Mudrashram Institute of Spiritual Studies
The Rebirth Experience and Its Role in Conversion
By George. A. Boyd ©1988
Eastern and Western Ideas of Rebirth
The idea of rebirth is central to the springs of Western civilization, and constitutes, in Western esotericism, the taking of the First Initiation for each of the Seven Rays. The table below examines some of the relationships between death and rebirth myths in ancient cultures that have given rise to modern movements and religions in the West.
Western Myths of Resurrection
Eastern cultures have also recognized the dynamism of the rebirth myth. Unlike the Western versions, however, the Eastern teachings emphasize the experience of Cosmic Consciousness, whereas Western conceptions are linked to the Planetary dimension of spirituality.
In the Planetary dimension, the cohesiveness of group consciousness together with the formation of conceptual models about what the nature of God is primary; man and God are fundamentally separate. In the Eastern versions, the fundamental principle of Universe and man are experienced intuitively as a unitive, ineffable mystical experience; the ego experience of man is seen as illusory—and only the Divine is real.
The table below shows a comparable chart of Eastern spirituality, where taking the first Cosmic initiation is the point of departure in the rebirth experience.
Eastern Approaches to Rebirth
Later religious syncretism and cross-cultural exchange of ideas precipitated the Integral and Grace-Bestowing (Shaktipat) traditions that represent a blending of these streams of philosophy and practice. The table below depicts these other varieties of Eastern mysticism.
Eastern Integral and Shaktipat Traditions
The Yoga of the Seven Mudras, an integral meditation system developed by Boyd in 1983 can be used as an example of such a syncretic system. In this system, meditation proceeds from Kundalini yoga, to Nada yoga (sound current practice), to Mantra yoga, to Raja yoga, to Guru Kripa yoga (empowerment by Spirit). It further trains in Jnana yoga (intuitional methods), Agni yoga (visualization methods to express higher energies through the body) and Dharma yoga (investigation of the inner sense of truth and values). Coupled with this integral approach, Boyd also introduces the light immersion sittings during which spiritual ministry (Shaktipat) takes place. The techniques used in the course have been drawn from both Western and Eastern sources.[These methods are elucidated in Boyd's book, The Yoga of the Seven Mudras: Introducing the Mudrashram System of Integral Meditation.]
Another example of an integral meditation system is the meditation program of Dr. Ramamurthi Mishra (Swami Brahmananda). In his seminal book, Fundamentals of Yoga (1959), he systematically explores a wide variety of meditational practices, explaining them by concepts drawn from Buddhism and Samkhya Yoga philosophy.
Astanga Yoga, the Yoga system of Patanjali, is perhaps the oldest form of Integral meditation (Mishra 1959). It combines ethical observance (Yama and Niyama), with physical postures (Asana), breathing exercises (Pranayama), and withdrawal of attention from the environment and sensory input (Pratyahara). The heart of this system is what Patanjali calls Raja Yoga, and this involves concentration (Dharana), contemplation (Dhyana), and absorption (Samadhi).
Integral meditation, when practiced under the guidance of an adept teacher without the presence of cultic group pressures, represents a skillful blending of Eastern meditational technology with a systematic approach to human personal and transpersonal development. It may be viewed as the synthesis of the seven types of Eastern approaches in the table of Eastern approaches to rebirth.
Rebirth in the Conversion Experience
Unlike the systematic and balanced approaches of integral meditation systems, esoteric and exoteric systems of East and West that rely upon the rebirth experience as central to religious experience can often introduce radical personality changes. Where conversion and proselytization are emphasized in group practice, such rebirth experiences are often actively sought in the new convert to affirm faith in the group's fundamental doctrines, and are seen to constitute "proof" of the group's underlying assumptions about the nature of the Divine and humankind. The evocation of altered states of consciousness in these groups is a cementing factor between members, and use of specialized group slogans or religious terminology, giving of a new name, rituals, secret prayers or meditation practices further act to create a unique group identity.
The convert that is "born anew" learns to re-identify with another, altered state of consciousness, and rebuilds his or her world and life around this new inner center. Continued spiritual practice and ongoing exposure to group doctrines reinforce the seeking of the altered state of consciousness, and every contact with this level reaffirms this basic faith learned on the first day of initiation. The convert comes to view his or her life as truly beginning on the day of initiation, and often feels that his or her former life before initiation was "blind", defective, or sinful.
When the convert relates to the world from a new center, the human faculties of feeling, reason, reflective thought, and volition (the Conscious mind) take a back seat to the newly emergent sense of Self. This "Higher Self" is valued more than the pre-conversion personality, and is regarded with reverence, awe, or fear. Together with this inner attitude of obeisance, converts often report they believe that their former personal aims and aspirations are no longer compatible with their "new life", and that they must surrender or obey this new nature, or new sense of inner direction.
The revelation of this mystery of a Higher Self is often done through myth, symbol or ritual. The mythic language of the unconscious cloaks the possibility of a new life behind the veil of ignorance; the rite of initiation rends that veil and allows "a peep within" (the Gnosis experience). This refocusing of the energies of the psyche on this "center of mystery" within forms a nucleus of conviction (faith) upon which all subsequent beliefs about this inner nature and the new world one has come to live in are based.
The Battle of Beliefs: Deprogramming
The professional deprogrammer, convinced that the new life of the convert is an unhealthy, radical personality change, seeks to methodically attack these core beliefs that anchor the mind to the new faith. In order to return the convert to his or her pre-conversion personality, the deprogrammer may use many of the same techniques that resulted in conversion in the first place. This "reverse-brainwashing" is a violating, soul-wrenching experience. With time, the confusion and upset of having one's belief system globally invalidated subsides, but the ability to trust and "open one's heart" again is slow to recover.
The deprogrammer attempts to inoculate the individual by planting the seeds of doubt, mistrust, and fear against further recursions into this "new life". He further seeks to obliterate the tendencies to return either to the "cultic" group by which the new state of identity was reinforced, or to the alternate state of consciousness in which faith was nurtured.
Now, set adrift from his or her "new life", current life experiences submerge the rebirth identity into the subliminal zone of consciousness. The roaring flame of inspiration, zeal, and faith dies down to a smoldering ember, and the pre-conversion personality is re-embraced.
The "feeding power of attention", the practice of associating the mind continually with an idea, a dream, or a state of being, can help us to understand what is taking place in the rebirth experience. Transpersonal Psychologists, Mystics, metaphysical philosophers, and believers of many a "wind of doctrine" assert multiple dimensions of human consciousness do in fact exist. The transference of an individual's attention into these other realms on a regular basis is the key to discovering them. With continued association of the attention with these altered state of awareness, identification with a new state of consciousness occurs.
The practices of meditation, prayer, induction of trance states, or invocation of a supernatural power are widely found in groups that embrace a rebirth experience. These practices, by their very nature, seek to focus attention selectively. This channeling of attention and psychic energy in specific ways may liberate the requisite transformational force to break the spell of normal awareness, and supplant it with a "brave new world" of consciousness radically different from any state experienced before.
The Steps of Conversion
The rebirth experience of those who undergo conversion in religious groups appears to follow a stepwise progression, leading to deeper involvement and commitment to the basic beliefs and practices of the group. This progression is outlined in the table below.
There is an effort to capture the attention of the seeker from the time of the first exposure to the group's beliefs and practices. The language used, the symbols evoked, and the topics of discussions all serve to focus the mind on group ideas related to the new state of consciousness. There is an effort to create a desire to experience the new state of consciousness, followed by efforts to persuade the seeker to take initiation or join the group.
The constant bombardment with group ideas generates a state of information overload for the seeker, and critical processing of new information is reduced. The seeker becomes more suggestible, and his or her mind becomes more open to the group's ideas. Group members carefully defuse criticism and doubt until emotional response becomes primary, and the voice of reason is skillfully silenced.
In this child-like emotional state, the world again becomes simple. One can be led to believe through this borderline state the most fantastic things. When this final capitulation of resistance is achieved, the seeker is then asked to make a commitment of faith, or to take initiation.
The Selling of the Spirit
The religious sales process is similar in technique to that of a salesman trying to sell a commercial product. In religion, the product is spiritual or supernatural merchandise, a commerce in ideas, beliefs, practices, and rituals. The seeker is qualified to determine if there are any areas of pain, guilt, or discomfort in his/her life. There are testimonials designed to create desire, and to show how this spiritual product can fulfill every desire and need, a simple panacea for the multiple miseries of life. There are claims of superiority, uniqueness, and exclusivity by the group, claiming a special patent process of tapping into the Divine Source. purportedly shared by no other group. The objections or doubts of the seeker are handled. The claims of other groups' "spiritual products" are ridiculed or portrayed as false. The seeker is pressured to admit agreement with the essential doctrines of the group. Then the seeker is "closed," and asked for a commitment to join the group.
The delivery of the product follows the seeker's assent: the prayer for salvation, the revelation of the secret technique, the whispering of "mysteries" mouth-to-ear. The new spiritual customer is congratulated on his/her wise decision, and invited to continue to learn and grow. Financial commitment (tithing, donations, offerings, and "advanced seminars") is exhorted, along with continued personal commitment (practice of techniques, attending group meetings, fellowship with believers or initiates). Satisfied customers become active proselytizers for the group, giving spiritual product testimonials, ensuring new "sales". Believers or initiates learn to attribute all positive changes in their life to their use of the spiritual product, and thus become loyal customers, attending meetings regularly.
A new state of consciousness is, in effect, sold to the seeker. The ongoing immersion into a new mythology changes the beliefs of the convert, which in turn changes his or her behavior. To alter belief and behavior is to alter personality, and to change the course of a human life. Whether or not religion's claim to wisely know the answers to life's dilemmas is better than the individual's ability to determine for him/her self will not be resolved here. But the impact of religion's intervention in people's lives on the basis of this presumed superior knowledge does have profound effects, not all positive or healthy.
We must question a system that supplants personal agendas with group-specified agendas, and redefines successful behavior as that which advances group aims or is in conformity to group doctrine instead of being based on the touchstone of the individual. This external control serves to weaken individual self esteem, judgement, and volition, and leads to dependence on guidance from without by external authority.
Viewed in this context, one begins to see the comprehensive impact of the program of religious conversion on the human personality and its psychological implications. In altering identity, belief, and behavior, it tampers with the mechanism of pursuing individual happiness, of setting goals, of attaining dreams, or charting out one's own destiny. In place of self-determination, religion dictates lifestyle, character, and the intima of belief and identity, thus creating "a new person" based on a spiritual or archetypal essence.
When conversion polarizes the old personality against the new, labeling the old as "the carnal man", "that man of sin", "the mind", or "the ego", it may do the whole organism the disservice of repressing genuine instinctual and social needs. Repression, even if it is done in the name of the ideals of religion, still produces madness, unhappiness, neurotic self-delusion and desperation, anxiety and unhappiness. Conversion would more truly serve the organism if it sought to integrate, accept, and nourish all parts of the human nature, and allow the individual to pursue desire and dream without repression or self-condemnation. Perhaps then conversion would produce a people that truly can love themselves instead of abhorring themselves, and to see the hand of Divinity in every aspect of life.
In summary, there exist multiple possibilities for inducing the rebirth experience at Planetary and Cosmic levels. Religion strives to use this experience to change self-concept (identity), philosophy and values (belief), lifestyle and character (behavior) in a manner that resembles the methods of the commercial salesman. Since belief and self-concept influences behavior, religious conversion may have far reaching consequences for the personality, compromising self-determination and supplanting it with dependence on external guidance.
Strategies designed to protect the attention from being drawn into altered states of consciousness in association with group proselytization attempts may prevent conversion, and with it the unfortunate disruption of lives that occurs when identity, belief, and behavior are restructured under an external agenda. Such strategies, if elucidated, could give us a better understanding of how to prevent brainwashing in political and terrorist arenas as well.
Boyd, George A. The Yoga of the Seven Mudras: Introducing the Mudrashram System of Integral Meditation. Unpublished manuscript. 1990.
Mishra, Ramamurthi. The Fundamentals of Yoga. New York: The Julian Press. 1959.