This evening is the start of tabernacles. It is the only holiday in the bible, in which we are specifically asked to be happy. I have written about this holiday before, and I will probably write some more about it in the coming days. My base has moved, from my home in Jerusalem to my home away from home in the village where some of my children live… and though we may take some trips on the holiday, which lasts a week, this will be my base now, and as I’ve explained in previous posts, and last year too, this is the holiday in which we all move out of our houses and make our homes in temporary booths. And try our best to be happy.
Which brings me to the subject that I wanted to discuss with you today; The experience of a holy day or holiday, or religious experience. Before the day of atonement, I spoke of what was about to happen; what I was about to do on the holy day… with great confidence. Having done it so many times before, I felt that confidence when talking to others about it. But it is not really like that. And when I concluded the day, I thought again about what I had written, and wanted to append my description. One of my friends here, among the bloggers, asked me, was it a ceremony or a ritual. And I answered, a ritual. But what I would like to explain now, is the difference between ceremony or ritual, and a truly religious experience.
There are ceremonies and rituals, and prayers printed in prayer books, and they all attempt to prepare the person for the religious experience. But when I thought, how do I explain the religious experience to someone who might not have experienced it, I looked back through my life, at the many experiences I have had, looking for something parallel that would be understandable even to a non religious person. And what I came up with, was a series of experiences I had, more than forty years ago, in which I took LSD, Lysergic acid diethylamide. It is a semi synthetic psychedelic drug; which has been shown to be very similar to a substance that can be found in a normal human head. In very unusual circumstances it is secreted naturally. But by taking a dose, prepared by a chemical company or a pharmacist, we can experience a short cut to a religious experience. LSD was first synthesized by Albert Hofmann in 1938 from a grain fungus that typically grows on rye. Since then, it has been experimented with by psychologists and psychiatrists, philosophers and clowns. It was popular for a while in the 1960s counterculture. And after reading a book written by Aldous Huxley called, “The Doors of Perception”, I decided to try it myself.
The drug I bought was from the Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland, and was of high quality. In those days, it wasn’t a drug taken to ‘get high’. But to experience transcendental awareness. It was a short cut. You didn’t have to fast for days, or pray for long periods, or climb a mountain. Or learn the many disciplines associated with spiritual research. It wasn’t like studying yoga. You could just swallow a pill, and begin to experience some very unusual awareness after a half an hour to an hour. It worked on just about everyone. You could be an atheist or an agnostic, and still enjoy a very religious experience. It was and still is considered non-addictive. But I don’t know if I would take any today, now that it is produced by underground manufacturers, and sometimes mixed with other drugs. In that period, I took it some fifteen times. Sometimes with friends and sometimes alone. I took it in a variety of circumstances. I could tell you many stories of my experiences with the drug, some of them very humorous. But the most outstanding feature of this drug, was that I experienced certain phenomena that up until then, I had associated only with the religious experience.
It was a trip. You could make all the preparations you wanted, but you didn’t really know where you’d get and what would happen while you were on that trip. You had to give up control, whether you wanted to or not. You didn’t know exactly when it would start. But you knew very well, once it had started. It usually lasted for about eight hours. It could be very good; a taste of heaven. But it could also be a nightmare. And then you just had to go through it. In English, that sort of nightmare was called a ‘bummer’, and there were those who studied how to avoid them. But the truth of the matter was that it was dependent to a large extent on what was happening in your own sub conscious. So there was no sure way of protecting yourself from such an experience. Having taken the drug, one experienced altered thinking processes, hallucinations while eyes were either open or closed, and an altered sense of time.
While I was doing the work of the day of atonement, I had a sense of being intensely involved in the reality around me. The past and the future were fluid, and I found myself face to face with some of the things that I am most scared about, and most worried. Not life and death, because I’ve already dealt with those questions and reached a certain understanding and acceptance. This time, the subject was free choice and wrong choices. And not of my own. But the choices of people I loved; people who were young enough to be naïve and innocent, and we take pleasure in their innocence. I won’t describe the exact and specific issues, because one would have to know my world very well in order to understand what I was talking about. But suffice it to say, that if I had been walking on a narrow path at the edge of a cliff in a catastrophic storm, it would not have been more scary. Ceremonies… rituals… they have their place in society. But this was something much much more intense. I have witnessed what is called ‘extreme sports’, and I suppose there is something similar in that. But that is just for the thrill. And this was coming to terms with life itself. It was different.