “saintly persons,” in whom “the feeling of identification may eventually extend to all humanity. In that state the problem of selfishness has disappeared.” (1985, p. 55). Clearly, spirituality and psychology come together here in a common view of the optimally “healthy” individual--that is, the “saint.”
Douglas Heath, in his important article, “The maturing person” (in Walsh and Shapiro, 1983), also brings the ideal of enlightenment--sahaja samadhi, salvation, and the “great man” or “wise man” of the Great Traditions of spirituality--into line with a psychology of ultimate maturation.
The work of Adrian van Kaam is remarkable here for its attempt to comprehensively catalogue the features of well-being. An existential psychotherapist, professor of psychology, Roman Catholic priest, and author of over 25 books, van Kaam himself resisted the idea of being considered a “humanistic” psychologist, and is really a “religious existentialist psychologist”; however, since his views do not fit the psychoanalytic, behavioral, or transpersonal schools, I include his characteristics of well-being under the general heading of “humanistic” psychology. His insightful work, Religion and Personality (1980, first written in 1964), contains a very extensive profile of what he calls the “authentic,” “mature,” “real” or “true personality” (see endnote 4), whose apex of development is in the true or authentic “religious” personality, centered in God (it is this emphatically religious, spiritual orientation which undoubtedly has kept van Kaam from attaining greater influence in mainstream psychology). Though van Kaam speaks of his “formative spirituality” within the specific context of Christianity, his insights are useful in general for any psychology of well-being. Moreover, Van Kaam’s views are a useful “fleshing out” in very edifying prose of some of the same humanistic ideas which Maslow was presenting at the same time in his “sketchy” lists of qualities of the self-actualized person.
Transpersonal psychology, organized in the late 1960’s by Maslow, Sutich, et al., as the “Fourth-force psychology,” created a forum which allowed for the study of explicitly “spiritual” experiences, insights, and values. Transpersonal researchers, in addition to their interest in “states of consciousness” research through hypnosis and hallucinogenic drugs, became interested to examine the “psychologies” found within the schools of Buddhism, Hinduism, and, to a lesser extent, Sufism, Taoism, Christianity, Judaism, and Amerindian shamanism. While it was the meditation techniques of one new sect of Hinduism and one old branch of Buddhism-- TM/Transcendental Meditation and vipassana meditation-- which mainly interested these psychologists in the early years of the movement, over time the general model of “enlightenment” or “liberation” or “awakening” within the traditions has come to be given somewhat more attention as these transpersonal psychologists have seen the need to define in greater detail an optimal well-being, a goal or “highest stage” of human development.
In the preceding section which listed the various features of well-being, it is obvious that the transpersonal psychologists have implicitly affirmed the views of such earlier theoreticians as James, Bucke, Fromm, Benoit, and Assagioli in positing a very idealistic, openly spiritual model of well-being.
Each of these transpersonal psychologists covered herein--Maslow, Goleman, Ram Dass, Washburn & Stark, Welwood, Wilber, Brown, Engler, Chirban, Anthony, Shapiro, Kornfield, Walsh, Vaughan and White--are clearly going well beyond the “ego psychologies” of mainstream academic psychology in the West to report on the trans-egoic, transpersonal, spiritual domain. All of their articles/books which I have researched are worth the attention of anyone interested in optimal well-being or exceptional health. Each has something very important to say about some or many aspects of optimal well-being. Especially noteworthy are five anthologies of papers by a number of transpersonal psychologists: Beyond Health and Normality: Explorations of Exceptional Psychological Well-Being, edited by Roger Walsh and Deane Shapiro (1983); Transformations of Consciousness: Conventional and Contemplative Perspectives on Development, edited by Ken Wilber, Jack Engler, and Daniel Brown (1986); Spiritual Choices: The Problem of Recognizing Authentic Paths to Inner Transformation, edited by Dick Anthony, Bruce Ecker, and Ken Wilber; Meeting of the Ways: Explorations in East/West Psychology, edited by John Welwood (1979); and What Is Enlightenment? Exploring the Goal of the Spiritual Path, edited by John White (1984) (as a kind of “sequel” to his earlier edited anthology, The Highest State Of Consciousness [White, 1972]). These five anthologies contain many of the articles from which were found the various features of well-being posited by some of the current transpersonal psychologists and listed in the section above.
It would take many pages to discuss the significance--not to mention the content--of the very valuable contributions of each of these transpersonal psychologists; thus, only a few can be highlighted here.
Roger Walsh and Frances Vaughan’s article, “Towards an integrative psychology of well-being” (in Walsh & Shapiro, 1983), stands out as one of the very best profiles of optimal well-being in the whole field of Transpersonal Psychology, doing a far more comprehensive or systematized job than any other researchers thus far to account for the overall functioning of the optimally well human being. In this article, the authors posit a model of well-being involving the dimensions of “consciousness,” “perception,” “identity,” “motivation,” “defenses” and “health,” eloquently outlining within each dimension the specific, superior dynamics of functioning of the optimally-well individual. The only criticism of Walsh and Vaughan’s excellent work is that it lacks substantial references or illustrations from the great traditions on which their work is based (though references to Theravada Buddhism and the recent New Age Christian movement “A Course in Miracles” occur in other works by these authors).
Ken Wilber is outstanding as a transpersonal psychology researcher whose articulation of the “Perennial Psychology” and whose maps of spectrum psychology, human development, hierarchies of religious/spiritual expression, and so forth, are highly significant contributions to the fields of humanistic-transpersonal psychology, developmental psychology, religious studies, and the sociology of religion. Though his work is, of course, not beyond criticism, he justly receives highest accolades from fellow researchers in the field, and deserves to be more widely read by mainstream psychologists, as well as by the general public.
Unlike most of the researchers in Transpersonal Psychology, Wilber has done a lot of homework in researching many of the primary sources from the Great Traditions, and is not limited to knowledge of just one or two traditions. Though it must also be added that he tends to make greater use of secondary sources such as Benoit, Wei Wu Wei, Alan Watts, and Adi Da / Bubba Free John (the last three are deeply flawed by some of their distorted views of spirituality). Wilber, along with a relative few other transpersonal psychologists, is also aware of some of the loftiest insights and subtlest distinctions made by the most sophisticated thinkers within the great traditions, such as the “failure to differentiate ... from or transcend the manifest realm” (i.e., in a perfectly free identification as the Formless Self) and the “failure to integrate unmanifest and manifest realms,” which he lists as the ultimate two “pathologies” (at the causal level of human development) in his fine article, “The spectrum of psychopathology” (in Wilber, et al., 1986, p. 125.)
The work of Daniel Brown and Jack Engler (“The stages of mindfulness meditation: A validation study [Parts I & II],” in Wilber, et al., 1986) is noteworthy for being one of the very few writings on well-being which is empirically based-in this case, their study is based on their use of the Rorschach with mindfulness meditators in the U.S. and Asia, and with a full-fledged meditation master from Burma.
We can finally consider John White’s edited anthology, What Is Enlightenment? Exploring the Goal of the Spiritual Path (White, 1984), since the title of this recent work would ostensibly seem to be covering the same ground as we do here.
As far as it goes, this is a very good book, with fine articles mainly from Western thinkers interpreting the wisdom of the Great Traditions. (White’s excellent introduction to the book posits many insights about the nature of enlightenment, as can be seen from the list of features given in the earlier section.) The views of a few ostensibly genuine spiritual teachers are included in the book, such as Meher Baba, J. Krishnamurti, Sri Aurobindo, and the Theravada Abhidhamma and Ch’an Buddhist traditions. But White’s book, as a whole, does not really live up to the claim printed on the blurb:
"In this volume, John White ... has gathered together fifteen of the world’s most respected spiritual teachers, each of whom offers an answer to the fundamental question: What is enlightenment?"
For the other thinkers selected for this book, such as Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, Evelyn Underhill, Huston Smith, John White, Lex Hixon, Gopi Krishna, Dane Rudhyar, Da Free John and Ken Wilber are very insightful scholars, they are very wise students of some of the great spiritual traditions/teachers, but they simply do not belong to the category of “[some] of the world’s most respected spiritual teachers”--unless a distinction is being made here between “spiritual teachers” and “spiritual masters.” Most of these authors (except for the colossally self-aggrandizing Da Free John) have themselves openly, humbly admitted this. The aforementioned persons may have had glimpse-experiences of enlightenment, but these gentlemen (and lady) are evidently not, by their own definitions, “fully enlightened” beings themselves.
In my PhD dissertation, I discussed the whole question of spiritual authority implicit here. On the basis of that discussion, it would be quite clear that the aforementioned scholars, while undoubtedly making major contributions to philosophy, transpersonal psychology, and studies in mysticism, are not to be regarded as “master spiritual teachers.” This lack of discernment concerning “spiritual masters” vis-a-vis “spiritual teachers” can breed a host of obvious problems in religious and spiritual groups (e.g., possible ego-inflation on the part of the teachers; dissemination of misinformation; the giving of “preliminary truths” in place of the “absolute truth”--or, perhaps worse, the giving of the “absolute truth” before the “preliminary truths” have been adequately presented and digested).
Another major qualification needing to be made concerning White’s book is that none of the authors, nor even the totality of their views taken together, really gives as full a profile of enlightenment--for example, on cognitive, perceptual, affective, behavioral, and motivational levels--as is given, say, by Walsh and Vaughan, in their very fine article in the Walsh & Shapiro anthology (1983). And, given the easy availability at the present time of so many works by evidently genuine spiritual master-teachers, it is a wonder that such a small handful of them are represented in White’s book.
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CONCLUSIONS CONCERNING THE WESTERN PSYCHOLOGICAL LITERATURE ON WELL-BEING
Despite the fact that--as has been seen--a good number of psychologists have been investigating well-being to such an extent that they have entered the domain of the spiritual or “mystical,” we have needed to proceed further. This is because--of the many psychologists documented here who address the topic of optimal well-being/exceptional health, spiritual realization or enlightenment-- 1) almost none have done so with a sufficient comprehensiveness which covers the many aspects (e.g., cognitive, affective, behavioral, motivational, interpersonal, intuitive, attentional, perceptual) of human functioning (with the exception, perhaps, of Walsh and Vaughan’s brief article [in Walsh & Shapiro, 1983]); 2) only very few have an “adequate” amount of documentation from the primary sources of the Great Traditions, upon which so many of their ideas are based (and even these few researchers tend to have much less documentation than desirable, given, firstly, the sublimity of the topic and, secondly, the present-day easy availability of such material in the English language); and 3) virtually none of them (with the exception of Maslow, Bucke, and Engler & Brown) bring in any empirical evidence--either in the form of wide-ranging interviews/surveys or experimentation (or the
like)--to support their ideas.
This last omission is perhaps understandable, given the “delicate” nature of the subject of optimal well-being and the difficulty for most researchers in finding genuinely “realized” masters. On the latter point, the truth is that one has to have a certain kind of openness, preparation, and “readiness” just to be able to hear about--much less meet and talk with--such beings: “When the disciple is ready, the true master appears” ... or so say the Great Traditions.
With regard to the need for empirical research, it has already been suggested that the experimental research design, much valued by mainstream psychologists as the best (some would say “only”) methodology for obtaining reliable, valid data, is greatly limited when it comes to the study of optimal well-being or spiritual realization. As I and others have maintained, the ultimate “approach” to the study of spiritual realization or optimal well-being is that of participant-observation (Smart, 1970), or “state-specific science” (Tart, 1972), wherein any “experimentation” is subjective, operating in the domain of one’s own consciousness. This is an approach requiring a great deal of maturity, clarity, intuition, humbleness, and other “saintly” qualities--in other words, one almost has to be perfectly living in that liberated state to adequately study liberation and liberated beings.
It is highly doubtful whether any “objective” experiment could ever be designed which would have sufficiently rigorous control over all “contaminating variables” and thus be acceptable (much less “impressive”) to mainstream, experimentally-oriented research psychologists.
For instance, there are certain contaminating variables, such as mind-set and environmental setting, which are recommended by spiritual masters as actual prerequisites for occasioning that happening known as full spiritual realization.
But it does seem that a certain amount of empirical research can be conducted in this area, for the sake of “scientific” research qua research, in the form of surveys and interviews of those who are teachers of the way to spiritual realization. In my dissertation, such empirical research was in fact attempted, along with a fairly thorough referencing (as much as is possible by one lone researcher without grant funding) of the available spiritual literature from the primary sources of the Great Traditions, on the subject of optimal well-being/spiritual realization.
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SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS, COMMENTS
My PhD dissertation demonstrated a number of criteria for spiritual realization as a “highest stage of development.” These were verified through: 1) an extensive documentation of extant spiritual literature of ancient, medieval, and modern eras; and 2) a survey of two dozen living spiritual teachers (including some allegedly realized spiritual “masters”) more-or-less representing the Great Traditions; this survey utilized a Likert-scale format to obtain quantifiable data, as well as open-ended questions to obtain additional comments, clarifications, objections, and so forth.
What emerges are the following criteria for spiritual realization--which may be considered as “altered traits of consciousness” (ATCs)--and they are presented here in an approximate order of most accepted items on down, that is, ranging from “essential” down to “very true.” (Note that these criteria are sometimes worded in a manner different from the wording of the original survey, taking into consideration clarifications given by some respondents. Note also that each criterion is classified in terms of the aspect[s] of human functioning it represents):
1) Equanimity, contentment, peace, freedom from the disturbing agitations of binding likes and dislikes, attractions and aversions, greed-desire-grasping, pride, and anxiety-anger-hatred-disgust-fear. (Note: this does not mean a total absence of emotions). (Category: Affective-Motivational.)
2) A profoundly positive bliss, wellness, and purity (more as the “hidden” context of consciousness, not “an experience” for an experiencing ego). (Category: Affective.)
3) Unattachment to any extraordinary powers, visions, or experiences which may arise. (Category: Motivational.)
4) A spontaneous serving of fellow sentient beings, without any thought of reward; an attitude of compassionate giving (not selfish taking) on behalf of all sentient beings (who are not considered to be “other” in the nondual traditions). (Behavioral-
“Motivational”--though note that the culmination of this evidently involves a transcendence of any egocentric, deliberate motivation.)
5) An intuition of nondualism, oneness, unity, or pure experiencing (free of the dualistic split between experiencer-subject and experienced object); annihilation of the sense of separation, dualism or boundary between “me” and “not-me.” (Cognitive-Intuitive.)
6) Freedom from the limited sense of “me” and “my,” the exclusive identification with the separate, individual body-mind. (For the nondual traditions, this can be put more positively as “Identification with the Absolute.”) (Cognitive-Intuitive.)
7) Love of God/Supreme Reality (who, in the nondual traditions, is not considered separate or other, but one’s truest nature). (Affective-“Devotional.”)
8) The intuitive sense that the phenomenal world is only “relatively real,” that it is a kind of impermanent, insubstantial or nonsolid “dream” or “movie” or “play,” a projection in/by the universal Consciousness or God. (Cognitive-Perceptual.)
9) Spontaneity; freedom from hesitation, and from rigid, inflexible patterns of behavior; ability to freely do whatever the situation indicates as appropriate action, even if unconventional (though remaining virtuous). (Motivational-Behavioral.)
10) Sense of being more fully, consciously established in the eternal here and now, with less distraction from memories of the past and anticipations of the future (yet having awareness of past and future when needed). (Cognitive.)
11) Greater insight or spiritual “intelligence” (into the workings of the mind, the impermanent nature of the phenomenal world[s], the importance of becoming spiritually free, the awakening process itself, and so on). (Cognitive.)
12) A lack of forgetfulness of the real, an absence of being caught by the transient arising of mental phenomena; greater
attentiveness or mindfulness or witnessing of the phenomenal ego-sense and world. (Attentional.)
13) Spontaneous positive influence on fellow sentient beings (though this may be inconspicuous and more on an invisible, spiritual level).(Interpersonal-”Behavioral.”)
14) A feeling that all action happens appropriately “of itself,” spontaneously, due to the working of the Supreme Power, without need of being deliberately, willfully efforted or planned by the ego-sense, by “me, the doer.” (Note that this does not preclude an evident human “free will” which must choose to align with the Supreme Power, or “God’s will.”) (Cognitive-Motivational.)
15) Greater sense of benign humor and good cheer. (Cognitive- Affective-Behavioral.)
16) Greater energy or capacity to serve/teach/work (except in certain cases of physical illness). (Behavioral-”Energetic.”)
Some other remaining criteria on the initial survey have received noteworthy support from the spiritual literature and/or a number of the respondents (overall, these items may be regarded as ranging between “somewhat true” and “very true”), such as:
17) Awareness of subtle phenomena not previously noticed in the spiritually-unrealized state. (“Perceptual.”)
18) Unusual, wondrous powers or events which manifest spontaneously, without selfish effort or motivation. (“Behavioral.”)
19) Conscious awareness of the dream and dreamless sleep states. (Or at least less sloth and torpor during these states compared to the usual person.) (Cognitive-Attentional.)
20) A view that whatever (apparently) happens in the phenomenal world is “perfect”--in the sense that it is the intelligible expression of the Absolute--and that therefore nothing which happens in it is ever really a “problem” for the spiritual master. The master is not thrown “off balance” by the sufferings or injustices in the world, but is compassionately engaged in helping solve the apparent problems afflicting sentient beings. (Cognitive-Affective.)
In addition to all of the above, a number of emphasized or additional criteria can be posited, based on the spiritual literature (especially of the nondual traditions of Advaita Vedanta, Mahayana Buddhism, and Sufism) and on comments by certain of the respondents, such as radical spiritual freedom, going beyond the cycle of egocentric rebirths, and so on.
Four statements concerning spiritual realization were posited, which are clearly supported by a lot of the spiritual literature, especially of the more nondual, mystical variety; these four statements pertain to the suddenness, irreversibility, and availability of enlightenment. Based on all information available to this author, it seems possible to conclude that statements 1 (concerning suddenness) and statement 2 (concerning irreversibility) are best considered in terms of “Both/Neither/Depending.” Statement 3 (concerning the eligibility of anyone to attain enlightenment) seems ostensibly true, though the fact is that only a small fraction of humans become spiritually realized in the current lifetime. Statement 4 (every being will one day become realized), which, like statement 3, seems to be especially based on one’s cognitive belief system, elicits a tremendous optimism from most of the respondents and from many of the great spiritual masters in their affirmation of this ideal of universal liberation-awakening.
A final question on the survey--“Was there ever a period of intense confusion, despair, depression, frustration, pain (physical or psychological) or some other intensely difficult, unusual, and/or challenging condition that you passed through before coming into your current condition of spiritual realization?” --elicited an affirmative response from slightly over two-thirds of the group of respondents.
It seems clear from this and from a good portion of the biographical and hagiographical evidence (the life-stories of spiritual masters) that the “pathless path” of spiritual realization is, for most beings, a difficult one, which may involve periods wherein greater openness and support from society is highly appropriate.
In a work of such vast scope as the dissertation I wrote, a large number of issues were raised by the material covered. Many, many comments can be made concerning the various criteria or “altered traits of consciousness” posited for spiritual realization, the means for spiritual realization, and the various other miscellaneous issues covered (such as the “true-false” statements), in light of traditional studies of mysticism and comparative religion, as well as present developments in transpersonal, humanistic and developmental psychology.
To start with, there are three points to be made about the findings of this dissertation.
The first point is that there are certain features of a spiritual realization which are consistently agreed upon by most literature and representatives of virtually all the Great Traditions, such as equanimity, unattachment to extraordinary experiences, bliss, compassionate serving of fellow sentient beings, freedom from the limiting, exclusive sense of “me” and “my,” spontaneity, cognitive focus on the here-now (nunc stans), greater insight, and so forth, as listed above. This lends empirical support to the ideal of a “transcendental unity of spiritual traditions” --in contrast to some recent literature (Brown, 1986; Katz, 1978, etc.) that holds out for a pluralistic position concerning the nature of spiritual or “mystic” realization/enlightenment. Admittedly, it seems clear that there are certain aspects of the cognitive functioning of spiritual masters, teachers, mystics --such as a tendency to view ultimate reality as continuous or discontinuous (that is, nondually or discretely), or viewing reality in theistic or atheistic terms-but the presence of so many shared features (in a profile of spiritual realization) on motivational, interpersonal, affective, and other levels of human functioning (including some shared cognitive features) seems to outweigh the few differences found in cognitive functioning.
This is, of course, actually a good point for debate, the basic question being: if two people share, say, nine out of ten attributes in common, especially attributes which are not shared by the general public, do we say that their realization is the same or different? How much difference is permissible under the category of “sameness”? How much sameness is permissible under the category of “difference”?
While it is indeed valuable to detect the differences between/among spiritual traditions which are chronically being overlooked or undervalued, to overvalue these differences also misses the mark. To declare that “the final enlightened mind is different across traditions.... There are several kinds of enlightenment” (Brown, 1986, pp. 266-7) merely on the basis of different cognitive predispositions or belief systems which lead to seeing reality either continuously or discontinuously seems to be making too much out of too little, seeing the overall picture in terms of difference when it is probably more useful to see in terms of sameness.
The fact is that, if a single difference makes that much difference, then it must be said that few spiritual masters from even the same tradition have the “same enlightenment,” for personality and/or constitutional differences come into play which certainly make these masters appear rather different (or even very different) compared to one another. Tripura Rahasya, a Hindu nondualist work from the early medieval period, makes this point very clear: the realized ones (jnanis) all share the same realization (primarily characterized as the snapping of the limited ego-sense) but can vary tremendously in the way their finite personalities appear to others. Just as one master is, by temperament, a bit gruff while another is rather gentle, one is very active outwardly while another is not, so also, due to the conditioning as found within specific spiritual traditions, one Theravada Buddhist master may view arising events as discrete, while a Hindu Vedanta master sees them as nondual.
I feel that if a whole list of factors, such as
“equanimity,” “less selfishness,” “humble-mindedness,” “interior freedom,” “spontaneity,” and so on are posited, which do not characterize the usual, unenlightened person, and eighty or ninety percent of these factors are shared by two allegedly spiritually realized individuals, then it makes sense to say that one has here a case of two individuals who share more or less “the same enlightenment.” Brown himself admits (pp. 267-8) that “all [traditions] free awareness from psychological structure and alleviate suffering… [and bring the realization that] the world is not simply what is seen, heard, etc.” Given these important aspects in common, we can legitimately ask why he would emphasize the ultimate “difference” of enlightenments? And why does he not mention the differences in functioning, temperament, etc., between meditation masters within the same traditions which are fairly obvious to anyone who studies under different masters within a single tradition?
It is important to stress here that, if one tries to study “spiritual realization” or “mystical experience” as an experience in the abstract, as have, for instance, a number of scholars in the field of religious studies, one runs into all sorts of issues concerning pluralism, verification, pre and post-interpretation of the experience, and so forth. The present study, however, is more interested in the implications for actual human beings who undergo spiritual realization.
If one simply examines the literature of, say, Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity concerning the features of the spiritual realization to which they are pointing, one can find definite cognitive, “belief-system” differences in how they posit the goal of spiritual life. Yet an examination of the lives of Buddhist, Christian, and Hasidic Jewish saints/sages quite clearly yields a much more unitary profile of optimal well-being.
In other words, the really important issue here is not about “mystical experiences” or “spiritual realization” per se, but rather, it is about the kind of ultimate transformation of a human being. Has her life become different? Are new traits manifesting traits which are conducive to the increased well-being of herself and those around her?
Different spiritual masters may not be having precisely the same cognitive “mystical experience,” but they may be enjoying many other psycho-spiritual traits in common. For example, whether they are experiencing Buddhist nirvana or Judaic devekuth or Christian theosis, certainly the cognitive contents or structuring of their experience are evidently quite different. Nevertheless, in comparison to the common (spiritually undeveloped) person, the psycho-spiritual context from which the spiritual adepts are operating--which is characterized by tremendous bliss, equanimity, unattachment to extraordinary phenomena, compassion, greater insight, and so on, including an exalted purity of the cognition function itself--this overall transformed psychospiritual context of consciousness marks off such spiritual masters as sharing pretty much the same “enlightened state,” very different from that of the usual, undeveloped man on the street.
My own interpretation of the spiritual literature from the Great Traditions and his documentation of the extensive references on spiritual realization in this literature along various aspects of enlightenment reveals that, indeed, there is a fairly consistent view concerning the nature of enlightenment. This is not just the view of some modern “unity-thinkers.” The great masters themselves are often to be found speaking in quite similar (if not identical) terms about their spiritual realization. Moreover, some of the most eminent among them (e.g., Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi, Shirdi Sai Baba, Hsuan Hua, the Dalai Lama, Mata Amritanandamayi, et al.) openly affirm that the different spiritual paths all lead to the same Realization.
Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, this author will concede that the pluralism-sameness issue is complicated, and will simply say for now that the present findings tend to support the notion of the overall “sameness” of enlightenments across traditions.
The second major point to be discussed here is that, while there are, indeed, common criteria for spiritual realization among the various traditions, there are also some noteworthy differences among the traditions as ascertained by the survey and a study of the literature.
One of these differences is this aforementioned cognitive tendency to view reality in terms of continuity or discontinuity/discreteness, nonduality or multiplicity, as these apply to the nature of observer and observed, the devotee and God, and so on. Non-mystical Christians, Jews, and Theravada Buddhists tend to hold out for the discontinuous, dualistic-multiplistic ontology on these subjects, whereas Advaita Vedantins, northern and eastern Buddhists, Persian-influenced Sufis, and highly mystical Christians and Jews tend to maintain a nondual perspective.
There is also the difference between the Theravada Buddhists and the rest of the traditions consisting in the former’s distaste for a “theistic” interpretation of ultimate reality, which probably has a lot to do with the mediocre concept of “god” (the male deity Brahma) in India’s scriptures and brahmanical circles at the time of Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha (5th century B.C.E.). The historic Buddha and Theravada Buddhism, furthermore, do not posit any concept of an Absolute Being or Reality (such as Hindu Vedanta's Brahman, with the neuter noun designation), other than designating nibbana as one of the four “ultimate” categories of experience. Thus, a Theravada Buddhist will tend to balk at the usage of any such “absolutist” concepts, lest he succumb to the heretical doctrine of “eternalism.” So any overly enthusiastic ecumenical thinker must be very careful about terminology when positing a “transcendental unity of all religions” and discussing what the “Great Traditions” believe on a cognitive level. 
Again, there are differences among the traditions, especially between non-mystical Christianity and Judaism on the one hand and the rest of the traditions on the other hand in terms of the issues of seeing action as run by “free will/Divine Will,” seeing the world as a “projection in universal consciousness, made of consciousness,” and so on.
All these aforementioned differences are important, and preclude any glib statements about an “identical” state of spiritual realization” or about how “all the traditions are saying the same thing.” Any shared ecumenical ground among spiritual traditions or a positing of the “transcendental unity of religions” needs to honor the unique differences among traditions and not just sweep them under the rug of “oneness.”
Whereas there is good reason, as mentioned above, to speak of two highly evolved masters as sharing more or less the same enlightenment (though not identical), in that they share a large percentage of exalted features of human psychospiritual functioning, to ignore other areas of difference in functioning (such as cognitive belief-systems, affective temperaments, behavioral predispositions, etc.) and think that there exists a perfectly “identical” enlightenment across traditions or even within the same tradition seems naïve and immature.
The differences, especially cognitive, which one finds among the traditions--or even within the sayings and doings of masters within a single tradition-indicate some degree of pluralism in spirituality or “mystic experience.” While this pluralism, in view of the foregoing argument presented here, is not ultimately so severe as to preclude the positing of a “perennial philosophy” or “perennial psychology” (cf. Katz, 1978), it does need to be addressed and analyzed.
Some have asserted that the pluralistic differences are, at least in part, due to the fact that there is a hierarchy of psycho-spiritual development. The philosopher Charles Moore, wondering about the truth-claims of different religions, asks, “Are some religious traditions mystically more developed or profound than others?” (in Katz, 1978, p. 127).
Ken Wilber (1983) asserts that there are differences in the development and hence profundity among traditions. He draws up a hierarchy of spiritual development, based on an external standard of “developmental structuralism” which goes beyond situational hermeneutics in order to adjudicate “levels of authenticity” and “degrees of validity” of various spiritual traditions/sects. He thereby comes up with ten levels of authenticity within the developmental spectrum of consciousness: archaic (levels 1-3), magic (4), mythic (5), rational (6), psychic (7), subtle (8), and causal (9), with the Brahman, Dharmakaya, Godhead, Tao, Kether, or whatever one wishes to call the Absolute as the tenth “level,” the asymptotic limit of growth and ever-present ground of all levels of growth.
In light of this hierarchy, it is easily seen that certain teachers or elements of a tradition’s teachings are dealing predominantly with one level or another, such as the subtle or causal or absolute level. A teaching talking on the level of the “subtle” will appear very different in content and tone than a teaching which deals primarily with the Absolute. If it is pointing to the subtle level as the “highest level of realization,” its picture of enlightenment will look very different from that of a teaching which speaks of realization of the Absolute as the highest level. Hermeneutics would declare that both points of view are valid and that a “pluralism exists among the religions which precludes talk of any perennial philosophy”; developmental structuralism would declare that the teaching dealing with the Absolute is developmentally superior to the other, and that any teaching which reaches to and shares this “level of the Absolute” is participating in the perennial philosophy.
It may be that seeing in terms of nonduality and viewing the phenomenal world as a projection in consciousness may be teachings given from the level of the Absolute which are developmentally higher than teachings which emphasize discontinuity/multiplicity/dualism or a reified notion of the world.
Note that Wilber’s notion of a developmental hierarchy is validated by the phenomenon of “subration” discussed by Eliot Deutsch--subration (or sublation) being that psychospiritual process “whereby one disvalues some previously appraised object or content of consciousness because of its being contradicted by a new experience” (1969, p. 15). One who has realized the level of the Absolute has subrated the other nine levels of development as posited by Wilber.
A third major point to be discussed in this conclusion section about the findings of this dissertation is that there are some serious discrepancies between what the spiritual literature of some of the traditions is affirming and what some modern representatives of a tradition are stating. For instance, items 18 and 19 on the original survey, concerning a “spontaneous, automatic action, free of the sense of doer-ship” and “viewing the apparent happenings in the world as perfect, not really a problem” --these two items were strongly rejected by a number of participants in the survey, yet ample references exist in the best literature of the very traditions they represent which clearly supports these items. Either 1) the modern representatives are unfamiliar with this literature or with the sublime spiritual realization (the high level of authenticity) which yielded such teachings, or 2) for various reasons these representatives choose not to affirm such teachings, which are potentially dangerous for the immature aspirant, heard out of the proper context. In either case, the researcher in this field needs to be aware that such discrepancies do arise and create difficulties when evaluating the data. This author’s own bias is to favor the teaching from the great scriptures or venerated historical masters as authoritative over the statements of modern representatives when these differ, but to accept both statements as representing valid points of view. Another researcher may wish to reject both, or accept only one or the other as valid.
At this juncture may be made some random comments concerning issues pertinent to my dissertation and future research.
1) This dissertation was motivated by several concerns: first, to point out to psychologists (and laymen) a more profound model of well-being. Second, to demonstrate to scholars and adherents of various religions that the goal of all spiritual paths is, except for certain cognitive (belief-system) differences, fairly similar regardless of the different path taken, so one need not be prejudiced against other spiritual paths. Such prejudice, in fact, seems to interfere with realization of the goal.
2) This dissertation was written mainly from a “metaperspective” valuing the cognitive mind-set of Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism, which seem to operate from the highest level of “authenticity” according to Ken Wilber’s well-known and widely-regarded schema of hierarchical development of religions. An emphasis on Vedanta has occurred in certain places of discussion as a corrective to an apparent Buddhist bias among so many transpersonal psychologists who are featured in present-day transpersonal literature (e.g., Walsh, Goleman, D. Brown, Shapiro, Welwood, Kornfield, Engler, Epstein, et al.--all of whom tend to emphasize the Buddhist perspectives.). Another researcher, operating, say, from a contemplative Taoist or Sufi metaperspective, would probably wish to use a different terminology for some of the issues discussed herein, and might wish to cover other sets of issues.
3) Given that there are functional, temperamental and/or cognitive differences characterizing men and women of spiritual realization, does spiritual realization have any singular appearance from an outsider’s perspective? On the face of it, the functions of various alleged spiritual masters appear very different. For instance, from the outside one sees Mother Teresa doing her tireless service for the poor; one sees old Nisargadatta Maharaj teaching a relatively small group of students the way of highest wisdom while smoking cigarettes in a small loft in a slum area apartment; Son Buddhist master Seung Sahn cracking Dharma jokes and challenging his students with enigmatic koans; Nityananda of Kanhangad wandering about like a wild animal in a deep jungle hermitage of India; Mata Amritanandamayi benevolently hugging and caressing each and every one of the hundreds and thousands of people who come to see her. On the face of it, these beings all seem very different in their functions (not to mention appearance). Nevertheless, it seems possible to detect, upon close examination, that each of these and other allegedly realized beings are living a very similar inner life of tremendous freedom, peace, equanimity, bliss, unattachment to the extraordinary, outwardly noticed as selfless giving to, serving of, and positive influence on fellow sentient beings, and so forth.
4) An issue extremely pertinent for the field of psychology is the self-concept, an individual’s idea or image of who or what she is, and how she experiences herself. Central to a “normal” self-concept in Western Euro-American society is a certain “normal” body-image of oneself as a limited, material form. In conventional society, the “normal” body-image is (implicitly) felt and defined as something like the following:
“I am this solid entity, whose boundary is the surface layer of skin and hair, and I am subject to the known laws of space-time; I am separate and distinct from other such entities; I am (identical with) my bodily sensations.” On a more psychological level, “I am (exclusively identified with) my perceptions, emotions, volitional impulses, thoughts, memories, fantasies, and dreams. Eventually I will grow old and then will die (either to be extinguished forever or perhaps to reincarnate as a distinctly individual soul in another body in a future life); I am subject to and strongly affected by emotional mood swings, from pleasant to painful--sometimes I am happy, sometimes I am angry, sad, or frustrated; I have many strong likes and dislikes to which I am often slavishly bound; I am not perfectly satisfied with life; the only two states of consciousness I know are being awake during the day or else dreaming at night.”
By strong contrast, in many sections of the literature of the great spiritual traditions, especially those with a nondualist orientation, a very different self-concept and “body-image” are to be found on the part of those great masters, sages, saints who have undergone spiritual realization. Their “self-concept”--or shall we say “Self-concept”--cannot really be defined in a limited way as any “thing,” but might be intuited more in the following way (though, truly, no words can do justice to this intuition, and a true spiritual master is probably not noticing this realized state in such a self-conscious manner):
“I am [or: “There is only”] pure spirit, pure awareness, unbounded, nondual (not having distinct parts or being separate from anything), omnipresent; this spiritual awareness transcends space-time and all finite forms (sensations, perceptions, volitional impulses, emotions, thoughts, etc.), as an ever-free, ever-blissful principle of witnessing awareness, unaffected by these forms when they arise or pass away. They are indeed simply aspects of the Divine Reality. Other than this spiritual Reality, absolute Being-Awareness-Bliss, nothing else really exists. The various manifest forms, including “this physical body,” and apparently “other” bodies, are like dream-images that the God-Self is playfully expressing (conjuring up) for simple, loving delight. Who I really am is the omnipotent consciousness-energy which underlies the material universe-process, and which is thus its source and very substance. I am the true, essential, nondual nature of all apparently separate beings. I transcendentally (freely) witness the three states of consciousness (waking, dream, sleep), and all thoughts and emotions coming and going, entirely unaffected by them. I am always content, perfectly satisfied in a condition of glorious bliss and love.”
In other words, for the “normal,” conventional (spiritually unrealized, unawake) individual, there is the chronic, more or less problematic sense of being a body-mind “somebody,” moving along a street, perceiving “other” bodies/objects around him, which are separate from him; he is thinking certain thoughts (planning, remembering, worrying), identified with being the “thinker,” and with being a “doer,” and he is wrapped up in a certain less-than-absolutely-satisfied emotional state.
But for the spiritually realized individual (who is truly an individual, i.e., undivided, unfragmented), there is the glorious, delightful intuition (--and there is no separative sense of “me” who is “having” this intuition) of being no-thing/everything, a changeless, unmoving (yet, paradoxically, also very dynamic), unfragmented, unbounded spiritual Reality, which is also spontaneously, effortlessly manifesting as a wonderful world of forms and activities, on many levels of existence.
In still more words: the “normal” human walking down a street feels himself/herself to be only, exclusively, a particular body-mind process, a “me” “doing” the walking; the consciousness of a spiritual master walking down a street is of being everything that is happening everywhere and “everywhen,” and also of being the no-thingness of pure Being-Awareness-Bliss which is the free, unaffected witness and true nature of the entire “dream in consciousness.”
This spiritual realization, this awakened spiritual Self-intuition which involves in infinitely expanded self-concept, is not obvious to the vast majority of people; it is usually not even considered by them as a possible way of being/experiencing. But the biographical and autobiographical spiritual literature, and testimonies of living spiritual masters, indicates that numerous people, including men and women, young and old, physically healthy and unhealthy, have evidently undergone this spiritual realization and live out of this radical Self-intuition in an “unconditioned condition” of extreme well-being. These biographies and autobiographies, along with other spiritual literature (classic teaching texts), and dialogues with realized beings suggest that actual and complete spiritual realization can be undergone by all who apply themselves to it-or, better to say, by all who open themselves up to Its happening on Its own.
It may seem to the reader that this is all “too good to be true.” More to the point, the reader may wonder why such an optimal well-being and infinitely expanded Self-concept is not better known in the West. With regard to the latter point, it can be said that the politics and logistics of the dissemination of knowledge is a major reason why this optimal well-being is not more widely recognized in the West. For instance, many of the books concerning saints of Asian countries are untranslated and/or out of print and/or hard to come by (not available in mainstream bookstores of the West). Many easily available books concerning saints of the Western Judaic-Christian tradition are not given much if any emphasis in Western academic or religious institutions, either. Again, a majority of he people in this country tend to suppress religious phenomena which do not stem from or perfectly conform to the orthodox, institutional, non-mystical, mainstream Judaic-Christian tradition.
5) When one asks, “What is it to be ‘optimally well’?”--does it mean that one must utilize the schema, say, offered by Wilber of the ten levels of development and affirm that the realized being is entirely free of conflicts and is totally fulfilled on levels 1-10 (archaic through Absolute)? Or only free/fulfilled on the last four, “transpersonal” levels (subtle, psychic, causal, Absolute)? Or only on the Absolute Being level (“level 10”)? Would a person who was enjoying realization of the Absolute (“level 10”) be considered more “well” than someone who had not realized the Absolute, but who was 100% free and flourishing on levels 1-9?
Such problems of interpretation can apparently be obviated by affirming that there are certain traits of well-being--such as undisturbable equanimity, deep bliss, unattachment to extraordinary phenomena, compassionate serving of fellow sentient beings, a sense of nonduality, and the like--which, when present in an individual, seem to be an indication that this individual is more or less spiritually-realized.
Of course, it may be that an individual only possesses some eighty or ninety percent of such characteristics, and then one must ask, is this person “fully realized”? Problems of interpretation will again come up at this point. There seems to be no sure way of resolving this issue.
6) Somewhat along this line, a most interesting question arises, namely: Are there “stages” of spiritual realization? This is a question which, due to time-space constraints for this dissertation, could not be addressed earlier. Many of the traditions offer one or more models of levels of development and/or realization. For instance, the Theravada Buddhist tradition offers the model of the four stages unto Arhatship as well as the model of the nine insight-knowledges; early Mahayana Buddhism offers a 10-stage Bodhisattva developmental model; Ch’an/Zen offers the ten (or six) “ox-herding” stages as well as, say, the threefold schema of “first there are mountains and rivers, then no mountains and rivers, then mountains and rivers”; Advaita Vedanta offers a sequence of disidentifications through the five-fold kosha [body or "sheath"] model leading to realization of the Absolute; some Sufis (according to Attar) describe the “seven valleys” to traverse unto extinction in Allah; other Sufis (such as Farid) give other schemas; different Christian mystics--such as Teresa of Avila, Hugo of St. Victor, et al.--offer fourfold or threefold stages of contemplation leading to Christian “perfection”; and so forth.
The developmental models of such modern transpersonal researchers as Wilber (1983), Brown (1986), et al., suggest that enlightenment is a gradual, step by step, and very “thorough” movement through stages-- “thorough” in the sense that mastery of each level/stage must occur.
But the “sudden enlightenment” schools of Advaita Vedanta and Ch’an/Zen clearly indicate that stages (especially such as the subtle and psychic of Wilber’s and Brown’s models) can be skipped entirely (in violation of the stage-model). These traditions are saying that one does not have to build a perfect-looking dream-body or dream-psyche within the dream--one can simply wake up into/as the Absolute.
Conversely, there may be great adepts of the psychic or causal or subtle level who are still unawake at the level of the Absolute.
7) Longevity of life does not seem to be a factor in spiritual
realization. Some masters do live to be very, very old (e.g., Ma-tsu, Gnanananda, Neem Karoli Baba, Hazrat Babajan, Don Jose Matsuwa, et al.), but a number of others leave the physical plane at an early age--though often by extraordinary means, such as a conscious departure from body consciousness (e.g., Jnanadeva, Isaac Luria the Ari, Sankara, et al.).
Gender also does not seem to be a major factor (contrary to M. Bucke’s idea): many saints, especially from the Catholic and modern Indian tradition, have been female; there may be a large number of female masters who are also simply unknown or unpublicized.
8) In the early years of research in transpersonal psychology, especially in the writings emphasizing research with hypnosis, hallucinogens, and meditation, there sometimes seems to be an over-valuing of the cognitively unusual/exotic, in the form of “altered states of consciousness” or ASCs. Yet the Great Traditions, except for emphasizing the cognitive-intuitive “ASC” of transcendental wisdom (prajna, jnana, gnosis, etc.), unanimously reject ASCs as eluding or simply not ultimately satisfying, since these are merely passing phenomena. There seems to have been little attention thus far in transpersonal psychology to more lasting affective states/traits like “divine joy,” “love,” “the sweetness of devotion,” and so on about which the Great Traditions have much to say. Furthermore, there is little concern for the behavioral dimension in the form of selfless service to the needy or abstinence from “impure” or unwholesome actions.
It seems to this researcher that, in the developing paradigm of transpersonal psychology, there is a very real danger that too much cognitive map-making and “explaining,” too much emphasis on “states of consciousness,” “full-spectrum models,” and “meditation as attentional training,” etc., will eliminate for researchers and readers alike the “heart” of the spiritual domain. That fathomless peace, radiant bliss, and sublime clarity of spiritual realization is not really done justice by any of the psychology journal articles yet in print, whereas the prose and poetic writings of many saints and sages themselves do seem to communicate more of the flavor and the profundity of spiritual realization, of Godliness (or “Buddha-liness”).
Maslow, for one, urged the realization of love, compassion, selfless giving, and other Being-level qualities, yet many of these “qualities of the Heart” are not given much emphasis in the writings (and many lectures) of transpersonal psychologists; furthermore, the transpersonal psychologists do not speak much in “moralist” terms concerning virtue, purity, and freedom from defilements, either, whereas these are the themes on which the spiritual masters of the Great Traditions are often instructing. And so it is to the hagiographical and teaching literature of the great spiritual masters--as well as the company of contemporary, living masters--that one must turn if one wishes to hear more about these qualities and have them modeled for oneself.
9) In terms of the means for achieving spiritual realization, many transpersonal researchers seem to think that the most important means is meditation (e.g., see Goleman and Epstein, in Walsh & Shapiro, 1983, p. 230). But association with spiritual masters, devotion to God or Adi-Buddha or the Guru, self-enquiry, “purity of the heart,” impeccable morality, freedom from defilements, service to the needy, and other virtues or practices receive from most of the Great Traditions’ masters just as much attention as meditation, if not more attention.
So we can beware an overvaluing of meditation as the “best” means to realization.
10) Upon meeting a number of apparently “enlightened” beings, this author is struck by the sense of a “seamless whole” of well-being, a very “integrated” well-being. To talk about enlightenment, therefore, in discrete terms of twenty or more of its features (such as this dissertation does) runs the danger of creating a fragmented, “separate-parts” view of enlightenment. The twenty-plus features of realization, the overall cluster of traits of realization posited in these pages, should therefore best be viewed as aspects of a fairly singular, “unconditioned condition” of spiritual realization.
11) The behaviorally, psychoanalytically and/or physiologically oriented tend to see spiritual realization or “mystic experience” as a result (“caused by”) physiological or psychosexual conditions. But this is akin to saying that the curvature of space in this universe is a result of the fact that rocks and stars tend to be spherical! Why must the invisible, the “higher,” be seen as a reflection of the visible, the lower? Cannot it be the other way around? Must the spiritual mergence into/as nonduality be seen as reflecting or re-living the sperm-meeting-ovum (Maven, in J. White, 1972, pp. 421-435) or as being devoured by or united with the maternal breast? Cannot it be said, on the contrary, that these latter phenomena are reflections of a deeper, more primal structure in the consciousness-energy which manifests the physical universe?
To be sure, it would be well-nigh impossible to obtain the kind of “hard scientific evidence” for this thesis that consciousness-energy, not matter, is primary--but does this lack of evidence necessarily mean that such a hypothesis is purely speculative and hence unreliable? Or, rather, does this mean simply that the experimental method is unsuitable for deriving certain kinds of knowledge--just as, for instance, one can empirically experience and derive a kind of knowledge concerning the beauty of a sunset in a way that is never capable of being “validated” scientifically.
Some physiologically-oriented researchers may wish to reduce spiritual realization to certain identifiable brain-states and then hypothesize that the latter “cause” or “induce” the former. (Insightful physiologists, though, know that they are simply working on correlations between the physiological and the psycho-spiritual.) But what is the brain, after all? Given that, in the strictest philosophical fashion, it is impossible to prove that anything exists “in itself” outside of or beyond the consciousness which is aware of such things--then, when looking at or handling a brain, or monitoring brain-waves on an EEG, one must realize that these are all experiences in consciousness and do not exist beyond the domain of this operating consciousness. Hence it is consciousness, not the material brain, which is, empirically, phenomenologically, philosophically (not to mention ontologically or metaphysically) prior and primary.
Whereas it may be true that the personal, egoic consciousness is an epiphenomenon of material processes, the great sages of the traditions would maintain that there is an Absolute Awareness or Consciousness which is prior to and witnesses the entire material process and personal consciousness-structure or apparatus.
12) On the topic of spiritual realization and its import for society, a leading transpersonal psychologist once spoke at an international conference on how the “perennial philosophy has offered inner liberation to a select few, but has failed in offering solutions for the urgent practical problems of everyday existence and improving the external conditions of human life.” Yet the author’s own experience in India, for example, reveals that at numerous ashrams of spiritual preceptors food and clothing is given free of charge to countless needy people; the rich are often inspired by the gurus’ love to share their wealth with the less fortunate, often engendering a kind of spiritually-based “socialism.” Can transpersonal psychologists as yet claim the same kind of results as these?
13) Research into this topic of optimal well-being/spiritual realization is quite demanding and may be better executed in the future by teams of researchers. The foregoing project optimally required an extensive background in 1) the “four forces” of Western psychology; 2) the primary (scriptural) and secondary (commentary) source material of the Great Traditions and also of some new religions; 3) biographical and autobiographical material on alleged masters/saints/sages; 4) overall knowledge of comparative religion, philosophy of religion, and psychology of religion. This is perhaps too much to be required for one researcher.
14) It is sometimes said that, instead of trying to determine the nature of Realization beforehand, one should devote oneself to actual Realization first. But it does seem that there is value in having criteria posited for Realization beforehand so that 1) secular persons may learn of the possibility for a higher stage of development, a fuller, more satisfying consciousness; 2) the magnificence of this Realization will inspire people to completely open themselves up to this way of spirituality (not just in a half-hearted manner); 3) aspirants may be given a clearer picture of the true “goal” of spirituality, so that they will not fall into pitfalls or incompletely realized states of consciousness along the way.
On this last point, in this day and age of numerous psycho-spiritual teachings/traditions of varying quality--explicitly or
implicitly promising heightened or even optimal well-being--a clear, authoritative profile of spiritual realization derived from the teachings of genuine spiritual masters and surveys of representative spiritual teachers could preclude false, misguided views about the nature of the goal of the psycho-spiritual process. Many people have been given, or have themselves come up with, a concept of “spiritual realization” which, in light of the teachings of some of the generally-acclaimed great spiritual masters, must be judged as grossly ignorant, dangerous, and/or indulgent, not conducive to fruitful spiritual practice or true realization.
For instance, there flourishes among many “spiritual” circles and/or practitioners the idea that spiritual realization necessarily entails: (a) possessing and using “psychic powers” (telepathy, healing, psychokinesis, etc.); (b) stopping all thoughts and emotions (as is documented in Appendix B, the spiritual aspirant is asked to become free of thoughts and emotions by abiding as the transcendental consciousness); (c) perceiving certain “subtle-level” forms (e.g., images of a personalized, anthropomorphic God, colored lights, heavenly worlds, and so on). A study of the literature on/by the most respected spiritual teachers suggests a very different picture of true realization, and could thereby bring much more clarity for those endeavoring to become spiritually realized.
15) It is easy for differences and consequent conflicts and bad feelings to arise over religious “belief-system” (cognitive) issues. Different religions tend to accentuate their differences and engender alienation and vicious argument (even fighting) when discussing theological-philosophical issues such as 1) the relationship among God, soul, and world (viz., are they separate and distinct, or are they essentially nondual? Are the soul and world even real in themselves?); or 2) the nature of God (bringing up the issue of monotheism vs. atheism, pantheism, and polytheism--actual or construed; for example, Hinduism is often accused by Semitic religions [Judaism, Christianity, Islam] of being polytheistic or pantheistic, when it is actually neither); or 3) what is the “proper” way to worship God (with images or without images?); or 4) whether God can incarnate as a human (—these last two issues lie at the heart of the Muslim-Hindu and Muslim-Christian conflict); or 5) whether there is really an “everlasting hell” or a resurrected material body in heaven (issues which separate Christians from adherents of certain other traditions).
I would suggest that different exoteric religious traditions can come together with much more accord when discussing the common psycho-spiritual characteristics of spiritual realization--since an extensive, cross-cultural study of the classic biographical and autobiographical works on/by spiritual masters and many scriptural texts suggests (and this has been the conclusion in these pages) that there is a fairly common human spiritual process all humans can undergo and share, with a similar goal of realization, which has certain characteristic features found cross-culturally.
Whereas the philosophical propositions and assertions of the various religious traditions are concepts of the mind, inferential in nature, open to debate, the psychological characteristics of spiritual realization are more empirical-- albeit subjectively empirical-- and are thus more prone to being verified in direct, subjective experience and consensually verified through shared communications about this subjective experience. These factors of empiricism and consensual verifiability allow for a more truly scientific treatment of the subject (in a real sense of the word scientific, i.e., that which yields valid, reliable knowledge).
A cross-cultural study of spiritual realization which results in a psychospiritual profile along cognitive, perceptual, affective, motivational, behavioral, and social aspects of human functioning-such a study, if presented satisfactorily to various religious leaders, could perhaps be useful in promoting religious ecumenism, mitigating the petty conflicts, suspicion, fear, and battling between religions or between political groups based on religious ideological positions. This is because, rather than arguing over each other’s concept of the ontological nature of the God-soul relationship, or over the “proper” way God should be worshipped (etc.), leaders and adherents of different religions might be able instead to appreciate that everyone is simply endeavoring to realize an optimal well-being.
This insight brings mutual support and encouragement for whatever will promote well-being for a given individual. Thus, it would ultimately no longer really matter that one person worships God as Lord Krishna, that a second person worships God as the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and believes Jesus Christ to be the only Son of God, while a third person believes that only the formless Allah exists. What would be most important to these people is that all of them are endeavoring to love this majestic, mysterious Source, and to realize the divine life-- a stage of incomparable equanimity, peace, happiness, unattachment to anything but God, a spontaneous willingness to serve needy beings, an ability to respond to situations appropriately, unselfishly, with truly helpful action, etc.
Simply put, the ecumenical emphasis could switch from differences in practices, rituals and doctrines over to the similarities in the goal of spiritual life, that is, the lived psycho-spiritual traits.
Such a mutually supportive, reality-oriented attitude is an important first step toward actualizing peace in those areas now dominated by religious conflicts.
16) A note about methodology as it interfaces with the domain of the spiritual: There is nothing wrong with the scientific method in terms of trying to obtain knowledge through as precise a method as possible, such as, for instance, the experimental method. The experimental procedure is extremely fruitful for gaining valid and reliable information concerning various events in the external world of forms/processes. The recent camp of psychologists, philosophers, and humanists who decry “scientism” seem to also totally dismiss the importance of the experimental method. They must realize that the experimental method is, short of some kind of direct, God-like knowledge of the universe, the best form of deriving knowledge of processes in the external world. However, it is true that this experimental method is not appropriate for certain domains of research, such as many of the areas of importance for transpersonal psychology. Herein, the “participant-observer” method, involving hermeneutics and state-specific science are much more fruitful. In this way of research, the practice of various forms of traditional spirituality, along with surveys/interviews and simple association with recognized spiritual masters can yield some important information--in its own way reliable and valid information though perhaps not experimentally verifiable in the strictest manner.
17) Along this line, one of my research findings concerning spiritual realization is that it is fallacious to assume that the researcher can remain separate from his investigations, that he can keep the material “out there” as separate from himself. To study this kind of material is to be almost compelled to integrate it and go deeper in applying it to one’s own life. The second finding, a consequence of the first, is that one tends to lose one’s “impartiality” and to find oneself often preferring the attitudes and methods of the spiritual traditions instead of those of the Western psychological paradigm. Intense devotion, simplicity, innocence, faithfulness in, and obedience to, the teaching of one’s gurus/mentors-these become far more important than the kind of intellectualism, aloofness, uninvolvement, and “no-values” stance which is valued (a paradox!) by many within the scientific community--and the recent science of psychology, in its concern to be really “scientific,” is often more rigid than the other sciences in this respect.
In short, then, this research into spiritual realization and optimal well-being, quite naturally leads one into adopting the research methodology of the participant-observer.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
1. For example, there are remarkable accounts of the great Indian spiritual masters, Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) (see, for example, Rolland, 1970) and Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) (see Cohen, 1967), both of whom died of cancerous conditions--evidently excruciating on a physical, bodily level--yet who reported being in constant spiritual bliss; eyewitnesses corroborated that these two beings radiated tremendous inner well-being, despite their physically diminished condition.
2. Note that, with the exception of later, western European developments within Christianity and Judaism, all of the major spiritual traditions--Christianity, Judaism and Islam--Sufism, as well as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism-are “Eastern” religions (Middle-Eastern, Eastern European and Asian). It is simply a matter of their being “middle” Eastern or “far” Eastern. Americans and Western Europeans chronically tend to regard Christianity, Judaism and Islam as “home-grown,” “Western” religions which are “our own” and really “better suited” for Westerners, as opposed to “those exotic Eastern religions” (and, in the case of Sufism, “that exotic middle-Eastern religion”). But this is a fallacy. Because of certain political accidents, elements of Christianity were adopted and adapted by a population within the Roman Empire and were then imposed on all who came under the sway of this empire. The Christianity of Jesus, of the early Christians, of the desert fathers, and even of the saintly European monks and nuns of later times, all of whom represent the real vitality of Christianity throughout the centuries--this contemplative/mystical Christianity is as foreign to the exoteric, institutional Christians of, say, London or New York as is Buddhism, Hinduism or Taoism! The truth is that the only genuine “Western” religion, that is, of the Americas, is Amerindian Shamanism. But this is a relatively unorganized amalgamation of many practices and beliefs, with many differing manifestations, depending on the particular tribe of people one is examining--and it, too, is very exotic for the average citizen of the U.S. and other “civilized” areas of the Americas. It seems that the secular humanism, scientism, “new thought” sects, and fundamentalist Christianity of the past two centuries are what really constitute the “Western religions.”
3. For example, K. Wilber, J. Welwood, D. Goleman, J. Kornfield, Ram Dass, R. Walsh, F. Vaughan, A. Deikman, R. Ornstein, D. Shapiro, J. Engler, D. Brown, R. Anthony--to name just a few; and it is significant that their main interest seems to be in the Eastern spiritual traditions: Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sufism. Jacob Needleman, commenting on this phenomenon, observes, “Over the past decade, there has taken place in our culture a widespread attraction to ideas and spiritual methods rooted in the ancient traditions of Asia and the Middle East.... A large and growing number of psychotherapists are now convinced that the Eastern religions offer an understanding of the mind far more complete than anything yet envisaged by Western science.” (Needleman, 1983, p. 6).
4. This researcher wishes van Kaam had utilized a different term, such as “real individual” (from the root word meaning indivisible or whole), rather than the word “personality,” which derives from the word “persona,” meaning one's mask or role that one wears.
5. There is a chronic, problematic issue for researchers when investigating the two Eastern traditions of Theravada Buddhism and Hinduism, especially on the avowed goal of their spiritual paths. This is the issue of how to reconcile the Buddhist concept of anatman (“no-self”) and the Hindu (Vedanta) concept of Atman (“Supreme Self”). The Buddhists argue that the Hindus are identifying with a subtle “somebody-ness” in their alleged realization of the highest identity (the Atman), whereas the Buddhist realization of anatman (Pali: anatta) in nirvana (Pali: nibbana) is a less restricted, less limited awareness, and therefore a more pure and free awareness.
I have pointed out to Buddhist monks and scholars of the Abhidhamma tradition of Burma and Sri Lanka that, clearly, both the Hindu Vedanta notion of Self-realization (Atma-bodha) and the Buddhist realization of anatta in nibbana involve pretty much the same realization: namely, the sense of being a separate, limited, body-mind “self” is seen as false, it is devoid of any real substance and does not abide forever (hence unreal, by both Buddhist and Hindu definition: an entity is considered “real” only if it abides eternally).
However, the Buddhist teachers with whom I spoke did not want to concede that the Hindu Vedantins maintained the same realization. These Buddhists were adamant that the Hindu notion of Atman is mistaken, and is thus a fundamental point of difference between Hindus and Buddhists.
In a panel discussion from 1985 (“Truth and transformation in psychological and spiritual paths,” Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 17, No. 2), former Harvard psychologist turned spiritual aspirant Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) commented on his experiences during a long vipassana insight-meditation retreat in Burma, and his difficulties integrating twenty years of Hindu Vedanta conditioning around the concept of “the One,” his name for the Atman, with the Buddhist concept of anatta, or what he here calls the “void.” He reports:
"I had always ... said, well, nirvana is really another name for it [the One], and the void and the One are really the same. But the Buddhists say no, that isn’t true, that’s a cop-out. In fact, as you empty, as you empty, as you empty, there is nothing, there is nothing, there is nothing. Not the one [Atman] behind the many, there’s nothing. I thought, 'Well I’m just being very naive about the concept of the void. Really, they must mean there’s a One somewhere.' ... I tried it with my [Buddhist] teacher, and he just laughed. I saw they were saying there’s nowhere to stand, really." (p. 201)
It is useful here to know two things with reference to Ram Dass’ remarks, and the whole issue of anatta/Atman in general: 1) the Buddhists have always been very clear that the teaching on nibbana or nirvana is not a pointing to a “mere emptiness,” a vacuous void--this would be the heresy of nihilism, and the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was very clear in the works recorded in the Pali Canon that nibbana is not nihilistic, as is revealed in two famous passages of the Buddhist canon:
"There is, monks that plane [beyond the jhana-meditation absorption states and all worlds] wherein there is no coming or going or remaining or deceasing or uprising, for this is itself without support, without continuance, without mental object --this is itself the end of suffering. There is, monks, an unborn, not become, not made, uncompounded, and were it not, monks, for this unborn, not become, not made, uncompounded, no escape could be shown here for what is born, has become, is made, is compounded. But because there is monks, an unborn, not become, not made, uncompounded, therefore an escape can be shown..." (Udana Sutta viii.3).
"This is the real, this is the excellent, namely the calm of all the impulses, the casting out of all 'basis,' the extinction of craving, dispassion, stopping, Nirvana." (Anguttara-Nikaya V, 322) (Conze, et al., 1964, pp. 94-5).
These two passages are from the Sutta-Pitaka, the record of the Buddha’s spiritual teachings which, significantly, are considered to be a more early and genuine record of his teachings than the later Abhidhamma-Pitaka literature now favored almost exclusively over against the Buddha’s original teachings by certain Theravada monks and/or scholars --especially of the Burmese tradition-- and by certain transpersonal psychologists of the West. (Such persons do well to read British scholar-monk Sangharakshita, 1985, pp. 67-92, for an insightful report on how the Abhidhamma--that attempt “to compile a gigantic card-index of the universe”--“is not really the Word of the Buddha,” and became increasingly over-valued in later centuries by monks who, like certain academics today, were perhaps a bit overly “scientistic.”)
These two passages make it quite clear that the Buddha is not indicating a “mere nothing,” a vacuous void, but is pointing to an absolute Reality which is realizable --though it is, of course, not a contingent, phenomenal, temporal, relative (non-absolute) entity or state of consciousness, either.
2) A second point here is that the “One” of which Ram Dass speaks is actually a cruder term for the stricter Vedanta term advaita, which really means “not two.” Reality, as the Buddha and any true Vedanta master would point out, is basically uncompounded, not made of parts, nor is it a “something” which is a distinct entity standing out against a background different from it. Reality is absolute, without a background relative to it, therefore not an “existent (standing out) thing”; it is also not something to which one can, as a separate observer, point and say, “there it is.” Reality has no boundaries delimiting it in space or time or any other conceivable dimension. It is incorrect, therefore, to even think of Reality as an “it,” for Reality is not an object in any way. If “any-thing,” Reality is pure I, the pure and absolute Subject, absolute “here-ness and everywhere-ness,” beyond the normal subject-object polarity of sentient consciousness.
Curiously enough, the Buddhists use the nearly identical term, advaya, “not two,” to describe nirvana. So is there any real difference here between advaya nirvana and advaita Atma-realization?
Moreover, the Buddha explains:
"Now what, brethren, is the Uncompounded [i.e., nibbana]? The destruction of lust, of hatred, of delusion [the three poisons], brethren, is called the Uncompounded." (Sutta Nikaya, IV. 359, in Woodward, 1973, p. 215.)
"Verily ... the destruction of craving is Nibbana." (Sutta Nikaya III. 188, Ibid., p. 218)
It is readily seen here, as well as from a study of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, and all the other primary Buddhist teachings, that the Buddha’s main intent is to communicate the realization of an utterly desireless, “unconditioned condition” of pure awareness. The fact is that, in Siddhartha’s day, the notion of the Atman, found in the ancient Hindu Vedanta Upanishads, had became reified and “phenomenalized” as a “something” to which the brahmin pundits were mentally clinging and with which they were identifying in a “somebody” fashion. Research by some modern-era Buddhist scholars has shown that the idea of the Atman as being the nondual, Absolute Self, not the individual or personal self -—this idea was evidently unknown to the Buddha and his interlocutors (because this idea was a secret teaching, passed along only to a few aspirants). Therefore, the Buddha would not use the term Atman in the context of referring to his realization, since it would be misappropriated on the level of mere separate-self “atman.” (Note, too, that in the languages of India, there is no way to differentiate between capitals and small-case letters, as, for instance, we can when we distinguish [absolute] “Self” from [relative] “self.”) So he preferred to talk in a way that emphasized the giving up of all desire and the “blowing out” (the literal meaning of nibbana) of the sense of relative, compounded self-hood, person-hood, ego-hood.
The Buddha, in other words, was simply trying to insure that his followers would not have any mental “handle” which could be grasped or clung to in a self-perpetuating manner. He did not want his followers to be able to conjure up or fortify any sense of separate self on any level whatsoever, gross, subtle or causal, bodily, emotional/mental/psychic, or whatever level on which the sense of separateness can be attempted as an “Atman project,” to use Wilber's phrase (a substitute for genuine realization of the boundary-less, uncompounded, absolute Atman).
If the Buddha were to see his followers of today, 2500 years later, clinging as they do to the concept of anatman over against the teachings of the Vedanta masters who stress the same need for going beyond all separatist self-definition on any level, he would very likely give his Buddhist followers the very same teachings on unattachment to mental concepts as he gave to the pundits of his day.
For the purposes of this present work, it is important to consider the case of two human beings, one a Buddhist master, the other an Advaita Vedanta master, and enquire whether these two beings enjoy an overall basically similar or different psycho-spiritual realization. For when one ceases idle armchair philosophizing and looks instead at real human beings, albeit in this case, two spiritual masters, one does not notice any “anatman-Atman” distinction. Instead one simply sees and hears two human beings who are extraordinarily peaceful, clear-minded, attentive, loving, considerate, and content, unmoved by the likes and dislikes to which most of the rest of humanity are slaves, unsullied by the restlessness and confusion which taint most people. Neither of these two masters will appear to have desires conditioning them, whether these be gross-level desires or subtle-level or causal-level desires. There is no desire for any subject-object experience of any phenomenal, relative thing, whether earthly or heavenly.
The Advaita Vedanta master may perhaps speak informally of “seeing it all as One,” and the Buddhist master may speak informally of “seeing it all as void, empty,” but is this any different than one person saying that the glass is “half-full” while another says it is “half-empty”? Surely, on a rather superficial level, this is a difference, but is it really a “difference which makes a difference”?