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,
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
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
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.
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
JEFF: I reviewed a book Sex, Drugs, Violence
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.
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
JEFF: In Sex, Drugs, etc. the author describes
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.”
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.
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
lot of people to understand, or it's apparent ideology. Is Krishna defending
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
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
SCOTT: Not directly, though it’s an important
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
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.”
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
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
I have been a
member of MAPS (maps.org) 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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:
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
soul to the total: ourself.