Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:The Ego Death
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index
Birth and Rebirth: LSD, Psychoanalysis, and Spiritual Enlightenment.
Tarnas, Richard T. (1976).
No publisher: no place.
Description: Unpublished doctoral dissertation from the Saybrook Institute (formerly Humanistic Psychology Institute) San Francisco. Original soft cover edition rebound into hardcover dissertation binding, all pages show 3-hole punch marks. Text on right-hand page only, photocopied? vi + 178 pages.
Contents: 11 unnumbered chapters, bibliography.
Note: A similar early edition appears mimeographed or photocopied, has heavy blue paper covers, and is "Perfect Bound," i.e., 2 plastic strips with connecting teeth. The author has made minor stylistic adjustments to the excerpts below.
Excerpt(s): It is an aim of this book to help dispel some of the misunderstandings surrounding the drug [LSD] and to begin to articulate the great potential LSD and other psychedelics have for the exploration of the human psyche and the expansion of our knowledge in the fields of psychotherapy, psychology, and religion. (page 9)
Reports of perinatal experiences in LSD sessions imply that it is the ego's constant attempt to protect itself from the worst experience that it unconsciously fears could happen to it which constricts energy flow in the human organism. The very worst, of course, is death. Whether or not the ego is conscious of this being the most threatening experience, when the reality of death presents itself, the root basis of all human fears becomes clearly apparent to the subject.
It seems to be for this reason that the experience of the ego death in psychedelic therapy is so liberating for human existence. For when the ultimate horror has been faced, when the worst has already occurred, there is made possible a great liberation of all the energy previously dedicated to a defense against the feared occurrence. (page 110)
The personality structure of the individual who has experienced the death-rebirth process seems to have a different character altogether. Instead of being manipulative of one's instincts, one trusts them; instead of avoiding or repressing deep emotions, one's strength would lie in being able to surrender to such emotions and be deeply moved. Instead of watchful correctness being the ideal, a flowing spontaneity seems to characterize the "reborn" individual. (page 117)
From the results of psychedelic therapy, the innate feeling of guilt or Original Sin that seems to exist in the human unconscious appears to derive from a universally experienced ontogenetic crisis — the biological birth. The complete inhibition of the expression of aroused aggression that occurs at that time would result in the unconscious knowledge throughout life that each human being has a reservoir of murderous, hostile impulses which lie raging in one's depths.
By reliving this trauma and abreacting the perinatal aggression, subjects in psychedelic therapy feel that they have been cleansed and are now in some way "innocent." On the religious plane, subjects describe deep feelings of being "redeemed" from the sense of Original Sin. ... [P]sychedelic therapy appears to effect transformations of the personality which suggest that these benevolent tendencies in human beings (such as compassion, altruism, love of beauty, sense of justice, etc.) are innate and not reducible to mere reaction-formations. Grof thus observed tendencies in his patients which showed striking similarities to the meta-value system of Abraham Maslow.
What is suggested is a much more thorough degree of personality transformation than has been previously observed in other forms of psychotherapy. (pages 118-119)
The most profound and totally transcendent of the transpersonal experiences described by LSD subjects is that of the consciousness of the Universal Mind and the Supracosmic and Metacosmic Void. In such an experience, subjects feel they are encompassing the totality of existence. It is a state which subjects state is indescribable by words, which seem hopelessly inadequate when confronted with this ineffable reality. Subjects feel they have transcended the illusions of time, space, matter, and all other subjective realities and are now in touch with the Infinite Being which is the source of all life. A brief encounter with this level is, according to these subjects' reports, enough to answer all possible questions that have ever been conceived. It is described as a state beyond reason, yet ultimately satisfying to the intellect, as well as the emotional and spiritual dimensions of the subject's life. The nature of the Universal Mind's emergence (the "Creation") from the primal state of absolute silent nothingness, the Void, appears utterly paradoxical, yet overwhelmingly complete, creating a feeling described as absolute, global understanding and peace.
The experience of identification with the Universal Mind appears to represent a culmination of the transpersonal domain of the unconscious. In such an experience, the subject feels that there is in truth only One Being, utterly beyond time and space, which playfully manifests in the billions of different life forms for pure variety of experience in a majestic "dance of life."
For comprehension of this type of phenomena, the various spiritual teachers and mystics of the world's different cultures seem to contribute the most insight. In particular, the cosmology of Hinduism-Buddhism offers a model of consciousness which seems to comprehend the entire range of these spiritual dimensions. The Hindu-Buddhist description of the ultimate cosmic principles of Maya (the play-illusion of creation), Lila (the dance of the Godhead), sat-chit-ananda (the state of infinite being, infinite knowledge, infinite bliss characterizing the Universal Mind), karma (the spiritual law governing the evolving soul and its reincarnations), the Union of Atman and Brahman (the divine core of individual personality uniting with the Universal Self), and the wheel of birth and death is in direct correspondence with these reports of LSD subjects in advanced sessions.
A significant aspect of transpersonal experiences in LSD sessions is that they appear to be of unlimited variety. Regardless of the number of LSD sessions a subject may have, the exploration into deeper unknown realms of consciousness appears to continue indefinitely. These advanced LSD subjects report that the more extensive the experience one has in the transpersonal realm, the greater is the subject's admiration, even awe, for the intelligence and beauty manifest in the universal scheme of things. This reverence towards the universe is similar to the spiritual orientation of Einstein's cosmic religion. LSD sessions become at this advanced stage an incomparable opportunity for experiences in realms which seem to completely transcend the ordinary human condition. (pages 140-142)
The nature of the Universal Mind is described as being beyond words, utterly beautiful, sacred, and profound. It is the insight into this mystical reality, and other transcendental levels apparently intrinsic to human nature, that seems to form the foundation experience for all the great religious movements throughout history. The widely held secular explanations which reduce religious phenomena to other levels (Marx's political-economic interpretation, Freud's psychodynamic reduction, etc.) are in this perspective missing the fundamental significance of the religious feeling, although perhaps adding insight into some of orthodox religion's superficial aspects. Such theoretical reductionism may be the consequence of not having personal access to those deep, though powerful, layers of the human unconscious. Such theories thus project their own ignorance on phenomena transcending their comprehension.
The great spiritual masters of the world seem to have been, in the final analysis, expert psychotherapists. The goals of the spiritual path and the secular psychotherapies are in essence the same ones: acceptance of life and death, the capacity for love and work, the feeling of being in touch with oneself and the rest of the universe, a flexibility of the body, mind, and spirit, inner peace, and compassion for others. It is a great paradox, and a significant one, that Grof's LSD research points to the relevance of a basically religious statement: "Die and be reborn." By means of a scientific approach, psychoanalytic therapy using LSD as an adjunctive catalyst, Grof arrived at this empirical conclusion which bears the aura of a spiritual mystery. (pages 145-146)
There are also deep parallels running between the stages of the perinatal process and the Christian mythic structure. Many subjects describe the four Basic Perinatal Matrices as corresponding exactly to the Christian images of Paradise, Paradise Lost and Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise regained or Heaven. Subjects report that the infant who is experiencing an undisturbed intrauterine situation is in a state of timeless ecstasy, and that the symbiotic unity between the infant and the maternal womb is experienced by the infant as a union with the entire universe. When the contractions begin and the infant feels all its vital needs threatened, the infant seems to feel it has just been banished from Paradise for some "sin" of his own doing, as in the Biblical myth. The infant's antagonism with the mother seems to be experienced as a state of absolute suffering, darkness, and despair with no possible escape in either time or space. The hours (by clock time) that the infant is in this stage of the delivery appear to be subjectively experienced by the infant as an eternity in hell. Many subjects report experiencing various tortures of the damned that are exactly described in Dante's Divine Comedy. When the expulsion through the open cervix takes place, subjects describe experiences of being purged of all sins, of being cleansed in a purifying fire; the suffering in this matrix is even more intense than in BPM II, yet there is felt to be a purpose in the pain and a movement out of it as in the Christian concept of Purgatory. Subjects also frequently experience the ego death and spiritual rebirth in the form of a complete identification with the suffering and resurrected Christ.
Some individuals who have experienced the full perinatal process refer to St. John of the Cross' "Dark Night of the Soul" as offering an extremely accurate and helpful guide to the experiences of agony and spiritual despair in the birth canal. ...
There are also several essential differences between these psychedelic experiences in the Christian framework and orthodox Christianity. The former seem to correspond more to the mystical forms of Christianity. For example, subjects describe God as being a transcendent being that is the essence of every being and the heart of all creation and thus not ultimately separate from it. Heaven, hell, and purgatory are similarly seen as internal states of consciousness which can be fully experienced during one's lifetime rather than external spaces which the soul enters only after physical death. The experience of eternal damnation is seen to be a subjective reality that is temporary in objective temporal standards. ... Christ is regarded as an archetype within every human being and not only one individual human being living two thousand years ago. Many of the teachings of Jesus such as "A man must be born again" or "You must become as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven" subjects report as understanding in a totally new light after the perinatal process is experienced.
The Christian framework appears to be one of many potent mythic structures in which different subjects experience the death-rebirth process. It is interesting that these experiences do not necessarily correspond to the cultural background or previous belief system of the subject. For example, a modern-day Jew can experience his death and rebirth in a Christian framework, a Catholic priest could experience it in an ancient Egyptian context, the Isis-Osiris mysteries, while an atheistic communist philosopher could experience it in a Hindu framework. (pages 155-158)
As Kuhn so well described in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, it is usually the pioneering work of one person, a Newton or Copernicus, who in one leap of intuitive genius overthrows the previous structure of "normal science" and posits a new paradigm which can more logically explain a great quantity of data which had gradually been making the previously standing paradigm untenable. There then follow years or centuries of normal scientific research, gathering of data, and elaboration of the new paradigm. ...
Moreover, it is my belief that the new model of the human psyche and consequent world-view suggested by Grof's research point toward as significant a revolution in modern thinking as Einstein's relativity theories earlier this century or Darwin's evolutionary theory in the last century. Abraham Maslow, upon reading Grof's initial manuscript describing his LSD research, called it "the most significant contribution to psychodynamic thinking since Freud." However, his work may likely be more significant even than that remarkable comment suggests, for his new model of consciousness is a radical extension of the human psyche's structure far beyond Freud's and any other existing scientific theoretical formulation. (pages 173-174)
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