“Every man is a divinity in disguise, a god playing the fool.” —Emerson

I would have to say that trickery has been a major way that I have played the fool.

Not trying to trick other people. Not even trying to trick myself. The kind of trickery I am referring to is the attempt to cultivate "magical powers" or Siddhis. These are things like traveling anywhere at the speed of thought, controlling all bodily processes, precipitating objects and events in the physical world, predicting the future, reading the minds of others, and perhaps most gruesomely—sticking a hat pin through my forearm.

Many decent books on yoga or meditation warn beginners about getting too interested in such tricks, since they do not really contribute anything to Self-realization. But as an occasional Theosopher, I have often found myself in disagreement with many decent books on yoga or meditation. One ego-formation of mine is comprised of the opinion that perhaps way too many mere scribes and Pharisees have been allowed to publish in the "psychotech" areas. Not only do many seem to be just “passing along old things,” unscreened by personal experience and/or unimproved by personal experimentation, but most also seem unaware of a couple of very interesting Theosophical possibilities.

Both possibilities concern the “latent powers" mentioned in the Third Object of the Theosophical Society. On the largest scale, there have been those—probably including Gurdjieff—who have believed that there is at least a respectable degree of "Theosophical probability" that a certain "subset" of evolving Soul-Substance “packages” (“monads,” jivas, souls) may not automatically get taken out of the "reincarnating stream" once their desire natures have been totally eradicated/perfected.

This could mean that certain individuals might—unlike the common herd which theoretically dissolves into the One at this point—come back into incarnation for some extra-added experience as developing “Masters” or “Adepts.” Such an anthropogenic "bonus trip" might be considered the highest type of trans-lifetime adventure, since these venturesome ones may have to volitionally choose to cultivate and use their latent powers, even though by doing so they might knowingly “re-unbalance the desire-free Balance” which has perhaps taken countless lifetimes to achieve.

This is just speculation of course. Perhaps most things on the large scale involve at least a little speculation, even though that which is based upon some degree of transcendentally developed intuition might be more respectfully called Theosophy. In terms of solid evidence, however, it is often quite a different matter on a smaller scale. For example, a significent percentage of the aging population can probably easily provide facts to support the contention that the older they get, the less motivation for accomplishing things they seem to have. Therefore, psychologically speaking, many of these individuals may feel that they have more than ample reason for cultivating a few life-improving latent powers—and perhaps to hell with the warnings, even though they may have originally been written in Teflon-coated Sanskrit.

While the experience of waning personal powers could thus provide a nice rationale for some, it hardly explains why, as a relatively young man, I started sticking hat pins through my forearms. Show business and semi-Self-aggrandizement are my likely explanations/excuses. At the time, determined to get famous for some reason, I was doing quite a bit of public speaking on education and Theosophical subjects. I remember running into a quote by Cicero: "Eloquence that does not startle I do not consider eloquence.”

I agreed. Therefore, I decided to see whether I could master one of the Siddhi-tricks I had seen a stage hypnotist do: I would not only try to stick an eight-inch hat pin through my arm with no pain, but I would also try to “will” the puncture wound not to bleed as a further illustration of my superpowers.

This, of course, would be merely startling without any verbal eloquence whatever; however, since with a little practice it is fairly easy to auto-suggest one's skin into becoming somewhat numb, I thought it might be amusing to give it a try—just to see what reaction it could get from audiences. I should hasten to confess, though, that the performance was mostly con-artistry. For one thing, forearm skin (no muscle was penetrated) has very few nerve endings to begin with, and most people could probably stick a pin through it without much discomfort at all. For another thing, pulling out the hat pin very slowly causes the tissues surrounding the puncture holes to swell up, thus naturally stopping any bleeding.

Public-school classrooms, college seminars, Theosophical gatherings, and even the Wisconsin Home Economics Association annual convention: all these speaking opportunities were thus "punctuated." In terms of notoriety it was a big success. People came up to me years later and said, "I saw you stick a hat pin through your arm.” Unfortunately, everyone remembered the hat pin, but no one remembered a single word that I had said.

Besides post-hypnotic suggestions there were other siddhi experiments as well. I was really not interested in becoming small as an atom, instantly traveling to the moon, uncovering screenplays of my former lifetimes, or even making myself smell delightful without the assistance of perfume. However, I was very curious to see if it were actually possible to make things happen “magically” just by “picturing them in one's mind’s-eye.” Thus, I also did some experiments with visualization.

Holding a "thought-form" of oneself in some desired circumstance or with some desired object may be one of the most familiar forms of modern psychotechnology. Along with “self-affirmations,” it is not only a mainstay of self-help books, but it is now also used in some types of psychotherapy as well. Unfortunately, from a certain Theosophical point of view, visualization could also be one of the more hazardous things one can do, since "internal pictures" may be strongly associated with Desire-Feeling and Desire-Mental levels of consciousness. It might not be an exaggeration to say that too much of this type of practice could almost be like sowing the rapacious weed seeds of obsessions, compulsions, depressions, anxieties, frustrations, disappointments, and perhaps even psychopathologies in one's own psychological garden.

It cannot be denied, however, that certain visualizations may be modestly efficacious and perhaps even beneficial, though probably in a limited and temporary way. Some, however, might actually be truly magical in an old-fashioned Paracelsian sense. (Supposedly, Paracelsus once asserted that a woman who indulged in mind-pictures of strawberries while pregnant would give birth to a baby with strawberry birthmarks.) Anyway, because of my 1972 Buick Riviera, I can personally testify to both the possible power and possible danger of visualizations.

Here it should be revealed that I am a man who basically drives not Buicks but Lincoln Town Cars. They are never brand-new ones, it is true, but at least they are usually pristine, top-of-the-line models with extremely low mileage purchased from rich old people who never quite mustered-up enough geriatric energy for the cross-country trips they had in mind when they purchased these luxury vehicles. I mention this only to underscore the fact that when it comes to fine cars, I am a man who can knowledgably compare notes with any pimp on the road.

Irrespective of all my proclaimed love for Lincoln Town Cars, however, nothing compares to the infatuation I once had with a 1972 Buick Riviera. Black lacquer finish, ox blood leather upholstery, “boattail” curved rear window, front hood which extended for about one and one-half city blocks: this was the real-life, head-turning Batmobile for sure. I and those closest to me always reverentially referred to it as “The Bullet.”

Since The Bullet was getting only about ten miles to the gallon in-town driving, I could use some extra gas money at the time. What could it hurt just to sit down and imagine myself holding in my hand a check for a large amount of cash? I greedily visualized myself like this for about a half-hour one day and then soon forgot all about it.

It was a couple weeks later when I pulled into a service station and began pumping some gas. Suddenly and inexplicably, a huge tanker truck, which had just finished delivering its load, mis-maneuvered and backed right into The Bullet. From that time on, my previously perfect Riviera was no longer quite perfect in respect to some new paint which did not quite have the same gloss and a slight waviness in the right rear panel. I thought about these things as I held a large but inadequate insurance company check in my hand.

Did my advance visualization actually have anything to do with the check-producing mishap or was it just an unconnected coincidence?

There may be no way to know for sure. There are probably only two reactions one might have to something like this: 1) regard the circumstance as insignificant and forget about it, or 2) keep an open mind about the possibility of a transcendent cause-and-effect relationship which might somehow be related to “Theosophy or Psychological Religion.”

THEOSOPHY OR PSYCHOLOGICAL RELIGION: now that is a book title which could be both eloquent and startling enough to have even gotten Cicero's approval. At least so it seemed to me as I browsed in a bookstore about twenty years ago and stumbled across this reprinted [from 1882] collection of lectures by Max Muller, the great German Orientalist. I remembered that H.P.B. Blavatsky had sometimes shown significant appreciation and even admiration for this ground-breaking compiler/translator of the 50-volume SACRED BOOKS OF THE EAST; here and there she had referred to him as “the Right Hon. Max Muller” and “the learned Professor.” Unfortunately, the respect did not seem mutual. In an 1893 article called "Esoteric Buddhism" [Nineteenth Century Vol. 33] Muller says, “If I were asked what Madame Blavatsky's Esoteric Buddhism really is, I should say it was Buddhism misunderstood, distorted, caricatured.”

The fact that someone with spectacular academic credentials like Max Muller had been interested in throwing his two cents at what has now become The Theosophical Society’s surgically inoperable question What is Theosophy? seemed to be well worth the $16.75 the bookstore was asking for the volume. (Incidentally, Muller would not have approved of H.P.B.’s writings and teachings becoming an exclusive “second dictionary definition” for the word Theosophy.)

Overall, though, the hardback was a disappointment. I had been hoping for some corroboration of my growing intimation that all the great Theosophical doctrines, like H.P.B.’s Cosmogenesis and Anthropogenesis, were the result of ancient saints and sages first constructing analogies with observations and introspections of their own states of consciousness and psychological processes. Unfortunately, there was nothing helpful in this regard; indeed, in many ways the book was just a good example of 19th-century academic scholarship—i.e., not much more of a page-turner than ninety percent of the fifty volumes of Sacred Books themselves—i.e., something like trying to read quagmires followed by sinkholes.

Still, besides the title, one major paragraph did make it worth the money. Muller says, "The subject and object of all being and all knowing are one and the same. This is the gist of what I call Psychological Religion, or Theosophy, the highest summit of thought which the human mind has reached, which has found different expressions in different religions and philosophies but nowhere such a clear and powerful realization as in the ancient Upanishads of India [p. 106].”

In psychological terms Muller’s subject and object of “all being and all knowing” might be Theosophically “reverse-analogized” into just I and you. And the assertion that these two “are one in the same” might perhaps be collapsed back into just the I—“Thou [once every semi-Self, egoic delusion is Transcended] art That”—Undifferentiated I, to be precise.

Undifferentiated Consciousness, to say it in a different way.

Brahman, to say it in a different, more religious sounding, Eastern way.

In short, Max Muller’s book was a good reminder for me that, apart from being an epistemology, or certain type of “allowable knowledge,” Theosophy can also be considered a religion. I sometimes call it “The Religion of Last Resort.” After a person has conscientiously tried but failed to find any holy-cobweb-covered teachings which can inspire one-hundred-percent belief, he or she might want to try, as Muller recommends, an Upanishadic “Inward Look” as a last-ditch effort to secure at least a few one-percent-probable, but nevertheless very powerful, religious insights.

Thus, neither fixed belief nor unshakable faith should be the advertised fruits of Theosophy, Psychological Religion, The Religion of Last Resort, or whatever one wants to call it; there are likely to be only intuitively “growing probabilities” which might sooner or later, as Paul said, bring a “Peace which [sur]passeth [mere] understanding.”

Frankly speaking, however, many people may want more from their religion than merely largely ineffable improvements and peace. Perhaps surprisingly, this is where Psychological Religion may have a considerable advantage over some “conventional” religions. It not only offers a “Basic Experiment” which has the potential to make things a lot better in terms of suffering, but it also gives a person some psychological tools to transform ordinary life into extraordinary life.

In regard to suffering, though, I am a person who has never believed that all life is quite as crappy as the Buddhists say it is. For me, at least, it has never been crappy enough to strait-jacket myself with every strap of the Noble Eightfold Path or to practice Zen with the discipline of a root vegetable. Indeed, life was probably not that crappy for most people when they were children; nor was/is it probably that crappy for most Masters/Adepts. There is good reason to suspect that earth existence might be at least somewhat of a “Playground” for both these groups. It might only become a full-featured torture chamber for full-fledged (fully “Psychomatured”)—but embrangled and skilless—adults.

Winston Churchill once said, “If you are going through Hell, keep going.” Less of a joke but probably better advice is this: “If you are going through Hell, STOP all ‘going’ for a while—i.e., STOP sensing, feeling, and thinking.” STOP and REALIZE that your individual-seeming Self is nothing more or less than Universal I. Or, as the Vedantists say, “Atman is Brahman.”

Furthermore, “Brahman is “Sat-Chit-Ananda,” as they also say.

Sat-Chit-Ananda”: this revelation of the three “fundamental attributes” of Brahman contains the Golden Promise of Theosophy or Psychological Religion. It is also gives rise to the Golden Hypothesis of its Basic Experiment.

Albert Camus once said, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” That may be true, but if a person eventually concludes that life is so bad, meaningless, and irremediable that he or she may as well take a volitional dirt-nap, the person might want to investigate one last thing—the validity of the fundamental attributes of Brahman: Sat, “Being”; Chit, “Mindstuff”; Ananda, "Bliss."

In particular: Ananda, “Bliss.” Countless saints, sages, and yogis have testified that any “Re-incorporation” with Brahman, even slight or fleeting, has the progressive effect of increasing the bliss of life afterwards. This is not a metaphysical promise; this is a PSYCHOLOGICAL promise. It is not concerned with origins of the universe or afterlife circumstances; it pertains to what is going on in a person’s own psyche, here and now. Experiment with the Golden Hypothesis and if, after even a few short weeks, you are not considerably “lighter, brighter, and better” psychologically, . . . well then, do as you and Camus think best. . . .

The Basic Experiment is meditation, of course. There are many useful “paths” to Krishnamurti’s “Pathless Land”—passive attending to the breath, listening to the shabd or “divine sound,” focusing on the forehead “chakra,” utilizing a mantra, etc. These ancient techniques are undoubtedly all valid or there would be no modern cohort of Swami Cash-in-the-Vedas still around wowing Westerners with them. A person should be able to tell whether he or she is effectively meditating just by monitoring internal states; if more evidence is desired, it is interesting that there are often some slight anal sphincter tightenings which also can be noticed.

(Since one dictionary definition for the word fundament is “anus,” a Basic Experimenter who is asked for his or her religious affiliation but is uncomfortable saying “Theosophist” can thus just say, “Fundamentalist.”. . .)

Whatever an aspirant’s meditative method, however, it is highly unlikely that he or she will ever completely “merge” with Brahman in the theoretical state called nirvikalpa samadhi. Nor would he or she probably ever want to. Even the great Indian saint Ramakrishna once said something to the effect that the purpose of meditation was to “taste the honey, not to become the honey.”

Simple Psychotech #4

Simple Psychotech #4 is important for a couple reasons. First, it is a good example of something not only produced but also recognizable using the epistemological definition of Theosophy: “Intuitive knowledge or wisdom resulting from direct experience of one’s Transcendent Nature.” The “self-help” field is crowded. If an aspirant does not initially intuit the potential validity and importance of any given psychotechnology (or indeed, any other “scientifically unsupported” teaching), he or she will likely just categorize it as speculation rather than Theosophy and perhaps not experiment with it. (The modern method for keeping the Philistines away from “esoteric” knowledge may be just to find a big enough pile of exoteric knowledge to openly throw it upon.) Second, Simple Psychotech #4
leads to the Honey pretty fast.

And it could hardly be simpler: IN A MEDITATIVE SETTING, JUST SILENTLY REPEAT “I . . . I . . . I . . . I . . . I . . .” TO ONESELF. The I’s can be sort of staccato, or they can be somewhat drawn out. Do it for seven, fourteen, or twenty-eight minutes. That’s it.

Except for some Theosophical sauce. At this point in the present essay I have used the word I in non-italic form thirty-five times (by comparison, I believe that the authors of the Four Gospels used, for their own self-reference, the first person personal pronoun only once [in John]; similarly, perhaps, or nearly so, for H.P. Blavatsky and THE SECRET DOCTRINE). In this short writing there has already been thirty-five instances where for sure Undifferentiated I has been “differentiated” into “sub-Conscious” ego-formations on the order of “I REALLY AM [temporarily] the thought I am trying to express by means of this sentence.”

Furthermore, even without any tell-tale I’s, I had a slight sinus headache for an hour or so; therefore, Undifferentiated I was also partially transformed into “I REALLY AM the sensation of physical pain in my head” each time my attention was taken to it. Then, of course, I was annoyed (“I REALLY AM my feeling of dislike”) when I had a few flashbacks of some news I had heard earlier. Nevertheless, I was pleased (“I REALLY AM my elation”) when a package arrived by UPS. It should be easy to see that the Undifferentiated I “associated” with a person of my age—i.e., someone who has Psychomatured sufficiently to be egoically deluded and embrangled by so many such differentiations—might be in need of more “Restoration” than what is conventionally possible just getting by a good night’s sleep.

Gurdjieff masterfully summarized the underlying Theosophical concept: “Man has no individual I. But there are, instead, hundreds and thousands of separate small ‘I’s [. . . .] Just now it was a thought, now it is a desire, now a sensation, now another thought, and so on, endlessly. Man is a plurality. Man's name is legion.” [IN SEARCH OF THE MIRACULOUS: FRAGMENTS OF AN UNKNOWN TEACHING. P.D. Ouspensky, 1949]

It is interesting that it used to be (I am not sure that it still is) a technique in psychotherapy that the therapist would simply count the number of times the patient used the pronoun I during a set time-frame of free association. The more I’s, the more psychological help needed, apparently.

But by itself the pronoun I can probably be considered the most helpful and holy of words. However, as soon as a verb is attached to it, the combination may become not only a symptom but also a primary source of egoic delusion and suffering. Ramana Maharshi often recommended the simple repetition of I to his followers; he even claimed that Sankara, the exalted founder of Advaita philosophy, recommended it as well. I cannot corroborate this latter claim, although it is known that Sankara did advocate using Aham Brahmasmi (“I am Brahman”) as a mantra. Theosophically speaking, though, even adding the verb am to the I might be considered a psychological “mistake” and the first step down the Yellow Brick Road leading away from Home. . . .

(Incidentally, since we are no longer in Kansas, dare one wonder whether or not the “most supreme and sacred” syllable Om, often spelled A-U-M to help with the pronunciation, actually started out a few thousand years ago as the Sanskrit word Aham meaning “I”?)

Anyway, it is not the internally verbalized I . . . but rather the Emptiness/Fullness before or after the I which Max Muller undoubtedly meant by Theosophy or Psychological Religion. . . . This IS, after all, the Pathless Land, and once having arrived, it makes little sense to keep doggedly treading the meditative path which led up to It.

Quietness prevails. There is only the “Voice of the Silence,” as H.P. Blavatsky put it. The Latin root religio may sometimes be translated as “Tying Back,” but it is never translated as “talking back,” regardless of how many honored theologians and teachers have done the talking. The “salvation” of Psychological Religion does not come from publicly affirming bargain-beliefs or fast-food-faith; rather, it only results from a private testing of the Golden Hypothesis for oneself. Extraordinary Theosophical, Spiritual, psychological, and practical benefits: do they show up or not?

Old Paracelsus thought they did: "The exercise of true magic does not require any ceremonies or conjurations, or the making of circles and signs; it requires neither benedictions nor maledictions in words, neither verbal blessings nor curses."

I agree. Unfortunately or fortunately, though, the Siddhis which I have developed over the years have not been of the more spectacular variety of “trickery” like levitation or clairvoyance. On the other hand, it should be pointed out that the original Sanskrit word Siddhi can also just mean “accomplishment,” “success,” or “attainment.” Considering my neapish natural abilities in most things (excluding, of course, my non-neapish vocabulary usage), even my certifiably commonplace accomplishments in this world seem pretty extraordinary, at least to me.

And among these accomplishments, I believe that my greatest siddhi has been an improved ability to remain Mindful. For example, before it can make me play the fool, I can catch an ego-formation which tries to get famous simply by using a hat pin, thereby trying to assert itself as pre-eminent over other potential ego-formations in the “I-Legion,” as Gurdjieff would say.

I mean, sometimes I can catch an ego-formation like that. . . .

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Comment by Sharon Ormerod on June 19, 2010 at 11:57am
I have just read your article, having come recently to your blog. Good stuff. Self devised effort, that's the thing isn't it? We can't really speak truthfully on these things unless it has been experiential.
Comment by christinaleestemaker on October 1, 2009 at 6:04pm
brings me the same feeling
Comment by Richard Ihle on October 1, 2009 at 5:15pm
Christina, I reduced the size of the hat pin picture for you. (Unfortunately, I think it is too late to do anything about Jesus.)
Comment by christinaleestemaker on October 1, 2009 at 4:37pm
I cannot appreciate the needle through the skin.

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