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PSYCHEDELIA
December 15, 2013
Breaking Convention / Erik Davis "Back to the Bardo"
Now Playing: Cerrone "Supernature"

After watching his 50-minute presentation, I would venture that Erik Davis maintains his position as Most Valuable Psychedelicist of the children of the '60s. He has the special Generation X ability to keep one foot inside the circle and one foot outside, moving between roles of participation and observation simply by shifting his intellectual weight around. 

Erik's talk dealt primarily with a re-examination of the Psychedelic Experience book and the Bardo Thödol (Tibetan Book Of The Dead). As described in my Psychedelia and elsewhere, the Leary/Alpert/Metzner book was on one hand the only psychedelic guide that people truly used back in the 1960s, on the other hand it has aged badly enough to become an "embarrassment". Erik Davis shows how layers of Westernization created an end result which was far removed from the original Tibetan meditation instruction. The fact that people actually used it confirms the great need for guidance for virgin trippers, but except for some vague notion of Eastern death and rebirth, it's difficult to see how any acidhead could find concrete support in lines about how "the Lotos God of Dance may appear" when in fact the walls were breathing and growing hairs and your buddy ran screaming to the bathroom. On a personal anecdotal level, we pulled out the old Leary tome on a couple of trips, and I remember reading the translated Tibetan incantations with a feeling of zero relevance. Some friends tried using it to bring one head back from a negative mood, but I don't think it worked except in the sense that people cracked up when hearing the lofty lines read out loud. O friend, O beloved traveller...

However, after mentioning that he saw the concept of death as one of the key elements that the psychedelic experience casts light on, Erik Davis turns the Dharma wheel one more time, and points out that while Leary & co were wrong in a lot of ways, the fundamental notion that the Bardo Thödol and the psychedelic trip both dealt with (can deal with) death and rebirth experiences was in fact accurate. Perhaps on a purely intuitive plane, the Harvardites felt the parallels between the advanced tantric practice which the Book Of The Dead* describes and a powerful, ego-loss acid trip, even if their creative response to the Book was more wrong than right. As I point out in Psychedelia, the Bardo Thödol is primarily intended for a special 'dark cave' meditation for advanced yogis, who allow themselves to be walled in inside complete darkness, where after a few weeks, a death-like state will emerge and is to be handled in the way the ancient book describes.

 

Can the Bardo Thödol still be used for psychedelic purposes? Having read a modern, non-westernized translation of it, I would have to say "no". The mental state of the advanced tantric practitioner and a guy flying high on psychedelics are too dissimilar for the Tibetan tantrics to lend much use to someone getting towards the point of ego-loss and non-duality. There is so much other stuff going on in the psychedelic space (unless you are a fully realized being, but if you are, you won't be dropping LSD) as compared to the purified cognitive trickle in the 'dark cave' state, that the advise just won't apply. At least, that is the feeling I got after reading a modern translation of the (actual) Bardo Thödol, and its direct, tangible instructions. I did however get a feel of it being useful for someone in the actual state of dying, as it seemed very distinct in its presentation of the various stages one goes through near the end. If properly used, a favorable rebirth, or a good parking spot in heaven, will result.

That was my tangent rather than Erik Davis', but as usual there was not much of disagreement between the two. His presentation, done entirely without manuscript, was lively and arresting, and unlike some of the other video recordings the sound quality was quite acceptable. The first 10 minutes is a good summing up of the status of the psychedelic world right now, and the somewhat problematic span between new scientific research and surviving underground culture.

Erik Davis "Back to the Bardo" from Breaking Convention 2013 


*The title 'The Tibetan Book Of The Dead' is a complete Western invention, from the early translator Evans-Wentz, who also was responsible for much of the confusion and distortion of the actual source text--while admittedly still doing a great service to adventure-minded laymen and pop culturists for many decades to follow.


Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 21:05 CET
Updated: January 5, 2014 01:13 CET

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