by Ernest Scott
At all times, three separate humanities. The first contains those who live within the five senses and never suspect that further senses exist. The second contains those who suspect "something" but for whom the "something" remains a theory, a myth, an unease in the blood, plausible or implausible but never confirmed. The third contains those who know, not as theory but as experience.
Perhaps within a zodiacal year, the proportions shift. At the beginning, a very few know and the merest handful suspect. All others live wholly within the mundane life. Later more suspect. Towards an Era's end, it may be that a sizeable proportion begins to suspect and press forward, milling incoherently towards confirmation.
Some 20 years ago, almost as though the sand in the hour glass of an era had begun to run out, changes emerged explosively in the social scene. Initially these seemed unconnected with any psycho-kinetic situation.
Kerouac and Ginsberg had become the founding fathers of a social - or anti-social - movement and a young generation, apparently seething with energies they could not rationalise, seized upon it as something that would offer a focus of response to the turmoil within them.
The Hippy and Beatnik ethos was essentially negative. It was anti-Establishment in a crudely emotional way. Then, in 1953, Huxley's experiences with psychedelic drugs were published and overnight the Hippy scene knew the direction it had to take. The Door of Perception burst open.
Within ten years a million "trips" had confirmed the existence of a universe beyond the senses.
The Mysteries were no more. The content of a higher sensorium, hinted at in the sacred literature of every age, disguised in oblique symbolism in a thousand cultures, was available as personal experience at the cost of an ounce of mushroom or a few cc.s of mescaline.
There were, of course, muted protests from knowledgeable occultists; hints of danger, warnings of disaster. There were back doors to expanded consciousness, they said. There always had been. Heaven could be taken by assault. It had been taken by assault in the past. But Heaven so taken might be an infra-Heaven. Or it could prove to be empty.
The Turned-On Society not unnaturally regarded such intimations (when it heard them at all) simply as the trade unionism of the men in possession. Apparently there was an Occult Establishment as well as a Capitalist Establishment. Establishments, by definition, were damned.
Under Timothy Leary, the Scene consolidated, made its discoveries, laid down its philosophy. Finally it staked its claim to a respectability outside the Square Canon and in the decade 1960 to 70 attained a reluctant de facto if not de jure recognition.
So everything in Paradise was lovely? Well, not quite. By the early 60s the first feeble flicker of doubt had begun to show in the drug scene. Odd "value-considerations" like Meaning and Purpose had begun ever so slightly to cloud the ecstatic vision. Mescaline certainly opened the door to a secret room but was this the only room in the house? And was volitional entry to this room of delights (and horrors) the end of all achievement? For many, the experience ultimately became one of barely supportable rue, of ineffable nostalgia, finally of despair. There had to be something else.
Perhaps these doubters - and they seem to have been few - were approaching from bitter experience the standpoint which P. D. Ouspensky had taken from the beginning; that there are many cheap excursions to Knowing; but that knowing without doing is the ultimate futility.
One of the doubters was Dr. Richard Alpert of Harvard.
In 1961, Alpert was at the peak of a successful all-American academic career. He was a bachelor, a successful publish-or-perish academic, delivering ex-cathedra pronouncements on human motivation, Freudian theory and child development. He had research contracts with Yale, two cars, a yacht and a private aeroplane. He drank and he smoked pot. He had it made.
The Kind of doubts that Alpert was to have five years later about the Psychedelic Revelation were, at this time, showing as doubts about the Freudian Revelation.
He had himself gone through analysis (it cost him $26,000) and in his heart to hearts he didn't believe a word of it. For one thing it appeared very successful in fitting him for the Top Table Academic Circuit but he was close to deciding that the Top Table Academic Circuit was as phoney as hell. The whole thing, he felt, was based on pretence - the pretence that those who were teaching, knew.
Acceptable psychology papers were so often conjobs. They skillfully combined the thoughts of other writers who in their turn had combined the thoughts of other writers. Everybody took in some body else's washing and successfully conned the world that It Was All Significant.
"Something was wrong" Alpert wrote "and the something wrong was that I just didn't know - though I kept feeling that somebody, somewhere, must know, even if I didn't. The nature of life was a mystery and all the little bits of molecular stuff I was teaching didn't add up to wisdom."
Part of Alpert's honest doubts centred on his own conviction that he wasn't really a scholar - he just came from "a Jewish, anxiety ridden, high achieving tradition." Yet this, within the parameters of the All-American Academic Scene was enough to ensure acceptance and success. The standards of the day were such that the pseudo could masquerade as the real with almost universal approval. Fraternising with other academics, he continually felt an eerie feeling that everything was less than real, all intellectual fun and games in which subjective pretentions rated as objective truth.
These people, he thought, are the blind leading the blind. They are not evolved human beings. They do not know the things they teach. Yet they were the best that Western culture could apparently produce. From their ranks came holders of power, advisers to Governments, moulders of contemporary thought. In a sense they weren't totally dishonest since they were not rejecting a best to promote a less than best. There was no Best. Or if there was a Best nobody had access to it.
The search for truth had become merely a search for rules that let you win a game. The professor's game was to make his own synthesis from existing material and give it out as lectures. The student's game was to give it all back (carefully slanted in the direction of professorial bias) as exam answers.
Sometimes the system took on the nature of self actualising prophecy. Rogerian patients ended up making positive statements. Freudian patients discovered the significance of their mothers. The System distributed enough reinforcement clues to ensure that its own procedures would be self validating. An analysis subject would sub-consciously notice what associations aroused the interest of the psychiatrist. And on sound whip-and-carrot principles, he would chose the maze run that contained the reward pellet.
Alpert began to feel like the old lady with shares in a brothel. He liked the income but he could not approve of where it came from. The income certainly was attractive. He had his own academic empire and had even helped to design the building for it. He had two secretaries and teams of graduate and research assistants on call. In terms of his family's Jewish standards and in terms of current academic standards he was a High Level Achiever. And this was how it was when one day he discovered a minute office down the hall. It was big enough for one desk and one man. The man at the desk was Timothy Leary who seems to have been incorporated into the organisation on no very clear academic basis. Alpert was struck by the extraordinary intellect Leary disposed and the pair became buddies-and drinking companions. Leary, it transpired, had a trip planned to Mexico and Alpert said he would finish some chores and fly to Mexico and join him. Unknown to either, the psychedelic age lay just ahead.
When Alpert reached Cuernavaca a week after Leary, he heard an extraordinary story. Frank Baron, a psychologist who had connections down Mexico way had introduced Leary to an anthropologist friend working near Cuernavaca. The anthropologist had mentioned a queer old witch-woman he knew in the mountains who ate a certain kind of mushroom and who apparently had extraordinary experiences as a result.
The party had made contact with her and had come back with a selection of the Tionanacyl mushroom, the "Flesh of the Gods". Sitting round a swimming pool they had experimented. Leary had eaten nine!
When Alpert arrived, mushrooms were off the menu but the topic was very much on. "I have learned more in six hours than I learned in all my years as a psychologist" Leary told an incredulous Alpert. The party split up and returned to their respective homes and universities but the world was never to be the same again.
After a spell away from Harvard on a visiting professorship, Alpert returned to find that Leary had started a considerable research project in psychedelics. He had been in touch with Aldous Huxley and together they had interested a chemist in isolating the active ingredient of the mushroom and finally in synthesising it. The drug was called Psylocybin and Leary and a group of graduate students were taking it and recording effects. Alpert was invited to join the party.
Initiation was on March 6, 1961, at Leary's home at Newton. Alpert says he was not nervous because although he felt that Leary might be destructive at the level of institutions he was "interpersonally positive, constructive and loving." The bottle was handed round and Alpert took 10 milligrams, a very low dosage. The drug was Psylocybin, the synthesised version of the active ingredient of the mushroom.
Alpert settled back in his chair. The hearthrug began to move and a picture on the wall to smile-sensations which were not frightening at all but delightful. Less enchanting was the family dog which had come in from romping in the snow and was panting. Alpert saw the dog as something in the last extremities before death and he wanted to carry it four miles to a vet. This alarm faded instantly when the dog, jumping up to play with one of the children, stopped panting.
Then, eight feet from him, Alpert saw a man standing in cap and gown. With a shock he recognised it as himself. One of the "I's" of Alpert, the professorial "I", had apparently dissociated and exteriorised.
Peering into semi-darkness, Alpert saw another figure and recognised it as Alpert the socialite whiz-kid. This faded and was replaced in turn by Alpert the musician, Alpert the airplane pilot, Alpert the Casanova and so on. One "I" after another exteriorised and each time Alpert had the sensation that the aspect of himself materialising before him was an accretion, something irrelevant, and as each disappeared, he agreed inwardly that he "didn't need that one, anyway."
Then a new figure appeared and with a shock he realised that this was the quintessence, the Alpertness of Alpert and he was suddenly in panic. "I couldn't do without that". Then resignation. Perhaps he could do without it. He could make a new social identity "as long as I have a body". Then horror. He noticed he had no legs. Progressively he had no thighs no torso no neck and finally no head. As the last scrap of the basic of existence melted away, he knew real panic, the panic of spectating at his own dissolution. At this moment he hit the jackpot. There was no longer any personality and no longer any body yet he was still aware-proof apparently of the mystics' assertion that the ego is more than the sum of its attributes. This awareness which existed independently of all function, also knew. It was, he says "wise rather than just knowledgeable". Now and forever Alpert would need only to look within for the answer to everything-to the place where he knew. Looking up from the fireside he ran outside, into the snow, laughing, ecstatic, triumphant. "In a moment the house was lost to view but it was all right because inside, "it knew".
He went home and started shovelling the snow from his parents' front garden at 5 in the morning. And there he made a discovery which could be a very important discovery indeed although it has been little remarked on. The noise brought his parents from their beds and his father told him to come in for heaven's sake and not lark about in the middle of the night.
Alpert recognised this as the voice of ordinary life. Inside him the New Thing said in a calm quiet voice. "It's quite all right to be happy."
So he went on shovelling snow and getting wet and happiness bubbled up inside him. A little later he looked up at the window ~e and to his astonishment saw his parents watching, they too, laughing and happy. Alpert realised that a High can be transmitted by contact.
A second lesson, less positive, soon emerged. While he shovelled snow and transmitted his "High" by contact, he felt completely assured. Never again would he be in a condition of doubt. The higher "I" uncovered by the drug would now be always available. It would, from now on, be necessary only to look within for infallible guidance. He had established contact with the Overself and it was all wise, all knowing-and all loving.
Yet in a few days the whole thing was in the past tense. The Beautiful Thing as he called it, had gone back into seclusion and was experienced, not as immediacy but as memory. The other "I"s of Alpert came back. The house had been swept and garnished by 10 mg of Psylocybin, but it wasn't staying swept and garnished. Could the last state of man be worse than the first?
Alpert and his co-experimenters recounted their experiences to others in the academic circle and interest in the new, instant Samadhi was intense. Further trips were taken and detailed records of experience recorded. Then Alpert made an interesting observation. Progressively he found that he was in closer rapport with his fellow-trippers and less and less with his Square colleagues. Like astronauts who had been to the moon, the drug takers had the common ground of a shared experience. With the non-trippers it became more and more difficult to find common understanding of the things described and discussed. There were those who had been to the moon and those who hadn't; those who knew and those who had only been told. They began to separate. Communication broke down. A cult was forming.
Leary began "naturalistic" research. He gave the drug to 200 people-musicians and metaphysicians, ministers of religion and junkies. The first analysis of the questionaire which they had all to complete pointed to one common factor. Experiences were related to personal orientation-and to expectation.
A common denominator began to emerge.
1. It heightened sensitivity.
2. It shifted the viewpoint. You saw the similarities of others to yourself rather than the differences. Difference appeared more as different varieties of dress upon a basic common human-ness.
3. A pooling of identity. Self mingled with other-self and the separateness of people diminished or disappeared.
An extreme extension of this last phenomenon occurred occasionally where communication seemed to become open ended. One person asked a question and another answered but both had the sensation that each had done both.
A very few people, about 3 per cent, seemed to get outside form altogether and experienced merely a homogeneous field of white light or pure energy.
Alpert had experience of this state on one occasion when he was part of this homogeneous energy field for a continuous four hours. A dark wave of red colour then began to seep across his field "like a mixture of the Wave drawing by Blake and something by Bosch." The intruder, he realised, was all of his identities. He held up his hands in horror, crying out "No, no, I don't want to go back." His identities seemed like an intolerable burden which he did not want to re-assume.
The Trippers' early expectations were not realised. A High, however, high it was, produced nothing permanent. On the drug road to Enlightenment what goes up must come down. It seems however to have taken a tidy while for this lesson to sink in-something like five years.
Among Alpert's fellow experimenters there seems to have been a strong resistance to this admission. Perhaps if they increased the dose . . . or kept continuously Up for long enough . . . ?
Five of the group locked themselves in a house for three weeks and took 400 micrograms of LSD every four hours. This apparently wasn't as suicidal as it might seem. A tolerance to LSD is quickly built up and although by now the group were no longer bothering to measure doses exactly and were almost literally drinking out of the bottle, they had a tolerance which apparently ensured an effect ceiling however much the dosage was increased.
At the end of three weeks these five people had seen heaven and hell and there was nothing much hidden in the Mysteries of old that had not been revealed to them. Yet within a few hours they had all come down. The Men Gods were back to being very vulnerable, ordinary, human beings living the mundane life. The fire in the kitchen boiler was a present reality and the Fire of Fohat was only a memory. It seems to have taken something like 200 trips before Alpert got the message. One is tempted to suspect that he was lucky: many probably never would get the message and would remain for ever in limbo between heaven remembered and hell all too presently experienced.
Maybe Leary was mistaken in rejecting the maps of the New World that had been drawn by religious cartographers. He would have discovered that they knew all about it and warned most explicitly against it, saying that it was a snare and a delusion although the trap was baited with exquisite delights.
Increasingly there was conflict between the supernal world and the square world. The Trippers were deeply addicted to the former but regrettably anchored to the latter. White Light does not pay the rent. Yet how could a man who had seen a rose as a coalescence of pure energy be expected to take his mortgage seriously?
The Square World insisted however on being taken seriously-or else. In Alpert's case the Or Else foreclosed. He was turfed out of Harvard.
In despair he tried to analyse the conflict. The things he knew, not as theory but as actual experience, were in a superior dimension. Yet the Square World could insist - was insisting - that its values were paramount. For the first time he began to consider the possibility that he was insane.
The Trippers had to render unto Caesar yet it was Caesar who was the Lame brain. The High Thing was its own justification. Was compromise possible? Could Caesar's world be bent just a little to make life in both worlds possible? Maybe a half-Square environment could be found where the benefits of High did not have to be set off against the loss of - say - a professorship.
Ralph Metzner, Timothy Leary and Ginsberg may have had some such compromise in mind when they went off to India. They may also have been simply drawn subconsciously to an environment where the High was not an absurd delusion but an ancient honoured acceptance. They had noticed that the Tibetan Book of the Dead - ostensibly a 2,500 years old instruction manual on the after-death state - was suspiciously like an account of the very things they knew about from LSD.
Perceptively they considered that the Book of the Dead might not be talking about physical death at all but about the psychology of a Trip; about release, not from the body but from the ordinary senses; and about descent, once again, not to the womb but to the sense-world of University Senates and mortgages.
They suspected that the Book of the Dead was an initiation manual and it may be that they took off for India for deeper psychological reasons than they suspected.
Alpert was still in America, still trying to reconcile the supernal world with the US tax system and finding the going hard. He was now lecturing about psychedelics to anybody who would listen. Audiences included such unlikely co-interests as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Hells Angels.
At this point Alpert came across a man called David who once had been his student. David was an intellectual giant who had gone on to invent a business system which he had sold to Xerox for a fortune and was now, at 35, retired and about to become a Buddhist. He was just about to leave for India. Why didn't Alpert come along too?
Alpert went, taking with him in David's Land Rover, a small pharmacy of psychedelic drugs. His own reasons for the trip are not without interest. "Maybe I'd meet some holy men along the way and I'd give them LSD and they'd tell me what LSD is. Maybe I'd learn the missing clue."
They "did" India, the well-heeled Hippy-Tourist India. They took pictures and made tapes, saw the Dalai Lama and got stoned on hashish in Afghanistan. At the end of it all, there was no enlightenment. LSD still did not reveal its place in any scheme of things. Experiences in India were still experiences in the same two worlds the High and the Square. The meaning and purpose of both worlds (if there was a meaning, if there was any purpose) remained as deeply occluded as ever.
Despair came down now with a vengeance. East or West, the senselessness was uniform. There was nothing to be learned, no revelation that would bring the High World and the Square World together as a meaningful continum. All phenomena, sensory or super-sensory were separate, accidental, random, purposeless insane.
Alpert decided he would go back to America and deliberately choose to be a servant or a chauffeur-some walk in life which would symbolise the deduced truth that there was no sense in anything.
He was sitting in a hippy cafe called The Blue Tibetan with his Buddhist friend David and four or five others, Westerners, seekers, hlppies, when a man walked in. The man was six feet seven inches tall with long blond hair and a long blond beard. Though he was wearing a dhoti he was clearly a Westerner. He was about 23 years
Alpert doesn't imply that there was any Paul on the Road to Damascus thing about meeting this young giant. Nothing much happened, yet something very strange was about to happen.
Alpert had often looked into another man's eyes with the one question that would never let him be. "Does he know, or is he like me, Just dealing in theories?" He never seems to have given up hope that one day he would look into a pair of eyes and know that he had come to journey's end; that on this teeming planet there was somebody who possessed more than information- that there was somebody who knew. And Alpert had never apparently had any doubt: if ever he met eyes that knew he would know that they knew.
The tall man was journey's end. His name-his new name at any rate-was Bhagwan Dass. Alpert's group and Bhagwan Dass stayed together for five days in the Sewalti Hotel. The others seem to have regarded Dass as an interesting fellow traveller and regaled him with their drug experiences. The giant's reaction was disappointing. He declined to extrapolate from their viewpoint. Instead he would simply say "Why don't you do this" and recite some mantra.
The rest of the party were scheduled to move on to Japan, presumably to "do Zen". Alpert began to wonder if he was going with them. Bhagwan Dass (who was really an American from Laguna Beach) didn't exactly say to Alpert "Rise and follow me" but Being apparently spoke to Being and the result was the same.
The rest of the party moved on. Alpert stayed, long enough to collect his traveller's cheques, his visa and what was left of the LSD cupboard. Then follow he did, as the tall American called Bhagwan Dass strode off in the general direction of Baneshwar.
Almost at once Alpert found himself obliged, willy nilly, to ditch his life-long personality co-ordinates. All relationships are games and the giant didn't play games.
"Now that time Leary and I tried a mixture of . . ." Alpert would say and the giant would reply: "Forget the past. Just be here now." "I feel terrible" Alpert would say, "my feet are cut. My legs are dropping off. I've just got to rest."
"These are emotions" was the giant's reaction. "Emotions are waves. Let them go and they'll disappear."
Dass, says Alpert, had compassion but no pity. Finally, the ex-Professor of Harvard began to give in. When the giant said "Sit down here" Alpert sat. When he was told "We sleep here", he lay down and slept.
Even a desperate spell of dysentry brought no great charity. Alpert, playing every instinctive move in the personality game-like a woman trying flattery, guile, anger and tears in turn-could not win. "Fast three days" was all Dass said.
"And yet", says Alpert, "I never felt such a profound intimacy with another human being. And what started to blow my mind was that everywhere he went he was at home." 'Be Here Now' started to - seem more than a brand slogan.
In a Buddhist monastery of the Theravada persuasion, the giant would be welcomed as one of them. In a Shavite settlement he was - instantly accepted as a follower of Shiva. They met a group of Kargyupa lamas-same reaction. The giant had been five years in India and he was somehow at one with all its thousands sects. Or else he was in some way Up There at a level where all the sects were the same anyway. They walked on, apparently aimlessly, and were accepted everywhere-and fed accordingly, a Holy Man and his Chela.
Alpert could never catch Dass asleep. If he woke in the middle of the night Dass would be sitting there in the lotus position. "Maybe he can sleep sitting up" Alpert thought. "Maybe he doesn't need any sleep". He never found out.
One night Alpert got up to spend a penny. Outside, he was suddenly aware of the stars in the heavens. He was also aware that his mother, who had died the previous year, was also there and from where she was, wherever it was, she could see and know things that her son couldn't see and know and that she was encouraging him.
She knew that he was walking barefoot across India with a 23-year old character in a dhoti who by conventional standards was a nut case. Alpert didn't really need validation from beyond the grave but he got it anyway, together with a "souls united" experience with his dead mother. He went back to sleep convinced, doubly convinced, that Alpert the seeker was right, however crazy it all seemed, and Alpert the doubting professor was on his way out.
After some months of this Alpert realised that his visa needed renewing and the giant agreed that they head towards Delhi.
There, the old Alpert put in a quick claim for survival. He insisted on cashing enough travellers cheques to buy a pair of pants and a shirt and a tie so as to appear respectable at the visa office. Documents in order once more, Alpert, half Square, half High, rejoined his teacher.
To his surprise, Dass said that he too had visa trouble and would have to go and see about it. Whatever his problems were they weren't solved and he came back to Alpert next morning and said "I have visa problems. I must see my Guru. We're going to the mountains".
They would, he said, go back to the town where David had left the Land Rover. (He had left it in the care of an Indian sculptor called Harish Johari) and borrow the car for the trip to the Himalayas.
At once the bit of rebellion that remained inside Alpert blew, up into a large dark cloud. He didn't want to go to the Himalayas. He didn't want to see any Guru. And who did this guy think he was, calmly assuming that he could just call in and borrow somebody else's 7000 dollar vehicle ? Gurus were all phoney anyway. California was full of them.
In spite of which, Alpert found himself walking with the giant to the town where Johari lived and half an hour later the sculptor was saying: "If you're going to the mountains to see your Guru why don't you take the Land Rover?"
And next day Bhagwan Dass was driving the Land Rover and a sullen Alpert was sitting beside him and they drove 80 miles into the foothills of the Himalayas.
Alpert is angry. He (or the surviving Professor bit), feels that he is out of his league. He has surrendered his rational universe for a magical one where people give you Land Rovers just because the thought 'lend me a Land Rover' is floating around. He is also uptight for another reason. He has started to find that pot gives him adverse physical reactions and he hasn't smoked for some days now.
Presently they reach a roadside shrine and people appear from nowhere and welcome Bhagwan Dass and they are all so filled with happiness that some of them are crying. Dass asks where the Guru is and they say yes, he's here, and point up the hill.
Dass is now crying like the others and there is a tangible charge of some sort in the atmosphere. Personally Alpert feels nothing but boiling resentment because they're all running up the hill and he is lagging behind and nobody is paying any attention to him. In a field facing into a valley and away from the road there is a little man of maybe 60 or 70 sitting on a blanket with a circle of disciples round him.
To Alpert's horror, Bhagwan Dass, the bloke from California, runs to the Guru, tears streaming down his face and throws himself down on the ground in front of the old man, his fingers touching the Guru's feet. Alpert is saying inwardly 'How ridiculous' and 'I hope they don't expect me to touch his feet'.
The old man whom they call Maharaji, looks up and says something in Hindi and one of the group translates word for word. The Maharaji is asking Dass if Dass carries around a picture of the Maharaji. The answer is yes.
"Give it to him"-pointing at Alpert.
Alpert grins weakly. So he's getting a picture postcard for free. O.K. But he still isn't lying down and touching anybody's feet.
The Maharaji, his eyes twinkling, asks Alpert if he came in a big car. He says yes, he came in a big car, a Land Rover. It's back there a bit down the hill.
The old man says, "You are a rich man. Will you buy a big car like that for me ?" Gurus, Alpert thinks. Thirty seconds in the place and already I'm being hustled. He doesn't know what to say so he says "Well, maybe."
The Guru twinkles some more then says, "Take him away and give him food". He and Dass were taken to a house some distance away and fed delightful food by people apparently overflowing with human kindness. Alpert starts to thaw a little, then a message arrives. The Guru would like to see him again.
He goes back to the field and the old man's first words shake Alpert's professorial bit right down to its underwear.
"You looked up at the stars the other night?"
"You were thinking about your Mother ?"
Alpert hadn't mentioned the spending-a-penny bit to anyone. Not to a living soul.
"Your mother died of ... stomach...." The old man closed his eyes then said "spleen".
At that, the last professor bit went into spasm, clutching around for straws that might somehow be used for rebuilding the Harvard universe. He rifled through old experiences and remembered one with Ralph Metzner where telepathy seemed to be part of the Beautiful Scene. But this old guy wasn't on the Pill.
His mind went on churning, trying to find something that would let him file the Maharaji in a normal, acceptable comfortable Western category. He remembers the effort and the crash when he knew the answer wasn't going to come.
"I felt like what happens when a computer is fed an insoluble problem. The bell rings and the red light comes up and the machine stops."
Just as Alpert's rational Cartesian world picture stopped being possible, the old man smiled at him, his eyes twinkling and then the whole encounter moved out of the even remotely possibly theoretical and so into an area which the West has carefully defined as being non-possible. The old man leaned towards him and Alpert felt a heavy pain in his chest, the sensation of something being wrenched open. He observed that he was crying like a baby and at the same time experiencing waves of purest joy. He felt that the journey was over. He felt he had come home.
People lifted him up with tender solicitude and they were all so happy for him because now it had happened to him too, and they knew what it was all about. They conducted him to somebody's house three miles away and he felt confused but as light as air. Later he started to get ready for bed and going through his rucksack he noticed the LSD bottles. The thought struck him, "Now I can learn what LSD really is. At long last I've met somebody who must know. He will definitely know about LSD. All I have to do is ask him."
Next morning at eight o'clock a messenger arrived. The Maharaji wanted to see him right away. Quickly Alpert hastened back to the place where yesterday everything had happened. He got out of the car and walked towards the Guru. When he got near the old man called out, "What about your question ? Have you got the medicine ?"
Alpert did another double take. The thing about asking the Maharaji about the nature of LSD was an idea. It was inside his own mind, his own private thing. And here was the old man knowing all about it and hurrying him along. He did a rapid about turn and went back to the car for his rucksack with the bottles.
Clutching the bottles, he again approached the Guru. "This is STP", he said, holding out one of the bottles "and this is Librium and this is LSD".
The old man interrupted. "And these give you siddhis? (literally powers). "
Alpert didn't know about siddhis and waited for a translation but the old man was apparently impatient, holding out his hands to indicate that he wanted to sample the wonder drugs of the West. Alpert shook out one pill of LSD. It had been specially made, 300 micrograms of very pure acid. He hesitated, wondering how to convey that this wasn't bicarbonate. 75 micrograms was a fair starting dose. 300 was definitely away up.
But the old boy didn't want just one. Reluctantly Alpert shook out a second then, very reluctantly, a third. The old man took all three and very deliberately swallowed them.
After which he went right on conducting the business of the day.
Alpert kept waiting for the explosion. 900 micrograms of acid was in the high octane range for an addict. For a man of 70 who had never tried it, it was . . . Alpert shuddered.
All day long the old man went on talking with his disciples, arranging for this and that and from time to time he would look at Alpert and something like the internal equivalent of a wink would pass between them. Nothing, but nothing happened. And that was that.
That evening he was taken to a temple used by the Maharaji's people. Nobody asked him if he wanted to stay. There were no conditions, no undertakings. Nobody asked for promises or money. No commitment whatever. Yet there was an agreement, a sort of here and now commitment, all arranged and understood internally. Gradually Alpert began to pick up some of the threads. The old man was in some state called sahaj samadhi when he didn't need to seek for anything he needed from the physical universe. Such things of this world as he needed came towards him, gravitated in to him and sometimes had to be stopped before they became a deluge. Somewhere on a journey the Maharaji would stop and say "Build a temple here". There were gifts of all sorts already in the pipeline sufficient to build a temple. So presently a temple would go up at that spot.
All the Maharaji's people were infinitely protective of Alpert as if they knew that something big had happened to him and he was still vulnerable and had to be cared for.
Little bits of telepathy became commonplace. One night Alpert was looking through his notebook and saw the name Lama Govinda (the author of Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism). He thought: here I am in the Himalayas. I really ought to be able to say I've met Lama Govinda.
Next morning the Maharaji gave him one of the special twinkle smiles and said, "Since you're in the Himalayas, why don't you call on the Lama Govinda?"
Alpert wondered if he could get away to call on anybody. Always there seemed to be somebody around watching him as though they felt towards him as to a little child who really mustn't be allowed to cross a busy road till he was a bit older.
After four months with the Maharaji he needed more visa-renewal and broached the subject of going to Delhi. Apparently he was now less vulnerable and nobody raised any objection. He made the 12 hours bus trip back to the Square World, alone.
Central Delhi, says Alpert, is not India. It is a little bit of soda fountain America and milk bar England dumped down around Connaught Place, with BOAC, American Express and other Western delights abounding.
His business completed, Alpert treated himself to a walk through some of the posh stores and suddenly felt High; not drug High, a High of a different kind. An lo and behold it seemed to be contagious like that drug High in the snow outside his parents' house, because people in the stores, total strangers said, "You are a saddhu although you are a Westerner. It will be a blessing if you accept these goods from us as a gift". And so on.
During his four months with the Maharaji, Alpert had been on a very strict diet and although he felt wonderful on it, light and free, he had yearnings sometimes for a slap-up vegetarian dinner. On impulse he went into a restaurant and had just that. It was all strictly vegetarian and he wasn't really breaking bounds, except that the vegetarian ice cream had a couple of English biscuits stuck into it. Like a small boy raiding the larder while the family were away, he ate the lot.
When Alpert got back to the camp the Maharaji said, "How did you like the biscuits ?"
In everyday life around the Maharaji there were occurrences that were not entirely everyday. Alpert began to suspect that when people brought food for the Guru, he ate it as a sort of penance. Later Alpert understood that such occurrences as the old man eating eight oranges in a row was connected with the Maharaji taking on somebody else's karma: the karma of somebody symbolised by eight oranges.
Alone at night, Alpert would have the usual run of thoughts and fantasies. When he had acquired some siddhis he'd be quite an important person but he'd be wise with it. He'd use his power for good, perhaps collect money for a really deserving charity. A few minutes later his thoughts would be quite elsewhere, perhaps in a sexual fantasy.
A day or two later the Maharaji would say casually, "Would you like to organise a really big charity in America?" This sounded good, said before an audience, as though the old man was already judging Alpert to be of real importance. Then a moment later, by association, Alpert would suddenly think, "Oh, my God, if he knows about that one he must know about.... He would be humbled; but internally; a private humbling. Alpert would look up and the old man would fix him with his eyes but all Alpert could see was just deep selfless love.
Alpert recalled a saying: "Once you realise that God knows every thing, you are free" and he realised that through half a lifetime of psychoanalysis he had managed to keep certain corners of his subconscious hidden and pry-proof, because they were shameful, yet this old man could cause Alpert to give them up so gently but so completely that they were run off on the instant.
The Maharaji allocated a teacher to Alpert, an Indian called Hari Dass Baba. Alpert and Bhagwan Dass were the only Westerners. Every day, in addition to a routine of hygiene, the rigorous diet and the routine of asanas, Hari Dass taught Alpert, using a strange sequence of questions which weren't questions. "If a pickpocket meets a saint he see only pockets." "If you wear shoes, the whole world is covered with leather".
Alpert began to realise that behind such odd statements (made in silence on a chalk board) he was being shown a system of psychology of great subtlety and power. He began, for example, to experience how motivation conditions perception. He also realised that the teaching resonated at a deeper level than theory. Intellectual acceptance or rejection was by-passed because the aphorisms or whatever they were, were designed to work at a level where they could produce only affirmation.
He was given a little theoretical teaching: for example, the effect of individual human vibrations on the environment. He was told the effect of various energies: the effect of non-violence for example (ahimsa) on animal life. Snakes, he was told, "know heart" and the real Yogi is in no danger from cobras.
Much later, Alpert came across Vivekananda's Rajah Yoga (based on the sutras of Patanjali) and realised that Hari Dass was in fact teaching Rajah yoga.
The end of Alpert's story is near - or perhaps the end of the beginning. He went with the Maharaji, Bhagwan Dass and half a dozen others on a short trip to a Forestry camp where the Maharaji had followers. They were welcomed on arrival by people who seemed to be in a continuous state of quiet happiness. The Maharaji went into a hut with some of the site workers, leaving Alpert and the travelling party on a lawn outside. Presently Alpert was sent for. He went to the hut and sat down in front of the teacher. The old man asked him some seemingly irrelevant questions. "Do you like to make people laugh in America ? Do you like to feed children ?" Bewildered, Alpert answered "Yes".
The old man said "Good". Then he leaned forward and very deliberately tapped Alpert on the forehead three times. Just that. This time there was no sensation of a something being wrenched open. No physical sensation at all. Alpert experienced only an inner turmoil and had to be helped outside to rejoin the others. Today, now he is back in the West, Alpert still does not know the significance of the forehead taps. Nothing, so far as he knows, has happened except that those outside the hut recognised that he was in a state of High when he left the Maharaji's presence. The significance, whatever it may be, lies in the future.
Alpert, it would seem, went by a long circuitous route to find the start of a road that is as old as humanity. He has now been sent back to the West with no special instructions except simply to Be Here and Now and to avoid giving any clues to the identity or location of the remarkable Maharaji who changed his life so devastatingly.
Already some people in America, following up clues from Alpert's lectures and conversations have identified the old man and have actually tracked him down, in India. Without exception, all such have been sent empty away.
It may be that Westerners cannot now find this particular road in India at all and that the only signpost to it exists in the Here and Now injunction and in the presence of Alpert and the people he has influenced.
It is tempting to surmise a number of things.
. . . that the Kerouac Ginsberg Hippy scene was promoted by some higher Intention because out of this particular kind of social ferment, the switch to an artificial expansion of consciousness could most readily be contrived. . . . that the psychedelic state was a necessary blunt-instrument proof for a stiff-necked generation: proof that trans-sensory states exist in present fact as well as in ancient fable. . . . that the wastage (and sometimes the tragedy) of the psychedelic scene was necessary so that those who presumed to enter heaven with their boots on might learn through despair that seeing and doing are not the same and that the state a man may reach is by no means the station he is qualified to occupy.
In brief, that the Intelligences who arrange an End may use any way that is to hand, even if it seems devious to us.
There are those who claim that the technique whereby state and station in the vertical ascent of man may be rightly regulated, is the greatest of all secrets and that the Yogis do not have it.
The way to true Being, they claim, is deeply hid and rarer, far rarer of attainment, than religionists and occultists imagine: in effect that all Yogic ways lead to states of Enjoyment and are finally delusional.
It would certainly seem that Alpert brings something to the West. Whether it is a major part of present world change; whether it is for all or only some; whether it leads to the top of Olympus or merely to the Islands of the Blessed, time perhaps will show.
Introduction to "Doing Your Own Being" by Ram Dass
Lectures for Transpersonal Institute, Palo Alto, CA USA
First Published in Great Britain in 1973 by Neville Spearman Limited