I first heard about Stephen Gaskin the third time I visited the Bay Area around 1969. The people I was crashing with in Oakland were avid attendees at the Sunrise Sunday Morning Services in Central Park. They tried to lure me the week I was there but unfortunately, I overslept and missed it. But I understood something meaningful was collecting around Stephen.
In some ways, he was an accidental guru. His trajectory happen to coincide with the rise of the hippie movement and among his primary interests were science fiction and Eastern mysticism. His creative writing class at San Francisco State morphed into a spiritual community that stayed with him almost until the end, and one that built the most successful counterculture community in the world. It took me a lifetime to figure this out, but Stephen’s greatest talent was his ability to read an audience, absorb its vibrational energies and then improvise a sermon that touched that audience in deep and meaningful ways. He could take the most complex concepts of Eastern mysticism and translate them into Jimmy Stewart-like homespun English. Stephen had the abilities of a psychic, but used those talents only to help people remember their own forgotten wisdom.
After I started the Cannabis Cup, I felt obligated to investigate the history of the spiritual use of cannabis, and part of that investigation involved going to The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee, to finally meet Stephen in person. When I arrived, he’d just discovered not only was I the editor of High Times, but also the author of a glowing review of The Farm’s free ambulance service in the South Bronx in the New York Daily News in 1981. For me, arriving at The Farm was a holy moment. I hadn’t realized Stephen’s plans for a global hippie Peace Corps. had been scuttled by an internal coup against him. It was a testament to his level of enlightenment and serenity that Stephen stayed in the community after that coup, although he was strangely forced to vacate his house recently in order to have contact with his eldest son.
I ransacked Stephen’s best writings on spirituality to put together a book called Cannabis Spirituality, which eventually became a classic, although it’s very hard to find today. Living on the Farm led to some major revelations on my part. Mostly I became aware of the incredible amount of trash my lifestyle entailed, while Stephen and Ina May produced none. Their food came from Ina May’s vegetable garden, and all liquid was drawn from Stephen’s well. I had my glass beer bottles and aluminum coke cans as well as all sorts of plastic and paper garbage collecting around me constantly. The only trash can was a little bucket outside the front door that I could fill up easily before lunch. It made me understand how much more spiritual their lives really were.
I’d grown up with the Merry Pranksters as my primary guide, and was mostly surfing the fun vibe, but Stephen’s trail was absolute love. There were some minor tensions between some of the various tribes from ’60s, with many gurus to choose from, although none higher than Stephen. I always looked upon Tim Leary as more entertainer than enlightened being. Leary was a brilliant mind, but he was also a martini-drinking meat eater who often showed bad judgment, while Stephen never wavered from his core principles. I may have helped bridge some gaps between the Pranksters and Stephen through my events like WHEE! and the Cannabis Cup because I brought both sides together in ceremony, and bridging gaps is what most ceremonies are about. Most of what I know about ceremonies, I learned from Stephen, but he also never prescribed a single ceremony to me, but told me just to let them manifest on their own. It took me a long time to figure out how to do that.
Saint Stephen passed over to the unknown dimensions on July 1, 2014.