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Relative Transcendence

The first hesitant steps aiming beyond the horizon of immanence – an area which is spontaneously „intrinsic“ to us – are not very accurately targeted. At the same time, they are not guided by any maximalist courage. They are aimed at gradually exploring the nearest vicinity into which modern immanence is immediately grown. Discoveries, however revolutionary they may be, therefore still concern only transcendence in the relative sense. Searching is directed more to finding whether there is anywhere to set out to; not yet whither is it possible to go. The main goal at this stage is to test the main passable roads step by step. To find out – primarily with a view to the initial immanence – whether and how to explain diverse anomalies accumulated in the closed worlds of modern knowledge; whether and where to find alternatives to the manipulative modern attitude to the world; whether and how can the modern dominant West view itself also through the eyes of other civilizations; whether and how to save man's human nature in the face of the modern tendencies to narrowing it down and exhausting it. The postmodern search for relative transcendence thus amounts to searching for the possibilities whether the immanence of the modern man and the modern world can be at all somehow overstepped to some avail. Using the term „relative“, I would like to imply that preliminary and in a sense limited nature: relative transcendence is not a transcendnce beyond which it would be impossible to proceed.

1. Transpersonality

People who have no aim keep going to and fro,
Marching in closed ranks,
Going from somewhere to nowhere
From nowhere to somewhere
Going and cursing as they march.

They no longer care for anything, that's why they keep going,
Filing through one-way streets.
A dense traffic everywhere, like in rotundas during a siege
Whose end somebody's forgotten to announce.
People who care for nothing keep dejectedly marching on
With feeling of self-importance
As pilgrims announcing to the Lacedaemonians.
Both sides couldn't care less.

And people go and keep swarming.
And people go and keep multiplying.

Albert Kaufmann

Our hormones produce enzymes of hungers which cannot be assuaged, dreams which cannot be made true, desires which cannot be supressed. And I am standing in the very centre of this and my head is empty, I have a huge heart without blood and dissolved soul consisting of anti-matter. I am tired of myself and my time. I am tired by restrictions, powerlessness, misunderstanding.

Tadeusz Konwicki

The search for transcendence through personal experiencing, its search inside oneself and through oneself, appears to be the most typical method of our times. It was stimulated by two factors: dissatisfaction with the depersonalized way official religious institutions are run and the need to compensate for the patogenous influences of the dehumanized complex of modern civilization. Men and women – feeling to have been stripped of themselves and subordinated to systems which were originally to have served them but which, instead, made their lives more difficult, men and women uprooted by work which they perform not out of innermost necessity, and equally uprooted through entertainment, in the midst of which they try to forget everything important – live anything else but their own lives, subordinating themselves to all the other authorities but the authority which would have addressed the inner identity of each of them. The only place whither a secularized man could have been led, during the 1960s and 70s, by his desire to extricate himself from that machinery was the study of a psychiatrist or a psycho-logist. A disengagement into the inner world – into that unexplored, prohibited realm – was generally seen as a sure sign of contracting a disease rather than embarking on a path towards improving one's health. But a therapeutically mediated redisco-very of one's Self could provide man, „controlled from the outside“, with a totally emancipating insight of the natural state of human affairs and change his attitude towards spiritual values.

In this sense, the changing needs of its patients and clients were accompanied by changes in psychology and its philosophical starting points. In addition to positivist behaviourism and biologizing Freudism this century has seen the emergence first of humanistic psychology and, in connection with it in the mid-1960s in the United States, the so-called fourth power – transpersonal psychology. The purpose of the psycho-therapy conceived by it was not only to develop integral, sponta-neous personality and its humanistically delineated self-realization, its will to meaning, its freedom, love, growth and creativity, but above all this, also the attainment of an inner contact with what goes beyond a personality thus conceived: truth, good, beauty, perfection, order, immortality, unity etc. It is in the transpersonal stage of its development that psycho-logy is beginning to be able to grasp the horizon of human motivation in its entirety and proclaim the legitimity even of its overreach vis-a-vis the usual system of values recognized by an ordinary modern man. It finally assumes his underdeveloped ability of self-transcendence – offering him the chance of deblocking his deeper spiritual potential. Its therapeutic methods are aimed at a single goal: to expand the consciousness of the client as much as to reach the sensation of the supra-personal dimensions of his being.

Secularization of Religious Experience

The universalism of transpersonal psychology, arising from its initial scientific foundation and motivated by endeavours to provide access to spiritual values of all people without exception, has – in view of religions as hitherto exclusive administrators of these values – constituted itself as a kind of secularizing syncretism. An explicit programme focused on this expropriation of spiritual experiences (and their explanation) from the exclusive competence of religious communities was formulated – in connection with the selfsame tendencies which figured prominently already in Erich Fromm's humanistic psycho-logical conception – by one of the founders of the transpersonal movement Abraham H. Maslow already in his lectures from the late 1960s, published in a book entitled „Religions, Values and Peak-Experiences“. 1 „I want to demonstrate that spiritual values have naturalistic meaning, that they are not the exclusive pos-session of organized churches, that they do not need supernatural concepts to validate them, that they are well within the juris-diction of a suitably enlarged science, and that, therefore, they are the general responsibility of all mankind. „ 2 All the more so that alternatives of religious experiences originate – accord-ing to Maslow's research – also in a secular environment: in the sphere of aesthetic perception, creativity, sexual love etc. „Religion becomes then (...) a state of mind achievable in almost any activity of life.“ 3

1 New York, 1970

2 A.H. Maslow: Religions, Values and Peak-Experiences. New York 1970, p. 4

3 Ibid, p. XII

The „peak-experiences“ recorded by Maslow have certain common salient features: the entire universe is perceived as an integrated, unified whole (a shattering experience bringing a significant therapeutic effect); everything that is perceived is regarded as equally important (this results in boosting the ability of an unconditional intensive reception of the unique other person); everything is perceived as it is, independently of human interests, without the projection of human purposes (fear, personal wishes and other self-centred reactions tend to disappear); everything is experienced from the angle of universality and eternity (the awareness of time and space is momentarily weakened or missing); the world is perceived positi-vely, it is understood even in its negative aspects (life's polarities and conflicts are transcended); everything is viewed as sacred (even death is faced with humility and dignity); it is felt that this particular experience cannot be evaluated from the outside, as it is – on the contrary – something that gives meaning to the rest of the human life (even though on many occasions external validation is necessary – analogously to the state of blind love). The effects of these experiences on the personality are described by Maslow as therapeutic – even a single experience may avert suicide and other forms of self-destruction (alcoholism, drug abuse, violence), obliterate the feeling of existential inferiority, value vacuum, fear of death -or as similar to religious conversion: promotion of personal identity; enhanced responsibility, activity, creativity, freedom; attainment of selflessness and disinterestedness; feeling of happiness and gratefulness, desire to do something good; integration of dignity and spontaneity; etc.

These peak-experiences are expressed by mystics through expressions available in the given culture; they convert to a specific religion which can, however, disinterpret or mortify their experiences. Speaking on behalf of non-theistic and non-church religion, Maslow thus defines peak-experiences as „secularized religious or mystical or transcendent experiences“ 4. But secularization has another aspect too: „it is also a religionizing of all that is secular“ 5. Maslow therefore levels the edge of his criticism not only at conventional religion (whose followers have according to him less experiences of transcendence because they separate sacred and profane and desacralize most of their lives) but also at conventional atheism (which Maslow describes as a manifestation of spiritual pathology). He is concerned with religion as an authentic, live innermost experience.

4 Ibid

5 Ibid, p. XIII. In Maslow's interpretation, religionization of life carries merely pagan features. He conceives it, for instance, in making matrimony sacred by man seeing in a woman kind of a goddess or at least a priestess of an ancient religion: her preparation of supper is perceived as a ritual, her menstru-ation as a sacred mystery etc. In a similar vein, a woman can find a divine event in her husband's return from work which conjures up the image of hunter's return with food. Sacral excitement is then said to be evidently found in sex, child birth etc. This principle of „seeing heaven on earth“ (Op. cit., p. 110) allegedly makes it possible to cope better with common life – albeit only according to the model of primitive cultures. There arises the question why did this practical instruction lose sight of values specific to our civilization with whose secularization Maslow seemed to be concerned at the initial theoretical level. Many values specific to Christian spirituality are hopelessly missed by this somewhat regressive secularization in Maslow's specific treatment even though in his abstract intention he apppears to be focused precisely on them.

Maslow's formulations are intended as a gauntlet thrown down to all those who, out of conformity or indifference, have been guilty of allowing today's emptying and mortification of spirit-ual values, which are important for a healthy functioning of any social organism. Maslow believes that a tradition which has proved to be unable to prevent the spread of pessimism, nihilism and cynicism – the dissemination of a value vacuum – „never was a firm foundation“ 6. According to Maslow, a vital foundation for positive developments could at present be offered by science, provided it serves better the existing values: i.e., it abandons its positivistic narrowing down which resulted in its isolation from religion and its instrumentalization. Based on such a dicho-tomization of knowledge and values, religion has unjustly been transformed into an enemy of knowledge, and science into an amoral, antihuman learning, usable for any purpose whatsoever. In such a competitive interrelationship between science and religion the latter has degraded into a blind faith and sheepish obedience while science has ceased being able to examine subjective experience (creation, love, play, arts, mysticism), experience of the sacred and the transcendent. Religion without scientific examination and criticism, just as science stripped of ethics and spirituality, are, according to Maslow, crippled, with repercussions for the education of whole generations. After all, if the sacred is separated from the profane, if it does not penetrate the whole life, if it does not belong to all people, then it tends to become a museum exhibit. Through this dead attitude the official religion is said to be supporting everyday evil: contact with the ideal is disappearing from human life and the real possibility of effecting spiritual improvement in the world is vanishing with it. Maslow sees a way out in recognizing religious issues and desires are scientifically respectable and worth studying, claiming that they correspond with human nature. He regards a failure to deal with them as humanly abnormal.

6 Op. cit., p. 9

In this sense, mystic illuminations, „erroneously“ treated in the terms of supranatural revelations, are not something utterly extraordinary; according to Maslow they rank among „peak-experiences“ which we encounter daily. They are part and parcel of human life to which each religion is constitutively related. „The universal nucleus of every known high religion (...) has been the private, lonely, personal illumination, revelation, or ecstasy of some acutely sensitive prophet or seer“. 7 Organized religion is thus here solely to render such a personal vision available, in a mediated way, to those who are capable of having peak-experiences only exceptionally or latently; they are afraid of them, suppressing them, forgetting them or turning away from them. These „non-peakers“ are exemplified by Maslow as people limited to practical concrete matters (money, possessions), as persons fearing their own insanity, then as people having succumbed to materialistic ideologies and compulsively obsessive personalities (fighting emotions). In Maslow's view, a typical church organizer is exactly such a non-peaker. That is why his bureaucratic endeavours to interpret other people's peak experiences has degraded into idolatry and fetishism: the symbols, words and rituals which were originally designed to intermediate inner experiences have now become sacred themselves. In Maslow's view there are, in actual fact, only two religions: of peakers and non-peakers.

7 Ibid, p. 19

In this context, we should not ignore one of the many discrepancies so typical of Maslow's gründer's „fast“ mode of thinking: a discrepancy between his emphatic insistence on the unity of all religions, or rather his own assessment of peak- experiences as a meeting-place for all the people of any direction and type, and his claim that „each person has its own private religion“ with its myths, symbols and rituals that „have no meaning to anyone else“ 8. This is an unintentionally formulated serious question concerning universalistic illusions and the real integration of the internal and external evaluation of spiritual experiences, which any major religious system seeks to solve responsibly by employing its own available means. But Maslow does not see the issue of religious experience so compre-hensively. Instead he zeros in on the immediate psychological possibilities of removing anti-experience barriers in today's individual. He wants to rid religious experience of its exalted mysteriousness, to make it accessible to active human efforts and efficient scientific research. He seems to have paid a price, among other things, by reducing the experience of transcendence to its „natural“, minimal layer that is readily accessible even in everyday hustle which does not lend itself to a stronger spiritually edifying influence (eg. rules of monastic life). Maslow rejects discussions of the more profound, maybe really „supranatural“, dimensions of spiritual life – whose concrete manifestations find themselves outside his scientific horizon -, dismissing them as mere interpretational balast. In that way his delineation of peak-experiences loses its claim to general validity – not corresponding to the postulated fact that (in his own words) it covers all kinds, modes and levels of religious or mystical or transcendent experiences.

8 Ibid, p. 28

But precisely because of that Maslow's conception can attract, at least to the threshold of the relation with trans-cendence, a broad section of the public who see themselves as non-religious as they are put off by the cold (and sometimes even pathological) surface of Christian religious institutions. This elementary involvement into the sacred through immediate, personal, vitally important experiences is what Maslow appears to be most concerned about. He justifiably views superficiali-zation, mortification as an alarming problem of the entire modern society which does not seem to be bent on knowing anything about the subrational and unconscious, about psychological defences; a society which does not give much space to emotions, will, impulses, mystery, the unknown, incommunicable; a society which ignores mystical literature; which does not know what to do with the aspects of personal experience, subjective, phenome-nological; a society which normally underestimates the inaccura-te, illogical, metaphoric, mythical, symbolic, controversial, and ambiguous. These experiences – coupled with the experience of humility and self-giving – have their say precisely in sensations of the transpersonal (regardless of its profundity). Without them „people have nothing to admire, to sacrifice themselves for, to surrender to, to die for“ 9. Maslow notes that traditional religion was emotionally satisfactory: it inspired, led, taught to take one's bearing in values, made it possible to experience joy, love, creativity, play, humour 10; it developed propor-tionately intellect, morals and emotions. America's contemporary liberal religions and semi-religious associations have, however, lost that comprehensive nature.

9 Ibid, p. 42

10 Ibid

Maslow's postmodern conception can be seen as a major spiritual breakthrough out of the functionalized psycho-social world. The limited impact and provisionality of this landmark concept is reflected by the author himself: „For the moment, I shan't attempt to go beyond these 'species-relative absolutes' to discuss the absolutes that would remain if the human species were to disappear. It is sufficient at this point to affirm that the values of being are absolutes of a kind, a humanly satis-fying kind, which, furthermore, are 'cosmocentric' in Marcel's sense, and not personally relative or selfishly ego-centred.“ 11

11 Ibid, p. 96

In Maslow's peak-experiences man communicates in a supra-personal position of his being with the very universe in its entirety. He associates himself with what is a guarantee of organic existence and meaningful rootedness of the entire human race in the vital and aesthetic dimension of its being; what is a confirmation of his humanity at the level of nothing less (but neither nothing more) than concordance with the entire universe. This level is quite convincigly higher than the level of life of an isolated and ego-centric person. Its private „selfish“ world -whose stereotype hopeless closeness is backed up from the outside by the ruthless atomization and technologization as the under-lying principles of the modern manufacturing and consumerist way of life – is opened up by transpersonal psychology to the supra-personal 12. It tends to enrich individual self-knowledge by adding a sacred accord with the universe and with race-related values which have since primeval age cemented the human community into the shape of an organically functioning whole dovetailed to fit in with the surrounding nature.

12 In this sense, transpersonal psychology seeks to make use of „spiritual psychologies“, for centuries developed in Buddhism, Christianity, yoga, sufism, etc. (Cf. Charles T. Tart: Transpersonal Psychologies, New York 1975). These „psychologies“ are reformulated as certain „technologies“ of attaining „extraordinary states of mind“. In its efforts to bridge the gap which has appeared in the Western culture between spirituality and science, transpersonal psychology links up also to long-standing traditions of Western esoterics (ranging from more recent systems such as anthroposophy, theosophy, the teachings of Gurdjiev, Uspensky and Bennett to alchemy, the Kaballa and other magic systems). For the same reasons he incorporates into his sphere of interest also parapsychology, research of reincar-nation and similar marginal branches. Among the psychotherapeutic schools originally arising outside the framework of transpersonal psychology a valuable source of spiritual promotion is seen especially in Jung's psychoanalysis, the psychosynthesis of Roberto Assagioli (Roberto Assagioli: Handbuch der Psychosyn-thesis. Freiburg 1978), initiation therapy by Karlfried Graf Dürckheim (Karlfried Graf Dürckheim: Von der Erfahrung der Transzendenz. Freiburg 1984), Stephen Sabetti's bioenergetic therapy etc.

By means of eclectic assimilation of all these approaches transpersonal psychology – aiming primarily at therapeutic prac-tice – deals with the possibilites of finding some kind of timeless and culturally neutral (therefore apt to be technolo-gized) spiritual truth or ultimate mysterious learning about man and world. This ethos brings it markedly and profoundly closer to esoteric disciplines, representing an attribute which is uniquely typical for them, in the essential distinction both from science and from religion. (More on this in the chapter on esotericism.)

The latest official self-definition of transpersonal psycho-logy was presented in connection with the 12th World Conference of the International Transpersonal Association, held in Prague (June 2Oth to 25th, 1992). The current leading light of the transpersonal movement and ITA Chairman Stanislav Grof described this multifarious common project as follows: „ITA's purpose was to support the developement of new scientific paradigms recognizing the role of consciousness and creative intelligence of the universe. ITA stresses the unity of mind and body, and uses as the object of its study the human beings in their complex interpersonal, intercultural, ecological and cosmic connections. ITA supports all the sincere and well-meant efforts for formulating an all-encompassing, whole human nature and universe.“ (Gemma /Prague/, 1992, special issue, p. 6)

However, can this redicovered transcendence – whose (mere) relativity Maslow himself realizes just marginally – be at the same time petrified as no longer transcendable? Can we legitima-tely „redefine“ even the concept of God of montotheist religions as being itself, an integrating principle of the universe, the entirety of all, meaningfulness of the universe etc.? 13 Do these secular redefinitions really and fully cover everything the postmodern man searching for transcendence may ever encounter?

13 Op. cit., p. 45

A Topography of Transpersonal Experiences

While Maslow who, according to Grof, „deserves credit for the first explicit formulation of the principles of transpersonal psychology“ 14, founded this new psychological trend on the research of spontaneous, naturally originating peak-experiences and their motivational charge, Stanislav Grof – another co-found-er of transpersonal psychology and, at present, its most influential representative – initiated a yet more advanced phase of the development of this branch. He replaced the method of description of spontaneously arising phenomena with the method of their artificial evoking, facilitating immediate research in controlled („laboratory“) conditions 15.

14 Stanislav Grof: Beyond the Brain. New York 1985, p. 195.

15 „The fact that the phenomena involved here have parallels in psychedelic states offers a unique opportunity to study them under controlled conditions of a clinical or laboratory experiment.“ (Stanislav Grof: The Adventure of Self-Discovery. New York 1988, p. XIII.)

Grof's techniques of intentional stimulation of transpersonal sensations are not quite new; they result from the author's study of practices used for religious and curative purposes since the primeval age: the effect of substances contained in sacred herbs, the effect of musical and dancing rituals, the effect of abstaining from food and sleep, sensual and social deprivations, the effect of hypnosis etc. – all this was and stil is to be found in the shamanic, mysterious and extatic rituals of almost all religions of the world used to activate the innermost potential of unconsciousness in order to make contact with the transphenomenal world possible.

Grof began experimenting with psychedelic substances (LSD etc.) as early as in the 1960s. The anti-drug laws forced him to abandon that practise and start seeking other methods. Since the end of the 1970s he has been using, with the same effect, a combination of simpler traditional procedures – intensive breathing and perception of purposefully selected music. Thanks to this technique, known as the holotropic therapy (or holotropic breathing) 16, Grof's clients attained what is called extraordinary states of consciousness in which they immediately identified themselves with normally unattainable realities that cast doubts on and transcend the horizon of their usual psychosomatic integrity and reach. These states of extended consciousness operate as catalyzers of a profound inner trans-formation. A personal purification and psychic rebirth of the participants in sessions, experienced by them never before, point, according to Grof, to the generally neglected spiritual potentialities of the Western civilization as a whole. 17 Grof claims that the Western man lives under the exclusive spell of a hylotropic (ie. materially oriented) state of consciousness; he confines himself to the everyday experiences with conventional reality, he connects manifestations of spirituality with mere primitive superstitions, lack of knowledge or clinical psychopa-thology. On the other hand, a holotropic state of consciousness makes it possible to grasp being in its transcendent entirety and completeness: not being limited by the scope of physiological senses, man can contact and identify himself with anything that has whenever and wherever in our universe left any information trace. „Humans can also function as infinite fields of consciousness, transcending the limitations of time, space, and linear causality.“ 18 Psychic health is according to Grof conditioned by the ability to accept alternately a hylotropic and holotropic „programme“ – without their intermixing but with a noticeable effect on the shift of man's live philosophy towards holistic, transpersonal spiritual premisses and starting points. 19

16 Grof characterizes this technique as „an important and effective alternative to the traditional approaches of depth psychology, which emphasizes verbal exchange between the therapist and the client. The name holotropic literally means aiming for totality or moving towards wholeness (from the Greek holos = whole and trepein = moving in the direction of). The basic philosophical assumption of this strategy is that an average person of our culture operates in a way that is far below his or her real potential and capacity. This impoverishment is due to the fact that the individual identifies with only one aspect of his or her being, the physical body and the ego. This false identification leads to an inauthentic, unhealthy, and unfulfilling way of life, and contributes to the development of emotional and psychosomatic disorders of physiological origin.“ (Ibid, p. 165)

17 „Experiential psychotherapy has thrown entirely new light on the problem of spirituality and religion and has returned to the human psyche its cosmic status. In full agreement with the Jungian perspective, spirituality or numinosity appears to be an intrinsic property of the deeper dynamics of the psyche. Whenever the process of experiential self-exploration reaches the perinatal and the transpersonal levels, it leads to spiritual awakening, and the individual becomes interested in the mystical quest. I have seen many highly educated persons undergo this process in our psychedelic training program and in holotropic workshops, and have yet to see a single individual, including atheists, Marxists, and positivistic scientists, whose scepticism and cynicism about spirituality would survive such an experience.“ (Ibid, p. 268)

18 Ibid, p. 239

19 „The concensus reality reveals only one aspect or fragment of existence. There are important realms of reality that are transcendental and transphenomenal. The impulse in human beings to connect with the spiritual domain is an extremely powerful and important force. It resembles, in its nature, sexuality, but is much more fundamental and compelling. Denial and repression of this transcendental impulse introduces a serious distortion into human life on both an individual and collective scale.“ (Ibid, p. 250)

Proceeding from ancient Indian classification patterns of mystic states, Grof devised a certain topography of the realm of transpersonal experiences whose each individual kind is demonstrable by extensive material acquired by research of clients. 20 Experiences with the overstepping of common personal consciousness are classified by Grof into two main categories: 1) sensational extension of consciousness within the framework of conventional reality and time-space (with spatial subgroups of identification with other persons or groups of persons, with animals, plants, organic and anorganic processes, with the planet, with life and the entire animal kingdom etc., and with time subgroups of entering into one's embryonal past, into the life of one's ancestors, into phylogenesis, planetary evolution, cosmogenesis etc.); 2) experiential overreaching of the limits of conventional reality and time-space (with numerous subgroups – experiences involving animal spirits via encounters with spiritual leaders to contacts with deities, universal archetypes and a coalescence with cosmic consciousness). 21 Activation and mobilization of deeper layers of the unconscious and „supraconscious“ spheres of human psyche can, therefore, lead both to the direct experiential contact with any element of conventional reality as well as with various mythically and archetypally documented instances. 22

20 As an example of such documentation here is a case of identification with an animal: „Then I had a very real experience of being an eagle. I was soaring by skillfully using the air currents and subtle changes of the position of my wings. I was scanning with my eyes the area far below me looking for prey. Eveything on the ground seemed magnified as if seen through a binocular. I could recognize the most miniscule details of the terrain. It seemed that I was responding to changes in the visual field. When I spotted movement, it was as if my eyes froze and zoomed in. It was something like tunnel vision, looking through a long and narrow tube. The feeling that this experience accurately represented the mechanism of vision in raptor birds (something I had never thought about or had been interested in) was so convincing and compelling that I decided to go to the library to study the anatomy and physiology of their optical system. I have found out that the position of the lens enables raptor birds magnified vision and that they have the capacity of bifocal perception. (Ibid, p. 55).

An analogy to this experience can be found, for instance, in Castaneda's Teachings of Don Juan (Carlos Castaneda: The Teachings of Don Juan. Los Angeles 1968), where the author learns from an Indian magician, among other things, how to „change into a raven“.

What is Grof's opinion about the possibilities of explaining these experiences? „The existence and nature of transpersonal experience violate some of the most basic assumptions of mechanistic science. They imply such seemingly absurd notions as relativity and the arbitrary nature of all physical boundaries; nonlocal connections in the universe; communication through unknown means and channels; memory without a material substrate; nonlinearity of time; or consciousness associated with all living organisms (including lower animals, plants, unicellular organisms and viruses) and even inorganic matter. – Many transpersonal experiences involve events from the microcosm and macrocosm – realms that cannot be directly reached by human senses – or from periods that historically precede the origin of the solar system, formation of planet Earth, appearance of living organisms, development of the central nervous system and appearance of homo sapiens. This clearly implies that, in a yet unexplained way, each human being contains the information about the entire universe or all of existence, has potential experiential access to all its parts, and, in a sense, is the whole cosmic network, as much as he or she is just an infinitesimal part of it, a separate and insignificant biological entity.“ (Ibid, pp. 162–163).

21 Ibid, pp. 42–148 or a later and less documented book The Holotropic Mind. San Francisco 1992.

22 Encounter with one category of these instances – spiritual guides – can be illustrated even from the personal experience of Carl Gustav Jung: „During his lifetime, C.G. Jung had many powerful transpersonal experiences. I have already mentioned a dramatic episode in which he channeled his famous text Seven Sermons for the Dead: the entity that inspired this channeling introduced himself as the Gnostic Basilides. Jung also had experiences with his spirit guide Philemon who taught him much about the dynamics of the human psyche. Upon reflecting on this channeled material in the last years of his life, Jung said that most of his work had been derived from information he received in this way, and he was doubtful that his personal achievements in the study of the human psyche would have been possible had he limited himself to information he acquired by more traditional means.“ (Stanislav Grof, The Holotropic Mind, San Francisco 1992, p. 153).

These findings led Grof to formulating his new model of the human psychological setup. In his view „psyche“ is divided into three levels: biographic-memorial (including individual unconsci-ousness), perinatal (concerning sensations before, during and shortly after birth), transpersonal (in the genuine, ie. the broadest possible sense). Key experiential motives usually overlap from one level to another and shape man's basic attitude in various life situations. 23 The fact that in states of altered consciousness the human organism is capable of undergoing a radical catharsis and a profound retuning to the positive experiential pattern establishes their spontaneous curative potence. Furthermore, these states uncover much deeper inner contexts of life than those available to the common experiencing of modern man. 24

23 „Early experiences represent an original model and an experiential pattern for all future relations to the world.“ (Stanislav Grof, The Adventure of Self-Discovery. New York 1988, p. 262.) The four so-called „Basic Perinatal Matrices“ (Cf. The Holotropic Mind, San Francisco 1992, pp. 31–79), establishing themselves during the four phases of birth, constitute the perceptional patterns of the entire human life. (Life guided, for instance, by the matrix of horrifying experience of the captivity in the pathways of delivery has an utterly different quality from life marked by the dominance of positive matrices of foetal or natal happiness from whose viewpoints the world appears to be a beautiful and safe place.) In Grof's opinion the biographically narrowly oriented therapy of psychic disorders is unable to capture such connections at all; that is why it operates as „a conceptual straitjacket and is inhibiting and counterproductive.“ (The Adventure of Self-Discovery, p. 167). The roots of psychopathological changes go „far beyond the events of early childhood and beyond the individual unconscious“ (p. 166).

24 „As we feel united with everything that is, the appreciation for natural beauty and simple uncomplicated life takes precedence over most other concerns. (...) With the experience of rebirth, all our sensory pathways are suddenly wide open. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations all appear to be unimaginably more intense, vivid and pleasurable. We may feel that we are really seeing the world for the first time in our lives. Everything around us, even the most ordinary and familiar scenes, seems unusually exciting and stimulating. People report entirely new ways of appreciating and enjoying their loved ones, the sound of music, the beauties of nature, and the endless pleasures that the world provides for our senses. – Higher motivating forces, such as the pursuit of justice, the appreciation for harmony and beauty and the desire to create it, a new tolerance and respect for others, as well as feelings of love, become increasingly important in our lives. What is more, we perceive these as direct, natural, and logical expressions of our true nature and of the universal order. (...) Interestingly, there are striking parallels between these new awarenesses and what Abraham Maslow called 'metavalues' and 'metamotivations'. He observed changes of this kind regularly in people who had spontaneous mystical or 'peak experiences'. Positive after-effects of this kind are most intense during the days or weeks immediately following spiritual breakthroughs and tend to weaken with time; however, on a more subtle level, they leave the person permanently transformed.“ (The Holotropic Mind, pp. 76–77).

Holotropic experiences of transcendence culminate, according to Grof's topography, in identification with a „cosmic conscious-ness“ and with a „supracosmic and metacosmic void“. 25 While experiences of cosmic consciousness represent contact with some kind of pure ambience or energy field where all the information pertaining to the sum-total of cosmic being is concentrated, 26 the experience of void constitutes an „experiental identification with the primordial Emptiness, Nothingness, and Silence, which seem to be the ultimate cradle of all existence.“ 27

25 Situated just one rung lower is the contact or, eventually, identification with the „Demiurg“ in different variants: with personality features, without them, in one person, in several persons, in the shape of a female-male dyad etc. (The Adventure of Self-Discovery, pp. 142–143). „It is possible to sense the forces that underlie and initiate the process of creation. Various subjects identified them as overabundance of generative energy, irresistible artistic impulse, boundless curiosity, passion for experimentation, thirst for knowledge or self-knowledge, pursuit of experience, immense love that wants to be expressed, or even flight from monotony and boredom. – Experiences of this kind can lead the subject to serious questions about his or her role in the universe. (Ibid).

26 „(...) there seemed to be immense extension of consciousness. Time stopped and we entered a state that I identified as consciousness of amber. The external manifestation of this state where time is frozen is the fact that life forms, such as plants and insects, are preserved in amber in an unchanged state for millions of years and amber itself is mineralized organic substance – resin. – We underwent a process of purification, through which any reference to organic life was eliminated from the experience. I realized that the state of consciousness I was in was that of a diamond. It seemed very important that diamond is pure carbon, an element on which life is based, and that it originates in conditions of extreme temperatures and pressures. It was as if the diamond contained all the information about life and nature in an absolutely pure and condensed form, like the ultimate computer.“ (Ibid, p. 146)

27 Ibid, p. 147. „As in the quantum wave theories of modern physics, the Void may be perceived as (...) complete set of possibilities for virtually anything to occur.“ (The Holotropic Mind, p. 171).

Grof's topography of transpersonal consciousness thus represents a holistic and probably also exhausting model of reality which can be experienced through actively and artifici-ally induced contact of our conventional consciousness with our (usually) extraconscious ability of cognition. This model has, however, been construed from a mosaic of very fragmentary and mutually hardly coherent testimonies of Grof's clients who have arrived at their inner experiences in conditions of controlled experiment which does enhance their scientific evidence but which, beforehand, tends to detract from these experiences a certain organic and comprehensive quality which is intrinsic to them within a natural context of human spiritual maturation, whether spontaneous or consciously cultivated on a long term basis, within the framework of this or that spiritual culture. As a result, a price to be paid for scientific legitimity is a certain existential distortion. If, in terms of the transpersonal sphere, man is content solely with what can be evoked methodolo-gically and with an immediate effect, he misses what he cannot contact in this simple manner. This might be something which could give his whole actively acquired knowledge a completely different meaning. Something that could change not only (in Grofe's manner) himself (by grasping broader contexts of one's being) but that could change even his attitude to the entirety of these contexts and to himself in them.

Stanislav Grof speaks solely of a relative transcendence attainable through holotropic breathing. He does not mention (not even in methodological terms) that there still could be something (at least eventually hidden aspects of the attained) outside that reach. Such a failure to mention it may be suggestive 28. Yet, it in now way disclaims the possible question whether even the universe of holotropic consciousness could not be a mere curtain covering a more comprehensive quest for transcendence in its innermost sense.

28 Especially if supported by the negative evaluation of those spiritual institutions which point demonstrably further. (The Adventure of Self-Discovery, pp. 269–270)

The Highlighting of Spiritual Meaning of Spontaneous Crises of Identity

In addition to natural religious experiences or – to put it in a broader sense – „peak-experiences“, and in addition to expe-rimentally induced „extraordinary states of consciousness“, there is still another gateway to the direct experiencing of relative transcendence in the transpersonal sphere. It leads to personal experiences accompanying psychic states which modern medicine classifies as belonging to the field of mental pathology.

In terms of starting conditions, a major difference exists between: 1) a spontaneously originating experience of a mentally integrated man, 2) an experience induced on the basis of artificial psychic disintegration (by undermining the egotistic identity, eg. through Grof's techniques), and 3) a spontaneously originating experience of a man whose psychic integrity (the stability of „I“) has been disturbed by mental illness; but the contentual aspect attests to the fact that in all these three modes man faces the selfsame sphere of transpersonal transcendence with its typical phenomena.

Grof's claims that „the mystical and psychotic states are not always as clearly distinguishable from each other“ 29 seem to find consonance with findings of the English psychiatrist Ronald D. Laing: „Experiences may be judged to be invalidly mad or to be validly mystical. The distinction is not easy. (...) Some psychotic people have transcendental experiences.“ 30.

29 Stanislav Grof: Beyond the Brain. New York 1985, p. 308

30 Ronald D. Laing: The Politics of Experience. London 1967, pp. 108, 112

Using his psychotherapeutic method, Laing does not attempt to play down the importance of these experiences of patients passing through psychotic crises; on the contrary, he finds a needed source of treatment and recovery in them. That is why he strengthens their spiritual interpretation 31 and their very undisturbed course 32. His conception (published primarily during the 1960s), just like the conceptions of many transper-sonal psychologists, links up to the Jungian model of human psyche: the „ego“ of an ill person loses his place in the world, dropping out of the network of human relations; due to the resultant extreme loneliness the centre of experience is shifted into an „inner world“, from „ego“ to „Self“. – That loss of firm ground in a social universe is interpreted by Laing as a loss of „ontological safety“ caused by the alienation of social life in the modern world. „We are bemused and crazed creatures, strangers to our true selves, to one another, and to the spiritual and material world. (...) What we call 'normal' is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience. It is radically estranged from the structure of being.“ 33. The experiential complex of schizophrenia is therefore, according to Laing, an essentially comprehensible and justified reaction to the perverse reality of the „outer world“. Schizophrenous symptoms constitute a „special strategy that a person invents in order to live in an unlivable situation.“ 34.

31 Here he refers, among other sources, to Karl Jaspers's conclusion: „Mind and spirit are present in the morbid psychic life as well as in the healthy.“ (Karl Jaspers: Allgemeine Psychopathologie. 7. Aufl. Berlin – Heidelberg 1959, p. 349; quoted from: R.D. Laing, Op. cit., p. 112)

32 A similar therapeutic strategy was also used, independently of Laing, by the American psychiatrist J.W. Perry. In his book The Far Side of Madness (New York 1974) he views, in a pioneering fashion, psychosis not as a genuine „illness“ but rather as „a transformed state of consciousness“ in which „a natural reorganization of the psyche“ is taking place, overcoming the limitation of the existing pathogeneous life stereotypes. In his developmental crisis model of therapy he sees a schizophrenic as a „more whole person“ living in a rich world of erupted depths of the psyche. He assesses his symptoms not as a deviation from norm but as manifestations of an inner experience. He rejects the routine, ruthless reactions of the surroundings which lead, sooner or later, to the liquidation of such a personality. He supports what he calls a respecting and spiritually qualified „inner“ approach to psychosis. Perry discards the term „patient“ which, together with medicaments and social isolation, tend to fix man in his inability to regain health. (This psychiatrist was known to use psychopharmaceuticals only in vital indications and in order to lower information oversaturation, ie., to make a dialogue possible.)

Perry turns to man in this difficult situation with a willingness to listen and participate in a search for a new, meaningful path of life. In his opinion, psychosis appears to be chaotic only at a cursory glance; in fact this is a reconstitutive and reintegrative process resembling archaic dramas of religious resurrection. Perry quotes other authors who confirm his experience that having successfuly gone through psychosis, man is healthier than people who have never been cured of psychosis: unlike their sleek, shallow normality he is capable of deeper relations and interests.

A repressive psychiatrist shall not allow his „patient“ to reach such a wholesome synthesis of life; as a result he is a loser too. The cause of psychotic collapse actually lies, in Perry's view, precisely in the limitation of consciousness; madness is a compensatory reaction to rationalistic „schizoid“ isolation of the ego from enlivening and enriching emotional sources of spiritual life, a reaction to the loss of contact with one's unconsciousness. (An optimum prevention is leading a passionately involved and deeply perceptive life.)

In the prepsychotic development, personality has grown into an identity which does not suit it and which keeps weighing it down with negativity, resulting in a profound need of rebirth. Perry notes that psychedelic and meditative movements find themselves within the same dimension of life experiences as psychosis. Both share the same goal: to find transcendence and a unified life, to reach the depths of mastered unconcsiousness whose strength is transformed into a productive and rich life, containing in itself a culture-forming mission. A detour of psychosis consists in that man (through weakness or isolation) has succumbed to the forces which should otherwise serve him. But Perry is not afraid of the chaotic turbulences of inner psychic processes, proceeding from the ability of culture to structurate psychic activity in a way enabling psyche to streamline its energy into a creative and efficient result.

According to Perry, the culture of social life should thus not be reduced to a „paranoid“ structures which, through their power orientation, rigid logistic systematization and exclusion of experiential immediacy, tend to block an inner human growth. That growth is possible only in an atmosphere of open inwardness, trust, hope, brotherhood, love and compassion – without which our civilization is doomed to gradual destruction.

33 R.D. Laing: Op. cit., pp. 12, 23–24

34 Ibid, p. 95

But in an inner world man can easily lose his way without a guide. Inner aspects tend to be confused with external ones and such a man ceases to be socially functional. Nevertheless, his path can eventually have a positive culmination: a greater integrity of his personality than that in which man used to live before the outbreak of psychosis, a deeper insight and even a better social integration.

The structure of this path to transcendence through insanity is described by Laing as follows: „I. a voyage from outer to inner, II. from life to kind of death, III. from going forward to a going back, IV. from temporal movement to temporal stand-still, V. from mundane time to aeonic time, VI. from the ego to the self, VII. from being outside (post-birth) back into the womb of all things (pre-birth), and then subsequently a return voyage from 1. inner to outer, 2. from death to life, 3. from movement back to a movement once more forward, 4. from immortality back to mortality, 5. from eternity back to time, 6. from self to a new ego, 7. from a cosmic foetalization to an existential rebirth.“ 35

35 Ibid, p. 106

Laing thus demonstrates that „the experience of trans-cendence“ is possible even under the conditions of a mental illness: a mental patient „often can be to us, even through his profound wretchedness and disintegration, the hierophant of the sacred.“ 36

36 Ibid, p. 109–110

Somewhat lesser known than Laing's above-mentioned interpretation of schizophrenous experiences is the analysis of Elisabeth Ott examining the possibilities of a spiritual explana-tion of psychotic experiences, in this case in persons diagnosed – or possibly diagnosed – in the category of endogenous depres-sion.

The motto of her book entitled „Die dunkle Nacht der Seele -Depression? Untersuchungen zur geistlichen Dimension der Schwer-mut“ 37 is a quotation from A.M. Klaus Müller: „Suffering always contains a hidden offer of entering a new future which cannot be reached in any other way.“ Ott poses the question whether grief, melancholy, depression are invariably negative and biologically determined states of mind. Using examples of famous religious personalities, such as Theresia of Lisieux, Martin Luther, Reinhold Schneider, Simone Weil and others, she documents that the very same external symptoms – feeling of one's abnormal-ity, powerlessness, helplessness, „nakedness“, loneliness, deser-tion, feeling of strangeness and alienation, one's inferiority, pervertness, sinfulness and condemnation, and hence anguish, pain, dejection, loss of meaning, feelings of being overpowered by darkness, feelings that may culminate with rejection of life, oneself, one's neighbour, God, and sometimes with hatred and experience of „hell“ – can be indicative of not only a clinically curable depression but also – next to it or together with it – „a state of one's soul which cannot be cured by medicaments or any other therapy which comes from the outside“. 38 This is an inner state for which the Christian spiritual theology has come to use the term of John of the Cross „dark night“. It cannot be totally explained at the level of common methods used by psychiatry and psychology. It can be understood from the viewpoint of individual spiritual development as a certain radical phase in innermost purification from dependence on anything else but transcendence in the absolute sense of the word: „This is God's work in human soul (...), a phenomenon of a Christian on the Way of the Cross.“ 39 -- In our context „dark night“ represents a certain extreme phase of a personal inner transition from (active) search for relative transcendence to (passive) search for absolute transcendence.

37 (The Dark Night of the Soul – Depression? Studies of the spiritual dimension of melancholy) Elztal-Dallau 1981

38 Elisabeth Ott: Die dunkle Nacht der Seele – Depression? Untersuchungen zur geistlichen Dimension der Schwermut. Elztal-Dallau 1981, p. 11

39 Ibid

Ott declares that „a depressed man may choose 'dark night' as an alternative.“ 40 A man like that can himself view „the waiting for light“ as an analogy to Jesus's solitude on the cross and accept a similar meaning and justification of his state – can become Jesus's „disciple“. But such an interpretation principally oversteps the narrow horizon of modern distinctions between illness and health. Ott introduces a more subtle and profound distinction which adds as a criterion also the self-interpreta-tion of people who have passed through these states of mind: whether they perceive themselves as ill, without any spiritual implications of their experiencing (this perception even bringing them a certain amount of satisfaction, relief, as any found solution) or whether, on the contrary, they view this classifica-tion as a kind of unbearable reduction of meaning of their experiences. A transcendence-oriented man, in his passage through the purifying darkness, does not want to be assisted by artifi-cial lights and would-be reliefs blocking his further path. He does not concentrate on himself and his state of mind but rather remains focused outside himself: „on God, his will and his love -in illness, in suffering, in fight, in 'dark night', despite the awareness of his own sinfulness“. 41 „We assert two facts: the proximity of 'dark night' to depression, and at the same time their utter mutual otherness.“ 42

40 Ibid

41 Ibid, p. 34

42 Ibid, p. 31

The medical label of depression may hide a man's ongoing personal crisis which has a spiritual meaning. „Concealment in God's inconceivability can help them in saying their 'Aye' to their difficult lot. This is, however, possible only in a consciousness extended towards transcendence. (...) 'Dark night' represents total events which may be brought to its meaning solely through a total reply. 'Dark night' is events touching the roots; it can be rendered new solely from the roots. 'Dark night' is events relating to the core and it can attain its goal solely through a change from the very core.“ 43 „It is a destruction and at the same time a new creation. (...) The whole process is located also in another dimension of Grace.“ 44 This determines the different course and culmination of the process: namely overstepping the area of immanence to that level of spiritual life for which any relative transcendence will, eventually, be too little anyway. In this sense, Elisabeth Ott claims, the pilgrims through the 'dark night' are – unlike hopelessly depressed persons – healthy: internally free, admitting of no reduction of their personality to a point of intersection of immanent determinants yielding no fullness of being.

43 Ibid, pp. 13, 14

44 Ibid, p. 32

2. Transculturality

Keep searching and everywhere around you will see miracles. By staying within yourself you will grow tired, and tiredness will render you deaf and blind to all the rest.

Carlos Castaneda

Search for transcendence by overcoming not only the boundaries of one's self but also the limits of collectively shared cultural stereotypes is called forth by the need of restricting and compensating for many negative aspects of the modern Western culture: its technological coldness, rational aggressiveness and spiritual aridity, accompanied by typical unease, exhaustion and diffuse anxiety permeating a society doomed to routine and commonplace stereotype. Basically, trans-culturality is possible, because these most malign traits of the Western civilization have not yet been exported, in their original intensity, to all the corners of the globe. The unique spiritual atmosphere of this or that non-Western culture has, in the postmodern era, been actually coming into the spotlight of interest of not only gifted thinkers; a leaning towards planetary cultural togetherness has grown to be part of the general Western mentality.

Unlike transpersonality, the transcultural dimension opens up not only new inner worlds but, moreover, enables even outer tentative appropriation of certain whole life styles. Within their context man does not have to accept experiences of trans-cendence only as a solitary „psychonaut“ but he can encounter them even as the framework of everyday social milieu. What he enters here are not mere fragmentary impressions but whole coherent systems of perception and recognition which cannot be internally appropriated without themselves appropriating us, to a certain extent, as well. To see through the eyes of other cultures means to perceive the non-self-evident nature of one's attitudes and thought stereotypes, to extend the space of freedom of one's spiritual being; this also means – through diversity of mutually transcendent views – to perceive reality as a never-ending mystery.

In a broad spectrum of variants – from ephemeral ecstatic insights to a thoroughgoing structure of permanently passable bridges – for many Westerners the discovering of other spiritual cultures is becoming a primary mode of uncovering transcendence in general. A creative response to new contexts can evoke changes significant even for the overall spiritual atmosphere of this planet.

Esoteric Assimilation

It can be said that postmodern esotericism embodies the very opposite of the original meaning of this word. The esoteric, „inner“, accessible only to the initiatied, has since the 1970s become a widely available consumer commodity. Astrology, meditation, the Kabbala, healing, reincarnation teachings, black and white magic – a plethora of offers of this kind has been eclectically providing to the general public sometimes its very first contact with non-European spiritual cultures. But these contents and attitudes are only isolated fragments, taken out of their original cultural contexts. Separation or eventually arrangement of partial disparate pieces of knowledge into new artificial wholes is a traditional characteristic feature of esotericism. A corresponding mode of esoteric reproduction of elements of non-European spiritual cultures – their instrumental rationalization – is justified within esotericism by its basic mission: „to attain the goal of religion through scientific methods“. 45 But these efforts typically fail to stand the test of either the yardsticks of science or those of religion. „Once religion and science are put together, religion loses its depth and science loses its accuracy.“ 46

45 Subtitle of the magazine Equinox (1909–1914)

46 Jörg Wichmann: Die Renaissance der Esoterik. Stuttgart 1990, p. 18

But esotericism views a lack of sense for independent religious reality as its advantage: „Man can finally know instead of having all the time only to believe.“ 47 In our context pertaining to the search for transcendence this approach can be formulated as immanentistic reduction: transcendence is sought solely in „the mirror“ of immanence – in the esoteric terminology either gnostically (at the level of cognition) or magically (at the level of practice). The chief purpose is not an unconditional opening up to transcendence but rather a self-discovery, self-recognition and self-assertion mediated through it. A typical illustration of this reduction can be found in the nowadays very influential psychology of Carl Gustav Jung, a thinker of a broadly transcultural orientation who, however, focused himself solely on symbolic images of what spiritual man vividly relates himself to. (This methodological orientation grows into an uncritical claim when Jung declares that immanent symbol and transcendent reality cannot be distinguished.)

47 Ibid, p. 26

„Jung refers to empirically ascertainable, typically recurring formations of unconsciousness which carry a numinous, autoevident content and hence a character of revelation. (...How- ever) is such an empiricism of revelation possible?“ 48 Follow-ers of esotericism have been persistently trying to achieve it. Jesus Christ (for instance) is to Rosicrucians „a fiery ether“ and „emanating force“; according to theosophy it represents „the first emanation of God which has been embodied in animal-man“; in anthroposohy it is regarded as „a noble sun being which accelerated the development of Earth and mankind“. 49 A deep-rooted rule of the esoteric approach to religious realities is a speculative systemization of personal visions 50 not amenable to publicly acknowledged (scientific or religious) criteria of plausibility. 51

48 Tilman Evers: C.C. Jung – Psychologie und Gnosis. In: Peter Koslowski (Hg.): Gnosis und Mystik in der Geschichte der Philosophie. Zürich – München 1988, p. 344

49 Berhard Grom: Esoterik heute. Stimmen der Zeit, 1986, 6, p. 364

50 In this sense, any transpersonal experience whatsoever can give rise to esoteric teaching.

51 External persecution which esotericism suffered at the hands of societies shaped by both Christianity and the Enlightenment can be explained precisely by that somewhat socially dangerous conviction of its own infallibility.

In the transcultural dimension the esoteric principle of immanentistic reduction is manifested by endeavours to assimilate as much as possible all spiritual trends and all world religions under its categorial roof. A classical example of the impact of this ambition is the still influential theosophy of Helena Petrovna Blavatska: all the religions are based on a unique secret wisdom which is incomprehensible to „common believers“ and which is known only to esoterics. It can be noted that „religions are (...) syncretistically integrated into a comprehensive insight, (...) at the same time, they are interpreted in a modified fashion and proclaimed to be outdated. (...) Esoteric teaching decodes their true meaning.“ 52 That can be formulated in different teachings differently; it is, however, always „revealed“ through the optics rendering the understanding of the own and independent raison d'etre of religions impossible. An example: „This ecological religion inspires the very and most profound meaning of religion; it takes out, adjusts and implements the core which all religions have been secretly following and yet have been failing to attain in current history. (...) After the anthropological critique of religion by Ludwig Feuerbach, after Karl Marx's socio-economic critique and after the psychonalytical critique by Sigmund Freud, mankind is now entering – almost inevitably because this is being enforced by the current industrially technocratic fundamental crisis – into the stage of ecological critique of religion.“ 53 Positive concepts of these quasi-religions artificially tend to nail their secular term of god to a non-personal stream of life, nature, the universe or even to personified ideas (Mother Goddess, Satan etc.). 54

52 Bernhard Grom: Op. cit., p. 364

53 Hubertus Mynarek: Ökologische Religion. Ein neues Verständnis der Natur. München 1986, pp. 246–247. The genesis of these conceptions corresponds, in sociological terms, with the fact that many followers of new esoteric movements (especially the stream New Age) have had left-wing careers. (Der Spiegel, 1988, 27, p. 169). In actual fact, Marxism itself led, in the course of its development, also to a certain explicit form of esotericism. (Cf. Boris Groys: Elemente des Gnostizismus im dialektischen Materialismus /sowjetischen Marxismus/. In: Peter Koslowski /Hg./: Op. cit., p. 352–367)

54 „Let the spirit of Gaya present itself to us and let the breath of life continue to caress this planet. (...) We invoke the spirit of Evolution, that miraculous power (...) not to leave us today. Give us your power and awaken in us the purity and sparkling creative ability.“ (John Steed, quoted from: Boris Merhaut: Hlubinná ekologie. Gemma 1991, 2, p. 20 – in Czech)

In the field of spiritual transculturality these assimila-tion tendencies can now be also found at the level of conceptions of the so called new scientific paradigm – with all the charac-teristic features of esotericism involved. The vision of the nuclear physicist Fritjof Capra, proclaiming profound resonance between his field and the mystical philosophies of the East, provides a good illustration. It was developed especially in his book „The Tao of Physics“ 55 where, typically enough, he proceeds from a personal inner experience: „Five years ago, I had a beautiful experience which set me on a road that has led to the writing of this book. I was sitting by the ocean one late summer afternoon, watching the waves rolling in and feeling the rhythm of my breathing, when I suddenly became aware of my whole environment as being engaged in a gigantic cosmic dance. Being a physicist, I knew that the sand, rocks, water and air around me were made of vibrating molecules and atoms, and that these consisted of particles which interacted with one another by creating and destroying other particles. I knew also that the Earth's atmosphere was continually bombarded by showers of 'cosmic rays', particles of high energy undergoing multiple collisions as they penetrated the air. All this was familiar to me from my research in high-energy physics, but until that moment I had only experienced it through graphs, diagrams and mathematical theories. As I sat on the beach my former experiences came to life; I 'saw' the atoms of the elements and those of my body participating in this cosmic dance of energy; I felt its rhythm and I 'heard' its sound, and at that moment I knew that this was the Dance of Shiva, the Lord of Dancers worshipped by the Hindus.“ 56

55 New York 1975

56 Fritjof Capra: The Tao of Physics, New York 1975, p. 11

Even though „to overcome the gap between rational, analytical thinking and the meditative experience of mystical truth was, and still is, very difficult“ 57 for Capra, he tried to formulate systematically a certain view of the world in which the latest findings of nuclear physics are presented as analytical confirmations of the intuitive cosmologies of ancient India and China. These cosmologies, created within the framework of religious philosophies (Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism), are marked in Capra's interpretation by the same elementary traits as today's nuclear physics. What was originally based in them solely on intuition has, according to Capra, been confirmed in present-day science by the exact results of experiments and consistent mathematical formalization. But what has actually been thus confirmed are only two very general and vague ideas: the unity and interdependence of all phenomena, and the internally dynamic nature of the world. Following on from there, Capra sets out to create „a conception of the world in which scientific discoveries can be in perfect harmony with spiritual aims and religious beliefs.“ 58 „The way – or Tao – of physics can be a path with a heart, a way to spiritual knowledge and self-realization.“ 59

57 Ibid, p. 12

58 Ibid, p. 30

59 Ibid, p. 31. By the way, C.G. Jung formulates, in an analogous manner, the covert goal of alchemy. (C.G. Jung: Psychologie und Alchemie. Zürich 1944)

For Capra, an instrument for demonstrating this postulated harmony between the mystical and the rational is the construction of the general term „Eastern mysticism“. Somewhat voluntaristi-cally, Capra seeks to cope with a certain controversial nature of the term by readily replacing – during his search for common features of such abysmally different modes of thinking as the Chinese and Indian ones – rational comparative method with his own personal intuition. The effect of subsequent parallels likening „Eastern mysticism“ to scientific knowledge – especially if touching on some less vague and general items – is, if possible, yet more forced: „The firm basis of knowledge on experience in Eastern mysticism suggests a parallel to the firm basis of scientific knowledge on experiment. (...) The repeatability of the experience is, in fact, essential to every mystical training. (?? – J.P.) A mystical experience, therefore, is not any more unique than a modern experiment in physics. (?? – J.P.) The complexity and efficiency of the physicist's technical apparatus is matched, if not surpassed, by that of the mystic's consciousness – both physical and spiritual – in deep meditation. (...) A page from a journal of modern experimental physics will be as mysterious to the uninitiated as a Tibetan mandala. Both are records of enquiries into the nature of the universe.“ 60 At this methodological level, it is not possible to be convincing either for Western science or vis-a-vis the East. Differentiation is suggestively overstripped by a holistic construct, and aspects which are incompatible with the initial vision are totally ignored. The proclaimed analogies are either too general, fail to capture the specific features (eg. the existential shock, experienced by Heisenberg, Einstein and others at the time of „ground being swept away beneath their feet“ as a result of the loss of reliability of their previous explicatory theories, is a general human experience, typically associated with the learning of anything radically new, on which it is difficult to base any specific and exclusive link between nuclear physics and Eastern spirituality); or they are somewhat unreal (how a meditating Hindu feels to be „a part of the world“ is incommensurate with how a scientist trying to calculate or deduce his own impact on an observed phenomenon feels to be that part).

60 Ibid, pp. 42, 44–45

As for the quite abstractly considered features of some Oriental views of the world Capra is primarily concerned with – for instance with a kind of „holism“ or „organicism“ or some overlaps of classical logic – precisely these are, even in the expression peculiar to the West itself, contained in older European esotericism. What, then, is the reason for finding for them what is not a very adequate confirmation in distant thought systems and attitudes? Is it Capra's sharing of the intrinsic desire of esotericism for unrivaled universality, for a global overview (while nothing, however distant, should get out of its control), a Faustian desire for the attainment of the ultimate key to the entire wisdom of the world?

Given a non-instrumental inner attitude (which is a feature of both science and religion) one can perceive that Eastern spiritualities may, on the contrary, incite in us a sense for basic otherness. 61 Transculturality may show to us that what cannot be brought into required harmony with our mode of experiencing can be very valuable to us precisely because of that.

61 At a conference Capra was confronted with a key feedback: „the spiritual teachers of the East (...) were not able to understand the key aspects of the new paradigm which appears in Western culture“. (Epilogue to the Slovak edition of The Tao of Physics, Bratislava 1992, p. 254)

Indications are that an esoteric assimilation of non-Western spiritual cultures represents a new peripeteia of the Western aspiration to learn and master. But religious spiritualities are usually much deeper and richer – and largely „more transcendent-ly“ oriented – than what has been presented under their names by the esoteric wave. 62 One can roam in its vague labyrinths of gnosis and magic for a long time; but if we look for transcen-dence, we will soon find out that this path does not lead very far. It keeps moving in a magic circle of searching for spiritual safety in a self-centredly constructed Whole; 63 it leads to a self-sufficient vision, not to encountering.

62 For instance: the concept of karma is demonstrably much closer to the Christian teaching of hereditary sin than to the fashionable vulgarized teaching of reincarnation; the approach of the so-called „primitive nations“ to nature does not exhaust by far their relationship to transcendence; etc.

63 „The feeling of being meaningfully incorporated into a cosmic whole gives a 'heavenly feeling of hiddenness'.“ (P. Niehenke: Jupiter-Trigone machen keine Sonnyboys. In: Esotera, 1984, p. 402). „(...) the dual structure which is also characteristic of modern esotericism and New Age: search for (or obsession with) a unity with one's self and a dream of a certain cosmic unity of this Self with everything.“ (Burkhardt Haneke: Nová religiozita. Teologické texty, 1991, 3–4, p. 101 – in Czech)

Interreligious Dialogue

While the esoteric attempts at a system synthesis of various religions tend to absorb and dampen their transcultural plurali-ty, an interreligious dialogue, on the contrary, keeps strength-ening it and making it spiritually and intellectually productive. This productivity certainly is nothing that would, somehow, auto-matically stem from the initial plurality itself. Dialogue is a principle or power which is only in a position to transform from the inside a certain sometimes intransparent, contingent and destructive self-motion of postmodern plurality into a free and humanly cultivated growth of intrinsic mutual self-opening up. Unlike conflict, passing by, competition, indifference, attempts at absorption or annihilation (and other spiritually fruitless socio-ontological interactions), dialogue implements a different kind of inner possibility of plurality: discovery of another one in his authentic shape, approved by himself. 64

64 One of the principles of an interreligious dialogue is that „hetero-interpretation“ of a certain religion should proceed from its „auto-interpretation“. (Hans Waldenfels: Theologie im Kontext der Weltgeschichte. Überlegungen zum Dialog zwischen Christentum und Weltreligionen. Lebendiges Zeugnis, 1977, 3, p. 11)

There are indications that the irreducible plurality and mutual intransferability of spiritual cultures of our planet 65 has inevitably been established precisely because at the peak levels of such cultures the search for absolute transcendence has always had priority over the quest for relative transcendence (in the sense of transculturality). Therefore, a dialogue among spiritual cultures cannot in itself replace a direct „vertical“ relationship with the absolute, based on the means of expression of one's own culture and establishing plurality from which a dialogue arises; yet a „horizontal“ dialogue can make that direct relationship easier and deeper. On some occasions, only through „quite different“ cultural approaches can we understand a similar shocking otherness also in the hitherto concealed depths of one's own spiritual culture, and authentically to proceed from its background towards a personal spiritual experience. This is possible because in a dialogue individual religions do not lose their identity but promote and enrich it in a mutual and life-giving manner. 66 That is the distinguishing mark of each genuine dialogue, in our case in stark contrast with the totalizing, deadly ideological syncretism of esoteric teachings.

65 Raimundo Panikkar finds this basic differentiation already at the level of immediate mystic experience, on whose breeding ground individual religions are based. He records four mutually totally disparate forms of fundamental experience of the „ultimate reality“: 1. Jahve (sovereign unmixed with the world, holy, free), 2. Brahman (common basis of existence which „keeps no distance even for the knowledge of the fact that it is Brahman“, and hence does not lead, only supports), 3. nirvana (ultimate goal, negation of everything thinkable, a release to accept living immediacy), 4. world (intranscendable immanent horizon, in which there is everything that is necessary). (Raimundo Panikkar: Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics. Cross-Cultural Studies. New York 1979, pp. 312–315)

66 „Dialogue does not require its participants to bracket, for a time, faith in their religion. (...) Interreligious dialogue helps every participant to grow in his or her own faith. (...) mutual enrichment among religions entering in dialogue.“ (Francis Arinze: Mezinábo_enský dialog – problémy, vyhlídky a mo_nosti. Teologické texty, 1990, 2, pp. 45, 46, 47 – in Czech)

Christianity was the first – speaking through the Catholic Church – which approached the other world religions with a propo-sal to start a dialogue. 67 Growth and search, so typical features of the Christian tradition throughout its history, have matured in postmodern catholicism to a substantial complementa-tion of the missionary work by adding activity helping, in solidarity, „different cultures in preserving their religious values amidst fast social changes.“ 68 This approach by the Pope was reciprocated especially by the Tibetan Dalai Lama: „I am not interested in converting other people to Buddhism but in how Buddhists can contribute to human society. (...) Love is the centre of human life. (...) Religious teachings are here to help people and not for people to quarrel about.“ 69

67 The principles of dialogue were formulated by the Second Vatican Council in the Declaration on Relationship of the Church with non-Christian Religions Nostra aetate, issued in 1965. The theological formulation concerning the omnipresent activity of the Holy Spirit represented to Catholic Christians a principal recommendating justification. In an effort to support dialogue between religions, one year earlier the Secretariat for non-Christians was established in Rome, issuing since 1966 a quarterly Bulletin which carries reports and articles on interreligious dialogue all over the world. After the Council the first groups of non-Christian believers – Japanese Buddhists and Hindus – arrived in the Vatican, starting an uninterrupted and still continuing stream of visitors. The main venue of the dialogue was immediately and quite naturally moved to multireligious countries (Japan, India). (Cf. eg.: J. Poláková: Dialog v praxi. Teologické texty, 1990, 2, pp. 49–50 – in Czech)

68 John Paul II: A speech delivered at a meeting of the Secretariat for non-Christians in 1984. – Chairman of this Rome-based secretariat, the African cardinal Francis Arinze describes interreligious dialogue as a „religious partnership without complexes and without hidden intentions and motives“. (Francis Arinze: Op. cit., p. 45). He does not view dialogue as a mere process of mutual tolerance or mutual exchange of information, or still less as competitive communication or an effort to persuade the other side over to change his faith. „If an interreligious dialogue is to be fruitful, its participants should assume inner attitudes such as respect, ability and willingness to listen to the other side, sincerity, openness and readiness to accept others and cooperate with them.“ (Ibid)

69 The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso: Kindness, Charity and Insight. New York 1984, pp. 48, 64, 115

Dialogue – based on respect for the identity of the other one 70 – helps in attaining, among other things, an authentic partnership of the members of different religions in support of planetary shared human ideals. 71 Thus, in an unconditioned mutuality, without a link to any ideology or drive for power [„because the end of con-currence, co-running is seen by neither of the runners moving in time“ 72], an interreligious dialogue offers a chance to what are probably the most important values of mankind: truth and love. Two excellent actors in this dialogue have this to say: „Dialogue is experience which both sides un-dergo unselfishly, ie. not with the intention of winning but simply to allow the truth to come out into the open as it really is.“ 73 „Careful consideration must be given to significant differences and whenever man no longer understands or agrees, it must be left open – without a useless debate. There are differen-ces which are not suited for discussion, and trying somehow to persuade others is a useless and stupid temptation.“ 74

70 „Each religion itself must first of all formulate how such a path (of dialogue) should look like.“ (Hans Waldenfels: Begegnung der Religionen. Bonn 1990, p. 326)

71 A historical landmark in this practical direction was the meeting in the Italian town of Assisi on Ocotber 27th, 1986 which, for the first time in human history, brought together for a common prayer (for peace on Earth) 150 representatives of virtually all the religions in the world: starting with the Pope and the Dalai Lama, via other Christian denominations and Buddhist schools, to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Taoists, Confucians etc, ending with African and Indian shamans. The spiritual authority of this gathering caused that on that day at the behest of its participants a ceasefire was observed all over the world. The purpose of the prayer – performed in many different ways – was – according to John Paul II „to express in the variety of religions the relation to the supreme power which transcends all our human forces, (...) and to show to all the substantive link among genuine religious attitude and the great value of peace“. (Osservatore Romano, October 31st, 1986, p. 1) The Catholic theologian and philospher Hans Waldenfels characterized the meeting in Assisi as „an invitation to a wordless communication which, in turning to God and in oppenness towards him, creates also new transparency towards one's neighbour“. (Hans Waldenfels: An der Grenze des Denkbaren: Meditation – Ost und West. München 1988, p. 66)

72 Hans Waldenfels: Theologie ..., p. 17

73 Hans Waldenfels: Absolute Nothingness. Foundations for a Buddhist-Christian Dialogue. New York 1980, p. 121

74 Thomas Merton: Mnišská zkušenost a dialog. Teologické texty, 1991, 3–4, p. 116 (in Czech)

Unlike in comparative studies of religions, in a dialogue man cannot bypass certain claims to one's own maturity. There are signs that so far persons who are best equipped to conduct a dia-logue are members of various religious orders: monastic communi-ties of Buddhists and Hindus, Islamic Suffis, Christian Trap-pists, Jesuits, Franciscans etc. 75

75 „I come as a pilgrim who gained not only information. (...) Genuine communication at the deepest level is more than a mere sharing of ideas, conceptual knowledge, formulated truth. (...) I am convinced that such an exchange should take place under the genuine monastic conditions of silence, tranquility, sobriety, coolo-headedness, meditation and quiet secluded from the world. (...) The 'postverbal' level, at least in an ideal case, will be that on which both (traditions) shall encounter outisde their own words and their own understanding in the silence of the resultant experience which would have conceivably not arisen had they not met and talked. (...) I think that this is something the profoundest foundation of our being clamours for and that this is something lifelong endeavours are not long enough for.“ (Ibid, pp. 114–115)

A graphic example of the existential impact of the need of an interreligious dialogue, bound with the ability of its philo-sophic reflection, is found in the works of Raimundo Panikkar. Partly, perhaps, because there is Spanish blood running in his veins after his mother and Indian blood from his father, and partly thanks to his alternate stays in both countries this priest-philosopher seems to be called upon (or at least provoked) more than anyone else to engage in an inner dialogic attitude: to balance in his mind and in his heart both perspectives of which either is equally close to him, and hence so directly re-vealing its relative incommensurability with an opposite perspec-tive. In his book „Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics (Cross-Cultural Studies)“ 76 he proceeds from an irreducible plurality of pos-sible religious experiences. 77 In his eyes, this „postmodern thesis“ constitutes an authentic hermeneutic piece of knowledge.

76 New York 1979

77 See note No. 65

Linking up to it, he does not succumb to the syncretistic temptation of constructing an artificial harmony or forced unity. Panikkar views the transcultural mutuality between the spirituality of the West and the East in its complexity and ambiguity. His „diatopic hermeneutics“ does not aim at the notion of unifying knowledge but rather at a practical reality of an understanding mutuality, a relational coming together. 78 Plurality is no reason for mutual elimination or absorption but a reason for dialogue.

78 Panikkar asserts that unity is very difficult to attain if we note mutual contradictions already at the level of experience. This state of affairs, however, is not for him a challenge making it imperative to introduce peace, so to say, above the heads of the participants under the banner of the loftiest spiritual utopias of a better world but rather a challenge to cultivate everyday understanding, trust and openness. Against human hybris he positions human brotherhood in which each experience preserves its value without being convertible to a simple common denominator.

„Dialogue becomes a religious act, (...) a mutual recognition of our human condition and its constitutive relativity.“ 79 It is a mutual service, making it possible to eliminate one's prejudices and genuinely to grasp one's prerequisites and most profound sources of self-renewal. This is a forum „of all people for whom care for the other is as sacred as a concern for one's own household.“ 80

79 Raimundo Panikkar: Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics. Cross-Cultural Studies. New York 1979, p. 333

80 Ibid

This very opening up of different spiritual contexts reveals the ultimate human horizon, a common basis of understanding: a trans-logical space of the „heart“, which is not objectifiable but within which it is possible to communicate. 81 It is within the same space that the basic human act of faith occurs, which is not dependent on an established teaching but rather on man's existential relationship with Transcendence. 82 It does express itself in concepts, crystallizing into different systems of beliefs, but their intellectual element does not exhaust it. Panikkar views this faith as a human invariant, as a challenge which has been posed to all people whatever its conceptual treatment: „The same grace cannot inspire doctrinally equal acts of faith“, 83 which are conditioned by different cultures. Faith as an „openness towards transcendence“ or merely as an „openness“ 84 implies an infinite receptiveness, constitutive incompleteness, imperfection of man who has no foundation for his existence in himself and from himself, he is not a God, something in him must develop. „The openness of faith is Man's capacity to proceed towards his fullness.“ 85 This is not, primarily, a capacity of the intellect or will but of existence itself.

81 Ibid, p. 9

82 Ibid, p. 198

83 Ibid,p. 207

84 Ibid

85 Ibid, p. 208

Faith thus expresses human imperfection as well as ability to grow and „represents a much firmer foundation than human autonomy or self-sufficiency and expresses the supreme ontic richness possible; we recognize that no 'human' or limited value whatsoever can fill it“. 86 Faith is a foundation of freedom, a basis for the generation of new possibilities; it is like an abyss in human being that cannot be filled in, through which the Infinite is reached. Panikkar puts into this context the Eastern term of emptiness (shunyata in Sanskrit, kung in Chinese, ku in Japanese). Faith, as such an insatiable spiritual thirst, renouncing all the images and words, is an act of search and desire, demonstrably identifiable in all religions. It is precisely a dialogue between them which no longer makes it possible even for Christian theology to be content with the understanding of faith as a command of the correct doctrine. In Panikkar's view, faith is a „vessel“ rather than „content“: „It belongs (... to) all who automatically seek, desire, love, wish -to all those of 'good will'„. 87

86 Ibid, p. 209

87 Ibid, p. 212

„There are things we cannot 'have' because having or even intending to have them amounts to annihilating them. Faith is one of these.“ 88 Panikkar's concrete comparative interpretations of Christian, Buddhist and Hindu concepts, ideas and methods occur against faith's horizon that cannot be appropriated. Their dialogue is for him a manifestation of a joint search for transcendence – a revelation of the human need of overstepping oneself to be saved. Unlike dialectics as a counterpoint of „two logoi“, dia-logue thus penetrates „through logos“. This ability is constitutive for it: without a live relationship with transcendence (besides which mediation of the philosophical „logos“ is only secondary) not only religion but even dialogue itself would be impossible. In a situation of natural religious plurality its alternative is either indifferent tolerance or assimilatory aggressiveness. In the postmodern era, no merely immanent starting point can be truthfully presented as an independent instance capable of non-violent universal mediation. Such an instance is legitimately thinkable only as a transcendent one – of course not in the sense of an artificially construed dominant of relative transcendence (when one of the attitudes would render itself privileged and able to synthetize the others as its own „inferior moments“) – but in the sense of utterly humanly indisposable, independent, „outside“-standing absolute transcendence. In a dialogue of mutually relatively transcending subjectivities it latently presents itself. It is „part of the process“ of dialogic encounter – but without entering it in its entirety. Communication about it is a search for it and an opportunity for its self-presentation. Words and silence, reflection and ecstasy are related to it.

88 Ibid, p. 218

Therefore, in its deepest layer an interreligious dialogue is a sharing of the incommunicable: even though each religion can believe in the unrivalled nature of its truth, it knows, at the same time, that it is incapable of comprehending that truth completely. Dialogue then serves not to a symbolically reducing confirmation of what is jointly immanent to all religions but to a relationally truthful opening to what, in their undisturbed plurality, transcends them in a life-giving fashion. On the soil of dialogue the search for relative transcendence can thus naturally overlap with the quest for absolute transcendence. Transpersonality as well as transculturality can be understood here (exactly in their greatets depths) as a still merely immanent mirror – which refers further: to what cannot be totally delineated in respect to person or culture.

Wild nature, in the uninterruptible dependence of which we live and die, the abyss of the universe we will never succeed in mastering, the lethal ecological danger which can be avoided only by respecting the laws that have not been laid down by ourselves – all there are only marginal traces of the mystery which cannot be reduced into a greenhouse phantasy of a „spiritual“ mind but which keeps crushing us, by the surplus of its reality and by its intransparent heteronomy, in the very roots of our being. The world is owned by God, not by us – all these clear traces keep reminding us. But they cannot address the abyss of our humanity, so vulnerably open to good and evil, in a most profound manner precisely because of their only external evidence; they cannot address it in a fashion particular solely to communication in respect and love: „And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.“ 89

89 The Old Testament, 1 Kings, 19, 11–13

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