Across the country, Buddhist practitioners are gathering to experiment with, and discuss the virtues of consciousness-altering substances in the context of mindfulness training. This new wave of Western-Buddhist teachers holds that meditation practice and psychedelics can inform, augment, and enhance one another.
We are witnessing a youth-quake within Buddhism, a changing of the guard of teachers following the decline of the hippie baby boomers. Those pushing the boundaries of Buddhism and psychedelics are, for the most part, Generation X teachers and millennials.
Meditation teacher Jack Kornfield also opined that this new generation is on the cusp of something revolutionary, as long as it is done within the boundaries and ethics that the Buddha offered—not to harm yourself and not to harm others. Lama Urgyen, an American teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, warned to not get involved in psychedelics unless you are willing to have your most deeply held beliefs—about you and your world—not only questioned but also shown to have no basis. Although dissolving belief structures and patterns of thinking plays an essential part of Buddhist practice, doing so with psychedelics is not for every practitioner. The vastness and clarity of pure awareness is there, but it’s sometimes hard to recognize in the chaos, and even terror, of the psychedelic experience.
The point of Buddhism and meditation is not to get high; it is to see clearly into the nature of mind. Psychedelics act as a chemical key that opens the mind and the gates of curiosity, and frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures. Buddhists and meditation practitioners complain that they’ve plateaued—going to retreat after retreat and feeling like they’re not changing anymore. Yet the merging of psychedelics and Buddhist practice has the potential to accelerate spiritual growth and deepen involvement in disciplines of mental training.
There is a decent amount of coverage around the intersection of meditation and psychedelics—yet very few stories are actually discussing the integration of Buddhist practice and psychedelics as a powerful movement changing Western-Buddhist culture. For example, CNN published an article in 2016 about meditation and psychedelics having the same benefits, yet it only discusses the use of psychedelics and meditation as a mere possibility, rather than a cultural shift.
Gabriel Lefferts, “Psychedelics’ Buddhist Revival,” Tricycle, July 27, 2018, https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/psychedelics-buddhist-revival/.
Matteo Pistono, “The New Wave of Psychedelics in Buddhist Practice,” Lion’s Roar, August 18, 2018, https://www.lionsroar.com/the-new-wave-of-psychedelics-in-buddhist-practice/.
Student Researcher: Bertha Sarellana (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)