Psychiatric literature contains numerous articles and books that discuss what would be the most appropriate clinical diagnoses for many of the great figures of spiritual history. St. Anthony has been called schizophrenic, St. John of the Cross labeled “hereditary degenerate,” St. Teresa ofAvila has been dismissed as a severe hysterical psychotic, and Mohammed's mystic al experiences have been attributed to epilepsy. Many other religious and spiritual personages, such as the Buddha, Jesus, Ramakrishna, and Sri Ramana Maharshi have been seen as suffering from psychoses, because of their visionary experiences and “delusions.” Similarly, some traditionally trained anthropologists have argued whether shamans should be diagnosed as schizophrenics, ambulant psychotics, epileptics, or hysterics. The famous psychoanalyst Franz Alexander, known as one of the founders of psychosomatic medicine, wrote a paper in which even Buddhist meditation is described in psychopathological terms and referred to as “artificial catatonia” (Alexander 1931).
While Western psychology and psychiatry describe the ritual and spiritual life of ancient and native cultures in pathological terms, dangerous excesses of the industrial civilization potentially endangering life on the planet have become such integral parts of our life that they seldom attract specific attention of clinicians and researchers and do not receive pathological labels. We witness on a daily basis manifestations of insatiable greed and malignant aggression - plundering of non-renewable resources and turning them into industrial pollution, defiling of natural environment critical for survival by nuclear fallout, toxic chemicals, and massive oil spills, abuse of scientific discoveries in physics, chemistry, and biology for development of weapons of mass destruction, invasion of other countries leading to massacres of civilians and genocide, and designing military operations that would kill millions of people.
The main engineers and protagonists of such detrimental strategies and doomsday scenarios not only walk freely, but are rich and famous, hold powerful positions in society, and receive various honors. By the same token, people who have potentially life-transforming mystical states, episodes of psychospiritual death and rebirth, or past-life experiences end up hospitalized with stigmatizing diagnoses and suppressive psychopharmacological medication. This is what Michael Harner referred to as the ethnocentric bias in judging what is normal and what is pathological.
According to Michael Harner, Western psychiatry and psychology also show a strong cognicentric bias. By this he means that these disciplines formulated their theories on the basis of experiences and observations from ordinary states of consciousness and have systematically avoided or misinterpreted the evidence from non-ordinary states, such as observations from psychedelic therapy, powerful experiential psychotherapies, work with individuals in psychospiritual crises, meditation research, field anthropological studies, or thanatology. The
paradigm-breaking data from these areas of research have been either systematically ignored ormisjudged and misinterpreted because of their fundamental incompatibility with the leading paradigm.