It's usually remembered that America in the '60s was a tumultuous decade of psychedelic drugs, be-ins, radical politics, civil rights marches, and Vietnam war protests. However, these events only included a small part of the American population though they were much more interesting on the TV than suburban life.
Timothy Leary with his LSD and marijuana messianism helped create a sympathetic group of young Americans open and eager for the message of Eastern Hindu and Buddhist meditation practices. He also helped turn Richard Alpert, a straight, uptight, depressed, anxious, non-religious Jew into Dick Alpert, a stoned, freaked-out, uptight, depressed, anxious, non-religious Jew who was ready for a religious conversion of a life-changing standard.
Leary had scammed his way through life and found a cause in declaring LSD as a guaranteed door to spiritual experience(s) though he gave no indication that he'd actually had one. Leary's sloganeering was vacuous and insubstantial. He was basically a genius marketer. Leary could have had a brilliant career on Madison Avenue with his one-liners. At some point he stopped marketing himself and psychedelics and just kept marketing Timothy Leary.
Ginsberg, a relentless networker and promoter of his and the other so-called "Beat" authors' works, became a close confidant of Leary and a strong publicist for the mystical uses of LSD. While Leary and Ginsberg helped publicise the use of consciousness-altering drugs and provided advance publicity and a stoned pool of credulous seekers for Eastern spirituality they knew next to nothing about the topic. Ginsberg had spent some time in India mainly hustling for drugs but came back acting as a 2-bit guru. At the infamously violent 1968 Democratic Convention Ginsberg spent hours in the park chanting OM to calm things down. This was a complete failure and to add insult to injury an Indian gentleman passed him a note explaining his pronunciation was all wrong. Keith Richards had him tagged as a talentless phony.
Allen Ginsberg was staying at Mick's place in London once, and I spent an evening listening to the old gasbag pontificating on everything. It was the period when Ginsberg sat around playing a concertina badly and making ommm sounds, pretending he was oblivious to his socialite surroundings.
While LSD and marijuana and "rock" music must take some of the blame (or credit) its often forgotten that people went from LSD to Eastern religious practices not because they'd had mystical experiences but because they hadn't. The man who made the real difference and opened up the USA (and in so doing the rest of the West) to Eastern religious practices was Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Back to Gurus Page.