I have a friend, who, with 2 years ago, had a very difficult time after a Vajrayana retreat, when he had a psychotic breakdown. I know him well, and I can tell you that it was a perfectly normal man until that moment. This friend of mine participate at a highest yoga tantra retreat (which involved empowerment + experiential explanations of generation and completion stage). I talked to him in details about everything that happened with him, and even now, for him everything is a big mystery. He doesn’t understand what happened exactly with him. Now, after all this time, he is still very traumatized by the event.
He told me that, in the first 2-3 days of the retreat, he spontaneously entered in an extremely peaceful state of mind, which was more and more profound with every hour which was passing. It was very impressed about this state, and attributed it to the presence of the Rinpoche involved (an old and famous lama with a huge meditational experience). Then, in one of the meditations from the retreat, he explained me that he felt that it was on the verge of completely losing his “identity”, and he had a felling on imminent death, of complete annihilation. He became very very scarred. In the next days, his fear transformed in full blowing panic attacks, which after 2-3 days become full psychoses. So, in the last day of the retreat, he was completely psychotic. His psychosis was characterized by an extreme fear, powerful delusions and even some hallucinations. He had all the time the feeling that it is surrounded by “demons”, he realized that “the hell” is here on earth, he could “see” the demons walking between us (normal people - even some of his old friends - which now appeared to him like demons - he could see black eyes at this people) and that the “demons” control everybody’s minds, he felt that everything is a dream, at one moment he believed that he is Karmapa reincarnated, etc)
He was taken to a hospital and he was diagnosed with an “atypical psychotic episode”. He was put on medication - antipsychotics - and the psychosis dissipated very fast. Now he is still on medication (the standard treatment for something like this must be taken for 1-2 years, continuously, to prevent any possible relapse) and the secondary effects of this drugs are extreme. Practically his life was shattered in pieces. He lost all his interest in Buddhism and in any type of spirituality, and he become extremely pragmatic (a normal reaction after something like this, an unconscious attempt to become firmly grounded in the material reality, to prevent any other psychosis). I could say that now, is a man profoundly traumatized, who try desperately to understand what happened exactly with him, how it was possible that, from a perfectly healthy human being, to have an episode of “insanity”.
Of course I tried to help him. I analyzed together with him the possible factors that could be made responsible for his psychotic episode: deficiency of vitamin B12 (in hospital the doctors discovered at him a deficit of B12), a possible food allergies (now in psychiatry is recognized that a food allergies could trigger something like this), etc. But his psychiatrist (a very capable one), told him again and again that, in his opinion, what triggered the episode was something from the retreat.
The most possible explanation for what happened to him came from the works of dr. Stanislov Grof, the father of transpersonal psychology. These are some quotes from his books:
“In the broadest sense, what is presented as psychiatric symptom can be seen as an interface conflict between two different modes in which humans can experience themselves. The first of these modes can be called hylotropic consciousness 1; it involves the experience of oneself as a solid physical entity with definite boundaries and a limited sensory range, living in three-dimensional space and linear time in the world of material objects. Experiences in this mode systematically support a number of basic assumptions, such as: matter is solid; two objects cannot simultaneously occupy the same space; past events are irretrievably lost; future events are not experientially accessible; one cannot be in more than one place at a time; one can exist only in a single time framework at a time; a whole is larger than a part; and something cannot be true and untrue at the same time.
The other experiential mode can be termed holotropic consciousness; it involves identification with a field of consciousness with no definite boundaries which has unlimited experiential access to different aspects of reality without the mediation of the senses. Here there are many viable alternatives to three-dimensional space and linear time. Experiences in the holotropic mode systematically support a set of assumptions diametrically different from that characterizing the hylotropic mode: the solidity and discontinuity of matter is an illusion generated by a particular orchestration of events in consciousness; time and space are ultimately arbitrary; the same space can be simultaneously occupied by many objects; the past and the future can be brought experientially into the present moment; one can experience oneself in several places at the same time; one can experience several temporal frameworks simultaneously; being a part is not incompatible with being the whole; something can be true and untrue at the same time; form and emptiness are interchangeable; and others. A life experience focusing exclusively on the hylotropic mode and systematically denying the holotropic one is ultimately unfulfilling and fraught with lack of meaning, but can be practiced without any major emotional difficulties. A selective and exclusive focus on the holotropic mode is incompatible with adequate functioning in the material world for the time it lasts. Like the hylotropic mode, it can be difficult or pleasant, but it presents no major problems as long as the external situation of the experiencer is covered. Psychopathological problems result from a clash and disharmonic mixture of the two modes when neither of them is experienced in pure form nor integrated with the other into an experience of a higher order.
What psychiatry describes and treats as symptoms of mental disease can be seen as manifestations of interface noise between these two complementary extremes. They are experiential hybrids that represent neither one nor the other mode, nor a smooth integration of both, but their conflict and clash. On the biographical level this can be illustrated by a neurotic whose experience of the present moment is distorted by partial emergence of an experience that belongs contextually to another temporal and spatial framework. He does not have a clear and appropriate experience corresponding to the present circumstances, nor is he fully in touch with the childhood experience that would justify the emotions and physical sensations he is having. The mixture of both experiences without a discriminating insight is characteristic of a strange spatiotemporal experiential amalgam that psychiatry calls "symptoms."
“There are indications that even many of the acute psychotic conditions, for which the application of the medical model might seem most indicated and justifiable, are dramatic attempts on the part of the organism at problem solving, self-healing, and achieving a new level of integration. As I mentioned earlier, it has been reported in the literature that a certain number of acute psychotic breakdowns even under the current circumstances that are far from ideal, result in a better adjustment that the patient had before the episode.
It is also well known that acute and dramatic psychotic states have a much better prognosis than those that develop slowly and insidiously. Observations of this kind seem to support the material from modern consciousness research suggesting that the major problem in many psychotic episodes is not the upsurge of the unconscious material, but the remaining elements of ego control that interfere with successful completion of the gestalt involved. If this is the case, the strategy of choice should not be to put a psychopathological label on the process and try to interfere with it by suppressing the symptoms, but to facilitate and expedite it in a supportive atmosphere.”
“In the new approach, psychogenic disorders reflect the confusion between the hylotropic mode and the holotropic mode of consciousness, or the inability of the subject to confront the emerging holotropic material and integrate it into the everyday experience of the material world. The general strategy to be pursued is full experiential immersion in the surfacing theme and, after its completion, return to an uncomplicated and full experience of the present time and place.
For example, in native cultures it is understood that the shamanic crisis reflects higher calling and is in its nature healing and benevolent. The same is true about Kundalini awakening, as it is described in yogic literature. At the same time, it is well known that these processes can under certain circumstance cause considerable problems for the experients. Both the shamanic lore and the yogic literature emphasizes that it can be very dangerous to resist the process. It is not uncommon, that serious problems including psychotic episodes occur during intense spiritual practice, with or without breathing exercises, for example in Zen sesshins, Vipassana retreats, Christian prayer, Sufi zikers, etc”
My friend psychotic episode seams to correspond with what Grof talk about. Of course, at the hospital, nobody took in consideration something like this. A psychotic episode, for the mainstream psychiatrists is just a moment of insanity..
I was almost convinced by Grof explanation, until I talked with someone very knowledgeable in the Buddhist field, who told me that the cause of what happened could be a “lung disorder”, consecutively of the initiation and teachings she received. He told me that, sometimes, during tantric initiations and practice, some knots around a channel are loosened and the karmic winds tend to go through this newly open channel in great intensity. This can cause a lot of problems, including mental disorders, etc. He told me that such things can happen, especially with unprepared students, and that, this is one of the main reasons of secrecy around high tantric teachings, not too much because of secret mantras or visualizations, but mostly because they can affect the channels and open them very swiftly, and for someone who is unprepared and cannot control his mind, this can be a very serious problem.
Then I found this quotes in one of Dudjom Lingpa text :
“This is the way the experiential visions progress. Initially, vital energy fills you inside from your heart up to your throat, or various sorts of illnesses or disagreeable pains may occur. Randomly moving throughout the exterior and interior of your body, staying in no one place for long, these disturbances arise due to the potency of the vital energy of primordial wisdom striking the ascending wind. Then they increase yet further, and disturbances arise due to the potency of the vital energy of primordial wisdom striking the life-sustaining wind. Then you may experience mood swings from joy to sorrow and from desire to hatred. Finally, all the winds combine and enter the channels and elements of the body, and sharp pains arise in all the channels. You may engage in various kinds of behavior, acting coquettishly or shamelessly, like someone afflicted with a disease. In short, know fully well that due to the functions of the channels, winds, and elements, these bodily pains will not be the same for everyone, so there is no one criterion for recognizing them.
As for your speech, you may find yourself singing various songs and melodies, babbling, speaking offensively, having your behavior not conform to your speech, not living in accord with your words and acting contrary to them, and speaking uncontrollably as if your words were uttered by an insane person. Such speech is nonsensical and random, So recognize this!
Like the noises made by a madman, your mind may ramble aimlessly, without being able to remedy or alter it in any way. Due to the disorders in your heart and life force channel, at times you may weep, groan, sigh, exhale forcefully, or constantly want to be on the move, without being able to remain in one place. Your environment may seem so miserable that you do not want to stay where you are, and you may constantly experience a wide range of confused emotions. So recognize this! You may have various sorts of visions of gods and demons or random sensations of hunger, thirst, heat, cold, and so on. These are the outer signs of the appearances of the clear light. "
"Thus, when you are engaging in practice, whether an unprecedented, soothing sense of bliss arises, or a pristine sense of clarity , or a nebulous nonconceptuality, if you take this to be genuine meditation and cling to it as the fulfillment of your hopes, or if you regard those as areas of danger and block them, or if you alter them with you mind, such practice entailing hopes and fears will lead you astray. In contrast, once you have recognized the nature of existence of meditative experiences, by letting them be in their own state, without attachment, craving, rejection, or affirmation, they will vanish altogether, like mist disappearing into the sky, and the primordial wisdom of awareness will become manifest.
You may perceive various disagreeable forms of gods and demons, different kinds of pleasant and unpleasant sounds, various foul odors, disagreeable tastes, various kinds of tactile sensation:;, and you may have nightmares and wake up at times in a panic. Those experiences may bring forth different types of distress in your heart and mind. Due to your diet, environment, or trauma, illnesses may arise, and merely as a result of coming into contact with soil, rocks, wood, or weapons, you may come down with afflictions difficult to heal. Various bad omens, such as sores, leprosy, or ulcers, may occur as apparitions created by gods or demons, which arise from external sources. Any of the four hundred and four classes of illnesses of wind, bile, phlegm and combinations of them may arise, and--as if the entire might and strength of your mind had seeped away into them--inexpressible suffering may occur .Those are called physical illnesses, which arise from within.
With respect to objects of the mind, you may experience happiness, attachment, hatred, craving, unbearable suffering, delight, clinging to the experience of emptiness and luminosity, a sense of sheer vacuity in which appearances and the mind cease, paranoia that everything you see or feel is out to harm you, or the pride of thinking, 'There is no contemplative on earth who has a view and meditation like mine.' Under the influence of anger and malice, you may disturb the minds of others, and afterwards feel remorse. You may feel that everything you have done is wonderful, and consequently feel free to do whatever you like. Such indeterminate experiences of joy and sorrow are called joys and sorrows due to the mysterious impulses in the mind. Know that all such sensations are deceptive experiences that occur as signs along the path; and, without attachment, craving, rejection, affirmation, hope, fear, or modification, leave them as they are. By so doing, they will release themselves. Hold this knowledge to be of the highest importance.
If your meditative experience leads to illness and you compound this by interpreting this as being due to demonic influence, no matter how much you devote yourself to magic rituals for dispelling obstacles, or to medical treatment, that will only harm you, without bringing any benefit. However much you try, you will not get even the slightest bit of benefit. Eventually, if the sentry of identifying the meditative experience is lost, you will go insane, pass out, faint, or become as ignorant as an animal, or this might lead to your own death. In the past there have been many faithful students who kept their pledges and vows, and there have always been spiritual mentors who became siddhas, so they knew the various dispositions and faculties of specific students; and they led them to the state of the Jina Vajradhara in one lifetime and with one body. Even when they are not led astray by anyone, nowadays students invariably fail to keep their pledges, they have little faith or reverence, and they are barbaric and prone to false views. Blind teachers hanker after meditative experiences and give teachings and make their students meditate so that they objectify and cling onto views and meditation. Consequently, instead of identifying the occurrences of mere pleasure and pain and comfort and distress as meditative experiences, due to their ignorance of the differences between experiences that arise from external and internal sources, they say they are due to demonic influences, thus misleading their own students. “
It was a little shocking to read all this, especially when I discovered a lot of my friends symptoms.
I wish to help my friend to understand what happened with him (because even now, after all this time, he suffers immensely, and he is still terrorized by the thought that his psychosis could return anytime), so I ask for your help. It is really possible that was indeed affected by a lung disorder?