International Forum for NeoVedantins

Altered State of Consciousness: 1

In modern day psychology, one finds a good deal of debate and discussion on Altered State of Consciousness brought about by meditation and contemplation. Significant research work, both in the Eastern and Western scientific circles, is underway in this field.

Western science of psychology defines altered states of consciousness (ASCs) as those states in which the individual feels a qualitative (and also probably quantitative) shift in the pattern of his mental functioning - both of cognition and expression. Such a pattern may be clearly observed closely and reliably in his/her daily life by his/her close associates or in an experimental setting.

Various physiological, psychological, and pharmacological maneuvers or agents may induce such altered states, for instance:

1. Psychedelic Drugs

2. Dreams

3. Period between wakefulness & sleep

4. Hypnosis

5. Meditation & Yoga

In this series of articles, it is intended to discuss samadhi as a state of altered consciousness, the state to which a person reaches or is expected to reach through spiritual disciplines of meditation and Yoga. Another word 'mystic introversion' may be used in place of samadhi, but the use of word 'trance' is ambiguous and is, therefore, avoided.

Upanishads describe culmination of Yogic practices into such transcendental super-conscious state. Vedanta maintains that to attempt to achieve this state is the goal and destiny of human birth.

A) Conditions Necessary for Attaining the State of Samadhi

For a spiritual aspirant, Scriptures prescribe external and internal purity, continence, non-stealing, truthfulness, not injuring any being either by words or deeds, and similar moral- ethical basic values to achieve the state of samadhi.

Equally important are a few conditions to control the mind-stuff, the Antahkarana. These include steadfastness, forbearance, non-covetousness and contentment. The natural tendency of mind to go outward towards the objects of enjoyment should be checked and attempt made to draw it inwards. Thus an element of conscious and deliberate effort to control the mind becomes necessary. These preliminary preparations are known as Yama and Niyama in the ancient books on Yoga.

The necessity of a qualified teacher who has experienced transcendental reality is also emphasized by most of the knowledgeable persons.

B) Factors that Act as Milestones on the Way to Samadhi

I) Visions:

During the course of regular spiritual practice, when the mind stuff is focused on one thought, or an idea, or a form of God some exceptional visions may come to the consciousness of the sadhaka. Such a state of mind is known to be in a state of 'meditation with form': the savikalpa samadhi. All other modifications of the mind stuff are temporarily subdued and the person experiences a state wherein he is oblivious to the external stimuli, happenings, and outer reality. His mind dwells on one reality of internal nature, which other person cannot fathom.

In this state, however, the ego persists which is in a concentrated form. The mind takes the form of that vision and becomes one with that internal reality. This is very subtle experience and cannot be labeled as disease of the mind or psychiatric illness. On the contrary, 'it is through these visions, etc., that the special spiritual knowledge has always been gained.'

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C S Shah

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