Saturday, June 3, 2017

reply to Vedanta guy on use of drugs for spiritual development

A member of the Vedanta Society recently asked a large group:
 One question. Do you think the experiences Rishis had in meditation are similar to those under psychedelic drugs even though most of them could not have taken these drugs? Your description of Mukti is much more general than Vedic concepts of liberation of soul etc. Well, quantum mechanics may not be a path to mukti! But it sounds like a bridge to non-sensory world. Though,  of course, the story is unfinished yet. Many people challenge even the existence of non-sensory world.

My reply:

Two years ago, during a lunch break in Udaipur, my wife (whose higher doctorate came from the Institute of Physiologically Active Compounds of the Russian Academy of Sciences) showed me and a fellow traveler involved in yoga an article in Smithsonian Magazine discussing the controversies about the new NIH protocols allowing administration of psilocybin to humans in research. It seems that this new research (and the debates informed by it) represent our best direct scientific knowledge right now.

In reaction to that article, my immediate knee-jerk response was to discuss a book (I think a thin book called "Thought Forms") by Annie Besant, where she said that the human mind contains natural protections which block inputs which we are not yet mentally prepared to make positive use of. To become open to those inputs, she recommended that we work hard and develop the kind of inner discipline and clarity (vivid, coherent  clarity) which prepares us to be able to benefit in a more positive way from the inputs; then, she argued, the inputs would come naturally. Forcing the inputs in, unnaturally, through any use of drugs, would not only violate nature but do more harm than good to the mind. This fits very well with the details of an important paper by Greeley and McReady ("Are we a nation of mystics", a summary of a large NSF-funded study of deep values of Americans, reprinted in the book 
Consciousness edited by Goleman available for about $1 now via Amazon) describing how many, many PhD Americans do have an experience with another level of consciousness, but recoil because of inability to cope with it constructively. It also fits with what I heard long, long ago from an MIT professor and teacher of Daoism, who said that many of their exercises are intended to produce readiness, not enlightenment; "enlightenment is easy," he claimed, "but not the ability to survive it." There is a Gopal Krishna who wrote a book on what happened after he raised kundalini, which fits the picture as well. 

The folks around me expressed great skepticism when I discussed another odd book in my collection, The Seven Lives of Annie Besant, which described how she served as a kind of teacher and mentor to Ghandi. However, when this simple Gate1 tour moved on to Mumbai, we not only saw the street named in her honor in that city, but we saw several of her books in the treasured book collection of Ghandhi. I wanted to send you a link to the photograph my wife took of the books in his library, but it would take more time digging into my blog than I can afford this morning.

One serious faction described in the Smithsonian article argued that the new protocols may prevent the terrible risks which accompany normal use of mind-altering drugs. People like Andrew Weil would probably say that some of the native cultures of earth have evolved similar effective protocols -- but human cultures morph and res[pond to political forces and wishful thinking in a way which tends to mutate any such disciplines, and we see really huge damage all over the planet due to persistent misuse of drugs even by people who have reason to think they know better.

I was also amused by some aspects of the movie "Men Who Stare at Goats," which has some basis in things which really happened (described in the book).

For myself, I would prefer to avoid serious risks in something so important. 

Quantum physics and related areas of physics (like dark matter and study of emergent phenomena in general) can help with
the core problem of natural readiness as Greeley depicts it. It is unfortunate that I have not seen major follow-on to some of the open research questions posed in Greeley's paper.

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