Late 1960ies: Utrecht
At Utrecht University, where I studied, there was a symposium organized bearing this title. Speakers consisted of a theologian, a psychiatrist and a Buddhist. I was not yet interested in meditation and, in spite of the trend of these days, neither in drugs. This was probably an effect of my father. In the early sixties he had done some experiments with LSD. As a clinical psychologist he had access to the stuff and did some trials with volunteers. These included himself and some artists. One writer, Simon Vinkenoog, made headlines when he reported after an LSD trip: ``I am feeling so much like bread''.
The reason for going to the symposium was my interest in mysticism. From age 12 on, a couple of times I had gone through a powerful experience lasting only a few moments. I called it `experience A'. It was both extremely fearful and enjoyable at the same time. During A the act of perceiving is seen as more special than the contents of perception. The fearful aspect was caused by the possibility that ordinary perception is not there any longer; the enjoyable aspect by the fact that one nevertheless does perceive. It is an experience on the borderline of existence and non-existence. In an attempt to convey the quality of the experience, I had written the story Neighbours. Ernst did publish it in the school paper.
It was with mathematics teacher Fred Fischer that I discussed about this experience. Not because the experience had anything to do with mathematics, but because I felt comfortable with him. He gave me existentialist books to read. Through these books my attention was drawn to Buddhism. The meaning of the notion of nothingness, present in both the existentialist and Buddhist literature, seemed to come close to the experience. Actually I was eager to evoke A at will. But reading the existentialist or Buddhist writings did not help to achieve this re-occurrence.
So I went to the symposium. The theologian had some beautiful quotes from Eckhart, Hadewich and Ruusbroeck. But the given metaphysical foundation for the experiences was not according to my taste. The psychiater did recognized the beauty of the mystical experiences. ``But'', quoting some prophets of the Beat generation, ``why should one go through the effort of climbing a high mountain in order to enjoy the view, if there is a fast cable car of mind enlarging drugs?'' I forgot whether he warned about the negative aspects of drugs. Then came the Buddhist, Peter van der Beek, who spoke in a convincing way about `inner calm' and similar mental states. He recognized that probably one could get these states by the use of drugs, but added that in Buddhism this was not allowed. The reason is that one then becomes dependent on these chemicals. He explained that there is a clearly outlined path of meditation toward these states and advised that one better could follow this method.
As usual there was a forum discussion after the talks. It was not very inspiring, because the three speakers all spoke their own language. But my choice was made. If I'd ever want to obtain alternative mental states, then meditation was the way.