Elizabeth Hillstrom points out in her book Testing the Spirits that instead of being glimpses of the impermanent nature of things, the experiences that accompany Buddhist contemplation on the mental states can be explained as misperceptions of the surrounding reality due to imposing on the senses and mind an abnormal way of functioning:
Here the author states her purpose. She is reinterpreting the experience of others so that they fit her own preconceptions of what reality is.
As meditators passively watch their own mental states come and go without trying to control them, these begin to fluctuate more and more rapidly and unpredictably. After a while this chaotic activity creates the strong impression that the mental events are springing into life on their own, from some separate source, rather than the observer's own mind.
Im not sure where she gets this idea. My understanding is that the Buddha taught us to cultivate an understanding of our minds and how its process unfolds. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.010.than.html
Furthermore, the monk remains focused on mental qualities in & of themselves with reference to the five clinging-aggregates. And how does he remain focused on mental qualities in & of themselves with reference to the five clinging-aggregates? There is the case where a monk [discerns]: 'Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance. Such is feeling... Such is perception... Such are fabrications... Such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.'
As meditators persist with this practice, they also notice that there is a definite separation between the mental events being observed and the mind that is doing the observing.
Again, I do not know where or from whom she gets this so called "experience". This is certainly not anything Ive experienced. Nor is it anything which I have heard from more experienced Buddhist mediators than myself. If anything its the opposite. One begins to notice that there is no "definite separation" between mental events and the mind doing the observing.
As meditation progresses still further, both the mental events and the observing mind begin to seem alien and impersonal, as if they do not really belong to the observer.
Observer? She obviously does not meditate in a way that "progresses still further". There is nothing "alien and impersonal" about meditative absorption where the sense of observer verses observed becomes a non operative notion.
At about this point the meditator's sense of "self" becomes confused and weakened, and finally it disappears entirely for brief periods of time. This experience of dissolution strongly reinforces the Buddhist notion that there actually is no such thing as an "I" or "myself" - that such concepts are actually false constructions of the mind.
Perhaps, but not as a result of the kind of experience she has been describing above. Not in my opinion anyway.
At still deeper levels, meditators eventually reach a stage in which their awareness of events and the events themselves seem inextricably bound together and the whole scene churns in a wild state of flux. Ideas, images and thoughts seem to appear and then dissolve into nothingness with great rapidity.
There would be a precise discernment of cause and effect. Not some kind of random flux. This is all hyperbolic propaganda.
At this point every aspect of mental life (and the physical world itself) seems impermanent, transitory and alien, and disturbed meditators desperately want it all to stop. Relief finally comes when meditators break through Nirvana, a state in which all awareness of physical and mental phenomena ceases, at least for a short time. Reaching this stage ostensibly produces permanent changes in consciousness. Inner processes are set in motion which fill the meditator with equanimity and bliss. These presumably destroy defiling mental states like self-interest, ambition, greed and hatred, and ensure advanced placement in the next life.
Nivanna is the actual ending of "states like self-interest, ambition, greed and hatred". It is not "a state in which all awareness of physical and mental phenomena ceases".
When interpreted through Eastern lenses, these experiences strongly reinforce the Buddhist belief that the physical universe, our concepts of self and even our inner mental life are only illusions. (Elizabeth Hillstrom, Testing the Spirits, IVP, 1995, p. 114-15)
I dont know what "Eastern lenses" means. I dont like the sound of it though. The Buddha certainly did not teach the reduction of everything to an "illusion".
This bit of writing certainly does what the author intended. She has reinterpreted the experience of others to fit her own preconceptions of what reality is.
Now the question is;
"Does our experience and understanding fit with her reinterpretation?". If not then we need not take her critique seriously.
Also, What is her conception of reality and do we find it helpful?