The Psychedelic Book of the Dead (Paper)
The following is “The Psychedelic Book of the Dead,” a scholarly paper on Timothy Leary, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and bardo lore within the counterculture that I published in Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Volume 21, Issue 3, pages
47–73. I also gave a talk on this material for Morbid Anatomy.
ABSTRACT: In 1964, Timothy Leary and a few colleagues published
The Psychedelic Experience, a manual for ‘‘tripping’’ explicitly based on
The Tibetan Book of the Dead. At the core of the Tibetan materials lies the
concept of the bardo, the ‘‘in between’’ realm of the afterlife. While
acknowledging the problematic nature of Leary’s radical appropriation,
this essay argues that his application of these materials to the orchestration
and regulation of psychedelic experience reflected a productive
reframing of the phantasmagoria common to strong psychedelic experience.
Using tools of comparative religion and secular psychology, Leary
constructed a model of psychological transformation that rejected religious
or transcendental meaning while creatively expanding the bardo
concept already evident in Tibetan Buddhism.