Can psychoactive drugs and entheogens such as Ayahuasca be of use for spiritual awakening?

Questioner: Hi Tom: is “dealing with” a negative emotion the same as “letting go?”

Tom: It means to resolve the emotional issue, if there is one, at the root so that it does not resurface needlessly and cause suffering

Questioner: do you recommend taking Ayahuasca with a shaman to see where these suppressions may lie?

Tom: No, there are more reliable and less potentially adverse ways as far as I can tell.

Questioner: Is Atma Vichara (Self-Enquiry) the answer or just part of that discovery of suppressions?

Tom: Atma Vichara is the answer, but it must be correctly understood

Questioner: That makes sense to me. Thank you! I will continue my practice with fervor

Questioner 2: Tom, whats your experience with plant medicine and entheogens? If its none, then unfortunately there is nothing you can bring to the table regarding such.

Tom: I am open to psychoactive drugs playing a role in the awakening process for some people (they clearly have played a role for many people), but I am nowhere near convinced enough of their need in the awakening process to actually RECOMMEND them, which was the specific question that was put to me.

As far as I can see, there are many other simpler, cheaper, safer, more reliable and more natural methods available that may not be so dramatic in their effects – often the results are more subtle – but have more lasting effects in the long term and are more reliable in transmitting a realisation that actually ends suffering. Of course this may not be true for everyone.

And this is just my personal experience of these substances in the seekers I meet. I fully admit this view may be based on lack of knowledge and expertise on my part and also the selection bias from the group of people that come to my meetings (as these people are presumably resonating with what I share).

I have seen a few negative health effects of such drugs too, so they are not without some physical and mental health risk, and I have seen that they can also foster attachment to and seeking of experiences such as ‘spiritual highs’ and while this can lead to openings, it often also reinforces and perpetuates of a sense of egoic self. Of course, this is not always the case.

At the end of the day, we each have our own unique path, and my hope is to be able to encourage, support and guide those who come my way whether or not they chose to take psychoactive drugs. If asked, I never recommend these drugs for the above reasons, but luckily people are free to chose for themselves, relatively speaking.

Thank you for your comment and contribution to this discussion! Namaste!

Q. I’ve had an awakening but now I often feel anxious, overwhelmed or disorientated about there being ‘no me’. What can I do?

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Pulling the rug out from under the ego

In my article Roadmap to enlightenment: a (fairly) comprehensive guide to spiritual practices I discuss the inter-relationship between insight and purification and liberation, so I won’t go into that here – please see that article for more information on this, but I would like to comment on one thing I often see in people who attend my meetings or who contact me for 1 to 1 meetings. It’s when the ego has the rug pulled out from underneath it but it still trying to regain its balance, tottering from left to right, sometimes disorientated, sometimes overwhelmed, lacking stability – in short – suffering.

This occurs when the mind is exposed to non-dual insight/knowledge teachings, ie. the radical teachings on no-self/no-person/no-free will, before the mind has achieved a degree of sattva (peace) and stability. When this happens, freedom is seen but the mind’s tendencies are now unleashed as if the ‘foot has been taken off the brake’. All the pre-existing egoic tendencies, previously held in check somewhat by notions of the ego, are now left to roam free, sometimes with riotous consequences.

Now, in a fundamental sense there is no problem in this, but from the point of view of the ego, which is still actually functioning out of habit (ie. the vasanas or egoic habitual tendencies are still at play), this is quite troubling and can be very tumultuous. It can lead to much suffering – both for the seeker and for those around them.

If the ego-mind is stable and sattvic (peaceful) with a health positive self-concept prior to being exposed to the radical non-dual teachings, when the teachings are seen, the sattvic qualities are naturally allowed to express themselves, namely love, peace, happiness, compassion, intelligence, clear thinking, clear seeing.

This was in essence what happened to me. I was lucky in that I had unwittingly spent many years purifying my mind through a combination of spiritual practices from a young age, readings spiritual books, being in a loving relationship and various forms of self-help to name a few factors. Awakening for me was not a difficult or tumultuous process. In retrospect I can see this was the case as my mind was already for the most part sattvic. The awakening was peaceful and gradual, permeated by love and light, so gradual I did not even realise it was happening. It was only when I started sharing this teaching with others that I realised how difficult the awakening process can sometimes be, when I saw how it affected others. Because I had read and studied traditional texts that spoke about about the energies whilst I was seeking, I was able to utilise these teachings for the benefit of those who came to me and my meetings.

If the mind is riddled with tamasic (negative) and rajasic (passionate) energy, addictive vasanas (habitual tendencies) and a negative self-concept, these aspects of the mind can flourish. Depending on the vasanas present, this can sometime cause much suffering. It can result in family/relationship problems, divorce, panic attacks and career and financial issues. Unconscious psychological insecurities that were not previously known can all surface at once leading to a crisis of confidence, disorientation and feeling overwhelmed. Tamasic impulses can increase, rajasic tendencies can increase, addictive tendencies can increase.

The general advice here is to not worry, remain calm and at peace, something that is easier to do if a degree of sattva has already been cultivated and most of the rajasic and tamasic energies have already been somewhat subdued. In time, these vasanas (tendencies) will naturally express themselves. If they are allowed to rise up, be experienced and felt (ie. not suppressed) withoutacting them out, then they will naturally purify themselves in time and the balance of sattva will naturally arise. However, if the vasanas are indulged in, then they may continue indefinitely, and the freedom-realisation may even be lost (apparently). Just knowing this information can make a huge difference (apparently).

It is for this very reason that most traditional approaches stress a period of purification prior to being introduced to the ‘higher’ non-dual teachings. Shankara often advised that seekers purify themselves with devotion to God and developing certain qualities prior to reading/listening to the higher teachings of Vedanta.

But what seeking ego wants to wait? And why should it, right! Most teachings are no longer guarded behind the secret screens of a religious patriarchy and are freely available on YouTube and Facebook, something which is largely good as far as I can see, but it is useful to be aware of the downsides and potential negative consequences.

This article is an excerpt taken from a longer article, click here to read it.

Swami Chinmayananda and Shankara: the need for Samadhi

Below is verse 357 from Shankara’s Vivekachudamani together with Swami Chinmayananda’s brief commentary on the verse, stating the need for Samadhi, and how without this experience the whole of written and verbal vedanta is just empty talk. BMI is Swami Chinmayananada’s shorthand for Body-Mind-Intellect:

Also see:

The Union of Meditation and Self-Enquiry – The two paths of Vedanta – Panchadasi by Vidyaranya Swami

Advaita Bodha Deepika – vital teachings for Self-Realisation that are often missing in modern non-dual and advaitic teachings

Ramana Maharshi: the path to self-realisation (Padamalai)

Shankara on the Mind, Samadhi (stillness of mind), Manonasa (destruction of mind), and Liberation

Shankara – Vasanas and the nature of liberation

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Tom: Liberation is total destruction of habitual egoic desires or vasanas. Only then does suffering end and ethical behaviour naturally arise. Only then do the vedic teachings come to fruition.

Vasanas naturally start to fall away once the illusion of a separate limited ‘me’ is seen through, and life becomes correspondingly easier as the freedom of no-self is seen, but just that seeing alone is not the full liberation until the vasanas have completely dropped off. Until then suffering and egoic behaviour will continue despite the realisation of freedom.

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Even after the ‘Truth has been realised’, remain as the Self to root out ignorance and vasanas.

3 stories of awakening: no path vs sudden path vs gradual paths to enlightenment

Here are 3 stories for you:

Story 1

One morning God wakes up. She realises, non-verbally, intuitively, that she is whole-complete and lives happily ever after.

Story 2

One morning God wakes up. God thinks he is small, separate and vulnerable. This leads him to fear for his survival and desire security and relief from his fear (pleasure).

He meets a friend of his called Spiritual Seeker. Spiritual Seeker tells him to visit Guru.

God visits Guru and Guru says all is well, you are already whole and complete. Separation and the ‘small me’ are illusions.

God resonates with this teaching, intuitively sees what is being pointed at is already the present-reality, and the sense of inadequacy associated with the belief in separation dissolves. God realises that the separation between God, Guru and Life are themselves illusory. There is no teacher or teaching.

He lives happily ever after

Story 3

It is the same as story 2, except for the last line:

Once God’s meeting with Guru ends, due to the force of the momentum of past beliefs which have been so deeply ingrained over a lifetime, God quickly starts to re-believe that she is a separate ‘me’.

Every time she meets Guru, the ‘me’ temporarily collapses and great relief is experienced, but after sometime the false beliefs keep on rising up. The belief in the false me seems to have a mind of its own, rising up choicelessly, seemingly wreaking havoc and destruction.

Guru gives God some practices for her to do: chanting, devotion, meditation, being still, letting go, relaxing, mindfulness. Guru says pretend everything is an illusion, pretend everything is consciousness, pretend everything is God, have gratitude for everything that comes your way. Be still. Follow your heart and let your heart guide you Home, to Love and Peace.

Over time God’s mind becomes peaceful, happier and less interested in and addicted to thoughts and beliefs. The habitual tendency to believe in a ‘me’ is lessened.

Guru has also all the time has been saying all is well, you are already whole and complete. Separation and the ‘small me’ are illusions.

Now when God is away from Guru, the old beliefs in ‘me’ no longer arise. God sees that all practices are for the illusory ‘me’ and they perpetuate the illusory ‘me’, but they were still part of her apparent journey.

The sense of inadequacy associated with the belief in separation dissolves. God realises that the separation between God, Guru and Life are themselves illusory. There is no teacher or teaching.

She lives happily ever after.