Project Status: Completed
Practitioners from a wide variety of spiritual traditions occasionally report strong psychological responses when in the presence of a spiritual teacher who has achieved some level of mastery, particularly when the teacher directs attention or intention toward the disciple. Such experiences are commonly reported in, e.g., Hinduism and Buddhism. This phenomenon of shaktipat (Sanskrit for “sending energy”) is thought to reflect a transmission of “spiritual energy” from teacher to student. This transmission may occur through sight (the teacher looking at the recipient), touch (the teacher touching them with their hand or with an object), or sound (hearing the voice of the teacher). Recipients also report the experience of receiving such transmissions at a distance, or by listening to a recording, or by simply looking at a picture of the spiritual teacher.
Effects reported range in valence and intensity, but they appear to involve arousal of the parasympathetic nervous system in some, hyperactivation of the limbic system such as that observed during a manic or psychotic episode. These effects often occur in the context of several environmental cues, and therefore could be in large part attributed to a kind of placebo or expectancy effect, but this explanation is limited by the fact that there are many subjective reports of this phenomenon by people with apparently no prior expectancy or spiritual orientation. There are also notable similarities in the subjectively reported experiences of spiritual transmission across cultures, across spiritual traditions, and across reports that have been documented in the spiritual literature for centuries.
While many such anecdotal reports of this phenomenon exist, almost no empirical research has been conducted to examine it. There are no studies published that we are aware of in the major scientific databases referring to empirical laboratory studies of spiritual transmission (shaktipat). The aim of the proposed work is to objectively examine the physiological correlates of spiritual transmission in both transmitters and recipients under controlled laboratory conditions and to explore the influence of expectancy, proximity, veracity of the spiritual teacher, and susceptibility of the recipient.
We would like to acknowledge the following for supporting this project: The Bial Foundation and Larry Cohn