Do Magic Mushrooms Work Like Meditation?

Let me try this again.

Every time I make yet another attempt to explain the difference between the experiences available through the use of hallucinogenic drugs and the realities of long-term meditation practice, I vow that it will be the last time. And then a few months later I find myself doing it again.

My last article got re-posted a few places on Facebook, where it received some colorful responses. One commenter eloquently labeled me an “ignorant cunt” because I did not support his belief that drugs could get you enlightened quick and easy. On that same thread, a Facebook friend of mine posted this article that supposedly shows that magic mushrooms produce the same effects as meditation. Science has proven it. So it must be true.

To me, this is a bit like saying that if you do 150 push-ups, two hours on an eliptical machine, go on a treadmill for thirty minutes and then jack off, your pulse, your endorphin levels and the blood flow to the high-level association regions and connector hubs in the brain are exactly the same as they are if you have three and a half hours of vigorous sex with two Russian ballerinas, one of whom has dyed her hair chartreuse for the occasion because she knows you like anime characters. And then concluding that a combination of exercise and masturbation works like sex and is therefore the same thing, or at least an adequate substitute.

It doesn’t matter to me if science says it’s the same thing. It’s not. It’s not the same thing because the scientists doing this kind of research aren’t researching the right aspects of the question. They generally have little or no experience of meditation. The philosophers whose musings I have read on the subject have no idea what they’re talking about because they’ve only tried drugs, and have rarely (if ever) made the real effort needed for meditation.

Saying that the psilocybin in magic mushrooms produces the same effects as meditation is like saying that romance, marriage and family are an inefficient way to achieve an orgasm. Maybe they are if you put it like that. But this misses the point entirely. The physiological effects of an orgasm experienced with someone with whom you are deeply in love and those experienced after an hour on pornhub.com may be precisely the same. But those two orgasms are not the same thing at all.

That being said, a lot of people who do meditation make exactly the same mistake as these scientific researchers. These meditators think that the Big Moments that sometimes happen during the course of meditation are the point of meditation. If that’s what you think, it’s easy to conclude that drugs might be a more efficient way of producing the same results. There are entire schools of meditation, some quite old and respected, that have enshrined the view that the purpose of meditation is to have some great moment of awakening. So it’s no surprise to find people who have approached meditation in this mistaken way concluding that “either hallucinogenics or meditation can take you to very similar, if not the same, experiences,” as Gary Weber says at the end of his article referenced above.

The core of the mistaken belief that drugs and meditation are doing the same thing is this belief that meditation is about results. But in the real world there are no results. There is only this.

Let’s go back to my earlier example of exercise and masturbation vs. a night with two ballerinas. Exercise and masturbation are relatively cheap and easy. Join the YMCA and get an Internet connection and you’ve got all the equipment you need. There is no necessity for any kind of personal connection or commitment. But getting with those ballerinas is going to take some work. You have to meet them, which in itself is going to take a lot of sustained effort. You have to convince them you’re not a psycho. You have to form a relationship of trust and perhaps even love. This relationship will continue when the three of you wake up all disheveled and hungry in the Motel 6 the next day. Someone’s heart will probably get broken. Maybe yours. Maybe you’ll still be crying about it three years later. It’s a big investment. Can exercise and masturbation “take you to very similar, if not the same, experiences?” My feeling is that they cannot.

My decades of meditation have not been as cheap or easy as scoring a hit of E or a bag of ‘shrooms. They have taken me to some pretty crazy places, both in terms of location and in terms of interpersonal connection. I formed a strange bond with an elderly veteran of the Japanese Imperial Army. I sat for days on end in sweltering sweat boxes alongside people with whom the only common interest I thought I shared was an interest in figuring out what the fuck life was, and then I saw that there really was no difference at all between us. I have faced boredom so deep it felt like it might destroy me. And I’ve watched myself dissolve and come right back together again, then noticed that even that was not the point.

If you’re telling me I could’ve done the same thing in a couple of hours on a dose of some drug, I’m going to tell you that you’re completely mistaken. Over and over and over again apparently.

We live in a society that worships medicine. It’s a quick solution that allows you to sustain an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle with a degree of comfort. We get so stressed out that we get migraine headaches and instead of reducing our stress, we look for a pill that will get us through it. We’re seduced by offers of medicines that promise we can eat all the fast food and ice cream we want and still not gain weight. We want results and we want them now with the least amount of effort. We don’t like it when someone challenges our belief in quick solutions.

But what kind of results do we get when we don’t put in real effort, when we aren’t willing to change, when we aren’t willing to accept that maybe there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way we live our lives?

People get very angry when you tell them that quick solutions don’t work. People get very angry when you tell them that the cartoons they see in their heads while they’re on hallucinogenic drugs might not be signs of enlightenment. Just because you sometimes see cartoons in your head during meditation doesn’t mean that the point of meditation is seeing cartoons in your head.

***

Make a donation to Brad and maybe he’ll finally change the subject.

 

104 Responses

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  1. Andy
    Andy October 12, 2012 at 7:40 am | |

    @Daniel

    In both 1) and 2), with regard to zazen, you are characterizing person’s intentions and expectations, which will vary and change; and you are characterizing experiences or effects, which are by-products.

    The heart of the problem addressed here, as far as I am concerned, is mistakenly characterizing authentic practice – what it is, what it’s for and what it does.

    So I would like to suggest two categories of my own:

    1) Those who are genuinely engaged in investigating the above for themselves, and hold views from that informed, albeit limited perspective.

    2) Those who aren’t, and hold views.

  2. Cidercat
    Cidercat October 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm | |

    It’s interesting to me that this subject has come up here as I’ve recently happened to start re-reading Carlos Castaneda, where he describes the use of such drugs in the context of the Yaqui Indians. It’s made quite clear that this is far from an easy path – in fact it’s made to appear quite harrowing. There are no shortcuts. It’s also a very enjoyable read, if you’ve never come across it.

    Also, senorchupacabra, I assume you are the guy with the same name on the DD forum – not the first one I have seen on here, interestingly.

  3. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm | |

    Shunryu Suzuki characterizing the way of Soto Zen: “yes, but…”

  4. Fred
    Fred October 12, 2012 at 6:41 pm | |

    Many believe that Castenada’s writings on native Indian drug use and sorcery
    were fabricated in the UCLA library. His PhD thesis was pure bullshit.

    To use this fiction to justify drug use in spiritual practice is ludicrous, not that
    all of life isn’t ludicrous.

    A fiction scrambles its neural networks so it can become enlightened. How
    funny is this.

    A fiction relying on fiction to justify drug use to make itself go away. Hilarious.

  5. King Kong
    King Kong October 12, 2012 at 8:18 pm | |

    HAHAHA FRED, YES !! WHEN I WAS A CHIMP I LOVED TO PLAY WITH THE KNOBS ON THE COLOR TV SET !! MAKE ALL THE FACES BLUE !! MAKE WIGGLY LINES !! ANOTHER STYLE OF SENSE FASCINATION !! OH BANANAS, I GUESS I HAVE BLOG FASCINATION RIGHT NOW ::((

    1. King Kong
      King Kong October 18, 2012 at 6:58 pm | |

      WHAT??

      1. King Kong
        King Kong October 18, 2012 at 6:59 pm | |

        REALLY??

        1. King Kong
          King Kong October 18, 2012 at 6:59 pm | |

          HOW MANY??

          1. King Kong
            King Kong October 18, 2012 at 6:59 pm |

            FOUR

          2. King Kong
            King Kong October 18, 2012 at 7:00 pm |

            THREE

        2. King Kong
          King Kong October 18, 2012 at 7:00 pm | |

          TWO

      2. King Kong
        King Kong October 18, 2012 at 7:00 pm | |

        ONE

    2. King Kong
      King Kong October 18, 2012 at 7:01 pm | |

      ZERO !!

  6. Cidercat
    Cidercat October 13, 2012 at 4:18 am | |

    Fred, you misunderstood my post entirely. Actually it was meant as an indication that drug use for us is not a sensible option. But you cannot extrapolate to cultures outside of your own.
    And yes, I knew that someone would be clever enough to point out that Castaneda was suspected of fabrication by ‘many people’. But there are ‘many people’ who think this whole Zen sitting thing is stark staring bonkers!
    Unclench, dude.

  7. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 13, 2012 at 11:20 am | |

    I was fascinated to read about Casteneda’s movement practice, sort of like Tai-Chi but with harder movements in places. I enjoyed the books, at least the first ones, and I’m still fascinated with hypnogogic phenomena, but with a bend toward realizing action in the absence of volition. Casteneda had a way of conveying the possibility of action in response to something other than the reality our senses convey to us, although in the books much of it seemed based on Datura experiences. Nevertheless, the proposition he put forward through his fiction was that it’s possible to be mindful of a source of action outside the reality our senses convey to us, and through the induction of a state similar to a waking sleep to allow oneself to be responsive to that source.

    Kong, the lecture by the cosmologist that I posted awhile back, he said 30% of that static that was on the T.V. after sign-off in the 50′s was cosmic rays, and that they’ve now used that same radiation source to determine that the universe is essentially flat. Which means, he said, that the universe can come into being out of nothing, and go out the same way.

    Bananas.

  8. King Kong
    King Kong October 13, 2012 at 3:32 pm | |

    WHERE IS IT ??

  9. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm | |

    “A Universe from Nothing”, Lawrence Krauss (2009):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo&feature=player_embedded

  10. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer October 14, 2012 at 10:41 am | |

    Mark,

    One small correction to your excellent comment about the static on old style receiver TVs.

    The 30% of static is created by the cosmic background radiation not cosmic rays.

    It is unfortunate that the term radiation refers to such diverse phenomenon as gamma rays, x-rays, infrared, visible, radio, microwave etc all of which have very different energy and effects.

    Just to be pedantic an average cosmic ray has an energy of 1,000,000,000,000,000 electron-volts and an average cosmic background photon has an energy of .001 electron-volts.

    And they are both radiation.

    Also, I read Laurence Krauss’s book a few months ago. He has the technical chops but reading his book left a very bad taste in my mouth. He does not appear to suffer fools gladly and unfortunately seems to believe that people that disagree with him are also fools.

    David Albert in the New York Times gave Krauss’s book a bad review.

    Krauss in turn called Albert a moronic philosopher,.

    Albert graduated with a PhD from Rockefeller University and holds a post as a philosopher of physics at Columbia University.

    Probably not a moron.

    I respect people opinions more when they are graceful in defending them.

    Cheers.

  11. Para Sailer
    Para Sailer October 14, 2012 at 6:16 pm | |

    Your warnings against confusing the quality and meaning of psychedelic and meditative experience are genuinely admirable. Nonetheless I think you are not incorporating some important context.

    In the 1960s/1970s when Buddhism first began to saturate the US, new practitioners had largely come of age in a much less globalized world where the “East” remained associated with mystery and, it sometimes seems, western understandings of Enlightenment were a function of that unknown. I can only imagine that “enlightenment” provided a convenient way to mis-attribute the sudden onset disorientation and de-solidification engendered by Psychedelic experience. Hence the deeply confused helicopter/hike to the top of the mountain metaphors.

    Yet I think these terms today are quite different. Buddhism is hardly mysterious to most people I know in my admittedly largely educated, bourgeois circles. And most people I know who begin to practice are doing so because they seek saner lives not “enlightenment.” They are as likely to be second generation asian-americans as anything else.

    Using psychedelics as a shortcut to awakening is as shortsighted as ever. But this does not seem to be the goal among most psychedelic users I know. And those I know who are also Buddhist definitely seem to see psych experience as, at worst, an interesting exploration of altered states of consciousness, while ordinary mind remains at the core of their practice.

    But, importantly and OTOH after many years, psychedelics (psilocybin and MDMA specifically) are being used to great effect, clinically, in the treatment of trauma. Unlike the pain medication described in another of your posts, which represents, as I read it, a quick antidote to suffering, these treatments are not physiological correctives but experientially-based. MDMA, for example, can flood a PTSD patient with feelings of empathy that allow them to process difficult biographic experience without being overloaded by a debilitating adrenaline response.

    Meditating through a fight or flight response, in my experience, is sometimes more damaging than helpful. Doing MDMA in a safe, supported environment allows the mind to work with what the body would otherwise manifest strongly enough to derail any attempt to process. Hence MDMA therapy, as one example, may prepare someone, by deactivating their nervous system’s habitual responses, to ultimately be more available on the cushion and to become a better practitioner.

    Please consider. Cheers.

  12. Fred
    Fred October 15, 2012 at 6:19 am | |

    Obfuscation by the ego to maintain the ego.

  13. Fred
    Fred October 15, 2012 at 6:38 am | |

    The counter-culture of the 60′s and 70′s was no different than the culture it was
    attempting to displace. It was made of the same substance.

    Zen may operate in a culture. The grist for the mill of awakening may be the
    stuff of that culture, but momentary altering of consciousness through drugs
    is not it. Seeing through ego, culture, a drugged state, is it.

    Dropping the body-mind is it; dropping the drugged body-mind is it.

    Being stoned is another illusion added to the pile of ego props.

  14. Fred
    Fred October 15, 2012 at 7:35 am | |

    J. Krishnamurti:

    “You may have a tremendous and explosive experience through one of these drugs, but will the deep-rooted aggression, bestiality and sorrow of man disappear? If these drugs can solve the intricate and complex problems of relationship, then there is nothing more to be said, for then relationship, the demand for truth, the ending of sorrow, are all a very superficial affair to be resolved by taking a pinch of the new golden drug. <BR? Surely this is a false approach, isn't it? It is said that these drugs give an experience approximating to reality therefore they give hope and encouragement. But the shadow is not the real; the symbol is never the fact. As is observed throughout the world, the symbol is worshipped and not the truth. So isn't it a phoney assertion to say that the result of these drugs is near the truth? No dynamic golden pill is ever going to solve our human problems. They can be solved only by bringing about a radical revolution in the mind and the heart of man. This demands hard, constant work, seeing and listening, and thus being highly sensitive. The highest form of sensitivity is the highest intelligence, and no drug ever invented by man will give this intelligence. Without this intelligence there is no love; and love is relationship. Without this love there is no dynamic balance in man. This love cannot be given – by the priests or their gods, by the philosophers, or by the golden drug"

  15. Andy
    Andy October 15, 2012 at 8:04 am | |

    @Para Sailer

    “Experientially-based” therapies, drug-based or not, are beside the point. We could talk about Cognitive Behaviour Therapies and such like in the same vein. Whatever helps people, helps people. If you’re mentally ill, any Zen Teacher worth their salt is going to point you to someone who can help you, and if that therapy involves some psychotropic drugs then there you go. Maybe it’ll work for you, maybe it won’t. In terms of illness, what makes you available to get up in the morning to go to work or take a bath is in the same category as what makes you available for the cushion, and is separate and distinct from practice.

    I’m constantly surprised at how often people want to steer the issue beyond what has been addressed. ‘Your trips aren’t what Zen is all about’ addresses those views that claim it does – not one’s ‘Buddhist’ mates who don’t make such claims. ‘Your trips aren’t what Zen is all about’ isn’t another Tom Cruise getting into a spin about anti-depressants, or some Just Say No redux.

  16. boubi
    boubi October 15, 2012 at 8:47 am | |

    I can agree that MDMA* Prozac have some specific therapeutical properties, as much as antibiotics or snake antidotes.

    But until we don’t define “meditation” or even more difficult “enlightenment” … we are talking about thin air.

    What is “meditating”?

    Putting on some weird clothes, reciting mantras, visualizing strange images, watching the paint dry on the wall, trying to solve some silly question, jumping from a bridge tied to an elastic, forgetting oneself in a rave party, finding yourself hanging from your fingertips for your very dear life on a mountain cliff …. being the thing you do?

    Yes, what?

    * From what i heard MDMA could be called the “love drug”, empathy substance.

  17. boubi
    boubi October 15, 2012 at 8:53 am | |

    Forgot about “seeing things”, lights, celestial being (how are they BTW), messages, just have to walk beyond exaustion and then some more to have some weird experiences, so what?

    You saw some Madonna? Saint Dagobert* talked to you? Better, was it Vishnu? Krishna … we have the same experience while sleeping. If it’s Napoleon, beware of the men in white with a big net !

    Is it “enlightenment” ? Hope not :)

    * Celui des …. l’envers

  18. Fred
    Fred October 15, 2012 at 11:16 am | |

    Just Say No to not being at the edge of this second in Choiceless Awareness.

    No drugs necessary.

  19. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel October 15, 2012 at 12:54 pm | |

    “They’re coming to take me away, haha!
    “They’re coming to take me away, hoho, heehee, haha!
    “To the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time;
    “And I’ll be happy to see those nice young men with their clean white coats…”

  20. Para Sailer
    Para Sailer October 15, 2012 at 1:07 pm | |

    “Im constantly surprised at how often people want to steer the issue beyond what has been addressed. ”

    @andy I hope my point was relevant. Maybe not. I was only trying to say that the classic recreational use of psychedelics described in Mr. Warner’s post represents only one milieu. There is also a long history (indigenous and contemporary) of using psychedelics to heal. Research into this area was basically squelched by the US government in 1968 and has only recently come alive again, albeit in a big way. Given the strong efficacy of such contemporary research, I consider it a valid additive to any conversation that frames “psychedelics” or “psilocybin” as solely some sort of stoner past-time. Cheers.

  21. boubi
    boubi October 15, 2012 at 4:46 pm | |

    @ Para Sailer

    I find you and Brad being both right.

    While you say the “indigenous” way is right, Brad is talking about “stoner” milieux.

    And even if some “westerner” goes to some amerindian congregation it will still be in a westerner frame of mind, of vision of the world, his expectations will be different from the amerindian one.

    I really don’t think that we see things like say a Yanoami from the deep jungle, for whom the world is populated by entities, the air is thick of them, trees have a life as everything else … we can watch Avatar (or Nanook the esquimo) but we are not one of those people.

    For good or bad that animated/animistic world is gone forever and so is gone the “flesh of the gods”, we’ve lost our gods, and we are here alone, no more facing gods or spirits, but just facing ourselves. Gulping down some thing won’t show us nothing more than ourselves and our demons or inner lights or both being the same (tantra ?).

    There’s a piece of “Hadrien” from Yourcenar that i like very much, that goes more or less like this:
    “The gods were dead, Jesus wasn’t born yet, and man found himself alone on earth”. It gives to me a feeling of freedom, maybe i’m wrong, maybe it’s just the way it is, with no frils

  22. boubi
    boubi October 15, 2012 at 4:50 pm | |

    Les dieux ntant plus, et le Christ ntant pas encore, il y a eu, de Cicron Marc Aurle, un moment unique o lhomme seul a t .

    Ask Michel for a proper translation

  23. boubi
    boubi October 15, 2012 at 4:56 pm | |

    Only man was

  24. Jorge
    Jorge October 15, 2012 at 8:51 pm | |

    In his book, “Be Here Now,” Ram Dass discusses the psychedelics vs. meditation issue. He contends that the practice of meditation solved, for him, the problem of “coming down” off of the “trip” of a psychedelic. A drug would take him up, but he’d always have to come down. Another trip would then be needed to get back up. He says that his journey took him down this path and he found it lacking in *something. I think any discussion on this topic is incomplete without his viewpoint, since he has documented his journey down each of these two paths. He agrees with Brad’s assessment that drugs aren’t a shortcut.

    This reminds me of Brad’s writing in a book about one of his “enlightenment” experiences. Forgive me if I butcher this, but, as I recall, Brad had an astral experience type of thing and emails his teacher and his teacher basically said astral didn’t equal enlightenment. Later, Brad’s eating an orange and revels in the moment and his teacher says “Now that’s enlightenment.”

    From my personal experiences, I believe that Brad’s astral experience or whatever and a psychedelic trip are the same self induced illusions (“mind-fucks”) that are fleeting and grounded in nothing. Eating oranges, or just sitting, are the moments life is comprised of.

  25. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 15, 2012 at 9:26 pm | |

    “we can watch Avatar (or Nanook the esquimo)…” ha ha, love that!

  26. boubi
    boubi October 16, 2012 at 1:34 am | |

    Yes Jorge, you reminded me of their name, makyo.

    Thanks

  27. Andy
    Andy October 16, 2012 at 6:26 am | |

    @Para Sailer

    “Given the strong efficacy of such contemporary research, I consider it a valid additive to any conversation that frames psychedelics or psilocybin as solely some sort of stoner past-time. Cheers.”

    The article doesn’t frame the whole area “solely” in those terms, as though unaware, ill-informed or one-eyed about the varied history of drug taking. It is focusing on particular issues within what is a very wide subject.

    The previous article should have provided enough hints that Brad has more than a superficial and partial knowledge of the wider subject. And even if we take the stereotype of stoner-esque justifications, one would have to have lived in quite a vacuum not to be aware that these sorts of views alone have frequently drawn upon a plethora of novels, art, films, research (or ‘research’), and other popular cultural forms, including word of mouth, which rehash this very history.

    I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t have to wait very long for another documentary where some guy wades through the Amazon, providing another potted history on the subject, while we watch him off his head. And that’s not to mention the perennial articles or news items we find referencing medical research into otherwise illegal narcotics – the very status of which always makes good copy.

    Saying that such drugs have a long history as medicine isn’t stating anything newsworthy to anyone and is beside the point when dealing with views that make claims about the ‘spiritual’ side to drug taking with regard to ‘meditation’. The distinctions being made are of value to all, whatever demographic is being putatively addressed or obliquely suggestive of – amongst others – in articles responding to actual voices.

    I think what we really have is a subject loads of people have some stake in, which carries much idealistic freight. And because the actual points being made ARE sound and informed, some folk are instead cooking up extra ‘additives’ as critical counterweights to redress whatever imbalance they feel having read them. I’d hazard that this is because many people attracted to Brad’s style of writing and interests are also the type of people who identify with certain overlapping subcultures and political standpoints where such notions about drugs and spirituality are pervasive, and as a consequence perhaps feel that one of their own has gone Republican on them.

  28. Para Sailer
    Para Sailer October 16, 2012 at 12:20 pm | |

    @Andy I appreciate your post. I grew up in very close proximity to the early and very rigid, dogmatic straight edge hardcore scene, so I find Mr. Warner’s words hardly at odds with at least that one subculture; more emblematic of that one in particular.

    The “additive” I contributed really was meant to be earnest and was well intentioned; certainly not reactive to the “actual points” being made, which I largely agree with.

    And I’m sure he and you and most anyone reading here is well aware of the long medicinal use of entheogens. OTOH I genuinely find, usually, that many fewer people are aware of the very recent renaissance of research in the use of MDMA and Psilocybin to treat PTSD, which is really mostly less than a decade old.

    I think this development and the current milieu (in which PTSD is epidemic) together raise interesting questions about the mind/body derailment created by trauma and was trying only to bring it to the table WRT the relationship between psychedelics and Buddhism. That is all, for me. Cheers.

  29. boubi
    boubi October 16, 2012 at 1:59 pm | |

    “current milieu (in which PTSD is epidemic)”

    You’ve been in a combat unit?

    1. Para Sailer
      Para Sailer October 16, 2012 at 3:02 pm | |

      No I have not. I meant global milieu not personal.

  30. boubi
    boubi October 16, 2012 at 2:18 pm | |

    After reading two articles about drugs and meditation, i think that all the confusion started in the ’60s when eastern religions and drugs appeared to the west.

    Both represented “alterity” respect to the western culture, India, gurus, yoga, buddhism, hindouism, cults, in a pot-pourri of estravaganzas and pop music and hippyism and who knows what else.

    People knew even less than now and mixed everything, nirvana with heroin, enlightenment with LSD, dharma’s “home leaving” with living in the streets and mostly burned their own brains and lives.

    Most probably everybody already knows this, but i felt that is was worthy to summarize it.

  31. boubi
    boubi October 17, 2012 at 4:18 am | |

    ????

  32. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi October 20, 2012 at 1:22 pm | |

    “Sri” does often mean more than “Mr.”, and has definite spiritual connotations when used in context, though in India it is often used in both ways, depending on who one is addressing.

    “Sri” is also used as a title to refer a to Deity or Holy Man, such as “Sri Vishnu”, or “Sri Ramakrishna”. It’s not just a term of common respect, it’s used to refer to someone whose spiritual integrity is widely respected and acknowledged. In that context, the translation is “holy”, or “your Holiness”

    There’s no exact western translation, but you might think of it as more akin to the title “Sir”, as in “Sir Barence”, referring to someone from a higher class, but with a spiritual connotation, such as “Monsignor”. The similarity in spelling and pronunciation ought to mean something.

  33. interFace
    interFace October 21, 2012 at 11:10 am | |

    For me the real question is not zazen practice vs the use of psychedelics, but zazen practice vs zazen practice, combined with the occasional use of psychedelics. Before I got into buddhism I had an experience with magic mushrooms which I believe corresponds to the one commonly known as ego death. I started my zen practice when I read your first book a year later, and felt you provided a framework to describe and integrate the complete implications of that experience. You are very correct to point out that the purpose of the practice is not the peak experiences, but I don’t think you intend to mean that the insights and motivation they bring are totally void either. Just understanding how confused my mind usually is, and that it’s possible to be less confused means the world to me.

    So, that’s about getting inspired to start a Zen practice after using psychedelics. That’s a pretty common phenomenon I believe. Okay, so you could argue that something like a car crash could also gain you a flash of insight and lead to some good things, but it doesn’t mean you should deliberately seek out car crashes. The culprit of this argument, from my point of view, is that you’re invariably equating the use of psychedelics with the obvious harmfulness of car crashes. Of course you are being provocative, maybe because you want to ruffle the feathers of people who seem to be ignorant of some obvious risks surrounding the use of psychedelics.

    The way I use psychedelics, is by very deliberately shaping the outcome of the experience. You’ve most surely heard about the terms set and setting, but the most important point for me is meditation. I sit in a zazen posture for at least the whole coming up, and afterwards enough to equal a typical zazenkai. At first it feels monumentally harder than my daily sitting, but eventually there’s the letting go of all effort. Done like this, I don’t really hallucinate, it’s just psychological. Very akin to your experiences laid out in the “World of Demons” chapter of HCZ. Repressed stuff starts bubbling out, giving way to accepting what I have to do. In the end it’s nothing fancy really, but from my subjective point of view these experiences have turned my life around in the last couple of years. This doesn’t feel very car-crashy to me. If it’s a car crash it feels like one I had to make.

    I treasure the insights you have given out in your books and in your blog, but with this particular matter I feel a little wary about your stance. After discussing my psychedelic use with numerous people, most of them psychedelic-naive, including a psychiatric who I consulted just to get a second opinion, I came to the conclusion that I enjoy my life a little too much to feel too alarmed about disagreeing with you. In the very least I’m quite sure you are oversimplifying and haven’t explored the matter thoroughly. I also have a quality of being attracted to difficult experiences which might be beneficial, because I can integrate pretty demanding stuff, which some might consider unpleasant. There are many things in my life which have brought on immense value which most people would consider harmful on first glance.

    Let’s think about incense. Incense can be used to aid zen practice by providing a familiar context for your brain to associate with meditation, right? The choices you lay out seem to be whether to burn incense or to sit zazen, when I have already decided to sit zazen. The real question is whether burning the incense is good for the practice or not. Now, I think that whether the use of psychedelics can ever be beneficial to the practice is a completely valid point to dispute, but right now I think we’re discussing the wrong thing.

    Also, I’m going to be attending one of your sesshins and I’d be very happy to hear you lecture how I’m destroying my life if you like!

  34. aj
    aj October 21, 2012 at 12:03 pm | |

    As someone who has had a Zen practice AND been diagnosed with PTSD I can say that mushrooms helped me immeasurably. Two experiences with mushrooms helped me more than all the various combinations of psychiatric medications I have been on…. That being said, mushrooms are not zazen. I need to sit more than I need to endlessly talk about the merits of Led Zepplin while laying in the sun.

  35. mr.Lou
    mr.Lou October 25, 2012 at 7:26 pm | |

    I think as long as people continue to exist, there will always be groups of people advocating some shortcut to somewhere they think everyone wants to go. Pills, special chants, mystical rituals or secret hand positions; it’s all just the same illusion perpetuating itself.

    Everything we could ever want or be, we already have and are, and never can nor will; No drug can ever make that more or less a part of an individual’s reality.

  36. deluded
    deluded October 26, 2012 at 5:42 am | |

    1) zazen (Brad’s rigid crosslegged) = self-deception, but it keeps you busy, without doing harm

    2) allucinogenics = self-deception, and do harm

    3) brain damage = self-deception, and do harm
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPMYdalCyA0

    3) suicide = self-deception, but it useless, you will die anyway
    Nirvana of Kurt Cobain
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Myth_of_Sisyphus

  37. ymorse
    ymorse November 1, 2012 at 3:28 pm | |

    I’m not here to challenge anything you said because for the most part I completely agree. You keep talking about who people are wrong about meditation, and all these things you realized and places you went to with meditation, and then you say

    “And Ive watched myself dissolve and come right back together again, then noticed that even that was not the point.”

    So I was wondering with everything you said in your post,

    What is the point? Decreased levels of stress, Contemplation, Self Investigation, stronger connection with mind and body, to live in the true moment?

    And then the beneficial effects of all those combined.

  38. Realityhipcheck
    Realityhipcheck July 6, 2013 at 6:44 am | |

    Dear Brad,

    I discovered your blog while researching the similarities between meditation and therapeutic mushroom trips.

    I am in the early stages of my research, but am aware of the John Hopkins studies. I do not think there is such a divide between meditation and drugs as you seem to believe in this article. If your views have developed since the time of writing this post I would love to chat with you.

    While I respect your devotion to your practice as characterized in this article, one paragraph brought a sad smile to my face. Let me quote you:

    ” I saw that there really was no difference at all between us. I have faced boredom so deep it felt like it might destroy me. And I’ve watched myself dissolve and come right back together again, then noticed that even that was not the point.”

    You say that these are things people could never get from drugs, but let me tell you, I know from personal as well as anecdotal evidence that these are some of the best things one experiences on mushroom trips. Best of all these realizations inform your life, deepen your perspective, and enrich your daily experience.

    Now if one person prefers bi-annual mushroom trips to affirm their connection with others and the planet, and another person prefers a daily meditation practice I don’t see any problem with that. Where I do see a problem is when an authority on meditation falls into the same trap that he claims scientists have fallen into: Trying to connect something they know a lot about to something they have no experience with.

    I have grown up in a household that meditated, but I have been educated by mushroom trips that I had to seek out myself. From my perspective, meditation is a quaint, quasi-religious phenomena akin to weekly church service or going to the gym, while taking mushrooms is a life affirming, dharma bitch slap, kick in the pants and knock back to reality. I don’t expect you to agree with me, but I find myself between you and the scientists and seeing how we could all have a great time on a meditation/sweatlodge retreat together and maybe take some shrooms on the last night or something ;) Would love to hear how your perspectives on this subject have changed at all if they have!
    D

  39. Lovegasoline
    Lovegasoline February 22, 2014 at 12:03 am | |

    For those that might like to critically examine this topic further there’s a great book entitled Zig Zag Zen published by Chronicle Books in 2002. There’s a wide range of insightful contributing essays and interviews from folks representing a broad spectrum of orientation and practice.

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