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Alan Watts and the peak experience

JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matterNetherlands Veteran

I came across this piece of a lecture by Alan Watts this morning:

First he talks about the origins of the Bible, then about the origins of scriptures from other religions (turns out they were all written by men). There is no such thing as a single holy book. But next he turns to the religious experience, the core of which motivates all these various views of the holy. That which Abraham Maslow referred to as a “peak experience”. For a lot of people that experience is the peak of the mountain, the encounter with god.

Of course, for a lot of other people there is no monotheistic creator god. For Buddhists there are many gods, yet they are not very important, they come to learn the Dhamma from Buddha. Instead Buddhists take their refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. And Buddhism is also different in placing enlightenment, or buddhahood, as the peak of the mountain.

But what is often forgotten is that in making your way to the peak of the mountain you spend most of your time on its slopes, and you can hardly make your home at the mountaintop. What about coming down? What about living in the valley by the stream and the meadows? Whether a peak experience really is a good thing is very questionable. Certainly it can be as much curse as blessing, if you look at the average psychiatric ward.

Achieving a modicum of inner peace, and then just finding a creative mode of living, a way with love, a way of simply being. That seems to me to be enough, spirituality can be simple too.



  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    I came across a story the other day, about a vociferous and fanatical Jew named Saul who lived not long after Christ’s crucifixion, who was determined to put a stop to the followers of this upstart Jesus. He was travelling to the Holy Land when he had a revelation, he saw God appearing to him in the sky, and he had a change of heart and became a follower of Jesus. He changed his name to Paul, and became rather famous…

    I have a friend who sometimes is visited by peak experiences, she once told me that some years ago she had visions of being a reincarnated Tibetan master for a while, and was quickly convinced of their truth. Friends of hers reported her to the authorities, and she was sectioned and kept at a secure ward for several months while heavily medicated. It left lasting marks of trauma on her, and it took her years to recover.

    It seems to me that what happens after a religious experience is highly dependent on the culture, on how the people around you understand what is happening to you. Our knowledge of mental health and how it integrates with religious experience is sadly very underexposed. When modern psychiatry took over from where Renaissance understanding of madness left off, the religious understanding fell by the wayside.

  • VastmindVastmind Memphis, TN Veteran
    edited November 2023

    I like your third paragraph. Not sure I got that summation from the video, tho. Well, wait…maybe I do, haha…it’s the climb, fall, etc. as opposed to all about the peak. Ok. Gotcha

    Divine inspiration? 🧐 Mystical experiences.? Never had one and to quote him from the video….the testimonies I have heard from others appear very ‘thin’. It’s nothing ever new. It’s validating/confirming info and/or opinions already expressed to that person or the person that gave it.

    I do find it fascinating to discuss the ‘authority’ aspect. Once we determine who our trusted authority is on matters, the rest seems to fall in place to fit that narrative.,,,,which I guess he also said in a lot more words 😁. Critical thinking skills are a lost art in a world where sheep-hood feels comforting.

    AFA the Canon:
    “It’s a 4th century creation masquerading as a 1st century eye witness report “

    -Bernard Brandon Scott, Ph.D.
    Phillips Theological Seminary, OK.

  • howhow Veteran Veteran
    edited November 2023

    A bubble in a stream, a phantasm, a dream...
    or cheat notes that meditators might consider carrying for life's tests or in labeling peak experiences.

    The profundity of any spiritual awakening is directly proportional to the degree of delusion that one was formally laboring under.

    So..a large awakening represents the large size of the delusion that the recipient was formally suffering under, just as lesser awakenings simply represent the smaller degree of delusion that the recipient was having to address. Consequently, the size of an awakening might say more about how deluded you were, that how awakened you might be now.

    One of the most important functions that a good teacher can offer a student is how to prevent those awakened experiences from devolving back into glossier representations of our former states of delusion. This can mean the difference between a transcendence of a delusion and an eventual compounding or the entrenchment of that delusion.

    The strength, length of time or fluidity by which an awakening remains an active unfolding experience in our daily lives, is directly proportional to the degree to which one avoids personally attaching to it in any way.

    Meditation is a practice run on how to transcend all of suffering's causes,
    not just a swap out of one attachment for one that is more agreeable to us.

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