Nature and scientific laboratories alike produce a vast supply of chemicals which are capable of altering man’s consciousness. The average “straight” American adult consumes three to five of these mind-altering drugs in the course of each day, and they therefore play an important part in determining the structure of contemporary society. Some social groups, for example, function in coffee consciousness, others in beer consciousness, and still others in psychedelic consciousness.
Basically, contemporary society is divided into two. One group, comprised mainly of the middle-aged, uses such drugs as alcohol, cigarettes and tranquilizers, while the younger generation has more generally adopted marijuana, LSD, mescaline, and various other psychedelics. The older drug users generally prefer “depressants,” drugs which tend to limit and decrease consciousness; and, according to their standard of morality, the use of such drugs is perfectly acceptable. Doctors, lawyers, clergymen, politicians, teachers—all the supposedly respectable leaders of society set the example, and the masses follow along with them. Until recently, this social group seemed to be so firmly established, along with its social mores, that it represented the only “sane,” “realistic” and “respectable” members in our modern civilization.
However, during the past few years a psychedelic revolution has been taking place. The world’s youth has turned to a group of drugs which tend to expand consciousness rather than limit it, and which produce a stimulating rather than sedative effect. As may be expected, this new type of drug produces a whole new social outlook, which is directly challenging the established social order. The establishment, in turn, is fighting back in an effort to keep from being toppled over.
In a lecture before the American Psychological Symposium, one of the foremost spokesmen for the new drug movements, William S. Burroughs, said: “Alcohol is a sedative drug similar in action to barbiturates. Yet because of purely verbal associations we do not think of alcohol as being a drug because it is our national drug.” This statement is supported by the fact that 93 million adult American citizens drink, and six million of them are confirmed alcoholics. The per capita consumption of alcoholic beverages in the U. S. today is approximately 24 gallons per year.
Establishment people are quick to point out the dangers, real or imagined, of drugs like LSD and marijuana, while at the same time ignoring the dangers of alcohol. Yet every year drinking takes a toll of 25 thousand lives on the American highway and causes a million injuries. What’s more, the most common example of psychosis in connection with drugs is not caused by LSD or marijuana, but is the permanent breakdown caused by excessive use of alcohol, which accounts for no fewer than 20% of the patients in U. S. mental hospitals. Furthermore, facts show that 50% of our prison population committed its crimes while drunk. Thus, while there is a direct connection between alcohol and crime, there is so far no evidence that psychedelic drugs have similar effects.
Smoke From The Bottomless Pit
In 1604, James I, King of England, tagged smoking, “a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fumes thereof nearest resembling the horrible stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.” Today some 60 million Americans smoke millions of pounds of tobacco every year at a cost of about $9 billion. Tobacco is taken primarily, of course, in the form of cigarettes (528 billion consumed each year), which are supplemented by pipe tobacco, cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco. In spite of an anti-smoking campaign in the U. S. in recent years—a result of quite conclusive evidence linking cigarette smoking to a variety of diseases—there has been little progress made in stopping the habit. This is largely due to the fact that all of $232 million were spent on television advertisements alone last year, not to mention various other media, in order to promote smoking.
Caffeine is another very popular intoxicant. Americans consume coffee at the rate of seventeen pounds per year for every man, woman and child in the nation. This amounts to millions of pounds of pure caffeine. In addition, sedatives, stimulants and tranquilizers are used by about 20 million Americans, most of whom are members of the upper and middle classes, and most over thirty.
The Nature Of Narcotic Drugs
In order to see this subject more clearly, we should consider anything which is more than the basic requirement for maintaining a healthy body to be a narcotic drug. Of course, this would include baseball, television, chewing gum, and quite a good deal more that we tend to think of as harmless if not actually beneficial. But our radical definition of narcotics must be evaluated from the spiritual rather than the material point of view.
Generally speaking, Americans have been trained to think of “narcotic” as meaning “addictive.” The dictionary definition, however, classifies as narcotic anything which, in small doses, causes relief or stimulation, but which in excess results in stupefaction, indolence, lethargy, coma or convulsions. Narcotic drugs are therefore necessarily associated with the abnormal and unhealthy condition of the body. They are used either to relieve pain, which is itself abnormal, or to create an abnormal state of consciousness in an otherwise healthy organism.
But the very meanings of such terms as “normal” and “healthy” must now come into question. For, according to the scriptural sources which offer the science of spiritual self realization to us, our true and original identity is that of pure spirit soul. It is the spiritual platform of awareness that is, therefore, the “normal” and “healthy” state for the living being. By the terms of such a transcendental definition of self, we who exist in the material world, under the material conception of life, are conditioned spirit souls, drugged by the body itself, and thus made to forget who we are. At some point we start identifying with the body and its desires, and thus we become more and more intoxicated by material Nature as we try satisfying the demands of the senses. So, quite factually; we are all drugged.
People of advanced intelligence ordinarily try regaining their original unconditioned consciousness, and, according to those who have succeeded, this is a state of unalloyed ecstasy, in which there is no need for any kind of intoxication. The great mystics, incarnations, sages and religious leaders throughout the ages have never used drugs in their spiritual undertakings, nor advocated their adherents taking them.
However, today’s young have turned to such chemicals for spiritual awakening. They have grown up in a materially prosperous and secure society, which has been unable all the same to satisfy them. The young have looked upon the pleasures of their parents’ generation and its whole social structure as dry and empty, and have searched elsewhere for fulfillment. And they have discovered psychedelic drugs. Psychedelics (literally, “mind-manifesting”) are not new. They have been known for centuries. Peyote and “magic” mushrooms were used by the American Indians since before the time of Columbus, and there is even mention of a beverage called soma in the ancient Vedic civilization of India, whose antiquity can hardly be calculated. Both young and old are now, as they have been always, looking for pleasure. They are going about it in different ways, with varying means, varying outlooks, and varying results—but the basic principle of pleasure beyond the ordinary or “normal” confines of bodily material existence remains constant. What’s more, this constant pleasure principle holds true not only for humanity. In Robert S. de Ropp’s famous book, “Drugs and the Mind,” he describes some experiments which have been conducted using rats with electrodes embedded in the pleasure and pain areas of the brain. This involves the use of an arrangement called a Skinner box, and Dr. James Olds has described the results of these experiments as follows: Electrical stimulation in some of the regions of the hypothalamus actually appeared to be far more rewarding to the animals than an ordinary satisfier such as food. For example, hungry rats ran faster to reach an electric stimulator than they did to reach the food. Indeed, a hungry animal often ignored available food in favor of the pleasure of stimulating itself electrically. Some rats with electrodes in these places stimulated their brains more than 2,000 times per hour for 24 consecutive hours!
According to the great Vedic writings, human life is meant not simply to find mechanical ways of stimulating various areas of the brain (which is itself only an instrument of consciousness), but is meant for reaching the ultimate spiritual ecstasy, which is transcendental to all material conditions.
An example of such spiritual ecstasy and its transcendence over material conditions is found in the life of the great saint, Haridas Thakur. Haridas was sentenced by the governor of his province to be whipped in all 24 streets of the town until dead. He was given this cruel punishment because he was himself a Moslem, but had taken up the practice of chanting the Holy Names of the Lord: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Both the Moslem priests and the caste brahmins were jealous of him, and looked upon him as a renegade from his own sect. Two brutelike men were given the job of whipping him, and they beat him severely in all the ordained 24 streets.
Haridas, during all this, went on with his chanting, and experienced great ecstasy. He was completely oblivious to any physical suffering because his consciousness was fixed on the spiritual platform, which is far beyond the physical, and is unaffected by it. In the end, he went on to continue his work of chanting in devotional service, and the attempt to destroy him failed.
According to great saints such as Haridas Thakur, real pleasure is not to be found in the whole of this material creation. In comparison with spiritual blias, all that we know here is suffering. Our situation is compared to that of a man stranded in the middle of the ocean, swimming very hard to keep from being dragged under by the big waves. He naturally thinks of how much he is suffering. Then, when the waves calm down and he doesn’t have to struggle so hard, he may think he’s enjoying. Actually, of course, this is not enjoyment . It is simply a less intense form of suffering, since he is still stranded in the middle of the ocean.
The Quest For Ecstasy
Many users of psychedelic drugs are, without question, sincerely looking for a way to get out of this ocean of material misery. They want to make a permanent solution to all their problems. And this, after all, is the primary occupation of the human being, as is declared in all the great scriptures of the world. Human life is not meant for working hard in factories, going to meaningless baseball games, or dumbly watching a television screen. It is meant for finding out such things as who you are, what the purpose of your life is, what God is, and what your relationahip with God is. Human life begins to reach fulfillment only when this stage of inquiry is attained. Few enough know what questions to ask in order to get the ultimate answers.
According to the Vedic sources, until a person starts looking for the answers which will make a final solution to all the problems of life such as birth, death, disease and old age—he is actually no better than an animal. Man and the animals have four principles in common—eating, sleeping, mating and defending. The thing that is uniquely man’s, however, and which differentiates him from the animals, is his highly developed consciousness. Before attaining the human form of life, the spirit soul passes through birth in eight million other species. As it progresses through the stages of evolution, its consciousness and intelligence grow. And, in the civilized human form of life the final stage of evolution is arrived at. This great achievement should surely not be wasted on mere animalistic sense enjoyment, but should be used for final and ecstatic spiritual realization.
The modern forms of Judaeo-Christian faith in the West have failed to satisfy youth’s desire for direct communion with God. Therefore, many of the young have turned to drugs as the key to spiritual awareness. Most members of the psychedelic movement do consider it religious, and a number of groups have incorporated as churches. One thing is certain—the movement is large and ever-growing . There is no lack of people looking for pleasure through drugs and willing to experiment in their quest. Authorities estimate that over ten million Americans have used marijuana, peyote, and LSD. Most of these are in the high school and college age groups. According to United Nations statistics, in 1951 there were 200 million marijuana users throughout the world—a number equal to the entire population of the U.S.A. Yet marijuana has only really become popular in the ‘Sixties, and what astronomical figures represent the 1969 usage can only at this point be guessed.
The great souls whose teachings form the basis of the world’s authoritative religions have always maintained that the body is a source of pain and suffering. The Bhagavad Gita, one of the most important books on the science of ecstasy, describes the soul as Sat-chit-ananda, a form which is eternal, full of knowledge, and full of bliss. Somehow or other we in the material world have fallen into Maya, illusion, and are accepting something which is false in place of reality The body is not the true identity of the living being, but we foolishly accept it as ourselves. Therefore, when the body is hungry we think we are hungry, and when the body is in pain we think we are in pain. This is the material concept of life. When we break with the false ego, the interknitting junction between spirit and matter, then we are liberated from the threefold miseries—miseries caused by the body and the mind, by other living entities, and by natural phenomena.
Drugs such as LSD may sometimes help to break this false identification with the body, but the chemically-induced state of “ego loss” does not last for very long. Such at least is the program for a “trip” outlined in “The Psychedelic Experience,” a classic “manual based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead” by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert, three of the early leaders of the psychedelic movement. Furthermore, the process of ego loss does not necessarily lead one to positive knowledge of who or what he really is. Some therefore identify with the mind, which is the subtle material body, and others think they are God, while still others think that they are nothing—Void. Most cannot see beyond the interplay of cells, molecules, atoms, DNA, and the nervous system, because it is precisely the material senses, and not the spiritual, which are affected by drugs.
It is a popular theory in the psychedelic movement that everything is merely an extension of the body, mind, or nervous system. “It’s all one” is the common phrase. Actually, this is true. Everything is one in the sense that everything emanates from one source, Krishna, and it is His energy which is acting in various ways, according to His direction. However, although everything is one, we find within this one infinite amounts of variegatedness and individuality. We are all individual spiritual living entities, scattered throughout the material creation. Constitutionally we are parts and parcels of Krishna, the Supreme Whole. We therefore have the same qualities as Krishna, but we possess them in very minute quantities, while He possesses them in full.
Now, complete bliss is one of Krishna’s qualities. He is known as the Reservoirof all pleasure, and by establishing contact with Him through service the living entity can regain his own natural state of bliss. This ecstasy is eternal. When achieved, there is no coming down again to the material platform of existence. Such a state of supreme consciousness is not available through artificial means. In The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that He can only be reached through devotion.
The recommended method for reviving this natural, forgotten attitude of devotion to Krishna is to chant His Names: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This mantra, when properly chanted, immediately raises one to the spiritual plafform, and puts the living entity in direct touch with the Supreme Lord. Krishna is a Person, but He is present everywhere. Just as there is fire potentially present in wood, so Krishna is suffused throughout His creation. We simply have to know how to find Him. It’s really very simple. When we call His Name, He comes.
On a successful LSD trip a person may think he has reached the Godhead. Sometimes, as is detailed in the Book of the Dead, a person will reach the “Clear Light,” which is described in the Vedic texts as Krishna’s glowing bodily effulgence, called the “Brahmajyoti.” This effulgence permeates the whole spiritual sky, just as the sunshine permeates this whole universe. Realization—that is, direct perceptual experience—of the Clear Light is devoid of all variegatedness, however, and such a state of consciousness is therefore very unnatural for a living being who is eternally individual and who is accustomed to varieties for enjoyment. A person can remain in the Clear Light for short periods of time, but then he must come down again to the material platform in order to experience the varieties required for full enjoyment. In this sense, of course, the Clear Light itself becomes no more than a “variety,” a change from ordinary consciousness. It is a “high,” but not a final, unending or supreme state of ecstasy. The only way to remain permanently fixed on the spiritual plane is through realization of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Through this realization we can experience spiritual variegatedness, which is said to be far beyond any impersonal realization of the Godhead.
In order to achieve this topmost realization, it is necessary to have the guidance of a spiritual master who is a bona fide representative of Krishna. The psychedelic movement does not have such leaders qualified in the devotional line. Quite the contrary, these members of the psychedelic movement have, in the final analysis, practically nothing to offer mankind. They themselves have to continue taking drugs in order to feel any ecstasy. Their state of bliss is, after all, a temporary intoxication which one has to pay money for. How spiritual can it be? True spiritual ecstasy is both eternal and free to everyone.
Dr. Sidney Cohen, another major figure in the drug movement, has suggested that religious experience may one day be redefined as “a dyssynchromy of the reticular formation of the brain.” This is the rather peculiar direction in which scientists are heading. They conduct experiments involving psychedelic drugs, and then they try fitting the results to suit their needs. Because a drug may allow someone to experience something different from “normal” consciousness, the scientists conclude that the experience is, in the first place, due entirely to the drug, and, in the second, that it is equivalent to the religious ecstasies of the mystics and saints.
In his book, “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” William James took note of exactly this point when he wrote: “Medical materialism finishes up Saint Paul by calling his vision on the road to Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipital cortex, he being an epileptic.” In this way scientists with an atheistic bias have tried to rule out the existence of a transcendent God Who exists beyond all material concepts, by holding the very evidence of direct confrontation with God to be no more than a chemical aberration within the body—in other words, an hallucination.
Even the argument against the validity of drug experiences can be questioned. As one thinker has pointed out, simply because we see something through a window doesn’t mean the window caused the view. Similarly, psychedelic drugs may often open a window in the mind to let us see what is already there. However, it is only through Krishna’s Grace that one can actually have full knowledge of what lies outside that window. And He may choose to reveal Himself or not, without reference to drugs or the laws of Nahure.
Timothy Leary, self-styled “high priest” of the psychedelic movement, has written: “a final comment about the disciplined yoga of psychedelic drugs. They are not shortcuts: they do not simplify. They answer no questions; they solve no problems.” What value they can have, then, aside from the pleasure-giving potency present in such other narcotics as tobacco and alcohol, must come into question. On the other hand, the standard system of devotional service is the shortest and simplest method for reaching God. It does answer all questions and solve all problems.
Ecstasy And The Law
Legislation will never be successful in stopping people from using drugs, because there is a basic human need for pleasure. The pleasure derived from drugs, quite apparently, is greater than most people’s fear of the law. Whether people are running to or from reality is not important for the law to consider. The important thing is that people are looking for pleasure. Whether it be through beer, pot, coffee, LSD, baseball or television, the basic need is the same. To condemn one form of intoxication and not another is mere hypocrisy.
Millions of dollars are spent every year to induce people to drink liquor and smoke cigarettes, while millions are spent elsewhere to stop people from using psychedelics. Both pursuits could well be abandoned for the general benefit of mankind.
With the insight which transcendental devotional service to God provides, it is possible to create a far wiser and more effective system of law than now exists—one which could actually solve (imagine it!) the problems of our day. Such laws should be designed to curb the desire within the people for using drugs, rather than simply to repress and prohibit their actions. Instead of legislating negatively, there should be positive legislation to encourage the propagation of Krishna or God consciousness. Krishna Consciousness, devotional service, burns out the desire to use any kind of drug because it provides everyone with the natural and unbounded ecstasy of love of God. Everything and anything that falls short of this endeavor may be found lumped together in the teachings of the Vedas under a single heading: ignorance.