How are altered states of consciousness used in your own religious practices? Or how were altered states of consciousness used in the religious practices you observed for your project? Discuss the...

How are altered states of consciousness used in your own religious practices? Or how were altered states of consciousness used in the religious practices you observed for your project? Discuss the meanings that were combined with the behaviors to produce a spritual outcome, rather than simply a change in body chemistry.

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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To bring themselves to altered states of consciousness, practitioners of Buddhism follow what is called the "Eight Fold Path."

1)  The Path of Meditation (also known as the "Path of Breath") is a way to alter one's conscious state through rhythmic breathing or simply by sitting or lying down quietly and calming the mind. A trance-like state can be induced in this manner, which, of course, is an altered state of consciousness.

3) The Path of Ritual - In places that are deemed sacred, practitioners engage in repetitive behaviors, often with many people. The perceived sacredness of the place itself can alter consciousness. As this path is usually pursued by many people together, practices like chanting can also bring the mind to an altered state of consciousness.

3) The Path of Rhythm - As the name implies, the path of rhythm involves techniques like drumming and dancing to induce altered consciousness. This method has been used by shamans all over the world for millenniums, not just in Buddhism.

4)  The Path of Ascetics  -  Here, consciousness is altered by changing the body, either through fasting, sensory deprivation, and/or purification rituals. Again, this applies not just to Buddhists but many religious practices; native American sweat lodges is an example. 

5)  The Path of Sacred Plants -  this is the use of hallucinogenic-producing plants to bring about altered states. Some examples of these plants include species of mushrooms and peyote, a derivative from cacti. 

6)  The Path of the Flesh -  Uses sexual situations and sexual energy as aw way to "open up" to new consciousness. 

7)  The Path of Ordeal -  This includes the intentional infliction of pain to produce altered states.  Again, as with most of these Buddhist "paths," the techniques are often used by other religious groups. Here, for example, another such group would be some Roman Catholics penitent saints, who would whip themselves in a practice called "mortification of the flesh." Other, less harsh physical consciousness-altering among Catholics includes walking barefoot over painful objects, kneeling for long periods, or laying face down on the floor. 

8)  The Path of the Horse -  This most-elevated path involves spirit-possession, in which a god enters the human body for a period of time. This is also a practice common in shamanism all over the world. Typically, it is only a leader or a very elevated spiritual person who can be successful on this path.   

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hermy27 | Student, College Senior | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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The use of meditation or prayer for religious or spiritual purposes allows an individual to create a physical manifestation of intention.  What this means is that the individual can purposefully position his or her body in a specific position (cross legged, hands clasped, head bowed, etc.) in order to involve physical presence.  The person can then manipulate breathing, thought patterns, and blood pressure. Behavior modification can be the result of continuous meditation or prayer, as repetition of intention can actually change how a person relates to his or her environment. 

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