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ALAN W. WATTS
Alan Wilson Watts was a scholar and philosopher (amongst many other things) who was a very adept “translator” of Eastern wisdom for a Western audience. His ideas about the cosmos and the individual, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and other religions, philosophies, and psychologies, and everyday life were at once deeply profound, yet entirely approachable by non-scholars and scholars alike.
"YE SUFFER FROM YOURSELVES , NONE ELSE COMPELS THAT YE LIVE AND DIE, AND WHIR UPON THE WHEEL, AND HUG AND KISS IT'S SPOKES
OF AGONY, IT'S TYRE OF TEARS, IT'S KNAVE OF NOTHINGNESS."
"THEY WHO DO NOT KNOW HOW TO DIE, AND COME BACK TO LIFE AGAIN, ARE BUT SORRY TRAVELLERS ON THIS DARK EARTH".
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The Joyous Cosmology
Alan W. WattsPrologue
SLOWLY it becomes clear that one of the greatest of all superstitions is the separation of the mind from the body. This does not mean that we are being forced to admit that we are only bodies; it means that we are forming an altogether new idea of the body. For the body considered as separate from the mind is one thing—an animated corpse. But the body considered as inseparable from the mind is another, and as yet we have no proper word for a reality which is simultaneously mental and physical. To call it mental-physical will not do at all, for this is the very unsatisfactory joining of two concepts which have both been impoverished by long separation and opposition. But we are at least within sight of being able to discard altogether ideas of a stuff which is mental and a stuff which is material. "Stuff" is a word which describes the formless mush that we perceive when sense is not keen enough to make out its pattern. The notion of material or mental stuff is based on the false analogy that trees are made of wood, mountains of stone, and minds of spirit in the same way that pots are made of clay. "Inert" matter seems to require an external and intelligent energy to give it form. But now we know that matter is not inert. Whether it is organic or inorganic, we are learning to see matter as patterns of energy—not of energy as if energy were a stuff, but as energetic pattern, moving order, active intelligence.Send e-mail to The Psychedelic Library: email@example.com The Psychedelic Library | Books Menu Page
The realization that mind and body, form and matter, are one is blocked, however, by ages of semantic confusion and psychological prejudice. For it is common sense that every pattern, shape, or structure is a form of something as pots are forms of clay. It is hard to see that this "something" is as dispensable as the ether in which light was once supposed to travel, or as the fabulous tortoise upon which the earth was once thought to be supported. Anyone who can really grasp this point will experience a curiously exhilarating liberation, for the burden of stuff will drop from him and he will walk less heavily.
The dualism of mind and body arose, perhaps, as a clumsy way of describing the power of an intelligent organism to control itself. It seemed reasonable to think of the part controlled as one thing and the part controlling as another. In this way the conscious will was opposed to the involuntary appetites and reason to instinct. In due course we learned to center our identity, our selfhood, in the controlling part—the mind—and increasingly to disown as a mere vehicle the part controlled. It thus escaped our attention that the organism as a whole, largely unconscious, was using consciousness and reason to inform and control itself. We thought of our conscious intelligence as descending from a higher realm to take possession of a physical vehicle. We therefore failed to see it as an operation of the same formative process as the structure of nerves, muscles, veins, and bones—a structure so subtly ordered (that is, intelligent) that conscious thought is as yet far from being able to describe it.
This radical separation of the part controlling from the part controlled changed man from a self-controlling to a self-frustrating organism, to the embodied conflict and self-contradiction that he has been throughout his known history. Once the split occurred conscious intelligence began to serve its own ends instead of those of the organism that produced it. More exactly, it became the intention of the conscious intelligence to work for its own, dissociated, purposes. But, as we shall see, just as the separation of mind from body is an illusion, so also is the subjection of the body to the independent schemes of the mind. Meanwhile, however, the illusion is as real as the hallucinations of hypnosis, and the organism of man is indeed frustrating itself by patterns of behavior which move in the most complex vicious circles. The culmination is a culture which ever more serves the ends of mechanical order as distinct from those of organic enjoyment, and which is bent on self-destruction against the instinct of every one of its members.
We believe, then, that the mind controls the body, not that the body controls itself through the mind. Hence the ingrained prejudice that the mind should be independent of all physical aids to its working—despite microscopes, telescopes, cameras, scales, computers, books, works of art, alphabets, and all those physical tools apart from which it is doubtful whether there would be any mental life at all. At the same time there has always been at least an obscure awareness that in feeling oneself to be a separate mind, soul, or ego there is something wrong. Naturally, for a person who finds his identity in something other than his full organism is less than half a man. He is cut off from complete participation in nature. Instead of being a body he "has" a body. Instead of living and loving he "has" instincts for survival and copulation. Disowned, they drive him as if they were blind furies or demons that possessed him.
The feeling that there is something wrong in all this revolves around a contradiction characteristic of all civilizations. This is the simultaneous compulsion to preserve oneself and to forget oneself. Here is the vicious circle: if you feel separate from your organic life, you feel driven to survive; survival—going on living—thus becomes a duty and also a drag because you are not fully with it; because it does not quite come up to expectations, you continue to hope that it will, to crave for more time, to feel driven all the more to go on. What we call self-consciousness is thus the sensation of the organism obstructing itself, of not being with itself, of driving, so to say, with accelerator and brake on at once. Naturally, this is a highly unpleasant sensation, which most people want to forget.
The lowbrow way of forgetting oneself is to get drunk, to be diverted with entertainments, or to exploit such natural means of self-transcendence as sexual intercourse. The highbrow way is to throw oneself into the pursuit of the arts, of social service, or of religious mysticism. These measures are rarely successful because they do not disclose the basic error of the split self. The highbrow ways even aggravate the error to the extent that those who follow them take pride in forgetting themselves by purely mental means—even though the artist uses paints or sounds, the social idealist distributes material wealth, and the religionist uses sacraments and rituals, or such other physical means as fasting, yoga breathing, or dervish dancing. And there is a sound instinct in the use of these physical aids, as in the repeated insistence of mystics that to know about God is not enough: transformation of the self is only through realizing or feeling God. The hidden point is that man cannot function properly through changing anything so superficial as the order of his thoughts, of his dissociated mind. What has to change is the behavior of his organism; it has to become self-controlling instead of self-frustrating.
How is this to be brought about? Clearly, nothing can be done by the mind, by the conscious will, so long as this is felt to be something apart from the total organism. But if it were felt otherwise, nothing would need to be done! A very small number of Eastern gurus, or masters of wisdom, and Western psychotherapists have found—rather laborious—ways of tricking or coaxing the organism into integrating itself—mostly by a kind of judo, or "gentle way," which overthrows the process of self-frustration by carrying it to logical and absurd extremes. This is pre-eminently the way of Zen, and occasionally that of psychoanalysis. When these ways work it is quite obvious that something more has happened to the student or patient than a change in his way of thinking; he is also emotionally and physically different; his whole being is operating in a new way.
For a long time it has been clear to me that certain forms of Eastern "mysticism"—in particular Taoism and Zen Buddhism—do not presuppose a universe divided into the spiritual and the material, and do not culminate in a state of consciousness where the physical world vanishes into some undifferentiated and bodiless luminescence. Taoism and Zen are alike founded upon a philosophy of relativity, but this philosophy is not merely speculative. It is a discipline in awareness as a result of which the mutual interrelation of all things and all events becomes a constant sensation. This sensation underlies and supports our normal awareness of the world as a collection of separate and different things—an awareness which, by itself, is called avidya (ignorance) in Buddhist philosophy because, in paying exclusive attention to differences, it ignores relationships. It does not see, for example, that mind and form or shape and space are as inseparable as front and back, nor that the individual is so interwoven with the universe that he and it are one body.
This is a point of view which, unlike some other forms of mysticism, does not deny physical distinctions but sees them as the plain expression of unity. As one sees so clearly in Chinese painting, the individual tree or rock is not on but with the space that forms its background. The paper untouched by the brush is an integral part of the picture and never mere backing. It is for this reason that when a Zen master is asked about the universal or the ultimate, he replies with the immediate and particular— "The cypress tree in the yard!" Here, then, we have what Robert Linssen has called a spiritual materialism—a standpoint far closer to relativity and field theory in modern science than to any religious supernaturalism. But whereas the scientific comprehension of the relative universe is as yet largely theoretical, these Eastern disciplines have made it a direct experience. Potentially, then, they would seem to offer a marvelous parallel to Western science, but on the level of our immediate awareness of the world.
For science pursues the common-sense assumption that the natural world is a multiplicity of individual things and events by attempting to describe these units as accurately and minutely as possible. Because science is above all analytic in its way of describing things, it seems at first to disconnect them more than ever. Its experiments are the study of carefully isolated situations, designed to exclude influences that cannot be measured and controlled—as when one studies falling bodies in a vacuum to cut out the friction of air. But for this reason the scientist understands better than anyone else just how inseparable things are. The more he tries to cut out external influences upon an experimental situation, the more he discovers new ones, hitherto unsuspected. The more carefully he describes, say, the motion of a given particle, the more he finds himself describing also the space in which it moves. The realization that all things are inseparably related is in proportion to one's effort to make them clearly distinct. Science therefore surpasses the common-sense point of view from which it begins, coming to speak of things and events as properties of the "fields" in which they occur. But this is simply a theoretical description of a state of affairs which, in these forms of Eastern Mysticism," is directly sensed. As soon as this is clear, we have a sound basis for a meeting of minds between East and West which could be remarkably fruitful.
The practical difficulty is that Taoism and Zen are so involved with the forms of Far Eastern culture that it is a major problem to adapt them to Western needs. For example, Eastern teachers work on the esoteric and aristocratic principle that the student must learn the hard way and find out almost everything for himself. Aside from occasional hints, the teacher merely accepts or rejects the student's attainments. But Western teachers work on the exoteric and democratic principle that everything possible must be done to inform and assist the student so as to make his mastery of the subject as easy as possible. Does the latter approach, as purists insist, merely vulgarize the discipline? The answer is that it depends upon the type of discipline. If everyone learns enough mathematics to master quadratic equations, the attainment will seem small in comparison with the much rarer comprehension of the theory of numbers. But the transformation of consciousness undertaken in Taoism and Zen is more like the correction of faulty perception or the curing of a disease. It is not an acquisitive process of learning more and more facts or greater and greater skills, but rather an unlearning of wrong habits and opinions. As Lao-tzu said, "The scholar gains every day, but the Taoist loses every day."
The practice of Taoism or Zen in the Far East is therefore an undertaking in which the Westerner will find himself confronted with many barriers erected quite deliberately to discourage idle curiosity or to nullify wrong views by inciting the student to proceed systematically and consistently upon false assumptions to the reductio ad absurdum. My own main interest in the study of comparative mysticism has been to cut through these tangles and to identify the essential psychological processes underlying those alterations of perception which enable us to see ourselves and the world in their basic unity. I have perhaps had some small measure of success in trying, Western fashion, to make this type of experience more accessible. I am therefore at once gratified and embarrassed by a development in Western science which could possibly put this unitive vision of the world, by almost shockingly easy means, within the reach of many who have thus far sought it in vain by traditional methods.
Part of the genius of Western science is that it finds simpler and more rational ways of doing things that were formerly chancy or laborious. Like any inventive process, it does not always make these discoveries systematically; often it just stumbles upon them, but then goes on to work them into an intelligible order. In medicine, for example, science isolates the essential drug from the former witch-doctor's brew of salamanders, mugwort, powdered skulls, and dried blood. The purified drug cures more surely, but—it does not perpetuate health. The patient still has to change habits of life or diet which made him prone to the disease.
Is it possible, then, that Western science could provide a medicine which would at least give the human organism a start in releasing itself from its chronic self-contradiction? The medicine might indeed have to be supported by other procedures—psychotherapy, "spiritual" disciplines, and basic changes in one's pattern of life—but every diseased person seems to need some kind of initial lift to set him on the way to health. The question is by no means absurd if it is true that what afflicts us is a sickness not just of the mind but of the organism, of the very functioning of the nervous system and the brain. Is there, in short, a medicine which can give us temporarily the sensation of being integrated, of being fully one with ourselves and with nature as the biologist knows us, theoretically, to be? If so, the experience might offer clues to whatever else must be done to bring about full and continuous integration. It might be at least the tip of an Ariadne's thread to lead us out of the maze in which all of us are lost from our infancy.
Relatively recent research suggests that there are at least three such medicines, though none is an infallible "specific." They work with some people, and much depends upon the social and psychological context in which they are given. Occasionally their effects may be harmful, but such limitations do not deter us from using penicillin—often a far more dangerous chemical than any of these three. I am speaking, of course, of mescaline (the active ingredient of the peyote cactus), lysergic acid diethylamide (a modified ergot alkaloid), and psilocybin (a derivative of the mushroom Psilocybe mexicana).
The peyote cactus has long been used by the Indians of the Southwest and Mexico as a means of communion with the divine world, and today the eating of the dried buttons of the plant is the principal sacrament of an Indian church known as the Native American Church of the United States—by all accounts a most respectable and Christian organization. At the end of the nineteenth century its effects were first described by Weir Mitchell and Havelock Ellis, and some years later its active ingredient was identified as mescaline, a chemical of the amine group which is quite easily synthesized.
Lysergic acid diethylamide was first discovered in 1938 by the Swiss pharmacologist A. Hofmann in the course of studying the properties of the ergot fungus. Quite by accident he absorbed a small amount of this acid while making certain changes in its molecular structure, and noticed its peculiar psychological effects. Further research proved that he had hit upon the most powerful consciousness-changing drug now known, for LSD-25 (as it is called for short) will produce its characteristic results in so minute a dosage as 20 micrograms, 1/700,000,000 of an average man's weight.
Psilocybin is derived from another of the sacred plants of the Mexican Indians—a type of mushroom known to them as teonanacatl, "the flesh of God." Following Robert Weitlaner's discovery in 1936 that the cult of "the sacred mushroom" was still prevalent in Oaxaca, a number of mycologists, as specialists in mushrooms are known, began to make studies of the mushrooms of this region. Three varieties were found to be in use. In addition to Psilocybe mexicana there were also Psilocybe aztecorum Heim and Psilocybe wassonii, named respectively after the mycologists Roger Heim and Gordon and Valentina Wasson, who took part in the ceremonies of the cult.
Despite a very considerable amount of research and speculation, little is known of the exact physiological effect of these chemicals upon the nervous system. The subjective effects of all three tend to be rather similar, though LSD-25, perhaps because of the minute dosage required, seldom produces the nauseous reactions so often associated with the other two. All the scientific papers I have read seem to add up to the vague impression that in some way these drugs suspend certain inhibitory or selective processes in the nervous system so as to render our sensory apparatus more open to impressions than is usual. Our ignorance of the precise effect of these drugs is, of course, linked to the still rather fumbling state of our knowledge of the brain. Such ignorance obviously suggests great caution in their use, but thus far there is no evidence that, in normal dosage, there is any likelihood of physiological damage.*
In a very wide sense of the word, each of these substances is a drug, but one must avoid the serious semantic error of confusing them with drugs which induce physical craving for repeated use or which dull the senses like alcohol or the sedatives. They are classed, officially, as hallucinogens—an astonishingly inaccurate term, since they cause one neither to hear voices nor to see visions such as might be confused with physical reality. While they do indeed produce the most complex and very obviously "hallucinatory" patterns before closed eyes, their general effect is to sharpen the senses to a supernormal degree of awareness. The standard dosage of each substance maintains its effects for from five to eight hours, and the experience is often so deeply revealing and moving that one hesitates to approach it again until it has been thoroughly "digested," and this may be a matter of months.
The reaction of most cultured people to the idea of gaining any deep psychological or philosophical insight through a drug is that it is much too simple, too artificial, and even too banal to be seriously considered. A wisdom which can be "turned on" like the switch of a lamp seems to insult human dignity and degrade us to chemical automata. One calls to mind pictures of a brave new world in which there is a class of synthesized Buddhas, of people who have been "fixed" like the lobotomized, the sterilized, or the hypnotized, only in another direction—people who have somehow lost their humanity and with whom, as with drunkards, one cannot really communicate. This is, however, a somewhat ghoulish fantasy which has no relation to the facts or to the experience itself. It belongs to the same kind of superstitious dread which one feels for the unfamiliar, confusing it with the unnatural—the way some people feel about Jews because they are circumcised or even about Negroes because of their "alien" features and color.
Despite the widespread and undiscriminating prejudice against drugs as such, and despite the claims of certain religious disciplines to be the sole means to genuine mystical insight, I can find no essential difference between the experiences induced, under favorable conditions, by these chemicals and the states of "cosmic consciousness" recorded by R. M. Bucke, William James, Evelyn Underhill, Raynor Johnson, and other investigators of mysticism. "Favorable conditions" means a setting which is socially and physically congenial; ideally this would be some sort of retreat house (not a hospital or sanitarium) supervised by religiously oriented psychiatrists or psychologists. The atmosphere should be homelike rather than clinical, and it is of the utmost importance that the supervisor's attitude be supportive and sympathetic. Under insecure, bizarre, or unfriendly circumstances the experience can easily degenerate into a highly unpleasant paranoia. Two days should be set aside—one for the experience itself, which lasts for six or eight hours, and one for evaluation in the calm and relaxed frame of mind that normally follows.
This is simply to say that the use of such powerful medicines is not to be taken lightly, as one smokes a cigarette or tosses down a cocktail. They should be approached as one approaches a sacrament, though not with the peculiar inhibition of gaiety and humor that has become customary in our religious rituals. It is a sound general rule that there should always be present some qualified supervisor to provide a point of contact with "reality" as it is socially defined. Ideally the "qualified supervisor" should be a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist who has himself experienced the effects of the drug, though I have observed that many who are technically qualified have a frightened awe of unusual states of consciousness which is apt to communicate itself, to the detriment of the experience, to those under their care. The most essential qualification of the supervisor is, therefore, confidence in the situation—which is likewise "picked up" by people in the state of acute sensitivity that the drugs induce.
The drugs in question are not aphrodisiacs, and when they are taken in common by a small group the atmosphere is not in the least suggestive of a drunken brawl nor of the communal torpor of an opium den. Members of the group usually become open to each other with a high degree of friendly affection, for in the mystical phase of the experience the underlying unity or "belongingness" of the members can have all the clarity of a physical sensation. Indeed the social situation may become what religious bodies aim at, but all too rarely achieve, in their rites of communion—a relationship of the most vivid understanding, forgiveness, and love. Of course, this does not automatically become a permanent feeling, but neither does the sense of fellowship sometimes evoked in strictly religious gatherings. The experience corresponds almost exactly to the theological concept of a sacrament or means of grace—an unmerited gift of spiritual power whose lasting effects depend upon the use made of it in subsequent action. Catholic theology also recognizes those so-called "extraordinary" graces, often of mystical insight, which descend spontaneously outside the ordinary or regular means that the Church provides through the sacraments and the disciplines of prayer. It seems to me that only special pleading can maintain that the graces mediated through mushrooms, cactus plants, and scientists are artificial and spurious in contrast with those which come through religious discipline. Claims for the exclusive virtue of one's own brand is, alas, as common in organized religion as in commerce, coupled in the former instance with the puritan's sense of guilt in enjoying anything for which he has not suffered.
When I wrote this book, I was well aware that LSD in particular might become a public scandal, especially in the United States where we had the precedents of Prohibition and of fantastically punitive laws against the use of marijuana—laws passed with hardly a pretense of scientific investigation of the drug, and amazingly foisted upon many other nations. That was nine years ago ( 1961 ) and since then all that I feared would happen has happened. I ask myself whether I should ever have written this book, whether I was profaning the mysteries and casting pearls before swine. I reasoned, however, that since Huxley and others had already let the secret out, it was up to me to encourage a positive, above-board, fearless, and intelligent approach to what are now known as psychedelic chemicals.
But in vain. Thousands of young people, fed up with standard-brand religions which provided nothing but talk, admonition, and (usually) bad ritual, rushed immediately to LSD and other psychedelics in search of some key to genuine religious experience. As might be expected, there were accidents. A few potential psychotics were pushed over the brink, usually because they took LSD in uncontrolled circumstances, in excessive dosage, or in the arid and threatening atmosphere of hospital research run by psychiatrists who imagined that they were investigating artificially induced schizophrenia. Because most news is bad news, these accidents received full coverage in the press, to the relative exclusion of reports on the overwhelming majority of such splendid and memorable experiences as I describe further on. A divorce is news; a happy marriage isn't. There were even deliberately falsified stories in the newspapers, as that several young men taking LSD stared at the sun for so long that they became blind. Phychiatrists raised alarms about "brain damage," for which no solid evidence was ever produced, and warnings were issued about its destructive effect on the genes, which was later shown to be insignificant and more or less the same as the effects of coffee and aspirin.
In view of this public hysteria the Sandoz Company, which held a patent on LSD, withdrew it from the market. At the same time the United States government, having learned absolutely nothing from the disaster of Prohibition, simply banned LSD ( allowing its use only in some few research projects sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health and by the Army, in its investigations of chemical warfare) and turned over its control to the police.
Now a law against LSD is simply unenforceable because the substance is tasteless and colorless, because effective dosages can be confined, in vast amounts, to minute spaces, and because it can be disguised as almost anything drinkable or eatable from gin to blotting paper. Thus as soon as the reliable Sandoz material was withdrawn, amateur chemists began to produce black-market LSD in immense quantities—LSD of uncertain quality and dosage, often mixed with such other ingredients as methedrine, belladonna, and heroin. Consequently the number of psychotic episodes resulting from its use began to increase, aggravated by the fact that, in improperly controlled situations and under threat from the police, the LSD taker is an easy victim of extreme paranoia. At the same time, some of these amateurs, mainly graduate students in chemistry with a mission to "turn people on," produced some tolerably good LSD. Thus there were still so many more positive experiences than negative that fascination with this alchemy continued and expanded, and though the general public associates its use with hippies and college students, it has been very widely used by mature adults—doctors, lawyers, clergymen, artists, businessmen, professors, and levelheaded housewives.
The blanket suppression of LSD and other psychedelics has been a complete disaster in that ( 1 ) it has seriously hindered proper research on these drugs; (2) it has created a profitable black market by raising the price; (3) it has embarrassed the police with an impossible assignment; (4) it has created the false fascination with fruit that is forbidden; (5) it has seriously impeded the normal work of courts of justice, and herded thousands of non-criminal types of people into already overcrowded prisons, which, as everyone knows, are schools for sodomy and for crime as a profession; ( 6 ) it has made users of psychedelics more susceptible to paranoia than ever. **
What, then, are the true dangers of real LSD? Principally that it may trigger a short-or long-term psychosis in anyone susceptible, and, despite all our techniques for psychological and neurological testing, we can never detect a potential psychotic with certainty. Anyone contemplating the use of a psychedelic chemical should weigh this risk carefully: there is a slight chance of becoming, at least temporarily, insane. The risk is probably much greater than in traveling by a commercial airline, but considerably less than in traveling by road. Every household contains things of potential danger: electricity, matches, gas, kitchen knives, carbon tetrachloride (cleaning fluid), ammonia, aerosol sprayers, alcohol, slippery bathtubs, sliding rugs, rifles, lawn mowers, axes, plate-glass doors, and swimming pools. There are no laws against the sale and possession of such things, nor is one prevented from cultivating Amanita pantherina (the most deceptive and poisonous mushroom), deadly nightshade, laburnum, morning-glory, wood rose, Scotch broom, and many other poisonous or psychedelic plants.
One of the most sensible tenets of Jewish and ( at least theoretically) of Christian theology is that no substance or creature is, in itself, evil. Evil arises only in its abuse—in killing someone with a knife, committing arson with matches, or running down a pedestrian while driving alcoholized. (But note that a highly depressed, anxious, or angry driver is just as dangerous, for his attention is not on the road. ) It seems to me a sound legal principle that people should be prosecuted only for overt and clearly specifiable deeds, damaging or clearly intended to damage life, limb, and property. Laws which proscribe the mere sale, purchase, or possession of substances ( aside from machine guns and bombs ) which might be used in some harmful way invite the worst abuses of police power for political ends or for the harassment of unpopular individuals. (How easy to plant some marijuana on an unwanted competitor in business!) All such sumptuary laws (regulating private morals and creating crimes without unwilling victims ) are attempts to make personal freedom foolproof and without risk, and thus to deprive the individual of responsibility for his own life and of taking calculated risk for the achievement of political, social, athletic, scientific, or religious objectives which he feels well worth the dangers.
Adventurous and creative people have always been willing, and have usually been encouraged, to take the most serious risks in the exploration of the outer world and in the development of scientific and technological skill. Many young people now feel that the time has come to explore the inner world, and are willing to take the unfamiliar risks which it involves. They, too, should be encouraged and also assisted with all the care and wisdom at our disposal. Why permit the purely athletic tour de force of climbing Everest (using oxygen) and forbid the spiritual adventure of ascending Mount Sumeru, Mount Zion, or Mount Analogue (using psychedelics)?
Superficially, the public and official fear of psychedelic drugs is based on uninformed association with such addictive poisons as heroin, amphetamines, and barbiturates. But drinking coffee or whisky is also "using drugs," and this is allowed even though the effects may be harmful and the creative results negligible. Psychedelic drugs are feared, basically, for the same reason that mystical experience has been feared, discouraged, and even condemned in the Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic orthodoxies. It leads to disenchantment and apathy toward the approved social rewards of status and success, to chuckles at pretentiousness and pomposity, and, worse, to disbelief in the Church-and-State dogma that we are all God's adopted orphans or fluky little germs in a mechanical and mindless universe. No authoritarian government, whether ecclesiastical or secular, can tolerate the apprehension that each one of us is God in disguise, and that our real inmost, outmost, and utmost Self cannot be killed. That's why they had to do away with Jesus.
Thus the possibility that even a preliminary glimpse of this apprehension is available through taking a pill or chewing a plant threatens mystical experience for the millions—that is, masses of people who will be difficult to rule by force of "authority." It is even now being recognized in the United States that the real danger of psychedelics is not so much neurological as political—that "turned-on" people are not interested in serving the power games of the present rulers. Looking at the successful men, they see completely boring lives.
In the Epilogue I shall make it clear that psychedelic experience is only a glimpse of genuine mystical insight, but a glimpse which can be matured and deepened by the various ways of meditation in which drugs are no longer necessary or useful. When you get the message, hang up the phone. For psychedelic drugs are simply instruments, like microscopes, telescopes, and telephones. The biologist does not sit with eye permanently glued to the microscope; he goes away and works on what he has seen.
Furthermore, speaking quite strictly, mystical insight is no more in the chemical itself than biological knowledge is in the microscope. There is no difference in principle between sharpening perception with an external instrument, such as a microscope, and sharpening it with an internal instrument, such as one of these three drugs. If they are an affront to the dignity of the mind, the microscope is an affront to the dignity of the eye and the telephone to the dignity of the ear. Strictly speaking, these drugs do not impart wisdom at all, any more than the microscope alone gives knowledge. They provide the raw materials of wisdom, and are useful to the extent that the individual can integrate what they reveal into the whole pattern of his behavior and the whole system of his knowledge. As an escape, an isolated and dissociated ecstasy, they may have the same sort of value as a rest cure or a good entertainment. But this is like using a giant computer to play tick-tack-toe, and the hours of heightened perception are wasted unless occupied with sustained reflection or meditation upon whatever themes may be suggested.
The nearest thing I know in literature to the reflective use of one of these drugs is the so-called Bead Game in Hermann Hesse's Magister Ludi (Das Glasperlenspiel). Hesse writes of a distant future in which an order of scholar-mystics have discovered an ideographic language which can relate all the branches of science and art, philosophy and religion. The game consists in playing with the relationships between configurations in these various fields in the same way that the musician plays with harmonic and contrapuntal relationships. From such elements as the design of a Chinese house, a Scarlatti sonata, a topological formula, and a verse from the Upanishads, the players will elucidate a common theme and develop its application in numerous directions. No two games are the same, for not only do the elements differ, but also there is no thought of attempting to force a static and uniform order upon the world. The universal language facilitates the perception of relationships but does not fix them, and is founded upon a "musical" conception of the world in which order is as dynamic and changing as the patterns of sound in a fugue.
Similarly, in my investigations of LSD or psilocybin, I usually started with some such theme as polarity, transformation (as of food into organism), competition for survival, the relation of the abstract to the concrete, or of Logos to Eros, and then allowed my heightened perception to elucidate the theme in terms of certain works of art or music, of some natural object as a fern, a flower, or a sea shell, of a religious or mythological archetype (it might be the Mass), and even of personal relationships with those who happened to be with me at the time. Or I would concentrate upon one of the senses and try, as it were, to turn it back upon itself so as to see the process of seeing, and from this move on to trying to know knowing, so approaching the problem of my own identity.
From these reflections there arise intuitive insights of astonishing clarity, and because there is little difficulty in remembering them after the effects of the drug have ceased (especially if they are recorded or written down at the time), the days or weeks following may be used for testing them by the normal standards of logical, aesthetic, philosophical, or scientific criticism. As might be expected, some prove to be valid and others not. It is the same with the sudden hunches that come to the artist or inventor in the ordinary way; they are not always as true or as applicable as they seem to be in the movement of illumination. The drugs appear to give an enormous impetus to the creative intuition, and thus to be of more value for constructive invention and research than for psychotherapy in the ordinary sense of "adjusting" the disturbed personality. Their best sphere of use is not the mental hospital but the studio and the laboratory, or the institute of advanced studies.
The following pages make no attempt to be a scientific report on the effects of these chemicals, with the usual details of dosage, time and place, physical symptoms, and the like. Such documents exist by the thousand, and, in view of our very rudimentary knowledge of the brain, seem to me to have a rather limited value. As well try to understand a book by dissolving it in solution and popping it into a centrifuge. My object is rather to give some impression of the new world of consciousness which these substances reveal. I do not believe that this world is either a hallucination or an unimpeachable revelation of truth. It is probably the way things appear when certain inhibitory processes of the brain and senses are suspended, but this is a world in some ways so unfamiliar that it is liable to misinterpretation. Our first impressions may be as wide of the mark as those of the traveler in an unfamiliar country or of astronomers taking their first look at the galaxies beyond our own.
I have written this account as if the whole experience had happened on one day in a single place, but it is in fact a composite of several occasions. Except where I am describing visions before closed eyes, and this is always specified, none of these experiences are hallucinations. They are simply changed ways of seeing, interpreting, and reacting to actual persons and events in the world of "public reality," which, for purposes of this description, is a country estate on the West Coast of America with garden. orchard, barns, and surrounding mountains—all just as described, including the rattletrap car loaded with junk. Consciousness-changing drugs are popularly associated with the evocation of bizarre and fantastic images, but in my own experience this happens only with closed eyes. Otherwise, it is simply that the natural world is endowed with a richness of grace, color, significance, and, sometimes, humor, for which our normal adjectives are insufficient. The speed of thought and association is increased so astonishingly that it is hard for words to keep pace with the flood of ideas that come to mind. Passages that may strike the reader as ordinary philosophical reflection are reports of what, at the time, appear to be the most tangible certainties. So, too, images that appear before closed eyes are not just figments of imagination, but patterns and scenes so intense and autonomous that they seem to be physically present. The latter have, however, proved of less interest to me than one's transformed impression of the natural world and the heightened speed of associative thought, and it is thus with these that the following account is chiefly concerned.
*Normal dosage for mescaline is 300 milligrams, for LSD-25 100 micrograms, and for psilocybin 20 milligrams. The general reader interested in a more detailed account of consciousness-changing drugs and the present state of research concerning them should consult Robert S. de Ropp's Drugs and the Mind (Grove Press, New York, 1960). (back)
**For purposes of this summary I am including marijuana and hashish as psychedelics, though they do not have the potency of LSD. (back) The Joyous Cosmology
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