Religious experience and mental illness

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After returning from the ashram, he would always appear very silent. He would go to the terrace, and would be seen sitting there for long periods often with minimal body movements staring ahead. Some times he would be seen smiling without any apparent reason. And he refused to take food. Mother would spent hours coaxing him to eat.
He had come back after one year in the ashram. So mother naturally contacted ashram authorities regarding what to do. They advised her that currently he is a little ‘ill’ and can come back when he improves.

But if they had known what was really going on in his head, they would not have called him ill. He had started to hear the voice of God. At least that was what he decided it was. The voice knew everything about him. Even the most personal details. The voice told him to come to him. To embrace his moksha. And that the world holds nothing more for him. It’s the time to renunciate the maya of the worldly life. But when he thought about it, suicide is a sin. So he decided to stop eating so that he would slowly loose his life. It was a method used by even great Yogis.
He was admitted in a hospital after around 3 months of this. Considering his voices as auditory hallucinations which are a common symptom of psychosis, he was started on antipsychotics. Within two weeks, he started to improve. He started to interact freely and take care of himself. Food intake improved. Within one month, the voice disappeared. But for another month, he remained convinced that it was indeed the voice of God.

Now… the question. Where does mysticism end and mental aberrations begin? Auditory hallucinations are a scientifically validated phenomenon. In schizophrenia you even hear people talking among themselves about you. The voices usually would be very clear and no one ever doubts about the reality of the voices. Usually in the initial part of the illness, they will repeatedly check their rooms and compound to find the source of the voices. Later on, delusions develop explaining the voices. The delusions are some false fixed beliefs like- some secret organisation is interacting through the satellite or its people from another dimension or…it’s god.

Now the real question. In our scriptures and holy books, there are lots of instances of this kind of supernatural communications. How much of it was for real and how much of it was just an illness? If any one of them had lived today, would we have listened to them or… would we have tried to treat them?

Photo by Santhosh.C

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