Lightmind Extract 043


mdpc  6.8.05
Great interview. If I’m not crazy, I think it was included in Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics which also contains some other great stuff. Also, there was an issue of Tricycle magazine (circa ’96) devoted to the same subject.

I like that Lama Surya Das quote that Jim referenced in the “what is enlightenment” thread
Jim: “Lama Surya Das says that whenever Western Dharma teachers get together, there is a White Rabbit in the room, ‘an unmentioned subject of which we are all aware.'”
Surya Das: This is our generation’s unexpected gateway to Dharma, or Buddhist wisdom, through opening the doors of perception with consciousness-altering drugs. For many of us, they facilitiated our first experience of transcendence, about which we had only heard rumors from scriptures and mystics.

Speaking from my own experience, I think that this has been the case with subsequent generation(s) as well– I was born several years after the summer of love and underwent a similar experience of (thanks to certain substances) tasting first-hand what I had previously only read about… and if I may make reference to the funny Chogyam Trungpa story that Jack Kornfield quotes in the interview, in my own case, because of the profound impact of those experiences, I felt that it was already too late to walk out of the room and get my refund at the door. Modern chemistry and ancient plants had already propelled me inexorably onto the path.

Did they make me a better person? They sure as hell didn’t make me some kind of “enlightened” being. But they did lead to a deepening of already nascent concerns with social justice, environmental issues…a certain seeing through of the hypocrisies and contradictions (and, well, just the insanity) of the cultural environment that I was living in…an increased desire to relate to people in a more authentic way…and, an unshakeable belief in the reality of the “spiritual” dimensions of existence. (to name a few things…)

But psychologically, all of my neuroses were still very much intact, as were my various blind spots, prejudices, ability to be a total word, etc. Spiritually speaking, the work could barely even have been said to have begun.

I guess a great ambivalence always enters into any discussion of psychedelics’ relation to spirituality. They obviously can open up some doors, but due to their power they can also potentially wreak a bit of havoc. For instance, some have claimed that taking psychedelics will somehow destroy one’s subtle body, and while I think that this is an exaggeration of the potential for harm in this area, I do think that the abruptness with which they seem to be able to blast open the chakras (however temporarily) or fire up the kundalini, can definitely throw the energetic system out of balance and leave one feeling ungrounded, or like one’s subtle energies have gone somewhat awry. But improper (or even proper, I suppose) yoga/meditation practices can pose the same risks. Maybe a substance such as ayahuasca, which seems to work more directly at purifying & removing psycho-physical blockages is less risky in this department. At any rate, I would venture to guess that any “damage” is pretty much always possible to repair…just may take a lot of time. And the right corrective measures, be they exercises, herbs, whatnot. Erm, not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything.

And further fueling ambivalent attitudes, I’m sure that we are all familar with the widely varying effects that substances may have in inducing “spiritual” experiences in folks. For instance, I know many for whom LSD or some other substance was nothing more than a “good time”… And there are obviously plenty of people with aggressive or even downright malevolent personal tendencies who take those substances and remain unchanged or become even bigger words.

To conclude my ramble, I will lastly marvel at just how odd indeed our karma here as Western “seekers” seems to be. So many of us were launched off on our respective paths by some stuff that a Swiss chemist had accidentally cooked up just around the same time that humans were first monkeying around technology which could effectively result in the extinction of the entire species and much of life on the planet. And said paths were based in traditions originating from cultures that could in some ways be scarcely more foreign from our own. How did we get here? Where are we going? What a long, strange trip, etc. And now, decades down the road, the planetary crisis is only exacerbating, and seems to be approaching a definite “sink or swim” climax. Yikes.

To me, it seems undeniable that the fate of the human project hinges in large part on how we are able to engage with and transform those tremendous psychic forces which Kornfield in the interview refers to as “Greed with a capital “G,” the most primal kinds of grasping; and Hatred meaning Hitler and Attila the Hun in the mind; and Delusion meaning the deepest dark night.” Right now I reckon that the projects of the depth psychologists/transpersonal psychologists; those who are able to synthesize and integrate the tools and discoveries afforded by the relatively youthful tradition of western psychology, the ancient wisdom traditions such as Buddhism, Sufism, Kabbalah, Taoism, etc., and the shamanic traditions of working with entheogens (as well as the accumulated Western knowledge of working with those substances) truly hold the best hope for dealing with these forces.

A final micro-rant: this is why it upsets me when spiritual practice/psychological work is derided as navel-gazing, narcissistic, Marin hot-tub-ism, etc. On the contrary; I think that these pursuits, though seemingly focused on the individual, ultimately benefit all of humanity, and hold hope for our salvation. To put it another way, doubtless many of the great revolutionaries and humanitarian-minded social activists of the past could have benefitted from some confrontation with/insight into their own dark sides.

Er, hopefully this all doesn’t smack too much of the rambling of some dude who’s yet to come down from his acid trip a dozen+ years ago…I realize that I’m (sloppily) thinking out loud, and likely preaching to the choir as well.

& for a more lucid take on the business of the last couple paragraphs of my post, there was a great piece in the ‘readings’ section of Harper’s Magazine several months back…written by a psychoanalyst, it dealt with how the failure on the part of political leaders and nations to confront their own narcissism and shadow sides leads to the obscenities of war. As I recall, the author discussed it in terms of Hitler and related it to the Abu Ghraib madness and Rumsfeld’s way of dealing with it (America=good and thus can do no wrong attitudes, etc.) Good stuff, I will try to dig it up so that I can provide more in the way of reference, if anybody is interested.

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