Did Timothy Leary start it all? Surely the Beatles gave it a big push, as did Jack Kerouac and the Dharma Bums a decade earlier. Don’t forget Ken Kesey, Acid tests, and the bus named Furthur. We all read Hermann Hesse and wanted to become a journeyer to the East. The doors of perception needed to be wiped clean so that we can see Reality as it is, Infinite. Meditation was the key.
During that time period in the early ’70’s I took a college course offered by the Religious Studies Department on altered states of consciousness, focusing on papers collected by Charles Tart. Spirituality was becoming a science leading to the ultimate Truth, the Secret of Life, Cosmic Consciousness. And now these mental states were scientifically measurable. Today, for $200 MUSE will wrap around your skull and give you feedback to help you maintain the correct brainwaves during meditation.
Spirituality therefore became a science, and the Eastern meditation traditions appeared scientific in the way they mapped mental states resulting from meditation. The mainstream religions, reliant as they were on faith and revelation and following rules, were hopelessly backward. Outdated. By the way, LSD is making a comeback. Michael Pollan, in his new book, How to Change Your Mind, discusses recent advances documenting the therapeutic value of LSD to cure depression, addiction, and provide “transcendent” experiences. Spirituality quantified, packaged, commodified. You order it online and it will be shipped for free to your home.
I am calling this modern Gnosticism. Gnosticism throughout the ages emphasized direct knowledge of God by self-induced altered states.
The much maligned Christian religion, now on the defensive, views spirituality differently. It is based on love of God and one’s neighbor, whom we are directed to love as ourselves. Transcendent experience not required. “Mere” Christianity is thus more a way of living than a rigid set of beliefs, or a strenuous pursuit of secret knowledge.