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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 vocalizationschanting, 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 10027.

Comparative Psychophysiological Study of Living Adepts Project (COMPSLA)

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