The Harvard Psychedelic Club

The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America (2010)
Don Lattin

Being relatively new to the psychedelic scene, the swirl of new names was initially a bit confusing. Speakers would refer to 'Leary' or 'McKenna' as if we all knew - of course! - who is being talked about. Meanwhile, I'm googling to see which version of 'McKenna' gets the most hits so I can figure out the guy's first name and why people are talking about him. After a few years of this (and just when I think I've got a handle on this who's who), another few names pop up on the radar - Houston Smith and Andrew Weil.
“They came together at a time of upheaval and experimentation, and they set the stage for the social, spiritual, sexual, and psychological revolution of the 1960s. Smith would be The Teacher, educating three generations to adopt a more tolerant, inclusive attitude toward other people's religions. Alpert would be The Seeker, inspiring a restless army of spiritual pilgrims. Weil would be The Healer, devoting his life to the holistic reformation of the American health-care system. And Leary would play The Trickster, advising a generation to "turn on, tune in, and drop out." --from the introduction to 'The Harvard Psychedelic Club'
Actually, I did recognize Weil's face from his work with integrative healthcare models but was unaware of his role in the psychedelic sixties. But thanks to Lattin's book, the way in which all four men - Weil, Dass, Leary and Huston - deeply influenced the cultural revolution of the 1960s has been more fully revealed. To be clear, these aren't the usual stories of acid trip bus rides or commune living adventures but tales of academic in-fighting, political upheaval and personal relationships amid genius-level intelligence. Lattin's writing style is quick and dispassionate, letting the color of the events and characters shine through. And in a nice surprise, Lattin devotes the eighth chapter to (brief) revisits with each man, giving the reader some sense of how these experiences continued to unfold in their lives. The final chapter, 'Conclusion', also offers keen insights about the lessons time has continued recover from these events. Overall, an excellent read for anyone interested in the psychedelic culture.

The World’s Religions

The World's Religions (2009)
Huston Smith

For many people, an awakening brings a new perspective to the topic of religion. For me, having earlier become convinced all religions were doing more harm than good in the world, it was an chance to re-hear the grain of truth at the heart of these texts, a lesson oft-repeated by the nondual spiritual teachers of today. Once it felt safe to go back in water, as it were, I became fascinated once again by these traditions, this time diving into the deeper significance and symbolism contained within these texts and rituals. There is so much human psychology buried in our religious practices and I do enjoy listening to (or reading) an experienced scholar lay bare the multiple layers of lessons about human nature and history hidden within.
“What a strange fellowship this is, the God seekers in every land, lifting their voices in the most disparate ways imaginable to the God of all life. How does it sound from above? Like bedlam, or do the strains blend in strange ethereal harmony? Does one faith carry the lead or do the parts share in counterpoint and antiphony where not in full-throated chorus? We cannot know. All we can do is to listen carefully and with full attention to each voice in turn as it addresses the divine.” ― Huston Smith, 'The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions'
Case in point, this classic book by Huston Smith, renown religious studies scholar, popular professor and bestselling author. (Originally published as The Religions of Man in 1958.) In his book, Smith introduces the basic structure and teachings of the most prominent traditions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity and primal religions. His approach to the subject - working from the inner dimensions of each religion rather than their institutional structure - provides the reader with instruction that is factual and informative yet manages to open up the heart of each tradition. I highly recommend the book to anyone looking to introduce - or reintroduce - themselves to the spiritual landscape of the world today.