A couple days ago I participated in a webinar about Buddhism and Psychedelics presided over by Allan Badiner, author of the book Zig Zag Zen.
At the end of the discussion Mr. Badiner referenced something I’d said earlier. I was talking about my previous experiences with LSD. The fourth and final time I took it, I had an incredibly bad trip that scared the bejesus out of me. After our session was over he told me that maybe I wasn’t doing psychedelics anymore just because I was scared of them. He said that if I were to try any again I ought to do MDMA (aka Ecstasy, Molly, “E”, etc.). He said it had opened his heart and made him more compassionate.
So I thought about it, and I asked myself why I do not do psychedelics. Can I answer that question and not just give a knee-jerk reaction? Because if I just said it’s because of Buddha’s Fifth Precept against using intoxicants, aren’t I just like someone who says, “The Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it”?
So here’s why I don’t do psychedelics. Not why you shouldn’t. Why I don’t.
Number One, they scare me. The last time I tripped was an epic nightmare. You can read all about it in my book Hardcore Zen. I spent most of that night in abject terror on a drug I desperately wanted out of my system with no choice but to wait until it wore off. I also lost my concept of time, so even though I understood that I’d be OK again in a few hours, I could not figure out what an hour was to save my life. The concept was still available to my brain, but I could not make any sense of it. So for all I knew I was going to stay high and terrified forever.
But that’s not the only reason I don’t do those drugs. I spent a few minutes after the webinar was over just letting my mind roll over the possibility of getting ahold of some MDMA and trying it out for myself to see what actually happens. Then I realized a few things.
For one thing, I wouldn’t trust any so-called “MDMA” I might be able to get in Los Angeles no matter what the source claimed. At best, it would be something cooked up by some dodgy chemist in a basement mixing up stuff to sell to high school kids. I would not be able to fool myself into believing that the major market for this drug is responsible adults engaged in safe consciousness exploration in controlled environments.
Bull shit. If you’re making MDMA – or LSD, or growing ‘shrooms, etc. – your target market isn’t a handful of people using that suff as a sacrament for religious purposes. Your target market is kids who wanna party. I don’t want to support the people who supply that market or put anything they make into my body.
You might be inclined to counter that by asking if I examine the entire manufacturing and distribution chain of everything I purchase to determine if it was sourced ethically. Obviously the answer is “No.” But that’s irrelevant. I may not be certain whether or not underpaid children in a sweatshop in Malaysia made my shoes, but I do know for certain that any MDMA or other psychedelic drug I might purchase comes from a highly unethical source.
I also don’t want to incapacitate myself for an indeterminate length of time and require someone to babysit me. Because that’s what all the “set and setting” crap that people who are into drug-based consciousness exploration talk about really means. It means someone sober has got to be around to make sure I don’t hurt myself. Who am I to demand someone look after me like I’m a child?
And what about all this stuff where people say MDMA or other such substances made them more compassionate? Does this mean that now that the ravers of the 90s are adults we live in a kinder, gentler world where everybody’s nice because they all learned real compassion from listening to techno music while high on Molly? I don’t see it. Plus, I hung around a bunch of young MDMA fans on a few occasions recently. They were no more compassionate than anyone else I ever met, in fact they were kind of jerks to each other.
Real compassion is a skill. It’s not just a big warm fuzzy feeling in your “heart space.” It’s knowing what to do with that feeling. It’s knowing when it’s appropriate to get all huggy and when it’s not. Because sometimes a hug is the least compassionate response. And sometimes being all warm and cuddly is a way to run away from what really needs to be done.
Also, one of the best reasons not to do those drugs is staring every single user right in the face every single time they use it. After our conversation Allan Badiner very kindly and in the interest of being helpful sent me an email detailing how to use MDMA properly if I ever wanted to try it out. It involved taking a large dose of Vitamin C first, along with magnesium and amino acid supplements both before and after the MDMA. And, of course, the proper “set and setting” which includes the aforementioned babysitter.
The fact that I’d need to do so much preparation indicates to me that maybe I’d be doing something that’s kind of dangerous and probably not actually good for me.
As a Buddhist I would also have to do a lot of mental gymnastics to try to convince myself it was proper behavior. For example, apparently a lot of folks into Buddhist-based drug-induced consciousness exploration like to say that the Fifth Precept was actually specifically about alcohol and can be extended to other supposedly “consciousness restricting” drugs but does not apply to “consciousness expanding” drugs.
No. Sorry. The precept is not against alcohol or drugs. It’s for sobriety. It’s not saying “don’t get drunk.” It’s saying “stay sober.” There is a difference.
Besides, “consciousness expanding” drugs were well known and widely used in India in Buddha’s time for spiritual exploration. There is no evidence the early Buddhists used them at all. The whole argument is so full of holes I couldn’t possibly accept it on any terms.
More to the point, if I have to do a lot of mental gymnastics to justify any action, that is a clue that the action itself is problematic and probably ought to be avoided.
So that’s why you won’t see me at any raves any time soon. Besides, I hate techno music.
August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT
August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE
August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR
August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY
September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE
September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY
September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT
September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT
September 20, 2015 London, England THE ART OF SITTING DOWN & SHUTTING UP
September 21-25, 2015 Belfast, Northern Ireland SPECIFIC DATES TO BE DETERMINED
September 26-27, 2015 Glastonbury, England 2-DAY RETREAT
October 26-27 Cincinnati, Ohio Concert:Nova
November 6-8, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY RETREAT
April 23, 2016 Long Island, New York Molloy College “Spring Awakening 2016”
Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
Every Saturday at 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!
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