Drug-induced mysticism

In a pile of magazines here in our archive at Jot HQ we found a copy dated Summer 1964 of the Tomorrow magazine cover 001magazine Tomorrow, which was devoted to ‘parapsychology, cosmology and traditional studies’. In it a review of Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception, which had originally appeared in Asia ten years before, reopens the dispute as to whether an artificially induced state of transcendence is equivalent in quality to a similar state achieved through a religious experience.


The author, Whittall N. Perry, an authority on Eastern mysticism, argued that Huxley’s claim that the consumption of mescaline had enabled him to  change his ordinary mode of consciousness and so know ‘ what the visionary, the medium, even the mystic were talking about ‘was  an example of the sort of ‘specious logic’ that has persisted among Westerners over the years. Huxley claimed to have attained some sort of Platonic state, whereas Perry argues that he had broken  with Platonic teaching on the issue of Being and Becoming by elevating the senses over reason and intelligence through the operation of a drug.


The error comes from confusing the Archetypal and principle realm of Platonic Ideas with the ‘mathematical abstractions’ of modern philosophy, and is what Rene Guenoncalls “ a complete inversion of the relationship between Principal and manifestation”


In the view of Perry, Huxley together with all the other drug users who claimed to have had similar visionary experiences were happy to by-pass all the necessary spiritual preparation and adherence to an adequate ritual or traditional affiliation in order to achieve transcendence.


Most of those who reviewed The Doors of Perceptionagreed with Perry. One who  supported Huxley was Huston Smith, a professor of religion and philosophy, who maintained that the use of drugs had been for centuries part of the ceremonies performed by many religious communities throughout the world.


Today, with our greater knowledge of endocrinology and brain chemistry the conventional religious dogma promoted by Perry and the other critics of Huxley  that saw science as an enemy of religion can be easily challenged. If indeed all animate beings are kept alive through the agency of electricity and chemistry in our bodies and brains, then it surely follows that any state of consciousness in which humans achieve grace and transcendence can be brought about through the operation of electricity and chemicals in our brains. If abnormal brain chemistry can cause psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, surely it is equally possible that a heightened religious experience can come about through a chemical imbalance in the brain. And if mescaline and other psychotropic drugs can act as short cuts to such a state then why should anyone object to this use of such agents? This is not ‘specious logic ‘but pure common sense. [RR]

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