Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemicals

( 1 )


"On this treacherous subject, where it is easy to go wrong, Smith has written a book that is as responsible as it is informed. His views are completely in accord with my own."
—Albert Hofmann, Ph.D.,
author of LSD: My Problem Child

Huston Smith, one of the world's most respected religious scholars and author of The World's Religions, now offers Cleansing the Doors of ...
See more details below
Available through our Marketplace sellers.
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (1) from $111.00   
  • Used (1) from $111.00   
Sort by
Page 1 of 1
Showing All
Note: Marketplace items are not eligible for any coupons and promotions
Seller since 2005

Feedback rating:



New — never opened or used in original packaging.

Like New — packaging may have been opened. A "Like New" item is suitable to give as a gift.

Very Good — may have minor signs of wear on packaging but item works perfectly and has no damage.

Good — item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Acceptable — item is in working order but may show signs of wear such as scratches or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Used — An item that has been opened and may show signs of wear. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Refurbished — A used item that has been renewed or updated and verified to be in proper working condition. Not necessarily completed by the original manufacturer.

Like New
2000 H Hardcover As New. J Dust Jacket Included Leather-backed cloth boards, with original clear mylar dust jacket and cloth slipcase. Identical to the limited signed edition, ... but unsigned. Hardcover. Dust Jacket Included. Read more Show Less

Ships from: Long Beach, CA

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
Page 1 of 1
Showing All
Sort by
Sending request ...


"On this treacherous subject, where it is easy to go wrong, Smith has written a book that is as responsible as it is informed. His views are completely in accord with my own."
—Albert Hofmann, Ph.D.,
author of LSD: My Problem Child

Huston Smith, one of the world's most respected religious scholars and author of The World's Religions, now offers Cleansing the Doors of Perception, a course-correcting assessment of the connections between entheogens, religious experience, and the divinely inspired life.

The entheogens are plants and chemicals that have been used, some of them for thousands of years, and are being used today around the world, as means for going beyond the ordinary and encountering the sacred.

The greatest single impediment to understanding the entheogens is "psychedelia": the entire range of cultural baggage dating from the 1960s, from Day-Glo painted minibuses to lava lamps, tied together by the implicit belief that the most important use of entheogenic mushrooms, peyote, and their chemical cousins is to have a perpetual Happening.

Cleansing the Doors of Perception aims to undo that confusion. It does not restate the extreme claims of the 60s about liberation through intoxication; rather, it asserts that those claims were profoundly mistaken and helped cause some people to lose their spiritual way. It communicates the key role that entheogens can play when used in contexts of faith and discipline, and it sets out what the entheogens show us about the nature of mind and spirit.

Smith explains that he has kept his eye on this issue throughout the last 40 years of his career because he shares Aldous Huxley's opinion that nothing is more curious, or to his thinking more important, than the role that mind-altering plants and chemicals have played in human history. "My intent," writes Smith, "has been to produce a work that touches on the major facets of its enigmatic subject as seen through the eyes of someone (myself) who, given my age, may have thought and written more about it than anyone else alive."

About the author:
Huston Smith, holder of eleven honorary degrees, is an internationally recognized philosopher and scholar of religion. Selling over two and a half million copies in several editions, his book The World's Religions has been the most widely-used textbook on its subject for a third of a century. In 1996, Bill Moyers devoted a five-part PBS special to Smith's life and work, entitled "The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith." Smith has taught at Washington University, M.I.T., Syracuse University, and the University of California at Berkeley. In addition to Cleansing the Doors of Perception, he has authored eleven books and over eighty articles in professional and popular journals. Smith has produced three series for public television, and his films on Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Sufism have all won international awards. He lives in Berkeley, California.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

John Horgan
This wise, witty, wondrous book, by the world's foremost religious scholar, will surely provoke a long-overdue reconsideration of the potential of mind-expanding compounds. Like the work of Aldous Huxley, Cleansing the Doors of Perception is destined to become a spiritual classic.
Peter Coyote
With drug problems so prevalent in today's world, it takes someone with the probity, impeccable credentials, and irrefutable spirituality of Huston Smith to revisit the religious potential of entheogenic (old-timers, read: hallucinogenic plants and chemicals. Reframing the pursuit of inner knowledge in the deeply spiritual languange that motivated most of those I knew to explore such substances, Smith offers scientific, medical, and religious data to support what has been a ‘secret' as old as humanity: that there are modes of perception far more transporting, ecstatic, and illuminating than everyday consciousness, and the doorway to such altered states may be literally underfoot. I am extremely grateful for this revisit, and applaud the courage it took to face down those who continue to dominate public dialogue on drugs with two-dimensional responses to a multidimensional reality.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Religion scholar and "missionary kid" Smith discovered psychedelic drugs in good company, alongside Timothy Leary and the crowd at Harvard that experimented with LSD, mescaline and psilocybin in the 1960s. In Cleansing the Doors of Perception (the title a play on Aldous Huxley's cult classic The Doors of Perception), Smith argues that while psychedelics can illuminate the religious life, these drugs can not induce religious lives. Therefore, Smith concludes, religion must be more than "a string of experiences." If drugs cannot replace religion, however, they can aid the religious life, when psychedelics are used in the context of a larger religious commitment--as with the Native American use of peyote. But this provocative inquiry into the relationship between drugs and religion is overshadowed by Smith's unreflective strolls down memory lane--such as his description of the Good Friday experiment of 1962, when a group of Harvardites popped psychedelics and attended Good Friday services. Smith says it was one of the most spiritually meaningful days of his life. Partly because of such reflections, his book, which includes many previously published essays and interviews, does not hang together. The reader skips from Smith's musings about John Humphrey Noyes to a case study of Hindu drug use to a bizarre comparison of Leary and the church historian Tertullian. In the acknowledgements, Smith thanks the Council on Spiritual Practices for encouraging him to gather all his essays on drugs into one volume--readers may wish the Council had held its counsel. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Smith (The World's Religions) is a well-known historian of world religions. What is not well known is his lifelong fascination with the use of entheogenic plants and chemicals such as psilocybin mushrooms and LSD in attaining religious visions and whether such visions are "true." This book is a collection of personal essays spanning 40 years of his investigations. Taking an anecdotal approach, he makes no attempt to be authoritative or objective, yet he uses the viewpoint of a historian as he surveys the history of 20th-century, mostly American experiences in using psychoactive drugs to reach the divine. He writes about his relationships with Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary, both firm believers in mind-altering substances. But while Smith does not discount the use of such drugs in obtaining supernatural visions, he does not play the role of advocate, either. Little is proven, but much is offered to readers who want a general overview. Recommended for public libraries.--Glenn Masuchika, Chaminade Univ. Libs., Honolulu Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781889725031
  • Publisher: Council on Spiritual Practices
  • Publication date: 5/1/2000
  • Series: Entheogen Project Ser.
  • Pages: 174

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Empirical Metaphysics

As I noted in my Introduction, my initiation into the entheogens took place in 1961 under the auspices of the Center for Personality Research at Harvard University as part of a project directed by Professor Timothy Leary to determine if a certain class of virtually nonaddictive mind-altering chemicals — mescaline, psilocybin, and LSD — could facilitate behavior change in desirable directions. Such changes are not easy to gauge. Subjective reports are notoriously unreliable, but two populations do lend themselves to statistical measurement. Six months after an entheogen experience, is a paroled prisoner still on the streets or back behind bars, and is the recovered alcoholic still off the bottle? Such were the kinds of questions that the study hoped to answer, but it was necessary to start from scratch, for this was the first concerted effort to study these substances scientifically. (At one point Freud had hopes for cocaine, but he soon abandoned them, and besides, cocaine falls into a different class of drugs because it is addictive.) Accordingly, the first step was to get some idea of the range and kinds of experiences the drugs occasion when given in a supportive atmosphere. Volunteers were solicited to establish a data bank of phenomenological reports. Subjects were screened to rule out those with psychological problems, and precise doses of one of the three drugs being investigated were administered. A physician or psychiatrist was invariably present, with an antidote ready should it be needed — chapter 7 of this book reports the onlycase I witnessed when one was used. Every effort was made to keep the sessions unstressful. Flowers and music were encouraged, and subjects were invited to surround themselves with meaningful artifacts — family photos, candles, icons, incense — if they chose to do so. Often the "laboratory" was the subject's own living room, and family and friends were welcome to be present. A follow-up report was required in which the subject was asked to describe the experience and retrospective feelings about it.

    What follows is the report I turned in. Ralph Metzner got wind of it and included it in the anthology he published, The Ecstatic Adventure.

    New Year's Day, 1961. Eleanor (who now answers to the name Kendra) and I reached the home of Dr. Timothy Leary in Newton, Massachusetts, about 12:30 P.M. Present in addition to Leary were Dr. George Alexander, psychiatrist, and Frank Barron, on sabbatical from the department of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

    After coffee and pleasantries, Tim sprinkled some capsules of mescaline onto the coffee table and invited us to be his guest. One, he said, was a mild dose, two an average dose, and three a large dose. I took one; Eleanor, more venturesome, took two. After about half an hour, when nothing seemed to be happening, I too took a second capsule.

    After what I estimate to have been about an hour, I noticed mounting tension in my body that turned into tremors in my legs. I went into the large living room and lay down on its couch. The tremors turned into twitches, though they were seldom visible.

    It would be impossible for me to fix the time when I passed into the visionary state, for the transition was imperceptible. From here on time becomes irrelevant. With great effort I might be able to reconstruct the order in which my thoughts, all heavily laden with feelings, occurred, but there seems to be no point in trying to do so.

    The world into which I was ushered was strange, weird, uncanny, significant, and terrifying beyond belief. Two things struck me especially. First, the mescaline acted as a psychological prism. It was as if the layers of the mind, most of whose contents our conscious mind screens out to smelt the remainder down into a single band we can cope with, were now revealed in their completeness — spread out as if by spectroscope into about five distinguishable layers. And the odd thing was that I could to some degree be aware of them all simultaneously, and could move back and forth among them at will, shifting my attention to now this one, now another one. Thus, I could hear distinctly the quiet conversation of Tim and Dr. Alexander in the adjoining study, and follow their discussion and even participate in it imaginatively. But this leads to the second marked feature. Though the five bands of consciousness — I say five roughly; they were not sharply divided and I made no attempt to count them — were all real, they were not of equal importance. I was experiencing the metaphysical theory known as emanationism, in which, beginning with the clear, unbroken Light of the Void, that light then fractures into multiple forms and declines in intensity as it devolves through descending levels of reality. My friends in the study were present in one band of this spectrum, but it was far more restricted than higher bands that were in view. Bergson's notion of the brain as a reducing valve struck me as accurate.

    Along with "psychological prism," another phrase occurred to me: empirical metaphysics. Plotinus's emanation theory, and its more detailed Vedantic counterpart, had hitherto been only conceptual theories for me. Now I was seeing them, with their descending bands spread out before me. I found myself amused, thinking how duped historians of philosophy had been in crediting the originators of such worldviews with being speculative geniuses. Had they had experiences such as mine (subsequent chapters of this book suggest that they had had such experiences) they need have been no more than hack reporters. But beyond accounting for the origin of these philosophies, my experience supported their truth. As in Plato's myth of the cave, what I was now seeing struck me with the force of the sun, in comparison with which everyday experience reveals only flickering shadows in a dim cavern.

    How could these layers upon layers, these worlds within worlds, these paradoxes in which I could be both myself and my world and an episode could be both momentary and eternal — how could such things be put into words? I realized how utterly impossible it would be for me to describe such things tomorrow, or even right then to Tim or Eleanor. There came the clearest realization I have ever had as to what literary genius consists of: a near-miraculous talent for using words to transport readers from the everyday world to things analogous to what I was now experiencing.

    It should not be assumed from what I have written that the experience was pleasurable. The accurate words are significance and terror. In The Idea of the Holy, Rudolf Otto describes awe as a distinctive blend of fear and fascination, and I was experiencing at peak level that paradoxical mix. The experience was momentous because it showed me range upon range of reality that previously I had only believed existed and tried without much success to imagine. Whence, then, the terror? In part, from my sense of the utter freedom of the psyche and its dominion over the body. I was aware of my body, laid out on the couch as if on an undertaker's slab, cool and slightly moist. But I also had the sense that it would reactivate only if my spirit chose to reenter it. Should it so choose? There seemed to be no clear reason for it to do so. Moreover, could it reconnect if I willed it to? We have it on good authority that no man can see God and live — the sight would be too much for the body to withstand, like plugging a toaster into a power line. I thought of trying to get up and walk across the floor. I suspected that I could do so, but I didn't want to risk forcing this intensity of experience into my physical frame. It might shatter the frame.

    Later, after the peak had passed and I had walked a few steps, I said to Tim, "I hope you know what you're playing around with here. I realize I'm still under the influence and that things probably look different from your side, but it looks to me like you're taking an awful chance in these experiments. Objective tests might reveal that my heart has been beating normally this afternoon, but there is such a thing as people being frightened to death. I feel like I'm in an operating room, having barely squeaked through an ordeal in which for two hours my life hung in the balance."

    I have said nothing about the visual. Where it was important, it was abstract. Lights such as never were on land or sea. And space — not three or four dimensions but more like twelve. When I focused visually on my physical surroundings, I tended to be uninterested. Shapes and colors, however intensified, had little to contribute to the problem that obsessed me, which was what this experience implied for the understanding of life and reality. So I regarded the visual as largely an intrusive distraction and tended to keep my eyes closed. Only twice did physical forms command my attention. Once was when Dr. Alexander induced me to look at the pattern a lampshade was throwing on a taupe rug. That was extraordinary; the shapes stood out like three-dimensional blocks. They also undulated like writhing serpents. The other time was involuntary, when the Christmas tree, its lights unlit, suddenly jumped out at me. It had been in my visual field much of the afternoon, but this was transfiguration. Had I not been in the room throughout, I would have said that someone had re-trimmed the tree, increasing its tinsel tenfold. Where before there was a tree with decorations, now there were decorations with a clotheshorse of a tree to support them.

    Interactions with Eleanor, who had dived inward and was reliving important phases of her childhood, form a happy but separate and essentially personal story. Around 10:30 P.M. we drove back to our incomparable, never-more-precious children who were sleeping as if the world was as it had always been, which it definitely was not for us. Neither of us fell asleep until about five, whereupon we slept until around nine. I was definitely into the cold that had been coming on, but my head was clear.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Preface xv
Introduction 1
Chapter One. Empirical Metaphysics 9
Chapter Two. Do Drugs Have Religious Import? 15
Chapter Three. Psychedelic Theophanies and the Religious Life 33
Chapter Four. Historical Evidence: India's Sacred Soma 45
Chapter Five. The Sacred Unconscious 65
Chapter Six Contemporary Evidence: Psychiatry and the
Work of Stanislav Grof 79
Chapter Seven. The Good Friday Experiment 99
Chapter Eight. The Case of Cardinal John Henry Newman 107
Chapter Nine Entheogenic Religions: The Eleusinian
Mysteries and the Native American Church 113
Chapter Ten. Something Like a Summing-Up 127
Appendix A Secularization and the Sacred: The
Contemporary Scene 135
Appendix B Thinking Allowed with Jeffrey Mishlove: A
Televised Interview 149
Notes and References 159
Index 165
Read More Show Less


Is it possible today, in the climate of fear created by the war on drugs, to write a book on the entheogens with the informed objectivity of Aldous Huxley 's The Doors Of Perception, the understanding that Albert Hofmann accorded the topic in LSD: My Problem Child, the expertise Gordon Wasson brought to it in his SOMA, and the open-mindedness with which William James approached the subject in The Varieties Of Religious Experience? And is the reading public ready for such a book?

I do not know the answers to those questions, but I find myself wanting to put them to the test. My reasons are theoretical rather than adversarial, for I am more philosopher than activist. It is true that, though this book is being published as a free-standing volume in its own right, it is also listed as number five in a series of books on the entheogens -- virtually non-addictive drugs that seem to harbor spiritual potentials -- that the Council on Spiritual Practices is issuing. I am comfortable with this, for not only did that Council instigate this book by asking me to pull its essays together; I support its objectives, which include working cautiously toward carving out a space where students of the entheogens can pursue their interests carefully and lawfully. I was fortunate in being able to do that under the umbrella of Harvard University's 1960-63 research program before it careened off course, and it is only fair to do what I can to accord others the same opportunity.

This said, however, I come back to my concerns here being philosophical rather than programmatic. During the semester that Aldous Huxley was at M.I.T., he remarked in the course of a seminar that nothing was more curious, and to his way of thinking more important, than the role that mind-altering plants and chemicals have played in human history. Add to that William James's point that no account of the universe in its totality can be taken as final if it ignores extraordinary experiences of the sort he himself encountered through the use of nitrous oxide. This entire book can be seen as an extended meditation on those two ideas.

As for the other two parties that I mentioned in my opening paragraph (and who join Huxley and James on the frontispiece of this book), I will defer until chapter 4 the story of the summer I spent working with Gordon Wasson on his claim that India's sacramental plant, soma, was a psychoactive mushroom. Albert Hoffman, the discoverer of LSD, I include not only for the judiciousness of his discussion of his problem child, but for a personal reason as well. A friend of mine who visited him in Switzerland had occasion to mention my book Forgotten Truth, which outlines the metaphysical position -- roughly the Great Chain of Being -- that my entheogenic encounters enabled me to experience. When my friend returned from that visit and told me Albert Hoffman had expressed interest in my book, I sent him a copy. The letter I received in reply opened by saying, "No other book in the last years has meant more to me than your Forgotten Truth. My experience and awareness of reality and its different aspects correspond completely with your view. The reward I got by studying your book was to find my insights, which are those of a natural scientist, a layman in philosophy, confirmed and expanded more fully by a professional in this field."

The essays in this book span almost forty years. I have edited them liberally, excising repetitions and passages I no longer consider important. Each essay is introduced by a statement that notes the occasion for which it was written and locates it on the trajectory of the book as a whole. My intent has been to produce a work that touches on the major facets of its enigmatic subject as seen through the eyes of someone (myself) who, given my age, may have thought and written about it more than anyone else alive.


Nomenclature has been a problem. I never use the word "hallucinogen" because error is built into its definition -- Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines "hallucination" as "(1) the apparent perception of sights, sounds, etc., that are not actually present [which] may occur in certain mental disorders; (2) the imaginary object apparently seen, heard, etc." The word "psychedelic" is etymologically innocuous, literally meaning "mind-manifesting," but it is dated, tagged to "the psychedelic sixties" when recreational use of drugs took over, and thus clearly inappropriate when speaking of shamans, Eleusis, and the Native American Church. We need a word that designates nonaddictive mind-altering substances that are approached seriously and reverently, and the word "entheogens" does just that. It is not without problems of its own, for etymologically it suggests "God-containing," whereas "God-enabling" would be more accurate -- Aldous Huxley told me never to say that chemicals cause visionary experiences; say that they occasion them. I retain "psychedelic" in the early essays of this book which were written when it was the going word, but thereafter, I follow the lead of Wasson, Hofmann, and Richard Schultes, and other pioneers in concluding that "entheogens" is the appropriate word for mind-changing substances when they are taken sacramentally.

--Huston Smith

From Cleansing The Doors Of Perception : The Religious Significance Of Entheogenic Plants & Chemicals, by Huston Smith. © June 2000, Huston Smith. Used by permission.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 1 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)