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I have head psychedelic drugs described as a gateway that can lead people to Buddhism, and to very powerful meditation practice. I have also heard the drugs were frowned upon by ancient Buddhist teachings. What do you know about the ancient and modern Buddhist attitudes toward these drugs?

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John Hopkins is currently doing a boatload of research in this area (e.g.). While I personally find all this very interesting and cannot possibly argue against the use of psychedelics in palliative care, I don't think they are appropriate in the context of Buddhist practice. This is especially true for beginners; maybe not so much for advanced practitioners. The experience of jhana or any mystical experience isn't nearly as important as the journey that gets you there. As profound as the insights that issue from a bright, malleable mind can be, they are absolutely secondary to the transformation that is won through the sweat, effort, failure, patience, and resolve that characterizes long term meditation practice. The bumps and bruises are what transform us. They also better prepare us to receive and make use what wisdom is to be had in the jhana state.

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The fifth prescept, to abstain from taking indoxication, which causes heedlessness makes clear, that such has no base in the Dhamma and it's practice like taught by the Buddha. Certainty it can be observed that drugs lead many to what is called Buddhism, and usually even monasteries are much populated by heedlessness producing products consuming people as well as Monks and Nuns deriving from this sections, like here, even play around on this matter...

One does good to follow the advices of the Buddha to keep away from drugs if inyeresed to free and liberate youself from addictions and desires and uproot the cause, food, for it. The indoxications with youth, health and live, are the first nedded to be seen as not conductive for long lasting happiness. Seeing oldage, sickness and death clealy and having the messenger suggesting psychedelic medicine insteed of helpful healing in for of renouncing and the great Samanas message, is merely the ordinary way to hopless try to escape from suffering, stress and pain.

Let hindrences better be then to test if the Buddha was right on avoiding it and to simply abstain out of convition, at first, from it, till path might be actually taken and suggestiins become clear and no more necessary in on save journey from that on till unbound.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma and not meant for commercial purpose or other low wordily gains by means of trade and exchange.]

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The main first point of the dhamma is to stop, once and for all, worrying about sensuality of the usual 5 senses and of the 6th sense of, in daily life, the intellect with its ideas, opinions, fantasies and other casual »mental proliferation«, which is accomplished by dwelling temporarily in the jhanas, especially in the fourth jahna, to experience for the first time something different than sensuality through the 6 senses. Once this is experienced, it is time to focus on the challenge, on the phase of the »contact« of the »dependent origination« to prevent this contact to happen, whether on the senses or what is left to live beyond sensuality, and which generates all this »dukkha«; because it turns out, that whatever is felt is rubbish, especially through the 6 senses, or at least not good enough when it comes from something non-sensual, and only normal people claim otherwise.

The psychedelic medicine could at best facilitate the first goal --- by remaining on the level of sensuality and could build an alternative to the vajrayana practice à la vajrayanists who love to claim that the craving of sensuality can be destroyed through sensuality itself --- but as with any practice relying on curiosity of the senses and their enjoyment, there would still lack the skills to dwell in the fourth jhana; and even worse, it is useless for the main goal of the doctrine and practice.

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The following is my personal opinion.

I assume that a mind-altering drug might be appealing to people who are disatisfied with (their perception of) reality-as-it-is, and who crave (thirst for) for something else (some alternate reality).

I think Buddhism recommends that you better perceive reality, and avoid views (e.g. views of self), and craving.

I fear that psychedelic drugs will distort your perception of reality ... like, "I don't like the view of reality which I see in the mirror of my mind: and so, I'll use drugs to warp or break the mirror!" The after-effect of taking the drug (i.e. a warped or broken mirror) may last longer than the initial episode (so it may do a semi-permanent harm, not just a temporary harm). And if the effect is only temporary then what's point ... do you need to make a habit of it, become a regular drug user?

Using mind-distorting drugs is not what Buddhism recommends (Buddhism recommends a Middle Way, ethics, learning dharma, dispassion, and associating with admirable people as friends).

Also psychedelic drugs tend to be disabling, make you less capable than you were. I think the effects tend to be sensual (e.g. "colours seem bright" or "music sounds entrancing") and cognitive (e.g. "I can fly" or "I am powerful") ... and should probably be regarded as delusions. I'm not sure what the point is of new views (especially novel views-of-self) which happen at the same time as being unable to take care of yourself and others ... it may be a new disability, not a new ability.

I assume that what leads people to Buddhism is a desire to escape suffering and to make sense of the world (i.e. to hear a sensible description of the world, which is more or less what dhamma is). I assume it's that "seeking" which might lead a person to discover Buddhism, might alternatively lead a person to experiment with drugs ... I don't think it's the drugs, necessarily, that lead to Buddhism: instead maybe drug use is a side-track or blind alley on the way towards discovering Buddhism.

  • Nothing can distort whatever you experience though and that is what we are looking at. If a drug causes seeing consciousness of butterflies coming out of one's belly button then that is seeing, the concept of it is unimportant. If you think you can fly, well, that's just thinking. The content is not really so important here. All views are wrong view so it doesn't matter that you really can or can't fly because that is conceptual. – Lowbrow Dec 23 '17 at 23:08
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I trust there is much statistical evidence that psychedelic drugs are a gateway drug that can lead people to Buddhism; similar to how mental illness has lead many mentally ill people to Buddhism.

However, I doubt there is any statistical evidence that psychedelic drugs lead to very powerful meditation practice. For example, there are a well known talker about Buddhism & psychedelic drugs named "Sam Harris", who has not given up sensuality & talks about the possibility genociding all Muslims because he believes Islam did 9/11. I think anyone that has not abandoned sensuality & promotes the genocide of every Muslin nation has not had any powerful meditation.

In fact, powerful mediation (e.g. the 4th jhana) in Buddhism is described as a state of mental purity therefore any chemical residue to psychedelic drugs in the bloodstream or braincells will prevent mental purity.

My impression is people who experience a glimpse of selflessness using psychedelic drugs spend more time talking about it than meditating.

to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day—but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe...

Sam Harris

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    Where did Sam Harris talk about the possibility genociding all Muslims? – Lowbrow Dec 23 '17 at 22:41
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    How does chemical residue in the bloodstream prevent mental purity? There are all kinds of chemicals in our bloodstream, it doesn't make our mind impure necessarily. Also, what does the question have to do with Sam Harris and Islam anyway? – Lowbrow Dec 23 '17 at 22:53
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I would advice not to take drugs though cause i can think about many bad sides to it that are certain while their benefits are debatable - and thats the main point .... i can see how easily drugs can completely destroy ones practice

  • some points :

The 5 precepts are clear not to use drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness and the 5 precepts are really the basics of buddhsim - the precept relevant for us :

I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

Surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.

drugs are really connected strongly to greed to attachment which is very anti-Buddhist

buddhism is to not attach to aversions and greeds and by that to gain wisdom

I understand hard experience in general can also lead to Buddhism - but for instance if you fall and break both legs and back and have huge amount of pain which somehow got you closer to buddhism maybe the pain will prevent you from advancing maybe the bad health will prevent you from advancing or advancing fast

so it might be the same case with drugs that they have some benefits but in general the disadvantages are much higher .... especially for someone asking about this or anyone reading this which is already interested in buddhism ! so the plus in getting into buddhism is not there anyway - plus there is a very big chance people have the kamma to get into buddhism and if one event (fall/drugs/breathing/eating/scratching) wouldnt have happened than another one would happen that would lead them to buddhism

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