by Marinus Jan Marijs
The concept of subtle, non-physical energies can be found in many cultures [Poortman J.J.; “Vehicles of Consciousness”, Theosofische Uitgeverij, Utrecht 1978.],[Hein van Dongen en Hans Gerding; “Het voertuig van de ziel”, Ankh-Hermes, Deventer 1993.]:
The Neoplatonists assumed that the soul had a vehicle or “ochêma” which was composed of subtle matter. The Scholastics brought forward the idea of “materia spiritualis”. Pico della Mirandola wrote about the “vinculum”, the connection between the soul and the body, which is a subtle shining substance. In China there is the concept of “chi”, a life force. In Hellenistic Gnosis they speak of a garment of light, in Corpus Hermeticum of a body of fire. In Buddhism there is the “Sambhogakaya”, the subtle body. In Sankhya, a system of Hindu philosophy, a subtle body is also mentioned. In the Mahabharata there is the “Linga sarina”, the subtle body. According to some Indian schools, karma is a form of subtle matter. Within Buddhism the “skandhas” are seen as subtle energies. Sometimes spirit (pneuma, spiritus) is seen as subtle energy. Equally, the “corpus gloriosum”, the glorified body, is seen as a form of subtle energy of a very high quality. The Greek philosopher Anaxagoras saw the human spirit as a substance of subtle energy. According to the Pythagoreans the soul was a part of the ether, a subtle matter. Proclus “augoeides”, the radiant body, consisted of subtle energy. The biblical “kabod” is a light composed of a subtle energy. The followers of Mani believed in a light soul, and the Cathars in a lightbody. We find the idea of a body of subtle energies in the works of Jakob Boehme, Hildegard van Bingen, Jan van Ruusbroek, John of the Cross and William Blake. Indian philosophy generally assumes several non-physical bodies of subtle energies, but also in the Kabbala, which is an ancient esoteric Jewish mystical philosophical tradition.
According to Giordano Bruno; a memory, as soon as it became an inner image, was “stored” in a subtle non-physical medium, We find this concept in Indian philosophy as the Akasha field.
The concept of a non-physical subtle body is also found among the nature philosophers: Robert Fludd, van Helmont, Cudworth, Berkley and Leibniz.
In modern parapsychology and integral philosophy, the concepts of the Akashic field and subtle energies are found in the work of Henry Bergson in relation to memory, Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphogenetic fields, Professor Ian Stevenson’s research that deals with a non-physical memory. Ervin Laszlo and his work on the Akashic field and Ken Wilber who developed an extensive integral theory of subtle energies [Ken Wilber online except G: “Toward a comprehensive theory of subtle energies”.].
Ervin Laszlo, in his book: “Cosmic Vision – The Dawn of the Integral Theory of Everything” argues that the Akashic field theory solves a number of problems within quantum physics, such as non-locality and quantum entanglement as well as solving the disputes between science and religion.
One can say that in parapsychology, consciousness studies and integral philosophy, there are theoretical difficulties (such as ‘the mind-body problem’) which cannot be solved without new concepts. The concept of subtle energies can attribute to solutions.
This concept of subtle energies is directly related to mystical ecstasy. What is called the ‘low-subtle level’ (beyond the level of nature mysticism), a concentration of low-subtle energy is activated (see figure 1: sublevel B), this is felt as mystical ecstasy. It is much more intense than anything one can experience at a non-mystical level: it goes beyond euphoria or happiness. It is totally independent from the material, social or emotional situation. Its energy is most often felt where one of the chakras is located: at the heart, the throat or the head.
click on diagram to view larger image
Mystical ecstasy is several times stronger than any non-mystical experience. It resides at the same level as low-subtle bhava samadhi (see figure 1, sublevel D) This low-subtle bhava samadhi is no longer a small energy concentration but a whole ovoid field.
There is a classical account of such an experience by R.M. Bucke in his book “Cosmic Consciousness” (Bucke writes of his experience in the third person):
“It was in the early spring at the beginning of his thirty-sixth year.
He and two friends spent the evening reading Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Browning, and especially Whitman. They parted at midnight, and he had a long drive in a hansom (it was in an English city). His mind deeply under the influences of the ideas, images and emotions called up by the reading and talk of the evening, was calm and peaceful.
He was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment. All at once, without warning of any kind, he found himself wrapped around as it were by a flame colored cloud. For an instant he thought of fire, some sudden conflagration in the great city, the next he knew that the light was within himself.
Directly afterwards came upon him a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness, accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination quite impossible to describe. Into his brain streamed one momentary lightning-flash of the Brahmic Splendor which has ever since lightened his life; upon his heart fell one drop of Brahmic Bliss, leaving thenceforward for always an after taste of heaven.
Among other things he did not come to believe, he saw and knew that the Cosmos is not dead matter but a living Presence, that the soul of man is immortal , that the universe is so built and ordered that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all, that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love and that the happiness of every one is in the long run absolutely certain.
He claims that he learned more within the few seconds during which the illumination lasted than in previous months or even years of study, and that he learned much that no study could ever have taught.
“The illumination itself continued not more than a few moments, but its effects proved ineffaceable; it was impossible for him ever to forget what he at that time saw and knew, neither did he, or could he, ever doubt the truth of what was then presented to his mind (Bucke)”.
Allan L. Smith gives a similar description about his cosmic consciousness experience [Allan L. Smith and Charles T. Tart; “Journal of Consciousness Studies”, Volume 5, Issue 1, 1998. “Cosmic consciousness experience and psychedelic experiences: a first person comparison”. On the web: Articles and Papers. Charles T. Tart Home Page and Consciousness Library: http://www.paradigm-sys.com go to ‘CTT Articles Library’.]:
“Cosmic Consciousness Experience
My CC event occurred unexpectedly while I was alone one evening and was watching a particularly beautiful sunset. I was sitting in an easy chair placed next to floor-to-ceiling windows that faced northwest. The sun was above the horizon and was partially veiled by scattered clouds, so that it was not uncomfortably bright. I had not used any marijuana for about a week previously. On the previous evening I probably had wine with dinner; I do not remember the quantity, but two glasses would have been typical. Thus, we would not have expected any residual drug effects.
The CC experience began with some mild tingling in the perineal area, the region between the genitals and anus.
The feeling was unusual, but was neither particularly pleasant nor unpleasant. After the initial few minutes, I either ceased to notice the tingling or did not remember it. I then noticed that the level of light in the room as well as that of the sky outside seemed to be increasing slowly.
The light seemed to be coming from everywhere, not only from the waning sun. In fact, the sun itself did not give off a strong glare. The light gave the air a bright thickened quality that slightly obscured perception rather than sharpened it. It soon became extremely bright, but the light was not in the least unpleasant. Along with the light came an alteration in mood. I began to feel very good, then still better, then elated.
While this was happening, the passage of time seemed to become slower and slower. The brightness, mood-elevation, and time-slowing all progressed together. It is difficult to estimate the time period over which these changes occurred, since the sense of time was itself affected. However, there was a feeling of continuous change, rather than a discrete jump or jumps to a new state.
Eventually, the sense of time passing stopped entirely. It is difficult to describe this feeling, but perhaps it would be better to say that there was no time, or no sense of time. Only the present moment existed. My elation proceeded to an ecstatic state, the intensity of which I had never even imagined could be possible. The white light around me merged with the reddish light of the sunset to become one all enveloping, intense undifferentiated light field. Perception of other things faded. Again, the changes seemed to be continuous.
At this point, I merged with the light and everything, including myself, became one unified whole. There was no separation between myself and the rest of the universe. In fact, to say that there was a universe, a self, or any thing would be misleading ór it would be an equally correct description to say that there was nothing as to say that there was everything. To say that subject merged with object might be almost adequate as a description of the entrance into CC, but during CC there was neither subject nor objects.
All words or discursive thinking had stopped and there was no sense of an observer to comment or to categorize what was happening. In fact, there were no discrete events to happen ó just a timeless, unitary state of being. CC is impossible to describe, partly because describing involves words and the state is one in which there were no words.
My attempts at description here originated from reflecting on CC soon after it had passed and while there was still some taste of the event remaining. Perhaps the most significant element of CC was the absolute knowingness that it involves. This knowingness is a deep understanding that occurs without words.
I was certain that the universe was one whole and that it was benign and loving at its ground. Bucke experience was similar. He knew, that the universe is so built and ordered that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all, that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love and that the happiness of every one is in the long run absolutely certain. (Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness 1961, p. 8).
The benign nature and ground of being, with which I was united, was God. However, there is little relation between my experience of God as ground of being and the anthropomorphic God of the Bible. That God is separate from the world and has many human characteristics. He demonstrates love, anger and vengeance, makes demands, gives rewards, punishes, forgives, etc. God as experienced in CC is the very ground or being of the universe and has no human characteristics in the usual sense of the word. The universe could no more be separate from God than my body could be separate from its cells.
Moreover, the only emotion that I would associate with God is love, but it would be more accurate to say that God is love than God is loving. Again, even characterizing God as love and the ground of being is only a metaphor, but it is the best that I can do to describe an indescribable experience.
The knowingness of CC permanently convinced me about the true nature of the universe. However, it did not answer many of the questions that (quite rightly) seem so important to us in our usual state of consciousness. From the perspective of CC, questions like, What is the purpose of life? or Is there an afterlife? are not answered because they are not relevant. That is, during CC ontologic questions are fully answered by oneís state of being and verbal questions are not to the point.
Eventually, the CC faded. The time-changes, light, and mood-elevation passed off. When I was able to think again, the sun had set and I estimate that the event must have lasted about twenty minutes. Immediately following return to usual consciousness, I cried uncontrollably for about a half hour.
I cried both for joy and for sadness,because I knew that my life would never be the same. Long-term Effects of Cosmic Consciousness CC had a major impact on the course of my life. I had received a national prize for my research and had a grant funded for five years, but any interest I had in becoming a famous academician evaporated.
My research seemed more like an interesting puzzle than work of immense importance to the world. I left my secure and successful university faculty position and supported myself as a part-time freelance clinician. I needed time to explore spirituality and to integrate the CC experience into my life.
Those explorations included theology, psychology, mysticism, eastern religion, parapsychology, consciousness studies and holistic health.
Eventually, I earned a M.A. in Consciousness Studies and another in Theology. Since CC, I have not had a career in the usual sense of the word. One important after-effect of CC that I soon discovered was the ability to create a subtle shift in consciousness. By quieting myself within, my inner mental chatter almost stopped and I became calm and present centered.
Perception of the world and myself were both especially clear. The world seemed benign and right with every- thing as it was supposed to be. There was a great sense of inner peace. As the years passed since CC, my ability to attain this state at will has diminished. When it does occur, it seems less profound than previously. I am personally very sad at this loss.
CC did not make me into an instant saint or enlightened being. I still occasionally lose my temper, worry, judge people, and need ego support. But from the time immediately following CC there were lasting personality changes. My general anxiety level was considerably reduced and remains low. I do not (usually) strive at living, but truly enjoy it.
When I do lose it, there is a subtle way in which I can mentally step back and see the real significance (or lack thereof) of whatever disturbed me.
I have not been able to return to CC, although I have a real longing to do so. However, I can usually recall enough of the experience to know that the world is benign and that my ordinary conscious phenomenal experience can only hint at the true nature of reality.
The CC experience occurred in 1976. I did not make any notes until about a month later. Unfortunately, those original notes are lost. Even so, I feel quite confident that my memory of the essential aspects of CC is accurate. There are several reasons for this belief. (1) The CC experience was the most powerful event of my life and such a momentous experience is not possible to forget. (2) From the early weeks afterwards, I compared my experience to published accounts of CC.
The comparisons constitute an independent way to stabilize the memory. (3) I frequently review the experience as a technique to achieve inner peace. (4) My remembered accounts are similar to the accounts reported in the literature (see below).
In addition, many other CC experiencers have reported that their experiences have remained fresh after the passage of many years. We cannot claim that memory is infallible and the long period between the events and the report is unfortunate.
However, we do believe it very likely that the above phenomenal report has not been significantly distorted by the passage of time. Furthermore, my belief that my memory is accurate is data: CC produces that feeling.
Both experiences are low-subtle bhava samadhi, and for both Bucke and Smith, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which did not repeat itself later on in life.
While low-subtle bhava samadhi can happen once or more often in a person’s life, higher forms of bhava samadhi (high-subtle, low-causal or high-causal) are always accompanied during the course of life by several low-subtle bhava samadhi experiences. The higher forms of bhava samadhi are even more intense than low-subtle bhava samadhi.
The term ecstasy has several different meanings:
- A state of overwhelming emotions;
- An euphoric state;
- A state produced by the use of narcotic drugs;
- Mystical ecstasy;
The ecstasy experienced by St. Theresa belongs to the last category, mystical ecstasy.
It is not an emotional state:
Emotions are pre-rational, mystical ecstasy is trans-rational.
Emotions have their opposite:
Love – Hate
Joy – Sadness
Trust – Fear
Pride – Shame
And so on.
Mystical ecstasy has no opposite (although, like emotions it can of course be absent).
Mystical ecstasy is not euphoria, which is a feeling of well-being, commonly exaggerated and not necessarily well founded.
Mystical ecstasy arises with the strong activation of subtle energies at a trans-rational level. Accordingly, it is quite different from the states produced with the use of narcotic drugs. No drug will ever be able to produce mystical ecstasy, because drugs change the brain chemistry but do not activate subtle energies on a mystical level.
So mystical ecstasy is the inner experience of feeling objective subtle energies.
It is not a hypnotic state. There is no diminishing of consciousness. On the contrary, in mystical ecstasy one is intensely aware.
Mystical ecstasy is characterized by:
- A feeling of intense happiness and complete inner peace;
- Awareness of non-ordinary mental spaces;
- Dramatic changes in psychological perceptions;
- An extremely intense feeling of ecstasy;
- Absence of desire;
- Absence of self-sense;
- Contact with the transcendent;
- Experiencing the universe as a living presence;
- A deep sense of intrinsic value;
- A deep sense of meaning;
- Being enveloped by a non-physical light;
- The feeling of warmth or heat in the physical body, located around or in the heart (or at other seats in the body of the subtle energy centers);
- The flow of non-physical energy streams;
- Feeling of light energies and in some cases the seeing of light energies;
- Pulsating energies in the spine.
Mystical experiences and the use of drugs
Sometimes it has been suggested that the use of drugs would give experiences that are identical with or similar to mystical ones. This point of view is wrong on logical grounds.
Firstly, drugs change the chemistry of the brain, while mystical experiences are the activation and development of subtle, non-physical energies.
Although drug-induced experiences change the way the brain functions, the effects are limited and temporary. Mystics, by contrast, have a total breakthrough to deeper realities beyond the physical and the personal, to higher levels of existence. This is a developmental process, that leads to a permanent realization of the highest stages of consciousness.
Another point is that mystics, as they have come to the foreground over the centuries, form a group of only several hundreds of humans. In spite of their small number, the influence they have had on society has been enormous: they founded all the great religions (Moses, Buddha, Christ, Mahavira, Mohammed, St Paul). Some of them where great scientists (Pascal, Schrödinger, Einstein, Heisenberg). Some were among the greatest poets and writers (Shakespeare, Dante, Rumi, Blake, Whitman, Pushkin, Balzac, Tolstoy, Chuang Tzu, Tagore), others were great moralists (Emerson, Thoreau, Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer)
In short, the world’s community of mystics – numbered perhaps only a few hundred throughout history – has had an immense influence on religion, philosophy, science, social systems, legislation, language, art, music, poetry and the philosophy of life in general.
People who have had both mystical experiences and used drugs, and have compared these experiences have come to the conclusion that they differ phenomenological from each other.
So the overall conclusion is that mystical experiences are generated by higher subtle energy fields and can never be generated by chemical substances.
St. Teresa’s Transverberatio
St. Teresa wrote in her autobiography (Vida,cap.xxix §§16.17) [St. Teresa; “The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus”, written by herself, translated by D. Lewis, London, 1913.]:
“I saw an angel close by me, on my left side, his face burning as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire…I saw in his hand a long spear of gold and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual, though the body has it shares in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God… During last lent I found myself altogether in God, without knowing how and in a way more exalted than was customary for me I seemed to be in the midst of the Trinity in a more exalted way than I had ever been before, for greater than usual were the blessings I received and I enjoyed these blessings without interruption. And thus to be absorbed in God filled me with joy and with delight. And feeling myself to be in this beatitude and this great and unspeakable delight, which were above all I had experienced before such ineffable divine operations took place in my soul, as neither saint nor angel could describe or explain.”
This is the most famous of St. Teresa’s mystical ecstasies. It is depicted in the baroque masterpiece by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
St. Teresa’s narrative describes a certain form of mystical ecstasy through which she was connected with the transcendental. In mystical ecstasy, a subtle level of energy is activated which feels as an intense joy, a state of extreme happiness, like an almost physical warmth located in the heart area, or in another area where there is a subtle energy center. In the mystical ecstasy which St. Teresa is describing here, the concentration of subtle energy is so strong that it is no longer felt as warmth but as heat. This energy, is visible in the higher aura field at a mystical level as a brilliant yellow-colored ball of highly-activated subtle energy, is drawn into the heart chakra.
Subtle energies, at all levels from the emotional up to the high causal, have the tendency to cluster. When this happens at a mystical level and with the intensity described by St. Teresa, the highly-concentrated energy pushes away the lower-level subtle energies in the rings and the subtle energy channels (nadis). This is what creates the feeling of intense heat that she experienced.
This kind of experience has been mentioned by other mystics – the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, Suso and Richard Rolle among others. In Indian philosophy it is called the piercing of the granthi, the knots, some of which are located in the spine. This process purifies the subtle channels and increases the ability to process higher (subtle) energies.
Shakespeare’s mystical sonnets
William Shakespeare’s works are regarded as among the greatest in English literature. In addition to his plays he also composed 154 sonnets, some of which refer to mystical experiences and insights.
The following are extracts of some of these sonnets. [William Shakespeare; ”The Complete Works of William Shakespeare”, Spring Books, London – New York – Sydney – Toronto.]
…Even so my sun one early morn did shine with all triumphant splendour on my brow
But out! Alack! He was but on hour mine
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now
Yet him for this my love no with disdaineth
Suns of the world may stain, when heaven’s sun stained.
A description of a mystical experience. According to R.M. Bucke in his book “Cosmic consciousness”, it corresponds to descriptions by Boehme and John of the Cross.
What is your substance, where of are you made
That millions of strange shadows on you tend
…In all external grace you have some part
But you like none, none you, for constant heart.
A description of the transcendent, the eternal.
…You are so strongly in my purpose bred
That all the world besides me things are dead.
A mystical theme.
Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth
My sinful earth these rebel powers that thee array
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss.
And let that pine to aggravate thy store
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross
Within be fed, without be rich no more.
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And death once dead, there’s no more dying then
A mystical worldview.