Sunday, August 25, 2013

Value of Psychedelic Experience (Alan Watts)

Wisdom Quarterly; Alan Watts, "The World as Emptiness" (The Vaults of Erowid,

Unsaintly Zen teacher Alan Watts (
This particular weekend seminar is devoted to Buddhism, and it should be said first that there is a sense in which Buddhism is Hinduism, stripped for export. 
Last week, when I discussed Hinduism, I discussed many things to do with the organization of Hindu society, because Hinduism is not merely what we call a "religion." It's a whole culture. It's a legal system, it's a social [caste] system, it's a system of etiquette, and it includes everything. It includes housing, it includes food, it includes art. 
This is because the Hindus and many other ancient peoples do not make, as we do, a division between religion and everything else. Religion is not a department of life; it is something that enters into the whole of it. But you see, when a religion and a culture are inseparable, it's very difficult to export a culture, because it comes into conflict with the established traditions, manners, and customs of other people.

Nature's sacred helpers: entheogens
So the question arises, what are the essentials of Hinduism that could be exported? And when you answer that, approximately you'll get Buddhism. [This is because the Buddha was the most revivifying force in the thought, teachings, and understanding of the very ancient dharma of the Vedas, known as Brahmanism in his day and later as Hinduism. As a great sage, Shakyamuni took the old staid teachings that had been recited for millennia and breathed new life into them.]
As I explained, the essential of Hinduism, the real, deep root, isn't any kind of doctrine, it isn't really any special kind of discipline, although of course disciplines are involved. The center of Hinduism is an experience called moksha, liberation, in which, through the dissipation of the illusion that each person is a separate thing in a world consisting of nothing but a collection of separate things, you discover that you are, in a way, on one level an illusion, but on another level, you are what they call "the self," the one self, which is all that there is. 
The universe [in Hindu and Mahayana Buddhist thought] is the game of the self, which plays hide and seek forever and ever. When it plays "hide," it plays it so well, hides so cleverly, that it pretends to be all of us, and all things whatsoever, and we don't know it because it's playing "hide."
But when it plays "seek," it enters onto a path of yoga ["union" with Brahman, the ultimate reality behind the illusion], and through following this path it wakes up, and the scales fall from one's eyes.

Now, in just the same way, the center of Buddhism [is] the really important thing about Buddhism -- the experience which they call "awakening."
Buddha is a title, and not a proper name. It comes from a Sanskrit root bhudh, and that means "to know," but better, "waking [up]." And so you get from this root "bodhi." That is the state of being awakened. And so "buddha" is "the awakened one," "the awakened person." And so there can, of course, in Buddhist ideas be very many buddhas.

The person called THE Buddha is only one of myriads [the historical one, the Shakyan Prince Siddhartha Gautama]. Because Buddhists, like the Hindus, are quite sure that our world is only one among billions, and buddhas come and go in the worlds.
But sometimes, you see, there comes into the world what you might call a "'big buddha," a very important one. And such a one is said to have been Guatama, the son of a king living in ancient northern India, in a part of the world we now call Nepal [or modern research is actually pointing to the northwest of the country to present-day Afghanistan], living shortly after 600 BCE.
All dates in Indian history are vague, and so I never try to get you to remember any precise date, like 564, which some people think it was, but I give you a vague date -- just after 600 BCE is probably right.
The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide (Fadiman)
Most of you, I'm sure, know the story of his life. Is there anyone who doesn't, I mean roughly? Okay. So I won't bother too much with that. But the point is that when, in India, a man was called a buddha, or THE Buddha, this is a title of a very exalted nature. It is first of all necessary for a buddha to be human. He can't be any other kind of being, whether in the Hindu scale of beings he's above the human state or below it.
He is superior to all gods [devas and brahmas], because according to Indian ideas, gods (brahmas) or angels (devas) -- "angels" are probably a better name for them than gods -- all those exalted beings are still in the Wheel of  Becoming (samsara), still in the chains of karma -- that is action that requires more action to complete it, and goes on requiring the need for more action. They're still, according to popular ideas, going 'round the Wheel of Life after life after life after life, because they still have the thirst for existence, or to put it in a Hindu way: In them the self is still playing the game of not being itself.

But the Buddha's doctrine, based on his own experience of awakening, which occurred after seven years of attempts to study with the various yogis of the time, all of whom used the method of extreme asceticism [and absorption-meditation or samadhi], fasting, doing all sort of exercises, lying on beds of nails, sleeping on broken rocks, any kind of thing to break down egocentricity, to become unselfish, to become detached, to exterminate greed for life [and sensuous delights].
But the Buddha found that all that was futile; that was not The Way. And one day [at death's doorstep from self-starvation] he broke his ascetic discipline and accepted a bowl of some kind of rice-milk soup from a girl who was looking after cattle. And suddenly in this tremendous relaxation, he went and sat down under a tree, and the burden lifted.
He saw, completely, that what he had been doing was on the wrong track. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. And no amount of effort will make a person who believes himself to be an ego be really unselfish. 
So long as you think, and feel, that you are a someone contained in your bag of skin, and that's all, there is no way whatsoever of your behaving unselfishly. Oh yes, you can imitate unselfishness. You can go through all sorts of the highly refined forms of unselfishness, but you're still tied to the Wheel of Becoming by the golden chains of your good deeds, as the obviously bad people are tied to it by the lead chains of their misbehavior....

So the bodhisattva (or being who vows to) saves all beings, not by preaching sermons to them, but by showing them that they are delivered, they are liberated, by the act of not being able to stop changing [yet being unable or unwilling to give up clinging].

You can't hang on to yourself. You don't have to try to not hang on to your "self." It can't be done, and that is salvation. That's why you may think it a grisly habit, but certain monsatics keep skulls on their desks, momento mori, to "be mindful of death."
Gurdjieff says in one of his books that the most important thing for anyone to realize is that you, and every person you see, will soon be dead. It sounds so gloomy to us, because we have devised a culture fundamentally resisting death. 
There is a wonderful saying that Anandakuri Swami used to quote: "I pray that death will not come and find me still unannihilated." In other words, that one dies happy if there is no one to die. 
In other words, if the ego's disappeared before death caught up to one [then there's no problem].  But you see, the knowledge of death helps the ego to disappear, because it tells you you can't hang on. So what we need, if we're going to have a good religion around, this is one of the places where it can start -- by having, I suppose they'd call it, The Institution For Creative Dying, or something like that.

You can have one department where you can have champagne and cocktail parties to die with, another department where you can have glorious religious rituals with priests and things like that, another department where you can have psychedelic substances, another department where you can have special kinds of music, anything, you know. 
All these arrangements will be provided for in a hospital for delightful dying. But that's the thing, to go out with a bang instead of a whimper. More

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