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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
SEE MORE ESSAYS WRITTEN BY BRAD REYNOLDS
Do Axial Age Adepts
‘Go Up and Out’?
A Brief Review of Axial Age Teachings:
A Response to Chris Bache
Summary by ChatGPT: The essay by Brad Reynolds critiques modern scholars, particularly Christopher Bache, for misinterpreting Axial Age teachings as escapism from worldly existence, whereas these teachings emphasize a balanced understanding and engagement with the world. The essay argues for a middle path, integrating spiritual ascent with worldly descent, in line with the non-dual teachings of Axial Age adepts, and advocates for authentic spiritual practices over psychedelic explorations for achieving genuine enlightenment.
There are really only two ways communicated in the whole world: the Way of living as Enlightenment, and the way of living as the phenomenal self. If you are going to live as Enlightenment, you must understand this convention of the phenomenal self, with all the mechanics of existence you have built upon it. Therefore, you must undergo the Sacred Ordeal of transition from this conventional self presumption and its habit energies into the disposition where Enlightenment is tacitly obvious and you are related to phenomena in Freedom.
— Avatar Adi Da Samraj
here is a tendency among modern scholars of religion and mysticism, and therefore of the public in general, to believe that the Teachings of the Axial Age Adepts or sages and philosophers are simply about transcending “this world” or seeing the earth and life as “an illusion.” I have recently seen this gain popular appeal again in the writings Christopher Bache, a religious studies professor at Youngstown State University, who has released his decades long exploration with high-dose LSD sessions in a book called LSD and the Mind of the Universe (2019, Park Street Press), thus gaining the interest of many people. Bache is clearly a “psychonaut” or an explorer of the interior dimensions of reality where many “hidden secrets” of the exterior and psychological universe are revealed (and then later re-integrated into daily life). Bache's explorations are truly profound and a great lesson for many of us touched by the powerful advantages of entheogens or psychedelic substances and plants to potentially reveal “the divine (theos) within.” This serves the awakening of individuals who may, in turn, stimulate the healing of our collective global culture. Importantly, many psychonauts, from Stanislav Grof to Alan Watts to Aldous Huxley to Terrance McKenna to Jamie Wheal to Daniel Pinchbeck, and thousands more, suggest that entheogens, at best, are a vital key to initiating a spiritual awakening or experiences about the truth of God or the Divine nature of reality, also known as our innate Buddha-Nature (in the East).
Of course, psychedelics—which are drugs that are notably different than other Schedule I controlled substances (in the United States), such as heroin, cocaine, and speed (or methamphetamines), since they are not technically addictive or prone to abuse—also have the potential for generating their own illusions and harmful effects, even by those who use them correctly. Consequently, I advocate for authentic spiritual life (or sadhana) based on gradual, daily disciplines (and I emphasize disciplines), such as meditation and Right Life practices (including healthy eating of natural, organic foods, physical and breathing exercises, proper sexual and love relations, no substance or alcohol abuse, moral and ethical actions, etc.), including Satsang (or right instruction) with an authentic Guru, since this approach generates genuine spiritual awakenings and in-depth transformations that are more permanent and authentic (even if entheogens may be useful as a temporary gateway to spiritual illumination).
As is often noted, such substance-induced experiences have been used by humankind for millennia, going back to the tribal times of shamans, from the Eleusinian mystery rites of ancient Greece, to the soma-drinking rituals in the Vedas of primordial India, to the peyote ceremonies of Native Americans, to the ayahuasca churches of present-day Brazil (and elsewhere), and so forth. In this case, they are not properly seen as “drugs” but as sacred medicines or sacraments that help reveal the deeper truths of the universe, our psyche, and lives. I applaud Bache's courageous explorations and the sharing of his insights and discoveries with his highly-articulate writings. However, I would like to point out that he is NOT an Enlightened Sage or Spiritual Master, even if he has shared some of their same experiential insights. Bache is a professor and pandit, not a Sage or Enlightened Guru. Consequently, I find his writings and ideas contain traces of his own biases and misunderstandings, for example, he uses the Grofian-Tarnasian paradigm of the Birth Perinatal Matrices (BMPs), and its emphasis on the death-rebirth sequence of the individual soul (or separate self sense), as one of his major mapping tools, which are NOT enlightened teachings although they have much to recommend to them.
In my opinion, Bache also seems to be immersed in a Western-oriented attitude—or the “Omega-mind” strategy (that emphasizes the “descending current”)—which places attention on “this-world” of the physical Earth and its evolution to a Utopian ideal, or in Bache's words, to “create heaven on Earth.” Therefore, his conclusions are distorted towards a “this-worldly” direction and hence make a serious flaw in his summary of the so-called “Axial Age religions” since he says, “I criticize the up-and-out cosmologies of the religions of the Axial Age which place the final goal of life in some off-planet heavenly paradise.” This is verifiably false, as I will show in this essay [presented in Parts 2-3]. It is true that some, indeed many, religions of the past, including those of Asia or the East, have sometimes emphasized the exclusive transcendence of the world—or an “Alpha-mind” strategy (based on the “ascending current”)—but this is NOT the Enlightened View. In fact, unless a person uses a “spectrum of consciousness” model to traverse and understand the upper (or deeper) transpersonal states and structures of consciousness involved in mystical development then these types of errors or fallacies become abundant. We must acknowledge how much the Enlightened View is about serving this world, being compassionate and loving to all beings, creating the best circumstances for justice and freedom for everyone.
Only the wisdom of the Heart or Nondual Enlightened Realization, the real message of the Axial Adepts, properly resolves these tensions between “this-world” descending strategies and “other-worldly” ascending aspirations. Ken Wilber, in harmony with the Axial Age Adepts, points to the central theme of the Nondual Traditions: “After one has developed (or evolved) to an awakening of… nondual Emptiness/Awareness, one then consciously reverses this path of Ascent and deliberately re-creates the complete path of Descent… thus uniting and integrating the Path of Ascent [Alpha-mind] with the Path of Descent [Omega-mind], balanced and upheld by the indestructible empty essence that is the Heart.” This view is the essential nondual truth revealed by the wisest Axial Age Teachings, from Buddha and Krishna to Lao Tzu and Confucius to Heraclitus and Parmenides, from Socrates to the Upanishad authors, even if some Axial Period pioneers did not reach full Enlightenment (such as with the prophets of Israel). In other words, we must be careful to discriminate the various levels or structure-stages of mystical development achieved by the various Axial Age religions and their teachers by not lumping them into stereotypical categories such as with “up-and-out” descriptions (as Bache does). When the human heart balances desires for this world with freedom from this world then a state of equanimity is established that serves BOTH this world and a transcendental view of existence, since both are true. The heart or love brings it all together as One. This is what the Adepts Teach.
Bache does in fact acknowledge Ken Wilber's “four stages of psycho-spiritual development [psychic, subtle, causal, nondual],” yet he has chosen to mostly use Grof's terminology (and ontology) in referring to the various states of consciousness that he explored during his high-dose LSD sessions. I believe Bache tends to prioritize Grof's worldview too much, and the death-rebirth sequence, which is partially why he had some of the incredibly intense and frightening experiences he had in the first several years of his sessions. Of course, he acts like they are “pre-given” dimensions and he was just an observer but I think he might have been an influencer as well. This too must be taken into account. Nonetheless, in agreement with Wilber's perspective, Bache does clearly recognize that “states of consciousness are not stages of spiritual development.” Precisely correct. Therefore, I suggest we need to rely more heavily on the wisdom of the world's greatest Adepts and Sages who gradually evolved into the higher stages of life—first coming to light during the Axial Age (which Bache has misinterpreted)—than the temporary flashes of insight coming from altered states of consciousness (profound as they may be). Indeed, Bache himself clearly acknowledges that “if the ultimate goal of spiritual practice is the permanent transformation of our consciousness, then the soft underbelly [illusions or distortions] of psychedelics is their temporary nature.” Such statements of real wisdom made by Bache, supported by the Sages, encourages me to overall be very supportive of his work, writings, and many of his conclusions. He is a true psychonaut pioneer; thank you.
Nonetheless, even though Bache has endorsed a powerful tool for humanity with the proper use of psychedelics in furthering its evolution of consciousness, I believe some of his views are out of harmony with important Enlightenment Teachings. In this case, it seems useful to start with his distortion regarding the Axial Age Teachings as being “up-and-out” philosophies emphasizing other-worldly transcendence, not about living life on earth or in this world. I maintain this is incorrect since the teachings of the nondual Adepts always emphasize living a life of happiness and love, compassion and ethical goodness above all else.
The Axial Age — 800 – 200 BCE
Image by MidJourney
he term “Axial Age” (from the German Achsenzeit) was first identified by the German philosopher Karl Jaspers in his book The Origin and Goal of History (1949, 1953). The Axial Age basically refers to broad changes in religious and philosophical thought that appeared in India, China, Persia, the Levant, and the Greco-Roman world from about the 8th to 3rd century BCE, specifically culminating around 500 BCE. Jasper made several important observations about this “Axial Period” (his words) that are now widely accepted, yet, of course, there are critics such as postmodernists who like to deny any universals at all (since everything is culturally dependent, according to them). Jaspers and other scholars, such as Eric Voegelin who called this age “The Great Leap of Being,” see this important transition period of human history as constituting a new spiritual awakening and a shift in perception from social (or collective mythic-membership) values to individual values of freedom found in the Self-Realization of our divine nature. Indeed, Jaspers suggests that all of succeeding human history, as a global culture, pivots around these few centuries (as turning around an axis or on an axle).
For example, the Upanishads of India—some of the Axial Age's most brilliant teachings—explained that when the atman, as the relative individual self, is realized to be Atman or our True Self, this is when we discover we are identical to Brahman or the Source of the universe. Buddha, as another example, would teach that the conditional self who suffers is ultimately an illusion (or “empty”) when compared to the bliss of nirvana or the condition that's realized when the separate self is totally transcended or “blown out” (the literal meaning of “nirvana”). Lao Tzu, in China, in a similar manner, taught that all attachments and grasping of the individual self must be released in order to live in accord with the Tao or the divine order of things. These truths are universal (or all-encompassing) and perennial (or ever-repeating) so they are as true now as they were back then. Thus, importantly, in understanding the real teachings of the Axial sages, we will come to understand the most important religious and spiritual truths of humankind. Hence, scholars and spokespeople for other causes must be careful not to distort these sacred teachings and teachers for their own purposes and preferred philosophies and perspectives.
My reading of the Axial Age teachings, their importance for our global world history, and the potency of their Enlightened perspective leads me to agree with the authenticity of that title given by Jaspers. Wilber too summarized: “Starting around the sixth century BCE, we have the extraordinary emergence of the 'axial sages'—Zoroaster, Gautama Buddha, Plato, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Moses, Socrates—whose insights clearly showed an even deeper realization of spiritual Truth and Reality.” This fact cannot be underestimated or overlooked. Indeed, modern scholars have difficulty in understanding these insights of such deep, transcendental awareness since the mind (or rationality) alone cannot grasp their import. To some degree, I believe, this is what has happened with Bache's misinterpretation of the Axial Age religions, even with his extraordinary revelations gained from high-dose LSD sessions (again, proving their inherent limitations as temporary experiences, no matter how profound). Some of Jaspers's important characterizations about the Axial Age listed in his book The Origin and Goal of History include:
- The Axial Age was a major shift in human interest from mythos to logos (and, I will argue, to gnosis) during a worldwide shift from the mythic age of classical civilizations to a new vision for humankind where rationality and transcendental insight became a dominant form of investigation, at least among the elite (or “advanced-tip individuals”), that is, with the teachers and sages of the Axial Age. Naturally, myths did not disappear but were “remolded,” as Jaspers points out, “[as they] were understood at a new depth during this transition.” These transitions in conscious awareness still deeply influence us today since all previous stages are always available to us, a major tenet of Integral philosophy (which “transcend-and-include” previous stages and structures).
- This era resulted in a new “spiritualization” (in Jaspers' words) since during this historical period “[Man] becomes uncertain of himself and thereby opens to new and boundless possibilities,” including lifting “himself up towards Being itself, which is apprehended without duality in the disappearance of subject and object, in the coincidence of opposites. That which is experienced in the loftiest of flights of the spirit as a coming-to-oneself within Being, or unio mystica, as becoming one with the Godhead.” This is a universal trait of humankind that became more obvious (or consciously aware) during this period of human history in all three of the major cultural centers that Jaspers identified, i.e., the East (Asia), the Middle East (Levant), and the West (Greco-Roman) geographical regions. Henceforth, Jaspers clearly recognizes the genuine authenticity of these profound leading-edge Axial Age teachers and their teachings, so did not reduce them down to inaccurate stereotypes.
- This is the time when philosophers first appeared calling into question previously accepted myths (about gods and goddesses). This is when speculative thought began to be practiced in earnest—what Wilber calls the beginning of the “Middle Mental-Egoic Period” (ca. 500 BCE)—yet usually found only among the advanced-tip few (not the common masses). Nonetheless, these prophets, philosophers, yogis, and sages often traveled throughout their homelands (and even other countries) bringing some of their teachings to the average-mode masses when the opportunity allowed. For example, Confucius widely traveled throughout China, the Pre-Socratics often visited different city-states in Greece (or Hellas), and Buddha traveled throughout India incessantly. In Hellas, Heraclitus taught that logos (or human rational intelligence, “the word”) was identical with the Divine Ground itself, and thus philosophers were called “lovers of wisdom” (philosophos), not merely university professors or intellectuals with an agenda (or tenure). As Heraclitus quipped: “Listening to the Logos, and not to me, it is wise to agree that all things are One” [Fragment #3].
- This is the period in history when longing for liberation from the ills of society and warring civilizations spiked with violence was often at its peak. Yet that doesn't mean they merely wanted to escape “up-and-out” into heaven realms but rather they went “inside-and-deep” to penetrate the temporary (and ever-present) changes of the world to find what is eternal (and immortal). They uncovered actual truths of the universe, not imaginary flights of fantasy; they weren't escaping: they looked life squarely in the eye, so to speak, and found better ways to deal with the world and serve its people.
- It was discovered by the Axial Age pioneers that absorption in meditation, not just ritualistic ceremonies (of previous mythic cultures), exposed the knowledge that the inner self (atman) is divine and immortal (as taught in the Upanishads); or that nirvana is found to reveal freedom from suffering (as the Buddha taught); or it's best to surrender to the will of God (as taught in Middle Eastern testament scrolls); or that the self must release into the Tao or the innate harmony of the universe (as Lao Tzu taught in China) in order for people to be happy and at peace. In any case, although “[people] may renounce all worldly goods, may withdraw into the desert, into the forest or solitude,” as Jasper insightfully noted, they usually “return into the world as the possessors of knowledge, as a sage or as a prophet” so that “what the individual becomes [via the evolution of consciousness] changes all; [thus] the whole of humanity took a leap forward [in the Axial Age].” This is the evolution of consciousness-in-action; or Spirit-in-action, as Wilber phrased it.
These important points nullify the “up-and-out” characterization of Axial Age teachings: since compassion and service to other human beings was often the principal passion and outcome for this new breed of philosopher, whether seen as a sage, saint, prophet, or Buddha. Ahimsa, or non-violence, was the best way to deal with the world, according to the Sages, not escapism (nor murder or war). Karen Armstrong, who has also made a deep study of the Axial Age in her book The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (2006) noted the same observation:
What mattered was not what you believed but how you behaved. Religion [in the Axial Age] was about doing things that changed you at a profound level…. Their objective was to create an entirely different kind of human being. All the sages preached a spirituality of empathy and compassion; they insisted that people must abandon their egotism and greed, their violence and unkindness…. First you must commit yourself to the ethical life, then disciplined and habitual benevolence, not metaphysical conviction, would give you the intimations of transcendence you sought….
Further, all the Axial sages realized that you could not confine your benevolence to your own people [tribe or nation]: your concern must somehow extend to the entire world…. As far as Axial sages were concerned, respect for the sacred rights of all beings—not orthodox belief—was [true] religion. If people behaved with kindness and generosity to their fellows, they could save the world…. The consensus of the Axial Age is an eloquent testimony to the unanimity of the spiritual quest of the human race…. We need to rediscover this Axial ethos [Armstrong concludes].
Obviously, such an ethos is far from leaving this world behind in a haze of transcendence. I am often shocked that certain scholars take this “up-and-out” view but I tend to notice it occurs most often with those critical of the patriarchal rise of political hierarchies in various religions (often at women's expense), yet those changes really came after the Axial Age (and certainly didn't originate with their teachers). The Axial Age was the birth of new religious views responding to changing times and expanding populations, a shift in conscious awareness, including a new vision of historical time, and so on. Plus, to criticize them for “up-and-out” cosmologies or transcendent views is to confuse esoteric religion (or inner yogas) with exoteric religion based more on myth and popular appeal. Therefore, such a critical attitude is to commit a pre/trans fallacy (or confusing prepersonal-personal stages with transpersonal ones), as Wilber defines it. This is when there is a reduction or conflation of the esoteric teachings of the transpersonal-oriented advanced-tip few with the exoteric religions and rituals of the average-mode masses usually involved in survival of the fittest struggles, not divine realization. Such a degradation of the Axial teachings, I believe, also seems to stem in part from postmodern Goddess-revivalists or Gaia-enthusiasts who are criticizing religious teachings that would demonize the feminine and the world of nature (thus contributing to a worldview partially responsible for our current climate crisis). However, this occurred long after the Axial Period of the mid-first millennium BCE. In this case, we simply need to be more precise—and cautious—in our scholarship and sacred evaluations.
For example, the insightful integral philosopher Sean Kelly in his book Becoming Gaia (2021) makes this error when he says: “The dominant strands of the first Axial traditions tended to emphasize the transcendent pole in the vertical dimension (as we see in Platonic and later Cartesian dualisms [post-1500 CE]; Christian otherworldliness [post-500 CE]; Hindu and Buddhist views of the [mythic] “wheel of life” as an illusion or trap…).” Kelly then quotes Robert Bellah who suggested these dominant strands involved “the religious rejection of the world characterized by an extremely negative evaluation of man and society and the exaltation of another realm of reality as alone true and infinitely valuable.” This is such a harsh misinterpretation of the beautiful, liberating, heartfelt philosophies and religious practices (including those of the ascending yogas) bequeathed to us by our Axial Age pioneers.
If Bache is influenced by these types of sources, or similar ones, no wonder he is misguided in his views about the Axial Age for they are plainly inaccurate (since, for one, they exceed the actual era of the Axial Period itself). Yet, Bache is a “religious studies” professor so it's odd for him to make such errors; again, my point: Bache is a professor, not an Enlightened Sage or authentic Guru so some of his conclusions should be taken with a dose of skepticism. Yet, much of what he says on other matters I am in complete agreement with; but not this. Indeed, as Armstrong pointed out, “In fact, when people started to limit their horizons and sympathies, it was another sign that the Axial Age was coming to a close.” Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to honor the earth and the feminine since they are necessary qualities to be a whole human being, which patriarchal religions (such as fundamentalist Christianity and Islam) fail to do, admittedly. But that does not justify misinterpreting the essence of the Axial Age teachers to fit into dualistic battles of philosophy and postmodern preference. As I said, this is an unwarranted confusion (and conflation) of what was really happening and being taught during the Axial Age. Let's try to clarify.
A Spectrum of Advanced-Tip Spiritual Heroes
True religion is not about the “me”-person who participates in religion. Rather, true religion is about the Divine—with Which any individual is re-associating, or re-uniting. True religion is, ultimately, about discovering Oneness with the Divine Self-Condition to be Always Already the Case.
—Avatar Adi Da Samraj
ne of the best ways to untangle the various stages (and states) of mystical development is to use the “spectrum of consciousness” model most fully developed by Integral philosopher Ken Wilber who was integrating a plethora of evidence and research, from a wide variety of researchers and sources, to sketch an evolutionary outline of human history and human development. The spectrum of consciousness is based on the developmental stages of human growth from infancy to Enlightenment (which far exceeds, yet includes, conventional psychological theories). The full-spectrum model covers the early stages of growth from childhood to adulthood, including personal mental-egoic development (so well mapped out by modern psychology)—or “Growing Up”—PLUS the higher stages of transpersonal or mystical development—or “Waking Up”—from psychic-shamanic stages to yogic subtle-energy state-stages to self-transcendence and union (or identity) with “God,” the ultimate condition of all universes. We do in fact need adequate maps to better traverse the entire spectrum of human history—in addition to our own personal growth—and thus to ably distinguish the religions of the exoteric average-mode masses from the mystical practices of the esoteric advanced-tip few in revealing the full range of our human potentials.
In important ways, Wilber's theories united or “married” Freud and Buddha by integrating psychology with mysticism, or science and religion, or West and East, to provide a holistic, universal map of human possibilities. Wilber, following Jean Gebser (from the West) and Aurobindo Ghose (from the East), among countless others—yet also proposing theories grounded in his own spiritual practices and revelations (not an insignificant dynamic)— summarized how human evolution, from hominids to anatomically modern sapiens (or collective phylogeny) parallels the growth of the human being (or individual ontogeny) in certain general yet important characteristics. In other words, it is very useful in our understanding of human history to see how certain eras reflect or correlate with certain stages in our own individual growth in conscious awareness. In other words, the collective evolution of consciousness in important ways reflects individual development, and vice versa. Thus, we can say, there was a “childhood” of humanity (in the far past), a maturing or mental-egoic phase (in the recent past), and the potential for higher transpersonal or mystical phases (in the possible future). The Gaia-enthusiasts and (green) postmodernists are calling us to a better, more holistic future—the next step in our collective evolution—which is of course a noble enterprise; with that I have no quarrel. However, without adequately listening to, respecting, and following the wisdom of the world's most highly-evolved Sages and Adepts, such as those who first emerged in the Axial Age, we will never get there. We must be wise as well as sincere; intelligent as well as compassionate; transcendent as well as immanent.
It's Not “Up and Out” but “In and Deep” that Enlightens
r. Christopher Bache, who has given us an exquisite tour of the inner universe with his new book, openly admits that his interior explorations as a psychonaut essentially confirms the findings of the world's Adepts and Sages who did not use high-dose sessions of LSD, but explored the inner realms via yoga and meditation. As Dr. Bache openly and freely admits during an in-depth interview on the Deep Transformation Podcast (with Roger Walsh and John Dupuy):
Truly, there is nothing unique in any of my journey. I'm simply rediscovering things which many, many people in many traditions have already discovered. The technology may be a little different [i.e., using high-doses of LSD] but the core understanding of existence, the core truths, the core insights, have been with us for a long time embodied by great beings [the Adepts] passed along generation by generation [in the lineage of wisdom]. There's really nothing unique in my work.
However, in the same interview he had earlier said: “The Vedantic traditions, and many spiritual traditions, basically believe that the individual is an illusion and the goal is to shatter the illusion and dissolve irretrievably into the Oneness of all existence,” to which he then concluded: “I understand that cosmology but I think it is a mistake… it doesn't jive with my experience.” I'm not sure why he feels he has to critique the Adepts like this, but it is misleading, which inspired this essay. I believe this is a fallacy, a misinterpretation of those traditions, especially the Enlightened or most esoteric understandings of their wisest Sages. In my opinion, Bache's experiences are his interpretations (and not necessarily fully true), and are certainly not necessarily the Enlightened View—though I do feel he provides many partial and important truths, don't get me wrong. Hence, I will try to show why Bache's statements are slanted towards his own prejudices and preferences and do not correctly (or fully) present what the Axial Age pioneers or Vedantic Sages actually teach and reveal.
To begin with, it seems Bache is suggesting that there is a “pre-given” reality “out there” or “in here” that we all share, which is, in a certain sense (yet debatable by postmodernists), a principal truth of the Perennial Philosophy. I agree, there is, in the end, only One Reality—and it is pre-given or always already existing (regardless of our perception or perspective). However, Bache's views also show that the interpretation of that “reality” is colored or conditioned by our own personal point of view (regardless how profound our inner visions may be)—a truth highlighted by postmodernism that Integral philosophy includes as well. Such personal interpretation seems inescapable since we all are conditioned by being born as a phenomenal self in a certain time and place—“dependent arising” (as the Buddhists would say). Even the Adepts are born in a certain culture and circumstance.
Nonetheless, we can come to know about universal truths as well since we are, at depth, human beings arising within One Reality plus we all have the same innate esoteric anatomy (from chakra energy-centers to the brain-mind to the heart). This is an important part of my point: we need to rely on the Great Wisdom Tradition replete with advanced-tip Spiritual Heroes—the world's greatest Saints, Sages, and Siddhas—to balance our own personal perspectives. ALL the wisdom bequeathed to us from these advanced-tip individuals are the rightful inheritance of every single one of us, as the average crowd, so WE should access them, listen to them, and use them, day in and day out. This is part of what participating in authentic spiritual life is about: listening to the Masters and studying the sacred texts (lectio divina).
The “technologies” or inner techniques (or yogas), such as meditation (and pranayama), used by the Axial sages turn us inward into the deeper dimensions of the universe, not merely our own subjective states. They do not take us out of the universe, even if they do temporarily require us to suspend our attention from the outer world (such as during meditation). They actually place us more fully in the present. Obviously, this is a similar approach that Bache used during his high-dose LSD sessions: he went “in and deep,” so to speak, set in a protective, secure environment which is the best way to facilitate good results and positive experiences. He used eye shades and evocative music, protected by a sitter (his wife), which is basically replicating Grof's holotropic breathwork technique. “Set and setting,” as Timothy Leary (the “High Priest of LSD”) used to say, or “mindset” and environment makes all the difference when tripping hard on psychedelics (I always found being outdoors in Nature or in a beautiful living room with fresh air and sunlight to be ideal).
Transcendence does not mean we leave the physical universe and our life here on Earth behind, but it shows us the deeper truths of existence that are real and true at any moment. Awakening (or God-Realization), and happiness itself, are not to be attained apart from the present. It loosens the egoic hold on our vision of the universe so that even the physical cosmos becomes more transparent to its Divine Condition. Transcendence, according to the Adepts, is not escapism but Awakening (or allowing us to see and know the truth of reality as It IS). Real Reality is “always already the case” (as Adi Da likes to note), so, truly, nothing needs to be done except to “Wake Up” to What IS. Nevertheless, we all NEED to discover and realize these truths for ourselves, not just rely on the Gurus, in order to live a happier and more peaceful life in “this world” of collective societies operating in the realm of nature (demanding our active participation for survival). To think otherwise, I believe, is the actual mistake a person can make. This “wrong view” is what must be overcome by studying and then practicing (daily) what the authentic Adepts actually teach instead of criticizing them as going “up and out” simply because they discovered truths about the transcendence of the phenomenal universe and the ills and pains of suffering.
Bache's own LSD explorations themselves were about going deep and inward. So much so he himself became disconnected to daily life by feeling the blissful attraction of having (or experiencing) “too much transcendence,” in his words, “too much God.” Thus, at times he wanted to leave the world behind (or was “waiting to die”). He confessed this was a serious confusion on his part. Consequently, he had to self-correct this self-centered attitude, which is a noble gesture, but this does not mean the Axial Adepts were mistaken as he was. It was Bache who had made the mistake, not them. Though, yes, some yogis and ascetics go too far and become too detached and dissociated, a justifiable critique (which is why, from example, Buddha teaches the “Middle Way”). Adi Da terms this the “Fifth and Sixth Stage Error” (i.e., of ascension or the ascending current); Wilber called it “Arhat disease.”
Indeed, Chris found out that these powerful psychedelic technologies can be misused (or over-used) when Enlightened Teachings—given by Awakened Gurus—fail to guide our way in fundamental respects. In other words, Bache's odyssey shows precisely why it is important to have a genuine Guru, and the traditional lineages of Wisdom-Masters, to lead the way and teach us how to practice daily spiritual life (or sadhana) as the best (and most authentic) way to self-transcendence and this-world integration. Indeed, Bache openly confessed that his solution, or self-correction, came from “studying the Great Masters; the more I studied the Masters the more it showed me my own imperfections, it showed me what I was not by looking at their greatness.” Then why he chooses to criticize the Axial sages is perplexing. I can only assume it's because he has misunderstood them or directed his attention to the wrong religions (as I point out). In any case, I agree with Bache in that we must seriously study the authentic Spiritual Masters and learn to discern the false from the real, the mortal from the immortal.
During the later years of his LSD sessions (in the second decade), Bache was also practicing a form of Vajrayana Buddhism which he attributes as helping him ground his inner visions in the “real world” of everyday life. In fact, I noticed that an appearance in his visions by his Guru, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, initiated a profound awakening to the “Nature of Mind,” one of his most fundamental and blissful apprehensions of his entire work. Indeed, I felt this came closer to describing the actual enlightened state than anything else I read, including the Diamond Luminosity visions he had. We need our Enlightened Gurus (who aren't taking LSD), without a doubt, to lead us into the true depths of real religion, just as the Great Wisdom Tradition says. But the real practice of self-transcendence and “radical understanding” (as Adi Da defines it) we must do on our own, and then—Grace or God's Grace—provides the Awakening.
True religion is not merely philosophy or theology, visionary states or experiences of the separate self—or even LSD and other entheogenic journeys exploring the inner mind or cosmological dimensions (as Bache did)—but is “ultimately, about discovering Oneness with the Divine Self-Condition to be Always Already the Case,” as Adi Da Samraj said (in the opening subheading quote). In fact, Adi Da, an authentic modern-day Adept, expresses the enlightened essence of the Axial sages' understanding that, in certain important ways, counters Bache's conclusions about them or how he chooses to color their teachings:
All notions that conventional “God”-ideas or systematized beliefs or hopeful mythologies or visionary (or even hallucinatory) experiences constitute Truth are rightly to be criticized—they are not the Truth…. Conventional “God”-ideas, systematized beliefs, hopeful mythologies, and visionary experiences are mind-forms. All mind-forms are forms of mind. That is to say all mind-forms are conditional manifestations. Therefore, no mind-form is Truth Itself…. True (or Real, or esoteric) religion requires the utter transcending of all false views. Therefore, remember this: There is no mind-form that is Truth Itself.
We need to deal with that truth, including in experiencing any “diamonds from Heaven” (the subtitle to Bache's book). In other words, the “Goddess” (or all energy, Shakti) must be surrendered or sacrificed into the Godhead (transcendent Shiva) for us to stand utterly Free. Nonetheless, I find that for all of the wonderful truths Bache has brought forward (and I highly admire him for doing so), he is still perpetuating a fallacy when he suggests that the Axial Age Adepts were going “up and out” since they were really going “inward and deep”—just like Bache himself did. True, during the first millennium of the Common Era (CE), i.e., not BCE or “Before the Common Era,” which is when the Axial Age occurred, but in the first thousand years after Christ, there was tendency for the less-than-enlightened or exoteric religions to turn away from “this world” and put too much attention on the “other world” in their theological doctrines, particularly in the Western religions (of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). This was especially evident with the rise of Christianity as Plato's “other-worldly” worldview was incorporated into the popular Christian doctrine—by such saints as Augustine and Boethius—who turned away from Aristotle's practical, scientific-oriented philosophy to promote the “City of God” over the “City of Man.” This move was only countered with the Renaissance and the Western “Enlightenment” initiating the scientific revolution (assisted by the revival of Aristotle).
I believe this Western fallacy emphasizing the “ascending current” or “Alpha-mind”—or Ascent to Heaven—has influenced many concerned postmodern Westerners, as such as Dr. Bache (and Sean Kelly, Richard Tarnas, et al), and this has led to their misinterpretation (or misunderstanding) of the truly Enlightened Sages in making their stereotypical blanket statements of “up and out.” If read correctly, the Axial Age Adepts, as we will see [in Parts 2-3], embrace “this world” as being a living spiritual manifestation of the transcendent reality or Source “behind” the temporary and conditional nature of an ever-changing relative reality. The way “to save” this world, in this case, it not to go “down and out” nor “go up and out” but to become whole as the nondual Heart—by going “deep and in” first, then going out and about. This way we harbor no illusions about what “this world” really is: a transparent and non-binding manifestation of God but not God Itself (which IS ultimately Transcendental or Unconditional, that is, not conditioned by the phenomenal, evolving universe at all!). Once more, let me quote Adi Da (though I can find countless other examples from the Great Wisdom Tradition) who reflects the paradoxical yet all-embracing beauty of the truly Enlightened view:
[Humankind] must also ascend through and beyond the etheric life in astral, or mystical, higher mental, and intuitive structures of consciousness; and must also evolve beyond the subtle inward dimension [such as with Bache's inner revelations] into the Transcendental Realization of Reality. We cannot even exclude bodily life in our Realization of the Absolute; we must become a sacrifice, even bodily, into the Absolute Being and Radiant Living Truth.
Our action and adaptation while alive must represent a right relationship to that Absolute Reality, and, through that relationship, to all of the manifestations of the Universe and [humanity] that proceed from that Absolute. All things work together for the good of individuals who remain in right association with the Absolute Reality or Living God. They are awakened, they see through the limits of their experience, and they transcend the phenomena that bind and contain them.
From this premise we will proceed to appreciate the nondual truth behind many (but not all) of the teachings of the Axial Age Adepts. I believe—and my experience shows—that the above statement is paradoxically correct (yet logically confusing) while precisely expressing what I hear the world's wisest Adepts say as well, as I hope to emphasize in our consideration of the Axial Age pioneers below [see the following Parts posted elsewhere].
- Adi Da Samraj, Enlightenment and the Transformation of Man (1983).
- See, for example: The Immorality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name (2020) by Brian Muraresku; The World of Shamanism: New View of an Ancient Tradition (2007, 2023) by Roger Walsh.
- Christopher Bache, LSD and the Mind of the Universe (2019), p. 203.
- Christopher Bache, LSD and the Mind of the Universe (2019), p. 202.
- Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995), p. 702, 1n.
- Christopher Bache, LSD and the Mind of the Universe (2019), p. 32.
- See: Christopher Bache, “Death and Rebirth in LSD Therapy: An Autobiographical Study,” accepted June 24, 2015, Academia.edu.
- Christopher Bache, LSD and the Mind of the Universe (2019), p. 13.
- Christopher Bache, LSD and the Mind of the Universe (2019), p. 13.
- See, for example, an argument against the Axial Age with “The Fallacy of the Axial Age” in Black Athena II (1991) by Martin Bernal.
- Ken Wilber, The Eye of Spirit (1997), p. 61.
- “Advanced-tip individuals” or the “advanced-tip few” and “leading-edge” pioneers are terms used by Ken Wilber, first in Up from Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution (1981, 2000), to contrast with the “average-mode” masses (or in Jaspers' terms, “the crowd”) giving us the “two strands” of collective human evolution. It is important to note that such elitism is open to everyone, since divine wisdom is innate in all human beings, as all the Axial Age teachers emphasized, and as Wilber also always acknowledges. No one is excluded: all are invited to become mystics.
- Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History (1976), p. 3.
- Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History (1976), p. 3.
- Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History (1976), p. 4.
- Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (2006), pp. xiii-xiv.
- Sean Kelly, Becoming Gaia: On the Threshold of Planetary Initiation (2021), p. 20.
- Sean Kelly, Becoming Gaia: On the Threshold of Planetary Initiation (2021), p. 20; Robert Bellah quoted in J. Casanova, “Religion, the Axial Age, and Secular Modernity in Bellah's Theory of Religious Evolution,” in The Axial Age and its Consequences, ed. R. Bellah and H. Joas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2012), p. 194..
- Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (2006), p. xiv.
- Adi Da Samraj, Religion and Reality: True Religion Is Not Belief in Any “God”-Idea but the Direct Experiential Realization of Reality Itself (2006), p. 11.
- Chris Bache interview on Deep Transformation Podcast with Roger Walsh and John Dupuy, February 3, 2022, approximate time: 2:10:50.
- Chris Bache interview on Deep Transformation Podcast with Roger Walsh and John Dupuy, February 3, 2022, approximate time: 50:00.
- See: God's Great Tradition of Global Wisdom: Guru Yoga-Satsang in the Integral Age (2021) by Brad Reynolds.
- Chris Bache interview on Deep Transformation Podcast with Roger Walsh and John Dupuy, February 3, 2022, approximate time: 1:44:00.
- See: Adi Da Samraj, The Seven Stages of Life (2000); and Ken Wilber, Transformations of Consciousness (1986).
- Chris Bache interview on Deep Transformation Podcast with Roger Walsh and John Dupuy, February 3, 2022, approximate time: 1:52:00.
- See: Christopher Bache, LSD and the Mind of the Universe (2019), pp. 257-262.
- Christopher Bache, LSD and the Mind of the Universe (2019), p. 273.
- Adi Da Samraj, Religion and Reality: True Religion Is Not Belief in Any “God”-Idea but the Direct Experiential Realization of Reality Itself (2006), pp. 68-69.
- See, for example: The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization (2013) by Arthur Herman, and Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Dark Ages (2003) by Richard Rubenstein.
- Adi Da Samraj [Da Free John], Scientific Proof of the Existence of God Will Soon Be Announced by the White House (1978), Chapter 11.