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Council on Spiritual Practices

LSD, Man & Society.

DeBold, Richard C., and Leaf, Russell C. (Editors) (1967).
Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

ISBN: none

Description: Hardcover, xii + 219 pages.

Contents: Introduction, 12 chapters, contributors.

Contributors: Frank Barron, Neil L. Chayat, Richard C. DeBold, Nicholas J. Giarman, Murry E. Jarvik, Milton H, Joffe, Albert A. Kurland, Russell C. Leaf, Donald B. Louria, Walter N. Pahnke, Dominick P. Purpura.

Excerpt(s): Dosage appears to be a crucial variable. Each individual has his own range of tolerance and response to any drug, and no absolute figures can be quoted. In the low dose range, for most people, below 200 [micrograms] of LSD, the probability is great for the emergence of aesthetic, cognitive and psychodynamic experience. At somewhere between 200 [micrograms] and 400 [micrograms] of LSD, there appears to be a critical level beyond which psychedelic mystical experience becomes possible, which can be compared to the minimal amount of thrust needed for a rocket to launch itself into orbit. Psychotic experiences are possible at any dosage level, but are much more probable at the higher doses. (pages 64-65).

Pratt, for example, divides religion into four kinds or aspects, of which the mystical is only one, the other three being the traditional, the rational and the practical or moral. Even when quite emotionally meaningful, participation in a particular religion by observing religious laws, through intellectual belief in a certain creed or theology or in institutional membership and attendance at rites and rituals may not result in or be the product of mystical experience.

On the other hand, all mystical experience is not necessarily religious. Again much depends upon how one chooses to define religion. If one makes the concept of a "personal God" central to the definition of religion, many forms of mystical experience may occur outside the framework of any formal religion with no reference to an articulated theology.

The problem is by-passed or merely indicated, rather than solved, by broadening the definition of religion to include any experience that would qualify as mystical by our criteria. Tillich, for example, considers an experience religious when it gives ultimate meaning, structure and direction to human experience, or when one is concerned "ultimately." Better, perhaps, is Huston Smith's definition in an unpublished address. He has defined as a religious experience one that elicits from the experiencer a centered response from the core of his being. (pages 68-69)

The first is the experience of a Christian ministerial student who took a compound from the psilocybin series in a carefully controlled experiment that was conducted in a German research institute under the supervision of an experimenter who was not particularly interested in mystical experiences.

I hesitate to attempt a summary of my drug experience as I am acutely aware of the inability of linguistic symbols to contain, or even accurately reflect, the dynamics of "mystic" consciousness. In the words of the Russian poet Tyutchev, I feel as though "A thought that's spoken is a lie". To seek to condense any of my experiences into words is to distort them, rendering them finite and impure. In so acknowledging the profound ineffability of my experience, I am not trying to write poetry although in the final analysis this may well be the only possible means of verbal expression but intend only to convey the feelings of frustration and futility with which I begin this report.

Now, four days after the experience itself, I continue to feel a deep sense of awe and reverence, being simultaneously intoxicated with an ecstatic joy. This euphoric feeling . . . . includes elements of profound peace and steadfastness, surging like a spring from a depth of my being which has rarely, if ever, been tapped prior to the drug experience. The spasmodic nature of my prayer life has ceased, and I have yielded to a need to spend time each day in meditation which, though essentially open and wordless, is impregnated by feelings of thanksgiving and trust. This increased need to be alone is balanced by what I believe to be a greater sensitivity to the authentic problems of others and a corresponding willingness to enter freely into genuine friendships. I possess a renewed and increased sense of personal integration and am more content simply to "be myself" than previously.

. . . Relatively soon after receiving the drug, I transcended my usual level of consciousness and became aware of fantastic dimensions of being, all of which possessed a profound sense of reality.

. . . It would seem more accurate to say that I existed "in" these dimensions of beings as I had not only transcended my ego, but also the dichotomy between subject and object.

It is meaningful to say that I ceased to exist, becoming immersed in the ground of Being, in Brahman, in God, in "Nothingness," in Ultimate Reality or in some similar religious symbol for Oneness....

The feelings I experienced could best be described as cosmic tenderness, infinite love, penetrating peace, eternal blessing and unconditional acceptance on one hand, and on the other, as unspeakable awe, overflowing joy, primeval humility, inexpressible gratitude and boundless devotion. Yet all of these words are hopelessly inadequate and can do little more than meekly point towards the genuine, inexpressible feelings actually experienced. (pages 69-70).

In the meantime there is an increasing need for organized religion to consider the impact of the psychedelic religious movement. If instead of the collapse of a fad, as some predict, there is continued interest, growth and enthusiasm, what might be the effect on religion in America? Persons having had powerful psychedelic mystical experiences may well feel that organized religion, in contrast, is moribund and irrelevant to their needs. Such a trend could be perceived as a threat, and the churches might feel a need to encourage suppression of psychedelic drugs. On the other hand, it can be speculated that with an imaginative and creative approach to an increasing amount of mystical experience, revitalization of religious life in the churches could occur. The churches could help people to integrate such profound experiences with the aid of meaningful and appropriate religious symbols. Such people do tend to talk about their drug experiences in religious terms. In our experimental work with divinity students and ministers, those who had a meaningful religious framework were much helped in using positive psychedelic experiences to understand their faith more existentially. (Pahnke, "LSD and Religious Experience," Chapter 5, page 77).

Compilation copyright © 1995 – 2001 CSP

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