Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index
The Cosmic Game: Explorations of the Frontiers of Human Consciousness
Grof, Stanislav. (1998).
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Description: paperback, xiv + 285 pages
Contents: List of illustrations, acknowledgments, 11 chapters, bibliography, index.
This book addresses some of the most fundamental questions of existence that human beings have been asking since time immemorial. How did our universe come into being? Is the world we live in merely a product of mechanical processes involving inanimate, inert, and reactive matter? Do we have to assume the existence of superior cosmic intelligence responsible for the creation and evolution of the cosmos? Can material reality be explained solely in terms of natural laws or does it involve forces and principles that elude such descriptions?
How can we come to terms with such dilemmas as finiteness of time and space versus eternity and infinity? What is the source of order, form, and meaning in the universe? What is the relationship between life and matter, and between consciousness and the brain? Many of the issues that we will explore in this book have great relevance for everyday existence. How should we understand the apparent conflict between good and evil, the mystery of karma and reincarnation, and the problem of the meaning of human life? ...
This interest began quite unexpectedly and in a very dramatic way in 1956, only a few months after my graduation from medical school, when I volunteered for an experiment with LSD in the Psychiatric Department of the School of Medicine in Prague, Czechoslovakia. This experience profoundly influenced my personal and professional life and provided the inspiration for my lifelong commitment to consciousness research. . .
This book ... explores the extraordinary philosophical, metaphysical, and spiritual insights that have emerged in the course of this work. The experiences and observations from this research have revealed important aspects and dimensions of reality that are usually hidden from our everyday awareness.
Throughout centuries, these experiences and the realms of existence they disclose have been described in the context of spiritual philosophies and mystical traditions, such as Vadanta, Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, Gnosticism, Christian mysticism, Cabala, and many other sophisticated spiritual systems. The findings of my research and contemporary consciousness research in general essentially confirm and support the position of these ancient teachings. They are thus in radical conflict with the most fundamental assumptions of materialistic science concerning consciousness, human nature, and the nature of reality. They clearly indicate that consciousness is not a product of the brain, but a primary principle of existence, and that it plays a critical role in the creation of the phenomenal world.
This research also radically changes our conception of the human psyche. It shows that, in its farthest reaches, the psyche of each of us is essentially commensurate with all of existence and ultimately identical with the cosmic creative principle itself. This conclusion, while seriously challenging the worldview of modern technological societies, is in far-reaching agreement with the image of reality found in the great spiritual and mystical traditions of the world, which the Anglo-American writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley referred to as the "perennial philosophy). (pages 1-3)
I will, therefore, narrow our discussion to a large and important subgroup of nonordinary states of consciousness for which contemporary psychiatry does not have a specific term. Because I am convinced that they deserve to be distinguished from the rest and placed into a special category, I have coined for them the name holotropic. This composite word literally means "oriented toward wholeness" or "moving in the direction of wholeness" (from the Greek holos = whole, and trepein = moving toward or in the direction of something). The full meaning of this term and the justification for its use will become clear later in this book. It suggests that in our everyday state of consciousness we are not really whole; we are fragmented and identify with only a small fraction of who we really are.
Holotropic states are characterized by a specific transformation of consciousness associated with perceptual changes in all sensory areas, intense and often unusual emotions, and profound alterations in the thought processes. ...
The emotions associated with holotropic states cover a very broad spectrum that extends far beyond the limits of our everyday experience. They range from feelings of ecstatic rapture, heavenly bliss, and "peace that passeth all understanding" to episodes of abysmal terror, overpowering anger, utter despair, consuming guilt, and other forms of extreme emotional suffering. The intensity of these agonizing experiences can match the descriptions of the tortures of hell in some of the great religions of the world. The physical sensations that accompany these states are similarly polarized. ...
We can also experience extraordinary revelations concerning various aspects of nature and the cosmos that transcend our educational and intellectual background. By far the most interesting insights that become available in holotropic states revolve around philosophical, metaphysical, and spiritual issues. Exploration of these insights is the main focus of this book. (pages 5-7)
... A particularly effective technology of the sacred has been ritual use of psychedelic plants and substances.
These mind-altering techniques have played a critical role in the ritual and spiritual history of humanity. Induction of holotropic states has been absolutely essential for shamanism, rites of passage, and other ceremonies of native cultures. It also represented the key element of the ancient mysteries of death and rebirth that were conducted in different parts of the world and particularly flourished in the Mediterranean area. Holotropic experiences have been equally important for various mystical branches of the great religions of the world. These esoteric traditions have developed a variety of technologies of the sacred-specific methods of inducing such experiences. Here belong various forms of yoga, meditation and concentration techniques, multivocal chanting, whirling of the dervishes, ascetic practices, the Christian hesychasm or "Jesus prayer," and many others. (pages 7-8)
During my professional career, I have personally conducted over four thousand psychedelic sessions with such substances as LSD, psilocybine, mescaline, dipropyl-tryptamine (DPT), and methylene-dioxy-amphetamine (MDA), and had access to over two thousand sessions conducted by my colleagues. A significant proportion of these sessions involved psychiatric patients suffering from various forms of emotional and psychosomatic disorders, such as depression, psychoneurosis, psychosomatic disorders, alcoholism, and narcotic drug addition.
Another large group consisted of patients suffering from various forms of cancer, most of them terminal. In this study, the objective was not only to relieve the emotional distress and severe physical pain associated with this illness, but also to offer these patients an opportunity to achieve mystical states in order to alleviate their fear of death, change their attitude toward it, and transform their experience of dying. The remaining subjects were "normal volunteers," such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, clergy, artists, and scientists from various disciplines, who volunteered for psychedelic sessions because they sought understanding and insight. ...
In writing this book, I used the records that I had amassed during more than forty years of work in the field of consciousness studies. I have focused specifically on those parts of the records that described experiences and observations related to basic ontological and cosmological questions. To my surprise, what emerged from these accounts of holotropic states was a comprehensive and logically consistent alternative to the understanding of human nature and of existence that has been formulated by materialistic science and that represents the official ideology of the Western industrial civilization. (pages 9-10)
Cosmos, Consciousness, and Spirit
When we have experienced to sufficient depth these dimensions that are hidden to our everyday perception [perinatal and transpersonal], we typically undergo profound changes in our understanding of existence and of the nature of reality. The most fundamental metaphysical insight we obtain is the realization that the universe is not an autonomous system that has evolved as a result of mechanical interplay of material particles. We find it impossible to take seriously the basic assumption of materialistic science, which asserts that the history of the universe is merely the history of evolving matter. We have directly experienced the divine, sacred, or numinous dimensions of existence in a very profound and compelling way. (page 17)
Particularly frequent in my work have been encounters or even identification with various deities from different cultures who were killed by others or sacrificed themselves and later came back to life. These figures representing death and resurrection tend to emerge spontaneously when the process of inner self-exploration reaches the perinatal level and takes the form of psychospiritual rebirth. At this point, many people have, for example, visions of crucifixion or experience an agonizing identification with Jesus Christ on the Cross. The emergence of this motif in individuals with a Euro-American background seems to make sense, because of the important role Christianity has over the centuries played in Western culture.
However, we have also seen many powerful experiences of identification with Jesus during our holotropic breathwork seminars in Japan and India. They occurred in individuals whose background was Buddhist, Shinto, or Hindu. Conversely, many Anglo-Saxons, Slavs, and Jews identified during their psychedelic or holotropic breathwork sessions with Shiva or Buddha, the Egyptian resurrected god Osiris, the Sumerian goddess Inanna, or the Greek deities Persephone, Dionysus, Attis, or Adonis. Occasional identification with the Aztec deity of death and rebirth, Quetzalcoatl or the Plumed Serpent, or one of the Hero Twins from the Mayan Popol Vuh, were even more surprising, since these deities appear in mythologies not generally known in the West. (page 23)
However, none of these individuals perceived their experiences of archetypal figures to be encounters with the supreme principle in the universe, nor did they claim to have gained an ultimate understanding of existence. They experienced these deities to be creations of a higher power that transcended them. This insight echoes Joseph Campbell's idea that the deities should be "transparent to the transcendent." They should function as a bridge to the divine source, but not be confused with it. When we are involved in systematic self-exploration or spiritual practice, it is important to avoid the pitfall of making a particular deity opaque and seeing it as the ultimate cosmic force rather than a window into the Absolute.
Mistaking a specific archetypal image for the ultimate source of creation leads to idolatry, a divisive and dangerous mistake widespread in the histories of religions and cultures. It might unite the people who share the same belief, but sets this group against others who have chosen a different representation of the divine. They might then try to convert others or conquer and eliminate them. By contract, genuine religion is universal, all-inclusive, and all-encompassing. It has to transcend specific culture-bound archetypal images and focus on the ultimate source of all forms. The most important question in the world of religion is thus the nature of the supreme principle in the universe. In the next chapter, we will explore the insights from holotropic states of consciousness regarding this subject. (page 24)
The Cosmic Creative Principle
... I therefore searched in the reports of the people with whom I had worked for states of consciousness that were perceived as reaching the ultimate frontiers of the human spirit. I was trying to find out what experiences would convey the sense of encountering the supreme principle in the universe.
People who had an experience of the Absolute that fully satisfied their spiritual longing typically did not see any specific figurative images. When they felt that they attained the goal of their mystical and philosophical quest, their descriptions of the supreme principle were highly abstract and strikingly similar. Those who reported such an ultimate revelation showed quite remarkable agreement in describing the experiential characteristics of this state. They reported that the experience of the Supreme involved transcendence of all the limitations of the analytical mind, all rational categories, and all the constraints of ordinary logic. ...
The supreme cosmic principle can be experienced in two different ways. Sometimes, all personal boundaries dissolve or are drastically obliterated and we completely merge with the divine source, becoming one with it and indistinguishable from it. Other times, we maintain the sense of separate identify, assuming the role of an astonished observer who is witnessing as if from the outside the mysterium tremendum of existence. Or, like some mystics, we might feel the ecstasy of an enraptured lover experiencing the encounter with the Beloved. Spiritual literature of all ages abounds in descriptions of both types of experiences of the Divine. ...
People who have had the experience of supreme principle described above know that they have encountered God. However, most of them feel that the term God does not adequately capture the depth of their experience, since it has been distorted, trivialized, and discredited by mainstream religions and cultures. Even the names like Absolute Consciousness or Universal Mind that are often used to describe this experience seem to be hopelessly inadequate to convey the immensity and shattering impact of such an encounter. Some people consider silence to be the most appropriate reaction to the experience of the Absolute. For them, it is obvious that "those who know do not speak and those who speak do not know."
The supreme principle can be directly experienced in holotropic states of consciousness, but it eludes any attempts at adequate description or explanation. The language that we use to communicate about matters of daily life simply is not adequate for this task. Individuals who have had this experience seem to agree that it is ineffable. Words and the structure of our language are painfully inappropriate tools to describe its nature and dimensions, particularly to those who have not had it. (pages 25 - 27)
The Pregnant Void
The encounter with Absolute Consciousness or identification with it is not the only way to experience the supreme principle in the cosmos or the ultimate reality. The second type of experience that seems to satisfy those who search for ultimate answers is particularly surprising, since it has no specific content. It is the identification with Cosmic Emptiness and Nothingness described in the mystical literature as the Void. It is important to emphasize that not every experience of emptiness that we can encounter in nonordinary states qualifies as the Void. People very often use this term to describe an unpleasant sense of lack of feeling, initiative, or meaning. To deserve the name Void, this state has to meet very specific criteria.
When we encounter the Void, we feel that it is primordial emptiness of cosmic proportions and relevance. We become pure consciousness aware of this absolute nothingness; however, at the same time, we have a strange paradoxical sense of its essential fullness. This cosmic vacuum is also a plenum, since nothing seems to be missing in it. While it does not contain anything in a concrete manifest form, it seems to comprise all of existence in a potential form. In this paradoxical way, we can transcend the usual dichotomy between emptiness and form, or existence and nonexistence. However, the possibility of such a resolution cannot be adequately conveyed in words; it has to be experienced to be understood. ...
On several occasions, people who experienced both the Absolute Consciousness and the Void had the insight that these two states are essentially identical and interchangeable, in spite of the fact that they can be experientially distinguished from each other and that they might appear conceptually and logically incompatible. These individuals claimed to have witnessed the emergence of creative Cosmic Consciousness from the Void or, conversely, its return into the Void and disappearance. Others experienced these two aspects of the Absolute simultaneously, identifying with the Cosmic Consciousness and, at the same time, recognizing its essential voidness. (pages 29-32)
When we reach experiential identification with Absolute Consciousness, we realize that our own being is ultimately commensurate with the entire cosmic network, with all of existence. The recognition of our own divine nature, our identity with the cosmic source, is the most important discovery we can make during the process of deep self-exploration. This is the essence of the famous statement found in the ancient Indian scriptures, the Upanishads: "Tat tvam asi." The literal translation of this sentence is "Thou art That," meaning "You are of devine nature" or "you are Godhead." It reveals that our everyday indentification with the "skin-encapsulated ego," embodied individual consciousness, or "name and form" (namarupa) is an illusion and that our true nature is that of cosmic energy (Atman-Brahman).
This revelation concerning the identity of the individual with the divine is the ultimate secret that lies at the core of all great spiritual traditions, although it might be expressed in somewhat different ways. ...
... Since in our true nature we are identical with the cosmic creative principle, we cannot assuage our cravings by pursuits in the material world, no matter what their nature and scope. Nothing short of the experience of mystical unity with the divine source will quench our deepest longing. (pages 38-40)
It is important to emphasize that the cosmology described in this book is not in conflict with the facts and observations of any scientific discipline. What is being questioned and challenged is the appropriateness of the philosophical conclusions drawn from these observations. The ideas in this book do not change any of the specifics described by materialistic science. They simply provide an overarching metaframework for the phenomena constituting consensus reality. According to the materialistic worldview, the universe is a mechanical system that essentially created itself and consciousness is an epiphenomenon of material processes. The findings of transpersonal psychology and consciousness research strongly suggest that the universe might be a creation of superior cosmic intelligence and consciousness an essential aspect of existence. (pages 267-268)
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