THEOSOPHY, Vol. 31, No. 10, August, 1943
(Pages 442-447; Size: 18K)
(Number 5 of a 10-part series)

[Compiler's Note: All 10 articles have the same name.]



IT is quite evident to everyone who reads the newspapers and magazines of the day, and who notes the character of books being published for popular circulation, that there is a growing interest in so-called "psychic" subjects. The rigidly materialistic outlook of yesterday's science, once regarded by most people as the final authority in all important questions, no longer prevails -- a change in attitude which is as much due to the philosophical, even mystical, tendencies among leading scientists themselves as to anything else. The vast unexplored area of supernormal psychological powers resident in man is receiving the attention of orthodox scientific investigators, and these workers, while not without their opponents, are slowly gaining the approbation of thoughtful men and women. Concurrently with these developments in the scientific and academic world has come a renascence of popular interest in the "occult," the mysterious and the supernatural. Although lacking the scholarly sanction of modern university authorities, this widespread attraction to psychic wonders, spiritualistic phenomena and the like is far more significant of the trend of human thought and activity than the erudite and guarded speculations of a few scientists. Some broad tendency of human nature is gradually emerging, finding expression through various channels and at different levels of intelligence. So numerous are the indications of this change in attitude, and so far-reaching its effects on modern life, that one is justified in proposing the question: Is it mere coincidence that men and women in all walks of life are turning to the psychic and occult, whether it be for purposes of religious satisfaction, scientific inquiry, or even amusement, or can there be discerned some unifying principle, some broad psychological conception which will account for this almost universal trend?

Perhaps the most telling indication of the supremacy of psychism lies in its negative aspect -- the breakdown of the rational method of dealing with human problems. This we find to a startling degree in recent political events in Europe. Democracy, which is the spirit of rationalism embodied in government forms, is a thing of the past on the European continent. Germany is governed by mystical inspiration, by a modern prophet of Teutonic destiny whose word is on a par with religious revelation. Only a little less frenzied is the rule of the reincarnated Caesar of Italy. During the Middle Ages, Philosophy, as historians have said, was the handmaiden of Theology.

Now, in the modern age, Science, which was to have been the liberator of all mankind, has taken its place beside both Theology and Philosophy, and all three minister to that supremely emotional entity, the Corporate State. The utterances of the dictator are oracular and final for many millions who have abrogated their right of independent thinking.

In America, the religious groups which have been most successful in gaining adherents in recent years are those which relegate reason to an unimportant position in the scheme of moral life. There is, for example, the Oxford Movement headed by Dr. Frank Buchman. The Buchmanites "talk with God." God tells them what to do. This, of course, makes everything very simple, once you get a wire through to the supreme Deity. One need not think for himself when one has God for his personal daimon. "God has a Plan," say the Oxford enthusiasts, untroubled by the searching investigations of philosophers who have not as yet been able to convince either themselves or anyone of intelligence that a personal, thinking and planning "being" can at the same time be omnipresent and universal -- the highest there is. The ethics of the Oxford Movement are indeed admirable -- Absolute Love, Charity, Honesty, Truthfulness -- but one cannot help remembering that the same Robespierre who as head of the Committee of Public Safety in the Paris Commune murdered thirty men a day, twelve years previously had retired from the judge's bench in the city of Arras because his conscience would not permit him to pronounce the sentence of death. What if God's plan should change? The crusades were one of "His" designs, and so was the Spanish Inquisition.

What of the hundreds of oriental seers, yogis and "spiritual teachers" who have invaded the shores of America during recent years, gaining for themselves immense personal followings? Almost without exception, their prospectuses read, "Gain health, wealth, happiness by this new, easy, secret method! Develop your will, your secret powers, by learning from me!" The emotional exaltation produced in the devotees of these pseudo-spiritual teachers often ends in insanity and it cannot fail to warp the intellectual powers almost beyond repair. The native sages and prophets are not less numerous, nor less wily in their methods of exploiting the religious nature of their fellow men. Correspondence courses in spiritual development do a thriving business. The ignorant, the naïve and the miserable pay an annual toll of millions of dollars to purchase the "secrets of the ages." There is literally nothing that these merchants of psychic glory will not promise for a modest fee.

There is no index of modern psychism superior to the magazine news-stand. Psychic Science, Mysticism, Psychology, Spiritualism, Astrology, Mental Healing, Hypnotism -- these are but a few general labels to indicate the contents of scores of national magazines with aggregate circulations running into many millions. The appetite of the wonder-seeking psychic is insatiable. Nothing but the promise of new and more mysterious miracles will satisfy. Garnished with terms borrowed from the vocabulary of both science and religion, often spiced with veiled sex appeal, written in the sensational style of yellow journalism, these publications cater to the most susceptible area of human nature -- the psycho-religious hunger for miracles, for personal salvation, personal power and aggrandisement. More insidious than frank prostitution of the body, the panderers to psychic intoxication are perverting minds and souls en masse.

There are affinities between these psychic periodicals and the numerous picture magazines which have recently flooded the country. The latter are essentially "psychic" in character, holding the attention of the reader through a vivid sense impression instead of intellectual content. The reading matter is succinct, definitive, and impresses the mind of the reader with conclusions which he rarely questions. No thought is required of the picture-magazine fan; he sees, is entertained, and he believes. Actually, the picture magazines have appropriated a technique carefully developed through many years of experience by advertising experts. Picture magazines use the same principles of attention-getting, fascination, and conversion to the "message" of the advertiser that have made fortunes for so many of these exploiters of the foibles and weaknesses of human nature -- the psychic nature. The methods of the radio advertiser are similar, the only difference lying in the fact that the impression is auditory instead of visual. The oily, patronizing tones of the announcers -- little better than confidence men who have been naturalized into respectability by the "bigness" of the business enterprises they represent, and by the degrading standards of commercial honesty which we accept unthinkingly -- lull the listeners into passive acquiescence. It is all so easy, so effortless! Moving pictures combine both auditory and visual impressions to make wish-fulfillment dreams for the masses. This is Hollywood's contribution to the stultification of independent thought in America and elsewhere. Why should -- how can --men think, be rational, or survive as a democratic society, when practically all of their leisure time is spent in absorbing, like so many psychic sponges, the persuasive and sensation-producing sights and sounds readily provided by the "practical" psychologists of this psychic dispensation?

A catalogue of the various brands of psychic intoxicants could be continued indefinitely. The gamut of emotionalism in modern life includes the familiar exhortations of the revivalist and the responding ecstasy of his listeners; the uninhibited abandon of youthful swing enthusiasts in their dervish frenzy; the tense appeals of political partisans arousing the dogs of class hatred, the clamor of unsatisfied greed, and all the springs of outraged selfishness on which the demagogue depends for his success. Wherever there is human action based on the instinctive drives of the animal man, on the hunger for sensations, on the satisfaction of desires without regard for the consequences, there is psychism unleashed and enthroned. When the psychic nature reigns, reason never serves as a check, being called upon only to justify, to rationalize the fiats of the emotions.

What are the consequences of an unregulated emotional life? Of imagination or fantasy run wild? Of dabbling in "magic," in spiritualism and the "occult arts"? Ask a psychiatrist this question, and, ignorant as he may be of the realities which these labels conceal, he will relate horrors that would make the tales of Poe sound like bedtime stories. A writer in Harper's recently described our time as "The Age of Schizophrenia," of split-personality, so named because of the splitting apart of the emotional from the intellectual life which characterizes the mental state of literally millions of people. We learn that "schizophrenic patients occupy one-fifth of all the hospital beds in the United States, reckoning in general hospital as well as in mental hospital beds." Turn to the literature of psychiatry on the subject of "Obsession," a term retained from the theories of obsessing demons believed in in the Dark Ages, and see what proportion of the victims of this kind of insanity are or have been spiritualists or mediumistically inclined. Find, if you can, the line between religious fanaticism and actual madness. In the wake of the visiting yogis and psychic seers are to be found human beings with emotionally shattered lives. They were told that a certain kind of breathing would bring them knowledge -- they would "see things." They did the breathing exercises, and now they can't stop seeing things, are going crazy, or have gone. Others, who thought Hatha Yoga was "spiritual," find that their organisms break down under the insidious discipline. In many such cases, insanity may be a blessing in disguise, deferring until a later incarnation the moral trial which may then come at a time when the character of the victim has grown stronger and more able to withstand psychic temptations.

The hazards of Hatha Yoga are undreamed of by the average westerner. A few years ago, an English writer, Gerald Heard, spoke of breathing exercises as "the most instant and powerful of all the physical methods of affecting, altering and enlarging consciousness." While tempering this judgment with some warnings against the consequences of this physical kind of "yoga," he adds that "it is a risk we have no choice except to take."

For those who are attracted to taking this "risk," the following experiment, conducted by William Q. Judge, is described. Mr. Judge wrote:

The persons present were myself, a well-known physician whose name I can give, and the practitioner. The physician first took the person's pulse for three minutes and found it to be running at ninety-six beats per minute; and then the experiment began with the practice with the following result:

First minute. Pulse fell to 91 beats.

Second minute. Pulse fell to 81 beats.

Third minute. Pulse remained at 81 beats.

A delay of five minutes then occurred, when the practice was begun again for six minutes, with the following result:

First minute. Pulse running at 91 beats a minute.

Second minute. Pulse fell to 86 beats.

Third minute. Pulse remained at 86.

Fourth minute. Pulse fell to 76.

Fifth minute. Remained at 76.

Sixth minute. Remained at 76.

This shows a reduction in the pulse action of twenty beats in fourteen minutes. It also shows that after the first three minutes the intermission of five minutes was not enough to enable the pulse to go back to ninety-six beats, at which it started. The first three minutes showed a fall of five beats in the first minute and ten in the next minute, making fifteen beats reduction for the three minutes.

It therefore appears that one of the accompaniments of this practice is a distinct effect upon the action of the heart, and as all the Hindu books invariably state that great caution should be used and that there are dangers, we can see here a very great danger found in an effect upon the heart's action, resulting in a reduction of pulse beats of twenty beats in fourteen minutes. The Hindu books to which I have referred, and which are the only works through which inquirers have heard about these practices, also say that a guide who is fully acquainted with the subject is necessary for each student, and that every one of these practices requires an antidote for its effects through other regulations tending to neutralize the bad physical effects. Students have been too anxious to try these experiments without paying any attention to the cautions given out, and I know of some cases in which, while well remembering that the cautions had been uttered, persons have pursued these practices by themselves without assistance.

Discussing so-called "practical yoga" in another place, Mr. Judge called attention to the fact that the directions found in the Upanishads, with regard to breathing and postural exercises, should never be practiced except under the following conditions: (a) a complete knowledge of all the consequences, with a knowledge of correctives to be applied when changes take place; and (b) the possession of a thoroughly competent guide to point out errors, to restrain endeavour and to indicate danger, as well as to cure troubles that ensue.

Yet in the face of all this, and of repeated warnings, there are those who will foolhardily begin the practices in complete ignorance. They do not even pursue the ethical regulations that accompany all the others, such as the doing away with all vices, bad habits, uncharitable thoughts and so on; but go in for the practices, merely in the hope of procuring psychic powers. It is time it were stopped, and time that those who give out this literature looked into what they give out to a grasping and stiff-necked generation. That damage has been wrought cannot be contested, in face of actual experience.

It is well known that these postures, even when ignorantly used, bring on physiological changes in the body, with great nervous derangements.

The need of the West is not for Hatha Yoga, but of that other and higher discipline, known in the Orient as Raja Yoga. Hatha Yoga is a practical mortification of the body, by means of which certain powers are developed. Raja Yoga, on the other hand, discards those physical motions, postures and recipes relating solely to the present personality, and directs the student to virtue and altruism as the bases from which to start. Besides the higher objective presented by Raja Yoga, there is the enormous danger which the western student exposes himself to by attempting Hatha yogic development. Even though he may follow rules given by a teacher more or less informed, he will inevitably arouse about him influences that do him harm, and he also carries his natural functions to certain states now and then when he ought to stop for a while, but, having no knowledge of the matter, may go on beyond and produce injurious effects. The greatest objection to it, however, is that it pertains to the material and semi-material man, -- roughly, to the body, and what is gained through it is lost at death.

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