Comparative Psychophysiological Study of
Living Adepts Project (COMPSLA)
COMPSLA was initiated in 1989 to provide comprehensive,
comparative, systematic, and focused study of the psychophysiological
abilities of adepts worldwide (including Hindu yogis,
Moslem fakirs, Tibetan Buddhist lamas, Taoist and Zen masters,
shamans, and others) by an interdisciplinary team of anthropologists,
medical researchers, and religious studies specialists.
Such claimed abilities included thrusting unsterilized
knives and spears through the flesh without experiencing pain,
bleeding, or infection; drinking or immersing parts of the body
in boiling water without pain or tissue damage; drinking poison
or receiving bites from poisonous creatures such as snakes and
scorpions without the expected morbid effects; chewing and
swallowing glass without the expected pain and tissue damage;
handling fire without being burned; radically modulating body
or skin temperature; all methods of controlling pain, immune
function, and metabolism; and unusual longevity.
The group undertook the first-ever study of Ethiopian
Christian Orthodox ascetics, who possessed the last remaining
substantial tradition of Christian hermetic asceticism. The tradition
was retained by many Ethiopians living in mountain
caves, deserts, and forests who practice rigorous seclusion, fasting,
celibacy, vigils, mortification, continual prayer and meditation,
and yogalike practices involving breath control. This
tradition appeared to have changed very little since the movement
of the desert Christian fathers from Egypt and Syria into
Ethiopia in the third through the fifth centuries C.E.
The study concluded that many of the practices involve either
sensory deprivation or sensory overload, attention to physical
sensation, self-induced pain, and automotor manipulations
such as closed eyes and eye-rolling. Appetitive drives were altered
through fasting, dietary restrictions, sexual continence,
and sleep deprivation. Researchers observed the ascetics using
breath and posture control, dancing (similar to that of whirling
dervishes), and other kinds of ritualized movements, as well as
various vocalizations—chanting, singing, and reciting poetry
or mantras. The ascetics also practiced visualization and various
forms of meditation and prayer. Musical instruments and
drugs were employed to bring about altered states of consciousness,
influencing both mind and body.
COMPSLA’s last known address was through the Department
of Anthropology, Columbia University, New York, NY

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