Psychotic or Spiritual? is a post on Jiryu Mark Rutschman-Byler’s blog No Zen in the West. Some time ago I reviewed some excerpts of his book Two Shores of Zen. The post on Jiryu’s blog concerns a paper written by Hondo David Rutschman called “Lo, I Will Be With You”: Conceptual Problems in Distinguishing Psychotic and Spiritual Experience.
These writings bring up hugely important points regarding the intersection of Buddhism and conventional psychology as well as the perception of events involved in meditation and Buddhist practice.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time it will be somewhat evident that I’m no fan of trying to mix conventional and particularly clinical psychology, the scholarly discipline and practice with Buddhist practice. Oil and water in my view.(here and here for example) (see also comments to this post for additional points) Some of the points about this uneasy mix I’ve been trying to clarify-which is why I’ve written so much about it as I’ve worked my way through the tangle, but upon reading the two above-mentioned pieces something clicked into place that does clarify the main reason why this mix is a Bad Romance.
Discussion of the meaning and relevance of spiritual experiences goes back a long way. One book that I encountered as an undergraduate was William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience. [available free online in HTML or as a downloadable text] The article above also references this work. In that book William James discussed some of the manifestations of religious experiences such as raptures, trances and the like in the context of some well known religious figures such as Joan of Arc and some of the other Christian saints as well as mystics from other traditions. Apparently lots of people felt that religious experiencers were a little eccentric if not crazy. In time though, just like in shamanic traditions, these situations became incorporated and explained and even further, accepted by the religious contexts in which they occurred.
Secular, scientific culture does not accept the “differently consciousness-ed” individual quite so well. Deviations from an amorphous, as-yet-to-be-defined norm are treated as maladies or problems to be corrected, whether they are problematic to individuals or not. Unfortunately if they are not problematic to the individuals initially, they will soon be made problematic by social ostracization and pathologization of the different conscious state. A socially enforce “normal” is inflicted one way or another. I wonder if this is why folks get so bent out of shape when the topic of awakening comes up…”Ohh don’t talk about that” Try walking into a psychiatrist’s office and say you’ve had a kensho type experience-you’ll most likely leave with a handful of prescriptions for anti-psychotic pills.
Western psychology knows very little about the human mind. Neurologists haven’t even worked out the majority of the mechanics yet never mind the function of those mechanics and their interactions with each other, with genetics, with environment or with socio-cultural situations. I say this as someone who studied psychology as part of the larger field known as ethnopsychiatry, (example of applied theory here) [which is generally subsumed under medical anthropology] for 7 years in pursuit of a PhD. What became evident to me during that time was that psychology is mainly guesswork.
[I wrote a paper one time with the basic theme “Psychology is not a Science” . This was not very well received by some of my professors. It summarized my general attitude at the time and contained some rather elegant reasoning. That was pretty much the beginning of the end of my formal studies. I was a –“gasp”– non-believer. That’ll put the scarlet letter to all your academic endeavors pretty quickly. I re-applied about 10 years later to try to salvage some of that coursework into some kind of advanced degree but did not get accepted. Academia is a very small world with a long memory. ]
On that note, of what the psychologists, neurologists, social theorists etal know, here is a quote from recent areas of research examining the intersection of biology, neurology, culture, particularly visual and technological culture and environment. Franciso J. Varela and Evan Thompson are two philosophers of science whose thesis has been quoted in The Neurobiopolitics of Global Consciousness by Warren Neidich who is an artist, theorist and trained biologist.
The nervous system, the body and the environment are highly structured dynamical systems, coupled to each other on multiple levels. Because they are so thoroughly enmeshed biologically, ecologically and socially brain, body and environment
seem better conceived of as mutually embedding systems than as externally and internally located to produce (via emergence as upwards causation) global organism-environment processes, which in turn may affect (via downward causation) their constituent elements. (p.10)
Neidich continues in that paper to outline the multi-directional and multi-dimensional influences of both culture and biology. The notion of the discrete mental action–self-arising, self-contained is rapidly losing ground in theoretical circles. Could this signal the death of the ego as we have known it? I hope so. Seems like a few in the weighty academic realm are on the verge of glimpsing some of what Buddha’s students have been going on about for millenia. Better late than never I suppose.
The author ends with an interesting hypothesis along with a warning. [for the phil. nerds in the crowd-emphasis mine]
I would also hypothesize that there exists an envelope of possible formulas of output from the brain, a kind of virtual potential in the Deleuzian sense. As intensive culture evolves into more complex formations, it produces new dispositions that, when selected and coded by the brain, unlock that potential.
The brain is a becoming machine. The paradigms of neural plasticity and neural Darwinism provide the crucial frame for its continual renewal but also perhaps for its eventual subjugation. (p. 13)
“Virtual potential” could perhaps also take the name Buddha nature?! By subjugation the author is talking about co-opting the mental sphere particularly by culturally exploitative forces such as advertising. I would not buy into the notion of brain as machine, currently or developing, since the author himself distinguishes 3 interactive entities which he labels brain, mind, world, the latter indicating society/culture, but I’ll leave that alone for the moment. [My question would revolve around what the term “mind” signifies, so I have to read more of this author’s work] I would take some issue with the apparent necessity of “intensive culture” or the “cultured brain” being the “intensive brain” [in the article] in terms of complex formations to increase the probability of accessing that virtual potential and posit that a redefinition of intensive in terms of concentrative effort aka meditation could also unlock that virtual potential. [This is an important distinction which I want to take up again in another nerdy post some time. ]
Psychology as it stands has some utilitarian value in maintaining social order as well as seating people comfortably within a delusional niche but the level of theory involved is so woefully superficial that it takes real effort to ignore the gaping holes and believe it enough to put it into practice. Visit or volunteer at a local hospital’s psychiatric ward and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Instead of physical restraints chemical restraints are used. And there’s still no clue about how to deal with the person underneath all that restraint. The neurologists are slicing and dicing with the MRIs and CAT scans, finding more anomalies than commonalities, yet in many instances cannot say what came first, the physical anomaly or the othered conscious state nor why. And they also cannot posit what is to be done about it should the person find that othered state distressing. In other words there is no cure because no one can even agree on the nature of the disease.
The only kluge-y solution is to try to make people behave “normally” that is like everybody else by whatever means are available. Only everyone else doesn’t behave uniformly if you really pay attention. There is only an ideal of normalcy, not an actual normalcy.
Uniformity. How horrific. How unnatural. No two things in nature are exactly alike ever. Not even identical twins. Even a clone has a tiny degree of genetic replicative fading. [Dontcha watch Star Trek?]
There is a tension between the Buddhist objective and the psychological objective. The transitoriness and instability and illusoriness of the ego and the reification and even solidification of egoic processes may be tied to the same starting point but they proceed in opposite directions
insubstantiality of ego <———0———> solidification of ego (ego stability)
[This is also why much post-modern psychoanalytically based philosophy (DeLeuze, Foucault, Batielle etc.) is somewhat contrary to Buddhist philosophy though it does explain much of ego-based social process. And perhaps this also explains some of Zizek’s antagonism towards what he views Buddhism to be.]
So to pacify ego or to see through it’s insubstantiality is the question for those who label themselves Buddhist-based psychologists.
I am not against the relief of psychological suffering. Nor am I against some of the primitive methods currently in use. I am very much against ECT though even done under anesthetic as it’s just barbaric. Much of the current thinking places people into a perpetual patient role even when they get better. Many people with mental illnesses can get better. Many people with othered consciousness do not even view themselves as “sick” . Temple Grandin is one example, there are many more. And it often unnecessarily places people into that role even if they are not “sick” but are having adjustment difficulties to life changes or grief or other “normal” experiences.
There is just so much more work to be done in the field of human consciousness yet the surety of the doctor who talks at a patient for five minutes while scribbling out another prescription is laughable. But don’t tell them that. It’ll spoil their ego trip and they’ll have to write prescriptions for themselves. Oh yeah, quite a few of them already do that. (here, here, here, here)
The inclusion of a few Buddhist methods or theories into conventional psychology does little to relieve suffering on the meta levels. What is required is some real “crazy wisdom”.
Here is part of Chogyam Trungpa’s discussion about crazy wisdom:
Crazy wisdom in Tibetan is yeshe chölwa. Yeshe means “wisdom,” and chölwa, literally, is “gone wild.” The closest translation for chölwa that we could come up with is “crazy,” which creates some further understanding. In this case “crazy” goes along with “wisdom”; the two words work together well. So it is craziness gone wise rather than wisdom gone crazy. So from that point of view, craziness is related with wisdom.
The notion of wisdom here is very touchy, and we will have to get into the technical aspect of the whole thing. Wisdom is jnana in Sanskrit and yeshe in Tibetan. Yeshe refers to perception or to enlightenment, which exists eternally. Ye means “primordial”; she means “knowing,” knowing primordially, knowing already. The idea is that you haven’t suddenly acquired knowledge. It isn’t that somebody has just told you something. Knowledge already exists; it is here and we are beginning to tune into that situation. Such a thing actually does exist already. Wisdom isn’t purely manufactured by scholars and scientists and books.
So the notion of enlightenment is the same as that of wisdom.
The entire teaching is Crazy Wisdom Untamed and unconditioned enlightenment. That is crazy wisdom. That is the human “virtual potential”.
The little guys in the images are from Vodaphone ads in India-they are called Zoozoos-they do have personalities and are a little more distinctive in the actual ads
Lady Gaga-Bad Romance