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.