Originally published in 2012 ‘Krishna in the Sky with Diamonds: The Bhagavad Gita as Psychedelic Guide’ was written by Scott Teitsworth. Teitsworth is a lifelong student of Indian philosophy and modern science, under the tutelage of Nitya Chaitanya Yati, himself a disciple of Nataraja Guru, and has edited numerous works written by these gurus. Hosting the Portland branch of the Narayana Gurukula, he and his wife have taught courses on the Bhagavad Gita since the 1970s.
In drug writing, and more specifically psychedelic and entheogenic literature, there has been a tradition of reading the psychedelic experience in light of Eastern spiritual texts in order to form guidebooks and alike. Most notably Timothy Leary adapted The Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Tao Te Ching for The Psychedelic Experience (1964) and Psychedelic Prayers (1966) respectively. However, while a lot of emphasis was placed on Buddhist and Taoist texts in the 1960s, many of the individuals involved were more personally engaged with the Indian Hindu tradition, so it is surprising that an endeavour such as Krishna in the Sky with Diamonds has only just appeared. Interestingly, though, while the contextual approach may differ from earlier texts, the end goal does not; the psychospiritual and therapeutic growth of the individual remains – The explicit intent being one’s realisation of the Absolute.
The Gita does not explicitly recommend any specific form of ritual behavior, but it provides intelligent guidelines for bringing each life to its full potential. The way taken will depend on individual choice and the so-called accidents of fate, Because of my own familiarity with psychedelic medicines, especially LSD, I feel qualified to describe their spiritual efficacy in broad outline. The Gita’s illuminating perspective on Arjuna’s visionary experience, whatever it might have been, could well serve as a blueprint for anyone in a position to safely attempt a comparable experiment (Teitsworth 202, 5)
The Bhagavad Gita forms part of one of the world’s oldest and longest epics, the Mahabharata and is believed, at earliest estimates, to have been written down from the oral tradition in around 500 BCE. Vedantic philosophy takes its cue from these texts. The Gita tells the story of Arjuna and his guru Krishna who, during a great battle, enter into a deep dialogue. After Krishna calms Arjuna’s fears of the battle, in which he finds himself in a no-win situation, there is a deeply experiential chapter that Teitsworth interprets in light of the plant soma. Soma has been latterly understood to have had psychedelic properties that give its user an ecstatic experience, which is then understood as being an important part of an individual’s growth toward spiritual enlightenment. Soma is described in a number of places in the Vedic text the Rig-Veda, but it is in the experiential, ecstatic revelations of chapter XI in the Gita that the author concentrates his analysis.
According to Teitsworth: “Chapter XI is the first reentry of the seeker Arjuna after the transcendental, fully vertical portion, where his mind is lifted as high as it can go. This chapter is somewhat anomalous with the rest of the Gita, and it can more easily stand on its own than any of the others” (Teitsworth 2012, 11). Consequentially, this understanding of the chapter underlines the premise of the book in its reinterpretation of the individual verses, wherein each verse is segmented for analysis, in light of the soma experience. Thus Teitsworth’s approach determines the spiritual element within both an experiential and causal context, which is to say that the experience of the Absolute can be achieved/caused through an entheogenic sacrament. In terms of psychology, the inference is that such a confrontation with the Absolute opens up a new vista of investigation, analogous to psychospiritual territories that might previously have been inaccessible. The upshot of which, and in line with entheogenic theory at large, is that the sacrament becomes a catalyst within a wider spiritual discipline.
He [Arjuna] isn’t sure what Krishna still wants to teach him, but he can’t wait to find out. His old attitudes no longer mean anything to him other than bondage. He has so much new territory to explore, more than he ever imagined, and the thought thrills him to the core. Smiling the barest whisper of a smile, Arjuna gently subsides into a dreamless sleep (Teitsworth 2012, 173)
The interpretations of the individual verses rely on the recognition of a prior philosophical-pathological element that any said realisation overcomes and which, simultaneously, becomes a defining opposition. For example, in verse eleven that speaks of a “God representing sheer marvel, without end, universally facing”, Teitsworth writes in his commentary that “Humans have treated their world as being made up of separate, unrelated elements in order to dominate and abuse it without a second thought” (Teitsworth 2012, 52). While he writes that psychedelics have the power to dispel the illusion of duality, that they are relative concepts and not absolute, this relativity itself is embedded in the explanatory framework of the guide book. Hence the element of absolute, or Absolute, is required to be experienced because the very process of description undermines its nature. Not only does this add weight to the idea that religion and spirituality should be experience, as opposed faith, based, but it also assumes that entheogenic experience is universal. Yet the ‘universal experience’ of the ‘universal’ is far from a given effect.
In conclusion, Krishna in the Sky with Diamonds: The Bhagavad Gita as Psychedelic Guide is an interesting addition to the psychedelic guide literature and its attempt to use soma as a light through which to interpret chapter XI of the Gita does yield an interesting perspective. However, the book is still dogged by the presumption of a certain experience dictated by the spiritual-philosophical lens through which it is analysed. The psychedelic experience, which itself cannot be an unmediated experience, is ultimately utilized as a canvas through which to extrapolate a system of personal, spiritual growth in line with Vedantic philosophy. In fact, what is revealed more keenly than the nature of the Gita, is the proliferation of a Western psychospirituality based on the consumption of certain substances within a network of reframed, largely Eastern, practises and disciplines; what, more succinctly, has become known as the entheogenic. As such, the book becomes invaluable to entheogenicists whose tastes are tempered by Vedantic and Hindu schema.