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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 & Row.

ISBN: None

Contents: Preface, 8 chapters, appendixes: 1. God and Drugs, 2. Vedanta and the Problem of Evil (both by Swami Prabhavananda), chapter notes, bibliography, index.

Description: Hardcover, 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, for example?

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 phraseology. ...

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 psychosis.

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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