Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index
Mysticism and New Paradigm Psychology.
Collins, John E. (1991).
Savage, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
xxiv + 258 pages.
Contents: Preface, acknowledgements,
introduction, 5 chapters, bibliography.
Excerpt(s): Stress which
arises out of contact with unusually severe environmental conditions
is not the only way by which the normal chemistry of the brain
can be altered to produce a mental state of euphoria. ...
If one is not able to have a transcendent experience
which results from neurological abnormality, one might choose
a more controlled and voluntary path by ingesting the necessary
chemicals. High doses of amphetamine, cocaine, certain hallucinogens,
and cannabis can cause transcendent experiences. ...
Finally, the most widely used method of inducing
transcendent experience is through intentional stress. ... Each
spiritual discipline calls upon its initiates to ask their bodies
and brains to perform functions for which they are not normally
adapted. Hatha yoga, fasting, living burial, and so forth,
cause great physical stress. Concentration, trying to answer an
unanswerable question, endless repetition of a mantra,
detailed inspection of one's sinfulness, etc. cause considerable
mental stress. One might easily conclude that the more vigorous
the practice, the more severe the stress and the greater the likelihood
of transcendent experience. (pages 196-197)
Given this strong correlation between the build-up
and release of stress and the awakening experiences of mystics,
and given the research which has described with some measure of
precision the physical changes which occur within the brain when
there is a strong stress-release sequence of neurological events,
we may conclude that there is a relationship between the chemical,
i.e., physical, events which Mandell and others have described
and the mental, i.e., spiritual, events which are described in
the stories of mystical conversion. It is also clear that these
changes can be induced by certain psychological abnormalities,
by the introduction of certain psycho-active chemicals into the
brain, and by various kinds of self-induced stress. It would appear
then that the material reductionists' thesis has been confirmed.
This is Mandall's conclusion when he says, "God is in the
brain." By this conclusion he means that the concept of "God"
is a neurological response to a particular kind of experience.
But this critical issue is not so easily resolved.
The fact that there is a correlation between a sequence of neurochemical
events and the experience we are calling "transcendent"
or "awakening," does not necessarily establish that
sequence of events as the only cause of that experience. ... However,
mystics claim that any understanding of mystical experience requires
one to accept the operation of two kinds of causality.
It is the coincidence of these two kinds of causality that results
in mystical experience, and without this union mystical experience
can not occur. One type of causality may be studied and described
by neuroscience; it always involves interactions of material substance
and can be described in electro-chemical terms. This type of causality
may be called "ascending causality" because it is always
from brain to mind, from chemistry to consciousness, from matter
toward spirit. Most psychological events can be described in terms
of this purely material causality. But according to mystics, "descending
causality," which is a partial and determining factor in
all mystical experience, cannot be understood materialistically.
Its direction of operation is from spirit to consciousness, from
the non-material toward the material, from mind toward brain.
And its effects on consciousness must meet with the appropriate
effects of ascending causality in order for mystical
experience to occur. Prior to their awakening, Gautama, Peter,
and Ignatius had experienced stress on various
occasions. But these experiences of stress had not been met by
appropriate descending energy, so no awakening occurred. (pages
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