Religions can be channels for religiousness, and they can be dampers that squelch religiousness. It all depends on whether you indulge in them or go through with them—through the rock to the fire. There are no shortcuts. It has been pointed out with regard to psychedelics that they do their thing only if you work with them. That is equally true of religions.
Brother David Steindl-Rast, 1984
The wish to transcend worries of this earthly life, that is to say, the wish to overcome this unfree state of being bound to relative conditions—this is a common ground upon which the mystical drug users and religious people both stand. But the former resort to the power of drugs for their instant effect, as they are too weary to train their minds and bodies through practical procedures. On the other hand, genuine religious people are not attracted by such shallow means and superficial way of thinking. Where serious and honest effort is required they do not grudge it.
From “Religion and Drugs” by Suzuki Daisetz,“The Eastern Buddhist,”(vol. 4, no. 2, 1971, pp.129-130)
I had my first great opening or satori-type experience (of emptiness/dharmakaya/clear light) under the influence of “sunshine” acid in the late sixties. Therefore I personally feel that some psychedelic experience, if managed well, could very well have a significant place on the Buddhist path. For example, it might introduce one to a deeper reality, to how things actually are, stripped of conceptual imputations. However, it is easier to “get enlightened” with psychedelics than to “stay enlightened” with them. Yet psychedelic experiences can—and often do—provide a great hint, which can definitely act as a fertile seed, if properly (spiritually) nurtured. [104 words]
When I tried to discuss this sort of thing with my first Lama teacher, Lama Thubten Yeshe, in Nepal in 1991, he laughed and said “Western boy’s dream!” and closed the discussion.
I think it’s interesting to note that when I get together with my fellow western Dharma teachers, and we consider how our personal paths began (in this life, at least)—very few willingly disclose that they actually entered the Dharma through the portal of drugs, and the writings of A. Huxley, C. Casteneda, Ram Dass, T. Leary, R. D. Laing, etc. Yet I feel quite certain that psychedelic experience has been a great gate to the Dharma for many of our generation. [82 words]
Surya Das, 1996
The goal, it cannot be stressed too often, is not religious experiences: it is the religious life. And with respect to the latter, psychedelic “theophanies” can abort a quest as readily as, perhaps more readily than, they further it.
From Forgotten Truth, by Huston Smith
You must remember, too, that the experience is safe (at the very worst, you will end up the same person who who entered the experience), and that all of the dangers which you have feared are unnecessary productions of your mind. Whether you experience heaven or hell, remember that it is your mind which creates them. Avoid grasping the one or fleeing the other. Avoid imposing the ego game on the experience.
From The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert, (Citadel Press, 1964)
All the vegetable sedatives and narcotics, all the euphorics that grow on trees, the hallucinogens that ripen in berries or can be squeezed from roots—all, without exception, have been known and systematically used by human beings from time immemorial. (p. 62)
In the currently fashionable picture of the universe there is no place for a valid transcendental experience. Consequently those who have had what they regard as valid transcendental experiences are looked upon with suspicion as being either lunatics or swindlers. To be a mystic or a visionary is no longer creditable. (p.149)
From The Doors of Perception, by Aldous Huxley (Harper & Row, 1954)
I wouldn’t say that taking an LSD trip was necessary or essential for anybody. People who are seriously concerned with what’s happening in the spiritual life of the young would be well advised probably to know what that experience is. Because certainly nobody has any qualification to talk about it who hasn’t tried it.
Gary Snyder (in conversation with Dom Aelred Graham in 1967) poet
The relationship of a drug-induced psychedelic experience to “genuine” mystical experience or to Buddhist enlightenment is debated today (Ratsch, 1989; Tart, 1991) as earnestly and as inconclusively as it was in the early years of widespread use of psychedelic drugs. I believe my identification of Amanita muscaria as the alchemical agent which brought “realization” to some Buddhist adepts can help determine the value of the psychedelic experience in Buddhist tradition. Orthodox scholars may object but they can no longer “Just say No.”
From “Soma Siddhas and Alchemical Enlightenment: Psychedelic Mushrooms in Buddhist Tradition,” by Scott Hajicek-Dobberstein,“The Journal of Ethnopharmacology”(no. 48, 1995, pp. 99-118)
There’s a kind of violence done to the mind in taking psychedelics that makes it unimaginable as a good spiritual tactic. People go nuts just from sitting with their own minds quietly for a week or so—how much more so when all those receptors in the brain are forced open to a level to which the brain, or the psyche, is unaccustomed. Use of psychedelics also undermine the ability to develop a sound and enduring faith in the path. The drugs give us an excuse for not really believing in our own experience. When I took mushrooms or acid as a teenager and saw lights, or experienced overwhelming feelings of interconnectedness, it was easy to write it all off the next day (when I was feeling hung over and not so generous) as nothing more than a chemical reaction in my brain. When you’re stone cold sober, however, and you’re hit with an inkling of real compassion, there’s no denying it—it’s like a sock in the gut that leaves you out of breath.
Amy Hertz, 1996
Drugs are merely means to achieve states of non-ordinary awareness and must not be confused with the experiences themselves. They have the capacity to trigger highs; they do not contain highs. Moreover, the experiences they trigger are essentially no different from experiences triggered by more natural means. Many of the dangers attributed to drugs have no basis in fact but arise entirely from our own fears.
From The Natural Mind, by Andrew Weil (Houghton Mifflin, 1972)
It is debatable whether a Westerner who uses shamanic practices divorced from the social, cultural, and mythological setting in which they were originally embedded can usefully be called a shaman.
From The Spirit of Shamanism, by Roger Walsh (Tarcher, 1990)
It is meaningless to talk specifically about the “effect of the drug.” Set and setting, expectation, and atmosphere account for all specificity of reaction. There is no “drug reaction” but always setting-plus-drug.
From The Joyous Cosmology, foreword by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Pantheon Books, 1962)
Psychedelic drugs are feared, basically, for the same reason that mystical experience has been feared, discouraged, and even condemned in the Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic orthodoxies. It leads to disenchantment and apathy toward the approved social rewards of status and success, to chuckles at pretentiousness and pomposity, and, worse, to disbelief in the Church-and-State dogma that we are all God’s adopted orphans or fluky little germs in a mechanical and mindless universe.
Psychedelic experience is only a glimpse of genuine mystical insight, but a glimpse which can be matured and deepened by the various ways of meditation in which drugs are no longer necessary or useful. When you get the message, hang up the phone. For psychedelic drugs are simply instruments, like microscopes, telescopes, and telephones. The biologist does not sit with eye permanently glued to the microscope, he goes away and works on what he has seen.
From The Joyous Cosmology, by Alan Watts (Pantheon Books, 1962)
Many of us who have experimented with psychedelic chemicals have left them behind, like the raft which you used to cross a river, and have found growing interest and even pleasure in the simplest practice of zazen, which we perform like idiots, without any special purpose. Perhaps we are not overly impressed with the “attainments” and the “spiritual status” of great Zen-masters, but we deeply appreciate their ordinary way of life.
From “Ordinary Mind Is the Way,” by Alan Watts,“The Eastern Buddhist,”(vol. 4, no. 2, 1971, pp.136-137)
Drugs seem to be the only solution when teachers and parents are spiritually barren. Young people need to touch the feeling of deep-seated well-being within themselves without having to take drugs, and it is the task of educators to help them find spiritual nourishment and well-being. But if educators have not yet discovered for themselves a source of spiritual nourishment, how can they demonstrate to young people how that nourishment may be found? The Fifth Precept tells us to find wholesome, spiritual nourishment, not only for ourselves but also for our children and future generations. Wholesome, spiritual nourishment can be found in the moon, the spring blossoms, or the eyes of a child. The most basic meditation practices of becoming aware of our bodies, our minds, and our world can lead us into a far more rich and fulfilling state than drugs could ever do. We can celebrate the joys that are available in the simplest pleasures.
From For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Precepts, by Thich Nhat Hanh (Parallax Press, 1993)
“When I first came to the United States, LSD, marijuana everywhere. That time, I think maybe little bit can help the direction of your life. Like medicine. But too much is like poison. Kill you. One student from 70s, many drugs, no consciousness. Then I say to him: ‘ou many bowing! You only try om mani padme hum every day 10,000 times! Try, try!’ then cut off drug and slow slow return to original mind. Now, number one good lawyer.”
– Seung Sahn, in an interview with Tricycle, 1996 Zen Master
The aim of Zen training is not ecstasy but Knowledge—of the meaning of birth and death. This Knowledge brings tranquility, equilibrium and a joyful freedom from self. In Japan I knew an old woman who had practiced Zen for some twenty years. Her friends called her “Sun Face,” so radiant was her smile, so selfless her presence. Can pot and acid produce such people?
– Philip Kapleau, from Zen Bow, newsletter of the Rochester Zen Center, 1969
“I think either/or because psychedelics amplify one’s environment and one’s own response to one’s environment and if one’s environment is conducive to meditative absorption then it will amplify that experience. If one’s environment is chaotic it will amplify that. Regardless, if one’s mind is firmly supported in the dharma then environment has little bearing. Furthermore, psychedelics are definitely a bridge to those who are stuck and once the bridge is used it can be left behind.”
“No help, no harm, nor both, nor neither.”
“Drugs may be helpful in opening up the mind to an awareness of its vast capacities, but in deepening the practice, they destabilize the mind.”
Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters
This is the first of your three free articles this month. Subscribe today to gain access to our award-winning publication plus all of our online offerings, including films, video dharma talks, e-books, and more.Subscribe Now
Already a subscriber? Log in.