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Krishna In The Sky With Diamonds: The Bhagavad Gita as Psychedelic Guide
by Scott Teitsworth
Publisher:
Park Street Press 
Year:
2012 
ISBN:
9781594774416 
Categories:
Book Reviews
Reviewed by David Arnson, 6/20/2012

Krishna In The Sky With Diamonds: The Bhagavad Gita as Psychedelic Guide is a well-presented look at a spiritual path not necessarily thought of as having psychedelic aspects. It concentrates on a 55-verse section of the ancient Indian text “The Mahabharata” (chapter 11 of the Bhagavad Gita). It concerns a legendary incident where the god Krishna (in human form) and the seeker Arjuna are conversing on a battlefield. Arjuna asks of Krishna to be shown Krishna’s entire divine form and essence. Krishna agrees, and, giving him the gift of a divine eye, unfolds his awesome splendor before him. Not realizing what he is getting into, the hapless Arjuna is completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the cosmically expanding vision. As the verses build, he beholds Krishna as having “the splendor of a thousand suns”, “a mass of light” and “the gods in his body”. He sees “multitudinous arms, stomachs, faces and eyes”, “the ultimate basis of the universe”, “fierce rays” and “worlds being devoured”, to mention but a few aspects of this vision. It is so intense that Arjuna begs Krishna, in effect, to stop and return to human form. (In some ways, in its vivid description of a mind-bending spiritual contact, the passage is similar to the opening verses of the Bible’s Book of Ezekiel.) It is a fascinating sequence that can be read on its own merits, or, as the author meticulously delineates, as a parallel to an intense psychedelic experience.

We are reminded that the ancient writings known as the Vedas (to which the Bhagavad Gita belongs) refer to the ritual use of a substance called soma, whose exact makeup is unknown, but that—like sacramental kykeon of the ancient Greeks’ Eleusinian Mysteries—is often regarded as having had psychoactive properties. Teitsworth makes a convincing case that these chapters of the Gita may well represent an experience with just such a substance. The verses are written with a trajectory similar to that of an LSD (or other psychedelic) trip; as Arjuna experiences an overwhelming expansion of consciousness before returning to a “normal” state, he is irrevocably changed by the experience and his awareness afterwards has shifted and increased.

The book is laid out verse by verse, each featuring a running commentary by the author. He clearly knows his subject, and ties in his own past psychedelic experiences with insight and honesty. Also woven into the comments are quotes and references from sources like the Tao Te Ching, Carl Jung, Mark Twain, Socrates, and Bob Dylan, along with Teitsworth’s own spiritual gurus and teachers. And it is here that I might differ with his comment on the usage of psychedelic medicines where he states: “While the Gita is an excellent aid, spending time with a guru or therapist should be considered mandatory, lest the ego corrupt the healing process into narcissism or a messianic complex.” However, such a bias is understandable amongst those drawn to Eastern religions; it is even perhaps intrinsic to someone on the path of the Vedas. I did like his observation, “A reverential attitude is the best insurance against developing a bloated ego from [...] transcendental experience [...]”

The whimsically titled Krishna in the Sky With Diamond takes an essential and much-welcomed place among books measuring the psychedelic experience against Eastern religion and spirituality, such as Allan Hunt Badiner and Alex Grey’s fine compilation Zig Zag Zen and the Leary et al. classic, The Psychedelic Experience. And the ancient poetry of the Gita is still spectacular!

1 Comment »

  1. This is a very interesting take on a legendary moment in the apocryphal history of religion and mysticism. I have a friend of South Asian ancestry who was absolutely convinced that this incident is referenced in Peter Gabriel’s song, “In Your Eyes.”

    Comment by Mahajohn — 8/12/2012 @ 1:05 pm

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