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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


The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation: A Review of Contemporary Research with a Comprehensive Bibliography, 1931-1996

Murphy, Michael, and Donovan, Steven (1997).
Sausalito, CA: Institute of Noetic Sciences


ISBN: 0-943951-36-4 paperback

Description: Paperback, 2nd edition, x + 282 pages.

Contents: Preface, Introduction by Eugene Taylor, 4 chapters, endnotes, Bibliography of Meditation Research, About the authors, about Esalen, About the Institute of Noetic Sciences.

Excerpt(s): Preface

The present volume was published in its first edition in 1988 by Esalen Institute under the direction of Michael Murphy and Steven Donovan as part of Esalen's then newly founded institute for Exceptional Functioning. The second edition has been produced in collaboration with Esalen Institute, Marius Robinson, and the Institute of Noetic Sciences. It adds almost four hundred new entries to the original alphabetized bibliography, which now extends into the first months of 1996. (Preface, page ix)

The Americanization of Meditation

Ideas about Eastern meditative traditions began seeping into American popular culture even before the American Revolution through the various sects of European occult Christianity that transplanted themselves to such new settlements as Germantown and Ephrata in William Penn's "Holy Experiment," which he named Pennsylvania. Early framers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were influenced by teachings from mystical Sufism and the Jewish Kaballah through their membership in secret fraternities such as the Rosicrucians.

Asian ideas then came pouring in during the era of the transcendentalists, especially between the 1840s and the 1880s, largely influencing the American traditions of spiritualism, theosophy, and mental healing. ...

In general, by the late nineteenth century Americans appropriated Asian ideas to fit their own optimistic, pragmatic, and eclectic understanding of inner experience. ...

The World Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago in 1893, was the landmark event that increased Western awareness of meditation. ...

By then [early twentieth century], the idea of comparative religions had caught on as an academic field of inquiry in the universities. ...

During the 1920s, American popular culture was introduced to the meditative practices of the Hindu yogi Paramahansa Yogananda. ...

During World War Two, Huxley, Heard, and others became disciples of the meditation teacher Swami Prabhavananda, head of the Vedanta Society of Southern California. ...

Another momentous event introducing Asian ideas to the West was the arrival in 1941 of Heinrich Zimmer, Indologist and Sanskrit scholar, who had been a friend and confidant of C. G. Jung. Zimmer brought the young Joseph Campbell, comparative mythologist and folklorist, to the attention of the newly formed Bollingen Foundation. ...

The 1950s represented a major expansion of interest in both meditation and Asian philosophy. Frederic Speigelberg, a professor of comparative religions at Stanford, opened the California Institute of Asian Studies in 1951, which highlighted the work of the modern Hindu mystic and social reformer Sri Aurobindo Ghose. ...

It was also during this time that Michael Murphy first came under the influence of Speigelberg, was introduced to the teachings of Sri Aurobindo, and began the practice of meditation. With the assistance of Abraham Maslow, Alan Watts, Willis Harman, Aldous Huxley, George Leonard, and others, Murphy would soon collaborate with Richard Price to launch Esalen Institute, which quickly became the world's premier growth center for human potential.

During the same period of the early 1950s, with the help of Watts, D. T. Suzuki came from Japan to California and introduced Zen to a new generation of Americans. (pages 4-6)

What occurred next opened an entirely new era of popular interest in meditation. This was the confluence of three major cultural events in the 1960s: the psychedelic revolution, the Communist invasion of Asia, and the rise of the American counter-culture, especially in terms of widespread opposition to the Vietnam War.

By the early 1960s, mind-expanding drugs were being taken by a significant segment of the post-war baby boom, a generation which numbered some 40 million people born between 1945 and 1955 who came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This led young people in their teens and twenties to collectively open the doors of inward perception, experiment with alternative lifestyles, and question established cultural norms in Western society. An entire generation soon established their own alternative institutions which began to operate in defiance of traditional cultural forms still dominated by the ideology of their parents' generation. Subsequently, this was to have important political, economic, religious, and social consequences in the West, especially in the United States, as enduring but alternative cultural norms began to take root in the younger generation of the American middle class.

At the same time, the increased Soviet influence in India, the Cultural Revolution in China, the Communist Chinese takeover of Tibet and Mongolia, and the increased political influence of Chinese Communism in Korea and Southeast Asia were key forces that collectively set the stage for an influx of Asian spiritual teachers to the West. An entirely new generation of them appeared on the American scene and they found a willing audience of devotees within the American counter-culture. ...

As a result of such personalities, there has been a tremendous growth in meditation as a spiritual practice in the United States from the 1960s to the present. This phenomenon remains largely underestimated by the pundits of American high culture who see themselves as the main spokespersons for the European rationalist tradition in the New World. In the first place, from a socio-cultural standpoint, it is clear that from the 1920s to the 1960s Freudian psychoanalysis was the primary socially acceptable avenue through which artists, writers, and aficionados of modernism gained access to their own interior unconscious process.

For a new and younger generation of visionaries, however, psychoanalysis was soon replaced by psychedelic drugs as the primary vehicle for opening the internal doors of perception. This occurred as a result of experiments undertaken in military and university laboratories associated with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA was interested in developing mind-control drugs for potential use in psychological warfare. At the same time that the CIA began testing substances such as LSD on unsuspecting populations of soldiers, businessmen, and college students, some of these chemicals came into the hands of the scientific and medical community. Researchers themselves began ingesting mescaline and LSD. Soon, by the late 1950s and early 1960s, from the psychiatrists' couches in Hollywood to the hallowed halls of Harvard University, the youthful and educated elite of the American middle class began to experiment with psychedelics in ever-increasing numbers.

The counter-culture movement that followed was considered a revolution in consciousness, driven by mind-expanding drugs, as well as defined by spiritual teachings from Asian cultures, each creating the conditions for expansion of the other. As the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s subsided for the post-war baby boomers maturing into the 1970s, meditation, and all that it implied, then became fixed as an enduring ethic of that generation. The belief was that meditative practices not only cleansed the consciousness of psychedelics, and confirmed the commitment to pursuing alternative lifestyles, but they also informed the socio-cultural direction that the lives of many young people would soon take in establishing new and permanent forms of lifetime spiritual practice. Now, after thirty years, these developments have produced advanced Western practitioners, who themselves are qualified senseis, roshis, swamis, and tulkus. We know them as Ram Dass, Sivanada Radha, Jiyu Kennet Roshi, Maureen Friedgood, Jack Kornfield, Robert Frager, Richard Baker Roshi, and others. They have begun to teach these Asian traditions to Western audiences. In so doing, they are also participating in their modification by forming new lineages of meditation practice that, while informed by Asian influences, turn out to be uniquely Western. Such teachings are already being transmitted to a second and third generation of younger people in the United States and in Europe as well, altering irrevocably the shape and direction of spiritual life in contemporary Western culture.

Not the least of these influences has been renewed interest in the Western contemplative traditions. Examination of Western mystics has increased dramatically since the 1970s. ... There is also a case to be made for the idea that the fundamentalist revival in the Christian right has been a direct reaction to the larger upsurge of spirituality that has occurred in the American counter-culture.

Perhaps the most significant opportunity to arise out of the new stream of Western meditation practitioners has been heightened awareness of Asian cultures, especially in terms of their unique integrity and outlook. While the Judeo-Christian, Greco-Roman, Western European, and Anglo-American tradition continues to export its beliefs and values into other cultures on a grand scale, the Asian worldview is also fast asserting itself as a competing economic, political, and social force. But is a clash of world epistemologies inevitable? Perhaps. Meanwhile, Westerners within a new and younger generation have appeared who are fast becoming skilled interpreters of these non-Western traditions as legitimate worldviews in their own right. Their vehicle, the practice of meditation, could, instead of the predicted clash of cultures, potentially set the stage for an exchange of ideas between East and West that may yet turn out to be unprecedented in the history of Western thought. (Eugene Taylor, Introduction, pages 6-9)



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