Subhuti talks about his experience with LSD, and its limitations, and reminisces about Pravasi who died a few days ago.
It was a small incident, but, for me, it proved to be a turning point. In the early 1970s, on a Sunday afternoon, I had driven to Greenwich Park in London with a friend to enjoy a stroll in the warm summer sunshine.
Parking was difficult, but suddenly I saw a vacant spot close to the park entrance and headed toward it. The only problem was, it was being ‘reserved’ by a young woman, standing in the road, whose boyfriend was turning his van around further up the street.
Impulsively, I drove into the parking spot, causing the woman to retreat, and grabbed her boyfriend’s place. When he drove back, he was angry with me – naturally enough – and if another free spot had not opened up right in front of us, giving him what he needed, we may have come to blows.
I hastily walked away, but the incident stayed with me and spoiled my afternoon. It wasn’t simply that I’d behaved like an asshole and he’d threatened to punch me. It was more than that. In fact, a whole paradigm, a whole vision, was collapsing in my mind.
Because, you see, we both subscribed to the philosophy of “Flower Power”. He was dressed like a hippie, with “peace and love” painted in psychedelic colours on his van.
I was never much into outlandish dress, but I’d taken LSD a few times and liked to believe that I, too, was part of a generation in revolt, with new values that were changing the world.
But I realised, at that moment, I had work to do. Transformation wasn’t going to happen through taking a hit of LSD, turning on and seeing the divine oneness in all things. It was a lovely idea, true, but the reality was a long, long way off.
This incident comes back to me now, 35 years later, because of a headline I read in The New York Times, announcing the death of Nicholas Sands, who, with his partner, Tim Scully, was responsible for manufacturing millions of tabs of “Orange Sunshine” – the purest quality LSD – and distributing it not only throughout the United States of America but also across the planet.
As the name suggests, the pill, or tablet, was coloured bright orange and, when it came my way, was quite thick, almost like a little barrel. One fine day, down on the Cornish coast in South West England, three of us divided one tab between us and it was quite sufficient to take us all on a hallucinogenic adventure.
Until I read The New York Times article, I had no idea that I’d actually met Nicholas Sands and gotten to know him quite well. This was because he was a fugitive, on the run from US prosecutors, living under an assumed name and – understandably – telling no one about his true identity.
In fact, by the time I met him, he’d acquired a third identity: as a sannyasin, a disciple of Osho, wearing orange clothes and a necklace of wooden beads, and introducing him himself as Pravasi – the name given to him by his new spiritual Master.
We met in Pune in the late 1970s and I knew him as a brash, entertaining and fairly wealthy guy, who, with his girlfriend and his young daughter, lived in a big rented house with servants.
He gained my attention by throwing parties and introducing the ashram to the agricultural science of ‘hydroponics’ – growing vegetables without soil in a controlled, indoor environment.
Later, in 1981, when we all shifted to Oregon with Osho, Pravasi and his family went with us, living and working on the Ranch for a number of years.
After the Ranch ended, Pravasi went back to Canada and continued producing LSD, in spite of being on the run, but in 1998 was finally busted. Canadian police discovered a huge haul of psychedelic substances in his apartment – enough hits of LSD to turn on the entire population of Canada two times over.
Pravasi was sent back to California for sentencing. He served three years in jail, where he not only started a meditation and yoga group, but also arranged to have LSD tabs smuggled in to turn on his criminal cell mates.
After completing parole in 2005 he moved to Ecuador. Whether he continued to produce psychedelic substances, I have no idea.
But in the documentary movie The Sunshine Makers, released in 2015, Pravasi was unrepentant about his impressive career as a mass producer of LSD.
“If we could turn on everyone in the world,” he said in the documentary, “then maybe we’d have a new world of peace and love.”
It didn’t work out that way and not just because Sanders and Scully were interrupted in their efforts by the US authorities. It went deeper than that.
As the movie shows, Tim Scully, the more thoughtful of the two, began to see that LSD wasn’t a panacea for world transformation. It didn’t necessarily make people more peaceful. It didn’t solve problems of human conflict.
Scully was never in the LSD production business for the money and when his missionary zeal faded he pulled out of his partnership with Sands. Alas, he did it too late to save himself from a jail sentence – he spent three and half years in prison.
On the upside of the equation, many good things came out of the Sixties hippie culture, which continue to this day, including a new appreciation of nature and caring for the environment, and a new freedom in sexual relationships outside marriage.
It’s fair to say that LSD and other drugs were responsible for the inspiration and insight that triggered these new understandings.
My first LSD trip was a revelation and transported me to a state of innocent wonder. That was the genius of the drug: it put the ‘normal mind’ on hold and allowed the beauty of existence to be revealed.
However, as many people in that era became aware, the more trips one took, the easier it became for the mind to control and dictate the experience.
When interviewed on the subject in 1970 by an American visiting his apartment in Mumbai, Osho described LSD as a “shortcut to false samadhi” and said the drug allowed the unconscious mind to project whatever it wanted as an experience.
Meditation, he explained, was a longer and harder road to the mystical state of samadhi, but the ultimate reward came in the form of a genuine and lasting experience, rather than a quick high lasting a few hours, followed by a return to normal.
This certainly gels with my own experience of the drug. But, still, I have to bow down and say “thank you” to my LSD trips for opening the doors of perception – albeit in a chemical way. For me, and I suspect for many, this proved to be a stepping stone to meditation and spiritual mysticism.
Real or imagined, the experience of my first LSD trip was awesome. It temporarily blew away the cynical and all-knowing attitudes I’d acquired through my education and my career as a journalist.
It must have been a strange sight, had anyone seen it, but I simply sat on the ground, surrounded by nature, weeping tears of gratitude and saying, to no one in particular, “Thank God, thank God it isn’t true!” – by which I meant the narrowness and limitation of the social paradigm I’d been accepting as ‘normal’ and ‘real’.
Life was far bigger than that dreary scenario; far richer, far more colourful and vibrant. It was alive, pulsating, surrounding me, inviting me… Just waiting for me to open my eyes.
I didn’t want to come down off that trip, but, of course, had no choice. It was part of the deal, followed by long days of self-reflection as I pondered over the experience.
After that, I didn’t take many trips. Just enough to realise that drugs couldn’t take me to the paradise they promised.
That journey required a different direction: a journey East, to the gates of the Shree Rajneesh Ashram in Pune, India, and to a new life as a sannyasin.
Maybe, even then, I was hoping for an instant buzz: a permanent high from meeting an enlightened being, an easy transference of enlightenment from a Buddha to a Buddha-Being-Born.
Well, that illusion didn’t last long. Soon, I was learning about the ego and its extraordinary survival skills, as well as discovering my repressed anger, my unlived sexuality, my need to compare and compete… It all started surfacing, even as the flame of meditative awareness was lit inside me.
Nevertheless, being inside Osho’s energy field, especially in ‘Poona One’, was, in some ways, very much like being high on some exquisite drug. It really was possible to suddenly dissolve into oceanic bliss, especially in the mystic’s ‘energy darshans’.
The journey that began then, still continues today. It’s been a wild ride and immensely enjoyable, although exactly how much progress I’ve made in the direction of samadhi is difficult to assess.
It has also included, from time to time, visions similar to those of Pravasi, of turning on the world – through meditation instead of drugs – and transforming it into a more loving and peaceful place.
Given today’s global political scene, dominated by people like Putin and Trump, this looks like a tough assignment. So, I guess I’ll just say ‘thank you’ to Osho for introducing me to meditation and continue quietly on my way.
Subhuti is a regular contributor
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