Tricycle: Is there a Buddhist point of view on psychedelics?
Kornfield: No. Psychedelics are found rarely, if at all, in the Buddhist tradition, and generally would be lumped together in the precepts under “intoxicants.” In Zen, Vajrayana, and the Theravada traditions, there is very little mention of them and there is no traditional point of view about their use. It is important to understand that. What points of view we have come from the understanding of Buddhist masters and teachers based on contemporary experience.
The precept in Theravada Buddhism for dealing with intoxicants is one of the five basic training precepts for living a wise life: not to kill, not to steal, not to speak falsely, not to engage in sexual conduct that causes suffering, and lastly, to refrain from using intoxicants to the point of heedlessness or loss of awareness. An alternate translation says not to use any substances that distort the sense of attention. Then it is left up to the individual, as are all the precepts, to use these guidelines to become more genuinely conscious.
Tricycle: Are the precepts understood similarly in the East and the West?
Kornfield: They are much more fundamental to practice in Asia. There you traditionally begin with shila, or compassionate action. This commitment to not cause harm is the foundation upon which all spiritual life is built. It is universally understood that you can’t meditate properly after a day of lying and stealing! To free the heart from entanglement in greed, fear, hatred and delusion, a nonviolent relationship with the world must be developed. Out of this ground of compassionate conduct grows the whole range of other meditative and spiritual practices.
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