Consciousness

In The Varieties of Religious Experience William James (1958, p. 298) concluded:

Our normal waking consciousness ... is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. . . . No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.

Asian psychologies agree completely. They recognize multiple states and that some states of consciousness may be associated with specific functions and abilities not available in our usual state. Perceptual sensitivity, attention, and the sense of identity, as well as affective, cognitive, and perceptual processes may all vary with the state of consciousness in precise and predictable ways.

"Higher" states possess the effective functions of the usual states, plus heightened perceptions, insights, or affects outside the realm of day-to-day experience. If higher states exist, then our usual state must be suboptimal. This is exactly the claim of Asian psychologies. They argue that our usual state of consciousness is underdeveloped, constricted, and dreamlike, to a remarkable but usually unrecognized degree. Thus the normal person is seen as "asleep" or "dreaming." When the dream is especially painful or disruptive, it becomes a nightmare and is recognized as psy-chopathology. However, since the vast majority of the population "dreams," the true state of affairs goes unrecognized. When individuals permanently disidentify or "awaken" from "dreams," they are able to recognize the true nature of both their former state and that of the population. This awakening, known variously as wu, moksha liberation, or enlightenment, is a central aim of Asian psychologies.

In part, this is an extension of traditional Western psychology, which has long recognized a broad range of perceptual distortions, unrecognized by naive subjects. But Asian psychologies assert that these distortions are more pervasive and harmful than usually recognized but that these distortions can be recognized and reduced by specific mental training and that doing so fosters psychological development to transconventional, transpersonal levels.

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