Tuesday, January 21, 2014

“We’re going into the labyrinth. She had proposed that we start a business together, and in fact that happened. The business is called Pharmacophilia. And so instead of talking about psychopharmacological engineering, and theorizing, we’re going to start doing it. With whatever we can do now, undercapitalized without a lot of resources. And our first product will be Pharmahuasca. Those who are familiar with The Entheogen Review and other publications surely know that it’s more or less a code-word for an ayahuasca analogue made with pure compounds, as opposed to plant extracts or teas or infusions. And there are possibilities of making them legally. The MAOI—the ayahuasca alkaloids—ß-carbolines, are not controlled anywhere to my knowledge except in Japan. As for the tryptamines, in Europe DMT is the only one that’s controlled, unless you classify LSD and ibogaine as tryptamines, which certainly they are. But of the simple, what I call the short-acting tryptamines, DMT is the only one that is controlled. And so that gives you quite a lot of latitude for different tryptamines that can be added. So we’re going to make this as two separate pills, one of which is the Natural Herbal Relaxant, which is a minimal MAOI dose of ß-carboline, and the other one is the Natural Herbal Tonic, which is a minimal psychotropic dose of a short-acting tryptamine which is legal. And so one tablet of the one, plus one to three tablets of the other will give a three- to four-hour pharmahuasca experience.” 

Spiritual and Mystical Experiences

“For many, perhaps most, people the main reason to partake of Ayahuasca is spiritual. In all traditional and institutionalized contexts of Ayahuasca the consumption of the brew is a sacrament, a sacred ritual. It is not for nothing that psychoactive plants have been called ‘plants of the gods’ (Schultes and Hoffman, 1979) and that for many the term ‘entheogen’ (i.e. that generating the god within) is currently replacing the older and, to some, pejorative, terms ‘hallucinogen’ and ‘psychedelic.’  Personally, if I were to pick one single effect of Ayahuasca that had the most important impact on my life (there were many and the choice of one is not all that easy), I would say that before my encounter with the brew I was an atheist (I used to define myself as a nineteenth-century-middle-European-like intellectual who is a devout atheist with a strong affinity to Jewish history and its scholarly tradition) and when I returned back home after my long journey in South America, I no longer was one. Likewise, a significant number of informants I have interviewed indicated that the main lesson they received from Ayahuasca was religious or spiritual. ‘Ayahuasca showed me that God exists,’ ‘I have come to appreciate the place of the sacred in human life,’ ‘I have encountered the Divine,’ are all statements I have heard more than one person say. There are many individuals who, in direct consequence of their experience with Ayahuasca, underwent a radical religious or spiritual conversion. Towards the end of sessions, it is very common for members to tell the group of the great impact that the encounter with the ‘tea’ has had on their lives. Many times in such testimonies I have heard people proclaim that this encounter was the single most important event in their lives, that it had totally changed them, that with it they found healing and new meaning to their human existence. For some, the transformative impact of Ayahuasca is long-lasting and its effects remain throughout the course of the person’s entire life.  The consideration of the spiritual and mystical experiences associated with Ayahuasca extends beyond the cognitive-psychological domain proper. A serious theoretical examination of these experiences should include analyses pertaining to personality theory, clinical psychology, metaphysics, and theology. This discussion is bound to involve observations and reflections of a personal and speculative nature, ones calling for a style of discourse very different from that I have adopted here. Hence, the topic is outside of the present framework. Here I would only like to make several brief phenomenological remarks and to relate the experiences encountered with Ayahuasca to those reported in the literature on mysticism; for pertinent general discussions the reader is referred to Bucke (1901), James (1902), Underhill (1911), Stace (1960), Maslow (1970), and Scharfstein (1974), as well as Masters and Houston (1966), and Wainwright (1981) who specifically discuss substance-induced mystical and religious experiences.”

Encountering the Divine

“Earlier I examined visions in which God, deities, and divine beings are encountered. The emphasis there was on the visual aspects of the visions; here I would like to focus on their spiritual aspects and on the experience people characterize as encountering the Divine.

Not surprisingly, it is not easy to describe experiences of this kind. Here, indeed, we reach the realm of the ineffable. There is no question in my mind that when people say that they have had ‘an encounter with the Divine’ they are referring to a genuine experience that they have had. I have had such experiences too. Explaining what this experience consists of, however, is less clear. Nor is it clear that all people employ the phrase with the same facility. I have asked several of my informants to explain what they meant by this term. Their answers included references to ‘a presence which is full,’ ‘the ground of all that exists,’ ‘the source of all life,’ ‘the fountain of all wisdom,’ ‘the utmost perfection,’ and ‘sublime happiness.’

An experience that for me was very powerful occurred at a Daime session:

‘I was sitting in front of a white wall on which a golden star of David (the seal of Solomon) was inscribed [this was real—this symbol is central in the Santo Daime Church]. The star-shaped figure was shining and I felt a presence very strongly. The expression ‘behind the Veil’ (traditionally employed in Judaism to characterize indirect encounters with the Divine) came to my mind and I engaged in a silent communication with whatever power was there.’

Subsequently, in a letter to a friend I wrote that I was washed by grace and that I understood that all Existence is infused with the Divine, with sacredness.”

Mystical Experiences

“As noted, various aspects of the Ayahuasca experience are reminiscent of patterns found in reports of mystical experiences encountered in many religious traditions. In particular, I would like to point out that all the classical characteristics of mystical experiences defined by Stace (1960) are encountered with Ayahuasca (see also Bucke, 1901; James, 1902; Forman, 1990; Wade, 1996; and Merkur, 1999). Stace distinguishes between two types of mystical experience which he labels the ‘extrovertive’ and ‘introvertive.’ Each of these is defined by a series of seven characteristics. However, out of the seven only the first characteristic significantly differs for the two types.

Stace further claims that only the introvertive type can be induced by external means. I disagree: all the experiences he associates with the extrovertive are also encountered with Ayahuasca. In the light of this disagreement, and since with respect to most features the two types are the same, I have opted to combine the two aspects in one paragraph and present just one list of characteristics, not two, as Stace does.

With Ayahuasca all the patterns associated with both types can be encountered. Following is a list of these patterns along with commentary on the comparable phenomena encountered with Ayahuasca.

1. Unity. In the extrovertive case, unity pertains to the mystic’s perception of the world; in the introvertive case, unity pertains to the mystic’s state of consciousness. Consequently, in the former case the mystic directly feels that behind the multiplicity in the world there is oneness that is apprehended as unitary consciousness devoid of sensual form and conceptual content. In the latter, the mystic feels that the boundaries of the self dissipate and that he or she becomes one with an existence larger than him- or herself. Both patterns are encountered with Ayahuasca.

2. Transcendence of time and space. The mystic feels that time and space are no longer relevant.

3. Noesis. The mystic regards what he or she experiences as illumination or true knowledge. In particular, visions and ideations are taken to pertain to an objective, independent reality. The assessment that this is the case is grounded in a direct, intuitive feeling.

4. Positive feelings of blessedness, joy, peace, happiness. All these feelings are very marked with Ayahuasca. Harmony is yet another pillar of this experience.

5. A sense of sacredness. This is manifested in whatever is being apprehended is taken to be holy and divine. This is the general atmosphere that Ayahuasca induces.

6. Paradoxicality. Mystical experiences seem to defy the standard cannons of logic. The medieval philosopher and mystic Nicholas de Cusa said explicitly that in order to reach the higher realms of the Divine one has to leave rationality behind:

‘The abode wherein You [God] dwell unveiledly—an abode surrounded by the coincidences of contradictories. And this coincidence is the wall of Paradise, wherein You dwell. The gate of this wall is guarded by a most lofty rational spirit; unless the spirit is vanquished the entrance will not be accessible. Therefore, on the other side of the coincidence of contradictories You can be seen—but not at all on this side.’

7. Ineffability. Many facets of the Ayahuasca experience are described by drinkers as being beyond any verbal description. I reckon that the most fitting thing is not to say anything further here; for general philosophical discussion on this matter, see Stace (1960) and S. Katz (1992).

Lastly in the literature it is also pointed out that mystical experiences often have concrete, pragmatic effects. Indeed, some have taken the transformative impact to be a defining property of these experiences (see Pahnke and Richards, 1966; Pahnke, 1972). This impact may manifest in religious conversion, changes in world-views and belief systems, and in new definitions of one’s personal and ethical values. As indicated in the introductory comments to this section, with Ayahuasca such manifestations are common, and often they are quite radical. For general discussion of the long-term psychological and psychotherapeutic impact of psychotropic substances the reader is refered to Masters and Houston (1966) and Grof (1980, 1994, 2009).

In sum, all the paradigmatic characteristics of the mystical experience are encountered with Ayahuasca.

By way of conclusion, let me point out that the foregoing comparative statements also bear on the more general question regarding the status, meaning, and value of religious and spiritual experiences induced by the ingestion of psychoactive agents. Are these comparable to the experiences of mystics attained without external agents? Are they as valuable? With respect to the first facet of the question, the phenomenological, my empirical study of Ayahuasca leads me to answer with a categorical ‘yes.’ The second facet, that of value judgement, is to be discussed elsewhere.”

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