The universality of searching for the transcendental, and the different
sources attributed by people of different perspectives as the cause of lofty
experiences, yields no additional evidence in our world of a supernatural being
that undergirds reality.
Starting in 1970, when I was 19, I began meditating and reading in quest of a
“peak” experience. I began with Buck’s “Cosmic
Consciousness.” Buck was a Canadian psychiatrist who believed that certain
writers, by virtue of the sense of being at one with all of existence, conveyed
in their works, bespoke the presence of this type of consciousness within
themselves. Buck’s greatest example was the 19th Century poet, and incidentally,
friend of Ingersoll, Walt Whitman. Buck felt that Whitman’s “Leaves of
Grass” betrayed such an expansive sense of wonderment at the magnificence
of nature that this work must be indicative of Whitman’s having achieved such a
level of consciousness.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s, I was a follower for a time of a self
proclaimed enlightened person from Shrinigar, India. His name was Gopi Krishna.
He claimed that when he was 37, he had a full “awakening” of the
internal energy that underlies all evolution, what the yogis call the “kundalini.”
He claimed to always be in a luminous state in which the energies of existence
literally danced before him and bathed him constantly in a sense of light and
well being. Gopi Krishna was also interesting in that he believed fully in
evolution and believed that both religious experience and evolution had a
biological basis. This was, to him, the kundalini energy. He believed that human
evolution was the process of millions and millions of years of kundalini
becoming more manifest in human beings. One of his books was even entitled
“The Biological Basis of Religion.”
In fact, though some Catholic mystics and others from Western traditions,
have claimed to have reached these types of lofty states, the most prevalent
claims to this type of state of enlightenment are usually form Eastern
traditions. In addition to Buck in the West, early 20th Century psychologist
William James also wrote about mysticism in his Varieties of Religious
In the late 70’s and early 80’s, another psychiatrist, Lee Sanella, wrote
about the “kundalini” experience, which he accepted as valid, and
wondered why people on more Western spiritual quests haven’t seemed to find this
kind of experience the way those on Eastern paths have.
In August of 1981, after an arduous yoga practice session, I sat down to
meditate and had a feeling of euphoric attunement with a great happiness. This
sensation vanished after a few minutes and left me with a deep yearning to climb
back up to the top of that mountain to re-experience that supremely satisfying
sense of happiness. The let down after that mountain top experience was pretty
depressing. The next few years were spent in search of an experiential version
of a helicopter to fly me back up.
In 1979, I also became the student of Swami Vethathiri, from Madras, India.
He taught that the kundalini energy existed and that humans can attain such peak
experiences. However, he insisted that conscious survival of death was
impossible because there can be no awareness without the life force energy
working through a physical brain. His god was more the god of Spinoza.
The most joyous and tear-filled sky rocket to ecstasy is much more likely
than not a chemical action in the body and brain. There is nothing in so-called
mystical experience that provides any evidence of the supernatural. We are all
hardwired for fantasy and for dreams. Lofty sensations of mystical experience is
probably no more than a variant on this predisposition in the brain for peace,
comfort, and security.
I still get goosebumps when I watch a beautiful sunset while listening to the
music of Tangerine Dream. However, regardless of deeply I am “moved,”
I could not be so moved without a body and brain. Everything in my
consciousness, even the memory of that day back in August of 1981, will cease to
exist, the moment I die.
It is overdue of us atheists to admit that many people have such lofty
experiences and then to argue publicly for a naturalistic interpretation of
“Confessions of a former mystic” is copyright ‘ 2001 by Edward
The electronic version is copyright ‘ 2001 Internet Infidels.