THOUGHTS ON DEATH
FROM VARIOUS INTERVIEWS WITH AND PAPERS BY TERENCE MCKENNA
"If one leaves aside the last three hundred years of historical experience as it unfolded in Europe and America, and examines the phenomenon of death and the doctrine of the soul in all its ramifications - Neoplatonic, Christian, dynastic-Egyptian, and so on, one finds repeatedly the idea that there is a light body, an entelechy that is somehow mixed up with the body during life and at death is involved in a crisis in which these two portions separate. One part loses its raison d'etre and falls into dissolution; metabolism stops. The other part goes we know not where. Perhaps nowhere if one believes it does not exist; but then one has the problem of trying to explain life. And, though science makes great claims and has done well at explaining simple atomic systems, the idea that science can make any statement about what life is or where it comes from is currently preposterous." Terence McKenna, New Maps of Hyperspace
We are hyperspatial objects of some sort that cast a shadow into matter.
We are not primarily biological, with mind emerging as a kind of iridescence, a kind of epiphenomenon at the higher levels of organization of biology. We are hyperspatial objects of some sort that cast a shadow into matter. The shadow in matter is our physical organism.
At death, the thing that casts the shadow withdraws, and metabolism ceases. Material form breaks down; it ceases to be a dissipative structure in a very localized area, sustained against entropy by cycling material in, extracting energy, and expelling waste. But the form that ordered it is not affected. These declarative statements are made from the point of view of the shamanic tradition, which touches all higher religions. Both the psychedelic dream state and the waking psychedelic state acquire great import because they reveal to life a task: to become familiar with this dimension that is causing being, in order to be familiar with it at the moment of passing from life.
The metaphor of a vehicle--an after-death vehicle, an astral body--is used by several traditions. Shamanism and certain yogas, including Taoist yoga, claim very clearly that the purpose of life is to familiarize oneself with this after-death body so that the act of dying will not create confusion in the psyche. One will recognize what is happening. One will know what to do and one will make a clean break. Yet there does seem to be the possibility of a problem in dying. It is not the case that one is condemned to eternal life. One can muff it through ignorance.
Apparently at the moment of death there is a kind of separation, like birth--the metaphor is trivial, but perfect. There is a possibility of damage or of incorrect activity. The English poet-mystic William Blake said that as one starts into the spiral there is the possibility of falling from the golden track into eternal death. Yet it is only a crisis of a moment--a crisis of passage--and the whole purpose of shamanism and of life correctly lived is to strengthen the soul and to strengthen the ego's relationship to the soul so that this passage can be cleanly made. This is the traditional position...
Psychedelics may do more than model this state;
they may reveal the nature of it.
What psychedelics encourage, and where I hope attention will focus once hallucinogens are culturally integrated to the point where large groups of people can plan research programs without fear of persecution, is the modeling of the after-death state. Psychedelics may do more than model this state; they may reveal the nature of it. Psychedelics will show us that the modalities of appearance and understanding can be shifted so that we can know mind within the context of the One Mind. The One Mind contains all experiences of the Other. There is no dichotomy between the Newtonian universe, deployed throughout light-years of three-dimensional space, and the interior mental universe. They are adumbrations of the same thing.
We perceive them as unresolvable dualisms because of the low quality of the code we customarily use. The language we use to discuss this problem has built-in dualisms. This is a problem of language. All codes have relative code qualities, except the Logos. The Logos is perfect and, therefore, partakes of no quality other than itself. I am here using the word Logos in the sense in which Philo Judaeus uses it--that of the Divine Reason that embraces the archetypal complex of Platonic ideas that serve as the models of creation. As long as one maps with something other than the Logos, there will be problems of code quality. The dualism built into our language makes the death of the species and the death of the individual appear to be opposed things.From a talk given at the invitation of Ruth and Arthur Young of the Berkeley Institute for the Study of Consciousness, 1984. New Maps of Hyperspace is chapter 7 of The Archaic Revival by Terence McKenna.
What I imagine happens is that for the self time begins to flow backward
DB: Do you have any thoughts on what happens to human consciousness after biological death?
TM: I've thought about it. When I think about it I feel like I'm on my own. The Logos doesn't want to help here. The Logos has nothing to say to me on the subject of biological death. What I imagine happens is that for the self time begins to flow backward, even before death; the act of dying is the act of reliving an entire life, and at the end of the dying process consciousness divides into the consciousness of one's parents and one's children, and then it moves through these modalities, and then divides again. It's moving forward into the future through the people who come after you, and backward into the past through your ancestors. The further away from the moment of death it is, the faster it moves, so that after a period of time, the Tibetans say 42 days, one is reconnected to everything that ever lived, and the previous ego-pointed existence is allowed to dissolve, returned to the ocean, the morphogenetic field, or the One of Plotinus-you choose your term. A person is a focused illusion of being, and death occurs when the illusion of being is no longer sustained. Then everything flows out, and away from the disequilibrium state that is life. It is a state of disequilibrium, yet it is maintained for decades, but finally, like all disequilibrium states, it must yield to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and at that point it runs down, its specific character disappears into the general character of the world around it. It has returned then to the void/plenum.
DB: What if you don't have children?
TM: Well, then you flow backward into the past, into your parents and their parents, and their parents, and eventually all life, and back into the primal protozoa. It's very interesting that in the celebration of the Eleusinian mysteries, when they took the sacrament, what the god said was, "Procreate, procreate." It is uncanny the way history is determined by who sleeps with whom, who gets born, what lines are drawn forward, what tendencies are accelerated. Most people experience what they call magic only in the dimension of mate seeking, and this is where even the dullest people have astonishing coincidences, and unbelievable things go on-it's almost as though hidden strings were being pulled. There's an esoteric tradition that the genes, the matings, are where it's all being run from. It is how I think a superextraterrestrial would intervene. It wouldn't intervene at all; it would make us who it wanted us to be by controlling synchronicity.From an interview by David Jay Brown and Rebecca McClen in the summer 1989 issue of Critique (now Sacred Fire), and chapter 14 of The Archaic Revival by Terence McKenna.
As the esoteric traditions say, life is an opportunity to prepare for death
ND: You have said that an important part of the mystical quest is to face up to death and recognize it as a rhythm of life. Would you like to enlarge on your view on the implications of the dying process?
TM: I take seriously the notion that these psychedelic states are an anticipation of the dying process-or, as the Tibetans refer to it, the Bardo level beyond physical death. It seems likely that our physical lives are a type of launching pad for the soul. As the esoteric traditions say, life is an opportunity to prepare for death, and we should learn to recognize the signposts along the way, so that when death comes, we can make the transition smoothly. I think the psychedelics show you the transcendental nature of reality. It would be hard to die gracefully as an atheist or existentialist. Why should you? Why not rage against the dying of the light? But if in fact this is not the dying of the light but the Dawning of the Great Light, then one should certainly not rage against that. There's a tendency in the New Age to deny death. We have people pursuing physical immortality and freezing their heads until the fifth millennium, when they can be thawed out. All of this indicates a lack of balance or equilibrium. The Tao flows through the realms of life and nonlife with equal ease.
ND: Do you personally regard the death process as a journey into one's own belief system?
TM: Like the psychedelic experience, death must be poured into the vessel of language. But dying is essentially physiological. It may be that there are certain compounds in the brain that are only released when it is impossible to reverse the dying process. And yet the near-death experience has a curious affinity to the shamanic voyage and the psychedelic experience.
I believe that the best map we have of consciousness is the shamanic map. According to this viewpoint, the world has a "center," and when you go to the center-which is inside yourself-there is a vertical axis that allows you to travel up or down. There are celestial worlds, there are infernal worlds, there are paradisiacal worlds. These are the worlds that open up to us on our shamanic journeys, and I feel we have an obligation to explore these domains and pass on that inforrnation to others interested in mapping the psyche. At this time in our history, it's perhaps the most awe-inspiring journey anyone could hope to make.From an interview with Nevill Drury from the autumn 1990, vol. 11, no. 1, issue of the Australian magazine Nature and Health, and chapter 17 of The Archaic Revival by Terence McKenna.
Seeing into after-death existence before death
In discussing the ordinarily invisible spiritual world of the after-death state, called menog existence in the Avestan religion, Flattery says this:The consumption of sauma [Soma] may have been the only means recognized in Iranian religion of seeing into menog existence before death; at all events, it is the only means acknowledged in Zoroastrian literature . . . . and, as we have seen, is the means used by Ohrmazd when he wishes to make the menog existence visible to living persons. In ancient Iranian religion there is little evidence of concern with meditative practice which might foster development of alternative, non-pharmacological means to such vision. In Iran, vision into the spirit world was not thought to come about simply by divine grace or as a reward for saintliness. From the apparent role of sauma in initiation rites, experience of the effects of sauma, which is to say vision of menog existence, must have at one time been required of all priests (or the shamans antecedent to them).10From Food Of The Gods by Terence McKenna.
10. David Flattery and Martin Schwartz, Haoma and Harmaline, Near Eastern Studies, vol. 21 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989)
"When consciousness is finally understood, it will mean that the absence of consciousness will be understood. The study of consciousness leads, inevitably, to the study of death. Death is both a historical and an individual phenomenon about which we, as monkeys, have great anxiety. But what the psychedelic experience seems to be pointing out is that actually the reductionist view of death has missed the point and that there is something more. Death isn't simple extinction. The universe does not build up such complex forms as ourselves without conserving them in some astonishing and surprising way that relates to the intuitions that we have from the psychedelic experience." Terence McKenna
Updates on Terence's condition
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