Psychedelic Ways of Looking: Exploring the Relevance of Rob Burbea’s Work for Psychedelic Practice
Updated: Jun 4
Commemorating Rob Burbea (5 September 1965 — 7 May 2020)
“The most important thing in the Dharma is perception: understanding perception and playing with perception […] and then a taking of certain conclusions and certain liberations from that.”
– Rob Burbea
I have compiled 10 talks by Rob Burbea that could help open up valuable practice possibilities, views, and frameworks for the psychedelic experience. Rob has recorded more than 350 hours of dharma talks, all of which have been transcribed, yielding a 6376-page document. My list of talks is not meant as an introduction to this vast body of work. Rather, I have chosen talks that introduce ways of looking and practices that (i) even the most experienced psychedelic Buddhist might find novel and fascinating, (ii) are directly applicable to preparing, shaping, and integrating psychedelic experiences and (iii) question, probe, and transcend some of the views that have become entrenched in certain discourses on meditation and psychedelics (e.g., “seeing things as they really are”, “cleansing the doors of perception”, “ego death”, "all is one", “I am awareness”). Many talks by Rob would fit these criteria and I might gradually expand this list – for now, I have listed the talks that I have particularly enjoyed re-visiting.
I have kept three groups of practitioners in mind while compiling this list. Firstly, experienced meditators who use or intend to use psychedelics to increase the range, depth, malleability, and subtlety of their meditative ways of looking. Secondly, psychedelic users who have not begun a meditation practice, because the dharma(s) they have encountered so far did not ignite eros for a meditative path. And thirdly, experienced meditators filled with a longing for new images of practice and more open-ended conceptions of awakening. Relatively few serious psychedelic explorers have maintained a long-term meditation practice; and relatively few dedicated long-term meditators have seriously engaged with Rob’s teachings on emptiness, the jhanas, and the Soulmaking Dharma - yet! My intention for writing this blog post is served if some of you feel intrigued by the various practices and explorations that could be discovered and created within a ‘psychedelic ways-of-looking paradigm’ and 'Psychedelic Soulmaking'.
If you love practice, then you might profoundly enjoy Rob’s seminal book 'Seeing That Frees', which introduces a comprehensive framework for the phenomenological exploration of emptiness and dependent origination. His unique approach to the Dharma rests on two key concepts – ‘ways of looking’ and ‘fabrication’ – with the help of which practitioners can gradually deepen their conceptual and experiential understanding of the empty nature of all things (including awareness, time, space, and awakening). ‘Seeing That Frees’ is the sparkling masterpiece of one of Western Buddhism’s most extraordinary teachers. It is a mind-altering journey – indeed, “a pound of magic mushrooms disguised as text” (Goodreads review).
A cautionary note: Some of the talks I have listed below assume a good understanding of and working familiarity with emptiness, samadhi, metta, energy body, mindfulness, and soulmaking practices. Without this foundation, some of the talks might be confusing, easily misunderstood, difficult to relate to the bigger picture of Rob’s approach, or hard to situate within contemporary dharma and mindfulness culture. However, I trust that the niche audience attracted to a blog post like this can deeply enjoy and benefit from these talks even if they remain partly opaque.
Thank you for your practice!