Magic is the companion and not the precursor of religion. Although it does not now form a part of the modes of worship and the rituals of the major faiths of mankind, it is inherent in their origins and in the lives or teachings of their founders under the guise of the "miraculous." Buddha sternly disallowed the use of psychic powers, but he admitted their existence, and the possibility of their development in one who strives for deeper insights. There is a tradition that he had to demonstrate his own magical powers when for the first time he returned to his own kingdom after enlightenment. The miraculous is no more than divinized magic. The eight siddhis or psychic powers, attributed to Yoga, are merely developed forms of magical skill. The magical feats of Shamans are duplicated every day in varied forms by mediums and sensitives of civilized communities. How many religious-minded people offer worship to the Deity purely as a mark of reverence and devotion without any ulterior, temporal or spiritual, objective? For a large part of mankind are not religious observances and prayer a propitiatory approach to Divinity for success in worldly pursuits, freedom from affliction or for the cure of an intractable disease by special favour or, in other words, by a miraculous intervention? There has been no time when religion was free of the magical and the miraculous. Sorcery, witchcraft, necromancy, crystal-gazing, prophecy, and all the other forms of magic-craft and divination originate from the same source in which the religious impulse has its birth.
The unmistakable similarity in the early crude religions, totemic practices and the mana-taboo concepts of primitive peoples, separated by insuperable barriers and unconquerable distances, clearly points to the fact that man's response to an inner motivation has been practically the same, marked by divergences due to varied environments and different mental levels of the tribes. The more elaborate magical practices, religious ideas, and rituals of the vanished civilizations of Sumer, Egypt, Chaldea, Babylon, Crete, and the Indus Valley show another phase in this development. The teachings of the later prophets, Saviours, and sages, known to history, demonstrate a further striking advance over the former. But a close observation clearly shows the existence of an unmistakable vein of identity running through them. This is a clear indication of the fact that the development of the idea in man has proceeded in a visibly uniform manner earliest ages to this day. From this it follows that those adherents of the existing faiths, who hold that the last word on the subject is contained in their gospels, and that man has nothing more to learn about religious truths, adopt an attitude of resistance to the natural evolutionary growth of the religious impulse.
There are also other views about religion. Hegel considers religion to be a permanent and independent activity of the spirit next in importance to philosophy. According to Kant, religion consists in regarding all our duties as divine commands. Equating of morality with religion does not, however, explain the extremely varied phenomena of the latter. It is true that religion has a close relationship to morality or to what is permissible or not permissible, but the two are not identical. Moreover, what we treat as "divine commands" in the savage cults sometimes assume the form of horrible human sacrifice, which by no stretch of imagination can be classed as moral, although the attitude of mind that led to those sacrifices and other attrocities was undoubtedly religious. According to the idea of Rudolf Otto, the basis of religion is a feeling for which he has used the word "numinous"—a kind of divine respect distinguishable from mere fear or terror. In its lower form it may be regarded as the feeling excited by the weird and the uncanny. Included in this numinous feeling is the sense of mystery which is never absent from true religion.
Whatever the explanation offered, there can be no two opinions about the fact that this feeling, impulse, or attitude of mind, is not uniformly distributed among individuals, but radically varies in its intensity, from total preoccupation with it, utter neglect of the world, to the seemingly almost complete absence of this feeling. We see both types of people around us. There are those in whom religion assumes the form of a ruling passion who do not hesitate to sacrifice everything to satisfy the over-
mastering impulse in diverse ways, and those whom the idea of the supernatural, the religious or the sacramental leaves entirely unaffected. From the accounts of their lives we are left in no doubt as to the incontestable position that almost all the great saviours, prophets, mystics, and seers were men and women with an overmastering passion for the spiritual and the divine, which often drove them to such heights of sacrifice and suffering, heroic actions and courageous deeds, and to such levels of nobility and benevolence as have few parallels in any other sphere of human activity. Many of them faced death and martyrdom, torture and abuse without flinching or even swerving a step from the path they had chosen for themselves and which, under a direction surpassing mortal will and choice, they believed was chalked out for them by an Almighty Divine Power or Being.
For a proper study of the phenomenon of religion the correct way is not to concentrate only on the gospels, rituals, ceremonies, and their effectiveness as a means to assuage the spiritual thirst of the adherents of one particular faith or of all the modern faiths and creeds, but to focus attention on the mode of expression of the religious impulse from dim antiquity to the present day. In making this study, a fruitful method is to carry out an examination of the mental conditions, behaviour, and utterances of the individuals in whom the impulse attained its fullest expression.
At present, unfortunately, the world is sharply divided into two mutually antagonistic strata, one of which, the believers, profess implicit faith in the beliefs and tenets of their religion and the other, the nonbelievers, who deny as uncompromisingly the authenticity and truth of such beliefs. The result is that the whole issue has become controversial where religion is looked upon more as a matter of individual choice and opinion or, in plain language, as a hobby or even a fad, rather than as an indispensable activity of the mind or an innate urge of the human psyche, The devout are as responsible for this as the skeptics, for the simple reason that they surround the founders of their religions or their prophets and sages with such a background of miracles and supernatural occurrences, or such an atmosphere of divinity, that they are elevated to the stature of superhuman beings, completely removed from the sphere of men of flesh and blood. This deification of a specially gifted class of mortals, who are as human as any of us, with the difference that they have an inordinate passion for the Divine and are prone to mystical states that permeate their whole life, and in most cases cause them to renounce all the pleasures of flesh, is causing more damage to religion and to the colossal possibilities it possesses for the unification and regeneration of mankind than all the other factors of human experience.
It is easy to see that not one of the explanations offered, either by men of science or by those of faith, is able to cover all the innumerable facets of the religious phenomenon. Most of the attempts made to present a solution, broadly speaking, fall into two categories. They either display an orchestration of learning which overawes the less learned into an acceptance of the theory merely by an exhibition of erudition or attempt an intellectual investigation on the basis of the data collected, both of them unsatisfactory methods for approaching the numinous. For a real understanding of the problems arising from religion it is necessary that the exponent should have undergone the experience himself. It is a curious fact that while in the allied branches of knowledge, as for instance biology, biochemistry and psychology, empirical study is considered an essential qualification for a writer in these subjects the equally if not more important and, more widely sought-after sphere of religion has been left open for the invasion of any charlatan, dabbler, or impersonator, who wishes to make it a hunting ground for his amusement or gain.
We have already arrived at the conclusion that, whatever the explanation offered for the existence of the religious impulse, there can be no doubt about the fact that in those who attained the higher peaks of spiritual ascent, and flowered as inspired prophets and illumined sages, the impulse was invariably strongly marked from the beginning or developed at some period in life.
No mere dabbler and no impostor ever rose to the heights of spiritual glory or ever found a place in the lofty cadre of the illuminati. The utmost that any exceedingly clever imitator or actor ever achieved was the unenviable reputation of a thaumaturgist or a magician. The highest products of spiritual discipline in every part of the earth enjoy a reputation for sanctity and nobility that has been seldom reached by any other class of men.
If a study is made of all the top-rank prophets, mystics, sages, and seers of the earth, whether they were Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, or Zoroastrians, it will be found that all of them, and they number hundreds, were in possession of all Transcendent attributes in varying proportions. Viewed dispassionately this singular combination of higher mental faculties in religious geniuses is of profound significance and can point to only one momentous conclusion which is that the religious impulse, acting in an inexplicable manner, blossoms ultimately into a personality which, from our generally accepted standards, is of the loftiest stature. This means, in other words, that the religious urge, functioning in a strong, well-marked form, is the harbinger of a higher state of consciousness, mental efficiency, moral enlightenment, and supernormal psychic gifts.
The following passage, from the Foreword to the Introduction to Zen Buddhism, written by Jung, helps to illustrate our meaning: "It could be objected that consciousness in itself has not changed, only the consciousness of something, just as though one had turned over the page of a book and now saw a different picture with the same eyes. I am afraid this is no more than an arbitrary interpretation, for it does not fit the facts. The fact is that in the texts it is not merely a different picture or object that is described, but rather an experience of transformation, often occurring amid the most violent psychic convulsions. The blotting out of one picture and its replacement by another is an everyday occurrence which has none of the attributes of a transformation experience, It is not that something different is seen, but that one sees differently. It is as though the spatial act of seeing were changed by a new dimension. When the Master asks: 'Do you hear the murmuring of the brook?' he obviously means thing quite different from ordinary 'hearing.' Consciousness is something like perception, and like the latter is subject to conditions and limitations. You can, for instance, be conscious at various levels, within a narrower or wider field, more surface or deeper down. These differences in degree are often differences in kind as well, since they depend on the development of the personality as a whole; that is to say, on the nature of the perceiving subject."
Jung's own solution of the problem does not explain the reason for the transformation of consciousness, which he admits. For every manifestation of the phenomenon of religion he ultimately turns to the Unconscious, a self-invented magic key which a little verbal turning and twisting, can be made to fit into any lock. The transformation of consciousness does not, in the genuine cases, point to a subconscious content of the mind nor collective unconscious, from the primeval savage to the modern intellectual, but to a state of awareness which, transcending limits of time and space, can exercise the faculties of enhanced knowledge, clairvoyance, and prophetic vision for which psychology has no explanation to offer at all. This metamorphosis of consciousness is not of the nature of a subjective experience only, but coming with enhanced intellectual efficiency, supernormal psychic gifts, and moral elevation provides conclusive of the fact that the change has affected the very roots of being, and shows a difference of the same kind as is present between a man of mediocre mental ability and an intellectual prodigy. When we never allow ourselves to remain in doubt about the fact that there must exist a biological distinction between the former type of mind and the latter, it is really strange that we fail to allow the same difference between the common run human beings and the illuminati.
In the absence of a satisfactory explanation from any modern source we are driven to look into the ancient volumes relating to the subject for a solution of the problem. When we do so we find that the phenomenon of transformation, transfiguration, conversion, transmutation, or rebirth is fully recognized by almost all the religions and occult doctrines of the past. 'While every faith and occult creed possesses its own method of physical and mental training to effectuate this transformation there is no unanimity among them either about the nature of the transformation effectuated or the factors responsible for it. At the present moment hardly anyone is prepared to acknowledge that there is a regular psychosomatic arrangement in the body by which approach to Divinity and higher planes of consciousness becomes possible. For the scholar as well as for the common man, religious experience is a subjective phenomenon, although its effects may give rise to objective results. In this context the remarks of William James* are of particular interest: "When, however, a positive intellectual content is associated with a faith-state, it gets invincibly stamped in upon belief, and this explains the passionate loyalty of religious persons everywhere to the minutest details of their so widely differing creeds. Taking creeds and faith-state together, as forming 'religions,' and treating these as purely subjective phenomena, without regard to the question of their 'truth' we are obliged, on account of their extraordinary influence upon action and endurance, to class them amongst the most important biological functions of mankind. Their stimulant and anaesthetic effect is so great that Professor Leuba, in a recent article, goes so far as to say that so long as men can use their God, they care very little Who he is, or even whether he is at all. 'The truth of the matter Can be put,' says Leuba, 'in this way: God is not known, he is not understood; he is used—sometimes as meat-purveyor, sometimes as moral support, sometimes as friend, sometimes as an object of love. If he proves himself useful, the religious consciousness asks for no more than that. Does God really exist? How does he exist? What is he? Not God, but life, more life, a larger, richer, more satisfying life, is, in the last analysis, the end of religion.
*Longmans Green, New York, 1903.
The love of life, at any and every level of development, is the religious impulse. At this purely subjective rating, therefore, religion must be considered vindicated in a certain way from the attacks of her critics. It would seem that it cannot be a mere anachronism and survival, but must exert a permanent function, whether it be with or without intellectual content, and whether it be true or false."
It is not God who is used by men but, in actual fact, it is God who is using mortals for a divine purpose which He alone knows. Do we know why we lean so heavily on the Supreme Being who is the cause of our existence? Do we know why we exist at all? If not, our attitude to the still unfathomed mystery of creation should be more reverent and more in keeping with our stature as rational beings. It is the upward pull from Universal Consciousness, or call it God, exerted through the psychosomatic channel of kundalini, which is at the bottom of this attitude of reliance on God displayed by the religious-minded of all denominations. What our minds habitually reflect must have its source in the invisible Fount from which all our healthy instincts originate. This is the reason for the idea often expressed by mystics of all countries that God reciprocates in a larger measure the love of His devotees and is always at least as eager to receive the love-sick soul into His arms as the soul is to reach Him. The very existence of the idea of God and its close interconnection with the manifold hopes and fears of the human mind provides in itself a strong testimony in support of the stand that religion is inseparably connected with the whole biological and mental structure of man.
The success of surgical operations and medicines in the treatment of diseases depends entirely on the inherent tendency, present in the living flesh, to fill up and heal the wounds. and to react to the chemical agents that enter into the stomach or the bloodstream. If this tendency did not exist it would be dangerous, even fatal, to perform surgical operations, and medicine would prove of no avail in the treatment of illness. The same law must be operative with varying degrees of effectiveness at the bottom of all religious and occult practices, which means, in other words, that unless there exists a possibility in the body to respond spontaneously to such efforts to create the mental and physiological condition necessary for religious experience no amount of hard work done to achieve success in the enterprise can ever be actualized in the smallest degree. The body and mind are so closely interrelated that a change in one is directly or indirectly reflected in the other. Therefore, any exercises or practices undertaken for causing any kind of change in the mind, as for instance inducing samadhi or attainment of paranormal faculties, cannot but have a corresponding effect on the body. To deny that the human body is an indispensable factor in the development of a higher state of consciousness or for the exhibition of supernormal faculties amounts to a negation of the objective reality of the phenomena.
Those who believe in religion and the validity of religious experience must also believe in the capacity of the human body to exhibit the phenomena either as a characteristic present from birth or as a hidden potentiality that can be developed with exercise, or that may spontaneously declare itself at some later period in life— in all the three cases manifested in a manner for which we have no rational explanation at present. If for the expression of normal human consciousness a delicately adjusted intricate biological apparatus is absolutely necessary, how can this unalterable condition be dispensed with for the even higher manifestation of Superconsciousness. We do not think in these terms because we are accustomed to treating the normal human body and normal human consciousness as the last achievement of evolution or created by God, a most erroneous notion stemming from self-conceit. Those who do not believe in religion can dismiss the whole subject as pure fabrication of superstitious minds, as a creation of priests or on any other ground. But those who believe cannot escape the responsibility of finding a rational basis for their faith. They cannot say that religious experience is a random or erratic phenomenon, possible only for some people purely by divine favour or as a peculiarity present in their minds, without any relation whatsoever to the biological construction of their bodies, a by-product of the human psyche, active as a matter of accident, and not as an inherent tendency of every mind.
It is as correct to say that religious striving and occult practices somehow create a particular condition of the mind in which mystical experiences become possible without affecting the body, as it would be to hold that self-mortification helps in causing visionary states in ascetics as it is pleasing to God. These explanations do not help to solve the riddle but, on the other hand, make it more complicated and difficult. How can spiritual exercises change the normal behaviour of the mind and make it capable of exhibiting entirely inexplicable paranormal phenomena, and, at the same time, why should asceticism be a feature of the religious impulse, effective to such a degree as to create sometimes an awful thirst for self-torture and self-denial? It is the height of folly in such an important issue to explain one enigma in terms of another, thus creating a vicious circle that can never lead to the heart of the problem. It is because we are often accustomed to regard the religion in which we are brought up merely as a legacy of a prophet or a sage or a line of prophets or sages, rather than as an inherent thirst of the human mind, dependent for its existence on the biological makeup of the organism in the same way as other basic urges exist that we deplorably fail in tracing the origin of all phenomena connected with religion to their real source, and leap from one wrong supposition to the other without arriving at the right solution of the problem.
If we believe in the efficacy of Yoga or other systems of discipline designed to lead to transcendent conditions of consciousness and psychic insights, we will have to accept the existence of a responsive element in the body which is affected by these exercises in such a way as to lead to the development or emergence of new faculties and extraordinary mental states in the organism.
This element can take the form either of a general tendency in the body, a predisposition present in the cerebro-spinal system or of a regular mechanism designed by nature to lead the human mind to higher states of consciousness by its own normal activity or by stimulation through some kind of mental and physical exercise. Neither the religious impulse nor the phenomenon of transcendence to which it leads in rare cases can be purely psychic in origin, for in that case, apart from the fact that there can be no uniformity in its manifestation, there would arise no need for somatic disciplines to develop it. There can be no rational explanation of religious and supernormal psychic phenomena other than that there does exist an agency in the mind-body combination which is at the back of the religious impulses and all the consequences that flow out from it. There is no other way to account for the extraordinary happenings of history caused by the impact of illumined men and women, who time after time changed the course of the lives and thoughts of millions of men, and even now continue to exert a tremendous influence in shaping the history of the modern world.
Yoga or any other system of spiritual discipline can, when successful, lead to higher states, or, we can even say, to normally inaccessible levels of consciousness, not by any unnatural methods causing arrest of thought or respiration, as is sometimes supposed, but by a hitherto unthought-of transformation of the human brain. This transformation occurs by means of a mechanism already present in the body. In the initial stages, or where a permanent transformation is not possible, there may occur transient interludes of lucidity or superconsciousness, known as Samadhi, in the case of Yogis and ecstasy or rapture in the case of mystics. Permanent transformation results in a Jiwan Mukhta, Cosmic-Conscious Yogi, or in an illumined sage. In every case the transformation depends on the awakening of kundalini. Protracted practice of meditation and pranayama in a determined Sadhaka may lead to the awakening of the serpent power in a few cases. In other cases either a comatose condition, resembling animals in a state of hibernation, with nearly suspended animation and insensibility or self-induced hypnosis, with highly attenuated breathing, numbness of the body and hallucinatory experiences, may crown the laborious efforts of some of the practitioners out of the thousands who undertake the discipline. The rest remain barren of any appreciable results. The awakening of the serpent power by even the most strenuous Hatha-Yoga methods is a rare occurrence, and rarer still is its ascent to sahasrara and its permanent abode in this region, when only the transformation of the brain is accomplished and Cosmic Consciousness attained.
The spinal cord, with the reproductive equipment at one end and the ventricular cavity in the brain at the other, is the largest repository of the life force, or prana, in the human body. This life force is a biochemical substance of a most complex formation, extremely subtle and volatile, having its roots probably in the subatomic levels of matter. Belief in the efficacy of Yoga as a time-honoured method of self-realization ipso facto means belief in prana, for the whole science of Yoga is built on the possibility of employing prana as an instrument for effecting a metamorphosis of the brain and raising it to higher levels of perception. In every form of Yoga, with a meditative technique or discipline of the breath, the first object intended to be influenced is prana. The fact that physiologists have no knowledge of this medium is of no consequence, for up to very recent times there was no knowledge of vitamins either. If science has not yet been able to fashion instruments delicate enough to detect this extremely subtle essence, it does not mean that it does not exist. Yogis have differed among themselves about the utility of the various methods employed to gain transcendent knowledge about the nature of the Ultimate Reality, but there is no dispute among them about the reality of prana as the sole agent responsible for success in any enterprise undertaken to gain higher states of consciousness. From the time of the Vedas to the present day, a long period of nearly four thousand years, the existence of prana as a workable instrument of salvation has been accepted by generation after generation of Yogis and occultists of India, and their combined testimony carries a weight that cannot be lightly brushed aside.
The manner in which the cerebro-spinal system, with the reproductive organs at the lower end, functions as the evolutionary mechanism is one of the most remarkable instances of the ingenuity and economy of nature. The vast network of nerves covering the whole body, penetrating to every hair and pore of the skin, to every cell of the flesh and bones, to every fibre of the muscles and to the tiniest fragment of every internal and external organ, in addition to discharging its highly complex normal function as the communication system of the body, performs also the supreme task of initiating and carrying into effect the evolutionary impulses that have been instrumental in raising man to his present intellectual stature, and are even now at work to mould his brain toward a higher state of cognition or, in other words, to a transcendent state of consciousness. The method by which this is effected, like all other devices of nature, is extremely simple when it is once thoroughly understood. But as long as it is not understood, like other still hidden secrets of existence, it appears so baffling and complicated as to be almost beyond comprehension. The aim of this writing is to draw attention to this amazing but, at the same time, hitherto entirely unsuspected activity of the nervous system. What we have recorded is based word for word on accurately observed personal experience, combined with unmistakable objective proofs, which shall be mentioned at their proper place in another volume. This is not all. Our experience is supported not only by the revelations contained in the vast mass of ancient literature on kundalini in Tantras, manuals on Hatha-Yoga, Upanishads, Puranas, Buddhist documents, and other sacred lore of India, but also by the life stories and utterances of scores of well-known Yoga saints who flourished at various times during the last more than one thousand years and are, therefore, recent figures of history.
Described in terms of modern physiology the activity of the nervous system, in the evolutionary as well as in the reproductive sphere, lies in extracting from the mass of tissue surrounding every nerve fibre an extremely subtle but highly potent essence that may be well designated as concentrated life force, which, travelling along the routes described by the innumerable nerve filaments, ultimately reaches the spinal cord, and the brain, the well-protected storage plants of this highly complex substance. A fraction of it spills over into the nerve junctions and plexuses as also into the nerve clusters lining the various organs. In the case of normal men and women a fine stream of this vital essence trickles through the nerves into the reproductive organs, where it vivifies the sex cells produced by the gonads. It is the existence of this concentrated nerve essence in the spermatozoon and ovum that bestows fertility and the power of transmission of hereditary characteristics through the genes. The essence permeates every atom of the reproductive cells.
From the upper ending of the spinal cord another fine stream of this living energy filters into the brain as fuel for the evolutionary process continuously at work in the organism. Variations in the size of this stream determine the intellectual and aesthetic development of an individual. The stream is comparatively large in the case of men of genius and top-rank intellectuals. The variegated expression of genius depends on the particular region of the brain which the cranial stream irrigates and develops. In the accomplished Yogi the nervous system functions in a manner that almost all the subtle prana, extracted by the nerves, a large part whereof was formerly expended in procreative activity, now irradiates the brain, resulting in the transformation of consciousness. The whole body, including all the vital organs, participate in this activity of the nervous system in the case of an adept in whom kundalini makes her permanent abode in the sahasrara. In the case of those in whom ecstasy is experienced at intervals with or without entrancement, this extraordinary activity of the nervous system occurs only for a limited duration at intervals leading to the emergence of a higher consciousness for the time being.
Was this article helpful?