On the Epistemology of Mysticism. A Trans-historical, Cross-cultural Analyses of Human Patterned Behavior

Essay, 2017

21 Pages, Grade: A

Andrew Baston (Author)

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The Lineage of Gilgamesh

Comparative Acts

Comparing UFO Abductions
Betty and Barney Hill
Mark and the Fetus

Comparative Analyses of Betty and Barney and Mark
The Critics and the Proof

Comparing Near Death Experiences
Richard Cole
Mantri Sangkuntong

Comparative Analyses of Richard Cole and Mantri Sangkuntong
The Shamanic Initiation Template
The Monomyth
Return to the Debate



In every dimension of culture there are patterns. They have been recorded since the Epic of Gilgamesh; retold, and fashioned to fit. They are the evidence of a trans-cultural, trans-historical consciousness that is never whole and always connected in a stream of moments. It has spiraled into place like a seed, predetermined to take its form. The processes of existing in patterns is something we have come to discover with meticulous attention to the structures that are present in the behavior we repeat every day. Mystical patterns are evidently expressed in ancient literature, and juxtaposed to modern myths and current pop culture, they seem to have changed very little or not at all. We are facing a problem of existential authenticity and the question is: how much of reality is mediated and how much of it is unmediated? We are, after all, limited to the capacity of our filters. But how limited are we? How we interpret and experience reality is determined, entirely or at least in-part, by the environment we live in and the bodies we temporarily occupy.

This paper is an attempt to isolate one aspect of culture – mystical experience – and to prove that our experience is determined by the way we react to our environment. And so, our main epistemological interest in this essay will be directed at the dichotomy of mediated and unmediated as it relates to mystical experience and patterned behavior. Before we continue I will define mystical experience. And to make the task simple, I will say that mystical experience is any extra-material, paranormal or anomalous experience. This definition is broad, but the mystical is broad. The mystical includes the spiritual and the paranormal: meditation, transcendental states, ghosts, spirits, psychic abilities, clairvoyance, mediums, UFO abductions, near death experiences, hypnotism, card-reading, sleep paralysis and out of body experiences – it never ends. In order to extract the patterns of mysticism I will compare the UFO experiences (UFOEs) to near death experiences (NDEs). In comparing UFOEs to NDEs I hope to prove that the origin and causality of these experiences are conscious reactions to our bodies and the environment. I will do that by taking patterned, human creativity and behavior across culture and time, and fit it into a unified template. I will demonstrate how major elements of mystical stories have not changed; and in the global and timeless structures of poetry and prose we will find our historical consciousness. This is important because if we haven’t changed and we need to know. We need to recognize the patterns. If we need a different direction we should be mindful of our repetition. We need to know that we repeat the same things over and over and that everything we know came from somebody else. Is human authenticity only the appearance of uniqueness in the form of rearranged truth? We could say that creativity is our ability to take what is there and make it look new. There is nothing new here. No creators to venerate. Real creativity doesn’t exist. Human creativity will begin existing only when we have the capacity to create. Currently, we are circular beings walking on lines that lead to the same circles that we thought were lines all along. Every moment is the beginning and ending of the apparent newness that although appears linear, is circular, repetitively, and almost entirely unnoticed. That’s how we behave, repeating the same unnoticed patterns again and again, in a circle that starts with us and surprisingly ends right where it started – in our mind.[1] Nearly every religion has a creation-destruction-new creation cycle.[2] Even this essay was written in a circle as the thesis and supporting arguments will be repeated in the conclusion to give the impression that my arguments are linear and logical. As hopeless as all this sounds, I will not support a case for materialism or for any soteriological idealism either. I seek only to expose patterns in culture across time, and to prove that everything we experience, even the mystical, is reactionary and repetitive.

The Lineage of Gilgamesh

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the first records of mystical adventure, the hero-ruler fights monsters alongside his companion Enkidu until Enkidu is killed in battle. Gilgamesh is heart-broken and sets out to find the secret of immortality. Gilgamesh’s quest to find immortality becomes the greatest of all his quests. He struggles along the way, but eventually, with help and instruction from the gods, finds immortality in the form of a flower at the bottom of the sea. The epic turns into a happy ending as Gilgamesh returns home with the flower of immortality; until suddenly, a snake comes along and eats his flower. Gilgamesh returns home without the flower and without immortality. Despite having failed to deliver immortality to his people, Gilgamesh returned home and ruled his village with wisdom.[3] How appropriate it is that our first mythology tells us of a hero that wants and struggles for immortality and doesn’t get it? Following Gilgamesh came a long line of heroes and gods who would offer immortality to their adherents. What does this myth tell us? I think we can assume that the myth expresses the simple human need to ensure our continued existence.[4] The plot is a sad, tragic series of events that involves the death of monsters and friends, and eventually evolves into a quest to solve the most serious existential problem of humanity – our impending death. Four thousand years later and the angst seems to have not left us. Since the work of Gilgamesh, the same hero’s story has been retold, rearranged, and skillfully re-worked into every aspect of human culture. Mythologies, folklore, poetry, film, music, video games and our own personal cycles and daily patterns of behavior. The myth is also visible in every institution of humanity: politics, religion, sports, the family, etc. Our lives are all full of wonder, danger and adventure. In our minds, we are heroes. It is in-part a source of mystical will and capacity. The hero’s adventure appears as an undercurrent of consciousness, always there, always heroic. In a single day, a person could repeat the hero’s journey multiple times.

“Where did Shelly go?”

“Shelly went to bring back coffee.”

“Oh, no! We’re out of coffee! When will Shelly return with the coffee?”

“The mini-mart is closed, so she had to go d-o-w-n-t-o-w-n.

“Shelly went downtown? It’s so dangerous there. She shouldn’t go-it alone!”

(Just before the 10 O’ clock coffee break at work, Shelly returned to the office with the coffee, a hero. She told her co-workers how she almost didn’t find the coffee and how she was able to somewhat miraculously find it and bring it back despite the challenges along the way)

“Yeah for Shelly,” right? Not really. She is only repeating the same impulsive, programmed reaction meant to get her reward (hence the term “reward circuit” used to describe this process in psychology – another circle). When Shelly was an infant, her mother began conditioning her by rewarding her for anything good that she did. Eventually, conditioned to appease her mother, Shelly attended school. Challenged and afraid, she was determined to return home with good grades. Shelly would repeat the same encultured pattern her ENTIRE life, and somehow unaware of the pattern, she would teach her children to do the same. This is, I propose, the simple, gender-neutral origins of our heroism, like rats who are taught to find cheese in a maze for 4000 years (at least since Gilgamesh). It seems that regardless of how diverse or how unified we categorize the various mystical experiences, ultimately, it is a reaction to our environment.[5] Just as the sun flower is predetermined to take its form, so are we as humans, pre-destined to be the incredible animals that we are. Shelly did well. She learned to find the cheese and she brought the coffee back to work. 4000 years of bringing back coffee. Has anything changed since the first hero?[6] It would seem as if there has been little or no change in human behavior since Gilgamesh. The creators, the heroes and tricksters are still present in us just as much as they were in Sumer, 4000 years ago.

The Debate

The debate has a long history, beginning with philosophers and mystics like William James and Evelyn Underhill. For a while scholars like R.C Zaehner, W.T Stace and N. Smart seemed to agree that a typology could categorize and prove that mystical experiences are unmediated and described within their cultural context. This was a popularly defended thesis for a time. Until Steven Katz, in his work Mysticism and Philosophical Analyses argued for a new way of approaching mysticism. He bluntly stated his position, saying, “there is no philosophia perennial …there are NO pure (unmediated) experiences.”[7] Katz took a hard constructivist position and accused other scholars of extreme reductionism and plead “for the recognition of differences.” Premising his work on the assumption that mystical experience cannot be the basis for any truth claim, he refuted his predecessors one by one, suggesting a more responsible approach:

“…this process of differentiation and of mystical experience into the patterns and symbols of established religious communities is experiential and does not only take place in the post-experiential process of reporting and interpreting the experience itself: it is at work before, during, and after the experience.”[8]

Katz’s emphasized the differences and understood mystical experience as a process, i.e. a socially structured process that begins before the experience and continues long after. He took a position, which many still hold today – that we are encultured – that what we experience is experienced through cultural filters. And until it can be proven, as Katz begs, there should be no assumption or imagined perennial basis for mystical experience. So what about the patterns? What are they telling us? In order to flush-out the reality of humanity and expose the patterns, I have chosen two seemingly unrelated events.

Comparative Acts

And now for the comparative stuff. Keeping Gilgamesh in mind, let’s turn our attention onto some recent phenomena. Let’s compare UFO experiences to near-death experiences (NDEs). A bizarre choice maybe, but I chose UFOEs and NDEs because they are two very different events that both have a lot in common with Gilgamesh. First, I will summarize two UFOEs. Then I will compare the UFOEs and I will extract the similarities and the differences. After comparing the UFO experiences I will summarize two near death experiences and compare them, too. Finally I will compare the UFO experiences to the NDErs’ experiences. In the end I will prove that the phenomena we are seeing in mystical events are patterned and haven’t changed.

Comparing UFO Abductions

Betty and Barney Hill

Perhaps the most famous of UFO encounters is the story of Betty and Barney Hill, whose abduction site has been recognized by the State of New Hampshire with a historical marker on the side of Highway 3. The young couple were travelling from their vacation in Canada back to their New Hampshire home when a strange light began following their car. The lights multiplied into many different colors and followed them for some miles. Finally the lights passed over the Hill’s car and landed right on the highway, cutting them off and forcing them to stop. Then several tall, mouthless creatures approached the car and took Betty and Barney aboard the ship (later identified as the Greys). Betty and Barney both lost two hours and had to use a form of hypnosis to recover their memory. Betty remembers boarding a massive “pancake-shaped” aircraft the size of four commercial airplanes. While aboard, the aliens were friendly and communicated with Betty telepathically. They asked her many questions and showed her new technology and an interstellar map. She said, “They were really surprised that I couldn’t read the star map, and that I hadn’t heard of their star. They are much older than we are. Probably 11 billion years old.”[9] Betty and Barney were interviewed by scientists and psychologists and made TV appearances all over the US. They were popular, but Barney suffered from nightmares and memories of being molested by aliens. Carl Sagan wasn’t convinced. He challenged their story and Betty’s reproduction of the star map she saw on the ship.

Mark and the Fetus

In a CNN interview, Mark, a man from New Hampshire, told his story of abduction. He was visited by a small white light that came over him onto his bed. Eventually, he was taken aboard a spaceship and shown things. They were “the Greys.” They showed him a fetus. He also underwent a form of hypnosis to recover memory of the event. He described it as “an encounter of beings that were not human…They have no empathy, but aren’t malicious. Eventually these hybrids will populate the planet.” They returned him to his bed. The commentator mentioned that in some abduction cases people also experience sleep paralyses. The commentator also showed a collection of sketches, produced by UFO abductees from different parts of the US and from different times. He even pulled a couple out and said that they were drawn before the image was popularized.[10]

Comparative Analyses of Betty and Barney and Mark


In both cases they were visited by the Greys. The classic, almond-shaped eyes and big head that is so often reported. They both saw lights and they were both taken aboard a ship. In both cases, they were shown things that seem to suggest a kind of interest in our planet and our species. Both received “new knowledge.” They both were returned to the site they were taken from. They both used a form of hypnosis to recover memory. They both made their stories known.


In Betty and Barney’s case, they were travelling and cut off by the alien aircraft, forcing them to stop. In Mark’s case, he was lying in bed. Although all three of the abductees used some form of hypnosis, only Barney recalls a terrifying procedure where he was molested. The screams from the audio recording sound like somebody who is being tortured! Both received different kinds of new knowledge. Betty recalls being shown a star map and communicating peacefully with the aliens, while Mark recalls receiving information that the earth will soon be populated by these beings.[11]

There seems to be as much similarities as there are differences. Let’s look at the new knowledge component. The new knowledge feature is prominently present in UFO phenomena, and the notable difference is seen in the variety of new knowledge. Yes, they are similar because they both experienced new knowledge, and they are also different, because the new knowledge is not the same. Betty received information that she couldn’t even read – the interstellar map, only returning to tell us the age of the aliens – 11 billion years old. Mark returned like a prophet, warning us that they are invading us through fetuses!

The Critics and the Proof

Toward the end of Mark’s story, the CNN commentator showed a collection of sketches, produced by UFO abductees from different parts of the US and from different times. He emphasized the significance of a few of the sketches, which were drawn before the image was popularized (same image at the beginning of this essay). But Carl Sagan wasn’t convinced. He challenged their story and Betty’s reproduction of the star map she saw on the ship. Carl Sagan matched her group of ink dots (stars) to a number of other possibilities and called the map “worthless.” Seemingly frustrated in a video talk he did on the topic of the Hills encounter, he recommended that “extraordinary claims should be supported by extraordinary evidence,” dismissing their experience as anything credible.[12]

Comparing Near Death Experiences

Richard Cole

In 2008, Richard Cole was driving across town with his friends when he suddenly felt strange sensations in his body. His friends made him go to a hospital. When he arrived at the hospital, his blood pressure was high. Following an x-ray, the doctors determined that he had an aneurism and internal bleeding. They prepared him for surgery. The surgery involved a process of cooling the body until the blood stops. It is risky, offering only a 10% chance of survival. Here is Richard’s story:

“I felt them put the IV on. I was supposed to sleep, but I was awake. I watched them take me into surgery. They sawed my breast bone so they could get to my heart. Suddenly everything went black. And right then, two beams of light passed over my left shoulder. As I began to turn around to see where it was coming from, and I heard a voice. The voice was very authoritative, and said, ‘Don’t turn around.’ And I said, ‘Why not?’ He said, ‘If you see my face you will have to stay here. And you can stay here if you want, but I have a job for you if you return.’ Then I said, ‘I know who you are.’ And I could feel him sitting on a white throne. Then he said, ‘Do you have any questions for me?’ So I asked, ‘What’s the Meaning of Life?’ He laughed and said that many people ask him that question, and he told me that he would tell me when I return. Then he put his arms around me and gave me a feeling that I cannot explain. It changed my life. The first thing I wanted to do is go out and tell everybody what had happened.”[13]

Mantri Sangkuntong

Mantri Sangkuntong is a Thai restaurant owner. His restaurant is located across from a Buddhist temple. While working on his home he was electrocuted and died. His story gives graphic detail of a hell of torture. He claimed to have met “Yompabarn” – the ruler of the hell he visited. Mantri’s account is disturbing. And maybe the most disturbing part of his NDE account, is that he is hell-bound. Here is Mantri’s shocking story:

“I had a mystical experience that is hard to explain – a karmic experience that we cannot see…was it a real experience for me? Is there a heaven or a hell? If you would have asked me before my experience if I believed in heaven or hell, I would have said, ‘maybe 50/50.’ Now my belief is 70/80. I was coming back from the temple after making an offering, and I went to my neighbor’s house to borrow tools. I borrowed an electric drill and it shocked me. I asked my friend if the drill was safe to use, and he said that it was, so I continued my work until I was shocked again. My eyes shut and I saw stars in the darkness around me, but I couldn’t feel anything. Then I saw myself and other people around my body. I was looking down. I could see that I had peed my pants and that I was blue. I could see my girlfriend crying. They were crying like crazy. My girlfriend tried to resuscitate me. She slapped me to wake me. And I could hear my sister say, ‘he’s gone for good.’ I could hear everything they were saying. I tried to touch my girlfriends shoulder, but she didn’t feel it. After that I found myself walking through a long corridor that was bright red. It didn’t seem to have an end. I realized then that there were two men in red loincloths taking me by the arms. There were other people behind me, too. Along the way (as he is being escorted by the men in the red loincloths) I could see rooms. Inside the rooms I could see people being tortured. There were big copper caldrons. There were acid ponds and boiling ponds of water. People were being tortured in the ponds. People were trying to escape up a tree, but the men in the red loincloths were poking them with spears so that they couldn’t ascend. And there was a crow on top of the tree. The room was red and I felt very hot. It was like a room full of molten iron. So I kept watching until I reached a big hall. Inside the hall I saw Yompabarn. He had big horns and was draped in silver and gold. He was big and he had a moustache and beard. He was big like the old Thai soldiers. The spears were also big – we couldn’t carry them. He was twice the size of a normal person. He had secretaries around him. One of the secretaries had a list of people’s names and was looking at the list. They made me kneel down on the floor and asked me, ‘why are you here?’ I said, ‘I don’t know how I got here.’ So Yompabarn asked his secretary, ‘let’s have a look in the book about this man.’ And secretary said, ‘he’s half dead and half alive. It’s not the right date for this man. Take him back.’ I could hear my wife calling me back. I could hear Yompabarn say, ‘same first name, and different last name.’ I was so happy to be going back home.”[14]

Comparative Analyses of Richard Cole and Mantri Sangkuntong


Both NDE cases experienced an out-of-body experience where they were able to view themselves from an outside perspective. In Richard’s case, he could see the doctors operating. In Mantri’s case, he could see his girlfriend trying to resuscitate him as the other people around were wailing. They both reported a blackness that occurred before the encounter with the other world. Both entered another world inhabited by other beings. Both returned to tell their stories and both say that the event was life-changing.


The most notable difference is the cultural context in which these NDEs were experienced. Richard saw a white throne where God embraced him and gave him an ineffable feeling of peace. Similar to the book of Revelation where God sits on a white throne and all suffering ends.[15] Mantri saw hell and a big, horned being who he was forced to bow down to. His description of hell can be seen at the entrance of many Buddhist temples (especially in Tibetan Buddhism). The fire, caldrons, jailors – all depicted in Buddhist art and elaborated upon in Abhidharma literature.

The Shamanic Initiation Template

Dr. Kenneth Ring is a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut. He has studied and written extensively on the topic of the paranormal. In an article on UFOs and NDEs, Ring linked the two phenomena in a criteria using archetypal patterning. Ring supports the theory that humans are on an evolutionary path, and that our consciousness, through the anomalous experiences of the various paranormal events experienced by humans will function as the cause to eventually increase our intellectual and spiritual capacity, changing the world for the better, towards total peace and near perfection.[16] He calls his criteria “The shamanic initiation,” which he argues would encompass such experiences as UFOEs and NDEs.[17] Before matching the patterns of UFOEs and NDEs, he creates a “prototypic pattern,” one for UFOEs and another for NDEs.” First we will review the templates and compare the templates of the UFOEs and NDEs. The prototypic pattern of NDEs:

1. A psychological sense of separation from the body
2. Feeling overwhelming peace and well-being
3. A sense of movement through a dark but not frightening space, sometimes described as a tunnel
4. The perception of a brilliant white or golden light by which one is
5. Gradually encompassing
6. Feeling a sense of total love and unconditioned acceptance
7. An encounter with a being of light or other spiritual entities
8. Reviewing of one’s life
9. Return to body
10. Terminating the NDE

The prototypic pattern of UFO abduction:

1. A sense of being taken away
2. Brought into a strange, alien environment
3. One is subjected to an invasive procedure
4. One is returned to the physical world

The prototypic pattern of the shamanic initiation:

1. The shaman is usually somebody who has survived an ordeal (already); born handicapped, has a disease or has survived a serious illness, and is selected early in infancy or childhood
2. He or she is then separated from the community and put into the hands of his shamanic trainer
3. The apprentice is required to undergo various ordeals, both physical and psychological
4. Death and rebirth
5. Sacred mysteries are disclosed to the individual
6. He learns how to enter otherworldly realms, acquiring skills
7. Receives his power animal
8. Sacred songs
9. Secret Language
10. Returns home[18]

Ring first addresses the NDErs and then the UFO abductees. He compares the accounts of NDErs and abductees to the shamanic initiatory ritual that traditional shamans go through in training. Shamans worldwide share a range of commonalities. One of them is the initiation. The shaman is selected because of his or her unique physical or mental disability or for having overcome a disease. In some cases they are selected when they are small children. They are sent out into the jungle, in many cases drugged, and they are (in many cases) left alone to learn how to enter and reenter the spirit world. The task is arduous, and in some cases involving terrifying images, vomiting and dysentery. But purification of the body through purging has a healing effect; and when the shaman returns, he or she has his spirit animal with him, the ability to switch between worlds and the ability to heal and mediate in various fashions. Ring noticed that the UFO abductees’ accounts and NDEs’ accounts were similar to the shamanic initiation ritual. He matched the patterns of the NDEs to a custom template. He then matched the UFOEs to another customized template. Then, with both templates he simply, by process of deduction, made another template that both groups, the UFOEs and the NDEs, could fit in to. Let’s review his analyses. Beginning with the NDE template, 1, 7, 9 and 10 all fit into the shamanic initiation template. 2-6 could also happen during a shamanic initiation, but aren’t characteristics that are reported in every case. So for the sake of keeping it simple we won’t make any assumptions and stick with the main characters that are typically present in every shamanic initiation. For the UFO template, 1, 2 and 4 are certainly characteristics of the shamanic initiation, but 3 would be a rare occurrence in shamanism. It seems that going away from comfort, struggling along the way, and returning with something new is the basic structure of the shamanic initiation.

Why did Ring choose to link NDEs and UFOEs to the shamanic initiation? He could have chosen to compare the patterns of those paranormal events to any modern film. Take the Matrix, for example. Neo, like the NDEr and UFOEs, leaves his place of comfort, struggles along the way and returns home with a different view of the world. I suppose he could have compared the NDErs and UFOEs to Alice in Wonderland. Alice also left her home of comfort, struggled along the way, and returned home with a new view of the world. Or what about Guru Rinpoche, who went out to fight the forces of malevolence in order to spread Buddhism throughout Tibet – a monster killer, a Tibetan Gilgamesh. Or Muhammed the prophet, who went into the desert, an unlearned man, illiterate, and returned home with the Koran - a different worldview. Or what about the Buddha? Who also left his home of comfort – a palace – struggled along the way, and returned with a new idea? As you can see, there is more to Ring’s shamanic initiation template than one might first assume. Every hero’s journey is like the shamanic initiation. The NDEs, UFOEs, Alice, Neo, Muhammed, the Buddha and Gilgamesh all fit into the shamanic initiation template. Was Alice a shaman? No. Of course, don’t forget about Shelly. Her trip downtown to get coffee was also a heroin’s journey. Thanks to Ring’s brave reductionism, everybody has become a shaman. Ironically, we only need a human template. We don’t need a shamanic initiation template. Everybody fits into the human template.

The Monomyth

Joseph Campbell, an American mythologist, in his work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, developed a criteria for the hero. His paradigm does exactly what I demonstrated above. It fits all of the heroes into a single template:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from his mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons upon his fellow man.”[19]

Campbell’s paradigm has been the standard for many mythologists. Above, I was able to fit Gilgamesh, the UFOEs and the NDErs into Ring’s shamanic initiation template. And to further demonstrate the human-ness of the hero’s journey, I would like to attempt to fit the shamanic initiation template into Campbell’s paradigm:

1. Call to adventure
2. Reluctance to go
3. Supernatural aid
4. Helper
5. Mentor
6. Revelation/resurrection
7. Transformation
8. Atonement
9. Return home[20]

2 – 6, and 10, all fit into the monomyth. The shaman is called upon, selected (1). He is aided by spirits and mentored by a deity or what Ring called “the cosmic shaman” (3, 4). He undergoes difficulties, experiences death (6), but overcomes the challenge and comes out alive, transformed (7), and returns home (9).[21]

Why can Ring group such foreign events as near death experiences and UFO encounters with the shamanic initiation? How am I also able to fit all of the heroes I listed above into the shamanic initiation template? And how is it that I can fit the shamanic initiation template into Campbell’s monomyth? Theoretically, and maybe disappointingly, it is because the myths, stories, movies and bizarre phenomena that we experience are all HUMAN. Humans that haven’t changed their patterns in four thousand years, since Gilgamesh. And that’s the point. The structures in mythology today are the same as they were in 2000 B.C.E Mesopotamia. We are repeating behavior that we were trained to learn as children. And we are likely also projecting our ego/hero onto our reality, moment by moment – reinforcing the neural loop we are stuck in. Regardless of religion, race, class, and sex,[22] the hero is seemingly programmed into everybody. It is merely the repetition of what we have been repeating over and over for thousands of years. We learn it, we repeat it, and the evidence of this is in the lack of change in the main elements of the hero’s journey since Gilgamesh. These experiences are experienced under the contextual lenses of their experimenters. The shaman speaks to spirits, Gilgamesh was talking to the Sumerian gods, the Buddha to Mara, Muhammed to Allah, Guru Rinpoche to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, and the UFO abductee to the aliens. Notice the progression from shaman to UFO abductee and the process of contextual change that affect their experience and presents differences – a variety of circles.

From this perspective we can see how circular humanity really is, imagining ourselves on lines moving forward in progression (as our brain forces us toward goals), but the reality is that we are not moving anywhere at all.[23] I used the monomyth in this paper to prove that there is a pattern that repeats itself – that can be seen in any random example of culture! And can be reduced to humanity. The monomyth is ridiculous. But the proof is in the ridiculousness. Everything fits into Campbell’s paradigm because everything we are trying to fit is human. You can’t reduce a car to behavioral patterning, but give it human-like consciousness, and now it can hear the call to heroism and go and save the world, like Lightning McQueen, the hero and car in Cars, the movie. Learning to recognize this pattern will help us to understand why we behave the way we do. It should allow us to see how we project ourselves into phenomena, like UFOEs and NDEs, and into other means of transmitting mystical events, like the Epic of Gilgamesh or the myth of the Buddha.

Nietzsche, in his work Thus Spoke Zarathustra, criticized Culture – the heavily structured institutions and traditions – the family, religion, academia, business, etc. He saw humanity as failing to evolve. His solution was the Übermensch (superman). Probably based in part on Darwin’s theory of evolution, Nietzsche asserted the necessity of a new hero. The Übermensch, he believed, would be the next step in human evolution. What made this Übermensch so unique is his capacity to be unique, something humans have little or none of. Nietzsche awoke to the reality of our eternal repetition. The phenomenon he called “the eternal recurrence.” The Übermensch will be born into a world of human culture, unbreakable by the common man,[24] and he will conquer it with newness and humanity’s new ability to truly be creative, ending the eternal recurrence.[25]

The Buddha however, might be offering a solution similar to Nietzsche’s, the opportunity to escape the social constructs of our minds. In Buddhism, freeing your mind is essential on the path to nirvana. According to the Abhidharma, Mara dwells in the god realm of “Mastery Over Others’ Creations.” This is interesting because when we make new things, we are just taking the old things and refitting them into the shape of apparently new things, becoming the “Masters over Others’ Creations.” In Buddhism, Mara is the demoness who fought with Siddhartha.[26] The meaning of this mythology is diverse. Could the fight between the Buddha and Mara symbolize our patterned struggle with culture and the way out of patterned behavior through nirvana? That’s the real liberation being offered in Buddhism – liberation from self and its social constructs (or emptiness of self and other). But what does this all prove?

If anything, these mystical experiences prove that humans are stuck in a reality of repetition, which I have learned to call circular reality. It proves that no matter where you are in the world, if you are human, you will only project onto the mystical, ideas and concepts that you have been conditioned to interpret your reality here on earth. People will say “It’s ineffable,” followed by a few words or sentences to describe it. Of course, they are also using a language they inherited to describe a world that they were induced to imagine, using meaning and symbols from this reality. Otherwise the otherworld would be incommunicable. We dream, we imagine and in times of stress and experimentation, we see things that aren’t there. BUT, they are things we’ve seen on earth. “It was a dark, shadowy humanoid, I heard steps.” “I felt love, overwhelming love. Perfect peace.” “They performed an operation on my genitalia!” “It was a star map!” These are all typical reports of paranormal, mystical experiences. AND they are all descriptions of this world.

Return to the Debate

Katz marked a turning point in the history of the academic study of mysticism. He criticized his predecessors who held perennial positions. The epistemic necessity of examining the experience of the mystic was ignored and covered by the blanket term “experience.” Katz argued that everything is context-dependent, and any expression of the mystical would have to come through the context of the mystic’s culture.

Robert Forman, a religious studies expert and practitioner of Transcendental Meditation, reacted to Katz’s contextualism. Forman was different than Katz in that he actually engaged in mystical practice. His experience with TM and his academic nature, eventually evolved into a practical, mystical concept he called the Pure Consciousness Event. This PCE theory was developed by Forman after 40 years of mystical experience. He did well to rearrange and make new what was already there. The PCE event drew from older perennialist arguments, and didn’t take us anywhere we hadn’t already been. And it seems as if that is as far as the debate would go before its scientific hijacking. Following Forman, new technology and cognitive science took over the debate. The epistemology of mysticism was turned over, in large part, to the psychologists.


I was able to fit Gilgamesh into a template designed to fit UFOEs and NDEs – the shamanic initiation template – and the shamanic initiation template into the monomyth, proving that we, our phenomenal experiences and our stories are human. We are human. We are conscious and we are conscious reactions to our bodies and the environment. Or as Nietzsche put it, “We are human, all too human.” Is it possible that all the zillions of particles stuck together in a fluid movement through time and space to spontaneously produce moments of newness and novelty? In an infinite universe, yes.

Our consciousness is fascinating in that way. Of course it is, because it’s US and we are humans, and humans are awesome! Our natural anthropocentric inclination seems to block our ability to see beyond our awesomeness. We even project ourselves onto the gods and “buddhas’ that we make. We project ourselves, our hopes and fears into our work – especially in film, TV, music, art, philosophy and science. There appears to be a constant circular motion in our minds that is the result of early biological and neurological conditioning. Like Shelly. But what kind of a world view would this be? “After this, I will become that” – another hero’s journey. We would be terribly bored if we trained our minds to see the hero motif because it’s everywhere. It would be the same boring, monotonous day, every day. And it is. Katz was right. We are the effect of human culture, and the cause, humanity. Another circle. Its repetition. The beautiful man “made in God’s image” – purely structured and predetermined to take shape, like the seed of a flower.


I do see some hope in the study of mysticism. Particularly in out-of-body experiences, which present themselves as characteristics in both UFO abduction accounts and NDE accounts. The phenomenon suggests that our consciousness not only survives after death, but is also capable of leaving the body. Remember Mantri, who watched his family cry. Often, these OBEs are proven. People return to tell the doctor things they saw during the operation. OBEs are present in many different mystical phenomena. Research on OBEs could lead to a better understanding of consciousness. I would like to leave that thought in this conclusion, and maybe for a later essay. Unfortunately, for reflexivity (as a skill) – no matter how good you become at it – it will always be through the lens of humanity.

I found a video where they scanned the brain of somebody who can have OBEs at will. They found that the visual cortex almost entirely shut down and the part that works with mental images and bodily movement to be very active:


Another note: the theory that the brain is creating illusory worlds to aid itself, is not sufficient. These features, especially light, other beings, going out and into and back again, are present in phenomena that is unrelated to death. The multiplicity of mystical phenomena is so diverse, but similar enough. Listen to audiobook Allan Watts in Khenpo class.

I did not address consciousness in this paper. And I chose not to for the most obvious reason – we don’t know what consciousness is. Yes, this was a work of reductionism. Enough reducto absurdo to make my teachers disparaged. What I was trying to do is break everything away and look at the filter, the brain. This is important because it is through this constructed, complex organ that we experience these patterns of behavior. Consciousness isn’t readily available. It’s also invisible and the only way to prove any theory related to conciousness would come through interviews with mystics. This would be somewhat poorly delivered in an essay, I feel. But if you think that’s not true, leave a note here. I agree that consciousness is not limited to the body and brain, and that, like Kripal said, “consciousness is the direction we should be heading.”


Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Third Edition, New World Library, Novato, CA, 2008, p. 25

Jackson, Sanny. The Epic of Gilgamesh, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 1997, 102

Steven Katz, Language, Epistemology and Mysticism, Oxford University Press, New York, 2000, 48

Mark, I was Abducted By Aliens Real Life Story, Youtube video 7:40, Posted by: ThalassanSpaceMan, 3/15/2013

Mipham Rinpoche, Gateway to Knowledge Vol II, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2000, Hong

Kong, 8.26 (p. 93)

Near Death Experience Thailand, Youtube video 7:15, Posted by 45cobden, 1/20/2012

The Lost Betty Hill Interview Part I, Youtube video 9:58, posted by Massufoshow, posted 7/14/2010 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g93YoWsHjU&t=26s

Ring, Kenneth, Near-Death and UFO Encounters as Shamanic Initiations, 3/23/ 2016,


Sagan, Carl, Carl Sagan on the Hill Abduction Case, Youtube video 8:19, posted by undercoverkeptic, 11/9/2006

Near Death Experience Thailand, Youtube video 7:15, Posted by 45cobden, 1/20/2012

[1] Consciousness, not brain/and brain

[2] Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam are the obvious ones. And although some may have mistakenly thought that the bible supports a linear timeline, the cyclic nature of the universe is made very evident towards the end of the book of Revelation, where God destroys the world with fire to create a new world, where humans and God can exist together (like they were in the beginning – in the garden)(circle).

[3] Danny Jackson, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 1997, 102

[4] There are a lot of semiotic interpretations that can be extracted from the Epic of Gilgamesh, but the literal version gives enough description to read it almost literally (not believing that there’s an actual flower of immortality at the bottom of the sea, but that there was a desire to not die. Made evident by the zenith of the plot, centered around the flower of immortality)

[5] I find it difficult separating the body from the environment. Even in the womb, we are in the environment of the womb. When we come out, we are in the environment the womb was in. I point this out because I cannot separate the body from its environment in order to determine which came first. I tried, but it’s impossible. Our consciousness seems to react to our body reacting to our environment. For now I will refer to it as our consciousness (not confined to the brain) is a reaction to the environment through our bodies.

[6] The obvious difference between Gilgamesh and Shelly is the successful retrieval of the boon. Gilgamesh failed to return with immortality, but shelly managed to get it. Both symbolically representing life-vitality. It’s worth mentioning in more detail how Gilgamesh, the oldest hero in ancient Mesopotamia, failed to bring back immortality, and as far as we can tell, Gilgamesh was the first recorded hero, followed by dozens of others in the region that arrive on the scene between 2000 BCE and 1 CE. The last of them, not surprisingly, was Jesus Christ, an unlikely historical figure. Probably just as historical as Gilgamesh.

[7] Steven Katz, Language, Epistemology and Mysticism, Oxford University Press, New York, 2000, 48

[8] Katz, P. 49

[9] The Lost Betty Hill Interview Part I

[10] CNN, I Was Abducted by Aliens, Real Life Story

[11] I imagine the fetus must have been a prop, helping them to explain the invasion. And I also imagine from which abductee lost her fetus. At any rate, both were given new knowledge. I’ll mention more on this commonality later.

[12] Carl Sagan On the Hills, Youtube video 8:19, posted by Undercoverkeptic, 11/9/2006

[13] Richard Cole, This man died during surgery, met God and asked him, “What is the Meaning of Life?” Youtube video, posted by Living for Christ, 7/7/2016

[14] Near Death Experience Thailand, Youtube video 7:15, Posted by 45cobden, 1/20/2012

[15] Revelation 21-22

[16] Ring, Near-Death and UFO Encounters as Shamanic Initiations, 14

[17] P. 5

[19] Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Third Edition, New World Library, Novato, CA, 2008, p. 25

[20] Joseph campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Third Edition, New World Library, Novato, CA, 2008, p. 28

[21] Kenneth Ring. Near-Death.com, Near-death and UFO Encounters as Shamanic Initiations, 3/17/2017, http://www.near-death.com/science/articles/ndes-ufos-and-shamans.html

[22] I should mention that Campbell’s monomyth was designed to fit a hero and not a heroin. Whereas my theory reduces the works of humanity down to behavioral patterning that begins with toddlers, regardless of gender.

[23] The theory is that we appear to exist linearly. Rather we are moving in circles and we keep returning to the same place.

[24] This theory, like Campbell’s is also restricted to males. Although Nietzsche, as I recall, does mention the importance that women play in the coming of the ubermensch, as sacred vessels that will someday give birth to the ubermensch.

[25] Ironically, the idea of an Übermensch or Superman, with the ability to create, is prophesied to come and make the world new again. In Christianity, this prophecy is recorded in the book of Revelation. In the book of Revelation, we see again, that time in circular. This motif is shared among Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and followers of the cult of Nietzsche.

[26] Mipham Rinpoche, Gateway to Knowledge Vol II, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2000, Hong Kong, 8.26 (p. 93)

21 of 21 pages


On the Epistemology of Mysticism. A Trans-historical, Cross-cultural Analyses of Human Patterned Behavior
Kathmandu University  (Rangjung Yeshe Institute)
Epistemology of Mysticism (400)
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philosophy religion religious studies comparative religion psychology of religion
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Andrew Baston (Author), 2017, On the Epistemology of Mysticism. A Trans-historical, Cross-cultural Analyses of Human Patterned Behavior, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/380923


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