We humans love to believe in strange stuff. We're the only animal, most likely, with the ability to conjure up stories about what doesn't physically exist.
Sure, my dog does seem to dream, moving her paws and making noises while asleep, but I strongly suspect her mind is fantasizing about chasing a squirrel or cat, not about God, heaven, angels, or some other supernatural entity.
Because religious stories are so deeply embedded in human culture, it's difficult for believers to find a detached vantage point to assess claims of miracles, extrasensory perception, mystical visions, and such in an objective manner.
This has been evident in comments on three previous blog posts about Faqir Chand, an Indian guru who ended up being deeply skeptical of gurus.
This blog has been fortunate, though, to have David C. Lane leaving his own comments on those posts. Lane had a lot of contact with Faqir Chand before Chand's death in 1981. He also is responsible for books about Chand's life and teachings being published, in line with Lane's academic interest in gurus.
Several of Lane's essays are included in a book about Chand, "The Unknowing Sage: the Life and Works of Faqir Chand." They can be read online.
I highly recommend this one, Inner Visions and Running Trains: Faqir Chand Meets the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Way back in my college days, 1968 probably, I read the Tibetan Book of the Dead because I was a philosophically-inclined imbiber of psychedelics: LSD, mescaline, psilocybin. Once I took mescaline with a guy who said he had seen a Clear Light while high, but was afraid to enter into it.
So he was traveling around the country searching for the Meaning of It All. That guy was the one I took mescaline with in the Santa Cruz mountains, as described in "The universe is a paper bag turned inside out."
In his essay, Lane does a good job of using the Tibetan Book of the Dead to help explain key aspects of what Faqir Chand came to believe near the end of his life, which was an evolution from his earlier acceptance of traditional Sant Mat/Radha Soami mystical teachings. Lane writes:
What strikes the reader almost immediately after reading both the Bardo Thotrol and The Unknowing Sage is the remarkable similarity between both texts.
Whereas the Bardo Thotrol is written mostly in second person and third person, listing instructions for the departing soul, The Unknowing Sage is in first person, presenting the reader with Faqir Chand's frank autobiographical admissions about his meditative life.
Yet, in both texts the respective philosophies coincide: 1) the illusory nature of religious visions; 2) the limitations of knowledge, both rational and transmundane; and 3) the principle that the ego/self/soul is the real cause of man's unenlightened state.
Chand lost interest in inner sights and sounds after he realized that these can't be the ultimate truth that he searched for his entire life, yet failed to find.
Why? Not for me to say, but my impression is that in line with Buddhist teachings, Chand realized that behind every perception is a perceiver. Until one knows the knower, so to speak, all knowledge is open to question. Lane writes:
Thus, it was through a series of remarkable events that Faqir began to question the authenticity of his inner visions. Instead of accepting whatever appeared to him during his voyages out of the body Faqir doubted them and attempted to find the source from which all such visions arise.
Faqir's adventures began to dovetail at this point with the underlying philosophy of the Bardo Thotrol: "That all phenomena are transitory, are illusionary, are unreal, and non-existent save in the sangsaric mind perceiving them. . . That in reality there are no such beings anywhere as gods, or demons, or spirits, or sentient creatures -- all alike being phenomena dependent upon a cause. . . That this cause is a yearning or a thirsting after sensation, after the unstable sangsaric existence."
Eventually, Faqir dismissed his visionary encounters as nothing but subtle obstructions of maya. It was at this point that Faqir's meditation took a new turn: instead of enjoying the bliss of inner sights and sounds, Faqir turned his attention to the source from which these manifestations arose. And in so doing, Faqir no longer became attracted to visions of Krishna, Rama, or even his guru, Shiv Brat Lal.
The placebo effect helps to explain what is going on with inner visions, supposed miracles, and other phenomena so beloved by believers in mysticism.
We know that pharmaceutical drugs and medical procedures have physical effects. It also is well known that placebos lacking direct physical effects also can lead to bodily changes. This shows the power of the mind/brain -- which isn't all that surprising, since the mind is the brain in action, and the brain is a physical entity, along with the rest of the body.
So arguably religions and mystic philosophies are akin to placebos. Gurus, God, holy people, incarnations, and so on are the "sugar pills" that believers wrongly believe possess supernatural powers.
Their effects on people don't stem from religion/mysticism being objectively true, but rather on the fact that people believe they are true. This seems to be in line with most of Faqir Chand's observations about miracles, which David Lane has shared in a recent document.
Someone tells a doctor, "The medicine worked." The doctor replies, "Yes, but that was an illusion. The pills you took were a placebo. Your own mind is responsible for the positive effects you got from the pills." But in the spheres of religion and mysticism, few leaders have the courage or discernment to tell people that it's all in their own mind.
However, Faqir Chand did. In fact, he went even further. Not only did Chand reveal that inner visions were the result of a devotee's faith and desires, he apparently came to a Buddhist-like conclusion that the self which has those visions also is an illusion.
Thus Chand evolved into a "clear light" perspective described by Lane in this fashion:
What exactly this emptiness or luminosity is cannot, by definition, be described. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead the emphasis is on recognizing one's true nature, that which is no-thing in particular but rather the field in which all things arise -- itself being visionless, though producing visions; itself being structureless, though exhibiting structure; itself being non-existent, though producing existence. The clear void light is absolutely paradoxical, since the "I" cannot grasp it, nor can the mind by its subject/object dualism conceive it.
This is at odds with the traditional Radha Soami philosophy that Faqir Chand had earlier espoused, which led to him being seen as a heretic by those who believed in the inherent reality of mystic visions.
Thus Faqir, following his Tibetan counterparts, eschewed even the pure light and sound which was beyond form, and attached himself to no-thing, allowing himself, as he so astutely put it, to "hang on the gallows."
But in so doing, Faqir broke with Radhasoami tradition, which advocates surat shabd yoga (lit., "uniting the soul with the divine inner sound"), and eventually became regarded as a "heretic."
Near the end of his life, Faqir grew closer to the philosophical principles of Buddhism, particularly Mahayana, as outlined in the Bardo Thotrol. Indeed, if one were only to look at his later writings, one would come away with the impression that Faqir came from a lineage of Tibetan lamas.
Getting back to miracles, almost certainly they don't exist. But this doesn't take away from the everyday "miracle" of existence. We are. The world is. That's miracle enough for me -- and also for David Hume. See the first part of this video:
Here's another take on Hume, channeled by the Philosophy Bro. Excerpt:
Sometimes people claim even crazier shit than, “OJ is innocent.” What could possibly be crazier than that?
Fucking miracles. Occasionally someone insists that somewhere, for some period of time, the laws of nature stopped working and something absolutely batshit insane happened, like the sun danced in the sky or a bro rose from the dead, and he expects you to take him at his word.
“No, seriously, bro, I swear. It fucking happened. I saw it!” as if you don’t have the right to be incredulous at such a fucking outlandish claim. And then he gets pissed off at you for not believing him - “How could you know? You weren’t there! You didn’t see it!”
So then you have to put on the patient gloves and kindly explain why he should get the fuck out of your face. “Okay dipshit, look. There’s a ton of shit I haven’t seen. In fact, there’s a ton of shit *no one* has seen, like a man coming back from the dead. So you’ll excuse me if I look for alternate causes when everyone in the world has, for thousands of years, reported with just about 100% accuracy - ‘dead people: still fucking dead’ and then suddenly you claim that maybe a hundred of you saw something different.”
After all, I only know that everyone everywhere has stayed dead because we all agree that’s true. I only know the sun doesn’t fucking dance because I’ve seen it do the exact same thing every day of my life: not fucking dance. So has every single person in the world.
It’s like we’ve repeated this experiment billions of times, and now you’re telling me that one bro saw something different? It’s you against every single person in history. Is it possible you were deceived or mistaken? Doesn’t that seem more likely? The evidence doesn’t look good, champ.
But what if it’s true? What if it really did happen? What would it take to render a miracle probable?
Look, I’m all about the possibility that the future won’t be exactly like the past - I’ve built my entire career on the idea - but again, it doesn’t look good. So far, no miracle has even close to enough people testifying for it, much less trustworthy people.
You say a hundred people witnessed the miracle? Funny how that miracle would entirely confirm the religious beliefs of all hundred of them - what a strange coincidence!
Besides, people want to be fooled. They love believing in the supernatural, in shit that seems impossible. Maybe it’s not a miracle that Jesus appeared in your ham sandwich - maybe it’s just that, given all the ham sandwiches made in history, one of them was bound to look sort of like a guy in flowing robes with long hair eventually.
Some people refuse to accept reason and leave their superstitions behind, but that doesn’t mean I should have to believe their bullshit.
Miracles are inconsequential, they are irrelevant. If a guru or spiritual leader takes credit for miracles, your bullshit meter should be going off and telling you to stay clear.
If someone says they experienced a miracle event, then that person can use it to build their own faith. It should not be used to build up an event to a guru's credit.
Posted by: In Search Of | May 09, 2019 at 06:02 PM
Getting rid of mind is no mean feat, I am sure, especially at the time of death and one enters to state of the Bardo Thodol. Just a tiny extract taken from the introduction to The Tibetan Book of the Dead:
" Then he knows that whatever he may see, hear, or feel, in the hour of his departure from this life, is but a reflection of his own conscious and subconscious mental content; and no mind-created illusion can then have power over him if he knows its origin and is able to recognize it. The illusory Bardo visions vary, in keeping with the religious or cultural tradition in which the percipient has grown up, but their underlying motive-power is the same in all human beings. Thus it is that the profound psychology set forth by the Bardo Thodol constitutes an important contribution to our knowledge of the human mind and the path that leads beyond it ." Lama Anagarika Govinda.
Nothing that exists or that comes into being can possibly exist by its own side. Everything is dependent upon other factors to arise. There can be no independent origination. That is my take on the meaning of " emptiness". Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. The truth will always just be the truth, it is merely the language that changes to explain it. Now we have the scientific language in line with our evolutionary state of understanding . Quantum entanglement, proves dependent arising and origination. I suspect without mind, and upon death for most of us, even those of us who follow a "spiritual" path, philosophy, religion, belief system etc, and for all the visions, mediation, and practice over the years, death will just be like receiving an anesthetic. Who really knows how to go beyond the illusions of mind and matter? Really! ( But I still believe in Fairies).
Posted by: Tinkie | May 09, 2019 at 06:08 PM
In defense of Gurinder. Whatever he has or has not to do with the Singh brothers' financial situation is irrelevant. No doubt Charan Singh put him in charge, as Radha Soami Satsang Beas needed a good business head to "grow" the business. I assume many wealthy, and also not so wealthy, Indians donate. I wonder how many westerners do? In 1989 , the only time I was ever there ( initiated by Charan Singh) I donated a very tiny amount, all I could afford. The money to fund such an organisation has to come from somewhere. The organisation mainly benefits Indians, who really need the belief system and who benefit from it, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, hopefully. It is a predominantly Indian belief system. History proves humans need belief systems, whether they be based on fact, truth or otherwise. The mind controlling antics of the belief systems if the past and present , one would hope, had/have benign motivations. But of course, as we know that has not always been the case. Sometimes, we do have to accept a theory or idea in blind faith. An infant does not know that putting its hand on a hot element will cause great suffering. It just has to obey its mother. The same said for the practise of certain seemingly stupid rituals. (In my infant unknowing mind). At Beas, many many, good things are done to elevate those nationals who work, live and visit there. In the main, it is to elevate the consciousness of those who need it most, to rid themselves of past traditions and conventions that are so very much no longer applicable in their society. They must change their mindset it they are to evolve and live better lives. Change takes a very long time. Gurinder probably does not give long satsangs as the past gurus did, because, he sees beyond the Maya of it all. From what I have heard him say, he tells it how it is. YOU ARE THE MASTER! WAKE UP! The hundredth monkey syndrome is called something else now in science I believe. When enough "minds" entangle with the best and benign truths, then there will be a mass shift in conscious evolvement. But if not, then thank goodness for those on the planet who quietly work away in the background to help to eliminate the suffering of all beings. Radha Soami, Amen, Om Mani Padme Hum.
Posted by: Tinkie | May 09, 2019 at 07:35 PM
Because I can't let go of my egotistical mind and OCD tendencies, practice is the noun and practise is the verb. I mixed them up in both my posts, plus a typo if for of! The "teacher" in me!
Fairy Gyani, Sukhavati in Akanishta, and Little Tinkie.
I am beginning to believe that what region you reside in, in the three times, is your choice, your very own mind projection. I wish and wish internally and externally to go to the pure lands when I leave this body. In reality, I have no idea where Mt Meru is, nor anything about all of the regions Sant Mat, the Vedas or Mahayana Buddhism tell me. Are the purelands the same as the regions in Sant Mat? Are they just another explanation for the various dimensions in maths and physics, or what the scientists are trying to discover at Cern with the LHC? But suddenly one day in my quiet solitude of bliss and complete contentment, I realised in my very ever-present now, I am already there and it is just beautiful, I never want to leave! I think Gurinder is a man such as Faquir Chand, a realist. But men they are. However, there is a certain "light" that does shine in some very beautiful realised beings, but you have to be able to recognize it.
Posted by: Tinkie | May 09, 2019 at 09:12 PM
I don’t know why people are so obsessed with miracles. Even the book ‘A Course in Miracles’ spends close to 1,000 pages saying Miracles essentially equate to life. Life is a miracle. That’s all. The only miraculous thing a human can do, at best, is change their perspective. Maybe that’s where limited free will comes in... 🤷🏽♀️
Posted by: Sonys | May 10, 2019 at 12:37 AM
I worked in Marketing for HHP. They’re definitely not flakey. In regards to Brian’s article, here’s an interesting link: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/the-power-of-the-placebo-effect
Posted by: Sonya | May 10, 2019 at 01:18 AM
.... No doubt Charan Singh put him in charge, as Radha Soami Satsang Beas needed a good business head to "grow" the business.
Every time when i read that Gurinder was a head business man in Spain before he was appointed Guru i know-that is not true-.
Gurinder worked for "Oriënt H.W.Balani Málaga" (trading watches) H.W. Balani (Hiro) was not only the boss of Gurinder but also the former rep. of Spain and some South American countries.
To get confirmed that Gurinder was not a bussinessman at all i wrote yesterday to my friend who worked in the same company and she confirmed that he was not.
Her answer today:
I think thats perhaps fake news. He did not seem to have a high ranking job with H.W.Balani thus they were quite shocked when he was named Master and rushed to get in his good graces!
Posted by: La Madrugada | May 10, 2019 at 01:30 AM
The placebo effect is real, but so are events that defy explanation.
The superstition of believing in miracles as fact is matched by the sceptic with the superstitious belief that someone else's experience is a lie.
So here is the interesting thing about the placebo effect. In many cases, people physically, actually, get better because of it.
Something is actually happening. Belief in a higher power or the magic of spirit guides can actually improve not only our attitude but our health. While believing nothing can be done can hasten the spread of disease. Or it might drive us to get proper medical attention.
What is subjective has a physical componant.
Faqir didn't deny the power of the mind, or even psychic phenomenon. He emphasized both. He simply pointed out that this was all part of the mind, even legitimate psychic phenomenon like direct thought transfer. The part we are conscious of, the symbolic part, may only be symbolic and not literal. Still it represents something. And maybe learning to understand those symbols better is a way to understand another language of our reality.
As much as interested parties want to claim Faqir denied the possibility of paranormal events, he in fact claimed they exist. But he claimed that our mind may only be able to understand them through the language of our imagination.
Posted by: Spence Tepper | May 10, 2019 at 05:24 AM
The placebo, given by my Doctor, miraculously cured my Hypochondria. Unfortunately, the side effects were something else...
Posted by: Mike England | May 10, 2019 at 06:38 AM
"The superstition of believing in miracles as fact is matched by the sceptic with the superstitious belief that someone else's experience is a lie."
Disbelief isn't superstition. I'll say it for the millionth time, people lie a lot and there is no reason to believe their experiences or take them at their word.
Long before you get to the reality or lack of concerning of miracles you have to deal with the fact that a huge amount of non miraculous stuff that people tell about themselves is completely false.
Nothing superstitious at all about not believing people's claimed experiences.
Posted by: Jesse | May 10, 2019 at 07:13 AM
I think the problem is that we are connected and part of this creation, but our tiny brains have limited capacity to understand that connection.
But the wonder and magic is that we are all connected, and I think we should celebrate the subjective ways our mind uses symbols in the language of imagination to bring information to our awareness.
It's a beatiful as any other part of the creation.
But what does it mean? That is the realm of conjecture. And conjecture has a dubious accuracy rate.
Most of the time symbolic things aren't literal. They are subjective experiences, like all great art, that reflects some element of reality.
Posted by: Spence Tepper | May 10, 2019 at 07:21 AM
In fact no one on earth can exactly explain as to how does conscious occupies the foetus' brains in womb because without conscious brain in itself is mere flesh and blood. Its a mystery.
Medical science only claim it to be brain dead or brain live. What goes on inside the brain is a phenomena whether attributed to brain or conscious - let's figure this out first.
If it is mere brain then what Baba Fakir concludes by your opinions may be true.
But if brain is merely a tool for the conscious to operate in then things are beyond the reach of analysis by human species or Sciences. We need to take the help of sources as Bible, Kuran, Guru Granth Sahib and upon their recommendations to search for some adept who can qualify to analyse self- reveal to us as big bubble or whatever but Truth behind these world's weird phenomena unfortunately we are a part of as of now.
Therefore by trying to define with some iota of truth, using logics to create a mirage of some authentic explanations and leaving the source or origin of brains / conscious aside as stated at the outset of this comment seems not justifying the conclusions (reg inner or outer experiences) as presented taking these akin to placebo effect of brains.
Let's give more thought to it.
Posted by: Meditator | May 10, 2019 at 09:00 AM
"Nothing superstitious at all about not believing people's claimed experiences."
Jesse I think I may not have explained my view.
You don't need to believe anyone else's experience, even your own. I don't think anyone here is asking you to.
Experience is the land of subjectivity.
But it's not truthful to make people wrong because they see or process the world differently. And not everyone who does so is lying. Honest people won't always see it exactly as you do. They might see it completely differently.
To hate on that is actually prejudice, which is a kind of superstition: that you must make them wrong, without evidence, just on the basis of superstition that their view is so foreign to yours you must deny it, as a threat, necessary to protect oneself or one's world view on claimed rational grounds, but which are often culture bound beliefs. Yes, that's superstion also, for those who act that way.
"The world would be a better place if everyone simply thought and did as I say."
- William F. Buckley
Posted by: Spence Tepper | May 10, 2019 at 10:22 AM
On the issue of imagination and theories of consciousness, this is a little visual presentation we prepared for a talk to the University of California, Irvine's Philosophy Club:
or here for easier reading without the visuals:
Posted by: David Lane | May 10, 2019 at 11:48 AM