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)

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