Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index
The Still Point: Reflections on Zen and Christian Mysticism.
Johnston, William. (1970).
New York: Fordham University Press.
xiii + 193 pages.
Contents: Preface, 11
Excerpt(s): In some ways
the word "mysticism" is unfortunate. It is too much
surrounded with an aura of the occult, stemming from its etymological
origin, as though it spoke of something a little esoteric. The
same is true of its Japanese equivalent, shimpi. This also
suggests abnormal psychic experiences; it recalls Aldous Huxley
and the addicts of lysergic acid diethylamide
(LSD). Hence it is not surprising that so many Zen masters reject
it, denying that their exercise is in any way mystical. (page
But if religious experience is so important, it
might be a good idea to stimulate it, and thus arises the use
of drugs as a way to mysticism. The best-known experimenter in
this line is, of course, Aldous Huxley, whose
little book The Doors of Perception told of the inner world
of mystical space that the author had discovered under the influence
of mescalin. A religious adventurer Huxley may have been, but
no one can deny his brilliance as a writer. Anguished man, he
insists, feels an irresistible need to escape, to transcend self,
to get away from the drab world; and of all the possible ways
of achieving this transcendence, mescalin, which induces mystical
experience, is the least innocuous and most successful. ("All
I am suggesting is that the mescalin experience
is what Catholic theologians call `a gratuitous gift,' not necessary
to salvation but potentially helpful and to be accepted thankfully
if made available.") The some times tragic subsequent history
of mescalin need not occupy us here. Some years
ago, while visiting a Zen monastery far out in the countryside
at the foot of Mount Fuji, I was astonished to hear the good Roshi
refer to an article about "instant Zen" in Time,
where it was indicted that LSD might be a short-cut to satori.
The monk smiled good-humoredly. He neither affirmed nor denied.
But his smile bespoke what was in his heart. (page 134)
First of all, philosophical. I have expressed my
opinion that the best philosophical definition is the Thomistic
"simple intuition of the truth." This covers Christian
mysticism, Hellenic and Neoplatonic contemplation, and Zen. All
these can, I think, be truly said to culminate in an intuitive
grasp of the truth which becomes increasingly "simple"
in proportion as duality (particularly subject-object duality)
is lost in an experience of unity. But can this definition cover
experiments like Huxley's? Here I would say no-if the subject,
far from seeking truth, is trying to escape from it. And Aldous
Huxley avowedly is doing just this.
Then from the theological aspect. I have referred
to the Thomistic contention that faith in, and love for, God in
Christ enlightens the mind with high wisdom. In other words, what
is special to Christian mysticism, both in its initial and final
stages, is precisely this sapiential and unitive love. Such a
way of speaking is, I believe, eminently suitable, and the Zen
Roshi would readily agree that their exercise does not fit into
As for the drugs, if they do not induce mysticism
in the philosophical sense, a fortiori, they have nothing to do
Thirdly, there is the phenomenological aspect. Here
the description of William James remains, I believe, substantially
accurate and acceptable. Perhaps it is most significant in pointing
out that mysticism plunges downward, opening up a new and deep
level of the psyche untouched by discursive thinking and reasoning.
And again, while admitting that it covers both the Zen and Christian
experience, we might ask if a similar psychological condition
is induced by the mescalin experiment of Huxley.
It seems true, indeed that certain drugs can touch
the same level of psychic life as does mysticism, accentuating
the same faculties and enabling one to see into the essence of
things in a way similar to Zen. Indeed, James himself indicates
that "the drunken consciousness is one bit of the mystic
And yet I would be reluctant to call such experiences
mystical, even in the phenomenological sense. The reason is that
the true mystical descent to the core of one's being is always
accompanied by progress in moral virtue and in psychic maturity,
and effects a reform or conversion or whatever it may be. In Christian
mysticism it has always been the moral norm, formulated in the
so-called " Rules
for the Discernment of Spirits," that determines the validity
of mystical experiences. But in the use of drugs no such moral
change is evident: Aldous Huxley himself
made no such claim to have grown in virtue after swallowing mescalin.
There is as yet no evidence for the existence of a drug that effects
the detachment and the serenity resulting from silent meditation.
And all this indicates a profound difference between the experiences.
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Compilation copyright © 1995 2001 CSP