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Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemical Paperback – September 12, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 173 pages
  • Publisher: Sentient Publications; 3 edition (September 12, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591810086
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591810087
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.5 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #447,566 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Cleansing the Doors of Perception is a fresh consideration of the age-old relationship between certain psychoactive plants and chemicals and mystical experience by one of the most trustworthy religious writers of our time. Author Huston Smith (most famous for his classic The World's Religions) is the Walter Cronkite of religion scholars. He has long believed that "drugs appear to be able to induce religious experiences" and that "it is less evident that they can produce religious lives." At the same time, he posits that "if ... religion cannot be equated with religious experiences, neither can it long survive their absence." Therefore, Smith's basic question about entheogens (a word he defines as "nonaddictive mind-altering substances that are approached seriously and reverently") is "whether chemical substances can be helpful adjuncts to faith." Cleansing the Doors does not offer one sustained argument in response to that question. Instead, the book collects Smith's many articles about this subject, and connects them with brief introductory essays. The writings gathered here range from personal testimony about Smith's own experience with entheogens to ethnographic work on the use of entheogens in India. Throughout, Smith's style conveys the wisdom and wonder that has guided his explorations of this strange, fascinating aspect of religious experience. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Religion scholar and "missionary kid" Smith discovered psychedelic drugs in good company, alongside Timothy Leary and the crowd at Harvard that experimented with LSD, mescaline and psilocybin in the 1960s. In Cleansing the Doors of Perception (the title a play on Aldous Huxley's cult classic The Doors of Perception), Smith argues that while psychedelics can illuminate the religious life, these drugs can not induce religious lives. Therefore, Smith concludes, religion must be more than "a string of experiences." If drugs cannot replace religion, however, they can aid the religious life, when psychedelics are used in the context of a larger religious commitmentAas with the Native American use of peyote. But this provocative inquiry into the relationship between drugs and religion is overshadowed by Smith's unreflective strolls down memory laneAsuch as his description of the Good Friday experiment of 1962, when a group of Harvardites popped psychedelics and attended Good Friday services. Smith says it was one of the most spiritually meaningful days of his life. Partly because of such reflections, his book, which includes many previously published essays and interviews, does not hang together. The reader skips from Smith's musings about John Humphrey Noyes to a case study of Hindu drug use to a bizarre comparison of Leary and the church historian Tertullian. In the acknowledgements, Smith thanks the Council on Spiritual Practices for encouraging him to gather all his essays on drugs into one volumeAreaders may wish the Council had held its counsel. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Huston Cummings Smith (born May 31, 1919) is among the preeminent religious studies scholars in the United States. His work, The Religions of Man (later revised and retitled The World's Religions), is a classic in the field, with over two million copies sold, and it remains a common introduction to comparative religion.

Smith was born in Soochow, China, to Methodist missionaries and spent his first 17 years there. He taught at the Universities of Colorado and Denver from 1944 to 1947, moved to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, for the next 10 years, and then served as professor of Philosophy at MIT from 1958 to 1973. While at MIT, he participated in some of the experiments with entheogens that professor Timothy Leary conducted at Harvard University. Smith then moved to Syracuse University, where he was Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Philosophy until his retirement in 1983 and current emeritus status. He now lives in the Berkeley, California, area where he is Visiting Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

During his career, Smith not only studied but also practiced Vedanta Hinduism, Zen Buddhism (under Goto Zuigan), and Sufism for over 10 years each. He is a notable autodidact.

As a young man, of his own volition after suddenly turning to mysticism, Smith set out to meet with then-famous author Gerald Heard. Heard responded to Smith's letter, invited him to Trabuco College (later donated as the Ramakrishna Monastery) in Southern California, and then sent him off to meet the legendary Aldous Huxley. So began Smith's experimentation with meditation and his association with the Vedanta Society in Saint Louis under the auspices of Swami Satprakashananda of the Ramakrishna order.

Via the connection with Heard and Huxley, Smith eventually experimented with Timothy Leary and others at the Center for Personality Research, of which Leary was research professor. The experience and history of that era are captured somewhat in Smith's book Cleansing the Doors of Perception. In this period, Smith joined in on the Harvard Project as well, in an attempt to raise spiritual awareness through entheogenic plants.

He has been a friend of the XIVth Dalai Lama for more than 40 years, and has met and talked to some of the great figures of the century, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Thomas Merton.

Smith developed an interest in the Traditionalist School formulated by Rene Guenon and Ananda Coomaraswamy. This interest has become a continuing thread in all his writings.

In 1996 Bill Moyers devoted a five-part PBS special to Smith's life and work: The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith. Smith has also produced three series for public television: The Religions of Man, The Search for America, and (with Arthur Compton) Science and Human Responsibility.

His films on Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Sufism have all won awards at international film festivals. His latest DVD release is The Roots of Fundamentalism--A Conversation with Huston Smith and Phil Cousineau.

Customer Reviews

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I found this book to be very interesting.
Paul Fucich
In the present volume he makes clear that indeed entheogens can inspire and manifest and sustain true mystical knowing of what IT is.
Orva Schrock
Indeed, as Mr. Smith describes in the book, a hellish experience is a very real possibility.
Nicholas Croft

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Thomas M. Seay on September 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As an advocate of the use of entheogens (psychedelics) as a means of expanding consciousness, I have to praise this book for several reasons.
One, due to Dr. Huston's reputation, many people who would not have considered psychedelics as a spiritual path will now have to take the spiritual use of these substances seriously.
Two for those of us who do use entheogens, Dr. Smith offers an interesting critique of the psychedelic movement of the 60s. He asks himself if the corrolary of "tune in" and "turn on" has to be "drop out".
He also underscores the importance of paying attention to "set" and "setting" (the attitude of the user and the physical environment in which the user takes the psychedelic). He rightly notes that a lot of people pay lip service to this idea without being rigorous in it's application. There seems to be a kind of libertarianism, even philistinism, in the contemporary psychedelic scene. We're going to explore alone without paying attention to the lessons from other cultures who have used these substances for thousands of years. Understandably we do so under the banner of authenticity, but I think we lose out. We should not ape or follow the lessons of those cultures dogmatically, but we should investigate them and heed what is good...especially about set and setting.
Third, he assigns psychedelics their proper place. They are tools. And like any tool, psychedelics work for some and not for others. Or they work for a time for us and then we need to leave them behind. Any way it goes, we are left with integrating the lessons learned from our psychedelic explorations into our everyday life.
This is a sober treatment of the role of psychedelics, not an absolute glorification.
Read more ›
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Paul Fucich on February 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be very interesting. Most of the people that I have known who are part of the "drug culture" (and by drug culture I mean anyone who partakes of any drug on a regular basis) would have no idea of the value of the chemistry covered in this book. Why?, Because our culture primarily abuses drugs. Personally I have not yet met an individual who did not use chemistry in conjunction with their dysfunction. Unfortunately, this book will be appreciated mainly by the few folks who have no serious chemical addiction. I loved this book and found it fascinating.
I was especially fascinated by the chapter on Stanislav Grof. I learned more about pure psychotherapy from this book than any book I have read on the subject.
This book speaks about cultures within cultures such as The Native American Church. It illuminates the fact that there are societies who use natures chemistry to fight drug addiction. Near the end of the book you hear the testimonials from the patrons of the Native American Church, and it is most enlightening.
This book is about religion, philosophy, psychology, the science of mind, and the study of reality--all in one short and sweet text. I found it very eye-opening and inspiring.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Edmund Aaron Bravo on March 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The third millenium is upon us; where humanity will be at its conclusion is anyone's guess. Huston Smith, a very well-repected religious scholar in the US, has taken a bold position on the topic of entheogens (psychedelics) by advocating their limited use in opening the mind to deep, spiritual experiences.
The book is loaded (no pun intended) with information concerning the historical significance of entheogens dating from the birth of the world's earliest religions in the Far East. Also included are fascinating accounts of his own powerful experience during the Good Friday event at Boston University.
If you are interested in, or have ever experienced forms of perception OTHER than the "default" setting in your own consciousness, this is an excellent book. The author's conviction that entheogens make possible ecstatic, mystical states which take one into the heart of cosmic awareness is genuine...and tempting.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas Croft on May 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The book "Cleansing the Doors of Perception", is a collection of essays on the topic of entheogens, by the renowned scholar of world religions, Huston Smith.
The word 'Entheogen' was coined to describe the 'God Disclosing' properties, that certain plants and chemicals have, on people who invite such substances into their body.
Mr. Smith points out that if one compares descriptions of authentic mystical experience with descriptions provided by individuals influenced by an entheogen, that it would be difficult to make any distinction between the two.
A mystic, however, might suggest that 'God Disclosing' experiences are one possible aspect of relationship between an individual and an advanced spiritual being. When such experiences are consensual, being sought by both parties in question, then inspired revelations may exist between the two.
With an Entheogen, on the other hand, desire for a peak experience is primarily with one party and an advanced spiritual being is not necessarily consulted. While the desire is for a kind of 'cleansing', due to chemical impurities within these substances, the possible lack of spiritual preparation, and unforeseen complications within the setting, a peak experience is not necessarily guaranteed. Indeed, as Mr. Smith describes in the book, a hellish experience is a very real possibility.
My personal feeling is that it is better to seek peak experiences through meditations on religion, music, video art, film, consensual sex, and recreations such as mountain climbing. When an advanced spiritual being feels the need to disclose the possibility of bliss in your life, you might then be ready to receive her.
A Special Thanks to Mr. Smith for helping to elevate the dialog on this topic. "Cleansing the Doors of Perception" remains a unique contribution to this field of study.
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