Saturday, October 21, 2017

FORGET THE PAST


FORGET THE PAST

It's just a dream you keep alive by dreaming
A balloon that wants to hit the ground and burst
But which you keep afloat by thinking.

The past is only a tail
You keep dragging behind you
Collecting dust and dirt
Until it's so heavy with bitterness and regret
It stops you moving forward.

You don't have to sit there and watch
While the scenes of your past play back
The tragi-comedy of your life
Simmering with hurt and envy
Shuddering with embarrassment
Stabbing yourself with pangs of regret.

There is no past
There are only memories of events
And every memory is refracted through
A hall of mental mirrors
Until whatever once was true
Dissipates and disappears
Like vapour trails fading in the sky.
So cut the tail, and cut the tale
Turn the mental projector off
Don't strain your eyes trying to see through the fog
When the panorama of the present stretches
Clear and bright around you.

THE ORIGINS OF GOD

THE ORIGINS OF GOD

 This essay examines the question of why human beings have always had such a strong need to believe that gods are overlooking and protecting them. I discuss the characteristics of ‘indigenous spirituality’ and the historical origins of theism, and link this to the development of an stronger ‘ego structure’ amongst certain human groups. Monotheism (and theism itself) is seen as an inevitable consequence of the painful sense of separation and incompleteness which strongly egoic consciousness brings.

Until recent times, the existence of God, or gods, was taken for granted by almost everyone. ‘He’ was – or they were, if we’re speaking of polytheistic religions – a powerful psychological reality to most of the world’s population. Wherever human beings have lived, gods seem to have naturally sprung from their psyche.

In my opinion, the amazing prevalence of this belief has never been explained satisfactorily. Many of the explanations for God and religion tend towards an ‘intellectualist’ or a ‘consolationist’ approach. The ‘intellectualist’ approach suggests that human beings invented gods and the religions associated with them in order to explain the world around them. On the one hand, religion explains strange natural phenomena. When the sun moves across the sky, when the thunder roars, when crops die, or when a person dies for no apparent reason – all of this can be explained in terms of the actions of gods or spirits. Religions can also explain how the world came into being (God created it) and why life is full of evil and suffering (it’s because of the Devil, or else it’s a test God has set us, and He will punish or reward us when we die) (Boyer, 2002)

Generally, the consolationist approach maintains that religion consoles human beings against our mortality and the sheer hardship and suffering which fills our lives (Boyer, 2002). Both Marx and Freud, for example, were proponents of the ‘consolationist’ view. To Marx religion was the ‘universal ground for consolation’ or, in his famous phrase, the ‘opium of the people’ (Hamilton, 1995). The working class required this consolation because of the alienation which the capitalist system produces, and the sheer misery and oppression they were forced to endure. For Freud belief in God was a neurotic regression to childhood, with God representing an omnipotent father figure. But at the same time Freud believed that religion had a consoling function in that it helped to make some sense of an arbitrary and meaningless world, and also compensated human beings for the ‘privations’ which civilisation causes. Being ‘civilised’ means repressing our instincts and impulses, which brings frustration, and results in us inflicting suffering on each other. And as Freud writes, religion’s task is ‘to even out the defects and evils of civilisation, to attend to the sufferings which men inflict on one another in their life together’ (in Hamilton, 1995, p. 58).

On the other hand, from the perspective of transpersonal psychology, we might take the Jungian view that God is not exactly a physically real being – as Christians or Muslims believe – but is nevertheless psychically real. For Jung (e.g. 1969) the collective world of archetypes is as a real as the physical world, and God is one of the most powerful archetypes – hence the omnipresence of belief. Ken Wilber takes a slightly different approach, suggesting that the concept of the monotheistic God is an intuition of Spirit, conditioned and filtered through the archetypal realms. According to him (Wilber, 1981), monotheism is an evolutionary step forward from the ‘magical’ religion and polytheism of ‘primitive’ cultures. Until around 2500 B.C.E., he argues, the mean level of human consciousness was pre-egoic, and even during the ‘high membership period’ (from 4500 to 1500 B.C.E.) the highest level of consciousness which gifted individuals like shamans could access was the psychic or Nirmanakaya realm. But beginning at around 2500 B.C.E., the human race (or at least some human groups) began to evolve to the egoic level – and since their average level of consciousness was higher, gifted individuals were able to ‘jump’ to a greater height and reach the subtle level. Particularly when what he calls the ‘incipient egoic-rational’ phase began at around 500 B.C.E., more and more human beings began to access the subtle levels, and the development of monotheism was the result. Wilber’s view suggests that the ‘God concept’ was so widespread simply because some human groups evolved to a point where the subtle levels – even if they were not their normal state of consciousness – became more accessible. At the subtle levels, and within the cultural context of the pre-scientific world, God was a reality.

Primal Religion

One of the surprising things which cultural anthropology teaches us, however, is that not all human groups have concepts of gods. Indigenous tribal peoples like the Native Americans, the Australian aborigines and traditional pre-colonial Africans, were generally not, and are generally not (although the picture changed somewhat after they were exposed to Christian culture), theistic.

For peoples such as these, there are no deities who preside over certain localities or certain aspects of life. In fact to them the concept of ‘God’ or ‘gods’ has either no, or very limited, significance [1]. It’s true that some indigenous peoples have a concept of a creator God, but these are usually very remote and detached figures. They seem to have been developed purely as a way of explaining how the world came into being. After creating the world, this ‘God’ steps aside and has very little influence. As Eliade (1967) noted:

Like many celestial Supreme Beings of ‘primitive’ peoples, the High Gods of a great number of African ethnic groups are regarded as creators, all powerful and benevolent and so forth; but they play a rather insignificant part in the religious life. Being either too distant or too good to need a real cult, they are involved only in cases of great crisis (p. 6).

The Azande, for example, have a concept of a supreme being called Mbori. However, according to the anthropologist Evans-Pritchard, there was only one rarely performed public ceremony associated with him, and individuals never prayed to him or even mentioned his name (Lerner, 2000). Similarly, the Fang people of Cameroon believe the natural world was created by a god called Mebeghe, and that the ‘cultural world’ – of tools, houses, hunting, farming etc. – was created by another God called Nzame. However, as Pascal Boyer (2002) notes, ‘these gods do not seem to matter that much. There are no cults or rituals specifically directed at Mebeghe or Nzame they are in fact rarely mentioned (p.160).’ According to Lenski’s statistics (1995), only 4% of hunter-gatherer societies and only 10% of simple horticultural societies have a concept of a ‘creator god concerned with the moral conduct of humans’ (p. 88).

There are two main elements of the spirituality of indigenous peoples, neither of which involve gods in the sense that we think of them. One of these is their awareness of an animating force which pervades the whole of the phenomenal world. All native peoples appear to have a term for this ‘spirit-force’. In America, the Hopi called it maasauu, the Lakota called it wakan-tanka, and the Pawnee called it tirawa, while the Ufaina (of the Amazon Rain Forest) call it fufaka (Heinberg, 1989; Hildebrand, 1988; Eliade, 1967). The Ainu of Japan called it ramut (translated by the anthropologist Monro [1962] as ‘spirit-energy’), while in parts of New Guinea it was called imunu (translated by early anthropologist J.H. Holmes as ‘universal soul’ [in Levy-Bruhl, 1965]). In Africa the Nuer call it kwothand the Mbuti call it pepo.

This force is not a personal being. It is not a deity which watches over the world and who human beings can appeal to for help and worship. It has no personality and no gender. Here a member of the Pawnee tribe describes their ‘supreme God’:

We do not think of Tirawa as a person. We think of Tirawa as [a power which is] in everything and moves upon the darkness, the night, and causes her to bring forth the dawn. It is the breath of the new-born dawn
(in Eliade, p. 13).

There is some confusion because occasionally anthropologists translate these terms as ‘God’. Evans-Pritchard (1967) did this with the Nuer term for ‘spirit-force’, kwoth. At the same time, however, he was careful to point out that kwoth is not an anthropomorphic deity: ‘The anthropomorphic features of the Nuer conception of God are very weak and, as will be seen, they do not act towards him as if he were a man I have never heard the Nuer suggest that he has human form’ (p.7).

These concepts are strikingly similar to the universal spirit-force which spiritual and mystical traditions speak of – the brahman of Vedanta or the dharmakaya of Mahayana Buddhism, for example. It is striking that whereas for primal peoples the concept of ‘spirit-force’ seems to be a widely accepted – and commonly perceived – truth, for more ‘civilised’ Eurasian it is an esoteric and mystical concept, which we associate with higher states of consciousness. To us brahman is not the obvious, objective reality which it is to primal peoples. According to Vedanta, we normally see the world under the shadow of maya, which hides the truth of the oneness of the universe – and of our own oneness with it – from us. It is possible for us to become aware of this oneness, but only through a long period of following certain spiritual practices and lifestyle guidelines – such as meditation, the eight-limbed path of Yoga or the eightfold path of Buddhism – which have the effect of refining and intensifying our consciousness. This is indicative of the fundamental psychological difference between indigenous non-Eurasian peoples and ‘modern’ humans, which occurred as a result of the event which I have called ‘The Ego Explosion’ (Taylor, 2002, 2003, 2005). In fact, as we will see in a moment, the loss of awareness of this all-pervading spirit-force is one of the defining characteristics of theistic religion.

The second element of native religions is belief in spirits (in the plural). The world teems with spirits – both the spirits of dead human beings and ‘natural’ spirits which have always existed incorporeally. As E.B. Idowu writes of traditional African religion, ‘there is no area of the earth, no object or creature, which has not a spirit of its own or which cannot be inhabited by a spirit’ (1975, p.174). Like the Great Spirit itself, individual spirits are not anthropomorphic beings with personalities, like gods. They are not beings at all. As Idowu writes, ‘they are more often than not thought of as powers which are almost abstract, as shades or vapours’ (pp. 173-4). And spirits are involved in the world in a way that gods are not. Unlike gods, they are never separate from it, but always moving through it, or living within its rocks, trees and rivers.

Early religious scholars tended to believe that animism was the result of a mistaken generalisation. According to Comte, since they themselves were conscious beings, our early ancestors simply assumed – in the absence of any other evidence – that all things had an inner, subjective life too (Hamilton, 1995). Freud believed that spirits and demons were the ‘projection of primitive man’s emotional impulses’ (1938, p. 146), while more recently, Wilber (1995) has suggested that animism is the result of what he calls ‘pre-personal fusion’ with the world, the lack of a clear distinction between subject and object. However, these explanations contain the underlying ethnocentric assumption that spirits are an illusion, that they cannot genuinely exist. The idea that spirits may be a genuine objective reality may seem absurd in a climate of post-modern rationality. but we should at least be open to the possibility, especially bearing in mind that Buddhist philosophy accepts the existence of entities invisible to the human eye (such as the peta-yoni, asura-yoni and devas), and suggests that we become sensitive to them as our consciousness becomes more refined through spiritual practice (e.g. Narada, 1997). Since we appear to have lost the ability to sense the presence of spirit-force around us, then it is at least possible that we have lost the ability to sense the presence of spirit entities around us too.

However, if we decide that spirits are illusory, it is possible to interpret them in ‘intellectualist’ terms. It’s not such a big step from sensing that all things are alive in a general way – because of the spirit-force which pervades them – to believing that all things are alive in the sense of being autonomous active forces. Spirit became individuated into spirits, and individual spirits were attributed with causative powers. When a wind suddenly arose, for example, this could be explained as the action of a wind-spirit, changes of seasons could be explained in terms of the actions of ‘the spirits of the four winds’ (as the Plains Indians believed), and illness and death could be explained as the influence of ‘evil’ spirits or sorcery (as most primal peoples believe). At any rate, whether they are objective realities or not, spirits do have this ‘intellectualist’ function to indigenous peoples.

August Comte and James Frazer also believed that theistic religion was a fairly late development. According to Comte, the earliest human beings were at the ‘fetichistic’ stage of development, which comes before the polytheistic and monotheistic stages (and later, the metaphysical and the positive stages) (Hamilton, 1995). While in Frazer’s terminology, early human beings were at the ‘magical’ stage, which comes before the religious and the scientific (Frazer, 1959). And the fact that contemporary native peoples do not have ‘theistic’ religions suggests that there is some truth to this view, if we can assume that these peoples are representative of an earlier phase of human culture [2]. As Jacques Cauvin points out, the prehistoric artwork contains none of the images of deities which feature prominently later:

Though it is known that religious feeling has accompanied the human species of a long time, it is not easy to date the appearance of the first gods. Palaeolithic art already had a ‘religious’ content, but it seems not to have had reference to gods

Theistic religions are particularly characteristic of the peoples of the Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It seems to be the case that, before colonial contact from the 16th century onwards, the indigenous peoples of Australia, the Americas and many other parts of the world did not have theistic religions. In Africa the situation is a little more complex, due to earlier European and Arabic influences, but even there theistic religions were a late development, and very rare until recent centuries.

The Birth of Gods

A controversial subject here is the ‘Goddess religion’ which, according to scholars such as Marija Gimbutas (1974) and Riane Eisler (1987, 1995) was spread throughout Europe and the Middle East during the Neolithic era, from 8000 BCE to around 3000 BCE (e.g. Gimbutas, 1974). However, there is actually very little evidence that, during the early part of this period at least, a ‘goddess’ was worshipped.

Prehistoric human beings seem to have been obsessed by the female form. Judging by the massive numbers of them which have been found, particular throughout Europe and the Middle East, female figurines seem to have been their major art form. Along with the vagina-shaped shells (which were placed on and around dead bodies), the large number of depictions of vulvae, and the practice of staining vulva-shaped cavities with red ochre (to represent menstrual blood), they attest to an awe of the female form and her reproductive processes. But to leap from this to the belief that these human beings worshipped a Goddess is unjustified. As Morris Berman points out, ‘The goddess in these images is surely in the eye of the beholder; it is not in the images per se’ (2000, p. 130). During the latter part of this period, goddesses certainly were worshipped as anthropomorphic deities – for example, the Sumerian goddess Nammu, who gave birth to earth and heaven, the Egyptian goddess Nut, and Cretan goddess Ariadne. But we can see this later phase of obvious goddess worship as a transitional stage between primal spirit-religion and patriarchal theistic religion.

In fairness to these scholars, they do state that Goddess religion was not purely, or even mainly, anthropomorphic. The idea of an all-pervading ‘spirit-force’ was important too. In fact some of the descriptions these scholars give us make Goddess religion sound exactly like ‘spirit-religion’ of native peoples. According to Riane Eisler, goddess religion, ‘bespeaks of a view of the world in which everything is spiritual (inhabited by spirits) and the whole world is imbued with the sacred: plants, animals, the sun, the moon, our own human bodies’ (1995, p. 57). Descriptions like these make one wonder, however, whether the concept of a Goddess is actually necessary.

The first indisputable archaeological evidence of theistic religion appears later, during the 4th millennium B.C.E., among certain peoples of the Middle East and Central Asia. Peoples like the Ancient Sumerians and Egyptians, the Indo-Europeans and the Semites developed religions based around the worship of higher, metaphysical beings with anthropomorphic (and occasionally theriomorphic, in the case of the Egyptians) characteristics – i.e. gods. These gods were apart from the world of human beings, observing and controlling its events from a higher realm, presiding over different aspects of life such as war, love, travel, agriculture etc. As Cassirer (1970) writes of the Roman gods, for instance, ‘They are, so to speak, administrative gods who have shared among themselves the different provinces of human life’ (p. 97). The earliest of these gods that we know of are the gods of Sumer, where An was the supreme sky god, Utu was the god of the sun, Nannar of the moon, Nanshe was the goddess of fish and magic, Ninisina was the goddess of writing, and so on. The most familiar of them to us are the gods of ancient Greece, where Zeus was the king of the gods, Poseidon was the god of the sea, Ares was the god of war, Aphrodite the goddess of desire, and so on. Like many other peoples’ gods, the Greek deities were almost laughably anthropomorphic figures, like comic book superheroes. They squabbled with each other, took each other to court, had headaches, and sometimes even had sex with humans (in which case, if they got pregnant, half divine ‘heroes’ like Hercules were born). And as well as pantheons of ‘official’ gods, there were a massive number of local gods, of individual towns, mountains and rivers, and even family gods. Like spirits, gods covered every part of the natural world, but in the sense of presiding over – not actually being present in – all natural things.

At first traces of the old spirit-religions blended with the new god-religions. As I have suggested above, the early goddesses may have been a kind of intermediary stage between spirits and male gods, since the female psyche was more closely linked to the nature, and possessed the same nurturing and caring characteristics. As scholars like Gimbutas and Eisler tell us, the Goddess – and goddesses – was a symbol of the one-ness, the fecundity and the benevolence of nature. The idea of spirit-force was not completely forgotten by the early Egyptians either, who referred to Akh and Ba (the former referring to the universal soul, the latter the animating spirit which flows from Akh and pervades the whole of nature). Even in Greece, there was a pre-theistic stage of religion, Eue theia, when there was, in Cassirer’s words, ‘a natural kinship, a consanguinity that connects man with plants and animals’ (1970, p.91). It was only later, when this connection was broken, that gods came into being.

In time, however, these aspects of the old ‘spirit religions’ faded away. By around 2000 BCE, all prominent deities were male (Eisler, 1987; Baring and Cashford, 1990; DeMeo, 1998) and spirit-force only existed as an esoteric concept. As Baring and Cashford (1990) write, ‘Towards the middle of the Bronze Age the Mother Goddess recedes into the background, as father gods begin to move to the centre of the stage (p. 152).’ And by this time the ancient sense of participation with nature had been replaced with a desire to dominate the natural world. In Baring and Cashford’s words, ‘the Goddess became almost exclusively associated with ‘Nature’ as a chaotic force to be mastered, and God took the role of conquering or ordering nature from his counterpole of spirit’ (p-xii).

These peoples – particularly the Indo-Europeans and Semites – were war-like as well as theistic, and over the following millennia they conquered large parts of the world (see Gimbutas, 1974; Eisler, 1995; DeMeo, 1998). The Indo-Europeans eventually conquered the whole of Europe, parts of the Middle East and India, while the Semites conquered most of the Middle East. Over time they split into different groups. The Indo-Europeans sub-divided into peoples like the Celts, the Greeks, the Romans and the ancient Hindus, while the Semites sub-divided into peoples like the Hebrews, the Philistines, the Arabs and so on. And wherever they went, and whoever they became, their religions retained the same basic polytheistic character.

Monotheism came much later. The world’s first ever monotheistic religion was founded by the Egyptian Pharaoh Ikhnaton in the 14th century B.C.E., who proclaimed that the only God was Aton, the sun God, and that all the old gods were obsolete. There is some evidence that Moses lived in Egypt at this time, where he was the son of a noble family (Moses actually is an Egyptian name), and that he assimilated this concept of one God and took it into the desert with him. This may be how the Jewish religion began, which eventually gave rise to Christianity, and – later still – to Islam.

The development of monotheism was probably not in itself such a significant event, however. The development of theism was the really momentous development, and monotheism can be seen as an extension of polytheism, possibly caused by an intensification of the original processes which produced theism (which will be examined in a moment). In Frazer’s terminology, the important shift was from the magical to the religious stage, and the religious includes both polytheism and monotheism. And far from being evidence of an evolutionary advance towards the subtle realms (as Wilber believes) the fact that by the end of the first millennium CE most of Europe and large parts of the Near East and Africa worshipped One God is also largely attributable to accidental historical factors: the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity, for example (which meant that Christianity was immediately the official religion of the whole Roman Empire), and the missionary zeal and military power of the early Muslims.

The questions we really need to answer, then, are: why did theistic religion emerge during the 4th millennium BCE? Why was the old spirit-religion replaced by a new religion of gods? And why is it, in the first place, that native peoples do not have concepts of gods?

The Intensified Sense of Ego

In order to answer these questions, we need to look at the fundamental psychological differences between ‘modern’ human beings and indigenous non-Eurasian peoples.

According to the early 20th century anthropologist Lucien Levy-Bruhl, the essential characteristic of indigenous peoples was their less ‘sharpened’ sense of individuality. In his words, ‘To the primitive’s mind, the limits of the individuality are variable and ill-defined’ (1965. p.68). He notes that, rather than existing as self-sufficient individual entities – as we experience ourselves – indigenous peoples’ sense of identity is bound up with their community. He cites reports of primal peoples who use the word ‘I’ when speaking of their group, and also notes that indigenous peoples’ sense of individuality extends to objects they use and touch. A person’s clothes, tools and even the remains of meals and their excrement are so closely linked to them that to burn or damage them is thought to death or injury to the person. (This is one of the principles by which witchcraft is believed to work.) Similarly, George B. Silberbauer notes that, to the G/wi of the Kalahari, ‘identity was more group-referenced than individual. That is, a person would identity herself or himself with reference to kin or some other group’ (Silberbauer, 1994, p.131). In other words, such peoples do not just live in a group, as a collection of individuals, the community is part of their being, an extension of their self. In the same way, they do not feel that they just live on land, but that their land is a part of their very identity, as much as part of their being as their own body. This is one of the reasons why being forcibly ‘relocated’ by governments is such a tragedy for them. Their attachment to their land is so powerful that they experience this as a kind of death. The Fijian anthropologist A. Ravuva, for example, notes that the Fijian’s relationship to their vanua or land is ‘an extension of the concept of self. To most Fijians the idea of parting with one’s vanua or land is tantamount to parting with one’s life’ (1983, p.7).

The naming practices of certain indigenous peoples also suggest that their sense of individuality is less defined than the European-American. For us, a name is a permanent label which defines our individuality and autonomy. But for indigenous peoples this often isn’t the case. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1973) found that among the Balinese, personal names and even kinship names are rarely used. Instead the Balinese commonly use tekonyms – i.e. terms which describe the relationship between two people. As soon as a child is born the mother is called ‘mother-of ___’ and father is ‘father-of ____’, and when a grandchild is born they are called ‘grandmother-of ____’ and ‘grandfather-of ____’. As Gardiner et al (1997) note, this ‘denotes a very different understanding of the person, emphasising the connectedness of the individual with the family’ (p. 113). Similarly, Australian Aborigines do not have fixed names which they keep throughout their lives. Their names regularly change, and include those of other members of their tribe (Atwood, 1989).

In general, American-European peoples appear to have what Markus and Kitayama (1991) refer to as ‘independent selves’, whereas native peoples have ‘interdependent selves’. And this relative lack of ‘self-ness’ is one possible explanation for the egalitarianism of most primal societies. If we see social inequality as being generated by the lust for power, status and wealth of individual human beings, and these in turn as being facets of a strongly egoic mode of consciousness, then a less egoic form of consciousness equates with a less pronounced desire for power and wealth, and therefore a more egalitarian society. Anthropologists generally agree that this is a common characteristic of primal peoples, and in particular of foraging bands. According to Lenski’s statistics (1995), only 2% of hunter-gatherer societies have a class system. And as Christopher Boehm (1999) writes of the human beings of pre-Neolithic times, ‘they lived in what might be called societies of equals, with minimal political centralisation and no social classes. Everyone participated in group decisions and outside the family there were no dominators’ (p. 4).

This egalitarianism made it very difficult for primal peoples to adapt to the European way of life, with its emphasis on private property and individual gain. The Native Americans, for example, found it impossible to work in the way that white people did, cultivating their own pieces of land or trading or running stores for profit, because it conflicted with what Ronald Wright (1995) describes as the ‘ethic of reciprocity’ which was fundamental to most Indian cultures.

Some European colonists were actually aware of this difference themselves, and realised that they would only be able to truly ‘civilise’ the natives by developing their sense of ‘self-ness’. Senator Henry Dawes – whose Dawes Act attempted to turn Amerindians into small-scale landowners – went to heart of the matter when he wrote of the Cherokees in 1887, ‘They have got as far as they can go [i.e. they are not going to progress any further], because they hold their land in common There is no selfishness, which is at the bottom of civilisation’ (in Wright, 1995, p.363). The English missionaries in Australia tried various measures to develop the aborigines’ sense of individuality. As Bain Atwood (1989) writes, ‘the missionaries sought to make each [aborigine] an integrated centre of consciousness, distinct from the natural world and from other aborigines’ (p. 104). To this end, they made them live in separate houses and tried to stop going into each other’s. They also baptised them so that they would think of themselves in terms of a permanent name. None of this worked though. The aborigines never developed a sense of personal ownership over their houses or the possessions inside them. They wandered in and out of each other’s houses all the time, and continually swapped possessions.

The fundamental difference between European-Americans and primal peoples, then, may therefore be that we have a stronger and sharper ego structure than them.

The Ego Explosion

The stronger ego structure which characterises Eurasian peoples appears to have developed at a particular historical point. Archaeological evidence for this includes new burial practices which became common from the 4th millennium BCE onwards. In Europe, prior to this, communal burial was the norm, and people were buried without markers and without possessions. People would be buried in shallow temporary graves and then, at a certain time of year, be reburied in a permament communal site (Griffith, 2002). But during the 4th millennium BCE people were buried as individuals, with identity and property, as if their individuality mattered, and as if they thought it would continue after death. Chieftains were buried with their horses, weapons and wives, as if it was impossible to conceive of such powerful and important people ceasing to exist, and they were bound to return to life at some point. As the Swedish archaeologist Mats Malmer has written, these new burial practices (and the new emphasis on private property linked to them) are part of a ‘surprising change [that] occurred in Europe, a new social system giving greater freedom and rights of personal ownership to the individual.’ Referring specifically to the beginning of the third millennium BCE, he calls these new European peoples ‘the first individualists’ (In Keck, 2000, pp.47-48).

Texts and inscriptions from the fourth millennium BCE also show a greater emphasis upon individuality and personality. For the first time, people’s names are mentioned and their speech and their activities are recorded. We learn about who did what, why kings built temples and went into battle, how goddesses and gods fell in love and fought with one another. As Baring and Cashford (1991) write, ‘We become aware not only of the personality of man and women but also the individuality of goddesses and gods, whose characters are defined and whose creative acts are named’ (p. 154).

Similarly, the new myths which appeared throughout Europe and the Near East during the third millennium BC suggest a new strong sense of individuality. Whereas before myths had been based around the Goddess and nature (or symbols of them), now they became stories of individual heroes pitting their will and strength against fate. According to Joseph Campbell, these show ‘an unprecedented shift from the impersonal to the personal’ (quoted in Baring and Cashford, 1991, p.154). In fact many of these heroes actually battle against symbolic representations of the Goddess of the Earth such as serpents, suggesting the new sense of separation and alienation from nature as the ego became more developed. In the Sumerian myth the Enuma Elish, for instance, the Earth goddess Tiamat – represented as a serpent – is killed by the sky god Marduk. Marduk takes her place as the creator of life, and now gods and goddesses – and by extension human beings – are ‘outside’ nature, detached from their creation rather than an organic part of it. Myths such as this symbolize what Owen Barfield (1957) calls ‘a withdrawal of participation’. Whereas earlier human beings – and indigenous peoples – felt deeply interconnected with natural phenomena, now nature is something ‘other’ to be tamed and exploited.

There are also suggestions from other myths that earlier human beings were less individuated, and that our strong ego structure developed at a particular – fairly recent – historical point. The story of Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil suggests this, as also does the notion that they were ‘given understanding’ and that they ‘realised that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and covered themselves.’ The Chinese myth of the Age of Perfect Virtue suggests that human beings lost their harmony with the Tao as a result of developing a new kind of individuality and self-sufficiency. Individuals began to live by their own will rather than the will of nature. As a result they were much more aware of themselves and their own behaviour. Chuang Tzu tells us that the ‘true man of ancient times did not grow proud in plenty, and did not plan his affairs He could commit an error and not regret it, could meet with success and not make a show’ (in Heinberg, 1989, p. 69). In other words, these ancient men acted without analysing their behaviour, presumably because they were less self-aware, and as a result they were from feelings of guilt and pride. Similarly, the ancient Indian epic the Mahabharata states that the ‘holy men of old’ were ‘self-subdued and free from envy’ (in Heinberg, 1989, p. 68).

And I am not, of course, the first person to suggest that these myths contain elements of historical truth. Scholars such as Ernst Cassirer (1953-7), L.L. Whyte (1950), Jean Gebser (1966), Julian Jaynes (1976), Joseph Campbell (1964) and Wilber (1981) have all suggested that our strong sense of individuality was not shared by earlier peoples, and emerged at a particular historical time. According to Whyte, this is when the conflict between rational and instinctive behaviour which typifies modern man originated; according to Jaynes, this was when human beings ceased to obey the voices of the gods and started to think and act as individuals; while Campbell shows that at this point the myth of the individual hero pitting his will and strength against fate begins to take precedence over myths based upon the goddess and natural phenomena. According to Cassirer, early human beings lived in a state of ‘cosmic continuity’, in which there was no sharp distinction between the individual and the environment. But later human beings developed a subjectivity, and the duality of subjective-objective and outer-inner.

These authors agree that the transition to a stronger sense of individuality specifically involved the human groups I have mentioned above: the Sumerians, Egyptians, the Indo-Europeans and the Semites (amongst others). However, perhaps due to the lack of archaeological evidence available to them, the dates they suggest for the transition are contradictory. Campbell suggests during the 3rd millennium BCE, while Whyte and Jaynes suggest during the 2nd millennium BCE. The researches of James DeMeo (1998), however, suggest that the Ego Explosion – as it might be termed – occurred much earlier, at around 4000 BCE.

DeMeo’s monumental work Saharasia uncovers evidence of a massive environmental disaster which began at around 4000 BCE: the desertification of the large region of the earth which he calls ‘Saharasia’, which until that time had been fertile and widely populated with humans and animals. Parts of Saharasia – particularly central Asia and the Middle East – were the homelands of these groups, and this environmental change affected them massively. On the one hand, they were forced to leave their homelands (which explains the mass migrations of the Indo-Europeans and Semites over the following centuries), and on the other hand, the new living conditions they were forced to endure apparently transformed their psyche. DeMeo’s research strongly suggests that this was the historical point where war became rife, when societies became socially stratified, when patriarchy began, and when human beings began to experience guilt and shame towards bodily processes and sex.

DeMeo himself interprets this transition in terms of Wilhelm Reich’s concept of ‘armoring’. The pain and suffering which the Saharasian peoples confronted with made them ‘wall themselves off’ from the world and also from their own feelings. They covered over their natural pleasure-seeking impulses with secondary pleasure-denying instincts, and impulses such as the maternal-infant and the male-female bonds, connection to nature, the sexual instinct, trust and openness to other human beings were disrupted.

However, we can also, in a sense, bring DeMeo’s archaeological-geographical findings together with the theories of Cassirer et al. and suggest that the Saharasian environmental change was the cause of the ‘Ego Explosion’. The historical connection is clear – these were exactly the peoples affected by the environmental disaster, and they are the peoples who modern European-Americans are descended from (as well as many other Eurasian peoples who share our sharpened sense of individuality, such as the Semitic peoples and the Chinese and Japanese peoples).

Perhaps the sheer hardship of these human groups’ lives when their environment began to change – when their crops began to fail, when the animals they hunted began to die, when their water supplies began to fail and so on – encouraged a spirit of selfishness. In order to survive, they had to start thinking in terms of their own needs rather than those of the whole community, and to put the former before the latter. Sharing was no longer an option, since there were not enough resources to support the community as a whole. At the same time perhaps the new difficulties the groups faced as their environment changed brought a need for a new kind of intelligence, a practical and inventive problem-solving capacity. If they wanted to survive they had to deliberate, think ahead, find quick solutions, and to develop new practical and organisational powers. For example, as their lands became more arid they might be forced to come up with new methods of hunting or farming to increase their yields, to find new water supplies or ways of making the ones they already had last longer (such as irrigation). They might have to find ways of protecting themselves against the heat and dust of the desert or against invaders who might to try to steal their supplies after their own had disappeared completely. In other words, the Saharasian peoples were forced to think more, to develop powers of self-reflection, to begin to reason and ‘talk’ to themselves inside their heads. And they could only do this by developing a stronger sense of ‘I’. After all, self-reflection is the ‘I’ inside our heads talking away to itself. If you want to be inventive or to deliberate or plan ahead, you have to have an ‘I’ to think with. In other words, this is perhaps how what Barfield calls ‘Alpha thinking’ developed. And as he notes, this type of thinking inevitably results in a sense of separation from the environment, and an ‘individual, sharpened, spatially determined consciousness’ (in Wilber, 1981, p.28).

The Origins of Theism

And at the same time as apparently giving rise to war, patriarchy and social stratification (for reasons which I do not have space to suggest here) the psychological transformation caused by this environmental change apparently gave rise to theism. Again, the historical link is clear: the groups who migrated away from the Middle Eat and central Asia after desiccation began – the Indo-Europeans, the Semites and others – were the very same groups who developed theistic religions (and who also became war-like, patriarchal and socially stratified). In James DeMeo’s (1998) own terminology, for these peoples matrist ‘natural religions’ (centred around an awareness of animating and spiritual forces) gave way to patrist ‘high God religions’, characterized by dominating male gods separated from nature, who demand obedience and certain forms of moral behaviour.

The question we need to answer is: how did the new strong ego structure apparently bring an end to indigenous spirit-religion, and give rise to theism? How did it bring about the shift from the magical to the religious stages (in Frazer’s terminology), or from the fetichistic to the polytheistic (in Comte’s)?

Perhaps most significantly, this transition entailed a loss of awareness of the presence of spirit force pervading the world, which can be explained in terms of a redistribution of psychic energy. In his essay ‘Meditation and the Consciousness of Time’ (1996), Philip Novak describes how, in normal states of consciousness, the ego monopolises our psychic energy. He notes that our ordinary consciousness is taken up with ‘endless associational chatter and spasmodic imaginative-emotive elaborations of experience’ (p. 275). Because of this, energy which could be ‘manifested as the delight of the open, receptive and present-centred awareness’ (ibid.) (as it is with indigenous peoples) is, in his words, ‘gobbled’ away. And we can see the Ego Explosion as the point when this state of affairs began. The Saharasian peoples’ more powerful egos required more of each individual’s psychic energy in order to function, and this was only possible by sacrificing energy which had previously been used by other functions. And in this case energy which had been devoted to ‘present-centred awareness’ was sacrificed. That energy was diverted to the ego; as a result there was less psychic energy to use perceptually, and the individual no longer perceived the phenomenal world with the same intense, vivid vision. As a result their attention became ‘switched off’ to the presence of spirit-force. And if we accept that spirits are objective realities, this was obviously the point when we ‘switched off’ to their presence around us too.

This loss of the awareness of Spirit was itself part of the reason why gods became necessary. Because of their awareness of spirit-force, and their sense of connection to the cosmos, the world seems to be a meaningful and benevolent place to native peoples. As the theologist H. Sindima writes of traditional African religion, ‘Nature and persons are one, woven by creation into one texture or fabric of life, a fabric or web characterised by an interdependence between all creatures. This living fabric of nature – including people and other creatures – is sacred’ (1990, p. 144). Through losing their awareness of spirit-force, the Saharasian peoples seem to have lost this sense of harmony and meaning. Rather than being animate, natural phenomena became soulless objects, and the world became a cold, mechanistic place. In other words, these new strongly ‘egoic’ human beings lost the sense of being ‘at home’ in the world. What Campbell (1964) calls ‘the Great Reversal’ occurred, when the sense of the sacred faded away, the human psyche became riddled with guilt, and the body became associated with sin.

At the same time, perhaps even more importantly, these peoples began to experience a painful new sense of separateness to the world, and lost the sense of kinship to nature and to other living beings which primal peoples seem to experience. The psychological effects of this were momentous, and partly explain the ‘Great Reversal’ Campbell describes. This is the terrible ‘human condition’ which existentialist philosophers and psychologists often describe so dramatically – for example, when Fromm (1995) writes that ‘[Man’s] awareness of his aloneness and separateness makes his separate, disunited existence an unbearable prison’ (p. 7). This sense of aloneness also brings a sense of incompleteness. Individuals become isolated fragments, broken away from the whole, and as a result have a fundamental sense of unfulfilment (in the literal sense), of not being sufficient as they are, a sense of lack.

In my view, theism was a psychological strategy these human beings used to deal with this new state of being. The belief that gods were always present, watching over them, acted as a defence mechanism against their sense of isolation, and also an attempt to assuage the sense of coldness and indifference they experienced from the world. If the gods were there, they were never alone. If gods were controlling events and protecting them, the world was a more benign place.

Another important ‘compensatory’ factor of theistic religions are their concepts of an afterlife. For the most part, native peoples views of the afterlife are not particularly special; they certainly don’t envisage death as an ascent to a paradise where the individual ego survives for the rest of eternity, sating itself with endless pleasures and enjoying perfect happiness. For them the afterlife often isn’t very different from this life. The Cheyenne Indians, for example, believe that after death they carry on living in the same way, but as insubstantial spirits, like shadows (Service, 1978). Members of the Lengua tribe of South America told the missionary W.B. Grubb that, ‘The aphangak or departed souls of men in the shade world merely continue their present life, only of course in a disembodied state’ (in Levy-Bruhl, 1965, p.314). And for native peoples life after death doesn’t necessarily mean immortality. As Levy-Bruhl points out, ‘Everywhere primitives believe in survival, but nowhere do they regard it as unending’ (p. 313). The Dyaks of Sarawak, for example, believe that everyone dies between three and seven times, until their souls become absorbed into the air. (Levy-Bruhl, 1965). On the other hand, some native peoples have a more purely spiritual conception of the afterlife. Evans-Pritchard (1967) notes of the Nuer, for instance: ‘When a man is dying the life slowly weakens and then it departs from him altogether, and Nuer say it has gone to God [or Spirit] from whom it came Life comes from God [or Spirit] and to him it returns’ (p. 154).

But after the Ego Explosion the afterlife became important as a consolation for the sufferings of life; the psychological suffering which the sharpened sense of ego brings, and the ‘social’ suffering of war, oppression and poverty (much of which was also an indirect consequence of the Ego Explosion). We can assume that the intensified sense of individuality which came with the Ego Explosion brought an intensified fear of death too. After all, if you define your identity purely in terms of your own being, rather than as a part of your community or as a part of the cosmos itself, then the dissolution of your own being is a terrifying prospect. We can therefore see the concept of immortality as a response to this terror of death.

Pascal Boyer (2002) misunderstands the ‘consolatory’ function of religion. He notes the popularity of New Age mysticism, which provides comfort by telling people that they have enormous physical and intellectual powers at their disposal, that the universe is benevolent, that they are connected to all kinds of strange energy forces, and so on. The puzzle here, Boyer believes, is that this ‘religion’ has sprung up in ‘one of the most secure and affluent societies in history’ (p. 24), where there is little war, infant mortality, famine and social oppression. But this isn’t the point, of course. There is a much more fundamental form of suffering which all human beings are exposed to, no matter how rich or secure we are, and which we will always require consolation against: the aloneness and separateness of the ego, and the terrible prospect of its dissolution.

Perhaps Gods – and God – had a secondary ‘intellectualist’ function too. Without an awareness of Spirit, Saharasian peoples could not explain the world in terms of the actions of individual spirits. But, of course, anthropomorphic gods took over this role, and became the explanation behind natural events. When the wind rose up, for example, this was not because of the action of ‘wind spirits’ anymore, but because the god of wind was angry; and when a person died of illness this wasn’t because of evil spirits, but because of ‘the will of God’.

There is some evidence that, during later millennia, the strong ego structure which these groups developed intensified even further, leading to an intensification of war, patriarchy and antipathy to sex and the body (DeMeo, 1998). And this may have been partly responsible – together with the historical factors I mentioned above – for the transition from polytheism to monotheism. A stronger ego structure brings a more painful sense of separation, and the monotheistic god became necessary to assuage this, since He, we can presume, offers an even greater sense of protection and a greater sense of thereness than assorted polytheistic deities.

The transition from spirit religion to theism was also signalled by a new division between the sacred and the profane. As Service (1978) notes, in ‘primitive society generally, conceptions of the sacred, or supernatural, so permeate activities that is difficult to separate religious activity from such activities as music and dance or even from play’ (p. 64). Indigenous cultures generally do not have special ‘places of worship’ such as churches or temples, special ‘holy days’ or ‘religious specialists’ like priests. The key to this, of course, is the individual’s awareness of spirit-force. There cannot be a division between the sacred and the profane because the omnipresence of spirit-force – or spirits – makes everything sacred. Every place is potentially ‘holy’ and every individual has access to the divine. But now that awareness of spirit-force was lost, a compartmentalisation of religion took place. The divine became contained within particular places, such as churches and temples, and religious specialists began to act as intermediaries between human beings and gods.

Conclusion

Of course, not everyone conceives of God as a personal being who overlooks the world and controls and intervenes in its events. Christian mystics such as Meister Eckhart and Jakob Boehme used the term ‘God’ to describe spirit-force, or brahman, and encountered a great deal of hostility from the church authorities precisely because this was not the same personal ‘God’ which conventional Christians worshipped. At the same time there are many concepts of God as both personal and spiritual at the same time – i.e. ‘God’ exists as a spirit-force which pervades the universe, but at the same time can manifest himself as a personal being, or at least have powers of agency and influence. The concept of God of the Bhagavad-Gita, for example, is similar to this. Similarly, Keith Ward (2002), suggests that concepts of God or gods arise when human beings try to grasp ultimate reality. We cannot directly perceive the pure spiritual essence of the universe, and so have to ‘image’ forms which represent it. These concepts makes sense when we consider that there is a large grey area between complete ego-separateness and one-ness with the cosmos. At any point along this continuum, there will still a degree of existential trauma and therefore a need for consolation, and a consequent need for a personal god – even whilst there is an awareness of Spirit.

The point I am trying to make, then, is that the concept of God is a psychological strategy which only became necessary when certain human groups developed a strong ego structure. The development of theism was not the result (and the indication) of an evolutionary movement advance towards spirit – as Wilber believes – but the result of an accidental historical event which caused a movement away from it.

In a sense the born-again Christians who tell us that there is a ‘god-shaped hole’ inside us are correct. The ‘hole’ is our fundamental sense of lack and incompleteness, caused by our strong sense of separateness from the cosmos. This is why, to Richard Dawkins’ bemusement, religious beliefs are so persistent, even with so much apparent evidence against them. It’s true, however, that particularly in post-enlightenment Europe, the ‘opium’ of religion has become less readily available. Science has taken over religion’s secondary function of explaining the world, and in the process negated its primary function. As a result many people are forced to find other ways of filling the ‘god-shaped hole’, which might include materialism, power, success, drugs, hedonism, and even supporting soccer clubs.

However, perhaps the best way of dealing with this sense of lack, and the only way which can be truly successful, is not to try to fill it, but to try to remove it – or perhaps more accurately, to transcend it. This is what spiritual traditions such as Vedanta or Buddhism offer us: methods of weakening our ego structure, overcoming our sense of separation and incompleteness, and reconnecting with the cosmos. In a sense they offer us techniques of undoing the negative effects of the Ego Explosion and returning us to the holistic and harmonious experience of the world of native peoples. As Novak (1996) notes, the practice of meditation reverses the ego’s domination of consciousness. The normal structures of consciousness need to be constantly fed with attention. But when we focus our attention upon the present, as we do when we meditate, they are deprived of their attention-food, and begin to weaken and fade away. As a result, says Novak, ‘the mind acquires a new habit of spending less energy on the imaginative elaboration of desire and anxiety and more on perceiving present reality’ (p. 275).

In other words, spiritual or transpersonal development does not help us by giving us a consolation for our ‘terrible’ human condition, but by enabling us to change the state of being – or psyche – which is responsible for our suffering. When we reach a certain level of transpersonal development, the need for consolations such as religion, drugs or materialism naturally falls away, simply because we have transcended the state of ego-isolation which created that need. We discover that our existence is not an ‘unbearable prison’ of separateness and aloneness after all, because the whole universe and everything in it, including our own being, is pervaded with the ‘invisible and subtle essence’ of spirit-force.

Endnotes

When I speak of Native Americans as native peoples here I am excluding peoples like the Incas, Aztecs and Maya, who had many of the characteristics of European culture – a high level of technology and social organisation, a high level of warfare, of social inequality etc. Unsurprisingly, their religions were more similar to European polytheistic religions than to primal spirit religion, although they do seem to have included some elements of the latter. For example, Service (1978) notes that ‘unlike most primitive peoples, the Inca addressed prayers to divinities and made offerings’ (p. 345). But at the same time the Inca believed that the world was pervaded with dachakamag – their term for spirit force. This suggests that, in terms of the argument of this essay, these peoples also underwent a kind of Ego Explosion, which meant that they developed a stronger ego structure than other Native American peoples (although, judging by these elements of spirit religion, perhaps not as strong as Eurasian peoples).
Some authors have warned against seeing contemporary tribal groups as representatives of prehistoric human beings (e.g. Roszak, 1992). However, at the time European peoples first had contact with them, these were cultures which had apparently been unchanged for thousands of years. In any case, what anthropologists’ reports of these cultures correspond very closely to what we know of prehistoric human beings – e.g. their animistic worldview, their tribal system, and the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. As Lenski (1978) wrote, ‘Comparisons [between anthropology and archaeology] are not only valid but extremely valuable The similarities are many and basic; the differences are fewer and much less important’ (p. 137).

SATSANG

SATSANG: THE POWER OF SPIRITUAL PRESENCE

Enlightened people are like spiritual dynamos; they have a very strong presence which touches the people they come into contact with, transmitting something of their enlightenment to them. Even people who aren’t at all spiritual usually feel a sense of well-being in their presence, and so feel attracted to them without knowing why. But for people who have made some spiritual progress already, the effect can be extremely powerful. Contact with an enlightenment person may enable them to make the final jump to permanent enlightenment themselves.

This is one of the reasons why many spiritual traditions place so much emphasis on the role of a guru. The guru is so important not just because of the advice and guidance he can give you, but because he can transmit his spiritual power to you, giving you a taste of enlightenment and speeding up your spiritual development. (In Sanskrit, this is called satsang, literally good company.)

The early 20th century author and spiritual teacher Paul Brunton became aware of this when he visited the ashram of the great sage Ramana Maharishi, while travelling around India in search of spiritual wisdom (as described in his book A Search in Secret India). Brunton realised that Ramana was a truly enlightened man the first time he met him, someone who had completely transcended his ego and become one with ultimate reality. He felt the spiritual effect of his satsang straight away. He sensed that a steady river of quietness seems to be flowing near me, that a great peace is penetrating the inner reaches of my being. While sitting near him, he realised that his mind was becoming more still, and suddenly all of the intellectual questions he’d had about spiritual matters no longer seemed important. The only question in his head now was Does this man, the Maharishee, emanate the perfume of spiritual peace as the flower emanates fragrance from its petals?

At the end of his first visit to the Ashram, Brunton is in the hall with Ramana and some of his disciples, sitting quietly while the sage slips into a holy trance. He feels a sense of awe building up inside him, as a powerful force started to fill the room, emanating from Ramana. In his trance-like state, Ramana gazes at him, and Brunton feels that he’s looking deep into his being, and is aware of his every thought and feeling. He feels that a telepathic current is passing between them, that Ramana is transmitting his deep serenity to him, and begins to feel a sense of euphoria and lightness. He feels that his own being becomes one with Ramana’s, and that he has gone beyond all problems and all desires. The sage’s disciples leave the hall, leaving Brunton alone with him, and for a moment he feels that his body disappears and him and the sage are both out in space – but then he makes a fatal mistake. He hesitates, wondering whether he should go with the experience, and the spell is broken.

After this, Brunton resumes his travels around India, meeting magicians and miracle workers and self-proclaimed gurus who are less enlightened than they claim to be, and eventually returns to the Maharashi’s ashram. Again he experiences an ineffable tranquillity when sitting close to him, and again he experiences revelations which he is sure are nothing else than a spreading ripple of telepathic radiation from this mysterious and imperturbable man. And finally, after a period of wrestling with his own thoughts and his intellect, he has an experience of genuine enlightenment which changes him forever:

I find myself outside the rim of world consciousness. The planet which has so far harboured me disappears. I am in the midst of an ocean of blazing light. The latter, I feel rather than think, is the primeval stuff out of which worlds are created, the first state of matter. It stretches away into untellable infinite space, incredibly alive.

The American spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen had a similar experience when he first met the Indian teacher who became his guru, H.W.L. Poonja – who was, coincidentally (or perhaps not!), a direct disciple of Ramana. Cohen had had profound spiritual experiences before, but had spent many years feeling frustrated and disillusioned, yearning for spiritual liberation but being disappointed by a series of other teachers. But shortly after meeting Poonja, when the teacher told him, You don’t have to make any effort to be free , he experienced enlightenment:

His words penetrated very deeply, I turned and looked out into the courtyard outside his room and inside myself all I saw was a river – in that instant I realized that I had always been Free. I saw clearly that I never could have been other than Free and that any idea or concept of bondage had always been and could only ever be completely illusory.

After this, Cohen spent three weeks with Poonja, and surrendered to his guru, let himself become one with him, giving up his own identity and everything which made up his life. He began to experience waves of bliss and love that at times were so strong that I felt my body wouldn’t be able to contain it. And from that point on, although his initial euphoria faded a little, he had a constant sense of being always in the present with much contentment and calm. I feel no desire for other than what IS.

And now that he had attained moksha himself, Cohen gained the ability to affect other people in the same way that Poonja had affected him. My wife and I went to one of Andrew’s talks several years ago in Manchester, England, and for days afterwards Pam – my wife – felt like a different person. There was a feeling of freedom inside her, a sense that – in her words – nothing mattered, that I didn’t have any problems. I didn’t want anything because I was happy as I was. My life was quite stressful at that point but suddenly none of the stress could affect me. And she’s sure that this wasn’t so much because of what Andrew actually said but the effect of simply being there, in his presence.

I was a little jealous because I didn’t have any of those feelings – at that time I was taking a more intellectual approach to spiritual matters, and was so busy trying to understand what Andrew was saying conceptually that I must have been shut off from the feeling dimension. A couple of years before then, I’d started to visit a spiritual teacher called Russell Williams, and also took a largely conceptual approach to his teachings. Russell – who I still go to see now – is 82 years old, and has been the president of the Manchester Buddhist Society for over 50 years, even though he’s not specifically a Buddhist. He doesn’t chant or meditate or read Buddhist scriptures, and doesn’t adhere to or promote any particular set of teachings. He’s a humble self-realised man, who talks about the most profound spiritual truths and the most intense spiritual states as if they’re the most simple and natural things. In my first years of going along to Russell’s twice weekly meetings, I used to wonder why most people didn’t seem to be paying attention to what he was actually saying. He was saying some of the most profound things I’d ever heard and people didn’t seem to be listening – they’d be staring into space, or sitting with their eyes closed. They rarely asked questions, seeming content to let Russell be silent, when as far as I was concerned he was full of wisdom which I wanted him to share.

But about three years ago I began to realise why this was. Perhaps I’d changed, become less interested in the conceptual side of spirituality, or perhaps I’d finally completed a long process of getting attuned to the atmosphere at the meetings, but when I went to see Russell I started to experience very strange, pleasurable states of consciousness. Even when I’d been taking a conceptual approach, I’d often experienced feelings of peacefulness and well-being, which sometimes lasted for a couple of days afterwards. But this was something stronger. The first time it happened, I was staring at Russell while he was speaking to me, and began to feel very relaxed and calm, as if the flow of my life-energies was becoming smoother and lighter. And then, all of a sudden, everything became unfamiliar – the light became brighter, the colours began to merge and the distinctions between people and objects began to fade away. My main feeling, however, was of a powerful sense of strangeness – the scene was completely alien, as if I’d landed on a different planet. Even though it was accompanied with a sense of exhilaration, I was a little scared and pulled away from it.

Over the following months I had the same experience several times again, and I learned to relax and trust it. I let the sense of strangeness overcome me, and as the light in the room became brighter, all objects began to shimmer and merge into one another. The light seemed to be flowing out and immersing everything in its brightness. The room was filled with this beautiful shimmering haze of golden light, and I was filled with a deep serenity, a glow of intense well-being filling my whole body. I could feel down in my legs and my feet, as if I’d taken a sedative of some kind. And even when I didn’t have this particular experience at the meetings, I usually had a very powerful feeling of calmness and serenity inside me. I was often aware that my breathing had slowed down dramatically, and when I left I found myself doing everything very slowly, with a natural mindfulness. My mind was still and quiet, and outside everything looked beautiful and alive.

After a few months I was talking to one of the members of the group, and said to him, I’ve been having really very strange experiences here over the past few months. I tried to describe them, and he laughed and said, So now you know why we’ve all been coming here for so long! Now you’re really a member of the society.

I still have these experiences now, and I’m certain that they’re the result of satsang, of being in the presence of an enlightened person. The experience of the scene becoming unfamiliar and the light becoming brighter usually only happens when Russell is talking directly to me. In these moments I can almost feel spiritual power radiating from him and flowing into me, feel my own life-energy being affected by his.

The big question is: why do enlightened people have this strange ability to generate spiritual experiences in others, this power to transmit their enlightenment to everybody around them?

Spiritual experiences induced by satsang strongly suggest that the esoteric concept of an aura has a basis in fact. They suggest that our being or life-energy isn’t just confined to our own mind or body – it radiates out from us, creating an atmosphere (or aura) which can affect the people we come into contact with. The auras of most people don’t appear to be particularly strong, or at least don’t have particularly strong negative or positive qualities, so that we don’t usually feel anything palpable from them. But we’ve all met certain people who we instinctively recoil from, who we might not even exchange any words with but who still fill us with a sense of unease or even fear or dread. These are people who have a strong bad aura around them, perhaps because their life-energy is heavily poisoned with negative emotions and egotism. But with enlightened people, of course, the exact opposite happens. Their life-energy is so intensified and stilled, and has such powerful positive qualities, that they transmit waves of calm and bliss to everyone around them.

But spiritual experiences are more than just feelings – they are also experiences of vision, insight and revelation. And one of the most important aspects of satsang experiences, I believe, is that they show that spiritual illumination is also communicable. Feelings of bliss can certainly spread from person to person – and so can the vision of the oneness of the universe, the awareness that the essential reality of the universe is a limitless ocean of Spirit, and the experience of transcending the ego and being reborn as a deeper and higher Self. These experiences are completely transferable – under the right circumstances, they can be passed from an enlightened person to others without any loss of intensity.

And this, in turn, has an important bearing upon the concept of collective spiritual awakening. It’s now almost a clich to state the human race as a whole may be on the threshold of an evolutionary jump, a collective shift to a higher level of consciousness which will give rise to a new era of true spirituality and harmony. Many people find this idea far-fetched – understandably so when you look at the state of the world today – but satsang experiences show us a process by which this transformation could occur. They show us that enlightenment is highly contagious. And after all, it’s surely not just wholly enlightened individuals who affect the people around them. Anybody who has become spiritually developed to a degree will have some power to affect the people around them. And so it’s possible that a kind of positive cycle might take place – as more people become spiritually developed, they will transmit their insight and well-being to the people around them, who will in turn transmit their spirituality to the people around them, and so on. It may be that once a certain critical threshold has been reached – once a certain number of people have become enlightened, or once the collective spiritual power of the human race has built up to a certain degree – a great wave of spiritual illumination will spread through the world like a forest fire; a process of spiritual transmission building up power and intensity, and eventually leading to an Omega point of permanent change.

This may still sound like wishful thinking – but then again, the experience of satsang itself is miraculous, showing that the our apparent individuality is an illusion, and that we are parts of an indivisible ocean of consciousness.

dasara


Vijayadashami  Vijayadaśamī, pronounced also known as Dasara, Dusshera or dussehra is a major Hindu festival celebrated at the end of Navratri every year. It is observed on the tenth day in the Hindu calendar month of Ashvin, the seventh month of the Hindu Luni-Solar Calendar, which typically falls in the Gregorian months of September and October.

Vijayadasami is observed for different reasons and celebrated differently in various parts of the Indian subcontinent. In the eastern and northeastern states of India, Vijayadashami marks the end of Durga Puja, remembering goddess Durga's victory over the buffalo demon Mahishasura to help restore Dharma. In the northern, southern and western states, the festival is synonymously called Dussehra (also spelled Dasara, Dashahara). In these regions, it marks the end of "Ramlila" and remembers God Rama's victory over the demon Ravana, or alternatively it marks a reverence for one of the aspects of goddess Devi such as Durga or Saraswati.

Vijayadashami celebrations include processions to a river or ocean front that carry clay statues of Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartikeya, accompanied by music and chants, after which the images are immersed into the water for dissolution and a goodbye. Elsewhere, on Dasara, the towering effigies of Ravana symbolizing the evil are burnt with fireworks marking evil's destruction. The festival also starts the preparation for one of the most important and widely celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights, which is celebrated twenty days after the Vijayadasham.

Vijayadashami  is a composite of two words "Vijaya" and "Dashami", which respectively mean "victory"  and "tenth" , connoting the festival on the tenth day celebrating the victory of good over evil.The same Hindu festival-related term, however, takes different forms in different regions of India and Nepal, as well as among Hindu minorities found elsewhere.

According to James Lochtefeld, the word Dussehra is a variant of Dashahara which a compound Sanskrit word composed of "dasham" and "ahar" , respectively meaning "10" and "day"  According to Monier Williams, Dus  meaning "bad, evil, sinful" and Hara  means "removing, destroying", connoting "removing the bad, destroying the evil, sinful".
In most of northern and western India, Dasha-Hara (literally, "ten days") is celebrated in honour of Rama. Thousands of drama-dance-music plays based on the Ramayana and Ramcharitmanas (Ramlila) are performed at outdoor fairs across the land, in temporarily built staging grounds featuring effigies of demons Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Meghanada are held. The effigies are burnt on bonfires in the evening of Vijayadashami-Dussehra.While Dussehra is observed on the same day across India, the festivities leading to it varies. In many parts, the "Rama Lila", or the brief version of the story of Rama, Sita and Lakshamana is enacted over 9 days before it, but in some cities such as Varanasi, the entire story is freely acted out by performance artists before public every evening for a month.

The performance arts tradition during the Dussehra festival was inscribed by UNESCO as one of the "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity" in 2008.The festivities, states UNESCO, include songs, narration, recital and dialogue based on the Hindu text Ramacharitmanas by Tulsidas. It is celebrated across northern India for dussehra, but particularly in historically important Hindu cities of Ayodhya, Varanasi, Vrindavan, Almora

happiness

Where is happiness Sometimes it seems as if happiness and human beings just weren’t made for one another. Our ancestors probably found it difficult to be happy because of the sheer physical suffering and the tragedy that filled their lives. Until very recent times, most adults had to watch some of their children die, and regularly mourned the deaths of other relatives and friends. They could only expect to live until 40 at the most themselves, and spent their short lives fighting against hunger and the elements, suffering from constant malnutrition, toothache and eye problems, as well as from a host of diseases which modern medicine has now eliminated. There was also a good chance that at some point their lives would be devastated by war, or raids by foreign invaders. Because of this our ancestors’ lives were ‘nasty, brutish, and short’, as Thomas Hobbes wrote. For many people in the world life is still full of this kind of suffering, of course, but those of us who are lucky enough to live in the world’s richer countries have largely been freed from it. You might expect that, as a result, we would all live in a state of happiness. But this doesn’t seem to be the case. Our lives simply seem to be filled with a different kind of suffering. Whereas our ancestors’ suffering was mostly physical, ours is psychological. Many of us seem to carry around a fundamental dissatisfaction and boredom which we try to escape from by treating ourselves to more and more material goods and more and more pleasures and entertainments, by immersing ourselves in distractions like television or our jobs, and by taking drugs. At the same time millions of us suffer from different kinds of psychological malaise – depression, eating disorders, self-mutilation – or else spend a large part of our lives oppressed by anxieties, worries and feelings of guilt or regret, and negative emotions like jealousy and bitterness. Or more generally, many of us feel a sense of being ‘let down’ by life. We strive for happiness but never seem to find it, and feel as if the world has somehow cheated us. But why is happiness so difficult to find? Is it just a natural fact that the life is hard and full of suffering, so that there’s nothing we can do about it? Is it simply that, in the worlds of Dr. Johnson, ‘man is not born for happiness’? I don’t believe this is true. In fact I believe the opposite: that happiness (or contentment) is human beings’ most natural state. The problem – simplistic though it may sound – is that we’ve lost our bearings, and have largely forgotten where true happiness is. It only seems so difficult to find because we’re looking for it in the wrong place. Different Kinds of Happiness In order to attain a clearer picture of where true happiness actually might lie, it’s perhaps useful to go through the normal ways in which we look for happiness in our lives. Generally speaking, in the modern world we think of happiness as something that comes to us from the outside. We generate it through doing certain things and having certain things. There are several different ways in which we try to do this, which I believe can be categorised as follows: — Materialistic Happiness. This is the ‘happiness’ which buying and possessing material goods gives us. When we go shopping and buy a new dress, a new piece of furniture or a new car this presses a kind of instinctive ‘pleasure button’ inside us, so that we feel happy for a few hours or perhaps even a few days. And then there is the positive feeling which actually owning these goods after we’ve bought them. (There is also the feeling of status and importance which material goods give us, which crosses over into ‘ego-based happiness’ – see below.) Materialistic happiness appears to have its roots in our ancient past. We can probably trace it back to a time when our ancestors needed to acquire and possess goods to improve their chances of survival. To them this would have meant possessing livestock, food they could store through the winter, or goods they could exchange. This instinct for possession is still inside us, and gives us a feeling of pleasure when we satisfy it. — Hedonistic Happiness. This is closely linked to materialistic happiness, since one of the attractions of money is that it can enable us to live hedonistically. We’re all instinctively programmed to find certain things pleasurable, such as food, drink, drugs, sex, and comfortable living conditions (e.g. a comfortable bed and furniture, soft, plush carpets, heating etc.). There are also many instinctive ‘thrills’ we get in certain situations, such as being surrounded by crowds of people and loud music and bright lights, driving, sailing or flying at high speeds, or being amongst pleasant climatic conditions. These are all ‘pleasure buttons’ which give us a ‘buzz’ of well-being when we press them. Some of the buttons have been purposely placed there by nature to make sure that we will survive and reproduce – e.g. food is pleasurable so that we’ll want to eat, and sex is pleasurable so that we’ll reproduce. Others are more accidental buttons caused by chemical changes inside us, such as when speed or danger give us an adrenaline rush or produce endorphins. — Ego-Based Happiness. This is the happiness we’re chasing after when we try to ‘get on’ or ‘make it’ in the world. It makes us strive to become successful, powerful and famous, and to accumulate ‘status symbols’ like expensive cars, big houses and designer clothes (which is the connection with ‘materialistic happiness’ above). On the simplest level we experience ‘ego-based happiness’ when people compliment or praise us – when your boss tells you you’ve done a good job, for example, when your husband tells you you look beautiful, or if you’re an actor or musician and the audience applaud your performance. We don’t always need other people for this though – we can praise ourselves too, as we do when we ‘pat ourselves on the back’ after we’ve completed a challenge or achievement such as passing an exam, climbing a mountain or negotiating a higher wage. In all of these situations we feel a glow of ‘ego-based happiness’ and our self-esteem and confidence increase. And fame and power are so attractive to us because they give us an endless – even constant – supply of ego-based happiness. Famous people are effectively being praised and complimented continually, even when there are no sycophants around them to tell them how great they are – the glances of passers-by are always reminding them of how special they are. Similarly, powerful and successful people – though they may not be famous – are continually being told how special they are by the respectful way other people treat them, by seeing evidence of their power around them (e.g. the hundreds of workers they employ, the premises they own etc.). — Ego-based happiness probably also has its roots in instinct. After all, as Abraham Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ shows, self-esteem is a basic human need, as instinctive as the need for food or shelter. When we are given ‘fixes’ of self-esteem this also, therefore, presses a ‘pleasure button’ inside us. — These three kinds of happiness make up the basic ‘happiness paradigm’ of our culture. There are other kinds of happiness which we search for and regularly experience, but since these aren’t quite so important to this essay – and I don’t have unlimited space – I’ll deal with these more briefly. — We also try to find happiness by changing our circumstances (which would probably be called circumstance-changing Happiness). This expresses itself in the constant desire which many of us to change our lives in some way. It’s connected to ‘materialistic happiness’, since it often manifests itself in a desire to become rich, but can be expressed in other ways: in the desire to change your appearance, for example, to move to a different house in a different area, or to get a better job. — Event-based happiness is what we experience this when we undergo what psychologists call ‘positive life-events’ – in other words, when good things happen to us, such as marriage, the birth of children, passing an exam, getting a job etc. We usually associate it with major events such as these, but we often experience it on a smaller scale too – when you get a raise in salary, for instance, when the sports team you support wins a match, or when you meet a famous person or someone else you admire. — Future-based happiness is the positive feeling we experience when we ‘look forward to’ things. Often, when the present circumstances of our lives aren’t so positive – when you’re having a boring day at the office, for example – future-based happiness is what keeps you going. You look forward to the meal you’re going to eat when you get home, the programmes you’re going to watch on TV this evening, or the party you’re going to at the weekend – and as a result your present situation seems more bearable. — Need-Satisfaction Happiness is the happiness we experience when any of our fundamental needs are satisfied – the basic physical relief you feel when you eat when you’re hungry or when you go to home rest after a long day’s work; or the psychological relief you feel when you find a secure job after a long period of temping, or the emotional relief you experience when you find a romantic partner after being alone for a long time. Defects Some of us are more oriented around one particular type of happiness than another. People who live in a state of ‘need-deprivation’ – who are homeless, poor, or don’t have a romantic partner, for example – usually think of happiness purely in terms of satisfying their needs. A rich housewife who spends most of her time shopping is mainly oriented around ‘materialistic happiness’, while first year university students who spend their time socialising and drinking are probably mainly oriented around ‘hedonistic happiness’. Most of us spread our search for happiness fairly evenly though. If you look closely at your own life, you’ll probably find that you experience (or at least look for) all of the different kinds of happiness we’ve looked at on a fairly regular basis. You might have ‘fixes’ of materialistic happiness when you buy new clothes or CDs, fixes of hedonistic happiness when you drink alcohol or go to a party, and fixes of ego-based happiness when you catch a member of the opposite staring at you across a bar or when your partner tells you that you’re a fantastic cook. You might experience need-satisfaction happiness when you have social contact after being isolated for a while; ‘event-based happiness’ when you hear that a friend is going to get married; and ‘future-based happiness’ when you think of the holiday you’ve book in a month. You might also look for happiness through changing your circumstances – by re-decorating your kitchen or having a new hairstyle, or by dreaming of moving to a country with a better climate or of winning the lottery. The first three types of happiness (materialistic, hedonistic and ego-based) are undoubtedly the ones which are most important to us though. Many of us take it for granted that we can find happiness by pursuing the ‘American Dream’ of wealth and success, and think of life as a kind of competition to ‘get on’ and accumulate as much of them as possible. But whether these kinds of happiness actually can satisfy us – even the highest levels of wealth and success – is very debatable. In fact there are many studies by psychologists which suggest that this isn’t the case. Studies of pools and lottery winners, for example, show that their new found wealth has little effect on their level of happiness. After a short period of high level happiness they return the same ‘base level’ they experienced before. Surveys also show that America’s increasing wealth since the Second World War hasn’t been accompanied with increasing happiness. In 1946 38% of Americans said they were ‘very happy’. In the late 50s the figure had risen to 53%, but in the mid-70s it was down to 27%, and in the mid-80s it had risen again to 33%. Surveys of the levels of happiness in different countries also have some surprising results. As the psychologist Michael Argyle writes, they show that ‘International differences in happiness are very small, and almost unrelated to economic prosperity.’ We’ve all seen plenty of evidence for this too. We all know of pop stars, film stars and other celebrities whose massive wealth and success doesn’t seem to have brought them any happiness. We’ve all heard stories of ‘privileged’ aristocrats and other children of rich parents whose inherited wealth seems more of a curse than a blessing, and who experience a sense of emptiness and purposelessness which leads to drug abuse and psychological problems. The richest person in Great Britain, for example, is the Duke of Westminster, with an estimated fortune of 1,750 million. But apparently his wealth hasn’t made him any more immune to unhappiness than anybody else. In a recent newspaper interview the Duke revealed that a year ago he’d suffered a breakdown which had plunged him into ‘a black hole of despair,’ and stopped him working or attending any social events for three months. The experience had only served to forcibly remind him of what he’d always known, which was that, as he said, ‘You can’t buy happiness, you can’t buy health, and you can’t buy inner peace…People think a new video recorder or a fast car can make them happy but they don’t.’ But if we look closely we can see some very obvious reasons why these types of happiness can’t truly satisfy us. One problem is that they are all very temporary. The sense of well-being we experience when any of our ‘pleasure buttons’ are pressed only lasts for a short time. With hedonistic happiness it only lasts as long as the act or situation which produces it – as long as the party lasts, as long as it takes for the drugs or alcohol to wear off, or as long as you can make sex last. Materialistic happiness usually lasts a little longer, since the short-term thrill of buying something is followed by the instinctive pleasure of owning it. And ego-based happiness probably – at least in certain cases – lasts longest of all. If a stranger comes up you on the street and tells you you’re beautiful, for example, or if your first novel is published and is given rave reviews by every newspaper, you might feel a glow of ego-based happiness which can last for days. But so what if they wear off after a while? you might think. There’s no reason why we can’t give ourselves another ‘fix’ of happiness as soon as that happens, and so keep ourselves in a constant state of happiness. And this is what many of us try to do, of course. But the problem here is that all of these types of happiness are subject to the law of diminishing returns. In the same way that, say, a heroin addict has to ingest larger and larger quantities of the drug to achieve the same effect, if we regularly treat ourselves to these types of happiness we become slowly resistant to them. Every time you buy yourself a new dress or a new item of furniture the amount of pleasure you experience decreases slightly, so that if you want to have the same effect next time you have to buy yourself something a little more special and a little more expensive. Every time you achieve a little success which gives you some ego-based happiness, you need a higher level of success next time around to feel the same. In the same way the pleasure you derive from a casual sexual encounter or from driving a fast car becomes slightly duller every time you experience it. This effect may be so small that it’s difficult to notice, and if you don’t experience these pleasures very frequently it may not take place at all, but people who live very hedonistic lives may find that they need to progressively intensify their experiences until they enter the realm of ‘dangerous’ pleasures like hard drugs or promiscuous bondage-based sex. And they may also find that, after this, they reach a point which I call the ‘end of pleasure’, at which they have become so numb that no amount or intensity of hedonism can stimulate them, and they feel a sense of dissolution and boredom which may result in suicide. Another similar problem is that most of these types of happiness are subject to what psychologists call ‘adaption’, the process by which we get used to situations once we’ve been in them for a while, and cease to value and appreciate new aspects of our lives. One of the main pieces of evidence for ‘adaption’ was the finding that badly disabled people such as quadriplegic patients were just as happy as other people, and also that – as I mentioned above – people who won large sums of money were no more happy than others. It seems that at a certain point we ‘switch off’ to the past and stop seeing our present situation in relation to the previous, so that we don’t feel lucky or unlucky in the present, but instead a kind of neutral blankness. And it’s easy to see how this would affect the kinds of happiness we’ve mentioned. A high degree of wealth or success might make us happy for a while, but as soon ‘adaption’ takes place we’ll be back where we started. In the same way we also quickly become adapted to changes in circumstances, such as a move to a new area or a newly decorated house, so that they cease to affect us after a short time. Finally, these kinds of happiness are also problematic because they all come from outside us. This means that they’re all dependent on external circumstances, which are always liable to change in such a way that they can no longer provide us with happiness. If this happens we’re completely helpless. If you’re a person who lives off ego-based happiness, for example, what happens when you start to lose your looks, when the company which you’re head of goes bankrupt, or when your fame or celebrity begins to take a downturn? Or if you live off materialistic and hedonistic happiness, what happens when you lose your job, when a burglar steals all your prized possessions, or when you lose all your savings in a stock market crash? It’s because of this seeming unattainability of happiness that some philosophers have concluded that it’s impossible to find contentment, and that human life is destined to be full of frustration and suffering. Albert Camus, for example, believed that true happiness is impossible because life involves a continual striving which can never be satisfied – he compares human life the Greek myth of Sysiphus, who the gods condemn to roll a boulder up a hill until gravity forces it down again, whereupon he goes back to the bottom and starts rolling again. Similarly, the German philosopher Schopenhauer believes that happiness is impossible because we look for it in the present, but the present moment is so fleeting that as soon as any situation arises which provides happiness, it disappears straight away. But there is another possibility, which Eastern – rather than Western – philosophy suggests to us: that there is a kind of happiness which comes from inside us, and isn’t subject to any of these problems. Inner Happiness There is, in fact, a kind of inner-based well-being we regularly experience but which we don’t normally think of as unhappiness because it’s not part of culture’s ‘happiness paradigm’. The American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has spent over 30 years studying the question of what makes human beings happy, and has also come to the conclusion that happiness is not, as he says, ‘the result of good fortune or random chance,’ or ‘something that money can buy.’ According to him, we come closest to experiencing true happiness when we experience the state of ‘flow’, which he defines as ‘a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to complete absorption in activity.’ When we’re in ‘flow’ we forget ourselves, forget our surroundings and the circumstances of our lives. The negative self-talk which normally fills our minds fades away and we feel that we are one with the activity we’re performing. We experience flow when we have challenging and demanding tasks to do at work, when we play games, sports or musical instruments, or even when we become absorbed in household chores like mending a fence or doing the garden. And it’s always a positive experience, generating a powerful sense of well-being. A chess player told Csikszentmihalyi, for example, that when he plays the game, ‘I have a general sense of well-being, and a feeling of complete control over my world.’ A dancer described to him the state of well-being she experiences during a performance: ‘A strong relaxation and calmness comes over me. I have no worries of failure. What a powerful and warm feeling it is! I want to expand, to hug the world. I feel enormous power to effect something of grace and beauty.’ The state of ‘flow’ corresponds to the state of consciousness which the Hindu eightfold path of yoga refers to as dhyana. And in fact Hindu philosophy explains why this state creates a powerful sense of well-being. The key to it is the way that concentration affects our prana or life-energy. As Stephen Cope writes in Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, ‘as states of concentration deepen in the body-mind, prana also becomes more concentrated. Deep states of mental and physical absorption gather and focus prana into a powerful stream.’ When we live our normal lives in normal states of consciousness, our prana – consciousness-energy, as I like to call it – is continually being drained away, by the thought-activity which continually buzzes through our minds, by the external stimuli which we’re continually bombarded with (the sights, sounds and other kinds of information which we absorb) and by the effort we have to make to interact and communicate with other people. As a result our consciousness-energy is always in a state of dissipation, or low concentration. But when we become absorbed in an activity all this changes. We close down the channels through which our prana leaks away: our minds stop thinking, and we close down our senses to external stimuli. As a result the level of prana inside us rises, or intensifies. This high concentration of prana brings a sense of well-being simply because, it seems, happiness is the nature of prana, in the same way that the nature of water is wetness. There’s no reason for this, it’s simply a natural fact: consciousness-energy (or prana) possesses a natural quality of warm radiance, of serenity and well-being. Normally it’s too dissipated for us to feel this, but when it becomes intensified in states of concentration this glow of well-being spreads through us.