A Conversation with Terence McKenna and Ram Dass

Day Month 1992

Location, City, State


Terence: This summer passed we journey to Prague Czechoslovakia to attend the international, transpersonal conference a meeting of philosophers and psychologists, anthropologists, writers, ecologists, and thinkers on global subjects. Throughout the conference we were able to track down and interview some of the movers and shakers whose ideas and hopes will shake the new millennium. Prague was a fitting venue for this meeting, poised, as it is, at the center of European crisis and promise, it is a metaphor for the transformation of the planet and of human psychology that must take place if we are to provide a sane future for our children.
I'm standing in the center of one of Central Europe's most beautiful and mysterious cities this is Prague Czechoslovakia and I'm Terence McKenna we're here to meet with some of the world's most outstanding thinkers to discuss science spirituality in the mounting global crisis. And it's fitting that we should meet in this, the capital of ancient Bohemia for Prague and Bohemia have always stood for intellectual innovation chance taking in the life of ideas.
In the [sp?] of one of Prague's most famous concert halls, we encountered Richard Alpert, and persuaded him to have lunch with us. Alpert, who now calls himself Ram Dass, is one of the most enduring figures from the American cultural upheaval of the 1960s. Alpert, who's career reaches from Harvard University, to the plains of the Punjab, has transformed himself into a spokesman for humanity's ignored and downtrodden.
And Ralph Abraham was sitting across the table watching me have this conversation and went after Steiger left Ralph leaned over to me and he said so you see Terence the mushroom's telling you that it can reach out and touch you anywhere and I thought that was amazing
Ram: well, anytime you would like to, or feel that you have time to guide me through anything at all I'd be happy to be your…
Waiter: excuse me, sir. You are not the famous Terence mushroom McKenna that is you my friend
Terence: it is…
Ram: that's him
Waiter: oh, how wonderful! Yes, uh, pleased to welcome you on our bohemian highway. I especially bring you very good black coffee, Espresso. If you may tell me who is the attractive elderly gentleman you brought on your side, Into your companionship.
Terence: this is Mr. Dass.
Waiter: oh! The MS-DOS, yes?
Ram: no, the Ram Dass.
Waiter: oh, the CD-ROM!
Ram: yes, the CD-ROM.
Terence: the CD-ROM Dass.
Waiter: the LSC the LSD…
Ram: the LSD Dass, that's the one.
Waiter: wonderful! Take this it will be making you very bohemian.
Ram: oh, thank you.
[Terence laughs]
Ram: I'm so happy to be in your fair country.
Waiter: oh, my country very fair, and I'm happy to have the LSD experience…
Ram: what is your name?
Waiter: my name is waiter.
Ram: waiter? How do you do, waiter? A pleasure
[Terence giggles]
Waiter: yes, see you waiter.
Terence: see you waiter, yes… [Chuckles]
Ram: you don't think there's any… It needs the external form of a mushroom?
Terence: it would never have happened for me. I only argue from my own experience.
Rome: yeah, but you and I were both so thick and crap, you know, that's why we needed it.
Terence: well, but there were a few others out there. We didn't corner the market on being thick and crap.
Ram: but I'm telling you about someone like a Romano Maharishi somebody like that
Terence: oh, these people?
Ram: you know? I mean there are people who…
Terence: but the idea here is not to come up with something that the best among us can make hay with but a democratic, something which addresses the species. The thing that seem to me so important about the psychedelic experience was that it happened to me. I wasn't reading John Chrysostom or Meister Eckhart, of course this guys…
Ram: righ on... it happened to me ... it happened to me…yes.
Terence: and, and so I assume that I am a very ordinary person. Therefore, if it happened to me, it could happen to anyone. That's really something –
Ram: that's a question ... there's a set of assumptions there; one, that you're very ordinary person, and whether the same chemical given to a dozen people would bring about 11 other… –
Terence:… Similar experiences…
Ram: I think the outcome would be very different. And that's… I keep getting cast into an evolution of consciousness model about individuals, because they're such marked individual differences. Three people come before my [sp?]: one completely goes [makes crazy face] and the other two get at your party. And people take psilocybin and they ... Some go like that [crazy face], or they go like that [scared face], and some go like that [Enlightenment]
Terence: well, don't you think a good metaphor for it would be sexuality? Apparently, there are some people who can kinda, take it or leave it. And others of us, it rears its ugly head with great presence. Yet everybody has to come to terms… –
Ram: I notice as I get older I moved from one of these categories to the other [laughs] it leaves so much space in my life I don't know what to do with my free time
Terence: I hope it never happens to me
Ram: [laughs] I'm just clinging
[Both Ram and Terence laugh]
Terence: no, just aspiring to cling
[Both Ram and Terence laugh]
Terence: actually, I live the life of an ascetic. It's my aspiration that's pulling me down [laughs]. Well see the great… The nice thing about this evolutionary argument, is that, you can sort of make the snake take its tail in its mouth because… –
Ram: exactly… Exactly. It does.
Terence: because the escape is not into some science-fiction future. It's into an archaic recursion of some sort. We… We once knew everything we needed to know, so, what we're trying to find out is lost knowledge, not new knowledge, and if you direct people back toward 10,000 20,000 years ago, they see a kind of completion that an open-ended future is uhh...
Ram: it seems to me it's a confusing thing to use time that way, because it makes the artifacts of that period seem to be valued as opposed to the artifacts of this period. It seems to me that I… I mean… Whether you call it… Not science-fiction… But science fiction can also be very compassionate it can be very historically relevant. It doesn't have to be… it's just using a different set of artifacts to work with.
Terence: well, for instance, I see most of what happened in the 20th century as being unconsciously driven by this fascination with the archaic
Ram: fascination with the archaic?
Terence: yes, I mean… –
Ram: wow! That was… Of all the things I predicted you'd say, it wasn't that. Tell me, what does that mean?
Terence: well, for instance, Impressionism deconstructs the hard image of Realism, and gives you a feeling, toned thing, which was very antithetical to Victorian Edwardian thought. Then Freud and Jung described different aspects of the unconscious, but to do it Freud has to talk about repressed, primitive sexual imaginings, Jung talks about folklore, fairytales and mythology. Meanwhile, the Dadaists and the Surrealists are saying we have to break up linear expectations of the bourgeois mind, and then you get a Jackson Pollock, and those people, who say, "the image itself has to be thrown out", and then, to my mind, the psychedelic thing in the 60s, based on rock 'n roll and a boundary dissolving psychedelic, we almost, by a random walk, finding our way toward shamanism, tribalism, nomadism…
Ram: go beyond the isms, tell me what we're really finding.
Terence: we're finding a world made out of mind rather than stuff:
Ram: great, okay, we're finding the world made out of mind. Every time you describe which mind you find, that's just limiting the limiting condition. I mean, if we just find the thing of mind created stuff, live in that, then what happens?
Terence: well, I mean, there is a transcendental dimension beyond language, it's just hard as hell to talk about it.
Ram: but if you live in it, and you talk from there, then the forms, that it will manifest in, become just the forms it manifests. It's nothing more or less and that.
Terence: so, you mean you download the unspeakable into language and let the chips fall where they may.
Ram: well, they don't fall where they may. They fall in a perfectly harmonious pattern.
[Terence nods as he finishes sipping from his black coffee]
Terence: well, that's them falling where they may.
Ram: where they may, where they will.
Terence: yeah. Well, so, what I'm hearing from you is you have a very strong sense of the pattern. Strong enough that your limited, necessarily limited personal viewpoint, doesn't tend to get in the way – you can always push the reset to hope button, and then you hope, almost on principle.
Ram: [sp?] said to me: stand half way between hope and hopelessness. I thought that was very useful.
Terence: and is that [shrugs and raises arms] Ehh? [sound and face of doubt and desperate confusion]
Ram: no it's [lifts arms and makes face and noise of orgasm] it's the ecstasy of total horror and total beauty in the same moment. That's what I feel again and again, Terence, when I'm with somebody dying of AIDS. My God, my heart's breaking, it's horrible, I mean it's a ghastly… Social ostracization, this, that, opportunistic illness… And there's another part of me that's giggling, and I can hardly handle the motive friendlier of it all, the sense of the perfection of it all, and the beauty of the moment, and the horrible shit of it.
Terence: yeah. Well, it all is spun together. Is that because you feel confident that the self is somehow indestructible, or because you don't even ask that question?
Ram: you gotta watch words indestructible, because that has a time dimension. I mean, I think the awareness is.
Terence: but, for example, do you think this is the stage upon which all acts are performed, or that we move up and down many levels…? –
Ram: no, this is one of the stages of an infinite number… Probably infinite number. Because I just look into two mines and I see two different ones, and those are all just on this one. No, I feel I… Like, I had this friend Emmanuel, you know, this spook that has no body…
Terence: Mhm, mhm.
Ram: and Emanuel's two lines to me were: death is absolutely safe, firstly– that's a very profound statement. Next thing he said it was like taking out a tight shoe. And then I said to him, "Emmanuel, what am I doing here? Who made this era[error?]? What am I doing on this plane?", He said, "you're in school, why don't you try taking the curriculum?".
Terence: and the curriculum is…?
Ram: life.
Terence: any life?
Ram: it means the exploration of the clanging of mind within the world of projected form.
Terence: so the exploring life?
Ram: it's the exploring life with the… It's purpose is, in the sense of returning back into the garden of Eden. It's a return, there is a return metaphor underlying all of it.
Terence: and I'm sure you're asked this all the time, so am I, and maybe we give different answers, do you think that this can be done without psychedelics fast enough to have an impact on the global situation?
[Ram closes his eyes and pauses for a good 10 seconds, thinking]
Ram: I can conceive that it could be, yeah. You ask do I think? I don't really have an opinion whether it will or it won't, but I could see it go either way. Like John [sp?] said to me, "it's too late, as far as the rainforests are concerned, he says the inertia is too great and the whole system, it's too late", so I said to him, "okay, John", I mean, it was the first time, too, he'd said it to me, just like that. He said, "it would take a miracle", I said, "oh…". That threw me back on whatever that was, and then he said, "but after all", he said, "we came up, out of the ocean, we came onto land", he said, "we have quite a lineage of miracles. I wouldn't underestimate us". That was a nice thought.
Terence: well, so my question to you is: are psychedelics a miracle?
Ram: psychedelics are a miracle, yes, they may not be the only miracle…
Terence: are they the miracle we need?
Ram: I don't know that… I don't know that. I think they may have already done what they were to do.
Terence: really? That's interesting, I've never heard anyone say that.
Ram: I think what is done is so much more powerful than anybody yet recognizes. See, I see that all this destruction is just the process of transformation, the question is whether we'll keep it together in the process of transformation, and that's why all I'm interested doing is becoming a person and helping others become a person, who in the process of the dramatic stuff, will keep some equanimity, and keep some love, and some presence in that process. But that's… Psychedelics may play a role in that, so you're right, that comes back to your point.
Terence: well, see my assumption in trying to think about thousands of psychedelic trips, rather than just mine, what they seem to do generically, as they seem to dissolve boundaries, and the ego is in the business of creating, maintaining and defending boundaries. So, I really see the psychedelics as directly intervening in the core process which is running us over the edge, which is, our inability to emotionally connect with the consequences of what we're doing. If, for a single moment, we could feel what we're doing, we would stop.
Ram: I understand. It's interesting, because he take images that one of us know, of the girl running down the street naked in Cambodia, you know, or something like that, and we say that wasn't strong enough, you know, it won life of the year award, but it wasn't strong enough, it didn't stop everybody and say, "holy shit, what are we doing here?". So, what would be strong enough to do that? And you say, well, psychedelics, but that's in a one on one thing, I mean, we're talking major game players at this moment. I mean, put China into your computer, you know?
Terence: how do you deal with that?
Ram: you know, I mean, either you're spraying it, or, it's water, or, it's… It's some of the level of consciousness that doesn't. There is a certain level of trauma that's possible, that can soften the ground. Not 3 mile Island, and not Chernobyl, but, I mean, I'm ... I don't want to create this with my mind, but I can imagine a certain trauma, like in Marin[sp?] when they ran out of water. It was interesting, suddenly all the ego barriers and everything and neighbors were talking who never even met each other…
Terence: they were taking showers together
Ram: exactly, the whole process was happening, you know, marriages, babies were conceived everything as a result of that trauma, of that denial. So, a massive, significant trauma… – I just gotta tell you one scary image. There is a saint in India who lived up to, about, 1930 I think, or something, and one of his devotees said to me, one night, he was sort of looking off into the distance, he said, "there'll come a time, he said when you walk 5 miles", and he said, "you'll sight the light from a fire in another person, and you'll be so happy to know another person exists".
Terence: quite a prediction.
Ram: Isn't that quite a prediction? It's in there, it's just in there somewhere.
Terence: Interesting ... [takes another sip from his black coffee] Yes, well, I agree, I think, that what's going to happen is-
Waiter: Gentlemen, everything is fine with the evolution of coffee, and consciousness, both very good with you, too? Yes?
[Terence laughs]
Ram: You have come just at the right time, this is just what I wanted. I want you to know, you tuned in to a higher level.
Waiter: A higher level? Level high, very high yes. Bohemian mushroom soup today, you know?
Ram: Ahhh. We were just talking about that.
Waiter: Oh, oh yes? [To Terence] you like bohemian mushroom soup?
Terence: I like mushroom.
Waiter: Let me sprinkle, liberally, some water on your chalice, sir
Terence: Oh, please, liberally sprinkle his chalice, for sure [laughs]
Ram: I am a chalice, so it's fine, if you wish to
Waiter: Oh I know you by your true name, you're Mr. Chalice, sir

Original Transcription by: [spencerjbarrett]
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