Getting High

After seeing some of the reaction to my previous blog post, I thought I ought to make my position a bit clearer.

One Zen practitioner on Twitter defended his use of opioids prescribed for a torn rotator cuff as consistent with his practice. Another asked my opinion on the use of antidepressants or if a doctor prescribes psychedelics for PTSD.

Someone else called me a “Buddhist fundamentalist.” A Buddhist fundamentalist would probably condemn even such uses. I do not.

A few years ago I got myself a medical marijuana card. As I mentioned last time, I get really bad headaches a lot. I’d heard that weed might help, so I gave it a try. I discovered that I ended up still having a headache but being high at the same time. It was not an improvement.

But I also remembered that I kinda like being buzzed sometimes. So I kept my weed card up to date and I still smoke a bit now and then.

I don’t usually talk about this because I don’t want to encourage it. It is definitely a violation of the fifth Buddhist precept. But it’s the level of violation that’s fairly common among lots of Buddhists. Most of the Buddhists I knew in Japan would occasionally have a couple beers or a glass of sake (I did not, nor did my teacher). They knew they were violating the precept, but they kept it to a minimum.

Noah Levine wrote a very good article about this for Lion’s Roar before Lion’s Roar started being a drug promotion website. Noah writes, “The precepts are clear about what we must abstain from: killing, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct, and intoxication. Nobody is saying it’s okay to kill, lie, or steal in moderation, so why do we continue to rationalize the use of drugs and alcohol?” I think he is absolutely correct. He is right. I am wrong.

But what I was ranting against in my previous article was not moderate use of mild intoxicants by Buddhist practitioners.

I was talking about people who advocate the use of large doses of extraordinarily powerful drugs to a wide audience as a form of Buddhist practice.

The sold-out Waking Up With Psychedelics event that I mentioned in my previous blog post took place at Hollywood Forever. That may not mean much to you if you don’t live in Los Angeles. But Hollywood Forever is a big venue. A sold-out event there means an attendance in the thousands*. Not to mention that the event was captured on video and is now available to a huge secondary market.

That is orders of magnitude larger than any audience I have ever addressed. Buddhist Geeks is an extremely popular website, getting the kind of traffic my pipsqueak blog and YouTube channel will never see. InsightLA, who co-sponsored that event, is a massive operation dwarfing most Buddhist groups in this city. These folks are raking in boatloads of cash with this nonsense**.

This isn’t just a couple of Buddhists violating the precepts by sharing a joint. This isn’t just someone using pain relievers or antidepressants for a medical condition.

This is the full scale promotion of very dangerous substances to a vast undifferentiated audience as Buddhist practice.

For one thing, as I said before, it is an outright lie to call the use of psychedelics “Buddhist practice.” There can be no argument on that point. Beyond that, though, these assholes have no idea who might be among the thousands — or hundreds of thousands — of people to whom they are spreading this lie.

There could be recovering addicts out there, or people teetering on the edge of schizophrenia, or children. Certainly the audience for such events tends to be very young. Oh I’m sure they say the usual “don’t try this at home kids” disclaimers. But come on! When did that ever stop anyone? Shit, warnings like that were always like extra incentive to me.

The level of irresponsibility necessary to host such an event is staggering. The level of irresponsibility necessary for Lion’s Roar to give it positive press is astonishing. I cannot respect anyone in the organizations involved in doing this.

They are liars and frauds. And they need to be called out for it.

*Trudy Goodman of Insight LA says, “This program was not attended or watched by thousands of people. We sold out the lovely room we rented at Hollywood Forever that holds a few hundred folks!” A few hundred is still a lot more than I ever speak to at events.

** Trudy Goodman of Insight LA says, “Having sat on the boards of Lion’s Roar Foundation and InsightLA both, I assure you there is no raking in of cash and accumulating wealth. You know how weirdly expensive it is to rent spaces where people can sit quietly and do nothing. Like most small non-profits, InsightLA scrambles to keep our doors open year after year.” Possibly so. But I do not accept that this event lost money.

• Here is an hour long talk on the Tricycle  article •





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