Aldous Huxley – Island

The following is a blurb on Mysticism:

“… Murugan was telling me about the fungi that are used here as a source of dope.”

“What’s in a name?” said Dr. Robert, with a laugh. “Answer, practically everything. Having had the misfortune to be brought up in Europe, Murugan calls it dope and feels about it all the disapproval that, by conditioned reflex, the dirty word evokes. We, on the contrary, give the stuff good names – the moksha-medicine, the reality revealer, the truth-and-beauty pill. And we know, by direct experience, that the good names are deserved. Whereas our young friend here has no firsthand knowledge of the stuff and can’t be persuaded even to give it a try. For him, it’s a dope and dope is something that, by definition, no decent person ever indulges in.”

“What does His Highness say to that?” Will asked.

Murugan shook his head. “All it gives you is a lot of illusions,” he muttered. “Why should I go out of my way to be made a fool of?”

“Why indeed?” said Vijaya with good-humored irony. “Seeing that, in your normal condition, you alone of the human race are never made a fool of and never have illusions about anything!”

“I never said that,” Murugan protested. “All I mean is that I don’t want any of your false Samadhi.”

“How do you know it’s false?” Dr. Robert enquired.

“Because the real thing only comes to people after years and years of meditation and tapas and… well, you know – not going with women.”

“Murugan,” Vijaya explained to Will, “is one of the Puritans. He’s outraged by the fact that, with four hundred milligrams of moksha-medicine in their bloodstreams, even beginners – yes, and even boys and girls who make love together – can catch a glimpse of the world as it looks to someone who has been liberated from his bondage to the ego.”

But it isn’t real,” Murugan insisted.”

“Not real!” Dr. Robert repeated. “You might as well say that the experience of feeling well isn’t real.

“You’re begging the question,” Will objected. “An experience can be real in relation to something going on inside your skull but completely irrelevant to anything outside.

“Of course,” Dr. Robert agreed.

“Do you know what goes on inside your skull, when you’ve taken a dose of the mushroom?”

“We know a little.”

“And we’re trying all the time to find out more,” Viyjaya added.

“For example,” said Dr. Robert, “we’ve found that the people whose EEG doesn’t show any alpha-wave activity when they’re relaxed aren’t likely to respond significantly to the moksha-medicine. That means that, for about fifteen percent of the population, we have to find other approaches to liberation.”

“Another thing we’re just beginning to understand,” said Vijaya, “is the neurological correlate of these experiences. What’s happening in the brain when you’re having a vision? And what’s happening when you pass from a premystical to a genuinely mystical state of mind?”

“Do you know?” Will asked.

“’Know’ is a big word. Let’s say we’re in a position to make some plausible guesses. Angels and New Jerusalems and Madonnas and Future Buddhas – they’re all related to some kind of unusual stimulation of the brain areas of primary projection – the visual cortex, for example. Just how the moksha-medicine produces those unusual stimuli we haven’t yet found out. The important fact is that, somehow or other, it does produce them. And somehow or other, it also does something unusual to the silent areas of the brain, the areas not specifically concerned with perceiving, or moving, or feeling.”

“And how do the silent areas respond?” Will enquired.

“Let’s start with what they don’t respond with. They don’t respond with visions or auditions, they don’t respond with telepathy or clairvoyance or any other kind of parapsychological performance. None of that amusing premystical stuff. Their response is the full-blown mystical experience. You know – One in all and All in one. The basic experience with its corollaries – boundless compassion, fathomless mystery and meaning.

“Not to mention joy,” said Dr. Robert, “inexpressible joy.”

And the whole caboodle is inside your skull,” said Will. “Strictly private. No reference to any external fact except a toadstool.”

“Not real,” Murugan chimed in.” “That’s exactly what I was trying to say.”

“You’re assuming,” said Dr. Robert, “that the brain produces consciousness. I’m assuming that it transmits consciousness. And my explanation is no more farfetched than yours. How on earth can a set of events belonging to one order be experienced as a set of events belonging to an entirely different and incommensurable order? Nobody has the faintest idea. All one can do is accept the facts and concoct hypotheses. And one hypothesis is just about as good, philosophically speaking, as another. You say that the moksha-medicine does something to the silent areas of the brain which causes them to produce a set of subjective events to which people have given the name ‘mystical experience’. I say that the moksha-medicine does something to the silent areas of the brain which opens some kind of neurological sluice and so allows a larger volume of Mind with a large ‘M’ to flow into your mind with a small ‘m’. You can’t demonstrate the truth of your hypothesis, and I can’t demonstrate the truth of mine. And even if you could prove that I’m wrong, would it make any practical difference?

“I’d have thought it would make all the difference,” said Will.

“Do you like music?” Dr. Robert asked.

“More than most things.”

“And what, may I ask, does Mozart’s G-Minor Quintet refer to? Does it refer to Allah? Or Tao? Or the second person of the Trinity? Or the Atman-Brahman?

“Will laughed. “Let’s hope not.”

But that doesn’t make the experience of the G-Minor Quintet any less rewarding. Well, it’s the same with the kind of experience that you get with the moksha-medicine, or through prayer and fasting and spiritual exercises. Even if it doesn’t refer to anything outside itself, it’s still the most important thing that ever happened to you. Like music, only incomparably more so. And if you give the experience a chance, if you’re prepared to go along with it, the results are incomparably more therapeutic and transforming. So may be the whole thing does happen inside one’s skull. Maybe it is private and there’s no unitive knowledge of anything but one’s own physiology. Who cares? The fact remains that the experience can open one’s eyes and make one blessed and transform one’s whole life.

You’re like that mynah,” said Dr. Robert at last. “Trained to repeat words you don’t understand or know the reason for, ‘it isn’t real. It isn’t real.’ But if you’d experienced what Lakshmi and I went through yesterday, you’d know better. You’d know it was much more real than what you call reality. More real than what you’re thinking and feeling at this moment. More real than the world before your eyes. But not real is what you’ve been taught to say. Not real, not real.” Dr. Robert laid a hand affectionately on the boy’s shoulder. “You’ve been told that we’re just a set of self-indulgent dope takers, wallowing in illusions and false samadhis. Take four hundred milligrams of moksha-medicine and find out for yourself what it does, what it can tell you about your own nature, about this strange world you’ve got to live in, learn in, suffer in, and finally die in. Yes, even you will have to die one day – maybe fifty years from now, maybe tomorrow. Who knows? But it’s going to happen, and one’s a fool if one doesn’t prepare for it.

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