SELF REALIZATION, AWAKENING AND ENLIGHTENMENT
Jeffery is a social scientist
who researches personal
transformation. He specializes
in bringing rigorous empirical
research and testing to
transformational techniques and
theories that have previously
been supported anecdotally.
Jeffery is a leading expert on
nonduality, mystical experience,
union with God/nature, etc.).
He holds several graduate
degrees and specializes
academically in technology,
psychology, cognitive science,
neuroscience, and transformative
studies. A bestselling author
and award winning educator,
Jeffery has co-edited, authored,
or co-authored over 20 books and
numerous other publications;
appeared in a wide variety of
media; and lectured broadly in
both academic and public forums.
currently the director of the
Center for the Study of
Non-Symbolic Consciousness (www.nonsymbolic.org).
Portions of his
research on Non-Symbolic
consciousness are also available
in the popular novel, The Fourth
Your bio says that you are a leading
expert on persistent non-symbolic consciousness enlightenment,
non-duality, mystical experience, union with God/nature, etc.
Did you attain your expertise on non-dual awareness and
enlightenment through your research and conducting of
scientifically based interviews on PNSE or at University?
Jeffery Martin: Both.
My PhD chair was Allan L. Combs and Ralph Hood, Jr was one of
the other two committee members. In their own ways they each
pioneered the study of key aspects of this within the academy.
My PhD thesis was done in the area of PNSE, and the bulk of my
academic research since then has been in this area.
NDM: Did you
study any particular spiritual traditions or with a specific
spiritual teacher (s)? Or did you train in a specific practice
such as yoga, meditation or anything along those lines?
Jeffery Martin: Not
sure what you are asking here...
I mean, did you come to your understanding about
enlightenment, non duality and the rest through your own
practice, or with the help of a traditional teacher of some
kind? Or, through direct experience, insight and other means; or
with the help of a guru?
Jeffery Martin: No,
the data you see represented here was solely based on research
with this population.
NDM: On page
4 of your paper
Clusters of Individual Experiences form a
Continuum of Persistent Non-Symbolic Experiences in Adults
you discuss how some of these people have what you
refer to as “Persistent Non Symbolic Experiences.” You
say that “Buddhists often referred to a sense of spaciousness.”
What kind of Buddhist practitioners were you speaking of in this
case? Were they Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Tibetan, Chan or
Zen, or something else?
All of these forms of Buddhism were represented. The 'sense of
spaciousness' was selected to illustrate how different reports
can be across traditions. Something similar was done with
always sect, and even sub-sect specific differences, as how that
general sense shows up seems to be quite constructed. So, for
example, examples within Christianity might be union with (or
increasing closeness to) God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, etc.
depending on one's sect.
NDM: Did they
speak of specific meditations that they practiced?
We had an information form that asked about specific practices.
These were what you would expect. If a person stayed within a
tradition, they were what you would expect of that tradition.
you also test monks in any of the Buddhist traditions?
Martin: Of course.
NDM: Were the
Buddhist monks that you interviewed Theravadin or Mahayana monks
or mostly Zen, Chan? Also did you interview any Vajrayana monks
who had mastered Tummo?
Martin: All of these. We tried to get relatively representative
numbers across different groups.
Did you test any of these subjects that practiced Tummo?
For example, did you witness any of them being able to melt
snow with no clothes on and in sub zero temperatures, or
anything else like this?
Yes, I have witnessed these types of things in participants, and
NDM: How many practiced jhana? And did any of these subjects
mention the "four path model" or make any claims to attaining
the fourth path - what is known as Arahant?
Jeffery Martin: I'm not
sure of the number who did Jhana practice off hand. Those in the
Theravada tradition, primarily, spoke of forth path attainment.
The study included many Arhats.
NDM: Do you mean there were householders claiming to
be arhats? (AKA arahant or fourth path which means they have
attained nirvana/nibanna and complete release from samsara.) Or
were they strictly monastics who made this claim?
There are plenty of these folks out there, and in the study, on
both sides of this line. There may be an advantage to the amount
of time a monastic can spend in practice versus someone with a
demanding job as a ER doctor like Dan, but the range of work
people in the study were involved with certainly seemed to
suggest that it is perfectly fine to have a job. As I'm sure you
know, there is a long standing debate in some traditions
regarding whether one should retreat from the world or embrace
it, both while pursuing PNSE and afterwards.
according to the Buddha, in the Pali suttas, one cannot be an
arahant and engage in sense pleasures like sexual activity. What
is your view on this?
My view is that this statement is not supported by our data, in
relation to PNSE.
The Buddha said, "Bhikkhus, that one can engage in sensual
pleasures without sensual desires, without perceptions of
sensual desire, without thoughts of sensual desire — that is
impossible." (MN 22.9).
four noble truths say that desire is the cause of samsara. Are
you saying that the Buddha was wrong about this part?
Jeffery Martin: I can
only report on the data that has been collected. All of our data
has been collected from the direct experience of living
individuals. I'm not able to comment on things that other
individuals may or may not have said, nor interpret what they
may have meant.
The Buddha said that craving is what keeps one in samsara.
Craving for sense-pleasures (kama-tanha): this is craving for
sense objects which provide pleasant feeling, or craving for
Craving to be (bhava-tanha): this is craving to be something, to
unite with an experience. This includes craving to be solid and
ongoing, to be a being that has a past and a future, and craving
to prevail and dominate over others.
Craving not to be (vibhava-tanha): this is
craving to not experience the world, and to be nothing; a wish
to be separated from painful feelings
So if one is still engaging in sexual
activity, this means they can’t be an arahant? No more than 2nd
path at best -
Sakadagami, "returning once" or "once-returner," meaning that
they are only partially enlightened, which is great in and of
itself, but nowhere near an arahant.
Martin: I am not a Buddhism scholar, and can only talk about
our data. Within that data are individuals who had validation as
Arhats in various communities, and who were not celibate. The
data from these individuals matched the patterns we saw in
others regarding PNSE
NDM: You say
"validation as Arhats in various communities." Can you please
be more specific as to what kind of communities exactly; do you
mean like cults?
I think the definition of cult is problematic. Again, I
am not a religious scholar, but in my experience the definition
of this word has generally revolved around either new or novel
religious/spiritual practices, or ones which deviate to X degree
from the norms of an established religious/spiritual tradition.
Much of this seems hard to precisely calculate, to me.
might be in a specific place, such as a monastery or nunnery.
Or, these days, they might be entirely online. Or, they might be
a dispersed global community within some larger established
religion, such as the Jesuit order within the Catholic church.
My use of community may also refer to an established sub-faction
within a group such as the Jesuits.
So in relation
to Arhats, which seems to be an area of particular interest for
you, a community might be a specific sect or sub-sect, large or
small. Or, a community of individuals living in a specific place
and practicing together, such as at a monastery. Or, it might
mean a more loosely formed group, such as individuals living
outside of a formal place of residence but who nonetheless form
a local or regional community of some kind. Or, it might be an
online group of sufficient size, structure, and coherence.
NDM: By the
way, were they Zen or Chan Vajrayana Buddhists who said that
they were "arhats"? I ask because Theravada monastics don't use
the Sanskrit word "arhat", they use the Pali version arahant.
They also don't
tend to make those types of claims in public since doing so
indicates they still have one of the fetters of conceit or
spiritual pride, of measuring oneself against others. That
would disqualify you from being an arahant. Also making these
claims, if not true, could get you thrown out of the sanhga and
they have ways to know this.
Jeffery Martin: I
choose to use the spelling of ‘Arhat’ because it seems to be the
most widely used, and I think it is helpful to use spelling that
is most easily searched on. Even the wikipedia page on 'Arhat'
spells it this way. The Encyclopedia Britannica seems to spell
it this way for their entry as well, though both mention the
Pali and other versions on their Arhat page. The long time
teacher in me tries to make things like this easier for people
to dig more into.
Regarding the term in
general, although I am not a religious scholar I have interfaced
with many who are over the course of this project. It seems to
me that how this word is reflected across time and traditions
has considerable variability. I don't think it is very useful to
the understanding of our data, because of the debate that seems
to surround it. This is often the case with these types of
terms. However, we do catalog terms like this when someone uses
it to describe him- or herself, or others use the term to
describe a participant.
Regarding public claims
and such, I thought this would be more of an issue than it was.
I had many people tell me that various vows, traditions, and so
forth would cause us problems with data collection, similar to
what you suggest in your question. This wasn't my experience.
These participants were very open with us, and seemed highly
pragmatic about their participation in the research and the
value it might offer everyone involved.
NDM: In your
view does PNSE equal nibbana (Pali) or nirvana (Sanskrit) in the
"Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There
is nothing further for this world."
Martin: Yes, I consider PNSE as a catch-all term that relates
to these types of persistent ways of experiencing the world.
NDM: In your
view is PNSE the same as moksha in the Advaita Vedanta
Martin: Yes, PNSE is a general term that includes this concept.
NDM: In the
book Saints and Madmen, Russell Shorto gives quite a few
accounts of people who thought they were “enlightened,” only to
find out later that they were in fact psychotic or suffering
from all kinds of serious maladies.
Did any of
these subjects that you interviewed claim to being “enlightened”
or having attained something extra special in anyway, like
believing they were Jesus, or Buddha, the Maitreya, sent here
with a special message or mission to save the world and so on?
Martin: None of the participants made these kinds of
percentage of those tested were practicing householders (lay
people)? Meaning meditation on a daily basis with a teacher or
in a tradition.
Do you mean what percentage of Buddhists or Hindus (just
guessing based on the term)?
Martin: I don't recall calculating statistics on that. It would
probably be quite arbitrary to do, for example one would have to
choose thresholds. Would someone who went to a single meditation
session count? Would there be a threshold for how long they
practiced? Etc. We did many statistical tests for comparisons
like this around 2009 and 2010, looking for significance and
where we may want to dig deeper. Nothing came up in those
various results that would lead me to think a deeper analysis in
this direction would be valuable.
NDM: How many
of these had taken mind altering medications such as LSD,
cannabis, benzedrine, and alcohol?
Martin: We asked about psychedelic use, not alcohol or other
drugs. It has always been close to half.
about other types of medications for forms of mental illness,
multiple personality, schizophrenia, post traumatic stress
disorder, bi polar, depression, anxiety, or what has been clinically
labeled as "depersonalization disorder?"
Martin: I am not a clinician so diagnoses such as these are not
appropriate for me to make. I did administer many self-report
measures, and some of these related to psychopathology but there
was nothing indicated across the population. I did specifically
inquire into depersonalization/derealization as a separate
question. Many things were the same, in terms of self-reports,
but there was a fundamental difference in that depersonalized
individuals often have levels of anxiety and depression. That
was not the case with my research population.
Did you rule out autistic spectrum, like asbergers. That can be
added to the list with the other mental illnesses, as well as
childhood abuse,—dissociation, psychogenic amnesia?
what is your view on the case of
Segal; would you say she differs from most of the subjects
that you interviewed?
Martin: I am not a clinician who is trained to diagnose, so I
cannot expertly comment on this. As I mentioned, we did use
psychopathology measures in the earliest time period, but things
like this didn't show up as indicated in the population.
Regarding childhood experiences, it was quite common for these
individuals to have had religious or spiritual experiences in
NDM: In your
paper you say, “Participants experiencing the far end of the
continuum provided further insight on this phenomenon. An
example occurred during a participant interview on a major
college campus. It was one of the first warm days of the season
and quite a few women on campus were lying out on the lawns in
swimsuits. Knowing that the participant was heterosexual, I
asked about his experience of all of these attractive young
women. The participant responded that occasionally he would
notice his eyes orient to one of them, but nothing further would
arise. When asked to speculate on why the orientation had
occurred, he stated that he assumed it was a low-level hardcoded
percentage of these subjects were sexually active? Were any of
them celibate or practiced this?
Martin: Keep in mind that I was seeking similarities. So, for
example, I asked a certain number of participants about their
sexuality (for example), but once it was clear that there didn't
seem to be relevant patterns to be found I would stop asking in
future interviews. After that point it would have to
spontaneously come up at some point in our conversation. The
vast majority were sexually active. Those who weren't generally
were not trying to avoid it, rather they simply didn't have a
sexual partner at the moment.
individuals went through periods where sex did not seem
desirable after the onset of PNSE, but this did not seem to last
for the majority who experienced this.
NDM: Did they say why this did not last or why this changed,
or what broke this? Such as, did they suddenly crave or need
this for their sense of happiness and well being?
Jeffery Martin: No,
just that it changed. Generally speaking, causation stories are
often not relevant to this population. It seemed to be more of a
biological switch. I wouldn't relate it to a craving or
something needed to produce a sense of wholeness.
Sex was often reported
as having gotten better. Established routines and limits in this
area were loosened allowing for more exploration and enjoyment
to emerge. Some Location 4 individuals reported sex as almost
unbelievably enjoyable, regardless of who it was with. This
could lead these individuals to be more promiscuous than was
previously the case in their lives.
NDM: Why do you
think they were even more promiscuous if they have "no sense of
Jeffery Martin: I
think it is difficult to know the answer to this, and would
rather not speculate.
NDM: What about a
sense of shame? Did they also have this about being naked or
things of this nature? Would they fear walking down the street
like sadhus do in India for example with no clothes on? Or be
embarrassed to do so?
Jeffery Martin: This
is not something that was specifically explored, so I don't
NDM: Were any of
these professional non dual teachers by the way? Or known as
Jeffery Martin: What
would you consider a professional non-dual teacher?
NDM: Someone who
makes a career out of advaita or Buddhism, meaning they sell the
dharma, through satsang, group meetings on skype video,
telephone, webinars, retreats, or any other means. They don’t
use the dana (generosity) model as is done traditionally. Or
are they monastic or renunciate?
Jeffery Martin: Both.
NDM: Did you do any blood work on their testosterone and
hormone levels in the male subjects by the way?
Jeffery Martin: No, we
did not do blood work or genetics, though some of that is
presently under consideration for study.
NDM: Did any report feelings of being asexual (neither male
nor female), as a result of this?
Jeffery Martin: Not
that I recall.
about a sense of fearlessness? Did any of them report this?
Jeffery Martin: As a
group they generally report an absence of fear, including fear
about fear of being close to a wild animal (bear, tiger, snake),
or something that would have normally activated a fight or
Jeffery Martin: If you
mean in an actually dangerous situation, this type of arousal
and orienting differed across the continuum, but there did not
seem to anyone whose biology would not sufficient warn them of
impending danger and take the subsequent action for needed
If you mean phobia's
that induced fear, generally fear was reported as being absent.
We did some testing of this and these phobias seem to still
produce a physiological response in the body, however they
generally were not reported as psychologically fearful. There
were other divisions like this, for example individuals would
report feeling that racism and sexism was no longer possible for
them. When we would use physiological tests for these, such as
from Project Implicit at Harvard, participants would typically
show up in the 'normal' range. So, their body seemed to have a
physiological response to the racial stimuli, for example, but
they did not feel any sense of that psychologically.
NDM: What about
their sense of having a moral conscience, did you also test this
in any way?
Yes, I was quite interested in changes in and expression of
morality, especially early in the research. It didn't seem to be
significantly affected very often by PNSE.
NDM: In your paper you said that, “Generally
speaking they retained their previous mannerisms, hobbies,
political ideology, food and clothing preferences, and so forth.
If someone were an environmentalist prior to PNSE, typically
they remained so after it. If they weren’t, they still are
not.” What about at the far end of the continuum?
It was the case there as well.
NDM: In your paper you cite a case:
“At the time,
he was a well-known ‘Jhana Master’ who was able to enter these
various states at will. His certainty was so strong that he
actually entered into the Jhana he was referring to so that I
could interview him in that state of consciousness and compare
his responses to the other participant.”
NDM: Are you saying that you interviewed
him while he was in jhana or afterwards?
Martin: Both, depending upon the Jhana people can communicate.
NDM: Did they
mention the factors?
Martin: What do you mean by factors?
Traditionally, each jhana stage has various factors, that's how
you know which one you are in. Also if it’s even jhana or not.
There are 8 stages, not including the last.
Stage 1 of the
material jhanas has 4 factors, 1. vitakka - applied thought , 2.
vichara, - examining or investigation of the object, 3. piti -
rapture and 4. sukha- happiness.
So this means
that there is no possibility for speaking while one is "in" this
type of traditional jhana. Absorbed with the meditation object,
whatever this object is. There are 40 altogether.
Martin: Yes the person spoke about factors. There wasn't just
one 'Jhana master' in the study, obviously, so these discussions
were done with more than just this person.
NDM: What about
their sense of greed or stinginess, such as hoarding goods,
(stocks and bonds, money, gold) or other objects like these? Did
they express if this “non sense of self” was affected by this,
on the fourth continuum, that is?
Martin: The larger patterns of their life are often unchanged.
So if they were a saver, they are still a saver. If they could
never seem to save money because they spend or give away what
they get, this is also unchanged. There is a sense as one moves
along the continuum of a reduced need for unnecessary personal
consumption. Much of our personal consumption, beyond needs,
hobbies, and so forth, seems to be related to trying to find
things that fill up the hole in our center. Once that hole is
filled, that type of consumption seems to trail off.
Some of them do
make radical life changes. For example, a person might quit his
or her job, leave their family and former life behind, move to a
small cabin somewhere remote, and so forth. This was very rare,
but I did occasionally see it. Obviously there would be changes
in spending and consumption habits in situations like this.
NDM: Did any of
them report awareness while in a state
of deep sleep?
Jeffery Martin: Yes,
but this did not seem wide spread, even among traditions that
consider it as a core part of their definition of enlightenment.
When it had been experienced, it was often only for periods of
time, such as a few months. There were some who did have it
persistently over time. Among this group, those who had been
under anesthesia reported that awareness was not present during
NDM: Or any other
types of unusual psychic abilities such as knowing the minds of
Various abilities like this were occasionally reported but did
not seem to be a core part of PNSE. Some individuals came from
traditions whose developmental process emphasized these types of
experiences. These individuals seemed more likely to experience
them, but it wasn't just individuals from these traditions.
There were participants who were atheists and also reported
them. Most of those who reported them seemed to either expect
them to occur during their developmental process, or were
actively trying to cultivate them. For the small percentage that
reported them, they were almost never persistent. There is some
tangential evidence from our project that suggests PNSE
individuals may be more easily able to cultivate this type of
There were quite a few
things like this that some traditions considered core to PNSE,
but which ultimately didn't seem to be at the core of the
experience from our perspective. These types of 'psychic'
abilities are, of course, reported by many more non-PNSE
individuals than PNSE individuals. Another interesting example
is deep peace. There were participants who reported having deep
peace long before their transition into PNSE, and seemingly
independent from it and the transition away from an
individualized sense of self.
NDM: Have any
of your subjects indicated that there is a difference with “non
dual awareness” or “enlightenment“ with "mystical experience,"
"peak experience," "transcendental experience?"
Martin: We've cataloged many different terms. Generally
speaking participants had one or two that they were comfortable
with. Some were from traditions that had more than one 'stage'
of PNSE and specific terms for each. Generally speaking, though,
participants did not go from, say, an immersion in the Christian
mystical tradition to a specific school of Buddhism and make a
direct comparison from their personal experience. Some would
read others accounts and have opinions, but that is different
than being able to compare direct experience.
changes that people experienced within PNSE. These are
documented in the continuum. These changes were independent of
tradition, and included changes that resulted in deepening
within their current type of PNSE or changing to a different
NDM: What is
your view on the similarities and differences with psychotic
experiences and mystical experiences?
Please see here.
The mystic reduces his/her sense of self to a minimum. The
mystic wants to be an infinitesimal point of consciousness, with
the smallest possible ego, so that he/she can perceive life in
the least distorted way. The personality is seen as a barrier, a
filter that does not allow one’s consciousness to perceive life
in its truest form. Humility before the enormity of the universe
is a common attitude in the mystic."
psychotic sees him/herself as omnipotent and omniscient. There
is a great increase in self-centeredness, with a feeling of
being all-important. He/she is the center of the world, and only
he/she is sufficiently important to matter."
Martin: I'm not a clinician so I can't offer a strong comment
here. I would say that, generally, I can see things that appear
related in one way or another to PNSE in many psychological
conditions. I don't find this surprising as I think experience
is mediated by the brain and all of the conditions relate to the
brain in some way. It’s the totality of the claims that we look
at with PNSE. It seems to me that PNSE is related most strongly
to depersonalization/derealization, though there are important
Sivanada says that, ”It is very difficult to judge a
A Shakespeare only can understand a Shakespeare. A Jesus only
can understand a Jesus. A man of experience who has mixed with
Sadhus and Sannyasins and lived with them for a number of years
may arrive at certain definite conclusions and infer something.
But he may or may not be accurate. Only a Jivanmukta with his
eye of intuition (Divya Drishti) can directly see and understand
What is your
view on this?
Martin: My view is that there are as many experiences and views
on PNSE as there are people who have experienced it. While there
are underlying similarities in how cognition, emotion.
perception, and memory change, the 'flavor' of the experience is
different for each person. Within traditions, formalized
language can hide the changes between individuals. This can help
to smooth over differences between individuals, as can vows that
require that specifics not be discussed. However when these vows
or agreed upon language are disposed of, and the actual moment
to moment experience of two individuals is discussed in details,
differences exist. Even if they are minor differences, they are
different nonetheless. So this can make it hard for individuals
to come to full agreement on points like this.
NDM: Did you
come across anyone who was raised as a western householder, who
attained enlightenment along the lines of Ramana Maharshi, and
lived their life the way he did?
Martin: I think this question may be too simple, or perhaps
that it just has too much packed into it. Perhaps the crux of
the question is whether I know of any Western householders who
attained an enlightenment that is represented to be similar to
Ramana Maharshi's. The answer to that is yes. However, I feel
like he lived his life in a certain time period and cultural
context that would not be possible for a householder in the West
today. Westerner's generally don't have ashrams built around
their mother's grave, for example. Certainly I have not met
anyone who fits that criteria.
NDM: What about
vanity, such as wearing makeup, dying their hair, concerned with
physical appearance, plastic surgery, liposuction, botox and so
on? Did they look younger than their age?
when Oprah asked Eckhart Tolle,
I have to ask, the viewers write and they want to know what you
do for your skin. Do you use a special skin cream? Or color your
Eckhart Tolle, Expressionless he said,
No. People who don’t carry around a lot of past look much
younger. When you let go of your past you take on an ageless
quality. Resentments cause a lot of wrinkles and lines.
Martin: Certainly I've met with many women who wore makeup and
such. I didn't ask about hair dye, botox, and so forth; but in
casual conversation this type of thing has come up among both
men and women who experience PNSE. While there are certainly
indications that stress can affect aging, I'd say that on the
whole I don't see a difference between the participants in the
study and the 'normal' population. I have PNSE and non-PNSE
friends who look amazingly young, as well as others who look
their age. For example, if you
are caucasian and
lived a lot of
your life in the sun, without UV protection, later in life you
are pretty wrinkled up...even if you spent a lot of that time in
You say that PNSE is the equivalent of being a
and attaining nirvana, but what about farm animals like
pigs, goats, cows, certain other sentient species that also have
persistent no sense of self. Pigs as we know, for example, even
eat their own excrement and so on. Does that mean that they are
also jivan muktas and have attained nirvana and are
enlightened and so on - if this PNSE is the only criteria for
The degree and type of consciousness in non-human species is a
rich and interesting topic area, but not one that this research
project has explored. So, I don't know the answer to this
NDM: Can you
please tell me about your book on this Subject. When will it be
Martin: It's out for initial comments right now. It will go
through three rounds of review in its current stage. The first
will be other professional writers to comment on and smooth it
out for readers, the second will be a wide variety of PNSE
individuals (though this has also been done during the creation
of the chapters) as a final check on clarity from their
perspective, and the third will be among major authors in the
areas that relate to it for important final comments and to
allow for a maximum connection with various audiences these
individuals are experts at communicating with. After this it
will go to final copy editing and get released. All of this will
take as long as it needs to, the most important thing to me is
that the book be all it can prior to release. I suspect that it
will be released this year.
To my mind, it
is the first comprehensive and major book in this area of study
since Stace's related writings. People who have read the draft
liken it to a PNSE version of William James' Varieties of
Religious Experience. I think that is a good analogy, though I
hope it will be a bit more accessible and readable than that
Will you list the names of those who participated in the tests
in your book, so that the audience will know who you are
speaking about? For example, Daniel Ingram , Kenneth Folk and
others like these?
Jeffery Martin: No, portions of the project have operated
under academic review boards which stipulated anonymity for
participants. We chose to extend this to all aspects of the
research to ensure that these requirements were met without
exception or accidental incident. If a participant chooses to
break their anonymity, that is their choice, but we will not do
so. Some have already spoken publicly about being a participant
in the research. Gary Weber and Vincent Horn come to mind, for
END OF INTERVIEW