Almost all the great religions of the world are in some way associated with a drink. Judaism and Christianity with wine, Islam with coffee, Hinduism with the milk of sacred cows, Buddhism with tea. And, in one way or another, these sacred drinks are used for sacramental purposes, and a sacrament—defined (at least in the Anglican Church) as the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace—is a very common feature of religion throughout the world, although one which is, I would say, highly disapproved of by many people living in the modern West under the influence of Protestantism and humanism. A sacrament, in other words, is a method of giving spiritual power or insight through corporeal means: as, for example in the sacrament of baptism, Orthodox Christians believe that through the pouring on of water (a physical substance), a person may be in some way united with the power or the grace of God. Or that the right formula, said by the right person over bread and wine, may transform them verifiably into the body and blood of Christ, so that whoever partakes of them (on the principle that you are what you eat) becomes transformed into Christ.
Behind the more obvious drinks or sacramental liquids associated with the various religions there are some religions which imply more potent substances. And so one associates Islam and the whole Arabian culture with the use of hashish. And no one can doubt (who knows anything about the effects of the substance) that the people who painted Persian miniatures and who designed the great arabesques of Islamic civilization, no one can doubt that those people had had the sort of vision which comes through participation in hashish. Likewise, the earliest Vedic texts of India mentioned something called soma, and nobody really knows what soma was. But one may guess, in view of modern practices in India, that it was some derivative of the plant cannabis, which is today in India and has probably for centuries been used by certain types of yogi. For example, the Shiva worshipers use it very widely in the form that is called bhāṅg (which is a drink) or ganja (which is smoked).
In China there was for a long time, in the Taoist school of philosophy, a quest for the elixir of life. And this was associated with Taoist alchemy. And when you read alchemical texts, you must realize that they are always veiled. The Taoist sages were apparently looking for an elixir of immortality that would convert a human being into an immortal. And it was supposed that, if you hit on the right elixir, when you became an old man and your skin was shriveled, it would eventually peel off and reveal a youth underneath as a snake changes its skin. And there are statues in certain parts of China of venerable old sages with their skin falling off to reveal a young face below.
Many sages, and indeed even emperors, died from drinking concoctions that purported to be the elixir of life. One of the ingredients of the elixir was always tea. And, of course, tea as drunk in Buddhist circles is not the tea that you ordinarily drink. The real ceremonial tea of the Far East is not steeped tea leaves, but green tea ground to a very fine powder. And this has hot water poured over it, and then with a whisk it is stirred up into a thick mixture. And drinking a few cups of this puts you in a state of extraordinary wakefulness, and therefore has long been used by Buddhist monks for purposes of meditation. It has a mild psychedelic or consciousness-expanding effect. The Tibetans likewise brew an incredibly thick tea, which they mix with yak butter. And to us it is an appalling concoction, but to them very soothing and comforting, and also wakeful.
And, as you know, throughout the Amerindian cultures, religion is very greatly centered around divine plants. The use of the peyote cactus, the use of yage, of mushrooms such as psilocybe mexicana, the convolvulus type flower ololiuqui—the use of its seeds—and a very considerable number of other plants which have been cataloged by Professor Schultes of Harvard. Even seaweeds. All sorts of funny things are considered divine plants. And the mushroom psilocybe mexicana is known, of course, as teonanacatl among the Indians, a word which means “the flesh of God.” To an enormous degree, then, throughout the world there has been the use—going back as far as we can find any record—of some sort of plant, either chewed or distilled or boiled or whatever, which transformed consciousness and was alleged to give mankind the vision of divine things. And therefore it was, in the precise definition of the term, a sacramental plant.
Now then, the objection to this is very strong in the modern West. And there indeed have always been people who found that this kind of practice was to be deplored, and I want to (in a moment) go into the reasons why. But it must be said, in the modern West, that the use of any material aid to spiritual insight or development is always looked upon with disfavor because it is described as a crutch. And our type of culture feels happier if it doesn’t use a crutch—in other words, if you do it yourself. Somehow or other, the use of a crutch—or as people call it with that question-begging word: a drug—seems to be something which is a sign of weakness. If you’re a real gutsy fellow, and if you’re going to get this thing in a manner which is natural, legitimate, and the manner in which it will really stay with you, you ought to work at it by your own efforts. And you will find this extremely exemplified in, say, Christian Science, where they don’t want to use even ordinary medicine for physical health, even though every Christian scientist is dependent upon daily food, both vegetable and meats, and eats them quite gaily without any feeling of guilt, whereas actually he ought to realize that if he had sufficient faith, he would be able to live even without air. I suppose air is a crutch on which we depend, and Earth is a lamentable ball on which we have to stand in order to hold ourselves up.
But if you explore deeply into the doctrines and the history of almost all religions whatsoever, you will find that there is simply no do-it-yourself way. Invariably, whatever path and whatever method is followed, there comes a point in which the efforts of one’s own will or of one’s own ego have to be abandoned. You know, perhaps, that in Buddhism there are two schools which are respectively called jiriki and tariki in Japanese. Jiriki means “one’s own power,” tariki means “another’s power.” And most forms of Buddhism are classified as jiriki on the principle of the Buddha’s final words to his disciples, “Be lamps unto yourselves. Be you a refuge unto yourselves. Take to yourselves no other refuge. Work out your own deliverance with diligence.”
And so in Zen, in Tendai, in the Theravada (or southern forms) of Buddhism, you will always find that meditation practice or spiritual growth is a matter of using relentless effort to control the mind, to be concentrated, and so on. But as this effort develops, its term always is that you reach an impasse in which your will and your ego comes to a state of absolute frustration; where you find that there is nothing that you can do to reform yourself, to make yourself unselfish (which is, of course, a form of lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps), that not only is there nothing that you can do, but there’s also nothing that you can not do. In other words, your energy will be as phony as your relaxation. And at this point in the process (of yoga or meditation or whatever it is) there must transpire a state of surrender, of total giving up. And it is precisely at this moment that the transformation of consciousness (which all these various religions are after) can come about.
Because in one way or another, all of the religions—without any question so far as I can see, all of the (I would say) great religions of the world (we might exclude a few weird cults)—but all of them are concerned with achieving a state of consciousness which is no longer egocentric. Furthermore, a state of consciousness in which we see through a trick which, during the egocentric state, we always play on ourselves. And that trick is that we become unable to be aware of the relativity of opposites: black and white, light and darkness, good and evil, pleasure and pain, life and death. All these things—or, say, one’s self and the external world; the self and the other—all these things, in the egocentric state of consciousness, seem to be separated, opposed to each other. Whereas the most elementary logic should tell us that they necessarily go together.
In other words, if you are a superior person in any way—morally, intellectually, physically—you have no means of knowing that you’re a superior person except through the presence of relatively inferior people. And were they to disappear, you would be in limbo and you wouldn’t know where you were at all. The higher always depends on the lower in the same way as the flower of the plant depends on the soil, the rows upon the manure. And so, too, the subjective (the self) goes along with the objective (what the self knows) in an inseparable union. But we have managed to screen this out of our normal consciousness and to conduct our lives as if we could make white exist without black, and light without darkness, and pleasure without pain.
But when the egocentric state is surpassed, it is seen that these things all go together. And the curious consequence of this is not that the world is felt to be a mere balance between opposed forces, not a simple compromise, but somehow it becomes obvious (when you see the unity of all opposites) that the world is transformed into a thing of glory. It’s very difficult to explain that logically, but it simply is so with reference to this different kind of consciousness. In other words, what happens is this: that everything that you tried formally to exclude and to deny and to overcome is seen to be part of a harmonious construction, so that the whole world is seen as profoundly harmonious. That everything in it is as it should be.
And this is so difficult to explain to people who don’t see it that very many people who have this kind of experience remain tongue-tied. Not only is it difficult to explain to ordinary people, but it’s very shocking to ordinary people. Because it seems to undermine all the game rules and all the moral rules of the social order, and to be saying that evil things and bad things are perfectly alright because they are actually in a secret harmony with the good. And if you understand that superficially, and you are not a very intelligent person or a very sensitive person, you might indeed run amok and justify any kind of conduct whatsoever on the grounds that it’s all part of a universal harmony. And this, of course, is why there has (through all the centuries) been a kind of esotericism, a kind of secrecy, attached to these deep matters—both to the state of consciousness itself and to the various means of bringing it about, whether those means be sacramental or whether they be some form of meditation, prayer, or other type of spiritual discipline.
In both cases—let me remind you—in both cases there has always been a certain secrecy about it. Or rather, these things have not been taught to people, or given to people, who were inadequately prepared. And this is a grave, grave problem in the modern world, because we are today living in a world where there are very few secrets. That is to say, scientific knowledge of any kind is, of necessity, public knowledge—or at least public among scientists. There are types of scientific knowledge, of course, which laypeople simply cannot understand, because the language in which this knowledge is expressed (say, for example, mathematical language) has to be learned and is difficult to master. And so many popularizations of scientific ideas are at the same time partial falsifications, because these ideas cannot be said in English or French or German, even though they can be said in algebra. So, in a way, all knowledge guards itself, because to understand it you have to follow to some extent the path which was followed by the people who discovered it.
But nevertheless, as a result of scientific technology in the modern world, an enormous number of things, very dangerous things, are made available to fools—not to mention the fantastic powers of destruction which technology has given us. And so it is very difficult indeed to keep secrets in this day and age. Everything has been published. All the mysteries, practically, have been let out. And in the thought of ancient Hindu philosophers this would be regarded as a sign of the final decadence of the world: the coming on of the Kali Yuga, or the black destructive epoch at the end of the cycle in which the whole world is destroyed. Be that as it may.
So I would start out by saying, then, that even among those religious or spiritual disciplines which follow along the lines of an extreme exertion of the will, those jiriki (or self-power disciplines) eventually come to a point which is the same as the tariki (that is to say: those that rely on a power outside the individual will beyond or deeper than the personal ego), they come to the same place. Of course, really, the difference between the two schools depends upon a definition of one’s self. If you start out by defining yourself as your ego, then what is other than you or a greater power than you will seem to be different from you. But if you start out by defining yourself as something more than your ego, then the power which transforms you will still be your own.
For example, most people define their hearts as something other than themselves. We say “I have a heart” rather than “I am a heart.” The heart is an engine (for most of us) which supports the existence of the ego. And somehow we have it; it’s an engine that goes on in us like the engine in our car—which, if you’re not a mechanic, you don’t really understand, you just use it. And so, if you think of your heart as other than you, it is something that mysteriously happens inside you beyond your control. But, on the other hand, if you regard your heart as very much you, as the center of your physical being, then you will be accustomed to think when you beat your heart that you are doing it.
So, for people who come in the Judeo-Christian tradition, they’re inclined to feel that their heart is not themselves. The psalmist says, “Behold, I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” He looks at his own body and is astounded, and says, “Since I don’t understand it, it must be the work of a God who is other than myself.” On the other hand, when a Hindu defines himself, he doesn’t define himself merely in terms of those types of behavior which are voluntary, he defines himself also in terms of involuntary behavior. And so his heart seems as much himself as anything can be. So it’s really a matter of semantics as to what is self and what is other within you. It depends where you draw the line.
But it seems to me unquestionable that in all spiritual traditions whatsoever there comes a point at which the personal ego, the individual will, reaches a limit by one means or another, and where it is transformed by something that is not willed, but seems to happen spontaneously. The Christians call it Grace, the Hindus call it prasad, the Buddhists call it bodhi (“illumination”). But in every case it happens of itself—or, as the Chinese would say, it is ziran: “of itself so,” “spontaneous.” So there is really no grounds for objecting to sacraments, because they are something that come to us from (as it were) outside, and do something to us which is beyond the control and understanding of the will. It always is that way.
But now, this is not an experience in which the will and the ego have no part to play, no part at all. And here comes the danger of all types of transformation of consciousness—mystical experience, sense of union with the divine, or whatever you want to call it—however obtained. It is essential that they be (what I would call) grounded, brought down to Earth, harmonized with everyday life and with human society. And this requires a discipline. Every tradition looks with disfavor upon those who simply steal the divine secrets and enjoy them without some kind of discipline that should go along with it. And thus the destructive effects of all these things are particularly manifested in people who have no capacity for the kind of discipline that must go along with them. And that is true not only of sacraments and divine plants and yoga practices, it is true of all things whatsoever which we might enjoy. Because enjoyment of any kind is really impossible without an accompanying discipline.
Just think of a few things which are pleasurable and which can be simply snatched and swallowed. Start with candy: would there being such a thing as a palatable candy bar unless there were some expert in the making of sweetmeats? Think of booze: you know, it isn’t just alcohol that one throws down—that is to say, if you want to have any lining left to your stomach—but skillfully prepared wines and liquors, based on a long tradition of the vintners art, which is a discipline. Consider roaring along in a fast car: you have an exceedingly short career in this thrill if you don’t know how to drive, and the car itself depends upon the skill of master mechanics. I can’t think of any pleasure at all which does not require an accompanying discipline. Take sex: a lot of people do take it like that. And they, I guess, have a kick out of it, but it has no profound pleasure to it unless there is the discipline of an intimate relationship with another human being, which requires a great deal of intelligence. And also the merely physical aspect of sex is a considerable art which very few people ever seem to learn. That is why our culture has sex on the brain, and is perpetually thinking about it and perpetually obsessed with it in a kind of voyeuristic way: because there is so little satisfaction and so little discipline and so little knowledge of how to use it.
So every pleasure whatsoever involves a method of grounding it, a method of integrating it with everything else. And thus, if there are ways of attaining what is potentially the greatest delight of all—the sense of the divine, or whatever (I’m using that word as the vaguest possible word), the sense of transcending the gulf between the individual and the eternal universe—if you snatch that and have that experience, and you don’t do anything with it and you’re not properly prepared for it, you’re liable to get into the same sort of trouble as you would get through the insensitive use of any pleasurable thing whatsoever. And it is for that reason, then, that it is very true to say that psychedelic substances, the chemicals derived from the divine plants, are dangerous. There is no question about it. And especially those like LSD, which produce their effects as a result of taking an extremely small quantity.
You know, if you want to get drunk on beer, you have to put down quite a bit of it. And there is a limit, you know, to how much beer one can swallow in an evening. It’s pure bulk. But you don’t run into that kind of limit with far more potent substances which don’t involve any difficulty in eating. You see, the way the Indians take peyote cactus, it’s pretty difficult to put down. It’s nauseating, even though they get used to it—but even so, to chew all that stuff! And so there is a limit set that way. But in these highly refined elixirs there isn’t that kind of limit. And our culture is full of plain, downright goofy people who will try anything, and don’t know anything about it. And in the present state of affairs in the United States, the whole matter of psychedelic substances is in a state of inane confusion which beggars description.
So let me say, first of all, a little bit about the nature of these things. They’re called drugs, but this is obviously a word which is unclear. There is no definite, clear line that can be drawn between a drug and something used for food—say, like vitamins. A group of physicians and a group of lawyers got together not so long ago to see if they could arrive together at a legal definition of addiction—that is to say: dependence upon some chemical—and they kept finding that whenever they thought they were right on the definition, that they’ve really got somewhere, that their definition also applied to dependence upon a foodstuff. This is a very, very difficult thing to define. Now, as between various types of chemicals that do produce changes in consciousness, there are wide differences. All of them could be said to be addicting in perhaps a psychological sense. That is to say: supposing you belong to an in-group where taking LSD is de rigueur, it is the thing to do, and everybody compares notes as to how often and how much, and engage in a kind of one-upmanship with each other as to how often they’ve been on a trip. Well, this is asinine because you’re following this practice simply to be one of the boys (or girls, as the case may be), and to remain in an in-group, when you should—if you have disciplined yourself in the use of consciousness-transformation—you should come to see the folly of belonging to an in-group.
So, in that sense, some of these things could be said to be addicting. Others are addicting in a much more physical sense. The opiates, for example, have very difficult withdrawal symptoms if one doesn’t use them constantly. But this addicting factor is not characteristic of all substances used for this purpose. In other words, not everything that is used for the expansion of consciousness is a narcotic. This, of course, is—I’m going over things that to some of you are elementary. The word “narcotic” means sleep-inducing and that which makes one soporific, which dulls or dims the senses. So, of course, alcohol is a narcotic in sufficient quantity. Opium, likewise, is a narcotic: is used for dulling the sense of pain. Morphine is a narcotic in the strictest sense of the word.
But substances such as mescaline—which is the derivative of peyote, or a chemical synthesis of the same thing that is in peyote—is not a narcotic. LSD is not a narcotic, psilocybin is not a narcotic (from the mushroom), and cannabis is not a narcotic, because these substances tend to do something very different from producing sleep. They tend, instead, to produce a peculiar kind of wakefulness: a sharpening rather than a dimming of consciousness. And so they must not be lumped in the same category as things which are true narcotics. And I would say it would be part of the definition of a true narcotic—that is: it is also addicting, as alcohol is addicting, as the opiates are addicting—that you become dependent on them and only with great difficulty can shake them off. The same is true, of course, of tobacco. It is very difficult for a hardened smoker to drop it, and it is therefore addicting. Although I doubt whether it is actually a narcotic in the sense of the sleep-inducing thing, or something that makes you insensitive.
Now, our absurdly paranoid government agencies have never learned in fifty years how to handle these problems, despite the lesson of prohibition. The authorities still think that the only way to deal with even dangerous narcotics is simply to suppress them, not clearly realizing that this makes them all the more attractive, and that it creates an enormous crime problem which (without suppression) would not exist. Because the minute you suppress something and it becomes illegal, people know that there must be something extremely exciting about it. And it’s very difficult to suppress these things. You can suppress it a little bit. In other words, you can pick out a few fall guys and make terrible examples of them by electrocuting them or putting them in prison for an incredible number of years. But this invariably only scratches the surface. Because when something wrong or illegal is really popular there is no way of suppressing it, because all the hotels in the United States would not be sufficient to jail all the criminals involved. This has never worked. And why people don’t learn from history is beyond my comprehension.
It becomes much worse as people become aware that there are an enormous number of varieties of things that will produce psychedelic effects, and that in particular such substances as LSD can be compressed into such small areas or volumes that their detection is virtually impossible. So the moment it becomes a racket, and something, therefore, which organized crime can put a good price on, the possibilities of playing games with LSD are enormous. It’s a real good racket. And all it will do, the suppression of it, is to encourage the proliferation of crime and lead to total nonsense.
We have never really understood what control is. We don’t see the difference between controlling one’s self and strangling one’s self. In other words, a person who is a controlled automobile driver is certainly not a person who has no car or keeps his car locked in the garage. A very controlled dancer is certainly not a person who never dances. The control of things is not the suppression of them, but their use in a sensible and proper way. And this has not penetrated the consciousness of our authorities. You cannot suppress sex. You cannot suppress mankind’s fascination, curiosity for whatever motive, in other states of consciousness than the normal. These things are eternally fascinating to human beings and will always be pursued. Whether you think it’s a good thing or whether you think it’s a bad thing makes no difference. It will be done.
So at the present time, for example, if some people wanted to make experiments with any kind of consciousness-changing material—say, LSD or mescaline—they are in the ridiculous situation that they cannot even pay a psychiatrist to sit with them and take care of them while they do it, because that would be illegal. What they will therefore do is not have a psychiatrist, not have any experienced or responsible person, and they will try it out all on their own without any preparation and endanger themselves, because these things will—under unfavorable circumstances and with people who haven’t got a good psychic balance—bring about prolonged bouts of psychosis and lead to a good deal of trouble.
But the difficulty is that we are, as a culture, not prepared for the control of these substances. And that is why there is a panic. That is why we are doing things that are probably worse than allowing them to circulate freely. I would not for one moment advocate the total free circulation of these things so that anybody could go into a drugstore and buy it. But I think—although I wouldn’t advocate that—I think it would be better than suppression; less destructive. But what, you see, we don’t know is how to apply a proper control to the transformation of human consciousness by means that are relatively easy because we are not clear—one of the reasons is: we are not clear as to the role in life of these chemicals, nor are we clear as to the role of the physician. And this I want to consider.
You know, of course, that in ancient times there was no clear distinction between priest and physician. An individual might be primarily a priest and secondarily a physician. But in course of time the function of priest and the function of physician began to separate. And with the advent of scientific medicine—because the development of the sciences was always opposed by the church, therefore, priests tended not to practice scientific medicine. And the practitioners of scientific medicine, being other than priests, the religious and the medical professions separated. And in the development of medicine in the West the deep concern of a physician was to preserve people from death: to be a healer. And the function of looking after death was abandoned to the priest and the minister.
So when the doctor (in treating a patient) gives up hope, he is out of role. He doesn’t know what to do beyond that point, and therefore the priest is summoned. So the work of a doctor is throughout curative, he is in all his activities opposed to death and regards death as the enemy. This is, of course, not true of every individual physician. It is true of medical ethics and of the generality of physicians. So that, of course, terminal cases are people being tortured—beneficently, yes; with a good motive, but nonetheless being tortured—by being kept alive in a state of near mummification. Because while there is life, there is hope. And in the next few days, there might be some amazing medical discovery which would cure them and it would have been a shame to let them die and not reap its benefits. Yes, there always might be.
So if this fact that the physician is in general out of role and does not know what to do in the face of death has a very important connection with another aspect of the physician’s trade: that he does not know what to do with chemicals or drugs which do not have the function of healing a physical disease. In a way, all consciousness-expanding drugs have something to do with death. Why? Because all spiritual disciplines are, as Jung pointed out, preparations for death. And every spiritual discipline involves a form of death, that is to say, of what is called dying to one’s self; what the Christians call dying daily, or being identified with the crucifixion of Christ. In the famous words of St. Paul, “I’m crucified with Christ, yet I live. But not I, for it is Christ that lives in me.” That is to say, he also uses the phrase “being baptized into Christ’s death.”
Now, that’s all very funny language to the modern mind, but it is a commonplace of these spiritual disciplines that what you do in them is die in the midst of life: you are born again a second time. And that death refers to the death of the ego—that is to say, you leave behind the state of consciousness in which you thought you were no more than an isolated individual center of consciousness. That drops back. And so, in that sense, you’ve died. And spiritual disciplines very often involve, as an aid to that, the contemplation of death. We think it’s rather ghoulish nowadays, but monks used to keep skulls on their desks. Buddhists meditate in graveyards. Hindu yogis meditate beside the burning ghats on the banks of the Ganges, where they are always confronted with death, knowing: this is going to happen to me. Gurdjieff once said that if anything would possibly save mankind from its idiocy, it would be the clearest possible recognition by every individual that he and all others around him are most certainly going to die.
Because this, when it becomes something perfectly clear to you, surprisingly becomes a source of intense joy and vitality. Because when you have accepted your own death in the midst of life, it means that you’ve let go of yourself, and you are therefore free. You are not any longer plagued by worry and anxiety. You know that you’re done for anyhow. So there’s no need constantly to fight to protect yourself—because what’s the point? And it isn’t just, you see, that people spend all their time really doing something to protect themselves—like, say, taking out an insurance policy or seeing that they eat properly—it’s what we do that doesn’t issue in any action at all: the constant inner worry, which leads to no action except more worry. And that is what is given up, you see, by a person who really knows that he’s dead. So do you see that transcending yourself, going on beyond your ego, is the great preparation for death?
Now, then, you see, we come back to the medical profession. If this profession takes the side of the ego against death, opposes death, regards death as the supreme evil, then the doctor really is out of role at the bedside of a dying patient. And he also is out of role when it comes to the handling of drugs that are not designed to heal death-bringing sicknesses as we ordinarily understand them. But what happens? What happens? Actually, very few people take priests seriously. I mean, even churchgoing Christians. Because this is what happens: when somebody in the family of a good Christian shows signs of mental derangement, the priest is very seldom called in. One calls in a psychiatrist. Why? Because in our culture he’s a scientist. And the scientist has a far greater reputation for magical power than a priest or minister. We only call in the priest when all hope is abandoned. The scientist hasn’t been able to work and they say, “Well, maybe prayer would do some good.” And the poor priest gets it.
Now, a Catholic priest or Anglican priest, by and large, they are very used to handling death. They know what to do. They come in and open the book at the right place, and without any embarrassment proceed to administer the last rites. And really, that’s rather good. I mean, here is a man who knows what to do and isn’t flustered in the face of death. That in itself has a calming influence. But a lot of people feel that this isn’t really the way to handle it, because they don’t really dig or understand these last rites. And if the priest is called in only in desperation, this argues that he doesn’t have very much power anyway. He may have power to do something with the Lord in the world beyond, but very doubtful in this world.
So under such circumstances, both the priest and the physician—and I’m referring, of course, to the priest as he is found in the United States or in Europe at the present day—they need to take another look at death, and to bring out the all-important fact that life without death has no value. Death—as Norman Brown pointed out in his book Life Against Death—death is what confers individuality upon us. It is your limits in time that constitute you just as much as your limits in space. Death, therefore, always overshadows the whole of life. And life would have no meaning, no point, if it didn’t have death to balance. In-breath and out-breath, coming and going, arising and falling are mutually interdependent. So death is a very valuable and very important thing which is being swept under the carpet.
So then, in a culture where priest and physician have become widely separated, the sudden bursting upon us of sacramental substances is an embarrassment to both. It is embarrassing, first of all, to the priest—for many reasons. Because supposing we were to say: psychedelic substances are not the province of physicians and psychiatrists, they are the province of the clergy. Everybody would throw up their hands and say: but these people have no scientific training! They don’t think about neurology. They don’t know anything about the subtle effects of these things on the human organism. How could they be responsible? And alas, it’s true. The clergy have not had training in neurology—and so much the worse for them. On the other hand, the psychiatrist (with very few exceptions) and the neurologists have no no training in theology. And when most of them, when they talk about theology, they reveal their abysmal ignorance of the whole matter.
So the thing absolutely falls, BANG, between two stools, and there is no class of people—although there are individuals, there is no accepted, there is no recognized class of people—who might be called, for example, theo-botanists or theo-neurologists. And we very much need the development of such a profession. And until we have it, we will be in a difficult situation as to how to deal with drugs, if you will, or chemicals, that do not seem to have as their primary use the healing of a physical disease.
But there is a sense in which these substances are medicine rather than diet. What is the difference between a medicine and a diet? Medicine is something you need when something is wrong, when something is out of order. A diet is what you live on permanently. Of course, corrections in diet can have a medicinal effect. But surely, there is a very true sense in which we can say that our world, based on the ordinary egocentric consciousness, is very seriously sick. Psychically sick. I’m not going to—you know, everybody knows why. We can see it all around us that we are stark staring raving mad and are busy preparing to destroy ourselves. And that is a sickness which needs some kind of remedy, and maybe even a desperate remedy. The use of things that would lift us out of the egocentric situation could therefore be considered medical: as healing for a social disorder.
But again, I would say that they, used in that way, should be used as medicine in the sense that they don’t become diet. Because in my experience—and, of course, in this matter everybody speaks for themselves, but say I consider just myself alone: I wouldn’t feel very put out if, say, LSD were to vanish from the Earth tomorrow. Because I have discovered that this is not the sort of thing you sort of take every so often, like you go to church. Or, if you do, it’s something that you can take several times in a gradually diminishing quantity, and then you had it. Beyond that, it’s up to you to integrate your vision with everyday life and with all the various kinds of knowledge. Enough is enough.
But there are other people who seem to think that the great thing to do is to start out with a little, and then keep on going, making it bigger and bigger and bigger—as if they were looking for something that should lie at the end of the line. And then it becomes a diet. Now, that is indeed getting hooked on medicine. And doctors don’t like to hook you on medicine, and very rightly. Because the ideal of a good doctor is to get rid of you as a patient. He doesn’t want chronic patients. Poor people always hanging on to him, always rushing for help. He wants to set you back on your own feet. And that is an excellent principle. This is where the doctor really has something to say to the priest. Of course, priests tend, by and large, to want to hook you—in other words, to keep you coming to church so that you will pay your dues and the church will prosper. So the more people they can get hooked on religion, the merrier.
Now, priests in this way ought to learn from the doctors and try and get rid of people by telling them their gospel, or whatever it is they have to say, and say: “Now you had it. Go away!” Because, you see, if you do that, you will create a vacuum, and it will always be filled. Just as, the faster a doctor can get people out of his office, they go around and tell everybody: “This man cured me. I didn’t have to go back to him.” So more people will be coming in. There are always plenty and plenty of people. It’ll never come to an end. So, in a way, the religious man ought to handle a huge turnover of people coming through and going away, coming through and going away. Then he’s really working. But he should not get them hooked on the medicine.
Indeed, there is a famous Latin phrase: crux medicina mundi—“the cross, the medicine of the world.” But people get hung up, you see, on the cross. And Jesus didn’t, you remember? According to the the Christian mythology, Jesus came alive again afterwards. He didn’t get hung up. Only for a while. And so, in the same way, if Christians really believed in the inner meaning of their doctrine, they wouldn’t get hung up on the cross either, except temporarily. “I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless, I live.” So, also, when it comes to the use of any technique whatsoever—whether it’s yoga or LSD or what have you—for spiritual awakening, there applies to it the Buddha’s symbol of the raft. The Buddha likened his method, his dharma (or doctrine, or method), to a raft. It’s also called a yāna (or vehicle). Hence the Mahāyāna (the “big vehicle”), the Hīnayāna (the “little vehicle”). And it takes you across the river of which this shore is birth and death, and the other shore liberation; nirvāṇa. Now, you get on that raft and you go over, and when you get to the other shore you leave the raft behind. Same way they say in Zen Buddhism. Their technique, the use of the kōan (or meditation problem) is like knocking at a door with a brick: when the door is opened you don’t carry the brick inside, you leave the brick behind.
So, with all these things, they are means (upāya) and they have as their objective deliverance from means. The Christian mystics speak of the highest state of contemplative prayer, or union with God, as a union without means. And I would extend the sense of the word “means” even to ecstasy. In other words, ecstasy is invariably, in the great religious traditions, not a final state. Ecstasy is an intermediate state. So, for example, in Zen, when the experience of satori (or awakening) comes about, there is an ecstasy. You feel marvelous. You feel as if you were walking on air. You feel absolutely unobstructed. You feel as happy as a lark. You feel, you know, this fantastic bang. It’s marvelous. But that in itself is only incidental. A Zen saying says: that monk who has a satori goes to hell as straight as an arrow. In other words: to have it is to cling to it. And if you think that the ecstasy is the important thing in it—it isn’t. The ecstasy is an intermediate stage to bring you back to the point where you can see that everyday life—that your ordinary mind, as they say in Zen—is the Buddha-mind. That everyday life, as it is, is the great thing. And there is no difference between that and the divine life.
So this is why you should read, especially—there’s a new little book out on Zen edited by Lucien Stryk. What’s the name of it, Jano? It’s Prayers, Poems… yes, this has got some very good things in it about how the great masters insist that for everything you seem to have attained, every great insight, every great ecstasy, you must drop it, let go of it, and immediately go ahead. Because in the end—thank you—if you think that—here it is. Zen: Poems, Prayers, Sermons, Anecdotes, Interviews by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto. It’s very good. But they insist on the point that so long as you as you think that there is a state of affairs in which you can say about the big thing—whether it’s God or whether it’s nirvāṇa, Brahma, the Divine, the Tao—“I’ve got it,” you haven’t. Because the moment you regard it as some sort of object, some sort of state, some sort of thing which you can lay your hands on, you’ve put it away from yourself.
See, the one thing you can’t lay hands on is you. You’ll never find it out. In a million years you can’t find out who it is that wants to find out. And who it this that wants to find out who it is that wants to find out? Never get at it! You see? But that’s the thing. It’s the thing that is most close to you. As Francis Thompson said: “Nearer is he than breathing; closer than hands and feet.” So what is absolutely central to you is what you can never make an object of knowledge.
And so when you finally get to the point that you don’t have to have anything—because you’re it—and you don’t even need to to insist on yourself that you’re it, because if you have to insist on that, it means that you doubt it. You don’t have to go around saying to yourself, “Be still and know that I am God” or something like that. That’s for beginners, you see? That’s for beginners. But when they really get at the end of it, there isn’t a trace. See? No means are left. No methods, no getting hold of it. No meditation, no LSD, no nothing! Because it’s just the way it is. But before a person sees that, then means are used—whether it be yoga, whether it be chemicals, whether it be anything else.
So let me sort of sum up. In the last analysis, all spiritual awakening involves something beyond the will and the ego. You cannot do it yourself. So it makes little difference what you use for this. Some ways are easier than others. It’s easier if you use theo-botany, a divine plant, than if you just bang your head against a brick wall. But with the very ease of it there is the danger that you may neglect the discipline that must go with it. In the banging your head against a brick wall method, they are sure at least that you know the discipline before anything happens. And so that is the danger in a relatively easier way. But, of course, as Aldous Huxley once said: to insist upon using the more difficult ways to attain the mystical state is rather like having to burn down your farmhouse every time you want roast pork.
The problem for us is that we don’t have… the split between the role of priest and the role of physician has left both roles impoverished. And so there is nobody who is really competent to deal with death or to deal with preparation for death. And that’s what makes it a problem for us. Finally, that the most subtle danger in all these things—whether it be yoga methods or whether it be chemical methods—is fixation on ecstasy: not to know how to go beyond ecstasy and beyond looking at the divine as something that one can possess personally.
I was saying yesterday that psychedelic experiences tend to have two aspects. As a matter of fact, you can classify their effects in many different ways. And people who say there are three things to be remembered, or four things to be remembered about so and so, are really making this in order to put a point across; these sort of classifications. There are always 530 things to be remembered about anything. So don’t take this too seriously. But I’m doing it to make a point. And these two aspects are, on the one hand, the alteration of sense perception, and on the other hand, intuitive insight. And if we could say that the intuitive insight is the aspect of psychedelic experience that corresponds most closely to the natural mystical experience—which does not necessarily involve the types of sensory alteration or alteration of perception so often involved with the chemicals—nevertheless, it’s hard to draw a very straight line between these two aspects. Because every so often the sensory alterations suggest some kind of insight.
I, first of all, want to go into the nature of some of these alterations, typical alterations, and discuss them. But first: you are aware, I suppose, that these chemicals are often classified as hallucinogens—that is to say, chemicals which generate hallucinations. And this has seemed to me a very bad word indeed. Because, of course, hallucination always carries with it some kind of condemnation. It’s a pejorative word. And I have rarely come across an instance of where the use of LSD or mescaline or psilocybin has created a genuine hallucination. For a hallucination is the appearance of something to a particular individual, unseen by others, which he believes to be part of the real world. In other words, if you saw a ghost, it might be claimed that this was a hallucination if you took the ghost as really out there.
But things like that don’t tend to happen. What might be classed as hallucinations are of two kinds. Visions seen with the eyes closed. But of course, you know that these are visions. You know that you are under the influence of a brain-altering chemical, and that therefore unusual things are likely to happen which you are not going to mistake for events in the external world. And therefore, when you close your eyes, and behold the most amazing patterns constructed out of jewels, moving with splendid order in the dark, or see infinite complexities of ferns where the stems sprout fronds and the fronds sprout fronds, and the frondlets sprout frondlets, and forever and forever and forever. Or marvelous arrangements of crystal arabesques. Translucent colored balls moving in space in many dimensions. Enormous temples, vast architectural creations with every kind of wall and tower and cauliflower going on for ever and ever through gigantic spaces. Getting involved in thistles with prickles upon prickles for ever and ever and ever. Visions of Persian palaces, of courtyards, of arabesques, of dancing girls and angels, and knights in armor. All sorts of fantastic things will appear before closed eyes. But you know all the time that these are visions. And of course they create the most extraordinary questions.
What are they? Because, although they are visionary, although they aren’t there in the external world, they very much are in the internal world, and they must have some kind of neurological basis. What are we looking at when we see those things? This is a question which nobody knows how to answer. For, in some way, there must be a physiological basis for this kind of patterning. Is it that we are getting a glimpse of patterning processes within the brain, processes which organize our ordinary thinking about things? After all, you know that when you use the telephone and you dial somebody, there is a machinery which handles it all, but if you go and look at that machinery, you find it has an extraordinarily interesting design. The patterns of electronic equipment are sometimes very beautiful. But you’re not aware of those patterns when you make a telephone call. You’re aware of voices, and that’s it. And bells ringing. So it may be in the same way that, within our minds, our brains, there are perfectly marvelous pattern organizations which we become aware of only under special circumstances.
In other words, what one tends to do under the influence of a psychedelic chemical is to become aware of being aware—that is to say: you turn your senses back on themselves. And one is only inclined to do this when there is an alteration in the normal form of perception. That is to say: in seeing, you do not notice your eyes. In hearing, you do not notice your ears, especially if they’re healthy. But if some disease should attack the eye or the ear, or some temporary inconvenience, and you see spots in front of your eyes, you know that those spots are within the structure of the eye. And if there is singing in your ear, you know that that singing sound is within the structure of the ear. And this turns the sense upon the sense. So, in exactly the same way, if something alters your normal way of seeing things, your attention is diverted from what you see to seeing itself. And this, of course—this awareness of awareness, the turning you back upon yourself, even at this still rather superficial level—is the beginning of a process of self-exploration and self-knowledge.
But it takes a little alteration to do it—as it were, to fasten your interests, because when your eyes are seeing perfectly, there is nothing to fasten on, you see? The eye creates a visual space of total clarity and emptiness (although that’s all inside your head), and you find it difficult to attend to that which has no distinctive features. But when an alteration is introduced, there is some new distinctive feature to sight, but these are very hard to pin down. I gave you an illustration last night of the feeling that everything is at a funny angle. When a picture, as I said, is out of alignment, you know it’s wrong, it’s queer.
Now, supposing everything gets out of alignment and everything has a sense of being funny—I don’t mean funny haha, I mean a bit funny queer; everything is just odd, just a little bit odd. It’s as if everybody had suddenly grown pointed ears. And not only people, but everything has pointed ears on it. Little projectiles sticking up in these kind of pointed ears, you know? That’s elven, that’s foxy. It’s something funny. And leaves on trees suddenly have all pointed ears, you see? We forget that this sort of impression is very strange and very hard to pin down.
So one of the first inquiries that is always interesting in the psychedelic state is to discuss with yourself: what is the difference between this way of seeing things and the normal way? And you can get a group of people sitting around and talking about that, and it becomes one of the oddest conversations because people can’t quite pin down what it is. They all agree there’s something funny. Everything is a little bit off. And yet it looks the same as it should look. But it’s off. And what do we mean by that? We really don’t know. And it would be very difficult to establish a physiological basis for this. It might be done. But, you see, in the same way as when you put on colored glasses everything becomes colored with the color of the glass, and soon your consciousness will start to eliminate that effect, and it will begin after a while to look normal—as it does when you wear sunglasses. So, in the same way, if you put on a glass for every sense that you have, and the name of that glass is funny, everything will look funny. But nevertheless, this discussion—what is the difference between normal awareness and funny awareness—focuses you on the whole thing of awareness; on the whole process, which does not ordinarily happen unless you do meditation practices designed to do exactly that.
So another thing that is comparable to this that happens is what I would call the feeling that everything is significant. This is a funny word. Taken literally, “significant” means something which serves as a sign, which signifies something other than itself. I say, “This is a very significant remark that you’ve made.” It means that it has a deep meaning. But there is another sense of significant which means “important,” “valuable,” “interesting,” in that sense. Now, how can you possibly describe a state of mind in which everything appears to be significant? Logically, this is absurd. Just like everything being off-center at a funny angle. But nevertheless, however absurd it is logically, it is nevertheless a characteristic of this state.
For example, supposing somebody reads. Somebody sits down and reads poetry. Well, you see the meaning of the poetry in the ordinary way. But you also see a lot more than you normally notice. That is to say, every tone and texture of the reader’s voice, every clearing of his throat, every pause to take a breath, every gesture is integrated into the poem. It becomes important. It becomes significant. It is as if there were some sort of signal system in the brain which attaches cues to various experiences. So that you know, for example, the difference between a direct experience and a memory. Because some experiences have the “here and now” cue attached to them, as when you sit and look at somebody. Other experiences, as when you close your eyes and remember the face of a friend who’s not here, they have the “memory” cue attached to them. So you know that that’s not a “here and now.” Well so, in a similar way, our experiences, we attach to them cues: “important,” “notice this.” There are other cues: “unimportant,” “don’t bother,” or perhaps no cue at all.
Now here, in this state of consciousness, everything gets cued. Everything! Everything you look at becomes important. And you realize that it’s only an arbitrary kind of human scheme of selection that says these things are important and those are not. Because everything is important to something. You then get this curious sense, you see, that it doesn’t really matter what you look at or what you listen to. Anything will do. Only, there does remain a residue of value judgment so that you are still capable of saying, “I would rather look at this than at that.” But if it so happens that you just, for the sake of experiment, choose to look at what you would rather not look at, it in turn becomes absolutely fascinating.
Among the other alterations—I’ve thought of quite a number of them—I mentioned already the motion alteration, where the world seems to breathe, where walls seem as if they were made of cloth with an electric fan behind so that they they wave, where the pile in a carpet, if you look closely into it, every little bunch of threads constituting pile can start to wiggle.
Now, similar to that is what I would call the experience of grain in the senses. Once I was in this experiment, and I was looking at the mullions in windows—like here, you see?—and although I wasn’t seeing any more mullions than they actually are, I wasn’t seeing double, nevertheless, the arrangement of one after another gave the impression of doubling. It was like seeing double. And yet, on account, I counted the same as a person in the ordinary state of consciousness. But one seemed to be a replica of another, of another, of another, of another. And the same would be true in looking at any sort of regular pattern in a carpet, or whatever. And then the doctor said, “Hold up a finger and see if you see that double.” And no, I said, “No. Oh, but yes!” But what I had seen was that, just beside my finger, there was a wisp of cigarette smoke. And this wisp—being just at the same height as the finger, right here—became a basis for an eidetic image of a second finger. In other words, just the same way as you work the Rorschach blot into all sorts of shapes, so I work the Rorschach blot of smoke in the air into a second finger beside the first. And for a moment it seemed just like it, until I detected the source of the illusion.
This led to examination of stones. And very quickly I suddenly somehow got into the impression that the whole space of the visual field seemed as if handfuls of pebbles had been thrown into it. And the whole visual space was constructed out of ever so many interlacing concentric circles. You know, for example, in the way that color pictures are sometimes reproduced. There are several techniques. They depend on the various kinds of screen that are used for printing. Well, there is a type of screen that is made up of ever so many circular patterns, all interlocking and intermeshing with each other. And so the whole visual world seemed to be based on a screen or grid of this kind.
Now, the interesting thing was that I could not at any point isolate actual lines in space forming this grid which did not coincide with some ordinary sense-perceived object. In other words, there was nothing to be seen that would not ordinarily be seen, and yet my eyes had organized what is ordinarily to be seen into this pattern of ever so many concentric circles. It’s as if, in other words, when you listen to an alarm clock—you know, the old-fashioned kind that go click-clock, click-clock, click-clock, click-clock, click-clock? Now they don’t. They go. Click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click. But you hear click-clock or tick-tock because your mind resents the monotony of tick-tick. And then, you know, afterwards you can rhyme doggerel to this clock. And you can hear tunes in it: it becomes the beat, and you fit tunes in with the beat and things like that. Well, in just the same way that you do that, so your eyes can organize what they see into patterns which (we would say in the ordinary way) aren’t there. They can pick out waves: as I see a row of people sitting, with their heads on top, there’s a thing like this, you see? Rippling right through you. See? And ever so many things like that can be done.
And so you start, when you see that, asking questions. What is the right way to organize the way you see the world? Everybody running around and agreeing, of course, that they see the world the normal way and the proper way—yes, but is this actually so? After all, it’s an agreement. Supposing we had agreed to see it a different way. See, because the world, as I’ve often said, is essentially an enormous Rorschach blot. It’s profoundly wiggly, except in places where men have tried to straighten it out by building straight walls, straight highways, and so on. But the natural world is wiggly all the way through, including our own bodies. Well, how are you going to interpret these wiggles? How are you going to decide how much of a wiggle constitutes one wiggle? What is a unit of wiggle? You see?
So apparently, what has happened in the course of many, many millennia is that persuasive human beings have said, “Well now, look: this is the way it goes and everybody’s got to agree with me. Surely this is this is the way it goes.” And everybody says—because this guy is kind of rough—“Yes! That’s right! That is the way it goes.” So whether these people were powerful physically or powerful persuasively, we’ve all more or less agreed to see the world the same way. Although we have not agreed—yet, you see—to speak the same language. We’re still using an enormous number of different languages. But these things, you see—these organizing patterns which we project upon the world—are, as it were, languages of another kind. They are patterning methods: methods of thinking, structures of thinking, which we use to organize the external world in exactly the same way that one uses the string-bag of longitudes and latitudes in which the world is hung to organize it. Or the celestial latitudes and longitudes to organize the stars. These webs, these grids, are fundamental to organized thinking about the world. Numbers, you see, are a similar kind of patterning. And the mathematician knows all kinds of patterns. Lattices, matrices, and so on, which can be used for organizing things.
So, another aspect of this grain-experience in the senses is what I would call pointillism. You know, pointillism is a school of painting that was invented in France, especially associated with the name of Seurat, where the painting is composed of minute dots in many colors. And this is a very common psychedelic phenomenon, similar to the concentric circles that I just mentioned: to see everything consisting of points. Once again, you are not able to specify, actually to put a needlepoint, on any one of these points. And yet, everything that you see, the ordinary vision of the world, seems to be made up of my new dots. And you begin to wonder. You know that, after all, you have many nerve ends. All over your body there are endings of nerves, and these are especially sensitive in the retina. And you wonder: am I becoming aware of the multiplicity of my nerve ends, of every single unit that picks up the external world? And therefore I see in the external world a point corresponding to each one of my nerve ends that picks it up? Well, it might be that.
But as you think about that, you are liable to get fascinated with the idea of one nerve end: one point, one—as it were—basic unit of sensitivity. And I have christened this basic unit the eenie-weenie. The eenie-weenie is a fundamental, you might say, unit of conscious life; sensitive life. And when you begin to think about this one unit of conscious life, very extraordinary things begin to happen. Because you realize: well, we’ve got really down to simplicity now. We’ve got this, as it were, one fundamental point, which is what is called in Hindu philosophy a bindu. Bindu is an atom, but not a physical atom in the sense of what our physicists mean by an atom. This is an intellectual atom. The finest that any grain can get. It’s almost like the Euclidean point: having position but no magnitude. Except that it isn’t quite as abstract as that.
The eenie-weenie is very much alive. It is a unit of UNGH. And I use this word UNGH to indicate what is common to all senses—a unit of sight, of sound, of touch, of taste, of smell. And all these senses, as you begin to realize with psychedelics, are really one sense specialized in five different ways. That’s why you, in certain cases, hear colors, see sounds, and so on. It all seems to go together. Well, of course it would. Because they’re all specializations of our basic sensitivity. All senses are fundamentally a sort of touch. So the eenie-weenie is this fundamental unit of touch.
Now, as you know about a neuron, a neuron is such that it can give either yes or no as a message. That is to say, either it fires or it doesn’t. So then, the eenie-weenie is like that. It’s either black or white. But you begin to see that it’s both, because black always involves white and white always involves black. So this eenie-weenie is one, but two-faced. Also, its being one implies all the others. “One” implies “many” because you can’t think “one” unless you can think “many,” you can’t see “many” unless you can think “one.” The concepts are inseparable. “One” doesn’t mean anything unless you know what “many” is. “Many” doesn’t mean anything unless you know what “one” is. So suddenly the eenie-weenie, being one, implies all the others, and being itself, it implies an outside which is not itself. But if you can’t have the outside without the inside—in other words, if you can’t have the space around the eenie-weenie without the eenie-weenie, and you can’t have the eenie-weenie without the space—then somehow it’s very difficult to say that the eenie-weenie, the one little unit, and everything else are different. They’re not. They go together.
And this leads you into the most fascinating of all aspects of psychedelic experience, which I would call the experience of relativity. This gets us back to significance: what is important? Now, we human beings think we’re important, and that we have a very complex civilization. That our libraries, our cities, our organizations, our institutions, our nations, our wonders of religion and philosophy and art and architecture and so on, they’re the most complicated and the most significant thing that ever existed on Earth. And when we look at and realize that there are little cells in our bodies that have a sort of independent civic life, and that there are all kinds of microorganisms which, when we see them, we don’t see the familiar human shape, we see something more or less globular. We say, “Well, that’s a very primitive shape compared with the shape of man. It doesn’t have a highly organized nervous system as ours, and therefore is obviously an inferior creature.” But with the psychedelic you have time to think about things you don’t ordinarily think about. You say, “Nu-uh! Not so hurried. Not so hurried.” How do you know this thing isn’t as complicated as you are? You haven’t been really looked. Start looking.
And we know a scientist can start looking, and he can find that one small, tiny microorganism is very complicated indeed. And why wouldn’t it be that, from the point of view of this microorganism, its affairs are extraordinarily complex and very important? I mean, imagine just something that we know a lot about—it’s a long way from a microorganism—let’s consider a bee: what do bees know about subtle distinctions between different kinds of honey that we’ve never thought of? Supposing a bee is arranged that it does exactly what it likes. And yet, at the same time, this is always socially acceptable. It’s a pretty groovy sort of civilization, that, wouldn’t it be? You never have to stop to think, “Would this offend anybody?” or anything like that. You do just what you feel like doing, and everybody accepts it. It’s perfectly fine. You play the rules automatically.
Well, human beings would say that’s not much of a challenge. After all, it’s more significant if you could do something wrong, if you could make a mistake. Well, that’s our way of thinking of it; that’s our particular taste—that we think it’s more fun to play it that way. They may think it’s more fun to play it the other way. They say, “What would you want to introduce all that nonsense for? When you can live a perfectly satisfactory life like a bee, why do you want to go and bring in a kind of principle of evil choice just to make everything messy?” Well, it’s another form of game, you know? Every game has some kind of a forfeit in it. You’ve got to lose something in order to find it, or to win it back. That’s the essence of a game. That’s why you shuffle the deck of cards at the beginning: to create chaos. And then you work against it, you see?
So everybody has some kind of thing that’s a forfeit to play their life game. Otherwise, there’d been no game, see? We think it’s important to survive. Well, it isn’t. But we say so, you see? It doesn’t make the slightest difference whether you live a short time or whether you live a long time. After all, here are these fruit flies, drosophila: they come and go, come and go, come and go with extraordinary rapidity. Generation after generation in a few days. But from their point of view, this is perfectly satisfactory, normal life. Because I think the same about myself. And if I cannot assume similar processes in other creatures which are going on in me, then I am reduced to total solipsism. That is to say: that there are people who argue that, although you can learn Chinese, you will never—however much you study Chinese and however much you speak with Chinese people—you will never do anything, really, that understands Chinese. Because you weren’t born with it. You are always translating it into English, and so you’re permanently precluded from understanding another culture. Well, you can carry that argument right down to understanding another person of your own culture. Say: well, he’s another person, and you never really know another person. So we all are broken up into island universes which have no real communication between each other at all. Well, the only reason I reject that is that it affords the basis is a game rule which has very little play in it. In other words, it’s as boring as tossing to see whether it will be heads or tails. But the assumption that other people and other cultures really can be understood, and that the further assumption that things that are not human, that maybe insects or mammals or fish also are highly civilized, is far more interesting assumption than that they’re merely creatures of no importance.
But so, you see, though, that it is an assumption that we ought to go on living. But, you see, it’s a meaningless assumption when you really examine it, because mere going on, mere quantitative length of time, is just so much time. It has no special qualitative meaning to it. So we say a person died a glorious death: he died for some great cause, you see. And woom! he went out, you see? But we say that thing that went on for a few minutes: short life. He was a young man. He went up in a bang, but it was a glorious explosion. And everybody builds monuments to him and says he was a great man. See?
So there is a value, then, to the short and explosive as well as to the long and dull roar kind of a scene. But when you’re really fixed on a game rule, you see—like: you ought to go on living—it’s very, very difficult indeed to see that you really don’t have to. To see, in other words, what this so often comes down to is relativity. Well, let me postpone that for a moment. I want to further the idea of relativity. So what you see, then, is that at every level of being, all creatures are confronted with the same tasks and have the same problems and are really in the same situation. The infinitely small is as big as the big can be, and the big is as small as the small can be. Because, after all, when you get down, down, down, down to the most minute things you can conceive, it turns out that they are surrounded with spaces that are (relatively) as vast as the spaces between the bodies of the solar system or between the different galaxies on the large scale. So if there are beings of any kind of sensitivity dwelling on these minute points of whatever, they will look out, and what we see as galaxies will not be visible to them at all. They will find themselves in the same sort of universe we find ourselves in.
Because the kind that—you see, every creature that is sensitive finds itself in the middle. See, each one of you is in the middle of the world. Because you radiate a sensitivity—in other words: the extent to which your eyes will see, your ears will pick up sound, is always a circle or a sphere. And you can expand that sphere by instruments—telescopes and radio astronomy, or whatever it may be; telephones—but still, you’re in the middle. That’s the most important place. Everybody’s in the most important place. The middle. And we say: man is the measure of all things. It’s a funny feeling that man stands in the middle. Of course he does! He knows, as it were, so much higher than himself and so much lower than himself. Probably equal in both directions. So much bigger, so much littler.
So when you get down to very tiny, that thing, too, feels in the same place that you do. But you might say: “Oh, well, but really, it’s very tiny.” Because, after all, we are fairly tiny. And there may be, in other words, beyond all the galaxies that we are aware of, vast systems that we have no knowledge of at all. And they are, after all, bigger. Are they? Are you sure? Bigger? Or are they just in the same place? You see? Eventually you can construct a scheme where you get bigger and bigger and bigger, and that bigger is the same place as the tiniest. It goes round in a circle. That’s, you might say at first, difficult to think about. But it is perfectly logical concept. Perfectly simple. Only it’s unfamiliar. So is the sense—you see, as this grows—you realize that everything is in the same position.
I remember I was thinking about this once and at the same time listening to Hindu music. And the concept of this immense relativity was really moving in me, and I was full of marvel at it. And it was somewhat terrifying. Somehow, the Hindu music is very deep stuff. You have to have quite a trained ear to go and see that it is something just as profound as anything written by Bach or Beethoven. But I suddenly said: you know, there are moments in this music when God himself calls out for help. I don’t know what I meant by that, but something like this: in the Hindu philosophy, as you know, they believe that God plays hide and seek with himself, and that he, for, as it were, half the time (whatever time is; anyway, half of it), he gets lost deliberately and forgets that he’s God. And he gets as lost as last can get, you know, which is the end of experience that we call the screaming meemies. And that’s when God calls out for help. Immediately he answers, of course, because he wakes up and finds out who he really is.
But what you begin to see through this relativity thing, that everything is central, everything is as important as everything else—however big, however little—you realize it’s all God in the same position. But now that begins to scare you, because you say: well, I can’t believe that I’m God. That would surely be very blasphemous. Because, after all, I’m not very good, and God is supposed to be good. And I’m not very powerful, and God is supposed to be all-powerful. What do you mean, you’re not powerful? It isn’t a question of whether you are powerful or not powerful. Powerful and impotent are just two opposites of the same game. If you didn’t feel some lack of power, you wouldn’t feel any power. I mean, you couldn’t be all-powerful because that would mean nothing. There would be just nothing happening if you were all powerful. But power and impotence—to be able and not to be able—are two phases of the same thing. So in the same way is the voluntary (what I can do) and the involuntary (what I can’t or can’t help doing) They are phases of the same. You wouldn’t know one without the other.
And you begin to see: ah yes! Isn’t that fascinating? And then, in a funny way, you begin to realize it’s a sort of secret that you are willing what happens to you without your will. Because you see that you couldn’t will anything unless there was also that that was other, that you couldn’t will, that was beyond your control. And it begins to dawn. You begin to see the whole thing: that you’re not just something fighting the world all on your little lonesome, but that the whole thing that you think you’re fighting is the other side of you. But the whole game is to make it seem as other and as strange as possible, as foreign, because that’s getting way out. That’s making excitement.
And you say: well now, why, then, can’t I just switch it off? Couldn’t I suddenly realize—bang! Like this, sitting here—that all that is other than me, all that I don’t will, is really me? Why can’t I just do that, see? I only ask you. You think you can’t because you think about it superficially. Would you want to? Would you want the disintegration of the other? And find out that it’s merely you in the sense of your ego? No! The self has to contain something more complex than merely “ego.” It has to have an element in it which seems to resist.
See, when you move your arm like this, you have here what are called antagonistic muscles. And dependent on these is motion. I prefer to call them complementary muscles, but still, they are called antagonistic. It’s alright. So when this muscle contracts and the bicep contracts, this one relaxes. And so the opposite way when you do this. Now, you see, they play with each other, against each other. And so they make a movement possible. So it is with the voluntary and the involuntary, the power and the non-power: where I conquer and where I surrender. See? You get this feeling now, see? You see, I played it all the way through. Everything, every creature, every center of sensitivity, every eenie-weenie in the world is the same one. They’re all in the same position. But the whole thing is to look as if they weren’t, because that’s the hiding part of the game, the concealing part. So that every single eenie-weenie or human being or whatever you want—any unit of sensitivity, however you want to measure it—looks down and looks up and says, “Well, those things aren’t me. They’re weird, they’re very different,” see? “And especially I don’t like spiders or snakes”—or whatever it is that you don’t like, and: “No, no, that’s not human.” And we talk about snake’s eyes, you know? How they have no warmth in them. What do you think our look like to a snake? And I’ve often said, what about: how do the teeth of a gorgeous girl look to an oyster?
So then you realize, you see, that the whole point of it is that those things have to look different. That’s the whole point: that if you didn’t feel they were not human, they were something else, you wouldn’t know you were human! And so they, on their side, look at you. You, as a human being, have some claim—although it’s probably merely relative—to be the most predatory monster on Earth. Because the fish stay in the sea, the birds pretty much stay in air, but human beings range through an ocean and everything after their prey. I mean, supposing the sharks could walk!
So when all this starts in, you begin to experience an extraordinary kinship with all other forms of life—not only kinship with insects and worms and bacteria and so on, but also with people. Because you begin to see that everybody’s faced with the same problem you are. Everybody has the same death problem, and that everybody’s workings aren’t to be easily dismissed as good and bad. And say: well, that’s good and that’s bad, and therefore I can feel. Well, what’s the point of all this judgment, as a matter of fact? People judge despite the fact that Jesus said, “Judge not that you’ll be not judged,” but what’s the point of it all?
Well, the point of it all is so that I feel that I’m right. See? Because you can despise other people in certain ways, or other classes of people and say: well, they’re terrible. But you wouldn’t know you were in the right unless you had all those terrible people around you. I was talking in a previous seminar about in-groups. And just for those of you who weren’t here I’ll say briefly: everybody’s trying to get themselves into an in-group—that is to say, to be nice people. And everybody who does constitute an in-group thinks that they’re the nice people and that the outsiders, even though they belong to a very fancy in-group, are all nasty people. See?
And so, if you’re in any given American town, say; live on the right side of the tracks and you’re the nice people, and there are all those bums and [black people] and whatever… Mexicans over there, and you say, “Ugh!” Then they, on the other hand, say, “Gee, we really live a real life. Because we have to face poverty. We are right down close to the bone. And here, although it’s rough, the meat is sweet. And those people don’t know it. Those wretched. They’re all big bosses, and they own all the land, and they own all the property. And they are a worthless bunch of junk. They’re not even Christians!” And they don’t want anything to do with them. And so they feel they’re the real in-group, you see? But neither one can know it is the real in-group without the contrast or the other, see? You depend on people who you could look down on in order to be able to feel up. And so you should recognize this and say, “Thank you very much for giving me the privilege of being an in-group, because without you I wouldn’t know where I was!”
And so you see all these human games running together, and you begin to feel: gee, isn’t that marvelous! You know, at first it starts being kind of cynical. You see everybody’s out after himself, and that some people are very loving and very cooperative because they realize that this pays, that this makes other people love them and that they’re playing a game just like the people who are hostile and grumpy and aggressive and rude, and they get their way that way. You will see everybody’s playing the game of being selfish. And the first is gives you the horrors. You say: “Are we all, after all, nothing but little horrible island cells, each one out for itself?” And as this becomes very uncomfortable—if, you know, you’ve been brought up with a Christian conscience. But then you begin to see what is it that you’re being selfish about? What is it that you love when you say, “I love myself?”
This becomes exceedingly puzzling. You realize that what you love when you love yourself is always some other object than yourself. You like eating ice cream. You like beautiful views. You like your house. You like your friends. You like kissing beautiful girls. You like this. But it’s all not me! See? You suddenly realize you can’t separate your self that you love from everything else that your self implies. Then, you know, you begin to wonder which end is up. But it soon clarifies, and you suddenly see the whole thing—and this can become with psychedelics a very, very vivid thing—the whole universe as a colossal energy play going this way and that way, totally indestructible, and it’s all you, and you didn’t know it. It doesn’t mean you’re the only one. This thing proliferates in millions and millions of centers, but it’s all one center. And you can get the physical sensation of the thing being an enormous, as it were, sort of center of light: of joyous, whooping, glorious, loving BOOM, like that. And this will only usually last for a few moments, where you feel you’ve actually put your finger on the center of reality. And it’s this tremendous luminous energy. Just beautiful!
And then, as as this passes off, you see, as it were, the reflected glory of this in everything you look at. And at that moment, you see, in the experience, you begin to come down. And as you look more and more, you see, of course: I don’t object to being in a different state of consciousness than what I’ve just been in. You go back to being ordinary because now I’ve seen what ordinary consciousness is underneath. It’s this fantastic game of hide and seek. And it’s perfectly alright to come back, because actually, since all is one, there is no difference between my perfectly everyday existence and this stupendous vision of glory that I’ve just seen, because the one implies the other. They go together. This is the game. This is the hide and seek.
And so you can come back into an extremely integrated, restful, quiet sense of peace, never forgetting that you have seen relativity and that relativity is the key to the fundamental unity. Because that which is related—all extremes are related to each other in a polar way. They are not things that are separate from each other, as if the opposing forces of light and darkness came from such opposite ends of the cosmos that there wasn’t even a joining point between them, and met in a clash. It is rather that, as a flower expands from a center and blossoms, you could draw diameters across it, picking out opposite petals, but they all come from the same center.
Integrating the Beatific Vision
I have left around a number of (what I would call) psychedelic books, which you will notice consist very largely of photographs of pattern in nature: crystal structures, shells, bone structures, leaf structures, animalcules, erosion patterns, patterns in marble, all kinds of pattern in nature. Because, for some reason or other, one of the strongest effects that I had from the use of psychedelics was a vastly renewed appreciation of this dimension of the natural world; a kind of perception that the whole world is pattern.
This is a very strange feeling, because our common sense normally bases the world on substance. We think of primordial and more or less solid stuff, which is found in dense forms as in granite or a ball of steel, and found in very refined forms such as a gas. And we think that all the world is shapes of, forms of, this primordial stuff. But one of the extraordinary consequences of using psychedelics is that everything suddenly turns into transparency. I think that’s what some physicists have tried to say. I’m thinking of Sir Arthur Eddington in particular, when he remarked that it seems to turn out that the stuff of the world is the same as the stuff of our consciousness—as if awareness itself and material substance were really not different.
And whatever this means scientifically, the psychological implication of it is somehow to make the physical world light lighter—in every sense: somehow less heavy, less burdensome, and lighter in the sense of more permeated with light. If you look, for example, at those reproductions of Persian miniatures that I brought out, you will see what I mean by the vision of the world as being lit internally; illuminated from within. But the interesting thing about this from a scientific point of view is that the physical description of the world does not require the concept of substance. It requires only the concept of pattern. Because upon a physical analysis, all substances (however solid) are finally described in terms of patterns: the patterns of their molecules, atoms, electrons and so forth. And it is always the description of the pattern that seems to count.
Common sense seems to urge us to ask the question: but what’s the pattern made of? In other words, if we see everything reduced to a lot of circles or winding lines, we want to know what are those lines made of? But when you think it through, the only way anybody can ever tell you about them is to describe still smaller patterns within them. Nobody can really think of a way of talking about stuff. Because if it has no pattern and it’s just sort of homogeneous all the way through and has really no shape in itself, I can’t imagine a way of talking about it. But you can number and describe and make out, delineate, patterns.
And so the world takes on (from this point of view) what I would best call a musical quality—music having the peculiarity of being a language, a form of art, in which the principal delight is pattern, and the whole meaning is in the pattern. Music, you see, really doesn’t mean anything at all. It’s a great art. But one can have absolutely magnificent music which represents nothing and describes nothing; one enjoys it simply for itself in the same way as you might enjoy fireworks, or watching ripples on water, or watching the shapes of clouds. They don’t mean anything, and yet they’re orderly. And so one becomes peculiarly aware of this world as play.
I have described an experience in The Joyous Cosmology which was actually based on an experiment with the Mexican mushrooms, with psilocybin, in which I was listening to some Hindu music at the time in which the players were doing nothing but vocalizing the rhythm of drums. And they have a way of doing it with the syllables dit-dee dit-dah. You know? Dit-dee, dit-dah. Dah-dit dee-dah. So on. And they get up to a tremendous speed saying this, and it was the most gorgeous babble. And then they were playing these various instruments, and all the sounds became—I became peculiarly aware of the nonsense in them. There was, for example, an oboe sound which sounds like somebody singing with his nose pinched. Meeeeeeeeh, weeeeeeaaah oooowwooowooweeeaaah. You know, this sort of sound. Children love to do that. It makes a fascinating noise. Why is it fascinating? Heaven only knows! But in this sort of bleaah, bleaah, bleaah, bleaah sound, which they weave together with incredible skill, Hindu music involves the most complex orders of pattern, and to count it out is quite difficult. But they do it with consummate skill, especially with drums. And as a result of listening to this, everything became that. Everything became Hindu music.
And so people—you see, when we listen to our own music, well, that’s very serious and we take it all for granted. This is a violin and this is a piano. And these seem to be very normal noises. And we’ve so long been accustomed to them that we take them for granted, and we think that they’re perfectly sensible. Whereas, of course, if you listen to it with new ears, they’re nothing of the kind. I mean, take an organ, for example: what a monstrous construction of pipes! And playing all these sounds through them, blowing through holes, is simply fascinating. When you hear the Hindus who do things musically that at first sight strike us as ridiculous, because they concentrate on using sounds that we avoid. But we do sometimes use those sounds when we’re, especially as children, are trying to see what funny noises we can make. And so they will do things with their voices that sound to us like some sort of clowning. But to them, of course, this is all perfectly normal and serious music—unless, of course, they are turned on when they’re listening, as they very often are in India, and it’s perfectly legitimate there. The thing that they forbid is alcohol. It’s difficult to get in India. But they don’t forbid bhāṅg.
I remember I was having dinner in Kyoto with a Buddhist priest and a little party. And naturally, all Japanese, including Buddhist priests, are drinkers. And he passed around beer and sake in fairly plentiful quantities. There was sitting at the table a Hindu man, very intelligent fellow, and I noticed he refused them. So a little later I said to him, “Do you not drink for religious reasons?” He said, “Oh, no, it is not that. It is just that I don’t need it and I don’t want to cumber myself with just something I don’t need.” I said, “Do you drink bhāṅg?” “Oh, yes!” He said. “You would like it! Is a very good drink!” And, as you know, bhāṅg is an infusion of cannabis indica. And so I suppose the Hindus hear their own music from that point of view very frequently. Cannabis is hemp; vulgarly known as pot.
So the impression, you see, of this music—at the time and in the state of mind I was in—in becoming the music and becoming this sort of marvelous nonsense, everything became that. And so I could see life behaving as patterns do so often behave. Look at a tree: you see, first of all, the heavy outline of the trunk. Then the trunk gives birth to branches, and the branches give birth to twigs, and the twigs give birth to leaves, and the leaves give birth to hairs and veins. And if you go on looking with a microscope, there is wiggle after wiggle after wiggle after wiggle, all coming out, and yet all adding up to the perfection of this tree’s pattern like some sort of symphony. And so I could see all the wiggles and patterns of human imagination and behavior as being involved in this. And the things that we call good as well as the things that we call bad, the things that we call healthy as well as the things that we call sick, the enlightened and illuminated and liberated point of view as well as the egocentric point of view in bondage—all of them as being integral parts of this terrific playfulness which the Hindus call the līlā, or sport, of creation—or better: play. Better than sport. “Play” in the sense of playing the piano, playing the drama, and so on. Not “play” in the sense of the trivial.
So it was a most astounding feeling of being entirely a pattern. And nobody was making the pattern. There wasn’t a patterner outside the pattern, the pattern itself was it. It grew itself. It created itself. It was spontaneous. It was all there was. And what a was-ness! And so one is constantly reminded of this by all natural forms and objects in which pattern is very apparent, and in which at the same time transparency is apparent. These two aesthetic qualities go together to be suggestive of the psychedelic experience. And so it seems more than ever natural to surround oneself with not only the objects of human art, but with dried flowers and herbs and grasses and seashells and various kinds of rocks and crystals.
And I know a very great sculptor, and—no, she’s not a sculptor, she’s really a mosaic artist and painter. Her name is Louisa Jenkins, and she is a great admirer of Teilhard de Chardin, the very progressive Jesuit theologian. She’s a Catholic, and she has caught this feeling of universal pattern from him. And her studio is an absolute wonder museum. And she sees the artistic significance of everything. For example, we were having dinner with her one evening, and she was serving Japanese sake in those small cups—her cups were white—and one of them dropped off the table and split in two. And we were about to pick it up and throw it away. She said, “Oh, don’t throw that away.” She said, “I have a use for it.” And a little later she presented me—it’s hanging in the dining room, there—with an amazing face made on a flat disk of cement, and the sake cups had been turned upside down and used as the eyelids for this creature. Well, the thing is that her whole studio contains—yes, she painted this. This is Leviathan, the monster of the deep. Her whole studio contains things like skeleton leaves, feathers of the most intricate type, fish skeletons, animal’s bones, marvelous pieces of driftwood, gorgeous blocks of quartz. Everything that is absolutely fascinating. A child would go out of its head in that studio.
But somehow this intimates a world which is entirely design; pattern. And it has an extraordinary levity and joyousness to it. It seems to be a world that is immaterial—in the double sense of the fact that it is not material, and that it doesn’t matter (in the sense of when something matters, that it is grave and thus heavy). It becomes, in other words, a universe whose whole meaning is playfulness. But playfulness must—in order to succeed—must have an aspect which simulates tragedy, and can play at not play so that one can realize play. It is fundamentally play, but it plays very serious games, or plays at seriousness.
Now, this leads me to a question that is important about the use of psychedelics. All the people who have been involved with it talk about games. Game theory is very fundamental to it. Now, when Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert were at Harvard, both of them started out in their work as very, very respectable scientists in psychology. They knew all about statistics, and Timothy Leary, while he had been here at Berkeley, had done some very careful statistical analysis of psychological mechanisms and so on, and went on and got his doctorate, and was a very respected scientist. Then they began working with psilocybin. Well, they made what was to their colleagues the fatal mistake, not just of experimenting on subjects and making careful notes and analysis of how they reacted, but they took it themselves. And then they slowly began to realize that what is called serious scientific inquiry is a kind of game. And you can see it as that, of course, without being under the influence of a psychedelic, just by reading some of the literature—especially in the social sciences, where you will find amazing jargons are used, and that you have to be able to speak that jargon in order to belong to the academic fraternity. If you don’t talk that way and if you don’t acquire the special rituals of the fraternity, you are not one of the boys. And an enormous amount of these investigations are truly trivial.
I remember—for a time I was associated with a certain university which has a famous Department of Education that’s in this state. And I remember reading the subjects of masters dissertations when their degrees were awarded at commencement, and what they had done, you see, was to choose subjects about running schools which were as specialized as you could get. I mean, somebody got his master’s thesis from writing about the relationship of windows in a classroom to the circulation of air for the children. This is fundamentally a job for a constructor or architect or someone. I mean, you know? But that this qualifies one for a master’s degree in education is simply fantastic. But all those sciences—and this is particularly true of the study of English—they want to become scientific. And that means: studying something minutely. Well, it’s very important, sometimes, for a physicist or a chemist to study something extremely minutely. But what these other people are doing, because that the physicist and the chemist have acquired a certain power and status through their studies, they are simply trying to copy the method of doing things in spheres where this method is not particularly applicable. And so it becomes strictly a game—especially in psychology, where anything that is studied has more variables in it than anyone can think about. But it does make a very, very pretentious thesis to put forward some really good psychological statistics. So—I shall have more to say about psychological statistics in a few minutes—but so it becomes a game of staying in a certain caste.
Well, they saw through this, you see, and they felt at once that it was really rather ridiculous that they were doing this game, and the psychology department at Harvard University, and all this, and they ought to be mumbling in their beards and looking very grave. And so the funny thing was, the university couldn’t stand it. And there was a question as to whether they were resigned or actually fired—it was probably both—but they just couldn’t go on with it. But now, then, it followed from that that they had to react to the opposite extreme and play another game altogether, which was, of course—what game is there, that is the opposite of the academic game? It is obviously the beatnik game—which is another game, too, because that, too, has its uniform, its rituals, its language; everything. And the moment you begin to start talking that way, you align yourself with a certain in-group. I mean, if you dig things instead of appreciating them, and so on, that that puts you in a certain thing. Because they have their in-group language just as the academic people do. They’re all games.
Well now, the problem becomes this: there is a danger when you see how game-y life is; to overtly to regard everybody as playing games. So that, when somebody says something to you which is supposed to be either serious or sincere (the two things are not the same), you treat it as a game gambit. And a person who is by no means ready to admit that he’s playing games is very, very put off with this. Because you say: you don’t take me seriously, you’re treating me as just as if I were playing games. And so, too, when people get swept away by the notion that everybody is playing games: they’re also liable to get what has been called the holy man syndrome—which is: I am divine, and therefore I am above right and wrong. I can do anything I please because, after all, it’s only a game. And this is one of the things that in what I would call imbalanced people is very liable indeed to result from the use of psychedelics, and one of the reasons why society is afraid of it. And this really does present a considerable problem.
Of course, we can look to the experience of the past to give us a bit of help in this, because in Asia there have, of course, for centuries been people who attained a state of consciousness involving the point of view that the world is a game, and that it is fundamentally harmonious, and that good and evil are ultimately reconciled. Zhuang Zhou says in his book:
Those who would have good government without its opposite misrule do not understand the great principles of the universe. One might as well talk about having the positive principle without the negative principle. And such people are therefore either knaves or fools.
Pretty bold statement. But nevertheless, the great Taoist sages and the Buddhist masters have always known very well indeed how to handle themselves in terms of a relationship to ordinary society, and have known how to take their holiness lightly, and if one has to have a halo, how to wear it over one ear.
If you consult, for example, the literature of Zen, and if you know anything about the way Zen is carried on, here you find an astounding ability of the great men to carry their exalted spiritual state in a very human way. One of the great points of Zen is that its ideal is not to become a super-man, only a man—a human. And so the Zen people do not aspire to any claim of super-humanity. And the last thing that they learn in their very long training, say, of a person who is going to teach Zen—you might think it would be the first thing, but it is the last thing—the last thing they learn is the Zen interpretation of moral precepts. It comes right at the end. If you read this new book by Miura and Sasaki called The Zen Koan, which was just published, Miura discusses the all the stages of kōan study. And right at the end comes the study of the precepts. The irritating thing about this book is that it doesn’t tell you anything. It tells you a lot of headings, but no content. And one sometimes wishes that they would either put up or shut up. But it does have in its marvelous translations of Zen poems which are well worth the price of the book.
But anyway, this thing, this point, does come out: that it is all part of making a bridge between deep insight and the everyday life of the world. Just as I said: you can’t go off into ecstasy—or at least, you can, but it isn’t a good idea to go off into ecstasy and not ground it. So, in just the same way, it is not a good idea to go off into a state of godly omnipotence and divine holiness, et cetera, and not bring it down to Earth.
And this is one of the things that I could really complain about among many people who have taken a great deal of psychedelic substances. There is this tendency to pooh-pooh everything. For example, I mean—and to do absolutely outrageous things. There is a movement afoot called the Neo-American Church to put the whole thing on a religious basis. But what do you suppose they do? They have a number of what you might call elders of this church, but they call each one a boohoo. A boohoo. Well, I mean, some people are just going out of their way to make themselves ridiculous. This is the revolution, you see. And some people are fired with a real revolutionary spirit that we are going to make this thing work, we are going to turn the world on—but we are going to do it on our terms. Of course, you can see from the standpoint of deep insight that it’s a very cute idea to call a religious patriarch a boohoo. I don’t know what boohoo always means in American slang. In my slang it means a crybaby. Or it means something… it could mean sort of a hot air bag. And true Zen masters in their private references to each other refer to one another as rice bags and tramps and bums, and all sorts of things. But outwardly, so far as their contact with the world is concerned, they wear the proper and dignified governments of high officials, which they’re expected to wear. Because people want someone who is in a position of great authority or responsibility to look like it. So the pope is the only man you can’t slap on the back and call Harry.
So it is of the essence of real insight that when you arrive at the point of understanding—what for want of a better term I must call the total harmony of the world—you have to see that, in this scheme of things, there really is no person who is superior or inferior in the final sense of this of this word. That is to say, it becomes apparent that everybody (at his level and in his place) is manifesting the divine just as much as you are, or as much as any Buddha is. This is why it’s said in the Buddhist scriptures that when you become a Buddha, everybody else does. And so you have no basis for giving yourself airs and graces, or for breaking other people’s game rules in such a way as to cause hostility. Because they, in their way, playing their games—even if they are limited games, even if they’re bad games—they, too, are all one with you. And their not knowing that they’re enlightened is, at the point where they are, very important indeed.
It seems sometimes that events could be put on different levels, and the levels could be numbered. And a level that occurred on number 23, where it was quite right, would seem very wrong if it occurred at level 95. But what happens to us often is that we see an event and think it’s at that level 95, when it’s really only at 23. And so it seems out of place and it seems quite wrong. So this sensation, this real thorough absorption of the point that, from the situation of the deepest mystical union, from that standpoint, at that standpoint, all men are equal, all beings are equal.
The problem arises when you try to bring that standpoint into practical affairs. You can make one of two mistakes. One, by saying: you are all equal, but I am more equal than the rest of you, because I know you’re all equal and you don’t. The other is the more common one: all men are equally inferior. This, of course, is the one from which our culture suffers to a high degree. This is what results in what you might call a sort of travesty of democracy. You see, all democratic thinking in the Western tradition was based on German mysticism. The great tide of democracy came from people inspired by Tauler and Eckhart and Suso and Ruusbroec, the brothers of the Free Spirit, the Anabaptists, the Levelers. All those people were the seedbed of democratic ideas and the idea of liberty. Their mysticism influenced George Fox and the Quakers.
But when you translate this “all men are equal in the sight of God” to “all men are equal on the level of politics and economics,” then the parody is: they’re all equally inferior. And this is why it issued in the various fashions in the West for explaining greatness away as neurosis, of psychoanalyzing all great saints and artists and so on, and reducing their accomplishments to frustrations in sex and toiletry. This gave everybody, you see, who was really some kind of a bum a sense of satisfaction in knowing that the great are, after all, just as inferior as you are. And that is democracy at its worst.
What has to be understood, I think, is this: in order to integrate the level of mystical understanding with practical life, you have to remember one of the famous stories of Sri Ramakrishna. There was a student who had been with him and had been learning that all things in the world are Brahman; are manifestations of the divine. And having heard this, he left the master’s ashram and went walking down the road. And there comes along an elephant swinging its trunk and looking rather fierce. And there is a mahout riding on the elephant, and he says to this man, “Hey, get out of the way! This is a fierce elephant.” But he thought, “I am Brahman. Elephant is Brahman. We are all one Godhead and no trouble can come.” So he didn’t get out. And as he approached, the elephant swatted him with his trunk and threw him into the bramble bushes at the side of the road, from which he eventually extracted himself bleeding and bruised. And he went back to the master and told what had happened. And the master shook his head and said to him, “But you should have realized that the mahout warning you was also Brahman.”
Well, so it is like this. When you see that all people whatsoever (whether they be high or whether they be low) are manifesting the divine just as much as you are—supposing you are in a high situation (you know, you’ve really seen the mystery, and you see that all people manifest it): you must stop to consider that what also manifests it is the differences between them. That they are arranged in a certain hierarchy. That the king being king and the cobbler being cobbler, they are—but, you see, these are like these levels I was just talking about: level 23 and 95. The cobbler at level 23 is doing alright. But what he is doing would not be appropriate at level 95—or however you want a number it or turn it around. So when we equalize things, we must also take into account everything that is there to be equalized.
Put it in another way. You might say: if I really understand that all is the work of the divine, but should I or should I not be angry when somebody like Hitler destroys millions of Jewish people? Many people jump swiftly to the conclusion that, of course, I ought not to be angry, and then jump to the next conclusion, which is that although I ought not to be angry, if I’m not, I’m extremely cold-hearted. But I would point out that my being angry at such a state of affairs would be as natural as water boiling when put over a fire. I would be very angry indeed. But this anger is included in the manifestations of the divine just as much as the villainy of the people who destroyed the Jews. They’re going to be villainous, I’m gonna be angry. Is follows like the shadow and the substance.
And so you might say, then: if all is a divine, why do anything to change anything? If we see any sort of social injustice or what you will—disease—if it’s all divine, just let it go. You know? But included in the things that are is change, is irritation, is all the workings of the human being. And so the people who work to change things are just doing their stuff at their level, and they have to be included in this thing; in this totality. Goethe once said: “We work with nature even when we work against her.” So you have to have the most inclusive view possible in order to integrate these two points of view. And it’s an oversimplification altogether to say, when you’ve seen that the divine is in all things, you just cut up your legs, relapse into samadhi, and watch the world go by. That’s alright for old men and for people who are physically tired and weak. That’s very proper; to sit on one’s porch and in a rocking chair would be the American equivalent. That’s fine. But obviously, when you are young, you must be involved in the world.
Because what has to be understood is: there is no way of not interfering with life. Even when you glance around this room, you make an effect on it. The slightest little breath upsets things—not very seriously, not very much, but still it does. Our existence, the mere fact of existence, is an interference. There is no way of not interfering because you are absolutely connected with everything that goes on, and every move that you make has repercussions. So one has to interfere. Therefore the question—if you have to interfere—the practical question is: how? There are several ways of doing it. Which one?
Really, lack of considering the fine points can bring about dangers. Things like the holy man syndrome. Incidentally, I should mention another point about the holy man syndrome. Not so long ago, a young psychiatrist came to see me who had some experience in these matters, but he had a very noticeable chip on his shoulder. And he was all for emphasizing the point that, say, Zen—he had read a lot about it—was a con game. See? He said, “You know, you’re a con man. I’m a con man. We’re all con men.” And everything he did and said had a certain aggression about it, as if to want to make a great point that we’re all crooks. Now, when you see that, you smell a rat. You see? It’s all very interesting, but there’s a rat here. This person is overcompensating, and therefore he hasn’t really understood. If you have to go around, in other words, challenging everybody with your insight, it shows that you are not secure in it. You don’t really believe it, otherwise you wouldn’t have to brag about it.
And this is the cause of almost all the kinds of excess and disruptive behavior that come from the use of psychedelics. People get the vision and they go mad with it. They just can’t keep it under their hats. They have to go and use it to kick the world in the teeth. I even know an old man who should know better, who says that when he’s got spiritual nourishment, he’s ready to kick the world in the pants again. It may be just a jokey way of talking; I’m not so sure. But that little edge of somehow having to insist on it is the same state that I was talking about yesterday in the first seminar. When you understand it fully, you go beyond ecstasy and come back to everyday consciousness. Likewise, when you understand fully, you go beyond any special claim to be a holy man (or to be a real devil, or whatever exalted position happens to appeal to you) and you come back.
But now there’s some further wrinkle to this. There always is. There are people, as you know, who are aggressively ordinary. And this is a peculiar phenomenon in the United States, where we very much in this country believe in being natural, and so we feel uncomfortable with ceremonies and with dramatic behavior, or dramatic clothes, or anything like that. We feel that that’s too much. It’s showing off. It reminds us of the aristocracies of Europe that persecuted our ancestors, I suppose. And so we like things in this country to be folksy. See? And so many of us were sort of beat-up clothes—and especially wealthy people, you’ll find. Wealthy people on vacation will wear real beat-up clothes: jeans and an old T-shirt and so on, and look as grubby as possible. Because that’s natural, you see? That’s…! So, also, then, when people realize that they’ve come to a great exalted insight, then they’re going to bring it down to Earth, and they realize they shouldn’t be aggressive about it. They’re going to be as natural as possible. But you can spot, just KRRK! like that, that their naturalness is phony. It’s a put-on.
So I would say, to to be natural, really, you don’t have to put on any special guise or something for protecting yourself against other people. What you have to do is to do what you like—in the sense that, really, wear what you like, play what role you like (as long as you’re comfortable with it) for yourself, and don’t care whether it’s natural or not. Then it will be natural. But don’t try to be natural, because immediately one can detect the spuriousness of it.
So now, this brings me to the last question in view of the whole problem of the social adaptation of unitary consciousness of the world as a total harmony on the one hand, and our ordinary, normal consciousness of the world as an intensely competitive system, gravely serious disputes. We’re discussing bringing these these things together, fertilizing the one point of view with the other. What are we going to do bout the practical problem of psychedelics?
I pointed out at the beginning that the whole subject falls between two stools. Because, as a whole, neither the clerical professions nor the medical profession are ready for it. And this is true even of that aspect of the medical profession which is strictly psychiatry. The divorce of psychiatry and religion—and it is, generally speaking, a divorce. There are exceptions to this where clergy, for example, in many theological schools are trained in psychiatry, and there are a smattering of psychiatrists who are members of some kind of religious group. But, by and large, psychiatry is attempting to be a pure science without any religious commitment at all. And I get the feeling again and again—and I talk to a great many psychiatric groups, and I talk to them endlessly about methods of therapy, and this, that, and the other—but I realize with a funny intuition that they are completely superficial. They don’t even know what therapy is; what they’re aiming at. And so often—this is not always the case—therapy means success in getting a person to behave like everyone else, and to give him the same sort of tastes that everybody else has, so that he’s a safe norm. But even when this is not the case, and many therapists, say, who follow Maslow, Carl Rogers, and our most brilliant men, I still get this feeling that psychiatry is dying on the vine for lack of any metaphysical foundations.
Now, I said I was going to say again something about statistics. Such statistics as there are showing up today shows that psychiatric treatment, by using other methods than the drugs they’re using in asylums to quieten people down, psychiatric treatment is extraordinarily ineffective. Samples show approximately that, of any control group, one third of the psychiatric patients recover from their symptoms in three to five years, and one third of patients under the care of a general practitioner receiving no psychiatric treatment also recover in three to five years. And those who were under the treatment of the psychiatrist came out a good deal poorer financially. I don’t want to say this in a way of belittling the seriousness and the skill with which many psychiatrists are trying to study their problems. But they do have an abominably superficial concept of the human organism and of the human mind.
One would think that a psychiatrist would be eager, above all, to explore every possible modification and state of human consciousness. He should be expert. He should know his way around inside all of them. Just as a linguist wants to master many languages, so a psychiatrist should master many madnesses and many mystical states. He should run the whole gamut from mystical vision to catatonic schizophrenia and know them all from the inside. Because then he is in a position to communicate with his patients. He cannot communicate while he remains a mere professor of psychiatry. See? Psychiatry is not something that you can study like the history of Persian pottery. You know? And it’s all out there and it’s objective and so on, so on, and you never have to get involved. To be a therapist effectively you have to be right on the inside. You have to get mixed in with it. And even though you may lose a certain objectivity in scientific impartiality by doing this, what you’ve got to acquire is the art of being able to get involved and then come out again and be scientifically impartial, and then get in again. That’s difficult, but it’s worth trying.
But the reason, you see, the psychiatrist is afraid so often to get involved because he’s scared of losing his own sanity. And he knows, you know, that we walk on pretty thin ice so far as our sanity is concerned. And so: don’t muck around with that! He’s seen too many of his colleagues who’ve worked for a long time in asylums who had to be quietly removed to another asylum. Happens all too readily. But it is the fear of insanity, more than anything, which makes one insane. The fear of getting lost in all those strange corridors. You ever had bad dreams where you’re going through mazes, corridors, wondering whether you’ll ever get out? Whether anybody’ll ever find you? Well, crazy people have an awful time with that corridor syndrome, because they are the corridors of the mind.
Therefore, there is a certain protection of one’s sanity in being able to go into various states. And, above all, what I said a moment ago was that the thing that strikes me about psychiatry so forcibly is its lack of a metaphysical foundation in which, you see, it is simply imitating the fashionable point of view of scientism in the 19th and early 20th centuries to push across the point of view that this universe is trivial. It is nothing but… whatever you want to say: nothing about something or other, you see? But definitely nothing but. Desperately important to get everything down to nothing but! So that we can say: no mysteries left about it. It doesn’t matter. You know? That’s a manifestation of hostility, you see? Of hatred of life lying under that. Because people were too afraid of letting themselves go to be able to admit that they could look at this world and say: “Wow, look at that! Isn’t that marvelous?” Oh, you’re just ignorant. You think these things are marvelous, but shows you’re just not sophisticated.
Because, you see, one of the games of aristocracy in Europe is always to look bored. And you could put a whole history together of how people copy the attitudes of their superiors in order to get one-up on them. So to look bored was a mark of extreme aristocracy and great wisdom. The scientific world, which was a parvenu then, imitated a bored attitude to everything so as to gain its status, or involved in gaining its status. And so they had no reason to be bored, they were just imitating being bored. The aristocrats had some reason to be bored. They had seen everything, they had had all pleasures. They were blasé.
So psychiatry, in turn, picked up the attitude: “it’s nothing but.” It’s just the libido or something, or it’s just mental mechanisms, or it’s just neurochemistry, or something like that. But one of the funniest things about LSD is that maybe it’s just neurochemistry, but boy, when you get inside, neurochemistry is something! You see? you think: “Chemistry? Matter? Good heavens, what of your nervous system?” It certainly is like a conducted tour inside the nervous system. You begin to realize that the nervous system is one of the whammiest things going. It’s fantastic! And you can’t just dismiss it as a nervous system, some nasty porridge in a bottle.
So then, this is the thing. I think that the crucial point that has to be developed before we can handle these substances intelligently is a medico-religious rapprochement. And that means reforms on both sides. And they’re beginning to happen. You know, you’re probably aware that there’s a huge theological ferment going on in both Catholic and Protestant churches, and among the Jews. The top’s blown off. There are occasional references to it in the paper. But my clergy friends are thinking things today that they couldn’t possibly have been thinking about ten years ago. They’re as revolutionary as almost any group I know. You should talk to the local rector here in Sausalito. Or any of them; crowds of them all over the place. Things are happening. And what is essentially happening is that they are consciously facing the fact that they need a kind of religion which is much more profound than anything they’ve hitherto been dealing with.
And they are open to the dimension of religion which has been consistently ignored for centuries—which I’ll call the mystical dimension—of at last admitting that religion is not just believing certain ideas and following certain patterns of behavior, but must indeed involve a transformation of consciousness—not in the sense of an emotional blowout, like a revival meeting, but something which involves a crucial change in the sense of human identity. There is, therefore, weaving together at this time, a whole pattern of movements. More and more it becomes (in the biological and ecological and physical sciences) clear that the individual is inseparable from the cosmos. That, after all, you are an expression of everything that’s going on. You’re not just something that rattles around in this universe, that came into it as a stranger from somewhere else. And so that behind the facade of everyday consciousness, there are depths of oneself, just as truly one’s self as your own will, which altogether go beyond your individual organism. And that we can become aware of these depths, and as we do so, become delivered from being plagued by impermanence and death and temporary suffering.
The psychiatrist has to know this, too. Because if he sits in his office and has nothing in his belly—you know, that is (what I would call) the certainty of eternity, somewhere here—he’s really just as neurotic as the person he’s sitting with, and is putting on a mask “a-ha” attitude, looking wise, playing the scientific role, distance of objectivity, not to get involved with the patient, use all the little tricks, when he’s really wet behind the ears. You know, you learn a whole bag of tricks, even if you’ve been through a didactic analysis yourself. You can just have a whole domain of trickery; therapeutic gambits with very little underneath. So I think that some psychiatrists should be ready to take their own medicine—I mean LSD—just for an introduction to the realization that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy.