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Symptoms of Being in the Mirror

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Part 2 of Dwelling in the Mirror: A Study of Illusions Produced by Delusive Meditation and How Be Free from Them

“If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, and swims like a duck… It’s a duck!” That is so much like a joke that I think the first time we hear it we do not realize the truly good sense it embodies. It took me a long time to acknowledge that if something or someone looks, talks, acts and has the effect of something bad–such as that of a cult or false guru–then they ARE that. Simple, but hard to accustom to. So here I want to list some of the effects a negative association or practice can produce. Not that people cannot be foolish or crazy on their own, but if these symptoms arise after association with a group, person or philosophy, then there is good reason to question the wisdom of continued association and (even worse) identity.

Abnormal Sensitivity

One indication that a method of meditation is producing a pathological state in the mind is the experiencing of a high degree of sensitivity without a corresponding degree of psychological stability. Those suffering from this pathology boastfully say things like: “The experiences and insights I’m receiving in my meditations lately are so profound they are hard to bear–it’s almost painful.” Such persons are usually prone to violent and mercurial extremes of emotion, as well, usually without any cognizable cause or basis.

Another common form is: “I just can’t bear being around Charles because I pick up so strongly on his suppressed hostility.” “I can’t stand going into the bank anymore–the materialistic vibrations are so intense.” Sometimes noise or crowds or heavy traffic will be cited as what “nearly blows me away.” And the sad part is the self-congratulatory contentment that accompanies these assertions which are really confessions of instability. This problem is usually produced by both the euphoric and the up-and-out types of meditation, but other can be the source as well.

Physical Degeneration

Though it is blithely ignored by its sufferers, one effect of wrong meditation can be physical degeneration. The terrible twisting and hypnosis of their intelligence by the mistaken methods of meditation are manifested by the meditators not only being unaware of the real character of their physical condition, but their almost frantic panegyrics on how wonderful they feel and how great their health is, and all because of their meditation. Frequently they catalog their very symptoms, declaring that their method of meditation clears up such conditions and makes them impossible.

Like many other harmful practices, many erroneous systems of meditation do not produce any negative conditions right away. Often they produce just the opposite–in the beginning. Then, when the practitioner is completely convinced of the beneficial nature of his practice, the sad dénouement begins. Yet, however much he degenerates physically or psychically, the deluded meditator is convinced it is not attributable to his practice, because in the beginning he experienced only dramatic improvements on many levels. Again we see the same tragedy of the drug addict acted out on the stage of spiritual seeking.

As already stated, sometimes the disintegrating individual does become aware of his problems. But his instructors or fellow practicers–if not he himself–assure him that he is only being “purified,” “cleansed,” or having his karma “speeded up.” Some extreme delusionals decide that they are taking on the karma of others. (I have met some.) So he, too, congratulates himself and boasts of his supposed catharsis to whoever will listen. And continues upon the downward road.

Negative “Positivity”

The mind distorted by wrong meditation often (usually) does not perceive any defect in itself or else hysterically runs from any glimpse or hint of the truth about its dilemma, denying violently that such defects either do or even can exist. Just as some systems of meditation make the practicers over-sensitive to negativity, some destructive systems make their practicers over-sensitive to genuine positivity and create in them an outright aversion for light and an affinity for darkness. Of course, the deluded meditator sees this as just the opposite. But, as diseased eyes experience the health-giving light of the sun as painful and distressing, so these unfortunate souls come to react to simple truth.

In contrast, the sober, really positive consciousness receives any insights into its illusions with welcome and relief, uncomfortable as such insights certainly may be. Indeed, the sober person does not try to silence the voice of insight, but asks to hear more. And after hearing, acts upon it.

Fake Cosmetics

Many false meditation practices are a cosmetic that covers and hides the defects within (and even without).

One of the greatest Western occultists, Dion Fortune (Dr. Violet Firth), observed that those with genuine clairvoyance will present their psychic impressions almost apologetically, remarking that there is a chance they have misperceived or misinterpreted them. But those who are utterly deluded and have false psychic experiences adamantly and even hysterically defend them against any questioning, and bullyingly insist that others accept them as absolute truth. I well remember one of the three Jesus Christs I have met yelling at me: “You don’t have any Truth Consciousness!” over and over when he asked me if I accepted he was Jesus and I said No.

Delusions of Enlightenment

People have joked for generations about those who think they are Napoleon or God, but it is no joke for those caught in such delusions–especially those self-induced through incorrect meditation. This especially applies to ego-boosting “remembering” of past lives when they supposedly were the mighty, the wise and the holy. One of my dearest friends entered a yoga cult and after a while began to announce to all that she was the reincarnation of the fake guru’s guru! Eventually she joined another cult that had even crazier ideas.

Right along with these delusions are those of being enlightened. I gave some examples of this at the beginning of this study. Such delusions are of infinite variety, being custom made for each individual by his ego, so it would be impossible to describe even a fraction of them or to present a typical form of such illusion. I will, however, present one here and analyze it since we can gain some pointers from it.

A man was walking in the Himalayas looking at a panoramic view. Here is his description of what then occurred.

“What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: just for the moment I stopped thinking. Reason and imagination and all mental chatter died down. For once, words really failed me. I forgot my name, my humanness, my thingness, all that could be called me or mine. Past and future dropped away. It was as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories. There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it. To look was enough.”

Is it not wonderful how those that experience exalted states of consciousness, “beyond all mind and thought” and therefore beyond words, can so graphically and easily describe them?

Enlightenment is far beyond description. For this reason the Upanishad says: “He who tells knows it not. He who knows, tells it not.” And: “If a man says ‘I know,’ he does not know. But if a man says ‘I do not know’–perhaps he knows.” This is not metaphysical gobbledegook but plain fact: “To whomsoever it is not known, to him it is known: to whomsoever it is known, he does not know. It is not understood by those who understand it; it is understood by those who do not understand it” (Kena Upanishad 2.3). Jesus put it another way: “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true” (John 5:31).

But I said we would analyze this “enlightenment” account, so we should do just that.

First of all, see how many personal pronouns appear in this short paragraph. “I” occurs three times; “me” occurs twice; “my” occurs thrice; “mine” occurs once. Nine ego-indicators! These are not the marks of enlightenment. (Nor are the absurd and childish practices of referring to oneself in writing as “i” instead of “I,” or referring to oneself in the third person by their name or some such circumlocution such as “this one,” “this body” or simply “this.”)

The terminology used is revealing. “What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular….” Enlightenment is not something that happens. It is something that is. The fact that the experience is something that was preceded by another state proves it is not enlightenment, for enlightenment is not an event but a recognition of what has ever been present. Therefore enlightenment by its very nature is something that cannot occur–rather it is revealed, remembered and recognized. The fact that this person speaks in this way shows that–despite claims made later on–the experience took place only within time, the abode of illusion. True enlightenment is the state of being in eternity.

“… just for the moment I stopped thinking.” There you have it. “Just for the moment.” It began and it ended. Enlightenment neither begins nor ends. Nor is it momentary. Nor does it have anything to do with thinking or not thinking. True, the questing soul can catch glimpses of that Light that are ephemeral, but such glimpses are no more enlightenment than a few bars of music heard from a distance are a symphony.

“Reason and imagination and all mental chatter died down.” But they came back. The mind went into temporary abeyance–something that happens to all of us in dreamless sleep and under anesthesia, neither of which are gateways to enlightenment. Such a shallow and minimal event is by its nature not enlightenment.

“For once, words really failed me.” Failed who? Who is telling this? The ego. Darkness.

“I forgot my name, my humanness, my thingness, all that could be called me or mine.” I, I, I; my, my, my. Whose name, humanness, thingness, etc., etc.? The spirit possesses no such. Also, this is outright silly. Are we to believe that he tried to remember those things? If so, then it is evident that his brain was in an abnormal state akin to epilepsy, for this does happen to those in a seizure. Those who have severe migraines are very familiar with losing the ability to remember the names of those nearest them, and even of common objects. They know that the attack is lessening when the ability to recall names is once more theirs.

Furthermore, who in the state of enlightenment would stop and ask: “What is my name?” In that state we no more have a name than there is a ceiling to bang our astral heads on.

When we work at any thing that requires much attention, for that span of time we have no awareness of our name, humanness, thingness, or what is us or ours. Such concepts do not arise. Shallow self-forgetfulness of this type is common to us every day.

Once more, by the words themselves we can see that only the egoic mind is speaking.

“Past and future dropped away.” From whom? They have never touched the spirit. And, as pointed out before, they returned. This is not enlightenment.

“It was as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories.” When we are still aware of the existence or possibility of these things such as past, future, or memories, can we consider ourselves to be without them? This is not innocence, though it may be barrenness. And again: who was born, who was new? The spirit is unborn, neither new nor old. (A yogi friend of mine often said: “We need to be unborn again.”) Who was receiving all these impressions and making all these evaluations?

“There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it.” But That Which Is does not “exist.” It is beyond existence, the Ground of existence. This is why the traditions of the East (including Eastern Christianity) do not say God exists, for He is beyond either existence or non-existence. Nor could Eternity ever be spoken of as a “present moment.” And of Eternity it can never truthfully be said that there is anything “in” it. Quite the opposite: It is the Great Void, the No Thing.

“To look was enough.” This demonstrates that the man’s senses–and therefore his body and sensory mind–were still fully functioning, and that the ego was also fully functioning, taking it all in and recording it. And aware of beginning, ending and time.

Leaving all the foregoing aside, the very fact that the writer of these words can describe his experience in terms his unenlightened readers can understand shows that his account is worthless as an exposition of enlightenment, for enlightenment is “that from which the mind and senses turn back.” And that includes the intellect. Enlightenment is indescribable, the wise of all traditions have said so. Sri Ramakrishna used to say that as the jug is being filled with water there is a noise, but when it is full there is silence. So is the man of enlightenment.

This man’s experience is, however, not at all incomprehensible to those who are familiar with the psychic distortion produced by drugs. I am not saying that he was on drugs, but I am saying that his experience could be either a result of past or present drug use, some abnormality of body or mind or a detrimental method of meditation–or a combination.

That he is describing a condition of the mind only is pointed out by his comment: “The fact that I happened to be walking in the Himalayas at the time probably had little to do with it; though in that country unusual states of mind are said to come more easily.” States of mind are not the state of enlightenment. However, there is a kind of fever that is not uncommon in the Himalayas in which a person gets into very strange states including extreme ecstasy, wakefulness lasting for days, and disorientation which causes them to be unaware of danger and sometimes injured or killed because of it. If a person with that fever has any knowledge of yoga they are sure that they are becoming–or are–master yogis. One of my friends caught this fever and had to be taken charge of by traveling companions and forcibly hospitalized, otherwise she might died from its effects which made her believe that “at last it is happening.”

This man also said that he realized he had no head. Do I need to analyze that? Certainly he lost all good sense and persisted in that state.

Mistaking Glitter For Gold

Mistaking trivial and shallow flashes such as this for enlightenment or significant spiritual experience is a symptom of wrong meditation practice. Sri Ramakrishna comes again to mind. He likened those who claim to have attained self-realization on such a flimsy basis to an ant that found a great heap of sugar. Even though only one grain filled its stomach and it could carry but one grain in its pinchers, as it went back to its nest it said to itself: “Next time I’ll take the whole thing.” Not likely! The old story of the frog that thought she was the biggest animal in the world also comes to mind when confronted with such claims. I once saw a B.C. comic strip in which a caveman climbed up a high mountain, looked in all four directions and climbed down saying: “So much for the whole world!” It is like that.

More On Enlightenment

Delusive meditation gives a delusive experience of enlightenment. It would be impossible to list and analyze their infinite variety, so we should consider some basic principles by which we can diagnose the character of the many claims to enlightenment.

First of all, anyone who claims to be enlightened is usually not. Some centuries ago a bishop learned that a great disturbance had arisen in a convent regarding a nun who was thought to be a saint by some and thought to be a fool by others. He decided to visit the convent and attempt to restore peace. Upon his arrival the nuns assembled, and without preamble the canny bishop demanded: “Which one of you is the saint?” “I am!” said a nun as she jumped up. “The matter is closed,” the bishop said, turning to the abbess. “This nun is no saint, for a saint never claims to be one.”

The reason a truly enlightened person does not tell others he is enlightened is the very nature of enlightenment itself. Enlightenment is not an attainment, an experience, or a state of consciousness. Rather it is the true nature of each one of us. It is not an attribute but our eternal state of being. Therefore no one can say “I have become enlightened” or “I am enlightened.” The illumined simply say: “I am.”

Further, being beyond time and space, enlightenment cannot really “take place.”

Nor can enlightenment be in any way described, being far beyond any capability of language to convey. This being so, any verbal description of enlightenment cannot be true. And even the highest form of samadhi, nirvikalpa samadhi, is said by the yogis to be beyond describing.

The greatest exponent of spiritual reality in India, Adi Shankaracharya, in his Stanzas on Nirvana simply stated: “I am not bound; I am not free” for he had transcended all such possibility. That is enlightenment indeed.

The “Proof of the Pudding”…

Saint Paul claimed that on the road to Damascus he had a vision of light and spoke with the resurrected Christ. How do we know he had such an experience, and how do we know that it was real? The subsequent life of Saint Paul is the proof. In the book of Acts we see how he who began as a persecutor of Christ after his heavenly vision became himself a living image of Christ–a Christ himself.

Jesus said: “The works that I do, bear witness of me” (John 5:36). So, too, the subsequent words and deeds of both truly and falsely enlightened persons demonstrate the truth or error of their experience. We need only look at the state of mind and life of those who follow erroneous systems of meditation to discover the true character of their supposed illumination. Their claims are reminiscent of a little girl I knew who constantly sucked her thumb, except when she would take it out momentarily to boast: “I don’t suck my thumb any more!” The number of people claiming enlightenment that eventually commit suicide is tragic.

The proof of the pudding is still in the living.


But why does all this happen? First, because the mind does not so easily give up its aeons-long conditioning to go outward. Second, the ego will entertain us with anything–just as long as we do not approach the Light in which it will be dissolved as the mirage it really is. Also, since from the beginning of our involvement in the relative universe we have been entertained by the “passing show,” it is only to be expected that we will be susceptible to the same sort of thing on a subtler level. Only those who can cut off this deadly affinity with the passing mirage and lose the false life of the ego will be able to find the life of their spirit. And the only way to do that is to meditate correctly and enter into our true spiritual consciousness and from there enter into union with God–or more correctly, to rediscover our union with him which has never really been disrupted except in our deluded minds.

Working Yet Failing

Just as a half-truth can be worse than an outright lie, so perhaps even worse than the deceptive methods and experiences we have so far looked at are those that do indeed accomplish exactly what they claim they do and are positive in their effects–but only to a point. These are the methods that only take us part way to the goal, only giving us a touch, a hint, of what we should attain–but that touch being so dramatic that we think we have made a great achievement when in reality we have only seen a glimmer of the wonder that can be totally experienced through correct practice of a correct method. As a result of such a mistaken satisfaction, we fail to press onward to the real heights of enlightenment.

It is possible to have real experiences but to attribute a false interpretation to them. The systems that produce these are especially precarious, since they are a mixture of reality and illusion. Those who bring them into question and analyze them will indeed find truth and reality in them and may therefore conclude that everything about them is trustworthy. Such systems are like a heap of fake and real diamonds mixed together so the false will be mistaken for the real. They are far more dangerous than those systems that are consistently false.

Of course we must not ignore the fact that many false systems do not really fool anyone at all, but rather it is the deluded egos of their adherents that gull them into following practices that a modicum of reflective intelligence would reveal as the absurdities they really are.

Emotional Manipulation

Sad as it is, I feel that I should include just one more point everyone should be wary about. A great many practicers of erroneous meditation methods are aware that their practice is somehow “off,” but they keep it up because of emotional attachment to the teacher or guru, whom they believe loves them–even though they usually barely know the guru and the guru knows and cares for them not at all. This is surely the most cruel delusion of all. I have personally observed the most heartless and calculating emotional manipulation by various of the super-gurus. And I really wish to say no more on this vilest of deceptions except that this possibility should be kept in mind.

A Closing Word

To those who have patiently stayed with me during this difficult and often ugly exposition I wish to give assurance that light can dawn in even the most intense darkness. And that is the subject of the next section.

Read the next Chapter of Dwelling in the Mirror: Getting Out of the Mirror

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Introduction to Dwelling in the Mirror

Dwelling in the Mirror: A Study of Illusions Produced by Delusive Meditation and How to Be Free from Them

Preface to Dwelling in the Mirror

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