Startlingly clear inner visions often accompany our most profound and memorable meditative or psychedelic experiences. Distributed throughout Zig Zag Zen are images by extraordinary artists, offered to help visually contextualize the complex subject of the relationships between psychedelics and Buddhism. Some of the artists appearing in this volume have never done drugs, and some of these artists have probably never meditated. Nevertheless, their work is relevant to the themes of liberation of the mind, “altered states,” and depictions of transcendental emptiness, and includes nontraditional images of the Buddha or Buddhist-influenced iconography. The works of Odilon Redon, Mark Rothko, Ethel Le Rossignol, Francesco Clemente, Mati Klarwein, Ed Paschke, Robert Beer, Paul Laffoley, Michael Newhall, Mariko Mori, Ang Tsherin Sherpa, Robert Venosa, Dean Chamberlain, Luke Brown, Amanda Sage, Carey Thompson, Android Jones, Randal Roberts, Suhki Barber and Fred Tomaselli as well as pieces by my wife, Allyson Grey, and myself are woven throughout the pages of this book. Also presented are select examples from the Japanese Zen and Tibetan thangka traditions of Buddhist art. The connections and resonances between these diverse works are a quality of artistic consciousness I call Vajravision.
Perhaps one of the primary benefits of psychedelics is their capacity to make the subtle realms explicit. . .
The vajra is a spiritual tool, a thunderbolt scepter owned by the Hindu god Indra. It was adopted by the Buddhist sages as a symbol of the diamond-like clarity and brilliance of the mind’s true nature, and has come to stand for a special class of Buddhist teachings. These are known as the Vajrayana, which incorporate complex visualizations of deities, Buddhas, gurus, and sky-dancing dakinis. During carefully prescribed meditations, an exchange of transforming and enlightening energies takes place between the practitioner and the intensely imagined spiritual archetypes. Accomplishment in the Vajrayana approach depends on developing proficiency in opening the wisdom eye, navigating the subtle visionary realms, and confirming their luminosity, emptiness, and truth. Vajravision helps us see beyond the opaque material world to the spiritual reality behind appearances. A dependable way to introduce one’s self to the brightly colored and minutely articulated visionary inner worlds, to “see” with Vajravision, is through an entheogenic or psychedelic experience. Perhaps one of the primary benefits of psychedelics is their capacity to make the subtle realms explicit and inescapable to the percipient under their influence. To a consciousness familiar only with perception of the gross physical world, an immersion in the dynamic, overwhelming, and uncontrollable visionary imagination may result in ontological panic. Fear and paranoia then become infinitely magnified to hell-realm proportions; the classic “bad trip.” But given the proper set and setting, a vast panorama of mysterious archetypal beings and highly articulated heaven realms becomes accessible. Visions of both heaven and hell are frequent for the intrepid Psychonaut.
. . . a vast panorama of mysterious archetypal beings and highly articulated heaven realms becomes accessible. . .
Rainbow Body Padmasambhava photograph by Claudia Müller-Eberling, featured in the new edition of Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics
As with many contemporary artists, my first encounter with Buddhist art was through the paintings and statues I’d seen in museums and art history books. Buddha’s intriguing smile appeared even more mysterious than that of the Mona Lisa. It was only after I had taken LSD that the thangka paintings of Tibet and Nepal began to make sense, with their glowing beings surrounded by rainbow light and horrific many-headed, multi-limbed deities surrounded by patterned flames. My pursuit of the meaning of those images then began in earnest, with study of Buddhist scripture and my becoming familiar with the art’s unusual perspective on existence.
It was only after I had taken LSD that the thangka paintings of Tibet and Nepal began to make sense, with their glowing beings surrounded by rainbow light. . .
Thangka paintings interlace representations of the physical worlds with subtle visionary beings and geometrically dense mandalas that are familiar to those who have had psychedelic experiences. Only art in the visionary tradition begins to hint at the multidimensional glory the psychedelic voyager has experienced. Many people from the West who wind up studying Buddhism have had drug-induced altered state experiences that opened them for the first time to the infinitude and mystery of consciousness. Artists who have entered psychedelic states and are also practicing Buddhists are still something of a rare species, but are becoming less so. The confluence of these inspiring forces is helping fuel an underground artistic renaissance. Artists who have accessed deeper and higher aspects of their being via meditative disciplines or psychedelics are no longer content with the formal games and transgressionism of much contemporary art. A worthy subject is the most important discovery for artists—it’s the magnetic passion that burns at the core of their work, attracting or repelling us, and determining whether they will attempt to evoke what is deepest and highest in us.
. . . art in the visionary tradition begins to hint at the multidimensional glory the psychedelic voyager has experienced. . .
Visionary mystical experiences are humanity’s most direct contact with spiritual reality and are the creative source of all sacred art and wisdom traditions. The best currently existing technology for sharing the mystic imaginal realms is a well-crafted artistic rendering by an eyewitness. Mystic visionary artists distill the multidimensional, entheogenic journey into externally crystallized theophanies, icons embedded with evolutionary worldviews. Since mystic visionary artists paint the transcendental realms from observation, their work offers a growing body of evidence substantiating the divine imaginal realms and by extension, Spirit itself.
Consummation by Ethel Le Rossignol, featured in the new edition of Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics
Exploring Perinatal Matrices with the art of HR Giger, in HR Giger and the Zeitgeist of the Twentieth Century
In the episode Facing the Darkside of Erik Davis’s Expanding Mind podcast, Davis speaks with groundbreaking transpersonal psychologist and psychedelic researcher Dr. Stanislav Grof about nightmares, pathology, psychedelics, and the visionary art of H.R. Giger. Psychedelics have the ability to activate dimensions of the psyche that may otherwise remain inaccessible to the conscious mind. As Dr. Grof explains, the psychedelic experience acts as a catalyst, “activating deep contents in our unconscious” that provide opportunity for cosmic transformation. Experiences of ecstatic or “celestial” states of consciousness provide one means by which these contents can be accessed. However, there is also an underworld of the psyche that is made up of the darker elements of the unconscious. In his discussion with Erik Davis, Dr. Grof employs the work of artist H.R. Giger to explore this darker side of psychic terrain. According to Dr. Grof, the artwork of Giger depicts the psychological traumas that make up the landscape of our dark unconscious as he explores in his book H.R. Giger and the Zeitgeist of the Twentieth Century.
In his discussion with Davis, Dr. Grof points to the experience of birth as the locus of our primary trauma. Grof explores the intimate relationship as shown in Giger’s artwork and experienced in the perinatal journey. The exploration of the initial traumatic experience of birth is essential to holotropic healing, which literally means “moving towards wholeness.” By dealing with the nightmarish realm of the unconscious, we move towards wholeness, healing, and perhaps even the next stage of human evolution. Listen to the episode here:
Stanislav Grof, M.D., Ph.D., is a psychiatrist with more than fifty years experience researching the healing and transformative potential of non-ordinary states of consciousness. His groundbreaking theories influenced the integration of Western science with his brilliant mapping of the transpersonal dimension. On October 5, 2007 Dr. Grof received the prestigious VISION 97 award granted by the Foundation of Dagmar and Vaclav Havel in Prague. He is one of the founders and chief theoreticians of Transpersonal Psychology and received an Honorary Award for major contributions to and development of the field of Transpersonal Psychology from the Association for Transpersonal Psychology in 1993. Dr. Grof is also the founding President of the International Transpersonal Association (ITA) and was its President for many years. He has organized large international conferences throughout the world and continues to lecture and teach professional training programs in Holotropic Breathwork and transpersonal psychology. Currently, Dr. Grof is Professor of Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in the Department of Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness in San Francisco, CA, and at Wisdom University in Oakland, CA. Dr. Grof was born in 1931 in Prague where he received an M.D. from Charles University and a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy in Medicine) from the Czechoslovakian Academy of Sciences. Between 1960 and 1967, he was Principal Investigator in a psychedelic research program at the Psychiatric Research Institute in Prague, Czechoslovakia. In the United States, Dr. Grof served as Chief of Psychiatric Research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD. He was also Scholar-in-Residence at Esalen Institute. Dr. Grof’s extensive research includes experiential psychotherapy using psychedelics and non-drug techniques, especially the holotropic breathwork (a method he developed with his wife Christina), alternative approaches to psychoses, understanding and treatment of psychospiritual crises (“spiritual emergencies”), the implications of recent developments in quantum-relativistic physics, biology, brain research, and other avenues of the emerging scientific paradigm, for psychiatric theory and consciousness studies. Among his publications are over 150 papers in professional journals and many books including Beyond the Brain, LSD Psychotherapy, Psychology of the Future, The Cosmic Game, and the newly-released When the Impossible Happens and The Ultimate Journey. Recently, he wrote the essay to that provides a psychoanalytic framework for understanding the work of H.R. Giger.
Erik Davis was born during the Summer of Love within a stone’s throw of San Francisco. He grew up in North County, Southern California, and spent a decade on the East Coast, where he studied literature and philosophy at Yale and spent six years in the freelance trenches of Brooklyn and Manhattan before moving to San Francisco, where he currently resides. He is the author of four books: Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica(Yeti, 2010),The Visionary State: A Journey through California’s Spiritual Landscape(Chronicle, 2006), with photographs by Michael Rauner, and the 33 1/3 volume Led Zeppelin IV(Continuum, 2005). His first and best-known book remainsTechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information(Crown, 1998), a cult classic of visionary media studies that has been translated into five languages and recently republished by North Atlantic Press. He has contributed chapters on art, music, technoculture, and contemporary spirituality to over a dozen books, includingFuture Matters: the Persistence of Philip K. Dick(Palgrave), Sound Unbound: Writings on Contemporary Multimedia and Music Culture(MIT, 2008),AfterBurn: Reflections on Burning Man(University of New Mexico, 2005),Rave Ascension (Routledge, 2003), andZig Zag Zen(Synergetic Press, 2015). In addition to his many forewords and introductions, Davis has contributed articles and essays to a variety of periodicals, includingBookforum,Arthur, Artforum, Slate, Salon,Gnosis, Rolling Stone, theLA Weekly, Spin,Wired and theVillage Voice. A vital speaker, Davis has given talks at universities, media art conferences, and festivals around the world. He has taught seminars at the UC Berkeley, UC Davis, the California Institute of Integral Studies, and Rice University, as well as workshops at the New York Open Center and Esalen. He has been interviewed by CNN, NPR, theNew York Times, and the BBC, and appeared in numerous documentaries, as well as in Craig Baldwin’s underground film Specters of the Spectrum. He wrote the libretto for and performed in “How to Survive the Apocalypse,” a Burning Man-inspired rock opera. He has hosted the podcast Expanding Mind on the Progressive Radio Network since 2010, and is currently earning his PhD in Religious Studies at Rice University .
In this conversation for Tricycle between Allan Badiner and Don Lattin, they cover the spectrum of spiritual and psychedelic practice. In under half an hour this discussion moves from extreme ayahuasca encounters meeting death and dragons with Terence McKenna to the power of the humble Buddhist techniques of breathing and smiling with Thich Naht Hanh. They track the history of the academic approach beginning with the scholarly insights of Huston Smith and examine the expansion of psychedelics in the realms of clinical research. Badiner is the editor of Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics, the only book of its kind that offers a conversation about Buddhist practice and the psychedelic spiritual experience. Lattin is a reporter and author of the bestselling book, The Harvard Psychedelic Club.
Regeneration by Amanda Sage, featured in the new edition of Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics
Allan shares his experience at a Vipassana course in Sri Lanka where he felt miserable, until the end of the retreat when his pain was replaced by peace:
“I felt an incredible shocking kind of kinship to all life around me: the environment, the breeze, the bugs, everything, the trees. People were coming up to me and engaging me in ways they had never done before, so I realized I must be putting out something different or there must be something about me that has changed that has caused this all to happen. I wanted to know more about what that was.” –Allan Badiner
“…It’s like nothing happened, but something extraordinary happened at the same time.” –Don Lattin
Timeless by Matti Klarwein, featured in the new edition of Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics
“There’s a lot of work on multiple paths that you can be doing, and probably should be doing, if you really want to evolve.” –Allan Badiner
To continue this conversation on psychedelics and spirituality, you can read more from Allan Badiner, as well as Terence McKenna, Huston Smith, Alex Grey, Ralph Metzner,Ram Dass, Joan Halifax Roshi, Jack Kornfield, Rick Doblin, and many more thoughtful figures in the numerous essays, and interviews, poems, reflections and stories in Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics. Zig Zag Zen also contains an expanded display of stunning visionary artwork including new pieces from Alex Grey (who curated all of the art for the book), Android Jones, Sukhi Barber, Ang Tsherin Sherpa, and Amanda Sage, as well as the work renowned modernists Robert Venosa, Mark Rothko, Robert Beer, Francesco Clemente, and others.
At the core of consciousness researcher and pioneering psychologist Ralph Metzner’s work is an attempt to understand our eco-psychology: how we as human beings relate to the natural world.
This conversation between consciousness pioneer Ralph Metzner and eco-visionary Michael Gosney was recorded at the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies conference in Oakland, California (the annual gathering of scientific research on the healing and psychological effects of entheogenic and psychedelic agents found in nature) this Earth Day 2013 edition of Eco Evolution features a wide-ranging conversation with one of the most informed minds on the human condition, and potential.
Cannabis and entheogens used for veteran’s post traumatic stress syndrome
Community currencies and banking systems
The role of media in our eco evolution, and more
Underlying this conversation is the increasingly relevant message of the deepening awareness in our collective psyche that we are out of balance with the divine, and that this divinity reveals itself in the loving intelligence of the living planet in which we are embedded.
Reflecting on this next turn around the Sun and this auspicious moment in human and planetary history, brings to mind some of the key ideas that drive me and our work here at Synergetic Press:
We live in the ANTHROPOCENE: The Age when humans are recognized as the dominant geological force of the planet;
BIOSPHERICS is the interdisciplinary science essential to understanding planetary and cultural dynamics;
The NOOSPHERE, a sphere of intelligence around the planet that is emerging to determine our evolutionary future.
The concept of the noosphere was developed in the 1920s by Vladimir Vernadsky, Édouard Le Roy and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Nearly 100 years ago, in scientific, philosophical, and artistic circles people were discussing the idea of the noosphere, a world in which all of humanity become responsible stewards of the biosphere. I heard about the noosphere in 1984 when I was working at the Biosphere 2 project and published the first English translation of Vernadsky’s theory of the biosphere. Thirty years later, the noosphere has become an essential concept for understanding today’s ecological and culturological crises.
Humanity is undergoing a process of “planetization” becoming a truly global culture and entering a new era of the human journey.
-Teilhard de Chardin
In the Guardian recently, David Suzuki applauded the landmark Paris agreement on climate change as an indication that “the Age of the Humans won’t necessarily lead to an age of destruction.” But, to change course, we humans must act swiftly and on a grand scale.
However, I’ve been exposed to countless BIG IDEAS about sustainability, consciousness … what practical changes have I made as a result? Christian Schwägerl’s book The Anthropocene, made me really question everything I think I need to live, what I throw away, and how. I began to examine each purchase and found ways to recycle as much as possible. Tony Juniper tells us in What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? that we produce enough food on the planet to feed everyone, but upwards to 50% of the food now produced is wasted. Staggered by this statistic, I have since paid close attention to what’s in the fridge, saving money and produce. Working on Zig Zag Zen with Allan Badiner and Alex Grey inspired me to reenergize my body and brain through meditation and seek to be more conscious of my actions and daily choices in life.
Every book Synergetic Press publishes contains ideas to help us understand how to be better to the planet, better to ourselves. The time is now to think, innovate, regenerate … make the planetary situation personal.
Pioneer in biospherics and Synergetic Press author, John Allen, with Mark Nelson and other project co-founders and directors, talk about why they built the world’s largest laboratory for global ecology, Biosphere 2, and how eight people lived and worked inside it for two years (1991-1993) growing their food, recycling their air, water and wastes. This experiment, built to put Vernadsky’s theory of the biosphere into practice, defined many aspects of the metabolic connection between humans and the environment that sustains them, while greatly advancing the field of space habitat design. The project has been noted as the first experiment to examine the value of natural ecosystems services in this man-made world.
And for a brilliant overview on the Anthropocene, see this talk at the Royal Institution in London with Leicester University professor, Jan Zalasiewicz and Christian, moderated by Robin McKie, scientific editor of the Observer. CLICK HERE TO VIEW
In April we celebrated publication of the new edition of Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics, edited by Allan Badiner and Alex Grey, with events in Santa Fe where editors Alex and Allan were joined by Rick Strassman and Allyson Grey for an engaging discusion of the topics.
In July, Zig Zag Zen released in London with events at Breaking Convention conference and legendary Watkins Bookstore. Zig Zag Zen is a unique collection of wisdom from scholars, teachers, and artists on the best practices for spiritual exploration and the interface with psychedelics.
The world has lost a leading visionary artist in Paul Laffoley, who passed away on November 16th, 2015. His paintings featured mandala-like imagery, making heavy use of text and trans-disciplinary symbolic elements. His architectural background comes through in his depictions of complex spiritual ideas, providing a sense of looking at the blueprints of the subtle structure of reality.
Mind Physics: The Burning of Samsara in Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics
The visionary artist and luminary, Paul Laffoley, had died after a long battle with congestive heart failure. He had an extraordinary grasp of multiple fields of knowledge compulsively pursing interests that often lead him into uncharted territory. His complex theoretical constructs were uniquely presented in highly detailed mandala-like canvases largely scaled to Fibonacci’s golden ratio. While an active participant in numerous speculative organizations including his own Boston Visionary Cell since the early 70s, his work began to attract an increasing following in his late career with shows at the Palais de Tokyo (2009), the Nationalgalerie/Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin (2011), and the Hayward Gallery, London, the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, and the Yerba Buena Center in 2013. The first book on Laffoley’s oeuvre was published by Kent Fine Art in 1989, followed by several subsequent publications beginning with his first retrospective organized by the Austin Museum of Art (1999). Forthcoming in March of 2016, the University of Chicago Press will be releasing the long awaited book entitled The Essential Paul Laffoley. He was a kind and generous giant, and he will be sorely missed by all of us.