An article has caused much commotion online so I added my 2 cents when it surfaced on a discussion thread. (Article: The New Wave of Psychedelics in Buddhist Practice - Lion's Roar)

I wrote:

Psychedelics can induce mystical experience and some spiritual realizations. Most people who do them at low doses will not have such experiences, and the higher doses naturally come with more risks. As Alan Watts said, even his initial experiences with LSD were of a "visual" or "aesthetic" kind -- pretty interesting but not anything profound, and he could not grasp any spiritual significance to psychedelics. Later on however, he did successfully experience classical mystical experiences (deeper experiential insights into anatta/total exertion) and realizations through the use of LSD once he figured out how it could be used, even though he already realized anatta even before psychedelic use. (A good article by him: Tommy McNally also deepened his insights into anatta through the use of LSD ( Otherwise, a high dose can also easily result in a kind of life changing transformation moment or spiritual Self-realization.

For example, Ram Dass and many others
had described the I AM realization as being induced through the use of psilocybin or magic mushrooms. Leo from realized the I AM/God/Infinite Consciousness in a 5-MeO-DMT trip. I AM realization is a direct realization of Pure Presence as a pure sense of Existence which is then reified into the Eternal Witness or an eternal Self or Atman-Brahman prior to deepening insights into non-dual and anatta. A direct realization and taste of luminous Presence does not necessarily eliminate ignorance, the reification of luminous Presence into an ultimate Self. It is simply a glimpse of the luminous clarity aspect of our buddha-nature, but not its empty nature.

The experience of radiance presence, with its intensity, be it through psychedelics or meditation, can in fact be the cause of the formation of proliferation. This itself will not liberate you from samsara. Therefore having right view and meditating on right view is more important than all those mystical experiences attained through psychedelics, samatha and jhanic practices. However that does not mean presence is not important, it is and always is, but that is not the cause of liberation. It can be extremely blissful, clean, radiance, because consciousness expands... Or altered state. But that is different from wisdom.

So, I must say that psychedelics by themselves does not necessarily enhance "Buddhist practice". It can give you a glimpse of something profound, although not always. It can lead to certain breakthroughs but in terms of the Buddhist path of eliminating all emotional and cognitive obscurations, the only way is through the practice of insight and tranquility in tandem.

I am personally not against the use of psychedelics but its limitations and dangers should also be understood.

Does repeated ayahuasca use help accelerate understanding along with practice of self inquiry?

Me: It really depends on individuals. Most people who've done psychedelics don't have any major profound or permanent breakthroughs apart from fleeting peak experiences. And if people do it low dose, it's probably just another cool visual effect sort of experience. David Carse (author of Perfect Brilliant Stillness) seems to have a profound non-dual breakthrough (comments: One Mind level of realization) from ayahuasca in an experience he later called "The Jungle". Also, Ram Dass had his moment of Self-Realization through magic mushrooms, and Alan Watts wrote about how he had deepened experiential insights through the use of LSD, and many others.

Some people are strictly against psychedelics, some people are pro-psychedelics. I think I'm in the middle. There are pros and cons, benefits and dangers. You have to gauge your own condition for yourself and be aware of the laws, only some countries in the world legalises psychedelics.

Are psychedelics necessary? No. I attained my core insights not through psychedelics but by my own contemplation. I do not advise or promote psychedelics as a contemplative tool, but many people will do it anyway (except in Singapore where I live, it is a 'police state' that works -- it is basically the most crime free nation in the world, and the borders are heavily controlled, so most Singaporeans don't do drugs here).

Psychedelics can sometimes enhance one's contemplative process, and deepen some of the insights one already has, or even provide some fresh insights and realizations, and release certain karmic conditioning/traumas/etc (this is why science is finding it a promising treatment for depression, PTSD, etc). But it should not be the sole and only tool one uses and one should thread carefully.

“Psychedelic experience is only a glimpse of genuine mystical insight, but a glimpse which can be matured and deepened by the various ways of meditation in which drugs are no longer necessary or useful. When you get the message, hang up the phone. For psychedelic drugs are simply instruments, like microscopes, telescopes, and telephones. The biologist does not sit with eye permanently glued to the microscope; he goes away and works on what he has seen.”

- Alan Watts


p.s. an interesting article from Sam Harris, author of "Waking Up": Drugs and the Meaning of Life
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