Between Western psychology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy and the so-called religions of Asia, there is common ground because both are interested in changing states of human consciousness. Whereas, institutional western religions – Christianity, Judaism, and even Islam – are relatively less interested in this matter. Western religions are more concerned with behavior, doctrine, and belief than with any transformation of the way in which we are aware of ourselves and of the world. But this matter concerns psychiatry and psychology very much. Only, those states of consciousness which are not normal are usually treated in Western psychology as being in some way sick.
There are, of course, exceptions to this. And they have increasingly been exceptions. In the work of Jung, and to some extend even of Groddeck, of Prinzhorn, of more modern people as Rogers and Ronald Laing, changing consciousness is often looked upon as a form of therapy. But in general, different states of consciousness from the normal are regarded as a form of sickness. And therefore, official and institutional psychiatry constitutes itself the guardian of sanity and of socially approved experience of reality. And very often it seems to me that reality appears rather much the way the world is seen on a bleak Monday morning, in this official doctrine – I might even say dogma – of what reality is. Because after all, we know that our science, such as it is of psychology, is founded in the scientific naturalism of the nineteenth century. And the metaphysical and mythological assumptions of that science still underlie a great deal of psychological thinking. In behaviorism eminently, but also, to a large extend, in official psychoanalysis.
Indeed, one might say that psychoanalysis is based on Newtonian mechanics, and in fact could be called psycho-hydraulics. Not that that analogy is altogether inappropriate because there are certainly respects in which our psychic life flows and exhibits the dynamics of water, but of course we want to know what kind of water. And for the scientific naturalism of the nineteenth century, the basic energies of nature were considered to be very much inferior to human consciousness in quality. Ernst Haeckel, the biologist of that time would think of the energy of the universe as blind energy. And correspondingly, it seems to me that Freud thought of the libido as essentially blind, unconscious energy embodying only a kind of formless, unstructured, and insatiable lust.
This is a generalization, some modification in that thinking is of course possible. But the tendency is to regard all that which lies below the surface of human consciousness as being less evolved, because you must remember that it was also the time of Darwin’s theory of evolution, of seeing the human mind as a fortuitous development from much more primitive forms of life coming forth by purely mechanical processes, by natural selection, and by the survival of the fittest.
And therefore, man was, in general seeing, as a fluke of nature and embodiment of reason, emotion, and values for which the more basic processes of nature had no sympathy and about which they did not care. If, therefore, the human race was to flourish, we must take charge of evolution. It can no longer be left to spontaneous processes, but must be directed by human ingenuity. Despite effect, that although our brains are capable of dealing with the colossal number of variables at once, our conscious attention is not. Most people cannot consider more than three variables at the same time without using a pencil. And this shows that in many ways the scanning process of man’s conscious attention is very inadequate for dealing with the infinitely many variables, the multidimensional processes of the natural universe. However a serious attempt has been made, and scientific naturalism issued in a fantastic fight with nature.
In this whole notion of the conquest and subordination of nature which has, as a matter of fact, very ancient, non-scientific and biblical origins. With the idea of man as the head, and chef, and ruler of nature, in the image of God, and the time has now dawned upon us all when our attempts to beat nature into submission are having alarming results. Because we see that it is very dangerous to mess around with processes that we don’t understand, that have enormous numbers of variables, and we have begun to wonder whether we hadn’t better leave well enough alone.
At the same time, although I said that Western psychology had more in common or more common interests with Oriental religion than it does with Western religion, there is a sense in which psychiatry and psychotherapy are becoming the religion of the West. Psychoanalysis has much in common with the forms and procedures of institutional religion. There is, for example, apostolic succession: the passing down of mana [mana: impersonal force, authority, magical power], of qualified power to practice therapy from the father-founder Sigmund Freud through his immediate apostles to an enormous company of archbishops and bishops. Among whom there are of course, as there was in Christianity, heresiarchs such as Jung, Groddeck, Rank, and Reich, and the heresiarchs are duly excommunicated and anathematized. There are rituals, as there are also rituals with religion. There is the sacrament of the couch, there is the spiritual discipline of free association. There is the mystic knowledge of the interpretation of dreams, and there are also the two great symbolic fetishes: the long one and the round one.
Now it is extraordinarily easy to make fun of all this. And we must not forget that we owe a tremendous debt to Freud if for nothing else than pointing out that much of ourselves – of which we are aware in terms of the conscious ego – is not really ourselves. It is something superficial, however we define its nature it is superficial, and the realities of human life are not under the gaze of its scanning process, at least not in the ordinary way. And that was a tremendous revelation, there is no question about that. But one sees troublesome signs when the doctrines and processes of psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and so forth become officialised. And I think, Thomas Szasz, in his books The Myth of Mental Illness and The Manufacture of Madness, is pointing out something extremely important to us: which is that in a fact the psychological official of today is the priest. And that he is beginning to exercise the same sort of controls over human life as were exercised by the church in the Middle Ages. So the professor of psychiatry at Columbia or Harvard or Yale medical schools has today the same sort of intellectual respectability and authority as the professor of theology at the University of Toledo or Padua would have had in the year 1400.
Now you must realize that the theologians of those days not simply believed in their cosmology and theology, they almost new it was true, in the same way that our scientists know certain things to be true – despite the fact that they change their opinions very often while they hold them. Their have in a fact the force of dogma, as witness the anathematization of Velikowsky for his uncomfortable ideas. And therefore, there are heresies existing today which are persecuted in the same way as heresies were persecuted by the Holy Inquisition. And they are persecuted out of kindness in exactly the same way that the Holy Inquisition persecuted heresy out of kindness and deep concern for human beings. That is unimaginable to us, but it was so. But after all, if you seriously believe that someone who did not hold the catholic faith and who voluntarily rejects it, would be tortured physically and spiritually forever and ever and ever in hell, you would resort to almost any means to preserve a fellow human being from such a fate – especially if the complaint, or disease of heresy from which he suffers was infectious.
You would first of all reason with him. And if he was not responsive to reason, you would resort to abuse and to forceful argument. And if he was responsive to that, you would give him shock treatment and bang him about. If that didn’t work, the thumb screw, the rack, and the iron maiden. And if that didn’t work – as a last desperate result – you would burn him at the stake in the pious hope that in the midst of those searing fires he would think better and make a last act of perfect contrition and so be rescued from everlasting damnation. And you did all this in the spirit of “this is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you”, in the spirit of the surgeon who is very, very sorry indeed that he has to make you undergo this extremely painful operation, but it is in your best interest, and there really is at least a fifty-fifty chance that you may survive.
And so therefore, in perfectly scientific, medical spirit, people may be very arbitrarily and without due process deprived of their civil rights, incarcerated in prisons that are in many cases much worst than prisons for criminals, and generally left to rot, be neglected and ignored and when they are bumptious, given shock treatment or put in solitary confinement. For what? Because they have unorthodox and heretical states of consciousness.
A lot of these people are not dangerous until provoked into being dangerous by being ignored, by being treated as machines and in generally define as nonhuman. And if you are define as nonhuman there is precious little you can do about it, because everything you say that sounds human will be taken as a kind of utterance of a mechanical man, as imitating humanness out of lunatic cunning. You will be suspicious, everything you say will be listened to in a different way and with different ears. And you will have one heck of a time talking yourself out of it, because there really are no rules as to what one must do when incarcerated for having unorthodox consciousness. There is no clear road to repentance.
And this is found likewise in jails where people are incarcerated on one, to ten year sentences, as in places like Vacaville, California. When I visited such prisons young men have come to me in perfect desperation and said, “I don’t know what’s happened to me because I want to live like a decent citizen. I know I’ve done things that are wrong, but I simply don’t know what is expected of me here. If I try to do what’s expected, they say I’m compliant, and that seems to be some sort of a sickness.”
Thomas Szasz drew attention to this when he quoted a discussion of the types of schoolchildren who may very well need therapy. There were overachieving, there were underachieving children. There were children who exhibited erratic patterns, there were children who were sort of dully mediocre. In fact, every sort of child can be given a diagnostic name, for his behaviour, which sounds sick. As Jung once suggested, “Life itself is a disease with a very poor prognosis. It lingers on for years and invariably ends with death.”
And I submit that with our present knowledge of the human mind, such power in the hands of psychiatrists is amazingly dangerous. What I would suggest that today we know about as much concerning the human mind as we knew about the galaxy in 1300. And that while there are indeed individuals who are certainly able to perform psychotherapy, it is the sheerest arrogance for anybody to say that he is officially qualified to do so. We do not know how it is done, just as we do not know, really, how musical, artistic, and literary genius is done. You cannot really teach it, you can put the tools for doing these things into people’s hands, and you can show them how to use the tools, but whether they will use those tools with genius is quite unpredictable.
And this is above all true of the art of psychotherapy. We don’t know how it’s done. We have got some vague ideas. There probably are some people who, by reason of their mental derangement are probably not qualified to perform it because they are maybe out just to make other people into messes. But to say that there are certain standards and certain examinations that can be passed and certificates that can be issued which doing it qualify people for this work is, I think, pernicious nonsense. And is used, of course out of economic self-interest, when those who consider themselves official therapists run into competition.
The same was done by religion. I was talking, imagine it, to a Buddhist priest in Thailand, some years ago. I was looking at some books in a bookshop in the precincts of a Buddhist temple, and I was wondering over it, and I noticed a book on a certain form of Buddhist meditation, and I murmured, “Hmm, Satipatthana,” which is the name of a certain kind of Buddhist meditation.
And a voice suddenly said to me, “You practice Satipatthana?” I looked up and there was a skinny Buddhist monk in a yellow robe with rather red eyes looking at me.
I said, “Not exactly Satipatthana. I use a different method. It’s called Zen.”
“Oh Satipatthana not Zen.”
I said, “Well, it’s something like it, isn’t it?”
“Well, it’s rather like yoga,” I said. “Isn’t it?”
“Not yoga, no. Satipatthana different. Only right way.”
“Well, look,” I said to him. “I have a lot of Roman Catholic friends who tell me that their way is the only right way. Whom am I to believe? You know, I said, you’re like someone who’s got a ferryboat for crossing the river, – I used the Buddhist simile – and another fellow down the stream has opened up a ferry business. You go to the government, and say, ‘He’s not authorized to operate a ferryboat, because he’s competition to you. Let all operate ferryboats who will. And if you haven’t got the sense to get off, to stay off one that sinks, it’s your fault.” And after all I could say to him “You believe that everything that happens to you is your own karma, so why worry?”
But now, it’s so interesting that sense, official psychiatry, and I underline the word official because I hope those of you in this audience who are therapists will regard yourselves as unofficial. At least that’ll give you an out. But nevertheless, official psychiatry has curious things in common with Western religion as well as with Eastern. It believes, that I said, only insofar as it has an interest in states of consciousness, and in times to regard other states of consciousness than the ordinary as sick. But it has one very important feature in common with Western religion. And to (understand) that we have to go a little bit (deeper) into Western religious history and ask ourselves what in Western religion – and especially in Christianity, and this goes also for Judaism, Islam – what is the great heresy?
Curiously enough the great heresy was first, in the West, committed by no less a person than Jesus Christ who believed himself to be God. This of course will be unquestionably true if you think that the Gospel of St. John has historical value. It is a little vague in the synoptic Gospels, but if you read the Gospel of St. John there is absolutely no doubt about it, for he said, “I and the Father are one. He who has seen me has seen the Father. Before Abraham was, I am. I am the way, the truth, and the life. I am the resurrection and the life.” He said all that, according to this Gospel, and that is something that in the Western world you are not supposed to say. Especially, you are not supposed to believe it, and naturally it was very difficult for Jesus because he was saying all this in the context of the Hebrew culture. And he tried to find language in the Hebrew scriptures with which to express his state of consciousness because he had an unusual state of consciousness, as I read it, he had cosmic consciousness, otherwise known as mystical experience, otherwise known as moksha, nirvana, bodhi, satori, fana-al-fana or what you will. And that happens to people. It has happened as far back as we know. It happens all over the world, and in all cultures. We don’t know very much about it. We don’t really know ways in which to make it happen because it seems to be of the nature of it that it is a spontaneous surprise. But it unquestionably happens, and most people keep their mouths shut about it when it does.
I had a friend who, in the middle of having a stroke, had this illumination. And he said to me, “I fear to speak to my friends of this, but it was the most beautiful experience. I shall never be afraid of death. In fact, I recommend to everyone to have a stroke.” This was my friend Jean Varda, the lately deceased Greek painter.
But Jesus certainly had this transformation of consciousness, and he was crucified for it. Why? Because he had committed an act of insubordination and treason against the cosmic government. Because if you believe that God is a monarch, an absolute, omniscient, and omnipotent authority – shall we say a sort of cosmic ego – then to claim to be that, is to introduce democracy into the Kingdom of Heaven. To usurp divine authority and to speak in its name without proper authorization. And they asked Jesus, “By what authority do you speak – of heaven or of men?” And he was tricky about answering that one, he said “By what authority did John the Baptist speak?” And they were nervous about answering that one. He could have asked by what authority did Isaiah speak etc, or Moses?