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Society’s Psychedelic Phobia
The psychedelic explosion is a subject on which we need a great deal more careful thought and a great deal less emotion, because it’s a very touchy subject. I’m going to talk this morning about the general background of this explosion so as to put it in some sort of perspective in time and space. And I have here a letter, a little card that I received, which says, “Dear Mr. Watts, are you enlightened? If you are, will you please help me? I want to be enlightened also. Yours truly, Miss So-and-so, age fifteen.” And, as we know, the psychedelic explosion is something which is highly prevalent among young people, and is a quest very largely on the part of young people for something which civilization as we know it in the West seems to have failed to supply.
Now, what’s the matter? The matter is fundamentally one of religion. It is that standard brand religion in the Western world is a very dreary affair. That, in effect, what one gets from a church—of whatever denomination, be it Catholic to the right or Southern Baptist to the left—is almost entirely preoccupied with moralizing. And when you study the subjects of sermons that are preached Sunday after Sunday, you read the newspapers and see what they’re talking about, you generally form the impression that what the churches in fact are, are sexual and family regulation societies. That’s what they’re actually doing. Because if you say someone is living in sin, it doesn’t usually mean that he is following the profession of a bookie or that he is conducting a business which is profoundly dishonest and selling things that are just frauds. It means a person living in sin is living in an improper or unconventional sexual relationship. And when we speak of immorality, it really doesn’t refer much to cheating your customers, or being intensely cruel to someone, or running a factory which is fouling the rivers. Immorality is generally taken to mean sexual irregularity. I remember when I was a boy in school that, every year, we had a particular preacher who came to us who preach the same sermon every year. And the subject was “Drink, gambling and immorality.” And immorality, of course, meant sexual irregularity.
Well, in one way or another, with certain exceptions, the official churches of the West are saying to their congregations, Sunday after Sunday: “Dear people, you ought to be good,” with a rather limited meaning on what “good” is. And I often wonder what my devout Episcopalian brethren mean when they say the general confession before the Holy Communion, and say that “we have sinned most grievously, and that the remembrance of these sins is grievous unto us and the burden of them is intolerable.” I wonder what they think of. I used to be an Episcopalian priest—I suppose I still am—and as a result of that I often used to hear confessions. And I know the sort of things people confessed, and I know, then, very well what their idea of sin was.
And in all this history—of not only Western Christianity, but to a very large extent Judaism as well—there has been an extraordinary and curious failure to emphasize the value of what we could call spiritual or religious experience. The Jewish people are very largely occupied with manners and morals and the ritual of obeying the Mosaic Law. The Christians are preoccupied with other things besides. The Christians are very much preoccupied with what you believe in—whether, for example, you believe that Jesus Christ was in fact God, whether you believe that Jesus Christ was the only unique incarnation of God, whether you believe that the Godhead is a trinity, whether you believe that the sacrament of the altar (the bread and wine consecrated at the mass) are in fact the body and blood of Christ or only represented. And they have fought with each other. They have cut each other’s throats. They have waged crusades—the Thirty Years’ War, all these things were tremendous fights about doctrinal questions; though there may, of course, have been some other motivations behind it.
But at any rate, this was the subject matter that stirred people to fighting anger. And in all this history, the Catholic Church in particular, and other churches in lesser ways, have ignored, excluded, or actively persecuted people that we call mystics—that is to say, those who have had a change of consciousness which in effect induces the realization that you yourself are not a weird little creature that is a subject (and nothing more than that) of the heavenly king. But the experience that you yourself are a direct manifestation of the ultimate reality, or what Paul Tillich called the ground of being, which was his particular (I would say) decontaminated phrase for the word “God.” Because the word “God,” in our culture, has all sorts of extremely unfortunate associations.
When clergymen talk about “our heavenly father,” anybody under the age of thirty squirms. “Have you made Jesus Christ your personal savior?” All these questions, you see, have a kind of a creepy connotation to them. The churches endeavor to attract young people by all sorts of devices, by having dances and parties and any kind of goings on, even happenings in the more advanced churches today. But young people know very well that the object of these happenings or socials (or whatever it is to attract young people) is honey to catch flies and that, finally, the minister is going to take you aside for a serious talk. And that serious talk is going to be about your morals, and about what is your relationship to your heavenly father? Do you say your prayers? Do you read your Bible? You know, “your prayers” and “your Bible”—these are ghastly phrases!
So the thing that is singly missing—and it doesn’t matter whether it’s Catholic or whether it’s Protestant—is the central function of religion in changing consciousness. Because it’s quite apparent to everyone that something is wrong with ordinary consciousness. And what is wrong with ordinary consciousness is reflected in ever so many casual phrases that we are accustomed to use, such as “I like to forget myself.” “I want to get away from myself.” “I want to feel that my life has some meaning.” And I find that meaning, for example, in joining a movement, whether it be political, religious or whatever.
Something, then, is apparently wrong with one’s self if one’s self is something that you need to forget. If you feel (when you’re alone) hopelessly anxious and bored, what’s wrong with you? Why is your self so intolerable to you? You can’t really well love your neighbor as yourself unless you have some love for yourself. If you don’t have any love for yourself, you don’t have any store or a fountain of love in you to give to your neighbors. And all this preaching of, “Be good, be good, be good, and love everybody,” everybody recognizes: yes, it would be wonderful if we could love our neighbors. Great! But how do you do it when you hate yourself? And the church is never explained—except, as I say, with some very rare ministers and special rather far out types of church.
So there is (in the history of Christianity in particular) an exclusion—and there has been from the very earliest times—an exclusion of what is called gnosis. And this has a complex history, which I’ll go into a little because it’s quite important to our whole subject. There were, in the early history of Christianity, some subsects that were called Gnostics. And they emphasized that the important thing was not belief, not so much even action, but knowledge. Could you attain to the actual knowledge of God, of the ultimate reality of the universe? And many of the Gnostic sects offered this knowledge.
The problem with many of these sects was that they felt that the knowledge of God was contingent upon the renunciation of the world—that is to say: upon asceticism, upon celibacy, upon trying to separate one’s spirit from involvement in body and in matter. And therefore, the Gnostics classified three types of human being who were respectively called hylic, from the Greek hylē, which means wood. The wooden people. Next there were the psychic people, from the Greek psȳchḗ, meaning the soul. And then, finally, there was a pneumatic people from the Greek πνεῦμα, meaning the spirit; the breath. And only pneumatic people could really expect to attain salvation, because the lowest people were absorbed in their bodies, the middle people were absorbed in their egos, the psyche, but the superior people were absorbed in the spirit. And they were aloof from all material concerns.
And there were two kinds of pneumatic people according to the sect of Gnosticism to which you belonged. On the one hand, there were (as I have said) the very, very spiritual people who tried to divorce their attention from all matters of the flesh. But there were the other people who said that the flesh is unreal, and therefore what you do in the flesh simply doesn’t matter. And they were Libertines. And the official church disapproved of both of them—and rightly, in a way, because they said of the people who were the ascetics that they had missed the central point of Christianity, which is the doctrine of the incarnation: that in the person of Jesus Christ God had become man, and the spirit had adopted the flesh. And therefore, a reasonable, fleshly existence was quite proper. And that remains, to this day, a tenet not only of Judaism, which holds it very strongly, but of Orthodox Catholicism. However much Catholicism may deny this in practice, it has to adhere to it in theory. And Jews, especially, believe that the material world is the positive creation of God, and therefore is good and is to be enjoyed thoroughly. And that’s why Jewish food is, on the whole, very good in this country and better than Christian food. A good Jewish delicatessen has a kind of lip-smacking, robust attitude to eating. And, you know, is it kosher? Jews will even go so far as to admit that God created the principle of evil. Because it says in the book of the Prophet Isaiah, in the seventh verse, in the forty-fifth chapter: “I am the Lord and there is none else. I form the light and create the darkness. I make peace and create evil. I, the Lord, do all these things.” And so Hebrews believe that God put into the heart of Adam something called the yetzer hara, which is the spirit of waywardness, which I translate as the element of irreducible rascality that is involved in every human being. But it’s only a little bit. It’s like a touch of salt in a stew. And you don’t, of course, put salt through the whole stew; you just put a pinch. And God put a pinch of waywardness, of disobedience, of unpredictability (and therefore evil) in the heart of Adam. And that is the reason why Jews have a very subtle, itchy sense of humor: they recognize this. Christianity, on the whole, with certain exceptions, is devoid of humor. Although man like G. K. Chesterton is a humorous Christian, but they’re very rare. Whereas a Jew can talk to God with a certain kind of banter, and you see that in a play like The Fiddler on the Roof. And you see it throughout the literature of Hasidism, which is full of very funny stories about spiritual things. And a Jew can talk back to God in a kind of a friendly way, but a Christian finds that difficult. A Christian is too impressed.
And it’s very strange how Jews have escaped from this, since they are, in a way, responsible for the heart of the trouble about religion in the West, which is that they foisted upon themselves and upon all of us a model of God which is patterned after the great tyrant kings of the ancient Near East: after David, after the Pharaohs of Egypt, after the great law-givers like Hammurabi, of the ancient world of the Tigris Euphrates civilizations—and particularly even the second Isaiah, who wrote the book of the Prophet Isaiah from chapter forty onwards. He was very beholden to the then Cyrus of Persia, who invaded the Babylonian Empire and set the Jews free. And so this word, Cyrus, is the Greek kyrios, which means the lord, the king—as in the prayer Kyrie Eleison: “Lord have mercy upon us.” And the title of the Emperor of Persia in those days was the King of Kings. And this title was adopted through Isaiah as the title of the god of the Hebrews: The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
And so the model, the conception, of God under which all these religions have operated is one that is essentially monarchical and political. And so the human being is taught to view himself as the subject of this independent, extraterrestrial spiritual prince who is definitely authoritarian, definitely paternalistic. You were, therefore—according to both Jewish and Christian theology—brought into being by a fiat of the divine will out of pure nothingness. And you’d better watch your step, because if you don’t accord with the divine will, if you displease this ruler, you can be not only instantly annihilated, but the much more fearsome possibility: you can be condemned to the celestial dungeons for ever and ever and ever. And so you must cultivate spiritual obedience and humility by considering yourself a miserable worm; a nothing whose entire existence is contingent upon the divine pleasure. And you must never, by any means, commit the final ultimate blasphemy of saying, “I am God.” They say in Arabic: an al haqq. It’s the word of the Sufis, the Islamic mystics in Persia, which spread right through the Islamic world. And they were always being persecuted and put to death and tortured because of an al haqq: “I am Allah.”
Jesus, you see, was such a heretic. From the standpoint of Judaism, when Jesus claimed that he was one with God—“I and the Father are one. Before Abraham was, I am. I am the way, the truth and the life. I am the resurrection and the life”—this was the reason why he was crucified, really. He outraged Jewish piety. And you can see that Jesus is a case of an individual who had a very profound mystical experience and was hard put to it as to how to express that experience in the terms of contemporary Jewish theology. He more or less concentrated—I mean, apparently, if you examine and study the gospels very closely—he admitted that he really was one with the Father to a select circle of disciples. What he said in public was that he was the son of man. And this title meant the supreme prophet. The expression “son of,” in Hebrew, means “of the nature of.” When you call—in modern slang, you call someone a “son of a bitch,” that means they behave like a bitch. And so in Hebrew or in Arabic you have such expressions as ibn elkalb, which means “son of a dog,” ibn ya homaar means “son of a donkey.” It means you’re a dog, you’re a donkey. But “son of” means “like.” And so Jesus calling himself either the son of God or the son of man—he used both expressions—means: the one who is of divine nature (“son of God”), and “son of man” means the essentially human. The Man. The The second Adam. The regenerate Adam.
But he had a terrible time, you see, expressing these ideas. Because if you are brought up in a culture where the prevailing cosmology is monarchical, and you have the mystical experience, you are very liable to make claims of being divine that you imagine are peculiar to yourself. You have had this experience, and because God is conceived as a commander and a ruler, you are apt to think that you (in some sense), yourself, are now the commander and the ruler of people and of the whole domain of nature. And you are not apt—as would be the case in India—you are not apt to see that everybody else is in the same situation, whether they know it or whether they don’t.
So because, then, of the definitely imperialistic and royal and monarchical nature of the conception of God which has come to us through Judaism and Christianity, mysticism has always been suspect for the simple reason that it sounds as if it were going to create democracy in the kingdom of heaven. And that, of course, is treachery, insubordination, subversion. Democracy in the kingdom of heaven cannot be tolerated. And this presents for people living in the United States a very peculiar problem. Because this country is politically a republic. And as a loyal American citizen, you have to curse and swear and say that you believe the republic to be the best form of government. And yet, an enormous number of Americans have believed and still do believe (or half believe) that the universe is a monarchy. And if the court of heaven is a monarchy, then obviously it’s the best form of government. And how can you then be a member of a republic without serious inner contradictions? And this lies at the root of the reason why, in the United States, there is a very serious conflict between church and state—or rather, I would say not so much a conflict as a mix-up—so that we have our laws and our law enforcement officers enforcing commandments which are essentially ecclesiastical. And herein lies one of the great roots of the psychedelic problem.
Consider some other laws which throw a great deal of light on this. Let’s take the situation of a conscientious objector. Now, until not so long ago, it was a necessity to qualify as a conscientious objector that you stated that you believed in a supreme being, and therefore implied that you had received from the supreme being a commandment that you were not to fight in war or to kill. And this was taken as an absolute. You had (to qualify as a conscientious objector) to say that the commandment “thou shalt not kill” means you must not under any circumstances kill another person. And so they always asked you, “What if a German soldier raped your mother and cut her throat?” You see? Would you kill under those circumstances or wouldn’t you?
Now, the significance of this law—it’s been altered recently—but the significance of it is this: that you are saying that you have a conscience against killing, or fighting in a war, because you have received orders from a higher echelon of command than the president of the United State—namely, from the Lord God. And this was always the test until quite recently, because there had been a lot of Buddhists around and people like that who don’t believe in a monarchical God, but do believe in conscientious objection. They could not say that they believed in a supreme being. Although it’s highly possible that the intention of the law in employing the words “supreme being” was to be vague. The people who wrote this law, they didn’t know what to say. And so they just used the vaguest phrase they could think of instead of saying “God” or something like that. They said supreme being. A supreme being. There’s a subtle difference between “supreme being” and “a supreme being.” Like between “religion” and “a religion,” “God” and “a God.” Is there a God? Is there God? These are two really fundamentally different questions. But that’s the situation.
And therefore, because in the laws of the United States and England and many other Western countries, and in the fundamental attitudes of Western religion, there is this sense of God as the monarch, there has been going on for centuries an insidious and perpetual persecution of the rival religions. Even though we say that everybody in this country is given religious liberty, that is not true. You do not really have religious liberty if you subscribe to the heretical doctrine that the universe is not a political state, but instead an organism; a living organism in which, just as all the extremities and differentiated features of the physical body are expressions of the whole body. A finger, you see, isn’t just part of the body, because it’s not like an automotive part. If you lose a finger, you can’t just screw on a new one—although they’re trying to do that. They’re trying to put in hearts and grafting on this, that, and the other. But it’s terribly difficult to do. Because, you see, the organism rejects alien parts. And so you have to give it drugs so that it won’t reject those alien parts. But at the same time, those drugs make it unable to reject all sorts of bacteria that it normally would reject. And therefore, you have to keep a person with a heart graft in an absolutely sterile environment because he won’t be able to resist infection.
But it is a fallacy, you see, that the human being has parts like a car. Because a human being is not a mechanism, a human being is an organism. And an organism functions quite differently from a mechanism. An organism functions in such a way that every part is a complete expression of the whole. And this, of course, is what Jesus was trying to say when he said to his disciples, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” When he put forward the idea that “you all belong to my body.” The image of the body and the image of the vine is an organic image as distinct from a political image. So our problem, then, is that throughout the history of the West, all those who belong to the organic religion, or who felt the organic religion, have been persecuted.
You see, let’s take the case of the mystical revolution that began with roughly Meister Eckhart in Germany. It began in the 13th century, but achieved its maximum force in the early 15th century, and eventually became the philosophy of nature as exemplified, say, by Goethe. But there started out, in Germany, a movement that included people like Eckhart, Tauler, Ruysbroeck, the Brothers of the Free Spirit, Angelus Silesius—all these people writing from a mystical point of view, and they were very heavily persecuted. Some got by; Ruysbroeck got by. Tauler barely got by. But Eckhart was condemned. And all for the reason that they experienced oneness or identity with God. Eckhart said, “The eye with which I see God is the same eye as with which God sees me. The love with which I love God is the love with which God loves me.” And Angelus Silesius went much further than that. He said, “If I were to die, God would no longer live. Because my eye and God’s eye are one eye.” Just as the Sufis in Islam said, “As there is no deity but Allah, so there is no [heity ???] but Allah”—that is to say: no selfness. So all selfness, or I-ness, is the I-ness of Allah. It’s the same as the Upanishadic saying tat tvam asi: “you’re it.” “That thou art.”
So this mystical movement in Germany flowered into various types of religiousness that spread to England and from England to the United States. Let’s take George Fox and the Quakers. The Quakers were regarded in their early days as the most dangerous subversives. They, for example, refused to remove their hats in church or in court. They refused to use titles. And so, in Quaker speech, I would always be just Alan Watts. No Mister, no Doctor, no nothing. Just Alan Watts. And it’s curious, incidentally, how this form of address has become prevalent today; that very many people write letters now, not “Dear Mr. Watts,” but “Dear Alan Watts”—or whoever it may be; it’s not just if you’re a celebrity. It’s a very common form of address now. The Quakers also, of course, refused to take oaths because of Jesus saying: “Do not swear by anything. Just let your communication be ‘yes, yes’ or ‘no, no.’ For what is more than this cometh of evil?” They wouldn’t fight. They wouldn’t join armies. And they even felt that scripture was not as holy as the Bible is usually held out to be. Because they said that there’s something else that has a higher authority in scripture, which is the inner light. As the gospel of St. John describes it: “The true light which enlightens every man that comes into the world.”
And if you just put your mind back into the 17th century and consider that, in those days, the theology of the Christian churches—whether Catholic or Protestant—had for people living in that time the same kind of authority and the same kind of respectability that is today enjoyed by great scientists. Let’s say you ask a question to the professor of pharmacology at the University of California; the professor of pathology. This is the last word. And on the advice of the professors of medicine, laws will be made preventing you from ingesting certain substances, or from refusing to be cured in certain ways, from having certain operations or injections, and so on. The scientist today is priest. And his vestments, instead of being the old fashioned chasuble or round collar, he wears a white coat and a stethoscope ’round his neck. Boy, is that a symbol of office! And so those people, those scientists, you see, we take very seriously. In exactly the same way, people living in the 17th century took the theologians very seriously indeed. because the theologians knew what the answers were. They knew how the world was constructed and what was the proper way to behave.
And so when people like the Quakers—and there were other people who came out of German mysticism along with them: the Anabaptists who were against Baptism because they felt that salvation didn’t depend on a silly ritual of pouring water on someone and muttering a mumbo jumbo, there were the Levelers. All sorts of sects flourished in the 17th century and were regarded just as, today, hippies and freaks of that kind are regarded: as extremely dangerous, subversive people upsetting the morals of society. Now look what happened. Look what the Quakers have become. Nothing is more respectable than the Pennsylvania Quaker. A veritable pillar of society! But the laws of the United States about religious freedom were designed for just such people as Quakers. They were individualists, they were far out. And yet, today, when you claim in court that you object conscientiously to war, or that you have some peculiar religion with very odd sacraments, they say to you, “What church do you belong to that authorizes this? How well established is it? How many members does it have? Can you prove that you were brought up by your parents in this way of life?” Because these are the tests of whether your grounds for claiming that you are doing a thing as a matter of religious conscience, this is the test for whether you’re valid.
And thus you’re in a frightful double bind. Because if you are accused in court of what is generally regarded to be a heinous felony, you know your chances of getting a light sentence are much better if you take a guilty attitude. You plead guilty. You say, “I’m so sorry. It was a grievous mistake. I didn’t mean to do it. Please forgive me, dear God!” You know your chances are better. But if you say, “I insist that I did this as a religious act. It is in accord with my conscience and I am not guilty,” the judge will say: “Your attitude is truculent.” And he won’t like you. And you’re liable to get a more severe sentence.
But this story is as old as the hills. It’s been going on and on, and we never learn from history. We do the same things over and over again. For example, we all have the horrors about the Spanish Inquisition, and how they took Protestants and put them on the rack with thumbscrew and finally burned them at the stake. And we say, “Oh, we don’t do things like that anymore.” Oh, we don’t? I invite you to consider mental hospitals. The new heresy is not oddball religious opinions because, nobody takes that seriously anymore. The new heresy is oddball states of consciousness. And if you have an odd state of consciousness and you try to express it to your family, they start looking at you in a funny way and say, “Are you feeling alright?” And that’s a terrible thing to say to anyone.
You know, if you want to—I shouldn’t really tell anyone this—but if you want to really bug someone and put a hex on them, all you do is: you look at them in a funny way and say, “Are you feeling well today?” And they say, “Yes, I’m feeling fine.” “No, I just thought you were a bit pale.” And soon the person will begin feeling all kinds of squeamishness. And it’s much worse when you question a person’s state of mind. Because it’s very easy to test the bodily state. You can take a temperature, pulse, have a urinalysis or something, and the doctor says there’s nothing the matter with you. Puts a stethoscope on your lungs. You’re alright.
But when it comes to your mind everything’s very vague. And you can get into the most weird Kafkaesque situations about whether you’re sane or not. The moment you’re challenged to prove that you’re sane, you’re on your guard. And immediately the psychiatrist says, “Why are you so defensive?” Psychiatry is completely diabolical. Almost, the more I see of it, the less I think there’s any good to be said for it. It is a way of bugging people. If you arrive for your appointment early, you are defined as anxious. If you arrive late, you’re defined as hostile. If you’re happy, you’re euphoric. If you’re not happy, you’re melancholic. If you’re afraid of something, you’re paranoid. Every conceivable way is devised of putting the patient down.
And when you’re admitted to a mental hospital—you may know all this, but you ought to know the law about these things; how it stands—you can be so easily put in a mental hospital, although the only salvation is that the mental hospitals in California today are so crowded and so understaffed that they’re not wishing to admit anyone. And you really have to be in a state of the screaming meemies to get in, or somebody has to dislike you very much. But you are deprived of all civil rights. You are no longer considered as a person. You are depersonified in a negative sense. See, there’s a higher depersonification when you attain the mystical realization and become one with the Absolute. And that there is, on the other hand, a lower depersonification where you are simply an outcast. This has been true always. In India there were the higher outcasts called the sannyasin, the holy men, who renounced caste and lived a life of poverty and freedom. But there were the untouchables on the other end, who were the aborigines, like the Eta in Japan.
And so if you go to a mental hospital, you become a lower outcast. You are no longer human. And you get frightened. You get scared out of your wits because you suddenly begin to realize that you cannot communicate with people, because they look at you in a funny way about everything you say. They say, “I wonder what he meant by that?” And you get real scared. And so you start to act in a funny way. Which is, the whole thing, the diagnosis of, say, schizophrenia is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Because when anybody puts you in that position and makes you the patsy, you can’t help acting in an odd way. If you say, “Now look, everybody, you’re putting a thing over on me. I’m perfectly sane.” They say, “Why are you so insisting on it?” Methinks thou dost protest too much. It’s a very difficult situation to be in. Never send anyone to an insane asylum. Do anything with them. Anything. Because that’s the trap. They get in.
And then, of course, because they’re understaffed, you’re ignored. They really don’t have time to get around to. I know what the problems are. And even very conscientious psychiatrists and insane asylums just can’t get the work done. So how do you get attention? Well, you start at being difficult, in the expectation that this will draw attention to you and you’ll get some therapy. And that doesn’t really work. I’ll tell you how to get out of an insane asylum in a minute. But the thing is that you try to get attention, until they they construe all the things you do to get attention as being further signs of insanity, of lack of cooperation. Finally, they throw you in a cell where there’s nothing left to you but take shit and throw it at the walls in order to get some kind of attention. And they say, “See how far gone he is?”
Now, the way to get out of an insane asylum is very subtly to flatter one of the psychiatrists, and cooperate with him to the utmost—not to quickly, but in a sort of gradual way so as to give him the impression that his method of treatment is working in your case. Because he wants to write a paper, see? And publish it in the psychiatric journal showing that a certain method, a certain technique, is really good. And you will cooperate with that idea, and you’ll do everything he tells you, but just with a certain little subtle resistance to him, see? He’ll immediately spot you as someone who is playing funny business if you cooperate completely, you see? Don’t do that, but just gently let it be understood that his therapy is working, and they’ll release you. Unless, of course, you want to go to an insane asylum just so as to have no responsibility and just get out of the whole mess. I think there are some people who do that.
But, you see, what we’ve got here in this situation is that having a different state of consciousness—or because you experience differently from other people—that’s heresy. And that makes everybody else terribly uncomfortable. And so in you go. And then, you see—now, this isn’t all. They say, “Well, this is pretty desperate. Golly, what are we going to do to help this person?” You know, in all the kindness of their hearts: “What are we going to do?” Well, you can see the inquisitors thinking this problem over, too. This heretic—do you realize that he is going to be tortured for ever and ever and ever because of his beliefs? And they’re infectious: they spread, they go to other people who will be tortured in hell for ever and ever and ever because of what they believe. What are we going to do? We’ll reason with them and they don’t respond to reason. Well, let’s apply a thumbscrew or something, you know, and see if that will just make the difference, you know? This very stubborn patient. Well… it’s a last resort, but we could burn them. Because they might, under the torture of being burned, repent and therefore escape everlasting damnation. And they did it with the kindest motivation: burned up the heretics.
So, in the same way, in a modern mental hospital they say, “Well, we’ll try shock treatment.” You know, nothing is more unbelievably clumsy. It works occasionally because the patient realizes that he had better get out at all costs! But by and large it doesn’t, and it is a form of torture. And if that doesn’t work, well, they say the only thing is to scrape out the front part of his brain. And, you know, they put an ice pick through alongside the eyeball and get it into the front part of the brain and they stir it up. It’s called a prefrontal lobotomy. And then the person is a happy moron for the rest of his life. But it’s the same situation all over again. And we have, above all, to watch out in this country for this kind of psychiatric fascism. Very, very dangerous.
And the political problem today is that the right wing in this country is very mixed up. They are very opposed to official mental health; mental health programs and all that kind of thing. And they have some good reasons for it. They’ve also some very bad reasons, because they would send them to jail pronto. The right wing also have a lot of opposition to taxation and centralized government, which is a kind of beginning of anarchism. But they don’t mean that. They mean: let’s have centralized government against the people we don’t like. Leave us alone. Tax everybody else, but not us. Wisdom of insecurity—for others.
Here is, then, a situation in which, (A) for the reasons that I’ve outlined, Western religion definitely ignores or positively excludes the mystical experience. And (B) religion plus law persecute those who are uncool about having mystical experience. So this double situation has created, in the course of history, an alarming practical situation—which is that Western man, in charge of his tremendous technology, is using it against life because he doesn’t feel that he belongs in the universe. By being identified as an ego, called into being out of nothing, and feeling therefore that he comes into this world instead of flowering out of it, he is basically against the world—especially since the death of God in the 19th century, where the new doctrine that follows the authoritarian God the father is that the universe is a mindless mechanism, and therefore we have to fight it. And therefore, in any war—the war against nature—there’s naturally a commander in chief, chain of command, so on, and the whole monarchical situation starts over again.
So as a result of that, then, we are using our technology in an absolutely weird way. This goes, of course, into economic problems as well. You see, since the industrial revolution it has been increasingly possible with greater and greater rapidity to feed and clothe and adequately house every single person on Earth. There is no technical obstacle to that whatsoever. But you’ve got to do it by automation to do enough of it. But when you automate things, you put people out of work. So if they’re out of work, they don’t have any money, and so they can’t buy what the machines produce. So you have huge surpluses begin to pile up. Well, you can’t give them away. Well, what would happen, you say, if you said, “Well, let us pay the people for the work the machines do.” We say, “That would be going into debt! Where’s the money going to come from?”
Well, the money is originally based on gold. And this is real hocus-pocus. Because, supposing that gold is rather rare, and you can’t always find a new gold mine, but yet you’re producing millions of tons of butter, milk, wheat, iron, wood, everything you could possibly need—we’ve got to wait to find a gold mine to get all this stuff into circulation. So the only thing they can do is this: people only go into debt in an emergency. So we increase the national debt and therefore circulate more and more purchasing power to keep the economy running by having wars. The perpetual state of emergency. The government has to go into debt because we are threatened by the Communists, by the… whatever—Chinese, Vietnamese. Anything, anybody! Just so long as we can say there is an emergency, therefore we can go into debt. But actually, going into debt is gobbledygook, semantically. All you’re doing is: you’re issuing credit based on the actual productive wealth of the nation, or whatever community is the unit. But people don’t understand that, just as (several hundred years ago) they couldn’t possibly understand that the Earth was round, and that if you lived in the antipodes you wouldn’t fall off. And so there’s this similar mumbo-jumbo and hocus-pocus about money. Money is a measure of wealth like inches or pounds or grams. And when you discover a load of iron ore, you don’t have to go and borrow a thousand tons from someone before you can do anything with it.
So, in this way, then, the culture is so absorbed with verbiage, with doctrines in religion, with money in economics, with status in politics, and with all kinds of manipulation of symbols, that we are not in contact in an aware way with the physical world. We are alienated from the physical world. We are fighting it. We are fighting our own bodies. And so, therefore, imaginative young people become aware of this and see the disaster all around them. The terrifying depredations of nature. They see it growing and growing. They see the final achievement of great Western physics as the hydrogen bomb. And they say it’s high time for us to get back to reality. And therefore, naturally, they are accused of peddling hallucinations.
But who is under a hallucination? Look at it: recently, Congress passed very strict laws against burning the American flag. And they did it with great fervor and all sorts of patriotic speeches, and this, that, and the other. While they are—by acts of commission or omission—they are burning up the country for which the flag stands: allowing continued pollution of the atmosphere, of the water, ravaging of the forests, destruction of wildlife on a fantastic scale. Oh yes, that doesn’t matter. You can tear the physical territory to pieces—just so long as you don’t burn the flag! And this is the hallucination. This is the divorce from reality.
And so not—reserving the question for the moment as to whether LSD and marijuana and mescaline and psilocybin and so on and so on—as to whether they are good things or bad things. We’ll put that for the moment aside. But one thing seems to me to be in no doubt at all: that something has to happen, and happen fast if we are to again get people to be aware of physical reality, to get in touch with the natural universe, with their own bodies, and feel that they are one with all that. Because if you feel—obviously—if you feel that you really belong, that Mount Tamalpais is as much part of you as your own hand, and that these waters around here, that everything is something in terms of which and in the context to which you exist, then you can take a friendly attitude towards it. And you’ll want to use technology in a cooperative way with all that. And do on the mountain what the mountain would be like.
Now, you can look out of this window and you can see right across here an extraordinary point. When I first came here in the summer of 1961, that was a reasonable, beautiful hill. But an idiot called Eichler went in with bulldozers and made flat terraces. He took the top right off the hill and dumped it down in the bay so that he could get extra land. And instead of cooperating with the hill, he treated it as one would treat a flat area—so as to build houses on it, when it’s perfectly simple to build an adequate house on a hill without altering the hill at all. Preserve the trees, preserve the topsoil, and you can build. But this is what has happened. And that’s happening all over because these people are quite mad. It’s like San Francisco, which is a mass of hills on which they just dropped a gridiron pattern of streets that would be suitable for Kansas City. Paid no attention to the hills, so you get streets that go like this and the cars get lost and runaway, cable cars and everything—always troubles.
You see, this is a symbol of man’s lack of relationship with nature. He doesn’t know how to cook, he doesn’t know how to clothe himself, he doesn’t know how to make love. Nothin’. Because it’s all concepts, it’s all ideas—which are the true hallucinations bugging our brains. Those are the real bats in the belfry. Not because ideas are not good things to have; that one, say, shouldn’t have concepts, shouldn’t use words, but because one should realize that ideas and concepts and words are purely instrumental. There are things to use. But when you get used by them, then the machines have run away from you. And I suppose they will soon have computers that are breeding and making decisions about their own future, and we’ll say, finally: “Let’s get rid of human beings. They’re a nuisance.”
Realizing It’s All You
Having described a sort of historical and cultural background of the psychedelic explosion, I want to go on next to the subject of the actual relationship between the use of psychedelic chemicals and mystical experience. And here we get, again, into an extremely tricky problem; a problem raised by all those people who question whether anything in the way of profound understanding, life-changing experience can simply come out of a bottle. And this is not altogether an easy problem to deal with, because one of the eternal questions about any kind of spiritual initiation (by one means or another) is simply that it seems, from time to time, there are so many cases in which it just doesn’t take.
In the early history of Christianity, there was a long, long argument about people who were called Lapsi—that is to say, those who had been baptized and had been initiated into the church, but somehow fell away either in allegiance or in morals. And it was a great puzzle how a person who could have undergone the sacrament of baptism—this great union with Christ conferred upon him—how they could lapse and what to do about them. Supposing they wanted to come back. And there were people who took a very rigorous line on this and said no, once you’ve been baptized and you fell away, you were absolutely more than ever sold to the devil, and there was no hope for you at all. But, after all, because human beings are really creatures who muddle through life, a compromise was arranged and it was possible for them, through some form of penance, to come back in.
And I am amazed at the way in which the psychedelic movement shows so many parallels to the history of religious movements at other times. It’s simply fascinating. First of all, let’s take not so much the sacrament of baptism, but the sacrament of the Holy Communion (the conversion of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ) as a sort of parallel to this. Because here, after all, was a religion saying that you didn’t really get the salvation unless you partook of a particular material substance which had been formulized in a certain way. See, the whole idea of transubstantiation was that the priest took the bread and wine, and he had to say a certain formula over them. Hoc est enim corpus meum: this is my body which is given for you. And this is my blood of the new and eternal Testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. Actually, all he has to say is “this is my body and this is my blood.” And if you are an ordained priest in the apostolic succession, it is held that just saying those words actually changes the bread and wine into a spiritual instrument which will be equivalent to eating the body and blood of Christ. And since—on the principle that you are what you eat or that you become what you eat—you are converted by this sacrament into a member of the body of Christ, and therefore united with God.
Now, just look at that for a moment and ask the question: how does that differ from a chemical operation? See, in chemistry there are involved the same sort of things. There’s the formula: the form of words through which one constitutes the chemical. There is the material: bread and wine or wheat ergot. There is also the problem of authorization. Now, this is a very, very tricky question, because the early Christians quarreled among themselves a great deal as to who had the true sacraments, just as psychoanalysts quarrel among themselves as to: are you really in the line of Freud? Were you analyzed by someone who was analyzed by someone who was ultimately analyzed by Freud? And in psychoanalysis there is a huge apostolic succession.
So in the same way now with LSD, to take one example. There is a great deal of controversy going on as to whether Owsley’s LSD is as pure as Sandoz’s LSD. And certainly, anybody with less genius than Owsley put LSD on the market that is just crud, and is stacked with amphetamines and heroin and belladonna and goodness only knows what. Also that it’s shortchanged, badly made, and so on. So the same controversies are taking place about the nature of the sacrament as took place in the early history of Christianity.
Also, good and bad trips correspond to the ancient Christian arguments about the state of grace in which you were when you received the sacrament. If you were in a good state of grace, then it redounded to your salvation. But if you were in a state of mortal sin when you took the sacrament, it would redound to your damnation. Saint Paul mentions this in the New Testament. And so one might say people who have good trips are in a good environment, are prepared properly. People who had bad trips are in a bad environment, improperly prepared, and so the sacrament redounds to their damnation. And in this case, damnation—instead of being something of a post-mortem nature gets up to date and modern—as I pointed out, it is an unpleasant state of consciousness; a psychiatric condition. And therefore you have to go not perhaps to the torture chambers of the devil, but to the dungeons of the insane asylum. So that watch for these parallels. They’re very instructive. History does indeed repeat itself, just as human beings are the same human beings generation after generation, and they’re always doing the same sort of things in different ways.
So, as in the history of Christianity, so in the history of this, questions were raised by philosophers who said, “Why on Earth should it be necessary to be baptized with water or to eat this particular bread and wine in order to attain salvation?” Because surely, true salvation has nothing to do with material agencies. We would say now true spiritual insight has nothing to do with artificial means. It’s something you do yourself by your own will, by your own efforts, by, say, your own meditation exercises. And so this isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds because it raises the question of: well, what do you mean by “yourself”?
And as we examine that question, we have a whole host of subquestions. “Yourself.” Does this word, “yourself,” refer to your total organism? Does it refer to some sort of psychic entity which inhabits your organs? And if the former, then if you are your whole organism, you cannot neglect the principle that you are what you eat. And that, for example, if you don’t have the right kinds of vitamins and the right kinds of minerals, you’re not going to be healthy. If, on the other hand, your spiritual sanity—let’s call it that—really doesn’t depend on the state of your body (because, after all, we know many people with extremely sick bodies who are nevertheless absolutely marvelous as individuals), then it would suggest that the functioning of the psyche is fundamentally different and independent from the functioning of the physical organism. But, on the other hand, we know all sorts of people who are quite plainly neurotic or even psychotic, but who are also geniuses and very creative. So if you can function well with a sick body, if you can function well with a sick psyche, who are you? What are you?
Now, I tend to the view of what I would call body and spirit as being aspects of the same process. That, in other words, it is sort of artificial to make a distinction between the human organism and the human mind—for the reason that a sophisticated view of the physical world does not require this separation, because it does not require the idea that there is some sort of material stuff out of which bodies are made, as tables are made of wood. To me, the human body is a pattern dancing in space. “A pattern,” you will say, “of what?” It doesn’t have to be of anything, all you need is the pattern. Because when you try to describe the component materials of which bodies are composed, what you describe is always another pattern working on a smaller scale at a lower level of magnification—and nobody ever described anything except that.
So imagine, then, that we have a rope which is made of various materials. At the beginning, the rope is made of hemp. Next stage it’s made of cotton. Next stage it’s made of silk. And so on. You can think of a nylon or all sorts of things the rope might be made of. Now you tie a knot in the rope; a simple, ordinary knot. And everybody can see the pattern of the knot. Now move the knot along the rope. And as you move it, it is first of all hemp, then it is linen, then it is cotton, then it’s silk, then it’s nylon—but the pattern stays constant. And it is so, also, you see, with the human body. The human body has every conceivable kind of materials flowing through it. We are a stream—or we are a form in a stream, like a whirlpool. And the stream consists of milk, and beefsteak, and water, and beer, and every conceivable sort of thing. Air, cosmic rays, and so on. And each one of us is a wiggle in this field of energy.
And so long as we wiggle in approximately the same way—of course we get older, and as we get older, you haven’t seen someone for ten years, but for some reason or other you still recognize them, maybe, after ten years of not seeing them. Because you recognize that it’s still wiggling in more or less the same way. It has the same pattern. So you have a continuity in terms of pattern integrity. But there isn’t any substance there, in the sense of a kind of stuff which remains with you permanently. The only thing that continues as you go through life is the dance you’re doing; the pattern.
Who does the dance? That’s a question that’s really very silly, because it’s based on our commitment to speaking a language in which all verbs have to be accounted for by nouns called their subjects. As if an action could only be initiated by a thing. But when you begin to go into that and really think it through, you see that something that is different from a verb—that is to say, different from action—could not possibly initiate action. Action comes from action. So as Buddhists and Hindus say, all this world is karma, and karma means “doing,” “action,” “motion,” “energy.”
So, then, your body is an energy pattern. Nobody is doing the pattern. The pattern is, shall we say, doing itself. And what you are experiencing—in every conceivable sense of the word “experience”: what you feel, what you sense, what you think—all that is you. And it’s merely a social convention that we think about some agent who does deeds, who feels feelings and thinks thoughts, standing as a constant behind them. What is the constant is not some kind of spook, but the constancy in the form of the pattern through which one recognizes a person even after ten years’ absence. It’s like you would always recognize, say, a certain Bach Invention whenever it’s played, and you say, “Oh yes, that’s Bach’s Invention number so-and-so.” And so it’s for just that reason that you recognize another human being.
Now, of course, when we talk about music, then we say, “Well, who’s playing it?” There is an instrumentalist at the piano, true. But this is a pattern playing a pattern. In other words, it is all really the same pattern. This pattern sometimes is in a whirl which doesn’t include a piano, but in other times it’s a whirl which does include a piano. And the pattern called the being flows into the pattern called the piano, and as a result there is music.
So if you think that way when you eat something, that’s a pattern, too. And you, in relation to certain kinds of food, are in one state. In relation to other kinds of food you’re in another state. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. And so, in the same way, you in relation to certain chemicals feel one way, in relation to other chemicals you feel another way. And there is no way of abolishing our ingestion of foods (or whatever), because if we didn’t, we’d just cease to exist. But we know that there are certain things that may not be chemicals in the strict sense. They may be simply natural plants lying around, like the peyote cactus, the mushroom psilocybe mexicana, the plant cannabis sativa (otherwise known as marijuana) just growing around. Or locoweed, or amanita muscaria. It is a mushroom. And if we eat those things, our consciousness changes.
Now, some time ago, the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association formed a joint committee for legal purposes to try and find a definition of addiction. And every time they thought they had addiction defined, they found that their definition was indistinguishable from a definition of dependence on food. And they had the greatest difficulty in pinning down any distinction between a food and a drug—like the Food and Drug Administration. What is the difference between a food and a drug? Obviously, we can see there is a difference, but we can’t pin it down. It’s like when St. Augustine was asked, “What is time?” He said, “I know what it is, but when you ask me, I don’t.” And so, in a similar sort of way, we we can see a difference between a food and a drug, in that food is something that sort of comes directly from nature, whereas, on the whole, a drug is something that has to be prepared in a special way, is a sort of extract, a quintessence, a distillation, a concoction, or something in a pill. But that’s a very superficial distinction. It’s all a matter of how you cook it.
And so it is argued by some people that the human organism needs psychic vitamins as well as what we call bodily vitamins, and that your psyche cannot be in a healthy state unless you take your psychic vitamins—like that cartoon in The New Yorker where two very hip parents are saying to their little girl, “How can you expect to have hallucinations if you don’t eat your mushrooms?”
Now, there is a course to a sense in which the possession of, or the exercise of, spiritual insight is analogous to, say, being a good painter or a good musician. And you can’t accomplish that without a great deal of practice so that you have it in your bones how to do it. And I don’t for one minute deny that a Buddha, an enlightened one, has his enlightenment in him in very much the same way that a painter has his skill. And obviously, the capacity to exercise this skill all the time will not come because the painter took certain vitamins. It may be that he will not be able to exercise his skill if he doesn’t take the vitamins. But we can’t attribute it, the insight that he has, the capacity he has for dealing with it, directly to anything that he eats.
On the other hand, various painters who have taken psychedelic chemicals have been enormously encouraged in their work, because they saw Into the world more deeply than with the naked eye and they came back to their painting and tried to bring across that vision. And many people have found that it was, in fact, very helpful. They could remember what they saw under the psychedelic experience and, with great ingenuity, translate it by technique, by discipline into a remarkable painting.
So obviously, then, psychedelic chemicals are no substitutes for skill, discipline, and wisdom in the sphere of religious or mystical experience. Nevertheless, they are an extraordinary boost to give a person a real understanding that there is something in the nature of deep insight, of union with God or whatever you want to call it. They give him a taste of it—a taste which many people never, never have. And from that initial taste there arises the enthusiasm to pursue the matter further. I do not see why this should not be so in view of an integral way of looking at soul and body, spirit and matter.
Really, the burden of proof as to why it should not be so rests upon those who claim that it shouldn’t. Why must any genuine spiritual insight be independent of what you eat or what you drink? Since you yourself are really addicted to eating and drinking. Let’s take another parallel case that’s very instructive, which is that an enormous number of people are apparently addicted to music. Now, music—when you look at it from a strictly practical survival point of view—music is a waste of time. You don’t really need music, do you? I mean, you could go on and you could do your business without any music at all. Music’s a luxury. And yet, it is a major industry today; producing music. And I suppose you could say—Ed Dalton made the suggestion—that people who are addicted to music have a disease called chorditis. And really, music should be stopped. It’s such a terrific waste of time. It achieves nothing constructive and is really, therefore, very bad for you because you become hung up on it. You can’t do without music if you’re a real music lover. And music even isn’t something you eat! It’s just something you listen to. But boy, can you become addicted to it! So should we get rid of it?
Dancing is something you do. It’s also a total waste of time. And, of course, righteous Baptists and people like that have always condemned dancing. They say that’s no way of behaving. They think everybody should always be dignified and shouldn’t jig around. Because Wilhelm Reich was perfectly correct in saying that people like that are people who are afraid of orgasm. They’re afraid of the lilt. You know, in dancing there’s always this kind of motion—if you really dance. And that sort of goes all through you. It’s like a flip in the middle of you; it’s like a whiplash, you know, where it goes flip all the way through. And if you can’t do that, you see, you’ve got a rigid body. But even that, you see, doesn’t depend directly on any kind of food stimulus, drug stimulus. But still, dancing can be very addictive. You just plain get to like it. You have to do it.
The strange thing is, of course, that the psychedelic chemicals are not addicting—except in the sense that you may belong to some in-group, and all the members of this in-group are constantly boasting to each other of how much of this sort of stuff they’ve taken. And so, to be respected by the group, you have to keep on taking it. But none of it has the same kind of physical addictive properties as the opiates or alcohol or tobacco where, if you relinquish their use, you’ll get remission symptoms which are very uncomfortable. And this just doesn’t occur. In other words, let’s say—well, take any of them: mescaline, LSD, psilocybin. So far as I’m concerned, for my own personal reasons, if they all vanished off the face of the Earth tomorrow I wouldn’t be too unhappy. I would only be unhappy for other people. So far as I’m concerned, I’ve seen what they have to tell me. I’ve got the message. I don’t need it anymore. Because I do feel that they are really more like medicines than diets. And, of course, one should not become addicted to medicine.
And here we get a very curious and amusing difference between doctors and clergymen. Doctors are always trying to get rid of their patients. They give the medicine and say, “Now, I hope that’ll work and you won’t have to come back.” And they give them a limited amount of the medicine on prescription. But a clergyman hopes you will come back, and you’ll become a member of the church, and you’ll pay your dues every week, and generally, for life, get hooked on the religion. Even though there is the Latin saying about the Cross of Christ, crux medicina mundi: “the cross, the medicine of the world.” You get addicted.
Now, the Buddha—in referring to his own doctrine, his dharma, his method—likened it to a raft and said, “Now, when you cross the river on a raft from the shore of saṃsāra to the shore of nirvāṇa, when you get to the other shore, don’t pick up the raft and carry it with you.” Almost: get there, give it a shove, and send it back to the other side. But a whole lot of people, you see, are on this raft. And they are absolutely fascinated with the raft. And they become monks and permanent religion people. And they go back and forth, back and forth, you know? They’re all ferrymen, see, who can’t let go of Buddhism, and they’re addicted.
So, you see, it’s in a very funny sense true that religion is the opium of the people—insofar as people become addicted to religion as a permanent situation. And so they’re hung up on it. And this is one of the great parts of Zen training: is to get you free from Zen. If you don’t get free from Zen, you suffer from what’s called Zen stink. So religion, then, can be addictive. For—we’ll say it doesn’t have physical remission symptoms, but there’s a psychological addiction. And so, in the same way, we might say that taking psychedelics (whether they be LSD or marijuana or what will you) can be psychologically addicting. It’s a separate question as to whether that does any serious damage. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. But you could become dependent on these things in that way. But if they were used as medicines, as I believe they should be used, then—a few times it requires a little practice to use any of them properly and to get the full insights that they can afford—but once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. And there seems to be no point in going back and back and back and back to see it again.
I will modify that statement in this way: if I am making a special study of the changes in consciousness produced by one of these substances, and I am therefore recording or in other ways studying the changes that take place, and this is naturally a difficult task, I may need to go back many times in order to get my picture straight, to see how it does it under certain different circumstances, to work out all the ramifications of it. And for me, my own reason for being interested in these things at all is that, as a writer, as a philosopher, it is my great life game to describe what is allegedly undescribable.
And, for example, there’s a drug called dimethyltryptamine (DMT for short), and this is a forty-minute run where your consciousness is really screwed up. And I was told about this and I inquired of the doctors whether it was, you know, dangerous or harmful or would leave you with the heebie jeebies. And they said no, it doesn’t do anything like that. It’s just about forty minutes of sheer insanity. And they said it renders people speechless. I said, “It won’t render me speechless!” “Oh,” they said, “no, no! You come off it.” So, “Alright,” I said, “I’ll bet you anything you like. Give me a tape recorder and give me this chemical, and I will tell you just exactly how it feels in a coherent way.”
Well, wow! They gave me the first shot (which was about 1.3cc), and although there was a kind of vaguely interesting change, nothing much happened. So then they gave me 1.9cc, I think, and then it came on. It was as if, say, your elbow as a point in my field of vision suddenly came at me, but in a spiral pattern against the background that was spiraling the other direction. See? So you’ve got this sort of thing going on. And then this suddenly caught hold of my body, sucked it into the system, and twisted my body into the same spiral motion. And that everything started seeming to go like this. And it was all converted into brilliantly illuminated plastic. So it became a cross between a toy shop and Times Square; vaguely menacing. And, you know, you hardly knew which way up you were. And so it was difficult, but patiently I talked into the tape recorder every single thing that was going on and what it was like.
Now, a lot of people would say, “Well, you shouldn’t do that. That destroys the experience; when you talk about it.” It doesn’t! That’s the funny thing about all these things: that they’re much more interesting when you do some work with them. The work seems to throw something into the experience and then it gives you another task back. And that all adds to the interest of the thing. And I found out that, in working with these things, there was no further conflict between the intellect and the intuition. That the more you intellectualized, the more the intuitive insight sprung up to correspond to the intellectual. And so instead of, therefore, having a session in which you just curl up and go into your own little private womb and let it take over, and you come back and all you can say is, “Man, it was a gas!” See? So what? What’s the point of going on a heroic journey and not bringing something back? The whole point in every myth: heroes who take strange journeys must bring back a feather of the fabulous bird, a claw of the dragon, or the beheaded head of the villain that they slew. And say, “See, here it is.” So I always feel it’s necessary in any of these adventures to bring something back.
And so you get the great intense fun—really, the most stimulating thing—of saying: we’re going to devote this session to the study of a particular problem. One of the best LSD sessions I was ever in on was conducted by a group of people who were all very competent in the world of painting and sculpture. They knew art history, they knew how to do it. Very well-trained people. And we sat in front of the first cubist painting that was ever done, and the whole session practically was taken up by a discussion of this painting. And it was absolutely extraordinary and rewarding. And maybe that what we came out with in the end was not the truth about the painting. It may have been our Rorschach blot; that we projected something into it—I think that’s very likely. But nevertheless, it drew us all out in the same way, say, there are certain people who have a marvelous capacity for drawing other people out, making them be at their best, making them talk at their best. And so the picture did that for us.
And one person present was a very famous and very successful sculptor. And he said, “My! That’s what I call art criticism!” But the whole conversation through this was completely sane. Even though it might have had some projective elements in it, like you project on a Rorschach glove and see your own individual scene in it. But because we were all talking together, we evolved a common scene. We evolved the idea that this particular artist, living at the beginning of this century, was a master of technique. He knew all the European techniques, and therefore that he had painted five superimposed paintings in five great classical European styles and integrated them into the cubist painting. We could see Flemish paintings, we could see French impressionism, we could see primitive Italian, Flemish, and so on. Various levels all together. Of course we will never know—he’s dead—whether he had this intention or not. But it sure made sense at the time. When I looked at the painting before the experience, I thought I knew what it was about. Now I look at it after the experience, I have no idea what it’s about. I thought it was a painting in cubist style of a hillside with a village on it. But now I can’t see that anymore. I just can’t see it. But I can again catch glimpses of the different levels that we saw during this experience.
So I think, then, that these kind of chemicals are tools—and very strong tools. Like, an automobile is a very strong tool: it’s a death-dealing engine and you have to be very careful when you drive one. Now, of course, because what is good for America is good for General Motors, et cetera (the other way around, too), everybody sort of makes driving an automobile the test of whether you’re competent. See? So they say: if you took LSD or marijuana, should you or shouldn’t you drive an automobile? This is the test to whether it’s a good thing or not. Now, I submit that you should not play a violin while driving an automobile, you should not make love while driving an automobile, nor should you read a book. All of these are very creative activities. But there are certain concentrated, absorbing activities that are incompatible with piloting a death-dealing engine along a freeway. And just because, in a certain state of consciousness, you would be incapable of being in charge of an automobile doesn’t mean it’s bad—unless you’re a hopeless sucker for the policies of General Motors.
But these things, you see, they are powerful, dangerous tools which put you into a state of consciousness which (if you don’t know what’s going on) can be quite terrifying. In other words, if you take a journey of this kind, you should have a map. And you should know what you’re liable to encounter. Let’s take this, now. For example, I thought—you know, when I first investigated this—that it couldn’t possibly bring anything about like a mystical experience. And the first time I tried it, it didn’t. It had brought a most interesting aesthetic experience. But I wouldn’t have called it mystical. But later on, when I said this and a lot of people realized that this was my opinion, another psychiatrist came, and he said, “I just don’t think that you have been on the right track with this. Try it again.” So I tried it again with him. And to my great embarrassment it produced a mystical experience. And there could be no question about it.
Now, how do I know it’s a mystical experience? Well, I have had mystical experiences of a mild nature that were purely spontaneous, that were not connected with any sort of drug. And, in some sense, I can compare it with those. But these experiences went much deeper. And the basic feature every time, invariable, is what I call polar awareness. Now, what is polar awareness? Polar awareness is to see that what you do and that what happens to you are aspects of the same process. Ordinarily, we pull them right apart: the voluntary and involuntary; the behavior of the organism on the one hand, the behavior of the environment on the other. But it becomes utterly clear in this state of consciousness that what you do, think, initiate, will, and what you don’t do but what happens to you, are one and the same process.
When you are steering a car and you move the wheel, are you pushing or pulling the wheel? Now, push and pull are formally opposed terms. But actually, when you consider it on a steering wheel, you are simultaneously pushing and pulling. Alright—now, then, imagine that I put out my hand to pick up my pipe. This is normally a push motion, isn’t it? And this a pull motion. Now, under the effect of one of these chemicals, it becomes apparent that this motion is also being pulled, and that when I pull it towards me, I’m being pushed. At the same time, as in steering the car.
In other words, as I said before in the first session: I feel myself simultaneously to be the puppet of nature, the cork on the stream, and to be in charge of everything that’s happening. If I take either one of these interpretations by itself, I’ll be wrong. But if I take them both together as two ways of looking at the same thing, the one modifying the other, then I realize that these two ways of talking (that I am a puppet, that I am in charge),I talk that way because I don’t understand. If I did understand, all I could say was that I see that my behavior (or what has formerly been called my behavior) and all other behavior are not really separate. They are one single process.
And so what happens on the inside of the skin goeswith what happens on the outside. It isn’t that what happens on the outside controls on the inside or vice versa. Just like when a snake goes wiggling along: which side moves first, its left or its right? You now, they move together. So, in exactly the same way, you get the sensation that everything going on out there and everything going on in here is all absolutely connected, like the two different ends of any moving object. They go this way, go that way, go this way, go that way.
And you see with the most total clarity that this process that’s working this way is in every way harmonious; that what is happening is what ought to happen—including people’s objections to what is happening. They ought to happen, too. You just see that everything in this universe is in accordance with the Buddhist doctrine called jiji muge. This means: the mutual interdependence of all things and events. That everything in the universe is vitally important. The whole universe hangs on every single event or thing that is in it. And without it, the whole could not be. It all is of a piece. As Teilhard de Chardin said: the only true atom (that is, the indivisible unit) is the universe itself. Or, if we take anything out of the universe and separate it, it is raveled at all its edges. Because everything is interconnected. That’s what you see. And you see it with just complete clarity. And you say, “My God, what’s the matter with me? Why didn’t I see that before? It’s so completely obvious!”
At a somewhat deeper level of this experience it also becomes obvious that—this is a little bit more difficult to describe—but you see absolutely clearly that you and the eternal energy of the world are the same thing. But that energy is pulsing. All energy is only known in terms of pulsation. In other words, constant pressure applied without pulse is not energy, because that constant pressure applied is all one direction. Energy is jit, jit, jit, jit, jit, jit, jit, jit, jit, jit, jit, jit, jit, jit, jit, jit. Very slow or very fast. So slow that you don’t notice the pulse, or so fast that you don’t notice the pulse. But it’s still pulse. So: to be and not to be, life and death, appearing and disappearing are all forms of it.
And therefore you live—let’s go back to our vision of the world as energy patterns and imagine we make a picture of these energy patterns as ripples, you see. Going back to the image of the water: ripples appearing and disappearing in water. You suddenly see that all this—the people around you, the houses, the mountains, the stars—are ripples in a kind of energy water. And they come and they go, they come and they go, they come and they go. But the water is always there. And that’s you. That there’s this marvelous mirage going on. But you are it. You’re not just the ripple that comes and then disappears, you’re the whole process. Only, you don’t always know it for the simple reason that part of the fun of the whole thing is to forget it and to imagine that you’re all lost and alone. And wowee! What a thrill that is! See? And it does all these things. And it does it and ever so many dimensions. Because it isn’t only this universe that we see now. There are probably infinitely many universes that could be visualized by different sense organs, different receivers, different wavelengths as on the radio.
Now, when you get into that state and you’re not ready for it, you may get scared absolutely out of your wits. Because you suddenly feel the unaccustomed sensation of: I’m doing the whole thing. And you see everything that you do notice outside you is known to you as a transformation of your own nervous system. And insofar as that is you, then you are the behavior of the man working out there on the roof. And if you think that’s the case, you just say, “Oh, heavens! I’m in charge of the whole universe!” What a sticky situation that is! It’s like the kid who turned himself into the Los Angeles police on a bad trip with a little piece of paper which said, “Please help me,” signed “Jehovah.”
Or, on the other hand, you may feel the opposite: that you are absolutely powerless and that everything you do is simply the determined effects of anything. And then you think, “Well, how can I rely on that? How do I know that I’ll be able to think in English the next minute? How will I remember who I am? Will I know the way home? How can I be sure I won’t commit a murder, or commit suicide, or do something dreadful?” You suddenly see you have no guarantee. Either way you know: if you’re God, how can God rely on himself to be always sensible? That’s real spooky.
So naturally, a lot of people feel completely insecure. No ground to put their foot on because there’s no longer anything other. You see that, for example, “other” is a different kind of other. You see that self and other simply presuppose each other. You wouldn’t know who you were, you wouldn’t know what you meant by “me,” unless you felt something other than you. Well, that implies the two go together. They’re inseparable. They’re one life. And that disturbs people. And so, as a result of that, they start calling for help. And as you panic, the panic is exaggerated. Because everything that you feel is exaggerated; is more intense. And people think up the most weird horrors. They get paranoid and project all sorts of ghastly schemes that are afoot to destroy them. That’s why the underground press is so full of paranoia. Because of so many of these people are on LSD or something, you see? They get very paranoid.
But if you understand the principles of this—if you understand what organism-environment unity is, what reciprocity is, what the doctrine of jiji muge is—instead of getting frightened, you say, “Well, well, well! Look at that now. It was true, after all! That’s the way it works.” And you just relax and you let you happen. Because there’s nobody left apart from the whole experience to permit it to happen or not permit it to happen. You are simply what goes on. And you’re not either controlled by it (because it’s no “you” separate from it to be controlled by it) and you don’t control it (because there’s no “you” separate from it to control it). It is just what gives. So it’s neither voluntaristic on the one hand, nor deterministic on the other.
Now, that’s a difficult idea to get through into people’s common sense. But anybody who has had a deep experience—either straight mystical, or through one of these chemicals—knows exactly what that means. Just as a person who is a mature student in physics understands Einstein’s relativity theory almost without it having to be explained. And for me that is a great mystical experience. And furthermore, it’s very valuable for the reason that I mentioned in the first lecture: that we have to realize our actual, full energy relationship to the external world so that we can create a human civilization which cooperates with nature instead of opposing it.
Giving Up Control
Yesterday afternoon I was talking about the relationship between psychedelic experiences and mystical experiences, and pointing out that the there were really two major features in common. One: the sensation of polarity, of “you” as a subject, a knower, a center of action, get this astonishing experience of being inseparable from everything that you had hitherto defined as “other” than yourself. Because you understand that the sensation of self cannot be experienced except in relation to the sensation of something other, and therefore, that there is something in common between everything experienced as other and everything experienced as self. It’s as if there was sort of a conspiracy—like Tweedledum and Tweedledee agreeing to have a battle. And you see, and you have the vivid sensation of the motions and behaviors going on inside you which are voluntary being simply (as it were) the other face of all the motions and behaviors that go on, whether inside you or outside you, that are involuntary. As if they were two sides of the same coin dancing together. And this is a very fascinating feeling and a very good feeling if you have the—there’s something iffy about this, which I’ll come back to. But a very good feeling on the whole, because you feel that the whole arrangement of life, of the the world, of the universe, is fundamentally harmonious. Even though you can understand that there are tragedies and agonies, nevertheless, for some peculiar reason, you see that those are, shall I say, bands on the spectrum of experience. The spectrum of experience is vast, is multidimensional, and that the energy of the world is playing on all parts of the spectrum. So it ranges, you see (on what we could call the pleasure/pain scale), from extremes of ecstasy to extremes of agony.
Now, what we feel, you see, we always feel that the extreme of agony is threatening because it can bring about death. And we have been carefully trained to try to avoid experiences on the agony-extreme of the band. When you were a little baby and, for example, you vomited, your mother may have reacted “Ugh!” you see? And that taught you that vomiting was not a pleasant sensation—although in fact it is. And when people got sick, your parents got anxious and said, “Oh! Oooh! Ughh!” And you learn to imitate those reactions. When people died they started crying, and had a funeral, and it was all very solemn. And so you learned that dying was a bad thing. But all these attributions of good and bad to the natural events of life are artificial. They’re social conventions, they’re a game being played. And when we play games, we take various elements—like, say, supposing you’re playing poker and you’ve got chips, and you say red chips worth so much, blue chips worth so much, white chips worth so much. And you put your valuation on the chips. So in exactly the same way, life is going on and you put your valuations on it. Your parents put valuations on it because they were playing games with life. Competitions, who wins, who loses, et cetera, et cetera. You see? And so they put all these values on them. And consequently, these are so ingrained in everybody that they find it difficult to be liberated, to see everything in what Buddhists call its suchness.
Now, suchness means this—and this is a very, very common feature of psychedelic experience—that you see that everything is simply a dance of energy. It isn’t good, it isn’t bad, but it is beyond good and bad. Good with a capital “G.” That it’s just great. It’s a fantastic achievement, see? Life! Woop! And it’s going joo, joo, joo, joo, joo, joo, joo, joo, joo, joo, joo. There are all sorts of ways. Joo, joo, joo, joo, joo, joo, goodlee-dee goo-dee, goo-dee, goo-dee, HYEEIIP! you know? Doing all these dances. And that’s what it’s all about.
And therefore, in a certain sense, anything goes. And yet, in another sense, it isn’t just anything goes, because the fun of this whole thing is to make patterns, to figure out games, to do something with it. And it’s doing this for ever and ever and ever. And it’s going to surprise itself because, you know: what a shock death is! You know? It just blows you right out. But if you observe the world, you see that it keeps coming back. So for heaven’s sakes, don’t worry yourself with images of being annihilated forever—you know, of being, as it were, buried alive in the dark and to be confined in darkness for always and always and always, which would be just unbearable. Just forget it. That’s a complete hallucination. After you’re dead, you know, you’ll be someone else just as you are now! You know? You came into this world—came out of this world is a more correct way of saying—and experienced yourself altogether new. Well, everybody who comes out of this world has the same experience. And it keeps happening. And when one of them is finished and feels itself disappear, then, as we know, another one starts. And that’s you all over again.
That’s a difficult thing to understand because most people are unaware of the reality of intervals, of spaces. And there are spaces, intervals, between all human lives. And those spaces join the lives together—whether they are spaces is what the ordinarily call space, or whether they’re spaces of time, intervals of time. And you can understand this when you listen to music and realize that the melody that you hear is a result of hearing the intervals between the tones. If you don’t hear the intervals, you just hear a succession of noises, and you don’t hear melody at all. So, in the same way, there are intervals between lives that join the lives together. You don’t have to imagine any strings attached, any soul-spook transmigrating from one life to another. Lives to lives are joined simply by the interval between them. And to become aware of space in this way is the most important thing. Most people are completely unconscious of space and regard it as nothing.
So I said this, then, is a major feature of psychedelic experience, which is in common with mystical experience, is then: we’ll call it first the sense of polarity, and of the games, the suchness of things. That life is simply what it is, that it has no absolute value, but you put your values on it like you put values on the chips in poker. But actually, let’s suppose—let me give two illustrations of suchness. Let’s say we consider the word “yes,” and that we mean by something that it’s affirmative. But say yes several times: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. You begin to hear it as a noise, you see? Yes. Isn’t that funny, that we make that noise? Yes. Yes. And suddenly the meaning evaporates from it and you get just the noise. So, in exactly that way, you begin to look at everything. Or take another illustration: when somebody doesn’t know about something and shrugs his shoulders. See? And you do it once and it has a meaning. But imagine you’re watching someone going [Shrugging], you know, and suddenly you see everything is like that. It doesn’t mean anything.
But it’s fascinating because it is just krrck! a certain play of pattern. Like you’re fascinated when you look at a crystal. You like to turn it around, look at all the angles in the thing, and all the patterns. Or pick up a seashell, pick up a fantastic rock, admire a fish. You see? And this way of looking at it—that just everything is a fantastic pattern. It has no meaning, except it’s just what it is; dancing like that. Did you ever see a lady go this way, go that way? Hmm? That’s what it is. And that’s suchness.
And then the second aspect is that you can often come to a level of experience where you get in touch with the final basic energy that is operating in all these patterns, diagrams, and games. And this is generally experienced as a sensation of intensely brilliant light—as if you realized the current inside your nerves, and saw it as this brilliant light. Somebody hits you on the head hard, you see stars. See? Because then you suddenly experience the current inside the nerves. And with psychedelics you very often come to an experience of absolutely vivid light in accord with the physicist’s realization that everything is really light; that this whole world is light throbbing in different vibrations. So that wherever we encounter something dark or something solid, it isn’t actually against light, but it is a form of light that is going so fast in its wavelength that it affects us as the experience of density and impenetrability. If light is too bright, it smashes your eyes quite as effectively as somebody’s fist can smash your face. So everything that we call density and impenetrability is really, in effect, strength of light. Now, these are the two features, then—two principal features—of psychedelic experiences which correspond with mystical experiences.
Now I want to talk particularly, today, about the aspect of danger in these things. Because you will see in what I’ve been saying so far that there’s a departure from common sense. For example, people say, “Oh, I want my life to be meaningful. I want it all to make sense.” And therefore, when you propose the idea that life really doesn’t make any sense at all, that it’s just some kind of jazz going on, this is threatening to people. They say, “Is it, after all, a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing?” But as R. H. Blyth said once when commenting on this passage from Macbeth: “It is said so well that it doesn’t seem so bad after all.” Maybe the whole thing is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, but it’s the sound and the fury that are important, you see?
But that’s an idea which we are not used to. We are taught to think that if your life doesn’t have some purpose, you’re a washout; you’re just an idiot. But maybe it’s a very good thing to be an idiot, to be a complete fool, and simply to sit and watch the waves. You know how good a thing it is to sit on a beach and just watch waves breaking and dissolving? You can sit for hours completely fascinated. And children like to do this. They like to sit by a pond and drop pebbles into it and see all the concentric circles coming out of the plop. Why not? You could say: well, it’s much more important to go into business and achieve some substantial results, and raise a family—why? You’re just making a bigger splash, that’s all. And you have children, and the children go bla bla bla bla bla bla bla diggy diggy diggy diggy diggy diggy dee. Finally, when they started blebble-blee, they make sense and they talk and so on, but it’s all just the kind of jazz. I mean, raising families and businesses and getting food and eating and going on and going up this way and so on—you know, it’s like hair growing or trees coming out and everything is going tchoo goody goody goody goody all over the place. That’s scary if you’ve been brought up to think that it’s supposed to mean something. When you see it doesn’t and that’s just what’s happening, a lot of people get frightened, and they think they’re going insane. And they wonder whether they can remember the rules.
Well, now, in getting into this predicament, the most important thing to understand is the immense sanity-giving power of letting go, and not trying to hold on to any sort of security. I think this is one of the most important things in life: to realize how powerful and how great in conferring order and sanity and a feeling of comfort on any conceivable situation it is to be able to let go. Now, there is a difference between this kind of relaxation and being merely limp—in the sense of: when you hang a cloth over a clothesline, it is limp, it simply drops. And there’s a subtle difference between being completely relaxed and being merely limp. You see, when you are, as a physical body, you’re completely relaxed, you still have muscle tonus. You have a sudden vibrancy going in you. You’re not just a bunch of jello or kind of grease that, if you relax, you will just form a nasty blob and eventually slip through the floor. There is the [???] and strength. So, in the same way, if you relax psychologically and completely let go of things, you will find that you have psychological tonus; energy. And you cannot really do anything skillfully—any art, you can’t talk, you can’t think, you can’t have sexual orgasms or anything like that—unless you have learned fundamental relaxation.
So when in the midst of some sort of psychedelic experience—whether you are using LSD or whatever, or whether you have an experience that comes upon you spontaneously—and you get scared that you’re going to go out of your mind, you’re going to lose control, you’re not going to be in charge anymore, you do exactly what you do if you find yourself in a typhoon at sea. When you find yourself in a typhoon, what they do is: they turn off the engines. Because in a big steamship, if the propellers get swung out of the water and turn on their own, they shatter the ship by vibration. So they turn off the engines and drift. Of course, they keep an eye on how near to land they are, but they try to get as far from land as possible and just drift. In the same way, if you’re in a sandstorm in the desert, there’s absolutely nothing you can do. So the Arab, he wears a wool banus, and he crouches down on the ground like a fetus in the womb and simply covers himself with his banus and doesn’t move until the sandstorm is over.
And, you know Edgar Allan Poe’s story about the vortex, about the man who gets into the middle of the thing where the calm center is. I had a friend in London years ago. He was a psychiatrist, and a very wise one, and he wanted to see a royal procession celebrating the king’s jubilee or something. But he wasn’t going to walk out onto the street at four o’clock in the morning and wait so as to get a front seat. He came just a few minutes before the procession started. Here was this milling crowd of people pushing and shoving and so on. He just leant on the back of the crowd. Did nothing else but lean, and in all the jostling he leant and he eventually found himself in the front row. So when any kind of terror starts and you begin to feel uncomfortable and uneasy, you just let go.
Now, why does it work? It works for exactly the same reason that you got born. You had nothing to do with it—from the conscious point of view. All this remarkable brain and bones and everything came into being. Even your father and mother didn’t understand, really, how it happened. They knew they had to do certain formalities to get the thing started. But really, how it all works, nobody understands. But it does it of itself. It’s why the Chinese call nature zìrán, which means “of itself so.” Spontaneity. And this extraordinary organization of intelligence happened. And we are afraid of it because it is scary from the point of view of individual consciousness. as the Psalm says, “Lord, I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” And that means I am scary to myself.
And so we think that we know better and that we ought to make certain corrections to nature so that it will function more desirably. But that’s quite doubtful, you know, whether we really ought to do that. It might have been better to leave it all alone. As the great Taoist sages of China had always advised is: leave life alone. They say the first man who trained horses was called Polo. So we get the name of the game of polo from him. And that he ruined the nature of horses by doing this, We could say, too, that by our technology we really made an awful mess of things. Perhaps, you see? Of course, we are stuck with it. That’s the nature of karma: once you once you’ve interfered, you’re stuck with it. You’ve got to see it through. But it could be argued quite persuasively that we never should have done anything like that; that we should have followed our feeling and just let life happen. And then, of course, we wouldn’t have any of the problems we have now in terms of atom bombs, population bombs—all these problems, you see, would not have occurred. Only, from the standpoint of civilized people, we should say of human beings in that state: well, they’re just barbarians. They do what they feel like.
And from our standpoint that is not very pretty, because we’ve got a special concept of what it is to be very pretty, which is all stuck about with ding-dongs and clothes and bells and whatever, you know? Houses. But the fish, the cats, the birds live with their curious dignity. And they make no—you know, you remember Jesus? When he said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.” And I’ve never yet heard a sermon on that passage where the preacher commended it. They all say, “Well, that’s a great life. But of course, for all practical purposes, it’s impossible.” The most subversive passage in the New Testament: “Be not anxious for the morrow.” Let it take care of itself. Drift. Be like a leaf on the wind.
I remember when I had my very first mystical experience. I was 17 years old and I was in a great state of tension trying to find out something. And suddenly I abandoned the whole thing. And whoops, you know, it flipped your inside. And I felt like I was a leaf on the wind. It happened to be, at the time of year, it was autumn and there were many dry leaves floating around and skittering about. You know how leaves play like they are little children let out of school? They go chicketty ticketty ticketty ticketty along the street with the wind. And I felt exactly like that: as if I didn’t own anything, didn’t have any responsibilities, didn’t care whether it went this way or whether it went that. I was completely released. Wshht! And I felt completely one with a leaf being blown by a wind, and I was the wind and I was the leaf. And this wind was the wind that bloweth where it listeth, that Jesus uses as an analogy of the spirit. You know what listeth means? It blows where it likes. Not where you hear. It’s nothing to do with “listen.” The old English “listeth” means it blows where it wills. In other words, at random. And to let go in that sense, and allow and really consider the possibility that everything in life is completely out of control and at random, but go with it—this is fundamental to any kind of strength, any kind of real control.
So that what happens in a psychedelic experience is that, when—it is valuable for the reason that it can be a very threatening experience. It can suddenly show you that you’re not really in control. That anything might happen. And this, I think, in a way, is the center of the whole thing. Why these sort of drugs are effective is that they throw you off your normal functioning. You see, this is why there are a whole complex of drugs that are quite different, but act in the same general way. What they do is: they throw you off. As I said, I think, earlier in the seminar, they gave you a sense of something queer. Change your state of consciousness so that, by contrast with your habitual way of feeling things, you say, “I feel odd.” Now, it may be odd good and it may be odd bad. But you feel odd. It’s as if everything, the whole sensorium, your whole consciousness, has had a change in it. And you can’t really figure out what it is, because it’s common to every particular sense impression: to seeing, to hearing, to white, to blue, to red. Everything has been subtly altered as if it were buzzing, as if it were at a strange angle, as if it had become luminous, as if it were suddenly transparent, as if it were squirming a bit. And because this is common to everything you say, “Jeez, this is queer!” So you suddenly are out of control. Things aren’t ordinarily what they should be. And, of course, the same thing can happen in sickness. Some people, when they are dying, have the sense that everything is completely wrong. It’s all out of order. It’s weirdly out of order.
Now these, then, are opportunities to let go. Give it up. Don’t try to control anything. And as soon as you are really persuaded by some kind of event to do that—like the person caught in the typhoon or the sandstorm, or people who are dying; anybody in extremis will recognize that he just has to give up. There’s nothing else to do. And when you do that, you suddenly discover you have enormous reserves of strength, intelligence, and power. If you let go. But, you see, common sense militates against this. They say, “Well, if you let go, you just become a slob. You’ll just become nothing at all and you will be sucked down the drain.” But it isn’t true. It’s only by complete letting go that you have a source of strength which bounces right back at you.
So then, when people get the horrors and the terrors in using, say, LSD, they are so apt to panic and go running off to a doctor, or turn themselves in at a hospital and say, “Please, please, please! I’m lost in the corridors of my mind. I’ve been chased down some endless passage and I can’t find my way back. Help! Help! Help! I’m lost.” And then, of course, because if a psychiatrist doesn’t know what to do and thinks this person is really in a very serious condition, he gets anxious. And his anxiety instantly communicates itself to the patient, who gets more anxious. And they come around and they look official and they give medications, and this, that, and the other, and the person is completely spooked. So a good psychiatrist, in handling anything like this, just treats it as if it were the most normal everyday occurrence. People think they’re going to die. People think they are about to lose the power to breathe, that their hearts are going to stop, that their brains are going to dissolve into some kind of a drip, and feel all those sort of sensations.
But all those sensations, you see, of being out of control are the sensation of the dissolution of the ego. That’s what’s happening. The ego is a what Jung once called a cramp in consciousness. And in Sanskrit there’s a word, saṅkoca, which means essentially “contraction.” And the Jīvātman, the ego, is a saṅkoca. And do you often feel, if you experience yourself organically, thoroughly, that you’re contracted? Can you feel a constant strain in yourself? It centers right between the eyes, here. And Trigant Burrow made experiments with electroencephalographs and things to see what was the difference between the state of a person who had a cramp here and the person who relaxed it. But it’s not only here, you feel it all over you. If you become aware that through all the day long you are in a state of defensiveness; you’re tightening where you needn’t tighten. And a lot of people experience it here, and as a result generate ulcers. There all sorts of places where we feel this tightening; holding on. Now, it doesn’t do any good.
Of course, I can’t tell anyone, “You should relax,” because that’s a sort of double bind. Because the moment you say “should,” you inculcate a state of mind which is unrelaxed. “Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God.” Heh, better watch out if you don’t! Well, you can’t love on that basis. You can’t love because you know that you ought to love in self-defense. It’s impossible. Love is something not under any ego control at all. You have to let go to let love happen. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But that’s none of your business. So it’s very, very frequent in psychedelic experiences that people become vividly aware of how tense they are, defending themselves against everything all the time; on the watch out, see? But almost all the energy we expend in doing that kind of thing is waste.
So that if you stop doing it because you see that the only way to stop doing it is you can’t will yourself to stop doing it, you can only realize that it’s completely useless—that it doesn’t achieve anything at all, it just wears you out. It’s absolutely no good. It’s like having a sense of guilt, which is an entirely destructive emotion that doesn’t do anything for anyone. There are a lot of existentialists today who say that unless you feel (a) anxious and (b) guilty, you are not living a genuine existence. Imagine that! You know, you’re not authentic. Because if you’re a real human being, you know that if you exist, you might not exist. Therefore, you tremble. To be or not to be. And if you’re a human being, you know that you’re not really up to what you might be. And therefore you feel guilty because you’re a little defective. And all this is posturing. It’s a great pose. People say “To be real.” You’ve got to be uuurgh! You know? That’s all play acting. It’s just a joke. Yes, I am deeply sincere, you know? Yes, I am terribly sincere! I really mean this!
You know, do I really need to exist? To be here as an organism? I mean, good lord, I am here, you know? And, well, I can’t help it! It has nothing to do with my ego that I have feet and that I exist and that I’m here. Do I really mean it or don’t I? Well, I guess I do. I mean, my physical existence here is perfectly sincere. It’s about as real as anything can be, but I didn’t intend it. I don’t have to say UGH! you know? I mean, if somebody threatens me, then I may bounce back rather strongly. But I don’t have to make a sort of cause out of it.
So the notion that I ought to feel anxious all the time, that I ought to feel guilty all the time, is simply a way of people who really don’t have a very good sense of existence, and they drum something up like lying on a bed of nails because that makes you feel more real, because it hurts. It’s a kind of masochism. Well, you can do that if you want to. There’s really no reason why you shouldn’t. Except that I think it’s a sort of a drag. So the point being that people who who say, “Well, you should lie on a bed of nails,” and feel that makes you feel important, you’ve done something that most people don’t do and you are you’re a bit far out and therefore perhaps you’re more real. I say, okay, but just please have a sense of humor about what you’re doing! Don’t take it quite that seriously, try to convert everybody else to sleeping on a beds of nails, because it’s not to everybody’s taste.
But a lot of people, you see, who sleep on beds of nails—just because their very insecurity, because they feel that unless they suffer that something awful is going to happen—they try to convert everybody else to doing the same thing. See, that’s one way of finding out that knowing that you are right is to get as many people as possible to agree with you. Like the Bandar-log; the monkeys in Kipling’s story The Jungle Book, who keep exclaiming, “We all say so, so it must be true.”
So, to feel guilty and to feel anxious and then make a religion out of it and say, “This is the way any authentic human being feels. And if you don’t, there’s something wrong with you.” You know, like a lot of people who are being psychoanalyzed feel that anybody who is not being psychoanalyzed is neurotic. As Philip Rieff puts it in his book on Freud: The Mind of the Moralist. He says the characteristic institution of our era is not the parliament, but the hospital. That everybody is undergoing therapy. Everybody must admit that they are in the course of being cured, but is not cured. Nobody can claim—anybody who got up and said, “I am perfectly psychoanalyzed. I have no further problems” would be regarded in this day and age as someone who would, in a former age get up and say, “I’m absolutely holy. I’m a perfect saint.” And that is immediately spiritual pride. You can’t possibly claim that. All saints are measured as saints by the degree to which they declare themselves to be sinners. “My sins are worse than your sins!” “I am more sorry for my sins than you are!”
You can see, then, from the point of view that these chemicals give: you become aware of all these intricate games that people are playing. I remember once, long ago, Jano [Mary Jane Yates King, Alan’s third wife] and I had a wonderful psychedelic session in which we were listening to the radio on a Sunday evening. And all these preachers were coming on with their messages. And the only one that rang true was a Negro revivalist. And he was stopping to make any sense at all. He was saying, “The gift to the Lord is for everybody! ItellyouyourGodisgreat!” And the whole congregation was saying, “We hear you, baby! Amen! We hear you, baby!” Yeeeeaadebadeewhoo! Aaaayewadebaooo! You know? He got that far and they shut him off and changed the program. But that was alright. Then there’s a poor little man who was talking in an echo chamber so that it sounded like a great, great cathedral. And he played records of hymns, and then he came on with this Bible message, you know. And he kept saying, “If you want a copy of this message, be sure to send one dollar to the station. Be sure to enclose your dollar.” And we listened to that and went, “Oh dear. Isn’t that grubby?” But then you listen down into this voice saying that “Be sure to send in your dollar,” you realize this is a poor little creature saying, “Well, I’ve got to make a living somehow, too!” And in that voice, that awful corny voice, saying “Be sure to send in your dollars,” you hear a crying child. Or you hear a lost animal calling out, “Please help, mama. I want help.” And you listen down into that, and you go further listening to the sound. And finally, the human voice becomes like breath going through a flute. Whaa-oo whaa-oo whaa-oo woo woo woo woooh whaa-oo. You know? And you think at first that’s sad. And after a while you realize it isn’t. It’s just one of the ways things happen. It’s the fundamental sound. It’s the Om. It’s the voice of God playing a particular tune. And you think: marvel of marvels. You heard the divine sound through the throat of a Baptist preacher. Incredible!
So, you know, that’s one of the really great things about this kind of experience. You can tackle, you can confront things that in the ordinary state of consciousness you think were downright awful, and learn to understand them; why they’re there. You can take people that you thoroughly disapprove of, and you can begin to understand why they are the way they are. For example, from my point of view, I’ve always been an argumentative person because I liked discussions and talking about philosophy and religion and so on. But I won’t argue about anybody’s religion anymore. I regard all the different opinions as so many different flowers in a garden. And they need each other. In other words, if somebody disagrees with me, then I know where I stand. If there wasn’t somebody who disagreed with me, I wouldn’t know where I stood. And so I have to thank him for pointing out to me what I think and say, “Keep it up! That’s great!” We’re all, you see, by our differentiations of point of view, making up a great pattern which you could call the intellectual life. It depends on that.
But the basic point that I want to make in all this, what I am then really talking about, is: how, through the use of the psychedelic chemicals, you can be so shocked, you can be so disturbed, that you will learn that you’ve got nothing else to do but completely relax your controller, your sensor, your ego. And that, to the degree that you really let go and don’t try to hold on to life anymore, you become enormously strong and able actually to control things. But all fundamental control depends on giving up control. And this paradox—which scares the hell out of us—is the is the main lesson of the whole thing.
Now, the final problem that comes up in this discussion is what we might call psychedelic control. The whole question of: since there is a widespread circulation and knowledge of these substances among us, what are we going to do about it? I want to make the initial point that there is a very strong difference between controlling something and suppressing it. If you are controlled—to go back to the great General Motors image of life—if you are controlled as a driver of a car, that is quite different from a person who never drives; keeps the car locked up in the garage. If you are controlled as a writer, you are not a person who never picks up a pen. If you are controlled as a dancer, you are not a person who never dances. But this has been utterly misunderstood throughout the whole history of the Christian West. And in the United States we just haven’t learned from any of the historical lessons.
I recently was discussing this problem with an Indian tribe; a tribe which incorporates the Native American church, where they use peyote in a religious ceremonial. And the significant thing about this particular order is that the peyote Indians are exemplary in their tribes as stabilizers. They are stable in their families, in their work, and they don’t drink alcohol—which for some reason is extremely demoralizing to Indians, and they’re very much against it. They won’t allow it on the reservation at all because they can’t take it. It may be a question whether we don’t have the same predicament in reverse: can we take peyote and stay sane? We’re used to alcohol, but it doesn’t help us to be particularly sane. But it does something for us, I guess. But the peyote Indians are really exemplary. They are wonderful people. And the peyote ceremony is absolutely marvelous, although it’s quite a test of endurance. People who practice Zen talk about the sesshin, you know, where you sit in zazen practice for a couple of hours maybe. But in the peyote ceremony, you sit all night, from sunset to dawn, and you hardly move except once at midnight when you get a drink of water passed ’round, and you can go out to the john if you want to. They say—because their religion is legal, there have been court tests of it—and their view is that peyote (being a natural plant) is God given, and the government has no right whatsoever to interfere with it. They would say, for example, that if the growth and distribution of peyote were under government regulation and they were given the special privilege of being able to use it because they’re a church, they would still protest and say this is not the business of any government whatsoever. Because it grows, and all things that grow, and all things that are natural are essentially good.
And in this they concur with the Hebrew view of things. Because in the Book of Genesis it is explained that God created all things whatsoever. And only, of all things, the tree of knowledge was forbidden. Of course, it’s always a problem of why it was there at all. But it says “every herb and every plant is given for the good of man.” And the Hebrew insists that, in other words, the material world—because it’s the creation of God—is a good world, and that evil can only arise through the misuse of natural things. So they very strongly, the Indians, contest the interference of government in the use or possession of any natural plant or herb whatsoever. And so naturally, then, under this category, there come three of the major psychedelics—and actually, there are more. But the three that are best known are peyote (the cactus), the mushrooms (psilocybe mexicana), and the hemp plant from which we get marijuana. I suppose you would also say tobacco. Incidentally, we don’t smoke real tobacco. We smoke treated tobacco. The Indians smoke real tobacco and they mix it with willow bark. It’s rather a different scene.
When it comes, however, to LSD and to dimethyltryptamine and synthesized drugs, there might be some cause for dispute about this. Just as there would be if we completely freely circulated penicillin, or barbiturates, opiates, and strong-acting drugs of that description, we might say, yes, there is some good cause for imposing rather strict controls on the actual possession or purchase of these substances. Just as there is an obvious reason for controlling the purchase of dynamite or TNT, or licensing people to own guns, drive cars, and so on. But you’ll notice there is no law prohibiting the growing or possession of amanita pantherina. Amanita pantherina is a mushroom that looks very like edible mushrooms and is deadly poison. There is no really effective antidote to it, but it’s not forbidden by law. There is no law against growing belladonna, deadly nightshade.
So the whole nature of a law against especially the possession of something that grows naturally on God’s green Earth has a certain degree of insanity about it. Because there are many points of view from which this can be considered. First of all, anyone can use a gun to kill a person, or you can just use it for plinking and shooting tin cans. It is not the possession of a gun which is criminal, it is the misuse of a gun—as it is also with the misuse of an automobile. And therefore, the very nature of crime consists in a specific action which misuses some substance to the detriment of other people. When you make a law in which the possession of a given substance is a felony, you thereby invite endless corruption and problems.
Let us consider, first of all, the problem of marijuana. It’s very easy indeed to prove that someone possesses marijuana. All you have to do is sprinkle a little dust of the substance on somebody’s coat, and then you can declare to the police that you have reason to believe that they possess marijuana, and they can vacuum clean your coat and find some small dust of marijuana there, and you can be put in jail for five years. In some states you can even be put to death, although this hasn’t happened in quite a while. In other words, if you have a political rival and you want to get rid of him, you just plant some marijuana on his premises and tip off the police. If you have a wife you want to get rid of, if you have an enemy of any description, this is what you do. And, in turn, if the government wants to get rid of you because they don’t like your politics, they can just send the police around with a search warrant to your home and they will carry in their pockets a few roaches—you know, which are the butts of marijuana cigarette—and just find it in something that you have. So, you see, a law against possession is is completely insane because it invites all those sorts of possibilities.
In the case—you know, like when Al Capone was giving trouble, they couldn’t get at him directly for any of his crimes, so they found an error in his income tax. Well, it’s so much easier to find someone guilty of possessing marijuana. And the penalties for possessing it are worse and higher than those for fudging your income tax or for armed robbery. All sorts of quite desperate crimes are punished less heavily than possessing—and especially pushing, or selling—marijuana. And so far as this particular herb (which is what it is) is concerned, the laws about it are based on pure superstition. There is not one single reputable scientific study of any description whatsoever that can prove a link between the use of marijuana and crime and insanity. There is no proof whatsoever that it leads inevitably to the use of heavy stuff like heroin. It is all worked up by Mr. Anslinger, who used to be head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. His history is rather interesting because, before that time, he was a great prohibition enforcer. And the law put him out of a job and he had to find a new job. So he worked up the myth that marijuana was a very dangerous drug and got himself made head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. And he’s worked all over the world. He’s got it written into international treaties. And an enormous amount of nonsense has sprung up around this. And the British government, back at the end of the last century, realized that marijuana was in extensive use in India. And they had to decide what to do about it, and they made a very, very extensive investigation and published its results in several volumes, and concluded not to take any steps against it in India. The United States surgeon general investigated its use in Panama and they decided that there was no point taking any action. From from their standpoint, they found nothing particularly wrong with it. And when Mayor La Guardia was in charge of New York, he had the New York Academy of Medicine make a very thorough investigation of its use, and their report was that they saw no particular harm in it, and at most it could be called a social nuisance. But for some reason, the AMA, the American Medical Association, condemned the New York Academy of Medicine for premature judgment and an unscientific investigation.
But you know what lies behind that. One of the difficulties of the whole situation is that the use of marijuana is a substitute for alcohol. And alcohol is big business. So are cigarettes. And there’s a fear among producers of alcohol that if people got onto marijuana, they wouldn’t drink so much. And so they have a slush fund—a quite considerable sum which they spend—keeping up the notion that marijuana is very destructive. Also, it’s very easy to grow—although I don’t think that, if it were legal, many people would bother to grow it and prepare, because there’s quite a problem involved of cleaning it and getting out stalks and seeds and all that crud. I don’t think most people would bother. So that the tobacco companies could very well switch crops. Be quite easy; in fact, much cheaper than growing tobacco. And they could supply marijuana cigarettes in beautiful packages with all kinds of psychedelic colors on them and wonderful brand names, and make a terrific business out of it—as well as the get the excise tax that would naturally be imposed on it could finance a whole new war.
But one must face the fact that, in the free use of marijuana, there are certain dangers—but perhaps not such great dangers as are involved in the free use of alcohol. But I would want to say a clear warning: that there are varieties of marijuana which are extremely strong (especially in the form known as hashish, which is simply marijuana resin concentrated), which, if it were commonly used, we should run into certain social problems. And I’m going to deal with this first, and then later with LSD because the situations are rather different.
The social problems that we could run into are that people who are under a very strong marijuana influence often don’t know where they are; can easily get lost and confused. They’re not liable to be violent unless there is some completely separate predisposing reason for them to be violent. It does not of itself make people violent—on the contrary: it makes them quiet, pacific, and slowed down. But you could get very confused. You might also get paranoid over fearful. And you might also become, in a certain sense, irresponsible. Because one of the characteristics of marijuana is wonderfully described in a story—I forget at the moment its exact origin, but it’s about a Negro and a young white boy who are close friends. The Negro is a hand on the farm owned by the boy’s father. And one day the Negro explains marijuana to the boy, and he says that it makes everything transparent. You see right through everything—not in the literal sense, that it becomes like glass; that’s a metaphorical sense—but that you understand what people are up to, what the game is, and you get to laughing. It induces a certain kind of what I would call loving cynicism, where you see the schemes, the ego-inflating and -promoting tricks that everybody’s up to. And you see the unimportance of a great deal of activity that human beings consider to be extremely important.
In the case of almost all psychedelics this is true. Because what happens is you suddenly slow down and you realize that this moment is really worth living. And in fact, it’s the important thing: what’s going on. And you look around you, and you see people going about their everyday business, and they all look frantic. They’re quite insane, rushing off in cars and driving and getting there and making it on time and delivering that stuff and so on and so forth. You think what on Earth’s the matter with them? And in this respect, you get into a state of feeling which (quite apart from anything to do with drugs) is the normal state of feeling for, say, an Indian. That’s why, in the United States, we can’t understand the Indians and never have got on with them. And all our best efforts to do something good for them are always futile. Because, for example, we want them to have big factories, better pay, but go and live in Los Angeles. But they don’t want to live in Los Angeles! They say we’re quite mad because our men work for days at some frantic job so they can take a little time off to go fishing or hunting. They say: “We’re there already. We’ve arrived! We fish, we hunt, and we’re happy with that.” Indians live in a kind of present which involves both the past and the future, but they don’t have our idea of time as a clockwork thing—tick, tick, tick, tick—which you keep up with. Indians value time in a very special way.
For example, when they have a meeting on some important question for the tribe, they’ll come, and for four hours or so they’ll sit and just talk. And at the end, for reasons that the white man can’t understand, they’ve come to a decision. Because they say time made the decision. You know, you ask them, “What do you think about so-and-so? What would you like to do?” And they won’t give you a direct answer because it’s not the time for the answer. They believe that if you wait around and let it cook, time itself will deliver the decision. And we think that’s terrible, that it’s improvident, that it’s—if you don’t make up your mind… make up your mind now! See? Decide now! You can’t. But I’ve always known this and have constantly run into trouble because I would put off decisions because I knew that the moment for it wasn’t right; that when things developed in a certain way, I would know what to do.
So under the influence of these substances, one does intend a little bit to become a sort of Indian. And, as they say, the only good Indian’s a dead Indian. It’s that whole attitude, you see, to nature, and that absence of the competitive spirit which is in Indians, that the white Protestants strongly disapprove of. White Catholics, too. American Catholics and Protestants, crypto-Protestants. So there would be the problem, from the point of view of our culture, that if the use of marijuana was widespread, people would get a bit mañana in their attitudes to things and say, “Oh, let it wait. We’re busy. What’s the point?” And they might be, therefore, a lack of pep and push and ginger. There’s a little poem by H. V. Morton: “Thought that troubled a businessman during a sleepless night: supposing that St. Peter at the door finds pep and push and ginger, all abore.”
Well now, in that sense, then, I think a widespread use of marijuana, especially if people started using it almost as frequently as they used tobacco, would result in a lot of extremely lazy people lounging around. Although I would say it would be stupid to use it as frequently as one uses tobacco, because he would lose the benefit of it. It would be something to be used—well, I would say, certainly not more than twice in a day. Because it has a certain sacramental quality to it. In other words, why you can do a job and smoke a cigarette, you know, and forget that you’ve got a cigarette. And you can, to a certain extent, Drink and do something else, you know? But if you’re smoking marijuana, you shouldn’t do anything else at all. You should really—like you would sit down to do justice to a marvelous dinner, and you should eat, and not try to smoke while you’re eating or watch television. You should really do justice to the dinner. And so, in the same way, if you use marijuana, you should really do justice to it and be quiet. Yes, by all means, listen to music, et cetera, et cetera. But don’t do anything that will distract from that state of consciousness. Like: don’t drive a car while you’re playing the violin.
Now, this leads me to think that there is a good reason why a substance of this kind should be rather difficult to get. The Japanese have an idea about views, a lovely view: you should not have a lovely view too easily visible. You should make a little bit of effort to go to the place where the beautiful view is. Because then you won’t just take it for granted, you really devote yourself to it. And so I don’t know if marijuana—what is the best way of controlling it as distinct from suppressing it, and making it a little bit difficult to come by? Either you make it expensive or you make it necessary to grow your own and illegal to sell it or to market it. That could be a possibility. But you could [be] perfectly free to grow your own and take care of it and cure it and do everything that has to be done. But if it is as easily come by as a package of cigarettes, I have a feeling that it might in some ways lose its effect.
You see, when you go back into history, you will find all kinds of documentation for similar outcries and fears about tea, about coffee, about tomatoes, and of course about tobacco. All sorts of tracts were written. Say, they’re tomatoes: they were very suspicious. And as for tea—why, tea was terribly expensive when it first came on the market in the West. And Dr. Samuel Johnson was a tea addict, and society hostesses were embarrassed when he came because he drank such immoderate quantities of tea, and he was a very expensive guest. All these things have been looked on with immense suspicion. And, of course, they’re all relatively harmless—especially tomatoes.
But, you see, this sort of superstition keeps running. Now, I suppose that when tomatoes were suspect, people really sat down to eat a tomato. “Oh gee, we’ve got this dangerous fruit! That’s fantastic stuff!” And so when they ate a tomato, they made it a big thing. And so the tomato tasted gorgeous simply because it was valued. Now, in exactly the same way, when we say we’ve got some pot, you know, this is great stuff! Terribly illegal! So let’s not trifle with this. Let’s really sit down and enjoy this situation, you see? Well, that adds an enormous amount of value to the effect that it has.
Now, I’m not saying that it’s all psychological and that it’s nothing to do with the chemistry, but it’s always mixed. We are psychosomatic beings, and therefore the expectation, the setting in which one does anything like this, is of great consequence. It’s just the same, say, with wine. You get one of those gorgeous French wines, and you’ve got this bottle and the special label and it’s that year. People sit and drink and say, “Oh, that’s marvelous!” But actually, very few people can tell the difference (if they’re blindfolded) between a cheap Petri wine and a fine French one. Yes, naturally, the person who is an expert on wines would know blindfolded what he had. But the game of guessing wines is tricky, and most people can’t tell. But the buildup, you see—if the thing has got the buildup, and it comes in the right-looking bottle and so on, then you have a marvelous time.
So if marijuana does indeed have beneficial effects—and to a certain degree it emphatically does. I mean, it is the most perfect tranquilizer of all of them. You can forget librium and things like that; miltown. They have nothing of the effect of marijuana. It will get people off alcoholism. I know a doctor who is just… he’s a very respectable doctor, and he is fighting mad because he can’t prescribe marijuana to his patients. And he is deluged with alcoholics and doesn’t know what to do about them. And, you know, he’s a pillar of society; he’s a president of a county medical association and all that jazz.
So it is unquestionably a healing herb. But like everything good in the world, it has to be used judiciously. And so there would be a danger with very cheap, enormous supplies of marijuana, that people out of their minds would just smoke and smoke and smoke to be in the groove for some reason of that kind, and it could be troublesome. But obviously, the solution to that particular problem is, simply, primarily, to see the total unreason of any law prohibiting possession. If anybody wants to have their own plants and grow it and use it, there is no conceivable legal reason why they shouldn’t. Selling is another matter. That should obviously be subject to some sort of regulation. It might be a tax regulation that makes the price high or whatever, but I’m not going—that’s a question that shouldn’t be decided until after very careful discussion. But the idea that it’s a killer drug, or a sort of a demon thing is pure superstition, and a rather malicious superstition at that. And you realize that all this really perfectly harmless activity is compared with smoking tobacco or drinking. There are fifteen hundred people in jail on fairly long terms in the state of California alone right now. And God only knows how many throughout the country—at your expense.
Now, when it comes to the problems of the more strong psychedelics, like LSD, the problem becomes trickier. Because LSD can be so disorienting to many people and so terrifying that it is not wise to use it without the right sort of preparation and help. But, of course, for that very reason it’s exciting. When I was giving a lecture some time ago on some subject not directly connected with these psychedelics at all at a private high school, a rather posh school, immediately the lecture was over I invited questions, and all the questions were about LSD. So I said to these boys, “I have given you a lecture on the Chinese philosophy of nature and you ask me about LSD. What’s the reason for this?” Well, they sort of went into a huddle with each other and a little talk, and they said, “Well, we think that our parents and grandparents did a pretty good job exploring the external world and learning how to control it. We would like to explore the internal world. And furthermore, because it’s forbidden, it’s that much more interesting.”
So there is a challenge here, and young people are always out for adventures. They wouldn’t be young people if they weren’t. And one reason why we have so much trouble with young people is that we coddle them. We make too much safety. Other people don’t coddle their young like that. In Japan, for example, children have an enormous amount—little children, especially—an enormous amount of liberty in dimensions in which we don’t have liberty. For example, I was going along the edge of a river or canal in Matsue, and about twenty feet above the canal there’s a water pipe crossing the canal on a few concrete supports. And a small boy was crawling across it, having a wonderful time. Very dangerous. We would have a fit. We would build a fence all along the thing and we would have—you know, like at schools: wherever there’s a school entrance, there are policemen with stop signs, and the children are herded across so that they won’t be knocked down by cars. Children are even escorted in groups to and from school. In Japan you’ll see a little thing, this high, with a little yellow hat on and a knapsack on its back going tchick tchick tchick tchick tchick tchick tchick down a crowded street. Bicycles, taxis, cars going every which way. Mad confusion. This little thing is going along all by itself.
I remember Felix Greene once told me that he gave a lecture at a high school, and there was a great banner over the auditorium of the proscenium arch. In white letters on red it said “Safety first in all things.” You know? Well, that’s a way to die. Death is safe. You can’t get into trouble if you’re dead. Also, if you go into solitary confinement, it will be rather difficult to get into trouble. So stay home and be safe—although there are more accidents in homes than in any other place.
So we must realize in our attitude to children that while, yes, you advise your children about streets and cars and things like that, there is no such thing as safety. There never was in life and there never will be. And unless you take that as your first premise in living, nothing will happen. You must be insecure. There isn’t so any security. Nevertheless, you can’t just say: alright, no restrictions, no controls on anything. Because then people could obviously go out and buy tons of dynamite, or private tanks, and machine guns, mortars, howitzers, and whatever. You know? There are a lot of men who would love to own a Howitzer and have a terrific crash with a shell every morning, go out in the middle of the bay and just blow up.
So something has to be done. I would say if and when it comes to LSD, then, that we’ve really got a dragon by the tail in this particular chemical. Although I think that it’s a primitive chemical—that is to say that it’s very unpredictable in its results. And I’m quite sure that if research is pursued, we will be able to get something that is much more easy to handle than LSD, but as effective in a creative way. But, you see, there isn’t that research really being done, except by illicit graduate chemistry students who are working out all sorts of things, alternatives to LSD, so as to beat the law against its possession. Now, a law against the possession of LSD, whatever its wisdom, is completely unenforceable for the simple reason that you can disguise LSD as anything in the world. You can, for example, get a solution of LSD and alcohol and you can put a piece of Kleenex into it, and then pull the Kleenex out and let it dry. Then you’ve got a filthy old piece of Kleenex you jam into your pocket that looks like it might be something you blew your nose on. And all you have to do is take it out, drop it again in alcohol, soak it out, and there is the stuff. You can disguise it as peanut butter, fingernail polish, just anything at all. Cookies. And chemically, in a smallish quantity, say of a few hundred micrograms, it’s very, very difficult to detect. And you would really have to know. In other words, if you suspected that a given person who was wearing nothing but a suit, you would have to analyze everything on him to find out whether there was any LSD present. It’s simply unenforceable unless you are tipped off, unless you know in advance that the person has it in such a place. But you could smuggle interstate, into the country, vast quantities. Because the the basic dose that will, as I say, turn a person on is as low as fifty micrograms. A micrograms is a millionth of a gram.
So therefore, the only solution in all these problems is the solution of facing facts—that is to say, of bringing everything out into the open. You cannot abolish the problem. In fact, as you try to do so, you will only intensify it. That’s always been true, because if you prohibit something like this, well, of course, everybody will want it. Forbidden fruit is sweet. And therefore there is always an organization to take care of the supply of prohibited things—whether it’s whores or possibilities for gambling, there is an organization of criminals who will undertake to do so. But the trouble is that whenever they deal in any business, they have no conscience about the quality of goods they deliver. So remember, in prohibition, the quality of the liquor you got from your bootlegger? The illicit whores—who is to say they don’t have venereal disease? Illicit gambling: well, obviously the house always cheats and the one-armed bandits rob you and don’t give you a fair chance. Everything controlled by the mafia becomes crooked through and through. So when naturally, then, the mafia were to move into psychedelics, heaven only knows what we should get. And a lot of the reason for the fact that there are these terrible stories about people who have complications with LSD is that what they took was not simply LSD. People will cut the supply. You know, they just sell you sodium bicarbonate with a tiny bit of LSD. They do all sorts of things: mix it with other drugs.
So the solution, as I see it, is to bring the whole thing out right into the open, to encourage research on it, and I suppose the (at this present time) maximum sort of control that ought to be imposed on it is to make it something prescribed by doctors. Now, this isn’t the ideal form of control, but it’s a practical one. And then, in places like major university campuses, have LSD research centers or psychedelic research centers where anybody who wanted this kind of experience could simply apply, and there would be facilities for experiencing it in a helpful environment. Because when young people get adventurous, what they need is not police and prohibitions, they need help. They need the best information and the best guidance that’s possibly available to do a dangerous thing. When someone wants to go to learn to fly an airplane—alright, he can apply and he needs a license, but he gets the best advice possible. Alright, you want to be an astronaut of inner space? Why, you could go to school for it.
And I visualize the possibility of psychedelic museums where you would have a gorgeous set of buildings in lovely grounds, in gardens or by the sea, and it would be equipped with a big library of art books with reproductions of all kinds of masterpieces from the whole world. There would be a collection of tapes and records with beautiful sound systems. There would be glass cases full of objects like seashells, crystals, ferns. There would be a conservatory with plants of all kinds, you know, growing. And equipped in this way, then, if you wanted to take it, you would go in for a three-day session. The first day would be for getting relaxed and for learning something about the properties of it; getting an idea of the map before you went into the territory. The second day would be to take the chemical and work on any problem you wanted to, because it is peculiarly suitable for working on some particular problem. There’s a book by Stafford and Golightly called LSD: The Problem-Solving Drug. And there are ever so many case histories in that of engineers, architects, musicians, and so on who had specific problems to solve and who use this for doing it. So that would be the second day. Then the third day would be for evaluation. Because after you’ve been through an LSD experience you need a good day’s rest to get back into the swing of things, but to think it over, to write about it or to do something about it. Supposing you had seen a particular image that you wanted to preserve: well, on the third day you could paint it out or draw it out or write it out or whatever you wanted to do.
And the existence of such places, then, would put the youth above board, out in the open, and not something that is simply done in an illegal situation. You see, one of the problems with most psychedelics is that they do tend to foster paranoia. And if a situation is illegal, you can get all sorts of ridiculous paranoid fantasies—as that your best friend is a representative of the police, and you can see every reason why he really should be. Because the capacity of these chemicals is that you have an enormous power of projection. You can see. You know how, in the ordinary way, you might be looking at this sort of wall here, which has got irregular paint patterns on it. Well, you can sit here just in a perfectly ordinary state of consciousness and see pictures in it. And you can see trees and people and all sorts of things. Leonardo da Vinci used to make a regular practice of looking at a dirty old wall and find paintings in it. That’s, of course, how we believe many of the great cave paintings were done: is that those people looked in the marks on the rocks and saw buffaloes and deer, and just followed the markings on the rocks, and for that reason created images of animals that were a astoundingly accurate and realistic. Because if you use eidetic thinking you’ll do that.
I remember one night I was out here and I was walking by the window. And I usually keep that table here. And I looked in the window, and to my astonishment, I saw a man sitting at the table—on this side, facing the window; I was looking at the reflection in the window—a rather scholarly looking gentleman with a little imperial beard, resting his head on his hand like this and reading a book. There he was. Right there. And I analyzed that for a while and I could see exactly what was going on. There were things in the fireplace (paper and stuff) that built themselves perfectly into this image.
So then, you can see these things. People, for example, who hear voices. I’ve got a theory about this and I believe it’s correct. Naturally, in any place, there are all sorts of noises going around on around you. Sound of water and pipes, the sound of a gas heater, sound of people working in the distance, sound of the wind. And you can project meaningful voices and sequences of ideas onto these sounds and actually hear voices. So if you check with someone else and say, “Now, look. I hear a voice talking,” or “I see a picture on the wall,” or “I see a vision. Do you see it?” And at first they say no. But if you then actually understand that you are projecting, you can point out to them where you see it and they will say, “Oh, yes, I see how you see that.” But of course it isn’t there in the ordinary sense.
So with the psychedelic chemical you have a tremendous power of projection. Your power projection is increased a hundredfold. And, in fact, you can play games with it. You can take anything and turn it into practically anything else by looking carefully enough. And you’ll find out a reason for turning it that way. I play this game quite deliberately now in the ordinary state of consciousness. I play projections and see shapes just in anything. It is wonderful what you can do. And especially if you take something a bit chaotic, like a Rorschach blot or a dirty old wall or whatever you want. You can have infinite fun seeing images in it. But the problem, then, is: if there is an unconscious reason for seeing certain images (if you’re afraid, if you’re mistrustful, or anything like that) you can see in a human life situation—say, your relationship to your family—you can see a pattern of relationship which is absolutely misleading. And you can see the best reasons why it is this sinister situation. And then you’re in trouble.
So when, therefore, the use of LSD is totally illegal and people take it, they tend (because they are scared of what they’re doing) to have the paranoid reaction altogether reinforced, and so naturally the illegality, the reasons that the government puts forward for making it illegal, are of the nature of a self-fulfilling prophecy. By making it illegal they make it harmful. Then they can say, “Look at all these harmful results. That’s why it’s illegal.” But it’s harmful because it’s illegal—partly. It can also be harmful simply through ordinary misuse.
But I think our answer is to bring the whole question right out into the open, and to deal with it as a fact that exists, that cannot be suppressed, it should not be suppressed, and try to control it. Because, you see, it’s only one step, one link, in a long, long, vast process of scientific work, which is—as I said earlier: once you started to interfere with the world, you can’t stop. And man (as many, many scientists now say) is no longer passively undergoing an evolutionary process. He is involved in it. And therefore we are reaching out to try and control ourselves—our brains, our nervous systems—by surgery, by electrical stimulation, by chemicals. All sorts of things we’re using to try and find out how we tick. And I suppose we’ve got to go on and go on and go on doing that until we for some reason can call a halt and see that we don’t need to do it anymore. But, you see, LSD and psychedelics are just a part of this whole thing. And it has to be faced.
But one final word. It is not something (and none of these things are) understandable, uncontrollable from what we might call a purely scientific point of view. Because the mumbo-jumbo of the purely scientific approach is in itself a kind of game. Involved in many sciences is the myth that situations can be observed objectively. And therefore, scientists make a special effort, as it were, to be very serious and very analytic about certain situations—which is often quite right. But when you come into an LSD situation and you are investigating someone on its influence and you come in with your scientific pomposity, he immediately sees that you’re a freak and quite asinine. And so it gives a rather bad impression.
In a hospital, for example: hospitals are a big game. The disciplines and the routines and the things that go on in hospitals, they do an enormous amount of things that are simply precautions against possible legal action in the future. And so now, in any hospital, the doctors and the nurses have a great deal of difficulty doing their business because they keep filling out papers. Hours and hours and hours of paperwork goes on so that the record is straight. Soon they won’t treat people at all, they’ll just record all sorts of things and just make records. They don’t have to do anything, they just record something that didn’t happen at all. But just so long as the records are straight. And it’s getting that bad. It’s getting that bad in universities. Happens that way, too.
So in those environments the psychedelic experience can get very, very queer and frightening. So the question is: what sort of people are qualified to investigate LSD? And the answer is: at present, in a way, no one. And in another way, I would say simply: those who’ve had a great deal of experience with it. You might say, certainly, psychiatrists aren’t qualified. Least of all, practically. Because psychiatrists tend to be very scared of any kind of irregular reality. They are guardians of what we call sanity, of the way the world is on a bleak Monday morning. And they’re frightened, very frightened, of the unconscious—especially psychoanalysts. They always speak about the unconscious with a hushed voice. And we mustn’t go fishing in the unconscious. It’s a very dangerous field. Only a qualified person should investigate the unconscious. Because the unconscious is the big mad sink, you know, of the primordial slime out of which life issues serpents and menacing dragons.
So perhaps a psychiatrist has some disciplines that might help with using psychedelics. But here, there should be, generally: it needs the wisdom of a psychologist, of a pharmacologist, of an anthropologist, of a specialist in the psychology of religion, of a mythologist, of a poet, a painter. And you would have, in other words, in my psychedelic museums, you would have to have a team of people with all sorts of knowledge to combine, somehow, the sort of skill that is necessary for understanding psychedelics.
As I said, though, the best people are really those who are most familiar with the territory. Like you may be a specialist in mining, and you may know all about mining, but to get into a certain territory what you need is an Indian guide. He will show you how to get in and how to get out, although he knows nothing about mining. And it may be that in the investigation of the LSD to be a great deal of helped know a lot about neurology. But the neurologist needs an Indian guide. And the Indian guide is the person who’s been in the place quite often and knows his way around. And if you have taken LSD many times, you begin to know your way around. The landscape becomes familiar. You know all the different states of consciousness. And so LSD people begin to formulate their own lingo. They know a state called the plastic doll, they know a state called the magic theater, they know a state called… well, I call it the eenie-weenie. They know a state called the great white light. They know a state of the wiggles, where the walls seem to breathe. And if you look at a flower, it’s all rippling as if it were under water. See? They know all these things. They know the state of paranoia, of getting lost, if wondering whether you can get back. And because they’re familiar with them all, nobody gets frightened. And psychiatrists, if they are to be effective as psychiatrists, should be people who are familiar with all kinds of states of consciousness. And they should work—if somebody is way out of his head, he should be able to consult a person who knows exactly where he is and can come in and be quite familiar with that state. So that he can say, “Oh yeah, I know where you are. I’ve been there myself.” And it’s like this, you know?
But as it is, you see, psychiatry is not really exploring the mind. It is trying to stand outside and understand psychiatric problems through looking at patients and writing down their symptoms without really knowing anything about it. And therefore, all the terms that are used in psychiatry to describe symptomatology are completely unscientific. They have no scientific spectrum of consciousness, and it’s all its possibilities at all. There is no such idea. You could write a textbook called “The Spectrum of Consciousness,” and you could—with quotations from literature and photographs and so on—illustrate almost all the known states of consciousness of which man is capable. But nobody has done such a project. And that would be basic reading for anybody who expected to be proficient in psychology or psychiatry. But these things have to be done, and without fear. But these these chemicals, in other words, are not something to be afraid of, they are simply something to be respected and handled with reasonable care: out in the open and not in, you know, sort of a dingy pad or in the back of a car.