Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index
Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics
Badiner, Allan Hunt (Editor)(2002)
San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Description: first edition hardcover, 240 pages,
Contents: Acknowledgments, contents, foreword, preface, introduction, 24 unnumbered chapters divided into 3 sections: 1. Intersection, 2. Concrescence? 3. Lessons, contributors, artwork credits, bibliography.
It is undeniable that a significant proportion of those drawn to Buddhism and other Eastern traditions in the 1960s (including the present writer) were influenced in their choice of religious orientation by experiences induced by psychoactive substances such as marijuana and LSD. Despite the fact that experimentation with such drugs was illegal, potentially dangerous, and unmonitored, the startling shift in consciousness it occasionally provoked was considered to be worth the risks involved. Now, thirty years later, many of these Buddhists are priests, meditation teachers, therapists, college professors, and writers: respected members of the very society against which they rebelled in their youth. Yet although they often eschew the use of psychedelics themselves and warn others of the dangers of abuse, few of them would deny the role of these substances in opening their eyes to a life of spiritual and religious meaning. (page 9)
It is all too easy either to dismiss claims of spiritual significance for drugs as thinly veiled justifications for hedonistic indulgence, or to invoke the tragic consequences of heedless excess as grounds for denying the validity of any drug-induced experience at all. In so doing, one fails to recognize the spiritual aspirations of people who are seeking expression and fulfillment in this way. One likewise ignores the harsh fact that Western societies have lost their ability to address the religious feelings of a considerable segment of their youth. (page 9)
ZAG. Twenty-five hundred years later people are still having their Third Eyes opened, only now often through microscopic ingestions of a small class of entheogenic plants and chemicals. This difference may not be quite as different as it sounds, for medical anthropologists have discovered that brain changes that result from taking entheogens are very much like those that are produced by physical exhaustion from prolonged fasting and other ordeals of the sort the Buddha undertook before he assumed his seat under the Bodhi Tree. This being the case, it may be one of the great paradoxes of history that one of its greatest religions was launched (chemically speaking) by a state of mind that is virtually indistinguishable from ones that are produced by fudging the fifth of the Five Precepts in the Eightfold Path that the Buddha prescribed as leading to enlightenment, the one that proscribes the taking of intoxicants. (page 13)
Allan Hunt Badiner
Ultimately, Buddhism and psychedelics share a concern with the same problem: the attainment of liberation for the mind. Zen and psychedelics have both had a profound effect on our culture over the past two generations. Prior to the 1960s, awareness about the deepest "occult" or "hidden" parts of our spirit selves was largely considered the private preserve of shamans, priests, or spiritual masters who have earned their way to it. Religious experience was mediated by these authorized few, and this is a tradition still with us in the form, if not attitude, of many religions. The democratization of psychedelics, however, and of Buddhism to a similar extent, has been very much about the breakdown of this restricted access to the divine.
In Buddhism, as in psychedelic use, individuals take responsibility for their relationship to the source of being and for access to the highest states of spirit mind. An awareness of the relatedness between seemingly separate objects and ostensible opposites is at the heart of Buddhist philosophy and is also one of the key insights psychedelic travelers often bring home from their chemical "pilgrimages:' Over the past decades, the popularization of both Zen and psychedelics has shifted the occidental cultural mind from a dominantly conceptual and linear view of reality to a mode or awareness that is more ecological and holistic. While we may always continue to think in linear ways, awareness is growing that this mode of consciousness is relative, a human construct, and not a reflection of "objective reality." This emerging worldview brings us closer to a perspective that is perhaps as comfortable being called "dharmic" as it is being called "psychedelic." (pages 16-17)
The Plant Medicine Sutra
Thus I had heard. That night the bodhisattva awoke and found herself surrounded by vines, branches, flowers, roots, sap, essence of the plant world, and the wildness of nature, all supplicating for her a teaching that would illumine their minds. The bodhisattva spoke: No, it is you, not I, who needs to speak; it is you, it is your voice that is needed to awaken the self-centered human species to the vast web of life and love and awareness that is the intimate birthright of us all. Your sap, your juices, your fibers, your chemistry. We ask that all of you speak through and to our species, blood and bone, in a language that is unmistakable, unfettered by the intellect we have come to value so highly. (page 23)
Mysticism: Contemplative and Chemical
Both psychological and social factors may be involved. The psychedelic user might have a dramatic experience, perhaps the most dramatic of his or her life. But a single experience, no matter how powerful, may not be enough to permanently overcome psychological habits conditioned over decades. The contemplative, on the other hand, may spend decades deliberately working to retrain habits along more spiritual lines. Thus when the breakthrough finally occurs, it visits a mind already prepared. In addition, the contemplative has acquired a belief system that provides an explanation for the experience, a discipline that can cultivate it, a tradition and social group that support it, and an ethic that can guide its expression. One is reminded of Louis Pasteur's statement that "chance favors the prepared mind." The contemplative's mind may be prepared, but there is no guarantee that the drug user's is.
This is not to say that the contemplative will always be spiritually transformed and the drug user never will be. Some psychedelic users may be psychologically and spiritually mature enough to be transformed by their experience. Likewise some mystics may not be, or at least may have areas of personality, behavior, and neurosis that remain relatively untransformed.
In summary, these ideas suggest a qualified equivalence between contemplative and chemical mysticism; that some drugs can indeed induce genuine mystical experiences in some people on some occasions. However, they seem more likely to do so and more likely to produce enduring benefits in prepared minds. (page 30)
A High History of Buddhism in America
During the eighties the use of MDMA (Ecstasy) became fashionable, both among psychotherapists and in the new youth culture in the rave and dance club scene. Ecstasy is not a hallucinogen or entheogen, but has best been described as an empathogen: it seems to relax the stranglehold of the individual ego and open the way to an unusually high level of intimacy and communication (hence its popularity with marriage counselors). The general calmness, serenity, and spaciousness of the experience has led, in some circles, to it being called the "Buddha-drug." If psychedelics correspond (for some at least) with Tibetan or Tantric Buddhism, then Ecstasy could be seen as the Mahayana or bodhisattva drug of choice. In fact, at least one rumor told of a serious circle of practitioners who used Ecstasy as a support for their metta (loving-kindness) practice. (page 34)
But what about psychedelics? Is it really the case that Buddhism, the one "major world religion" without a personal creator God, is lacking in a mind-altering or mind-opening sacrament? And even if it lacks such a sacrament today, has it always been so? Certain images in Buddhist texts suggest that this has not always been the case. The most glaring example is the existence of amrita, a drink or substance that is said to confer deathlessness or liberation. If this amrita is not an actual mind-altering substance or plant-what we would so crudely call a "drug"-is it "merely" a symbol? But even if it's a symbol, that still leaves the question: a symbol of what? (pages 46-47)
…. The most interesting of these post-Wassonites, for our purpose at least, is one Scott Hajicek- Dobberstein, who published a fascinating paper, "Soma Siddhas and Alchemical Enlightenment: Psychedelic Mushrooms in Buddhist Tradition," in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Hajicek-Dobberstein argues that the Vedic soma cult - or something very similar to it - survived among the tantric Buddhist siddhas who lived in India from the eighth to the tenth century C.E., and whose biographies are recounted in a twelfth-century Tibetan text, The Legends of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas.
The most compelling evidence is found in the story of the siddha Karnaripa. His guru, Nagarjuna, instructed him to demonstrate his austerity by collecting only as much food for alms as he could balance on the head of a needle. Karnaripa returned with a large pancake balanced on the tip of a needle - a symbol, suggests Hajicek-Dobberstein, of the Amanita muscaria. More symbols are suggested, but the most convincing evidence is an exchange in which Nagarjuna says, "We need to eat the alchemical medicine." Karnaripa does so, and then spreads his spittle on a dead tree - which bursts in blossom - and then urinates in a pot. This behavior is taken as a sign of realization by Karnaripa's teacher. For Hajicek-Dobberstein , it is a "marker" of the presence of amanita-soma because drinking the urine of a shaman who has consumed amanita intensifies the potency of the mushroom and is a well-known practice among Siberians.
The possible use of amanita (or other mushrooms or plants) by siddhas also offers a possible solution to two thorny Tibetan etymological puzzles. The Tibetan name for cannabis, So.Ma.Ra.Dza, from the Sanskrit soma-raja, or "king of soma" can now be read as a linguistic trace of a long-forgotten tradition. (pages 47-48)
… Both the Native American Church and the Brazilian ayahuasca churches have successfully grafted an ancient entheogenic practice onto Christianity. There is nothing to prevent this from happening with Buddhism as well. Indeed, Buddhism has demonstrated a genius for adapting - or mutating, in Professor Robert Thurman's phrase - to a wide range of cultures. In Tibet, this, included a shamanistic culture. Whether or not the ancient siddhas used mushrooms or other alchemical substances, there is no reason why an ecologically informed American Buddhism cannot likewise draw from shamanistic earth-wisdom. Sacred plant sacraments could be offered as amrita in the context of a tantric feast, for the development of compassion and wisdom in our ravaged world. At least for the tantric lineages of Buddhism there is no limit to the skillful means available to a bodhisattva, which includes many teachings on transforming poison into nectar. As unlikely as it may seem, this devil juice may be just the antidote for the out-of-control materialism that is ravaging our planet.
One thing at least seems certain. Whatever the ancient or recent past history of psychedelic entheogens and Buddhism may be, the story is hardly over. As Hajicek-Dobberstein says, "Some contemporary non-orthodox Buddhist 'alchemists' find precedents in Mahasiddhas Nagarjuna and Aryadeva, who agreed, 'We need to eat the alchemical medicine'. . . Orthodox scholars may object but they can no longer 'Just Say No'"(1995). (page 49)
Psychedelic Experience and Spiritual Practice, A Buddhist Perspective: An Interview with Jack Kornfield
Kornfield / Many people who took LSD, mushrooms, and other psychedelics, often along with readings from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, or some Zen texts, had the gates of wisdom opened to a certain extent. They began to see that their limited consciousness was only one plane and that there were a thousand new things to discover about the mind. They saw many new realms, got new perspectives on birth and death, and discovered the nature of mind and consciousness as a field of creation, rather than the mechanical result of having a body, and even opened beyond the illusion of separation to the truth of the oneness of things.
But in order to maintain this vision they had to keep taking the psychedelics over and over. Even though there were some transformations from these experiences, they tended to fade for a lot of people. Following that some people said, "If we can't maintain the highs of consciousness that come through the psychedelics, let's see if there is some other way." And so they undertook various kinds of spiritual disciplines. They did kundalini yoga and bastrika breathing, or they did serious hatha yoga as a sadhana, raja yoga, mantra and concentration exercises, visualizations, or Buddhist practices as a way to get back to those profound compelling states that had come through psychedelics. (pages 52-53)
Kornfield / The point is to awaken to our natural inner freedom, our True Nature. To do this we must start where we are. In beginning to quiet the mind and open the heart you often encounter waves of desire, fear, anger, laziness, or restlessness. These are the preliminary hindrances to transformation. You learn how to use wise attention so that you don't become caught up or lost in them. As your body and mind become more open and purified, you take that ability to be balanced and less caught by these energies, and use this ability to enter other domains of consciousness.
Now, if you should enter a domain of pure light filled with love and ecstasy, you will have learned how to do it without getting too attached. You see it as part of the passing show. And you can go to the hell realms that arise within you with the same attitude. You become free in the realms of birth and death. You learn how to open to them without so much grasping and attachment. Here you learn not just the content of the various realms of consciousness, where psychedelics can also take you, but how to relate to it all wisely. If I were to put any sentence in this interview in capitals it would be that spiritual awakening is not about just visiting the many realms of heart, mind, and body, but learning how to relate to their content wisely, compassionately, and with real freedom. (page 57)
Dissolving the Roots of Suffering
translated by Stuart Nichols
The Therapeutic Power of Entheogens
The beneficial potential that such substances, employed conscientiously by scrupulous professionals, offer in the field of psychotherapy is undeniable. As for the debate among Western Buddhists on the use of psychedelics, it is my view that no practicing Buddhist can object to the psychotherapeutical use of entheogens, a use whose ultimate aim is to cure a human being of some kind of painful trauma generated at a given moment of his or her development. One of the maxims in the Buddhist Dharma reads: "That all beings be freed from suffering and from the causes of suffering." I can find no morally valid reason why psychotherapists should not use these substances in the pursuit of the healing of human beings' suffering and pain, especially when their rational use neither leads to any physical or mental damage, nor provokes addiction. (page 62)
By dissolving the firm hold of the logico-rational mind over the perception of reality, entheogens propitiate, on the one hand, the appearance and observation of contents arising from pre-personal levels (their regressive aspect) and, on the other, the appearance and observation of contents arising from transpersonal levels (their transcendental aspect). Thus it is the responsibility of the therapist or guide to help the individual to integrate these contents appropriately, promoting the healing of traumas and access to higher states of consciousness. (page 63)
This is the essence of the fifth precept: the greatest toxin of all is ignorance. When consciousness is freed of ignorance, the precept of nonintoxication is practiced. The correct use of entheogens allows access to higher states of consciousness, characterized by greater lucidity, greater understanding, and important and quantifiable changes in conduct. That is, they facilitate the dissolution of ignorance, understood as limited perception of reality centered on "me" and "mine."
I am not proposing an entheogenic free-for-all, any time, any place. At all times entheogens must be used with wisdom (prajna) and with skillful means (upaya), in the appropriate context (setting), with an appropriate purpose (bodaishin), and in an appropriate internal state (set). (page 65)
Buddhism, Shamanism, and Thangka Paintings
Claudia Mueller-Ebeling and Christian Raetsch
In Nepalese shamanism, accessing altered states by means of entheogens is still being practiced. Shamans (Nepalese:Jhankri) use a large variety of poisonous and mind-altering plants; some have yet to be identified by Western botanists. Some are well known, like Papaver somniferum, Atropa belladonna, or Peganum harmala; their use originated with shamans. Several are difficult to use and even dangerous, such as Aconitum spp. or Datura spp. Moreover, what is most spectacular and hitherto little known is the evidence that shamans use mushrooms, such as Amanita muscaria and different kinds of psilocybes (the latter as inhaled powders). During our research in Nepal - over an eighteen-year period - we recorded eighty-eight psychoactive plants ("traveling plants," as the shamans call them). When shamans are asked how many entheogens they know and use, they mention the idealized number of 108 plants and mushrooms, to be used as offerings, incense (dhoopas), remedies, or mind-altering agents.
The importance of these entheogens to shamans in Nepal has long been unrecognized by Western scholars; no previous study on Nepalese shamanism mentions the use of mind-altering plants. Physicians and psychiatrists, even ethnologists who did fieldwork among the Tamang or other tribes of Nepal, did not report the shamanic, medicinal, and recreational (and obvious) use of cannabis in the region. They especially overlooked the appreciation of cannabis by the traditional shamans. (pages 69-70)
A Buddhist-Psychedelic History of Esalen Institute: An Interview with Founder Michael Murphy and President George Leonard
Allan Hunt Badiner.
MURPHY / People ask me from time to time. I say, "First, I look at what the whole psychedelic culture has produced, and not produced. Has it brought forth a Buddha or Ramana Maharshi? Or an Aurobindo? Or a Ramakrishna? Or any saint, or great realized mystic like St. Teresa or St. John of the Cross? It hasn't produced that yet. All I have seen through the Esalen window and meeting many of the psychedelic leaders is, at best, openings or illuminations that have led people to an ongoing path. My big fear about the drugs is when they are used in a trivial way, they reinforce the quick fix habits of our culture. . . the school of fast, easy, and cheap. And -
LEONARD / And blow your mind.
MURPHY / And blow your mind. The patience required for this other drugless transformative practice, as we conceive it, opens you to such beauty and depth. This is what I wish the world knew more about. And I say, "Thank God for: these great Buddhist teachers, for these Zen Centers like Richard Baker is creating." And for the other practices we've seen here at Esalen. Psychedelics can be just another distraction.
BADINER / Has the psychedelic culture survived at Esalen?
MURPHY / To some extent. But often in the form of an attractive nuisance or a trompe l'oeil, when they compete with the long-term and more subtle practices. Nondrug programs at Esalen have survived because they are the fittest. What I think will happen over time is that these drugs will have their place as initiatory agents with the right set and setting. We're developing a culture of consciousness connoisseurs that range from very high connoisseurs to, you know, the people who are just getting on the path. (page 82)
Now those psychedelic years seem far away; I neither miss them nor regret them. Drugs can clear away the past, enhance the present; toward the inner garden, they can only point the way. Lacking the temper of ascetic discipline, the drug vision remains a sort of dream that cannot be brought over into daily life. Old mists may be banished, that is true, but the alien chemical agent forms another mist, maintaining the separation of the "I" from true experience of the One. (page 88)
A Survey of the Entheogens
The historical and contemporary practices surveyed here demonstrate the spiritual significance of entheogens and indicate that at least some of them can be used with reasonable safety. The substances remain illegal in most countries, even when used in religious practice, on account of comprehensive bans on hallucinogenic plants and chemicals.
However, a few countries, including the United States, do accommodate certain entheogen practices, though the U.S. drug law exemption for peyote is restricted to one racial group and one religious tradition. A genuine respect for religious freedom as guaranteed by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.S. Constitution would seem to require that such accommodations be adopted universally, without regard to race or creed, for the traditional plant entheogens and other substances of comparable safety.
Well-crafted policies and practices would support the anti-drug-abuse objectives of the current drug laws, mitigate the psychological risks inherent in profound religious experience, and limit the potential for abuses by individuals and organizations that offer such experience. If this can be accomplished, spiritual communities and individuals will be free to work out for themselves the proper role of entheogens.[and] to evolve beneficial contexts for their use. (page 94)
…Artists who have entered psychedelic states and are also practicing Buddhists are still something of a rare species, but perhaps becoming less so. My feeling is that the confluence of these inspiring forces is helping fuel an underground artistic renaissance. Artists who have accessed deeper and higher aspects of their being via meditative disciplines or psychedelics are no longer content with the formal games and transgressionism of much contemporary art. A worthy subject is the most important discovery for artists-it's the magnetic passion that burns at the core of their work, attracting or repelling us, and determining whether they will attempt to evoke what is deepest and highest in us. (page 100)
Then come the truly transpersonal stages, the birth, death, and rebirth experiences. The ego or small self is frightened, crushed, overcome, and reborn through intense chthonic and cathartic visions. Here the Northern Renaissance masters, Durer, Bosch, and Grunewald portrayed stunning visions of hell and resurrection, or we could just as easily reference the Tibetan Yamataka thangka paintings with bull-headed wrathful deities surrounded by flames and crushing egos underfoot. The entire pantheon of spirits, gods, and demons can be encountered. Several of the artists included in this book point to this archetypal realm: Paul Laffoley, Ed Paschke, Ethel Le Rossignol, Michael Newhall, Mariko Mori, Odilon Redon, and Robert Beer. Continuing with the description of altered state experiences, vajravision can reveal subtle energetic movements in the body- chakras opening-strands of energy systems weaving throughout the body and world. Depictions of the astral worlds and heaven worlds can be found in the works of Robert Venosa, Dean Chamberlain, Fred Tomaselli, Allyson Grey, and myself. Ultimately, the Universal Mind-an experience of complete cosmic Unity-comes to the experimental mystic, which can also manifest as the classic Zen satori of voidness or emptiness as the ground of being beyond polarities. The structure of underlying reality has been mapped in complex Tibetan mandalas using sacred geometry, visions of worlds inside of worlds, and charts of the entire cosmos. These ultimate states of being are also evoked in the extraordinary works of Mark Rothko, the various Zen Ensos, as well as some of Mariko Mori and Mati Klarwein's masterpieces. (pages 102 - 103)
Another example of how psychedelic and Buddhist meditation converged was in the development of a new questionnaire to measure states of consciousness. Previous questionnaires measuring psychedelic drug effects were not ideal for many reasons. Some assumed that psychedelics caused nothing but psychosis, and emphasized unpleasant experiences. Other scales were developed using volunteers, sometimes ex-narcotic-addict prisoners, who were not told what drugs they were given or what the effects might be.
I had always liked the Buddhist view of the mind being divided into the five skandhas ("heaps" or "aggregates") which, taken as a whole, give the impression of a personal self who experiences. These are the familiar "form," "feeling," "perception," "consciousness," and "volition." I looked into several guides to the Abhidharma literature, the Buddhist "psychological canon," with over a thousand years of use monitoring progress in meditation. It seemed a skandha-based rating scale could provide an excellent basis for a neutral, descriptive understanding of psychedelic states.
I let it be known I was interested in talking with people who had taken DMT. Soon, the phone was ringing with people wanting to describe their experiences. Most of the nineteen people were from New Mexico and the West Coast, and nearly all were involved in some therapeutic or religious discipline. They were well-educated, articulate, and impressed with DMT's ability to open the door to highly unusual, nonmaterial states, which was greater than that of longer- lasting psychedelics like psilocybin or LSD. After completing these interviews, I decided to add a sixth "skandha" to the questionnaire, called "intensity," which helped quantify the nature of the experience.
We gave and analyzed this new questionnaire, the Hallucinogenic Rating Scale (HRS), almost four hundred times to more than fifty people over four years. The grouping of questions using the skandha method gave more sensitive results in our DMT work than did a large number of biological measurements, such as blood pressure, temperature, or levels of certain chemicals in the blood.
Besides informing our style of sitting for and measuring responses to drug sessions, Buddhism helped make sense of the experiences people had in our relatively sparse but supportive environment. (pages 108-109)
Ministers, priests, psychologists, and various types of spiritual teachers back in the sixties had an interesting situation to deal with. Lots of people were coming to them who'd had psychedelic experiences and who were looking for an explanation of what they'd experienced, or seeking a more grounded and lasting way to meet the vastness of higher consciousness. Many of these counselors had no idea what to say or summarily dismissed these experiences as bogus. Some, like Shunryu Suzuki, were more helpful. Suzuki had a way that worked well with such seekers. He told us that enlightenment was not a state of mind, was not contained in any experience, arid he guided us away from trying to recreate past profound events and toward accepting ourselves as we were. He taught a disciplined life of zazen meditation, attention to the details of life, not wanting too much (especially another state of mind), and not getting too worked up. He said that people will have enlightenment experiences without spiritual practice, but only with such practice will their revelation continue and not come and go like psychedelic experiences. He made us feel confident that we could wake up to who we were without any chemical aids, and he did it without taking any strong stand against marijuana and LSD, though he really didn't want his students taking them. He appreciated psychedelics as an initial impetus, but not as a way of life.
In the Buddhist circles I'm familiar with, psychedelics are mainly seen as something to forget about and move on from, and a story like the one I just told might elicit a been-there-done-that type of response. But I remember these substances fondly because they gave me what I felt was empirical evidence of the perennial goal of religion and philosophy and helped me to get on the path. And to think that what I did is now illegal. To me, psychedelics are best used as a sacrament in an initiation ceremony which is what my experience seems to have been. It may be better for initiations to be conducted by elders or guides, but young people have for years been self-initiating because their elders or their society are not there for them in this way. (page 120).
The war on drugs can be seen as a power drug the government is addicted to. I think it's just old-fashioned persecution and the poor and disempowered are the main ones being persecuted. In the case of psychedelics, it's religious persecution. (page 122)
San Pedro has an uncanny ability to impart its wisdom in a particularly gentle yet firmly ineluctable way. I did a painting of a San Pedro journey I had in the circle depicting myself being held in the loving hands of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who feels to me like the Western hemisphere's Kuan-yin or Green Tara. During the journey, which I experienced as deep waves of energy coming up from the earth and through my belly, I felt as if I was being shown, in innumerable ways, how the specificities of my life are not separate from the perennial teachings-how my life lessons are exquisitely "tailored" for me but are simultaneously universal. All this was revealed with profound love for how human I am. It felt like a direct encounter with Gaia, the mother, the earth, offering her child healing on a cellular level-the Relative Truth of the biological substrate of compassion: deoxyribonucleicacid-DNA as Prajnaparamita. (page 132)
Yage and the Yanas
Alan Hunt Bediner
Throughout my journey I was actively doing and thinking, but having confronted the truth of my demise over and over, it was painfully obvious that I had no actual inherent existence. I deeply understood for the first time that while suffering exists, no sufferer really exists. I was astonished that as he asked me the question, [Did you suffer?] I no longer seemed to have much aversion or charge about suffering itself. As a graduate of the journey, I demonstrated my willingness to suffer and die. I reflected on the words of a gentle Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka now living in Brooklyn: "People are at their cruelest when they are intent on avoiding suffering." So in response to his query, I found myself smiling and uttered simply, "Yes, but I recognized the emptiness of it." (page 141)
The most obvious and powerful transformation resulting from this appointment with the shaman was in the area of my relationship to death. I was dramatically aware of how diminished my fear of it was, and that not only could I hold thoughts of death while remaining in a pleasant state of mind, I was actively looking at death and the reality of dying for inspiration, clarity, and a deeper context for my life. Beyond my new respect for death, the nature of my relationship to Buddhism also felt very different. Whereas Buddhism used to seem more like a vehicle with which I was seeking a destination, it now seems like a clever way to enjoy life in the present moment and not ask for more. I'm not sure I have any hopes for ultimate realization, but I do have a stronger interest in spending more of my life in Buddhist practice. (page 142)
A Trip Not Taken
In contrast, my experience in early sobriety was so astonishing for the very reason that I had no control over it. I couldn't buy the access to it. That blessed state came from sources not my own and found its way to me through other people. The deep love that underlies all things came gratuitously, freely. It was what the mescaline had let me have a taste of so long ago; paradoxically, it took using nothing to experience fully. …
The more I thought about the jungle, the more I realized that I had been subtly uncomfortable when people who had used ayahuasca described their experiences. There was a focus on the display of awesome powers, on sensation. It reminded me of the warning against becoming attached to spiritual powers, to the fireworks. What wasn't as obvious as the drama of the experiences was whether or not these people had been transformed by it. Were they more concerned about others, more generous, more heartful, more active on behalf of others? I couldn't tell, nor did they report anything to me of this nature. I had no way to know nor had I known them enough beforehand to see a change.
Though I was enthralled by the stories people had told me, as I weighted these matters, the power of my own experience was undeniable. That golden afternoon at the party when I'd become high while sober was a high-water mark in my spiritual life. I could not deny it. (pages 147 - 148)
The Paisley Gate
Drugs and Dharma were themselves only a few of the ingredients in a heretical countercultural stew that included marijuana, free love, tarot cards, street protests, long hair, anarchism, the I Ching, electric guitars, the underground press, Carlos Castaneda, and Hindu iconography. From the perspective of serious Western Buddhists with Eastern teachers, not to mention the roshis and lamas who arrived in the 1960s and 1970s in order to found institutions, the freak scene must have seemed, in its eclectic mania, almost as wild and fierce as Tibet seemed to the Indian missionaries of the eighth century. In a sense, the counterculture was America's own fractured shamanism, seething with untamed energies and magical phantasms. By taking root within this intensely vibrant culture, the Dharma was able to make the transition from a marginal pursuit of intellectuals and cultural mavericks to the influential if constrained mass phenomenon it is today. While those roots may have been intoxicant-free, the soil they found was psychedelic, and its peculiar nutrients fundamentally shaped the blooms to come.
For one thing, Buddhism owed many of its recruits to the wide-spread fascination with altered states of consciousness - a fascination that was largely sparked, if not fueled, by drugs. Simply put, psychedelics gave people a taste for the excitement, power, anxiety, insight, and joy of altered states of consciousness. On an even more basic level, drugs [also] encouraged people to explore their own immediate experience, and to recognize that heaven and hell, like every other power structure, were functions of their own minds. Many Westerners were drawn to Buddhism because it too offered a "hands on" dimension lacking in Christianity, one which also loosely accorded with the modern "scientific" temperament that drugs, in their molecular way, subtly reinforced. This democratic turn toward direct experience became one of the hallmarks of countercultural spirituality, just as it became a hallmark of American Buddhism. The notion that samadhi was available to all, that everyone possessed something like the Buddha-mind, was emphasized by the universal action of the Sandoz molecule. "Have you ever been experienced?" Hendrix asked. If not, why not? (pages 153 - 154)
Recognizing impermanence is a crucial ingredient for any spiritual path that involves altered states of consciousness, since the temptation to reify and cling to feelings, visions, and realizations is so overwhelming. This temptation leads to "religion" in the bad sense of the term, and it is one that Buddhism, at least some of the time, goes out of its way to undermine. One of the lessons dealt by psychedelics, at least for mature aficionados, is that they disenchant the very exalted states they introduce to the psyche. Not only do drugs demonstrate that such states can be generated by swallowing a pill or insufflating some noxious powder, but they invariably snatch those states away as they are metabolized and flushed from the body. Drugs are always and evidently upaya, or "means." In contrast, the material or contingent aspect of purely "spiritual" altered states of consciousness, such as those that arise naturally in meditation, are not always so obvious, making the temptation to hold onto those states and experiences all the greater. Indeed, drugs may also have something to say to these apparently nontechnological states of consciousness that play such a profound role in deep meditation, reminding us that they too arise from causes and conditions that are material as well as karmic. In fact, drugs may encourage us to sap the illusion of "essence" from all states of consciousness-not only from this serotonin trance we take for ordinary reality, but from even the most "classic" mystical experiences. And yet the powerful phenomenology of drugs simultaneously argues that we would be foolish to take these material causes as the only reality. Their illuminations are paradoxical, not simply profane. (page 161)
Psychedelics on the Path: Help or Hindrance?
Charles T. Tart
In 1990 I was able to study the prevalence of psychedelic experiences in some hundred Dharma practitioners' backgrounds, Through the cooperation of Sogyal Rinpoche, a well-known Tibetan Buddhist teacher and author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. I was able to pass out questionnaires at one of the annual West Coast retreats of his Rigpa Fellowship. (page 169)
Compared with many other, assorted groups surveyed over the years, these practitioners were extremely drug literate. Ninety-four percent of the respondents reported previous experience with marijuana, and 77 percent reported previous experience with major psychedelics such as LSD or mescaline. I included questions on marijuana in the survey since it can produce psychedelic experiences in some people, especially in high doses (Tart. 1971). (page 170)
An especially common problem in Western culture, given our high valuation of rugged individualism, is a feeling of isolation. This includes feelings of isolation from other individuals and a feeling of lack of connection with the universe, often coupled with feelings of living a meaningless life in an inherently meaningless universe. Buddhism regards the feeling of separateness as an illusion, arising from the illusion of having a separate self. Psychedelics can sometimes change this feeling drastically and rapidly. One woman wrote that ". . . the use of peyote allowed me to experience a deeper interconnectedness with all beings and all phenomena. . . thus some preparation for faith-the unquestioning faith in Tibetan Buddhism which can arise when you have experiential knowledge," A man wrote of his peyote experiences, "We're all in this together, part of each other," The development of compassion, in parallel with the development of wisdom and insight, is central in Buddhist thought. "I had a feeling of love for everyone and everything," wrote one woman of her psychedelic experience, and another reported, "I also had a deep heart experience which was more like a universal love experience than anything I can describe."
For students of Buddhism who are naturally talented at meditative and related practice and are moving along satisfactorily that way, the relation between psychedelics and Buddhism may be of passing intellectual interest, but not really vital. For those who feel frustrated with their practice and wonder if psychedelics would provide a boost, the subject is of much greater interest, but really solid knowledge and advice are lacking on this. It is dangerous to take psychedelics: they may change your whole orientation to reality in unpredictable (and sometimes pathological) ways. It is also dangerous not to take psychedelics: your life may remain stuck in the barrenness and suffering of everyday samsara. (page 172 - 173)
Liberty and LSD
John Perry Barlow
Shortly after the Bill of Rights was drafted, English philosopher John Stuart Mill said, "Liberty resides in the rights of that person whose views you find most odious," The Buddha was wise to point out that people must be free to work out for themselves what is true from actual experience and express it without censure. (page 175)
But LSD is not illegal because it endangers your sanity. LSD is illegal because it endangers Control. Worse, it makes authority seem funny. But laugh at authority in America and you will know risk. LSD is illegal primarily because it threatens the dominant American culture, the culture of Control.
This is not a sound use of law. Just laws arise to support the ethics of a whole society and not as a means for one of its cultural factions to impose power on another.
There are probably twenty-five million Americans who have taken LSD, and who would, if hard pressed in private, also tell you that it profoundly changed their lives, and not necessarily for the worse. I will readily grant that some of these are hopeless crystal worshipers or psychedelic derelicts creeping around the Oregon woods. But far more of them are successful members of society, CEOs, politicians, Buddhist meditation teachers, ministers, and community leaders.
This is true. Whether we want it to be or not. (page 177)
THE ZEN COMMANDMENTS
Lama Surya Das
The First Commandment is: "Take care. Watch your step. Be careful." But don't take these commandments too seriously-even stone is nothing but light, energy.
Zig zag reminds me of "roll your own," as in cigarettes. But there are perils as well as opportunities on a zig zag/roll your own spiritual path. I have experienced some of them myself. That is why I prefer to walk an integrated, well-rounded, tried-and-true path of spiritual transformation-the Buddha's Middle Way. (page 179)
…. As a meditation teacher, I feel that on a more subtle level: the instant access to extraordinary mind states that mind-altering drugs can provide-with the surprisingly swift onset of expanded consciousness, and the equally quick comedown-can addict us to thrill-seeking and make us greedy for, and more attached to, mere phenomenal appearances and temporary mind states. This creates a karmic conditioning that limits our infinite conscious potential. (pages 179 - 180)
… But now when I am asked about the use of drugs for spiritual purposes, especially by young people in public, I usually just say no, or just say maybe. Meanwhile I'm thinking: read between the lines. Just notice my initials, Lama Surya Das. What can I say? I "just said no" for decades. Yet there remains within me an inner smile, like the Cheshire cat's shit-eating grin.
So the Second Zig Zag Zen Commandment is: "Just say maybe." While I didn't have these initials in the sixties, I certainly had that experience. Drugs were an unexpected gateway to spirituality for me. But I found that it is far easier to have a genuine theophany, a breakthrough spiritual experience, than to develop an authentic spiritual life. (page 181)
The Third Zig Zag Zen Commandment: "Find a way to have your own spiritual practice and experience." Find a way to live in the sacred zone-not just visit.
Spirituality of all kinds requires honesty and sincerity, combined with curiosity, exploration. perseverance, questioning. and self-inquiry. Spirituality is a heroic journey, a grail quest. (page 183)
The Fourth Zig Zag Zen Commandment is: "Awaken your mind, open your heart; learn to see clearly and to love."
One problem with glimpses from drug trips is that it's easier to get enlightened than to stay enlightened. What you experience is not ultimate, final, unshakable, and irreversible. (page 184)
So the Fifth Zig Zag Zen Commandment is: "Go on this journey with a friend, even a guide, if possible." Otherwise, we may be blown away, rather than just blow our minds and experience our true self, which is closer to the true goal.
I stopped taking drugs decades ago. Being a Buddhist monk with vows made that part easier. I had continual access to extraordinary states of consciousness for some hours a day and I had guidance, with training, through the months and years of meditation practice. (pages 184 - 185)
The Sixth Zig Zag Zen Commandment is: "Lighten up while enlightening up. Cultivate joy. Don't take yourself too seriously, or it won't be much fun." …
I experienced my consciousness begin to radiate outward, dissolving, and then manifesting as infinite realms of light like Buddha-fields. All kinds of blessings, divinations, prognostications, Buddhas, dakinis, guardian angels, and Himalayan spirits came to life in my mind as I sat for hours under the shade of a tree. Upon my return to the monastery I was excited to tell Lama Yeshe what I had seen. He just said, "American boy's dream! You too much. Have some tea." He laughed, and we had tea.
So the Seventh Zig Zag Zen Commandment is: "See everything as impermanent and like a dream." (page 185)
Surely the attitude that most lamas and teachers have toward psychedelics is culturally based. I remember a lama in Darjeeling saying that drugs clog your psychic channels, energy paths, chakras, and nadis. On one occasion, he had everyone at his meditation center bring their stash and toss it into the campfire as an offering up of illusion. Yet, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche didn't mind alcohol. High-mountain Tibetans need their lung capacity, and smoking was not a good thing for them, so perhaps alcohol was more acceptable. Whatever substance is being used, it should be used consciously and intentionally, and not mindlessly.
So the Eighth Zig Zag Zen Commandment is: "Be mindful. Be vigilant and intelligent about your experiments." For if the wind changes, the altered state might stick, and you might never get home to Kansas again! (pages 186 - 187)
Allen Ginsberg once asked my late master Dudjom Rinpoche about his psychedelic visions and experiences, especially the terrifying ones. Dudjom Rinpoche said: "Whatever you see, good or bad, don't cling to it." Enlightened advice for all seasons!
So this is the Ninth Zig Zag Zen Commandment: "Don't cling to anything," (page 187)
... Words are just like mere finger-painting. All language is a weak translation of this ineffable experience. As the Buddha said, according to Zen tradition: "I never uttered a word; yet everybody heard what they needed to hear."
The Tenth Zig Zag Zen Commandment is: "Don't rely on mere words and concepts." (page 187)
After having a psychedelic opening, you have to come back and live in the here and now. Otherwise, psychedelic revelations might paralyze the impetus toward deepening that glimpse. I try to integrate the Absolute and the Relative in my body, my feelings, my work, and in my own relations by making authentic connection in every contact in daily life. One of the best ways to abide in the non-dual is by practicing the Six Paramitas of the Bodhisattva Path, or principles of enlightened living: generosity, virtue, patience, diligence, concentration, and transcendental wisdom. The Middle Way means not falling into the ditch on either side. But the Middle Way is not like a narrow yellow line down the center of the road. It has plenty of lanes on either side for us to enjoy at our different speeds and in our different ways. (pages 187 - 188)
So an extra commandment, for good measure, is: "Be good and do good. There are no enlightened individuals; there is only enlightened activity."
For some people, a psychedelic experience might be too much to handle, or out of the question. It might shake up an unstable ego structure too much, and therefore be unhelpful. You must develop a healthy, autonomous adult ego before you can genuinely transcend the ego. Or in Buddhist parlance, you must become somebody before you become nobody. It is not a commandment, but one would do well to realize one's true self. (page 188)
Buddhism and the Psychedelic Society: An Interview with Terence McKenna
Allan Hunt Badiner
BADINER / Are you anticipating the emergence of a Buddhist psychedelic culture?
MCKENNA / No, it's a Buddhist, psychedelic, green, feminist culture! I've always felt that Buddhism, ecological thinking, psychedelic thinking, and feminism are the four parts of a solution. These things are somewhat fragmented from each other, but they are the obvious pieces of the puzzle. An honoring of the feminine, an honoring of the planet, a stress on dematerialism and compassion, and the tools to revivify and make coherent those three.
BADINER / The tools being psychedelic substances?
MCKENNA / Yes. It would be very interesting to find Buddhists who were open-minded enough to go back and start from scratch with psychedelics and not do the ordinary "We've got a better way" rap, but to say, "Maybe we do, maybe we don't. Let's go through these things with all our practice and all our understanding and all our technique and put it with botany, chemistry, and all this ethnography." And then what could you come up with? If, as Baker Roshi says, people advance quickly with psychedelics, then advance them quickly with psychedelics. And then when they reach a point where practice and method are primary, practice and method should move to the fore. And maybe there are several times when these things would switch position. (page 192)
On the Front Lines: An Interview with Michele McDonald-Smith
Allan Hunt Badiner
BADINER / So you didn't get attached?
MCDONALD - SMITH / No. I feel that drugs promote attachment to experience. In terms of my idea of what liberation is, they make that deeper letting go of experience itself harder. I really saw this in my own work.
BADINER / I wonder if you could say more about the distinction between the psychedelic high and the meditation high?
MCDONALD - SMITH / Meditation strengthens your ability to cope with the ups and downs of life so that you're coping with being depressed, you're coping with being tired, and you're developing an equanimity and an awareness that helps you cope with the downs as well as the ups. In taking the meditative path, you will come out stronger and win in all ways. You learn that you can feel "high" and how to access that when you create the right conditions. Then you can cope with the downs without needing drugs. But what you actually get from drug experience is the desire to take the drugs again. The basic urge is to be free; but true freedom is awareness that isn't tied to experience. The underlying urge is healthy. I really try to support that urge. But drugs don't make it easier in the long karmic trip we are on. (page 198)
Do We Still Need Psychedelics?
My concern is mostly for the large number of people who could benefit from meditation practice but must still be occupied in the world by earning a living and perhaps raising a family. Such persons lead busy lives and may not have the time to devote to perfecting a practice that will lead to significant freedom (in the sense of liberation from greed, hatred, and delusion, and thus from suffering - the aim of Buddhist practice). For these individuals, informed use of psychedelics can be quite helpful in more rapidly reaching the level of accomplishment at which practice becomes self-sustaining. The ultimate achievement of liberation must occur through interior development that does not depend on the use of a plant or a chemical, although these may help in discovering the way. (pages 202 - 203)
7/ HONORING THE EXPERIENCE. A very important aspect of employing psychedelics is to acknowledge fully the graces that have been received. This is done through appreciation and gratitude, which are best expressed by determinedly putting into effect in one's life the changes that have been indicated. In fact, failure to do so can contribute to subsequent depression. Thoroughly honoring the experience and postponing further psychedelic exploration until a real need is determined that cannot be resolved in straightforward meditation practice ensures that the next experience will be fruitful. (page 204)
Psychedelics and deepened meditation practice have the potential to help us develop greater wisdom; heighten our perceptions, self-understanding. energy, and freedom; release habitual blocks that interfere with the total response of our senses; facilitate the flow of ideas; release intuition and creativity by the removal of unconscious blocks; and put us more in touch with our inherent faculties. And if we have fallen back so far in our practice that we are losing energy and motivation, psychedelics can refresh us, invigorate us, and renew our inspiration and determination. (page 208)
A Roundtable with Ram Dass, Robert Aitken Roshi, Richard Baker Roshi, and Joan Halifax Roshi.
Allen Hunt Badiner
BADINER / How did the refugees from psychedelics do?
AITKEN / Drugs gave them a sense of religious possibility, but then they felt they had exhausted the potential and wanted to take up a practice that would lead them to religious insight. There were people during that period who tried to do zazen and take drugs at the same time. This really didn't work at all because there was a quality of self-absorption in the experience of the people taking drugs that was quite out of keeping with the goal of practice.
RICHARD BAKER / We were in San Francisco right in the middle of the whole scene from' 61 on. What Suzuki-roshi and I noticed was that people who used LSD, and a large percentage of the students did, got into practice faster than other people. Not always, but usually it opened them up to practice faster. But what we also noticed is that for the most part, those people leveled off after a couple years and didn't advance much in Zen practice, particularly those people who used it a lot. My feeling is that psychedelics create a taste for a certain kind of experience. It seems that because of the way their mental space was so strongly opened and conditioned by LSD, that Zen practice was only fruitful when it related to this mental space. People who used it a lot, i.e., fifty trips, two hundred trips, didn't advance much past what a good practitioner would after two years. Also in part because of a familiarity with such strong inner mind language, it was harder for these students to recognize the more subtle inner mind language that one learns to recognize in Zen practice. (page 213)
BADINER / Although for some time you must have found much relief in psychedelics.
HALI FAX / There is no doubt about that. Psychedelics are an extraordinarily powerful tool for opening the mind field. I look at psychedelics as a phase through which we pass when we're trying to become more truly who we are, more authentic, and more genuine. I feel like I graduated from psychedelics, but that they were definitely part of the evolution of my own psychological or developmental maturation. But it's really a different kind of mind that is cultivated in meditation, where the qualities of stability, and loving-kindness, and clarity, and humbleness, are the primary qualities. Psychedelics don't necessarily cultivate those qualities. (page 214)
BADINER/ But you can't always control or direct the experience to be what you want it to be, or can you?
DASS / I'm part of the psychedelic explorers club from back in the sixties, and I understand that the nature of the experience you have with psychedelics is a function of your set as well as your setting, and that as I do my spiritual practices my set changes. So I will go for two years of deep practices, and then, I'l1 be interested to see where I am in relation to psychedelics. I'm at the point now where, if I never had them again, it would be fine, and if I have them again, it'll be wonderful. I may take mushrooms next week, and I may not. I don't know and I don't care. That's a different set from which to do them, instead of "I need them to find reality." (page 216)
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This compilation by Thomas B. Roberts & Paula Jo Hruby, © 1995-2003 CSP