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IN 1960 RICHARD ALPERT was the son of the president of the New Haven Railroad. He was an ambitious Jewish intellectual who wore three-piece suits and glasses with black frames. He played the cello, flew airplanes, and dined out frequently. In the course of realizing his life-long wish to be a Harvard professor he had become one of the more ardent members of the behaviorist junta in the Department of Social Relations. The behaviorists were the tough-minded guys who wanted to apply impeccable scientific methodology to the study of psychology. No more intuitive cream cheese in the Soc Rel Department. Man is an organism, you know. There is nothing sacred about this particular animal . . . .
Alpert recently returned to Harvard for the first time since he and Leary were fired in 1963 for their experiments with psilocybin, a drug. The Graduate Student Colloquium in Soc Rel had invited him to give a talk. And those among the audience packing 2 Divinity Ave. who had beard him elsewhere could detect a certain strain as he began his delivery--a strange tenseness for one who had done this so many times before. Coming back to Harvard was a significant event for Alpert. Harvard is the symbol of his former life. Harvard people are the specters of his conscience. Their voice is the voice of his superego.
Nonetheless, the traces of anxiety ebbed away as he spoke. Alpert has changed his name to Baba Ram Dass, Hindi for "servant of God." He likes to recite a poem that begins, "I was born without parents. . . ." He says he is trying to fix his existence in a timeless state, and as he repeated his story at Harvard, the story he has told so often that it has become a spiel, a prayer, a mantra, the audience if not Alpert forgot about time. It was 7:30 when he began, and then 8:30, 9:30, 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, and finally everyone left, and at 1:00 there were only a few Harvard people clustered around the man in the white suit.
ALPERT TODAY is in transition, freaking out without drugs, a slow freakout that gets slower the nearer he gets to where he wants to be. That place of a thousand names is the same ex-stasis that a portion of the people who take LSD sometimes reach for short spans of time. Alpert wants to go on a permanent acid trip, but the methods he is using to get there are as alien to the style of his former cronies, the big guns of the psychedelic movement, as they are loony, dangerous, pathetic, insane to the authorities, to scientists, intellectuals, presidents of the United States, revolutionaries, cops, robbers, people in their right minds and Western society in general. Alpert now is an ascetic, fasting, abstaining from any kind of stimulant, from sex, from what we call "thinking" (??). He spends his time meditating, reading religious books, and disciplining his body through impossible Yoga exercises. It adds up--or subtracts down--to an existence that seems as far removed from the ethic of joy of the every second-is-your-birthday generation Alpert helped produce as the joymakers themselves are from the straight world. Alpert says he realizes that the friends who once knew the reason why he lived, the crowds who heard his psychedelic lectures and even the people who listen to his new story can only understand him from a distance. To them his existence doesn't seem like much fun. But Alpert waves a want of incense, bows his head in silence, and looks up with an insane grin on his face. "This is what fun's all about," he says.
The fun began in 1961 when Alpert turned on with psilocybin for the first time in Leary's house in Newton. Even as descriptions of first trips go, his is strange. And it happened before hardly anyone had heard of drugs. The high point came when he went by himself into a dark room and sat on a sofa to enjoy the silence. He saw an apparition several feet away in the gloom and leaned forward to discover himself dressed in academic robes. Richard Alpert the professor is not me, suddenly thought through his mind. The form dissolved and a new one took its place, himself with a cello. Richard Alpert the cellist is not me, his head said. The procession of identities continued, child, friend, lover, airplane pilot, thinker, rationalist, and Alpert surrendered himself to what was happening, discarding one self after another in his confidence that the stripping away would end with the disclosure of his core, him essential self. But the last apparition, the last revelation of the illusory nature of the faiths that had been sustaining his existence, was the essential core itself, plan Richard Alpert-ness. Terror seized him. Did he exist at all? At least he had his body. He looked down at his legs bud they had disappeared. Everything disappeared and he had no body, no self. He was pure energy.
Snow was falling when he walked home to his parents' house at three in the morning. He war full of peace. He took a snow shovel and began scraping the walk and singing. His parents came to the window and beckoned him to come in. "No," he waved. "It's a stone groove." When he thought of the lecture he would have to deliver Monday it hit him that his life would have to change. He thought of the Soc Rel Department. His theories, Freud, behaviorism, rationalism, psychology, science, what did they have to say about the state of his consciousness now? He thought of his colleagues, psychologists, students of the psyche. Did they know more about how to live, were they happier than professors of physics, professors of fine arts, professors of military science? Something stinketh.
So began Alpert's second life, a life that for all its flamboyance and notoriety unfolded as systematically as had his rise to professorship or his realization of the falsity of his first life. He and Leary began using psilocybin in a rehabilitation project with maximum-security convicts at Concord prison. In addition they administered maybe 3,500 doses of psilocybin to 400 volunteers in extra - University investigations. Although it involved only 35 inmates, the rehabilitation project was remarkably successful.
Twenty-two prisoners were released while Leary and Alpert still ran the project, and the rate of return was 32 per cent compared to a national average of 67 per cent. But the scientific laxity of the psychologists, the use of candles, mattresses and records in the drug sessions, and the outrageous statements Leary would make like, "In helping prisoners we have of course found that the prisoners have rehabilitated us--changed our notions about crime, punishment, . . . made us see the limitations of our middle-class conceptions, expanded our consciousness and given deeper meaning to our lives"--all this eventually became intolerable to their Harvard colleagues. Worst of all was the fact that researchers were taking the drug along with the prisoners.
Leary and Alpert were fired in the spring of 1963, the first firings in Harvard's history, despite their having agreed the previous fall to leave of their own accord after finishing out the year. The firings were handled disastrously. The University had a right to complain that Leary and Alpert's research techniques were exotic and possibly improper, and it had the right to expel them on that account. But the academic dispute over methodology was distorted by wild innuendoes initiated is some cases by the authorities themselves. Leary and Alpert were somehow responsible for black market rings selling acid-soaked sugar cubes in the Square for a dollar (acid for a dollar?).
Leary and Alpert were living in a commune. Leary was saying "the greatest psychotherapist in world history was the Buddha. . . " When they finally got the axe, Leary ostensibly for missing a meeting, Alpert for giving psilocybin to an undergraduate, the endlessly complicated issues involved were lost in sensational publicity. Leary and Alpert were stripped of all credibility and indelibly branded as trivial, irresponsible adventurers, when in actuality the least that could be said for them was that they were earnest and idealistic.
It is ironic and sad that Alpert and Leary should have been thrown defenselessly into one of the biggest games of all--the media game--just as they were beginning to explore their notions about games as the real nature of social structures. Once Harvard had disowned them they were prey to merciless and irresponsible excoriation by the press.
Until the press blitz Leary and Alpert had been using drugs more or less carefully for socially valuable scientific research. But with notoriety they were cut off from doing the work they really wanted to do and forced instead to defend drugs and themselves per se. They were trapped in a hopeless fight. Psychedelic drugs quickly became a public bogeyman on the order of "the Russians" or "masturbation." (Just a few weeks ago the Boston Globe printed an article citing claims that marijuana causes chromosome breakage, which is ridiculous to almost all of us now.) Leary and Alpert became identified with drugs. They didn't make the drug scene, they were the drug scene, by public fiat.
Thus the excesses that made Leary and Alpert such pariahs that no one but a commiefagpoet like Allen Ginsberg would associate with them were in part due to forces beyond their control. They couldn't throw these drugs they were onto in the dustbin, nor could they do anything but use them on themselves and other outcasts. It was a dead end. The more impassionate their defense of drugs, the more the public regarded them as dangerous maniacs.
Alpert himself sometimes felt like a maniac in the next five years. Here he was, a scientist who had fallen down the rabbit-hole and was wandering up and down the Western Hemisphere with a bunch of zanies who ate magic mushrooms. From Newton Leary's group moved to Zihuatenejo, Mexico, for an experiment in "transpersonative community living and the expansion of consciousness," but the neighbors didn't understand the jargon and the group was soon presented with man ultimatum to get out of the country in five days. Next they tried an uninhabited island in the Caribbean, but somehow they couldn't get in harmony with each other. The flow carried them back to the States and into the hands of a millionaire acidhead named Bill Hitchcock who gave them the mansion on his 4,000-acre estate in Millbrook New York.
They took good care of it and it became famous. On April 16, 1966, at 1:30 a.m. Leary was in bed. His son Jacky and a friend were in the room talking with him about a paper Jacky was writing. They heard noises in the hallway. Jacky opened the door, slammed it and said, "Wow, Dad, there's about fifty cops out there!" according to Leary. He jumped out of bed and was in the middle of the room when two sheriffs and two assistant district attorneys burst open the door and came in. Leary was wearing only pajama tops. Twenty-nine adults were present, all but three in bed. All the women were stripped and searched. Three people were arrested for possession of marijuana and Leary was arrested on a charge involving his being director of the house.
The group was constantly running into such difficulties, but Alpert personally stayed out of trouble and out of the limelight. He was way into drugs. He tried every chemical he was handed. He smoked pot constantly. He took over 300 LSD trips including a marathon in which he and a few friends closeted themselves in a bowling alley in the mansion and took 400 micrograms of acid every four hours for three weeks. The first shot put them into the ecstatic, pure, ego-free state of consciousness that washes all the blues away, but after that they descended into the intermediate state of hallucinatory drifting that people who have worked out a system for such phenomena (see The Tibetan Book of the Dead) called Second Bardo. "We never slept, we just sort of went into neutral," Alpert says. Every now and then they injected themselves with dimethyltriptamene to jack themselves back up to First Bardo, but they could not maintain it for long. At the end of the three weeks they came down in fine physical shape but disappointed that they were just as straight as ever once the drug wore off.
For that was Alpert's goal, to learn from his LSD trips how to maintain the same selfless intensity of life without chemical assistance. He had begun his experiments with drugs with the intent to explore the entire range of his experience in a deliberate, methodical way. After all, he was a psychologist, and a rationalistic one at that. He carefully prepared each session by deciding on a topic to consider and preparing a relevant setting. He might choose to trip on women and fill a room with pictures of lovers, his mother, his grandmother, movie stars, the Mona Lisa, little girls. He would write questions to ask himself on big pieces of cardboard and put them up on the wall. Most of his trips were directed in this way. His insights about himself--some good, some frightful -- accumulated. Each time he came down he was in a slightly different place, he was slightly more aware, slightly more knowledgeable. But gradually he came to realize that no matter how much he discovered about himself, that knowledge would not be fulfilling. He realized that self-exploration was futile; in simple terms, that it did not make him happy. The significance of an LSD trip was not the insights he retained after he came down but the fact that he came down at all. The best, highest parts of a trip were those times when he was selfless, out of his mind, thinking of nothing at all, in a pure mystical ecstasy, his energies freely merging with the energies of his environment. Thinking of himself brought him down, caused him to strain. And as the drug wore off he spiralled further and further down until he was caught in the same worries, emotions, frictions, conflicts, we all normally live with.
Well, Alpert realized, the thing to do is to stay high all the time. So he took the three-week trip hoping for a breakthrough, but ecstasy came only in spurts and he came down the same as ever. It was frightening. He began to think he would be caught in the same manicdepressive cycle for the rest of his life. At this point he had a nightmare trip in which he saw a tremendous red tidal wave of all the identities he had discovered and rejected come rolling back upon him, and he powerless to stop them from engulfing him. In that first trip years before in Leary's house in Newton he had almost miraculously thrown off all the constructs that defined him as a mortal being, and now here were they and the many more he had since isolated turning violently back on him.
The search for answers became an obsession. Alpert was tripping with the hippest of the hip--Alan Watts, author of books on Zen Buddhism and Eastern philosophy whom Alpert calls "an acute intellect but not a visionary," Scottish psychiatrist and author of The Politics of Experience, R. D. Laing, Ginsberg, mythical millionaire chemist Stanley Owsley, Leary. They went deeper and deeper into their studies of mystical writings and the literature of the East--Buddhism, yoga, Hindu, Zen, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Laotzu's The Way of Life. They began to fear they were the wisest men in the world. They were afraid because they couldn't understand the powers they had unleashed, they knew there must be a way to control them, they knew they were still seeking, but they couldn't find the answers themselves and couldn't find anyone to tell them the answers. Leary and Ginsberg went to India to search out holy men who had conquered the secrets of consciousness, but when they came back Alpert looked into their eyes and realized they had discovered nothing.
All these years Leary and the others had been the philosophers, Alpert had been the administrator. He had made sure people were taken care of, watched over the kids, negotiated with the authorities, run the kitchen. He was also head of the underground FDA, making sure good quality drugs at fair prices were put on the market. He lectured all over the country, often tripping on acid or DMT as he spoke. After the lectures people would come up and tell him about their trips and he would carefully note what they said. He was a scientist gathering date. He wanted to map these unexplored realms of consciousness, he says. If you were put into a vast, strange forest and someone pointed down a path and said, "Down that path there is a snow apparition with fire coming out of its mouth," you would write it down. Gradually you would get a rough idea of your surroundings. Thus Alpert tried to systemize what was constant in the LSD experience. He found amazing correspondences between phenomena he and the others were incapable of explaining and phenomena in the writings of mystics.
The 1966 Stanley Owsley asked Alpert to come to New York to try out a new drug he was thinking of releasing on the market. The dosage hadn't yet been worked out and Owsley wanted Alpert opinion. Alpert intrepidly took what later would be called a triple dose. The drug was STP, the most powerful hallucinogenic ever synthesized. Alpert freaked out for four days. He felt like he was dead. He felt like he was in a soundproof box watching himself and his existence roll by outside like the tickertape on a newspaper building. On the third day of his trip he had a lecture scheduled at the University of Massachusetts. He practically had to be carried to the podium. He looked out at the faces and saw them as one face. He spoke for three hours, and when he finished, the hall was silent. Some people came up and stood around him, but they asked no questions. They were stunned. Many of the audience were physical education types who had come to see what this drug stuff was all about, Alpert says, and their reaction was anger. It was the only emotion they could summon. They would have killed him if they could, Alpert thought.
Shortly after he tried STP again, this time in the desert outside Taos, New Mexico. He prepared by fasting for four days and kept a tape recorder going as he tripped on the same dosage. The tapes from the first night were a monotonous rattling sound, the sound of his knees knocking together. When he tried to speak his chest and voice vibrated uncontrollably uhuh uh uh uhuhuhuh uhuh uh uh UH. He was glad he was alone in the desert because he had no control over his behavior. Such strong vibrations shook his bowels and groin he became so horny he would have raped anything he could lay his hands, on he says. He was astounded by the amount of energy he felt flowing through him in an uncontrollable torrent. The human body is. . . . what? We know nothing at all about the forces of our own bodies, he realized.
Alpert's STP experiences left him more perplexed and desperate for answers than ever. He knew well what he was rejecting, the abject fears of those committed to what they called "progress," "achievement," conformity, equilibrium, the naiveté of scientists who believed that the workings of the entire universe follow the laws of cause and effect, that we would know everything if we could just dissect existence into enough tiny pieces, that mankind would be saved if we could put it in a lead box. He knew also what he was seeking. He had glimpsed the capabilities of his mind and body. But he didn't know how to realize them.
ALPERT MET A LOT of unusual characters in his wanderings. One of the strangest was a head named David who had gone to college at 14, graduated from law school when he was 21, worked in Chinese economics at the U.N., made $30 million in business and retired at the age of 35. David was interested in exploring the external world, and he offered to put up the money if Alpert would accompany him to India. Alpert was at loose ends and faintly hopeful so he agreed to go. He packed a camera and slides and a large supply of LSD including his own custom-made 305-microgram tabs of White Lightning, the purest acid in the world. In India they got a Land Rover for a vehicle and a hip Hindi sculptor for a guide. They set off in a haze of hash, hunting for holy men. They wandered through the country staying at maharajah's palaces and eating at American restaurants, giving away hundreds of tabs of acid to putative mystics and taking wonderful slides.
The Indians' reactions to LSD were as varied as Westerners'--some found it pleasant, some disagreeable, some said it was better than meditation, some said it was worse. Alpert was thoroughly dissatisfied. They stopped at Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples. They met the Dalai Lama. Alpert began to hate and Land Rover, the metal box that was carrying them from nowhere to nowhere. He got sick of hash and fed up with India. He was almost totally disillusioned. The so-called holy men didn't know any more than he did. They had nothing to say about LSD. All this stuff you guys have written about, all the stuff you're supposed to know, everything you've made me want, you mean it's going to end up like this with me in this tin jalopy in the middle of India bored out of my mind?
He and David were planning to fly to Japan to join Alan Watts who was giving a seminar in Kyoto after they finished their tour. Their last stop was Katmandu, Nepal, the land of the Himalayas. The day before their departure they were sitting in a Howard Johnson's style restaurant in Katmandu with a group of European hippies dressed in the white cloths of Indian holy men. A strange young man walked into the restaurant and sat down near Alpert. He was a Westerner, but he was 67" tall and he wore a yellow lama shirt, mark of initiation into a select and esoteric cult. He sat down and Alpert looked at him. Alpert, whose own eyes are bright, direct and blue, has a special sensitivity to the expressions of people's eyes. He believes you can see in them the looks of desire, of searching, of asking unanswerable questions, or perhaps of submission, of having quit, that mark a person's tenor of life. We can't know, but Alpert says this boy's eyes impressed him immediately with their peace. He know. He was someone who had the answers Alpert had been wearing out shoe leather searching for.
David, the Hindi guide and Alpert sneaked the boy into their hotel room that night. They stayed there for a few days smoking and talking. David and Alpert postponed their flight to Japan. They found out that the boy was 23. He had left high school in Laguna Beach, California, at 17 and thumbed across the world. He was a kid with thin karma. His name was Bhagawan Dass.
David finally decided to fly on to Japan to join Alan Watts, but Alpert decided to stay with the kid. He knew about Watts. He couldn't expect anything new from him. But this kid could perhaps teach him what he knew. So began an incredible journey on foot through India. Bhagawan Dass instructed Alpert to get rid of all his luggage. They set out barefooted clad in the robes of holy men. Alpert carried only a shoulder bag full of his drugs and necessary papers. He gave away his money and let his gray beard grow long and scraggly. They carried the wooden beads, holy men use to recite their mantras, and Bhagawan Dass had his one-stringed guitarlike instrument on which he played religious songs as they walked.
For the first time since childhood Alpert knew the fear and luxury of being totally dependent on someone else. He had always been the teacher, the administrator, the smoother of other peoples' paths, and now he was helplessly picking his way barefoot along roads full of cow droppings and red juices spit by the country people, begging scraps of food from passersby, ignorant of the language. Bhagawan Dass told him to ignore the dung and keep his head up. When he became miserably sick with dysentery, Bhagawan Dass took care of him. Bhagawan Dass spoke for him and told him how to react when the people came and made obeisance with careful faces, bending down to touch the bare feet of the Western holy men.
Bhagawan Dass told him what and when to eat, when to sleep, who to speak to, what to think. When Alpert complained about his pains or him hunger Bhagawan Dass silenced him. "Let the feelings disappear like waves," he would say. When Alpert talked about plans or speculated on the future. Bhagawan Dass stopped him. "The future is now," he would say. When Alpert began some anecdote from the past, Bhagawan Dass refused to listen. "Be here now," he would say firmly, and that was all. He lived in a perfect pure present.
Once when Alpert's complaints came as close as they ever did to ruffling his composure, Bhagawan Dass's lips began to move and a rumbling chant became audible, OM MANI PADME HUM, OM MANI PADME HUM, OM MANI PADME HUM, over and over, not a demonstration for Alpert's sake but the repeating aloud hundreds of times of this sacred mantra, a chant that more people are reciting silently or aloud every moment than any other words in the world.
Bhagawan Dass told Alpert how to recite it over and over until he could stop saying it aloud or even thinking it in his mind, how it could become an autonomous voice continuing without cease no matter what thoughts were going through his mind and no matter whether he were sleeping or awake. Once it became autonomous, he said, Alpert by meditating on it would be able to hear the voices of the millions of others who have repeated it through the ages like the sound of the ocean in a seashell. It was like saying "Be here now, be here now" over and over, though the Hindi words have a more complex meaning relating to the manifestation of divinity in the oneness of the universe.
So they continued through India, finding shelter in temples and monasteries, or at the homes of people they met on the way. Bhagawan Dass never spoke of his past, but Alpert inferred from the receptions they got that the boy was well known among the religious people of the regions they passed through. Everywhere he was greeted with open arms and taken in by a multitude of different sects as one of their own. His knowledge of esoteric doctrines and rituals was immense. At night Alpert lay meditating on his mantra, summonning the rolling sound of the countless faithful just before he fell asleep, but Bhagawan Dass sat up meditating crosslegged through most of the night. He slept little.
Alpert learned much from the boy, but he began to get tired of wandering through India. Bhagawan Dass had taught him that the happiness he was looking for was not something to be sought after or prepared for or snatched at as it fluttered by like a butterfly. No happiness, peace, understanding, the end of striving, the feeling for which there are no words--it already existed in its fullness within him, existed already and always in each moment of life, existed in perfection waiting for his surrender. Still, Alpert made plans to leave India and join Alan Watts in Japan. He figured he had gone as far as he could with Bhagawan Dass. Though the feeling was barely there, he had the knowledge he needed. The feeling would have to come of itself.
He told Bhagawan Dass and the boy said he would go with him to the city since he had to have his papers processed. That night Alpert went outside of the place where they were sleeping to take a piss under the stars. He looked up at the sky and thought of his mother, who had died a year before from a disease that made her spleen swell up and burst. He didn't think anything particular, just had a passing, general remembrance of her and went to bed without another thought.
In the morning Bhagawan Dass said he wanted to go up in the hills to see his guru before they went to the city. This was certainly strange. In India the word "guru" is not bandied about. It is a special term used only for the holiest of sages and only for the individual's particular spiritual teacher. Bhagawan Dass had never before said that he had a guru.
All the same, Alpert was in no mood to fool around with another mystic. He had seen enough already and his feet hurt. His decision made, he was anxious to leave and get it over with. He didn't want to waste time with another excursion into the hills. But Bhagawan Dass was adamant. He told Alpert to go to the house of a friend who had a Land Rover and borrow it for the journey. Alpert said the friend had already done enough for them and would refuse to part with it. But when Alpert obeyed the boy's instructions and went, the friend offered the car before Alpert asked. "You are going to see Bhagawan Dass's guru? Excellent! Why don't you take the Land Rover?" he said immediately. It was strange.
When they approached the place where the guru stayed, Bhagawan Dass said to leave the car by the roadside out of sight. They walked the rest of the way, rounding several bends and always ascending. They came finally to a small hill atop which an old man sat surrounded by many Indians. Bhagawan Dass set out in a lope up the hill and Alpert followed panting and cursing under his breath. The boy fell on the ground in front of the old man and embraced his feet, tears streaming down his face, the first display of emotion Alpert had ever seen in him. The old man patted the boy's head and beckoned to Alpert, who stood awkwardly off to the side. He was a small man of about 70, spry, his voice commending and his face radiant.
"You came in a car," he told Alpert through an interpreter. Alpert was surprised. There was no way the old man could have known about the Land Rover. It was far away out of sight and Alpert knew Bhagawan Dass hadn't told the old man about it.
"Will you give it to me?" the old man asked mischievously. Alpert knew that game. He had seen plenty of so called holy men welch the faithful out of their possessions. He kept the disdain out of his voice as he explained that he didn't own the car.
The old man took a nee tack.
"You were thinking of your mother last night," he said. Alpert stared at him. "She died a year ago," the old man said. "She got a very big stomach. She died of spleen."
Alpert's mind went blank. Like a machine that has exhausted its capacity and abruptly stops, his mind, his civilized, Western, rational mind, in that instant straining to the utmost for an explanation, found that nothing in the world as he knew it could account for had happened and just went dead. A great pain wrenched his chest and he began to sob. Home sure was strange.
"ALMOST EVERYONE in American is Unhappy," says in headline on the cover of the National Enquirer, the under-the-counter tabloid with a circulation of millions. The paper has been conducting unhappiness survey across the country.
"Look around you," their report begins. "You will be appalled at the unhappiness in the faces of your neighbors, your relatives, you friends, the clerk in the department store, the couple at the next table in the restaurant, the people waiting for a bus, the executive in his chauffeured limousine."
Why are these people unhappy? Because of the rat race, the article says. Because of competition and the pressure to get status. Boredom and too much leisure time. The helplessness of the ordinary man. "People used to trust their neighbors, but they don't anymore. Today everybody is looking out for himself," a Vermont farmer complains.
Texas mother doesn't have any friends. "The people are in a position of absolute frustration. They don't know what the hell to do," a San Francisco lawyer says. "Everything is so damned uncertain," says a sales manager from Georgia.
The biggest problem is people's inability to keep up with constant change, the article says. An educator in Portland, Oregon, sums up: "There probably has never been any other period in history when the thinking person as found himself in an environment filled with problems which seem to be pressing in on him."
This is the way average American explains what is wrong with his life. A newspaper reporter asks why people are unhappy and the man in the street replies, "We're too competitive. We're bored. "We're bored." He's not really answering the reporter's question. He's not telling why he's unhappy, but how he's unhappy. He gives synonyms. He tells what comes out of the computer running his life, but he doesn't know how it was programmed.
The man in the street isn't stupid. No amount of thinking could tell him or anyone else the reasons for the way he is. Everybody comes from the world, and the world is bigger than we are. The forces that shape our existence are too complicated for our minds to understand.
Lately some people shaped by a slightly different mixture of forces than the people the National Enquirer interviewed have come on the scene. The new people look at the old people and see that they are unhappy. The new people can't understand why the unhappiness exists either, but they have some ideas about how to avoid it. They say they will refuse to join the rat race. They conquer boredom by smoking pot and demonstrating. They trust each other and banish selfishness. They talk about love with approval. They escape frustration and insecurity by doing their own thing. They're not bothered by the turmoil of the times. They like change because they're young. They're the ones who cause change.
Optimists among both the old and new people say the changes are significant and will continue. They say the younger generation will improve the country's moral fibre. They say social conditions will get better and people will be happier. Skeptics disagree. They say every generation is idealistic when it starts out. They say these youths are not different from any other, except perhaps that more of them than usual are reckless hedonists. You'll learn, the skeptics say. Every person who ever lived on earth was once young and beautiful as you. There is no hope in that.
In one point the skeptics are wrong. There is at least one radical difference between present and former young people. Many of us have been taking LSD, and never before in history has there been so effortlessly direct a means of altering awareness as the ingestion of this chemical.
There is a distinction to be made. The hippie phenomenon in general, leaving the question of drugs aside, is seen as a rebellion against "middle class values." The hippies were, are, people who grew up in such a way that they could set the pitfalls in the lives of the people the National Enquirer is writing about. They developed an alternative, an anti-style. They substituted one set of rituals, roles and philosophies for another. But this reaction implies no greater awareness of themselves or the world than the people they were reacting to already had. Hippies don't necessarily have a deeper understanding, just a different understanding. There are as many pathetic and unhappy hippies as straight people.
The kind of awareness LSD has to do with is another matter altogether. The hip vs. straight, radical vs. liberal conflicts are cultural phenomena involving abstractions like "politics" or "lives." LSD trips are events dealing with real things like bodies. LSD doesn't play off one type of culture against another; it hits at the roots of cultural conditioning itself.
A new human being fresh off the assembly line experiences reality as an unplumbably mysterious infinite continuum. He can't manipulate reality because he doesn't separate himself from it. He doesn't have a language or a consciousness as we know it. Very quickly, however, our culture teaches him to break up the continuum of reality in a certain way, one of an infinite number of possible ways. He learns to take a few of the fragments, label them with words, and separate himself from them. The higher centers of his brain are conditioned through experience to organize the sensory input flooding the brain into constant discrete blocs. His consciousness becomes more and more complicated and abstract as he separates himself from the world and other human beings. He begins, to apprehend the world in a culturally conditioned, utilitarian way, not as it actually impinges on his senses and as his organism spontaneously reacts to it. Things begin to stand for words; things become illustrations of performed abstractions. Finally he is brainwashed.
Humanity couldn't survive without this process. We wouldn't have roast beef sandwiches or the Rolling Stones if we hadn't learned to think efficiently. But we also couldn't make bombs or be miserable.
When we take LSD we temporarily change the way our brain organizes sensory experience. Our perceptual constancies are ripped up like old flooring and we see clearly things usually distorted boy culture. We enter the country of lit-up-ness. Our senses become indescribably resonant. Thinking is not abstract and linear but concrete and multidimensional. Earth idea generates a thousand associations. The passage of time is forgotten. Every moment is a special occasion, every second is your birthday.
Obviously every trip is entirely unlike every other. That's why we can say there are three kinds of trips. Harvard College divides all knowledge into three areas of study. Newspaper readers divide their interest between drugs, sex, and violence.
Newspaper readers are pretty astute. Drugs, sex, and violence is one expression of the human trinity. Logic, aesthetics, and metaphysics is another. "Violence" corresponds with "logics," "sex" with "aesthetics," "drugs" with "metaphysics." The system of violence and logic is the system of selfseeking as opposed to pleasureseeking or truthseeking. It is the system of society as opposed to nature or consciousness. The people in this system want to assert their egos. They want to gain control of the environment. They are ambitions. They want personal success. They are interested in politics as opposed to art or religion. They are good an running things. Their goal is securing power for themselves or their groups. They value autonomy. If they go to Radcliffe they are chocolates. They analyze the universe in terms of cause and effect. When they suffer it is because they can't control their emotions. Their crimes are crimes of violence. Their minds follow abstract "lines" of thought. They see existence as a struggle of equal and opposite forces. If they are turned off by middle class values they become radical fascists. If their thing is music they become The Monkees.
When people from this system take LSD they have a hard time. Their sanity is staked on their ability to control their existence. Their egos resist the disintegration of the everyday world. They try to rationalize what is happening and find they can't. The riot of the senses becomes terrifying. They struggle for control and finally panic.
Most acid trippers belong to the other two systems. They are pleasureseekers or truthseekers. Pleasureseekers like sex. If they are intellectual they are dilettantes and aesthetes. If they are anti-intellectual they can cook a good barbecued steak. They have a taste for the finer things in life. They like their comforts. They want to appease their egos. They want to groove on the environment. Their greatest fault is laziness. They fight movie censorship. They have warm friendships. They are tolerant and uncompetitive. They are creative and funny. Their goal is gratification of the senses. They like attention. At Radcliffe they are peaches. They suffer from not being able to satiate their desires. Their thinkers see the world as an endlessly complicated array of phenomena. Their criminals wander the streets at night looking for women to rape. They like symbolism. Their minds jump back and forth between various planes of thought. If they are teen-aged girls they hang around backstage after rock concerts. They drop out and live in communes. "Make Love Not War" was their idea.
Pleasureseekers have good trips. They know how to go with the flow. They have sensual, aesthetic experiences. They dig the colors. They have interesting thoughts. They maintain an equilibrium between themselves and the experience. Sometimes they can do this so well their best friends can't tell they're tripping.
The third system is difficult to describe. It is the system of consciousness as opposed to society or nature. The people in it want to know everything. They want to transcend their egos. They want to understand themselves perfectly. They try to be aware of all the forces acting on them. They like religion and philosophy. Their thinking goes in spirals around an idea. Enlightenment is their aim. Their failures enclose themselves in private worlds. They are tortured by doubt and guilt. "Feed Your Head" is their motto. Thty worry whether they are compromising their standards. If they despair, they become drug addicts or alcoholics.
Their trips are the best and the worse. As truthseekers they are caught in a paradox. The "truth" they want to find is the absolute certitude, the selfless peace, the eternal stillness of mystical ecstasy. But as long as they are "seeking," as long as they are desiring and striving for insights, as long as they are thinking and questioning, truth can only be relative. The medium is the message, Marshall McLuhan says. He means that we cannot help being affected by advertising no matter what our opinions about it, that television is important not for the content of its programs but for the way it makes us reorganize our behavior, that speech is important not for the ideas it expresses but for the way it affects the listener. In the same way, thinking itself is important not for its content but for the way it defines and limits us. When we are thinking we only know a few things in any given instant. We have to keep moving from thought to thought. This is similar to what Alpert, a truthseeker for years, finally realized about LSD. He saw that the experience was more important than the thoughts it generated. If he could stop planning his trips, if he could stop worrying about discovering the truth, if he could simply surrender himself to what was happening, then and only then he could know everything he ever wanted to.
Such perfect surrenders are difficult. They conflict with everything culture has taught us, and hasn't culture taught us everything? But once they happen the kingdom of heaven is ours. We not only see Good, we shine His shoes and scratch His back. We understand what it means to say that we are in the world and the world is in us. Earth, air, fire and water dissolve into pure energy. We know the future and the past, for they are now.
So total a loss of ego is a rare experience. Most people on spiritual trips remain aware of themselves as entities separate from other entities. They may even be thinking. Thinking is a non-spiritual activity, we have seen, but on a spiritual trip we can think and be peaceful at the same time. The difference between spiritual and aesthetic pleasure is hard to define. Suppose you are tripping happily on a song from an album. You're absorbed in the music. It's beautiful. The song comes to an end, and in the interval before the next song you think, "What a great song! What a great trip!" This is an aesthetic experience. The music is gratifying your ear. Now suppose you are tripping on the song without classifying it as "music." The interval between songs does not interrupt you pleasure at all. The silence is just as interesting as the sound, just as much a part of the cosmic rhythm. This is a spiritual experience.
When two people are sharing a spiritual trip they communicate by mental telepathy. Mental telepathy is pretty good, but it's nothing to really crow about. Bergson wrote about it. Jung used it in his notion of the collective unconscious. Probably everyone has had that kind of empathy with another person a few times in his life. Your own mind is so empty of struggle or desire that any movement by another person is instantly felt as your own. Your know he is going to blink his eyes before he does. You know when he wants a Coke. It can get boring.
The radio I am listening to has just interrupted the flow to inform me that thousands of young people are running around nude in an area adjacent to Palm Springs, California. They're probably experiencing something like mental telepathy. A police officer says the smell of marijuana is everywhere.
What goes up must come down, Whether people have nightmare or ecstasy trips, they return to normal consciousness and everyday anxiety. They begin to think about LSD and wonder what it means. Some decide it is harmful and warn their friends not to mess around with in. Some think it has damaged their minds and blame all their mental and physical failures in the next few years on it. Some think it is the answer to everything and decide their lives will be happy forever if they can take enough of it.
But all of them have seen the flip side of reality. If they can resist the tendency to explain away what has happeed, they feel a new freedom. Absolutists realize some part of the extent to which their own minds form the social reality they had accepted a given. "It's all in the mind!" they exclaim in surprise, like Alpert after he took psilocybin. Newtonian scientists become Einsteinian. Market accountants give up their jobs. Movie stars divorce their wives. Stolid consciousnesses dissolve. People realize how limited they are by emotions and desires. They realize how beautiful and interrelated the world is. They see in minute incidents allegories and metaphors for the life. Their lives become heroic and fabulous every minute. They see the reality is a myth. "Reality" "is" "a" myth." They begin to experience things rather than ask questions about them. They begin to irrationality. They change their ideas about "worth." They begin to depend on their own opinions about themselves. "I'm sorry I kicked you in the ass, but I'm not sorry I'm an ass-kicker," they say. "That's what I do. I kick people in the ass." They become interested in their own thoughts. They stop pursuing "goals," realizing that in order to pursue goals they have to anticipate, and anticipation is unreal. They see that anticipation depends on the use of words to manipulate symbols. Anticipation is the acting out of things in theory, of things that are not being apprehended by the senses. Anticipation deals in possibility, not reality, the possibility that the Russians will build a 70-million pound bomb in ten years so we better build an 8-million pound bomb now. Westerners' preoccupation with anticipation is reflected in the fact that the life insurance companies are the richest ones around. Money and anticipation, what more threatening combination of unrealities could be imagined?
This is what happened to Alpert and the people who started taking LSD early in the '60's. Where they had been self-seekers they became pleasure-seekers. They became tribal man as opposed to fragmented literate man. They lived in communes. They developed a new ethic of love and happiness. They became sensual and creative. They valued spontaneity over planning. They tried to live in the moment only and wholly.
But they ran into snags. They found that life was almost as difficult when they weren't high as it had been before they ever heard of LSD. They couldn't get enough pleasure. No matter how much they refined their desires they could never satisfy them. If they liked listening to music they couldn't stop at having a stereo. They had to have a better stereo. And then a better one. And then a better one. And then a better one. It was the trap of the subtle. the constant refinement of the senses along an asymptotic curve that approached nearer and nearer to the line but never got there, the predicament of the professor who is constantly improving and revising his theories but never can know it all, the predicament of Harvard and of Western society in general.
And then there were the problems with people. No matter how pure and loving their relationships with other people were when they were on LSD, they couldn't stop their egos from reasserting themselves when they came down. They couldn't stop wanting and not wanting other people to do and be certain things. "Love" was as agonizing as ever. Friendships were still ambiguous. They had shaken off the usual kind of concern for prestige and status, but their own hierarchies were almost as oppressive. "How many hours did you spend with God on year trip?" they would ask. "I got to sit on his lap." Each one tried to be more creative, more hip, more turned on than the others. They were still making comparisons and being dependent on the comparisons to measure their worth. They were still being dependent.
In a word, LSD was giving them spiritual experiences but it was not giving them spiritual lives. Their lives were not different from those people who had come to the same realizations without taking LSD.
The fact that people were getting radically new kinds of awareness about society and their lives even without using acid was significant to Alpert. If you could get hip without taking LSD, why couldn't you trip without taking it? Moreover, he knew it was possible. Mystics had been doing it throughout the history of man.
So Alpert went to India and met Bhagawan Dass, who showed him the most important thing missing from the lives of the trippers in the States--discipline. Trippers get unhappy when they stop tripping. Bhagawan Dass never got unhappy because he never stopped tripping. He never let desire or fear cloud his mind. He never stopped telling himself to be here now. He never let his mind descend from the high places.
Alpert instantly recognized the truth in Bhagawan Dass's existence, but he wasn't there yet. He was weak. He could see what to do but he couldn't make himself do it. He still doubted.
Then he met the little old man who could read his mind. His ego caved in. He began a new life.
The biggest question of his past was solved the day after he met the guru, whom the people called the Maharaji. He and Bhagawan Dass had been taken to a temple twelve or thirteen miles away to spend the night. In the morning the Maharaji sent for them, and Alpert decided on the way that he would ask the guru about LSD. But when they came into his presence Alpert felt so radiantly happy he didn't have any questions. The Maharaji called him forward and said, "Is there anything you want to ask?"
"No," Alpert said.
"Show me the medicine," the guru said.
Alpert wasn't sure what he meant. Bhagawan Dass said to show him the LSD, so Alpert took his drugs out of his shoulder bag and shook them onto his hand.
"Do they give powers?" the Maharaji asked.
Alpert thought he must mean vitamins. He was an old man, and he probably needed energy. He shook his head and began to put the drugs back in the bag. But the old man stopped him.
"Give me one," he said. Alpert handed him a tab of White Lightning. "Another," the guru said. Six hundred and ten mikes. "Another," he said. Nine hundred and fifteen micrograms.
All that day Alpert stayed near the Maharaji. Nothing happened. Occasionally he would twinkle mischievously at Alpert, but it was plain to see that LSD didn't affect him at all.
ALPERT stayed at the temple for eight months. He was given a teacher, a fifty-year-old Brahmin who had grown up alone in the jungle and never had any formal education but spoke and wrote eight languages. He was on a vow of silence the entire time Alpert was there. He was 5'4" tall, weighed ninety pounds, and drank only two glasses of milk a day. His feces were like marbles, Alpert says, but he was one of the strongest men at the temple. He was always being called on to move rocks. The people called him the little Maharaji.
The people revered the holy men. The women in the area cooked succulent dishes and brought them to the Maharaji every day. Their eyes touched him on the hill, but he was everywhere. He could read their thoughts. He could know anything he wanted but he didn't want anything. His body and mind were so pure, so receptive to the energies of the cosmos, so "escaped from his troubles," that he could among other wonders taste the women's rich gifts all day without becoming full. He performed so many miracles that when Alpert would stagger up to a friend and jabber "Guess what the maharaji did! . . ." the friend would say "That's nothing. You should hear what he did last week. . . ." Once when Alpert, whose greatest problem was his attachment to food, went into the city to see about his papers he went to a restaurant and ordered some muffins, a delicacy he had forbidden himself. When he came back to the temple, the Maharaji smiled and said, "Did you enjoy your muffins?"
They couldn't understand why Alpert's desire for food made him alternately starve and stuff himself. "Don't fast if it is difficult," his teacher would say. "Eat as much as you like." But all Alpert's hangups about discipline were focused in his eating habits. All his desires were centered on food. He had gone from 200 to 145 lbs. in his wanderings, and he wanted to stay thin. Part of the holy men's power came from the extreme purification of their bodies, the cleansing and exercising of every sense until they could be aware of and control the most basic bodily functions. They had transferred all their bodily energies into consciousness. Westerners' greatest energies are centered in the groin; Indians have learned to transfer energy up the spine from the groin to the brain. Thus they can perform what to the Westerner are superhuman acts. Alpert witnessed an exercise in which a man seemed to die and come back to life. A soldier who was an advanced student of yoga came to pay his respects to the Maharaji when his caravan passed through the area, and the Maharaji guided him through the exercise. He sat cross-legged on the ground and held his breath while concentrating on the space between his eyebrows where three veins come together. Instructed by the Maharaji, he maintained concentration on that point even while his lungs ran out of breath and he technically suffocated. The trick was to forbid his consciousness to descend to his lungs, to forbid it to say, "I'm dying," to forbid himself to gasp for breath.
As he did this his body became rigid and he was in all appearance dead, The Maharaji pushed him over and he fell rigidly like a corpse, his legs still crossed. But he came instantly back to life as soon as the Maharaji commanded him to break the trance.
That kind of one-pointed consciousness is what Alpert is trying to attain. In each of us there is a who we are who has no desires, he says. This is the witness, the small place that watches everything and wants nothing. If we can stay in that place, maintaining bare attention to all nature, to our own egos and to the dream of the external world, maintaining bare attention without doing anything about what we see, then out desires and struggles will play themselves out and disappear. The process is to avoid attachment to anything, even the attainment of non-attachment itself. This Alpert watches his neurotic games but does not struggle against them. "Drinking root beer," the witness notes when he goes to the refrigerator in his father's house in New Hampshire where he is staying now. "Blaming self for drinking root beer."
When all the separations we have erected between ourselves and the universe drop away, we merge with the universe. The Maharaji, a fully realized being, can know everything because his consciousness is co-extensive with the universe. He has no ego. His self alternates between being the universe and seeing it whole in a constant rhythm that is like sexual intercourse with the cosmos. He is pure love.
"Why doesn't the Maharaji stop the Vietnam war?" some people ask, the way newspaper reporters ask, "Why are we unhappy?" Understanding stops action. The kingdom of heaven is not of this world. When we become like little children we see that all rewards are inside ourselves. We see that the world is an illusion formed by energy playing hide-and-seek. The military-industrial complex creates the Vietnam war. The Vietnam war creates the military-industrial complex. Professors create books. Books create professors. Suffering rates our egos. Our egos create suffering. People create people.
We go by seven-day cycles around here. We call them weeks. We divide the week into days and make it important to remember what day of the week it is. This is good. This is part of our karma. In each day of the week we find suffering and joy. Some of out joys are almost as good as the joys people have in movies. Our sufferings are better not spoken of. But we keep moving an changing. The part of us called Calcutta begins to look like Detroit. The part of us called America is materialistic, so when a spiritual awakening happens there it is precipitated by a material chemical. People in the East are sinking into the illusion, people in the West are coming out of it. "It's all one to me," Alpert says.
Compassion for the human drama is the highest form of love, Alpert says, "Don't be sucked into ego games," he says. When a man who had just left a mental hospital came to visit him, Alpert refused to be impressed by his complaints. "I'm going to go crazy, I'm going out of my mind," the man cried, his face between his hands. "Are you crazy now?" Alpert asked, once, twice. Soon the man was smiling and admiring Alpert's candle. It's difficult to be neurotic if you spend enough time with someone who isn't neurotic at all. Westerners' "love" is the working out of personal fantasies by manipulating other people, Alpert says. We bribe people. We have yachts wash up on each others' beaches by accident. We want things from each other. But real love transcends social and chemical processes, Alpert says. True love does not impose desires on the beloved. True love in simply being in the same place at the same time.
Alpert loves everyone who comes to see him, and it is hard not to return the feeling. He has been speaking at Esalen Institute in California, out in the sun with his body-suit on, but now he is back in New Hampshire. He compares his talks to the speeches holy men give in the marketplace. They are "his thing," but they really aren't important. The funny-looking white cloths and beads he wars aren't important either. They remind him not to want anything.
Alpert will go back to India in the next year or so. Meanwhile his teacher is sending him letters, and Alpert is practicing what he has learned so far. He tells the people who visit him that they don't have to study Eastern Religion to become as happy as he is. "You ask me what it is with curiosity and maybe even need, and all I can tell you is it's an experience you're having constantly," he says.
In Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus thinks of Eastern holy men gazing at their navels. He is a Westerner, so he wants to be able to use all his knowledge. In a flash of intuition he realizes the link of navelcord to navelcord through the generations can be used for a telephone connection. He can use his navel to dial Adam and Eve.
It's all one. Choices were invented by someone in the first marketplace who wanted to sell something. "Would you like some of this or some of this, which looks and tastes exactly the same," he said to the first Westerner. And the Westerner chose.
Don't look for Eastern Religion in someone else's meditation classes. Find it by watching the sun come up between two obelisks in Mount Auburn Cemetery. Find Eastern Religion in decency and clean living. Even better is to let it find you.
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