Author of the Month

Waking From Sleep: The Causes of Higher States of Consciousness (cont.)
By Steve Taylor

For many people, drug-induced awakening experiences have been the beginning of a spiritual journey, encouraging them to investigate Eastern spiritual traditions or more reliable and healthy consciousness-changing practices. This is what happened to the Harvard professor Richard Alpert, for example, who was one of the pioneers of research into psychedelics. He conducted experiments with psilocybin at Harvard University with Timothy Leary in 1962, and continued studying the effects of psychedelics even after he was expelled from the university. However, Alpert quickly became disillusioned with drugs, doubting that they could lead to permanent change, and travelled to India, where he learned yoga and meditation and took the name Ram Dass. He has spent the rest of his life exploring spiritual practices and teachings and spreading the wisdom he has found. And he has said himself that his experiments with psychedelics were the catalyst for his spiritual seeking.

On the other hand, using drugs as a spiritual technology may create a passive attitude, and a reluctance to make the long term disciplined effort which permanent transformation requires – as was the case with Ram Dass’ colleague Timothy Leary, whose pursuit of ‘chemical enlightenment’ degenerated into a life of self-indulgence. As the religious scholar Huston Smith put it, ‘Drugs appear to induce religious experiences: it is less evident that they can produce religious lives’

Article © Steve Taylor

Related book: Waking From Sleep

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