Nitya Teachings

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JEFF; There's something I've got to ask you right off the bat: What do your gurus/teachers think of using psychedelics?


SCOTT: My immediate guru, Nitya Chaitanya Yati, was staunchly opposed to any drug taking. There was quite a clash when he settled in Portland in the 1970s, because we were all thinking of drugs as the keys to liberation. Drug use was very much out of control at that time, but he insisted if he was going to teach someone they could not have any substance clouding their mind. When you’re fond of clouds, it takes time before you can appreciate a clear sky. Once you do, the clouds seem a little intimidating. But the transition was chaotic, for sure.

  In any case our drug use in those days was haphazard and mostly unguided. Nitya’s teaching was very intense and didn’t tolerate a lukewarm attitude at all. So it was like getting a hard kick in the seat of the pants, or say, the seat of the ego. Eventually I came to toe the line, and discovered what a fantastic high just being alive and attuned was. Once you are expressing your dharma, your true inner talents, life becomes very blissful. Now, “getting high” in the traditional sense just brings me down.

  Despite his ferocity in reining us in, Nitya recounts a vivid and funny drug trip he had as a young man, more or less by accident, in his autobiography Love and Blessings. Let me quote a bit of the aftermath:


The world I had known up to then seemed infinitely drab, pale, bleak and boring. Now I had been ushered into the “real world” where everything is beautiful. I was so soaked in love and compassion that life on Earth had become the most adorable experience I could think of…. The whole night was like a voyage to paradise.

The trip kept me high for two days. When I came out of it I felt ashamed to have allowed my friend to trick me into entering the world of psychedelics. Secretly I felt very grateful to the wonder of the tiny stash-box, which had opened up to me an entirely new avenue of consciousness. If I hadn’t had this experience I would have been less prepared to understand what hash and acid have done to kids in the present day.


  Nitya’s guru, Nataraja Guru, had a coterie of hippie disciples that he was very excited about, because some of them were very serious in learning from him. On a visit to San Francisco in 1968 they gave him STP. The description of his trip and the whole milieu in his Autobiography of an Absolutist, is quite amusing. Like many gurus, he wasn’t much affected by that incredibly powerful psychedelic. His conclusion was it slowed down time, and anything that made time go slow was boring. The hallucinations didn’t impress him. He was an incredibly brilliant, wide awake fellow, who certainly didn’t need any help to be at his best.

  These gurus were not the lovey-dovey, hug and smile types that command large followings, they were keen intellectuals with a panoramic vision of life that can rock the soul, not to sleep but to awaken. They were continually high in ways we can barely imagine.

  I should add though, that before his death Nataraja Guru cautioned Nitya to be less rigid in his teaching. They both realized that Westerners and moderns in general weren’t prepared to handle the traditional intensity. Before long Nitya became the kind and poetic guru that was his true nature, and the one that most people came to know.


JEFF: You mention "soma" in your book, can you comment a little on that?


SCOTT: Soma is an unknown type of psychedelic, most commonly thought to have been pressed from some kind of mushroom. It was made into a nectar and drunk. It is identical with amrita, the divine nectar of immortality, and it may be more than a coincidence that the amanita mushroom sounds similar to amrita.

  Immortality, by the way, doesn’t necessarily mean living forever, which is the materialistic interpretation. It indicates the global perspective of higher consciousness, as opposed to the limited, or mortal, outlook of ordinary consciousness. When we are raised up out of our tomb of ego fixations to a universal or absolute vision, we have become immortal in that sense. Most of us need a boost from outside, at least at the beginning, because we have become resigned to the tomb and don’t know what else is possible.

  At its peak of popularity, soma was central to the rituals of the Vedic religion, its praises widely sung. For some reason it died out a very long time ago, and the rituals replaced soma as the source of spiritual transmission. In orthodox circles today it is probably considered sacrilegious, but it is widely appreciated that most of us in the West came to Eastern spirituality primarily due to the psychedelics we ingested. They have many positive uses, but to my mind their spiritual uplift is the most important of all, because it permeates and heals every aspect of our lives. I wrote extensively about this in the book.

  One of the most interesting connections I’ve come across is a curious convergence of Indian and Greek myths. In Indian mythology the divine eagle Garuda brought the nectar of the gods, soma, from heaven to earth. According to the Greeks, in a parallel move, Prometheus smuggled the divine fire to earth. His punishment ordained by Zeus was to be chained to a rock and have his liver regularly consumed by… an eagle. We can certainly interpolate a connection between these tales in the remote past. The eagle was considered a divine messenger able to fly between heaven and earth, the high and low realms, and heavenly nectar and divine fire sound like they might refer to the same substance, which has often been called a gift of the gods by those who partake in it. Mushroom alkaloids can have a ferocious impact on the liver, too. The pain they cause might well feel like being gnawed by a raptor’s beak.

  What is this divine fire? I had never thought about it before, but a substance that conveys the mentality of the gods is more than simple flames of oxidation on a stick. Whatever it refers to, the effect of even a single spark of it was to stimulate creative thinking and activity in mortals, along with spiritual vision. The Greek version of soma, perhaps.

  The hero Herakles (who I’ve been studying and explicating for the last few years) later shot the eagle and freed Prometheus from his chains. The spiritual meaning is readily apparent: Being freed from whatever is gnawing at your vitals while breaking the chains of your bondage is the whole purpose of a spiritual enterprise.


JEFF: I reviewed a book Sex, Drugs, Violence & the Bible. In that book the author lays out a case that the Hebrew "anointing oil" was a form of cannabis or hash. Assuming this is real (and I have some doubts), Do you think soma might have a similar role in Hinduism?


SCOTT: I do know a couple of “ganga babas” at least one of whom is pretty darn sharp. Mostly they are stoners, but there is a tradition of voyaging inward with the boost of cannabis that is still going on in India. It’s peripheral to mainstream Hinduism, but aren’t mystics always peripheral? Although I had a twenty year love affair with marijuana (ending in 1987), I never found it came very close to being truly psychedelic. I think it provides a first step, showing that there is more to life than we previously imagined, and best of all, that life can and should be funny. Humor is a sign of enlightenment. One of the few things I’ve retained from Paramahansa Yogananda is “A saint who is sad is a sad saint.” If what you’re doing doesn’t make you happy, there is something wrong with it.

  Speaking of steps, every step becomes a snare if you stay on it. We’re supposed to keep going up. One important thesis in my book, drawn from my teachers and the Gita itself, is that you should assimilate the lessons a spiritual medicine teaches you, but then move on. Integrate them into your life. I’ve seen a lot of chronic drug users who are essentially frozen in time, and it looks rather tragic to me. Everything in life has an upside and a downside, and ignoring the downside is a recipe for getting caught. The drugs impart a vision, but then we need to actualize our vision in creative ways instead of constantly replaying it.


JEFF: In Sex, Drugs, etc. the author describes the Shiva-cannabis connection. Can you comment on this from your perspective?


SCOTT: I don’t have much firsthand knowledge, but it is true that the ganga babas I know of are all Shiva worshippers. He is the most appropriate of the trinity Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, who stand for creation, persistence and dissolution, respectively. As pot deactivates the cortex to allow new material to surface, Shiva tramples the ego by dancing on it, releasing the light of new creativity. As Nataraja Guru put it, “If Shiva doesn’t demolish, Brahma won’t get a chance to create again.”

  Of course, Nataraja is an aspect of Shiva, and there is a close relationship between my lineage and Shiva, though as I said the drug use is discouraged. The idea is to break free of all the static mentality and social patterning we are caught in, to release the divine energies we are capable of bringing to our worlds. Psychedelics, and to some extent cannabis, can help with this.

  Everything is born or created, lasts a while, and then is recycled. Shiva stands for the recycling energies that prepare the soil for new crops.


JEFF: I think Bhagavad Gita is a little difficult for a lot of people to understand, or it's apparent ideology. Is Krishna defending war?


SCOTT: That’s true. I’ve encountered a lot of resistance from people who take the Gita literally and then turn their backs on what it has to offer. The Gita advocates peace, non-hurting, kindness to all creatures, equality, and all the rest of the liberal values. It is passionately antiwar. Still, there are times when all of us are called to stand up against criminal activity in ways suited to our temperament, and this important issue is not left out.

  A big part of my impetus in writing a commentary on the Gita was to dispel the myths and get it back on the table as one of the most superb expressions of wisdom the human race has ever produced. It’s right at the top. I address the question of war in detail in my book, Krishna in the Sky with Diamonds, but here is the short version.

  There is a war we all are fighting all the time: meeting and overcoming obstacles. Most of the obstacles are within us. They may be represented as outside events, but they are psychological quirks and stuck places in the mind. Blind spots. If we ignore them they will dominate our lives. Yoga is an effective way of taking them on and getting rid of them. It’s an old-fashioned and intense form of therapy, what I like to call psychotherapy for the sane.

  The Gita boils the obstacles we face down to three categories: fear, anger and desire. The war we are called to wage by Krishna is to stand up to these negative influences and not permit them to turn us into paranoid, fearful people. If that isn’t a just war, I don’t know what is.

  This is made explicitly clear only at the end of the third chapter. The Gita is artful designed to begin on an actual, though symbolic, battlefield and subtly progress to the highest wisdom, and the transition is drawn out for a long time. If you give up on it before you get to the point, you will probably miss the point. And because the Gita is challenging, definitely not the simplified version of how to live, many people do turn away in confusion. You really need persistence and the help of a good teacher to appreciate the wealth of helpful advice it contains.


JEFF: I think the most difficult thing—for any religion or philosophy—is to reconcile non-duality and/or pantheism with daily experience, that is, if there is a supreme Divinity, how can you reconcile with some of the really horrendous things that happen & that people do. Does the Gita address this?


SCOTT: Not directly, though it’s an important issue. Worshipping Krishna as a deity is a corruption that has obscured the non-duality you mention. He stands for the Absolute, the nondual principle that includes everything. He does assure the reader that those who do horrendous things will deliver themselves into horrendous outcomes, but it is our doing, not his. Imagining a puppet master god running the universe is utterly absent from Vedanta, the philosophy presented by the Gita.

  The focus of a spiritual quest is directed to be on how we should live, not how we think other people should. One of the biggest mistakes truth seekers are prone to is to get mesmerized by other peoples’ foibles. It is easy to see the other’s faults and hard to admit our own. We need to turn the arrow of our attention to ourself. We can’t do much for the world’s problems, but we can accomplish a lot working on our own. Ideally, the two go together, but we start by curing ourself, and then extending the cure beyond our skin. Another common mistake is to get overly excited by a partial knowledge and then set off on a crusade to fix all the world’s ills, before we have bothered to appreciate the big picture.

  Krishna as the Absolute is not a director. The universe unfolds according to its innate laws. In addition to being the Absolute, Krishna stands for the aspect of the universe that fosters evolution. Something “out there” is drawing us to increasing comprehension. I admire a quote from Teilhard de Chardin: “The history of the living world can be summarized as the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes within a cosmos in which there is always something more to be seen.”

  We can and do choose how to work with the laws, and we reap the benefits or miseries of our choices. People choose poorly because the obvious temptations, being based on a selfish and limited perspective, have hidden pitfalls. Krishna paints a vast canvas to throw light into the darkness, and then puts the onus on us to decide wisely or not. The Gita concludes with him telling his disciple, Arjuna, “critically scrutinizing all, omitting nothing, do as you like.”

  It’s very handy to blame a god for our troubles, and soothing for our ego, but it doesn’t do anything to fix what needs fixing. That’s our job.


JEFF: Do you see any prospect for what I called "A Renaissance of Psychedelic Exploration"?


SCOTT: I’m hopeful, because the human race needs all the help it can get. We are close to the terminal stage, seemingly, and yet how sad to throw away all our amazing accomplishments because we can’t accommodate ourselves to nature. Psychedelics used wisely and with guidance are the most efficacious tools I know for healing the psyche, short of having an excellent guru in human form.

  I have been a member of MAPS ( for many years. They are working very hard to make scientific testing for medical uses of psychedelics come back in favor, and it’s happening. Check their website and you’ll see a lot of very encouraging test results, despite the continuing resistance of the society.

  Every person who wonders what they are missing should consider safe and hopefully legal ways to do their own exploring. There are alternatives to psychedelics, certainly. But it’s too bad that psychedelics aren’t part of the legal mix at the moment. They are quicker than the alternatives, and ignite interest in them too. I think my trajectory is typical, where the trips fired my passion for psychology and traditional wisdom. They showed me who I am, and put me on a very exciting path of discovery. Once that happened, I stopped using them. They became an impediment instead of a booster rocket into space. But I shudder to think what my life would have been like without them. Quite possibly not worth living.

  It won’t happen anytime soon, but in my ideal world a guided psychedelic experience would be an elective course in high school or college. That’s the proper age to discover who you are and where you want to go. A society made up of independent, wise, and caring souls is a healthy one, and psychedelics should be recognized as an important tool for bringing that about.


JEFF: I liked the section of your book where you describe what Leary meant by TUNE IN, TURN ON, DROP OUT. Can you explain here for readers who may not have even the slogan?


SCOTT: In the Sixties, Timothy Leary’s catchphrase “Turn on, Tune in, and Drop out” became the mantra of the psychedelic movement. Most of us boiled it down to “Get stoned and drop out,” and we put it into practice. Unfortunately, that just left the worst elements in charge of the global hen house.

  The Gita’s advice is to have a transcendental experience, but then integrate it into a life of creative participation. The Gita advocates an active, engaged, life; it is by no means an escapist document, though it recognizes that there are different levels of engagement suitable for different types. Some of us prefer solitude and some want to be center stage, and most fall somewhere in between.

  The evolution envisioned by the Gita is to move away from the master-slave world that we still have, to a level playing field where each is a free and responsible being. Leary and many others in the psychedelic culture had the same vision, while needless to say the masters of the time were not amused at the slave rebellion it incited. I’ll clip in one paragraph from the book, because I can’t put what Leary meant any better:


  Timothy Leary’s exhortation to “Turn on, Tune in, and Drop out” should be understood in this light. “Turn on,” of course, means to take LSD or another psychedelic. “Tune in” is to rediscover your true nature as an enlightened and joyous spirit being. “Drop out” doesn’t mean drop out of life. Quite the contrary, it invites us to abandon the death trip of submission to authority and remain tuned in to our full potential. We should drop out of all the things that prevent us from tuning in. The revolutionary nature of Leary’s phrase echoes the call of the Gita from the ancient past. We must not make the common mistake of treating dropping out as the most important part. “Turn on” and “Drop out” are the thesis and antithesis; “Tune in” is the synthesis, the main course. Tuning in to what we really are is the key to a life worth living, one that substitutes joy for submission.


At least each of us is capable of adding one more joyful soul to the total: ourself.

Scott Teitsworth