To be genuine, practice requires purity of heart. The seed group of families that surrounded Stephen during the early years had bonded through sharing psychedelic experiences. These intimate gatherings of friends sharing passages of ego-dissolution and mystical communion were the high mass, the event where blessings became available to consciousness through the ritual use of a primary sacrament. Still identifying my own spiritual awakening with the coincident effects of psycho-active substances and having no community in which to develop and apply the ultimate form of this understanding, the prospect of building a culture founded in psychedelic yoga was a large element of the spirit that I was drawn to when I originally decided to move to Tennessee.
During a radio interview in early 1971, Stephen described the early history of his spiritual awakening on Haight Street:
People were so trusting and so open and there was just a huge community that lived there and thrived, and we took psychedelics and went into each others minds and got to know each other really deep. A lot of us got to a place where we could change the vision at will. We could change things in our heads and watch the things out in front of us change... watch the vision change and that kind of thing. I just logged hours and hours learning about the mind, because the first thing that happened to me when I came on to that level of mind was I found out there was a whole level of experience that Id never been in before. Id never seen that, and people had been trying to tell me about it. Theyd say, Theres religion, and theres Spirit, and theres magic, and a whole bunch of stuff like that. And Id say, No man, thats all superstition. That happened two thousand years ago, not these days. But it was really happening, and as soon as I found out there was something like that, that was what I did on Haight Street. And thats what most of the people on Haight Street were, were serious students studying mind.
I read this at 17, while still living in Queens. It was one of the first instances where I had come across an adult who expressed my own psychedelic values so enthusiastically. At the time, it was exciting to imagine living in a community of such people. This was obviously the place for a young hippy to go if he wanted to develop his psychic and spiritual potential.
In Mind at Play, published almost ten years later, the song remains the same.
Imprinting unconsciously conditions your behavior. In fact, most people you meet on the street are a clutter of imprints walking around, thinking that they are somebody.
Thats what were trying to do, is to get above that clutter of imprints. Thats why I put such tremendous value in psychedelic states of mind, because you can rise above all conditionings and see them. You can look clear into your subconscious and see conditioning and make a decision to not do that anymore, and become unconditioned.
Most everybody who came to the Farm was just such a clutter of imprints, seeking liberation in one form or another. Regardless of your previous experiences, to come onto the land was only the beginning of the journey. In the early days, the effort to evolve a critical mass of real players might rightfully have been considered the most important work, because otherwise there would be no seed group whereby this understanding could continue to evolve. The original circle of friends whose love and faith made the Farm possible would help to initiate others and expand the inner circle if the community was going to be able to grow beyond the bounty of genesis.
In spite of his insistence on the availability of holiness in our times, it seems that Stephen didnt have a very clear idea of the combination of forces and circumstances which gave birth to the Caravan and the Farm because he never made any serious attempt to duplicate these experiences in anybody else. The deep ecology responsible for whatever level of spiritual awakening was enjoyed by the original group around Stephen during the years of Monday Night Class was naively identified with the coincidence of persons and events which came together in that particular time and place. As the community grew, the dearth of understanding the real source of these experiences prevented reproduction and balanced fusion of the critical elements responsible for these revelations, for the sake of expanding the bond with those who were to come. In a sense, it was as if the actual empowerment, the initiatory opening for this particular gathering, was already a thing of the past:
There was a period where, for a few years, things were malleable enough that something like this could happen.... A whole bunch of factors came about to bring this thing off and do this thing and the idea got out. And it got so wild, and so weird, that something new could happen. And what a profound blessing that it did. As we get farther from the moment of that birth, we can see that it was a miraculous birth, or renaissance. Those who were in it are responsible and its not that that sort of thing is going to happen again and again and again in our lifetime Its more like that was our chance. So far, we have seized it. If you go and look around the country, you can see folks who didnt know it was a chance or thought it was a fad or a style. But thats not true.
This miraculous birth clearly refers to the counter-cultural revolution which happened in the sixties and made possible our attempt to create a viable alternative community. Stephen attributes responsibility for these changes to the individuals who lived through them, and in the process, reduced the transcendental nature of this awakening energy to a form in which it might be egoically appropriated. Subject to influences and factors beyond their knowledge or control, most in Stephens circle were already adults with a solid sense of self, whose consciousness was significantly altered by psychedelics during these years. The lack of critical mass in the followup meant that the full import of such openings would never blossom into the lotus of supreme realization and a true lineage of spiritual transmission.
The following ironic prophecy in the form of history is from the introduction to Amazing Dope Tales:
Folks you tripped with are like the folks you went through your inititiation with...Those folks were the revolution in a lot of ways, and the power that came out of their thing informed and powered a tremendous amount of the civil rights and the anti-war movements...Some of the guys I did those trips with are just gone. They forgot and went square, a little because of money and their families; but for many of them, they messed around with the wrong kind of magic so much that they just lost their juice.
As time passed, more and more people came to Tennessee who had not been through such initiatory passages, yet there was no attempt to transmit the essence of these revolutionary experiences for the benefit of a cultural bonding. It was generally assumed that all aspects of relevant practice and instruction were integrated and contained in the social sadhana of work-a-day life on the Farm.
The teaching that came to me is that you get high when you get high, and if you dont pay attention you may have missed it, and you dont know when your next one is coming.
If you werent already high when you heard this, it at least got you to start paying enough attention that you wouldnt miss your next opportunity. Without a more reliable method of catalyzing insight, without an initiatory society to maintain the original vitality of the movement, it was left to the individual to interpret these messages and somehow prepare oneself for a spiritual opening through the diligent performance of karma-yoga.
In an effort to popularize a spiritual lifestyle, the esoteric processes of transmission were ignored and undervaluated. Attention to the here and now supplanted the true Dharma and the transmission of spiritual knowledge from the true guru (the community) was an arbitrary and casual event. As Stephen was seemingly unaware of the importance of this aspect of spiritual work and there was no other source indicated, the meaning of transmission was downplayed and exotericized with the result that what is probably the most important aspect of traditional spiritual life was left completely to chance. The work of instilling the heart-essence and assuring the continuity of our spiritual ways through direct revelation was simplistically reduced to aphorisms and the trans-organic blessing of an occasional joint-break, as if the original nature was so obvious and straightforward that there was no need to make much of it, employ a special language or point it out with any emphasis.
Stephen favored a simpler path and lifestyle which was partially informed by the understandings common to the higher stages of realization but bereft of the means to adequately communicate the nature of such knowledge or offer direct access to having these experiences for oneself. In a spirit of humble submission to the directives of our spiritual preceptor, we energetically applied ourselves to the given yogas without any competent instruction relative to the ultimate processes of awakening.
At the time, none of us were in any way troubled by all of this. We were all honored to be a part of the crew on this starship. The practice as given was self-evident and sufficient.
Eihei Dogen (13th c.), a Japanese Zen master instructs:
Students who have been moved to study the way should merely follow the rest of the assembly in their conduct... If you practice by doing what the assembly does, you should be able to attain the way. It is like riding in a boat without knowing how to row. If you leave everything up to a competent sailor, you will reach the other shore, irrespective of whether you know how to row or not. If you follow a good teacher and practice together with the assembly and have no concepts of self you will naturally become a man of the way.
The majority of us were gentle people who were not prone to a lot of contention and argument. With astigmatic faith in the competence of our teacher and his appointees, we were content to just carry on, assuming it was only realistic to expect that there would be some difficulties in any undertaking of this magnitude. Stephen always made a point of telling us that he was a teacher and not a leader because if you lose your leader youre lost, but if you lose your teacher, you might be able to remember something he taught you so that you can find your own way back on the path. But somehow, when the train jumped the tracks, most of us were relatively unalarmed and just followed the engineer down the slope.