Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index
American Mysticism from William James to Zen.
Bridges, Hal. (1970).
New York: Harper &
Contents: Preface, 8
chapters, appendixes: 1. God and Drugs, 2. Vedanta and the Problem
of Evil (both by Swami Prabhavananda),
chapter notes, bibliography, index.
xii + 208 pages.
Note: Bridges' criticisms
point to common errors made by people who report psychedelic mystical
experiences. These errors then lead to misunderstandings. If psychedelic
experiencers don't point out that some psychedelic experiences
are not mystical, people who read about these experiences can
point to their nonmystical attributes and claim they are not genuine.
If psychedelic experiencers fail to point out that even those
sessions with mystical episodes also contain nonmystical episodes-such
as intensified perceptions, heightened feelings, visions and voices,
a kaleidoscopic quality, and suggestibility-the experiencers are
open to the charge of confusing these with genuine mystical experiences.
Can one be said to have a true mystical experience if her/his
actions are not improved afterwards, by showing more loving kindness,
Excerpt(s): When certain
proponents of psychedelic ecstasy, including experimental subjects
who report their experiences, state that these drugs induce what
they term "mystical experience," they seem to mean merely
heightened sensual perception, psychological insight, or religious
feeling, or a blend of the three. By my definition these are not,
either singly or together, mystical experience, although it is
nearly always accompanied, to be sure, by religious feeling.
Hence I would suggest that these proponents are not speaking of
mystical experience but of other forms of experience, which may,
of course, be deeply moving. ...
I would suggest, however, that psychedelic ecstasy
and mystical experience are not identical, but that they differ
in significant ways.
To begin with a point noted in the first chapter,
visions and voices as mystical experiences are suspect. Yet personal
narratives of psychedelic ecstasy ... exhibit visions and voices
in profusion. ...
All this leads to another distinguishing mark of
the psychedelic ecstasy-its kaleidoscopic nature. The visions,
voices, scenes and moods shift constantly, and often with bewildering
rapidity. Now the subject is in hell, now in heaven,
now back again in hell. True, the kaleidoscope does congeal at
times into experiences that the subject describes in mystical
Now, this is not an exceptional but a fairly typical
narrative of psychedelic ecstasy, and I think it differs markedly,
in its kaleidoscopic quality (not to mention the visions and voices),
from the typical pattern of mystical experience. Compare it with
the serene simplicity of Thomas Merton's
descriptions of mystical experience, or with Howard
Thurman's quiet meditations. ...
Advocates of chemical ecstasy generally agree on
the need for a guide ... . Otherwise the subject may have a "bad
trip"-that is, experience little else besides paranoia
and other wretched states. Surely this is a significant difference
between psychedelic and mystical experiences. The mystic does
not need a companion at his elbow to keep him from lapsing into
One reason why the psychedelic tripper needs a guide
is that he is so extremely vulnerable to suggestion. The drugs
seem to magnify the slightest thought, and if that happens to
be religious-well and good; the drug may expand it into a magnificent
vision of Christ or Buddha. But if then the memory of some unpleasant
incident, or sudden noise, or a shadow on the wall, or some other
ordinary insignificant thing should happen to trigger a negative
thought, the vision may shift with quicksilver suddenness from
heaven to hell, and the subject find himself struggling
against psychotic fear or anger.
Quite the opposite is true of the mystical experience.
It is not a state of heightened suggestibility. Instead of making
the mystic vulnerable to negative thoughts, it strengthens him
against them. ...
Which brings us to effects, to the test. " By
their fruits ye shall know them." That mystical experience
results in unselfishness, humility, moral living, loving-kindness,
and constructive accomplishment has been demonstrated in the lives
of men ... not to mention the great mystics of world history.
Can as much be said for psychedelic experience? Certainly not
yet, it seems to me. This is not to brush aside the claims made
for the therapeutic and character-building results from chemical
ecstasy, but simply to say that they have not yet met the test
of time. (pages 139-142)
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Compilation copyright © 1995 2001 CSP