Transcendence and the Transcendental Experience

by on September 29, 2013

LichtblickThe book Meaning, Being and Transition states that, “Unlike secularism, which ignores the transcendental, in Transitionalism the transcendental is the focus of our lives through the question of meaning. Unlike many religious representations, the transcendental is integral to the realm of which we are a part.1

Transitionalism is a fundamentally spiritual worldview where, at is core, resides the question of meaning. Practicing Transitionalists incorporate positive spiritual principles in their daily lives as described by the Four Levels in their journey towards self-actualization. Each practitioner’s goal will be different. Many might see their path to be seeking a ‘good life’ with a focus on the more tangible qualities of the world. For others, the spiritual and the nature of Being hold a special significance with a few among them who could be identified as mystics in the traditional sense. The intention is to develop the implications for the spiritually focused of the transcendent and the transcendental experience within the Transitionalist worldview.

There is no substantive distinction between the traditional and Transitionalist representation of spirituality, transcendence, and the transcendental experience. This is to say, when we speak of spirituality we do so in terms of ultimate meaningfulness. When talking of transcendence and the transcendental experience there is again a shared understanding this is referring to an experiential state beyond that of daily life and of its realization. What is different is the conceptual framework guiding how each are to be understood. One such distinction between the views of traditional religions and Transitionalism is what is the source of spirituality. For traditional religion, the cosmic unity is beyond the human realm and represented by God, the Tao, Ground of Being, Buddha Nature where meaning is intrinsic, and by developing a connection with this unity we are able to derive the meaning for our existence. For Transitionalism, Being, also referring to the unity of all things, is simply a fact and devoid of any meaning of its own, but is given meaning as a consequence of the emergence of our humanity and with it the question why we are here.

How religious tradition came to identify the source of spirituality to be an external reality distinct from our own started when our evolving brain began to allow us to gain an understanding about the world around us. Initially, this led our ancestors to see the actions of naturalistic spiritual forces as a source for explanation of what animates the world. Over time, there developed the concept of an essential cosmic unity most likely simulated by personal experience with psychotropic plants, fasting, and sexual orgasm2. Since we interpret experience in the world as something occurring ‘out-there’, and not as a product of brain function, it would only be expected that the resulting psychological and emotional responses to such experiences would lead people to believe they had developed a connection with an extra-natural reality.

The emotional conceptualization of the transcendent and the transcendent experience reinforced one another as what would have started as accidental discoveries became systematic efforts to cultivate a better understanding of the experience. In India, the Upanishad sage Yajanavalkya, was a major force in turning the external ritualized path to Brahman, the cosmic unity, in ward towards the atman, the presence of Brahman within each individual. To learn of the fundamental nature of the world and the self, one would undertake various practices that would allow one to seek and find the deeper truth that Brahman and the atman are one in the same, eternal and unchanging.3

The nature of the essential unity, transcendence, and the transcendent experience is understood in various ways by different traditions. A conception of the essential unity in popular imagination is of a tangible reality connected to our own in some way, yet is fundamentally different (refer to the discussion in Meaning, Being and Transition regarding material/non-material, finite/infinite incompatibilities).4 There is another view generally held by mystics, which describes the distinction between the natural and extra-natural realms in terms of a higher order of consciousness. This realm can only be described by negative statements and paradoxes, that is, the extra-natural is a realm outside the reach of thought and language, time, and space. Where “is” and “is not” and potential and actualized, exist at the same time.

For Transitionalism, the interpretation is quite different. Being, identified as the unity of all things, is represented to us by the natural world which we can come to know, and the extra-natural or that aspect of the world for which no knowledge is possible. The notion of Being as a singular one-ness cannot be said to be intrinsic to Being because we cannot validate the claim based on direct knowledge. The claim can only be inferred based on the perception the world, as we perceive it is interdependent and functions consistently, so we can deduce the greater realm beyond the boundaries of our experience works equally well.

This demarcation is due to the limitation of our body/brain structure of being only able to function within the realm of space, time, and cause and effect. Moreover, beyond the structuring of experience imposed by the body/brain there are the added strata of language, culture, values, and the personality of the individual experiencer.5  All of which undermines the explanatory framework representing claims of direct experience with the extra-natural as a separate and distinct realm. It is for this reason the transcendent experience can only be described as a unique combination of perception, emotion, psychology, with imagination invoked by the experience of near-death, ritual, drugs, meditation, and prayer. In other words, the transcendent experience is a state of mind, not a state of being. While we cannot go beyond our ourselves, we can still connect with Being emotionally and through an act of imagination form an expanded sense of self.

This leads us to the second point where the extra-natural is identified as the source of meaning. Meaning is not intrinsic to the nature of Being because Being is non-dualistic. Meaning, on the other hand, is by definition dualistic since it denotes significance where for something to be meaningful something else has to be meaningless. This fallacy is a consequence of our emotional sense of connection gained during the transcendent experience leading the experiencer to think the source of meaning would be ‘out-there’ in the essence of the unity. This can also been seen to apply to the frequent reference within traditional religion to our inner divinity referring to the divine presence of the One within each of us, when instead it should be understood to refer to the question of meaning that is part of all of us.

In summary, the nature of the transcendent and the transcendental experience within Transitionalism is as it has always been the striving for connection. The difference is in what constitutes the subject of the connection. As we have discussed, in various traditional views one is striving to connect to the extra-natural, the reality outside and beyond our own. In Transitionalism, transcendence and the transcendental state means the positive synergistic engagement of our psychological, emotional, rational, and spiritual imagination to experience Being. In this way, the experiencer creates a deep connectedness within oneself and to all things and all people, an experience of one-ness spanning time and space, and for the spiritually focused, a worthy path in their journey towards self-actualization.


1 Wasley, Robert, Being, Meaning, and Transition. San Francisco: PDF. 2013. Page 7.

2 Levin, Jeff Phd, MPH, and Lea Steele, Phd, “The Transcendent Experience: Conceptual, Theoretical, and Epidemiologic Perspectives” Explore. (March 2005) Vol. 1, No. 2 Pages 89-101

Marsh Chapel Experiment.” Wikipedia.Web. 24 September. 2013. Experiment conducted by Walter N. Pahnke at Harvard Divinity School, an investigation to determine if a transcendental experience could be induced by the consumption of psilocybin (the active principle in psilocybin mushrooms) in religiously predisposed subjects.

3 Armstrong, Karen, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions. New York: Anchor Books. 2007. Print. Pages 151-156.

4 Wasley, Robert, Being, Meaning, and Transition. San Francisco: PDF. 2013. Pages14-15.

5 Wasley, Robert, Being, Meaning, and Transition. San Francisco: PDF. 2013. Pages 26-28.

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