One of the pleasures of having this blog is being able to read comments from blog visitors that make me think, "Wow! That was beautifully and wisely said."
Sometimes when this happens I share a comment in a blog post so it will be more visible. Such is the case with two comments from "JB" that you can read below. Each was left on a recent post, "Meaning comes from us, not God."
This comment by JB relates to the supposed truthfulness of spiritual/mystical experiences. I agree with what JB says, though these experiences often have more to them than simply emotionality. JB does address this in an interesting way, saying that an impression of cosmic unity, for example, derives from the emotional state, rather than the other way around.
Spence wrote: "Whatever it is it is built into the human frame, the healthy and functioning human frame, at least for some of us. The fact that the details are found in spiritual writings of the Word and the Light down through the ages give confirmation to those of us who have experienced these things repeatedly since early childhood that they are truthful..."
I think you are right that these experiences are "built in". The capacity for "mystical" experiences are "built into the human frame" as much as the capacity for any psychological experience is built into the human frame.
I don't think anyone is disputing that these experiences occur. It is true that they occur, yet one must question whether they are truthful in terms of the interpretations typically ascribed to them.
All manner of human emotional experiences have repeatedly occurred throughout the ages and all have been documented since the birth of written language. That they have repeatedly occurred and have been written about cannot be construed as constituting evidence attesting to their truthfulness.
I think these experiences certainly can be healthy, yet they can also be unhealthy as evidenced by all of the mystic-gurus that become abusive and exploitative. The experience of seemingly becoming "one" with the universe apparently has different effects on different people. For some, the ego apparently expands to the size of the universe.
Speaking more about mystical experience: these consist of intensely positive emotions coupled with a sense of ultimate existential unity, the "rightness" of everything, and an underlying impression of love and benevolence embracing everything. I think that the impressions are secondary to and derive from the immediate emotional state.
Simply put, the world appears perfect because you feel so damn good.
This is analogous to the experience of falling in love with a person, where the world itself seems to become brighter and more beautiful. This is a well-known and documented experience of people falling in love. The positive emotion seems to generate an attendant change in perception. Of course the world hasn't changed from what it was before, it just feels different.
If you have ever read any case histories of people experiencing extreme negative emotions, there is often an attendant alteration of their perception. The world becomes disjointed, everything seems "wrong", and everything seems imbued with doom or malevolence. For some, these experiences repeatedly occur.
The point is, the emotional state seems to inform the perception. I think it would be as wrong to assert that mystical experience provides a true window into the essence of existence any more than the diametrically opposed emotional state. The positive experience is certainly healthier, as it is conducive to survival, but I think it would be wrong to call it truthful.
And this JB comment briefly discusses something I've also wondered about: how religious tales (I'd call them fables) would be viewed if they emanated from a single human mind, rather than being embraced by a collection of people that often numbers in the many millions, or even billions.
Brian wrote: "Wouldn't it be bizarre if, say, someone dressed in a Wonder Woman costume kept proclaiming, 'You've got to believe in Wonder Woman! She's real, not a fantasy!' Likely this person would be viewed as having some sort of mental illness."
I've often asked believers to take a particular religion and imagine what it would be like if these beliefs had not been institutionalized and spread like a contagion throughout civilization, but rather were proclaimed by one single person.
Take Christianity as an example. Imagine none of the teachings of Christianity existed and one person started uttering statements like:
"There is a male creator God who has a son, whom he sent down to be killed by being nailed to a piece of wood so that humanity could be forgiven for a disease passed down from a woman who listened to a talking snake with wings and ate a piece of fruit from the wrong magical tree."
This person would be considered to have a mental illness with psychotic features. Yet there are literally millions of people that believe this. Thus, beliefs that would clearly be categorized as mental illness when exhibited by one person, are categorized as religion when they are embraced by millions.
It's just a numbers game. Religion is culturally sanctioned mental illness. Fill in the blank with Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism, or any of the sub-cults (Kabbalah, Sufism, Gnosticism, Vedanta, etc). The result is the same.
Absolutely. One of my favorite crazy stories from the Sikh/Sant Mat tradition is that of Kal, the ruler of the lower realms of creation, earning his exalted position from God after standing on one leg, and one foot, for many yugas -- which is a really long time. Who knew that lower gods have legs and feet just like us?