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A User's Guide to Traditions, Symbols, and Ceremonies
Table of Contents
About The Book
A guide to psychedelics and Buddhist practice
• Presents guidance and techniques for Buddhists who wish to incorporate psychedelics into their practice as well as for psychonauts who are interested in the maps of inner space provided by Buddhism
• Explores the use of psychedelics in Buddhist practice, sharing the kind of spiritual experiences that can be gained with each
• Describes meditation techniques, with special attention being given to the generation of the Four Positive Attitudes
In this user’s guide to psychedelic Buddhism, Lama Mike Crowley presents techniques for Buddhists who wish to incorporate psychedelics into their practice as well as for psychonauts who are interested in the maps of inner space provided by Buddhism. The author details how psychedelics have led to spontaneous awakening experiences, such as “Indra’s net” and universal voidness, that were once thought to be available only to advanced meditators. He explores the use of psychedelics, such as LSD and psilocybin mushrooms, in a Buddhist context, sharing the kind of spiritual experiences and benefits that can be gained with each. The author also looks at the use of psychedelics encoded in Vedic and Buddhist scriptures, particularly in the Vajrayāna tradition, from the Middle Ages until the present day.
Presenting an informed summary of Buddhism for psychonauts, the author explores the key beliefs of Buddhism, the life of the Buddha, and the practices followed in various yānas, or paths. He describes meditation techniques, with special attention being given to the generation of the Four Positive Attitudes: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, each being taken from their personal to their universal forms. He looks at Buddhist symbols, ceremonies, deities, and initiations, as well as psychic powers in Buddhist tradition, and how these ideas and practices can be used in the exploration of the inner realms of consciousness.
Providing a complete guide to integrating psychedelics into Buddhist practice, this book reveals how the ancient Buddhist teachers discovered their universal maps of consciousness and how you can use their wisdom to guide your journey.
CAN A BUDDHIST TAKE DRUGS?
Well, of course they can, and why shouldn’t they? In addressing this question, many people will raise the topic of the fifth precept of the vows for laypersons. If we examine the history of this precept though, we find that, originally, this precept referred only to alcohol. Besides, and more importantly, these vows are purely optional and not a formal prerequisite of Buddhism, which actually has no dogma.
That being said, however, some Buddhist teachers, such as Thích Nhất Hạnh, may say no while others (usually privately) say yes. I think I understand why Thai, as his students called him, may have instructed his followers not to take any drugs, including psychedelics, and that is because he is a Mahāyāna teacher who wishes his students to come to grips with “reality,” without any intervening lenses or filters. This does not apply to all Buddhists, though, just those who have opted to take the fifth precept in this specific tradition.
The first Tibetan teacher in the United States, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, like Thích Nhất Hạnh, advised most people against psychedelics but, when I knew him in Great Britain, he was much more nuanced in his attitude. I heard him speak to the matronly, upper-middle-class ladies at the Buddhist Society of the United Kingdom, telling them that they really should try LSD (it was still legal at that time). Meanwhile, he was telling some (but not all) of the hippies he lived with that they should stop taking LSD. If I understand his reasoning, it was this: many of the ladies at the Buddhist Society had fixed ideas (about Buddhism and about life generally) that they needed to dispel, whereas some of the hippies “did not take LSD seriously enough.” When he left for the United States, he told my teacher (a lifelong friend of his) that he intended to “teach tantra,” although he planned to omit one element of the teaching because he had “seen how Westerners misuse it.” I am sure that, by this, he meant the psychedelic sacrament of Vajrayāna Buddhism, known in Sanskrit as amrita.
Some adherents of Buddhism are prone to employ the logical fallacy known as the “no true Scotsman” argument in discussing this subject. This fallacious logic follows the lines of the assertion that no Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge. But if someone objects that their next-door neighbor, Hamish McGregor, is Scottish and eats porridge with sugar for breakfast every morning, this statement is greeted with the claim that Hamish McGregor is not a “true Scotsman.” If we simply substitute Buddhist for Scotsman and LSD for sugar, we find that precisely the same paradigm is being applied, despite the recent statements to the contrary by many Tibetan teachers of Vajrayāna Buddhism.
MODERN LAMAS AND OTHERS
Anyone who knew Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche when he was still in Great Britain, and anyone who has watched recent videos of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche on YouTube, may have caught glimpses of them stating, explicitly, that they knew of and had taken psychedelics. There are others from the Tibetan lineages (such as Chagdud Tulku) who have had intimate knowledge of psychedelics, especially amrita (or dud-tsi) but have kept their acquaintance with them private or shared them only with intimate disciples.
Alan Watts was a communicator who was well-versed in Zen Buddhism and in Taoism. He had joined what was then the Buddhist Lodge of the Theosophical Society (later, the Buddhist Society of the UK) in the 1920s. His books were well-received by the Buddhist Society, and his lectures were extremely popular there. Until, that is, he published The Joyous Cosmology, a short book that promoted the effects of LSD, especially in regard to Buddhism. As a result of this book, anyone who had taken LSD (and was foolish enough to admit the fact) was debarred from membership of that group.
This was the kind of bizarre reaction that caused Timothy Leary to make his famous statement: “LSD is a psychedelic drug which occasionally causes psychotic behavior in people who have not taken it.”
SHOULD A BUDDHIST TAKE DRUGS?
It is said that logic and reasoning are all well and good as far as the samsaric viewpoint of “relative truth” is concerned, but they cannot take you all the way to enlightenment and “absolute truth.” In Buddhism, this deficiency is usually remedied by the practice of meditation. Meditation is certainly the traditional means of realizing nondual awareness, but is it the only possible path to liberation?
Other spiritual traditions have developed various methods of attainment. The Hindus have various yogas (hatha, raja, karma, adya, and more), the Mevlevi Sufis whirl in dance, Native Americans have vision quests, Australian aborigines have walkabouts, and so on. These are all yogas of a sort; they just don’t all come from India. And if these alternatives truly bring liberation, why should we, as Buddhists, reject them? Surely not from either attachment to our own traditions or from aversion to those of outsiders.
The weakest argument against the spiritual efficacy of LSD that I have ever encountered was in an article in the U.S. Buddhist magazine Tricycle. In this article, the author stated that, though he had once taken a significant quantity of LSD, enough to see “tracers” he said, nothing was revealed to him that he could not have read in a book. This merely demonstrates that LSD does not, in and of itself, induce a spiritual state every time, in every person, and at every dosage. It is by no means an argument that LSD never induces a spiritual state at any time, in any person, and at any dosage. Indeed, the Johns Hopkins University team that studied the effects of psilocybin published a paper on the remarkable number of times the administration of this drug did bring about a mystical state of mind and with long-lasting effects, too. I’m sure that, with the right approach, similar results could be found using LSD.
As to learning no more than could be found in a book, my answer to this is to ask the questions, Have you ever had kidney stones? Did they hurt? and Is it possible that you could have come to a full understanding of that degree of pain by simply reading about it? I feel that this difference between book learning and direct experience was the distinction that was being made by HH the 3rd Karmapa when he stated that, while Sūtra Mahāmudrā (based on the Prajñaparamitā Sūtra, Samādhirājā Sūtra, and their commentaries) might bring you to an intellectual understanding of voidness, a Vajrayāna empowerment (in which the sacred psychedelic, amrita, is consumed) brings you into direct contact with it.
Having said all that, I should emphasize that simply taking psychedelics is not necessarily sufficient to have this experience. There are plenty of psychedelicists who frequently take LSD before going dancing, hiking, or to a concert, purely for the aesthetic enhancement it confers, with no spiritual effect whatever. For these effects to manifest it is better that you have a well-informed guide on hand to act as a secure point of calm amid the maelstrom of thoughts and emotions that may occur. Or, even more to the point, a skillful guru to point out the enlightened nature of your own mind, also known as Buddha-nature.
“PERMISSIBLE” ALTERNATIVES TO MEDITATION
It would be hard to find a practicing Buddhist who has dogmatic objections to sensory deprivation tanks, flashing lights, or neural feedback. Yet all of these can cause profound shifts in consciousness such as those that may be achieved with psychedelics. However, due to having been labeled “drugs,” many Buddhists find psychedelics simply unacceptable. This is most odd as these compounds offer a simpler and far more direct route to profound insight and lasting mental health.
* * *
Surely, some (if not all) of these above practices and devices approximate the use of psychedelics. If these can be allowed, then why not psychedelic drugs? Is it possible that, simply by being called “drugs,” they have been tarred with the same brush as heroin and methamphetamine? Surely this is merely confirmation of Dr. Alexander Shulgin’s comment, “Psychedelics are like dolphins, caught in the tuna nets of the drug war.”
Until recently, psychedelic activity was thought to be due to the activation of the brain’s serotonin receptors (especially 5-HT2A, and 5-HT2C), and, with some, the μ-opioid and dopamine sites. Recently, it has been shown that psychedelics also cause a decrease in the activity of the DMN, which maintains the impression (Buddhists would say “illusion”) of a personal self, otherwise known as the ego.
It is true that, for some people, psychedelics can produce ill effects. They can be scary, even terrifying for those who have too much of their self-image tied up in fallacious concepts, fantasies that may be easily shattered by simple chemical compounds. This book addresses two categories of people—Buddhists and psychonauts—so I have not given much warning of these deleterious effects of psychedelics. I have assumed that knowledgeable Buddhist meditators would have experience with methods of dismantling the “ego” and that psychonauts would already be able to deal with whatever a psychedelic substance cares to throw their way. But I have included a few warnings for those who, despite having meditated for years, may have been barking up the wrong tree all this time and for those psychonauts who have become a little bit too blasé about these powerful compounds.
- Publisher: Park Street Press (March 14, 2023)
- Length: 328 pages
- ISBN13: 9781644116708
Raves and Reviews
“When it comes to the intersection of psychedelics and Buddhism, Lama Mike Crowley is like a living encyclopedia, ever-ready with mythological interweavings and historical facts that serve to ground the wisdom he has to share. Adorned with awe-inspiring visionary art, Psychedelic Buddhism lays out an ethical path for the modern Buddhist curious about the integration of psychedelic substances as tools to enhance and deepen spiritual practice.”
– Jasmine Virdi, M.Sc., writer, educator, poet, and activist
“Lama Mike Crowley comes fully out of the psychedelic Buddhist closet with Psychedelic Buddhism. This book shows how psychedelic experience can be applied to Buddhist practice for those who already practice Buddhism and how psychedelic users who are interested in Buddhism can familiarize themselves with a wealth of Buddhist traditions, symbols, and ceremonies such as meditation, chanting, visualizations, and even dream yoga. Though a Lama in the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition, Mike provides his readers with a solid Buddhist education by making ample references to all the various permutations of Buddhism from the early, ‘basic’ Buddhism of Hinayana to the later developments of Mahayana and ultimately to Vajrayana Buddhism. Mike skillfully covers a wide range of Buddhist topics and practices, and as such, the book serves as a well-informed introduction to Buddhism from an insider’s perspective. Additionally, Mike discusses various psychedelics and how they could experientially contribute to Buddhist practice, and he offers guidance and suggestions for creating opportunities for the practicing of psychedelic Buddhism from meditation to picnicking with friends, including how to avoid unnecessary intrusion by curious onlookers. Pour yourself a nice cup of amr. ita, get your bottom properly positioned on that meditation cushion, and let Lama Mike Crowley show you a very different side of Buddhism and Buddhist practice that harkens back to the days when amr. ita and soma were much more than colored and flavored water. Let your bodhicitta flower like a visionary lotus of a thousand psychedelic petals. You just might discover that you’ve always been just what you’ve been looking for in the vast nondual emptiness of the dharmakaya.”
– Martin W. Ball, Ph.D., author, visionary artist, and host of The Entheogenic Evolution podcast
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