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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

Psychedelic Reflections.

Grinspoon, Lester, and Bakalar, James. B. (Editors). (1983).
New York: Human Sciences Press.

ISBN: 0-89885-129-7

Description: First edition, 265 pages.

Contents: Acknowledgments, contributors, introduction, 19 chapters divided into 4 parts: I. History and Patterns of Psychedelic Drug Use; II. Social and Personal Uses of Psychedelic Drugs, A Note on Adverse Effects; III. Psychedelic Drugs in Psychiatry; IV. Psychedelic Drugs and the Study of the Mind; afterword, index.

Contributors: Jan Bastiaans, Walter Houston Clark, Esh, Stanislav Grof, Timothy Leary, Jon Lomberg, Thomas B. Roberts, Alexander Shulgin, Charles T. Tart, Frances E. Vaughan, Andrew T. Weil, Norman Zinberg.

Excerpt(s): A most striking feature of my psychedelic experience was the noetic quality of consciousness as it expanded from its usual perceptual range to a vast contextual awareness that recognized the relativity of all perception in space/time. I find the term re-cognize particularly appropriate, since the knowledge that was suddenly revealed to me under LSD seemed to be remembered rather than learned. ...

During the experience, I felt I understood what mystics throughout the ages have claimed to be the universal truth of existence. ... The perennial philosophy and the esoteric teachings of all time suddenly made sense ... My understanding of mystical teaching both Eastern and Western, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and Sufi alike, took a quantum leap. I became aware of the transcendental unity at the core of all the great religions, and understood for the first time the meaning of ecstatic states.

I now felt I had had some direct experience of the ineffable realms of union with God, and I discovered that my dissatisfaction with conventual religion was not due to the death of God, as some theologians proclaimed, but rather to the impoverished concepts of God currently in vogue. Whether one spoke of God, the Void, or the Self, Being, Bliss, or Consciousness, did not matter, for the words were so far removed from the experience that they were only fingers pointing to the moon ...

I felt that I had now experienced the grace of God. ... I could understand why human beings throughout history have relentlessly pursued truth and sought enlightenment. I knew now why some felt impelled to sit in caves for years trying to become enlightened, why some were willing to die for ideals, and why suffering was endured. If asceticism were perceived as a means of attaining this state of oneness, I could understand why a person might choose it. I understood that the essence of my being was identical with the timeless essence of every living thing, that formlessness was the essence of form, that the whole universe was reflected in every psyche, and that my separateness was only an illusion, a dream from which I had, in this moment, fully awakened. (Frances Vaughan, Perception and Knowledge: Reflections on Psychological and Spiritual Learning in the Psychedelic Experience, pages 109-110)

How, then, can we get a picture of the effects of psychedelics when they are used for personal exploration and psychological growth? One approach suggested by Abraham Maslow, but as yet apparently untried in the area of psychedelics, is to ask people who are exceptionally healthy and use them as bioassayers. Maslow's technique was to identify those individuals who seemed to be most fully actualizing their potentials , he called them self-actualizers ... I was able to interview in depth five of the very healthiest Westerners who fit Maslow's criteria and are also successful and eminent in their disciplines. ...

These four men and one woman ... all have university degrees; three are psychologists, and the other two are sophisticated psychologically. Four are teachers, either of psychology or of one of the consciousness disciplines such as meditation of Buddhism. All have strong national reputations, and most have international reputations; all have published at least one book. I included the criterion of professional eminence in order to insure that the people were competent and would not be dismissed as irresponsible or as dropouts of any sort.

Personal Experience Each of these five people has had multiple psychedelic experiences. For three of them the psychedelic experience was crucial in arousing their interest in the consciousness disciplines and directing their professional careers. A fourth received LSD for the first time as part of a legitimate research experiment during the sixties, had a deep religious experience which affirmed and deepened previously dormant interests and values. All five report that the psychedelics have been important in their growth, and that they continue to find them useful in the context of their own discipline. On the average, they continue to use them two or three times per year, but all have gone for extended periods without use.

All agreed that they are very powerful tools and that the effects depend very much on the person who uses them and the skill with which they are used. They took it as self-evident that there are many people who should not take psychedelics, especially anyone with significant psychological disturbances ...

Possible Benefits The first benefit was the simple recognition that there are realms of experience, modes of self, and states of consciousness far beyond the ken of our day-to-day experience or our traditional cultural and psychological models ...

For all five of the subjects mentioned here, and many of their students, psychedelic experience produced a new interest in depth psychology, religion, spirituality, and consciousness, as well as related disciplines and practices such as meditation ... In particular, the esoteric core of the great religions and spiritual traditions could be seen as roadmaps to higher states of consciousness, and some of the most profound material in these traditions became especially clear and meaningful during psychedelic sessions. Several of the subjects reported that they often put time aside during psychedelic sessions to listen to tapes or readings from these traditions; they found these experiences particularly important. This is compatible with the Eastern claim that "Religion is learning in which a basic requirement is `First change your consciousness.'" ( Psychedelics and Self-Actualization, pages 116-117)

Traps and Complications ... Not one of the five subjects saw the psychedelics as constituting in and of themselves a path which could lead to deep levels of psychological-spiritual growth of true enlightenment. ... Interestingly, the subjects did not see acute painful reactions, such as anxiety attacks or fear of losing control, as necessarily adverse. ... Hedonism was mentioned as one of the traps ... there is some danger of not recognizing a fantasy for what it is ... the tendency to overestimate the profundity and long-term impact of insights which may be mistaken for profound awakenings. ... An inadequate cognitive framework or context was also mentioned as a limiting factor. ... One subject thought the main disadvantage of psychedelics is the tendency to underestimate one's own role in creating the resultant experiences. ... One trap for people with limited experience, the subjects said, is a failure to appreciate the enormous range of potential experiences and the tendency to assume that all sessions will be like the first. (Roger Walsh, Chapter 10, Psychedelics and Self-Actualization, pages 118)

One of the people we asked to write for this book replied that after long thought he had to decline, because he feared the effect on his ability to support himself and his family if he said what he really thought about psychedelic drugs. This may be an unusually strong expression of a feeling that is more common in milder forms. Anyone, whatever his views on the drugs themselves, ought to recognize that it is an unhealthy situation in a free society. Even if this kind of fear is not common-even if it is not justified-the fact that it exists at all suggests something seriously wrong in our social response to psychedelic drugs. They were once regarded by some as the great liberating force of our time, the destined sacrament of the Aquarian Age, and by others as a threat to sanity and civilized society. In the last 10 years, since the end of the psychedelic craze, they have been neglected almost entirely. All these attitudes, as the essays in this anthology suggest, are wrong, but apparently they can still affect people's actions to the point of self-censorship. (Afterword, page 253)

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