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Psycho-practices in Mystical Traditions from the Antiquity to the Present. by Andrey Safronov - HTML preview

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In human spiritual culture there exists a class of methods that aim at exerting infl uence upon psyche of a man, a group of individuals or society at a whole. We shall refer to these methods as psychological practices — or psychopractices. Psychopractices can bear both conscious and unconscious character, their target may be either getting into temporary altered state of consciousness or initiating a long-period rearrangement of mentality; they can be either self-purposed or directed onto other people. Being harmoniously intertwined with traditional cultures, such methods have been accompanying mankind within its evolution history, yet it is for the recent decades that one can observe an abrupt growth of interest in psychopractices — both their application and their study. Th ere are a lot of samples of such interest: manifold (in dozens of times) increase of religious and mystic fellowships that use ecstatic techniques; fancy for oriental and archaic traditions; substantial growth of psychotherapy role in social life; penetration of psychedelic subculture into mass culture; continued discussing by mass media of such topics as psychological violence and manipulation, control of consciousness, informative-psychological war — the

“intra-psychological” theme plays yet more and more important role for a common mind.

Th ere is a counterintuitive tendency appeared in modern culture that notwithstanding the apparent predominance of rationalism and skepticism, secularization and refusal from traditional forms of religiosity, shamanism, antique mystery plays, mystic and esoteric traditions of Middle and New Age such as Sufi sm, Cabbala and Hesychasm are once again in demand. Th e onsetting globalization brings up gradual diff usion of Eastern and Western cultures, and even mixing of Eastern and Western mind-set, active mastering of new types of psychological culture and psychopractices by representatives of European civilization.

Th e predominance of “ratio” and corporeity disal owance, so traditional for European culture, gradual y succumbs to the “ecstatic culture”. Today the means of getting into particular states of consciousness that were previously available for restricted community only — those ascetics, heremeits and representatives of mystic societies — are open for 10 Andrey G. Safronov. PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS

practical y everyone interested. A whole industry of ecstasies reproduction is being actively developed, including state-of-the-art elaborations of psychopharmacology and technical means of psyche aff ecting. Taking into consideration inconsistency of al these tendencies and their signifi cance for modern culture, there is a need for performingtheir thorough and integral philosophic apprehensionthat would be based upon both modern material as well as general understanding of cultural value of psychopractices that is also to be formed.

On the other side, the study of psychological practices has a suffi -

cient anthropological value. In fact, the loss of metaphysical, and then totalitarian, ideological and technocratic ideals that happened within the age of post-modernism has once again brought to the foreground the problem of the man, fi rst of al , of his anthropological perspectives.

Th e right and technical capability of selecting not only the way of one’s corporal existence, but also the state of one’s consciousness urges for both comprehension of the whole set of perspectives already enunciated by mankind as well as development of the new ones, establishment of the new “self-concern” that would correspond to current realities. In this aspect the study of experience of wel -developed systems of psychopractices that existed within traditional cultures, including the non-European ones (archaic and oriental) becomes actual, since but for revealing such perspectives it would help to formulate new methodological approaches to apprehension of human problem.

Notwithstanding the abundance of practical material on such psychopractices, its main part is not conceptualized in terms and notional structures of modern science. Th eir role in culture is also poorly investigated. Today there are only few works that consider separate types of psychopractices, mainly the oriental ones, from scientifi c point. Some aspects of this topic have been touched upon in contiguous scientifi c areas. Th e main part of literature that deals with these terms of reference can be divided into six groups:

1. Literature on religious psychology that encompasses elaborated methodology of psychological experiences’ study. Th ere are considerable results attained in this direction in the framework of psychoanalysis (Z. Freud, A. Freud, K. Jung, E. Fromm) and pragmatic psychology of W. James.


2. Anthropologic and culture-study surveys of religious ritual representing abundant practical material on the issue of psychopractices that are present in many rituals in an inexplicit form (J. Fraser, E. Taylor, C.

Levi-Strauss, L. Levy-Bruhl, M. Eliade).

3. Research studies within the sphere of childhood ethnology and anthropology, in particular, in the problem of children upbringing in diff erent cultures and their “initiation” into those cultures norms (M.

Mead, E. Erikson, I. Kohn).

4. Phenomenological studies of psychopractices proper, mostly narrow-specialized, that appeared within the recent years. For the most notorious we should note the works of N. Abaev, E. Torchinov, S. Khoruzhij.

5. Texts that continue the “self-concern” discourse formulated by M.


6. Empirical surveys of psychological manipulations that are used by modern social institutes, in particular, by religious systems (R. Lifton, S. Hassan, E. Volkov).

Today there isn’t any research investigation that should contain integral approach to phenomenon study of religious psychopractices.

Section 1







1.1.1. The Issue of Defi ning the Term “Religion” In order to perform appropriate analysis of the here consideredissue of religious psychopractices and their cultural value it is necessary to make thorough analysis of the terms “religion” and “religiosity” themselves. Since — and it will be shown in this section — these notions are rather ambiguous, we shall try to consider the broadest range of cultural phenomena that might refer to the topic in concern, and generate a working defi nition that would be the most satisfactory for the purpose of this research study.

Th e term “religion” is considered to have been initial y introduced by Ancient Greek politician, philosopher and orator Marcus Tullius Ci-cero (years 106-43 BC). Th e term is supposed to have originated from the Latin “religio” — contrition, piety, theopathy, cult object; “relig-are” — to bind, to attach; “religere” — to turn back, to contemplate, to be afraid of [48].

Today there exist more than hundred defi nitions of religion, their most complete list can be found in the Oxford Dictionary [399]. Existing defi nitions can be divided into the exclusivistic ones that insist upon absoluteness of some sole religion and correspondingly contain the defi nition of this religion only, for example, defi nitions of religion by Christian authors that go back to Lactantius: “Religion is a link to God through one’s piety” [399. Hereinafter the marking refers to quo-PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS. Andrey G. Safronov 1 3

tations of works that are foreign to the author and that have been translated by the translator, while the marking stands next to quotations that are cited in original or have been translated into English by English-speaking translators — translator’s note], and the inclusivistic ones which substantially expanded defi nition of religion can actually account for any social phenomenon, that is, for example, the defi nition of religion given by E. Fromm “I understand by religion any system of thought and action shared by a group which gives the individual a frame of orientation and an object of devotion. In fact, there wasn’t any culture — and it might never appear — that would have existed without religion in this broad sense” [335].

For a long time (while some researchers stil continue to support this point of view) the main criterion of religion was the belief in existence of some supernatural creature or supernatural reality. Th e natural — supernatural dichotomy was considered basic for religion existence. In this case religion can be defi nes as “the synthesis of belief in the supernatural with rites devoted to the supernatural” [399].

Defi nitions of such type leave undisclosed the question of what that supernatural actual y is. Let us turn to the origin of the word “natural”.

Th is is a derivative from the word “nature”. Th ere is another synonym to this word — the “super-essential”. Th us, supernatural is a phenomenon that is beyond the laws of nature, and a link to this phenomenon is eff ected by means of religion.

Still, though such defi nition correlates with description of traditional Western religions, being, in fact, formulated on their basis, it comes to obvious contradiction with modern religious experience. And it is absolutely inapplicable to many oriental religions. For example, should one take the “contact” between contactee-ufologists and the UFO for the act of worshipping, and consider UFO to be a supernatural creature? Where should we draw the line between science and mysticism in Dianetics and similar religious psychological systems? Would it be appropriate to refer belief in extrasensoryto religious beliefs? Or how can we explain from the point of this defi nition the activity of Raëlists who consider cloning a child (in complete correspondence with science, and hence — with Nature) to be a religious act? One can proceed further with the line of irrelevances between modern religious realities and the aforesaid defi nition.


E. Durkheim was the fi rst to approach this issue in a new way, having considered forthe major criterion of religion the division of social phenomena into two spheres — sacred and profane(secular). According to Durkheim, “A religion is a unifi ed system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbid-den—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community cal ed a Church, al those who adhere to them” [83; 399]. Th is point of view was further developed in works of religion phenomenologists of the XXth cent. — R. Otto, N. Soderblom, M. Eliade [355–359] where the sacred — secular dichotomy became central in consideration of religious phenomena.

Still, today this class of defi nitions becomes less coherent withreality requirements as well. Religions become more integrated into the “profane” life while the sacred is becoming a prerogative of non-religious systems. As example of the fi rst process one could draw the so-called religious marketing, that is: usage of special manipulation techniques for involvement of new community members and keeping the old ones.

In this, the deliberate struggle for the “clientele” is typical not only of neo-religious systems, but of rather traditional ones as wel . Let us remember the recent Russian Orthodox Church act of “promoting” its web-sites in the Internet [149, pgs. 46-49]. One can speak about peculiar market of spiritual services that in modern mentality makes no contradiction to religiosity spirit. Such “market” approach manifests through enabling a person to simultaneousvisiting of several religious communities, this being mostly typical of neo-Christian and neo-Oriental systems [255, 248]. Moreover, in our time it also becomes more diffi cult to defi ne the category of religiosity itself [105, pg. 36].

It is also notable that the defi nition of E. Durkheim, as well as any other purely sociological defi nition, is not able to embrace the individual aspects of religiosity such as personal mystic experience [236, 292], unconscious religiosity [105, pg. 38; 230] etc.

Final y there exists a legal y adopted practice of religion defi ning. In compliance with laws eff ective in major countries the system is taken for religious in case its members consider it be this. Stil , such practice has also more than once showed its complete inadequacy [248, 251]. A considerable number of groups that contain religiosity elements don’t declare themselves and are registered as social organizations making PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS. Andrey G. Safronov 1 5

it more complicated for state structures to interact with them [251].

Members of these groups often don’t even apprehend their system as religious despite the fact that it boasts with al criteria of religion, or, being aware of it, they conceal from those “uninitiated” the true character of their activity [172]. On the other hand there are known incidents of commercial activity concealed under umbrella of religious community charity status. Th e imperfection of scientifi c base results in fl aws of related legal issues, thus bringing the problematic case beyond the “purely scientifi c” aspects. One’s addressing to legal experience in a philosophic work is truly justifi ed since today real religious practice goes signifi cantly ahead of scientifi c research studies in corresponding sphere. In general, our days are unique for the purpose of performing cultural studies since today it is possible to investigate a lot of newly-born religions currently staying at the very early “apostolic” stage.

For the purpose of this investigation we shal formulate a working defi nition that would to the maximum cover all phenomena that are of interest to us, and would also correspond to realities of modern sentience. In this research work we shal be taking for religion the whole irrational element of human culture. As for generic features of religious system we shall single out it having fi ve compounds: religious image, mythology, rituals, symbols and commandments. Such defi nition obviously does not provide with complete understanding of this phenomenon, though such understanding is not provided by any of existing defi nitions as wel . As it is said by a wel -known western philosopher John Bowker, “… one can draw dozens of other defi nitions that would tell us a lot about religion, but they shall not answer the question what religion is” [399]. Stil , the task of investigating essential characteristics of religion is not the target of the present study. We need the formulated defi nition only for the sake of bringing into our vision fi eld maximal number of phenomena that are or can be in a way related to the studied issue of religious psychopractices. In particular, one should investigate phenomena contiguous to religion that, depending upon defi -

nition, can be acknowledged as those being and being not related to it, them being occultism, esotericism, modern spiritual movements (being non-religious according to their own opinion) and systems of psychopractices that have arisen within modern psychotherapy but bear some features of religiosity.


1.1.2. The Notions “Mysticism”

and “Mystic Experience”

Th e problem of mysticism and mystic experience is one of the most signifi cant issues in anthropological studies, even more so in research works on religious psychopractices. Th e subject of “mystic experience” was in due course contemplated by famous religious philosophers like G. Skovoroda, Vl. Solovyov, V. Rozanov, N. Lossky, N. Berdyaev, P. Florensky. From position of phenomenology the questions of mysticism and mystic experience were investigated by M. Eliade, S. Kierkegaard, A. Schweitzer, W. James, P. Berger. Stil , as it was pointed out by professor E. Torchinov in his monograph [290] and his work dedicated to this subject [292], the term “mysticism” itself is used in literature in several completely diff erent meanings, thus making the things even more confused.

1. To designate the experience of unity or merger with ontological fundamental principle of the world and the whole objective reality, the whole being in general (the God, Absolute, etc.). Th is defi nition is majorly used in philosophic literature.

2. To designate various types of esoteric activity.

3. As a synonym to occultism that sometimes bears an eventual y pseudo-scientifi c character — magic, astrology, mantics etc.

4. In common mind the “mystic” sphere also encompasses various stories about unusual phenomena with zombies, werewolves and vampires involved.

It is clear that all these phenomena are completely diff erent, and in this way the word “mysticism” leads one astray and makes obstacles for one’s proper comprehension.

Another problem, according to E. Torchinov, is connected to perception of mysticism within the context of peculiar percipience of such categories as faith and knowledge, faith and intel igence by Judaist-Christian mind; mainly to the fact that mysticism is fi rmly associated with irrationalism, thus making modern scientifi c and philosophical audience a kind of prejudiced intheir turning to the issues of mystic experience [292].

Meanwhile such contraposition of “mystic” and rational is strange for other cultures, whilein no way the “mystics” of corresponding tradi-PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS. Andrey G. Safronov 1 7

tions do reject intelligence (ratio) to bean ultimate authority within the sphere of its competence; moreover, they often establish rather rational philosophic systems based upon comprehension of their “mystic” experience [292].

Th e mentioned confusion in terminology suggested to some authors that they should substitute the word “mysticism” and its derivatives with a more appropriate term. Th us, E. Torchinov off ers using the term “transpersonal experience”, that is, “going beyond the limits of individuality and trivial experience” instead of “mystic experience”

[290]. Th ough agree with necessity of the term substitution, we should point out that introduction of the aforesaid term stipulates methodology of further research work, implicitly limiting it within the framework of transpersonal psychology — the way it actually happened with E.

Torchinov’s research investigation. Since we are not wil ing to restrict ourselves by such methodology, we shall be using the category “altered states of consciousness” (ASC) as a term for designation of the corresponding states.

It should be noted that the discourse of mystic experience and mysticism is not limited by religious life experience only, being a signifi cant phenomenon of philosophy. As it is said by S. Khoruzhij in his work [310, pg. 61], “In the sphere of traditional subject matter and problematic of European view that never faded despite all kind of positivism and rationalism, we can fi nd a number — or, if you like it this way — a bunch of ideas, intuitions, paradigms and simply cases that obviously belong to the “transcendence topos” and that is obviously not encompassed by genuine transcendence of pure mind. Th e

“epistophe” of Neo-Platonists, the “ecstasy” of all mystic traditions (Heidegger’s ontology as well), Patristics’ “theosis” and the “metanoia” of Ascetic, the “little spark of the soul” of Meister Eckhart, the “meta-morphosis” of Goethe, the Rilke’s “transformation” (Wandlung)… —

all these are the avatars of transcendence, or its neighbours, or its aspects…”.

It is obvious that the issue of altered states of consciousness is directly connected to religious psychopractices and it is situated within the fi eld outlined by the object of the present research work.


1.1.3. Esoteric Systems in Religious Life-Mode

Th e term “esotericism” is also as much semantical y impure as the earlier considered term “mysticism” is, being sometimes used as a synonym to it. Still, basing upon authentic Greek origin of this word — “internal”, “concealed” — it would be more appropriate to treatfor esoteric those systems that are hidden from majority of common people due to some particular reasons. Such systems that are used by restricted number of adherents have actual y existed in almost every culture. As an example one can draw Indian yoga, the Dao doctrine of inner elixir, Hesychasm, Ignatius of Loyola’s spiritual exercises, Sufi s’ order etc.

While investigating the issue of esoteric systems one natural y faces the questions likewhether these systems are religious and if it is correct to consider them to be some kind of “sects” (as it is often done with Sufi sm) insidethe world-known religions.

In fact, practical y al known esoteric systems became available to us through some religious tradition. Moreover, many adherents and founders of such systems were even canonized, for example, Gregory Palamas and Ignatius of Loyola, Kabir. Th us, corresponding systems should be unconditionally treated for an integral element of the society religious life. Still, esoteric systems shall not be related to separate “sects”, for their representatives were performig respective functions within the wel -known religious systems. Along with this, esoteric systems in most cases existed within — or, to be more exact, under the cover of their exoteric antipodes — traditional religions.

One starts to understand the essence of esoteric systems while reading corresponding texts, for example, the already mentioned

“Spiritual Exercises” by Ignatius of Loyola [144]. Unlike the majority of religious texts, they are almost completely free from theologic and philosophic issues. In fact, these are methodic guidelines to performance of specifi c psychopractices that are apprehended exactly in this way. Esoteric systems are extremely psyche-related and practical at the same time, and this can be considered as one of their main typical features. It was yet M. Weber who drew his attention to this feature of such systems: “Mystic knowledge… is a practical (Weber’s emphasis) knowledge. Mysticism intends a state of “possession”, not action,that can provide basis for a new practical way of getting one-PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS. Andrey G. Safronov 1 9

self oriented in common world, and in some cases even for new communicative cognition” [37, pg. 205].

Many of those who used to researchdiff erent kinds of esoteric practices (E. Torchoniv, S. Khoruzhij) come to paradoxical conclusions without consideration of the fact that religion and esotericism are crucial y not identical. E. Torchinov, for example, asserts the necessity of transpersonal experience reproduction as one of religion essential functions [290, pg. 64]. Stil one can easily see that major part ofreligionad-herents do not have any “transpersonal” experience, and yet it does not prevent them from remaining the believers. One can easily understand the origin of such mismatch if one draws one’s attention to the fact that though speaking about religions, E. Torchinov actual y analyses their esoteric compounds but not the traditional y accepted forms. But esoteric psychopractices are neither elements of religion nor a method of religious practices like the fast, the sermon or the confession, since for the majority of common believers they were incomprehensible, let alone available.Moreover, esoteric systems should be considered as completely separate phenomena of religious life mode, since they were bearing religious-forming function as wel . It is noteworthy that fol owers of religions were completely aware of the diff erence between the religion and the esoteric practice that existed “within” the religion. For example, in his recently published book “Th e Sufi sm” ProfessorC. Ernst brings the fol owing remark: “But the most amusing thing happened every time when my Pakistan acquaintances inquired about my job…

Having heard that I was studying Islam — and Sufi sm in particular, the asking person used to express his utmost surprise saying “Th en you must know that the Sufi sm has nothing to do with the Islam!” [362, pg.5].

It is in the same way that one can fi nd rather skeptical the opinions about traditional religions made by followers of esoteric systems. Th us, for example, M. Eckhart wrote: “I defi nitely declare that as long as you do things for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, for the sake of God or your own everlasting beatitude, that is for the sake of some external notion, you are defi nitely wrong <…> For the one looking for God in any way — he catches the image, while the hidden God behind this image escapes from him” [91].


Yet one should mention that despite the fact that esoteric systems are concealed, they perform peculiar infl uence upon other forms of spiritual life, starting from rational reasoning and philosophy and up to art [208, pg. 95] (such types of infl uences were studied in details in other works of V. Rozin as well [208, 213]).

Th erefore, in present work we determine esoteric systems as an independent object of study.

1.1.4. Approaches to Religion Study

Let us make a brief overview of methodological approaches to investigation of religion and its elements that can be also applied in our research study of religious psychopractices. Historically there are several such approached distinguished.

Th e theologic approach — the religion is considered as a phenomenon of metaphysical reality. Th e essence of theological (doctrinal) concept of religion comes to self-manifestation of God in the world and the connection between it and the man. In compliance with this concept the existence of God and\or other supernatural creatures is postulated. Th e principal drawback of this approach is its “Christian-centered” nature that is obviously stipulated by its origin, thus making it practical y inappropriate for the study of majority of religious phenomena beyond traditional Christianity.

In its main ideas the philosophic-theologic concept of religion does not go far from the theological one, but thissubject-matter is veiled under some more complicated terminology and more complicated argumentation. Th e notion of God is substituted by the notion of the Transcendental, the Absolute, the Absolute idea, the Universal will etc.

Th ese notions can be fi l ed in by pantheistic and deistic contents, but in any case it is the spiritual principle that is declared as the reason of the world existence and evolution, as wel as the reason of religion existence. Despite the ideological solidarity of these religion concepts there is some diff erence between them. While theological concept mainly appeals to the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Tradition, the philosophic-theological one tends to use contemporary notions about religion and grounds itself upon human knowledge on every other stage of its evolution; it is less dogmatic and more innovation-adoptive.


Th e historic approach — religion is studied as ancertain historic phenomenon that is linked to the time and place of its existence and stands in one line with other ideological forms inherent in this society, like philosophy, politics, culture etc.

Th e naturalistic approach to religion study originates from the time immemorial and has rather many variants. Th e major one comes to the explanation that al religions appeared due to inability of a man to interpret al those menacing elemental forces that were stirring up his fear. Initial y this concept in this very form may have been formulated by Democritus [71], and fol owing this it was many times reconstituted in the history of human views. Later on, at the end of the XVIII-th cent., there comes an astral-mythological theory of religion that is supposed to have been founded by French researchers Volnay and Dupuis. According to this concept, gods of al religions, as wel as mythological and epic heroes, are personifi cations of some astronomic objects: fi rst of al , constellations, the sun, planets etc. [48]. Th is concept has its contemporary followers. Th is approach is interesting from historic point of view, but it is absolutely useless for description of modern religious phenomena. Th e man of today who establishes modern religions lives fi rst of al within the social environment that eff ects major infl uence upon generation of new religious ideas.

Psychologic approach — religion is treated as one of demonstrations — or, sometimes, as a consequence of psychic life of a person or society. In scope of this approach there are attempts made to draw the laws of religious systems’ existence out of the laws of psyche functioning. Among the most notorious scientists that studied religion from psychological point one can name Z. Freud [321-334] and C. G. Jung

[365-373]. Th e advantage of psychologic approach is that it enables performing an adequate study of the utmost non-traditional forms of religion that have appeared in the recent decades, which analysis from philosophic point, let alone the theological one, is rather complicated, as wel as marginal forms of religion, such as latent or unconscious religiosity.

Sociologic approach — religion is studied as a social phenomenon

[273]. Th e most wel -known representatives of this direction were E.

Durkheim [83] and M. Weber [37]. Th e fi rst one advanced the concept 22 Andrey G. Safronov. PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS

of society self-deifi cation in religion, and the second one developed the theory of religion aff ect upon social and economic relationships.

Th e increasing diversity of methodological approaches and pluralism of their application can be considered as a hallmark of modern religion study. Th us, within the aforementioned traditionally established disciplines (philosophy, history, sociology, psychology, phenomenology of religion) there constantly emerge new approaches to religion study and sub-disciplines. For example today inside religion phenomenology they distinguish between the descriptive phenomenology of religion (G. Wiedengren), the typologic phenomenology of religion (M. Eliade), the interpretive phenomenology of religion (K. Ju. Bleeker) and the neo-phenomenology of religion (J. Waarden-burg). Besides, in the second half of the XX-th cent.thereappear new and rather exotic disciplines, like, for example, the ecology of religion (A. Hultkrantz) [115].

Th e specifi c feature of the object of this research study predeter-mines the selection of psychologicand socio-cultural approaches as the main methodology of research.




Th e problem of correlation between the psychological and the spiritual is rather grandeval and it has been many times touched upon within the spheres of religious philosophy and psychology. In the eigh-teenth century Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Hasidic Judaism movement, advanced an idea of unity of the emotional and religious nature, the unity of human joy and religious rapture. Th e same school that acknowledges religious signifi cance of emotional principle also exists in the Islam, within the Sufi tradition, and it considers the carnal pleasure to be an element of person’s spiritual state, treats man’s love to life for his love to God [173].

Th is issue has been also considered by the Orthodoxy, though the problem was being solved in a diff erent way. Christian anthropology —

in particular, the Orthodox one, is based upon the concept of tricho-PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS. Andrey G. Safronov 2 3

tomic structure of every personality: the carnal — the psychic — the spiritual [307]. In this case psychological feelings are related to the fi rst two levels, while those religiously-spiritual are related to the third one. Along with this there is a question frequently dealt with in recent corresponding literature about mutual infl uence of psychic (mental) and spiritual experience. A well-known psychiatrist D. Melekhov who has the blessing of ecclesiastical authorities and deals with problematic of orthodox psychotherapy writes the fol owing: “…in the general structure of one’s personality religious experiences can take diff erent (up to the completely opposite) position: they can be either direct re-fraction of il ness symptoms (hal ucinations, delirious ideas, physical y perceived aff ect upon man’s thoughts and physical acts); they can be attributable to a sane personality as well” [163]. In some degree one can claim such position of the church as an attempt to answer the aforementioned psychological theories that depreciate the fact of religion existence as it is, bringing it from ontological level down to common psychological experience.

Th e fi rst steps towards establishment of religious experiences scientifi c theory were done in early 20th century within then emerging psychology of religion. In this direction substantial results were received by psychoanalysis and pragmatic psychology of W. James.

In his book “Th e Varieties of Religious Experience” he was the fi rst to draw a scientifi cally grounded supposition about psychological origin of religious experiences [72]. Basing upon analysis of numerous materials connected to such experiences (mainly on the material of American Neo-Christian communities) James made a conclusion that religious feelings result from “entry” of unconscious material into individual’s conscious mind. Works by James had major infl uence upon further development of religion psychology, but they left open many important questions which answers went beyond the method of “radical empiricism” off ered by him. For example, he did not touch upon the issue of possibility of religious experience’ artifi cial provoking, its connection to and diff erence from other types of feelings and experiences etc. Still, the main drawback of James’

research works was the narrow factual base that was previously said to have been limited by rather homotypical experience of American Protestant communities.


One of the most signifi cant and developed doctrine that deals with investigation of religious experience sphere is the psychoanalytic one.

Starting from Z. Freud practical y al classical authors of psychoanalysis sooner or later used to turn to analysis of religious problematic. Freud himself has about 10 fundamental works devoted to the issues of religion origin and psychological essence. Having defi ned religion as “nothing but psychology projected into the outer world”, Freud actual y pointed out psyche as the main source of existence of both religion and religious experience. Freud saw the main task of psychoanalysis in “transformation of metaphysics into metapsychology”, that is, bringing the doctrine of supersensual reality to the general theory of human psyche.

According to Freud’s opinion religion is a mass il usion that is in its nature similar to the impulsive obsession. Like neurosis, it emerges due to suppression of primary physical appetence, and similar to neurosis, by means of fi xed-action patterns and rituals it creates a complex system of psychological compensations that help people adapt to unbearable condition of their existence. Later on this opinion on compensa-tory character of religion was developed in works of W. Reich [202, pgs. 156-158].

Z. Freud drew a paral el between some religious rituals of primeval tribes and some behavior forms of people suff ering from impulsive obsession. Th e occurrence of such analogies made foundation of his theory evidentiary basis.

Another signifi cant fi gure in investigation of religion psychology and religious experiences was C. G. Jung. Jungian interpretation of religion substantially diff ers from that formulated by Freud. In compliance with Jung concept, religious experience and religious occurrences are sourced by images burst out of the sphere of col ective unconscious.

According to Jung, the sphere of spiritual notions disposes of psychological reality. Jung asserts: “Th e idea of God is an absolutely necessary psychological function of an irrational nature, which has nothing whatever to do with the question of God’s existence. Th e human intellect can never answer this question, still less give any proof of God. Moreover such proof is superfl uous, for the idea of an al -powerful divine Being is present everywhere, unconsciously if not consciously, because it is an archetype” [369].


Th e methodology formulated by Jung appeared rather productive for description of both religious feelings and structure of religious experience and some psychological practices as well.

Th e position that diff ers crucial y from the aforesaid one belongs to the founder of existential psychotherapy V. Frankl [320] who transformed the causal chain adopted by analytical psychologistsand treated psychological experience for a consequence of existential and spiritual ones. V. Frankl subjected classical psychoanalytical opinions about religion to tel ing criticism: “Th ere is a defi nition running the meanings and values to be nothing but reactive derivations and defense mechanisms. As for me, I would not prefer to live for the sake of my reactive derivations, let alone die for my mechanisms of defense” [320, pg. 287].

He treats religion for a phenomenon that can be expressed not only in institutionalized religion but also beyond it. In terms of its “psychological value” God is a personalized conscience; it is the “unconscious god” that lives inside every man [317, pg., 334]. One can fi nd similar conceptions about “peak psychology” in late works of Leontyev.

Th e methodology of similar kind that is based upon division of

“underlying” and “peak” elements of individual’s inner world is used by S. Khoruhzij, in particular in his works dedicated to psychological practices. In his work “Th e Gateway Psychology as a Gateway of Metapsychology” he writes the following: “One can consider these onsets (symptoms) and those processes, those steady dynamic patterns that arerevealed within them (neuroses, complexes…) to make up in their total a particular topography — the topography generated by the Unconscious as an Outlying Sub-Source; and similar to this the processes and regimes of consciousness that are formed as steps of spiritual practices in their turn form another topography — the topography generated by the Outlying Supra-Source” [308].

Th e problem of correlation between the psychical and the spiritual, the role of psychological experience in religion was surveyed even by F. Pavel Florensky, a major Orthodox philosopher who dialectical y formulated the interaction principle of religious and psychological experience. Upon analyzing relationships between the aff ect and the cult on example of an interment rite F. Pavel Florensky wrote: “Th e purpose of the cult is that very transformation of natural wail, natural crying, …


natural weeping and sorrow into the sacral ode, sacral massage, sacral gesture. Not to restrict natural motions, not to hinder them, not to reduce the affl uence of one’s inner world, but on the contrary — to affi rm this affl uence in its integrity, to secure and cultivate it. Th e cult elevates an occasional occurrence to the level of a due act, while the subjective is il uminated up to the level of the objective. Th e cult turns natural entity into the ideal one. One could have tried to subdue the aff ect…

But to launch a struggle against the aff ects means either to make human life unbearable due to the “passions forced inside” — in case of a failure, or to emasculate and destroy the mankind having deprived it of vitality, energy, and fi nally the life as it is — should it be a success. Th e cult acts in a diff erent way; it affi rms the whole human nature with all aff ects it has; it brings every aff ect to its utmost scale providing it with unlimited free exit range; it brings it to benefi cent crisis, purifying and healing its soul wounds. Not only it al ows the aff ect to show up to its utmost range, but it also demands for its maximal tension, extracting it and intensifying, as if prompting, instigating to reveal the aff ect. And by its complete acknowledgement, by approving the aff ect in its truth the cult is transforming it… Be it wrath, rage or boredom … — the cult takes everything and transforms everything, and satisfi es it completely: up to the bottom we do drink the very essence of our excitement during the cult, ful y saturating ourselves, with no minor unsatisfi ed desire left — since the cult always does do more that we ask for, and even more than we can desire…” [329, pgs. 136–138].

Th ere are interesting assertions about religion made by E. Fromm.

From his point of view religious necessity is one of the essential man’s necessities and the roots of religiosity are keptwithin the human psyche itself. “Th ere is not a person that would not have had a religious need —

the need for a system of orientation and an object to serve to… and probably this is suffi ciently confi rmed by the fact of universal presence of religion in the world”. E. Fromm was fairly criticizing traditional defi nitions of religion that were based upon monotheistic experience.

“Th ey were giving such broad defi nitions to religion that these defi nitions enclosed all possible religious phenomena, but having themselves preserved theirconnectionto monotheism, they considered al non-monotheistic forms as either a precursor of the “authentic” religion or its aberration,fi nishing it all with the argument that faith in God — in PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS. Andrey G. Safronov 2 7

terms of Western tradition — is the man’s inwardly proper feature”

[335]. Th us Fromm was the fi rst one to raise the issue of necessity of expanding the context of religion-connected studies and including a more global range of phenomena into their problematic case. It is not that Fromm rejects the ideas of Freud, but he is attachingdiff erent emotional value to them. Fromm signifi cantly distinguishes between “religions of freedom” that are based upon personal religious feeling and facilitate one’s spiritual self-enrichment, and religious organizations that are gradual y loosing these features“ It is the tragedy of al great religions that they violate and pervert the very principles of freedom as soon as they become mass organizations governed by a religious bureaucracy” [335]. Both questions raised by Fromm — on enlargement of religious studies’ object range and on diff erence between individual and “organized” religiosity — are perspective for further development.

In research studies related to religion there are some surveys that are kept aloof, them being investigations in the sphere of transpersonal psychology and there generated transpersonal disciplines (anthropology, philosophy) [61–63; 395-405] that in relation to academic psychology take some marginal positions due to attempts made to “legalize” paranormal phenomena that are not acknowledged today by “offi cial” science, as wel as because of transpersonalists’ intense interest in the drugs theme. Nevertheless the methodology of transpersonal psychology is used by some acknowledged experts as methodological basis for their studies (E. Torchinov [290 — 293]). Within the scope of transpersonal research studies there were attempts made to systemize the experience of altered states of consciousness, with religious experience considered as one of their types. Even a kind of so called “map” of men’s inner world that claimed to have provided a complete description of inner reality was being created. Investigation studies of transpersonal school representatives were not only of scientifi c, but of social signifi -

cance as wel , since S. Grof and his fol owers managed to break silence around the main existence of altered states of consciousness. Stil , having acknowledged the value of these studies, we might notice their excessive empiricism and constant fi xation on description of visions and experiences.

In religious psychology of today the main research directions are related to the issue of neo-religions and feasibility of manipulative meth-28 Andrey G. Safronov. PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS

ods used by religious organizations. Among researches working in this direction we should list D. Lifton [390], S. Hassan [304], D. Volkov

[42–45]. Despite all relevance of these investigations and considerable amount of factual data received within them one can note their common drawback: their attempt to consider religiosity of the man and religious experience only as a pathologic state induced by means of outer manipulations upon his psyche, this being an obvious contradiction to al above-listed psychological and anthropological concepts.

Th is somehow extremist position in reasoned by instrumental character of the mentioned investigations and their orientation upon applied job of “exit-consulting” (an intervention designed to persuade an individual to leave a religious community).

Obviously,if one remains strictly within the limits of scientifi c approach, it should not be possible to solve the issue of identity or diversity of religious and psychological experience, in the way it is not possible to prove or refute the thesis of psychological origin of religion. It’s the same as “proving or refuting of religious evidences within philosophy context that is unqualifi ed” [168, pg. 130]. But the concept of interaction between the psychological and the spiritual that is acknowledged even by religious philosophy enables study of mental states induced by religious activity as a separate kind of experiences.



As it was already formulated earlier, for psychopractices we shal treat methods directed onto producing eff ect upon psyche of an individual, a group of people or society at a whole. Th is practice may not be comprehended to be as such and can be disguised under a religious ritual that makes some infl uence upon psyche of a participating person or, on the contrary, can be an instrument of an individual’s self-action.

Some researchers narrow the notion of “psychopractice” down to the limit of the last type only. In general, as a defi nition of psychopractice we shal draw the one formulated by O. Genisaretsky: “A psychopractice is a corpus of psychic eff orts, skil s or knowledge that are apprehended by those practicing them within the scope of natural y or PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS. Andrey G. Safronov 2 9

psychologically refl ective self-comprehension, that have for their object some actual psychic events and states, processes and structures, their target being to achieve preferredlevels of corporal and spiritual life, wholesome contact with environment, satisfactory level of general via-bilityor special effi ciency, personal y signifi cant emotional and value life mode” [51]. In this work we shal not be similarly limiting the investigation fi eld, thusthe area of our objects under study shal include al types of aff ection upon psyche that exist inreligious and their adjacent systems irrespective of their interpretation by participants. We should also draw particular attention to the fact that psychological meaning of psychopractice has nothing to do with its interpretation within corresponding religious system. Regardless the interpretation we shall treat for psychopractice any technique that is expected to result in alteration of individual’s psychic state: short-time and long-time. Th e short-time alterations include fi rst of al altered states of consciousness achieved, while the long-time ones encompass changing of character and motivation, mastering of new skills and development of psychic functions.

We shall distinguish between religious psychopractices that actually make the object of the present research study, and secular ones. Stil , both historical y and today as wel , the distinction between diff erent types of psychopractices is rather vague.

In their turn religious psychopractices can be conventionally divided into exoteric ones that are practiced by majority of corresponding religion adherents (for example, those ofthe Christian confession) and esoteric ones that are used only by limited group of persons. Th e Ignatius of Loyola’s “Spiritual Exercises”, the Hesychasts’ “watchful attention” \

guard of the mind\ and “practice with the mind in the heart” can be related to the second type inside the Christian tradition. As a rule, esoteric psychopractices are much more intensive and thus more eff ective than the exoteric ones. Both exoteric and esoteric practices exist insideevery known traditional religious system.

Let us consider methodological facilities of religious psychopractices’ scientifi c study as well as problems emerging here.

In scientifi c sources religious psychopractices have not been studied enough as a separate object of investigation, but they were indirectly touched upon while surveying adjacent scientifi c fi elds. Th e main part 30 Andrey G. Safronov. PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS

of literature dealing with this problematic case can be divided into six groups:

1. Literature dedicated to psychology of religion, with elaborated methodology of psychological experience study. Th e main tendencies of religious psychology have been already discussed above.

2. Culture-related studies of religious ritual that provide with abundant factual material on the issue of psychopractices that are available in many rituals in an inexplicit form [120; 164; 358; 278; 325; 326; 216


3. Research works on ethno-psychology, in particular those dedicated to children upbringing in diff erent cultures and their “initiation” into these cultures’ norms, by M. Mead [164], E. Erikson [360], I. Kohn

[119; 120].

4. Phenomenological studies of psychopractices proper that have appeared within the recent years. For the most notorious we should note the works of N. Abaev [1–5], E. Torchinov [290–293], S. Khoruhzij


5. Texts that continue the “self-concern” discourse formulated by M. Foucault.

6. Empirical surveys of psychological manipulations that are used by modern social institutions, in particular, by religious systems (E.

Volkov [42–45], R. Lifton [390], S. Hassan [204]), political groupings (A. Kolev [118], S. Kara-Murza [106]), charismatic formations (A. Sosland [274]).

From the above listed scientifi c schools we can single out methodological basis of religious psychopractices’ description. Obviously such description is directly connected to possibility of describing individual’s intrapsychic life. It is particularly related to religious psychopractices since their results cannot be adequately assessed within behavioural positions. Existential, mystic, spiritual and other experiences provide rather vague and ambiguous refl ection upon individual’s behaviour and cannot be reconstituted on the basis of his actions only.

Let us considerthe applicability rate of the aforementioned approaches to religion study and to the study of religious psychopractices phenomenon. Th e theologic approach apparently comes as the least applicable one. Th e study of psychopractices within its framework PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS. Andrey G. Safronov 3 1

completely lacks any logical sense since from the point of Christian religion the god-inspired (that is, altered) states of consciousness can be reached only by the grace of God and not through individual’s ef-forts, and thus it comes in complete contradiction with original psychopractice defi nition. Th e application of historic approach seems in a way complicated as wel , since, though there are attempts made by Western researchers to establish a specifi c science of “psycho-history” that, in particular, deals with infl uence of predominant upbringing system upon current historical processes, stil the methodology used by this science is rather psychological one, not the historic, thus it would be more appropriate to consider these investigations to be a variant of the psychologic approach.

Th e application of sociologic approach to religious psychopractices study is fully justifi ed; moreover such approach was used for study of adjoining subjects, that is: the study of social signifi cance of religion and culture ecstatic forms by M. Weber [37] and M. Bakhtin [17].

Obviously, due to psychological specifi city of the research study object the psychologic approach appears as the most appropriate one. Th e work [293] also substantiates phenomenological approach application feasibility to both the description of the carnal — the psychic — the spiritual states of individual’s self-experience, feeling of the world and the God, as wel as the religious experience self-description model. In this case it is not a philosophic discipline but a universal method of objects of cognition’ study that one should treat for phenomenology. M.

Heidegger pointed out that in phenomenological context one can study

“everything that belongs to the detection and explication method and that comprises the conceptuality required by this research study” [300].

Th e method of phenomenologic analysis enables return to the “things themselves” (Husserl), to describe the phenomenon from al sides, to fi nd general y valid scheme, universal sense behind the contextual diversity of approaches (etymologic, historic, psychologic etc.). Phenomenologic approach is mostly reasonable for description of sources from that the world of individual’s experiences and feelings is being born.

Th e synthesis of psychologic and phenomenologic approaches shall establish a methodology basis of this work’s research study of psychopractices.


But even inside such synthetic methodology one can single out a rather signifi cant number of diff erent paradigms. Such paradigms have been marked out and systemized by F. E. Vasylyuk [36].

Th e energetic paradigm describes psyche as a system of energetic objects. In this paradigm intra-psychic processes come to such operations as deprivation of energy, energy relaxation (catharsis, acting out), energy lending, transfer of energy from one contents onto another one (reaction forming), transition of energy from one form into another one (conversion), generation of energy. Th ough the energetic approach was nominally fi rst formulated by Freud (Freud himself cal ed it the “topography-economic one”), it was used by intuition in many religious philosophic systems. Indeed, practical y in al religious systems there exist such notions as “ritual purity”, “spiritual self-cleansing, etc. that substantiate the psyche and its elements. From historic point such conceptions initial y emerged within animatism — the idea of a peculiar impersonal power — the energy (“mana” in terminology of Oceania peoples) that runs through al material world objects animating them and infl uencing upon them. Th ere are other notions similar to this — the pneuma, the prana, the qui etc. Energetic notions can be described as archetypical.

Th e spatial paradigm includes several dimensions, some of them being of substantive-psychological character, while others — of the formal-topical one: 1) the psycho-somatic dimension (conversion); 2) the conscious — unconscious (suppression); 3) inter-psychological — intra-psychological (introjection); 4) the activity space (substitute formation); 5) the “direction”; 6) the “broadening — narrowing down”; 7) the “dis-junction — bridging”; 8) the “distance”; 9) the “top — bottom”. Th e last paradigm is a fundamental one in Christian anthropology, being the main category of “the upper — the lower”, “the divine — the wordly” etc.

Inside the time paradigm one considers operations of time contrasting, placing of the experienced event into long-time perspective, fi xation in some particular moment of time.

Th e mechanisms of regression, catharsis, introjection, sublimation are referred to the genetic paradigm.

Within the informative-cognitive paradigm one distinguishes between two dimensions — the “assessment” and the “interpretation”, with the fi rst one containing diff erent operations of assessment of both PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS. Andrey G. Safronov 3 3

intra- and inter-psychical character, while the second one encircling the operations of perceptive or intel ectual interpretation of experienced events and occurrences (rationalization, identifi cation, projection etc.).

By analogy with the above-set paradigms we can single out approaches that are used by diff erent authors for description of anthropologic element of religious psychopractices and their related experiences.

Th e empiric approach to description of a religious psychopractice is based upon direct description of experiences emerging as a result of such practice. It was W. James who was the fi rst to use the empiric approach, having drawn in his monograph [77] detailed descriptions of experiences that were drawndirectly by participants of such experiences, and juxtaposing the immediate contents of such experiences. Notwithstanding its imperfection and subjectivity, the empiric approach is one of the basic ones not only in description of religious, but other types of experiences as well, for example the transpersonal ones that emerge within the LSD-therapy sessions and other transpersonal techniques