Psy­che­delic prayer

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Zig Zag Zen: Bud­dhism and Psychedelics, a con­tem­po­rary clas­sic edited by writer and pro­fes­sor Allan Badiner, is rere­leased this year in a new edi­tion. The book is a sem­i­nal an­thol­ogy of es­says, in­ter­views, and art con­nected to ex­pe­ri­ences of higher con­scious­ness and states of in­ner trans­for­ma­tion. It of­fers in­sights from our fore­most thinkers on Bud­dhist spir­i­tu­al­ity and re­search into psy­choac­tive sub­stances and in­cludes a stun­ning col­lec­tion of psy­che­delic art from An­droid Jones, Alex Grey, Amanda Sage, and oth­ers, as well as con­tem­po­rary and tra­di­tional Bud­dhist art and iconog­ra­phy. On the cover is Grey’s Tears of Joy (2014); im­age cour­tesy Syn­er­getic Press, Santa Fe.

Do not as­sume that, just be­cause he edited a pop­u­lar vol­ume on the con­nec­tions be­tween the states of con­scious­ness achieved through Bud­dhist med­i­ta­tion and psy­che­delic drug use, writer and editor Allan Badiner is an ad­vo­cate of us­ing chem­i­cals as a path to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing al­tered states. Badiner’s book Zig Zag Zen, re­cently re­leased in a new edi­tion, is full of tes­ti­mo­ni­als that de­scribe psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ences, but the book is not the fi­nal word on the topic. It was writ­ten in recog­ni­tion of the com­mon­al­i­ties be­tween Bud­dhism and psychedelics that bear fur­ther ex­plo­ration. Badiner, now sixty-four, had his first acid trip only two years ago, and his first ex­pe­ri­ence with a psy­choac­tive sub­stance (psilo­cy­bin) came years af­ter his dis­cov­ery of Bud­dhism. “In most cases,” he told Pasatiempo, “it would come the other way around.”

First pub­lished 15 years ago, Zig Zag Zen arose from a group dis­cus­sion af­ter a dharma talk at Plum Vil­lage Mind­ful­ness Prac­tice Cen­tre in south­ern France, a re­treat cen­ter founded by Viet­namese Zen Bud­dhist monk, teacher, and au­thor Thich Nhat Hanh. Badiner has been a stu­dent of Thich Nhat Hanh’s for close to 30 years. “The sub­ject that day was drugs and in­tox­i­cants, pre­sum­ably so ev­ery­body could talk about how bad they were,” Badiner said. “Wha was in­ter­est­ing was that, among the 18 or so stu­dents that were there, ev­ery­one had a very fas­ci­nat­ing story to tell. It ranged from hal­lu­ci­na­tory ex­pe­ri­ences all the way to life-chang­ing events. [Psy­che­delic drugs] had, in most cases, some role to play in their com­ing to Bud­dhism.”

But what ex­actly is it that draws peo­ple who have used mind-al­ter­ing chem­i­cals like psilo­cy­bin, a nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring sub­stance in sev­eral species of mush­room, or ly­ser­gic acid di­ethy­lamide (LSD) to Bud­dhism? It is not be­cause Bud­dhists, in gen­eral, use these sub­stances regularly. In fact, most don’t. The an­swers come from a va­ri­ety of sources, all author­i­ties in their cho­sen fields. Badiner se­lected a num­ber of es­says and in­ter­views by well-known au­thors and Bud­dhist prac­ti­tion­ers, such as vi­sion­ary rtist Alex Grey (who edited the art for the book), spir­i­tual teacher and au­thor Ram Dass, who par­tic­i­pated in a round-ta­ble dis­cus­sion with Badiner and oth­ers (a tran­script of which is pub­lished in the book), poet Rick Fields, and au­thor Jack Korn­field. In his dis­cus­sion with Robert Forte of the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of In­te­gral Stud­ies, Korn­field states that “psychedelics are found rarely, if at all, in the Bud­dhist tra­di­tion, and gen­er­ally would be lumped in the pre­cepts un­der ‘in­tox­i­cants.’” But in de­scrib­ing his own ex­pe­ri­ence with psy­choac­tive sub­stances, Korn­field says, “I took LSD and other psychedelics at Dart­mouth af­ter I started study­ing Eastern re­li­gion. They came handin-hand, as they did for many peo­ple.”

One of the ex­pe­ri­ences com­mon to Bud­dhism and psy­che­delic states is the sense of at-one-ness with oth­ers and with the world around you. With psy­choac­tive sub­stances, the ex­pe­ri­ence comes on sud­denly; in Bud­dhist prac­tice, this sense of har­mony, of con­nect­ed­ness, comes through dis­ci­plined med­i­ta­tion. “One of the con­trib­u­tors to the new edi­tion is a fully or­dained Zen monk, Kokyo Henkel,” Badiner said. “He has a con­ver­sa­tion with James Fadi­man, who’s an aca­demic who has been around the [psy­che­delic re­search] scene for a long time. I only learned of it later, but Kokyo had reached some pretty high states in Bud­dhism and then ex­plored psychedelics as a way to re­visit them. You sense from what he has to say that he treats it with re­spect and cau­tions peo­ple on mak­ing sure they’re sup­ported af­ter­wards so they can in­te­grate the ex­pe­ri­ence.” Ex­per­i­ment­ing with psychedelics may have peaked among young peo­ple in the 1960s and ’70s, but drug use in rit­u­als and re­li­gious prac­tices goes back thou­sands of years. One dif­fer­ence be­tween ca­sual use of LSD in or­der to get high and more tra­di­tional, rit­u­al­ized use is that the for­mer doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have the so­ci­etal sup­port mech­a­nisms in place to help a per­son in­te­grate the ex­pe­ri­ence into their world­view. But the ef­fects are pow­er­ful. Peo­ple tak­ing LSD or psilo­cy­bin might not ever look at the world in quite the same way as they did be­fore. “My own ex­pe­ri­ence was very lim­ited,” Badiner said. “I was sus­pi­cious. I lived through the ’60s, and all of my friends were on acid half the time and I was not. I was as wild as they were, but de­cided against tak­ing this stuff from a lab I knew noth­ing about, that didn’t have a history of use. When I fi­nally did ex­plore psychedelics, it was in the form of psilo­cy­bin in mush­rooms. It felt safer that way. There was this real sense of be­long­ing to the earth and not feel­ing like some kind in­de­pen­dent body bag roam­ing around on it, but ac­tu­ally a part of it. It was a pro­found sense of in­te­gra­tion.”

Badiner drew a par­al­lel be­tween his mush­room use and his early ex­pe­ri­ences with Bud­dhist med­i­ta­tion. “My first ex­pe­ri­ence with Bud­dhism was at a re­treat in Sri Lanka at a Ther­avadan monastery. It was a mis­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence. Ev­ery bone in my body ached for­ever. We ate stewed greens at six in the morn­ing and the same stewed greens for lunch, and no food un­til the next morn­ing. It was a se­vere ex­pe­ri­ence. To­ward the end, though, all the pain just dis­ap­peared, and I had this re­al­iza­tion that I was con­nected to ev­ery­thing and I felt so peace­ful and happy. Other peo­ple were re­spond­ing

to me dif­fer­ently in the sense that they wanted to en­gage me a lot more. I thought, ‘There’s some­thing go­ing on here.’ This med­i­ta­tive glow lasted for a while. Af­ter my first mush­room ex­pe­ri­ence, I had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence. The heart­ful­ness was more pro­nounced in the re­sult from the re­treat, I think.”

Badiner wasn’t alone. Many of the same peo­ple who talked about Bud­dhism, Eastern phi­los­o­phy, and med­i­ta­tion were also dis­cussing psychedelics, in­clud­ing The Way of Zen au­thor Alan Watts and poet Allen Gins­berg. “In terms of the orig­i­nal book where I was talk­ing to all these sig­nif­i­cant writ­ers and per­son­al­i­ties, this was the first time these two sub­jects were con­sid­ered to­gether in a sin­gle book, which I thought was cu­ri­ous even then.” Badiner’s ti­tle came from a draw­ing of a pack of Zig Zag cig­a­rette pa­pers he saw in a guest book at Cal­i­for­nia’s Tas­sa­jara Zen Moun­tain Cen­ter. “There’s def­i­nitely com­mon­al­i­ties at var­i­ous lev­els be­tween ex­plor­ing the path of Bud­dhism as a way of cul­ti­vat­ing one­self and us­ing psychedelics with the in­ten­tion of hav­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence that’s pos­i­tive and ben­e­fi­cial and not just en­ter­tain­ing. But, iron­i­cally, a lot of peo­ple have had very pow­er­ful, life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, even though they first took it for en­ter­tain­ment rea­sons; they just thought they’d get high or have a trip and they didn’t have the in­ten­tion to reach higher states of con­scious­ness, but that’s what man­i­fested. I hear that a lot.”

A psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence, like a re­li­gious ex­pe­ri­ence, can be dif­fi­cult to de­scribe in words. Even such con­cepts as be­ing at one with the world ex­ist, per­haps for most, only as an in­tel­lec­tual idea un­til one has the ex­pe­ri­ence. “If it takes you to a mean­ing­ful place of aware­ness, a place where you have an ex­tra­or­di­nary vi­sion of your­self in the world and the world it­self, you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a great deal of in­sight and con­nec­tion to life; you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing what a lot of peo­ple would call ‘a vi­sion from the moun­tain­top.’ This was quite com­mon in the ’60s and ’70s.” The art se­lected for the book is in­tended to show the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Bud­dhism and psychedelics. Alex Grey’s Tears of Joy, for in­stance, de­picts a face whose third eye is open, and a sense of full aware­ness of be­ing is sym­bol­ized by nu­mer­ous eyes cov­er­ing the en­tire face and ex­pand­ing into the space the cen­tral fig­ure in­hab­its. The sym­met­ri­cal ap­pear­ance of many of the works of vi­sion­ary art Grey se­lected for in­clu­sion mir­ror tra­di­tional de­pic­tions of Bud­dhist art in their com­po­si­tions. “Aside from try­ing to con­vey in­for­ma­tion in a non­ver­bal way, it was to show the con­nec­tion vis­cer­ally,” Badiner said.

So far, Zig Zag Zen has man­aged to avoid con­tro­versy re­gard­ing the links the book draws be­tween re­li­gious prac­tice and il­licit drug use. “I was hop­ing the book would be lam­basted from right to left and all the more con­ser­va­tive Bud­dhists with a cap­i­tal B would be scream­ing from the top of their al­tar about what a trans­gres­sion this is, be­cause all of that would be good for book sales. None of that tran­spired. In­stead, the Bud­dhist com­mu­nity went ‘Yep. Uh-huh. What else?’ ” If many Bud­dhist prac­tion­ers in the West came to the tra­di­tion as an out­growth of psy­che­delic drug use, this ca­sual ac­cep­tance makes sense. Badiner re­lated to Pasatiempo a story about Zen teacher Robert Aiken. “Peo­ple would experiment with psychedelics and then try to find a more sus­tain­able, prac­ti­cal way to get to those high places with­out tak­ing any­thing. In the ’60s, they were crowd­ing into his zendo in Maui. Half of them were high and half of them weren’t. They had to make a rule, fi­nally, that you had to be straight to come into the zendo. But peo­ple were play­ing with those edges. ‘Can I get there by a dis­ci­plined prac­tice of sit­ting med­i­ta­tion?’ They’d had a vi­sion of what it might be like to get to the top of the moun­tain. They had a sense of this is where we want to go, this is some­thing to work for, this is some­thing that, if we have to sit on the cush­ion for years prac­tic­ing mind­ful­ness, if it gets us there, it is worth it.”

The new edi­tion of “Zig Zag Zen: Bud­dhism and Psychedelics,” edited by Allan Badiner and Alex Grey, was pub­lished in May 2015 by Syn­er­getic Press.

Allan Badiner’s book Zig Zag Zen, re­cently re­leased in a new edi­tion, is full of tes­ti­mo­ni­als that de­scribe psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ences.

Sukhi Bar­ber: Ebb and Flow, 2014, bronze; op­po­site page, An­droid Jones: Dharma Dragon, 2012, dig­i­tal print

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