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Meditation and Altered States of Consciousness

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Theories of meditation predict systematic changes or alterations of consciousness that go along with increased practice. This paper first summarizes the predictions of three representative theoretical approaches: the early Buddhist theory of meditation, the Samkhya/Yoga theory, and a theoretical approach based on contemporary Western mindfulness meditation. The two traditional theories predict the existence of an ultimate altered state of consciousness (ASC) often termed enlightenment or liberation, and the occurrence of other advanced and intermediate ASCs such as psi-like phenomena, states of deep absorption, and states of bliss, but also highly negative states, as well as a variety of anomalous sensory experiences. Both the theoretical frameworks of contemporary mindfulness meditation and traditional theories predict profound meditation- induced changes that might be summarized as 'less selfishness and more happiness'; these are termed 'mundane ASCs'. There is some empirical support for the existence of the ultimate ASC, as well as for psi-like phenomena, but the systematic evidence available is far from conclusive. Predictions for other intermediate ASCs are better supported, and the evidence for mundane ASCs is quite solid. It seems worthwhile to put more effort into examining the predictions for advanced ASCs by collaborating with very experienced meditators, relying on sophisticated single-case studies, and employing sensitive qualitative methods.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Chemnitz University of Technology, 09107 Chemnitz, Germany., Email: [email protected]

Publication date: January 1, 2018

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