New age psychedelics

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    Akhil Babu

    Hare Krishna Prabhu. I have come across a lot of people who are spiritually inclined and also part of ISKCON community preaching about the importance of psychedelic drugs in enhancing cognitive abilities! They say that Soma plant mentioned in Rig Veda is such a mood elevating substance and is similar to Ayahuasca of South America etc… They speak about experiences of Aldous Huxley, Steve Jobs and other new age spiritualists. But these are not recommended anywhere in the scriptures. Those who pursue it are doing so for super normal experiences. Are these experiences illusory or real? What is the true nature of Soma plant?

    Ashish Dalela

    Having a non-ordinary experience is not equal to having a spiritual experience. There are indeed many kinds of experiences in this universe, which are accessible to living entities in the different planetary systems. There are also many kinds of experiences on this planet that are often not accessible to everyone, although they might have been accessible to people in earlier times. So, accessing a new kind of experience is not identical to having a spiritual experience.

    Many people who came to Eastern spiritual movements in the 1960s had been experimenting with drugs and they realized that there is far more to “reality” than what we see with our eyes. Those experiences were also enchanting and exhilarating. Compared to that, the day-to-day experiences were rather mundane. So, they wanted to get alternative experiences, and they thought that a spiritual practice would be the way to do that. But they did not, at least at that time, distinguish between alternative experiences available in other planets from spiritual experiences.

    There is a clear distinction between various material experiences and the spiritual experience, which is described by the words duality and non-duality. For example, a material experience is either painful or pleasurable, and pleasure is superior to pain. But this opposition between pleasure and pain is a dualistic experience. A non-dualistic experience is that of painful pleasure, which is superior to material pleasure, which is superior to material pain. Similarly, dualistic experiences are either mild or intense, soothing or exciting, sharp or smooth, and so on. But a non-dualistic experience is something that is simultaneously soothing and exciting, sharp and smooth, mild and intense. The coexistence of opposite traits defines non-duality, and their mutual exclusion defines duality. A non-dualistic experience is incomparably greater than all individual dualistic experiences.

    What you get through drugs like Soma and Ayahuasca is the enhancement of perceptual capacity. Our material senses have the capacity to perceive a certain smallest level of detail. A musician can experience minor changes in tone, an artist minor changes in color, a cook minor changes in taste, and so on. But most people cannot perceive these minor changes. Drugs increase the capacity to perceive far more detail. Thereafter, if you go into a garden, each flower will smell much better, each color will seem more varied, each sound will sound more varied, and so on. Thereby, if some pleasure was being derived from sense perception, the fact that you are perceiving much more detail also means that the pleasure derived from such experience has increased many-fold. When the effect of the drug fades, then you go back to the previous coarse-grained level of perception, which is no longer pleasurable. That depresses a person because they got accustomed to greater pleasure.

    Similarly, some drugs increase the manifestation of sensual and mental experiences from the chitta. These impressions already lie dormant in the chitta, but the drugs manifest this dormant reality into a sensual and mental experience. That is quite similar to how thoughts can be triggered by seeing something that you may not have seen before. Thereby, you can say that you “discover” more about yourself, and you realize that there is much more dormant reality in you that you were unaware of.

    However, all these things will not purify the chitta and not bring a person any closer to non-dualistic experiences. They will either reveal a dormant and hidden reality within the chitta, or make the senses and mind more perceptive to see the external material reality more clearly. Those who don’t know the philosophy of duality and non-duality will mistake this itself as a spiritual experience. That would be really sad. The goal of spiritual life is to purify the chitta, so that it can have non-dual experiences. The goal is not to expand the scope of dualistic experiences. A person who gets distracted by this expansion of dualistic experiences may go to another material planet where such experiences are abundant, provided he also has the good karma to deserve it long-term. Generally speaking, however, even acquiring that good karma involves many austerities. Hence, it is better to not expose ourselves to desires and possibilities which are not easily attainable in the long term.

    A new-age spiritualist is another kind of materialist who taps into an enhanced sense perception of the present world, or a reinvigorated past life experiences lying dormant and unconscious in the chitta through artificial stimulation. They don’t know that karma fixes the amount of pleasure in one’s life. So, if you have enjoyed so much pleasure rather quickly, you will either face a lot of suffering later or your life would be cut-short quickly. Once this life is finished without creating good karma, in the next life you don’t get anything. And you lose the greatest opportunity to purify the chitta.

    There is a great dearth of philosophical and scientific knowledge and a great attraction to pleasure and experience. When sensuous people come to spiritual life, they try to escape into many kinds of alternative experiences because that is what they have always been seeking. They are not able to delay gratification. They cannot accept any hardship. They want a lot of pleasure and very quickly. They are not interested in knowing the self, and ridding it of the material covering that controls and drags the soul from one body to another. They don’t know the consequences of their choices. Hence we should spread the knowledge. Otherwise, just like yoga has been perverted in many ways by sensuous people, similarly, all kinds of spiritual practices will be perverted in the future.

    Akhil Babu

    Thank you very much. This is something similar to what Yayati was doing in his life. Today spirituality is practiced for getting enhanced material experience and not for non dual experience! Those who practice this are not concerned with the question of self. There is no Brahma Jijnasa. Their  fundamental question is how to become a billionaire and enjoy the life using ancient Vedic wisdom!

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