Fortunes and misfortunes of inner experience

Among those who dare to plunge within themselves, why do some end up in madness, while others attain wisdom? Why does internal fermentation produce wine within some and vinegar within others? To clarify these questions, I will refer to a typical form of ‘madness’: the acute, delirious fit: That is an attack lasting for some weeks with violent eruptions of hallucinations and emotional disturbances, in a kind of day-dreaming state. These attacks get attenuated gradually, sometimes to disappear without a trace, sometimes to return. In a quarter of the cases, the delirium becomes chronic, and it is then called schizophrenia.

The subjects who manifest these symptoms, often, though not always, have a particular tendency towards introversion which is called a schizoid tendency. They are generally adolescents or yound adults with intelluctual or artistic capabilities that are above average. If, in this particular chapter, I establish certain analogies between delirious fits and the results of a psychotherapeutic cure or of a mystical journey, it does not mean that I consider them to be on the same level: as we have seen, two spirals can resemble each other, but they are at different levels.The authentic mystic seeks a stabilisation of his peak experiences into a ‘plateau’, so to speak, of unified consciousness and happiness. Even if this state does not inspire those "cursed poets" who prefer to describe their emotional upheavals, it nonetheless remains a good indicator of the success of an inner evolution.21

Beginning of schizophrenia, and mystical tendency

In the first chapter I have already touched upon the different characteristics of the schizoid state: protracted, day-dreaming without any capacity to concentrate on a given subject, and resulting anxiety accompanied by the anxiety insomnia. Solitude is not pathological in itself; numerous thinkers and creative persons have benefitted from periods of solitude. The schizoid subject on the other hand does not benefit from it, often because the family, which is opposed to it, considers it "madness". The family senses that the adolescent is escaping from its hold becomes angry about it and, instead of trying to understand this mechanism, prefers to project its aggressiveness onto the subject by treating him like an insane person. This negative projection augments the alredy existent fear of madness within the patient, and can even cause him to succumb to delirium completely.

In Hinduism, an adolescent who wishes to plunge within himself, has a vast number of role models to inspire him, from the errant "god crazy" ascetic, to the Swami of the great institutions which seek to link inner research with a desire for social action. In Catholicism, the schema of the mystic is more rigid: more often than not he will be asked to submit himself to strict normative discipline, within a cloistered community, a prospect not particularly attractive to a "seeking" adolescent. Schizoid subjects who attempt to delve within themselves, ignore the necessity of a leading thread for exploring the mind. This thread could be the ‘mantra’, the observation of breathing and of the posture itself, or a constant reference to the therapist or the guru.

With the multiplication of the intensive workshops of intensive psychotherapectic practices, or prolonged meditation, there is a risk of delirious experience from which a person often recovers by himself, but which can sometimes also become exacerbated and protracted. This is mainly due to the sudden suppression of the factors of relaxation in daily life: less sleep, reduced diet or fasting, sexual inactivity, no conversation, and therefore no laughter; all this leads to a confrontation with ones unconscious. Some people cannot withstand the strain. The psychotherapist or the teacher of meditation should have a responsible attitude, and should be capable of facing up to, and dealing with this kind of disturbance, even after the completion of their workshop. These intensive seminars attract Westerners because they correspond to their fragmented life-styles in which one multiplies experiences, though not always in a meaningful manner.

These rapid dives into the inner world can be compared to the "bad trips" of drug users, wherein the experience, which could have been a mystical one turns sour because of lack of preparation. Optimally as these experiences decrease, the subjects understand the need for following a path of regular meditation in order to re-discover and develop the best part of that which they had glimpsed under the effects of drugs or of intensive practices.22, 23.

The spiritual path is a life-long path and too much haste can be harmful. An intensive workshop or retreat should only be undertaken with real motivation, not through curiosity or to accompany friends. If the preparation for this period has been done through a daily inner practice, it will present less risks of psycho-pathological accidents. People from the East also undertake intensive retreats but these do not come out of the blue. They are interspersed with an evolution along a given path, under the direction of the guru.

The theme of madness and wisdom cannot be dealt with withou taking into consideration those people, whose spiritual level is not very brilliant, but who are convinced that they are "realised": it is a kind of "gentle megalomania", which has always existed, to a certain extent in India, but is now also present in the West, where it has became a kind of fashion in the New Age’s wake. Vivekananda already recounts, in his correspondence that, when he went to the West, he met many people who were convinced that they had achieved realisation spontaneously, unaided either by practice or by a guru. The difference between the two type of realisation is that Vivekananda is still remembered, while his "realised" visitors have disappeared without a trace. As spiritual culture is less-developed in the West, people have a tendency to take their initial inner experiences to be signs of the final realisation. There is a story in this context which is found both in the Talmud and in the teachings of Ramakrishna. A peasant who had never visited the city, wanted to present a petition to the king; when he came to the door of the palace and saw the guard with his superb uniform and his long moustaches, he asked him. "Are you the King?" As he went inside, he asked the same question of each and every person who guided him. When he came before the king, however, he fell silent. there was no need to ask, he knew that this was the king.

For the inner voyage to be successful, the seeker should be sufficiently mature, or ‘adhikari’ as the Hindus say, and to them this is a fundamental notion. This does not mean that the spiritual aspirant has to be perfect; if he were, he would have had no need to follow any practice. It only means that, if he wishes to undergo an intensive retreat for some time, he must adhere to certain principles as completely as he possibly can. He should be less strict if still living in the world. yoga speaks of ten rules which are to be observed, so that the energy awakened by the practice of Yoga may be directed towards the goal of spiritual awakening. These rules are the railings which prevent one from going over the edge and falling into insanity. It is important to understand how an experience, which had begun well, can be transformed into a "bad trip" through neglecting these rules.

We will consider three important rules among these:

1) Non-violence (‘ahimsa’) :- We have seen that the schizoid subject goes inwardly in an atmosphere of conflict. This generates within him a feeling of culpability about his desire for isolation, a culpability which is projected in the form of anger against those around him who prevent him from going within himself as he would like to. This is a vicious cycle which he has to break by going beyond anger. Traditionally, those who wish to explore themselves are asked to pray for other, to concentrate on the idea which is expressed in Mahayana Buddhism as the offering of merits, and is Catholicism, as the communion of saints. In the case of intellectuals who only believe in psychology, the fact of "entering into psycho-analysis", serves a function which may be analogous. There is an implicity altruistic aspect to it, because, generally, the analysts are convinced that they are participating in the great movement of the promotion of consciousness in modern society. Moreover the culpability born of 'the egoism’ in wishing to spend a little time with oneself is solved by the auto-punitive and expiatory act of having to pay for the sessions.

2) Truth (‘satya’) :- we have seen that delirium is linked to the patient’s deep doubts about his own emotions and sensations. These doubts seem to spring from the fact that he has been exposed to contradictory messages, to a double blind, as it were, by his parents : the school of systemic therapy says that repeatedly posing paradoxes to the child is pathogenic : for example slapping him, and telling him he is a good boy at the same time, or caressing him while saying that he deserves severe punishment. One variety of "lying" occurs more or less unconsciously, when one of the parents is interested in the mind-psychology, mysticism or the occult and pretends to know everything; he wishes to impose his way of feeling, his interpretations, his experiences, on the child; as the child cannot renounce the parental relationship, which is vital to him at his age, he begins to doubt himself deeply, and this can create the basis of a delirium in adolescence, especially if other pathological factors arer present. The habit of speaking out ones thoughts, or of keeping quiet if the thoughts are likely to hurt, on the part of parents as well of children, creates an unity between the inner and exterior worlds, which is the best way of preventing delirium. Keeping silent to avoid a quarrel is often the best strategy, but saying the contrary of what one thinks is definitely not good.

3) Sexual control (‘brahm ch rya’) :- I remember a patient, a diagnosed schizopherenic, who explained a method of Yoga very clearly to me : he wished that the energy of his consciousness, which he felt was mainly directed towards the base and the sexual zone, would rise and be experienced at the level of the shoulders and the head, so that he could stabilize himself in a peaceful and luminous state of being, where he would have the capacity to see clearly and to solve his problems. His intuition was corresponding to the traditional Tantric notion of the awakening of inner energy (Kundalini), but he had neither the perseverance nor the know-how to use it to his own good. This process requires a long-term evolution, easier described than realised. Auto-eroticism is almost constant in the subject with acute delirious firts. This limits the scope of his inner exploration by enclosing him in a compulsive repetition, all the more powerful because it is associated with pleasure, which reinforces the conditioning.

According to some people, the best way to reach the goal of a complete, stable, happy, free-of-desire state, is to fully satisfy ones desires, while remaining conscious of them all the time. This is an attractive idea for the majority of people, because it flatters the instinct of acquisition, of consumerism which is deeply entrenched in all human beings. The only problem is that all this does not work for very long. By its very nature, desire acts as a drug, blinding consciousness. A good analogy of this phenomenon is the bee which sees a flower through a window, and, in its desire to reach it directly, constantly hits itself against the glass pane until it dies. It does not think of retreating a little and going through the door, which had been wide open all the while.

Ramakrishna recounted the story of the disciple who had a great desire for sweets and felt guilty about it. This system can work with a spiritual aspirant who feels easily guilty, but with an ordinary person, it is just the reverse: he goes round and round in a self-perpetuating circle of desire and satisfaction, only to realize after some years, that despite all the words and the justifications, he had not been much liberated.

There is, in fact, an analogy between the sage and the debauchee; the extremes seem to meet. The debauchee seeks enjoyment, the sage, the essence of enjoyment, and both want everything immediately : through the intensity of experience they hope to reach eternity, to enter into the zone of timelessness ; but the sage succeeds in stabilizing his state while the debauchee falls back into emptiness after a short-lived satisfaction. Francoise Dolto states "Non-desire is death." This reflects the opinion of the majority of the people. The mystic will agree with this too, if one or two important qualifying phrases were added, to read "Non-desire for liberation is death", or also "Non-desire at the ordinary level is the death of the ego", which is a great blessing. I know that this is not the opinion of ordinary psychology, but here I am expounding the basis of spiritual psychology. Nevertheless, not everyone is a mystic, and the majority of people will either not ponder on these psychological mechanisms,or will do so only very late in their lives.

Traditional psychology does not think it possible to be liberated from all desire overnight but is does affirm that it is good to aspire to this liberation according to ones capabilities, and to find the optimal tension of the inner strings so that our musical instrument can produce the right note every day. This corresponds to the method of most Indian sages, but it does not mean that everyone retire into a cave in the Himalayas. Ninety-five percent of the follower fo these sages lead a family life, which is generally more taxing than that in the West. The detachment which is demanded of them is, above all, an inner detachment-they have to act rightly without seeking gratification other than that of having acted rightly.

The genius of the symptom

It is often said that insanity has direct links with genious. In the last century, Holderlin, Nerval, Berlioz, Schumann, Van Gogh, and Nietzsche, all either brushed upon, or actually succumbed to, insanity. There is a kind of symmetry between madness and creativity, which Daniel Pons has very clearly expressed in "The Lunatic and the Creator"25: "clou, my brother, imbued with light, your madness inspires you: it incites you to create worlds which the vulgar call imaginary. But these worlds, Clou, my brother, are for the man with a heart, a man sincere; the realities are as dense as the earth, as dense, but inaccessible to the ordinary man."

In the context of the "genius of the symptom", I would like to return to the notion of disintegration which I had dealt with in chapter I. The delirious subject feels as if his body is disintegrating rapidly; as a result a fundamental anguish arises in him. The supposedly "normal" subject is also prone to this disintegration in the sense that there are some parts of his body which he cannot feel even if asked to concentrate on them. This parcelling-out in the normal subject finds a mirror image in the mind in the form of dispersion. In this sense, "peace of mind" does not exist. The only peace possible is beyond the mind.

This dispersion is re-inforced in Western man through the absence of unifying rituals and through the abundance of messages to which he is exposed and to which he likes to expose himself. Due to the compulsion of wanting to be informed, he ends up being deformed, something which hardly helps him to find a calm, independent, and happy inner being. He finds it very difficult to concentrate on himself, to reassemble himself inwardly. In order to do this, he needs external help, either from a psychotherapist or from a teacher of yoga. He becomes dependent on them to some extent. Some people try to miligate this dependence, by seeking aid from an increasing number of people. This can be useful for beginners who wish to acquaint themselves with various methods, but it could later lead to a chronic mental fragmentation which would cause the persons to lose sight of that unity which is the goal of inner evolution.

In the schizophrenic disintegration, the intensity of the sentiments of ecstasy and anguish leads the psychotic to the physical basis of the mind. Mind and body are both experienced as being fragmented.

However, this experience, often mixed with sensations of emptiness or of absence of the body, can be the sign of a frustrated attempt at therapy, the dissociation from the body helping to overcome the anguish. If one considers this ‘genius of the symptom", the comparison with the mystical experience will be better understood. Dissociation has the following advantages:- Dissociation from pain : sages like Ramana Maharishi, Ramakrishna and Nisargadatta Maharaj were able to withstand the great ordeal of a long and painful illness, while maintaining the radiance of inner happiness and a complete consciousness which was not veiled by analgesics or narcotics that they did not take. They thus proved that their Vedanta was not mere mystical speculation, but a reality to be lived in a concrete manner, as well.

Dissociation from anxiety manifests itself in the body. Stories of the expansion or distortion of the body are prevalent in the biographies of the Saints of Bengal. The idea of destruction leading to re-birth is a common mystical theme, illustrated in the tests that Tilopa, the founder of the Tibetan Buddhist Kagyupa Order made his disciple Naropa undergo.26 When this idea is taken in the literal sense, it leads to deviations of asceticism like violence against the body, automutilation etc. When its inner significance is understood, it leads to the purification of the mind, and stabilization of happiness.

In India, the Vaishnavites speak of ‘Namagni’, or the purification by the fire of the Name, through the recitation of the ‘mantra’ which destroys identification with the body, just as the flames of the funeral pyre destroy the body itself to the extent that this identification slackens its hold. In Vedanta, too, dissociation from the body is the driving force behind evolution. Ramana Maharishi said that the course of non-duality can be summed up in a few words- "Who am I ? I am not this body; I am that" (in Sanskrit, "Koham, deham naham, soham"). By ‘that’ Hindus understand the Absolute, the Being Consciousness-Happiness. The schizopherenic understands that he can pacify his anguish through a detachment from his body, but this detachment actually remains very partial. His aggressiveness, fear and sexual desire prove that he is still associated with his body. In addition, the schizophrenic, like quite a few therapists, looks no further than the body for the cause of his anguish, and confuses a relative, useful and intelligent dissociation, with a massive, blind and even suicidal negation of the body. There is a world of difference between the two; besides, this progressive and conscious dissociation from the body brought about by meditation, should be distinguished from the violent rejection which is encouraged by rigid morals or harsh discipline. There is a difference between the "Attention ! Eyes front !" of the conscript and the stability of the sage within himself, although, in both cases there is immobility :the former is forced, the latter natural.

Real dissociation from the body shakes the foundations of egoism and anger. The attachment to the body is only another form of the instinct of self-preservation; if one can go beyond this attachment, one attains wisdom, compassion and a love for others, which, no longer being obscured by the unconscious projections of the ego, is ultimately objective. Indeed, the meditation of ‘Chod’, the Tibetans offer their bodies to the demons and to the universe. Through that they increase the spirit of giving freely—with ‘bodhisattva’ consciousness within themselves. If one wishes to practice this meditation intensively, he has to be guided by a competent spiritual teacher, because there is the risk of a psychotic dissociation: if the demons are summoned, in the end they will come. The fundamental fear of sdissociation is cured when one realizes that when the body is fragmented , the space "between the pieces" is also oneself. This is the Indian method of dissolving the "psychotic core" which is buried deep in our unconscious.

The way in which egoism and anger are linked to the identification with the body, and to the fear of going to pieces, is evident in some popular expressions, "I am paying through my nose for this", "They will have my hide", "tearing ones hair", "hairsplitting", etc. Indian tradition has understood the importance of body integrity as the basis of ego. French psycho-analysis also comes to the same notion by laying stress on the necessity of having a healthy, continuous "Me-Skin" (Moi-peau) and "Me-envelopes". (envelopes du—Moi) for a normal functioning of the personality. But this discipline gives the impression that it has need of a complicated language and a considerable theoretical apparatus for arriving at what is the starting point of inner considerable theoretical apparatus for arriving at what is the starting point of inner work on the spiritual path. It is possible that psychoanalysis, and the enormous number of writings and theories to which it has given birth will be victim of its own giganticism, like the dinosaurs, and will well and truly disappear, to give place to more supple and simple forms of thought. I recommend the writings of R. Castel (27) and A-Kieser (28), to get an idea of the distance which exists between the liberating ideals of psychoanalysis, and its reality, mixed with all kinds of systems of power.

Gentle craziness, harsh craziness and holy craziness in tradition

It is a vast subject, only the principal points of which can be touched upon here. It often happens that great spiritual personalities pass through phases that can appear to others to resemble madness. The elements of this section of the book are taken from the study of A. Cahn on the Indian renunciates and the Russian "crazy-for-Christ" sect-(29), from the book by J. Mac Daniel on the mystical madness in Bengal in the 20th century (30), and from my own works on the craziness-for-God of Ma Anandamayi (31), on the biography of Krishnamurti (32) and on the work on the relationship between guru and psychotherapist which appeared in the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology (33).

From the Cynics of Antiquity to the madmen of the Middle Ages, the lunatic has had the capacity to make people think. Saint Paul inspired the entire tradition of ‘Yourodstvo’ or the madness-for-Christ in Russia, when he said, "If someone amongst you believes that he is wise in the opinion of this world, let him first become foolish, for the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God" (I Cor. 3, 18-19). In Indian tradition, simulated madness has the well-known advantage of protecting solitude, attenuating the ego, and allowing the expression of this state of wisdom which is beyond the pairs of opposites. Shankaracharya said in the ‘Vivekachudamani’: "The sage sometimes behaves as an ignorant man, sometimes as an educated one; sometimes he has the dignity of a great king, and sometimes he resembles a crazy man (literally, ‘gone astray’ ‘bhranta’, which can also signify the basic error according to Vedanta, consisting of not perceiving the Absolute which imbibes, so to say, the manifest world)."

When Erasmus praised craziness, he in reality eulogized "gentle craziness with happy illusions, as opposed to the "harsh madness" which he associated with the Furies (34). In pathological madness, the happy illusion is eminently changeable: joyful mania changes to depressive despair, and in schizophrenia, emotional extremes intermingle to the great discomfort of the patient. Perhaps the only really happy lunatic is the sage who adopts an unconventional demeanour in order to remain in peaceful solitude. Erasmus’s vision of the foolishness which is the driving force behind most human behaviour, of the foolishness which makes worlds go round, has been a lasting and unexpected success; perhaps because, beyond the satire, this concept touches a metaphysical and mystical chord deep within us. In India, do they not speak of Maya, the Great Magician, to whom the universe owes its relative existence, and is not the origin of the world considerd to be a divine play (lila)? This point of view will evolve among those who see in it a sense of "cosmic humour’ a fundamental non-anguish, two qualities which are very useful for a happy life.

In the Hindu context, the "madness" of the ascetic leads him to challenge the Gods and surpass their powers In the Christian context, on the other hand those who are "mad-for-Christ" challenge the rich and the great of this world, with the intention of reforming their morals. In India, particularly in Bengal, the title of ‘Pagal Baba’ (Crazy Baba) is greatly respected. Another name for the "mad-for-God" is "mast". This ia a term signifying an intoxication which is amorous and religious at the same time. The real ‘mast’ is someone who has experienced divine happiness with such intensity that his ego is dead, "dying of pleasure", it could be said. Meher Baba, a contemporary guru, considered as one of his missions to bring together and protect in homes mystics of this kind. Ma Anandamayi used to say that, as compared to ordinary people, she was a little crazy. It was a form of modesty so as not to be obliged to boast about a behaviour inspired by a constant perception of the divine, and to take into account the fact that she was authorized to speak and act intuitively, without having to constantly explain the reasons for her actions. Those who have lived for some time at Ma Amritanandamayi’s ashram at Kerala have been able to feel the breeze of ‘saintly madness" that blows through it, awakening unsuspected spiritual energies within visitors and disciples.

Traditional Hindus have fairly precise criteria for distinguishing between, common craziness, craziness for god, and simulated craziness which only serves to gain some attention of the people around or to make some money, thus being close to hysterical theatricality. This distinction is important, because if an ecstatic is authentic, he can be chosen as a guru. The faithful who are intoxicated by the divine exhibit physical signs (horripilation, pallor, trembling etc.) and psychic signs of which the principal ones are: a rapid variation of mood between the joy of union and the despair of separation, a communication of religious sentiment to those around, a preference for the state of renunciation as compared to the married state, or at least an absence of sexual activity, the presence of disciples, the non-denigration of other gurus and a pure life in the past. The manner in which Indian villagers test a subject in ecstasy is not merely an intellectual one. They can inflict more or less severe pain (depending on their latent aggressivity) on him to be sure that he really feels nothing...

In "The Life of Antony the Great" by Saint Athanasius one sees the hermit of the desert prey to what strongly resembles madness: his insomnia and anxiety are such that he is always in the grip of demons and beasts who attack him. The devils echo his thoughts (which is characteristic of hallucinatory delirium in psychiatry): he hears them, sees them, feels their bodies and lives in a state of indifference of his own body. From time to time, he goes beyond the attachment to the body: once as it is also practised in the Tibetan ‘Chod’ meditation, he accepts being devoured by the messengers of Satan; the result is a success and the demonic hordes flee. He does not take the apparitions too seriously, however, because he knows that just the Name of Christ is enough to make them disappear. While maturing in his life as a monk, he finally reaches a stable state. Athanasius has described it thus : "This is how one recognized Antony- he was never disturbed, his soul was serene, he was never melancholic, his spirit was ever joyful."35 He guided the young, who came to him for advice on the path of solitude, and passed into posterity, to be know as the "doctor of Egypt" and "Father of Monks".

In India, too, a mystic like Ramakrishna had a brush with madness in the course of his spiritual practice when he was young, but in the last years of his life and after his death, he made a considerable uplifting social impact. The Ramakrishna Mission is said to be the largest philanthropic organisation in the world; it has a widespread following, especially in India-a country of more than nine hundred million people. The influence of his personality was felt by mystics through the 20th century, right upto the present time; he inspired, for instance, Ma Amritanandamayi whom we have mentioned earlier.

Towards therapy as an initiation

Coming to the end of this first section on the spirituality of psychology, I am reminded of the prayer that Hindus say each morning in front of the rising sun. "Lead us from the unreal to the Real". What more can one ask of crazy wisdom than that it lead us from the unreal to the Real ? To cure us from illusion, in order to initiate us into the real Good ? Traditional Indian psychology has a hierachical vision of the different levels of reality. In deep sleep, one is immersed in the ultimate Reality, without being conscious of it. The dream has its own reality: if one is thirsty in a thirsty in a dream, the thirst will be quenched by a glass of water drunk in the dream, and not by the glass of water on the night table. Similarly, between Reality and absolute Reality, there are intermediate worlds which the mystic can easily perceive, because he is disidentified from his body. Hindus acknowledge that the ordinary world has a certain reality, but they do not go as far as admitting that it has a definite reality. The difference has to be meditated upon.

This vision renders considerably more flexible the manichean distinction which Western psychology makes, in practice, between "the" reality, in other words, the material reality indissolubly linked to the mind which manages it, and the rest, which is at best poetry, and at worst delirium, and which will always remain vague in every respect.

Psychologists theoretically acknowledge the function of the symbol but they themselves must have a great experience of the state between sleeping and waking, so that they can follow the symbolic language of their patients exactly; otherwise the help which they try to give will be pointless, more inspired by intellectual references than by actually having lived this symbolic life. Considered from the angle of inner evolution, everything is a symbol of the self, not in the psychological sense, but in the Indian sense of the term. That is, everything is connected to a foundation of consciousness-happiness, which is constantly present, but which we are forgetting. The function of the ideal therapist would be to first remind himself of this fact, and then to remind his patients.

At the end of the chapter "Child-sage" we have mentioned the importance of the theme of death and rebirth in schizopherenia, and its parallel in experience of spiritual initiation and of initiation-like therapy. This comparison gives meaning to the ordeal which the patient undergoes, transforms it into an adventure, and offers a new beginning. Once the subjects with psychological difficulties have attained an equilibrium through their own efforts or through the help of a psychotherapist, they find themselves once more at the level of ordinary people: then they have two main ways of facilitating their spiritual opening: disinterested service of others and meditation. Meditation gets strengthened when it awakens a peaceful passion for going inwards. The seeker then comes face to face with himself, and discovers, in a concrete manner, his own spiritual psychology and its laws. He has entered the stream; all the has to do is follow its course.