I had the pleasure of reading Timothy Leary’s book, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This book was written by prominent psychedelic advocate and researcher Timothy Leary as an instruction manual for psychedelic tripping. It was obviously written at a time where officially sanctioned research on psychedelic compounds was more common and when LSD was at a height of popularity with the counterculture of the 1960s. Yet the manual is largely focused on altering one’s consciousness based on the readings of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Leary outlines four main goals, based on classic Hinduism, when one engages with psychedelic substances:
- Insight into oneself or others, personal growth, accelerated learning, professional growth and/or intellectual understanding
- Rehabilitation, helping others, duty
- Fun, aesthetic pleasure, interpersonal closeness and/or pure experience
- Liberation of ego and time-space limits, transcendence
In this manual Leary focuses on the fourth goal, but he says that the advice will be applicable for the others as well. Throughout the manual he continually refers to the loss of ego as the end goal because this is the place and time where all worldly concerns, personalities and roles will be gone. He describes these roles and concerns as ‘games’. “Games are behavioral sequences defined by roles, rules, rituals, goals, strategies, values, language, characteristic space-time locations and characteristic patterns of movement”. For example, a married couple may be concerned about their marriage game when tripping or a group of friends may be concerned with their customs and courtesies that usually occur in the ordinary world. It is Leary’s goal through this manual to transcend these ordinary games and achieve a complete loss of ego.
He first makes the distinction known that the psychedelic compounds themselves do not “produce the transcendent experience”. He claims that the substances are more like a chemical key that unlock the ability to free oneself from the typical methodology of thinking. The experience is mainly dependent on the set and setting Leary goes on to explain. Set refers to the state of mind one is in before the psychedelic experience and this could be short term or long term. The setting is also crucial as a trusted environment is much easier to achieve transcendence in. Leary recommends at least three days for the entire ordeal, one before the trip and one after in order to completely process the entire experience. He also has many other practical suggestions for a broad array of topics like group settings, psychedelic guide instructions and dosages.
I was very interested to read this material and see how Leary wanted to use psychedelic compounds to achieve altered perceptions in consciousness. It turns out this guide is incredibly scientific in nature and I’m sure has a plethora of personal experience to back up his work. It sounds like this state of being is achievable by a select few skilled meditators, but the psychedelic compounds create an easier way to attain complete mindfulness to the point of ego loss.