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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.

ISBN: 0-8476-7669-2

Description: Hardcover, 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 204-205)

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