Born in 1946, author and explorer Terence McKenna has spent the past twenty-five years in the study of the ontological foundations of shamanism and the ethnopharmacology of spiritual transformation. He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a distributed major in ecology, resource conservation, and shamanism and then traveled extensively in the Asian and New World tropics, specializing in the shamanism and ethnomedicine of the Amazon Basin. His latest book, True Hallucinations (HarperSanFrancisco), is a narrative of spiritual adventure in the jungles of the Colombian Amazon. McKenna currently lives in Hawaii, where he divides his time between writing and lecturing. This interview was conducted for Tricycle by Allan Hunt Badiner in April 1996 in Big Sur, California.

Terence McKenna. Courtesy Kathleen Carr.
Terence McKenna. Courtesy Kathleen Carr.

Tricycle: You have emerged as the leading spokesperson for the use of psychedelics. What is the history of your encounter with Buddhism?

McKenna: Like so many people in the sixties, I came up through D. T. Suzuki’s books on Zen. And then early on, because of my art historical bent, I became interested in Tibetan Buddhism. But my interest was not exactly Buddhism. It was more the shamanic pre-Buddhist phenomenon of the Bon religion—which grew out of the shamanic culture of pre-Buddhist Tibet.

Tricycle: Buddhist practice didn’t attract you?

McKenna: Buddhist psychology was very interesting to me. I came to it through the works of Herbert Gunther, who was a Heideggerian originally. He found Mahayana thought to parallel that of Heidegger. I was influenced by a book called Tibetan Buddhism without Mystification, published later as Treasures of the Tibetan Middle Way[Herbert Guenther, Shambhala Publications, Inc.], which contrasted paradoxically differing schools of Buddhist thought. Nargarjuna’s writings on nothingness were also a big influence.

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