Tea for two with the Maharishi. The drift along hippie life purported to be inherently religious, but even among the hippies there were always a few who tried harder. These are the various sages of the movement, who appointed themselves or styled themselves or merely promoted themselves a religious prophets and spiritual guides. This temple of fame included Arthur Kleps ( 1928-1999 ) of the neo-American church, Allen Cohen ( 1940-2004 )editor of ”The Oracle”; and the most famous sage, Dr. Timothy Leary, creator of the League for Spiritual Discovery, or LSD.
Leary looked upon the chemical LSD as a sacrament, and its presumed power to arouse latent religious sensitivities formed the wellspring of hippie religiosity. What Leary would term a regeneration through chemical-mystical union of the self and the universe, or, more commonly, ”tuning in”. On a vast, rented estate at Millbrook, in the Hudson Valley, Leary’s transient disciples took the sacrament and potentially experienced their own body cells dividing.
In May 1957 Leary stumbled across an article in Life magazine, written by R. Gordon Wasson, on the subject of entheogens, the use of psychoactive herbs in the religious ceremonies of the Mazatec people of Mexico.Intrigued, Leary traveled to Mexico to learn first hand what kind of mood change a helping of psilocybin mushrooms would produce. What happened was a radical change in his life.Leary returned to Harvard in 1960 and persuaded academic authorities that a psilocybin project could eventually be beneficial in altering the mind states of convicted criminals and alcoholics. He teamed with a number of associates, including Richard Alpert, who would later become known as Ram Dass, to research the effects of psilocybin, progressing on to LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide.
”After about three years on the project, Harvard officials heard a vigorous protests from parents, who did not want their children exposed to those experiments. That effectively shut down the experiments, which forced Leary and Alpert out the door”.In 1964, a reading of the Tibetan Book of the Dead inspired Leary to co-author The Psychedelic Experience , in which he wrote that the “psychedelic experience is a journey to new realms of consciousness. . . . transcend[ing] verbal concepts of space-time dimensions, and of the ego or identity.”
Discovering the true self and rejecting externals formed the message of the Buddha, who thus represented to most psychedelic believers the greatest religious teacher of all. Hippie gurus, at any rate, enjoyed striking Buddha like poses. Hippie religion however, was absorbant and Cohen’s ”Oracle” also recommended Tarot cards, Hopi Indian spirits, and Henry David Thoreau. Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism, particularly the watery blends offered by various celebrity mystics and sages, found little competition. Buddhism in particular was hip with the young because it had no ruling omniscient god who mandated antiquated moral codes, and its priest caste was best known for a) protesting war and b) wearing colorful psychedelic outfits. It was seemingly devoted solely to the “now,” and was misinterpreted as something of a Pop religion.
”Leary’s ideas received considerable publicity and in 1962 he was contacted by Mary Pinchot Meyer. Leary supplied her with LSD who used it with her lover, President John F. Kennedy. Leary later claimed that Meyer helped influence Kennedy’s views on nuclear disarmament and rapprochement with Cuba. Kennedy aide, Meyer Feldman, claimed in an interview with Nina Burleigh that the president might have discussed substantial issues with Meyer: “I think he might have thought more of her than some of the other women and discussed things that were on his mind, not just social gossip….In 1963 Leary and Alpert were dismissed from Harvard University after complaints from the parents of students involved in experimenting with LSD. The two men moved to New York and continued their research at a large mansion called Millbrook. …The following year Leary was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana. Found guilty, he was sentenced to prison. However, with the help of the Weathermen, he escaped from prison. Leary and his wife to move to Algeria where he spent time with Black Panther leader, Eldridge Cleaver. Later the couple went to live in Switzerland…. Richard Nixon described Leary as the “most dangerous man in America” and ordered G. Gordon Liddy to destroy him. In 1974 he was illegally kidnapped by Interpol agents in Kabul and transported to the United States. (At the time Afghanistan had no extradition treaty with the United States.) Leary was eventually released from prison in April, 1976.