Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

Eastern Orthodox Mysticism and Transpersonal Theory

Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

Eastern Orthodox Mysticism and Transpersonal Theory

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Christianity has remained relatively peripheral to the intellectual processes that shaped transpersonal theory. Eastern religions on the other hand provided the base upon which transpersonal theory was founded and developed. Spiritual traditions like Hinduism and Buddhism paved the way towards the exploration of states of consciousness beyond the rational mind. My basic claim in this paper is that the eastern branch of Christianity, or Eastern Orthodox Christianity, has preserved and developed over the centuries a mystical theology and practice that may enrich and perhaps expand what eastern religions have contributed so far to the emergence of transpersonal theory. This paper is an introduction to the mystical pathways of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. It is informed by seminal literature and scriptures, several years of participant observation and depth interviews of Eastern Orthodox practitioners (mystics, monks and hermits), and complemented by experiential data related to my own journey of discovery.

Transpersonal theory has developed during the last few decades to a large extent as a result of an encounter and creative dialogue between western thought and eastern religions (Puhakka, 2008). This is clearly shown in the work of such leading transpersonal theorists as Ken Wilber, Michael Washburn, Roger Walsh, Frances Vaughan, Abraham Maslow, Stanislav Grof, Charles Tart, Stanley Krippner and others. For example, after an indepth and sustained engagement with Zen Buddhism, Wilber mapped magnificent landscapes of human consciousness extending beyond the limitations of the rational mind. He pointed out, however, that if the West were to be transformed on a broader scale by incorporating in its worldview the truth of higher realities and stages of awareness, this would have to be done from within its own cultural and symbolic universe. Wilber further claimed that Eastern religions can only play a catalytic role for such historical transformation. Their role is to sensitize westerners to trans-egoic and supersensible realities, which they can then uncover within their own Judeo- Christian spiritual heritage.

So far such a development has not taken place for a variety of reasons such as the heavy historical baggage of Christianity related to the Inquisition, the Crusades, and anti-Semitism. Furthermore, the historic conflict between religion and science led to a hostile attitude of some western thinkers towards religion in general and organized religion in particular. The current distortions of Christianity brought on by fundamentalist zealots did not make matters any easier. Perhaps for these and other reasons Christianity remained peripheral to transpersonal theory.

The march of rationalism and "disenchantment," to use Max Weber's term, forced the West's mystical pathways to recede underground rendering them culturally invisible. On the other hand, in Asiatic religions such pathways, like the various forms of Hindu yoga, Zen Buddhism and Tibetan meditation practices, remained available up front and closer to their exoteric forms. Consequently, they have been more accessible and baggage-free for westerners in search of higher wisdom and an escape from the asphyxiating "iron cage" of rationalism and materialist reductionism.

In this paper I would propose that Christianity too has a "yoga," or a spiritual methodology for the attainment of higher forms of consciousness and God realization. More specifically, I would argue that the Eastern branch of Christianity, or Eastern Orthodox Christianity, because of its unique historical and theological developments has preserved in its monastic orders a methodology and practice for spiritual transcendence that may parallel those of Eastern religions. Such spiritual methods, once liberated from their archaic cultural context, may be relevant not only to transpersonal theory but also to contemporary western seekers who may feel more at ease with spiritual practices that spring from within their own cultural and religious traditions. …

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