The partnering of cannabis and spirituality is by no means a recent idea. Most of the groundwork was explored and articulated early on by people who became icons for the '60s generation, and their wisdom is more popular than ever now thanks to the Internet. Here are a few resources that are worth your time looking into if you want to pursue this interest. All the works discussed are in print and usually in new editions, as well as being available online.
Dr. Timothy Leary's famous book of the '60s, The Psychedelic Experience, was based on the ancient Tibetan Book of the Dead. The Book of the Dead is basically a book of instructions to be read to the deceased in order to guide them through the bardos, or after-life stages leading to re-birth.
Leary's book was similar, except that it was a book of instructions for tripping and being high. Interestingly, the lyrics of the Beatles' song “Tomorrow Never Knows” were taken directly from Dr. Leary’s book: “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream: it is not dying.”
The idea is posited that the effects of being high are sometimes eerily similar to a dying process: old ideas about self and the world are swept away and new concepts are born. For many, it could be scary and threatening. The words of the Book of the Dead, and many other sacred books from the Eastern world, provide reliable and reassuring guides to this personal process of substance enhanced spiritual re-birth.
The Psychedelic Experience was co-written by Richard Alpert, Leary's research partner in psychedelics. The experiences of altered states of consciousness completely changed Alpert and he sought to create a guide to his new world in Hinduism. Known now for generations as Ram Dass, he is a universally respected spiritual teacher and healer, drawing on all world traditions, and teaching a new way of perception and being. His first book, Be Here Now, chronicles his life journey and provides good advice for spiritual people that enjoy cannabis and other mind-altering substances.
Leary, himself, founded a group called The League for Spiritual Discovery (LSD), acknowledging the obvious links between getting high and getting right with the Universe.
By now, most people have heard of Alan Watts, the Zen teacher of San Francisco's spiritual and psychedelic scene. With his hypnotic British accent, he reached millions with his weekly radio broadcasts and numerous public appearances and recordings. His online presence years after his death is an enduring phenomenon that reaches around the globe and across generations.
Watts was very frank about his own use of cannabis and psychedelics and didn't shrink from seeing them as one. His book, The Joyous Cosmology, is a poetic and philosophical exploration of the spiritual effects of being high and confirms the experiences of many of its readers.
There are scores of other spiritual teachers and teachings that grew out of a generation's experience with getting high, as well as more recent ones. Got any favorites? Let me know!
Before wrapping up this “book report” section, I'll mention another more recent book (2002) that makes the connection explicit: Zig Zag Zen. Edited by famed psychedelic/spiritual artist Alex Grey, the book covers a lot of ground and is well-worth your time and thought. A well-informed cannabis user is a happy and healthy cannabis user! Know your history! Know yourself!