Robert K.C. Forman, a critic of the constructionist approach to mystical experience, was professor of religion, author of several studies on religious experience, and co-editor of the Journal of Consciousness Studies.
Robert Forman has worked as professor of religion at City University of New York, both Hunter College and City College, and is Founding Executive Director of The Forge Institute for Spirituality and Social Change. His books include The Problems of Pure Consciousness, The Innate Capacity and "Enlightenment Ain't What It's Cracked Up to Be".
As well as editing a number of books on the topic of consciousness and mysticism, Forman has worked as co-editor of the Journal of Consciousness Studies. He has also collaborated with Ken Wilber on work (Forman, Wilber & Andresen, 2000).
Forman argues that there is such a thing as Pure Consciousness Event, a feature common to all mystical experience. This distinguishes his work on mystical experience from that of constructivists such as Hjalmar Sundén. Forman describes his position as "perennial psychology" (a term which appears to originate with Ken Wilber), but he is keen to point out that this is not the same as perennial philosophy. His arguments to defend his view that there is a common feature found in all mystical experiences include that mystical experiences involve a sense of stripping away of learnt concepts, and that one can have an experience and only later learn about it.
Forman can be understood, along with Walter Terence Stace, as a defender of the perennialist position on mystical experience, the view that there is indeed a core experience common to mystics of all creeds, cultures and generations. This position can be contrasted with the constructivists, who believe that mystical experience takes very different forms in different contexts, such as Steven T. Katz, Hjalmar Sundén or Wayne Proudfoot. For Forman, one core feature common to most traditions of mysticism is something that he terms the "Pure Consciousness Event"—a state of neither knowing-how nor knowing that, but simply of knowing. Forman is influenced by the doctrine of intentionality insofar as he claims that, during a Pure Consciousness Event, cognition may lack an intentional object.
The Innate Capacity
In The Innate Capacity, he gives the example of a man who had the Buddhist experience of satori, although not himself a Buddhist at the time, and only later learnt about satori. Indeed, even if one did learn about an experience and later learn about it, in Forman's view this does not prove that the learning causes the experience; to think in this way would, in Forman's view, be to commit the logical error of post hoc ergo propter hoc.
Enlightenment Ain't What It's Cracked Up to Be
Enlightenment Ain't What It's Cracked Up to Be, Forman's most popular book, is his most personal book. Using his own experience as a touchstone, the volume is an exploration into the experiential nuances of and nature of spiritual enlightenment. Forman describes both the illusions that many gurus have communicated about it, and the nature of the disillusionment process. Tapping his own 40 years of experience of such a permanent shift, Forman describes the long term value of enlightenment as he came to view it: the honesty and authenticity that it serves to encourage. The book teaches however mostly through its tone of honesty and authentic seeking, offering a teaching through the quality of writing and openness.
Books by Forman
- Forman, R.K.C. (2011). Enlightenment Ain't What It's Cracked Up To Be. John Hunt, UK. O-Books.
- Forman, R.K.C. (2004). Grassroots Spirituality: What It Is, Why It Is Here, Where It Is Going. Exeter and Charlottesville: Imprint Academic.
- Forman, R.K.C., Wilber, K. & Andresen, J. (2000). Cognitive Models and Spi Maps: Interdisciplinary Explorations of Religious Experience. Journal of Consciousness Studies. Imprint Academic.
- Forman, R.K.C. (ed.). (1998). The Innate Capacity: Mysticism, Philosophy and Psychology. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Forman, R.K.C. (1997). Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness. New York: State University of New York Press
- Forman, R.K.C. (1994). (ed.) Meister Eckhart: Mystic as Theologian: An Experiment in Methodology. Rockport, MASSACHUSETTS: Houghton Mifflin. (Published by Element in 1991).
- Forman, R.K.C. (ed.) (1990). The Problem of Pure Consciousness: Mysticism and Philosophy. Oxford University Press.
Articles by Forman
Forman, R.K.C. (1998). What does mysticism have to teach us about consciousness? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 5 (2) 185–201
- Robert K. C. Forman Homepage
- The Forge Institute (directed by Forman)
- Buddha at the Gas Pump, Interview with Robert Forman
- Marion Institute, Words of Truth: an interview with Robert K.C. Forman
- Promotional website of Enlightement Ain't...
- Robert Forman (1996), WHAT DOES MYSTICISM HAVE TO TEACH US ABOUT CONSCIOUSNESS?