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Storming the Kingdom of Heaven


From Here to There, and Back Again

An essay on the differences between the artificially attained, the accidentally attained, and the methodically attained states of higher consciousness.

Artificial Attainment

It may seem strange, if we have not thought about it before, that something like taking drugs may result in experiences of higher consciousness—a relative term meaning at least higher-than-one's-normal-awareness, but more usually meant to indicate some of the highest states of human experience. Part of the difficulty with accepting this idea is that it seems it would be somehow "cheating", as if someone were getting something for nothing, gaining illicitly and even indecently something that is attained otherwise only through a lifetime of dedication and devotion, if indeed not only bestowed by divine grace.

It is easily objected that the experience was simply a drug-induced illusion, and this objection is often even made by the experiencers themselves. And that is at least partially true.


So what are these drugs that can offer a glimpse of "higher states"? I speak here of the so-called mind-manifesting, or "psychedelic" drugs, a group of drugs that include marijuana, hashish, and other cannabis preparations at one end, and mescaline (the peyote alkaloid now synthesized), psilicin (the mushroom alkaloid now synthesized), and lysergic acid diethylamide ("LSD" - first synthesized and later discovered in natural form in ololiuqui) at the other end. I've listed these in an ascending order of power in that a much larger portion of the first drugs, say hashish, must be consumed for any kind of psychedelic effect, than must be consumed of one of the latter drugs, say mescaline. In fact, 150 millionths of a gram of LSD can have a much more powerful effect than a full gram of hashish. (I mention modern synthesis of these molecules not so much for discussion here as to make the point that we are surely in a new relation to these chemicals if we can make them, and modify them at will).

At any rate, we come to something very interesting, especially with mescaline, psilicin, and LSD: the dosage is incredibly small, yet the effect extremely powerful if not to say profound (and it is certainly not necessarily profound). What this seems to indicate is that we are dealing with "higher hydrogens"; whether LSD "causes" the effect or "triggers" the effect, it has the same significance: a very small physical change produces (potentially) a very large change in consciousness, analogous to how a very small amount of matter can produce a very great amount of energy.

So, given some unknown optimum conditions, some miniscule amount of a substance and presto! a profound experience sometimes occurs. What of it? The entire point of the psychedelic drug experience is to get a glimpse of a much higher consciousness that we do not normally have access to. And to realize that now we have to find out how to earn that, achieve it, in a manner integral to our more typical level of consciousness. Anything else is a terrible illusion, and a too horrible price to pay for information that may be got elsewhere. I do not wish to make a moral or value judgment on anyone who considers or has pursued this approach—I myself have—but I think it a good point a former teacher of mine made when he said "The trouble with drugs is that those who don't need them take them, and those who need them don't."

In a now-classic example of the use of drugs and perhaps their ultimate utility, P. D. Ouspensky relates how, after an experiment of his own, in which he tried desperately to convey something to himself from the higher state he was experiencing, he had managed to write down one phrase. The next day he read on the paper "Think in different categories". It is not a bad idea, in fact a good idea, but just another idea, with no particular power of its own for us, no power at all like the power that has made one read this far, the power that results from somehow knowing there is much more, and that leads one to look for a way to it.

Of course Ouspensky, like others before and since, saw the limit of such approaches, and began to look for the next step.

Accidental Attainment

Too, it must seem strange to hear that an epileptic seizure, or a near death experience can include an experience of higher consciousness. Here the objection is more often that some temporary or permanent physical damage or condition, say lack of oxygen to certain parts of the brain, must invariably produce just such a convincing hallucination. In this case however, the objection seems most often to arise from someone who has not had the experience, and many of those who do have the experience seem to adjust their lives from that very day. At any rate, there is no virtue in assuming that the experience is invalid—that is rather forcing the data to fit one's preconceptions, the preconception that higher consciousness is bunk. The data, that is the reports of the experiencers, suggest otherwise.

While much of true knowledge available today is also ancient, the knowledge of the near-death experience is truly modern. Not that people did not have this experience before (Plato's Myth of Er being an elaborate and apparently elaborated example), but rather that today it is possible for reports of that experience to be shared and studied like never before, and the reported nature and effects of it can hardly be denied by an open mind. In addition, due to modern science, more and more people are able to recover from extreme states that would have surely meant death one hundred, fifty, or even ten years ago.

Depending on one's belief system, there may be no objection to spontaneous and accidental experiences of higher consciousness—these may be described, for example, as divine grace. But such acceptance is usually limited to experiences interpreted within the narrow stricture of dogma acceptable to one's beliefs. A Catholic will hardly credit a Bushman's vision of a tree god any more than the Bushman will credit a Catholic vision of a God treed. And someone considering themselves a scientist may well regard any such visions as due to the above-mentioned physical causes.

In any case, none of these means of experiencing higher consciousness has much to commend it in the way of a practical approach. The use of the powerful psychedelic drugs is inherently dangerous and ultimately fruitless. Even if one can experience a higher state under their influence, after the experience one is no longer in the higher state, and only the vaguest of memories concerning it remains. All one can do, and few accomplish this, is somehow remember there was something there, and seek to find it by another path.

Regarding the near-death experience, this, of course, is not to be recommended :-O. In one sense though, these experiences seem to be of more practical value. The reports of profound influence in the experiencer's lives are often supported by witnesses, and the descriptions of the experiences themselves are often imbued with an uncommon beauty and serenity of truth. Nonetheless, hearing or reading another's report of higher vision may stimulate one to search on, but can hardly be the end of that search. Secondhand, it can have no such power.

As for divine grace:

'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Still, what could one keep? What could one remember of higher states in lower states? Again, little more than the realization that there is something there, and a renewed commitment to seek it. In the case of saints and mystics and others who do report on these experiences and noticeably change as a result of them, there is something more at work here—that is, these individuals have in one way or another cultivated not only a receptivity to these experiences, but normally even live in a state or situation that aids in their remembrance. As a very general statement to illustrate this point, they are more likely to be isolated ascetics than bank presidents. And their way of life is aimed at gaining the kind of being that can profit from these experiences.

The Near Death Experience

One of the most remarkable facts of the near death experiences related by others, is their intelligibility. That is, they convey enough to give us the ability to understand something of the validity and even the nature of the experience, although one has not oneself undergone it. This is nothing at all like the drug experience which is invariably relayed in mystical, or rather subjective enthusiastic and incomprehensible, anecdotes that almost always leave the inexperienced listener with a distrust of the experience.

Ouspensky spoke once of how one can realistically determine the validity of the mystical experience through a mere summary study of the reports in different places over different times and recognizing the commonalities. Similarly, I think, with the genuine reports of near death experiences. Of course, one can find many that do not fit the pattern (one can also find many so-called mystical experiences that do not fit the pattern) but this again relates to the education of our ability to discriminate. Anybody can say they know the way to Philadelphia, so how do you determine the more valid from invalid directions? You must already know something, and figure out how to build on that.

The Intended Experience of Higher Consciousness

A few comments on neo-Platonic, Christian, and Sufi practices.

Probably the most well-known neo-Platonist is Plotinus (CE 204-270). Plotinus taught the cultivation of consciousness and in particular the pursuit of what we call the fourth state of consiousness:

I become at one with the Divine, and I establish myself in it.
We should note however, that to pursue the fourth state of consciousness, the attainment of the third state is assumed. As Porphyry, the student and biographer of Plotinus put it:
[H]e was present at once to himself and to others, and he never relaxed his self-turned attention except in sleep.
The work of Plotinus is contemplation of the One, and ordering one's life to coincide with the highest experiences.

I'll avoid stories of Jesus here when speaking of mystical Christianity, and instead begin with Paul. It is at least possible, though near heresy for many, that Paul's experiences may have been related to (temporal lobe) epilepsy. To many people that is to negate them but, as I've discussed above, such experiences may well be of higher consciousness. I'll only add that historically, such experiences were often recognized to be of great value in diverse cultures (for example, the Greeks' "sacred illness"). Also, even if one accepts that epilepsy of some sort may put one in momentary contact with higher consciousness, it is always the same problem—what does one do with those experiences, what can one remember, what can one keep? There is no denying that Paul, however he contacted higher consciousness, held it well. At any rate, the expressions of love in Paul (not the pseudo-Paul of Timothy and other faked letters) are unmistakable and unforgettable, and proved so long-lasting in time as to evidence eternity (see Time and Eternity). It is equally obvious that because someone has temporal-lobe epilepsy, they do not become like Paul. But the inexperienced must find a physical reason for everything, and ignore anything that refutes that.

But I have wandered off. With Paul, we do not seem to have the "usual" intentional acquisition of higher states of consciousness. There is no record of long labor in school work and in fact quite the reverse—we read instead that he was struck by a higher state while on the road to Damascus performing his professional duty of persecuting Christians. If this is not a metaphor, it is an historical record of a fortuitous occurrence. As Ouspensky said, it is nice to find money on the street, but one cannot count on it.

In Sufism, we have perhaps the richest Western literature of the deliberate work on the technology of consciousness prior to the modern appearance of the fourth way. Sufism is as varied as any tradition one can find, and the pursuit and attainment of higher states may have an intellectual, emotional, or physical bent, and often these approaches are combined in some way. But the "proof is in the pudding", and it does not take a great scholar to recognize powerful independent expressions of a common, though individually expressed, higher experience.

But all that says very little about my topic, and I despair of doing better no matter how much I write. Investigate the ancient Vedic traditions and yoga, Native American teachings, Eastern Orthodox, Buddhist and more than I will ever know. But, on the fourth way, view these things from the point of view of the fourth way. Or pursue these other approaches in their own right and don't mix things. And of course, for every genuine teaching there will be ten if not 100 misinterpreted "enhancements" of it, some closer, some downright charlatanism. But remember:

"People would not counterfeit gold if there were not real gold."
- Rumi

I once had the opportunity to look through some of the boxes of papers at Yale University of Ouspensky's lectures, letters, and so on, and in them there was a letter to Ouspensky from someone who had met with someone or other in the Sufi tradition in the mideast. The Sufi said that truth was like the hub of a wheel, and there are as many ways leading to it as there are spokes to the hub of the wheel. But it was important to find one's spoke and stick with it, because by jumping from spoke to spoke one got no nearer the center.

There may be many ways to the truth, but for me there is one, one that recognizes others, and can do so without condemnation.

This has been a fragmentary essay at best, so I'll attempt a summary to tie a few things together and then just let it be. In a few words, all I mean to say is there is little value in discounting other approaches, or even other seemingly illegitimate experiences, but much to be gained from seeing how these relate to the fourth way. The fourth way is not naive, far from it, and in its higher expressions not only recognizes the validity of other approaches, but is strengthened by understanding them. But it is a distinct and definite "spoke". Do not spend your life searching for a way—find yours and move on it.

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