While listening to Terence McKenna I came across something interesting. He talked about how early in his life he had gone searching for a spiritual breakthrough, he had travelled to India and found a “spiritual desert” and he left with a profound distrust for guru’s. Later in life he coined the saying “don’t follow guru’s, follow plants”. Some of his arguments I found quite telling, there are a lot of charlatan guru’s in India, and also a smaller number of sincere ones.
Terence’s way forward was through listening to the Mushroom, psilocybe cubensis, which powered his psychedelic experiences. Personally I haven’t tried that, but I find Terence’s focus on an individual spirituality, something between him and the mushroom, quite appealing. He is almost a mystic in his own right.
So what if we shouldn’t follow guru’s? That has obvious implications for some of the people we have followed in the past, but perhaps also for how we choose to follow Buddhist teachers. After all, a western Buddhist going to a retreat at Plum Village in southern France isn’t that different from someone choosing to go see Eckhart Tolle speak at a weekend in the US.
In the end we go in a throng forwards, with spiritual friends, teachers, sangha’s, books and discourses all around us. But those of us who go gracefully on a way that benefits all, without blindly following any single person, have a chance to make a valuable contribution, a unique viewpoint. It is surprising all the things you can take spiritual lessons from, as Ajahn Chah says, ‘everything that irritates, that is our teacher’. In a way he is very right, the areas of the real world that grate on us throw our own inner world into stark relief and show us where there is still work to be done.
I find Terence McKenna’s voice in all this to be surprisingly humane, considered, gentle and largely non-spiritual. It is a good change of pace from spiritual sources, something to preserve a bit of distance between our minds and the flood of spiritual and self-help material that is out there. I find it helpful to go slowly, not to partake of too much material all at once.