Aaron J. French’s LETTERS FROM THE EDGE: ‘PKD’s Botched Initiation…Or Was It?’
Definition: Critical explanation or analysis, especially of a religious text.
On February 20th of 1974, while Philip K. Dick (hereafter PKD) was recovering from a visit to the dentist where he had an impacted wisdom tooth removed and had been administered sodium pentothal, he roused from sleep to answer a call at his front door. He found an attractive young dark-haired girl on his doorstep, who surreally extended a brown paper bag, which happened to contain his prescription for Darvon, a mild pain reliever. The girl was on a delivery from the pharmacy.
When PKD accepted the bag, he happened to glance at her neckline and noticed that she wore a golden necklace with a curious fish symbol on it. Dick inquired after the symbol and the girl replied that it was “a sign used by the early Christians (the vesica piscis).”
At that moment, according to Dick, a concentrated beam of pink light shot out of the fish and entered his eye. What followed was a form of transcendental experience, in which PKD was able to “pierce the veil,” as it’s called in the occult literature, and come into contact with what is on the other side—the real side—of reality. He saw the natural state of all the substances behind material phenomena.
The pink beam, he later theorized—one of many theories—was a living information transmission from a divinely-regulated satellite hovering above Orange County that he named VALIS (Vast Acting Living intelligence System); to this he added the idea of “orthogonal time,” which he defined as nonlinear time streams coexisting at right angles to our linear time, which all interpenetrate each other and break away from every moment of our existence, granting access to past and future memories. VALIS, he suspected, was somehow communicating backward in time to him.
In the following weeks, PKD struggled to make sense of what had occurred. He also had the impression of changing. He suddenly started trimming and shaving his beard (which he had never done before), and he stopped drinking wine and began drinking beer, when formerly he’d detested the latter.
Additionally, he heard voices in his head, especially at night and through dreams, which told him many strange things, and even imparted a prophetic message to him that his infant son was ill—substantiated when the Dicks rushed their child to the hospital and the diagnosis was confirmed.
This voice spoke to him in Greek and Latin and subsequently he began to read, write, and speak both of these ancient languages, a phenomenon that astonished even him. As he continued reflecting upon his religious experience and transcribing the messages from the voice (which he called the Sybil and later the AI Voice), he started experiencing profound revelations as to what had been transmitted to him via the pink beam, not the least of which being: That reality, indeed an illusion or Maya, is a computer simulation program headed up by the devious U. S. Government, with the Nixon administration at the helm. This virtual reality program became known in Dick’s burgeoning mythology as The Black Iron Prison (BIP). Moreover, the Black Iron Prison was actually Rome in 100 A. D., and only a hundred years had passed since the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Human beings had been bamboozled and duped (via the BIP), into thinking some two thousand years had elapsed. For Dick this was the great deception; hence throughout the Exegesis the phrase “The Empire never ended” reiterates, exponentially.
The keystone of PKD’s event is that he later supposed himself to have made contact with an early Christian gnostic mystic, of which Dick was either a reincarnation, or who he was living in and through simultaneously as both Rome circa 100 A. D. and the Orange County of the 1970s coexisted. Furthermore, the fictitious substance he invented, called Ubik, was the Holy Spirit or Sophia, now “immanent mind” present in everything experiential and manifest.[i]
In the pages of the Exegesis, PKD explores the “orthogonal time” explanation for his experience in the concept of tachyons, a hypothetical particle that moves faster than light and consequently is in a reversed time direction. He often considers the pink beam in terms of a blast of tachyons, a bundle of atoms from the future that invaded him and subsequently permeated him with their future knowledge. This future knowledge, connected to Sybil or the AI Voice, he terms as the plasmate, the plasmatic entity cohabiting his organism. The line sometimes blurs in PKD’s writing as to the difference between the plasmate and Ubik, their individual cause and function, and what purpose each entity/concept served.
“[There are] two streams of time. The one which we are aware of in our everyday consciousness goes from the present into the future. The other stream works in the opposite direction and comes from the future into the present. These two streams of time … meet within the human being. They meet in the realm of the ego, which is the only instrument of consciousness that can really integrate past and future, thereby bringing the destiny that we bring with us from former incarnations into the freedom-space from which new impulses may be born … Much mental and soul confusion arises in the encounter between these two streams of time, even some forms of mental illness may arise from this. If these seeds [of our future consciousness] are released prematurely … and enter [our] consciousness too soon, they will produce delusion, deception, hallucination, fear, anxiety, mania.”[ii]
What James Dyson, M. D., is referring to here is the phenomena of karma and reincarnation, notions readily accepted by Eastern religions, but which remain somewhat obscure in the West. In the East, the human ego is thought to reincarnate over thousands of years, each time developing itself on the physical plane, with the goal of ultimately achieving consciousness-perfection, or unity with all beings.
This is carried out in accordance with a divine plan and subject to the natural laws of karma. Throughout the centuries, secret schools, schools of initiation, have endeavored to work on their egos themselves through initiation science and prematurely awaken such inner faculties within. However, rigorous and habitual exercises were always employed in the schools to ensure mastery over personal consciousness. PKD had no access to secret schooling, and yet managed to awaken and work on his ego himself—which ultimately led to the conditions of mental illness explicated by Dyson above.
Several additional facts of note: a) that PKD had taken a lot of drugs in the course of his life, including LSD and methamphetamines; b) that he had a history of mental and physical illness, including undiagnosed schizophrenia and TIAs (temporary strokes); and finally, c) that at the time of his vision, PKD was under the false impression that the left and right hemispheres of the brain do not normally correspond (a byproduct of the early neuroscience of his age [See Ornstein at Stanford]), and that the right hemisphere had to be “turned on” or hooked up.[iii]
PKD had been reading on this area of study and thus got his hands on the ortho-molecular vitamin formula, which was “supposed to produce radically improved neural firing in the brain”—particularly in the right hemisphere. As was his wont, PKD partook of a massively high amount of the vitamin formula in March of 1974.
In a letter to a science fiction magazine editor, Malcolm Edwards, in January of 1975, he wrote:
“… having the ortho-molecular vitamin formula in my possession I began experimenting … I set out to obtain a radically improved efficiency in my own neural firing, with the emphasis on, hopefully, causing my unused right hemisphere to wink on and function as Ornstein at Stanford says it ought to … In mid-March I got abrupt, dazzling results…”
In the succeeding years of his mystical “2-3-74” experience—meaning the second and third months of that year—and before his death in 1982, Philip K. Dick underwent a massive transformation, physically, mentally, and spiritually. During this period he managed to compose not only his staggering Exegesis, but also four groundbreaking novels based on the event; they are Radio Free Albemuth (written in 1976 and published posthumously in 1985), VALIS (1981), The Divine Invasion (1981), and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982); these four novels are visionary in scope and would require an article each to be adequately covered.
But what was really going on? What happened to Philip K. Dick?
According to conventional science and medicine, the answer is simple—PKD suffered from schizophrenia, psychosis, a stroke, an acid flashback, something along those lines.
Referring to the secret schools of initiatory science, the most important aspect of graded initiations and spiritual exercise is to strengthen the mind. Eastern traditions such as the Tibetan monks and Buddhist monasteries (known collectively as the Sangha) engage in rigorous mental training to cope after their meditations have paid off, and the supernatural world (the world of the future), the enlightened Self comes flooding through.
PKD, unfortunately, was not sufficiently prepared by this method. The bulk of his life leading up to ’74 (the dark time of his personal development) was spent using drugs, preoccupied by various marriages, and in a deep depression.
What’s more, the attitude of the drug counterculture of the 1960s was to push the limits and throw caution to the wind. Hence PKD’s massive intake of the ortho-molecular vitamin formula that went against the prescribed dosage. Once the effects of mysticism set in, PKD’s downward spiral into paranoia and mania that shocked and worried his friends and colleagues finally resulted in his death by stroke in 1982.
“When [the future consciousness] becomes prematurely released into the soul, the stream of time coming from the future to the present is likely to overwhelm the normal state of waking consciousness … and deeper states of paranoia may arise.… One [may feel] threatened by the environment, but in a very personalized way, almost as though substances of the outside world are working their own life out at our own expense! … the soul becomes vulnerable to encountering forces … which it should not meet until after death or until one is suitably prepared for a conscious encounter with the spiritual world.”[iv]
Yet PKD managed to do just that, releasing the seeds of his future consciousness within his own mind prematurely. The subsequent results were both inspiring and tragic. PKD produced his four final novels, as well as his awe-inspiring and invaluable Exegesis, however his ability to interact with the outside world—to continue to appear normal, as it were—precipitously declined, until finally he withdrew into himself completely, into oblivion and the abyss, and eventually into the afterlife of memory.
Sudden and spontaneous initiation is not unheard of. Indeed, the main principle of enlightenment behind the Zen Buddhist tradition champions an in-the-moment but random awakening out of illusion (or sleep) into Nirvana, or enlightenment. But this is only supposed to occur when the individual is karmically ready to handle such a radically new state of consciousness. Dick, unfortunately, may be thought of as bringing about the “awakened state” too early.
The image of the pink beam is an important one. The common thread with some of these abrupt awakenings is a concentrated beam of light striking the individual’s eyes, causing transformative results. Two of the most famous accounts are Paul of Tarsus (5 B. C. or 5 A. D. to 67 A. D.) and the Protestant mystic Jacob Boehme (1575-1624 A. D.).
A good elucidation of this type of initiation is given by Mark Hedsel in his 1998 book The Zelator. On the subject concerning the concentrated light beams, Hedsel writes: “Boehme called such a light the schrack, ‘the lightning flash’… In Boehmian lore, the schrack … was a flash which could either illumine or burn, and, under certain circumstances, could even destroy.”[v]
Jacob Boehme was one of the foremost Lutheran and German mystics of the seventeenth century, who began writing theological texts after a vision in 1600. He is best known for his first book, commonly known as Aurora in English, which caused a great deal of scandal and was considered heretical during its time. Writing Aurora was the direct result of Boehme’s vision, not unlike PKD and his Exegesis. Also like the Exegesis, Aurora contained elements of alchemical, esoteric, and anticlerical philosophies, as well as an ecstatic vision of order reconciled with freedom—gained by way of mystical vision.
The following is a brief account of the vision Jacob Boehme experienced in 1600 when he was twenty-five years old:
“Sitting one day in his room his eyes fell upon a burnished pewter dish, which reflected the sunshine with such marvellous splendor that he fell into an inward ecstasy, and it seemed to him as if he could now look into the principles and deepest foundations of things. He believed that it was only a fancy, and in order to banish it from his mind he went out upon the green. But here he remarked that he gazed into the very heart of things, the very herbs and grass, and that actual nature harmonized with what he had inwardly seen.”[vi]
What should be apparent here is the remarkable similarity between Boehme’s story and that of Philip K. Dick. Both of these men experienced a sudden and information-laced mystical vision, conveyed to them on beams of concentrated light, which resulted in their elaboration of several important and truly remarkable texts. This of course begs the question: Did PKD unlock some secret inner quality prematurely, or was he in fact meant to have his experience of 2-3-74, and leave us his VALIS and his Exegesis?
The larger figure in this group of light-gazers is Saint Paul. Paul of Tarsus, originally named Saul prior to his mystical experience, had a literally blinding vision of Christ on the road to Damascus. In Acts 9, it is said “a light from heaven flashed around him” (typically thought to have shot out of the sun), whereupon he fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Paul, a staunch adherent of Jewish Law, had been heading to Damascus in order to confront the Christian cults practicing there. But after his vision (which actually blinded him for three days), instead of returning to Jerusalem or continuing on to Damascus, Paul retreated into Arabia for three years. Not much is known of his time there, but it can be supposed that he was developing and nurturing his vision, in order to make sense of it—exegeting it, in other words.
When Paul does return to Jerusalem, he proclaims himself a “new creature,” a person wholly reborn in Christ, who no longer accords obedience to Jewish Law, but has found his liberation from all spiritual authority in the sole fact that Christ has been brought back from the dead. Paul held so fast to this belief, adhering to its proclamation even in public and placing all importance on the Christ-event, that it eventually became, for him, the only possible means of salvation.
Thus began Paul’s long career of writing and ministry. Indeed, fourteen of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament have been attributed to Paul. Additionally, approximately half of the Acts of the Apostles deals with Paul’s life and works.[vii] And so we have another account of spiritual vision obtained via light, followed by a period of frantic production, and subsequently a body of influential work.
Did PKD have his own Damascus experience, or did he inadvertently connect with his future Self, a divine source of information, and thereby secure his demise?
Many other accounts exist of individuals receiving information through outside or higher spiritual agencies, after which they transmit their information into books. In the occult tradition, this is known as channeling. Examples include The Secret Doctrine by the female mystic Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a work that she claimed was revealed to her by hidden Indian initiates called the mahatmas (mahatma meaning “Great Soul”). The Book of the Law by the infamous Aleister Crowley, who claimed it was dictated to him by a discarnate entity named Aiwass in 1904, after Crowley performed rituals inside the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Even the Book of Mormon was transmitted to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni in 1827, a book which has undoubtedly had a profound effect on people.
One other case worth mentioning is detailed in the book The Bridge Over the River published by Anthroposophic Press (reprinted from the first 1974 edition). This text recounts a series of transmissions from a young musician named Sigwart to his sister after his death in 1915. After experiencing severe inner unrest that led to the feeling that her brother was trying to contact her, Sigwart’s sister gradually achieved conscious contact with her brother, and received the remarkable messages included in the book—messages that reveal, in full consciousness, the journey the soul takes after death.
The three light-gazers (Paul, Boehme, and PKD)—who form a sort of trinity—stand in a world of their own, for they were given their information in a single blast of light, and then had to spend the rest of their lives developing/deciphering it. The question is whether or not PKD’s received writings have been considered as seriously as Paul’s and Boehme’s, and if they will extend into the future, continuing to influence and evolve human spirituality and thinking.
The answer to that question is for posterity to decide.
—Dedicated to pKd and his mIND
[i] Dick, Philip K., Pamela Jackson, Jonathan Lethem, and Erik Davis, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 50.
[ii] Dyson, James, M.D. “Anthroposophy and Psychiatry.” AnthroMed Article Library. The Physicians’ Association for Anthroposophic Medicine (PAAM), 29 Feb. 1996. Web. 01 Oct. 2013.
[iii] Dick, Philip K., Pamela Jackson, Jonathan Lethem, and Erik Davis, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 44.
[iv] Dyson, James, M.D. “Anthroposophy and Psychiatry.” AnthroMed Article Library. The Physicians’ Association for Anthroposophic Medicine (PAAM), 29 Feb. 1996. Web. 01 Oct. 2013.
[v] Hedsel, Mark, The Zelator: A Modern Initiate Explores the Ancient Mysteries (London: Century, 1998), 53.
[vi] Quoted from R.M. Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness, pp.180 – 182.
[vii] “Paul the Apostle.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Oct. 2013.