May 31

Fifty-two years ago today, a Vietnamese monk, Nun Nu Thanh Nuang, poured gasoline and set fire to himself in Hue. Nineteen years ago today, Timothy Leary died in his sleep.

After all these years, I honestly don’t know whether Dr Leary’s work helped us understand why the monk’s death was important to us, or whether he helped mask us from the true meaning by taking us elsewhere. Many saw no conflict in actively protesting and actively tripping. In fact, many claimed then that the “enlightenment” received through herbal and chemical stimulation was an important component of our political activism. These days, I wonder more often whether we were just bullshitting ourselves and simply following the pleasure principle.

In the end, of course, both the revered Buddhist martyr and the revered western materialist trod the same path into being and nothingness.

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