Many psychologists in the last few years have become interested in research possibilities that a few years back were considered beyond the realm of science, namely, voluntary control of normally-unconscious psychological and physiological processes. . . .
The programs . . . deal with one's power to modify and control, through volition, one's own mental, emotional, and physiological states, without hypnotic programming by another person; and in all of these developments . . . parapsychological events sometimes occur. These events are not, however, the goals of training. The primary goal is self mastery. . . . coupled with the development of awareness of what, in Zen, is called the True Self. Unless this aspect of Self is developed, it is said, psychic powers become an "ego trip." The attainment of psychic powers may follow safely after a degree of self mastery (ego mastery) is achieved, but if paranormal development comes first, psychological problems develop.
. . . it is possible to become involved in psychic (psychological) entanglements and not be able to find one's way, through layers of mental and emotional confusion, back to one's center. The ancient Christian advice concerning these matters was to seek first the kingdom of Heaven, which was within, it was said, and other things would follow in due course.
These considerations seem to have an especially important meaning today because we are bombarded by newspaper advertisements of entrepreneurs who (for a fee) will develop psychic powers in us, through hypnosis. It is denied that hypnosis is the technique employed, because hypnosis is a "bad word." Instead it is called "conditioning" programming," "brain wave training," "alpha training," etc., but nevertheless, it is hypnosis. On this professionals agree, though they do not always agree on how hypnosis works. The "countdown" induction procedure used in commercial mind training "programming" is a classical hypnotic technique.
Hypnosis is an extremely powerful tool for control of physiological and psychological states. It is well known that through hypnosis painless surgery can be performed, people can be made to see things that are not there, and not see things that are there, but it is not generally realized, even by professionals, that through hypnosis parapsychological sensitivity can be enhanced. . . .
The points being made here are that hypnosis can involve the paranormal, and the paranormal is being invoked by hypnosis in some of those who take commercial mind training courses, opinions of noninvestigators notwithstanding.
The question might now be raised, "So-what? What difference does it make?" . . .
Hypnotic programming as used in the commercial courses has several defects, namely:
(a) Many people are psychically catapulted, so to speak, into existential realms in which they cannot protect themselves from dangers arising either from within their own unconscious, or from psychic manipulation by other persons, or from "extrapersonal" sources (dangers inherent in so-called "astral" dimensions). There is not time here to review the history of spiritualism since 1849 and the psychic disasters that often resulted from dabbling in the area of trance mediumship, but mental hospitals, even today, contain many people who "hear voices." These people usually cannot turn the voices off, cannot separate fact from fiction, have lost their "reality testing" powers, and often are obliged to act out against their will" instructions they are "given."
(b) Commercial mind training students are often "programmed" in ways not appropriate to their own needs, nor at their own proper rates. What is proper for one can be disastrous for another. This hazard arises, because apart from the dangers of hypnotic penetration into "astral" levels of being,
(c) many mind training teachers are incompetent to work with people in matters where psychological and physical health are at stake. For example, former salesmen who have had a few courses in hypnotic programming are not qualified to work in this very delicate area of the human psyche with its psychosomatic correlates.
(d) And most seriously, psychic submission may be enhanced in "astral" dimensions rather than powers of self volition. This is the consensus of Eastern teachers who, it must be conceded, reflect much experimentation and experience over the centuries with training methods for self mastery. It is admitted that psychosomatic self regulation, achieved by any volitional method, is slow compared to submitting oneself to hypnotic instruction, i.e., turning the control of one's mind over to another person, but it is also maintained by the most accomplished teachers that the power of psychic self-determination is the sine qua non for safety in astral dimensions.
Concerning safety in "astral" dimensions, possibly the greatest specific danger associated with hypnotic submission in commercial mind training programs lies in the developing, or obtaining, of psychic "advisors." They are the male and female assistants who "know everything," who at the deep "level" of mind advise the student, and sometimes tell him what to do.
In the mediumistic version of the parapsychological paradigm, these advisors, however constructed or found, may serve as masks for "entities" who may attempt (now that the student has become amenable to suggestion at the unconscious level) to control the student's mental, emotional and physical behavior. The mediumistic concept will clearly be rejected by mind training teachers because, if accepted, it would imply that these teachers might be responsible for serious problems in the lives of some of their trainees.
The physical frontiers of our planet have presented many dangers to humans; can it be safely assumed that the inner frontier has no corresponding perils? Is it realistic to accept the assurances of commercial mind training instructors that dangers that may be associated with "territorial invasion" by humans on "astral" levels are not possible? For those who accept the possibility of "entities," is it safe to assume that only good, nice, and safe beings (like humans?) are functioning in "astral" dimensions? This would be a truly Ptolemaic assumption.
Regarding the hazards associated with the all-knowing advisors found at the deep "level," some time ago we pointed out to an acquaintance that friends of his who were students of one of the mind training programs might consider being on guard against the possibility of mediumistic-like "possession" through the agency of the advisors. The upshot of this was that these students challenged their advisors, asked them to get out of their "psychic space.". . .
Along this same line, one of our friends in the Bay Area, a counselor on psychological and religious problems, reports that at least a dozen of his clients are suffering from paranoid neuroses as a result of taking mind training courses. Another acquaintance, a psychiatrist who took one of the commercial courses himself, reported to us that four of the thirty who went through the program became psychotic. Two of them had to be hospitalized. In part, he attributed this result to the psychic peculiarity of the instructor. Other students with whom we have discussed the "instructor effect" have reported similar events. Apparently a kind of psychic "transference" phenomenon can occur, a kind of "psychic pollution" can take place due to the unconscious receptivity of the subject to "extrasensory projection" by the hypnotist.
Another point: Mind training teachers often maintain that no harm can be done to another person by themselves or by their students, because they are programmed with the idea that if these "powers" are used for ignoble or selfish purposes they will be lost, but this is likely to be nonsense. Post-hypnotic suggestions are notorious for their impermanence, so if real psychic "powers" are developed in students it can be assumed that hypnotically-imposed restrictions on the use of such powers will not be long lasting.
The examples given above indicate that whether one chooses to examine commercial mind training methods from either the traditional psychological point of view or from the parapsychological point of view, there is risk involved for students. We do not presume to be able to answer all the questions raised, but when over one hundred thousand persons have already been processed through such mind training programs (including 2,000 high school girls at a school in Philadelphia in October, 1972), some questions should be asked. In view of the hazards associated with hypnotic programming in commercial mind training courses, the present writers believe that hypnosis as a technique for inducing self awareness and parapsychological faculties is not adequately safe and should be discarded.
Spiritual teachers concerned with the development of inner awareness have always excluded hypnosis as a technique, both in the East and in the West, not because it was not understood, but because it was understood. Self development and programming by another were considered antithetical. There is no logical reason to assume that things are now different merely because we are in the twentieth century and people are in a hurry, wish to have immediate results and perhaps even hope to get something without effort. Hypnotic programming (like LSD) has convinced many people that an inner terrain exists, and in this way it has been instrumental in drawing attention to an important dimension of human life, but it is also important that we now look at the entire area of "inner exploration" and, in as balanced a way as possible, . . .
(From Sunrise magazine, April 1975; copyright © 1975 Theosophical University Press)