Are Psychedelics Useful for Spiritual Awakening?
The usage of psychedelic substances for the purpose of spiritual growth is something that is not uncommon – it has been done for a very long time. Occasionally, authors appear in the West that revive the interest of public in these things. One of such very popular author was Carlos Castaneda, who in the second part of the 20th century went to Mexico to research the spiritual usage of the psychotropic plants, which resulted in him studying from a shaman for a prolonged periods of time. In more recent times there have been many other researchers that also popularized the usage of psychotropic substances, DMT, ayahuasca, and many others.
The supporters of such substances speak about life-changing experiences that they had while taking them, something that evoked in them things that they never experienced before, as well as learning what some high human qualities are, such as compassion and love. I have talked to a person who said how his experience of taking LSD during the 1960’s made him aware of love in a true way, and he wasn’t referring to desire, but to something that he indicated to be a high form of love.
It is my impression that a majority of people that decide to take the psychedelics for the purpose of spiritual growth, have already went through (or are still going through) a life stage of taking “recreational” drugs, such as marijuana, MDMA etc. This shows that they had predisposition towards mind-altering substances already from before, and that what is driving them to go in this direction is familiarity with such states and a hope that they could become more spiritual by using them, or perhaps even reaching spiritual awakening. There is a large sub-culture today which combines the elements of psychedelic music, partying, taking drugs, and is woven with a philosophy of spiritual awakening through the usage of mind-altering drugs. Obviously this type of illusion is eventually spotted by the participants who truly yearn for spiritual change, which often time ends in them moving away from this sub-culture.
There are also, of course, other types of people who decide to take the route of the psychedelics; seekers who want to see for themselves if they will arrive to a spiritual insight or other things related to their spiritual progress. They understand the implication of the route that they have chosen, and are embarking on this journey from mostly spiritual aspirations. Often time they know something about magic, the Mother Nature and her spirits of nature, etc. They approach the subject with respect, and such people can benefit from this route. Possibly Carlos Castaneda was also one of these people, to whom a sacred plant was given to consume in order to “open his eyes”, and then later on the need for it was gone. The problem arises when the need for it is gone, but the person keeps using it, falling into a belief that it is only through consuming it that he or she can get what they need.
One of the very popular plants of this kind, which brew is known as ayahuasca, is often consumed during ceremonies guided by an instructor or a shaman. Such things are very popular in the countries of Latin America, particularly in Peru and Brazil, and have been popularized by a number of popular people of today. During these ceremonies, participants can apparently receive an understanding about themselves or the world; for many this can be life-changing, and for many others it is too intense to ever repeat it again. In more recent times the ayahuasca ceremonies have become a big part of tourism of the countries of Latin America in which this plant is legal.
The question arises, is the usage of the sacred plants and the psychedelics in general necessary for spiritual awakening? I would say that it might be useful to some people that are too stuck in the hypnotic effect of the materiality, and who simply cannot wrap their mind around spiritual truths, whose eyes are closed to anything that is not materialistic. It might also be useful to some people who are already spiritually aware, and they feel a strong pull towards learning from nature, and feel that using the sacred plants could help them on their path. There are also cases where people search for guidance and feel that they should use ayahuasca for this reason, though there are many other active alternatives for guidance that are safer and entail more clarity, such as pilgrimage, or a mild type of a vision quest etc.
The plants themselves, however, do not take someone to the point of awakening. They could serve to particular people to start their spiritual journey or perhaps even to deepen it, however to move on the path it is necessary to rely on oneself and ones own inner qualities. It eventually becomes necessary for everyone to learn to go inwards and to receive strength, inspiration, and all other qualities without needing to take mind-altering substances. One of the problems with such substances is that they unlock parts of our psyche, such as the subconscious and the unconscious mind, that can project illusionary images, misleading the person that what they see is true and that it is a guidance from a higher source. They can also cause what is known as a “bad trip”, rendering the participants unable to escape the experience until the effect of it subsides, which could have a devastating consequences.
As with everything else, one should listen to their heart when choosing the activities that they want to embark upon on their spiritual journey. We are all different and the way we learn is also different, but it is always much better to listen to and to act upon the voice of the soul, rather than the promptings of the ego. The spiritual path that leads to awakening is intense enough as it is, and is interesting enough as it is. In this case, the additional stimuli are useless (and can create a hindrance) when we know what it is that we want, and when we apply the correct methods towards reaching our goal.
HDP, August 2020.