Publication: The Journal of Parapsychology
Date published: April 1, 2011
YOGA AND PARAPSYCHOLOGY: EMPIRICAL
RESEARCH AND THEORETICAL ESSAYS. Edited by K. Ramakrishna Rao. Delhi, India:
Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2010. Pp. 516. $74.00 (hardcover). ISBN
As world political and economic events outside of die academy continue to
ramp up the booty for the deepening of real and lasting EastWest communication
and understanding, it may be an especially propitious time to do so within the
academy as well. K. Ramakrishna Rao has become a passionate and indefatigable
leader in this great endeavor. He has published in recent years several
important contributions toward an East-West bridge on academic topics, including
Consciousness Studies: Cross-Cultural Perspectives (Rao, 2002), Towards a
Spiritual Psychology (Rao & Marwaha, 2005), and the outstanding and sorely
needed Handbook of Indian Psychology (Rao, Paranjpe, & Dalai, 2008) . Now he
follows this with an edited volume aimed squarely at the specific field with
which his name was most closely associated for so many years - parapsychology.
It is at once a parting shot - in the sense that it summarizes the locus of his
life's work in this small field - as well as an opening shot in the sense that
it includes the inaugural lectures Rao gathered to launch his Institute for
Human Science & Service (IHSS) in Andhra Pradesh, India, in 2006.
In Rao's preface, he clearly states why he believes yoga and parapsychology
need to be studied together: "A serious and scientific study of the two and the
resultant synergy of their confluence could result in resolving many of the
riddles that puzzle parapsychology today and be the harbinger of a vibrant
science opening to new frontiers. Further, it could be seen as a productive
East-West meet in a profound sense" (p. xv). But the real message lying just
beneath the surface is that western parapsychologists need to pay more attention
to eastern approaches to this topic. I couldn't agree more! Specifically, India
offers a virtual treasure chest of gifts for the field of parapsychology, if
westerners would only "wake up" to it. Some already have.
Rao takes on the role of guru to wake us up to the all-too-painful fact
that western parapsychologists try to ignore in what must be the ultimate case
of collective denial in the history of science. "Wake up," Rao seems to say, and
open your eyes to the elephant in die room. Western science does not want us!
How many carcasses of brilliant and creative colleagues must we see strewn by
the roadside before we'll wake up? In fact, real parapsychology (as represented
by the PA) is not wanted in the West by science, religion, or society (except
perhaps as a titillating back alley for selling horror films through
unbelievably bizarre fantabulations and distortions of psi phenomena). In India,
on die other hand, real parapsychology is welcomed, respected, and even revered.
Of course, I am stating this much more strongly than Rao does, but that is, in
my opinion, die key take-away message of this tome.
Rao's introductory chapter, 'Yoga and Parapsychology," sets the tone by
reviewing the current state of parapsychological research separately from
western and eastern viewpoints. Rao here establishes the chorus that will be
repeated throughout this book - that western science suffers from an assumptive
base which rules out psi, thus forcing parapsychology into the paradox of using
science to demolish the very assumptive base of science itself.
After Rao's intro, the volume continues with two substantial contributions
from state-of-the-art western parapsychologists, Jim Kennedy and Jim Carpenter.
I've always enjoyed Jim Kennedy's thoughtful work and this piece is no
exception, although I was puzzled why it is featured in this compendium. Kennedy
wrestles with the sticky problem of the evasiveness of psi in research settings,
and then takes the reader on a tortuous romp through a hodge-podge of
parapsychological topics in search of a crack in the wall that might shed some
light on the topic. This leads to the connections between psi, mysticism, and
spirituality, which is clearly relevant to the current volume. As I ponder
Kennedy's chapter, I wonder if Rao chose this, in part, as an example of how
"pure" western dualistic science deals with psi and spirituality. It is an
excellent illustration of just that. For example, Kennedy concludes, "Further
exploration of the relationship between spirituality and psi may find that the
most appropriate model is to view the source of psi as largely external to
living persons" (p. 60) . By contrast, nondualistic Indian psychology is
unlikely to highlight such separations. This is classic western thinking - the
separation (analysis) into elements, the "who's doing it?" approach to
What a fine choice Rao has made in selecting the next chapter, Jim
Carpenter's outline of his "first sight" model of psi and the mind, which is a
tour of Carpenter's many-mansioned and very deep mind. Carpenter certainly - and
thankfully - puts the psychohgy back into parapsychology at a time when straight
western psychology (whatever that is!) has all but abandoned mind, spirit, and
consciousness to philosophers, physicists, and neuroscientists. Carpenter, a
personality theorist and clinical psychologist, talks and listens to his human
clients and engages in parapsychology the same way.
A great discovery here is just how closely attuned Carpenter's thinking is
with the Hindu Vedas. Carpenter's first sight conception of human nature is,
"each person is not contained within personal, physical boundaries, but
ontologically and epistemologically extends beyond that into intimate commerce
with all the rest of reality, including all other persons" (p. 99). And like the
Hindu scriptures, Carpenter's model does not deal with (or even concern itself
with) "proof of the existence of psi. Neither does he try to solve the problem
of the connection between mind and body - rather, "the split between them is not
assumed to begin with" (p. 72). By not assuming the separation, he has no
conceptual problem with the "possibility" of psi phenomena.
This is nondualism, which is at the core of many East-West
misunderstandings regarding mind and spirit. Stated simply, western dualists
tend to forget/ignore that "separation" is an assumption that is added on. Or,
as Carpenter phrases it, "In a phenomenological approach, a dualistic split
between the subjective and objective aspects of experience is eschewed, and the
need for providing some sort of physical mechanism linking mind to world or
present to future event is avoided" (pp. 100-101). This key foundational brick
is right out of the Hindu Advaita Vedanta (= nondual philosophy) , even though
Carpenter is not a Hindu devotee, nor even an Indophile.
This chapter is the best and most compelling explanation I have come across
of Carpenter's first sight model. I look forward to the book Carpenter will soon
be publishing on this issue, and I hope he'll include reference to its
reflections in eastern philosophy.