On the issue of drugs and spirituality
By Peter Holleran
Can psychotropic drugs be used to 'expand the mind,' or 'expand consciousness', and are they a shortcut to awakening (circumventing years of difficult practice of yoga, meditation, or even inquiry) as some of their proponents have claimed? Are psychedelic agents the fabled "soma" of the Gods? Can one take a trip to the center of the mind
? In this article we will not assume a puritanical stance, but try to offer a balanced and informative view of these issues. If the beginning is a little difficult, please have patience, that will ease as one continues. Frequent musical interludes from the 1960's are also promised to lighten if not enlighten ones journey. We do not deny the desire to have a little fun with this topic as we go along.
The first step at hand seems to be to define the terms used.
“Truth is the first thing which should be defined in any serious book or by every serious seeker. Without such prior enquiry, it is useless to describe experience, whatever kind it be.”
- V.S. Iyer (Commentaries
, edited by Mark Scorelle, 1999)
What, then, is consciousness itself? It is generally said to be that which is aware of everything else, which means all experience. Can it be expanded? Not itself, it is always what it is, but one can get temporary access to different dimensions of experience, sometimes called levels of consciousness, through various means. However, the value in such glimpses lies in their being doorways to a new perspective of wisdom and insight, and also being under ones conscious control and not dependent on an outside source to generate them. Ultimately the goal is to awaken the Real Person, and not to just have
experiences within the dream of illusory life. What then is Mind? In its highest sense and as used by Buddhism it is the same as Consciousness, or Atman; when identified with waking intellect only, it may sometimes be referred to as manas
. Is Mind in either sense limited to the brain? No, and further, Mind in the sense of consciousness is infinite, unlimited and unlocalizable. Can it be obscured? This is a debatable point, but we can be safe for present purposes in saying that such obscurity is only apparent; consciousness, which is always present, in its reflection in our waking experience can
appear to become more or less cloudy: sattvic
(restless), or tamasic
(dull). In addition, the higher faculty of mind, that which distinguishes the real from the unreal, truth from falsehood, called Buddhi (Reason), can become more or less purified. This task is a primary one of the spiritual quest.
Consciousness, or awareness, itself, is equally and eternally present in the addict in the gutter as well as the older seeker with Alzheimer's, but relatively obscured due to various causes. Drugs, then, can
, due to their affect upon the brain - the medium through which conscousness or mind expresses itself while one appears in the body - have their apparent negative and positive effects. Obviously, heroin and opiates - as well as alcohol - lower it. The question is, can LSD or Ayahuasca, etc., raise it? Again, that depends on how one uses the term consciousness, i.e., if consciousness is considered to be something that can be raised or lowered, as yogis or mystics often claim, or whether it is always what it is. Whether altering it through drugs is good or bad is a second question.
For example, many meditation teachers give a blanket affirmation that drugs are bad and only lower consciousness. If this consciousness is determined solely by the depth of the ability to concentrate (i.e., at the third eye, and ascending to the crown of the head), then a drug that temporarily takes one into the depths of the unconscious, with the purpose of making the “unconscious conscious,” and removing blocks from one’s past, may mistakenly be grouped with other substances, such as narcotics, that really do produce an unconscious stupor. Whereas what one may really be talking about, in the case with drugs such as ibogaine
, for instance, is their use as therapeutic agents to do a task the goal of which is to deepen ones limbic and cognitive connections and thereby actually enhance ones consciousness, in a whole bodily integrated sense, even if it is not “increased” in a strictly yogic one. Knowing what one is feeling, that is, having a body wisdom where ones head and heart are in sync, where one can tell if one is feeling from the position of neurosis or disconnection, or if his heart is truly open, is certainly another definition of “consciousness” than the yogic model, which inclines towards “superconsciousness.” Whereas in truth there is only consciousness, no more, no less. Therefore, once again, the definition of terms is necessary to discuss these issues usefully. One may indeed need a temporary “descent” into the depths in order to “rise” higher later on.
In the case of psychedelics, such as LSD, other considerations apply. While we still will argue that they do not “expand" the mind or consciousness (which is not an experience, but that which is aware of experience), they have affects that may seem to do so, in the sense that they can temporarily reduce ones identification with certain limited assumptions, such as body-identification, and may also give a flash, a glimpse that the world is an idea, which is a step towards the advaitic realization that all is Mind. The problem is that they may also definitely NOT “purify Buddhi,” or the ability to discern truth from falsehood, especially when their immediate effects wear off. The ability to concentrate effectively may be lessened - it is unlikely that they can increase ones ability to deeply concentrate, as in reaching samadhi or penetrating the third eye and going to higher planes voluntarily - and the ability to make feeling connections may also be either enhanced or decreased, depending on many unpredictable personal, individual factors, including the biological condition of ones brain. Hence there are risks involved.
Aside from the threat of psychosis and possible genetic damage (although there has been no definitive proof of the latter), psychedelic drug use has had two main drawbacks from a spiritual and psychological point of view. The first is that the subconscious memories and feelings are often released haphazardly and cannot therefore be resolved and integrated in a systematic fashion, which is necessary for real growth to occur. The biological history of the nervous system must be respected; it yields its secrets in the reverse order in which they were hidden from view. This is axiomatic Primal theory, according to Arthur Janov. To storm the citadel of the subconscious and the unconscious with drugs may leave one awash in birth feelings, for instance, but when the feelings get randomly released (that is, released out of context) and pass through the cortex, they may be conceptualized (hallucinated) as "cosmic" or "spiritual" experiences and thus not understood and made one's own. Rather than granting a uniformly clear spiritual state such drugs can leave one reeling in their aftermath - especially given the state of the world today - with a ball of confusion
. And this leads into the second liability of the drug trip, namely, that it is not lasting nor is it truly one's 'own' experience, but, rather, a borrowed one, not to become wisdom or self-understanding, with an alteration of the character, and a permanent freeing of energy and attention from the subconscious and unconscious locks in the body-mind.
My personal experience back in “the old days”, was that LSD , while producing a sense of de-personalization, and a heightened sensory awareness, was largely cerebral, and did not help make deeper feeling connections, that is, become more feeling, which required a descent into the body, not a mystical flight to the head. It did not, therefore, help integrate body, mind, and heart awareness into a better whole, a more integral consciousness, if you will. Other people’s experiences may certainly differ, and much also depends on the level of dose consumed. I have never done the “tropical” drugs of choice mentioned above, i.e., ibogaine or ayahuasca - or peyote - so can not speak about their effects; we will revisit them later on. They may have even more therapeutic promise than LSD.
Researcher Stanislov Grof, on the other hand, did over 5000 sessions of LSD-therapy in the 1960's and 1970's, and found consistent results in a majority of cases, in a controlled environment. His book When the Impossible Happens
, documents fifty years of research in non-ordinary consciousness working with thousands of people both on LSD, as well as with Holotropic Breathwork. The part I like the most was the last chapter, where he talked about people regressing on LSD and having the most astonishing experiences, involving
things that were buried deep in their subconscious. NDE's (Near-Death experiences) and peri-natal experiences were also induced through the use of LSD and Holotropic Breathwork, that had significant effects on the participants, in terms of loss of fear of death, a spiritual reorientation to life, and resolution or improvement of pain and neurosis. See The Psychology of Mysticism Index
for reviews of his work and that of others in this area. Also please read the excellent paper by Christopher Basche, entitled Mysticism and Psychedelics: The Case of the Dark Night
, in which the author argues for a fresh look at the use of psychedelics as therapeutic agents. ["ABSTRACT: This study uses a model of consciousness derived from LSD-assisted psychotherapy to illumine an enigmatic set of painful experiences that occur on the mystic's path known in Western circles as the "dark night." It argues that the dark night experiences described in John of the Cross's classic work Dark Night of the Soul can be conceptualized in terms of Stanislav Grof's category of "perinatal experience." The discussion examines the implications of this reconceptualization in three areas: (1) our understanding and evaluation of mysticism, (2) assessing LSD's potential for fostering genuine spirituality, and (3) reassessing the ancient claim that the capacity to experience transcendental states of being is innate."
First, before proceeding further, some warnings and points of consideration from spiritual texts and teachers. It is a fact that yogis in India have used drugs for spiritual purposes. The Mahanirbana Tantra (1) explains that such yogis ingest drugs and then engage the use of a mantra and exercise the discriminative faculty to eliminate thought-forms when entering a subconcious state. They consciously infuse the subconscious, as it were, with spiritual thought.' Forgetting the immense semantic problems with the author’s use of language, this is quite a difference from the casual recreational use to which drugs are put in today's popular culture. Even for the' yogis, however, there are dangers. The nervous system becomes weakened, the nerves are benumbed, and, since the drugs used stimulate the life force, the yogi does not know when his own life force is spent, and his prana becomes exhausted. Furthermore, the individual's will power is decreased since he relies on an external agent instead of the power of self-transcendence.
Patanjali lists drugs as one of the means for producing Siddhis, or psychic powers:
"The Siddhis are the result of birth, drugs, Mantras, austerities or Samadhi."
I. K. Taimni in The Science of Yoga
points out, however, that the psychic powers developed by the use of various drugs are of a low grade - a lower order of clairvoyance, for example - and are of little consequence for success on the path of yoga. Swami Satyananada Saraswati, moreover, in Tantra of Kundalini Yoga
, argues that the word Patanjali used, ”Aushadi"
, should not be translated as "drugs', but, rather, as "herbs", which in any case should be only used under the guidance of a master of that practice:
"In Sanskrit, the word is aushadhi but it should not mean drugs. Through herbs either the partial or the fuller awakening can be brought about. Either the awakening of IDA or PINGALA or a awakening of SUSHUMNA which means the entire, total awakening can be brought about. That is known as AUSHADHI but it is also said that the herbs which should be used to awaken this potentiality, or this life in man should be understood or should be
got only through the GURU, not without a GURU. Because there are certain herbs herbs that awaken IDA and there are others that can awaken PINGALA only; and there are those that can even suppress both of these two so that you can go to the mental asylum very quickly! So the question of AUSHADHI or the herbal awakening is a very risky, quick but unreliable method. It should only be got from one who is a very reliable person and who knows the science very well."
Swami Satyananda further explains that while it is relatively easy to open the chakras or produce kundalini experiences through drugs or other methods (including the grace of a guru), it is not so easy for the aspirant to sustain and control the experiences; for that, years of preparation are generally required:
"With a weak mind which can not sustain a little bit of cheerfulness, a little bit of excitement, which can not sustain the death of a man or the separation of husband and wife, how can it sustain that terrible force of the flow of SHAKTI?"
The body-mind must adapt to the spiritual force over time by freeing itself from all the reactivity and contracted development it has acquired during a lifetime, perhaps many lifetimes.. There are true developmental stages, not merely experiences which one can have, and one must grow into and through them.
Dr. John Mumford warns the Western student of attempting to mimic the drug use of the qualified Tantric practitioner:
"Indiscriminate use of conscious-expanding drugs without prior mental training and the absolute physical discipline imparted by years of Hatha and Raja Kriya is equivalent to dynamiting open the door to a treasure vault (the unconscious mind) and discovering the blast has destroyed half the treasure plus irreparably damaging the door so that it cannot easily be shut at will.
The karmic basis of life is that a price is exacted for everything, including illumination. The Yogi or Tantrist pays his karma through his years of practice and discipline well before ever opening the mind with a psychedelic drug.....Most Westerners dropping "acid" or other such substances risk paying a karmic debt after the experience with depression, inability to cope, de-realization, depersonalization, psychological malaise, and in some cases precipitation of latent schizophrenia or recurrent psychotic episodes."
Sant Kirpal Singh remarked that the use of such drugs was "a mockery of the divine grace". Sant Rajinder Singh affirms the view that drugs lower one’s consciousness. Most importantly, truth or realization is not just an acquirable experience, but "a turnabout in the deep seat of understanding AND the incomparable transformation-death of the Bodhisattva's individualized will control" (6), and this must be paid for with the sacrifice and submission of one's whole being, whether or not one ingests a particular herb or other substance on any occasion. Roshi Philip Kapleau remarked:
"the spiritual heights can no more be scaled by smoking pot and dropping acid than a mountain can be climbed by looking at a map of it while reclining in an easy chair drinking beer. It is the climbing that brings joy and strength - joy in the release from the bondage of self and mountain, top and bottom; strength to LIVE in this realization."
Practitioner Ray Jordan, after experiencing a first kensho, or awakening in Zen, concluded:
"I am convinced that some events which have sometimes occured in conjunction with the use of psychedelics may be similar to kensho experiences as experiences. What is essential in kensho, however, is not the experiential events but the Reality."
D. T. Suzuki similarly explains that what is important is not the experience, but rather, the transformation of the experiencer:
"Deep in the inner recesses of religion is the true man. To be fully human means to become the true man. However much one may see before him, externally and objectively, a god-like world of wonder, and 'expanding his mind' induce a state of holy trance, such phenomena are all spurious and imaginary. They have nothing whatever to do with religion. This is because the true man is not present. It is not a question of what is seen or how it is being seen, but of the true man who is doing the seeing. Only when one becomes this man himself does one enter the realm of religion."
Ramana Maharshi spoke about the use of drugs by those practising yoga:
"I do admit that drugs have some beneficial effect. A certain drug can make the whole body melt and flow like a milky ocean. One man told me that when he was given chloroform before an operation he experienced a nectarous bliss and longed for that state again. The Chinese look like skeletons, but when they take opium, they feel like giants and do any amount of difficult work. These drugs, however, must be taken in limited amounts and secretly. Otherwise all will demand them. Moreover, after some time, the drug habit will become a great fetter and obstacle to jnana. Its addicts will not flinch from any crime to satisfy their cravings. So, it is best to remain desireless. Having seen the effects of all these drugs, I have decided that to be as we are is best. To strive for knowing one's real nature through self-enquiry, though it is a little difficult, is the only safe path."
Eckhart Tolle states:
"When you drink alcohol or take certain drugs (provided they don't trigger your pain-body), you may feel more relaxed, more carefree, and perhaps more alive for a while. You may start singing and dancing, which since ancient times are expressions of the joy of life. Because you are less burdened by your mind, you can glimpse the joy of being. Perhaps this is the reason alcohol is also called "spirit”. But there is a high price to pay: unconsciousness. Instead of rising above thought, you have fallen below it. A few more drinks, and you will have regressed to the vegetable realm."
"Space consciousness has little to do with being "spaced out." Both states are beyond thought. This they have in common. The fundamental difference, however, is that in the former, you rise above thought; in the latter, you fall below it. One is the next step in the evolution of human consciousness, the other a regression to a stage we left behind eons ago."
Paul Brunton (PB) expressed the same view:
“The drug way of coming this consciousness belongs originally to a distant era, when spiritism, of which ancestor worship was then also a part, was the most widespread religion on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. For primitive people, descendants of Lemurian and later Atlantean races, it was as far as they could develop at the time. A minority of the higher teachings followed, drew beyond the herd and prepared the way for higher teachings yet to come. The astral, or psychic, centres were sufficiently alive to need only a little prompting by the tribal leaders or priests - usually a group affair at certain festivals. It was then that their drugs obtained from nature were used or, in the case of followers of the darker side, misused, even abused, resulting in sorcery, sex, orgies, and black magic. In the more moral use of drugs, although the higher kinds of religious and mystical experience were not attained, the idea of survival was firmly implanted, along with respect for traditional codes, teachings, and ways. The development of intellect dimmed the astral centres. The use of drugs is an attempt to revive what is no longer proper for modern man.”
PB further writes:
“Young persons are easily deceived by the sham uplift which drugs may confer. It is an astral plane experience, not a Buddhic plane one, as it seems to be.”
“What the drug taker gets is imagined reality, not real reality. Consciousness assumes the experience of knowing Truth, gives him the most vivid idea that this is IT. The end-effect is not to bring him nearer to the goal, as he wrongly believes, but farther from it. Such are the tricks that mind can play on self.”
“The drug experience, however exalted it is, never really gets beyond being an astral plane copy, a pseudo-contact with a pseudo-god. It is illegitimate for modern man to break Nature’s safety barrier in this way. He may pay a penalty withhealth, sanity, or self-deception.”
“The glimpse brings him to himself, but no drug can do that. The drug brings him before a vivid mental picture which he lives; it is still only a picture - sometimes horrible like a nightmare, sometimes sublime like a mystical ecstasy. But never in these experiences does he enter his true self. Always he is looking at and living with a picture.”
In a call for the power of satsang as an antidote for 'experience', Sri Nisargadatta said:
"The very desire to be ready means that the Guru has come and the flame is lighted. It may be a stray word, or a page in a book; the Guru's grace works mysteriously..It is not the person who is doing sadhana. The person is in unrest and resistance to the very end. It is the witness that works on the person, on the totality of its illusions, past, present, and future..The proof of the truth lies in its effect on the listener..The effect need not necessarily be an experience. It can be a change in character, in motivation, in relationship to people and one's self. Trances and visions induced by words, or drugs, or any other sensory or mental means are temporary and inconclusive. The truth of what is said here is immovable and everlasting. And the proof of it is in the listener, in the deep and permanent changes in his entire being. It is not something he can doubt, unless he doubts his own existence, which is unthinkable."
Many a soul has
doubted his own existence while on LSD! Perhaps a few have had intimations of the ineffable as well. This writer remembers a decidedly unphilosophically inclined friend of his at Cornell who sat for hours on acid repeating, "It's all the same, IT'S all the same, it's ALL the same, it's all the SAME, it's all the same, IT'S ALL THE SAME!......" But the next morning it wasn't, nor was he.
Ones sense of time and space are sometimes also temporarily altered, no doubt, although one could hardly call it realization of the timeless Absolute. Another friend was stopped late at night on a freeway outside Ithaca by the highway patrol. When asked how fast he thought he was going, he answered, "I don't know, officer, about 70?" After a few minutes of stoned silence the officer responded, "I clocked you at nine miles per hour!" By God's grace no ticket was issued.
In The Web of Life
John Davidson makes the following statement regarding the effects of various mind-altering drugs:
"In general terms, brain drugs such as LSD and L-dopa can move the center of attention into the more subtle physical realms by biochemically ligaturing part of the physical brain pathways, thereby forcing attention to focus on the more inward subtle constitution."
This, no doubt, sometimes occurs, but even so it still would not amount to anything of lasting spiritual significance, for the reason that it is only more experience (in this case of the inner aspects of the brain), and not the transcendence of experience itself. Moreover, we have the strong warning from primal therapist Arthur Janov that such drugs as LSD can do serious damage to the gating (pain defense) mechanisms of the nervous system, even permanently altering the pathways between the reptilian, limbic and cortical areas of the brain. This can lead to extreme difficulty in accessing feelings and thus opening the heart. There is also the danger of psychosis in those whose “gates” are already too open.
A spiritual counterpoint to the concept of interfering with the “gating mechanisms” within the brain was made by PB, in his advice to a young student, Christi Cox, upon their first meeting in 1971. He said that drugs such as LSD could create dangerous holes and tears in one's protective aura, or etheric web, allowing attack by negative subtle entities or demons. This frequently happens under alcoholic or opiate-induced stupor, and is likely to happen under other, newer drugs, too. The essence of true spiritual growth is in conscious presence, and anything that causes a negative passivity is likely to lay one open to psychic attack. On another occasion PB granted that some users of acid might experience something like
a satori or glimpse of consciousness, but it is a temporary ‘experience,' not the lasting and genuine fruit of a real spiritual process. How could it be totally transformative, for the experience is largely cerebral, with more often little direct effect on the faculties of the heart or the will, for instance. It can distance oneself from ones feelings as easily as catapult one into something he can not integrate. It can also scramble ones reasoning powers, so that he may fulfill the warning given in the Bhagavad-Gita:
“When a man lacks discrimination (a man of dull intellect, a moodha), his will wanders in all directions, in innumerable aims.”
What motivation ever come out of an acid trip, other than a rush to the record store to buy the newest Moody Blues
Lest we appear too negative, however, it should be said that for many individuals so-called mind-expanding drugs were the catalyst for the exploration of spiritual teachings
. Marilyn Ferguson stated years ago:
"It is impossible to overestimate the importance of psychedelics as an entry point drawing people into other transformational technology."
Those who have gone on to engage truly serious practice of spiritual disciplines implied but not explicitly meant by the ‘technology’ referred to above however, have been relatively few. [We say "not explicitly meant by that technology," inasmuch as Ms. Ferguson's The Aquarian Conspiracy
was, in our humble opinion, a New World Order disinformation piece to mold and meld the minds of a generation into a hive mentality
; not a glorious paean to a new awakening, but a tool for a juggernaut that is soon upon us if the world doesn't wake up fast, which hopefully it will.
Adi Da made the point that the true "soma" or divine elixer is not to be found in a plant, drug, or any agent external to the body-mind. It is an inherent substance released through spiritual transformation in the higher stages of practice:
"The true soma is like true practice - it is native to the body-mind. It is a substance secreted in the brain core by the glandular centers associated with the pituitary gland when the body is in a purified, harmonious condition, and its energies are rightly polarized." (20)
[The reader may well ask that if this is true, then why would one such as Adi Da have resorted to taking tranquilizers, anti-depressants - and also recreational drugs with his inner circle of devotees - for years
The key to the generation of these substances, if they exist, and as certain yogic texts do appear to confirm, speaking of amrit
, or nectar, for instance, is cultivation of an entire life of self-transcending practice, not a drug or a few techniques egoically applied. Beyond this, once more according to Adi Da, there is a
"...final stage of bodily regeneration in which even "soma" and every aspect of psycho-physical experience are sacrificed and the Free Soul is radically regenerated in Realization of the Infinite Consciousness and All-Pervading Body, or Life, of God."
Sri Nisargadatta speaks from a larger [perspective when he says:
M: ...."No doubt, a drug that can affect your brain can also affect your mind, and give you all the strange experiences promised. But what are all the drugs compared to the drug that gave you this most unusual experience of being born and living in sorrow and fear, in search of happiness, which does not come, or does not last. You should enquire into the nature of this drug and find an antidote...Birth, life, death - they are one. Find out what has caused them. Before you were born, you were already drugged. What kind of drug was it? You may cure yourself of all diseases, but if you are still under the influence of the primordial drug, of what use are the superficial cures?
Q: "Is it not karma that causes rebirth?"
M: "You may change the name, but the fact remains. What is the drug which you call karma or destiny? It made you believe yourself to be what you are not. What is it, and can you be free of it? before you go further, you must accept, at least as a working theory, that you are not what you appear to be, that you are under the influence of a drug. Then only will you have the urge and the patience to examine the symptoms and search for their common cause. All a Guru can tell you is: 'My dear Sir, you are quite mistaken about yourself. You are not the person you think yourself to be.' Trust nobody, not even yourself. Search, find out, remove and reject every assumption till you reach the living waters and the rock of truth. Until you are free of the drug, all your religions and sciences, prayers and Yogas are of no use to you, for based on a mistake, they strengthen it. But if you stay with the idea that you are not the body nor the mind, not even their witness, but altogether beyond, your mind will grow in clarity, your desires - in purity, your actions - in charity and that inner distillation will take you to another world, a world of truth and fearless love. Resist your old habits of feeling and thinking; keep on telling yourself: 'No, not so, it cannot be so; I am not like this, I do not need it, I do not want it', and a day will surely come when the entire structure of error and despair will collapse and the ground will be free for a new life."
And on the true nature of altered states, Adyashanti says:
"...the state of consciousness that a great majority of humanity is in is not natural. It's altered. We do not need to go looking for altered states of consciousness; humanity is already in an altered state of consciousness. It's called separation. Separation is the ultimate altered state of consciousness...Contrary to a popular misunderstanding, enlightenment has nothing to do with an altered state of consciousness. Enlightenment is an unaltered state of consciousness. It is pure consciousness as it actually is, before it is turned into something, before it is altered in any way."
We conclude this discussion simply by agreeing that there is in fact a spiritual way, but there is likely no pharmaceutical - or even yogic - "shortcut".
One of the more interesting "spirit" drugs on the current therapeutic scene is ibogaine
." Its main therapeutically accepted use, unlike psychedelics, is not so much one of opening the doors of perception such as with LSD, but - once one gets past the drug's initial nauseating effects - in helping addicts get to the psychological roots of their addictions. It also appears to be of use in getting one relatively safely past neurotic defenses and into the source of his deep emotional pains in a way that psychedelics have so far not been able to do - and thus seems initially plausible as an aid in the opening of the heart via cleansing the Aegian stables of one’s dark and painful past. Some say there is a spirit or teaching guide attached to the drug, named Ibo or Ibog. Famous drug researcher Terrance McKenna, is one of these, and speaks of how interesting it is that substances like Ibogaine, Ayahuasca, and Mushrooms are said by many people who take them to have some kind of teacher or teaching spirit within them. There was a lot about this in the Casteneda books, but there do exist other real accounts of people's experiences. Graham Hancock reports on the 'spirit' drug DMT and its natural counterpart, ayahuasca with research that showed 80% of the participants had the same experiences and met the same beings
on their trips! [DMT is the active ingredient in ayahuasca, but an ayahuasca induced journey lasts two hours versus twenty intense minutes with DMT]. Perhaps these substances trigger some part of the brain that has clarity and lucidity, or they might trigger some part of the brain that has deep insight into our past, and our childhood, and has suggestions about what we need to do or where we need to go to rid oneself of certain attachments and complexes. Continuing, the word "ibogaine" may or may not be a reference to the Ibog people of southeastern Nigeria. It is a plant derivative that has been ritualistically used by the Bwiti
people of Africa who are said to have learned about its use from the Pygmies, who, according to some sources, are the oldest race of man on earth
. A substance used for anything close to that period of time must be respected and not dismissed outright. The impression is that its affects are more visceral than the purely cerebral as with LSD
. The problem with LSD has always been that it may “open the gates” of the brain structures in a random, unpredictable, and haphazard way, which has its dangers, as previously mentioned (although LSD researcher Stanislav Grof might disagree, having done many LSD experiments probing the boundaries of consciousness on the border of the personal and transpersonal domains). Here is one user’s summary of his experiences with ibogaine. This person had also undergone primal therapy:
"Generally from my experience ibogaine is very effective for
healing the underlying issues and trauma. It brought me through a lot
of childhood stuff. It changed alot in me deeply in quite a short
time but it can be quite arduous. I went through some very deep material
that changed me deeply. It often began with me feeling very afraid as
the transition to this different level of consciousness was a bit
jarring. Time seemed to slow to a point where it didn't seem to move
at all. Sometimes it felt like being connected to super consciousness
or a much higher awareness. I would find myself journeying through strange landscapes meeting
strange people, African people, some I could commune with and ask
directions. at some point I would find myself traveling back to my
childhood. Sometimes painful sad scenes would repeat themselves over and over.
At times it felt like I was in a coma or a dream but aware, observing
and feeling the scenes without any perception of time. Some of the earlier stuff was more symbolic. I saw my father and he died and became a skeleton. It seemed so real, the feeling of pain and loss. I remember meeting my childhood self and I asked him to come to me and
he jumped into me and then many childhood scenes washed through me.
Sometimes it was like watching the scenes from the outside, they were
played out before me. I'd see the arguments with my parents maybe
hundreds of scenes. I couldn't count them. There were many frightening
and sad scenes from early childhood."
[The words of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj come to mind: "It is only when you realize fully the immense sorrow of your life and revolt against it, that a way out can be found."
"There was a point after going through a long period of catharsis that
I saw my wounds being bandaged over. That's the only way I can put
it. I remember asking can that be done and I watched how the energy
went around my body smoothing over some of the wounds that remained to
be healed. Sometimes I would be taken away from childhood and shown different
things about humanity. I was taken to a place where I was shown a
place where people lived contently without violence or pointless
conflict. They seemed to live simple lives but I watched how they
interacted and lived. Then I was shown how they would die and their
loved ones would look to the sky and wonder. It was sad. There was no
answer for it."
"I was shown myself how I functioned as an animal. I was brought to
deep despair and hopelessness. I looked into the blackness of death
at one point. I decided not to go there but was still brought into
much despair and hopelessness and heavy feelings. I felt that I
wasn't loved and so I was of no use in loving anybody else. How could
I be of any use to love someone if I was so deeply lacking and needy.
I always seemed to need someone else to show me love before I could
love them back. It was so all pervading that I thought I would remaind
that way when the ibogaine wore off. How will I live I thought?
Eventually thought it began to dissipate. I remember feeling emptied out afterwards and changed deeply I marveled at the change in my behaviour. There was a lot of anger
released which was one of my goals for a particular treatment and it
often seemed like I couldn't get angry even if I tried. On whole my experience lasted about 36 hours, though it felt like a lot longer, after which I found myself to have an enormous amount of
energy for the next week about and would need much less sleep."
"In my experience it's quite different than LSD. You really have to lie down and close your eyes as movement becomes very difficult. Some people meet a spirit guide who brings them through the process though I didn't meet one. I read that it often has clear stages of visions for 8 hours or so followed by a massive intellectual integration phase. I think visions went on for nearly 20 hours for me. It's amazing that you can take something and all the memories and feelings come pouring out. It never felt so good to be alive as I felt after when I got back up laughing and crying."
"I did 4 treatments quite close together which was quiet a lot in short space of time but it really worked to empty out a lot of negative stuff. I found I was having insights and changes for months even years afterwards and I was having some spontaneous primals. It's really strange to suddenly feel so different. I didn't seem to be able to do my job well anymore when I came back. It just seemed so lifeless to stare at a monitor in an office all day."
"It also seems to be very effective in treating addictions. It stops the withdrawal symptoms from opiates like heroin. Contraindication : the number one would be having a healthy heart as
there have been some deaths with people who had heart defects. From a
psychological point of view those involved in treating people with
ibogaine seem to think that people with schizophrenia would be ill
advised to take ibogaine. A few people think bi-polar depression would
be an issue though I've read differing opinions on these issues from
people. There's something of an antidepressant quality about it, something about it enhancing growth factors in the brain that repair and rebuild dopamine neurons which are also involved in reducing cravings for alcohol. I think it's supposed to be going on weeks after taking ibogaine. Ibogaine gets broken down into a nor-ibogaine which stays in the system for some weeks and supposedly giving a kind of anti-depressant action."
Another indigenous drug used to exorcise personal demons and take one on a vision quest is ayahuasca
. Trips to Peru are arranged through tour guides. It is not especially advertised as a trip to God-consciousness like LSD sometimes has been, but reports of opening the visionary third eye are common. Emotional purgation appears to be the primary experience, although others have sworn by its purgative effect in eradicating stubborn cases of migraines. Noted researcher One generally takes ones inner journey through the guidance of a shaman. Experiences of early childhood and even pre-birth are reported. The invoking of one's inner child to come into one's body is sometimes done. Therefore it appears to be of use for personal transformation. Click here
for an amazing story of an intrepid explorer.
The philosophic criticism on the ultimate level is that these are still only experiences, and not reality, which, according to non-dual and advaitic teachers, requires a definite cognitive shift and clear-eyed understanding. Jimi Hendricks soulful plaint, "have you ever been experienced?" seems to have suggested precisely more of what one might not need - experience, if he is serious about awakening and truth - unless by experience is meant a psychological breakthrough such as mentioned above, or a true glimpse of the soul. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj responded to a questioner as follows:
M: Yes, once you say ‘I want to find Truth,’ all your life will be deeply affected by it. All your mental and physical habits, feelings and emotions, desires and fears, plans and decisions will undergo a most radical transformation.
Q: Once I have made up my mind to find The Reality, what do I do next?
M: It depends on your temperament. If you are earnest, whatever way you choose will take you to your goal. It is the earnestness that is the decisive factor.
Q: What is the source of earnestness?
M: It is the homing instinct, which makes the bird return to its nest and the fish to the mountain stream where it was born. The seed returns to the earth, when the fruit is ripe. Ripeness is all.
Q: And what will ripen me? Do I need experience?
M: You already have all the experience you need, otherwise you would not have come here.
An interesting example of the effects of psychedelic drugs on spiritually evolved beings can be found with the first meeting between Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) and the Indian saint, Neem Karoli Baba. Alpert graduated from Stanford University with a PhD in psychology. He taught theories of human motivation and social deviance at Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Harvard. It was at Harvard that he became the colleague of Dr. Timothy Leary and began experimentation with so-called mind-expanding drugs in 1961. In 1967 he went to India to research spiritual traditions, seeking parallels to what he had experienced with psychedelics. There he met Neem Karoli Baba, who gave him the name Ram Dass and told him to study raja yoga. The first thing Baba did, however, was to ferrit out a hidden cache of LSD that Alpert had with him and immediately swallow it all - a total of 1200 micrograms. It must be understood that a dose of 100 micrograms would generally be enough to put an old man in an altered state for a long time. The effect on Neem Karoli Baba, however, was instructive: essentially, nothing happened! He experienced no “mind-expansion” whatsoever, other than a mildly pleasurable state, with no effect on his gnana.
This is understandable if one examines the action of LSD on the psychic level. It has two main effects: first, to draw one more into the perceptual, and out of the conceptual, mind, thus giving one's experience a "direct" quality; and, second, to open the gates of the subconscious allowing its repressed content to surface, generating "good" trips or "bad" trips as the case may be. In the case of the saint, he was already free of dominion by conceptual consciousness, enjoying anubhava, or direct perception of the natural world, and, also, he either had little or no subconscious content to arise or bypassed it entirely through the resolution of his attention on the plane of Consciousness itself. On a level closer to home, psychologist Arthur Janov reported cases of advanced Primal Therapy patients who injested LSD with little results other than mild perceptual changes. Assumedly they had released the repressed experience that would fuel the psychogenic capacity of the drug, therefore experiencing nothing unusual other than mild depersonalization.
Eckhart Tolle confessed on the Oprah show that he had tried LSD once (years after his wakening) on the advice of friends who thought it gave them the same experience of “presence” that he talked about so much, and he wanted to find out for himself whether that was true. He essentially experienced the first of the two actions of LSD mentioned above: heightened sensory perceptions. The following is a partial transcript from that show
ECKHART TOLLE (AUTHOR A NEW EARTH: AWAKENING TO YOUR LIFE'S PURPOSE): Yes. And the next morning I woke up and looked around and looked, everything looked so fresh. All the old furniture, the pencil. Everything looked fresh and alive. As I caught a bird song outside as if I'd never heard it before. Because the mind had become still, and there was simply the beautiful perception of everything. The sunlight coming through the curtains. Incredible. I've never seen that before.
OPRAH WINFREY (HOST):Sounds like a drug trip.
ECKHART TOLLE (AUTHOR A NEW EARTH: AWAKENING TO YOUR LIFE'S PURPOSE): Well, later on, people tell me, they ask me, "Is that like acid?" Because some people take acid and they say, "Oh, we experienced that when we took acid," they told me many times. Until finally, I'll tell you in confidence, finally I tried acid just for once.
OPRAH WINFREY: You're telling me in confidence here?
ECKHART TOLLE: Yes.
OPRAH WINFREY: Okay, good.
ECKHART TOLLE: I tried it just once just to see…
OPRAH WINFREY: If it was the same thing?
ECKHART TOLLE: Yes.
OPRAH WINFREY: Yeah?
ECKHART TOLLE: It's not quite the same thing because what I experienced was much more subtle and beautiful. The acid I experienced has almost a violent thing where violently the perceptions, sense perceptions become so magnified that there was no room for thinking anymore. But I could see why people say, for some people it's a glimpse of what it means to perceive the world without this continuous interference of mental noise.
OPRAH WINFREY: Yeah, but your trip without acid was better.
ECKHART TOLLE: Much better.
Predictably, the internet was peppered with comments and reactions to Tolle’s words. Here is a sampling of a few of those:
“LSD does far more than amplify the senses. I think it can catalyze the same ‘conscious presence’ and ‘body awareness’ that Tolle describes. I think the best comment about psychedelics made by Advaitists types like Tolle is that the point is not experiencing fantastic trps, but understanding the nature of the tripper.”
“Does LSD really do much more than amplify the senses? Does LSD unleash gateways in our head, antagonizing serotonin receptors? Everything was already there, all we needed was a catalyst.”
“I’m guessing Tolle’s one LSD trip was a low dose.”
“Kind of disappointing, LSD does far more than amplify the senses.”
“Yes, he obviously has no clue and hasn’t broken through. Osho talked about LSD in this way and even stated it wasn’t real. It’s amazing how the imagination works.”
“I’d like him to try a large dose in a dark room, puffing bowls on the comeup, and come out saying it just “amplifies the senses.”
Bottom line: LSD does open gates and activate receptors in the brain - the danger is not being able to close the gates again, or in having them become so-called leaky” gates, with psychological problems, pain, inabiity to concentrate, and even psychosis in those who had weak defenses - not even a functional neurosis - to begin with.
Cases in point: (1) Student at Cornell, afffectionately called “Mr. Space”, who spent his latter undergraduate years aimlessly wandering downtown Ithaca looking in store windows, was known to have taken LSD 25 times in one month, 100 times in a year; (2) Promising grad student and teaching assistant showed up for a warm June evening party in the country; arriving late and seeing no one else around, he eyed the punch bowl; the punch was so good he had five or six glasses: next stop, county hospital and the administering of massive dosages of Thorazine to bring him down; months later, his first day back on the job, he witnessed all of the students' flesh falling off in front of him, revealing haunting skeletons; back to hospital; two years later he was seen pushing a broom in the halls of higher learning - and not because of the economic meltdown; (3) A chiropractic patient of mine - who took a long, long
time to fill out her intake form - happened to relate that she had spent her childhood years at Timothy Leary's Millbrook estate in the 1960's. Upon my asking, "didn't you take LSD all the time there?", she replied, "no, only about three times a week" !
An interesting, article of praise for the drug MDMA (“ecstasy”), called MDMA, Personality and Human Nature:
The Power to Transform People
was written by Bruce Eisner, who wrote that he experienced transcendance with LSD, but immanence with MDMA. This was a drug, by the way, which a number of current non-dual teachers experimented with after breaking with their guru(s), before assuming the role of spiritual teacher themselves. One of these newer teachers went on to call his path, “Waking Down,” a possibly refreshing view of things after years of spiritual seeking. Names are herein withheld to protect the innocent - or, perhaps, their innocence. Some claimed the drug delivered on "the love" promised back in the 1960's. To provide a balanced account, the reader is also directed to the article, Does MDMA Cause Brain Damage?
An interesting take on the nature of drugs and their relation to yogic and mystic states, especially Nirvikalpa samadhi, is that of vedantist and non-dualist V.S. Iyer. Iyer was one of Paul Brunton’s teachers and a major ideological source of the latter’s book, Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga
. He was the person referred to therein as having brought three books to PB: the Mandukya Upanishad, Ashtavakra Samhita, and Bhagavad Gita. He was also the guru of Swami Nikhilananda and Swami Siddeshwarananda and the Maharaja of Mysore.
Iyer appeared to regard drug induced states, and mystical states induced by meditation, as the same in essence, inasmuch as they were phenomena appearing to and in the Self, and as such not to the point regarding realization itself. That alone doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't do them - they were a part of the Egyptian mysteries and the Elysian initiation, and certain Tantric rituals - although one finds it easy to see how one such as Iyer, who believed that only purified Buddhi or Reason could bring one to Truth, would see little merit in drug-taking, which only produce experiences and not fundamental understanding. Nevertheless it is amusing to see how he made reference to the use of such drugs:
"Those who resort to gurus and ashrams of a mystic character for peace do not know that they can get the same result by taking some opium pills."
"Nirvikalpa Samadhi helps one to renounce attachments, it is a corrective medicine to remove this disease; hence it is for seekers only who are still on the disciplinary level. For peace of mind does not necessarily indicate truth; I can get it by taking opium or hemp."
This is certainly an understatement by the sage; he frequently wrote that for many westerners mysticism and yoga were necessary preliminary stages to break them free of attachment to the ego, and to produce the power of concentration necessary to pursue the ultimate philosophic inquiry into truth; his main point was always, however, that they did not give ultimate truth by themselves, and that only a razor-sharpened intelligence could do that. Perhaps a limited therapeutic use of certain substances can free up energy and attention for this development; we will not rule it out absolutely. Nor must we assume that the way to truth must be long and arduous.
On a humorous note, when Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia died, Timothy Leary assumed the role of counsellor to the “Dead-Heads. His 1960’s epithet, “Turn on, tune in, and drop out,” became the more homely, “hang on, hang in, and hang out." Was this an unconscious affirmation that satsang was superior to drug-taking for the aspirant after truth? Good doctor, may ye rest in peace.
Timothy Leary & Satanism
Q: "Do you foresee a time in the not too distant future when there will be many people on earth who are Enlightened?"
A: "There is no future, there are no people, there is no earth, there is no one seeking Enlightenment, and no one gaining it.
This is the final and only Truth."
1. Dr. Surath Chakravarti, Mysterious Samadhi
(Calcutta: firma KIM Private Ltd, 1984) (refers to: Bhattacharya, Mahanirbana Tantra, Vol. II (Calcutta: Sri Mihirkiran Tirtha Prakashani, 1384 BS (Bengali), p. 603
2. I.K. Taimni, The Science of Yoga
(Wheaton, Illinois: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1981), p. 381
3. Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Tantra of Kundalini Yoga
(Monghyr, India: Bihar School of Yoga, 1973), p.
4. Ibid, p.
5. Dr. John Mumford, Ecstasy Through Tantra
(St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 1988), p. 115-116
6. Self-Realization of Noble Wisdom
(The Lankavatara Sutra) , compiled by Dwight Goddard on the basis of D.T. Suzuki's rendering from the Sanskrit and Chinese (Clearlake, CA: The Dawn Horse Press, 1983), p. 164
7. Philip Kapleau, "Acid, Pot, and Zen," Zen Bow 2 (May/June/July 1969) :3
8. Ray Jordan, "Psychedelics and Zen: Some Reflections," The Eastern Buddhist n. s. 4
(October 1971) : 138-40
9. D.T. Suzuki, “Religion and Drugs," The Eastern Buddhist, n. s. 4 (October 1971) 128-33
10, David Godman, ed., The Power of the Presence
, Part Three (Boulder, CO, Avadhuta Foundation, 2002), p. 135
11. Eckhart Tolle, The New Earth
( New York, N.Y.: Dutton/Penguin Group, 2005), p. 229
12. The Notebooks of Paul Brunton
(Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1987), Vol. 11, 11.146
13. Ibid, 11.123
14. Ibid, 11.128
15. Ibid, 11.130
16. Ibid, 11.114
17. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, I AM THAT
(Durham, North Carolina: The Acorn Press, 2008), p. 358-359
18. John Davidson, The Web of Life
(Saffron Walden, England: The C.W. David Company Limited, 1988), p. 361
19.Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy
(Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. ), p.
20. Bubba (Da) Free John, The Eating Gorilla Comes In Peace
(Middletown, CA: The Dawn Horse Press, 1979), pp. 515-516
21. Ibid, p. 283
22. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, op. cit., p. 443
23. Adyashanti, The End of Your World
(Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc., 2008), p. 173
24. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, op. cit., p. 509
25. Ibid, p. 313