Is the Sacred Medicine Path a Legitimate Spiritual Path?
Christopher Bache, 2003
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I want to thank Kate Thomas for her thoughtful observations on my book, Dark Night, Early Dawn. She would be surprised, perhaps, to learn that I share many of the concerns she raises — the need for careful preparation before entering deep states of consciousness, the potential risks of rushing into these states unprepared, and the shallowness of much “new age” spirituality. In pressing her case, however, Thomas makes a number of assumptions that strike me as unfounded, assumptions about the inner dynamics of psychedelic therapy, about how I have conducted myself in this work, and about what constitutes “authentic” spirituality. I would like to address these assumptions here.
Anyone who publicly addresses psychedelic states of consciousness today walks a thin line. On their right is mainstream culture who says that these experiences are not real, simply hallucinations. On their left are some in the spiritual community who say that they are not useful, or worse, that they are counterproductive to genuine spiritual development. Thomas places herself in the latter camp. Her complaint is that the experiences presented in my book are less than genuine spiritual experiences because they are artificially induced, too easily come by, potentially misleading, and unnecessarily severe.
The psychedelic state is a highly interactive state of consciousness. Thus, it is simply not true that the insights acquired on this path are independent of the subject’s maturity, integrity, and aspiration.
Spontaneous vs. Cultivated Experiences
Let me say at the outset that I have not read Thomas’ books in which she reports her own spiritual experiences, but I have no doubt that when I do, I will be moved by what I find there. She clearly writes from deep inner experience, and the genuineness of her concern for other spiritual practitioners is obvious. In contrasting her and my transpersonal experiences, she emphasises that her experiences surfaced spontaneously and were unsought. She feels this is a significant point, as is the fact that they did not leave harmful aftereffects and that they developed sequentially, preparing her system step by step for the spiritual breakthrough that occurred in 1977.
Because I approach life within a reincarnationist perspective, I assume that when we see signs of early spiritual opening like this, we are seeing the carryover effect of spiritual practices undertaken in previous lifetimes. While I have deep respect for persons whose spiritual lives unfold in this way, I do not think that the states of consciousness that arise “spontaneously” are inherently superior to those which arise after years of spiritual practice in this lifetime. Awakening is awakening, whenever it occurs. Furthermore, awakening is a natural, organic process. We should therefore expect it to take in many forms. Given what we have learned about life’s passion for variety, it would be surprising if it were otherwise.
The Problem of Easy Access
Turning to psychedelics, Thomas assumes, as do many who have little experience with these agents, that these substances give persons instant access to the deepest secrets of the universe.