Actually I’m not on any serious drugs right now. But yesterday I was. I’ve always been headache prone. But in the last couple weeks it’s gotten really bad. So I’ve been going to doctors trying to figure out what was happening.
Yesterday, on the way to zazen at Hill Street Center the pain got so intense I went to a walk-in clinic in Hollywood instead of out to Santa Monica. The doctor there is of the opinion that I’ve got a lingering sinus infection. He prescribed me some stuff for that. And to deal with the immediate pain he gave me a couple little white pills. He said they might make me a bit woozy but that they would take care of my headache.
Gosh did they ever work good! Within an hour I was feeling no pain at all. And I was as high as Scooby and Shaggy at a Grateful Dead concert. I was buzzed good. This stuff was some kind of opiate and after yesterday I can fully comprehend why people get addicted to that stuff. I went from feeling really shitty to feeling extra, extra good just by swallowing a couple of pills. I remember thinking, “Who wouldn’t want to feel like this all the time?” It was great! Then I passed out for several hours and when I woke up I was itching all over. Just like a real-live junkie!
Which brings me to the email I want to discuss today. Here it is:
Hi brad, I would just like to tell you that I very much enjoyed your book hardcore zen, but the chapter on psychedelics was absolutely terrible. You cannot discount the millions of people who psychedelics have changed for the better based on a single experience with acid. You’ve done your readers a huge disservice by writing off something you really had no knowledge of in the first place. To imply that you experienced all one could learn on psychedelics in your single experience is absurd, as you did not even experience an ego-death.* Maybe it was not for you, but to imply LSD has nothing to offer anyone is the height of ignorance.
Pretty sure the Buddha would not agree with writing these substances off completely. It’s such an all-or-nothing proposition, and I think you should acknowledge that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Psychedelics, while they can be misused are certainly a boon to humanity, not only can they be used spiritually and therapeutically but they have been the catalyst for a great number of human discoveries, such as the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. Francis crick himself claimed to have been under the influence of it when he first conceived the structure.
Please do not go around telling anyone else psychedelics aren’t useful, and that they have no place in Buddhism. They may not be a part of your Buddhism but you have no business telling anyone else not to use them. You do not have the requisite knowledge and experience to speak on this subject at all and for the sake of your credibility I suggest you leave this topic alone.
And here I am not leaving it alone yet again. Regular readers have already tuned out by now, having read my anti-drug rants more times than anyone ever should. I have all the requisite knowledge I need to tell people what I think of psychedelics. You don’t need to step in dog shit twelve times to figure out not to step in dog shit anymore. And I actually do know just a little bit about Buddhist practice after nearly thirty years of doing it, thank you very much.
I always wonder when I get these messages why the writers have such a desperate need for validation from me. They’re never going to get it. But who cares? There are plenty of people out there advocating drug abuse as a spiritual practice. You can always listen to those goofballs instead.
One thing that always gets conveniently overlooked when this subject is brought up is responsibility. It is utterly irresponsible to publicly suggest that psychedelic drugs are beneficial to the spiritual path. It is no longer 1962 when Richard Albert could get pure LSD straight from the Sandoz labs and give it to grad students at Harvard under controlled conditions. It’s not even 1968 when Owsley was making pharmacy grade acid for hippies at the Avalon Ballroom to get stoned on while they danced to Blue Cheer.**
This is 2012. If you go around saying, “Hey kids! Take acid!” What are the people listening to you going to get from the dealers hanging around behind some junior high school in Knoxville, Tennessee or outside a gas station on the east side of Louisville, Kentucky? Is it even going to be LSD at all? Or MDMA? I read Ram Dass’ book and decided I oughta try the stuff myself. I got some purple blotter from a guy who found a dealer somewhere on campus. It was apparently laced with strychnine. How much rat poison are you suggesting to people they ingest in their quest for God? How much horse tranquilizer? For all practical intents and purposes LSD and the other chemical psychedelics don’t exist anymore. Nor would I trust any sort of fungi or cacti presented to me as “organic psychedelics.”
This kind of utter lack of responsibility frankly makes me sick. I can’t understand why anyone indulges in it.
And how’s this for acknowledging the truth lies somewhere in the middle? Maybe — just maybe — a person might have a bit of real insight while high on drugs. But any kind of traumatic experience can, under just the right conditions, produce a flash of insight. Jill Bolte Taylor claims she experienced some profound insights while having a stroke. I once heard a story about a guy who experienced a moment of great awakening during the Nazi attacks on London in World War II when a bomb landed right in front of him but failed to explode. People have had deep realizations during near fatal car crashes. But nobody goes around recommending folks to have a stroke or hang around in war zones or crash their cars on the off chance that they may have an enlightenment experience.
Besides that, all of these kind of insights are the very antithesis of Buddhist practice. Any sort of insight that you have suddenly as the result of some outside agent cannot hope to be anything useful except perhaps — perhaps — as a catalyst to going deeper into it. The point of Buddhist practice isn’t the big moments of profound insight that sometimes occur. It is about the gradual grounding in reality that comes from steady practice. Those moments of insight mean nothing at all outside of that context. Without any grounding in reality, such experiences are just confusing.
* Just for the record, in Hardcore Zen I wrote about four LSD experiences, not one. Which means I’ve taken as much acid as Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, with pretty much the same results.
** I’m not a fan of drugs, but I am a huge fan of psychedelic rock.
Donations to Brad will not be spent on hallucinogenics but may be spent on sinus medicine (though hopefully not on any more opiate pain relievers).