Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics

Article excerpt

Psychedelic Religious Experience Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics, Allan Hunt Badiner and Alex Grey (Eds). Chronicle Books, 2002.

Psychedelics were the most important paradigm shifting catalyst for the baby boomer generation. The contribution they have made in opening revolutionary vistas in art, music, ecology, religion, community, and politics should be honored. The normative consensual status quo has been so threatened by psychedelics that they have instead been outlawed and demonized. For over thirty years, due to drug policy politics, it has not been possible to explore the wise use of psychedelics. The Economist reported in 2002 that the United States locks up nearly 175 out of every 100,000 Americans for drug-related offenses. Drug crimes often get harsher punishments than violent assaults, rapes, or murders. The current political culture has made the legal consequences of psychedelic drug use so draconian that any reasonable public experimentation with them either by citizens or scientists is impossible.

It is in this loaded context that Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics, arrives to challenge the widespread misperceptions about drug use, and to reassess the contribution that the psychedelic experience can make to spiritual inquiry. The book is a cornucopia of art, essays, and interviews that explore the influence that psychedelics have had on well-known artists and meditation teachers, as well as the ways in which those experiences serve as gateways to deeper religious understanding. It uses a newer, more descriptive name for psychedelics-entheogens (en=inner, theo=spirit/god, gen=creation)-a term that acknowledges the capacity of certain substances to reveal the inner sacred spirit that is generated within the mind/body phenomena.

Zig Zag Zen harkens back to the psychedelic experimentation of the 1960s and 1970s, when many of today's prominent western meditation teachers and artists began to explore the expansion of consciousness and investigate other ways of knowing and being. According to sociologist James Coleman, there is a significant correlation between psychedelic use and Buddhist practice. In his book The New Buddhism: The Western Transformation of an Ancient Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2001), he states that sixty-two percent of the Buddhist practitioners he surveyed had used psychedelics. U.S. government surveys indicate that about 8 percent of the general population has used psychedelics. Psychologist Charles Tart and Coleman both report that in Tibetan groups 75 to 80 percent of participants polled had used psychedelics. Coleman asserts that individuals who are drawn to psychedelics tend to be drawn to the inward gaze, "toward the direct personal experience of the ultimate rather than outward to the world of the established social order." Coleman's research about the Buddhist community certainly rings true in the other religious renewal movements of our time (Jewish, Christian, Sufi, Hindu).

Religious communities worldwide are at the vanguard of wise entheogen use. In the United States the Native American population uses plant entheogens (peyote) for its ceremonies. In West Africa the psychedelic plant iboga is used in rituals. In India, the religious use of a psychedelic called soma was featured in the Rig Veda and entheogens have been a part of south Asian religious practice for millennia. For two thousand years initiates into the Greek Eleusinian Mystery school would consume a powerful vision-enhancing drug called kykeon. In South America the sacred use of the psychedelic ayahuasca has moved from the native populations of the Amazon Basin into the urban centers where it is the central sacrament in their religious praxis. These ayahuasca churches are making rapid inroads into Europe and the Americas because they provide a meaningful community context for the powerful religious insights that entheogens can provide. In the face of the global war on drugs, those who have the interest and capacity can travel to Brazil to experience the sacred use of entheogens legally in indigenous communities and urban churches. …

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