Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Psychedelic Experience (Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert)

A remarkable book that demystifies, clarifies, and engenders depth of understanding into the nature of human consciousness. This book is intended as a kind of road map for the experiences surrounding ego-death and rebirth. It has little to do with physical dying except that, according to Tibetan tradition, ego-death and rebirth also occur at physiological death. The purpose of working to experience these states is to gain understanding into the nature of consciousness through direct personal experience, and ultimately to liberate oneself from the confines of ordinary ego-consciousness.

This book not only has the effect of demystifying the Tibetan traditions, but also all religious traditions by placing them within the realm of consciousness expansion experiences. Religion becomes consciousness expansion with the individual selecting which religious or psychological model or metaphor is to be overlaid in an attempt to explain the experiences and draw a degree of coherency to them. The title of the book stresses the psychedelic nature of experience, but this book could just as easily been titled, "The Religious Experience," or "The Consciousness Expansion Experience."

It is the intent of the original Bardo Thodol, upon which this book is based, to light a pathway towards the exceedingly difficult task of permanent ego-death, otherwise known as 'liberation.' The use of psychedelics is only one way to bootstrap the process that temporarily plunges one's ego-consciousness into expanded or ego-loss states. Having entered the ego-loss state, the instructions contained in this book then act as guide to help prolong the experience and ease the inevitable return to more ordinary states of awareness or ego-consciousness. The whole process promises to intimately familiarize the voyager with the varieties of experience attendant after ego-loss or temporary ego-death. As the ego begins to reassert itself, experience then moves out of the transcendent and into the hallucinatory, and finally into the game-playing, re-entry and ego-rebirth stages. Recognition of the entire process in the midst of experience is key.

It may be worthwhile for the reader to make comparisons with the accounts of other documented psychedelic experiences (Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, et al.), in addition to the non-psychedelic experiences described by the famous twentieth century psychologist William James in his work entitled The Varieties of Religious Experience.

The book has a section dedicated to the review of commentaries for the original translation of the Bardo Thodol (translated by W. Y. Evans-Wentz) by Carl G. Jung, and Lama Anagarika Govinda. The book is organized into the following sections:

I. General Introduction
II. The Tibetan Book of the Dead
・First Bardo: The Period of Ego-Loss or Non-Game Ecstasy (Chikai Bardo)
・Second Bardo: The Period of Hallucinations (Chonyid Bardo)
・Third Bardo: The Period of Re-Entry (Sidpa Bardo)
III. Some Technical Comments about Psychedelic Sessions
IV. Instructions for use During a Psychedelic Session


This version of The Tibetan Book of the Dead is dedicated to

Aldous Huxley

July 26, 1894 – November 22, 1963 with profound admiration and gratitude.

"If you started in the wrong way," I said in answer to the investigator's questions, "everything that happened would be a proof of the conspiracy against you. It would all be self-validating. You couldn't draw a breath without knowing it was part of the plot."
"So you think you know where madness lies?"
My answer was a convinced and heartfelt, "Yes."
"And you couldn't control it?"
"No I couldn't control it. If one began with fear and hate as the major premise, one would have to go on to the conclusion."
"Would you be able," my wife asked, "to fix your attention on what The Tibetan Book of the Dead calls the Clear Light?"
I was doubtful.
"Would it keep the evil away, if you could hold it? Or would you not be able to hold it?"
I considered the question for some time. "Perhaps," I answered at last, "perhaps I could – but only if there were somebody there to tell me about the Clear Light. One couldn't do it by oneself. That's the point, I suppose, of the Tibetan ritual – somebody sitting there all the time and telling you what's what."

(Doors of Perception, 57-58)

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Jonathon Livingston Seagull (Richard Bach)

This is a wonderfully inspirational little book. Packed into a small space with important messages scattered throughout. There are, I think, a couple of key messages the book conveys in very simple and easy to understand allegory.

The first is the need for less regard for the overly critical opinions and judgments of society. These systems unfortunately serve to discourage real personal discovery and development. Our society tends to encourage individuals not to follow their dreams and instead become cogs of the machinery of established socioeconomic-political structures: "Do you have any idea how many lives we must have gone through before we even got the first idea that there is more to life than eating, or fighting, or power in the Flock?"

But perhaps the single most important message is the quest for personal knowledge and understanding. It seems one of the greatest things we can do with our lives is to cultivate a flexible, receptive, inquiring, and compassionate mind that is able to suspend judgment and criticism in order to see things with fresh eyes free of preconceived notions and ideas. And then pointing that penetrating vision at ourselves.

The book is split into three parts. In part one we have the quest, search, or struggle. In part two we have realization and higher knowledge. In part three we have sharing our discoveries and knowledge with others. In this division there are strong parallels to the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and his book The Hero's Journey.

The Great Gull said it best: "It's strange. The gulls who scorn perfection for the sake of travel go nowhere, slowly. Those that put aside travel for the sake of perfection go anywhere instantly."

A beautiful little book.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Awakening the Buddha Within: Eight Steps to Enlightenment (Lama Surya Das)

This book is a wonderful, practical approach to Buddhism with a distinctive Tibetan flavor that takes the study of Buddhism out of the monastic environment and into the real world. The book is written in a very casual, lucid, and concise style that makes the reader feel like s/he's participating in a transformative process that actually can be understood and directed. The author speaks the language of the modern Western world. Some section titles illustrate the point: "Getting Real, Becoming Clued In," "Better Late Than Never," "Avoiding Idiot Compassion." I've read a few books on Buddhism and would say this is by far the most accessible.

The title mentions eight steps: The Noble Eight-Fold Path. These steps are treated individually through a collection of insightful key ideas, fresh viewpoints, psychological tools and techniques, and personal anecdotes. The anecdotes especially give the book a kind of warmth and intimacy that allows the reader to relate to the author on a more personal level. The practical suggestions offered are based on personal life experience and are much easier to take as the author has clearly walked the walk.

Reading this book I found myself repeating things like "wow!", "amazing!" page after page in a seeming continuous stream. Insights galore. It embraces all the traditions of Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, culminating in Dogzchen. The author seems to describe a kind of evolution of Buddhism that moves from the more disengaged ascetic traditions in the Buddha's day to increasingly engaging life-affirming traditions that take everything we experience as a form of meditation: Krishnamurti's "choiceless awareness." Quite probably the best book on practical Buddhism for the modern Western world.



PART ONE: Discovering Ancient Wisdom in a Modern World

We are all Buddhas
A Tibetan Prophecy
Deconstructing the House that Ego Built

PART TWO: Walking the Eight–Fold Path to Enlightenment - The Heroic Journey

The Four Noble Truths

Wisdom Training: Seeing Things as They Are

・Step One: Right View – The Wisdom of Clear Vision
・Step Two: Right Intentions – Plumbing Your Wise Buddha-Nature

Ethics Training: Living a Sacred Life

・Step Three: Right Speech – Speaking the Truth
・Step Four: Right Action – The Art of Living
・Step Five: Right Livelihood – Work is Love Made Visible

Meditation Training: Awareness, Attention, and Focus

・Step Six: Right Effort – A Passion for Enlightenment
・Step Seven: Right Mindfulness – Keeping Your Eyes Open
・Step Eight: Right Concentration – The Joy of Meditation

Epilogue: Toward a Western Buddhism and Contemporary Dharma

Recommended Reading Index