Jes Bertelsen studied History of Ideas ("Idehistorie") at Aarhus University, Denmark with founder of this interdisciplinary study, Danish philosopher Professor Johannes Sløk. Jes Bertelsen was employed and lectured at Aarhus University from 1970 to 1982. Jes Bertelsen has written 20 books beginning with the 1972 gold medal award winning MA thesis “Kategori og afgørelse, strukturer i Kirkegaards tænkning”. His most recent book is from 2008, "Bevidsthedens flydende lys - Betragtninger over begrebet apperception hos Immanuel Kant og Longchenpa". His doctoral dissertation was entitled: ”Ouroboros – en undersøgelse af selvets strukturer”, 1974. In the later part of his authorship he more or less departs from the academic tradition and focuses on psychology, self-development and philosophy of consciousness seen in relationship to meditative instructions. From around 2006 he has also been involved in scientific inquiry into the neurological results of meditative practice. In 2009 he was co-author of an article published in the scientific journal Neuroreport: "Long-term meditation is associated with increased gray matter density in the brain stem".
From 1978 to the early 1980s Jes Bertelsen was in an ongoing training with the Irish healer Bob Moore, whose understanding of the human energy system had roots in the theosophical tradition. In Jes Bertelsen’s early work this influence is seen in his focus on the connections between ordinary consciousness, the chakra system, non-physical energy systems, symbols from dream states, states of expanded consciousness and clairvoyance. Among Jes Bertelsen’s sources of inspiration are also the descriptions of the Christ in the Gospel of Thomas, and the Heart prayer of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The Eastern Tantric traditions have been a source of inspiration in his work on the relationship between vital energy, sexuality, love and spirituality.
In 1989 Jes Bertelsen met the Tibetan Lama Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, who authorized Jes Bertelsen to teach Dzogchen, the pointing out instruction, Tregchöd and thödgal; and to do so using his own judgment as to the most appropriate way to assimilate these teachings into Western culture. This influence is clearly seen in subsequent books as well as in Jes Bertelsen’s teachings, which over time increasingly has focused on meditative training.
Jes Bertelsen maintains that it is possible to train the mind, and he sees meditative practice as a gradual progression towards both quieting the mind and allowing greater empathic openness and heartfelt presence. Like many other voices in the international dialogue about consciousness, spirituality and religion he thinks it is possible to free the universal elements of spiritual practice from traditional religious contexts and make them available for general use. For this purpose he has created simple and generally applicable teaching tools that teachers can use with school children.
In several of his books, Jes Bertelsen describes the unique possibilities and challenges inherent in the secularized Scandinavian societies for developing an experientially based spirituality. He emphasizes a distinction between an inherent spirituality shared by everyone, and the individual option of actively training and developing what he refers to as spiritual intelligence. In his view such an effort is to be based on "democratic understanding, openness toward the Christian cultural values, equality between men and women and a scientific approach".
The Danish religious sociologist Helle Hinge has characterized Jes Bertelsen as an example of the New Age movement. In the Danish encyclopedia, Den Store Danske Encyklopædi, religious historian Mikael Rothstein describes Jes Bertelsen as being "the center of an actual religious formation", and erroneously describes Jes Bertelsen as a "depth psychologist". However, Jes Bertelsen emphatically refutes both the New Age and religious labels. About the New Age worldview he has said that it contains numerous sensible elements, but that it can also be superficial and characterized by promises of quick solutions.
The late leader of the Christian apologetic Danish organization Dialogcenteret, dr. theol. Johannes Aagaard, has criticized Jes Bertelsen for mixing Christian and Eastern traditions, and has classified him as "one of the most influential writers and ideologists among the new religious groupings in Denmark" and later as "gnostic". A similarly Christian faith-based criticism has been put forth since 2006 by Annette Leleur and Frank Robert Pedersen, both connected to Vækstcenteret until the early 1990s. Since 2007 they have publicized their criticisms in Danish under the name Infogruppen. In their view Jes Bertelsen represents a form of elitist thinking which they find irreconcilable with the foundational principles of democracy. They find it particularly reprehensible that Jes Bertelsen in later years has focused on developing teaching tools for awareness training and spirituality in the public school system, since they find that a person with Jes Bertelsen’s background is unable to do so impartially.
As is the case with other charismatic individuals, opinions about Jes Bertelsen span from uncritical enthusiasm to deeply critical attitudes. From a position between these extremes he is regarded as a Danish pioneer in rediscovering a spiritual view of life in modern times.