The visionary of our apocalyptic age is bound to be a tormented soul, subject to an occasional psychotic split. These modern age 'mystics' are merely a reflection of their times; products of contemporary set and setting. So the likes of a Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg or William Burroughs are not true mystics in the real sense of the word. They are--in essence--distorted visionaries, desolate angels; their mystic vision impaired by the lunacy of the age. This ostensibly leads to their excessive or peculiar behavior, as some would perceive the manifold machinations of the Beats, and related movements. Another limiting factor is the parasitic star syndrome, where the modern mystic/guru is mass marketed ala On The Road, The Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test or the tune "Cassidy" by the Grateful Dead. In this paradigm Jesus would have been a co-opted major movie star in cool shades. Rock stars and Beat icons have joined the ranks in the cathedrals of idol worship; the sacraments and names have changed, but the rituals remain much the same. The burning of incense and candles and the imbibing of strange wines. Back in my wayward youth we'd 'turn on' a black light to 'illuminate' that famous Hendrix-smoking-a-doobie poster with "Stone Free" blaring at top volume, as along came Mary to consecrate our red-eye chants comparing Jimi to God. In retrospect, these remembrances seem just as much ritual as any church service I've ever attended. Furthermore, The Legend of Dulouz speaks to me on a much larger scale than all the Bibles dreamt of in your philosophy, Bob Larson.
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During the summer of 1948, poet Allen Ginsberg experienced a series of "visions" triggered in part by the absence of his beat circle of friends, who had, at this time, dispersed themselves like a beatific virus in varying directions across the globe. "I gave up, I shut down the machinery, I stopped thinking, I stopped living," as he later described his psychological make-up during this period. Ginsberg's state of mental dissolution--or ego loss--immediately brings to mind the writings of Carlos Castaneda, and his mentor don Juan, who instructed his apprentice that in order to lift the veil of ordinary reality one must 'stop the world.' In his own unique fashion this is what Ginsberg unintentionally attained, as he--for the first time--had no immediate circle of friends in whom to confide; "...no New Vision and No Supreme Reality and nothing but the world in front of me, and not knowing what to do with that." Psychologically discombobulated, Ginsberg immersed himself in various religious and metaphysical tracts such as Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, and William Blake. One afternoon, while reading Blake's "Ah, Sunflower" Ginsberg experienced the first in a series of transcendent visions that over the next decade dominated his every waking thought. It was there in his solitary apartment that he heard "a voice of rock...like the voice of the Ancient of Days." Ginsberg realized immediately that this voice was none other than the spirit of Blake speaking directly to him. In the early evening dusk, Ginsberg gazed upon the booming metropolis outside his lonesome window, as suddenly the view he'd witnessed hundreds of times before was instantly transformed. He saw God. "I suddenly realized that this was it!...This was the moment I was born for." Over the following weeks, the voice of the immortal bard returned to Ginsberg again and again, triggering an endless stream of mystical visions, both euphoric and paranoiac.
Some might suspect that Ginsberg was in the throes of a psychotic break, as he wandered for weeks in a mystical trance, under the guidance of Blake's immortal voice. At other times these visions turned horrific, as Ginsberg suddenly saw beyond the veils that cover human faces, deep into the hidden soul of suffering humanity.
When at last the visions surceased, Ginsberg was left with a deep conviction, as he vowed to himself: "Never deny the voice--no, never forget it, don't get lost mentally wandering in other spirit worlds or American or job worlds or advertising worlds or earth worlds." Be true to thyself, and the voice inside your heart, was the universal message Ginsberg brought back from his vision-quest. As has been stated since time immemorial, there is a fine line that separates the mad man from the genius. There are none better who illustrate this point than Ginsberg and his fellow Beats.
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When I suggest that the likes of a Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs and Cassady are modern day mystics, I mean in the sense of the holy mad man; the solipsistic saint. A common and undeniable thread running through these mystical experiences is the deliberate application of artificial stimuli to induce sacred and terrifying visions. Lost in Illumination--suffering the cumulative ills of societal dysfunction--their symptoms, a reflection of the times. Their cold turkey was the dark night of the soul. The Illumination so bright, it momentarily blinded them. But as the first mainline flash wore off, it was replaced by the essence of their vision, in all it's magnificent and terrifying glory.
In primitive cultures--where shamanism has been practiced for millennia--visions of this magnitude are prepared for through years of ritual and rigorous training. In this manner the eternal mysteries take years to unravel, through numerous esoteric rites and levels of initiation. It could then be said that such artificial sacraments as peyote, LSD-25 and ayahuasca are a nickel bag of mixed blessings. This instant freeze dried Illumination purchased on the street for a couple bucks can sometimes perpetuate a disorienting environment, an assault--or derangement--to the senses; a confusion of spheres. Or a term Newspeakian Joan d'Arc has coined that could be applied to this form of balls-to-the-wall Transcendentalism, the aforementioned Guerrilla Khundalini. With instant vision comes instant karma, as well: Virtual Heaven & Hell. Perhaps this is the reason why the Cassadys and Burroughs of the world flirted so openly with the criminal element; maybe this is why they chased with reckless abandon chemical dragons through the figurative flames--into the bottomless pit and across the Abyss--only to be resurrected time and again; to rise victorious from the ashes of their self-inflicted suffering. Without going through 'Hell', one can never truly appreciate the bounties of Heaven; Nirvana. Without surrendering to the carnal desires, one can never fully comprehend the spirit world which exists beyond the limitations of corporeal flesh. (No one knows what really went down when William Burroughs shot his common-law wife, Joan Vollmer--dead in the head--while allegedly playing William Tell with her in Mexico. Nonetheless this nefarious episode has been a personal Hell that Burroughs has had to live with for the past 40 years.)
Some will be outraged, no doubt, when I compare the likes of Burroughs to Thomas Aquinas and other like saints. Hedonism, nihilism & existentialism are not oft considered saintly attributes, though what I think Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac and Cassady all shared in common with the saints of old is a dedication to a principle and way of life (on the Beaten path, though it might have been) devoting themselves to the search for enlightenment, albeit through a queer assortment of means. A longhaired Jesus once prophesied: "My father's house has many mansions" which could denote varying levels of consciousness, esoteric knowledge and myriad metaphysical systems employed to realize these heightened neurological states, as employed by the Beats and subsequent countercultural currents.
Don't get me wrong: I don't find anything particularly glamorous about the junkie lifestyle. But Burrough's approach to hard-core drug addiction was so unlike the junkies of his day, that it set him light years apart, particularly in relation to the generations of doomed who've followed blindly after. His was a search for the true and underlining meaning of addiction, need and control. Burroughs' re/search became a larger model and metaphor for his entire philosophy . Burroughs once stated his personal belief that, as long as he was learning from his addiction, it held some importance for him, no matter how dark and lost he was in this self taught education on the edge. When finally he freed himself from the shackles of opium bondage, homosexual urges replaced his junk cravings, taking him even further down the dark path of self discovery, a journey which he documented in Queer, his second literary endeavor, the followup to his first novel, Junkie. Where these two books were the basis of his self-taught existential education, Naked Lunch became his Master's Thesis. In 1953, Burroughs journeyed into the Amazon in search of an hallucinatory agent he'd heard extraordinary tales of; the shamanic vine, Yage. Purportedly--along with the transcendental jungle visions ascribed to it--Yage (also known as Ayahuasca) was said to possess other mysterious qualities. One such being the possible facilitation and/or increase of telepathic abilities, as exhibited by its vomit spewing users. This prospect intrigued Burroughs, as over the years he'd begun to develop certain telepathic powers, establishing mental contact most notably with his late common law wife and speed fiend, Joan Vollmer. Upon occasion she and Bill would perform paranormal parlor tricks of a telepathic nature for the amusement of curious bohemian onlookers with benzedrine inhalers on their breath.
The brujos of the Amazon--who Burroughs eventually located, and from them partook of this sacramental vine--believed that their ayahuasca-produced visions were the communications of disembodied souls from the spirit world. If one looks into the wide array literature on this subject, many are the mind-bending accounts of those who've imbibed from the brujo's gooey spoon. According to Burroughs--no novice to drug experimentation--Yage, as he said at the time, "...is the most powerful drug I have ever experienced. That is, it produces the most complete derangement of the senses...It is like nothing else. This is not the chemical lift of C, the sexless, horrible sane stasis of junk, the vegetable nightmare of peyote, or the humorous silliness of weed. This is insane overwhelming rape of the senses." The more conservative minded among us might wonder: Why would anyone want to rape their senses? But this, in essence, was the credo of the Beats. One of the major influences on the Beat Movement was the French Decadent, Rimbaud, who wrote:
"A poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses. All forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he exhausts within himself all poisons, and preserves their quintessences. Unspeakable torment, where he will need the greatest faith, a superhuman strength, where he becomes all men the great invalid, the great criminal, the great accursed--and the Supreme Scientist! For he attains the unknown! Because he has cultivated his soul, already rich, more than anyone! He attains the unknown, and if, demented, he finally loses the understanding of his visions, he will at least have seen them! So what if he is destroyed in his ecstatic flight through things unheard of, unnameable: other horrible workers will come; they will begin at the horizons where the first one has fallen!" Arthur Rimbaud (May 15, 1871)
It may appear to the short-sighted that I'm an apologist for the excesses of the Beats. Well, maybe so. Over the years I've derived unfathomed value from their cumulative words and deeds. I believe they touched a raw nerve in the psyche of the post World War II generation, envisioning a new spirit that came partially to fruition with the sixties psychedelic counterculture, then afterwards with seventies Punk sensibility, and still currently reverberating in our collective craniums as a species, in some dormant shape or form. Anyone who believes Rush Limbaugh's vision of America is the true destiny of our nation is either deluded, or in on the grand Masonic scam. Kerouac saw it like was, and had the conviction and honesty to bare his soul with blood from vein to pen on holy parchment. Dig:
"...Japhy (Gary Snyder) was considered an eccentric around campus, which is the usual thing for campuses and college people to think whenever a real man appears on scene--colleges being nothing but grooming schools for the middleclass non-entity which usually finds it's perfect expression on the outskirts of the campus in rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets in each livingroom with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time while the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, to find the ecstasy of the stars..." (The Dharma Bums, pg. 32-33.)
In another section from The Dharma Bums, Kerouac accurately prophesied (through the voice of character Japhy Ryder) a 'rucksack revolution'. This mid-fifties revelation foresaw an advent generation of long haired backpacking hitchhikers, seeking something more than what conventional society of the time had to offer:
"I've been reading Whitman, know what he says, Cheer up slaves, and horrify foreign despots, he means that's the attitude for the Bard, the Zen Lunacy bard of old desert paths, see the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn't want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, at least new fancy cars, certain hair oils and deodorants and general junk you always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume, I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to the mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of 'em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason..." (The Dharma Bums, pg. 77-78)
On another note, there are those who would suggest that the Beat Movement was part of a grand conspiracy; and the Beats themselves unwitting pawns in this game. ..