Theosophical University Press Online Edition
Is It Right to Practise Hypnotism?
I have often been asked the question, "Do Theosophists ever consider it right to practise hypnotism in any manner?" In answering this very important question I must first point out that from the Theosophical standpoint so-called modern 'psychologists' are not genuine psychologists at all; because true psychology means the science of the entire intermediate and invisible constitution of man, popularly called the soul, and comprising under that head all the phenomena which both normal and abnormal men show or express. Modern psychology is really a kind of psychological physiology, and modern psychologists are simply physiologists studying human consciousness from a more or less purely physiological standpoint, and therefore cutting off ninety percent or more of the entire range of human consciousness.
The word 'hypnotism' means sleep. It is, however, not actually human sleep, but it is a quasi-trance state; and in this entranced or hypnotized state an individual can move, can open the eyes, can go about, usually with a vapid, empty, and often silly expression on the face like a dreaming person, but with eyes that see not, and yet see awry, and with ears which hear not and yet in a sense do hear. Hypnotism, strictly speaking, is a form of trance. The individual when hypnotized is ninety percent or more unconscious intellectually of what goes on around him. He is entranced physically, and to a certain degree mentally unconscious on this plane. Furthermore, an individual can throw himself into this state. No good whatsoever comes of it, and the results are often distinctly injurious to physical and mental health and stability, but it can be done.
This, then, is mere hypnotism. However, under the one popular word 'hypnotism' are mistakenly grouped other things which should be separated if we wish carefully to distinguish among them and to study them scientifically: fascination, suggestion, including autosuggestion, mental magnetism, the various forms of psychic attraction and repulsion, etc. Hypnotism per se, including self-hypnotism, properly should be called in the English tongue by the word Braidism, because first investigated and studied by an English doctor called Braid.
From another viewpoint hypnotism per se is a sleeping or stupefied condition of the nerves in the body; the nerves and the nervous ganglia are practically dead for the time being. The condition occurs because the upper triad of the normal human individual, which upper triad comprises all the best and finest and noblest in a man, has been expelled out of and from the lower quaternary; and you here see what a human being becomes when he is no longer ensouled by the higher triad. A hypnotized person, therefore, is an unensouled person, using the word 'soul' in the common or ordinary meaning of the word. The upper part of the man is temporarily absent, expelled from the lower; and therefore all that one sees in the man are the functions of the lower quaternary or lower parts of the human sevenfold constitution.
Now I come to the question whether it is ethical or unethical to hypnotize others — and I here use the word 'hypnotism' in its popular sense as comprising — and I may add altogether wrongly comprising — the various branches of psychological power to which I have already directed attention. Let us first take the fact of suggestion or autosuggestion. Suggestion is the implanting in the mind of some other person or persons of an idea, with the intent to make that idea control the thought and the life of that other, or of those others; and this is qualifiedly evil even where the motive is good, although, of course, the evil is a matter of degree. Some suggestions when implanted with a wicked or thoroughly selfish intent are corrupt and evil throughout. Other suggestions when implanted in the mind of a second person, or of other persons, with an intent to help that other person, or those other persons, are evil because of their effects, but are largely relieved of the onus or stigma of moral depravity. No one has a right, nor is wise enough in our age of materialistic ideals and ideas, to practise suggestion with a deliberate intention of controlling the thought or life of another.
Suggestion is the attempt, very often successful, to put your own will and your own mind into the place of the will and the mind of the weaker one, the subject. Hence it is evil, because, most important of all, it corrodes the structure of the individual's own moral power, and poisons that source of inner guidance, thus weakening his own saving will. Autosuggestion, which means suggestion practised upon yourself, can be evil if it is suggestion to yourself to be evil or to do evil deeds, to be beastly, to be cruel, to be dishonest, etc.; in other words, to follow the left-hand path. Autosuggestion, however, is always right, and we should practise it continually, if it means merely suggesting to oneself night and day and all the time pictures of spiritual and moral and intellectual strength, self-control, and improvement — things of beauty, of glory, of holiness, of purity, of charity, of kindliness; in short, all the great and noble virtues. These we should suggest to ourselves as paths of thought and conduct to follow. Autosuggestion in this sense is right because it is simply teaching ourselves, it is self-teaching of a kind. We should suggest to ourselves that we follow the path of ethics; for this is simply teaching ourselves to become accustomed to ethical thinking, to love it and to appreciate its simple grandeur. Autosuggestion of this kind, as said above, is but another form of self-teaching.
If suggestion be practised on some other person, it is right and proper if the suggestion means merely the laying before the other's mind of the picture of a path of conduct or of a thing to be done, the path and the thing being intrinsically ethical and wise, and then saying to him, "Here is an idea. What do you think about it?" This is right because this is teaching; and the suggestion does not contain the element of mastery, nor the quality of subordination of the subject's mind and will to your own. But when the suggestion becomes subtle and tricky, and is cleverly insinuated into the mind of the hearer, stealing upon him unawares with an evil motive behind it of gain for the operator, then indeed it is devil's work, devilish work, diabolic.
Indeed, every time one teaches a child, the teaching is done by suggestion, direct or indirect. Every time you make a suggestion to a fellow human being, you are practising, working, suggestion upon him. If the suggestion be good and given with a noble motive and with the intent to help the other, and not for your sake but for his solely, even if you are wrong in your vision of the situation or the fact, the motive at least is good; but the one to whom the suggestion is made should always be watchful and careful to accept it if he find it good, and to abhor it and reject it if he find it to be evil. In this way that sublime voice within us which men call the conscience is awakened and stimulated and its power increased.
Now then, do we Theosophists think that it is right, that it is ethical, to practise hypnotism, and do we approve of physicians practising hypnotism on their patients? Mind you, I speak of hypnotism at present as I have explained it above. I have already explained what suggestion is and what it should not be. One can put a person into a physically insensible state by entrancing the body, and this is hypnotism; and it actually can be brought about on very weak subjects who have already been under the control of the operator by even a simple suggestion. I have seen subjects in the hypnotic trance; and in one case the subject was so utterly unconscious of pain that three long hatpins such as women used to wear were driven into the upper part of the arm; and I saw this unfortunate subject hold the arm up with these daggers or pins sticking in it and traversing the muscle. She had no more apparent consciousness of pain than a piece of cloth would have shown, nor was there visible a drop of blood. To me it was revolting. There was absolutely naught in this exhibition of hypnotic power over an unfortunate subject which was elevating or good or kindly, or in any manner to be encouraged. I simply saw a wretched human being made the laughing-stock of the curious and morbid minds who were present.
Now the question arises: is it useful to do this or things like this? I doubt it very, very much; and in fact I have no hesitation in saying that I think it neither useful nor proper nor decent. I doubt if there be any physicians in the world today who have the wisdom of the ancients in this matter, to know when it is wise to put a person into a sleeping trance, even with the alleged motive of preventing or alleviating pain. The motive may be good, but the wisdom lacks. Such men are experimenting with something they don't understand. I had much liefer see the sick person come under the influence of an anaesthetic drug carefully and wisely administered by a moral and kindly surgeon; much liefer see that; and although this is dangerous too, it has, at least, not the moral danger hovering around in the atmosphere that any kind of hypnotic trance-production has. Who knows what temptation the doctors who practise therapeutic hypnotism or suggestion may undergo some day — temptations of many and various kinds, even the temptation "for the sake of science" to make further experiments? The same arguments in objection may be made with regard to the use of drugs; but here, at least, all know that drugging is much more easily detected and traceable than any kind of trance or hypnotic or psychologic condition is; and therefore the bars against evil-doing are obviously much stronger, because the consequences of drug-taking are more easily traceable, and usually more immediately dangerous in case of misuse.
But this is not all. No matter what form the influencing of the mind of another human being may take, whether it be hypnotism, whether it be suggestion, whether it be psychologization, it all comes to the same evil result in the last analysis, unless indeed the motive be thoroughly good, and the appeal of the suggester — and I speak now of suggestion or psychologization — be made on the sole and unique ground of endeavoring to arouse the individual's own combative intellectuality and individual will. In all cases where the effort is to subordinate or enslave the mind and the will for whatever purpose, scientific or what not, it is to be classed under the general heading of diabolism; and therefore I call it diabolic, infernal.
To allege a good motive is a feeble excuse and is far from enough. It is an old saying that "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions," or good motives. Good motives unwisely applied are vastly more dangerous than evil motives evilly applied; because everybody is more or less awake to the latter and resents them and repels them. A man with a good motive often deceives himself profoundly, and frequently succeeds in deceiving others.
Do Theosophists approve of the practice of hypnotism in medicine? My own reaction is an emphatic negative. I will try to illustrate what I mean when I say I would answer no. Disease, suffering or pain, human misery, moral weakness, moral turpitude or ignominy followed by suffering and pain, mental or otherwise — all of this arises originally in the mind. It can all be traced back ultimately to evil thinking, evil thoughts making people feel evilly, to desire evil things and to carry them into action, thereby weakening the body and infecting it with disease germs, to use the modern phraseology. All disease thus originates in the mind; but it is quite wrong to say that, once a disease is in the body, it is therefore not in the body, but in the mind alone. This last is preposterous nonsense.
It is right and in every way proper to try to heal disease. It is right and in every way proper to try to alleviate pain and suffering. But mark you, if that alleviation of a temporary pain, which, in itself, teaches a lesson to the sufferer, is gained at the cost of a distortion of the sufferer's soul, then it becomes intrinsically wrong and the greater is sacrificed for the less. It may seem like a 'dark saying' and a hard one to offer the suggestion that one of the psychological elements needed in Occidental life is a better understanding of the mental attitude towards suffering and pain which the old and wise Orient understands so well and practises so successfully. The results that accrue in benefit to those who understand this are very great. This, however, does not mean in any slightest sense of the word that we should be callous to, or regardless of, the sufferings of others. Just the contrary is the fact. The lessons that we learn by suffering and pain and the mellowing and enriching of character that come from these, teach us the noble lessons of compassion and pity for others. It is the one who has suffered long who is the least inclined to fall under the seductive and very fallacious viewpoint of self-pity. Instead he becomes pitiful of others. It is the old ideal to have the "diamond-heart" — hard and unyielding as diamond towards one's own weaknesses, suffering, wishes and desires; but, like the diamond, reflecting in flashes of light every phase of the suffering or pain or sorrow of others.
To continue my argument: Let us take the case of some trouble or weakness which is both physical and ethical-mental, e. g. drunkenness, or the drug habit, or some other form of physical or mental sensuality, multifarious and myriad as these forms are. The Occidental psychologists and speculative physicians have, for years past, been talking of 'hypnotizing,' as they call it, or suggesting, people who are addicts of one or other of these types out of their physical and mental-ethical difficulty, whatever the particular form of sensuality that is corroding the fibre of the sufferer.
Now I ask the plain question: Even if such attempts in hypnotic or suggestive practice succeed, what are the permanent results attained? First, it is doubtful if any result is permanent; second, even if permanent, in what way has the sufferer actually been aided in recovering his own will-power to react against his weakness and to conquer it? In no manner whatsoever. He has been weakened and his own will has been sent into a deeper sleep than before. His moral sense is blunted, and he has become a leaner and a craven. He is now a man artificially affected by outside influences, and is temporarily living on the thought-vitality of the hypnotic or suggesting operator. He has not learned to control himself; he has not learned to conquer his weakness nor his habit nor his impulses; and in the next birth on earth, possibly even in this same life, he not only will have the same weakness in his character, and probably will begin the same thing again, but will begin it earlier in life than was the case in the present existence.
Whatever the motive of the operator may have been, good, bad, or indifferent, the sufferer has been deliberately deprived of the saving and instructive suffering and pain — Nature's natural teachers for those who violate her laws — which would have taught the man, through suffering, to turn from his evil thought and evil courses, and take himself in hand with a will. I mean every word of this. I mean it literally. It is somewhat like the case of the dear mother who is so terribly afraid of hurting her little child's feelings that she will allow it to go wrong because she cannot bear to see it weep or hear it cry under proper control and even loving chastisement.
I am not blind to the obvious fact that all such cases are genuine problems partaking not only of a physical character, but also very strongly of a psychological character in every instance; the Theosophical physician who may be faced with problems such as these, certainly will have difficulties and objections to face in the world; among other reasons he has the strong current of ordinary human psychology running against him. People who are sometimes frenzied with foolish fear, harrowed with real or imaginary pain and anxiety, ask — and naturally ask — for relief "at any cost"; and just here is where the clever, but ethical physician, finds his problem — a problem of an ethical as well as of a physical and psychological character. Now what is he going to do? It is his duty to bring help to the sufferer and to relieve pain if humanly and morally right to do this last; and no Theosophical physician could ever turn a deaf ear to a cry of pain, because if he does he violates one of the first principles of Theosophic conduct applicable to both doctor and layman, i.e., our common duty to help each other in every way that is right and proper and possible.
Suppose that the doctor weakens under the stress and his own anxiety in the circumstances, and seeks a way of psychologizing, of suggesting, of hypnotizing, in order to give the sufferer temporary relief. He thereby gives the patient a mental injection, which is as actual a thing as is the deadly drug given by a surgeon, who, shrinking from the pain of the man he is operating on, shoots into him an almost deadly measure of a drug, till the patient is so stupefied that he is as a mere unconscious log on the operating table.
Of course, I am now speaking of a physician who really can psychologize, or hypnotize, to use the popular word. The result after a number of such injections of the mental drug, the psychic poison, is that the man goes around as in a dream. Careless onlookers and those who do not analyse, think and say that the man is now quite changed. He no longer cares for his alcoholic poison. He no longer takes his favorite drug. He seems to have dropped his particular form of sensuality; and people say, "Behold, a cure." This is quite wrong. The man is not cured, for the simple reason that what you now see before you is no longer a normal man. He is a man in an abnormal or drugged state, or in a condition which from the mental and ethical standpoint is one of stupefaction. His intermediate or soul-nature has been hurt, i.e., dislocated from its normal functioning, because the reform has not originated within the sufferer's own being; no permanent good has been done to him; and he is living in an artificial and abnormal state, and is simply deadened to ethics and psychically stupefied, exactly as a man may be under the influence of a physical drug. It is even possible that this abnormal psychological condition may wear off in time; or the doctor who has been the 'suggester' or hypnotizer may die; and then the man's condition is worse than it was in the beginning. The old devil, i.e. the old temptation, comes back, but now accompanied by seven others worse than itself; and so far as the sufferer is concerned, in the next life he returns to incarnation worse because weaker than when he died. The man has not been permanently helped in any wise.
The proper way in which to handle these cases, or cases similar to them, is in some manner to seek a reform or inner moral and mental reconstruction in the nature of the sufferer himself; and this can be done by arousing the sufferer's interest, by restoring his self-respect, by awakening a desire in the man to take himself in hand. Teach him the truths about the Universe, about himself, about life, about the way to live properly and grandly. Restore his self-respect and self -command; and when you have shown him the way thus to live, then the man finds his own inner strength, and throws off the temptation of the drug or of the sensual attraction, or of the evil which had been tormenting him. Thus he will build up a strength of character which will guarantee him against becoming diseased anew — whether it be morally diseased or mentally diseased or physically diseased.
It is obvious, of course, that all diseases, once the seeds of them have been implanted, must work themselves out; and the sufferer in such case can be helped to bear his trouble even with equanimity and increasing hope. It is against all Nature's law that anything which has come under Nature's correcting and merciful hand can be escaped from. Effect follows cause infallibly, and it is foolish to think that 'miracles' can be worked. One cannot escape Nature's laws; and this fact to the reflective mind is the source of immense, of colossal, comfort and hope; because it means that if Nature's laws operate to cause us to suffer and thereby to gain self-control, likewise do Nature's laws help us to grow and to become greater when we do right; and give us full meed of compensation for every harmonious thought or feeling or act that we have.
Psychologization and suggestion and hypnotism and any other of these efforts are really mental-psychological drugs; they are not even palliatives; they are stupefactions. Their use stupefies and deadens for a time; but nothing is permanently cured, nothing is permanently healed; for the reason that moral disease, such as drunkenness, bestiality, sensuality, drug-taking, whatever it may be — all these things that it has been proposed to hypnotize or psychologize people for or against — all these things, I say, originate and always will originate, in weakness, in desires, in thoughts, in feelings, leading one and all to corresponding acts.
Therefore, hard as the saying may sound at first hearing, I repeat that my own feeling is that it would be unethical for a Theosophical physician ever to resort to the practice of hypnotism or psychologization or suggestion in the senses popularly understood and so often accepted as proper. A physician should be a physician of the soul or of the heart, as well as of the body, i.e. an ethical as well as a physical practitioner; and the more successful a physician is in being such, the larger and more lucrative will become his practice. Sufferers will turn instinctively to the high-minded doctor who can help them in their minds and in their hearts, as well as in their bodies. Nor is this ethical help that I speak of a matter of mere irritating preachments. Such preachments would be fatal to the physician's objective, and would simply make him become known as an unconscionable bore and nuisance.
In conclusion, remember that hypnotism is brought about by an expelling of the higher part, the nobler part, of the man out of the lower quaternary of his constitution; so that the man thereafter goes around in a state which we can call a waking sleep, i.e. in a trance; and therefore he is stupid, temporarily unensouled. Psychologization or suggestion, again, when done with an evil motive, means the planting of seeds of thought with power behind them into the mind of the sufferer so that they stick like burrs in the psychological apparatus of him who receives them. And thus the sufferer under the control of the thought not his own, of the idea not his own, is no longer fully self-conscious, no longer in control of his own life, no longer growing in strength of character and in power of moral decision; but becomes with each repetitive occurrence of the suggestion more, largely enslaved to the exterior will. Hence it is that such psychologization or suggestion also finally results in expelling the man's own soul or perhaps a better term is dislocating a man's own soul; so that no longer does it function either normally or with power. Here, too, is a case where the sufferer, by means of the deliberate act of the psychologizer or suggester, becomes unensouled, for the time being at least 'soulless'; and by every canon of ethics or justice can henceforth no longer be considered to be morally or mentally fully responsible for what he thinks or does. He is a mere psychologic machine to the extent that the external power controls him.
Doubtless no two cases are identic; each case has to be judged in accordance with the respective factors involved. But in any case, to the Occidental world, the fields of human consciousness are virtually a terra incognita —and for this reason western experimenters are wandering in Cimmerian darkness.
I have touched only indirectly upon another immensely important feature involved in each and in every case of hypnotic or suggestive control. I mean what we Theosophists call the karman of the matter. The Universe throughout all its parts is an organic whole, and all its parts in consequence are mutually held and bound by the laws which prevail throughout. In other words, no part can act unto itself alone, or escape responsibility for what it does, particularly so when acting with choice and with will. The disturber of Nature's harmonies, indeed an actor in any wise or after any manner whatsoever, becomes, and is held by Nature's own automatic operations, immediately responsible for what the disturber has done, ay, or even thought or felt. Consequently, he who changes the thought, feeling, will, or displaces the thought, feeling, will, of another, de facto becomes subject to the law which he himself consciously or unconsciously invokes by his action, and will feel the reflex current thereof at an early or at a later day. Listen to the words of the Law which prevails throughout the Universe and which none can set aside nor ever stay: "As ye mete, it shall be meted unto you"; and "What ye sow ye shall reap." Motive affects the result even greatly, but motive is no excuse nor can it stay the unerring and terrible hand of Nature's karmic justice.