Essays with Allan Ajaya

Entheogens and Self Realization

©2011 Swami Ajaya, PhD

Entheogens and Self Realization

Another avenue that has been used to awaken from ordinary consciousness is the use of entheogens.  Those who have used entheogens may experience difficulty in discovering how such extraordinary experiences can be assimilated into their everyday life so that they live more fully and effectively in the world.  Dr. Ajaya is available to guide those who are seeking such integration. 

Entheogens - A Potential Path of Exploration

The last fifty to a hundred years has been an exciting time for self-discovery.  At no other time in history has there been such a plethora of ways in which one can release oneself from limited patterns of self-identification. The person living in contemporary society has available a wide range of spiritual practices from traditions that have emerged in various parts of the world. An ever increasing variety of psychotherapies and body therapies that have also emerged And an assortment of entheogens are being used by millions, to open to realms within our psyches beyond what we ever imagined. Each of these three ways of exploring, the depths and heights of ones being, spiritual traditions, psychotherapy, and entheogens has its benefits and each has its limitations. We need more integration between these three approaches to self-awakening so that we can take advantage of the best that each approach has to offer and transcend the limitations of each.

Spiritual practices have the potential of awakening one to transcendent all-encompassing consciousness. We find many descriptions of such transcendent states in mystical literature.  But only the minutest fraction of those who undertake spiritual practices attain such awareness within their current lifespan.  Furthermore a person who has realized such states, may not maintain them, and such, attainments may not lead to a favorable transformation of ones way of living and being in the world. Psychotherapies can help one to uncover and transform non-functional aspects of ones personality, but do not lead one to the recognition of unitary consciousness that is potential in spiritual practices.

Entheogens provide something that is not offered by either spiritual traditions or psychotherapies. They can bring one into an immediate and direct recognition of altered states of consciousness as well to as unfolding ones personality. Breakthroughs that can take many years to achieve through the other avenues, or may not occur at all, can be readily experienced as unexpected transformative revelations. Instead of censuring such explorations, we need to develop ways of assisting the psychedelic voyager in integrating his realizations into his life.

For the study of the psyche, entheogens are the equivalent of instruments such as the telescope and the electron microscope that enable us to peer into formerly unknown worlds. Entheogens amplify experiences too subtle for our normal awareness.  They can magnify the full spectrum of unconscious processes, from the shadow to the archetypal self and beyond. Whatever the conscious mind has been pursuing, or whatever the soul brings forward to be explored, you will be drawn into it in a way that uncovers its unseen and unknown aspects. If one is interested in music, nature, ones psychological functioning or what underlies this apparent phenomenal world, it can be revealed through these substances. They open one to the depths of that aspect of the phenomenal world and reveal truths that had not been recognized.  Boundaries fall away and whatever is revealed is recognized as an expression of universal being. William Blake wrote, ”If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite.”  Aldus Huxley believed that psychedelics serve this function of cleansing the doors of perception.

 LSD can catapult one from the mental consciousness that is so pervasive in our society into participatory awareness, dissolving as the rigid boundaries and sense of alienation that are characteristic of our mental consciousness. These experiences can temporarily free us from the constraints of our identity and lead to mystical experiences of boundless oneness with all that exists. We may have revelatory experiences, but we soon return to ordinary consciousness. Such experiences can change us in important ways, but we cannot maintain the dissolution of boundaries that occurred at the height of our experience. Many entheogeninc voyageurs have turned to spiritual practices, hoping that these will enable them to stay in boundaryless union. They usually explore the spirituality of the East because it is less dualistic than Western religions. It does not presume that there is a gap between humans and God. 

Some spiritual teachers assert that since the mystical experience does not last it is inferior to a spiritual experience arrived at without ingesting these substances. However most experiences of transcendence arrived at through meditation and other spiritual practices are also impermanent. It is rare that one remains in an experience of transcendence. Furthermore, both psychedelic voyagers and those who have an enlightening experience without using mind-altering substances face the same challenge, that of integrating what they have discovered during enlightening experiences into their everyday lives.

When a church, a priestly caste is established as a intermediary for establishing a connection with the Divine, that intermediary becomes established in its/his own right and seeks to perpetuate and secure itself through power and entitled status.  It establishes its own agenda and this becomes intermixed with and pollutes the wisdom that is flowing from non-relative consciousness. Most spiritual leaders, who have no direct experience with entheogens and a vested interest in maintaining the keys to heaven, have asserted that these substances only produce delusions of spiritual awakening.

Those who hold positions of secular authority also want maintain their privileged status. They propagandize about how harmful psychedelics are although they have neither direct experience with them nor sound information on which to base their opinions. There is a huge gulf between millions of people using psychedelic substances to explore altered states of consciousness, and those in authority who presume that they are harmful. The entheogenic voyageurs find that what they are told by inexperienced prejudiced authorities about the risks and harms caused by these substances do not match their own experiences. As a consequence they loose respect for authority and continue to experiment as outlaws.

Substances that lead to the dissolution of formally held beliefs, or the dissolving of boundaries are extremely threatening to the establishment and have been demonized. When use by enough people, they threaten to weaken the power of those in authority and disrupt the prevailing order. Individuals or groups who challenge the dogmas of those in authority have always been shunned, imprisoned or condemned to death. Throughout history those in the quest of the deepest knowledge have been forced to explore in secret. The early followers of Christianity, alchemists, cosmologists, and mystics were courageous enough to place the discovery of truth above the threats made by society's leaders intent on maintaining old beliefs and power structures.

Other cultures in various periods of history and even today in other parts of the world have provided initiation rites in the use of these elixirs. Our society continues to offer rituals in churches, synagogues and other religious institutions that have their roots in mystical consciousness. But these have lost their connection to mystical consciousness and are now primarily social initiations; they are devoid of revelatory experiences. How many young people take their first communion only to be disappointed that they have not had a life altering experience? Will our society ever recognize entheogens for the Eucharistic blessing that they are? Will we have the wisdom to offer spiritual initiations using these consciousness expanding sacramentals, such as those that took place in the Elysian mystery rites of ancient Greece and take place in shamanic ceremonies in various parts of the world today?