Method: Classification of modes of awareness
Human Development Project |
1. Classification in the literature
The state of information on modes of awareness, and the attitude towards
them, is such that no comprehensive classification of them exists. Basic
texts such as the Varieties of Religious Experience (William James,
1961), The Multiple States of Being (René Guénon,
1984), Altered States of Consciousness (Tart, 1971), or the Varieties
of Psychedelic Experience (R E L Masters and Jean Houston, 1967), do
not provide extensive classifications as might be expected.
There exist various partial classifications and many dealing with particular
ranges of modes. Although none has been used in grouping this material
(except through the cross-references), the following are examples of some
of special interest:
(a) The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
(American Psychiatric Association, 1987) provides detailed guidelines for
classifying patients with "mental disorders". It is designed as an extension
of the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases.
The system of classification is excellent. As the name indicates however,
it describes externally visible symptoms with relatively little information
on the nature of the patient's experience. It is not designed to handle
the subtleties of expanded modes of awareness, other than by treating them
as various forms of delusion. To the extent that there are modes corresponding
to a heightened state of mental health and well-being, there is no attempt
to indicate their nature. Nor is there any attempt to describe the subjective
experience associated with various forms of substance abuse.
(b) As a result of the survey on religious experience carried out in
the UK on the initiative of Alistair Hardy by the Religious Experience
Research Unit in Oxford, a quite detailed classification of types of religious
experience has been produced. This is broad in scope, not tied to a particular
tradition, but not especially useful in distinguishing qualitatively between
subtle modes of awareness.
(c) Many authors have remarked on the finely detailed categorization
of subjective experience in Buddhist texts. The most accessible examples
are those of the Visuddhimagga (Bhadantacariya Buddhagosa, 1976),
especially the translation by Bhikku Nanamoli which includes a tabular
presentation. An even more detailed tabular presentation of Buddhist categories
of thought is given by Alexander Piatigorsky (1984).
(d) The many Sufi authors make distinctions between subtle states, as
with a number of Christian mystics. These tend to be much more individualistic
than Buddhist authors. Their classifications are therefore less interesting.
Of special interest however, in the case of the Sufi tradition, is the
distinction made between mystic stations (maqamat), as stable conditions
of awareness marking particular spiritual attainment, and temporary feelings
of the heart (ahwal) which may or may not be experienced at any particular
(e) It is rare for spiritual gurus to accord attention to insights other
than their own. One remarkable exception is an extensively annotated bibliography
by Da Free John (1989). Of special interest is the grouping of material
from a wide range of traditions into seven levels of insight. It is appropriate
to note that Ken Wilbur, a much cited author on altered states of awareness,
specifically endorsed Da Free John's endeavours.
(f) In A History of Christian Spirituality (Holmes, 1980) a valuable
categorization of the variety of ways of experiencing God is presented
in terms of two bipolar scales: a kataphatic/apophatic scale and a speculative/affective
scale. The first describes techniques of spiritual growth, the kataphatic
involving the active use of the imagination and imagery as a tool for meditation,
whilst at the other extreme the apophatic method is an "emptying" technique
that rejects all forms as adequate media through which God may be understood.
The second scale has at one extreme the speculative approaches emphasizing
the illumination of the mind (or intellect), while at the other extreme
the affective approaches emphasize illumination of the heart (or emotions).
In arguing that balanced spirituality is an appropriate mix of all four
approaches, the author is able to use them to categorize approaches which
are out of balance. Examples given are: rationalism (over-emphasis of speculative
and kataphatic), pietism (over-emphasis of affective and kataphatic), quietism
(over-emphasis of affective and apophatic), and encratism (over-emphasis
of apophatic and speculative).
(g) The Encyclopedic Psychic Dictionary (Bletzer) includes an
extensive classification of "psychic skills" that incorporates many modes
of awareness that would not normally be considered as psychic.
(h) One of the most interesting attempts to develop a general classification
is A Map of Mental States by John H Clark (1983), with a foreword
by cybernetician Gordon Pask. It is of a wider span than usual, including
meditational, religious, depressive and euphoric conditions.
2. Classification in this Encyclopedia
In a crude attempt to indicate similar levels of awareness, the modes
are classified on a scale "a" to "g". This is the small letter immediately
following the reference number of a description. The basis for designating
the code letter is a combination of: number of other entries cited in entry;
number of narrower entries in a chain; number of broader entries in a chain;
and a series of criteria as follows:
"a" God, mystical unity, unity, cosmos, nameless, beyond name.
"b" Theta clear, consciousness of map (awareness of system), tops of schemes,
"c" Groups of individual states within map, in the map, set of gods, etc.
Result of being on a path.
"d" Individual states within a map, significant trips, places, thought
processes. May arises spontaneously, not necessarily on a path.
"e" ESP, psychic, clairvoyant, siddhis, positive brainwashing. Imposed
"f" Drugs, hypnotism, schizoid, mental derangements, hells, negative brainwashing.
"g" Physical, sensory, sleep, brain waves.
In fact, each state may be seen as appearing in a matrix which sets out
metaphors for the spread of consciousness. The individual may be seen as
following paths across this matrix, development being an upward spiral.
Designation of each state in the matrix is a complex procedure which may
involve distinguishing the state along dimensions such the following:
10,000 things to Nameless (through single point, line, triangle)
Imposed - Imposing
Physical expression, senses - Hyperspace
Many - One
Locales - Whole map
Beginner - Maturity
Bound to matter - Liberation, freedom
Narrow spectrum - Broad spectrum, 360 degree view
Single factor - Multivariable
Point - Spherical (3-dimensional) (through linear, non-linear).
Codes "a" to "g" may be thought of as columns on the matrix, with rows
reduced to one square. However, one square can also represent a column
(e.g. all the signs of the zodiac appear in one square, because they do
not differ in kind, yet they actually represent a progression from 1 to
Because some of the criteria on choice of code may mutually exclude
others, there can only be a crude overall consistency. For example, an
item may be very important in its own right and yet included as a minor
member in some network or chain of states. Thus Nagual is coded "c", although
it is narrower than Sleep which is coded "g".
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential