An interpretive error perpetuated by many hard materialists is that spiritual states do not exist. This, I believe, is category error. Spiritual states do exist but are subjective in nature. I know this from personal experience and developmental experimentation. I have used my own mind and body as a laboratory for many years, as part of my own academic area of expertise, namely spiritual metaphysics and the history, culture and practice humanity’s various spiritual or religious output. When hard materialists reject spiritual states, this is because they are conflating religious beliefs they do not accept as being literally real – with the spiritual states usually associated with these teachings. Such critiques do not appear to understand that the ‘religious teachings’ are one completely different subject to the ‘spiritual states’ presumed to be the exclusive product of the teachings themselves.
Spiritual states are thoroughly natural and the product of general, evolutionary processes. As this is the case, I would suggest that spiritual states evolved BEFORE the intellectual formulations pertaining to the founding of structured religions – a process which developed at a much later date in human progression. Spiritual states, for instance, may be present in the womb and represent a primordial ability of early humans to come to terms with the external world in a pre-intellectual existence (that is, before the human brain enlarged and generated advanced cognitive abilities). As structured religions with their rituals, beliefs and expectations usurped the already existing human ability to perceive ‘transcendent’ feelings and states which appear to suggest that another realm exists somewhere out there – even though it cannot yet be clearly seen. This capacity grants the human individual the ability to ‘feel’ as if their mind and body are on the edge of being transmitted to another dimension or realm of existence.
Why is this important? As human biology appears to be default set upon generating a chemical arrangement that is always ‘broadcasting’ the notion that this reality is not (and cannot be) the only manifestation of reality – human existence seems to be programmed to ‘develop further’ away from its current levels of understanding and practical abilities. Whereas modern science manipulates material reality, structured religion manipulates the perceptions of the human-mind. Whereas science produces material objects and processes that can be clearly seen on this plane – the religionists produce immense cathedrals of theoretical complexity and sophistication that ‘no one’ can see on this plane. Herein lies the apparent dichotomy, but it is not the full story.
Remember, the human ability to perceive spiritual states is not dependent upon the strictures of structure religions. We know this because humanity has existed far longer than its cultural constructs of established religion. Yes, there is some logic to suggest that various types of religious methodology may well be defined to assist the inner explorer to locate and experience these spiritual states, but the journey of the search itself should not be confused with the existence of the spiritual states – which are already genetically implicit within each human-being. Religious methods assist the individual to locate and bring-out these spiritual states – but these religious methods are not responsible for the creations of these states – and any assumption to the opposite (found within many religions) marks a fatal error of perception. It is the experience of naturally produced spiritual states that has given rise to the conditions within humans that have produced structured religions – and certainly not the other way around.
Materialists are incorrect to assume that spiritual states are the product of ‘delusion’ and do not exist. Religionists are incorrect to assume that an exclusive belief in the dogma of their particular path is required to ‘access’ these states. As these ‘states’ can now be monitored by mainstream science as registering in changes or shifts of chemical and hormone balances, brain-wave frequencies, bone density and muscle stimulus, etc, we know that spiritual states are associated with very real physical changes in the human-body. Spiritual states are not ‘imagined’ – but neither are they the sole provenance of religious ideology. Indeed, I would argue that spiritual states are accessible by anyone at any time who is prepared to apply the correct (and thoroughly ‘natural’) triggering mechanisms to their mind and body. This can be achieved by secularists and atheists and has nothing to do with religious belief, religious dogma or religious revelation (even though ‘religionists’ associate these ‘access points’ with the attainment of ALL spiritual states).
As an academic, I have an interest in a) religious teachings, and b) associated spiritual states. As a scholar, I do not accept any religious explanation for reality. As a professional researcher, I approach ALL religious thought with a sense of interest, respect and doubt in equal measure. Anyone can read the religious texts available in translation and study editions throughout the Western world. If the historical and cultural baggage (as interesting as this is) is placed to one-side for a moment, what are these texts offering humanity? To understand this, the average disinterested reader must ‘see beyond’ the culture of the Church, Mosque or Synagogue, etc. The same advice is true for the non-Abrahamic religions in the world. The traditions that have accrued around these teachings often aim to serve general communities with their everyday lives – and by-pass the ‘deeper’ or ‘inner’ teachings of the holy texts concerned. We must respect these religions and their followers – whilst looking toward the horizon of scripture. After-all, regardless of the socio-economic conditions of these communities, these people have preserved these holy texts into the present-day for our secular scrutiny.
The experience of a spiritual state involves a heightened state of perceptual awareness in the mind – and the feeling of intense ‘bliss’ throughout the body – or centred in one-part of the body. The cause of these experiences is not an outside agency. In other words, none of these inner experiences are a product of a theistic entity operating outside the universe and ‘reaching in’ to illicit change in the environment. The logic used here is straightforward. Every positive and unusual change experienced in the mind and body can be observed as ‘not existing’ in a certain set of circumstances – and then ‘manifesting’ and ‘functioning’ when a conducive set of circumstances become prevalent. This is a point that must be made clear. When the physical stimulus ‘alters’ – the ‘effect’ produced in the mind and body is ‘changed’. When the ‘stimulus’ is suitable to ‘trigger’ the required thought and emotional patterns in the mind – and chemical variants in the body that suggests the ‘transcendence’ of ordinary reality – then the heightened awareness and feelings of ‘bliss’ are experienced. As this process can be adequately explained as the minute shift is chemical-firing in the mind and body, there is no need to add to this the stimulus of a supernatural-being. Of course, I am aware that some people assume that ‘god’ is present in the chemical reactions themselves, but this is a different (but related) debate. Again, every facet of the chemical process is understood with no need for the interference of a theistic-being.
The human brain appears able to generate ‘light’ in the mind. Most ordinary people only experience this during times of heightened stress and danger, etc, but such an experience can be triggered through various forms of meditative absorption. The ‘bliss’ experienced in the body seems to be an extension of the ‘orgasm’ experienced during sexual intercourse, and is related to muscle contractions which occur at a certain ‘pleasure’ inducing frequency. This probably originates within the genitalia and is enhanced through the maintaining of celibacy. Unlike sexual fulfilment, however, this experience of ‘bliss’ is not momentary but s designed to last for extended periods of time (perhaps as long as the meditation session itself). This ‘non-sexual’ orgasm is often triggered by the generation of ‘light’ in the mind so that it seems to be spontaneous with the manifestation of physical ‘bliss’. Both states experienced at once can be overpowering and even ‘life-changing’, as many are convinced that their lives have been ‘touched’ by a theistic entity. Regardless of where this experience originates, it is certainly ‘real’ and not imagined.
As these intense psychological and physical experiences are related to sexual activity, I suspect that just as the amorous behaviour of a sexual partner can help induce a sexual orgasm – a well-structured religious text that suggests the ‘transcendence’ of the physical world in the name of an all-knowing and all-rewarding god construct – could, if provided at the right moment and in an applicable manner, ‘trigger’ the experience of the spiritual state. This is because the various religious texts evolved in support of the pre-existing human ability to experience altered states of reality during intense ‘natural’ experiences (which might well include childbirth for a woman). For men, perhaps ‘fighting’ and ‘hunting’ or ‘competing’ for resources often triggered various enhanced states, etc. I would say that the ‘inner’ or ‘hidden’ function of religious texts is to ‘trigger’ these transcendent experiences.