Review by Charles Demm, 2002
Krishna, Gopi. The Biological Basis of Religion and Genius. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.
This work will not appear on any reading list for a current course studying the origins or sources of religious experience, except as a possible brief period piece from a bygone era. Any one who stumbles across this book and is intrigued by the title will certainly see why Biological Basis would fail to make the grade. It is the 22nd volume in the ‘Religious Perspective’ series aiming to rediscover human beings who are threatened by the modern world they have created. In this quest it is hoped that the ‘rediscovery of man’ will point towards a rediscovery of God. The series is guided by the claim that from out of the depths of creation God will be unearthed. “Man becomes man by recognizing his true nature as a creature capable of will and decision. For then the divine and the sacred become manifest.” (p.xv).
Krishna begins with history of religion from the earliest humans through the modern era in an overly simplified manner. After this hasty survey is complete Krishna finds historical religions guilty of tremendous evil: sectarianism, intolerance, religious hatred and warfare. Because of this dark history institutional religion is found to be lacking the necessary tools to overcome the pressing issues of the day such as, for example, the threat of nuclear holocaust. The world’s inherited religions are not capable of connecting our present world with a more evolved and peaceful future existence.
The founders of many of these religions, however, did have the necessary gifts, Krishna claims. Historical figures like Jesus of Nazareth and the Buddha are thought of as possessing a more advanced biological structure allowing them to glimpse a future world that will one day be inhabited with more highly evolved creatures who will usher in a peaceful existence. That others have not chosen to follow the teachings of these figures is blamed on their less highly evolved natures.
Krishna believes that these figures were religious adepts due to their ability to tap into a higher power which the author claims resides in the spinal cord. In Yogic literature finding this tap root brings an experience of ‘Kundalini’. This awakening occurs, Krishna claims, in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems which the adept learns how to channel and control. Kundalini, however, is a potentially dangerous ‘substance’. Mental illness, the author reckons, is produced by practitioners who have not yet completely learned how to control this energy.
The docile, peaceful tone of the book is upset, however, when the subject of entheogens is mentioned. The author is adamant in his conviction that drugs cannot induce a similar experience of Kundalini. A lengthy introduction includes a description of the arduous seventeen year process that preceded Krishna’s own awakening. So, it’s not surprising that he bristles at the thought that the right drug, set and setting can cause a similar experience.
This reviewer is skeptical that The Biological Basis of Religion will be taken seriously by a contemporary audience, but a few gems can still be gleaned from its pages. It offers a chance to experience the anger and vitriol directed at the growing drug culture by some religious figures during the height of the counter cultural movement. Maybe more importantly, it serves as a cautionary tale to current attempts to ‘find’ the headwaters, so to speak, of religious experience. Some researchers have concluded that it is all in the brain. Others think an experience of God can be induced though the ingestion of a pill. But how will their ‘facts’ look to an audience thirty years from now?