CONTEMPORARY VOICES OF RUSSIAN TRANSPERSONALISM
T. R. SOIDLA
INSTITUTE OF CYTOLOGY ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA
S. I. SHAPIRO
DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY UNIVERSITY OF HAWAI'I HONOLULU, HAWAI'I, USA
Everything Is According to the Way:
Voices of Russian Transpersonalism
бя╗ оср╗л цнкняю псяяйнцн рпюмяоепянмюкхглю
Edited by р. R. Soidla and S. I. Shapiro
Bolda-Lok Publishing and Educational Enterprises Brisbane, Australia ╘1997
CONTEMPORARY VOICES OF RUSSIAN TRANSPERSONALISM
T. R. SOIDLA
INSTITUTE OF CYTOLOGY ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA
S. I. SHAPIRO
DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY UNIVERSITY OF HAWAI'I, HONOLULU, HAWAI'I, USA
The term "transpersonalism," especially in Europe, is often identified with some Califomian cultural expansion. Hardly true in general, the present volume offers evidence of a less narrowly conceived epicenter. Listen, please, and you will hear a variety of voices carrying transpersonal melodies . . . some less familiar to Western readers. It is not so unfortunate, perhaps, that many rather different people who live (or at least were born and spent a considerable part of their life) in Russia, feel an urge to identify in some way with this new word but ancient concept≈transpersonalism. The contributions set forth in this volume testify that the results of such an identification have been promising and multifaceted ... certainly worth the attention of a broader and more international audience.
Richly diverse as the contents of this volume are, it is also important to recognize that there are important layers of Russian transpersonal thought and personalia that are missing for various reasons. To list a few: Russian cosmism (along the lines of Ciolkovsky [Tsiolkovsky], Chizhevsky, Vemadsky), mystical traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church (although mentioned, they certainly merit more sustained treatment), the teachings of the Roerichs and of Gurdjieff, Russian Buddhist and Oriental studies, important, more or less controversial, leaders of the 1960s (such as B. Ivanova-Kissen), and the work of many promising contemporary young transpersonalists. We hope to be able to cover at least some of these areas in future volumes.
Although a few authors of the present volume have left Russia in recent times, some flavor, color, or feeling-tone, if not explicit statements, seems to still be present in their contributions, and speaks of their common origin in the Russian soul. There often appears to be some additional inner (in some cases, possibly, also an outer) pressure to be identified as an inheritor of some native Russian spiritual tradition that is still mysteriously operative in the contemporary world≈even (and possibly more so) when one is no longer living in Russia, but in some Western country. Curiously, the only two papers attempting an explicit review of some aspects of the Russian spiritual/transpersonal tradition have come out of the United States.
To begin at the end, the world presented by Henri Volohonsky in Aorists of the Decrepit≈a composition on harmony, can be perceived as a numerological comedy staged somewhere in a tropical forest of very exotic and colorful metaphors. Knowing other works of this author, however, allows one possibly to descry a second, more basic plane that is a surprisingly most ascetic world≈a world of mainly two colors, of two seemingly incompatible feeling-tones≈of comedy and of religious service. Enshrouded as a synaesthetic treatise on harmony, the text is poised to communicate an important message by the author, whose popularity among young Russian intellectuals of different orientations seems to be steadily growing. The world that is opening in Volohonsky's dialogical poem-series is rewarding, but certainly one that exacts a price for entering≈at the very least, leaving most of one's rational thinking (possibly together with many spiritual illusions) outside the doorway.
Other chapters, to varying degrees, are more easily united by the technical meaning of the word transpersonal. Igor Kungurtsev and Olga Luchakova in their contribution, The Unknown Russian Mysticism: Pagan Sorcery, Christian Yoga, and Other Esoteric Practices in the Former Soviet Union, are well-informed about their subject matter and present an invaluable review of it. We would like to add that a clear necessity exists to produce critical biographies of many of the spiritual leaders mentioned. The result of the current lack of such critical studies can be a nagging feeling that the field of Russian spiritual traditions is a bit mythological, populated by mythologems and heroes of local transpersonal myth, rather than by real people. This apparent one-sidedness is certainly not a shortcoming (or even an exercise in free will) of the authors. If during the last half-century or so, Russia was for Westerners just a mysterious land of "psychic discoveries behind the iron curtain," it was also (for several more or less obvious reasons) not too friendly a place for open and scholarly studies of the lives of its≈often half-dissident≈spiritual leaders. Just considering the catastrophic financial situation in Russian science today, it will be immediately obvious that badly needed scholarly studies will perforce take a long time to appear. In the meantime, the reviewers≈important practitioners and teachers of several Russian spiritual traditions mentioned in their chapter≈have certainly captured some very authentic characteristics of the transpersonal field in Russia.
Another invaluable review is provided by Larissa Vilenskaya in her chapter entitled Shamanic Wisdom, Parapsychological Research, and a Transpersonal View: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Vilenskaya, one of the pioneers in surveying Russian parapsychological research and currently a transpersonal practitioner, describes a moving story of her struggles toward some personally convincing stand in the field. She cites a good deal of not well-known (and as she notes, sometimes not quite reliable) studies published in mostly rather obscure sources in Russian≈some of which may surprise even Russian readers≈and relates her own engaging personal impressions of meeting some remarkable old hands in the field. Vilenskaya's contribution provides a feast of important material connected with the very roots of the now-emerging Russian transpersonal movement.
We are honored to have the patriarch of Russian transpersonalism, V. V. Nalimov, and his wife and colleague, Zhanna Drogalina Nalimov, present the opening chapter. The title of their initiatory chapter is a question: Is Russia Prepared to Participate in the Search for a New Vision of Humankind? Despite the uncertain political climate in Russia today, we applaud the Nalimovs' faith in the possibility of a new spiritual resurrection and hope that it truly becomes a reality. The Nalimovs were kind enough to contribute two other apothegmatic chapters. The first of these, entitled Existential Vacuum and How to Overcome It: At the Threshold of the Third Millennium≈What We Have Grasped on Approaching the XXIst Century, demonstrates a noble approach to metacultural problems in arriving at the turning point into the third millennium. The second, entitled Constructivist Aspects of a Mathematical Model of Consciousness, is devoted to a probabilistic model of consciousness with ideas on "creative unpacking of the continuum of meanings," "Ego as a process," and many more rather tasty epistemic concepts. The Nalimovs readdress the foundations of meaning with fresh vision and vigor≈a realm of inquiry most propitious in present-day Russia.
In Ketamine Psychotherapy: Results and Mechanisms, we are provided with an overview of an extensive research program by Evgeny Krupitsky and his research group, using ketamine as a basis for psychedelic psychotherapy. Through a variety of psychological, physiological, and biochemical indices, a wide-ranging corpus of data is provided on the use and potential of psychedelic psychotherapy, made all the more valuable because of the existing prohibition on psychedelic psychotherapy in the United States (now on the verge of changing). Transpersonal and spiritual outcomes of their psychedelic therapy manifest themselves both in self-reports and in psychological tests. Although the majority of the research has been devoted to the treatment of alcoholism, there are also data to suggest the efficacy of psychedelic psychotherapy for other addictions, personality disorders, and neuroses.
Evgueni Tortchinov presents us with his scholarly study entitled, The Doctrine of the "Mysterious Female " in Taoism: A Transpersonalist View. The field of Russian Taoist studies from a transpersonal angle is not an overpopulated one. The author's scholarly exegesis is devoted to ideas and metaphors that seem to be very central to transpersonal thought. Both the Baby-Sage and the Great Mother can be among the most important and rewarding archetypes to be confronted in one's personal (personal here also means eternally unpredictable and mysterious) spiritual path. Lao Tzu's Tao рЕ Ching, though more than 2,000 years old, continues to whisper its perennial wisdom to anyone within earshot. It is of some interest to us that Tortchinov, as well as other Russian transpersonalists, makes reference to Stanislav Grof's model of consciousness, a model which originated in his psychedelic research program. Grof's works are among the few Western studies to have been translated into Russian. (An extensive translation project of transpersonal books was recently begun by the Transpersonal Institute in Moscow under the leadership of Vladimir Maikov.) We await with fascination (and perhaps, trepidation) Russia's gaining access to the full range of contemporary Western transpersonalism not too far in the future.
The remaining studies comprise a medley of impassioned chapters by T. R. Soidla who regales the reader with some transpersonal peregrinations through Memory Lane and the Halls of Yearning. The author attempts a kind of synthesis of the rational and irrational (ego- and ground-centered) approaches≈both in the spirit and in the structure of his writings (but possibly falls short of this aim, having only demonstrated≈once more≈a basic incompatibility between the rational and the spiritual). The psychoalchemical mixtures created by Soidla can perhaps fool, momentarily, one's eye or ear, only to lead one to re-discover that atoms of the two contrasting tendencies have remained intact≈only intermixed, not transmuted (transcended).
It remains for us to add some remarks about the title of this book that might sound rather mysterious to the Western ear. For the first part of the title, we used a rather specific, half-vulgar Russian expression "vsyo putyom," (БЯ╦ ОСР╦Л) which transliterates to something like "everything is O.K." But this Russian expression is of a rather different world of experience than the American one, "I'm O.K., you're O.K." The optimism of the expression "vsyo putyom" is not at all social≈rather it carries some feelings of real power, of some ancient (non-Western, pre-Westem) being who is free in his or her natural flow. We were attracted by the natural vitality and vigor of this expression. This original vigor is, in a way, still here, still available to experience. Say "vsyo putyom" in a Russian crowd and you will certainly notice some people grinning or openly smiling with approval. The words feel, in a way, like a gift of some basic life energies≈and at the same time, the literal translation of these words, "everything is according to the way," exposes some important folk-taoist roots of this ancient gift of Russian mentality.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: We would like to express our appreciation to the authors for their stimulation and patience, Annie M. Van Assche for word processing, editing, graphics, and layout, Philippe L. Gross for e-mail communications and editing, Darryl T. Chan for computer assistance, David M. Sherrill for editing, and Denise H. Lajoie for Russian-American midwifery. We also thank Erin Neill, of Queensland University of Technology, and John Kyneur, of Bolda-Lok Publishing, for their support of this project. We are grateful to the University of Hawai'i for granting a Visiting Scholar appointment in the summer of 1994 (T.R.S.), and for a sabbatical leave in 1995 (S.I.S.).
Authors' addresses: T. R. Soidla, Institute of Cytology, Tikhoretsky Avenue 4, St. Petersburg 194064, Russia; S. I. Shapiro, Department of Psychology, 2430 Campus Road, University of Hawai'i, Honolulu, Hawai'i 96822, USA.