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An individual spirituality

JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matterNetherlands Veteran

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.



  • FoibleFullFoibleFull Canada Veteran

    Being born in 1949, I hung out with hippies ... they were closer to my world-view than the conventional people. And I tried every drug there was to try at the time, although none of them compared to the results of a good meditation (my mom had raised us meditating). They lacked the lightness and clarity of a good meditation. Even mushrooms.

    MY experience, which may not be McKenna's experience, is that drug-induced experiences can be very powerful and seem to bring wisdom (at least, for as long as we are high) ... but move in different directions from spiritual insights. Psychology says that unless there is a change in behavior, no learning has occurred ... applied to spirituality, no matter how great an experience might be, UNLESS it produces change/growth in how we react emotionally, we have not learned anything. Maybe it is just me, but I see no value in drugs.

    As for gurus, since they are not enlightened, they will have flaws. I have run across many who were disillusioned by a swami, a bhikkhu, or a Lama ... and tossed it all out because the teacher was flawed.

    What matters is that whoever we take teachings from is someone who knows more than we do. Otherwise, they cannot guide us. Tibetan Buddhism advises us to spend 5 years taking lessons from a teacher, observing their conduct, before we decide TO take them on as OUR teacher.

    And in the end, we are our own primary teacher.

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    I don’t know much first-hand about drugs — I have just listened to a fair few hours of McKenna, who said that “going through life without a psychedelic experience is like going through life without sex”. Which gives some indication of how core he sees the experience as being. But he doesn’t see it primarily as a spiritual device, instead he values it for its boundary dissolving and cultural baggage removing qualities.

    Looking at what happened in the sixties due to psychedelics I think they have the potential to be a very positive influence. Wim Hof says “get high on your own supply” meaning the brain manufactures its own chemicals which you can get a little bit high on, which is fair enough. But now there is a lot of positive research into psychedelics and depression, addiction recovery, and other issues. It would seem nonsense to me to close off those very promising areas of research, so I wouldn’t say there is no use for these substances.

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    When I talk about an individual spirituality I am not talking about following Terence McKenna’s plants though, perhaps something like that would be a tool to help to get rid of old patterns, used with care. I think it is more about the patchwork of teachers and influences that we are all subject to.

    Hardly any western Buddhist is educated entirely within one tradition. We each have selected a range of books, YouTube videos, apps, websites, sangha’s, retreats and teachers to be influenced by. We have learnt from a series of sources, unlike monks at a monastery who would be taught by that monastery’s teachers and books.

    That can be a good thing, we have the opportunity to learn from the best. But we lack the doctrinal purity of a single monastery education.

  • A s ingle monastery education is not necessarily doctrinally pure. While there are arguably benefits to monastic systems, there is, however, a tendency to lock one into a single point of reference. One becomes immersed in that one doctrine as expressed by the head of that monastic system. Such immersion tends to block alternative views and differing, though possibly, similar doctrine. This has both the element of unified doctrine within that monastic sphere and creating a closed system bereft of open dialog leading to a form of dogmatism not healthy to a viable organization or, ultimately, to it's members.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    I think what @Lionduck says is true. Initially we choose a path or teaching of our own construction. We build it, bevel it, knock it down. Rebuild etc

    We are aiming towards pragmatism. Purity is not always an option initially, especially if our choices are limited by preferences and indoctrination/self education of our limited understanding.

    So in a sense we end up wearing our path
    out and letting our building not hamper our home
    journey …

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