Photo: After many years, a reunion between Swami Satchidananda and Timothy Leary (far right) during Peter Max (middle) art gallery event in the mid-1980s, Los Angeles.

Timothy Leary was more or less the originator of the psychedelic drug movement. When he met me in the late 1960s, he asked if I’d like to try some LSD. So I asked him, “Since you think that your LSD can create yogis, why don’t you create some other drugs that can create engineers and scientists? If you can show me that you can do that, then I will believe you and I am ready to take your saint-making LSD. Because if there was any easy way to be a saint very quickly why would I wait unnecessarily? But before I try that I would like to see a few people who have been made into surgeons and professors. Will a small cube of LSD make someone a talented musician or great athlete? Unfortunately, he didn’t have an answer at that time.

You see, a drug is a chemical. It can’t bring any lasting benefits and it can’t produce enlightenment. It can give you a different sort of understanding perhaps. By using a drug you can become enlightened about the fact that drugs are of no use! That is the kind of enlightenment that many people have after using drugs. Others can receive that same enlightenment just by observing the people they know who were using drugs.

If a small particle of chemical could bring about the real wisdom of the Self, it would be very easy for the chemical to bring the wisdom of the world first, is it not? Wisdom of the Self is the highest wisdom and the most important thing to be achieved. If a chemical can give that it should also be able to give many other smaller wisdoms that are connected with worldly life. We have heard and seen people who work hard for years and years using all kinds practices and disciplines to get the wisdom of Self-knowledge. Whereas, if you work hard for only a few years, you can become a professor, a lawyer, or an engineer. Which is more difficult? To become a saint or to become an engineer? So, if a chemical can make you a saint very quickly shouldn’t it make you an engineer just as quickly?

Drugs can never give you permanent higher wisdom. They can just excite your mind a little, just like a strong dose of liquor. You may have fantastic visions, but it is all within the mind—what is buried in the mind is disturbed and thrown up to the surface. When a fool is under the influence of a drug, he will only show himself to be a greater fool. Anything that is there will be magnified, that is all. An insane man will become more insane. All the impressions that are stored in the mind are just pushed out; drugs cannot create a new impression or a new idea and they can never bring the mind into a peaceful state.

Even the so-called tranquilizers are not the real tranquilizers; they never bring tranquility in the mind; they bring a temporary condition that is only similar to permanent peace and tranquility. A sleeping pill, for example, does not make the mind sleep; it only makes it sort of “faint” like when you give a blow to the head to make the person temporarily lose consciousness. That’s not real sleep. By that sudden force or suppression the entire nervous system is shaken and that actually disturbs the mind. It is the same thing with tranquilizers. They can instantly numb your senses and it really works wonders, no doubt.

Once I fell on my knee and because the ligament got stretched out, the knee swelled and it was really giving me a lot of pain. I went to a doctor just to see whether there was any damage to the bones. He found nothing wrong with the bone; there was no fracture or displacement. He wanted to bandage it so that I would not use the knee too much. But first he wantd to give me a small injection that would stop the acute pain. I asked if the injection would help in curing the torn tissue. He said it wouldn’t but still it might help. I thought that it must be some kind of vitamin or something because to my surprise, the moment he gave the injection the pain instantaneously vanished.  But after a half an hour, it slowly started coming back.

So what actually happened? It didn’t take away the pain, it didn’t heal the trouble but it detached my feeling from the pain. It’s something like when a fire alarm is ringing in your home. If you want to kill the pain in your ear and you turn it off that very action of will really kill you later on. So that’s not the correct approach. In the same way, drugs can only temporarily give us some excitement, some sort of feeling, some sort of vision. But all such visions are only the imbedded impressions in the subconscious and the unconscious parts of the mind. They are just thrown out, like when a someone throws up all their food after overeating a sumptuous meal.

Unfortunately, the advocates of these drugs believe that the drug-induced visions are spoken of in scriptures and are real. The very term “vision” shows that it is nothing but something from your mind. No vision will come from outside the mind. If a Christian takes LSD, they will get visions of churches and quotations from the Bible and maybe even the vision of Christ. If a Hindu takes LSD, they will get the vision of Shiva, or Krishna, etc. They will never get Christ’s vision because you get what you have stored in your mind, that’s all. And every time you take that drug, it shakes the whole system and strains the nerves. Then, you slowly get addicted to that temporary feeling and so you want that more and more. If you are interested in true enlightenment, please do not take any kind of mind altering drugs as they will not deliver enlightenment but will only stress and weaken your nervous system.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda