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Magic Mushrooms and the Buddha Dharma

You meet all kinds of people on the road.  Some of them are clearly running from something; a past trauma or an action they regret.

Others are clearly looking for something; a tribe of like-minded people or a safe place to call home.

This results in a strange mix of people ending up in strange places and sharing their lives for any where from a few weeks to a few months.  

You part ways knowing that you'll never see each other again despite your endless promises to keep in touch.  But you always remember the people you meet on the road, and your life is usually better for having met them.

Case in point, I met a guy named "Fred" when I was farming in Indiana who'd lived an insanely cool life.  He did corporate America for a while, and decided it wasn't for him.  So, he high-tailed it to Vietnam and taught English for several years before deciding that he wanted to become a shaman. 

After that, he made his way to Brazil where he wandered for several weeks until the locals pointed him to a Shaman who was willing to train him, and help him study Ayahuasca.  Unfortunately, he ran out of money before he could complete the course of study, and he was forced to return to the United States.

Fred and I met in an intentional community in Indiana.  

We were both building apprentices, and in addition to general maintenance around the farm we were tasked with building a tiny house on the property using reclaimed materials.

It was rough going at first, but by the end of our apprenticeship we'd built a 350 square foot structure complete with a wood stove, solar panel hookup, and cedar siding.  The walls were made from a combination of earth bags and clay slip, the floor was built from wood pallets, and the roof was insulated with fiberglass insulation that we scavenged from a condemned house.

Naturally, when you spend 10 hours a day doing hard, manual labor with someone you spend a lot of time chatting about random things.  During the time we spent building the tiny house Fred and I discussed our childhoods, plans for the future, and our spiritual practice.

When he described some of his experiences with Ayahuasca they sounded similar to some of the things that I had experienced while meditating (e.g. peace, a feeling of interconnection, a release of old grudges, etc.)

Eventually, he invited me to take part in a ceremony that he was planning for the spring that would involve magic mushrooms. 

But as I studied the sutras, I couldn't find a single passage where the Buddha instructed his students to use psychedelics.  And I couldn't justify abstaining from alcohol in order to keep the fifth precept if I was going to break it through the use of magic mushrooms.

In the end, I decided that I was either going to drink alcohol AND do mushrooms, or I was going to abstain from both.

I chose the latter.  But it didn't affect things between Fred and me.  He was training to be a Shaman and I was training to be a Buddhist teacher.  Our paths were different, and that was okay.

That being the case, I was surprised by how strongly I reacted when I read articles in Tricycle and Lion's Roar that advocated for the mixing of psychedelics and Buddhism.  The gist of both articles was that the use of psychedelics is an effective way to practice Dharma.

Of course, both articles used all the required qualifiers about how psychedelics are good for SOME people in SOME situations, and certainly NOT for everyone.  But they're perfectly safe if used in the proper "set" and setting.

As a result, my initial response was anger.  It sounded way too much like the drug dealers I used to deal with at raves who said bath salts were perfectly safe as long as you took them on a full stomach, drank plenty of water, and maintained a good mental attitude; in other words, if you had the right "set" and setting.  

In the Lion's Roar article, Mark Koberg, the executive director of InsightLA states the following:

We know that psychedelics are a valid doorway to dharma practice. It was in the 1960s and still is today. And now, there is a renaissance of use,” says Mark Koberg, Executive Director of InsightLA.

My anger switched to confusion when I read that line because there is no place in the Buddhist scriptures where Buddha, Dogen, Shantideva, or any of the great Dharma teachers of old suggest that psychedelics will help us on the path.  It never happened.

What we have here is a group of people who enjoy getting high, and they're using Buddhist practice as a means to justify it.  But if we accept psychedelics as being part of Dharma practice, is there any real reason why we can't have marijuana-themed retreats?  Is alcohol a valid gateway into Dharma practice?  

My confusion grew as I pondered the ramifications of these articles.  It means something when publications like Lion's Roar and Tricycle write about psychedelics beings a "valid doorway" to the Dharma.

It means something when organizations like InsightLA and Buddhist Geeks openly discuss blending psychedelics and Buddhism.  It means something when the rest of the American Buddhist establishment is largely silent on this issue.  It means the debate is over.

Psychedelics are an accepted part of practice in American Buddhism.

I literally got a headache at one point when I tried to comprehend how this came about, but then I realized something.  For all of it's benefits, meditation isn't sexy.  There's nothing fun about ethical training, and it takes a lot of self-discipline to sit through a sesshin.

Drugs on the other hand are a lot of fun, sexy even, and people will pay a lot of money to have spiritual teachers feed them drugs.  

It's not a coincidence that Spring Washam, a teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, describes mixing psychedelics with Buddhism in the same article that she plugs her two-week Buddhist ayahuasca retreats.  

It's not a coincidence that Vince Horn did an entire podcast series on blending psychedelics and meditation before using a Lion's Roar article to announce his “Mushrooms for Meditators” retreat.  

Drugs plus Buddhism equals a whole lot of money, and the American Buddhist establishment is cashing in.

At this point, my confusion changed to disgust.  As westerners, we were given an incredible gift in the form of Buddhist practice; a 2,600 year old tradition that empowered us to end suffering for ourselves and others. 

But in our rush to make it palatable to American tastes we corrupted it until awakening and getting high turned into the same thing.  This is why we can't have anything nice.  We value peak experiences more than real insights.  We value profits and packed auditoriums more than truth.  

It's disgusting.  Psychedelic Buddhism is disgusting.

But it's here, and there's nothing that I can do about it.  Truthfully, I shouldn't be surprised that something like this could happen.  After all, life is suffering, why would Buddhism be any different?  

In the end, my disgust changed to acceptance.  Raging against the Buddhist Industrial Complex does nothing outside of causing suffering for myself.  So, I'm going to channel these feelings of hurt and disappointment into walking the path.

It's clear now that my path, my way of the Buddha, is different than the mainstream.  It focuses on daily life as spiritual practice; elevating mundane tasks (cleaning, walking, meditating, etc.) to enlightenment itself.

My path is not fun.  It's not sexy.  But it's real, and I'll take reality over drug-fueled hallucinations any day.

Namu Amida Butsu

 If you enjoyed this essay, you'll love my book!

Magic Mushrooms and the Buddha Dharma


  1. I think that Eisenhower added, in a oft-ignored caviat, ..."and brware of the Psychedelic Buddhist Industrial Complex" also?

  2. You wouldn't get into a car driven by someone on LSD, why accept a drug user as your guru?

  3. Brad Warner has also railed against this issue

  4. THANK YOU! I feel the Buddha's point was that anything that takes the mind away from careful, concentrated observation of its own workings is a diversion from the path. Alcohol, drugs....even caffeine. I understand you saying that your "path is different than the mainstream," but I might suggest that those of us who follow the path the Buddha laid out aren't necessarily as outspoken. Maybe this absurd "psychadelic buddhism" thing is a fluke of the moment. Meanwhile, you, as many other, continue to do the real work, day by day, even though it's not flashy, or always fun, or marketable.

  5. You can drive on LSD,but I recommend against it unless you are in Chicago. (Sorry,bad joke.)

  6. Everything is concepts , once the noisy mind is dropped there is no dharama no mushrooms and no worries

    Identification with the hue man body is drug use don't be fooled. Right now you are just high on oxygen ����

  7. Very well said. Timely and truthful. A lot of this stuff making The Dharma sexy is really what Chogyram Trungpa (not the best example to use here, I know) termed Spiritual Materialism. I think the strain of individuality, by which I mean being unable to accept that you don’t know best, being unable to see that your just justifying your own neuroses and needs is a real problem for Western Buddhism. Living the Dharma in a Western environment is hard, but selling out is selling out whichever way you look at it. Thank you for the article.

  8. I really enjoyed this. there were a few in our sangha that had a similar reaction and most of the most reactive were those in "recovery". My response was similar to your but probably not as articulate. The thing that made them feel safe as that we would not be advocating such shenanigans for our Sangha.

  9. I totally agree with you. One thing i for sure. The western people, most of them, is pretty quick to take all the old and sacred wisdom and make it to one big money machine. I se it here in my country Denmark) as well. Only the few really want to walk the way, where you get to meet your inner demons, without thinking in terms of "who can i profit most from" all the time, or how can i get there fastest. After 6 years with meditation, i myself was so privileged to experience the Source - God or call it the universal Love. But who knows how many incarnations with despair and suffering i had, before i could get that experience so soon in this life? For my the way is also totally clean. I do my meditation practice and that´s that.

  10. I am a serious Vipassana meditator and I recently used mushrooms to help me through a very difficult time. I felt like my world was collapsing and I couldn't quite tell why. Taking a high dose of psilocybin mushrooms gave me a very direct understanding of my situation and what to do about it! It forced me to speak/face the very things that had never been addressed through meditation. My life has been made more disciplined and peaceful thanks to mushrooms. I do not recommend them to anyone, because it seems so unlikely that anyone would have the experience that I had of facing literal hell with equanimity. Nevertheless, you can't sent my experience. I am happily trodding the path again thanks to the mushroom.
    BTW, Tim Leary very poignantly said that LSD causes insanity in those who don't take it. The fifth precept says very clearly not to take alcohol or that which causes heedlessness -- who knows what Gotama would say of mushrooms, but I did not experience heedlessness.

  11. I also was quite hurt by the articles, at least in the gull to assume yes skipping any real dialogue-- but having spent 10 years in Boulder Colorado, seeing a lot of questionable "this is American Buddhism", mixed with sincere intent--wasn't too surprised. Gassho, Jikai

  12. Wow! nice blog, attractive title and the content.
    and the relation you have explained between magic mushroom and buddha is nice.

  13. It is an unfortunate thing to have such a strong and opinion on a matter in which you have no direct experience. You are simply spreading dogma.

    The buddha was not a deity. Everyone has the capacity to embody its wisdom.

    Psychedelics can be an incredible tool when used properly. Chalking them up to a mere drug without understanding their affects firsthand through responsible use is ignorant and narrow-minded.

    I suggest clinging less to labels and absolutes. Structure is useful. Too much of it, however, is a prison.

  14. I am saddened by such an extreme stance.
    I practice Soto Zen Buddhism, and I used to partake in religious ceremonies using ayahuasca.
    Clearly, they are not the same path. But saying mushrooms equal alcohol is like saying cars equal bicycles as a means of getting from A to B. It shows a bias more than a balanced analyses.
    Psychedelics are not Buddhism, but in my and others' experiences, they can help kickstart a buddhist practice by providing deep insights, even if limited in time.
    Just as enlightenment is ultimately no different from illusions, there is no clear distinction between being high and being sober.

  15. "It's disgusting. Psychedelic Buddhism is disgusting."

    This line broke my heart. Not because I am a die-hard psychedelic fan, but because my personal use of magic mushrooms is what led me to Buddhism. Is that really disgusting? I thought it was a beautiful thing.

    I am a college student but by no means am I the typical one (I hate alcohol). But I am atypical more for the fact that I study and practice Buddhism. I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and am always looking to learn more, to grow, to heal; I have been on a conquest which now I realize is to reach alignment with the Dharma. I have not always studied Buddhism, in fact I committed myself to studying the Buddha's teachings only a few months ago. But I was always on the path to Enlightenment; it is what I have searched for for years since being spiritually awakened. Part of my search for the truth and for personal evolution was to consume some psilocybin mushrooms, because I heard they are a good tool to get in touch with yourself and nature. The first time I ever did mushrooms I was at a beautiful lake and found myself completely in awe of nature. It was like the feeling of love had suddenly become tangible. It was beautiful. So of course, I kept doing mushrooms. I had already owned some Tibetan Buddhist sound bowls and one of the days I took mushrooms I decided to bring them to the lake and play them. Wow... was that an amazing experience, because it completely captivated my friends (who were also tripping on mushrooms). It became a sort of tradition for us to sit on this old fallen tree, stare out at the lake, and play my sound bowls.

    One day this past November while tripping on psilocybin mushrooms, I reached enlightenment. Now, I know what you are going to think. That I'm crazy and it wasn't real. However, I actually only learned that my experience could be called enlightenment yesterday. This experience was me not experiencing my own body, and I described it at the time as "I was everything around me all at once – I was all of my friends, I was the tree, I was the lake, I was the sky, I was everything." I only just learned that enlightenment means something like no longer experiencing the self as anything separate from all life living. THAT is what I experienced. And that is why I searched the internet to see if ancient Buddhist practitioners, or any Buddhist practitioner really, uses mushrooms. I learned that day, through my experience, that everything is created from love and must return back to love, and all we ought to do is love ourselves, one another, and nature. This was (and still is part of) my personal philosophy.

    Now, my experience is not really the point. The point I'm trying to make is that, through these experiences with psilocybin mushrooms, I was consistently led towards Buddhism each time. The breaking point was during one psilocybin experience, I was playing my sound bowl, and one of my friend who was tripping just kept saying the word Buddhism. Buddhism. Buddhism. He had no idea that my bowls (we just called it The Bowl) were Buddhist, and honestly that fact had escaped my mind as well. My friend just liked the sound of the word Buddhism. I had a revelation in that moment, that maybe I should look into this.

    Flash forward to finals week. I was writing my final paper for my class called Magic & Religion, and we got to write about whatever we wanted, so long as it was related in some way to death. I chose to write about the Bhavacakra. In studying the Bhavacakra and writing this paper, I realized that Buddhism is most definitely the way I should be living my life, because it aligned perfectly to all my beliefs prior to discovering this beautiful thing.

    I attribute psychedelic mushrooms as a big part of what led me to Buddhism.
    How can you call that disgusting?

    Maybe they are intertwined in a way that is much different than what you assume. Maybe it's not Buddhists pushing psychedelics, but maybe it's psychedelics pushing Buddhism.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree and appreciate your courage in sharing your experiences. I've only taken moderate doses of psilocybin, but they truly accelerated me on my path. I was already feeling woken up and had a clear mind entering my mushroom experiences, but they were truly magical experiences that gave me intense feelings of oneness with the world around me. These feelings persisted and led me to investigate Buddhism, and my curiosity about the intersection of mushrooms and Buddhism led me here.

    2. Agreed. I’ve believe that I’ve been spiritually awakened, not necessarily enlightened, by the use of psychedelics. I see them as a valuable tool to cut through our social conditioning and connect with the true nature of our existence.

      Also, agreed with one of the dogma comments above. To have disgust for anything shows how far you are from the path… I implore the original poster to reconsider their stance on the use of psychedelics and to take your friend up on his offer. Maybe you’ll become a Buddha đŸ˜‰

  16. There is no systemic Buddhism in the West. I have said this for many years. There are tiny pockets of accidental Buddhists who practice actual Buddhism accidentally because they don't know any better, but Buddhism, as a whole, in Western countries (especially the United States) doesn't resemble the Buddha's teachings even a little bit. Buddhism was hijacked by political Leftists the moment it stepped foot on Western soil, and it has been cannibalized and defiled far past anything the Buddha would recognize. You have Buddhist drug dealers, 'Engaged' Buddhism, and other assorted stupidity designed to dumb down the practice for a Western audience. I just read a 500 page book on 'Buddhist Ethics' and the entire book focused, not on the Buddha's ethical teachings or the Vinaya, but on what neo-Buddhists had to say about ethics. Which naturally included that abortion and communism are good while personal freedom and human life are cheap and expendable. It was utterly ridiculous. Everything the West touches it destroys at the molecular level. Everything.

  17. Thank you for being “ enlightened “ on this topic. There’s no quick and easy path without doing the time and work. ( I wish there was) I find it humorous the ones who defend it spend a lot of words to excuse their behavior. Stay on your path and show us the way.

    1. I don’t think anyone who has taken psychedelics as part of a Buddhist practice would ever argue otherwise. The mushrooms point the way, we still have to walk the path. But for some of us, the way is so obscured that Dharma alone isn’t enough for us to find it, we need to feel it once so we can find it again.

  18. It's not clear why I missed this, Alex, but it resonates loud and clear that the whole issue is not even really worth your anger : humanity will always choose the shady path, thereby missing the most important part of life, the best. One should be very wary of 'organisations ' and America and the western world will rush, babbling justification, s headlong over a cliff-edge.. Psychedelics is definitely a very high cliff-edge

  19. The middleway means to be in the present, fully aware. To be intoxicated is to loose being in the present, to loose the ability to be fully aware.

    1. The middleway and the present is everything . If you believe something outside yourself will help you on your path, you will hear no judgement from me.

  20. Before he was The Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama was a Hindu and a mystic. Like all human cultures, including those derived from ancient Western European ones, Hinduism has a history going back at least 3500 years of using psychedelics (Santa himself might be the echo of ancient Western European shamanism). The oldest Hindu text in existence (written 1000 years before The Buddha was born) mentions drinking “soma”, a divine psychedelic the ingredients of which are lost to time. Given their prevalence through the ages and across cultures, and given that we know his peers were consuming them, any claim that the Buddha didn’t take psychedelics seems to me a rather extraordinary one. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, especially when we know the secrets of early Buddhism were kept a closely guarded secret.

    While the fifth precept is without question an exhortation to avoid substances that cloud the mind, the judicious and occasional use of these medicines seems more likely to open our perception than to obscure it. Certainly, I have gradually become aware that all the most accomplished meditators that I have grown to particularly respect have all had some sort of psychedelic experience, even the ones that almost never mention it. I discovered this long after discovering each of them, and some time after I started to feel extremely disillusioned that their teachings weren’t working for me. The conventional antidote to this disillusion is usually given as some variant of “practice harder”, but if there is a way give people a taste of the experience they are looking for so that they might find it again more easily in the future, isn’t it rather illogical to insist they go the long way round? Especially when that means a lot of them will quit (or die) before they make it to the top of the mountain? If one of the goals of being a Buddhist is to help everyone else find the path, then turning our backs on something that has helped so many people set their feet on it feels short sighted.

    The last 500 years of Western European culture is unusual when taken against all of human history in that the taking of psychedelics fell out of favour during that time: it’s we that are the odd ones out, not them. If Western culture destroys everything it touches, maybe we might look to this fact as a contributing factor? Psychedelics help humans feel connected to nature and to each other, and the lack of that connection in the dominant culture is leading us to destroy our planet. If taking the odd shroom and enjoying the pretty colours can help us counter that, then the Puritan refusal to imbibe in case it is too much fun seems to have its priorities a little off. In any case, trips often aren’t exactly fun (hence why so many people call these substances “medicines”) but people keep coming back for the insights they offer. They can’t be addictive because of how they work, and if you’re listening, the mushrooms tell you stop when they’ve shown you enough. Psychedelics aren’t a crutch, a substitute for dedicated practice, or an intoxicant, but they can be an effective aid to overcoming the blocks and barriers to meditation.

  21. I have so much respect for your article and your convictions! I understand where you are coming from, and I genuinely appreciate your blunt honesty. I followed Buddhism for many years. I have also used cannabis for years to deal with PTSD. But as a former devotee of the Buddhist way and practice, I 100% understand your viewpoint and appreciate your standing up for traditional Buddhist practice. I once heard a spiritual leader say that drugs are a shortcut to enlightenment. It's true! While it has helped me a lot with challenging panic attacks, I also can see how this plant makes you feel as if you have been meditating daily for 50 years... but without actually doing so, and the results do not always last. It is a very real concern, and I appreciate your honesty.

  22. This is an understandable stance but the experience of many people is pointing to something real. Many, many people have been led to Buddhism and accelerated in their practice by psychedelics. Yes, it's not in the suttas. But it is helping people today. All traditions have accelerators. Take all-night sitting in Zen, or dream practice in Tibetan Buddhism. These are challenging altered states that take one out of ordinary consciousness and make it harder to sustain mindfulness, but they can be vehicles for breakthrough and growth. It's absolutely fine to choose to be Buddhist and not use these things, but putting others down, especially very sincere practitioners, isn't cool.


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