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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

Mysticism in the World's Religions.

Parrinder, Geoffrey. (1976).
Oxford: Oxford University Press.

ISBN: 0-19-502185-1

Description: Paperback, viii + 210 pages.

Contents: 15 chapters divided into 4 parts: 1. The Meaning of Mysticism, 2. Mystical Monism, 3. Mystical theism, 4. Experience, select bibliography, index.

Excerpt(s): G. K. Chesterton is said to have remarked that syncretism is 'religion gone to pot.' With the modern interpretation of pot as drugs, this assertion could be applied to some claims to mystical experiences. The use of drugs to obtain different states of consciousness is very ancient, and has widespread interest today. It is important therefore to consider some drug experiences and whether it is correct to give them mystical interpretations. (page 175)

The experience of harmony with the universe is fairly common, though it generally looks at the brighter side of the world and neglects the suffering and evil that affect much of human life. It is a common criticism of mysticism in general that it is too optimistic, or self-centered, though some of the great mystics past and present have been active in the world, and one might instance Pope John XXIII and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

There is a natural reaction among religious people to suggestions that drugs or occult practices can provide experiences comparable with those of the great mystics. But comparability is not the same as identity, and mystics have generally taught that there are various stages on the path, from purgation from sin to the vision of God. The trouble nowadays is that there is much confusion generated by the notion that drug experience is the same as the mystical vision of God. Ideas of a world Force, an Absolute, or a Void are identified with belief in the personal God in whom theistic mystics believe. It has been well remarked that both doctrine and experience have been misinterpreted by those writers who identify them as all the same. (page 183)

Huxley's account of his experience is remarkable from several points of view. He had already written on religions and philosophies, yet now he says that before taking mescalin he had 'known contemplation only in its humbler, its more ordinary forms'. What he had written, therefore, of God, the Absolute, or the Buddha-nature had been simply intellectual, book-learning, with virtually no religious experience. But now he claims that by the use of a drug he has a vision of God, the Beatific Vision, which is the goal of Christian mystical striving. But he gives no account of it, and it would be rash to take his word at its face value. Huxley equates the Beatific Vision of the Christian mystic with the Absolute of Hindu philosophy, which is denoted by Being-Awareness-Bliss, and also with the Body of the Buddha which, he says, in the words of some Zen Buddhists 'was the hedge at the bottom of the garden'. But the confusion of thought, and the incongruous accounts given by Huxley, provide a real danger that the deeper matters with which he claimed to deal could be dismissed as nonsense. Far from being adopted to relieve the tedium of ordinary church services, by doses of mescaline as he suggested, the large claims of mysticism, if this is it, risk being dismissed out of hand.

It was the publication of Huxley's book which stimulated Zaehner to write his important Mysticism Sacred and Profane, for he says that he doubts whether he would have been rash enough to enter the field of comparative mysticism, but 'Huxley left us no choice'. Zaehner did not simply write but took mescalin himself, with almost opposite results to Huxley. His experiments were conducted in Oxford, under the direction of a doctor. Like Huxley, his sensations of color were intensified by the drug, but he disliked them, and even the apparent expansion and contraction of a rose window in Christ Church cathedral he found 'irritating'. Later looking at a picture of the Adoration of the Magi, he found it 'wildly amusing' and broke into uncontrollable laughter. The sight of a Persian rug produced the same effect. Zaehner's conclusion was that the experience was trivial, though it seemed hilariously funny. He felt that it was even 'anti-religious', in the sense that it did not conform to religious experience and , rather to his disappointment, the drug did not produce any kind of 'natural mystical experience'. (pages 178-179)

Muslim teachers like Junayd and Ibn 'Arabi differed widely, as the sin-obsessed Augustine differed form the world-affirming Thomas Traherne. But theistic mystics unite in believing that their experiences are not their own invention, they are the gift of God. They may be helped by physical aids, but they depend for their origination and their consummation on the God 'of whom, and through whom, and unto whom, are all things'. (pages 184-185)

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