Can Buddhists smoke weed?

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HanfBlatt, No. 101, 2006

The world religions and their relationship to intoxication

Part 4


According to legend, the young Buddha is said to have fed on only one hemp seed a day during his six years of asceticism. It was less the ingredients of the famous seeds than the meditation that would have brought him to enlightenment. Since then, Buddhism has faced intoxication and ecstasy in two ways.

In contrast to other religions, people in Buddhism are supposed to believe less in superordinate authorities and rigid dogmas, but rather check the teaching offered on the basis of their own experience. To do this, he should do one thing above all: meditate vigorously. Then he would know what the Buddha had known, namely the "four noble truths". Number 1: As long as the mind has not recognized its nature, there is joy in life, but also suffering. 2. There are certain reasons why the mind does not see its true nature. 3. Thanks to Buddha, however, everyone can recognize the function of his mind, i.e. become enlightened. Finally, 4th: There are practical ways to do this. Over time, different currents developed in Buddhism with different emphases.

So far so good. But why is Buddhism such a successful religious practice in the West and why does it also cast a spell over freaks? At least four levels are responsible, they also clarify the relationship between Buddhism and intoxication.

On the one hand there is the personal experience of the standstill of time, of being absorbed in an oceanic feeling. These conditions are known to every connoisseur of hashish or marijuana - many of them smoke for precisely that reason. The aesthetic worlds of images that are experienced during the states also have similarities. Mandalas at techno parties are not just a coincidence of urban culture, but a conscious connection point to a tradition of meditative objects.

Paradoxes that are consciously experienced as positive are also known from both spheres. The person affected laughingly perceives contradictions, in Zen Buddhism the koan is called: “You know the sound that two clapping hands make. What is the sound of a hand like? ”The goal is the same in both spheres: The view that things are different and that the ego has its own existence, separated from the rest of the world, dissolves as an illusion.

All of this can also be demonstrated at the level of chemical processes in the brain. Those who do not want to listen to the reports of millions of people will find objective evidence in the brain scans: In some states of intoxication and meditations, the same areas of the brain are active.

If you leaf through the literature in search of an explanation for your psychedelic experience, you will sooner or later end up with the teachings of the Buddha. It was no different for Timothy Leary and company in the 1960s, who found interpretations of their LSD experiments in the “Tibetan Book of the Dead”. The 300-450 million members of Buddhism today do not form a community; the various schools are too different. The Zen Buddhism of Japan, for example, can hardly be compared with the Tantric Buddhism, which in the past allowed people to use intoxicants in order to come close to the final enlightenment.

In the western version, Buddhists are associated with either the Dalai Lama or meditating art directors in search of meaning. On the level of the social system, Buddhism fulfills one of the functions of religion, namely belief in an afterlife. One does not have to believe in an authoritarian God - this fits perfectly in a (post) modern society, in which one only wants to be loosely coupled in the spiritual community and, despite being part of a crowd, always wants to maintain individuality and autonomy. In addition, Buddhism has no missionary zeal and a certain non-violence.

And while the Christian ends up happily in paradise, the Buddhist wanders from body to body, but only until he has lived cleverly enough according to the teachings of the Buddha, breaks this cycle and ends happily in nirvana. Even those who do not manage to do this still have the joy of having lived in stable social structures among their own kind. Compassion and charity are other benefits of religious employment. In contrast to other religions, Buddhism projects total happiness and absolute wish fulfillment not only onto the distant future or the time after death, although here too there cannot be a state of complete fulfillment in life. Part of happiness can already be achieved in normal life, but the big ticket is only redeemed in nirvana.

Buddha (Sanskrit for "The Awakened One") was born as Siddhartha Gautama in Lumbini, a small town that is now part of Nepal. During his 80-year lifetime (536-483 BC) he laid the foundation for later Buddhism. He left no scriptures and did not see himself as a messenger of God's teaching. He only called for people to use their own mind and to recognize the function of this through a meditative inner view. Shortly after his death, his disciples met for the first council to discuss the doctrine and the rules of monks and to put them into writing according to the teachings of the Buddha. In the centuries that followed, the teaching spread to South and East Asia, and later all over the world.

Since then, no Buddhist teacher has really wanted to admit it, but drug-induced intoxication and meditative ecstasy have various points of intersection. It is a shame that the Buddhist schools often so vehemently distance themselves from the careful use of entheogens, i.e. substances that can awaken the Buddha mind in people. At most, psychedelics are attributed to being able to generate a kind of awakening experience, but in the long run they are supposed to block the view of the truth. Here, for more political considerations, a line is drawn that does not have to be constructed in this way, as there are many arguments in favor of supporting meditative work with healthy substances in different life situations. In the quiet little room, some of the zealously practicing Buddhists should not only drink herbal tea, but also swallow one or the other pipe.

In addition to greed and hatred, ignorance is one of the three basic poisons of all human life. Particularly towards entheogens, however, parts of Buddhism are animated by a similar ignorance as Christian or Muslim doctrine. Like them, they put all psychoactive substances in the context of escape from reality and addiction.

Other similarities between Buddhist and psychedelic practice are clearly evident. The central value of mindfulness can be cultivated in an intoxication. To be fully aware of one's feelings, observations and actions in every moment is not only an exercise for monks and seminar participants in the Black Forest, but also a practiced undertaking of many stoners. It happens again and again that the mundane relaxation cigarette in the evening becomes an undistracted, pure perception without assessing the situation. The boundaries between snoozing and snoozing are more fluid than some ’strict masters of the ascetic art of immersion want to admit.

If one takes the position for a moment that any substance in our mind only creates something that is already there, then it becomes clear why the sages of the Orient are averse to drugs. From this perspective, mind-moving substances are just another material attachment that stands in the way of development towards pure mind. That is the ascetic, classical-transcendent way. Opposite him there was always a view of things that saw human salvation in the hustle and bustle of nature and the pleasures of the senses. From this perspective, the products of "Mother Earth" are to be welcomed comrades and friends in a life that wants to deal positively with the natural world. That is the classic, immanent way. So far, Buddhism - like other religions - has made few attempts to accept this second way of the mind. In doing so, Buddha himself warned throughout his life to be skeptical about established teachings.

Published by Jörg Auf dem Hövel

Jörg Auf dem Hövel (born December 7, 1965) is a political scientist and works as a freelance journalist, among others. for Telepolis, Spiegel and Der Freitag.