Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Odour of Santity

March 14, 2012
The odor of sanctity
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *
In ascetical theology, “the odor of sanctity” has come to mean that fragrance proceeding from the person, clothing, or domicile of a saint during life or after death. The phrase also refers to a reputation for extraordinary holiness of life.
In examining causes for sainthood, postulators have found that saintly men and women have emitted agreeable fragrances such as orange-blossom, cinnamon, musk, and benjamin, or that of the violet and rose. (A. Poulain, The Graces of Interior Prayer, 375).
Smells and Aromas
The sense of smell perceives an agreeable odor, like freshly-brewed coffee, or a foul odor, like rotten food. Attics have a musty odor. Trained dogs are used to follow the scent of a person. The phrase, ‘something smells fishy,’ colloquializes Shakespeare’s line from Hamlet, “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Then that ‘whiff of scandal’ rears its ugly head … somewhere.
Perfumes in Retrospect
Perfume is as old as the origins of man and woman because it is connected with health and psychology. Aromatic substances are mentioned throughout the Bible because they were used for religious (rituals, etc), health (medicinal), personal reasons (pleasure and for cosmetics), and funereal purposes. As for the latter, aromatic scents used by women in the New Testament to reverence the body of Jesus are one example. Some essential oils we know today as aromatherapy, easily recognizable as scented olive oil, lavender, lemon grass, dill, lily, myrrh, cinnamon, cassia (incense), cedar wood, chamomile, citronella, eucalyptus, ginger, and oregano. The Book of Proverbs tells us that “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart . . . ” (Prov 27: 9).
Perfumes and essential oils were staples of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and it was common for people to wear garlands of flowers and to hang fragrant plants indoors to freshen the air within. The Crusaders returning from the Orient introduced to their homelands perfumes such as musk, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and other esoteric and scented oils. Fragrances evoke feelings of wellness, joy, happiness, sensuality, and seduction.
Seduction, Perfume, and the French
In her recent book, La Seduction, Elaine Sciolino, the American New York Times correspondent, has found French life permeated with the “seduction factor,” perhaps France’s unofficial ideology. It permeates virtually all aspects of life: politics and foreign affairs, literature, history, film, advertising, fashion, entertaining, food and wine, and of course, sex. The great French houses of perfume have produced the world’s most famous perfumes: Chanel, Coty, Fragonard, Galmard, Guerlain, and Houbigant. Men buy perfume to remind them of a living or deceased loved one, and it makes present to them that loved one and the memories attached to her (paraphrased from Joseph Roccasalvo, The Odor of Sanctity, 106).
The Making of a Perfume: a Metaphor
To make a perfume, three layers or notes are needed. The top layer is strong in scent but volatile, evaporating quickly. This scent like orchid, lavender, peppermint, and the citrus variety gives off a fresh, assertive, and sharp fragrance. The second layer is also known as the heart or middle notes. Mellow and round, this layer emerges when the top note dissipates. Rosewood, jasmine, rose, hyacinth, and lemon grass are some fragrances included in the heart notes. Finally, the base or ground layer stays the longest on the skin. It is deep and rich and is not perceived until about thirty minutes after the application. Foundational notes may have as their base scents like musk, citrus, sandalwood, vanilla, patchouli, cedar wood, clove, and cinnamon.
The Odor of Sanctity, the Perfume of a Great Religious Order
A religious order gives off its own fragrance too. As soon as one approaches a Benedictine monastery, for example, located far from city life, the senses detect the top note or whiff of what is Benedictine: it is countercultural. Inside its monastery church all is spare, restrained, and stripped of affect and excess. After a period of time living and following the monastic horarium, something of a chemical reaction occurs between its spirit and the human heart–the heart notes take over to support the top layer. Benedictine heart notes, that is, the stuff of what is monastic, blend prayer (ora) silence and solitude, and Gregorian chant, centered on the Eucharistic liturgy, the cycle of the Liturgy of the Hours (lectio divina), and work (labora) in study, letters or science, in the sacred, refining or practical arts, agriculture, or offering hospitality to guests. Living in one place is the monastic base note. This stationery, fixed way of life gives consistency and meaning to its motto, ora et labora, the essence of what it means to be Benedictine. Nuanced differences may be detected from one person to another, but the underlying perfume is singularly monastic. (Ibid) This stable form of life, lived apart from the world’s bustle, laid the roots of western civilization centuries ago. Today, the Benedictine Order remains a great magnet of culture throughout the world.
The Odor of Sanctity, the Perfume of the Christian Vocation
St. Paul links holiness in Christ to the image of a fragrant aroma:
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life (2 Cor 2:14-16).
Mahatma Gandhi relates this fragrance to a rose:
Let your life speak to us even as the rose needs no speech but simply spreads its perfume. Even the blind who do not see the rose perceive its fragrance. That is the secret of the rose. But the Gospel that Jesus preached is much more subtle and fragrant than the gospel of the rose. If the rose needs no agent, much less does the Gospel of Christ need any agent (SK George, “Gandhi and the Church,” published on Gandhi’s 75th birthday, 1944).
The top layer shows the externals of a person, how one presents oneself, his or her style of dress and manner of speaking. The heart notes reveal one’s character, attitudes and actions, what his or her priorities and goals are. At the foundation, the constant of the Christian’s vocation is Christ. He is the corner stone of the Christian vocation from infancy to maturity, from bud to flower to fall. For the Catholic, Christ the head and his Body the Church are inseparable because they form the whole Christ living a human and divine life to build up the kingdom in the world.
In Conclusion ...
Seduction is more ancient than the French connection. In the Hebrew Scriptures, we read of images of seduction, betrothal, and covenant-marriage between the Israelites as Bride and the Lord God as her Bridegroom. Two scriptural passages express these images: (1) “You have seduced me, O Lord, and I have allowed myself to be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed” (Jer 20:7) and (2) “I am going to lure her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her” (Hos 2:16). In Vatican II, the relationship between Christ and his Church is first described with the image of betrothal, Bridegroom and Bride. Christian mystics often couch their imagery in terms Lover and Beloved. They often quote or paraphrase verses from the Song of Songs (2:13, 14b:4-7), such as:
BELOVED: My lover says to me, ‘Come then, my beloved, my lovely one, come.
Let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely.’
LOVER: You are wholly beautiful, my beloved.
The French may claim first prize in the art of perfumery, but the art of seduction belongs first to the Divine Lover.

Ref Catholic New Agency

The Divine Soul or Higher Self

A common theme in the esoteric philosophies of the Middle East (Gnosticism, Manichaeism, Ishraqism, Sufism, etc) is that of the Heavenly Twin, the Angelic Spirit, the Guide of Light.  This theme of the Guide ties in with the idea of the "guardian daimon (angel)" of the Platonic tradition. As Henry Corbin explains:
"...Plotinus (Enneads 3:iv) speaks of the daimon paedros into whose care we are given, and who is the guide of the soul throughout life and beyond death....Apuleius (De Deo Socratis, 16) (deals) with the higher group of daimons to each of whom the care of one human individual is entrusted  and who serves as its witness and guardian...Philo of Alexandria calls the Nous (Divine Intellect) the true man, the man within man...who dwells in the soul of each of us, now as archon (ruler) and king, now of judge...on occasion he plays the part of a witness, sometimes even of a prosecutor..."
 [Henry Corbin, external link The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, pp.34-35]
 What is being referred to here is not an impersonal or transpersonal principle, like the Vedantic Atman or Buddhist Shunyata (Emptiness) or Dharmata (Reality), but rather the Divine Soul or Higher Self. Which is not to deny the impersonal Absolute but simply to say taht this exists as well. This is a principle that is not so much impersonal but super-personal.  It is the True personality, the god within, the indwelling Divine Presence.  As a Personality, it is both a Guide and a "Heavenly Twin".
It could be said that the Higher Self constitutes a definite Personality quite distinct from the everyday personality and ego. The distinction between these two personalities is important, for here we have the  fundamental polarity of the human being (and for that matter, of any evolving being).
On the one hand, there is the everyday personality, derived from the physical body and from the various psychic principles. It is this which constitutes the ego; what we mean when we say "I", and indeed the faculty that does say "I"; the imperfect worldly  being.
On the other hand, there is the Higher Self, the Divine principle, immortal and perfect yet paradoxically still evolving; the Spiritual Guide, the "inner voice", the Divine Presence, the true soul.
And finally the transcendent Higher Self, the being of Light; immortal and eternal, the true self.

note: The following material on the Higher Self is from an email by Arvan Harvat (Thu, 23 Dec 1999) (my hyperlinks added).

Right now, I'm chewing some Sufi stuff ( Ibn Arabi, Kubra, Nasafi,.) on Higher Self. Interesting. Succinctly: looks like it's a, so to speak, Mediterranean tradition ( Greece/Neoplatonism, Iran, Sufism, Kabbalah, Egypt ( ? ),..) of "Man of Light", Heavenly Person who is both "above" & within a heart. Moody's "Being of Light" or Jung's psychogogue or Valentinian's Angel- very anthropomorphic, ( Heavenly Guide, Guardian Angel, daimon, Celestial Twin, Evanescent Youth, Fravashi, Nous, ..), who:
  • leads
  • speaks
  • transfers cleansing energy
  • travels along with you upward
  • heals
  • warns
  • in higher "spheres" miraculously transforms itself into sun/ocean of light which drowns you into recognition of identity.
Eastern traditions have this rather impersonal Atman/Buddha nature/ Hsing/Buddha-in-the-Heart/Clear Light/Shiva ( O.K., he at least is a tad personal ).

In short - a very, very anthropomorphic & operating Higher Self, Great Person who is you ( your Higher Self is not mine, although at the root...).
In Assagiolian parlance: Transpersonal Self is like a wave in the ocean of the Universal Self; or like a sun in the galaxy with great central Sun ).
You ( and I and everyone ) have, this moment, right now, inside or above ( topologically irrelevant ) a (Trans)personal Guide, Watcher who eagerly ( and patiently ) waits for your call or pledge ( not only "spiritual" ). As a Sufi saying goes "You make a one step towards me - I'll make ten towards you".

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Tuesday, 20 May 2014

What Happens After Death? New Theory Suggests Consciousness Moves To Another Universe

after d

A book titled “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the Nature of the Universe“ has stirred up the internet, because it contained a notion that life does not end when the body dies, and it can last forever. The author of this publication, scientist Dr. Robert Lanza who was voted the 3rd most important scientist alive by the NY Times, has no doubts that this is possibl

Beyond Time and Space

Lanza is an expert in regenerative medicine and scientific director of Advanced Cell Technology Company. Before, he had been known for his extensive research which dealt with stem cells, he was also famous for several successful experiments on cloning endangered animal species.
But not so long ago, the scientist became involved with physics, quantum mechanics and astrophysics. This explosive mixture has given birth to the new theory of biocentrism, which the professor has been preaching ever since. Biocentrism teaches that life and consciousness are fundamental to the universe. It is consciousness that creates the material universe, not the other way around.
Lanza points to the structure of the universe itself, and that the laws, forces, and constants of the universe appear to be fine-tuned for life, implying intelligence existed prior to matter. He also claims that space and time are not objects or things, but rather tools of our animal understanding. Lanza says that we carry space and time around with us “like turtles with shells.” meaning that when the shell comes off (space and time), we still exist.
The theory implies that death of consciousness simply does not exist. It only exists as a thought because people identify themselves with their body. They believe that the body is going to perish, sooner or later, thinking their consciousness will disappear too. If the body generates consciousness, then consciousness dies when the body dies. But if the body receives consciousness in the same way that a cable box receives satellite signals, then of course consciousness does not end at the death of the physical vehicle. In fact, consciousness exists outside of constraints of time and space. It is able to be anywhere: in the human body and outside of it. In other words, it is non-local in the same sense that quantum objects are non-local.
Lanza also believes that multiple universes can exist simultaneously. In one universe, the body can be dead. And in another it continues to exist, absorbing consciousness which migrated into this universe. This means that a dead person while traveling through the same tunnel ends up not in hell or in heaven, but in a similar world he or she once inhabited, but this time alive. And so on, infinitely. It’s almost like a cosmic Russian doll afterlife effect.

Multiple Worlds

This hope-instilling, but extremely controversial theory by Lanza has many unwitting supporters, not just mere mortals who want to live forever, but also some well-known scientists. These are the physicists and astrophysicists who tend to agree with existence of parallel worlds and who suggest the possibility of multiple universes. Multiverse (multi-universe) is a so-called scientific concept, which they defend. They believe that no physical laws exist which would prohibit the existence of parallel worlds.
The first one was a science fiction writer H.G. Wells who proclaimed in 1895 in his story “The Door in the Wall. And after 62 years, this idea was developed by Dr. Hugh Everett in his graduate thesis at the Princeton University. It basically posits that at any given moment the universe divides into countless similar instances. And the next moment, these “newborn” universes split in a similar fashion. In some of these worlds you may be present: reading this article in one universe, or watching TV in another.
The triggering factor for these multiplying worlds is our actions, explained Everett. If we make some choices, instantly one universe splits into two with different versions of outcomes.
In the 1980s, Andrei Linde, scientist from the Lebedev’s Institute of physics, developed the theory of multiple universes. He is now a professor at Stanford University. Linde explained: Space consists of many inflating spheres, which give rise to similar spheres, and those, in turn, produce spheres in even greater numbers, and so on to infinity. In the universe, they are spaced apart. They are not aware of each other’s existence. But they represent parts of the same physical universe.
The fact that our universe is not alone is supported by data received from the Planck space telescope. Using the data, scientists have created the most accurate map of the microwave background, the so-called cosmic relic background radiation, which has remained since the inception of our universe. They also found that the universe has a lot of dark recesses represented by some holes and extensive gaps.
Theoretical physicist Laura Mersini-Houghton from the North Carolina University with her colleagues argue: the anomalies of the microwave background exist due to the fact that our universe is influenced by other universes existing nearby. And holes and gaps are a direct result of attacks on us by neighboring universes.


So, there is abundance of places or other universes where our soul could migrate after death, according to the theory of neo-biocentrism. But does the soul exist? Is there any scientific theory of consciousness that could accommodate such a claim? According to Dr. Stuart Hameroff, a near-death experience happens when the quantum information that inhabits the nervous system leaves the body and dissipates into the universe. Contrary to materialistic accounts of consciousness, Dr. Hameroff offers an alternative explanation of consciousness that can perhaps appeal to both the rational scientific mind and personal intuitions.
Consciousness resides, according to Stuart and British physicist Sir Roger Penrose, in the microtubules of the brain cells, which are the primary sites of quantum processing. Upon death, this information is released from your body, meaning that your consciousness goes with it. They have argued that our experience of consciousness is the result of quantum gravity effects in these microtubules, a theory which they dubbed orchestrated objective reduction (Orch-OR).
Consciousness, or at least proto-consciousness is theorized by them to be a fundamental property of the universe, present even at the first moment of the universe during the Big Bang. “In one such scheme proto-conscious experience is a basic property of physical reality accessible to a quantum process associated with brain activity.”
Our souls are in fact constructed from the very fabric of the universe – and may have existed since the beginning of time. Our brains are just receivers and amplifiers for the proto-consciousness that is intrinsic to the fabric of space-time. So is there really a part of your consciousness that is non-material and will live on after the death of your physical body?
Dr Hameroff told the Science Channel’s Through the Wormholedocumentary: “Let’s say the heart stops beating, the blood stops flowing, the microtubules lose their quantum state. The quantum information within the microtubules is not destroyed, it can’t be destroyed, it just distributes and dissipates to the universe at large.” Robert Lanza would add here that not only does it exist in the universe, it exists perhaps in another universe.
If the patient is resuscitated, revived, this quantum information can go back into the microtubules and the patient says “I had a near death experience”‘
He adds: “If they’re not revived, and the patient dies, it’s possible that this quantum information can exist outside the body, perhaps indefinitely, as a soul.”
This account of quantum consciousness explains things like near-death experiences, astral projection, out of body experiences, and even reincarnation without needing to appeal to religious ideology. The energy of your consciousness potentially gets recycled back into a different body at some point, and in the mean time it exists outside of the physical body on some other level of reality, and possibly in another universe.
Robert Lanza on Biocentrism:



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Higher Perspective

H.P. Blavatsy's Cosmology - planes within planes

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by Alan Kazlev

Madame Blavatsky's cosmology is nothing if not elaborate.  As with her cycles and subcycles of cosmic evolution, she has planes and subplanes of being, a fractal ontological spectrum of innumerable divisions, comparable to the elaborate theosophies of Gnosticism and Kabbalah, but actually deriving from the "Cosmic philosophy" and classifications of Max Theon.

This involves
The most complete diagrammatic representation of this cosmology occurs not in The Secret Doctrine or any of her other important works, but in a collection of notes on some of her lectures [see "Notes on Some Oral Teachings", appended to the back of vol. 5 of the 1971 Adyar Edition of The Secret Doctrine; pp.524ff (Link to Amazon com Amazon link here; i'm not sure if the pagination is the same).  As unfortunately seems to be the case with a number of occult and spiritual teachers (and perhaps philosophers in general), in their short accounts of things they are extremely clear, but once they start writing things in book form the whole thing becomes lost in a tangle of words.

The Kosmic Planes

The seven "Kosmic Planes" and states of Kosmic consciousness H. P. Blavatsky's original diagram are represented as follows:
cosmic consciousness
The first three planes of ineffable Absolute, the Alaya (unmanifest), and (for the 5th Kosmic Plane) Mahat (Logos) and Mulaprakriti (Root-Substance), are not labelled here, for as she explains:
 "Believing in seven planes of Kosmic being and states of Consciousness, with regard to the Universe or the Macrocosm we stop at the fourth plane, finding it impossible to go with any degree of certainty beyond..."
[The Key to Theosophy p.90]
Hence the following account of the first three planes and higher principles is speculative, and purely by analogy with the corresponding processes on the lower planes.  Interestingly the Neoplatonist Proclus used a similar approach when describing his "unknown Gods" (henads).
Either as the seventh Kosmic Plane, or perhaps beyond all of the primary planes is the level of the Parabrahm or Parabrahman, there is "the One Reality, the Absolute, the field of Absolute Consciousness" [The Concise Secret Doctrine p.11].  In other words, the unmanifest Absolute Reality.  This manifests first as the impersonal and unmanifest Logos [Ibid, p.12], the Alaya (the universal "store-consciousness" of Yogachara), the "soul of the world" or "the Over-Soul" (Emerson) which "though eternal and changeless in its inner essence...alters during the active life-period with respect to the lower planes, ours included" [Ibid. p.26].  This would seem to be the 6th Kosmic [using here Blavatsky's preferred spelling] Plane, the Unconscious Godhead.
"Once we pass...from this (to us) Absolute Negation, duality supervenes in the contrast of Spirit (or consciousness) and Matter, Subject and Object."  Spirit and Matter are not independent realities, but "the two facets or aspects of the Absolute," which are the basis of conditioned subjective and objective being [Ibid p.11].
From "this metaphysical triad as the Root" of "all manifestation, the great Breath assumes the character of (Cosmic or) pre-cosmic Ideation", the "Divine Thought", Mahat, the origin and "root of all individual consciousness", and "the guiding intelligence in the vast scheme of cosmic Evolution."  This is the 5th Kosmic Plane.  The other aspect of the Absolute becomes the Cosmic or Pre-cosmic Root-substance or Mulaprakriti, "the substratum of matter in the various grades of its differentiation", and a term taken from Indian Samkya.
These two are dependent on each other, in that "apart from Cosmic Substance, Cosmic Ideation could not manifest as individual consciousness" a physical basis or vehicle (upadhi) being necessary for self-consciousness.  And "apart from Cosmic Ideation, Cosmic Substance would remain an empty abstraction." [Ibid pp.11-12].  This is of course pure Tantra (the polarity of Shiva and Shakti).
Blavatsky however suggests a third principle which in this context, to my knowledge is not part of the Tantric or Indian tradition (despite her and subsequent theosophists claim to the contrary), linking these two elements together.  This is Fohat, the "dynamic energy of Cosmic Ideation," "the "bridge" by which Ideas existing in the "Divine Thought" are impressed on Cosmic Substance as the "laws of nature"."  Although this would seem to be at least partially equivalent to the general Tantric term of Shakti, the power of manifestation, a better equivalent would be the Holy Spirit of esoteric Christians like Jacob Boehme.
In Blavatsky's schema, Fohat is located on the 4th Kosmic Plane.  Through the medium of Fohat, the "Divine Thought" is "transmitted and made manifest through the Dhyan Chohans, the Architects of the visible World." [Ibid p.12].  The Fourth Kosmic Plane is the highest of which any certain knowledge is possible, the upper three (as stated previously) being ineffable [The Key to Theosophy p.90], "the Divine and Formless World of Spirit" [An Abridgement of the Secret Doctrine, p.94]
Kosmic Plane number three is defined as Kosmic Life or Jiva-Fohat; this would presumably be the level at which the first spiritual essences or individualities, the Jivas or Manads, appear, and a scaled down version of the Fourth or Fohat Plane.
The following, Second Kosmic Plane, called the "Kosmic Astral", is a transitional stage between the higher cosmic-divine planes, and the lowest or "Prakritic" plane.

Planes within Planes

Madame Blavatsky presents a diagram showing the representation of the planes and subplanes as follows:
cosmic planes
Again, the ineffable higher planes are not shown here. It also has to be pointed out that each of the Kosmic planes should properly be drawn as the same size. The lowest or prakritic (first kosmic) plane is only shown larger in order to represent the subplanes within it.
This diagram, like much of Blavatsky's cosmology, is actually based on Theon's representation of planes and subplanes, and many of the terms are directly equivalent. the difference is that Theon taught in French, and used a jargon in that language (albeit, as Mirra reported, a "barbarous" French), whereas Blavatsky drew from Sanskrit, a language much more amenable to metaphysical cosmology. Nevertheless H. P. Blavatsky's application of Vedantic terms is used for states of consciousness quite unrelated to those of original Vedanta, Samkhya, and Mahayana Buddhism (popular opinions to the contrary notwithstanding).
This can be shown in the following table:
Max TheonH. P. Blavatsky
The Cause without Cause Parabrahman
1st World - Occultisms (beyond attainment of humanity at present) 7th Kosmic Plane
6th Kosmic Plane - Alaya - or Oversoul (unmanifest)
5th Kosmic Plane - "Divine Thought" or Mahat
2nd World - Pathotisms 4th Kosmic Plane - Fohat and Kosmic Kama-Manas
3rd Kosmic Plane - Kosmic Life or Pranic Kama
2nd Kosmic Plane - Kosmic Astral
3rd World - Etherisms
4th Veil 7th Prakritic Plane (auric envelope)
4th World - Materialisms
consisting of 7 or 8 subplanes
1st Kosmic Plane - Prakriti - Kosmic Body
consisting of 6 Prakritic planes plus auric envelope
As H. B. Blavatsky's writings and ideas were progressively adapted and modified by her successors like the Adyar Theosophists, Rudolph Steiner, Alice Bailey, and others, the original meaning became progressively modified and simplified.

The Seven Prakritic Planes

As with all the planes, the First or lowest Kosmic Plane, the Terrestrial or Prakritic - "Prakriti" being the Indian term for psycho-physical substance - which includes the various physical, psychic, and spiritual levels, is in turn divided into seven planes; the highest being unknowable and hence unspecified. Theon's term for these planes was "Materialisms", but "Prakriti" is more appropriate, since prakriti can include all phenomenal reality, including mind and intellect, and not just matter.
For Blavatsky, the above seven Prakritic planes (sub-divisions of the First Kosmic or Prakritic Plane) are the sphere of evolution of all the solar systems [Link to Amazon com SD, vol V p.529]. Sri Aurobindo used the term "terrestrial evolution", and this is partially equivalent (but not completely, as for Auroibindo and Mirra it only encompassed the Earth)

  6th, or Alayic-Prakritic
  5th, or Mahatic
  4th, or Fohatic
  3rd, or Jaivic
  2nd, or Astral
  1st, or Objective  (Terrestrial)

The same pattern of Kosmic planes is repeated on a lower scale. Hence we have here what Gurdjieff termed "octaves": each plane is divided into a similar series of subplanes, and so on. This is a common theme throughout much of Western esoteric thought, beginning with Kabbalah but especially being popularised by Theosophy.
The higher six of the prakritic planes are not described, although, in keeping with the law of correspondences that is central to Blavatsky's cosmology, the upper three would be planes of formless Spirit, and the lower four more material in nature.  The lowest of these, the Objective or Terrestrial or First Prakritic plane (counting from below), includes the phenomena with which we are the most familiar, including the seven principles of man.

The Seven Terrestrial Planes

The lowest of the Seven Prakritic planes, the Objective or Terrestrial or First Prakritic plane (counting from below), includes the phenomena with which we are the most familiar, including the seven principles of man.  The seven planes here are as follows [p.525]:

7. Para-Ego or Atmic
6. Inner-Egoic or Buddhic
5. Ego-Manas
4. Kama-Manas or Lower Manas
3. Pranic Kama or Psychic (instinct)
2.Astral   (things are reversed)
1. Objective  (plane of the senses)

Each of these is of course sub-divided into seven.  Only with three of the planes are the subdivisions specified.
1. Objective
2. Astral
4. Kama-Manas

The Objective Plane

In H. P. Blavatsky's formulation he objective or sensuous plane these are as follows [Link to Amazon com SD, vol V p.525]:
7. x
6. Spiritual-emotional
5. Mental-emotional
4. Passional-emotional
3. Physiological-emotional
2. Instinctual
1. Sensuous

These terms pretty much speak for themselves.  The first three represent consciousness tied up with the body, and can be compared with divisions of somatic consciousness in Gurdjeff and Aurobindo.  The following represent lower emotional body subdivisions.  Strangely there is no mental body represented here (only the mental emotional). So:
Sri Aurobindo
7. x??
6. Spiritual -emotional??
5. Mental
part of Emotional Centre
4. Passional
Emotional part of Emotional CentreCentral Vital
3.Physiological- emotionalMoving part of Emotional Centre Physical Vital
2. InstinctualInstinctual CentrePhysical
1. SensuousMovingPhysical

The Astral plane

With regard to the second, or Astral plane, regarding which, as is indicated previously, phenomena are reversed or inverted [p.526], the seven divisions are listed as follows:
The description regarding these subdivisions is the most detailed of all the planes mentioned here, and can be quoted in full:
  "With regard to the first division of the second [Astral] plane...all seen on it must be reversed in translating it, e.g. with numbers which appeared backwards.  [It] corresponds in everything to the Terrestrial Objective.
The second division corresponds to the second of the (Terrestrial)... plane, but the objects are of extreme tenuity, an astralised Astral.  This plane is the limit of the ordinary medium...A non-mediumistic person to reach it must be asleep or in a trance, or under the influence of laughing gas; or in ordinary delirium...
The third, the Pranic, is of an intensely vivid nature.  Extreme delirium carries the patient to this plane.  In delirium tremens the sufferer passes to this and to the one above it.  Lunatics are often conscious on this plane, where they see terrible visions.  It runs to the fourth division, the worst of the astral planes, Kamic and terrible.  Here come the images that tempt; images of drunkards in Kama Loka impelling others to drink; images of all vices inoculating men with the desire to commit crimes.  The weak imitate these images in a kind of monkeyish fashion, so falling under their influence.  This is also the cause of epidemics of vices, and cycles of disaster, of accidents of all kinds coming in groups...
The fifth division is that of premonition in dreams, of reflections from the lower mentality, glimpses into past and future, the plane of things mental and not spiritual.  The mesmerized clairvoyant can reach this place...
The sixth is the plane from which come all beautiful inspirations of art, poetry, and music; high types of dreams, flashes of genius.  Here we have glimpses of past lives, without being able to locate or analyse them.
We are on the seventh plane in the moment of death or in exceptional visions.  The drowning man is here when he remembers his past life.  The memory of events on this plane must be centred in the heart, "the seat of Buddha"...."

[Link to Amazon com SD, vol V pp.526-527]
Here then we see a progression from quasi-physical to terrifying to increasingly spiritual.  This was a theme retained by Leadbeater in his detailed and possibly Spiritualistically based descriptions of post-mortem existence and the ascent through the planes.
The nature of the third and fourth astral planes is also interesting.  Most subsequent occult, theosophical, and New Age writers and teachers seem to refer to a "lower astral plane" which is the source of negative psychic phenomena, much like the sort of things Madame Blavatsky describes.  Yet there is no reason to attribute the belief in the existence of this negative psychic zone solely to Blavatsky's teachings, as practically all pre-scientistic societies professed a belief in the existence of "evil spirits" and negative psychic forces (a surviving southern European example, denagrated as "superstition", is the belief in the "evil eye").  A study of folklore would uncover many examples of spells, charms, etc for the purpose of warding off such evil influences.  But whereas materialism dismisses such things as "superstition", true occultism acknowledges all planes of existence as valid, negative as well as positive, each with its place in the overall scheme of things.


After the detail of the Astral plane, it is disappointing that (at least in the surviving notes) Blavatsky neglects to describe the other five "Terrestrial" planes.  However, reference is made to "consciousness proper" which begins between Kama (Fourth plane) and Manas (5th plane) [p.530].  This is divided into six categories (again, the first principle, presumably representing the Absolute, is left unmentioned): Objective, Astral, Kama-Pranic, Kama-Manasic, Manasic, and Buddhic Consciousness [Link to Amazon com The Secret Doctrine, Adyar Edition, vol V pp.530-532].  The Kama-Manasic Consciousness is divided into seven degrees, presumably representing the seven sub-planes of the Kama-Manasic plane:
 "The instinctual consciousness of animals and idiots in its lower degrees, the planes of sensation; in man these are rationalised....The highest the psychic.  Thus there are seven degrees from the instinctual animal to the rationalised instinctual and psychic" [Ibid, p.531].
Pervading through the various planes is what Blavatsky elsewhere terms (following Eliphas Levi) the Astral Light.

Summing Up

The cosmic vision of Planes beyond Planes presented here emphasises the tremendous vastness of manifested reality.  It recalls the Hellenistic Gnostic theme of innumerable orders of Aeons (Worlds and Deities) between the unmanifest Source and the Created Cosmos (Blavatsky's 1st (lowest) Prakritic plane).  Yet there is a danger here because the planes are listed, but all the details and sub-divisions are poorly related, if at all.  So the whole thing is not very workable.  It is all very well to talk about planes and Kosmic Planes, but unless these levels can be related with something specific - particular states of consciousness, or hierarchies of spiritual beings, for example - they become meaningless.  This seems to be the problem with the six higher prakritic planes for example.
Yet in spite of these limitations, Blavatsky's cosmological sequence of planes is still quite comprehensive, and represents a valid parallel of the Tradition received and formulated by the Theons. Especially in conjunction with the Qabalistic order of sefirot, can be used to help identify various levels of reality at the Prakritic level.

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Planes of Existence - methodological considerations

by Alan  Kazlev

Planes of Copnsciousness according to Alice Bailey
"Kosmic Physical" Planes of Existence according to Alice Bailey

Varying methodologies

In tabulating different esoteric cosmic teachings, there is always a danger of putting things in a simplistic and procrustean straightjacket (this in fact is one of the shortcomings of indeed any grand synthesis - e.g. Hegel and his triads, Blavatsky and her seven planes, rounds, etc, or Wilber with his linear levels and 4 quadrants). The correspondences given here should therefore not be taken in any way as dogmatic or conclusive. I am not trying to build a fixed and rigid system; indeed any such attempt is doomed to failure.
That said, it seems that there are several distinct but overlapping methodologies that esoteric cosmologists tend to use. These might be called the psychological, the mystical, and the occult methodologies. It is important not to make too sharp a distinction between them; sometimes they are just teh same reality described from different perspoectives.
The first maps the inner levels of consciousness in terms of realities that can be understood in psychological states. Above is the rational or mental self. Above that are levels of higher intuition and superconsciousness, while below one finds the layers representing the irrational (orectic/emotional) psyche and the phsyical body. This distinction between irartional and rational soul seems to be ubiquitious in esotericism since at least the time of Plato and Aristotle. Plotinus added a third gradation, the noetic soul, which is above the rational.
A detailed psychological approach is taken by Buddhism, which distinguishes between the higher (corersponding to the mental) form and formless realms, and the lower (representing the orectic and physical) desire realms. All in all, there are 31 lokas are each associated with specific psychological and meditative states. Here it seems that the psychological element is primarary, and that the mythological and cosmological was used as a sort of elaboration upon or interpretation of that.
More metaphysical in approach is the idea of series or gradation of distinct levels of self. The earleist example of this is the Taittiriya Upanishad, with the series "food" (body), prana (vitality), manas (mind), vijnana (gnosis), and ananda (bliss, representing Brahman, the Absolute). This had a big influence on Advaita Vedanta and later Yoga Psychology , although the interpretations of, say, Shankara and Sri Aurobindo, are light years apart regarding this.
A parallel series is found in the classical West in Middle Platonism, the Corpus Hermetica (matter - vital spirit (pneuma) - psyche - divine mind (nous)), and Neoplatonism (matter (hyle) - irrational, rational, and noetic psyche - nous - Absolute). One might say that the psyche is the same as the manas, and the nous as the vijnana (or the noetic psyche as the Shankaran vijnana kosha). All of this leads also of course to the idea of subtle bodies.
More theosophical, cosmological or cosmotheological mysticism uses original gnostic revelation or at least comparitive esoteric study to intuite the universe or macrocosm as a whole, and relates individual levels of consciousness to that. It maps the levels or planes or hypostases in terms of realities in terms of a universal, objective unfolding. Generally there is a common esoteric and gnostic theme of the perennial philosophy, there is a series of subtle planes or universes which emanate from the Supreme Absolute and progress through increasing degrees of density and materialisation, culminating in the physical universe. While reference is also made to subtle bodies and soul-levels, these are elaborated with much less attention to detail than the overall cosmology or cosmotheology. In Later Neoplatonism (Iamblichus, Proclus, etc), Gnosticism, Kabbalah, and the Theosophy of Blavatsky, we find elaborate detailed consideration of planes of existence, gods, angelological powers, and so on.
Finally, there is the occult methodology of leaving the physical body for a while (soul travel, astral travel, out of body experience) and exploring the various realms and planes of existence that one encounters. Examples here are original Shamanism, soul ascension in Gnosticism, Kabbalah, etc, the occult researches of Max and Alma Theon, Radhasoami and Eckanker soul travel, and modern day astral travellers and OOBE research (Robert Monroe etc). Esoteric cosmologists of this sort may describe the various worlds, universes, or pleromas can be recognised by the particular colours (Theon) or light and sounds (Sabda Surat Yoga / Sant Mat), or magical beings (Hermetic Kabbalah - e.g. Golden Dawn) native to each. Perhaps such an experiential phenomenological approach can lay the foundation for a truely universal and empircal esoteric science.
Fortunately it is possible to combine all of these approaches, and to see the levels or bands of the former as referring to the microcosmic equivalent of the pleromas or universes of the latter (indeed such equivalence plays an important part in Lurianic Kabbalah (e.g. Jacob's Ladder and the ascent of the Soul) and is specifically mentioned by Mirra Alfassa/The Mother (ref xxxx) and in post-Blavatsky theosophical diagrams of C.W. Leadbeater and Alice Bailey (example of the latter at the top of this page), as well as the psychological terminology Theon (who was Mirra's teacher in occultism) used for the lower four cosmic levels.
This gives (Theon, Leadbeater, Mirra, New Age) the equivalence of the emotional or desire nature (called the Nervous by Theon and the Vital by Mirra) with the "Astral Plane", and therefore the rational psyche or mind with the next universe up, and the life force principle or prana with an "Etheric plane" that is lies between the physical and the Astral (re this latter see Steiner - Occult Science and elsewhere - and the Leadbeater and Bailey cosmic diagrams). In this was one can equate the visionary universe with specific psychological strata (in addition to phenomena native to that universe)

Gradations of Planes versus Levels of Self

The series of Planes of Existence and Planes of Consciousness should not be confused with the "Concentric" "inner-outer" (or depth-surface, figure-ground, subliminal-conscious) sequence. Both refer to gradations of prakriti, but they are distinct axiis of being, although they are invariably confused by those traditions that recognise only a single parameter. Self and Non-self is another parameter that is confused - in fact there are a gradation of Selves, just as there is a gradation of Planes, just as there is a gradation of "layers" of subconsciousness ("inner") and of planes or worlds ("vertical"). One reason esotericisma nd occultism has trouble arriving at a consistent Map of Reality of any complexity beyond the basic "perennial philosophy" is because these different parameters keep getting confused (the Theosphical diagram at the upper left of this page is a typical example of this reduction to a single parameter). And this is to say nothing of spiritual states like nirvana and liberation which are usually placed at the top of the hierarchy or holarchy (e.g. Da Free John, Ken Wilber), but as Sri Aurobindo explains is actually a sort of side-movement.

Practical Considerations

The Kabbalists, and following them Theon and Blavatsky (and from her the whole Theosophical and ex-Theosophical (Steiner, Bailey) tradition), understand reality as in a sense "fractal", in that each plane or universe or division of reality itself contains a full complement of planes, and so on. (Gurdjieff also said the same thing, according to Ouspensky (In Search of the Miraculous), he probably also got it from Blavatsky ). So, the implication is (and this is especially evident in Theon's diagram and Blavatsky's concept of "kosmic planes"), much more so than in the later theosophical and post-theosophical diagrams) that the psychological attributes may correspond to lower recursions rather than the original larger universes in themselves.
Thus, it is easier to understand those sub-planes or bands that are "closer to" the objective physical, and make up our ordinary surface being (what Sri Aurobindo calls the Outer Being), then it is to understand the larger and more visionary, pure supraphysical realities. This should be taken into consideration when drawing up any tabulation or map of universes or pleromas or levels or worlds of occult consciousness and super-consciousness.

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Oliver Hockenhull, Neurons to Nirvana


Interview with filmmaker Oliver Hockenhull about the resurgence of psychedelics as medicine, and his film Neurons to Nirvana.
n-to-n2Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Oliver Hockenhull, director of, Neurons to Nirvana. During the interview Hockenhull explores the links between psychedelics and consciousness:
Alex Tsakiris: So status quo scientists, mind=brain scientists would have expected that if you ingest psilocybin it’s going to go fire off your brain like crazy and that’s why you’re going to have these amazing experiences and these emotions attached to it. And then Dr. David Nutt does this work and he gives people psilocybin and they go into the fMRI and they see that just the opposite is happening. The brain isn’t firing, these areas are dampened and suppressed, which completely supports this other model that this consciousness is flowing in and what the brain is doing is kind of regulating it. If you turn that regulator down you get a full dose of this consciousness and that’s what it means to be tripping on psilocybin, right?
Oliver Hockenhull: Well yeah, I think this also comes back to Aldous Huxley’s proposition that the mind or the brain is a dampening device. Now, it is basically designed for survival usage so that you can’t be open to everything when you have to make sure that you can catch a particular fish or whatever it may be. So you’re not open to the buzz and confusion, the endless amount of information that is accessible to you because it wouldn’t be of survival benefit. At the same time, these peak experiences of experiencing all, if you will, or the mystical experience, is also extremely important for our survival in terms of erasing the importance and the intoxication of the individual as compared to the group. So if we become more associated with group consciousness, with the consciousness of all our relations, as the native people say, that we’re all connected to the plants, to the water, to the animals, to each other. Then we see each other as brothers. So it is a mystical experience. We are talking about an experience that places us within an associative web of life itself.

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Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Oliver Hockenhull to Skeptiko. Oliver is a documentary filmmaker who has created Neurons to Nirvana: Understanding Psychedelic Medicines, a movie about the use of and issues surrounding using psychedelics as medicine. Oliver, this ought to be a very interesting dialogue.  Thanks so much for joining me on Skeptiko.
Oliver Hockenhull: Well, thank you very much, Alex, for inviting me. I just want to introduce the film by suggesting that, or by letting people know, that when you make a film that there are a lot of people involved. So I can’t take full responsibility for it. I mean, I do take full responsibility for the film but there are so many talents that were involved with making this, including the musicians, the cinematographer, the executive producers, and so on. So it’s a long process to make a film like this, three or four years, with numerous people and people that I forget about and then I remember and go, ‘Wow, that person contributed quite a bit to it.’ It’s just endless really, it’s quite a process.
Alex Tsakiris: Great, well I’m glad you got that out there and I think folks will appreciate that even more if they watch the film, more so because it kind of speaks to the quality of the film a bit. There are a lot of people out there, especially nowadays who make “documentary films” and some of them are okay – they are kind of one-man band kind of things, and they look like it. This is just the opposite in terms of its look. It looks like a very well made film, and it is. It is engaging, it is entertaining, and the content for anyone who is even remotely interested in these topics, that is psychedelics and the edgy use of psychedelic medicine and how it fits into society, what it might need in a broader sense, I can’t recommend the movie highly enough. It’s just really well done. So congratulations on that and tell us a little bit more about this film – really three to four years in the making, what drove you to make it?
Oliver Hockenhull: Well it began when I was talking to Mark Achbar. Mark is the director of The Corporation, probably a film that many of your listeners might know about – a very successful documentary. And we talked about what would be the next film that we could get involved with. And I felt that the issue of psychedelic medicine, since that’s what we’re dealing with, these substances as medicines, would be the most viable film in terms of releasing suffering and in terms of addressing suffering in the world. Because of the development in current research that is taking place with psychedelics we felt that these things really needed to come out more. We really felt that the research, the science, the medicine that is taking place now and that took place very heavily in the ‘60s as well needed to be revisited.
Alex Tsakiris: Great, well once again it is a really great movie. But as we talked about in our email exchange my interest for the most part lies, if you will, on the topics that lie just on the other side of where that movie leaves off. And that’s not quite accurate because your movie does dip into and touch on some of these issues of consciousness, extended human consciousness, where that might lead, how this might challenge some of the paradigms that we have. But it really stays true to the title and it focuses on the medical, pharmalogical issues around the use of this. So the approach I really want to take in this interview, and I hope you’re okay with it and from our email exchange I think you are – it is really honing in on two questions. What do psychedelics tell us about consciousness? And number two, what are the social and political implications of question number one? That is, how might we explain this war on drugs issue that you kind of touch on in the film? We do come to a different understanding about consciousness.
So let me back up there and start with question one. What does Neurons to Nirvana tell us? What are your conclusions about the nature of consciousness? What do we know about it from our understanding of how psychedelics work?
Oliver Hockenhull: This is of course the key question and even though you’re very much correct, that this is an underlying stream, if you will, or the hidden stream that’s involved in the peace and dealing with consciousness itself. So what psychedelics do, from my understanding of what some of the researchers have come up with, both in terms of these experiential experiences of the people who take psychedelics as well as the neurological research. And we’re talking about people from Johns Hopkins, people from Purdue University – well-known, well-established, accomplished neuropsychopharmacologists, people who have been working in the field for 30, 40 years. And they’re telling me that what these things can do is allow for the perception of our unity with all of life.
Alex Tsakiris: But let’s hone in on that for a minute. Because as you have mentioned, the film features some very top notch researchers who are talking about peer-reviewed research that has been done under the best controls, published in top journals and all that stuff. Talk about David Nutt, if you will a little bit. He is featured in the film, very highly regarded. What is he, a psychologist? Or he is really an MD in the UK.
Oliver Hockenhull: Yeah, David is a neurophysiologist, a neuropsychopharmacologist. Again, he is very well-established. He was a head of the UK drug research institute. I can’t remember the exact title of it as a physician. But anyway, highly regarded individual. In his work with understanding psilocybin under MRI conditions revealed that certain areas of the brain dealing with identity issues -
Alex Tsakiris: Let me jump in there, and tell me if I’m wrong, but what’s amazing about his research is it’s completely counterintuitive in that there are two sides to this debate about what consciousness is. One is this idea that consciousness is purely a product of the brain and your brain produces consciousness, and it just kind of secretes it out and there you go. And there’s this other model that’s less popular but really has some intellectual force behind it. It’s as though conscious is more like something that’s out there and your brain is this transceiver that brings it in. So people would have expected the kind of status quo, mind equals brain, scientists would have expected hey, if you ingest psilocybin it’s going to go fire off your brain like crazy and that’s why you’re going to have these amazing experiences and these emotions attached to it. We know what that’s like, that’s a brain that’s just firing off like crazy. And Nutt does this work and he gives people psilocybin and they go into the fMRI and they see just the opposite is happening. The brain isn’t firing, these areas are dampened and suppressed, which completely supports this other model that this consciousness is flowing in and what the brain is doing is kind of regulating it. If you turn that regulator down you get a full dose of this consciousness and that’s what it means to be tripping on psilocybin. Now, I don’t know which side is right but that’s kind of where the debate has wound up, right?
Oliver Hockenhull: Well yeah, I think this also comes back to our reveals or refreshes – Aldous Huxley’s proposition that the mind or the brain is a dampening device. Now, it is basically designed for survival usage so that you can’t be open to everything when you have to make sure that you can catch a particular fish or whatever it may be. So you’re not open to the buzz and confusion, the endless amount of information that is accessible to you because it wouldn’t be of survival benefit. At the same time, these peak experiences of experiencing all, if you will, or the mystical experience, is also extremely important for our survival in terms of erasing the importance and the intoxication of the individual as compared to the group. So if we become more associated with group consciousness, with the consciousness of all our relations, as the native people say, that we’re all connected to the plants, to the water, to the animals, to each other. Then we see each other as brothers. So it is a mystical experience. We are talking about an experience that places us within an associative web of life itself.
Alex Tsakiris: Fascinating. That’s really interesting, I hadn’t quite thought of it in exactly that way. Tell me this – from your work and from what we find in the movie, how would you say the researchers you talk to are divided on this issue? You said something there that’s really kind of neat and I can really kind of wrap my arms around it – your movie doesn’t come across as being that much in the camp of the expanded view of consciousness. And that’s not a negative, it just says you’re kind of just reporting the research and it’s kind of coming through as hey, we’re not sure this is it but we definitely need to use this as medicine. Tell me how you suss that out in your own way, this step that we take initially to say okay, there are some therapeutic medical advantages to this we must seize right away and then this broader implication kind of idea that you have.
Oliver Hockenhull: I approach this film in terms of relieving my own suffering and to attempt to assist in the relieving of the suffering of others. Now, in some ways as an example when we talk about something like MDMA, it is being abused by many, many people. At the same time, it can be used very potently within a therapeutic setting that would allow people to touch into their own heart. Now, how does it do that? Scientifically it is revealed, as an example, that it relieves certain kinds of tension within the amygdala, which is a center in the brain that deals with emotional trauma, right? That area in the brain has that and it will be marked in terms of post-traumatic stress disorder. And in some ways if you really look at our society you can see that all of us have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. When I was growing up nuclear bombs were about to drop all the time, right? I lived through the cold war. So there is a kind of continuum of trauma that we have all experienced and there are medicines out there that will connect us profoundly to who we are, to the heart within us, relieve fear. Fear in the Indian tradition is when there is a quote or a line in the Hindu scriptures that suggests that when there is another, that is when fear begins. And I think that is something that in our society promotes so importantly the idea of the individual as compared to our relationships and the importance of our care for one another is quite prominent in our society.
Alex Tsakiris: Great, so what I hear you saying Oliver and this then syncs up with what I saw in the movie is you can be agnostic, if you will, about this issue of consciousness and still approach and say gee, there’s all these people who are suffering – for example, in the United States. There are so many people who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after their tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and all these other “wars.” And we can purely approach it if we want from a materialistic, brain-based standpoint and say here’s this drug, MDMA, ecstasy, and they are given in the proper controlled clinical therapeutic environment. It just seems to be efficacious for the result that we’ve been trying to get for these people all along in that we want to help them move on with their life and integrate in these traumas that they have had. And we don’t have to go any further than to just look at doesn’t that work and shouldn’t we make that available to people.
Oliver Hockenhull: Yeah, absolutely. It is that practical. It is a practical film in that way and I am very happy that it is in that direction. At the same time there are moments within the film that either through visuals or through narration explicate this issue of consciousness and where it is heading.
Alex Tsakiris: Well let’s jump from there then to question number two because I feel the little dialogue we have had so far kind of plays out this story and in my mind it is a fascinating issue. It was like okay, so we don’t have to go there in order to see that some of the laws and regulations we have surrounding the use of these important medicines are antiquated, are really injuring people or not helping people that could be helped. So we can get there through your film. But then don’t we have to ask the second part of that question, which is why is it like that? Is there another reason that we have to consider the maybe why these laws are the way they are? Why this culture of war on drugs and your consciousness needs to be controlled, and all the rest of that? Why we have gone down that path. I am sure you have thought about that a lot personally. I don’t know that your film addresses it directly but I would be really curious as to what you think about that. Do you think there is an underlying motive, either directly or indirectly, in our culture’s war on drugs?
Oliver Hockenhull: Well, I appreciate what you’re saying here and I agree with you. I do think that it is mostly indirected and it has to do with fear again. It has to do with fear of one’s own mind. And even if we were to look at this idea of the conservative brain and the liberal brain, there has been some discussion and research in that direction. And it suggests that certain brain structures are not willing to take any risk in their own lives. They are not willing to expand outside of their framework, so the more creative – and clearly as a society we need to be more creative and we need to embrace each other and our own creativity – these substances again, positioned properly within a cultural tradition that respects what these states of mind are about, and what they can give to us, and what they mean, these things can be powerful allies. Now, what’s happened in the past and what’s happening now is that this war on drugs relates to a kind of oppression and suppression of the possibilities of consciousness itself. People in power, people who it’s a bad thing to allow the kids to have all the colors and have all the colored pencils in front of them. It is a way of control, it’s a way of disallowing the possibilities of one’s own mind.
At the same time I understand why that has happened in the past because people can abuse these things, and it’s true they can, but they can abuse anything. They are very powerful medicines. We should be looking to cultures as examples of Native American culture, who have been using peyote for 5,000 years. When they do it in ceremony it is very much a gathering that is very sacred, that respects everyone, that deals with these issues but in a very elegant and complete manner. So how do you deal with these ultimate states of consciousness? If you do it without respect then you’re just entertaining yourself. And people do that too, which is kind of unfortunate. Because even though I think that it’s fine to engage occasionally in a less-than-ceremonial setting, I think if you’re going to fully benefit from the experience it should be within community and within a support structure that recognizes the potential, the symbols, the metaphors, the mythic level of consciousness that one gets into with these substances and navigates all of that.
Alex Tsakiris: I agree with that. At the same time what I appreciated about your movie is your movie doesn’t say that as much, or doesn’t say that directly. Instead, it says something I think very powerful in that let’s start with the therapeutic model as a way of understanding how we might integrate that in and then we have therapists who come out and say, “The use of this drug is all about setting, it’s all about context, as well as it’s about the biochemical reaction. And I think that speaks to some of the issues that you are talking about and does it in a really pragmatic medical way that everyone can understand and feel comfortable with.
Oliver Hockenhull: Great, yes. I think that is true. I think that we have managed to do that. And again, I really want to emphasize the importance of all the people that were involved with the film and give them thanks and gratitude.
Alex Tsakiris: Let me circle back, if I can Oliver, to a little bit more on the political side and social side because I think we’re kind of coming at this from a very similar way and you kind of crept up there and said, “Hey, if you really were interested in controlling large masses of people and you were interested in controlling them for the reason that you wanted to protect them and at the same time protect your own interests, then it is not really in your interests to have people run out there and explore their individual or group consciousness. You would really prefer to have them kind of more in this fear-based, consumer-based mode. That’s much more malleable. And at the same time what you would do – again, I would suggest it was exactly what we’ve seen. You would want to take those medicines yourself and explore how to use those, how to weaponize those. And you might want to do something like project MK Ultra and give them to people under the worst conditions and the worst context and try and really warp the brain and twist the brain and see what you want to do. I mean, don’t we have to face that it what we would expect a government to do, a controlling entity to do, and that’s the best evidence we have for exactly what has happened.
Oliver Hockenhull: Yeah, I think some of your listeners may be interested in Jay Stevens LSD and the American Dream, and it’s called Storming Heaven. It’s an excellent book about psychedelics during the ‘60s and the involvement of the CIA and so on. It’s a fascinating read and I do believe yes, that some aspects of what you’re saying I certainly agree with. I think at the same time it’s important for us to not be too conspiratorial about this, in my opinion. There is such a flexibility as an example with maleability in this whole world, if you will. So even though I do believe that there is a number of people that were involved with LSD in the CIA, who became a little bit different than the rest of their fellow workers because of their experiences. So I don’t have any examples in front of me, but they got turned on and probably dropped out as well. It’s not all black and white.
Alex Tsakiris: Sure, certainly. And again, your movie is evidence of that in that you see all these folks who have a sincere interest in helping people. As you said, we’re leaving suffering and I think that’s just a wonderful place to start because we can certainly build consensus around that and build consensus around the medical use of these drugs. Which one of these drugs, these substances, did you learn the most about in terms of making this movie and the medical uses of it?
Oliver Hockenhull: That’s a difficult question. It’s actually impossible to answer because they are each unique in their own way and at the same time one of substances that I didn’t examine in the film because it is positioned within the Native American community is peyote. I just wanted to pay homage, if you will, to that community because they have been traumatized to such an extent and at the same time it’s such an amazing community and such an amazing culture. If we really look at what it means to be, or at least to know, of that beauty of the Native American culture. And they were involved with peyote for 5,700 years. So we’re talking about a long history of medicinal use, sacred use of a plant.
Alex Tsakiris: We should at least touch on the substances that you do cover in the movie, and each of these is covered in depth in terms of its medical uses and some of the issues surrounding them legally – LSD, psilocybin, MDMA (also known as ecstasy), ayahuasca, and cannabis of course. Cannabis was the one that kind of surprised me the most. I guess I learned some things about the medical uses of cannabis and marijuana that I wasn’t aware of.
Oliver Hockenhull: I found it really interesting because I think that the war on drugs from the ‘60s and ‘70s and today as well, of course – but the beginning of it was related a lot to the youth movement of the ‘60s. So when people were starting to smoke marijuana it was kind of like a refusal of the gin and tonic and the scotch and water. You could tell a lot about a culture by the drugs it approves. And the youth embracing marijuana was related to – first of all, it’s a lot easier on the body than alcohol. It gets you into a state of mind that is much more compatible to being at ease in the world. And it definitely can be medicinal. So at that moment, the youth movement in the ‘60s against the war, against the Vietnam war, which is covered somewhat in the film, was related to the use of something like marijuana. And I think that the youth embraced these drugs because they wanted to and they realized there was something wrong with our society, deadly wrong with it. And they wanted to have conscious experiences that were definitely outside of the box of daddy’s liquor cabinet. We’re still dealing with that. We’re still dealing with the choices that are made about where you want your brain to go, where you want your consciousness to go. And some people still obviously are frightened about a certain kind of ease as compared to the harshness that is often attached – I mean you rarely hear about someone hurting someone under the use of cannabis, while alcohol obviously is both a depressant and seems to encourage violent activity from a certain group of people.
Alex Tsakiris: I have one final question for you, Oliver. Let me kind of take it out there a little bit, but this is a topic that has been touched on by several different folks when I had Rick Strassman, who of course wrote the spirit molecule into his research into DMT. But also in the book by Graham Hancock lately, and that is this idea that there are spirit entities associated with these substances. Now, that may sound way out there for some folks but we have to realize that the conversation that we’ve had is really a precursor to that. If we free ourselves from this materialistic explanation that consciousness is purely a product of the brain and we just follow the data, like the data you have in your movie to get there, and we say, “Wow, that really seems to be it,” then we might have to be open for this spirit world and we might have to take seriously at least into consideration whether there are spirits associated with these substances. Do you have any opinion or thoughts on that or even how to approach a question like that?
Oliver Hockenhull: Thank you, I think that’s a really important question. I think that if you appreciate as an example the ideas of Joseph Campbell, if you appreciate the ideas of someone like Wade Davis, these are anthropologists and story researchers, people who have studied mythology and so on. What we can ascertain and what I have personally ascertained is that there are levels of consciousness that reveal to us that we are not alone, these entities that are much larger than us. As an example, water itself. I mean, if you really thought about it what the hell is water? If you can set yourself in what would be called in the western mind the poetic frame of mind, you will see that the world is a magical, full place, full of entities and full of powers. And again if you want to go further in that idea, and you want to go wilder, it doesn’t really make sense to me that an advanced civilization would be rocketing from one place to another. That seems like it would be an archaic way of getting around when you could do it through the mind. And in my opinion, this world is full of who knows what. I think that it’s so interconnected, and I think all the universe is so interconnected, that the aliens are us. And by approaching it that way, when it’s not relying on a fear-based oh my God, there are scary things out there, you are approaching it like oh, I am one of these scary things. I am one of these aliens. I am an entity. And it gives you power too, and I think that is a good thing.
Alex Tsakiris: That is a good thing. Again, the movie is Neurons to Nirvana: Understanding Psychedelic Medicines. Oliver, tell folks where they can find the movie, how the movie is going?
Oliver Hockenhull: It’s screening all over the world. There are a number of places, including tonight in San Francisco at Landmark Theater, and I think about 3 days ago it was in Chicago at the Landmark. We have got screenings happening in Helsinki, Ibiza, London – it’s really getting out there. You can also go, where you can download the whole movie or you can order a DVD at the same URL.
Alex Tsakiris: Great. Well, again it’s a film that I think anyone who has even a slight interest in this topic will really find interesting and I do hope they check it out. Oliver, best of luck with it and again thank you so much for joining me on Skeptiko.
Oliver Hockenhull: It’s been a real pleasure, thank you.
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