Does Modern Meditation "Maximize" Your Mind?
An excerpt from America: The Sorcerer's New Apprentice by Dave Hunt and T. A. McMahon originally published in 1988.
Most dictionaries still categorize sorcery as an "evil" form of occultism in distinction to so-called "white magic." However, many of today's anthropologists, including best-selling authors such as Michael Harner and Carlos Castaneda, see sorcery (like all categories of occultism) as a neutral technique for manipulating reality for either good or evil--as with the dark and light side of the Force in Star Wars. There are others, however, who warn that it is as dangerous to become involved in white magic as it is in any other form of sorcery.
Drugs were only the first step into the world of mystical experiences. The real power was to be experienced through Eastern mysticism. Aware that the eager pursuit of "altered states of consciousness" while tripped out on psychedelics had rendered a generation vulnerable, the Eastern gurus lost no time invading the West with their cosmic gospel of reincarnation and Nirvana. Disciples flocked to them by the millions to learn techniques for achieving the same altered states through meditation which they had previously reached on drugs....
After studying with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at his ashram in India, the ever-popular Beatles led multitudes of their worshipful followers into transcendental meditation and other forms of yoga. Many other well-known Americans also began to practice and promote TM. In The Relaxation Response, which went to the top of the best-seller lists, HarvardMedicalSchool associate professor Herbert Benson praised Maharishi and TM's results. Unfortunately Benson made no mention of the frightening spiritual side effects, of the suicides and insanity, or of the fact that the mantra (a secret word to be repeated while meditating) is not the meaningless sound which Maharishi represents it to be but instead is the name of a Hindu god. Moreover, according to the authoritative texts on yoga, the repetition of this sound in meditation is a call to that entity to possess the meditator.... [pp. 30-31]
In [a later] book, Your Maximum Mind, Herbert Benson reminds us that an ongoing project for many years "at the HarvardMedicalSchool has been the exploration in the Indian Himalayas of the frontiers of the mind." Sponsored by major foundations, the research has centered on the psychic powers of Buddhist monks. In January 1985 a film crew sent by Benson (following an invitation from the Dalai Lama) documented some incredible events. In one test, the dressed-for-the-Arctic Harvard team set out in zero-degrees-Fahrenheit weather from a 17,000-foot-elevation monastery accompanying ten monks [each] wearing only sandals and a light cotton wraparound cloth. At 19,000 feet on a rocky cliffside ledge, "the monks took off their sandals and squatted down on their haunches...leaned forward, put their heads on the ground, and draped the light cotton wrappings over their bodies." Benson continues the account:
In this position, being essentially naked, they spent the entire night practicing a special type of gTum-mo meditation called Repeu...a light snow drifted down over them during the early morning hours. No ordinary person could have endured these conditions. We're sure of that. Yet the monks...simply remained quietly in their meditative positions for about eight consecutive hours.... Finally, at the...sounding of a small horn, they stood up, shook the snow off their backs, put their sandals on and calmly walked back down the mountain again. [pp. 55-56]
...Stephen Williamson, director of the Institute for Bio-Acoustics Research, warns against techniques whose goal is to bypass the conscious, rational mind where information is accepted or rejected. Yet this is precisely one's condition in the "altered state" being sought by millions for "enlightenment." And Herbert Benson, despite some ambivalent warnings, even recommends his "Relaxation Response" technique as a means of "pass[ing] into the so-called hypnotic state" precisely because, as he says, "...in this state of enhanced left-right hemispheric communication.... 'cognitive receptivity' or 'plasticity of cognition' occurs, in which you actually change the way you view the world." It hardly seems advisable to make a major change in one's thinking in such a fluid mental state. Such active promotion of delusionary altered states by leading members of the medical and psychological professions has given the New Age consciousness revolution an undeserved aura of "scientific" credibility that has persuaded millions of people to get involved.
Personnel director Richard L. Watring makes clear his reason for objecting to New Age training techniques involving "a state of altered consciousness." According to Watring, "self-hypnosis and other consciousness-altering techniques induce a mental state that denies trainees an opportunity to make reasoned decisions about the information they are asked to accept as true." Herbert Benson realized this also and warned that his "Principle of the Maximum Mind" could be "employed in what has been called a demonic fashion...we must always be aware of the possible dangers." By "demonic" he simply means that the high suggestibility of the meditative state may also open one to being influenced to an evil or destructive end.
One of Watring's major concerns is that in altered states, basic belief systems can be manipulated. Benson issues a similar warning, but not out of concern for the validity of a belief. He apparently sees no relevance in whether a value statement is true or false. In fact, those concepts seem to have no meaning for him. His only concern is that his readers remain "positive" about whatever it is they already believe, whether truth or lie, because this attitude enhances what he calls the "faith factor," which in turn elicits the placebo effect that releases potentials for health and happiness allegedly hidden within the brain.
The issue, according to Benson, is not whether Jesus, for example, was a self-deluded maniac, deliberate impostor, or who he claimed to be (the only three possibilities). Nor does it concern Benson that likening the monotheistic and personal Judeo-Christian God to an impersonal pantheistic force may involve a complete contradiction. The only real value in religious dogmas or symbols, as Benson portrays them, is to arouse faith in the same manner as a placebo does. This arousal will then allegedly trigger the release of chemicals in the brain, will initiate glandular reactions, and will unleash a variety of latent human powers. Consequently, we don't actually need "God," "Buddha," "Jesus," or the "Star Wars Force," and whether they really exist or not is immaterial, since their only value is as placebos to trigger faith in our own innate powers.... [pp. 137-139]
Some researchers are accepting the evidence that instead of producing thought, brain activity is a result of thought, and must therefore originate independently of the brain and apparently outside the physical dimension. The scientific materialist is naturally reluctant to accept such a conclusion in spite of the evidence, because it undermines his entire worldview. Even someone like...Herbert Benson, who at times seems to give a nodding assent to the nonphysical nature of mind, persists in attributing the origin of thoughts to the physical substance of the brain.... He writes:
A healthy brain cell stores and transmits information which ultimately becomes what we know as thoughts. It's very difficult to describe exactly what happens in this process because the whole act of thinking is so complex, with enormous numbers of brain cells interacting in our mental processes.
Yet a mere 20 pages further in the same book, Benson contradicts himself by referring to Sir John Eccles's experiments as though he agrees with his conclusions that the brain is a machine operated by a nonphysical entity, the mind....He...quotes famed neurosurgeon and brain researcher Wilder Penfield: "The mind is independent of the brain. The brain is a computer, but it is programmed by something that is outside itself, the mind."...Logic itself compels us to conclude that the human brain...doesn't think at all....
Whether a person seems to be predominantly moral or immoral, aesthetic or vulgar, artistic or practical does not originate with and cannot be blamed upon a certain hemisphere of the brain, even though that part may be used by the brain's ghostly operator when expressing these characteristics. Yet this modern myth persists under the promotion of such highly regarded experts as Herbert Benson (who goes so far as to say, "We have become prisoners of the left sides of our brains"). [pp. 152-153]
...Benson says that his Relaxation Response "acts, in a rather extraordinary fashion, as kind of a door to a renewed mind and changed life." We have already pointed out that this altered state removes all basis for objective evaluation, renders the participant vulnerable to suggestion, and is not the condition to adopt new world views. [pp. 262]
[TBC: In an interview posted on Rick Warren's The Daniel Plan website (http://www.saddleback.com/thedanielplan/), Dr. Daniel Amen explains to Warren that meditation is an important exercise for dealing with stress and suggests that it would be helpful for those who participate in The Daniel Plan. He claims that Dr. Benson's "Relaxation Response" technique has no religious basis. Warren seemed to concur, or at least raised no objection to the suggestion.]