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There are a number of human experiences that are characterized by presentness, detail, externality, and three-dimensional explorable spacefulness: we can call these visionary experiences. These can be characterized along two dimensions — according to the degree to which the experience is entered into intentionally, and by the amount of control the experiencer exercises over its content. Such visionary experiences appear to be quite widespread across cultures, and raise significant psychological and ontological questions.


Chinese philosophy — perhaps because of its origins in practical political thought — has been dominated by questions of change: why is there change rather than stability? what is the relationship between change and human action? are there patterns of change that we can detect and use to our advantage? The concept of the wŭxíng 五行 was proposed by the philosopher Zou Yan 鄒衍 (fl. c. 350-270 BCE) as one answer to that last question. The idea has become central to Chinese culture.


Of all the claims for the power of ayahuasca to heal sicknesses of various kinds, from cancer to asthma, the most popular current claim is that ayahuasca can — in some sense — cure addiction. There are certainly anecdotes, claims, and uncontrolled self-report studies that can at best be called preliminary. But I have seen no substantial scientific evidence that ayahuasca can successfully treat addictions. Here is why I am cautious about such claims.


The meridians — also called channels, pathways, and other names — are a central concept of Chinese medicine.They are the way that the zàngfǔ or organs extend their regulative processes throughout the body. But the meridians — like the zàngfǔ — are not themselves anatomical objects. Rather, they are streams of as experienced from within the lived body.


Some time ago, on a discussion group, a woman posted that she had been sexually assaulted by a shaman at an ayahuasca retreat center in the Upper Amazon. During the course of the occasionally heated discussion that followed, I took the position — which I still maintain — that it is unethical for a shaman to have sex with a patient under any circumstances, even when the sex is apparently consensual. I reproduce the relevant portions of my posts here.


Eidetic visualization — the creation of a minutely detailed mental image of the deity being contemplated, along with the deity’s palace, retinue, appurtenances, and the subtle deities distributed on the divine body — lies at the heart of Tibetan tantric meditation. The practice is ultimately linked to a wave of visionary devotionalism that began in India in the early centuries CE, affecting both Buddhism and the Hindu Vaiṣṇava tradition. The Buddhists, with long practice in eidetic visualization, have important things to say about visionary ontology.

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Carl Jung believed that active imagination is a channel for messages from the unconscious. Most important, the dialogue with the contents of the unconscious is with persons — “exactly as if,” says Jung, “a dialogue were taking place between two human beings with equal rights.” Active imagination enters its own visionary landscape, often called the imaginal world. Immediately we face the question of the nature and ontological status of the persons we encounter there.


On November 16, 2009, after a brief illness, famed visionary artist Pablo César Amaringo died at his home, surrounded by friends and family, and leaving behind a mass of uncatalogued paintings and hastily jotted notes. We are more than fortunate that Howard Charing and Peter Cloudsley had already been working with Amaringo for months to get his collection in order, annotate his more recent work, create a digital archive of his art, and protect his paintings from deterioration in their humid tropical environment.

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