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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

Christianity and the World Religions: Paths to Dialogue with Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

Küng, Hans; Ess, Josef; van Stietencron, Heinrich von, and Bechert, Heinz. (1986).
Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co.

ISBN: 0-386-19471-4

Description: Hardcover, xxx + 460 pages. Originally published in German in 1985 under the title Christeneum und Weltreligionen by Piper Verlag. Translated by Peter Heinegg.

Contents: Introduction, 24 chapters divided into 3 parts: Islam and Christianity, Hinduism and Christianity, Buddhism and Christianity, Epilogue, indexes.

Excerpt(s): Indeed, isn't religion, above all—before it is doctrine and morality, rites and institutions—religious experience? Under the influence of Protestant theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher in nineteenth century Europe and philosopher-psychologist William James in early-twentieth-century America, many Westerners have come out in support of the priority of religious experience. And isn't religious experience in its highest form mystical experience, as in India, where it seems more at home than anywhere else? (page 168)

...First of all, we have to ask, what is "mystical experience," anyway?

Discussion of this matter has not quieted down since the appearance of Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception in which he reported personal mystical experiences while taking drugs that approached the highest levels of religious thought and perception: the Christian beatific vision, the Hindu saccidananda or the Buddhist nirvana. Are all mystical experiences, then, fundamentally alike, regardless of whether one reaches them through asceticism and meditation and LSD or sex? (page 168)

No one has criticized Huxley more vehemently ... than the Oxford professor of religion R. C. Zaehner. In Mysticism, Sacred and Profane Zaehner argues against Huxley from the beginning to end. He denies the thesis, which has also been advanced by Arnold Toynbee, Frithjof Schuon, Huston Smith, and others, that mystical experience is basically the same, whatever religion one may belong to; that at all times and in all places mysticism appears in more or less identical forms, whether in the case of an Indian yogi, a Persian Sufi poet, or a Neo-Platonic philosopher, a medieval monk, or finally a modern intellectual disgusted with Western civilization. (pages 168-169)

Mystical experience can be generally defined as an immediate, intuitive experience of unity, as an intuition of a great unity that abolishes the subject-object division. If such a general definition is adopted, we can hardly dispute the fact that experimenters with drugs also may have "mystical experiences," perhaps even schizophrenics or manic-depressives can have them too. Completely nonreligious people can likewise undergo abnormal changes and expansion of consciousness with artificial means (alcohol is often enough): a diffuse feeling of surpassing the self and becoming a nonself, as Huxley has described apropos of his taking mescaline. Naturally, this raises the question: What does this kind of experience have to do with religion? ... Religion, as I tried to define it in the Introduction, is the many-layered realization of a relationship to something that encompasses man and his world, to an ultimate reality (however understood), an Absolute (God, Brahma, dharma, emptiness, nirvana). (pages 169-170)

Hence we ought not to deny the religious character of such experiences as Zaehner does (a convert to Roman Catholicism, he shows an all-too-dogmatic bias). We are dealing here with religious mysticism—although the monistic, not the theistic or, still less, the Christian, variety. So if someone wishes to be a mystic by invoking this sort of experience in a believable fashion, his claim should not be denied. The ecumenical spirit is not interested in monopolizing religion. (page 171)

On the other hand, to allow religious experiences only to those living a moral life in the bourgeois-Christian sense would be unfairly to absolutize a specific historical version of morality. And the notion proposed by Zaehner, that nature or the cosmos is excluded in advance from genuine mystical experiences, seems utterly unacceptable. Even Thomas Aquinas would agree that the Absolute is present in every flower and grain of sand, and there is a great deal of truth in Einstein's notion, inspired by Spinoza, of "cosmic piety." (page 171).

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