James Braid on Self-Hypnosis and Hindu Yoga

Self-Hypnosis & Hindu Yoga

Excerpt from The Discovery of Hypnosis: The Complete Writings of James Braid


I shall now cite from a paper [the middle section of “Magic, Hypnotism, Mesmerism, etc., considered historically and physiologically”] actually published by me in The Medical Times for December 28th 1844, a few of the wonders recorded in Ward’s “History of the Hindoos”, which they represent as facts and as special gifts imparted to them in token of the great superiority of their religious system, of inducing a state of self-hypnotism, or ecstatic trance.  They produce this condition by certain postures or modes of sitting – the minds of the devotees being engaged in acts of fixed attention, by looking at some parts of their own bodies, or at inanimate or ideal [i.e., imaginary] objects; at the same time holding their breath, i.e., suppressing their respiration.  My modes of explaining these alleged marvels are given within parentheses.  I may premise, however, that whatever idea occupies the mind of the subject before he passes into the condition, or whatever may have occurred to it accidentally or through the suggestion of others subsequently, will ever after be realised, under similar combination of circumstances, in consequence of the power of suggestion and double-conscious [dissociated] memory, as manifested in some patients even in the sub-hypnotic or waking condition, when what have been called the vigilant or waking phenomena are producible; and still more certainly during the full, active, double-conscious condition.  These principles alone, and the vivid state of the imagination, explain most of the marvels; but, with the parenthetic explanations, I trust to make them sufficiently obvious to any candid and intelligent person.

The Yogee [i.e., master of yogic meditation] who has perfected himself in the three parts of sungyamu [yogic “self-mastery”] obtains a knowledge of the past and of the future (quickened memory and excited imagination); if he apply sungyamu to sounds, to their meaning and to the consequent results, he will possess, from mere sound, universal knowledge (hypnotic patients imitate, with the utmost precision and with the greatest facility, the vocal enunciation of any language, but do not understand the meaning of the words which they utter).  He who applies sungyamu to discover the thoughts of others will know the thoughts of all.  (He will believe and talk as if he did so.)  He who does the same to his own form, and to the sight of those whose eyes are fixed upon him, will be able to render his body invisible, and to dim the sight of the observers. (Through the force of imagination, or fixed attention, or suggestion.)  He who, according to these rules, meditates on his own actions, in order that he may discover how he may most speedily reap the fruits of them, will become acquainted with the time, cause, and place of his own death.  He who, according to these rules, meditates on the strength of the powerful, so as to identify his strength with theirs, will acquire the same.  (Through concentrated attention and conviction of their physical energy, there is a most amazing manifestation of increased muscular power.)  He who meditates, in the same manner, on the sun as perfect light, will become acquainted with the state of things in every place.  (He will believe and speak as if he really did.)  By similar application of sungyamu to the cup at the bottom of the throat, he will overcome hunger and thirst; by meditation on the basilar suture, he will be capacitated to see and converse with deified persons, who range through the aerial regions; by meditation on extraordinary presence of mind, he will obtain a knowledge of all visible objects; by meditating on the seat of the mind, or on the faculty of reason, he will become acquainted with his own thoughts and those of others, past, present, and future; by meditation on the state of the Yogee who has nearly lost all consciousness of separate existence, he will recognise spirit as unassociated and perfect existence.  (Belief and vivid imagination.)  After this he will hear celestial sounds – the songs and conversations of the celestial choirs; he will have the perception of their touch in their passage through the air, his taste will become refined, and he will enjoy the constant fragrance of sweet scents.  (All this I can easily cause hypnotic patients to realise, through suggestion and their fervid imagination.)  When the Yogee, by the power of Samadhi [meditation], has destroyed the power of those works which retained the spirit in captivity, he becomes possessed of certain and unhesitating knowledge; he is enabled to trace the progress of intellect through the senses, and the path of the animal spirit through the nerves.  After this he is able to enter into any dead or living body, by the path of the senses – all the senses accompanying him, as the swarm of bees follows the queen bee; and, in this body, to act as though it were his own.  (Now, all this extravagance I can easily make hypnotic patients imagine themselves accomplishing – but, of course, it is only imaginary, just as such feats are accomplished in dreams.)

The collected power of all the senses is called the animal soul, which is distinguished by five operations connected with the vital air, or air collected in the body.  The body of the Yogee who, according to the rules of Dharanu, Dhyanu, and Sumadhee [concentration, meditation, and mystic union], meditates on the air proceeding from (…) to the head, will become light as wood, and will be able to walk on the fluid element.  He who, in the same manner, meditates on the ear and its vacuum, will hear the softest and most distant sounds, as well as those uttered in the celestial regions, etc.  (This accords with my proposition, that calling attention to any organ or function will exalt the activity of the function positively, as well as excite ideas con­nected with such organ or function.)  He who meditates on vacuum will be able to ascend in the air.  (Imaginary ascent.)  He who meditates, by the rules of sungyamu, and in a perfect manner, on the subtle elements, will overcome and be transformed into those elements; he will be capacitated to become as rarefied and atomic as he may wish, and proceed to the greatest distance; in short, he will be enabled to realise in himself the power of Deity, to subdue all his passions, to render his body invulnerable, to prevent the possibility of his abstraction being destroyed, so as to subject himself again to the effects of actions.

“By applying sungyamu to the division of the four last minutes of time, he who perfects himself in this will obtain complete knowledge of the separate elements, atoms, etc., which admit not of division of species, appearance, and place.  This knowledge brings before the Yogee all visible objects at once, so that he does not wait for the tedious process of the senses.  (Imagination, lively faith, and fixed attention, until ideas became too vivid to be corrected by an appeal to the senses and sober reason.)

The following paragraph is from the “Dabistan” [Dabistān-i Mazāhib, a 17th century Persian religious text of a syncretistic nature]:–

The Sipasian [an ancient Zoroastrian sect] and the historians relate that, whoever carries this process to perfection rises above death; as long as he remains in the body, he can put it off and be again reunited to it; he never suffers from sickness, and is fit for all business.

So much for the lively fancy and fervid faith of these religious enthusiasts, during their dreams, in the state of self-induced hypnotism, through fixing their thoughts or sight upon some part of their own bodies, or on some ideal [i.e., imaginary] or inanimate objects, and holding their breath, or suppressing their respiration.  By an appeal, therefore, to the feats of the Hindoos, I might claim for hypnotism, or self-induced trance, quite as high pretensions for its capability of inducing clairvoyant marvels as anything adduced by the animal magnetists or Mesmerists, with all the exoteric or alleged aid which they profess to communicate or impart to their subjects, by whatever name they may call it – whether magnetic, Mesmeric, odylic, nervous, or vital force transferred from the operators into the bodies of their subjects.

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