Buddhism in America is over and Lion’s Roar has killed it.
I hate to sound so pessimistic, but right now it’s hard to see it any other way.
Lion’s Roar, a huge, wealthy and supposedly “Buddhist” website, recently published the most pro-drug article I have ever seen in any Buddhist publication. I’m not even going to link to it, it’s such a piece of shameful garbage. It’s entitled “The New Wave of Buddhist Psychedelics.” Look it up yourself if you want to waste your time.
Tricycle magazine put out a similar piece a little while back (see my article a couple weeks ago for more on that). But at least Tricycle had the decency to include a few dissenting voices. The Lion’s Roar piece has none.
It’s odd that I’m even saying “dissenting voices” here. But that’s how bad it’s gotten. The few Buddhists left who question the idea that drugs can be part of Buddhist practice are now the fringe minority. We’re the ones who look like the weirdos. Amazing.
Congratulations, Vince Horn. You won. You irresponsible piece of drug pushing shit.
According to the article, “In May, InsightLA and Buddhist Geeks co-hosted ‘Waking up with Psychedelics’ for a sold-out crowd at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Trudy Goodman, founder of InsightLA, Buddhist Geek’s Vincent Horn, Spring Washam, and Dr. Charles Grob, Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the UCLA Medical School, discussed the current confluence of psychedelics and Buddhist practice on American soil. Ram Dass joined them via livestream.”
Hollywood Forever is a few miles from where I live. I just watched a screening of The Graduate there. I wish I’d known about this. I’d have crashed their stupid gathering and disrupted it. I’d have been dragged out of there looking like a raving maniac. But maybe that would help make my point.
Buddhists who know what Buddhism really is are now the raving maniacs of “American Buddhism.”
“From Colorado to California, North Carolina to New York, and beyond, Buddhist practitioners are gathering to experiment with, and discuss the merits of, consciousness-altering substances in the context of their dharma practice,” says Matteo Pistano, author of this literally unbelievably idiotic article.
He quotes Mark Koberg, Executive Director of InsightLA who says, “We know that psychedelics are a valid doorway to dharma practice. It was in the 1960s and still is today. And now, there is a renaissance of use.”
The complete lack of anything remotely approaching insight is absolutely astonishing. I cannot even get my head around how deeply dumb that statement is.
These charlatans are making a buttload of money selling this worthless trash to the millennial crowd. I can almost forgive younger people for being ignorant of where this crap took our culture the last time we tried it. When I went to Kent State University in the 80’s, the town was full of the burnt out dregs of America’s last attempt at expanding its collective consciousness through the use of dangerous chemicals. Now that those folks are dying off while the few remaining sit under bridges howling at passers-by maybe it’s not quite as easy to see as it was for me.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; there may be legitimate uses for these substances. They might aid in psychiatric treatment or help people stop smoking. I have personally benefitted from the revival of clinical interest in psychedelics. Research into the ways LSD works led to the development of rizatriptan, which, so far, has been the only medication that’s been effective on the cluster headaches I’ve suffered from since junior high.
But psychoactive chemicals are not now, nor can they ever be any part of Buddhist practice.
End of story.
The fifth Buddhist precept says that we must never mix any kind of drugs with our practice. This precept was one of the very first ones ever adopted by Buddhists. It is absolutely foundational. To ignore it or brush it aside by pretending these chemicals don’t do what they obviously do — intoxicate the mind — is to deny Buddhism itself.
All these folks are doing is trying to combine their own selfish and wrongheaded interest in drug abuse with the current wave of popularity associated with Buddhism.
It is foundational to the core principles of Buddhism that this is a path one practices without any chemical enhancements. To say that you can combine Buddhism with psychedelics is like saying you can combine celibacy with fucking. You have to twist both concepts into complete meaningless to make them fit.
Sadly, though, I’m just one tiny voice against an entire wave of stupidity and delusion.
I thought Buddhism might work out in America.
I was wrong.
I posted the following the day after I posted the piece above. I’m including it here in case readers might miss it:
After seeing some of the reaction to my previous blog post (see above), 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.
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