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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

Exploring Mysticism: A Methodological Essay.

Staal, Frits. (1975).
Berkeley: University of California Press.

ISBN: 0-520-02726-4

Description: Hardcover, xx + 230 pages.

Contents: Description of illustrations, preface, introduction, 14 chapters divided into 3 parts: I. The Alleged Irrationality of Mysticism, II. How Not to Study Mysticism, III. How to Study Mysticism, Appendix: Hallucinogens in the Rgveda and Other Matters, glossary, bibliography, index.

Excerpt(s): While reports of miracles are quite common in the major religions, the attitudes toward them vary a great deal. Going from West to East, the reactions to drugs change as well. In Islam, certain mystics, possibly under Indian influence, began in the thirteenth century to use hashish, coffee, and opium as stimulants. The orthodox disapproved of this, and also of the contemplation of handsome boys as an aid to mystical contemplation. ... it is in addition well known that later the yogins sometimes used bhang (Cannabis sativa), datura, and other drugs. The Buddhists, who did not encourage the search for miraculous powers which might detract from the quest for nirvana, still describe them in detail, ... In Taoism, especially in its later developments, mystics did not feel hampered by religious, moral, or social disapproval, and freely engaged in experiments with drugs and chemical substances, especially cinnabar.

If we want to follow Pantanjali's lead in the Yogasutra, and Vasubandhu's in the Abhidharmakosa, it would seem safe to conclude that drugs may assist in the bringing about of certain results, which can also be reached by other methods of training, such as meditation. That these results are the only "mystical experiences" that exist does not at all follow, or even seem likely. Moreover, there are cultural and individual factors to be taken into account, and a person who has a nirvana-like experience after taking a drug need not have that experience only because he took the drug. Here, as elsewhere, the transition from post hoc to proper hoc is not automatic. (pages 163-164)

It is not surprising that the religious use of drugs has not met with the approval of religious establishments. Institutionalized religions are not so much concerned with the religious or mystical experience of individuals, as with society, ethics, morality and the continuation of the status quo. One of the ways to make ethical actions palatable and even desirable is to show that they are meritorious. By extrapolation, they are claimed to contribute to the highest realization of the religious life, which is often regarded as a mystical vision. But the mere ingestion of a drug can hardly be considered meritorious, so how could it lead to such an exalted state? (page 165)

But the analogy between a pilgrimage, a hike, and a mystical journey provides at any rate an additional reason for emphasizing the distinction between the physical state of a mystic insofar as it is induced by drugs or meditation, and his mental and subjective state, (which may have other physical correlates as well). ... In general, the parallels and differences between drug-induced experiences and the states of mind reached through meditation or other mystical exercises deserves close experiential study. Even if the differences turn out to be fundamental, the known similarities require an explanation. But one should not imagine that significant results will be reached unless psychological and cultural variables are taken into account, and unless we begin to understand these experiences themselves. (pages 166-167)

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